Author's Note: I've decided to start a connected series of one-shots, filling in the blanks behind a Cutter/Rubirosa relationship, and how it might have happened. It's not intended to be one whole story with an overarching plot (beyond the one that's already canon) – if it works, it'll be more a series of missing scenes, beginning early in this season.
Also: usual disclaimer.
She knew that Mike was still in a bad mood when he stalked past her desk at the close of business on Friday with nothing more than a brusque "See you Monday," and without giving her time to respond in kind.
It had been one of those cases. They were all bad, of course – it was the nature of the job. They only varied by greater or lesser degrees of what her younger sister would refer to as "suckitude." Some of them got to you more than others. The case with Sofia Archer, the soap star who'd adopted her very own accessory baby…that had been Connie's. This one, it seemed, had been Mike's. To make matters worse, his attempts to prevent Lacy Talbot's parents from having surgery performed on their disabled daughter had culminated in Jack showing up in court earlier that day to very publicly call Mike off.
She felt sorry for him, even though she also thought that Jack had done the right thing. When they'd been at the hospital a few days earlier, to check on the comatose Amelia Lazaro, she'd lost track of Mike somewhere around the nurse's station and found him slumped in a chair by the patient's bed. She'd gently told him that she agreed with the judge's decision to reject Mike's initial attempt to add an assault charge onto those already facing Lacy's parents. It was a wasted effort, and she didn't miss the slightly accusatory tone in his voice when he'd answered her: "You just have to try and save who you can save." She supposed that he'd simply taken for granted that she would hop on board the Cutter train the way she had so often in the past.
And so, after the debacle in court today, she'd given him what she thought was time to cool off before knocking on his office door with the part of the completed paperwork from the case. The lights were off, save for one lamp, and he was sitting at his desk tossing a baseball from one hand to the other and back again, a distracted expression on his face. As far as bad moods went, it wasn't up there with his pacing around and swinging a baseball bat, but it wasn't a good sign, either. As a result, Connie wasn't surprised when he'd barely looked up as she placed the files on his table.
"Here's the initial paperwork on the Talbot plea agreement."
No response. Connie sighed. "Mike?"
He glanced up finally and the baseball stilled. "Paperwork. Right."
"The new file we've opened for the Kessler case is there as well, like you asked." She paused. "Mike? The Kessler file? You said you needed it."
"Sure." The baseball resumed its journeys from hand to hand.
She toyed with the idea of slipping out of the room right then and got as far the door before turning around and leaning against the frame. "Anything you feel like talking about?"
For a moment, she wasn't sure if he'd heard her, or if he'd heard her and was simply ignoring her, but he put down the baseball and turned his chair to face her. He even opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it, shaking his head.
"Nothing you want to hear about."
He snorted. "I can't. Not without maligning your mentor." He gestured vaguely in the direction of Jack's office. "And that would violate our agreement. Actually, I'm pretty sure it would end up violating both of them"
A ghost of a smile flitted across her face. Oh yes. The agreements. There had been two of them struck within the first month of their working together. Number one: no complaining about Jack in front of Connie. Number two: tone down the language, please. It had rapidly become apparent that Mike's eloquence extended far beyond the courtroom; he was also familiar with a variety of four-letter words and had made frequent and diverse use of most of them before Connie had finally told him to can it.
Now, leaning against the door frame, she considered giving him temporary immunity from both agreements. Before she could offer it, though, he'd turned away, picked up his Blackberry and begun stabbing at the buttons. She threw up her hands in a "whatever" gesture and returned to her desk. Still pissed, she thought, sitting down and hitting the space bar to wake up her computer. Pissed at me for not cheerleading, pissed at Jack, pissed at the Talbots, pissed at the world.
It was about half an hour later when he'd swept past her with that curt goodnight. She watched, and cringed, as Jack emerged from the hallway and awkwardly waited for the elevator next to Mike. The tension between the two was palpable. She could see that Jack was saying something, but from the set of Mike's shoulders, whatever it was clearly wasn't mollifying him.
She put a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes, feeling a headache coming on. It was eight-thirty on a Friday night. Her own Blackberry was full of texts from friends who were out, enjoying a nice dinner, plotting a nice drink in a nice bar, and definitely not sitting in a near-empty office and developing a migraine. Screw it. She picked up the Blackberry and read the latest email from Tanya, her best friend from law school ("Going to B-flat after dinner. There 9pm latest. Five blocks from your office. NO EXCUSES!"). Smiling, she gathered up a few files from her desk, stuffed them into her briefcase and shut down the computer. A drink with friends now, brunch with another friend tomorrow morning, and a lazy day on Sunday were calling to her. And Mike could do whatever the hell it was he did on the weekends and hopefully get all the angst and brooding out of his system by Monday. She clicked off the lamp on her desk and left the office.
She woke up the next morning in her Park Slope apartment ever so slightly hungover. The drinks had been good, but strong, and Tanya – thrilled to see Connie after a busy month for both of them – had cornered her in a booth and insisted on an in-depth catching-up session. Connie had been pleased with how rapidly she'd been able to shrug off the past few days, in spite of the presence of one other, very young, ADA and two defense attorneys, as reminders of her job. (Lawyers, lawyers, everywhere, she'd thought morosely when she sat down and was introduced to them.) Unfortunately, the presence of the other lawyers meant that Mike Cutter had, in a way, even managed to make an appearance at the bar when one of the defense attorneys, who was new to New York, had asked her which EADA she was working with.
"Mike Cutter." She'd replied, crisply.
"Who's Mike Cutter?" The other defense attorney had inquired, tuning in to the conversation. Before Connie could answer, the other ADA had piped up, grinning.
"He's a hottie."
Connie stared at her before cracking up with the rest of the table. "Excuse me?"
"I'm just saying." The other ADA (Cara? Tara? Connie couldn't remember through the hangover.) "He's kind of a hottie. We all think so."
At this, Connie had raised her index finger. Speak for yourself.
Cara/Tara noticed. "Well, a lot of us do. I mean, he's older." Connie snickered. Mike was (she suspected) in his early forties, but to someone in their mid-twenties, early forties qualified as older. Practically geriatric. "But, you know. He's cute."
Tanya glanced at Connie. "And you have failed to mention this because…"
"He's my boss." Connie reached down and shoved her briefcase out of the way of her legs. "And for the last few days, he's not anything other than a pain in my ass, so can we talk about something else?"
They had. They conversation had been good, and Connie had ended up staying later than she planned before catching the R train home.
She rolled over in bed and peered at the clock on the side table. Nine o'clock. Crap. She needed to get moving now or risk being late to meet Megan for their weekly brunch on the Upper West Side.
Within half an hour, she'd showered, dressed, grabbed her briefcase (reading material on the subway) and headed for the nearest stop. She arrived on time at Columbus Circle and made her way to the restaurant, where Meg was already waiting for her.
They talked about their respective weeks. Meg was on maternity leave, having had her daughter nine months ago. Every week had new stories: baby's first smile, baby's first tooth, baby's first noise that both parents had convinced themselves sounded almost exactly like either "Mama" or "Dada." It has been an odd shift in their friendship. Not bad, Connie thought. Just odd. Meg was self-conscious about talking too much about the baby, about becoming what she referred to as "one of the Upper West Side mommy brigade." Connie, for her part, was self-conscious about what she feared was a repetitive same-yness of her description of her life during the work-week. ("I worked. I came home and opened a can of soup. I fell asleep on the couch. I went to work the next day.") At the same time, she tried to underplay the times she did go out, socialize, date, knowing that Meg had found the transition to being at home difficult.
Still, their friendship seemed to be making the adjustment easily, and they had moved on to other topics - TV shows, the news, vacation plans – when Connie's Blackberry began to chirp insistently. She glanced down. It was Mike.
She smiled apologetically at Meg. "It's work. I have to take this." To his credit, Mike – like Jack – was good about respecting personal time, unless imposing on it was unavoidable. The occasional text or urgent email was more usual. A telephone call was rarer still.
She picked up the phone. "Hi, Mike."
As usual, he didn't bother with niceties. "Where's the Kessler file?"
"The Kessler file. You drew up that subpoena yesterday, and you were supposed to give it to me yesterday evening with the rest of the file."
Connie heaved a sigh. "I did. I came into your office with the Talbot paperwork and put it on your table along with the Kessler file. I told you that I was doing it." Then, because she couldn't resist, she added: "You were playing with your baseball at the time."
There was a brief moment of silence. Then: "It's not here."
"It was on your table."
"Well here's the thing, Connie. If it was on my table, it would have gone in my briefcase, along with the rest of the stuff I put in there, and it would now be on my coffee table." This was followed by the sound of papers being shuffled around. "It's not here."
"I don't know what to tell you, Mike." She made what she hoped was an apologetic gesture at Meg. "It must still be on your table."
Mike responded by dispensing with part two of their year-long agreement and muttering one of his favorite four-letter words. She decided to let it go; it was the weekend, after all.
"Can't it wait until Monday?" she asked.
"Not really. I'll head in to work later and hunt it down." There was a pause and the sound of more shuffling papers. "Sorry to bother you. I'll see you Monday."
"Fine." She hung up, and she and Meg resumed their conversation. She'd forgotten all about the Kessler file, in fact, until their brunch was over. It was then, an hour after Mike had called, that she reached into her briefcase to extract her wallet, which had wedged itself between a dog-eared copy of Fashionelle and…
She waited until she and Meg had said their goodbyes to make the call, secretly hoping that he wouldn't pick up. He did.
"It's Connie. Have you already gone in to work?"
"I just left my apartment."
"I, uh…" Might as well come out with it. "I found the Kessler file."
"In my briefcase. I just found it a few minutes ago. I guess I didn't put it on your table."
She suddenly had an idea. "Don't you live on the Upper West Side?"
"I'm in the area. Sort of. I'm at Columbus Circle. I could meet you and give you the file."
"How's Cherry Hill Fountain in twenty minutes?"
She agreed, not missing the faint tone of surprise in his voice.
They hung up and Connie headed across the street towards Central Park. Mike, apparently, was still not over the Talbot case or, she suspected, his wounded pride from the Jack thing. And, okay, she'd slightly inconvenienced him with the confusion over the Kessler file, but she'd only set him back by, what? A few hours? She'd expected a little more enthusiasm for her offer to hand him the file personally in his own neighborhood, not least because it had occurred to her that he might not be opposed to seeing her outside the office. They'd gone out for the occasional after-work drink, usually after a difficult case, and granted, he'd never suggested meeting up beyond that. His most obvious flirtation with her had taken place during one trial last year, and she'd realized to her embarrassment, that it had been part of a broader scheme to sway one of the jurors who been admiring her. And yet, sometimes, she'd be reading a file or tapping away on her computer and she'd look up to catch him gazing at her with a slight smile. Other times, she'd thought that maybe he was standing a little closer than necessary. She found she didn't really mind, even though she should have. She found that, in spite of herself, she shared last night's opinions of Mike Cutter. But the fact that both of them, she believed, had the sense not to do anything about it was reassuring.
She walked up to the fountain and sat down on one of the surrounding benches, expecting to have to wait a while for him, beginning to resent having had to rush the end of brunch with Meg in order to get Mike a file. A file which, in spite of what he claimed, probably could wait until Monday. To her surprise, within five minutes of sitting down, she became aware of someone standing in front of her. She raised her eyes and there he was. She'd never seen him dressed casually and she thought, not for the first time, how odd it often was to see people outside the office in something other than suits.
He removed the sunglasses he'd been wearing. "Hi."
Connie found that her annoyance hadn't quite faded. She stood up and handed him the file. "Here."
"Thanks." He accepted it and stood there, looking a little embarrassed. "Sorry to drag you out here."
She shrugged, picked up her briefcase, and stood up.
Mike glanced around at the crowds wandering in park, then back at her. "Have you eaten?"
"Actually, I was in the middle of brunch with a friend when you called." It came out more clipped than she intended and she relented. "I could use a walk, though." She patted her stomach and smiled at him. "Eggs benedict."
He smiled back, and they turned towards the wide staircase that led down to the fountain. It wasn't until they'd reached the top and began walking that he spoke again.
"It was a bad case."
"I'll get over it."
"I've been completely out of line."
She heard him chuckle slightly, and she nudged him with her elbow. "You can malign Jack a little bit, you know. I mean, if you really need to talk. Just…don't push it."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
It was, as it turned out, the only time they discussed work during the hour and a half that followed. They continued to walk. They got coffee. She left him at Columbus Circle and rode the subway home. And when she saw him again on Monday he was, as he'd promised, over it.