It began as an uncommonly peaceful night in the Stark household, though it would not remain that way for long. In the basement courtroom, Sebastian Stark and Jessica Devlin were preparing their case against the suspected murderer of a popular children's TV actor and waiting for the other members of the High Profile Crime Unit to show up. It was slow going, and they were only too happy to see Julie carefully walking in holding a tray full of sandwiches and iced tea.
"You've both been working for a while, and I thought you could use a snack," she said, setting the tray down on the defense's table.
"You are an absolute angel," Sebastian replied emphatically as he lustfully eyed the sandwiches.
"That was really sweet of you, Julie," Jessica agreed. "Are you going to stay and eat with us?"
"That was the plan, but if you two would rather just get back to work I can eat upstairs," Julie replied hurriedly.
"Don't worry about it, we could use a break anyway," Jessica said as Sebastian nodded in agreement; he was far too busy tearing into his sandwich to speak.
"All right, then," Julie replied, pulling up a chair. "So, how's the case going?"
"It'd be going a lot better if those chimps who call themselves lawyers would just show up with those documents," Sebastian groused between mouthfuls.
Jessica rolled her eyes and patted him on the shoulder. "So they're a little late. We have all night to prepare. When they get here we'll just make them stand in the corner while we sort everything out like always. No big deal."
"You guys are terrible, you know that?" Julie snickered.
"Psh, that's what having underlings is all about, Jules," Sebastian replied. "They're there so we can make them do all of the grunt work and then yell at them for screwing it up."
"Well, that and the whole deal where they have sex with you in exchange for good cases and transfers," Jessica added before taking a dainty sip of her tea.
Julie laughed at this until she really thought about it, whereupon her face fell. "You guys haven't ever done that, have you?" she asked, giving her father an especially suspicious glare.
Sebastian and Jessica carefully avoided looking at one another.
"Well, I mean, it doesn't really count as long as you both know that you aren't really having sex for favors. It's fine if it's just role-playing," Jessica said, sounding as though she was trying to convince herself more than anyone else.
"Yeah, what she said," Sebastian said hurriedly, trying to look innocent and failing miserably.
Julie gave him a skeptical look. "That still sounds kind of unethical."
"Hey, as long as you both go home happy, what's a little unethical behavior here and there?" her father replied casually.
"Damn right," Madeleine cut in wistfully as she walked into the room.
"'Bout time you got here. Where's everyone else?" Jessica asked, raising an eyebrow disapprovingly.
"It turns out that there's another witness. One of the actors had brought his kid with him to the studio on the day of the murder, and he claims he caught a few snapshots of the murder as it happened. Danny and Raina are questioning him now."
"And you couldn't call us to tell us this because…?" Sebastian's disapproving stare matched Jessica's.
Madeleine shrugged. "Figured I'd tell you in person and save your cell's minutes."
"How sweet," Sebastian replied sardonically. "Did you get the statement we needed or not?"
"Here you go," Madeleine said smugly, handing him the file that she'd been holding.
Sebastian opened the file and skimmed over its contents, with Jessica craning her neck to read along with him. Slow grins spread across their faces.
"Excellent! Mac Feegle won't know what hit him," he announced triumphantly.
"You might want to hold off on the party until we get the kid's statement and the photos," Jessica pointed out.
"You live to be a buzzkill, don't you?" Sebastian replied, feigning irritation.
"Hang on a second," Julie, who had been oddly quiet during the whole exchange, finally gave in and asked the question that had been at the top of her mind since Madeleine had walked into the room.
She gave her father a sideways glance. "Have you and Maddie ever…?"
"Ha! No," he replied, not even bothering to hide his amusement, while Madeleine's response was a somewhat dejected, "Nope."
Julie nodded, her curiosity satisfied. Jessica, meanwhile, coughed discreetly and stared nonchalantly at the basement's jury box, silently praying that they would leave it at that. Since she did not actually believe in the existence of gods, or at least not the loving kind, she was not surprised that her prayers went unanswered.
"I did sleep with Jess once, though," Madeleine said offhandedly.
Julie choked on her tea. "Seriously?" she wheezed through the hacking coughs.
Jessica sighed in resignation, then took pity on her and reached over to thump her on the back several times.
"Yes, all right?" she said when the Julie's coughing fit had ended. "It happened a few years ago on what would've been my anniversary. I was in a bad place emotionally, and then she showed up at my house and, well…" she trailed off, her expression unreadable.
"Really?" Julie looked at Madeleine in surprise.
"Don't look so surprised. I'm capable of being sympathetic and caring when I need to be," Madeleine looked mildly offended at the implication that Julie would think otherwise.
Jessica laughed derisively. "Oh, yes. You needed to show how caring you were, didn't you?" she asked, though it wasn't really a question.
"It worked, didn't it? You did give me the transfer I asked for," Madeleine shrugged.
Jessica didn't answer her. Instead, she glared at the wall as if daring it to offend her.
Sebastian had been quiet during the discussion, mainly because he had drifted off into his happy place shortly after Madeleine's confession, but also because he felt instinctively that he shouldn't be involved with this one. Now his instincts were telling him to change the subject quickly.
"So, we should be hearing from Raina and Danny fairly soon," he said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
"Yeah," Jessica replied unenthusiastically.
"The kid's testimony probably won't make any difference. This case is airtight," Madeleine stated confidently.
Julie stared at her in disgust. "I can't believe you. I really can't believe you! You took advantage of her grief just to further your career? You're worse than my dad!" she said, looking ready to cry at the unfairness of it all.
"Oh, thanks for that," Sebastian mumbled peevishly.
"Just drop it, Jules," Jessica muttered.
Madeleine only glared obstinately at the girl, who simply threw up her hands in frustration before stalking out of the courtroom without another word.
As she climbed the stairs, she heard Jessica say, "So, now that we're done airing out our dirty laundry, let's get back to business."
Sebastian was just about to voice his agreement when Madeleine cut him off. "Come on, Jess. Don't act like I did anything you never did."
In the stony silence that ensued, Sebastian wondered when Madeleine developed suicidal tendencies and how he was going to find another new prosecutor on such short notice.
When Jessica finally spoke, there were icicles in her voice. "I'll act like that if I want to, because I never slept with any of my bosses."
Madeleine snorted disbelievingly, unflinchingly meeting Jessica's icy gaze.
"It's true. You should've seen those guys. Even the Presidency isn't worth bumping uglies with them," said Sebastian, desperately trying to inject some humor into the situation.
"They weren't all hideous. Dick Rogers was pretty hot," Jessica added gratefully. Any change of subject at all was welcome at this point.
"Sure," Sebastian allowed. "But I always thought he was gay. I don't know, maybe it was the way he hit on me every chance he got. Remember?"
Jessica laughed softly, her mood considerably lightened. "Oh, I remember all right, and I have a sketchbook full of the proof," she said suggestively.
Sebastian massaged his temples and sighed at her implication.
"At least tell me you drew me on top," he said in hopeless acceptance.
"Well…at least you were definitely enjoying yourself," Jessica replied, growing more cheerful as he grew more uncomfortable.
Madeleine, who had been brooding quietly, perked up at this exchange. Jessica noticed her sudden interest and rolled her eyes.
"If you want copies, ask Raina. I loaned her the sketchbook, so you'll have to sort it out with her," she said coldly.
Madeleine nodded and sighed, wondering how much Raina would charge her for access.
"Great!" Sebastian spoke up, trying once again to steer the conversation onto a safe course. "Now that that's settled, why don't you go home," he pointed at Madeline, "so we can get back to work," he gestured towards himself and Jessica.
Jessica opened her mouth to agree, then appeared to change her mind. She shook her head and put her hand on Madeleine's arm. "Wait. We need to talk," she said, shooting Sebastian a look.
He got the message. "I'll just take the rest of Julie's sandwich up to her," he said, grabbing the plate and making his way out of the courtroom as quickly as his dignity would allow. He had a terrible feeling that before the night was over, he'd be scrubbing blood off of his courtroom.
Madeleine sat down and waited to hear what Jessica had to say. She wordlessly stared at her, the older woman steadfastly refusing to meet her gaze. After a few minutes that felt like an eternity, she couldn't take the silence any longer.
"So, are we going to talk or not?" she asked.
Jessica glared at her, but didn't answer right away.
"For the last two years, I've tried to pretend that night never happened," she finally began, her voice level and calm.
"We both knew what it was, Jess," Madeline replied smoothly.
"No, we didn't. I didn't," Jessica sighed and stared at the ceiling.
Madeleine's jaw dropped at this revelation. "Oh," was all she could manage to say.
"Yeah. 'Oh,'" Jessica repeated.
They sat in silence once again before Madeleine spoke up. "For what it's worth, I never meant to hurt you, Jess. I didn't think-"
"No, you didn't!" Jessica snapped.
Then she sighed again, her shoulders slumping. "That night, when you showed up at my house, I was a wreck. I hadn't felt so completely alone since the night Ben died. It was getting dangerous for me…" she trailed off, unable to elaborate further.
"Oh, hell, I never realized it was that bad," Madeleine went pale as the full meaning of her words hit her.
Jessica laughed hollowly. "I didn't really want you to, honestly."
She went on. "I never wanted or expected a relationship with you. I just wanted to know that you were there because you wanted to be—because you cared—not because you wanted something from me," her voice started to falter and she looked down, afraid of showing too much emotion.
"Jess," Madeleine began softly, all trace of her usual bravado completely gone.
Jessica cut her off with a wave of her hand. "I guess part of me knew exactly why you were there from the start. But… when you held me afterwards, I think actually started to believe that wasn't it. Stupid, huh?"
"No, it's not," Madeleine replied, but Jessica wasn't listening.
"The funny thing is, I had already approved your transfer to the Narcotics Unit," she laughed humorlessly.
Madeleine took a deep breath. "I know," she said.
Jessica froze. "You what?" she asked, looking like a deer caught in the headlights.
Madeleine didn't answer right away; she was trying to decide whether or not to tell the whole truth. It didn't take long for her to reach a conclusion. Telling the truth now couldn't possibly make things any worse.
"I saw the papers on your desk that afternoon. I went over to your house to thank you, but when you answered the door…God, you looked like hell. You were trying to hide it, I could tell, but honestly you weren't doing a very good job of it."
Jessica smiled weakly at this, and Madeleine internally sighed in relief.
"I may not have realized the full extent of your situation, but it was awful seeing you like that. I've never been very good at the whole 'comforting' thing, so I just sort of did what came naturally to me," she risked a small smirk at this, and was rewarded with a chuckle from her companion.
"I did care about you. I do care about you, Jessica. Believe me when I say that I care more about you than I ever have about any of my other partners. I realized that as I watched you sleep, and it terrified me. It terrified me so badly that I ended up saying all of those stupid things and ruining everything," she finished, watching Jessica carefully and trying to gauge her reaction.
"I'm sorry," she added, when no response seemed to be forthcoming.
"For three years you let me believe that you had just used me, that everything you said and did that night was just an act and that I was an idiot to fall for it. All because you were scared to find that you actually cared about someone other than yourself," Jessica shook her head, then turned and smiled at Madeleine, causing her to shift about uncomfortably.
"You're a complete wuss, Poe," she said.
Madeleine's shoulders sagged in relief. "I guess I am."
"But you haven't ruined everything," Jessica admitted.
"So do you think you can forgive me?" Madeleine asked hopefully.
"I'll definitely take it into consideration," she replied, grinning.
Madeleine smiled back. "So, about those drawings…" she said playfully.
"I'll try to get my sketchbook back from Raina tomorrow. She's had it long enough," Jessica replied, leaning back in her chair.
"Excellent. So hey, I was wondering," she said with a meaningful cough, "if Stark and that Dick guy were your only subjects."
Jessica gave her a cheeky grin and began to whistle innocently.
Sebastian slowly approached the door to the basement, dreading what he would find at the bottom of the stairs. He walked in and heard laughter, and found that he wasn't the least bit comforted by it.
He heard Madeleine cackle and say, "Hugh Laurie and Magic Shell? Count me in."
"Two great tastes that taste great together," came Jessica's reply. He could hear the smirk in her voice.
Sebastian began to wish that he really was about to walk in on a murder scene. He took a deep breath and finished his descent.
"I just got off the phone with Raina. The case is a slam dunk," he said with as much bravado as he could muster, desperately hoping that they wouldn't pick up on his discomfort.
For once, it looked like God was on his side.
Madeleine smiled at him. "Mac Feegle doesn't stand a chance," she said, standing up and heading towards the stairs, all of her usual cockiness back in place.
"See you tomorrow, Jess," she said as she passed Sebastian.
Jessica nodded amiably in response. When Madeleine had gone, Sebastian sat down next to Jessica and regarded her carefully, the way a gazelle might examine a dozing lioness. She smiled at him, which made him even more uneasy.
"Shall we get back to work, then?" she asked cheerfully, relishing his nervousness.
He met her gaze and gave in. "So what the hell happened with you two?" he asked exasperatedly.
She shrugged. "She's a wimp and I'm an idiot. Let's just leave it at that."
"Well, I'm glad you were able to work things out," he said.
She smiled and nodded in satisfaction.
Then, although his instincts were screaming that it was a bad idea, he asked the question that had been on his mind for the better part of the evening.
"So, how is she in the sack?"
Jessica tried to glare at him, but she couldn't keep it up for very long before she burst into laughter. "Let's just say that Madeleine Poe strives for excellence in everything she does."
He couldn't resist a set-up like that. "Including you, huh?" he asked, and was promptly splashed in the face with iced tea.
He coughed and ineffectually wiped at his face, then looked down at his drenched tee shirt. "You know, Jess, there are easier ways to get my shirt off," he said.
"Leave it on," she replied, glaring at him.
"C'mon, Jess, it's freezing!" he begged.
"Sebastian…," she said in low, warning tones.
"Right, sure," he sighed in resignation.
When Sebastian stepped into his office the next morning, he wasn't entirely surprised at what he found on his desk. He sat down and inspected the drawing critically.
"Well," he muttered, "It does look like I'm enjoying myself. And at least she got my proportions right."
He had started to crumple it up when he noticed that there was something written on the back. He turned it over and recognized Jessica's tidy, businesslike handwriting.
It said, "Next time, I'll let you be on top. ~J."
Sebastian smiled and looked up to see Jessica sitting at her desk, watching him through the windows separating them. She winked at him seductively, then nonchalantly returned her attention to her computer screen. He rolled his eyes and laughed, then tossed the crinkled drawing into his trashcan. All in all, today looked like it was going to be a good day.