Thank you, David E. Kelley… I own only Lorelei and this story… everything else comes from David's brilliant universe…

* BL * BL * BL *

When Lorelei answered the door, Alan's initial reaction was to check for signs she'd been crying. He found only traces; clearly, she'd had time to get herself under control while he was in court. She smiled at him and said hello, then quietly invited him in.

"Would you like some coffee?" she offered.

"Not right now," Alan answered. They settled onto the sofa. "Denny told me about the will."

"Oh," Lorelei said simply. She shrugged. "Well, at least Manny kept it a secret while he was alive. I'd have been even more miserable if I'd actually known!"

Alan looked her in the eyes. "Lorelei," he said seriously, "those women mustn't be allowed to get any money."

But she laughed. "Why not? They clearly made him happier than I did! I don't want it anyway. I'll just take my thirty percent and get out."

"What about your sons?" Alan pressed. "Don't you think they deserve it?"

"If I'm not mistaken, fighting the will could mean a long, drawn-out… public… court battle. I don't need this becoming any better known than it already is. The boys would be mortified."

"It doesn't have to be that way. Denny says he knows a couple of these women—and they're married. Chances are they'd be happy to make a deal once it becomes evident that their husbands would also know about their indiscretions."

"Alan, there's no point in—"

"This can't happen, Lorelei. It's wrong."

"Alan, I appreciate your indignation on my behalf, but—"

"My indignation leans more toward revenge," Alan said in a low, serious voice. When Lorelei opened her mouth but words didn't come, Alan said, "I told you: you don't know me very well."

She squeezed his hands affectionately. "Alan." He looked at her. "Manny is gone. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by ruining these women's lives. He can't come back to me."

"Your sons need to know you'll stand up for yourself, Lorelei."

"And I will," she said. "I'm going to go up to New Hampshire for a little while; there's a cottage up there—as far as I know, it's still mine—and I'm going to think. When I come back, I'll probably use my thirty percent to go back to school. Maybe I'll go back to nursing—maybe I'll try something completely different. And in the meantime, you and Denny will try and wrestle what you can away from whomever it is that Manny directed the money to—but only those who don't deserve it, Alan, and only those who you can take it from without making their lives a mess. Manny left a bitter legacy; I don't want to continue it."

"When will you go?" Alan asked, looking at his hands around hers.

"Monday," Lorelei said. "I spoke to the boys this morning, told them I needed some time away and that I'd see them when I get back."

"Lorelei, you need your boys now. You need to be around people who care about you."

Lorelei smiled. "I am," she said. She freed her hands and wrapped them, in turn, around Alan's. "I need to think. But I'll be back," she told him.

Their eyes met and stayed locked on each other for a moment. Alan moved in slowly, smoothly, and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead. Then he pulled her into his arms, and held her.

* BL * BL * BL *

Denny came out to the balcony, holding his cigar and spying his scotch waiting for him on the table between the two chairs, as it should be. He glanced over at Alan, who was holding his own glass and cigar, but with his head tipped back, his eyes closed.

"You awake?" Denny asked after a few seconds.

"I am." Alan didn't move. "But it's been a long day, Denny; I'm worn out."

"It was a big one, wasn't it?" Denny admitted coming to sit down. "You did a good job in court today—too bad you couldn't win it the way you wanted to."

"I really wanted that dog to be able to go out on the Common with the others," Alan said, bringing his head back up and taking a sip of his scotch. "But I guess it wasn't to be."

"I saw what you did after the trial," Denny said. "How much did you give her?"

Alan glanced over at his friend. "What?"

"Don't play dumb with me; you know what I'm talking about. How much did you write on that check?"

"Denny—" Denny stopped him with a look that told him he was caught. "Enough," Alan said.

"Enough?"

"Enough to get the dog trained at home."

"And then some, I'll bet."

"I won't bet with you, Denny."

"Because you'll lose." Alan shrugged. Denny shook his head. "That had to be one of the longest closings I've ever heard come out of your mouth. How long did it take you to write that?"

Alan took a puff of his cigar. "Not long. I had the research at my disposal…. Most of it just came spilling out, anyway, when I thought about young Jonathan and the way he hugged that dog."

"Sir Lancelot," Denny chortled.

Alan chuckled, too. "Yes. A noble creature, indeed."

The friends stayed quiet for a moment, savoring their time, their drinks and their cigars. Then, Denny said, "I'm glad you've gotten over your fear of dogs."

Alan looked out over the city. "I wasn't afraid of them, Denny. I love dogs."

Denny laughed. "Sure you do," he teased softly.

"I do!" Alan insisted. Then his voice grew quiet. "I just… don't want to get close to them."

"Why not?" Denny asked. "Dogs are great! They stay with you through everything—the good, the bad, the divorces. They help you get women, too," he said enthusiastically. "Women love to see a man walking a dog in the park. They're like four-legged estrogen magnets."

"They're not for me."

"But they're good for you!"

"I'm not good for them."

"You're really serious about this, aren't you? What happened to the dog you had when you were a kid—did it run away?"

"I'd rather not talk about it, Denny."

"Really, Alan, what do you think is gonna hap—?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Alan said forcefully.

Denny backed off. "Okay, okay," he said. They lapsed into silence. "I've really pushed all your buttons this week, haven't I?"

Alan took a long, slow, needed sip of scotch. "You have," he admitted into his glass.

"You liked Lorelei, didn't you?" Denny asked.

"I understood her, Denny. Sometimes things aren't as black and white as you make them out to be."

"Did you have sex when you saw her this afternoon?"

Alan shook his head in modest disbelief. "I'm not going there again with you, Denny."

"Why not? You told me the last time."

"Well, I'm not telling you this time."

"Not that there was anything to tell," Denny acknowledged.

"Whether there is or there isn't, you're not getting another word out of me about it," Alan declared. "Forget it."

"Okay, okay," Denny agreed. "She's going back to New Hampshire?"

"She has a cottage in North Conway. She's going to take some time up there to just… come to grips with everything. It's a smart idea."

"But a lonely one for you," Denny observed.

"I can handle being alone."

"Why do I see a sleepover in our future?"

"I didn't ask for a sleepover!" Alan protested.

"You were going to! You watch—before the credits roll, you'll be asking to come to my place. You wait and see."

Alan laughed. "Not tonight," he said. "Now it's a challenge."

Denny took a puff on his cigar. "Sure." He contemplated for a moment. "You've gone soft on me," he said.

Another short laugh from Alan. "What do you mean?"

"You've gone soft! When I first met you, you'd sleep with anything in a skirt." Alan opened his mouth to protest; Denny anticipated him. "Except Clarice." Alan smiled widely and took another pull on his cigar. "Now you're… sensitive. You're thoughtful. You're… looking for things to be meaningful."

"Is that bad?" Alan asked.

"No, no," Denny hastened to say. "I just miss your edge, that's all. You used to be a lot more degenerate. I miss that."

"You've been too good an influence on me." Denny snorted. Then: "Do you like me less this way, Denny?"

Denny was startled by the question. "What? No!" he answered immediately. "You're my best friend! No!"

"I can be your best friend and you still like me less than you did before," Alan said.

"Don't be ridiculous. I like you just as much as I ever did. In some ways more. You used to confuse me in the early days, Alan. Sometimes you still do, but I think now it's the… Mad Cow."

Alan closed his eyes and shook his head, his lips curving up just slightly in a smile.

"Do you like me less?" Denny asked suddenly. "Because of the Mad Cow?"

Alan looked squarely at him. "No," he replied, direct and emphatic.

But Denny continued. "Because I wouldn't—you know, I wouldn't know if I was—"

"No." Then, Alan quietly repeated, "No."

"Good."

The pair remained quiet for a minute, looking out over the city and lost in their own thoughts. Then Alan, staring at nothing, broke the silence almost in a whisper. "My father killed her, Denny." Denny pulled the cigar he had been puffing out of his mouth, astounded by Alan's quiet words. He waited for an explanation. "Our dog," Alan added curtly.

Denny just looked at his friend, his mouth agape.

"I used to tell people that she… ran away." Another long silence. Alan stared at his drink, at his cigar, at the curling smoke, and then focused on a chink in the concrete of the balcony wall in front of him. "But she didn't. My father killed her."

Denny was dumbfounded. "Your father… killed… your dog?" he managed at last.

At first Alan said nothing. Then, almost reluctantly, he continued. "One wet day when I was seven years old, I forgot to wipe my feet when I got home from school and I left a… muddy mess in the hallway. When my mother discovered it, she shouted at me and made me clean it up. I was still doing that when my father came home from work. He screamed at my mother about supper not being ready, and she told him it was because she was too busy chasing up after me and my messes. My father swore, and then said he was going to go outside to have a beer while he waited for her to finish cooking. He passed me in the hallway on the way out, and when he opened the back door, Angel came… rushing in."

Alan stopped.

Denny looked at his friend, wanting to hear the rest of the story and yet horrified at what he suspected was coming next. He studied Alan's face; it was tight and stressed, and the younger man's mind was clearly fixed on the past, seeing something that he had likely locked away from himself for years. But Denny knew that Alan needed to finish. So he prompted him, "Angel was…"

"Our cocker spaniel," Alan said brightly, looking at Denny. "She was five years old. I don't remember us ever getting her; in my life, she'd… always been there," he said, with a flash of a smile. Then, remembering, he turned haunted eyes back to the concrete and resumed his tale quietly. "She had been in the sun porch for most of the day, but she'd obviously been out for a little while, and her paws were… filthy. She came bounding at me the way she always did when she was happy to see me, and my father… just… got so angry."

Alan's breathing got sharper, and he furrowed his brow anxiously. Denny saw the muscles in his jaw tense and his grip tighten around his scotch glass. He was shaking. Alan was back in that hallway, Denny realized. He was seven years old, right now. "I knew my father was furious. I tried to… stop her. But… I couldn't calm her down and she was jumping all over me, and all over my father, and then he screamed at me to control her, and he raised his fist and his beer bottle and I remember I cringed and tried to run away, but… I couldn't get Angel to come with me, and so I just hid behind the coat rack…."

Alan shook his head as though ashamed of his behavior and fell silent. Then he dropped his chin to his chest, a child once again, and feeling incredible guilt. "He blamed me, Denny," Alan whispered finally, fresh grief charging his voice. "He said if I hadn't made him so angry by leaving that mud in the hallway, he never would have…" A long, painful pause, then he continued, his voice now stronger, steeled. "From that moment on, I haven't… allowed myself to get close to a dog. I couldn't bear the thought of being responsible for something that horrible ever happening again."

Denny honored his friend's pain with silence. Truth be told, he couldn't think of what to say. Alan had carried this childhood trauma for nearly forty years, and what that seven year old boy had seen and heard that day was just as clear in his mind now as it was then. Denny couldn't imagine the weight of that powerlessness. "Alan," he said finally, urgently. "Alan, your father was a violent, dangerous man. Someone should have protected Angel—protected you both! You couldn't be responsible for what happened that night!"

Alan listened, took two deliberate, shaking breaths through his mouth. "The adult part of me knows that, Denny," he murmured. "But… the seven year old that still lives inside of me…" He played with the glass in his hand but didn't drink from it. "It comes across as fear, but it's… enforced detachment. It's easier to close myself off, than it is to remember that moment every single day."

Denny accepted the statement. Every time he learned one of Alan's dark secrets—there seemed to be many, and there were probably still more that Denny hadn't even dreamed of yet—he marveled at how well-adapted, and how honorable in his own way, his friend had actually turned out. It was how he'd coped that had shaped him. "If I'd been your father… " Denny started, then he waved his hand dismissively. "Never mind. I'd have been a terrible father. But…" he added, pointing his cigar for emphasis, "I'd have loved you."

Alan absorbed the words and tried to let them begin to heal his wounds. "I know you would, Denny," he said. "You have a huge heart."

"A Denny Crane-sized heart!"

"Indeed." They remained deep in their own thoughts for a moment, then Alan spoke up again, his tone tentative. "Is that how you look at me, Denny? As a son?"

Denny straightened up in his chair. "No!" Denny protested vehemently. "I already told you, you're my best friend. I wouldn't… sit on my balcony and drink scotch and smoke cigars with my son."

Alan nodded, content with the response. "Good," he said, taking a sip of scotch. "I don't want you to be my father. I prefer you to be my best friend."

"So do I."

The friends sat quietly. Then: "I'm going to get you a puppy for Christmas."

Alan let his head roll toward the senior partner. "No, Denny."

"I am! I'll get you something big and goofy and easy to train. You'll love it!"

"Denny, no."

"Okay, maybe you want one of those—what do they call 'em—wallet dogs."

"Purse dogs," Alan corrected him.

"Whatever. Although I didn't take you for the yappy dog type."

"Denny, I don't want a dog."

"But you should have one!"

"My feelings aside, Denny, I'm rarely around to take care of one, and you seem to have forgotten that I live in a hotel."

"I have a property out at Amherst where I head in the fall to watch the leaves change. It can stay out there with the caretaker, and when we want to take a trip, we can see it!"

"Then it would be the caretaker's dog." Alan shook his head, always amazed at his friend's expansiveness, even if it wasn't practical. "I didn't know you had a property at Amherst."

"I keep a couple of horses there. And I like to go out there when the foliage is peaking. You ought to come some time!"

"I'd like to," Alan said, nodding. He took a long drag on his cigar, blew the smoke straight up into the air, and watched it dissipate. "You know, Denny, I've never told anyone about Angel; to this day, even my sister thinks she ran away. Why is it that I tell you things I don't tell anyone else?"

"Because I… make the scary things… not so scary!"

Alan agreed. "You do," he said. "Thank you, Denny."

"You're welcome." A pause. "Sleepover?"

Alan laughed out loud. "I thought you didn't want one of those!"

"I think you need one. And maybe this weekend I'll take you out to Amherst, let you hang around on the property with me."

Alan's eyes narrowed. "Are there dogs at your property, Denny?" he asked, suspicious.

Denny tried to look innocent. "Maybe one or two," he admitted. "I hadn't thought about it."

"Of course you didn't," Alan said, shaking his head. The friends sat quietly, comfortably, in each other's presence for a moment. "I'm not wearing those earrings I saw you in yesterday, by the way. Those things hurt my ears."

"That's all right. I'll let you wear the scarf. It makes you feel pretty."

"No, thanks," Alan answered. Then, he decided, "I'll bring the root beer."

"I have to get more popcorn. And graham crackers. I feel like S'mores tonight."

"We'll go to the store on the way home."