Til Death Do Us Part

Til Death Do Us Part
Written April 2001
Rated PG
Synopsis: Paul returns to the home he and Madeline once shared.
Spoilers: “Four Light Years Farther” and most of season five

Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.


He could see the house on the top of the hill, blocking the evening sun with its magnificence. A few steps later, he could make out the yellow and red tulips that bordered the sidewalk.

He paused, lingering at the mailbox in nervous hesitation. It had been…too long. Yet he could still recall every inch of the two-story home. The thick white balustrade of the wrap-around porch had been recently painted, he noted. So had the siding, cotton-candy blue as it always had been. He allowed himself a small smile; he still hated the color, but it had been what she wanted, and who was he to deny her every wish?

He took two steps up the walk, reality slowly setting in. He glanced at the magnolia tree that shadowed his location. He remembered planting that tree, years ago, on a cool spring afternoon. At the time, it had been his height. Now it towered over him. He shook his head in amazement and continued walking.

He stopped at the foot of the stairs, hand on the railing. Just being there brought back a flood of memories. He could still recall the exact look in her eyes when she told him she had found “the perfect place for retirement.” He had laughed at that; they both knew that retirement was not a viable option in their line of work. But she had been firm in her desire to build a house overlooking a body of water. This hill, which she had discovered, gracefully sloped and swooped its way to a sparkling lake. It was perfect in her eyes–and he liked to see the world from her point of view. So she purchased the lot, hired construction, and arranged the interior design. Within a month, it was completed. His idea of a rustic hunter’s lodge was put to rest when she revealed that she had taken the liberty of furnishing it to her liking–warm, cozy, and inviting. On their first night in the house, as he held her in his arms, he whispered that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

The years passed with great cruelty, changing both of them in extreme ways. He lost interest in the rustic; she grew to detest anything warm and inviting. Even their relationship took a turn for the worse, an occurrence that he regretted to this day. But the house never changed. No redecorating, no repainting–just a noticeable decrease in the number of visits they made together.

Now, staring at the intricately designed window on the front door, he wished he had never left. They had been happy here, their lives untarnished by Fate and time.

“Paul, is that you?”

He turned quickly, startled by the voice. A smile spread to his face. “Hi, Ginny.”

“Is that any way to treat an old friend? Come here and give me a hug!” The gray-haired woman embraced him fondly. “It’s been ten years at least!”

“Closer to twelve, I think.”

“That long? Where does the time go? Oh, Paul, you haven’t changed a bit!”

“The years have been good to you as well.”

Ginny grinned broadly. “It’s so good to see you. How long are you staying?”

He paused slightly. Although he knew he could never leave for fear of being discovered, he was uncertain how long he could stay. The memories were so strong, they almost engulfed him. “Indefinitely.”

“Oh, so you’ve finally retired!”

He smiled; retirement in his occupation could only be achieved by faking his own death. Regardless of the terminology, he would never be returning to work. “Yes. I trust you’ve kept everything running smoothly?”

“Of course! Everything is, more or less, the same as it was twelve years ago. Nevertheless, I’ll leave you to get reacquainted. I’m going home for the evening.” Ginny started for the street, stopping at the end of the walk, smiling sincerely. “I’m so glad you’re back, Paul. I know Madeline will be pleased to see you as well, when she returns.”

His heart sank at the false hopes implied by the phrase. Ginny had no idea of their true identities, meaning she had no idea that Madeline would never return. She could never know the truth, and because of that he didn’t know what to say. “I… Madeline’s not coming back, Ginny.”

The woman laughed, a reaction that he wasn’t expecting under the circumstances. “Well, she’d better come back! She left a pie in the oven!” Still chuckling, she disappeared down the hill.

Paul watched blankly. His whole body shook while his heart pounded and his breath heaved. No. No, no, no, no, no. It was impossible. Madeline was dead; she couldn’t be here. He had seen her lifeless body, kissed her cold lips as she was wheeled away on the stretcher. Two people witnessed her suicide, and an entire medical team disposed of her body…hadn’t they? He shook his head in disbelief. No, it couldn’t be. Madeline couldn’t be alive.

He pivoted on his heel, rushing up the stairs and through the front door. He paused on the wooden foyer, the unmistakable aroma of strawberry rhubarb pie filling his senses. He glanced around the living room wildly, searching for any sign that Madeline was in residence. Seeing none, he entered the kitchen. A recipe card sat next to the stove, and he gazed at it. He didn’t recognize the handwriting–but then again it had been so long since he had used something other than a computer, he doubted he would even recognize his own, much less Madeline’s. He compared the baking duration on the recipe card to the minutes remaining on the egg timer. According to this, the pie had been inserted into the oven thirty minutes ago. Thirty minutes ago, he was on his way here. Was it possible he had passed her on the way and not recognized her? Did she see him and not acknowledge his presence? Or had Ginny misinterpreted his statement and Madeline was still gone?

He left the kitchen and headed upstairs to the bedroom. Madeline had insisted on loft-like sleeping quarters, so the entire second floor was one big room. Nothing had changed, he noted upon his arrival. The large bed with the satin sheets and deep green comforter had been made, so it was impossible to tell if someone had slept in it. He pulled open the closet doors and examined the contents. Clothes hung from the rack, neatly arranged by style and color. Typical Madeline.

He sat on the edge of the bed, putting his face in his hands. Ginny’s statement was driving him crazy. If Madeline had faked her suicide, she would have told him. Besides, what reason would she have? She never came back to help him regain control of Section One. She never contacted him. Had Ginny been joking? There was very little evidence that Madeline was here, except for the pie, and even that was inconclusive. Perhaps she was speaking in some sort of twisted metaphor; Madeline always did like strawberry rhubarb pie.

He lifted his head and gazed around the room. Something caught his eye, something that had previously gone unnoticed. Sitting on the windowsill was a small potted plant. He stood and walked over to it. He recognized it as a juniper, the perfect type of tree for pruning. The branches of this one had been delicately shaped and crafted in the formal upright style. He frowned slightly. The art of bonsai was one of Madeline’s prized hobbies, and it was unlikely that Ginny shared her deep interest in horticulture. Did that mean…?

The sound of the front door opening and closing startled him from his thoughts. He was immediately alert, listening as footsteps passed through the house, stopping in the vicinity of the kitchen. He heard more noises; someone was definitely home. Although it was almost impossible for his former employers to know the location of the house–let alone the fact that he was really alive–he remained tense and cautious.

Quietly, he crept down the stairs, the sounds becoming more obvious and more recognizable. When he reached the landing, he leaned forward and looked to the left, through the doorway. He could see the refrigerator but nothing else, so he chanced a few more steps. Now, the entire kitchenette was in view, as was the back of the noisy intruder. It was a woman, dressed in black pants and a navy blue blouse. She was standing at the sink. Water tinkled into something metallic. The sound quieted, and she turned to the stove, placing a kettle on a burner. He could see her profile clearly, and his heart stopped.

It was Madeline.

He released a shaky sigh. She was still as beautiful as before, despite slight changes in her physical appearance. Her long coffee-colored hair was now burnt sienna, and it had been cut and layered to a spot above her shoulders. Her clothing was stylistically different as well–more casual than businesslike–although she still wore dark colors.

Something alerted her to his presence–maybe she heard his heart pounding wildly in his chest. She turned her head in his direction then twisted her entire body as if her eyes had deceived her.

He took a step forward, his posture refusing to relax. Tears stung his eyes, and his voice cracked as he whispered her name. “Madeline…”

“Paul.” Her voice held a hint of both surprise and delight, two emotions she rarely displayed.

Slowly, he walked toward her, afraid she would disappear as she did in his dreams. He reached for her hand and held it before bringing it to his face. He brushed his lips across her knuckles, tears falling from his eyes.

She pulled her hand free and wiped his cheek tenderly. It only seemed to make him weep more.

He pulled her into an embrace, reality sinking in. She was real. She was alive. “Oh, Madeline…” He buried his face in her shoulder, and she placed a hand on the back of his head. He remained motionless for what seemed like hours, his sobs having subsided long ago. Finally, he released her, looking at her face. The tumultuous emotions in her eyes dissipated before he had a chance to decipher them, but she wore a soft smile. “I’ve missed you, Madeline.” She caressed his cheek with the back of her hand, and he kissed her palm gently. “Why didn’t you tell me what you were planning?”

“Your reactions wouldn’t have been as authentic. If you had been indifferent to my death, you would have been questioned. My location would have been compromised.”

“I didn’t even know where you were.”

“You would have figured it out.”

He relented; she was right. They had made a promise, years ago, that should they ever escape, they would come here. “Why did you do it?”

The tea kettle whistled, and she smiled at him, breaking their contact to remove the pot from the burner. She poured water into two porcelain cups and sat a bag in each.

He was still shocked by the entire situation, but her reasoning didn’t matter to him. They were together now, and he was blissfully happy. “Your death was very believable.”

“As yours must have been,” she replied, handing him a cup. “Otherwise, we would not be having this conversation.”

He stood in an awkward silence, holding the beverage delicately. What could he say? Did she want to hear about the turn of events since her ‘suicide’? How he had been unfaithful to her, even though the woman had been a poor substitute? He shook his head, chastising himself for his weakness. Would it make a difference if he said that she was always in his thoughts, even when he was in bed with Quinn? Did she even want to know? Or–perhaps more importantly–did she already know, tipped off by his guilty visage and her incredible skill at reading people? He sighed heavily from the weight of his decision.

Madeline, uncannily perceptive, made up his mind for him. “Whatever happened during these last six months isn’t important, Paul. Section is no longer a part of our lives. Let’s keep the past in the past.”

He raised an eyebrow. “All of it?”

She regarded him curiously, although he suspected she knew what he meant. “Which parts are in question?”

“This house…our lives in this house…”

“Some concessions will have to be made, of course.” She turned her attention to the pie, but her gaze lingered on him long enough for him to notice the slight upturn of her lips.

“Of course,” he replied with a grin.

***

Moonlight bathed the juniper tree in the window, for it was still too early for the sun. Paul studied it absently. It was not unlike his relationship with Madeline. With careful consideration, the plant could flourish; with neglect, it could die. Over the years, the shape was destined to change, but the basic needs of the tree were never ignored. Maintenance could be–and often was–challenging, but the rewards it brought were never ending.

Instinctively, he held Madeline tighter, and she stirred, waking from her sleep. “Paul, what’s wrong?”

He placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “Nothing.” He smiled; for the first time, he could use the word with great confidence. “Nothing. Go back to sleep.”

She shifted her position, cradling her head in his shoulder, and fell back to sleep. He stroked her arm gently, his own lids becoming heavy.

At that perfectly blissful moment, living in the cotton candy blue house with Madeline in his arms, he was more at peace than he had ever been. It was hard to believe in fairy tales after all he had seen, but this was the way he wanted it to end. Smiling, he kissed Madeline’s forehead once again and closed his eyes. Was there such a thing as ‘happily ever after’? If there was, he imagined it would be something like this.

The End

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