The traffic in the hospital's halls bustled despite the late hour. Ed had to periodically dodge nurses and doctors rushing to some emergency, plastering himself along the wall in order to avoid being beaned by a cart barreling through a nearby door, holding the precious cargo he was carrying high and close to his chest, in order to prevent it from sustaining damage in the crowded halls. When he finally stepped through the door and into Sam's room, he let out a sigh of relief as the door shut behind him and he entered a world of quiet and calm.
Sam looked up when he heard the door open and shut, and smiled as Ed approached the bed, though he did not call a greeting.
Ed hesitated a moment, unsure of what that meant, thinking that perhaps he wasn't welcome.
Sam read the uncertainty in his steps and quickly raised his hand and beckoned him forward, before gesturing to the far side of his bed, where a chair sat with an occupant. And the occupant was clearly asleep. Libby's head was tilted back in a no-doubt uncomfortable angle, resting on the back of the chair, legs stretched out in front of her and resting on the end of Sam's bed, hands resting on an open book in her lap.
Ed's concern evaporated and he quickly moved forward to stand by Sam's bed, carefully shifting the cardboard box he was holding so that he could grip it with one hand, while using his other to quietly pick up a chair and shift it so that it was better positioned to converse with Sam.
"Hey," Sam called softly once Ed had sat down.
"Hey yourself," Ed greeted in return, before gently placing the cardboard box on the floor at his feet.
When he straightened, he found Sam's eyes gazing curiously at the box, but when his gaze shifted to Ed's, before he could ask about it, Ed looked at Libby, then back at Sam with raised eyebrows, asking his question in silence.
Sam followed his gaze and grinned. "She's reading to me," he explained quietly.
Ed said nothing but let the amusement show on his face.
"Well, she was reading to me," Sam amended. "Until she fell asleep about thirty minutes ago, and I didn't want to wake her because she needs the sleep."
Looking at the dark circles under the young woman's eyes, and remembering her stress, panic, and haunted look in her eye over the past week, Ed couldn't agree more. He'd tried talking to her about it on several occasions, but she'd brushed him off—for which he didn't blame her, after all, she didn't know him particularly well. But it appeared as if Sam had worked his magic.
"Well I don't want to risk waking her," he started carefully. "I can leave and come back another time." He started to rise, but stopped when Sam lifted a hand and waved him back into his seat.
"Nah, it's okay. A nurse has been in a few times and we've talked quietly and Libby didn't wake. I think she's out, as long as we keep it down."
"Okay, well, then, I brought someone else to see you." Ed leaned down and picked the box up, carefully placed it on its side on Sam's bed, and gingerly opened the top flaps.
Sam watched him in confusion, that is, until the box opened and a dark shadow stuck its nose out hesitantly. Spotting Ed, the little cat hissed and fluffed up her fur, turning sideways to make herself more intimidating.
Sam sucked in a breath.
And the little cat froze.
Her tiny nose twitched, testing the air as a familiar scent caught her attention, and her eyes darted towards Sam, seeing him for the first time.
Her hair immediately began to lie flat and she took a few timid steps forward, belly low to the bed, awkwardly creeping up towards Sam's hand which rested by his side, hampered slightly by the cast on her front leg.
Ed leaned back, to give her space, but she still gave him a distrusting sidelong glance as she passed him on her slow creep up the side of the bed.
As she approached Sam, he did not move a muscle, but watched her with rapt attention. She reached his hand where it rested at his side on the bed, and stopped. Sam raised that hand ever so slowly, giving her plenty of chance to move away, but she stayed put. Once his fingertips were level with her nose, she gave it a few good sniffs, before, rapid-fire, her tongue shot out and licked it. And then she thrust her face into the palm of his hand and walked forward, letting his hand slide along her back.
The grin that split Sam's face made all of the haggling and bargaining Ed had had to do with the nursing staff—not to mention the number of mild scratches now littering his hand—worth it.
She took a few more steps forward so that she was nestled between his left arm and chest, stretched out her neon pink cast so that it almost brushed Sam's chin, flopped down, and closed her eyes. A few moments later, a rumbling purr revved throughout the room.
"That is the first time I have seen that fiend settle down with someone and look content rather than murderous," Ed shared.
Sam looked up from where he'd been staring at the small kitten with wonder and met Ed's gaze. "That's the first time she's ever let me touch her—not counting when she was half dead."
Ed grinned. "Well, she hasn't warmed up to anyone, even though she's been at my house for almost two weeks now. Still hisses and spits at me any time I get near, and she's been really restless. The only time I can get her to relax at all is when I go to your house and raid your closet and bring some of your old t-shirts over—sorry, you'll probably have to do laundry as soon as you get back to your house."
"I had no idea," Sam murmured. "She's been hanging around for months and slowly warming up to me, but not like this."
"Yeah, well, I think she's changed her mind, chosen her person, and she's made a good choice at that; after all, you did save her life. And given her reaction to your shirts, we decided that while the trip here might be stressful on her, that it might ultimately help. Seems like we were right."
"Thank you, Ed." Sam's voice was soft, still, to keep from waking Libby, but the depth of his gratitude was clear.
"It was the least I could do. I cleared it with the staff here and they'll let her stay overnight as long as she doesn't cause trouble."
"And she's healing okay?"
They lapsed into silence, but this one, unlike the one during their previous conversation, was comfortable. Companionable. They both just watched Dezzie settle against Sam, and occasionally mew in protest to some unknown sleight against her—though Sam was not moving a muscle—get up, awkwardly shift around and settle again and go straight back to sleep.
Ed glanced over at Libby and saw that her head had slipped to the side and now rested on her right shoulder, her breathing still even and deep. He did not envy her the sore neck she would have.
Eventually, Ed shifted into a more comfortable position, and a memory suddenly leapt to his mind. "Oh, hey," he called quietly, catching Sam's attention. "Ben Gaskill sends his thanks. He wanted to come thank you in person, but didn't want to crowd in right now, given everything. He'll probably find you at some point in the future, though, heads up."
Sam smiled. "Thanks. He doesn't need to do that, but thanks for the warning."
Ed nodded, then debated whether or not to ask the question that was rattling around in his head. His shifting drew Sam's attention, and the other man stared at him a few moments, gaze questioning.
"Speaking of Ben, mind if I ask you a question?" Ed queried finally.
Sam's lips quirked up in a half smile. "You realize you just did?"
Ed rolled his eyes. "All right smart ass, but for real. Would you mind if I asked you a question about the square?"
Sam shook his head. "No, I wouldn't. Shoot."
Ed winced. "Interesting choice of words, but okay. Can I ask how you knew Ben was the target?"
Sam nodded. "I figured you or someone would ask at some point. Jack warned me to be prepared for a lot of questions," he explained. "The short answer to your question is that I didn't. Not really, not for sure."
Ed frowned. "But you knew to try to prevent him from going to get help, from exposing himself."
"Right, I'll try to explain as best I can, but I admit that some of the details get a little fuzzy, especially towards the end," he warned, gesturing towards the left side of his still bandaged head. "It was mostly that I finally realized that there was a second shooter. From the moment those shots first rang out, all throughout that time we were sitting behind that stupid planter, something wasn't sitting right with me. Something was off, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Subconsciously I knew already, but I hadn't processed it consciously, and it wasn't until I started to lose it at the end, when Libby started talking about time, that it clicked. What had felt off was the timing of the shots, and the angles. And that's when I realized there was almost certainly a second shooter. I mean," Sam paused, "I couldn't be sure about it. And at that point the blood loss had definitely started to take hold, and maybe I was being paranoid, but I figured better safe than sorry, you know?"
Ed nodded. Even without them knowing the outcome of the events, it was definitely reasonable to be cautious. And they were so lucky that Sam had acted on that caution…
"Anyway," Sam continued softly, glancing briefly at Libby to make sure none of this was waking her, "once that clicked, mostly it was just a matter of preventing anyone from exposing themselves, Libby included. Because there was still a shooter out there waiting for people to pop out of their protected spots. And god, it was the worst feeling, Ed," he sat back and rested his head against the bed, eyes closed, no doubt reliving the experience. "Because I knew something was wrong, that we were still in danger, and I couldn't communicate. I knew what I needed to say, but the words just wouldn't come, and I couldn't tell Libby and she almost got up…" he trailed off.
Ed leaned forward and clasped Sam's hand, careful not to touch the little black cat, who opened one eye and eyed him distrustfully, before closing it again. "But she didn't, Sam. You may not have been able to tell her what was going on—and let's remember your lung was probably collapsing at this point—but you were able to communicate with her. She understood and didn't get up," he reminded.
"Yeah," Sam let out a shuddering breath and squeezed Ed's hand, opening his eyes to look at Libby. "Yeah, thank god for that."
Ed sat back.
Sam shook his head and returned his attention to Ed. "So it was that, but then there was also my conversation with Jack. We both realized that the whole thing didn't just feel like a random act of violence, but that the shooter—or rather, shooters—was targeting someone in particular. And we didn't know who, but something Ben said once he joined me and Libby, something about coming there every weekend, made me think back to that conversation with Jack and realize that the likelihood would be high that if this were a targeted attack, it had to be planned well in advance, they had to know their target was going to be there. Like Ben. So, I didn't know for sure that Ben was the target, I just knew that there was a second shooter, and anyone—Ben included—might be the target."
"Damn, Sam, you figured all that out while bleeding out and sitting under the scorching sun?"
"You would have done the same," Sam assured. "In fact, you might have figured it out faster. I'm still kicking myself over not getting it to click about the second shooter sooner."
Ed rolled his eyes and sighed. "No, Sam, I don't think I would have made all of those connections, particularly while bleeding out."
Sam shrugged. "Well, I hope we never find out. Now, would you mind handing me that water? My throat still gets pretty easily parched." He gestured at a cup of water on his side table, then glanced down at his left arm, which was occupied by providing Dezzie with a nest to sleep in.
"Sure, no problem." Ed rose and grabbed the cup, reaching over Sam in order to pass it to his right hand. As his arm crossed over the little black cat, however, her eyes popped open and she hissed and swiped at him half-heartedly. Luckily by then the cup was already in Sam's hand, so Ed was able to jerk back without dumping water all over his friend. He eyed the furball reproachfully, as Sam tried to hide a chuckle behind his water glass. "Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want," Ed told Sam accusingly. "You know, if she does that to any of the nurses, they're gonna make her leave immediately."
"Yeah, I know. But she won't, she just had to remind you who's boss."
Ed sat back and shook his head. While Sam drank, he suddenly realized that Sam had two new friends, both of whom were fiercely protective of him, and both of whom had an arm in a cast. Huh.
When Sam was finished, he carefully handed the cup back to Ed, who likewise took it gingerly, eyeing Dezzie the whole time. But she remained relaxed, eyes closed.
When he sat again, Sam cleared his throat. "How goes the search for my replacement?"
Ed paused, not sure if Sam meant a permanent or temporary replacement. He decided he wasn't going to ask for clarification, recognizing the irony of that, because after all, it was not asking questions that was partly what got them into this trouble in the first place. But in this case, he felt that the question would apply pressure, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. Thus far, he knew the SRU was operating under the assumption that they were looking for a temporary replacement, but who knew, that could change. His answer, though, wouldn't. "It's good, we've got a few strong candidates going through the motions, and we'll be reviewing them at the end of the week because we need to get back into the rotation by next week; the other teams have been pulling our slack and it's starting to wear at them."
Sam nodded. "Good."
When they lapsed into silence once more, Ed realized he could no longer avoid the topic. He had reasoned he shouldn't bring it up last time because he hadn't wanted to distract from his and Sam's important conversation, and Sam had clearly been exhausted afterwards anyway, just from the short conversation with Jack and then Ed. And he'd avoided it thus far in this meeting by reasoning that maybe he didn't need to tell Sam just yet… but he realized he needed to.
"Whatever it is you're trying to figure out how to tell me," Sam interrupted his thoughts, "don't worry about it and just go ahead and tell me."
Ed huffed in impressed amusement. "How do you and Spike do that?"
"Read my mind."
"Well, if I could do that, I wouldn't need to ask you to just spit it out, I'd know already," Sam pointed out. "What Spike and I can do is read your face. You get this look."
"Do I want to know what this look looks like?"
Sam grinned. "Eh, probably not."
Ed sighed. "Okay fine. Well, there's no easy way for me to say this. It took us awhile, but Greg and I finally got in touch with your father, and the short of it is, they're not coming."
The smile dropped away from Sam's face and he looked away. But not before Ed saw that there was no surprise in Sam's gaze. "Yeah, I know," he murmured quietly.
That quiet, accepting admission broke Ed's heart. In no world had he ever considered that this would be Sam's reaction. He'd expected facing disappointment, sadness, hurt, and had been prepared—or had tried to be—to offer comfort in response to that. He had not been prepared for Sam to not only be so completely unsurprised, but to expect it and accept it as normal.
It meant Sam's family—the family he was born into—had so thoroughly broken his trust and cast him away that he no longer even thought to count on them. And Ed realized how close Team One had come to reaching that same point, to breaking that trust beyond repair. But they hadn't, yet. They'd managed to pull it back from the edge.
"I'm sorry, Sam," he offered finally, unsure of what else to say.
"Yeah, thanks," he replied quickly, as if trying to move past the topic of conversation as fast as possible. Until he seemed to reconsider, and admit quietly, "It's funny, I've spent so long trying to distance myself from my family, break away so I can't be disappointed or hurt over and over, and in the end it doesn't even matter because they don't even have to be here to accomplish that."
If Ed could reach through the non-existent phone lines and seize the General and shake him, yell at him for his stupidity at casting aside his son, he would. In fact, he would take great pleasure in listing every single bad decision the man has made, and every single wonderful thing Sam has done in spite of how awful his father is. But, since that was not possible, Ed settled for making another promise. This one he did silently, however, so Sam could not call him out on not keeping it. Because this one, he was going to keep.
Because after both Libby's comments about family that you choose, and Sam's own just now, it was clear to Ed that while Sam had been pulling away from his first family, sealing himself off in order to protect himself, he'd been embracing a new one: Team One. And they'd made some mistakes, let Sam down in a big way, but they were going to do better, to be the family that Sam deserved.
He kept this to himself, though. He'd made enough grand speeches, and this was one that he'd hit home with actions in the coming days and months, not words.
A little while later, Ed decided it was time to leave. Sam's eyes were blinking a little more slowly, and it was getting late.
"Hey Sam, I'm going to head out, all right?"
Sam nodded slowly as Ed rose from his chair. "Say hello to your family for me."
Ed smiled, rising from his chair and collecting his things. "Will do, Sam, and you get some rest." He started to step away, before he stopped and eyed Libby, still oblivious to the world. "Is she okay? Does she need a ride home?"
Sam shook his head. "Nah, her parents are getting her in," he glanced at the clock on the wall, "fifteen minutes."
"Okay, well, good night then." He made his way towards the door, grasped the handle and pulled it open, then stopped. Another question had been eating at him, and why it chose now to insist on an answer, he didn't know. "Hey Sam?" he called softly, turning enough to let himself look over his shoulder and meet Sam's gaze.
"How did you know that Grayes wanted suicide by cop?"
Deeply rooted pain flashed through Sam's eyes, before it was gone. It was pain that had nothing to do with recent events, but something buried in Sam's past.
Sam cleared his throat. "I think that's a story for another time," he replied quietly. "Ask me again when I'm back on my feet with you on Team One, and maybe I'll tell you then."
Ed's eyes widened in surprise at the casual admittance that Sam had made a decision that in no way was casual; he'd decided to stay.
Sam's gaze held his. "We'll both be better, then."
Ed smiled at the double meaning. That Sam would be better physically, and that Ed would keep his promise to be a better friend.
"Yes," he responded, hoping he could convey his sincerity in his gaze and words, "yes we will."
Sam nodded, pleased with the answer, and settled back against the bed, gently stroking Dezzie.
And Ed stepped through and into the hall, letting the door shut quietly behind him, going their separate ways… but just for the night.
In the coming months, Ed would be there. Spike would be there. Jules would be there. All of Team One would be there. Libby and her family would be there, supporting Sam through the healing process, through both healing processes, every step of the way.
A.N. There's always more that could be included, more story that could be told, but I hope this chapter brings this arc to a satisfactory close, because here we are at the end of this story. On the one hand, it's taken forever to arrive at this point (eep, sorry!), and on the other hand, it feels like just yesterday that the idea for this story marched into my mind and demanded to be written. I can't believe it blossomed into an 100k fic… it started as maybe 30k at the very beginning.
It's been a fantastic journey all along the way, and thank you all so much for coming on this adventure with me, and for your continued support and encouragement. It's been such a treat spending so much time in the Flashpoint world with Sam, Libby, and the rest of Team One.
I don't have any plans for further works in this series, but certainly won't say no if inspiration strikes, and feel free to make suggestions.
Once again, thank you all. I hope you all stay safe and well!