The Way Upstate
Disclaimer: NYPD Blue and its characters are not mine and have been borrowed without permission.
A/N: This is meant to be a post-series story for John Kelly and Janice Licalsi's characters.
Six months. It had sounded so easy coming out of her lawyer's mouth. He'd made it sound like it would breeze by, and Janice had believed him. Not that she was blaming him for anything. She and she alone had fooled herself, had let his easy words coast over her and soothe her fears. And God had she been scared. The sound of the judge's gavel pounding down for the last time after the jury's guilty verdict had sent chills racing down her spine. She'd looked at the bailiff expectantly, waiting for him to cart her away, and was surprised when her lawyer had gently, and then more firmly, nudged her towards the doors at the back of the courtroom. She'd looked up to see Johnny leaning against the frame of one of the doors, the throng of spectators and reporters maneuvering around his still figure to get a better look at her.
"You're released on bail until your sentencing hearing," her lawyer whispered.
Right. How could she have forgotten that detail? Stupid, stupid. Her up until then unknown fate had had her so frantic that she had forgotten basic courtroom proceedings. Relief poured over her. Her sentencing wouldn't be for at least another four weeks. Despite the media scrutiny of this high-profile case, the wheels of justice would continue to turn slowly. The court dockets were backed up, and she would have to wait her turn just like everyone else.
She was surprised to see Johnny there. Although he'd sat through most of the proceedings following his testimony and had spent every night comforting her in the hidden sanctuary of his apartment, they hadn't gone public about their rekindled relationship. She walked up to him and smiled, knowing he would see her quivering chin and realize that she was barely holding it together.
"Come're," he said softly, and she went willingly into his open arms, burying her face in his chest and closing her eyes. She heard flashes popping all around them, the reporters' interest frenzied by this new revelation. Doubtless this would make the front page of tomorrow's paper, but at the moment she didn't care. She'd quiz Johnny later, of course, about why he'd chosen this moment to announce their relationship to the world, but for now all she could think about was how she had four more weeks of him all to herself, 28 more nights for him to lull her to sleep with vague yet soothing promises of better days ahead and love unending.
She felt one of Johnny's arms leave her momentarily, heard the breath rumble through his lungs as he thanked her lawyer. The lawyer he'd paid for. God, she was so indebted to this man. She'd destroyed his integrity and he'd responded by paying for her defense. And all of this when they'd just been merely ex-lovers. She felt her attorney place his large hand on her back and rub it soothingly for a moment, letting her know that her thanks was understood. She couldn't face him, couldn't face anyone right now. At some point, unbeknownst to her, hot tears had begun to fall from her eyes, soaking the front of Johnny's dress shirt.
Swiftly, adroitly, Johnny somehow managed to whisk her mostly limp body away from the prying eyes of the media and into the semi-privacy of the small rooms used for last minute attorney-client consultations. Johnny drew the blinds on the windows and sat down across from her. When he didn't speak, she wiped at her eyes and met his gaze.
"Everyone knows about us," she managed to choke out. It wasn't at all what she meant to say, and yet, suddenly nothing was more important.
"I suspect they do," he agreed, and she noticed how tired he was. She mentally berated herself for being so self-absorbed that she'd failed to see how much this case was wearing on him as well. She knew that many nights he remained awake long after she'd fallen asleep, and yet she'd fooled herself into believing that he was okay, when in reality, his life was falling apart as fast as hers.
"But your job-"
"I quit this morning," he said softly. She gasped and raised her hands to her mouth. John Kelly had been destined from birth to be a cop. It was in his blood. It was who he was. Had she taken that away from him, destroying not only his previously impeccable reputation but his livelihood as well?
"Johnny," she whispered, unable to articulate the rest of her thoughts as she dissolved into tears once more.
"Janice," he said sternly. "This is not your fault."
"But it is," she wailed miserably. His was collateral damage that she hadn't anticipated, even though he'd been in on her deceit. She'd thought that because they were through, because they were no longer lovers that he would remain guileless. Funny, her biggest concern had been the public exposure of their torrid and short-lived love affair, when it was his friendship with her that had been his undoing. John Kelly had only been doing what he did best, protecting his fellow officers from the unnecessary probing of IAB. He'd managed to temporarily divert attention from her, only to have it magnified a thousand-fold on himself.
"I had that notebook for two days before I gave you a crack at it," he told her. "Don't think it didn't cross my mind to leave you out to hang."
His admission both startled and relieved her. "You should have left me out to hang," she chided. "I'm a grown woman; I can take care of myself."
"Janice, you were in way over your head. LaStarza was just the tip of the iceberg. IAB would have let the press and the courts make an example out of you, and not a soul would have stood up to save you. I couldn't let that happen. I love you too damn much." His voice cracked on the last words, and he looked away.
In an instant, Janice was up and out of her seat, running around the table to wrap her arms around him and pull his head into her abdomen. She fingered his Titian locks tenderly, and he wrapped his arms around her hips and held her tight. "It's going to be okay, Johnny," she said, even though she was anything but sure. "Didn't you hear what the lawyer said? Two years, max. Out in six months. Six months, Johnny, that's all." But she knew as well as he did that even one day of separation was too much. His fingers tightened, gripping the fabric of her thin cotton dress. "I can't lose you," he said, his words muffled. "Not again. Not like this." She could feel his breath blow across her, could feel it warm her skin. There was no way this man could touch her that didn't leave her feeling electrified. And she was about to go without his touch for six very long months.
"Sometimes losing someone is the only way to keep them forever," she mumbled, not necessarily intending for her words to make sense. But Johnny nodded then, and she knew he had understood her perfectly.
"You and me," she continued. "It seems like the only way we manage to find each other is by losing. It'll stick this time Johnny, I swear. After this, we'll be free and we really can have that fresh start I wanted us to have before. Don't you see? We can't have that without this last loss."
"I don't like to lose," he said, and she smiled.
"Let's get out of here," she whispered.
Now, seven months later, she wondered if she really had lost Johnny, and for good this time. Oh sure, he still faithfully made the drive upstate every Sunday afternoon, still wrapped his hands around hers, still kissed her chastely on the cheek upon his arrival and departure. And he kept her up-to-date on his life on the outside, how he'd floundered around lost for weeks after quitting the PD, only to run into Mike one afternoon. A cup of coffee morphed into a heart-to-heart, and Johnny finally climbed off his high horse. They were now partners, having opened up their own firm that provided body guard and PI services. The money was good and the hours even better. Johnny had never once had to cancel a visit to see her, something she knew would have been inevitable if he was still on the force. And yet whenever she tried to steer the conversation to what would happen when she got out, what their plans were, he either deflected the questions or changed the subject all together. And that was what had her worried.
She'd always known that Johnny had a soft spot for women in distress. It was what made him an excellent cop and an attentive boyfriend. But his predilection for unstable women made her wonder if his love for her would remain after she was free. She'd be able to go where she wanted and do what she wanted. She wouldn't need him to hold her hand any longer, wouldn't need him to reassure her that everything was going to be okay. And if she didn't need that, would he still need her?
She'd noticed just two weeks into her stay that he never mentioned the future. She could question him for hours on his doings of the previous week, but every time she asked him what he had planned for the upcoming week he swiftly changed the topic, or ignored her question altogether. At first she'd thought he was hiding something from her, something so huge that he didn't dare tell her until she was released. Naturally, her thoughts turned to Robin, his most recent ex, and to Janice's knowledge the only woman he'd seen after they'd broken up. She'd disliked Robin from the moment she'd first laid eyes on her, knowing that it was unfair, but hating her all the same. She'd been able to tell instantly that she was Johnny's lover, and the hatred burned white-hot throughout her core. At the same time, desperation had swelled in Janice, threatening to spill forth from her eyes in the form of tears. Robin was sleek, sophisticated, well spoken and even better dressed. Her smooth auburn tresses had shone brightly even in the dingy station, and her clothes had clung to her in such a way as to leave no doubt that her body was everything a man could want. Janice had felt so frumpy standing next to her, her hair a wild mess of curls, her clothes oversized and unshapely, and her makeup long since gone. It was no wonder that Robin had managed to turn Johnny's head, and it wouldn't have surprised Janice in the least (though it would have broken her heart) if Johnny had run back to her now that she was locked away. Janice knew about Johnny's promise to Jimmy to watch over Robin, knew also that it was Johnny, not Robin, who had ended their relationship. And yet, when Janice finally worked up the nerve one Sunday afternoon to ask Johnny about the "Coppertone Girl," he'd shot her a quizzical look, as if he wasn't quite sure about whom she was talking.
"Robin," Janice clarified, hating to say her name and put her image in Johnny's mind while she sat before him in a hideous orange jump suit.
Johnny smiled at her, as if they were in on a secret. Janice's heart skipped a beat.
"Robin met a very nice man and moved to Boston a few weeks ago," he said. "Why do you ask?"
Boston. Janice felt her face flush as her heart began beating again, compensating for the lost time by beating too hard and too fast. Boston wasn't far enough away for Janice's liking (she'd been hoping for California, or better yet, Alaska), but it was at least one state away and several hours by car. For now, Boston would have to do. It was a hell of a lot better than New York City.
Janice ducked her head to avoid Johnny's gaze. "I just remember you telling me about promising Jimmy to watch over her," she said, trying to make her comment casual. "I was just wondering how she was."
Johnny hadn't bought her lie for a second. "Hey," he said to her, pausing until she looked up to meet his eyes, their pale blue irises seeming more washed out and faded than usual. "You don't have anything to worry about. I care about Robin very much; I have for a long time and always will. Yes, we did see each other, but only for a brief time. I ended things with her because I couldn't get you out of my head. It's you I love, Janice. You and only you. Got it?"
She'd nodded, not trusting her voice. And while she'd believed Johnny, the gnawing worry that ate away at her stomach did not abate. If it wasn't Robin he was hiding from her, then what? She pressed her hands to her stomach and bit back a grimace. She'd have a full-blown ulcer by the time she left this place if she didn't find out what was at the core of Johnny's peculiar behavior.
Now she was six months into her sentence and up for her parole hearing in a few days, and Johnny was still being evasive.
"So my parole hearing's this week," she began, rubbing her palms on her legs.
Johnny nodded that he'd heard, but said nothing.
"What are we going to do then, Johnny?" she asked, unable to keep the desperation out of her voice.
"Why don't we cross that bridge when we come to it?" he said, glancing at his watch.
She wanted to scream at him that that bridge was here now, looming before them, and that she could see neither the other side nor how they were supposed to cross it.
"It's time for me to go," he announced suddenly. Janice wanted to argue with him, but knew she couldn't. It was her fault for being such a coward that she'd waited until the last minute to bring up the issue. Still, she watched in disbelief as Johnny squeezed her hand and stood up, preparing to leave her.
Janice stood too then, feeling clumsy as she staggered to her feet and tried to smooth down both her unruly curls and the ever-present wrinkles in her orange jump suit. She'd never once seen Johnny look the slightest bit unkempt, even after he'd worked for 36 hours straight on a case. She hated how frumpy she always felt standing next to him, and wondered if she would feel as inadequate standing next to him once she was out and could wear normal clothes and properly condition and straighten her hair.
"So, next Sunday then?" she asked, her tone desperate.
"Next Sunday," he agreed, coming around the table so that he could kiss her good-bye. Janice relaxed as his scent washed over her, felt every bone in her body melt as his lips touched her cheek, felt the familiar wave of desire flare out from her belly. "I love you."
"I love you too," she added, her eyes closed. She couldn't ever bear to watch him walk away from her, and so she always stood with her eyes closed until she heard the door slam behind him.
When she heard the door click shut, Janice finally allowed a tear to run down her face. She wouldn't be seeing Johnny next Sunday, not if her parole hearing went the way she was expecting. Assuming her request for parole was accepted, she would be released on Saturday. And then what was she supposed to do?
Janice's parole hearing came and went, and she was pleased but not surprised to learn that her request had been granted. The state of New York didn't like to keep cops in prison, especially ones like her. She required extra security to keep her safe from the general population, and that separation came at an increased cost to the state, which tended to view her (unofficially of course) as having done them a favor by murdering the city's most notorious gangster.
The officer who delivered the news to Janice asked her if she needed to make a call to arrange for a pickup on Saturday afternoon. Janice nodded, and was escorted to the pay phone bank. She picked up the phone and held it to her ear, listening to the dial tone, as her fingers remained motionless over the dial pad. Who to call? Her mother or Johnny? Before she'd gone to prison, Janice would have said Johnny automatically. But now, after months of his persistent aversion to discussing the future, Janice didn't know what to say. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes, dialing from finger memory her mother's number.
Saturday morning dawned clear and bright, the exact opposite of Janice's mood. She knew that she should be happy, elated to be getting out of prison, but her concern over what would happen between her and Johnny managed to suppress any excitement she was feeling. At least in prison she knew what to expect from Johnny: one hour-long visit each Sunday, two kisses, an uncountable number of reassurances and declarations of love. Now, on the outside, she didn't even know if she could hope to hear from Johnny again. Perhaps he considered his obligation to her paid. She was now a free woman, allowed to come and go as she pleased (so long as she stayed within the state), and in no need of his protection and encouragement. And how was she supposed to tell him that although her physical body had been released, her very soul relied on his love, needed his presence to function? She might be a free woman, but her heart was still a prisoner of Johnny's. And unlike her, her heart had received a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
"Miss Licalsi?" The warden's voice interrupted Janice's musings. "Your ride is here."
"Thanks," Janice murmured, gathering her few belongings. It would be good to see her mother, she reminded herself. Her mother's trips hadn't been as frequent as Johnny. Although Janice knew that her mother still loved her, the shame of two corrupt cops in the family weighed heavily on her mother's heart.
The tall figure leaning up against the hood of the car was not who Janice expected to see.
He glanced up then, a small smile on his face. "Hey you," he said.
"What are you doing here?"
"It seems a little bird told me you were getting out today and that you might need a ride home."
"But my mom…" Janice protested, still not comprehending.
"Is the one who called me," Johnny finished, pushing himself off the car and walking towards her. "Honestly, I was expecting the call to come from you."
"Johnny, I –" he cut her off, pulling her into his arms and crushing the breath out of her lungs as he pulled her to him, and she would have laughed, could she have spared the oxygen, as she felt her feet leave the ground. His head bent to nuzzle her neck, and his words, when they finally came, were hot against her skin.
"Damnit, Janice, why didn't you call me?"
She couldn't answer him, because she was fighting to inhale just enough air to breath. Instead she tangled her fingers in his hair and clamped them shut before burying her face in his shoulder, hoping that he wouldn't mind if she soaked his suit coat with her tears.
He must have realized eventually that she couldn't breathe, because his hold on her released slightly, and he lowered her feet back to the ground. Janice gulped in oxygen greedily, her burning lungs starving for sustenance.
The fresh influx of oxygen allowed her to finally give in fully to her emotions, and her chest began to heave as the sobs flowed up from her throat.
"Shh, shh," he whispered, rubbing her back. "Everything's okay now."
His words ignited a spark in Janice; she released his hair from her clutches and pushed firmly against his chest until he released her. She staggered back a few steps, needing but not wanting to put some space between them.
"How can you say that?" she demanded. "How can you tell me everything's okay when I didn't even expect to see you here today? When I can't say what the future holds for us, if anything, because you refuse to talk about it? When I don't even know how to define what us is?"
He sighed and bowed his head. "You're absolutely right," he admitted.
"I am," she agreed instantly, without processing what he was saying. She paused, then asked, "I am?"
"Yes," he said, "You are." He closed the distance between them, wrapping her back into his arms, albeit much more gently this time. He kissed the top of her head, and then bowed his head until their foreheads were touching. "It's completely my fault that you felt like you had to call your mother today."
He continued, stopping often to punctuate his explanation with kisses. "I know I was unfair to you from the very beginning about what would happen after you were released. I know you were aware of how I couldn't talk about the future. I certainly wasn't subtle about ignoring your questions and changing the conversation every time the subject came up. But it's not what you're thinking." He sighed deeply. "My heart belongs to you, Janice. It has ever since that first time. And it always will be yours, even if you don't want it. I was scared, Janice. Scared that you wouldn't want anything to do with me after you got out. Scared that you would be over and through with me, and that I wouldn't know what to do with myself."
"Why didn't you just tell me that?" she demanded, interrupting his confession. "Don't you think that I was scared too?"
"That's why," he said.
"That's why I didn't say anything, because you were scared too. One of us needed to be strong, and I was willing to bear that load. You had more on your plate to deal with than I did."
"I wouldn't have been scared if I'd had something to hope for, something to believe in after I got out."
He shook his head fiercely. "I know you think that Janice, but our future wasn't the only thing you had to worry about. You were a cop in prison, Janice. You had to spend every minute of every day fearing for your life."
"Johnny, I wish you'd stop feeling like you need to protect me. I'm a big girl. I've been taking care of myself for a long time before you came along."
He chuckled softly. She didn't see what was so funny. "Your self-sufficiency is exactly what sends my protective tendencies into overdrive. I don't doubt that you can't take care of yourself. And that just makes me want to protect you more, because you don't need me to."
She laughed then. "You make absolutely no sense, you know?"
"You know there's no changing that about me, don't you?" His tone was more serious than it had been. "I was raised in a very traditional family, and I grew up being taught that it was my job to protect the women in my family and the women I chose to keep company with. And then, when I became a cop, well, protecting people became my career. I can't stop feeling like I need to protect you anymore than I can stop breathing."
She nuzzled against his chest. "I know."
"Are you okay with that?"
"I wouldn't have you any other way."
She felt him release a breath she hadn't known he was holding.
"So where do we go from here?" she asked. "You know, since we haven't discussed that yet."
He laughed. "I'm sorry about that. We'll go wherever you want. California, Hawaii. We can go as far away from here as you need to go. A new town for a new start, right?"
"I do have to stay within the state, Johnny," she reminded him, frowning when she felt him tense up. "Don't," she whispered. "We can still start over in New York," she reminded him. "I want to stay here. This is my home. My mom's here and so you are. Why would I want to go anywhere else?"
"You really want to stay in the city?"
She nodded. "I'm not ashamed of what I've done."
"And you want to be with me?"
She nodded again. "I can't live without you."
"I love you," he told her.
"I know you do. And I love you too."
She could feel the tension leave his body, but when she felt him sinking, she grew confused, and clutched at him. "Johnny, what are you doing?"
Before she knew it, he'd dropped to one knee, and had taken both of her hands in his. "Janice, will you marry me?"
The tears she'd managed to suppress for the last few minutes again flowed freely. "Yes," she managed to choke out. "Yes!" She removed her hands from his and cradled his face in hers. He turned his head to the side and kissed the inside of her right palm. She bent over to kiss the top of his head.
Moments later, the diamond solitaire was safely displayed on her left ring finger and she and Johnny had piled into his car. Neither of them could stop grinning, and Johnny had one hand on the wheel and the other resting on her thigh.
Although Johnny had answered nearly all of her questions, Janice still had one last question for him to answer. She turned to him and smiled. "Do you remember after we got back together, when the trial was still going, and I asked if you knew the way upstate?"
"You told me that you knew the way upstate, and you did. But for a while there, I was scared that you didn't know the way home."
"Do you know the way home?"
He leaned over to kiss her. "I'm already there."