Samantha Flack kept her eyes focused on a spot a few feet in front of her, not daring to shift her gaze as she walked slowly down the busy hallway, her uncomfortable black heels clicking against the marble floors as she made her way toward the ominous door that was now a mere ten or so yards away. Twice, she nearly turned and ran from the building; twice, she had to talk herself back into putting one foot in front of the other and continuing on.
In her heart, she knew this was something she needed – a small piece of closure that was a decade overdue. Nevertheless, there was nothing she could tell herself, no knowledge she could impart to herself, that could make it any easier to pull open that door, no when she knew exactly what – or, more specifically, who – would be on the other side.
Taking a seat in the very back row, she busied her trembling hands with smoothing out imagined wrinkles in her black pencil skirt. She allowed her mind to wander, focusing on anything except what she was waiting for, until the sound of everyone standing up around her startled her back to the present and onto her feet with them. As the door at the side of the room swung open, she sucked in a breath, steeling herself for the rush of emotions she was certain was about to overtake her.
A few minutes later, there he was, clad in a crisp, carefully tailored navy blue suit, a smug expression on his face that faltered only slightly when he caught sight of her through the crowded audience. As he stared at her, and she back at him, she continued to steel herself, waiting expectantly for the anger, the bitterness or the fear to come rushing in. To her surprise, though, there was nothing. No pain, no anger, no fear – only a strange feeling she could truly describe only as nothing. She couldn't quite describe it as calm, but it was certainly surreal.
Slowly, she drew her shoulders back as she stared straight at him, her body almost challenging him of its own accord, sending him her silent message. You don't scare me, it said wordlessly. You don't have any power over me, you sick bastard.
For a moment, his gaze lingered on her, almost daring her into a battle of wills that she was fully prepared to engage in, until he suddenly looked away and the whole room took their seats. Samantha sat perfectly still as she half-listened to the judge's speech and instructions, her eyes never leaving the back of his head, silently boring a hole as she repeated her silent prayer for the verdict.
After a few minutes, a slight rustling sound beside her alerted her to the arrival of another observer. She didn't need to turn her head to recognize his presence, so it came as no surprise to her when she soon felt a strong hand slip over her own and squeeze it gently in support. She hadn't truly expected him to be there, but these days, nothing surprised her anymore.
Much sooner than she'd anticipated, the courtroom fell eerily silent as the jury forewoman rose to her feet and slowly read off a sheet of paper in her hands, not looking up at the man standing just a few feet away behind the table. Samantha watched the whole thing stoically, sitting silently as the judge certified the verdict and dismissed the jury, not even flinching when he ventured a quick glance to the back of the room before leaving the courtroom, not moving as the crowds quickly filed back out into the hallway.
"It's over, Don," she said quietly, finally breaking her silence.
"You okay?" Don squeezed her hand again, neither of them moving to leave their spot in the now-empty courtroom.
"I thought I'd feel different."
"I don't know," she shrugged. "Happy. Free. Relieved, maybe?"
"How do you feel?"
"The same," Samantha admitted reluctantly. "I was angry at him for a long time, but I had to move past that, before any of this started. And now, I don't know…it's good that he's off the street, that he can't hurt anyone else, but it almost doesn't matter to me, you know?"
"I think so," Flack said, standing up and extending his hand to her. "I'm kinda surprised Ross ain't here."
"I told him I wasn't gonna come," Samantha admitted.
"Why'd you do that?"
"This is my past, Donnie; Adam's my future. I just…it's that last piece I needed to put behind me on my own, you know?"
"I guess, yeah," Flack nodded, not quite comprehending, but knowing enough to let the subject go. "So, what do you say we get out of here and you let your brother buy you lunch?"
"As nice as that sounds, I'll have to pass," Samantha said, finally taking his hand and slowly standing up, taking a moment to find her balance in the her heels. "I've got my last fitting this afternoon."
"That's right, the big white dress," Flack said with a smirk. "You are wearing white, aren't you?"
"Shut up," Samantha laughed, smacking him across the chest.
Flack laughed and tossed his hands up defensively.
"Hey, it was just a question. How was I to know you weren't wearing…I don't know, pink or something?"
"Pink, Donnie? Seriously?" Samantha asked. "Can you really see me wearing pink for anything? Especially my wedding?"
Flack groaned as his eyelids flashed open and then shut again, turning his head into the pillow to block the stream of bright late summer sun filtering in through the crack in the curtains. He quickly reached out his hand, fumbling through the items on the bedside table in a futile effort to find the source of the offensive beeping.
"Make it stop," he groaned loudly.
"You're such a baby," Stella laughed, swatting away the arm that was reaching over her, then grabbing her cell phone from the other bedside table and switching off the alarm. "It's seven o'clock."
"Don't go," Flack said, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her body tight against his, his face just inches from hers. "Stay."
"You make quite the tempting argument, Detective," Stella said, smiling as she kissed him slowly, allowing herself to linger in the moment just a bit longer. "But I do have to go."
"No, you don't. I happen to know this girlie brunch thing isn't 'til ten. It's only seven, you've got three hours…c'mon, I can think of a lot better things to do with those three hours."
"Oh, I'm sure you can," Stella smirked as he leaned over and kissed her again. "Mmm…but I have to be there early to make sure the caterers set up properly."
"Why is that your job? Shouldn't Sam be doing that?"
"Of course not," Stella shook her head in disbelief. "She's the bride, Don, and it's her wedding day. All she has to do is show up. I'm the maid of honor, I'm the one who makes sure things go smoothly."
"What time do you gotta be there?"
"Around nine should be good."
"Two hours," Flack said. "The restaurant ain't that far away…"
"Yes, but I have to run back to my place and grab a change of clothes," Stella pointed out. "I can't very well show up in the same outfit I was wearing last night, can I?"
"Don't see what's wrong with what you're wearing right now, to be honest."
"Sure, you wouldn't," Stella retorted, quickly kissing his cheek before slipping out of the bed. "Somehow, though, I don't think anyone else would think it appropriate for me to show up in nothing but your shirt."
"So like I said, don't go," Flack shrugged. "Stay with me a little longer."
"And like I said, I have to go back to my apartment and change."
"Seems like we have this conversation every morning," Flack said, propping himself up on his elbow to get a better view as she slipped into her skirt.
"We do," Stella agreed. "So I know what's coming next, and the answer is still no."
"Don't see why, it makes so much more sense for you to move in with me," Flack said. "You're here every night. Your apartment is basically an overpriced storage closet at this point."
"I'm not having this conversation with you again, not today," Stella insisted.
"What about a new conversation, then?"
Stella watched in confusion as Flack reached over and pulled a small silver key out of the drawer in the bedside table.
"I'm not moving in here," Stella repeated.
"Then it's a good thing this key don't open my door," Flack said. "See, I figured it out. This is my place, your place is your place."
"Brilliant deduction. You say you're a detective?"
"Ha ha ha. Anyhow, I figure, what we need is to move into someplace that's ours."
"Please tell me you didn't sign a lease for both us."
"Of course not. You think I could recreate that chicken scrawl you call a signature?"
"So what's the key for?"
"Dramatic effect," Flack shrugged. "I borrowed it from the super, it's for the apartment three floors up. It's bigger, it's newer, it's got a better view…I figured it could at least be a start to look at it."
"I'm going to brush my teeth now," Stella shook her head as she headed into the bathroom.
"Don't use my toothbrush!" Flack shouted. "And just think about would ya, Stel? It's been five months, and I get that I'm not all experienced at this long-term stuff, but that seems plenty long enough to me."
"Mmhmm…" Stella's garbled reply was incomprehensible through her toothbrush.
"Would you at least think about it?"
Stella sighed as she shut off the sink and walked back out of the bathroom, grabbing her skirt off the back of a chair.
"I suppose I could use a little more time to fix my hair in the mornings."
"Not quite what I had in mind for our mornings," Flack said, reaching out and grabbing her wrist, smiling at the tiny shriek that escaped her lips as he pulled her onto the bed next to him.
"Is that so?" Stella asked with a smirk. "And tell me, just what did you have in mind?"
"I could, but I'd so much rather show you," Flack said, wrapping one arm around her waist as leaned over and kissed her, softly at first, his free hand brushing a stray curl out of her face.
"Don…" she muttered anxiously as his lips slowly, teasingly began trailing down her neck toward her collar bone. "I'm going to be late…"
"They'll wait," Flack assured her, and all thoughts of protest soon died on her lips as he carefully rolled on top of her and pressed his lips to hers.
"You're late," Samantha said, arching an eyebrow suspiciously as Stella rushed into the private back room of the downtown restaurant at quarter past nine.
"And you're early," Stella retorted.
"Don't change the subject," Samantha said. "You're late. Why?"
"You don't want to know."
"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know."
"Are there enough place settings here? There don't look like enough."
"I counted three times," Samantha said. "Don't change the subject. You're never late, Stel. What gives?"
"Blame your brother."
"I usually do," Samantha said. "What did he do this time?"
"He distracted me," Stella said. "I was going to be on time, until he pulled out that stupid key."
"You didn't already have a key to his place?"
"No, I do. This was a key to…well, to our apartment."
"Wait, he rented you guys an apartment? Without even showing you?"
"Of course not, he's not that stupid," Stella laughed. "It was more a symbolic key, I guess…the first one he wanted us to look at."
"So you're moving in with my brother?" Samantha asked excitedly.
"I don't know," Stella said.
"God, you move slower than molasses, you know that? You can't drag your feet forever, Stel, Donnie's patient but he's not that patient. What are you waiting for?"
"I don't know," Stella admitted.
"Look, it's my wedding day, and I'm not going to spend giving you relationship advice, so I'm only going to say this once…for God's sake, Stella, stop thinking so much and just do it. You know you want to."
"Well, yeah, but…"
"No buts, just do it. Call it your wedding present to me."
"So that means I can take back the bread machine?"
"I swear, if you bought me a bread machine…"
"Do you really think I would buy you a bread machine?" Stella asked. "Knowing you, you'd probably store dishes in or something."
"Just checking," Samantha said cautiously. "So, are you gonna do it?"
"Not because you said so," Stella said.
"But you are going to do it," Samantha said knowingly.
"Yeah, I think I am," Stella said with a smile.
"Well it's about damn time!" Samantha laughed. "Hey, is that centerpiece off-center on the table?"
"No, it's not," Stella insisted. "And Sam? It's a pre-wedding brunch, not the wedding reception. Let's save the bridezilla stuff for later, okay?"
Samantha nervously tugged at the edge of her veil as she stood in the tiny room at the back of the church, staring into the full-length mirror in front of her.
"Aren't you going to say something?" she asked hesitantly, turning her head to look at her father, who was hovering just as nervously in the doorway.
"I don't…you look amazing, Sammy," Captain Flack stammered after a moment's hesitation.
"You don't think it's too much?" Samantha asked, gesturing toward the long train on her fitted strapless gown. "It's not me, is it?"
"It's beautiful," Captain Flack assured her, recognizing the doubt on his daughter's face. "You are beautiful, Samantha."
"You really think so?"
"I always have," Captain Flack said, smiling sadly as she turned to face him. "You look so much like your mother."
"I wish she were here," Samantha said.
"Me too," Captain Flack said. "She'd know just what to say right now, to make you less nervous about all of this."
"I'm not nervous about the wedding, not really," Samantha shook her head with a mischievous smile. "I'm just worried I'm gonna trip on this dress and fall flat on my face halfway down the aisle."
"Nah, you just hold on real tight to this arm here and I'll catch you if you fall. But you won't. Your mother won't let that happen."
"You think she's here?" Samantha asked skeptically.
"I know it," Captain Flack said, grabbing her hand and placing it over his heart. "She's with me every day, right here, and I know she's watching you right now, and she's so very happy for you."
"God, that's sappy," Samantha laughed, reaching up to wipe a tear from her face.
"You tell the boys at the station I said that and I'll deny it 'til the day I die," Captain Flack said quickly.
"My lips are sealed," Samantha assured him, pausing for a moment before whispering softly. "But I hope it's true."
Turning back to face the mirror, Samantha sighed again as she smoothed out a wrinkle in the bodice of her dress.
"You ready?" Captain Flack asked.
"Is everyone here?"
"All twelve of everyone," Captain Flack said. "I hope you got a discount for not even using half the pews."
"Hey, everyone I wanted here was on that guest list," Samantha pointed out. "You, Donnie, Stella, Aunt Molly, Aunt Maura, Adam's sisters, Adam's friends. If they're all here, I'm happy."
"Then they're all here," Captain Flack said, extending his arm to her. "So, what do you say we go get you married, baby girl?"
A/N: And there it is, the epilogue! I know I always tend to leave things a little bit unresolved or open-ended in my epilogues, so I hope it satisfied you all! It's been a fun ride, and I thank you all for reading through this story and sticking with me to this point. I truly appreciate each and every one of you who took the time to add my story to your alerts, to leave a review or to send me a message. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you will take a minute to leave one final review and let me know your parting thoughts!
As some of you may know, I am working my way through all my unfinished stories one at a time, completing each one before moving on to the next. For those who were reading some of my other stories, here is the plan now: up next, I will be finishing my Grey's Anatomy story, "Chasing A Ghost" (probably 3-5 chapters left in that one). After that, I will come back to CSI:NY to finish "Everything Changes", then "Looking for a Reason".
Thank you again for reading!