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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Fairly Legal fic: Win-Win 1/1

February 17th, 2011 (09:00 am)

Title: Win-Win

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: First of all, I'm not entirely sure why I wrote a fic for this show, but I had a few lines of dialogue in my head and this resulted. It's pretty random. And it's shippy! And I'm not going to apologize because I have accepted the fact that when it comes to this show, I'm pretty into Kate/Justin. Second of all, the plot on this thing is paper thin. I don't know much about law beyond what I've learned on TV shows, so if the legalese is completely not accurate, that's why and I'm sort of okay with that since I wrote this on a whim. Also, my thoughts on Kate/Justin are purely speculative and will probably be debunked as the show progresses. Lastly, this is being posted because sendintheklowns  beta'ed it and told me to. Because she enables me like that and is awesome :)

Summary: Sometimes it's not about making everyone happy. Sometimes there is a winner and a loser.

 

-o-

Most people seemed to think that mediators were wannabe lawyers who couldn't hack it in the courtroom.

Kate preferred to think of mediators as the voice of reason in a justice system gone mad.

And it had gone mad. Well intentioned as the premises of most laws were, there was something inherently flawed about the entire process. The law made everything an issue of black and white, criminal and victim, when the fact was that most things in life existed in shades of gray.

As a lawyer, she'd upheld justice.

As a mediator, she actually got to help people.

Kate liked helping people. Even when they drove her crazy.

And they did, inevitably, drive her crazy.

This case was no different.

On the surface, it seemed pretty simple. On the one hand, there was a construction company that wanted to get paid for completing work on a fountain outside a building in Oakland. On the other hand, there was a corporation upset over the final product, insisting that it looked like a caricature of the plans they had agreed upon during the contract negotiations.

The contract was some help, but not much, since there were multiple drafts okayed by different people at different times. The fountain question was different, but not necessarily in a bad way, and the corporation just wanted to feel justified. After all, commissioning a fountain was something of a novelty, especially since the corporation was up and coming.

As best Kate could figure, the corporation wanted an apology and the company wanted to get paid, but there was still a lingering issue of vandalism charges brought up against the corporation's strong-willed CEO, who had also, as a matter of fact, been the one who dreamed up the fountain in the first place. When he first saw the finished product, he'd gone into a rage, ultimately frightening people on the street and damaging property nearby.

With that mud on his face, the CEO needed to salvage something, and if Kate could clean up the other charges, she was pretty sure she could make both parties happy, get paid, and be on her way.

Of course, convincing everyone else of this logic was another feat entirely.

"Mr. Davies is very sorry that you aren't happy," Kate explained again, patiently. "But the work is well done. A private inspection agreed."

"It's about image," George Dawson, CEO, replied stiffly.

"Your image is fine," said Mr. Davies, a bit bored with the repetition at this point.

Kate held up her hand, focusing on Dawson. "The longer you draw this out, the more foolish you look," she said. "A simple mediation right now can end this and you can all move on."

Dawson shifted uneasily.

Kate set her jaw, waiting.

Dawson looked at her. "I'm still pending charges," he said.

It took effort not to laugh. "So if we can clean up your issue with the vandalism, you'll agree to a number?"

Dawson regarded her cautiously, but then finally nodded. "But how can you-?"

Kate grinned. "Let me talk to the DA, see what I can do," she said, feeling the satisfaction of a case almost well done settling over her. "And we will meet back here at ten tomorrow."

-o-

Setting up an appointment with Justin was easy. Mostly because he knew by now if he didn't agree to see her, she would break into his office with or without his permission. Justin was stubborn and prideful, but he knew when he was beat.

Besides, if she offered him free food, he was not likely to say no.

Setting up the lunch was easy; being there on time was always an issue for Kate. After getting waylaid at work and nearly getting accosted by a string of demands from Lauren, Kate managed to show up, only fifteen minutes late.

Justin, true to form, was already there, drinking a water and starting in on a salad. He'd selected an outdoor table at the cafe, which was probably a smart choice. He knew she was never one to stay put for long, and eating outdoors when possible had been a concession he'd made early on in their marriage.

Some habits apparently died hard.

She came up to him, having to smile. "You're here."

He looked up at her. "You say that like you're surprised," he said.

She shrugged, sidling down into the chair. "I just seem to remember a time when trying to get you away from work was a challenge," she said.

He smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Well isn't what this is about now? Work?"

She inclined her head. "Good point," she said. "You have the file?"

He lifted it. She reached out to grab it, and he pulled it back. "You know I can't let you see that."

She rolled her eyes. "Seriously."

He nodded, slipping the file under a spare place setting. The waiter came up and Kate asked for a coffee and a sandwich before turning her attention back to Justin.

"So," she said, putting her elbows on the table and looking at him intently. "Are you really going to keep the charges?"

Justin chewed a bite of salad. He cocked his head, swallowing. "He caused an estimated five grand in property damage."

"They were windows," she said.

"That cost five grand."

"That's pocket change," she said. "He's already paid for it."

"It's a clear cut case of vandalism."

"He was upset," she said. "And justifiably so. The fountain he just spent 15 grand on turned out completely different than he intended."

Justin shrugged, spearing a piece of lettuce. He shook his head. "Emotion can't justify behavior."

"But it gives context," she argued. "Come on."

He swallowed another bite. "Why does it matter so much to you anyway?"

She sighed. "Because he's currently in mediation with the construction company about the fountain. If the charges against him can be dropped, he'll settle with the contractor and everyone goes home happy."

"Except the people in the building next door."

"The windows are already fixed," Kate said in exasperation.

"Have you talked to them?"

"It's a broken window," she said. "These charges are criminal and the case is borderline."

Justin shook his head. "The dollar amount warrants-"

She rolled her eyes. "It's like a tree falling in the middle of the forest with no one there," she said. "No one cares, Justin. No one cares."

Justin did not seem swayed. "So you want me to neglect my duty just so you can make a payday?"

"I get paid either way."

"So it's just for your ego, then."

She scoffed. "It's about making everyone happy," she said. "Mediation works."

"Sometimes," Justin clarified.

"Most of the time," she said.

"But not all the time."

She laughed, a little incredulous. "You really still believe that."

He shrugged. "I don't have to believe it," he said. "I know it. Sometimes facts are facts."

She leaned forward, sneering a bit. "The fact is that mediation is the better choice. Hands down. If everyone opted for mediation over court, this would be a much better world."

Something shifted in Justin's countenance. Subtle, but there. "You don't believe that," Justin said firmly.

She opened her mouth wide, shaking her head. Lifting her hands to her head, she flailed them. "What on earth could make you say that? After all the cases I've worked through? After all the people I've helped."

He shook his head, eyes zeroed in on her. "Because you can't always talk through things," he said.

"Yes, you can."

"Oh really?" he asked, almost amused.

"Yes, really," she said.

"So is that why you stopped talking through our marriage and served me with papers instead?"

Her mouth opened, breath leaving her like a punch to the stomach. Then closed.

He sat back, a little stiff. "I wanted to make it work, Kate," he said. "I wanted to keep talking."

She blew out a breath. "Justin, it's not-"

"It is like that," he snapped, his voice low. "All your talk about mediation, about meeting people halfway. It doesn't mean anything to me because you walked away from the table."

"It was best for both of us," she said, trying not to stammer.

"It was best for you," he said. "And you decided it was best for me. And I get all the reasons why. I know it wasn't perfect and I know I wasn't perfect. But damn it, Kate, don't keep spinning the holier than thou spiel when we both know that people have their breaking points and that sometimes instead of working it out, we all just want more than our share just because. Sometimes it's not about making everyone happy. Sometimes there is a winner and a loser."

She stared, too surprised to speak. In the years since their divorce, she and Justin had always been amicable. Sometimes they even got along better than when they had been married. And the occasional lunch date, the happenstance one-night stands: they had been fun and easy, just like things were supposed to be. Marriage had made things difficult. The commitments had worn them both down. They fought with legal precision, making cases and arguments, submitting evidence and trying to strike things from the record.

But Justin was right. He'd wanted counseling. He'd wanted to talk.

Kate just wanted out. There was a winner. There was a loser. No matter how hard she spun it, she knew it was true. Knew it in the way he looked at her, the way he let her waltz into his office and take peeks at his case files just because she wanted to.

Knew it in the way things felt with him. The way he was always there.

Always.

She closed her mouth. "Justin," she said, but she didn't know what else to say.

He laughed a little, looking away. With a small drink, he picked his napkin up, dumping it on his plate. He shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said, pulling out his wallet. He laid down some bills on the table. "That's the past."

"Justin," she said again.

He didn't seem to be listening. Pushing his chair back, he got to his feet. "I can drop the charges down to public disturbance. If he pleads no contest, he can pay the fine and move on. It's the best I can do."

She opened her mouth but for one of the first times in her life, she didn't know what to say as she watched Justin walk away.

-o-

One of the best things about her job was that she rarely had to be in the office to live up to her obligations. In fact, she had very few responsibilities she had to attend to on any kind of regular basis and with her haphazard time maintenance skills, it wasn't like anyone expected her on time anyway.

Which made it easy to follow up wayward leads on cases or track down relevant witnesses to fill in the blanks.

It also made it easy to just take the afternoon off.

She wasn't prone to that because usually she had too much to do. Even now, she highly suspected that Leo had a stack of messages for her and that Lauren had created a mountain of files on her desk of mostly inane things to do and check.

But Kate couldn't bring herself to go back to work.

True, she had gotten what she wanted. Dropping the charges altogether would have been preferable, but a no contest plea would certainly minimize the public exposure. Dawson would be happy, she figured, since the entire case was about him feeling like no one was meeting him half way.

And it was also true that fighting with Justin wasn't exactly new territory. They had been married after all, and their divorce hadn't exactly come out of nowhere. Besides, two lawyers? Married? All they did was argue, in the most plaintive terms, fighting each other with legalese to decide who got to control the remote or take out the trash.

They'd gotten angry, they'd gotten frustrated, but in all of that, he'd never hurt her like this.

It wasn't his style, to hit below the belt. Justin was obscenely fair, which was why she figured he'd made it so far as a lawyer. So to ambush her like that, to bring up the past and throw it in her face, to tell her that he had wanted more...

She didn't know whether she should cry or hit something.

Instead, she went shopping. She ended up at a book store, perusing the best sellers with nothing better to do. She picked up something with a boat on the front and was amused enough by the fact that the main character was actually named Darius that she decided to buy it.

At the register, she fumbled in her purse, looking for her money. She was sure she had the exact change and as she counted it out in the cashier's hand, her eyes caught sight of the day by day calendar on the desk.

June 2.

She blinked. She cocked her head. "Is it really June 2?"

The cashier was depositing her money in the drawer, printing out a receipt. "Sure is," he said.

And just like that, she found the missing piece.

He handed the receipt to her, pushing her bag toward her. "You have a lovely day, now."

Taking her bag, she shook her head. "Somehow I'm not sure that's likely."

-o-

Shopping was only a temporary respite. Leo called her three times. Lauren called her four. But even when she got back to work, she couldn't focus. She kept thinking about the look on Justin's face. June 2.

And everything Justin had said. About how sometimes there really was a loser. About how he had wanted to keep working. About how she taught others to resolve their differences but refused to handle her own. And that was okay, sometimes. With Lauren, it was practically a God-given right. But it wasn't okay with everything.

Not with Justin. Not today.

It made sense. It made sense.

When Leo came in with another note, she stood up and shook her head. "Mediation is about meeting people half way," she announced.

Leo's mouth closed into a frown. "Um, okay," he said.

"But I'm not meeting him half way," she said, almost by way of revelation.

Leo shook his head. "I just have this call-"

Kate pushed her chair back, grabbing her purse and moving around her desk. "Take a message, tell them I'll get back to them first thing tomorrow."

"You have the Dawson case first thing tomorrow," Leo said.

She flitted a hand. "Second thing," she said. "Second thing tomorrow."

"And I take it you want me to hold your calls?" he called after her as she made her way to the door.

She turned, smiling briefly. "I owe you, Leo!"

She saw him nod before she pushed open the doors, stepping out into the hall. "Trust me," he said after her. "I know."

-o-

She felt bad showing up empty handed, but after she bought the cookie it felt sort of silly. She picked up his favorite coffee, too, but then she just felt like a personal assistant and not an ex-wife.

Still. Small signs of apology went a long way. Big reconciliations started with simple gestures. She knew that from day after day in mediation.

When she got to his office, his assistant, Kara, eyed her. She nodded, smiling quickly, before brushing past her desk toward Justin's door.

"He's not there," Kara called after her.

Kate stopped, looking back. "What?"

Kara's eyes were a little cold. "He's stepped out for the rest of the day."

She frowned, looking at the door and looking back at her. "Meetings?"

Kara inclined her head. "Personal reasons," she said.

Kate's heart dropped and she pressed her lips together. "Do you know where he went?"

Kara's jaw worked and she shrugged. "He didn't say."

Even if he had, it was clear Kate wasn't going to find out this way. Justin had a likable quality about him, and when any relationship fell apart, people were inclined to choose sides. Kate didn't admit it, but she never blamed anyone for picking Justin's side, because sometimes she took his, too.

It had never been an issue of love but merely one of compatibility. Kate was done with lawyers and after passing the bar, she'd spent most of her time trying to separate herself from them.

It had estranged her from everyone to some extent. It had caused tension with her father. Unease with her brother. Friction in her marriage.

Ultimately, it had all been too much. She didn't know what she was doing with her life or her career, and the thought that she could stick it out as Justin's wife just hadn't made sense. They hadn't made sense. She was trying to find the forest in the trees and Justin just made it harder.

To think, when she filed, she'd cited irreconcilable differences. Her. Of all people.

Kate forced a smile, moving back toward Kara. "If you hear from him, will you tell him I stopped by?"

Kara smiled back, equally forced. "Of course," she lied.

-o-

She tried calling him. Even went to his apartment. She checked in with one of his friends and stopped by a bar she knew he used to frequent.

And there was nothing.

Defeated, she ate the cookie, drank the coffee, and went home.

She felt worse the closer she got and she had resigned herself to changing into her pajamas and trying to watch TV and eat popcorn until she fell asleep.

She was contemplating breaking out a bottle of wine as she turned down her dock and as she made her way down it, she looked up and froze.

Because there he was. Just standing there.

For a second, all she could do was stare.

For a second, all he could do was stare back.

Finally, she swallowed, stepping forward. As she approached, she held up the half empty coffee cup. "I got this for you," she said. "I mean. I got that and a cookie, but I thought you were avoiding me so I ate the cookie."

He frowned a little, looking quizzical. He took the cup, looking at it. "My favorite."

She smiled pathetically. "It was good," she said. "I mean, still is. Just not very warm."

He nodded but didn't take a drink. After a pause, he looked at her.

She collected a breath. "Justin-"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry."

She stopped, cocking her head. She had been prepared for his rants, his long legal prosecution, but this surprised her. "What?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have said what I did at lunch. I was just...emotional and it was stupid and-"

She laughed. "Justin, you have every right to be emotional."

"No, it was unprofessional-"

"Of course it was," she said. "Because you're my ex-husband. And because life is emotional."

He looked at her, forehead furrowed. "That doesn't make it okay."

"I told you, emotions define the context."

"And I told you, sometimes wrong is wrong, regardless of why you do it."

"I don't believe that," she said.

"Well, I do," he said.

"Well, you're wrong."

He looked surprised. "You're going to insult me now? Today, of all days?"

"Yes, I'm going to insult you because you're apologizing when you had every right to be mad," she said. "The fact that you never let yourself feel an emotion without trying to rationalize it was always one of my biggest pet peeves."

He smiled ruefully. "And we know you had many more."

"That's not the point," she argued adamantly.

"Then what is the point, Kate?" he asked, a little jaded.

"The point is that it's our wedding anniversary and I totally forgot," she said. "So, no, you don't get to be sorry. I get to be sorry and that's the end of the story."

Her admission registered on his face, and he looked away. When he looked up, his face was taut. "So you do remember?"

"I always remember," she said. "I just don't always know what day I'm in right now."

He nodded, smiling a little. "I know," he said. "That's why I shouldn't have snapped at you. I know how you are."

She stepped closer, looking at him in the eyes. "I know how things ended up, but I want you to know - I need you to know - that marrying you was still one of the best things I did."

His expression was guarded. "You didn't seem to think so when you filed for divorce."

She sighed, looking up at the sky for a moment. "I didn't know what to do," she said. "About anything. I was so used to black and white and right and wrong. I did believe in winners and losers back then and I did what I thought I had to do to protect myself."

There was a flash of pain in his eyes. "I should have put you first more," he said. "Shown you a lot more often how I felt."

"We both should have," she said. Then she smiled. "We should have met each other half way."

At that, he laughed. "The art of mediation."

She shrugged. "If I had known then what I know now..."

He smiled, nodding. "We'll never know," he said, and there was something wistful there.

Though, if she were honest, it was always like that. The law didn't recognize them as husband and wife anymore, but the dissolution of a legal contract couldn't change what was there. The attraction, the way they fit together.

And, inevitably, the way they hurt each other.

He wanted more sometimes. She did, too. But they'd been through so much that she tried to tell herself that it was easier that way.

Looking at him, today of all days, she wasn't so sure it was true.

He hurt her. She hurt him. In the end, it didn't matter who started it, but just that it stopped.

"I'm sorry," she said again.

He shook his head, not turning his gaze away from her. "I don't want your apology," he said. "I never did."

She shrugged again, helplessly now. "Then what do you want?"

He laughed. "I'm not sure it matters."

"The first step to any mediation is being clear about what you want," she said.

Justin considered that, taking a breath. Then he shook his head again. His gaze lingered, his hand raising, almost touching her, before falling back to his side again. "I just want you to be happy, Kate," he said.

It took her breath away and she felt herself tremble.

"So what do you want?" he asked.

What did she want? A simple question with no simple answer. She wanted to go back to the beginning, to start it off right. She wanted to undo the years between them and set them on a better course. She wanted to hold him, right now, take him below deck and kiss him like nothing had happened. She wanted to run, far and fast, never looking back.

She swallowed, feeling desperate. "Cake," she said finally.

He blinked. "What?"

"I want cake," she said. "I'm not picky. Any kind will do. But something with lots and lots of frosting. Butter cream."

There was a flicker of incredulity on his face, but somehow he understood. Just like he always did. He laughed. "Well, maybe I want pie," he said.

"Well," she said. "Then I think the only fair thing to do is get ice cream."

Justin nodded. "Well if that is the only fair thing."

"Meeting half way," she said, offering him a brilliant smile. "That's what it's all about."

"And you say mediation always works," he said, with guarded humor. The tension eased and the familiarity was back in place, just like it was supposed to be.

She shrugged, grandly now. "It's a win-win," she said, because it didn't solve their problems. It didn't erase the past. But it was step toward the future - and a step she wouldn't try to fight.

He nodded, seeming to accept that. "Well," he said. "I think I like the sound of that."

Mediation required both parties to make concessions. This time, however, it didn't feel like she was giving anything up at all as Justin walked her down the pier.

 

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: February 18th, 2011 01:29 am (UTC)

Squee!!! I have my recorder ready to capture tonight's ep and if they give me anything half as good as this fic, I'll be over the moon.

I'm pulling for Justin. *winks*


Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 23rd, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
justin

You are so nice to me :) This is a show that I find myself liking a lot more than I think I should. It's all Justin's fault.

Thanks!

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