"You're the one I thought I could count on Deaq. Now you're just another disappointment."

Van shook his head as though it would rid his memory of the words Billy had hissed earlier. They were about to enter the Phoenix Nest, so he tried one last time to slow his partner down – blazing mad was not the way to handle the current situation – but there was no way he was letting Deaq go in alone.

Eight minutes later he knew they were totally screwed when Billy came screaming in with a SWAT team. Van fought against the officer who grabbed him – what the hell was going on?

He did get Deaq freed up to give Billy time to get her gun unjammed, but then Yu pulled another gun, putting both his partners in danger. Van screamed Billy's name as he reared his head back and struck the officer holding him hard enough to break his nose. He lunged across the floor toward his gun, grabbed it and started shooting. He stopped only when the clip was empty. He lay trying to catch his breath in the brief silence that fell before everyone started moving again.

Deaq held Billy to him as she began to cry. His hand soothed her back while his eyes searched the room, first making sure Yu was dead and then looking for Van. "Yo!" He yelled stepping away from Billy, "Back up now player," he finished as he moved to his downed partner and the bloody faced SWAT cop who had just kicked him. "Hey Van – I can think of more comfortable places to catch a few z's. C'mon man let's get you…" he abruptly silenced himself as he saw the blood pooling under the still body. "Van?" His voice went quiet as he pulled the slack body to him and found the source – make that two sources – of blood. "I need an ambulance," he ordered as his hands sought to stop the rapid flow of red emanating from Van's chest.

"Please," Deaq whispered "V talk to me boy – need to know you're still with me partner."

Billy was beside him and replaced his hand on one wound. "Van, talk to me," she demanded in her most officious voice.

The green eyes slid open just a slit, "Sorry to be such a disappointment, sir," he barely managed to whisper before the eyes closed.

"Van you know Billy didn't mean it," Deaq uttered softly, one hand working to pull the injured man further into his lap.

They waited 5 hours at the hospital between the ER and the surgery waiting room before someone came to talk to them. "Mr. Strummer," the female surgeon started.

"It's Ray, Officer Ray." Deaq growled.

"Officer Ray is in recovery. We got both bullets out – he lost a great deal of blood, and I had to remove his spleen," she paused.

"Bottom line," Billy demanded, not sure she could last another minute without knowing if Van would be alright.

"If there are no complications—infection, internal bleeding – hefaces a long recovery. He is going to feel like we rearranged his insides."

"Can we see him?" Deaq's need was clear in the tone.

"Go up to the 6th floor – ICU waiting room is there – and once they get him settled, you can visit." For the second time that night Deaq held Billy close, his eyes closed as his chin rested on her head.

He sent Billy home after they saw Van. He settled into the lightly padded chair, and leaned forward with his head on his crossed arms on the bed. "Damn," he exhaled softly as the events of the last 24 hours played across the private movie screen in his head: Van warning him of danger at the exchange; Van getting them out of the handcuffs and leading the carjacking; his strong hand on his shoulder at Alexa's; striding into the club together... "V, I know I give you a hard time but I know that you know dawg that I trust ya. I couldn't ask for a better partner or a better friend. And I know that Billy and me probably wouldn't be breathing tonight if you hadn't kept your head….I'll make it up to you, I promise, just don't leave me Van, please."

Van was lost, it was so dark. He wasn't sure where he was; he just knew he hurt and he was alone. He remembered Yu but not the outcome – must have been bad if he was hurt and alone.

Deaq reached a warm hand up and carefully wiped away a lone tear that was slowly working its way down the pale cheek. "Easy Van, it's alright. I'm right here and the doc says she did some of her best work on ya. Don't worry partner, just take your time. I'll be waiting." He moved his hand down to cover his partner's. Van felt the warmth and tried to squeeze Deaq's hand, but his body wasn't ready to respond to that request.

The doctor was pleased with the progress eight hours after surgery. The patient's vitals had stabilized, and there was a hint of color in his face. "Another 8 to 10 hours like this and we'll move him to a regular room," she told Deaq as she joined him in the waiting room, and she slowly returned the small smile that worked its way across the handsome face.

Billy found Deaq asleep in the chair three hours later, his hand on Van's. She stopped by the door to look at her two guys. She decided that Van had a little more color then last night and that Deaq looked exhausted. "Come on Deaq, you need to go home, take a shower and get some sleep." She said after shaking him on the shoulder.

"Hey Billy, doc says our boy here is making progress," he said as he smiled at his partner's still too quiet form.

"Go home – you need some rest." Billy's voice went up an octave.

"Not going Billy – I told the boy I would be here when he woke up, and I plan to be -- now stop yelling." Deaq snapped back.

"Look you aren't going to do yourself or Van any good if you get sick – so go home." Billy was in full yell mode now.

Billy was yelling at him – again – he didn't know why but he knew it had something to do with Deaq…Something happened to Deaq…and Van's monitors began to scream.

Deaq ignored his boss and put both hands on the patient's shoulders, gripping them gently, and started talking. "Easy Van, nothing's wrong, just relax now."

The nurse was in the room in an instant and physically pushed Billy out of the room. She nodded encouragement to Deaq, and after a quick review of the monitors, inserted a needle into the IV. "Keep talking, it's helping."

"Come on now Van, you don't want to have to stay here any longer then necessary. I know you dawg, you need to stop drawing attention to yourself, otherwise, I won't be able to sneak you out if every nurse on the floor knows who you are. That's it, man, just relax. Everything is alright; I got your back V." The monitors slowly quieted as Deaq's words and the sedative worked their magic. Deaq was with him, and Van wanted to open his eyes and tell the man he was alright, but he was so tired.

Billy entered the room again, but was ushered out by the nurse – "You cannot go in there and yell. It's upsetting my patient. That young man…both those young men they don't need this right now, so get off my floor."

Deaq woke up quickly – not sure why. It was dark in the room -- the only lighting coming from the various machines. "Van," he asked quietly, "You with me man?"

"Deaq." He heard his name whispered and lumbered out of the chair so he could peer into the bed.

"V" he smiled at the sleepy green eyes.

"K?" The harsh voice crooked.

"Everybody is okay, thanks to you. That was some damn fine police work Officer Ray, damn fine."


"You took care of him too V, he won't ever hurt anyone again." The two stared quietly at each other. The genuine warmth in Deaq's eyes and smile worked its own magic on the tired, battered man in the bed.

"Go home, sleep, shave…bring me a latte." The patient said before closing his eyes. "I'm okay…go…latte."

Deaq leaned further over the bed and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Sleep tight partner," he whispered before leaving.

When Van woke late that morning, Billy was in the room. His green eyes found her by the window as they swept the room. "Everything okay sir?" The husky voiced asked.

Billy turned from the window and started toward the bedside, but stopped when she saw the fearful look in her officer's eyes. "Everything is fine Van, how are you?"

"Doctor says I am progressing…"

"That's good news, but how do you feel?"

"Okay," Van's head went down and his hands fisted tensely in the blanket.

"You did a good job the other night. A really good job."

The fists tightened and the green eyes closed. "Talk to me Van." Billy had moved next to the bed, catching Van off balance and he flinched.


"Van, talk to me. Tell me what is going on in that twisted head of yours," she demanded her voice getting louder.

"Billy get out," Deaq ordered moving quickly from the door to the bedside, his eyes intent on the tense body and shuttered face of his partner. "He doesn't need this right now. Billy," Deaq finished as he separated one tight fist from the blanket, gripping it gently.

"Hey V, I snuck you in a latte."

Van grabbed onto the warm hand. In his head he could still hear Billy saying she couldn't count on him, that he was a disappointment.

"Van, you won't be able to hide from me forever." She said in a normal tone before leaving.

"I'm gonna raise the bed, just a little man. Want you to have your latte while it's hot. But if Doctor Simmons catches us…you gotta cover for me man." Deaq's voice was light and tender.

The green eyes opened slowly and scanned the small room again. "Can you count on me?" The question was poised in a small voice.

Deaq looked into the big green eyes. "Damn you Billy," he cursed to himself. "Yes," he said out loud. "Despite the pigheadedness, stupidity and plain bad judgment of your partner and your boss, you made sure everyone came out alive and risked your life to save us both. You kept Sophia from taking me out and with Rosario – you backed my play even though I lied to you. When you strode into that casino – I knew I would be alright. You have my back partner, always."

"And you have mine."

"Not the other night Van. I should have listened to my partner and had a plan."

"Wouldn't have mattered…when SWAT came in…"

"Yeah," Deaq nodded as that moment played back in his head.

"Why did they take us out?"

Deaq hesitated only a second. He knew Van would find out eventually. "Billy told them to treat us as hostiles."

"I don't understand Deaq." The green eyes were desperately seeking an answer that the big man didn't have.

"She was angry, heartbroken. She wasn't thinking straight…I'm not trying to excuse her Van, just explain it."

"But she said she couldn't count on us…"

Deaq's response was interrupted by Dr. Simmons' entrance. The Doctor gently removed the Starbucks cup from a grumbling Van and began her exam. When she was finished she motioned Deaq back into the room with a smile. "Things are going well. The incisions are clean, no sign of infection. I think another couple of days and we can send this guy packing."

"Promise?" The soft green eyes were trained on the doctor. Deaq just shook his head and tried to hide his grin as he watched his partner win over yet another woman…even the tough surgeon couldn't resist the little boy that lived in Van's eyes.

"You stay healthy and I promise."

Van drifted out of sleep early the next morning and panicked when he saw Captain Parrish at his bed side. "Deaq? Billy?" He blurted out, the fear crystal clear.

"They're fine Officer Ray. I'm here to talk to you about the other night."

Van struggled to find the right button to raise the bed. Somehow he didn't think this was a conversation to be had laying down.

"I've read the reports from the SWAT team, your partner and your boss," Parrish paused when he realized the patient was girding himself for a lecture. "You did a hell of a job Officer Ray. You single handedly turned a true cluster…" the older officer caught himself, "you turned it around single handedly. The Department is lucky to have an officer of your caliber…and I want to thank you for keeping Billy and Detective Hayes from harm, despite the difficulties presented by your fellow officers."

"They were just following orders sir," Van responded, eyes focused on his lap.

"Doesn't matter. You were clearly the only one in the room following procedure. You did a good job, and I wanted to make sure you knew that."

The green eyes meet Parrish's. "Thank you."

Parrish saw the hesitation still in the green eyes. "No son, thank you."

"Parrish was here today," Van told Deaq when he showed up to share dinner.

"Parrish? What did he want?" There was immediate concern in Deaq's voice and body language.

"He thanked me."

"You're going to make me work for this aren't you?" Deaq said with a small smile, "For what?"

"For the other night."

Deaq smiled, "Oh, I get it. Now you be getting noticed by the big boys." Van blushed making Deaq laugh. "Seriously man, that's pretty cool. You were the cavalry after all."

The next afternoon, Billy was waiting for Van when he came back from his inaugural walk around the floor. He was exhausted, and had to lean heavily on the nurse to make it into the room and back into the bed. He was so busy trying to stay upright that he didn't realize anyone was in the room until Billy stepped to the foot of the bed.

"More tail Van?" She hadn't meant to say that and she shook her head slightly.

His head shot up – hair slightly curly from the sweat, pale face and a flash of panic ran across the green eyes before the 'Strummer' mask came down. "Yeah…I'm living a dream life here…my own rotating shifts of women. Hef's got nothing on me."

"Sarcasm doesn't become you Officer Ray."

"What do you want Lt, sir?" Now the green eyes flashed with anger.

"We need to talk."

"Not a good time sir – the girls will be in for my sponge bath any minute." Strummer was hanging tough.

"They'll just have to wait." Billy was perplexed. She wanted to apologize for her cutting words and her orders that nearly got them all killed. His reaction, though, made her want to fight with him.

"Well?" Van challenged, breaking the silence.

"I need your report on the incident."

"The incident?" Van shouted. "Don't you mean the suicide mission? Sorry sir, but my writing arm will be in a sling for another two weeks, thanks to your little 'incident', so your report will have to wait, sir." He ended abruptly as he was having trouble catching his breath and the sweat was working its way down his face. He held his good arm tight against his stomach.

"Van?" Billy came to her senses and was suddenly very afraid as she realized her officer was fighting to breathe.

"I'll get you your report as soon as I can, sir. Please leave." The head had come up again, and Billy would have sworn he had paled even more.

"I'm going to get your nurse." And Billy turned and sprinted to the nurses' station.

Two nurses hurried to the room to find Van hyperventilating, and they couldn't calm him down. They put an oxygen mask on him and gave him a sedative, which he fought against for a long ten minutes before succumbing.

Deaq hesitated a moment before entering the room . One of the nurses had called to tell him what had happened. "Hey Van, how you doing?" He smiled as he went to the bedside. "V, you with me?"

"Deaq?" The voice was slight.

"You alright?"

"Just tired. Made it around the whole floor."

"That's great man."

""Dr. S said two laps, and I can go home."

"Stop playing me partner." The sudden seriousness in Deaq's voice got the patient's attention and the green eyes asked the question. "I heard Billy was here, what did she want?"

"My report on the 'incident'." Despite the weakness in the voice, the tone made it clear how hurt he was.

"She wanted your report?" Deaq was sure Van was confused, but the green eyes told him different. "Damn."

"She…she accused me of laying up here chasing tail." The pain in the voice cut right through his partner.

"Van, I…" Deaq stopped, there was no excuse, none. "I'm sorry man."


"No, no it isn't."

"Look, when Parrish was here, he asked if I wanted to go back to narcotics…Would you go… with me?" The green eyes were now focused on the brown.

"Narco? That what you want to do V?" Deaq was surprised but he was going to follow the thought. Van never brought up anything simply by accident. It was clear the idea had been churning around.

"Not without you. I thought it might be worth discussing."

"Yeah, it is. Okay, if I think on it a little."

"No problem."

Aquarius arrived, and the three men enjoyed some serious story telling before Van fell asleep. As they were leaving the hospital, the big man turned to the cop, "What's up with the white boy?"

"He and Billy have some issues they need to address, but she isn't handling it well."

"Your she boss trying to get rid of my man?"

That brought Deaq up short. It hadn't occurred to him that Billy might try and dump the injured office. "Hell if I know Aquarius." He hadn't needed that additional worry.

Deaq was waiting inBilly's office the next morning. "I don't pretend to understand what the hell is going on, but you need to get your head out of your ass and settle your issues with my partner. And NOT the way you did yesterday. You trying to dump Van or just kill him?" He was angry. His voice and his body language sent that message loud and clear, and it put Billy on the defensive.

"What? Van couldn't handle his little woman boss so he sends his big bad partner to do it for him?" She spat back, realizing before she finished that she had made a major mistake. Deaq deliberately, slowly, got up and walked out, never once looking at his boss.

"Chambers, what the hell is wrong with you?" She cursed out loud as the door slammed.

"He didn't have a good night," one of the nurses told Deaq, "He was uncomfortable, restless and…well maybe you can help us, help him. He was doing so well."

"Hey partner." He stopped short. "Geez Van, what the hell is going on?" He hadn't meant to say the last part out loud, but the man looked almost as bad as he had the day he was brought in.

"Couldn't sleep Deaq." He sounded so lost.

Deaq sat on the side of the bed and gently brushed a lock of unruly hair from the pale forehead. "I've been thinking about Narco. You've done it, tell me about it." He kept the conversation going for 20 minutes until Van fell asleep on him. "That's it partner, just rest."

He spent the day in the room, talking when Van was awake, and trying to work through the problem while he slept. Just before visiting hours were over Billy entered the room, and Deaq was immediately on his feet.

"Deaq, it's okay." Van said softly, his eyes on his boss.

"Van, Deaq I…I'm sorry I screwed up big time." Billy began quietly. "I was so angry and hurt about Alexa…so I took it out on the people I care about the most. I threw out every mean, hurtful thing I could think of. I wanted you to hurt as much as I did. And I was totally out of line running a team into Yu's place. I know the only reason I'm still here is because of you two. You pulled my butt out of the fire again, just like you always do. I don't deserve your forgiveness, but I am sorry, truly sorry for hurting you, and for letting you down."

The silence in the room was complete for several minutes. Van's eyes remained locked on Billy's searching. She stood stock still, hoping he would find what he was looking for.

"I'm sorry about Alexa, Billy. I know how hard it is to lose your best friend," Van began softly. "I learned that you only get through it if you lean on your friends." His eyes flashed to Deaq's and they shared a smile of understanding.

"I have two good friends who tried to help me, but I wouldn't let them."

"That's something your friends understand Billy." Van held out a hand and Billy took it. He pulled her to the bed and wrapped his good arm around her and held her as she cried.