Richard knew all about swimming against the tide both figuratively and literally, and he was still finding it hard to believe that he could stop swimming at last. He had exposed the falsifying of research by a man he truly believed was his best friend. Charles had swapped out the liver biopsies to those from healthy donors so that Devlin MacGregor could push through a drug worth millions, and Richard had caught Helen's murderer--the one-armed man--though not before Sykes had taken yet another innocent life.
"Just a kid."
"Hmm?" Gerard turned to him as the US Marshal's car moved away from the flashing blue and red lights of the police cruisers lining the road outside the Cardiology convention.
"Transit officer. Was just a kid." Richard gazed out the side window. "He was already gone by the time I reached him."
"Two witnesses said Sykes shot him twice in the chest. Wasn't anything you could do." The silenced lengthened but Richard could feel Gerard's eyes on him. "You saved the other guard though." This time it was Richard who turned his head to meet dark, calculating eyes.
"On the prison transport bus. After he gave up his pretense of being a hero, the head guard admitted what happened on the bus. How he panicked and left you inside with the gutted guard and the train bearing down. No way that injured guard rolled out of that bus and down the embankment all by himself."
Richard looked back out the side window, feeling strangely numb inside as the street lights flashed by. The memory played out and he was back inside the bus, his heart trying to thump its way out of his chest as he used every last ounce of adrenaline flowing through him to push the guard through the window, following with only seconds to spare. He didn't think either of them was going to make it but he'd been there at the local hospital later when they brought the guard out of the ambulance and helped release the lock on the stretcher. He'd told the paramedic about the gastric puncture but there was no guarantee...
"He made it?"
"Yeah. Some doctor fitting your description pre-warned them about the gut wound." Gerard gave a wry smile. "And some janitor fitting your description saved a little kid's life too." Richard looked round again, recalling a little boy with severe chest pains. Gerard sighed. "Figured out in that tunnel that you didn't have it in you to take a life. You had me good to rights and yet you took a million to one jump from the dam rather than pull the trigger."
"Didn't stop you from trying to kill me later."
"Bullet proof glass. You think I didn't know that?"
Richard blinked because, yes, it made sense to use bullet proof glass on the security doors for the city jail and a US Marshal would know that.
"Then why did you shoot?"
"So you knew I meant business. That I wasn't going to stop just because you took a nose dive off a dam rather than shoot me. I don't bargain with fugitives, and it's not my job to judge them... to decide if the justice system was right or wrong in convicting them."
Richard smiled softly. "You made it your job this time."
"You rubbed my nose in all the evidence as I was trying to track you down."
Richard noticed familiar streets and frowned. "Where are we going?"
"You know I have to keep you locked up until a Judge says you're free to go. I figured you'd prefer a quiet room at Cook Memorial Hospital to an overcrowded cell in the court lock-up facility."
Gerard grinned, and in all the bustle at the hospital Richard didn't notice Gerard and his team slip away, leaving him in the hands of a suitably chastened Chicago Police Department. A judge signed his release papers the following morning, expediting the request due to the media storm working for rather than against him this time around.
His first act as a free man was to lay flowers on Helen's grave, and to finally grieve for the woman he had loved and lost.
Eight Months later
"Male. Early thirties. GSW to the chest..."
Richard listened as the details were reeled off while he was already prepping for surgery. Dr. Wiseman had requested a vascular surgeon and he was the one on call this evening. He stepped up and they made room for him at the crowded operating table, quickly following his orders. Repairing the damage was delicate and time consuming work and when he finished, hours later, Richard rolled his head to try and ease the ache in his neck and back. He left the attending surgeon to close up, moving into the clean up room to dispose of the bloodied gloves and surgical scrubs into the relevant bio-hazard bins. Splashing water on his face, Richard gazed at his reflection in the mirror.
Even after eight months the sight still startled him on occasion, seeing his face without a beard peppered with grey, and yet he had no intention of ever letting the beard grow back. The Richard Kimble who had shuffled onto the bus with several other prisoners being transported to death row, was a different man to the one staring back at him today. His beard and hair had grown a little unkempt over that year of incarceration for he'd gone beyond caring about his personal grooming. He had gone beyond caring about a lot of things and had long since given up hope of proving his innocence--no one would listen.
The bus crash and train wreck had shocked him back to life, giving him a chance to seek the justice withheld from him and from Helen. He had shaved away much of the past along with his beard, seeing it as a symbolic gesture that had changed his appearance sufficiently for him to find his wife's killer and set him free.
Afterwards he could have stayed in Chicago and taken back his former position at Cook Memorial Hospital but everywhere he turned reminded him of Helen, and of what he had once had. He had needed to move on now that he had found closure and San Francisco had offered him that chance. A new city and a new life. Strangely, the one thing he could not leave behind was his memory of those days as a fugitive, and the manhunt led by Marshal Sam Gerard. He couldn't forget the relentless pursuit, and how he had used Gerard's sheer tenacity to help him bring justice for Helen.
Sometimes when he closed his eyes he could see Gerard staring back at him--dark eyes wide with momentary fear at the dam when Richard had turned his own gun on him, or narrowed with deadly intention at the lock-up as he shot at the bullet-proof glass separating them. But mostly later, recalling eyes soft and warm with understanding as Gerard took Richard under his protection and helped set him on the path to freedom. That was what Richard recalled most of all from that dark time--the warm smile and soft expression, and the gentle hands that had cuffed him for appearances sake, guiding him with one hand possessively at his back, before removing the cuffs in the car.
He dreamed of those hands doing far more--the fantasies slowly softening the stark and painful memories of Helen, moving her into the past where he would always love and cherish her without the overwhelming sense of guilt and pain from coming home too late to save her. Survivor's guilt. Though he wasn't certain what name they would give to his infatuation with Gerard. Hero worship? Probably not because he hadn't seen Gerard as the White Knight riding in to save his ass. Gratitude perhaps, following a year numbed by the shock of losing everything. Gerard had become that fine link drawing him back from the edge and it had taken a lot of strength not to phone the US Marshal's office and ask to speak with him--to find out if the intensity of feeling had been mutual. To find out if there had been anything more to them than hunter and prey.
Once cleaned up he headed out into the corridor and looked up in surprise when a man called his name.
He knew that voice. "Marshal Gerard!"
"How's my boy doing?"
Richard glanced back towards the operating theater and was momentarily tempted to follow the normal procedures but Gerard was not an unknown quantity, and he deserved a straight answer. "If he's the GSW I just finished putting back together then he has a good chance of pulling through...if he makes it through the next 24 hours."
Gerard nodded. "You look like shit, Kimble. I'll buy you a coffee."
Richard snorted softly but nodded. "Yeah. Coffee would be good."
Cosmo. The guy on his operating table had been Cosmo Renfro, one of Gerard's top people and Richard managed to pull out much of the story behind the shooting before Gerard clammed up. Talk turned instead to the more mundane.
"I heard you left Chicago. Knew you were here but didn't expect to run into you."
"You keep tabs on all your former fugitives?"
Gerard grinned. "Nah! Only the interesting ones." He played with his coffee mug. "You off duty now?"
This time it was Richard who smiled. "Doctors are like US Marshals. We're never off duty."
"Not even when they're on the run."
"Not even then," Richard stated, knowing they were both recalling a prison guard and a little boy.
When they parted an hour later, Richard truly believed that was it but Gerard called him the next day. They ended up at a local fast food joint close to the hospital that served a better mug of coffee. Two days later, Gerard was gone, tracking another fugitive but the phone call in the early evening, not long after Richard shambled tiredly over the threshold of his apartment, brought that warm sardonic voice close to his ear and they talked for almost an hour about their day.
Three Months later
It wasn't exactly a nightly ritual. Sometimes days would go by without a word either because Richard was busy operating, or Sam was out in the field hunting down the latest fugitive from justice. But if he was at home when the call came, Richard fell into a pattern of pouring a glass of bourbon and sinking into an easy chair, letting Sam's voice drift over him as they simply talked.
In the early days he tried to compare it to when Helen was alive but she had always been too squeamish, not wanting to hear any of the gory details of his work so he'd left most of it behind at the hospital. They'd talk of inconsequential things instead and later, with a glass of bourbon in his hand, Richard would think over his day--alone. Sam wasn't squeamish. They both did their jobs to the best of their abilities and sometimes it wasn't enough. Sometimes they lost people, and it felt good to talk about the good and the bad.
Sam hadn't called the night before so Richard kept close to the phone for most of the evening. The sound of the door bell startled him and he deliberated on whether to tell whoever it was to go away, or simply not answer at all. He didn't want to miss Sam's call. When the door bell rang again, he sighed and gave in. Opening it without a second thought and stepping back in shock when Sam scowled at him.
"Tell me you didn't just open this door without checking out who it was first?"
It had been a stupid mistake due to tiredness and distraction, and Richard didn't need to say a word because it was all there written in a guilty stain of red embarrassment across his face. He stepped back further and let Sam in.
"Well, usually I can take better care of myself."
"When not tired and distracted." Sam dropped an overnight bag on the floor. "Wanted to take you up on that offer of a place to sleep next time I was in Frisco."
Richard relaxed. "Sure. Guest room's this way." But Sam never got to use it.
At some point during the evening as they relaxed in front of the TV swapping tales from the past two days, Sam touched Richard's arm and leaned in. Richard turned to face him and their lips brushed--the sensation zinging through him like an electric shock. Neither of them pulled away, leaning in closer instead until they were kissing, hard and desperate, clinging to each other like each was a lifeline and without the other they would drown.
Richard broke off first, pulling back and panting hard, flustered. "I've not...with a guy. Not since I met Helen." He huffed softly. "And no, I wasn't molested in prison."
Sam smiled. "Guess the scary beard put them off."
Richard snorted and all the tension melted away. He reached back and Sam was right there with strong hands running up and down Richard's back, pulling him in closer, and it was so easy to simply let go of any last doubts because he trusted Sam, with more than just his life.
In the morning, wrapped in warm cotton sheets and in Sam's arms, Richard allowed the past to catch up with him once more. It was almost two years to the day that he came home to find a one-armed intruder in the house and Helen dying on the bedroom floor. It was almost a year since he first met Sam Gerard in a tunnel near the top of a dam, pointing a gun at him and protesting his innocence before taking a suicidal drop into the fast flowing water. Until that fatal bus ride, he'd given up swimming against the tide of opinion--both public and judicial--of those bent on seeing him pay for a crime he hadn't committed. Afterwards he had jumped into the raging river, letting the brutal facts lead him to freedom and justice, and to Sam.
It had taken two years but finally--as he pressed his lips against Sam's cheek and felt the rough slide of bristles as Sam tightened his arms and turned his face to kiss him back-- Richard knew he had finally found peaceful waters.