A/N: So, it's finally happened, whether we all wanted it to or not! Bypassing all my normal ramblings about why it's taken me so long to freakin' update, I sincerely hope that everyone will be thoroughly and completely satisfied with this final installment here as I am. It's relatively long but not overly so. Tied up all the loose ends (I think! And if not, golly well please let me know! lol) and such. It's very hard to figure out how to do that sometimes! It's slightly different in parts than my earlier chapters, partly the fault of the different style I've been using for my Undercover fic I suspect. Got a little deeper into Elliot and Olivia's point of view, even tossing in a few allusions to previous episodes, but I stayed out of Casey's. For some reason I just felt like she'd already had all her moments, you know? And this deserved to go out the way it came in: with Madeline.
They find the body in a back corner of the warehouse, hidden in the cinder blocks beneath a very old furnace that probably hadn't worked since the 70s. Warner nods to the detectives. "I'd have to do an official autopsy to be sure, but it looks like he used the same method on her. I don't see any signs of strangulation or any fatal wounds."
Olivia has that soft glint in her eyes as she looks at the young girl's body before asking her partner, "Do you think that neighbor would be able to identify her?"
"It's worth a shot. I can send a car over there this afternoon." Elliot agrees, "Hopefully we'll be able to find her parents, let them know what happened." It's often said to be the worst part of the job, telling the loved ones. Especially if they demanded you bring them to the morgue to see the body before they dared to confront it.
Sometimes, the person fought you. You tried to anticipate their moves and grab them in a strong hold so that they couldn't hurt you or themselves. Then they'd thrash, tugging and wrenching at you in their anger. The problem was, they usually weren't angry at you. In fact, they usually weren't angry at all. Something in their life had just crashed, crumbling before their very eyes and the first and foremost response was usually anger, purely because it was the easiest to access in a pinch. As soon as that was done the person – often a woman, but he'd had men react the same way – cried out. "I'm fine! Let me go." And he would, out of respect. Inevitably though, as soon as the anger dissipated the reality crashed in and they'd stagger helplessly, as if instantly deflated. He'd catch an elbow or a shoulder, try to steady the person as they wobbled, and suddenly he'd find them inside his arms, grasping at the only solid thing in their life. So he'd stand firm, becoming what they needed him to be, because he hadn't been there to prevent whatever it was that had ruined their life in the first place.
Which, of course, did make it one of the hardest things about their job, but it's always the children looking up at him with their big bright eyes, questions so thick behind the lashes, as if chastising him for not getting there to rescue them sooner, that gets him more. Even with his own kids, he just seems to catch on a moment too late.
Shaking his head – he can't be thinking about them right now – he leans down to give Olivia a hand up before crossing out into the dim sunlight. Both of them tilt their heads upward, stilling their walk to the road. The sky is cloudy and colorless, as if tainted with sadness in response to this entire situation. They climb into the car – him in the driver's seat – but don't go anywhere. He barely manages to get the key inside the ignition. Finally, he speaks without looking at her. "This case really got to you,"
"You too," she replies simply, staring aimlessly out her side of the car and taking the conversation absolutely nowhere. He doesn't know where he wants it to go, so he drives to her place, parks out front. Neither one of them moves.
Pursing his lips together, he thinks for a minute before continuing their previous exchange. "We've had worse cases. Why this one?"
"She has no one," Olivia jumps in, no sign of the hesitation he feels radiating from her skin. She looks to him and blinks the tears out of her eyes. "Madeline believes in me. She needs me."
And I don't? he thinks. Then wonders, who doesn't? It's something he can't touch though, and they both know it. "What's going to happen to her?"
Olivia shifts her weight to disguise the sound of her sigh. "Hendrix says she'll stay at the hospital for awhile. She's got quite a lot of stuff to go through. But she's strong." There's admiration in her voice but it disappears as quickly as it came. "Probably enter a home or foster care." A brief silence. "I just wish I could do more for her."
"You did everything you were supposed to. It was more than most." He assures her.
"But was it enough?" her breath is quiet, and he understands this is one of those moments that they cross every few years, the irrefutable doubt. He reaches across to grab her hand but grips her shoulder gently instead, unsure of the boundaries between them anymore.
The action and the words jolt in Olivia's memory. She remembers that last conversation before Alex was shot. They were all sitting in the bar, their usual evening after a significant day in court. Munch, Fin and the Cap had all left when she started up. "It just, it never seems like enough, you know?" And then she'd gone off into a tangent about Zapata before getting back to what was really bothering her. "We tell ourselves that we speak for the victims but we don't. We can close cases. But the victims, even if they survive, they're lives are ruined. I just get so sick of it." This was where Elliot had jumped in. "Alex, we can't always win." But even Olivia could see it wasn't really about winning or not winning and Alex's next words confirmed her thoughts. "But that's just it. Even when we win, we don't." Nobody had anything to say to refute her statement, so they'd all just left it at that and gone outside.
That was when someone shot her. Olivia knows that Alex is alive now, that it was all a lead-in to the Witness Protection Program for Alex, but she hadn't known that then. She'd been down on the ground realizing she'd failed to protect one of her closest friends. Olivia'd seen the shock of pain reverberating through Alex's eyes, felt the tears in her own. The gun shot was in Alex's right shoulder. Olivia knew she had to put pressure on it but she didn't want to touch it, didn't want to hurt her friend. She did anyway, could feel the blood pooling around her fingers with no sign of stopping. The blood was impossibly sticky, to be flowing out of her so fast. There was just too much of it. It was too much blood, too much and Alex was fading fast but there was nothing else she could think of to do. In that moment, Olivia'd felt hopeless, just talking nonsense to Alex trying to keep her awake.
She wasn't thinking anything then, but she thought a lot about that last conversation later, and in the years to come. In the end, Alex had made her point and said all she'd wanted to. There was nothing more to say after that. And yet Olivia has been searching all these years for that one chance to be able to tell someone – Alex maybe, or her mother, or Elliot even, just somebody – that this time she had actually won. This time she'd made the world right. But it's never happened. Not now, for Zoe and Candace and Madeline. Not even for herself.
Her beeper suddenly goes off, breaking the silence that has crept inside the car with them. Elliot pulls away as she reaches into her pocket for it. "It's Casey," she says, breathless for some reason. And he immediately turns them in the direction of the courthouse.
Casey grabs the detectives right before they enter through the courtroom doors. "We're going to have a separate trial to deal with the girl you guys uncovered,"
"Madeline uncovered," Olivia clarifies, so Casey clears her throat in acknowledgement before continuing.
"But Judge Petrovsky didn't want to prolong this one any longer, and the jury's already back."
And that's all the information anyone can get because they're separating into their seats as the gavel rings out and the jury files in. Judge Petrovsky's is the next voice they hear. "Members of the Jury, have you reached a decision?"
Juror one, a middle-aged business woman in a smart burgundy dress suit with her bottle-blonde hair in a tight French twist up-do – the kind of person that calls to mind a single life with no need or desire for children – stands and sends a strained smile towards Madeline's general direction. "We have, your Honor."
The bailiff takes the slip of paper from her hand to pass onto the Judge, and Madeline can only stare at it. She's at a loss. How on earth could that little flimsy thing hold the fate of her life on it? It wasn't substantial enough. The irony, Candace would've laughed. It's the kind of thing Candace would make – would have made – an everlasting gag out of. Paper! Or Slip! Or maybe even Piece! And she would've pinched Madeline's elbow – her only tickle spot – until they'd both dissolved into a fit of giggles, rolling on the floor at their own childish inside joke.
She chokes on the image now as the almost-laugh bubbles up and into her throat. Ms. Novak nudges her side gently and motions her head so that Madeline is forced back into the grim reality of the situation before her. She swallows, immediately stiff in her seat. Fingers grip hers – Ms. Novak, she realizes – and she can hear Olivia's shallow breath directly behind her as the Judge speaks.
"On the first part of the indictment, two counts of kidnapping, child endangerment and rape in the first degree, how do you find the defendant?"
There's a silence. Madeline focuses on one of the jurors, a black woman whose tight black curls spring from her head like anxious snakes, and that's when she knows. There's your Medusa, Candace. She lets the tiny smile loose at the exact moment the awaited answer sounds.
It feels like the entire courtroom lets out the breath they were holding but Judge Petrovsky continues through the sudden stream of noise. "On the second part of the indictment, three counts of murder in the first degree, how do you find the defendant?"
This time there is no pause. Everything has been decided already. "Guilty."
And the world spins faster than she can ever remember it traveling. So fast she cannot make sense of what is happening. Noise, so much noise, and movement, everybody moving and nobody going anywhere. The gavel bangs, someone is saying something but Madeline hears nothing. Ms. Novak has yanked her up into an excited hug, and then before she even realizes she's been let go she now finds herself tight inside Olivia's arms, the scent of mandarin shooting straight up her nose. It smells like heaven, freedom, the beginning of new life. Time rushing past her eyes is making her dizzy, only Olivia's not letting her go. "Look," she whispers into Madeline's ear, simultaneously turning her to the left.
The bailiff is taking the man away. In the last moment before the double doors close over him, Madeline glimpses his eyes. Where once there was power and evil, now she only sees disbelief, fear, helplessness. It is as if a part of his soul has been cut off. There is a profound sense of weightlessness inside her chest, as if the bad things he brought into her life are disappearing with him. "You did this," Olivia says proudly, draping her arms across Madeline's shoulders and pulling her back into the woman's chest. Her hair falls into Madeline's vision as their eyes meet. Olivia understands her silent question and nods. "It's over now." Madeline blinks repeatedly, sinking back into Olivia's body before finally closing her eyes. It's over. It's over Candace. You were right. It's over.
"Hmm… that's new." Olivia smiles, a curious lilt of her voice at the pleasant melody, sliding up to the piano behind the girl to lean over her right shoulder slightly. "It's nice."
Madeline turns the page while replying, "It's a Brahms Waltz." A shrug of her shoulders. "Figured I'd put Chopin on the backburner for a bit. You missed the Grieg earlier."
Olivia goes to answer when Elliot strides through the doorway to meet the two women. "That sounds great!" He shouts amicably and then grabs his partner's hand gently. "May I ask the lady to a dance?"
She looks to their young accompanist with a wink. "Think I should humor him?"
"If you don't, I think I'll have to start playing The Entertainer." Madeline practically rolls her eyes with Olivia as she lets out her giggle, a delightfully elegant sound that the world hasn't heard in over a year.
"Oh my," Elliot adds in the same humorously fake accent, "I'm afraid I don't know that one mademoiselle," and then he twists Olivia abruptly into a powerful spin with a dip catch before bringing her back into the basic step. With Elliot's confident stance, Olivia's gasp turns into a laugh, good-naturedly fanning her blush with her right hand, the light-hearted music beneath them a perfect soundtrack as Madeline looks up at them, beaming.
A/N: And now I lay my baby down to rest, tears and all. :-)