Well, here he was.
Raymond muttered a curse under his breath, gazing up at the big Starlight Mansion with misgivings in his heart. He had come so far because he'd known it was the right thing to do, but still he balked at breaking the news to the girl he so hated.
"She's never been good for him, and he's never realised it." He murmured. "But he doesn't deserve to die, and she don't deserve to find out on the evening news. No, I have to tell her. If...if it had been me, Alex would have gone straight to Heather and told her. I have to do the same thing - whatever I think of Sadie."
He set his teeth, marching resolutely up the front steps and ringing the doorbell. At first there was no response and he was about to ring again when he heard the sound of the catch being pulled back. The door swung open to reveal the object of his search and, as she sent him a look of wary confusion, he found himself steeling his nerves for what he was about to do.
"Ray?" Sadie's tone was one of bewilderment. "What are you doing here?"
Then she caught sight of the blood that still spattered his uniform, and all colour drained from her face.
"Alex." She whispered. "Ray, what...what's happened?"
Despite himself, something in the girl's sudden pallor softened Ray's heart and he sighed, closing his eyes briefly. He held out a hand to her.
"There was some trouble this morning." He said softly. "I've come to take you to him."
"Trouble?" Sadie echoed. "What do you mean, trouble?"
She gripped the agent by the wrists, terror and desperation mingled in her eyes. "Dammit, Ray, tell me! I need to know. Where is my boyfriend!"
Raymond took a deep breath, as if to compose himself. Then, slowly he outlined the morning's events.
"It was a lucky shot." He added bitterly. "Skimmed the rim of his vest."
Sadie swore, and Raymond grabbed out for her, afraid the girl was going to faint.
"He's not dead." He said softly. "They took him to Baptist's and that's where I've come to take you. I figured you'd want to know. I mean...well..."
Suddenly awkward, he trailed off, but Sadie did not seem to notice.
"Of course. I have to..." She agreed, her voice shaking as the tears welled in her eyes. "I can't drive, though, I'm shaking...Oh God, why didn't I...why couldn't I have known this would happen? It always happens. Why did it have to be Alex?"
"Sadie, listen to me. You're getting hysterical." Raymond said firmly. "I already told you, I'm going to drive you to the hospital. But I'm not taking you anywhere in this state. You'll scare the hell out of the guy if he wakes up to see you like this, and I'm not going to allow it. So pull yourself together, or we're not going anywhere."
Sadie stared at him, then she uttered a string of expletives, pushing him back.
"I know you hate me but you can't stop me seeing him!" She exclaimed. "Dammit, what if he dies? I have to see him! You have to take me!"
"What in hell is all the noise about?" At that moment Topaz appeared at the top of the stairs, a cross expression on her face. "I just put my daughter down for a nap and I don't need her woken by all this yelling. What's going on?"
At the sight of Topaz, Sadie's anger dissolved into terror and she burst into tears. Topaz stared from her friend to the FBI agent, then, as she took in Raymond's expression, her own became grim.
"What's happened?" She asked gently.
"Alex h...has been sh..shot." Sadie managed, before a fresh wave of tears overwhelmed her, and Topaz hurried to her side, hugging her tightly as she cast Raymond a questioning look. Raymond nodded.
"He's been taken to hospital. He was bleeding quite a lot when the ambulance took him." He said quietly. "I came to tell Sadie and...and take her to see him...only I can't take her like this. There's no way any hospital will let a hysterical woman into a ward to see a critical patient."
"She loves him, Ray." Topaz said reproachfully. "How do you expect her to react?"
"Alex is my closest friend, Topaz, he means something to me too." Raymond said stiffly. "Why else would I come here? He loves her and he'd want her to know. But you know as well as I do that there's no point in taking her anywhere in that state."
Sadie made a superhuman effort to control her tears, pulling away from Topaz.
"I want to go." She said, her voice shaking. "I have to see him, Ray. Please. I have to."
Raymond eyed her for a second. Then he sighed.
"We're wasting valuable time." He said quietly. "If you promise not to swear at me or produce another scene when we get there, I'll take you."
"Maybe I should take her." Topaz looked doubtful, but Ray snorted.
"I thought you had a baby to see to." He said pointedly. "Besides, Alex is a Federal Agent. You won't get to see him without my badge."
"Do they think the guy who did it will take another shot?" Sadie asked fearfully. Raymond's expression darkened.
"He won't. Trust me on that." He said grimly. "Alex might be in the ER, but the man who shot him's lying in the hospital morgue by this time and good riddance to him, too."
He bit his lip, then,
"Alex wasn't the only comrade hurt today, you know. One of our unit was killed."
Sadie swallowed hard.
"I'm ready." She said softly. "I'm sorry. I just...it came as a shock. I love him so much, Ray, and I couldn't bear to lose him."
Raymond did not respond. Instead he just gestured towards his car, and, casting a backward glance at an anxious Topaz, Sadie followed him out to it, climbing into the passenger seat and absent-mindedly fastening her seatbelt.
Ray cast her a sidelong glance, taking in the pain and grief in her blue eyes. He sighed.
"Alex isn't going to die." He said firmly, putting his car in gear. "He damn well isn't. It's like my chief said - he's a fighter."
"Strong people can die too." Sadie murmured, twisting her hands together. She paused, then, "Do you smoke?"
"I just wondered. I...could really use a cigarette."
"Well, they're not going to let you see Alex with one of those between your lips, so I'd put it out of your mind." Raymond said unsympathetically. "If he's a fighter, you better damn prove you're one, too."
"It's not easy when it's someone you love."
"Well, it's a shock for me, too, and I'm trained to deal with this kind of crap. We've been partners a long time - it gets you." Raymond hesitated, then, "Are you sure you're not going to freak out on me again when we get there?"
"I'll be all right." Sadie agreed absently. "It just...made me think of something, that's all. That people I'm close to get hurt...or even worse."
"What in hell would make you say that?" Raymond looked surprised. "I know I don't think much of you and Alex seeing each other, and I don't make any secrets about it. But I wouldn't go so far as to say this was your fault. Was nothing to do with you. Just a desperate psychopath who got a little trigger happy. Any other day Alex's vest woulda protected him. Guy got lucky, that's all."
"I know that." Sadie sighed, tracing her finger against the car window. "I've just...been here before."
"How do you mean?"
"My mother died in a riot when I was ten. I saw her gunned down and I couldn't do anything to help her. Now Alex might die too. People I care about, Ray...people I love so very much." Now the tears began to spill down her cheeks. "I don't think I can bear to lose him. Not like I lost her. He believes in me so much - I love him so much. I just feel so helpless and it brings it all back."
"I didn't know." Raymond pursed his lips.
"I don't know how bad he's hurt. I know he lost a lot of blood and that they stuck him on the critical list. I got that information on my way to pick you up, HQ radioed me to keep me informed. But he ain't dead yet. And I know that guy. I know he's a battler and he's not gonna give up so damn easily, so you and I mustn't either. You understand? It's important."
"I understand." Sadie nodded her head, wiping away her tears.
She pursed her lips, struggling to get her emotions once more under control.
"Thank you for coming to tell me in person." She added. "I know it must have been tough, considering how much you hate me."
"I came by your place this afternoon because something happened...well, to show me just how important you are to him." Raymond admitted. "He's my friend and I don't want to lose him either. I know he'd want me to bring you to him, and so that's what I'm doing. But if it means anything at all, he thinks a lot of you."
He paused, then shook his head.
"The stupid thing is that, when I told you, I saw it in your eyes too. What he meant to you, I mean. I never could quite accept it...I thought you were playing with him and messing him over. But it's not that, is it? There's more to it. I can't help but see it, now."
"I just hope we don't get there too late."
"Ray, you said you lost someone else today." Sadie remembered, turning sad blue eyes on her companion. "Was he someone I knew?"
"Dave Batten." Raymond said shortly. "Took a bullet to the head - died pretty much right away, I think. In a sense I'd rather be coming to you than going to see his wife. She's expecting their second child, you know...that son of a bitch Berris has a lot to answer for."
"What...happened to him?"
"I told you. He's dead." Raymond said with a shrug. "And not before his time, if you ask me."
Something in his tone made Sadie stare, realisation dawning in her eyes.
"You shot him, didn't you?" She whispered.
"Damn right I did." Raymond flicked on his indicator, turning onto the road that led right to the hospital main forecourt. "And I'd do it again in a heartbeat. That dude killed one of our best men and put my partner in the hospital."
He raised an eyebrow at her.
"Don't tell me you think different?"
"No." Sadie sighed, sitting back in her chair. "No. I knew it was part of your job. I just never realised what...well, what a big thing it all was. That you can get killed...that you can wind up killing people, too. I never really thought it through...what it must do to you."
"Doesn't do anything to me, Sadie." Raymond said simply. "My wife's at home and she's three months pregnant. It could've been her taking the news that her baby wasn't going to have a father. It's not, but I damn well made sure that it won't happen again. He was a murderer and he took innocent lives. When he opens fire at FBI agents, he's asking for trouble. I wouldn't be doing my job if I wasn't willing to bring him down."
"I suppose not." Sadie reflected. "I just never realised what a big job it was."
"Well, I guess today you get to see it from the other side."
Ray pulled the car onto the hospital carpark. "That the things we do in law enforcement aren't all bully tactics. And that we take losses, too. We know that risk when we put on the uniform."
"I know it from the other side already." Sadie said bitterly, clambering out of the car. "I told you, I already went through this once. My mother died because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Do you know what came of it? Nothing, that's what. Law enforcement wanted to cover up the fact there'd been a major breach in their patrol work and that some big incident had happened, so they tried to pin the murder on my Dad. They couldn't, of course, but they put him through a breakdown and destroyed my family. If burying Mum didn't already do that. Dad could barely face us after it all, and spent all his time working his way through the military. From ten years old I was raised pretty much by my sister, who's only five years older than I am. And you know the worst thing? Noone ever went to prison for my Mum's death. He's still out there. Somewhere. While my family continue to pay the price even now for what he did."
She shut the door with a bang.
"I wound up on drugs, stealing and involved with an abusive man who later tried to kill both me and my kid sister." She added coldly. "George was smart and she could have been the first Monahue to go to college, but she never did, because she never had anything to hold on to. My eldest sister Alyssa got married at nineteen and had her first baby at twenty, but she couldn't have her own life with her husband because of me and because of Georgia. She's devoted a lot of her life to putting us straight because no damn law enforcement officer gave a damn about doing it. All they cared about was making their paperwork tally and dropping it at the first opportunity. Nobody there cared that my mother was six feet under at thirty seven, with five kids and a husband left behind her."
Raymond stared at his companion, speechless, and Sadie spread her hands.
"Well, so now you know, don't you." She said quietly. "Why I went to prison, why I did drugs. Why I'm the felon you think I am. Because someone could not spend the time and energy to properly police the street that day, and then couldn't even bring someone to justice for killing my mother. Are you surprised I turned out the way I did?"
"Does Alex know all of this?" At length Raymond found his voice. Sadie nodded.
"Of course he does." She agreed. "Just like I know about his brother. But he understands, Ray, that it's not always good people who are locking the prison doors or protecting the innocent. And that it's hard to always know which you can trust."
"Meaning me, I suppose."
"No...I don't think I do." Sadie sighed. "I mean, you're unbending and judgemental and you've always treated me like crap. But then, I think you do believe in justice and in doing the right thing. I just don't think you can always see that there's more to things than meets the eye."
"Alex is the first law enforcement officer I've met who was different." She added. "One who didn't look for the quickest explanation with the least paperwork. He wanted the truth, and he was prepared to keep an open mind about the people he looked into while he hunted for that truth."
"We have different ways of finding out the truth about people." Raymond said quietly, taking Sadie by the arm and leading her towards the hospital entrance. "Alex looks for the good in people. I look for the bad. In the end we reach the same conclusions. Except..."
He frowned, shaking his head.
"I don't like to be wrong." He admitted. "But this time, maybe I was. Maybe you have a point. That there's more to things than I realise."
Sadie took a deep breath.
"I don't say you were wrong to kill the man who shot Alex. Right now I hate him as damn much as I hate the guy who killed my mother." She said brokenly. "In the circumstances, there wasn't anything else you could do. But just because he was a killer and you're trained to hold a gun doesn't give you the right to fire it and not care that you did."
"That isn't quite what I said..."
"No, I know, but you know what I mean." Sadie interrupted. "And Ray, if my boyfriend dies, I want at least to know that you've learnt something from it happening."
"Trust me, I already did that." Raymond said grimly. "Now come on. I don't believe Al will die and nor must you...but we shouldn't waste time. If he's come around, he'll want to see you."
"Did he say anything to you...you know, after?" Sadie wondered, as they made their way through the busy corridors. Raymond shook his head.
"He fell and either he hit his head or the shock of it knocked him out." He said. "He wasn't conscious when I went to check his pulse, or when the ambulance took him. They were on the scene quickly though, Sadie. And he did have a pulse when I left him, even though he was bleeding. I'm sure he's in good hands."
"I hope you're right." Sadie swallowed hard. "All right. I'm ready. Let's do this."
Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's
Chapter One: Los Angeles, 2015
Chapter Two: Enter The Stray
Chapter Three: Flashback - Sadie's Song
Chapter Four: Nerves
Chapter Five: The Dean Stacey Show
Chapter Six: Flashback - School Concert
Chapter Seven: Sandra Bray
Chapter Eight: The Dean Problem
Chapter Nine: Cursed
Chapter Ten: Flashback - Stir
Chapter Eleven: Secrets
Chapter Twelve: Robin Vs Nancy
Chapter Thirteen: In The Line Of Duty
Chapter Fourteen: Flashback - Griefstruck
Chapter Fifteen: Aftermath
Chapter Sixteen: Jewel Consult
Chapter Seventeen: Forever Changed