I awoke downstairs, out front, where there were tons of bright shiny flashing lights that, oddly, reminded me of this kid I had gone to the academy with who had told me, in all seriousness, that he wanted to be a cop because of all the shiny stuff on the patrol cars. He had actually been our class speaker. Weird kid. Looked kinda like a guppy. And why was I thinking about some kid I couldn't even remember the name of- Diego, that was it, Steve Diego!
Suddenly there was a medic leaning over me, stabbing something into my arm. Needless to say, I did not take this kindly, and instead jumped about a mile into the air and knocked the medic flat on his bony little ass. “No pointy!” I half-hollered, before realizing that I sounded like a complete dumbass. Not that this ever stopped me before, but glorious action heroes weren't generally supposed to act like morons. What would James Bond say? Of course, what would James Bond say to me fainting in the first place? I frowned at the medic, who was cursing as he got off the ground. I highly doubted Bond would say that to me fainting.
“Ah, you're awake.” I knew that voice! Robinson!
“Oh captain, my captain!” I said cheerfully by way of response, and a little drunkenly. Which was odd, because I hadn't drunk anything. Was adrenaline considered an alcoholic substance? I considered the scowling medic for a moment, and then decided to ask him. “Is adrenaline alcoholic?”
Captain Robinson just sort of stared at me, while the medic snorted at me. “No, but the way you smacked your head on the desk when you fainted is probably producing an effect similar to that of being drunk. Which is why we need to take you in for observation,” he finished up, giving a glare to both me and the captain.
I winced, and felt my skull, which was unusually tender and pounding, and glanced at the grim-looking captain (well, mostly grim-looking, there was still some left-over confusion from my earlier question). “Somehow, I don't think that's happening.” I gritted a smile at the captain. “Questioning, am I right?” He nodded, now all grim. Part of me wanted to call him Fuzzy-Wuzzy, but I decided that was the concussed part of me and stomped it down into a pancake. Not a Max-style pancake, though, just a normal one.
I rolled off the gurney they had already put me on – but not strapped me to, that showed some short-term thinking, that did, I'd have to have a word with the supervisor. I looked around for Brad, but couldn't find him – not even in the back of any of the squad cars.
“Your cousin?” the captain questioned. When I nodded, he said, “He's already been taken down to headquarters for questioning. However, thanks to this,” with that, he pulled out, of all things, an evidence bag containing my recorder, “I don't think we'll need to ask either of you more than just the routine questions.”
It turned out that my dear, sweet cousin was an accomplished pick-pocket (or, rather, pick-backpack), and had taken my gun and the recorder from my bag while I'd been distracted at the computer and he'd discovered the swinging bookcase. He had gone into the bag just to get the recorder, which he was going to hook up against the backside of the bookcase, when he saw the gun. He had taken the gun to keep me from doing something stupid like shooting his dad. Yeah, I know, I found the irony hilarious too.
I still hadn't been called by the hospital, so after the short questioning (and a strict admonition to stay in town, and out of a coma, for the next few weeks) I dragged my suddenly exhausted body back to the hospital. (The department had kindly brought my truck over from my uncle's street after ascertaining that no, it was not part of the crime scene. Freaking geniuses.)
A frazzled looking nurse flagged me down almost as soon as I entered the ICU, raising an eyebrow at my all-black outfit but not commenting on it. “You know, you made it clear that it was very important for us to call you, I thought you might actually answer the phone,” the nurse said, chewing me out lightly. I thought, confused, 'Huh?', and pulled out my cell. Which was dead. Oh, smooth.
Wait, so they'd tried to call me? My head whipped up. “He's awake?” I asked excitedly. The nurse nodded, and a question occurred to me, with the beginnings of guilt sinking into my stomach. “How long?”
She glanced at the clock. “About... three hours now. He's been in and out, though, resting lightly.”
Oh. Smooth. Max sits at your bed for a week straight and is there when you wake up, and you can't even hang around ten hours for him. I may be a self-centered asshole, but I felt incredibly guilty over that.
Which was why I was reluctant to enter his room, instead hanging around outside the doorway. Because as much as I wanted to burst in there and make sure that he really was alright (well, not alright, but not... dead, or something), I didn't want him to be mad at me. Even though he had every right to be. I shook myself suddenly. Come on, Galloway, you're not five years old. You can do this.
I knocked on the door lightly (one of the things I've always hated about hospitals is the complete lack of privacy; everyone always just barging in and out of your room with no thought to you), and then entered hesitantly.
He looked better. Or, at least, they'd cleaned him up some. I cleared my throat – which was highly unnecessary, as he was already looking at me and I did not have anything in my throat. “Um, hi.”
He smirked at me. “'Um, hi', to you too.”
I walked further into the room slowly, and then all but collapsed into the chair next to his bed. “Look, I'm really really really sorry that I wasn't here when you woke up, but my cell phone battery died, and I found out that my uncle is the one responsible for the bomb, and I went to his place to get evidence but then he found me there and almost shot me, but my cousin shot him instead and then we had to be questioned by the police. And I sort of fainted after calling the police and hit my head on my uncle's desk and I probably should've gotten that looked at, but-” How long I would have gone on if left unchecked was a good question, but one that will never be answered because Max cut me off right about then, holding his hand up and sort of grinning at me. I was quiet for a moment, and then blurted out the other thing that had been on my mind for sort of a long while – although not quite as long as it could've been. But I wanted to get it out there before I completely lost my nerve and/or came to my non-concussed senses. “And, and... IthinkI'minlovewithyou,” I choked out, and then jumped to my feet and fled the room, face bright red. Why had I told him that? Oh, right, because I didn't want something like this to happen again and for him to maybe die without knowing if maybe there was, like, a chance or something. Stupid! Stupid!
I'd had crushes over the years, I was only human. But unlike most people, I had never actually acted on them. I would just sit there and watch them for a couple of years, and then manage to get around to spending time with them... and find out that they were absolutely nothing like I had thought, and I'd completely forget my crush and move on. I'd dated, sure, but I'd never dated anyone I'd had a crush on. Which sound weird, but it's the truth.
Well, at least I knew that with Max I wouldn't spend time with him and find out he wasn't like I thought he was. Actually, it was entirely possible that I wouldn't be spending any time at all with him again. I started to smack the back of my head on the wall I was leaning against, in rhythm with my thoughts. Stupid, stupid, stupid...
Yeah, I know, it probably wasn't that smart of an idea, banging my head against a wall when I already had a concussion. But this didn't occur to me until I'd already smacked my head a few times against the wall and started to black out a little. Yeah, I'm a goddamn genius. I stopped smacking my head and instead just sunk down to sit on the floor. The nice, cool, linoleum floor. Ah, comfy.
I was sitting there all of maybe five minutes when I had to move. Not because a doctor or nurse came by and told me to get up, or even because my legs started to fall asleep, but because I recognized the voices headed down the hall that was around the corner from where I was sitting. I got to my feet and brushed down the hair on the back of my head, wincing as I hit the large lump I had made. Ouch. It was also a little wet, so I checked the wall to make sure there wasn't a blood stain. Nope, I was good.
And just in time, as my mother rounded the corner that instant with my son by her side. “Ryan!” she exclaimed, surprised to see me. Or possibly just surprised to see me in the hallway outside of Max's room instead of actually in his room.
“Hey Ma, hey Zacky,” I greeted them, swinging Zack up off the floor. Which would be number five hundred on the list of stupid things I'd done today, since if Zack had been the weight of most three year olds instead of the weight of a scrawny three year old, I would have definitely pulled a muscle or five. Even as it was, I couldn't hold him very long, so I just hugged him and then set him back on the ground. “Hey Zack, why don't you go in and say hi to Max? I need to talk to Grandma for a moment,” I told him. The kid shrugged, like, actually shrugged at me and then made his way into Max's room.
My mother was giving me a quizzical look. “What's wrong, Ryan?”
I took a deep breath and pushed away all thoughts to do with Max and how I had totally just screwed up a friendship of twenty-five years. How to break it to my mother that her brother was an evil murdering psychopath who, by the way, was also responsible for putting the guy she was visiting in the hospital in the first place? Well, I went with the only way I knew: the blunt, asshole way. “Mom, Uncle Charles was responsible for the explosion,” I said bluntly. She stared at me. “He's in police custody right now – well, police custody at Thyme Memorial. Brad shot him.”
“He was about to shoot me, so Brad shot him.”
My mom just sort of stared at me for a long moment before clearly making a decision to ask someone else, later. She's my mother, so she knows that I can't explain things very well when I'm acting like I am. She may not know why I was acting like I was, she wasn't psychic, but she did know what to do and what not do with me like this. So she shook her head at me and then ushered me through the door to Max's room.
Zack had pulled the chair over to the bed and used it to pull himself up to the end of Max's bed, where he was sitting cross-legged and proudly showing Max a drawing he had done, his little voice proclaimed, just that day. “Me an' Scuffy,” he proclaimed, jabbing a finger at the center two figures of the drawing. “An' you, an' Daddy, an' Granma an' Granpa!” he finished, pointing out all the figures around the side, before continuing to explain that he couldn't fit everybody in the family on there, so he just put in the most important figures.
I stood uncomfortably in the corner of the room, very carefully not looking at Max in the hopes that maybe he'd completely forget what I had said if I didn't look at him for an hour or so. Yeah, I know, it's a really stupid belief, but I'd also been one of those kids that thought if I couldn't see them, they couldn't see me while playing hide-and-go-seek, and would therefore stick my head in something. I had been about twelve before Max took pity on me and explained why that didn't ever work, except when he was the one seeking me. (He had, obviously, played along with my stupidity.)
This hiding technique worked for all of about an hour or two, when my mother decided that they should leave if Zack was to get to bed at anything resembling on time (and also, I'm sure, she wanted to check out what I had rather incoherently babbled at her). I started to follow them out, acting like everything was normal, but got stopped by a soft, “Ryan?” from Max. It wasn't like I could pretend not to have heard him, so I froze in the doorway and winced out a smile for my mom and son's sake and waited until they turned the corner down the hall before turning around to face the firing squad.
Max had a completely serious look on his face, and my stomach sank to about the area of my knees. “Ryan, come here.” Make that ankles. I managed, barely, to drag myself over until I was standing directly next to him, facing him and my imminent doom. He may be in a hospital bed, but that didn't mean that Max couldn't royally kick my ass. And sure enough, he grabbed me by the front of my shirt, yanked me down to his level, and – whoa. Not what I was expecting.
As you might have guessed, Max didn't start punching me. No. He kissed me. And it was everything that all those cheesy romance novels (that I definitely did not read, thank-you-very-much) always said it was, and I had always thought that the authors were smoking something that was only legal in some third-world country, because kissing had never been like that for me. Except now it was.
It was long, and sweet, and probably would have been longer, except we had to breathe. Damn respiratory system and its need for oxygen. I pulled away, just far enough to be able to stand without falling over onto Max (that would have to wait until after he was released from the hospital; and wow, I went to the dirty place real fast). “Wow,” I... didn't so much say as sort... breathed.
Max grinned his beautiful grin up at me. “You're kinda stupid, you know that?”
I grinned back. “I know.”
Two months after that, life was finally starting to fall into place. I had gotten a new job, working for a private detective agency, and me and Max were happily dating (it still feels weird to say that; not so much because it's Max, but because it's been two full months now and I don't think I want it to ever end, as incredibly cheesy as that sounds). My family was all completely cool with it, except Terri, who was only not cool with it because she thought we should have gotten together years ago.
Max was mostly recovered from the explosion, and I was almost completely recovered from my hit-and-run, although the doctors insisted that both of us have weekly physical therapy sessions. They very well may have had a point with me, but I always felt the urge to look at Max, raise an eyebrow, point at him, and go, “Are you serious?” Because Max, being Max, started up his workout routine the exact second he got home.
Zack was starting to settle down, although he was still a little clingy to both of us and tended to give us deadly serious looks whenever we left the house. He'd also developed an unhealthy obsession with watching the news, and I wasn't sure I wanted to know where that would lead. But he was starting to get used to my Ultra Mega Special Dip I made for tortilla chips – picante sauce, four kinds of shredded cheeses, and sour cream, all combined to make what looks a lot like chunky tomato soup – which is always an encouraging sign. My brothers still make gagging noises and act like they're the age of their kids whenever I bring it to (or whip it up at) family dinners.
But despite all these good signs, there was still one thing that had been preying on my mind. Not Fireboy, I had sort of come to terms with the fact that I'd never find him. I didn't know what his name actually was, I wasn't too clear on where, exactly, in the city we'd all been at the time, and I wasn't even too sure what he looked like. When you're on the street, you tend to see people just by the lankness of their hair and how worn their clothes were, you ignore things like facial structures and eye color.
No, what I kept thinking about was Kit. I knew that plenty of orphaned kids out there get good foster parents, or are even adopted, and they grow up to be normal, happy adults, but I also knew there was a number of them that weren't so lucky, and I couldn't stop thinking that maybe Kit was one of those.
It was almost ridiculously easy to track him down. I had, after all, his full name and the place where and approximate date he'd been been dropped off. It was just a matter of making a few calls, visiting the hospital in order to look at their records, and then making such a nuisance of myself at the main office of Child Protective Services that they gave me the information I was looking for just to shut me up. (This is a highly complicated technique that you learn near the end of training at the police academy; only a few of us, the highly trained elite core, ever master the technique. I might as well be qualified to teach it.)
Using my old detective skills and my new private detective skills, I thoroughly investigated Kit's current foster parents. Criminal records, bill statements, and even some elementary surveillance. And I learned some things that, well, made it hard for me not to immediately march up to their front door and start beating the ever-living crap out of them. (One of the reasons I did not go this route was that I am incredibly wimpy, and they'd probably just shut the door on me and I'd go flying backwards, greviously injured. The other reason was that it wasn't entirely legal for me to do that.)
Instead, I decided it was time I went to Max, who was the lawyer in the family. And for all my bragging of how a police officer had to know more of the law than a lawyer because they don't have the luxury of looking it up in some dusty little office because they have to actually know it on the street, Max was still far better at exploiting loopholes than I could ever hope to be.
When I showed him my evidence, he went quiet, and his eyes got all dark and flashing. I would have likely wet my pants had that look been directed at me, but as it was I just felt completely satisfied. He took the folder (manila, of course, you have to go with the classics) from me and told me to hold off on doing anything for a few days, he was going to see about getting something done. With anyone else, I might have argued (might have, who am I kidding, I definitely would have), but I knew Max. I trusted Max. I knew he wouldn't ask me to wait unless there was a really good reason for it.
That good reason arrived three days later, in the form of an official court order allowing us to take Kit out of the home. Max told me that the evidence I'd collected wasn't quite enough to get the foster parents arrested, or even shut down, but he was able to pull some strings to get Kit, at least, out. And it was highly likely that once out, Kit would be willing to testify against them.
If, that is, I was right, and not just giving into the paranoid instincts carefully honed by nine years of being a cop. And assuming that Kit was an even remotely likable human being, which was indeed in doubt, since the last time we had seen him he was maybe a year old, and that's not exactly old enough to judge personality and strength of character (if it had been, I likely would have been drowned in a lake before the age of two).
The day of the rescue, as I was terming it until told otherwise, dawned bright and early. Which gave me an instant headache. Stupid sunlight. I rolled away from the window and buried my head in Max's shoulder, mumbling something about making the light go away. He nuzzled my head for a moment, and then promptly pushed me out of the bed and onto the floor, where I sat and pouted for a moment before decided that it was far too cold to do that in my boxers, and started to get dressed.
Max made his pancakes again, as we had many little containers of leftovers in the fridge that needed to be used up, and then we prepared Zack to go off to his grandmother's house for the day.
Zack, however, was not having any of this. “Zack go with you,” he insisted stubbornly, crossing his arms. Max tried to explain to him why no, Zack not go with us, and Zack promptly scrunched up his face and started screaming.
Me and Max exchanged a helpless look. Zack was the calmest, most well-behaved child in the universe (not personal opinion; this was a statement made by not only my mother, but also both of my sisters-in-law); we had no idea what to do with a screaming Zack.
So we broke the number one rule of parenting. We gave in, and took him with us. This was definitely going to come back and bite us in the ass multiple times, I thought pessimistically as I put the truck into first gear and started to drive (with my hospital trip being the least recent of the two of us, Max was finally allowing me to drive. And he didn't even hover over me anxiously anymore, like he had for the first few weeks).
Kit's foster home was in the suburbs, in the middle of a sprawling, pleasant little neighborhood. I instantly decided that dark secrets lurked behind every rose bush in the place, although when I told Max that, he just started laughing at me. He can be real un-supportive sometimes. We pulled up to the house, which on the outside seemed well cared for, but there were little signs, if you looked hard enough, to show that it was at least mostly a facade. The little things that you only notice if you're looking for them, or if you truly care about the look of your house and yard.
Me and Max were just getting out of the truck, instructing Zack to stay in the truck and not let anyone in – and there that kid went again, rolling his eyes at me! We were going to have to have a little talk after this, I could see – when the front door to the house banged open, and a scrawny teenager exited the building, screaming angrily back into the house before stomping to the sidewalk, hands shoved angrily in his pockets. I sort of froze, because he might as well have been Dovey, looks-wise. “Kittredge Maddox?” I asked as we strode towards him, not realizing how intimidating we must look – we had purposefully dressed at our most professional, trying to look more like officers of the court and less like two former street kids.
He took one look at us, all serious faced in our dark suits, and bolted. I swore, turned to Max and snapped out, “You talk to the parents,” and then I took off after him. Because for as strong and able to kick ass Max is, I will always and forever be faster than him. Some of that is training, from all the running we have to do after perps, but most of it is from having to save my own ass when I'd pissed off the wrong people back in school. Max might be able to fight them, but all I can hope to do is run and hide until they forget about me and my smart mouth.
From the look of things, Kit knew that situation all too well, because he could run like the fucking wind. “Damn it, Kit, we're not here to beat you up or fucking arrest you!” I yelled after him, sort of knowing that wasn't going to actually get a response. My cop instincts were right again, because he didn't slow down at all. Well, enough for reasoning, time for out-thinking. He knew the neighborhood better than I did, but I knew psychology better than he did, so I started to angle my chasing, pretty much directing him to where I wanted him. Which was through a strip mall and right into a chain link fence. As I thought he might, he started to climb it. This is always a mistake unless there's a large distance between you and the person chasing you, because they can quite easily grab you as you make your way up the fence, and you don't have the extra time to prepare yourself for a fight, either.
I pulled him to the ground and half-sat on him, to keep him from doing something stupid like fighting. Jeez, I was sure not going to be rescuing anybody again, if this was how they reacted. “Damn, kid, calm the fuck down!” I nearly shouted at him, smacking him lightly in the face. Just enough to get his attention off of his panicked and rapidly beating heart, and choked breathing, and onto me. “Why'd you run? You in trouble with the law or something?” Please no, I thought to myself, I don't want to get a reputation as a con magnet or something.
“No. I just – I – never mind,” he said, still looking somewhat panicked, but calming down.
“Look, Kit, my name's Ryan Galloway. I'd show you ID, but I have a feeling you'd try to bolt.” I paused here, trying to think of what to say next. If you know anything about me, by this point you know I'm not very tactful. “I knew your mother.”
This got his attention. “So what? My mom was some whore who left me for dead. I don't care about her.”
If I had been a more violent person, it's highly likely that I would have smashed his face into the ground. As it was, I found the idea quite tempting. “Your mother loved you, asshole,” I hissed at him. “Even when she was starving, she made sure you were fed, and warm.”
“Then why'd she abandon me?”
“Because she died, moron,” I snapped at him. I immediately felt sorry for that, though, as his face sort of crumpled in on itself. “Look, she was killed, by this guy on the street. And Max and I-” I sort of paused here, “That's the other guy who was with me back at your house – we were only fourteen, so we took you to the hospital and left you.” The boy was quiet. “Can I get off of you now, or are you going to start running again?”
“I'll be good.”
So I got off of him and helped him up, and he didn't run. He gave me a wary look, a little like a small frightened animal about to be run over. Yes, I have odd metaphors. What of it? I jerked my head in the direction we had come, and we started walking back.
“Are you my dad?” he asked after a long moment. A question I really should have been expecting, but wasn't, and as such was nearly knocked over.
“No. No no no. Not that I wouldn't have been honored, really, but I was fourteen.” He raised an eyebrow, as if to say, “So?” And he had a point there, with his eyebrow. “I've only got one kid. That I know of. And he's only three.”
“That you know of?”
“Well, I didn't know about Zack until a few months ago,” I defended myself. Which was a rather terrible defense, come to think of it. But it was the only one I had, so I went with it.
Kit was quiet again for a moment, and then... “So who is my dad?”
I sighed. “Look, kid, I don't know who he was, although I got the impression that you weren't conceived under... the best of conditions. From the things Dovey said, I don't want to know who he was, and I don't want you to know, either.”
He was a smart kid, he knew what I was talking about. He went quiet, and stayed that way until we made it back within eyesight of his house. Then he stopped dead in his tracks, looking very much like he'd give anything not to go back in.
I continued walking. “Come on, you need to pack up your stuff so we can go.”
“What?” He was surprised.
“That's why we're here, me and Max. We got temporary custody of you.” I looked, I knew, extremely proud of myself.
Kit, for his part, looked extremely suspicious. Which, yeah, if two strange guys dressed in suits came and yanked me out of my house with hardly a word, I'd be highly suspicious too. And probably creeped out, although it was weird to think of either me or Max as child molesters or anything like that. But he didn't know any better.
Max was leaning against the truck, looking all cool. And hot. He's lukewarm! I raised an eyebrow at him, asking, “Did you tell the assholes – I mean, parents?” He nodded, meaning, “Yes.”
Kit packed his stuff up remarkably quickly, and nearly ran out the door without a look back at the house. He seemed surprised, though, to find Zack already in the backseat of the cab. “He threw a tantrum, wouldn't let us go without him,” I explained.
“You know that it's not a good idea to give into tantrums, right?”
“Yeah, we do. And where'd you get so smart, anyway?”
He just grinned at me in the rear view mirror. I grumbled good-naturedly, then gunned the engine. “Come on. Let's go home.”