Approximately 24 hrs later
Bobby Goren came back to awareness slowly, with extreme reluctance. For some time now… he had no idea just how long… he’d been hovering somewhere in that painless void between sleep and wakefulness, aware of nothing beyond the quiet that surrounded him.
He had been to this place just once before that he was consciously aware of, and he knew what sort of pain he was likely to be in for when his mind decided it was time to become fully alert. For that reason alone, he was content to stay in the void for just as long as he could.
That wasn’t going to be for much longer. Already he could hear a distant, and as yet unidentified voice speaking to him, calling his name, calling him back. He tried not to listen, but gradually the sound permeated his subconscious, compelling him to pay attention.
Slowly, reluctantly, he felt his consciousness shift and the voice became clearer, no long a faint echo inside his mind, but a distinct voice whispering in his ear. Slowly, he felt himself being drawn back into wakefulness, the fog in his mind steadily clearing as he came back to awareness.
And, as was inevitable, so too came the pain.
Driven abruptly back into full awareness by the pain that flared through his leg, and other wounded parts of his body, Bobby Goren finally gave in and opened his eyes.
Bobby blinked dazedly, his foggy mind not fully comprehending the voice, or the words the voice had just spoken. He looked around, and his blurry vision came to rest on the one who stood by his bedside, watching with a mixture of concern and relief that, even in his muzzy state, Bobby couldn’t possibly misinterpret.
Alex smiled as his gaze finally focused on her and, when she knew she had his attention, she leaned over and kissed him gently on the forehead.
He tried to speak, but his mouth and throat were horribly dry, and all he could manage were a couple of semi-garbled words.
She hesitated in answering him, taking a moment instead to pour some water into a glass, and hold it gently to his lips, allowing just a trickle of water into his mouth.
“Thanks,” he whispered, grateful.
“In answer to your question,” she went on, “we’re in Denton Hospital, Bobby. You’ve been out for nearly twenty-four hours. The doctors were starting to get worried.”
He didn’t respond to that immediately, instead making a concerted effort to get his fuzzy thoughts into some sort of order.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” she asked, noting the dazed and confused expression on his bruised face. He considered that for a moment before answering.
“Going through the woods… Deakins getting shot with that arrow…” He looked up at her, panic lighting up his eyes. “Deakins…”
“He’s going to be okay,” she reassured him. “Though, the key phrase there is ‘going to be’. The arrow glanced off a vertebra and badly pinched some of the nerves in his spine. It’s caused temporary paralysis to his legs. The doctors said that won’t last, but it looks like the dear captain is going to be joining us in rehab for a while.”
Bobby was still too weak and tired to be able to fully appreciate the irony of that, much to Alex’s private disappointment.
“He… He was bleeding from the mouth…”
“The arrow also grazed a lung, but it’s okay. They caught that in time. The doctors here are wonderful, Bobby. They saved Deakins’ life… and yours, too.”
Bobby sighed faintly, and he relaxed visibly in the bed. Alex hesitated, then spoke again.
“What else do you remember?”
“Not a lot,” he admitted. “It’s all pretty… pretty hazy. How’s Jack? Is he… okay?”
“He’ll be fine,” she murmured. “Graham stabbed him in the left shoulder, and got him across the chest with his knife, but there was no real damage done. Just flesh wounds, that’s all.”
Bobby said nothing, but his gaze flickered noticeably to her right arm, which was heavily bandaged, and her left wrist and forearm, which was encased in plaster. She offered him a crooked smile.
“Nothing serious,” she assured him. “I needed thirty-six stitches where Graham’s arrow caught me, but there was no nerve damage or anything like that. It’s just a really nasty cut, nothing more.”
“And that?” he asked, indicating the plaster on her arm which seemed to have temporarily replaced her arm brace.
“I broke a bone in my wrist getting loose from those ropes,” she explained. “You just had to tie me up properly, didn’t you?”
He went red. “I’m sorry… but if he’d checked, and I hadn’t done it properly, he might just have killed us all right then.” He paused, the red flush fading from his cheeks as he stared at her intently.
“What?” she asked, starting to feel nervous.
“You… You actually shot me!”
It was Alex’s turn to go red.
“It wasn’t on purpose! How was I to know you were going to go all heroic and throw yourself at Graham like that? Anyway, it was only a flesh wound.”
“And what about the other bullet? You did fire two shots…? Where did it end up? In a tree trunk?”
She glowered at him.
“If you weren’t already in pain, I’d hit you. For your information, Robert Goren, I got Graham with that second shot. I would have got him with both shots, except you got your butt in the way.”
He smiled wearily.
“Lucky for me you missed my butt. Otherwise it’d be even more uncomfortable lying here that it already is.”
She smacked him lightly on the shoulder.
The two detectives smiled at each other for a moment. Then, slowly, Bobby’s smile faded, and his gaze went to his right leg. It was elevated slightly off the bed courtesy of a sling, and it was all he could do not to cringe at the sight of the three surgical pins inserted into the flesh of his leg.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Alex told him firmly. “Try not to panic, okay?”
“You’ve talked to the doctor?”
“Yes. He wouldn’t tell me everything, but what I did get out of him was that he doesn’t think the damage is permanent. It’s going to take time… it might set your rehab back anywhere up to six months… but it should heal, Bobby.”
The sigh that escaped him was one of pure relief. A moment later, he reached up tentatively, and his fingers brushed over the surface of gauze padding that covered the right side of his face and head.
“Don’t touch it,” she murmured, gently pushing his hand back down.
“What is it…?” he asked, sounding confused again.
“You don’t remember?”
“Alex, I don’t remember anything much after I tackled Graham.”
“Well, bear in mind then that I’m recounting Jack’s version of events. He said that when he reached the two of you, Graham attacked him… That’s when he was stabbed. He said you managed to pull Graham off him and in the process of doing that, Graham got you across the side of your face with his knife.”
“Where’s Graham now?”
“In another wing here in the hospital, under very heavy police guard. Not that that matters. He’s not going to want to be getting up anytime soon.”
Bobby watched her curiously.
“Where did you shoot him?”
“In the leg, but that’s not what I mean. When you were fighting with Graham that last time, apparently Jack picked up a branch, and whacked Graham in the head with it. The guy’s got a contusion on his head nearly as big as a bowling ball, and a concussion to match.”
Bobby couldn’t help the smile that edged onto his face.
“Damn. Wish I could remember.”
“I know,” Alex agreed wistfully. “It would have been worth seeing.”
A companionable silence settled for a while before Bobby spoke again.
“Deakins is really going to be all right?”
“He’s going to be fine, Bobby. Well, eventually, anyway.”
“Have you seen him yet?”
She nodded. “Yes, a few hours ago. He’s in a fair bit of pain, but he’s glad to be alive. And he said that since we saved his life, he’ll try to overlook the fact that we surrendered our weapons to a psychopathic serial killer when he submits his report.”
Bobby stared at her, not sure whether to take her seriously or not. The twinkle in her eyes a moment later, and the quirk of her lips as she struggled not to laugh gave him the answer he was looking for.
“Don’t do that to me, Alex,” he muttered as she laughed.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Seriously, when I left him he was talking to Mullett about recommending you, me and Jack for bravery awards.”
“Not interested,” Bobby mumbled, his eyes growing heavy as exhaustion started to take hold once more. “Just happy to return the favour…”
Alex smiled to herself as Bobby slipped once more into a peaceful slumber. She was thankful he’d finally woken up, but she was equally glad he was able to find rest away from the pain of his injuries. Still smiling, she leaned over and allowed her lips to brush over his in a feather-light kiss.
“Now, if I’d been Mr Mullett or someone else, you might have had some serious explaining to do.”
Alex looked around, and smiled warmly as Jack walked in. His left arm was in a sling to keep as much pressure as possible off his injured shoulder, and his shirt looked a little tight with the gauze and bandages protecting the laceration across his chest, but otherwise he looked none the worse for wear.
“Just as well I don’t have to answer to Mr Mullett, then, isn’t it?” she shot back. Jack chuckled.
“Lucky for you. How’s he doing, then?”
“He woke up for a few minutes just before you came in. He’s going to be okay, Jack.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Jack said sincerely. “He wasn’t too stressed out about his leg?”
Her smile faded.
“I told him the doctors said it would heal.”
Jack raised an eyebrow, drawing a guilty look from her.
“I’m sorry,” she said defensively, “but I couldn’t see the point in telling him straight out that he might always need the leg brace and cane to be able to walk. Not when he’d only just woken up.”
“He won’t appreciate you lying to him,” Jack pointed out gently. Alex looked away, tears flooding her eyes.
“He’ll have to deal with it soon enough. Doesn’t he deserve to have a little bit of peace?”
“Of course he does,” Jack murmured apologetically. “You both do. Tell me, Alex, did you get any sleep at all last night?”
She turned back to him slowly, her eyes red with shed tears.
“You mean after having to explain what happened five times over? Not really, no.”
“All right, then. Why don’t you let me take you back to the house, and you can get some rest. Don’t worry about Bobby, he’ll be fine.”
Alex shot Jack a look that spoke in volumes, but he didn’t back down.
“Bobby is safe, Alex. So is your captain. David Graham isn’t leaving his bed for any reason. It’s time to ease off.”
She looked back at her sleeping partner for a long moment, then reluctantly conceded.
When Alex returned to the hospital the following morning, she felt a hundred percent on what she’d been the night before. She entered the hospital alone, Jack having dropped her off on his way into CID. Little though he liked it, he had to make an official report on what had gone on in their encounter with Graham.
Although, he’d commented dryly to Alex, for once Mullett was being uncharacteristically supportive, encouraging Jack to be straight-forward and not ‘tweak’ anything in his report just to please the bureaucrats.
‘Damn it, Jack, you stopped a serial killer. Forget the politicians. Just tell it how it happened.’
Alex smiled a little as she rode the lift up to ICU. She was going to miss Jack. Maybe, just maybe, they would be able to convince him to come to New York in the not too distant future…
She rounded the corner and walked into Bobby’s room, only to be brought up short in the doorway. Goren was awake, and the bed had been raised sufficiently so that he was able to sit up. What brought her to a standstill, though, was the look on her partner’s face. He looked at her as she came in, then away again, but he wasn’t quick enough that she missed seeing the tears that streaked his cheeks. Feeling a sickening chill deep in her gut, Alex hurried over to the bedside.
“Bobby? What’s wrong?”
He didn’t look at her, and didn’t speak immediately. She was about to try again when he spoke softly, in a voice that was barely more than a whisper.
“Why did you lie to me?”
Alex felt her stomach roll unpleasantly. She knew instantly what he was talking about, and didn’t insult him by bothering to ask him to clarify.
“You talked to the doctor?”
“He said I have approximately a twenty percent chance of being able to eventually walk again without any sort of support.”
She shut her eyes, feeling thoroughly sick now.
“I’m sorry, Bobby.”
“So am I.”
She stood in silence for nearly a minute, trying to work out what she could possibly say to recover the ground she seemed to have lost with him.
“I know…” she said finally, softly. “I know I shouldn’t have lied about it… This is probably going to seem really lame, but you’d only just woken up… You were still pretty groggy… I just didn’t think you should have to deal with that straight away. I know I shouldn’t have said it’d be all right, but I just didn’t stop to think about what I was saying.”
He glanced at her, just briefly, before looking away again.
“I felt like an idiot… when the doctor told me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again miserably.
“Could you leave me alone, please?”
Alex jerked a little, stung. As much as she knew she deserved it, it still hurt that he was pushing her away. She hesitated, then took a slow step away from the bed.
“If… If that’s what you want.”
He didn’t answer, didn’t spare her another look. Fighting back the threat of tears, Alex turned slowly and started towards the door. She paused once more in the doorway, looking back at Bobby. He hadn’t moved, except for…
Her well-trained eyes picked the slightest of shudders through his large frame. A second later she’d made her decision and, knowing she risked invoking his anger, Alex walked back to the bedside.
“Bobby, look at me.”
He started to look at her, purely as a reflexive response to the non-nonsense tone of voice she was using. As he started to look away again, though, she reached out with her right hand, and laid her palm to his cheek, drawing his face back around to look at her.
“Don’t you turn away from me, Bobby Goren,” she admonished him gently. “Now, I know I screwed up, but I also know you’re usually more understanding than this. So how about you try telling me what it is that you’re really upset about?”
He winced a little, and tried once more to turn away, but she refused to let him.
“I… I’m going to lose my job,” he said finally, his voice shaking very slightly. She regarded him thoughtfully.
“Why do you think that?”
A bitter look flickered in his brown eyes.
“Do I need to spell it out for you?” he snapped, but she didn’t flinch away from him, instead waiting patiently for him to answer her question. A moment later, his shoulders slumped in defeat and he spoke miserably.
“There’s no way they’ll let me stay on the Force now. Not when I can’t walk.”
“Who is ‘they’?” she asked. “The Chief of Detectives? The Commissioner? The Mayor?”
“All of the above,” he said glumly.
Alex withheld a sigh, not caring to aggravate him any further.
“Bobby, out of those three, the only one who is a genuine jerk is the Chief of Detectives.”
He looked at her sceptically. “You’re saying the Mayor isn’t a jerk?”
She couldn’t hold back the hint of a smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth. “He’s a politician, Bobby. So is the Commissioner. In case you’d forgotten, you and I are still the poster boy and girl for the Department’s Public Relations Office. Neither the Commissioner, nor the Mayor are going to give you the boot on the say-so of the Chief of Detectives. The Commissioner knows you’re too valuable a cop, and the Mayor knows you’re too valuable a publicity tool. Sorry if that sounds crude, but it’s true. But if you’re still worried that you might be fired on the say-so of the Chief of Detectives alone, then let me put it into perspective for you with just three words. Captain James Deakins.”
He stared at her wordlessly, his face a blank slate. Alex did sigh, then.
“After everything that’s happened, do you really think Deakins would be willing to let you go as easily as that? He won’t, Bobby. He’ll fight tooth and nail for both of us now. The Chief of Detectives doesn’t stand a chance. Deakins will tear him apart if he tries to oust either one of us.”
Bobby stared at her miserably, and though he said nothing, the tears that worked their way out of his eyes spoke in volumes. Alex finally let her hand drop from his cheek, and instead took hold of his hand, squeezing it reassuringly.
“What is it? Talk to me, Bobby.”
He spoke tentatively, and his voice wavered dangerously as he struggled to put his thoughts and feelings into words.
“All… All I want is for it to stop hurting. Now they tell me it might never stop hurting. I… I just don’t know if I can cope with this kind of pain for the rest of my life.”
Fresh tears filled her own eyes as her heart broke for him.
Releasing his hand, she slipped her good back up behind his neck and gently drew him down until his head rested on her shoulder. From there, she slid her right arm around him as best as she could, silently cursing the plaster on her left arm that kept her from wrapping both arms around him.
“I won’t make guesses at what’s going to happen,” she murmured. “But don’t think for a second that I’m going to let you quit. Do you hear me, Detective? You’re my partner, and I don’t want anyone else.”
He shuddered against her, and she felt the material of her top dampen from his tears. The last time she’d seen him cry openly had been in a hospital room similar to this one. Then, she’d been able to do little but offer superficial comfort. Then, she’d had to leave him knowing she’d done nothing to help ease the pain and misery that he was suffering. She’d be damned if she was going to let that happen again.
“Listen to me, Bobby. You say the doctor told you there was a twenty percent chance of a full recovery? Then start redirecting that pig-headedness of yours, you big oaf. Do the right thing by yourself, keep working at it, and don’t quit! So you might be in that brace a lot longer than you hoped. Just don’t give up, okay? Don’t quit, and eventually it’ll come good again. You got it?”
Slowly, he drew back from her and for a long moment they simply stared at each other. Then, when Bobby finally spoke it was with more than a hint of incredulity.
She grinned at him, then, silently thankful to see a spark of life back in his eyes.
“Would you prefer ‘big lug’?”
He smiled back at her, then, a small but genuine smile.
“Thanks, Alex. I… I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be,” she murmured, pulling him back in for another hug. “I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you before. I just don’t want you to quit on me.”
He drew back from her again, smiling more openly.
“I won’t quit on you… on one condition.”
She raised an eyebrow at him bemusedly.
“Oh? What condition would that be?”
“I get payback for you shooting me.”
Alex grimaced a little. It was bad enough knowing she had shot her partner, even if it had been inadvertently, and once word got out back home, it was something she would probably never live down. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what sort of payback he had in mind for her right now. She conceded reluctantly, though, if only out of guilt.
“Okay… What do you want…”
She barely got the words out before he ducked in, with surprising agility considering the bullet wound in his side, and kissed her firmly but chastely on the lips.
Alex blinked in astonishment as he pulled back from her, a satisfied smirk on his face.
“Well… Thank God Deakins has his own room,” she said finally, with a wry smile. “Because there’s no way we could explain that one.”
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