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Those Ever Resolute

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Just before the firm closed for Christmas--the law may never sleep, but the firm's partners respected federal holidays--Alicia was collecting the files she'd need for the week and tucking them into her briefcase. She wasn't taking more than one vacation day--the litigation they were prepping for started the first week of the new year, and even one day and Christmas were stretching it a bit. Alicia had worked it out with Diane, though, agreeing to work from home on Wednesday and Thursday in exchange for Monday and Tuesday. Knowing herself, she'd probably be reviewing the depositions anyway before bed, but she'd promised Grace that she'd tear herself away from work for at least some of the holiday.

Alicia smiled to herself as she closed her briefcase; it was only a couple of years ago now that the week of Christmas would have meant cooking, baking, organizing child care among the PTA and going caroling through the neighborhood. She had loved that life, loved being so present with her children and a fixture in her community. But she didn't miss it--whatever had happened when Peter brought scandal to their family, the few friends who still stayed in touch or bothered with the occasional email, it was part of her past. It wasn't even cause for nostalgia, not anymore. Alicia liked being a person with a briefcase a bit more than she'd liked being a person with a bundt cake.

Most of the staff had already left, and Alicia walked out slowly, putting the copiers into sleep mode and turning off individual office lights as she went. She waved to the handful of people who were still sitting at their desks, and took a moment to duck into the Legal Aid cubicles, smiling at a handful of baby pictures and urging people to go home. She had some time to spare: Jackie was at the apartment, presumably playing the holiday grandmother role to the hilt. Although, if she was flirting with her minder, that would make for some interesting holiday post mortems with the kids.

Post mortems. She really needed to get out of the office.

She made it to the elevators, tucking her scarf into her coat while she was waiting for one to arrive. A soft, polite ding, and a car opened, revealing Kalinda. Alicia never knew how Kalinda managed to wear the same uniform of miniskirt and tights even in the winter, when the snow would seemingly make a single thin layer uncomfortable.

"Alicia," Kalinda said, and Alicia smiled.

"Hello," she said. "You should be going the other way--don't you know it's a holiday?"

Kalinda's quicksilver smile raced across her face, and she said, "I'm not much of a celebrator of holidays, generally."

Alicia hesitated before asking, "Do you have family to see?"

Kalinda looked her straight in the eye and said, "None that I care to."

Alicia ducked her head a bit; years into this, and the fragile repair of their friendship between them, and there were still far more things Alicia didn't know about Kalinda than what she did. She didn't begrudge Kalinda her secrets, and hoped she'd never have another reason to. But she couldn't help feeling so very sad, sad for Kalinda, sad for whatever grief Kalinda had suffered in the past.

"I'd invite you to mine--" she started, and Kalinda laughed, a clear, pretty sound.

"I can't imagine that would be fun for anyone, could you?" Kalinda said.

Alicia felt her smile turn into a bit of a smirk, and said, "Well. It would be fun for me."

Kalinda laughed again, and Alicia with her.

"Will you text me," Alicia said impulsively, "if you need to? Want to. If you want to."

Kalinda tilted her head a bit to the side, a familiar expression of trying to puzzle something out. Her ponytail swung beautifully in the ambient light from the receptionist's desk, and Alicia tightened her grip on her briefcase.

"Okay," Kalinda said.

Alicia smiled at her, relieved for some reason she didn't want to look at too closely. "Good," she said, and made for the elevator, but Kalinda's leather-gloved hand stopped her from pressing the button to open the car doors again.

"Wait," Kalinda said. "Would you like to get a drink?"

Kalinda's face was open, but blank, like Alicia could read anything into it except what she wanted; which was what she always wanted, to know what Kalinda herself was thinking.

"I--" she started, and then paused, letting a smile crease her face. "I would love to. I can't stay very long, I'm sorry, but the kids are waiting--"

"No, no, of course," Kalinda said, reaching around Alicia so that her body pressed up against Alicia's for one long moment. Alicia thought she could feel Kalinda's heat through their coats; she closed her eyes briefly until Kalinda moved back, having pressed the button for the elevator. "We won't be long," Kalinda continued.

"Okay," said Alicia, and her voice sounded quiet even to herself.

They made their way mostly in silence to the bar, Alicia making a point to say "Happy Holidays" to Michael, the security guard, as they left. Kalinda smiled and shook her head a bit when Alicia did so, and Alicia shrugged and smiled back.

The bar was not quite dead, but partway there--plenty of the downtown crowd had already decamped for holiday travel and holiday parties. It was easy enough to get a seat at their favored part of the bar, and Holly, the bartender, didn't blink an eye as she poured them both tequila.

"Just one," Alicia warned. "Then I'm switching to beer."

Kalinda grinned at her, and they held their glasses up to toast.

"To holidays," Alicia said.

"To the people that escape them," Kalinda countered, and they tipped back the tequila with easy familiarity.

There was a happy buzz in the room, and Alicia waved Holly down for a beer for her, another shot for Kalinda. Alicia rested her chin on her hand, slumping a bit over the bar. "Don't you miss it?"

"The holidays?" Kalinda guessed, and Alicia nodded.

Kalinda shook her head no, and sipped at her glass. "I don't know that it ever mattered much to me. And I've been living in America for so long, the whole family and Christmas routine lost its shine some time ago."

"I still love it," Alicia sighed, and Kalinda laughed.

"I'm shocked," she said, a tease in her voice.

"It's just--it's nice, you know? That people tend to be kinder, generate a little joy in the winter months. It makes me happy."

Kalinda raised an eyebrow at her. "You do know that suicides, assaults, and domestics rise during the holidays?"

Alicia made a displeased noise into her beer, and Kalinda laughed again. Alicia so enjoyed the sound.

"What do you wish for," Kalinda said suddenly, "during the holidays?"

Alicia paused a moment to think, and then she smiled. "I want my kids' faces to look like they were five again, just for a moment, on Christmas morning." She ran a finger around the rim of her pint glass and asked, "What about you?"

Kalinda gave a half smile, and tipped her glass back. She stood, throwing two twenties on the bar, and said, "Just this." Then she curved down, and pressed a simple kiss to the corner of Alicia's mouth, pulling back to tuck a lock of hair behind Alicia's ear, and smiled. "Just this. Happy Christmas, Alicia." She turned and left, and Alicia watched her go.

Her fingers went to her mouth, wondering if Kalinda's lipstick had left a mark. It felt like it had, and Alicia closed her eyes, letting the sounds of the bar fill her mind.

Kalinda was a damned tease, but New Year's Eve was coming, and Alicia had learned a thing or two about tit-for-tat in the last couple of years. She smiled, took another sip of her beer, picked up her briefcase, and went home to her family.