Summary: Brendan and Freya race to stop an assassination.
This story answers two requests from readers. One was to elaborate on the concussion referred to in The Price of Honor and the other was to have Brendan use his incredible memory to help solve a case.
Freya had barely stepped through the door when Brendan grabbed her arm and spun her around, pulling her back toward the elevator.
"Come on," he said. "You're late."
Freya had to run to keep up with him as he practically drug her into the elevator. Leaning against the wall as the doors closed in front of her, she looked at her watch. "Brendan, it's 7:45, I'm not late."
"Really? Huh, I thought it was later. I kept wondering why everyone was running behind this morning."
Freya frowned as she looked at Brendan. His clothes were clean and fresh, but the rest of him looked worn and used. She wasn't surprised to see his pallid complexion or tired eyes. "How long have you been here?"
"Not that long," Brendan said as he stepped out of the elevator and headed for his car. Freya hurried to catch up, ducking instinctively and pulling her coat tighter against the cold mist as they walked quickly to the car. Sliding into the passenger seat, she glanced at her partner.
"Not long? I'm guessing you were here all night . . . again."
I went home.
"For what, a shower and a change of clothes?" Freya sighed and shook her head. "I knew it. Brendan, you haven't slept in a week and you've barely eaten. You can't keep driving yourself like this."
Brendan frowned and concentrated as he drove. "Look, just quit nagging. This will all be over tomorrow, one way or another."
"Yes, and you're going to wind up in the hospital. Why do you do this to yourself?" The ambassador to some tiny country Freya couldn't name, much less find on a map, was making a speech tomorrow in support of the United States war against terrorism. Their support was only important because a lot of larger, more financially able countries seemed to value their opinion on such matters. The NSA had received word a week ago that there would be an assassination attempt.
The last week had been a cluttered mess of interrogations, searches, and tracking down leadless leads. In other words, one big wild goose chase. Freya was beginning to wonder if there really was an assignation attempt planned or if someone just liked watching government agents chase their tails. If it was the latter, they were getting a big laugh.
Brendan had been a little stressed the first couple of days, but it had quickly morphed into almost paranoid obsession. He took every lead that had them running in circles as a personal failure. Every interrogation that failed to yield useful information he went over again and again, trying to figure out what he'd missed. She hadn't worked with him for very long, but she had long ago picked up on his certainty that every mistake made was his. How could anyone do as good a job as he did and still feel like a complete failure.
"Sorry about the nagging comment. That was uncalled for." She smiled at the way he avoided making eye contact when he apologized.
"It's okay. I guess I was starting to sound more like your mother than your partner."
"Amen to that," Brendan added quickly. He paused a second and then chanced a glance at her. "I probably shouldn't have agreed to that, should I?"
Freya chuckled. "Well, it would have been nice if you had least had to think about it . . . but it's okay. For the record, I still think you're pushing yourself too hard."
Brendan rubbed the back of his neck and shifted around in his seat. He knew she was right. He was so tired, he could barely think and he felt a little like someone had run over him when he wasn't looking. But he just couldn't seem to help it. "I know, I know, but . . . every time I try to go to bed, it's like my mind won't shut off. I just keep replaying every interview and every search and every report I've read. I just have this feeling I'm missing something and if I just keep going over it, I'll see it."
Freya looked out the window of the car and frowned. "Where are we going, anyway?"
Brendan sighed as he pulled into a parking garage. "Ballroom A of the Convention Center, where the speech will be tomorrow. I want to check out the building and the security arrangements again. He threw up one hand in frustration. "I don't know what else to do at this point."
Freya nodded. "Well, it sounds as good as anything. I'll do a little snooping of my own to see how thorough the security people have been."
Brendan seemed to relax a little as they pulled into a parking place. "Thanks, Freya. I promise, when this thing is over, I'll sleep for a week."
"And I'll be holding you to that promise, Agent Dean."
"Agent Dean, go home. Now. You need to be awake tomorrow." Jon Harper tapped Brendan's desk as he walked away for emphasis. "I'm not asking," he added as he disappeared down the hall to the elevator.
"What did you say to him?" asked Brendan as Freya walked up to stand beside him, looking down at the papers and files scattered across his desk.
Freya shrugged her shoulders. "I didn't say anything. The man has eyes, Brendan. He didn't get to be the Director by hiding his head in the sand."
Brendan looked down at the mess on his desk and thought about how many times he'd read every piece of paper there. "You know, he's right. You're right. What am I doing? Nothing I haven't done twenty times already." He stood up and grabbed his coat off the chair. "Let's go." And close your mouth. It's not that shocking.
Freya smiled and put on her own coat as they walked to the elevator, leaving the room empty behind them. "Actually, it is. But I'm proud of you."
Brendan grunted as he punched the button. "Don't be proud until we get the Ambassador out of here safely tomorrow." The doors opened and they stepped in, turning to watch them slowly close. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
Well, finally, could this line move any slower?
Oh my God, I left my cell phone at home. What the crap am I going to do all day? Maybe I could find a pay phone and . . . do they even have pay phones any more?
I wonder if anyone would notice if I scratched my balls? Man, do they itch. If that witch from last night gave me anything . . .
Freya sighed as she watched the long line of people go through the metal detector one at a time. She was mentally and physically exhausted from focusing on each individual's thoughts as they passed through the security check, looking for anyone who had violent thoughts about a certain ambassador. She wondered if Brendan had any idea how much concentration it took or how tiring it was. Or how dirty it made her feel. While the security people went through a man's bag, she took a mental break and glanced around. Brendan had idled up at some point and she caught his eye as he smiled at her.
You look really tired. Look, I know how boring and thoroughly exhausting this must be, but see if you can hang in there a little longer.
Freya pouted for just a second before giving him a grin and a nod. She felt better knowing he understood. And looking at the bags under his eyes, he was at least as tired as she was. Just because she got him to go home at a halfway decent hour didn't mean he actually slept. And she assumed he'd been running all over the building for the last three hours looking for possible security leaks. Taking a deep breath, she turned back to the line of people, now moving forward again.
Three people later, a large, burly man of almost 300 pounds and wearing a sour expression went through the metal detector, setting off alarms as he hurried away.
I'm gonna kill her the first chance I get. I'm gonna choke her til her face turns purple.
She turned to find Brendan watching her intently, his hand already going for his gun. She nodded and he spun around and ran for the man. "Sir, you need to stop where you are."
Security people manning the entrance quickly divided into two groups, half keeping the entrance secure and half joining Brendan. The man kept going at his same pace, apparently unaware the order had been directed at him. Brendan picked up speed, his gun drawn.
"Sir, stop now and turn around, your hands in the air." Brendan's voice was firm and commanding, showing no hint of the exhaustion in his eyes. This time the man stopped and slowly turned around, his expression growing more fearful as he took in the five men around him, their guns aimed his direction.
"Please . . . don't shoot. What did I do?"
Freya came up behind Brendan to whisper in his ear. "He was thinking about killing someone, choking her I think."
Brendan gave a short nod then approached the man. One of the other guards searched the suspect, pulling a small penknife from the man's pocket. A moment later, he nodded to indicate that was all the man had and everyone relaxed their stance slightly.
"Who are you planning on killing?" asked Brendan sharply.
The man looked blank for a second, then realization washed over his face. "Oh, that, gosh, I never thought those guys would say anything. I was just mouthing off. Look, my wife just served me with divorce papers. She's leaving me for some young, skinny guy and planning on taking the house and half my retirement with her." He snorted and waved one hand in a partial circle. "She even wants the cat. I shot off my mouth about wanting to kill her, but I didn't mean it literally. I was just, you know, letting off some steam."
Brendan narrowed his gaze at the man. "And who did you say this to and when?"
The guy shrugged his shoulders. "Yesterday at work. I just thought they all knew I wasn't really serious. Jeez, you can't say anything any more without someone going ballistic."
Brendan nodded and studied the man. Choking wasn't exactly a reliable method of assassinating someone in front of an audience. That fit more with the guy's story. But it wouldn't hurt to check it out, maybe scare the guy into not taking his threats too seriously. Brendan turned to the two guards still standing there. "Hand him over to city cops to check out his story and file a report. It wouldn't hurt to have that information on file in case he really decides to off his wife." He turned back to the man, who was still trembling visibly. "For the record, sir, it's never a good idea to make idle threats. There's just enough wackos out there we have to take everything seriously."
"I won't and thank you and I'm so sorry to have caused all this confusion. I'll never do anything like this again." Brendan nodded for the officers to take the man away before he either gave himself a heart attack or wet his pants. He turned to look at Freya.
"Sorry about that," she said sheepishly.
Brendan grinned and put his gun away. "I'm not. You probably kept him from getting any ideas about actually killing his wife and the shot of adrenalin felt pretty good, too. At least it broke up the boredom. Come on, let's go."
Freya frowned and stopped, making him stop and look back at her. "Don't you want me to stay here and listen?"
Brendan shook his head and then rubbed his temple. "No, you can quit. It's less than an hour until the speech. Realistically, anyone planning an assassination is already here."
Freya sighed with relief and began walking again. "Okay, then now what?"
"Well, we walk around and see if we missed anything."
Freya smiled coyly. "And just how many times have you already done that?"
"Not enough, since I still don't know anything."
They walked up the stairs to the next level and began checking each room down the hall. Freya followed quietly, reaching out to the thoughts of individuals they passed. "What if there's nothing to find? What if there is no assassination attempt?"
Brendan closed the door of the room he'd just checked. "There will be. I feel it."
"Oh, so now you're clairvoyant?"
Freya snorted. "Oh, that's even better. The famed gut feeling."
Brendan stopped and looked at her. "When has it ever been wrong? When have I ever thought something seemed off that it wasn't?"
Freya frowned and shrugged her shoulders. "Okay, I guess never. You keep doing your thing and I'll keep doing mine,"
"Thanks," he said quietly as they continued down the hall.
Forty minutes later, the elevator came to a stop on the first floor and they stepped off. A tall man with dark blonde hair nodded at them as he pushed a large yellow rolling bucket past them by the mop handle and stepped into the elevator. Freya almost ran into Brendan as he stopped two steps later and turned around, staring at the closing elevator door. He suddenly lunged for the door, but they closed in front of him. Freya had just enough time to register the shocked look on the janitor's face.
"Brendan, what are doing? What's wrong?"
"Rico Martinez . . . he's not supposed to be here today and that wasn't even him. We need to know what floor he's going to."
Freya frowned and her jaw dropped open. "How do you know who that is or whether he's supposed to work today? And he's going to the fourth floor."
"Fourth, you're sure?"
Freya nodded. "Yeah, he thought it before he pushed the button. Fourth floor."
Brendan grabbed his radio. "Patel, are you still on four?" Static filled his radio, making Brendan growl with anger. "Who's on four, we have a suspect coming your way?" Brendan was already moving for the stairwell, throwing the door open and taking the stairs quickly as Freya rushed to catch up.
"Radio's not working, we'll have to check on this ourselves."
Freya was three steps behind Brendan, trying to keep pace. "I don't understand. How did you know who that was?"
"His name tag said Martinez, but he doesn't look anything like the picture with the personnel files. And there isn't anyone else who looks like him either, so he didn't just borrow a buddy's uniform."
"You read his name tag?"
"Sure, and I studied all the personnel files so I'd know who actually worked here. Plus, according to the work schedule for today . . . they cleaned the building good last night . . . and only had one person working spills and stuff . . . on each floor . . . to make security easier. Martinez . . . is not on the schedule." They were both getting out of breath as they neared the fourth floor door.
Freya marveled, unsure of what was more amazing, the fact that Brendan remembered who worked there and when, or the fact that he knew what all of them looked like. And then there was the fact that he read the man's name tag and looked at him closely enough to know that it wasn't him while passing on the way out of an elevator. She stopped behind him as he peered out the stairwell door and then threw it open and burst out, gun in hand. She watched as he ran to the elevator and punched the button, sliding to one side with gun up and trained on the opening doors. A mop bucket sat unattended in the compartment.
Brendan wheeled around and looked down the hall, already moving down the corridor as his eyes darted back and forth. Freya was almost dizzy tapping into the amount of information whirring through his mind. Blueprints, schedules, and possible access points were all considered and compared as he began checking the rooms. Freya reached out with her mind for the suspect, but could hear nothing. The fourth floor was mostly small meeting rooms and storage, cleared by security for the big speech that was now only moments away.
Brendan suddenly froze and stood staring into space for several seconds while Freya waited. Oh crap, I think I know where he is. I should have figured this out before now.
Freya was about to ask what Brendan meant when he took off down the hall. "I think I know what he's planning. I can't believe I'm so dense." He stopped at a door at the end of the hall and held his index finger to his mouth. Freya crept up to the door and pressed against it, reaching inside.
Ten more minutes and the ambassador will be dead. I'm not sure what that security guy getting off the elevator saw to make him react like that, but it shouldn't be a problem.
Her eyes widened and she nodded her head emphatically. Brendan pulled his lips into a thin line and gave a single nod. I don't know what's wrong with the radios or why no one is on this floor, but you need to go for back-up. Now.
Freya shook her head, pointing at Brendan and then farther down the hall. There was no way she was letting him go up against an assassin alone.
Freya, I can't leave. This room backs up to the ballroom where the speech is to be held. I think he's cut through the wall so he can look down on the Ambassador. I've got to stop him from shooting and you've got to go for help. I need you to do this.
Freya cringed. He was giving her the look. His head was tilted forward slightly, his expression dead serious as he peered at her from under his brows. She hated that look. She mouthed, "Be careful," and hurried back down the hall, hoping it didn't take long to find help.
Brendan watched her go and then pressed his ear to the door. Hearing nothing, he very slowly cracked the door open a slit and peered in. He wasn't surprised to see a round hole about six inches in diameter in the far wall. A stack of boxes blocked his view of the area just to the right of the hole, but he thought he saw a shadow on the floor. As quietly as possible, he pushed the door open until he could begin moving into the room. He was aware of movement from behind the door a split second before something slammed into the side of his head.
Freya flew down the stairs so fast that she almost mowed down the man on the landing between floors. They grabbed each other's arms and managed to keep from crashing into the floor or down the steps. The man laughed timidly. "I'm sorry, I think I'm lost. I'm trying to find –"
"Listen, I need you to get some of the security people up to the fourth floor. I'm with the NSA and my partner is up there trying to subdue an assassin by himself. Tell them to go to the last room on the left at the end of the hall and hurry." She didn't wait on the man's response, she just trusted that he would do as asked and headed back up the stairs to help Brendan. As she reached the door to the fourth floor, she glanced back down at the shocked man. "Go, now!" When he darted down the stairs, she went through the door.
She approached the door carefully when she saw Brendan was no longer in the hall. She reached out for his thoughts, but could find nothing. Considering the madhouse his mind had been all day, that frightened her. The door was cracked an inch or so, so she chanced a glance in. Seeing Brendan's unconscious body on the floor did little to make her feel better. He was on his side facing away from her and the puddle of blood beneath his head didn't make her feel any better. Cold fear settled like a weight when she realized she couldn't tell if he was breathing or not.
Taking a deep breath, she looked across the room to see the hole in the wall. A rifle with a scope was leaned up against the wall beside the opening, but no one else seemed to be in the room. Maybe Brendan had scared him off. She listened with her mind, finding nothing at first. Too late, she heard it. As she tried to turn away, the door was jerked open and a hand grabbed her by the arm, throwing her down to the floor and dragging her into the room. She heard the door slam shut as she scrambled to her feet and looked into the barrel of a silencer.
The man they had passed getting off the elevator stood smiling at her, a gun aimed at her head.. "I knew you were with him and would probably be lurking around. Now get over against the wall." He motioned toward the wall across the room from where Brendan lay. Freya slowly backed up, keeping her eyes on the man and the gun.
"Is . . . is Brendan alive?"
"If he is, he won't be for long. I'm really sorry, but I have work to do and I can't leave any witnesses. That means both of you will have to die. Don't worry, I'll make it quick. You won't feel a thing."
She thought about rushing the man, thinking anything was better than just standing against a wall and being executed. Before she could act, the sound of a gun going off started her, making her flinch visibly. She stood staring at the man's shocked expression for a second, wondering why she wasn't dead and why she had heard the shot. The fake Martinez fell forward, hitting the floor in front of her with a loud thump. Freya jumped, her back crashing into the wall. Shaking and confused, she looked up to see Brendan, blood almost covering the right side of his face as he swayed back and forth. Their eyes met for just a second before he fell to his knees and then slumped over onto his side.
"Brendan!" She kicked the would-be assassin's gun away and ran over to kneel beside her partner. Her hand trembled as she felt for a pulse and she let out a long breath when she found one. When the security team crashed through the door, Freya found herself jumping yet again and wondering just how many jolts like that her heart could take in one day.
"Brendan, can you open your eyes for me?"
He didn't recognize the voice, but it had awakened him enough to make him aware of the stabbing pain in his head that seemed to accompany the fireworks show now taking place behind his lids, and he didn't appreciate it one bit.
"That's it, come on Brendan, I need you to wake up for me." He was becoming aware of hands touching his body, prodding and poking. A sharp pain in his arm, making him wince and try to pull away. Cool air stroked his bare skin for a moment and he shivered.
"Lea'me lone," he slurred, trying to roll away from the voices and hands, but firm grips pinned him down.
"Brendan, you need to stop fighting us. We're trying to help you."
He struggled to open his eyes and see who belonged to the voice that kept drilling holes in the side of his head. Only managing a slight crack, it was enough to make out blurry images, moving around him. He blinked, trying to clear the haze. "What?"
"That's good, now just relax. Are you with me? Brendan, can you understand what I'm saying."
A woman with blonde hair pulled back into a bun finally came into focus. The bright lights behind her made him feel like someone had just planted an axe in his face, so he closed his eyes.
"No, Brendan, stay with me."
"Bright," he managed to croak out. He felt someone tugging at his lid and then an intense point of light hit his eye, making him try to flinch away. His head was being held in place though, and he didn't have the energy or coordination to fight it. The process was repeated with his other eye. Everything faded for a while and then the voice came back.
"Brendan, I need you to come back. I need to ask you some questions. Do you remember what happened?"
He really wanted the woman to go away. He wanted to tell her she was making his head hurt, but he didn't seem to have a lot of control over his body at the moment. Everything but the pain felt distant and foreign. He couldn't think.
"What?" he asked sharply, his response spiking the pain in his head to the point he could barely breathe. The hands were back, stroking him as if seeking to comfort him. When the pain subsided enough he could catch his breath, he opened his eyes again. This time the woman came into focus almost immediately, smiling down at him with a slight nod.
"That's it, just try to stay with me a minute. I need to know if anything hurts besides your head."
Brendan tried to make his mind work, pushing past the pain in his head to evaluate the rest of his body. "No."
"Okay, that's good. Look, you took quite a blow to the head and you're in the emergency room. We're going to finish evaluating your condition, then we'll get some x-rays and get you stitched up, okay?"
Something kept tugging at his thoughts as he tried to process what the doctor was saying. He'd been in the Convention Center . . . with Freya. The assassin and . . . "Freya?" He automatically pulled up, only to be held down by the people surrounding him.
"Brendan, lie still." When she was certain he wasn't going anywhere, the doctor looked up at one of the nurses to her left. "Do you know who Freya is?"
"I believe that's the lady that came in with him, his partner. She's been very worried about him."
"Is she all right?" Brendan whispered, spots of light still dancing around from his attempt at sitting up. The second voice returned, but this time a face accompanied it. A young nurse with big, brown eyes leaned over to smile at him. She had neon blue streaks in her otherwise dark hair, making him wonder just how hard he'd been hit.
"Miss McAllister is fine Agent Dean. She has a sprained wrist, but it's already been wrapped and she'd just been waiting to see how you are."
"Thanks," Brendan said softly, staring at the blue hair, waiting on it to turn a normal color. The smiling face left and was replaced by the doctor, who seemed to be smirking.
"Don't worry, Brendan, her hair is really blue. You aren't seeing things." He thought he heard giggling from the side of the room. "Now, we're going to get x-rays in a few minutes and then your friend can sit with you while we stitch you up, okay?"
"Mmm," Brendan groaned, letting his eyes slip closed to shut out the light. There was a jumble of things in his brain and he still wasn't sure what had happened, but he knew at one point Freya had been in danger. Now that he knew she was okay, he could relax. The sounds and voices around him slowly faded away.
He was moving. He opened his eyes and quickly closed them again as the ceiling lights flashed in his eyes and everything around him blurred. A hand took his and a familiar voice comforted him.
"I'm here, Brendan. You're going to be okay."
She really was all right. "Freya?" He tried opening his eyes again, but the blurry flash of movement made his stomach roll and he felt the burn of stomach acid crawling up the back of his throat. The gurney seemed to jerk to a halt and the acid surged up in his mouth, choking him. He coughed and tried to roll on his side.
"Brendan, what's . . . oh!" He lifted a little, gagging and still trying to keep his stomach contents in his stomach. He made it a few inches when the hot liquid spewed out, his stomach muscles convulsively clamping down long after there was nothing left to push out. By the time he finished, the pain in his head had reached some sort of climax and the room spun with vicious tenacity.
The next thing he knew, the right side of his face and neck felt really hot. He gradually became aware of soft voices and movement over him, along with a strange tugging sensation on the side of his head. He was propped partially on his back and partially on his side. Blinking a few times, he slowly worked his eyes open to see Freya peering at him curiously as she sat in chair beside the bed.
"Hey, take it easy. The doctor is stitching you up, so you don't need to move around. Just give a little more warning the next time you feel like throwing up."
Freya smiled and he realized she was holding his hand, her right wrist wrapped in an ace bandage. Looking past their hands, he next saw that she was wearing a scrub top. "Uh, sorry," he whispered. He thought he vaguely remembered getting dizzy and feeling sick at some point, but everything else was a blur. "You 'kay?" He also remembered being worried about her. Actually, it more like being terrified, but he wasn't sure why. Flashes of things kept popping in and out of his thoughts, but none of it made any sense.
"I'm fine," she said, squeezing his hand. She glanced up at the doctor and then back down at Brendan, winking. "I'm sure you're a little confused at this point. Would you like me to fill in some blanks?"
Thanks. I think my brains are scrambled.
Freya nodded. "Okay, I'm not sure what you remember, so I'll just jump in. We've been investigating a possible assassination attempt on the ambassador today during her speech. You noticed someone dressed like maintenance person who didn't match the picture in his personnel files. You also knew he wasn't supposed to be at the Convention Center today, so we followed him up to the fourth floor. Any of that sound familiar?"
Brendan winced at a sudden flash of pain, holding his breath for a few seconds. "Yeah . . . sort of." He didn't realize he had tensed his whole body until the pain passed and he relaxed again.
Freya frowned, sympathy in her expression as she once again squeezed his hand. "You figured out what room the guy was in and that he had cut a hole in the wall to sight his gun through, then sent me for help. Our radios weren't working and all of the security people seemed to have abandoned the fourth floor. I found out later that Krusov, our assassin, had a device to scramble the radios, which he activated when he passed you at the elevator and realized you were on to him."
Freya paused when Brendan shut his eyes tightly and drew in a sharp breath, gritting his teeth. I think I'm gonna puke again.
Freya looked at the doctor, who had stopped to watch Brendan. "Brendan, do you feel sick?" asked Freya in an attempt to share her inside information. Brendan didn't seem to be able to answer, but the doctor had caught on. She and one of the nurses helped sit him part way up while another held a basin under his chin. Seconds later, he began gagging, heaving a small amount of mucous and bile into the container.
The burn in Brendan's throat and mouth made him feel like puking again. The cool rag Freya wiped his face with helped, but not nearly as much as the sip of water she gave him to wash his mouth out with. When they eased him back down to the bed, the movement kicked up the vertigo for a while and voices were lost in the buzzing in his ears. When the buzzing finally went away and the stabbing pain had settled just a bit, he opened his eyes again. The heat and light from the lamp were gone and he was on his back, the head of the bed elevated slightly.
"Hey, are you back?" Freya asked as she stood up and moved closer to his head. They were in the room alone.
"Yeah . . guess I zoned out for a while."
"It's okay. They're moving you to a room in a little while. Looks like you're here for a few days."
Brendan frowned. "Days?"
Freya briefly lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. "You have a severe concussion and they had to put . . . I think she said nineteen stitches in the side of your head. I'm afraid your hair is messed up for a while on the right side. Oh, and you're exhausted and dehydrated and bordering on malnourished, so if the effects of your concussion clear up quickly, you're still stuck in here for a few days."
Brendan narrowed his eyes at Freya. "You are entirely too happy about this."
Freya crossed her arms and sighed. "It's not that I'm happy, it's just that . . . you don't take care of yourself. I told you that you'd end up in the hospital if you didn't . . . " Freya stopped and let her arms drop to her sides. "Sorry, I didn't mean to go the I told you so route. I know you don't do it on purpose."
"No, I don't. Maybe I do get kind of obsessed . . . but I'm not sure I can change that." Brendan shifted in the bed and noticed for the first time he was in a hospital gown. "Freya . . . where are my clothes . . . and who took them off?"
Freya grinned and patted his arm. "Don't worry about your clothes. You won't be needing them for a while. As to who undressed you . . . "
"Never mind, don't want to know. I hate this." He looked down at his hand and fiddled with the IV line taped to the back. "I hate these things too."
Freya slapped his hand playfully. "Leave that alone. I'll bet you're a horrible patient, aren't you? Here, let me fill you in on everything that happened. Maybe I can keep you distracted until they move you or you pass out again."
"Funny," Brendan said sarcastically, trying to make a face at her without moving his aching head.
Voices began filtering in long before Brendan made any sense of the words.
" . . . pretty ingenious, what with the jamming device and a diversion on both the second and third floors to attract most of the security personnel. We were lucky Dean figured out what was going on and tracked that guy down. I hate to think about the fallout if Krusov had been successful." Was that Harper?
"I still find it hard to believe he figured out Krusov was a fake just by passing him on the way out of an elevator. Did you see the size of that personnel file they sent over? How does anyone memorize all the names and faces and work schedules of that many people in that length of time? That was just dumb luck."
"No, Kunzel, that wasn't dumb luck. That's just Brendan Dean. Why do you think I wanted him for this office? He has the mind and the drive to solve cases."
He was awake enough to recognize the sigh that came from Freya. "Yes, well that drive would have put him in the hospital even if Krusov hadn't."
Oh, Freya, don't do this to me.
Crap. Caught. I keep forgetting.
Freya took his hand, at least he hoped it was Freya. Opening his eyes, he blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted to the light. He was surprised to see just how much light there was. Every time he'd dozed off, some nurse had woken him up to make sure he wasn't having a brain bleed or something. Then the pain in his head would keep him from going back to sleep until almost time for another check. Freya had been sympathetic and even argued loud enough with one nurse to wake him up before she got to the bed. The end result was that neither of them had actually gotten much sleep.
"What time is it?" he asked, noting the dark color under her tired eyes.
"Almost ten-thirty. I finally convinced them to let you get a few hours without waking you."
"Thanks, but you look exhausted."
Freya smiled. "No, I'm a little tired. You're the one suffering from exhaustion."
Harper stepped up to the opposite side of the bed. "Freya tells us she's filled in the gaps from what you remember. You two did a good job out there, Dean. You saved our country a great embarrassment, not to mention a political fiasco that would have haunted us for years."
Brendan gave a small smile. "I was thinking we saved someone's life."
Kunzel rolled his eyes, but Harper laughed and gripped Brendan's shoulder. "That you did, Agent Dean, that you did."
"I'm just glad we made it on time," said Brendan. He flashed a look at Freya. And that neither one of us got killed.
Freya gave a small smile and a nod.
Harper moved his hands to lightly grip the bed rails. "A lot of people are thankful for that. Freya explained how you knew Krusov wasn't a maintenance guy, but I've been wondering how you knew which room he'd be in and what he was planning."
Brendan tried to shift his stiffening muscles without moving his head. "I remembered when I checked the room earlier that day, the boxes had been in a different place than the day before. Someone had moved them across the room to sit in front of the back wall. I just put that with the blueprint of the building and realized that it would be easy to cut through that wall and you'd have a perfect view of the speaker in the ballroom below."
Kunzel sighed and shook his head. "That's . . . freaky."
"No, Agent Kunzel, that's good work. Dean, get some rest and give yourself time to recover. You've earned it." He looked across Brendan to Freya. "Make sure your partner doesn't try to do too much too fast. We need him healthy again."
"I can try, but no promises with him."
Harper glanced back down at Brendan before turning to leave. "Listen to your partner. She's a smart lady."
Brendan looked up at Freya. "Yes sir, I know."
After seeing the two men to the door, Freya returned to the bed. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm fine. Except . . . well, thanks for staying last night. I know it wasn't easy, with the nurses traipsing in and out every few minutes."
An image of Brendan holding his gun while blood ran down his face and he swayed on his feet came to mind. She remembered the fear that had filled her in those moments when she was sure she was going to die and the relief that followed when Brendan saved her. She took his hand. "I'd say it wasn't much, considering that if it weren't for you, I'd be a cold body in the morgue right now. I haven't had a chance to say thank you yet, so . . . thank you, for saving my life."
Brendan shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the bed. "Hey, we're partners, right? Partners take care of each other."
Freya smiled brightly. "Yes, we are and . . . we do. Now, at last count, you had about a week's worth of sleep to catch up on and I seem to remember you promising to do that when this whole thing was over."
Brendan sighed and rubbed the side of his face before carefully exploring the bandage on his head. "I haven't puked since last night. Think they'll let me go home later?"
Freya snorted. "Yeah, like maybe two or three days later. Exhaustion. Dehydration. Ring any bells yet?"
His expression fell. "Oh . . . yeah . . . that. Maybe I should have listened to you about the whole eating and sleeping thing."
Freya crossed her arms and smiled smugly. "Ya think?"
"Wow, you were hungry," commented Freya as she watched Brendan finish off the tray of food. "You ate every bite, an unusual feat for you."
Brendan set the fork down and leaned back against the pillows. "I had no idea how hungry I was until I started eating, then I realized I was starving."
Freya grinned. "Dr. Robinson will be pleased. You might actually get out of here some day."
Brendan snorted and crossed his arms. "I still don't know why I have to wear this stupid gown." He frowned at Freya's knowing grin. "What do you know?"
Freya shrugged her shoulders. "Well, I may have accidentally heard Harper telling the doctor to make sure you stayed until he was ready to release you and to make sure you didn't get up and let yourself out early. Then I might have heard the doctor tell the nurses to keep you in a gown to reduce the risk of premature flight. He thought you'd be less likely to sneak out in an open gown with your backside showing, I guess."
"This is so not fair. I can sleep at home in a lot more comfortable bed more easily than I can sleep here."
Freya pointed to the IV. "Well, I figure that's one reason. Another is that you still get dizzy and almost pass out when you stand up. A third is that everyone knows you won't rest at home, you'll find something to work on."
"We have no cases right now."
"Then you'll try to write up the report on the assassination attempt, or at least the part you've been able to remember."
"Hey, I actually remember most of it now. And I do need to be working on that report. It's going to be a doozy. Maybe you could bring my laptop up here if they won't let me out."
"No. Rest. Remember?"
Brendan moaned. "You should go home tonight. I know you're tired and you stayed up here all night last night. I'm a lot more coherent tonight, so they'll probably let me sleep."
Freya looked at him a moment, considering the suggestion. "I might. We'll see how you're doing later."
Brendan yawned and rubbed his eyes. "Now that my belly is full, I'm getting sleepy myself." After a few seconds, he pushed the covers back and sat up, trying to swing his legs around to hang off the bed.
"Brendan, what are you doing?"
"Don't worry, I just want to hit the bathroom before I doze off."
Freya moved up to stand beside him as he sat on the edge of the bed, getting ready to slide her hand around his waist. "Wait and I'll help."
Brendan waved her away. "I can make it okay."
"No, you can't. The doctor said for you not to get out of bed by yourself. You're still getting dizzy."
"I don't want you helping me to the bathroom. You're my partner and that's . . . just wrong."
Freya raised one eyebrow in a serious scowl. "Would it be okay if I was a man?"
"That's beside the point . . . and probably not. Freya . . . it's the bathroom . . . it's personal. It's not an experience I want to share."
"It's not like you have anything I haven't seen before . . . do you?"
Brendan's eyes widened. "Where have you been looking?"
Freya shrugged her shoulders. "I lived in a mental facility for several years, remember. Some of the residents would occasionally strip off their clothes and run buck naked through the halls until the orderlies caught them. There isn't much I haven't seen," she said wryly.
Brendan winced, wondering just how horrible those years had been and if she'd ever share any of it with him. He'd made up his mind almost instantly that he would never push. The decision had to be up to her. He knew he hated it when people tried to pump him for private information he didn't want to share. He realized she was looking at him and then remembered she'd probably been reading his thoughts.
"It's okay. I've learned to deal with things over the past year. Now, as to the situation at hand, how about if I promise to look the other way."
"No." He stood up intending to push her away, but the room began to slide violently to one side and then shift around like a tilt-o-whirl at the fair. He had the distinct feeling of falling and then nothing for a while.
He began to realize he was lying on his side on something cold and hard. Voices and shuffling sounds began to filter in. It was hard to think with the power tools drilling through his brain.
"Brendan, can you hear me? Are you okay?"
"Miss, you shouldn't move him. Let me make sure he didn't hurt himself and then we'll get him back into bed."
He could tell from the sounds there were now several people in the room and he groaned, refusing to open his eyes. Freya, please help me.
The draft over his bare behind stopped as he felt the bottom of the gown pulled back down from around his waist. He should have just let her help him to the bathroom.
There was a shifting of bodies and movement next to him. His mind was clearing and he felt like he had some control over his body again, so he rolled over on his back and opened his eyes. A nurse twenty years his senior with graying hair was kneeling in the floor next to him, while two younger nurses and Freya stood gazing down at him.
The older nurse made a tsking sound as she frowned at him. "Mr. Dean, did you hurt yourself?"
Brendan felt his face flush. "Just my pride."
The nurse chuckled. "Don't worry, you aren't the first patient we've picked up off the floor today and you probably won't be the last. For some reason, no one believes us when we tell them not to get up without assistance. Everyone thinks they can make it that few feet to the bathroom."
Brendan snorted. "Well, I won't make that mistake again."
"Did you hit your head, hon?" she asked, her face now becoming concerned.
Brendan frowned, trying to remember. His head hurt, but not like he'd hit it again. "I don't think so. To be honest, I don't remember hitting the floor."
The woman looked up at Freya, who shook her head. "He didn't. I was standing next to him, so I was able to catch him for the most part."
The nurse nodded approvingly. "That's good. You don't need any more dings to that head of yours. It's already taken quite a beating. Now, let us take most of your weight. We're just going to stand you up and back you up to the bed, and then tuck you back in. Okay?"
"So, no trip to the bathroom?"
The nurse patted his arm like she was comforting a child. "Not this time. You've just earned yourself a date with a bedpan. Guess next time you'll let someone help you."
Brendan sighed, wondering if the day could get any more humiliating. Five minutes later he was back in bed and pretty sure he'd flashed everyone in the room at least twice. Now, the pretty nurse who looked to be about twelve had gone to fetch a bedpan. So yes, the day not only could get worse, it had. As he silently prayed to pass out before the girl got back, he glared at Freya, who was grinning madly at him. I want my boxers and I want them now. Blue cotton boxers, hard to miss, I know I had them when I came in. I want them back.
Freya watched Brendan shuffle carefully into his apartment, making an obvious effort not to move too quickly. "Want me to fix you something to eat?"
Brendan eased himself down on the couch, disturbed by how tiring it had been just walk from the car to his apartment. "No, I'm not hungry. How's the wrist?"
Freya opened and closed her hands a few times, fingering the bandage wrapped around her arm. "It's okay, it was just a mild sprain. I'm mostly just keeping the bandage for support because I keep forgetting and trying to pick stuff up with my right hand."
"Take care of it. You don't want it to give you trouble later." He watched his feet for a few seconds before looking back up at her. "Look, I'll be fine."
Freya sat in the easy chair a few feet from the couch, kicking her shoes off and pulling her feet up in the chair. "You just got out of the hospital."
"Exactly," said Brendan. "I was released, as in I don't need medical supervision any more. I'm fine, Freya, really. You don't have to stay."
"I could take this time to remind you that you're still having headaches and dizzy spells and I know you still feel weak."
"Freya," he drawled.
She sighed loudly and pouted. "So, you don't want me here."
"Gosh, no, that isn't what I said. I'm just trying to say that I don't want you to feel like you have to stay and take care of me and . . . you're doing that on purpose, aren't you."
She grinned impishly, waggling her eyebrows up and down several times. Brendan leaned back into the couch and closed his eyes a moment. "We could . . . watch a movie or something if you want."
"Great," she replied, reaching over to snag the remote from the table. She turned on the TV and flipped through several channels before settling on a channel just beginning a movie. Looking over at Brendan, she found him watching her. "What?"
"I was just thinking . . . you're a good partner . . . and a good friend."
"So are you." They sat looking at one another quietly for a few moments before she gave him a big grin and got up. "I'm making popcorn."
"Popcorn sounds great. How about grabbing me a Coke while you're in there?"
"What do I look like, your maid," she called back playfully over her shoulder.
"I just got out of the hospital, remember? I've still got stitches and bandages and pain medication." Brendan smiled and took his shoes off, twisting around to stretch out fully on the couch.
"I'm sorry, I thought like a minute ago you were telling me how fine you were and you didn't need me to stay." She giggled as she listened to the popcorn in the microwave. She thought she heard a muffled reply, but couldn't understand him over the TV and the popcorn, which was now making a lot of noise. The microwave finally beeped and she emptied the hot snack into a bowl she had retrieved from the cabinet. Grabbing two Cokes from the refrigerator, she carried everything to the living room and set it on the coffee table.
"Okay, master, your snacks have arrived."
Freya looked over to see half-lidded eyes fighting to come to life. "You'll be asleep before the first commercial."
Brendan lifted his head a little and stretched out, snagging a few kernels. "Will not. That's almost all I've done for three days. Or was it four?"
Freya shrugged her shoulders. "Probably closer to four, but you needed it. And you didn't get much sleep that first day because they kept waking you up." She sat in the floor next to Brendan and set the bowl in her lap where he could reach it. His hand came down over her shoulder and dipped into the bowl.
"Well, that's true. I think Broomhilda would make a good agent. We could put her in interrogations and have all our suspects spilling their guts immediately."
Freya glanced back over her shoulder in time to see two pieces of popcorn pop out of his hand and get lost in the cushions. "You know as well as I do that her name was not Broomhilda and that's not very nice." She watched him push up and try to find the errant pieces, finally slapping at his hand. "Lay down, I'll get that later. You are supposed to be resting."
"It'll attract roaches or ants of maybe mice," he said, ignoring her.
"Not in a couple of hours. Honestly Brendan, you are so OCD about things."
Brendan jerked his head up to protest, but immediately regretted the action and lowered his head to the pillow, his eyes squeezed shut.
"Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, are you all right?"
"Fine . . . just . . . give me a minute." He lay still as the jackhammer in his head slowly backed off. You'd think I'd know by now not to do that.
Freya let out breath. "Well, you are stubborn and a little set in your ways."
"Am not," he muttered, his eyes opening a slit as he smiled up at her.
"Right. Just keep telling yourself that." She watched as he slowly lifted his head and looked around. Realizing what he wanted, she handed him his Coke and watched as he drank some, handing it back to her. She replaced the cap and set it on the table.
"No problem. Now, are we going to watch this movie?" she asked.
"That's the plan," he said lazily. "Man, it feels good to have clothes on again. And I appreciate the special delivery of the clean boxers, as embarrassing as that was."
"Not as bad as your swan dive to the floor, I'm betting."
Brendan blushed, even as he told himself not to. Unfortunately that wasn't something under his control. "No, I think that was the highlight of my stay, barely topping out puking all over your shirt. On the up side, I got two phone numbers along with my discharge papers." He frowned slightly. "I think one of them was the girl with blue hair, though."
Freya laughed. "I can't see you dating someone with blue hair. You're too . . . old fashioned."
Brendan grimaced as he palmed some popcorn. "The fact that she's at least ten years younger than me bothered me more than the blue hair, although that was definitely odd."
"Look at it as a complement. When you were in the emergency room, she kept asking me how I liked working with someone so hot." Freya grinned when Brendan groaned and put one hand on his face.
"Could we just watch the movie please?"
His hand dipped back into the popcorn bowl and she relaxed, turning back around to watch the TV. By the time the movie was half over, she could hear his even breathing just over her shoulder. Deciding her rear end was almost paralyzed, she climbed to her feet and took the near empty bowl back to the kitchen. When she returned, she took the blanket off the back of the couch and draped over the sleeping figure of her partner before settling down in the easy chair to watch the rest of the movie. She could dig through his cabinets later and figure out what to make him for supper.