averita: (tv: damages - finale)
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

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