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Stayin' Alive

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Holland comes to halfway through Tess’s rant about why she did it. He guesses, anyway. He wasn't drunk on the job this time, per se. He wasn't even tipsy, really, more like buzzed, or, well, maybe a little more than buzzed. Point is, his mind was plenty primed to unravel before he found himself tied to a desk chair and trying to play catch up. The whack over the head that preceded his current predicament isn’t helping matters.

It had only been one week since Arnie Adamczak hired him and Healy to track down Terése – or “Tess” – Villanueva. Old Man Arnie claimed his former secretary embezzled money from his law firm then skipped town around the time the IRS came knocking on his door. Until tonight, Holland had actually been leaning toward his client being the guilty party, attempting to throw off the cops by hiring a P.I. Now, with Tess returning to the scene of the crime, kidnapping a detective, and point-blank admitting she did the thing, Holland is more than a little pleased. It’s... more of a moral victory, for the time being. He would celebrate more if his hands weren’t tied behind his back and he actually knew how he got here and how he was going to get out of this alive.

Tess is still in full-tilt lecturing mode. Holland thinks his head would be hurting by now regardless of external force. Christ, how long has she been talking? She’s got like the wavy hair and red lips of a 1940s film siren, slinky dress, too, and Holland would commend her for the femme fatale shtick if it weren’t almost 1980. Get with the times, sweetheart.

“… and that’s why I had my boys get the drop on you and bring you… here.” Tess takes a long look at him and frowns. “Wait, were you… were you not awake before? You looked awake, like your eyes were…” She gestures to her own face and lowers her lids dramatically. Holland gets her point, though.

“No, I just, that’s a thing that my face does sometimes, sorry.” It really is, like his eyelids stay open a crack that makes it look like he’s still somewhat conscious when he really, really is not. It also really freaks Holly out.

“Oh, sorry,” Tess says, actually looking apologetic. “I can start over, if you want.”

“Please do,” Holland says before wincing. Oh God, his head, his head is going to explode, never mind, forget the whole thing. Shit. “Or maybe just the highlights? What do we have time for?”

Tess looks at her wristwatch instead of at the clock on the wall behind her like Holland had hoped. He’ll have to think of another distraction while she summarizes.

“Um, let’s see,” says Tess, waving absently as if trying to track down a thought. It’s then that Holland notices the gun in her right hand. Stupendous. “I did it because Arnie was too trusting and dumb as a post, also did it because Ezra Stout was paying me – ”

Holland arches one eyebrow. “So it was Stout.” He isn’t about to play his whole hand, but he and Healy had a hunch Tess was involved in a bigger scheme. They hadn’t had time to uncover the other major players, obviously, but they were heading in that direction, expecting to run into the mob or other assorted no-goodniks eventually. Tess namedropping a high profile attorney-to-the-stars, though? That’s interesting. Very, very interesting.

Tess waves off his comment with a red-nailed hand. “Anyway, someone got sloppy and left a paper trail, part of which you,” she says, taking a moment to point the gun at his chest, “got a copy of from Arnie’s new receptionist. I burned the originals earlier tonight, now I gotta tie up some loose ends.”

“And me getting kidnapped fits into this… how exactly?” Holland is pretty sure he could figure out this answer on his own on any other occasion. His brain is just ever so slightly not caught up, though. Fucking alcohol.

Tess sighs loudly. “You read the files, did you not?”

“No,” Holland lies. It's worth a shot.

“Then you most likely have the information stored in that thick, thick skull of yours,” Tess continues, ignoring him. “I gotta make sure no one outside HQ has even the barest inkling of an idea about those papers existing. We got a guy set to off the receptionist when she gets home tonight. Got another guy waiting 'til your kid goes to bed to go through your office. You, obviously, were like shooting fish in a barrel.”

“That is nice, super proud of you and all,” Holland replies, stomach curdling at the thought of Holly home alone being watched by a stranger. “Kudos to someone of your stature getting me… wherever the hell this is, but why go to the trouble in the first place?”

Your partner was trickier,” Tess continues, walking around the desk to stand directly before Holland. A smile plays on her blood red lips. “Are you waiting for him to come rescue you, Mr. March? I hope you are. Because I have to confess, you’ll be waiting a long, long time.”

Aw Christ. Of course she wants to play a game; she has to know Jackson is one of two subjects Holland doesn’t have the patience to play games about. Everybody this side of Hollywood knows – when it comes to Holly and Healy, you don’t dick around Holland March.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Holland asks, hoping to cut to the chase.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Tess repeats, huffing out a little laugh. “We both know you know what that means.” She saunters just a step or two closer to Holland, her swishing hips disrupting his train of thought. “You sicced your dog on me, March.” Her smile grows a frightening inch. “I had him put down. So sorry you couldn’t say goodbye to your precious Blue Heeler.”

Holland keeps on a-frownin’. “Come again?” He doesn’t remember siccing anything on anyone, but that certainly doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Tess’s face falls to match his expression. “Heeler, like… it’s a play on his name. Healy, Heeler? And how he’s always wearing that blue jacket?”

“Huh.” And alright, it’s clicking into place, Holland gets it, remembers Jack leaving earlier in the evening to case some office complex, see if he could find evidence of it being the baddies’ base of operations. “That’s pretty clever.”

“Yeah, it is,” says Tess. “Thank you.”

She isn’t that smart – Holland untied his own hands during her monologue and she has yet to notice. He's also reasonably sure he can feel his gun in his inner jacket pocket, but he has yet to figure out how to get it without her noticing. He’s gotta stall this bitch.

“How?” he says out loud. He tells himself the crack in his voice is for Tess’s benefit. He doesn’t really want to know. He doesn’t know why he said it. Maybe he wants to convince himself Jackson survived. Admittedly, he’s not as invincible as March, but he’s pretty good. He can withstand a lot of… stuff. Shit, he’s gotta think of a better word than stuff. But if it will buy him some time –

“Really?” Tess’s grin is wide and feral. Sadist.

Holland nods slowly, rocking back and forth a little. Is he hysterical? He might be hysterical. “Yeah. Yeah, I think as his partner I deserve to know. Gotta plan a speech for his funeral, you know?” He tries to laugh, he really does.

Tess is still smiling. “What makes you think you’ll be attending?”

“Point made,” he concedes. “Go.”

“Twins.”

Holland blinks a few times. “Well, that is the way most of us want to go. Statistically.” He thinks, at least. That’s like a male fantasy thing, right? Who wouldn’t want to go out with a bang, and with twins? Is Jackson even into women? Holland has never really figured out who or what his partner is into, despite his investigative prowess. Maybe he should pay more attention to shit like that. Then again maybe he doesn't want to know. Maybe that's a thread better left un-pulled on, if only for Holland’s own sanity.

“Yeah,” Tess agrees. “Mickey slit his throat and Jamie dropped his corpse down an elevator shaft.”

Oh.” Yeah. That’s gonna be hard to come back from. And Holland needs to be planning his escape, he needs to be figuring a way out of here while Tess is distracted, but all the wheels in his brain just ground to a halt. Fuck. What the fuck.

“I watched the body go ‘splat’ myself,” Tess adds with a smirk. “Want me to describe it for you?”

Jackson can’t be dead. He can’t. “No, thank you,” Holland replies snidely. “You have already done so much.” Shit. Hysteria here he comes.

“Are you alright?” Tess is still smiling, probably. Holland can’t look up, he’s too busy replaying all the times he saw Jackson slipping Holly money for lunch or, weirdly enough, that time he actually packed her a sack lunch for school. It was fucking adorable, but why is he thinking of it right now? Holly will be devastated, that's why.

“Do you need a minute to cry?” Tess asks, like she actually gives a rat's ass.

He might, actually. Holland wants to cry, and throw up a little, and also scream some. Maybe, he’ll do all three later. “Yeah, yeah, just… give me a second,” he says instead. He sighs, then sobers up. “Wait, ‘always?’”

Tess cocks her head but doesn’t say anything.

“You said ‘he’s always wearing that blue jacket,’” Holland rambles, more pieces of the puzzle clicking together. “You’ve been following us, haven’t you?”

Tess shrugs. “Just for the past three days,” she says, and that stings. How did they not notice her? Fuck. “I wanted to see what we were up against, how deep into the case you were actually going to dive. If you guys were as good as I’ve heard.” She levels him an unimpressed glare, gesturing to Holland and his chair. “Clearly you were not.”

“It was easy, though,” Tess continues, giving Holland a knowing smirk. “You schmucks are always together, aren’t you? You drink together, you eat out together, you work together. You living together too or what?”

They aren’t, but Holland doesn’t correct her. They aren’t like a thing, like a couple thing, but they might as well be - or, maybe they are and Holland is the last person on Earth to realize it. That’s a distinct possibility. There’s a pretty sizable difference between investigating the lives of others and looking into his own pathetic personal life. All he knows for certain is that Holly is going to make him take care of Jackson’s stupid fish now that his partner is… now that he’s not…

Fuck. Holland March has a List of Wants, and it usually changes apart from Item Number One (stability for Holly), but the second item has been constant for some time now, just worded in different ways. It was not wanting to go back to working alone. It was not wanting to go back to loneliness. It was having someone at his side, not just on the job but off the clock. He wants Healy sitting across from him and his daughter at restaurants and turning up in their house at odd hours and stealing one of Holly’s Yoo-Hoos from the fridge when he thinks neither father nor daughter will notice. He wants… fuck, he wanted so little this time, Holland thinks. Thought. Past-tense. Fuck.

The neighbors had better not bring casseroles. Once was enough.

Tess turns her back on Holland, reaching back over the desk and into a drawer. Maybe it’s the casserole thing or the taking away his partner thing, but point is, Holland is pissed. Holland is angry, and Tess turns her back on him, and he sees the opportunity and seizes it.

Reaching into his jacket, Holland whips out his pistol and jumps to his feet… that are apparently still tied to the legs of the desk chair. He flails for a minute but manages not to fall over, looking properly intimidating and upright when Tess spins back around. She’s got the same pistol in her right hand, but she’s got a weird walkie-talkie-looking thing in her left hand. There’s buttons and such, and it appears to have a cord going down to a wall plug and a lot of ominous wires and shit. Holland doesn’t like it one bit.

“Take a look around, Mr. March,” Tess commands. “Do you know where we are right now?”

As much as Holland wants to be a stubborn ass and ignore her, he takes a gander out the floor-to-ceiling window to his right. Maybe it will give him a clue, some idea of how to get out or alert people he's in trouble, some way of distracting Tess. Maybe he looks around just in case it's the last place he's ever going to see.

The district looks familiar, Holland thinks, but cloudy. The air outside is too smoggy, or perhaps he's still relatively drunk. That's always a possibility. But it's definitely a part of Los Angeles he has seen before. They're higher up, fifth or sixth floor, he guesses based on the height of the surrounding buildings. If he could see the street level, maybe it would jog his memory, put more pieces in place...

"We're in the old Fogelberg & Stein office complex," Tess starts explaining, and God, why did she even ask him questions if she wasn’t going to let him answer? "Remember it being in the news? All those paper pushers and CPAs and crap moving to a new building back at the start of the year. This place has been empty for months, no one bothering to check on who's coming and going out the back door. It's set to be demolished with controlled explosives on the 30th."

With a start, Holland remembers the name, not just because of the news but because it was where Jackson had said he was going tonight. Maybe, in a world of maybes… Then again, just getting his hopes up these days gave Holland acid reflux. In what world would Healy be here and alive and in any condition to save his partner’s sorry ass?

His attention is recaptured by Tess waving the black box in her left hand. “Lucky me, the explosives technicians wanted a cut of our dough and agreed to help me light up this powder keg. I push this button,” she explains, pointer finger hovering over a particularly green outlet, “I get fifteen minutes and then this building blows. You get a bullet to the brain and I get to waltz out of here scot-free."

"Seems a little disproportionate for an embezzlement case," Holland mutters. What is this lady on, and where can Holland get some?

"What?" says Tess.

"I said, it's going to look a tad suspicious that this place went up in the dead of night two weeks ahead of schedule." Holland pats himself on the back mentally. Excellent save. Drinks all around.

“OK, since you clearly were not listening,” Tess explains, “I got in with the technicians, meaning I made sure the wiring was faulty and this looks like an accident to any outsider. Anyone asks my guys about it, they lie and say their materials must have been faulty.”

"Alright," Holland counters, "but you're allotting time to escape. Somebody is going to see you leaving the area."

Tess arches an eyebrow, all smiles again. “Who me? How? I’ve been staying with my mother’s brother and his family in Reno for the past week. That’s how alibis work, right?”

Holland sighs. Never mind, she’s that fucking clever.

There’s the telltale clacking of Tess taking the safety off her gun. Swell. “Do you know why I picked you to be here tonight, Holland?” his captor asks haughtily.

If Holland ever envied James Bond for anything apart from his ability to get laid on a regular basis, he certainly wouldn’t after first-hand experience with such a chatty captor. Jesus Christ. “Oh my God, I don’t care,” says Holland, nearly throwing his hands up before remembering he’s pointing a gun at Tess. “Just tell me or don’t.”

Tess scowls back at him. “Fine. Bitching aside, I assumed you would be the best audience. So long as I have your partner and your daughter in the palm of my hand, I can say whatever I damn well – ”

Holland doesn't bother waiting for the rest of the monologue. If all she's gonna do is twist the knife and lord her leverage over him, he isn't going to stick around. He shoots, more as a warning than with the intent to harm. She shuts up, so Holland counts it as a win.

His bullet, however, clips Tess in the left arm. The arm of the hand holding the fancy-schmany detonator. With a yelp, Tess startles and presses the ominously green button.

There's a good minute of silence, spent by Holland and Tess gaping at one another.

“… Ohhhhh shit,” Holland says aloud. “Shit shit shit.”

His first thought is to bolt for the door before he remembers, oh yeah, still half tied to a chair. Holland crouches to untie his legs as best as his shaking hands can.

Tess roars back to life (literally, the noise is terrifying, Holland is glad he didn't happen to still be making eye contact at the time). She peppers the wall with a spray of bullets meant for Holland's head if only he had held still, had not ducked below her aim.

Pulling free of the coarse ropes, Holland tosses the chair in Tess's direction then bolts for the door. He doesn't glance back, but there's a satisfying thwack and an offended "HEY!" so he assumes he hit his target. Take that, Terése.

On this, his luckiest of lucky days, Holland reaches the door to the office Tess was holding him in first and slams it shut before she can reach it. The damn thing doesn't lock from the outside, so he looks around for something, anything nearby he can barricade it with. Holland comes up wanting (what else is new?) in the time it takes for Tess to catch up, and he futilely throws his own weight against it.

Tess opts to shoot through the cheap wood. Holland swears, narrowly avoiding catching one of the bullets with his left hand. He kicks against the door before bolting down the hallway, hoping a change of scenery will work in his advantage.

Holland had a plan to plan his escape route while escaping. He’s good at thinking on his feet, OK? It’s a marketable skill, and he had been too preoccupied during his earlier kidnapping to come up with anything useful, so he was going to do what he always did and fly by the seat of his pants. There are several things he didn’t account for, however. Like, for example, Tess following him, pistol in hand. Being shot at tends to jumble ones’ thoughts. She and her gunfire are successfully driving Holland in the opposite direction of the emergency stairwell he happens to know is (or should be) at the end of the hall. Even if they were headed in that direction, Holland couldn’t turn his back on her, couldn’t run the risk of falling down a flight of stairs or getting a flank full of lead.

This, naturally, leaves him no choice but to run further into the building, through beige unmarked corridors, hoping for a sign to latch onto. He considers twisting backward to return fire and almost drops his gun in the process, and it wouldn't it just be Holland's luck to shoot himself while running for his life? It’s gonna take a miracle or twelve for him to get out of this in one piece.

Counterpoint to the gunshots and bullets whizzing past his ear, Holland swears he hears footsteps. They’re getting louder, echoing around the deserted halls, and if he wasn’t fucked before, he definitely is now. Nixon. It’s definitely Nixon again. Sayonara invincibility, hello Tricky Dick.

Holland switches from worrying about who’s going to tell Holly she’s an orphan now to singing the freaking “Hallelujah” chorus so fast his head metaphorically spins. It might also literally spin, given it takes a glance or two to confirm it’s his partner headed toward him and not one of Tess’s lackeys, but yep, blue eyes, blue shirt, blue canvas shoes coming in hot at twelve o’clock. Thank fucking Christ.

Jack is, of course, equally red and bloodied up from head to toe. There’s a frightening chunk of his abdomen that may or may not be missing, and he’s got knife marks galore around his neck, but there’s a happy lack of throat slittage so Holland can deal.

There’s also a good chance Holland is hallucinating, he deduces. That seems to be a thing that happens to him. He has to say something, do something, anything to get a tangible reaction. Half of him wants to march right into Jack’s personal space, meet him halfway in this dingy, dilapidated hall and do… something. Fuck, he doesn’t know. Shake him, slap him, kiss him, whatever. Whatever a guy’s gotta do to get adrenaline out of his system. The gun in his partner’s grip makes this seem like a less than stellar idea, however, as do the shots coming from behind, coming dangerously close to Holland’s body.

“I thought you were gonna be Nixon,” is what he yells in Jackson’s direction instead.

Healy raises his gun and aims right at Holland’s head.

“Fuck, no, fuck, fuck,” Holland corrects, “I meant metaphorically.” He might be digging the hole deeper, but fuck if he isn’t going to give some sort of explanation. Jackson wouldn’t shoot him, especially not when Holland’s referencing the stupid shaggy dog story Jack told him all those months ago, not when the bullshit he’s spouting is all Jackson’s fault.

“Move,” is what Jackson says in response, so Holland does. He spins fast to the side, throwing himself flat against the wall, and Jack fires twice. Holland turns to see Tess falling to her knees, a bullet hole between her eyes. She slumps to the floor where Holland had been standing a second before. Shit.

Holland is wondering about the etiquette here – like how exactly is one supposed to say ‘thank you’ in this situation? – when Healy lurches forward, moving like he’s about to join the body on the ground. Right. Shit, right. Holland catches him, cataloging his partner’s injuries along the way. The neck stuff, the side stuff… the left side of his face is starting to bruise, and the right leg of his pants is bloody around the ankle, but Holland can’t tell if it’s dripped down from his side or from another cut on his calf or something. It also looks like one of Tess’s bullets meant for Holland found it’s way into Jack’s left shoulder. Shit. If Holland hadn’t already sobered up completely, this would have done the trick.

There’ll be time for fretting later, though. “Jackson, she did something with the detonator,” Holland explains unhelpfully before moving on to his next point, hands flapping uselessly. “This place is gonna blow tonight in like five minutes, we gotta get out of here.”

Jackson grimaces, but he straightens up a little, clutching his right side with his left hand.

“By all means,” Healy says, voice strained but steady. He leans a little further onto Holland. “Lead the way.”

Holland slings Jackson’s right arm over his shoulders, propping his partner up. Together, they shuffle down the hall toward the emergency stairwell Holland knows is at the end.

He feels more than sees Jack frowning, mouth twisting into a grimace by Holland’s temple. “Elevator bank’s back that way,” his partner growls.

“Nope, stairs,” Holland replies, ignoring the real reason his stomach twists at the thought of going near the elevators with Jackson. “We don’t have time to hang around up here.”

Jackson huffs, breath hot and heavy in Holland’s ear. “I’m not doing the fucking stairs, my liver is about to bust through my side in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Oh that’s what that is,” Holland quips. He really hopes Healy is joking, but there’s definitely something squishy and wet pulsing against his side that he’s trying not to think about. He’s still hoping it’s fat, or muscle. It probably is, Holland persuades himself as he chokes down a bit of bile.

They make it to the door for the stairwell. Holland kicks it with all his might and gets nothing but a dead leg in return. Fucking fantastic. Jackson snorts what might be a laugh in his ear.

“Just… fuck, hang on a second,” Holland says, intending to prop Jack against the jamb or something so he has more leverage, so he can use a hand or two. He starts to slide Healy away from him, reaching with his right arm for the crash bar.

Jackson has other plans, apparently. Instead of leaning away, he throws his weight against Holland. It’s at the exact moment Holland throws his own weight against the door, so naturally it opens and sends both men tumbling down half a flight of stairs.

Swell,Holland says once they roll to a stop on the next landing. Healy is sprawled on top of him, chest heaving, and Holland can’t tell whose wrist is currently in his face but it’s definitely sprained. “Wanna roll us the rest of the way down, save us a few minutes?” He doesn’t want to know how much time they actually have left, he really doesn’t.

Jackson grunts instead, shifting against Holland’s back before his weight is gone. He leans heavily against the staircase’s handrail and doesn’t offer Holland a hand up, which is unfortunate since the sprained wrist appears to belong to him. Struggling to his feet, Holland loops his partner’s right arm back over his shoulders and braces his right forearm against the wall, trying not to disturb his twisted appendage. Jackson’s left hand stays on the railing, balancing them out. Once they’re somewhat steady, Holland meets Jackson’s gaze, and they begin their descent.

"Move faster," Jack spits, and Holland can hear his partner's teeth grinding together right next to his ear.

"I'm sorry," Holland snaps back. "I wasn't planning on having to haul your fat ass out of here when I thought of this particular escape route."

Part of Holland is aware you shouldn’t say shit like that to someone who’s just been shot, to a business associate who currently has a waterfall of blood running down where your sides are pressed together, to a friend who you had been thinking about kissing out of sheer relief mere seconds ago, but look, there his mouth goes, once again.

Healy looks even more pained than before. "You're callin' me fat? Really, now, of all possible times?" He sounds more amused than offended, though, and Holland is definitely putting a pin that. He’s going to remember this and they’re going to come back to this conversation, booze and blood and explosives be damned.

“Oh, sorry,” he replies. “When would be a better time for you?”

“How ‘bout when I’m not bleeding out in a shitty abandoned building and seeing four of you due to walking in too many circles down this goddamn staircase?” Jackson growls.

“I’ll ask Holly to pencil you in when we get home,” Holland says, sounding precisely as out of breath as he feels. It doesn’t even register until a second later that he referred to “home” as something they share. Damn. Jackson must not have noticed; he keeps his mouth shut, anyway.

There is, as always, a lot Holland wants to say. He feels like it’s his duty to keep Jackson talking, keep him conscious. Like, obviously he’s alert enough to manage stairs, but he’s losing blood fast and Holland doesn’t want his mind to go with it.

“Tess told me you died.” Look at that, more words. “Said you went splat on the pavement and she witnessed the whole thing.”

Jackson’s laugh turns into a nasty, choking cough. Holland clutches his partner a little tighter with his left arm, willing him to stop fucking shaking. They’re so close, they have to be, they’re so close to the end now.

“And you believed her?” Healy asks once he’s cleared his throat. His voice is ragged but full of his familiar, deadpan teasing. “Bet she told you she was working for Stout, too.”

“What? Of course not,” Holland lies, and sweet merciful fuck, the stairs have ended. There’s nothing but a door marked “EXIT ONLY” between them and blessed freedom. “The fuck do you even know about that anyway?”

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, he can worry about all their evidence of Tess being a backbiting bitch going up in flames later. He’s gotta get Jackson to a hospital, gotta somehow some way get ahold of Holly, make sure she’s safe as well. They’re out of the building, Holland is mostly sober, he’s got a whole new set of worries now.

They’ve taken not three steps toward the street when the place goes bang, folding in on itself and down like fucking Pruitt-Igoe. The force of the blast throws Holland and Jackson smack into the nearest parked car, Jackson’s parked car, as luck would have it.

Holland finds himself having once again cushioned his partner’s fall; he hopes absently that he didn’t twist his other wrist in the process before deciding it’s time to act against the debris currently raining on him and his partner.

He can’t stop coughing, hacking up a lung and having half a mind to quit smoking. Only half. He waves the thought away along with the falling, fiery remnants of the office complex, pulling himself out from underneath Jack to sit next to him on the sidewalk.

It’s hard to see through the smoke, hard to see what he’s doing, but the car gives Holland something to work with, something solid to prop Jackson up against.

Jackson isn’t coughing. It’s odd, Holland thinks, and he takes a minute to place his left hand flat against Healy’s chest. The other man is still breathing, at least, but it’s shallow, too shallow, and Holland can’t find his heartbeat. Maybe he’s just shit at doctoring, but he panics nonetheless at the missing sensation.

Holland draws back with a hand full of blood. “Ooooooookay,” is what he says instead of the string of expletives racing through his brain. “Jackson. Hey.”

He snaps his fingers in front of Jack’s face, and hey look at that, it works. Jackson’s eyes blink open sluggishly, but they open, and he makes eye contact with Holland.

Holland puts his hands on Jackson’s shoulders. “Jack, look at me, OK? Listen to me. I need you to get up, just, for like half a second. You use… you take just like… just, I’ll help you push up against the car, and then I’ll open the door and push you into the backseat so we can get to the hospital. I just need you to…”

Jackson groans and closes his eyes instead. Motherfucker. Using all of his might, Holland hooks his hands under Jack’s arms and tries pulling them both to a standing position. He can’t. His wrist makes a weird crackling sound. Wonderful.

Holland starts to get to his feet, reaching for the driver’s door, a new plan vaguely forming. He hears sirens in the distance, but who knows how soon they’re going to get here, if they’re going to get here at all. He has to do something, he has –

Jackson stops him. His hands aren't nearly firm enough on Holland's forearms to actually reel him back in; maybe that's why Holland follows along, flopping back to the ground the way Healy intended him to move. He sits back down, wondering what kind of line it would cross for him to pull Jack closer, into his lap. It feels important that he be propped up in some way, Holland thinks, that he not be flat against the ground.

"I like the plan," his partner mumbles, blue eyes flickering toward Holland's face but not quite meeting his gaze, "but we aren't going nowhere, Holland. I know it, you know it..."

He trails off, a trickle of blood from the mouth punctuating his sentence.

The fight leaves Holland's body. This, this brokers no room for argument. He folds in half over Jackson's prone form, too exhausted to even cry. "Damn it, Jack," he sighs. "I didn't go through the wringer thinking you were dead just to have you actually die on me ten minutes later."

Jackson makes a noise like a laugh, maybe, maybe in Holland's worst nightmares. It burbles, and he winces after it like it pained him. Holland never wants to see that sight again.

“Jackson, talk to me,” Holland pleads, "or blink in Morse Code or something." He’s gotta keep his partner talking, keep him conscious. He’s asking for so little here. He can’t go back to being alone, not now.

“Tell Holly I’m sorry,” Jackson says weakly before closing his eyes.

Holland March has a List of Wants, which can at this moment be whittled down to one fine point – not fucking this. He curses, smacking Jackson on the chest before remembering, right, blood and guts and gunk. He figures he can cross CPR off his list of potential treatments for similar reasons. He can feel Jackson's breathing - shallow - under his hand, but the pulsing he feels Holland knows is all from his own injured hand, from his own pounding heart.

Frantically, Holland flicks Jackson in the ear. His partner groans, head lolling, but he doesn't open his eyes. Holland will take it, grasping for all the straws he can reach.

He doesn't know how many times he says Jack's name, how many variations of it, how many times he shakes him or how he wound up cradling Jackson on the pavement colored with his own blood. There is entirely too much red and not nearly enough blue. Jackson's breathing seems to slip further and further away, hardly audible over the nearing sirens, of the voices of other people approaching Holland, but he holds onto it until it hurts, until he can't hear Jackson breathing anymore at all, and then for the cacaphony surrounding them, Holland feels like the world has gone silent.

Shit. Shit. Goodbye hysteria, hello shock.

 

Holland doesn’t remember how they got to the hospital. He remembers the ambulance ride in that he knows and would not argue that he was present for it, but he doesn’t actually remember anything. He doesn’t know who reset his wrist, how long he’s been alone in the waiting room, how long Jackson has been in surgery. He just… doesn’t know. Holland doesn’t know a thing.

“Is he going to be alright?” comes his daughter’s quiet voice from Holland’s right.

“Jesus Christ,” says Holland, startling and slopping hospital coffee he didn't realize he was holding down the front of his shirt.

The next five minutes are spent (in short order) hugging his daughter, being checked by a nurse for burns on his chest, and replacing his stained shirt with a hospital smock. It itches like hell, but Holland doesn’t care. Holly is here, unharmed, holding his braced hand, and simple as that he can focus on what’s happening.

“So?” Holly begins again, more than a little impatient. “Is Mr. Healy going to be OK?”

“I don’t… I don’t know, sweetie,” Holland says honestly. “I’ve been pretty out of it. Remind me to flag down the next nurse we see.”

Holly moves to stand, eyes fixed on the nurse’s station not six feet away from them. Holland, however, drapes his right arm over her shoulders, pulling her back down to sit. “Hang on, let’s come back to that,” he continues. “What about you? How did you…” He blows out a shaky breath. “They told me there was a guy waiting outside our house for you.”

Holly snorts and rolls her eyes. “Dad, please, they sent one rookie,” she says and wow is that not making Holland feel any better about the situation. “He was not subtle, and in our cul-de-sac who wasn’t going to call the cops about a suspicious car outside a place they know a teenage girl lives at?”

Holland nods in understanding. Their neighbors have been a little on edge since the John Boy incident. “You called in too, right sweetie?” She’s a smart kid, but he has to make sure she isn’t cocky. You can’t always rely on the people around you to tip off the police when you’re in trouble.

“Of course,” says Holly. Holland finally, finally allows himself to relax, just a fraction.

His daughter takes the opportunity to remove his arm from around her shoulders. She takes his right hand in her small grip, turning it this way and that appraisingly before looking up at Holland’s face. Her expression is too grim for a girl her age.

“So what happened to you guys?” Holly asks quietly. “You didn't come home when you said you would, and you had a lot of blood on your shirt…” She glances meaningfully at his hand again, at his overall lack of injuries.

Holland sighs. Where’s a cigarette or a bottle when he needs one? “We both know my answer to that is not what you want to hear right now.”

“Yes it is,” Holly counters, eyes sparkling with determination.

“Not what you need to hear right now, then,” Holland replies.

Holly is silent for a moment, lost in thought. Holland adores watching her mind work.

“He should move in with us,” she says after thorough consideration.

“Come again?” Holland wants to be more surprised by the suggestion than he actually is, he truly, truly does.

Judging from the long-suffering look Holly shoots him, she can tell. “Mr. Healy will probably need someone staying with him while he recovers, right? He basically already lives at our house anyway.”

Holland smirks. “OK, but – ”

“He’s not getting my bedroom,” Holly cuts him off. Killjoy.

Holland sighs, as if he hadn’t resigned himself to this outcome three minutes ago. He sure as shit isn’t making Jackson sleep on the couch, but they’ll figure something out. They aren’t going to leave their friend alone.

Despite her protests, Holland slings his arm around Holly once more, drawing her closer to kiss the top of her head. God, what did he do to deserve a kid this amazing?

“Family of Jackson Healy?”

Holland and Holly look up in tandem. Some corner of Holland’s brain recognizes the man before them as a Doctor Ramos, as a guy who introduced himself at some point earlier tonight. Was he Jackson’s surgeon or just another guy in the department keeping them in the loop? Holland can’t say. But he got the name and the face, which isn’t too shabby given his mental state prior to this moment.

Holly glances at her father before sitting up straighter and replying for them both. “I think that would be us.”

Ramos shoots Holland a weird look before giving Holly his full attention, deciding like everyone else with a shred of common sense that she’s the more alert one of the family. "It was a little touch-and-go for a while, but Mr. Healy pulled through surgery just fine." Holland and Holly let out twin sighs of relief at the news. "The bullet wound in his shoulder was superficial, meaning it missed any major muscles or ligaments. Our primary concern was, of course, the massive blood loss." The doc winces a bit at his own words. "I’m not really sure what did that to his abdomen, but he suffered several cracked ribs and bruised internal organs, as well as several severely torn abdominal muscles."

“Is he…” Holly falters, only for a second, her game face back on in a flash, but Holland takes it as his cue to get to parenting.

"Let's discuss the details later," Holland interjects, moving forward to the edge of his chair. He puts his hand out in front of Holly, hoping the doc picks up on the gesture meant to signify 'when she isn't around to hear the gory details.' "How's Jackson doing now? Like, in the most general terms?"

"Unconscious but stable," says Dr. Ramos, and there you go. That was exactly what Holland needed to hear. Not exactly what he wanted to hear, but that's fine, he can deal. "You can see him if you'd like. We can talk while we walk."

Father and daughter stand up, and the doc turns, looking over his shoulder to make sure they're following before he starts down the corridor. Holland takes the opportunity to put his hands over Holly's ears, just in case Dr. Ramos starts talking blood and death and doom again. She's heard enough of that for one night, thank you very much. Holly swats him away with an undignified squawk that sounds funnily similar to his own infrequent shrieks.

"Hey, hey," Holland protests, smoothing her hair down from where he had ruffled it. "Be nice to your old man, I'm going to be sleeping on the couch for the foreseeable future."

"That's what you think," Holly mutters. It was clearly not intended for his ears, but Holland isn't going to let that stop him from riling her up.

"That is what I think," Holland says, playing up his confusion. "Is there a reason I should not think that?"

Holly blushes a deep pink but doesn’t say anything in response.

"Is this you offering to take the couch?" Holland continues to needle. "I mean, I would feel a little weird kicking my own daughter out of her room, but if you’re offering – "

"Dad!" Holly snaps, but she's grinning. "Stop trying to kick me out of my room."

"We'll talk when it's your name on the lease," Holland replies. He can deal, he thinks. Holly is fine, Healy is on the road to 'fine,' and having them both under one roof is going to save Holland several headaches during the coming weeks. Or, well, realistically it will cause more headaches than heal them, but that's fine. It's for them. It's for him and his own pathetic woes, and Holland can deal. It's alright, it's OK, look the other way, all that jazz. Holland thinks he might even like it. It's not much, but he'll take it for the time being.