Ed Lane stretched his legs out in front of him with an almost-contented sigh.
He could hold onto that pleasant feeling as long as he focused on the sweet sound of his wife's voice, alternating with his daughter's, as Izzie's bedtime routine unfolded. On this pleasant late-summer evening, with the windows open, their voices came through clearly to the balcony where Ed now reclined.
He swished his drink in lazy circles in his glass, ice softly clinking. A rum and coke, very light on the rum. He'd learned a lot from his best friend's long-ago fall.
Sweet sounds indeed. An innocent bedtime story. A lilting giggle. A three-year-old's joyful recitation of her favorite storybook phrases, triumphantly memorized.
Ed found himself anticipating each page, and how his daughter would respond to each picture, each line, each moment of connection forged with delight.
Maybe I should go in there. It'd be nice... a few more minutes with my little girl...
But no. If I mess up the bedtime routine, she'll get fussy and want more. It will be my turn tomorrow night.
He sighed and tilted his head back to rest on the back of the deck chair. From this angle he could see a couple of lonely stars glittering, though the night had not yet fully fallen.
He stared, wondering for a moment at the vastness of it all, picturing the infinite array of stars he knew were up there, but which the lights of Toronto masked from his view.
I wish I could see them.
We need a vacation. Somewhere far, far from here. Somewhere that has never seen the things I've seen, the things this city has seen...
He shoved that line of thought out of his head so violently that he bolted upright in his chair. A little of his drink sloshed onto his hand, and he bit back a curse.
No, no. I'm okay.
Nothing is going to ruin this evening with Sophie.
Quieter, sleepier words now floated through the window, and Ed made himself focus on them until he could relax again. Until he could push away the horrors...
He swore softly again, and bent to rest his face in his hands, elbows on knees, mind in rebellion.
Tragedies happen all the time. I can let go of the ones that didn't happen to me or my loved ones.
Even if I saw them, in all their soul-ripping...
No. Not doing this. Not now. I'm okay. Sophie's okay. Clark's okay. Izzie's okay. The team is okay. Greg is okay...well, more okay than he was.
He'll never be okay.
Stop it, Ed, just stop!
He slugged down his drink in rapid gulps, guiltily wishing for a bit more rum to take the edge off.
The light in Izzie's window winked off, and Ed turned his focus to the balcony door. At last. Here comes Sophie.
And soon, here she came, rewarding his wait with a soft smile. Instead of taking the chair beside his, she snuggled into his lap and rested her head on his shoulder.
He wrapped his arms around her and closed his eyes. She'd brought contentment with her, and he embraced it as a lifeline.
Neither of them spoke.
Ed felt himself slowly relaxing.
"Beautiful night," Sophie murmured.
"Yeah, I needed this."
She arched back a bit so she could look at his face, and her eyes searched his heart as only she could.
No, baby, I don't want to talk about it. Please.
He saw her read him, saw her accept it. She snuggled back in, and he held her a little tighter. Thank you so much, baby. You understood.
His cell phone rang, and he jumped.
"Oh no..." Sophie sounded more pleading than angry. She knew the ringtone as well as he did. Only calls from SRU headquarters, or from his teammates, sounded like that.
She sighed and stood so he could fish his phone out of his pocket.
He grimaced as he worked the phone out. "I'm sorry, babe."
"Maybe you're not being called in to work..."
"I hope not."
He furrowed his brow a bit as the large-font caller ID announced the name "Marty LeClerc." I don't think he's ever called me after hours before.
He hit the "answer" button while giving Sophie another apologetic look.
Her expression told of good-natured resignation, rather than the resentment he probably deserved.
You're a saint...
"Hey, Marty, what's up?"
Sophie settled into the chair beside his, her eyes still glued on his face. She clearly knew that the fate of her evening would be decided in the next few minutes.
"Sarge? Hey...I'm sorry to bug you, sir..."
Ed sat up a little straighter. The rookie's voice sounded strained, almost desperate.
"No no no no, you're not bugging me, buddy, what's wrong?" He shot another look at Sophie. This is worrying me.
She sighed, but stayed engaged.
"I just...Sarge...maybe I shouldn't have called, but...I know that better cops than me have hit hard times and needed to talk to you, and..."
"Hey, it's no trouble, Marty. Seriously. We're a team, and we're here for each other. You know how I feel about that. Nobody on my team should come as close to imploding as I did. So I want you to call when you need to." He gave yet another glance at Sophie, and saw her close her eyes with a heavy sigh as her hopes died.
He reached to lay a hand on her arm. She put her hand on top of it.
Marty didn't speak for several beats. "I just...I don't know what's wrong with me..."
"You used lethal force for the first time just a week ago, buddy. It's not strange at all that it's hitting you now."
"No, it's not that...at least...I don't think it is..." Another silence. Ed could picture Marty's face as he worked through what was probably denial.
"What happened tonight, buddy?"
A long pause. "It's hard to talk about."
"I know it is, my friend. I know it's hard to talk about." This time his glance at Sophie carried a question. Honey, do you mind? This could take a while.
She sighed and nodded. "Do what you need to do," she whispered.
I love you! He mouthed to her, silently.
She only gave him an eloquent expression in return, one that said, You're so lucky I love you too, because if I didn't...
She kissed his forehead and started to head back into the house, but he grabbed her hand to keep her near.
"Marty, we need to talk face to face, I think. Where can we do that?" A new question darted from his eyes to hers now. Her eyes widened, and she jerked a thumb towards Izzie's room." The baby's sleeping!
"Look, Marty, I'll meet you somewhere, or you can even come here, as long as we keep it quiet enough not to wake the baby."
"Baby? I thought..."
"Okay, you're right. She's three. But compared to our grown son, she's still a baby to us. But anyway, we could talk here, or wherever, buddy. I just think that face-to-face is a lot better when you're hurting. And my friend, you're hurting. I hear it. So where are we meeting?"
"Um...someplace private...are you sure your house would be okay?"
"Yeah, I'm sure our house would be okay." He looked right at Sophie when he said that, and she shook her head...not with disagreement, but with disbelief. And yet, he still saw acceptance there.
"All right, you've got the address, right?"
Sophie gently drew her hand free and walked into the house as he spoke.
"Yeah...are you sure...?" Marty asked.
"I'm sure, so quit stalling, get in your car, and come over here, okay?" He put just a touch of authority into his tone to make it official.
"Okay, I'll be right over." The line closed.
Ed stood and walked into the house in pursuit of his wife. He found her in the bedroom, sitting on the bed, brushing her hair.
"Honey, I'm sorry...it's just that he sounds like he's in a bad way..."
"I know, I know."
"Maybe it won't take too long."
"We can hope."
"Yeah." He crawled across the bed to her side and sat cross-legged behind her. He took the brush from her hands and ran it through her hair, more as a conciliatory caress than anything. "I'm sorry," he whispered again.
"It's okay." She leaned back against him, and he wrapped his arms around her. "I figured out a long time ago that things go better at home when things go well with the team. So take care of Marty, and then come back here and turn off your phone, okay?"
"I promise!" He kissed the back of her head.
"Of course, if you two talk loudly enough to wake Izzie up, all bets are off."
"We'll be church mice."
"You'd better." She turned around for a quick kiss. "You're a good man, Ed Lane."
"I don't deserve you."
He couldn't resist a chuckle.
"Where does Marty live?"
"Only about three miles from here. It won't be long."
He smiled again. "I'd better go wait for him in the living room."
Another quick kiss and Ed left her, softly closing the door behind him.