There's a TV on in the corner of the room. It's nothing but a bright flash in the corner of his eye; overwhelmingly so but he tolerates it. He doesn't know what's playing but the greyscale of the screen gives evidence of some old black and white movie that he's probably seen before. Despite the flash, that is wearing on his nerves, his intense focus stays on the sterile white wall across the room. The gray tinge of the doorframe is just in his peripheral vision and if he moves his eyes just ever so slightly to the left he catches sight of the world going on outside the dimly lit sterile room. A flutter of papers, the busy murmuring of receptionists and nurses and if he listens, he can just hear the voices of busy, overwhelmed and understaffed doctors patiently spilling information into the intercom. Calls for nurses to go to certain rooms to do something for a patient or administer a certain medicine seems to be the most common.
Yet, in the doorway there's nothing.
It had been simple.
So damn simple.
And yet here he was, staring at the stark white walls of a hospital waiting room, waiting for the doctor to bring him some news - any news - about Ilsa. The image of Ilsa, knife plunged into abdomen, was forever burned into his brain. It was horrifying, really. To see her hands clutching her stomach around the hilt of the knife, bloody and trembling violently. It was an image he wasn't likely to forget anytime soon. The only good part about it was that the creepy ex-husband they were trying to flush out had been put in jail for assault with a deadly weapon and the ex-wife had been granted a restraining order.
That didn't change the fact that it had left Ilsa in the hospital with the doctors working frantically to get the knife out of her and repair any damage. As it would happen, the case hadn't been all that simple, to put it mildly, and he wasn't left with the satisfied feeling of knowing someone could live their life without fear because of what he did. Not when Ilsa's own life was hanging in the balance.
It hadn't been simple.
"Ilsa Pucci." The doctor's voice is clinical and cold but Chance says nothing as he stands up to listen to the man. "Mister Chance, is it? We managed to pull the knife from your friend's stomach and repair most of the damage. She lost a lot of blood and she was also bleeding internally. I won't go into the specifics because it's a lot to go over but to get straight to the point, she's not out of the woods. She's far from out of danger. We've stitched her up and given her pain medicine. Now all we can do is hope that's enough. She'll be moved into a room in the ICU. I'll have a nurse notify you when you can see her."
"Thank you, doctor." The doctor nods, hands him a card and leaves.
The first thought on Chance's mind is that she's alive. She's badly wounded and heavily medicated on God-knows-what but she's alive and that's all that matters to him. He's suddenly aware of the adrenaline surging through his veins; tying his stomach up in knots and pushing his nervous system to its limits. He's trembling and nauseated but oh-dear-God he couldn't have been more grateful; just by hearing the news that she's alive.
He doesn't need anymore news than that.
Knowing she's alive is enough to get him functioning like a normal human being again. He makes his way to the bathroom and cleans himself up properly. He wipes the smears of blood from his face with a damp paper towel, washes his hands of the dried blood and shoves the doctor's card into his back pocket. He rinses his face and dries it before leaving the bathroom. His nerves have settled by the time he reaches the waiting room and the nausea settles as his stomach unties.
"Chance," Winston's growling rumble of a voice interrupts the sterilized silence of the waiting room. "She alright?"
"Uh yeah...they uh..she was bleeding internally but they managed to stop it. She's not out of danger yet." Chance told him, dragging his hands through his hair. "Why the hell was she at the client's house in the first place? She knew the ex-husband was unpredictable and that we didn't have a good track on him. I don't understand. Ilsa knows better than to do something like that alone. She should have taken me you or Guerrero with her. Someone armed."
"Why are you beating yourself up over this?" Winston asks him quietly once he's sitting down again.
Six years ago, when Katherine Walters had brought them together as business partners, Winston can honestly say that his self-loathing colleague was a piece of work. And the term 'mental case' hadn't been eliminated as a possibility either. Now though, with Ilsa Pucci in the picture, Winston has to wonder if maybe that self-loathing has turned into self-hatred. As long as he had known Chance, he had never seen him blame himself for something as much as he blamed himself for anything regarding Ilsa and any injuries she may acquire.
"Someone should have gone with her." Chance growls hoarsely, his voice barely cooperating with him. "I should have known she'd get the restraining order the client wanted. I should have been with her. I should have never let her go by herself. I should've - "
"Chance, if you'd have gone with her, that restraining order would be collecting dust on the judges' desk." Winston cuts him off sharply, sending a pointed glare in his direction. "We needed Ilsa to do it alone. We had no way of knowing the ex-husband would show up. If we had, we wouldn't have let her go. You said yourself, we didn't have a good track on the guy, we had no way of predicting what he would do next. Sure maybe if you had gone with Ilsa, things would have happened differently but Chance, you both might be in here if you had."
"I just want to know that this won't happen again."
"How? By protecting her from every little thing?" Winston asks him, disbelief evident in his tone. "Chance, if you try to do that, you'll both end up dead."
"This isn't a little thing, Winston." Chance argues, his cold blue eyes meeting his colleagues own hard brown eyes. "She was stabbed. Another minute and she would be dead."
"Yeah and you've been in a hell of a lot worse condition than she is right now." The tinge of bitter acidity in Winston's voice is hard to miss. "And we were there on time. We got her to the hospital so now I'm wonderin', just what in the hell is going on in that head of yours?"
"She almost died, Winston."
He's not Sherlock Holmes or any kind of genius really but it doesn't take either to figure out what's going on. In hindsight he should have seen it sooner but he hadn't. Maybe because he hadn't really looked for it. He hadn't expected it but his colleague was like an open book to him. It all came right back to Katherine Walters. The case that had destroyed him. Katherine had ended up dead because of a mistake. He had left her alone on a boat, not expecting Baptiste to have rigged the boat. The parallels could be made between him letting Ilsa go to their client's house alone and him leaving Katherine alone on a boat. The outcome of both situations had left Chance flooded with guilt. He had felt guilty about Katherine's death because he had been in love with her and - oh, god. He was in love with Ilsa too. That was the only explanation Winston could come up with for why Chance was acting like this.
"Oh, I see now." Winston nods in understanding, realization dawning on him. "Should have seen it sooner, but I see it now."
"See what?" Chance questions, confusion clouding his features.
"Nothing." Winston brushes it off with a shake of his head. "I'm going to go get some coffee."
With that, Winston leaves Chance to his brooding and self-loathing. His colleague will never admit to his feelings for Ilsa. He knows that which is why he doesn't bother. Yes, he could push and pry but Chance would just shut down. That's the thing Chance needs to do right now. Ilsa needs him - preferably not quiet and brooding.
"Missus Pucci," The nurse's cold, clinical voice brings Chance to his feet. "She's in her room now, Sir. She's groggy but responsive. Room Three-Oh-Four."
With a nod of gratitude, he practically sprints to the elevator; unable to say anything. The plastic gray square with the white engraving that marks her room seemed to mock him and he can't really say why. Perhaps it's the thought of what lies just beyond the heavy door with the glass window, the rectangular glass window with the view that's obscured by mesh. The doorknob is cold in his hand and his eyes instinctively close when he opens the door, as if preparing himself for what he's about to see. With a deep, shaking breath - those centering exercises were garbage, apparently - he takes a few blind steps into her room.
There are too many tubes, too many bandages, too many needles, too many machines. There's too many bags hanging from that gleaming stainless steel IV pole. She shouldn't look like this. She shouldn't look like she's treading a fine line between that dark abyss of death and the healthy vibrancy of a full life. He misses her vibrancy. The way her eyes sparkled and gleamed. He misses her voice; the thick brogue with the lovely British lilt that dripped off of every word. He misses it.
He misses her.
So much so, it's difficult to look at her.
It's difficult to push the memories from his mind; the images that return at the sight of her lying in a hospital bed. The sharp intake of air as the knife plunged into her stomach. The groans of pain; a fiery pain that burned a trail through her entire body as she writhed on the ground, begging him to pull it out. Pleading with him to just pull the damn thing out. The ferociousness with which he had attacked the client's stalker of an ex-husband. The sound of cracking ribs. The sound of handcuffs being snapped around the guy's wrists.
The need to kill him arises all over again and his fists clench at his sides.
"Ilsa," His teeth grind together and his voice is a shaking, raspy mess of forced syllables and barely audible sounds but her name finally spills from his lips and slowly his fists unclench. "God, Ilsa. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Her eyes, those wonderful brown eyes, are glassy and red when she blinks them open at the sound of his voice. She's so pale. So pale. He can barely handle looking at her. She shouldn't look like a ghost. She should look like the beautiful, healthy woman that he shares his life with - well, part of it anyway. He just can't seem to get a handle on the fact that she's injured. This is Ilsa. Ilsa, for God sakes. She doesn't go down without a fight, and one hell of a fight at that.
She had killed the man, hell-bent on ending her life.
She was bloody, bruised and in tears but she had pulled the trigger.
She shouldn't look like this now. She should have fight left in her. Right now, she barely looks like she has any life left in her, much less fight. And he hates it. God, does he hate it. He feels like it's his fault she looks like she does. Part of him knows that it isn't his fault but he can't help but feel like an asshole if he tries to blame it on anyone but himself and the guy wielding the knife. It wasn't Ilsa's fault. She didn't know he would be there. She certainly didn't know he'd be a knife-wielding maniac, thirty for blood with no preference as to who that blood belonged too.
"C-Ch-Chance?" Her voice is a harsh rasp; her throat is nothing more than a layer of raw tissue and it hurts to even say his name. Her beautiful lilt is there but just barely. "C-Chance?"
"It's me, Ilsa." Chance reaches for the only hand not attached to a tube. "Ilsa?"
"This...what happened to me...t-this isn't your fault." Ilsa rasps, looking up at him through glassy eyes. "It isn't. Don't blame yourself."
"I know you," Ilsa rasps once again, her voice raw and on the verge of being completely gone. "You blame yourself. Please don't? Don't blame yourself. Blame me."
"Ilsa, no!" His voice is more harsh than he'd like but he can't help it. It's not her fault and he wants her to understand it. "Ilsa, this isn't your fault."
"I went by myself. I knew what could happen if I did." Ilsa blinks slowly, letting a few stray tears slip from her eyes. "And now here I am."
"We didn't know he'd be there Ilsa. Nobody knew." Chance shakes his head, raking his hand through his hair. "This isn't your fault."
"No matter what happens to me," Ilsa's shaky, wheezing breaths rattled her entire body. "Don't blame yourself for this."
She squeezes his hand; still wrapped around hers. She's so weak that he barely feels anything but he squeezes her hand in response despite that. She's drifting off. Her eyes are closing and the darkness of sleep is settling in. The steady beep of the heart monitor is slowing as she relaxing into the comforting grip of sleep. Her pulse thrums slow but steady under his hand. He rests his forehead against the back of her hand, seeking comfort in the warmth of her hand only to be met with a still coolness.
He'd be lying if he said it didn't scare him.
It's almost midnight and he's still there, by her bed; visiting hours had long been over but the nurses just didn't have the heart to wake up. He had been keeping a vigil beside her bed all day and into the night. All they could do was bring him the food, his colleagues sent over for him. He's sleeping in the chair beside her bed, still holding her hand when it happens. The EKG machine lets out a long, shrill beep that jolts him awake and draws his tired eyes over to the screen.
He can't seem to press the red button fast enough to get the nurses in the room. He squeezes her hand in a futile attempt to keep her with him. He knows it's useless but he squeezes her hand anyway until a swarm of doctors and nurses flood the room with a defibrilator. He falls back against the wall, hands clenching and unclenching repeatedly at his sides. He can hear the faint buzz of electricity as they ready the defibrilator to restart Ilsa's heart. Over the noise and chaos he can still hear the loud shrieking beep of a monitor flat-lining. His eyes close and his fists clench until his knuckles are white.
His eyes open reluctantly and almost immediately he regrets his decision. Ilsa's body jerks and convulses violently, arching off of the bed under the hard jolt of the defibrilator. He wants to leave the room but he just can't leave her. He's stayed by her side through this and he'll stay right where he is. No matter how much seeing Ilsa arching and convulsing off of the bed nauseates him. He'll deal with it. He's dealt with much worse.
"Damn it!" The loud curse from one of the nurses is harsh and one of frustration. "It didn't work! Doctor!"
The more desperate they become to save her life, the more futile he thinks their attempts might be. He doesn't want to admit it. Hell, he'd give anything to see their desperate attempts actually work but he knows that the defibrilator can only do so much. So he closes his eyes, not wanting to see the jolt of electricity they're sending into her body. He doesn't want to see the way the shock brings her body up into a perfect - yet still lifeless - arch. He doesn't believe in a higher power but he's starting to want some kind of divine intervention.
"Don't die on me!"
Behind his eyelids, he can imagine the nurse rubbing the paddles together before pressing them against Ilsa's chest and shocking her body for a third time. A third desperate attempt to save her life. This time, it's his own voice he hears instead of the doctors and nurses when it's over; "Don't die on me, Ilsa. Don't you dare do this to me!"
"C'mon!" He can one of the nurses mumble, preparing the machine once again.
It's on this try that it gets the best of him and he can feel his entire body slide down the wall, collapsing on the floor. Ilsa's primary care physician immediately sends a nurse over - a small woman with dark burgundy hair and warm amber eyes - to check him out. She's barely touched his shoulder when he hears defibrilator shut down and watches the team of nurses step away from the bed. His blue eyes immediately find Ilsa.
No breath. No pulse. No heartbeat. No sign of life. Nothing. She's just laying there, arms at her sides, eyes closed as if she's asleep. He knows she isn't though. The EKG machine's long shrill beep echoes in the room; the line still flat as it scrolls across the screen.
A cruel reminder.
His eyes shift around the room, taking in every movement. All but a few nurses shuffling out of the room; the doctor looking at his watch and scribbling on a piece of paper. The time barely registers with him though. Nothing about the situation has completely registered in his mind except for the fact that his benefactor was dead. His benefactor. The beautiful, witty and intelligent woman he had called his friend was lying there dead.
"I'm sorry, Mister Chance." Her former doctor's lips thin into a grim line. "We tried. There was nothing we could do. I'll leave you alone."
As soon as the door closes, he twists his body and sends his fist colliding with the wall, cracking the plaster. It doesn't seem like enough to get rid of the guilt that threatens to rip him apart at the seams but he needs the release. For a few stinging minutes, he doesn't feel the pain or the guilt of her death. He just doesn't feel. His fist collides with the wall again and again. His knuckles are bloody and bruises are forming but nothing stops him; not even the fleeting thought that it was a hospital wall he was taking his anger and grief out on.
"I'm sorry, Ilsa."
It's only after the funeral do they notice the changes in him. His wild, reckless behavior worsens to the point, the injuries he sustains during each case prove to be enough to land him in the hospital. Nobody is sure what he hopes to accomplish but the sizable holes in his wall and the bruises that seem to be a permanent fixture on his hand give them a hint. Winston, and eventually Guerrero, Ames and even Connie become convinced he's on some sort of suicide mission.
Talking to him is useless.
He growls and snaps at anyone and everyone, his temper flaring at the smallest things. So they leave him be because that's all they can do. They pretend not to notice the whiskey bottles piling up in his loft, the weight he loses and the dark circles around his eyes. They pretend that it's business as usual. Ilsa's name isn't added to the foundation because they know it'd just be another reminder to him. They never bring her up; never mention her at all and they have to be careful not to slip up around him. He's roughed up just about everyone in the office for mentioning her name by accident and none of them want to experience that again.
And tonight, while his grief is slowly consuming him, he'll pour himself another shot of the cheap whiskey he's come to adore and he'll drink. For a little while, the pain will lessen and he'll become a numb, empty shell but he'll keep drinking.
Oh dear God. I hate this. I want to print this out just so I can have the pleasure of burning it. It took me a month of writing, editing, re-writing and more editing to finally bring this thing to a close. Was Ilsa going to die? No, not originally but the more I wrote, the more I was pulled in that direction. Does Chance's behavior seem drastic? Um, hello! He was seeking redemption after Katherine's death. He was already on some kind of suicide mission. But by the end of the series, it became blatantly obvious that him and Ilsa were pretty attached to each other so I worked with it. Believe me it was not easy. I didn't really know what change it would have on his behavior until I started writing. In my head, he just kind of snapped. He's lost every woman he's ever cared about. Yeah, I know there's still Maria but let's face it, I think his priorities changed after the whole plane-crash-stranded-in-a-South-American-jungle-chased-by-an-assassin incident. Not to mention when said assassin tried to kill Ilsa. Him and Ilsa were closer - not exponentially - but there was a marginal change in their relationship. And I'm just rambling so I'm going to stop now. Love it or hate it, it doesn't matter to me - if you hate it, join the club, if you love it...erm, thanks! Leave me some love, Dolls!
P.S. Niagaraweasel, I told you I had something longer in the works. This probably isn't what you were expecting, eh?