A/N: My apologies for the delay on this chapter. It would have been posted over a week ago, except that I’ve been ill and didn’t have the energy to do anything. Literally. On the bright side, the delay means the chapter is rather longer than it would have been if I’d been able to post it a week ago.

When Emily Goren walked into the sterile hospital room, Alex didn’t know what surprised her more – that she had managed to get Sophie past the duty nurse, or the bright balloons and flowers that they carried between them.

“We thought it was high time that Bobby had something other than hospital equipment to look at,” Emily said with a smile as she set the flowers down on the table beside the bed. “Sophie, honey, tie those balloons to the end of the bed, would you?”

“How?” Alex asked, confused. “The nurses… They wouldn’t let anything in… How?”

“Well,” Emily said, “firstly, the flowers are specifically non-allergenic. Secondly, it helps that I went through medical school with this hospital’s Chief of Surgeons.” She paused, looking down at Bobby’s sleeping form sadly. “How is he doing?”

At that, Alex’s expression hardened, and she suddenly found herself having to wipe furiously at her eyes.

“Just great,” she answered bitterly. “He cried himself to sleep, literally. He’s scared, and hurting, and the only family he has abandoned him because he wouldn’t hand over all of his savings. He’s just wonderful.”

Emily didn’t flinch in the face of Alex’s hostility. She’d anticipated it, and was prepared to weather it.

“I’m so sorry that Frank did that,” she said quietly. “I promise you, if I’d known, I would have stopped him. But you’re wrong about one thing, Alex.”

“Oh? What?”

“Frank isn’t the only family that Bobby has. He also has me and Sophie, and I know he has you, and your family. He’s not alone, Alex. He might feel that way at the moment, but he’s not. Maybe, between us, we can convince him of that sooner rather than later.”

Alex blinked, completely taken aback by Emily’s declaration of support. She had fully expected her to argue on her husband’s behalf, and it well and truly threw her that she wasn’t doing that. Emily saw it in her expression, and smiled sadly.

“You thought I’d side with my husband, didn’t you?”

“To be honest?” Alex said. “Yes, I did.”

Emily nodded calmly.

“Well, I’m not. Not when he’s the one in the wrong. We left him back at the hotel to think very carefully about what he’s done, and the best way that he can apologise for it. If Bobby doesn’t want anything to do with him after that, then so be it, but I want him to know that he has mine and Sophie’s unconditional love and support.”

Finally, Alex felt herself beginning to relax as she realised that Emily was being sincere. Then, her attention was drawn to Sophie, who had taken it on herself to pull a chair over to the bedside so that she could climb up. She then leaned over, and kissed Bobby gently on the cheek.

The contact stirred Bobby from sleep, and his eyes fluttered open. Sophie greeted him with a small, warm smile that Alex thought was spookily reminiscent of Bobby.

“Hi, Uncle Bobby.”

Despite the misery and depression that threatened to weigh him down, Bobby was able to somehow find it in himself to return her smile.

“Hi, Sophie.”

She didn’t hesitate, but leaned over again and wrapped her arms around him in a loving hug.

“I’m sorry my daddy upset you,” she told him in a muffled voice. “Don’t worry, though. Mommy put him in his place.”

Alex’s eyebrows shot up at the little girl’s choice of phrase, while Bobby looked quizzically at Emily.

“She’s right,” Emily confirmed with an unapologetic shrug. “I did. He deserved it, too. He had no right to do that to you, Bobby. None at all.”

Pain flickered in Bobby’s eyes.

“He… said I let him down.”

Beside him, he felt Alex stiffen, but Emily spoke before his diminutive partner had the chance to voice her objections.

“The hell you did,” Emily growled. “He let himself down, and he’s got no business putting it on you.” She paused, shaking her head and taking a calming breath. “He’s tried to worm his way out of trouble one too many times, and now it’s come back to bite him on the ass.”

Sophie giggled wildly at her mother’s words, drawing an amused smile from both Bobby and Alex.

“I probably shouldn’t say that in front of her,” Emily said with a roll of her eyes, “but the truth will out.”

Alex looked back to Bobby, and was gratified to see him slowly begin to relax. It seemed he was actually beginning to accept what Emily was saying. Or, she reflected sadly, he was simply too exhausted to argue.

Gradually, his attention was drawn first to the balloons, and then to the flowers.

“Thankyou,” he murmured, genuinely touched by the simple gesture. Emily hesitated only a moment before leaning in to kiss him lightly on the cheek.

“You’re welcome. And if there’s anything at all that you want, just tell us.”

Bobby hesitated, his gaze going to Alex, who smiled wryly in understanding.

“Books,” Alex said quietly. “He’d like some books.”

“I will gladly buy some books for you,” Emily agreed with enthusiasm. “Just give me a list of titles that you want.”

“No… No need to buy them,” Bobby stammered, his face going red at the generous offer. “If you could go to my apartment, there are plenty there. You… You could bring some of them in.”

“And I’ll wager you’ve read them all more than once,” Emily commented. Alex laughed softly, smiling at Bobby with open affection.

“You’d be right about that. I think sometimes you’d be hard pressed to find a book that he hasn’t read.”

Emily grinned.

“I’ll take on that challenge. I’ll bring you whatever books from home that you want, but I’m going to bring you at least one thing that you haven’t already read.”

Bobby smiled in amusement, his miseries momentarily forgotten in the gentle banter that was taking place.

“Good luck,” he told her with a small grin. “You’ll need it.”

1 Hogan Place
A few days later

Ron Carver stood in his office, staring at Jack McCoy in open-mouthed shock, as McCoy related some very unpleasant news to him.

“Bail? Dylan Black has been given bail, yesterday? Jack, he tried to kill two New York police detectives, and he’s not even tried to deny it! How could he be given bail? And how could you wait until now to tell me?”

McCoy looked no happier about it than Carver felt, and he shook his head in aggravation.

“We got the wrong judge. You know what Todd McCallef is like.”

Carver groaned when he heard that.

“We had to get the one judge who was a criminal rights’ and civil liberties activist before becoming a judge. Fantastic.”

“He gave a nice little speech about being innocent until proven guilty, with a none-too-gentle allusion to police brutality, and that keeping Black in custody any longer would infringe on his rights. So now we’ve got a homicidal cop hater in the same hospital as the two cops he tried to kill, and no police guard. And as for not telling you, you should have gotten the memo that I emailed to you yesterday after the hearing.”

“I was in court all afternoon, and well into the evening,” Carver said grimly. “I didn't have the chance to check my email before now. You’ll have to warn Captain Deakins, Jack. He’ll want to ensure a police guard is placed on both Detective Eames and Detective Goren’s doors, just in case Mr Black decides to go wandering.”

McCoy grimaced, not looking forward to the prospect of telling Deakins that the man who had tried to kill his two detectives was free.

“Thanks, Ron. Remind me to repay that favour some time.”

Carver didn’t crack a smile.

“This is serious, Jack. That lunatic tried to kill Goren and Eames. He nearly succeeded with Detective Goren.”

“I know,” McCoy sighed. “Damn it… Okay, I’ll call him now. Where are you headed?”

“To the hospital,” Carver answered grimly. “It’s high time I payed the detectives a visit.”

Carver headed directly to the ICU. He would never have admitted it to anyone, but he was more than a little scared at the prospect of facing Bobby Goren. Despite Jim Deakins’ efforts to insist otherwise, he couldn’t help feeling at least partially responsible for the detective’s bleak situation, and uncertain future.

He knew in himself that he could have obtained a warrant for Bobby and Alex had he simply gone to the right judge. There had been no thought in his mind, though, for the safety of the detectives. Instead, his mind had been focused very firmly on rule of law, and the likelihood that any evidence they obtained with such a warrant would be thrown out by another judge further down the track.

It weighed heavily on his shoulders now, that if he had just gotten the warrant, then they would have returned to Dylan Black’s warehouse with back-up, and neither detective would probably be in the hospital now. Certainly, Bobby wouldn’t be faced with the prospect of losing his career.

He felt responsible, as surely as if he had pulled the trigger himself.

Rounding the corner, Carver entered the ICU and headed down the corridor to Bobby’s room. He heard the commotion long before he reached the door. There was the distinct sound of a child’s laughter, supplements by the more subdued sound of adult laughter. Holding to the slender hope that the atmosphere in the room would be better than he’d expected, Ron Carver walked into Bobby’s hospital room.

Bobby Goren was walking a very fine line – pun not intended – between amusement and panic, and he suspected that the only things keeping him from descending into outright panic were the presence of his partner at his side, and the little girl who was currently settled contentedly on his lap. If not for them, the fact that he was sitting in a wheelchair might well have pushed him right over the edge.

As it was, he couldn’t suppress the amused grin on his face as Sophie’s wild giggles filled the room.

“Not funny, Sophie!” Emily chided, but she too was grinning.

“Yes it was,” Sophie argued. “Uncle Bobby did a wheelie! Can we do it again?”

“I don’t think so, honey,” Bobby said with a short, if somewhat strained laugh. “One was exciting enough.”

“Not to mention completely unintentional,” John Eames remarked, still wincing at the mental image of Bobby very nearly going over backwards in the wheelchair only minutes after being settled into it. “You need to take it a little slower, son. Try not to be quite so eager.”

“Funny, Dad,” Alex growled, a note of warning in her tone, but John’s dry humour was not lost on Bobby, who laughed softly.

“Thanks for the tip. I’ll try to remember that.”

“Does it feel okay?” Deakins asked in concern as he watched from the other side of the room. “Because it could be a month or more before one’s ready for you.”

Bobby’s breath caught in his throat at the question, but a small, warm hand closing over his own effectively staved off the impending panic attack. He spared Alex a grateful look before answering.

“It’s okay, I guess. But I’m not going to be able to answer that properly until my wrist comes out of the plaster.”

“I think you’ll be fine with this chair for the interim,” Dr Fielding mused. “It’s going to take some getting used to, just to state the obvious, but I think you’ll adjust okay. What you are going to need, though, are gloves to protect your hands. Leather fingerless gloves would be best. You’d be amazed at how fast blisters can form in the palms of your hands.”

Bobby nodded, but anything he’d planned on saying was lost as his gaze went to someone who was standing the doorway of his room, looking on in silence. All eyes turned in reaction, and all of a sudden Ron Carver found himself the focus of several intense stares. Coughing nervously, he turned his attention to Bobby and Alex.

“Detectives… I… ah… I apologise for the intrusion…”

“It’s okay,” Bobby murmured. “Come in, Mr Carver. Please…”

Carver ventured slowly into the room, and Bobby spoke again hesitantly.

“You’re just in time. They’re moving me out of ICU today.”

The ADA nodded. All of a sudden, he was feeling nauseous, and was heartily wishing that he hadn’t come. And yet, at the same time, he thought could see no anger or condemnation in the detective’s eyes.

“That’s wonderful news,” he agreed, but was unable to keep his voice from breaking slightly. Any hopes he might have had that Bobby wouldn’t notice were short-lived. Bobby’s eyes narrowed just slightly, and then he spoke in a low, calm voice.

“Could Alex and I have a minute alone with Mr Carver, please?”

It was with some difficulty that Carver didn’t simply turn around and bolt from the room. It was, perhaps, the hardest thing he had ever done to stand there and maintain eye contact with Bobby while the room emptied of all but the three of them. Then, once they were alone, Alex spoke up with a touch of incredulity in her voice.

“Do you think we blame you for what happened? You do, don’t you…?”

Carver shifted uncomfortably.

“Don’t you?” he asked softly. “I would, if I were you.”

Bobby glanced at Alex, and then nodded to one of the now vacant chairs.

“As much as I’m sure you’re loathed to give up your height advantage, do you want to sit down? I’m getting a crick in the neck here.”

It was with a wry smile that Carver sat down in the chair nearest Bobby. Alex smirked as well, and elbowed her partner gently.

“Now you know how I’ve felt the last four years.”

Bobby had the good grace to smile before looking back to Carver.

“This wasn’t your fault, Mr Carver. We don’t blame you for it.”

“If I’d just gotten the search warrant for you…” he stammered, but Bobby shook his head.

“You were doing your job, looking at the bigger picture. You knew that we didn’t have probable cause, and that even if we got a warrant, anything we found would have been thrown out later on. If anyone’s to blame for this…”

“If you say you’re to blame, I’m going to hit you, Goren,” Alex growled threateningly. Bobby smiled reassuringly at her.

“I was going to say, if anyone’s to blame for this, it’s Black.”

Carver fought to hold Bobby’s stare. Hearing absolution from the detective’s own lips did nothing to assuage his guilt. If anything, it increased his desire to sink even further in self-loathing. The only thing that kept him above the surface of those stormy waters was the knowledge that to allow himself that indulgence would surely be the most selfish thing he could ever do.

“What are you going to do?” he asked finally, saying the first words that came to mind. Bobby flinched visibly, and Carver silently cursed himself for the insensitive question. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “That was thoughtless.”

“No, it’s okay,” Bobby answered quietly, though his tone suggested that it was anything but. “I… I don’t know.”

“We’re all still trying to adjust,” Alex said gently, reaching across to take Bobby’s hand in her own, and giving it a gentle squeeze in a visible show of support.

“I understand,” Carver said. “I expect you don’t want to hear this, but I need to say it. I am sorry. I feel that I let you both down in the worst possible way, and I’m sorry for that.”

“We’re not angry with you, Mr Carver,” Alex told him firmly. “But if you really feel you need to redeem yourself, then do everything you can to make sure that scum Black never gets out of prison. If you can do that, then consider yourself well and truly forgiven.”

Carver felt his stomach drop at her words. He wanted nothing more than to see that done for them but how to break the news that Black was free on bail? Something of his emotion must have been reflected in his face, for Bobby spoke in a low, tense voice that held more than a slight twinge of fear.

“What is it? Something about Black? He hasn’t been released, has he?”

Carver felt sick to his stomach as he relayed the news to the detectives.

“In a manner of speaking. Jack McCoy informed me that Dylan Black was freed on bail late yesterday afternoon, courtesy of Judge McCallef.”

“Son of a bitch!” Alex exploded, the rage all too clear in her voice. Bobby, however, never made a sound. Instead, even as Carver watched, all colour drained from the detective’s face and his breath began to catch in his throat.

“Detective…?” Carver said tensely as he shifted forward in the chair. Bobby’s good hand clutched at the side of the wheelchair in a death grip, and he no longer appeared to be seeing anyone. Realising something was very wrong, Carver stumbled to his feet and strode from the room to find help, leaving Alex alone with Bobby.

“Bobby?” Alex asked, frightened by his reaction. If he heard her, though, he gave no indication of it and, even as she watched, his eyes began to roll back and consciousness began to slip away from him. Movement in the doorway drew her attention, and she looked up as Fielding strode back in.

“What happened?” he asked as he grabbed the oxygen mask and unit from the bedside and brought over to Bobby.

“Mr Carver,” Alex said shakily. “He told us that Dylan Black was granted bail and Bobby… He just…”

“He’s having a panic attack,” Fielding told her as he fitted the mask carefully over Bobby’s mouth and nose and started the flow of oxygen. “C’mon, Bobby, breathe for me. That’s it…”

“Is he…?”

The words caught in Alex’s throat, but Fielding was quick to reassure her.

“It’s a panic attack, Alex. Not a heart attack. He’ll be fine, once he calms down a little.”

A shiver went through her.

“I’ve never seen him have a panic attack before,” she admitted softly. Fielding glanced at her sadly.

“It probably won’t be the last time you see it happen, either. This is something we all need to be prepared for, Alex. He’s not going to be the same man that you knew him to be before this happened.”

A frown flickered across her face at his words, but she said nothing. Instead, she gently rubbed Bobby’s back and murmured soft reassurances to him. Slowly, very slowly, Bobby seemed to regain his composure. His breathing slowed once more, and evened out, and the panic faded somewhat from his eyes as he was able to focus again.

“You okay?” Alex asked softly, and he shuddered in response.

“N… No… But I guess there’s not much I can do about it, is there?”

Alex frowned darkly, and looked back up at Fielding.

“There must be something the hospital can do about Black.”

Fielding regarded them both thoughtfully.

“You really feel a threat from him, even in here, don’t you?”

“Dr Fielding, look at us,” Alex said softly. She glanced anxiously at Bobby, who as yet had not spoken. “Look at Bobby! That son of a bitch would have killed us, except that Bobby had the gumption to pick up his gun and shoot him. We have no reason to think he wouldn’t try again, if he got the chance. You look us both in the eye, and tell us we don’t have anything to worry about.”

Nodding his understanding, Fielding pulled a chair over and sat down opposite the two detectives.

“All right, then. Let’s talk this through.”

“He’ll come after us,” Bobby said suddenly, speaking in a hoarse and trembling voice that was muffled by the oxygen mask. “Killing us would mean a free pass to him. If we’re not alive to testify against him, then he could throw out any excuse he likes to a jury.”

“Okay,” Fielding conceded. “Well, what if I tell you that Mr Black is due to be discharged from the hospital later today? What if I promise you both that I’ll be speaking to the Administrator about placing extra security on every entrance to ensure that he won’t be able to re-enter once he’s left, and what if we arrange to place security in your ward? Specifically, we’ll put a guard on the doors to each of your rooms.”

Alex and Bobby looked at each other, and then Bobby spoke tentatively.

“You… You’d do that?”

“Absolutely,” Fielding confirmed. “You… both of you… have been through more than any one person should ever reasonably have to endure. I’ll be damned if I’ll stand back and allow you both to live in a state of fear while you’re in this hospital. And if the hospital won’t come to the party…”

“Then the NYPD will,” another voice stated fiercely, and they all looked around to see Deakins had appeared in the doorway. He looked angrier than either Bobby or Alex could ever remember. “I’m arranging for police protection for you both. Dylan Black won’t be getting anywhere near either of you, I promise.”

Fielding nodded his agreement, and then he looked back to Bobby and Alex.

“How are you feeling now, Bobby? A little calmer?”

With a hand that trembled just slightly, Bobby removed the oxygen mask from his face.

“I… I’m sorry. I…”

“Don’t,” Fielding told him gently. “You don’t have anything to apologise for, Bobby. You’re totally within your rights to feel this way. Now tell me, do you think you’ll be okay?”

Bobby nodded slowly, though the look in his eyes suggested he was less than certain.

“I think so.”

“All right. Let me just check your blood pressure.”

Silence fell while Fielding went through the motions of checking Bobby’s blood pressure.

“A little high, but not unmanageable,” Fielding murmured. “Tell me, would you feel better staying in the ICU for the time being, until we can organise the proper security?”

Bobby drew in a slow breath. He wanted to say yes, but his own mind fought against what he knew was an unreasonable and illogical decision.

“No,” he said finally. “No, I’m ready to move into a regular ward. And besides, you said he was being discharged today, right?”

“Right,” Fielding confirmed. Alex scowled, more than a little bitter at the knowledge that Black would soon be free to walk the streets, whilst she and Bobby were still virtually imprisoned within the hospital… and Bobby was facing the prospect of a life sentence in a wheelchair. It hardly seemed fair to her, and before she knew it fresh tears were working their way out of her eyes.

“Alex?” Deakins asked gently, and she wanted so badly to scream at him, to tell him to stop treating them both with kid gloves. She held her temper, though, hard as it was.

“It’s not fair,” she said hoarsely. “Black’s going to walk free, while we…”

She couldn’t finish the sentence. Deakins sighed.

“I’m not going to argue that he’s only been released on bail. I agree with you, Alex. It’s not fair. But what can we do now, except wait and hope that the jury returns a guilty verdict?”

“You think they wouldn’t?” Bobby asked, and they all heard the tremor of fear in his voice. Deakins’ stomach rolled unpleasantly. Raw fear was an emotion he had never imagined he would hear in Bobby’s voice, and yet there it was.

“I’m saying he has himself a very cunning lawyer,” Deakins answered. “But McCoy is one of the best, and Carver was saying just outside that he’s going to offer his assistance. I think that between the two of them, Black doesn’t have a hope.”

“He’s going to try and drag us through the mud before it’s over,” Alex said bitterly. Deakins nodded his agreement.

“Maybe, but it won’t do him any good. We actually have IAB on our side this time, as well as the Chief of D’s and the Commissioner. Your asses are covered, well and truly. You don’t have to worry about backlash. Everyone who’s important knows you did everything by the book. I want you both to stop worrying about that side of things, and focus on recovering. I’ll have a police guard organised by the end of today, and I guarantee Black won’t have the chance to get anywhere near you. All right?”

Bobby and Alex looked at each other, and then nodded slowly.

“Okay,” Alex said softly, for the both of them.

“So, what do you think?” Fielding asked. Bobby didn’t answer immediately, his attention fixed on his surroundings. His new room was a private one, in the same ward that Alex was in. Bobby suspected that wasn’t exactly policy – after all, his injuries were markedly different to Alex’s. He supposed, though, that they would move him again once Alex was discharged.

Right now, he was just grateful firstly to be out of the ICU, and secondly to be near to Alex.

He looked slowly around, taking in the bright, open room with its pale blue curtains. It was so utterly different to the sterile, almost claustrophobic feel of his room in ICU, and he felt a small but significant feeling of relief start to permeate his being.

“It’s okay,” he conceded, deciding that if he had to spend a lengthy period in the hospital, then he thought he could cope with being in a room such as this. Helen Eames leaned down to press a light kiss to the top of his head.

“Don’t you worry, sweetheart. We’ll have this place brightened up in no time.”

She didn’t go so far as to suggest it could be homey, for which Bobby was intensely grateful. As pleasant as he was sure they could make the room for him, it would never be that. He was grateful, though, and he didn’t have the words in him to express how much. The Eames family in particular had truly been his saving grace, pulling him back from the brink of utter devastation. He didn’t think he would ever be able to thank them enough for their love and support, especially in the wake of his falling out with Frank.

His brother had come back to the hospital a few times since their argument, but they had only exchanged words once. The first time, under Emily’s watchful stare, Frank had offered an apology for his behaviour. Bobby had listened, struggling to suppress the bitterness and anger. He wanted to reconcile with Frank, but it was simply too hard to put aside the hurt that his older brother had caused him.

In the days that followed, Emily and Sophie had come to see him both in the mornings and the afternoons. Sometimes Frank had been with them, most times not. When he had accompanied them, though, he’d stayed in the farthest corner and not said a word.

Bobby found he didn’t particularly care either way. He was only grateful that Emily and Sophie continued to come to see him. It hurt enough that his relationship with Frank seemed beyond saving. It would have devastated him to have lost Emily and Sophie as well.

There was, however, one thing for which Bobby was grudgingly appreciative. Emily had told him one evening, when Alex had had to return to her own room for her evening meal and John and Helen Eames had kindly taken Sophie with them to get something to eat, that Frank had taken it on himself to visit their mother at Carmel Ridge. According to both Emily and a brief call he’d had from Dr Shimo, Frank had tried to explain to Frances what had happened to Bobby, and why she had not seen or heard from him. How successful Frank had been, Bobby didn’t know but he had to give Frank credit for at least having the guts to try.

It was more than he had expected Frank to have the courage to do, and that was saying a hell of a lot.

He himself had not called to speak to his mother. He’d thought about it carefully but in the end he’d decided against it, and he attributed it primarily to his depressed state of mind that he didn’t feel any guilt over that decision. Right at that time, though, he barely had the stamina to see himself through each day. There was no way that he could offer any degree of mental or emotional support to his ill mother.

For that reason alone, Bobby was reluctantly grateful to Frank that he was at least making an effort. Not that he doubted whether their mother would appreciate it. After all, it was Frank, and he didn’t even need to show up to garner her praise…

He forcibly put the brakes on that unpleasant train of thought, and slowly back to the present to discover everyone in the room watching him in amused silence. His face promptly turned a dull shade of red, and he unsuccessfully sought out somewhere to look where he wasn’t staring at anyone.

“I… I’m sorry,” he mumbled, thoroughly embarrassed.

“Don’t be,” Alex reassured him, and though he could hear amusement in her voice, he thought he also detected a note of sympathy. She knew why he was embarrassed, and it wasn’t as though it was something that hadn’t happened before. She was just usually the only one around him when it did.

“You care to tell us what you were thinking so deeply about there?” John Eames wondered, and Bobby sighed softly.

“Just… How lucky I am to have all of you supporting me.”

“You’re family, son,” John told him quietly. “We don’t abandon family.”

“All right,” Fielding said with a smile. “Everyone out. We need to get Bobby settled in here, and the nurses are going to need to come and do their jobs as well. So let’s give him a little privacy, shall we?”

Slowly, the room emptied until only Alex remained. Fielding regarded her kindly.

“Alex, why don’t you go on back to your room? Get some rest, and you can come back a little bit later. This is going to take a while.”

Alex looked over at Bobby, looking as though she was going to argue, but a reassuring smile from Bobby stopped any possible protest she might have intended to make.

“I’ll be okay, Alex,” he reassured her. “Besides, now you’re only a few doors away. It… It’s incredible how much difference just that thought can make.”

She visibly relaxed at the genuine emotion behind his words, and instead reached out to gently squeeze his hand.

“Okay, Bobby. If you’re sure…”

“I am. I’ll be okay.”

With that assurance, she manoeuvred herself awkwardly out of the room. Fielding waited until she’d gone before pulling a chair over to sit in front of Bobby.

“Tell me, Bobby, how are you really feeling right now? No holds barred. Be honest with me.”

Bobby regarded him with obvious scepticism.

“Why? Please don’t tell me that you’re studying Psychology, and you want to use me as a case study…”

Fielding laughed softly, and shook his head.

“No, nothing like that, I promise you. The fact is that your wrist is healing well, and it won’t be long before you’re ready to start with some physical therapy.”

If anything, Bobby’s scepticism only increased.

“What physical therapy? I’m paralysed, Dr Fielding. No physical therapy is going to give me back the use of my legs.”

“No,” Fielding agreed, “but it will teach you to use the wheelchair properly, and help you to strengthen your arms and upper body. We’re also going to assign you an occupational therapist, who’ll be able to teach you all the basic things.”

“Like what?” Bobby asked hoarsely.

“Well, like being able to get out of bed in the morning, for starters,” Fielding answered. “Basic tasks like showering yourself… Preparing your own meals… Most importantly, though, the therapist will be able to help you learn how to cope with the stress that your limitations are going to cause. A whole lot of little things that you used to take for granted are suddenly going to seem like major trials to you, Bobby. Now, I’ll ask you again, how are you feeling?”

Bobby stared down at his paralysed legs, his mind reeling. This was something that he couldn’t deal with simply by reading a few books. There was no book that could possibly have prepared him for this.

“I… I think I feel sick,” he whispered.

“I’m sorry,” Fielding murmured, sounding genuinely regretful. “Please understand that I’m not trying to make this worse for you. What I’m hoping is that you’ll be able to at least partially come to terms with what’s ahead of you before you have your first physio sessions. Too often someone in your position will refuse to look ahead, and when they do get to the physio side of it, it’s too much for them to cope with. I don’t want that to happen to you, Bobby.”

Slowly, Bobby looked back up at Fielding, and it was all the doctor could do not to cringe at that haunted gaze.

“How am I supposed to learn to do all of those things again when I feel so damned useless?” he asked miserably.

“We’ll work through that,” Fielding promised him. “We’ll work through it together. I promise you that by the time you’re ready to be discharged, you’ll wonder how you could ever have thought that.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Bobby whispered, not quite able to stave off the tears.

“I know you do,” Fielding conceded. “But it won’t last forever. You’ll see. Just trust me, okay? Can you do that?”

Bobby let his breath out in a rush, and nodded as he realised that yes, he could trust this man. Fielding patted him gently on the shoulder.

“Okay, then. Now, just sit tight there for a minute, and I’ll be right back with a couple of our interns, and we’ll get you back into bed.”

“Thankyou,” Bobby whispered. Fielding left quietly, and Bobby pressed his hand over his eyes. He really was feeling sick now, and he wanted nothing more than to be back in bed, shut his eyes and let the world retreat for a little while. He understood what Fielding was trying to tell him, and it made sense, but he wasn’t quite ready to face up to it. It wasn’t that he was in denial. There was little denying any of it. No, he just wasn’t ready to move forward at full throttle.

One day at a time, he reminded himself tiredly. Just one day at a time…

The door slid open but Bobby didn’t bother looking up. The interns were perfectly capable of putting him back in bed without his cooperation, and he saw no need to acknowledge their presence. It wasn’t until he heard the unmistakable sound of the door being closed and locked, and the curtains being drawn to shut out any prying eyes, that Bobby finally looked up.

Dylan Black grinned down at him like a piranha, showing cruel delight at the stark fear that registered instantly in Bobby’s eyes.

“Hey, Detective Goren. How’re you doing?”

Bobby suddenly found himself paralysed in more ways than one. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t move his arms, and he could barely breathe. His lips moved, but no sound came out.

“What’s the matter, Detective? You scared of me? Well, maybe you’re smarter than I thought you were. But you know what? I’m not a complete bastard. I’m gonna give you as much of a chance as you gave me.”

Bobby frowned at that, Black’s words jolting him out of his mental paralysis.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Exactly what I said,” Black replied. “Except, you’re a bit luckier than I was. I don’t have a gun to hold on you, and threaten you with.”

“You son of a bitch, we never threatened you!” Bobby burst out. “I never held my gun on you! We were there to talk to you, and that’s all! You… It was you…”

He trailed off, his breath coming in shaky gasps. Black, far from looking agitated, seemed amused.

“Your word against mine. You might have gotten those IAB bastards on your side, but just wait til the news tonight.”

Bobby felt a chill at Black’s words, and what they insinuated.

“What have you done, Dylan?”

“Oh, I haven’t done anything yet,” Black replied calmly. Too calmly, to Bobby’s way of thinking. “I’m going to, though, and I’m gonna make sure the whole fucking city knows it was self-defence.”

Slowly, it dawned on Bobby what Black was planning on doing.

“You’re going to… to kill me… and make it look like self-defence? Dylan, you’re out of your mind…”

Black grinned.

“C’mon, Detective. I’ll give you a fighting chance. I’ll even let you take the first swing. C’mon, you fucking coward, stand up and be a man! Stand up and fight, damn it!”

And it was at that point that Bobby realised that Black didn’t know he was paralysed. Heart pounding, Bobby tried desperately to stall for time, at the same time wondering desperately where Fielding was… where anyone was.

“Let’s talk about this, Dylan…”

“No!” Black exploded. “I’m done talking!”

“You do this now, and you’ll never leave this hospital alive.”

“Oh, yeah, that definitely sounds like a threat.”

“It’s not a threat,” Bobby snapped. “Damn it, Dylan, I’m trying to stop you from doing something that will result in you being shot dead!”

Black leaned in close to Bobby, his eyes wild with barely-suppressed rage.

“I’m counting on it,” he hissed. “I don’t want to live through this. I just want to be sure that you don’t live through it, either. I’d like to include your pretty partner in that, but the bitch is never fucking alone! There’s always someone with her! You, on the other hand… I guess you’re not as popular, huh? I mean, I just walked in here, and no one looked twice at me! Seriously, it doesn’t seem like they give a rat’s ass about you, my friend. You’re expendable, that’s what you are.”

A sharp stab of emotional pain sliced clean through Bobby’s heart at Black’s words. Any reply he might have been inclined to make, though, was lost at the sound of someone else outside the door.

“Bobby? What’s going on? Why have you locked the door?”

It was Fielding. Black glared threateningly at him.

“Not a word,” he hissed. “Keep your fucking mouth shut or I’ll go after your girlfriend next.”

Bobby’s mind immediately went into hyper drive. He could do as Black said, and keep quiet, but Fielding would probably suspect a possible suicide attempt and have security break the door open. To do that, unaware of Black’s presence, could be disastrous. Armed or not, Black was still a dangerous man.

On the other hand, calling for help would probably prompt Black into attacking him… which he was clearly intending on doing anyway.

He didn’t believe that Black would get to Alex. Once they knew Black was here, security and pretty much any cop in the hospital would descend on their ward within minutes. No, Black would not get anywhere near Alex, which left him with two choices. He could either call for help, or hope that he could deal with Black on his own. Either way, he was at risk of being killed.

“I need help!” Bobby bellowed suddenly, with a strength in his voice that he hadn’t realised he had. “Dylan Black is in here! He’s going to kill me!”

“You son of a bitch!” Black thundered in a rage, and launched himself at Bobby. Even as Black collided with him and sent them both crashing to the floor, Bobby heard an incoherent shout outside his door, followed by heavy footfalls. Then, Black was on top of him, and all he knew was the enraged face above his own, and the powerful hands that slid around his throat and squeezed.

Bobby’s vision began to blur as he struggled, without success, to force Black off him. At some point his breath cut out, and his vision began to fade to darkness. In sheer desperation, Bobby stretched out his good arm in search of something to use as a weapon. His fingers closed over something smooth and hard, and he swung it with what little strength he had left.

The object in his hand struck something, and Black grunted audibly in pain. His grip loosened, and Bobby was able to push him off. He then rolled away, intent on putting as much distance between Black and himself as possible.

In the moments before he gave in to the darkness that was closing in on him, Bobby heard three things. He heard the sound of glass shattering explosively; he heard Black scream in rage, and he heard a single gunshot.

Then, darkness claimed him, and Bobby knew no more.

“Dear God,” Fielding whispered as he stepped through the shattered doorway. He paused just long enough to confirm that Dylan Black was, indeed, dead before turning to Bobby.

“Will he be all right?” Deakins asked softly. He still held his gun up, locked in a vice-like grip. Fielding nodded slowly.

“I think so. He seems to be breathing okay on his own… but I think I’ll put him on oxygen for a while just in case. Damn it, how the hell could this happen?”

“Bobby was right,” Deakins said quietly. “In Black’s mind, killing him and Alex meant a free ride out of trouble. Sorry son of a bitch…”

Finally holstering his weapon, Deakins took out his radio, and called for assistance.

“I think,” Fielding mused ruefully as he looked around the now trashed room, “that we’re going to have to find Detective Goren a new room.”

Some minutes later, they brought Bobby out of the room to find not only Alex waiting there anxiously, but her parents, Emily, Sophie and, to Deakins’ quiet surprise, Frank as well.

“Please say he’s all right,” Alex begged, tears filling her eyes. Fielding favoured her with a reassuring smile.

“He’s going to be fine, Alex. He’ll probably have a sore throat and might be lacking in the vocal department for a couple of days, but I think that will prove to be the worst of it.”

“And Black?” she asked hoarsely.

“He’s dead, Alex,” Deakins told her. “He can’t hurt either of you again. I promise you that.”

“Where are you taking him?” Emily asked anxiously as they watched the orderlies taking Bobby away towards the entrance to the ward. “Not back to ICU?”

“No,” Fielding answered. “I wouldn’t do that to him. No, we’re going to take him to a room in the Rehab wing. It’s where we were going to place him after Alex here was discharged, but in light of what’s just happened, we’ve decided to place him there a little ahead of schedule.”

“So, I still have to travel half the distance of the hospital to spend time with him,” Alex said bitterly.

“I’m afraid so,” Fielding confirmed. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any other rooms free, and don’t you say he can share yours. You know that’s not an option. There is a bright side, though. The rehab wing is much more flexible with its visiting hours. You’ll be able to spend considerably more time with Bobby, especially once you’ve been discharged.”

Though she appeared sceptical, Alex didn’t argue further.

“How long will he be out for?” Frank asked in a notably subdued tone.

“Well, I sedated him,” Fielding mused, “and we’ll be keeping a close eye on his breathing to make sure he doesn’t come into any difficulties… Barring any complications, I think he’ll probably be awake again a bit later this evening. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go with Bobby, and make sure he’s settled properly into his new room.”

Once Fielding had gone, John Eames spoke softly.

“Jim, did you kill Black?”

“Yes,” Deakins admitted without hesitation. “When I got in there after breaking through the door, Bobby had just managed to push Black off him, but then Black went at Bobby again, and so I shot him. I don’t regret doing it, either.”

“I’m not saying you should,” John agreed. “Just… be careful? You know you did the right thing, and so do we, but IAB and the media could eat you alive over this.”

Deakins smiled wearily.

“Not this time, John. Black has already tried to railroad Bobby and Alex once. IAB lost any sympathy they might have had for him very early on, and both Chief Bradshaw and the Commissioner are fully in support of Alex and Bobby. And regardless, I have a witness in Dr Fielding. He saw everything, and he’ll be able to testify to IAB that I shot Black to defend Bobby.”

“It’s not fair,” Alex whispered. “How much more can go wrong for him?”

Deakins rested his hand gently on her back, in an effort to convey some degree of reassurance.

“Darkest before the dawn, Alex. It’ll get better for him… for both of you.”

She looked away, tears wetting her cheeks.

“I’ll believe that when it happens.”

A few hours later, after shooting Dylan Black dead, Jimmy Deakins found himself standing in front of the Chief of Detectives, and Patrick and Jensen from IAB.

“Black’s lawyer is raising hell,” Patrick mused as he read through the incident report and statement that Deakins had dutifully submitted on the shooting. “Claims it was a cop conspiracy to kill his client.”

“Black went after Goren,” Deakins pointed out, and Bradshaw nodded calmly.

“We know, Jim. We have another witness, by the way. A nurse spoke to an officer this morning, saying she was concerned because Black was asking her a lot of questions about Goren.”

“Such as?” Deakins wondered.

“Such as whether he was still in the ICU and, if not, then where. Such as whether he was ever left alone and, if so, then when. You get the idea. Apparently he got extremely aggravated when she wouldn’t answer him. Then, it wasn’t long after that when Black went missing from his ward.”

“And because there was such a long delay in word coming from the DA’s office about Black getting bail,” Deakins said tightly, “there was no one to report Black’s disappearing act. Son of a bitch… He could have killed Bobby!”

“But he didn’t,” Bradshaw assured him. “Now, though, we have a Press Conference to attend. Unfortunately, some kind soul let slip to the media that Black was shot dead while in police custody. Now, we need to go out there and make sure the real story is the one that makes tonight’s news. Are we ready, gentlemen?”

There was a collective murmur of agreement. Yes, they were ready.

“A word of warning,” Patrick said as they walked towards the Press room. “That Yancey woman is there.”

“Wonderful,” Deakins growled. “We can be sure then that whatever we say, she’ll warp it. Damned woman has a vendetta against the police.”

“We’ll deal with her,” Bradshaw reassured him. “Whatever she tries to throw at us, we’ll deal with it.”

The Press room was full when they arrived. Glancing wryly at the others, Bradshaw stepped up to the microphone, waited for a hush to descend on the room, and then spoke.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This conference has been called with regards to the incident that took place here a few hours ago. Mr Dylan Black, who was under indictment for the attempted murder of two NYPD detectives, was shot and killed.”

“Wasn't Dylan Black in police custody?” someone called out. “Can you explain how a man in police custody can end up dead?”

“Firstly,” Bradshaw said firmly, “Dylan Black was no longer in police custody. He was granted bail yesterday afternoon, and consequently the police guard on his room was removed.”

“So you're saying that any cop could have walked into his room and shot him?”

Bradshaw struggled to maintain his composure at the deliberately provocotive question.

“No, I'm saying that no cop was there to stop Black from walking out of his room to go looking for Detective Goren or Detective Eames.”

“Chief Bradshaw, are you trying to imply that Dylan Black was looking for the detectives to kill them?”

Again, Bradshaw struggled not to cringe. He knew that voice, and that tone, only too well. Scanning the crowd of reporters, he quickly found the culprit.

“Ms Yancey, that is exactly what I'm implying.”

Obviously not satisfied, Faith Yancey spoke up loudly, drawing all the attention in the room to herself.

“Well then, Chief, what would you say if I told you that I have in my hand a statement from an eye witness who says that Dylan Black went to Detective Goren's room to talk to him, and that Detective Goren attacked Dylan?”

For several long seconds, Bradshaw could only gape at her. Then, finally, he shook himself back to reality and spoke incredulously.

“I think I'd say that I would hope you'd hand that statement over to us, along with the identity of that so-called eyewitness, so that we can determine the legitimacy of it for ourselves.”

“So you can bully them into changing their story in order to protect a corrupt police officer?” Yancey threw back at him. “I don't think so, Chief.”

Bradshaw glanced back at Deakins briefly, and was not surprised to see a look of pure fury on the other man's face. Patrick and Jensen weren't looking especially happy themselves. Turning back to face the crowd, he spoke in a deliberately calm voice. He had anticipated the woman causing trouble, but not like this, and he knew he had to shred her ridiculous accusations before they took hold.

“Ms Yancey, would you care to read from that statement so that we can all hear? Tell us what your eyewitness claims happened between Dylan Black and Detective Goren.”

Looking smug and sure of herself, Yancey began to read.

“I saw Dylan Black standing just inside the door of Detective Goren's room. I couldn't hear what was being said, but it looked like Dylan was pleading with the detective. The detective was just laughing at him. Then, I saw the detective get up out of his wheelchair, and run at Dylan. He grabbed him by the throat, and they both fell to the ground, struggling. Dylan managed to get the advantage, and he had just fought Detective Goren off when Captain James Deakins broke through the door and shot Dylan.” She looked up at Bradshaw with a smirk. “What do you have to say about that, Chief Bradshaw?”

Bradshaw couldn't help himself. He burst into laughter, almost falling against the podium. A confused murmur swept through the crowd as they waited for Bradshaw to regain his composure, and explain his reaction.

“What's so funny, Chief?” Yancey demanded. “I have a signed statement here...”

“Probably sent to you by Black himself before he went after Detective Goren,” Bradshaw cut her off, all humour gone from his face with frightening speed. “Ms Yancey, I suggest you hand that statement over immediately, and don't force us to get a warrant for it. Cooperation on your part will be the only way to save what credibility you still have.”

“So you're flatly denying that this statement is true?” Yancey asked, and Bradshaw nodded.

“Yes, I am, and I can tell you why right here and now. Detective Goren was left paralysed by one of the bullets that Dylan Black shot him with. He is confined to a wheelchair, Ms Yancey. It would have been impossible for him to get up, let alone run at Dylan Black.”

Startled silence fell in the room, and Faith Yancey suddenly began to look more than a little uncomfortable. Before she could speak again, Bradshaw spoke first.

“And don't even think about suggesting that he's faking paralysis. Don't force me to bring his doctor in here.”

“Well...” she stammered, “maybe he...”

“Shut up, Faith!” someone in the crowd yelled. “He’s got you pinned. Give it up, would you?”

In a rare, but welcome display, Faith Yancey wheeled around and shoved her way through the crowd, exiting the room in the most dramatic fashion. Bradshaw watched her go with ill-concealed relief before looking back to the crowd.

“Now, maybe we can get back to business, ladies and gentlemen...?”

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