No matter what happens during this, the eighth season of Law & Order, it seems hard to imagine viewers are ever going to get to see Jack McCoy grieve over Claire Kincaid. After all, how can they show him get all teary-eyed over a relationship that was never verbalized on the show? Says author Judith, "It seemed to me all through season seven that Jack was in mourning following Claire's death. After the end of the Eddie Newman trial, we saw Jack drinking alone in his office and looking miserable and I thought that his internal misery would surface sooner or later." And out came "Healing," which proves there are ways to get McCoy through this rough period...
The amber fluid swirled in the bottom of the glass as Jack searched it for...something.What it was he was searching for, he did not know, but it had something to do with his soul, he was fairly certain.
The verdict in the Eddie Newman case had been rendered nearly two months ago and while he rejoiced inside at the victory it had been, the wound it had re-opened was still bleeding. Claire. Since her death a year ago, Jack knew that his behavior had altered. He worked longer hours and weekends more so than ever before, trying to drive out demon Guilt. Upholding the law had changed from being a driving force in his life to the driving force. A kind of atonement, perhaps, for his never-voiced conviction that he was responsible for the extinguishing of the first bright light that had come into his life in many, many years. Claire.
He knew she wouldn't have wanted him to hide behind law books and briefs in his mourning for her. In his mind's eye, he could see her standing and glaring at him, her cocoa-colored eyes snapping with the fire that he'd lit, as she systematically listed reasons why he should go on with his life. Outside of the office.
While Jamie Ross was a credible substitute in the courtroom and law library for Claire, her devotion to her daughter was a distraction that prevented them from being anything more colleagues, and he was glad of it. He didn't want Neal Gordon's leavings. For the first time in a long time, he couldn't drum up the least amount of interest in an assistant. Maybe that's not such a bad thing, he thought, running his fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair before taking a swallow of the scotch.
Elizabeth Olivet entered the bar, and almost immediately spotted Jack sitting alone. She had had a talk with Adam Schiff earlier in the day about McCoy, the aging DA admitting that he was concerned about his second-in-command.
"He's just not the same, doctor." The gravelly voice had been colored with concern. "Getting a death penalty almost a year to the date since Miss Kincaid's death might have triggered this new funk that he's been in." Rubbing his forehead, Adam had looked at Elizabeth. "He's the best assistant DA I've had, Dr. Olivet. But he's beating himself to death, working all the time. I suspect that he may be drinking too much."
"So what do you want me to do?" Elizabeth had asked. She and McCoy barely tolerated each other. He'd used her in an almost brutal fashion on the witness stand more than once and, even though she understood his reasoning behind every move, it didn't mean she had to like it.
"I'd be grateful if you could just talk to him, sound him out. Maybe make him see that, at the rate he's going, he'll be either dead or in a drunk tank within a year."
"If he does have a drinking problem, he'll have to admit it himself. That is the key to recovery." Elizabeth said slowly.
Adam nodded. "I know that. And I'm not sure that's what the problem is. I just want Jack McCoy back, intact."
Elizabeth focused on the tips of her shoes for a moment. "Is this an official request or a personal one?"
"A little of both." Adam responded. "Please, Liz."
Startled at his use of her name, Elizabeth had raised her head to meet his eyes. In the years she had worked with Schiff's office, she had never seen him so worried about one of his assistants. "All right. I'll see what I can do." Rewarded by Adam's smile, she had determined to begin that very night.
Now, as she stood just inside the doorway, observing McCoy, she had to concede that there was something eating away at him. It was obvious in the disheveled nature of his appearance and the bleary expression he wore. She picked her way through the crowd to his side.
"Hello, Jack." She said. "Want some company?"
He looked at her sideways, raising his eyebrows in surprise when he recognized her. "Well, Dr. Olivet. This is an unexpected surprise. Who sent you, Adam?" He raised the glass to take another swallow.
"Would that upset you?" The query was soft, as non-professional as she could make it.
He chuckled and set the glass down, motioning for a refill. "In some ways, it would." He glanced as her sideways, pulling out the stool next to his. "Sit down, doctor." Placing her purse on the bar, Elizabeth complied. "So, tell me what Adam is worried about."
Elizabeth considered her response for a moment. "He's concerned that you're working yourself too hard."
A faint smile crossed Jack's face before he sipped from the glass. "My conviction rate is up. He shouldn't be."
After ordering a diet soft drink from the bartender, Elizabeth shook her head. "Not your work, Jack. He didn't say a word about your work suffering. He thinks that you're pushing yourself too hard."
For the first time, Jack turned to face her, the surprised look reappearing. "Since when is that bad for an assistant DA?"
"Adam's concern is Jack McCoy, the person, not the assistant DA."
"With an election coming up, it should be the assistant DA that concerns him." Jack muttered, draining his drink with an almost savage pull. "Jack McCoy will survive. He always does."
"Survive what?" She didn't care for the way in which he referred to himself in the third person.
"The south side of Chicago, working his way through college and law school, a marriage that went south, estrangement from his only child...." Claire's death.
Certain that he wasn't about to admit anything sitting at the bar, Elizabeth raised her own glass and drank from it, putting a pause in the conversation. She was startled that she found herself in sympathy with him She'd survived degradation four years before, though the wound still hadn't healed completely. The difference between them was, it seemed, was that she'd worked through the grief that she'd endured.
Grief. That was it, she realized suddenly. "It's Claire, isn't it? The Newman verdict came almost a year to the day that she died."
Jack nearly choked, coughing out the remainder of the fluid that he'd been savoring. The bartender came over to them, mopping up the marble surface while eyeing Jack with suspicion. "That's enough for you, mister. Have your girlfriend here take you home to sleep it off." Outraged, Jack drew in a deep breath preparatory to debating the suggestion, when he felt Elizabeth's hand on his arm.
"Don't take your anger at me out on him. Let's go get some supper. My treat." Her eyes were filled with compassion as they met his.
"I'm not in any condition to be good company." He stated it almost as a challenge.
She was up to it. "I'll take my chances. There's a pleasant little Italian place I know of, just a few blocks away. Unless you would prefer somewhere else?" He shook his head. Any place around the courthouse was bound to have her ghost lingering in a corner. She gathered up her purse and finished her beverage. "I'll meet you outside."
As she exited, Elizabeth inhaled deeply of the New York air, fresh with the aftereffects of a brief shower. She'd felt a little lightheaded inside the bar and was surprised when the breath didn't alleviate it. Dismissing the spell as smoke-related, she turned her face into the cool breeze that was floating down the street, closing her eyes as she enjoyed the sensation of the near-caress.
It wasn't hard to see that her mention of Claire Kincaid had struck a nerve with Jack. His physical reaction had given that away. Elizabeth had heard some rumors about them, but they had kept their relationship outside the office, it seemed. It would explain quite a bit about Jack's recent deterioration, and she wondered if he'd ever had a chance to grieve. She was reminded of Mike Logan after Max Greevy's death, and the trouble that the former detective had had with the different stages of grief. But Logan had worked through it. Jack McCoy was probably in the early stages of the same process, his grieving aborted by something that she had yet to discover.
The door to the bar opened and Jack walked out, looking around for her. When he spotted her near the curb, he walked slowly to her side. "You promised me dinner." His voice was low and he avoided looking at her, watching the traffic whizzing by instead.
Turning to him with a neutral expression, she nodded. "It's just a few blocks away, let's enjoy the weather. It's warm for late September." She began walking in the direction of the restaurant, Jack falling in step next to her.
After walking in silence for a few minutes, he sighed. "You were right." The words came out slowly, his voice filled with pain and longing.
"The Newman verdict and Claire."
"She died following an accident after we'd viewed that execution."
"I remember." She could sense there was something more, and stopped to face him. "Jack.....you can tell me, if you want. It's just between us, I promise."
He had stopped when she had, standing with his hands in his pockets. Elizabeth was moved to see the sheen of unshed tears as he avoided her gaze. "I'd been drinking and couldn't make it home on my own. I paged her, asked her to come and get me. Then I left."
"You blame yourself." She verbalized what he couldn't.
He nodded, then dropped his head to his chest, muffling his voice. "It's my fault she's dead. If I had controlled myself she'd still be here." His shoulders shook with the effort of keeping tears at bay.
Sympathy flooded through her as she fought a strange urge to take his hand. "You've been carrying that around for a long time, Jack. Don't you have anyone to talk to?"
"Who? Adam, who just lost his wife? Jamie? My life revolves around my work. I don't have a lot of friends, Dr. Olivet. Old prosecutors like me rarely do."
"Call me Liz, Jack."
One side of his mouth turned up. "I've been a real jerk toward you, too, Liz."
"Lashing out at everything in sight is a part of the grieving process. I'm a psychotherapist, I understand. It's all right."
Barely maintaining hold on his control and blinking his eyes to dispel the alcohol-induced tears, Jack shook his head. "No it's not." His chest heaved with another sigh. "I don't think that it's ever going to be 'all right' again." The bleary expression from the bar had returned.
He loved her and still does, she realized. Before replying, she slipped an arm through his in a companionable gesture. "Let's go eat, Jack. We can talk more at the restaurant." His response was to continue in the direction they'd started.
The restaurant was about half-full, light from the candles set in Chianti bottles lending an intimate coziness to the scene. Delicious smells wafted in from the kitchen as wait staff hurried in and out. Soft instrumental music hummed just above audible level.
"This looks like some place you'd take a date, Liz." Jack murmured as they were led to their table in front of a window.
She smiled as she sat down. "Or a friend who's having a hard time. I've heard it said that pasta is a balm for the soul." The last was said in a conspirator's whisper as they were handed their menus, and Jack couldn't help but chuckle. "Now, there's a sound that hasn't been heard for a while." She commented dryly, opening her menu. "The lasagna here is wonderful, and the primavera some of the best I've had outside of Rome and Milan."
In the middle of scanning his own menu, Jack looked up at her. "You've been to both?"
"Spent one semester of my sophomore year over there. Have you ever been?"
"I spent some time in Ireland when I was small, when my grandparents were still alive. Other than that, no." Closing the menu with a snap, he laid it on the table. "I think I'll try your suggestion of the primavera." Resting his chin on this hand, he watched as she slowly perused the menu.
That he'd admitted his inner torment to her so easily had come as a personal revelation. So miserable had he been since the Newman verdict that he hadn't had time to determine the root even though he'd suspected it was connected to the anniversary of Claire's death. No one at the DA's office had tried to get through to him and the only one who could have, Adam, had been wrapped up in his own personal torment. Jack hadn't wanted to initiate a conversation about his problems with someone who was dealing with the death of a much-loved spouse, and had sought forgetfulness through other means.
The arrival of the waiter interrupted Jack's thoughts. Liz ordered first, then looked at him expectantly. "I'll have the pasta primavera." Feeling Liz's gaze, he hesitated. "Ice water." The waiter nodded, scribbling on his pad, then hurried away.
This time it was Liz's turn to raise her eyebrows in surprise. "Ice water, Jack?"
"I've had enough scotch for today. Still have to drive home." His remark was almost surly, but he softened it with a wry grin. "Maybe I've had too much lately altogether."
"Before we got here, you were saying that you didn't think anything was going to be all right, ever again." Liz prompted. "Care to tell me why?" She saw the pained expression in his eyes. "Tell me about Claire, Jack." She urged softly.
Her encouragement acted like opening flood gates, and for the rest of the meal he told her about the relationship that had developed between himself and Claire. It had been unexpected for both of them, and she had fought it, not wanting to become another notch on his belt. He had been patient though insistent, finally winning her over. That had led to a bonding that had been much more than physical, lapping over to enhance their performance at work.
As Jack spoke, Liz watched him closely. The animation that suffused his entire being as he talked about his lost love was intense, indicative of the deep emotional attachment they'd shared. It also made him much more attractive, and Liz found herself envying the absent Claire. To be involved in what had clearly been a mutual sharing on all levels with someone as attractive as Jack McCoy was something she'd never allowed herself. Startled by the personal turn that her thoughts had taken, Liz sat straight up and stared at the remnants of her tortellini. What in the world am I thinking? she asked herself as Jack stopped his soliloquy, a question showing on his face.
"Liz? Sorry if I've been monopolizing the conversation."
She shook her head, still staring at her plate. The breathless feeling she'd had at the bar earlier had returned. "No, that's fine, Jack." She lifted her chin to find him watching her. "I was surprised at the amount of pasta I've eaten, that's all." Her smile was forced, not reaching her eyes.
"Thank you for listening to me." Jack reached across the table to cover one of her hands with one of his, and an unmistakable electrical charge passed between them. She snatched her hand back immediately, trying to keep some distance. He narrowed his eyes as he looked at her again. "Liz?"
She lifted her napkin to her mouth, dabbing at it and using the time to reset her composure. "You're welcome. My pleasure."
"I never have been able to talk about her to someone before. Maybe I should have, instead of drowning myself in my work and my scotch."
"Adam admitted that he thought you might have a drinking problem, but I wasn't going to bring it up unless you did. You'll have to watch it and decide for yourself."
"Maybe if I'd taken the time to grieve and face up to losing her, instead of running away from it...." His sentence ended in a sigh. "No one ever cared enough to try to find out what was wrong."
"You need to make some friends." She found herself able to tease him, this time the smile reaching her eyes where a topaz-colored flame of warmth was sparking to life.
"I hope that I just have." He said softly, his tone sending a shiver down her spine.
She nodded. "And if you need to talk some more..."
"I'll give you a call."
Liz found herself eager to either end their dinner or stay and talk all night, knowing that the better course for right now would be the former. She rose to her feet. "You do that. I have to run, I have some early appointments tomorrow." She picked up the check and left for the cashier at the front of the restaurant, Jack following behind her.
Emerging into the New York night a few minutes later, they smiled at each other. "Liz, thanks again."
"You started something tonight, Jack. Finish it. It's going to be a painful process but I know that you're going to be able to work through it."
He touched her shoulder in a spontaneous gesture of agreement. "I just may, Liz." The despair of a few hours earlier wasn't gone but it was lighter in its intensity, she noticed.
She flagged a taxi, turning to him as she opened the door of the vehicle. "And don't forget that I'm just a phone call away."
"I won't. Good night." He stood at the curb and watched until her cab disappeared into the late evening traffic.
As the taxi pulled away, Elizabeth settled back in the back seat. Reviewing the time she'd spent with Jack, she knew that she'd been able to help him open the door to a healing of his spirit. What she didn't understand was her own reaction. She had actually felt attracted to him, which was something she hadn't felt since the time she was raped four years earlier. Maybe Jack isn't the only one who's ready for some healing, she thought as the cab wound its way toward her apartment.
Jack had walked back to his office after losing track of her cab, and saw a light under Adam's door. He knocked and opened it just enough to peer in. "Adam?"
"Come in, Jack." Adam sat at his desk, almost drowning in papers. "Where have you been? I looked for you a few hours ago but you weren't in your office."
Dropping onto one of the leather arm chairs in front of the desk, Jack shook his head. "I wasn't there. I went to numb myself some more at one of the local taverns when your watch dog found me."
Adam looked up and was pleased by what he saw. Jack was clearer-eyed than he'd been in weeks. "You mean Dr. Olivet?"
"Looks like she did some good."
"Thank you, Adam."
"For sending Liz after me."
"I didn't send her after you. I asked her to talk to you, to make you see that you've been working yourself to death. My motivations were purely selfish. I needed you back at full speed."
"You could have said something to me."
"I could have, true. But she's a professional."
Jack smiled. "A damned good one."
"Is that so?" Adam's interest was piqued by the warmth in Jack's voice.
"Yes, it is. Didn't take much for her to figure out what was wrong and make me see it."
"Good. Maybe you'll be easier to work with now." There was a twinkle in Adam's eye as he said it.
Jack rose to his feet, his memories starting to close in. "I don't know about that."
Seeing the vague expression that crossed Jack's face, Adam put his pen down. "Need some time off?"
"I'd hate to leave Jamie with the caseload. Maybe in a few weeks, near the holidays."
"Good enough. You leaving?"
"I think so. Came back to get my helmet." He went to the door.
"Good night, Jack."
"Good night, Adam."
When he reached his apartment, he didn't bother to turn on any lights. Opening the blinds that shuttered the window in his living room, he took a framed picture off the wall and sat down.
Claire looked out at him, the picture having been taken during a weekend trip they'd made to Cape Cod almost two years ago. He traced the outline of her face with a gentle finger, feeling the tears he'd forbidden himself for over a year welling up. Goodbye, Claire. For the first time since her death he allowed himself to cry, the sound of his sobs echoing through the apartment.
artwork courtesy of WaterWitch