The Jury Is In...
By Tona

Madrid, Spain

Ten p.m. and people were just beginning to have dinner in the crowded city restaurants. Families were laughing and spending quality time together while food and drink passed from table to table. The bartender moved from person to person, pouring drinks and giving courteous smiles to all his customers.
"Uno mas." Besides muerto, it was the one Spanish phrase that Ben Stone knew. He had picked up a few more phrases, most not exactly the kind of thing that teachers were eager for their students to learn. Then again, Ben was a long way from being a formal student.
The bartender filled the scotch glass once again before moving back down the bar. Ben stared at the amber liquid before him and pondered taking the drink. He'd fought for so long to stay away from the siren's call. He had struggled to free himself of the bitter grasp, but he had found himself counting defeat time and time again.
He lifted the glass and took a deep breath of the potent liquor, feeling its burn deep down in his soul. He placed the glass back upon the bar and sighed. He had never planned to find himself here. Though he wasn't quite sure where he had planned to find himself.
"Benjamin Stone?"
Ben looked up from his glass as it took a moment for his brain to register his own name being spoken. He turned and observed the woman for a moment, searching the vast recesses of his clouded mind for any memory of her. Deciding that he didn't know her after all, he took a short breath, "Do I know you?"
"No," She smiled, "My name is Abby Carmichael. I know your work."
"I see," Ben said softly, "District Attorney?"
"I was," Abby nodded, "Mind if I join you?"
He looked to the empty stool beside him before he looked back to his drink, "Not at all."
Abby took the seat and raised her hand to gather the bartender's attention. He joined them before she ordered a glass of wine. She looked back to Ben who stared into his glass, "I heard you were taking a tour of Europe."
"The gossip mill must be boring if I'm a topic of conversation," Ben noted before he took a sip of the scotch, burning his vocal cords and searing his throat.
"You underestimate yourself. You're still something of a legend."
"Legend?" Ben snorted, "Some legend."
"I get the feeling that you're having a pity party here," Abby noted, "That's not quite as sophisticated as I would have pictured the Ben Stone."
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear."
"And only half of what you see," She finished, "And I don't think I'm believing what is right in front of me."
"Look, Ms. Carmichael. I'm not interested in hearing your personal opinions."
"And I'm not interested in watching a once great man drink himself into oblivion over some misplaced sense of responsibility."
"Misplaced?" Ben repeated as he turned to look at her, "You don't have the first clue as to what you're talking about."
"I know why you resigned the D.A.'s office and left New York. I know that you felt guilty because a person was killed."
"Who never should have been placed in that situation to begin with. She was my responsibility."
"She was your witness, not your pet or your child. You couldn't possibly watch over her every minute of every day."
"I promised her that I'd keep her safe."
"Well, sometimes things happen beyond our control."
"Ms. Carmichael, save it. I'm not in the mood to be spoken down to by someone who probably hasn't even gotten their feet wet in felony court yet."
"I'll have you know I served as felony assistant to Jack McCoy. So don't you dare accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking about. We all take risks, Mr. Stone."
"Of our own accord, yes," Ben nodded, "But when someone is forced into testifying against their better judgment..."
"Forced? You didn't hold a gun to her head. She testified on her own, and she should have."
"But she would have been safe if I hadn't pressured her..."
"Or maybe she would have been killed in a traffic accident, or maybe she would have been caught in a drive-by shooting, or maybe she would have slipped and broken her neck. How do you know?"
"I know," Ben said firmly.
"Well, since you know it all, why don't you explain to me why it is that you spent all those years putting away the bad guys, seeing that justice was served, and keeping innocent people safe just to throw it away because one person was killed?"
"Don't you get it yet? I caused her death."
"Unless you were the one holding the gun, you did not cause her death. Put it before any jury, Mr. Stone. They'll tell you the same thing."
Ben stared at the dark eyed brunette as her words penetrated the fog surrounding his psyche. Her husky voice had burrowed into places he had kept closed off from the world for years, and as he gazed at her now, he felt the guilt dissipate like snowflakes in a gentle New York breeze. He sighed before looking back to her.
"So what does the jury say?" Ben asked as he looked back to her.
"Mistrial," Abby answered, "Shall we try this again?"
He saw the invitation and welcomed it. He allowed a lighter side of himself to show as he allowed a smile to tug at his lips. He extended his hand, "Ben Stone."
"Abby Carmichael," Abby smiled as she looked to his drink, "Shouldn't you try something less like rocket fuel?"
Ben couldn't suppress the smile, "What would you suggest, Counselor?"
As Abby and Ben began a more cordial conversation, the guilt of years gone by faded for one twisted soul and he began to believe that perhaps there was some order in the world after all.


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