Disclaimer: I don't own the characters you read before you. All rights belong to Wolf Films.

Author's Note: My reaction after finally analyzing "Sideshow." Someone had to write Abbie's reaction to the Diana Hawthorne reference. To my knowledge, "Sideshow" hasn't been covered in fics as such, so what better tribute for Sam's 67th birthday today?

Side note: Apparently, René Balcer (writer of the Mothership version) forgot about Diana's name, and renamed her as "Diane." Oops. Given the context, I'll defer to "Sideshow's" gaffe, even though, I know better. Silly Balcer.

Timeline: The day following "Sideshow's" finale.

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A striking young woman was kneading her aching left hand inside her office. She froze in her chair, as a stout, aged man unexpectedly arrived.

"Um, I'm only taking a short break, sir."

"At ease; I'm sure you saw Baltimore's latest press conference."

"I didn't, given my additional paperwork. I don't suppose you've heard anything from Jack."

He snorted. "You are still being paid overtime for his caseload, Ms. Carmichael. I'm here to inform you that he just called me, requesting a personal day. In light of everything, I decided to grant it."

She raised an eyebrow. "I thought he'd rush straight back here."

"The man is still as unpredictable as ever."

"He seems to be."

He puckered his lips. "Ms. Carmichael, I'm not about to ask on your present working relationship with him. All I'm going to say is, don't be so quick to write him off."

"Why would I do that?"

"For Ms. Diane Hawthorne is on your mind — my deductive reasoning is still as sharp as it ever was."

Carmichael's free fingers roamed throughout her elaborate black hair. "Actually, sir, I'm not sure what to think."

He buried his hands into his trouser pockets. "Give it time. Just remember, it wasn't the best time for him back then. And stop calling me 'sir.'"

She veered off. "I'll keep that in mind…, Adam."

"Have a good day, Ms. Carmichael."

"It's just as well he didn't call me Abbie — I'd probably faint if he said it, anyway," she muttered subsequent to his departure.

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Abbie was by the water cooler several hours later, eyeballing a vacant room. Detecting motion within, she gaited her way inside. There was a lanky, gray-haired gentleman pacing about.

He perked at the new presence. "Abbie."

"Jack, what are you doing here?"

"I couldn't resist coming back to my office. It's the smell — I can't stay away."

She clasped her hands frontward. "And you couldn't bother telling anyone you were around?"

Jack moseyed over to his spacious window, gazing at the sunset. "Adam's secretary said he was off at another Bar Association dinner. And you looked busy, so I didn't want to intrude on you just yet."

Her arms were akimbo. "After what happened with Baltimore and the independent counsel's independently dissolving your case, I'll cut you some slack, here."

He scratched at his earlobe. "That's gracious of you."

"What, I can't be nice every once in a while?"

"It's an old habit of mine — I'm too used to the quid pro quo."

"Don't be a cynic, Jack."

"Who, me?"

A minor sneer tugged at her lips. "I don't think this is the time for wisecracks, either."

"You would know when I was being sarcastic."

"You're right, but I still can be nice to you." She leaned on the window frame beside him, forearms crossed.

He seized the collar of his frayed, green coat. "If I were being cynical, I'd call this long-term planning of returning the favor to you. That is, if I were being cynical."

"Jack, give me more credit than that."

"I do, but there is human curiosity to deal with. I don't blame yours, for I'm sure you've been thinking with it ever since I left for Baltimore."

She toyed with her business jacket buttons. "I do want to know, yet I don't; I'm not exactly known to play the ostrich, Jack."

"Whereas, I'm notorious for denial; aren't we a crazy pair?"

"I'm acting like a gossipy sixteen-year-old girl, aren't I?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "Honestly, I'm surprised you haven't said a quip on the matter yet. Not that I would blame you, for it's great joke fodder."

"As tempted as I am, you look like you've heard it all, anyway. Besides, it is too easy, and I'm better off not doing it."

His wooly eyebrows shot up. "You keep on surprising me, Abbie."

"Because I have a sense of tact?" she deadpanned.

"In this instance, yes; I'm not sure what I've done to earn it this time. I think I almost want the abuse."

Abbie traced her slender neckline. "You admitted about being with Hawthorne in front of me and Adam, so what more do I need, really? Yeah, I personally would like a detail or two, as I'd like to think we've gotten closer together, lately. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?"

He gaped downward and fooled with his fingers. "Can't dispute that, Counselor. You know, I could always put the subject off, but we both know that is foolish. It's almost funny, really."

"What is?"

"My now eroding apathy at the snickering 25-year-olds — I'm beginning to think that's the price you pay when you get older."

"I think what you're saying is called 'wisdom,' Jack. Of course, I used to be a 'snickering 25-year-old,' so what do I know?" She leered at him, eyes squinting.

"I think you're becoming wise, yourself, Abbie. Not that it's much of a contest with me."

Relaxing, she briefly touched his right arm. "Don't sell yourself short, Jack. You do sound like you have a good grasp on things — a lesser man would have buckled under."

He stiffened. "Again, that's kind of you."

"It's not kindness if it's the truth, Jack."

"Maybe, but I can't wait for the wisdom to stop for a while." His tongue faintly protruded.

"At least, it's sticking. You know what you're doing, don't you — you're actually opening up to me." She wiggled an index finger at him.

He cocked her head toward her, brow furrowed. "I am?"

"Yep. Our more open conversations typically involve yelling."

"Well, how about that?"

"Remember, I already shared beforehand."

Jack balled a fist. "I don't think I'll ever forget your… college revelation. Like I said before — 'You keep on surprising me, Abbie.'"

She massaged her tensing neck. "I said what I said for personal reasons. Don't think you have to share just to make us even, there."

He licked his lips. "They say pain shared is pain halved, but you're right. In my case, I don't open up because I view myself as a terribly boring person outside of work."

"I find that hard to believe."

"Scoff if you wish, but it's true."

Abbie had her palms out. "I guess there was one good thing about this royal mess."

"What?"

"It finally gave us the chance to clear the air."

He smirked. "What a way to go."

"I'm not changing the topic, but I never did ask why you were so hell-bent on protecting Willington's identity in the first place."

He stroked his chin. "It was my only tangible link to both the suspect and the victim. Some secrets just aren't worth airing out, Abbie."

She poked at his lapel. "And that's why you're in charge."

"If I ever want a replacement, I know whom to turn to."

She blushed. "Why, Jack, I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me. Speaking of which, I really should get back to work. Before I go, you know I have to ask why you came back tonight."

"Like I said before — it's the 'smell of this place.'" He haughtily sniffed. "It was something Diane said when I saw her last."

She headed for the door. "Alright, that's enough for me. Good night, Jack."

"Abbie?"

"Yeah?"

He spun himself around, facing her. "Tomorrow, I'll tell you about my recent run-in with her. If you want to ask about my other assistants, you'll have to give me some advanced warning first. I guess I am returning the favor, after all, aren't I?"

Abbie remained in place, a smile developing. "To be optimistic, we'll call it 'friendship in progress.' If you want to be pessimistic, however, I wasn't too thrilled about my additional workload. It seems pointless to gripe about it now, so if it's the same to you, I would like to push for the former."

Jack matched her expression. "Sounds like a good idea. And I do appreciate you picking up the slack for me while I was away."

"While you're at it, you should also thank Adam, for he really cooled me down on this. What a mistake I would have made otherwise, huh?"

"He tried to do the same for me after an execution I attended a few years ago."

"Yeah?"

He angled away. "Yeah. Of course, at the time, I was irritated. I was such a jackass back then; pun not intended."

"He said you were a different person; I didn't believe him, at first."

"He's the wisest man east of the Missouri for a reason."

She resumed her previous spot. "He got us talking, so he must be. Suddenly, I don't feel like going back to work, now."

He sat on his extensive wooden desk. "And, suddenly, I feel like talking."

"I don't think taking off for a few hours will hurt the criminal justice system much. What do you think?"

"I think we can do both, as I should shoulder my share of the workload. If Adam knew I was back this early, the streets would be screaming for 'Jack McCoy, get back to work, already.'"

She sniggered. "He would pull that off, too."

He escorted her into the hallway. "C'mon, I'll tell you about this bizarre detective I met in D.C."

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