Summary: Brendan is hurt during a raid on an arms dealer. This was written in response to a challenge at the Thoughtcrimes community at Livejournal.
Freya pressed the towel firmly against the wound in Brendan's neck, eliciting a groan from her partner. She found the sound intensely relieving, as it assured her that he continued to live under the blood now coating her hands and puddeling underneath him.
"Hang on Brendan, help is on the way," she encouraged. "Come on, stay with me, Brendan . . . please . . . just . . . stay with me." She shifted her cramping fingers, trying to regain her position without slacking off the pressure. The first bullet had come in at an angle off to his right, traveling through the back right part of his neck where she was now trying to slow the blood loss. The second bullet had hit him in the right upper arm and the third had hit full in the chest as he'd spun around from the impacts. Thank goodness he'd had on a vest or he'd be dead instead of just bleeding out on the pavement while they waited for the ambulance. Eyelids fluttered, drawing her attention to his face. His right cheek was streaked with blood from a cut where he must have slammed the side of his face into the rough rock wall next to where she kneeled beside her fallen partner.
Here . . . for now.
"Don't say it like that. You'll be up and driving the nurses crazy by morning. I'll bet you're bugging the doctors to let you out in twenty-four hours." She tried to flash him a smile, but it was just too hard to do when she could still see all the blood he was losing in her peripheral vision. She could feel the warm, stickiness on her fingers. She could smell it. She imagined she could even taste it. Actually, that was her own blood where she'd bit her tongue earlier.
Think I'll take you up. . . on that bet. Sucker bet.
Any reply she would have made was lost when Kunzel squatted down on the other side of Brendan, worry deep in his scowl. "How is he?"
"About as bad as he looks," she snapped. "Where's the ambulance?" She didn't really mean to take out her anger and frustration on Kunzel, but he either didn't notice or didn't care, because he failed to react to her biting tone.
"On their way. We told them to double-time it." As if in answer to their question, the blare of a siren was heard, the sound steadily increasing as it drew nearer.
"Finally," Freya breathed out. "They're almost here, Brendan, just hang on a little longer. Hey, partner, are you still with us?" The silence made her heart rate escalate as she reached out for Brendan's thoughts. The pain and fear she'd been picking up had almost faded away. "Brendan?"
Kunzel reached down to grip Brendan's shoulder. "Come on Dean, don't go to sleep on us yet. You're already laying down on the job, buddy."
A slight moan was all they got before paramedics were there, ushering the two agents out of the way. Freya was glad to give up her position. Her hand was numb and she was afraid she was no longer putting enough pressure on the wound. She stood beside Kunzel, looking down at her bloody hands and then watching as the two medics worked to get her partner ready to transport to the hospital.
"I know I have another quarter in here somewhere," Freya said as she dug around in the bottom of her purse. Kunzel watched for a few more seconds before standing and pulling a handful of change from his pocket.
"Here, take what you need," he said, holding out his hand.
Freya sighed, hating borrowing money, even if it was just some change, but she really needed a cup of coffee. "Thanks," she said as she pulled two quarters from his hand.
"I thought you only needed a quarter," Kunzel said with a slight frown.
"That was for the small. As long as you're being so generous, I thought I might as well get the large."
"Great," Kunzel moaned as he returned the extra change to his pocket. "Freya with more caffeine, just what we need."
"Just yell if the doctor comes out," she droned as she headed for the vending machines at the other end of the waiting room. She put the money in and punched the buttons that would give her a large cup of horrid vending machine coffee. But she really felt the need for it now, even if it was probably going to eat a hole in her stomach later on. As she watched the dark fluid fill her cup, she looked at her watch. Brendan had been taken to surgery shortly after arriving at the hospital several hours ago. They hadn't really told them much about his condition, just whisked him off and told them to wait.
The machine was flashing a message that her coffee was ready, so she bent down and opened the little plastic door. As was usually the case, the cup was filled completely to the top and the surface tension kept it rounded into a convex shape over the rim. She wasn't a physics major, but she was pretty sure there was no way to move the cup without spilling the hot liquid. Gripping it firmly, she tilted the top toward the back of the chamber and dumped enough out that she could maneuver the coffee without burning herself. Stupid coffee machine. Who designs these things, anyway?
Taking a sip, she scrunched up her face at the awful, bitter taste and then slurped up another mouthful. When you needed coffee, the quality didn't much matter. Making her way back to where Kunzel sat, she noted Director Jon Harper enter the waiting room and look around. Spotting the agents he walked over to arrive at Kunzel about the time Freya did.
"Do you know anything about Agent Dean's condition yet?" he asked.
Shaking his head, Kunzel sighed. "No, he's still in surgery."
Harper grunted an acknowledgement and slid his hands into his pockets. "Forensics is just finishing up at the old Strand Theatre. Just when I think I've seen everything, we get an ambush disguised as an ambush. Now we've lost two men and I've got another on the operating table. I want McPherson and I want him yesterday."
McPherson was selling stolen guns, mostly to gangs and mob contacts. He had developed an extensive five-state network that seemed to be constantly growing. While they had taken down a few of his men, there was never any evidence to link McPherson to the activities. And the men taken down were never willing to give McPherson up. They always ended up with high-priced lawyers that often got their clients off on minor technicalities. When they were convicted, they were either being bribed or scared into keeping quiet.
The tip telling Brendan where and when McPherson would be conducting an important business deal was too good to be true, so they had prepared for a trap. Unfortunately, the bad guys had planned on them treating it like a set-up and had come at them from the buildings across the street from the old, abandoned theatre they were raiding. They caught them in the alley and began picking them off with scoped rifles, taking out two agents with head shots and almost taking out Brendan. Freya shuddered with the memory of seeing Brendan's body jerked around with the force of the shots hitting him in quick succession.
"Doctor's here," said Kunzel, nodding toward the entrance. Freya whirled around to see the physician that had talked briefly to them before taking Brendan to surgery. He saw them about the same time and met them halfway across the room.
"Miss McAllister, Agent Kunzel," he said, looking inquisitively at Harper.
"Jon Harper, Director of the NSA," said Harper, extending his hand toward the dark-haired surgeon.
"Dr. Jeff Boling," the doctor said, gripping the director's hand firmly. "Agent Dean is out of surgery and on his way down to recovery. The surgery went well. The bullet entered the neck about here," he said, pointing toward the back part of the right side of his neck, "and came out right beside his spine. If it had been an inch over in its trajectory, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Fortunately we think the only damage was to muscles in the area, although we'll need to do some tests to be sure when he wakes up. It nicked a small piece of bone from one of the cervical vertebrae, but not enough to cause him any problems. We also cleaned out and repaired the wound in his arm."
"Does that mean he'll be all right?" asked Freya, already feeling a sense of hope that the worst was over.
"Yes," the man said, smiling. "We had to replace several units of blood, but with some rest, he should be fine. He'll be sore for a few days, not only from the bullet wounds, but he's got a rather nasty bruise on his chest from a bullet striking the vest he was wearing." He paused a moment and then sighed. "Agent Dean is a very lucky man."
"That's a good thing for us," said Harper, looking relieved.
"When can we see him?" asked Freya, because she wouldn't totally let her guard down until she had seen him for herself.
"We'll be moving him to a room in an hour or so. I'll have the nurse come let you know when his room is set up and you can wait for him there."
"Thank you, Dr. Boling," said Harper, shaking the man's hand again. Giving them a nod, the physician turned and left. Harper stared at the floor for several moments, as if seeking answers there, before lifting his gaze. "I've got to get back. Kunzel, you can stay until you get a chance to see Brendan if you'd like. "
"Yes, sir," replied the agent, his thoughts revealing his relief. Apparently he had the same need to physically see the injured agent before he would be reassured about his prognosis. Freya smiled inwardly as she realized the man would probably never audibly acknowledge his concern for his fellow agent.
"Freya, I'd appreciate it if you would stick around and . . . uh, do what you do. Agent Dean may know things he's not consciously aware of, especially in light of his condition. Let me know if you discover anything that might help."
Nodding to her boss, Freya assured him she would. Satisfied that his agents knew what to do, Harper gave them each an encouraging nod and left. The two stood awkwardly for a moment before Kunzel finally motioned toward her cup.
"So, how's the coffee?"
Looking down in her cup, Freya sighed. "I'm thinking we could threaten suspects with drinking it if they don't tell us everything they know."
Brendan awoke to whispered voices and hushed movements. It took all his strength to open his eyes. He blinked a few times, until the ceiling came into focus. Where . . . He tried to turn his head to see who the voices belonged to, even though he suspected he already knew who one of them was. Blinding pain pierced his neck, making his vision dance with dots and his stomach clench and roll. He almost didn't realize the strange, guttural moan came from him.
"Brendan," Freya whispered frantically. "Don't move . . . you need to stay still."
Now you tell me. He could barely manage the thought around the pain, and there was no way he was ready for verbal responses yet. He reached for his neck with his left hand as he sucked in air. The frantic breathing made his chest hurt and he wondered briefly if he was having a heart attack. A soft hand took his and pulled it gently away from his neck, delicate fingers stroking his arm and calming him.
"It's all right Brendan. You're all right. Just breathe and concentrate on staying calm. We'll explain everything."
We? Who's we? The pain was beginning to recede enough Brendan could think. He opened his eyes again, this time focusing on Freya as she leaned over him, still stroking his arm. Kunzel's face appeared over her shoulder, his brow deeply furrowed.
"Who's . . . he . . . mad at?" Brendan asked, trying to put the snatches of memory together in a cohesive form.
Kunzel grinned, as did Freya. "I'm mad at you, who else?" Kunzel deadpanned. "Wish you'd quit trying to scare us all to death."
"Happened?" he asked, trying to catalog where he hurt. He remembered him and several other agents lining up in the alley outside the Strand Theatre, waiting on the signal of their spotter to go in, when all hell seemed to break loose. The sounds of shots suddenly echoed in his head, along with the image of the agent a few feet away going down. Who had it been? "Martinez? Saw him . . . go down."
Freya squeezed his hand and he knew his answer even before she said it. The look on her face, the sorrow in her eyes told him what he needed to know. "We lost Martinez and Gould, shot in the head. The doctor says you were lucky. An inch over and you have been number three. The bullet passed pretty close to your windpipe and your spine. And if you hadn't had on your vest . . . "
Brendan closed his eyes, his memory clearing to give him a painful view of Marinez being shot in the head. He was glad he hadn't been close enough to see Gould. One death replaying in his head was more than enough. What happened?
"They were waiting on us," said Freya.
"They set us up big time," added Kunzel. "They knew we would suspect trap and come in with plenty of back-up, so they staked out the building across the street. Posted snipers to take out as many of us as they could. We think they were trying to shake us up, get us to back off."
"But . . . we checked it," Brendan wheezed, his chest hurting like someone had kicked him. That added to the fire in his neck and arm were making it hard to lay still.
"I know," lamented Kunzel. "I guess they were watching us and took over as soon as we left. McPherson was never anywhere near the place and most of the evidence had already been cleaned out. We lost two good men and almost lost you for a few scraps that won't do us any good without McPherson himself," said Kunzel bitterly.
Brendan grit his teeth together, but it was against more than just the pain. "When . . . services?"
Kunzel sighed. "Not sure yet. Probably two or three days. I'll let you know when arrangements have been finalized. Brendan . . . I know this isn't a good time, but I need to know what you remember. Did you see anything that might help us?"
Closing his eyes, Brenan concentrated on remembering the events. He could feel the rough, cool stone of the wall he was pressed against. Grit beneath his feet made the pavement seem uneven. Agent Martinez was barely visible in the dark alley, moving several feet in front of him. The pungent odor of the dumpster across the way drifted in on a sudden breeze, making him decide to breathe through his mouth for a few moments.
Brendan's eyes popped open. "There was someone there," he said softly.
"Who? Where?" asked Kunzel, moving in closer.
Shifting his eyes over to the agent, Brendan swallowed hard. Why hadn't he noticed it when they were in the alley? "Second floor of the theatre, uh . . . third window from the right side . . . there was a flash of light, like maybe a flashlight. Someone was there."
Kunzel nodded. "Probably checking our position from up close and personal so he could feed it back to their snipers. I'll make sure the forensics guys go back and double check for anything they might have left behind. Anything else?"
His next memory was watching Martinez get hit just seconds before he was. He winced at the detailed memory of getting shot three times while his body was tossed around from the high powered impacts. Freya cringed in sympathy and squeezed his hand. "No, nothing useful anyway."
"Okay, I'm off to pass this along. Freya can finish filling in the blanks for you. Take it easy, Brendan. You cut it a little close this time."
Brendan watched Kunzel leave and then shifted his eyes to focus on Freya. "I really messed this one up."
Looking appalled, Freya shook her head. "You did no such thing. This was a group effort from the beginning. We all participated in the decision about how to handle this. We all screwed up, every one of us."
Brendan shifted, trying to squirm away from the escalating pain. "I guess. I just . . . I wish we hadn't lost Gould and Martinez . . . they didn't deserve that." Squeezing his eyes shut, he groaned at the sharp pain that suddenly lanced through his neck.
"Brendan?" Freya called worriedly.
The sharpness of the pain faded back to a more tolerable level and Brendan opened his eyes to find his partner staring at him, her eyes wide. "I'm . . . 'kay . . . " he managed to breathe out.
"No, you're not. I'm get-"
Before she could finish her sentence, the door to the room opened. Dr. Boling entered, followed closely by a nurse with a small tray. They moved quickly to the other side of the bed from Freya. "Agent Dean, good to see you awake." He looked up at Freya. "How long has he been up?"
"Not long, maybe ten or fifteen minutes," she replied. "I think he's starting to hurt pretty badly."
The doctor smiled and gave a short nod. "I'm not surprised. It's about time for some pain medication. I just need to check on a few things first." He studied Brendan as he turned his attention to his patient. "Tell me what you're feeling, Agent Dean. I need to know where you hurt and how badly."
"Neck hurts the worst . . . starting to get these sharp stabs of pain . . . arm kind of throbs, but not too bad." He was trying to steady his expression so as not to worry Freya too much, but it was hard not to frown with the burning pain in his neck.
"What about your chest? The vest saved your life, but you're still pretty bruised up."
"Sore," Brendan admitted. "Hurts a little when I breathe sometimes."
The doctor nodded as if he expected the answer and then looked up at Freya. "We need to check his incisions and bandages. Why don't you take a short break and get some coffee. I'll come get you when we're done."
Freya nodded. "Okay." She looked down at her partner, his face pale except for the scabbing and bruising around the cut on his cheek. "I'll be close by, so you be good," she teased.
"No promises," he said, the dread evident in his voice. "By the way, you owe me."
Freya leaned back a second, trying to figure out what he was talking about. "Why do I owe you?"
"Lost . . . bet."
Freya laughed, and it was one of the most beautiful sounds Brendan had ever heard. "I can't believe you remember that."
"I 'member everything . . . should know that by now," he said with a tiny grin.
"Fine . . . you figure out what you want as payment while you're being good for the doctor. You can tell me when I get back." She watched him for a moment, bringing her hand up to gently touch the side of his face. "I'll be back," she whispered quietly before nodded at the doctor and leaving. Brendan began missing her as soon as the door closed.
"Brendan, this is crazy. You should stay in the hospital. The Martinez family would understand," Freya scolded as she and the nurse helped Brendan into the front seat of her car. His right arm was in a sling and the right side and back of his neck was bandaged, making it hard for him to turn his head. By the time his backside hit the seat, all of his energy reserves were depleted.
"Thank you," Freya said to the nurse. She took Brendan's bag and the stack of discharge papers, prescriptions, and instructions and set them in the back seat. A few seconds later, she slid into the driver's seat and they were on their way. An awkward silence settled over the pair for several minutes.
"Do we have some time before the funeral?" asked Brendan.
Sighing, Freya nodded. "Yes, we do. I thought we'd get your prescriptions filled and drop your stuff off at your apartment. And you are going back there to rest the absolute second this is over."
Brendan could tell she was annoyed. Her expression and tone of voice, as well as the lack of eye contact told him volumes about what she was thinking, even if he wasn't telepathic. "Look, I can rest at home as easy as in the hospital. And I need to do this. He was eight feet away from me, Freya. I just don't . . . " He reached up with his left hand and rubbed his eyes, wiping away the excess moisture that seemed to be accumulating. "I want to go there . . . to the alley."
"No, Brendan . . . that is so not a good idea."
"Probably not . . . but I need to see . . . I need to understand what happened." He couldn't explain it, he just knew he had to do it.
"How is seeing that alley going to help?" He was not hurt by the bite in her tone, because he knew she was just worried about him.
"I don't know . . . maybe it won't . . . I just need to try. Please, Freya . . . just for a few minutes." He glanced at her with a hint of an uneven grin. "After the . . . when we're done, you can take me home and mother me all you want and I won't argue or complain."
"I want that in writing because I'm holding you to it," she said firmly, before softening her expression and taking a sideways glance at him. "I just don't want you to overdo it and set yourself back. The doctor really didn't want you to leave yet."
"I'll be fine," he insisted. "Just a few minutes at the theatre, then the funeral, and then home, okay?"
"Yeah, and then you'll want to go to Agent Gould's funeral tomorrow."
Brendan didn't say anything, knowing full well she knew exactly what he was thinking. He would be at the service honoring both men, if he had to crawl there. And the way he felt right now, that might not be too far off the truth. Leaning his head back against the headrest, he closed his eyes, trying to fight off the exhaustion that was already dragging him down. His mind wandered and then things got fuzzy for a while. The next thing he knew, he was watching Martinez jerk back with the impact of a bullet and then his body was being tossed around as pain kept exploding at different points.
Jerking his head up, Brendan yelped at the sharp pain in his neck from the sudden movement. He blinked a few times, his heart racing as he took in his surroundings and noted that he wasn't lying in an alley, bleeding out all over the damp pavement. Taking a deep breath, he tried to make his hands stop shaking.
"Are you all right?" Freya asked softly as they turned into the alley. He gaped out the front windshield as she parked and then turned to him. "Brendan?"
Twisting his upper body to meet her gaze, he tried to smile. "I'm okay. Guess I just dozed off for a minute." Opening the door, he slowly and painfully pulled himself to his feet, hanging onto the car for several moments as he steadied himself. He closed the door and slowly made his way over to the wall, touching the uneven rock of the building. He followed it, retracing his steps as he looked at the surrounding buildings to get his bearings. When he reached the spot where he'd been standing, he looked down. He was pretty sure he could still see some dried blood on the ground. Walking a few steps further, he stopped where Martinez had been standing, and looked at the adjacent building, imagining where a sniper would hide. The night played through his thoughts for what seemed like the fiftieth time.
"Why me?" he whispered.
Staring blankly across the space, he sighed. He felt worn and broken. "Why did I live while two other men died? Kevin Martinez has two small daughters and Randy Gould is supposed to . . . was supposed to get married next month."
Freya stood quietly beside him, staring at the blood on the pavement. "I don't know Brendan. Why does anything happen like it happens? Why can I read minds when other people can't?"
Should have been one of them to survive.
"Don't say that!" she snapped, shocked at his thought. "Not if you mean one of them survive instead of you."
"They had more to lose. They had people who depend on them." They had families. Brendan just had Brendan. No one would be left without a husband or father if he'd been killed.
"No! You can't attach less value to your life just because you don't have a family. And besides, you have people who love and depend on you, just like they did. Brendan, I depend on you, more than I ever thought I'd depend on anyone. You've been my anchor while I adjusted to my new life, my abilities." Her voice softened and became so quiet he could barely hear her. " I'm not sure . . . I don't know what I'd do if anything ever happened to you."
Lifting his eyes from the pavement, he stared at her, almost unbelieving. "You'd be fine, Freya. You're too independent to let something like that get you down."
Shaking her head as if really exasperated, Freya moved to stand directly in front of him. She took his face in her hands, careful of the cut on his cheek, and brought her face close to his. "No, Brendan, you aren't listening to me. I. Depend. On. You. I need you." She let her hands slide away from him, but he held his place, looking into her eyes. What he saw surprised him. His saw his own needs reflected back at him.
"I need you too," he whispered, a little unnerved by the truth in that statement. He'd been pretty independent himself for quite a while, priding himself on not needing anyone, personally or professionally. He hadn't needed a partner to tie up some very important cases during his career, but the thought of proceeding without Freya scared him to the core. When had that happened? She was like his other half.
Freya nodded as if she thought he finally understood. He did understand, but he still couldn't shake the feeling that he didn't deserve to be the one to survive. He couldn't shake the sadness that permeated him, made worse by the thought of two little girls who would never see their father again.
"I think it's sad too, and I wish there was something we could do to make it better. But that doesn't mean you should feel guilty for living. It's just the way it worked out, Brendan. You got lucky. They didn't. That is not your fault. The thing to do is concentrate on finding McPherson. Hey, at least they found a lead on one of his men from the fingerprint they picked up on the second floor. We'll get him eventually. That's what you need to work on, not wishing it was you that had been killed."
"I know you're right," he said, looking at his partner with a rueful smile. "It's just easier said than done."
"Well, keep working on it," she drawled. Glancing at her watch, Freya sighed audibly. "You know, if we're going to this funeral, we need to get moving in that direction. He could tell she still didn't think he should go. In spite of the exhaustion and the building throb in his neck, Brendan felt even more determined than before to show his respect.
"Okay, let's go then." He took one final look around the alley and then began walking beside his partner and his friend back to the car. She had let him talk his way out of the hospital, brought him to the site of his shooting, and was dragging him to a funeral, all in spite of the fact that she disagreed with every step. But she had done it all because she knew he needed it to get through this. He knew why he had come to depend on her so much.
As they settled in the car, she looked at him, worry in her face. "Are you okay?"
"I will be," he said, a genuine smile on his lips. "Thanks . . . for everything." She smiled back and he knew then that she understood.
She started the car and backed out of the alley, beginning their journey to bid farewell to another agent. "So have you decided what you want in payment yet?"
Brendan smiled without looking at her. "I think you're already doing it."