Tis The Season by Henabrey
See Chapter One for disclaimers and all that other administrative stuff.
This is it! The final chapter! Hope you've enjoyed reading the story so far as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
Chapter Twelve: Joy to the World
It was two days later, and the morning of Christmas Eve. It was cold and foggy; icy fingers of mist wrapped themselves like seaweed around the trees and gravestones of the cemetery on the city's outskirts and coiled tendrils of smoke through the small knot of people standing huddled together by the side of an empty grave. Snow, newly fallen the night before, clung to the bare branches of the tree above their heads and coated the graves in a blanket of white, and the scent of it was heavy on the air. There was little to be heard; the mumbles of the gathered people drowned out the distant sound of traffic. Despite the cold weather, the cemetery was a place of peace and tranquillity.
When Lilly and Scotty had arrived ten minutes before, there had only been five others there; John Wilson and four others they didn't know, all obviously homeless but wearing new-looking coats and scarves. They all seemed to be at least on speaking terms with the lawyer, and two at least seemed to be friends of his. Wilson had greeted each of the detectives with a large smile and a handshake, obviously pleased to see them. The other men had eyed them suspiciously, clearly too used to cops being the bad guys to be comfortable in their presence, until John had introduced them as the detectives who'd caught Nicholas' killer. The looks of suspicion cleared in an instant and were replaced by broad grins and words of welcome. One man, who called himself Nero, offered to share his hip flask with Scotty.
John was standing a little apart from the other four men, by the side of a headstone covered by a thick black cloth. Every so often, he would glance at his watch and look down the slope to the cemetery's car park, empty but for his Audi and the Taurus Lilly and Scotty had borrowed from headquarters for the drive over. "They'll be here, Mis'er Wilson," Nero told him cheerfully. "Ain't nobody gonna miss today."
"Yes, yes," John said, still staring down the slope. "I'm sure you're right." And he made an effort to look elsewhere, but Lilly saw his eyes steal to his watch and to the car park every thirty seconds or so while they waited. It seemed to get colder by the minute, and Lilly found herself huddled into Scotty for warmth despite the thick coat, gloves, scarf and hat she wore. Not that he seemed to mind, though.
Finally, the rumble of an approaching vehicle caused everyone's heads to turn towards the cemetery's entrance, and Lilly smiled to see a dilapidated yellow school bus turn into the car park, haemorrhaging thick black smoke, with the familiar dark face of Freddie Taylor at the steering wheel. The engine groaned and shuddered into silence as the bus pulled to a lurching stop. God knew how Freddie had got it there, Lilly thought - it seemed to be on its last legs. The door swung open on the second or third attempt, and disgorged what seemed like the entire population of Philadelphia's homeless onto the frozen ground. Lilly watched, amazed, as the seemingly endless stream of people exited the bus. It was like one of those clown cars - they must have been sitting six to a seat.
"Wow," she heard John say softly as he watched the newcomers make their way up the path to join them. "Look at them all."
Anna Taylor, serene and proud, was at the head of the crowd; by her side walked Kevin Morgan, resplendent in orange and yellow, who nodded his head regally when he saw Lilly and Scotty. Behind them straggled a long line of people, many of whom Lilly recognised as those she and Scotty had interviewed three days before at Freddie's shelter. All of them had been warmly dressed in new and clean coats and all greeted John Wilson before taking their place in a ring around the gravesite. Angie Dickson brought up the rear, shuffling along with the aid of Rosa and Freddie, who had to kick the door of the bus several times before it would close.
"Borrowed it from a friend of mine," he explained to Scotty cheerfully when he reached them. "Damned thing barely runs, but it was the best I could do."
"I am most pleased to see you here, Detectives," Kevin said, appearing silently at Lilly's elbow.
"You too," Lilly said, meaning it. Kevin was also wearing a new coat, a bright, sunflower yellow with matching tophat. "That's a great coat."
"Thankyou," Kevin said. "It was a gift, from a most generous and anonymous benefactor." Lilly saw his eyes steal their way over to John Wilson, who was pointedly not looking in their direction, and she had no doubt that the new clothing had come from him.
"What are you goin' to do now, Kevin?" Scotty asked. "Goin' travellin' again?"
"Exactly so," Kevin said. "I leave the day after tomorrow."
"Where to this time?" Lilly asked.
"Well, Detective, I have been to thirty-seven states," Kevin said, proudly. "I have thirteen more to visit in this wondrous country of ours. After that, I do not know."
"Good for you," Scotty told him.
Kevin nodded. "I can only hope that Nicholas, wherever he is, can see how I have taken his words to heart. Life is short, he told me, much too short for needless fear. Do you remember I told you that? You should listen to those words also, I think."
"I have," Scotty said, and Lilly felt his eyes flick over to her. She blushed.
"I am pleased," Kevin said. "For you deserve every happiness. Both of you do."
"Thankyou," Lilly said, as he pressed her hand and moved on.
Freddie and his busload of people were not the only new arrivals; from Lilly's vantage point towards the edge of the group of mourners, she could see more people working their way towards them from the other end of the cemetery, and there were other cars now joining the bus in the car park. On and on they came, appearing through the fog like ghosts, singly or in groups of two or three; homeless, hookers and housewives all moving as one through the graves. Obvious ex-junkies who still wore the pale, haunted stare of prisoners, teenagers wrapped in leather and attitude, suit-clad office workers, two Jeeps full of bling-covered gang members, even a couple of people she recognised as being high up in the ranks at City Hall, all here for the same reason. The same man. Lilly smiled at Carmel Watson, who appeared out of the mist arm in arm with Hachiko Matsumi. Paul Lawson, newly out on bail and shifty-eyed, wasn't far behind them. Lilly had no idea how John had managed to spread the word to so many people from so many different walks of life.
Finally, twenty minutes after her arrival, Lilly found herself standing with Scotty on the edge of a crowd that must have numbered well over two hundred. They were slightly up the slope from the headstone, standing under a tree that waved its naked branches in the slight breeze, and they had a good view over the heads of the crowd to John Wilson, who was standing in the midst of the circle and clearly touched by the turnout.
"Well," he said, and had to stop to clear his throat. "Well. Thankyou for coming."
"Wouldn't miss it!" piped a voice from somewhere at the back, and the crowd laughed as one.
"Quite. Well, we all know why we are here," John said, and the crowd sobered. "We are here to give thanks for the life of a good man and to mourn his untimely passing. Maybe we should have done this two years ago, when he first died, but I think that now that his murderer has finally been put behind bars is perhaps as good a time as any." There were a few appreciative glances towards Lilly and Scotty by the people standing around them, and Lilly felt herself blush again as John continued.
"Like all of you, I only knew Nicholas for the last three weeks or so of his life. Where he was before that, what he did with his life before that, none of us know. It's not much of a eulogy, I guess. He lived on a street corner and he wished people Merry Christmas," he smiled, and a few people laughed. "But it was a lot more than that. His words touched people, touched all of you, so much so that two years later you've come here to say goodbye to a man you hardly knew. I look around at you all, and I know so many of you have changed your lives because of his words." His eyes lingered on Carmel Watson, who was crying silently, and Kevin Morgan. "You've left bad situations, sought out new horizons, kicked the habits of a lifetime, all because of the simple words of one very special man. And maybe that's the best eulogy of all, if at the end of your life someone can say, 'he made the world a better place'."
There were sniffles from various places in the crowd, and John paused to clear his throat. Lilly felt Scotty shift beside her. "I've had this created," John went on, indicating the headstone at his feet, "to act as a memorial for him, even if he himself isn't here to rest beneath it. But I think the greatest memorial we could have for him would be to carry on his work. If each and every one of you were to try to make your life and the lives of those around you just a little bit better, well, what a wonderful legacy that would be." There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd, and Lilly could see Kevin Morgan nodding vigorously.
"So, without further ado, I'd like to unveil this memorial stone to Nicholas, whoever he was, wherever he is now. Let it be an inspiration to us all, as a reminder that we should each, in our own small way, live our lives as he would have wanted." He bent down and uncovered the stone by his feet. Lilly couldn't see it from where she was standing, but there was a smattering of applause from those at the front of the circle who could read its words. "And now, if there are any of you who would like to say anything?" John asked, glancing around the crowd.
There was a pause, while those in the crowd looked at each other silently, before a woman in a leopard-print coat and three inch stilettos stepped forward. "I was a crackhead whore," she said baldly, and some people clapped. "Goin' down a dark path, before I met Santa..." She told the crowd in a matter of fact tone about her life before she'd met Nicholas, and how she'd kicked the habit with his encouragement, and when she'd finished there was another brief pause before another woman spoke up, and then a teenager, and a man who'd turned from a life of crime, and another and another and another until they were all virtually speaking over the top of each other in their effort to tell their stories. Carmel Watson spoke up bravely, holding Hachiko's hand for comfort, the tears running freely down her face, before Kevin told his story proudly, before Paul Lawson spoke in a shuffling, halting manner, before even Angie Dickson, refusing to be rushed, said a few words, and on and on it went, from one part of the crowd to another, all with the same story of the simple words that had changed their lives.
Finally, after what felt like hours, the crowd had talked itself out and fell silent. Many seemed surprised that they had spoken out at all, about matters so personal, in front of such a large group of people. There were a few embarrassed smiles. John Wilson was clearly struggling to speak. "Thankyou," he said finally, in a husky voice. "Thank all of you."
And without another word, without a sign of goodbye, the crowd began to disperse as slowly and silently as they had arrived, departing in trickles of two or three people at a time. All paused in front of the tombstone for a moment, paying their respects, before disappearing into the fog that still threaded its fingers through the trees and headstones around them. A cool wind rustled the branches above Lilly's head as she watched Carmel and Hachiko turn to leave. Just before they vanished into the mist, they turned to face what was left of the crowd. Carmel's eyes found Lilly's, and she smiled. It was quavery and weak at first, then, after heaving a visible sigh, it became stronger and fuller, transforming her face. It looked as though it had been a long time between grins for her, but Lilly hoped the smile was a sign of things to come. She smiled back, which became a grin of her own as she saw Paul Lawson make his way over to them cautiously. There was an awkward pause, and then all three turned together, arm in arm, and were lost to the fog.
On Lilly's other side, Anna Taylor was leading her group of shelter residents back down the hill towards the dilapidated school bus. Many of them waved to the two detectives as they left, and Kevin tipped his tophat in their direction and promised to send them a postcard. Angie Dickson brought up the rear again, accompanied by Rosa. The bus was coaxed back to life by Freddie, and it lurched out of the car park, covering the nearby cars with black smoke as it left.
Eventually, there was just John Wilson and two or three others left at the gravesite with Scotty and Lilly. John was deep in conversation with the other men, who were passing around Nero's hip flask with great enthusiasm, leaving the two detectives standing alone under the rustling tree. Without the other people for warmth, the bitter cold began to seep into Lilly's thin frame, and she knew she couldn't stay there much longer. Still, she made no effort to move.
"This was a weird case," she said finally, after a minute of silence.
Scotty turned to her, arched one eyebrow.
"Well," she said. "Did you notice that Helen brought us the Santa hat exactly two years after Nicholas was killed? To the day."
"Huh," Scotty said. "Yeah, you're right."
"And the same day we start investigating, Paul Lawson gets arrested, and if that hadn't happened we'd never have known who was responsible for the assault."
"And we'd probably never have found out about Carmel and Jerry," Scotty agreed.
"Right," Lilly said, suppressing an involuntary shiver. Damn, it was cold out here. "Which led us to Bill and Helen's affair, and Jeremy's involvement. We'd probably never have solved the case at all if it weren't for that."
"Yeah," said Scotty, mulling it over. "You're right, it's weird."
"Kinda like someone was watchin' over us, somehow. Helpin' us out."
Lilly smiled, sneaking a look at Scotty while pretending to watch John Wilson talking to his companions. "And...there was the mistletoe."
Scotty looked at her, surprised to hear her bring it up. It was the first time in two days she'd brought up any subject anywhere close to the question between them. She'd told him the morning of Jeremy's confession that she was thinking about the prospect of a relationship, and then...nothing. He'd have guessed she'd decided against it, except that every so often he'd feel her eyes on him as they worked in the bullpen, and every so often when he caught her gaze she'd smile this secret, shy smile. Not trying to be seductive, but seducing him all over again every time she did it. He was lost in her, he had to admit it. "The mistletoe?"
"I mean...well, I only got stuck under it when I was with you."
He didn't need to look at her to know she was blushing. He could hear it in her voice. "Yeah, me too."
"And we haven't seen any since we...since New York."
He thought about it. She was right, they hadn't. "It's the universe. Conspirin' against us." He felt her smile.
"In fact, I didn't even see any mistletoe, anywhere, until we started this case."
"Me neither." He glanced over at her, but she was staring resolutely straight ahead at the fog, not looking in his direction. "You think it means anythin'?"
She met his gaze, then, looking a little startled. She'd probably never considered it; she didn't seem the type to believe in fate, or destiny, or supernatural matchmakers. Neither was he, really, but this weird case seemed to have gone to his head and had him willing to believe in just about anything. And it would explain the strange message he'd got in his fortune cookie. Or maybe he just wanted to believe that if he and Lilly were meant to be, they would have to be. Just because someone unseen was sending them mistletoe. Valens, you're a romantic idiot. Lilly was still looking at him, looking like she wanted to say something. Her mouth opened a little, taking in air, and then closed. Scotty shook his head. "Forget it. Probably just means we've been workin' too hard. We need a very large drink and a very long vacation."
She laughed softly, a startling sound in the still, fog-strewn air. "You're probably right."
They lapsed into silence once more, Lilly with her hands jammed deep in her pockets for warmth, eyes stealing away from Scotty's to take in the cemetery, the branches waving over her head, the men standing by the gravestone. Now that the crowd had dispersed she could read the inscription carved into the stone: Nicholas, followed by the date of his death, and underneath, in an elegant scrolled script, he changed the world with his words. Lilly smiled. She could use him right about now, she mused - she needed his words of guidance to help her make her choice. She felt bad for making Scotty wait all this time while she wavered back and forth, and she thought if she waited any longer he'd probably just give up and figure she'd decided against the prospect of a relationship with him. He'd be hurt, she knew, and she didn't want him thinking that she couldn't at least have the courtesy to tell him no, it was just...she couldn't make up her mind. It was too hard trying to go against the habits and lessons learned during a lifetime of repeated heartbreaks to just go where her heart wanted to go. Yes, she wanted him, she acknowledged that. She couldn't deny her feelings for him. But...she'd been hurt so often in the past, and her fear of opening herself up to someone, coupled with the practical reasons why sleeping with a work colleague was a bad idea, meant her head was telling her to say no. It was safer. Scotty would still be her friend if she said no, and she wouldn't be risking yet more heartache. She should just get it over with, tell him no.
Only...she didn't want to. Her heart was telling her to say yes.
Lilly sighed. That was why she needed someone like Nicholas, to take her by the hand and talk her through it, talk her into it, one way or the other. Otherwise she'd be wandering around in a limbo of her own making forever. She needed a sign of some kind, some arrow pointing her in the right direction...
A shaft of weak sunlight, piercing the clouds, fell onto the cemetery grounds not far from where she and Scotty were standing. Her gaze followed it, her mind wandering among the gravestones, weighing her choices until she was lost in a fog of her own thoughts. Scotty played a prominent role in her musings. He was a good man, she thought to herself. He'd be good for her, if she'd let him. He'd worked with her for years, knew the way she operated; he shared her devotion to the job, and would respect her need for space and solitude while still giving her the support and love she craved. She knew instinctively that he could take whatever she threw at him, unlike all the other men over the years who just hadn't been able to deal with her...
So what's the problem? asked a small voice inside her. Just grab him and kiss him already. Lilly sighed again. If only it were that easy. But there was a solid block of icy fear inside her that wouldn't melt, that blackly insisted that if she said yes to Scotty and the relationship went the way of all the others she'd ever had, she'd be losing a lot more than just a lover. It would jeopardise their partnership and their friendship, two things she cherished, and she just wasn't sure she could take the risk. She wanted to - at least she thought she did - but that fear in her heart stopped her in her tracks. A sign, that was what she needed. Something to help her choose the right path...
Her eyes, meandering over the patch of wavering sunlight that fell among the graves, sensed a movement. Her gaze focused. She thought she could see through the fog...a person standing by a gravestone...a hint of red...
The sound of someone calling brought her back to her present surroundings; the men John Wilson had been talking to had started to move off into the mist with much smiling and waving. She and Scotty both nodded in farewell to the men as they made their way down the slope towards the city. There was a final wave from the one who'd called himself Nero, and then they were gone, swallowed by the fog, leaving just the three of them standing by Nicholas' empty grave. Lilly looked back to where she thought she'd seen the standing figure - there was nobody there, no hint there ever had been. This case has got to my head, she thought. She gave herself a mental shake, which Scotty must have seen and interpreted as a shiver.
"You cold?" he asked, touching her shoulder. "We'll go."
"A bit," she admitted, surprised when Scotty didn't remove his hand but let it trail down to the small of her back, guiding her towards the gravestone and John Wilson. She was surprised how natural it felt, how it chased the cold away. She surprised herself by not only letting it stay but welcoming it.
"I wanted to thank you, for coming here," John said, as they approached.
"Wouldn't have missed it," Scotty said.
"It was lovely," Lilly added.
"It was lovely, wasn't it?" John said, his face split by a smile. "So many people. I couldn't believe how many people came." He cleared his throat and looked away.
"So...what now?" Scotty asked, after a pause.
"Ah, well," John said, recovered. He smiled ruefully. "I spoke to Helen yesterday. She's still in New York."
"She, uh, told me about Bill."
"Oh," Scotty said, not sure what else to say. "Sorry."
John shrugged. "I guess I kind of suspected. It wasn't such a shock as I think she wanted it to be."
"So what now?"
"I'm sure Nicholas would preach forgiveness." He shrugged again. "I guess it's up to her. Nothing's worked out how she thought it would."
John shifted and smiled ruefully. "She didn't come right out and say it, but I'm sure she only brought the hat to you because she thought it would get me thrown in jail. Can you believe it? My own wife."
"The thought had crossed our minds, as well," Scotty told him.
"Right. And then she'd be free to divorce me and marry Bill without anyone in her precious social circle thinking badly of her. That's why she helped Jeremy when he got to New York, you know. Because he told her that the cops were trying to use him to pin the murder on Bill. She'd have done anything to protect Bill. But now it's all gone to hell for her. I'm in the clear. Bill's, well...and the firm..." he trailed off. "Truthfully? I'm a little sorry for her. Stupid, huh? Nicholas must have rubbed off on me. I told her I take her back if she wanted to come, but there were going to be a few changes."
"The firm will be wrapped up," John said, matter of factly. "I don't know what's happening with Bill, whether he'll be charged with anything -"
"The DA's office has our evidence," Lilly said. "They're considering it."
"Right," said John. "But either way, I'm not working with him again. Not after this. Even if he were totally innocent, I just can't do it anymore, this charade. I'm going to use my lawyering skills to do some good in the world, just like Nicholas would have wanted."
"Like what?" Scotty asked.
"I don't know, really," John said, and laughed. "Civil rights, maybe. Or I could set up a firm to provide help to those who normally can't afford a lawyer. I might even end up as a public prosecutor. I haven't decided yet."
"DA's office can always use a good lawyer," Scotty said.
"So I told Helen that if she can handle owning a smaller house, driving a cheaper car and living in middle class obscurity, I'd welcome her back. She said she'd think about it." He shrugged, and glanced at the headstone beside him. "I don't care, really. It could all turn to shit and I wouldn't care. I could end up living alone in a crummy rat-infested apartment above a liquor store and eat two-minute noodles night after night and it wouldn't matter. At least I'd be doing the work I wanted to work, not what others expected me to do. I'm not going to live in fear of change anymore."
"You ain't scared anymore?" Scotty asked, eyeing him.
"No, I'm terrified," John said with a short laugh. "But it doesn't matter. I'm not going to let it run me, ever again, and I'm not going to let myself stand in the way of something that I really want. Being safe isn't the same as being happy; it's not worth staying safe if it costs you the chance to really make a difference in your life, to really go after what you want. It's taken me awhile, but I've finally learnt my lesson. So I'm done listening to my fear. I have a life to live."
"Good luck," Scotty said, offering a hand. They shook.
"Good luck," Lilly echoed faintly, offering her own hand. Scotty glanced at her, surprised by the tone of her voice. She was eyeing John carefully, looking shocked and wary by his words. Scotty didn't have a chance to ask her why; she was already moving away. He followed, catching up with her before she'd taken more than a few steps, and he fell into line, carefully not looking in her direction. Obviously she'd been struck by what John had said, and he didn't want her to know he'd noticed. He thought it might have had something to do with the decision she was mulling over, and calling her on it might spook her. He was content to let her work through it on her own - John's words could only help his cause.
Back at the car, they both paused and glanced back at the lonely grave positioned under the naked tree, still wreathed in threads of fog. John Wilson was standing by its side, alone, hands in pockets and head bowed. As they watched, he looked up and saw them turned in his direction. He waved, and Scotty could see him smile. Then his head dropped back down, and as the detectives' car reversed out of the car park, they could see him still standing, motionless, studying the words on the gravestone, until the car turned, and they lost sight of him.
For the victims of crime, time stands still while the numbed mind comes to terms with the sudden, brutal change in its ordered world. As the shock wears off, and the short staggering steps of the healing process begins, time crawls by, an inch at a time, each slow minute of false normality a relief and worthy of mute celebration.
For the cops who investigate the crime, each case leaves its indelible mark on the soul - but time moves on. While the victims pick up the pieces of their shattered world and attempt to make sense of what has happened to them, the cops move on. Another day, another case to investigate. So it was that after Lilly and Scotty had left the cemetery they headed to a neat row house in South Philadelphia, home to another victim of another crime that now demanded their attention. Amy Morelli had been nine when her parents had been shot dead in the living room of their house, right in front of her; she'd been found the next day by a next door neighbour, soaked in congealed blood and too traumatised by what she'd witnessed to answer anyone's questions. With no forensic evidence worth a damn and a witness who couldn't or wouldn't recall what she'd seen, the case had quickly died. Three years on, and one of the Morelli's former employees had made a drunken confession to an ex-girlfriend who'd passed the information on to the police, and the case had been reopened. Trouble was, they needed a witness statement from Amy.
"I wouldn't expect much," Amy's aunt, Matilda, had explained as they arrived. "She's been living with me since...since it happened, and she's never said anything about that night. I think she can't remember anything."
Lilly had Amy's photo on the drawers next to her bed at home; a dark eyed, dark-haired angel of a girl with a smile big enough to light up the world, flanked on either side by parents who obviously adored her. The girl they found in a small, pink bedroom on the row house's second story was a ghost of that former child; pale, silent, with a face masked by shadows Lilly recognised only too well. She'd seen them on her own face in the mirror far too often growing up not to feel a lurch of sympathetic recognition at the sight of Amy, curled up on the bed with a ratty teddy bear firmly and defiantly clasped in her hands.
"Hi, Amy," Lilly said from the doorway. "Mind if we come in?"
"Who are you?" The girl asked, fixing the detectives with a suspicious stare.
Lilly introduced herself and Scotty, seeing a shutter slide firmly closed in Amy's eyes. Determined not to give up, she took a seat at the foot of the bed, careful not to get too close. Scotty remained by the door.
"Cute bear," he observed. "He got a name?"
"I'm too old for teddy bears," Amy informed him tonelessly, but her hands tightened slightly on the bear's ears.
"Oh, you're never too old for bears," Scotty said. "I've still got one." He caught Lilly's amused, disbelieving stare, and shrugged. "In a box in my closet. Fred. Had him since I was two."
The corner of Amy's mouth quirked. "Sebastian," she said, indicating the bear in her arms.
"That's a great name," Lilly told her, smiling. Amy smiled back, tentatively. "Amy...you know why we're here?"
The transformation was instant. The slight sliver of warmth on the girl's face Lilly could detect earlier vanished, replaced by a wooden, blank stare. Amy's knees drew up closer to her body, and she clutched the bear even tighter. "Because of my parents."
"That's right," Lilly said. "It's about what happened to them. We think maybe we've found out who... who hurt them."
"They were killed," Amy said blankly, staring into space.
"Yeah," Lilly said. "Do you remember the night that happened?"
Amy was silent.
"You were there," Scotty said from the doorway. "You must have seen who did it."
Her eyelids flickered, but there was no other acknowledgement of Scotty's words.
"Amy," Lilly said gently, leaning a little closer to the curled up girl, "do you think that if I showed you a picture, maybe you could look at it for me?"
There was a tiny nod, and Lilly slid the suspect's photo from the file she was holding in her hand. She turned it around and held it before Amy's face. The girl gave it a lightning quick glance before resuming her blank stare, but the exhaled breath, tear-filled eyes and clenched hands told Lilly all she needed to know. She exchanged a glance with Scotty. "Do you recognise this man, Amy?"
"Was he there the night your parents were killed?" Scotty asked.
"I don't remember," Amy said, through a throat clogged with unshed tears.
"You're afraid," Lilly said, quietly.
"I don't remember," Amy insisted, whispering.
"It's okay," Lilly assured her. "You saw a terrible thing that night. It's natural to be afraid of the man who did those things. I'd be afraid too."
"I know what it's like, living in fear, Amy," Lilly said, flicking a glance at Scotty. "I've done it most of my life."
"You watch your parents get killed, too?" Amy asked a little scornfully.
Watched my mom try and drink herself to death a few times, Lilly thought but didn't say. "No," she said, after a pause. "But I've had some...some bad things have happened to me." She felt Scotty shift position, no doubt wondering if he should leave. She smiled inwardly at his respect for her privacy, but pushed on. Amy had turned to look at her. "It's made me afraid, of being open with people, trusting them, let alone telling them what happened to me."
Lilly could feel Amy's eyes still on her, but her own gaze was momentarily turned inward, seeing a ten year old girl, broken and terrified. No longer a child. She shook her head briefly to bring herself back to the present. "It's safer, isn't it, Amy? Not talking to anyone about the things you've seen, or how you feel. It's scary being open with people."
Amy looked back down at the bear in her lap, but nodded slightly.
"And that's okay," Lilly assured her. "Sometimes fear's a good thing, isn't it? It keeps you safe. Tells you when you're about to do something that could get you hurt, right? I wish I could tell you that helping us catch the guy who killed your parents won't get you hurt...but I can't. If we arrest him, you'll have to testify at his trial. You'll have to be in the same room as him, have to look at him. He may even try to talk to you. It'll be scary. And it will be painful."
Scotty shifted again behind her. She didn't need to look at him to know he was doubtful about her approach, that he thought she was likely to scare the girl into never helping them, but she pushed on. She couldn't explain it, but she knew this was the right way to get Amy to talk.
"So you could just stay here in your room and never tell anyone about what happened. It must be tempting to go on the way you have, being safe. Your parents' killer will go on walking the streets, doing whatever he likes, but you don't have to think about that. You won't ever have to face him. No one would blame you for wanting to stay safe and not be afraid. It will be okay. It's just...I learned something, about fear, this week."
Amy turned back in her direction, a questioning look on her face.
"I learnt that sometimes fear keeps you safe and unhurt...and sometimes it can just eat you alive," she said, around a lump in her throat. "Sometimes you can get to the end of your life and all you have to show for it is your fear, because it's chewed up and destroyed anything else you may have had. Your hopes and dreams, anything you may have wanted because your fear kept you from moving forward." She saw Amy's eyes widen slightly. Was she getting through to her? "Your parents, they would have wanted things for you. They'd want you to live your life even if they can't be in it, and, Amy, you can't live it stuck up here in your bedroom afraid that every time you walk down the street you're going to see the man who's ruined your life. You just can't. If your parents were here, Amy, I'm sure they'd tell you the same thing: sometimes you just have to do something, even if you are afraid. Sometimes it's easier living with your fear than living without what you could have if you act despite it."
Amy's eyes were slowly filling with tears. "Like what?" she whispered.
"Whatever you like," Lilly said, feeling pinpricks of unshed tears in her own eyes. "Peace, I hope. Justice for your parents. Hope for the future."
There was a long pause that seemed to stretch out for hours; Amy appeared to be weighing Lilly's words in her mind. Lilly watched her trying to reach a decision, empathising with her plight and aching to try and sooth her fears. There was nothing more she could do, though; Amy would have to work through it alone, just as Lilly herself had to work through her fears. She could feel Scotty's eyes on her, dark and solemn. No doubt trying to fathom her words, trying to decide if she were speaking to him as well as to Amy. Lilly couldn't help him. She wasn't even sure where her words had come from, what part of her, buried deep, was trying to speak, and whether it was a voice she could listen to. It was as though John Wilson's words from that morning had been reborn inside her. Silence reigned; it was so quiet they could hear Aunt Matilda's soap opera playing on the downstairs television.
Finally, with a face that spoke of heartbreak and long nights of tears, with quivering lips and mutely staring eyes, Amy opened her mouth. And began to tell her story.
Ordinarily, there were always a few hardy souls to be found in PPD's Homicide Division late at night, unwilling or unable to go home while their cases were still to be solved. Tonight, though, it was Christmas Eve, and those not on active duty had deserted the place for family, friends or a bottle at the local bar. Scotty had done his share of late nights since he'd joined the Cold Squad, and he couldn't remember the place ever being this empty. Even the detective unlucky enough to pull Christmas Eve desk duty had temporarily vanished, leaving Scotty the only one still there. Someone had turned off most of the overhead lights, leaving the place gloomy and dark, lit only by a few desk lamps.
It wasn't like the case had grabbed his attention all that strongly; after Amy had broken her silence they were well on their way to gathering enough evidence to put the suspect away permanently, and Scotty was confident that tomorrow would be the guy's last Christmas outside a jail cell. No, it was Lilly's words to Amy that afternoon that had him sitting in the bullpen long after everyone else had disappeared. He hadn't even heard them leaving. Her words, good God. Surely he wasn't just being blindly hopeful that her words had been spoken for her own benefit, not just for Amy? Could he dare hope that she'd follow her own advice and seek the chance of happiness despite her fears?
She'd avoided his gaze since they'd returned, and made sure they were never alone, so he'd had little opportunity of trying to gage her frame of mind. On the surface, she'd seemed just as she always did; singularly driven towards solving the crime and obtaining justice for the victims. Passionate and focused. But the fact she couldn't look him in the eye spoke volumes; despite the calm exterior, she must be in turmoil deep inside. But he'd promised her space and time, and he couldn't push her into revealing her torment despite the fact he was nearly bursting out of his skin with impatient hope. He would just have to wait, hope that sooner or later she'd decide to share her thoughts with him. Hope that those thoughts tended towards saying yes to his earlier question. He'd never been good at playing the waiting game. Always a man of action, now he was being forced to wait patiently for an answer to perhaps the most important question of his life. He felt like he could quietly explode.
He sighed and got out of his chair, shrugging his coat onto his shoulders. He dimly remembered Stillman saying something about shouting a round of eggnog at Jones', and he felt sorely in need of a drink. Maybe Lilly would be there, too, and he could try to find an excuse to sit next to her. Maybe even dance with her if she got enough eggnog into her and let down her inhibitions.
Halfway across the bullpen on the way to the elevators, he stopped. He wasn't the only one still here. Outlined against the break room windows was a familiar figure, slender and graceful, standing staring out into the night, leaning against the glass wall separating the break room from the rest of the space. Scotty stopped in the doorway. "Hey," he said.
Lilly turned slightly so that she could meet his gaze. The light from the desk lamps barely reached into the break room, and she was mostly in shadow; only the street lights outside haloed her hair and reflected in her eyes. He was caught again by her beauty. "Hey," she returned.
"I think Stillman said somethin' about buyin' us all eggnog, if you're interested."
"Sure," she said, turning back to the window. "I'll be there in a minute."
There was a moment of silence, Scotty shuffling his feet, not wanting to leave without her but not wanting to push her. She seemed distracted and thoughtful, and as he watched the back of her head she heaved an audible sigh, turned around so she was half facing him, and held up her hand. "I found this."
She was holding a familiar looking plant. "Is that...?"
"Benson's mistletoe," she said, with a small laugh. "Vera finally cracked, told him if he didn't take it off right then Vera would shove it somewhere very dark and very uncomfortable."
Scotty joined in her laughter. "Remind me to buy Vera a drink later."
"I owe him one, too," Lilly said, smiling. She turned, then, so that she was looking directly at him, and her face became serious. Slightly nervous, too, Scotty thought, and his mirth died. Lilly looked like she finally had something to tell him. "So I came in here and found this," she said, indicating the mistletoe, "and I knew that the next person I'd see would be you."
"We do seem to make a habit of it," he ventured.
"Yeah," she said, taking a couple of steps towards him. "And...I realised I didn't mind the thought."
And that was supposed to mean...? "Okay."
Lilly was studying the floor, which she couldn't possibly see in the dim light. He wanted to reach out and tilt her head so that she'd have to look at him, but didn't dare move. Something crackled in the air around them. Finally, she spoke. "What I said, earlier...to Amy. About fear. I was kind of talking to myself, too."
He couldn't breathe. "I thought you might have been." Hoping, more like.
She nodded, still looking at the floor, and he caught a fleeting smile that spread across her face. "These past few days I've been wishing that Nicholas were here so he could give me some of his famous advice, you know? I haven't known what do to do. And then, talking with John this morning, and listening to what came out of my mouth earlier, I realised that he was here. Sort of. At least, I think I knew already what he'd have told me. The words were inside me all along."
Scotty had frozen to the spot. It almost seemed as if she were saying...and then her eyes came up to meet his, shyly, and he was almost sure. Still, he couldn't speak. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. That brief smile lit up her features again and was gone.
"So, then I came in here, and I found the mistletoe, and that was kind of a sign. That...I think I need to listen to my own advice. I can't go on being dictated to by my fear of getting hurt."
"You're...you're not afraid?" Scotty asked, finding his voice.
"Petrified," Lilly said, almost laughing. "But like I told Amy, sometimes you need to do something even if you're afraid of it." Her gaze grew bold, meeting his directly, and he found himself lost in it. Gods, she was beautiful. He felt her touch his arm, trailing her hand up towards his shoulder in an almost casual gesture that spoke volumes. And it was saying - she was saying..."So my answer is yes."
There was a long, pregnant pause, the silence full of mute conversation, their eyes dancing, while Lilly's hand returned to her side slowly. Her face was full of hope. I've taken a big risk here, it seemed to be saying. Prove to me it's not a mistake. Scotty felt a smile as big as Texas spread over his own features. Prove it? he thought. Only for the rest of my life. Something inside him had exploded, and he felt like their were fireworks going off in his chest. "That's the best Christmas present anyone's ever given me," he said finally, after what seemed like a month of deafening silence. "But does that mean now I owe Benson a very large drink?"
"I guess so."
"It's worth it."
Lilly studied his face, feeling herself return his smile. Had she made a mistake saying yes? Maybe. Only time would tell, of course, if she would end up even more heartbroken and alone than before. But what she'd said to Amy was right. John Wilson had been right, Kevin Morgan had been right. Taking the chance and following her heart was worth the risk. But, as she watched a look of incredulous joy spread over Scotty's handsome face, she thought maybe she wasn't making a mistake. She thought maybe it was the smartest decision she'd ever made. Nice work, Rush. Merry Christmas.
Then his arm reached out, and a hand that felt like it might have been trembling slightly traced the line of her face, brushing back her hair, and her mind went beautifully, wonderfully blank. All she wanted right then was to close the gap between them, those few inches, that gaping chasm. She stepped forward, and he met her in the middle. Their lips touched, tasting, greeting tentatively before their kiss deepened and their bodies crushed together and the darkened room, the snow filled world outside, faded away into nothingness.
The mistletoe fell to the floor, unneeded.
And that's it! Please, please, please leave a review.