AN: Thanks to whoever read this far! The Weepies' song "Stars" is really for this chapter, fitting really well with that sleepy, cathartic moment at the end. Sorry this chapter is so long - I couldn't find a clean or satisfying way to break it up!


'Hold out your hand
Can you feel the weight of it,
The whole world at your fingertips?
Don't be, don't be afraid.'

"I'll Keep You Safe" ~ Sleeping At Last

Ed has come a long way since Greg met him, all those years ago. He's less aggressive. Not so dominating. More in tune with how people feel or if they're struggling.

It's not clear which Ed is in full swing when he suggests a weekend camping trip, "just us guys." A testosterone-fuelled suggestion to anyone looking on.

Greg, however, doesn't miss all his worried glances at Spike's nearly empty plate and visible ribs over his shirt collar at the latest team barbeque. Maybe this is Ed's way of being sensitive.

The trip ends up being the four of them:

Spike and Sam crammed into the back of Greg's truck swapping hockey stories. Ed drives and Greg shakes his head. The stories get wilder and more outlandish—"I dove for the puck and did a spin before slapping it out of the net!"—but Spike completely relaxes by the time they get to the trail head so neither Greg or Ed, by mutual and unspoken consensus, voice a word of protest.

They pack light, but Spike notices them secretly trying to shoulder everything before he can and insists on carrying a bag. He and Greg still get the easiest ones—food and fishing tackle, respectively—but thankfully this one Spike doesn't pick up on.

It's a short hike and mostly flat, in deference to Greg's leg. He's proud to be barely winded by the time they make it from the parking lot to their tent spot.

"Oh, wow." Greg shields his eyes to survey. "When you said by the lake, you really meant…"

Grinning ear to ear, little boy spark in his eyes, Sam pulls up to Greg's side. Lake Ontario laps at their boots. The rustle and low voices of Ed and Spike signal them unfurling both tents yet Greg can't bring himself to look away.

"My dad used to bring me here every summer," says Sam. "No cars. No human noise except for us."

Greg closes his eyes. It really is quiet, despite the fact they're a fifteen minute walk to the road.

"I'm glad you had that time with him, Sam."

The man sets a hand on his hip. "I want to keep the legacy going. Sadie's too young but I'll take her here someday."

Spike pipes up. "Guess we'll have to do for now."

Sam just grins wider.

All four are mellow and lazy for the evening. Greg ends up in a lawn chair, watching Sam and Ed bicker over the proper way to start a bonfire. His eyes glint.

Spike stands off to one side with a funny look on his face.

Greg winks at him and he walks over.

"Think we should tell 'em, Spike?"

Spike angles his head while considering. "I want to be insulted, but this is just sad."

Greg hides a smirk behind his hand.

"You have to build a cone shape so there's room for air flow at the bottom!" says Sam.

Ed throws up his hands. "For the last time—it doesn't matter how you stack it, so long as kindling rings the stones."

"You'll choke it out!"

"And yours will take forever to get a blaze going. Do you want to eat these steaks?"

This grabs Sam's full attention. "We're having steak?"

"Not if we do it your way."

"It's the army way."

"Well, the army way is slow and ineffective."

"You're questioning your own government's endorsed method of survival?" Sam asks incredulously.

Ed snorts. "If I had a dollar for every time I questioned the government's—"

FWHOOOOOSSSHHH!

The two men stare in awe at their wood pile. Now a roaring tower of flames. It erupted in seconds and all Ed and Sam can do for a beat is marvel at it.

Spike claps off his hands. "Scarlatti way is the best way. You know I'm good for creating explosions too, right?"

Ed blinks. "Sure, but is your way legal?"

"It is if I don't tell you otherwise and let you live in ignorance."

"Works for me!" Sam claps the tech's shoulder. "Let's eat."

Greg pretends not to see Spike tuck a small vial of some chemical and a lighter back into his vest pocket. He doesn't recognize the liquid and realizes he probably doesn't want to.

Ed is still analyzing the bonfire.

Spike takes pity on him. "Both your methods would have worked, though you really should leave room for oxygen circulation."

"Huh." Ed nods, absent. "Noted."

It turns out to be the best steak Greg's ever eaten, oozing and juicy and just rare enough to match the crisp night air. The smell of wild pine proves to be the best side dish to fuel their appetites. They share family mishaps and rookie blunders.

Greg hasn't laughed so hard in ages. He especially likes the story about a package of cocaine pushed by Ed in a baby stroller for an undercover op.

Though it's barely midnight, they're all tired after a long shift and decide to bunk early.

Before lying down, Greg hears Sam whisper, "It's okay, Spike. Just us here. You can close your eyes."

Slowly, Greg zips up his tent. He lies there in the dark and prays Spike's not lost. Ed breathes deeply next to him, already dead to the world.


It's only further incriminating when Spike is the last to wake up.

Ed returns from a run to Greg seated outside Spike and Sam's tent. Listening for any distress. Sam is off to reel in breakfast.

"He still asleep?" Ed asks.

Greg nods. "It's nearly nine."

"Not like him." Ed leans on his knees. "I thought that psychologist was grasping at straws but maybe she's on to something."

"Of course she's on to something—I've lived with Spike for the last three weeks. Who do you think tipped her off? I hear him wandering around almost every night, the insomniac."

Ed goes to reply, rolling his eyes, when Sam emerges from a thick bank of trees. He proudly holds up a line of rainbow trout, five in all.

"Breakfast is served!"

Greg does a double take at the man's damp trousers and tousled hair. "Thanks, Sam. Five. Wow."

Eyes narrowed, Ed steps closer to examine the fish, about the length of Greg's wrist to elbow. They're not too plump. Not skimpy either, like some around the Lakes. It's how perfectly even they are that tips Ed off.

He puts it together a beat after Greg does. "You bought these at the tackle shop we passed on the way here, didn't you?"

Sam's eyes widen. "Are you questioning my ability to lure in a simple—"

"Yes."

Sam shrinks. "It's a sunny day. They kept darting away from my shadow."

Greg stifles a laugh and Ed throws an arm around the younger man. "Come on. Team One is always willing to help out Three. We're gallant like that."

With a deadpan look, Sam shoots back, "Don't you dare."

"Camping trip rules dictate you have to fish for your breakfast. Can't let you face your team having bought the fish."

"I think I can live with it."

Ed pokes Sam with an exaggerated gasp at Greg. "Can you believe kids these days?"

"Better make sure he doesn't fall in, Eddie. I forgot to bring floaties."

The pair end up with waders on, twenty meters into the lake. Sam gripes the whole way. Greg can faintly hear Ed teaching him how to throw his fly line.

Sam only snags his hook on a bush once before he gets the hang of it. With the lack of wind and hazy summer air, it's as peaceful a Saturday morning as Greg can ask for. His eyes slip shut.

He tilts his head back and savours the sun warming his face. Somewhere in the distance, a loon calls. Its throaty song echoes over the water.

Then soft footfalls crunch over the thin gravel. They settle in the chair beside Greg and a metallic click precedes the crackle of a fresh fire. There's an iron rattle.

Greg opens his eyes to see Spike lean over the flames, warming their cast iron pan in preparation for breakfast.

Spike wears one of Sam's thick cable knit sweaters, dark circles under his eyes.

Greg wonders how much of their clothing Spike has squirreled away somewhere, after years of stealing sweaters, boots, and in Jules' case because he doesn't fit into any of hers, hats and mittens. It's a quirk they all know about but never call him out on.

Usually because said theft occurs after a call where one of them was in danger.

Wordy caught him once, after his diagnosis, nabbing a T-shirt off the pile while he was in the shower. The garment hung like a parachute on Spike's lanky frame and Wordy melted at the sight. The next day, he laid out a scarf for Spike to throw on.

If anything, the team finds it painfully endearing. They've never talked about it with each other. Don't have to. If the smell of their clothing makes Spike feel safe, then that's that.

Spike sniffs at the abandoned line of trout. "Sam bought this fish. There's freezer burn in the gills."

Greg barks a surprised laugh. Of all of them, 'I-hate-the-woods' Scarlatti would be the last expected to notice.

"Besides." Spike removes a packet from his pocket, shakes it out, and dumps it into a pot of water that's just finished boiling. "Who needs breakfast when you've got the nectar of life?"

The smell hits a split second after. Greg's mouth waters. "You brought coffee?"

"I figured it was worth Ed's wrath if I get to stay awake."

Greg imitates Ed's stern voice. " 'No contraband! This is a survival weekend!'"

" 'The land provides everything we need!'"

" 'If it's good enough for the army, Braddock, then you should feel right at home.'"

Spike snickers. "Here, boss."

"Aaahh, thank you." Greg blows on his mug. It's a dark roast, probably shipped by Spike's mother straight from a local farm. "Blond roast for you?" He asks, catching Spike put another packet in. "You never liked it before."

"Did you know blond roast coffee actually has more caffeine?" Spike doesn't technically answer Greg's query but in a way, maybe he does. "The more a bean is roasted, the more caffeine gets burned out."

Greg eyes his coffee and how it matches Spike's tired eyes. "I didn't know that. You always teach me something new."

"Encyclopedia Spike." The man pours into his own chipped mug. "Has a ring to it."

For a minute there is only the comradery of two people trying to wake up. They sip and watch Ed recast his line. Sam already has a kipper hooked on his belt. Spike flips three of their store-bought trout into the pan.

Its sizzling is a cheery sound and even Spike, not a huge fan of seafood, seems to enjoy it.

He's wan, exhausted, but at ease. Despite the fact he's physically fine, cleared for—light—duty and reinstated without a hitch, Greg spies a weight in his gaze. Like his spirit is infected.

"You know, it occurred to me last night," says Greg, "thinking all this over…we haven't asked the right question, have we? Not even once."

Spike's eyes are on the fire. He doesn't give any outward reaction other than a stiff set to his shoulders.

"We've asked about how you made it out. Where your injuries came from. SIU rehashed the bomb defusion process to death, despite my badgering…"

Spike's brow shifts in agreement with that one.

"But none of that was the point, was it? None of that stuck with you."

A hush steals over them, one that makes Spike's hands clench and Greg confident that he's finally getting to the heart of the issue. A light at the end of this tunnel.

"Spike," Greg asks, sotto voce. "Spike, who got you out of that rubble?"

Spike tugs at the sweater cuffs to cover his hands, a strangely adolescent and insecure motion. It's not hard to pull off since Sam's arms are longer by a good few inches.

Then Spike stills.

That haunted note swells in his eyes again. He speaks even quieter than Greg. "Lew. Lew got me out."

They are silent. Firewood snaps and a chipmunk chatters in the tree overhead.

Human Greg wants to argue Spike's claim.

Negotiator and Profiler Greg want to delve into the psychology of a hallucination that vivid. Guilt-driven, perhaps?

First Responder Greg wants to rationalize it away as a result of severe stress and the concussion.

In the end, after a fierce internal battle, Parent Greg wins out—

He doesn't say a word.

"I didn't lie in my official account," Spike continues. "I really did get trapped in a concrete bubble. But the end of a support beam clipped my ribs on the way down."

A wave of remembered turmoil darkens Spike's face. There's a finality to it that absolutely petrifies Greg.

"I could feel something bleeding inside me, a fatal blow. Probably minutes left. You, of all people, you know what it's like to feel yourself dying. It was cold…I could barely move my head and neck, so weak. And then…"

Caught up in trying to regulate his own breathing, Greg almost misses the shift in tone.

"And then he was there, kneeling over me," says Spike, awed. "He looked over his shoulder and asked someone I couldn't see, 'can I?' Then nodded and put his hand on my left side and the pain vanished. I wasn't freezing so much."

Spike's lips twist. He clasps Greg's bare forearm. "I know you don't believe me, but it was as real as this. I swear."

He removes his hand yet the warmth of it lingers. Spike rests it over his left set of ribs and Greg imagines he can still feel Lew's phantom touch, just like Greg can feel Spike's.

"He was there." Spike swallows an uneven breath. "Thought that was it, boss. I had to be dead. But Lew pushed me to get up, kept saying, 'no, no, no. It's not your time yet. You still have so much to do.' Do what, I ask him. What could be so important?"

Oh, Spike. Still, Greg stays quiet.

Spike's hand then strays to just over his chest. He taps it. "Lew, all the time he was leading me to the ventilation shaft and then up it, kept pointing to my lungs and saying, 'This, Mike. Next breath.' And that shaft was hell, boss. A few times I almost…"

Spike stops, eyes bright. He doesn't say 'died' or 'dearly wanted to' but Greg hears it anyway.

He can't fathom that kind of claustrophobia: weak, concussed, barely breathing.

"I didn't know where I was or how to get to the hospital. It didn't matter." Spike nods. "Lew showed me. It felt impossible just to keep my eyes open, let alone follow him.

"Whenever I fell, he was there to haul me up. 'Next breath!' he said. I knew if I closed my eyes, he'd disappear."

Greg's throat is thick. Breathing unsteady and stuttering.

It takes a moment to put together but once Greg does, awe is his first emotion too. "Lew was there in the emergency room with us, wasn't he?"

A tear plinks into Spike's coffee. He nods.

"You pulled the gun because you lost sight of him when staff crowded in."

Spike exhales wetly, in a rush. "Lew scolded me for that. For scaring you. He just kept talking and talking. Even followed me around during all the tests and into the bathroom. He sat beside the nurse outside the shower curtain, telling me all about Donna and how much you guys care and aren't going to…"

Spike catches himself. The cut off to this classic and on-brand rambling is a knife straight to Greg's gut. He grabs Spike's hand. Spike tries to yank away but Greg won't give him an inch.

"We're not going to abandon you, Spike."

"I know that—"

"And you had nothing to apologize to Lew for. He made his choice. You didn't leave him behind."

Spike, though his eyes don't stray from the ground, fights with himself. Features twisted and shaking.

"He wouldn't let me apologize," Spike rasps.

It clicks again. "Lew waited around just long enough to see you taken care of and come out of shock. When Ed touched you…Lew said his goodbye."

Spike bows his head. Greg gives him time to compose himself by removing their slightly-burned fish.

"I'm sorry."

Greg sits back. "What did I just say about apologizing?"

"I wanted to go with him." Spike shakes his head. "We argued about it in the shaft."

The morning turns chilly.

"The gun wasn't just to keep you away," Spike whispers. "I was trying to make Lew stay. By threatening to use it."

"You never would have done it." And Greg knows this with unfailing certainty. Spike doesn't have the darkness inside him for suicide.

"That's what Lew said." Spike huffs, sheepish. " 'Next breath,' he kept ordering me."

"I'm glad he did." Greg's dying to ask what Lew said in goodbye, but he respects Spike too much. "You'll—we'll—see him again someday."

"You don't think any of that was real."

Greg pauses. He tilts his chair to better face Spike. "I think there's more than one definition of 'real' here. It was very real. Lew got you out, kept you alive, gave you stability during a moment of crisis. All logic says you should have died yet here you are. Nothing more real than that."

Spike scowls. "I knew you wouldn't believe me. That's why I haven't told anyone. You probably think it's a delusion."

"To be honest, I don't care whether Lew showed up in a vision of angels or was made up by your mind—the effect is the same."

Taken aback, Spike studies him with conflicted eyes.

Greg squeezes his hand. "You're here, Spike. That's the only fact that counts."

He gives Spike some space, to mull that one over. Greg needs it too, floored at the notion of Spike's original trance being thanks to an invisible, dead friend standing there. That Spike's been carrying around the guilt of nearly giving up and feeling responsible for Lew's death all over again.

An almighty splash makes both jump. Greg stands to get a better look into the lake where Sam laughs at a spluttering Ed. Ed is up to his neck, spitting out water.

"What happened?" asks Greg, when the pair wades back in. "Sam, did you push him over?"

"Hardly." Sam lights up with a wicked grin. "Though Ed would love it if that's the version I tell on Monday."

Spike eyes Ed's dripping form, dubious. "Don't put out my fire. I just got it hot enough to boil water."

Ed obediently shifts away and it's such a pure moment that Greg loves these people all over again.

"Did you at least catch something from a lake and not a store?" Spike asks.

Sam smacks Ed's wet shoulder. "There might actually be something to this fly fishing thing."

Ed growls. "Not a word."

Sam drops to a loud whisper. "Something caught Ed."

"Oh." Spike gasps in delight, Sam's ribbing contagious. "No way."

Even Greg can't believe it. "Ed, did—did a fish pull you in?"

Ed levels him with a glare of vicious loathing. One that's made weaker men pale.

Sam breaks into stifled giggles and Spike smiles, one that reaches all the way to his eyes for the first time in over two weeks.

The sight is so startling that Sam stops altogether and Ed looks from Spike to the burned pan. He seems to reach a decision.

"The student has become the master," Ed groans in defeat. "Insolent brat he may be, but Sam's a good fisherman."

Sam bows with a flourish, presenting three small fish on his line. "I was not bested by a mere minnow—"

"Don't push it," Ed mumbles.

"—Unlike some I could name but will not."

"Being sopping wet is punishment enough," Greg chimes in, to keep it going.

Sam snaps his fingers. "Exactly! And I'm a good sport."

"So good, in fact." Ed wrings out his windbreaker. "That you'll tell my wife and everyone at the station that you pushed me in."

"Mmm." Sam squints. "Might cost you extra."

Ed slaps at Sam with the wet fabric. "Are you blackmailing me?"

"Tell you what—I'll throw in some heroic element like you saving me from drowning if you clean the command truck for a month."

"Cleaning the truck is Spike's job!"

Spike concedes this with a dramatic sigh. "He's right. It is my job. All by myself…no one to help…"

Sam hops out of Ed's threatening reach. "Which is why you should get a month off at Ed's expense. I mean, he's so good with water after all."

"Why you little—" Ed slaps at him again, just a hair late.

There's a pealing sound that's been so long unheard it takes Greg a solid moment to recognize it.

Spike laughs. He's laughing—belly laughing!—and that's the final straw.

Sam's off too, joining in without restraint. Tension bleeds out of Greg's body he didn't even notice was there all this time. Ed looks far too smug, though even he's chuckling a little.

Good job, Eddie.

They spend the day hiking and telling more stories over cards. Ed takes Spike out to teach him how to fly fish. He doesn't catch a single thing, though Ed doesn't seem to care. Spike's eyes are engaged, in the present, and more energized than they've been for weeks.

After a late, sunset supper—more fish—Ed breaks out an old guitar from somewhere. He just plucks at it while fireflies gather over the water and around their feet.

Their swaying clouds, coupled with the sound of crickets and balmy scent of wildflowers, lull Greg. Full belly, warm night. Perfect combination.

It's after two in the morning when Spike, who dozed off in his chair, jerks awake. It shocks Greg. Even Sam is down for the count. His head rests against his chest in the chair to Greg's left.

Ed will probably follow shortly, despite the fact he's still picking out broken chords.

Spike's eyes do a zip around the campsite. He eases back in his chair, remembering fully where he is.

Greg doesn't interrupt the contemplative set to Spike's features. It's almost like the day they found him at the hospital.

Ed's playing misses a beat; he sees it too.

This time, Greg knows what Spike is reliving, what he keeps replaying. The two men are quiet but on the alert for if this takes a concerning turn.

Then Spike shakes himself to the present.

He timidly taps Greg's shoulder. "You should buy that ring you keep looking at for Marina. She's been waiting for you to ask."

Greg freezes, his pulse skipping a beat. Spike removes his hand.

"I haven't told a soul that," Greg whispers. "How did you know?"

Spike winks, a sweet gesture with how droopy his eyes are, nose buried in a fluffy blanket wrapped around him and his drawn knees. "He told me about it while we walked to the hospital."

If Greg wasn't already sitting down, he'd fall over.

A wide yawn overtakes Spike's sleepy face. "Hey, boss?"

Greg gets his sucker punched heart—and voice—working. "Yeah, Spike?"

"Thanks for coming for me. At the hospital."

Ed stops playing altogether. His left hand is tight over the neck of the guitar.

Something passes between he and Greg, a totally wordless and yet violent lightning flash of like-mindedness. Both of them breathless with the need to guard these kids, even though there's no threat.

Greg swallows. "Always, Spike. We'll always come for you."

"I know. It just meant a lot." Spike's eyes shut for good. "And go with the yellow diamond, not a pink one. Lew said she doesn't like that."

With that bombshell, he's out.

A firefly settles on the blanket near the nub of his scar. Greg knows they should probably move the younger men; it can't be comfortable to sleep curled up in a folding chair.

But there's something sacred swathing this hush. To break it feels wrong.

Greg hears that loon calling again. A mournful note answers, an owl. Over it all, Spike takes a breath. Then another one. And another…

It's still Greg's favourite sound.

He sits there, Ed's eyes knowing across the fire, embers dimming to match the fireflies…

And he understands.

His eyes flick upward.

"Thanks, Lew."

FIN


Written in 2019.