The author says that her inspiration for this story "came from trying to weave a few of the events in Claire's life together -- her relationship with Judge Thayer from 'Censure,' her relationship with Jack and her flirtation with Tim Bayliss from the Homicide crossover episode. I'm a real sucker for anything related to Jack-and-Claire, and I wanted Claire to realize how much she cared for Jack through being tempted by someone else."Something Left Unsaid
"Victim's Multimillion Dollar Lawsuit Settled," the headline read. Below that, in smaller type, "Ex-Judge forced to pay 500,000."
Claire sighed as she set the newspaper down next to her coffee cup. What a wonderful thing to wake up to, she thought, a glaring reminder right there on the front page of the Times.
"Good morning," Jack said cheerfully as he walked into the kitchen, running his hand through his hair still damp from the shower. "Anything interesting in the paper today?" He put one hand on her shoulder and looked at the headlines before she could answer the question.
"Nothing much." Claire drank the rest of her coffee and stood up, letting Jack take the newspaper from her.
"They settled the Thayer lawsuit," Jack commented. "Took them long enough. What was that, two years ago?"
"About that, yeah," Claire agreed.
"Hmm." Jack glanced over the article while Claire gathered her papers from the night before and piled them into her briefcase.
"Are you leaving already? Wait a few minutes, I'll go in with you." Jack looked up at her.
"No, I have some things I wanted to get done this morning. I'll meet you at the office." Claire replied, her hand already on the door.
"We aren't due in court until ten o'clock," Jack said. "What's the rush?"
"No rush." Claire shrugged, repeating, "I'll meet you at the office."
She shut the door behind her, and Jack sighed and turned back to reading the newspaper.
Judge Thayer, Claire thought with a sigh as she headed towards Hogan Place. He had threatened a married woman with whom he was having an affair by threatening to harm her daughter. When the case landed in Claire's lap, Thayer had her called before the disciplinary committee, claiming she was persecuting him because he had rejected her advances.
Even remembering the experience two years later made Claire's blood boil. He hadn't rejected anything -- the truth was vastly different from what he had said, a fact that came out later, but only after she was censured by the disciplinary committee. Thayer's subsequent guilty plea was the only thing that had cleared her name.
The whole incident could have destroyed her career, Claire thought. She was lucky to still have a license, much less a job. All because she couldn't resist a handsome older man when he told her how beautiful she was.
She still couldn't resist. As Claire sat down at her desk that morning, she realized that her experience hadn't taught her a thing. She had fallen right back into the same trap, a complicated relationship with her superior, a man much older than she was.
Oh, well, Claire thought as she began sorting through her trial paperwork, at least Jack isn't married.
"I'm very pleased with your work, Miss Kincaid. Or Claire... is it all right if I call you Claire?"
"It's fine. And thank you."
"Not many of my clerks have been as enthusiastic as you. I like that."
"Thank you," Claire repeated. The judge had come around the side of his desk and was now standing uncomfortably close to her. He put his hands on her shoulders.
"What else are you enthusiastic about?" He whispered in her ear.
Claire blinked, startling out of her memory, and realized with a sinking feeling that she hadn't been paying attention. She was staring at a file of witness statements and yet she hadn't actually read a thing - she had been blankly gazing at the words. This was a first, she thought, usually I'm much more focused than this.
Claire looked up to find Jack, briefcase in hand, standing next to her desk.
"Jack. When did you get here?"
"A little while ago. You were reading so intently, I didn't want to disturb you. But we are due in court in" -- here he glanced at his watch -- "twenty minutes. Let's go."
Claire nodded and gathered her files together. At least, she thought, I managed to look busy.
After court adjourned for the day, Claire returned to the office to finish reading the witness statements she should have been working on that morning. She managed to escape Jack, who'd been sidetracked into a conversation with a judge in the courthouse hallway as they were leaving, and the ability to sneak back to the office without him gave Claire a queer feeling of relief.
The fact that she was relieved gave Claire a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She had been relieved any time she'd managed to escape Joel Thayer, too, until he finally won her over, playing on her innocence, her naiveté.
Claire looked up when she heard footsteps walking past her desk.
"I have some work to finish," Jack said as he opened the door to his office. "Would you like to order something in?"
"No..." Claire replied, standing up and gathering her files into her briefcase. "I'm actually done. I was thinking I'd call it a night."
"Oh." Jack sounded disappointed. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." She nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow, all right?"
Jack nodded and disappeared into his office, glancing over his shoulder at her.
One night, she thought, it's not the end of the world. Sometimes enough of Jack McCoy is too much.
"So why did you call?" Margot Bell asked, tucking her legs under her as she sat down on the couch in Claire's apartment. "No, wait. Something is bothering you. I can tell."
"Am I that transparent?" Claire asked, sitting opposite her friend.
"Yep. You're that transparent. This can't be work related. No... I'm thinking it's a personal problem. Am I right?"
Claire had called and invited Margot over after she got home that night and realized the last thing she wanted was to be alone -- she never made enough time for her friends, and this was a good opportunity. Margot arrived within an hour of being called, bearing a full menu's worth of takeout and more margarita mix than the two of them could possibly drink. That was Margot, all right -- she never did anything halfway.
Claire had found her own copy of the newspaper still sitting outside her apartment door when she arrived home -- for once, Mrs. Kapurnik down the hall hadn't stolen it -- and she handed the page bearing the article about Judge Thayer to Margot.
"Ohhhh, this guy again." Margot sighed, remembering. "What a bastard."
"That's putting it mildly." Claire agreed, taking the newspaper and setting it back on the coffee table.
"So that's what's bothering you? The fact that the guy who tried to sabotage your career is being forced to pay out a judgment? I should think you'd be happy about that."
"That's not all of it," Claire admitted, somewhat uncomfortably. She had managed not to tell Margot about Jack even when they had worked together on the Weber case recently -- they tried to keep their relationship private. As if it were some big, horrible secret.
"What is it, then?" Margot asked.
"You remember Jack..." Claire began, but Margot interrupted her.
"Your boss? Oh, Claire, I knew it! I was wondering when you were going to tell me."
"Is it that obvious?" Claire cried, dismayed that she had guessed so quickly.
"Not at first," Margot admitted. "But... yes. Only because I know you."
"And how I acted when I was running around with what's-his-name?"
"All the what's-his-names. If I remember right, it was plural."
"Look who's talking," she shot back. "I don't remember you spending every hour in the library."
"I spent lots of hours in the library. Just not all of them studying."
They both laughed, then Margot grew serious again.
"But you know, Claire, you think you would have learned your lesson."
"That's exactly what I was thinking," Claire admitted. "Ever since I saw that headline this morning. But Jack is different."
"Well, he's not married, for one thing."
"That's a start," Margot said sarcastically. "Claire, he's your boss."
"I know that."
"And he's much older than you, too. How much older, by the way?"
"You get my point," Margot said, sighing. "But I guess you know what you're doing."
She said those words in a tone that implied she wasn't sure at all that Claire knew what she was doing. Claire suddenly realized she wasn't all that sure either.
After Margot left that night, Claire sat up in her darkened living room, replaying her conversations with Jack -- every significant and insignificant moment in their relationship so far.
She hadn't even tried that hard to resist him. She had put far more effort into resisting Joel's advances than she had into Jack's -- maybe because Jack avoided double entendres, improper questions, hands in inappropriate places -- all Joel Thayer's signs of interest. Jack was all awkward pauses and charming smiles, and his occasional romantic bumbles made her wonder just how he'd managed to seduce three assistants before her. Joel Thayer had the routines down - as if he had done it a hundred times before, and she was only another conquest of many.
How stupid, Claire thought, how naïve did I have to be to fall for him? And have I learned nothing?
The phone rang, sounding louder than usual in the quiet apartment. Claire glanced over at the clock. Midnight. Who could possibly be calling this late? Better to let the machine answer.
"Hello, Claire? Are you home? I just wanted to say hi, missed you tonight and all... see you tomorrow."
Jack's voice sounded concerned, almost insecure. Claire wanted to laugh -- funny how this man, whose confidence was part of his appeal, had let his guard down when it came to her. She knew so much of his attitude was bluster and bravado -- but beneath that was a side most people never saw. She felt almost honored sometimes to be the one he chose to show it to.
She decided not to erase the message.
Jack was already in his office when Claire arrived the next morning, lost in his stack of case files. Claire set her briefcase down and began thumbing through her schedule. An arraignment at 10:00 A.M., then witness preps in the early afternoon... oh, there was that plea-bargain meeting at 3:00 P.M. Jack would have to handle some of the witnesses by himself, a thought that made Claire smile a little -- she knew he hated that part of trial preparation and was usually more than happy to leave it to her.
Jack had left his office door open, and as Claire began reviewing the case file for her arraignment, she could hear the phone ring. A few minutes later Jack appeared in the doorway.
"Claire, could you come in here for a minute?"
"Sure, just a second."
Claire slipped her file back into her briefcase and followed Jack into his office. He closed the door behind her.
"What do you have on calendar for tomorrow?" He asked.
"We have that hearing with Judge Perkins, remember?" Claire reminded him.
"Damn," Jack sighed, sitting down at his desk. "Do you remember the Egan case?"
How could she not remember the subway gas bombing? It was only about three weeks ago that they had convicted Brian Egan of first degree murder in that case, only to find out later that he was just acting on the orders of someone else. Detectives Briscoe and Curtis were still trying to figure out exactly who, along with the detectives of the Baltimore police department, who suspected him in a church bombing several years ago.
"Sure," she said.
"They've arrested an Alexander Rausch down in Baltimore. They believe he's the mastermind of this whole thing, and so we want him back here. Guess who's going to Baltimore tomorrow to deliver the court order?"
Oh, no, Claire thought, don't say it.
"You?" She asked. Jack smiled at her and shook his head.
"Sorry," He said, and Claire groaned.
"You'll have to handle Judge Perkins all by yourself." She reminded him.
"I know," He said with an even deeper sigh, "But I'll manage. Tell Monica to call Amtrak for you."
Claire nodded and turned to leave.
"One more thing," he called, and she turned around.
"Do you think you could fit lunch into your schedule today?" Jack asked. Claire smiled.
"A working lunch," she agreed, still feeling slightly guilty over not answering the phone the night before, "I'll see you back here later. Right now I'm about to be late for an arraignment."
"So it's just going to be a day trip?" Jack asked as he slowed down for a stop light the next morning.
"Just a day trip," Claire confirmed. "I have to be back for that motion hearing in the Stivers case tomorrow, remember?"
"Right." Jack nodded. "Are you sure you don't want me to pick you up from the station tonight?"
"I'm sure," Claire said. "I'll just take a cab. You can give me back my keys tomorrow."
She had allowed Jack to borrow her car for the day - it was too cold for his bike, but he'd be stubborn enough to try to ride it anyway, and therefore she had insisted he take her car. He'd agreed on only one condition - that she allow him to drive her to the train station.
"Here we are," Jack said, pulling the car into the unloading area in front of the station.
"Thank you," Claire replied, opening the door. "I'll see you tomorrow, all right?"
Jack nodded, and she turned to get out of the car.
There was a pause.
"I'll see you tomorrow," he said, and she could tell he'd reconsidered whatever he had been about to say. Claire gave him a wave and watched as the car pulled back out into traffic.
All right, Claire thought after about forty minutes of reviewing the case file, she already knew the argument backwards and forwards. She wished she had remembered to bring some more work with her, or maybe a book, as she suddenly realized she had nothing else to occupy the rest of the train ride.
Her mind wandered back to Jack. He had meant to say something else as she got out of the car, but what, exactly? He had been acting like that more and more lately - as if he had something to say that just wouldn't find it's way out of his mouth. That was unusual for Jack, since words usually flowed so easily for him.
She was almost scared he might find those words. As it was, their relationship sometimes frightened her - how quickly they'd fallen into it, how natural it felt to spend every waking hour together - how she had just slipped so completely into him, without any attention paid to the possibility of the consequences. Joel Thayer had taught her - those consequences were real.
For Jack too - it had only been a few months ago that Diana Hawthorne's trial had brought the dangers of working with your lover home to both of them - and, Claire reflected, if she had any sense, she would have called it off then.
Maybe it was time to call it off now. Now, before she ended up back where she had been when Thayer charged her with misconduct, or where Diana was now - serving a six month sentence with no career to go back to when it was over. It would make sense if she said enough now, before everything spun out of control. She had been through that before.
"So which train is she on?" Lennie asked Rey as they scanned the Baltimore station's arrival board.
"That one," Rey pointed to the correct number, verifying it with the note he held. "Now arriving track four."
"There she is," Lennie said as he spotted Claire's green overcoat. She was scanning the crowd, looking for them. Lennie waved, and she saw him and came walking over.
"Hello, Detectives," she said, smiling.
"Ready to get Rausch for us?" Rey asked.
"I'm ready," Claire replied. "But how do you think your Baltimore counterparts are going to react?"
"We'll find out soon enough," Rey answered.
Lennie and Rey brought Claire to the Baltimore police station where Rausch was being held first - a situation that made Claire a little uneasy. They weren't going to want to give him up - not with how hard they had worked to bring him in. As she explained the situation, Lieutenant Giardello motioned for her to follow him out of his office and down a hallway, where they found Detectives Pembleton and Bayliss discussing Rausch's mental state.
"You better hear what she has to say, too," the lieutenant said.
"Hello, Detective Pembleton, Detective Bayliss."
Detective Bayliss's eyes lit up when he saw her, and he reached out and shook her hand. Claire smiled at him uneasily, remembering their lunch back in New York during the earlier investigation. He had been more interested in flirting with her than in the case, and she had managed to deflect his questions and steer him back on track, but the memory lingered. He really was good looking, but in a way that usually didn't attract her.
"Hi," he said, and Claire nodded. May as well get right to the point, she thought, because they are not going to like this.
"This is a court order allowing me to take Rausch back to New York." She handed the paper to Pembleton, who glared at her.
"Where's the punch line on this?" He asked.
"I'll go call Danvers," the lieutenant said, turning to walk away.
"I don't give a damn what your court order says," Pembleton continued. "He's ours and he's staying here."
"Give the crusade a rest, Pembleton," Rey said.
"I've got to get ready for court," Claire interjected, hoping to distract the detectives from what she was sure would be an argument. Lennie and Rey began to follow her out, but Pembleton called to her.
"Hey." She turned to look over her shoulder at him. "He's not going anywhere."
"Why don't we just cut him in half?" Lennie quipped. "It worked for Solomon."
"He's mine." Pembleton replied, determination written across his face.
"It's up to the Judge, man." Rey said, and he and Lennie followed Claire as she turned to leave.
The judge called the hearing to order not long after everyone assembled in the courtroom, and she started by looking at Claire.
"Ms. Kincaid," she said, her tone indicating that she was waiting to hear her argument.
"Your Honor," Claire began, "The district attorney's office of the County of New York would like to remind this court that the state of Maryland is a signatory of the uniform criminal extradition act, and as such is bound by the full faith and credit clause, whereby they are beholden to abide by the petition signed by the Governor of the State of New York."
"Mr. Danvers?" The judge looked over at the Baltimore State's Attorney.
"Our position is... we got him, we're gonna keep him."
"How eloquent," the judge commented.
"Your Honor, we're not ignoring the uniform extradition act. But Alexander Rausch has been indicted for the murder of Stephanie Egan, he's also a prime suspect in the murders of six people at a church five years ago. His extradition now will cripple the ongoing investigation to solve those crimes."
"Mr. Rausch is also the prime suspect in the terrorist subway attack in New York. After he's tried we'll send him right back to Baltimore to answer for his crimes here," Claire responded.
"How soon could you reasonably expect to go to trial?" The judge asked.
"Your Honor," Danvers interrupted, but the judge cut him off.
"I'm just asking a question, Mr. Danvers, relax. Count to ten."
"Four to six weeks," Claire said, even though that was a confident estimate.
"You'd be able to find a jury that hasn't heard of this case that fast?" The judge raised her eyebrows, sensing the overconfidence in Claire's original estimate. While she looked for an answer, Danvers spoke up again.
"Your honor, he's here, we are ready to proceed."
"I've heard enough." The judge sighed. "Go break some bread and make peace. I'll hand down my ruling in two hours. We're adjourned."
The judge banged her gavel, and the people assembled in the courtroom began to disperse. Claire began to gather her paperwork, uncertain at how to read the judge's attitude - if it meant she'd be returning to New York defeated to suffer Adam's wrath or victorious with the anger of the Baltimore detectives following her. Either way, someone was going to be unhappy.
"Hey. Hi." A quiet voice piped up behind her, and Claire turned around to see Tim Bayliss, smiling shyly as he approached her.
"Oh, hi," she said.
"Would you like to, uh... go waste some of your life with me?"
What a corny line, Claire thought, but why not?
"Sure," she said, and his eyes lit up again.
"Really? Oh, good." He watched as she gathered her coat, "You got that?" He asked.
"Yeah," She said, and he reached over to help her with her briefcase. He's considerate, she thought, what a nice guy.
"Thanks a lot," she said, and he led her out of the courtroom.
Tim brought her to a bar where his colleagues from the Baltimore Homicide division as well as Lennie and Rey had already gathered before they arrived - and the flurry of introductions left her sure of no one's name but Tim's. He sat next to her, hemming her into a corner of the booth, and was almost too nice as he took her coat and ordered a drink for her, prompting glances from the other detectives -- a kind of "there goes Bayliss again" look.
"Thanks for the beer," Rey said, returning from the bar to the table.
"What do you mean?" One of the Baltimore detectives asked.
"Bartender said it was on the house."
"Munch played Briscoe in a game of pool, lost five hundred dollars, and he drained our till." Tim explained to much general groaning.
"What?" The detective glared at Munch - whose name Claire wouldn't have remembered had he not just said it - and he looked as if he had more to drink than anyone else at the table.
"Gwennie, Gwennie, Gwennie, how could you?" he slurred.
"What's the trouble, Munchkin?" Another of the Baltimore people - her name was Kate? Kay, that was it -- said, rubbing Munch's back.
"Trouble?" He said, looking up with a goofy smile. "Ask Lennie."
"Mutual acquaintance," Lennie explained, smiling sheepishly. "Brought back some old memories."
"He had sex with Gwen," Munch said, and everyone fell silent for a moment.
"So," the other woman at the table piped up. "What do you three big timers from New York think of Charm City?"
Charm City? Another name for Baltimore, Claire supposed.
"It's charming," Lennie said.
"Charming," Rey parroted.
"Charming," Claire nodded, and everyone laughed.
"So, gotta go back tonight, huh?" Tim asked, leaning closer to her.
"I blew my two weeks vacation in Tuscany," Claire replied, even though she really had taken only one week and three days in Italy. It was a good excuse.
"You're breaking my heart," Tim said, so sincerely Claire couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
"Geez, Tim, why don't you get a room?" Kay asked, and everyone started to laugh. Claire felt a little uneasy at all the attention.
"Oh, this happens to Kincaid all the time," Lennie said. "She gets more prison mail than Marla Maples."
Everyone laughed some more, and Lennie glanced at Claire with a knowing look.
"You have Gwen's home phone number?" Munch mumbled at Lennie, who laughed.
"I can't believe this drunk broke the case," he said, deflecting the attention from Claire, a gesture for which she was suddenly grateful. " 'A boat with wings,' he says."
"Booze, dope and divorce. Hazards of the trade, huh?"
"How many divorces do we have at this table?" Rey asked. Just like him to ask a question like that - so he could feel smugly superior to everyone else because his marriage was some kind of fairy tale. Just once, Claire thought, I'd love to see Mr. Perfect Rey Curtis screw up. Maybe it would make him a little more human.
Now that was a bitter thing to think, she realized, what is with me all of a sudden?
"Never married," Kay answered.
"Um, widowed." The other woman said.
"I ain't jumped the broom yet." said the detective whose name Claire still couldn't remember.
"Jumped the broom?" The other woman asked before Claire had a chance to.
"Me, twice," Lennie said.
Tim reached over and started stroking Claire's hair, with that same sincere look he'd had a few moments before.
"And I am utterly single."
"Stop staring at me," Claire shot back, hoping no one would ask if she were single or not. And Tim didn't stop staring. He was handsome. A little too handsome.
"Three strikes, and I'm outta here," Munch slurred.
"Married six years, I have three kids, and at night when I have dirty dreams, they're about my wife."
Oh, please, Claire thought, that is exactly what he wanted.
"Oh, make me puke!" Kay said, and Claire wanted to start cheering. Someone had to say it.
"Oh, come on. You don't come to a show your warts party and have clean skin, it's rude," Kay said, and everyone laughed.
"Ah, next time I think I'll marry a cop," Lennie said. "At least I'll know what not to talk about."
"Really. No more having to rehash the gory details of a murder scene at the dinner table," Rey said, nodding.
"Them getting mad when you don't wanna talk about the little baby in three day old diapers crying over a dead junkie mother."
"And no one crying over just another junkie dead in the gutter?" Kay asked.
"Angry husbands," Tim said with his hand on his glass. "Torturing their ex-wives."
"Describing the autopsy of a child," the other woman said sadly.
Claire listened quietly. There wasn't much she could add to this -- she rarely got closer to a crime scene than a photograph -- and besides, being an ADA was nothing like being a cop despite the shared goal of putting criminals away.
"Ain't being a cop grand?" Lennie asked, and everyone started laughing again and agreeing.
"Hey, look, it's Mr. Sunshine!" The no-name detective called, and everyone turned to see Pembleton walking in the bar. Everyone started yelling "Frankie," including Tim, who managed to yell right in her ear, he was sitting that close.
"No, no, no. I'm tired of being the only one around here who gives a damn," Pembleton said. "You're looking at the New Frank Pembleton. Budding Republican and practicing selfish bastard, savior of no one but himself." He turned to the bartender and ordered a drink, then turned back to the table, "This is the new me."
"Careful, Frank, you know someday you're going to run for mayor and rue those words."
"Doctor check Rausch?" Claire asked.
"Yeah, he's fine," Pembleton replied, and pointedly added, "And in his cell, where he'll be staying."
Claire nodded at him with a skeptical look, "Think you'll win?" She asked.
"No, I'm sure of it. I bribed the judge, I told her Bayliss would have sex with her for a favorable ruling."
Everyone started to laugh again, and Claire felt herself caught up in the moment.
"You two-timing pig!" She said to Tim, poking him in the chest. He leaned towards her, almost too close, as he'd been the whole time.
"She's naked under those black robes," he said, and Claire felt her face start to flush. She hoped someone would distract him.
"Hey, anyway," Lennie said, raising his glass, "Here's to wearing a badge, carrying a high-powered sidearm, and hopefully, being right more often than we're wrong."
Everyone started toasting and yelling "hear, hear," no one more enthusiastically than Claire herself, who was thankful to Lennie all over again. But then he gave her that knowing glance for the second time that evening.
Was it possible he knew about her relationship with Jack? It was certainly possible he had guessed, based on Jack's reputation, but she believed Lennie, of all people, would give her the benefit of the doubt.
Danvers picked this moment to enter the bar, and everyone's attention -- including Claire's -- went straight to him.
"Rausch is going back to New York," he announced glumly.
"We lost," Tim said.
"Judge found a precedent," Danvers said to Pembleton.
"I'll meet you guys back in New York," Claire said to Lennie and Rey as she stood from the table. The others took her cue to stand up and start getting ready to leave.
"Hey, thanks for the beer," Rey repeated.
Everyone began to walk towards the door, with the exception of Munch, who was still mumbling something about "Gwennie."
"Congratulations, counselor," Tim said, smiling.
"Yeah, well... I doubt it was my compelling argument that did it."
"Let me take you to the station," he offered as they reached the door.
"Are you sure?" Claire asked.
"Yeah, I'd like to. I'll take the cab with you."
"All right," Claire agreed, and Tim smiled again.
As the cab headed towards the train station, Tim looked over at her.
"You know, you never answered my question."
"Back in New York," He said, "I asked if you were seeing anybody."
"You're right, you did."
"You're still not answering."
"I am," She said, "My boss, of all people."
"You're dating your boss?" He sounded surprised, "Now that I didn't expect."
"I didn't either," She admitted, "It just happened."
"You sound a little ambivalent about it," he said.
"I don't talk about it much -- we can't exactly go around advertising it -- but... I don't know. Do you know how much older he is than I am?"
Claire couldn't help it, she started to laugh. Must be the alcohol, she thought, although I didn't drink that much. Tim looked at her strangely for a moment, then started to laugh himself.
"I give up," he said. "How much older."
"Maybe you should go a little younger." He suggested, the flirtatious tone returning to his voice with the accompanying twinkle in his eye. He was cute, Claire thought, and funny, and sweet -- a perfect guy.
"You think so?" She asked, and he nodded.
The train station was nearly empty, save for the few people waiting for the New York train, who were quietly slumped in their seats.
"Are you sure you have to go back tonight?" He asked again.
"I'm sure," Claire said. "I wish I didn't, but..."
"Yeah, I do."
He smiled at her.
"You're staring at me again," Claire attempted to break the awkward silence that had descended upon them.
"You're beautiful," he said, and he leaned in towards her.
He's going to kiss me, Claire thought, the idea crashing it's way through her bran too suddenly for a reaction -- and before she knew it, his lips were on hers and she was kissing him back. It lasted only a moment -- a very long moment, it seemed -- before she pulled away.
"No," she blurted, impulsively wiping her lip with one finger.
"What?" He looked confused.
"I can't. I mean, you're a great guy, but I just can't."
"Because of your boss," he said flatly.
"Yes. No. I mean, I don't... I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," Tim said, smiling gamely at her. "Can't blame a guy for trying."
"Train 174 for New York, now boarding on track number three," The loudspeaker blared, startling them both. Tim patted Claire on the shoulder.
"It's all right," He repeated, "That's your train. It was nice seeing you again."
"Yeah, it was," Claire said.
"Goodbye, Claire." He turned and walked towards the entrance to the station. Claire watched his back disappear through the doors before heading to board her train back to New York.
Why had she done that?
Hadn't she come to the conclusion just that morning that she was going to break it off with Jack? So why not give Tim a chance? He was handsome, and sweet -- there wasn't a single good reason to say no to him.
And yet she had.
Kissing him had felt... wrong. Unfamiliar. Her first kiss with Jack had been so different, so natural -- Jack kissed her, then and now, as if he had always known her and would always know her, and there was no other way to describe it.
It wasn't that kissing Tim had been an effort. It was just -- he wasn't Jack.
Now this is stupid, Claire mentally scolded herself, here I am thinking like there's no one else in the world worth being with -- no one else I'd ever want to be with.
But that's exactly it, she thought suddenly, I don't want to be with anyone else.
That was the reason she had said no to Tim Bayliss. And it was the best reason.
Claire climbed the stairs and slipped her key in the lock of her front door. Finally, she thought, I'm home. That was a long day.
As she opened the door, she spotted a light on next to the easy chair in her living room, the one comfortable chair in her tiny apartment. That's odd, she thought, I'm sure I turned that off.
Then she saw him. Jack was sound asleep in the chair, a book folded open on his lap, as if he'd fallen asleep reading it.
Claire smiled to herself. She was only half surprised to see him there -- she'd given him a key months ago, so it wasn't that unusual -- and he looked so... cute, really, with his head leaning up against the side of the chair, the hints of gray in his hair highlighted by the lamp above his shoulder. This is what he must have looked like when he was younger, she thought, but the lines of experience on his face -- and the way his eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled -- made him far better looking than Tim could ever hope to be.
Quietly, so as not to wake him, Claire set her briefcase down and hung her coat in the closet. She walked across the room, perched herself on the arm of the chair and smoothed Jack's hair back from his face.
"Oh, hey," he said as he shook the sleep from his eyes. "You're home."
"Long day?" She asked.
"It was." He yawned. "I missed you, you know."
"Jack," she said sternly. "I was only gone for one day."
"Yeah, well..." He pulled her into his lap and kissed her -- a gentle kiss, at first, but she turned it into a longer one, savoring the feel of his arms around her.
I was awed and intimidated by Joel Thayer, she thought, and flattered by Tim Bayliss, but...
Somehow, without understanding it, without intending to, I fell in love with Jack McCoy, and that makes all the difference in the world.
"I missed you, too," she admitted. "Even if it was just one day. But didn't you have Crocker helping you today?"
"What can I say." Jack pulled her in even closer than before. "You're one of a kind, Claire."
Which, Claire understood, was Jack's way of saying what he'd wanted to say that morning.
I love you too, Jack, she thought, leaning into his embrace, and someday -- soon -- I'll find the words to tell you so.