This was written in the middle of the first season and takes place prior to "City on Fire." Most of the characters and situations belong to NBC and other entities, and no infringement is intended in any way. All other characters are my invention, and if you want to mess with them, you have to ask me first. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any. Feedback is most appreciated.
The thought stood out with ironic clarity in Cody's stunned mind as his eyes widened, already blurring even as they took in the spinning sky. I never realized just how much this hurts.
Someone yelled his name, he thought it was Jake, but the sound was lost in the sick feeling of heat that spilled over his hand. And the sheer incredible pain swelled up, drowning him under a wave of intolerable sensation, dragging the dark over his eyes, blotting him out.****
It was a routine drugs case--as routine as their lives ever got, anyway. Cody was almost bored by it, except for the fun of trying out a new camera. It was a sweet little device, and he was itching to make it even better, but for now Jake could wear it unmodified. Cody fiddled with it while the briefing continued.
"Jake, you'll go in as a potential client. We want to catch them in the act of selling the stuff before we take them down, so Cody, you'll fit him with both eyes and ears." Donovan glanced his way, and Cody nodded, reflecting for the thousandth time that despite having worked with the man for weeks, they still knew little about him except for how he acted under stress. But their success level was just as high as it had been under Keller, Cody thought reluctantly. He sighed and set down the camera. The team worked just as well as it ever had, so far, but he could see the cracks appearing in Alex and Jake, and he wondered just how long they would be able to continue without snapping. Keller's death hadn't hit Cody as hard as it had Alex, but he did miss his friend.
That's it. Keller was our friend. Donovan's just not interested. Cody watched the taller man as Monica went on with the briefing. Their leader had a handsome face, though his tilted eyes would always give him a sad or severe expression. But if there was any emotion working in there besides pride and ambition, Cody didn't know about it.
No, that's not quite true. He has a sense of humor. Cody breathed out in amusement, remembering how Donovan had outfaced Jake in the early days of the Quito case, turning the younger man's tactics back on him. It wasn't often they saw Jake rendered speechless. It's just buried really deep.
The briefing ended, and Cody ran Jake through the care and feeding of the equipment Agent Shaw would be wearing. Jake knew most of it already, but Cody knew the value of repetition.
"C'mon, Jake, pay attention!" he said in exasperation. Jake snapped back from whatever thoughts had distracted him and grimaced in apology. He's jumpy today, Cody thought, a bit worried. That's not good, going into an undercover situation.
"You okay? Is there something you want to talk about?" Cody offered. Jake blinked, then shook his head.
"No, man. Thanks." He fingered the tiny camera. "So what's the range on this again?"
For once, the scenario ran without a hitch. Cody waited outside with the van, a little warm in the afternoon sun, watching the SWAT troopers escort out handcuffed captives. Monica huddled with Donovan about fifty yards away, near the entrance to the old factory, and Jake and Alex were somewhere inside, still hunting down the last two targets. Cody sighed, shifting his shoulders against the van door, and stared down at the cracked concrete of the parking lot, bored. He knew work waited for him inside, but he was under strict orders to stay put until Donovan gave him the high sign.
"I don't want you in the building until all the suspects have been rounded up," the older man had told him as the team prepared its assault. "You're too valuable to risk. The factory is a maze, and it would be easy for you to get caught in the crossfire."
That's all very well, Cody thought, but right now those computers could have burn programs or viruses or worse dumping their data. By the time I get in there, it could be too late.
Movement on the roof caught his eye. One of the SWAT team? But no, the bobbing head showing over the low wall lacked the distinctive helmet. Cody straightened and inhaled, opening his mouth to alert Donovan and the troopers to the figure as it turned to look over the edge.
But a sudden shock drove the breath from him before he could make a sound, and he staggered back against the van, mind blank for an instant. At the same time that his ears registered the light pop of handgun fire, agony bloomed in his middle, and Cody looked down to see crimson soaking through his shirt. He put one hand to the incredible pain, feeling the world start to turn around him, and slid to his knees.****
It was Jake's frantic yell that alerted Donovan and Monica, but they looked first up at him on the roof before following his point to the van--just in time to see Cody sag to the ground. They broke into a run, guns out; Donovan's longer legs got him there first, but only barely. "He's on the other side now," Jake reported of his quarry. "I'll get him."
Cody was already unconscious, blood seeping out ominously around the hand he'd pressed to his abdomen. Donovan hissed; Monica made one low sound and stripped off her jacket, falling to her knees to press it against the wound. "I need the ambulance now, " Donovan said harshly into his headset. His weapon stayed in his hand, though the figure on the roof had been chased away by Jake.
More handgun fire sounded, dull rather than echoing. "Got him," Jake's voice said breathlessly in Donovan's ear. "How is he, is he okay?"
"No," Donovan replied grimly.
Jake swore. Alex's voice overrode his. "What's going on?"
"Cody's been hit," Donovan told her, holstering his gun. Monica shook her head at his gaze, her mouth tight. Both her palms were braced against the jacket, but it was darkening quickly.
The ambulance rounded the corner and halted, personnel jumping out and converging on Cody and Monica. One of them echoed Jake's oath. Monica stood up and backed out, excluded from the medical huddle. Her eyes were wide, and her hands were streaked with blood.
Alex came pounding up. "What happened?"
"I don't know," Donovan replied, his eyes on the huddle. "Cody's not good."
More footsteps sounded, and Jake slithered to a stop, panting. "What..."
His voice trailed off. The four of them stood, uncomfortably helpless. The only part of Cody that showed outside the bent backs of the medics was one outflung hand, the clever fingers now lax.
They heard terse orders that they couldn't quite make out. Then, with an efficiency bordering on symbiosis, the medics lifted Cody onto a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance. Jake took a half-step forward, but Donovan touched Monica on the shoulder. "Go," he said quietly.
She gave him a grateful look and ran for the front of the vehicle. The others watched the ambulance race away, siren echoing noisily off the factory's walls. All that was left was a frighteningly wide smear of crimson on the concrete, and Cody's headset, lying upside down like some odd deep-sea creature washed up on shore.****
It was hours, of course, before the tidying up was finished, the prisoners taken away, the evidence gathered, the bodies removed. The aftermath of a strike varied from jackpot to utterly boring, but this time none of the team could keep their minds on their work. It was too quiet; there was no quick rattling of a keyboard, no under-the-breath, intent muttering, no one making acerbic jokes into their headsets.
Jake found his hand returning again and again to the tiny new camera that Cody had taken such pains with. Normally, it would have been gone by now, its master carrying it tenderly back to its assigned slot in his arsenal of spying devices. Usually, Jake regretted most of the people he shot in the line of duty; it wasn't his mission to kill, though it was sometimes necessary, and he'd had to learn not to spend hours afterwards trying to figure out if there had been a way to avoid each death. But this one he didn't regret in the least, he thought, watching the black bag be zipped up. He'd seen the man fire over the edge of the roof, though why the fugitive had picked Cody as a target, Jake could not guess. But the man would shoot no one else, ever again, and Jake was fiercely glad of it.
"The job's not over till the paperwork's done." Her own words, and now they sounded again in Alex's ears as she supervised the packing up of the cocaine they'd captured. She knew Monica would call as soon as she had news, but that didn't stop Alex from wanting to run out of there and find out for herself. How could it have happened? Cody's position was supposed to be the least dangerous one of the team. And Donovan had kept him out of the way just to make sure. Donovan. What's he feeling now? Alex glanced over at the taller man, and had to look away hastily. Whatever deep reserve their commander had, it did not preclude caring. And though his face was in its usual impassive lines, his eyes...she shook her head. The sooner we get done here, the sooner we can get to the hospital.****
Monica swallowed and took a tighter grip on her cellphone. She'd expected exactly that clipped word, but it still took her a moment to get her voice going. "Cody's in surgery," she said. "They won't tell me much since I'm not next of kin, but nobody looked happy when they took him away. He lost a lot of blood..." She trailed off.
There was a pause. "Thank you, Monica," Donovan finally said, and she could envision him, standing with his eyes focused on a distant point, absorbing bad news just as he did good--letting it sink in without a tremor on the surface.
"You have his information--you might want to call his family," she said.
"How are you holding up?" and his voice was gentle.
She blew out her breath. "Okay for now."
"We'll be there as soon as we can," he told her, and she said goodbye and folded up the phone, looking around her aimlessly. One of the emergency room personnel had led her off and found her a sink to wash the blood from her hands, but a little still stained her T-shirt with a couple of brownish spots. She wandered away from the emergency desk. Might as well find a place to sit until they get here. Monica threaded her way among scattered seats and various people, some obviously troubled, some simply waiting, and found a set of chairs a bit away from others. I hate hospitals.
Every so often she would catch herself rubbing her palms together, and she knew that the moment she closed her eyes the old memories would rise up howling to gather her in. Today was not the first time she had felt someone's life leaking away beneath her hands.
She actually managed to lose herself in thought for a while, though most of it was distinctly unpleasant, and looked up at last to see Alex and Jake making their way through the waiting room toward her. Alex, usually undemonstrative, surprised Monica with a hug; over her shoulder Monica could see Donovan standing at the desk and speaking to the nurse there.
"Donovan said he'd try to get more information," Jake said, jerking his head toward the tall figure. "Apparently nobody can get in touch with Cody's family for some reason, so we're all he's got."
Monica rubbed her own arms, though her chill was more emotional than physical, and Jake absently stripped off his coat and draped it over her shoulders. "Why are hospitals always freezing?" he asked rhetorically. One of the other people waiting stared at his holstered weapons for a moment, then looked away and whispered to her companion.
Alex shook her head. "I think doctors must have ice water for blood." She looked stressed, Monica thought, and then snorted. We all do, I bet.
Donovan left the desk and made his way toward them. "Cody's still in surgery," he said, gesturing for them to follow as he continued toward the main corridor. "We're going up to wait."
It wasn't a very long wait, as surgeries could go, but it was quite long enough to add to their worries. None of them could concentrate on the aging magazines piled in the comfortable, stuffy little room, and they alternated between sitting, pacing, and wandering out for the truly vile coffee generated by a machine down the hallway. Donovan left them for a time at first and reappeared, looking tight-lipped; no one ventured to ask where he had gone.
After a while Alex escaped into the darkening evening to soothe herself with a cigarette. Forget the addiction. You're using these as an emotional crutch, she scolded herself, but lit up anyway. It was, at least, something to do. And this hospital didn't have bars around it.
She flinched away from the memory of Carlos lying wan in the hospital bed, the grip of his hand on hers--it had been the first time they'd touched since she had done her job and betrayed him. I made a choice! a voice wailed in the back of her head. I chose John! And he got taken away. But Cortez had not contacted her since she'd hung up on him. Perhaps he had believed her, when she'd said they could not change, and was gone, vanished into the world she could never be a part of.
She made her way back inside toward the silent room, considering but passing up another cup of acid coffee. And it seemed that Murphy's Law was taking effect, because a figure in scrubs entered the room as she rounded the hall corner. Alex half-ran to catch up.****
Should I go find Alex? Jake thought when the weary doctor arrived, but he could not bring himself to leave. The woman scanned the room. "Mr. Frank Donovan?"
"I'm Donovan." The older man pushed away from the wall and faced the surgeon, who frowned.
"You're the next of kin?"
"Acting," Donovan said smoothly. "No one's been able to contact Cody's family as yet. I'm his superior." He pulled his badge from his pocket and displayed it to the woman, who gave it a long and skeptical look. Behind her, Alex hastened into the room, and Jake relaxed a little.
"If you need to talk to the administrator--" Donovan began, but the doctor shook her head.
"That's okay." She paused, obviously trying to choose the best way to frame her words. "Cody pulled through the surgery--" one corner of her mouth turned down at the let-out breath that ran round the room-- "but he's in bad shape, to be blunt. He lost a lot of blood, and we had to resuscitate him once during surgery."
Monica put a hand to her forehead; Jake winced, and a muscle twitched in Donovan's jaw. "We've repaired the damage," the surgeon went on. "If he avoids infection, he should recover well, but he won't have a lot of reserves to deal with complications."
Donovan nodded slowly. "Thank you, doctor." He put his badge away. The woman turned toward the door, then glanced back.
"He should be in the ICU by now. He can have one visitor, for about one minute. I'll let you arm-wrestle it out." The merest hint of humor flickered in her face, and then she was gone.
Donovan turned. Three pairs of eyes were fixed on him. "Well?" he asked. "Who's going?"
His agents glanced at one another, coming to some silent agreement with only that brief exchange. Alex nodded at Jake with just a downward jerk of her chin. "It'd better be you, boss," Jake said, his voice a touch hoarse.
Donovan felt his brows go up in surprise. "Are you sure?" he asked.
"Just give him our love," Alex said with a tiny smile.****
He'd been having such strange dreams--vague, blurry ones shot through with sparks, dreams where those around him moved like sped-up film. And some that lingered with dark misery beneath--dreams of intolerable pain and the anguish of something he hadn't finished. Dreams where he couldn't get a breath no matter how he struggled. And now he was barely aware, but he knew he wasn't dreaming.
He didn't have the energy to move, but then he didn't want to. His throat hurt and his mouth was blocked with something hard. And there was a dully molten sun sunk in his middle, burning sullenly down there in the dark. He knew he was in a hospital, but he couldn't remember why. It worried him, it worried him a lot. Did anyone know where he was? Was he just some anonymous victim, treated because he was there? What was going to happen to him?
Then he realized he had hands again as one of them was taken in a warm, light clasp. "Cody?"
The deep voice was familiar. He managed to drag his eyes open, blinking a little to clear them and trying to focus beyond the mound of white cloth and shiny chrome that was the bed he was lying in. Someone immensely tall and shadowy sat beside the bed, someone who knew him. It was such a relief. He was safe. Somebody knew where he was.
Donovan. It was Donovan. Cody opened his eyes a bit wider. "Not who I was expecting," he tried to say, but his tongue was pinned under the obstruction in his mouth.
The clasp tightened. "You're all right," Donovan said reassuringly--Cody hadn't thought he could be reassuring. "You're going to be fine. Just relax."
Relax? I'm already relaxed. But he managed to curl his fingers enough for the other man's expression to ease a bit. What happened?, he wanted to ask, and, Are the others all right?
"They're going to kick me out in a minute," Donovan went on. "Alex and Monica and Jake all send their love."
Well, that answers one question. But his thoughts were getting as blurry as his dreams. Donovan glanced back over his shoulder and said something to someone Cody couldn't see, then gave Cody's hand one gentle squeeze and let go. Cody watched him stand, and would have frowned if he could. No-- I don't want to be alone--
Donovan leaned over and patted Cody's shoulder, almost shyly. "The buzzer's by your right hand if you need anything," he said. "And we'll be back. We won't be far away."
Oh. Okay. Donovan always meant what he said. He wouldn't be alone then, not really. Not with the others nearby. He watched the tall figure move away as his eyes slid inexorably shut. Never thought of him as a guardian angel before.****
They took it in shifts, even though there was nothing they could do at the hospital. It would be hours before Cody was allowed even the briefest of visits again. But without discussing it, they left Alex there to wait, and Jake planned to come back later after he'd showered and eaten. There was nothing urgent in their schedules anyway, now that they'd finished their project--certainly nothing they wanted to take on without their surveillance and computer expert.
Jake even managed a short nap, surprising himself. He only lay down to rest, and his unexpected sleep was troubled by the replaying memory of letting the perp get away from him onto the roof. Finally he woke with a start from a half-dream, vivid and exhausting, of Cody incontrovertibly dead--in the van instead of on the ground, for some inexplicable reason-- and his fallen headset skittering on spiky legs under the vehicle while they tried desperately to catch it. He shook his head clear and followed the sunrise back to the hospital, sending a pale Alex home.
It was almost noon before his relief showed up in the form of their leader. Donovan came into the stuffy waiting lounge, one sweater sleeve pushed up and a thick square of bandage in the crook of his elbow. "Giving blood?" Jake asked, nodding toward Donovan's arm.
"I was here anyway." Donovan eased the sleeve down over the wrap. He turned as a doctor poked his head into the room.
"You the folks with Cody?" At their nods, he came in. "Bad news, I'm afraid. Cody's had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic. We've moved him to the critical intensive care unit. Has anyone been able to find his family?"
Jake felt suddenly dizzy. Donovan's face did not change, but Jake saw his fist tighten. "No. We're still trying to locate his father."
The doctor said something else and left, but Jake wasn't paying attention. Then he realized Donovan was repeating his name. "Yeah?" he said.
"Tell the others," the older man said grimly. "And see if you can get Monica to rest. Get some rest yourself."
"Yeah, right." But Jake took himself out. Alex wasn't answering, and Jake hesitated before leaving such a dire message on her voice mail, but finally decided she would rather know that way than not at all. Monica took the news with the same unnerving calm that Donovan had displayed. "Where are you?" Jake asked.
"I'm at the nest," she admitted. "I didn't want to go home. Alex is here too."
"Okay. I'll be there in a couple hours, there's something I want to do first." He closed his cellphone. He'd pick up Thai takeout on the way and try to bully them into eating, but first he was going to go down and give blood.****
It had been well over twenty-four hours since Cody was shot, and Alex had not even considered sleeping. Instead, she alternated between idle games of Freecell on one of the nest computers, and pacing around the gym. Jake had returned laden with food, of which they had eaten little, and Monica had eventually left to relieve Donovan. Jake finally fell asleep in one of the side rooms. Alex kept her pacing steps light so as not to wake him, and only realized how long she'd been walking when her leg began to cramp.
She rubbed out the kink and headed back to the main room, and was startled to find Donovan there, sitting in one of the chairs, elbows on his knees. Their leader was staring intently at one of the screens, steepled fingers pressed against his lips, but he turned as she came in. "I can't do it," he said.
"Can't do what?" she asked, puzzled.
"I can't figure this out." He gestured at the computer. "We can't find any contact information for Cody's father, so I thought he might have the data in his personal files. But his system is beyond me." A hint of a rueful smile touched his mouth. "I think I've underestimated his abilities."
Since it seemed to Alex that Donovan's expectations had been almost impossibly high since the moment he'd arrived, she took this as a compliment to Cody. "Is it really that bad?"
Donovan sobered. "It's touch and go. Monica will let us know the minute anything changes."
Alex swallowed hard. Donovan shot her a sharp glance, but did not press, and Alex found a chair to sit in. Automatically she began another game of Freecell, and after a while Donovan disappeared upstairs to his tiny office. To do what? she wondered. Pace? Work? Sit staring into space?
She gave up on the game and spun her chair around, taking in the harshly- lit room. It was too silent. Even when Cody wasn't there, he usually had something running, some program clicking away to itself. She could almost see him sprawled in one of the chairs, acting like a teenager at their briefings, making irreverent comments in an effort to spark a reaction off Donovan. Or alert, intent, spine straight as he typed faster than was humanly possible and processed information at top speed. Or--
Alex shook her head violently, scattering the images. It had hurt all four of them badly to lose Keller, but her own personal feelings aside, he had been their leader and, in a way, less vulnerable than Cody. The young tech genius seemed to keep some impish innocence, and he was a team member--one of them. Donovan might truly be their leader eventually, though a much different one than Keller had been. But how could they replace Cody? Cody, who could find out almost anything, track almost anyone, who could mesh with Monica when needed until they seemed wisecracking extensions of one another? What would it be like without his liveliness to offset the dark depression that took her and Jake from time to time?
Alex found herself reaching for the phone, seized with an irrational need to find out how he was doing, Monica's promises notwithstanding. You're panicking. He's not dead! She pulled her hand back, irritated, then gave up and reached again. Just as her hand touched the receiver, Donovan's phone shrilled overhead. Alex jumped and sat back, waiting, breath caught in her throat.
Donovan's door was open, but she could hear only the rumble of his voice, not the words he spoke. A moment later he appeared in his doorway, looking down the stairs. "Alex? Jake?"
Alex sat frozen, unable to ask. Jake appeared, blinking blearily. S uddenly a wide smile split Donovan's face, so unexpected that they both gaped. "Monica called. He's going to be all right."****
"Hello? Anybody home?" Cody walked into the nest's main room and found it deserted. Odd. He was a bit early for his first day back to work, but he hadn't expected to beat everyone there. No, the computers were on, which meant that somebody was around--either that or they'd forgotten to shut them down the night before, which didn't seem likely.
He sat down in his place, carefully. The scar across his middle still twinged if he moved too quickly, and he tired very easily. But he wasn't going to stay home one more day--he was bored stiff. The team had come to see him several times each day in the hospital, singly or in groups, though whatever tenderness that had motivated Donovan during his first visit--and Cody's memory of that waking was kind of fuzzy--had retreated back behind his cool exterior. But their work had picked up again, and they had only visited him at home in the evenings. He missed them, more than he'd thought he would. Even our Fearless Leader.
Voices sounded, and Jake appeared from the direction of the gym. "There you are," he said. "C'mon. Donovan wants to start the briefing."
"In the gym?" Cody rose as carefully as he'd sat down. Jake disappeared without answering his question, and Cody made his way to the big room, puzzled. As he approached, the lights within went out, and he quickened his steps. What is he doing, holding a slide show? "Can't you guys even do a Powerpoint presentation without--"
The lights came back on as he entered, and he broke off mid-sentence. "Surprise!" yelled several voices. Jake, Monica, Alex, and Donovan stood ranged around a table laden with balloons and a cake that said "Welcome Back" in blue icing. Stunned, Cody halted. "--me?" he finished involuntarily, voice squeaking.
"No, not you, man, your evil twin brother." Jake came forward and put an arm around Cody's shoulders, pulling him into the room.
"We thought a celebration was in order," Donovan explained, smiling just a little.
"Oh. My." Cody stared, completely floored.
"See, I told you we should have waited," Alex complained facetiously to the others. "He's still sick."
"We could always take the cake back," Monica supplied thoughtfully.
Cody shook his head, finding his voice at last. "No, no, that's okay. I wouldn't want you to go to any trouble or anything."
Alex handed him a knife. "Then cut it."
Cody took the knife, and sliced deep into the confection, content. No, he wasn't alone.