Disclaimer: I don't own the characters you read before you. All rights belong to Wolf Films and all that.
Author's Note: Time for a special type of Author's Note. For a long time, I've skirted around the Claire-drama, in addition to several even asking me for my own spin on Jack/Claire. I want to do both respectfully, since the hardcore canon shippers has left my ship alone (unlike some other pairing heavy fandoms I can name). That being said, I think I'm ready to tackle it, at long last. Besides, I've often wondered what Abbie's take would have been, had the writers wanted to continue with it.
As part of this project, I've done some conjecture and analyzed my tapes to pinpoint as to when "Aftershock" occurred in the series' timeline (since the episode itself didn't say what day it was). My somewhat continuity notes will be in the End Notes. As always, they are subject to re-editing. Edit: someone has brought something to my attention and I'll re-edit according. Check End Notes.
One final item: the title is from, perhaps, my favorite Juliana Hatfield song, "Mountains of Love". It's a song of loss and moving on. If I didn't think the lyrics would undermine the impact of the story, I'd consider posting them. However, any of this shouldn't stop you from reading and enjoying the piece.
Beta: Busy, busy, busy.
Timeline: A month after the events of "Empire".
July 14th, 1998
An enervated Abbie trudged towards her bathroom mirror, her eyelids sagging. She grazed her left temple alongside the glass pane.
'I never thought I'd say this, but I'm almost in the mood for a vacation. Insane workloads, wild card witnesses, and one pissed off D.A. tend to do that to you.' Her blurry eyes gawped at her reflection.
'Hard to believe the year is almost halfway over and so much has happened: Toni's murder and my telling Jack about my rape. It's been over six months since the latter happened and the former is right around the corner in a few weeks. I hate to say it, but I couldn't have gone through Toni's murder without him. And the fact he's never once thought me different since the rape revelation is a hell of a shock, too.
'It's been a journey, particularly in the way we had started with our bickering. I think there is something else I have regarding him, too, but I forget what it is. Oh, well, couldn't be that important, anyway.' She removed her pajamas and trotted to the shower. The surging water galvanized her.
'What is it about this man that makes me want to drop my guard? I wish I knew. Hell, I wish I knew more about him — I've opened up, but he certainly hasn't in any meaningful way. That is, beyond a tidbit or two, like his cop parent or that one childhood dream of his. That doesn't seem balanced in comparison to what I've shared.' Her brain at last attained coherence.
'Looks like I've got a mission. Now, all I need is an opportunity. Wonder when that will be. One can only hope, right?' She applied a dollop of shampoo to her disheveled hair. 'At least I have most of the week to sort some things out.' The fluid seeped into her eye, irritating her. 'Or maybe I can flap my arms and fly to the moon.'
Abbie sashayed into her office, ready to part forth the red tape. She surveyed a defense motion placed onto her desk.
'Great. Another bail appeal from Spector's cadre of lawyers — doesn't that man ever quit? And we're still trying to fight their contesting of Katrina Ludlow's tainted testimony. That woman is a piece of a work. Either way, it translates into a long day.
'Well, it will give me some alone time with Jack and possibly have a chat. I wish I knew why I'm pushing for this so much.' Her ears unexpectedly perked at a raucous toward Adam's office.
"Damn it, Jack, feel sorry for yourself on your own time. This office doesn't have time for you to mope around!" Adam bellowed.
"That's easy for you to say, Adam. How many days I've worked hard since the Hawthorne debacle? This is the only time of year I ask for a day off and you know it." Jack's pitch was equally intense.
"And, I wouldn't care normally, but when you're facing Julian Spector, you use your best man and that's you." Her inquisitiveness roused, she traipsed to the brouhaha's source.
"Abbie is fully capable of handing the appeal herself."
She donned a minuscule smile at the aside. 'Good to know Jack thinks I could handle it.'
"Ms. Carmichael isn't ready yet, and I'm not going to use a second stringer for this. Now, get to work."
The referenced A.D.A. grimaced while Adam's secretary leered on.
"I'm sorry, Adam, but I have to do this for myself; I'll get to work later. You can dock me for the time missed, I don't care." Jack stormed off into the passageway. He was clad in his trademark denim jeans, sweater, and frayed emerald jacket ensemble, clutching his motorcycle helmet. He passed by his dazed assistant.
"Not now, Abbie."
"Jack, what's wrong?" She pursued whilst he hiked towards the elevator.
"It's not your concern."
"Um, maybe not, but when my boss gets yelled at by his boss for requesting a day off, I tend to get a little concerned."
"Abbie, back off," he snarled, his penetrating glare actually petrifying her on the spot.
He was stone cold silent as he backed into the conveyance, his customary puppy dog eyes frozen in ice. She lingered at the sealing gateway.
'What the hell was that!? I've never seen him like this — so cold, so defensive. I knew I had my bad days, but nothing like that. What is going on with him?'
Her own eyes focused towards the opposite end of the corridor: the "crime scene" and one fuming District Attorney. 'This is not the opportunity I had in mind, but I'll take it.' She schlepped to her fearless leader, butterflies metamorphosing within her stomach.
"You're doing Spector's bail appeal, Ms. Carmichael. And I don't want to hear it." His door was slammed off its hinges. She amassed her courage and encroached into the lion's den.
"Didn't I say I didn't want to hear it?" Adam grumbled while he plopped himself onto his chair.
"You did, but a blowout like that does require at least a few words of explanation. And since Jack has presumably left the building in a major huff, that only leaves you…, sir." She folded her arms in resilience.
"If you don't leave right now, I'm going to fire you or transplant you into the file room."
"You could do that, but I'm not going until I get some kind of answers." She may rue her Texan will yet.
"If I tell you, you're going to go after him and dump Spector's bail appeal onto someone else, aren't you?"
"What would you like me to do?" she feigned.
"Well, from what I've seen of the two of you as of late, I am somewhat reasonably sure that you give an actual damn about him. Am I right?"
The observation amazed the woman. "I do."
"Well, the last thing I'd want to do is to call the police and haul my best prosecutor in by the scruff of the neck. If nothing else, maybe it can resolve any lingering tensions between you too. Closed the door." She complied accordingly. "What do you know about Claire Kincaid?"
The name was a haze for her. "Nothing much, she had my position and died in an auto accident. That's it, really."
"She died three years ago today. I don't know the exact details, but suffice it to say, Ms. Kincaid and Jack were…." The hardened D.A. couldn't even formulate the word.
"Oh." Abbie's eyes glinted in recognition. "I understand."
"He's never told me outright, but nothing gets past me — I've seen the signs. All I can tell you is that if you need proper details, go seek out your immediate predecessor, Jamie Ross — she's in teaching now — I know Jack confided in her and picked up the pieces as it were. Go talk to her before you form any plan of attack."
"Is there anything else?"
"Yeah, hurry and get him back here. And, Ms. Carmichael?"
"Tell him it's not personal. If it wasn't for Spector, I'd let him have his day off. Seems Ms. Kincaid's death date is the only day he's willing to take off on in all the time I've known him."
She was actually astonished, given Jack's renowned workaholic lifestyle. "That man is just full of surprises."
"Tell me about it. I'll assign the bail appeal to someone else."
'Looks like I got my work cut out for me and I get to talk to my predecessor. This is should be fun.' "Right, I better get going. Thank you, sir."
"Yeah. And, stop me calling me 'sir.'"
She brandished a negligible grin as she exited the area.
For being an occasional legalistic instructor, Jamie Ross' life was still on the go. There were days where she yearned for the hustle and bustle of the D.A.'s office. Her home phone buzzed and she hastily answered.
"Ms. Ross?" It was a female speaker.
"This is her."
"My name is Abbie Carmichael. I'm Jack McCoy's current A.D.A., and I need to speak to you. Do you have time?" The voice was terse.
"I have fifteen minutes before I head off to my class. May I ask what is this regarding? I'm sure this is not a call to get my approval or blessing, is it?" she teased.
"No. I'm calling because it's regarding Claire Kincaid."
The receiver plummeted onto the floor. "I see. Let me guess: Jack just mysteriously took off without explaining why?"
"Yes, I talked to Adam Schiff and he told me to talk to you. 'You helped him pick up the pieces' is how he put it." The youngblood's trepidation lightened somewhat.
"Why don't you tell me what you're asking for?"
"Alright, I haven't worked with Jack very long and I need — this is actually hard to for me to say, if you knew me — instruction on how to deal with him on this. I'll be the first to say our relationship isn't the best, but I've never seen him like this," Abbie confessed bewilderedly.
"Yes, he's very defensive on the subject. What do you need to know?"
"Everything you know or the thumbnail version, since you said you have to go."
"For this, I'll make time. What little I do know is that it happened on the night following the Mickey Scott execution. Jack was at a random bar, and Detective Briscoe happened to be there as well. Jack left early and Ms. Kincaid, who arrived to pick up Jack, drove the detective home instead. Then the drunken driver arrived and collided into her side of the car. Lennie called it, 'bad timing all around.'
"After that, I started to work with Jack and he was the typical alpha male: crude, boorish, and had quite the habit with scotch. I certainly teased him about it in order to make him stop, if nothing else than to appreciate the irony. Time passed and he got over the whole thing. Or, at least, enough to starting to date a friend of mine, Madeline — I think he's still with her — but I knew he continued to mourn.
"It came to a head in a drunk driver case: Bernard Dressler. Jack and I spoke to a stewardess that served Dressler twelve drinks and he actually told the airline that if she flew out, the D.A.'s office couldn't subpoena her because of jurisdictional issues. He didn't inform Dressler's attorney of her statements." The bittersweet recollections deluged the ex-prosecutor.
"I see." The exposition staggered her vocal partner.
"Plus, we had a judge with an agenda: Gary Feldman. He and Jack almost tag teamed to give Dressler the death penalty. However, after a lot of heated arguing, Jack submitted the statement to the jury. Feldman then ran to the Discipline Committee and I ended up testifying for Jack — a parting gift as it were." Jamie imploded after the protracted anecdote.
"I had heard of his going to the Committee, but I never really explored the whys behind it."
"Well, now, you know. His real reason behind it was more or less proxy — the driver that killed Ms. Kincaid got only a year at Mt. MacGregor."
"Again, I'm speechless. It's a day full of firsts."
She internally scoffed at the youth. "I'll take your word for it. For more details, I'd suggest talking to Detective Briscoe."
"Alright. So, anything else besides defensiveness I'd have to worry about?"
Jamie recalled her final verbal spat with Jack on the subject. "Oh, indignation, for sure. The major argument I had with him, he acted as if I wasn't there on the scene, I wasn't allowed to dispute him. But I will say that he will respond to the truth, if you're not afraid to stand up to him."
"Not a problem, there," Abbie cackled. "So, what did he do last year? Just so I know where I could find him."
"You're actually going to go after him?" Jamie was thunderstruck.
"Yeah, I am. Got Adam's approval, too."
"I'm impressed in more ways than one."
"So, what did he do?"
"The first year, he went to the bar where it happened — I don't know the name, but Briscoe would — and loitered there for a while, in addition to being at the intersection where the accident occurred. The rest of the day, he was at her tombstone at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. I only know that because we argued about it last year.
"Last year, he spent time both at the bar and at the intersection as well, but not as long. I'd like to think my lectures on alcoholism got to him," Jamie beamed in pride. "So, chances are he'll be at the gravesite for a good part of the day."
Abbie ponderingly hummed. "In that case, my final question would be, 'do you know anything about Kincaid's personality or their relationship in general?'"
"None. I never met her and Jack never discussed the aspects of their relationship, but I'm confident it was a rocky one."
"You don't have to say it: I have my work cut out for me. Thank you for your time, Ms. Ross."
"Please, it's Jamie. I could fudge my schedule if you need additional help," she entreated.
"Thank you, no. I have what I need and frankly, I need to do this by myself. Besides, you sound like you've done plenty already."
She shrouded her chagrin. "Right. Well, what are assistants for, right?"
"I'll let you know what happens. Thanks…, Jamie." Abbie severed the connection.
"Yeah, kick butt."
Abbie slumped in her chair, her eyes fixated on the phone. 'Well, that didn't turn out so bad. Of course, that's nothing compared to the upcoming blowout I'll have with Jack, I'm sure. She certainly painted quite the portrait — crude, boorish, and an alcoholic — I've hit the mother load.
'Yet, he doesn't act that way with me. He has his moments, but nothing outstanding. I guess Kincaid's death really mellowed him. Either way, Ross clarified all my doubts in more ways than one.' Ripples of guilt splashed forth, vis-à-vis her taunt on his actions with Dressler in the Matt Bergstrom case.
'All this is making me think on what he used to be. From Ross' description, that doesn't sound like a man I'd want to open up to, but I did. I still don't know why and right now, I can't afford to psychoanalyze my own reactions around him — I have to focus purely on him now.
'I don't want what happened between him and Ross to happen to us. I have to return the favor for him; I owe him that much, at least. On the plus side, I don't have to hold back when I do confront him. I never was one for sugarcoating.'
She was on a beeline to Adam. 'There is one consolation from all this: I might even get closer to Adam.' She dawdled at his desk while her chief was occupied with an aide. She verbalized once the supporter had departed.
"I talked to Ross and I got the details of the accident and Jack's stunt with the Discipline Committee. Before I do anything else, I need anecdotes on Kincaid's personality and her overall relationship with him. Ross didn't know her, so I was hoping you could give me the insight I need," she implored.
"I don't wish to speak ill of the dead, which is why I'm hesitant. Why?" He was a touch wary.
"Well, Ross addressed the issue, she didn't explore things further: his end of their affair — at least I think it was an affair — and Kincaid in general. If I am going about this, I don't want to go off half-cocked. So, I'd thought I'd do a…"
"A psychological pincer's movement."
"In a roundabout way."
"Hm, I see. Do you think you'll get headway?"
'Now, how far do I tell him without tipping my hand? Damn card analogy of Jack's.' "I admit things have changed between us. Toni Ricci's murder had a good part to do with it." Abbie prayed her sliver of truth would be sufficient.
His eyes softened. "Well, you certainly have a good head on your shoulders and frankly, the man needs to move on. And that's not because of the job or for the good of drunk drivers everywhere. So, what do you need to know?"
"What was she like? Personality, politics?"
He paused for a moment. "I often think of Ms. Kincaid as two people: the person she was when she was first promoted to A.D.A. and who she became once Jack was in the picture. When she first applied here, she was under Ben Stone's tutelage — my top A.D.A. before Jack — and came off as rather taciturn. She wasn't without problems, however. During a case for example, she revealed that she had an affair with Judge Joel Thayer, whom we were prosecuting at the time.
"She resigned over the appearance of impropriety and I later rehired her. In hindsight, I should have suspected more when I paired her with Jack — Thayer was a man with a good twenty years on her." Memoirs of his former E.A.D.A. wafted within Adam's mind.
"After Jack was promoted, she changed: became more outspoken, more adversarial, and shown her true colors. I believe the term would be 'liberal idealist'. Unfortunately, that can't work in the D.A.'s office — you can't play in the system if you don't tote the line at least a little.
"If she met you, I'm sure your refreshing conservatism — and I'll never repeat that to anyone — would rub her the wrong way. You two would argue until I'd hear either a gunshot sound or a fatal scream."
Abbie refrained from giggling. 'He said he found my conservatism refreshing. Great, I'm sounding like a moony-eyed schoolgirl.' "I can only imagine how she was with Jack," she quipped irreverently.
"Oh, they bickered back and forth, particularly on the death penalty and abortion. There were times where I almost pitied Jack, then I accounted for his bravado and brashness at the time. I don't think you would have gotten along with that version of him, either."
'A conservative Jack? That's a little hard to swallow. So, if I met Jack back then, I'd have more of a political match, but he'd be a typical male. I couldn't open up to someone like that.' A morbid notion impinged upon her. 'Don't finish that thought, Carmichael.' "I don't think I would have done that." She exuded ersatz innocence.
He rolled his eyes. "I'm sure, Ms. Carmichael. Anyway, in the final months before her death, we had a case: People v. James Smith. Claire originally pled Smith out, a homeless schizophrenic who later killed three people after his prison release. As we entered trial, Smith allowed himself to be put under Pro Se and Ms. Kincaid's involvement, I believe, undermined our position. She allowed Smith to fall into the cracks and her presence rather damaged our credibility." A scowl marred his features.
'Hm. Reminds me of the time him reprimanding me for those accidentally released Voluntary Disclosure forms in the Chuikov case. And, Jack defended me, too.' Overlaying emotions swirled within her.
Sensing his subordinate's sudden stillness, he pressed on. "I removed her from the case, but Jack fought to have her as second chair. Smith finally went to jail, and then came the Mickey Scott execution. Both of them were present, so I sent Dr. Elizabeth Olivet to analyze the two as a precaution, for how often does one see a man legally die?" he propounded contemplatively.
"If you beg my pardon, look who you're talking to, sir."
"Point taken. Ms. Kincaid was absent with the flu that day, so I never did get the good doctor's commentary on her. I had my suspicions, though, for all the good it did. I have nothing else to add beyond that. Is that enough for you?"
The testimonial captivated her. 'Wow. This is the third time today I'm speechless. It's a record.' "I'd say so. I'll call you as soon as something breaks."
"I don't think I have to worry about you and him together, do I?"
'Jack's the best relationship I've had with a man in years, why would I want to screw that up by dating him?' "None whatsoever," Abbie declared in earnest.
"Good. Now, hurry up, so you both can get back to work already." Adam gestured emphatically.
'I need to make one more stop first — to the one who was in the middle of all this.'
Detective Lennie Briscoe muttered to himself as he slogged towards the 27th Precinct's main entrance and to an awaiting Abbie.
"Counselor, to what do I owe the pleasure? I hope you're quick as it's my lunch break and my stomach is taking no prisoners," he gibed with his brand name wit.
"Good to see you, too, Lennie. Actually, I just need a few moments with you."
"Okay, you're dressed a little light today, and where's your trusty briefcase? You have a hot date and handling the paperwork telepathically now?" He detected the absence of the lawyer's prominent attaché case and her moderate attire: straightforward blouse and slacks.
'He is good with a joke, I'll give him that.' "It's not business, it's a bit personal. What do you know about Claire Kincaid?"
Lennie's jocularity swiftly curdled. "Let me guess: McCoy's on the warpath of another drunk driver?"
"No, just him brooding, I think. I haven't talked to him about it yet. I have spoken with Jamie Ross and Schiff, so that leaves you. You're the last person who saw her alive, I need the insight."
"So, you're going to try your hand, huh? I pity him now," he snorted.
"So do I, so anything?"
The reminiscences swarmed in for him. "In terms of 'do I know her', I don't have much to tell you. I wasn't close to her, I just saw her as the D.A.'s flunky. She was alright, but she was just there."
"I have enough of a clue of her personality, I just need anything extra: Jack's reactions, her mood before she died, and…the manner of the accident, since the file could only tell me so much." She coasted her brow downward.
"Actually, I could tell you more on Jack. But I don't know if it would do you any good, though."
"Tell me, anyway."
"Alright. I wandered down to a bar, found him, and we talked. After a while, he got sick of waiting for Claire, he said, 'the hell with her' — he was drunk at the time — and split. She popped up and drove me home instead. She was at an intersection when that bastard smashed into her car out of nowhere.
"It was a wake-up call all around. After our first case with Ross, he told me privately that she wanted to quit a few weeks before the accident. He talked her out of it and I guess you know the rest." He swished in the anguish.
She smiled slightly. "Yeah. I think I get it all now."
"Come to think of it, I remember Van Buren said Claire spoke to her just before she picked me up — their version of 'girl talk.' Maybe that will help you."
"It could. Thanks, Lennie. Here, I'll pay for lunch." She proffered him a fifty-dollar bill.
"Whoa. They pay A.D.A.s more than I thought," he deadpanned.
"You earned it." She dashed inside the edifice.
His echoing stomach cut into his ensuing comeback.
Following one succinct discussion with Lieutenant Van Buren, Abbie steered her Jeep Grand Cherokee to her final destination: Woodlawn Cemetery.
'Since I've talked to Anita, all the pieces fit: Kincaid's moods, her demeanors and his reactions — the Smith case and Scott execution were double whammies for them. No wonder Jack was depressed — it's not hard to imagine why after hearing Kincaid's final conversation with Anita. Talk about discouraging. But, will he listen to me? I have to hit him hard and fast, I can't let up. Of all the horrors I've faced, this actually scares me the most.
'Maybe, it's because I don't want to jeopardize the best working relationship I ever had in a long while. Maybe, I do give more of a damn about him after all. The sad thing is if she didn't die, would he still be the alpha male and thus, would I have ever gotten close to him and let myself go? I can't think that now.'
Her eyes were instantaneously upon a stationary Yamaha motorbike, inclining beside a tree. An extensive glance had the owner dallying by a particular grave. Jack darted to the approaching automobile, glowering at the intrusion.
'Yep, the best things in life don't come easy.' She gaited towards the dour Irishman, whilst avoiding gliding on the damp grass.
"Jack!" she exclaimed. Her chemise gleamed in the sunlight.
"Abbie? What are you doing here?"
"Need you ask?"
"Abbie, just go."
She ventured onward, the duo face-to-face. "No."
"No?" He peered at his mirror image in the lens of her eyeglasses.
"No. I'm staying right here. I'm not leaving until I talk to you." She planted herself, her tone obstinate.
"Abbie, this is something that I need to do by myself. Please, leave."
"No, Jack. I'm not leaving. You can yell at me all you want, but I'm still going to stay." She protectively doubled up her arms.
"You're not going to leave, are you?"
"Do you see me backing off?"
"Fine, but don't expect me to say much," he shrugged nonchalantly.
"Don't shine me on like that. After the way you acted towards me today, I'd say it demands at least a few words of explanation."
"Are you expecting an apology?"
"I'd love that, but I'm not looking for one. I'm just after basic truth for starters. I've talked to Adam, Jamie, Anita, and Lennie over this — I know what you're feeling." She extended her hand onto his shoulder.
Jack recoiled. "There is no way you can; you don't understand."
"The hell I don't. You're still mourning your ex-lover, Jack. I don't find that complicated at all. What I do find complicated is the fact you couldn't let me in on any of this."
"You're not involved; I don't want you involved."
"Why? Answer me that, and I'll leave," the hothead quizzed.
Jack gritted his teeth. "Look, I've sucked enough people in on this, people I didn't want involved. I didn't want to add you to it, because I didn't think it would be an issue between us. Because I thought I was…." Tears gathered within his eyes.
"Over her? Well, I am involved now. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I wanted to be sucked in?"
Abbie's reaction stunned the man. "Judging from your silence, I'll take that as a 'no'. But, it's the truth, Jack. I thought I can finally return the favor after what you've done for me."
"Return the favor? I don't understand."
"For your comfort after Toni's murder and not once thinking me any different after revealing about my rape. I don't even know where to begin showing my…appreciation." Her eyes moistened as well.
"I didn't do it for that," he affirmed somberly.
"I know that. I know you did it because you care about me. I want to do this only because I… 'Say it, Abbie, say it.' …want to care about you. Do you know how difficult that is for me to feel, let alone admit?" A lone tear cascaded down her cheek.
He resisted the urge to collect the droplet with his thumb. "I do."
"For a while, I wasn't sure why I was pushing for this, but I do now. Ross told me how you acted in the Dressler case, about how…."
"You don't have to tell me that was a mistake. I'll be the first to say it: I wanted vengeance. I don't need the reminder on that." He interrupted.
"Maybe not on that, but why do you keep reminding yourself of all this?" Abbie probed. "Jack, Claire Kincaid is not going to pop out of the ground and pick up where you left off. This isn't a soap opera, it isn't possible." She pointed at Claire's gravestone.
"Don't you think I know that?" His fury escalated.
"Well, I wouldn't know what you think. That's the problem: you never tell me anything about yourself. I'm not expecting you to open right up on me, since I intentionally didn't for you. But, Jack, don't you think that both life and time will show you otherwise? It sure as hell did for me, whether I wanted it to or not."
"Abbie, maybe you think that, but I'm afraid I'm just not that type of person. I don't have it in me," he sighed jadedly.
"Oh, please, I can sense B.S. in a fog — I know you can open up. You did it for Ross, so why can't you do it for me?"
"I didn't have a choice in the matter — she was just there and I couldn't circumvent myself around her."
"But you can around me? I'd like to think I've worn myself on my sleeve around you, lately," she counteracted.
"I suppose you have." Jack's eyes roamed the slab of granite ahead.
She noticed his meandering eyes. "You haven't answered my question: why do you keep reminding yourself of this? Is it the guilt of knowing that if you weren't at that bar, she wouldn't have been killed? Is it the fact that you never resolved your lingering feelings with her before she died? Is it simply because you can't let go for she's dead?" All of her was electric.
"You weren't there, Abbie, you can't understand." He reiterated.
"Stop saying that! Just because I wasn't there, doesn't mean I can't research. I know how the accident occurred: the driver burst out of a blind spot. No one could have predicted that and you can't hold yourself accountable. You're not God, Jack.
"And I also know what you told Lennie when you left the bar. You said, 'the hell with her'. Not to mention the fact, you told him later on that you talked her out of quitting. Adam told me how you two bickered back and forth."
"Don't you do this; I won't let you disrespect her," the gentleman howled in indignation.
"I'm not. Nonetheless, Jack, she wasn't exactly your wife, either. You're sounding like she's a cause. Tell me: would Claire want that? What if you had died instead, would you expect her to feel the same for you?"
Her interrogating jutted through him like a spear. "That isn't the same thing."
"I think it is. And from judging what I've observed about her, I don't think she would have, and that is scaring you. Isn't it?"
"No. It's not."
"Jack, she started to hate her job. That's what she told Anita right before she picked Lennie up. And since you're a workaholic, that makes you the job as well. Therefore, what if she somewhat projected that onto you? Isn't that, at least, possible?" Abbie's aggressive prosecuting style was laced within her allegations.
"I-I..." He disregarded his own descending tear. "I don't know. All I know is that I love her, but…" An epiphany dawned upon Jack.
"No, I can't. I can't let her go. If I do, then it was all for nothing. I can't," he rejoined vividly.
"Jack." She loomed closer to him and he intuitively flinched.
"Abbie, I just can't!"
"Yes, you can. I'm not saying go up and forget her, however, you can't make her your life. That's a slippery slope you just can't come back from and I didn't want to play this, but you're what, almost sixty? You don't exactly have a lot of time anymore," she posed considerately.
"If you were anyone else, I'd be half tempted to spout, 'how easy that is for you to say.'"
"You're right — I can't equate dealing with that kind of loss. I can only go with what I've lost and what I've gained in my life. Can you do that? What have you gained from returning to her grave year-after-year?"
"The point isn't about gain, is it?" he scorned.
'No turning back now.' "In a way, it is. Adam told me about your alpha male days with Claire. Tell me this: had she not died and broken up with you, would you have changed? Would you be the man I know now?"
"I don't see how that's relevant."
"Answer the question."
"I...I…." He could not.
"Jack, you can't, because I'm right. I know how selfish this sounds, but if it weren't for her changing you — dying or not — I wouldn't have been to open myself. I would not have been able to tell anyone about my rape, you above all." Another tear trickled out of her.
Jack inched towards her. "Abbie, I would have opened up, eventually."
"No, you wouldn't, because we would have been at each other's throats with our clashing egos. No, she changed you, just as you changed me. I haven't even met the woman and she indirectly set me free of myself and that's why I'm here." All her cultivated barriers faltered one-by-one.
"Now, you finally understand why I have to keep doing this?"
"I do, nevertheless, you're never going to end the cycle: you'll just be as miserable as she was at the end. From what I've seen of you, I know you're a fighter. I see her spirit keeps you alive, but at the same time, her memory is dragging you down. Again, I ask, would she have wanted that?" Abbie croaked in poignant nuance.
"Fine, I don't know. Is that what you want to hear? What is it going to take for you stop your badgering?"
"I'm not going to stop, Jack. Not until you admit the truth to yourself."
"Jamie tried to force things with me, too."
"I'm not her and I'm not forcing it, but will you ever acknowledge these feelings? Because from what I see, I don't know if you will."
"You don't? Well, you certainly have been doing a lovely job psychoanalyzing me thus far," he heckled.
The remark sliced into her core. Primordial instinct had the female firmly slap his jaw.
"You ass, you stubborn ass. Fine, enough dragging this out. You want to know why I'm really here? After hearing all those anecdotes and what I've noted about you, I'm afraid that you're going to end up withdrawing yourself from the world, internalize it all, and never be free of this.
"I say this because that's what happened to me after my rape and again, after Toni's murder. All I wanted to do was shield myself from everyone, so I couldn't get hurt again nor forget. But, you have shown me that it all has kept me from living my life, too. I can't keep it in anymore and I don't want that happening to you, because the last thing I want is for you to end up like me." All restraint was lost: her eyes torrents, her facade flecked with jet-black mascara streaks, her reverb raw with passion.
"Abbie, I..." He was frozen by her litany. The only sensation he had was her stinging contact of his jaw line.
"Now, do you see? You're the first person in a long, long time I've felt this way over. Again, you're right: I don't know the kind of loss you feel, but I know pain. Oh, do I know pain. So, in a way, I do know where you're coming from now," she grinned amidst her weeping. She polished both her spectacles and the stained eyeliner.
He continued to be taken aback by her display of sentiment, the advantage still hers. "I've played all my cards, Jack; I have nothing else to say. I can't force it, I know that. And what I'm willing to offer may not be much anymore, but it's all yours." Abbie was prepared to subside into his arms, her entire body quivering.
He massaged his jaw and pored over both her and Claire's meager patch of earth. Jack was mute for an eternity until his stomach gurgled.
"If it's alright with you, can we resume this after a dinner break? I get hungry after a shouting match. I know this restaurant down the road. It's Spanish; I'll even pay," she proposed genially.
He murmured in acquiescence and swaggered toward his bike.
'And the day isn't even over yet. What a night this will be.'
The Caridad Restaurant was only three miles south of the memorial park. Jack and Abbie were ushered into a low-key booth.
"Order the Bistec de Pollo — I hear it's good, so I'm getting that. Get whatever you want, I'll pay." Abbie notified. Jack carried on his reticence.
"Right. Why don't you order while I call Adam? He's been quite worried about you." She sauntered to a payphone, inputted the appropriate change, and dialed Adam's office line.
"Adam Schiff's office." It was a receptionist.
"This is Abbie Carmichael. May I speak to Mr. Schiff, please?"
"He is not in, may I take a message?"
"Yeah. Tell him I found Jack McCoy and that he'll be taking the night off. He will arrive bright and early tomorrow morning. Thank you." 'I don't think either Jack or Adam would mind, given the circumstances.' Afterwards, a bolt of inspiration zapped her. 'Why not?'
She punched in Jamie Ross' number and contacted her voicemail.
"It's Abbie Carmichael again. I just thought I'd tell you that I found Jack right where you said he'd be and I had a war of words with him. Now, we're at a restaurant for a reprieve, but I'm sure we're far from over yet. I'll let you know what happens. And, thanks again. Bye." She anxiously revisited her subdued companion.
"I ordered the Bistec de Pollo." He finally uttered.
"Sounds good. Um, Toni recommended this place, so I thought I'd try it." He recommenced his brooding hush.
'This is going to be a long meal. It's almost like a date, if you ignore the drama and cold silences.'
An hour later, she endured both the pitiable service and his torturous inner calm. "I want to talk somewhere private: your car." Jack abruptly pronounced after the claiming of the check.
Abbie never sprinted to her SUV's driver seat fast enough. She relished the faded sunset above while he slouched on the passenger side.
"I don't even know where to begin with you," the senior acknowledged wearily.
"Well, that makes us even, for I don't know. I stated my stance and how I feel on the matter. It's up to you for the rest, as much as I hate passing the buck like that. Are you going to yell at me any further?"
"No. But I think you were over-the-top a bit."
"Yeah, my pique got the better of me, but I'm not sorry for what I said."
"Before we continue, I don't want to ask this, but I feel like I should. How determined are you on this?"
"Considering I slapped you and melted down in front of you, I'd say I'm in it for the long haul," the spitfire jibed in self-deprecation.
"No matter where it takes?" he broached direly.
"No matter where it takes."
He was now at ease. "I ask that, because I thought Jamie would stay and she didn't. I think if she had, I think I really would have gotten over this. At least I'm not drinking like a fish anymore."
"That's true. Well, what about that woman you're seeing — the one that Ross fixed you up with?"
"Oh, Madeline. She knows about Claire, however, I never discussed my feelings in depth. It's not my style, Abbie." Jack's usual demeanor was reinstalled.
"It doesn't mean you should shut her out, though. I mean, I'm just your A.D.A., but it's different for someone you're dating."
"Point well taken, Counselor. It's funny you brought up Adam. The day it happened, I had a luncheon with Dr. Olivet — Adam ordered her on me — and she stated how people like myself tend to hide from their emotions or they have no emotions at all. I ignored it, but afterward, I admit, it stung me good."
"I'm sure they were just trying to help."
"Well, I didn't get along with either one back then. They didn't owe me a thing, but then, I didn't expect them to," he proclaimed vacantly.
"Times have changed, right?"
"I think that's the only positive in this: time. I can't be what I used to be. I want to, Abbie, but I feel if I do, it'll undermine the impact of her death."
"That's understandable — people do fear change. I know I did when I first got to know you, but I learned it all worked out, anyway. And, the pathetic thing is, I think you're the closest thing I currently have for a best friend. I know I have Anita and Toni — when she was alive — but nothing like I have with you." Her admiration for him augmented.
"Don't worry; I feel the same way to a degree. It's been so long since I've enjoyed my work and yes, some of it is because of you."
"I figured as such, which is why I was so shocked from your behavior this morning."
"I am sorry; you didn't deserve that."
"Damn right. At least, I know now." She affably patted his shoulder.
"Believe it or not, Abbie, I'm not one to wallow in my misery, but this one: she's just so special," he lamented contritely.
"She must be. I didn't want to wreck your memories of her, yet you couldn't leave her on that pedestal forever. No one can compete with that, alive or dead." She was timid of the subsequent retort.
"I suppose not."
"Look, I'm done giving you platitudes and clichés — I'm all out, anyway. I'm just going to be quiet."
Jack, on the other hand, soundlessly meditated. "It's difficult yelling at you for those platitudes and clichés if at least some of them turned out to be true. I think that's what I've been grappling with and making me pull my best silent act."
"Yeah. Ross said that would work on you and the fact that she never talked about the relationship itself with you. I didn't want to repeat the pattern on my end and since you didn't come off like you'd tell me the whole story this morning, I went on a different tack."
"I have to admire your investigation skills, if nothing else," he spat.
"Oh, stop it, Jack," she snapped.
"Sorry. Seeing you like that today finally made me think of the real reason why I didn't want you involved." He diverted the discussion.
Abbie hoisted up an eyebrow. "Which is?"
"I didn't want to tell you because of the…fear of you uprooting and leaving me. Jamie and I parted amicably, but at the same time, I did feel slightly resentful for being ditched in so many words. And, Claire left in the ultimate way of departure, but nonetheless, you're right: had she lived, she would have left me, too. I didn't want to concede to my…fear of abandonment. God, I'm almost sixty, and I finally get it."
"Like the old adage: 'better late than never'? You didn't want to come off as weak. I understand perfectly."
"I was the same way with the Simonelli case and the Volsky mess; I didn't want to show off my underbelly, either." Lamentations churned within her. "Yet, I did. I can't say that part of me wasn't at least a little bit excited, for 'what if I was the one who rescued you.' Or at least sate my sense of obligation, as I did want to return the favor, but now I see I didn't do it just for that."
Jack deliberated on the Southerner and her measures. "No. I realize that for someone like you — aloof and defensive — willing to put yourself all out there for me, I'd have to think long and hard before I'd risk throwing it away."
"It's all about risk, Jack. I risked opening up back then, and I risked your possible wrath today. What's the cliché: 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'?" Abbie observed.
"You're right." He leveled himself upward.
'I hope he never stops saying that.' "You know, lately, I've felt that we'll be stuck with each other for a good long time. After everything that's happened between us, I know that for me, you're a guy that's going to stick around regardless.
"Besides the obvious reasons, Lord knows we're both stubborn enough to not go down without a fight. So, I'm just finally telling you and myself that I'll be the same way for you." She gleamed in her encouragement.
"Well, I have a feeling that you're right and we're both a pair of obdurate mules. And I'm sure you are aware that all this isn't a cure-all band-aid for me. I wish it was."
"Nothing worthwhile is a quick fix, anyway," she disparaged. "It wasn't for me, and it's not for you. Any ideas on when would you want to resume this and, I don't know, talk about Claire or yourself?"
"How's tomorrow night after all the work I make up for Adam?"
"Sounds like a date. You know, as weird as this is, you're the best relationship I've had with a man yet," she cracked.
"And you're the best relationship I've had with a woman, lately." He mimicked.
"You know, you should talk to Jamie and Madeline. I'm sure they'd want to help, too."
Jack was permeated in remorse. "I should."
"You better. Uh, want an escort home? Not like you want to go back to work or…."
"No, I'm going to bed and sleep for a year or a few hours if I'm lucky." He rubbed his tired eyes.
"Sounds like a plan."
"One more thing: I hope you pick a better restaurant next time. Caridad was the first name of a suspect Claire and I had together."
Her tan skin swung to cherry red. "It wasn't intentional."
"I wouldn't think so," he ragged as he strolled toward his Yamaha. 'That man is just so impossible!' Abbie thumped her forehead upon the rim of the steering wheel.
September 4th, 1998
In the course of several weeks, Abbie proved herself indispensable for Jack, ranging from the spiraling Julian Spector case to providing aid to his battered psyche. The final breakthrough was achieved on a random workaday night for he announced to her, "Let's go for a ride."
Her pen tapped upon the table. "I'm not riding on your bike, Jack."
"Normally, I would wear you down on that, but no, the bike would just drown out what I have to say to you. We'll take your car."
"I'd love that, but don't we have work to do?" she tantalized.
"What's Adam going to do? Fire us?"
"Well, writing a brief on testimony rebuttal can only engross you so much. Alright, where to?"
She ferreted for her car keys and trench coat. 'That man never stops with the surprises.'
A tousled Abbie yawned whilst she drove towards the foreboding graveyard.
"Of all the times you want to do this, it couldn't wait until daylight? It's 4:30 A.M.," she groused while she checked her mirrors, the moonlight glittering.
Jack was counting the zooming streetlights. "Actually, this was the same time I first visited her grave. Don't worry; sunup will soon be here."
"Great. Then I can see myself crash." She appreciated her faux pas. "Sorry. It's late, you know."
He flouted his hand dismissively. "Have a care, Abbie, since I can laugh at myself every now and then."
"Well, I'm certainly glad about that. You've made a lot of progress since the last time we've been here." Her smile was from ear-to-ear.
"So have you."
"So, why are we here?"
"To say goodbye."
She nearly rammed into a telephone pole. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, I think I am." His expression was absolute.
"And I'm speechless. Wonderful," she bantered after resuming course.
"I didn't think I'd be doing it either, but after all the time we've spent, I think I am ready."
"Jack, you know I'll support you no matter what, but I still have to ask: you're that sure?"
"I'm that sure, Abbie. I owe a lot to you."
"It wasn't just me: everyone helped out on this one." She longed for the dusk to conceal her nascent blush.
In contrast, his ruddiness was a beacon. "That may be, but you were the catalyst and I'll say it: you went above and beyond the call of duty."
"Never thought I had it in me."
"Lot of that going around." Jack affectionately tapped her shoulder. "It's been three long years and here I am: on my third assistant since my E.A.D.A. promotion."
"Is that supposed to be funny?"
"No, that was supposed to be ironic."
"Oh. Well, here we are." Abbie entered into the burial grounds, combing for Claire's resting place.
"You can stop; I know where it is. I just want to talk for a bit first." The truck halted in its tracks and the driver eyeballed him, anticipating the next response.
The elder sucked in a breath beforehand. "Contrary to what people think, I didn't push for the relationship with Claire. Or, if I did, it was spontaneous. Spontaneous sexual combustion is the only phrase I can think of with her. I wasn't thinking, but with Claire, she made me think only half of the time.
"I still don't know why she wanted to be with me. I always thought it was because of my image at the time. I guess I was the typical 'bad boy' to her."
"Ugh, I certainly don't care for those."
"It's not hard to see why. I don't brag about my conquests, Abbie, but she was a narcotic — I couldn't get enough of her. Then, there was the mess with Diana and this one separate death penalty case. We were convicting Paul Sandig — he shot a cop.
"Throughout the entire legal process, she just kept jabbing me on the fact that I was pushing for the death penalty. I didn't mind it, but the way she glared at me, it felt like I was a criminal or a barbarian to her. Of course, at the time, I wasn't the most sensitive person on Earth and I just drove into my job, ignoring it.
"And, yes, you were right on not only Claire projecting her issues of the job onto me, but I'm also glad I didn't know you back then. We would have argued, but for personal reasons, not political. I think she would have liked you, but anything prolonged and you'd probably slap her like you did me."
"Hey, I'd at least give her five minutes before I did any of that," the firebrand riposted mischievously.
"Yeah. You taught me that things could still work out, despite the situation. Although, I should have seen the disillusionment coming. Her boss before me, Ben Stone, had the same problem. He quit after a mob witness whom he vowed to protect was killed. Ben was her tutor, just as I was to a degree. I've often wondered late at night if I should call him out of the blue and tell him about his protégé. But, why stir up things? Not that I've been setting a good example." Jack wilted after his soliloquy.
"Yeah, there are a lot of things we wish we could go back and redo, but then, you wouldn't be the person I know now. And if it weren't for you, I can't say what I'd be anymore. So, to want to take it all back, it would be a shame, wouldn't it?" Abbie heartened.
His eyes brightened. "It would. I'll be back." He trekked himself into the necropolis and reached his objective: Claire's tombstone.
"Hey, Claire; it's me. I'll skip the 'are you there, it's me, Margaret' line for the timing isn't right. I didn't think I'd be back twice in one year, but I need to talk to you again. I thought last year would be it after your successor got me out of my shell, although, that wasn't the case for here I am. Now, her successor, on the other hand, I wouldn't even know where to begin.
"She's something alright. Hell, she's done things I never thought possible from someone. She highlighted my true feelings about you, before I've even thought them. She risked much because she…deeply cares about me and wouldn't want me to be like this. Just as I know you'd want me to move on with my life. I didn't want to, because I believed that would disregard the impact you've made on me.
"And that's why I'm here, Claire. I want to say that word that has escaped me for so long: goodbye. I don't want to, but I have to. I love you and I wish I had said it more when you were alive. I wish I could have said more to you. I blew it — that's one of the reasons I've kept coming here.
"I couldn't tell you how you truly excited me, yet irritated me to no end. I couldn't tell you how I wanted you to meet my daughter. I couldn't tell you how I savored being with you, despite my male stupidity. I know I can't blame myself forever nor hide from the truth: we weren't a perfect couple. We clashed over everything and while that was thrilling, it got tiresome. I think that's what she — her name is Abbie, by the way — pointed out to me most.
"Really, Claire, she and I are so alike, it's frightening. I see a lot of you in her, like with the sarcasm and one-liners, but in a completely different way. Although, I don't think even you would have slapped me, yet I'm sure it may have crossed your mind every now and then. It doesn't much matter, but it's something for me to think about in the wee hours.
"For a long time, I never was aware how screwed up I was. I'm a product of my times, Claire: men just didn't open up. Sometimes, I feel passé, and once you mix in the testosterone, that's just a horrible combination. The irony is that I'm a better man now — I'm not as arrogant or as insensitive. I'm not a perfect guy, but I'm no longer a jackass. Pun not intended.
"I wish you could have seen my changes. I've wished for a lot of things in regards to you, but as Abbie chided, I'm not God. I now grasp that what happened to you was the end result of a chain reaction that neither one of us could control. It jarred my sense of control along with everything else.
"But then, everything got jarred while some things rose up: like my idealization of you and the accident. It was my way to compensate for the facts at the time: we were ready to break up and we had enough of each other. It's hard to say anything negative when a person dies, because you don't want to speak ill of the dead or sully their name or your memories. I think that was the real problem.
"I love you, Claire, I do, but you really got under my skin. I have thought that so many times, yet couldn't say it until now. I am ready to move on, as you would have wanted. I'm currently dating a woman whom I need to let in if I'm going to get anywhere with her. Plus, I have to continue nurturing my relationship with Abbie and be happy with my job again. Not to mention, stopping my vendettas against the drunk drivers of the world. I can't fight all them all, I just can't.
"In spite of it all, life did pan out alright. I'll still dream about you, but I got to put it all in its place. Goodbye, Claire. I'll be back one day, which I hope won't be for a long, long time."
Jack kissed his index finger and fingered the headstone. He returned to the transport in a daze.
"You okay?" Abbie put kindheartedly whilst he plunked himself in.
There was a distinct twinkle within his eye "I will be. I'm ready to go home now."
"Good, for I'm ready to make my horn my pillow." She ignited the engine.
"You want some breakfast after we both get some sleep?"
"In between everything, I forgot about another anniversary: the day I met you." The subtle compunction pricked at him.
'I knew there was something I forgot.' "That's okay. I think the first anniversary is a freebie, anyway."
"No, I still want to make it up to you. Not because of obligation, but just because?" he wheedled sanguinely.
'Damn his boyish charm.' "Oh, why not."
"Abbie, there is so much I can say, but all I got at the moment is: thank you."
"I'd say we're now even," she smirked. Jack could only chortle as the sun arose, banishing the darkness for another day.
This timeline is for the specific fans:
As stated, the episode "Aftershock" itself offered no timecode (unless it was cut), the above date was conjectured the day after "Homesick"'s final card (July 13th) and with the beginning card in "Causa Mortis" (July 19th) narrowing the timeframe. July 14th was chosen given legal business procedurals (the Friday after) but mostly "Causa Mortis" indicated at least some time had elapsed from the previous episode. Special thanks goes to fear-ciuil for informing me of "Homesick"'s final card and thus reconfiguring some dialogue.
Of the early Abbie episodes, I found "Empire's" trial sequences showed mid April- early June 1998 and thus perfect for my purposes. Sharp readers will note September 4th as the fourth time card in "Cherished", as obviously she'd be the 4th A.D.A. Although, I do find it interesting that both "Punk" and "Refuge"'s finales happened within a month of each other in regards to the timeline (despite the production distance). Anyway, there it is, until I hear something different (I still need to see "Sideshow") and re-edit accordingly.
I realize how anal this sounds. However, for this type of project, I wanted to be precise so I could give the story an extra kick. Thankfully, this won't happen too often as continuity tweaking gives me too many headaches.
Leave a review if you wish and see you in the funny papers.