Night Watch

It's been a pretty quiet night, which is a little unusual around here on a normal night, let alone a Friday night. There's usually at least one MVA with all the idiot bar-hoppers who don't know enough to get a cab, and then there's the usual gang-bangers and OD's and once in awhile the combative dementia patient brought in off the street. And that's on top of the usual emergency flu cases, heart attacks, and accidental injuries.

The waiting area is practically empty tonight, and the most excitement we've had so far was a sprained ankle; some slightly-buzzed blonde chick falling off her five-inch heels at a club downtown. The attending doc has passed by my station four times tonight trying to stay awake and begging off on coffee. Some of the filing and chart work is actually getting done instead of being pushed off for the day staff, and someone's passed around copies of the newspaper crossword puzzle.

"Hey, Chuck," I swivel a little in my chair so I can peer back into the small office area behind the admitting desk. "I need a five-letter word for..."

My request is interrupted by the squeal of brakes and a flurry of activity as a van backs into the ambulance bay. Immediately the crossword is forgotten and I'm yelling for the attending and two of my nurses as I run for the doors. "Hey, I need a gurney back here!"

Two guys in suits are coming out of the side of the van and shouting for help; the minute I reach them I see why they're so freaked out. Lying on the floor of the van is another guy, and there's a woman with him, pressing on a wound with a wadded up cloth that is already soaked in blood.

"We got him here as fast as we could," one of the suits is saying, and I wave him off a moment; the explanation why they didn't wait for an ambulance could come later.

"I said I need a gurney out here, stat!" I fairly bellow...or at least, Chuck says I bellow. My kids might agree with him. Ignoring the suits, I scramble up into the van and start triage. The woman across from me is Twiggy with better hair, she's so thin and she starts to sit back at my approach. "Keep the pressure on it," I tell her and she immediately does, but her face is almost as white as the patient. "What happened?" I ask the suits finally as the doors slam open and the gurney is pushed out.

"Gunshot wound," the second suit answers me and I nod. The guy's pulse is about what I expected; rapid and thready.

"He stepped in front of me," the woman says shakily, and I spare her a glance.

"Let's get him in A," I tell the orderlies that have come with the gurney, and I shift to put my hands on the bloodstained towel that they'd used to stem the bleeding. "I've got him, honey," I tell her and the woman pulls away; it's clear she's in shock.

"What've we got?" Gary, our attending tonight, comes running out, lab coat billowing briefly as a breeze catches it just right.

"Gunshot wound, upper left quadrant," I start in as we carefully move our patient onto the waiting gurney. "Pulse one-twenty and thready, respiration twenty-two and shallow."

"I want a pressure the moment we're in," Gary says and I nod. The gurney is moving and the suits collect the girl and I'm running along with the patient, keeping pressure on the wound. "Type and crossmatch, and somebody tell 'em upstairs to prep the OR. Start an IV, wide open, ringers and let's get an abdominal series."

We get him into the treatment room, and I get my first real good look at our patient. He's cute, I can't help but think as I slip an oxygen mask over his face, but I'm just telling the truth here. Even though his features are slack and his eyes are closed, the guy is rather good-looking; younger-looking than he probably is, given the fact that we find an ID on him that says he's with the NSA.

"Pressure eighty over fifty," I report as soon as I have it, and Casey is starting that IV while I draw the necessary blood for the type and cross-match and the blood tests that will be necessary. Gary grumbles something that is decidedly impolite at my news, although such a low reading was no surprise; there's blood all over him.

The next few minutes are spent trying to stabilize our patient enough to be able to move him to surgery. The bullet's penetrated his stomach but there's no exit wound, so likely it has lodged somewhere in his back, depending on just how close he was to the shooter. Somewhere in the middle of the fight to keep him with us, I'm amazed to hear a soft groan. It's faint beneath the oxygen mask, and pained, and I'm again taking his blood pressure when the patient opens his eyes just a little.

"Wh..." he tries to speak, and the pale, slender face screws up into an expression of pain. The cardiac monitor we've attached announces the anxious pickup in his heart rate.

"Shh, don't try to talk; you've been hurt and you're in the emergency room at St. Joe's," I tell him and the hazel eyes, barely opened, blink.

"Sh...shot," he manages, and I find myself working to soothe him.

"Yes, you were," I confirm, and I put my hand on his shoulder. "But you're in the hospital now and we're going to take care of you." Hazel eyes blink again and I'm not kidding when I tell you that he's just too good-looking for his own good. Or for my own good, I haven't decided which.

"Fr..." he's trying to say something else, but between the hurting belly and the oxygen mask, it's hard to get what he's talking about.

"Shh, take it easy," I soothe. He looks too young to be fighting for his life like this. "I'm gonna give you something for the pain, okay? And then we're gonna take you up to the OR and get that bullet out of you."

"Fr..." he's trying again. "Freya...'s a'right?"

Freya? Oh! The light goes on and I realize that must be the girl who had been in the van.

"She's just fine, she's not hurt," I tell him, understanding at last. "She's out in the waiting room with your other friends."

Hazel Eyes blinks tiredly and nods very slightly.

"Good."

He's slurring minutes later as the drugs hit his system; pain meds and a mild sedative to prepare him for surgery. The typing comes down to A Positive, and Casey is sent off to retrieve a unit of blood to get him started and to inform the OR to have Type A on hand. By the time the transfusion is started, he's sedated and out.

"Okay, people, he's as ready as he's going to get; let's move." Gary is saying and Hazel Eyes is being wheeled out in a run for the elevator to get him up to surgery. I make a mental note to check on him later, and within minutes I'm back to my crossword puzzle; Casey is talking to the suits and that Freya woman.

I'm not sure what makes me do it, but I put down the puzzle and I walk over to them. Freya looks up, looks at me...looks through me, it seems like.

"Hey, are you okay?" I ask; she's shaking to beat the band, and I'm sure part of it is shock. "You didn't get hurt out there, did you?" I'm doing a visual assessment; she's twig-thin and somewhat pale, but with messy hair that tumbled to her shoulders.

She smiles at me a very little; it's a polite thing, and she shakes her head. "No," the confirmation comes a moment later. "Just Brendan."

"That's his name?" I hold a finger up to stop her reply long enough to cross back over and pick up the necessary forms for admission. Settling down beside her once again, I begin to fill in answers. "Brendan...?"

"Dean. Agent Brendan Dean," Freya supplies, and she rubs her hands nervously...hands that are still bloodstained.

"This can wait a moment if you'd like to wash up first," I say quietly, motioning with my pen at her hands. She rubs them again, thinks about sitting on them, changes her mind (I would too if they were all bloody!) and simply settles for clasping them in front of her.

"No, this is important," she says to me, echoing the thought I'd just had about how important this information could be and I hoped she could provide it. "His parents are dead," she says and I blink. Did I ask that one out loud? "I was just being nosey," she says and points at the admission form. Okay...

"Date of birth? Address? Telephone?" Freya answers each question and I glance back at Casey. "Did he have an insurance card with his things?" I ask her, and she excuses herself from the suits to go find the answer to my question. "Any allergies to medication?" We go through it; she gives me as much information as she can and the suits supply some of it. At least that's a start. "Thank you," I tell them and then nod toward the ladies' room. "You'll feel better when you're cleaned up," I tell her and Freya nods numbly.

"There was so much blood," she says tightly. "It was everywhere."

"You did a good job; that little bit of first aid might've saved his life," I tell her seriously.

"Is he...will he be all right?" she asks me now and I haven't got it in me to deny her the truth.

"Brendan's lost a lot of blood, and the bullet is still lodged inside. Gary Landis is one of our best surgeons; he's operating on Brendan now to remove the bullet and repair the internal damage."

"How much damage?" one of the suits asks now, and I look up.

"Dr. Landis will be able to tell you better when he's finished surgery, but the bullet tore up his stomach pretty badly. Your Agent Dean is likely to be a guest here for quite awhile." If he doesn't bleed out on the table, that is. Freya pales even more than she already is. "Hey, no, no, there...take it easy," I tell her and ask Casey to get a glass of water for her. "He's in good hands, really. Gary's the best pair of hands in the operating room we've got around here; he'll take good care of your partner." I've decided that must be it, given the way she and the suits talked to each other.

"Thank...thank you," Freya murmurs as Casey comes back with the water. She sips at it a little distractedly, before looking at me again. "How long before...before we know anything?" she wants to know and before I can stop it, I sigh softly.

"It might be awhile," I admit. "His condition's very serious. It'll depend on how much internal damage the bullet did and how much work it takes to repair it." I glanced from Freya to the other two, who are standing with their hands in their pockets looking all tense. "There's a waiting area up on that floor; just take the elevator up and turn left."

Dean's partner gets up immediately, but she heads for the washroom and I can't blame her for that; in her place I'd want to get that off me too. One of the suits comes closer and he asks me what I think Dean's chances are. He asks very quietly, as if afraid of being overheard, but I can't really tell him anything. It's not my place, for one, and for another I don't like putting odds on someone like that. I've seen enough freaky things around here that I don't put stock in that kind of guesswork.

From what I can see of the three of them, however, Freya and the suits—other agents probably—it seems pretty obvious to me that Brendan Dean is more than just a co-worker; he's a pretty good friend. Probably pretty rare in his line of work, I reflect and look up as Freya rejoins her companions. "Good luck," I tell them; working the night shift down here in the ER I wasn't likely to hear anything else about Brendan Dean unless Gary decides to volunteer some information, which, these days is pretty frowned on given all the government regulation. If I want to know how Dean is doing, I'll have to drop in on him during visiting hours, not something I generally do with the people who pass through here. Not that I don't care, or even feel some concern over good people like him; it's just that there's a certain level of objectivity to be maintained here in the ER or another good person like him could die.

Oddly enough, I feel myself being drawn to make an exception. Frowning at myself as I return to the duty station, I glance up just in time to see the three of them entering the elevator and I make up my mind. I'll make an exception.

Two days go by before I can take myself up on my offer; between the usual weekend insanity of the ER and a visit from my sister my plate is pretty full until Monday morning. I resist the impulse to sleep until noon and get dressed simply; sweatpants and a teeshirt.

Dean's still in the ICU as I expected.

The woman, Freya, is in the waiting area; that wasn't quite expected, given the fact that visiting hours have yet to begin. She looks up as I come in, and I change direction a bit to head her way.

"I guess I should go home and change," she murmurs as she looks up, and I have to admit that I'd been about to ask her if she's been here all night.

"You might feel better if you do, honey," I agree, coming to sit down next to her. "Some sleep might help too."

"I really don't want to go," she finally tells me, and I can tell there isn't gonna be any going home and changing. "They said his heart stopped on the table," she explained and it's like she knew what I was going to ask before I opened my mouth. "They got him back and got the bullet out, but he's...still critical." The way she said it, I imagine someone had quoted numbers. "They said he's got about a forty percent chance..." Her voice trails off and I can't help but feel bad for them both. "He's too weak, they said and don't want to risk a chance of infection," she says before I can even think about asking her if she's been in to see him yet.

"I know that's it's tough to wait," I say, and she simply glances toward the ICU unit. "But it really is better to be safe than sorry. An infection right now..."

"...could kill him, I know," she finishes my sentence without looking at me, and there's something in her face that's really hard to define. "It's nice that you came out here to check on him," she tells me then, and I find myself smiling a little.

"Well, technically I probably shouldn't be..." I start.

"Brendan has a way of wrapping people around his little finger sometimes," Freya supplies, and at that I have to blush. He was cute; there was no denying that he'd caught my attention. "Most of the time he's pretty clueless about it."

"He looks like a good guy," I finally manage, and she smiles at me. "I hope he'll be all right. Too many people we get in here...aren't so good." Gang-bangers, druggies...

"He'd appreciate you checked up on him," Freya tells me, and I get up. I should probably get going. "Thanks."

What makes me come back Tuesday morning, I couldn't tell you. Maybe it was just a bad feeling, but when I arrive, it's to find out that Dean's developed an infection; belly-wounds are just so hard to prevent that. They've finally allowed Freya in, partly because the worst has already happened, and partly because she's the closest thing to family the guy's got and he could go south so quickly. Freya tells me that Brendan did appreciate my visit and gave her permission to add me to his visitor's list.

Wednesday I take him up on it and go in to see him with Freya, before my shift.

He's all tubes, wires, and IV's, as expected. It's hard to switch off the professional side of me that wants to check his cardiac monitor and blood pressure, that causes my eyes to stray to his IV's and catheter, approving of the ICU nurses' handiwork; and simply be here for him.

His face is pale except for the flush of fever that graces high cheekbones, and he's tense, even in sleep, enough to tell me that even with the painkillers, he hurts. Freya settles beside him for the allotted fifteen minutes, curling her hand around his. I take the liberty of glancing at his chart. Peritonitis...I skim the notes, the antibiotics, his last set of vitals including temp. Hazel Eyes, Brendan, is very ill. It's the last thing he needed after being shot at such close range.

I look up from the chart to see slits of those hazel depths looking blearily at me.

"Hey," I say, smiling and coming alongside Freya; he follows me with those pale eyes. "I know you feel pretty rotten right now, but you've got the best people in the place wrapped around your little finger," I promise him, and to my amazement, he almost chuckles. A faint gasp of air serves the purpose and a very faint smile crosses his lips.

"Don'...b'lieve...'verythin' Frey...tells..." His voice is faint and feathery, breathless and painful all at once.

"Why not?" I reply and I lay my palm impulsively on his forehead. Hot, so hot... "You've got me there already," I tell him, and the dark eyebrows lift just briefly. "Hey, I've been here three days in a row waiting to hear about you so you'd better cooperate. First of all, stop talking. You need to rest."

"'Kay..." he acquiesces and closes his eyes; he's far too sick, weak and in pain to argue with me.

It takes almost another week before the stubborn infection clears up and he finally begins to heal. Most of it is spent in the ICU; oftentimes his only visitors are me and Freya.

When he's finally discharged, weeks later, it's a Friday and I'm on duty in the ER.

"Hey, Lou!" Someone shouts my nickname, and I'm up to my elbows in busy. "Lou!"

When I finally look up, it's one of the orderlies, and he's carrying a huge vase of roses. There must be at least two dozen!

"What on earth..."

"Some tall thin guy in a suit with a chick stopped in and dropped these off for you," the orderly says and brings the vase over to the nurses' station. "Said it was for the night watch."

When I look at the card, I have to smile.

Ms. Lou-Anne Parsons,

Keep up the good work on the night watch.

Sincerely,

Brendan Dean and Freya McAllister

Days like this, I don't mind working Friday nights in the ER.