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Who Comes and Never Leaves Your Side

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It was supposed to be a milkrun. The only reason Rachel had brought Tim along was because it helped to have a white man with her when she went to the boondocks.

Now, crouched down behind their car, bullets flying overhead, she wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty or relieved about that decision.

“What the fuck is the matter with them?” Tim panted, hastily reloading his sidearm. “All we said was ‘howdy’.”

“Maybe we’re not ‘howdy’ people,” Rachel suggested, sneaking a look past the wheel. Marcus Roberts was still standing on his porch, a pistol in one hand, a can of larger in the other and a shotgun leaning against his hip.

“Yeah?” Tim asked. “Maybe it only works, if you have a hat.”

“That’ll be the problem,” Rachel agreed. She glanced back at him. There was a shallow cut on his cheek, but she was pretty sure that was from hitting the gravel, not from a bullet. “You okay?”

“I’m pissed,” Tim said. “But I ain’t shot. He still where we left him?”

Rachel checked again. “Yeah, having a beer, taking the air. How about I distract him while you shoot him?”

She watched as Tim hesitated. He hated it when she was the distraction, much preferring to be the one putting himself in the path of the bullet. But of the two of them, he was the most likely to make the shot, and Rachel wasn’t going to let friendship or misplaced gallantry come between them and getting their job done.

“I’m going to distract him,” she said.

Tim bowed, as best he could while crouched behind a car. “Have at,” was all he said.

“Excuse me,” Rachel said, starting to stand. “Mr Roberts? I think we got off on the wrong - ”

Roberts swung toward her, snapping his gun hand up.

Tim stepped around from the other side of the car and shot him in the arm.

There was a second where Rachel thought Roberts was going to stand his ground and shoot her anyway, but then he cursed, his fingers spasmed open and his pistol clattered across the veranda.

“Fucking bitch,” he hissed, falling to his knees.

“Hey, asshole, I’m the one that shot you,” Tim said, crossing the yard toward him. “Want me to do it again?”

“Tim,” Rachel cautioned.

Roberts was still too close to his shotgun, so she kept her sidearm in her hand, meeting Tim on the veranda and nodding to him to kick the gun away.

“Hey,” Roberts protested and took a swig of his beer.

Tim laughed, a disbelieving, throaty thing, and shook his head. “Didn’t even drop his can,” he told Rachel. “That’s dedication to the noble art of drinking.”

“That’s stupidity,” said Rachel. “He should be putting pressure on his arm.”

Tim nodded. “Think maybe I should shoot him again, just to see what happens?”

“Hey!” Roberts said again, looking up between them with a frown. “You ain’t allowed to do that.” His voice lost some confidence. “Are you?”

“Best not to try us,” Tim told him and knelt down beside him, showing him how to put pressure on his arm, while Rachel called for backup.

“It’ll be an hour,” she told Tim at the end of the call. “Not a priority, apparently.”

“Fuck. That mean Raylan’s starting some shit elsewhere?” Tim asked.

Rachel shrugged. She sat down on Roberts’ other side. He didn’t look in any danger of dying any time soon. “Probably.”

An hour later, they’d loaded Roberts into an ambulance and were settling into the car for their two hour drive back to Lexington. Tim sighed and put his feet up on the dash. They’d swap over driving responsibilities at the halfway mark; they both knew it, there was no need to discuss it.

“What’s up?” Rachel asked, because when Tim sighed, it was because he wanted to talk about something and he never wanted to talk about anything. When Raylan sighed, she tended just to ignore him.

“You ever think about just packing this shit in? Getting a nine-to-five job where no bastard’s gonna shoot you just for saying ‘howdy’?”

“No,” Rachel said, startled into answering immediately. “Do you?”

“Eh,” Tim said and looked out the window.

“Tim,” Rachel pressed. “Do you?”

Tim didn’t answer, just watched the green hills rushing by.

***

Getting in a firefight caused a whole heap of paperwork. Normally, Rachel would be okay with that, but today she had a headache and her mom was calling her desk phone so many times, it was in danger of falling right off its hook.

“You need to get that?” Tim asked, the fifth time it rang in the past half-hour.

“Nope,” Rachel said, angrily hitting her enter key until she had enough space in the free text box to write her report. Rachel had a lot to say; she didn’t see how anyone was supposed to summarise a whole shootout in three lines or less.

The phone rang again.

Before Rachel could stop him, Tim leant around her and picked it up. “Marshal’s office,” he said. He listened to a while, giving his usual, uh huh, uh huh, mmhmms. Rachel had never met anyone less interested in using a phone. If it wasn’t for the kindle app, she didn’t think he would even have bothered with a smartphone.

She had just long enough to hope that maybe it had been a work call this time, when Tim put the phone down and said, “Your mom says you’re late for Nick’s party.”

Rachel tightened her jaw until something popped. “I’m not late, I just can’t go,” she said. “I told her that.”

Tim didn’t answer for long enough that she thought that might be the end of it. He leant back in his chair, doing his own reports, and occasionally glancing at her out of the corner of his eye in a way that she decided to ignore.

“All right,” he said at last, clicking his mouse with the kind of satisfaction that could only mean he’d sent off his report. He stood up.

“Heading off?” Rachel asked, trying not to sound jealous.

“Nah, got no plans,” Tim said. He came around behind her desk and put his hand on the back of her chair. The next thing Rachel knew, she and her chair had been shunted unceremoniously three feet to the right.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, starting to wheel herself back.

Tim got there first, pulling up his own chair and sitting down in front of her computer. “Can’t promise I’m gonna be as eloquent as you would have been, but like I said, I ain’t got no plans, and you have. So. Off you go. Good night.”

Rachel just stared at him.

“You can’t write my report,” she said, not entirely sure why not, when it would help her so much, just knowing she couldn’t allow it.

“Pretty sure I can,” said Tim. “I promise not to fuck up the grammar too bad.”

Tim,” Rachel said.

It was late enough in the day that his hair had fallen out of the awful gel he’d started wearing in it and was falling soft into his face. He blew it aside when he looked up at her.

Rachel.”

Rachel could win this argument, she knew she could, but the problem was that she didn’t want to. She let out a long, slow breath. “Thank you,” she said.

Tim grinned at her. “Tell Nick I said hey, and bring me in a slice of cake tomorrow, yeah?”

“I’ll bring you in a whole cake; Mom’s made four,” Rachel promised. She thought about ruffling his hair, but Tim always reacted to touch as though it was a foreign concept.

She settled for nodding at him.

Tim nodded back then started typing away at her report.

***

On a quiet Thursday evening, just before their shifts finished, Tim appeared in the doorway to her/Art’s office and said, “Hey, mind if I shoot off early?”

Rachel was just about to tell him that she didn’t mind at all, and then maybe to ask why, since Tim never had plans, when the door at the other end of the bullpen crashed open.

She saw Raylan first, and her very first inkling that something was wrong was that he wasn’t wearing his hat. Her second was the two men that followed quickly after him, one of them with a pistol pressed to the back of Raylan’s head.

“I’m real sorry about this,” Raylan said loudly to the room in general. “These nice gentleman promise they ain’t gonna hurt nobody. Ain’t that right, gentlemen?”

There was commotion, but it was the controlled sort. Rachel’s men and women knew what to do in a hostage situation, even if it looked like they might be the hostages.

Tim turned out to face the room and stepped sideways, covering the office door, and motioned with one hand behind his back that Rachel should get down. Rachel was just about to tell him once again that she didn’t need his chivalry, when she realised he had a good point.

Her office blinds were half-closed, there was a good chance the gunmen didn’t know she was here. She could work with that.

Silently, she slipped down under the desk and pulled out her cellphone.

Two minutes later, local law enforcement knew there was a situation at the Marshals’ office and Rachel was listening to what was happening outside.

Or, rather, she was trying to.

It had all gone very quiet and she didn’t like it at all. She was proud to have been asked to act as interim chief, and she did want that to be her permanent role one day, but cowering under a desk while other people were in danger was not for her.

Cautiously, she rose into a half-crouch and made her way from the desk to the sofa, kneeling down on the floor in front of it. From here, she could make out low voices - it sounded as though someone was trying to reason with the gunmen; she really hoped it was someone tactful, that it wasn’t Tim or Raylan - followed immediately by an ominous kind of silence.

Rachel reached for her sidearm.

“Where’s the Chief?” a loud voice sounded through the silence. Louder still, he demanded, “Where is he?”

“On vacation.” That was Tim. “Bahamas, wasn’t it?”

“Maybe it was Bali,” Raylan answered. “Or Bermuda?”

“As long as it wasn’t Bennett County, I think we’re doing fine.”

Rachel rolled her eyes, wishing she was out there so she could smack their heads together. Their double act wasn’t going to work on guys who’d storm the Marshals’ Office, but she appreciated the effort.

“That so?” asked a new voice, Rachel was guessing the other gunman, the one who she hadn’t heard speak yet. “So you won’t mind if I do this, then?”

A moment of silence and then the shattering of glass as three shots were fired in quick succession into the office wall. Glass landed in Rachel’s hair, a shard scraped down her cheek, but she kept her head down and didn’t make a sound.

She waited just long enough for movement to start again outside then slid through the glass to reach the door. Shoulder pressed against the doorframe, she rose to her feet, levelled her gun and carefully peeled away a half-broken shard of glass.

Her view now clear, Rachel took in the scene: her team were on the floor, kneeling or sitting or in one case lying, hands over the backs of their heads. A gunman stood behind them and another stood in front. Raylan had been pushed down to sit on his desk, a gun at his temple, while Tim was still near her office door.

She met Tim’s eye and nodded toward the gunman at the front.

Tim nodded back.

“So, hey,” he said, raising his voice. “Do you reckon this’ll take much longer?”

“Why, got somewhere you gotta be?” Raylan asked him.

Tim shrugged one shoulder. “Yeah, actually, got a date.”

“Shut up,” snapped the gunman behind him. “Shut the fuck up. No one cares.”

Rachel watched as Raylan shifted forward, causing the man standing over him to move with him, hiding Rachel from his line of sight. “I care,” Raylan said. “These fine gentlemen stopping you getting laid, Tim?”

“Could be,” Tim said, sucking his lower lip into his mouth. He rolled his shoulders back, stretching, and took a step back to steady his weight.

Rachel fired twice through the space he’d left for her, winging the gunman behind him once in the arm and again the shoulder. At the same second, Raylan surged upwards, shoulder then elbow to the other gunman’s jaw.

There was chaos for a good long minute. Tim’s gunman had gone down, but Raylan’s was still fighting. Rachel flung open the office door, stepped up to Raylan’s side, pressing the muzzle of her gun to the bleeding side of the gunman’s face.

“You’re just tiring yourself out,” she told him. “Stand down.”

He glared at her, called her a word she wouldn’t repeat in mixed company, and finally sank down into Raylan’s vacated chair, bleeding.

“Well, that’s - ” Rachel started. She was cut off by a crash, by someone - Tim - shouting a warning, and by a startling, burning pain that ripped through her left side.

Rachel lost track of time.

When she became aware of anything again, she was on her back on the squad room floor, Raylan was barking orders, and Tim was by her side, pressing down hard on her ribs.

She licked her lips, tried to speak, failed, tried again. “That hurts.” Her voice came out reedy and she was determined to do better next time.

Tim’s head snapped up and he stared at her, wild-eyed for just a second, before his panic was replaced by a reasonable attempt at a smirk. “Would do, I’m holding your fucking spleen together.”

Rachel glanced down. There was a lot of blood. She wasn’t squeamish, but she did feel light-headed already, so she looked away again, just in case that made it worse.

“Ambulance is on its way,” Raylan said above them, voice tight.

Rachel cleared her throat. “Nevermind about me, about about the perps?”

“One’s out cold, one’s dead,” Tim said, monotone, “so I’mma go back to worrying about you again now. Okay?”

He pressed down harder. Rachel was pretty sure she could feel blood starting to pool underneath her, despite his best efforts.

“Hey,” she said after a minute of watching gold dots float around her vision. “What about your date? Won’t you be late?”

Tim looked down at her. “I’ll reschedule,” he said.

“Tim,” Rachel protested. Anyone could hold pressure on her wound, hell she could do it herself, and Tim so rarely had anything approaching a social life, especially not one he was excited enough to talk about.

“Rachel,” Tim echoed. “I’m staying, so shut the hell up.”

Rachel bit her lip to hide a smile, winced at the ever-radiating pain in her side, and shut the hell up.

***

Not being Raylan or prone to unnecessary heroics, Rachel had never been shot before. It turned out that the absolute worst part was not the pain, which she could cope with, or the physio, which she understood she had to endure, it was the boredom.

By her second week of light duties, she was prepared to tear her hair out. By the third, she was seriously contemplating taking her computer monitor and throwing it out the window.

Before this, she wouldn’t have said she was in this job for the thrill of the chase, but it did turn out that she missed it.

“Jeez, you would not believe my day,” Tim said, coming back to the office that evening.

He dropped down into his desk chair and propped his feet up on his desk. Art was back in his office so Rachel was back at her desk. She couldn’t say she minded.

“You catch the bail-jumper?” Rachel asked, even though she’d been listening on the scanner and knew that he had.

“Yup,” said Tim, popping the P hard. “Guess where he was?”

“Home,” said Rachel, since they almost always were.

“Nope,” said Tim, leaning even harder on the P this time. “Guess again.”

Normally, Rachel wouldn’t play along. Today, she jumped at the chance. “Girlfriend’s home.”

Tim clicked his fingers at her. “Ten points to the lady in the red shirt. Girlfriend’s home. Tied to the bed. Naked. She wrote ‘lying, cheating, scum’ all over him in permanent marker before she called it in.”

Rachel felt her eyes bug out and forced her expression back to neutral. “You’re shitting me,” she said slowly, except Tim’s eyes were dancing and there was a smile on the edge of his mouth and Tim didn’t tell jokes like this. “You’re not shitting me.”

“I am not,” Tim agreed. “I took some very illegal and highly unprofessional photographs, do you wanna see?”

Rachel glanced towards Art’s office, but he looked busy. She wasn’t Tim’s boss anymore; she could look before she made him delete them.

She held out her hand for the phone. When she looked at the first photograph and burst out laughing, Tim looked very satisfied.

***

Courtney-Mae Kelly was six years old when she disappeared on the way home from school the previous Tuesday. Today, she would turn seven.

It wasn’t a case that fell into the Marshal’s remit, but Rachel and everyone else she worked with was giving over extra hours to help local law enforcement with the search.

When the fifth day ticked over into the sixth and then the sixth ticked into the seventh, everyone lost hope, but no one would admit to that.

Rachel knew she was thinking about her nephew and she knew Raylan was thinking about Willa, but she didn’t know if Tim had any special reason for helping, she just knew that he stayed later and came in earlier than the rest of them, combing the woodland, searching the forests.

At five a.m. on Courtney-Mae’s birthday, Rachel’s cell phone rang, while she was still in bed.

Tim said three words, said, “Get here now,” and that was enough to get her out of bed and into her car in the blink of one eye.

She found Tim at Courtney-Mae’s father’s house, a dirty, crying little girl in his arms.

“What the hell?” Rachel asked slowly. They’d searched this house a half-dozen times or more.

“He had her in the coal shed,” Tim said, jaw tight, teeth gritted. Rachel could see how hard he wanted to turn around and punch Courtney-Mae’s cowering father, and how hard he was resisting, so he didn’t scare the little girl.

“I never hurt her!” her father, Mr Kelly babbled. “I took her food and water and there was blankets.”

“What were you thinking?” Rachel demanded, rounding on him. “Why?” In the distance, she could hear sirens. It should have surprised her that Tim had obviously called her first, but it didn’t.

“We, we, we,” Kelly stammered. “I didn’t hurt her.”

Rachel stepped forward and he stepped back, banging into the wall. He had a foot on her, maybe more, but that didn’t matter. She was fully prepared to deliver the punch that Tim couldn’t give.

“So why then?” she asked again.

“I seen, I seen on the TV, kids go missing, people fundraise to help out their families. We need that money, Miss. We truly do.”

The front door banged open, and Courtney-Mae screamed, “Mama!” at the top of her lungs.

“Did she know?” Rachel asked Kelly, who was still cowering. “Did you wife know?”

He shook his head rapidly. “She didn’t,” he said. “I swear. I swear, she never would have let me…” He covered his face with both hands. “Oh my god, what have I done.”

He sank down onto the floor, where Rachel was content to leave him. She took a step back and was joined by Tim, who’d handed Courtney-Mae over to her mother. The two of them were in a heap by the sofa, sobbing together.

The rage had died down to a simmer in Tim’s eyes and he was smiling.

Rachel looked at him until he looked back. “Still thinking about quitting?” she asked quietly. “Getting that nine-to-five, where you can say ‘howdy’?”

Tim glanced away, looked toward Courtney-Mae who was still clinging and her mom who was still crying. “Not today,” he said. “You?”

He didn’t really need to ask. They both knew her answer was not any day. “Not today,” she echoed. She slipped him a small smile. “Not when it’s your turn to do the coffee run.”

Tim groaned, tiredly dropping his head back against the wall. “Oh god, is it?” he asked weakly.

Rachel’s smile grew. “Don’t worry, I already texted Raylan and told him it was his.”

“Rachel Brooks,” Tim said, voice sincere. “You are my truest friend.”

Rachel turned away from him and started to head to the front door to let the cops in, ready to really start her day. “Yes,” she threw back over her shoulder. “I reckon I am.”

The End