AN: And now, my friends, we come to the end of our tale. Thank you all for keeping up with it, I am well pleased to see it was such a success. This has been my longest story in some time, including the ones I make a living from, and all the responses definitely made it worth the effort. I will endeavour to give you all another as soon as the muse sings to me. A long chapter for my grand finale; as always, enjoy.

"In that movie the Bad Seed, the mother finds out her daughter's been killing people but even then she can't just let the police take her away. She poisons the kid and shoots herself in the head."

"She was in a pretty big hurry to get Jeannie home," Rigsby mused.

"Shit," they spoke as one and jumped form the vehicle.

They found Jeannie in bed, skin still flushed from the bath, brown hair brushed and clinging damply to her neck. Dressed in matching pyjamas and pliable like a sleeping child, when they rolled her over, giving the illusion of life, but she was not sleeping – not sleeping, for her last breath had been of water, not air, and she was already far too long dead for there to be the remotest chance of restarting her heart, much less saving her brain.

Mrs Washington, weeping softly in the doorway because her baby was dead but not because of the consequences for herself.

"They would have locked her up, if they couldn't help her she'd kill more people, or they'd shut her away forever. I couldn't let her keep hurting people but I couldn't let anyone hurt her."

Rational, after a fashion, and ironically the sort of sense Jeannie herself had applied when faced with limited resources. Jeannie had killed out of pleasure, however, and her mother out of love; curious how opposite ends of the spectrum had somehow arrived at the same place.

Cho cuffed her, tersely recited the Miranda warning, no sign, as ever, in his face, that he felt regret at a child's death or horror at her murder or even sympathy for the one who committed it. Perhaps he did feel nothing; perhaps years from now he would be one of the ones that crumbled because he had locked away too much for too long. Rigsby restrained the husband for a moment until he too sobbed into the bigger man's shoulder and then held him awkwardly til he had composed himself. Handed him the necessary information, led him away until the paramedics had zipped the deceptively angelic face away behind industrial black plastic and carried the girl's body off into their ambulance, started off down the street without lights or sirens because there was no need at all to hurry.

A long, quiet ride back to the CBI, punctuated by whispery crying from the back, where Mrs Washington was approaching the point of over-emotion and over-exhaustion. The customary booking, consigning to lock-up, a few more forms added to the stack they'd have to complete later, and then the slow realization that there was actually nothing left to do.

They would've liked to go to some cop bar, Irish of course, not some sports bar with goateed yuppies, and drink til their eyes slid out of their heads. They could have, too; more than one congealing liver in the CBI could be attributed to just such a ritual. Occasionally they did go play pool somewhere, nursed a warm beer, played a few rounds of cards, but that was for companionship, not for forgetting.

The thing was, there just never seemed to be much point, because perhaps fortunately the chemistry was all wrong for getting stupid together.

Cho drunk was not noticeably different than Cho sober, except for the infamous Asian glow; more than a single beer and all visible skin flushed the most surprising shade of pink. Once Jane had asked him if all his skin turned that color. If it had been a woman asking, he'd have offered to show her, but it was just Jane and all that earned was that thousand-mile stare he'd perfected in Sarajevo or Mogadishu or Kabul, because he'd admitted to military service and his preference for short-sleeved shirts pointed to a grunt or a jarhead, and you didn't get flat eyes like that sitting in a desk at West Point.

Rigsby was a big guy, could hold his alcohol when the situation called for it, was a good drinking buddy because his size and solidity pretty much assured no local lushes would hassle the ladies. He'd rather eat beernuts and swap sea stories, though, because he was honestly interested in the things other people had to say, and knew all the right places to nod seriously or laugh appreciatively.

Van Pelt wasn't a drinker, never had been, and now that she was an adult, didn't have any place in her life where she could slot in a brand new habit just like that.

A beautiful girl, Grace Van Pelt, and comfortable with her looks but disgusted by the attention they sometimes garnered. A man should have some way to interact with a woman, to show her attention or even attraction, other than trying to get in her pants. As if this were some great compliment. Not that she didn't know good men – Cho was funny and smart, and Rigsby, well, he was decent if anyone was. Good kisser too. Jane was certainly nice, and she enjoyed his sometimes elaborate chivalry.

Easy enough on the eyes, all three, but despite vague possibilities with Rigsby they were still all colleagues. These were men who had had to get where they were by working hard and measuring up, at least two of them. The men who bothered her were all the others, the ones who only knew how to talk to her breasts or her ass and not her mind or heart. Van Pelt, had she ever learned how to drink, would have spent a lot of time crying in her cups as her last illusions came away.

Lisbon drank, sometimes, though no one would have questioned her if she didn't; they knew too well what she came from. But it was unprofessional, not to mention undignified, to let her team see her compromised, so she'd have one for appearances, listen to the rest of them talk til she was safe to drive, and take her leave.

She liked them, truly, all of them, but for her safety and theirs a little distance must be maintained. Let them get too familiar with her, and they'd feel comfortable questioning her. Question her in the office, and nothing very much would happen, but question her in the field and someone could die – one of them could die – and so she kept the lines drawn neatly in the sand, let the wind smudge them occasionally but never wipe them away altogether.

And of course there was Jane, a man with a reason to drink if anyone had one, but if he did it was in his sombre haunted house, not here where he was far too distracted by the million or so unguarded secrets that buzzed unattended in such places to ever get properly drunk. He did play cards, and Cho would soon be a worthy adversary for him, but why should he waste his time with alcohol when the naked human psyche was there all around for the probing? Besides, he did mostly as he pleased sober, so there weren't many inhibitions left to lower.

Then, too, there was the uneven gender ratio. Two women and three men would have always left someone sleeping alone, so maudlin, incestuous one-night stands were out of the question. Rigsby and Cho occasionally ended up on one another's sofa, but that was a far cry from fleeing a friend's bed still smelling of sex and bad choices. They all knew already who would end up doing that with whom in the coming years, unacknowledged except in fleeting sideways glances in quiet moments, but out of respect to the one who would be left alone at the end of it all they maintained the status quo a little longer.

No, all told it took a certain lack of imagination to drown the memories of bad cases in beer bottles or shot glasses, and they were none of them without imagination. It was a good thing, too.

Tonight would have been one for the books, because Rigby's faith in human goodness had been rocked, Van Pelt's naïveté had been body checked into the boards, and Cho, who had seen violent youth and vicious crime and sometimes both in the same place, couldn't shake the vision of that little girl's own remorseless eyes and brittle voice. Lisbon had a headache like her skull was shrinking, because there was going to be a zoo when the media got their teeth into this, and it was going to look bad no matter who spun it or how, and there was something physically painful about the broken mother left sobbing in the jail cell because they all of them understood a little bit what it meant to love someone so much that you would protect them even if it meant never seeing, holding, loving them again.

Painful also that it was better this way, they knew, though others would never understand, for if the girl had had her day in court she'd be sent to a juvenile facility and be out by twenty-one, or to a psych ward where her chameleon properties would get her released before puberty, and then it was out into the world again with all that calculating malice and better ideas for what to do with it.

Nothing much to celebrate, but still they ate pizza, toasted the end of the case with soft drinks that fizzed much-needed caffeine into their blood, cracked a few jokes at one anothers' expense and Jane did a few parlor tricks. Van Pelt took out her braid and Cho took off his tie and Rigsby rolled up his sleeves. Jane discarded his jacket and leaned into his couch like it was absorbing him. The boys sat backwards in their chairs and the girls sat on desks and even Lisbon and Cho were heard to laugh.

They had seen enough by now to damage them but not to cripple yet, not like detectives who worked sex crimes or crime technicians who had to scrub brains off walls. They had family members, friends they would tell this story to over and over until it ceased to haunt, and in the coming years these would evaporate steadily until all they had was one another and the four walls around them. It would get to them eventually, if they stayed with Serious Crimes long enough, but so far pizza and cola and lousy civil servants' pay was good enough to get them through the night.

Paperwork came next, of course, the bane of bureaucracy and any civilized nation. Given the choice, most would prefer to be shot rather than spend their night hunched over a keyboard and godammit if Jane didn't get himself nearly blown to hell every other week, which meant all kinds of extra forms to fill out.

The others finished their reports and trouped out one by one – Van Pelt's thoroughly and concisely written, though she spun it out longer than necessary so she managed to walk out within a few minutes of Rigsby; Jane guessed he'd catch her before she reached her car.

Cho's would be concise too, written like he talked, simple sentences, official terms used where appropriate and incident report accurate to the second. Not as interesting as Van Pelt's, whose reports always read with emotion, but clear and by the book. As with the man himself, if you didn't look closely, you'd never know he broke as many rules as Jane.

Rigsby ploughed though his forms with grim determination, the same look on his face when he finished as a student finishing his final exams. He always dumped it all straight on Lisbon's desk, triumphantly, no editing or proofreading for him, and hurried to make the elevator before Van Pelt left the building.

Consolidating said forms and reports was left to the lead agent, to collate them properly and assign a sort of order to what would otherwise be hopelessly disorderly. Lisbon didn't mind; it was her own closure on a case, to be able to streamline, summarize, sort chronologically and seal it all in an envelope – finally no longer her problem.

Late that night, in the hazy darkness of the office, Jane appeared in her doorway. She looked up expectantly, prepared to be vaguely amused or slightly chagrined by whatever she was about to hear.

"She didn't look anything like my daughter, you know."

Whatever she had expected, it wasn't that. His voice was soft, the same tone he'd used the day he'd told her it was a locked room.

She didn't reply, afraid of saying something too senstive or not enough. He saw as much in her face and elaborated.

"You've worried about me this whole case. You're worried every little girl reminds me of her. But she didn't look like my daughter at all."

He hadn't denied that seeing a little girl reminded him of the one he lost, however; Lisbon had worked with Jane long enough to notice lies of omission like that.

"Just making sure you're okay, Jane. That's my job."

A faint smile creased the edges of his eyes. "You're good at your job."

Taken aback now by his words, half simple observation, half frank compliment, the admission he knew she was trying to look out for him, and he let her.

She smiled back at him, not the mock-frustrated one she wore so frequently but a smaller warmer one, for him to take back to the sofa and use to keep off the worst of the chill of memories tonight.

Satisfied, Jane turned, then paused, hand on the doorframe.

"She had blonde hair."

"Your…?" Lisbon hesitated to say the word aloud.

"My daughter. Blonde hair. Like mine." He moved the hand vaguely to his own head, seemed surprised when the fingers touched his hair; as if, indeed, surprised to realize his hair was any color at all.

Curly too, like his daughter's had been, and once he'd kept it highlighted and gelled for the cameras, but it was a long time now since he'd bothered with personal maintenance like that. He was a tidy man, neatly dressed and well-groomed, because that's what one did, after all, but he rarely looked in the mirror, seldom bothered with things like brushing his hair or matching his socks to his shirt.

He did still get his hair cut, because people said the most interesting things to their hairdressers and he liked to eavesdrop, but when his world had been so violently realigned those years before so many things, like shoes and ties, pointless wrappings for earthly forms, manners and rules, had fallen away. Hair and eye color weren't part of his mental inventory of himself any longer and it had been a long time since he'd thought a thing like what he'd just told Lisbon.

She had hair like this. That was a thing the parent of a living child thought – she looks like me.

Lisbon was looking at him in some concern and he exerted a considerable effort to wipe any trace of his thoughts from his face and bearing, bowed a little and waved to cover that his fingers shook.

"Have a good night, then."

And took himself off to the sofa.

As Mr Washington sobbed hoarsely into his wife's pillow, Christopher waited for his sister to come play as she did every night once their parents turned out the lights. Whenever they forgot to turn on the nightlights, Christopher cried until they remembered, because otherwise it was too dark to find his toys. Tonight, his father had remembered, although his mother had not come to kiss him goodnight. Jeannie didn't come either, and he was bored and irritated. She never forgot, but he was not yet two, and his patience was not unlimited.

Usually Jeannie got the toys, but tonight she apparently didn't want to play. It was a good game, too; she had taught him. Christopher climbed carefully over the bars of his crib, only just tall enough to reach. Someone had taken their toys from under the dresser, but he had more just in case. The wheel was very delicate for small hands to spin, but he managed. Jeannie didn't often let him do it, but sometimes he was allowed.

He wondered for a moment if they would watch a fire again the way they had the other night, already just at the border of his young memory, leaping orange and yellow and he and Jeannie giggling at his window because it was so beautiful.

By the light of the weak nightlight bulbs he shook out a scattering of silver needles onto the floor and picked the best one. He looked carefully at his leg, tried to remember with his little boy's brain where they had put the last ones. Found the spot he wanted, slid in the needle until it disappeared under one fat finger, and smiled.

It was such a good game.