We don't normally preface challenges, but this story is special, no matter how you look at it: to our knowledge, this is the first slash fanfic ever written with Law & Order characters in mind. Our new icon for slash is a picture of Spock -- since the first slash stories ever were written about sexual relationships between Spock and Kirk of Star Trek. While there is no graphical representation of sex in this story, we realize some readers may be offended by the content. If so, now's the time to check out the rest of the magazine. Otherwise, enjoy! -- K & K

A World of Hurt
by Kathie Murphy

"Everybody wears a halo,
Never saw nothing at all..."

-- Bruce Cockburn, "Peggy's Kitchen Wall"

"Congratulations, Barney," Ben Stone said, settling into his accustomed easy chair in front of Barney Hoskyns' fireplace with his usual gin and tonic. "'Ambassador to the Court of St. James,'" he continued, rolling the words on his tongue. "That has a real ring to it."
"Ben, stop. I turned them down." Barney's voice came from the depths of his own chair.
"Whatever for?" Stone asked, incredulous. "You don't just turn down an ambassadorship when you're offered one."
"They were only putting out feelers. It never got to an offer."
"But still..."
"It smacked of political patronage, Ben. They were selling off the post to the highest bidder," Barney said tightly. "Let's talk of something else."
"Let's not. I know you, Barney. You've always said that was the one job that would get you out of New York. Even if you weren't the highest bidder, you have been bidding. The contributions you've made -- always behind the scenes -- it's high time someone took notice."
"But when it came down to brass tacks, I couldn't follow through," Hoskyns said miserably. "Please don't press me on this, Ben."
"You? The man with the connections? The man who taught me everything I know about how to win friends and influence people? The man who's on the President's top ten donors list?"
"I make large contributions to people and causes I believe in," Barney said, setting his glass of single-malt whiskey down sharply on the end table. "This was a reward for past deeds, no more. And I would have done a good job in England."
"But someone's made it clear your appointment will be blocked. Who?"
"You must know that there are men out there who couldn't care less about my contributions, or my abilities."
"And one of them got to you," Ben mused aloud.
"One of them got to me," Barney agreed.
"Who was it? One of those self-made men who doesn't approve of your 'fancy New York lifestyle'?"
"You might say that."
"Well, tell him to take a flying leap. You'll fit right in at the royal court."
"Yes, from what I hear, I might. But I'll never get the chance. And do you want to know why?" he added savagely.
I never would have thought Barney would make a belligerent drunk, Ben thought idly. Strange, the things you learn about your friends.
"I do. Very much," he said aloud.
"You wanted to know the reason, Ben, so hear me out. This isn't going to be easy for either of us," Barney said, regaining his usual poise.
"Go on," Ben said. I don't think I'm going to want to hear this, he thought, sinking deeper into his chair.
"We were all so young," Barney began tentatively. "And unlike most of my friends, I was also single. The seventies were a wonderful time to be single, Ben. You could get anything -- or anyone--you wanted, if you had the money and the time."
"And you did."
"Indeed," said Barney, warming to his story. "And oh, how I wanted Jack McCoy. From the first time I saw him, I was bowled over. He was rumored to be relentlessly straight, but everyone experimented back then, and I was determined that he would experiment with me."
"Jack McCoy?" Ben exclaimed, bolting upright. "I don't believe it. You've been with women, for God's sake, I know you have. You were dating Regina Chalmers back then; I remember inviting you to Melissa's christening. You didn't...You aren't..." He spluttered to a stop.
"Ben," Barney said gently. "I did and I am. Haven't you ever...?"
"What? Slept with a man? No, Barney, I'm afraid that's one of the many experiences I haven't had in my career," Ben said sarcastically.
"That's a pity, Ben. It has much to recommend it, and it is so different from being with a woman. I sometimes think I haven't settled down simply because I can't conceive of giving up the pleasures of either sex."
"I'm beginning to wonder if I know you at all," Ben said, leaning forward. "How could I have been your friend all these years and not have known that you were"--he struggled with the word as though it were in a foreign tongue--"bisexual?"
"I hadn't admitted it to myself when we were roommates. And after that, what was the point of telling you? Have you told me about every woman you've been involved with?"
"Actually," Ben said, after thinking about it for a moment, "yes."
"Then perhaps this will be harder for you than I thought, Ben. I had no idea that your life was such an open book. May I continue?"
"Of course." Ben sank back in his chair.
"Do you remember how Jack looked when he started working in the District Attorney's office? All that dark, dark brown hair, and his eyes. Little shoe-button eyes, but eyes you could drown in. The way he walked into a room and took possession of everyone and everything in it..."
"He still does that," Ben interjected wryly.
"Hush. It's not the same."
"It is the same, Barney. Only now he's aware of it, plays on it."
"You may be right," Barney replied, humoring him. "At any rate, I met him at one of those boring Bar Association functions Regina used to insist we attend--as though socializing with attorneys would make me come to my senses and want to practice law. I'm sure he had no idea how many people in that room couldn't take their eyes from him. And what he did to me...I had only just started to admit to myself that I found men attractive. But only models, actors--no one real. To see a man in the flesh, and know that I wanted him, shook me to my core." Barney paused.
"So what did you do? You couldn't have jumped him right there or we'd still be hearing about it," Ben said, almost angrily. Why do I have to know this? he thought.
"Don't be crude, Ben. It doesn't become you. I simply walked over to him, knees shaking, and asked if he were Jack McCoy. 'We have a mutual friend in the District Attorney's office,' I believe I said. I mentioned your name, and he said some rather uncomplimentary things which I will not repeat. I glossed over them, as you might expect, and we continued our conversation. Before Regina claimed me, we had a date--as I preferred to think of it--for dinner the next Saturday, which I engineered under the pretext of introducing him to a new restaurant.
"Before long, it became an accepted part of our lives that we would meet once a week or so for a meal and conversation. We took turns choosing the restaurants where we would meet; it was a kind of competition to see who could find the newest, the best, the most unusual."
"And you talked..."
"About everything! I knew he had a lover, although he never told me her name. I also became aware that he was--shall we say--intrigued."
"By you?" Ben asked skeptically. "I thought he was 'relentlessly straight.'"
"By me, by the idea that I found him attractive--oh yes, I let him know that in ways that he could either acknowledge or ignore, depending on how he was inclined. I assumed that, even if he decided to accommodate me, it would never amount to anything. But I was infatuated with him. I had almost decided to force the issue when he called me."
"And what did he say to you?" Ben was slipping into courtroom mode, beginning to tease out the details of Barney's story as if he were questioning a witness.
"He said, 'I need to see you. Can I come over?' There was something so hesitant, so pleading, in his voice. I was sure that he had finally made his decision. I prepared the perfect setting for a seduction."
"And when he arrived?" Ben asked intently.
"When he arrived, Ben, things indeed followed the course I had planned. Without going into indelicate detail, everything went as well as one could expect, given our mutual lack of experience. I discovered that this was a pleasure I had managed to overlook in my somewhat sybaritic life, and one I definitely intended to repeat."
"And McCoy? How did he feel?"
"He seemed to feel the same way. After we had...exhausted ourselves, we held each other and talked for most of the night. I finally fell asleep, and when I awoke, he was standing beside the bed, fully dressed, holding two of my biggest mugs full of coffee. Later, when I went to the kitchen, I found two takeout coffee cups in the trash. He had wanted to make me coffee, but couldn't operate my coffee maker. For some reason, I found that touching," he ended wryly.
"I assume all this is leading up to why you turned down the ambassadorship." As if it weren't obvious. How could Barney not have told me? What must McCoy have been thinking, every time he saw me, knowing Barney and I were friends?
"You promised to hear me out, Ben. Please let me finish."
"Go on," Ben said, gesturing broadly with his glass. "Please."
"Jack was a wonderful lover. We learned so much together. I stopped seeing Regina -- indeed, anyone but him -- although I knew he was still dating the woman he had been involved with. I overlooked so many things because I truly believed I was in love with him."
"Obviously, he didn't return your affection."
"I deluded myself into believing that he did for a long time. It wasn't until I suggested we both go away -- live together -- that I realized his true feelings."
"What happened then?"
"I asked him to come to Paris with me. 'They understand these things there,' I told him. Remember, this was the seventies," he added parenthetically. "It wouldn't have been the done thing for us to march down the streets of Manhattan in a Gay Pride parade."
"What did he say?" Ben asked impatiently.
"My whole world blew up in my face, Ben. Jack laughed at me. 'I have a good career in New York. You think I'm going to throw it all away for you? Twenty years from now, I want to be the Manhattan D.A., not the lapdog for a pathetic old Parisian queer.' Then, to top it off, he told me that he wouldn't be seeing me any more. In furtherance of his political ambitions, there could not be the slightest suspicion that he 'swung both ways,' as he put it. I let him go. There didn't seem to be much more to say."
"Oh, Barney," Ben said quietly.
"Don't waste your sympathy on me. I've had a good life since Jack McCoy threw me over. I've enjoyed the company of many men and women -- always discreetly, of course -- and I've built up political capital over the years. You thought I was joking when I said that I wanted to be an ambassador, but I knew that if I cultivated the right people, consistently supported their causes, eventually the opportunity would come my way. I was so close, Ben. It was almost within my grasp. Then Jack called me."
"And threatened to go public about your relationship."
"Nothing so straightforward. As he said to me, no one would care about a fling he had twenty years ago. After all, it's common knowledge that he sleeps with all his female assistants. He's been rather blatant about it. And by the time Adam Schiff retires, and he makes his bid for the District Attorney's post, it will all be forgotten. 'If someone dredges it up again then,' he told me, 'it might even pick me up a few gay votes,'" Barney recounted bitterly. "But it's different for me, Ben. My time is now."
"You said yourself that you were discreet. What else could McCoy possibly have to use against you?"
"The one relationship I never dreamed would require discretion: my friendship with you."
Ben was stunned. "That bastard," he whispered.
"Oh yes, Ben, he's that and more. A youthful indiscretion wouldn't put paid to his plans to run for District Attorney in the future, but an 'ongoing homosexual relationship,' true or not, would finish yours. He knows how often we see each other; he know you spend the night here -- "
" -- In separate bedrooms," Ben interjected.
"But who will believe that when Jack puts his spin on it? He even knows that we've taken vacations together."
"He must have been planning this for years," Ben said.
"Yes, he made that very clear. There is much more to Jack McCoy than is apparent on the surface. That he is capable of such vengeance is frightening."
"Why does he care so much about something that happened twenty years ago?"
"He said that he hated what I had made him become. He had never looked at a man before he was with me -- or so he says -- but since then, he's fought himself every day."
"Do you believe that?"
"It only matters that he believes it. He's convinced that experimenting with me made him become 'a deviant,' as he put it. It's a shame, really," Barney said reflectively. "All these years wasted in a desperate effort to deny his true self. Ah well, it does happen."
"How can you be so calm?" Ben raged. "He's made you a deal -- your ambitions for mine -- and all you can say is 'it happens'?"
"Ben, I've made my peace with this. Jack has agreed to leave you alone in return for my turning down the offer. It's not you he's after; he believes he can beat you in an election, and you've never hurt him as deeply as I apparently did. I couldn't let him make you into something you're not, simply to save myself."
"We can fight this," Ben said, desperate to save his friend. "He could be disbarred. The man's a blackmailer, Barney."
"I realize that. But if we fire a shot across his bow, he will return fire, and the end result will be the same. There will always be people who will believe his lies."
"What if they do?"
"Do you really want to be 'Ben Stone, the gay D.A.'?" Barney asked him quietly. "You'll be a cause celèbre in some circles, but in others, you'll be the devil incarnate -- if you even manage to win the election."
"It's not fair."
"You, of all people, should know that life seldom is fair. I don't regret the time I spent with Jack; if I had known what the outcome would be, I would have taken care to stop him before he got this far, but I would not have changed a thing about our little affair. My only regret is that I unwittingly involved you in his schemes."
Ben was speechless. What can I say? My best friend just threw away his life's ambition for me. 'Thank you' seems a little inadequate. When he finally found words, he was as surprised as his friend at what they were.
"Barney, for what it's worth, I almost wish Jack had been telling the truth about us. At least then this would have meant something," he said awkwardly.
"I'm honored, Ben," Barney replied formally.
The two old friends sat staring silently into the fire, lost in thought.
I'll make this up to him somehow, Ben vowed to himself. I'll find a way to take Jack McCoy down and leave Barney unscathed. But if he'd only told me, we could have found a way to stop Jack before he got this far.
Barney's thoughts ran on an entirely different track. Ah, Ben, if you knew how much I wish the lies had been true. You're the one who is 'relentlessly straight' -- and completely oblivious. I could never have told you about myself if Jack hadn't forced my hand...and now you'll never see me the same way again.
After what seemed like forever, Ben broke the silence.
"So what are you going to do now? If you don't mind my asking," he said tentatively.
"Do you know, Ben, I hadn't given my future beyond tonight much thought. There doesn't seem to be much left for me here."
"Of course there is. Your art, your charities, your friends..."
"No, Ben, it can never be the same. It is time for me to retire...to Paris."


Barney Hoskyns appears courtesy of Kitteridge

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