A/N: Well, this is it. I do believe I've gone as far as I can with this and I hope that you have enjoyed the ride. I have definitely enjoyed writing it. Thank you again for all the reviews and comments over the last three stories. It has been a pleasure. Thank you.
Episode 3x18: The Promise of a Better Tomorrow (Finale)
It was late but I wasn't tired. I didn't make a mention to Dara that I copied the case file before I returned it to her. I didn't mention that I was going to check to make sure she returned everything either. She played good detective and did as I expected, not a single file missing from archives at the end of the day. She went home to her loving family, to the one place demons weren't supposed to follow her. How long now had I been doing the same? I wasn't fooled though and I knew deep down neither was Dara. No matter how many locks you had on your door, there was always a way inside.
"What do you think about upgrading?"
I fixed my attention away from the television to focus on Nick. "Upgrading?" I echoed. "Don't you think a thousand channels of nothing are already enough?"
He smiled at me in that familiar way I had come to know and love. It was a look of content and complete adoration that no longer made me uncomfortable. "I was thinking more about upgrading to a larger home actually."
"You want to move?"
"Well, Andrea's room used to be the office and seeing as how you fixed the other spare room to be doggytopia…"
"They needed a playroom." I glared at Nick. "Don't act like you didn't agree to the idea."
Nick let out a delighted laugh. "I came home to find it already fixed up with dog beds and toys. I couldn't exactly say no to it."
I continued to glare at him. "Would you have? You think it's stupid don't you? Why in the world would the dogs need their own room with fluffy beds and accessories for them to play with?"
"I think I love you for thinking of them with as much love as you do for me and our baby."
My frown deepened. "I don't love our dogs more than I love the two of you. They're just animals."
"It pained you to say that last part just now didn't it?"
"No." I crossed my arms and pouted. He looked at me with the same unbelieving expression he looked at so many suspects with and I huffed in frustration. "Maybe a little."
"I loved it, I love you." He kissed me before shifting back again as the sound of Andrea stirring came floating over the baby monitor. Neither of us spoke until everything had gone silent again, Andrea obviously just rearranging herself in her bed before falling back to sleep. Nick reached out to stroke my arm. "You do realize though that they won't sleep in there. They stay in Andrea's room now."
I knew that. It seemed our dogs had taken a liking to sleeping at the foot of her crib. I was worried at first that they would bother her but the second I tried to make them leave, Andrea protested with a loud cry and trembling bottom lip, both dogs actually looking up at me with those large, pleading eyes of theirs.
Dara was right; I had gone soft. I wasn't the same person and I don't think I ever want to be her again. Killing didn't fulfill anything inside of me anymore. Rather, it left a void that made me ache and the only time I felt at peace was around my friends and family. I had somehow managed to take the pain from losing Andy and transformed all that blood and tears into something positive. I had made a life for myself, one I loved and nourished; one I cherished above anything else in existence.
I had created life instead of taking it away. Maybe I wasn't so resistant to change after all.
"I love this house." I cleared my throat. "But you're right; maybe we need a bigger place."
"We can start going through some brochures this weekend."
I reached out to take his hand and thread my fingers through his. "I love you."
Nick lifted my hand to kiss the back of it. "I love you. What do you say we go to bed?"
"I say, sounds good and does it include a massage?" I smiled at hearing the sound of his delighted laughter again.
"Only if you promise to grope you in very inappropriate places."
"Oh, most definitely."
My cell phone was ringing. I reached blindly for it and opened my eyes when I came up empty handed. I always left it in the exact same place. Blinking to clear my blurry vision, I sat up and realized I was alone. I was alone and not in my bed; well, at least not the one I shared with Nick.
"Are you going to answer that?"
My head snapped towards the door and I stared with heart in my throat at the sight of Andy standing in the doorway.
He flashed that slanted, amused smile at me. "It's going to keep ringing if you don't answer it."
"It's not important."
"You don't know that." He approached to perch down at the edge of the bed, those brown eyes gazing at me softly. "It could be someone that needs your help."
"You really should think about answering that before it's too late."
My attention shifted in the direction he was staring to find my cell phone on the night stand beside the bed. "This isn't real is it?"
"Of course it's real; it's as real as you want it to be."
I reached out with a shaking hand to touch him and almost sobbed as I connected with the flesh of his arm. "Andy, I'm so sorry."
"You don't have anything to be sorry for Angie. You always did everything you could to look out for me."
"You died because of me."
"There was nothing you could have done to stop that. I died in an attempt to protect you and I wouldn't change that for anything."
"Don't you dare say that to me."
"I saved you from a life that would have only ended in him taking your life as well as so many others. Together, we stopped him but you can't hold onto that forever. It's time to accept the past and move on." Andy reached out to grab my hand. "You have someone else now to look after you in the same way you always looked out for me."
"Please don't leave me."
"I can't stay." He squeezed my hand and stood up. "I love you Angie and I'm always, always here." He smiled softly and gestured to the phone again. "Answer that okay?"
I jerked awake. My cell phone was ringing and Nick grumbled beside me as I almost fell out of the bed grabbing for it. "Angela Stokes."
"You have to help me."
"Please. You have to come help me." She was whispering into the phone, voice hoarse as if she had been screaming or crying, maybe a bit of both. "Please Angela."
I sat up in the sheets. "Where are you?"
"You know where."
I didn't hesitate as I heard the line go dead, quickly slipping out of the bed and scrambling for my clothes in the dark.
"Angie?" Nick's sleepy voice drifted from behind me. "Where are you going baby?"
"I have to go out."
"I just have to go." I snatched my keys from the dresser but hesitated. "I'll be right back." God, please, let me be right back.
I leaned over him to press my lips to his. "Trust me okay?"
"You know I do."
"I do." I kissed him again before I pulled back. "I'll explain everything when I get back."
Even in the dark I could tell he was frowning but he said nothing else. By the time I returned home, if I in fact did, I would have to make up an elaborate story as to why I rushed out as if I was on fire. I wasn't going to concentrate on that however; at the moment all that mattered was reaching Dara.
I only hoped I wasn't too late.
The fact that she would return to the same place we had been held hostage made me rethink her sanity. Too many bad memories were trapped inside this building where Edward kept us. I didn't like returning to it but I had no choice. Dara needed my help.
I lowered my flashlight at the sight of her in the basement doorway.
"I wasn't sure you'd come."
"Well, I'm here. Why are you?" She disappeared from view and I had no choice but to follow her down the steep stairs. "Dara? Damn it, answer me."
"I really, really wanted to do this on my own but I couldn't go through with it without you here."
I stepped through the door and locked eyes on the sight of Valeria Thompson stretched out on the floor. She wasn't moving, her hands and feet cuffed with garbage ties, a scarf covering her eyes. "Fuck my life, what did you do? Is she-"
"Alive, for now." Dara stared at the woman. "I've learned a few things from you Angela. The dose of tranquilizer I gave her should keep her quiet for at least a few more hours."
I've seen crack addicts calmer than she was at this moment. She was so wired she was almost jumping out of her skin. "You need help."
"That's why I called you."
"I mean from a professional. This isn't right."
"You think I need a shrink?" She let out a dry laugh. "Of all the people in the world, you think I'm the one that needs the shrink? No, no, the only thing I need is for this to be over. This… this thing is killing people and getting away with it. She's destroying families and, and just… just going about her daily life as if nothing is fucking wrong. Well, it is! It's wrong." Dara glared at me. "And we're going to do something about it so I can sleep at night."
"Killing her isn't going to rid you of anything. It's only going to make matters worse."
Dara drug her fingers through her hair, pulling almost painfully at the long strands as she began to pace. "I can't bring another child into this world knowing that evil is out there. It's out there and it's free and one of these days it's going to catch up with us. It's going to destroy us Angela, can't you see that?" She stopped to direct her pleading eyes at me. "Help me. Just this once, help me."
"I helped you before and look what's happened to you."
"Nothing has- I'm fine! Why can't anyone see that?" She pointed at Valeria Thompson. "You live to do this! She is evil and deserves to die! You can kill her and not feel any guilt over it because it's what she brought on herself!"
"Let the justice system take care of this Dara. Go back home to your family and think about seeing someone before you cause harm to yourself or the baby."
"We both know the justice system isn't going to do shit to her but you, you can help me finish this. You know I won't tell a soul. I'll never turn on you because… because I need you. I need your help."
Gazing at her, I realized this wasn't about the act itself that was compelling Dara to act so irrationally. She wasn't in this to dirty her hands but more so to experience it through the eyes of someone in control. I would do the work and she would gain some sense of satisfaction out of witnessing the deed. I had met others like this before. The thrill came from watching someone die, not from actually killing them.
"I won't do it."
"I won't kill her." I shook my head and reached into my jacket. "But if it's what you really want, here." I tossed my knife down to land at her feet. "You can do it."
Dara eyed the knife as if it was a coiled snake. Her eyes darted between it and me for several seconds before she leaned down to pick up the weapon. "But-"
"It won't take long; it's all rather quick actually. Pick a place with a good vein or artery and slide the blade from side to side almost as if cutting a Thanksgiving turkey. Bone can be tricky so it's best to not cut too deeply and please move away from the body as soon as you do. It would be a shame to get blood all over those nice maternity clothes of yours wouldn't it?"
"I don't know if I can do this."
"You don't have a choice. If you want this woman dead, you're going to have to do it yourself."
"I don't think I can."
I started to circle her, eyes locked on her face as she directed her attention down to Valeria's body. "I'm not going to kill her. You know what they say, if you want something done, you gotta do yourself."
"You can. Just stab him and get this over with Dara. I don't have all night to baby you."
Her head shot up and she glared at me. "Her, stab her."
"No, you heard me correctly." I crossed my arms over my chest. "This isn't about Valeria Thompson; it never has been. This is about Edward."
"You want revenge on him in any way possible but that's never going to happen. He's dead. That part of your life is over and nothing you do is going to change what happened to you. Killing Valeria, killing any of the numerous sickos out there, isn't going to fix the past."
"But you've killed so many…"
"And it didn't change how I felt inside. It certainly didn't bring back Andy." I cleared my throat. "It's not going to bring back Madison either."
"She deserves to die."
"Then kill her." I actually bumped her shoulder with my own to push her closer to Valeria. "Do it and get this over with."
"Kill her or let her go."
"I can't do that."
I wasn't sure what to which part she was answering. I pushed her forward again. "Do it." We both watched as Valeria began to move, slowly wakening from the drug. "Do it before she wakes up and begs for her life."
"Angela, I don't-"
"Do it!" I screamed as I got right in her face. "Kill her! Gut her like a fucking animal and watch her bleed! That will solve everything won't it? It'll take away your nightmares; help you breathe easier at night when you feel like you're all alone in the dark! It will bring back your daughter! It will make the scars fade and when you look at yourself in the mirror, you won't see weakness anymore!"
"That's not true!" She screamed back. "That's not…" She began to sob and I stepped forward to grab her just as she collapsed.
I lowered her to the floor and stroked her hair back from her face. "It'll never be true." I whispered. "But it can be better."
The knife fell free from her hand and landed at our feet. "Oh god, help me. Please help me Angela."
"I will Dara. I promise."
"You never really told me what happened."
Nick was right; it had been almost two weeks since that night and I had hardly spoken about it. I didn't know exactly where to begin. After I had managed to calm Dara down, we had worked together to put Valeria into the trunk of my car.
She was still deeply inebriated but alive. I ordered Dara to head back for home and I drove until I reached Valeria Thompson's brothel. It wasn't easy to do but I managed to dump the woman in her bedroom. The girls that she employed were busy or extremely baked so it wasn't hard to sneak back out.
It had been a huge risk but what other choice did I have? The woman had to be dropped back off and seen alive. The drugs would make sure she had no memory really of anything that happened. Hopefully her memory would be fuzzy enough to blame the blackout on excessive drinking or any other drugs the brothel owner partook in at her establishment.
"Dara needed me."
"Rick told me she's been in therapy for a few days now."
I looked away from my coffee mug and nodded. "She's still having a tough time with what happened with Edward."
"And what about you? You're the one that had to..."
"You don't have to say it."
"If I don't, it's like I haven't accepted it and I don't want you to feel as if I'm not there for you when you need me."
"I know you're here for me Nick. I've never doubted that."
He ran his hand down my back in a comforting motion. "When you want to talk about it…"
It wasn't high on my list of priorities. I gazed into Nick's brown eyes and saw them as I always did, trusting and open to anything I said. "I had to kill him." I cleared my throat. "It was either him or us and I wasn't left with a choice. I've accepted that and moved on but Dara… Her past with Edward is something none of us will ever understand. Her nightmares started long before that night he took us."
"I never fully understood why he took you as well. He was obsessed with Dara but to take you as well?"
"I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time Nick."
"I'm sorry you both had to go through that and that you had to… to kill him. I know you don't like talking to people but-"
I reached out to capture his face with my hands. "Hey, I promise that if I need to talk to anyone, I'll talk to you." I smiled softly as I stroked his cheek and leaned forward to kiss him softly. When Andrea began to fuss in the living room from her pen, I rose from the table. "You have to go to work soon."
"I could always call in sick."
"You could but you won't." I bent to kiss him one more time before I straightened. "And as tempted as I am at the thought, we could use the money especially if we're going to move into a bigger home."
"You really mean that, don't you?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I know you can be a little resistant to change baby; I just want you to be sure this is what you want too."
"I wouldn't say yes unless I meant it."
Nick rose from the table and he followed me into the living room. At the sight of us, Andrea raised her arms towards me. "Mama! Up! Up!"
"You always want up." I was smiling however as I scooped her into my arms. "It's a good thing I don't mind isn't it?" I tickled her stomach and she giggled. "Say goodbye to Daddy. He has to go to work now."
She watched me wave then repeated the action, wiggling her chubby fingers at Nick. "Bye Dada."
"Bye baby." He kissed her forehead before kissing me on the lips. "Baby number two." He chuckled as I glared at him but I didn't stop him from kissing me again. "I love you."
"I love you too. Now go before I get a call from Catherine telling me I'm distracting her Supervisor from work again."
"Filling Grissom's shoes have been a lot easier than I imagined but I still miss him."
"Me too." And I really did. The lab wasn't the same since he left and it actually made me wonder how much longer I was going to work for the LVPD. I had never been one to settle down in one area but now that I had connections and a family there seemed to be no alternative. Would I want to settle down completely? Could I quit my job to completely focus on my family?
There was also the subject matter of Dara. She was going to need support from all of us, including myself for days, maybe years to come. Could I commit myself to that as well? I couldn't let her sink into some morbid darkness that I had a hand in creating. Edward was gone but I didn't want to see Dara slowly disappear into nothing as well.
Truth was, I had a lot to do before I thought of truly retiring, none of which had to do with taking another life. No, things were now about preserving life and I had discovered I was okay with that.