There were times when the world looked better from the bottom of a glass. A nice St Emilion, a crisp Chardonnay, a warmed brandy ... these were pleasures, and ones he didn't usually deny himself (except what he really wanted).
This was nothing about denial. At least in the sense of booze. What he wanted to deny was that it had ever happened, that he had ever had her blood on his hands ...
The whiskey slipped down his throat like the last one had, and he tried to drown out the memories.
A funeral. Somehow he always thought they should be held in the pouring rain, mournful dark clouds echoing the sadness of the occasion, the pastor's voice occasionally obliterated by a roll of thunder. At least this time the weather had accommodated him, and he wished he felt justified as rivulets of water ran down his face to soak into his already saturated clothes. Martha had tried to get him to stay under the large umbrella she and Alexis were using for shelter, but he'd politely (always polite, more so now) declined.
She'd shaken her head at him, but hadn't pressed it. It was as if she knew that if he stood out in the rain long enough maybe he'd be able to cry.
Last time she'd been beside him, given the task of carrying Roy Montgomery to his last resting place among the heroes (no-one needs to know about this, and they'd stuck by it). Right up to the eulogy where she spoke about making a stand, and finding someone to stand beside her ... then she'd looked at him. Looked at him, as if it was for the first time, and she was accepting who he was.
If only he'd been quicker. If he'd known what the reflection meant, had put himself in the way of the bullet ... only he'd been too slow (always too slow).
The coffin felt heavier than the one before, which was crazy. He, Ryan and Esposito and three other cops (two were the same – only she was missing) had found it that much harder to carry, and as the rain drummed on the lid he wondered if he was ever going to be able to leave.
Yet all too soon (too long, too late) it was over, and Jim Beckett stood alone by the graveside, the carefully triangulated flag in his hands. Her father had aged a millennia in just a few days, and he didn't know what to say to him. People drifted away, some still sobbing quietly, and the overt police presence around the edges thinned and vanished (nobody was taking a chance this time – but that empty horse had already bolted).
He was the last to leave (almost), and only when Alexis tugged on his arm. The big black limousine had taken them quickly from the cemetery, but he couldn't stop looking back, seeing the man he was desperate to apologise to, but didn't have the words, still standing watch, lost amongst the tight-lipped dead.
The drive back was silent, but as they approached the loft, he told the driver to wait while his family got their cases. It was a measure of the shock they were all still in that neither Martha nor Alexis argued too much, at least not about going out of town.
"Darling, come with us," Martha almost pleaded. "It won't be good for you to be by yourself."
"I'll be fine." He dredged a smile up from somewhere. "Honestly."
He took her hand in his. "Please, Mom." The depth of his emotion was clear in the so rare use of that term. "For me."
Martha had grumbled a little for the sake of form. "You know, if you just want time to yourself Alexis and I could always go and stay with Sabrina Wells. At least we'd still be in the city if you needed us."
"And have you and your old chorus line buddy complete Alexis's education far too quickly?" he joked (flat and not funny). "Sabrina'd have her making cocktails before you could blink."
"Everyone woman should know how to mix the perfect Mai Tai."
"It'll happen soon enough. And you both need a break."
"So do you."
"I'd only take it with me."
She'd sighed, pouted, then given in, recognising his stubbornness as something inherited.
Alexis, her long red hair tied back but gently curling from the damp air, just nodded. She knew her father, and when he was like this there was no point in trying to talk him out of it.
He'd waited until they were packed, the cases safely stowed, before hugging them both tightly. "Be good," he advised.
"And you call every day," Martha said firmly. "Or we'll be right back."
"No. You stay in the Hamptons until I ... until it's time." He pulled his daughter to him. "And not too much studying."
"Dad, the school might have been lenient, but I still have tests to take. And if Stanford calls ..." She stopped, aware of how sore the point still was (but not agonising like some things).
"It's okay, angel," he said, squeezing gently. "It's okay."
She looked at him, her old soul so obvious in her clear blue eyes, and he wondered when she'd grown up quite this much.
He'd watched until the car had disappeared around the corner, and only then allowed his shoulders to fall. Hurrying upstairs, he kicked his shoes away and stripped the now hated black suit and shirt from his body, throwing them into the corner with as much force as he could muster. He resisted the urge to stay in just his underwear, instead tugging on the t-shirt and soft pants he slept in, one of his many striped robes going on top.
The TV in the study went on full blast (good job he'd paid out for the extra soundproofing when Claudia had remodelled the place – God, was it really that long ago?), and five flavours of ice-cream were soon lined up on the kitchen counter. Except he wasn't listening, and only one or two spoonfuls were consumed before he lost interest. Ice-cream, the raunchy music video playing ... none of it was enough, not when he didn't want to forget, but to not remember.
He was more than halfway through the bottle of scotch before he realised that ice-cream and videos also didn't leave him with a hangover, but it was too late by then. And it still wasn't enough.
It replayed, over and over, like an old-fashioned record stuck in a groove.
I love you. I love you.
He wished with all his heart he hadn't said it, hadn't given her a reason to live that she hadn't taken. Then he wouldn't have to realise that it would never be enough.
Slopping another two fingers of amber liquid into his glass (have to wipe that up later) he tossed it back and wondered when he was going to start feeling the effects.
Someone knocked on the door.
"Go away!" he shouted, but they couldn't have heard over the TV, because whoever it was knocked again, louder this time, more persistently, like an incontinent tap dancer.
Muttering about why they couldn't leave him in peace he managed to lever his body out of the soft armchair, steadied himself, then walked in a mostly straight line to the front door. He flung it open, proclaiming loudly, "Whatever you're selling, I'm not buying."
He blinked hard, having to concentrate to see clearly. "Maggie?"
A.N.: Okay, folks, before you all decide never to read any more of this, just hear me out. Maggie is only making a cameo, as you will see from the next chapter when the story really gets going. There is a reason she has to be here (as James Patterson was busy writing his next epic and didn't return my calls) and I hope it all makes sense as you continue. For those who don't know this OC, Maggie is an old friend of Rick's from his college years who is also a writer. She was in love with him for a long while, but is now with James Congreve (who you'd know if you'd read Blow The Man Down!).
Believe me, this story is about Rick, Kate and their relationship, not someone else's.
Oh, and the chapters will get longer, too!