UNTIL THE BELL TOLLS
CHAPTER TWELVE: STILL HERE
He gasped as he woke up, feeling as if he couldn't get enough air. He searched around, seeking color, light, explanation. When he saw Charlie kneeling next to him, the Marshal pressing a hand to his shoulder, a smile on his face, Shea felt his whole body just relax.
"You okay?" Charlie asked, sounding very far away.
He gave a nod. Charlie's smile broadened, and he looked away. "What about you?" he asked then, to someone else. Shea let his head flop to the side so he could see who.
Ray was on the ground on the other side of Charlie, pushing himself up onto his elbows, one hand rubbing at his eyes.
"Yeah," Ray grunted, before collapsing back to the ground and rolling onto his back. "Mostly."
"Did we do it?" Shea asked, drawing Charlie's attention back.
Charlie gave a nod. "Yeah. The shelter contained most of the bomb's explosive force, and the other ones didn't go off at all. Building's still standing and everyone's fine."
Shea closed his eyes. "Good."
When he opened his eyes again, it was to the sensation of being moved. Blinking slowly, he registered that he was being slid into an ambulance on a gurney. It was weird—he knew he was the one being moved, but from this angle it felt like the ambulance was being backed up around him.
"Hey," Ray called.
Shea blinked again, and tilted his head towards the voice. Ray was sitting on a bench to his right, leg propped up and bandaged, and holding what looked like a rag to his head. He looked terrible.
"You look terrible," Shea croaked, deciding it needed to be said out loud. Ray just snorted.
"We still here?" Shea asked, tilting his aching head up to look out the back of the ambulance. He couldn't see much.
"Yeah. Be rolling soon."
"He and Erica have gone to retrieve Hughes."
"She arrived just as we were coming out. Told me that Lloyd was doing better, so she came to help us."
Shea nodded, and closed his eyes again as the pain in his head started to start messing with his vision.
"Hey," Ray said, and something in his voice told Shea he needed to open his eyes again. Against his better judgment, he turned his head to look at the other man and tried to ignore the way the room spun.
Ray wasn't looking back. He had his head down, his forehead puckered up like a prune. "Um…" The big man swallowed, face pinching with the motion. "About what you said earlier, about the team, and about me. I've been thinking on it, and—"
"Ray, stop." Shea frowned when Ray glanced at him. "Look, forget it. You and me? We're good. What you did, staying down there with me, having my back…." He cracked a tiny smile. "We're good," he said again.
Ray didn't break eye contact for a while, his face still pinched, but a little less so now. After a moment, though, he shook his head. "Nah. Not good enough." He looked down again. "You weren't wrong about what happened to Lloyd. About my part in that."
"No. Look, I, uh…I've been thinking about it. A lot. And one thing I know, I don't ever want to see one of you shot while on my watch again. If something I did, or didn't do, led to that happening, then I gotta fix that." Ray lifted his gaze to meet Shea's. "Okay?"
Shea wanted to laugh. It wasn't an apology. It wasn't even an acknowledgement of what Ray had actually done to get Lloyd shot, or everything that happened after, but…it was very Ray. And it was good enough. More than Shea had expected, actually.
Besides, if anyone knew what it was like to get in trouble for saying stupid ass things, and being judged because of it, it was him, Lloyd and Erica.
So he replied by offering a half smile. "Yeah," he said, and turned to look up at the ceiling. "Okay."
And he meant it. Because it was.
Erica crossed her arms, frowning as Hughes was wheeled down the hospital corridor, still alive, despite it all. He was a mangled mess, but more from Shea's handiwork than the bomb. His chances were poor. She wished they were non-existent.
"I know what you're thinking," Charlie said softly by her side. "And, me too."
She cracked a rueful smile, then asked, "Anything on Meredith Hughes and Madison?"
"Yeah. Before all hell broke loose, Shea got Hughes to admit that Meredith Hughes was in a building next to a bank. There's only one bank on the square opposite the Town Hall, so it was pretty easy to figure out which one. They found her about ten minutes ago—she should be on her way here."
Erica smiled brightly at that. "And Madison?"
"FBI figured that one out almost immediately after you found the hospital bombs. Turns out, he was still in his office. He never left it. Hughes tied him to his own office chair and positioned him so he could see the hospital, locked the office door, then wore Madison's hat and coat out of the building, hiding his face with a scarf. You can tell it's him if you look more closely at the security tapes, but no one had looked that close."
Erica's eyebrows lifted. "So we're done?" she asked.
"Yeah," Charlie said. "We did it. We're done."
Erica smiled thinly, crossing her arms more tightly. Weirdly, it felt a little anti-climactic. After all this…
"Detective Reed?" a voice called.
Erica blushed, and looked up at Charlie.
"Detective?" he repeated softly, a little nonplussed. Erica opened her mouth to explain, but by then, Dr. Nguyen had arrived, smiling brightly.
"Detective," the doctor said to her, "I'm so glad I spotted you, and that you're still here. I thought you might like to, uh, come see the reunion?"
Erica's eyes widened slightly. "Reunion?"
"Connor's mother was just brought in. They're taking her up to the fifth floor. I think both she and her son will want to thank you for what you've done." The doctor smiled brightly. "And they're not the only ones. This hospital also owes you a great debt for what you did."
Erica blinked a few times. "Uh…." She looked up at Charlie. "I…."
"She'd love to," Charlie said, smiling at her. "Lead the way, Doc."
Dr. Nguyen smiled again, and started walking. With an encouraging nudge from Charlie, Erica and he followed her down the hall to the elevators.
A few minutes later, Erica watched as Meredith and Connor Hughes held onto each other for dear life while all sorts of other people fluttered around them like moths. At one point, Meredith met Erica's eyes, and mouthed the words "thank you." Dr. Nguyen thanked her with a hug, and then other people came up to shake her hand. Erica just nodded, dumbstruck by it all.
"You know," Charlie whispered in her ear after the well-wishers had finally left, "the title 'Detective Reed' suits you. Something to consider, when you get out."
Erica blushed, but couldn't help feeling a huge swell of pride at that, even though part of her felt that it could never happen, not after what she did. Still, as she watched Meredith and Connor together, she wondered how she could have ever thought this moment would be anticlimactic.
A day later, both Ray and Shea were being released from the hospital. Shea let himself be wheeled by a nurse to the doorway outside Lloyd's room, and grinned slightly at seeing Ray sitting in his own wheelchair, scowling like a thundercloud. Charlie was standing by the door, looking through the window, and Erica was pacing up and down the hall, giving Charlie annoyed looks.
"What's up?" Shea asked, sending an arched eyebrow at Erica. "Something wrong?"
"No, no," she muttered, waving a hand at him. "No more than usual."
Ray shrugged. "She's mad because the kid she saved's in session with his mother, and Lloyd's asleep, so she's not going to say be able to say goodbye to either of them. The van's already here, apparently."
"I just…" Erica stopped pacing and crossed her arms. "I'd wanted to…you know…."
Shea nodded. "And you?" He looked at Ray. "What's your problem?"
Erica snorted. "The Doc gave him an earful about his leg. Something about wrecking her stitches."
"That woman's got something wrong with her," Ray muttered. "It's not like a did it on purpose."
Erica smirked, but Shea didn't have the heart. "Well, you can rest it now, make her happy," he said. Ray glanced at him, giving him a tiny, rueful smile. Shea returned it, and looked towards Lloyd's door.
"How long before he's moved to the prison infirmary?" he asked.
Charlie shrugged. "His doctor said it'd be a couple of days. He wants to keep a closer eye on him."
Shea frowned, looking up at Charlie. "Does that mean one of you has to stay up here as well?"
"Julianne already volunteered," Charlie replied, and Ray sighed heavily at the news. Shea just lifted his eyebrows, and tried not to smile. Charlie and Ray weren't stupid—they had to know Lloyd had feelings for the girl. He wondered if Julianne was aware of it.
"Volunteered, eh?" he said. Ray gave him a dark look. This time, he did smile. Why the hell not. "I'm just saying," he said, "could be a good thing, you know? For both of them. Julianne's getting over her fear of hospitals. Lloyd…gets prettier company than the two of you."
Ray was really scowling now, which only made Shea grin harder. He spotted Erica hiding a half smile out of the corner of his eye, her head down so the other two wouldn't see.
"Maybe I should stay with him," Ray said then, looking up at Charlie. "After all, I got some healing to do as well."
"Nah, I think you earned a break, Ray," Charlie replied, finally turning away from the window to look at the little group. "Actually, I think you all do. You guys really went above and beyond this time. And, trust me, it was noticed."
Erica straightened, and Shea leaned forward in his chair. "Meaning?" he asked.
"Meaning, I've arranged for you three to stay a couple of days at the same safe houses you stayed in after we caught Vega. I thought you could call your girl, Shea, and Erica, I've already arranged for your daughter to have a the next two days off school."
Erica gasped, covering her mouth. Shea had gotten to his feet, eyes wide.
"You serious?" he asked.
"Do I ever joke?" Charlie replied.
Shea laughed, and Erica bounced over to hit him lightly on the arm, grinning now.
"And me?" Ray asked, frowning slightly.
"Your call. Use it or not. I'm thinking your daughter might want to miss a couple of days of school, though."
Ray flashed a tiny smile, leaning back in his chair.
"Someone else is going to be watching you, though," Charlie said. "I'm going on vacation."
Ray laughed, and Erica snickered. Shea plopped back down in his chair, shaking his head.
The smile faded, though, as he considered that, for nearly dying, all he was getting was a couple of days in a slightly nicer prison than his usual. He breathed out heavily, trying to shake off the feelings. He was going to see Vanessa. That brought the smile back to his face.
"And Lloyd?" Erica asked then. "After he gets out of hospital, will he also get those two days?"
"Uh…no," Charlie said, frowning slightly. "All I can really do is get him an extended stay here. If he wants it." He looked through the window again.
Shea frowned slightly, and stood up again. Moving to stand next to Charlie, he looked through the same window. On the other side, he could see Julianne sitting in the chair next to Lloyd's bed, her laptop on her lap. Every so often, though, she'd look over at Lloyd's sleeping form.
"Think Julianne may want to stay that whole time?" Shea asked softly.
Charlie's eyebrows lifted. "I'm sure she'll want to take her own break."
"You know Lloyd'll stay," Shea whispered, "if she does."
Charlie nodded. "I know. Not sure what I think about that, Shea."
Shea glanced at him, but couldn't fathom the expression on Charlie's face. It was concern, certainly, but also uncertainty. Shea had started having his own reservations, to be honest, though more for Lloyd than Julianne. Still….
"It's just a few days, Charlie," he said.
Charlie nodded, and then turned to look at Shea. Then he shrugged and stepped away so he could look at all three of them.
"Oh, and one other thing." He shrugged slightly. "The chief of police for Redkill wanted to express his thanks. He says…the whole department apparently says…that we're welcome back anytime."
Shea snorted. "Sure, I bet he—"
"Especially you, Shea. Said if you needed a place to go after you got out…." He shrugged.
Shea blinked. He had no answer to that. Charlie smiled, and then tilted his head towards the elevators.
"Right. The van's downstairs, to take you to the safe houses."
Erica was already moving towards the elevators, and Shea had walked over to join her when someone cleared their voice. He turned around, and lifted an eyebrow at the sight of an orderly tapping his chair. Sighing, he moved to sit down. Ray slumped in his chair as another orderly arrived to push him as well. Shea smiled at him, and Ray actually smiled back as the two of them were pushed together towards the elevator.
"Wanna race?" Shea whispered. Ray actually laughed.
Charlie looked one more time through the window, frowning as Julianne lifted her head to look back at him. He thumbed towards the elevators, and she nodded and then gave a wave of goodbye.
He sighed, and turned away. It's just a few days.
He tapped the phone in his pocket as he walked away. He'd tried to work another month off of the cons' sentences, but he'd been shot down. Didn't seem right. Knox had actually accused him of getting too soft on the cons, sternly reminding him that they were all criminals and their sentences had been handed down for a reason. These were not good people.
He wasn't sure what to think about that. Getting them a couple of extra days out of the prison had seemed a poor reward for what they'd all done. But Knox was right—he had to remember that each one of them had done something to put them in prison in the first place. He couldn't just ignore that. He couldn't.
He jumped when a bell rang nearby, someone's cell phone set to ring like string of chimes. He just breathed for a moment, listening to his weak heart pounding in his ears.
He was going to drink a lot on this vacation.
Julianne watched Charlie disappear, and the others as well. When they'd all gone, she looked over at Lloyd.
He was looking at her, blinking slowly, eyes soft.
She reached out and took his hand.
"Hi," she said. "I'm still here. And I'm not going anywhere for a while."
No man is an island, entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy own or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
John Donne – From Meditation #17
Thank you very much for reading! I hope you enjoyed it, and I would love to read your thoughts.