These entertaining characters do not belong to me. They belong to the USA Network, the genius of Matt Nix, his writers and the talented actors who give us human faces to see them more clearly. With thanks for letting me borrow them for a while.
"Hey, Maddie, you doing okay?"
Jesse crouched down next to his grieving friend as he studied her soft, pale, lined face, a face that had grown a decade older in the past week. He gently held both her hands in his while he waited for her to respond.
They hadn't been there long when Maddie looked up and said, "Please, don't go."
Now, Jesse wondered if she was talking to him, to Fiona, or to the son she lost.
He was a concerned about Maddie losing a grip on reality; Fiona was not.
They couldn't help but notice Michael's mother slipping into the past and, sometimes, it seemed as if she'd gotten lost there. Jesse watched her, measuring, deciding, and glanced up at Fiona who had been investigating the contents of her fridge and shaking her head.
"I'm not going to bring you another fresh salad from Carlitos," Fiona said, as she emptied several items into a trash can. She turned and took the trash bag and dropped it outside the back door. "But, if you want one, I'll bring it as long as you promise to eat it. You're beginning to look like you've been in prison, Madeline."
If Fi intended that as humor, it passed right over Maddie's head.
Jesse could see Fiona was as worried as he was about how Maddie was spending her time. Every time they came to visit she was in the same spot.
She'd been sitting there, alone with Nate's childhood spread out on the table before her for days. There was a collection of grade school photos, a broken ignition key, a tiny wrinkled newborn's hospital bracelet, a baby soft curl encased between plastic, a Cub Scout uniform with two badges and a torn sleeve, and a limousine service brochure.
She touched and caressed each item, pulling from it a kind of peace or solace, it seemed. There were photographs, too. Pictures of Nate holding Charlie, the son he'd lost, the grandson Maddie lost when Ruth had left Nate, and, the child his uncle feared no one in the Westen family would be allowed to see again. And especially now that Nate had died the way he had died.
Jesse interrupted her focus on the images. "Maddie? When was the last time you ate? Can I get you something? Your friends left plenty of food."
She smiled faintly and slid her palm against Jesse's cheek as she might have done for her son—the son she buried, not the son she would not speak to.
"I'm not hungry, but thanks," she said.
Jesse knew it was Mike who needed this small tenderness from his mother, and he had to wonder if that would ever happen again. Currently, it didn't seem so.
Since Nate's funeral, she had been moving in a graceful, slow motion, and every motion she made put more distance between herself and her son who was very much alive.
Jesse still could not believe what he'd watched Madeline do.
It had been done in silence.
It had been so very calm.
So very devastating.
It was late in the day, a week ago. After the funeral.
Nate's casket had been lowered to the ground. Maddie couldn't leave. Everyone else had left, everyone except for Fi, Jesse and Sam, and Michael. When the cemetery workers approached, questions in their eyes, Sam told them they'd be leaving soon, but Maddie insisted that they go ahead and do their jobs and bury her son.
She tossed a red rose on top of Nate's casket as the workers lowered it into the ground.
It was Fiona who had surprised them all when she began speaking, clearly and softly. "The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want." Once she finished, she began again. "Our Father, who art in heaven." Everyone but Maddie joined her in the Lord's Prayer. More than anything, those few words had turned a bitter day into a comforting moment for Jesse, if only for the personal memory it tugged.
But those same words seemed to send Madeline Westen into a deeper, darker place, a place Fiona feared Michael would travel in a much different manner.
Jesse, Fi and Sam were thankful for one small thing.
Nate was not buried near his father. Instead Maddie chose a cemetery close to her home in a quiet, gated place with well-kept grounds and too many tidy stone markers.
Jesse had been at the loft with Fi and Sam when he overheard Mike's call, another call that went unanswered except by her machine. In this one, he asked his mother if he could help her plan Nate's funeral. When his phone rang, he answered quickly.
"Mom, thanks for calling me back."
He listened and then seemed to struggle with breathing. The expression that washed across his features was enough for Sam. He'd reached for his beer, turned away and went up the stairs to the office, separating himself from the rest of them. Jesse watched as Fiona took the phone from Michael's hand and turned it off.
"What did she say, Michael?
"She . . . she . . . said I'd done enough."
Desolation paled his complexion as he slowly slumped against the wall. Fiona wrapped her arm around his waist and stood there next to him, keeping him upright.
Jesse had found a reason to leave, because he needed to find a reason to leave. He'd gone to sit by the waterfront near Carlitos and within the hour, Sam joined him. He could tell by the expression on Sam's face and the tired way he'd taken a seat on the stone wall that there was nothing they could do now except wait for tomorrow.
"Thank God she's out of prison," Sam said, as he looked off into the horizon.
Jesse murmured agreement.
As far as Jesse knew, those simple and cruel words had been the last Madeline had said to Michael until after the service when they were the only ones left in the church and she told him it was time the final good-byes.
When they left the cemetery, Jesse drove Maddie back to her house. Sam followed with Mike and Fiona in his car.
Sam had gone into the house already, but Mike had waited outside with Fiona. He stood on the back step by the kitchen door, and knocked quietly. Fi stood behind him.
Jesse had the strong sense this was some ritual between mother and son, something from their past, and something he probably had no business knowing. He'd watched as Maddie crossed the room, glanced through the door and then closed it on her oldest son, leaving him outside with his grief.
Jesse was stunned.
He'd looked at Sam who was reacting with resigned disbelief. He saw a muscle in Sam's jaw clench with tension, but his voice, when he spoke, was gentle. He broke the paralyzing, awkward silence to tell Maddie how sorry he was about Nate. He gave her a gentle hug and kissed her forehead before he left.
Outside, Jesse heard Sam's voice, and a minute later, he heard Sam's Caddy pull away from the house. Fiona, however, hadn't left, and joined him inside. He was grateful to see Maddie allowed Fiona to offer her comfort. It was obvious Fiona was torn, leaving the man who, without the formality, was her husband to stay with his mother, because they couldn't be together. Not then.
Fiona was fine until Maddie hugged her and said, "Thank you for caring so much."
Jesse watched Fiona press her fingers to her lips. Her eyes were wide and damp, and she had to swipe at a tear that slid down her cheek.
More than anyone, Fiona seemed to understand Michael's rejection by his mother. He learned she'd lived with something very similar in the years since sister was killed in Ireland.
Jesse's memory of his own mother's funeral was clear, as a child's memory is clear, and Nate's funeral brought the return of those days when he was a sorrowing, pain-filled kid no one wanted. Loss could be renewed; he felt it as keenly today as he had then.
But the worst memory, the one he would never be able to banish, was of Nate bleeding out in front of that sign, with Michael crouched over him, trying to shout him back to life.
He thought he understood grief, but he hadn't seen this version of it.
Jesse witnessed Dani Pearce's anguish as she finally laid her fiancé's ghost to rest, and this situation with Mike bore similar features. Dani found closure in vengeance within the law. Michael, Jesse feared, would be reckless enough to throw his life away to avenge his brother, and if he had to step outside the law, he would. He'd already proven how far he would go to get Fiona out of prision, and, worse, who he was willing to endanger to do that.
It wasn't over. The hunt for Nate's killer was on.
Jesse knew the potential was justice might never be attained. If Fiona hadn't freely given up herself to the FBI to break Anson's hold over Mike, after Mike lost his grip on right and wrong, then his brother might still be here. Nate might still be screwing up, but he'd be here.
But Nate was cold and gone. Mike would always be haunted by that moment when Nate died, just as Jesse was still haunted by the sight of his mother's casket, and angry that no one would open it and let him see that she was inside.
It had taken him years to truly accept that every life came to the same place at some time. You began. You ended. Everyone had to deal with death. If not your own, then someone so dear to you that you had to relearn breathing.
Fiona had pushed him before Nate's funeral, to tell her everything that had happened in the hours before they appeared outside the prison to take her home. She called him when Michael finally slept, and demanded that he meet her in the morning to tell her what had happened before she was released.
He understood her need for information, so he told her every last thing he'd witnessed. Nate's fumbles. Mike's response with over the top anger. Then, there was that final moment when they saw Nate, triumphant to be holding Anson at gunpoint, quickly followed when the shot rang out, and Nate stumbled, collapsed, fell and bled out on the sidewalk.
He told her how Mike reacted before anyone else, while they were trying to determine where the shooter was located. He told her how in the end, Mike was still yelling at his brother. "Nate! Nate!"
When Jesse finished the miserable tale, Fiona was trembling.
Then she explained how she could understand the grief Michael and his mother were bathing in, absorbing, inhaling and exhaling.
"After my sister was killed, my mother couldn't walk up the aisle to her casket. My da and brothers had to carry her. And I didn't want to go either, but my brother Sean pulled me along. I hate funerals."
They had been silent a moment before she spoke again. "Avenging someone's death changes you."
"And you don't want to see that happen to Mike."
"No. Maybe you don't either, but I know what he's thinking."
"He's out for blood, but it might be his that gets spilled."
Jesse knew Fi had been as worried as he was before they left Mike at the loft today, however, Dani had an agenda. Since Mike wouldn't come to see her, even by her request, she came to see him and was demanding all the details Mike had neglected to mention to her, beginning with how he hid Rebecca's role in tracking Anson.
Mike and Dani had been arguing when he and Fiona left to visit Madeline.
When they arrived, they opened the door to release a plume of tobacco smoke. The house was grey with tobacco haze. It reeked.
Once again, they found her sitting at her dining table with Nate's childhood spread before her. Today she was framing, with her hands, photos of Nate holding his baby son, the son who'd been taken away from him.
It made Jesse wonder if Nate's wife was aware she was now a widow. He'd asked Maddie that yesterday.
"No. Well, I don't know. She doesn't answer the phone when I call, so after a couple of days I just left the message. What else could I do?"
The heavy thick layers of cigarette smoke was gagging. Jesse's eyes watered.
While he'd debated what to do, Fiona was doing what needed to be done.
She was going through Maddie's house opening doors and windows. She found the metal coffee can used for cigarette butts and began emptying the overflowing ashtrays that occupied nearly every surface in her house.
Jesse sighed. "Hey, Maddie . . . you probably should go slower on the cigarettes."
She smiled faintly. "You're sweet for worrying. I know I should. It's a bad habit," she said, as she lit another one, inhaled and blew a stream of smoke the opposite direction of where Jesse was seated. "I just can't seem to help myself."
Jesse debated what he was about to tell her next, but he'd promised Mike he'd tell his mother today.
"Mike wanted you to know that he's taken care of the stuff with the funeral home. You don't have to worry about the money."
She looked away; the dark light in her blue eyes grew pale.
Jesse was beginning to feel helpless, and the emotion was growing.
It struck him that he'd become a stand-in for Mike. A son without the history Mike shared with his mother. The moment he realized that, he also knew he needed to back away.
Fiona caught his glance and appeared to have read his mind, because she returned to stand next to him.
"Madeline, it's been a week since the funeral."
Jesse looked at the women Michael Westen loved and decided to remove himself, but Fiona had a chore for him.
"Fiona, you . . . just don't understand." Madeline's voice was sharp. Neither of them had heard that acrid tone from her in some time.
"Actually, I do," she said quickly and then changed subjects. "Do you still have those fans in the garage?"
It was such an odd question in the middle of what Madeline had been solely focused on for days that she paused, and wrinkled her brow. "Yes. Do you need them?"
"No, you do. Jesse? Do you mind bringing them into the house?"
By the time he brought the fans inside and strategically placed them to blow out stale, smoke filled air, Fiona had made fresh iced tea.
"Look, I'm, uh, going to clean the vent filters in the house, okay?" he told Fi.
"Perfect. It'll smell better in here. Come on, Madeline, let's go outside and sit by the arbor. It's in shade," Fiona said.
Jesse bowed out, relieved to be doing something useful, and let Fi do her thing.
"It's hot out there," Maddie complained.
"But I can breathe better, and so will you. You've been hurting yourself, Madeline. The smoking. . . the isolation."
"Fiona, I'm not ready to . . ." Maddie started, but didn't finish her thought.
Fiona sat at one end of the glider and put her tea glass on the table next to it. Madeline fished out a pack of cigarettes and was patting her pockets for a lighter.
"Really, Maddie? Please. Give your lungs a break. And if you don't want to do that, then please, give me a break from the smoke. I shouldn't have to take a shower when I leave your house."
"It's very stressful to lose a son," she said bitterly.
Fiona recognized her pain.
It had been apparent in her mother's face long ago, apparent on Madeline's face today.
She wondered when Madeline had first learned to wear that particular coat of mail. From the bits and pieces of information, the expressions on Michael's face, and the brief exchanges between him and his mother that left room for no one but the two of them, Fiona assumed Madeline spent years creating the protective varnish on lives spent with an abusive husband and father. Michael had perfected armoring his heart for the same reason.
They had come so far, but now she watched helplessly as he slid into a past he couldn't leave in the past. She had to stop it.
"Losing Nate was just as stressful as the way I lost my sister Claire. I was 15 when she was killed by a British soldier. She died the same way Nate did. And my mother was angry that I was still alive."
Fiona paused and looked straight into Madeline's watery gaze. "The same way you are angry Michael is still alive."
"That doesn't make sense. Why would she be angry with you?"
"I think she would have rather lost her argumentative child instead of her sweet daughter."
Now that she'd laid it out for Madeline to see, this subject she rarely discussed with anyone, she could see the surprise in Maddie's face.
Fiona had never told Madeline this tale. It was something Michael knew. It was something Sam knew. And, as of last week, it was something Jesse knew.
"Madeline, you're much stronger than my mother was," she continued. "She fell apart, as any mother would for losing a child.
"The morning Claire died, my mother heard me arguing with her. I said terrible things to her, and then after she left, I was sorry so I'd made her a dessert as an apology. It turned out terrible, but Claire never . . . she never came home again for my awful dessert or my apology.
"My mother blamed me. She told me I should have been with her, protecting Claire, and if I had been, perhaps it would be me who died instead of her. But it didn't happen that way, even though I think my mother wishes it had.
"I can't change what happened, and I can't bring my sister back. There's one other thing I can't have. I can't have my mother. She's still angry and bitter, and she's still blaming me, all these years later. That was one of the reasons I had to leave home. It wasn't home anymore."
Madeline touched her arm and Fiona looked down at her hand.
"Michael knows this." It was more question than statement.
"He's known it since we first met."
She frowned at Fiona. "He could have told me."
"He respected my wishes. It wasn't his story to tell."
Madeline looked away from her then, and stared at the garage at the end of the driveway.
Fiona bit her lip before she spoke again. "Don't blame Michael. I know you're angry with him. I know that if he could, he'd have given his life for Nate. I hope you won't turn this awful thing into something worse, because what's worse is not having a family, or a mother, even when you do."
Jesse appeared at the side of the driveway.
Fiona looked up and nodded and then back to Michael's mother.
"I hope you won't shut your son out of your life the way my mother shut me out of hers," Fiona said.
"He deserves it."
Fiona stood, and straightened her blouse and leaned down to kiss Madeline's cheek. "No. He doesn't."
Jesse stepped close and reached down to squeeze Maddie's hand. "We'll be back tomorrow. Call if you need anything. Okay?"
The flight of stairs to the loft seemed entirely too steeply pitched for two people who were weary to the center of their beings. Emotional weariness trumped physical exhaustion every time.
Fiona and Jesse were halfway up the stairs when Michael opened the door, keys in his hand.
"Dani gone?" Jesse asked.
Michael stopped, kissed Fi's cheek and clasped her hand as he answered Jesse.
"Yeah. About a half hour ago. I'm on my way to Carlitos."
"Meeting someone?" Fiona wondered.
"No. My mother called. She wants a . . . a salad. I wrote it down." He patted his shirt pocket to make sure the note he'd written to himself was there. "I'll see you guys later."
Jesse looked at Fiona. "Wow. What did you say to Maddie?"
"I just opened a door, that's all."
"I hope it's more than that, Fi."