AN: First of all: I am and will forever remain in denial about Matt's death. I hereby declare I shall refuse to watch all Law & Order: UK episodes after the one that sadly declared him dead. In this story, he has survived, like he should have done.
Also, this story is a somewhat lighter one. We all deserve a little laughter after everything that happened on the show, right?
Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't want to. They can keep their show if I can hold on to the memory of DS Matt Devlin. Amen.
Mate. You hate the word. Despise it. Never want to hear it again. Ban it from every dictionary in the English speaking countries all over the world. Write a law against it and put everyone who uses it in jail for life. Including him. Especially him. You'll happily make an example out of him. The super-user of the most annoying word in the world.
And no, the fact you love him will not help him in his defence. Quite the contrary. It's because you love him you want to punish him for his short-sightedness.
When Matt took those bullets, four months ago (really? Feels like yesterday), none of his mates, his co-workers, peers and superiors had dared to believe he would live, especially not those who'd been there to see the event unfold. It was like a scene from a Hollywood horror movie. You were there, one moment talking about every day things like his cat and Ronnie's brand new grandson he couldn't wait to visit and hold and admire like he hadn't done enough with his own kids. All was normal and well in the world.
A moment, a mere nanosecond later, shots rang out, piercing the peaceful atmosphere and your friend, the invincible, lively DS Matt Devlin slumped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Blood, too bright red to seem real, came gushing out of his wounds and immediately stained his crisp clean shirt. His face was ashen and he had started to cough up even more blood, indicating that at least one of his lungs had been hit.
You screamed his name, but he never seemed to hear you, eyes darting every which way, but clearly losing his focus, until he had trouble keeping them open, his life slipping through your fingers as you cried and begged for him to stay awake, listen to your voice, hang in, be strong...your strength was seeping away along with his.
It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive and by the time they did, you were covered with red stains as you had tried with all your might to stop the bleeding. With a nod from Ronnie, you got into the ambulance with Matt and even though he was by now unconscious and you were being forced to the back in order to let the paramedics do their jobs, you hoped somehow that your presence and the constant stream of prayers would help. Never before in your life have you felt that incompetent, that helpless. You wish you'll never feel that way ever again.
The arrival in the hospitable was a blur, doctors and nursing staff wheeling his lifeless form away from you and through closed doors, all too preoccupied to even act reassuring. The fact that none of them did again showed the true severity of his condition.
He might not make it. He might die.
Five minutes after arriving, Ronnie rushed in and a few minutes after that, Natalie, Henry and Jacob. The last two men soon had to leave again; various people outside needed answers, their own superiors, and the press, but both of them told you kindly not to worry about work now.
Work. If Matt had died that day, you'd have to investigate his murder. Prosecute his assailant. You're not sure you'd be up for the task.
Finally, after what felt like days of waiting and pacing around in the gaudy environment of the hospital's waiting area, drinking too much of the tasteless sludge disguised as coffee, the surgeon came in to inform you that so far, DS Matt Devlin was still alive, but it was touch and go. Both bullets were taken out and had been handed to the police technical unit for inspection, but they had done a lot of damage. One had lodged itself in his left lung, causing it to collapse. The other one hit an artery leading to his heart, barely missing the aorta, which has caused his heart rhythm to go mad, his pressure lowering dangerously. Plus, he'd lost a vast amount of blood.
Thank God your anything but common friend has a very common blood type, because it had taken three transfusions to replenish the life fluids he had so copiously left on the cold hard sidewalk. On the operating table his heart had stopped twice and the second time, it had taken frightening long moments to bring him back to life. There was no way of telling if there would be any permanent damage because of it.
After they'd brought him back from surgery, they had kept him under strict surveillance on the cardiac ICU. Only one person was allowed in there at a time and only in scrubs. Matt wasn't aware of anything, as he was kept in an induced coma for a month, just so his heart wouldn't have to work so hard on its own. One cold, one cough could seriously damage his repaired artery.
The first few days, his monitor would go haywire at least once a day, beeping insistently, with his pressure dropping and his pulse racing, which scared you so much that the nurses had to send you away as a precaution. You were banned from his bedside until further notice, but you still came to the hospital every single day, watching the staff working on him from behind closed doors.
You were never a very religious person, but during those endless days, you prayed like a mad woman, clutching Matt's St. Christopher's medal (the paramedic had handed it to you in the ambulance as it had gotten in his way) in your hand, hoping you could hand it back to the rightful owner someday. If not, and you dared not think about that particular 'if', you would fight his family tooth and nail to keep it. So many times during your friendship you had wanted to touch the medal, ask him what it meant to him, how he had managed to keep his faith after everything he'd witnessed in his childhood parish.
Tell him how proud you were for his unwavering believes.
There were so many things you wished you had discussed with him, so many details of his life you still want to know. But you have to admit that, sitting there in that hospital, listening to the constant beeping of the machinery keeping him alive, you weren't sure you'd ever get the opportunity.
Only when his ECG's started to show some improvement and the erratic rhythms were a thing of the past, did they allow you to come back in. Slowly the doctors started reducing the anaesthetics until, one month and three days after the shooting, he finally woke up.
He was groggy, disoriented and had no recollection of the incident whatsoever, but he smiled faintly in recognition, your name being the first word he whispered through hoarse vocal cords and chapped lips. You cried at the sound and he cried with you, clutching your hand in his own, his eyes (thank God you could see his eyes again) never leaving yours, drinking you in. From that day on, nothing and nobody could pry you away from Matt's bedside and after a while, nobody even tried any longer.
You still didn't leave him when he was being transferred from the ICU to a normal room, scalded him when he became more like his old self every day, charming the nurses and laughing with Ronnie as he brought news and pictures of his grandson. He laughed and cried at the same time when, as a surprise, Ronnie came in one morning with his daughter in tow, carrying her son. When she carefully dropped the baby boy in Matt's arms, the small wriggling body, so warm, alive and full of promise, you saw something shift in his eyes.
An iron will to live a full life settled into his very bones and during his many therapy sessions, which he had so far undergone without failing but also without much gusto, he now turned it up a notch, doing everything asked from him and more if he could. No complaint ever left his lips, even when drops of perspiration plastered his hair to his forehead with the exertion and his therapist threatened to sedate him if he didn't calm down.
Thanks to his own remarkable show of strength and determination, he was released from the hospital two more weeks after he had rejoined the land of the living. His road to full recovery now began for real. With permission of Henry and Jacob, you took a few case files with you and worked from Matt's home so you could become a willing taxi driver, nurse and mother hen to a tolerant if somewhat impatient Matt Devlin, who willingly let you commandeer his spare keys and clear out his spare room to make yourself comfortable there; agreeing with your reasoning that it was just daft to commute between your own flat and his. Besides, what if he needed help in the middle of the night? It would take his sister hours to get to him and the paramedics...why bother them if he only needed to go to the loo?
For the first time since living in London, you actually made good use out of your driver's licence while wheeling your friend from doctor's appointments to physical therapy sessions to his mandatory sessions with the shrink; dropping in at the office or at court while he was otherwise occupied.
It was an exhausting yet necessary routine for the both of you. Every time you'd come back home after a session with all the MD's, PHD's and no ideas he had to visit, he would collapse on the sofa and after tending to his wounds, you would order in pizza or some other take-out stuff, which the two of you would devour together in front of the television, watching some sappy old movie or a football game. Sometimes he would fall asleep halfway through the evening and you would cover him with a blanket, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest and being soothed by its normalcy.
Other times, he would pull you against his chest, cuddling with you and telling you how happy he was you were his very best mate and that you were the only one he tolerated hovering over him like you did. Which was wonderful and weird at the same time. A mixed feeling with bits and pieces you were not supposed to get cooped up in there.
All the time you were there taking care of him, you've been his mate; the person he needed you to be. You adapted yourself to the situation, curbing the more romantic feelings you have always had for him and ignoring the tingly feelings shooting down your more intimate and sadly deprived body parts whenever you reclined in his arms or saw him half naked, which was quite often as he needed your help getting his bandages redressed at least twice a day.
And now, weeks after you've left him to fend for himself again, you're still nothing more. Whatever signal, subtle or not, you've thrown in his direction, they're all ignored. You're constantly living in limbo, sometimes thinking he shares your feelings, that the love between the two of you is mutual and that all you'll have to do is wait just a little while longer, other times feeling desperate and lonely, certain he will never see you in any other light than his own personal Florence Nightingale.
And every single time he uses the word mate to specify your relationship, another piece of your heart gets ripped out.
It just isn't enough anymore. And you're tired of pretending. Every day can be the day you explode.
Well, on the outside, the day starts out like any other. Only it's Matt first day back on the streets after his skirmish with death. It means things in the world are looking up again. Sure, you were worried about him, not quite ready to believe he was physically and mentally well enough to get back out there. But Ronnie has promised to keep an eye on his 'Sunshine' and you know that Matt would not let himself be restrained behind his desk doing paperwork for much longer.
The morning goes by without a hitch, almost as if that was just any other morning. You work diligently on a case report, prepare a witness statement with Jacob, look up some files to put together another case. Nothing too special. You eat a quick sandwich behind your desk in between some phone calls. The afternoon is well underway when your flow gets disrupted by a visit from your two favourite detectives.
Ronnie smiles at you, the bond between the two of you grown stronger during the hours you spent together holding vigil over Matt's motionless form in the hospital. The younger DS beams his own beautiful smile at you, clearly happy as a child that he's finally doing the job he loves. As a Pavlov reaction, your own lips curve up. Annoying as he is, you can't possibly stay mad at him.
...or so you thought.
The worry you've been feeling for his personal wellbeing must be written all over your face, as his own smile fades to make room for a more concerned as well as surprised look.
It irks you. He shouldn't be surprised you're worried about him. He's still as clueless as ever.
"Hi, Lesh? You okay? You look like someone kicked a puppy."
Oh no...but you're about to do just that.
Happy thoughts, Alesha. Be sweet now. Play nice. It's not his fault he's this ignorant. It's in his very DNA, in his chromosomes. The Y-marked ones, specifically.
"I'm fine, really. I 'm glad you seem to do fine too. Really, it's good to see you back on the job again. I missed having you around the office."
He gives you another smile at that, pulling you into his embrace for a hug. Just as your traitorous body is about to give in and sink away against his, he ruins it. Again.
"Thanks, Lesh. You're a real mate!"
Mate. Prosecution rests, your honour.
Remember when you proclaimed that every day could be the day you explode?
Lo and behold, Armageddon has come!
"Sure, Mate. That's all, right? Just a mate, a friend. Well, take your friendship and choke on it!"
He looks up, hurt evident in his eyes and for one sickening moment, you want to take the pain away from him. But it's too late. There's no stopping your rage now, fuelled by years of disappointment and waiting in vain for him to see.
"Just go, Matt. Just leave me alone. I can't do this anymore, it hurts too much."
"How? How did I hurt you? Please, tell me what I did so I can make up for it!"
He's pleading and it's not a pretty sight. It does not, however, calm you down in any way. If anything, it adds to the humiliation.
"Damn it, Matt! It's what you don't do! Don't notice, don't get! I've been throwing hint after hint in your direction and you just don't seem to either notice or care. So what am I to do to make you understand? Will you ever see it, ever see me? Hell, I could probably dress up in a grass skirt and a coconut bra and dance the hula on your desk before you would look at me as anything else but a mate! I hate that word! I hate the sentiment and I hate the fact that that's where we're stuck at!"
Horror stricken, he now looks anywhere but at you, his cheekbones singed with the burn of his shame now that the implication of your words sink in.
"Alesha...I...I had no idea."
"No shit, Sherlock."
God, you're mean. And helpless to either stop it or take it back. Suddenly exhausted, you clamp your mouth shut. Too late. You've singlehandedly killed the bond you had.
You're about to be sick. Pushing the still immobile Matt and the flabbergasted Ronnie out of your way, you make it to the loo just in time to reacquaint yourself with your lunch. It's not a happy reunion and by the time you wobble back to your office, both men are gone...
Well, he listened for once. He did leave you alone.
And now you wish he would come back...
He has missed this. Being on the streets, doing his job, sparring with Ronnie. Going to the Crown Prosecutors' offices for a chat with Jacob, Henry and Alesha. He has worked hard to get things back to normal. And he'll never forget who to thank for his recovery.
Alesha. His pretty Lesh.
He grins at himself. It has finally happened. Habitual bachelor, commitment-phobic DS Matt Devlin, who's only promise to any lady was a good time with good sex for as long as it was fun, finally got clubbed over the head by Cupid's hammer. He refuses to think in arrows these days; bullets are quite enough to get shot with, thank you very much.
But still, back to the subject at hand; he has no idea how it has happened. True, he has liked Alesha, has gotten along with her just fine from the moment they met. And like with any lady, he loved the occasional flirt or tease, loved seeing the colour rise in her cheeks and the smile creep on her face, no matter how much she tried to hide the fact his small off-handed compliments affected her.
Yet, even before the shooting, something slowly started to shift. They became friends, confidants. He had a good mate in Ronnie, was sure he could tell the man anything. They worked well together and even though they'd been at odds and banged heads with each other on several occasions, their trust had never been totally severed. It got rebuilt and restored every time so far.
But as it was, there were things you couldn't tell your mate, barriers two men didn't cross. For those subjects he found her. His 'Lesh'. Well, she found him first. He was touched and surprised when she chose him to confide in after her rape. Sure, she had her friends outside work, but he was still flattered she deemed him worthy enough to entrust with her innermost feelings and struggling. Especially since he had taken into account she might shy away from all men in general.
Later, when he found his world tilting, he found it all the more easy to turn to her. After Pete's suicide and the Pandora's box his final action had brutally yanked open, her silent presence, her unwavering support had saved him. And true, he had felt hurt and betrayed when James Steel had practically emasculated him in the witness stand that one time, but again, she'd been there during the aftermath. Since then, he had royally forgiven Ronnie for his stunt. Though it had taken a lot longer for him to tolerate the senior crown prosecutor in his vicinity.
And while their friendship deepened, while his emotional connection to this beautiful woman was forged and growing stronger, so were his more...eh...physical feelings toward her. Again, he has no idea how or when or why it has started, but once it had, he suddenly noticed her petite, beautiful figure and how well it fit against his own as he hugged her goodnight, carefully becoming more tactile as not to scare her off.
All of a sudden, her honey toned skin, smooth like silk, soft like velvet, was the prettiest, most flawless he'd ever seen. Her eyes, the same colour as the rich dark chocolate he (quite suddenly) preferred, were pools of sweetness, testimony to her big compassionate heart. Her lips were especially designed for kissing and her voice, when she said his name, could make him forget all his surroundings. Even when she said it in obvious scorn or discomfort, even when she was bossy and pushy and headstrong. Even when she was so sweet, he just knew there had to be a catch. Like taking his horrible medication or going through his agonizing exercise routine. She was a slave driver those times, but boy did he grovel at her feet.
Dear God, he has it bad. Real bad.
Right before the shooting, he'd been thinking about taking the next step. Ask her out. Something ordinary, nothing too forced, like a drink maybe. He'd tentatively started by asking her to meet his cat. It was delivered as some sort of a joke, a casual remark between good friends, just safe enough. It didn't suggest anything she might feel uncomfortable with. Because even through his rose-tinted glasses, he was still down to earth enough to realise she might not be in for anything more than the friendship/mate/flirt thing they had going on. In that case, he wouldn't force the situation and all that would have happened is her getting to know his pet. No big deal.
Then his world had been thrown off kilter. And in the aftermath she had voluntarily taken up yet another role: his personal saint. His saviour, his angel. Without her, he would not have known what to do, how to get through the day. He was, for the first few weeks after he came home, as helpless as a babe. It had made him cranky and moody sometimes, but she had stayed, weathered the storms and prevented himself from getting ship wracked.
Sooner than he had anticipated though, the time for him to take care of himself again, came along. When he could wipe his own arse without breaking into a sweat from exertion (not that he'd ever allow her to do that for him; there are boundaries to what his dignity could deal with), he knew it was time to let her go.
Too bad she had agreed, he had tried not to take it personally. She'd made them a special dinner on their last night together and he'd given her a diamond necklace, the rock cut in the shape of a teardrop. It would be a symbol of everything the both of them had been through and she cried a few tears of her own as she accepted it. With hesitance, not thinking she deserved it, but he insisted.
But by God, did he miss her. Sure, it's good to know he has his independence back and a few weeks before, he would have welcomed the comforts of his bachelor pad. But it's no longer that. The fact that another human being has shared the room, his life, has changed it, forever or so it seems. And where before, if he was in need for company, he would go out and find a willing lady to occupy his bed for a while, he can't get himself to go down that road again. Not that he's particularly ashamed of his past (well, quite recent) way of life, he's however just plain sick of it. He doesn't want to have to hunt and prey on yet another victim, however willing she might be. He wants the constant warmth and stability he has only ever felt with one particular person: his Lesh.
Now normally, his MO would be simple. It never took more than a drink or two and a smile and he would get his way. But with her, he was out of his comfort zone. For once, there was more at stake than his reputation as a ladies' man. For once, he wanted this to last.
So he had figured he would play it safe. Be her friend, her mate. And just see where that would lead him.
It now appears it only led him to a dead-end street. She has lost her patience before he could find his nerve.
Now what to do?
He looks at Ronnie, who's, for once, driving, understanding that putting his young colleague behind the wheel at this moment would be a slow and painful suicide.
"I know what you want to ask and I'm thinking about it. There has to be something you can do right?"
"I hope so."
"You love her, don't you?"
"More than I knew myself."
"Then you'll figure something out, Sunshine."
"I hope so."
He isn't really all that convinced though. The thought nags him the entire afternoon, stays with him as he drives home and haunts his dreams as he tosses and turns in his big, lonely bed. The next morning, he's exhausted, but determined to find a way to show her she's wrong. He does see her, want her, physically, biblically, spiritually and any other way he can think of.
Walking with Ronnie along London's busy shopping streets, he's still moping, when all of a sudden, his mate (oh no, not that word again) starts laughing and dragging him to a shop they've just passed.
"There you go, son. Here's your answer."
For a moment, his brain refuses to absorb what his partner is trying to show him, but then, as the absurd idea, in all its ridiculous glory, trickles in, he just knows it's the answer to his prayers. If this won't work, nothing else will...
You've gone for a nice long walk for lunch today, clearing your mind after the sleepless night you had, going over and over your vehement statement, your tongue-lashing and the inevitable break of any bond between you and your friend.
God, if only you'd put enough value in his friendship. Knowing it will never be the same again hurts more than the thought of never having him as a lover.
Way to go, Alesha.
You don't even want to begin to imagine the damage that was done to your so far unblemished reputation. You were supposed to be the sane, calm, collected woman. Someone who meant business and knew what she was doing.
And now: people are looking at you as if you're one slice short of a full loaf. Only a one-way ticket to loony-town is good enough for you, where you can join the ranks of all people you've sent there in the past. Huh. At least you'll be in good company.
And the food might not be bad either.
Back at the office, you push open the front door and with quick steps, make your way to the lift, trying to ignore the pitiful look of the young girl at the reception desk, whom you've never said anything more to than a quick 'Good morning' or 'Goodnight', but who now greets you just a little too friendly, as if pacifying a potential suicide bomber. Great, bad news still travels fast, then.
Sighing, you wriggle out of your coat and sit back down at your cluttered desk. For one so tidy, you're exceptionally careless today. Shoving away a file that definitely wasn't there when you left, thinking Jacob must have put it there, you suddenly spot a CD lying there, coverless, with a post-it note stuck on it that simply reads 'play me'. Curiosity peaked, you put it in the player and hit the 'play' button.
Sweet Hawaiian music blears through the speakers and you smile a little. Your back is turned away from your door, so you don't see him walk in. Only when a shadow looms over you, do you turn.
You must be dreaming. That, or someone spiked your coffee this morning. This cannot, most definitely not be Matt, standing on your desk. Looking ridiculous.
He's barefoot. Bare-chested. Bare-legged.
Wearing a grass skirt.
And a coconut bra.
A tropical flower tucked behind his ear and a lei around his neck.
Dancing the hula.
Then again, this is so far out there, it just has to be true. Why else would Ronnie be standing in the doorway, laughing so hard he looks like he's about to collapse? Jacob comes out of his office, alarmed by the sight of the older DS doubled over. He stands at the threshold, stunned and altogether frozen at the spot. So either everybody's drinks got spiked or it is really, truly happening.
Meanwhile, Matt is still wriggling like an idiot, holding out the flower to you. You take it and he holds out his hand again. You allow him to drag you onto the table next to him and he gently places the flower behind your ear.
"Looks better there."
He cuts you off with a soft, slightly hesitant kiss on your lips, effectively shutting you up.
"I see you, clearly, Alesha. I saw you months ago, years ago even and I'm sorry I never had the guts to do anything about it. All of it, the rape, the shooting, Pete's suicide, they were excuses for not having the balls to take what I want, need, have always needed."
His genuine confession clashes so horribly with his comic outfit, you're doing anything you can not to burst out in giggles, in case he thinks you're laughing at him. But before you can really see the funny side, you need his reassurance. Get to the heart of the matter, so to speak.
"And what is it you need?"
He beams at you, no longer afraid of voicing the answer.
Sometimes, it's that simple. He really didn't need to do what he did. There was no reason for him to act this goofy, but it does show that, when he thinks he needs to, he'll go out of his way to please you. And if that doesn't show commitment, than what does?
As an answer, you press your lips against his, kissing him fully and firmly. All around you, applause erupts and Matt starts grinning, as if he's only now aware he's assembled quite an audience.
He shivers a little.
"Think I can go change now?"
You nod, winking.
"It's a shame, but I saw several camera's flashing, so if anyone can get me a copy, you're free to go. For now."
He smiles, kisses the tip of your nose and, after bowing to the public with a flourish, accepting another round of applause and wolf whistles, he heads for the men's loos.
Ronnie, still chuckling, helps you off the table. You scold at him.
"How could you possibly let him do this?"
"How could I possibly not?"
Which is, of course, the only correct answer.
Matt reappears again, dressed normally this time, but still clutching the hula outfit. Smiling your sweetest smile, you take it from him, putting it in your bag. He raises an eyebrow in a silent question and with a kiss, you whisper in his ear.
"Next dance is on me."
He's never used the word mate again.
Ps. Thank you for taking time to read this. Hope it put a smile on your face. Reviews, as always, much appreciated.