A/N: Last chapter! Thankfully, muse has managed to stay with me through this, even though it doesn't like retirement fics, but there you have it. Once again, a Happy New Year to you all!
"If it were a car, it wouldn't have gone off three times."
The noise outside has drowned out the sound of the doors opening and closing for what will be the last time that night. Still standing behind the bar, Tim pops the cap off of a bottle and slides it down to the counter to where Stanley Bolander sits beside Abby.
"Where the hell have you been hiding?" John asks. "We were starting to wonder if you'd fallen off the face of the planet."
"The Earth is round, John," Abby replies, "It's virtually impossible to fall off of it. You could always take a space shuttle if you wanted to get away badly enough."
"I think I'll stay, thanks," John tells her, and then, to Stan, "What brings you out at this late hour?"
"It was too quiet in my place," says Stan. "I could hear myself thinking."
This in itself is another one of those things that usually drove the murder police to where they are now.
More often than not, those moments where they could hear themselves thinking were the moments where they needed to be around the others, or at the very least, around other people that would make enough noise to drown out their thoughts.
"Well, you came to the right place," says Tim. "It's been one conversation after another here for a while."
"What brings the rest of you here?" Stan asks.
"Nostalgia, mostly," says Kay. "I saw the lights on, before it started getting dark out. Figured I'd come see who was here."
"Of course, it was only me, but apparently, I'm more of a people magnet than I thought," John says mildly. "That might have just been Kay, though."
Abby laughs. "Trust me, it was Kay."
Outside, there are more popping sounds. A squad car goes by, lights flashing briefly, but there is no siren.
"Something's definitely going on tonight," says Meldrick. "Maybe we should find out what it is."
"We're not cops anymore, remember?" says Mike. "It's not our problem."
"Maybe it isn't your problem, but it's still mine," says Tim. He has taken off the holster he had on when he came in, and it lies there at the end of the bar, a silent reminder that of all the people present, he is the only one still on the lines.
"No one's killed anyone yet," Kay tells him. "It's not your problem until someone dies, remember?"
"With my luck, it'll turn into a redball," Tim replies. The others laugh; he pretends to glare at them as he goes on. "It's not funny. D'you know how many redball cases my shift has picked up over the past year?"
"More than the second shift," says Mike. "I don't know, Bayliss, maybe it is just you."
People run past the place, their laughter drifting in through the windows.
"Look at that," says Abby, pointing. "How long do you think it's been since any of us looked like that?"
"Years," says Frank. "Time does that to people. Especially time spent on streets like these."
"New York is worse, by a long shot," says John. "You ought to know; you were there for a few years."
"New York is…Well, it's New York," Frank tells him, for once at a loss for words. "Nothing more, nothing less. You can lose yourself there a lot more easily than you can lose yourself here."
"Well, Baltimore is a smaller city," says Megan. Her comment draws amused looks from the others, but none of them say anything.
More people run by. This time, they are singing, some random new pop song, at the top of their lungs.
"What do you think would happen if we all ran out of the place singing?" Meldrick asks. Kay snorts.
"People would run in the other direction," she says. "We're too old for that kinda thing, you think?"
"Define old," Stan tells her. "This is going to sound clichéd, but you're only as old as you feel."
"I think you mean you're as young as you feel," Abby says, amused. "You know, maybe we should find out what's going on out there."
"Could always turn on the radio to do that," Mike remarks. "It would save any of us having to actually go out there into the cold."
"You've lived in Baltimore how long, Kellerman?" Tim asks. "You can't tell me you aren't used to the cold by now."
"I've lived here all my life, thanks, and I am used to the cold," Mike replies. "That doesn't mean I have to like it."
In all honesty, none of them like the cold.
They've been here for a few hours now, with the exception of Abby, who's only been there for about an hour, and Stan, who just showed up, and none of them want to leave. The place is familiar again, almost comforting now that they're all here under the same roof.
"This place needs some work, I think," says Tim. "Besides the lights. We could have it up and running again in a month or two if we wanted."
"The only question is whether or not we want to," says John. "You forget that this place hasn't really held any sort of draw for us in years."
"It's still like a pull at the seams, though," Tim replies. "Sooner or later, whenever we're all in Baltimore at the same time, we're going to end up here."
"The place never really closed in the first place, no thanks to either one of you," Meldrick tells them, "It could work."
But it will not work with the three of them alone.
It did the first time around, even during that first year after John went to New York. This time around, it will be different.
"If we were to ask you guys what you think," says Tim, turning so that he is looking at the other, "What would you say?"
"Well, if it gives these two clowns something to do," says Kay, casting an amused look first at Meldrick, then at John, "I'd say go for it."
"Might keep us from losing contact the way we did before now," says Megan. "If you think you can pull it off, go ahead."
"This would be assuming that you three aren't going to kill each other before it happens, right?" Mike asks, and then, "Sounds like a good enough idea to me."
"Maybe it shouldn't have gotten to this point in the first place," says Frank. "The bar, and the contact between us, I mean. Megan is right; it could help keep it from happening again."
Silence. All of them turn so that they are looking at Stan and Abby, neither of whom answer at first.
"Since when do you ask my opinion on anything before you do it, anyway?" Abby says to John. "You'd better know what you're getting into this time."
"Somehow, I don't think any of us knew what we were getting into in the first place," Stan remarks. "If it's what you three think you want to do, then do it."
"Well, then," says Tim, turning back to look at John and Meldrick, "What say you?"
"Considering we got both Stan and Abby to agree on something, for once, I think we should run with it while we have the chance," John says. Abby rolls her eyes at him.
"I argue with you a lot more than I argue with him," she says. "Of course, you can be a lot more annoying, so this is probably why, but still…"
"If you've nothing better to do than insult me, then keep your comments to yourself."
"Now, why would I do that?"
Uniformed officers walk by, holding a conversation of their own. They are followed by a few plainclothes officers, also holding a conversation. More popping sounds come soon after they disappear.
"Fireworks?" says Megan, more of a question than a statement. "What time is it?"
Stan looks at his watch. "Close to midnight," he says. "About twenty minutes till."
"We have been here for a while," says Kay, sounding startled. "What time was it when you got here, John?"
"Around six," John replies. "You came in about half an hour after me, didn't you?"
Somewhere along the line, all of them lost track of time. Now that they have track of it again, all of them are somewhat surprised by how late it has gotten.
Still, none of them want to leave. They have again that link that they used to have, years ago, and none of them want to break it.
"Hey, you guys," Tim says, suddenly, having noticed a calendar hanging on the wall behind the bar. "D'you know what day it is?"
"Enlighten us, Bayliss," says Frank. "You obviously know the answer, and none of us are in the mood for riddles."
Tim looks back towards the rest of the group. "It's New Years' Eve."
That explains the people.
It also explains the squad cars, and the singing, and the laughter, and maybe even the popping sounds.
"You might be right," Meldrick says to Megan. "It probably is fireworks."
Already, Kay is wandering back over to the bar, taking her coat from the bar stool she was sitting on and pulling it on.
"Why don't we go find out?" she asks, and without waiting for the others, pulls the doors open to go outside.
Behind her, the rest of them exchange glances before getting up and pulling on their coats so that they can follow her.
Tim is the last one to show up on the rooftop of the headquarters building. He carries a box with him, one that the others notice, but say nothing about.
Kay and Megan are already sitting on two of the swings on the old metal swing set that has been there for years, part of an early department initiative to get kids off the streets. Behind them are Mike and Meldrick, both of them having been called upon to pull back on the swings and then let go.
"So, we're too old to run around singing at the top of our lungs, but we're not too old to play on the swings?" Tim asks. Kay makes a face at him.
"No, we're not," she says, "And besides that, no one's going to come up here looking for us, so we're not going to be seen."
"Unless you see black helicopters flying overhead," John remarks. Kay rolls her eyes.
"How about you make one of your New Years' Resolutions to quit with the conspiracies, huh?" she asks, only half-joking.
"Maybe next year," John retorts, smirking. "This year, I think they'll stay."
"How close are we to midnight now?" Mike asks, as he once more lets go of the swing Megan is in.
"We've got about ten minutes," Frank replies, looking at his own watch. "Surely you can handle being out here for that much longer."
"That isn't what I meant," says Mike, and then, "So…any hopes for the new year?"
"Less blood on the streets."
The remark comes from Meldrick, Tim, Kay and Megan at the same time. They were the last ones on the old line to serve as shift lieutenants. To hear this from them makes sense, though all of them are thinking the same thing.
"Life, and love, and everything in between," says Abby. "And for no harm to come over the ones who protect this city."
"Keeping contact with the ones we worked with," Stan remarks. "That, and keeping things from getting too quiet around here."
"This is Baltimore," says Mike, "Nothing's ever too quiet around here." He trails off for a moment, and then goes on. "I hope that I can be there for whoever needs me to be, including the lot of you. That, and I hope the new first shift's clearance rates start going up, otherwise we're all gonna have to come back and teach them a lesson."
Everyone laughs at this one, even Tim, the current leader of the 'new' first shift.
"I might just have to take you up on that," he says. "Don't tempt me."
Frank looks at his watch. "Seven minutes left."
Below them, there is the sound of more singing. Kay and Megan continue going back and forth on the swings, but now, Abby has joined them, and as the three of them go up, they look down at the men standing there watching them.
"You wish you could look as good as we do up here," Abby tells them. "Take a picture, boys, it lasts longer."
As of on cue, Tim pulls out a camera, and snaps a picture, the flash momentarily blinding them all.
"Should've done that a while ago," he remarks. "I'll have to get a shot of all of us before we split up again, I think."
"You had hours on end to do that back in the bar, and you're only just doing it now?" Mike asks.
Tim shrugs. "I forgot I had the camera in my coat pocket," he says. "How much time do we have now, Frank?"
"Five minutes, and counting down," Frank replies. "This has been a hell of a way to spend a New Years' Eve, no?"
It has been. It has also been a while since any of them were all in the same place for this particular holiday.
Even so, none of them would change it.
"So, when do you think you'll retire?" Megan asks, glancing over at Tim in between going down and coming up again. He sighs.
"Few more years, at least," he replies. "Though, now that I look at the lot of you, I'm thinking I should have done it a few years ago."
"Nah," says Mike. "It's boring as hell, trust me." Upon noticing the amused looks from everyone else, he goes on. "Hey, you don't see nearly as much as a PI, and trust me when I say it's not as interesting."
"We'll take your word for it," says Frank, and then, "Two minutes."
Above them, fireworks go off, in all different colors.
The sounds of singing get even louder now, and the words of Auld Lang Syne are clearly heard.
"Here we go again," says Kay, finally coming down and stopping, dragging her feet in the gravel surrounding the swing set. "One more year."
"One more chance to screw things up and fix them up again," says Abby, but Tim shakes his head at her, opening the box he brought with him.
In it are a number of glasses, and a couple of bottles of champagne. He shakes it for a few seconds, passes around the glasses, then pops the first bottle open just as Frank declares it midnight.
Once all the glasses are filled, he holds his own up, and looks directly at everyone else before speaking.
"One more chance to live," he says. "Happy New Year."