Summary: This story was written as a bridge between the first two episodes of season four, "Showdown" and "Safe." My purpose was two-fold: to show how Martin fared during the six-week recovery period we didn't see on screen, and to explore Danny's state of mind, particularly in light of his statement to Martin in 4x02: "I'm sorry that I haven't come to see you in a while." I wondered not only how long Danny had avoided visiting his partner, but why he'd avoided him.
Characters: Martin and Danny are the focus, with Jack, Viv and Sam making appearances along the way. Martin and Danny's families even get some "air time."
Rating: PG-13. Genfic.
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Not making money off of them.
"Technical" Notes: Asterisk marks (*) denote a character's internal monologue. Regarding the medical information in this piece, I wanted to say thanks to Sandra (nite) and Cheryl (Renegade) for answering some of my questions. Thanks, also, to the various "Without A Trace" Yahoo groups for providing some info, as well. Any medical errors you find in this story are mine, and mine alone.
Author's Note: A huge "thank you" to Cheryl for her fantastic beta read on this story. She made many, many significant improvements, and I'm very grateful for her time and expertise. I'd also like to thank Deirdre and Jill, for moral support they may not realize they provided as I went through the writing process. And, as always, thanks to Nancy for archiving my stories.
"We gotcha, you son of a bitch," Danny murmured, a grim smile ghosting across his lips. "We got him, Martin."
As the ambulance doors closed and the vehicle transporting Emil Dornvald's body merged with traffic, the red, throbbing rage that had consumed Special Agent Danny Taylor dissipated, and a strange numbness crept over him. He turned toward where his boss, Jack Malone, stood talking to two police officers. The older agent had coordinated the Missing Persons Unit's efforts with the local cops, and was comparing notes before returning to work.
Jack wearily rubbed a hand over his face, said one last thing to the officers, and then strode over to his subordinate. "Hey," he said, voice soft, but with its characteristic gruffness. "I'll just be a few more minutes. You don't need to stay."
"Yeah. Why don't you go back to the office and work on your report."
Danny nodded and held his boss' steady gaze for a moment before heading to his car, parked half a block away.
He traveled the distance quickly, the street sounds around him muted, part of the odd detachment he now felt from his surroundings. Stepping off the curb, he rounded the front end of his car and unlocked it. Everything was fine as he reached for the door handle, but the second his hand touched the cool metal, he froze. Daylight dissolved into darkness, and he stood by a different car, wrenching open the driver's-side door so he could get his injured partner out and stop the bleeding --
Darkness flared into daylight, and Danny was back at his car. His hands trembled. His body felt weak. He needed to sit down before he fell down.
He shook his head and swallowed against the dryness in his mouth and throat, then opened his door and nearly collapsed into the car. He leaned back in the driver's seat, closing his eyes and breathing heavily, fists clenched. As he tried to calm down, he became acutely aware of the cut on his forehead. It hadn't hurt much during the last few hours, probably due to the adrenaline that had coursed through him as he went after Dornvald. Now, however, it throbbed steadily, a reminder of the trauma he'd experienced such a short time ago.
It should have been a simple transfer. No big deal. But then the blue van had pulled in front of them, and Dornvald and another man had jumped out, armed with automatic weapons. Martin had tried to get them out of there, but in a matter of seconds, the tire had been shot out and they'd hit another car. Danny had smacked into the passenger-door's window, the impact knocking him out. It had hurt, but a couple of minutes later, the pain had instantly faded when he got a good look at his partner's injuries.
He'd tried to stop the bleeding, but it had kept coming, and coming, and coming. Red everywhere, all over his hands, spreading rapidly across Martin's shirt and soaking the bandages. Too red, and too much --
*Stop it. Get a grip. He'll be fine. He'll be out of surgery soon and everything will be all right.*
He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, and then blearily opened them. He was tired, but he doubted he'd sleep anytime soon. His cell phone rang, and he checked the display. Sam. Dornvald was dead, so she probably wasn't calling about the case. More likely, she was calling about Martin. Danny's breath hitched as he flipped the phone open and pressed it to his ear. "Sam?"
"Martin's out of surgery."
Just four words, but they made his heart pound out of fear and hope. "Is, is he gonna be okay?" *Please, God, he has to be okay.*
"Umm, they said it's too soon to tell." Sam's voice trembled. "They said the next 24 hours are critical."
It wasn't what he wanted to hear. They'd found Dornvald, and Martin had made it through surgery, so now everything was supposed to be all right. But it wasn't, and maybe it wouldn't be. His stomach lurched, and he pressed an arm against it.
"Danny?" Sam asked, and he pictured her twisting the phone cord in her hands, trying to be strong for everyone's sake, including her own.
"Yeah, I heard you. Are you at work or the hospital?"
"Still at work." She sighed softly. "The hospital said he can't have any visitors until his vital signs are more stable."
He nodded and took a deep breath, then forced it out, willing himself to settle down, willing away the sick churning in his gut. He'd give just about anything to recapture the numbness he'd experienced a few minutes ago.
Sam's next words were nearly a whisper. "I heard you got Dornvald."
"Yeah." A chill rushed up Danny's spine as an image of Dornvald's bleeding body morphed into Martin, lying on an operating table, more dead than alive. "Look, I'm going to come in and work on the report. I'll see you in a little while."
He hung up without waiting for her response and started the ignition. After making sure the lane next to him was clear, he eased into traffic and headed toward the office.
Never a man to enjoy writing up case reports, Danny almost looked forward to this one. He needed something to focus on. He'd keep busy, and maybe by the time he finished up, Martin would be doing better and could have visitors.
But God, he was afraid to see him. His partner had looked bad at the scene and worse in the ER. Blood had stained his torso as medical personnel swarmed over him, helping him breathe, filling him with IV fluids, pressing on his wounds to stop the bleeding. So pale, and bloody, and still.
*No, no, no. Don't go there. Just go back to work. Things will be fine in a few hours.*
As Danny drove to work, his partner lay in a hospital bed twenty miles away, still unconscious from the general anesthesia used during the operation that had ended a short while ago. The surgical team had worked on him for almost seven hours to remove two bullets, one that had come perilously close to an artery, and another that had nicked his small intestine. The surgery had been long, due not only to the massive blood loss, which had required several transfusions, but also to the location of the bullets.
Doctors had removed the bullet in the FBI agent's chest first, since that wound had been the most serious. Had the man been shot just a half inch to the left, it would have severed an artery, and he likely would have bled to death before reaching the hospital. As it was, the blood loss, both internal and external, had compromised his breathing. The surgical team had carefully monitored his oxygen levels, fully prepared to insert a chest tube, but pleasantly surprised when it hadn't been necessary.
The damage to the small intestine, while not as life threatening as the chest wound, was still serious. The doctors had repaired the damage and done their best to clean up the area, but with such a wound, there was always a chance for infection.
Following the surgery, the medical staff had moved the wounded man to the ICU so they could closely monitor his vital signs. The nurse in charge of his care moved quietly around him, checking the ventilator, his IV lines and catheter, as well as his temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and respirations.
The lead trauma surgeon briefly appeared to review post-op instructions and check the bandages on the agent's pale chest and stomach. After he left, the nurse made some notations in his chart. As she worked, the machines that helped the man breathe and monitored his vital signs beeped softly, an eerie soundtrack against his utter stillness.
Five hours after returning to the office, Danny submitted his report. Normally, it wouldn't have taken him so long, but for the first couple of hours, he'd fought a pounding headache. Once two Advil cleared that up, his mind had kept wandering. Several times, he'd found himself staring at Martin's empty desk, wishing that Fitzgerald would stroll in, a hamburger or burrito in hand, griping about the heavy traffic or rehashing the latest sports news.
Sam had seemed equally distracted. He'd caught her glancing at Martin's desk, too, although her gaze never lingered, as if it was too painful to see that empty chair. She looked as tired as he felt, lines of exhaustion on her face, makeup faded, smudges under her eyes.
He wanted to reach out to her, but remembered too well how she'd recoiled when he'd done just that a few hours ago. She'd probably feared that human contact would break her. Even so, her rejection had hurt, because his gesture had been about more than reassuring her that Martin would be all right. By comforting her, he'd hoped to comfort himself.
Still, he felt badly for Sam. She must have some pretty conflicted feelings right now, given the extent of Martin's injuries and the complicated nature of her relationship with him. Danny had figured out that the couple had broken up and had asked Fitzgerald about it, but his partner had offered few details. He'd simply said they weren't meant to be, and it was better to end things sooner rather than later.
"Danny, Sam," Jack called, striding toward them to stand next to Danny's desk. He smiled. "I just got off the phone with the hospital. Martin's vital signs are getting better. They said he can have visitors, although they're limiting anyone who's not immediate family to ten minutes every three hours."
"So he's going to be all right?" Sam asked, and Danny held his breath, afraid to get his hopes up.
"The hospital isn't making any promises, but they said things look good so far." Malone turned toward Danny. "Can you come to my office for a minute?"
"Sure," he agreed, knowing the request must be linked to his carelessness earlier. In his bloodlust to get Dornvald, he'd fired his gun through a closed door, endangering an innocent doctor. His boss had ripped into him, and rightfully so.
He followed Jack to his office and shut the door behind them. The older agent sat down at his desk, but Danny, nervous about the coming conversation, remained standing until he was motioned toward a chair. He lowered himself into it, speaking before he'd completed the motion.
"Jack, I'm really sorry about what happened at the clinic -- "
"Shut up," Malone commanded softly. "Look, you made a mistake. You know better than to shoot through a door like that, to put an innocent person at risk." He paused and then sighed heavily, rubbing a hand over his mouth. "But I made a mistake, too. I never should have let you work this case. I wasn't thinking clearly, or I would have made you sit this one out. I'll make sure the report reflects that we both screwed up."
Danny let the words sink in before speaking. He hadn't expected Jack to shoulder some of the blame, although he appreciated the gesture. Of greater importance, though, was how OPR would view things. "Is OPR going to come breathing down our necks again?"
"Probably, but there were extenuating circumstances here. I'm sure there'll be a reprimand in both of our files, but I don't see it going any farther than that."
Danny released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, but his relief was short-lived, as Jack ordered him to take administrative leave for a few days.
"What?" the younger agent sputtered.
"You need some time to cool off, and get your head on straight. This isn't just about what happened at the clinic. You were the victim of a violent crime today. You got hurt. Your partner got hurt. You need to work through that."
Danny shook his head. "I need to do my job." Work would keep his mind off of things. The gunfire striking the car. Martin bleeding to death in his arms.
"Burying yourself in work is not the answer right now. Go home. Get some rest tonight and tomorrow. On Friday morning, you're meeting with Dr. Harris. You'll talk to her Monday, too." Jack handed over a slip of paper with the appointment times written on it. "Come back Tuesday at 9 a.m. and we'll figure out where to go from here."
Nervous anxiety swept over Danny at the mention of Dr. Lisa Harris. "I don't need a shrink, and I don't need to go home and rest."
The older man spoke softly, his manner that of a friend, not a boss. "Danny, you need to take a few days off."
He nodded reluctantly. No amount of arguing would change his boss' mind. "Tuesday at 9 a.m.?" he asked, standing up.
"Okay." He pocketed the slip of paper and went back to his desk. Once there, he turned off his computer and checked his voice mail. He heard footsteps behind him, and then Sam rested a hand on his arm and quietly asked if everything was all right.
"Yeah, everything's fine," he lied, a phony smile plastered on his face. "I'm just uh, I'm just gonna take a few days off."
"If you need anything, call me." Sam gently squeezed his arm before releasing it.
"Thanks," he said as he gathered his belongings. "I'm going to the hospital. You coming?"
"Umm, not yet. I need to finish up some stuff here." The blonde went to her desk, sat down, and started tapping on the keyboard.
"Well, maybe I'll see you there later."
"Mmm hmm," Sam agreed, without looking up.
Danny headed toward the elevator, sparing a glance at Jack's now-empty office. He pushed the button to call the elevator and sighed. The only thing left to do now was wait. Wait for Martin's condition to improve. Wait for Dr. Harris to give him her stamp of approval. Wait for Jack to let him come back to work.
He hated waiting.
With the still-unconscious FBI agent's vital signs steadily improving, the medical staff began weaning him from the ventilator, decreasing the amount of oxygen being supplied through the machine. If the man responded well during the next couple of hours, they would extubate.
The plan was thoroughly explained to the woman standing watch over her son. She nodded and picked up his limp, cool hand. As she stroked it with her thumb, she leaned over and kissed his forehead.
At first, there was nothing, and then, there was ... something. A noise. A voice. Familiar. Martin Fitzgerald recognized it, but couldn't put a name with it. He couldn't put a face with it, either, because he couldn't see anything. Were his eyes closed? Yeah ... but he lacked the strength or presence of mind to open them. He stopped listening to the voice and sank back into the void.
At 3:10 p.m., Danny stepped off the elevator at St. Vincent's and headed to the ICU nurses' station. The ICU floor was as stark white as he'd expected, its quietness a sharp contrast to the noisy emergency room he'd been in earlier.
The nurses' area looked like a giant wooden hexagon that had been cut in half and shoved up against a wall. Several nurses sat behind the low counter. Some watched monitors, while others studied charts. A woman in her thirties with a petite frame, short red hair and jade-green eyes nearly hidden behind wire-rimmed glasses looked up at Danny's approach and smiled gently. "Can I help you?"
"Umm, yeah. I'm here to see Martin Fitzgerald."
The nurse tapped at her computer's keyboard and scanned the screen. "He's in room 412, just behind you. Are you an immediate family member?"
Just behind him? He peeked over his shoulder and spotted room 412. The wall that separated the room from the hallway was mostly glass, but he couldn't see inside. A cluster of medical personnel blocked his line of sight.
"Sir? Are you a family member?"
Danny turned back to the nurse. "No, I'm a friend."
"We're restricting his visitors for now. Outside of his immediate family, we're allowing one person every three hours, for ten minutes at a time. His nurse is in with him right now, but when she's done, you can probably go see him. If you'd like, there's a waiting area across from his room."
As he approached Martin's room, the medical staff that had blocked his view dispersed. His chest tightened as he saw his partner. Fitzgerald lay in bed, a thin blanket pulled up to armpit level, wires disappearing under the top of his hospital gown, an IV piercing his left arm, machines standing sentry on either side of him. Danny easily identified one of the machines as a ventilator. He didn't need to be in the room to know exactly how it sounded as oxygen flowed through it and into the breathing tube snaking down the wounded man's throat. It would be a soft, hissing, noise. The same sound he'd heard in his father's room all those years ago, after a horrific car accident killed his mother on impact and his father just days later.
Danny's eyes burned as he studied his partner's ashen face. Martin's brown hair looked darker than normal against his pale skin. He was so still, his features devoid of any spark of life.
Closing his eyes, Danny pressed the heels of his hands against them before taking another look into the room. He hadn't noticed the other person until now, an athletically built nurse, probably in her forties, with wavy, raven hair secured in a loose braid. She wrote something on a chart and then shifted her focus to the ventilator.
"He's so pale," a woman murmured to his left, startling him. She didn't look at him, her focus instead on the man in room 412.
It didn't take an FBI badge to ID her as Martin's mother. Dressed in a rose-colored sweater and matching pants, she was tall for a woman, about five feet, ten inches, with smooth, porcelain skin. Her chestnut brown hair lay in a sleek bob, and she had light, clear blue eyes, much like her son's. The shape of her nose also reminded Danny of his partner.
"He's so pale," she repeated softly, finally breaking her gaze away from Martin and addressing the man beside her. "But he's going to come through this," she said, steel in her voice. "He's a Fitzgerald. Fitzgeralds don't give up."
Danny smiled faintly. "No, ma'am, they don't." He extended his hand. "I'm Danny Taylor. I work with Martin.
"Rebecca Fitzgerald." The woman gripped his hand briefly before releasing it, and then cocked her head to the side, thoughtfully considering him. "You were with him when it happened, weren't you?"
He saw no accusation in her eyes, although he wouldn't have blamed her if she'd been angry. After all, he'd walked away from the shooting with barely a scratch, and her son was clinging to life. "Yeah, I was." He looked down for a moment before meeting her eyes again. "I wish I could have done something. I wish -- "
"Don't," the brunette admonished. "Victor told me what happened. It's a miracle you both made it out of there alive."
Any further discussion ended when the door opened and Martin's nurse stepped out.
"How is he?" Rebecca asked.
"He's doing well," the nurse replied, glancing at Danny.
Martin's mother motioned to him. "This is my son's partner, Special Agent Danny Taylor." She then gestured toward the other woman. "Agent Taylor, this is Melanie, Martin's nurse."
The pair shook hands as Rebecca pressed the nurse for further details on her son's condition, assuring the other woman that it was all right to discuss the information in Danny's presence.
"I'm going to check with the doctor," the nurse said, "but we should be able to extubate him within the hour. He's not out of the woods yet, but this is a step in the right direction."
Relief washed over Danny as he exchanged smiles with Martin's mother. He was grateful that his partner would be off that damned machine soon. He couldn't help but associate ventilators with death.
"I think Agent Taylor would like to visit my son," Rebecca said.
The nurse motioned toward the door. "Go on in. Remember, ten minutes."
"Okay," Danny agreed, nodding. He glanced at Martin's mother one last time, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
He walked quietly into the dimly lit room, as if any sudden movement or noise might disturb his friend. He quickly realized the absurdity of his actions. Martin probably wouldn't wake up during the ten-minute visit, and if he did, wouldn't that be a good thing? Still ... he couldn't help but be overly gentle in his movements. His partner's fragile health seemed to merit the extra care. The man looked worse now than he had from the hallway, frailer than he'd first realized.
Danny sank into the poorly padded chair to Martin's right, easing it closer to the bed. Jagged, painful snapshots of memory assaulted him and he closed his eyes, too weary to fight them. The traffic light. The van. The guns. The car. Martin's blood. His labored breathing. The ambulance. The emergency room.
And now, just the two of them, nothing but beeping machines and a softly hissing ventilator to penetrate the silence.
Danny opened his eyes and laid a hand on the other man's forearm, gripping it gently. When he felt the coolness of his friend's skin, he squeezed tighter, increasing the physical contact as if to anchor Martin to the living.
"Hey, man, you gotta wake up," he said, forcing a smile on his face and lightness into his voice. "You know, I'm not a touchy feely guy, but the longer you stay asleep, the more I'm gonna feel like I need to say something profound."
He paused, briefly brushing his fingertips over the cut on his head as it began throbbing steadily. Damned Advil was wearing off. He set the pain aside and continued the one-sided conversation, his voice overlapping the artificial noises that filled the room.
"You were an ass when you first joined the team, you know." He chuckled. "You just couldn't wait to show me up, could you? You were so damned proud of yourself for figuring out that alibi didn't check out."
He shook his head. "Would've been nice if you'd talked to me about it first, instead of telling everyone at once. And don't even get me started on you taking off on your own to talk to the perp. I guess getting cold cocked knocked some sense into you, though. That, and hanging out with me. I think I did a good job breaking you in, Fitzgerald, don't you?"
No answer. Not so much as a twitch. Danny would give just about anything to see his partner open his eyes, smirk and make a smart-ass remark. But it didn't happen. Might never happen again. That stark reality sliced through him more deeply than he thought possible, and he took a deep breath and released it in a shaky sigh.
"Don't you dare die on me," he commanded in a fiercely quiet voice. "You hear me? Don't even think about it."
His throat closed up as raw emotions flooded over him. It had been such a long day. His head hurt, and exhaustion pulled at him, and the only thing that would make everything better was if Martin Fitzgerald lived.
He sat there, for how long he didn't know, until he could force words past the enormous lump in his throat.
"You're a good man, Martin. You're a good friend." Danny shook his head, tears stinging his eyes, fear and grief making it difficult to form words. "This isn't fair. If I could fix it, I would. But I can't ... I can't fix this ... I can't ... "
He laid his forehead on the side of the bed, one hand still anchored to Martin's arm, the other clenching the sheet. And he wept. Danny Taylor, a man who rarely cried about anything, quietly wept, releasing the emotional torment that had ravaged his soul since Emil Dornvald turned a quiet New York street into a bloodbath.
The nothingness started to recede, replaced by beeping and ... crying. Crying? Someone was crying. A man. A man he knew. A friend.
Martin struggled through the thickness, through the numb haze, and almost opened his eyes. It took too much effort, though, and he relaxed, letting the warm darkness roll over him in a soothing wave.
Thankfully, Danny pulled himself together just before the nurse arrived to tell him his time was up. He gently squeezed Martin's arm, promising he'd be nearby, and then walked into the hallway, squinting against the overly bright fluorescent lighting.
He groaned softly at his growing headache and fished in his pocket for the Advil, digging out two pills and dry-swallowing them as he entered the empty waiting area. It contained a couple of small couches and four chairs, a square coffee table, a water cooler and a television set that was showing the local news. He dropped onto one of the couches and went boneless. God, he was tired. He couldn't remember ever being this tired.
A female news anchor's voice cut into his weariness.
"We're interrupting your regular programming to bring you an update on our top story today. The man responsible for killing two people and ambushing two FBI agents was shot and killed earlier today ... "
Not wanting to hear anymore, Danny checked with the nurses' stations for directions to an outside balcony and, once there, sucked in a couple of deep breaths. The crisp air revived him a bit, and after a few minutes he went back inside just in time to see Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald enter his son's room. Danny stopped near Martin's door, watching his partner's parents embrace. He noted that the wounded man's breathing tube and ventilator were gone, replaced by an oxygen mask. A welcome sight.
He entered the waiting area and flipped through the crappy selection of business and entertainment magazines. Not a single sports publication in sight. He picked up the remote control and channel surfed to a station showing a two-part episode of "Alias." He thought the spy stuff was kind of trite, but that Sydney Bristow was hot.
After the show ended, he located a vending machine and bought a cup of coffee, and then called Sam to tell her Martin could have another visitor. He knew she'd want to see him. She didn't answer her cell phone or her line at work. Figuring she was on her way to the hospital, he returned to the waiting area, where a distressed young couple sat huddled on one of the couches. They'd turned off the TV and were crying quietly. Wincing at their grief, he averted his eyes and picked up the magazines he'd already perused and thumbed through them again, forcing himself to read a few of the articles.
Just as 7 o'clock rolled around, Sam showed up. She smiled nervously and sat next to him on the couch.
"Hey," she greeted him. "Sorry it took so long to get here. I just had to wrap some things up. How is he?"
"They took him off the ventilator, which is good. I was in there at a little after 3 o'clock, so you can go in next."
Sam followed Danny's gaze to room 412, where the eldest Fitzgeralds obscured their view of Martin. "I see both of his parents are here."
"Yup. His mom seemed nice."
They sat quietly for a few minutes before Sam spoke again. "You look beat, Danny. When was the last time you ate? Or slept?"
"I could ask you the same thing," he countered, leaning over and bumping her shoulder with his own.
She smirked. "Yeah, but I'm not the one who got knocked unconscious."
"Hey, I got a clean bill of health from the ER. No concussion. Just a cut and a headache."
"Still, maybe you should call it a night. You could use some sleep."
Danny looked down at his hands, clasped tightly together in his lap. "I uh, I don't ... I don't want to leave, until we hear something more definitive."
Sam smiled sadly. "I understand."
The door to Martin's room opened, and Victor and Rebecca Fitzgerald exited and walked into the waiting area.
"Agent Spade," Victor acknowledged with a curt nod of his head. "Are you here to see my son?"
"Go ahead. We're going to visit the cafeteria and see if there's anything edible there," he said humorlessly.
Rebecca Fitzgerald nudged her husband and inclined her head toward Sam, and Victor smiled apologetically at his wife. "I'm sorry, dear." He introduced the two women.
Sam seemed nervous and uncomfortable as she shook Rebecca's hand. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Fitzgerald."
"You too," the other woman said politely. "Although I would rather meet Martin's friends under better circumstances. But, at least he's making some progress. They put him on a nasal cannula instead of the oxygen mask, and the nurse said he might start waking up soon."
The four people shared a genuine smile, and Danny silently thanked God for the small steps forward that his partner had taken.
"We'll be back in a little while," Victor said, and the Fitzgeralds headed toward the elevator.
Sam straightened her stone-colored jacket and went to see Martin. When she returned ten minutes later, tearstains marred her face. Danny's eyebrows drew together in sympathy and he stepped forward to embrace her. She let him hold her for a minute, then pulled away and offered to run to the cafeteria to get them something to eat. He wasn't hungry, but he sensed that she needed some space, and told her that would be fine.
She came back with saran-wrapped cold-cut sandwiches, bananas, potato chips and Diet Cokes. They picked at their food in silence, eyes drifting to Martin's room from time to time. When neither could feign interest in their meals any longer, Danny threw out the remains and they continued their vigil, as Victor and Rebecca returned to their son's room to do the same.
It was like watching a TV with no sound and a snowy screen. Then someone slowly turned up the volume and fiddled with the picture, clearing everything up until he could see a blur of white. The blur sharpened and formed into a solid white image. A ceiling.
Martin Fitzgerald had opened his eyes and found himself staring up at a ceiling.
"Martin?" His mom's distinctive voice. What was she doing in his apartment?
"Son?" That would be his dad.
He rolled his head toward his parents. His eyebrows drew together in puzzlement, and he blinked slowly a few times. It felt like he hadn't slept in weeks, and his body was strangely numb. And his parents were in his apartment. He hadn't invited them over. Why had they come?
Soft beeping noises filtered through his foggy mind. Had he turned on the microwave?
"Son?" his dad persisted.
"Hmm?" Martin winced against the painful dryness in his throat. He noticed his surroundings for the first time. This wasn't his apartment. He was in a strange, dimly lit room. Through bleary eyes, he saw an IV in the crook of his left arm. An IV? A hospital?
"I see he's awake." A woman's voice, but not someone he knew.
"He's pretty out of it." Dad again.
Martin blinked slowly, trying to figure out why he was laying in a hospital bed. Was he sick? Had there been an accident?
The only thing he knew with certainty was that sleep beckoned him.
"Tired," he murmured, closing his eyes as slumber carried him away.
Danny's voice sounded distant and almost pleading as he talked to his partner, who sat slumped over in the driver's-side seat of their car, bleeding heavily. With great effort, Martin lifted his head and opened his mouth to speak. A torrent of thick, red, warm blood burst out of his mouth, splattering Danny's face and neck --
Danny jerked awake with a gasp, his eyes wide, nostrils flaring, breaths coming in short, harsh pants. He looked around and saw he was in the ICU waiting area. He'd fallen asleep on the couch. The younger couple that had been there earlier was gone, and Sam lay curled up on her side next to him, her arm pillowing her head. Mercifully, she hadn't stirred, saving him some embarrassment.
"Freakin' nightmare," he muttered, recalling the image of blood shooting out of Martin's mouth. His stomach twisted and he groaned softly as vomit made its way up his throat. He quickly swallowed it back down, grimacing, and hurried to a nearby water cooler. As his heart thudded in his chest, he ripped a paper cup out of its holder, filled it, and gulped down the cool liquid.
After throwing out the cup, he raked his hands through his short, dark hair, letting them rest on the back of his head, fingers clasped. He moved toward Martin's room and saw that a young woman close to his partner's age had joined the deputy director and his wife. She had her back to Danny, but he could see that she stood nearly as tall as Rebecca Fitzgerald and had long, thick, brown hair whose color matched Martin's.
"His sister," Sam said.
Danny's hands dropped to his sides as he pivoted to see the blonde agent sitting up on the couch. She studied him, eyes narrowing slightly in concern, and approached him, asking if he was okay.
"Bad dream," he mumbled as his breathing finally started to slow. "His sister, huh?"
Sam nodded. "He has a picture of her at his place. She lives in Las Vegas. Married with two kids."
Danny checked his watch. 9:43 p.m. He scrubbed a hand over his face and excused himself, then headed toward the men's room. Once there, he relieved himself and then bent over the sink, grasping the edges and staring at his reflection in the mirror. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead, and the cut near his hairline stood out starkly against the pallor of his skin. He looked like hell.
Turning on the faucet, he washed his hands and splashed some water on his face. The coolness felt good against his skin, and he let the water run for a few minutes, keeping his eyes closed while taking deep, steadying breaths.
Once he felt more in control of himself, he returned to the waiting area and rejoined Sam on the couch. She eyed him critically and opened her mouth to speak, but settled instead for a sympathetic half-smile before focusing her attention on Martin's room.
A few minutes later, Rebecca Fitzgerald left her son's side and approached them, her lips curving up into a smile. Hope flickered through Danny and he rose to his feet, expecting good news. She didn't disappoint him.
"He woke up for a minute. It's a good sign."
Sam, still on the couch, expelled a shaky breath, and Danny sighed in relief, eyes straying to Martin's room.
"You two should go home and get some rest," Rebecca suggested, drawing Danny's attention back to her. "We can call you if anything changes."
Sam spoke up quickly. "I'm staying until the doctors say he's going to be all right."
"Me, too," Danny agreed. Yes, Martin's condition had improved these last few hours, but until the medical staff said his friend was out of the woods, he couldn't leave.
Rebecca nodded. "My son has good friends." She smiled briefly before returning to room 412.
Danny sat next to Sam, who rested a hand on his knee. Without looking at her, he covered it with his own, squeezing gently.
And once again, they waited.
During the night, Martin woke a few times, but never for more than a couple of minutes, and always confused about his surroundings and his family's presence. He never stayed conscious long enough to ask anyone anything, however, until a little after 4 a.m.
He pulled his eyes open and lay quietly for a moment, giving his brain a chance to start working. It didn't take as long as it had the last time he'd come around. Looking to the right, he saw his dad and sister, Meghan, sitting in a couple of chairs, dozing. His dad's head was tilted back, mouth hanging open as he snored lightly. His sister's head leaned to the side, her breathing soft and steady.
Martin opened his mouth to speak, but managed only a small, raspy grunt. His sister stirred, straightening in her chair, eyes blinking. Seeing him awake and rubbing his throat with his right hand, her expression went from happy to concerned, and she reached for a grey plastic cup resting on the tall table next to his bed. She grabbed a matching pitcher and poured ice into the cup, then dipped a spoon inside and held it to his lips.
"Ice chips?" she asked, yawning.
He nodded and opened his mouth. She tilted the spoon, easing its contents onto his tongue. The ice dissolved and trickled down his throat, soothing the painful dryness, and he closed his eyes and sighed.
"Thanks," he whispered hoarsely, and studied Meghan. Exhaustion dulled her normally twinkling blue eyes, and her thick, brown hair, usually pulled back into a tight ponytail, lay haphazardly around her shoulders. Her white linen shirt and pants were rumpled.
He looked at his dad next, watching the older man's head jerk forward and his eyes snap open. Victor Fitzgerald appeared even more tired than his daughter, his wrinkles more pronounced than usual.
Warmth infused the eldest Fitzgerald's voice as he leaned forward to hold Martin's hand. "How are you feeling, son?"
The tenderness caught Martin off guard. What the hell had happened to him, to make his father so affectionate? The answer should be in his head, but hell if he could find it.
The other man again asked how he felt, and he considered the question. He had the strange sensation of being a visitor in his own body, nothing more than an observer to whatever illness or trauma he'd experienced. They must have pumped him full of some really good drugs. That would explain his muddled mind and the distant throbbing in his left side.
"I'm okay," he said weakly. "What happened?"
His father paused, and then proceeded as if he hadn't heard the question. "Your mother is at the hotel, resting. She had the flu a couple of weeks ago, and she tires easily. She'll be back soon."
Noting the older man's evasiveness, Martin nervously licked his lips. "What ... happened?" he repeated, trying to sound stronger than he felt.
Before anyone could answer, a nurse entered the room. Seeing her patient awake, she smiled as she moved to check his IV line and a nearby monitor. "How are you feeling, Martin?"
Sensing that he couldn't stay awake much longer but needing some answers, he ignored her, and turned back to his father. "Dad ... what happened?"
When the older man hesitated, frustration took hold. Couldn't they see he was too tired to keep asking the same question over and over? He searched his memory, focusing on his last clear image: stepping onto an elevator with Danny and Adisa Teno.
"We were ... transferring Teno," he recalled softly.
His father nodded, his reluctance to continue clear. "Emil Dornvald ambushed you and Agent Taylor. You were shot twice."
The words were a trigger. Martin's lips parted, and his eyes lost their focus as memories flashed before him in rapid succession. A van. Dornvald. Automatic weapons. Screeching tires. An explosion of pain. His blood. Danny's blood. A suffocating weight on his chest, growing heavier each minute.
*Please, someone get it off my chest -- *
The memories halted abruptly, and he lay gasping for breath, straining against his father's hands, which firmly held his shoulders in an attempt to keep him from sitting up.
"Can't ... breathe," he wheezed, heart thudding painfully in his chest, the dull pain in his side intensifying with each tortured breath. Panic flooded through him as he tried to escape the vise that had tightened around his lungs.
"You're all right, son, you're all right," his father soothed, voice not entirely steady. "Just try to relax."
But he couldn't. He couldn't breathe. There wasn't enough air in the room. He desperately clawed at the plastic tubing that ran into his nose. He had to get it out. It was in the way.
"Relax, Martin," the nurse gently commanded, capturing his frantic hands in her soft, steady ones. Then she leaned away and shouted something, and his sister told him to calm down, and his father shushed him in a way he hadn't in a long, long time. But none of it helped. He wheezed and gasped, and pain sawed across his chest and stomach, bringing tears to his eyes. Then someone slipped an oxygen mask on him, and his IV line moved slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the nurse inject something into it.
His father laid a warm hand on his forehead and spoke again, but he couldn't decipher the words. It was as though he stood at one end of a long, murky tunnel, and everyone and everything were at the opposite end, drifting farther and farther away. Martin reached out, and someone clasped his hand just as the world receded into nothingness.
A nurse's shouting startled Danny out of a sound sleep. He sat up quickly and saw the chaos taking place in room 412. Martin lay in bed, struggling to sit up as his father held him down and the nurse slipped an oxygen mask over his face.
Danny sucked in a deep breath, heart pounding at his friend's distress.
"Oh God," Sam breathed from behind him.
They rushed into Martin's room, not caring that they weren't supposed to be there, just as the nurse injected something into the IV. Machines beeped urgently as the nurse, Victor and Martin's sister spoke to the pain-ridden agent, telling him to settle down, to relax, that everything was all right.
Danny's mouth dropped open at the sight before him. His friend was hurting, and afraid, and so very, very lost. The injured man reached out, as if searching for something, or someone, and Danny moved forward and clasped the hand with his own. A second later, Martin's eyes fluttered closed and he sagged against the mattress.
The room's occupants stilled, watching as the patient's breathing finally slowed and evened out. Victor stepped away from the bed, arms hanging loosely at his side, face contorted with emotion, as his daughter dropped into a chair and leaned forward, rocking back and forth. Sam covered her mouth with one hand as a tear slid down her cheek.
Danny simply stayed where he was, holding Martin's hand, watching his friend's lax features.
The nurse pressed a call button and requested that Dr. Gould be paged before turning to the cluster of people crowding the room. Her expression was kind, but her words authoritative.
"I need you all to step out so we can examine him. It'll just take a few minutes."
Danny looked at her, fear and uncertainty in his eyes as he continued gripping Martin's hand, not making any move toward the door. "Is he gonna be all right?"
The nurse -- Melanie, he remembered -- smiled sympathetically. "He had a panic attack when he remembered what happened to him. He had some trouble breathing, but I don't think he did any real damage. Now please, let us do our job."
Reluctantly, Danny released his hold on his partner and followed the others into the waiting area. Victor and his daughter sat down on a couch, the older man's arm going around her shoulders.
"I need some air," Sam mumbled, and nearly tripped in her haste to escape. She passed by a short, bald, middle-aged doctor who entered Martin's room.
Danny took a deep breath and blew it out before sinking into a chair.
"He'll be fine," Victor declared, jaw clenched, eyes flashing, daring anyone to say otherwise.
Danny simply nodded, not trusting his voice.
Martin's sister smiled at him before looking up at her father. "Of course he'll be fine, Dad. The men in this family are stubborn, and that's working in Martin's favor." She tilted her head toward Danny. "Agent Taylor, right?"
"Yeah," he said, shaking the hand she offered.
"I'm Meghan Watkins, Martin's sister. I've heard a lot about you."
He smiled wryly. "All of it good, I hope."
"Most of it," she allowed, eyes twinkling, and Danny couldn't tell if she was teasing or being truthful. What exactly had Martin told her, anyway?
Sam rejoined them then. A few minutes later, Melanie arrived with the doctor, who inclined his head toward Victor before introducing himself to the others.
"I'm Dr. Gould. I was the lead surgeon during Martin's operation."
He paused, as if waiting for some response, and Danny quickly grew impatient. Did the guy want a medal?
The doctor turned his attention toward Victor and Meghan. "Would you like to discuss his condition privately?"
"Right here is fine," Victor assured the other man. "Agents Taylor and Spade are Martin's friends. They deserve to know what's going on."
The surgeon nodded briefly. "He's doing well, resting comfortably. The sedative will keep him out for a few hours, and when he wakes up, provided that he doesn't have another panic attack, we'll remove the mask and put him back on the cannula."
Victor's mouth tightened into a grim smile. "He was getting better."
Dr. Gould held up a hand in a staying motion. "There's no reason to view this as a setback." He lowered his hand and continued. "It's not unusual to see victims of violent crimes react like this after waking up from general anesthesia. They're confused, and sometimes the memories are a little overwhelming."
Danny almost laughed. A little overwhelming? What an understatement. Given how the memories were preying on him, they had to be devastating for Martin.
"Despite what happened in there," the doctor said, "I believe he's turned the corner. His vital signs are strong; they improved faster than we expected. His wounds are clean, with no sign of infection. He regained consciousness for a good amount of time. These are all things we wanted to see happen in the first 24 hours, and they have. "
Danny closed his eyes for a moment, almost dizzy with relief.
"Now, his injuries are serious, and we'll be monitoring him closely for awhile, but given his age and physical condition, he has a good chance of making a full recovery."
Sam arched an eyebrow. "A 'good chance'? What does that mean?"
The doctor checked his watch, his mind clearly elsewhere, and Danny fought the temptation to smack him upside the head. "He may have some long-term side effects, some residual pain or intestinal issues, but they'd probably be minor."
Victor nodded his head. "How long will he be in the hospital?"
"Several days in the ICU, followed by several days in a regular room." Dr. Gould again checked his watch, this time frowning. "It's difficult to give an exact answer until we see how quickly he begins to heal, but probably seven to ten days. Now if you'll excuse me?"
Without waiting for an answer, the man briskly walked away.
Melanie smiled apologetically. "He doesn't always have the best bedside manner."
"You think?" Danny muttered darkly, giving the doctor's retreating back a dirty look.
"Martin really is doing well," the nurse said, easing the tension in the room. "He won't wake up for a few hours, and he'll probably sleep most of today. Why don't you all go home and get some rest? Or get a shower and a change of clothes, at least."
At their hesitation, Melanie spoke quickly, before they could protest. "I think everyone could use a break. And you don't want to run yourself so ragged that you collapse from exhaustion. That won't do Martin any good."
They nodded reluctantly and Victor squeezed his daughter's shoulder. "We should go to the hotel and clean up, and then we can bring your mother back here."
As Meghan nodded, Danny turned to Sam. "I guess a few hours away wouldn't hurt."
"Yeah," the blonde agreed, smiling tentatively.
As they stepped onto the elevator, Danny took one last look at Martin's room, his heart aching at the agony his friend had suffered a few minutes ago, and the pain he'd endure for some time to come.
Martin spent the rest of Thursday more asleep than awake. During the early morning, he floated in a sedative-induced slumber for a few hours, breaking the surface briefly, long enough for his nurse, Melanie, to explain his injuries and prognosis and ask him a few questions.
"How's your breathing?"
"Okay," he murmured, the oxygen mask muffling his words. His chest ached as he inhaled and exhaled, but the suffocating sensation he'd experienced when he flashed back to the shooting was gone. A few of those nightmarish images still flickered in his mind, but he pushed them aside, not yet ready to deal with the memories.
Melanie swapped out the oxygen mask for a nasal cannula before asking him how he was handling the pain. He considered telling her that it only hurt a little, but the dull ache had become sharp needles biting into his tender skin, impossible to ignore or downplay.
"Hurts," he admitted hoarsely.
The nurse nodded sympathetically. "The anesthesia's worn off. I'll get you some Demerol."
Usually, Martin resisted medications. Growing up, he'd watched his father shun all over-the-counter drugs, saying that Fitzgeralds didn't need "that stuff." And so, if he had a headache or a cold, he tried toughing it out. Sometimes it worked, and by the next day, he felt better. Other times, he'd give in and take a half dosage of medicine.
But now, as it became difficult to focus on anything other than the steady, pulsating pain, he gladly welcomed the Demerol and the dreamless sleep it brought. He drifted in and out for the rest of the day, and later would vaguely recall that his family was nearly always by his side, touching him, saying comforting things. He thought Sam and Jack might have been there, too, and he distinctly remembered seeing Danny, a bit pale and with two thin band-aids on his forehead, but mercifully in one piece.
He couldn't summon the energy to do much more than offer his visitors a weak smile or briefly answer the nurses' questions about his pain levels, but nobody seemed to mind, least of all him.
Danny returned to the hospital late Thursday morning, slightly refreshed after a quick nap, a light breakfast, a long, steaming shower and a change of clothes. Martin slept through most his visit. At one point, the wounded man opened glassy, unfocused eyes and stared stupidly at him for a few seconds, then smiled tiredly before fading away.
After his ten minutes were up, Danny, still worn out from his lingering headache and the stress of the last day, went home. After popping a couple of Advil, he turned on ESPN and stretched out on his black leather couch. He soon fell into a restless sleep that gave way to a vivid nightmare.
He was using the car for cover as he aimed at Dornvald, but a bullet struck his shoulder, and the gun flew out of his hand as he collapsed onto the street. Helpless, unable to move, he watched Dornvald stalk up to Martin's side of the car and start firing. Martin screamed in agony --
And Danny jerked awake with a choked cry, sure he would puke up what little food he had in his stomach.
He raced into his tiny bathroom and yanked open the toilet lid. Kneeling down, he hung his head over the bowl, ready to retch, but nothing came up. After a few minutes passed, he ran a shaking arm over his sweaty forehead and stumbled back to the couch, fumbling for the glass of water he'd left on the coffee table. He took deep gulps, spilling some of it, then settled back against the cushions.
"I'm so not going back to sleep," he whispered, but an hour later, he drifted off again, this time to a quiet, peaceful sleep that lasted until late afternoon.
When he woke, his stomach growled, the earlier queasiness gone. He reheated some albondigas soup and channel surfed while he ate, then called St. Andrew's hospital to check on Viv. Marcus answered the phone and reported that she was doing well, sleeping mostly. She had yet to hear about the shooting. Marcus wanted to wait until she was a little stronger. A wise decision, Danny thought. Viv had enough on her plate with recovering from major heart surgery.
Checking the wall clock, Danny realized that if he wanted to visit Martin before his AA meeting, he should leave now. The hospital and the community center where the AA meetings were held were an hour away from each other.
He called St. Vincent's to ask if his partner could have any visitors. A nurse informed him that a young blonde woman had just left, and it'd be three hours before anyone else would be allowed into the room. He hung up and sighed. Three hours from now, he'd be in his AA meeting, and by the time that ended, it'd be 8 p.m. He'd miss visiting hours altogether.
He briefly considered skipping AA, but now, more than ever, he needed to attend. He wasn't dying for a drink, but if those damned nightmares didn't let up soon, he just might start craving one.
"And that about covers it," Danny said, staring across the desk at Dr. Harris.
He'd arrived for his appointment at 9 a.m. sharp Friday morning, and after exchanging a few pleasantries, the psychiatrist had asked about the shooting. He'd launched into a brief account, one that apparently did not satisfy Dr. Harris, judging from the raised eyebrows and slight shake of her head.
"That was almost word-for-word what you wrote down in your official report."
Danny tried not to fidget in his chair. "Well, that's what happened."
The psychiatrist tucked a section of her smooth, dark hair behind her ear. "What I'm more interested in is how you felt. How you're feeling now."
He snorted. "C'mon, doc, what's there to say? It was bad. It sucked. But I'm fine." He waited, resisting the urge to bounce his knee up and down. Maybe she'd let him off easy.
"In order for me to properly evaluate you, I need you to open up."
He rubbed his eyes. He'd had a crappy night, a variety of nightmares plaguing him, and he really didn't want to get all touchy feely right now.
"Are you sleeping?" Dr. Harris asked gently.
"Rest is very important. It's hard, though, when you're having bad dreams."
Danny winced. Dr. Harris was good. Or maybe he just looked that bad. "I just ... I keep seeing it, over and over again. I keep wondering if there was something else I could have done."
"Do you believe there was?"
"Probably not. It all happened so fast, there wasn't really time to think. But, if there's even the smallest chance that I could have done things differently, and kept Martin from getting shot ... "
"Have you thought about it from the other angle?"
Danny's forehead creased in confusion. "What other angle?"
"Instead of focusing what you could have done, have you thought about what you did do?"
"I'm still not following you here, doc."
Dr. Harris smiled patiently. "According to the police report, after the car crashed, you got out and returned fire with the assailants, killing one man and forcing the other to leave the scene. If you hadn't done that, isn't it possible that the gunmen would have finished what they started, and you'd both be dead now?"
He considered her words. He hadn't thought about it like that. Still ... it provided little comfort. He shook his head. "It doesn't change the fact that maybe I could have kept Martin from getting hit in the first place. I gotta live with that."
The psychiatrist leaned forward. "It's perfectly natural to second-guess yourself in a situation like this. What's important is that you don't let your doubts control you."
Danny smiled wryly. "Hindsight's 20/20, right?"
"Something like that. Look, I'm not going to push you to talk today. Take the weekend to try and relax. Go to a movie. Get out for some fresh air. Do whatever it is that helps you take the edge off. Come back Monday morning, and we'll start fresh."
"All right," he said, relieved that she was giving him a free pass, at least for a few days. "Umm, do you know when I can get back to work?"
*Because doc, that's what will take the edge off. Let me do my freakin' job. Let me focus on something other than my partner and me almost getting shot to death.*
Dr. Harris shuffled some papers on her desk before answering. "This is a process," she said slowly. "It's not an overnight fix. I need to know how you're doing, how you're really doing, and then I'll make a recommendation."
Danny shook his head in frustration. "That's not much of an answer, doc."
"It's the best one I can give you. My first priority is making sure you're okay, not getting you back in the field. And that should be your first priority, too."
Following a long stretch of sleep, Martin woke just after sunrise Friday morning, sharp stabbing sensations wrenching him into alertness. He hissed between clenched teeth and released a groan as he looked around his room. It was empty, his parents and sister probably getting a decent night's sleep at their nearby hotel. He closed his eyes and tried to wait out the pain. Maybe it would go away.
He fumbled for the call button, and a few seconds later, a nurse he hadn't seen before appeared. Tricia, according to her nametag. Late twenties, blue eyes, bleached-blonde hair and "stacked," as Danny would say. A little too cover girl for Martin, but right up his partner's alley.
"You rang?" she asked pleasantly.
"Hurts," he ground out. He shifted his body to find a more comfortable position and a burst of fire raced along the left side of his chest and stomach. Sweat broke out on his forehead, and he breathed harshly.
Tricia had apparently known he'd need more Demerol, because even as he blinked against threatening tears, she emptied a syringe into his IV. A few moments later, she gently pressed a wet washcloth to his forehead before gliding it down his face and neck. He relaxed into her soothing ministrations as the drug crept through his body and pulled him under.
The rest of Friday proved miserable for Martin. Breathing hurt. Talking hurt. Moving hurt. Laying still hurt. The only thing that didn't hurt was sleep, which, despite his weakness and exhaustion, he could only manage after a hefty dose of Demerol.
He had several visitors as the morning passed. His sister showed up first, trying to distract him with amusing anecdotes about his precocious nieces and wild tales about the brilliant but oversexed sous-chef at her new restaurant. She was clearly concerned about opening night, scheduled for Monday, and could barely meet his eyes as she confessed to booking a flight to Las Vegas on Sunday night. She said she'd come back midweek.
Even as a fresh wave of pain gnawed at Martin, he somewhat breathlessly reassured her that it was all right for her to leave, that the worst had passed. As she smiled gratefully, their parents arrived. Meghan excused herself and left him alone to face them.
As they drew closer to his bed, he wasn't sure what to say. Even on a good day, he had difficulty sustaining a decent conversation with his father. He got along better with his mother, but that wasn't saying much. During his childhood, Victor and Rebecca Fitzgerald had been so wrapped up in their careers that they'd been little more than part-time parents. Sometimes there for spelling bees or swim meets, but rarely around for meaningful conversations about their son's hopes and dreams, or fears.
To have his dad hovering over him now, patting his arm or squeezing his hand, and his mom repeatedly fluffing his pillows was just weird.
Martin was too out of it to talk much, so his father filled the silence with a quick account of how the FBI had tracked down Emil Dornvald. Danny's role in the manhunt surprised him. He would have expected Jack to pull his partner off the case. He didn't share those thoughts out loud. His dad and boss had never had the greatest working relationship, and he didn't want to give his father another reason to treat Jack with disdain.
After a few more minutes, his parents left him to nap. When he opened his eyes two hours later, Tricia was there, taking his vital signs and then, unfortunately, checking his bandages, an experience he'd come to loathe. No matter how gentle the nurses tried to be, he always wound up gasping for breath. This time was no different, and as he winced and bit his lower lip, Tricia checked his chart. He had another hour until his next dose of Demerol.
"You have a visitor waiting," Tricia announced as she put the chart back. "Are you up to it?"
He turned his head toward the waiting area and spotted his partner standing outside the room, hands shoved in his jeans pockets. Danny raised a hand in greeting, and Martin weakly returned the gesture.
Truthfully, he didn't want to see anyone until after the next round of Demerol and some sleep, but this was his friend. The man who'd kept him alive after Dornvald pumped two bullets into him.
"Send him in," Martin requested, taking a cautious, shallow breath, hoping he didn't look as bad as he felt.
Tricia held the door open as the other man walked in, then left the two agents alone. Danny watched her go, whistling softly and then grinning at his injured friend. "Nice."
"Down, boy." Martin said, chuckling, and then winced as his incisions pulled.
Taylor's expression sobered as he approached the bed.
His eyes roamed over Martin's torso before resting on his face. "How you doin', man?"
After a brief nod and slight frown, the brown-eyed agent hooked a chair with one of his boots, dragged it closer to the bed and sat down. He leaned forward, forearms resting on his thighs, hands clasped together between his legs.
Martin saw pain and guilt on his partner's always-expressive face, and sighed. He didn't want Danny to feel responsible for what had happened. As he waited for the other man to speak, tiny, white-hot sparks danced over his torso. Not wanting Taylor to note his distress, he stifled a groan, instead settling for clenching the bed sheet. He knew his partner was onto him when the agent eyed his white-knuckled death grip and cringed.
"I'm sorry, Martin," Danny apologized hoarsely.
"Not your fault." Martin gasped softly as the tiny sparks grew into flames that licked their way up and down his chest and stomach. Damn it, he wasn't up to this right now. But he had to try. "Couldn't have done ... anything differently."
The other man frowned and glanced over his shoulder at the nurses' station, then turned worried eyes on the hurting agent. "Maybe I should get a nurse."
Martin doubted it would do any good, since he couldn't have any drugs for a while yet. "Can't help," he ground out, breathing hard through his nose as he twisted the sheet. Sweat beaded on his face and neck.
Taylor shook his head and pressed the call button. "Just take it easy, man, okay? I'm sure they can do something for you. Take it easy."
Tricia soon joined them, and Danny looked at her imploringly. "He needs something for the pain."
The nurse smiled politely before addressing her patient, a sympathetic expression on her face. "I can't give you anything just yet, all right? You need to hang in there for a little while longer."
Martin bit his lip and nodded weakly, hurting too much to speak.
"You gotta be kidding me!" Danny protested incredulously. "Just give him the damned drugs!"
"He's already on a high dosage, and we have to be careful with it. We don't want to risk depressing his respiratory system."
The flames on Martin's torso coalesced and burst into a fiery explosion. He cried out, arching his back, trying to escape, but only intensifying the agony. As darkness slammed into him, he wondered if it would have been better if Dornvald had killed him after all.
Danny cursed softly as he watched the nurse check his now-unconscious friend's vital signs. When she moved to examine the bandages he turned away, not wanting to see the source of Martin's torment.
"He's okay," the nurse said.
Danny stared open-mouthed at her. What alternate universe was she in?
After she left, he drew closer to the bed, recalling what the injured agent had said, that he couldn't have done anything differently when they'd been ambushed. The words had done little to ease his conscience. They might have been more effective if Martin hadn't been wracked with pain at the time.
His stomach twisted as he studied his friend's pale face and remembered how he'd cried out a few minutes ago. To see the proudly stubborn man so completely undone made his heart hurt. After one last look at Fitzgerald he strode quickly out of the room, wanting to escape the other man's suffering.
And his own.
Dr. Gould restricted Martin's visitors to immediate family for the rest of the day, and requested that they keep their visits short. He explained that the wounded man had simply overdone it earlier, trying to "entertain" too many people, in too short of a time span. The patient needed to focus on resting, not on following conversations or trying to be sociable.
As the day wore on and Martin struggled against the pain, he developed a low-grade fever that left him warm and restless. Deepening his misery. His nurse told him that post-op patients often ran fevers following surgery, but they'd watch him closely for signs of infection. He nodded weakly and almost sobbed in relief when the next dose of Demerol came, quickly soaked into his system, and spirited him away.
The next day, he felt no better. The low-grade fever had sapped what little strength he had, and he slept most of the time, despite the sharp knives jabbing into his wounds. His visitors were again restricted, and his sister and parents were careful not to stay too long, so that he'd get the rest his body so desperately craved.
During one of the moments when he hovered somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, his phone rang. Tricia, who'd been checking his vital signs, answered and explained that he wasn't up for talking. When she said Viv's name, he reached for the receiver. The nurse frowned disapprovingly, but handed it to him anyway, and he managed a weak hello.
"Martin," the other agent said tenderly. "Marcus just told me what happened. I'm so sorry. I won't keep you. I just wanted you to know that I'm thinking of you."
He smiled. It was so good to hear her soothing voice. "You all right, Viv?" he asked sleepily.
"I'm doing great, sweetie. You get some rest now, and we'll talk again soon."
He nodded, fading out before he could reply. When he opened his eyes later, he pushed the call button and asked Tricia to look up a phone number. He dozed off for a few minutes, and when she lightly touched his shoulder and slipped a piece of paper into his hand, he stared at it in confusion. After a few seconds, he remembered why he'd requested it. When Viv had gone into surgery, he'd decided that as soon as she was ready for visitors, he'd take her flowers. But they were in separate hospitals, and he wouldn't see her anytime soon.
So, he settled for calling his favorite florist and ordering a dozen yellow roses, to be delivered that afternoon. When the receptionist asked what to write on the card, he paused, at a loss for words. The unnatural warmth in his body and ever-present throbbing in his torso made it hard to think straight. He decided on a simple, "Thinking of you, too. Martin."
Not eloquent, by any means, but it would have to do.
Danny awoke Sunday morning feeling fairly good after a long, nightmare-free stretch of sleep. He grabbed a quick shower and, as he shaved, inspected the cut on his head. It was healing nicely, and he peeled off the two thin band-aids. The ER doc had told him he'd only need them for a few days while the skin began knitting itself back together.
After throwing on some boxers, a pair of well-loved jeans and a black T-shirt, he padded out to the kitchen. He toasted a bagel, spread a thick layer of low-fat cream cheese on top and poured a tall glass of orange juice. Once he finished eating, he called the hospital, hoping for some good news on Martin. He'd wanted to see him yesterday, but had been disappointed to learn that visiting hours were still heavily restricted.
The news was better today. Fitzgerald's fever had broken, and friends, as well as family, could visit. The nurses had even relaxed the ten-minutes-every-three-hours rule. If the injured man seemed up for company he could have it, as long as the visitors left if he seemed to be tiring or hurting too much.
When Danny arrived at the ICU, he cheerfully greeted the nurses, saving an extra-wide smile for the delightful Tricia. She smiled back and told him to go on in.
His good mood dissipated slightly as he entered Martin's room. While Fitzgerald looked better than he had a few days ago, he was still too pale, features drawn in pain. On the bright side, the nasal cannula was gone, so he was definitely improving.
"Hey, man." Danny exchanged smiles with his friend. "Brought you something." He handed over a plastic bag and sat down, resting one ankle on a knee and draping an arm over the top of the chair.
The plastic crinkled as Martin opened the bag and slid out the latest issues of "Sports Illustrated," "ESPN The Magazine" and "The National Enquirer." "The Enquirer?" he asked, the corners of his mouth quirking up in amusement.
"I know, I know, it's not your usual reading material, but I figured what the hell. You're probably getting bored, and that rag is nothing, if not entertaining."
The other man chuckled, wincing, and slipped the magazines back in the bag. "Thanks."
"There's one other thing in there, at the bottom."
Martin fished around and removed a piece of white ruled paper, the size of a dollar. "IOU. The Ground Round." His favorite greasy burger joint. He looked questioningly at his partner.
"When you're up for it, I'll take you there and you can get one of those gut bombs you love so much."
The injured agent smiled and dropped the paper back in the bag, then laid the parcel on the small table at his right, again wincing.
Even though Danny doubted he'd get the truth, he asked the standard hospital-visit question. "So how are you doin', man?"
Ah, the old Fitzgerald stoicism. He easily saw through it, not just because the wounded man grimaced every time he shifted in the bed, but also because of his short, clipped sentences, as if the very act of speaking hurt.
"How are you?" Martin asked.
"Pretty good," Danny replied, wondering if his partner was trying to deflect attention away from himself. "I spent the last couple of days taking advantage of my satellite TV hookup. It's amazing how much stuff is out there to watch. Most of it's crap, of course, but there's nothing like uninterrupted channel surfing to make a man happy, right?"
The other man nodded, and he continued. "I saw Viv yesterday. She looks good. She said she called you, but you fell asleep on her."
"Yup." Martin grimaced as he placed a hand over his chest, as if to ward off, or hold in, the pain. "Wish I could see her."
Hearing Fitzgerald's frustration at being laid up, Danny patted his friend's knee. "Give yourself some time, man. You'll be up and around before you know it."
When the injured man looked away to stare out the window, Danny wondered if he'd said the wrong thing. He just wasn't good at hospital visits. As he considered his next words, Martin winced and pressed the button on his PCA pump.
Danny nodded toward the pump that allowed his friend to administer his own painkillers. "They giving you the good stuff?"
"Oh yeah." Fitzgerald closed his eyes, took a shallow breath, held it, and then slowly expelled it. It didn't take long for the lines of tension in his face to ease. He looked at Taylor with a hint of humor in his eyes. "Down side is, I'll be in la la land soon."
It was the longest sentence the man had uttered since before the shooting, and if that wasn't enough to lift Danny's spirits, the trace of his partner's usual dry wit certainly was. "Nice, man," he teased. "I come bearing gifts, and you're gonna take a nap during my visit. Some gratitude."
The other man's expression grew serious. "I am grateful. For what you did back there."
Danny's smile faded as he realized where the conversation was heading.
"I remember you pulling me out of the car. Trying to stop the bleeding."
Blood-soaked images rose before Danny could stop them and he swallowed hard. Did Fitzgerald have any idea how much those moments haunted him? "I should've done more. I should've kept it from happening in the first place."
Martin shook his head. "Nothing you could've done," he said, yawning, eyes heavy-lidded. "Wasn't time to think. Just ... react."
Despite the reassurances, Danny searched his memories, trying to pinpoint where he'd gone wrong. "Maybe if I hadn't told you to back up the car - "
"Don't know if that's when it happened." Martin closed his eyes, seeming to fall asleep, but then roused himself. "Not sure when I got shot."
"If I could go back and change what happened, I would."
"If I could trade places with you -- "
"I'd never ask you to." Martin shook his head. "Wouldn't want you to."
They sat quietly for a moment, and then the injured man's eyes drifted shut and his breathing evened out.
Danny leaned back in the chair, watching Fitzgerald sleep. He was grateful that Martin didn't blame him for his injuries, but he still felt like he'd failed his friend.