AN: Set after the end of the show. This is part of a continuing series, but it's not necessary to read the others first to understand this one. Bon apetit!
Three letters change Greg Parker's life.
He's been watching with dejection up until this point, of course. Worry causing him to nibble at his cuticles. He knows this is a level two emergency, knows exactly who would be taking this kind of call and what protocol would demand of them.
Somehow, even with all that head knowledge, it doesn't hit Greg at first.
"…Officer on scene is presumed KIA."
The world stutters to a halt.
All the students, huddled around an Academy issue laptop, whip their eyes around to Greg with absolutely zero subtlety. Greg keeps his face blank, eyes on news coverage where they've been for the last thirty minutes.
No. No, no, no.
The newscaster shuffles his papers. "We will bring you further updates as we learn more."
Sergeant Parker has become a legend in only a year at the Academy. He doesn't form strong attachments to students but it doesn't matter—stories circulate—
They know who's under that rubble too.
Classes are supposed to resume but none of the other instructors have bothered. They too are gathered around TVs and phones in the cafeteria. Hands over their mouths. Some weep softly. It's a choreographed scramble to call loved ones and say tender words, just in case.
The political terrorists bombed a justice building.
Everyone had been evacuated but the lone officer inside, trying to defuse a second bomb. It's Galina all over again.
This hits close to home for other reasons too, to everyone in the city. For the lives lost in the serial bombing attack of Faber's revenge plot.
Greg reaches up, removes his hat, and stops hearing the newscast.
There's a pulsing in his ears. He's pleased to note it's slow. He doesn't realize he's dialed a number from memory until the phone at his ear goes to a familiar voicemail.
The afternoon wears on, unbearable. Students are dismissed early and Greg redials over and over again.
Logic tells him the team is drowning, busy.
Of course they don't have time to answer his frenzied calls.
Alone in a private bathroom, Greg shoves his cane away, slides to the floor, and hides himself from the world with two broad palms over his eyes. He's dry sobbing. He can hear that much.
But there are no tears. Not for this kind of pain. This brand demands his all and nothing less.
It is not a grief that processes or works through what happened. This is a grief of shock and betrayal and horror. The ugly sounds coming out of his mouth are like the grinding of a house before it falls, the warning creak of beams that cannot hold their weight.
And then Ed calls him.
Greg fumbles to swipe and accept the incoming call. "Ed? Are you alright? Is the team—"
"The threat's been neutralized," says Ed. The sniper's voice is steady to the untrained ear. To Greg, it rasps. Like Ed's been screaming. "No more bombs."
That doesn't even remotely answer Greg's fears. "Jules? Leah?"
"Everyone on the team is unharmed. Well…"
If avoiding Greg's questions had been unusual, Ed hesitating is downright unheard of. It sends Greg into a mania, standing and limping to his car and—
"Greg! Hey! I already had to convince Winnie to stay at the station and fight Sam and Jules off. Don't make me deal with another emotionally compromised person. Okay?"
Greg notices only then that he's having a panic attack behind the wheel of his parked car. "Our boy, Eddie! He was our boy!"
The sob that comes out of him is hardly human. He bangs on the steering wheel and then on his chest, unashamed of his wails and hearing them echoed in Ed's sigh.
A pause. A deliberate, thoughtful pause.
"That's why I called." Ed's voice shifts to a low, urgent cadence. "We need you here."
"For what? Ed, I'm just going to join this basket case convention."
"…You're not going to believe this."
Greg's heart positively stops. When it decides to snare to life again, Greg fights black spots in his swimming vision. "I'm sorry…what? Eddie, in that footage…full SUVs were pancakes. Concrete pillars disappeared into dust. Nobody could have survived a whole building coming down like that."
Is Ed in denial? A delusional state? Greg's mind races overtime.
"I'm not crazy, Greg. I'm staring at him right now."
When Greg pulls into the hospital, he expects an unconscious figure. Wan. Maybe not breathing. Bloodied and torn to shreds. Bones a fragmented soup inside his broken body. Minutes to live.
His first impression, walking through the doors of Emergency, is of autumn. He's stepped into the woods. Leaves whispered by erratic winds.
A hushed yet tense rustle fills the room.
Greg is struck by the sheer number of people in a rough semi-circle at the back of the waiting area. It's quiet. Too quiet for an emergency room.
They keep their distance, though. Even Ed, crouched in front.
Why? Is Greg's first thought. Isn't time essential?
His second shock is that most of these people are doctors. Not just nurses or paramedics. Specialists. Already robed and itching to get their hands on someone.
Greg rounds the receptionist, pale behind his desk, and sees just who that someone is.
He stops dead.
An old anthropology class flashes into his mind, on the indigenous people of Ethiopia; their white face makeup, acting as masks. The second image is of 9/11 survivors with ash in their hair:
He's a ghost—covered full body in powder. On the rare occasion he blinks, fan lines touch his cheeks from his long eyelashes.
No blood. He sits under his own power in a waiting room chair, if a bit slumped. An oxygen mask is looped around his face.
Ed spots Greg and rushes to intercept before he can limp over. "Hey, no."
"Ed, let me see him."
"Not yet. Just…he's not…"
"Eddie!" Greg laughs, weeping. "He's alive! He made it! How?"
Ed shakes his head. "We searched that rubble for hours, top to bottom. No body. Then we get a frantic call from the hospital that he just walked himself through the doors and stumbled into that chair. Where he's been ever since."
Ed's eyes shine and he hasn't been this wide eyed, vulnerable, since the day he held Greg in his arms while he bled out. "I don't have any other word for it but a miracle, Greg."
"Did he tell you how he got out?"
"The first bomb was weak, a trap for the main event. Only five minutes on the timer for the second bomb that needed at least three times as long to defuse."
That doesn't answer his question but Greg senses there are more important things to focus on right now.
He nods. "An impossible scenario."
"It was too late, Greg." Ed's lips quiver once. That sight is the third bomb of the day. "By the time we recalled him, he was already in the parking garage, lowest level. It would have taken over seven minutes just to climb the stairs at a dead run. Elevator busted. We sent him to his coffin."
Greg closes his eyes, even though their boy is sitting right there.
"Hearing's not damaged."
Greg opens his eyes. "How can you tell?"
Ed gestures with his chin. "I ordered him to put the oxygen mask on himself since he won't let anyone near him and he did."
Then Greg sees it:
A gun sits in Spike's lap. Greg's world tilts for a brief second. The sight is wrong.
"Hospital staff tried to rush him," Ed explains. "He flipped out and pulled his Glock."
"Has he threatened anyone with it?"
Ed thinks this over, eyeing the whispering staff and Spike's dead stare. "Not exactly. Wouldn't allow me or anyone else to touch him. When I tried to creep forward, he put his hand on it and glared at me."
"He knew you'd back off," says Greg, awed.
Ed doesn't reply. A muscle jumps in his jaw.
"What's wrong with him, Eddie?"
"I've never seen him like this." And there's real fear in Ed's eyes. "He hasn't said a single word, unresponsive. But I know he can see and hear. Can move on his own."
Greg's raging brain takes a quick left turn somewhere around familiar and parks on purpose.
He calms immediately.
"I got him, Ed."
"Are you sure?"
Something primal links hands with the negotiator part of Greg's mind newly awakened. The pair of those instincts makes a formidable team. "Are you going to keep me from him?"
Ed holds up both hands. "Wouldn't dare."
Greg pulls up a chair in front of Spike, ignoring the many eyes he can feel follow the motion. Ed stands at Greg's side. Greg winces when he lowers himself.
His cane is safely hooked over the arm of the uncomfortable wooden hospital chair. He's amazed that after hours of physical therapy, the bullet hole in his leg still pains him. A scar that will never heal.
Greg finally spies the gun carefully hidden behind Ed's thigh and sucks in a noisy breath. His gut constricts.
It takes effort for his voice to come out level and not the growl he longs to use. "No need for that, Ed. Not here."
Ed's brows draw together. "If he threatens one of the staff…"
"He won't." Greg at last faces his boy. "Will you, Spike?"
Spike's gaze floats straight through Greg. Through Ed. Through the whole tableau. He's not focused on any of them right now, not even Greg's hand when he waves it in front of the tech's eyes.
Their faces are not two hand lengths apart, but Greg has never felt so far from Spike. They might as well be on different continents.
Where are you, Spike? What are you seeing?
Because Spike is seeing something. His dilated eyes, pupils blown to unhealthy magnitude, dart in minute movements from side to side at a fixed point just over Greg's right shoulder.
"It's me, son." Greg speaks softly, a gentle tone he only feels safe using because it's just Ed here with them. He has their back. He shields them from prying eyes. "I'm here. It's okay now. The bombing is over and you're okay."
He tempts fate, stretches in an inch-by-inch crawl for the back of Spike's neck. The crowd gasps softly.
Greg's hand makes contact but still Spike doesn't move.
He squeezes once. "You with me, buddy?"
Spike's lips move behind the mask. Silently, one syllable that Greg would know anywhere.
"Not 'boss' anymore." Greg chuckles. "That's Eddie here. It's me, it's Greg."
No response. Spike doesn't even blink. In fact, he's so mannequin-still that Greg has to keep an eye on the hospital mask and how it fogs, just to be reassured he's breathing.
"You did a great job today. Defused that first bomb in the judge's car so it didn't hurt anybody. Danger's over. Can you hand me your sidearm?"
Spike doesn't, but he's also limp while Greg reaches across with his free hand and slips it off Spike's lap.
Ed leans down to take it. Greg hands it to his friend without looking.
"Could it be bomb shock?" Greg wonders aloud.
Ed throws him a shrewd look. "That's archaic of you. I believe we just call this shock. He's traumatized, Greg."
Greg jaw ticks one way, then the other. "No. Bomb shock. It's different. Sometimes people caught in blasts, they have trouble understanding where they are. Equilibrium, time—they're both distorted. Slowed way down to the point of incoherence."
"The doctors are more worried about bleeding on the brain," says Ed.
That doesn't fit. Greg is no trauma doctor, but he's had exhaustive hours of training and he knows if that were true, Spike probably wouldn't be sitting upright under his own strength either. Or hearing. Or seeing.
And there's no sign of a head injury.
In fact, there's no sign of any injury.
"You really are our lucky charm, huh?" Greg's fingers knead out the tension in Spike's neck. "Or our guardian angel. I swear you're going to use up your nine lives before you reach thirty."
Ed gasps and Greg's hand drops in surprise—
A thick line of tears fill Spike's eyes. They don't fall, blinked away quickly, but it's the most emotion they've seen from this void affect.
Spike is back to that blank body language in a heartbeat. Still, trained to read people, Greg knows he saw it.
"Spike." Ed bends forward now. "Can you talk to us, bud? Where are you in your mind right now? How can we fix it?"
Spike's stare doesn't waver and Ed makes a frustrated sound. A helpless one, a parent who can't do anything for their child.
Greg taps at Spike's hand. He notices that the fingers are bloody, on both hands. "I'm glad you're okay, Spike. I heard the news and I thought…"
Tears have been Greg's food on long nights. He's done more weeping in the past year than he cares to admit.
Yet he lets it happen when the back of his eyes burn. Lets Spike see the tears because he deserves it. It's the least Greg can do for him after how he's saved them all over and over again.
"You're mio figlio, Spike." Greg's whisper thickens with emotion. "You're the reason I stay at this tedious job—because if the next generation is going to have your back, they'd better be the best."
He feels Ed smile. The man's larger hand joins Greg on Spike's.
The pulse beats of each man ring through the skin-to-skin contact. Greg's hand is sandwiched between the two, held up by the son while the stalwart honour of his best friend protects them both.
Spike is still lost somewhere Greg can't chart, but Ed and Greg hold their breath when two laden tears cut through the grime on Spike's cheeks, leaving dark pink lines, and dirty his SRU collar.
Greg can resist the impulse no longer.
He lurches forward and gathers Spike into his arms, rocking them. Spike doesn't move. Is a rag doll in Greg's arms.
Medical staff take that as their cue—the patient will allow touch and the threat is vanquished—to swarm the pair. They must be desperate to over ride Ed's protective, barked warnings.
It's funny that despite a team of ten or more doctors and nurses, they still can't pry Greg and Spike apart.
Dread, trepidation, pesky voices of experience with cases like this, they all nip away at Greg's composure. He still doesn't know what's wrong. Still has no answers. Still has to break the news to everyone.
Here and now, all Greg allows himself to feel is suffocating gratitude.
He doesn't know who he's thanking, but he repeats it into Spike's dust-lathered hair until he's hoarse.
"Thankyouthankyou…I've got you…thank you…thank you."
Spike makes an aborted sound, like a cough. Greg wants to whoop and holler in victory and flip fate the bird. Spike is responding! The garbling continues, in Greg's ears akin to a baby shrieking when he first comes out of the womb.
Then Ed's face crumbles. Greg pulls back to look—
The inside of Spike's oxygen mask is sprayed with blood.