Climbing ever higher, Bodie and Doyle followed the gunmen into the rafters of the disused warehouse. They heard a scream and then a thud. Arriving at the scene, they saw that the floorboards had given way under the weight of one of the gunmen. They cautiously entered the room, keeping close to the wall. Having established that the other snipers had run off further ahead, they peered down the hole. They saw a very dead-looking man in a ragged heap among the debris several floors down. They shuffled back towards the edge of the room and silently continued on their way. They couldn't hear any footfalls, only the occasional drip of masonry loosing its battle with gravity as the building finally started to die of old age.
Satisfied that there were no further gunmen in the vicinity, the agents straightened up and took more confident steps towards the far staircase. They'd gone down a couple of floors when a noise alerted them to possible quarry. They inched cautiously towards the sound. "Bodie," Doyle yelled suddenly, pushing his partner to one side as a staccato of bullets whizzed by. As the pair crashed towards the centre of the room, the ancient floorboards gave way at the sudden impact. Bodie rolled instinctively back towards the wall. Doyle had the same idea but was blocked by Bodie's body who was nearer to their goal. As the floor gave way, Doyle had nothing to hold on to and was hurled downwards. His instinct was to curl up but he had too little time for gymnastics. Meanwhile, Bodie ducked as a further shot went past, then the clatter of footsteps retreating down the stairs. Bodie was pressed up against the wall, debris clouding his vision. He remained where he was for a few more moments till, literally, the dust settled. He stared unbelievingly at the hole in the floor knowing, but not wanting to know, that his partner had disappeared. His body shaking, Bodie forced himself to his feet. He was more afraid of what had just happened than for any guys who may still be lurking around. He made his way tentatively down the stairs, still on alert, gun in hand, for any villains still around. He heard the sound of a car taking off, then saw the brown of Doyle's jacket sleeve at a distance. So much of him wanted not to approach any further. He didn't want to know. He couldn't keep the sight of the dead gunman out of his mind as he called out tentatively, but there was no reply. The sleeve hadn't moved. He forced his legs to move forward as though approaching a rabid tiger. He reached the prone form of his friend. Doyle's eyes were half open and his hair almost white with dust. Bodie tried his name again but still Doyle didn't respond. Bodie shouldered his gun and began to tear away the debris covering the body. He heard the jagged breathing of his friend as he did so, his diaphragm rising and falling. Still alive then. He knelt next to him, relief washing over him. His eyes travelled automatically around his partner's body assessing his condition. There was nothing immediately obvious. Doyle's eyes were fixed on him, following his every move. The eyes became large and terrified as Doyle assessed for himself.
"Bodie," he began hoarsely, "I can't feel anything."
Bodie went cold. It was as if he'd already known. Terror began to seep into his own being as though by some osmosis. "Feel that?" he asked, plucking at Doyle's thigh.
"Can't feel anything." Doyle's voice was beginning to sound high and hysterical. His breathing was becoming more difficult as panic set in. His eyes never left Bodie's, pleading subconsciously for his friend to hold the answers. Bodie tried again, pinching Doyle's hand hard. Tears and snot smeared Doyle's face. He couldn't even hide them or drag a sleeve over his face. Bodie tried to force himself to be calm and think this through. He placed bricks carefully at either side of Doyle's head to prevent him moving. He brushed brick dust carefully from his friend's face and out of his eyes. It was a tender gesture and the only one Doyle felt for sure.
"Don't move an inch Ray. Just stay put."
"I can't live like this, Bodie. I won't," Doyle cried. "Please …"
"No, Doyle. Don't you dare ask me to do that," Bodie screamed angrily.
He knew what his friend was going to ask. He didn't want to hear the words. He shuffled backwards like a frightened animal, his fragile calm shattered. Eventually he regained his feet and ran blindly towards the car. In his flight, he tripped amongst the debris and went down hard. The pain in his knees brought him a little to his senses. He looked back, ashamed, at his friend. He'd covered some distance and could no longer see him. He ran at a more controlled pace to the car, took a deep breath and radioed in. "Three-seven to Base. Doyle has spinal injury. Get an ambulance quick." He gave the co-ordinates. He knew that he should return to his partner. Assess his condition. Be with him. At the very least put his coat over him. The sun was going down and it was getting very cold. Instead he closed the car door slowly and sat there hugging himself. He knew that he was very tempted to carry out the task Doyle was pleading with him to do. Slipping his coat off and holding it over Doyle's face until his breathing stopped. Clamping a hand over his nose and mouth. Placing his hand strategically across his windpipe. Oh yes, Bodie knew several ways he could snuff out a life. If Doyle were a dog, it could be done officially and with sanction. But somehow the suffering of humans is different. It seems we have to suffer. So Bodie, not trusting himself, stayed put shaking violently and trying to still his mind. Some time later he briefly got out to throw up then returned to the sanctuary of the car, eyes closed, praying to a god he didn't believe in.
Doyle lay alone in the growing darkness, trying desperately to control his breathing and keep hold of some ragged delusion of calm. He heard a bird trilling its goodnight song to the day's end. It sounded very sweet. Doyle vaguely remembered a poem about a 'darkling thrush' – whatever one of those was – singing in the wintertime. He tried very hard to remember any of the lines but it eluded him. Bodie would know it. Doyle knew that he had frightened his partner away. He'd never seen such fear in his friend's eyes once he realised the seriousness of the injury. Doyle didn't blame him. He wasn't angry. He wanted Bodie to know that but guessed now he never would. Doyle had convinced himself, as time ticked away, that he would die. He hoped he would. He really couldn't live like this – a head without a body. He regretted his hysterical begging. No wonder Bodie had done a runner. It was better this way. 'Died of natural causes'. Yes, much better. Bodie couldn't get done for murder that way. Doyle felt that if Bodie could be persuaded to defend himself in court, his plea that he had killed for humanitarian reasons wouldn't stand up. Doyle did a lot of thinking in that long wait for a help he hoped wouldn't come. Then he too closed his eyes, and waited more calmly for death.
It seemed a lifetime before Bodie heard the first stirrings of a siren. He radioed in to Base to ask when his call for help had first been made. It had taken the ambulance nearly 40 minutes to reach the scene. Bodie met the ambulance as it made a cautious way towards him. Bodie flagged it down and tried to keep his temper in check. The driver at least had the grace to apologise for the wait. He explained that they needed to gather together a specialist team and equipment before moving a spinal patient. Bodie couldn't argue with that, though he wanted to. He pointed the ambulance in the general direction while he reluctantly trailed behind it on foot. Even though professional help had now arrived Bodie was still too frightened to approach even to find out if Doyle was still alive. He hovered in the background like an extra at a funeral. It seemed to take forever for them just to get their patient onto a stretcher let alone into the ambulance. As though remembering him, one of the doctors approached Bodie and asked if he wanted to ride with them. Bodie said that he'd follow on behind in the car.
The ambulance was driven like a precious hearse. At first Bodie couldn't understand why the driver wasn't gunning his vehicle through all the red lights. Then it dawned on him that any bumping and rocking would injure Doyle further – as if he hadn't been thoroughly injured already. The long journey gave Bodie too much time for brooding. He only knew that Ray was still alive. Even when they turned into the hospital grounds – not the nearest one, but one with a specialist spinal injuries unit some distance away – Bodie was reluctant to get out of the car. He managed to get half way to the entrance where they were delicately unloading, but couldn't get his legs to walk any further. It was only after some minutes that he realised that it was raining and water was slowly seeping through his clothing. He'd just managed to persuade his legs to move a little further when who should approach him but Cowley looking all anxious and efficient.
"Well?" he asked, grasping Bodie's arm and dragging him towards the reception.
"I don't know. The medics didn't say."
Cowley made enquiries at the desk and was told to wait. He took his agent to the hospital café for a briefing. Once Bodie had a steaming cup of sweet tea in front of him, Cowley demanded answers. He could see that his operative was very shaken, but he needed facts. Bodie took a deep breath and explained about the chase round the rafters and the death of the first goon. Then came the more demanding part – Doyle following the same route downwards. In faltering sentences, Bodie stammered his way through the scenario.
"Once I'd got the debris off him I could see more clearly. He was still breathing and semi-conscious. He said he couldn't feel anything. I pinched his leg. I saw that he'd wet himself. Funny what you notice," Bodie added dully, staring into his tea. "I tried squeezing his hand. Still nothing. He'd no feeling anywhere. He …" Bodie knew then that he couldn't betray his friend. He changed tack. "He was in a state. God knows, who could blame him."
"Aye." was Cowley's only comment as he shook his head sadly. He felt that he'd got everything he could from Bodie and that the doctors should have some news by now. However, when Cowley tackled the receptionist again, she said that Doyle hadn't come back from radiology yet. These things take time as the patient needs to be moved very carefully. The men retreated to some chairs nearby and waited. There was an anxious mother and child also waiting. They were called away first by a serious-looking lady consultant. Time dragged its heels until a male specialist appeared ten minutes later. They were conducted into a consulting room. The doctor had an x-ray ready mounted on the wall for them. He repeated what the receptionist had said about moving spinal patients with infinite care and then got down to business.
"You'll see," he said, pointing with a stick to the lighted x-ray, "that these two upper vertebrae are out of alignment. They are pressing on the nerves here and here." The medical lecture seemed to have turned into a military campaign as the stick was slapped against the photo of Doyle's skull and upper spine. "According to the paramedics who attended the scene, Mr Doyle had been properly cared for. No attempt had been made to move him, and there was even restraint to stop him moving his head. It was very fortunate that we had someone who didn't panic and knew what they were doing."
To his embarrassment, Cowley announced that Bodie was the first-aider present.
"We have put Mr Doyle into an induced coma to ensure that he doesn't move while the vertebrae are realigned by traction. There should be some marked improvement after 24 hours when he comes round. After that, I expect feeling to return gradually."
Bodie wasn't sure he understood. He turned to his boss, but found him also at sea. "Are you saying," Bodie asked slowly, "that Ray will be able to move again?"
"Put simply, yes. He should return to normal function within 48 hours and be on his feet again soon after that."
Cowley, ever practical, asked, "Will he regain full function?" It seemed he needed as much reassurance as Bodie.
"Doctors are naturally cautious beasts, sir. We need to see all four hooves over the finishing line before we bet on a horse! The best I can offer you at the moment is that I have a 98% certainty that Mr Doyle will be his usual fit self after a few days with us, though I'd not recommend gymnastics for at least a couple of weeks. I can't say more than that until Mr Doyle regains consciousness and begins to move around. We've done a brain scan and, although he has a concussion, there is no brain damage as far as we can see. We'll do a comparative scan tomorrow. We haven't x-rayed the rest of his body as we don't want to move him unduly. If he has severe pain or swelling anywhere when he comes round then, of course, we'll investigate. Any questions?"
"Does Ray know – that he'll be ok?" Bodie asked tentatively.
"Not at the moment. He was sedated at the scene. He'll be told as soon as he comes round, by which time he'll be regaining some feeling anyway."
Bodie didn't know whether to laugh or cry and wondered what his boss was feeling.
The consultant left and assumed that his audience would follow in his wake. They did, and ended up in a side ward. Again Bodie had an overwhelming desire not to approach, as though Doyle's injury were in some way highly contagious. Unaware of his agent's turmoil, Cowley turned a happy face to him and said that Doyle looked barely marked, though there seemed to be a lot of ironmongery attached to his body. He asked if Bodie wanted to stay. He replied that there was no point until Ray came to. In reality he just wanted to put as much distance as he could between this metal coffin and the outside world. For appearances sake, he remained in the room. Cowley said that he would take Bodie off the case he and Doyle were working on. Coulson and Abbey could take up the threads of that. Bodie could have a few days off until Doyle was on his feet. He mumbled a thank you as a relieved Cowley retreated. He forced himself to remain for a few minutes until Cowley's footsteps had died away. He then bolted out of the door, taking a different less obvious route back to his car. He was shaking and felt sick again. He recognised it as shock but managed to reach home without crashing the car.
Doyle eventually emerged into a sunlit world after his 24 hour 'holiday'. He remembered the circumstances of his being here in this sanitary room that reeked of silence, disinfectant and dread. He remembered begging Bodie to end it all for him and the horror in Bodie's eyes. He remembered not being able to even wipe the snot from his nose and a feeling of drowning. Doyle began to gasp for air as terror flooded his senses and panic took hold again. Is this the way it's going to end? he asked himself. Vital organs closing down – the lungs going into spasm, the heart fibrillating, fear? He clutched the sheets and, in his panic, was unable to grasp the significance of that simple action. A nurse, alerted by the monitors, rushed in and looked anxiously at her patient then disappeared. I'm meant to stop people being frightened, Doyle thought, not be the cause of it. He began to giggle at the thought and realised that he was close to hysteria. So what? I may as well go out laughing!
A consultant arrived a few moments later. He found his patient drenched in sweat and fighting for air. The doctor recognised the signs. Hysteria was very common with injuries such as this. He placed an oxygen mask over Doyle's face. "Breathe with me, Mr Doyle," the doctor said firmly and quietly while pressing up and down rhythmically on his patient's abdomen. Doyle clutched the man's coat as though his life depended on it, his eyes boring into the doctor's. As the panic ebbed he watched his hand as though through the eyes of someone else. His hand had moved – it had moved! Hysteria was close again, but he recognised it and fought it off. He felt tears and sweat tickling the sides of his face. "Good," the doctor soothed. Presently he took his hands off Doyle's belly and the mask was removed. "Feeling a little better, Mr Doyle?" He nodded with his eyes – not yet trusting his voice. The doctor prised his patient's fingers from his coat and drew up a chair and explained to him about the dislodged vertebrae and the trapped nerves. In some cases he would have to explain it several times before the patient remembered or believed. But they had time. Eventually, satisfied that Doyle was calmer and had taken in most of what he'd said, the doctor cleaned his patient's face then left.
Once home, Bodie wanted nothing more than to drink himself into oblivion. For the first time he could remember, he'd acted cravenly. He'd been unable to stay with Ray amongst the debris. Ok, so Doyle wouldn't have been able to feel him holding hands or to feel any warmth if he'd put his coat over his body, but that shouldn't have stopped him just being there and giving reassurance, even empty platitudes, until the ambulance arrived. Instead he had left him to die alone. He had a better excuse for not remaining at the hospital. As he'd honestly said to Cowley, it made no difference his being in the room or not – Doyle was asleep and unaware of anyone being there. However, his honesty also reminded him of the time when Doyle had been shot and on life support. Bodie had sat by his bed then – for days on end – until Doyle had opened his eyes and taken notice of the world again. Why couldn't he do the same now? Doyle's life, indeed his legs, was no longer in danger. Bodie couldn't explain it to himself or anyone else. The injury had terrified him. Doyle's begging had terrified him. The soiled jeans and lack of dignity had terrified him. Bodie felt on the verge of tears – whether for himself or for Doyle he couldn't say. He wasn't one for introspection, much less depression, so he went for a long jog. It was better than getting drunk. After a sleepless night Bodie got up – not for the first time – and had an early breakfast. He should have rung the hospital but didn't. He could have asked Base or Cowley if they'd had any news but didn't want to draw attention to his dereliction. He made up his mind to go to the hospital and see Ray personally in the afternoon when he should be coming round. Yes, it could wait till the afternoon. There was no hurry. He wished now that Cowley hadn't relieved him of duty. A good hectic day would have distracted his mind.
Bodie busied himself with chores and shopping till after lunch. The telephone seemed to symbolize his conscience. It seemed to glow every time he glanced at it. It even seemed to follow him round the room daring him to ring the hospital, but fear – if that's what it was – prevented him lifting the receiver. He'd promised himself to go round to the hospital instead, whether Ray was awake or not. That afternoon he even got as far as unlocking the car. But, again, he couldn't go through with it.
It had to be explained again to Doyle that he was going to recover from his injuries. A psychiatrist was offered if Doyle wanted to talk through his fears, but was rejected. He waited for Bodie to call. That evening Jax came round instead. Doyle didn't ask about Bodie. He didn't want it known that Bodie hadn't been to see him. If anything had happened to his partner, Jax would have told him or Doyle would have noticed any evasiveness. But Jax prattled on happily enough to Doyle's prone form. The following evening even Cowley came to see him. Doyle was sat up now. The uncomfortable collar and traction equipment had been removed and Doyle told his boss that a physiotherapist would assess him next day. He admitted that he was very stiff and head to foot with bruises and lacerations but that was a very small price indeed to pay in view of everything. Cowley warmly agreed. During the visit no mention was made on either side about Bodie.
Next day the consultant and physiotherapist were so pleased with his progress that they agreed that Doyle could go home the following day. Since his clothes were a right-off the doctor had asked if a relative could find him something to wear. Doyle was now getting angry at Bodie's neglect. He asked the consultant if he didn't get anyone visiting before his discharge, could he borrow something? He didn't want to remain here any longer than he had to. He was angry that his release looked in jeopardy. However, a knight – in the form of a Maid Marion – came to his rescue. A patient had died without relatives so, if Doyle didn't mind, he could wear his clothes just to get him home. The shirt and trousers had been washed. There were no underclothes or jacket. Doyle was too relieved and grateful to be picky.
His first faltering steps – how he'd wanted Bodie to witness those – had taken him along the corridor to the bathroom. He'd seen all the paraphernalia that the disabled needed to get them through the basics of life. He'd seen, indeed talked to, patients in wheelchairs and wondered where they got the courage from to go on with their lives. It wasn't pity he felt when he saw them wheeling themselves down the corridor, but a great sense of admiration and humility.
Doyle would be released next morning after a final once-over by the experts. It was time to contact his missing partner. He was surprised at how anxious he was becoming as he dialled Bodie's number. He kept telling himself that if anything had happened to him, he would have been told. He wasn't any longer in a delicate state of physical or mental health. He could be told bad news if that was the case. He reviewed the visits of Jax and Cowley. There were no undercurrents that he could detect. As the phone connected at the other end Doyle's anxiety instantly turned to anger.
"Bodie, this is Doyle – Ray Doyle. I don't know if you remember him. He was once a friend of yours some time ago," he ranted, his temper growing.
"Ray. I'm sorry. I got caught up …"
"If you're interested, I'm being discharged late tomorrow morning. I've been given some dead man's clothes to stop me walking out stark naked, so you needn't tax yourself in getting a kit together for me." Doyle knew he was being unreasonable but couldn't seem to stop himself.
"I'll be there."
"Don't strain yourself." Shaking, Doyle slammed the phone down. He knew that Bodie didn't deserve all of his fear and anger. He'd apologise when they met up.
A chastened Bodie arrived at the hospital within the hour with a bag of clothes and shoes. He caught sight of his partner shuffling away from him down the corridor, holding onto a handrail with one hand while trying to keep up a pair of trousers with the other. He looked like a half-starved refugee. Bodie's heart lurched. Now he was here, he didn't know what to do or say. As though sensing a familiar presence, Doyle stopped in his tracks and turned slowly. He had discovered, painfully, that he wasn't yet fully co-ordinated. Their eyes met. The anger Doyle felt and the fear Bodie felt melted.
"Stay where you are, Ray. In that get-up you'd only fall over your feet – as usual!"
Doyle grinned stupidly. Bodie mirrored the grin and rapidly walked over to him, trying not to run. Doyle tentatively put a hand on his friend's arm to reassure himself that he was finally here. To his surprise and embarrassment, Bodie wrapped his arms round him in a suffocating bear hug. Once Doyle was able to extricate himself and draw breath, he exclaimed, "First you ignore me, then you're all over me like a rash. Make up your mind – do you want to marry me or not?!"
As there were several people within earshot (which Doyle was fully aware of), Bodie looked wonderfully mortified. It was better than a row!