Mr. Young mopped at his face for quite a while up there, sometimes even breaking down completely. But he waved off any offers to help him back down, and finally he began to speak.
"I cannot thank you all enough for coming, to honor the memory of my son. And even more thanks go to those of you who spoke. You gave me such comfort, and I will never forget that.
"I really don't know what I can add to what has already been said. Oh, I could talk for days about what a wonderful young man he was. Days and days. But...but I'd never make it through that.
"But I paid very close attention to what his teammates said. I've never really gotten to know any of the other SRU officers except for Spike, his best friend. I knew that Lew thought the world of them all, and considered them his second family.
"And I think I need to follow Sergeant Parker's advice, about filling my heart with love and giving it out to others to help myself heal, especially since hearing the story about my son giving the same advice to a despondent man. I needed to hear it. I needed those words, because I am despondent. I won't lie. I wanted to die the day they told me my boy was never coming home. I wanted to die."
He needed another long break.
"It was Sergeant Parker and Spike who came and told us. They spent hours with us, and they cried with us, and they told us everything that happened, and they hugged us. We were too distraught to appreciate it at the time, but I thank you gentlemen now. You are good men."
Sarge and Spike just nodded tearfully.
"Those of you who know my family know that Lew is our only child. We always wanted to have more, lots more, but the good Lord had other plans. We never understood why, and we'll never understand why he has taken our only child from us. We can only trust. We can only trust.
"But if the path to healing is through loving, then I have a request to make. And I didn't know even this morning that I was going to make this request. I hope it's not out of line."
Spike had listened all this time without looking directly at the podium. In his pain, he hadn't felt up to both seeing and hearing. But that was about to change.
"My request is for Michelangelo Scarlatti...Lew's best friend 'Spike.'"
Spike jumped and felt his breathing stop entirely for several seconds. But he gave Mr. Young his undivided attention.
Winnie squeezed his arm, and everyone else on the team looked over at him. Unless it was his imagination, they looked a little worried for him.
"Spikey, if you ever have that family...and I pray to God you will...if you ever have that family, I don't want them to only know about their Uncle Lew. Would it be okay if they also know their Great-Uncle Clarence and their Great-Aunt Francine? Would you let them call us that? Would you bring them over sometimes to fill our walls with the laughter of little children again? And will you come over yourself for dinner sometimes, even before you have that family, just to be...to be one of us again? We don't want to lose that."
"Yes, absolutely," Spike replied, amazed that his voice worked even a little. He nodded vigorously too, in case his answer hadn't carried.
He could already picture his little ones at the Youngs' house, and the image was sweet.
The locker room was eerily silent as the men changed back into their street clothes. After so many words had been spoken, and so many tears had been shed, everyone seemed to have retreated into some soundless inner sanctum.
Sam finally broke the silence with a quiet "See ya" as he walked out, but his teammates only replied with nods. Eventually each of the others left, one-by-one, with nothing more than thumps on the back to acknowledge their parting.
Everyone, that is, except Spike and Sarge.
Spike barely noticed that Sarge was still there. His attention was riveted on Lew's locker, and on the plaque which already hung there, commemorating his sacrifice. Some little voice in the back of his head told him he ought to leave, told him he'd focused on this agony long enough for one day.
But he couldn't walk away. Couldn't look away.
How can you be gone?
Sarge's hand on his shoulder finally broke the spell. "Maybe you should go home now, Spikey."
"Yeah, I know I should." He didn't budge.
Sarge walked over to a bench and sat down, giving Spike a little more room and time, but apparently unwilling to leave him entirely alone.
"But…?" Sarge finally asked.
"I just don't get it," Spike spoke with sudden heat, turning to face the sergeant at last. "I just don't get it! How can someone be so full of life one moment, and then just gone...forever...the next?"
Sarge only shook his head, his expression regretful.
"He was too young to die," Spike added, turning back to look at the plaque again.
"But he did die, Spikey. He did. And somehow we have to find the strength to go on."
Spike said nothing, but he felt his nostrils flare the way they did when a thought disgusted him.
"Tomorrow we start vetting candidates, Spike. Candidates to bring us back up to full strength, to a team of seven again. That's going to be hard."
Spike felt his breathing coming short again. He shook his head. "I don't know if…"
"...how. You don't know how. There can be no ifs, Spike."
Spike closed his eyes and drew in a long, slow breath. "I remember when Jules was shot, and Donna came in to take her place. Sam couldn't stand the sight of her, and he didn't mind making it obvious, either."
"Once, over a couple of beers, Lew told me that he was disappointed in Sam. He said that no one team member had the right to risk the unity of the team, not for any reason."
"He was wise."
"I agreed with him, at the time. But I just don't see how…."
The boss stood and put his hand on Spike's shoulder. "At least 'How' is the right question. And Spikey, you're one of the finest cops I've ever worked with. I know that you'll find the way, because you're too good of a cop not to."
Spike snorted. "I've been such a wreck these past few days…."
"Hey, If it had been Eddie who stepped on that mine, instead of Lew, and I'd lost my very best friend...buddy, you don't even want to imagine what a mess I would have been. What a mess I would still be. I was thinking about it last night, that 'soul-connection' that best friends have, and that honestly, if Ed were to die, I think it would cost me the sobriety I've worked so hard to maintain. I think I'd just fall apart completely."
Spike looked into Sarge's eyes with all the sincerity in his soul. "Please don't ever let anything do that to you, Boss. Please. You mean too much to the rest of us. We need you."
"And we need you, Spike. Much more than I think you realize."
Spike managed a little smile, and looked down at his shoes. He never knew how to respond to such kindnesses from such great people as his teammates, and especially from the boss.
"C'mere." Sarge tapped Spike's shoulders and pulled him in for a back-thumping hug. Then he took Spike's shoulders in his hands and looked him straight in the eyes. "You'll make it through this, buddy. You'll find your way. You'll help us rebuild this team. I know you will."
Spike looked down again, chewed his lip, and nodded. "I'll do my best, boss. I won't let you down."
"I know you won't." Sarge thumped his shoulders and turned to go. "I'll walk to your car with you, buddy."
Spike turned for one last, lingering look at Lew's plaque, and then turned to follow the Sarge.
Sarge put an arm across his shoulder as they walked.
Neither of them spoke until they got to Spike's car. And then, when Spike did unburden himself, he wasn't sure he should. "I hope...I hope you'll understand if I still have a hard time with the new person. I mean, I'll get it together... I will...but...maybe not perfectly at first. Is it even okay to say that?"
Sarge nodded. "Yeah, Spikey. It's okay to say that. Between you and me, I'll have a hard time, too." He opened Spike's door for him, and patted the roof a few times by way of 'goodbye' before heading for his own car.
Spike sat and watched him go, and a truly agonizing thought stabbed him. If Lew could die, so could Sarge. Or Ed, or Jules, or any of them.
Sarge climbed into his sedan and drive away, lifting a hand to Spike in a token wave as he drove past.
Spike remained parked in the garage for quite a while, struggling with the crushing fear of further loss. Loving people may be what makes life worthwhile, but it also makes death unbearable. I don't know if I can do it, if I can risk it anymore. He could almost see himself walking into work with a shell around himself, no longer touchable, no longer vulnerable. The image held an undeniable appeal.
But then he pictured the guys in the locker room, and saw them looking at him with concern and pain in their eyes. He imagined the brotherly appeals, the worried counsel, the heartfelt attempts to melt his defenses and bring him close again. In each scenario he tried to imagine shoring himself up against the love of his friends.
But then he always melted, always broke, always accepted their offered embraces, or initiated a hug himself, often with tears.
He shook his head and started his engine at last.
There's just no way not to love this team.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
No matter how much it scares me.
He steered his car through the maze of the garage and out into the sunshine, squinting against the unwelcome brightness.
The sun's still shining, Lew. It seems wrong, somehow.
He turned a corner and headed toward home.
But I don't think you'd want it to stop shining, would you, bro? And you wouldn't want me to stop loving, or stop living.
He took advantage of a stop sign to run his sleeve across his eyes.
It'll be hard, but I'll try.