I don't hear a warning. The rain hides the crunch of leaves, the snap of a twig, the rustle of branches. What I do hear is Mac. I hear him shout, quickly, wordlessly. And I turn. I turn. And this is when my world stops. A pause between one heartbeat and the next stretches on and on for all eternity. Cold phantom fingers stroking my spine, far, far colder than the rain.
Because there, there's Mac. And there, there's a man whose name and face I now know. And there's a gun held to Mac's head, pressed to the area beside the jaw, below the ear. And Mac doesn't move, and stares at me with wide eyes. I freeze. I don't dare to make any movements at all in case it gets him killed.
"Kneel," says John Miles to Mac. His voice is low, cultured, and perfectly steady. The thought slips into my head that he's been through this in his mind many times before.
"Neither of you do anything stupid, or the other one dies," Miles says. "Detective Taylor, for you that includes talking. You don't sayanything, understand?"
"Good. Now, take out your phone and your gun, one at a time, and throw them there, beneath that tree. Don't even think about trying to dial anyone on your phone first."
I watch helplessly as Mac complies. His gun and phone make soft pathetic thumps as they hit the mud. Raindrops hit them and scatter into pieces.
Miles turns to face me. "Now you. Phone and weapon."
I pull my phone out of my pocket and toss it away from me gently. "I'm not armed," I say.
"You expect me to believe that?"
"We're not here on duty," I tell him, mouth dry. "My gun's in my coat, in the car. I didn't expect to be needing it." I raise my arms, the sodden jumper flattened against my body showing no tell-tale bulge of a holster at my side. He nods. If I was wearing a jacket instead of a jumper he'd never consider even for a second that I was telling the truth. Mac's eyes burn into mine, and I know that he knows too that I'm gambling with both our lives, risking them on the almost-knowledge that Miles won't search me, that he needs all of us to stay in these exact positions to retain control of the situation.
"Just put the gun down, John," I say. "No one has to get hurt here."
"Yes they do," he says very calmly. "Someone will. Either Detective Taylor or you is going to die."
"John, this isn't going to bring Sarah back, or Mark. You know that."
"Yes, I know that," he says. His tone doesn't rise at all. This is all rehearsed, planned. He's already worked out his answers to the standard questions he expected to be asked. I let him talk. "I'm not doing this for them, or for me. I'm doing this so that you know what it feels like to have to stand and watch as someone you care for dies. Then maybe next time you'll punish a murderer as he deserves to be punished. I'm doing this so that maybe less people have to go through what I have."
"John, we don't set sentences. We can't change the laws."
"No, put you present the case to the jury. They act on your recommendations. You're the police, and isn't your motto 'To Protect and Serve'? You're supposed to protect us from people who take lives, just like Sarah's life was taken from her. But then, I wouldn't expect you to understand that murderers need to be locked away, Detective Bonasera. After all, you're still walking the streets yourself."
A surge of hot anger rises up at his words, but I fight it back down again. Frankie's ghost isn't going to claim either of us if I can help it. "Shooting Mac isn't going to alter the law, John. You know that. You could have killed us before, in the subway, but you chose not to."
"You didn't know who I was then," he says simply. "You didn't know why. Now you do."
All this time I'm conscious of the handle of the gun digging into the small of my back. A standard issue weapon, smaller than my Glock which is currently being held as evidence. It didn't fit in my holster. The attack in the subway may yet save our lives. But at present it's taunting me, worse than useless. In the time it would take to pull it from where I tucked it beneath my jumper into the waistband at the back of my trousers and aim it, Mac would be dead. Most probably, so would I. Keep him talking, I think. Don't give him time to make up his mind to pull the trigger.
"Did you kill Acorn?" I ask. Maybe not the best subject of conversation, but the cold water lashing my head and dripping through my hair seems to have numbed my brain. Nothing seems real. Through the waves of falling water the trees are faded, ghost-grey. Or maybe we're the ghosts.
"You know I did."
"Where's his body?"
"Why does it matter?" He sounds slightly surprised. It seems he hasn't prepared for this question.
"We need to find him. You don't want someone who has nothing to do with this – someone else's sister maybe – to stumble over his body, to have to see that?"
He considers for a second. "He's behind one of those abandoned warehouses, by the construction site on the near side of the Hudson, you know it?"
"Yes, I know where you mean. Thank you John." I pause. "Can you tell me who the other man is? The one you shot?"
For the first time, Miles's face contorts with emotion. The hand holding the gun shakes, until he realises and controls it, but he can't stop his voice from shaking too. "He – he was Sarah's boyfriend. Before Mark. He was called Russell Jones. He beat her up, and we called the police on him, Mark and I, but he skipped town before they did anything about it. He moved back six months ago. Then – he started sending me letters. Saying – saying that it was my fault Sarah died. That he would have protected her. That neither Mark or I had ever loved her!" He fiercely wipes his hand across his eyes, although the rain would have prevented me seeing him crying. "I couldn't… I couldn't bear it."
"And when you decided you needed a body to get our attention…"
He nods, his face wretched. "I killed him. I had to kill him."
"John, it's alright. I understand." Somehow, I do, even though the thought of what Miles did to that man horrifies me. "Believe me, we both understand what it's like to lose someone you love." I speak soothingly to him, although I'm terrified. I'm still playing for time, and soon I'll have no ideas left.
"He does." Miles jabs the barrel of the gun hard against Mac's neck. He jerks in pain, but makes no sound. "You don't, not yet. But soon you will."
For the first time in a while I risk a glance at Mac's face. It's pale, and I can't tell if it's from fear or from the chill of kneeling in the driving rain and the cold mud. His eyes are fixed on mine. Strands of dark hair are plastered to his scalp and rivulets of water run down the creases of his face, which I know so well. I wonder how the world would be able to turn, how the rain would ever be able to stop, if he were gone. The freezing needles of rain pierce right through my body, turning my lungs and my heart to ice. I stare into the grey eyes of Mac Taylor, and I forget all my training, forget everything I've ever been told about hostage situations. All that matters is getting Mac out of this alive. "Please," I say, my voice only just loud enough to be heard through the drumming of water on the sodden ground and on the trees. "Please, not him, not Mac. Don't shoot him."
Miles lifts the corners of his mouth into a smile. "See? Not nice is it, to be completely helpless? To know that whatever you try, he'll still end up dead?"
"Please," I say again, and I'm looking straight at Mac now, straight into his eyes, wishing I could pour my life into his, strong enough to repel a bullet. His dark red shirt is almost black with water, but is still the brightest colour I can see. My voice is louder, stronger, and right now there's nothing else in the world apart from us and what I want to say. "Please. Anything. Anything."
Miles is saying something, still smiling, but I'm not listening. All my attention is focused on Mac as he lowers his head, almost imperceptibly, and lifts it again. A nearly unnoticeable nod. I know that he trusts me absolutely, and I trust him. We both know what I want him to do. If he dies now it will be my fault. I watch his hand, out of Miles's sightline. I watch, every muscle in my body tensed, as he tucks his thumb and little finger out of sight. His remaining fingers jerk in sequence, ever so slightly, as droplets drip from his nails. One. Two. Three.
I snap my attention to a spot above and behind Miles, and yell harshly, briefly. He instinctively jumps, glancing half-behind him, and Mac moves. He slams his arm into Miles's wrist, forcing the gun away from his head, and pushes himself up and forwards, away from him, giving me the seconds I need to reach behind me and grab my weapon, before Miles can realise what's happening. The scene freezes again, a silent tableau, caught in a last curtain-call of rain, which intensifies again to great driving drilling drumming sheets.
Mac stands almost directly between us, unarmed. I'm aimed at Miles, and Miles is aimed at Mac.
"Welcome to the rest of your life, Stella Bonasera," Miles says.
So do I.
Time slows, slows. The raindrops fall inexorably through a suddenly viscous sky. I think that I can almost see his bullet leave the barrel and blast its path through the atoms of the air, splitting and scattering hundreds and hundreds of water droplets which throw themselves in front of its burning metal body in a vain attempt to slow its unstoppable passing.
That bullet, and mine, run straight along the sheer sharpness of the knife-edge. Right along that thin line between life and death.
Between hope and no hope.
Between love and loss.
The thin thread of the fates stretched taut. Ready to be cut.
But Mac's a Marine, and trained in combat, and he was moving even as the bullet left Miles's gun, flinging himself down, and now he's lying on his front in the mud, and I can't even tell whether or not he's been hit. Miles lies still. A rose-shaped stain blooms on his wet shirt, the same colour as the roses he left for us to follow. I pause to kick the gun out of his hand, and turn to Mac.
Who's getting up. Unhurt. My hands are shaking so much that I can't hold my gun anymore, and I let it fall to the mud. He stands.
"Mac. Mac, you ok?"
"I'm fine. Thank you. Thank you."
"I nearly got you killed. I could've killed you."
"You didn't. You saved me. I'm here, I'm alright. It's over now."
I look at the body of John Miles, and I find I'm crying for him, because even after everything he did, I pity him, and I wish he wasn't dead, by my hand.
Mac pulls me into a fierce hug, and I clutch him tightly, the only solid thing in a world of water in which I'm afraid I'll drown. In a minute we'll have to call this in, have to go through the weary process of statements, and explaining, but right here, right now, there's only us. I press my head to Mac's chest, hearing his lungs still drawing air in and out. Hear his heart still beating. He holds me close.
"We're both still here," he says. "Both here. It's over."
And the heavy raindrops run down my face, washing away my tears.
A/N: Well, the end. Thank you for sticking with me, I hope the ending was worth it! Thank you to all you wonderful people who've been reviewing, and also to the lurkers. It isn't too late, you know! ;)
Watch this space, more stories coming soon! Blue x