A/N: Sorry for the time I've taken to get this posted. I had a bad fall a week ago, and have not had access to an internet-enabled computer all this time. Imagine the reading I have to catch up on… Anyway, here is the epilogue. I'm toying with a little post-script that I might tack on to the end of this story, but this is the official finish.
Two weeks later
"Finally going home," Alex murmured as she sank into her seat in the business class section of the plane. Deakins smiled.
She groaned faintly.
"That's an understatement. Two days of work, and then two weeks in hospital? Not exactly my idea of a thrilling time."
"That's rich," Bobby retorted, "considering you're the only one who didn't have to stay in hospital."
"Don't give me attitude," she threw back at him. "Just because the ambulance paramedics wouldn't let you walk. You know damned well you're not supposed to putting too much stress on that leg just yet."
"I didn't need the damn wheelchair," he growled, noticeably red-faced. "I have crutches. I could have walked. It's bad enough being treated like an invalid to start with…"
"What, are you worried that the ladies won't throw themselves at you because you have to be chauffeured around in the wheelchair?"
Bobby promptly went beet red, much to the amusement of both Alex and Deakins. Alex stared at him incredulously.
"You've got to be kidding me, Bobby! Are you blind, or something? There were at least five female attendants back at check in who would have been more than happy to pamper you."
Bobby said nothing, staring intently at the floor in front of him as he tried, too late, to hide his acute embarrassment.
"Leave him alone, Alex," Deakins said, though he couldn't keep the grin off his own face. "It isn't his fault that he's the kind of guy that women like to baby."
Bobby glared at Deakins, then. "Just wait till your first physio session…"
Deakins laughed softly.
"Careful, Bobby. Or I might arrange for us to share a room when we get to St Clare's."
Bobby smirked at the threat. "Careful, Captain. I might agree to that."
"Ugh," Alex interjected. "You two as roomies? I pity the nursing staff."
Bobby and Deakins exchanged rueful smiles over Alex's head. The fact was that both men had some serious rehabilitation time to look forward to. On arrival back in New York, rather than going home, there would be an ambulance waiting to transport both of them straight to St Clare's, to the rehab wing.
Deakins had started to regain movement and sensation in his legs approximately a week ago, but he was not strong enough to be able to walk. The doctors at Denton Hospital had estimated it might take him a month or two of intensive rehab to recover to full strength and mobility.
Bobby, on the other hand, had finally had some good news himself. X-rays and scans done on his leg just a few days ago had suggested that the damage done by David Graham was not as bad as the doctors had first believed. Though the doctors at St Clare's in New York still needed to run their own tests, the odds were now good that he would not be left crippled after all.
He was still faced with another probable twelve months or more of ongoing rehabilitation and physio, but the appearance of a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel had buoyed him considerably. As a result, their farewell from Denton had been considerably more cheerful than it might have been if they had left a week earlier.
Only the day before, Deakins had been moved from his room into the gym that was allocated for use by the rehab ward, for what he had thought was going to be the first of many sessions aimed at getting him back on his feet. Instead, he'd been startled and embarrassed to find all the CID officers who had been involved in the Graham case waiting there, clapping enthusiastically as he was wheeled in. Alex was saved the embarrassment, having already arrived there with Jack, but it was with some small satisfaction that he watched Bobby suffer the same discomfort when he, too, was delivered to the gym a few minutes later.
The farewell party had been relatively low key, but in the end greatly appreciated by all three of them. Mullett had declined to make any sort of speech, much to everyone's relief, but Jack issued a few gruff words of thanks to their American colleagues for the help they'd given in stopping a callous killer, ending with an open invitation for them to return any time, 'and hopefully they'd see more than just the inside of the local hospital'. Laughter was had all round at the last comment, even from Bobby who by then was visibly showing signs of pain and exhaustion.
Later on, though, when everyone else had left and only Jack and Mullett remained, the tone turned serious.
"We really are truly grateful," Mullett told them sincerely. "God knows how long it might have been before we… as you say, got a break."
"Thank Graham for that," Bobby said ruefully. "If he hadn't sent me that email, we would never have known what was happening here."
Mullett smiled in mild amusement. "I'll be sure to do that. I am sorry you were all injured, though. And if there is anything at all I can do, such as sending a report to your superiors, please let me know."
Deakins nodded. "We appreciate the offer, but just for the moment we'll wait and see what sort of a reception is waiting for us when we get home. If we need the help, I'll certainly let you know."
And so it had gone. Mullett had eventually excused himself, leaving only Jack behind.
"I imagine you're all quite ready to go home by now," Jack said, at a momentary loss for anything else to say. Deakins nodded, thinking first and foremost of his wife. It had only been after a long phone conversation that involved multiple reassurances from himself to her that had prevented her from getting on a plane and flying straight to England. Not that he hadn't wanted her with him, but he knew he was going to be all right, and he honestly believed it better for her to wait, and be there to meet him when he got home.
Alex had answered Jack's query with a nod as well, but Bobby had been a little more hesitant in his answer. Both Deakins and Alex knew why. For Bobby, going home meant another potentially lengthy stay in the rehabilitation wing of St Clare's, depending on just how serious the new injuries to his leg really were. It was not something he was looking forward to in the slightest and it had less to do with the food than the company – or lack thereof.
"You know," Jack commented, his sharp eyes noting the gloomy expression on the detective's face, "I was just issued an email address by the Department four or five weeks ago. I'm still getting used to all this new technology, of course, but in all this… excitement, I forgot all about it. Now, as much as I'd love to come and visit you all in New York, I'm not quite sure how soon that's likely to happen, so perhaps we can… what is it they say… swap addresses, and keep in touch that way? I'm sure your Department would be generous enough to give you the use of a laptop computer while you're in hospital, Bobby."
Deakins laughed. "I think that can be arranged."
The look on Bobby's face had said it all, embarrassed but appreciative of Jack's obvious efforts.
The next day, Jack had arrived at the hospital along with George Toolan and Hazel Wallace, and the three detectives had provided an escort from the hospital to Denton Airport, and through to their gate of departure. Farewells had been cheerful, but swift – the crew had wanted to board the three of them ahead of the rest of the passengers in order to ensure both seats and comfort.
Then, finally, they had been settled into their seats on the plane, ready to begin the final stage of their journey home.
"You still haven't given me an explanation, you know."
Bobby and Alex looked at Deakins questioningly.
"An explanation for what?" Alex asked, genuinely confused. Deakins looked from one to the other, a familiar glint in his eyes.
"The beds in your hotel room, and why only one of them had been slept in," Deakins answered bluntly. Both detectives reddened noticeably, and Deakins couldn't conceal a grin. "You thought I'd just forget about it?"
"In all honesty," Bobby said ruefully, "we forgot about it. Do you really want to know?"
Deakins felt his smile fade as he looked at the two of them. Did he? As amusing as it seemed on the surface, Deakins guessed that it probably stemmed back to one of their many traumatic experiences on Gore Mountain – one that they had yet to talk about to anyone else. So did he really want to know…?
"It's up to you," he said finally. "If you don't want to talk about it, I'll accept that."
Bobby and Alex looked sideways at each other. Bobby finally spoke in a markedly subdued tone.
"It goes back to that night on the mountain… after we found ourselves back at Mathers' cabin."
Bobby paused, half expecting Deakins to speak, but the captain stayed silent. He went on quietly, telling the story in an unsteady voice.
"We didn't know whose cabin it was at first. We went in because we needed shelter… It was getting dark and cold…"
"We kind of hoped to find something to eat, too," Alex added, and Deakins smiled in sympathy. He recalled that at that point, neither Bobby nor Alex had eaten anything for three days. Naturally they would have been painfully hungry by then.
"We realised where we were when we found what was left of our jackets and shoes in that suitcase under the bed," Bobby said. "We had a choice then. Either leave, and risk freezing to death outside…"
"Or stay, and risk meeting up with Mathers again," Alex concluded.
"We decided to stay," Bobby explained, "which you know. At first, we tried taking it in turns… Alex started off keeping watch, and I tried to get some rest… But it got really cold really fast, and the only thing even remotely like a blanket in the whole cabin was that throw rug on the floor."
Deakins nodded, recalling the rug from the hours he had spent in the cabin.
"That thing wouldn't have kept anyone warm," he murmured. Alex smiled wryly.
"That's what I said. Then Bobby suggested… No, let me rephrase that. He got embarrassed and started stuttering all over the place. I eventually had to say it for him… that we might be able to keep from freezing if we cuddled together under the rug."
Deakins could swear Bobby had gone red yet again, but the big detective nodded in confirmation of Alex's words despite any likely embarrassment.
"So… that's what we did," he said softly. "But… It's kind of hard to explain. Lying together like we did… It didn't just help to warm us up again. It, um…"
"It helped you to feel safe," Deakins said gently when Bobby faltered, searching helplessly for words that wouldn't come. The two detectives looked at each other, momentarily caught up in their memories. Eventually, Bobby answered with a nod.
"Yeah. It did."
"So that night in the hotel…?"
"The night before," Alex explained. "We started off in separate beds, but I… I had a bad nightmare. So we ended up in the big bed together. The next night neither of us even thought about it. We just got into the same bed."
Deakins regarded them thoughtfully.
"No nightmares," Bobby confirmed, "the incident with Adrian Bailey notwithstanding."
Deakins sighed softly, then.
"I think I understand. I promise you both, this won't go past me."
"You understand, we're not a couple," Alex said, and Bobby nodded in agreement. "There's nothing like that in our relationship."
"I understand," Deakins assured them. "I can see it for myself. Anyone can, if they look properly. Ever since you two went back to work… You've behaved more like twins than anything else. I wouldn't want to see that broken up."
The relief on both Bobby and Alex's faces was palpable, and brought a grin back to Deakins' face, if only briefly.
"Can I ask you both something? You don't have to answer me if you don't want to."
"I hate questions that start like that," Alex growled.
"What is it?" Bobby asked.
"When you were on the mountain together… How scared were you really?"
For nearly a minute, neither Bobby nor Alex spoke. Alex continued to watch Bobby who, in turn, stared down at his broken leg. Just when Deakins was about to give up on either of them answering, Bobby spoke.
"The last time I felt as frightened as I did when we were on that mountain… was when my mom first started having episodes."
Deakins felt his stomach turn at the honest admission.
"But at the same time," Bobby went on, "as terrifying as it was, it never felt hopeless… because I wasn't alone."
The captain looked at Alex, who was watching Bobby with an encouraging smile. She looked back at him, still smiling.
"That's the mistake that Erik Mathers made, and it's one of the things that saved our lives. He left us together."
Deakins nodded his agreement.
"I said pretty much the same thing to your father, Alex."
She looked at him, confused.
"When was this?'
"After you were both airlifted back to New York," Deakins answered quietly, recalling the sobering memories with some reluctance. "You'd both not long come out of surgery… I was sitting in Bobby's room, and your father came in to let me know you'd woken up. He said something like, he'd known that as long as you were together, we had a chance of seeing you both again alive. I agreed with him, and that's when I said that Mathers made his biggest mistake in leaving you together."
Silence met Deakins' words, and none of them spoke for a while as the plane taxied onto the runway, and finally took off. Minutes passed as the jet climbed into the sky, and only as it finally levelled out did they speak again.
"I never did thank you for that," Bobby said softly. It was Deakins' turn to look puzzled.
"Thank me for what?"
"For staying with me… in the hospital," Bobby elaborated with some awkwardness. Understanding dawned on Deakins' face.
"Oh. Well, Alex had her family… I guess after everything you'd already been through… I just didn't want you waking up alone."
Bobby nodded wordlessly. He appreciated that more than Deakins could possibly know. The truth was, had he woken up alone, with no one to offer him any sort of reassurance, God only knew what state he would have gotten himself into.
"Well…" he stammered finally, "I just wanted to say… Thankyou."
Deakins smiled faintly.
"You're welcome, Bobby."
Deakins sighed as exhaustion finally forced him to put aside the notebook he'd been writing in. Though he hadn't been required to do anything other than make a formal statement back in Denton regarding his abduction by David Graham, he knew his own superiors would expect a full report from him upon their return to New York. He'd succeeded in writing out half a dozen, double-sided A4 sheets before fatigue finally got the better of him.
"Can I put that away for you, Captain?"
It was the stewardess assigned to take care of the business class passengers, a relatively easy task given that in addition to himself, Bobby and Alex, there were only four other passengers in the section. He favoured her with a grateful smile, and allowed her to take the notebook from him and store it away in the overhead compartment with his cabin luggage.
"Can I get you a drink?" she offered, and he reluctantly declined. As much as he would have loved a whisky, the strict non-alcohol rules that he had needed to enforce with Bobby and Alex at the start of their trip now applied to him as well.
"No thanks. A pillow and blanket would be good, though."
While she got the requested items, Deakins looked across at his two detectives and had to smile at the sight that met him. They had both reclined their seats as far as possible, and Alex was turned on her side towards Bobby, cuddling in against him across the minor barrier of the armrests with her head resting on his left shoulder. His left arm was draped protectively around her shoulders, holding her close. Both were sleeping peacefully, and probably had been for a while.
"They make a nice-looking couple, don't they?"
Deakins looked around, and smiled at the stewardess as she helped him to recline the seat and drape the blanket over him.
"Yes," he murmured, knowing his thoughts were on a completely different track to the stewardess. "They do."
Still smiling to himself, Deakins settled down in the comfort of the reclined seat, and slept.