DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Anyone wanna help me stage a coup?

NOTES: I know I have about three zillion longer stories going and I swear on the TV gods I'm working on them. This one is a one shot – I'm trying to get them finished and posted so they don't get stranded on the hard drive and so I can keep working on the longer stuff. No particular time setting but, as should become obvious, sometime after Season Five. And oh yeah, this was supposed to be light, cute and fluffy. Go figure…

Fragile Lives

Jordan sipped her Scotch quietly, staring at the oak bar beneath her elbows. Back four months, her name spectacularly cleared, her mother's murder solved and she still just couldn't quite get herself in synch with life around her. Everyone at the morgue was happy for her but slightly distant. They all said they understood her running. Still, she sensed beneath it a reproach, an accusation, as if she hadn't had enough faith in them, as if after all their years together she should have known she didn't have to rely solely on herself anymore.

She couldn't break every bad habit it seemed. She had a feeling they were wondering if she'd even tried.

She'd had a chilly conversation or two with her dad. She'd done her best not to confront him, not to make demands, not to implicate his silence in the ruin her life often seemed it had become. He'd told her that he hoped she would find peace now, but that he still wouldn't talk about it. Jordan had known better than to argue. "I love you, Dad. Nothing will ever change that." When he'd sighed quietly, she'd added. "Nothing ever would have."

She couldn't mend every fence either. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to prop them up and hope for the best.

Boston P.D. was fairly apologetic. The fact they'd rather neglected to investigate a sizeable conspiracy – prodded to do so only by evidence supplied long distance by their chief suspect – didn't look too good. That they'd willfully ignored some pretty strong forensics, in at least the bartender's shooting (not to mention a healthy increase in his bank balance just prior to Pollack's murder), was embarrassment enough when J.D.'s former editor splashed it across his paper's headlines. He'd also managed to hint, without savaging Jordan's reputation, that the lead detective in the homicide investigation had a pretty personal axe to grind with the M.E. Lu Simmons had actually returned to Virginia Beach before Jordan made it back to Boston. She had called the morgue once to apologize – half-heartedly at best – to Jordan. Not that Lu had managed to give in all together gracefully. Jordan had hung up on the blonde's final sniping comment - You know, the only person you were ever willing to fight for was yourself; the only living person that is - no longer willing to deal with her.

She couldn't always rein in those anger management issues apparently. Not that she tried too terribly hard in this case.

The worst had been Woody though. He'd celebrated with her, taken her to dinner, danced with her, his arms so tightly wrapped around her that she thought their bodies might fuse. And then he backed off, more than ever before. He wasn't malicious and bitter as before, nor, to her knowledge, was there anyone else this time. He simply wasn't there. It had left Jordan confused and aching, with nowhere to turn. And if the preceding year of her life had taught her anything, it was that she wasn't weak if she longed for a sympathetic ear, a strong shoulder and an emotional connection; she was simply human. She wasn't who she had been, nor did she want to become that woman again, but she couldn't find a way to be the woman she'd glimpsed when she was with Pollack.

The thought of Pollack made her sigh. His editor had arranged a memorial service in her absence, so she hadn't even had a real chance to say goodbye. It had turned out though that he'd listed her as his next of kin, so she'd had to decide the fate of his remains, memorial service notwithstanding. She'd found no one in Australia to send the body home to, so she'd had him interred near her mother's grave. That was somehow fitting. She'd had her own very private memorial service in his honor afterwards, standing ramrod straight, tears flowing freely down her cheeks, staring at the plot of earth, knowing at long last exactly what she'd lost. Understanding what she'd gained from him had taken longer. When they'd put the headstone in she'd gone back, laying flowers on the grave, kneeling to trace the chiseled letters and dates. It wasn't enough; it never would be. It had to do though.

She couldn't forget the last thing he'd taught her (albeit unintentionally) – that solutions aren't always the answer, aren't always the cure. She tried – repeatedly – to swallow the bitter pill of his death and sugar coat it with the knowledge that he'd changed her life even as he left it.

She kept telling herself to get over it all, get over Woody, move on. Maybe it was time for a change of scenery even. She'd thought about it more than once. She also knew that running wouldn't fix anything. It never had. She'd run from Woody after that desert kiss. She'd run from him that night the intruder had broken into her place and stolen her mother's locket. She had run from him when he'd told her he'd given up on the two of them. In her own way, she'd run after he'd rejected her from his hospital bed. In reality, she'd fled him after their night at the Lucy Carver Inn and when she'd caught him with Lu. She'd always come up with excuses, but that's all they were, and some of them were damn poor ones at that. The truth was it had long been easier to close herself off than to risk the pain.

She couldn't deny that somewhere along the way the solitude had become the very pain she'd sought to stave off.

She finished off the Scotch and stared at the empty glass, as if glaring at it long enough would convince it to provide all the answers she was missing.

"I thought tea leaves were supposed to predict your future."

She looked up into that pair of blue eyes that still made her heart do flips and some little corner of her soul tug at her. "Woody?"

"Another?"

"Uh... sure."

He signaled the bartended for two more of the same and handed over the cash when the drinks arrived. Then he turned to her and, lifting his glass to his lips, watched her over the rim. She sipped the alcohol tentatively but he got the feeling she could have poured the entire measure down her throat and never felt the burn.

Her dark eyes were cool – not unfriendly, but markedly lacking in the lively, sardonic sparkle he knew so well… had known so well. "What're you doing here, Farm Boy?"

He almost winced at the nickname. The gentle, wry affection was no longer in her voice. He shrugged. "I was on my way home from work. Felt like a drink. Noticed your car."

"Woody, your place is in directly the opposite direction from here."

He sighed. "Fine. I was on my way to your place. To talk."

"Really?" She tipped another swallow of the amber liquid into her mouth.

"Yeah. Is that so surprising?"

Now Jordan shrugged. "Just haven't seen much of you – wait, any of you – in the last few months. So I guess I am surprised."

His eyes grew very serious. "That's why I needed to see you. I'm sorry it's been so long…."

"But?"

He drained his own glass. "There were a lot of things I needed to sort out."

"All sorted now, Farm Boy?" The acid in her tone surprised both of them a bit.

"Damn it, Jordan!" He stopped, taking a deep breath. "This isn't exactly the conversation I had in mind."

"Sorry to disappoint you." She tipped the Scotch down her throat. "Again."

He closed his eyes and his jaw tightened. He sighed. "You know what? Never mind." He got up to leave.

You know, the only person you were ever willing to fight for was yourself; the only living person that is. She reached out a hand, placed it on his arm. He stopped and looked down at her. Her dark eyes were almost black in the dim light, but he could just make out the pain in them. "Woody… I'm sorry. I – I don't know… why – why I'm being… a bitch."

His lips quirked up at the corners. "I pretty much deserve it actually." He bit the inside of his lip. "But I have a good reason. If you want to hear it…."

She nodded. "Yeah. And, you're right, we need to talk."

"Your place?"

"Uh – No."

He arched his eyebrows in that disbelieving way he had, the one that always made her smile inside.

"No," she repeated. "Too – Um – Too easy."

"Easy?" Now his voice was disbelieving. "When has anything with us ever been easy?"

She pursed her lips for a moment. "It would be too easy, Woody. You know what I mean." He wouldn't supply it for her though. "Too easy to try to erase the last eighteen months without words, promising we'd talk later and – and never getting around to it."

Slowly, he nodded. "Wanna get a table here? And maybe some coffee?"

"Sure."

She went to find a table while he flagged down one of the servers to bring them a couple cups of decaf. He found her in a corner, twisting one of the paper napkins to shreds in her writhing fingers. They waited until the coffee arrived, glancing up at each other from time to time, the silence suddenly oppressive between them. Woody almost wished for the sharp side of her tongue again. Then he'd at least seen some spark of the woman he loved. At the moment Jordan looked – forlorn. He doubted he looked much better.

Trying to be encouraging, he smiled. "You or me first?"

She snorted, the sound perilously close to tears.

"Okay, me then-"

"No," she cut in. "Or I might never get it out." She huddled back against the back of the booth, her arms stretched toward the table, her hands cradling the coffee mug. "She said something to me."

"Who?"

Jordan raised her eyes and he knew without hearing it. "Lu. She called to apologize, but she said something."

"Jordan, she had no idea who you are, what you're like."

"She wasn't far off on this one." She looked rueful. "She told me the only person I'd ever fought for was myself, the only living person that is."

"That's bullshit!" His blue eyes blazed with anger. "I could list all the people you've helped – Flora and all those girls, that nun's baby, that whole thing with Nigel's girlfriend kidnapping her own daughter and – and, well, even the ones I haven't seen, I've heard about. And what about Kayla?"

Jordan couldn't help but smile slightly. His indignation was so much greater than hers. She moved forward and laid a hand on his. "Woody." Her voice was soft but insistent. "She had a point. Bodies who came through the morgue. The occasional living victim I could help. Myself. For so long, I was consumed with finding out who murdered my mother that there was no line between my professional life and my personal one. How many times did I get you, Nigel, Bug, everyone, in trouble for helping me track down one more clue? Follow one last dead end? I couldn't see that the people around me sometimes needed me to fight for them, that they needed me to put myself out there."

He bit his tongue.

"Then – Then you got shot. I got this glimpse of what mattered. Just a glimpse and it took me long enough to figure out what it all meant." She took a swallow of coffee. "Kayla. Kayla was a big piece of the puzzle. There were other things before her – and after – but she – she changed me. I was fighting for someone else. I was putting myself out there for her, even knowing I might fail miserably because it was what she needed me to do." She stopped, her eyes closing against the tears welling in them. She brushed the moisture from them as she looked at him again. "And then Pollack. I wanted my name cleared. When Nige and I started making the connections with the judge and my mother's death, I wanted the truth, too. But most of all, I wanted his death – and life - to mean something – for him." She brushed one of her napkin shreds along her cheek, catching the moisture she couldn't quite control."

Woody signaled for more coffee and they both waited again. Cups refilled, Jordan began anew. "It's been – weird, just weird. And – um – you got so distant. That hurt. A lot. But-" she held up a hand forestalling his explanation. "-that's what I was thinking about. There've been so many times that everything could have changed. I ran so many times because I thought it would hurt less than fighting for you and maybe losing. I'd always kept relationships casual because then they don't have much meaning and if something doesn't have much meaning, it can't hurt you when you lose it."

Sadly, he chuckled. "How'd that work out?"

"Not too well.

He flicked up his eyebrows in silent response.

"Woody, my point is that everything would have been different if once – just once – I'd fought for you."

"Jo-"

She shook her head. "Let me finish. The stupidest part is that all that time I kept telling myself and you that I didn't want to risk what we had, that I didn't want either of us to get hurt. But that's exactly what happened."

For a long moment he regarded her, sipping slowly at the coffee in his mug. Before he spoke, he reached across and took one of her hands. "Would you change it?"

"What?"

"Okay, just hear me out…?" His eyes begged for her assent, which she gave with a hesitant nod of her head. "You told me – before Pollack's murder – that you'd grown up a lot. And – And when I got… I don't know… indignant? You remember?"

She nodded again. "You said 'And I haven't?'"

"Yeah." His voice was clipped. "You didn't say anything. But you gave me this look and… I don't know. I kind of brushed it off at the time, but later… when – when you were on the run-" He shook his head. "No, before that. When I found out about Pollack's death and – and everything… I started thinking about it. At first, I figured you called him because you were lonely or wanted to get back at me."

She arched an eyebrow.

"I know," he grinned sheepishly. "Pretty egotistical of me. But then – then it came back to me, what you'd said, and I started to realize there was more to you and – and him – than I'd wanted to admit. And that you were right. I hadn't done a lot of growing up. The stupidest thing I did was get involved with Lu. She was there; it wasn't complicated, and she – she needed me. She could always say the things I wanted to hear, but, in the end, they weren't real. I finally realized that even though you – you couldn't, you were always honest about it."

She bit her tongue to push back the tears in her eyes. So many years of hurt seemed to overshadow the simple pleasures that had once lain between them – Sunday hikes, take-out pizza and cold beers at the Beef n' Brew. "And?" She choked out.

He lifted his shoulder a bit. "And I started to grow up. It's why I backed off, Jordan. Once you were home and safe… I needed more time. For once, it was me. I needed to get myself together, to figure out some things about my life. I – Uh – I spent a lot of time talking to – to someone." His eyes dipped.

"A therapist?"

He nodded.

"Why does that worry me?" Though she teased him, the edges of her voice were ragged with worry.

"He snorted softly. "Dr. Spenser was great. Jack Spenser. Anyway… I wanted us to have a shot, Jordan."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't know how. I've hurt you a lot in the past year or so and I didn't want to hurt you again."

"Didn't work," she observed wryly.

"Yeah, I'm getting that. Sorry." He squeezed her hand.

"What did you mean?"

"When?"

"When you asked if I'd change any of it?"

"Exactly what I said. We've both gone through a lot – more than most people go through in a lifetime. But do you think the people we were when we met would have stood a chance together? Even the people we were at the Inn?"

Gradually, she shook her head.

"I'm not saying I want to go through it all again, but I'm hoping maybe now we have a chance, Jo."

Tears trickled down her face. For a few terrifying heartbeats, he just knew she was going to get up and walk away, that it had all been too much for her. Then, she leaned over the table and kissed him softly. "All right," she murmured as a gentle smile curved her lips. "Farm Boy."

"C'mere," he said quietly, pulling her mouth back to his for a more passionate kiss, the first of many they both hoped. And for the first time, that fragile hope strengthened as did their fragile lives.

END