And so we come to the last instalment … at least until the writers reveal what they're going to do about these two in Season Four. Thanks so much for all your comments and encouragement. Would love to know how I did with this final one! To be continued at some point this summer, maybe.
"Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should'st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How can'st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can'st not go mad?"
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick
The growing realization that he hasn't made anything better, creeps up on him slowly, like mold growing up a piece of drywall.
Just the way she'd crept into his heart in the first place.
The irony is not lost on him.
For a few, brief days, it feels like … well, if not freedom, then at least the satisfaction of a difficult choice, well made and settled.
Actually that might only have lasted a few hours. If he's honest.
He lets anger propel him for a while, because it's easy and it's getting him out the door in the morning. Though he's not sure who he's pissed at, anymore. Jerry, for walking into a situation without backup in the first place. Himself, for not reading that situation better. For not getting there faster. For not somehow keeping all that blood from seeping out of his friend. And McNally. Because she's an easy target.
And the rest of the world mostly because he's just not a forgive-and-forget type of guy.
But he just can't sustain it against the grief and the guilt and his suddenly empty house.
Mold. It's the first image that comes to mind, given that he has thrown himself into renovating his bathroom, with a fury that only power tools can gratify.
Behind the tiles he's pulling off the wall in the shower is a cancer of black mold. Spreading outward from behind the faucet, turning the centre of the drywall into spore-ridden mush and the edges into some sort of toxic bleu-cheese crumble.
And the more of it he pulls away with his claw hammer, the more he discovers.
And if his own insides start to feel a little more like a black hole eating away at him, spiralling out to encompass a new organ every day that he sees her at parade, sweeping past him in the doorway of the locker room with eyes as skittish as a rabbit's, ducking out the door of the Penny as soon as he arrives … well, Sam figures he deserves it.
At first, his brain stuck by the decision, and it's a pretty convincing tale it was spinning. Better for everyone in the long run. It was never going to work in the first place and I knew that going in, tried to tell her that even. It wasn't fair to her or anyone else to drag it out any further.
That the only reason he feels like such an asshat is that he's hurt her, and every fibre of her being tells him that, because McNally, she's pretty much hopeless at hiding it. She doesn't say a word, but her body language, rigid and defensive, lips pressed together in a thin line, is unmistakable. (And then there are the hang-ups on his voicemail, each one a little sadder in its silence, till finally they peter out and there's just … more silence.)
So yeah, he'll take the punches, because the whole fucking mess was his fault. Not that Ollie, or Noelle, or even Epstein or Peck, are letting him forget it, from the looks they're giving him from across the squad. Clearly everyone thinks he's an asshat.
That's okay, because it's fuelling the anger and frankly, it needs a little fuel.
A few weeks go by. And she reminds him just how strong she was when her nice, safe relationship with Luke blew up in her face. He watches from a distance as she picks herself up, chin tight and eyes hard and opaque. She's silently daring him to get in her face because she's not going to make room for him at the coffee-maker anymore.
Makes him sad all over again, because that openness in her is gone. She looks five years older. His fault. He hopes that at least she can let her guard down when he's not around. When Traci, still awash in grief, needs her friend.
And at the same time, the gaping hollow in his gut, and the clenched fist around his heart, are starting to slowly get a message through to his clueless brain. They're telling him, unequivocally, that he has pushed away the best thing he never deserved, and that of all the royal fuck-ups in his life, this might just top them all.
Which is pretty much what Ollie says when he finally has had enough of it and explodes one night at the end of their shift.
Sam, of course, deflects, because that's what Sam does, and because he's nowhere near willing to admit Shaw is right.
But it gets worse. Callaghan, of all people, takes it upon himself to try and knock some sense into him one night at the Penny. Quietly, and apparently sincerely. Which is kind of hard to process.
And then there's that earnest Labrador of a rookie, Diaz, calling him out for being a bad cop. Freakin' Diaz, who, after Sam tunes him out, turns out to have the cojones to go to Best.
That gets Sam a good stern talking to, and the threat of desk duty if he can't get his shit together.
Humility is not Sam's strong suit. It takes another day before he admits that Diaz isn't wrong. Being out of control on the streets … not something he's proud of.
The depth and magnitude of his own stupidity is starting to startle even him. What felt like the brave and righteous thing to do just a few weeks ago, is now starting to feel like the worst display of cowardice he's managed yet.
Good thing his gut has metaphorically rotted away already, because otherwise it would be twisted in knots by now.
Worst of all, he just misses her like a physical ache, like a thousand broken ribs and a simultaneous concussion, misses every single damn thing about her so much it's like being locked back in Brennan's farmhouse being beaten with a pipe and not being able to lose consciousness.
If he thought that cutting Andy loose was going to help him sleep better at night after Jerry's death, well, that strategy had revealed some flaws. It's her absence in his bed that he really can't deal with. He has started avoiding the room altogether and just collapsing in exhaustion on the couch instead, with the TV blaring infomercials all night for company. Which of course is playing hell with his back and just making his mood all the more pleasant on the job.
As he's ripping the old bathroom cabinet off the wall late one Sunday afternoon, he finds a pink hair elastic that was hers. And it just about destroys him.
And however scary it is to realize he's been sitting motionless on his debris-covered bathroom floor for over an hour, drywall dust in his hair and the little cotton facemask from Home Depot dangling ridiculously under his chin, staring unblinkingly at a hair elastic, it's even more terrifying to understand that, given the way McNally walked away from Callaghan without a second glance, he doesn't really have a snowball's chance in hell of getting her back.
And he suddenly, desperately wants her back.
But she'd given her mother, who'd disappeared out of her life for 15 years, another chance, right? So.
He just knows if he doesn't try, then he's never going to be able to look at himself in the mirror again. Should he ever manage to get another mirror back on the wall.
Building bridges. Another one of those skill sets he generally leaves to other people. Noelle has a knack for it … Sam, he'd rather just blow 'em up and never look back. So essentially he's working without a net here.
She sweeps past him in the garage one morning, looking for Collins, and the dynamic is still so weird between them because he's her senior officer, so she has to be cordial, and he's starting to hate it. He's gripped by an overwhelming desire to say something … anything … to her. He just wants to curl his hand around her elbow and see if she's still whole. Tuck that stray lock of hair behind her ear.
Wouldn't even mind if she up and slapped him.
And all he can come up with is asking for his fucking truck keys back. There's a fresh flash of hurt and disbelief behind her eyes. It's not what he meant to say at all.
Jesus, Swarek, if you're in a hole, for chrissakes stop digging.
It's only days later when the whole holding-cell shooting unravels and half the squad ends up doing video enquiries with the brass, and he comes skidding into 15 at the end of his shift feeling a bit frantic. He holds up a piece of wall at the end of the hallway and effortlessly falls into step with her when she cruises past, as they've done a thousand times before, and it's only when she rakes hard eyes across his face and asks him what he's doing here that he remembers.
Sam falters and says something lame about wanting to make sure she's okay. And what she tosses over her shoulder as she walks away from him just slices him in half, because he really hasn't realized it until now: "That's not your job anymore."
He has to force the whiskey past a big knot in his throat that night.
Even Sarah doesn't know how to fix it. He's been avoiding telling his sister because he knows she'd pinned her hopes on Andy being the one who could finally tame her lone-wolf little brother. He hasn't wanted to hear the disappointment in her voice. But he calls her one night because he doesn't know who else to talk to.
"Gawd, Sam, I never even got to meet her. How am I supposed to tell you how to get her back now? What am I supposed to say, 'just be yourself' or something?
"I hate to tell you, but if I were her, I wouldn't look back."
Being unforgiving apparently runs in the family.
Maybe it just can't be fixed.
All of which doesn't matter a rat's ass when it's Epstein's voice on the radio, saying he can't locate McNally. Sam's only instinct is to stampede in like the cavalry. His pulse is roaring in his ears as he sprints and skids through the catacombs of that basement. And then it stutters to a complete halt, along with his feet, when he sees her. And the grenade.
He holds it together well enough to get the little girl herded out of the danger zone, and to quiz ex-army Collins on exactly how much trouble she's in. Not that he doesn't already know.
And then it's just her, him and a bomb.
This feeling. This feeling is precisely what he never wanted to feel, what he had gone to such great lengths not to feel. The imminent danger of losing her. The absolute, stark terror of that surpasses everything he's ever felt as a cop. Its only measure, in terms of strength, is how he feels about the damage done to his sister all those decades ago.
And it makes him blurt out the one thing he has never known how to say.
It's so not the time for her to hear it. It's so utterly, completely wrong. But he feels compelled to say it, because it might be the last thing she ever hears, and the last thing he ever says, and he just can't leave it unsaid anymore. She needs to know.
When it's all over, and they're both still in one piece, she can't look him in the eye. He takes a tentative step towards her, hoping she'll let him in. She has to know how hard it was for him to say that. Right? That has to count for something, even if the timing sucked. But she turns on an unsteady heel and heads for the stairs, while he stares open-mouthed at the back of her head.
It's hours later when he finds her again in the locker room at Fifteen. He doesn't know how to restart a conversation begun over a grenade. Swallows hard, starts and then trails off, and some switch in his brain doesn't have a clue how to be this vulnerable and kicks him into comic-relief mode, which he instantly realizes is the worst possible thing he could have done. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.
What little receptivity there might have been in her face slams down like a garage door, and she whirls and heads for the exit.
And here's Sam Swarek, way past dignity, running after her and begging for another chance in the middle of the squad. He really doesn't give a fuck who witnesses it anymore.
She has so much more capacity for seeing the good in people than he does. He hopes there's a chance she can still see it in him. But her expression – exasperated, disillusioned, disbelieving – is saying otherwise.
All he can do is leave it with her. "Just a drink? Please. Andy, give me a chance. I'll be at the Penny."
He spends the next four hours watching the door from his barstool, regret sinking into his bones. That she doesn't come through it, isn't really a surprise.