Right of Way 7
Author's Note: This is the end of this story. Response thus far has been of a far more encouraging and complementary nature than I had expected. If this story reaches its intended ten review target, I will continue to write and publish Awake related fiction. I have an idea for another story called Aftermath which would chronicle how I imagine the second season of the show would go. If started and positively received, Aftermath would run to a total of 10,000 words. This however is for a future that has not yet come to pass. Right now, this story needs a conclusion.
Recap: Michael Britten finds himself working cases with a haunting similarity, aside from a reversal of victims in both realities. Doctor Lee believes solving this case will lead to Michael finally accepting his son's death, but Michael is not too keen on the idea of totally losing Rex. As both cases gather momentum, Michael finds himself trying to use details from one reality to aid the speed of the investigation in the other. However, now their main suspect, Enrique Espinosa has been found dead in the red reality, derailing the theory Michael and Vega had worked out and forcing them to rethink their approach.
What happens next in the green reality brings Michael closer to an answer to his own predicament than he ever thought possible…
Here is the grand finale to Right of Way.
Michael had been staring at Espinosa's bullet-riddled corpse on the veranda for almost ten minutes. It seemed entirely implausible that a man as prolific and careful as Enrique Espinosa, supposedly Colombia's biggest crime lord, would be gunned down so easily. Judging from a brief glance of the entry and exit wounds, the businessman had been shot five times at almost point-blank range with large calibre bullets, probably from a semi-automatic like a Desert Eagle or a Magnum Colt, two of a sizable collection Espinosa owned. There was no sign of forced entry onto the property, no missing items and no evidence that suggested this attack was motivated by anything else but revenge. Rico Maldonado's disappearance was a big part of this, firmly placing the guilt and suspicion on his absent shoulders, but somehow Michael felt there was far more to this situation than it seemed.
"What are you thinking, Boss?" Vega asked after completing preliminary interviews with several of Espinosa's employees. Michael turned to look at the younger man with serious doubt etched across his face.
"It looks like Rico shot his boss and fled."
"But why? Espinosa has beaten the charges time and time again for over twenty years; what's to say this time will be any different?"
"Maybe Espinosa was going to make him the scapegoat to save his own skin. Maybe Rico had a deeper personal issue with Espinosa than we thought. Maybe he just went nuts. It's impossible to tell from this."
"What did the witnesses have to say?" Vega shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
"Nobody saw what happened. They heard the gunshots, rushed outside and found Espinosa already dead. Nobody saw any sign of the killer or the murder weapon." Michael blinked.
"How is that possible?"
"That's just what they're sticking to. Judging from the fear in their eyes, I'm guessing they were coerced into making those statements. I say we bring in the weakest one and get them to give us the truth."
"You think traumatising a victim of homicide is good policing?" Vega tightened his jaw as an instant response exited his lips.
"Do you want to get this guy or not? If it turns out to be Maldonado who did this, we're dealing with a serial killer. He needs to be stopped." Michael couldn't argue with that. His partner was not a stupid man nor would be suggest something without careful consideration. He nodded at his companion.
"Okay, who's the canary?" Vega directed his attention to a fragile but beautiful-looking Hispanic woman in her mid-twenties huddled in a group with six others.
"Miss Dominguez, I'm Detective Britten and this is my colleague Detective Vega. We need to ask you a few questions about the statement you made to police." Michael began as the three of them sat in Interrogation Room One. The young woman was already tense before even opening her mouth. When she spoke, her words shook with anxiety.
"But I already tell them everything I know."
"Yes, but we think there's more to this than we're seeing. We think you know who did this and why."
"But I already tell…"
"Does he have your family?" Vega said to interrupt her. Dominguez froze as the younger man's piercing question seemed to reach deep into her soul. She was silent for several minutes in the aftermath. Finally she spoke.
"I don't wanna say anything about Senor Espinosa." The quality of her voice had deteriorated further and she seemed on the verge of tears. Both Michael and Vega were nothing but sympathetic to her condition. Vega tried to assure her of the facts.
"Luisa, if Espinosa has hurt you in the past, if he has hurt your family or threatened you, it doesn't matter anymore; Enrique Espinosa is dead." Dominguez only bowed her head, shaking it a few moments later. What she said next stunned her companions.
"No, he isn't."
"That man wasn't Enrique Espinosa." The two men exchanged baffled expressions at this startling announcement. Michael leaned over the desk.
"What do you mean?" Halfway through that sentence, Dominguez had started to cry. When she managed to speak, it was barely intelligible through heavy sobs.
"I don't wanna say anymore."
"Rico Maldonado is the REAL Enrique Espinosa." Vega informed his partner, who was less than impressed they were learning of this just now.
"How the hell did we miss this?" The younger man shrugged haphazardly.
"The guy was good at covering his tracks and had a great frontman for his operation, the real Rico Maldonado. If Luisa hadn't said what she did, we could've missed this. When you look at all the evidence together, it actually makes a lot of sense. Essentially, around thirty years ago, the two men swapped identities with Espinosa posing as Maldonado while continuing to operate his criminal empire in Colombia. You've got to admit, it's a pretty smart idea."
"So why waste the man if he's such a good smokescreen? It doesn't make any sense."
"It's possible Espinosa didn't kill him."
"And what? He just decides to flee anyway?"
"All we know is we can't find him, not that he's left the country. And if he's such a proficient killer, why hire Burgan in the first place? Why didn't he simply do the job himself?"
"There are way too many holes in this case." Michael said allowing his eyes to close. It helped block out distractions. Vega's voice seemed to amplify in the dark.
"So we need to plug them. What do you suggest?" The older man considered, but could only find himself concentrating on one person, someone who probably could not add to the investigation. He opened his eyes.
"Maybe Alex King can help." Vega looked entirely unconvinced, but his reply caught his companion by surprise.
"You really feel for this kid, don't you?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm just saying it's nice to see you giving up your time for a kid that's completely alone and vulnerable at the moment. He needs someone right now." It was clear Vega was far more intuitive and understanding about such delicate matters than Michael gave him credit for. When he spoke, the veteran made his feelings clear.
"I just want to get him justice, Efrem." Vega nodded.
"We keep going like this, and we will, Michael. I guarantee it."
Alex King was happy to see Michael again. In fact, inside the youth was overjoyed, but he kept that to himself. Things had been different in the last few days as the reality he would never see his parents again finally sunk in. His foster family were nice, but not all that great at talking to him. He had to change schools and now went to a public high school, even though his tuition fees were paid through to the end of the year. Everyone at the new school wanted to be nice, but he really didn't care for it. He just wanted things back to the way they had been only four or five days ago. He wanted to wake up in his own room, walk into the kitchen and have breakfast with his parents as usual. It was a dream he wished he could escape to and never have to leave. He told Michael as much. The man could sympathise more than Alex could ever truly appreciate.
"I know it hurts now, Alex. But after a while, you will start to feel better."
"They want me to see a therapist." The teenager said bitterly.
"They make me do the same." Alex widened his eyes in surprise at the man's answer.
"Really? What do they ask you?"
"Just how you feel and how your day's going. They only want to help you get over whatever's bothering you."
"So long as they don't want to hypnotise me or something."
"Hypnotise?" Michael couldn't help grinning at that idea. Alex, seeing this reaction, smiled too.
"Yeah, that was pretty dumb."
"It's fine. I actually came here to give you an update on the case." The smiles faded from both their faces, the light-hearted moment erased from memory as their reason for being in that situation reared its ugly head. Alex looked at him expectantly.
"You've arrested Espinosa?"
"No. But we're practically on top of him now. The problem is he's gone into hiding. I thought he might've left the country, but my partner's not so sure. Did your research ever turn up any properties in the LA county area owned by Espinosa?"
"No, but maybe Justiceseeker41 knows a few places."
They went on Alex's laptop and found the chat forum almost immediately. Michael had purposely avoided the more confusing aspects of the investigation because Alex didn't need to know the finer details of what was going on. It would likely do more harm than good to know the man who was responsible for killing his parents was practically invisible in a crowd. Fortunately, Justiceseeker41 was online and in the mood to talk. Michael wasted no time in getting straight to the heart of the matter, explaining he was a police detective and needed to know if there were any addresses in the city owned by Espinosa to which he would flee in a crisis. There was a long delay.
Justiceseeker41: Not to worry Detective Britten. Soon Mr Espinosa will no longer be a problem in this lifetime.
KING_alex: What do you mean?
Justiceseeker41: I will take care of him for you. No need for thanks.
KING_alex: Was it you who shot Maldonado?
Justiceseeker41: Goodbye Detective.
Justiceseeker41 has left the chat room.
Both Michael and Alex sat there in stunned silence. After a while, the teenager shrugged his shoulders and spoke casually.
"Looks like this guy's going to do your job for you."
"Alex, he's going to kill him."
"So? It's not like he doesn't deserve it."
"But it's not right. We have to show them we're above stooping to their level to get results."
"But sometimes it's okay to kill people." Michael pressed a hand down firmly on the youth's shoulder.
"It is NEVER okay to kill, Alex, never."
Michael and Vega worked incredibly quickly. They traced the IP address of the profile name and found a Juan Dominguez on the other end, identified as Luisa Dominguez's uncle. Instead of going straight for the home address listed on at the DMV, Michael concentrated on the vehicle Dominguez drove. It was an old BMW with a faded blue paintjob and distinctive license plate registration. A short call to all patrolling cars in the city, citing the key features of the car, turned up a sighting on a secluded industrial area within ten minutes. Within fifteen minutes, Michael and Vega were on route, having ordered the sighting patrol car to secure the building it was situated outside. They were only two minutes out when the reporting officers called shots fired over the radio.
When they arrived on scene, they found everything as expected. Enrique Espinosa was slumped face-down in a pool of his own blood with his hands and feet bound tight. Juan Dominguez was already in handcuffs, his weapon of choice already in an evidence bag for ballistics. The man did not look upset or tortured in the slightest. The only thing present on Dominguez's face was immense satisfaction. He had been planning this for a while.
"What do you mean he just walked in?" Michael asked Bird in complete and utter disbelief of the man sat in their interrogation room. Ronald Burgan had apparently been sitting there for the last hour, ready and willing to talk about everything. Bird just shrugged his shoulders.
"He just walked in, Michael. At seven this morning, Burgan came to the front desk and turned himself in for the King boy's murder. He says he'll sign a full confession. I thought I'd wait until you got in to interview him properly." Michael didn't like this, not a bit. It was all too easy now. After the nightmarish set of twists he'd found in the other reality, the multiple homicides and the bitter man who put the final nail in the coffin, the idea Burgan would close it for them without any fanfare was hard to swallow. How could it be that simple a solution? They were talking about a major criminal investigation, not a convenience store hold-up. Michael sighed.
"What are we looking at here, Bird?"
"The end of the case, Mike. So shall we go in and close it properly?"
Ronald Burgan seemed a lot bigger sitting up rather than lying down to Michael as they entered the room. The big man was amazingly built for someone of his size, easily around three-hundred-and-thirty pounds and had adopted a very relaxed demeanour despite his surroundings. As the two officers sat down, Michael noted Burgan had dispensed with his green contacts, displaying the dark quality of his own brown eyes. Bird opened proceedings.
"Mr Burgan, this is my colleague, Detective Britten. Now that we're all here, let's hear it all from the top."
"It's like I said, I want to confess to killing that King boy. I also want to put the man who hired me to do it behind bars. Guy never told me it was the kid I was meant to waste." Burgan spoke in a deep, but casual tone of voice devoid of any real regret over his actions. His explanations seemed so feeble to Michael that man could not help but scoff.
"What because you have morals?"
"Hey, look man, I ain't no damn angel and I'm at peace with that, but I don't want to known as a guy who iced a kid because he was told to." Michael disagreed.
"You didn't stab Alex King five times in the chest by accident, Burgan."
"It was dark and it happened in a second."
"And the rag you stuffed in his mouth to stop him crying out? Was that done in a second too?"
"Hey man, what do you want from me? I'm confessing to the crime AND I'm giving up the guy who hired me."
"Yeah, you are, but don't pretend like you didn't know you were killing a child at the time. And you had better give us something concrete on your employer because we can convict you on our own; we don't need your confession to shut the door on that." Bird shot his partner a glance that to an outsider would seem casual, but in their world actually meant do we really need to go this hard on him? Michael didn't even see his companion's glance; his eyes were fixed on their self-confessed hitman and were not liable to move any time soon.
As Burgan began to speak, Michael still found his sudden presence and assistance in this investigation difficult to grasp. Burgan confessed to everything that both men had suspected of him doing from forensic evidence found at the scene. He had canvassed the house and grounds when acting as the fake Espinosa's chauffeur and had made several subsequent trips in the two weeks leading up to the murder. He entered the house through the back door, using lock picking tools supplied to him by his employer. He scoured the house looking for the ledgers, unable to gain access to King's office using just his tools. So he went upstairs and entered the first bedroom he came to, Alex's room. After a ruckus and brief struggle, Burgan killed Alex and, upon realising it was just a teenager, fled the property and had been hiding out until that morning. The final details didn't wash with either Michael or Bird. After a little pushing, Burgan revealed he had tried to force Alex to give him the whereabouts of the office keys, but could not sway him. Espinosa had wanted to send King a message, so Burgan followed orders and killed Alex. Michael was both satisfied and disgusted with the truth.
After the preliminaries were over and the signed confession was completed, they progressed onto Espinosa. Burgan gave them dates, facts and figures and gave both his companions the impression he was far more involved than either of them had realized. He informed them he had been employed on and off by Espinosa for almost five years, sometimes as a hitman and other times as a mere enforcer or bodyguard. He also had possession of a remarkable memory, recalling meetings and appointments from years ago in perfect clarity. After ten minutes of relaying information to them, Michael and Bird realized they had struck gold. With Burgan's testimony and the locations of hidden bodies around the city, they could put Espinosa behind bars permanently without any possibility of parole, no matter how good his defence team. And yet, it still seemed wrong to Michael. Everything about what was transpiring in this investigation, especially in comparison to the other, was just too straightforward and sequential. It was too easy, but was also more than that…it was unreal…
And there it was. For the first time since this all began Michael questioned this world's reality. He was a veteran police officer with twenty years of experience; if there were ever a perfect solution to a crime, a chatty career criminal with ties to the main suspect and a wealth of intelligence about them was it. It NEVER happened, not ever. People like Burgan did NOT grow a conscience overnight. Even by turning over Espinosa, Burgan would still receive a life sentence. The only reprieve he had accomplished for himself was avoiding the death penalty. It made better sense to make a run for the border than give up your freedom. But this current situation, Burgan turning up alive and willing to tell-all, was exactly what MICHAEL had wanted to happen. He had even daydreamt about the possibility during the case. So for it to happen and to occur so conveniently AFTER he had wrapped up the investigation in Hannah's world was a little too idyllic to be believable. All the credit this reality had built for itself had been unravelled by this one case being more akin to a half-finished colouring book than a police investigation, particularly in the closing stages which had progressed like a cheap plot development in a B movie as if to save time . The whole investigation felt irreproachably cheapened by this unexpected and lazy twist. All Doctor Lee's comments finally made sense and Michael felt like a fool for ever believing otherwise. The only thing that now seemed to have any substance was Rex…but Michael was no longer sure on that either.
"We just got word that Espinosa and Maldonado have fled the country on a private jet." Bird informed Michael after putting in the calls. The man nodded having expected something along those lines. It was bad plotting all around.
"Of course they have. I don't expect they'll be coming back to the states anytime soon with Burgan's evidence." Bird clapped him supportively on the back.
"We'll get him next time, Michael; it's only a matter of time." Michael didn't care about that anymore.
"Yeah sure. What time is it?"
"Perfect timing to go see the shrink."
"Tell me exactly what you mean, Detective." Doctor Evans said genially as she lay back in her chair. Michael made a brief gesture by opening his hands and shrugging his shoulders.
"I'm no longer confused, Doctor. I know which reality is real and which isn't." He replied. His companion did not look even mildly surprised by this potentially titanic announcement. She smiled before gesturing at him with an open hand.
"Really? I suppose that Doctor Lee has finally convinced you that this reality is the false one?" Michael tilted his head to one side and shrugged again.
"It makes more sense than the other way round. I see that now."
"Why don't you explain exactly how you arrived at such a definitive decision? When did you become sure of this reality's lack of credibility?" Despite being faced with a patient who did not believe she existed, Doctor Evans did not seem defensive or on edge in the slightest. It was almost as if she did not care whether he considered her real or a figment of his imagination, a trait that Michael thought only strengthened his position. He appeased her.
"The two identical cases I've been working, the ones concerning the Kings. Don't you think it's strange that I would begin working that case in Hannah's world and then, days after finding NO cases waiting for me here, I start working on the exact same case except with Alex King dead instead of his parents? Don't you think that it's a little too convenient that Alex is the same age as Rex and was killed by violence not of his own making? And don't you think it's odd that every time I questioned David King I got the answer I was expecting every single time? All the dots here fit together a little too perfectly; the whole thing is just too neat to be real. Then there's the new development where we found Burgan alive and Espinosa had fled the country before we had a chance to question him? In the other world, Burgan and Espinosa are both dead. And Burgan himself? The man gave us all the gold standard for answers to our interrogation. He sold out Espinosa, fingered him as the guy who hired him to kill Alex, and would sign a statement and confession to that effect. Meanwhile, in Hannah's reality, Espinosa's been murdered by his supposed servant 'Rico' who was killed by a vengeful father of one of the man's victims."
"And all these 'clues' you speak of have led you to make this conclusion? So this world I inhabit, that your son inhabits and that you yourself frequent on a day-to-day basis, is all just a dream? Do you honestly believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that none of this exists?" Doctor Evans had yet to raise her voice or show a flash of any emotion other than sympathy throughout her rebuttal, a measured response as usual. Michael bit back.
"I know the difference between a real investigation and the ones they show you on procedural shows; this case I've been working here is not real. The suspects are too cooperative, the motives behind it are too simple and the whole feel of the way it's developed are just wrong. There are no homicides in my twenty-year law enforcement career with an ending like this. It just doesn't fit." Doctor Evans nodded, almost as if she were inclined to agree with him. What she proposed next chilled Michael to the bone.
"So, Rex is dead then? Your son is nothing but a corpse in the ground, rotting into obscurity as we speak, or dream as you believe. Is that something you can live with, Detective Britten? The boy you raised for fifteen years, the child you loved with every fibre of your being, is dead and beyond your reach? I suppose that he, by the same logic you just applied to your current case, did not 'fit' either. I mean your son's grief and longing for his mother, the way he reacted following her death and your relationship with him now, they're all just part of your imagination, right? You made it all up to appease your guilt. Otherwise, how else could you explain his presence?" Michael was rendered speechless by how callous a stance the psychiatrist had taken in regards to Rex's tangibility. But she was only suggesting what he would face in accepting the concept Hannah's reality was real. An image of the boy's casket being interred into the ground raced across his mind and made him shudder.
"I have to stick to my guns, Doctor. Like you keep saying, I can't have it both ways; I need to make a choice and I'm sticking to it. This place isn't real. Rex is d…."
"Let me tell you something about reality, Michael. Reality is an unpredictable and crazy place to be part of. When the unexpected happens, when certain individuals or environments are taken from us without warning, we want to believe it isn't real, that it is imaginary because it helps us cope. When I tell you Hannah is dead, I don't want to see you break down or get angry. I just want you to understand that you're not going to be forced to deal with it on your own. That's why I'm here. That's why your son IS here. And that's why I'm going to convince you this world is real before you leave this office. I don't want to sign the paperwork that says you need intense psychiatric treatment. I don't want you to lose the job and the life you cherish so much over a fantasy's lures. So let's take another look before we go around accusing people they don't exist."
Rex Britten was sat in the kitchen, gulping down a pitcher of water. Physical conditioning sessions for the tennis team were definitely getting tougher. The six-mile run that started around the track and then moved to the fields surrounding the tennis courts had taken him to the limit of his endurance. Now he was drenched in sweat and struggling to get his body under control, despite it almost being forty minutes later. His father had not shown up to take him home so he'd just grabbed a ride with Tara. The teenager had already made plans with Emma for meeting up tomorrow afternoon, deliberately avoiding doing anything tonight so he could recover. He did not want her seeing him so gassed; it was NOT a great look for him on any level. His mom used to think it was adorable seeing him exhausted, but he had never agreed with her on that point. He definitely needed some fitness tips off his dad. As if by fate, the moment he finished that thought, the man himself wandered through the front door. He was carrying Chinese takeaway.
"So how was work?" Rex asked as he sucked down more egg-fried noodles from his carton. Michael shrugged as he finished off his portion of sweet and sour chicken.
"It was okay. I feel like I learned a lot today from the case I closed."
"Yeah? What did you learn?"
"You know, just to ignore the little details and focus on the big ones. Somehow, you know, the investigation makes more sense if you dismiss all the unexplained and little weird points as anomalies." Rex frowned at him, offering up an unconvinced smile.
"That doesn't sound like good policing."
"Sometimes it's not always about the facts; sometimes it's about the feel of things that steers you in the right direction." Rex seemed to accept this and shrugged.
"I suppose as long as you close the case, it doesn't make much of a difference, huh? Your boss is going to happy, right?"
"Yeah. And what's your story? What's with the clothes? You take a bath in them or something?" The teenager rolled his eyes.
"How old are your jokes?"
"Ancient, but that's beside the point. What happened?"
"We did a little conditioning in tennis practice today."
"Oh yeah? How'd you do?"
"I pretty much sucked. I was actually hoping I could get some pointers from you." Michael smiled at him warmly before replying.
"Yeah, sure. You want to do anything tonight?" Rex shook his head and tried to sound casual in his response.
"No. I just want to watch TV and chill out." His father grinned.
"Practice really wiped you out, huh?"
"Absolutely. More like kicked my butt if I'm honest about it."
"We can fix that."
After Rex had enjoyed a prolonged and luxurious shower to soften his tired and aching muscles and Michael had cooked up some popcorn, the two of them took their positions on the couch and settled down for the evening. Before that point, Michael had been made to do a serious amount of thinking by Doctor Evans. She, like her counterpart, was very skilled at pointing out flaws and errors in the arguments presented. She countered Michael's claim the case was too easy by referencing the implausibility of how hard the other case had been to solve. It had taken three additional homicides to gain some measure of closure for Alex King and even that was bittersweet. She had asked him how often such a difficult case had appeared before him in his career. Michael had to admit, there had never been such a convoluted investigation with so many twists as the one he had just closed in Hannah's world. She also referenced how similar Alex King was in that world to Rex in terms of his attitude and behaviour, finding it too an oddly convenient placement. Evans had then admitted the ease with which he had dealt with the case here was unusual, but not impossible. Indeed, Michael had found himself faced with many cases not dissimilar to this. And then, of course, she had referenced Rex as the focal point of her whole argument.
Was Rex not real enough for Michael? Was his character so far removed from the child the man had brought up? Did he present the same kind of flaws in his credibility as the investigations? Could Michael truly believe the teenager was nothing but a figment of his imagination? The answer to these and all other questions aimed solely at Rex's substance was no. Rex was as real and credible a person as Hannah and just as precious to Michael. In many ways, he was back at square one in determining what actually passed as indisputably the true reality. And in other ways he wasn't. He had learned that no matter how fantastical the world around him was and no matter how transparent the investigations were, as long as he could enjoy Rex and Hannah's company at the end of the day and for every day after, nothing else mattered. If he could hold them in his arms, if he could hear them say they loved him and if he could just be with them and have it not feel awkward or fake, then he didn't care if he ever figured it out. All he had to do was play ball with the psychiatrists' games and convince them he was as sane and rational as the next guy. He didn't have to accept there was only one reality, not just yet. It was better that way. He liked having options.
"Alex, would you like some more potatoes?" Hannah offered their guest. Alex King politely declined.
"No thank you, Mrs Britten." She rolled her eyes at the unwanted title yet again. When she spoke, it was only in an encouraging and friendly manner to the teenager.
"It's Hannah." She told him. He nodded before smiling nervously. Michael joined in the nodding.
"Yeah, and I'm Michael, not Detective Britten. Got it?" Alex looked at the man and smiled.
Michael had been a little wary of inviting Alex over for a meal, given his age and emotional state. There was also the possibility Hannah would not have particularly wanted the company of a teenage boy at the dinner table. But the man had to admit, she was wonderful with the youth. As nervous and unsettled as he was now, Alex had been ten times worse at the outset of the night. His marked improvement was entirely down to Hannah's kind nature and generosity with him. She was patient and understanding about what he was experiencing and going through and never made him feel unwanted. It was obvious just from his facial expressions and generally body language how much such treatment meant to Alex.
"You're welcome here anytime, Alex." Hannah said at the night's conclusion as Michael prepared to drive him home. After dinner they had watched a movie, played a little foosball and generally talked about nothing just like a family would do to entertain themselves on a night. Both Hannah and Alex really seemed to relish and enjoy one another's company, something Michael felt could only benefit them both later on. He was also happy to see Alex happy, knowing first-hand how miserable and depressed the teenager had been earlier on. It was never going to be easy to pick himself back up after such trauma in such a short space of time, but Michael was glad he had been able to ease the pain somewhat. Alex nodded at Hannah.
"Thanks, Hannah." The two of them hugged briefly before Hannah kissed him on the cheek as they parted. The gesture clearly meant a lot to both of them considering what they had lost.
"I'll see you around, Honey. Have a safe trip back."
"Here you go, right on time." Michael said as they reached the front doorstep at exactly ten-thirty p.m. Alex nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, right on time." There was a silence lasting almost a minute. Michael could tell that the youth did not want to go inside and return to the reality waiting for him. Alex had been part of a family again for the night; he didn't want to go back to pretending with those other people. The man clapped a hand on the back of the teenager's neck.
"Hey, look at me, kid." Alex turned to look at Michael, his expression already one on the verge of tears. The man smiled before rubbing the boy's neck supportively. "It's going to be okay. It's not going to be easy, but you're going to wind up being okay too. You just got to hold on a bit longer. Okay?" Alex bit down on his bottom lip to force the pain back down. He nodded.
"Okay." For a split second after getting that reply, Michael thought they were just going to leave it at that. Then Alex had sprung forth with his arms and hugged the man with all his might, holding onto him with an iron grip. Michael had expected this, understanding how scared and vulnerable the teenager felt from his experiences with Rex. He reciprocated Alex's actions.
"If you ever need to talk to someone, you have my number. Okay?" He felt the teenager nod against the fabric of his shirt.
"Okay." Alex said, letting him go as he did so. "Goodnight, Michael."
As Michael got into his car once the boy had gone inside, he was resigned to the fact his two worlds would never be perfect. How anybody could kill such a nice, unassuming kid in cold-blood was beyond him, as was the idea that justice could be given in the most violent of ways. But he supposed in many ways such tragic events and unforeseen developments were the hallmarks of reality; reality was, as Doctor Evans said, crazy and unpredictable. Things happened that could not be explained or reasoned away, no matter how much you tried. Burgan's confession was random, bizarre and a remarkable instance of the nature of humanity. People could decide to do the right thing at any moment if the circumstances were just so just as they could decide to do the wrong thing. Despite his doubts and reservations about the nature of reality, Michael was convinced Rex and Hannah were real, that they existed. Like Alex, all the man wanted was his family back. Whether were together or in pieces, as long as he had them both, Michael could survive anything…
Or could he?
Final Thoughts: I spent almost three days trying to end this story and kept finding myself unsatisfied with the ending. I suppose I needed more, but all in all, I'm happy that this story could fit in nicely between the events of That's Not My Penguin and Game Day. If anybody liked this, please say so. If you didn't like it, also say so. Having written this makes me want to write more. But I'll only do it if it's any good or I have a point to prove. In any case, thank you all for reading this and reviewing it. It has been a pleasure.