Authors Note: Double chapter day, because you're all worth it.
Five Weeks Later
John swung himself down the corridor, moving fast on his crutches and managing to avoid the chaos that he'd been presented with. He had hoped that it would calm down once he'd made it out of the main entrance to the hospital and found his way to the paediatric floor, but here there was just as much pandemonium. Wards were overflowing, with kids laying in beds that had been parked up in corridors, entire families were crowded in amongst them or camped out in the small waiting room, overworked and stressed-looking nurses worked between them. It reminded him of a hospital in a war zone and his first thought was that there must have been some sort of disaster that he hadn't heard about. It was a world away from the clean and efficient hospital in Quito that he had spent a lot of the last five weeks in. But it soon became quickly apparent that this was an average day at Caracas' cash-strapped biggest hospital.
The last five weeks had been hard work for all involved. He'd had three operations on his knee as they'd struggled to repair the damage the bullet had done at such close range, and he knew he'd been less than grateful. He hated being trapped in bed, had refused the wheelchair and had argued with the physiotherapist about how hard he should be pushing himself at every turn. Sameen and Lionel had made their excuses and hightailed it quickly to get back to New York, leaving Harold to try to keep the peace between the medical staff and their restless and sulky patient. It had become easier as he'd been allowed to move to the hotel, Harold had rented a car and they'd spent the days between appointments exploring the beautiful countryside. But he'd known he would still be unable to settle until he did this.
He found the room he was looking for and paused a moment to peer through the window. He was suddenly gripped with the idea that he shouldn't have come. Why did he ever think that they would want him anywhere near them again? But he knew he would never be able to come to terms with what had happened if he didn't see for himself. The room was busy, with eight beds in it, all but one had a small family crammed around the children's bed on plastic chairs. He felt a pang of sympathy for the sick kids and the people who were caring for them. He often felt that life was rarely fair, and it was never more apparent than right at that moment.
He found who he was looking for at the back of the room by the window. Young Juan was sat propped up in bed on a stack of pillows, bare chested save for the bandages that covered his skinny chest. He had a nasal cannula on, but otherwise looked to be one of the healthier kids in the room. His mother, Carmella, was sat beside him dressed casually in jeans and a tee shirt. She had a book in her hands and the pair of them were hunched close as they read it together, the sunlight falling on their faces and warming the room.
John lost track of how long he had stood there, but eventually a voice broke him out of his thoughts.
"You should go in."
John turned to face Luiz who had come up beside him. John studied him, the man looked weary but the anger he expected wasn't there.
"I'm so sorry," John started. "I should never have let you get caught up in this."
"No, you shouldn't have." Luiz agreed. "But you didn't shoot my son, the government did."
"The men who did this, they're dead." John told him. Part of him had wished to be the one to have taken the man responsible down, but in the end he'd accepted that the important thing was that the soldier was no longer be around to do such a horrific thing again.
"That doesn't make me feel better." Luiz replied. He nudged John towards the door.
John gave him a grim look and then entered the room, limping along, still unable to put much weight on his heavily strapped knee. Carmella looked up at the noise of the crutches and the book she was holding fell from her hands. She stood up and rushed forward, wrapping John in a hug. He'd been prepared for nasty words or cold looks, maybe even to have that book thrown at him. The display of affection threw him and he didn't know how to handle it. He stood stiffly, wrapping an arm around her waist to return the gesture only after he had taken a moment to deal with his shock.
"I had no idea what had happened to you, I thought you were dead." Carmella said, pulling back to take a look at him. The cuts and bruises had nearly healed but there were still traces of the damage he'd been subjected to.
"I'm so sorry." John said.
Carmella smiled at her son, "Saluda a John." [Say hello to John.]
The boy smiled and waved timidly.
Carmella smiled, "He's shy. He's been talking about you non-stop. He even likes his scar because he says it's like yours."
John frowned at that, he'd never considered himself a role model, and he was so sure the kid had every right to hate him. In fact, the idea that any child might want to be like him made him feel physically sick. "He's a tough kid."
"Takes after the man I named him for."
John found his smile and struggled over to sit beside the boy, "Hola Juan," he reached down for the abandoned book on the floor. "¿Qué estás leyendo?" [What are you reading?]
An hour later, John hobbled out of the hospital to find a familiar figure sat on a park bench, a laptop balanced precariously on his lap. He sat down beside him and had a quick glance over at the screen.
"How did it go?" Harold twisted awkwardly to see him.
John nodded, finding the words, "That kid is pretty amazing. He's had some complications but he's going to be just fine."
"While you were inside I've been doing some research." Harold said.
John smirked, what else was new?
"It appears that Carmella and Luiz have been leading the fundraising for the victims of the fire. When they next check the funding site, they're going to find a large anonymous donation. It should be enough to completely rebuild the homes that were lost. Plus, enough to significantly improve the after-school programme that they run in their spare time."
John broke out a rare grin. "Thank you, Harold."
Harold flipped the laptop closed and stood. "Ready to go?"
John got to his feet and together they limped down the steps towards the taxi rank outside the hospital. It was a sunny day, and despite everything that had happened here, the weather was managing to make the city look bright and pleasant. Falling into step with his shorter friend, John felt a calm that he'd not experienced in some time. He was never one to have felt a particular longing for home, but this time, it felt good to be going back to New York.
"The light aircraft I've chartered should be ready to go as soon as we get to the airfield." Harold explained. "I thought I'd fly myself if that's alright with you. But please don't make me jump out of this one."
John looked at him and laughed. "Only if your flying is as bad as your driving, Finch."
Harold cocked his head and gave him a look of distain. "I meant to ask, what did Fusco mean about the cocaine?"
John clambered into the taxi and shuffled over to make room for his friend. "I'll tell you when we're in the air," he promised. "That way you're less likely to leave me behind."
Last Authors Note: Well I am so sad to see this story end, it's been a lot of fun to write and I've loved hearing what you all think of it.
I have to thank McMoni, who always has more faith in my work than it deserves and whose encouragement keeps me putting fingers to the keyboard. Also there are a whole load of you that have told me your thoughts over the last few months, enough of you that I may actually hit 100 reviews on this which would be a personal milestone and also a tough one to hit for anyone not writing romance. So big thanks, in no particular order to: ChibiDawn23, imo127, Souhashi27, Edith Bodin, brokenheores, Daniela Reese, Impvme, Soren, Rania720, lp257, LadyAristova, Raleigh, NCISjunkie14 and anyone else who has favourited or followed this work. You're all officially members of the John Whumpers Support Group and I thank you for it.
Lots of love