Author's Note: gah! That's the end! I really did it. I'm going to miss it, but I think I'll have a few other ways to keep us all occupied for awhile yet. After all, if I'm going to write a PotC fic, it needs to be before July 7th and we get new cannon to make all the other fics wrong. :P I really hope you enjoy this epilogue as much as the rest of the story. Happy New Year, and here's to more fics (to read and to write).
She was numb, which was probably a blessing. Otherwise each step would have sent pain shooting from her shoulder to her fingertips, and the clammy grip of her blood-covered clothing would have sent shivers of disgust down her back. Though the alternative, this waking sleep where she saw first Michael and then Mort fall dead at her feet, wasn't much better. She was still racked with shivers of both disgust and pain as the visions became too real and the paramedics had to guide her around obstacles in her path.
"Ma'am . . . move bodies . . . stretched for you . . ."
"No," she rasped. "No." It was bad enough that her charges had died for her, or because of her, or whatever she'd later call it and blame herself for. She wasn't about to submit them to the indignity of being piled on top of each other like kindling while they were jostled back to Briar Ridge and into some cold coroner's van.
The suggestion wasn't made again, or at least not so that she heard it. Shock was shutting down her systems, but she knew that'd she'd hear them if they decided to press the issue.
"Carly!" she gasped. The loud, abrasive sound of her own name made her ears ring and her head ache even as tight arms closed in around her causing their own torment.
"Sir . . . dislocated shoulder and bruised ribs . . ." That paramedics were talking in gibberish, but whatever it was they were saying had some effect on the steel embrace around her. It eased, becoming a support instead of a torture.
"Carly," her name was spoken in a softer voice, an understanding, sorrowful, concerned voice. It unlocked the tears that'd been trapped beneath the ice of her shock. They came not in a flood but one by one, making tracks of lament down her grimy cheeks.
Lawley blotted the salty drops with his thumb. "Come on, you need to go to the hospital."
She shook her head, the movement drawing her attention to the coroner's van as two black body bags were loaded into it. The sight wasn't a foreign one. Briar Ridge had seen it's fair share of deaths, even in the time she'd been there. Plus she'd down her internship at a hospital psychology ward where ambulances unloaded their cargos in silence all too often. But she'd never put so much effort into the contents of the body bags before.
Paying no attention to Carly's protests, Lawley ushered her to a waiting ambulance and was on the verge of picking her up and depositing her inside before she came back to herself. "Mick . . . please." He met her eyes; one was starting to swell, the flesh around it becoming an unpleasant shade of purple, but the message there was enough to make him stop.
"What is it?" he asked, knowing that there had to be a great deal on her mind.
"Don't make me go to the hospital." She didn't want to be there. She didn't want to be alone except for the occasional and impersonal visits from doctors and nurses. Besides, she wasn't that hurt. She wasn't the one that'd been shot.
His hands slid down her arms until they reached her chilled hands. Chafing them, trying to share his warmth if nothing else, he debated what he should do. "Alright. Let the paramedics check you out and then I'll take you home."
She shook her head again. "Mom's there. Don't want to explain."
He knew what she was asking him, but he didn't want to discuss it here in front of a mildly interested audience. "Let the paramedics take a look at you. If they say that you don't have to immediately see a surgeon, we'll discuss this farther."
As much as she didn't want to hear it, Carly knew he was making sense. She was hurt. Refusing treatment wouldn't change anything that had happened tonight. "Alright," she whispered, wincing as the soreness in her throat made itself apparent. Either…either she'd been head more tightly by the neck than she'd thought, or she'd unknowingly spent a good deal of time screaming.
Lawley helped her up into the ambulance, his hands firmly gripping her hips when a sore ankle buckled on her. Then – as much as he didn't want to – he stepped back and let the EMTs work.
"District attorney, can we get your help over here?" Lawley turned around to find that the Press had arrived at some point during the last hour and had set up camp. Detective Noel – obviously the more diplomatic of the two detectives – looked to be wrapping up her statement. "If you do the pretty, we can get them to decamp with a minimum of grumbles," explained the cop who'd gotten his attention. As if Lawley had forgotten how things worked. He didn't know; maybe he had temporarily.
"Of course," he murmured, striding away from this situation where he was helpless. But he could clear out the camera men and photographers for when Carly was ready to leave.
It was nearly a half an hour later when Lawley made it back to where the ambulance had been. He wasn't surprised to see it gone, or to see that Carly wasn't waiting around for him. Disappointed perhaps, but not surprised. For all that she'd insisted that she was alright, he'd known better.
Still . . . to have her at his house for the night, even if he ended up on the couch. . . Shaking his head, Lawley took his leave of things. There was nothing more he needed to do here, and if he wasn't mistaken, he'd be called into work at the crack of dawn to start the process of sorting this all out.
He was so busy dreading the coming morning that he nearly walked by a waiting Carly without noticing her. She was standing by her car, her face bandaged and her arm securely fixed in a sling. He watched her for a long time before walking over to her.
"I thought you'd gone to the hospital."
Carly just shook her head, and then held out her keys in her good hand. It was obvious that she didn't want to talk at the moment, and he didn't blame her. Instead, he simply took the keys as she expected him to, almost dropping them at their unexpected weight.
"Pepper spray?" he asked as he took a good look at her key chain. "And you had these with you?"
She nodded a patted her pocket.
"Why didn't you. . . ?" He was sorry that his question made the look in her eyes turn even bleaker, but he didn't understand. She could have used this on Ted at any time and gotten away.
"To risky," she murmured. "Guns and sudden moves are a poor combination. And it wouldn't have guaranteed anyone's safety. Even if I'd used it on Ted, I might have still been caught in a fire-fight between them. And I wasn't going to leave . . . him . . . behind."
Lawley nodded as he opened her door for her and helped her with her seatbelt. It made sense, and her devotion to her patient was nothing less than he'd expected.
In silence, Lawley drove them to his apartment, never mentioning his hesitancy to leave his motorcycle in the parking lot. After she was asleep, he'd take a taxi back to get it.
Carly spent three days at Lawley's house. She knew it was something of an imposition since she wasn't the most scintillating of houseguests. Truthfully, she rarely spoke, acknowledged him when he spoke, or even moved. Moving hurt, and her mind was too busy assimilating the facts, feelings, and sensations of that night to think of anything to say. If she could have gotten rid of her mother without a fight, she might have gone home; but there was no way in hell she could have gotten rid of her mother at a time like this, and Lawley – Mick – was good company, never forcing her to speak or move, even going so far as to answer her cell for her. He never told anyone where she was, though they probably guessed, and he informed his doorman that anyone coming to the building in search of her was to be denied entrance. She needed this time to heal.
But if her days were spent in silence, then her nights were marred by screams. Never before had she thought of herself as sensitive, but the nightmares that came hourly made her rethink that assumption. Each night followed the same pattern; she'd wake once, her body throbbing and covered in fear sweat. After an hour or so, she'd manage to fall back asleep. About an hour after that, she'd be woken up by Mick's hand on her shoulder and her own screams ringing in her ears. That's when he'd insist on her taking one of her sleeping pills that'd been prescribed.
"Why don't you insist that I take these to begin with," she rasped one night as he was pressing a glass of cool water into her hand. "It'd save you sleep if nothing else."
Lawley was silent for a long moment before answering. "Because you wouldn't take them even if I insisted. Besides, I want you to be comfortable around me. You're my guest, not my patient." He pressed her back against the pillows and untangled the sheets that had wrapped around her legs. "Now, as your host, I'm going to suggest you get some sleep if you're going to go to the funeral tomorrow." He dimmed the light but didn't turn it off. "Do you still want to go?"
Want to? No, Carly didn't want to go to the funerals for Michael and Mort. But the doctor inside of her knew she had to if she wanted to speed along the grieving process. That internal doctor was a pain in the ass sometimes . . . usually when it was making sense.
Carly fell asleep debating the pros and cons, once again failing to notice that Lawley sat by her side until she was out.
". . .we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to the earth we return. For so You ordained when You created me, saying, 'Dust you are, and to the dust you will return. . .'" Carly stood solemnly by, listening to the words of the familiar service. She wasn't really a member of the mourning party, what there was of it. Amy was supported by a man she thought had been Rainey's editor or agent. Either way, both men were there along with the head of the publishing company that'd distributed his books, a few friends who either hadn't been afraid of him or didn't fear him in death, and herself. That was it. A motley group of twelve. It didn't seem right when thousands had "known" him, or at least who he was. But the taint of insanity and murder covered him now, even when he was past such concerns.
Lawley had offered to accompany her, but she'd denied his offer. She hadn't felt that it was truly proper for her to be there, much less the man who'd been intent on prosecuting him. Now she wished she'd taken him up on his offer, and not just because her feet were starting to ache along with her shoulder and ribs. Being at Michael's funeral had been hard, but she hadn't been alone, not with half the gardening staff of Briar Ridge there and a good number of the medical staff. Here she was alone, even if by her own choice. She hadn't wanted to intrude upon the grief of these people she didn't know. Odd, considering how that was sometimes her job. And her own philosophical responses were starting to seem too much like the numbness she'd experienced the night they'd died.
The service ended and the mourners stepped forward to scoop up handfuls of earth that they slowly let trickle through their fingers and down on to the coffin. As before, Carly didn't join them; instead she walked away, missing the peace of the gardens behind Briar Ridge. While they might be a sad place to visit for some time, they would also be comforting right now, but she could hardly go there and expect to be left alone. This garden, habitation for the dearly departed though it might be, would have to do.
"Doctor Beckham! Please wait." Carly turned and saw Amy Rainey trailing her slowly. She remembered now what Mick had said about one of her friends coming over unexpectedly and finding the woman OD'd on sleeping pills. She'd had the presence of mind to call the paramedics and after getting her stomach pumped, Amy had apparently been as fine as she'd ever been . . . other than she had to live with the fact that her fiancé had drugged her nearly to the point of death.
"I wanted to thank you for coming, Dr. Beckham," Amy said once she drew up alongside Carly.
As innocent as the comment was, it set off Carly's over-inflated sense of guilt. "Don't thank me," she said flatly before setting off at a pace that caused her ribs to loudly protest.
"Don't thank you for what?" Amy, being in better physical shape if nothing else, easily kept up. "Don't thank you for what you did for Mort? If nothing else, he was able to die knowing who he was, not locked away in his own mind." When Carly didn't answer, the woman continued. "I really know how to pick them don't I?"
With a much put-upon sigh, Carly stopped. "I get it: self-pity looks just as good on you as it does on me. Is there some way I can help you, Mrs. Rainey?"
"Yes, stop blaming yourself for Mort's death." The other woman's face turned serious. "I've talked to the district attorney. He said that you were taking the deaths hard."
Carly shrugged, admitting nothing.
"I've been there you know, after Mort was shot while trying to kill me. I understand how easy it is to blame yourself. But as a psychiatrist, don't you understand that sometimes there's no easy answer? That there's nothing that can be done for people who've never sought help?"
"Doesn't matter. I'm trained to see people like Ted. If I'd recognized what I was seeing while we were still inside the hospital, something could have been done. Even if that something wouldn't have helped him, it would have stopped him."
Amy shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. You can't know that." A voice called from the distance, and Amy sighed. "Just think about what I said."
Carly watched her leave, then continued with her walk.
Her brother's wedding was the next day, and Carly was there, second in the line of bridesmaids. She was glad chatter wasn't truly required of her, otherwise she wouldn't have gone. It'd been all she could do to go to her own home to her bridesmaid's dress and her mother's questions. Not that she had truly needed to worry on that score. Her mother was unusually discreet, both when Carly left the reception early, and when she arrived home to find her daughter sitting in the dark, still in her wedding finery. The two women sat for several hours in silence, watching the flames of the gas fireplace before Carly said, "I think I like him."
"Lawley. He's not at all annoying."
The conversation was left at that, and both women went to bed.
To Carly's great surprise, life went after that. What do you know, the Beatles were right, she thought one day as she stood in the staff room, going over charts. It'd been several months since that horrible night in the woods. Autumn's briskness scented the air with the spiciness of fallen leaves, and the sunlight was the color of butter and just as lazy. Her workload had been light since she'd come back to work; there were no more patients to be seen for the rest of the afternoon. With the rest of the day clear before her, Carly decided to do something she'd been putting off – visit the memorial that had been raised for Michael and Mort.
Except for a few gardeners carrying hedge clippers, rakes, and other tools to start the process of making the grounds ready for winter, Carly didn't see anyone. It was at times like that this that she missed Todd. The rascally old man had finally gone into retirement. She missed him, even though she knew it was long past time that he start taking it easy. But he'd stayed long enough to make sure that the memorial that'd been put up hadn't hurt any of his beloved plants.
A small copse of birch trees, their white bark shining in the afternoon sun, marked the place where Carly herself had decided to have the memorial set up. It was a place that seemed so very peaceful, closed off partially from the ravages of civilization but close enough to be tended. A small reflecting pond had been put in the middle of the ring of trees. In the spring wildflowers would crowd the banks. There were no benches, nothing that would draw people to linger except for the natural beauty. The only hint that this was something more important than an unexpected pocket garden was the bronze plaque that had been set in a three-feet-tall slab of granite. Only the men's names, birthdates and dates of death were inscribed on it.
It was so simple, but everything seemed simple in the face of death.
Carly turned around; she'd been unaware that anyone had followed her here. Who she found was Toby. He'd rejoined the land of the living about two weeks after the circumstances that'd driven her here. He was still relearning how to talk, and the left side of his face and his left arm and hand were partially paralyzed, but he almost seemed to be doing better that she was.
She smiled at him, silently inviting him to lean against the tree next to hers.
"Ring," he said, his voice just slightly slurred.
"Obviously there's nothing wrong with your eyes." Carly raised her hand and looked at the diamond ring that'd taken up permanent residence on her finger last week and shrugged. "Everything's seemed simple since the night they died," she said, voicing her earlier thought. "He asked, I said yes, we set the date for next September." She shrugged again. "It's time I really moved on." Not just from this, but from her earlier life, the drinking and the divorce and the years of hurt she'd put herself through.
"You sound like Mort, you know." Her eyes slanted over towards him just in time to see his wry grin. "Alright, I'll bite: what brought you all the way out here?"
"Your girlfriend is here?" He nodded. "I assume you'd like me to come back with you to meet her." He nodded again.
Carly sighed, already missing the peace of this place, but not regretting her choice to leave. She'd decided to move on. This was part of it. "Alright. Let's go back."
Note: the funeral service taken (and slightly altered) from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, according to the Episcopalian Church.
Author's Thanks: many thanks to everyone who reviewed at any time during the fic. You guys all kept me going when I perhaps didn't want to, and spurred me on when I was simply procrastinating. Thank you.
Mayorst (That was quite possibly one of the best quotes in the entire fic. And yes, I'm afraid that Mort is dead. I woke up one morning and just knew it had to be done.); Sparrow Lover (I must say that one of Carly's faults is having way too much faith in her patients. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it gets her into trouble. I am planning on writing another JD-movie-themed story as soon as I get 'Days' finished. So far, it's looking like a PotC fic.); Stahlfan125 (here it is. Hope it was worth the considerably longer than I'd planned wait.); Shire cat (Do I manage my character exits well? I was thinking it was all a little too abrupt. But then again, I wasn't happy that they had to die. I was kinda resisting it.); Rogue-Pirate (Don't apologize for language. I'm a big girl. I can handle it. You any quotes you like, I'm not stingy with them. Tricksy is definitely from LotR. And yes, I definitely would. That's something you've got to learn about me. .); The Evil Potions Mistress (great screen name. .); Blue Autumn Sky (It is it. I am something of a sadistic and vindictive writer. It's really too bad for my characters…and any others that I might borrow.); Dawnie-7 (I like the look that stunned readers get on their face. I know because I've had it a time or two. Every time I make it, I wonder if the author is chortling in glee like I would be if our positions were reversed.); Lynx (I like Poe…funny, because I never did in school. author is rolling on the floor laughing her holiday arse off I always felt sorry for Gollum. It wasn't his fault the ring drove him insane…and he reminds me of Mort. I have really killed Mort. It's the reason he's a little miffed at me at the moment. He'll get over it soon enough if I write another SW fic though.); Mirriam Q Webster (It wasn't too cut and dried? I still feel that way. When I get to editing this fic next year ha! I might have to go back and rework that bit.); websurffer (Why would I kill Mort? It's the way the story ended, and we all know what happens when you try to mess with that. . But seriously, that is why it happened. I couldn't imagine how I was going to wrap everything up with him alive, I'd been struggling with it for months, and then I knew…he had to die. :P And yes, there were some happy endings to compensate for my extreme evilness.); Charlie Quill (Yes, I did. And slipping the humor and Carly's grumpiness into the last chapter was probably the best part about writing it.); Merrie (Ted was a very good bad guy. However, since I didn't know that earlier on in the fic, I'm going to have to go back and do some editing to point some more fingers. Not to mention add a bit more Michael. He kinda appeared out of nowhere in that last chapter.); tadri33 (I'm glad you liked the last chapter. Or at least that's what I gathered from your review. ;P How young is "younger person"? I'm always curious about things like that, because I'm not that old myself. And considering you hear stories about 13 year olds getting stories published, then I'm ancient. :P); Isabella Puccini (Smeep! Ha! I just now realized that's a JA thing. I'm so used to using it that it's normal to see it in other places. And here's the epilogue you requested.); Pirate Rhi (I really wanted to update soon, but the epilogue was really stubborn about being written.); Elwyndra (I hope you didn't die. I'd really hate for that to happen. And I suppose that since you reviewed right after Christmas, that this update wasn't too long of a wait. I'm glad of that.); butterflywings32 (I killed him. I admit it. There's not enough SW fics where Mort gets it in the end. And on top of that, it was simply the right way for things to end. I understand that it was sudden though. Perhaps I'll fix that one of these days. Right now I'm so ready to be done with this fic. I'm glad you've enjoyed the trip though. .)