And, finally, here's the last chapter...
Five days later...
Booker stood aside from the group of mourners, shadowed by the towering maple he leaned against. Heavy clouds rolled overhead, and a haze of drizzle blanketed the city. The cemetery was on a hill, and if the day had been clear the view would have been faultless. Drops of water showered down upon him every time the breeze blew, and there was a definite bite to the air that promised a long, cold winter.
Not many had gathered for Simon's funeral. Those who'd made the effort were hard-faced and huddled under blooming, black umbrellas. There was a tall boy, dressed in a shabby suit and cuffed at the wrists. Two officers flanked his sides. Booker guessed that the boy must be Tyson, Simon's older brother, let out from prison for the occasion.
The priest said a handful of words, and then the mourners leaned down to throw dirt upon the coffin. They took it in turns, and when Tyson's turn came up he stiffly completed the task, despite his cuffs. Booker inhaled jaggedly and pushed his hands further into his coat pockets. The remaining leaves on the tree above him clung to their branches, and shuddered as the wind tried to coax them to the ground.
The events of the past weekend were still fresh in his mind. Each time he closed his eyes he was treated to a brilliant display of memories far too vivid for his liking. He recalled the car trip to the hospital, and could still feel each bump in the road. He remembered exactly how his heart had crashed to a halt the moment Penhall had told them that Hanson had stopped breathing. Hoffs had screamed them right to the doors of the ER, and had flung herself from the vehicle to find some help. Booker had watched uselessly as Penhall had breathed for their friend, but Hanson's eyes had remained closed, despite Penhall's best efforts. The rest was a blur. Help had come. He'd been hauled from the car alongside Hanson, and rushed away.
Shakily he raised a hand to the gauze that now covered the wound upon his forehead. Cold drizzle stung his cheeks and caught in his lashes. Life is so damn fragile, he thought as he turned his eyes away from the mourners and fixed them upon the remnants of a spider's web shivering as it flapped in a small hollow of the tree's trunk. You're born, and then you die. But what the hell comes in between? Sadly he withdrew his badge from his pocket and turned it over in his palm, failing to focus upon it and instead staring beyond it to the soggy ground and the thin grass struggling to grow around the tree's roots.
Hanson had pulled through; everything would be okay. They'd caught the bad guys. But one of the bad guys is dead. He lifted his eyes to the group of mourners again. I killed him. Very briefly his grip tensed around his badge. He waited a moment, and then shoved it back into his pocket, out of sight.
He hadn't been back to the hospital since he'd checked himself out. The doctors had revived Hanson, and had stabilized him somehow. Booker had stared through the smudgy glass of Hanson's room until he'd been unable to stare any more. Penhall had been hunched beside the bed, and Hoffs had said something about Fuller and Ioki coming down as quickly as they could. Booker had wanted to stay, but he'd needed so desperately to get away and pull himself together. Hanson was okay, and that was all that had mattered. He'd left the hospital despite being asked to stay in for observation, and had taken a cab home.
He shuddered with the memory of that night. When he'd closed himself in his apartment, the flashbacks had come like an army of uninvited guests. They'd driven him to the brink of madness and then he'd teetered on the edge before falling off. He'd spent the remainder of the night curled in the corner of his shower; frozen, naked, and sobbing like an inconsolable child. He'd been desperately alone, and yet, he'd never needed to be so alone in all his life.
Now… now he just felt wrong. He felt like something within him was broken. Fuller had come by his apartment and had offered him two weeks leave, and a session (or more) with a councellor, if he wanted to take it. But Booker had brushed the concern off. I'm fine, he'd lied, knowing how exhausted he probably sounded. Fuller had squeezed his shoulder then. "Take some time off. I don't want to see you back at work yet." Booker had looked away. "Go see Hanson, Dennis." That was Monday. Today was Wednesday. Booker still hadn't had a full night's sleep.
He heaved a shaky sigh. The funeral was over. The mourners that had gathered to say goodbye to Simon were beginning to depart. Booker watched them as they trudged through the muddy grass towards waiting vehicles, their shoulders hunched and their umbrellas down over their faces. Perhaps Fuller was right. Perhaps he should go see Hanson.
Raising charcoal eyes to bruised sky, he followed the movement of heavy clouds. The drizzle had become rain, and the tree above him barely provided any shelter. Two men were shovelling dirt into the grave, and from where he was standing, Booker could just hear the scrapes and thuds of their metal shovels against the earth. A line from a book came to him. 'Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on.' It was from The Great Gatsby, which he'd been made to read back when he was at school. His mind sure did pull out some random thoughts sometimes. He looked towards the grave once more.
One of the men glanced over at him, pausing briefly. Do they even known who they're burying? Booker watched them through the rain. Of course they didn't. I'm responsible for the hole they're filling. It was a sad and hollow thought. Slowly, he turned on his heel, and walked away.
Penhall lurched forward as the car skidded to an abrupt halt. Hoffs had been yelling at him the whole time, but although he'd heard her, he hadn't listened to a word she'd said. Now she tumbled from the car, running into the ER and calling for help. Booker was still in the front seat, struggling to turn around. But Penhall wasn't listening to a word he said either. There was just Hanson, and Hanson wasn't breathing. Penhall's fingers pinched his friend's nose and he bent over, breathing and pounding Hanson's chest. There was blood everywhere. No matter how the situation turned out, Penhall knew right then and there that he'd have crimson nightmares for a long time to come.
Doctors came. They fell upon the car like ants upon a carcass. There was a woman with large glasses, and she was asking Penhall to trust her. "Let us take him, come on, we'll take care of him now." There were hands, and they were trying to take Hanson away. At first Penhall resisted, but then he realized that if he didn't let go, Hanson would die. The doctors were there to help; he had to let them help. His legs were numb from having Hanson across his lap. When he was able to step out of the car, he wobbled and nearly fell. Hoffs gripped him around the shoulders, and beside them Booker was hauled from his seat and laid upon a gurney. Hanson was carried away, and Penhall followed as far as he could, but then Hanson disappeared through a swinging door and Penhall was asked to remain behind. "Like hell I will," he argued. But Hoffs gripped his hand, and steered him towards a row of plastic seats. She gently told him to sit down. "Please," she begged, just like the doctors had. "Please sit down."
The night went on forever. The chairs grew more and more uncomfortable. Penhall lost his patience. Hoffs couldn't stop him when he cursed and swore and demanded to be told what was going on. He punched a wall, and then kicked a vending machine. An old doctor with silver hair ordered him to calm down. "We're doing all we can, just sit tight, please." Penhall stormed out the front door, blinked wildly at the arriving patients and ambulances, and then realized that he wasn't acting rationally. He returned to Hoffs. She covered his hand with hers. She was shaking, but she hid it well. Penhall felt ashamed. He wanted to trust the doctors but he was so scared. Other people in the waiting room watched him sadly. They were waiting too, and Penhall swallowed painfully as he leaned stiffly back in his seat.
Just after midnight they heard about Booker. His head had been stitched up and he'd been given drugs to help him rest. He'd be kept in for observation, and was expected to wake soon. Hoffs went to see him but Penhall decided to remain where he was. "I'll be back in a moment," she told him. She'd spoken to Fuller; he and Ioki would come as soon as they were able. Penhall watched Hoffs disappear through the swinging doors and wondered whether it was bad that he didn't actually care about Booker. The only thing he cared about, more than anything, was being told that Hanson would be alright.
One o'clock, two o'clock, two-thirty came around and Hoffs had been back for a while. The waiting room filled, then emptied, then filled again as people rushed in and rushed out. Some of them were bloody. Some of them were anxious and wide-eyed. Some of them screamed and kicked walls. Penhall wondered how the hospital staff managed to work in such an environment. His job could be bad sometimes, but it wasn't nearly this intense. Not on this level. He'd rubbed his eyes so many times that he felt like they would bleed. Finally, after what seemed like forever, a doctor appeared and called for Hanson's friends or family.
Penhall was up off his chair and across the room in a heartbeat, wanting, and not wanting, to know how his night might end. The doctor took a deep breath, and then said very quietly, "It was touch and go. He's lost a lot of blood. He's in the ICU, but he's stable." Hoffs let out a small sound and jerked Penhall into an embrace. Hanson was going to be okay. Penhall released the breath he'd been holding. The doctor barely flinched. "We'll just have to wait and see how he goes during the night." He regarded the two officers. "But he's a strong young man, and it looks like he's going to make it." Penhall felt his throat go tight, and a painful lump swell and choke his words. He asked whether they could see Hanson. The doctor said they would be able to eventually, but they'd have to be patient. Penhall nodded, and then returned to his seat. This time, he knew, he wouldn't mind the wait…
Penhall blinked open his eyes. He hadn't meant to fall asleep. He was slumped uncomfortably in a chair beside Hanson's bed; the same chair he'd been living in for the past five days now. The magazine he'd been reading had fallen to the floor, and he leaned down to retrieve it. He'd bought it, along with a whole stack of others, for Hanson to read when he was feeling a bit better.
Monitors beeped, and lights flashed on various machines. Dim light seeped into the room from a crack in the partly closed blinds. Hanson was doing really well, breathing on his own and healing slowly but surely. He'd woken a couple of times, but hadn't been able to say much. Penhall was getting used to the one-sided conversations, although it would be good when they could have a real conversation again. I'm getting sick of my own voice, he admitted sadly. Muscles protesting, he pushed himself up from his chair and crossed the room to the small, rectangular window.
The day was miserable. It mirrored his mood exactly. He stared through the foggy glass at the rain falling from the heavy sky. It was early afternoon, but the lack of sunlight made it seem a lot later. He was tired, and run-down. It was difficult to eat or sleep properly when your best friend was lying in a hospital bed. He traced a smiley face in the condensation on the cold glass and watched cars pull into and out of the hospital's car park. Water gushed down a drainpipe to the right of the window, and spewed out the bottom into a leaf-clogged drain that barely served its purpose.
He let the blind drop back into place, and returned to his chair. Hanson's chest rose and fell methodically, and Penhall's stomach turned as he recalled the handful of minutes in which Hanson's breathing had stopped. Ten years, he decided stiffly. That's how long has been shaved off my life as a result of all this.
He leaned forward and rested his elbows against the metal rail of Hanson's bed. Hanson's face was pale, spattered with angry bruises, cuts and scrapes. He looked smaller, somehow. His body was shrunken against the mattress. Tubes and wires attached him to the machines around him and one of his arms was cocooned in a fat bandage. Penhall sighed and closed his eyes. This was way too close, buddy. Way too close… They'd gotten incredibly lucky. Even the doctors had said that it was a miracle Hanson had survived. Good thing you're stubborn. Penhall reopened his eyes. There was a sound from the doorway. Awkwardly, he turned around.
Booker was standing there. His face was as pale as Hanson's.
"Jeez, look you the way that I feel," Penhall groaned by way of greeting. This was the first time he'd seen Booker since the weekend.
Booker's dark eyes dropped to the floor and a very small splinter of emotion flickered across his features. His long coat was wet with rain, and water dripped off his unruly mop of hair. "How's he doing?" He asked quietly.
Penhall stared hard at the tall officer. Booker made eye contact, and then pulled his gaze away.
"The docs say he's doing well," Penhall told him, easing his stare.
Booker nodded. "That's good."
A fragile silence descended. Penhall shifted in his chair. He wasn't quite sure how he was feeling towards Booker after the events of the weekend. He knew that what had happened to Hanson hadn't been Booker's fault, but the need to blame someone or something still sat heavily within him. He'd clashed with Booker from day one, so Booker was the obvious choice. But…
That wasn't exactly fair.
Booker had played a large part in finding and rescuing Hanson. If it hadn't been for Booker, they probably would have been burying Hanson today. Penhall sighed, and dropped his head.
"I just thought I'd check how he was." Booker made a move to leave.
Penhall stopped him. "How was the funeral?"
For a moment Booker appeared startled, as if he was surprised that Penhall knew that he'd gone. Hastily he regained his composure. "It was small," he replied evenly. Penhall waited, but Booker didn't say anything more. There was a small puddle of water upon the scuffed floor around Booker's boots. Booker followed Penhall's gaze, and quirked a slight smile. "The weather was miserable."
Penhall noted that Booker's hands were shoved deep into his pockets. He was probably freezing. "You look like you could use a stiff drink." Booker didn't reply. Penhall pushed himself up from his chair. "I can't get us whisky, but I can get us a cup of coffee." He stepped towards the doorway. "That is, if you'd like one?"
Booker wasn't one to accept much from anyone. He was stubborn, just like Hanson. Penhall didn't give him a chance to reply. "Sit," he ordered. "Keep an eye on him while I'm gone."
Booker held up a hand, ready to make an excuse.
Penhall cut him off. "If he wakes up, it'd be nice for him to have someone familiar nearby." He ran a hand through his hair. "Besides, I need some fresh air."
Booker's face lost a little more colour. His eyes skipped away. "I don't think I'm someone he'll want to see."
Penhall took note of the hidden message, and then dismissed it just as quickly. "Sit," he said again, this time a little more firmly. He got a hand behind Booker and pushed him towards the bed. Booker fell into the chair with a soggy thud. Penhall turned and went to exit the room. "You might think you know everything," he said. "But the truth is; you don't."
Booker remained silent.
"Stop being a jerk and sit here a while. I'll be back in a moment. If you're not here when I get back, I'll get angry."
If Booker replied, Penhall didn't hear it. Satisfied, he stepped into the corridor and walked away.
Hanson was in a strange place. He was aware of certain things, but not of others. He knew that he was in a bed, in a strange room. He knew that he'd come very close to dying, but he wasn't sure how.
There was dull, grey light surrounding him. He was sleeping, but it was a sleep devoid of dreams. He'd opened his eyes a couple of times and had been surprised to see Penhall sitting beside him. He'd tried to talk to his friend, but infuriatingly his mouth hadn't been able to form the words. It was like his brain was still working but his body refused to co-operate. He was frustrated, but at the same time frustration required more energy than he seemed to possess.
The last thing he remembered was being in a forest. He wasn't sure how he'd got from the forest to here; his sense of time was gone and there were pieces of his memory missing. He could have been in the forest days ago, or even weeks. There was no telling how long he'd been lying in this bed. He clawed at reality, trying to find a way out of the thick, grey nothingness. But each time he caught at something, he slipped and was pulled away again. It was like being stuck down a well without a rope to climb out again.
Finally the grey curtain opened slightly, and he peered out through heavy lashes at the figure now seated beside him. It took him a moment to piece together who he was seeing, but soon enough he recognized Booker's face. Booker was staring at the floor, completely unaware that Hanson was watching him. Hanson tried to move his mouth, but again, infuriatingly, no sound came out.
So you survived… The thought floated like a feather through his jumbled mind. Hanson tried to stay in the moment, but his eyes began to sag closed again. That's good… He and Booker had a lot to talk about. When he was well again, Hanson hoped they'd have a long chat. His eyes closed completely. He drifted away into greyness again.
He wanted to say thankyou. Booker had got help and had come after him, after all. That meant more than Hanson could say. 'Thankyou' didn't seem like enough, but it was all that he could offer. One word as payment for my life.
With any luck, Booker would understand.
Fuller massaged his forehead and glared at his phone. It hadn't stopped ringing all week. Questions, reports, more questions, and more reports- a case wasn't closed when the bad guys were in cuffs; it took much longer to tie up all the loose ends. In this case, a kid had been shot as a result of the actions of one of his officers. Things were messy, and there would be a thorough investigation. Protocol, he thought disapprovingly. What a fucking joke. His superiors were giving him a pounding, drilling him and grilling him for answers. But they were a bunch of men and women who sat in their offices all day. Most of them had no idea what it was like to be out in the field.
The chapel was quiet. Rain pounded the high windows. Sal was fretting about the fact that the roof had sprung a leak. Hoffs and Ioki were desperately trying to finish up their daily reports so that they could head over to the hospital to see Hanson. Fuller wouldn't go over there today; he had too much work to do. He'd stopped by yesterday, and the day before, and had had a brief conversation with Hanson's mother. She was an amazing lady. She'd fixed him with a solid stare and had thanked him for taking care of her son. Fuller was familiar with the story of how Hanson's father had died, and so her words meant a lot to him. "His friends had a bigger hand in getting him here," he'd admitted. "If it wasn't for them, things could have turned out very differently." She'd nodded, understanding. Things could have gone differently, but they hadn't. "There's no use dwelling on the 'what ifs', Mister Fuller." She'd smiled thinly, and he'd managed to squeeze a smile in return. No, that was right.
Now he leaned back in his chair and let his eyes wander about his office. He recalled the first day he'd sat at this desk, and the thoughts that had tumbled through his mind. He'd had no idea how he was supposed to lead a group such as this; he'd looked out through his doorway and had seen a bunch of kids throwing balls around and flying paper planes. Hanson and Penhall had been in the centre, acting like two delinquent teenagers. Fuller had decided right then and there that the two of them wouldn't last a week. He'd seen them as kids instead of adults. But… time had proven him wrong, hadn't it? Penhall and Hanson were two of the best officers he had. He was proud of the work that they did. And, if he was honest with himself, he couldn't think of anyone better suited for their jobs.
The phone rang again, but this time he ignored it. The sound bounced around the room and screamed for him to respond. A small part of him smiled as he continued to remain where he was. Let them wait, he thought stubbornly. Surely they can wait just a moment longer. It was no doubt somebody else wanting to chew him out for the events of the weekend. He wasn't in the mood to have another conversation about that just yet. Now who's acting like a teenager, his mind chided. He promptly dismissed the thought, and listened as the phone rang out.
When silence had returned, he leaned forward against his desk. There was a small mountain range of paperwork bordering the clear patch upon which he rested his elbows. The chapel seemed strange and empty without Hanson, Penhall and Booker. His thoughts snagged upon Booker, and he wondered whether his newest officer had gone to see Hanson yet. I hope so. He hadn't heard from Penhall today, but no doubt he was stationed beside Hanson's bed like he had been every other day. The three of them are as stubborn as each other. He reached out and caught hold of a pen that had been hiding between his phone and a stack of files. He sat up again, preparing to do more work.
The lid wouldn't come off the pen. He tried again, but it was jammed. A closer inspection revealed a small amount of dried glue around the sides. He stared at it a long while, frowning. And then his face broke into a weary smile.
You make mistakes. You learn from them.
The pen clattered into the trash and he pulled open his drawer to search for a new one. As annoying as those boys could be sometimes, he was looking forward to having them back again. Even Penhall, and his annoying pranks. He found another pen and this time pulled the lid off easily.
This place is too damn quiet otherwise.
A/N: Well, I hope you enjoyed this story. I'm sorry it took a while but I'm happy to have finally posted the last chapter! It's been great fun to write, so I hope you got something out of reading it. Thanks again to everyone who left comments along the way. Take care :)