Chapter Eighteen:

In the End

The next day Maria was permitted to go home with Gio everyone was grateful. Even though they now had more joyful memories linked to the hospital, there was still a lot of painful memories for Alex, Maria, and Elena. None of which had ever gotten over the pain, which might be for the best. Sometimes that hurt can make us stronger, and remind us of out strength.

However, just as Alex had expected, Maria was definitely the over protective, helicopter mom. But he couldn't blame her. So much had happened within the past few months it made sense for her to be a nervous wreck.

"Okay, so are you sure your mom is okay watching the girls for the first few nights? Natalie can be a lot sometimes," Maria said, walking into the nursery with Gio in his car seat.

"Trust me, she loves those two. And I think she knows how hard it is with a newborn the first few days. Especially the nights.

"I know, I'm just a little worried, that's all. I know he is gone and all, but its strange not having anything to worry about, but still at the same time have everything to worry about."

"It's okay, I get it. But take a deep breath, because look where we are."

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in and out, then turning her gaze over to the baby. She looked at him, and smiled. He showed just how strong she was, and was a reminder of how she was a survivor. They both were.

"Hi Gio," she cooed, picking him up out of the car seat and cradling him in her arms.

"Look at those eyes," Alex said, gawking over her shoulder. "They are just like yours. Big, brown, and beautiful."

She hummed in response, not wanting to look away for a second and miss anything.

Gio had luckily gone down easy later that night, but neither of them knew it would last from past experience. They took advantage of their opportunity to sleep, but their plans were soon interrupted when Alex's phone ran around 9:30.

He groaned, but rushed to answer so it wouldn't wake anyone. It was an unknown number, which would have worried him if it were a few hours earlier. But now that there was no threat, he thought nothing of it.

"Hello?" He whispered, walking out of the room, shutting the door softly behind him.

"Detective Rivers, my name is Pam, I'm a nurse here Lansing general. There was a bag that was left in your room and I wanted to notify you so you could come get it."

"Oh okay, I'll get it tomorrow, thank you."

"You should really come now Detective. I'm advised to put in the lounge for people to take if the owner doesn't come get the item right away."

"I've never heard that rule before. But I guess I'll be there in a few minutes," he said before hanging up and rolling his eyes. He cracked open the door just enough so he could talk quietly, but Maria was already up Gio who was eating.

"Who was that?"

"The hospital. They said we left a bag there. I'm going to go get it. You need anything while I'm out?"

"No, I'm okay. Hurry back."

"Will do," he said, kissing her cheek before scurrying out the door again and leaving in his black truck.

Maria moved Gio so he was against her shoulder and chest when Alex left so she could burb him. When he finished, she put him back down, and he fell asleep with, again, no problem. She prayed this lasted, and that he would be a much easier baby than Natalie. She loved her dearly, but as a baby, she was a lot of work.

She stood over his crib watching him in reverence. Humming in the darkness, she left the room, closing the door behind her in case the ice from the fridge made a lot of noise.

Grabbing a glass, she heard a creek come from the front door that was just in the other room. She whipped her head around, the glass still in her hand.

"Alex?" She said, turning the light on wearily, eyebrows close together. When there was no answer, she walked to the front door, even though her head told herself it was nothing. She let out a breath of relief when she saw it was just the front door that wasn't shut all the way. Maria pushed the door closed with her hip and locked it.

She retuned back to the kitchen, but dropped her glass at the sight.

He was standing there. His cruelty and mercilessness radiating off his body.

"Are you just going to stand there?"

She said nothing.

"What? Are you not going greet you husband that you ran away from? That's not quite the welcome I was expecting. Let's see, hmmm, maybe you could show me around your house? How about we start with your dirty little boyfriend's room? Yeah, lets start there."

Her eyes wandered the room.

"You must be looking for the dog. Yeah, she is outside. It's no use. No one is going to save you. You are going to get exactly what you deserve for leaving me and trying to make me pay for what you've done. Now, show me around, and explain to me how you got here."

She didn't move.

"Do it Maria! Show me! Show me around so I can rip everything you've rebuilt with out me apart!"

Just like before, she only stood there.

"You bitch. Cooperate with me, or you know what will happen. And I know you will obey, because you know more than anyone what I can do. Now, show me so I can ruin your life again just like you did mine!" He walked closer to her, but her legs couldn't get her move out of the way. He saw his chance and too it. Grabbing her by the arms, he pushed her against the wall, her head pounding against the wall.

"You see? That's just a glimpse. Are you ready to see more?" He paused waiting for answer. "Oh you little cunt. Answer me when I speak to you, or I'll give you reason to not be able to answer."

"No," she said defiantly.

"What did you just say to me?"

"No."

He parted his lips and let out a low breath. "Oh, you think you have power over me now? Don't you? Let me give you a quick lesson. You will never be able to get rid of me. Never. I will always be there. You are nothing, and you always will be nothing." He took one of his hands and put it around her neck, pressure slowly increasing. When he had enough of that, he let go and put her hands around her arms again.

"I am going to make your life a living hell," he whispered in her ear, giving her only a few seconds to comprehend what he said before tightening his grip and throwing her against the hardwood floor.

"You see? You may have thought this was all over, but I guarantee you, you will be living through this till your very last breath."

Gaining just enough strength to stand up, she groaned, "How are you even here? You died in a car crash."

"Yes, there was a crash. But I wasn't in it."

"Then who died?"

His eyes as black as night narrowed. "You know exactly who," he said, his hauntingly raw voice rattling though her ears.

She felt her eyes widen as she connected the dots. "No," she said sharply in disbelief.

"Oh, yes."

"It was your brother. Your brother was in the car."

"Right you are. I knew I couldn't just simply drive over there. I needed a distraction, and he was it. I got the car back, then gave it to him once I messed with the brakes. And I might have slipped something in his drink. Whoops. But he was happy to make the sacrifice, because now I am here, finally getting my revenge."

"No."

"Say that again. I dare you!" He screamed, his feet pounding on the floor as he stomped over to her. "See?" He started when she said nothing. "You are worthless. Nothing. You will never get rid of my because you are afraid."

"I'm not afraid. Not anymore."

"We'll see about that," he said, grabbing her and pushing, once again, up to the wall. He then took his knee and jammed it into her upper leg.

In pain, she hunched over, all her weight on him. Breathing heavily, she heard the little voice in her head remind her all that she had to fight for now. If it were the Maria five months ago, she would have given up before he threatened her and taken the beating. But now everything was different. She was stronger with people she loved standing by her side, and she wasn't about to let it go.

Using all her strength, she took her hands and dug her nails into his upper arm. A small amount of blood drew, but he winced anyway.

"Fighting back are we?"

Her nostrils flared.

"Is that all you got?"

Without an answer, she wrapped her leg around his, and propelled her elbow over and over again into his chest as grip on her loosened. After he finally let go, she tried to hurt him again, but he got to her first, and struck her side of her face. When her nose started bleeding, she wiped it off with her wrist, and used that time to catch her breath. Once her breathing returned to normal, she thrust towards him and used her strength to push him into the kitchen counter. He grimaced with pain in his back, but was quick to recover when he heard small cries come from another room.

The two of them went silent.

"Is that our baby?"

Maria's eyes widened. "He is mine. You lost the right to him when you stole my daughter from me."

"Really? You think you would have taken better care of her than me? Look at you. You can barley take care of yourself."

"I'm her mother!"

"And I'm her dad. I'm his dad too." He pointed towards the bedroom door where Gio's cries were coming from. After looking at the white door for a few long seconds, he looked back at Maria. "I know exactly how to hurt you." He whispered, his voice haunting her.

She watched as he slowly walked to the door from across the room. Her eyes moved back and fourth from him to the the door where a piece of her heart lied. Maria could hear her heart pounding in her ears, blocking out every other noise that surrounded her. Her lips parted as she breathed forcefully, thinking of what she could do in these last few seconds to prevent everything from falling apart again. Just before his hand could reach down and touch the door handle, she shuffled over the kitchen counter and ran her hand over the few drawers connected to it. When her hand found the top right one, she slowly opened it, her hand searching for the cold chunk of metal. As soon as she felt her finger tips touch the gun, she grabbed it with her right hand and held it up, aiming right towards him.

"Don't," she said, feeling overwhelmed with this sudden new power. "Do not hurt my baby."

Narrowing his dark eyes, his hollowing voice growled, "You wouldn't dare."

"I would."

"Then do it." With his back turned to the door, he stood there waiting for something to happen. But Maria couldn't bring herself to pull the trigger. Her fingers seemed to freeze in their position.

He grinned. The evilest grin that was ever to be seen. He turned back towards the door and put his hand on the silver door handle, only getting it to open a sliver before he felt the wind get knocked out of him, and a unbearable pain

Maria only stood there, closing her eyes, unable to comprehend what her fingers had just done. Soon, she gained enough confidence to open her eyes, and the first thing she saw was Matthew, the former love of her life, husband, best friend, stumbling over to the couch, blood seeping out of the shot in his lower abdomen that was dripping down his skin.

With the gun still in her hand, she walked towards him, the blood from her nose now dried on her upper lip. He was groaning with agony when she got to him, and even with her former lover in tormenting pain, she felt no sympathy.

She got close to his face, but not close enough for him to be able to touch her.

"I am stronger now. I am better without you. And I will not let you ruin my life again. I have come to far, and now I have a reason to fight. I found people who care about me, and people who lift me up. I have a new life now that am I happy with, and you are not allowed to be apart of it. I am not afraid of you, not anymore. And I don't need you."

"You just wait. Your nothing with out me."

"No. I'm everything without you. And everything you say to me will not faze me any longer because I overcame you. I have proved to myself that I am strong, that I am good enough. I've had people help me see that, and people who were able to see that in me when I couldn't. And that is all I need."

Without words, he fell to the ground, the crimson liquid now spilling out around him. Stepping a few feet back, Maria dropped the gun, and let out a long breath of relief.

The hospital, while Matthew was with Maria...

Alex pulled up to the hospital, not even thinking straight because he hadn't gotten a lot of sleep in the passed two days.

Stepping out of the car, he walked into the lobby, the warm air welcoming his face from the cold, harsh air outside. It was nice seeing the hospital so calm for once. No nurses yelling for doctors, no surgeons wheeling people out of their rooms trying to get them up to an O.R in time before they died, and most importantly, not cops of security wandering the halls.

Rubbing his eyes, he groggily walked over to the front desk, trying to recall what the nurse who called him name was.

"Hi, yes, I was told by a nurse, Pam I think her name was, that me and my fiancée left a bag here a few hours ago after we checked out." He felt a sudden tingle rush through his veins as he said fiancée, and though of Maria's face while saying it. It was hard to believe that even after only spending a few months together they were here. Both dreaming of the day that they would stand in front of one another and be announced as husband and wife.

"Umm... there's no nurse named Pam."

"Are you sure? Because she called me saying that I needed to drive over to get or they wouldn't give it back to me."

"That's strange. We keep everything in lost and found for at least a month before we give it away."

"So there is no Pam, and no time rule?"

"No sir. It might have been just some angry nurse got let go and wanted to drag someone back here. Sorry to bother you."

He nodded, slowly stepping back from the desk, then running out the sliding glass door, pulling his phone out of the pocket and dialing Enrique.

"Rique, I don't know how, but I think Matthew is still alive. I think he is with Maria at the house. Meet me over there."

Alex, to now surprise, got there before anyone else, and he ran out of the car without hesitation.

Before opening the door, he listening carefully, but heard nothing. With that, he swung open the door, trying to prepare himself for anything.

He saw a pool of blood and two legs on the floor, and then there was Maria, just standing there watching. When she heard the door open, she turned around to find Alex. As her eyes focused and her head was pulled back down to Earth, she towards him.

"Alex," she said, a grateful and relieved undertone. She ran towards him and wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his chest, trying to keep herself from crying. Confused at what happened while he was away, he held her, and rested his head on top of hers. She was a lot shorter than him, but it just made them fit in each others grasp even better. They both closed their eyes, finally feeling at peace. But Alex felt the need to open his eyes when he sensed movement in the house. He opened is hazel eyes, and saw one thing before screaming Maria's name and pushing her away from him.

It was Matthew. The gun Maria had shot him with now in his hand as he aimed it towards her, a greedy but weak smile on his face. But instead of the bullet hitting Maria, it hit Alex. Right in his chest.

He held his hand up to his chest for a brief moment before pulling it away and seeing blood dripping on it. He narrowed his eyes at his hand, coming to the realization of what happened.

"No!" Maria ran over to him from the floor, using her strength to help lay him on the floor gently. "No no no no no no no. Please, no." She grabbed his hand and held it up to her cheek. She could feel his life slipping away, so she kept talking to him. "No, stay with me babe. Please, stay with me!"

"Maria," he managed to say, smiling at her yearningly even at the state he was in.

"No, don't talk. I'm going to call an ambulance, and you are going to be okay," she said, trying to stand up and get a phone, but his hand only stopping her.

"Come on, you know it won't get here in time."

She let shaky breath, afraid to look at him, but soon giving in. He held out his hand weakly and she took it.

"This wasn't supposed to happen," she sobbed. "We were going to get married, and have another baby. We were going to do so much. Like celebrate Gio's first birthday, and see Elena graduate. We were going to be happy."

"I know but... life happens. And this is the... this is the end of the road... for me."

"No, don't say that. I love you. We are going to be happy together. We are going to be happy!"

He smiled at her again. "I love you."

"No, stop saying that. You are going to be okay. I cannot live without you. I don't want to."

Holding his chest with one hand, he curled the other around her body, wincing at the pain. Nevertheless, he persisted. "Will you... lay with me... I want this to end just like it started."

Maria held her palm over mouth, but laid down on the floor next to him anyway. She nuzzled next to him, listening to his few last breaths and shudders.

"You are going to... be okay... without me. I want you to take care of Elena because... you are her mom now. You guys are going to be happy together. Can you tell her I love her?"

"Yes," Maria sniffled.

"And Natalie, and Gio, and yourself. I love so much. More than I loved anything thing in my entire life. You are..." He groaned, "you are enough. I need you to know that. You are enough. You are strong, and you can overcome anything that life throws at you. You are worth it. Don't forget that. And you are going to be okay without me because you are strong, and you have come such a long way. I am proud of you, babe. And I'm sorry that this is the way our story ends."

"Don't say that."

"I... have... too."

"Please don't leave me... I'm begging you... please. You saved me. I need you. How am I supposed to live without you?" She cried, sitting up and looking at him, tears dripping from her face all over his bloody shirt. "This is not how it is supposed to be. I need you. I need you, Alex. I need you to be okay."

"You know that's not going to happen. This is a .22... caliber... hand gun."

"Don't say that."

"It's the truth." His eyes grew more and more dreary, and he knew that soon this would all be over. "What?" He managed to say, noticing that her eyes suddenly became so much darker than they already were.

Her voice cracking, she answered, "I love you. And I am so grateful that I found you."

"I love you. I wish I had more time to tell you that over and over again. Do you... do you believe in, in heaven?"

She could barely say anything. "I do."

"Will you talk to me? When I go there? Will you talk to me?"

She squeezed his hand. "Always." Wiping her eyes, she took his free hand again and held it, rubbing it with her thumb as he would do to her. "I love you, Alex. I love you more than anything, and I will never forget you."

With a painful smile, he whispered, "You are my everything, and I love you..." Suddenly his hand relaxed in hers. When Maria felt his cold hand go limb, she held up to her lips and pressed them against his knuckles. She sat there for a few seconds before she cupped his cheeks again, looking down at him.

She tried to compose herself, but it was no use. Instead, she let herself fall apart. She wailed into her hands, then moving to lay her head on the right part of his chest. "Alex..." She whimpered. "Please say something."

After a few moments, she heard a police siren scream and pull up in front of the house. Her eyes had now been crying for so long that they had none left. Standing up, she rested his hand on the ground and walked out the door, her face flat and dazed, under eyes puffy.

Enrique and Adam were walking towards the house, with Enrique in the lead.

"What happened? Where is Alex?" Enrique asked, barley getting the chance to finish his sentence before Maria collapsed on her knees in front of him scream-crying. Luckily the cop had fast reflex's and was able to catch her before she fell into the cold grass.

"Shhh, shhh, it's okay, it's okay, breath," he said, confused. He motioned for Adam to continue into the house.

Enrique stayed outside to comfort Maria while Adam ventured off into the house. He didn't get very far before returning back outside, tears in his eyes.

"What?" Enrique asked, still holding Maria.

Adam walked towards him, the trail of his tears turning icy cold. "Alex. He was shot."

Enrique widened his eyes, his eyes starting to burn with sorrow and disbelief. "No. We just talked to him. Are you sure?"

"I was just in there Enrique! He is on the floor! Blood is fucking everywhere!"

Enrique was toneless when he spoke. "Call an ambulance."

"He is gone, Enrique! They can't do anything to save him now!"

"I said call an ambulance! I am not about to lose my best friend, so call a goddamn fucking ambulance! Understand?"

Adam huffed, pulling his phone out to call the hospital, even though he knew Alex was too far gone. After they said thy dispatched one, he called Armstrong for back up, and he was quick to arrive, getting to the house in only three minutes.

All the screaming yelling faded into the background to Maria as she stared at the house where Alex lied there. Dead. The life stripped from his body.

He ran out of his car, screaming the same thing Enrique was a few minutes ago.

"What the hell happened? Where is Rivers? Why aren't you in there?" He roared.

Adam and Enrique, who were now both standing with Maria, pointed to the house.

Rolling his eyes, he went in, them came back outside just as everyone else, in tears.

When he walked over to them, he wiped his normally cold and harsh eyes with his finger, trying to hide any sign of weakness, but failing. "Did you call an ambulance?"

Adam nodded, then Armstrong went silent.

"Gio... Gio is still in there," Maria said, her voice shaky.

"I'll get him," Adam offered, pulling away from the group, preparing his head for walking in the murder scene again, and having to see his best friend laying on the floor dead again.

He found Gio sleeping soundly in the crib when he got to the room. Picking him up, Adam talked to him in a reassuring tone.

"Hi buddy," he started, feeling his eyes start to water again. "Don't worry, everything is going to be okay in the end."

Maria and all the police she had gotten to know closely were surrounding her as the paramedics ran out of the back of the car to get both Alex and Matthew.

She was frozen in time. She went from feeling everything, and letting it all pour out to feeling absolutely nothing. Dazed, she watched as they brought Alex's body out first in a gurney.

"No!" She screamed, running towards him. Enrique quickly followed her, pulling her away. "No! Alex! Alex!" She fell to her knees, head buried in her hands as Enrique wrapped his arms around her body that seemed so small. Watching as Alex's body was put in the ambulance, she screamed more until she felt everything stop, and she could only stare.

It was over.

It was all... over.