DISCLAIMER: Don't own them. Not entirely sure I want to at this point.
NOTES: My writing's all over the place at the moment. I'm not at all happy with the character assassination committed upon Woody this season and fic is my way of dealing with it. My feet are still on the railing of the Good Ship Jordan/Woody at the moment, but feet on the railing is better than having jumped, right?
STILL YOU REMAIN
Garret had thanked her. He never should have done that. At the very least, he shouldn't have noticed the furrowed brow and answered the unspoken question. "Your advice. Just to listen. To Abby." He shouldn't have given her that grateful look tinged with mild surprise that Jordan Cavanaugh had given anyone insight into healing interpersonal relationships. If only he'd gone on reminding her every so often what a pain in the ass she was; if only he'd remembered to reach out to her only when she seemed lost. Those things she knew, expected, dealt with. Those things never got her thinking, wondering, wanting even.
She tapped gently on his doorframe, prompting him to look up from a stack of paperwork. His brows shot up in surprise. "I thought you went home."
"Nah. Went up to the roof actually." She lingered in the doorway. "Can I come in?"
His eyes became wary. Jordan on rooftops usually meant some crisis was looming. "Sure."
She sat down across from him, wondering how to start. She'd practiced it on the roof, déjà vu sweeping over her as she recalled those rehearsed preambles to her Boston return.
Macy saved her. A bit. "What is it, Jordan?"
"I'm quitting." The words were out before she could think, before she could choose which of the carefully crafted explanations worked best.
What does it say when your boss doesn't freak out when you quit? "I – uh – I need something different, Garret."
He leaned back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. "You know, I think we're making progress. You're here in person telling me this."
"Does it have anything to do with your mother's murder?"
"No." The one word is harsh and final. He had no choice but to believe her.
He sighed. "Wow, this is real progress." He was trying not to be angry with her, but he couldn't help it. "So, come on, Jordan. Why? What's your reason for running this time?"
"I told you." Her chin came up defiantly. "I need something different."
Garret's eyes narrowed. "Does it have to do with Woody?"
Jordan shook her head. "No. No – Maybe. A little." She licked her lower lip. "Sort of."
He watched her, waiting.
She took a breath. "You're right. Woody's a part of it. I can't be around him anymore. And it's not just that he's - he's… with Detective Simmons. It's so complicated, all of it."
"Jordan, you don't exactly make simple relationships easy."
"Actually…," she tilted her head to one side. "That's why I'm leaving. You know the only person who wasn't surprised when I went to Las Vegas to visit Danny McCoy? Danny McCoy." She paused. "The only one who wasn't convinced I'd sabotage my relationship with Pollack before the end of the first month? Pollack. The only one who didn't think it was impossible that I'd even consider taking in Kayla? Kayla."
"Are you saying we've all misjudged you?"
She shook her head. "No! You all know me really well. Too well. Or – Really – You know the Jordan you've always known. You all expect certain things from me and sometimes, that's great." She shrugged. "Sometimes it's not." He remained quiet, letting her gather momentum for her inevitable conclusion. "I'm not the same person who came back here five years ago, Garret. And as much as I have here, with all of you, I don't know if you can see it – and it makes it hard for me to – to see it. I need to – to start over, to be somewhere that no one has expectations – good or bad – of me, where I'm just Jordan Cavanaugh. I need to find out if I can see myself differently – and if I want to." She stopped.
After an uncomfortable silence, Macy nodded. "I get that, Jordan. Believe me, I get that."
"I thought you would," came her soft reply.
"I suppose the El Camino is gassed up and waiting outside." He tried to grin.
A sad smile crossed her mouth. "No. I'll stay as long as a month, if you need that long to find someone. See what I mean though… expectations?"
He bit the inside of his lip and nodded. After a moment, he tried to lighten the mood. "You know, they'll want to throw you a party. With hats."
She shook her head. "No party. No hats-"
"-No telling anyone."
He stopped short. "What?"
"No one knows, Garret. No one but you and me. This is just how it needs to be."
She nodded, her throat tight. "He'll come racing back, saying all the things he says and I'll – I'll tell myself not to go there, not to risk it, but it won't work. I'll end up trying to do what he wants and he'll step back. I can't do it anymore."
Garret studied her solemnly. Then, he nodded. "All right." He'd seen the look on her face enough times to know that the feelings she had for Hoyt were strong, but tinged bittersweet. "Where are you going to go?"
She shrugged. "I don't know."
"Can I expect any postcards?"
She shook her head.
Three weeks later, Macy let Jordan know he'd been able to hire a replacement. While ostensibly pulling a double, she cleaned out her office, carting only a few boxes down to Garret's demesne. He'd store them for her against her possible return. That night the El Camino was waiting, gassed up, the few things she'd chosen to take with her already in it. Boston was dark, its streets all but deserted as she headed west.
Her aimless route passed through D.C., but she kept going. Pollack likely would have taken her back, but she wasn't looking for security or the validation to be found from a lover. For a while she pointed the nose of the truck toward Nevada, but that plan, though tantalizing (if Danny McCoy was half as good in bed as he was at kissing…), wasn't what she sought either. She found herself at last on the Pacific Coast, in Washington. Seattle. Here she was unknown, free to learn who the new Jordan Cavanaugh was – and wasn't.
For a time, she tended bar and waitressed. It was hard work, but the mindless nature of it was what she needed. An innocent man would not go to jail if she served him a vodka tonic instead of a gin and tonic; a guilty man would not go free to kill again if she gave him ranch dressing for his salad, not Italian. Mistakes – few though they may have been – she left at the bar where she worked. She dated some – casual relationships, nothing sexual, nothing serious. She laughed and joked, talked and listened. She spoke about her mother and it was – it was bearable. People she'd trusted had lied to her; much of her childhood had been one lie following another, but that was no longer the future. It was never going to be all right that her mother's murder had gone unsolved, but Jordan stopped letting it define and drive her. She let herself make friends, stopped trying to prove to herself and the world that she didn't need anyone.
Nearly eight months after her quiet departure, a request was faxed to Garret Macy. Would he recommend Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh for employment with the King County Coroner's Office?
Garret sighed and gave the King County Coroner's Office a glowing assessment of Dr. Cavanaugh.
He heard nothing else and he told no one.
Her leaving had shocked her friends and torn a hole in their morgue family. Bug, Nigel and Lily had carried with them a simmering anger toward Macy for weeks afterward. He'd done his best to explain – not to justify – keeping her departure a secret. It took nearly a month, a time when the three were in the break room, expressing again their frustration at the situation.
"It's so like Jordan! She's always been like this. Do you think she'll ever change?" Bug demanded.
Lily sighed. "I don't know. I thought she was getting… I don't know, more… mature, but then-this is so typical of her."
"Listen to yourselves," Nige interjected softly. "Listen to all of us."
"What?" This from Bug.
"'She's always been like this…,' 'this is so typical of her.'." He looked at the two of them. "I get what Dr. M said. We all expect certain things, certain behaviors out of her."
"But we love her!" Lily put in.
"Yeah, luv," Nigel covered her hand with his. "And sometimes the people who love you can hold you back the most. You know, our Jordan wasn't nearly the same person when she left as when she arrived."
Bug arched a brow.
"All right, she was always passionate about work, always stuck her nose in where it likely didn't belong, those things didn't change. But think about the ones that did. When she first came back here, could she have had a relationship that survived its first fight? Could she have had a relationship that survived its first weekend?" He shook his head. "She and Pollack had some good dust ups, but worked through 'em."
It took a few moments, but the other two came to see what he was saying. As Lily stood up, an empty coffee cup in her hand, she said, "Do you think she'll ever come home – come back?"
None of them could meet each other's eyes.
It wasn't until a few days later that Woody popped his head into Trace. "Nige?"
The Brit looked up. "Sorry, Woody, haven't got this stuff all analyzed yet."
Woody waved an impatient hand. "Yeah, um, I figured you hadn't. I actually was looking for Jordan. Is she avoiding me?"
"What?" Woody edged into the room. "She is. Why? Is it because – I mean – Oh, come on, Nige. You know what it's like with her and me. Coming, going, up, down… What?"
"You won't have to work about any of that anymore, mate," Nigel informed him. "Jordan left Boston a month ago."
It was Woody's turn to gape. "What?"
Nigel put down the tweezers he was holding. He studied Hoyt for a moment. "She. Left. Boston. A. Month. Ago." His tone emphasized the sarcasm of his slow delivery.
"Where'd she go? When is she coming back? Why did she do it?"
"We don't know. Possibly never. And…," Nigel stopped. "As to why… you're a smart bloke, Woody. Maybe you can work it out."
Woody spent his day in a daze. He cancelled dinner with Lu and drove around after his shift ended. Not surprisingly, he found himself parked on Pearle Street. Her windows were dark. Of course they were. They weren't her windows any more. He sat and stared up at the dark panes as if force of will could light them, could return her to her rightful place. His mind played endless loops of the moments they'd spent there, showing him the steps, faltering and slow, that they had taken toward one another, showing him how, infallibly, in the moments when she had let loose her tight self-control and offered him a deeper place in her life, he had pulled away. He'd never been able to explain it before, his own fears, how much he loved her for who she was, but how much he also feared her demons would tear them apart. In the end, she had conquered many of those demons and he'd never seen it. He, of all people, should have known. He'd left Wisconsin so that he wouldn't be forever branded a small town sheriff type and he'd managed it. Jordan had grown, changed, but he had not been able to see it.
For the first time he knew with utter certainty that she had meant those words whispered into his ear in the hospital and that he had never been the rebound guy. And he knew he'd lost her.
Calendar pages flipped by, nearly two years' worth of them. On the western edge of the continent, Jordan still found her thoughts dwelling on that eastern shore from time to time. On the eastern shore, the questions were asked less and less frequently, though they still ran through the minds of her friends. On both coasts, life went on.
Garret ran into an old classmate one snowy winter day, bought her a cup of coffee and proceeded to fall head over ears in love.
Lily married Matt Seely to nearly everyone's surprise. Except his.
Woody and Lu moved in together, neither rushing toward anything permanent nor shying from it exactly.
Jordan cut up dead bodies, followed leads and somehow managed to establish a cordial relationship with the Seattle P.D., finding a detective or two who appreciated her skills and inquisitiveness. Though there were holes in her life, she felt more complete than she had in a long time, maybe ever. When she woke up in the morning, she liked the woman she saw in the mirror, a woman who felt fulfilled by her work, who had the respect of her colleagues and who had a circle of good friends, even a godchild now. The past was a long scar, well-healed, that only itched from time to time. When that past caught up with her, she ran. Not as the old Jordan had – not from Seattle – but around it. And, one morning, straight into Scott Forester. Literally.
She had her head down, fiddling with the iPod volume. She saw the shadow, but it was too late to avoid a collision. She found herself tumbling backward onto the grass, sprawling in an ungainly fashion, earphones jarred loose and sunglasses knocked askew. Before she could do much more than process the bare facts, a hand was reaching down and the arm it was attached to was helping to pull her to her feet. Its owner misjudged his own strength however and she found herself colliding with him once again, this time being caught against his chest and held there as he steadied them both.
"God, I'm sorry. I – I – God." He released her and let his eyes scan her up and down. "Are you hurt?"
Jordan's head was reeling, but she managed a quick "No." She gave herself a once over and decided she really wasn't. "Embarrassed, but fine." She righted her glasses on her face.
"Hey, it was my fault."
"No, I wasn't looking where I was going," Jordan insisted. "Are you okay?"
He smiled and nodded. He thrust out a hand. "Scott Forester."
Jordan checked her hand for grass stains and, finding none, returned his gesture. "Jordan Cavanaugh."
"Nice to run into you, Jordan Cavanaugh." His smile broadened and she noticed the slight dimples at the edges of his mouth.
They stood for a moment, innocuous conversation exhausted, yet both seemingly unwilling to move on.
Forester leaned into her. "You sure you're okay? That was quite a tumble."
Jordan blushed. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." She waved a vague hand around at the grass bordering the path. "All the rain keeps the grass pretty – um – lush." She chuckled. "So, yeah, really. I – uh – I should… get going."
He nodded and took a step back, allowing her passage. She smiled, almost shyly, and began adjusting her iPod. He watched her, holding his breath. She flashed him a little wave, moving off, hoping to regain her former rhythm, having a feeling that wasn't going to be easy.
"Um – Miss – Miss Cavanaugh!"
She turned to find Scott Forester jogging up to her. She took the ear buds out and gave him a smart aleck grin. "Hoping to run me over again?"
He returned her grin, looking down at his running shoes for a moment. When he glanced back up at her, he found her still smiling. "No. I wanted to buy you a cup of coffee actually."
She pretended to consider that. The fact was consideration was superfluous.
"It's the least I can do," he added, arching his eyebrows for comical emphasis.
A cup of coffee became running together four mornings a week, lunch on Saturdays, Wednesday night take-out during Jordan's midnight shift at the morgue, dinners out or at each other's homes and, finally, Sunday brunch and a sail on his boat. The slow pace suited Jordan as she found she rather enjoyed being courted, which was exactly what Forester, a naval intelligence officer stationed at nearby Widby Island, was doing. She teased him about it every so often, usually in self-deprecation after having revealed some less-than-shining facet of her history.
"I'm an officer, Dr. Cavanaugh," he would tease back. "And a gentleman."
"About that," Jordan replied as they sailed that Sunday, standing at the rail, her chest to his back. Her eyes danced with passion and her smile shone in the sun.
Scott lifted a wayward lock of her long, dark hair, blown back by the breeze, from her cheek. "About what?"
"Being a gentleman," she clarified.
He drew her closer and nuzzled her ear. "Is there a problem with that?"
His voice sent shivers through her. She shook her head and then craned it to gaze into his eyes. They were a deep green today and the wind that toyed with her hair barely ruffled his short, brown thatch. He kissed her gently, his hands splayed over her abdomen, holding her tightly, almost possessively. When they broke apart, she turned back to gaze at the ocean with its small wind-whipped white caps. "It's just – I've never been… around anyone who – who…." She opened and closed one hand in front of her in a futile attempt to grasp physically the words she sought.
He grinned hopelessly at her. "Who was willing to wait?"
She nodded, her skin suffusing pink.
"Except Woody Hoyt."
"That was – different."
Forester shrugged. He knew all about the Boston detective's stop-and-start pursuit of the dark haired M.E. and the end results. Jordan had never said – and would never have to say – that a big part of her reason for leaving her hometown had been to leave that particular dance floor. He turned her slowly in his arms, raising his knuckles to brush her cheek again. "Worried that I don't want you?"
She shook her head in negation – too fast to fool him.
"Because I do. I'd have to be blind not to." He smiled. "And even then I don't think it would matter. Your intelligence, your dedication, your humor…. Hell, Jordan, your voice and the way you walk do things to me. Believe me, I want you. Sometimes more than the air I breathe."
"Then – I don't get it."
He gave her another light shrug. "I'm a patient man. Intelligence work kind of demands it. And I'm damn good at what I do. I've learned to apply itto the rest of my life." He stopped for a moment, looking beyond her to the horizon. "I know a lot about you, Dr. Cavanaugh. I know what you've told me and I know how to read between the lines to figure out what you haven't told me." He dipped his mouth to her ear. "And I do not want to lose you." He kissed the sensitive spot behind that ear. Her soft sigh encouraged him. "So I will wait until you are ready."
She leaned up into him. "For what?" Her eyes glowed in the sunlight.
He took a breath, screwing up his courage. "To know that I love you, and when I say I want you, it's forever."
For a long series of heartbeats he thought he'd blown it, that his self-proclaimed patience had failed him, that his usually preternatural instincts had deserted him. That had happened only once before and it had cost him his first marriage and his two sons. The truth was he hadn't been much better at relationships than Jordan, but everything about her had screamed at him to shove aside his fears and fall for her. Just how hard hadn't really hit him until he'd seen that don't-you-want-me? doubt in her eyes.
She closed her eyes for a moment, resting her head against his well-muscled chest. Her hands slid up his back and she held him as closely as he held her. Every demon that had ever chased her reared up in front of her at that moment, from the lies of her childhood, to her inability to feel worthy of a certain type of man, from the deep-seated anger in her soul, to the bone-crushing fear of hurting or being hurt. Her fingers scrabbled at the rugby shirt he wore. "Really?" Her voice was little more than a choked whisper.
He drew back and lifted up her chin, ensuring that she met his gaze. "I've never meant anything more, Jordan." Fight them, honey. Tell them you've really exorcised them. They may have helped you become who you are, but they aren't you.
Her throat constricted as she swallowed. A seabird wheeled overhead, cawing raucously, drawing their attention for a moment. As the bird diminished in flight, Jordan moistened her lips. What she had fought to find for so long was right in front of her. The life she'd once described as a trail of broken limbs was one she was free to leave behind. She only had to finish making the choice she'd started the night she'd told Garret she was quitting. She looked up at him; his eyes still followed the arc the bird was taking. He was tall and strong, good looking in a very masculine way, with the short, military hair, a square, sharp jaw and aquiline nose. He was smart as hell and perhaps the most honorable man she'd ever known. He'd made it through a devastating sub accident in his early naval career, transitioned to Intelligence and worked through a shattered marriage, all while still managing to make rank as a captain at the earliest possible age. For the briefest of moments she was lying in a bed in the Lucy Carver Inn, listing Pollack's good qualities for Woody and saying that something was missing. Then she wasn't there any longer. And she hadn't been for a long time. Nothing was missing.
Forester knew it the moment she did; he saw in her eyes the moment the fetters fell from her heart. He gave her the time to say the words before he kissed her. His hands roamed her back, slipped beneath the knit polo top she wore. He felt her hiss of indrawn breath as his hands made contact with her flesh. He groaned softly into her mouth. Pulling away gently from her, he rested his forehead against hers. "Maybe we should head back-"
"I thought you could sleep on this boat." She gave him a wicked, sensual smile.
He swallowed. "You – Uh – Yeah. I just thought…." He brushed a hand through the hair the wind was tangling.
"Stop thinking," she instructed him.
He grinned at her. "Yes, ma'am." His voice was rough with need. "Let me check the anchor."
Jordan kept waiting for the little voice to whisper in her head, to tell her to run, that she really couldn't trust anyone but herself, that she'd get hurt, that she didn't deserve him. It didn't. And there came a day when she forgot to wonder why it stayed so silent.
Sometime after that – Jordan couldn't tell you how long – she received a small bouquet of flowers at the morgue. Aly, the secretary to the Chief M.E., brought them in, grinning. Jordan blushed, even though flowers were a weekly offering. After the redhead's departure, she leaned back in her chair to read the card. What she read made her sit forward, a tremendous smile wreathing her face.
Meet me at the boat at 7 p.m. Love you, Scott Forester, Rear Admiral (Lower Half), USN
The promotion for which he'd worked so hard!
That anything else wonderful could happen that day never occurred to her.
The boat rocked slightly at its mooring as Jordan shouted to him, seeing the light on down in the tiny galley. "Ahoy! Permission to come aboard, Admiral?"
He appeared quickly and took the ladder two steps at a time. "Permission granted," he told her, reaching for her to pull her into his arms almost before her feet left the dock. His lips found hers as he let her slide down his body. He kissed her until they were both breathless.
As she broke from him, breathing shallowly, she grinned up at him. Bringing a hand to his cheek, she stroked lightly. "Congratulations."
"Thanks." He took one of her hands and kissed the palm, having discovered how much that small, intimate gesture turned her on. "Come on. I've got champagne in the ice bucket and some of that bruschetta you like from Il Torino."
He poured her a glass and let her toast him. For a few moments, he just watched her, his nerves worse than when he'd been waiting to hear about his promotion. "Jor," he finally said.
"Admiral?" She grinned.
"I – I wanted to talk to you about what this promotion means."
Fear stirred in her. It hadn't occurred to her, but suddenly realization struck – he could well be transferred. She nodded.
"I told them four more years."
"Here?" She devoutly wished it hadn't come out as a squeak.
He smiled. "Here. And I want to spend those four years with you."
"I see… four years-"
"And after that, wherever I decide to go, whatever I decide to do, I want tomake that decisionwith you."
Jordan's mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
He spoke quickly. "You don't need to give me an answer right now. I can wait. I wanted – needed you to know that it's what-"
It stopped him cold. "Yes?"
She nodded. "Yes."
Garret surveyed his office. He gave a wry smile to thin air. Not his office any more. Like a few of his predecessors, he was stepping down from his post as Chief M.E., but would continue to work as an M.E. in the morgue. He looked around, remembering the multitude of life's turning points that seemed to have taken place in this office. He chuckled at the knowledge that so many of them had come about largely because of a certain missing friend. Her name was seldom mentioned any longer, but Jordan Cavanaugh would always be a part of the morgue. He'd seen it in the eyes of her closest friends when he'd announced his plans and added that they included finding a replacement. No one had needed to say a word for him to know that they'd hoped it might be Jordan. All of them except Cassie Reager, the hire he'd made that had allowed Jordan's precipitous departure. Dr. Reager was hoping for the big chair herself. Not-so-secretly, his staff was hoping for almost anyone but Dr. Reager. They need not have worried; Cassie left the moment she knew Garret had other plans. He'd been unable to respond, however, to the hope in the eyes of the others. He let his smile broaden as he picked up one last box, ready to cart it down to what was still, in his mind, Jordan's office. He'd have to get used to a smaller space.
He could live with it.
He hoped the others could live with his decision.
"Wow, it looks so – so sterile."
Garret turned to find one of Boston's finest smiling at him.
He mustered up as much enthusiasm as he could. "Detective Hoyt." He glanced around. "It won't for long, I'm sure."
Lu nodded. "Yeah. You prepared for that?"
Macy chuckled, for so many reasons he couldn't even begin to articulate. "Is anyone ever ready?" He studied her for a moment. She and Woody had tied the knot about two years before, finally giving in to the inevitable, he supposed. Or maybe Woody had finally convinced himself he'd gotten past Jordan. Macy hadn't attended. Nor had Lily, Nigel or Bug. They'd actually planned to, except there'd been a multi-car fatality that day. Mysterious ways…. "Something I can do for you?"
She turned a faint shade of pink, always uncomfortable around Garret Macy. She knew he'd been the closest thing to a father Jordan had after her own dad disappeared, and he'd never done much more than tolerate her presence in the department, Hoyt's life or his bed. "We – Um – It's short notice, but we knew they – uh – everyone here – had a party for you last night and so Woody and I – we thought – we wanted to invite you and Lisa to have dinner with us." She shrugged, hating the way he rendered her into a tongue-tied teenager trying to communicate with her junior prom date's dad. "To celebrate."
Garret let his lips turn down into a small frown. "Oh, thanks. That's great, but actually we're having a get-together for the new Chief M.E. tonight."
"Oh! He's…? She's… in Boston?"
Garret nodded. He'd been pestered for weeks to reveal anything about the new chief and he'd been very reticent. "Yeah. Spouse. Kids. We thought it'd be nice. Informal."
Lu nodded. "Well, yeah. Then never mind!" Her smile was too bright, her voice too chirpy.
Macy couldn't resist the silent plea. "Why don't you two join us instead?"
Lily checked her watch again as Matt handed her a drink. "Relax," he whispered in her ear. "Garret probably wanted all of us here a little bit early."
She grimaced. "I know. That makes sense. But it doesn't make the waiting any easier."
"That's it, the not knowing," Bug agreed, moving to stand next to the Seelys. "I mean, what has Dr. M said about – about him? Her? I just wish we had some idea what to expect."
"Nigel doesn't seem anxious," observed Matt, watching the tall Brit chat up one of the new secretaries.
Bug rolled his eyes. "That's because Nigel's got this idea that he knows who it is."
"How could he?" Lily was aghast.
The Indian doctor shrugged. "He says Dr. M did drop one hint." He sipped his drink. "And he said Dr. M was being too subtle. Whatever that means."
Seeley grinned. "I think it's just payback for all the crazy stunts you guys have pulled while Garret was Chief."
Neither his wife nor Bug could really argue that. They did both give him small smiles however.
Those gathered mingled a few more minutes, sipping drinks, exchanging pleasantries, small talk and a great deal of speculation. The Seelys and Bug split apart, only to come together again a bit later. Bug's brow was furrowed. "Do you suppose Dr. M invited them?" The contempt was barely disguised in his voice and not at all hidden from his eyes.
Lily shrugged. "Maybe it's Garret's way of saying we all need to let go of the past."
"Wasn't that in a memo a while back?"
Lily raised her eyebrows. It had always surprised her exactly how vehemently Bug had taken up against the Hoyts. Then again, even for her occasional antics, he'd loved working with Jordan, enjoyed the challenges she provided, felt something kindred with her passion for justice.
Nigel had arrived at their sides now. "You find it odd, hm?"
"You don't?" Matt asked. He still worked with both Hoyts of course, but, over the years, his sympathies had been colored by his marriage to Lily.
Nigel gave them a nonchalant shrug. "Not really."
Before anyone could demand that he explain, the door swung open, revealing a smiling Garret Macy and his wife, Lisa. He called for silence and quickly got it. "I want to thank everyone for coming tonight. I think this will be a great way to welcome our new Chief M.E." He looked around, finding expectant faces. "Who will be here in just a moment. You know what parking is like down here."
Nervous laughter rippled through the crowd.
Watching them, Garret couldn't help but smile. He knew perfectly well that Nigel had figured it out. Someday he'd have to ask the criminologist what it was that had tipped him off, but not tonight. He turned as he heard the squeal of a child behind him. He moved to open the door and was nearly bowled over by the three year old barreling through the door. He thought something, briefly, about apples not falling far from the tree, as he scooped up the small, dark haired girl.
"Our new chief is a bit young," Lily murmured to Bug and Nigel.
"Well," Garret was saying. "I might as well start here. This is someone I think most of you are going to get to know well. My namesake actually. Macy Forester."
He was met with puzzled expressions.
Until a call of the child's name, from the sidewalk, could be heard. And a mild curse.
Garret laughed aloud. "I'm pretty sure you all remember Macy's mom, Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh-Forester."
Jordan just about blew through the door in exactly the state she might have liked to avoid, but the sort that, in reality, suited her.
All was silence and stillness for a moment. Then Nigel was moving forward, sweeping her up into a hug that threatened to crush her. "Welcome home, luv," he whispered. "We've missed you."
Wine glass in one hand, little Macy's hand in the other, Jordan circled the room. As if by unspoken agreement, her closest friends huddled in a small knot toward the far side of her circuitous path. Her husband, admirably lacking in self-consciousness, carried a baby of about ten months in his arms, trailing his wife and daughter.
By the time Jordan had made it to those most pleased to see her, she felt her mouth was stretched tight into a permanent smile. There'd been a lot of that lately. Scott had done the four years he'd promised the NCIS and had then accepted a position with Homeland Security in Boston. The move had stunned her at first, but she knew he was right. Neither of them would ever truly be west coast people. He missed his home state of Maine (not enough to move all the way back there, thankfully) and she did miss Boston. She wanted her kids to watch the seasons change, make snowmen in the winter, spend the Fourth sweltering on the Commons with so many others listening to the Pops… the list went on. Maybe the fact that Macy's first word had been "latte" had something to do with it all, too. But their leaving Seattle had occasioned a lot of farewell receptions and one or two rather raucous parties. They'd already been welcomed by his new colleagues as well as a neighborhood get-together. Jordan Cavanaugh in the 'burbs. Jordan Cavanaugh schmoozing. Would wonders never cease? She devoutly hoped so.
"Thank God!" She exclaimed, freeing her hand from Macy's, and throwing her arms around Lily first, then Bug and then again around Nigel. "I can't wait to get to work with you guys."
Lily smiled, tears glistening in her eyes. "Oh, my God, Jordan! We asked Garret if he would – if he'd hire you – but he acted like it wasn't going to happen." She covered her hands with her mouth. "This is the best surprise!"
Jordan wiped her brow in mock relief. "Good, I was afraid you all might hate me."
"We tried it." Bug smiled gently at her. "Didn't work."
Macy tugged at Jordan's slacks. Jordan grinned down at her. "Sorry, I'm being forgetful." She hoisted the girl into her arms. Their faces so close, it was abundantly clear she was Jordan's daughter. "This is Macy Elizabeth Forester."
"I'm three!" the toddler told them. "I was bornded on my mommy and daddy's very first wedding anninersary… I mean, anniservary… um… what's the word again, Mommy?"
Her dark-headed mother snuggled her nose into the child's silky dark hair. "Ann-i-ver-sa-ry."
The girl nodded. Then she looked at the faces in front of her again. "You're Lily. You're Bug. And you're Nigel. You're from England. I know where that is on a map." She cocked her head and peered at Matt Seely. "I don't know who you are. I don't think Mommy has any pictures of you."
Matt grinned broadly and with due solemnity, proffered a hand. "I'm Matt Seely. I'm married to Lily and I work for the Boston Police Department."
Macy took the hand with equal gravity.
Jordan took the chance, before Macy rattled on, to introduce Scott and the baby. "This is Scott Forester, Rear Admiral (Lower Half), U.S. Navy – retired – and new head of the Boston office of Homeland Security. And he's holding Noah, who will be ten months day after tomorrow."
It was Nigel who leapt in. "Forester? U.S. Navy? Intelligence by any chance."
Forester nodded, his tanned face breaking into a wide, white-toothed grin. "Yeah. NCIS." His eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. Nigel. Townsend?"
"Yeah, mate. Wow. How strange is this?"
How strange it was could be seen on the faces of the others. Forester turned to Jordan. "You never told me you'd worked with Ghost!"
"That's because I didn't know I'd worked with – uh – Ghost." Jordan's response was slow, perplexed.
"Man… wow! Do you remember the one time, off the coast of…?" Nigel's voice ground to a halt. "Uh, yeah. Never mind. We can reminisce later."
"What? If you told us you'd have to kill us?" Bug's sarcasm was light.
The two men exchanged looks. "Uh, yeah, actually," they replied in unison.
"This really is amazing" Scott slapped Nigel on the arm. "Ghost! In Boston!"
"Um, sorry, but why 'Ghost?' Lily's voice was hesitant despite her burning curiosity.
Forester laughed and Lily, at least, could understand one reason Jordan had fallen for him. Besides being good-looking, he was the kind of man who must laugh a lot, the sound was too rich and deep not to be indulged in. "Townsend. Town. Ghost Town. Ghost." He shrugged.
"So," Jordan's brows quirked up. "You would be… what… Tree?"
Nigel jumped in. "Maple actually. Yeah, we knew he wasn't from Vermont, but it just seemed to work."
From there the conversation spun around rapidly. Lily found herself having a deep talk with Macy about the societal effects of Sesame Street, before discussing the complete impossibilities associated with The Velveteen Rabbit. It seemed everyone clamored to hold the baby, though Bug was the one who lucked out in giving him a bottle. Forester kept them all smiling, laughing and even "awing" as he described meeting and courting Jordan. The new Chief M.E. had no idea how much time had passed when she felt a light pressure at her elbow.
She turned her head to find herself face to face with a pair of eyes she hadn't seen in a very long time. Woody gave her a tentative smile, though those blue eyes of his remained wary and – maybe she was imagining it – sad. "Welcome back, Jordan."
"Thanks," she murmured.
He glanced around the group quickly, the others either unaware of him or ignoring him, maybe waiting to see how she would react. "It looks like you've done quite well."
She let her mouth curve up into a contented smile. "I like to think so." She sipped her wine. "From what Garret said, you haven't done so badly yourself."
He looked down for a moment. When he looked back up at her, the wariness in his eyes was gone. The sadness seemed indelible however. "Yeah," was all he said. "I'll – uh – I'll see you, I'm sure. Work."
She nodded, watching him go. Grief washed over her for a friendship long ago sacrificed on the altar of a love that had failed.
There are lots of things psychologists aren't supposed to do. There's a code of ethics for a reason, Lu Hoyt reminded herself as she listened again to the voicemail message on her cell phone. There's a reason you don't get involved with former patients. She'd ignored that rule. Somehow, she'd been lucky enough to escape censure and keep her job. Or so she'd thought at the time. Now, she snorted at her so-called luck.
There are things smart women – with or without psychology degrees - don't do. They walk away from men who, all verbal protests aside, are clearly in love with another woman. They walk away and don't look back. Smart women certainly don't marry those men. And if they've been stupid enough to do that, they certainly have enough brain power left not to…. She sighed in irritation. Intelligence had nothing to do with it sometimes. Sometimes it's all luck. Or the lack of it.
She'd seen the look in his eyes that night. She'd seen it every morning since, seen it on cases where the Chief M.E. chose to respond herself, seen it in interrogation rooms, seen it at the Morgue, seen it over the dinner table. She'd seen it as he closed his eyes each night, falling asleep with Jordan Cavanaugh's image behind his eyelids – never mind that it was Jordan Cavanaugh-Forester now and there was no trace of that look in her eyes.
She felt her throat close as tears loomed.
Add another adjective to her self-deprecating list.
Woody cocked his head to the side. He'd seen lots of bodies. He didn't think he'd ever seen one bent at quite such an odd angle. It was disturbing and fascinating all at once. Then again, anything that looked worse than the train-wreck of his life was a welcome distraction these days. He looked up at the sound of movement through the trees.
"Jeez, this far out we're lucky anyone found him while there was still anything to find." Jordan gave Woody a wink. So much about her hadn't changed.
Next to her, Nigel drew out the digital camera and began to photograph the scene. Jordan gazed around them. Deep woods, lightly rolling terrain. No sign of how the victim got here. She couldn't help the small hum of satisfaction that escaped her lips. She spent way too much time doing paperwork these days. A baffling, challenging case was something she needed.
After all the necessities had been taken care of, Nigel stayed to arrange John Doe's transport back to the morgue. Jordan and Woody began hiking back to their cars, nearly two miles away. They talked over the mysterious circumstances, how things were at the precinct, how Jordan was settling in to her new role – everything that wasn't even remotely personal.
As Woody opened the door to his official car, Jordan called to him. "Hey man, congratulations, by the way."
He gave her a quizzical look.
"I heard Lu's pregnant. That's great." She smiled a dazzling smile at him, her eyes sparkling. "Kids are the greatest. You'll love it." Her smile, if possible, increased in wattage. "Once you get past the midnight feedings, constant diaper changes and teething, of course."
Weakly, he thanked her.
For a few months both Hoyts did a good job feigning joy at their impending parenthood. Lu gritted her teeth every time Woody worked with Jordan and avoided the Chief M.E. herself. Woody read all the books, tried to treat her the way he knew he ought to, tried not to think of the dark-haired woman whose body he dreamt of lying next to his, expanding with their child. He tried not to feel it each time he went to the Morgue – after hours - and found Jordan with one or both children, tried not to hate Macy Forrester who was a replica of her mother and Noah Forrester who was a nearly perfect blend of his parents. Lu tried not to see it, tried to convince herself that the baby would change both of them.
Seven weeks from her due date the charade collapsed. Later neither of them would be able to say what triggered it, only that they'd yelled, screamed, said things that could never be taken back.
Only that he'd walked out of their apartment, her question thundering in his ears. "If you still loved her, why the hell did you marry me?"
Only that she sobbed disconsolately in their bed, his answer reverberating in the doorways of her heart. "I thought she was never coming back!"
The next morning found Lu with enough fight in her to confront the author of her misery. It might not save her sham of a marriage, but it would salvage some of the blonde's self respect. She walked in, unannounced, uninvited and ungraciously, to the Chief M.E.'s office and slammed the door behind her.
Jordan looked up, the flash of anger fading from her eyes when she saw who her visitor was and took in the ragged look the woman wore.
"He's all yours," Lu spit at her.
"Who?" Jordan's voice was even.
"You know who." She pushed a blonde lock from her face. "My husband." Her hands went to her swollen belly. "The father of this baby."
Jordan took a deep breath. "I don't mean to sound… cold, but I don't want him."
Lu snorted. "Like that matters. He sure as hell wants you."
"Detective Hoyt, I haven't done anything to encourage him. I promise you that."
The blonde shook her head, fighting the tears. "Don't you get it, Dr. Cavanaugh? Jordan. All you had to do was come back here." She swallowed hard. "That's all it took."
For a moment the M.E. simply looked at the detective. "I'm sorry," she said at last, sincere, calm, but unwilling to accept a burden that was not hers.
"Why did you come back? Ever since – Ever since that night… it's like all the time you were gone didn't matter."
"It mattered to me," Jordan told her softly.
Heedless of the soft chiding, Lu rushed on. "We were fine until you came back. Fine!"
Again Jordan simply studied the woman in front of her. "So fine that five months after I came back, five months after that night, you got pregnant?"
Jordan's words hit home. Crying, the blonde tore from Jordan's office. The M.E. picked up her phone and buzzed Lily, explaining the situation in a rush, asking the grief counselor to go after Lu Hoyt and try to calm her down. She then called the precinct and demanded Detective Woody Hoyt's presence in her morgue office.
When he arrived, her curt "Sit down, Detective," told him this was not the phone call for which he'd been hoping.
"Something about a case?" he tried, his heart thudding with anxiety.
"No." Her voice was clipped. "It's about your wife."
"Lu and I are – It's over."
"So I figured." She narrowed her eyes at his unspoken query. "She was in here about half an hour ago, nearly hysterical, which – in case you're concerned – isn't good in her condition."
Jordan glared at him. "You really can be an ass, at times. Do you know that? Her emotional state could harm your child and your wife and you can't even express worry about that?"
"I told you, it's over." He was on the defensive.
Jordan leaned across her desk. "Woody, I don't know – or care – what the two of you said to each other to get to this place where you are. I don't want to know. What I do know is the two of you are bringing a child into this world and it most definitely is not over for that child."
He exploded. "I don't want the baby! I never wanted this baby! She got pregnant to trap me."
The M.E.'s eyes closed briefly. "Your wife got pregnant to trap you? Your wife? And I suppose she did it all by herself, huh? And as for not wanting this baby, it's a little late for that, Woody."
"I want you," he told her, his face a puppy dog's wanting affection.
Her heart sank. She'd wanted to believe what Lu had said had been pregnancy hormones talking, even though she'd known deep down it hadn't been. "It's also a little late for that."
He came across the desk, grabbing her, their faces close together, lips nearly touching. "I want you, Jordan. I still love you. Tell me you don't love me." He kissed her fiercely, years of passion and desire so long channeled elsewhere now broken free of his carefully constructed dams.
She wrenched herself free, her eyes furious, but also sad. So many thoughts tumbled through her mind. From the mean ones – Would you believe me? You always believed what you wanted to, when you wanted to – to the bewildered ones – Who are you? You aren't the man I loved – to the anguished ones – Don't do this. Don't ask me to open the doors to rooms that are closed and should stay that way. She took a deep, shaking breath. "I don't love you, Woody."
Maybe it was her tone. Maybe it was the set of her shoulders. Most likely it was her eyes, those eyes that had always entranced him, that he'd always been able to read, even when he hadn't wanted to see the text. "You used to." A near wail from a forlorn child who has neglected that which seemed so sure in his world, only to find it has been lost, fallen from a tiny hole in his life, its disappearance not noted for too long, until it is too late ever to find or replace it.
He watched her. There was no struggle in her. The struggle had ended three thousand miles away and he's never even had the chance to enter the fray.
No. That wasn't true. He'd had the chance. He'd turned his back on that particular battle.
She reached a hand to his cheek and brushed it softly, like a mother might to calm a frightened boy. "Go find your wife, Woody. Take her home and remind yourself why you fell in love with her."
He shook his head. "I can't. How can I?"
Jordan picked up the photo of Macy and Noah that she kept on her desk. "How can you not?"
Woody looked at the two smiling children. He hung his head in defeat.
EPILOGUE – Twenty-four years later…
Woody smiled down at the woman in his arms. She had aged well. Still slender and light on her feet, they danced easily, as they always had. He leaned closer and murmured in her ear, "Thanks."
She smiled up. "For what?"
He shrugged. "Saving us."
She tugged on his lapels. "You two did that yourselves."
"Maybe. Maybe not." He brushed a bit of hair from her cheek. "You made us both take a long, hard look at - at everything."
"Well, you're welcome."
They danced a bit more, listening to the music and each thinking their own private thoughts. The music was coming to an end, when he spoke again. "I'll always love you, Jordan."
She nodded. "I'm glad we both finally figured out there are different ways to love each other."
The final notes sounded, separating them. They made their way back to their respective spouses. Jordan bit her lip as she watched her daughter talking and laughing with her new husband at her side. T.J. was a couple years younger than Macy, but already establishing himself nicely in the Boston Police Department while she slogged through medical school.
Lily found her way to Jordan's side and drew the retired Chief away from her husband's side. "Kind of like looking at a mirror, huh?"
Smiling, Jordan shook her head. "They only look like – like Woody and I did."
"You two okay?"
A nod this time. "It took a long time, but yeah. We really are."
"Regrets?" Lily's voice hinted that she already knew the answer.
"No." The response was quick and honest. "Some things don't happen the way we think they will, Lil. Sometimes that's the best thing."
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