A/N: You can consider the basic premise of this little story to be either pure cheese or utter denial on my part. Granted… if they had tried this on the show, I'd be voting for pure cheese – of the water and oil based "processed cheese-type food" variety no less. But it's fanfic… time to play and have fun and maybe enjoy the cheddar (or Swiss or provolone or chevre or whatever you like with your wine – or whine ).

A/N (updated): I started this back in…oh, July. Possibly June. It took a long time (duh) to write. Not from lack of interest on my part but because it simply came slowly. Basically, it's now an AU timeline from "Don't Leave Me This Way." If you don't like Jordan/J.D., skip it.

DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Not thinking the coup is necessary at this point, but still ready, willing and able to stage it if it should become necessary.

The Raveled Sleeve of Care: Part Six

Pollack took her sailing and fishing, motored over to some of the smaller villages, even arranged an on-board sunset picnic the third night they were there. As they drank a lovely white from McLaren Vale, Jordan couldn't help but sigh. "Do you remember that show Fantasy Island?"

"De plane! De plane, Boss! De Plane!" He came back with a decent impression of Tattoo.

She laughed. "Well, I feel like that's where I've ended up."

"But?"

Her head dipped. "Damn. You're good at that. Reading me."

He shrugged.

"I am going to have to get back."

"Well, yeah. One more day? Tomorrow? Back to Boston after that."

She nodded her agreement.

"Good. I've got plans for you tomorrow." He spoke in a mock menacing tone and pretended to twist the ends of a moustache, all while leering.

Jordan made a moue of disappointment. "No plans for me tonight?"

"You have to ask?"

She laughed.

XXXX

They started their day with a tour of the Maryland State House which, since she wasn't a student on a field trip and wouldn't be required to prove she'd been paying attention, interested Jordan quite a lot. Pollack walked her down to the grounds of the United States Naval Academy, bought admission tickets to tour the campus and, with the aid of a map, showed her all the special places it held. Jordan teased him that he only brought her here in the summer because most of the cadets were gone since it was summer. "Can you blame me?" he asked.

They wandered amongst the little shops, stopped for ice cream at one of Annapolis' oldest ice cream parlors. At one point, J.D. pointed out a place he called the "swankiest, best, 'it' restaurant in town."

"Good thing we're not going there. I doubt my shorts and tank tops would be too welcome," Jordan joked.

"I always think they're welcome," he told her, letting his eyes slide up and down her figure. "But you might have a point. Idiots."

They strolled some more, stopping in front of a store that carried some of the latest fashions from well-known – and thus expensive – labels. Jordan's honey eyes melted a little at the dress in one window display. Red, her favorite shade of red, to be exact. The bodice was intriguing – falling from thin shoulder straps across the breasts and then criss-crossing, the right piece being secured at the left side; the left piece falling between the mannequin's legs. An underskirt of the same shade fell straight, nearly floor-length with slits running up the front of each leg, to mid thigh. She sighed.

"Give it a go. Probably your size," Pollack told her.

She snorted. "Maybe. But it's all wrong for my bank account!"

He pulled her by the hand into the shop and, before she could protest, explained to the well-groomed clerk with the gentle accent that they lady would like to dry on the ensemble from the window. Yes, the dress, the shoes and the necklace.

Jordan tried to shush him and to stop the clerk, but the Aussie ignored her. Finally, he took her by the shoulders. "Go try it on, Cavanaugh. Just for fun." He winked.

Giving in – and secretly thrilled about it – Jordan found herself led to a nicely appointed dressing room. Clothes shopping wasn't her favorite task, especially when she couldn't afford what she was trying on, but Pollack was right – just seeing how this would look on her would be fun. She slid into the dress, adjusted it and turned to look in the mirror. She tried to suppress the gasp of delight, but she had a feeling she'd done a poor job of it. She pulled on the shoes – open-toed sandals dyed to match. Her fingers shaking now a bit, she clasped the multi-strand gold-and-garnet necklace around her neck. She looked in the mirror again and groaned this time. The whole ensemble emphasized her long, lean legs with their shapely calves. The necklace drew attention to her lovely skin and the cleavage it dipped toward. She sent up a silent prayer to the patron saint of fashion – if there was one – that the price tags wouldn't say… damn.

"Show time, Cavanaugh!" Pollack's voice brought her back to reality. All right, she'd go out and show him, let him take a mental picture and then change back into her own clothes. This was a month's rent. And heat. And water. And food. Maybe two. Well, a girl can dream….

She stepped out of the dressing room and had the satisfaction of watching the Aussie's jaw nearly unhinge. He stammered out a compliment. The clerk told Jordan it looked like the dress had been made for her, which was probably what the clerk told everyone, but Pollack quickly echoed the sentiment. After being stared at long enough, the M.E. retreated to the dressing room. She could hear murmured conversation as she unhooked the necklace.

"Dr. Cavanaugh?"

"Yes?"

"If you'll just hand me the pieces as you finish with them, we'll get them where they need to be."

With a nod only to herself, Jordan agreed, starting by dropping the necklace into the woman's palm. The shoes came shortly after and lastly, the dress. Jordan laid it carefully over the top of the door and watched it slide away, borne off by the clerk no doubt to return to its mannequin.

She emerged a few minutes later and they left, heading back toward the docks. She knew Pollack had planned a nice evening out and they both wanted to go freshen up at least. A cab would bear them to and from their destination. He wanted their last evening to be a celebration with no worries about designated drivers, on land or water.

Later, Jordan would wonder how he'd had her so thoroughly fooled.

XXXXX

They tied up the boat and, hand in hand, made their way up to the guest house. Jordan walked into the bedroom to kick off her shoes to find a garment bag lying on one side of the bed and a large box on the other. "Pollack! You know anything about this?"

He came into the room. "Oh, yeah. Dale and I are about the same size, so Reanne brought over one of his tuxes."

Jordan glared at him. "Great. You'll look perfect and… what?"

He just shrugged and let his grin grow wider.

"What?"

He kissed her forehead. "Open the box, Cavanaugh."

"I suppose Dale's wife is about my size – thirty years older – but my size and you asked Reeee…." Her voice trailed away as her eyes went round as saucers. For a moment, she forgot to breathe. Then she looked up. "You didn't?"

"Then it's one hell of an illusion, huh?"

"But – it's – it's a small fortune!"

"So?"

"Pollack… you… neither of us has this kind of money!"

"Well, luv, turns out I've been asked to write a book about the dear judge – set the record straight on the man, as it were. I've been given a rather… generous… advance."

"But why – why this?"

"Did you look in the mirror?" His eyes twinkled. "Because I wanted to, Cavanaugh. I wanted to have one extravagant, unforgettable, romantic night with the most beautiful, intelligent, sexy woman I know." He sighed and lifted up one lock of her hair. "Because tomorrow we have to leave Fantasy Island."

After a moment, she swallowed her last protests and murmured a simple thank you before getting ready.

She wasn't terribly surprised when the cab stopped in front of the restaurant Pollack had shown her earlier in the day. He'd set the whole evening up well. It lived up to its billing, their waiter making suggestions for each course, sending the sommelier over to aid them in selecting the perfect wines. The food was sublime, perfectly matched to the wines and, the waiter assured Jordan, they took special assurance to make sure the desserts were magically sucked free of calories. Pollack wouldn't even let them bring the bill to the table and Jordan couldn't remember the last time she'd been so thoroughly wined and dined by someone who wasn't trying to use her in some way.

After the cab dropped them off, they sat on the dock, her skirt hiked up, his pant legs rolled, so they could dangle their feet in the Chesapeake. The moon sparkled on the water, reflected itself in a long, argentine ribbon. Across the water, the Naval Academy sat, dark and silent. Crickets chirped around them, a counterpoint to the gentle slap of water against the pilings.

"Did you mean it? When you said… you loved me?" She made herself face him.

He regarded her steadily. "Yeah. Yeah, I did, Jordan." He paused, ran his tongue over his teeth. "I still do."

She nodded, her breath catching. This was the part where traditionally Jordan Cavanaugh made a quiet, but hasty exit and hit the pavement running. "Why then?"

"I think you know."

She nodded. "Woody. You were jealous."

"That feeling hasn't changed much either, Cavanaugh." He leaned back, his palms flat against the dock. "When I first met you, it was clear that you two… well, if looks could've killed, you'd both probably have been goners. But… it was equally clear that was… on the surface. That things went deeper. And you… you told me enough for me to know the score."

"I'm sorry."

He shook his head. "Then he seemed to snap out of whatever state he'd been in. And he wanted you back."

"Pollack-"

"He wanted you back, Jordan. And by then I wasn't ready to give you up. I was starting to feel like I wouldn't be ready for a while and was kind of hoping maybe you were getting around to that thinking, too. It was that 'something' I needed to talk to you about – getting a place together. I felt threatened by that case, by Hoyt." He took a very deep breath. "So I got all typical, testosterone-driven male and said something that should have been private in front of him to… warn him off, I guess."

She nodded, feeling her throat tighten and tears start in her eyes.

"The things is… I know you pretty well, Jordan. I know you didn't always think I did, but I do. I should have known better. I figured it'd scare you and we'd argue at dinner and… I don't know… we'd work it out. I never thought you'd get stuck at the damn inn."

"I never meant for it to happen."

He sat up and took one of her hands. "I know that. That's not who you are. You can be abrasive, demanding, stubborn, and a number of other traits I actually really like, but one thing you can never be is deliberately cruel. You tried to tell me – really the first chance you had in all that mess – but by then I knew."

She nodded, a tear gliding down her cheek.

"And I watched you, Jordan. Part of you wanted to tell me it didn't mean anything with Woody. I don't know if it was so I'd feel better in some way or because you – you liked what we had-"

"I liked what we had," she whispered.

He squeezed her hand gently. "But… you couldn't tell me that. You're too honest and – and it's another thing I – love about you. You are who you are, Jordan Cavanaugh." He freed her hand and brought his knuckles up to graze her cheek, drying the moisture he found there. "You have this beautiful, intense, fierce integrity."

She smiled, a broken expression of pain and doubt, fear and, at that moment, self-loathing. He gathered her into his arms.

After a moment, she said, "I still can't tell you it didn't mean anything."

He looked down at her glossy head. "I'm not going to ask you to."

"I loved him. For a long time. Longer than I would admit. When I finally told him, he didn't want hear it. He wasn't in my life and then…you were. But then… somehow we were friends again and… I don't know. There was this sense of … something unfinished. Then… Then we got stuck in Littleton Village."

"And you still loved him."

She was silent for a long time. "Yeah, I did. I still loved him then."

He tilted up her chin with one finger. "And now?"

"Now?" She shrugged. "Whatever was left unfinished after the Riggs shooting… it's finished now. I think… I think whatever we both expected to be there just never came to be." She laid her head against his chest. "It's always going to mean something, but not the everything I once thought it would." She looked up. "Can you live with that?"

He cocked his head to the side and gave her a lazy smile. After a moment, he nodded and, leaning in to kiss the soft flesh beneath her ear, he whispered, "I can live with it."

They remained like that for a few more minutes, watching the moonlight on the water, listening to the night sounds, saying goodbye to their own version of Fantasy Island. Without having to ask, Pollack stood up and helped Jordan to her feet. They walked back up to the house and went to bed.

XXXXX

Jordan stood at the windows, giving the Bay one last look. She had not felt this rested in ages. She had also not felt this certain about her choices in an even longer time. Pollack came in from starting the El Camino and tossing their bags in the back. Reanne would ship them the box of Jordan's finery.

The Aussie came and stood behind her, as he had the first night. Jordan craned her neck and looked up at him. "What did Nigel say to you?"

He grinned. "Verbatim?"

She smiled. "A general summary will do."

"Nigel told me…." He wrapped one dark lock of her hair around his finger. "He told me when every day you don't see that one special person is a day diminished, then you know it's right."

"And?"

"I didn't want any more days diminished. And that's exactly what I told him."

She turned in his embrace. "Without me…your days are diminished?"

He chuckled at her. "Why do you find that so hard to believe?"

"Track record."

"Well, track record or not… yeah. Without you, something is missing from my life." He caressed her cheek. "It's something rare and important, something that just doesn't come along very often. Some people never find it."

She nodded slowly. "I think I just narrowly missed being one of those people."

XXXXX

Pollack's article ran ten days later. It was one of the best days of Jordan's life and one of the worst. The answers were there in black and white with the facts to prove them valid. The long, protracted chapter of Jordan's life that had been the mystery of her mother's murder was ended. Finally, her mother had justice. And other families did, as well, their own questions answered, doubts quieted. It changed everything. And, of course, it changed nothing. Jordan had still grown up without a mother. She had still lived in a house shrouded in subterfuge and denial. She had still learned far too well the lessons of betrayal.

"You know, somehow, I thought you'd look a little… happier," Garret commented from her doorway.

Her eyes met his and then dropped. After a long moment, she shrugged. "I'm still who I am."

He moved in to her office, shaking his head. "Jordan, you'd have been a pain in the ass even if your mom had lived and she and your dad were currently retired and living in Miami, playing shuffleboard and Pinochle."

Her mouth was a thin-lipped, tight line. Then, she laughed. "Pinochle?"

Garret raised one shoulder. "I don't know. It was the first thing that came to mind, I guess."

They watched each other closely for a few silent minutes. At last, Jordan sighed. "I would have been a pain in the ass anyway?"

"Sure," her boss deadpanned. "Stubborn. Dedicated. Smart – sometimes too much for your own good. You think all that started when you were ten?" He snorted. "You're who you are because… because it's who you were meant to be."

She smiled softly.

"And I, for one, am damn glad you are." He flicked up his eyebrows at her. "Though, who knows? Maybe you'd have done paperwork on time."

He left before she could throw anything at him.

XXXXX

For once, Jordan left when her shift ended. Pollack's editor was taking them to dinner to celebrate what the man already thought would earn the paper at least a nomination for the Pulitzer, if not the award itself. Jordan had already picked out her outfit. As if it took much effort. She grinned to herself at that thought.

The elevator dinged and the door slid open, revealing Woody Hoyt. He started at the sight of her, but recovered quickly. "Hey. I was coming to see you."

"Woody… hey. I'm … uh… on my way out."

"I got that. Mind if I ride down with you?"

She shook her head.

"So," he started once the door shut on them. "I saw the article."

Jordan nodded.

"You… um… you know now, huh?"

"Now, yeah," she answered him quietly.

"That must've been… pretty… I don't know… gut-wrenching."

She looked at him. "Good description."

He rocked on his toes, hands thrust deeply in his pockets. The elevator arrived at the garage level, its door opening. Jordan began to walk to her car. Woody trailed her. As she reached the El Camino she glanced up at him. "Need a ride or something, Woody?"

"What? No, no, I… I…." He scrubbed a hand through his spiky hair. "When you called me. I – I didn't know exactly what you wanted to hear."

"Neither did I," she murmured.

"I was kind of hoping – maybe we could talk about it?"

She cocked her head at him, keys held in one hand, heart pounding in her chest. She was looking for exactly the right words. "Did you miss me? Us? Our friendship? Whatever it was?"

"When?"

"Any time. When you were with Lu? When I was – Before that night at the Inn?"

Confusion marred his handsome features. "Jordan… I… yeah. I told you that."

She nodded, feeling her eyes sting with scalding tears. "What did it feel like?"

"What do you mean?"

"Woody," she spoke deliberately, "When you and I weren't… us… I felt – God, dead inside. I walked through my life without noticing any of it. I followed the rules, did what I was told! My job became the only thing that mattered. I forgot… I forgot…." She swallowed. "I forgot what smiling was like, laughing, talking… just enjoying being with someone else. I even forgot what… what crying was like."

"I'm sorry."

She shook her head. "And then… you and Lu. I – I kept waiting for that to – to tear me up inside." She shrugged. "It never did. Finding out that way… that hurt like hell, but not – not for the reasons it once would have. You lied to me."

"I didn't lie!" he protested.

"You just didn't tell me," she countered, her voice soft and liquid in the dim light of the garage.

"I didn't want to hurt you."

She gave another shrug. "Maybe deep down you knew you wouldn't, that – that there was nothing left to hurt. Maybe we both knew that." She let out a shaky breath. "The bottom line Woody is… you wanted me in your life, on your terms, but I don't know if you ever needed me there. Or, if you did – if you did, you don't anymore."

"Jordan-"

"Your days aren't diminished without me, are they?"

His shoulders slumped as he tried to make sense of her words. "I don't – I don't know what you mean."

She swiped at her eyes with the back of one hand. "I know you don't." She leaned in and kissed him softly on the mouth. "'Bye, Woody."

XXXXX

A quiet wedding and a brief honeymoon in Maryland and then Jordan and Pollack were back at work. Fall passed, its days shorter, cooler, its trees alight with the colors of flame. Winter moved through, blanketing the city in snow several times before the Commons shook off the drab grays and put back on the verdant hues it was known for. Summer rolled around again, the sun burning hotly in the sky, the air humid and sticky.

Life changed in slow increments, hours, days, months… years.

Garret retired and handed the reins over the Jordan.

Nigel moved to Sri Lanka with a lanky blonde photographer.

Bug and Lily had a New Age commitment ceremony.

There was a baby. And then a second one. Babies that grew into stubborn, dedicated, smart children.

And Jordan finally realized she was, in fact, exactly who she had been meant to be, and that every choice she'd made, every impulse she'd obeyed had led her where she was. And she liked that.

END