"Hole in the Heart"

by KG

AN: I really miss this show, and the chemistry Joel and Fearless had. How great would it be if Mykelti Williamson could go guest star on Blue Bloods so we could get a little reunion? ::sigh::

Before the raid, we're joking around, you and I, lightening the mood with small talk, a betrayal to the serious shit that's about to go down. I do most of the talking, as usual, while you just stand there shaking your head and smiling. I crossed an item off the list yesterday, and I spent the night with Katrina. All in all, a pretty good start to the week and now, here we were with half the LAPD waiting in arms, about to take down a local drug ring we'd been working on for months.

Ramos made a crack about Ray's ill-fitting riot gear and we shared a private laugh, despite knowing full well that Ray and his partner were sharing a private laugh about their resentment toward us. There was no reason not to treat today like any other day; after all, it was only supposed to be a few guys.

When we kicked in those doors, the split second it took to realize our estimations had been wrong was all I needed to vanquish the jokes, the list, and the beautiful Russian woman who shared my bed and my heart to the back of my mind. All Hell broke loose in that warehouse as it quickly became apparent that our arrival was anticipated; those bastards were prepared for us.

I've been a cop for over a decade, a soldier for even longer than that. I understand objectives, and I understand objectivity, but I've never been able to go into any firefight without keeping my eye on you. Call it paranoia, call it residual effect of losing Freaktown all those years back, but I can't function unless I know you're still standing at my side…

Which is why my heart nearly drops to my knees when I see you go down with a few bullets embedded in your chest.

I don't know how I manage to make it to you without getting shot myself; luck of the angels, I guess. My momma used to say that to me all the time, though I never agreed with her. I don't know how they can consider it lucky to watch all your loved ones go down while you get off scot free.

The bullets are still flying when I kneel by your side, fervently praying amidst all the chaos that the Kevlar did its job, but before I even have the vest completely off, I can see that my hopes were in vain. A few were stopped but one got through, dead center, the blood already blossoming on your chest. I don't know where to start assessing the damage. There's already so much blood, I think, and I hear a shout and a gunshot nearby, flattening myself over your prone form until the danger passes.

"It's alright now, partner. I gotcha," I say soothingly as I place my hands firmly over your wound. You wince and squeeze your eyes shut and I feel repulsed for causing you pain but it has to be done. "You're gonna be alright, Joel," I say, more to convince myself, but you nod anyway.

"I know," and you force a smile that I know is for my benefit. I don't know how you do it but those sad brown eyes of yours look up into mine with calmness while I'm freaked as Hell.

"I need help over here!" I yell to be heard over the shouting but I'm ignored, at least for the moment. The place isn't secure yet. "God damn it!" I mutter through gritted teeth.

"It's okay," you tell me, meeting my gaze with steadiness.

I shake my head. "I should be telling you that right now, partner. Not the other way around." The shooting stops, finally. It's over in a matter of minutes, but the consequences would be much more long-lasting. "I think you may have taken ten years off my life, you hear me?"

Suddenly, Ray is here, on your other side, his face gravely serious, but he says, "What did we tell you about lying down on the job, Stevens? I gotta tell you, this is not very professional."

You smile weakly, your voice hitched as, "You'd know… all about—unprofessional." You cough.

"Oh—ha ha," Ray says lightly. "Listen, you just hang in there, now. We've almost got this under control. Paramedics are on their way in. You're gonna be just fine, Stevens. You alright here, Smith?" Ray looks across to me with shaded gaze and I nod to him.

"Go on," I say. "I've got him."

As quickly as he came, Ray scrambles to his feet to help clear the room. Your blood is still flowing and I don't know how to make it stop. My vision blurs and I blink the tears away furiously because I don't want you to see but it's no good trying to hide anything from you.

"Fearless," you say and repeat my name calmly until you've got my attention. "Hey, tell me a story."

"Now's not really a good time for a story, don't you think?"

"You always… tell stories," Your eyes squeeze shut and I know you're trying your damndest to hold on so I relent. If it will keep you awake, then fine. I'll tell you a story.

"Fine, fine. Let me tell you one about my buddy, Freaktown—" For some reason, I can't seem to get him off my mind. "Did I ever tell you about the time he almost got taken out by a sniper—"

"Not—that one," you say with a slight shake of the head. "I know… how that one really ends."

"Well that's not the way I'm tellin' it this time."

You force a grin. "You can't… change the ending… to how you want it."

"The hell I can't! It's my story, isn't it? I'll tell it any which way I want to." I can feel the hot tears on my cheeks and damn it all if I can't be the strong one here. I tried, I really did.

"Tell me… another one."

But before I can think of one, the paramedics are here and I'm being pushed aside so they can work. I stand by, feeling helpless, my hands hanging at my sides, liberally coated in your blood and a hand clamps down on my shoulder.

"They're gonna take care of him, Fearless. It's gonna be alright," Tom says reassuringly and I notice now that most of the attention in the room is being diverted to you, our fallen brother. No one speaks as they load you on to a stretcher and I follow out to the ambulance waiting outside.

"Fearless," I hear you call out and that—your first real moment of weakness in this whole damn ordeal—well, it just plain breaks my heart.

"I'm here," I say. "And I'm not goin' anywhere."

"Kelly—she's in Chicago… Visiting her mom."

"I'll be the one to call her. Don't you worry. We'll get her and Willie here." Our eyes meet just before the double doors shut you in and I try to give you something—anything—to hold onto. "You just stay with us, Joel, you hear me? I just need you to hold on…"

The doors shut and I feel alone. Even more helpless, if that was possible. The paramedics won't let me ride with you, probably because I look like I might break something, which I do as soon as the ambulance pulls out, grabbing the nearest thing I see—and empty crate—and hurling it against the wall where it splinters into pieces.

I'm breathing heavily and everyone's watching but I truly do not care. Ramos is there, suddenly, unnaturally serious, and I take up his offer of a ride to the hospital but first I've got to do something about the blood on my hands. In the dingy warehouse bathroom, I scrub until my hands are raw and stinging but I still can't wash it all away…

"Go on, we'll get your statement later," the Chief says, and waves me off to the hospital. "You go keep an eye on our boy."

Ramos tries to take my mind off of you while we drive to the hospital and later, in the waiting room, but for once, I'm the silent one. My phone call to Kelly is the hardest thing I've ever had to do and hopefully ever will have to do. She's taking the first flight home but it'll be half a day yet. Sitting in a plastic chair and picturing her face falling when I tell her the news is making me anxious. Between that and watching your fall replay over and over in my head, this vicious cycle of images is like a horror film. Kelly has already lost so much; how can she survive losing you too?

The number of LA police officers in the waiting room steadily increases as the hours wear on; our proverbial band of brothers hasn't failed you. When you finally come out of surgery, Kelly still hasn't arrived, so they let me in to see you instead. It's a private room, which I'm grateful for because I'm too damn uncomfortable to be around other people right now.

I don't know what to do with myself but there's no other place I'd rather be right now. I try sitting in a chair at your bedside but the monotonous hum of the machines keeping you alive is making me restless and I surge from the chair a minute later to stand by the window where the sunset is barely visible over LA's rooftops. I think about how tired I am then I think about how much I hate these silences and I remember how you asked me to tell you a story.

Well, now seems as good a time as any.

"I got a story for you, partner. I'm gonna tell you the story of how Bobby Smith became 'Fearless.' I guess I was always this way. Ever since I was a kid, I would be the first to volunteer for the stuff that no one else wanted to do. Jump off the roof into the pool? Get Bobby. Ask out my 7th grade History teacher? Bobby'll go for it. Test our buddy's experimental vodka-based drinks? Oh, he's definitely up for that one. He's not afraid of anything."

I smile, remembering my buddy's noxious concoctions, which were usually required to get me to do most of those other things.

"Well, when I got older, I got a little wiser, but still bold. When I joined the army, I was so gung-ho, I'd do anything they asked of me. Dangerous mission to go on?" I shake my head with a smile. "Get Fearless."

I cross the room and sink back into my chair, finally taking the time to study your unresponsive form. I find myself leaning forward for the next bit, speaking confidentially.

"But you know what they didn't know? I was scared shitless. Every. Single. Time. On the outside, I was cool as Hell. Man, you know me. Feathers in a permanent state of 'unruffled.' But on the inside I was screaming, I was so scared.

"You know what it is. It's because ever since I was a boy, I was so full of love that it took over. I was just filled to capacity with that love, and it grew so big there wasn't any room for anything else, no room for the fear to take hold… But here's the problem: I've done my time—as a soldier, as a cop… as a victim… and I've seen the worst of people and it eats at you, it leads to these little holes in my fabric that get bigger and bigger with time and the fear just seeps in. Every time I lose someone, it makes another hole and sometimes… well sometimes I just can't fill it."

I reach out impulsively and take your hand, limp but warm, and hold it between both of mine, lifting it to me and closing my eyes to say an earnest prayer.

"I don't deserve the name. I'm so afraid, all the time, especially now. You can keep calling me 'Fearless' but it's a lie, a story… best one I've ever told, because I've even got myself convinced most of the time."

I'm looking away from you out of shame so I feel before I see the gentle squeeze that you give me back. Blinking back tears, I quickly turn to see your softly smiling eyes looking back up at me.

"Hey," I smile, bleary-eyed.

You manage a grin then, "I thought I told you to tell me a story I didn't already know the ending to."

I shrug helplessly, but happily. "You know me."

As the sun finally sets outside your window I add, silently, better than I know myself.