The Silence in the Thunder
by Sandrine Shaw

"I can't do this," Abby says when she leaves. She's crying, and she won't look him in the eye. "I love you, Mitch, but I just can't live this way anymore. I don't want Claire to grow up like this."

The noise the door makes when it falls shut sounds hollow and final, and it spells the end.

He should call Ray. His brother would understand the gravity of his loss. He'd give him one of those one-armed manly hugs that are awkward and comforting at the same time and then he'd bring out the booze, and they would get drunk together. But Tammy just came back from Tennessee and Mitch isn't selfish enough to ruin their first night back together.

Instead, he finds himself sitting alone in the lonely house that used to be their family home. He pours himself a glass of scotch, and then another and one more, and he wonders where his life went wrong. It wasn't the Noble Insurance mess, and it certainly wasn't Joey Morolto Jr. forcing him to be a mob lawyer. It started long before that. But the past is gone and long buried, and the only one close enough, tangibleenough to blame is Joey.

Joey, with his self-satisfied smiles and his half-hearted but oddly effective threats, who can't seem to decide whether he wants Mitch to fear him or to like him.

Right now, lonely and bitter and stupid drunk, Mitch doesn't do either.

"My wife just left me because of you," Mitch says when he strides into Joey's club.

One of the goons - a large, imposing man with a boxer's nose - steps towards him, hand reaching for his gun, but Joey just waves him off. He leans back in his chair and looks Mitch up and down, chuckling - actual, honest-to-God chuckling. Mitch has to remind himself why punching him in the face would be a terrible idea.

"You think that's funny, Joey? You think my wife walking out on me because of the mess you put us in is a laughing matter?"

Joey's smile fades, and Mitch knows what's coming now: sharp words, threats, a reminder of his place. You don't get to speak to me like this, Joey will say, and then Mitch won't be able to stop himself from throwing a punch anymore, and Joey's henchmen will shoot him. He can see it happening in his mind, as clear as if it's already taken place.

But Joey... Joey does what he does best. He takes the road less travelled and throws Mitch a curveball. "What I think is funny, Mitch, is the idea that your wife left you because of me." He motions towards the seat next to him. "Sit down before you fall down and hurt yourself."

Mitch wonders if there is a threat somewhere in those words, but Joey sounds like he's humoring Mitch rather than trying to intimidate him. He slides onto the bar stool and, under Joey's amused eyes, takes an embarrassingly long moment to find his balance. The bartender puts a glass of golden liquid in front of him that Mitch wants to refuse or possibly throw in Joey's face, but he's too tired to be angry and too broken to resist.

He downs it and watches as it's filled up again.

"She said she couldn't live like this anymore," he says, at length. "I don't blame her. I promised her things would be different after the Noble case and then you stepped into my office and it started all over again."

His eyes are fixed on the drink in his hands when a small manila envelope lands on the counter in front of him. He looks up and watches Joey slide it over towards him. For once, Joey's expression is unreadable.

"I like you, Mitch," he begins, and Mitch has to laugh because this is the most outrageous lie he's heard Joey say so far, and he thinks he heard a lot.

Joey frowns. "Believe it or not, I actually do. And I know you love your wife, so I hoped it wouldn't come to this."

With a sinking feeling, Mitch reaches for the envelope. He's scared to open it, envisioning that it might contain photos of his wife and daughter dead, killed in an 'accident', and he almost feels sick with certainty that this, this is it, this is how Joey deals with problems. His fingers are shaking.

They are indeed photos of Abby, and it takes a moment for him to register that she's fine, she's alive on them, it's not some sick proof Joey has given him to let him know that he holds their lives in his hands. They are surveillance photos, and the timestamp in the bottom right-hand corner indicates they were taken a few weeks ago, back when Abby was at her parents' place. She's talking to a dark-haired man Mitch doesn't know. He flicks through the photos, confused about why Joey would give them to him when there's nothing of importance there. Just Abby and the guy talking, talking, talking, and then Mitch gets to the next picture and they're kissing.

It feels like the rug has been pulled from underneath his feet.

He drops the photos onto the table and runs his hands over his face, rubbing at his eyes because he cannot quite believe what he sees. His mind is racing. He should be angry, he thinks, but all he feels is numbness, too shocked to register anything else.

"I'm sorry," Joey says, startling Mitch. He'd almost forgotten for a moment where he is, and in whose company. He's surprised to notice that Joey sounds almost sincere. It's enough to bring Mitch's old anger back, because he can handle Joey when he's smug and slick and threatening, but he can't handle him acting like they are friends.

"What for?" he snaps. "That you can't take credit for ruining my life because it was already a mess before you came in and blackmailed me?"

He's not being entirely fair. He knows that. But part of him doesn't care because he just wants to lash out and blame someone, and part of him - the self-destructive, desperate part - is curious to find out how far he can push Joey before he snaps.

Joey narrows his eyes at him. "You know, Mitch, I actually like that you talk back at me. Everyone else is always so careful what they say, mincing their words. It gets tiresome after a while. Just the same, you should be careful not to go too far."

"Or what? I'll end up in a dumpster with a bullet hole in my head like your friend Antonio?"

He turns away and reaches for his drink, throwing his head back and swallowing it at once. It burns down his throat and makes him cough. Joey takes the glass from his hand.

"I think you had enough," he says, and Mitch bristles at the patronizing tone.

"Condescending little shit."

The words are quiet, muttered under his breath, and even though Mitch is sure they've been just loud enough for Joey to understand, he gives no indication that he's heard anything. There's a hand on Mitch's arm, pulling him up on unsteady legs, and he is too tired and too drunk to resist Joey's manhandling. If he was trying to fight him off, chances are he'd land face first on the floor and knock himself out without the other man having to lift a finger.

Joey walks him around the bar, through a door into a dim hallway. His hand never leaves Mitch's arm, and if Mitch were sober he'd realize that the grip is punishing rather than steadying.

Suddenly, there's a sense of vertigo, and Mitch finds himself pushed with his back against the wall. Joey's forearm is across his throat, almost but not quite cutting off his air, and Joey's face is inches from his. He's angry. No, he's furious. Even without a clear mind, this much is obvious to Mitch. He has never seen Joey this angry before. For the first time since the door fell shut behind Abby, an emotion cuts through the numbness, and it's fear. He instinctively tries to back away, but with a solid wall behind him and Joey's body blocking the way, there's nowhere to go.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Joey pushes him, and the back of Mitch's head hits the wall with an ugly thud. His dizziness increases, but at the same time his fear ebbs away. If Joey wanted him dead, he'd be dead already.

"Don't you everinsult me like that in front of my men again," Joey continues. He gives Mitch another shove, but there's less force behind it already, his anger visibly cooling down. "If you have something to say to me, say it in private. Letting you get away with shit like this without consequences makes me look weak, and I can't afford to look weak, especially not now. Do you have any idea how fucking hard I had to fight to keep you alive? I don't exactly expect gratitude, but it would be considerate of you if you didn't try to push me to actually kill you."

He takes a step back, and Mitch stumbles. His hand automatically comes up to his throat, as if it can't quite believe why he can suddenly breathe freely again.

"Sorry," he offers, defeatedly, and means it. "I'm kind of having a terrible day."

When he wakes up, the clock on the bedside table says it's already past two in the afternoon. His head feels like it's going to split in two, and there's a foul taste in his mouth. He's still wearing yesterday's clothes.

He can't remember how he got home. He can't remember much about last night, to be exact.

In the shower, with the warm water raining down on him, some of his memories return. Just bits and pieces, random scenes and shards of conversations, prompted by the sight of finger-shaped bruises on his arm and the dull ache at the back of his head.

The photos. The angry blaze in Joey's eyes. The warmth of his breath on Mitch's face. Do you know how hard I had to fight to keep you alive?

Mitch closes his eyes and turns his face under the spray of water, willing his mind to stop attempting to unravel the mystery that's Joey Morolto Jr. It's almost enough to take his thoughts off Abby for a while.

When he walks into his kitchen, Joey is sitting at the table, reading the Financial Times and drinking coffee. It's such a ridiculously domestic scene that Mitch thinks for a moment that he's hallucinating.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

Joey looks up at him and sets the cup down on the table. "I thought I'd check in on you," he offers by way of an explanation, making it sound like it's no big deal, like he pops in and out of Mitch's house regularly. Like they have the sort of relationship where you make casual unannounced visits and let yourself in. "You were in pretty bad shape yesterday, and it would be a shame if I lost my lawyer because he threw up and suffocated in his sleep."

"I appreciate the concern."

Mitch is pretty sure that there is no way to miss the sarcasm dripping from his voice, but apparently Joey deliberately chooses to ignore it.

"You're welcome," he replies. He offers a smile that's big and fake on the surface, but there's genuine humor swinging in his voice. "Coffee?"

Mitch rolls his eyes, but not even he is immune to the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, no matter who's offering, so he nods his assent as he slides into the chair next to where Joey is sitting.

"Do you even remember anything at all about last night?" Joey asks while he pours him a cup.

"I remember that some asshole tried to choke me and then basically gave me carte blanche to insult him whenever we're alone." The words are barely out when Mitch realizes how badly his tone is off.

He meant to sound testy and brusque - displaying annoyance at the way Joey has invaded his kitchen and is treating him like a guest in his own home - but instead it comes out like witty banter, the kind of pigtail pulling you do when you pretend you don't like someone you actually like quite a bit. And therein lies the crux of the matter: sometimes, when he's not actively threatening someone or generally using his power to intimidate, it's hardto dislike Joey. Mitch doesn't approve of what he does and he certainly doesn't approve of his methods, but he is smart and witty and he steadily defies all the expectations Mitch had about him.

Joey smirks. "Well, I figured I owed you one, considering you saved my life." He slides out of the chair and put the paper away. "Breakfast?"

"You cook?" Mitch raises an eyebrow at him, half disbelief, half challenge.

Joes rolls his eyes. "Come on, Mitch. I'm Italian. Of course I cook."

Mitch isn't the least bit surprised to learn that Joey knows exactly where to find the necessary supplies in his kitchen. He probably knows Mitch's house - Mitch's whole life, in fact - better than Mitch himself. What surprises Mitch is how little he minds.

'Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you,' they say. Something they don't commonly say, but which proves to be equally true is, 'Just because someone is trying to frame you doesn't mean you're not guilty.'

Joey comes into Mitch's office visibly agitated a couple of days into the trial, doors slamming behind him.

"What's going on?" Mitch asks.

Joey paces in front of him like a caged, wounded animal, back and forth and back and forth. If Mitch looks closely, he can see the vein at his temple pulsating in the harsh light of the office, and he wisely refrains from pushing, letting Joey answer in his own time.

"He did it," he finally says, turning to Mitch and slamming both his hands down on the desk. "Patrick fucking killed that girl."

It takes a moment for the words to sink in, and when they do, it's not so much the information Joey is relaying that surprises Mitch but rather the fact that Joey is telling him, and the manner in which he does. When he was preparing Patrick's defense, Joey was less than forthcoming with potentially damaging evidence, strategically holding anything back that might influence Mitch's ability to defend Patrick to the best of his capability.

There's nothing strategic about Joey's outburst now, Mitch is sure. Joey can be calm and controlled when he sets his mind to it, but he's not this good an actor. What's more, there's no need to tell Mitch - unless it would have come out anyway and Joey decided that it would be better if Mitch heard it from him.

"Will they be able to prove it?"

Joey frowns. "Of course not. I would never have found out if it hadn't been for- Doesn't matter. No one else will find anything."

"Okay," Mitch says carefully, trying to make sense of Joey's admission in the light of this reveal. "So why tell me at all?"

It's hard not to squirm under the weight of Joey's stare. Harder yet to make himself continue. "Does it really matter whether or not he's guilty?"

Of course it matters. It shouldn't matter to Mitch, as Patrick's lawyer, but it does. What he wants to know is, does it matter to Joey.

"He's... my friend," Joey spits, "and he raped and murdered some girl he barely knew. What part of that screams 'irrelevant' to you?"

"I get it. You think I like this? But unless there's actual evidence, it doesn't change anything. We can still win this. I can still get him out, if you want me to. You still want me to, right?"

"Forget it."

He turns and walks out, and when the door slams shut behind him, Mitch flinches. It's not the answer he'd been hoping for. It's not much of an answer at all.

Mitch gets his answer the next morning when he receives a call from the prosecutor's office. Patrick was found dead in his prison cell. Suicide, they say. He used a bedsheet to strangle himself.

When he puts down the receiver, Mitch doesn't know what he's supposed to feel. He thinks the world is a better place without Patrick Walker in it, and he's relieved that he doesn't have to continue to defend a man guilty of rape and murder. And while he hates the idea that Joey is a man capable of having someone he considered his friend killed like that, he understands why he did it. It's a tangled mess of emotions and he feels his tight set of morals slipping further, as they have been ever since Joey walked into his life.

Mitch expects Joey in his office the next day, cocky and unruffled as ever. He'll have plenty of time to think about how to handle the situation until then. He doesn't expect to find Joey at his doorstep at quarter to midnight, blind drunk and without any of his bodyguards in sight.

He pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to think of something to say. He's not ready for this yet. He probably wouldn't have been ready for this conversation tomorrow morning either, but right now he's tired and overworked and still in some sort of shock, and there's no instruction manual for how to react if your mob boss employer kills the client he's hired you to defend. Even that is oversimplifying the situation, because Joey is hardly just his employer. He's somewhere between blackmailer and friend, enemy and protector, and it's all just a little much for Mitch to take in.

"Don't you want to let me in?" Joey says, words surprisingly clear for someone who has to lean against the doorframe to keep himself up. He's either overplaying his drunkenness or very careful trying to hold it together - Mitch isn't sure which one it is.

He sighs. "You shouldn't be here."

"Says who? You forget that I'm the one making the rules."

What used to be a reminder of their balance of power now sounds bitter and resigned, and not for the first time, Mitch feels a little sorry for Joey, who didn't exactly sign up for the job he inherited. Just the same, his actions are his own, and Mitch's compassion evaporates.

"For fuck's sake, Joey," he hisses, voice lowered enough that the FBI surveillance, which is doubtless still on Joey's trail and possibly also on his, won't catch the words. "You just had my client killed this morning."

Joey flinches for a second before he raises an eyebrow at Mitch. So what? he seems to ask.

"I really don't want to have this conversation," Mitch says.

"Then let's not."

As if it's as simple as that. Mitch shakes his head in a fruitless attempt to clear his mind. Resignation wins over. "By all means, come on in."

Mitch remembers how well at home Joey used to look in his kitchen a few weeks ago. Now, he's barely recognizable, fidgety and clearly ill at ease.

When Mitch hands him a beer, Joey takes it without any protest or demand for a proper drink that Mitch had expected. Puts the bottle against his lips and swallows once, twice, three, four times. Mitch follows the bob of his adam's apple and tries to find the right thing to say.

"So," he starts, hoping that Joey might take the opening and offer something himself. When nothing is coming, Mitch swallows hard and asks, "Was it really necessary?"

There is no need to clarify what 'it' he's talking about.

Joey sets the beer down and looks up. "I thought we weren't talking about it." His tone is sharp enough to warn Mitch off, and they fall silent, nursing their beers and pointedly not looking at each other.

Minutes pass and stretch out endlessly. It's awkward and uncomfortable and, really, Mitch has no idea why Joey even came here. Just as he's about to ask, Joey speaks up.

"I don't think you understand how close Patrick and I are. Were. He was important to me, not as a consigliere but a friend. I trusted him. So when he says, I'm being framed, I don't even know that girl, I believe him. And then I find out that this guy, who I've been trusting with my secrets, whom I fucking careabout, he's raped and killed a woman, he had me help him make evidence disappear and he lied the whole fucking time about it. What would you have done?"

He's yelling, and he's slammed down the beer so hard that it spilled all over his hand and on the table, but his anger doesn't seem to be aimed at Mitch. At himself, perhaps, and certainly at Patrick.

What would Mitch have done?

Certainly not killed Patrick, he thinks. Then again, he can't say what he would have done in Joey's position, confronted with the betrayal, his gross misjudgement of character, and the need to keep Patrick from spilling his secrets.

"I don't know," he admits. "I honestly don't know, Joey."

The other man's eyes are on him, intense and unreadable, making Mitch evade his gaze. He peels off the label on his bottle, just to focus on something other than Joey and the magnitude of what he did.

"Did you believe him? When he said he was innocent, did you think he was lying?"

Mitch swallows. He knows Joey is watching him, and wonders what he wants him to say. He can't figure it out, so he opts for honesty instead. "I wasn't sure. At first I thought he did it, but when we started investigating, the idea that he'd been framed started to look like a valid possibility. But I still had my doubts." He looks up at Joey. "Only, I thought that if he was guilty, you'd be in on it."

He half expects Joey to get upset, but all does is smile, utterly without humor. "Funny. That's what I thought as well. And I wasn't in on it, so he couldn't have done it. So much for that."

He finishes off his beer.

"The worst thing is, I'm going to fucking miss him. I already do."

Joey sounds bitter and lonely. Mitch is just about to make some stupid, sympathetic reply, meant to offer comfort but ultimately be meaningless, when Joey's mood switches. Morose one second, smiling and teasing the next. "Enough of this doom and gloom. We should be celebrating. The case is over and done with at last. Which I'm sure you've been waiting for all along."

"Not like this. That's hardly what I wanted."

Joey shrugs, as if he hadn't just mourned the loss of a friend. "One way or the other. What does it matter."

"Jesus, Joey." It's hard to deal with Joey's mercurial mood swings, especially now, when it's late and Mitch is hardly what he'd consider on top of his game. He doesn't want to celebratenow, but he also doesn't want to fight, which is the only reason he swallows the 'you're such an asshole' that's on the tip of his tongue. Frustrated, he turns his back to Joey and goes to the fridge under the pretense of getting them another beer.

When he closes the door and turns back around, Joey is right in front of him. It's surprise rather than fear that makes him flinch and almost drop the bottles, and when Joey takes them from his hand, he doesn't resist.

Joey sets the beer down on the kitchen counter, and then he turns back towards him and pushes him with his back against the door of the fridge. For a moment Mitch is reminded of the night Abby left. But then Joey leans in and presses his lips, dry and chapped and tasting vaguely like beer and bourbon and cigarettes, against Mitch's, and the d?vuabruptly ends.

Mitch kisses back instinctively, just for a second or ten, before his mind catches up with what he's doing and he pushes Joey back.

"This is a terrible idea."

"Is that a 'no', counselor, or are you just stating a fact?"

It's the cockiness that does it, that makes Mitch's blood boil in anger and something else entirely. Joey has been calling the shots from the minute he walked into Mitch's office the first day - ordered him to take the case, revealed evidence as it pleased him, chose a time of his convenience to hand him the proof of Abby's infidelity, insisted on doing every single fucking thing his way. Even the ending, Patrick's would-be suicide, bears Joey's handwriting all over it. But this one thing Mitch is not going to let Joey control.

He has a couple of inches and some pounds on Joey, and it's surprisingly easy to flip them around until Joey's back is the one against the door and Mitch's body is holding him there.

"Fuck you," he hisses between clenched teeth

Joey chuckles and raises an eyebrow at him. "Are you offering?"

He makes no move to escape from Mitch's hold or to push him away, evidently not at all uncomfortable in his position. He almost seems to revel in it, judging from the way he relaxes and lets his head drop back, all but baring his throat for Mitch. It's a gesture that speaks of submission even when his attitude doesn't, his smile wide and full of teeth, a challenge more than anything.

Mitch knows he should walk away now, before he gets mixed up any further with Joey. Trouble is, he doesn't want to walk away. This is Joey Morolto Jr, he reminds himself, but if anything it makes him less inclined to end this. Try as he may, he cannot deny that he and Joey have had some weird sort of connection from the moment Joey showed up in his office. Mitch doesn't always like him, and he doesn't fear him half as much as he probably should, but there's no doubt Joey got under his skin either way. Joey, who's arrogant and impulsive and more than a little lost, but also clever and strangely loyal in his own way. Who started a war with his people to save Mitch's life.

"You know what? I think I am," Mitch finds himself saying, firmly shutting out the voice of reason at the back of his mind.

Judging from the way Joey's smile stretches, Mitch is sure that Joey has some smartass comeback on the tip of his tongue, but he doesn't let him get that far. Their mouths clash harder than Mitch had intended, but Joey meets him halfway, lips readily opening under Mitch's.

There's nothing sweet about the kiss, nothing restrained. It's nothing like the kisses he shared with Abby in those last couple of years. They've become complacent, too comfortable in their routines. Making out with Joey in the kitchen, his hands in Joey's hair and Joey's fingers working on opening his pants, reminds him of the early days of their relationship, and the years before that. College, law school. Taking some guy or girl back to his dorm room and hardly ever even making it into the bed.

You're getting too old for this, he thinks.

His body seems to disagree. When Joey palms his cock through his boxers, he's instantly, painfully hard, groaning into the mouth that's firmly sealed to his.

It's Joey who breaks the kiss. He evades Mitch's hands when he tries to draw him back in and throws Mitch a lopsided grin. Then he sinks to his knees, unconcerned that the legs of his doubtlessly expensive suit are rumpled and wiping over the kitchen floor that hasn't been cleaned since Abby left.

The sight of Joey Morolto Jr. kneeling in front of him like this - relaxed and compliant, pupils dilated with arousal - is almost enough to make Mitch come instantly.

Joey's eyes never leave Mitch's when he pulls down his boxers and reaches for his cock, his grip just firm enough to make Mitch gasp. He puts his palm against the fridge to steady himself just as Joey leans forward and wraps his mouth around him.

"Fuck, Joey." His voice sounds rough and breathless and foreign to his own ears, and he loses the fight to keep his eyes open.

Joey chuckles in response, self-satisfied and triumphant, but Mitch doesn't care because it vibrates deliciously against his sensitive skin.

The blowjob is messy and fast - Mitch is too far gone already to last long, and Joey isn't cruel enough to draw it out. Between his tongue and his fingers and his lips, he reduces Mitch to a whimpering mess within less than a handful minutes, and when Mitch comes, the orgasm makes him shake so hard that he can barely stand anymore.

The high he feels afterwards doesn't last. When Joey looks up at him, eyes wide and lips puffy and glistening wet, looking young and fragile for a moment, Mitch can't help thinking, Jesus, he's just a kid. A 25-year-old kid with too much power on his hands and no friends, trying to walk in his dead father's shoes. Mitch feels a pang of guilt.

But then Joey smirks and licks the traces of white from his lower lip. His voice is husky and coarse when he speaks, and any semblance of innocence disappears. "Much as I enjoyed that, I distinctly remember that you promised to fuck me. You don't want me to think you're the kind of man who goes back on his word, do you?"

Mitch snorts with laughter, still a little out of breath. "Seriously? Do you ever stop being a smartass?"

It's a rhetorical question, and any answer Joey might have had gets cut off when Mitch pulls him up and into another kiss.

They make it into the bedroom, eventually. For a second, when he opens the door and looks at the bed, Mitch thinks that he should have led Joey to the guest room instead of a place that's filled with memories of Abby. But then Joey slides his arms around him from behind, unbuttoning his shirt while his mouth trails along the back of Mitch's neck, and Mitch doesn't really care where they are anymore.

"I've been thinking about this for a while," Joey admits, when Mitch pushes him onto the mattress and crawls on top of him. His eyes are dark and heavy lidded, his hair spread wild around his head, and he looks positively wanton against the white sheets.

What's been stopping you? Mitch almost asks, but he thinks the answer might be Abby, or possibly Patrick, or maybe the fact that the only reason Mitch was working with Joey was that he was blackmailed into doing so. Right now, Mitch doesn't want to think about either of these things, and he's sure that neither does Joey, so he lets go of the question.

They fuck like this, face to face, Joey spread out under Mitch and their eyes locked. It reminds Mitch a little of the day he saved Joey's life, the way they crashed onto the asphalt together, what seemed like half a lifetime ago even if it's been merely weeks.

Joey is pliant beneath Mitch, his heavy breath warm against Mitch's face, and when he comes, he arches up and squeezes his eyes tightly shut, and his teeth sink into Mitch's shoulder. The bite isn't hard enough to draw blood, barely hard enough to hurt, and there's something about the gesture - the dichotomy of possessiveness and restraint - that sends Mitch over the edge.

They lie side by side, not touching or looking at each other. Mitch's mind, for a while blissfully quietened by the force of his climax and the deceptive serenity of afterglow, is racing. He'd expected Joey to get up, gather his clothes and put himself together, walking out of his bed the stone-cold mob boss once again. So far, it hasn't happened, and Mitch isn't sure if that's a good or a bad thing. He knows without looking that Joey isn't asleep either; he can hear the erratic breathing, can feel that Joey's lying unnaturally still.

Mitch wants to say something, but he doesn't know where to start. So he lies quietly, silent, waiting for the inevitable fall-out of what passed between them. When it comes, it's not what he expected.

"I said I'd be out of your life when the case is over," Joey says. And then, "I don't want to be out of your life."

The admission lies heavily between them.

Mitch stares at the ceiling, his darkness creating imaginary patterns before his eyes. He's awake enough and sober enough and self-conscious enough to realize that this is a defining moment in his life.

After Noble Insurance, he promised himself he would stop taking risks. He'd always choose the safe path, for the good of those he cared about as well as for his own sake. If the last weeks have told him anything, though, it's that he can't change the habit of a lifetime, and for once he finds that he doesn't want to.

He takes a deep breath.

"Technically, I believe you said you'd be out of my life if I won the case," he admits, knowing that Joey will recognize the statement for what it is, a lifeline and an admission and an offer.