The Peacekeeper

"I just stopped your bomb. My team stopped your other bombs. Your message is going nowhere! You're done! You're done!"

Greg Parker's bullet-ridden body couldn't find the strength for the gun battle any longer, but he could at least fire defiant words into those enraged, murderous eyes. He would die with his pride intact, even if his final words had to ride waves of bloody coughs.

The bomber strode closer, handgun leveled at Greg's face.

Greg gasped every breath, but he kept his eyes locked with the bomber's. His thoughts took on a settled, fatal courage, though he had already lost the strength to speak them.

"That's right," he thought. " I will not look away. I will not show my fear. I will die a better man than you are."

He heard the unmistakable report of a gun, and he jerked in anticipation of the blow.

It didn't land. Instead, the bomber himself collapsed in a lifeless heap, revealing Ed Lane's smoking gun behind him.

Greg was still half-supporting himself on his elbows, where weakness had driven him. He couldn't breathe well in this position, but he couldn't sit himself back up, either.

Then Ed was beside him. Strong arms lifted Greg gently into a sitting position, cradling him as he struggled to breathe, as he fought to hang on for another second, and then another. Greg didn't expect to survive much more of the day, but at least he'd cling to these last few moments with his best friend.

Eddie alternated between comforting Greg, pleading with him to live, thanking him for past kindnesses, and screaming for a medic. His voice sounded normal at first, though choked with emotion, but then it grew distorted, inhuman. The noise called to Greg in a strange, different way. It pulled him up out of Ed's comforting support, out of the depths of sleep, into his own bedroom at home.

Beep, beep, beep!

Greg slapped at the alarm clock, then groaned as he struggled to sit up. His bad leg always ached worst first thing in the morning. His other wounds, though initially life-threatening, had resolved into a manageable ache with occasional jabs of pain, plus a lingering fatigue.

The nightmares, on the other hand, weren't settling down at all.

You'd think after three months those dreams would at least skip a night now and then.

He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hands over his face, rubbing away the last of the cobwebs and the horrific images that haunted him every night. Another groan escaped him, but that hardly mattered. No one was around to hear him.

He finally felt ready to labor to his feet, using the walker that waited by the side of his bed. His good right leg took most of his weight; the left leg touched down only cautiously.

After completing his painful trek to the bathroom, Greg started to put a little more weight on his bad leg. He hobbled with his walker out to the kitchen, started the coffee maker, and did a few of the simple stretches his physical therapist told him to start with every morning. By the time the coffee was ready, his leg felt noticeably less stiff and sore. He still wouldn't dream of trying to walk without the walker, but the therapist said someday he might be able to walk with just a cane.

But that's the best I can hope for. He stirred his coffee and stared listlessly into space for a few moments before shaking himself back into the present.

Marina will be calling soon. He blew on his coffee and swallowed some with a grimace. Still too hot.

The phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID, sighed, and answered.

"Hello, Marina."

"Hi, Greg. How are you this morning?"

"Ok."

He felt a twinge of guilt at the coldness in his voice, but he couldn't seem to help it. Lately, pushing people away felt as normal and necessary as breathing.

When will she figure out that I'm not a hero?

"You don't have any therapy scheduled for today, so what would you like to do?" If Marina felt even slightly put off, it didn't show.

Greg sighed. "I don't know."

"Well, do you mind if I stop by?"

He sighed again. "No, of course not."

"All right, I'll see you in a few minutes. And I'll cook you some breakfast if you haven't eaten yet."

"No, I've eaten," he lied. "Don't worry about me."

"Ok, see you soon."

As soon as he hung up, Greg and his walker hobbled back into the kitchen together. A bowl of cereal and some milk would help turn his lie into reality before Marina arrived.

What do I want to do today? There's no point in even thinking about that.

The phone jangled again, and this time the Caller ID said "Dean." Greg snatched up the phone.

"Dean-o! Hey, son!"

"Hey, Dad, how are you doing?"

"Not bad, you?" At least with Dean, whom he'd safely pushed a whole continent away, Greg could put up a cheerful front.

"Ok." The boy's tone hinted at unhappiness, at least to his father's sensitive ears.

"What's up, kiddo?"

Dean hesitated. "It's just...don't get me wrong...I love Mom and Dad..."

"But?" Greg prompted, suppressing the twinge of pain he felt at hearing Dean call Glen "Dad."

"But...Dad, I'm so tired of them trying to talk me out of being a cop! Mom keeps reminding me that it was police work that 'ruined' you...you know...drove you to drink. I've told them that I know about all of that, but I also know how you rebuilt your life and became something far better than they're willing to believe. But Dad, they're constantly on my case about it! It's getting pretty miserable down here."

"Sheesh, I'm sorry, Son."

"So anyway, Dad...I've been wondering..." he hesitated long enough for Greg to begin to guess where this was going.

"...is there any chance that you've recovered enough so that I could come back to Toronto to live with you again? As soon as I turn eighteen I could get my own place."

"Oh, wow..." Greg stalled. "I...well...jeez, Son, your mom and stepdad have barely forgiven me for getting back into your life as it is! I have to tread carefully, Dean. It's not that I care too much what they think of me, but my relationship with them affects your relationship with them. I don't want to cause any more problems for you."

He heard his front door open, and Marina called out, "I'm here!"

"C'mon in," he called over his shoulder.

"Dad," Dean continued, "I know what I want to do with my life. I'm not a kid anymore. I should have a right to make my career choices without being fought every step of the way!"

"I agree, Son, you should. But part of being a cop is learning to stand for what you know is right without losing your cool at the people who oppose you. You have to learn how to deal with opposition, to remain respectful, to keep your reactions under control, and to persevere in the face of it all." Greg paused to receive a kiss on the cheek from Marina.

"I was afraid you'd say that," Dean replied, his tone glum.

"Listen, Son, soon you'll be legitimately on your own, and nobody will be able to tell you what college to go to or what career to choose. And by the time you're done with school, I'll be as recovered as I ever will be. But right now, I hate to say it, you're better off with two healthy parents...and they are good parents, son...you're better off with them than with one crippled dad."

"Dad, you are not a cripple! And I could help you out..."

"Dean...son..." Greg paused to swallow the lump in his throat. "I love you so much, and I'm so proud of you. I know you can face the tough times with your mom and Glen, and I know you'll come out of it stronger than before. You're going to know those things too...after you've done them. You don't know them now, and that's another reason why I need you to stay there. You're going to be a more confident man at the end of it, son."

Dean groaned.

"Think of it this way, Son. If they don't think you can make it as a cop...well, you will confirm their suspicions if you can't even make it as their son in Dallas. Be a man that you'll all respect this year, Son. You'll be glad you did."

Marina smiled sweetly at Greg, but he felt like a heel.

For his part, Dean sounded more disgruntled than convinced. Greg gave him a few more words of encouragement, but couldn't offer more than that. The call ended a few moments later, and Greg hung up with a sigh that he dragged all the way up from his toes.

Maybe everything I said was true, but it doesn't change the fact that I don't want my own son back here.

"Tough call?" Marina asked.

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Greg murmured, more to himself than to her.

She laid a hand on his arm. "Don't be too hard on yourself. You're a good man who's been through an awful lot. More than anyone should go through."

After a moment he shook himself out of his thoughts and offered her a grateful smile. He was grateful, really. She was good to him.

Too bad he didn't know how to accept it.

"So, what do you want to do today...after breakfast?" Marina cocked an eyebrow at the bowlful of dry cereal and the unopened milk beside it.

"Oh yeah," he replied sheepishly. "Well, you know, Dean called...and..."

"Yeah, I know. May I please make you an omelet while you think about what you want to do today?"

Greg smiled, and this time he meant it. "Sure, thanks." Every once in a while she got past his defenses, and he was secretly glad when she did.

She set to work in the kitchen, and he chose a comfortable chair to sit in. His leg had started hurting too much to ignore.

What do I want to do today? I want to be back with my team. The thought soured what little good mood he had found.

He stretched his leg, arching and flexing his foot as best he could, and then put his foot up on a stool until Marina brought breakfast.

"Shall I bring it to you out there?" She asked.

"No, I'll come to the table."

His walker squeaked its too-familiar announcement as he made his way across the floor. "Cripple!" it said. "Cripple, cripple, cripple!" It set his teeth on edge.

"Any thoughts about what you want to do today?" Marina asked brightly as he seated himself.

Stop asking me that! I can't do what I want! I can hardly do anything! Frustration flared up in an instant, and he nearly shouted at her. He caught himself, but the effort cost him clenched fists and teeth, and he knew he'd hidden nothing from her.

I haven't been myself for so long, I don't even know who I am anymore. He couldn't even look at her. Why should I even try to hide it? The sooner she gives up on me, the better.

Marina sat down beside him and waited, wordlessly. Her hand rested gently on the arm he wasn't using.

After a few moments, feeling contrite, he clasped that hand in his. "Thank you for breakfast, and for...everything."

"You're welcome, Greg."

He ate the few remaining bites, then shoved his plate away a little more forcefully than he had intended to.

"It's just that there's only one thing I want, more than anything...and I can't have it. I can't ever have it. And I just don't know how to live with that!"

"Why don't we drop by headquarters and visit?" she suggested.

He shook his head vigorously. "No, no way! I refuse to be one of those pitiful has-beens who hangs around headquarters until everyone's tired of pretending he belongs there! I don't want them feeling sorry for me! That part of my life is over, and I just have to..." He pressed his lips tightly together, lacking words for the rage that boiled in his chest again.

"You just have to what?" she prompted after a few long moments.

He only shook his head, face turned away.

She patted his arm and said nothing.

"I don't know what to do," he admitted at last.

"Greg, I've watched you wrestle with this thing for months. I've watched you push people away. I've watched you swing wildly from anger, to cold determination, to despair, to sullen quietness. Do you want to know the one thing I haven't seen you do?" she asked softly.

He shrugged.

"I'll know you're ready to listen when you look me in the eyes." She kept her voice just as quiet and kind as ever, and after a moment he did turn his eyes to meet hers. Something inside him softened a little when he saw the tenderness there.

She leaned in a little closer. "I haven't seen you honestly grieve."

He turned away again.

"I think you secretly wish you had died that day, so you wouldn't have to deal with this loss. Am I right?"

Greg couldn't answer, but he was pretty sure that his silence and averted eyes had answered for him.

"I think you've opted for all of the rage and despair because it seems easier to you than grieving. Grieving would mean admitting that you really do have to go on without the identity you love, without the Greg you worked so hard to become, without the cop-self you believe in. And I don't think you're sure you can go on without that."

"I shouldn't have to!" he fumed between clenched teeth. "I'm nothing if I'm not a cop!" In his anger he started to jump to his feet, but his bad leg buckled painfully. He dropped back into his seat, seething all the more at his weakness.

Marina allowed him a few minutes of silence before she pressed on. "You're right," she said gently. "You shouldn't have to. But you do have to. So even though raging may feel right, and pushing people away may feel right..." she paused, took his face in her hands, and left her sentence hanging in midair until he finally met her eyes again. "Greg, you need to grieve. You do have to go on without being a cop anymore. And it hurts. It hurts something awful."

Greg pulled away from her. His fists lay on the table, clenched with impotent fury.

Marina kept pulling relentlessly at his emotional scabs. "The most terrible day of your life began with such promise! You enjoyed Sam and Jules' wedding, then went to work for what you thought would be an ordinary day. But in no time at all you carried the weight of Toronto's agony on your shoulders. Scores injured, horribly maimed, killed. The mayor was incapacitated, and suddenly you found yourself speaking to the whole city, burdened with trying to comfort millions of people that you were also responsible to protect."

He stared at the table and said nothing.

"But no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't protect them all, could you?"

He slammed his fist onto the table and yelled, "Well, what do you expect from me?"

"What do you expect, Greg? I see the pain on your face when we drive past the bombed areas. Most of us see tragedy, but you see failure there, don't you?"

He ground his teeth.

She continued with quiet determination. "It hurts so bad that so many people died, or were maimed, on your watch. And you're willing to feel all sorts of rage and guilt...but you haven't let yourself grieve yet, have you, Greg?"

Sniper breathing. Four-count.

"You carried the burden and the fear of your whole team as they chased down bombs and tried to defuse them. You and your team tracked down facts and analyzed information and thought you'd identified the bomber..."

Greg's breathing grew ragged despite his best efforts, and Marina paused. This was hallowed ground, and she knew it. But the tears in her voice and eyes made it hard for him to be angry with her anymore, even if she handed him his heart on a platter.

And she just might.

"You heard Donna die," Marina continued, her voice quavering a bit. "And you felt guilty because you'd allowed the bomber to fool you, to lure the team there. And you had ordered Donna into that building, to her death as it turned out. And the rage and guilt...guilt which you don't deserve to feel...won't go away because you haven't let yourself grieve for Donna, either. She was such a good person, Greg...a good cop...a good team member. You loved her, I know you did."

Greg was breathing heavily again, no longer even trying to control it. He buried his face in his hands.

"You heard Ed's horror when he found out that Clark was buried in the rubble of City Hall. You've told me that you're still haunted by the sound of Eddie's voice over your earpiece, screaming Clark's name as he dug him out, in terror that he was too late...and then just...how did you describe it? '... roaring in wordless rage' when he, too, heard Donna die. I can't imagine such agony!"

Greg shook his head, his face still in his hands. He could hear it all now.

"Clark was badly broken in there. It hurt you terribly, too, and you should have had a long time to deal with it, and with Donna's death, and, oh...I hadn't even mentioned you being exposed to radiation! But you had no time to deal with any of it, you had to bury it and go on, because you knew that many more bombs were waiting to go off, and you felt responsible to stop them all."

"I didn't just feel responsible, I was responsible," he replied through clenched teeth. "It was my job, and the whole city knew it."

"That's right, it was. And it was a horrible weight to bear, but you bore it, and bore it well. It may have been huge, but it at least it had boundaries. You figured out how many bombs, you figured out where they were, and how to defuse them. But this grief...it doesn't have boundaries, does it? At least none that you can see."

She reached out and took hold of his hand. He didn't return her grip.

"And if you let yourself step into that ocean of grief, the one with no boundaries, you're terrified that you'll never find solid ground under your feet again."

He withdrew his hand, but not angrily. In another moment he had folded his arms tightly in front of his chest, hoping to take some comfort in keeping himself closely hemmed in.

It didn't help. The chasm inside of him refused to be fenced in.

What if there aren't any borders to this pain?

"You didn't even get a chance to breathe that day, much less to recover, did you? Your day had been horrible, and it only got more painful. It hurt so bad being shot, over and over again, and fearing you might die before you could save all of those people. You were in agony...you were dying, Greg, and Eddie was in tears, begging you to live...don't tell me that doesn't need grieving, and lots of it!"

"Enough already," he pled.

"And when you fought your way back from the brink of death, you found out that your injuries were permanent, and that the career you loved had been ripped away from you. Is it any wonder that you'd rather be angry than grieve...that you're scared to death to feel all of this grief?"

She was so right. Greg's emotions terrified him right now. He made one last desperate grab for some anger to fortify himself with. Inwardly, silently, he cursed Marina's doggedness. Then he cursed the bomber, he cursed fate, he cursed life itself. He clung to his anger for all it was worth, trying to keep himself from falling into the grief that threatened to swallow him whole, that even now was draining the strength out of his rage and pooling tears in his eyes. But despite his best efforts, this grief suddenly grabbed his lungs and squeezed them mercilessly until sobs broke out of his chest.

He hardly knew that he reached for Marina, drew her close, nuzzled into her hair. But he knew when her arms encircled him, because they finished off his defenses entirely. Grief dragged him under, drowned him, threatened to stop his heart in his chest. And even still, merciless, it refused to release its grip on him.

His ribs ached.

Marina held him through it all.

Slowly, slowly, the storm passed, and so did all his attempts to keep a wall up between himself and Marina. He kept close to her for the rest of the day, often just touching her arm, sometimes standing on his good leg as long as he could, just to hold her and rest his cheek on the top of her head. The still, quiet peace he felt in those moments soothed him like a medicine to his overwrought soul.

Exhaustion overtook him early that night. Marina was washing the dinner dishes when he realized he couldn't stay up any longer. He sheepishly apologized, but of course she said it was no bother.

He fell asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. And for once, he had no nightmares.

He slept late, and when he awoke, breakfast was cooking in the kitchen. Greg honestly didn't know if Marina had stayed in his apartment or come back in the morning. It hardly seemed to matter.

Peace still rested on him. He felt it like a stillness in his belly. He hadn't realized until now just how knotted his insides had been for so long.

Greg felt reluctant to speak, or to do anything that might break the stillness in his soul. He didn't even speak when he found Marina in the kitchen. He just wheeled his walker close, pushed it off to one side, and supported himself against the counter so he could snuggle up to her back. He could only wrap one arm around her while the other helped to support his weight. But it was enough.

Marina seemed to sense his mood, and she remained soft and quiet against him while she cooked their omelets.

It felt so good.

They ate in comfortable silence, but after they pushed their plates away Greg was finally ready to talk. He took her hand first.

"I...I can't thank you enough."

She just smiled and patted his arm.

"And..." he continued, "I promise I'll try not to put up as much of a fight the next time you have a good idea for me."

"Then, are you ready to go to headquarters?"

His jaw dropped. He floundered for some sort of reply, but came up with nothing. After all, he'd just made her a promise, and he didn't want to break it so soon. But he hadn't expected the next blow to fall quite so soon, either.

Marina held up a hand to put off any chance of a protest. "I don't mean for you to haunt the barn as the 'pitiful has-been' that you're so afraid of becoming. I want you to go to headquarters to say goodbye."

He absorbed those words in silence for a few moments.

"You never had a chance to say goodbye, Greg. Goodbye to the job that you passionately loved, the job that defined you, the people that were family to you. Yes, you still see them sometimes, but not as your team. You don't get to work with them, to command them, to laugh and cry with them. You don't get to be heroic with them anymore. That's all gone, Hon. And you need closure."

His stomach turned over, but he nodded his agreement.

She stood up and beckoned him to his feet. "Let's go now, then, before the day gets away from us."

He felt far from ready, but she was probably as right about this as she'd been about breaking him down yesterday.

They drove in silence toward headquarters, and with each familiar landmark that they passed, his newfound peace gave way to the old, familiar churning in his stomach.

"This is like going to a funeral...one with an open casket," he murmured. "You don't want to go look in that box, but it pulls you, and you have to look, and once you've seen what's in there, you can't pretend any more. You have to admit what you've lost."

He shook his head slowly, his eyes seeing nothing that they were looking at. "I couldn't go to Donna's funeral. I couldn't even lift my head off the pillow, then."

He let a few more blocks go by while he rubbed his sore leg. When he spoke again, his voice was choked and barely audible. "They had to keep her casket closed."

He shuddered at the unspoken thought, the horrible reason.

Marina rubbed his arm, but wisely left him alone with his thoughts.

By the time they pulled into the parking garage, Greg was genuinely afraid. How can a man survive the loss of all that made him who he was?

His squeaky walker, announcing his weakness, seemed like a travesty in this center of power. But he rolled his way into the elevator and let Marina hit the up button.

He dreaded the opening of the doors at their destination. Please, no pity. If I see pity, I'm leaving.

If his walker had sounded like a travesty before, it sounded like a total sacrilege now, as he stepped into the place from which he used to launch and command the most powerful forces in Toronto. The squeak-squeak made his skin crawl, and he almost turned back before he'd gone five steps in.

Marina rubbed his back lightly, and he went on.

They're out on a call, he surmised. The only voice he could hear was Winnie's, feeding information to the team over the radio. In another few moments he'd rounded a corner and could see her dispatch desk. She was craning her neck towards the unfamiliar sound even as she spoke to the team. When she identified the sound and saw Greg, her eyes lit up. She waved, grinning widely, but then quickly turned to respond to a question from the team, and began typing on her keyboard. After a few moments she put the call on the speaker so Greg could hear it, too.

His pulse quickened as the details came in. His instincts kicked in, analyzing, strategizing, allocating his resources.

No, not my resources, he reminded himself. Eddie's resources. His team. His call. But his instincts wouldn't shut off so easily.

The situation sounded like a nightmare. The subject had doused himself in gasoline, was holding a lighter, and was standing on the ledge of a thirteenth story window. The team had no way to get to him by stealth, so talk was their only option.

Fire AND a fall. This guy really wants to end it. I'll be surprised if he's willing to talk. Greg's eyes narrowed. Or maybe he went for a second option because he couldn't bring himself to do the first. And he hasn't been able to do the second one, either. It might not be hopeless after all.

Eddie's voice came through, decisive and confident as ever, assigning his teammates to their best possible positions. Greg heard Sam, and Jules, and Spike, and Leah, and an unfamiliar team member acknowledging their orders. The voices both soothed and worsened his ache.

Is there anything in the world that hurts like love?

I love these guys.

Marina cuddled close behind him, resting her head between his shoulder blades and running her arms around his waist...but carefully, so as not to add weight for his bad leg to bear.

Good, good. Greg nodded approvingly at what he heard. Eddie had already established two-way conversation with the man. Nothing much, just an exchange of names, but it was a start.

In his head, Greg was already in charge of the negotiations. Thanks for talking with me, Richard. It would mean a lot to me if you'd take a minute and help me understand what's going on here today. Will you do that for me, my friend?

But of course it was Ed, not Greg, who spoke to Richard. And though Ed was an able negotiator, Greg itched to take his place. This was his forté. This was where he came to life. Even when it ended badly, his pain was still the pain of a man fully engaged with the greatest issues of life, not a man drowning in the agony of obsolescence.

Ed continued to coax, and finally Richard responded. What came out, slowly, was the usual story of love lost, and of the sort of purposelessness that drove a soul mad. Richard had lost his life's work and the woman he loved in one of the bomb blasts on the same fateful day that had also ripped Greg up by the roots.

"I wish I could talk to him," Greg blurted out. "I know we could connect!"

Ed responded instantly, but only loudly enough to be heard over their communications network. "Greg, is that you?"

I can't believe I did that! "I didn't mean to speak loudly enough for Winnie's headset to pick it up. Sorry."

"No problem, buddy, I'm glad to have you on board. Get yourself a headset."

Winnie handed him one right away. He fitted it into his ear, and that simple, familiar act gave him a thrill of nostalgic joy.

Of course Ed hadn't dared to take another moment away from Richard, so he'd started talking more loudly again. "I appreciate you being willing to talk to me about all of this, Richard. I know it's not easy to talk about it, and it means a lot to me." Ed paused, no doubt giving his man some time to respond. Greg didn't hear anything, and Ed began talking again after a few beats.

"Is there anyone I can call to come talk to you? Someone who you feel comfortable telling these sorts of things to?"

Richard's voice came through clearly now, with a familiar tone of angry despair so common to suicidal people. "I've got nobody, you hear me? Nobody!"

Ed offered another soft "team only" comment that made Greg smile. "Wish you were here, Sarge." But evidently he hasn't spoken quietly enough.

"Who are you talking to?" Richard demanded.

Ed hesitated only a moment. "Richard, I've got a good friend who lost a lot on the same day that you did. He'd really like to talk to you."

Greg's heart did a flip. Eddie, are you kidding me?

Greg heard nothing from Richard, but perhaps he'd made some sort of gesture, because Ed seemed encouraged to pursue his crazy idea.

"If my friend calls on this phone, and I put it on speaker, would you be willing to hear what he has to say?"

"Why should I care?" Richard snapped. To Greg's ear, that was much better than "No."

"His name's Greg, Richard, and he's my best friend in the whole world. But more than that, like I said, he can really relate to a lot of what you're going through. Is it okay if he calls?"

Richard made no audible response, but Greg could almost picture the apathetic shrug that gave Ed permission to continue. "I'm not going to touch you, Richard, I promise. I'm just going to walk over to this phone and read off the number to my people, so they can put Greg in touch with you." Ed quickly read the number off to Winnie, and she began patching in the number.

"Eddie, I need eyes in, I need to see his face!" Greg hissed.

"Copy that, boss" came the reply, but it was Spike, not Ed, who responded. That was as expected. Team One worked together seamlessly.

The phone rang only once before Ed answered it. The quality of the sound instantly told Greg that he was on speakerphone. "Ok, Richard," Ed said. "Here's my friend Greg."

Greg's whole body tingled. He was alive again.

"Hello, Richard, thanks for talking to me."

"Yammer on if you want to," came the sullen reply. "I don't care."

"I overheard what you were telling my friend Ed about everything you lost on the day of the bombings, Richard. That was a terrible day for all of us."

No reply.

"You might remember me, Richard. Not that we've met, but the news stations kept replaying my message that day. I was the guy who kept talking about 'saying no to terror,' and 'choosing to do things today that we'd be proud to look back on.' Do you remember that, Richard?"

The answer was slow in coming. "Sure, I remember." And then, with a sneer in his voice, "Lot of good it did."

"Eyes in, Sarge," Spike said over the radio. Winnie instantly turned her monitor to show Greg the new view. Marina let go of him so she could stand beside him and watch it as well.

Spike had evidently sneaked over to the window of an adjacent room, and had mounted a camera near the top of it. It protruded far enough to give an angled view over and slightly down at Richard.

Good placement, Spike, Greg thought. Richard was very unlikely to spot it there, but Greg could still see enough of the man's face and body to judge his responses to Greg's intervention.

Richard still stood on the window ledge, perilously close to even an accidental fall. And he still clutched a lighter in his hand.

"Sometimes I feel the same way about the things I said that day, Richard, since I lost so much, too." He glanced over at Marina. "A friend was helping me a lot just yesterday, getting me to talk through it all. It really helped."

"I don't see how."

"I didn't think it would help me, either," Greg related. "I fought her on it. Didn't want her to make me feel the pain. I thought it would be better just to be angry, or to be numb, or to give up on everything. But the strange thing is, when she helped me grieve my losses, Richard, I felt better than I've felt in months. It really can help, my friend."

"Well that's just great for you now, isn't it?" Richard snarled.

Richard kept sending mixed messages to Greg's expert eyes and ears. The man's face and body posture were detached, but his words held an angry edge.

Greg liked the anger better. Any emotion was better than the self-detachment which was the threshold of self-destruction.

In his earpiece, he heard the team discussing their options, which were few. They'd obviously moved further away, to avoid being overheard.

"Do you know what happened to me that day, after the public announcement I made?" Greg asked.

He saw a shrug.

"I sent a wonderful cop to her death, Richard. A gal I loved like a sister. The bomber fooled me, manipulated me into sending her into a trap. She went there on my orders, trusting me. And when we realized it was a trap, I hollered at her to get out of there, but I was too late. I heard the explosion that killed her, Richard." His voice broke a little.

Winnie reached up and squeezed his arm, and Marina laid a hand on his shoulder.

Greg barely noticed them. His whole being was too focused, too busy scrutinizing Richard for signs that this line of talk was backfiring.

Richard remained still...mostly. Greg did see a telltale motion, a slight cocking of Richard's head, and a wince, when Greg spoke of his own guilty feelings.

Few would have even noticed it. But to Greg, it was huge.

"Did you send your fiancé into the office that day, Richard?"

Richard's chin sunk to his chest. "It was her day off, but I asked her to go take care of one thing. Just one thing!" Richard shouted the last sentence with an enraged sob.

"I hear you, Richard. I know. I know." Greg had found the sorest spot. Now it was up to him to direct the conversation in a new direction...one that honestly handled Richard's deepest pain, and pointed even that hopeless-seeming emotion in the direction of hope.

Greg felt the old magic happening...the connection that he could sometimes forge, even over the phone, that could enable him to get under the subject's skin and walk him to safety.

"You know what else happened to me that day, Richard?"

A long pause. "What?"

Greg smiled. Thanks for staying with me, buddy.

"I had to defuse the last bomb, Richard. Did you hear about that one? It was a radioactive bomb, planted at Fletcher Stadium, right where all of those injured people were being treated. You remember that?"

"Yeah, yeah, I remember." The tone was irritable and dismissive, but not as much as at first.

"The news said I got shot several times while I was defusing it. Remember that?"

"Yeah."

"Well, after I cut the wire and defused the bomb, I was staring death in the face, Richard. Just like you are now. Only in my case, death looked like a man with a gun, pointed right at me."

"Yeah? So?"

"I was prepared to die, you know that? It had been a horrible day, I was gravely wounded, I had lost a dear friend, I hurt worse than I'd ever dreamed possible, and I was looking down the barrel of the bomber's gun. So I figured it was my time to go. But my best friend Eddie...you remember, he's the guy that put you in touch with me...he saved me from the bomber. He..." Greg hesitated, realizing it would be unwise to mention death as a solution to a problem. "He took care of the bomber's threat, so he couldn't fire that last shot and do me in. You probably heard that part of the story too, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose so."

"Well, here's the part you haven't heard. After Ed eliminated the threat from the bomber, I was still dealing with all of the other problems. I could feel the life draining out of me from all of those bullet wounds, Richard, and for one desperate moment I thought it would be better to die. I was drowning in my own blood from a hole in my lung. I was dying...and suddenly, in that moment, I knew that life was too precious to throw away. But I couldn't do anything about it! I was too weak to get back up to a position where I could breathe."

Through all of this, Greg watched Richard so intently that every muscle strained to see better.

"Do you hear what I'm saying to you, Richard? I'm saying that once a man makes a decision that his life is over, he may feel sure of it until he gets to the point of no return...and THEN, Richard, THEN he wants his life back so bad! I wanted it back, desperately, but I couldn't sit myself back up to where I could breathe well again, Richard. When I couldn't, I wanted to. Do you hear me?

Silence.

"Do me a favor, Richard. Just hold on to the wall there, while I tell you the rest, will you? No sudden moves, but just hold onto the wall. Then I'll tell you the next part."

Greg kept coaxing, over and over, until Richard complied. He gripped the wall, and it seemed that he held it tightly. Unfortunately, the camera now saw only the top of his head, and not his face.

"Thank you, Richard. Thank you so much. Because, my friend, I have to tell you how I got my second chance. My good friend Eddie...hey, could you tell me if he's still close by, Richard? Can you take a look for me, buddy?"

A pause. "Yeah, he's right there."

Greg smiled again. "That's a good man you're looking at, Richard. When I was a dying man, Eddie came over beside me and sat me up, and held me upright while my other friend, Sam, ran for a medic. Eddie held me up so I could breathe better, and...well, I have to admit, it hurt like fire with every breath I took, but I was so glad to be trying to live again, Richard. So glad."

Richard still held onto the wall.

"Here's the thing. When I first heard your story, heard the pain you were sharing, what I heard was a man drowning in his own blood like I was. But you are so lucky, because you're still where my friend Eddie can help you, just like he helped me."

Still no movement from Richard, but an encouraging whisper came from Ed over the headset. "He's starting to make occasional eye contact with me, Boss."

Greg smiled, but only for a moment.

"Now I want you to listen to me carefully, Richard, because this is very important. Ed was able to help me from my own 'point of no return' because he could get to where I was. Ed can reach you where you are, too. And you have to let him help you while you're there, because if you were to fall, Richard, you'd be where no one, not even Eddie, could help you. And I promise you...I PROMISE you, you would want your life back so bad on your way down, Richard. You'd do anything to be able to get back to where Eddie could help you. But that wouldn't be possible if you fell from there, Richard. You need to let Eddie help you right there, where you are now. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

Ed whispered, "He has moved one foot back inside the window."

Greg smiled again. "Richard, I need you to do something extremely important right now. I need you to put down the lighter. It could not only hurt you terribly, but it could hurt my friend Ed terribly too, and neither one of us wants that, right? Will you put the lighter down, slowly and carefully, Richard? Please tell me when you've done that."

Greg could no longer see most of Richard, but that was good. That meant he was mostly back inside the window.

"Did you put the lighter down, Richard? It's so important for you to do that, my friend."

Richard didn't answer, but Ed whispered, "He's putting it down... it's down."

Ed began to talking to Richard now. "That's right, come on in here, buddy. Let me help you, that's right. It's ok, Richard, it's ok. Now, I'm sorry I have to do this, buddy, I really wish I didn't have to, but I'm required to put these on you just to make sure you don't hurt yourself. I know you don't intend yourself any harm right now, but it's just regulations. Thanks so much for understanding, Richard." And then, for the benefit of the team, Ed said, "Subject contained."

Greg felt pure joy wash over him; a familiar, delicious joy. "Thank you, Richard. You made the right decision, Pal. It's gonna be all right now."

He heard Richard start to sob, and that, too, was a good sign.

Ed hung up the phone.

Richard did not approve. "Hey, you hung up on my friend, and I didn't get to thank him," he sobbed.

"It's okay, he can hear you through my mic," Ed assured him. "What do you want to tell him, bud?"

"Thank you," Richard sobbed, sounding as if he'd yelled right on Ed's cheek. A moment later Greg heard the sound of earpiece-fumbling. "Ok, now you can hear Greg, too," Ed said, his voice a little further away.

"You're welcome, Richard, and thank YOU. You don't know how much you helped me today by making the right decision. I'm so glad you did."

"It just hurts so bad, I don't know what to do!" Richard sobbed.

"I know it does, I know it does. But you did the right thing. You will get through this, pal, and you'll be glad you chose to live."

After a moment there was some more earpiece-fumbling as Ed put it back on. "C'mon, pal, we need to get the gasoline off of you," he said.

The monitor view of the empty window winked off as Spike retrieved his camera.

"I hope you're going to stick around at Headquarters, Boss. I'd sure like to see you," Jules spoke to him over the radio for the first time.

"Wild horses couldn't drag me away, Jules."

And then the emotions hit him hard. He pulled off his earpiece and squeaked his walker away from the desk, into the briefing room, all the way to the huge window overlooking the city.

That was my last time. My last time.

But it was so good.

He shed quiet tears, and he couldn't have told whether they were more from joy or grief. Maybe it didn't matter. Both felt right.

He could vaguely hear Winnie and Marina talking quietly back at the desk, but he didn't even try to make out their words. Right now he needed to be wrapped in quiet solitude. He stayed there, looking out at the city he'd served for so long, until an arm came to rest gently on his shoulders.

He didn't even have to look to know who it was.

"I don't know how to say goodbye to all of this, or to all of you, Eddie!"

Ed gave his shoulder a squeeze before letting go and turning to face him. "You did good today, Boss. You did good."

"Yeah." Greg brushed away a tear. "Thanks for letting me do that, Pal. You didn't have to. You could have talked him down as well as I did. I know that was a gift to me, and I really appreciate it."

"Funny," Ed replied quietly. "When I heard your voice, it felt like you were giving a gift to me. You know I don't like those kinds of calls. I can do 'em by the book, but I don't have your gift. Never will." He clapped a hand on Greg's shoulder again, and gave it a squeeze. "Don't ever think of yourself as a charity case around here, Boss. I didn't put you on that call out of pity. You're the best, Greg. Plain and simple."

Greg sighed deeply. "I don't know how to live without this, Eddie. I felt so alive when I knew I was connecting with Richard. I felt so good when he was safe. What can I ever do with the rest of my life that will come close to that? Who will I even be without this team? This team practically created me."

Ed shook his head. "That's crazy backwards, man! You created this team! You wrote the book that will be used to create every other team that's ever built! And for most of Team One's existence you were the only constant, unchanging thing. So who created whom?"

Ed turned Greg's attention to where the rest of the team was hovering nearby, reluctant to break in on the best friends' conversation. The sight of those much-loved faces made Greg's heart and his eyes fill all over again.

Ed squeezed his shoulder. "You think that this team has gone on without you, and in the best possible sense that's true. But your fingerprints are all over everything we do, Greg. Your voice is in our ears, your hand is on our backs, your heart pumps the blood through our veins. We don't do anything without you."

Greg couldn't speak, so he simply held out an arm and gathered as many teammates into his embrace as he could. And for Jules, now undeniably round with child, he had an extra hug.

"Tell me you're not going into harm's way with this little one, Jules."

"No, neither Sam nor Eddie would allow that," She replied with a smile. "And between you and me, I can tell I'm not up to it, either. So I'm always in the truck, doing profiling, or sometimes talking down people who need someone less threatening to talk to them." She patted her belly. "I can't imagine anyone less threatening-looking than me right now."

"Put a gun in your hand, and I pity anybody who underestimates you, Jules."

Greg suddenly noticed how sore his leg was getting. He hadn't stood this long since he was shot. So he sat down at the briefing room table with the team around him, like old times. Only the new team member, who was introduced as Marty LeClerc, kept this from looking like any debriefing from before the bombings.

With the exception of Marty's, every eye at the table was moist. Greg looked around slowly at each face, savoring each familiar line.

Finally, Greg spoke up. "Team, I need you to assess your subject." He stopped, nearly overcome with feeling.

"You're looking at a man who's drowning in his own blood. I don't know how to live without this!"

Hands quickly reached to touch him from all around the table. Those who couldn't reach him with their hands gave all the support they could from their eyes.

He looked over at Marina, who had stayed back to allow him time with his team. She nodded encouragement to him.

"I miss you so much...I miss this life so much...I don't know who I am without you. I don't know if it's even worth trying to learn to live without all of this." His gesture encompassed the whole SRU floor. "Would it be worth it to try to live without meaning, without purpose, without..." he almost said "without love," but he stopped himself. That would be a very heartless thing to say, when Marina had been faithfully loving him despite getting nothing in return for so long.

He shook his head, at a loss for words to describe the gaping void in his heart. "Help me learn to live again, guys."

Once again, he realized he'd left Marina out, and he beckoned her with an outstretched arm. Soon she stood by his side, her arm across his shoulder.

Not surprisingly, it was Eddie who spoke up first. "Boss, I've been wondering...have you ever considered teaching? Once you're up to it, I mean. You've got a gift, you've got years of experience...why not pass it along?"

Just then, the familiar claxon blared, and the team jumped to their feet. Winnie announced the details of this latest "hot call," and everyone ran to their duties.

Everyone but Greg. And Marina, of course.

The silence in the briefing room spoke volumes. It agreed very well with the empty crater in his soul.

And yet...Marina was there. And it began to dawn on Greg that he really hadn't appreciated her fully. He'd appreciated her in the sense of, "it's so nice of her to try so hard." But he hadn't appreciated the fact that she really, really could help make life worth living, even without the team. Or the fact that she really did love him...and, if he'd dare to look at his own heart...

Do I dare?

She took his hand, and this time he returned the squeeze. "Thank you, Marina. You were right about this, too. I needed this."

She smiled.

He drew her close for a kiss, the first one he'd initiated since he'd been injured. He kept it brief...after all, they were perfectly visible from Winnie's desk. But, brief or not, it opened a door in his heart and admitted Marina into that special inner room that only the team had entered before.

"I guess we'd better head home," he said quietly.

He could hear Winnie's interaction with the team, but this time he didn't want her to turn the speaker on for him.

That part of my life is over. He stood, gripped his walker, and began squeaking his way back to the elevator. Winnie stood and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, which he gladly returned.

That part of my life is over...but I still do have a life.

Marina put her hand lightly on his back as the elevator doors shut them in. "Teaching, huh? What do you think of that idea?"

He shrugged and offered her a little smile. "I don't know. Maybe." He drew her in for a longer kiss, but after a few moments of that, he remembered the elevator's security cam. He pointed it out to her, and she laughed.

He took one of her hands and squeezed it. "I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my life, but I'm beginning to believe that, with you by my side, I'll be able to find my way."

The elevator stopped. Greg and Marina walked out, but as soon as they'd cleared the doorway, he stopped. "I know what we need to do next. Let's stop at the nearest hardware store and get some WD-40 for this blasted squeak. I'm through with it."

"I think that's a wonderful idea."

They made their way through the parking garage toward Greg's car, squeaking with every step. But, oddly enough, the squeak no longer said anything to Greg at all.