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Sometimes you turn your back to the wind

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Do you want your career to end here, now, like this? Your call.

The answer wasn't yes, but it wasn't not yes either.

Ricky closed his eyes, not much more than a long blink, but he thought it'd help. He just needed to shut the world out for a moment, a pause so that he could think, but closing his eyes only served to highlight his surroundings: the distant beeping of monitors, the squeak of comfortable shoes on clean linoleum as a doctor or nurse crossed the hallway behind him, the faintly antiseptic scent of the air.

When he opened his eyes, all he could see was Director Locke's three-piece suit, and he forced his gaze away from it, up to meet Locke's eyes.

Ricky took most of his suits to be dry cleaned every week whether they needed it or not, but he couldn't remember the last time they hadn't needed it. Usually it was the funk of life lived in a van that needed to be stripped from the fabric, but sometimes it was garbage or mud or dust. Ricky'd never been the type of agent who looked like he belonged at a desk; looking at Locke, he couldn't imagine their positions switched, where Locke was the one disheveled, sweaty, bloody, mourning. If Locke had ever done so much as spilled coffee on his pants, Ricky never would have guessed it to look at him. Locke looked pristine, removed, in a way that Ricky could barely imagine, and that he wasn't sure whether to aspire to.

Still, there was a lesson to be learned there, and Ricky wasn't so stubborn as to ignore it. What can you control? he thought. Focus. The whole drive from Tahoe, all he could fucking think about, when he could think about anything at all, was punching Director Locke right in his patronizing goddamn face. He'd had a vague fantasy of breaking Locke's nose, bathing his shirt and tie in blood. There'd been so much blood, at the hotel, at the lake, and Locke hadn't contributed anywhere near his fair share.

So the answer wasn't yes; he didn't want his career to end "like this" but there wasn't a whole fucking lot about "this" that he had a say in, either. The only good answer had been lost back with Don, bleeding out alone in the corner of an elevator in Lake Fucking Tahoe, Nevada. If there had been a moment between then and now when Ricky'd had a choice worth making, he hadn't noticed it passing him by.

Buddy was probably dead either way, didn't matter if they unplugged him for mercy or malice. Ricky had left a maybe-good man with undeniably shitty luck in a car downstairs, possibly hypothermic, probably in shock. If he was anything like Ricky's dad, and he seemed to be, he was likely to take himself home to lick his wounds, and then casually die of some massive infection because antibiotics were for pussies.

The answer, he realized, was that Ricky already missed his career: having folks he trusted to watch his back, compiling evidence slow and steady to put away indisputably bad people. He missed the idea of his career, because the real thing was nothing like. The inevitable truth was that there was no path forward that still ended with a gold watch or whatever the hell consolation prize they'd be giving people who made it to retirement in thirty years' time.

So if he said, "Yes sir, I would like to resign," and he set his badge and his gun down on the nurses' counter, then what? Focus. he told himself again. Don would know what to do. Don would remind me to focus on the details.

He could walk back to the elevator, and he could go back to the ground floor, and then he could get in that godawful car in the parking lot. And that's where it went blank. He didn't have the faintest fuckin' clue where his wallet was. The FBI wasn't going to fly him back home out of the goodness of its heart, not after this.

So instead he took a deep breath to brace himself through the lie and he said, "No, sir, I don't want to resign." He said, "I understand, sir," and turned without another word to go see what he could fix.


Down in the parking lot, the car was still there, still as much of an eyesore under the sodium glare of the parking lot lights as it'd been in daylight, and the engine was still running in a heaving, asthmatic idle. Elmore - Hollis - hadn't moved from the passenger seat, and he was passed out or asleep with his forehead pressed against the window, his breath making a small foggy patch on the glass.

Ricky tapped on the glass with one knuckle, not two inches from Hollis's face, but he didn't so much as twitch. The door was unlocked, but the latch stuck and it was a challenge to tug it open without dumping Hollis onto the pavement. Hollis didn't wake up, not through the protesting squawk of the hinges or the fall and sudden stop when Ricky caught him, and not when Ricky pushed him back against the seat and called his name, not even when he smacked Hollis's face a couple times.

"Um," he said, standing and turning to locate the emergency room entrance. "Help," he said a little louder, but there was no one around to hear him, so he went to locate a wheelchair.


As much as it pained Ricky to trust Provident Mercer's staff with Hollis's care, it wasn't like he knew enough about Las Vegas to have another option, and he thought that the Provident staff might object if he walked back in to ask for recommendations of other hospitals in the area. God only knew what was going on upstairs under Locke's dispassionate watch, but Ricky couldn't start assuming that the whole world was run like that. The emergency room staff were most likely going about their ordinary lives, trying to do the best they could to save people. He'd just have to get over the gut feeling that the safest place for Hollis was anywhere but here.

"No ma'am," he told the nurse when asked, "I don't think he has any ID. He's a Las Vegas resident, used to be a cop. Hollis Elmore. E-L-M-O-R-E. For all I know he may already have medical records here."

"No," he told a one of the local cops a little later. "He's not in custody, not a suspect. We- He was just on his way home, but he needed medical attention."

"Hmm," was all the woman said, but she looked skeptical.

If Ricky had one thing to be thankful for, it was that exhaustion left him too flat to have to fake calm. "Do you have reason to suspect otherwise, Officer... Stewart?"

There was no question that she was holding something back, and her expression didn't even seem the slightest bit guarded, like she was happy to communicate that there was a problem, and that she did have reason to believe otherwise, but not enough of either to spill the details to someone out of her jurisdiction.

It was a little like being on the outside of his grandmother's quilting circle, where no one with an ounce of brains ever doubted that there was gossip being shared, but they might as well have coined that phrase about butter not melting in their mouths.

Whatever patience Ricky'd ever had for people and their unwillingness to share pertinent information with him, it was a long way in his rear view and dropping further by the second. "Right," he said. "Well, if that's all, I should go check on Elmore. When he turned back to cushion the fall of the door behind him, she was still standing in the hallway, watching him.

***

Twelve hours later, Ricky had showered, shaved - mostly - and was wearing some of Target's finest menswear as he pushed a wheelchair containing one Hollis Elmore out to the loading zone where the Tremormobile waited for them.

Hollis still looked like shit, and when Ricky helped him transfer from the chair to the passenger seat, he smelled strongly of hospital and faintly of sweat and mothballs, but he was moving as steadily as could probably be expected - cautiously, maybe, but more a hesitancy born of exhaustion than pain. In the time it took for Ricky to cross around to his side of the car, Hollis had already slumped to rest his head against the window. But for the Nevada daylight doing its best to blind him as it bounced off the pavement, it was almost as if the past two days hadn't happened, and they'd just pulled up to the hospital.

"Alright?" he said.

Hollis slowly turned his head from the window and blinked at Ricky like it was the stupidest question he could have possibly asked. Maybe it was.

Ricky cleared his throat and tried again. "Ready to go?"

"Done being here," Hollis said. "It's up to you, I guess."

"You'll have to tell me where we're going," Ricky said. "I can just about find my way from McCarran to the strip and back, but beyond that... total mystery."

Hollis didn't respond. If anything, his expression grew more incredulous.

Ricky drummed his fingers once along the steering wheel. "So, directions?"

"You have got to be shitting me," Hollis muttered, probably to himself. Then, at a more reasonable volume, "If you think I'm going to help you investigate me, then you are definitely way dumber than you look."

"I'm not-" Ricky held in the urge to slam his hand on something. With his luck, he'd find a literal landmine in the dashboard, and end them both back in the emergency room. "Fuck's sake, Elmore. Look. I'm not trying to arrest you. You're not in custody, and if you're going to end up in custody, it's sure as hell not going to be me that puts you there." They'd hardly exchanged a dozen words except for those required to get Hollis into the hospital and back out of it. It didn't surprise Ricky that he was suspicious. He scanned the interior of the car, but couldn't find anything he wanted to touch, much less swear on. "You're just going to have to take my word for it, so just tell me where you fucking live, so we can put a little more of this shit in the rear view, okay?"

Hollis watched, blinked, looked out the window and back. "Food first," he said. "Take a left out of the parking lot."