"It's night. You're still wearing your sunglasses."
After that it went quiet. Too quiet, actually – no car door banging, no engine. The only thing Cooper heard was his own breath, coming heavier and louder with every minute.
Ben was still watching him.
It took all of the officer's power to calmly take down the glasses and store them in his breast pocket. Minutes passed, or were it hours? Time had lost its meaning to John Cooper. There was pain, and there were moments where it lessened, and these moments were too short compared with the hurt – and constantly getting shorter.
He didn't look back as he finally drove off, moving very slowly and deliberating every flexing inch. Thirteen miles till home. He could manage that.
"Just tell me why" Ben had said, pleaded almost. And through the stabbing pain in his back John felt the stinging of guilt. It wasn't the boot's fault that he had barged into his affairs. Cooper had let him get too close to him, had opened up too much. You see a lost puppy you don't adopt it – and hell, Ben didn't even like puppies. A cat person. The hoarse, forced laughter was heard by nobody and followed by another shot of pain that made Cooper lose grip of the wheel for a second. The car darted to the left. Any car taking the last curve too fast would crash him.
The thought had something reassuring, even if it lasted only for a second.
"Just tell me why."
He had allowed Sherman to see a father figure in him – him, from all people. What did Cooper know of being a father? All he knew was how to do it wrong. There was no right way in raising kids, obviously Ben's dad had failed, too. And still the human race kept making and getting them. Even Laurie – Laurie who was the only person John trusted completely, now more than ever in their marriage. Through all the years he had admired and loved her ability of finding her own way to look at things, and her own way of behaving towards other people. Laurie had a kindness that couldn't be broken by arrogance or hatred, not even by fear. And now even Laurie felt caught by the biological clock. Or by the lack of love – why did you get a baby if not to have someone who loves and adores you unconditionally?
And what had he got from Ben? Not love, but something quite close to it. And unconditionally to the test. Those last days could not only have killed the boot, they could've also cost him his job – and Cooper knew that as a rookie, being fired seemed more threatening than dying.
Still Ben had stuck to him, and in any other circumstances John would have been grateful towards him – but not now. Not when it meant pulling Ben deeper into his life because sooner or later, and it felt more like "sooner" actually, he would be gone. And nobody would be pleased by what he left.
He couldn't have Ben finding him that way, he could not have him following him to where he went. Cooper could afford stepping over boundaries because there was not much they could take from him anymore. He had to get through these last nine days till they both were free.
Ben to be a complete and good cop – and him to die. End of story.
As Cooper reached his house the pain was so bad that he couldn't even crawl out. It was almost more than he could endure to open the car's door.
After five minutes of preparing Cooper felt ready for the next step. He shove his legs sideward through the door and bit his lips not to groan.
Jerking around John couldn't hide his pain anymore. Blinded with tears he saw Ben coming over. How long had he been there watching him?
"Don't" he growled through clenched teeth but there was no way of arguing with those blank eyes. At first he had assumed that special look in Ben's eyes to be a mask when things were too bad to cope with. But now he knew that this look meant something more dangerous: It meant Ben saw right through him, and he wouldn't leave him now. It meant the boot would follow him wherever he would go – and wherever he would carry him.
"Get… your ass…" but the rest was lost in a painful howl as Ben firmly put his arms around his shoulders and dragged him out of the car, to the door, getting the keys out of Cooper's pockets like he had never done anything different, and carried him inside. Carefully he placed the man onto the couch and sat down on the floor before him.
"You're ready to talk now or should I get you into hospital?"