A/N: Thanks for coming along for the ride! Until next time...
The Lion's Outside of the Door
(The Wolf's in the Bed)
Hank shifted on his chair, feeling a bit like he was the defendant in a tribunal. He wasn't on trial, and neither were any of his men. That had been made clear from the get-go. Sometimes it was difficult for him to let go of his paranoia, and sitting before a panel of his colleagues and superiors had never been something he could get accustomed to. It wasn't something he wanted to get used to. He was grateful, though, that the review of the incident had been pushed back until it was known for certain his men were going to be okay. Okay in relative terms, anyway. If nearly losing a leg ever qualified as okay to him, then he was going to have to retire for being too emotionally detached. As it was, he was a tad concerned he was going to have to retire for the opposite reason.
The review was a formality to wrap up the arson case at the level that involved the Department, so the police could concentrate on it along with the attempted murder charges. It had been deemed no small coincidence that the warehouse fires ceased after the two civilians trapped with John and Roy were hospitalized and detained. Hank knew one of them was still lingering in a coma, and the other was in the psych ward at Rampart for now. From what he understood, the case against the men was strong, though they'd plead insanity for at least one of them. Hank did not feel one bit of remorse about hoping they were prosecuted to the full extent of the law, if both survived. One of them had almost killed Roy, and the other was guilty by association as far as he was concerned.
"We're done here, Hank," the Chief Brian Hardwick said. "We appreciate you coming in today. Thank your men again as well. I don't think we'll need Firemen DeSoto and Gage to come in personally, but when they're up to it we'll need the paperwork."
"To be honest, Chief, I'm not sure either of them will be able to add much. From what Gage has told me, he was unconscious most of the time and from when he wasn't he doesn't remember much. And DeSoto … well …."
Roy might be on the survivor list, but that didn't mean he was anywhere near all right. It was only today that he was being moved to a regular room and could have unrestricted visitation times. Truth be told, Hank's mind had been on that more than the questions being tossed at him for the better part of an hour. A captain was like a parent in some respects; he wanted to see to his men, make sure they were okay to his satisfaction.
"We've taken that into consideration. You know this is standard procedure when injuries of this magnitude are sustained in the line of duty," Hardwick said, as if sensing Hank's preoccupation and irritation. "The police will need to speak with DeSoto in person, of course."
"Of course," Hank said. They'd already been in to see John a couple times, as if persistence would make his memory work better. The detective on the case seemed to think unconsciousness wasn't prohibitive to memory. Each visit had left John frustrated, worried and exhausted. "We all want to make sure these guys don't hurt anyone else."
Each member of the review panel nodded in silent agreement and began gathering the materials in front of them. Hank stood when they stood, shook hands as they filed from the room. He followed them out to the parking lot and climbed in his car. He exhaled loudly. He was glad it was over. It was the first of many steps he and his men would have to take before everything was said and done and they were all fit for the job again. The first step was usually the hardest, though in this case he wasn't sure that would prove true.
But he was not interested in making the same mistakes all over. Logically, he knew whatever had been happening with and between John and Roy before had nothing to do with the attack, or fire and building collapse. Illogically, everything was bound together tightly in his mind and memory. Mike, Marco and Chet had all come to him, after, with their own worries and suspicions. None of them could allow hesitation to bring up concerns to happen again, with any of them. That was something not up to the Department, but which fell on his shoulders.
Hank was not taking anyone back on his team who was not ready for it. No, sir.
That meant, he admitted, Dixie McCall's recommendation for therapy should be implemented sooner rather than later. Hank knew the higher-ups would have ordered counseling, if he hadn't used his captain's discretion when it came to the personnel matters of late. He also knew that if he were going to expect his men to go to a shrink, then he'd better be willing to do it himself. Nothing had happened to him, yet he sometimes woke up in the middle of the night fresh off images of John dying or Roy bleeding out. And that was only when his brain didn't extrapolate and insert the rest of his men in perilous situations as well.
He could do the job. They could all do the job. Hank simply wanted to make sure they did it to the best of their abilities, now and in the future. He shook his head. First things first. He started the car and navigated onto the street. He figured Rampart had gotten Roy all settled by now, and he'd stop there for a quick visit before heading home. Joanne would be there, but he was sure she wouldn't mind.
The last time Hank had seen Roy, he'd still looked too pale and feverish. Despite Doctor Brackett's (and Doctor Simmons', who'd operated on Roy's leg) assurances, his worry wouldn't dissipate until he could put words with images. He also wanted to talk with John, try to wheedle out the full story of what he'd seen at his bedside days ago, the outright panic and horror. At this point, John Gage had been uncharacteristically reticent about everything but the facts. This only reaffirmed to Hank that all of his men talk to someone. He didn't care that much if it wasn't him.
Rampart's parking lot was very full, as usual. He didn't mind parking at the far end of the lot and walking. Hank did not like hospitals. He hated almost everything about them, and he'd spent too much time in this one in particular over the past six months. The few minutes it took to walk the distance gave him time to breathe past his own anxieties and dread that some doctor somewhere was going to remind him to have a physical or poke him with a needle.
Being a fire captain didn't mean a man had to be rational one hundred percent of the time.
He walked toward the emergency department entrance, more out of familiarity than anything. He could navigate anywhere in the city, but somehow, directly or indirectly related to his reluctance to enter them, the insides of the hospital were confusing to him unless he started at a known point. He was surprised to see multiple black and whites in front of the doors, lights flashing. He don't know how he didn't see that upon entering the parking lot. He frowned. Policemen roamed the area. All of them looked ready for action, but aimless at the same time.
"Nobody in, nobody out, sir," a young officer said, catching Hank by the arm.
"What's going on? Captain Hank Stanley, LA County Fire Department," Hank said. He'd found announcing his rank helped open doors, a power he didn't use often. When his men were in a building swarmed with armed police officers, he felt justified. "Maybe I can lend some help."
"No help needed, Captain," the officer, Johnston by his name badge, said, then added sotto voce, "Mental patient escaped. Hospital's been on lockdown for two hours. He didn't get out, so he's in there somewhere. Bound to find him soon."
Lord, this was in no way helping his aversion to hospitals. Hank eyed the building as if it were a live creature about to bite him. Bad things happened in there. He thought about forgoing the visit with Roy and John, just as quickly decided against that. He was here and his mind wouldn't be set to peace until he saw them. Plus, plain old human curiosity got the better of him. He joined the edges of the crowd that had gathered. At the fourth notepad and camera sighting, he skirted away from that mob because he didn't want to be mistaken for one of them. Journalists were vultures.
He leaned on a police squad and waited. He didn't know how long he was there before he saw Doctor Brackett leave the building, with a frown on his face and five cops surrounding him. That frown could mean anything. Hank didn't know Brackett well, but he knew the frown was usual for any number of situations. He didn't think he'd ever seen the man not frowning.
"Doctor Brackett," Hank called, pushing himself away from the car.
Brackett shot a nasty look at the journalists as he walked by them to reach Hank's side. "Captain Stanley. Hank. You know what's going on?"
"Well, I don't want you to worry. I asked that guards be put at Roy's door. Johnny happened to be in there with him when this all started, so that made it easy. I thought it best that they weren't told why we're on lockdown. So far, there hasn't been any sign of danger."
And then it sank in, who the escaped mental patient was. Hank sagged onto the hood of the car, legs suddenly weak. What were the chances of this? It was a nightmare. It would be a nightmare for him tonight. He glanced at Brackett, who studied him with his frown still in place. Now Hank saw it was one of concern. He waved a hand in the air to signal he needed a moment to absorb the information and was about to ask how something like this could happen when a series of loud shouts came from the emergency entrance. Startled, he watched as their attempted murderer was dragged out of the building, screaming his lungs out.
On cue, cameras began clicking and flashbulbs going off so fast they had a strobe effect. It was bedlam, but all Hank could think was, thank god, thank god it's over now. He sat there, stunned, while the man was driven away. The crowd faded quickly, some of them before the police had left the parking lot. Following the story to the police station, no doubt. Lousy vultures.
When all was said and done, Hank had never been so glad for an anticlimactic ending in his entire life. In his line of work, that was saying something. Would that every fire end anticlimactically, he wouldn't be at a hospital visiting injured men right now. He stared after the exiting parade of vehicles, maybe expecting another catastrophe before the car holding the criminal got out of eyesight. But he didn't want to think about the man who'd tried to kill Roy anymore today. He didn't even want to think about him until the hearing.
"Hank," Brackett said. "Hey, are you hearing me?"
Hank blinked, surprised to find Brackett gripping and shaking his left shoulder. It occurred to him only then that time was passing far more slowly in reality than what it was for him. To him, it had been a blink of an eye, but he'd probably been sitting there staring at nothing for ten or fifteen minutes. Whoops.
"Sorry, Doc. Were you saying something?" Hank asked.
"I said they found the guy with his comatose buddy, trying to wake him up." Brackett eyeballed him. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine. This wasn't what I was expecting to walk into." That was putting it mildly. Nobody ever expected to walk into a manhunt. "I needed a minute to take it in."
"Tell me about it," Brackett said. "Listen, I have to try to get things back to normal in there. Why don't you go ahead and see to your men? We put Roy in a private room down the hall from Johnny. Roy's in 325."
"Thanks," Hank said as Brackett headed for the door. He took a few quick steps to catch up. "Doc, tell me – how is Roy, really?"
Brackett pursed his lips for a second, something akin to irritation flashing in his eyes. Then he gave Hank a fast smile. "The move was rough on him, but he's settled in pretty well all things considered. I guarantee you he is and looks much better than the last time you were in to see him, and much better than I thought he'd be at this point."
"Okay. Okay, good."
Hank nodded his thanks, and the men parted ways at the admitting desk. The elevator looked busy. He could always use the exercise, so he ducked into the stairwell. He took the stairs two at a time and was probably to the third floor before the elevator could have gotten him there anyway. The first thing he saw was a directional sign indicating he should turn left for rooms 301 through 340. The corridor was busy with nurses, orderlies and doctors who all looked frazzled and recovering lost time from the lockdown. He stayed out of the way the best he could, avoided several collisions by a hair. Some of the people he nearly hit had syringes in their hands. He shuddered and kept going.
As he entered the 320s, Hank quickened his pace. His wife had been telling him for days to stop fretting so much, but it simply wasn't that easy for him. She knew that, of course. One of the things he loved most about Elle was her patience with him, and the understanding that he had two sets of kids to worry about. Sometimes he didn't know which was worse – the thought of his daughters out with teenaged boys who all had one track minds or the thought of one of his team trapped in a building collapse, bleeding out. In a strange way, it was six of one, half dozen of the other.
Five steps from the open door of 325, Hank heard Roy's voice. It still sounded shaky to his hypersensitive perspective. Roy did sound better, though. A wave of relief washed through him. He leaned against the wall for a second. He didn't want to interrupt anything. It might be Johnny or Joanne or both in there, or maybe it was a nurse doing a check. The last thing Hank needed to see was the leg wound. The one time he had, it had been enough to make his vision gray out on the edges. Infection could do terrible things.
"So, what, you want me to just not do anything if I see you're in trouble? Leave you to die?" Roy said, rash anger in every word.
"That is not what I said, Roy." Johnny, on the other hand, sounded rational and calm. Ad tired, like he'd been talking for hours. Probably had. "That has never been what I've said. Hell, I knew even before this that you'd risk your own life to save mine. And I'd do the same, in a heartbeat."
Hank shifted. He should go. He couldn't seem to move.
"That's all I did. Why do you kee – "
"Because!" A slap, and a rattle of metal on plastic. Something hit the floor, bounced a few times and rolled. "Damn it, because this was different, and you know it. If you would just listen to what I'm saying, you'd know it was different. Ever since I got back to work, you've been jumping every time anything has come near me, including your own little girl. It's not a normal reaction. I can't work like that, always on edge. You can't keep on like that, either. Jeez, Roy, how many times do I have to say it before you'll hear me? You almost lost your leg. You almost died."
Silence fell. Even from outside the room, Hank could feel the tension. He couldn't recall a time he'd ever heard John Gage yell, honestly shout in anger, at Roy DeSoto. Stoker apparently had, not too long before all it all went to hell in a handbasket. He couldn't go in now, but he still couldn't leave.
"I don't know what's wrong with me," Roy said, the ire gone from his voice. He sounded … small. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"I think you just started doing something."
"Well, this is the only time you haven't tried to punch me when I brought it up." Plastic creaked and squeaked, Johnny shifting on a hospital-regulated chair. "My broken skull appreciates that too."
"Johnny, I …"
"Roy, don't. You saved my life. If you hadn'tta pushed me, I'd be flatter than a pancake and six feet under right now or, worse, a vegetable like that kid we were trying to pull out. I … froze. Couldn't move. Like I said, this was different," Johnny sounded like he was smiling, that barely there thing that wasn't happy so much as troubled. He took a deep breath. "I knew it was a guy, but it looked like Cat Drewes to me. It was my nightmares come true, and I kind of thought it was a dream. I've been having lots of them. Started getting hard to tell if I was asleep or awake."
Hank had had a pretty good idea what was going on with his paramedics. He'd spent days putting the puzzle together. The confirmation started to feel like an invasion of Roy and John's privacy more than anything. He pushed himself off the wall, stood there with fingertips brushing it.
"Johnny…" Roy said, sounding regretful.
Hank could practically see John waving his hand as he cut Roy off.
"Besides, thanks to the knock on my head, I got my first solid sleep in months. I owe you for that; it was getting bad," Johnny said lightly. He paused, then, "Uh, Doctor Carruthers thinks she can help with that some more."
"Doctor Carruthers?" Roy asked. "You're talking to the shrink? Willingly?"
"Oh." There was a beat. "Well, I always knew you were a nut."
With that exchange of insults-slash-affection, something in the air changed. Eased. Hank had hope, real hope, things would be all right this time, and not just physically. He took a few steps back, tried to look like he hadn't been standing there for a good long while and approached the door. He rapped on the frame as he poked his head in. Both of his men turned to look at him.
"Roy, John," he said, "Thought I'd come see how you fellas were doing."
"Oh, hi, Cap, c'mon in," they both said in unison, then did a double take.