Author's note: Just wanted to say a thank you to anyone's who's read and anyone who has left comments. And I can't reply to you directly, but if you happen to see this, I wanted say a particular thank you to FireRuby for all the comments you've left! They're greatly appreciated.
It was over. Jowd looked around the living room, his living room in his house, taking in every detail. This room he saw only this morning, not five years ago, and not ten years ago.
He felt as if he'd been running on automatic up to now. He'd chased Yomiel, they stood off and he made that terrible decision all over again. There was the flash of bright light and pain and the world doubled.
He knew everything that happened. After all he'd just experienced it. He just watched it all with three ghosts.
Everything after became a series of steps to follow. From the park to the hospital, and from the hospital straight to home with two weights in his coat and on his soul, and a little cat tucked deep into one of his coat pockets (apparently comfortable—his new state had its advantages it seemed).
Home became his only focus where wife and daughter waited. Home where he stood frozen on his doorstep, staring at the door he passed through for the last time five years ago and only passed through this morning—until a ghostly nudge shook from his daze and he entered.
Home where he had to force himself away from Kamila's crib lest he risk waking her. Only a baby, not yet the child he left with nightmares and broken promises—it will be okay; I will take care of everything. One out of two in the end, he supposed, but it wasn't enough. She deserved better.
Home. A place both achingly familiar and unfamiliar. There were the pictures he remembered, there were the gaps waiting to be filled a year, two years from now. There was the old clock still ticking for now, before it would need to be replaced. There was the movie still left out from the previous night. Just last night, blissfully unaware of what was to come.
And Alma… Alma who now appeared caught between casting worried looks at Jowd and fascinated, fond glances at Sissel. Jowd wondered why he'd had any concern over her reaction to their newest arrival. She seemed to have taken an immediate liking to him, looking saddened that he'd been a stray—poor thing—and cooing at him that he had a new home here and what a sweet little kitten.
Then she'd put out a blanket on the sofa, wrapping it round itself into a nest and Sissel jumped right in.
"Can you even feel that?" Jowd asked.
"Shouldn't you be paying attention to your wife?"
And a distraction he was grateful for. Paying attention to Sissel meant he didn't have to look at her even as he so desperately wanted to remind himself that she was here; she was safe. He hadn't entered to find their daughter sobbing over her body.
She was here and he was here. They were okay.
He shook himself. Sissel was right; pay attention. She is here. You just saw her this morning.
Alma's eyes were filled with concern. "You must be exhausted. Maybe take a leaf out of Kamila's book? A nap can only help."
Tempting for the solitude and time it would give to think things through. Unwanted for that same solitude.
A knock at their door spared him the decision—a little off from what Jowd was used to, more rapid, a miss in his standard rhythm—but there was no one else it would be. And, here was another change from what he remembered. Last time they had time to speak after the incident, with no need for a trip to the hospital. There wasn't that same urgency sending him home with little thought for anything else.
He and Alma rose at once.
"Let me get it," Alma said. "You need to rest that leg."
"If I rest it too long it'll only stiffen," Jowd replied with an attempted lightness.
"Hardly a concern yet. You've only just gotten home."
"Alma, please. That's likely Cabanela and I need a private word with him."
And, though Jowd would rather face the chair again before ever telling her, it was too strange being in this room with her—who he couldn't look at without feeling as though he saw two images superimposed over one another: alive and well and dead on their floor—and his discomfort was in itself an unsettling feeling. He needed time to reconcile. This was one thing he could take care of now.
Alma hesitated before nodding and slowly returning to her seat.
Jowd moved to their door and opened it, leaning against the frame. How many jolts of surprise would this day cause? There Cabanela stood looking both entirely familiar and unfamiliar at once. This man who had only just been a bloodied wreck sprawled over a chair hours before (and he still needed to get the exact story from Sissel on that one), waving him away with a smile to finish their job.
And that wasn't right. He'd only seen him this morning over a quick coffee, less grey, less lines there.
"Jowd!" Cabanela's relief was palpable as was his tension.
That was… that was right for this situation, but it felt wrong after seeing the Inspector in the courtyard. He wasn't so honed yet.
Cabanela seemed to examine him from top to bottom, his mouth thinning as he took in Jowd's awkward posture.
"They told me you'd been injured, but able to go home. Are you all right?"
"I'll live." He patted his leg and smiled. "A meteorite shard can do a real number, but I'm fine."
Cabanela's shoulders dropped and he shook his head with a slight curve to his lips in an almost-smile.
"Not quiiite my definition of fine, baby."
"Strangely enough, some of us can get by just fine without prancing around the room."
"Now wouldn't that be a siiight?"
Jowd chuckled. What was strange was how easily he put him at his ease in the uneasiest of situations. Now and in the courtyard where he was quickly drawn back into the case before he quite knew it happened. Oh certainly some choice words were spoken between there and the Justice Minister's office, but they weren't the words that mattered. It was never only words.
However, now there was still a task to take care of and he sobered.
"We need to talk. The patio out back?"
Cabanela's expression tightened. "After you."
They passed through the house with a quick greeting to Alma from Cabanela and a questioning look shot at Sissel. Another explanation he would have to give, but that one at least would be simple, only a stray.
Then they exited onto the small deck and took a seat at the little table there. Alma used to, would, often take her morning coffee out here. A grimmer task awaited.
Without preamble Jowd took out Cabanela's gun and laid it on the table. Cabanela's eyes widened before he frowned at him. Jowd wondered when he realized it was missing. How long did he wait for its discovery, for his own doom to fall?
"You have it," Cabanela said.
"No one else knows."
"Has no intentions of reporting it."
Cabanela's eyes narrowed. "Why would he do that? Peeerfect chance to take me down with him and it wouldn't be undeserved."
"'With'? Still assuming his guilt?"
Cabanela flinched. "The investigation will continue," he said. "Regardless of that, there's still the incident at the park."
Jowd nodded. "I'm no mind reader. In his panic, he took a young girl hostage. Maybe he wants to see everything in that park put behind us."
Once Jowd had made sure Lynne was all right and an ambulance was on its way, he'd dragged himself over to the mess where Yomiel still lay. A sharp, burning pain lanced through his leg in protest. It was nothing compared to the sight of Yomiel in a collapsed heap and a discomforting amount of blood.
"Hey, tell me you're still alive," Jowd said gruffly.
There were tears on Yomiel's cheeks even as he let out a short, painful sounding laugh. "It hurts," he gasped. "It actually hurts!"
So he did still know as well.
Yomiel pointed a shaking finger to the all too familiar gun still lying in the grass where it fell. A shock to see in Yomiel's hand only moments before and only expected now.
"Listen…" Yomiel said. "The detective's gun, take it. Give it back. I don't care either way."
Jowd winced as he reached to take the fallen gun, accidentally putting a little too much weight on his injured leg. What a pair they were now.
"You don't want to report it?"
"He helped destroy my life. I took his. I want a fresh start… nothing between us. Any of us."
"He's going to wonder."
"I can live with some confusion."
Jowd smiled. A much smaller revenge this time, eh?
Yomiel was white faced and his teeth clenched. He shuddered, the movement forcing out a hiss of breath.
"If I live…"
Jowd thought he detected a note of fear. The ghost had been apathetic, but this young man had a chance for life. This man who was both ten years older and ten years younger.
"You will. I'm right here."
Yomiel's eyes were hidden behind his glasses, but his mouth silently formed one word, why.
He hadn't been saved from certain death, one way or another, to be lost now. He stared at the man, alone, vulnerable. Jowd's gun weighed heavy.
"A fresh start," he repeated back at him.
Cabanela's voice drew him back to the present.
"Why would you…?" He trailed off.
What, old friend? Put my standing at risk? Help? Protect? Could he have given an answer the first time? They'd been too shaken, both of them. Cabanela wasn't the only one at fault here.
"I know you can do better." Will do better. They all would.
This night—day, he corrected himself—held one surprise after another. He wasn't used to seeing Cabanela look taken aback.
"I always aaaim to..."
He reached out, long fingers wrapping around the gun as he lifted and slid it into his holster with a look of distaste. Jowd felt as though he could see him trying to pull himself together, to rally, and shine past this new stain.
"Can't move forward while lookin' backward I say." An attempted cheer that held too much of an edge.
Jowd thought back to the first time. A man died; Cabanela hadn't been in good shape then. They both clung to their righteousness too hard. They paid a heavy price, heavier than anyone was allowed to know.
This time was better. The gravity of the situation still weighed and while it was mingled with relief, he knew it would be enough. Never again.
Cabanela's stare was sharp, seeking answers Jowd couldn't give.
"I know what I've done. If there's still something you want to say, spit it out now, maaan."
"As long as you know." Jowd smiled faintly. "The past is the past."
Cabanela eyed him. "Are you sure it was ooonly your leg that got hit, baby?"
"I'm only relieved it didn't go worse."
"It could have gone better," Cabanela replied with a stiffness to his voice that only meant a fierce sulk was brewing. "There shouldn't have been anything to go worse. By all accounts, it's a miracle he survived at all and that nothing worse happened to the girl. …Or you." Because of me, the words hung heavy, unsaid in the air.
Jowd chuckled. "Miracles do come in unexpected places!" And stranger forms.
He couldn't help it. His chuckle broke into a laugh at the absurdity of the situation and the affronted look of confusion on Cabanela's face. How rare to throw him so off-kilter.
"There a joooke I'm missin' here? Not seein' the humour my friend."
He forced himself to stop. Pull it together, man. There were still many battles left, not least keeping Alma and Cabanela from wondering at his behaviour—not off to a good start there.
"Hell of a day," he replied calmly. "But we all made it. That's what matters now." He stood, shrugging off Cabanela's frown.
"Come on," he added. "We shouldn't keep Alma waiting and Kamila is likely to wake up soon."
"Riiight," Cabanela said, still eyeing Jowd suspiciously as he stood to join him.
They returned to the living room where Alma still sat, nestled into the couch arm with a book in hand.
As Jowd sat close to Alma he passed the cat a small nod and got a bob of his head in return. They would have a long talk later. For now he pulled Alma close, noted how she felt in his arms as she settled against him instead, passing him a smile, familiar and warm. She was always pale, but now there was life in her cheeks and in the glimmer in her eyes.
Cabanela tossed himself into their armchair and he appeared more relaxed, giving another jaunty greeting to Alma, questioning the cat's presence and chattering about everything except this day.
Jowd breathed out. They were all here. Everyone was safe. There was time to move forward and make amends.
This was normal, an old normal. A new normal.