Disclaimer: I don't own the characters before you. All rights belong to Wolf Films, and all that.

Author's Note: A story that should have been written on last May. This is my reaction to the recent Mothership cancellation scare (the series is thankfully renewed again; nonetheless, it ruined my dramatic moment, here). I know people have written on this theme, but I'll try to be fresh with mine. Since this is an intended songfic, check out the Mediaminer version for the real deal.

Beta: Still looking.

Timeline: Hours past the final events of "Deep Vote".

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"Smell it, Abbie. That is the smell of camaraderie," E.A.D.A. Jack McCoy declared enthusiastically to his now-former assistant, Abbie Carmichael, in their entering of an anonymous tavern.

Her reaction was gagging from second-hand smoke. "I think that's the smell of the tenth circle of hell."

"A bar wouldn't be a bar without one."

"Says you. Now, why couldn't we do this at the bistro that I suggested?"

He escorted her to a windowed table, draping their overcoats onto a nearby coat rack. "Do you want the politically correct response to that?"

"No, because I'd rather hear the politically incorrect version."

"I'll give you both, anyway. The correct response: I want to take you somewhere that has more of a personally conducive atmosphere. And the incorrect version is: if I'm going to emote, I don't want to do it at a girly-type place."

Her arms were crossed insecurely. "Don't I have the dilemma: should I be shocked that you actually want to open up or that you're acting like a typical guy, here."

"Does it really matter?"

The flickering sunlight faded on his white business shirt and her jet-black blouse. "No, but I hope this place has good food and beer for your sake."

"I just chose this place for the beer — I think that's more important right now."

"Yes, Jack, what would life be without alcohol?"

"I could think of a few things," he murmured sotto voce.

A waiter approached the two, both ordering 'scotch, rocks' simultaneously.

"You have been hanging around me for far too long, Abbie."

"Hey, I've enjoyed scotch long before you had entered my life." He eyeballed her impassively. "Okay, I'm a poor liar."

The server rematerialized with the beverages. First, Jack nodded to the retreating man, then to her. "Thank you. Well, should we do a toast first?"

"To what?"

He hoisted up his glass. "Well, I could give a toast to either Senator Benton's proper downfall, Pierce doing the right thing…, eventually, or to Benton's aide hammering in the final nail in the coffin earlier today. But I'd rather give one to the Southern District, for getting the best and brightest Texas has to offer."

She followed suit. "Yeah, to the Southern District."

Each had a dram. "Abbie, besides my inability for small-talk, I don't fare well on goodbyes, either."

"You're not the only one."

"I have to admit, it would be nice to give a happy goodbye for once — I'm certainly due."

"I never had the pleasure. But, Jack, you're sounding like I'm dying or never coming back."

He grimaced. "It's the bitter aftertaste of working this job for so long, I'm afraid. Once people leave, that's it and never to be referenced again. I'm not sure I can do that anymore, or maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age."

"Maybe, but that isn't a bad quality to have."

"Neither is weeping into your scotch bottle, but I still don't recommend it."

Abbie traced the rim of her tumbler, eyes southward. "You know, I had all this planned out weeks ago: what I wanted to say to you, and I'm drawing a blank now."

"'Pretty damn ironic.'"

She cracked a minor grin. "Dirty pool copying me."

"No, I'm simply savoring the sarcasm — no one delivered it finer."

She beamed intensely. "Why, thank you."

"I think I'm going to miss that most. There were times where you really let them have it, and I smiled internally from ear-to-ear. I'm still laughing at your zinger to Danielle Melnick last year."

"Oh, the 'semen beaming into the vagina' crack? I feel proud of that one, too."

He inclined forward. "I seriously think you would do well as a comedienne. It would be a nice fallback if the prosecuting game falls through."

The young woman chuckled ruefully. "I'll have to think about it. Anything else you'd miss about me?"

"Putting me on the spot, eh? You may not get a good recommendation from me if you keep doing that."

She let out a pensive sigh. "Yeah."

"You're not going to start crying now, are you?"

"No, I don't want to 'girly-up' your goodbye."

He clasped her hand. "If it helps, I may join you. It's been a good, long while since that last happened."

She flinched automatically. "Don't. It was enough you seeing me cry regarding Toni's murder, thank you."

Jack's brow creased. "Abbie, I think we're past the point of bottling it all up. What good does it do anymore?"

"You're turning into a sage on me, McCoy."

"Nope, just a tired old man imparting his wisdom."

She wriggled slightly. "You're right, but I'm just uncomfortable. On the other hand, it's you — nuff said."

"If I were in a cheerier mood, I'd smile at that."

"Yeah, this is getting depressing — I thought you wanted a happy goodbye."

"We'll get there, but I'm in the mood to go through the motions and choke on the personal irony first. You better enjoy it while it lasts."

Abbie stared at her reflection in the scotch. "Again, you're not the only one."

"Whoever Lewin gives me to replace you, they won't be you. I almost feel sorry for them." His voice was low-key.

"Whoever I get for a boss, they won't be you, either."

"I wish I could be like a child and beg you to stay. With Jamie, I wanted to, but I knew it wouldn't work. Just like now."

"You're doing it again, Jack. I'll be in the city, just not with you."

"I know, but, 'out of sight, out of mind.'"

She seized his forearm firmly. "What about, 'absence makes the heart grow fonder?'"

He slackened himself in her grip. "Point well taken, Counselor. You'll be perfect in the 'bigger arena.'"

"I'll use all the lessons you've taught me," she smirked, sipping her cocktail.

"That's what a teacher does."

"I don't think that would apply, given our equality. What I never fully grasped was, 'how did I earn such special treatment?' I don't think it was because of my attitude. You can say it: I was such a bitch, wasn't I?"

Jack bobbled his head in accord. "You said it; I didn't. And you're right. We don't have the typical employer/employee relationship, and I'm not sure why that is."

"Don't tell me you want to play psychoanalyst now."

"This isn't the time for it."

Her eyes watered faintly. "Good, because it will probably make me cry, McCoy."

The gentleman matched her. "I wouldn't dream of doing that to you."

"Well, if you want to make me feel better, you could always tell me how I'll be missed. Like you said in front of the courthouse?" she teased.

He snorted. "You just want me to inflate your ego."

"Of course."

"Shall I be honest and — dare I say — be emotional?"

"You damn well better."

He inhaled profoundly. "When I first met you, I thought, 'what a pain in the ass.' Then, I got to know you, and I couldn't think of anyone better by my side. Whom else would I want against the insane defendants, lawyers, and judges? Who else would have made it…so entertaining?

"Your predecessors, Claire Kincaid and Jamie Ross, never enjoyed the game by comparison, and I think they were poorer for it. And, no, I won't get into Claire's negativity or Jamie's baggage, here. The simple fact is, you made me enjoy the job again, and I don't know how I'll ever thank you for that."

A tear cascaded down Abbie's cheek. "Damn you, Jack."

His head sunk in. "Too much? I told you I'm not good at this."

"No, it was perfect; I don't know how I'm going to top that."

"You don't have to."

There was a determined air upon her face. "If I don't, I don't think I could leave otherwise."

"Abbie…,"

"No, it's fine. It just occurred to me that…I owe you everything. You were there when I really needed a friend. You weren't just my boss; you were also my best friend. I actually feel guilty that I couldn't truly return the favor, at least once." Her tears streamed into a torrent.

Jack clutched her gently. "Abbie, I didn't want you to — I didn't want a repeat of what happened with Jamie and the obligations. Now, here I am: right where I didn't want to be. But don't see this as regret, I hope."

She wiped at her newfound mascara streaks. "I know better than that."

He released her delicately. "In another way, there is something else I should be grateful for: that I have changed for the better. Yes, Jamie started it, but you were the one that truly made me realize that the old ways weren't working. I had to change to keep up with you, and I am better off for it."

She sniffled, her eyes arid and ruddy. "You made me change, too. I couldn't be the guarded, sarcastic bitch after Toni's murder. You've made me mellow, Jack, and I'm going to haunt you for the rest of my days."

"Depending on the time of day, I'll look forward to it."

"You want another drink?"

He imbibed a measure of his alcohol. "No, one is my permanent limit."

"So, what do we talk about now? More maudlin babblings?"

"No, I got a better idea: what's the one thing you wish you could have done in the D.A.'s office when you had the chance? Be absolutely honest."

Abbie's pale tan features reddened. "I don't think I want to answer; it will wreck the mood."

"Oh, come on, what is it: wanting to kill Adam or Nora? Sticking someone's head in the water cooler?"

"I plead the fifth, Counselor."

He pointed directly at her. "No, Abbie, that isn't going to cut it — not when you're leaving. Now, come on, tell me."

"You sound like a five-year-old."

"That's what happens in the twilight years: you regress to an earlier state," the senior avowed authoritatively.

Her shoulders slumped. "Well, what's the worst that's going to happen: I get embarrassed? Hell, I'm out of here, anyway."

He contracted his hand into a fist. "That's the spirit."

"I'll say it, as long as you don't freak out on me. Swear it."

Jack writhed underneath her unexpected glare. "Okay, I swear that I won't freak out on you. Now, what is it?"

She faltered momentarily, her original focus on her drink. "I've had these thoughts for a while after Toni's murder, wondering what it would be like to date you. Satisfied?"

He froze like a deer in front of headlights.

Frantically, she donned her indigo trench coat. "I told you it would wreck the mood. Maybe I should go, before I make a further ass out of myself."

He reached out to her. "No, don't do that; please, stay."

She sagged in her seat. "Alright. I'm not going to do any flowery declarations of love, here, but I can't say it all hadn't crossed my mind on occasion. More so lately, I guess, now that I'm leaving."

His eyes continued to dilate. "Abbie, I had no idea."

"I mask my true feelings well, you know that."

He gazed downward. "You're right; I do."

"The main obstacle is the fact that you're my boss. However, since I'll no longer be your assistant, there go the majority of the issues, right?"

"I've been down this road, I don't think—"

Abbie's palm was raised haltingly. "Let me finish. I know that we have the deck stacked with our age gap, our approaches to life, and our prior relationship. But I know that our overall rapport wouldn't change, for you have treated me as your equal. Based from what I've heard about your past relationships, it would make for interesting comparisons."

He massaged his neckline. "Then, you know that my first ex-wife was an assistant as well. And I, too, treated her as an equal."

Her palms were facedown on the table. "I'm not her, I'm me. And you wouldn't act to me like the Jack McCoy of yesteryear, but the Jack McCoy of now, which is who I want."

"It sounds so easy."

"Oh, please, we both know that the easy things don't pay off at the end of the day. I know it will be a lot of work, particularly right now, as I'm in between jobs. But this isn't an experiment or roll in the hay, it can't be."

Jack's steeple gesture tapped his index fingers to his lips. "I don't know if I could give it to you; I don't want you to become another story I tell people."

"You won't treat me like that, and we both know it. I just don't want to look back and think what might have been."

"If we're to be absolutely honest, I can't say that I haven't thought about this, either."

The lady eyed him assiduously. "You have?"

He nearly guzzled his stagnant draft. "After Adam left, I started to. But I didn't want to screw up the best relationship I've had with a woman in years, which is why I never acted. Abbie, you deserve much better than an old fart like me."

"Don't put yourself down, Jack. There is still a lot you can offer a woman, or a bitch like me," she simpered.

"Yeah."

"Look, am I going to say it's love? No, but I can't say it won't lead to it, either. The whole point of our time together is, was taking chances — I took a chance letting you in, and I'm taking one now. What about you, Jack? You don't look like the type to be afraid of that."

He played idly with his dangling gray locks. "I'm not, but I think the cost of failure — which is very likely with me — would be too high."

"There is always that possibility, yes, but has that stopped you from doing your job or anything that you do?"

He flexed his upper body. "No, but after Claire's death, I'm learning to be more cautious."

"There is such a thing as being cautious and being afraid to fail."

"Well, Abbie, I just don't have an answer to that, beyond a crack that I'm coming off like the woman, here. I should have known that your aggressiveness would extend into your personal life as well."

She peered at him bemusedly. "So, you want me to stop being the man, then? That would make us, what — a lesbian couple?"

"I hear they're very in now."

The pair shared a titter. "Jack, you do what you feel is best, but try to consider it, at least. Has it been like this with your other assistants: what we share, here?"

"Not even close."

"Then, we can't go wrong. Just think about it and get back to me. Now, all I can really say is this: don't wait forever. My life is ahead of me, and I will want to share it with someone one day. For me, you just happen to be the best man. This should cover the drinks." Abbie dispensed a twenty-dollar bill and departed from the saloon.

Jack later diverted himself to the bustling evening street. "I should have said, 'yes.' Well, I'm an idiot," he muttered.

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