Note: Oh my gosh. It ends here, guys. It ends here and I couldn't be happier. xD I'm sorry it took me so long but I wanted to piece how to finish this in my mind and I also had lots and lots of responsibilities in real life keeping me away from this. But know that I worked very hard on this, guys, and that I am just so happy with this story. It's my favorite yet, I have to say. Thank you for the support.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Flight
"Gwen, what did you do? Gwen. Stop." Her fingers had already begun working on his cuffs, and Skye could feel his heart racing, racing, ready to crash on this cold hard floor… "Gwen, damn it, stop for a moment."
She turned sharply at his tone. "Listen. The drug in the cake won't last long. The faster I free you, the better. Quit struggling."
Oh, Lord, since when had this sweet and innocent girl been turned into a creature of deceit for his sake? He shuddered at the sight of Bob on the floor; it seemed so out of place in his mind. "How long have you planned this?" he whispered.
"Not long. Like some people, I can act on impulse." The lock snapped, and Gwen crowed in triumph. "There, now! Isn't that better?" Struck dumb, Skye rubbed his wrists and stared at his handcuffs on the ground. Almost immediately after he felt her body pressed into his, and her soft delicate hands stroking his reddened and scarred ones. "We can go anywhere in the world. I don't care, honestly, I don't."
"You don't know what you're doing," he murmured, pulling away.
"I'm saving you. You were in that courtroom, weren't you?" Gwen demanded. "You saw their faces. You know what they'd have ruled."
"Still, this is—"
"Wrong?" The blonde shook her head. "No, this is the only right thing I can think of. And what is wrong, anyway? If sending you to prison isn't wrong, I don't know what is."
To her utter disbelief, he'd backed into a corner, and Gwen had to fight to keep herself where she stood instead of running after him. "This isn't what I wanted," Skye spoke finally.
"So what do you want?" Gwen hissed. "You wanna go to prison? Please, enlighten me, am I keeping you away from the hell you've always wanted? Skye, we don't have time for you to be stupid. Run away with me. God, just do it."
"I'm not interested in what you don't want to do. I'm interested in what you do want to do." The calm had unraveled within her and Gwen couldn't hold herself back any longer as she ran over and shook Skye with frantic grip. "Skye, don't you want to be with me? Don't you want to be free? Just this once in your life, please, run away again. Don't you love me?"
"Don't you?!" she sobbed, shaking him all the harder. "If you love me, then please, do this!"
"But don't you see?" She trembled as he cupped her chin in his hands. Blinking back angry tears, her red eyes met his calm steady blue, and he murmured, "The reason I can't…is precisely because I love you."
"And what kind of logic is that? Running off to some jail to prove something I don't even care about, that shows you love me?!"
"No, Gwen. See, if we walk out those doors," the thief continued, level, "then all we'll ever be is criminals. I say we, Gwen, because doing that would bring you just as low as me. And I don't want you to go through anything like this because of me."
"Let me be selfish," she whispered.
"Then be selfish, and let me go. Take your freedom and run with it."
"But I love you! Don't you see, I love you!" Another kiss desperately thrown at his lips; and another agonizing silence. "I don't want to be free."
"Coincidentally, neither do I, if all I'm doing is imprisoning you."
"This isn't about me," Gwen insisted. "It's about you. I don't care about me, I want you to be safe, I want you to keep on living in the sunlight, I want you to laugh and to smile and to love and be…be you."
"And what makes you think," Skye answered, "that I want any less for you?"
A little hiccup formed in her throat, and Skye held her head against his chest, stroking that bowed head as she fought for words. "I want both of us to be happy," she managed.
"I just…I want that so badly."
"I know, Gwen. I know."
"And I feel so helpless!" she cried, voice breaking. "I want to stop this, I want it all to stop, and I want things to have never changed between us, I wish that stupid detective had never come at all, that we could go back and do this over and over and over—"
"—and over, and over, until none of it ever mattered, because I'd love you, and you'd love me, and dammit we'd be like everyone else." Furiously she wiped at her eyes, and he kissed her forehead softly, their breathing slow but heartbeats swift. "I don't want to lose you," she whispered. "I don't want them to take you…there."
"You're not losing me if you choose to be the one who lets me go."
"But. Still." Eyes glistening, Gwen lifted her head only to study him in bewilderment. "You're not going to leave with me, are you? No matter what I say."
A delicate sigh left his lips and he shook his head. "No."
"I can't change your mind." A fact, not a question.
"You can't do anything."
It's funny, growing up. When Gwen had been a child, she'd believed in fairies and wishing stars and singlehandedly changing the world; the universe was full of magic and possibilities. So what was becoming an adult, then? Accepting a harsh reality? Or, more accurately, learning what little power you truly have?
The transition, Gwen thought bitterly to herself, was learning to accept that.
"I can do one thing," Gwen murmured. Slowly she leaned in to catch his mouth in her own, and tenderly she poured all the love and tears she'd harbored into that one moment, their breathing as one. It didn't matter how long it lasted, not now. And compared to actions, words seemed so powerless and futile. It was as the tears slipped down both their cheeks that finally they pulled away, and Gwen tried to smile. "Tonight? Can I still hold on, just one last time?"
Bob didn't quite understand how, when he awoke, the jail door was wide open, the handcuffs on the ground, and Gwen and Skye wrapped in each others' arms with tearstained cheeks. He almost asked why.
But then again, eighteen years was a long friendship indeed, and that bond felt stronger than any law.
Perhaps they'd always known they'd find themselves here. It didn't matter how they began, or just how hard they'd struggled to wind up any place else, but somehow Doctor Trent couldn't say he regretted a single moment of it. He'd had no dreams when he'd married Claire; no glossy, rosy view of their marriage, and yet he'd never thought it'd fall so hard so fast. Bonds were fragile. Love was only as binding as a spider's web. And yet, when it broke, you could reweave it into something more intricate and even stronger than before.
"No matter the verdict," Trent whispered into her ear, "this isn't about us. Either way, we're the winners here."
She merely squeezed his hand.
"We're bound to win this," Jill Dawn stated matter-of-factly. "If we don't, it'll be due to silly little feelings clouding up the jury's judgment. They will know, all of them, who was guilty that day."
A few rows back, Nami Stone flipped a coin and rolled her eyes. "See? Heads. Meaning I can smoke my cigarette."
"So if I told you I wanted to jump off a bridge, and you said not to, it'd be okay for me to say 'hey, why don't we just flip a coin' then?"
"Look, you said you wanted to see the verdict. Stop acting like you're the one who dragged me here."
He laughed and tipped back that ridiculous green hat. "Well, it's one way to keep you from worrying. Who you think is going to win?"
"There are winners and losers here?" she remarked dryly. "As far as I could tell, it was about survivors and casualties."
"So this is a war?"
"Might as well be."
Silence descended as four familiar figures entered. The first was a strong, familiar bodyguard, and beside him a frail and tired girl, hand held tightly to the thief all had come to see. There was determination in those glassy eyes, and Claire shivered, somehow affected by their resolve. And of course, Maria Monett had followed them all, fixed on that still-closed door.
Maria's voice was feathery, fine. "You wish to speak with me?" Jill asked.
"We have a request."
"My client," Maria continued, level, "would like to plead guilty."
Stunned, the attorney fumbled for words, then managed, "It's a little late in the game to switch pleas."
"We're willing to make you an offer."
"Interested," Trent spoke suddenly. Claire turned to him, wide-eyed, and he patted her hand reassuringly. "What do you want?"
"My client does not wish to attend prison—"
Jill snorted; who the hell wanted to?
"—but respects the family's right to keep him at distance, and requests doing community service."
"Picking up cans on the side of the road does not get a man forgiven for kidnapping," Jill deadpanned.
"He also, I'd like to add," Maria continued, unperturbed, "requests house arrest for as long a time as you see fit."
"A house?" Clare stammered. "He doesn't have one."
"But I do," Gwen announced.
Claire sucked in a deep breath; Trent smiled her way. "Well, I think it's a fair offer. What do you think, darling?"
"Willow." Her blue eyes afire, she turned to see Skye face-to-face. "You may be her father, but I will not let you free if you're only going to come after my baby girl."
"My client will not pursue paternity."
"You can't guarantee that," Claire snapped.
Helplessly, Maria turned to Jill, who looked away. "A man's life is in the balance here."
"So is my child's."
"And mine," Trent added with a sigh. In a single, dignified motion, Trent placed his hands in his pocket to bring forth a single slip of paper. "Read this, Claire. I don't think he's going to be asking for custody, not at all."
The words swam before Claire's eyes; shaking, she dropped the paper and let it flutter to the ground. "Wh-what is this?" she whispered.
Jill bent down to lift it and squinted at the font. "Good God." Her eyes flashed as she faced the doctor. "How long have you known about this?!"
"A few days. Not long at all."
"We could've submitted this as evidence against him!"
"Which is why," Trent murmured, "I just couldn't do it."
"May I ask what all this commotion is about?" Maria interjected.
All three exchanged looks. "According to a DNA test I had conducted," Trent spoke, level, "Willow isn't Skye's child at all. We were all wrong. In fact, she really is mine." Claire's hands flew to her mouth, and Trent smiled. "And no jury in the world would take Willow away from us."
"Damn you. Keeping away that crucial information." Jill paced the room in a rage, and finally snapped, "How could you let everyone do this? How could you just let the whole courtroom be treated like a circus?"
"Because everyone makes mistakes. And as long as I have my daughter, I don't care what happens to Mr. Skye the Phantom Thief."
A heavy cloud of understanding settled on the group, and Maria swallowed. "So the papers. Will you sign?"
"I have every intention of doing so," Trent announced. He turned to his wife. "But it's not my right to do that."
With a child's shyness, Claire let the pen settle in her hand. He's hurt you. Her eyes flitted up to meet Skye's, and she vaguely recalled that thrill those crystal eyes had placed her under so many moons ago. He's ripped you apart like no one else could. Her fingers shook now; the ink was spilling. But maybe…it's time to let it go.
Never before, she decided, had her name ever looked so beautiful upon a page.
If her mother could see her that day, Gwen knew she'd tell her she looked beautiful. It wasn't the dress that wrapped about her like a soft, feathery cloud, or the way the roses in her hair gave her the air of a May Flower Queen. Sometimes beauty had nothing to do with any of that at all, and Gwen knew it was this glow inside her that truly made her shine.
She'd stepped out in shy, timid steps, and Doug held onto her arm as if her whole life depended on it. The heels scuffed against the wood of the inn floor, and it didn't matter at all, not one bit. On either side, chairs had been propped up to form an aisle of sorts, and familiar faces—and some only vaguely familiar—greeted her as she passed on by, a vision in white and red. Eve was crying, and Katie, well, Katie could barely contain her excitement.
In the end, Gwen hadn't expected any of it.
And yet, now, she didn't know how she couldn't have.
Sometimes she cried, looking back, at all those painful trials and the ugly truths that dragged her down. Gwen didn't pretend she'd known when she would grow up. Yet at the same time, she knew it'd happened, that she'd had no choice but to let it happen. And growing up means letting yourself get hurt, sometimes.
But then, looking into Skye's clear blue eyes, he knew that better than she did, didn't he?
He had no ring to give her, but the one that Doug had quietly nudged his way. He had no wealth, no possessions, no home, no freedom. He was a caged bird who only knew how to fly. But even caged birds sing. And what was freedom, anyway, but the ability to choose your own fate?
What was wrong with having the most wonderful fate in the world forced upon you?
"We are gathered here today," Judge W.P. announced, "to celebrate the marriage of Skye the Phantom Thief, and Miss Gwen of Flowerbud."
His eyes met hers, and before they even spoke, they knew the answers would be "I do, I do, I do."
Just Before Curtains Close…
Dear Maria Monett,
I heard of your recent "victory." I must admit, I am surprisingly impressed with your skills, despite your humble beginnings. My firm is looking for some help and to my astonishment I find myself recommending you. I understand that defense is more your style, but you have a surprisingly aggressive approach that you will find is better suited to prosecution. Besides, I have no doubt you could use a little more excitement.
PS: I am hoping you will ignore the fact that you consider me the epitome of a self-serving bastard long enough to have a cup of coffee with me and talk about this.
PSS: Unless you are a tea person.
To Miss Gina Aires:
Congratulations. Whatever karma you threw at me worked. I'm engaged to Gustafa and I very well expect you to be my maid-of-honor. The wedding is expected to be five minutes long and if you miss a single one of those minutes I fully intend to never write you again.
Your former roommate,
PS: Thank you for the weatherwoman job, but I have decided to go in a direction better suited for my talents.
PPS: And I was referring to songwriting, not cornering people with guns.
Greetings Doctor Trent and family!
The clinic has finally been revamped, and I am very happy to report that there is now room for both you and your beautiful baby girl to live in the upstairs. I will miss you both very much, but I am very happy about my new job in Flowerbud with Gina and her fiancé, Dr. Alex. Everything is going off to quite a smooth start, and I hope things go just as smoothly for you. At the very least, I know you will get to spend quite a bit more time together, and I know the change of scenery will do you all good.
Gwen, how's it going?
Hey, I know you've been a bit busy, what with your new status as a married lady n'all, but I was thinkin', see Tina and I are starting a ranch and I reckon I'd be honored if you were one of our partners. Horseraisin', horseridin', and time with friends—nothing better than that, eh? Only downside being you'd have to leave the husband for a bit. But something tells me he'd want you to go.
Think about it.
Sometimes I pretend that I'm a princess. And I know it's totally stupid and little kiddish of me, but I pretend that there's this evil dragon and I'm screaming for help, and then swoop! There comes the prince of my dreams to carry me away, and oh my gosh, you have no idea how amazing just thinking about that feels. But I'm only twelve, and what gorgeous prince bothers to save a girl who's gawky and gangly and pretty much ew?
Kate says I'm just dreaming because there's no cute guys in Mineral Town. Well fine, maybe if Stu and May weren't all kissy-kissy I'd be a little luckier. But so what. Twelve isn't a bad age. And I'm not so bad-looking. Most princesses have golden hair, don't they?
Daddy says I'm his princess, and that actually makes me really happy. I don't think I'd want to marry a prince exactly like my daddy, though. I guess it's the dark hair, I always pictured something softer. Okay…for real? I've dreamed about what my prince looks like.
Don't laugh at me, diary. But he's got the most…ohmygoshamazing blue eyes. And there's this soft, kind look in them, except he's totally trying to hide that. And his hair is just this gorgeous shade of silver, like I didn't think a color like that could exist. He's beautiful, and he's holding me, and he's calling me beautiful, too.
It feels almost real, diary. Is that pathetic? I think it's pathetic. That's why I don't tell Mom about it.
But you know what I think? I think princes are real. I really, truly do. It's just sometimes hard to find them.
Your best friend,
Ending Notes: First of all, thank you to all readers and reviewers; the support I've gotten for this fic is just mindboggling and very, very much appreciated. I hope the end wasn't too contrived, and I hope it left you all as satisfied as I feel right this very moment.
Whether you reviewed or not, thank you for reading this. And thank you for bothering to follow my twists and turns, my sometimes confused usage of the third person, and my melodramatic style. More importantly, thank you for your thoughts, observations, and the honor of getting the gears in your minds going.
I don't know if I'll try another long-fic like this again. I'm starting to want to do original fiction desperately, and finishing here…well I think I like leaving it at this.
So thank you, all of you, and happy writing.