Many a Slip

by Jane Davitt

"I can't believe it." Blair's voice is all bubble and spit, anger and incredulity boiling over. He can hardly get the words out as he stalks down the steps of the courthouse, Jim matching his pace. "Released! How could they do that? He was guilty! How could they?"

"I know, okay?" Jim feels scalded by Blair's wrath after being flayed raw on the witness stand. He shares Blair's emotions, but right now he just wants to go home.

Blair comes to a jarring halt, his hand clamping down on Jim's arm. Behind them, at the top of the steps, Robert Jansen is all smiles, talking to a reporter.

"Guess he'll be spending Christmas at home, not in a cell," Jim comments sourly.

They stand together, frozen in place, and the weight of their regard brings Jansen's gaze around to them.

His smile turns feral, a snarl of triumph, and Jim stiffens, every muscle tensing. Blair's hand loosens its grip enough to pat and then squeeze gently, a warning, a comfort, a reminder of who Jim is and what he can't do to the man the legal system has released, two days before Christmas, while the child he killed while driving drunk lies buried with one of her gifts, still wrapped, in the coffin with her.

Jansen brushes off the reporter and takes the steps in a slow stroll, knowing they'll wait for him, knowing they won't walk away.

Ahead of him, a child is eating a banana, messily, globs and chunks of it decorating his face. Unnoticed by his mother, he drops the skin.

Jansen doesn't seem to see it, his pace quickening, and Jim allows himself to hope. He's never seen anyone slip on a banana skin, ever. It's a staple of so many cartoons, but it's not really all that likely; the yellow and brown skin is a bright splash against the white steps, and even if Jansen's attention is fixed on the man who arrested him -- not Jim's case, no, but every cop on duty had been looking for the car that hit little Stacy, and he'd seen the scraped paintwork and the small dent where -- well, it would be a miracle if Jansen didn't spot it.

Blair's noticed it, too. Jim hears the swift intake of breath and then Blair runs up the steps, one step, two, calling out a warning.

Only Blair.

And Jansen glances down, mistrustful, suspicious, and then smirks, jumps over the step with the splayed out skin --

-- and his heel strikes a messy, saliva-softened smear of pulped banana that Jim's eyes can see in nauseating detail and he slips, arms and legs cartwheeling wildly.

Jim was already moving when Blair surged forward but they're both too late to break the fall that leaves Jansen spending Christmas in a hospital bed, back snapped and cracked.

As miracles go, it's on the dark side, but Jim still sends a silent thank you when he hears the news.

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