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And Maybe A Little Bit Wiser

Chapter Text

The next morning, Matias was still in the room, Judie evidently among the missing.

Having access to the tv made the day go somewhat faster, although daytime tv was still pretty bleak. They were usually busy with other things during the day and weekday tv was pretty much a foreign land to all of them. John found an 'oldies' channel with westerns and other shows from the early 60's that the girls had never seen. They had fun mocking the stories, and the clothes, of those older shows.

John didn't dare hope that Judie's absence meant anything significant. In any case, it would be a good news - bad news sort of thing. Good news would mean their stay in this hotel room would be over. The bad news would mean that their stay in this hotel room would be over. He felt like he lost, either way.

They spent the day alternately watching tv and playing cards. Norah and Donna cooked meals and the snack food was welcome.

Nighttime was the bright spot for both him and Rodney. They got to be alone... together.

The next day started the same. Then, Judie came in at lunchtime, obviously tired and needing sleep.

Norah handed her a plate of the spaghetti they were all enjoying. Everyone else's meal was forgotten in hopes of news, and they watched her eat. Judie ate for a moment, obviously enjoying a hot meal.

"Okay," she said with a grin. "There's good news and good news."

"Start with the good news," Rodney waved a hand.

"We have Doug," Judie said. The relief was palpable.

"And the good news?" Rodney prompted.

"Doug's admitted to be the shooter at your house," she said. "He was working alone and was hoping to use the incident to get Donna's mom to cooperate with him. That means that you'll be free to go home."

"What about my mom?" Donna asked softly.

"We have enough to lock him up for a long time," Judie said gently. "He hasn't admitted to anything else, but we think we can get him to admit to being the one that hurt your mom eventually."

"Thank you," Donna whispered.

"We can go home?" Norah asked. "Just like that?"

"Yes, you can!" Judie said.

"And Donna can go with us?" Norah persisted, all but bouncing in place.

"It's been cleared," Judie said, with a smile.

The two girls squealed as they hugged each other.

"What else?" Rodney asked, cautiously.

"There'll be visits from Child Protective Services, mostly a formality," she admitted. "The District Attorney or someone from his staff will be asking to meet with you. Again, a formality to put everything on the record."

"Should we get a lawyer?" Rodney frowned.

Judie shrugged. "You're the innocent parties in all of this," she said. "You shouldn't need one. On the other hand, if you know a good criminal lawyer, it can't hurt."

"No, but I suspect someone at the college can help me out," Rodney answered. Or maybe his in-laws would know someone, even if they weren't from Buffalo.

"We can go home today?" Norah jumped in to ask.

Judie hesitated, glanced at John who was looking a little pale, and said, "How about tomorrow? FIrst thing."

"That'll do! Thanks!" She and Donna went off to their room.

"Rodney, you may want to go out to the house to make sure we've cleaned up everything that needs to be cleaned up," Judie suggested. "We had the broken windows boarded up, but I know we've made a mess in gathering evidence. It'll be easier to go home if some of that is cleaned up first."

"Oh, joy, more cleaning," Rodney moaned.

"I'll help," John offered. He looked at Judie. "If I can go with him, that is."

"No problem," she agreed. "And I suspect we left a mess that will take the two of you to make a dent in."

John thought for a second. "Is there anything that's evidence that we shouldn't clean up?"

"We already have the bullets and the rifle Doug used," Judie replied. "And he's admitted to doing that shooting. The crime lab folk have had plenty of time to collect what they need from the house. So, go ahead and do whatever you need."

"Hey, can I bring my car back here?" Rodney asked.

"Sure," Judie said. "And that will be easier to let you go home tomorrow. I'll be letting most of my team go now. We'll be down to a single Marshalls hanging around tonight and then see you off in the morning."

Norah, of course, wanted to come and help, but Rodney quietly talked her out of it.

"I need you to stay with Donna and, well, it's not fair to take her back just yet. You know she'll feel badly enough, without facing the mess that's in the house," Rodney pointed out.

"Oh, all right," she pouted.

"Don't worry, I suspect we'll leave plenty for you to do tomorrow," Rodney pointed out. "And you'll both need to get back to school... Monday would probably be best at this point."

"Okay, I get it," Norah agreed.

Rodney hugged her, and he and John went out to a car with one of the other Marshalls.

The house was a disaster.

"Good thing we didn't bring the girls," John said, eying the mess. While the windows had been roughly boarded up, there was mud just about everywhere, The holes where the bullets had obviously been embedded were gaping craters where someone had dug them out of the walls.

"This is a good time to be in the construction business," Rodney said. "I can get some help for all of this."

Rodney had called his boss at the architecture firm and the moment the other man understood what was going on, he took over.

"Peter's a good guy," Rodney said, as he hung up the phone. "He's going to find us some help."

Peter must have called everyone he knew. Inside an hour the driveway was full of a variety of trucks from different firms, with incoming vehicles spilling onto the street. A glass place was working on replacing the broken window panes for now, and a construction firm was measuring up the windows to get replacement windows on order. A painting crew took over the inside of the family room and worked on patching the holes in the walls.

A cleaning company showed up, as did a rug cleaning van. They had a friendly discussion out in the driveway, walked through the house together and must have divvied up the work between them.

Peter showed up in all the chaos and found Rodney directing traffic in the kitchen while trying to find a place to stand as the cleaning people mopped up around him. John was outside, helping the glass guys with ladders and scaffolding.

"Everything going okay?" Peter asked.

"You didn't have to..." Rodney started to protest.

"Nonsense," Peter said. "This is nothing and, well, you can owe me one."

"I'll make sure you get that," Rodney promised.

John organized pizza delivery at one point, making sure everyone got something to eat and drink. Peter took over there, too, catching the delivery boy and paying for everything before anyone else could.

By the time darkness fell, the house was in much better shape than they ever would have thought. There was enough mess from the construction work for Norah and Donna to do to feel useful, but it wasn't the overwhelming mess it was when they first walked in.

Rodney and John sat next to each other on the couch in Rodney's upstairs den. The downstairs smelled more than faintly of paint and cleaning fluids, so it was good to have somewhere to go. Rodney had turned on an exhaust fan in the kitchen, but it wasn't going to help all that much. It would be a couple of days before all the smells went away.

Rodney took John's hand, "Where will you go?"

John shrugged. "Not too far," he said softly. "I have all my VA things set up here now, and that's a pain to move around. Buffalo's got a decent VA center and changing doctors again isn't something I wanted to do. But if I go to a decently large city with a VA hospital, the move will be more of a nuisance than anything."

"Will you go to Norah's grandparents for me?" Rodney asked. "I don't want them here for a while -- until after Christmas, anyway -- and I don't want to plan to take either of the girls too far until I get Donna's custody straightened out. So, if you go to them and tell them what happened, and explain why it's better if they wait, it will be a huge help to me."

"I can do that," John agreed.

"I don't want to go back," Rodney not-quite-whined. "I haven't had you to myself all day and tomorrow..."

"Tomorrow, you can drop me off at my place, and then bring the girls back here to start your new lives," John said firmly.

"You have to keep in touch," Rodney declared. "We're allowed that much."

"It won't be enough," John said softly.

"I'm not going to give you up completely," Rodney said roughly. "I won't let anything stop me from keeping in touch with you."

John leaned in for a kiss. "I don't want to give you up either," he whispered.