Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I don't make any money off of them.
A/N: Thanks as always to ritt, the world's best beta and sounding board! Thanks to Z, too, for her support.
My career was over before it began.
Even if you looked past the fact that our raid was doomed from the start, I still royally screwed up. Sure, we had bad intel and the drug ring was tipped off, but it was my mistake that cost us the most. How in the hell I overlooked the room to the right, I'll never know. If only I had seen it… had cleared it…
I thought I was such a big shot – the rookie fresh out of Quantico on my first field assignment. I was even partnered with our lead agent – that's how good I was. Turns out it was so he could keep an eye on me, and I'm sort of glad he did. Otherwise the end of my career would be the least of my worries. So instead of being dead, I'm sitting here nursing a deflated ego while he's in surgery to remove a bullet meant for me.
I look up and see a fellow agent – I'm too shell-shocked to remember her name – gesturing to two men who have just walked into the ER. I feel sick at my stomach. "His family?" I manage to ask.
"His brother and father."
"No wife or kids?"
She shakes her head sadly. "He never married or had kids."
Inwardly I sigh with the tiniest bit of relief. At least I won't be responsible for children growing up without their father.
"You should go talk to them."
I look at her like she's nuts. What does she expect me to say? Hi, I'm the man your loved one got shot trying to save? Nice to meet you? "I…" My voice trails off and I shake my head.
"You were with him when he got shot. They need to talk to you." She pauses and I swear she's staring straight through to my soul. "You need it, too."
I nervously nod and wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. I shakily stand and force myself to move closer to the two distraught men. As I get closer, I can better see their faces. His father looks so tried… so worried… And the younger man – has to be the kid brother – looks even worse. Oh God, I can't do this…
"Were you with him?"
The brother's desperate, pleading voice keeps me from turning to flee. "Yes," I whisper.
The father steps closer and grabs my hand. "How is… how bad?"
"It…" Come on, don't let his family down, too. "He's strong. He'll pull through."
"He will," the older man nods as if that will make the words true.
Before I realize I'm doing it, I blurt out, "He was saving me. I'm so sorry."
The brother withdraws into himself but the father surprises me by squeezing my shoulder. "It's not the first time he's put his life on the line for one of his agents," he informs me with unmistakable pride. "I'm sure…" His voice breaks with emotion. "Sure it won't be the last."
Despite his words, I still feel guilty. "If there's anything I can do…"
"Promise me you'll go on to be a great agent. Don't let him have done this in vain."
"I will," I vow. "I'll make you both proud, Mister…?"
"Stephens," he tells me. "Joshua Stephens." He hugs the younger man close. "This is my youngest son, Andrew. And your name?"
He gives my shoulder one last squeeze as the doctor appears with a positive look on his face. "Well, Agent Eppes, I expect you to live up to your promise."
I solemnly nod as the Stephens family is led away by the doctor. As the two men disappear I decide I should make a phone call, too. I pull out my cell and dial a number, warmth washing through me as a familiar voice answers. "Hey, Dad. It's Don…"