The following night

Mike was dozing restlessly, his sleep plagued by a steady stream of nightmare images. Carolyn sat by, watching in concern as he tossed and turned, and soft, distressed moans escaped from his bruised lips as he fought with the demons that tormented his subconscious.

She was about to wake him up when he awoke on his own, jolting upright with a strangled cry. Carolyn was there at his side in an instant, murmuring reassurances and gently wiping the sweat from his face with a cool cloth.

“It’s okay,” she murmured as he finally began to relax. “You’re safe, Mike. It’s okay.”

Mike shuddered and slumped back down against the pillows, making no effort to hide his tears.

“Can’t sleep for five friggin’ minutes without nightmares,” he whispered in distress.

“What was it about?” Carolyn asked. “Do you remember?”

“Same things,” he answered miserably. “I keep dreaming that Bobby didn’t… you know… didn’t make it.”

“Well, you can stop worrying yourself about that,” a new voice stated quietly. “He’s going to be okay.”

Mike looked around, and was startled to see Alex standing there, on the other side of the bed.

“Alex…?” he asked in confusion. “Why are you here? How come you’re not with Bobby?”

She smiled down at him warmly, and reached out to run her fingers lightly over his forehead, taking care not to touch the abrasions that were still all-too-visible.

“I am with Bobby. Look.”

He looked past her, and his eyes widened a little at the sight of his colleague and friend in the bed next to his.

“How…? When…?”

“He was transferred by air ambulance late this evening,” Alex explained. “Captain Deakins arranged it with the hospital staff for you to be together in the same room. He figured that maybe then you’d both stop worrying about each other, and start getting on with recovering.”

Mike stared across at Bobby’s sleeping form, confused.

“He’s been worried about me…?”

“Worrying himself sick,” Alex confirmed.

“But… why?”

“Because he cares about you, you big dope,” Carolyn told him, “just like we do. And he knows you’re still blaming yourself for what happened to the two of you, when you damn well shouldn’t be.”

Mike shut his eyes, trying somewhat unsuccessfully to block everything out.

“Who else is there to blame?” he asked hoarsely.

“How about blaming the son of a bitch who put us in the cage to begin with?”

Mike, Carolyn and Alex all looked around to find Bobby was awake, and watching them tiredly. Specifically, his attention was focused on Mike.

“Hey,” Alex murmured, going over to her partner’s side. “We didn’t know you were awake. How are you feeling?”

Bobby didn’t take his eyes off Mike as he answered.


Mike started to look away, only to be stopped short by Bobby’s voice.

“Don’t, Mike. Don’t you turn away from me. Don’t you dare.”

Slowly, reluctantly, Mike looked back at him. Then, still not releasing Mike from the visual hold he had on him, Bobby spoke softly to the two women.

“Could you both give us a couple of minutes? Please?”

Exchanging glances, Alex and Carolyn complied and silently left the room, leaving Mike and Bobby alone.

“Don’t say it,” Mike muttered sullenly as the door slid closed behind the women. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“You don’t want to hear what?” Bobby asked, but Mike declined to answer.

Frustrated by Mike’s reticence, Bobby pushed himself awkwardly into a half-upright position. It wasn’t easy, given his right wrist was plastered, and his right shoulder was taped up, and he cringed visibly at the pain the movement caused.

“Hey, take it easy,” Mike growled. “You go and bust a stitch open, or something, and your partner’ll draw and quarter me.”

Bobby shot Mike a bemused look.

“At what point did you become my keeper?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, all of a sudden you seem to want to be solely responsible for my wellbeing. Don’t get me wrong, Mike. I appreciate the concern, I really do. But I’d like to know why you think everything that’s gone wrong… or that could go wrong… is somehow your fault.” He paused, drawing in a steadying breath before continuing on. “We’ve already been over this. What happened wasn’t your fault. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Mike did look away, then.

“I wish I could believe that.”

A dark look passed fleetingly over Bobby’s face.

“Don’t make me get out of this bed, Mike. Because I swear I’ll come over there and throttle you myself if you don’t get over this guilt trip you’re on.”

“I don’t understand how everyone can be so damned easy-going about it!” Mike exploded. “Look at us! We nearly got blown up, for God’s sake! If I hadn’t hauled you off to that bar…”

“Hauled me?” Bobby cut in incredulously. “Hauled me? Logan, you couldn’t haul me anywhere if your life depended on it! Get it through your thick head that I went with you willingly. It was my choice. Why can’t you accept that you’re not responsible for the choices I make? Just like I’m not responsible for yours. Damn it, we’re friends, Mike. Not brothers. We aren’t exclusively responsible for each other like that.”

Mike looked over at Bobby, his eyes red and swollen with unshed tears.

“So tell me, Bobby, how do I stop feeling like I am?”

Bobby’s momentary anger faded as rapidly as it had blossomed. That was it, ultimately. That overwhelming feeling of guilt was eating away at Mike like a cancer, and neither had a practical answer for what to do about it.

“What do you want, Mike?” Bobby asked softly. “Do you want Deakins to rip into you? Do you want me to say it’s your fault? That I hate you for it? What do you want?”

“I don’t know,” Mike whispered, struggling to speak around the painful lump that had formed in his throat. “I… I just don’t know.”

“Because I can’t say any of that,” Bobby went on. “I can’t say what I don’t believe, and I don’t believe you’re at fault. And I don’t hate you. If anything, I’m grateful.”

Mike couldn’t help but look disbelieving.

“Grateful? For what? Almost getting us both killed?”

“You idiot,” Bobby said with a sigh. “What did you do, just block out everything that happened while we were in that cage? You looked out for me, Mike. The whole time we were there, you did everything you could to help me, and I won’t accept that you did it all out of guilt. That’s just bullshit.”

As much as he wanted to, Mike couldn’t bring himself to argue. Bobby was right. His efforts while they’d been trapped had not been purely out of guilt, but rather out of genuine concern for Bobby’s wellbeing. Still, that knowledge did nothing to help clear his besieged conscience.

“I… I just can’t keep myself from thinking that if I hadn’t suggested that we go to a lousy bar all the way out in the damn Bronx, then none of this would have happened.”

“That’s not something I can answer for sure one way or the other,” Bobby said softly. “But even if it is true, it doesn’t automatically make you guilty. If you’d done something to draw attention to us… given away that we were cops… then maybe I’d agree with you. But you didn’t. Neither did I. We were there for a drink, and that was all. And you said it yourself. You’d been going there regularly in the time you were on Staten Island, and you’d never had any problems. You had no cause to think there’d be problems that night, either. Can’t you try to accept that?”

As he spoke, Bobby could feel what energy he still had literally seeping from his body. It wouldn’t be long before he was out again, and he was desperate to make Mike understand him, and accept his words.

“What do I have to say to get it through your thick skull?” Bobby wondered, as much to himself as to Mike. For a minute or so, silence reigned between them. Then, finally, Mike began to speak again.

“I… I have a history of getting my partners hurt… or killed.”

Bobby looked over at him, an eyebrow raised in an unspoken question. Mike went on unsteadily as years of carefully stored guilt finally found a voice.

“My first partner… at the Two-Seven… He was shot dead outside his own home, right before he was due to testify before a grand jury. He was killed with his wife watching. I nearly blew that investigation right out of the water, too. I tracked down the guy who killed him, and I forced a confession out of him at gunpoint. It took a hell of a lot of tap-dancing by the ADA to get around it… but I was just a stupid kid back then. My next partner… Ceretta… He got shot point blank during a sting. I was right in the next fucking room when it happened, and I didn’t do a goddamn thing.”

“Didn’t,” Bobby queried, “or couldn’t?”

Mike looked at him blankly.

“What do you mean?”

“You said you were in the next room. Did you have video feed? Sound?”

Mike gave a short, bitter laugh.

“Bobby, this was the Two-Seven, nearly fifteen years ago. We hadn’t even heard of video feed back then, and having sound meant strapping a friggin’ tape recorder to your chest.”

Bobby smiled faintly. He well remembered those days from early in his career as a cop.

“How much could you hear?”

“Not a lot. I didn’t know things were going south until I heard the gunshots. And even then the bastard would have gotten away if Phil hadn’t grabbed him as he went down.”

“Was he killed? Your partner, I mean.”

“No. It was close, but no. But he never went back out on the streets again. Took a cushy desk job that paid twice as much. You know… he was the only one that I didn’t mind if he called me Mikey. Greevey used to, and so did Cragen, and it used to piss me off royally… but I got my own back with Cragen. I took to calling him Donnie. He hated that.”

Bobby laughed softly.

“I’ll bet he did.”

“But with Phil… I don’t know. It just didn’t seem like an insult, coming off his lips. It hurt when I lost him as my partner, even more than losing Greevey… and Phil was still alive.”

“He was like a father-figure to you?” Bobby mused. Mike smiled crookedly at the description.

“Yeah. I hadn’t really thought about it like that, but yeah. I guess he was. Man, I loved that guy. When he told me in the hospital that he wouldn’t be coming back as my partner, I felt so damn betrayed. And then, later, I started thinking about all the ways it was my fault. How if I’d done this or that differently, then Phil wouldn’t have been shot, and we would have still been partners.”

“We always feel responsible for the people we care about,” Bobby said quietly. “I feel responsible for Eames, and I know she’s the same with me. It’s not just something that comes from being partners. It’s a responsibility of one close friend to another. But things happen that are beyond our ability to control. Bad things happen, and most times we can’t stop them. And as far as I’m concerned, hindsight is only good for sending ourselves on major guilt trips. We can’t always stop bad things from happening, Mike. Can you accept that logic?”

Mike considered it for a moment before responding.

“Yeah… I guess so.”

“We probably could alter our fates… if we knew what was coming. But we don’t. We can’t see into the future. Hell, most of us can’t even anticipate what’s around the next corner. Did you have even a clue that your first partner… Greevey, was it? That he might have been in danger?”

Mike shifted uncomfortably.

“No,” he admitted, with some reluctance.

“And Cerretta. Did you have any reason to think that he couldn’t handle the situation he was in?”

Mike felt the strange, discomforting sensation of his long-held guilt complex steadily being de-constructed.

“Well… no…”

“And did you anticipate at all that we might have ended up in trouble by going to that bar?”

“No,” Mike conceded, looking defeated. Bobby sighed a little and settled back down in the bed.

“I think, if this was before a jury, you’d be getting a definite ‘not guilty’ verdict.”

Mike stared at Bobby, slightly dazed by the speed and skill with which the many years of harbouring a guilty conscience had been effectively dismantled by his colleague.

“I would hate to be the subject of one of your interrogations,” he said finally, ruefully. Bobby smiled with more than a hint of satisfaction.

“Eames said the same thing the first time she watched me interrogate someone.”

“Yeah, and now I know why.”

Bobby watched Mike through half-closed eyes. It was clear that he was losing the battle to stay awake.

“We were victims of circumstance, Mike. Can you accept that?”

Mike drew in a long breath. Could he? Accepting that truth meant accepting his own blamelessness. Could he do that…? It only took a moment for him to realise that yes, he could.

“Yeah,” he whispered, “I think I can.”

“And you understand that I can’t say I forgive you, because you’ve done nothing wrong that needs forgiving.”

Mike swallowed hard.

“I understand.”

“And you can accept it?”

“Yeah,” Mike murmured after a moment’s consideration and, as he answered, he felt the knot that had been in his chest since the start of their ordeal finally loosen and dissipate altogether.

“Good,” Bobby murmured with a sigh, settling down further and letting the exhaustion wash over him. Mike watched Bobby for a while, speaking only when he was sure that his friend was asleep.

“Thanks, Bobby.”

He was just settling down himself when he heard Bobby respond in a sleep-laden mumble.

“Welcome… Mikey.”

A grin lit up Mike’s face, the likes of which he hadn’t let through his tough-guy image for a long time. Chuckling softly to himself, he settled down in his bed, and let sleep overtake him once more.

“You think they’ve had long enough?” Carolyn wondered nearly ten minutes later. Alex shrugged. She was anxious to know what was going on, but at the same time she was loathed to interrupt, in case they were still hashing things out. More than anything, she wanted Mike’s guilt issues to be resolved so that both he and Bobby could get on with concentrating on their respective convalescences.

She was still trying to decide whether or not to look in on them when Deakins rounded the corner, paused and then strode up to them with a puzzled look on his face.

“Why are the two of you out here? Why aren’t you with your partners?”

“Bobby asked for a few minutes to talk to Mike alone,” Alex explained. “That was ten minutes ago.”

Frowning a little in concern, Deakins walked over to the door and pushed it open. A moment later, a smile broke out on his face.

“Come and take a look at this, both of you.”

Alex and Carolyn ventured into the room to find both Mike and Bobby sound asleep, neither one disturbed by nightmares, at least for the moment. Mike, to the surprise of all three of them, had a very distinct smile on his face.

“Look at him,” Carolyn murmured as she walked around to take in the sight of her apparently peacefully sleeping partner. “Even when he’s sleeping, he still manages to look like the cat that ate the canary.”

Deakins looked from Mike to Bobby, a satisfied look on his face.

“Well, from the looks of it, Bobby finally got through to him. I hope he did, at least.”

“I think he did,” Carolyn said, sounding relieved. “Mike hasn’t looked this peaceful and relaxed since he first woke up in St Barnabas.”

Alex shook her head.

“It’s amazing.”

“What is, Alex?” Deakins asked.

She stood between the two beds, looking from one man to the other, a sad smile on her pale face.

“When Bobby was dying, it was only Mike who was able to bring him back to us. When Mike was deteriorating emotionally, it was only Bobby who was able to bring him back from the edge. Neither of them wouldn’t listen to anyone, except each other. Considering Bobby’s trust issues, I guess you could say that I’m kind of surprised.”

“Well,” Deakins murmured, “if Bobby hadn’t been able to break through to Mike, I had one last card to play. Mike has no idea just how wrong he was when he tried to take the blame for all of this.”

“How do you mean?” Alex asked, frowning. Deakins motioned to the doorway, urging them out into the corridor before continuing on.

Jackson and King picked up a couple of Baker’s lackeys a few hours ago. I came straight here after they finished interrogating one of them. Alex, does the name Christian Baker mean anything to you?”

“He was a child rapist and killer,” Alex confirmed. “Bobby and I nailed him after he killed his fifth victim. He went to prison for life, and was beaten to death within a couple of months.”

“Christian Baker was Joey Baker’s older brother,” Deakins said quietly. Alex sucked in her breath sharply.

“Oh god… So… You’re saying…”

“It was a premeditated attack,” Deakins told them softly. “There was nothing random about it, but it wasn’t Mike who was the target. One of the two mutts that were picked up today made a full confession. He told us that Joey Baker had been planning this for a couple of months. He was on orders to stake out One Police Plaza on Friday afternoon and watch for Bobby and you to leave.”

Me and Bobby?” Alex exclaimed in horror. Deakins nodded.

“The entire thing was very carefully planned out, apparently. Except, it was never meant to be Bobby and Mike. It was supposed to have been you and Bobby, Alex. Apparently, when Mike and Bobby left One Police Plaza on the Friday night, they were followed all the way to the Bronx. As soon as they went into the bar, this mutt that had the job of following them called Baker, and the gang assembled outside the bar and waited. As soon as Mike and Bobby left, the sons of bitches pounced.”

“So the whole thing was retribution for Baker’s older brother?” Carolyn asked, and Deakins nodded.

“That’s right. It wouldn’t have mattered where they went that night. The attack would have happened regardless. Mike’s choice of location had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

“Well, that might make Mike feel better,” Alex said bitterly, “but it’s going to send Bobby on one hell of a guilt trip.”

“No, it won’t,” Deakins said firmly. Alex raised an eyebrow at him.

“What are you going to do? Just decide not to tell them? You know Bobby. He’ll find out sooner or later.”

“I’ll tell them,” Deakins assured her. “But I’ll let Mike deal with Bobby if he decides to guilt trip over it. I have a feeling Mike will be able to deal very adequately with him in that happens.”

Carolyn had to smile at that.

“I think you may be right, Captain.”

Alex sighed softly, dropping into a nearby chair and burying her face in her hands.

“So it really was nothing that either Mike or Bobby did that caused this.”

“Not unless you count doing their job as provocation for attempted murder,” Deakins stated. “Neither of them are to blame, not one iota.”

“Please,” Alex whispered, tears abruptly filling her eyes, “tell me Baker’s never going to see daylight again outside prison walls?”

“The deal is done,” Deakins confirmed. “He’ll never be paroled. And his lackeys are all looking at twenty-five to life, as well. They’ll never be able to hurt Bobby or Mike again. Or anyone else, for that matter. Your partners are safe.”

“Thank god for that,” Carolyn murmured. Deakins motioned back at the door of the ICU room.

“Let’s go back in. When they’re both awake again, we’ll tell them the news, together.”

Carolyn headed back in without a word, but Alex paused in the doorway, looking up at Deakins with a mixture of weariness and gratitude.

“Thankyou,” she said softly. Puzzlement flickered in the captain’s eyes.

“For what, Alex?”

She sighed, and shook her head.

“That’s the stupid thing. I don’t really know.”

He smiled warmly at her, and was heartened by the smile he got in return.

“Well, in that case, you’re welcome.”

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