Spike found himself standing in an alley. Looking around, he already knew it as the same alley in Washington D.C. where he was attacked, but it was supernaturally bright, as if someone had polished everything, from the asphalt to the garbage, to a brilliant shine. For an indeterminate amount of time, he stood there alone, just staring absently around him.
"So, why'd you come back here?" someone behind him suddenly asked. "Lookin' for something?"
He didn't turn around, but he recognized the voice, even though he'd heard it just once: a few words, spoken in anger and fear and protectiveness. "I don't know," Spike confessed to the unseen figure. "I don't even know your name. Didn't even see your face."
The other person laughed; it was a cheerful, happy sound, the sort that made you want to laugh right along with it.
"Ah, don't feel bad. Names really aren't all that important in the grand scheme of things," the stranger remarked. "It's who we are and the choices we make, that's what really counts." Spike could sense the man coming closer, almost touching him. "Case in point, my friend. It wasn't your fault I died. I chose to come here, to help you. Free will, man. It's an amazing, wonderful, terrible thing."
Spike cast his eyes down to the gleaming asphalt. "I don't deserve this; I never did. My friend Lou, he did the same thing you did, you know? Died to save me." His voice trembled with emotion. There was too much inside him, too much to properly express in words.
"Hey, love and friendship aren't about what we deserve. But I'm pretty sure you already knew that," the other man replied kindly, laying comforting hand on Spike's shoulder. The weight there was warm and felt more real and present than anything else in that moment. "Lou, he had a choice, too, man. And he chose to lay down his life for his friend."
"I know," Spike sighed deeply. Those terrible few seconds had been burned into his memory: Lou's final tearful assurances that everything was going to be okay, just a few ragged breaths before he deliberately stepped off the landmine. "So why'd you do it, anyway? Why'd you try to save me? You didn't even know me."
"You really need me to answer that question, man? You, of all people?" the unseen voice retorted, dancing with laughter. "Well, I guess my mamá just raised me right. I told you, I made my choice. So did you, the night we met. What are the chances? Two total strangers, far away from home, brought together, for the same reason, in the same alley one night?"
"Ma would call it Providence." Spike's limbs started to feel heavy, and he blinked his eyes, trying to keep them open. The strange light that had filled the alley began to fade rapidly. "You know, I'd've liked to've known you sometime," he said softly.
"Vaya con Dios, my friend," the other man whispered in his ear before the light vanished completely.
Spike gradually became aware of a steady beeping sound somewhere in the blackness that surrounded him.
And there was another sound, the sound of voices. People talking. Who were they? They seemed so familiar... His fog-filled mind tried to match them to names, to faces.
"He looks so pale," someone was saying. "My sweet boy..." His mother, it was his mother's voice, he was sure of it. But he couldn't find her in the darkness, and she sounded so sad...
"Ma, dove sei?" he tried to say, but his mouth was so dry it came out a nearly inaudible mumble. Suddenly, he felt a pressure on his hand. His fingers twitched in answer.
"Mikey, oh Mikey! Thank God! I'm here, sono qui accanto a te, Michelangelo," he heard his mother cry from far away. He concentrated on that beautiful, familiar sound and latched onto it like a rappel line, riding it towards the source. The suffocating blackness lifted a bit, and he realized his eyes were closed.
"Spike? Spike, it's okay, we're here," reassured another familiar voice, powerful but calming. "It's good to hear your voice, Spike!"
Spike swallowed back the sudden rush of emotions, but tears burned under his lids as he licked his dry, cracked lips. Never had he felt so safe, so protected, so loved, as in this moment.
"Yours... too... Boss..." he carefully enunciated, his voice barely more than a gasp, as he slowly opened his eyes.
The courtroom was packed near to bursting - sailors, cops, civilians, reporters; it seemed like the entire world had crammed itself into this one room. The story had caught the hearts and minds of the public, here in the States. Back in Toronto, a certain close-knit team of SRU officers crowded around a television, faces glued to the screen.
For Spike, the physical injuries from that night had all but vanished. His hair had grown back, completely covering the small scar left when the stitches were removed, and his memory, initially fuzzy and blurred, had quickly returned, full force. He'd gone home, back to Toronto and his friends. His recovery time was impressively brief, all things considered. And the team had thrown him a party, complete with cake and streamers and good-natured teasing, the day he rejoined them at the SRU.
Michelangelo Scarlatti, what were you thinking?, Ed had asked him with the biggest grin he'd ever worn. Just doin' my job, Spike had said, to which the Boss had wryly replied, And where've we heard that before?
Today, however, found him back in the United States. This was a day that Spike had looked forward to with grim anticipation. He glanced over at the defendants' table. Despite the overwhelming evidence against them, the two weasels still refused to confess, to take responsibility for their actions that fateful night. 'Little Bobby' and his buddy Tom dressed up in suits and ties now, attempting to present a civilized, dignified appearance to the court. But Spike could see the truth beneath that facade. Underneath, they were just a couple of low-life punks, trying desperately to worm out of the consequences for their crimes.
Sometimes, it wasn't about vast conspiracies, or terrorist attacks, or murderous rampages. Sometimes, it was just a matter of a few bucks and a simple cruelty and disregard for human life.
He caught the eyes of a silver-haired man near the front of the court. He'd met Special Agent Gibbs briefly before returning to Toronto; the man had a quiet, smoldering intensity that commanded respect, and he reminded Spike of both the Boss and Ed. Agent Gibbs had pulled him aside and told him about the young sailor who had died only feet away from him.
Seaman Julio Ramirez. It was a strange, happy sort of pain to learn the name of the man who'd saved his life. They'd been in Washington for the same computer forensics conference - for all Spike knew, they could have passed right by each other throughout the week, without knowing.
But that night, the night they were both supposed to be flying home - Spike to Ontario, Seaman Ramirez to California - they both went for one last walk around the city. And they found each other in a dark alley in Washington, D.C.
Sitting proudly next to Gibbs was Spike's mother. Despite all of Spike's protests, she had insisted on coming back here with him for the trial before she returned to her native Italy to live with relatives. His ma always did as she pleased, in the end, no matter what he said.
Spike stepped into the the witness box, his head held high. This is for you, he thought. Seaman Ramirez, the young sailor who dreamed of becoming a cop. Lou Young, the friend who laughed and joked with him. Even his dad, who desperately wanted for him to leave the SRU, not understanding that it wasn't just a job or a game for Spike. But most especially, this was for himself.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" the court clerk asked him.
Author's Note: I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to read this story. It gives me great pleasure to know there are people out there who enjoyed the story, so, from the bottom of my heart, thank you all for reading.