Author's Note: Please note that I've not watched season four yet, so if something changes later or something, sorry. Also, I'm coming late to this fandom, so there are probably more insightful fics about this moment out there, but I was bored and having trouble finding them, so I wrote my own. :p

Because I Do

Ellen Parsons practically radiates untapped potential.

Patty suspects this almost immediately, and knows it to be true within days of meeting her. Not just potential to be a good lawyer, or even to be a great one. She has the potential to be great, and that's something different. Something fascinating simply because it's so rare—and the most fascinating part is that Ellen doesn't even realize it. She clings to ideals of being good and fair, and thinks that's who she is, and it's almost laughable. Underneath that, under the good-girl exterior, hidden under the layers of family caretaker and devoted fiancée and hard-working, rule-abiding, fresh-faced attorney, there is the willingness to do what needs to be done, to cast aside moral restraint and let victorious ends justify questionable means.

All it takes is the right excuse to make that part of her shine though—and she's still young, so Patty will forgive her that.

Most people that Patty bothers to associate with end up caught in her orbit, but Ellen has her own sort of gravity, and everyone—even Patty—feels the pull. More and more, Patty has to quell the urge to tear and claw away everything that Ellen thinks she is and expose the person that she will be, to make her acknowledge that part of herself and get it over with already.

She's so certain of Ellen's potential, so certain that she knows what will happen next, that she doesn't see it coming.

"Maybe we went too far," Ellen says, and Patty had expects that. David's just broken up with her, and Ellen is dealing—perhaps for the first time—with rejection from those who are supposed to love hersimply because she did what needed to be done. Ray's suicide may have given the girl pause, but Patty doubts it's what is causing the pained edge in Ellen's words. "Do you regret what we did?"

Patty hesitates. She knows a plea for justification when she hears one. A simple reassurance that of course, everything they'd done was necessary, and that they have nothing to feel guilty for, that there's nothing to regret, and Ellen will nod and maybe give a weak smile, and her feelings will turn from guilt to resentment—resentment toward David for everything that's happened tonight, resentment toward Ray for putting her in this position, probably even resentment toward Patty (but that will fade).

She could end this all here and now with that reassurance, but she doesn't. One's sense of self cannot rely on the reassurances of others, and she wants Ellen to understand that. To hold herself up, to own her part in this without regrets. Patty waits for her to come to the realization on her own, petting Cory and pretending to consider the question posed to her. (The answer is, obviously, no, and she doesn't doubt that Ellen knows this.)

"…Because I do."

And just like that, without warning, Ellen goes from being something fascinating to being a liability.

Patty feels herself go preternaturally still, disappointment and exasperation crashing down around her thoughts in a dizzying wave.

"You do?" she asks quietly, studying Ellen's face as if trying to read the thoughts behind her words, silently willing her to fix this.

"We crossed a line," Ellen replies, and there's a hint of finality in her tone. For a fleeting moment, Patty feels like she might be sick.

And even now, for reasons she can't quite explain even to herself, Patty will let her take it back. Giving in to what had been her first impulse, she offers an out, and excuse on which Ellen can hang her misgivings. "How could we know that Ray—"

Ellen just looks at her, her expression saying clearly, That's bullshit and we both know it, and Patty's sentence tapers off to an uncomfortable silence.

She takes a deep breath, and suddenly, painfully, Patty finds her balance. She knows, as she always does, what has to come next. Later she'll be angry about it, and she might even regret it (there's that sick feeling again), but in this moment she settles for allowing herself a resigned sigh before quickly improvising a plan to deal with this latest turn of events.

When she next meets Ellen's eyes, she does it with the hint of a sympathetic smile on her lips—not the one she would offer to friends, but rather the indulgent smile reserved for those who don't realize she's about to crush them. Ellen, caught up in her own thoughts, doesn't notice the change.