A/N: I actually wrote this a bit ago, but I realized just now I forgot to post it here. It was supposed to be a scene from my fic Turnabout to the Past, but it just didn't fit and thus it was cut out. I polished it a bit and decided that posting it on its own wouldn't hurt.
"Dick, are you sure you want to do this?"
His colleague sounds and looks all the world like he's seeing him off to war, and in a way Detective Gumshoe supposes that it's close enough. None of them has dared to go within a ten foot radius from the lab all day... not even those who are supposed to be working in it. Gumshoe heard someone saying he'd sooner walk in a tiger's cage with a steak tied to his junk, and most people had agreed it be less risky than trying to talk to Ema Skye right now.
"She's taking it badly, isn't she?" someone had muttered, and Gumshoe could only nod in silence. He doubts there was anyone in the precinct who hadn't taken the news badly – Bobby Fulbright, gone; gone for a year with none of them knowing, his body stored away with no name and forgotten about while they all worked and shared lunches and laughed with his murderer – but it's undeniable that Ema is taking it worse than everyone else.
Except for him, maybe, because he had known Bobby since when he was a rookie fresh out of the academy. He had been the one who never hesitated to stay in until late if he needed help with a case, the one who'd pay for a good lunch when he couldn't afford it because you can't uphold justice with an empty stomach, then one who cried rivers when Gumshoe had finally found it in himself to propose to Maggey and the first one to congratulate him when she had said yes. He had bawled his eyes out through the wedding, too, and rambled more than just a bit when he had raised a toast to the newlyweds.
And now he's gone. One of his best friends has been gone for a year and he never knew until now. It hurts more than Gumshoe believed anything could possibly hurt, but he hasn't lashed out to anyone nor he's going to: it's simply not him.
Ema, on the other hand...
"... I'm sure, pal," Gumshoe finally says. He's known Ema for a long time after all, and he knows that no matter what she hurls in his direction – she wouldn't really hurt him. Or at least so he thinks. But even then, he's used to face Franziska von Karma. Snackoos can't hold a candle to a whip, no matter how fast they're thrown. As long as she doesn't start throwing around other things, of course. Heavier things. "Just... be ready to come in and take me out if I scream too loudly, okay?"
Gumshoe gives the others a nod and, after taking a deep breath, he opens the door leading to the lab.
He spots her right away, cleaning some instruments on a table – instruments that had no need to be cleaned at all, from the looks of it. She's giving him her back, and he has one moment to feel relief, thinking she hasn't heard him coming in and that he has some time to come up with something to say that won't make her snap.
Of course, he's wrong.
"I said I'm busy!"
She whirls around so quickly he almost can't follow the movement, and Gumshoe can only duck and let out a rather undignified shriek as something flies right past his head and hits the closed door with a sound of shattering glass.
Nope. Definitely not a snackoo.
"Ema, wait! It's me! Wait!" Gumshoe calls out, covering his head with both hands before he dares to peer up at her... and then he freezes, staring at her with wide eyes.
Ema's shoulders are shaking, and her face is streaked with tears. The anger on her features is already melting into something else, an anguished expression he hadn't seen in a long, long time – not since Damon Gant led her to believe she had accidentally killed Neil Marshall. The hand she used to throw... whatever it was at him stays up in the air for another long moment before falling limply by her side.
When she speaks again, she also sounds a lot like she did back then, too.
"Is it... is it real? There wasn't a... a mistake, or...?" she pauses and swallows. "Is Bobby really gone?"
Gumshoe stands upright again and lowers his gaze. "He is," he says, and there is that pain in his chest again, like a sudden stab. How can Bobby be dead? It seems so absurd to think, especially since he was alive only the previous day to them – they thought him alive, and it was his murderer instead.
There is a sniffling noise, and Ema reaches up to wipe her tears with an almost frustrated gesture. Still, more tears are spilling from her eyes and streaking her cheeks. "He was dead for a year," she chokes out. "A whole year ago, and we didn't know it. We don't even know how he was killed, the body was too... it is too... and his face, he burned off his face...!"
Her last words come out as a choked sob and Gumshoe suddenly feels sick, both at the thought of a such thing happening to his friend's body – and by someone who pretended to be him, someone they worked and talked and laughed with – and at the realization that Ema actually went to see the pictures taken when the body was found. He didn't see them, couldn't gather the courage to. He doesn't think he ever will.
"Ema..." Gumshoe says, but he can't force out any other words. The pain in his chest is still there, making it difficult for him to breathe, and his eyes are starting to prickle with tears.
A whole year ago, and we didn't even know it!
How could a such thing happen? How could it happen to Bobby, of all people? It wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair – there was no justice in it, none at all.
In justice we trust!
You were wrong, pal, so wrong. And I still have to tell Maggey. How will I tell her? How can I tell her?
Ema doesn't even seem to hear him and keeps crying. She's not trying to stop anymore, but she still keeps wiping the tears from her face. Words leave her so fast she barely has a chance to breathe. "He was alone, he had to face that monster and die alone. And maybe he was scared, maybe he was in pain and maybe he tried to call for help and no one was there, we were not there and... and... I got so mad at him, all the time! I don't even know when it was that we spoke last time, and... what if the last time we met I yelled at him, or threw something at him, or-?"
She trails off when Gumshoe reaches out to drag her into a tight embrace. It's not something he'd usually do, nor he's not sure why he's doing it – part of him wants to comfort her and part of him needs to be comforted, and there is no telling which prompted him to move – and he has no time to wonder, either, because Ema grasps the front of his coat and buries her face in it with a gut-wrenching cry of grief.
Any attempt at saying something, anything even vaguely comforting fails the moment he opens his mouth to speak: a wrecking sob is all that leaves him and the prickling in his eyes turns into a waterfall of tears that stream down his face.
For a time they can only cry, Ema with raw sobs that tear the breath from her lungs and him in a continuous, blubbering mess of keening noises and incoherent blabbering that he's sorry, he's so sorry, he didn't know, he couldn't know. How could he? How could anyone imagine a such thing could happen?
It feels like he'll never be able to stop weeping, but of course he does in the end; they both to. His tears turn into a smaller trickle at first, then they come to a stop, his incoherent stream of words fading into a quieter, keening noise. When that noise stops as well he can tell Ema has fallen quiet, too, and her shoulders aren't shaking anymore – but she still keeps her face pressed against his coat when she speaks, her voice a little hoarse.
"The fingerprint powder," she says, and gives a noise that Gumshoe recognizes as a laugh after a moment of stunned silence.
Some of his anguish fades into confusion and sudden worry for Ema's mental state. He pulls back to stare down at her. "Are you... are you okay, pal?"
Ema's laugh dies down to a chuckle and she reaches up to wipe her eyes. Her skin is reddened and her eyes swollen, but her lips are curled in a smile. "Don't you... hehe! Don't you remember? On my first day here? I walked up to you to say hi while you were talking with Bobby. We never met before, and I had that bunch of fingerprint powder with me in a plastic bag..."
The memory hits him all at once; he had almost forgotten all about it, as though it happened a lifetime ago. The moment he realizes what she's talking about, Gumshoe can't hold back a weak laugh. "And he thought it was drugs," he recalls. He laughs again, and this time it sounds more like a proper laugh.
With the mind's eye, he can almost see how it went. Bobby turned, saw the powder in the plastic bag and turned white as a ghost; Gumshoe remembers thinking he would have a heart attack for just one moment before Bobby recovered enough to react.
And his reaction was to tackle Ema before she could even open her mouth again. Gumshoe found himself staring in utter confusion as Bobby held down Ema and cuffed her hands behind her back, all while ignoring her yells and curses, rambling about the nerve she had to walk in the 'sanctuary of justice' with that thing.
His ramblings had been cut short as soon as he searched Ema for weapons, though. A moment later he had fallen quiet like someone had flipped a switch, staring with wide eyes at Ema's brand new detective badge.
An awkward introduction if Gumshoe had ever seen one.
It had taken a lot of embarrassed apologies for Ema to stop throwing insults at him, and a lot more for her to stop throwing snackoos at both of them as soon as the handcuffs were off. Years working together hadn't been enough for Ema to stop referring to Bobby as 'the big idiot' upon occasion, but she'd laugh when recalling the incident. All three of them would.
Only that now just he and Ema were left to laugh about it.
"That idiot," Ema is saying now, her tears having dried off. "Him and that stupid grin and stupid catchphrase. He claimed to be a champion of justice, and he couldn't even put on some socks," she adds, but there isn't any viciousness in her voice. There is still pain, but there is fondness as well, and amusement.
Gumshoe can see why: remembering Bobby Fulbright's life feels so much better than wondering what his death may have been like.
"And all the times he almost messed up evidence because he handled it wrong! I had to get there and help him out. I always told him it would be the last time I helped him out, but then he'd show up again with that stupid pout and babbled about justice until I had to fix his mess to make him shut up. That big idiot. I'm..." Ema pauses, and her smile falters. She draws in a deep breath before she can speak again. "... I'm going to miss him."
Gumshoe swallows a lump in his throat. "We all are," he manages. Part of his mind mercilessly reminds him that they sure didn't miss him in the past year, but he refuses to listen to it. There are several moments of silence, and Gumshoe is about to say they should get out to get some fresh air when she speaks again.
"... I passed the forensics exam."
The statements causes Gumshoe to blink. "Wha...? Er. I mean, congratulations!" he says. He means it, he really does – he knows how important this is to her – but he knows he didn't manage to sound as enthusiastic as they would be in other circumstances. To be fair, neither did she. Reaching a lifetime goal should be announced with voice like trumpets, not as a quiet, almost thoughtful statement uttered without even looking at him in the eye.
"Thanks," Ema says, and gives a wry smile. "I was already sure I made it this time. Well, almost sure. I told Bobby as much. I thought I did, but it wasn't him, was it? Hell knows who or what that man is, aside from a murderer. I couldn't wait to tell you two about the promotion. Looks like Bobby will never get to know."
"I'm sure he'd be happy for you, pal," Gumshoe finds himself saying. It sounds empty to his own ears.
She shrugs. "Yeah, I'm sure he'd be. He kept saying I'd be able to better uphold justice if I could do it in a way I was passionate about. I guess he had a point, you know. Nothing's better than loving your job," she adds, and smiles weakly. "He sure loved his."
Gumshoe smiles back. "Yeah. More than anything. He wanted to be a detective and make a difference since when he was in grade school. He talked about it a lot."
There is another brief silence, and Ema is the one to break it this time as well. "... Looks like I've got some cleaning to do," she says, glancing past Gumshoe and to the shattered instrument she threw against him when he first walked in. "I should be able to fix it. No, I must be able to fix it. You can't uphold justice without the appropriate forensics equipment, right?"
For a moment Gumshoe is taken aback – he expected her to say something about the importance of science, not about upholding justice with it – but the realization sinks in before he can ask, and he just nods as he watches her pick up the instrument and carefully inspecting it.
"... If you can't fix it, tell them I broke it," he says. "They can't legally cut my pay any more anyway."
Ema laughs, putting the instrument on the table. "Don't worry, I can fix this," she says. "By the way, tomorrow's lunch is on me. Bobby was right on that, too – you can't do a good job with an empty stomach."
The statement causes something in Gumshoe's chest to clench. How many times has Bobby said that as he paid for his lunch?
He gives a weak smile. "It's up to us now, isn't it?"
Ema nods, and smiles back at him from above the instrument she's already working on. "Yeah. Someone's got to pick up where he left off. Why not us? You get me the evidence and I'll let you know everything about it. Scientifically speaking," she adds, and grins – a familiar gleam back in her eyes.
It's good to see her like that again, and his smile widens. This time, it feels more like a proper smile. "Sounds like a plan, pal," he says, and glances at the door. "... Guess I should go back out and let everyone know I'm alive," he says. He's only taken a few steps towards the door when Ema calls out for him.
He turns to see her looking back at him, a hand raised to her head in a salute, and the words she utters next are painfully familiar. He knows what she's going to say one instant before she speaks.
"... In justice we trust," Ema says, causing Gumshoe's throat to close up for a moment. He knows he'll never hear Bobby Fulbright uttering those words again. Still, hearing them coming from Ema isn't all bad: it's sort of bittersweet. Bobby is gone, but what he stood for isn't – and they're still around to make sure that doesn't change.
Eyes prickling with tears he's determined not to shed, not now, Gumshoe salutes back and smiles.
"In justice we trust."