I wish to thank reader Tan Poh Keng from Archive of Our Own for providing me with some inspiration for this chapter.
Letting go of the dumpster, Serge found himself still unsteady. With a sigh, he leaned against a dirty brick wall. Though almost three decades had passed since he had started with the Philadelphia Police Department in this precinct, aspects of it had changed very little. The same buildings still lined the boulevards that had been well-kept and pristine in another century. But as time had progressed, the young, working class families that had patronized the area had slowly disappeared.
Best thing that ever happened to me was getting away from this bloody hellhole! Serge's lips twisted into a bitter smile as he crammed his hands into his pockets. So much of his life seemed tied into this neighbourhood's transformation. When the crimes had become more sinister, his patrols had gotten longer. Broken promises about attending Coop's Little League games had become the norm rather than the exception. By the time Coop was ten, Serge had stopped making promises to his family. The few times Serge did make it to events were rare, unexpected treats.
But for many years, Serge had surmised it hadn't mattered to his family. Elizabeth had grown away from him, becoming wrapped up in her own activities after Michael's death. Coop also hadn't seemed in need of him; after all, Serge's father had eagerly stepped into the role Serge had vacated.
"Come on, son. It's time to go," Serge had muttered testily. The shift that day in July 1951 had been a long double and Serge had had an extra cup of coffee before heading for home. But the effects had already ceased by the time he had reached his father's apartment.
Eight-year-old Sean studied his father's dark, wrinkled tie. "Aw, Pop. Do I gotta? Pop Pop was just gonna read to me!"
"Was just GOING to read to you, Sean!" William Cooper admonished from his easy chair. He shot Sean a stern look over his thick reading glasses. No grandson of his was going to develop lazy grammar or speech habits if he could prevent it.
"Sean, quit arguing with me! Your poor grandfather's been looking after you all day! This is the first evening I've had off in a week and your mother wants us both home for dinner! That's part of being a family, ya know," Serge mumbled. With a frown, Serge stole a glance around his father's den. A cramped space smelling of old, musty books, Serge failed to see the appeal the room held for his son. At home, Sean would every spare second outside, playing baseball or marbles with friends.
Seeing the cold look in Serge's eyes, Sean knew there was little point trying to discuss things further. His father never listened to him. With a sigh, Sean padded over to his grandfather. He began to hand back the worn copy of Macbeth his grandfather had asked him to fetch.
William pushed the book back at his grandson. "Sean, keep that. I want you to read Act I of that tonight. When you come here tomorrow, I'll have the test ready for you. Remember, I expect nothing less than one hundred percent!"
As Sean had given his grandfather a sharp nod, Serge's mouth had become set into a firm, cold line. Although he had only just completed second grade, Sean had already proven himself to be the able student his father never was. William Cooper had pounced upon his grandson's intellect hungrily. Although he knew it would be a struggle for Shakespeare's words to compete with baseball, William hoped, with the right encouragement, it would lead to Sean having a more fulfilling life than his own.
Now, the same, hard grimace was etched into Serge's face. It had been ten years since William had lost a brief, valiant battle with lung cancer. Though Coop had never spoken of it, Serge had sensed how his son had felt when suddenly deprived of his greatest mentor. Adrift on an unforgettable desert island with no knowledge of how to get back to the mainland. A way of being neither had been prepared for.
But what father is ever prepared to outlive their son? Serge certainly hadn't been when Michael had passed away. After the doctor had told him and Elizabeth their son had died that morning while they'd been at church, all he had known of fatherhood had been swept away. What he was still capable of was working and providing. Was it little wonder that the station had become his salvation before Michael's funeral had even occurred?
God. Serge felt his neck bend like a fragile stem. So many chances had arisen for him to draw nearer to the child he had still had. Even if they would never really understand one another like he and Michael had. Now it was too late. His son's body may still be resting at Penn General, but the person he had hoped to know had long since flown away.
Well…I can still do one thing. The bitter line was once again prominent as a chilly calm filled Serge's hollow resolve.
Feeling cozy beneath his quilt, Coop hesitated to open his eyes. Peaceful nights of sleep eluded him so often it was great to enjoy sleep for a change.
"Coop?" a soft voice called.
Sighing, Coop opened his eyes. Confusion flooded his features when he spotted Danny seated mere feet away.
Leaning forward on the blue vinyl chair he had dragged from the kitchen, a relieved grin came to Danny's face. He had begun to think Coop would never come to.
Sitting up, Coop felt like his head had been invaded with a dozen heavy rocks. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs.
"Feeling better, now?" asked Danny, offering Coop the glass of water he had fetched for himself.
Coop drained the glass before answering Danny. He couldn't remember his throat ever feeling so dry. "What the hell are you going on about?" Coop muttered, clenching the glass between his fingertips.
Danny bit his lip, uncertain of how to bring up Coop's latest side trip. "Uh, you were just so tired when you got back I just led you in here. Figured you needed some sleep, Coop. You remember any of that?"
Coop shook his head and put the empty glass on the side table beside his broken alarm clock. "No. I sure as hell remember everything else, though!"
Danny sighed, hoping there were parts Coop had forgotten.
Coop got to his feet and turned his back on Danny. He made his way over to the window and stared outside into his backyard. Aside from the grass needing cutting, he was proud of the resurfacing job he had done on his concrete patio. "You'd better have a good explanation for that shit you guys just put me through, Danny!"
"Coop, it's nothing we put you through. Not specifically, anyways."
Crossing his arms, Coop felt his mouth go hard. He turned to face Danny and couldn't help but feel satisfaction when Danny ducked his head. "Bullshit! You trying to tell me you got no explanation for…for…"
"The pain?" Danny interjected. He felt his heart sink when Coop gave him a quick nod. "Think of it this way, Coop. When you break a bone, it hurts, right?"
"Of course! But I don't see what that has to do with this!" Coop boomed. Hesitantly, he began to make his way towards Danny.
Danny's face went calm. It never ceased to amaze him how pressure transformed his meek personality. "Well, think about it. You got shot twice, Coop! And had who-knows-what injured. Did you think that once you got back it would be all wine and roses?"
Coop froze and lowered his head. Hell no! Nothing is ever that easy for me! "I guess…I guess I just didn't think it would be so hard," Coop admitted, taking a seat on the bed. His stubborn anger had fled so quick Coop began to wonder just how much of himself would make it through this whole ordeal intact.
Danny sighed and paced over to the window. The calm summer day staring back at him had to be the biggest farce of recent memory. "I did warn you it wouldn't be easy. That you wouldn't just be hopping out of bed and that everything would be perfect."
"I know," Coop whispered. "But...I know I can handle it."
"You can," Danny affirmed to the window. "There's a lot of stuff I can't tell you, Coop. Partly because of the rules I'm bound to and partly because there are a lot of things I'm still trying to understand about all this myself. But I do know the Boss doesn't pick weak people to endure this sort of thing." Danny turned away from the window and made his way back over to Coop. "So what I do know the reward you get at the end of all this will be worth what you're going through now."
Coop began chewing a fingernail. It seemed strange such a nervous habit was popping up now after all of what he had experienced the past day-and-a-half. But one of his greatest fears refused to be suppressed any longer.
Danny permitted himself a tight smile. "I haven't seen you do that since that best of seven final game."
Coop grinned. Pitching that no hitter in the final game of a hotly contested series remained one of his greatest memories. "It's just…I hate seeing Ma looking the way she did. Is there no way you guys can make this easier for her?"
Danny shook his head and scuffed a shoe along the carpet. "A mother's love is something we don't any have control over."
Coop sighed and flopped back onto the bed. "I guess that that'll be over soon enough. I bet that's what you're trying to tell me, ain't it?"
Danny's mind became foggy and he resolved to make himself a coffee once Coop had cleared things up for him. "You're going to have to help me on this one. Because I really have no idea what it is you're trying to say."
"Nothing," Coop muttered, beginning to stare at the ceiling. He hoped the blankness above his head would now seep into his subconscious and devoid himself of all feeling.
"Is that all you're gonna eat, Elizabeth?"
Looking up from the greasy, styrofoam container, Elizabeth nodded. The shepherd's pie Jimmy had brought up from the hospital cafeteria tasted like cardboard. It had been an effort to swallow down even two mouthfuls.
Wordlessly, Jimmy got to his feet and gathered up both the containers. Tossing them into the small bin near the door, Jimmy hoped he would keep down what he had consumed. The grey lumps of meat had been greasy, the corn and potatoes tasteless, but they had gone a long way towards filling up the pit in his stomach.
Take a quick sip of the stale coffee Jimmy had bought, Elizabeth shifted her way back to Coop's bed. She slipped her hand into his and brushed hair away from his forehead. She still found it hard to believe how things had gone full circle. All I wanted was for you to be awake, sweetheart. That seemed the answer to all our prayers. But all I want now for you is to not hurt…God… Tears formed in Elizabeth's eyes. But she welcomed them, hoping the salty water would ease the burning that refused to cease.
Rubbing his eyes, Jimmy kept his eyes on the floor as he came behind Elizabeth. Looking at Coop too long reminded him of the pain that had twisted his friend's battered face only an hour before.
A black hole had formed in the back of Jimmy's mind as he'd gone down to the cafeteria. He had already condemned himself as a weak, selfish man in the aftermath of Coop's shooting. He had since vowed to do whatever necessary to cleanse himself of that distinction should Coop make his way back to him. But Jimmy now wondered if begging God for Coop to endure pure agony for his sakes was just another act in the saga of his betrayal.
Seeing Elizabeth's tears, Jimmy stole back to the table at the foot of Coop's bed where they had tried to eat an early lunch. He grabbed a tissue from the box Nurse Taylor had given to him when, upon coming back to the ICU floor, he had realized that he had neglected to grab napkins from the cafeteria.
Ignoring the itchy throbbing from his lip, Jimmy offered the tissue to Elizabeth without a word.
"Thanks, Jimmy," Elizabeth whispered. She dabbed her eyes and crumbled the tissue.
Jimmy studied Elizabeth's exhausted face. He tried to remember the last time he had seen Elizabeth escape into even the briefest of dozes. But he couldn't. Jimmy put a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. "You're tired."
Elizabeth almost burst out laughing. Tired isn't the half of it! "I'm okay," Elizabeth whispered. "As long as Sean's alright, I am, too."
Trying to pretend he hadn't caught Elizabeth omitting Serge, Jimmy blinked hard. "I think it's time you took a break, Mrs. C- Elizabeth."
Elizabeth tried to gain bearings amongst the stress that had ground her wits into a pulp. "How on earth would I do that, Jimmy?"
Jimmy felt his cheeks go hot. "Ya know…go home for a bit…shower…change?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "I left the room once and look what happened! I'm not doing that again!"
Jimmy tried to remember what Father Mack had urged Elizabeth to do in that tense twilight in the waiting room. "You can't help Coop if you're not in good shape yourself." Jimmy's mouth went dry. "It's just…I think you'll feel better if you go home for a bit. Besides, Coop ain't gonna be by himself. I'll stay here." Though I get that isn't much comfort.
Elizabeth stared at the blue blanket that hid most of Coop's wounds. Jimmy's offer tempted her more than she cared to admit. Despite the bright white walls of Coop's room, the semi-darkness from the closed window blinds made the crapped room feel even narrower. Several times, Elizabeth had had to close her eyes and take a deep breath in fear she would pass out onto the hard linoleum floor.
Jimmy crammed a hand into his jeans pocket to keep himself from picking at his stitches. "At the very least, Elizabeth… go outside and get some fresh air. You've pretty much not left this room since we got here!"
Wearily, Elizabeth turned to face Jimmy. Jimmy had the uncanny ability to read a situation even without words being spoken. In a way, Jimmy almost reminded her of Michael; unlike his older brother, Michael had always approached new situations wearily. The only exception had been when balls were involved and Michael had become a fearless warrior. In this game they were now forced into, Jimmy was doing his best to bring them all to victory.
As Michael's hazel eyes vanished back into some distant recess, Elizabeth rose to her feet. All at once, she had to get away from the overpowering smells of antiseptics and the place that she had long since only associated with death; how Coop had managed to outwit it thus far was nothing short of miraculous.
"You going to go, then?" asked Jimmy softly.
Elizabeth nodded. "Just outside for a bit. I'd go home to change, but…I…"
"…left your purse at home," Jimmy finished. Jimmy began digging into his back pocket and almost grinned when he was successful in fishing out his wallet. He pulled out a ratty five dollar bill. "Here. Should be enough to get you there and back."
Elizabeth hesitated. "Jimmy…it's your own money…"
Jimmy shrugged. Very least I owe you guys. "It's fine. Sure beats you trying to walk. Probably hot as hell out there by now." Jimmy ducked his head and bit his tongue. You idiot! How could you curse in front of Coop's mother!
For her part, Elizabeth didn't seem to notice the slip of Jimmy's tongue as she took the money. "Thank you, Jimmy. You promise to stay here with Sean, no matter what?"
Jimmy nodded. "You got my word. No matter what that doctor says, I'm staying here 'til you get back, Elizabeth."
"Thanks, Jimmy," Elizabeth whispered. Her throat felt dry as she began to head to the hallway. She paused; just what way had they come up?
"Elevator's to the right," Jimmy called. He had shuffled over to the table to grab the newspaper he had bought in the small store next to the hospital cafeteria.
With a grateful nod, Elizabeth disappeared into the hallway and Jimmy found himself alone. Dr. Buchanan and a nurse Jimmy had not previously seen had performed Coop's vital check only twenty minutes before. Thus, Jimmy knew it would be a while before he and Coop were disturbed.
Rolling the paper up between his hands, Jimmy plopped himself down onto Elizabeth's vacated seat. Since he had previously been left alone with Coop, all his fears had done a one-eighty.
Placing the styrafoam containers at the foot of Coop's bed, Jimmy had wrestled a box of tissues and newspaper out of the crook of his elbow. Tossing them on the chair Father Mack had used, Jimmy had blown heat out of his fingertips. It had been a challenge hauling up all that he had purchased. But Jimmy had felt a sense of accomplishment that the waiter skills he had learned at eighteen were still intact.
Elizabeth's stomach had churned as the smell of meat had begun to mix with the antiseptics. Whatever she was still capable of feeling, hunger had long vanished from the equation.
"Got us some shepherd's pie," Jimmy mumbled, taking a swig of coffee. He frowned as stale bitterness filled his mouth.
"Thank you," whispered Elizabeth, her gaze shifting to Coop. After the pain she had watched him endure, her mind only rested when she saw her son's face had resumed its pale calm.
"How's he been?" asked Jimmy.
"The same. Just resting peacefully," said Elizabeth, stroking Coop's cheek. The stubble from Coop's beard pricked the back of her hand, but a tender smile formed in Elizabeth's tired face. No matter what the passage of time did, Sean would always be her little boy.
Jimmy nodded and he stared at the floor. Since heading down the cafeteria, something had been nagging at him. Despite the hell he had been forced to watch unfold before him, it had relieved Jimmy, too. "I'm glad he's resting. But it's good to know he's still fighting," Jimmy said quietly.
Elizabeth dropped her hand. "How do you mean, Jimmy?"
Jimmy sighed. He hadn't meant for Elizabeth to hear him. "I just mean…we know Coop's still fighting. It killed me to see him hurting like that, but at least I know Coop's still in there. Whatever happens now, Coop has to fight. He can't give up."
Elizabeth had put a hand to her mouth. "All Sean knows how to do is fight, Jimmy. He's never been able to stand losing."
So true. It doesn't matter how bad something looks or what he's told not to do. Coop's answer is always fight, fight, fight! And if that doesn't work, fight some more!
Jimmy studied Coop's face. In spite of cuts, feeding tube, and bandage, Coop had never seemed more handsome to him. Perhaps that was why doubt had haunted him until recently. Despite his words to the contrary to Serge, Jimmy had wondered just what his bitter words one late July night had left Coop's soul to fight for.
Jimmy gave Coop's cool hand a gentle brush. Whatever happens…you're not in this alone, buddy. I just hope you can forgive me someday. With a bite of his tongue, Jimmy unfolded the newspaper on his lap. Doing his best to avoid stories of the war or baseball, the print began to melt together as Jimmy's eyelids slipped shut.
Danny gave Coop a sharp poke on the cheek.
"Ouch! What the hell did ya do that for?!" Coop demanded, sitting up on his bed.
Sinking into crinkly blue vinyl, Danny shrugged. "Couldn't think of any other way to chase away the Master of Silence."
Coop's eyebrows knitted together. "Who's that?"
"Yup," Danny confirmed, rolling a cigarette between his fingers absently. "You always go quiet when you're sulking or thinking about something."
Coop studied hair on the back of his hands. "I wasn't sulking!"
"I know. Just another one of those demons trying to escape out your mouth, I bet,"said Danny. He began to reach for his lighter until the look Coop gave him froze his hand.
"Put that thing away, Danny." Coop didn't take care to hide the malice in his voice.
"Okay, okay. Keep your shirt on!" Danny mumbled, stuffing the cigarette back into its packet.
Coop smirked. He couldn't let this one slide. "You wish I'd take my shirt off for ya, Danny!"
Danny's face went beet red as he groaned. "And you know damn well I've never seen you that way!"
Coop chuckled. "I know it. I just couldn't let this one go by when you set yourself up so perfectly!"
Danny's face began to resumeits stoic façade. "Breaks the ice, anyways."
Coop ducked his head. "I got no idea what you mean."
"Sure you do. The secret sickness is never far from the surface when it makes up so much of who you are," Danny shot back drily. He arched his back over his chair and felt annoyance when it refused to release the tension in his spine.
"Hey! I don't think of us as sick!" yelled Coop, jumping to his feet and waving a fist menacingly.
"I know." Danny straightened up and gave Coop an appraising stare. "You came to terms with that a long time ago. But the fear's still there."
Coop sat down on the corner of the bed. "Danny, do you got any idea how stupid you sound right now? Let's recap what I'm going through! I've had Pop and Jimmy pretty much tell me I'm dead to them. I've got Ma worrying herself almost to death about me…"
"I know it!" Danny interrupted sharply. "But now you're scared you mother won't be worrying about you soon!"
Coop's body went numb. "Why the hell would I want that, Danny? It doesn't make any fucking sense!"
"Sure it does! Because if your mother is worried about you, it means she hasn't found out what you are!" Danny winced as he saw the colour drain from Coop's face, but made himself continue. "You're terrified that if she figures out what's going on between you and Jimmy, that that will be the end of what you two share," whispered Danny softly. Getting up, Danny took a seat beside Coop and swung an arm over his friend's hunched shoulders.
"You some sort of mind reader too, Danny?" Coop asked in a quiet monotone. He still couldn't quite grasp how Danny knew all his thoughts. But Coop was beginning to realize it was a deeper connection that either of them could understand. For all their differences, what had threaded him and Danny together ever since an accidental encounter had been the fears and desires Coop had done his best to pretend didn't exist.
"No. But give me a bit of credit here, Coop. I know exactly what you're going through. We both met our demises in a world of hate. Where we diverge is where you couldn't accept that it was all over!"
Coop swallowed and stared into Danny's intense light brown eyes. He shivered as he tried to shift out of Danny's grasp. He had almost forgotten Danny was dead, his body rotting away in some Milwaukee cemetery. If I'm sitting here talking to a dead guy…hell…does that mean I'm…
"You're alive, Coop. I promise," said Danny. "I know it's hard to wrap your head around when you're here again talking to me. But you know I wouldn't lie to you about this sort of thing."
"I know," Coop whispered, folding his hands together. "It's just…well…the only two people I've ever been able to rely on in my whole life were Pop Pop and Ma. Once Pop Pop died, I just had Ma left. You already know how I feel about Pop. I ain't getting into that again."
Danny nodded. There was time enough to talk about Brogan Cooper as Coop's new life continued to unfold. "I remember meeting your mother that one time. She's a great lady."
Coop looked at the rough weave of his jeans. "What am I gonna do when she's gone, Danny?"
Danny pursed his lips. "Well, I can't give you an exact date, Coop, but your mother won't be leaving Earth for quite some time yet."
Coop shook his head. "You got no idea what I mean, do you, Danny?"
Danny sighed. Didn't I just tell you this a few minutes ago, Coop. But you never listen to me right away. That's definitely not changed! "I know exactly what you mean, Coop. I said it already. You didn't absorb it, I guess. You think your mother's going to go the way of your father, don't you?"
Coop nodded. "She doesn't know yet. Otherwise, Ma wouldn't be in that hellhole crying over me. Doesn't she realize it ain't worth it once she knows the truth?"
Danny removed his arm from Coop and headed back to his chair. He let out a whistle as he began looking up at the ceiling. "No, your mother doesn't know the full picture. Yet. But she's more astute than you think her to be, Coop."
Coop let out an angry groan. "You know I hate it when you're cryptic like this!"
"The rules are unfortunately complicated, Coop. There's a lot of stuff I can't tell you. It's just things you're going to have to realize for yourself."
Coop began rubbing his eyes, his energy draining out of him like the last bit of water from a bathtub.
Once again, Danny helped Coop lean backwards until his friend's head was upon his pillow. "Anyways, going between two worlds is making you exhausted." Danny pulled the striped blue quilt up to Coop's shoulders. "Just take it easy for a while, okay, Coop?"
Without protest, Coop let his eyes close.
"Mm-hmm?" Jimmy mumbled, trying to make sense of where the loud voice and shaking was coming from. Was Elizabeth already back?
Coop took his left hand off Jimmy's shoulder and knelt in front of Jimmy. "Thought you'd never wake up!"
Jimmy's eyes widened in shock as he caught sight of Coop's vacant hospital bed. "Coop, what the fuck are you doing?!"
"What does it look like? Coop shot back, ripping his right arm out of its sling. His hand now free, Coop began to pull IV lines out of his left arm and hand.
"Coop, are you fucking insane..."
Coop put an index finger to Jimmy's lips. He smirked as Jimmy fell silent. "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Still worrying about everything, I see! Don't ya trust me to have taken care of everything?"
Jimmy's heart began to beat so fast that he wondered why he had yet to faint. If a doctor or nurse saw Coop…
Coop came back into Jimmy's line of vision, dressed in faded blue jeans and a black T-shirt. "Well, you ready to go?"
Jimmy felt his eyebrows shoot up. "Go where?"
"VEGAS?! What the hell are we gonna do over there?"
"Get married, of course!" Coop gave Jimmy another condescending grin. There was a good reason he was the smart one of the "Dynamic Duo."
"Married?! But I'm…I'm…"
"…already married and there's something about the law saying we can't, right?" Coop supplied, ripping a bandage off his face.
"Yeah." Jimmy's voice was barely audible.
"Why do you think we're going to Sin City? Everything else is legal there!"
Jimmy began to slide down in his chair. "But you can't leave here. You're…you're…"
"Been shot twice?" Coop shrugged and gave Jimmy a nonchalant shake of his head. "You think I'd let a small thing like that stop me?"
Jimmy gave his head a small shake.
"Didn't think so!" Coop leaned in and gave Jimmy a passionate kiss that took both of their breaths away. "Now quit talking and get your ass up here!"
When Jimmy didn't respond, Coop gripped Jimmy's wrist and pulled him upwards.
Jimmy's right leg stiffened just in time to prevent himself from crashing to the floor. His heart beating wildly, Jimmy wiped cold drool from his lips as he forced himself to look at Coop's bed. He began to calm when he spotted Coop still laying tucked under the blanket, sound asleep.
God, I'm finally beginning to crack! Licking his lip, Jimmy withdrew his tongue when the stitches began to throb, Jimmy picked up the newspaper that had slipped from his lap. He stole another glance at Coop's face. He closed his eyes and counted to three; it he hadn't known better, he would have sworn the corners of Coop's mouth were forming into a smirk.
Once certain his head was clear, Jimmy looked at Coop once more. He shook his head; Coop's lips hadn't budged. It was just lack of sleep and worry beginning to overtake what was left of his better judgment.
Trying to remember where he had left off reading, Jimmy began to flip through the paper idly. Then the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Jimmy sensed he was no longer in the room alone. But he couldn't recall hearing Dr. Buchanan's heavy, dragging footsteps padding up behind him . Turning around slowly, he tried to catch a glimpse of which nurse or doctor had made their way into the room this time. But no one was there to greet Jimmy's hazy eyes.
His hands began to tremble as Jimmy turned back around. The paper fell to his lap. Coop was staring back at him with a fiery, puzzled gaze.