AN: I almost split this chapter into two, because it's so much longer than usual. But I thought, hey, the more the merrier! :D Thanks for reading this crazy brainchild of my 3 am musings - it's been fun.
'And love will hold us together,
Make us a shelter to weather the storm—
And I'll be my brother's keeper
So the whole world will know that we're not alone.
This is the first day of the rest of your life,
'Cause even in the dark
You can still see the light,
It's gonna be alright, it's gonna be alright.'
"Hold Us Together" ~ Matt Maher
Greg doesn't even bother parking his car properly. He just rears up to the nearest police cruiser, at a crooked angle, and turns it off. One tire has hopped the curb, but in the chaos of police swarming around, nobody notices.
There isn't even any need to flash his badge at the yellow crime scene boundary. A young officer takes one glance at his cane and lifts the tape without a word.
Another looks taken aback to see a plain clothed man limping through the deserted block until he puts it together. "Dean Parker's father?"
"You got it."
"He's working on defusion at the moment but SRU is on scene."
Greg is shot dumb by that one. "Excuse me? Defusion?"
But the patrolling officer is already gone, scurrying off with a clipboard to do headcounts. The bomb disposal van has long since found a home amidst Team One, five people standing there looking troubled, but no sign of Spike.
Greg leans against the car next to Eddie, who appears much, much more relaxed than Greg feels. Some part of him is a klaxon, shrilling with a father's offence, and another part of him finds this all par for the course. So predictable he should have seen it coming years ago. Sacrificial tendencies seem to run in the family.
"A plated dumpster bomb, huh?"
Ed nods. His aviators are off, so Greg can get a read on the accordion folds near his eyes. He's worried too, just pretending better.
"And somehow my son found a way to get as close to it as possible. Go figure."
Ed's smile grows. "They both did."
"Does this ever get easier? Watching your kids do stupid things?"
"I wouldn't know," says Ed, with a lilt in his tone that Greg can read after years of friendship. He's trying not to laugh. "My daughter eats playdough and my son's biggest danger is getting clocked by an end pin."
"Orchestral safety is nothing to joke about."
Greg ribs Ed and the man shows his teeth, just for a flash of almost-laughter.
"You owe me ten bucks, by the way."
Greg gasps, scandalized. "I do not! Dean didn't find trouble on his first day—it found him!"
"Nah-ah." Ed uncrosses his arms to slide one around Greg and jostle him. "That wasn't the bet. The bet was that your ankle biter would have just as eventful of a first day as Spike did, and voila, Sergeant. Eventful."
Ed spreads out an arm like he's a game show host gesturing to a grand prize and Greg grumbles that he'll buy Ed breakfast sometime in repayment.
"Thank you, by the way."
Ed's gaze retreats, a little shifty. "For what?"
Greg shakes his head, his own smile starting to show. "You know what. I didn't ask you to, but since I couldn't do it, I'm glad someone did."
"Should we tell Dean?"
"…Not until he's forty."
A flutter starts up in Greg's chest, that inexplicable tugging. "Are we safe at this distance?"
"Not really, but—"
Everyone on scene visibly jumps and Greg feels like his heart separates from his body for a hot second. The sound is a thunderclap, resonating for a long time, but not nearly as deafening as it should be, not the ears-chiming explosion they've all experienced before.
Where is the smoke? The snowfall of fragile ash and the thunk-ther-thunk of rocks and rubble around their heads?
Greg shades his eyes, searching for it, his knees trembling.
They cannot have just lost both boys in one fell swoop—his panic reaches a zenith that whites out his vision. Spike's fretting of this morning doesn't hold a candle to the manic frenzy that creates jangling rhythms through Greg's stomach.
"Status! Spike, STATUS!" Greg says it in perfect stereo with Ed before he can catch himself, Ed so rigid he could be mistaken for a telephone pole.
Ed listens to some response in his ear and then closes his eyes, suddenly boneless. He has to bend over his knees for a moment, panting hard. "Can you repeat that, Spike?"
Taking out his earpiece, he stands close to Greg so they can both hear:
"Sorry for the scare! Dean insisted on cleaning up the alley before we go and that sound was the dumpster's double lid falling shut."
Ed glares at Greg, lacking any real heat. "You raised a boy scout, you know that? One who lives to give me heart attacks."
Spike laughs in their ears and Greg runs a hand down his face. His pulse takes a long, long time to slow down. He and Ed clutch at each other's arms, remembering with difficulty how to breathe.
"Package defused, Ed."
"Good work, Spike." Ed straightens, slipping his headset back in, and waves Leah over. "Do we have bomb disposal ready to go?"
"Standing by," she says, checking her watch. "They'll safely take care of the C4. Hey, boss!"
Greg waves his own greeting. "Good to see you. Are they injured?"
"Oh no, not at all, though I can hear Spike chewing Dean out." Leah taps her earpiece before darting off.
"Beat me to it," Greg mumbles.
Ed moves to go back to work, but he grasps Greg's shoulder before leaving. "If it makes you feel any better, Spike had a paroxysm when Dean showed up."
Greg lets out his own laugh, still breathless. "Business as usual, then."
Ed winks and salutes. "Another day in paradise, boss."
"Did you just taunt a traumatized father at a crime scene?"
"Oh please. The rule book doesn't apply to you and it never has."
"That's rich coming from the man who let said rookie defuse a bomb."
"What's that?" Ed puts a hand to his ear while retreating. "I can't hear you!"
Greg just shakes his head and pokes Ed's back with his cane. His friend's snickering fades down the street.
Alone for a moment of reprieve, Greg gets his steeple chase heartbeat back to a normal rhythm with a quick pace from one end of the car to the other. Shallow breaths deepen after a moment. His instinctive, paternal side wants to be absolutely justified that this career choice was a bad one for Dean, that this should put an end to it all.
It's not an entirely irrational thought. But most of all, reigning supreme these last few weeks, Greg just feels…
His boys saved countless lives today, together, side by side and using all that Greg and other leaders have taught them. They're both doing what they were meant to.
How can Greg fault that?
The feeling only rings louder when Spike and Dean materialize suddenly when they turn the corner out of some alley far up the next block. They're little specks on the horizon and Greg's chest gives a swoop at just the ant-sized sight of them. Wind runs its irreverent fingers through Dean's almost grown out curls and the crest like waves on top of Spike's head. Noonday sun alights on the crown of their heads, turning them russet and honey brown, respectively.
They're mussed up and sweaty and the most dazzling sight Greg's ever had the privilege of laying eyes on.
They're also still arguing.
Spike takes one hand off the duffel strap slung over his shoulder to make a downward slash with his arm. The pair are still too far away to hear anything they're saying. This doesn't stop Greg from laughing at every over the top gesture and every mutinous scowl from Dean.
For it's all play acting—even clearer than their indignation with each other is their relief. Dean also has one hand on the duffel between their bodies, the only reason for this being that he can subtly keep a hold of Spike's quivering wrist and Spike keeps tapping Dean's chest for emphasis, solely so he can feel the healthy pulse against his skin.
Then reality catches up.
Spike is shaking.
Greg waits with impatience for the pair to close the gap. Spike stops to have a quick word with the team while Dean bounds over, shocked to see him. He freezes dead in his tracks.
"Dad, what are you doing here? Did they call you just for this?"
Greg does a quick scan with practiced eyes. "Are you okay?"
"I asked you first."
"You really are fine," Greg says, going for wry and just ending up sounding like every other thankful parent in the immediate vicinity. "Levels of sass still in tact. Check."
Then he opens his arms and Dean's eyes go huge, cheeks scarlet. "Dad! You can't hug me while I'm working!"
Greg totally can, in fact, and he does so right there on the empty street. Dean weakly fights him, then melts into it. He smells of crisp outdoor air, body strong and healthy and alive under Greg's hands. The scare of minutes earlier fades with his son in his arms, something Greg has never taken for granted since Dean came back into his life.
It's a quick hug, but Greg gives him a pat against his sternum when they part and Dean nods, understanding what it means.
"Of course they called me," says Greg, hoarse. "You're my son and I don't care what the circumstances are when a bomb is involved."
Dean opens his mouth for what looks to be another sharp quip…when he calms and looks back at Spike. His eyes are studying a white strip along Spike's scalp, visible now that the wind has peeled back his hair just right, just enough to see the scar in its full, awful glory.
Something about the sight seems to puzzle Dean, or at the very least stay his tongue. Greg waits him out.
Finally, Dean turns to ask his father a question with his eyes as well as his mouth. "I've never seen Spike so scared as he was today. Was it because it was my first day? Does he not trust me?"
This doesn't happen often, and less so now that his job is so routine, but Greg finds himself lost for words. He eyes one son, then the other.
"Because he's had way worse calls than this," Dean goes on. "And he was resigned—unhappy, but resigned—when he left to defuse the bomb by himself and I went to the theater."
Greg can't even begin to explain the depth of what it all means, how legacy and love can be a two edged sword sometimes.
Dean puts both hands on his hips and takes in the whole scene. "This is either the best first day ever or the worst first day ever. At least no guys in my unit can call me green anymore."
The utter guilelessness of that statement, youthful and energy infused, releases the tension inside Greg. Dean sees this as an experience to retell over drinks, some of that innocence still intact without gory experience to temper it.
It is in this floundering moment that Spike comes over and rescues Greg by answering for him. His eyes are tender on Dean now. "You have to bear in mind that today was my first day too."
Dean grows even more bewildered. "But I did my practicum just last summer. This is exactly like that, only I'm being paid this time. I've been shot at! What's the big deal?"
Spike shakes his head. "It just is, little man. Now we're not here every day, to debrief after calls. This is my first day letting you go, trusting that we've done enough to prepare you. It's not you we're worried about, Dean—it's us, that we've failed in your training or that you'll encounter something too big to handle."
Greg finds his voice at last. "You did the right thing, though, son. You called for help and that's exactly what we would have done in this situation. We're proud, so proud."
Dean stares at them both, as if to check they're not babying him.
Spike is still insipid, but he grins. "A cat stuck up a tree still would have made me nervous, Dean, not because you're a newbie. You could be the most hardened, battle experienced person in the world and I'd still have thrown that can at you to keep you away."
"Yes: because it's you."
The gravity of it, this harrowing scenario where they were both seconds away from dying, hits Dean in real time and he wrestles back something brittle. "That fear for each other isn't going to go away…is it?"
"No." Spike steps forward and this time Dean accepts the hug willingly. His arms are not the most steady, but Dean presses his nose into Spike's chest and it helps. "Not ever. Even if we're wizened and bald like Ed."
Greg smirks. "I'm going to tell him you said that."
"Hey." Spike pulls back from the hug to narrow his eyes at Greg. "I just defused a bajillion pounds of C4 to keep Ed alive. I'm entitled to a bad joke at his expense."
The trick works and Dean's back to a lighter expression, if shaky. "Thank you, Spike."
Dean's lips thin. "For being my brother, for letting me help you. And for worrying about me even when you don't have to."
Spike goes statue still, gazing at Dean with marble, unreadable eyes. "That's where you're wrong. I'll always worry about you, Dean. Because I want to—and because you're a trouble magnet."
Greg clears his throat. "Takes one to know one."
Spike sighs in defeat. He knows when he's met his match and apparently the combined wit of two Parkers is more than enough. Dean says a reluctant but hasty goodbye and after another hug, he's gone. They watch him rejoin Milkos where they'll be taken back to the precinct for statements.
Greg is already planning a blitz dinner at his house, maybe some of that naan pizza Dean liked so much last time, and a night in for them both to unwind from this ordeal.
He's so lost in thoughts of how to help the team that he almost misses it when Spike lists to one side. Greg jumps and pushes off to grab Spike's arm.
"Hey, hey, hey, hey." Greg eases his swaying form onto the hood of Ed's car. "Easy, Spike."
The trembling that Spike apparently held back until Dean is out of sight revs full force through his body. He's a leaf in November, whipped into a fever by the wind. Spike jitters so hard that Greg has to sit down too or fall over. It's not just his bit drill limbs either, and Greg is worried by the wheezy sound of his breathing.
"I think this is the end," Spike pants out. "Gonna be the only person in history to die of a heart attack, shock, and asphyxiation all at the same time."
"You're not dying, Spike. This is one inch away from a panic attack so slow it down, come on."
"He almost died, Greg!"
"But he didn't," says Greg, patient and level toned. "Because you were there. Got that? You were there and that made the difference. The bomb disposal squad would never have gotten here in time and my son would be a beloved memory right now. So just breathe."
This advice doesn't help in the least and Spike is so distressed that he winces, hand to his bucking chest.
Greg grabs that hand and plants its claw on his own chest, just so Spike can feel the up and down rhythm pumping away. After a few nerve zapping minutes, it starts to take effect and Spike mimics the exaggerated breaths.
Then he coughs.
This is a psychosomatic cough that has absolutely nothing to do with panic attacks and everything to do with memories of blood caught in his lungs. It's a gut wrenching new tic they've all started to notice this past year or so, how Spike will cough if he's overwhelmed, just once or twice, like he's reassuring himself he can breathe freely.
The first time it happened, during a games night at the Braddock house, Ed made a beeline for him, hands on either side of Spike's face, and they had two teary-eyed basket cases on their hands. It took over fifteen minutes just to deescalate them both enough to stop shaking.
Memories and their saber tips are not always kind, and this is one of those times.
Spike turns steadily red, a flushed ball of stress and tears. He coughs again, which cracks something inside of Greg, that helpless feeling of a parent trying to rescue a child from himself.
Greg does the only thing he can think of, the one thing he's been wanting to do since this all started.
He goes slower than he did with Dean, coiling his arms around Spike and pulling him in for a full body hug, his arms pliable yet firm where they've stacked around his spine. Spike still has a hand sandwiched between them where it rests on Greg's chest.
Each breath is short, but the longer Spike rests his forehead on Greg's shoulder, the deeper they get. Great, echoing gusts of air fill his frazzled lungs. The palm on Greg's chest suddenly goes lax, fingers spreading into a slender paw that is feeling Greg's heartbeat now rather than his breathing pattern.
He is also flushed, alive, and about as graceful as a newborn deer.
Spike has none of Dean's inhibitions and he noses further into the embrace without shame, not caring who may or may not be watching. There really isn't anyone, not this close to the bomb site, with everything evacuated and deserted.
Spike nods. "Will Dean get fired over this?"
"Mmm…" Greg waits for Spike to make the first move and only steps back when he does. He wipes some of the wetness away from Spike's cheek with his thumbs. "Probably not."
"Are you going to put in a good word for him?"
Greg scoffs. "Nepotism isn't right and Dean will bear whatever consequences they deem fit for his choices. But if it makes you feel better, he'll probably just be on probation for leaving his post when disobeying a direct order from Ed."
"I can't believe today happened." Spike flops onto the hood of the car, on his back and arms spread. One boot is propped up on the bumper. "Like, this is the weirdest thing, Greg, to have him out in the field with us. Last week he was arguing with me over who should play Hans Gruber if they remake Die Hard and now he's got a gun strapped to his belt."
Greg rumbles an amused sound, perching next to Spike and glancing over his shoulder so he can see his face. Spike blinks up at the sky, as if passing clouds hold all the answers.
Then he ticks a few fingers on his leg. "I felt like that kangaroo on my first day, you know."
Greg doesn't know, and is so thrown by this statement that he frowns down at Spike. Is he lightheaded again?
Spike shakes his head, lost in a world of images from almost ten years ago. "She was writhing so hard, so angry, and all I could think while defusing the trip wire was that I felt the same way. She let out a yipping cry and I thought, 'you and me both.' You were all so open and loving and…"
"And we scared you," Greg finishes.
"Yeah!" Spike raises one forearm, like a Shakespearean actor in a soliloquy. "I had just joined this team—by the skin of my teeth, mind you—and yet none of you were mean or cruel or cold shouldered with me. You patted my back and ruffled my hair, even when I made mistakes. You accepted me as part of the unit without any bitterness. I'd never had that before."
The quiet admission is not a novelty, no stunning new revelation Greg has never heard before. But the vulnerable, throbbing note in Spike's voice is.
"I mean, granted, they pranked you to death."
Spike smiles at the reminder. "If you dig back far enough in my locker, I think there's still some of Wordy's shaving cream in the walls."
Greg chuckles and the pair glow for a moment. Spike has always seemed to be a light source in and of himself, at least to Greg, how he's a livewire freed from its mooring—zapping, hissing, sparking with life and ideas.
"I don't know if I ever told you this, but…" Greg stares out over the empty street, a bizarre sight for the middle of the day in downtown Toronto. "I visited that kangaroo at the zoo exhibit, after we helped get her tranquilized and in her carrier."
Spike looks surprised by this news. "You did? Why?"
"Because I wanted to understand why she ran in the first place—and why you were so dodgy with your statement after the fact."
There's a hint of rosiness high up on Spike's cheeks, and Greg's heart soars to see it.
The tech sniffs. "You figured it out, huh?"
"Didn't I promise you that story would make sense by the end of today?"
Spike avoids his eyes, voice quiet. "I'll never forget watching that poor thing wriggle around, trying to kick me, fighting for all she was worth. She was furious with me, for getting close and, I'll bet, blaming me—a human—for the pickle she'd landed herself in. The wires and the trap. One second I was applying pressure to the sensors with a sand bag and then I looked up at her…"
Spike trails off, absorbed in memory and the truth of today circling around his ears. Greg doesn't need him to finish, for he went to the zoo and with one sweep of his eyes, understood the whole thing.
"She was a mother," says Greg for him. "A new mother, judging by the baby's size. Even the zoo didn't realize she'd been pregnant. She escaped a week prior to have her baby in a quieter place, though unfortunately she chose a military training site."
With a flick of his head, Spike is back in the present. "I looked up and a little head, barely five days old, had poked out of her stomach pouch, closed eyes and all. Like a hairless kidney bean. The mother would have tried to kill or maim me, if she'd been free."
"Most likely." Greg jostles Spike's limp knee. "She was trying to protect him. She thought that was a life or death situation."
"It was," Spike says firmly, and he's not talking about that day at all. "They both could have died if the bomb went off."
Greg lowers his tone. He leans in close, making sure Spike doesn't zone out for his next words. "But you saved him, both times."
A silence follows this, Spike's brain an almost audible mess of gears whirring around while trying to process the thought. Trying to parse out if this is strictly true in the way he needs it to be.
Because today could happen again. There will be calls where Dean is the responding officer and Spike needs to learn how to live with that, to separate brother from colleague.
"Was it terrifying for you too the first time I did something clever and hasty like this?" he asks.
"Absolutely." Greg replies without a second's hesitation. "You nearly gave me a stroke those first few bomb calls."
It still petrifies me when you go out alone. But Greg doesn't say this, for he—sort of—learned how to separate son from bomb expert years ago. He never really will and that's okay too, so long as he treats Spike the way he needs, to do his job the best he can.
"He'll always be your little brother." Greg tries to relay this wisdom and feels inadequate. "But you need to trust that he's ready. To protect him by respecting him."
A mutinous expression pinches the dimples around Spike's mouth and folds his brow. "There's still time to swaddle him in bubble wrap and hide him away until he's fifty."
That surprises a bark of laughter out of Greg. "Don't tempt me."
"And it's not a baby—newborn kangaroos are called joeys."
Greg's eyes spark. "Of course you know that."
"I actually…looked it up after my first day. And if this is how you felt, then I'm sorry I ever put you though it."
"Everything comes full circles in the end. It always does." Greg smiles down at him, gut frothy with affection. "I would have worried no matter what your first call entailed. Even a cat stuck up a tree."
Spike blinks at him. He doesn't take the humour bait, gaze heavy on Greg, infused with the shiny, hybrid glint of love and understanding. "I get that now."
Greg knows there will be an informal debrief later tonight, probably when both boys end up on his couch, crying and watching yet another episode in their Murder, She Wrote marathon. Tangled around each other with Spike shaking some more for good measure.
But right now, it's balanced. They can both breathe and they're going to be alright.
Jules trundles over to stand over Spike too. "What, did someone finally take out your batteries, Spike? You look like a dud toy on Christmas morning."
"I am one with the car," says Spike, hand circling the hood. "And the car is one with me. I couldn't move if I wanted to."
Ed joins this huddle and eyes them, dubious. He toes at Spike's boot, the one dangling onto the pavement. "You're smudging my paint job."
"'Wax on…wax off.'"
Spike is putty, drained. Ed must see this because he doesn't push it or quip back. Today has been hard on all of them and Greg adds a few more place settings to his mental supper list.
"I love you guys," says Spike, drunk with the after exhaustion of a panic attack and adrenaline crash. "Even if you are super overbearing sometimes."
Jules' jaw drops. "Overbearing? Did you, the man who broke the sound barrier driving illegally to get us here, just call us overbearing? Help me out here, Ed!"
Ed's lips twitch. "I followed Dean at work this morning for three hours. I have no grounds to stand on."
"Sorry, no help here." Greg exchanges a knowing look with Ed. "I did a full background check profile on Milkos before Dean even got the job."
Jules shakes her head. "Unbelievable. I work with a team of mother hens—you're all hopeless."
By hopeless she means the best, especially when she knuckles Ed's shoulder and then takes Spike's hand. The digits must be cold because she rubs them briskly between her own. Jules is no better in the smothering department than they are but none of them call her out on it. The casual contact seems to reassure her that he's in one piece.
"We love you too, Spike," says Ed, toeing the boot again. "Even if Dean spilled the secret that you have terrible aim."
"I don't have terrible aim!" Spike flails his free hand. "I was trying not to hit him!"
Greg grins at Ed's mischievous expression. "Oh, I don't know, figlio. When was the last time you won a team softball game?"
"Never, because I'd never played until a year ago!"
"Does that explain the time you missed throwing tear gas into the window?" Jules goads.
Spike sits up he's so perturbed. "That was during a blizzard! I could barely see the shooter's house, let alone the window!"
It's an echo of his first day, the rookie teased and prodded until it set his head on straight. Just like right now.
"You ready to go?" asks Ed. He can't seem to resist stroking Spike's hair, just for a moment. His fingers get tangled in the top locks and he starts again. "We'll be joining Milkos and Dean for those statements."
Spike looks one last time around the whole street, no rubble or fires. Another habit he always does, after every successful call, just admiring his handiwork and the unmarred tableau.
He nods, weight sloughed off his shoulders. "Yeah, we're good."
The kids file away, leaving Ed and Greg standing there side by side. It's a piercing taste of what used to be, too trenchant and blinding for nostalgia, and if Greg closes his eyes, holding his breath just right, he can imagine himself in uniform. Leg fine. Out in the world to help.
Ed shuffles and the brush of his SRU sweater on Greg's wrist makes him smile. He opens his eyes to see it reflected on Ed. His friend, his dear heart brother, might just be shaking with relief a tiny bit himself, though it's better hidden under professional shields.
"Are you ever going to tell him?" Ed asks after a beat.
"Don't you 'what' me." Ed finally releases that laugh, wavering with the day's emotions. "You convinced the zoo to let you name that baby, on the national scientific registry and everything."
They watch Jules and Spike rock-paper-scissors for who gets to drive back. Jules wins.
"What can I say?" Greg's eyes burn and realizes there's no place he'd rather be than right here, the way he is now—in the context he lives in now. He's proud that they can represent all he's taught them, out in the world to save it. "The joey just looked like a 'Spike' to me."