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Penance

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The dull echo of my footsteps rang loudly in my ears. The steady tap of heels on the weather worn planks of the dock reverberated in my mind along with the vitriol she spat at me despite the depths of her pain. I left the briefcase containing all the evidence I had on her. Enough to put her in jail for years, enough to leave Catherine without any family at all. Enough to take away everything she had spent her whole life building. I dropped it at her feet and turned my back on her. I started walking. I could feel the weight of her stare, I could feel the bonds of our connection stretching to breaking point. I had one more question I wanted to ask. One last thing I needed an answer to before I carried on with my life and gave my complete attention to the child growing inside me.

I turned around. Patty stood completely still staring at me behind the impenetrable dark glasses she wore to hide her pain. The winter coat she wore was wrapped tightly around her frame as if it was holding her together. I stared back, her whole body trembled, perhaps with the cold, perhaps with the fury she carried in her soul as if it sustained her. Ten seconds past, an eternity while I debated the wisdom of opening my mouth. That was part of the trouble with Patty and I, we could never resist the sound of our own voices.

“Was it all a lie?” My voice carried towards her on the wind.

More long seconds passed, she cocked her head as if considering the question. As if it was ambiguous. I could tell by the slight shift in her demeanour that she knew exactly what I was referring to. I took another step forward and she raised her chin in defiance. She knew an attack was coming. I knew that she was in indescribable pain. It rolled off her like the water that roiled beneath our feet. Most women would be on their knees with the force of her loss. Patty wasn't most women. She was magnificent still. She stood rigid and proud. A stark silhouette against the unrelenting grey backdrop of angry scudding clouds. I felt the first scattering of raindrops against my face. They blew in like spray off the water, the wind picked up and we still remained staring at each other silently. Another three steps saw me within touching distance.

“Was it all a lie?” I repeated in a monotone I barely recognised.

“Go home.” She responded with flat finality and turned back toward the water.

“I can't,” I muttered desperately. “I really need to pee.”

I played the only card I had out of necessity. It was the only excuse I had to stay. It was a very convenient truth. I saw a little of the tension leave her shoulders. She turned and started to walk towards me. She kept her eyes downcast as she swept past me towards the beach house.

“Of course you do.” She said quietly and neutrally as she glanced across at my pronounced bump.

I hesitated just a moment before I followed her inside. I headed straight towards the downstairs bathroom as she disappeared into the kitchen. When I came out she had removed her coat and dark glasses and stood cradling a mug of tea in her hands. I covered my shock at seeing her stripped of her armour. Her eyes were dull and red rimmed, she had dropped weight and I noticed the slight tremor of her hands as she took a swallow of tea.

“Do you want a drink before you leave?”

Her haughty, dismissive tone brought the anger that had ebbed away with her appearance roaring back in like the tide.

“No, what I want is an answer.”

“You've got all the answers you wanted. You should leave now.”

“They were never the answers I wanted.” I hissed.

“Get out of my house.” She roared as the mug slammed down onto the worktop and tea sloshed over the granite surface. The action seemed to stir her further out of her grief induced apathy. She carried on in a low, pained whisper.

“All these years I practically begged you to leave things alone but no, you had to keep digging, you had to know the truth. Well congratulations, you always did know how to get what you want. I’m sorry the answers don't meet with your approval. I'm sorry I turned out to be the monster they all warned you about. I'm sorry I ever laid eyes on you, for both our sakes I'm sorry. Is that what you want to hear?”

She glared at me but I was too familiar with her tactics to be intimidated. She wanted to argue, she wanted to goad me into losing my temper so I would turn around and leave without the one piece of information I was missing. The final piece of the puzzle. Two years ago as we worked together on the Tobin case we began a relationship that lasted for four months. I was working for the DA’s office and we had no contact for almost a year when she finally cleared my old corner office and sent me a parcel containing the detritus of my time there along with the gift of a beautiful Chanel purse. I believed I had moved on, I was recovering from the searing pain of losing David and rebuilding my life. I knew she had been hired by the plaintiffs in the Tobin case. She knew the DA’s office were building a case to convict him. We had become useful to each other once more. I was older now, the young woman she hired on the value of her connection to Arthur Frobisher had long gone. I believed I was strong enough to play her at her own game. I let an acceptable couple of weeks go by before surprising her in the rest rooms of an upscale hotel where she had met her clients. I caught her completely unawares and in that mesmerising few minutes I realised the magnetic pull of attraction I felt for her worked both ways. Her eyes lit up on seeing my reflection in the mirror as she reapplied her lipstick. She gathered herself quickly but that expression stayed with me, buoying my confidence as I teased and outright flirted with her.

“If you want to see me, don't play games, pick up the phone and call.”

She turned around and leant back against the counter. She gave me a look that made my toes curl. I knew she would make the call. Two nights later I was nervously sipping bourbon on Patty’s couch as she sat barefoot and apparently carefree on the opposite corner. She wasn't fooling either of us. The tension was so thick you could slice it. She made a stab at small talk and I made a crack about her parenting skills that on a different night would have ended the evening. As unpredictable as ever, Patty threw her head back and laughed. In that moment she looked so unguarded, so beautiful, I did what I came to do. I put my drink down on the low table and locked eyes with her. I moved forward across that gaping chasm of history between us and kissed her. It wasn't the most forceful kiss in the world. It took every ounce of courage I possessed to do it, but in that moment I felt more alive than I had done in years. All my senses sharpened, Every nerve tingled. The softness of her lips, the scent of her perfume, the whisper of her breath as I drew away. I was acutely aware of all of it. She didn't look shocked or even remotely surprised. She lifted a palm to caress my cheek. Of all the responses I expected, Patty’s breathy, “God I've missed you” would not have made the top hundred. It was the perfect thing to say. If it was a lie, it was the most convincing lie I had ever heard. My breath stuttered and my stomach flipped when she said it. I knew I was in trouble then.

Being attracted to Patty was something I had learned to live with. She was like a magnet, she attracted everybody. Even her most vehement critics and fiercest adversaries fell under her spell. The power she wielded, the supreme confidence, the aura of invincibility. It was impossible to resist. I felt it that day at my sisters wedding and I've felt the pull of her ever since. My disgust and suspicion of her were always tempered by grudging admiration and a breathtaking awe of her particular brand of twisted genius. I would be lying if I said I had never imagined this scenario but the reality of it was very different from my fevered fantasies. I always pictured us coming together in anger with harsh words as foreplay and a frantic battle for dominance to follow. It wasn't supposed to be sweet and gentle with Patty being in turn hesitant and surprisingly insecure about her body and actions. She wasn't supposed to hold me tenderly afterwards, ask me to stay the night and appear with a bashful smile and a breakfast tray in the morning. We barely made it out of bed all weekend as work and our history were ignored in favour of getting to know each other's bodies as intimately as we knew each other's flaws. I didn't believe for a moment I was being played. For once we were equal, we were both where we wanted to be. Tension drew in with the evening on Sunday. The unlikely bubble we had created was about to burst. Perhaps I should have walked away as she seemed to be expecting but I didn't want to. I didn't think she wanted that either. I drew in a breath and told her I wanted to see her next weekend. She stared at me with that inscrutable expression I could never quite decipher and then, after what felt like an age, tilted her head in agreement.

Three months later we were still spending time together most weekends. We had meals out, went to the theatre, and watched old movies late at night. To all intents and purposes we were dating. Neither of us said a word about it. We never made plans, we never discussed it. I would simply turn up on Friday night and we would take it from there. It blew up as simply as it started. I was at fault, for once I was the one keeping secrets and covering for Tom. Patty being Patty believed we were conspiring against her and a bitter argument followed. She was visibly upset as well as irate. I knew from experience not to attempt to reason with her when she was so angry. I withdrew without a word. I was giving her some space to calm down before telling her the whole story. I never got the chance, days later Tom was dead. We were both grieving and although we spoke at the funeral, she looked right through me. Patty’s walls were firmly back in place and impenetrable. There was no going back.

I made good on my promise to myself. I walked away, yet I missed her more than I believed possible. I had fallen in love with the woman I spent those weekends with. The one who liked sex in the mornings with tousled hair and lethargic grace. The one who read into the early hours while I snuggled on her chest. The one who cried at ’Now Voyager.’ The woman who hid herself away in plain sight. She was gone and I mourned her passing. The untouchable Patty Hewes was back in full force and although we kept a tenuous contact the interlude was plainly over. It was time to get back to work. I returned to Hollis Nye and a firm that was never a good fit for me. I spent eighteen months kicking my heels while presenting cases that were knocked back time and time again. I began a relationship of sorts with a male colleague who was attractive, smart and good company. There was nothing beyond that. He didn't challenge or excite me, he was a nice guy and we looked good together. It was shallow but convenient. Patty hovered in the background like a malevolent cloud. When Chris Sanchez came along with Hi Star I knew exactly what I was going to do. I quit my job, got dumped by Mr nice guy and I was back at Patty’s door with an agenda. I knew she would let me in.

Patty was the same yet different. She had taken custody of her granddaughter some months ago as her son had vanished and abdicated responsibility. The child's mother never stood a chance. The little girl seemed to have softened Patty. She was calmer, more reflective but no less wily or dangerous. I liked to think I had manipulated her into helping me but I knew that wasn't true. No one could lead Patty anywhere she didn't really want to go. I was back in my old office and we worked together closely. She made no mention of our previous history, there were no invitations to spend time with her unrelated to work. If that was how she wanted it I decided to play along. As the case developed it was down to business and once again I was struck by her mastery. She opened doors I didn't even know were there. I had the chance, a real chance of winning a case most thought was unwinnable. It would put me firmly on the map, establish a reputation I could build on, but I had known Chris Sanchez since I was a child. He was my high school sweetheart and seeing him again stirred up a lot of confusing emotions. Patty warned me to keep a professional distance but I ignored her. When he was in danger I threw the case. Patty was predictably furious. She had her own angle and carried on to gain another notable victory. I walked away again with her words of my perceived weaknesses ringing in my ears. I set up on my own, settled into a relationship with Chris and vowed to put it all behind me.

That may have been the last time. I wish it was the last time when my thoughts of Patty were still of anger and resentment but were softened by the memories of that brief window of time when we became the unlikeliest of lovers. I was still furious over Hi-Star so when Michael returned to seek custody of his daughter I agreed to testify for him. I knew how angry that would make her. I would never have gone through with it but I wanted her to hurt as badly as she had hurt me. I wanted her to know I could not be used and cast aside time and time again. In response she literally sent Channing McClaren to my door and that pitted us against each other in what would be our final confrontation. It set off the cataclysmic chain of events that brought me to the beach house that day.

As the wind and rain began battering against the windows I steadfastly held the gaze of the hypnotic conundrum of a human being who had held me in her thrall and entangled me in her web for years. When I found my voice it was free from accusation.

“I could have loved you.”

The words seemed to take all the wind out of her sails. She visibly deflated in front of me and the pain she was suffering became apparent once more.

“Knowing what I did, I couldn't let you.”

“And I didn't get any say in the matter? After Tom died you cut me off so completely...”

“But I could never let you go.” She cut in sadly.

“I always came back. I'm here now.”

“To see me broken?”

“No. I don't know. I’m truly sorry about Michael. I can't imagine...”

“No you can't.” The sharpness returned to her tone as she glanced down at my hands that unconsciously cradled my child.

“I've wound up my firm, there's no going back for me now. It's all over, I came to tell you that. To say goodbye.”

She heard the truth in my words. This really was the end, the final farewell. Perhaps that's why she deigned to give me an answer.

“It was never a lie Ellen. Those few months were my punishment. My penance, I knew I could never have you. It felt good to hurt myself so badly.”

“God Patty....”

“Go home. Have your child, live your life. You have all the answers now.”