Spoilers: Through 3x19 for Community, 20x16 for Law & Order, 1x10 for Law & Order: Los Angeles, and 13x1 for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Word Count: 2,010 (of 18,470)
Disclaimer/Notes: See Prologue for disclaimer and general notes. Law & Order and related characters are © Universal Network Television. Thanks to greta_garbo for the Ficcy Friday prompt (two years ago next week!) that inspired the abandoned fic that served as the genesis for this chapter.
Part VIII: Continuing Legal Education
In which Jeff meets a former district attorney
"Is this a private party, or can anyone join?"
The smile on Jack McCoy's face widened as one of the two women at the table sprang to her feet and threw her arms around his neck. "Jack!" Connie Rubirosa said.
"Good to have you back in town, Connie," he said, "even if it's just for the weekend." They broke the hug, and Jack took a step back to get a better look at his friend. "Los Angeles agrees with you."
"Thanks! I miss New York though. I hate having to drive everywhere."
"I warned you about that," Jack said, looking around the bar. "I'm the first one here?"
"They're all still at work."
Jack gave a surprised grunt. "I guess they would be. You stop thinking about details like that once you retire. Will your friends mind if I join you?"
A tall man Jack didn't recognize appeared at Connie's side. "No, please do!" He extended his hand. "Hi, Jeff Winger. And this is Annie Edison."
"Jack McCoy. I don't run across many people who are so desperate for my company," he said with a sardonic smile.
"He's just desperate to change the subject," Annie said. "Connie and I have been trading stories about him."
"Well, don't stop on my account," Jack said, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "Maybe I can add one or two about Connie. Let me grab a chair from another table…" Once all four were seated around the table, he asked, "So how do you all know each other?"
"Jeff introduced me a few minutes ago," Annie said, grinning.
"I was a year ahead of Connie at Colorado Law," Jeff said. "Apparently I inspired her to become a prosecutor by being a huge douche."
"That's not how I would put it," Connie added, "but it's essentially correct."
"I should buy you a drink for that," Jack said. "Connie's one of the best A.D.A.'s I ever worked with."
"Oh, you should take him up on that, Jeff," Annie said with a wicked grin. "Go up to the bar and impress him with how much you know about single-malts!"
Connie laughed. "Good idea! Annie and I can keep ourselves entertained."
Jack could see Jeff was torn, so he added, "They've got a good selection here. Have you tried Tyroconnel?"
"Irish whiskey? What are we, potato farmers?" Jeff said, his eyebrows raised high. "Come on, we can do better than that." Moments later, the two men were seated at the bar with matching flights of five Highland single-malts in front of them.
"So these stories about you must really be something," Jack said, taking a sip of a Highland Park 15-year-old King Magnus.
Jeff made a face. "I suppose in the scheme of things they're not so bad," he said. "It's just… when I met Annie, I was just starting to… transition away from the kind of man I was back then, so she's never really seen me at my worst. Although," he added after a drink, "maybe she can repair my reputation a bit. I tend to forget that I don't always make the best impression on people."
"Connie must not have thought too poorly of you," Jack said, "if she was willing to see you while she was in town for the weekend."
"Oh, we're just here for a few days ourselves. Annie had a job interview, and AAJ was holding a CLE seminar this weekend, so we decided to make a trip out of it. I was waiting here for Annie when Connie recognized me from a recruiting event and came over to introduce herself." Jeff frowned. "Though come to think of it, I don't know why. We didn't know each other at Colorado, and she'd never heard anything good from our mutual acquaintances."
"'Mutual acquaintances' meaning girlfriends of hers that you slept with?"
Jeff nodded. "So that's what she's been telling Annie, all the horrible things she heard about me from them. And Annie is telling her about what a jackass I was in college."
Jack swiveled in his seat to take a look at Annie. "She doesn't look like she would have much first-hand knowledge about your college days."
"Ah." Jeff picked up the next glass in the flight, a 15-year-old Dalwhinnie, and took a large sip. "I, uh, exaggerated my educational history when I applied to the bar," Jeff said. "When they found out I hadn't actually earned an undergrad degree, they suspended my license until I did."
"I knew a guy in the D.A.'s office who got in trouble for something like that. He completed all the work, but something got screwed up along the way so he didn't get credited for some of it and he was never awarded a degree. But he'd already been accepted to law school, so he never bothered getting it straightened out."
Jeff nodded in understanding. "But when he applied to the bar, he said he'd graduated…"
"Right. But I take it your situation's a little different?"
"Arguably more than a little. A guy I knew set me up with fake credentials good enough to fool CU."
Jack frowned. "And that didn't get you disbarred?"
"Well, the law degree was real," Jeff said. "It's like the guy you know, I lied on my bar application. Was he disbarred?" Jack shook his head. "There you go. My license was indefinitely suspended, pending my earning a real degree."
"So you and Miss Edison…"
"Met when we were both freshmen. We were in the same Spanish class, and we ended up in a study group together. And before you ask, 13 years."
"That's quite a story, Mr. Winger." Jack picked up another glass from his flight, a Glenmorangie 10, and took a sip. "Thirteen years, that's not so much."
"I don't disagree, now, but it looked pretty damn big when she was 18."
"I suppose it would. I've been involved with a lot of younger women, but never one as young as that." He took another sip. "Even when I was your age, I'm not sure how I would've felt about that."
"It was hard to get past," Jeff admitted. "Once I realized the attraction was there, I spent the next two and a half years pushing her away with one hand and pulling her back with the other. And when I finally got my head far enough out of my ass to notice she'd worked her way into my heart, she'd gotten sick of it. But eventually she decided I had evolved to the point where she was willing to take a chance on me. We've been together for about two and a half years now."
Jack nodded. "That's a good start." He drained the last of the Glenmorangie. "So now what?"
Jeff picked up another glass from his flight, an Aberfeldy 25, and tasted it. "That's nice," he said. "I had one of their 13s about ten years ago and it was one step up from swill." He put down the glass and sighed. "Back in those days, Scotch, sports cars, and sexy redheads were about the only things I cared about. Even five years ago, I told Annie flat out I would never settle down. And the idea of it still scares me a little, to be honest. But the reality is that at the end of the day, when we're home together eating dinner or watching a movie or doing our own things separately but together, being settled down feels pretty great."
"Ever think about the next step?" Jack asked, sipping at his own Aberfeldy.
"I don't think either of us is ready to think about that." Jeff took another drink. "I'm definitely not. It takes a while to overcome 20-some years of hostility toward the institution of marriage, and even setting that aside I've been knocking myself out trying to get a private practice going. And Annie's still in school and getting ready to start her career, so it's hardly the first thing on her mind either.
"But I've seen her wedding binder, so I know it's something she sees in her future. And as for me… put it this way. I've never had a sports car, and it's been at least six years since I had a sexy redhead, and I can't say my life is any worse for it. But it'd definitely be worse without Annie." He finished the drink and returned the empty glass to the flight. "But look, we've got time. She's not even halfway through her 20s, and I'm still in my mid-30s. Well, low upper-30s."
Jack had picked up the last glass from his flight, a Dalmore King Alexander III, and was studying it intently. "I was married a couple of times. Divorced my first wife for one of my second chairs. And when I divorced her, I said, that's it, no more marriage for me.
"I kept sleeping with my assistants, though, and when I was promoted to Executive A.D.A., I was paired with a woman named Claire. She knew about my reputation, and she made it clear that she had no interest in romance. Which was fine with me, I didn't want that either."
Jack took a sip of his drink and paused to savor the rich flavor before continuing. "But the longer we worked together, and the more we slept together, we kind of fell into a romance in spite of ourselves. We had to keep it quiet, because of our official relationship, but most people assumed we were sleeping together, and a few of my closest friends could tell there was more to it that just that.
"Toward the end of our second year working together, 1996, Claire started talking about leaving the D.A.'s office, and I started thinking about how if she left the office, we'd be able to go public, maybe even consider taking it further. I never talked about it with her, though… she was a little older than Annie, but almost 20 years younger than me, and I was… well, I won't mince words, I was scared that once we weren't spending 12, 15, 18 hours a day working side-by-side, she'd realize there were a lot more attractive options available to her. And there was plenty of time…"
Jack slugged the last of the Dalmore to fortify himself before continuing. "In May of that year, she was killed by a drunk driver."
"Jesus." Jack could hear the horror in Jeff's voice, and glancing sideways, he saw the younger man massaging the bridge of his nose with his eyes squeezed shut, his brow furrowed, and his lips pressed together in a thin line.
"You always think there's plenty of time, Mr. Winger." He waved for the bartender and asked for a Jim Beam and the tab. "And then you find yourself in a bar, telling your life story to a guy you've known for less than a half-hour, instead of at home with the woman who unexpectedly found her way into your heart."
When the bartender returned with the tab, Jeff handed over his American Express card before Jack could even reach for his wallet. "That was more than worth a flight of Scotch." Behind them, the two men heard Connie roar with laughter. "Crap. I've gotta get Annie out of here." Jeff looked at Jack. His expression was somber, and Jack could see the sincerity in his eyes. "This seems really inadequate, considering, but… thank you."
As they walked back toward the table where Annie and Connie sat, Jack said, "I don't know what you've got planned for the rest of your trip, but there're lots of romantic places to visit in New York."
Jeff chuckled. "I'll make time. Any recommendations?"
"Empire State Building's a classic."
"Nah, our friend Abed would never forgive us, he hates Nora Ephron. Although," he added in a thoughtful tone, "he loves King Kong, so…" Jeff shrugged. "Well, I'll figure something out."
"See that you do, Mr. Winger, see that you do."
Prologue | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Epilogue