The Santa Barbara Police Station fell silent in the wake a thunderous boom, so loud that the walls shook. Maybe it wasn't just the sound, Shawn mentally revised. The walls continued to shake even as the noise faded. A second boom echoed in the distance, followed by another. The windows rattled and for a second he thought they were going to break. He shifted away from them, towards the center of the room.
"-path of a meteor shower."
Shawn turned, along with all the others in the room, to the television as it flickered to life. The screen was half-blurred with static, and the sound faded in and out. It was a local station, though he wasn't sure which one.
"We have reports... cities destroyed... Los Angeles... Those in the area... danger... tsunami. Citizens are advised... shelter. This... worldwide. It-"
The station was plunged into darkness. He could hear people moving, drawers opening and closing. Small beams of light cut through the darkness. Shawn glanced to his right at Lassiter. The detective stood close by, flashlight in hand. Their gazes met. Lassiter took a step closer.
"People!" Chief Vick's voice cut through the room. "Downstairs, now."
They all jumped to her command. No one pushed, no one ran, but they all filed downstairs as fast as possible. Shawn spared a backwards glance as he reached the stairs. Vick waited at the top, most likely intending to be the last person down. They walked one by one into the cells, siting in lines along the floor.
The booms got louder, closer, until that was all Shawn could here. All but one of the flashlights were turned out. Shawn closed his eyes and went through the blueprint of the building in his head, over and over again, trying to think of any place more structurally sound than where they already were.
A hand closed over Shawn's. He kept his eyes closed, and stopped thinking.
Shawn looked up. The noise had finally stopped. At first he'd thought he'd gone deaf, but he could hear the fabric of Juliet's jacket shifting against her blouse as she moved slightly, and the labored, near-panicked breathing of Adam Hornstock in the far corner. Minutes passed without another of those booms, stretching into an hour.
Slowly, Shawn stood. His legs protested. He'd been sitting far too long. Stepping around people, he made his way towards the cell door. It creaked loudly as it opened. Someone with a flashlight followed him, lighting the way in front of them. They stopped at the bottom of the stairwell. Cracks ran along the walls.
Lassiter took the first step, pointing the flashlight in front of them. Shawn followed. The landing halfway up the stairs was clear but beyond that the stairwell was filled with rocks.
"Here." Lassiter handed the flashlight to Juliet, who kept it pointed at the rubbled.
Shawn glanced down the stairs. There was a line of people behind him, all staring up at them.
He turned. Lassiter had a rock in his hands. Shawn reached forward to take it, then passed it down to Buzz. It passed down the line, forgotten as Lassiter handed him another rock then another.
Slowly, they cleared the way up the stairs.
The people were gone. All of the people were gone, save them.
Shawn pushed his way through the rubble towards his old neighborhood. Buzz and Vick and the others were out looking for supplies, for food, for anything that could get them out of the wreckage of the city. It was strange to think that just yesterday everything had been fine. He'd stopped by his father's house to return a hammer and stopped for a Jamba Juice on his way into the station. He'd argued with Lassiter, been threatened by Vick, flirted with Juliet. He'd barely spoken to any of them today.
He stepped forward onto a sheet of metal. It slid out from beneath him, clattering over the rocks and splashing into something he couldn't seen on the other side of a wall of rubble. Shawn would have fallen if Lassiter hadn't pulled him back.
He didn't look at Lassiter as he tried to stand. He needed to make it over that wall.
Lassiter didn't let go.
It was hard to breathe. Images of water kept coming to mind, something he'd seen.
"Shawn, you can't go over there."
"But..." He gasped for breath. Tears crawled down his cheeks. His body was already grieving even though his mind had yet to catch up. "But my dad..."
Their neighborhood was just on the other side of that wall. They were less than a block from his father's house.
"Shawn, I'm sorry. It's not there any more."
Lassiter didn't let go of him, even as his tears faded, leaving only the sound of waves lapping against a new shoreline.
Shawn picked his way carefully through the rubble of the Santa Barbara Courthouse, climbing steadily up broken brick and concrete, over shards of twisted metal and shattered glass, until he reached a somewhat stable spot near the peak, high enough that he could get a clear look at the city around them. He stood slowly. Bricks shifted beneath his feet, threatening almost idly to send him toppling to his death. He didn't move, uncaring of the danger.
The Courthouse hadn't been the tallest building in the area, but it stood the tallest now. Gone were the skyscrapers and Spanish architecture that had once formed downtown Santa Barbara. Gone were the city monuments, the entire shopping district, the suburban homes, and the waterfront. Broken buildings filled the streets in all directions but one, mixed in with impact craters and burned wreckage. Not far to the west he could see water lapping against the ruins of what had been his favorite bar. He avoiding thinking of what lay under the water beyond that.
Shawn turned and pointed. "That way," he shouted down at the others below. He could see a clear path through the rubble to the southwest, clear enough that they could work their way further inland before he had to scout again.
The trucks revved to life, the grumble of their engines echoing through the silent city. They turned slowly amidst the surrounding debris, one after another, to head in the direction Shawn had indicated. He half-skidded down the pile of rubble, moving faster than safety dictated. One of the trucks waited, idling nearby. A few loose rocks rolled past Shawn as he leaped to the street and hit the ground running. Gus held out a hand to help Shawn into the back of the truck, a slight frown the only sign that he disapproved of Shawn's recklessness. Shawn slammed the tailgate shut behind him. The truck started moving as soon as Shawn was seated.
He glanced at the people in the truck with him, the sight of them, safe and mostly sound quelling the fear that had been coiled in his stomach from the day the meteors struck. Lassiter was driving. He spared a short glance for Shawn in the rear-view mirror as the vehicle turned. Things were still a little weird between them. Neither of them were quite sure how to act with each other. Hard to feel ill will towards someone, anyone, after what had happened, not when there were so few of them left alive. Over time they might even be real friends.
Too bad it took an apocalypse for that to happen.
Chief Vick √ just Vick now, actually, since the Santa Barbara Police Department was no more √ sat next at Lassiter's side. She kept her eyes on the road, watching for anything that might block their path, anything that might be a danger to them. They all still looked to Vick for leadership. Force of habit, perhaps, or maybe it was because she was the most level-headed of them all. The loss of her family √ especially the loss of her daughter √ had hit her hard, and in their place she had adopted all of them as her new family.
Gus sat next to Shawn in the back of the truck, Juliet wedged between Gus and the truck cab. Their hands were carefully not touching, though it was obvious that they both wanted to. It wasn't a relationship that Shawn had really seen coming, but he was glad for it. At the very least it was a distraction for both of them in the midst of so much loss. They both still cried at night, though Shawn pretended he didn't notice. Sometimes he felt like crying too.
Two officers sat opposite them √ Janet Davis, Dean Carter, next to Adam Hornstock. Buzz was up ahead, driving the truck that held most of their supplies. A third truck of officers mixed with civilian aides was further ahead, leading the way through the city.
Shawn let his head fall back on the edge of the truck bead. The sky above was a clear blue scattered with clouds. There was more sky now than he ever remembered seeing before.
He missed his father more than he ever thought he would.
He liked to think his mother was still alive, somewhere, mostly because he wasn't sure he could handle her being dead, not on top of everything else. Instead he imagined she was safe, surviving just as they were. They'd find each other again someday, he was sure of it.
The trucks rolled to a halt in a line along the top of a cliff at the edges of Red Rock Canyon. Doors slammed as they all slowly emerged from the vehicles to stare down at the huge lake below. Lassiter stepped over to stand next to Shawn, their shoulders not quite brushing. No one spoke. Shawn glanced briefly at the others, their expressions ranging from Lassiter's blank stare to the look of open-mouth shock on Adam's face.
Hotels popped up like islands in the middle of the lake. No lights shone from the drowned casinos. Chunks of the buildings were missing. Some had lost whole floors, as if a giant had come by with a razor blade and just chopped the tops off. The lake lapped at the base of the cliff they stood on and stretched off into the horizon.
They'd spent two weeks trying to make it this far, all for nothing.
Shawn was the first to turn. "So much for Las Vegas," he said quietly as he swung himself back up into the truck.
"Hold on, we're almost there."
There was something nice about being held in Lassiter √ no, Carlton's √ arms. Better than he would have expected. He said so. "I don't know why your wife divorced you. You smell nice."
Carlton almost dropped him. "Shawn..."
His head fell on Carlton's shoulder. "Just the blood-loss talking. Don't mind me."
"I don't know if that makes it any better." He could feel Carlton's throat moving against his forehead.
Maybe it didn't. He was a little too light-headed right now to think. If he was more lucid, he might have put blood loss and babbling together and figured out that he should stop talking.
"I was never really psychic," he said instead. "I wanted to tell you after a while but you would have arrested me."
Carlton was silent for several minutes. Shawn's eyes had fallen closed at some point, though it'd been too dark too see much even with his eyes open. How long had they been traveling away from Santa Barbara? At least a month. Juliet would know. She kept track of things like that. The trucks had given out after two weeks. Hard to find gas to siphon out in the middle of the woods. Plenty of gas stations, but without electricity those didn't help them much.
"Thanks for saving me from that coyote," Shawn muttered against Carlton's throat.
He had a new appreciation for just how good of a shot Carlton was. The animal must have sensed mankind's downfall, or maybe it was just as hard pressed for food as everyone else. Shawn and Carlton had been scouting the area, looking for food, signs of life, anything useful, really. The coyote had jumped at him out of the dark, approaching silently and attacking before Shawn had had a chance to react. It was a scrawny, mangy thing, and for a second he'd felt sorry for it. That had been before it's teeth had closed on his arm and its claws had dug into his side.
"You're welcome," Carlton said softly. "And, I wouldn't have arrested you."
"You would have."
Carlton's sigh ghosted over Shawn's shoulder. "Yeah. I would have." The arms around him shifted slightly as Carlton adjusted his grip. "Things are different now."
"Everything's different now."
Shawn moved slower than he used to. At least they still had a decent supply of Tylenol and anesthetic. His side twinged painfully as he jumped down from the back of the cart. It wasn't as fast as a truck, but it was easier to find food for the horses than it was to scrounge for gas.
Juliet waved from the doorway of the warehouse they'd found. Buzz would already be inside, securing the windows and doors. They'd all found roles, though Shawn was currently kept from his while his side healed. He watched Officer Dean head out on foot with Carlton with a twinge of regret.
"Let's see if we can get a fire started." Adam jumped down beside Shawn, his arm slipping under Shawn's to help him into the building.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Carlton glancing back at them. Their gazes met and Shawn knew he wasn't the only one feeling jealous.
Shawn was on his feet as soon as Vick shouted. They made room on one of the bedrolls as Carlton staggered in, half-carrying Dean. Blood covered both of them but it was Dean they laid down on the cot. Adam dropped to his knees next Dean, gauze and clean water in hand. Carlton waved off Juliet's offer of help and stalked towards the back room √ they'd found running water in the building and a tub. Shawn grabbed one of Carlton's clean shirts and a towel as he followed.
"I'm not injured," Carlton said as he pulled his shirt off. A flashlight was propped next to the mirror over the sink, giving them just enough light to see by.
Water splashed into the sink. Shawn watched as Carlton splashed water on his face, then down his arms. The water ran red.
"It's not my blood."
Shawn said nothing. He shifted closer and held out the towel. Carlton took it without looking. His dried skin was free of anything worse than a few dark bruises.
"I'm just a little bruised."
"I'm glad you're alright."
Carlton looked over at him. A few drops of water dripped from his face. Shawn stepped forward, not really sure what he was going to do, but knowing he had to do something. He was just so relieved. The stubble on Carlton's face pricked against Shawn's palms. He leaned forward, stretching up just a little until his lips reached Carlton's. A hand on his back steadied him. Carlton deepened the kiss and pushed down slightly until Shawn was flat on his feet again.
"I'm glad," Shawn repeated quietly against Carlton's lips.
Shawn stretched slowly, waiting for the usual pain. His side was sore but he could move without any real pain. Lassiter watched carefully as Shawn moved his arm, testing the range of his mobility. A grin spread across Shawn's face. "Looks like I'm back on patrol."
Carlton snorted in muted laughter. "It's not patrol, Shawn."
He shrugged. "Still..."
Both of their gazes moved to the open doorway. They'd managed to find an old office building. Not the most comfortable of places to sleep, but at least there was a bit of privacy. Carlton moved before Shawn could, closing and locking the door before moving back towards Shawn, a smile growing on his face.
"Still, it'll be good to have you back with me."
"Yeah," Shawn agreed.
He didn't bother putting his shirt back on. Carlton's arms went around Shawn. His hands splayed against Shawn's back lightly. He leaned forward the same time Carlton did. Their lips met half-way, mouths opening, tongues dancing. Carlton stepped closer. One of his hands slipped down to Shawn's knee, squeezing reassuringly as he gently pushed Shawn's legs apart, giving him enough room to stand chest to chest.
"It's good to have you back," Shawn echoed. He leaned in for another kiss.
"Yeah." Carlton pushed Shawn back onto the desk.
Shawn wondered what the former owner of this office would think at the two men currently peeling off each other's clothing. Carlton climbed up onto the desk with Shawn, his weight pressing down and inside of him. Their bodies slid together with delicious frictions. Shawn's hips lifted, rolled with each of Lassiter's thrusts. His side twinged slightly in pain, proof that it wasn't one-hundred percent healed but he ignored it and wrapped his arms tighter around Carlton.
Slowly, they both wound down. Shawn stared at the ceiling, breathing heavily while Carlton kissed every inch of skin he could reach. His hips stopped but they stayed connected.
It was a long time before either of them would let go.
A smile stretched across Shawn's face, and he stood up, one hand holding onto the side of the cart. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Yeah," Juliet stood beside him, "I think that is."
There were people. Whatever small town they'd arrived at seemed to have survived the asteroids. Buildings were standing, undamaged from appearances, and teeming with people. They weren't the only refugees who'd found their way here. A wooden palisade had been erected around the town but the doors stood open. As they approached, they could hear shouts. People poured like ants from the palisade.
"Welcome!" A woman shouted at them from the truck that rolled up to them. "Welcome to Whitehall."
Vick's whispered what they were all thinking. "We're safe."