averita: (tv: damages - finale)
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Title: The Middle Ground
Author: [livejournal.com profile] averita
Summary: There are some things you can't walk away from. (Post-finale.)
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~1350
Spoilers: Through the series finale.
A/N: I had a hard time buying Ellen's ending. This is my attempt to make sense of it.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.

She walks away.

She leaves the beach house for the last time and doesn’t look back. The case is over, she’s won, and now she can move on. She and Chris will make up, raise their child, and live the happy life she’s let pass her by too many times, the one that nearly slipped through her fingers this time. She’s made her choice, and it’s the right one. Everything will be fine - better than fine, she tells herself as she drives back to the city. It’s time to put the past behind her and focus on the future. Everything will be fine.

She tells herself this over and over again, like it will make a difference.


The truth: there are some things you can’t walk away from.

(She’s lost track of how many times she’s walked away from Patty Hewes.)

It’s different, at first, and she’s almost able to believe that this time it will last. She packs up her office, begs Chris’ forgiveness, and doesn’t miss a single doctor’s appointment. She spends more time with her mother than she has in the past ten years, reconnects with her sister, plays with her little niece. She smiles a lot, and sometimes it feels real.

She doesn’t think about Michael or Rutger or Patrick Scully - doesn’t think of any of those demons, except at night, when they leer at her from their places around Patty’s dinner table. Too little, too late, Rutger says, and laughs until he’s blue in the face and gasping for air. (When Chris finds her shaking in the bathroom, she waves him away and blames it on morning sickness.)

Her daughter is healthy, and beautiful enough that Ellen almost forgets she never wanted kids in the first place. They argue over what to name her before finally settling on Madeline for no particular reason except that neither of them hate it. (At one point before they agree Chris suggests Julia, and Ellen turns so white that he nearly calls the nurse over.)

They are happy, at first.

When Maddie is six months old, Patty Hewes is sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice, and Ellen drinks an entire bottle of wine. (She doesn’t drink bourbon anymore.) Patty always comes out on top, Tom reminds her that night. That’s not what you want anymore.

Tom always was a good liar.

Chris leaves, eventually. It’s for the best. He forgave but never forgot, and there are too many nightmares between them. She’s proud of him, of the work he does, but the part of her she tries to ignore can’t help but resent that he’s doing what she always wanted. He’s helping people, making lives better, and he’s finding himself in the process. She’s still looking for the pieces she’s lost.

She runs into Kate Franklin at the park. Kate greets her and smiles, a bright and honest smile that Ellen can’t believe is half Patty. How did you do it? she wants to ask. How did you make it through your whole life without losing yourself to her? There are days when she’ll read the latest headline, another breaking Court decision, and feel so small that she thinks maybe a shadow could crush her; that maybe it already has.

She doesn’t ask, but when Kate hugs her she starts to cry, and allows the older woman to guide her and Maddie home.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer,” Ellen says later, when Maddie’s asleep and Kate’s stacking the remains of their meager take-out dinner. “My whole life. I wanted to fight injustice, help people. I don’t know when it became all about winning.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Kate tells her, settling down on the sofa. “Come work with me. It’s nothing glamorous - I don’t handle major cases and my clients don’t end up on TV - but it’s work, and you could be home every night for dinner.” Ellen stares at her, and Kate smiles. “Think about it. You’re going to drive yourself crazy like this.”

It’s easy, Ellen thinks later, for people like Chris and Kate. They’ve been pushed to the brink and can be proud of how they handled themselves. The only thing Ellen can be proud of is that now she has the sense to stay away.

There’s no going back, Ray Fiske tells her wisely. There’s no middle ground for people like us.

She doesn’t call Kate.

Maddie grows, and grows, and for the first time in years Ellen has something to be proud of. When Maddie starts Kindergarten, Ellen accepts a part-time job lecturing at a local college. It’s unsatisfying, like being forced to sit at the kid’s table after spending time with the adults, but it’s as close to the legal world as she trusts herself to get.

Patty does good work on the bench. Ellen tries to ignore it. After everything, it’s not the lies, the games, or even the assassination attempt; what Ellen will never forgive her for is for showing her what she’s capable of. When she sees her at the store it’s like being punched, like her insides are suddenly filled with water, and she has to fight back the instinct to run.

That night she drops Maddie off with Chris and gets very, very drunk.

She was so proud of you, Michael says resentfully. She must be so disappointed now. When she wakes her head feels like it’s been split open, but it still hurts less than that idea.

She begins dating again. No one lasts very long, but it passes the time. Chris is married now, to a lovely woman that Maddie likes and Ellen comes to consider a friend. She starts teaching full time, pre-law, and thinks that motherhood has been good for her; she works hard, and hopes that her students will fare better than she did.

Katie Connor calls her out of the blue, seventeen years after David’s death. They lost touch after Frobisher was arrested, but when they meet for lunch it’s almost like nothing’s changed. Even after all this time, Katie still knows her better than most people; Ellen’s too happy to dwell on how depressing that is.

“I was glad to hear you’d stopped practicing,” Katie tells her, serious after an hour of laughter and gossip. “I think it’s good you’ve moved on from all of that.” Ellen nods, smiles, and changes the subject.

I wish you could move on, David says sadly, later on. I always wanted you to be happy.

She supposes she’ll always be disappointing somebody.

Maddie starts college. Ellen and Chris both fly down to help her settle in; when it’s time to leave, Ellen cries, hugging her and whispering how proud she is, how much she loves her. She’s gotten so many things wrong but when she looks at her daughter, beautiful and smart and ready to take on the world, she thinks that she at least got this right, and that’s more than she could have hoped for.

The apartment is lonely without her; the whole city feels emptier.

It’s been years since she’s seen Patty, except for the occasional glimpse on the TV or online. The nightmares are few and far between, now, and she doesn’t notice that hollow space in her chest unless she thinks about it. It’s been almost twenty years since she walked away. Despite everything, she doesn’t regret it.

It doesn’t stop her from going back.

Patty lives in the same apartment; it hasn’t changed much since the last time she was there.
When Patty opens the door, she can’t hide her shock, and there, there’s that thrill; that feeling of perverse pleasure at being able to break through that infuriatingly inscrutable facade.

It doesn’t last long.

They’ve gotten old, Ellen realizes, taking in the lines of Patty’s face, the slight trembling of her hands on the doorknob. She’s spent half her life mourning the ghosts of her past and the future she could have had; with sudden, startling clarity, she realizes she’s looking at both.

Maybe this is what she’s needed to see all along.

“Hi, Patty,” she says, and smiles.
Mood:: 'tired' tired
There are 8 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
(deleted comment)
posted by [identity profile] averita.livejournal.com at 07:30am on 15/09/2012
Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked it :)
posted by [identity profile] runawaynun.livejournal.com at 12:35am on 15/09/2012
Oh, this is awesome. Of course Ellen couldn't back away from Patty, there's too much Patty in her.

I also love that Patty's on SCOTUS and that Chris and Ellen aren't together. Chris doesn't seem the type who could forgive that big of a betrayal for the sake of the case. The visits from the ghosts - almost as numerous as Patty's now - are quite good.

Oh, show, I'm going to miss you.
posted by [identity profile] averita.livejournal.com at 07:37am on 15/09/2012
Thank you!

I still wish that the episode had ended on the pier, mostly because the glimpses we got of their future lives were so fleeting that Ellen's in particular felt very incongruous. Writing this and ranting for a good while has helped me flesh it out a little in my own head.

I was never the biggest Chris fan, mostly because I like to pretend that the majority of season four didn't happen, so that particular part of the "happily ever after" was especially jarring in light of the events of the episode. I think that given the pregnancy he would have tried to move past the betrayal, but yeah, I definitely don't see it working out long term. As for Patty on SCOTUS, yes! I would have been really bummed if she hadn't come out on top in some sense. I love the idea of her reaching that level of power.

I'm still in mourning. This show is pretty much unparalleled! I had my issues with the finale, but for the most part I thought it was a great and fitting end to one of the best shows I've ever had the pleasure of watching.
posted by [identity profile] chaila.livejournal.com at 04:19am on 15/09/2012
Post-finale fic! I thought Ellen's ending might be hard for me to accept until the last couple of minutes on their FACES when Ellen's facade cracks clean through. This perfectly fleshes out that ambiguity for me. She still hasn't walked away, I don't think--all her choices are still because of Patty. The theme of the ghosts is so well-done, all the way back to Ray. I really like this.
posted by [identity profile] averita.livejournal.com at 07:53am on 15/09/2012
Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed :)

My initial viewing reaction was one of sheer horror, but upon rants, reflection, and writing this, I've come to appreciate it a little more. I do wish that it had ended on the pier - I adored the ambiguity of the season three finale, which at the time I figured would be the series finale, and I think that it would have been fitting here as well. I think my biggest problem with the last scenes were that they were so fleeting and felt heavy-handed. The cracks in both of their facades are there, sure, but for a show that has done subtlety so well in the past I'm still struggling with how two amazingly complex characters were largely shoved into such stereotypical boxes. There was something disturbing about Ellen's Stepford-esque role, absolutely, but it was such a fleeting glimpse into her future that it didn't really have a chance to present itself. (Hence this fic!)

I do agree that her choices are still because of Patty, or rather, what Patty showed her about herself. The best way I could justify her giving up the law entirely was that she simply didn't trust herself not to fall back into that world she had become so addicted to, and she built her entire life around that. (I don't think she'd have been able to stay away forever, though, at least not from Patty. She's tried too many times and never been able to follow through.)

I'm glad the ghost theme worked for you! That's another reason I can't see her living happily ever after - those sorts of memories and regrets would continue to haunt anyone, no matter how far they tried to run.

Anyway, long comment to simply say thanks for reading and commenting! I already miss this show, damn it.
posted by [identity profile] chaila.livejournal.com at 07:57pm on 15/09/2012
Yes, I think I agree with you that I would have preferred it ending on the pier where the ambiguity was a lot more clear. I loved the paralleled endings of both seasons 1 and 3 for the exact same reason. The coda totally felt heavy-handed, and I think above all I wish they hadn't chosen such stereotypical trappings to frame the choices that Ellen in particular made. Because on the surface it can be read like Ellen walked away and had a family and is in general happy, and poor sad lonely childless Patty. And because it's Damages and it has the weight of five seasons of me loving it and seeing so much complexity and ambiguity in it, I read that scene as far more complicated than that, don't read Ellen as either happy or free of Patty, or Patty as particularly sad. But it's kind of disappointing on some level that I have to fight for my reading of it?

Anyway, words about Damages, I can't resist them. I love your fic for filling in some of those gaping holes that the coda left. I miss the show already too. :(
posted by [identity profile] kuwdora.livejournal.com at 07:13am on 15/09/2012
this is absolutely marvelous and perfect.
posted by [identity profile] averita.livejournal.com at 07:53am on 15/09/2012
Thank you so much :)


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