DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Wanna help me stage a coup?
DEDICATION: This one is for moonbebe who made a comment that inspired it. See the note below about original intentions and all though. Grin.
A/N: Damn story took on a mind of its own. The ending is completely not what I had in mind when I started this. Hence – the sappiness. Oh well, they can't all be totally angst-ridden and bittersweet now, can they? Anyway, I'm not all that happy with it. Let me know if you are (you know you want to hit that feedback button!)
Candy Everybody Wants
Jordan opened her eyes, blinking slowly at the light filtering in through the grimy window panes. She groaned as memory tapped its cold fingers against her skull. Her sleep had been broken, fragments of reality jarring with her dreamscape's inexplicable messages. Though she knew the blood she'd seen was in her mind she could not resist a quick look down at her hands. She still half expected to see them stained with gore from Pollack's ruined body.
She sighed and sat up, running her hands through her hair.
He was almost all she thought about now. Would be all she thought about probably until they found the person or people who really killed him – and Lance the Bartender, for that matter. Though she now knew herself to be innocent, she also knew she'd never fully expiate the guilt. If he'd never met her….
If he hadn't come to her apartment that first night.
If she'd cajoled him into coming to Littleton Village.
If she'd been able to say her night with Woody meant nothing.
God, if she hadn't called him.
If she'd realized before it was too late how she felt.
She had never much liked that word – if – and now she was beginning to loathe it with her entire soul.
She stood up, ready to brave the shower. She glanced around the cramped, anonymous hotel room. Dirt and grime seemed to coat every surface. As unappealing as it was, it was also sanctuary. She hadn't asked too many questions, but the guy who ran it was a friend of Nigel's and he hadn't asked any questions.
As if Nigel had known her thoughts flashed over him, the disposable cell phone he had gotten her chirped. She inhaled deeply, wondering if she should even bother to answer it. He called every few days. Short conversations, usually a sentence or two to let her know what kind of progress was being made. She supposed she should be grateful it took that sentence or two to relate the progress, instead of the single word she dreaded: none. The last time he'd called he must have heard the bleak note in her voice; he'd reminded her it had only been three weeks. He'd had the grace to wince after saying "only." Only…. Jordan felt like she was living time in a fucking bottle.
Her hand was lead as she reached out to pick up the device, giving in to her curiosity and hope, that foolish beast that refused to lie down and quietly expire. "Yeah."
"It's over, Jordan." His joy was barely containable. "Come home."
"What?" It was a stupid thing to say, but she couldn't quite process his words.
"We got them. There were three of them. It's over. You're completely cleared."
"I fled," she protested, suddenly aware of the life she'd have to resume, suddenly uncertain she wanted to.
"Taken care of," the criminologist assured her.
"Jordan, just come back. It's all right." He knew her too well; his voice dropped and he all but begged her to trust him. "I promise."
She thanked him and hung up. She looked around, choices and chances open to her, her life ready to be resumed. She bit her lip, tears stinging her eyelids. Choices. Chances.
She braved the shower.
They must have staked out the elevator. Lily was on her before the doors opened fully, hugging her, squealing, commiserating, squealing some more, grinning ear to ear, all the while leading her toward the break room. "We didn't have time to get a cake," the grief counselor was babbling. "We're all so excited, so happy, so…."
Jordan quit hearing any of it. It was … normal. She knew everyone would give her some space, let her have time to "adjust." She just didn't know if she could again. And then that uncertainty that had flared in her mind earlier returned. Did she want any of this?
Lily realized she'd lost Jordan's attention and stopped, apologizing gently. Jordan assured her friend that it was all right, that she was just a little overwhelmed at the moment. They were the right words and Lily smiled again before opening the door.
Jordan found herself in Nigel's tight embrace, his voice for-her-ears-only as he murmured how glad he was she'd made it back safely. She pulled back and smiled at him, reminding him that he had a lot to do with that. He shrugged nonchalantly.
Bug hugged her tentatively and started to explain one of the ways they'd tracked down the real killers – it had to do with an old piece of clothing and the moth eggs they'd found on it. Lily nudged him gently and he stopped. Jordan thanked him.
She turned to Garret whose stern look belied his intense relief. Someday he was going to figure out how his favorite employee could also be the one who got herself into the worst messes. He figured that day the weather report in Hell would be rather icy. He shook his head at her, but a smile grin was working its way onto his lips. "How many times is this now?"
She rolled her eyes. "Let's not go there."
"Why not?" His eyes glittered with an odd mix of amusement and sadness. "We've got to restart the office pool after all."
She groaned, his joke cutting far too closely to the truth.
"Well, uh, there's no cake – I suspect Lily mentioned that," Nigel interrupted. "But we do have…." He held up a pastry box with a flourish. "Jelly doughnuts."
"And espresso from that little stand down the block!" Lily chimed in.
"We were going to make a sign," But put in. "But we didn't have time."
It seemed everyone was in a rush to welcome her home – in mere minutes she'd been given the morgue gossip, apprised of the oddball cases that had come in, heard tales about some of Lily's clients and heard all about how the elevator quit working for three hours with Walcott stuck in it.
Her head spinning, Jordan excused herself. Garret followed her and found her leaning against the wall, trembling slightly.
"They're happy to have you home," he stated.
She nodded. "Yeah. It's great."
"Happier than you are to be here."
She didn't bother to deny it. "Thanks."
"For what?" He joined her, back to the wall, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular.
"You must have pulled some strings with Walcott." Jordan grinned wryly. "Or was that being stuck for three hours in the elevator no accident?"
Macy chuckled softly. "No, but I'll keep it in mind for future showdowns." He paused. "Actually, I didn't have anything to do with it."
"I find that hard to believe."
"It was Woody."
Jordan looked over at him.
"Did you know he and Simmons were – um – uh…."
"Yeah." Her voice was flat.
"When Simmons refused to even look at the evidence against your being the killer in either case, Woody went to his captain, who went to Walcott. Conflict of interest all over the place." Garret looked down at the floor for a moment, then back to the wall facing them. "By the time we'd figured out some pretty big brass in BPD were involved in this, all Woody really had to was drop a hint about a lawsuit and Walcott was more than happy to exonerate you of everything."
"How… thoughtful of him."
Macy said nothing, but studied the dark-headed M.E. with surreptitious glances. "Not sure about him?"
Jordan shrugged. "I'm not really sure about anything right now, Garret."
He nodded. "Including if you really want to be back here."
"I don't know this time. Can I really just go back to my "normal" life? Should I? Should I just – just consign Pollack to the heap of guys in my past?"
"Jordan, you can't get obsessed with his death."
"I'm not, Garret. Don't worry. It's not like with my mother."
She looked at him, dark eyes fathomless. "He – He changed things. For me. In me. Things I don't think I want to lose."
She smirked. "Right."
"You need time to think." This was a side of Jordan he hadn't seen and it worried him more than the sides he did know.
"What do you think I've been doing?"
"All right then, grieve. Think, grieve, get it straightened out without having to look over your shoulder."
"Yeah," she murmured again. "Right." She scuffed her toe on the floor. "Garret, it's never going to be "normal" again for me. I'm not sure I want it to be. I'm starting to feel like maybe I've spent my life wanting something I never really needed."
He regarded her steadily for a moment. "Like a kid in a candy store?"
After a moment's reflection, she nodded. "Yeah. Maybe." She bit her lip. "Yeah."
"Does it matter?" His voice was soft, woven with compassion.
He smiled. "That we need you."
She looked down, a faint flush rising into her cheeks. When she looked up, there were tears shining in her eyes. Her throat closed. She'd spent most of her life dissembling, convincing everyone – especially herself – how little she needed anyone else, and Pollack had undone it in a moment. I think we can get past it… if you can tell me it didn't mean anything. And for a heart beat everything had stopped, as the old Jordan – the one who could have blithely agreed because nothing truly touched her and that way nothing could truly hurt her - shattered. She'd wanted to say it hadn't meant anything, but she couldn't because she didn't know what it had meant, but nothing hadn't been an option. Nothing was the old way, the way of the woman who pushed everything aside and feigned invincibility.
Too late – far too late – had she realized what it all meant. Too late she could have said that it had meant something, but not what she'd always thought it would. By then, he'd been gone – and rightly so. He'd taken with him her days of saying what people wanted to hear, taken her ability to hide within herself. She hadn't been able to tell Woody he'd grown up and she couldn't tell Garret that their needing her mattered. It did. But maybe not enough for the words he'd left unspoken. Maybe not enough for her to stay.
He nodded as though he understood; she thought he probably did in all reality.
She pled exhaustion, asked him to say good bye for her and thank everyone again. She promised to be in tomorrow.
He returned to the break room to find expectant faces turned his direction. He sighed. "She's going to run."
Lily shook her head. "She's going to leave."
No one spoke. They didn't need to. Jordan had always run when she was frightened, when her life got too close, too real. It was different now; she was different. Life had gotten close, been very real and she'd survived. She'd found a man who loved her, who held just tightly enough to let her know she was wanted when her mind screamed at her to flee and lightly enough to let her know he knew who she was. She'd found a child who valued her, who wanted Jordan in her life doing all the things Jordan had long been afraid to try. Things she'd wanted for so long were somehow irrelevant, forgotten bits of sweets from the candy shop. But the kid who'd wanted them was grown up.
Jordan was reading, enjoying the familiar surroundings of her Pearle Street apartment. Someone – Lily most likely – had kept it clean in her absence. There was even food in the refrigerator. The small touches brought tears to her eyes.
Nigel had decrypted the files on Pollack's laptop and printed many of them out for her. She'd spent the afternoon reading them. At times she was nothing more than a voyeuristic cyber-trespasser, wondering how he'd feel if he knew the deepest of his thoughts, intended only for his own perusal, were now displayed for her. At others she was a dispassionate by-stander, able to appreciate the work he'd done, grimacing over the occasional bit of muckraking. At still others she was a woman discovering more about the man who'd loved her than she ever might have guessed.
He'd written mundane lists – do the laundry, buy milk, call home.
He'd worked on that novel he'd always said was languishing on his computer. She guessed the distance from her – and liberal doses of gin – had helped.
He'd composed letters. To her.
Not maudlin, not cloying. Honest. Angry. Aching. Forthright. Forgiving. Missing. Wanting. Loving.
She saw herself through his eyes. His candor sometimes disconcerted her, admitting he'd tailed her during the Kessler case because he didn't trust her, confiding that he'd written the piece about Woody mostly from jealousy, giving her insight into the way he'd stonewalled in that final case because he'd wanted to hurt her because she'd slept with someone else. But his candor came without recrimination. He didn't lay blame or wish she'd been any different. He somehow managed to capture his feelings when he'd seen her number in his phone logs, how he'd almost not called her back, but that, no matter what she'd wanted to say to him, he'd longed to hear her voice just once more. He'd mused to her about returning to Boston to wrap us the series he was working on, the one that was so dangerous, but more about returning to her, showing to her that she was worth the time, energy and fight it might take to get her back.
Jordan liked the woman she saw. That woman wasn't perfect by a long shot, but she was admirable – passionate, dedicated, intelligent, funny. Her strengths outweighed her weaknesses. He'd believed in her, more than she often believed in herself. She missed him as she cried soft tears, the first time she'd truly been able to grieve his loss. She cried for what she might have had with him. She cried for the woman she might have become with him. She cried for a future whose door was as firmly shut as the lid they'd nailed to his coffin.
"You're here." Garret's voice held palpable surprise as she passed him on her way to her office.
She stopped. "Where else would I be?"
He gave her a slight shrug.
"I'm not going anywhere, Garret," she told him, her voice firm.
She nodded slowly. "Okay. Yeah. For now. I've got a lot to work out and whatever decision I make, I need to get through that stuff before I do anything."
Macy could only look at her. Had he been so wrapped up in his own problems of the last year that he'd never noticed? Jordan Cavanaugh had grown up. She patted him on the arm, made a lightly sarcastic comment to reassure him that some things hadn't changed and then continued to her office. For a moment, the Chief M.E. wondered what it would mean in her life. In life at the morgue. In Woody Hoyt's life.
For so long the great touchstone of Jordan's life had been finding out who killed her mother. What Nigel had not told her that first morning back, she'd learned in the following days. Pollack's investigation had led to information which had helped determine who did kill Emily. Though his investigation hadn't started for that reason, from what Nigel and Woody had been unable to uncover, once he'd discovered the tenuous connection, his motivation had changed. Now she knew. The killer would never be brought to legal justice – his own son had avenged Emily's death years ago. But at last Jordan had her answer, the thing she'd always thought she needed to heal, to have a real life. The thing without which she thought she could never be whole, never give enough of herself to anyone else to make a difference, was hers at last.
And it didn't wipe away her pain and grief. It didn't smooth out the past. It didn't fix all the things that were broken.
Jordan did those things. Had done many of those things already. For herself. When she'd been a child, she'd needed an answer; as an adult, she'd wanted one. But the only thing the answer did was reveal to her that it was unnecessary. As usual, she visited her mother's grave on the anniversary of the murder. She brought flowers and laid them against the headstone. "I love you, Mom," she murmured before turning and walking away.
Woody had kept his distance, giving her the time he supposed she needed to grieve – and to forgive him for the whole thing with Lu. He hoped the fact that he'd always been in her corner would weigh in his favor; well, he knew it would – Jordan valued loyalty. The truth was, though, that he'd been an ass to her. And not just with Lu. For nearly a year, he'd tugged on her like a yo-yo, pushing her away, pulling her back in, pushing her away again. On the surface it might have seemed like turnabout was fair play, but emotionally Jordan had always been up front; emotionally he'd screwed with her in the past year. She'd deserved better then and she deserved the moon now. And if she demanded he bring her the stars too, he'd find a way. He hoped, prayed, even considered lighting a candle in church, that his idea of bringing her a late night snack during a graveyard shift at work would be the beginning of a new chapter for them.
Jordan sat in her office, reading reports really meant for Garret, getting the uneasy feeling that he was trying to "groom" her to take over for him, as if maybe he could guilt her into staying so he could retire. It had been a mercifully quiet week and this Wednesday night in mid October was no exception. She found her mind drifting.
She'd worked through most of the stuff she'd told Garret she had to. Made a start of it, at any rate. She knew a lot of it – living with the regrets and the grief – would just take time. She could live with that. What faced her now was the last piece of the puzzle.
She'd wanted him for a long time, loved him in her heart-hidden way. There were times when she'd all but clung to him to keep her sane, to keep her safe, to make sure she got through whatever the latest crisis was. Even when he'd been so awful to her, deep down, she'd still wanted him, loved him. She'd not slept with Danny McCoy out of fear of ruining their friendship, but out of fear of that friendship not becoming something more. Something more was what she'd felt in those horrifying minutes and hours in the hospital. Something more was what she'd promised him with her admission of love and need. She couldn't go back.
She may have told Pollack when he came to her apartment to press a relationship with her that it would only be physical, but she'd never meant it. She'd felt the same spark he had. Something more. Even though deep down, buried as far as she could manage, she still wanted another man.
And then… she'd gotten him.
Something more wasn't. It was just something.
Like Garret had said – a kid in the candy store. And that was the problem with the candy everybody wants. When you finally get it, it's never as sweet or tart or luscious as you were promised. Something is always missing. Maybe not really. Probably it's all the build up in your mind, but that doesn't change your disappointment, doesn't stop you wondering what the big deal was, doesn't stop you from thinking that apple your mom always said was better for you, had things you needed, actually tasted better. The end conclusion is what you wanted was not what you needed.
Now Jordan had to figure out which one Woody was. Pop rocks? Or a Red Delicious?
The gentle knocking at her office door startled her from her reverie. She called out, "Come in."
Woody. With food. She sucked in a deep breath and steeled herself.
He flicked up his eyebrows. "Hi."
"Hi," she replied. "Can I do something for you?" She blinked involuntarily at how surreal she sounded to herself. Was there anything she hadn't been through with this man? Hadn't there been a time when she would have gone through anything to be with him? And yet she was asking him if she could do something, as if he needed a case file.
"Uh…yeah. Help me eat this." He grinned, his eyes hopeful.
Smiling, Jordan nodded. Woody needed no further encouragement, but sat down across from her. "It's from Feretti's. I hope you still… like-"
"Yeah. It's great." She opened one of the carry-out boxes and inhaled the aroma of tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs. She looked up, hungrier than she'd realized. "Three-cheese ravioli?"
"With their top secret red sauce."
She took a bite and groaned lowly at the heavenly taste. Woody smiled more broadly at her. The first part of his plan seemed to be going well enough. They ate quietly for a while.
Wiping her mouth, Jordan sipped at the iced tea he'd brought as well. "Um… I hear you're the one who got Walcott to drop all the charges. Thanks."
He looked at her, his heart in his throat, dinner suddenly forgotten. "It was – It was wrong." He licked his lips. "All of it, Jordan. I had to make it right." He looked down. "It wasn't much. Considering…."
"It was a lot, Woody," she promised him. "Really."
He took a long drag from the bottle of beer he'd gotten himself, his voice tight. "I'm so sorry, Jordan. For everything. All of it. The last year."
She swallowed. "It's okay."
"No, it's not-"
She looked up. "Woody, we could probably spend a week apologizing to each other for everything over the years." She shrugged. "Water. Bridge. You know?" She dipped her head back down to her food, although her appetite had vanished.
Woody watched her for a moment as she toyed with the pasta, chasing it around the plastic take-out tray. He set aside his own meal, affected as she was, and finished his beer in two long swallows.
She looked back up, her eyes dark withache and recrimination. Struggling to get her raging emotions in check, she quietly asked if he was done. He could only nod. She gathered up the debris of their meal and told him she would be right back, that she would put the leftovers in the break room refrigerator.
Walking back down the silent hall, she wondered if Woody would even be there. She wasn't sure how she'd feel if he'd gone. You would have thought after all these years, she wouldn't need more time, but she did. Maybe she always would with him. Maybe that was her answer right there.
Pushing the door open, she took a deep, quiet breath. Woody had moved to her sofa. He'd discarded his jacket and tie – they lay over the chair he'd recently occupied. His head lolled back on the sofa; his eyes were closed. For a moment, she leaned against the doorjamb, looking at him, her throat painfully tight, her eyes burning with tears she would not let fall.
"You just gonna' stand there, Jo?"
She felt her lips twitch into a slight grin. "I don't know."
He cracked open one eye.
"Did you bring dessert?"
He chuckled and opened both eyes, giving her a dimpled smile. "Damn. I knew I forgot something."
She rolled her eyes in mock despair and then joined him, sitting close enough to him to catch the hint of his aftershave and to feel his warmth. As if without thinking, he slipped an arm around her shoulders and she took the invitation inherent in the action, resting her head against his shoulder.
"How'd we get here?" He asked after a long moment of silence.
"I took the elevator. You?"
He looked down to find her face tilted toward his, her honey eyes radiating a disquieting mix of warm desire and sad fear. He shook his head at her. "I'm serious."
She sighed softly, letting her eyes slip shut. "I don't know."
"Any idea where we go from here?"
She shook her head slowly. "I – uh – I've kind of been trying to figure that out myself."
He let his fingers tangle in her hair. "Why can't we be like normal people?"
"There are no normal people, Woods. Don't you know that by now?"
"Jordan Cavanaugh? A cynic?" He grinned down at her, but the expression was brittle.
"Who knew?" She blew out another strong breath. "I mean it. There is no normal. It's a rumor, an urban legend. We just happen to be a little more screwed up than most people."
She finally opened her eyes and looked up at him, her eyes somber, worrisome to him. "Look at us. My mother was killed in my house when I was a kid; you lost both your parents before you were even eighteen. Do you have any idea what Cal's up to these days? I haven't even heard from my dad in over a year. Neither of us can commit to a relationship that lasts longer than the time it takes to make a triple caramel latte!"
"Except to each other," he interrupted softly.
Her eyes fluttered shut again as she fought against the tears once more. "Have we? Is that what we've done? Doesn't it ever feel like all we've done is commit to frustrating each other? To making each other miserable? To never being on the same page?"
"Don't say that, Jordan. Please, don't say that."
"I'm sorry," she told him, through the tears she now couldn't hold back.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her more tightly to him. "You might be right, but I think we're so much more than that." He tilted her chin up. "I love you. You once told me you loved me."
"I know. And I do. I always will."
"Then – what-?"
"Woody," her voice was so soft, a sound almost ethereal. "I do love you. Always. But…." Her voice broke and she swallowed, hoping to stem the tide of grief flowing over her cheeks. "But it won't ever work."
"Why? How can you say that? We've never really tried it!"
She bit her lip harder this time. "Haven't we? All this time." She raised one hand to caress his cheek. "Woody, I'm not what you need."
"Yes, you are. Jordan, I want you in my life."
"Want me." She pursed her lips. "Maybe. But you need someone – someone… different."
"And so do I," she finished.
She looked at him, hating the pain in his eyes, wishing there were some cure for it other than time, but fearing there wasn't. "When you were little, did you ever want some special kind of candy? You waited and waited and finally got it and… it didn't taste like you thought it would or it made you sick or something. It was what you wanted, but it wasn't good for you, not like – like an apple or something."
He gave her a perplexed look. "What are you talking about?"
She sighed, trembling in his arms. "It's – It's like Pop Rocks or a Red Delicious."
He nodded slowly, then shook his head. "Sorry, but I'm still not following you."
"Pop Rocks were fun and tasty, but they weren't good for you. An apple… an apple was always good for you."
"Are you saying I'm like Pop Rocks?"
She nodded. "And I am, to you."
To her surprise, he chuckled. "Jo, don't you get it?" He stroked her cheek. "For me, you're Pop Rocks and that Red Delicious! Life with you is always going to be a wild ride, but you're the person I need most in my world."
For a moment she gaped at him. "Both?" She finally murmured.
He nodded, bringing his mouth to hers. He stopped, their lips not quite touching, and replied, "Both. Always."
She bridged the short distance between them, kissing him softly at first, but with growing passion. When they pulled apart, he rested his forehead on hers. His blue eyes sought her amber ones. For a long moment, they simply looked at each other, knowing there was more to talk about, hurts, injustices and betrayals to get beyond, but also believing that, in the end, how they got there wouldn't be as important as where they were going. Woody had said it.