It has taken a lot of courage for him to drive over here today. Six long months have passed since he was last here, difficult months filled with anger and uncertainty and a rollercoaster of emotions.
He expects to see surprise in the face of the woman who answers the door, but she is quietly accepting of his visit. Dignified. Doesn't ask him any difficult questions. Doesn't dwell on what had passed.
He is caught off-guard when she hands the baby to him. But the child is stoically calm, even when his mother returns to the kitchen, leaving them alone. He carries the baby out onto the front porch, sits on the lowest step to look at this child who was never supposed to be. He is strong and solid and already seems to be assured of his place in this world. Deep blue eyes the colour of the Pacific gaze up at Ben Sherman. And there is no doubt that this child is John Cooper's son.
Ben doesn't register his own emotion until the tears welling in his eyes blur his vision. He swipes at his eyes with his free hand, feeling the constriction in his chest as he cradles Ryan Cooper tight against him.
"Jeez, Boot, you gotta grow a pair." The sardonic voice is not cutting as it so often used to be. There is a playful tone to the typical words.
Ben looks up at John Cooper towering over him. And cannot help but smile. He stands, hands Cooper his baby son. Accepts a handshake that once again grips like iron.
"Didn't expect to see you here." Cooper settles baby Ryan in the crook of one muscular arm, the action so casual that it speaks volume about his acceptance of fatherhood.
"Figured I'd left it long enough," Ben says, managing to meet the blue eyes identical to the baby's.
"Why'd you stay away?" There is no accusation, merely curiosity.
"Because you needed time. You needed to forget."
"I was never gonna forget, Ben."
"Maybe not forget, then, but at least heal a little. Without having the LAPD sitting on your shoulder."
"C'mon, Boot, we both know that's bullshit."
Ben looks away then, can't continuing looking into those eyes that have always seemed capable of seeing into his very soul. Feels like that young rookie on his first day once again. Knows that John Cooper understands him more than he sometimes understands himself.
"I couldn't see you like that," he finally says, forcing his voice to remain steady. "I couldn't watch you fall apart again."
"You came to the hospital, though."
"Everyone came to the hospital, Coop. The whole of West fucking Bureau. Soon as word got out about what'd happened, every cop in Hollywood was there. We thought…" Ben takes a deep breath. "We thought you were gonna die."
"Tell you the truth? So did I." Cooper's gaze is unflinching as ever, even as he admits to the most heart-breaking of truth. "Even after I woke up from surgery, I thought I'd die. I was waiting for it to come. And I didn't even care. I knew death would take it all away, all the shit that was in my head. I figured it'd be a relief."
"I know," Ben whispered.
Cooper's eyes are quizzical now, asking for more answers to that unexpected statement.
"I saw you were ready to give up." Ben still can't look at him but he forces himself to answer. To try and offer an explanation for what made him run away from the devastating reality. "I knew you were gonna let death win. And I couldn't be there when you did. I couldn't deal with the only person who never stopped fighting finally giving in."
"It seemed like the best thing at the time."
"So what changed your mind?"
Cooper remains silent.
"C'mon, Coop. Last time I saw you, I thought the next time would at your funeral. Look at you now."
"Do I really need to tell you?" Cooper smiles down at his son. "A month after I got shot, Laurie told me she was pregnant. I mean, fuck, who'd have thought one frickin' drunk night woulda worked, right?"
"I didn't know," Ben admits. "Not 'til word got round the station. You shoulda heard them in the locker room. 'John Cooper's ex-wife is pregnant with his kid…what the fuck…'."
Cooper laughs, genuinely amused. "Glad it gave 'em somethin' to talk about other than gunshot wounds."
He sits on the front steps, settling Ryan's back against his solid torso. Indicates for Ben to join him. They sit there in comfortable silence, each reflecting on their own ghosts.
Ben looks across at his former TO, the man who taught him how to be a cop. This man who carried the weight of the world on his broad shoulders for so long, who was always strong enough to deal with it when other mortals would have crumbled under the strain. And feels a rush of guilt.
Guilt that he wasn't there for Cooper when he had most needed support. And guilt that he isn't the cop John Cooper predicted he would be, trained him to be. For the first time, his questionable actions feel wrong, like he has let down this man who tried so hard to make him a good cop.
Ben doesn't know what to say, so he reaches across and offers his pinkie to Ryan. The baby grasps it, grip strength reminiscent of his father.
"It's okay, Ben," Cooper eventually says. "It's gonna be alright."
And it feels weird that Cooper should be the one reassuring Ben, but yet he still draws comfort from the voice that always signified safety and reassurance. He forces himself to meet Cooper's gaze, to acknowledge his words. He sees a man who is hard-muscled and radiating confidence, whose eyes have lost that haunted look Ben remembered so painfully from the hospital. Whose life has been saved by the birth of another.
The physical damage the two bullets caused is healed now. The mental anguish of those last weeks before his shooting is receding. Cooper is once again strong. That dark, rage-fuelled night that almost cost him his life and the job he loves is behind him, although everyone knows, most of all him, that it will never be forgotten.
In a couple of weeks he will return to work, to the only career he ever wanted. But for now he sits beside Ben, runs his big hand over his son's fragile head. Allows his face to soften as he looks at Ryan.
"Let's get a beer," he says.
"Sounds good to me."
"And maybe some tequila."
And Ben Sherman knows then, for sure, that John Cooper is finally whole again.