The grinding of metal was replaced after a few seconds by a steady ringing in the ears. Lloyd's vision swam, going dark in spots every time he moved his head. It had been years since he'd been drunk but he was reminded of the sensation now as he fought to hold on to consciousness. Thoughts came to him, unbidden, of the last time he'd been thoroughly smashed—the day before they came to arrest him for that girl's death...
The pain kicked in then, crashing into him like a tidal wave, and it jarred him out of his reverie. The type of pain he experienced the last time he got drunk was a very different kind of pain than what he was experiencing now, that was for sure. A particularly sharp jolt ran down his left leg and Lloyd winced. At least you're still alive.
A few seconds that felt more like hours later, Lloyd blinked to steady his vision and remembered where he was—and who was riding shotgun. Turning sharply to the right, Lloyd saw Harold Lutz—surprisingly still conscious as well—slumped over the dashboard, bleeding heavily but rousing nonetheless. Lloyd couldn't help but feel a little victorious.
"That's Lowery Law, buddy," he cheered. "Always wear a seatbelt. How's that working out for you now?"
When a well-placed bullet halted their pursuit of the stolen vehicle with their teammate inside, Ray was furious—after an appropriate period of nervousness while Erica expertly regained control of the wheel. Their car sputtered to a halt, the civilian vehicles around them slowing as well, looking on in curiosity and fear. The car was blocking two and a half lanes of the highway and wasn't going anywhere for now.
The danger over, Ray moved on to furious, cursing as he slammed a fist on the dashboard. The trio got out of the vehicle, waving to the nearest squad car as civilian traffic continued to inch by, too engrossed in their daily hustle and bustle to realize a chase was happening around them. Erica and Shea watched helplessly as the Honda with Lloyd and Lutz sped away, but it was only a few moments before they heard the inevitable screeching sound they were all fearing.
"They crashed!" Erica shouted, setting off on foot down the shoulder of the highway, Ray trailing close behind with Shea. They reached the scene of the accident before any of the uniformed officers, out of breath but alert as they surrounded the vehicle. Erica was the first, surprised to find both men still conscious. She yanked the driver's side door open just in time to see Lutz scramble for the gun still laying in his lap. He pointed it at the two of them, but his upper hand was short-lived as Ray's gun appeared alongside the smashed passenger's side window, inches away from Lutz's temple.
"Not so fast, dirtbag," Ray crooned, reaching in and snatching the gun away from the convict, who was too tired and beaten to put up a fight anymore. Ray practically ripped the door off its hinges as Shea appeared and helped the marshal pull Lutz from the vehicle, shoving him roughly to the ground and ignoring his pained protests.
The rest of the squad cars reached them then, sirens blaring as they ground to a halt at the scene. Above the cacophony, Ray shouted back to the pair, "Erica, how's our boy?"
Erica inspected the cut on Lloyd's forehead that sent a stream of blood down the side of his face. Blood dripped from a split lip as well and he had a few scrapes on his arms. His leg looked worse for the wear and cradled his right hand protectively but other than that he seemed to be alright.
"I think I'm ready for my driver's test now," Lloyd joked feebly, shaking a bit now that the immediate danger had passed and the severity of the day's events could finally set in. "Except for that last part, I was doing pretty well!"
"He'll be fine," Erica rolled her eyes, prodding Lloyd's side for good measure. He winced and recoiled; no doubt the seatbelt would leave a bruise but otherwise it had done its job. Noticing the violent trembling and his failed attempt to still it, Erica felt a pang of sympathy and reached out to take Lloyd's uninjured hand in her own, her thumb casually stroking the back of his hand the way she used to for her daughter when she had a nightmare. Both seemed aware of how uncharacteristically soft this gesture was for the brunette, but neither said a word. Lloyd just looked up, silently thanking her for being there.
The uniformed officers came and took over for Ray and Shea so they could join their injured teammate, still waiting for paramedics to extract him from the car. The wail of the ambulance siren could be heard nearby.
"Nice job with the bread crumbs, Hansel," Ray said, leaning over Erica's shoulder to check on his team member.
"Always here to help," Lloyd said, leaning back against the seat and squeezing his eyes shut as another wave of nausea washed over him. "I was hoping for a... less painful way of bringing this one in but, you know, things don't always go according to plan..."
"Hang in there, buddy, you're gonna be alright," Shea piped up, lingering at the back. The ambulance arrived and the trio backed off to let them work. Within fifteen minutes, both Lloyd and the runner were packed away in separate ambulances en route to the hospital, Ray promising to follow with Shea and Erica at Lloyd's behest.
When they departed, Ray looked at each of his remaining team members, relieved beyond measure that their number had not been reduced for the second time that week. He didn't think he could handle a second funeral so soon after Charlie... Erica gave him an approving nod, her ease a direct contrast to her earlier moodiness. This one had been a little more hard-earned than some of the others, but they did it. And realized there were things far more important to get back than a simple month off their sentences.
"C'mon, let's head out," Ray said, gesturing to the squad car they would be riding back in while the SUV was towed. A buzzing sound caught his attention as he climbed in the passenger's side and Ray peeked at it then looked up to Erica and Shea, eyes wide. "Oh, shit."
"What is it?"
"I forgot to call Julianne."
It was a sunny afternoon a week later when Ray pulled up in front of the hospital in the newly-repaired SUV. He'd already been inside to fill out the paperwork needed to check Lloyd out and left him in front to retrieve the car so he wouldn't have to walk far. He needn't have worried about the con getting far if he tried to run—the plaster cast encasing his left leg was a pretty hefty deterrent.
The orderly helped Lloyd stow his crutches in the back seat as Ray helped him inside the car carefully. Lloyd shifted uncomfortably, careful to mind his bruised ribs and the two broken fingers on his right hand. It had been a messy accident, but all in all, Lloyd had been lucky. Lutz had been less so, but the convict had also survived and had already been shipped to a more secure prison hospital.
"Are you sure you couldn't get me one more day here?" Lloyd asked in his best 'pretty please' voice after they were shut in the car together. Ray had already gotten him three days longer than the the higher ups were willing to allow, but it was time to go back to Maybelle. The prison hospital would take care of him from there on in.
"No can do, buddy," Ray apologized and Lloyd cursed light-heartedly. Hospital food had been only marginally better than prison food, but at least he'd had the TV all to himself. And a room mostly to himself. And it didn't hurt that Julianne came to visit him almost every day...
"Well, thanks anyway for the little... mini-vacation." Lloyd winked and settled into the seat, reaching out to adjust the radio to a more favorable station. The persistant shaking of his hand did not go unnoticed by Ray.
"I think you earned this one," Ray said, and moved to put the SUV into gear but stopped, lowering his arms.
"What is it?"
"Lloyd, I just wanted to say... I'm sorry."
"For taking me back to Maybelle? Please, Raymond, you don't have to apologize for th—"
"No, not that," Ray stopped him. "I'm sorry that I haven't been handling the whole Charlie thing very well with you guys. I got so caught up in everything that happened afterwards, that I think I overlooked the fact that you're not used to this kinda stuff. I'm used to being around law enforcement. I'm used to having a team that knows the game. Charlie knew the risks of the job. Shea is used to violence. And Erica? Well, she could probably kick all our asses. I know she knows how to handle herself but you're not like us. You don't deal with death every day and... and I wanna make sure you're dealing with it alright." Ray paused, fingers tapping the wheel. "Y'know, I call you guys 'animals' and I give you a lot of shit but it's easy to forget that, maybe, y'know, I could be a little nicer..."
Lloyd nodded thoughtfully. "I have been asking myself all week if I'm in the right line of work. I know I'm not handling it well... but I intend to try harder. I'll continue talking to Lorenzo; I think you were right when you said I need to talk to someone."
"It doesn't have to be Lorenzo," Ray conceded. "You can, y'know, talk to... me, if you want. If that helps..." Ray averted his gaze awkwardly.
A small grin tugged at the corner of Lloyd's lips. "As much as I would love seeing you clumsily fumble your way through that conversation, I think I'll stick with the professional. Dr. Lorenzo isn't a 'quack', and contrary to popular belief, I don't know everything."
Ray scoffed as he put the SUV into gear and pulled out onto the street. "You don't say..."
"It's true." Lloyd settled back into the chair, folding his arms. "I just know that I can't quit now. I've failed at everything I've ever tried but this—what we're doing—this is important. People like Lutz and Damien... they need to go back where they belong." And so do you, until you make this right, Lloyd added in his head. "And I intend to help them get there."
"Good," Ray nodded. "I'm glad to hear that. You didn't hear it from me, but we need you. Especially if we're gonna get that sonufabitch that got Charlie."
"We will." Lloyd hadn't been so sure a week ago but somehow, after his ordeal, he was feeling a lot more positive. He hesitated, then added, "You're doing a good job, you know."
"I don't know about that," Ray winced. "Some pretty big shoes to fill..."
"The position was yours no matter what happened. Charlie wanted it this way." They pulled out onto the highway, merging with traffic. Lloyd had a brief flash of crashing into a pole that he blinked away. The danger is over, he told himself, releasing the door handle he didn't realize he'd been clutching. In an attempt to calm his nerves, he glanced over at Ray. "So, think you'll let me drive on our next job, now that I've had a little practice?"
"Not on your life," Ray smirked. "That's one thing I know Charlie wouldn't have wanted."
"Fair enough." Lloyd nodded. "Just as long as you remember, you're the one who gave me the keys in the first place..."