Okay, part of this final (yes, final) chapter is thumbing my nose at those Eliot/Olivia people who seem not to notice that he has a very nice wife. But, since I want you to pay attention to the story, I'm doing it now instead. ELIOT AND OLIVIA ARE NEVER EVER GOING TO GET TOGETHER! MUH-WAH-HAH-HAH-HAH(*cough cough*).

Here we go.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Chapter Ten: Casey

----------------------------------------------------------------------

For the first time since Ashely's death, Gina was smiling.

Not hugely, not foolishly, but there was smile on her face that wasn't diluted by sorrow. That made Casey pretty damn happy.

It was June seventeenth, and the art studio that had offered to showcase Gina's work was crowded, crowded with people who were busy admiring and buying canvases nearly as fast as Gina could put them out. Gina's smile, for once, appeared to be a permanent expression as she stood beside Ashely's portrait, which had a sign that marked it not for sale "under any circumstances"- and even then people tried to buy it.

"I'd say this is a start," Olivia commented from where she was standing beside Casey. They'd decided to stop by after work, but had in no way expected the mob they were now viewing.

Casey laughed and grabbed Olivia's hand, dragging her forward. "Gina!" she called as soon as they were close enough.

Gina turned and broke into a grin, a real one. "Case! Look at this! Look at it!" She waved her arms excitedly. "And I've gotten ten commissions to do portraits and twelve- count 'em, twelve- phone numbers."

"You've arrived, kiddo," Casey said, hugging her sister in congratulations.

"Yeesh, Gina," Olivia said, ruffling the artist's hair affectionately. "You're a rich girl."

"So I'll be getting my down payment on the loft back," Casey stated, laughing.

"With interest, honey," Gina said. "And..." She disppeared into the back room and returned with two wrapped canvases. "Gina Novak originals." She handed one to each of them, grinning. Then a suit-wearing man approached her about one of her pieces, and she was off, fluttering about like the charismatic butterfly she had been before the attack.

Olivia checked her watch. "Ah, shit. We're supposed to meet Eliot and Kathy for dinner in half an hour." She swept her eyes over the room one more time, and then headed out the door, canvas in hand.

Casey had been surprised that Olivia had outted herself to her partner, and even more surprised at Eliot's casual acceptance- she'd had him pegged for the homophobic Catholic type, but he was great about it, and so was his wife, who was a sweetheart if there ever was one. Kathy had actually taken it upon herself to get to know Casey better, for, as she put it, they'd been "looking out for Olivia" for quite some time. The kids even seemed to like her okay, though Casey knew she'd never been great with kids. Gina had been introduced, of course, and the twins gravitated to her like a magnet after that, for even though Lizzie and Dickie were fraternal, not identical, they liked the idea of having another set of twins around.

All in all, Casey's life was better than it had been three months ago. She missed Ashely- it still hurt like hell to think that she was gone- but she had so many more amazing people in her life, central of them being the woman who was holding her hand as they walked briskly down the street to Amici's.

'If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.' [Nietzsche]

Both Gina and Casey had faced the abyss, and neither had jumped in. Casey was ready to take on the world.

Gina was already on top of it.

---------------------------------------------------------

---------------------------------------------------------

Write me, people. Good, no good? Sequel, no sequel? (It is within my creative powers to come up with a sequel, you know.)