We Had Big Dreams
"Hey, Louie, Lou-aaaayyy, heey-eyy, we gotta go now!"
It was sometime after 3 AM on the first day of 1980, and ex-detective Kyle Hyde was pleased to find himself far happier than he'd been in a long time - and far less sober. Not quite to the point of drunkenly slurring "hey, I love you man" and other things that tended to come out of alcohol-loosened lips, but apparently to the point of singing old songs at the top of his lungs. Or maybe 'song' wasn't right – you had to be able to carry a tune to call it a song. His head spun gently, and the hallway rocked with the comforting rhythm of the inside of a ship's hull in rising waves, or a child's cradle.
Sway-walking alongside him, Louis DeNonno half-hummed, half-giggled the chorus to the old song, pleased as spiked punch to be singing something with his name in it. After the kind of drinking they'd done that night - toasts for the new year, or anything at all that popped into their heads - that sort of thing became a big deal.
"Hey, man, we gotta get you a song now!" He nudged Kyle in the ribs, giving him a scrutinizing look. "But there ain't no songs with Hyde in 'em… or Kyle. Hey - you got a middle name?"
"Yeah, but I'm not telling you what it is. I'm not that drunk."
"Aw, c'mon! I'll tell you mine!"
"Bet it's a girl's name or something. Like – what? Kyle… Elizabeth Hyde?"
"It is not Elizabeth."
"It's 'Shut Your Pie Hole And…' and… mmm." he trailed off with a grunt. He was just sober enough to be able to string coherent sentences together, but not quite enough to come up with any clever insults or banter. Even with Louie.
"Ah, whatever." Louie shrugged. "Can't think of any songs about Elizabeth either."
They moseyed together down the hallway from the bar – the place was empty, but that was a big change from a few hours ago. The place had been surprisingly full, the tiny bar packed wall to wall with revelers armed with noisemakers, confetti, and glasses of champagne, and some harder stuff.
Louie'd had his work cut out for him, mixing drinks for the happy crowd, and had been truly in his element. Kyle had watched him pour and mix and add studied dashes of ingredients almost faster than his eye could follow, and marveled that he could keep track of the seemingly endless list of liquid recipes. The boy was a natural, it was almost like watching a dance, beautiful in a weird way. Something he was really good at. Back home in New York he'd been committing that special, slow kind of suicide that came from living on the streets, and running from the law. Here, he shined. Remembering him talk about wanting his own bar, a place where he really belonged, and seeing him like that – Kyle could believe it would happen someday. It really just might.
Louis DeNonno. From crook to bartending magician. A damn Cinderella story. Who the hell would have thought?
The party'd started to really wind down around 2. Just Kyle, Louie and one or two late-night stragglers left in the bar. Dunning Smith had been mysteriously absent from most of the festivities; even Rosa had gotten out of the kitchen some to enjoy herself. But just around then he'd popped into the bar and left the door partially open behind him. And through that ajar door Kyle had caught a glimpse of a girl – not Mila, she'd gone to bed just after midnight. After all she'd been through, poor kid still needed to rest, and a raucous party was not her cup of tea just yet. No, this was a different girl, maybe a little older than Mila – who despite the party going on before her, only had eyes for Dunning.
Kyle saw all of that in an instant, and all he could think was, "God, could that really be her?" But before he could even open his mouth, the door swung shut and Dunning folded his arms at the mess of confetti, toppled glasses and dirty napkins and plates and bottles littering the bar.
"Well, shit. This mess isn't getting cleaned up tonight." He shook his head. He was right – the bar alone would take several hours. "Leave it for the morning." He looked from Louis to Kyle and back, looking as if he were struggling to say something, or not say it. Kyle couldn't help but think it had everything to do with the girl who waited outside. In the end, he just gave a nod to both of them, along with what might have been a smile, then turned and exited the room again.
As the door swung shut, Kyle saw him put his arm around the girl's shoulders and lead her down the hall. Well, that was Dunning – maybe he'd tell them all about it later, but probably not. And that was just fine. He'd thanked them from the bottom of his heart just now, if not in so many words.
Despite Dunning's decision to leave the mess until they were all fresh, Louie couldn't stand to leave his beloved bar in that state. He just had to take a few minutes to clean off the worst of it – and finally let himself relax a bit for the first time that evening. Hell, he deserved a little New Year's celebration too, he'd probably worked harder that night than he had all year. Now that the adrenaline high of practicing his art for a most appreciative audience had worn off, it left him feeling drained and exhausted.
Kyle stayed, shared a much more quiet few minutes with him than the rest of the night until then. Wasn't even entirely sure why, except that he didn't feel like crashing into bed immediately, and there was nobody else he particularly felt like hanging around. In a weird way, he'd actually really enjoyed that evening – a rare party. An excuse to actually be happy for once, and put his heart-rending three-year obsession aside, if only for a few hours. Just to hang loose with a friend. And yeah, he could admit it quietly to himself, in a part of his mind where it wouldn't be the drink talking – Louie was a friend. In a much better setting and situation than they'd previously known one another, Kyle enjoyed his company. And he'd sure as hell proven himself trustworthy and loyal in the harrowing events of the past few days. No way Kyle would have gotten through it without him, he knew that for damn sure.
So now they meandered down the hallway together, in no hurry to reach their destination and bring this rare, happy night to an end. Occasionally bumping into one another and not caring, narrowly avoiding stepping on each other's or their own feet.
"So, you gonna be here tomorrow?" Louie asked, glancing up at Kyle with an odd look. "Not leaving right after the party, skipping out without saying goodbye, right?"
"Come on, you know better than that." Kyle half-smiled, half-grimaced. "I'm not going anywhere tomorrow except into hangover heaven. You and me both, I'd say."
"Yeah – sure is sweet while it lasts, though, am I right?"
"Damn fine brew." Kyle smiled at the memory and lingering taste. "But no, I'm here for a few more days at least… been running all over, pushing myself so hard for three years straight… I'm burnt, Louie." He sighed, let his eyes close for a moment. "I need some time to just breathe easy for a while. I need a bre-eaAAAH!"
His feet were no longer on the ground. In fact, they were swooping up in front of him as if he'd stepped on a banana, and he was falling backwards faster than his sloshy, tired brain could connect the dots. He windmilled in instinctive attempts to grab at something, Louie's shoulder or the wall, anything - but it didn't stop him from falling. His hand did catch something, though, something that felt like a thin chain. It slowed him down for just a second while Louie gaped and reached out to catch him, but too late. Then, whatever it was in Kyle's hand snapped, and the floor slipped up and hit him painfully in the face. A thump beside him and flailing arm that smacked against his shoulder told him that Louie had met the same fate.
Goodbye walking upright like normal human beings, hello floor.
"Aaaghhh…" one of them groaned, Kyle wasn't even sure which. They just lay there for a few seconds, slowly moving arms and legs and making sure all body parts were present and accounted for. They were, but still hurt like the dickens.
"Oh, jeez, Hyde…" Louie managed, struggling to sit up. "Are we really that drunk?"
Kyle sat up too, slowly – but not slowly enough. His head was heavy and spinning, and starting to throb already. Here we go. But he squinted at the floor, looking for whatever he'd tripped over. "Not yet. The floor's wet."
"What the…" Louie blinked, frowning accusingly at the puddle. "I haven't even been out here all night. You?"
"No, in the bar the whole time."
"Yeah, literally." Kyle had to smile a little. Quite a trip that had been. "Someone must have decided to take a little extra back to their room... but some of it never made it that far."
"Mmgh. And guess who'll be cleaning it up in the morning?" Louie winced.
"Cross that bridge when you're sober." Kyle said, thinking it sounded better in his head. They stood up, or rather sort of clawed their way up the walls and each other, leaning on one another once they were both upright.
They'd just started back down the hall when Louie stopped dead, actually letting out a gasp and grabbing at his chest. "AAH!"
"What?!" Kyle almost yelped, surprised at the sudden motion and wildly wondering if his friend were having a heart attack or something.
But Louie didn't answer. He dropped to his hands and knees and started searching around the floor, looking in all directions and pawing at the carpet, seeing if it would lift up.
"Louie, what the hell are you doing?" Kyle stood there, looking down at him and suddenly feeling very, very tired. The night, the past few days – hell, the past few years – were finally starting to catch up to him, and now… now¸ the thought of the bed in room 215 was real sweet.
But Louis was not to be distracted. "My tags." He said at last. He looked up before Kyle could open his mouth to ask. "On the chain I always wear around my neck, the two metal tags on it. I have to find them!"
Kyle's face twisted, he was about to let loose with a snarky remark, something about 'for Chrissake, Louie, look for your own jewelry, I'm going to bed", but something stopped him. The look on Louis' face, his eyes, wide and desperate, almost pleading – this was important. For whatever reason… finding these little pieces of metal right now, was as vitally important to him as finding Bradley was to Kyle. And that was saying something.
That, and the memory of a thin metal chain in Kyle's hand, the thing he'd grabbed when he tripped. The feeling as it snapped, and he fell. Maybe it wasn't his fault, but the thing had broken because of him. He had to help out – if only to get Louie to stop looking at him like that.
"Okay." He said, as relief flooded Louie's face.
So he looked on the floor too. He didn't actually get down on his hands and knees, he just stalked back the way they had come, bent over and scanning the floor. Then his hand darted down, and he grabbed something up off the carpet. "Hey, I got something."
Louie's head jerked up, and he scrambled unsteadily up to join Kyle. His face lit up when he saw the glint of metal in his hand – then fell.
"It's just the chain…"
"Well, yeah. I thought you wanted it. I know it's broken, I'm… sorry." If Louie recognized how rare an unprompted apology from Kyle Hyde was, he didn't show it. Instead he was looking dejectedly at the ground, hands balled into fists. Then he suddenly whirled around and went back to scouring the floor.
"Louie, what the hell?"
"It's not the chain!" Louie almost shouted, desperation coming through loud and clear. "It's what's on it. The tags, his tags. I need to… if I can't find them…"
Kyle frowned – he'd caught that one word. 'His' tags. Whose tags? But he didn't ask, just went back to searching. Behind him Louie spasmodically moved across the floor, before finally coming to a stop at the other wall. He just leaned against it and stared at the ground for a minute, head spinning. This was all too much. He couldn't even think, he was too far under already. Why had he had those drinks after the party had ended? None of this would have happened if he hadn't…
"Hey." Kyle said quietly, coming around to stand in front of him. He didn't like what he saw – that look of panic and loss. Nobody should have that look – and definitely not Louie. Not again. Jesus, he seemed close to tears. "We'll find them."
"Okay. Okay." Louie took a deep breath and rejoined the search.
Nothing. Up and down the hall, all around the puddle, around the edges of the carpet. They even looked behind plants, even inside their pots on the crazy off-chance of a bizarre ricochet. Nothing. By this time Louie had gone very quiet, a much more disturbing contrast to his panic of moments before. This wasn't good. Kyle couldn't help that like this he was a time bomb, and he had no idea what would happen if that counter reached zero and no little bits of metal had been found.
Kyle sighed, straightening up to crack the crick he was getting in his neck from staring at the floor. He jammed his fists into his pockets – then stopped dead. One hand touched something round and cold, like a coin but oblong. Two things. He slowly drew his hand out – two small, roughly rectangular pieces of metal, with rounded edges. Well, I'll be damned, he thought. The things had actually fallen into his pocket as he fell. What were the odds?
"Louie," Kyle said, holding out his find, and looking at them himself. He barely had time to register that they had something written on them, before Louie had jumped up and run over. And just enough time to read the first two words of one of them: "Barelli, Daniel."
Louis let out his breath in a great rush, grabbing the small metal pieces and rubbing them between his fingers. The back surfaces were dulled and some of the writing on the front was worn down – an old habit. He generally tried to keep that to a minimum: he didn't ever want to rub out what was on them completely… but it was comforting. Rubbing the metal with his eyes closed and speaking softly under his breath, something Kyle couldn't quite hear – or maybe it was actually in Italian.
"You okay now?"
Louis looked up at Kyle as if seeing him there for the first time. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks, Hyde."
"Don't mention it." he said, but kept looking at him strangely. Louie didn't really notice; he was trying to slip the little tags back on the broken chain – presumably for safekeeping until it could be fixed or replaced.
"They're his, aren't they?" Kyle asked quietly. Louie looked up at him, but didn't say anything. "I saw the name. Daniel Barelli?"
"… Yeah." Louie said at last. "They're Danny's." He took a deep breath. "Army. Vietnam."
Kyle kept his mouth shut, not at all sure what to say. What the hell did you say to something like that? But he had to say something, couldn't just leave it like that. Running away now would be the ultimate cop-out, and he really would end up leaving the next day; they'd never figure out what to say to each other. So, he gritted his teeth and dragged the words out of himself. "You weren't in the war. Right?"
"Me? No." Louis shook his head. "Luck of the draw, I guess. My number never came up… his did. You know that all the time, we'd been planning on just getting enough money to get out of the city. We were doing good too – then that damn letter came. Threw a wrench in our plans just like that."
Kyle kept quiet, just let him go on picking at the scab over the old wound. He'd spent the last few days hearing everyone else spill their guts all over the floor in front of him, what was one more time? It seemed to be good for them. Therapeutic, or whatever. And, well – if it would get that look off Louie's face, that was worth it, wasn't it?
"So he went off… and I stayed home, trying to keep it up without him."
"When was this, '74, '75?" Kyle interjected.
"Yeah. Late winter '74 to… I dunno, man." Louie didn't look up at him. "Seemed like freakin' forever, the days ran together."
"Heh, I'm not surprised… I remember, for a while around that time seemed I was hauling your ass in every day of the week. No wonder – you really were working overtime."
"Yeah. I worked so hard then, worked my ass off, trying to get some extra scratch together for when he got home. Just so things would be a little nicer, maybe a little easier on him. He sent me letters, you know." A faint little smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Tons of 'em, one every week or so. Think I was the only one he had to write to. Told me all about it… the rain. How it seemed like it would soak right into his skin, water all the way through… how he learned to sleep with one eye open and a gun in his hand. And how…"
Louie broke off, face contorting with pain. He looked away. When he spoke again, his voice sounded husky and hoarse. "And how he wished so bad he was back home, cooking up the next big thing with me. I mean – fuck, man. Danny wanted to be where I was, in that cold, stinking city, never knowing where our next meal was coming from. He wanted to be in the place I would have killed to get away from. Can you imagine that?"
"Must have made you grateful for what you had."
"Maybe a little. But mostly it just made me all the more determined to break out. God, I was so sure we'd make it. We had such big dreams then." Louie turned back to look at Hyde – there were no tears on his face, but it wouldn't have taken much. He continued, the words starting to spill out of him more easily – after a while, he wouldn't have been able to stop if he'd wanted to.
"And then Danny came home. He wasn't the same – 'course, everybody says that war changes you, you hear it all the time. But it does. Little things, like… like when he'd eat, he'd always set aside some of it for later, and freaking guard it with his life. I remember one time, he had some French fries, I tried to grab one of 'em… he just grabbed my wrist and stares at me like he didn't know who I was, like he was about to knock my lights out. I'd never seen that look on his face before. If I didn't know better, I'd think he'd been in prison instead of working for Uncle Sam.
"Nothing went right from then on. We thought he might get some – whaddaya call it, government comp, for all his time." Louie shook his head with an entirely mirthless laugh. "Nah. What the hell happened to 'America takes care of her boys?' We got shit. Veterans here… Jesus.
"He'd got hurt a few times over there, but nothing really serious. Nothing to get him a Purple Heart or anything. He was all healed up by the time he got home – his body, anyway. His mind… that was something else. All the time after that, he'd wake up nights… screaming. Crying." Louie's voice lowered to a dry, labored whisper. "Thinking someone was in the room, trying to kill him, thinking he'd heard a wire snap or a land mine. All in his head, but real to him, you know? I'd talk him down, tell him he was home, the worst thing here he had to worry about were the rival wallet-snatchers and big, bad Officer Hyde. Sometimes I'd just put my arm around him, hold him until he stopped shaking. Sometimes it took hours.
"And then… God. He'd ended up just like me, more desperate than ever to get out of that city. I don't think – he never would have gotten involved with – with Nile, if he hadn't been drafted, if that hadn't sent him over the edge. We would have found another way. Damn it, Danny, we always found another way!" He actually smacked a fist against the wall, and stared at the ground.
Kyle didn't say anything, but thousands of words were spilling through his mind. Find something to say, anything, what the hell did he do with this? Some things "I'm sorry" just isn't enough for.
But he wanted to end this now. Even though he knew damn well how the rest of the story went. But he didn't know how. Did he put a hand on Louie's shoulder? Hell, did he give him a freaking hug, what could he do here? Kyle Hyde was not a hugger. But yelling or reverting to any of his normal snarky reactions or just leaving the room was not an option. He wasn't comfortable with any of this, this – sharing. Sure, he'd done a lot of it lately, but he'd never get used to it. But thankfully, Louie wasn't quite done. He spared Kyle the decision of how to react by continuing.
"And then it happened. That night, when J… when Bradley…"
Kyle actually nodded. "Go on." He said quietly. Changed his mind - maybe this was just how it had to be. At the very least, let's just get it over with.
"When Danny didn't show up at the restaurant that night – I knew. I knew he'd gotten in too deep, he was in trouble… and when I got there, and – saw it? After Bradley left, and I run up to Danny… he wasn't quite gone. He saw me, I know that. And… he apologized to me. To me!" There was that awful, broken, thoroughly un-Louie laugh again. Kyle hated it. "God, can you imagine? He says he's sorry… and I hold him again, just like it's late at night and he's having one of those – flashbacks, they call them… And I just feel him slip away.
"And then… the sirens come. He's not even cold yet and I can feel the lights coming up behind me, I've got his blood all over me, and I have to run. I don't have time to say goodbye, I just… take the chain. His dog tags, he always wore them. I think deep down he was actually proud of what he went through, serving his country or whatever. They were important to him, so… they're important to me."
Louie was quiet for a few long seconds. "I never got to go to his funeral. I don't even know if he had one, or if he just ended up in Potter's Field – I was already running."
Several long breaths of silence. Kyle didn't break it, just watched Louie. He was rubbing the metal ovals again – then stopped, closed his fist around them and put his hand against his chest. It was a small movement, probably unconscious.
"It's not fair, man." He said quietly. "For him to survive all of that… growing up in the city, running with me… the war… for him to survive everything, come home to me alive, and then… in half a second, have it all taken away. What was it all for, Hyde?" He looked up at Kyle, as if truly looking for an answer in his face, but finding nothing. Then he shook his head and closed his eyes.
"It was for nothing. Danny never got out. No matter how long or hard he tried, everything he survived, no matter how much we promised it to each other and never let the dream go… it died with him."
Louie opened his eyes and stared at Kyle, surprised at the immediate answer and hard tone. "What?"
"Bull. Shit. DeNonno." Kyle stepped over, put himself directly in Louie's vision. "What the hell are you saying? That he died for nothing, 'the dream died with him'? I can't believe this crap is coming out of your mouth."
"What are you saying, Hyde?" Louie's eyes narrowed, and his fist tightened protectively around the precious tags, the raised letters that made up the name Daniel Barelli.
"I'm saying that you got out. Look at yourself, Louie. You're three thousand miles away from that city that almost killed both of you. You've got a real job. You got people who care about you. You're making something of yourself, doing something you're good at. I saw you tonight," Kyle smiled a little at the memory. "Working the bar like a damn pro. You've got some kind of weird gift – some people play the violin, I figure shit out people don't want me to know, and you? You toss a glass and drink around like nothing I've ever seen."
"…Really?" The defensiveness had melted off Louie's face. Now he was looking at Kyle as if he'd never heard something like this in his life. Hell, maybe he hadn't.
"Yeah. I wouldn't jerk you around like that." The weird little smile was growing. "You told me once that someday you want a bar of your own, your own little slice of heaven. How long have you been holding onto that dream?"
"A long time. Danny and I would talk…"
"That's what I thought. So what do you think he'd say if he could see you now? Out of the city, getting closer to making that sweet dream happen?"
"I dunno. Been too long." Louie shrugged – he didn't want to think about this.
Kyle took a deep breath. "Well, I do. He'd be proud of you."
Louie shook his head. "How do you know? Even I don't know."
Then Kyle said the last thing Louie ever expected to hear. "Because I'm proud of you."
"… You're just saying that 'cause we're both drunk and you think I won't remember it tomorrow."
"No, I'm saying it because it's the truth. All those times I was busting your ass back in NYC, everything I told you back then – you think it was just a job? I really did want to see you get your act together, and get out of that life. I told you about my dad, Louie. Only other person I ever told about him was Bradley… and that story was no lie. And neither is this. You've done real good in my book. And Danny - well. If he didn't think so too, he's not the good friend you remember."
"Hyde… thank you." Louie said softly, with a look Kyle had never seen on his face. It was almost like he was sleeping; the way that the lines faded from a person's face, how tension melted away. A weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he wasn't gasping under its pressure and pain anymore.
"Don't mention it." Kyle grimaced. "Seriously, don't. God, this place is making me soft, first the damn Christmas party and now this…"
"Nah. I wouldn't go talking about this to anyone else. You know that."
"Good." Kyle gave a little laugh, just a slight exhale through his nose. "Now. Go to bed, I'm gonna do the same. You got your work cut out for you tomorrow, cleaning up that mess in the bar."
"Right. Sure." Louie opened his mouth and closed it again, looking like he very much wanted to ask something, but not quite knowing how. "And… and you'll…"
"Yeah, Louie. I'll be here when you wake up." He promised, looking directly into Louis' eyes. "I'm not going anywhere. You're not gonna be adding any of my stuff to that chain around your neck anytime soon."
Louie smiled. A real one that broke through the anxiety, the old hurt. It felt good. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow. G'nite, Hyde."
Louie gave him a last smile and nod, then turned and headed slowly back toward his room, the broken chain dangling from his hand. Kyle let his breath out in a slow hiss, just standing there in the empty hallway for a long time, mulling everything over in his head. Getting all his ducks in a row.
What he'd said to Louie… that Danny would be proud of him – he meant it. But he couldn't help but wonder. Bradley stole back into his thoughts like a thief in the night, leaving Kyle wondering – Bradley, would you…?
Well. Old habits died hard.
With a last sigh, Kyle turned and stalked out of the hall through the double doors and up the stairs, back to Room 215.