"Let it go Jac".
"Is that your answer for everything, let it go?", she snapped back. "Well I can't let this go Jesse, and you know that".
Their voices became softer as they continued down the hall, and the issue of Cody's apprenticeship with the rangers was temporarily put on the back burner. "You should really go talk to him", Jackie whispered as she glanced at the closed door adjacent to theirs.
"Cody said he was already asleep".
"But he's hurting Jess", she pressed pleadingly.
Jesse nodded and wrapped his arm around his wife's shoulder. "Don't you think I know he's hurting Jackie? I'm the one who's spent every single day with him at that hospital since this happened. I'm the one who talks to the doctors and oversees his care---".
Jackie took offense to those words and turned away. Jesse was upset that was obvious, but he shouldn't have taken it out on her. She'd been there a great deal for Matt too, just not in the same capacity as him. There was an apologetic look in his eyes as he lifted her chin to his and brushed away her tears. "I'll talk to him in the morning".
Jesse smiled and nodded, "I promise".
Matt could hear his parents from the hallway. Lying in bed, the dull ache in his head had intensified to a constant throb. He glanced over at the nightstand to the left of the bed, and the collection of medications sitting there. He knew exactly which bottle they were in and how many were needed to get the job done.
Matt didn't know how much time he had before Cody would be turning in for the night, so he'd have to be quick. He crossed his stronger right arm over his body, hoping that if he were able to grab onto the corner of the table, it would help him twist enough to reach the bottle. But instead, his still slightly clumsy fingers slipped from their hold and sent the bottles scattering like bowling pins; and the tiny red capsules he needed, onto the floor. He watched a single pill roll quickly along the table top. Two would be ideal, one would help though. He moved for it, but again his body fell short to what his brain was telling it to do; and the pill joined the others on the floor.
Matt's fist slammed angrily down onto the mattress. All he wanted to do was sleep, but now he'd have to wait for it to claim him naturally. It never came easily though, and soon his mind drifted off to the events of that evening.....
The rangers returned cold, wet, tired, and after one sniff of the aromatic air; very hungry. Matt could see them stumble into the station from his place in front of the windows near the large dinning table.
"--- and Robin goes and crawls through the passenger side window to pull the lady out". Izzy's voice was the first to be heard.
Jenkins patted her on the shoulder as he passed. "You should be very proud of your work Ranger Kelly".
"And I thought Ding was impressive, running through snow that was nearly up to his neck". Considering the almost brother and sister relationship he and Robin had, that was definitely a compliment coming from Cody; complete with a smirk and a wink.
"No way Ace, your Dad said you were the impressive one", Frank interjected, lightly ruffling Cody's hair.
Jesse stepped next to his son and clapped him on the back. "That's right son, you were great out there. Knew exactly where to look for those skiers".
Jackie softly cleared her throat from the doorway of the kitchen; talking shop could wait. "I'll put dinner out on the table. Hopefully the turkey didn't dry out too much", she announced, giving Jesse a pointed look to come and help her. Cody followed suit while the other rangers joined a quiet Matt in the dinning room.
"Hey son, how'd it feel to be back in the drivers seat?", Jesse acknowledged his oldest, as he strode in carrying the turkey.
Matt focused on the the platter being placed in the center of the table. He wasn't about to give his father the satisfaction of eye contact just yet. "Is that why you did this?", he asked low and soft.
Time seemed to have stopped as anxious eyes swept around the table. The room was completely silent except for the sound of serving dishes being sent around the table. Jackie swallowed hard and continued spoon some mashed potatoes onto a plate. "Mom, I can do that myself", Matt protested quietly when she began to cut the slice of turkey she'd put down next.
"Of course", Jackie smiled apologetically and left him to it; but intercepted the bowl being passed from Cody. "Candied yams?", she offered him next.
Matt gave an indifferent shrug. "Sure".
She was hovering. Again. He wanted to tell to take her seat, that he'd be fine on his own. Lord knows he'd been working on these types of situations enough in occupational therapy; activities of daily living skills were the number one priority. She must have picked up on his agitation because the next thing Matt knew, his mother was seated next to his father, and Cody was passing the tray of bread to him.
"Everything looks delicious Mrs. Hawkes", Izzy said as he continued to load his plate.
"It sure does", Robin concurred. "I'm just sorry I wasn't here to help you with some of the cooking Jackie".
Jackie blushed slightly from all of the compliments. "Well thank you both". She looked past Izzy at the young lady she knew secretly held her oldest sons heart. "And Robin, I'd love for you to join me in the kitchen some time".
"Ah no you wouldn't Mrs. Hawkes. Robin burns water.", Frank jumped in teasingly. That earned him a jab to the ribs from Robin and chuckle from the others around the table.
Jackie caught Matt just sitting there, starring at his plate. She noticed he hadn't added anything to what she'd already put on it. "Sweetie, did you want some green beans or corn?", she asked softly, from her place directly across the table from him.
Matt was sluggishly pulled from his thoughts. "Um, no thanks".
Jackie was quiet but persistent though. "You should really eat some vegetables Honey".
"Mom", Matt groaned, shooting her a warning look to go with the tone of his voice.
Jesse could feel the tension and quickly switched gears. "Let's say grace then. Jenkins, would you like the honors?".
"What, an old heathen like me?", he joked incredulously. "Naw Jess, you go ahead".
Jesse waited for everyone to bow there heads before he started. "Lord. Today we not only give thanks for the food we are about to receive; but for all the other graces you've bestowed upon us this past year". There was a thickening air about the room, but he continued anyway. "While tragedy abounded earlier this year, we are especially grateful to have Matt back here with us, and---"
"Dad stop". Matt cut in, pleadingly.
"Stop what Honey?", Jackie asked gently.
"Stop pretending that me being alive is somehow more important than Hart and Cutler being dead".
Jesse bristled. "Now Matthew, that's not what I was saying".
"C'mon Buddy, don't talk like that", Izzy urged.
"That wasn't your fault, man".
Those words bit into Matt. "Wasn't it?", he asked incredulously, turning to his friend.
"Matt, don't do this to yourself", Robin begged softly.
He ignored the pleas of the others. "You were there Frank. Who gave the jump order? Who told Cutler to take the point?".
Frank let out a heavy sigh. "Matt".
"Who gave the order Frank?".
"And who was the last to jump?".
"You were", Frank answered again.
"But son, the one in charge is almost always the one to bring up the rear".
"Your father is right Matt. If you were the one who'd taken the point and tripped that wire, the chain of command would have broken".
"It was broken anyway Robin", Matt yelled bitterly as he pushed back from the table. His place as commander was surely shattered along with his team that day.
"Matt", Jesse called out to his retreating son. "Matthew".
What Matt didn't see was Jackie and Robin wiping their tears away, Izzy and Frank sharing a saddened glance, a disheartened Cody sitting back in his seat, fixated on the flame of a burning candle; or his father clearing his throat before he sat back down to give the murmured command, "Let's just eat".
He must have dosed off sometime after midnight, because the next thing Matt knew, it was almost five in the morning. He looked from the clock on the bedside table to the sleeping form of Cody on a cot in the corner of the room, and sighed.
Matt tried to relax enough to fall back to sleep, but he couldn't. The closing images of his dream, the ones that always contained the last few minutes of Hart and Cutler alive, were still fresh in his mind. Not wanting to wake his brother or anyone else, he thought he try out this new training Cody talked about, and quietly enlist the help of Ding in helping him out of bed. After some serious pulling and nudging on the dogs part, and a steadfast determination not to fall flat on his face, Matt was in the chair and on his way out to the hall.
Cody finally let his eyes fully open once Matt had left the room. He turned onto his back, looked up at the ceiling and sighed.
The command center was pitch black, except for the light coming from the crackling fireplace at the other end of the room. He moved slowly, trying not to bump into anything or make any other noise.
"Couldn't sleep either?". Matt could see his father silhouetting the doorway, and shook his head no. Wordlessly, Jesse walked back into the kitchen and flipped the light on. "Where's your brother?".
"Still sleeping", Matt answered, stopping just short of the entry. Jesse turned to look at him, his gaze questioning. Matt glanced down at the loyal companion seated at his side and patted his head. "I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks".
"He's not that old", Jesse disagreed, letting out a soft chuckle. "But as for new tricks, Cody told me that daredevil jumped into Lake Jennifer and pulled a guy out with his teeth".
"I wouldn't doubt it", Matt replied, giving the dog another gentle scratch behind the ears before looking back up at his father.
"You want one?", Jesse asked as he finished what he was doing on kitchens island worktop.
"What is it?", Matt asked, stretching his neck to have a better look.
"Breakfast". Jesse grinned at the skeptical look Matt was giving him. "Cold turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce".
There was a hint of a smile forming on Matt's lips as he answered, "Why not".
Jesse followed Matt into the living room. "Cream and sugar, just like your mother", he teased as he placed the tray he was carrying onto the coffee table.
Matt raised a brow. "I have to, the way you make coffee", he countered playfully.
Jesse feigned offense, but actually he was thrilled that Matt was responding so easily. He took a long sip from his mug as he watched his son out of the corner of his eye. "You need me to cut that?", he asked when he noticed Matt's hand hovering over the plate.
"No thanks". Matt leaned back and let his hand fall into his lap. As hungry as he was, since the last thing he remembered eating was that plate of eggs his mother made him yesterday afternoon, he needed to get this off of his chest first. "Listen Dad, I'm sorry about last night. It's just being back here---", Matt's voice trailed as he struggled to find the words. He stared out into the fire, the burden of anguish he carried, clearly visible in his features. "I still dream about them every night; Hart and Cutler". There was a heavy sigh from Matt, "Dad, I can't stop thinking about them. Every time I close my eyes there they are, dying; over and over".
Jesse stepped behind Matt and reached out to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Son believe me, there isn't a soldier alive who doesn't carry the souls of his friends that didn't make it".
"But how do they do it?", Matt implored. "How do they get over the pain of remembering?".
"We don't", Jesse answered simply. "We just do the best we can, day after day, hour by hour".
It hit Matt then. How could he have been so stupid? "You too", he managed to get the words out with his breath, before his emotions got the best of him.
"Yes son, me too". He nodded and wrapped his arms around Matt, holding tight while his brave young man finally let it all out.
Jesse sat patiently, making sure Matt finished his sandwich before he spoke again. "Will you be okay here for a little while longer?", he asked gently as he began cleaning off the table. "I was going to take your mom into town, they called her into work this morning".
Matt nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine". It was obvious by the lack of eye contact, that he was still embarrassed by his earlier display of emotions.
"If you still want to head back to San Francisco today, we can leave as soon as I get back---"
"It doesn't matter", Matt cut in diffidently. "I was just going to go back to bed now anyway".
"Need a hand?".
"Sure". Matt was so completely drained, he figured even Ding the Super Dog would have a hard time helping him. "Hey Dad", he called out softly, his eyes flickering up to meet his fathers. "Thanks----for everything".
"This is the last place I thought I'd find you", Cody teased as he walked through the doorway.
"That was kind of the point", Matt replied, coming off more sarcastic than he intended.
Cody slowly paced around the room to the row of large lockers Matt was sitting in front of. "I hope you don't mind, but I took Hart's and Grizzly took Cutler's. Monroe got the one with the broken lock".
"Why would I mind?", Matt snipped back.
Cody ignored his brothers attitude and continued. "We had to clear their things out anyway. Hart's mother wanted him buried in his uniform".
"Why didn't you clear mine out?", Matt demanded as he looked at the still full locker in front of him.
"Because your not dead", Cody retorted. He was getting angry now.
"Not all of me, I guess", Matt bristled, looking down at his lap. Cody glared at his brother before turning away from him. "C'mon Cody, it's not like I'm ever coming back". It wasn't as though he intended to hurt his brother, but Matt was just trying to be realistic. "Cody?".
"Cody c'mon, I'm sorry. Please look at me", Matt pleaded. Cody hesitantly glanced over at his brother. "Dad's taking me back to San Francisco today and I don't want to leave with you still mad at me".
"I thought you were staying 'til Sunday".
Matt let out a heavy sigh and ignored the previous statement. "And I need you to do something for me before I leave".
"Why should I?", Cody asked folding his arms across his chest defiantly. God it reminded Matt of when he had to go back to Tahoe after spending the summer in the mountains with Cody and his dad when he was a boy. And it was just as infuriating now.
"Cody, I need to go and say goodbye to Hart and Cutler before I leave". The words were heart-wrenching and soft. His eyes drifted off distantly.
"Go to where they're buried?", Cody asked skeptically. That was going to be a problem since Hart's family took his body back east to be buried and Cutler was cremated and his ashes spread over the mountains.
"No, go back to where they died".
"Are you crazy Matt?".
Cody shook his head in disbelief. "That's like an hour and a half trip by car and Dad has the van---".
"We could take the truck", Matt suggested.
"So what, now your trying to get me fired before I even become a ranger?".
"The team is out all day with the ski patrol, and Dad always gets stuck there when he goes into town, so he won't be back for a few hours. No one will ever know". He was desperate and Cody could see that.
"Okay, but you're not going out in the snow dressed like that". Cody took one look at the thin tube socks and loaffer type slippers on Matt's feet and replaced them with heavy wool socks and his old snow boots; then helped his brother into his white ranger jacket and gloves.
"Thanks Cody", Matt's reply was heartfelt and sincere.
"You owe me big time for this, brother", Cody warned, fully intent on collecting his dues.
Matt nodded and followed Cody out. "Hey Monroe", the younger Hawkes called as he scooped up a set of keys off the desk, "I'm going to gas the truck".
Matt was quiet the entire ride there. Cody didn't know what to say to his brother, so he just let the radio play in place of conversation.
The place looked the same, only now some of the leaves had changed, and the ground was covered with a light dusting of snow. "I'll give you a few minutes", Cody told Matt as he slid from the drivers seat.
"I want to get out".
"Matt", Cody groaned.
"Please Cody". He really wasn't in the mood beg.
Cody relented and went to get Matt's chair from the back of the truck. He helped his brother into it, then placed a blanket over his legs. "Dad's already going to be furious with me for bringing you here, but he'd kill me if you got frostbite".
Matt almost managed a smile as Cody pushed him up the slight incline to the site. "Cutler landed there, in that bush", Matt said after a few minutes of surveying the land. He pointed to a patch of grass to his right. "Hart was here, and I was over there". There was a slight pause as he took in a breath. "I remember hearing Hart. He was gurgling, like he was choking on something, probably blood. I tried to get to him. I was able lift my head a little, but that was it. My left arm fell to my side, and that's when I realized I couldn't feel it. I blacked out after that".
Cody was trying hard to fight back the tears. Matt never talked about the incident; he didn't think his brother remembered anything from that day. "I really tried to help him", Matt repeated.
"You couldn't move Matt", Cody reminded him.
"But I tried", he whispered, his eyes shinning with fresh tears.
Cody swallowed hard and put his hand on Matt's shoulder for comfort. "Yeah, you tried".
The brothers stayed like that for a few minutes, until the wind started to pick up and Cody suggested they go. "I just want to see it first".
"Matt, it's just a stupid pile of ruble now", Cody noted.
"A stupid pile of ruble that killed my friends", Matt countered angrily.
So Cody pushed Matt as close as he could get. He walked a little farther ahead and picked up an old timber. "See, there's nothing here but---".
It was a sickening crunch. Matt turned his head just in time to see his brother being swallowed up by the earth. "CODY".
Matt looked around, there was no where for him to go. The strewn ruble in front of him made it impossible to get any closer as slope behind him cut him off from getting to the truck to radio for help. "Cody", he called out desperately. "Cody?".
Matt blew out a sigh of relief, his baby brother was alive. "Are you okay?".
"What the hell do you think Matt?", he shouted. Yeah, he was okay.
"What happened?", Matt asked.
"I fell genius", Cody retorted.
Cody looked around. "I don't know, it looks like an old storm shelter".
"Okay, can you get out?", Matt asked next.
"Yeah, if I had super powers", Cody replied sarcastically, the pain was starting to get to him. "Matt, there's something wrong with my knee, and I think my arm is broken".
"Shit". Matt tried to come up with a plan. "Cody hang tight, I'm---".
"I said hang---hush Dingy, I can't---", Matt's words were replaced with a smirk. Dingy. Matt patted his thigh and the dog obediently came to him. "Hey Cody, what's Dingy's command for rescue?".
"Ah, rescue", was Cody's smart-aleck reply.
Matt gave the command and watched in awe as the dog retrieved the large bag of equipment from the back of the truck, and dragged it all the way over to where he was sitting. "Good boy".
Matt pulled his gloves off with his teeth and reached for the zipper. His fingers fumbled slightly, probably from nerves. Ding must have sensed Matt was having trouble and opened the bag for him. And for that, he earned another appreciative smile and pat on the head. Matt pulled out the first aid kit. "Cody, Dingy's going to toss the first aid kit. Can you wrap your knee and splint your arm?".
"Yeah, I think so".
"Good, I'm gonna call for help". Matt found the radio next. "Ranger base, this is Matt Hawkes calling---".
"Matthew, where the hell are you and your brother?".
"I've been waiting hours for---".
"How did you even know we were gone?", Matt asked.
Jesse cleared his throat. He was really mad. "Ranger Monroe here had enough sense to call me when Cody didn't return from getting the truck gased".
"Just tell me where you are Matt".
Matt let out a heavy sigh. "At the explosion site". When a reply didn't come, Matt went on. "Cody was doing me a favor--"
"Just come home Matthew", Jesse ordered.
"We can't, Cody fell into a shaft, probably a old storm shelter".
"Is he okay?".
"Yeah, but he's stuck down there. He hurt his knee and I think his arm is broken".
"Fuck". That was never good. "Matt there's another storm coming that way, you have to get to some kind of shelter".
"And how should I do that Dad?", Matt asked urgently. What was he supposed to do, toss himself down into that hole with his brother?
"You're going to need to pull him out of there, so he can help you back into the truck", Jesse instructed.
"I can't Dad, you know that. My grip strength---".
"Is fine Matthew", Jesse cut in encouragingly. Okay so maybe it wasn't as good as he was letting on, but Matt was their only chance. "Do you have a rescue line?".
Matt pulled it right out of the bag. "Yeah, it's right here, but there's no where to secure it".
Robin's tender voice came over the radio. "Matt, where are you exactly?".
"Right in front of the debris", he replied and Robin could hear the anxiousness in his voice.
"There should be a tree near you, to your right I think".
Matt looked over his right shoulder. "Robin that tree is at least twenty feet away and on a slope. There's no way I can get to it".
"You've got Ding with you right?", she asked next.
"Good, give him the end of the rope, he'll know what to do". He did what she instructed and soon, Ding was back with free end. "Now, you've got a harness--".
"Yeah, but I can't get it fastened", Matt interjected. He knew he'd have trouble with the fasteners on his best day, but with the cold and stiffness that settled into his already clumsy fingers, there was no way. "Wait, I have an idea". And then the radio went dead.
"Matt it's Robin, are you still there?", she called into the receiver, but there was no response. "Do you read me Matt?".
"Dammit Matthew", Jesse grumbled, slamming his hand hard on the desk top.
"We need to get to them", Izzy muttered.
Just then, Frank rushed in. "I've got the bird fired up, but we have to leave right now if we want to try to beat this storm".
Matt heard the calls coming through the radio, but he couldn't answer them and do what he needed to do to help his brother. He and Ding worked together to lay the blanket from Matt's lap, to the pile of boards below. Matt put the harness on top of that while Ding nudged the rope through.
"Matt, what's going on up there?", Cody asked anxiously.
"Just hold on Cody. Dad and the rangers are on their way", he called back.
Matt turned to the dog waiting patiently for his next command,"Okay Dingy, you're up". Gingerly, the animal helped him onto the blanket, where the former ranger was hoping the weight of his body would hold the harness in place. He knew his left side was much weaker, so Matt wound the rope around the length of his arm before taking it into his hand. Ding carried the other end of the rope over to the hole and dropped it down to Cody.
"Okay little brother, I'm going to need your help with this", Matt shouted from where he laid on the ground.
"What are you doing?", Cody asked his brother incredulously.
"I'm saving your ass".
Matt found himself in a familiar situation; starring out of a hospital window. He glanced down at his hands. They were covered in rope burns and they hurt like hell; but it felt great.
A familiar sound caught his attention and he turned toward the door. He smiled, a genuine smile. "What'd the doc say?".
"Knee's just badly sprained, but this is definitely broken", Cody answered holding up his casted left arm.
"Sorry", Matt offered apologetically.
Cody shrugged it off. "What about you, what did your doctor say?".
"Just some rope burns, and a slight case of exposure to my hands", Matt replied indifferently. It really didn't matter, as long as Cody was okay. "Nothing that wont heal".
"Ya know Matt, I should be the one who's sorry", Cody expressed regretfully.
"No Cody it was my fault, if I didn't make you take me---".
"You couldn't make me do anything", the boy argued arrogantly. Cody then looked down at the contraption he was sitting in, "I mean because I stole your chair".
Matt actually chuckled. "That's okay, it looks like you need it more than I do". The laugh sounded almost foreign, it had been so long since anyone had heard it; Matt included. He glanced down at his newer set of wheels and added, "I think I've officially graduated from that one anyway".
Cody shared his brothers victory, however small. There was a short pause before he added, "I've missed you Matt".
Matt figured Cody wasn't just talking about having him there physically. His smile widened as he playfully punched his brother on the shoulder. "Yeah Toad, me too".
And with the use of that one simple word Cody felt Matt had returned. His brother was finally back.
Well, this is the end of the story. I'm so happy to have made some new friends through reviews and private messages, this was a truly wonderful experience. Thank you all.