The First Step
By L.A. Smith

In the months after his run-in with Independent Counsel William Dell, Jack McCoy found himself feeling restless and even more dissatisfied than usual. The man's audacity had inflamed Jack's sense of righteousness and had piqued the impertinence the Jesuit brothers had inadvertently instilled in him. As his Irish cop father would have said, Jack was "full of piss and vinegar." As usual, Jack threw his renewed vigor into his work, and into his drinking.
Detective Lennie Briscoe nursed a ginger ale and watched Jack take a long pull on his second double scotch. Like any recovering alcoholic, Lennie felt the ambivalence of envy and concern. He fought the urge to make any comment when Jack ordered another drink. Lennie knew from experience that nothing he said could persuade his friend from seeking solace in a bottle. As much as he hoped he would one day see Jack at a meeting, Lennie didn't expect it to happen any time soon. He realized that Jack would have to find his own way to sobriety, just as he would have to find his own way out of the darkness of his anger and his grief.
Both Jack and Lennie glanced at the door when the woman walked in. Her shoulder-length brown hair fell like silk around the delicate porcelain features of her soft, round face. Each man silently swallowed his pain as her resemblance to Claire stirred memories too agonizing to articulate. Lennie saw the brief surge of hope and the crash of disappointment wash over Jack's face as the woman strolled to the other side of the bar.
Taking this woman's appearance as an ill omen, Lennie finished his ginger ale. "Well, counselor," he said picking up his coat, "it's time for me to head home. How about you?"
Jack hadn't taken his eyes off the woman as she had ordered a drink, shed her coat, and taken a seat at a table near the window. For a moment Lennie wondered if Jack had even heard his suggestion to leave, then Jack turned and said, "No, detective, I think I'll stay and have just one more."
Lennie regarded McCoy with sympathy and concern, but refrained from saying anything more. He took his coat and headed for the door. Jack finished his scotch and gestured to the bartender for a refill. When his drink was poured, Jack lifted the glass and carried it to the other side of the bar. He approached the table with the bravado that comes from a little drink and a lifetime of success with beautiful women. She looked up as he neared the table, but gave him no encouraging smile.
"Is this seat taken?" Jack asked, gesturing to the empty chair beside her and offering a crooked grin.
She saw in his eyes the familiar shadows of ghosts and said, "Don't tell me. I remind you of someone you used to know."
The candor of her remark stung him, and Jack thought of retreating, but the woman smiled and said, "That's okay. You remind me of someone, too."
Jack pulled out the chair and sat down, taking a moment to admire her arching brows, her bright green eyes, and the sensuous curves of her lips. He glanced appreciatively at the way the pale green silk of her blouse draped across her firm, round breasts. He watched as she lifted the glass to her lips and sipped at her own whiskey and water, and he began to realize that she didn't really look like Claire at all.
"I think I know you from somewhere," she said. "Or is that supposed to be your line?"
"I work in the DA's office," Jack offered. "You may have seen me once or twice on the news."
Her eyes brightened with recognition, and the woman nodded. "Yeah," she said, "you're the one who testified before the Special Persecutor a couple of months ago."
Jack smiled at her little joke and extended his hand. "He's the Independent Counsel," Jack corrected her. "Jack McCoy," he said.
She took his hand, "I'm Linda Martin."
She didn't withdraw her hand immediately, and neither did Jack. They spent a brief moment assessing the small current of electricity that always sparks when a man and a woman touch for the first time.
"So, tell me," she said as she let go of his hand and reached for her glass, "is Dell really as slimy as he seems?"
Jack took a sip of his scotch and nodded, "Even slimier."
"I seem to recall he dug up some nasty little secrets about you," Linda regretted her remark an instant after she made it as she watched a darkness fall over Jack's face. "I'm sorry," she said quickly. "I didn't mean to stir up any bad memories."
Jack looked at her and saw the regret in her eyes. His expression softened and he raised an eyebrow as he said, "It's not the bad memories I have trouble with."
Linda searched her memory for the details of McCoy's testimony before the grand jury. She remembered hearing on the news that Dell had asked McCoy about his relationship with a woman who had worked for him, a woman who had died in a car accident. Realizing that it must be this woman she resembled, Linda began to feel a little uncomfortable.
Jack watched as Linda straightened and pushed herself further back into her chair. He recognized the signs of retreat and suspected she had realized what had brought him to her table. He struggled for a moment, thinking of something to say to clear the air, to make things right.
"You don't really look that much like her," he said, casting his eyes down and staring at the back of his hand. "It was really just for a moment, just briefly when you first walked in...."
Linda studied the change in Jack's demeanor, the slump of his shoulders, the crack in his voice. She felt suddenly sorry for him and reached out to touch his hand. When her fingers brushed lightly against his, Jack pulled back out of reflex as if human contact was too painful for him when the darkness overtook him. He looked up at her and saw the confusion in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said, reaching out and touching her hand. "I don't think I can do this."
Linda took his hand and squeezed it gently, feeling the tension in his long, muscular fingers. "Do what?" she asked. "Have a drink with someone who doesn't mind, who won't judge you if you show your pain?"
Jack raised his eyes to meet Linda's and saw in them the shadows of her own ghosts. He felt her soft fingers closed around his own and a sudden tenderness overwhelmed him. She felt his fingers relax and watched as the darkness lifted from his eyes. They sat together like that for a few minutes, holding hands and looking into one another's eyes, offering each other nothing more than the silent comfort of unconditional empathy.
Eventually Jack broke the silence, "I just don't know if I want to talk about it, about her."
"Then don't," Linda said softly. "Let's talk about something else."
"Okay," Jack said as he took back his hand and picked up his drink. "Let's talk about you. What do you do for a living, Linda Martin?"
Linda told Jack that she worked in Silicon Alley, writing and editing content for a publisher of online magazines. He listened as she described her average 14-hour day, finding himself amused by her quick wit and razor-sharp observations. When she finished a particularly funny story about her boss, Jack actually found himself laughing.
"Well, look at that," Linda said, smiling. "I actually made you laugh."
"You did," he said, still chuckling. "Your boss sounds like a real idiot."
"He is an ass," Linda said, "but he has me around to make him look good."
"Why do you put up with him?" Jack asked. A grim, ironic smile played across Linda's lips, and Jack took her meaning perfectly. "Oh," he said almost apologetically, "the two of you are...."
"We were," Linda said. "I ended things a couple of months ago after I got tired of having to keep our affair a secret. He didn't want us to become the topic of office gossip."
"I know how that is," Jack said thoughtfully.
"It might have been different," Linda said, looking into Jack's darkening eyes, "if I'd really loved him. Turns out he was just convenient."
Jack smiled at her and asked, "And now you're looking for an inconvenient man?"
"I'm not really looking for anything at all," she said. "I just came in here for a drink tonight because I didn't feel ready to go home alone."
Jack smiled and repeated himself, "I know how that is, too."
In the awkward silence that often develops between two lonely people who are even more afraid of connecting than they are of being alone, Jack and Linda looked into each other's eyes for signs of encouragement. Linda decided to take a risk. "I live just a couple of blocks from here," she said. "How would you like to walk me home?"
Jack smiled though he was still unsure where this flirtation was leading him or if he really wanted to go there. "I can do that," he said.
They walked out of the bar and into the cool, April evening. It had showered while they were in the bar, so the streets were slick and shiny and the air was pungent with the smell of rain. As they walked toward Linda's apartment building, they made small talk about the weather and the relief of knowing that spring was finally arriving in the city. They reached the door, and Linda got out her keys. She opened the door and looked up into Jack's soft, dark eyes. "Would you like to come up for a bit?" she asked quietly.
Perched precariously between the pain of his past and the promise of his future, Jack looked down into Linda's lovely green eyes and nodded. He followed her through the door and they rode the elevator in silence.
Once they were inside her apartment, Linda became a little nervous. She was unaccustomed to inviting strange men into her home and was even more disturbed by her growing desire for Jack McCoy. She offered to make coffee, but he declined. He sat on the couch and watched her flutter around the room, checking her answering machine, thumbing through her mail, doing anything to avoid the moment when she would have to decide whether to sit beside him or take the chair on the other side of the coffee table. As she moved around the room, Jack took a good look at the graceful curves of her body and admired the movement of her long, slender legs. When she finally stopped moving and stood before him, he decided to help her make her choice. He patted the cushion beside him and looked up at her with a crooked grin.
She sat beside him and hesitated only a little when he leaned forward and brushed his lips against her cheek. He cradled her neck in his hand, then ran his fingers through her hair as his mouth found hers and he kissed her hungrily. As her mouth filled with the smoky flavor of the scotch on Jack's tongue, Linda wrapped her arms around him and ran her hands along the strong, tense muscles of his back. Jack slowly withdrew his tongue, softy licked Linda's lips, and lowered his head to kiss the gentle curve of her neck. Linda trembled as his lips brushed against her skin and his warm breath tickled the silky short hairs behind her ear.
Jack slipped his arms around her and whispered softly in her ear, "You feel good. You make me feel good."
Linda ran her fingers through Jack's tousled salt-and-pepper hair, and moaned softly as he slipped a hand up under the back of her blouse. His fingertips gently grazed the skin of her back as his hand moved upward toward the clasp of her bra. He undid the fastener almost too expertly and slowly slid his hand back down to her waist. His lips found hers once again as he reached between their bodies and undid the buttons of her blouse. Linda pulled back a little and slipped the garment over her shoulders. Jack leaned back against the cushions and watched appreciatively as she hooked her fingers beneath the straps of her bra and slid them slowly down over her arms. She tossed the bra onto the coffee table and self-consciously looked into Jack's eyes. In them she saw the unmistakable spark of passion and a profound appreciation for what he saw before him.
Sensing Linda's need for reassurance and compelled by his own intensifying arousal, Jack reached out and cupped her soft breasts in his hands. A sigh of pleasure escaped Linda's lips as he drew his thumbs across her nipples. Jack moved toward her, kissed her sweetly, and traced a path toward her breasts with the tip of his tongue. While he used one hand to caress her right breast, he wrapped his lips around the nipple of her left. Linda shuddered when she felt the soft tug of Jack lips and she arched her back when she felt the soft pressure of his tongue drawing tight circles around her nipple.
Eager to offer her partner some reciprocation, Linda took Jack's face in her hands and pulled him from her breast. She pushed him gently back against the cushions and began to unbutton his shirt, leaving a trail of soft, wet kisses on his chest and belly as she exposed his skin. Jack groaned when she unbuttoned his jeans and pulled down his zipper. He lifted himself off the couch and sighed as she pulled his jeans and boxers over his hips. She pulled off his shoes and socks and then pulled the jeans and underwear over his feet. Jack sat on the couch wearing just his unbuttoned shirt, feeling both incredibly aroused and terribly vulnerable.
"I'd like to see the rest of you," he said in a hoarse whisper.
Thrilled by the urgency in Jack's voice, Linda undid the zipper on the side of her skirt and let it fall over her hips to the floor. She slipped her fingers under the waistband of her silky black pantyhose and made a little show of slithering out of them. When she finally stood before him completely naked, Jack smiled, sat forward, and pulled off his shirt. He reached out for her hands, and pulled her back down onto the couch. Jack covered Linda's mouth with another hungry kiss as his hands moved deftly over the soft, smooth curves of her back, waist, and thighs.
Aching in anticipation, Linda felt the firm flesh of Jack's erection against her belly. She reached between their bodies and stroked him gently. Jack threw back his head and moaned when he felt her touch. Linda lowered her head and kissed Jack's neck and shoulder. He lay back against the cushions and allowed her to tease him with her fingers and mouth. Her soft hair tickled as she drew it across his chest and belly. When her lips grazed against him, Jack arched his back and groaned in delight. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to fall into the depths of pleasure as Linda's lips and tongue danced like butterflies on his skin.
When Linda raised her head and looked up at his face, she was happy to find a look of utter contentment. He opened his eyes and looked down at her with equal parts of appreciation and desire. He reached for her and pulled her up on top of him. She straddled him and guided him into her body. Linda thought she would burst into flames when she lowered herself onto him.
"You feel so good," Jack whispered. "You make me feel so good."
As Linda rocked back and forth gently on top of Jack, he caressed her breasts and watched in delight as she licked her lips and reveled in the pleasure of feeling him inside her. When her breath began to break into short gasps and he felt her beginning to tremble, Jack raised his hips and pushed himself as deeply into her as he could go. Linda screamed in delight, and Jack enjoyed the tremors of ecstasy that followed her orgasm.
He allowed her a moment to catch her breath before he wrapped his arms around her and rolled her onto her back. She bent her knees and raised her hips to meet him as he began thrusting into her wildly. His passion seemed limitless to her, and she opened her eyes to find him staring down at her. She began to tremble again and Jack plunged deeply into her and arched his back. As he shook with satisfaction above her, Linda felt another wave of pleasure wash over her. She was still trembling when he collapsed on top of her, exhausted.
They lay together for a while, spent and tingling, and when Jack slipped from her, Linda expected he would probably grab for his clothes and head for the door. She was pleasantly surprised, then, when he kissed her gently and asked, "Is it okay if I stay the night?"
"Of course," she said, trying not to seem too pleased.
Jack stood and offered her his hand. He helped her up, and she led him to her bedroom, where they climbed between the sheets. Jack drew her close and rested his head in the curve of her neck. "You make me feel so good," he said just before he drifted off to sleep.
Linda awoke the next morning, not because her alarm was sounding, but because she felt the delicious bristle of Jack's stubble on her leg. She trembled a little as his soft lips brushed along the slope of her inner thigh. She spread her legs a little and convulsed in pleasure when he lowered his mouth onto her in a passionate kiss. He explored her with his lips and tongue, letting her soft moans guide him to the spots that made her shiver with delight. When Linda arched her back and called out his name, Jack continued kissing and licking her, enjoying her whimpers of delight. He kissed his way across her belly and her breasts and covered her mouth with his own as he guided himself inside her.
Linda moaned and said, "Jack, you feel so good. You make me feel so good."
He kissed her again and moved above her, taking extraordinary pleasure from every stroke. They made slow, passionate morning love, and when Jack reached his climax, Linda raised herself to meet him and he felt her trembling all around him.
Jack arrived late for work that morning, feeling lucky he didn't have to be in court. He spent most of the day going over plea bargains and reading briefs and took a moment after lunch to give Linda a call at work.
"Thanks again for last night," he whispered into the phone before he hung up.
"And thank you for this morning," he heard her say.
At the end of the day, Lennie Briscoe and Rey Curtis came by to go over their testimony for an upcoming trial. After they went over the questions and Jack felt confident they could make their case, Curtis left for home.
"Whaddaya say, counselor," Lennie said. "You wanna go get a drink?"
Jack looked at his friend and thought about the warm glow he got from a good single malt. A look of amusement crossed his face as he recalled the even warmer glow he had felt last night when he fell asleep in Linda's arms.
Lennie couldn't disguise his surprise when Jack said, "How about we make it a cup of coffee instead."

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