Disclaimer:  The characters are property of CBS & others, and no infringement of copyright is intended.  The sole purpose of this story is for the entertainment of the reader.

Rated:  PG

Setting:  At the end of season two finale, "Payback"

Man Overboard

A splash, the sound of a heavy body hitting water, was the sound that reverberated delightfully through Erin's ears.  Carefully, she approached the vacant railing to examine her handiwork.  She extended her weapon in case she needed it again.  All she saw were bubbles coming from the now empty place where she supposed Chief of Washington DC Police Jack Mannion hit the water headfirst.  Slowly a cigar floated by.  Satisfied, she tossed the gun in after him and turned to go home.  Her father, Dmitri Putin, would be very pleased that she so expertly executed her assignment.  Now she would rule in his place as his rightful successor, having eliminated her father's nemesis.

The water was even colder than the night air, Mannion thought as he struggled the few feet to his boat's side.  He could see a shadowy figure at the railing, peering over the side where he had made his less than graceful entrance into the icy river moments before.  His right shoulder was on fire and running hot in blood as his legs propelled him underwater to the port gunwale of his tugboat and home, the Betty-O.  Gingerly, he stuck his head up to suck in air.  He was glad he had been required to become a combat swimmer in the Green Berets.  His training, all the way back to his days in Vietnam, was now coming in very handy.  He rested for a few breaths, and then went back under the surface of the water.  Under his boat's keel, Mannion slithered his aching body along her underside.  Again, he carefully poked his head up, this time on the starboard side of the Betty-O.  His head was reeling from the pain and blood loss, but he knew safety was not yet close enough to relax.  It was normally a short swim from his boat to the neighbors, just not tonight.  He breathed several times and ducked his head straight back down.  Mannion turned toward the stern of the other boat and swam the 30 or so feet underwater. He broke the surface again under the middle of the other boat's swim platform between the twin screws and exhaust pipes.  Calvin and Missy were visiting their children on the west coast.  He really missed them now.

Mannion reached up and took hold of the swim platform with his good hand.  He scanned the horizon for Erin.  She was nowhere to be seen.  He found his way to the ladder.  He moved it into the "down" position, and then he dragged himself aboard.  Mannion was tempted just to sit there and rest, but his combat instincts took hold.  Just sitting there could prove fatal, and Jack Mannion was anything but a quitter.  Reaching into the soggy jacket pocket, Mannion withdrew a cell phone.  He had no idea if it would work in a water logged condition or not, but he was going to give it a try.  He was greeted with silence.

"Damn," Mannion muttered.

He let it drop onto the swim platform of his neighbor's boat.  He struggled to his feet and climbed over the safety railing into the well deck area.  He was dizzy from the wound, but even the double vision confirmed no sight of Erin.  Perhaps she thought he was indeed dead.  That in mind, he decided to take a chance.  Mannion staggered up onto the pier.  He was weaving back toward his boat when he heard the sounds of familiar voices.

"Chief!" both Nancy and Brander called out simultaneously.

Brander held a bottle of champagne to celebrate their liberation from the gangbanger's basement hideout.  He waved it at Mannion. Much to all their surprise, Mannion simply nodded before crumpling in a heap on the pier.  Nancy and Brander were stunned speechless.  However, the ability to run had not yet eluded them.  Nancy reached her hero a few steps ahead of her partner.  She cradled his head in her arms and began to examine the wound.  She could tell from the sound one lung had been pierced.

"He's been shot!  It's a sucking chest wound!" she told Brander as she tore open his shirt and slapped her bare had over the opening in his chest, then looked at Mannion, "Who did this to you, sir?"

Breathing was now even more difficult as the adrenalin wore off a bit; Mannion whispered, "Erin Vradloff," he grunted a few more breaths out, then continued, "Let her think I'm out of the way.  Get me into your scout car.  No ambulance, not yet."

Brander was about to make that call, when he accepted the redirection.

Nancy spoke, "Easy, sir.  Don't talk any more.  Sir, before we stick you in the back, let's get the bleeding under control.  Brander…"

"I'm on it," he called over his shoulder as he headed to the car and first aid kit.  "You know before I was a cop, I was a paramedic," he called over his shoulder confidently.

Brander applied a field dressing of petroleum-jellied gauze with the skill of a combat medic as Nancy tried her best to soothe the man she admired most in the world.  Once the wound was secured, both cops helped their Chief to his feet and to the car.  Mannion barely fit in the front seat of most vehicles, and this back seat was even more cramped.  He groaned and whispered Ella's name as he bobbed in and out of consciousness.  Nancy kept her gaze fixed on Mannion as Brander drove, lights and siren on.

Ella and Clive were enjoying dinner at her place and celebrating their engagement when the phone rang.

"Nancy?" Ella answered, recognizing her friend's voice.  A short moment evaporated, then "What!  Where?  How bad is he?" 

Her face turned ashen and knees buckled under her.  By default, Ella came to rest in the chair by the phone.  Now it was her turn to have her head reel with what Nancy had just told her.  Missing the cradle twice, she finally managed to hang the phone up.  Clive sat by, looking at her quizzically.  At last her eyes, brimming over with tears, met his.  Clive moved toward her to comfort her not understanding why Ella was crying.  Homework done, Ricky was safe in his bedroom playing a video game, and all was well with the world.

"What is it?" he wanted to know.

"The Chief's been shot," she managed to get out before completely letting go of her tears.  Her face was now buried in her own hands.  No matter how hard Clive tired to console her, it was a losing battle.

"Is he alive?"

Ella only nodded from her collapsed position.

"I'll call a sitter for Ricky and take you to the hospital," Clive volunteered.

He pulled out his cell phone and made the call from Ella's approved sitter list that resided in the drawer under the phone.  He did not try to displace her.  He also called a taxi.  Since he had chosen the sitter who lived three flights up, Julie was able to get to the door within ten minutes.  Clive took Ella's coat and wrapped her body up in it.  Together, silently, the descended the stairs to the awaiting cab.

The doctor took one look at the soaked and bleeding Mannion and immediately had him placed on a gurney.  He called for a chest tube and cut down tray with 10 units of blood after type and matching was done.  Nancy and Brander watched as he was hurriedly wheeled out of their sight.  They could only look at one another is shock and dismay.  Then Nancy took a deep breath and headed to the phones.

"You call Chief Noland.  I'll call Ella," she told Brander.

"Got it," Brander acknowledged as he joined his partner at the pay phones.

In the bowels of the ER, Mannion was stripped, or rather cut, out his wet clothes.  A matronly nurse looked down on him much as he'd imagine his mother, Betty, would if she were still here.  He faded in and out.  His chest ached now more than it had when he was in the water swimming for his life.  He could no longer talk.  Even holding his eyes open was a struggle.  A tube was jammed into to his chest between ribs, relieving the pressure of a collapsing lung.  Breathing got just a little bit easier.

"Now just look at you," the nurse spoke softly to her patient, "These wet clothes are sure to give you your death of pneumonia.  Let's see what we can do about getting you out of them and into something dry." 

Her voice was soft and reassuring, Jack thought.  His mental focus shifted to the look in Erin's eyes as she drew the weapon up and fired.  He was completely taken by surprise.  Even now, he was starting to kick himself.  Never had anyone whose life he'd saved sought to injure him in return.  Then through the haze of his mind, he began to put it together.  Putin had intended his daughter to be the assassin all along.  He had simply made it look like he was trying to kill his own flesh and blood.  Now Mannion knew the how and why of having been set up.  Then an alternate image entered his mind.  He found himself imagining Ella:  her face, her gentle smile, her voice.  How he needed her right this minute!  He needed to feel her unconditional love and acceptance surrounding him.  He began to mutter her name over and over.

Nancy met Ella and Clive at the ER entrance just to the side of the ambulance entrance.  The routine chaos of a big city ER ruled the evening.  Nancy embraced her close friend.  Not even the presence of two uniformed officers could begin to quash the din and insanity that was the ER Waiting Room.  "Drunks Rule" was the rule in force.  There were also howling children and unhappy relatives, and every language spoken under the sun.

"He's in there," she motioned over her shoulder.

Ella swallowed hard, "Thank God, he's alive."

Nancy nodded then continued, "You know, I think he'll be okay…"

Noland burst through the doors that Ella and Clive had just come through.  He drew Nancy away and motioned for Brander to join him.

"Officers," he began with control in his deep resonant voice, "Now tell me exactly what happened."

Nancy began, "Chief Noland, we were going to the Chief's to say thanks for today's rescue, and we found him shot."

Brander continued, "He was all wet, too, like he'd fallen into the river.  We got him here just as fast as we could."

Nancy picked up again, "He said something about not wanting anyone but you and Ella to know about it…."

"Did the Chief identify his assailant?" Noland wanted to know.

"It was Erin Vradloff, Putin's daughter, sir," they both offered.  Nancy finished, "He was pretty woozy, but he was very clear about who shot him."

"Where is he?" the Deputy Chief asked.

Brander with a nod, "Back there."

Ella had quietly eased her way into the ER without anyone noticing her movements.  She had a soft way about her that allowed her nearly free access anywhere, when she decided to use that gift.  She needed to see her best friend, and she needed to see him now.

Mannion was now cut out of the wet clothes, which were piled out of the way under the gurney.  A modesty sheet covered the lower part of his body.  Twin IV's ran blood and Ringers Lactate in both arms.  There was a large inflexible tube sticking out of his right side.  It was attached to a machine that made sucking sounds.  The doctor was ordering an X-ray to better identify the location of the bullet or fragments of it for the surgeon as Ella slipped in.  She could hear Mannion's voice softly calling for her out of the grogginess of his blood loss and the narcotics.  She stood at the foot of the gurney and rubbed his leg to reassure both of them.

The doctor looked up and was startled by her presence, "Who are you, his wife?"

"I'm the one he's calling for, yes.  I'm Ella," her words reached the doctor, but her eyes saw only Mannion's grey form.

The doctor blinked for a moment as Mannion seemed to have heard and responded to her voice.  Mannion called for her, this time he knew what he was saying.

"Ella!" he tried to extend his hand to her, but everything seemed to be in the way.

The doctor spoke to Mannion, "You can have a few minutes.  We've got X-Rays to shoot, Pre-op, then it's off to surgery for you," and he backed away, leaving plenty of room for Ella to approach.

Without shifting her gaze, "Thank you, Doctor," Ella sounded more confident than she felt.

Ella's hand reached out to smooth Mannion's hair back into its usual place.  Then she felt compelled to do for him what he had so many times done for her.  She leaned over and kissed his forehead.

"I'm here, Jack.  I'll always be here," Ella spoke gently as Mannion relaxed back into the thin mattress of the gurney.

Clive had followed behind his fiancée and observed the depth of the connection between Ella and her dearest friend.  Then without a word, he retreated to the cacophony of the ER's Waiting Room.

"I'll be okay, Ella.  I don't want you to worry about that," Mannion began, tightly holding on to her hand.

"Shh.  I'm a woman.  It's my job to worry about the people I love the most," she nurtured him, stroking his face.

Half a smile flitted across his face before a shot of pain reminded him of the importance of lying still.  He had tried to rise up and meet her closeness.

With a grunt, "I'd almost forgotten how much it hurts, getting shot, that is," he joked through a few tears that were finding their way out.  He rested a moment, and then he opened his eyes to find hers filled with tears instead.  His left hand brushed the tears back, "Been a long time since a beautiful woman cried over me," he mocked his position with a wheeze.

Ella's smile met him as she took his hand in hers and kept it resting on her cheek.

"Ella…" he began, and then he noticed the diamond on her finger.

Her fingers went to his lips, "Shh.  It's okay now," she could hear sneaker clad feet behind her.  The doctor or assistant would come for Mannion any second. She leaned over and kissed him gently, "I love you, Jack."

The curtain was zipped out of the way as the orderly pushed the brake switch on the gurney, freeing it for movement.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, you'll have to leave now.  The doctors have ordered me to get him upstairs for surgery prep 'stat,' that's hospital talk for 'like yesterday,' ya know.  Look, you can wait down here or up in the OR's Waiting Room, second floor," he was polite but very business like.

"Thank you," she said to the orderly, then she turned her attention to Mannion, "I'll be there when you wake up.  Just you see to it that you wake up."

He smiled, "I've got my marching orders now, don't I?"  He grunted, and then looked at her, "I love you, Ella, come what may.  Always know that I loved you."

With that, the orderly tugged on the gurney and began to head for the back elevators to the OR's small radiology service and the surgical theatres themselves.  Reflexively, Mannion let his eyes close.  This trauma center was equipped with elevators that were dedicated for the ER to OR traffic that crime inevitably brought its way.  Ella headed back out to the ER Waiting Room.  The sound nearly deafened her when she pushed the doors open.  She had not remembered it being this loud when she first arrived.  She shook her head and looked around for the familiar faces she'd been with earlier.

She found Nancy, Brander, and Noland.  Noland rose.

"Did you see him?  Talk to him?" Nancy wanted to know.

Ella nodded.

"How is he?" both Noland and Brander chimed in at once.

"He's indestructible.  You know that.  Or at least he thinks he is," she smiled warmly and genuinely, tugging her coat closer.

Nancy giggled a little, "Yes, he is."

The fear was dismissed.

"The orderly said that we could wait for him upstairs.  There is another, hopefully quieter Waiting Room outside the OR's," Ella instructed.  "Let's wait up there.  I'm not sure I can stand much more of this party," she waved her hand at the loud, sorry scene that was any ER Waiting Room in the country, just this one on this particular night.

Noland agreed, "It's starting to get on my nerves."

They headed for the elevator when Ella remembered that Clive was not with them, "Wait, where is Clive?"

They looked back, and Brander was the first to spot him in a corner by himself, "I'll get him for you, Ella."

"Thanks, Brander," she said as they began heading for the elevator again.

Clive joined them at the doors.

"Where did you go?" Ella wanted to know.

"Oh, I was over there.  How is your boss?"

"He's hurting, but I'm betting on him," she said with her usual confidence.

"That's good," Clive nodded and responded with a hushed tone.

The elevator doors slid open; Noland offered Ella the first spot.  She entered and stood by the buttons.  She quickly pressed 2 as the doors slipped shut.  Indeed the OR Waiting Room was much quieter than the boisterous one they'd left moments before. It was like being in a wholly different place in comparison.  There was a small clutch of family in one corner near the coffee pot.  Ella selected a chair and relaxed into it for the wait.  Clive approached her and bent down to her level.

"How about I go back and stay with Ricky if you are planning on staying here until there is more word about your boss," he said rather matter-of-factly.

Ella looked up, "Oh Clive, that would be wonderful.  You know Ricky feels so comfortable with you around.  I'll let him know in the morning that Chief Mannion is okay.  Just put him to bed if Julie hasn't already, and let him know that I'm with the Chief.  He's used to that by now.  He loves Jack, so I want to make sure that he's okay before I say anything to upset him.  Death is still a touchy subject for him, you know."

Clive nodded.  He stood, shook hands with the remaining members of the group. 

He looked to Noland, "Please call me if she needs a ride home before morning."

"Don't worry, I'll get her home," he assured Clive, not having any idea of how long this would last into the night or that he was further shutting Clive out of this family.  Even though Ella had never been nor had ever aspired to be a cop, she was a key member of the MPD family only because Mannion had invited her in.  She was the only "civilian" so honored.

With that Clive left for Ella's home and Ricky.  Ricky was indeed already in bed when Clive arrived.  He paid the sitter and hunted down a blanket and pillow for the couch.  Dimming the lights, he sighed to himself wondering where this was all going to go and half afraid he already knew.  It was a good thing he knew how to live alone successfully.

Midnight.  Noland was on the phone, coordinating a hunt for Putin's daughter.  He had Debreno on the other end.

"It was Putin's daughter.  Get Page and find her," he began.  "What do you mean you don't know where Temple is?  Find him, and then find her!"

Ella dozed in the chair under Noland's jacket.  Nancy and Brander had left an hour ago.  Somebody had to work the next morning, and those somebodies were Nancy and Brander.  Nancy indicated prior to leaving that they stop by and check on Cujo.  The Chief would be none too pleased if anything happened to that little dog.  As they left, Nancy told Brander how the Chief had come by the dog and the parts that she and Ella had played in it all.  Noland could hear Brander laughing as the story went along.  He smiled warmly at the recollection as well as the telling.

The surgeon, Dr. Jim Banks, entered the now nearly empty waiting room.  He spotted Ella and Noland.

With a smile, "I guess you're Ella?"

Ella raised her head and tried to shake off the sleep.  With a soft yawn and stretch, "Can I see him now?"

"That's why I'm here.  If you'll follow me, please," he began.

Out of the shadows, Noland caught him, "Doctor, how is he?"

"You must be Joe Noland then?  The Chief said you'd probably be out here, too.  He'll be fine in a few weeks.  The surgery went well, the bullet lodged in his scapula, the shoulder blade, rather than fragmenting.  That was good news.  However, since he was in the river, we have to really guard against extra infections.  And we'll take precautions against pneumonia as well.  His condition seems strong enough to send him to a room after a few hours in Recovery.  For now, I think we can safely bypass the ICU, which is already full," then he turned to Ella, "He has a few more tubes in him that when you saw him in the ER, and right now, his eyes are full of an antibiotic ointment and bandaged to keep them still.  So I don't want you to be startled when you see him the first time, okay?"

Ella was not too sure what to do with this news.  She turned to look at Noland who seemed at a loss for words as well.

"Go on now.  Let him know we're out here," Noland reassured her without really reassuring himself any.

Ella entered the Recovery Room.  For all the world it looked just like the ER minus the mess on the floor and deafening sounds.  Instead, it was quieter than a library.  There were no patients groaning or screaming, no drunken family members demanding anything, just the bliss of quiet.  Even the monitors were on silent, except for the occasional alarm beckoning a nurse to come now, check, and reset the unit.  Someone brought a small, but not entirely uncomfortable, chair for Ella to sit on.  She pulled it as close to the bed as she could.  Before sitting down on it, she stroked Mannion's face, which was completely at ease.  She eased the sheet back just a little, exposing the dressings and tubes running out of his chest wall.  Ella also found that half the hair on his chest had been shaved away.  There was no trace of the pain he had experienced earlier in the evening.  His breathing was even, deep, and regular.  She wished only that she could see his eyes, those dark brown, fiercely passionate eyes.  She chuckled to herself.  Jack Mannion was nothing like what she had expected when he had arrived.  Late that very afternoon, could it have been only that afternoon, she had told him so.  It was the last real conversation they'd had.  It was before…  Ella caught herself.  She looked down at the ring on her finger and now regretted telling Clive that she would marry him.  Absentmindedly, Ella found herself stroking Mannion's hair and rubbing his forehead with her thumb.

"Ella," he whispered.

"I'm here, Jack."

"Where the hell is 'here'?" he wanted to know.

"You're in the Recovery Room of Stateman's," was her gentle reply.  She continued to stroke his hair.  Running her other hand down under the sheet, she found his hand and held it.  She could feel both the heat of his body and the softness of his skin.  The heat concerned her; instinct told her he was running that fever the doctor had forewarned.  She knew one of those monitors held answers, but she was at a loss for the moment as to which one.  In time, she would master those computers as she had every computer she'd ever met.

"No dream?" he wondered.

"No dream," she let him know.

"Can you do me two favors?" he asked.

"Sure.  What?"

"Can you turn on the lights?  I'd like to see you.  Then make the hippo that's made my chest his home move to somewhere else," he rolled his head toward the sound of her voice.

"No hippo here.  And the lights are on.  It's just your eyes are bandaged on account of the river," Ella began to explain what the doctor had just told her.  "The river is very badly polluted, so they put some salve in your eyes to prevent infection and blindness.  Nobody said how long it would last.  I'm guessing a day or so, or at least past the dangerous time."  She paused, and then since she missed the conversations earlier, added, "Jack, who shot you?"

Mannion took as deep a breath as he dared, winced a little, then continued, "You'll never guess…  It was Putin's daughter, Erin.  She just came on the boat and caught me off guard."

"Why the nerve of that girl!" declared Ella.  "You saved her life at least twice that I know of.  That's some payback."

"Or that is what Putin wanted me to believe.  Ella, what if that crook set me up to be hit by his daughter from the start?  Everything else, except killing Danny, has been calculated to get her close enough to me to get a clean shot," Mannion explained.  "Maybe Yuri was supposed to hit Sherry and me, then when that effort only killed Danny, Erin was Plan B.  But I'm really not sure of much of anything right now."

Ella thought about what he had just told her and then mused, "Well in a sick way, I suppose it does make sense.  How perverse!"

"Ella, you just described Dmitri Putin to a tea," Mannion yawned and groaned.

"Does it hurt a lot?" Ella had never been shot, but she had known her share of surgeries.

"Only when I laugh or take a deep breath," he couldn't help but yawn again.  "I'm sorry, I don't mean to yawn at you like I am…"

She rose and kissed his forehead, "You go to sleep now, Jack.  I'll be here when you wake up again," she returned to her chair.

He drifted off into a light sleep.  Ella kept her eyes open as long as they would comply, then she laid her head down on the edge of the bed.  Her one hand still interlaced with his as the other tucked itself under her head in an uneasy pose.  In the very early morning, the nurse awakened Ella with moving news.  He was indeed doing well enough to avoid a trip to the "unit," as the staff referred to ICU.  Through the remainder of the night, every half hour, they tended Mannion's PIC, a high tech large bore IV that ran deep into his body, and his chest tube that kept his lung from collapsing again, but they could hardly move the pair intertwined as they were.

Ella got up and stretched.  Now she was acutely aware of the tension in her muscles – back and neck ached ferociously.  She rubbed the ones she could get at easily.  The others she tried to stretch back into shape.  Mannion stirred as the brakes were eased off on the bed.

"Ella?" he called out of his dark world.  He sounded just a little scared, as if his anchor had suddenly been ripped away.

"Right here, Jack," she moved back closer to the bed and touched his leg.  "It's moving day around here.  They're tired of listening to you snore!" she teased.

"I don't snore.  I've got two ex-wives who can attest to it!" he shot back with a grin.  He wished he could see her grinning back at him, as he was sure she was.

"Well, I can see the nurses on the sixth floor are going to have their hands full," the orderly pushing the bed joined in.

"Who's that?" Mannion queried.

"Harry Longstreet, at your service, sir!"

"Well, Harry, Jack Mannion, Chief of Police," he said sticking his left hand out from under the sheets.  "I'd give you my right but it's not feeling so good right now!  It feels like I've got all kinds of stuff hanging out of it."

"You do.  And I'd return the favor, but I kinda gotta keep both hands on the wheel when I drive, if you know what I mean?" Harry shot right back.

"Ella…  I like this kid!" Mannion said with a grin.

"Careful, Harry Longstreet, you get him too happy, and he'll start singing on you!" Ella blissfully rejoined.

"A song, that's it, Ella!  Sing with me," Mannion began to sing in his pleasant, resonant baritone, an old Gospel tune, "It Is Well with my Soul" as Ella joined in for the chorus.

There was an empty spot in the floor for Mannion's bed in room 612.  On the third verse, Harry had joined in on the chorus, filling it out with his deep bass voice.  The nursing staff had their only formal announcement of the new patient in the patient's own terms and on his own terms.  Indeed, they had their work cut out for them.

The FBI agents were busy interrogating Dmitri Putin in the federal penitentiary on the outskirts of Washington.  Deputy Chief Noland had called them in the morning on his way home from the OR Waiting Room.  Debreno was in Noland's office first thing that morning, looking only slightly worse for the wear.

"Detective?  Where is my suspect?" Noland demanded in his deep voice.

"Uh, sir, it's like this, I can't find Temple.  I went to his place.  I called up his church group.  I talked to his sister-in-law, too.  Nobody's seen him.  And he hasn't gotten to work today.  I'm kinda worried," Debreno shared.

"We don't have time for this, Debreno.  Take Cunningham and find Erin Vradloff.  We'll find Page when he drags in.  It's not like him, and since the gang turf war was put to rest yesterday, I don't think he's been kidnapped," Noland thought out loud for the benefit of his detective.  "Look, did he say anything about putting in for leave after the shoot out you two got into?"

"No sir.  But the Shooting Review Board may have contacted him and put him on Admin Leave pending the outcome of the review.  Maybe he just didn't think to tell anybody," Debreno offered.

"Ummm.  Good point.  I'll look into that, you find me Putin's daughter!" Noland ordered.  "First contact the US Marshall's, see if they still have a lock on her.  If they do, they are to arrest her.  Here is a list of confidential informants the department has used in the past."

"I'm on it!" Debreno uttered with confidence as he shot out the door.

Noland knew that it would be only a matter of time before Erin showed up.  The first places he had eyes working were all the airports and bus and train stations.  No Erin in any of those.  Fine, then the net would simply spread wider, to car rental agencies and to BWI, which was well within the general metro area.  The police chiefs of all the surrounding communities as far south as Richmond and Norfolk were waiting to find the would-be assassin of one of their own.  When the public discovered that "their man Mannion" was lying near death's door in a local hospital, the phones began to ring off the hook.  By ten that morning after the shooting, Erin was in custody, surprised and a little worse for wear.

By ten that same morning, Mannion had suffered a sponge bath and had been issued hospital gown, and was presently sitting up in bed with thoughts of a guided walk down the hallway.  He had a low-grade fever, but he kept assuring all that he was fine, raring to go.  Ella had fed him some crushed ice to soothe his parched tongue.  It had stayed down.  Next, she was directed to try sips, very small sips, of ginger ale.  The bubbles made him hiccup uncontrollably, and since his eyes were still bandaged, he couldn't tell for sure if Ella was laughing at him or not.  By eleven, the friends started their procession through the hospital.  First, it was Nicky and the Mayor.  Baker had chided him for not taking better precautions.  Then the African American clergy were lined up waiting for a turn to pray over and lay hands on this man they had entirely too much fun fighting with.  They knew in their hearts that this Police Chief really did mean to make a positive difference for their community.  It was simply a style difference, that's all.  They were both striving for the identical goal.  By noon, Nick was stationed with the hospital's own public affairs person to keep things in some kind of organized chaos, sending all the well-meaning cops back to patrol or home.  They had filled the blood bank quota for the next three months.

Meanwhile, Mannion was pestering the hospital for a number of things that would effectively turn his room into a mini-command post.  If he was supposed to be there for more than a day, he was going to need communications he insisted.  Mannion wanted extra phones and two computers for starters, one for Ella and one for him, for when he got his eyes back.  He was back in business, no matter how rotten he was beginning to feel.  Ella had gone home for a shower and change of clothes earlier in the morning when Mannion's room was overflowing with visitors.  She trusted the nurses to chase them all out when Mannion grew weary of the traffic.  However, for a few hours, he was in heaven.  Even Eddie, the bookseller, dropped by to pay his respects.  Eddie brought him a new publication on the Battle of Thermopolis, telling him that other than eyewitness accounts, this was the new definitive work on the battle.  For Mannion, the best visitor of all was John from the CIA.  John was there and gone within five minutes.  He had only come to apologize about Putin and his crowd.  Mannion thought this must be the first time in known history that the CIA admitted any tactical error, let alone apologize for it.  He was savoring the moment when Ella returned and sent everyone on out the door.

"He needs his rest," she said as she chased the last one out half past noon.  She then made him take a nap.

"How will you know if I'm asleep?" he teased.

"I'm a Mom, remember.  Mom's know these things," was her terse reply as she adjusted his pillow and gently caressed his forehead with her lips, checking his temperature while she was at it.

Jack took a restless nap.  About three in the afternoon, Clive brought Ricky by.  Ricky was a little bit scared by all the equipment that surrounded his favorite Chief Mannion.  What's more, with all the tubes sticking out, the Chief did not look like he usually did, but he did sound like himself.

"Ricky, little buddy, come on up here," Mannion motioned for the child to sit on the bed with him.

Kicking off his shoes, Ricky climbed up on Mannion's left side and tucked himself in next to the big man careful to avoid all the medical equipment.  The child leaned over and put his ear against Jack's chest and listened to the sound of his heart.  Then Ricky relaxed and smiled. 

He whispered in Jack's ear, "I love you Chief Jack!"

Mannion wrapped his arm around the boy and let him lean closer.  The large bundles off to the right side were well out of the way of the child's small head.  Ella smiled as the two got to know one another again.  Her anxiety level was back to normal.

"Got a minute," Clive's voice broke into her reverie.

"Sure," Ella acknowledged.

Clive took Ella's hand and led her from the room as he watched Ricky respond to Mannion's embrace and suggestion that they play Blind Man's Bluff.  Ella couldn't help but grin widely when Mannion put forward his idea for a game.  It was so like him to be the optimist.  With that, she found herself with her fiancé in the hallway.

"I'm glad that your boss is on the mend, but I've got to get back to my job.  Do you want me to come back by and pick the two of you up, or are you planning on spending the night with him, again?"

Ella thought she heard annoyance in Clive's voice, but she really wasn't sure, "I guess I'll go home tonight if Jack doesn't need me.  We don't know when they plan to take the dressings off his eyes, so I guess it will sort of depend on that."

"Big man afraid of the dark?"

"Clive, what is wrong with you?  If you had ever been in a hospital before, you'd understand!" she shot back.  "You know, I've never seen this side of you.  And I don't mind telling you that I don't think I like it either."

"Sorry, stress I guess.  Look, Ella, I love you, but I've got to go.  Call me, okay?"

"Okay.  Good-bye, Clive," Ella whispered.

She drew up next to the wall and rested her head back on it.  Ella's eyes closed involuntarily as she reflected back on the last twenty-four hours of life.  She could hear the faint sounds of Ricky giggling, and she smiled.  God was so good to her.  He had spared her the life of her best friend.  She decided to give her boys some more time together.  Ella found her way to the Chapel to give thanks, officially.  When she returned half an hour later, she found a different doctor removing the bandages from Mannion's eyes.

"Your vision may seem blurry for maybe a day or so.  It may take that long for the ointment to work its way on out.  Nothing to be alarmed by," Dr. Samuels offered.

Sitting on a stool, Ricky was fascinated by the procedure that Mannion had invited him to participate in.  Ricky reached up with childlike innocence and fingered the remnants of the oily substance on his friend's face.

"You can wash your face, no problems.  The anti-bacterial has done its job," the ophthalmologist commented as he placed the swab sample into its tube for transport.  "The Lab will give us results in a day or so, but I'm confident.  I don't see any traces of what would be infection.  If there is a change, we'll fix you right up," he smiled at Ricky.  "Son, don't you worry about your Daddy," the to Mannion, "I've got a kid about his age," then to Ella, "If you don't see me again, I hope everything else goes as well," with that he left.

Ricky leaned back over and hugged Mannion, "I wish you were my Daddy sometimes," and he planted a kiss on Mannion's cheek.

"I love you, too, Ricky.  Now much more of this and I think I'm gonna cry!" Mannion teased as Ricky giggled.

Ella was silent not quite sure of what had transpired.  The afternoon moved into evening.  Mannion was offered a liquid diet tray.  He found it aggravating to use a spoon with his left hand.  He was quite adept with left-handed forks, but spoons were a completely different challenge.  In the end, he took the broth and drank it like coffee.  Ella had gone downstairs to grab Ricky and herself something to eat.  Ricky, as his "big buddy's" lookout, had been sworn to secrecy on Mannion's temporary poor table manners in the absence of the "Lady."  When the meals were over, Ella looked at Ricky as if remembering something long forgotten.

"Ricky, have you done your homework tonight?"

"Uh…" was all the youngster could muster.

"Ella, I'll be fine.  Why don't you and Ricky go home and get a good night's sleep?  I know you did not sleep well last night, and I'd like to see you fresh tomorrow.  By 9 am, they should have some computers up and running here," Mannion declared as if nothing had happened yesterday.

"If you're sure?" she questioned.  "Julie can stay over tonight, too.  I can go home and…"

"No.  Go, please.  Take care of yourself for a change," Mannion said softly with both his voice and his eyes, not wanting to let her know how bad he was beginning to feel.

Ella reached out and gently stroked his face.  Instinctively, he closed his eyes and reveled in the touch of her soft hand.  While he had his eyes shut, she again kissed his forehead.  In some ways, it was like catching up on all the times that his kiss had given her strength.  This time though, he felt like he was burning up, but the nurses surely were aware.

"Good night, Jack," were the soft words that accompanied the caress.

Clive met Ricky and Ella at the main entrance.  He had little desire to see any more of Mannion any time in the near future.  This was a new experience for him, jealousy.  Clive had always kept to himself, always the confident loner who did not need anyone.  He still did not need Ella, even if he found her appealingly attractive.  If his feelings got any more difficult, he'd simply leave.  If she did not need him, he did not need her.  There, he said it to himself.  His mind was made up.  This conversation played inside his head on the trip to Ella's home.  Ella sensed his disquiet, but she did not want a fight in front of Ricky who was happily playing a handheld gameboy.

Ella invited Clive in, "Would you like to come in for some coffee, Clive?"  Part of her hoped that he'd just go home.

"Sure.  You want me to put Ricky to bed for you?"

"No, he's got," she paused to look at her son.

Ricky finished the thought with an affected groan, "Homework!"

"Why not do it in your room?  Clive and I need to talk," Ella directed.

Clive knew he did need to talk, but he was no more looking forward to the next five minutes than was Ella.  He chose to take the lead this time before he got pushed away or chided.  He would make the decision in this matter; it was his life!  He would no longer follow this woman, no matter how lovely or desirable she was.

"You know I've been thinking.  I really don't have roots here in Washington, and you really do.  I honestly want that job in Seattle.  I see it as a real big step up for me.  I understand that you want to stay here with your family and your friends, but I can't say that I do," Clive counseled.

"What are you trying to say, Clive?  That you want out?" Ella questioned.

"Yes, I guess that's what I am saying.  I want out.  Look, keep the ring.  If you ever get out to Seattle, look me up.  Let me take you to dinner, okay?  I'd like to stay friends," he concluded half-heartedly.

"No, Clive, I can't keep this.  It's an engagement ring.  It would feel funny, having it, wearing it.  Maybe you could return it.  I don't know…" her voice trailed off as she eased the ring off her finger.

She pressed the lovely diamond into his hand.  Slowly, she pulled close and kissed his cheek.

Clive swallowed and took in air, "Your life is here.  Thank you for the time we had together.  I do love you, Ella, but I'm just not the right one for you," he ran his hand gently across her face, and then he turned and left.

Ella was stunned in one moment and relieved in the next.  She wondered what Clive has seen or sensed that had convinced him they would never work out as a couple.  One day they had been happy, then the very next, there was no more "they."   The door clicked shut behind his quiet departure.

Noland discovered that the Shooting Review Board had as a matter of formality placed Page on Admin Leave pending the outcome of the shooting inquiry.  A man had died as a result of the officer's actions.  To Noland, it was simply Pro Forma, for the record, nothing more.  The case was cut and dry, the crook had fired on officers who returned fire.  Simple as that, case closed, scratch one bad guy.  Perhaps, it was not that simple to Temple though.  So Noland sent Debreno to hunt his partner down and check on him.

Temple had never killed a man before, not even in the Gulf War.  He had seen plenty of death in his young life, in DC as well as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.  He knew its stench.  That smell took hold of his nostrils and refused to let go.  In his head, Temple knew the shooting was justified.  His heart was another matter.  His heart told him it was wrong to kill; the Bible told him it was wrong to kill.  He needed to hide.  He needed to hide from himself and from God, too.  He was desperately ashamed that he had killed a man.  But where could he hide from God?  Well maybe he could not hide from God, but he could hide from himself and ignore God from that position.  He knew where the dealers hung out…

Ella arrived at the hospital shortly after shift change but before the morning routine was half done.  Clive was a vague and distant memory.  The nurses were on the rounds, passing out pills, checking IV's, as the aides were busy with the second set of morning vitals and baths.  Ella found only the unit clerk at the Nurses Station and nodded as she went on by.  The hospital had a very liberal visiting policy, and folks were starting to recognize Ella anyway.  She was good for their patient's morale and was the only one who could even begin to curtail his activities.

The door to Mannion's room was open.  Initially, Ella had not noticed that his name and doctor plate was missing.  However, she could not miss that fact that the bed was made, and Jack was not in it.  The room looked unoccupied.  A wave of fear shot through her body like iced lightning.  She opened the closet, nothing.  Then she remembered:  Jack had been naked when he'd been brought up yesterday morning. Only after his bath, was he issued the flimsy hospital gown.  Of course, he had complained about it, too.  The extra blankets she's acquired for him were gone.  He was cold, and the blankets seemed to help a little.  She wondered if he was "down" doing some test or had had a room change.  Mostly her mind wandered rapidly to the unthinkable.  She had listed him as her primary point of contact, her next of kin.  Who had he listed?  Beth?  Jack Jr.?  Sherry?  She had no idea.  Panic set in about this time.  Ella went back down the hall to the Nurse's Station.

Mannion's surgeon, Dr. Banks, had just come in for the morning rounds of his other surgical patients.  Ella had felt confident when he spoke with her the other night, when he drew her back to Jack's side.  She'd seen him yesterday as well when he made his morning rounds.  His head was down, writing in a patient's chart.

"Dr. Banks, may I speak with you, sir?" Ella asked from the other side of the counter.

Banks looked up and immediately recognized Ella as Mannion's closest friend.

"Uh…" he rose and made his way around the counter.

Ella's panic rose to nearly unbearable levels, "Oh God.  He's dead!" tumbled out.

"No, no, no.  He's alive.  Come around here, let me talk to you a moment about what happened last night late," Banks spoke softly as he took her by the elbow and repositioned her in a chair away from the action that was inevitably working its way down the hall.

"You know from the other night that we were concerned about eye infection from the filth that is the Potomac, right?"

Ella only nodded through her clouded eyes.

Banks took a deep breath and kept on, "Well his eyes were fine, protected by the ointment.  But last night around 3 a.m., we had some complications…"

Ella looked up at him; "Complications?" there was a hint of anger in her tone as well as fear.

"You got your sea legs back yet?  If so, walk with me," Banks encouraged as he took her arm.

He guided their progress down to the third floor.

"One of the complications that every surgical patient experiences is a post operative fever.  He also got some of that water into his lungs causing a mild case of pneumonia.  Usually, within a day or so, antibiotics, etc, it goes away.  Well, with his having been in the river, the wound got infected worse than most bullet wounds.  Any puncture wound, and a gunshot is a type of puncture wound, runs a risk of infection that is far greater than a cut or break.  They don't clean out well, and germs collect in them…"

"So you're saying he's got an infection?  But I thought that he was on antibiotics for that and pneumonia.  I saw the labels on the small bottles on his PIC line that said they were different kinds of antibiotics," Ella inquired.

"Well, I can see you've got good eyes and know what you're looking at when you see it," Banks smiled.

"Job habit when you work around a bunch of cops," she offered as a response even though it was much more related to her feminine instincts to check on every little thing as it related to persons she cared about.

"Well, let's say his infection got really bad, really fast.  We had to move him to the unit," Banks said as they arrived outside the ICU double doors.  "Depending on how things went last night, he might even be intubated – tube down his throat to assist his breathing.  I haven't made this set of rounds yet."

That made Ella pale and grow invisibly wobbly.  She leaned up against the wall to steady herself.  The unit had a very stringent visitation policy.  A quick glance told Ella that Ricky would not be visiting here for a few years yet to come.  Before entering, the doctor took one more serious look at her.

"I'm going to ask you something very personal.  And I need an honest answer from you, no BS, okay?" his eyes said he was not playing around.

Ella nodded.

"Do you love this man?"

She inwardly went further back on her heels.  She knew she loved Mannion with a deep affection, but she was not sure where Dr. Banks was going with this line.

Again she nodded.

"How much?"

Ella did not know what to say, so she said nothing.

"Look, if you love him, your love can be more therapeutic than all the drugs I can hang off an IV pole, so I need to know:  how much do you love him?" there was demand in his tone this time that had never been present to her before.

She squeezed out, "I love him more than he knows," and more than I ever knew she continued the thought.

Somewhat satisfied, he went on, "Okay.  New hard question.  Does he love you?"

"I think so…" her voice trailed off as she considered what was being asked.

Jack had always been there for her from the moment he'd found her and rescued her from the dungeon office of Records Clerk in the basement.  He'd gone to her sister's funeral instead of the officers' funerals in spite of all the negative press he'd received as a result.  Her personal tragedy marred his entrance into his new job.  He never brought it up.  She was sure he had never even given it a first thought, let alone a second one.  Jack Mannion's presence had been monumentally reassuring during the custody fight for Ricky, Pablito's trial, her own bouts with cancer and almost cancer.  His presence saturated her life in many wonderful ways.  Of course he loved her, but how to express it.  It was intangible and yet touchable all at the same time.  It was constant and unconditional, like her own love for him.  Yet there was something else there now, she could feel the edges of it beginning to form last night in the ER.  It was a little frightening yet inviting as well.

"How do you know?"

Ella considered and answered simply, "He's always there."

Satisfied, Banks proceeded, "Very well then, here is the deal; he's in a coma.  He can't talk to you, but you can talk to him.  He can hear you, so talk; make sure he knows he is loved.  I can't stress enough how important your role is.  Love is more potent than any drug I can prescribe.  Together with all my medical science, your love will pull him through," he checked her reaction as her eyes glazed over with fear.  "Yes, it is just that serious."

Ella took a deep breath, steadied herself, and then spoke, "Well, let's go then."

Banks swiped his pass though the door lock, and the doors swept open for them.  Ella had never been in an ICU before, not even during her recent hospital stay.  It was a little busier than the Recovery Room, and it was not as quiet.  She could hear patients groaning with pain.  The nurses at the desk chatted and laughed with one another.  Later she would come to discover, laughter kept the staff sane when under tremendous pressure.

In one corner, to the right of the Nurses' Station, she could see Jack's form.  He was inclined in the bed just a little bit.  Multiple monitors surrounded the bed presenting her with more computers to learn to decipher.  There was that tube the surgeon had warned her about.  There was also a repositioned chest tube draining the wound and maintaining the lung.  Then there was a frightening, darkish tube stuffed up his nose.  They stopped at the Nurses' Station, but Ella was mentally already standing next to her best friend who needed her more than either could fathom.  Dr. Banks was introducing her to the nurses, but Ella could not hear until one male nurse gently took her by the hand.  Startled by the sudden contact, she looked up.

"I'm Jeff, Jeff Griffin.  Let me show you around," Griffin started as he led her toward Mannion's resting form, "Dr. Banks wants you to stay as long as you can.  He wants you to boost the morale of our patient here.  I've seen him use this with other patients when there is a close relative or friend near by.  It's truly amazing; I'm a believer.  We discovered it by accident a year or so ago with a little lady from Baltimore.  She was 95 years old, and her GP said she'd never make 96.  Well, Dr. Banks views that as a personal challenge.  As it turns out, her favorite great granddaughter lives here in DC.  Dr. Banks parked her on a chair and watched the old lady perk right back up.  She made 96 by the way, came here to bring us all cake," Griffin smiled at Ella.

Smoothly he had slipped a chair under Ella.  It was better than the one she'd used in the Recovery Room, but not nearly as comfortable as the one in Room 612.

"Let me show you some of the monitors," his voice was soothing, "This measures how much oxygen he is absorbing into his blood, O2 sats.  It should be at 100, but it's not.  So that's why we are helping him breathe right now.  Since he was in some trouble last night when we first got him, it was a prudent thing to do," he motioned to another monitor, "This is a readout for the rest of his vital signs.  Right now, the one that is of concern is his temperature.  It volleys between 103 and 104, but if he weren't on this cooling blanket, he'd be well above that."

Griffin pulled back the doubled over sheet just enough for Ella to see a light green plastic pad that Mannion was lying on top of.  It was connected to a quiet little machine on the other side of the bed by hoses.  Later she'd go see how that machine worked.

In a hushed voice, barely audible, "What are all those other tubes?" Ella pointed at the variety sticking out of Mannion's body.

"This dark greenish one is his NG tube.  It keeps his stomach empty, and his airway clear of anything he might want to vomit up," then he motioned to the next tube.  "We repositioned the original chest tube, so it keeps his lung inflated while it heals, and it drains the wound.  By the time his temp got high enough and he got to feeling bad enough to complain, the infection had taken hold.  He was in trouble when he got here around 3:30 this morning.  The term we use is that his wound went 'septic' on us.  We sucked a good 500 cc of crap out of it alone.  He'll have a big scar when it's all said and done, but a scar is not so bad.  It could be more macho than a tattoo," teased Griffin.

Ella looked at him funny.  Being a Mom now, she was no longer made queasy by sickness or the talk of sickness.  Her response was to his macho comment.

"Oh, you'll get used to the sick sense of humor we have around here.  It's what keeps us going.  The sicker the patient, the sicker the humor," he advised, and then he continued with the briefing, "Last, but not least, is the Foley which is attached to this bag," he pointed to a plastic urine bag, graded with blue lines, near the foot of the bed.  "It keeps his bladder emptied, and let's us know a little bit about how his kidneys are doing.  Fever is hard on organs, but so far, what we've put in is coming back out again.  That's good news, okay?"

Griffin redirected Ella's attention to the small sink on the side of the room, "Now, I want you to feel free as you talk to him, to wipe his face and upper body down with cool water.  Use either the sponge or the washcloth.  Avoid the incision, the tubes, and the PIC line.  In general, avoid getting any openings that don't come as standard equipment wet," then he pointed to a small sign above his head, "NPO means nothing by mouth.  Later when he wakes up, he might be really thirsty.  Infection and fever tend to do that.  You can open these glycerin swabs and swab out his mouth or you can use this foam 'toothbrush' to make him feel more comfortable.  Later, the doctor may allow you to let him suck on the end of a wet washcloth.  But until then, no nothing for this guy, okay?  If you've got some lip balm, you might want to put some on him.  Fever makes your lips really chapped."

Ella looked carefully and saw the nurse was quite right.  Jack looked like he'd been in the sun for way too many hours.  In the ER, he had been pale as a ghost, now he was flushed with a high fever.  She began to rummage through her purse.

"One last thing, if a monitor goes off, you will need to leave.  We'll need the room to work," he cautioned.

"Understood.  Those seem like simple rules," Ella spoke louder and for the first time in Mannion's presence, he could hear her voice.

The monitor jumped.

"See," began Griffin, "He knows you're here.  Keep talking.  If you need anything, just press this button," he handed her the call button and left her alone.

"Jack…" was the first soft word she spoke directly to Mannion.  "I don't know what to say.  You got really sick and that scares me terribly.  I'm going to put some Blistex on your lips.  Hope you don't mind that I used a little bit the other day myself."

There were no additional jumps on the monitors as she washed her hands then placed a little on her finger and wiped it across his blistered lips.

"Ricky likes Clive well enough, but he really adores you," Ella looked for a corresponding monitor reflection of acknowledgement of her words.  "So you've got to get well, if not for your sake, then for Ricky's."

Nothing.  His vitals remained unchanged.

"Joe is hunting Erin like a big gamer hunter…"

No change.

"The FBI is grilling Putin himself…"

There was a faint rise in blood pressure at the mention of Putin's name.

"Your surgeon, Dr. Banks, whom I like by the way…he seems like a very competent doctor…anyhow, he decided that I should sit here and keep you company until you wake up or get better, I hope you don't mind too much…" she started again, "So if you get tired of listening to me, you'll just have to wake up and tell me to shut up!"

There was a touch of the humor she'd heard at the Nurses' Station moments ago.  She thought she saw a flicker of a smile on his face.  She was feeling a little better herself.

"Would you like me to cool you off a little," more statement than question, she found a washcloth and soaked it with cold water.  Wringing it out, she began to pat his forehead with it, "Here, that's better, isn't it?"

After a few hours, Ella found herself exhausted.  Griffin came by to check on her again.  He could see her clearly from his station, but sometimes it was nice to exchange words with another person who could talk.

"You look tired.  You hungry yet?"

Ella shook her head, "I'm not leaving my post."

Griffin smiled tenderly then patted her arm, "Look, Ella, it takes about half of one day here to wipe you out if you're not careful.  You have got to pace yourself.  You've gone through all the things I told you that you could do, now let me tell you what else you can do.  Just sit here and be present to him.  You don't have to talk, just be.  Hold his hand, rub his arm if you like.  Just be.  I'll get you a tray for lunch," he spoke so kindly and invitingly, Ella could not resist.

Within minutes she had surrendered to sleep.  When she awakened an hour later, Mannion had not moved.  His vitals were just as they had been when slumber overtook her.  She had hoped for a miracle or maybe even some just plain magical thinking.  This was going to take time, she now understood what Griffin had been trying to counsel her on.

She rose, stretched, leaned over and kissed Jack's forehead, which was as expected - burning hot.  The washcloth had been replaced by a fresh one.  Again, she began to try and dowse the fire that threatened her friend's life.  This time, she sang softly to him.  She drew back on all her years in choir at the First African American Baptist Church.  After a few hours of hymns and spirituals, she began to sing her way through children's hymns.  She sang through the three verses of "Jesus Loves Me, This I know," and found that she was feeling more at peace.  She had not noticed Griffin coming by.

"See, his O-2 sats are up.  Good job!" he smiled.  "Just wanted to say, see ya in the a.m.  I'm off.  Dian Garza is your afternoon crew chief," he joked.  "She'll be with you all the way.  Anything I can do for you right now?" he paused, " Here is that tray I promised.  I ran it through the nuke machine, so some of it is even hot."

Ella had returned his smile, "Thank you so much, but I can't think of anything just now," then she looked at her watch.  "I do need to make some phone calls though."

Griffin pointed her to pay phones just outside the ICU, just inside the waiting room.  There were no cell phones allowed in patient areas since they interfered with equipment.  After devouring the meal placed before her, Ella called the office first and told Noland what was happening.  That was after he got finished chewing on her for not calling sooner.  When he calmed down, Ella explained how rapidly the day had gone; that she had simply lost track of time.  Noland had really come to admire Mannion, though he was loathe to admit it out loud or in public.  He promised to come spell her if she liked.  Ella could not exactly go into the intimate details of the conversation she'd had earlier in the day with Dr. Banks, but she did tell Joe if he wanted to visit what the hours were.  He could visit while she raced home to be a few minutes with Ricky and decide on interim childcare.  Noland accepted her request; he instinctively knew that Mannion was bonded to his assistant as he was not bonded to anyone else.

On the evening return trip to the ICU, Ella had stopped off to pick up a hymnbook.  Her memory did not always serve her well when under this kind of stress.  She might remember one verse to a hymn then get stuck.  Getting all the verses correct was difficult except for the ones she'd sung all her life, over and over again.  As she patted the cool compress over his upper body and sang to him, Mannion felt as if he were floating in a sea of absolute contentment.  One day, he was going to tell her how much he loved her no matter how she felt about Clive.  He hated that ring he'd seen just a short time ago.  That ring meant that Ella was not his, not his at all.  Since Sherry had left his life for good, he had allowed himself think of Ella as his.  He'd never made a "move" on her simply because he wasn't sure how she felt about him.  He had been a little wary that a year and a half ago she had commented that while she viewed him as a good man, she did not think he was her 'type,' whatever that meant in "girl speak."  Women were an utter and complete mystery to him, and at times he even enjoyed that aspect.  He knew that she loved him, but the love was that of a friend, still there was a raw edge that was sensual.  It seemed to have developed over the many months they had gotten to know one another on ever deepening levels.  She sparkled when he complimented her, and he loved to see her sparkle.  He wanted to follow up on that in the worst of ways now.  Now, Clive presented the greatest challenge.  How to quietly get rid of his competition roiled through his fever soaked brain.

The morning began quietly.  Ella catnapped in the chair, which had been exchanged for a more comfortable one the night before.  The night nurse found her a blanket to curl up in.  Every hour and a half, Ella awakened to apply more cool water and conversation to her best friend.  By 7 am, Griffin had returned and found her still "at her post."

Griffin smiled, "So how'd he do last night?"

Bleary eyed, Ella responded, "I don't know; you're the one with the chart in his hands."

Griffin ran through key pages, "I'd like to hire you myself.  Our patient has held his own," he paused a moment, "Has he moved any or seemed like he's wanting to awaken yet?"

Ella's eyes scoured the ground, "No," she sighed.

"Well, it's only a matter of time, you've got to tell yourself and him.  Keep on talking him through it.  Don't you give up on him," Griffin encouraged.

"Give up?!  That word is not in either, "pointing at Mannion, "of our vocabularies!"

Griffin's grin was enormous, "Love to hear it. Just don't forget to take some time for you.  Pace yourself," he laughed as he went on to his next patient.

Ella stood up, smoothed Mannion's hair down a bit after having adjusted his small pillow.  She stretched and listened to the bones in her back and neck pop back into alignment.

"Jack, I need to run home, take a shower and such.  I'm sure you can manage without me or my singing for a few hours," she paused, "I don't supposed you'd like to manage your half of the conversation when I get back would you?" she smiled.  "Anyhow, I'll be back soon," she leaned over and kissed his forehead, which somehow did not seem quite as feverish as it had a few hours earlier.

She checked the monitor.  Nothing had changed.  She must be engaging in wishful thinking.  With that, Ella adjusted the chair, folded the blanket, stowed the books and left.  She could not help herself; she looked back as the doors opened ahead of her.

It was a little after ten that morning when Ella got into her office to run through her in-box before heading back to the hospital.  It felt funny to her knowing that Mannion was not in the office next to hers.  She opened the door between their offices and gazed absentmindedly into his.  Her eyes rested on his chair; she closed her eyes.  His aftershave just barely lingered in the air.  She missed his presence terribly.

"I know, I miss him, too," Joe's voice caused her to jump.  "Sorry!" he added as he approached.

"Joe, I didn't see you there," Ella responded.

"Could it be because you had your eyes closed?" he joked.

Her face broke into a grin, "Could be…"

"How's he doing?"

"When I left, he was hanging in there," she moved toward a chair around Mannion's conference table as Joe did the same.  "It was funny, Joe, it felt like the fever had broken, but the monitor was still the same.  I guess it was just wishful thinking on my part."

"Or feminine intuition," Joe offered.  "I called up to New York last night.  Beth is on her way.  Sherry called Jack Junior who will be in later today as well."

"Is Sherry coming?  You know it would mean so much to him to hear her voice.  Joe, you could actually see the monitor wiggle when I spoke to him yesterday.  He really could hear my voice even in his coma," Ella commented.

"I had heard that hearing is the last thing to go and that coma patients can hear everything that goes on.  It's almost like they record everything you say to them.  That's what I've heard," Joe put forth.

"Yeah," Ella sighed.

They were quiet, just staring at Mannion's books, chess set, and ancient helmet.  When Ella glanced at the helmet, she could not help herself but began to laugh.  Joe started to smile, and then his laughter joined hers.  They laughed until tears streamed down their faces.  Their laughter spilled out into the bullpen.  Debreno and Nancy both came to the door and peered in.  They looked at Ella and Joe sitting at the table just laughing.  Nancy looked and Debreno who simply shrugged his shoulders.  Neither knew what to say or do.  They simply let the door close with a hush.  Laughter began to subside and quiet heaves took control.  Joe took Ella's hands and bowed his head.

"Dear Lord, don't let that man die.  Heal him, please.  We pray in Jesus' Name.  Amen," Joe offered as Ella added her amen to it.

"So Sherry is not coming?" Ella wondered as she rose to return to her office.

"No, she not."

Ella sorted the items that were most pressing and got them started.  The other things could wait and went back into the "Hold" bin.  She reflected on the various ways friends had organized their desk boxes.  Her favorite was a Catholic friend who labeled his:  "Heaven" for "Out;" "Purgatory" for "Hold;" and "Hell" for "In."  Another favorite synonym for "Hold" was one that a sci-fi fan labeled, "Suspended Animation" then there was Temple's "MIA" bin for things that were missing pieces that no one seemed to know where to find them any more.  Ella piddled through half-heartedly, but in the end, she'd be able to tell the slumbering Mannion that she'd gone to the office and gotten something done for him.  When she felt like she'd wasted enough time on her desk, she called Julie and set things up for Ricky tonight.  She had, at least, put a crock-pot on with dinner before leaving.  She just hoped she'd remembered to turn the thing on.  Later, Ella checked out with Joe and headed to the hospital.

Ella was sponging down Mannion with cool water when Beth arrived.  Ella had not noticed her as Jack's daughter stood in the opening that served as a doorway.  Beth had seen gunshot victims before as a beat cop in the Big Apple.  She'd seen the living and the dead.  It bothered her sometimes, especially if the victim was a child or defenseless person.  Mostly, she blocked it out on a human-to-human level.  Failure to do so would destroy her in the short run.  Her mother had cautioned her about that.  This was different.  This was her Dad, her ultimate hero.  Now he lay helplessly in a bed in the unit on the third floor of Stateman's.  Beth felt so small inside as tears eased their way down both cheeks.

"Daddy," she whimpered.

Ella looked up and put the sponge back in the plastic pan.  She wrapped her arms around his daughter and rocked her gently.

"Shh.  Shh.  Your Dad's going to be all right.  He's just feverish right now, that's all.  The bullet didn't hit vitals organs, even though it did nick the top of his right lung," Ella gave her the cut-to-the-chase version of the events of the past two days.

Beth wiped away her own tears, "Who did this to him?" she demanded.

"Putin, or actually his daughter pulled the trigger," Ella relayed.

"Mom was afraid of that…" she didn't finish.

Beth moved to her father's left side and touched his cheek with a kiss, "Daddy, I love you."

Mannion heard the voice of his beloved daughter, and the monitors showed Ella the good news.

"Why don't you sit with him for a while?  Let me go get you something to drink or eat?  Are you hungry from your trip," Ella inquired.

"Oh Ella, I don't know what Dad would do without you!  I'm so glad that I found you here," Beth continued.  "You know he loves you; he talks about you all the time," she smiled.

Ella was not sure where this was going when Jack Junior entered.

"Ella!" he took her in his arms and hugged her, "Been taking care of Dad?"

Mannion heard his son.  Life was getting even better now.

"Anyone ever tell you that there is a lot of your Dad in you?" Ella rejoined.  "Now this room is too small for all these Mannion egos and me.  I'm going to get something for the two of you.  I'll be back in a little while.  You make sure he doesn't go anywhere while I'm in the cafeteria!"

Jack Junior smiled as Ella left them.  He looked at his sister for a moment before they joined in a warm embrace.

"So Dad, is this your idea of getting me to come play chess with you?  I don't see where you've stashed the board," the young man joked.

Twenty minutes later, Ella returned with some sandwiches and sodas for all.  Beth had taken her place in sponging the sweat from her father's arms and chest.  Jack Junior took up his station in the chair as he munched on the sandwich.  Ella encouraged Beth to relax.

Mannion drew a deeper breath over the ventilator's prescribed mechanical breath.  It set off an alarm.  The family was startled until Griffin attended his patient.  He looked around at the crowd.

"I'm afraid two of you need to leave, please," he cautioned.

Mannion moved his left hand, stretching it outward just a little.  His eyes were still shut.  Ella noticed and grasped his hand.

"Jack?" she began, "Beth, come over here and take your Dad's hand.  Jack Junior and I will wait out there," she pointed to an unoccupied area in the central section of the unit.  "Talk to him," to Beth then to Jack Junior, "Come with me."

She shuffled Mannion's son out the door with herself following.  She kept a close eye on what Griffin was doing as he leaned over and listened to Mannion's chest sounds.  Griffin then double-checked the monitor and other settings.  Satisfied that his patient was not in trouble, he withdrew.  He advanced on Ella and Jack Junior.

"I think his fever is starting to break," he told them.

"What was the alarm all about then?" the younger Jack wanted to know.

"He was breathing on his own," Griffin pointed out.

"That's good news, right Jeff?" Ella inquired.

Griffin smiled and nodded his head, "Probably all the stimulation you've been offering him then capped off with the excitement of these two!  Just remember, a little goes a long way for now."

Beth was hunched over, speaking softly to her Dad.  Then she'd sponge him off some more in silence.  She had not master the talk and sponge routine that Ella seemed to have perfected.  Still Mannion was satisfied that all was right with the world.  He was blessing God that he could not feel the pain he was sure his body was in about now.  He remembered that he had been in quite a lot of pain when the doctor rushed him to this place, but the feeling of the pain and everything else was pretty fuzzy.  He was just floating along, like a kid on an inner tube on a lake in the middle of summer somewhere pleasant.

Then it was Jack Junior's turn to chat with Dad.  Mannion "walked" with his son down the memory lane the young man was recalling.  There really had been some very good days.  He had been a good father, after all, even if he'd not been as present in his children's lives as he might have liked to upon greater reflection.  He had spent so much time beating himself up for not being around that he'd forgotten that when he was, he was a really good Dad.  His son now reminded him of the good.  Dr. Banks had been pleased by the positive turn of events.  He quietly asked Griffin to keep the children's visit to an hour, and then reinstall his principle ambassador of good will.  He had noted the advance that Ella's individual care had made for his patient.

Ella offered her apartment for the two to stay in.  Beth took her up on the offer while Jack Junior went to the boat.  Beth had a rental car and dropped off her brother.  Before she left, she had to see where it had transpired.  It was a crime scene, and she was a cop.  The professional detachment took hold.  The yellow caution tape had all come down and all that remained were a few bloodstains that would with time be washed away with rain.  Even now, the marina manager had scrubbed much of it away.  She walked through what she had pictured in her mind.  At one point, she stood where she figured her Dad had been when Erin came around the corner.  She saw the spot where he must have tumbled over the life rail.  Then she took the shooter's position.  Erin had Mannion's trust; it was the only way she could have gotten this close.  He'd been hit in the chest a nearly point blank range.  She walked up to the railing and looked in.  Police divers had already retrieved the weapon from where Erin had so casually tossed it in behind her victim.

Jack Junior just watched his sister go through the motions, "You really love police work, don't you?"

Without even looking toward him, "It's in the blood, ya know."

"Yeah, I guess," he returned.  "I guess I must be the milkman's kid or adopted.  I never wanted to be a cop like Mom and Dad.  I saw what it did to them, how it tore them apart."

At that Beth did look up.  She thought about it for a moment, and then nodded.  Jack retreated below as the spring wind was cool as dusk began to overtake the day.  Beth stayed topside for a little while longer.  She enjoyed the sunsets as much as her Dad did, so she smiled thinking about him living on the boat.  She poked her head inside.

"You need anything?"

Jack had his nose in the refrigerator, "Nope.  Looks like Dad had done some grocery shopping not too long ago.  I'll be fine.  Thanks though.  You going to Ella's?"

"Yep.  Call me if you need wheels or anything, okay?"

"You got it.  I'm going to turn in in a little while.  I'm pretty tired."

"I know what you mean.  Even an old bumpy couch would feel comfortable about now!" Beth responded.  "You know, the more I get to know Ella, the more I really like her."

"Yeah.  I know why Dad loves her so much.  She's there, like always.  She always has the right thing to say, knows just what to do.  She's like Mom when they were good, you know?"

"Yeah, only difference is that Ella doesn't compete with Dad.  She just lets him be him and works around it like it's cool," Beth added.

"I think that is what went wrong with Mom and Dad.  Neither one could let the other be who they were.  Mom was always trying to fix Dad, and Dad was always trying to tell Mom what to do.  Ella's pretty smart," he said with a smile.  "I hope they can get together."

"Yeah, it's pretty obvious that they care deeply for one another, but I don't know that it's romance though.  Dad still loves Mom, and I don't know that he can get enough of Mom out of his system and start over," Beth wondered out loud.

"Guys aren't women," her brother commented.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Beth demanded.

Jack felt on the spot, "Oh I don't know.  I was just talking…"

Beth took a deep breath and looked at her brother who at times did indeed sound like her Dad, "I'm going now.  Call me in the morning, and we'll go in together."

Jack winked, "You bet."

He reached over and pecked her on the cheek and gave her a brotherly hug.

It was shortly before midnight when Mannion's fever finally did break.  He opened his eyes and closed them quickly.  The fever might be on the way down, but the world was spinning out of control.  He had his eyes open long enough to see a very out of focus Ella smiling delightedly at him.

"Hey there.  You're back," she cooed.

"Ah, she was sparkling for me," went through his mind as he fell asleep for the first time in three days.  He slept soundly; especially after the respirator tube was removed even if the tube had made his throat raw.  As he drifted off to sleep, he was satisfied that three of the dearest people in the whole world had been there with him.  He was sad that Sherry had not come, but he knew why.  First, they were at an end as a couple, no sense giving him hope of reconciliation.  Second, she could never stand to see him hurt, and they both knew that.  He knew that their children carried her message, and he'd hear it in the morning.

Debreno began to pull things together from talking to Temple's friends and family.  While none of them had exactly seen him, they all led Debreno to believe that Temple was on a guilt trip.

"What was the big surprise there," Debreno thought to himself.  "I remember what it was like to fire on another person and drop him."  He snorted and sputtered to the dashboard of the car, "I can't even bring myself to say I killed a man, even in self-defense.  And if I can't, I can only imagine how Temple is feeling about now."

He turned into the church where his brother was a priest.

"Hey, I need your help," he told the Father, his brother.  "My partner, who is religious, and I got into a shoot out with a big time drug dealer the other day.  You may have seen it on the evening news.  The dude nearly sawed us in two with the machine gun he was firing.  Temple shot the perp.  Took his…him down.  Now, nobody has seen Temple in a day or so, well, since the shooting."

"And you think I know where he is, Kevin?"

"No, just thought you might have some insight as to where he might have gone?  I'm thinking he's feeling guilty or something like that.  Other than him, you're the only really religious person I know well enough to ask.  Oh, and if you've got time, you might want to say a prayer for Chief Mannion.  He took one in the chest; he's in critical condition."

"Sorry to hear that on both accounts," he offered genuinely, "You know if I were feeling guilty, I supposed my first inclination would be to run away and hide from everyone including myself and God," he told Debreno.

"How do you hide from God let alone from yourself…" he paused a moment then finished, "I think I may know how he might try to hide from himself.  Thanks, brother!" he called out as he ran back out to his car.

Jack Junior and his sister returned for the morning visiting hours.  Ella had already told them that Jack Senior was awake and looking forward to their visit.  A little after she was certain that he was asleep, she went home to get some rest for her own weary self.  She had spent so much time in the hospital, napping in chairs, she could not clearly remember the last time she had slept in her own bed.  So when Beth awakened, Ella had good news for her at the breakfast table.

Mannion remained hoarse from the ventilator experience but in a mood to talk to his kids, "So how is school, son?  You enjoying being a beat cop, Beth?"

"One at a time, Dad," Beth smiled, "You first, Jack."

"School is fine, Dad.  Well, it was until you fell off the boat…" he started to joke.

"Had help," Mannion shot back with a short cough.

"Anyhow, school's school, you know," Jack said shyly.  "When they get you to a regular room, wanna try your hand at playing some chess?"

Mannion smiled, "I can beat you in person just as easily as I can over the phone."

"Guys!" Beth started, "Why is it always competition with you two?"

"Just like your Mother!" was the simultaneous response.


Beth looked Heavenward and threw her hands in the air and gave an exasperated gasp.  Mannion reached out his left hand and just missed taking hold of her hand.

"Daddy," Beth reached back to take it, "I was so scared when Chief Noland called.  Mom said you'd understand why she just could not come.  And she's working an undercover thing, too," Beth began to cry just a little.

"Shh, shh, Beth.  Come on now.  I'm just glad the two of you came.  It's okay.  Really it's okay if your Mom moves on.  In fact, I think it was you who helped us see that in the end," Mannion tried to comfort his daughter who held his hand tightly.

"But what about you?  Are you moving on?" Beth asked honestly.

"What about that hot coed you dragged to Mom's almost-wedding last year?" Jack teased.

"Monty?" Mannion began with a chuckle, which served only to stimulate another cough.  "Monty," he mocked in a fake British accent, "She was just for show; I took her to make your Mom jealous, and it worked perfectly, too.  I guess now I should be ashamed of the way I tried to manipulate both women," he sighed and grunted just a little.  "No. Monty and I don't make a good couple.  We both want to be in charge, and after your Mom, I don't need that any more than Monty deserves it."

Mannion tried to stretch his achy frame without irritating the still very tender spots.

"You tired, Dad?" Jack asked.

"A little, but I'm okay.  I don't get to see you two enough," Mannion countered still holding Beth's hand.

"Dad, we really should let you get some rest.  Jack's staying on your boat; I'm at Ella's; Cujo is coming home today from Nancy's.  So we're really okay, so you rest, and we'll be back later," Beth added.

"I'm glad that you're with Ella.  She is the best.  She has been here with me the whole time, in spite of her other commitments," Mannion said.

"You know, Dad, Ella is a terrific lady. Ever thought about moving on with her?" Jack wondered.  "You talk about her a lot, and it's always positive."

"She's engaged to some guy I can't stand.  Clyde something," Mannion commented in an off-handed way.

"Come on, Jack," Beth demanded, "Give Dad some room to figure out how he's going to get in between Clyde and Ella," she smiled.  "You know how he loves the chase scene, every cop does."

Jack Junior winked as they left, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!"

Mannion was relieved and gratified to know his children would accept what he already had a mind to do.  Now all he had to do was figure out how.  He pushed the nurse call button, more out of boredom than any real need.

"When will they take all these tubes out and let me go?" he needed out of the hospital now.

Griffin had already been forewarned by Ella that when boredom set in for this particular patient, he could expect these kinds of questions.  He scratched his eyebrow and checked the tank at the other end of the NG tube.

"I'll ask the doctor," Griffin replied flatly.  "You want me to give Ella a call?  You sound bored, like you could use her company.  Dr. Banks has authorized her to be here whenever."

"Can we get rid of some of the tubes first?"

"Let me ask.  I'll be back, later on," Griffin replied.

Mannion looked around the room for anything to interest him when he was suddenly aware of how tired he really was.  He drew in a breath as deep as he dared and felt his eyelids closing, albeit against his will.

Mannion was awakened by the aide who was ready to get him up into the chair after a sponge bath.  While he sat, she would change the sheets and remake the bed.  Everything would be fresh for him.  As she made the bed, Mannion found the book that Eddie brought over.  He opened it, and then realized he needed his reading glasses.  No matter how long he stretched out his one good arm, it was not long enough to put the page into correct focus.  His glasses were not in the table with the book.  It really did not matter.  The aide got him back into the bed as Griffin came by.

"Good news, Chief.  You get to lose a tube or two.  Care to guess which ones?" he smiled.

"How about this one?" he pointed to the Foley.  "It makes me feel like I'm in diapers again!"

"Good guess!  And you get to lose the NG tube as well.  Dr. Banks is going to go bold with you," Griffin was lighthearted.  "Want the painkiller first or following?  It's about time anyhow."

Mannion shook his head and gritted his teeth as the Foley was removed first.  It was not as bad as he'd anticipated.  However, he thought he would gag on whatever was not in his stomach as the NG tube came out.  Griffin then injected painkiller into Mannion's PIC line.

"You know what this is for," Griffin remarked as he hung a urine collection jug on the side of the bed rail.  "I'll give you credit for being a trooper there.  Neither of those 'tubes' going in or out is easy to tolerate without some help.  Better living through chemistry as they say.  Rest now.  I'll let your friend know that she can come on over in a few hours, because you'll be asleep for at least that long.  Oh, and I'll tell her to bring your glasses, too."

"Thanks, Griffin," Mannion was always polite, especially to those with needles at their disposal.

Mannion could feel the pain shot beginning to weigh on his eyelids.  Really relaxing deep breaths were uncomfortable, but he tried to take in air as sleep began to overtake him.  Griffin reached up and dimmed the light over his bed and adjusted the covers before leaving.

Ella was there when Mannion awakened later in the early afternoon.

"I hear you were looking for these?" she remarked, holding the glasses' case for him to see.

Mannion smiled broadly, "I wanted to do a little light reading.  You remember that book Eddie brought over?"

"Um-hum.  Shall I start it for you?" Ella asked her friend.

Grunting into a comfortable position, Mannion turned on his good side and nodded, "Can you tuck some pillows in behind me?"

Ella smiled as she stuffed two behind his shoulders and one in behind his backside, "Better?"

"Oh much!" he craned his neck around as she moved on around the bed.  "What would I ever do without you?" Mannion touched her with his eyes.

"What makes you think you'll ever have to?" Ella toyed with him as she opened the book to begin reading.

"Clyde is going to take you away from me, isn't he?" Mannion was never one to mince words, especially when he had not yet come to terms with his greatest fear.

"'Clyde,' is it now?  I thought you were going to call him by his right name, 'Clive?'"

"We never agreed to that," Jack looked away.

"No, I guess we didn't, did we," Ella let the silence speak as she watched for Mannion's reaction.

When he had gone across the room's "décor" one more time, his gaze returned to his best friend's face, "Ella, I love you… and I'm in love with you.  And I'm begging you not to marry Clive."

She could hardly contain the laughter, "Who said I was going to marry Clive?"

"Well, you were wearing his ring the other night when they hauled me in here!" his voice got loud enough to grab the attention of Griffin.

"Everything okay in here?" Griffin demanded to know.

"Just peachy!" snapped Mannion, his monitor readings were raised enough to get Dr. Banks' attention as he entered the unit for afternoon rounds.

Ella was very uncomfortable with all the sudden attention, "So, you want me to leave?"

"No!" shouted Mannion over the staff's objections.  "I want you to marry me, not Clyde!  I'm the one who needs you, Ella.  He doesn't!  I'm the one who really and truly loves you."

When he realized what he'd just said he got very quiet.  He blinked and sank quietly back into the bed, pulling covers over his head as he went.

Griffin, Dr. Banks, and Ella just stood there dumbfounded.  Banks was the first to react with laughter.  Griffin joined in.

"This is a first," Griffin began.

"Usually, it's the visitor who does the asking," finished Banks.  "Come on, Griff, it's a lover's spat.  Let them work it out," he quipped as they departed.

"Work on his deep breathing, just don't let his blood pressure get too high, will you?" over one shoulder, Banks reminded Ella and consequently Mannion whose head was now covered by the thin sheet with only his fingers and a tuft of hair protruding.

Ella settled back into her chair, waiting for Mannion's next move. She reopened the book after a minute or two, which had seemed an eternity to them both.  She began to read.  Slowly Mannion came out from under the sheet.

"I do love you," he whispered as he extended his right hand as far as it would go before the pain made him draw it back just a little closer to his body.

Ella stopped reading and took his hand with her left.

Mannion immediately noted the missing ring, "I would have rather asked you in some more romantic place than ICU, but…"

Setting the book in the chair, Ella let the side of the bed down and leaned over and kissed him beginning on the forehead.  Mannion's eyes closed in anticipation.  Gently she moved down his face to his eyes, to an ear, then his neck, and then at last kissed his lips, "This place will do just fine."

"Mine, mine, mine, all mine," Jack muttered to himself as a flood of emotions swept over them both.

Debreno found Temple stoned in a crack house not very far from Temple's own home.

"Oh man, oh man," muttered Debreno on finding him.  "I was afraid this would happen.  Come on, let's get you outta here."

Temple put up little resistance as Debreno helped him to his feet.  The paranoia had not set in yet.  By the time they reached the hospital, Temple was starting to come around.

"Hey man, I thought you were my friend!" he shouted.

"I am.  Right now, I'm your best friend!" Debreno shouted right back.

"This is the end of me, my career!" Temple countered.

"No, it's not.  It's the beginning of a new phase of recovery," Debreno returned.  "Look, I'm a drunk myself.  Booze, that's my weakness.  Booze and women.  That's what tore Claire and me apart.  I do stupid things when I drink, so I don't drink any more," Debreno offered his own snapshot.  "I go to AA.  But before you go to group, you detox."

Temple was in the ER when Debreno placed the call to Noland.

"I'd like to know why I'm spending more time at Statesman's that I am in my own office.  We should just set up a satellite office down here," Noland complained just outside the ER.

"Sir, it's like this.  Page did drugs; crack, before he joined the Marines, when he was a juvie.  The Marines kept him dry along with his God thing.  Now when we were on that undercover job, the dealer made him smoke the product.  If he hadn't, he'd be just another casualty.  So he did.  Then he comes along and has to kill, well, I think it drove him over the edge," Debreno reasoned.  "Surely, the department won't hammer him too hard, will it?  Temple's a good cop, good instincts, compassion.  You know the Chief is always talking about being compassionate in the way we do our job.  I don't know of anyone more compassionate that Temple Page, do you?

"Save it, detective," Noland protested.  "You don't have to sell me.  I don't want to flush Temple any more than you do.  It will go to a Disciplinary Review Board.  I can tell you that the Chief is going to be none to pleased when he hears about it.  And I can imagine he's going to want to yell at both of us.  You for not keeping a closer eye on your junior partner and me for not doing the same on both of you.  Then he's going to yell at Page for doing something really dumb."

"Speaking of the Chief, how's he doing?" Debreno wanted to know.

"Better.  Ella said they might move him back to a regular room tomorrow," Noland recounted.  "Once he goes back into a regular room, you can bet, he'll be running things from this hospital."

"So what are we going to do with Temple?" asked Debreno.

"Dry him out; dry him out," was all Noland would say.  "I'm going back there and talk to him.  You stay out here.  He's probably not going to 'like' you very much for a while."

Debreno shrugged, "I can handle it, sir."

Noland found the cubicle where Temple was being treated.  He was curled up on one side with his back to the entrance.  Noland paused and licked his lips then moved around to the side where he could look at his detective eye-to-eye.  He pulled up a chair and sat in silence for a moment.

Temple looked at Noland; then he looked away. 

He rolled over, "I really messed up.  I embarrassed the department, you, Chief Mannion.  I'll turn in my badge whenever you want it, sir."

Noland couldn't decide if he should move to face him or stay put.  He decided to stay where he was and let Temple face him when he felt he could.

"We all screw up every now and again.  Some are bigger than others.  Debreno told me some things that certainly mitigate the situation you're now facing," Noland started out.

Temple eased back around.

"I'm not worthy…" he started.

"Son, none of us are, that's the point.  That is the message the Bible brings home when we read it.  The other point is that we are loved and cared for even when we screw up big," Noland heard himself saying things he believed but had never shared before, he was starting to sound like Mannion at times.

"But…"

"But nothing.  You can't have it both ways.  Drop the guilt; take the forgiveness.  The department will see you through this.  Depending on the rehab outcome…that will be the determining factor on your resignation.  Your Shooting Review Board is scheduled for late next week after all the ballistics reports are in.  Were you aware of how many rounds that guy fired at you and Debreno?  The Lab has to process every round fired.  That takes time," Noland continued.

"Thank you, sir.  I guess the Chief is really mad at me, huh?" Temple wanted to know.

"He doesn't know yet.  He's upstairs somewhere between ICU and a regular bed.  While you were indulging in self-pity, he was fighting for his life," Noland drove home his point, "I could have used your eyes looking for his shooter.  Self-pity kills; it doesn't save.  You dump the self-pity, and dump it now, detective.  I need you and your skills," Noland finished.  "Get a grip, and that's an order, Marine!"

"Aye, aye, sir," with his eyes Temple followed Noland out.  "I will get rid of the self-pity and will recover."  He closed his eyes in prayer, "Dear Lord, please forgive me for all the sins I've managed to commit these past few days.  Please forgive me for killing that man.  I know it was self-defense, but I feel bad about breaking Your Commandment.  Please forgive me for going back to drugs instead of coming to you.  Please forgive me for not being where I could help my Chief.  Please save his life and make him well again.  Help me to be of service to You and others again.  Thank You, dear Lord, for all you have done for me.  I love You and want to serve You always.  Amen."

Debreno breathed a soft, "Amen."

Two weeks later, Mannion was discharged from the hospital.  His wound was an open one that required daily attention from the nursing staff at a clinic.  Noland assigned Temple to be his driver again, at least for the interim.  Temple was in his own outpatient rehab as well.  The first stop was the Federal Penitentiary to see Dmitri Putin.  Putin was brought up in shackles and sat in a chair behind glass.  Mannion entered the other side.  His arm was in a dark blue sling and he was a good twenty pounds lighter.  Putin looked surprised and shaken to see his archenemy standing before him.  He had been kept in solitary confinement without any outside contact.  The last he'd known was that Mannion did not look like he was going to make it.

Mannion mouthed the words, "You missed…again."  He turned to Temple who was right at his side, "Come on Temple; take me home.  I did what I came to do."

This time around Mannion did let Temple do the driving, as it was good for both of them.  Furthermore, this time both Ella and Noland kept close tabs on the unlikely pair.  If they could escape detection by one, the other caught them.  It was useless to even try.  Temple took Mannion to two hours of work, followed by respiratory and physical rehab at the outpatient clinic.  Even a much younger man would require therapy to recondition muscles after two weeks of being inert on top of the muscle damage done to his shoulder.  For the first few weeks, constant exhaustion curtailed Mannion's activities.  The remainder of the day was spent out on Jack's boat.  When weather permitted, Jack would take an afternoon nap on the deck, or he would teach Temple the fine art of chess.  In the evenings, Ella brought Ricky over and cooked dinner for all four of them.  She had learned how to repack the wound as well as some gentle manipulation of his shoulder.  It was an ongoing painful process of healing.  Ricky enjoyed taking Cujo for his evening walk.  Temple stayed on the boat with Mannion for several months.  Sometimes, Debreno wangled a dinner invitation by promising to bring some good Italian bread and salad.  He never disappointed the dinner crew.  By summer's end, Mannion was back to full steam, the wound healed or nearly so, and Temple was back in his own apartment.  The Shooting Review Board exonerated Temple taking some of his guilty feelings away with it.  He received a Disciplinary Review, which chose to put him on probation, given all the mitigating and extenuating factors.  Erin's trial was perking its way through the court system.  Mannion would testify some time around Christmas at the present pace of the litigation.  Life was returning to normalcy at MPD and on the Betty-O.