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At Odds with the Morning

Chapter Text

At Odds with the Morning
By JJJunky

 

A burned out light cast the corner of the parking lot into darkness. Though mindful of the dangers lurking in the protection of the shadows, Cowley pulled his red Capri Ghia into the empty space. He had no time for fear. One of his agents had been injured. Sketchy reports indicated the wound was serious, but not life threatening. Cowley had never trusted a diagnosis made by a desk-bound bureaucrat. He'd driven to the small suburban hospital with all possible speed to make his own assessment. He could justify his presence with a partial truth. Ray Doyle was a valuable operative on an important assignment. Only to himself would Cowley admit to a personal involvement with the curly-haired man and his taciturn partner.

Switching off the engine, he took a few minutes to compose the mask he habitually wore to shield his emotions. Climbing out of the car, he walked toward the entrance illuminated by a large EMERGENCY sign. A car pulled into the no parking zone in front of the automatic doors, practically blocking his way. Leaving the engine running, the young driver scrambled out and rushed around to the passenger side. The emerging teenager was taller and more heavily built than his companion. Blood stained one side of his T-shirt. In one hand he clutched a nylon bag. The other he kept buried in his pants pocket. Something bothered Cowley as he watched the tableau, but his main concern remained elsewhere. He trailed the two boys inside and absently watched as a Sister helped the injured boy onto a gurney.

Fighting every instinct that urged him to follow the trio, Cowley crossed to the reception desk. Ahead of him was a slimly built woman in her late twenties. Her right arm lay across her chest supported by a sling. With her left hand, she was attempting to sign the paperwork that would release her. While he waited his turn, Cowley studied the other occupants of the small room. Since it was a weeknight, it was relatively quiet. An elderly couple hovered anxiously over a small boy of approximately six years of age. Periodic screams reminded his grandparents and everyone else the gash on his knee hurt. At the same time, alert blue eyes excitedly surveyed the surroundings showing none of the pain his cries indicated.

In a corner, sitting as far from the noisy child as possible, was a middle-aged man. The dark suit and tie marked him as a businessman. The quality of the clothing shouted his success. Too bad, Cowley mused, he wasn't smart enough to keep his finger out of the car door.

"May I help you?"

Shifting his attention to the young receptionist who'd finally released the injured woman, Cowley said, "I'm looking for Raymond Doyle."

A well-manicured nail ran vertically along the check-in list. Finding the name, the finger moved horizontally to the status column. "Mr. Doyle has been admitted."

Cowley waited for her to continue. When it became clear she wasn't going to, he impatiently demanded, "Where can I find Mr. Doyle?"

The finger continued across the page. "Room 418."

"Thank you." Wishing he could be given ten minutes with the girl, Cowley headed for the lift. At the end of the allotted time there would be a substantial improvement in her performance, or she would have quit. Either prospect was preferable to the status quo.

A bell rang, announcing the lift's arrival. Cowley picked up his pace anxious to catch it. He slowed when he saw the sole occupant emerge. "Bodie."

"I thought you might be here, sir," Bodie said, explaining his appearance.

An ominous stain on the younger man's pant leg made Cowley wince. "How's Doyle?"

"He'll be all right." Bodie smiled, a clear indication he was speaking the truth. "The bullet went clean through his shoulder. The doc wants to keep him overnight for observation."

"What happened to the shooter?"

"I got Taylor in the hand. He won't be holding a gun or anything else for a while. At least now if the drug charges don't hold up, the bastard'll go to jail for attempted murder."

"Well done, 3.7."

"Maybe you better save your praise for Doyle, Sir. After all, it was his shoulder that got in the way of that bullet."

"Not intentionally, I hope?"

"Doyle isn't that dedicated."

Screams of rage rather than pain drew Cowley's attention to the cubicle the teenage boys had entered. Adrenaline poured into his system, making his heart beat faster. In his mind, he replayed the teens exit from their car. He finally knew what had been bothering him. The wounded boy had been carrying the nylon bag with his injured arm.

Cowley heard Bodie's footsteps behind him as he rushed to the curtained room. He was relieved and proud his agent wasn't wasting time asking questions. Seconds before they reached their destination, a shot rang out. Cowley dropped behind a planter and pulled his gun. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bodie rush over to the elderly couple. He pushed them to the floor then shielded their grandson with his own body. Before Cowley could order the receptionist to get down, she ran outside. Cowley sighed with relief when no bullets followed her.

In the corner, the businessman stared in shock at the gun in Cowley's hand. Exasperated by the man's stupidity, Cowley whispered, "Get down, man! Don't make yerself more of a target than ya have to."

The curtain rings clanged as they were pushed back along the metal rods. The sound galvanized the businessman. Still nursing his swollen finger, he slid to the floor.

Satisfied, Cowley shifted his attention to the emerging figures. The boy with the blood-stained shirt had his arm around the Sister's waist. His gun was pointed at her head. At his feet lay a young man, his white coat identified him as a doctor. Blood was pooling around the hole in his temple.

When he saw the two guns aimed in his direction, the unarmed boy raised his hands. "I told you it wouldn't work, Kyle."

"Shut up, mate!" The thin arm pulled the nurse tighter against the slim chest. "Drop your guns or I'll blow her away."

"You can't do that Kyle," Cowley said, drawing on his training as a hostage negotiator. "If you kill her there won't be anything to stop us from killing you. Let's talk about this."

"What's to talk about? I kill her you kill me. I get the picture. What you didn't say is if I give you the gun, I'm dead anyway for killing the doctor. I don't see a lot of options here."

Movement from the corner distracted Cowley. A quick glance showed him the businessman was crawling toward the exit. "Take cover, man," Cowley angrily whispered.

"He's going to kill us." Fear overriding caution, the man ignored the advice. Partially rising, he whimpered, "We're all dead if we don't get out of here."

Returning his charge to his grandparents, Bodie moved to intercept the scared man. In the open area just before the exit, he tackled the man, bringing him to the ground.

As Cowley watched the entwined figures fall to the floor, a shot rang out. Bodie's body convulsed. Blood spurted from a hole in the back of his tan jacket. When he hit the floor, his gun skittered out of his hand, sliding across the linoleum until it came to rest against the receptionist's desk.

Cowley felt like someone had punched him in the gut. "Bodie?" To his dismay, there was no answer to his call.

"Who's next, Governor?" Kyle sneered. "Those chairs don't give much cover. I can kill whoever I want. You can't kill me without killing Nursy."

The businessman's futile escape attempt had taken the power out of Cowley's hands and placed it in the teenager's. Cowley had to buy time and the only way to do that was to relinquish his gun. With a flick of his finger, he ejected the ammunition cartridge into his hand. Raising his left arm to show his surrender, he laid the gun on the floor. A slight push with the toe of his shoe sent the weapon across the well-waxed tile to the gunman.

Releasing the Sister, Kyle swooped down and retrieved the gun. Confident now that he had all the cards, he said, "Jeremy, get the other gun, then secure the doors. I don't want anyone popping in to see what's going on."

Fear equal to that of the hostages on his face, the other boy quickly moved to comply.

Cowley watched the smaller boy lock the outside exits before blocking the door to the stairs. Summoning the lift, he held his gun loosely. When the doors opened to an empty car, Cowley sighed with relief.

"Everything's secure, Kyle," Jeremy called, flicking the switch that turned the lift off. "Now what do we do?"

"We wait."

"For what?"

"For the hostage negotiators. We may score even bigger than we thought. How many kilos do ya think they'll trade for a grandmother?"

Cowley's heart skipped a beat. The degree of intelligence he'd attributed to Kyle dropped markedly. Drugs for lives. It wasn't a very equitable exchange.

* * * *

Doyle clicked the remote, changing the channels on the TV. His mind hadn't registered what the program was before he switched channels again. There was nothing on any of the three stations to hold his interest. Disgusted, he turned the set off. Reaching for his call button, he summoned a Sister.

As soon as she appeared, he knew where Bodie had disappeared to. The girl was tall with striking red hair and green eyes. The only imperfection was a small scar on the cleft chin.

"Would you tell Don Juan that I'd like to see him," Doyle said, miffed that Bodie would choose to chat up a pretty girl rather than entertain his wounded partner.

"Who?"

"I'd like to talk to that tall, dark, and handsome lout that's been bending your ear for the last half hour."

Red roughened hands rose to rest on slim hips in indignation. "I have not been talking to anyone, Mr. Doyle. After finishing my rounds, I updated the charts. I was just about to prepare your medication when I noticed your light."

"I'm sorry," Doyle apologized. "Bodie said he was going down to the Emergency Room to find our boss. I figured as soon as he saw you he changed his mind. I wonder where he is?"

"You think he was going to the Emergency Room?" A frown appeared on the smooth forehead.

"We've never been to this hospital before," Doyle explained, unsettled by the look on the Sister's face. "Bodie knew our boss would look for me in the Emergency Room."

"I haven't seen your friend, Mr. Doyle. If I do, I'll send him right in." Taking a few steps back, she reached for the door handle. "If that's all, I really need to return to my duties."

Though puzzled by her sudden nervousness, Doyle nodded assent. Frustrated and bored, he picked up the remote and turned the TV back on. Trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his head and shoulder, he stared at the small screen. There was no tangible reason why he should be worried, but he was. "Damn it, Bodie, where the hell have you gotten yourself off to?"

* * * *

Cowley was amazed he was still alive. After Bodie went down, he was sure he'd be next, but no bullet came his way. In fact, the teenagers appeared to have forgotten his existence. Rising, he slowly negotiated the scattered chairs.

"Where the bloody hell do you think yer goin', Governor?" Kyle demanded, waving his gun.

"To check on my…" Cowley hesitated. What word best described his relationship with Bodie? "…friend."

The term might not be technically accurate, but Cowley could admit, at least to himself, that it described how he felt. He could no longer deny it. Though he'd fought to keep all his agents at arm's length, Bodie had somehow broken through his defenses. Now, that lithe body lay sprawled on the hard floor - dead? This was a day experience had always told him would come, but his heart had denied.

"The guy's dead," Kyle said, sparing the body a quick glance before returning his attention to the contents of a drug cabinet.

Through clenched teeth, Cowley pleaded, "I need to see for myself."

"Bloody hell," Kyle angrily threw a bottle of medicine to the floor. "I thought this was a drug cabinet," he raged, another bottle following the first. "Where are all the drugs?"

Cowley kept a cautious eye on the distraught teenagers as he slowly made his way to his agent's side. Kneeling, he hesitantly put a hand on Bodie's neck to feel the carotid artery. When he felt the slight throbbing, he thought it was a phantom movement there only because of his strong desire to find Bodie alive. It wasn't until Bodie actually spoke he truly believed what his fingers were telling him.

"I'm still with you, sir."

"I knew you would be," Cowley whispered past the lump in his throat. The hole in the lad's broad back was small, but with each beat of the stubborn heart, precious fluid was pumping out. Clearing his throat, Cowley called, "My friend is still alive."

"Bloody hell," Kyle groused, still angry over his failure to find a drug that would get him high.

Knowing he needed the teenagers' goodwill, Cowley fought to control his temper. "He's hurt rather badly. Would it be all right if the Sister took a look at him?"

"Yeah, all right," Kyle disinterestedly agreed.

With a slow precise motion, the Sister retrieved a stethoscope and some bandages. When she reached for a pair of scissors, her hand was slapped away. A small yelp of pain ended abruptly when she felt the familiar imprint of a gun barrel at the back of her head.

"No scissors," Jeremy quietly warned.

"I need them to cut away his coat so I can get to the wound."

"Use your teeth."

Cowley observed the exchange closely, ready to step in if needed. To his surprise, he saw no fear on the wrinkled face of the nursing sister, only grim determination and anger. Her arms laden with supplies, she slowly crossed to his side. When she kneeled beside him, Cowley read the name on her tag. "Thank you, Sister Philips."

"You better wait and see if I can do anything for . . ."

"Bodie," Cowley supplied.

"Mr. Bodie," Philips hesitantly repeated, "before you thank me."

"You've already done more than I expected by defying that young twit."

"Unfortunately, I've had too much experience with his type. I know how to deal with him." Turning her attention to her patient, she softly prayed, "I just hope I can be as much assistance to Mr. Bodie."

Cowley watched anxiously while expert hands attempted to examine the small wound. She was hampered by the leather jacket resisting any attempt to widen the hole. When she gently pressed the flesh surrounding the entry point, Bodie gasped and grabbed Cowley's hand with his own. The older man found some relief in the strength of the grip. It died quickly when his gaze met the Sister's worried eyes. "What's wrong? Can you help him?"

"I believe the bullet is pressing against his spine. All I can do is try to stop the bleeding. If I do anything more I could paralyze him for life. He needs more expert care than I can provide."

Gently releasing his hand from Bodie's Cowley rose. His hands in the air, he took a couple steps toward Kyle. "My . . . friend," he hoped the boy didn't notice the slight hesitation, "needs a doctor. You have enough hostages without him. Would you release him?"

"Are you crazy, Guv'ner?" Kyle sneered, kneeling so his eyes met Bodie's. "He should bring the best price of all. If they don't give me what I want quickly, he dies. The blood will be on their hands, not mine."

Cowley knew it wouldn't do any good to remind the teenager that he'd been the one to shoot Bodie. Kyle was the type of boy who wouldn't take responsibility for anything, not even his own actions.

The shrill ring of a telephone rent the air. Cowley knew it was the hostage negotiator. He even knew what was going to be said. As his eyes rested on his agent, he raged against his knowledge. It told him that Bodie would probably be dead before this crisis was resolved.

* * * *

Anger burned inside of Doyle, blurring his vision and making his head ache. Flicking off the TV, he flung away the remote and threw back his covers before sitting up. Fighting back the dizziness and nausea that made him want to return to a reclined position, he dropped his feet to the floor. Shock coursed through his body when they contacted the cold linoleum. Stumbling to the closet, he pulled out his bloodstained clothes. It was difficult crawling into the clammy items one-handed. By the time he was done, he had to sit down or chance falling down. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he took deep breaths tying to clear his head and slow his racing heart.

When he felt he had sufficient control over his body, he rose. Limping slightly to compensate for his aching shoulder, he crossed to the door. Just as he reached to pull it open, it swung toward him. He felt a slight breeze as it brushed past, almost hitting him. Framed in the doorway was the redheaded Sister he'd met earlier. Exactly the person he wanted to see. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Mr. Doyle," the Sister remonstrated, "you shouldn't be out of bed."

Doyle's hand slapped the doorframe near her head. "Answer my question."

"What haven't I told you?" the young woman prevaricated, her eyes refusing to meet her patient's.

"It was on the news. You knew my friends were hostages, yet you didn't tell me."

"You're injured. What can you do?"

Doyle pushed her aside. "Get them out."

Anger gave him strength as he walked to the lift. Even before he reached it, he saw the light indicating the car was in the basement. He immediately realized it must have been turned off by the terrorists. Altering course, he headed for the stairs. It was just his luck to be on the top floor of the small hospital. Normally, four floors would barely increase the rate of his heartbeat, but his injury had drained his stamina. By the time he reached the main floor, he was flushed and sweating.

The lobby was crowded with representatives of the different forms of media, each trying to scoop the other. Protective of his sore shoulder, Doyle pushed through the crowd to a uniformed officer. "Where's the command center?"

"I'm sorry, sir," the officer's voice sounded bored, as though he'd answered the same question numerous times already, "no one is allowed in the command center."

Doyle awkwardly pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans and flipped it open. "I'm not just anyone."

"Of course not, sir," the officer stuttered, staring at the CI5 ID. "Chief Inspector Bates is in the first room on your left."

"Thank you, Constable."

Walking as quickly as he could, Doyle crossed to his destination. A sign on the door identified the room as belonging to security. Pushing the door open, he entered. Four people filled the small office. Doyle immediately recognized the Chief Inspector from his days with the Met. The man standing at the chief's shoulder was also familiar. Inspector Wright had graduated in the same class as Doyle, only he'd been at the bottom of their class, while Doyle had been at the top. In Doyle's opinion, the man should've been washed out long before graduation day.

A third man, wearing a white coat, stood by the officers' side. His badge indicated he was a doctor. By his presence in this room, Doyle figured he was probably more an administrator than a practicing physician.

The remaining occupant wore a dark blue uniform. The patch on his shoulder identified him as the hospital's head of security.

Doyle's entrance drew the men's attention. Different degrees of annoyance showed on the expressive faces. Flipping his wallet open, Ray said, "Doyle, CI5."

"Only authorized personnel are allowed in here," Wright pompously scolded.

Sticking his ID in the man's face, Doyle growled, "This gives me the authority."

"What makes this hostage situation important to CI5?" Bates calmly inquired.

"I think two of the hostages," Doyle admitted, pocketing his wallet, "are my partner and my boss."

Moving aside so Doyle could see one of the monitors, Bates pointed to two figures in the upper right hand corner of the screen. "Is this them?"

Doyle stepped closer. His hand clenched into a fist when he saw Bodie laying motionless on the floor. "That's them," he acknowledged. "The injured man is my partner, Bodie. The older man at his side is our boss, George Cowley."

"The receptionist was able to name the other hostages for us, but she didn't know your companions," Bates said, writing the information on a tablet.

"Is this a tape?" Doyle asked, watching Cowley bend down and cover Bodie's hand with his own. It was an unexpected gesture that brought tears to Doyle's eyes.

"Naw," Wright snickered, "the idiots haven't disabled the security cameras."

Massaging his neck, Bates sadly observed, "They may be idiots, but their deadly idiots. They've already killed a doctor and shot your partner, Doyle."

"Have you talked to them? Do you know what they want?"

"Cocaine. They want a hundred kilos for every hostage."

Wright pulled out a chair and sat down. "I think we should give it to them."

"Now that's a real smart plan," Doyle sarcastically agreed, pointing a finger at the monitors. "Look at them. They're already strung out. You give them drugs, they'll start shooting up right away."

"So, what's the worst that can happen? We may get lucky and they'll OD"

"The worst that can happen is that they'll be so hopped up they'll start using the hostages for target practice."

"Do you have a better idea?"

"As a matter of fact, I do."

* * * *

Cowley had listened to Kyle's conversation with the hostage negotiator and knew their situation was getting worse with every minute that passed. Drug addicts were unpredictable. There was no doubt in his mind a hostage would die when the designated hour the teen had allotted expired. There was no question of when, only who.

Feeling old and useless, Cowley squeezed Bodie's hand reaffirming his support. When the Sister finished placing a bandage over the wound, she moved on to her next patient, the young boy and his skinned knee.

"Not to worry, sir," Bodie whispered, his voice raspy. "Doyle will get us out of this."

"4.5 is wounded himself," Cowley reluctantly reminded his agent.

"Not bad enough to let it stop him."

"Your faith is admirable 3.7, if a bit exaggerated."

"I'll bet you a bottle of scotch Doyle'll come through."

"You're on." Cowley quickly added, "I'll expect a good malt, mind you, not that toilet water you usually buy."

"Of course all bets are off if I die," Bodie nonchalantly replied.

Cowley pulled back as if he'd been slapped. "I told you before, 3.7, I don't appreciate your idea of a joke."

"Promise me something, sir," Bodie said, his voice fading to a point where Cowley practically had to put his ear next to the younger man's lips to hear what he was saying. "Promise me that if the doctor's can't save my legs, you won't let them save me."

"I can't promise that," Cowley angrily protested. "You can still lead an active life without legs."

"Not . . . the life . . . I want. My choice . . . my decision."

As the incredibly long lashes closed over the brilliant blue eyes, Cowley sighed. Distress thickening his accent so it was barely comprehensible, he asked, "Are ya bein' fair, lad? It's a decision we have to live with as well."

* * * *

"It's a stupid idea," Wright argued. "You'll get yourself and every one of the hostages killed."

"Can you think of anything better?" Doyle challenged, slipping into the harness Murphy had brought. "We have less than fifteen minutes left before they kill the first hostage."

"They'll extend the deadline. Terrorists always do."

"These aren't terrorists. They're teenagers," an exasperated Doyle reminded the officer. "Whose life are you willing to risk on your theory?"

"At least I'm worried about all the hostages, not just two," Wright snapped.

Bates' hand slapped the top of the desk. The gesture showed his unhappiness with the argument. Despite this obvious display of his feelings, his face remained unchanged. In a calm, soothing voice, he suggested, "Wright, why don't you go outside and check the perimeter?"

"Aw, sir," the younger man ducked his head and shuffled his feet.

"Now, Wright."

Doyle tried to keep his satisfaction from showing on his face. He had always tried to be professional in his dealings with Wright, though it hadn't always been easy.

Once his subordinate had finally taken his leave, Bates' attention returned to the task at hand. "I trust you when you say you can rappel down to the top of the elevator without being heard. The remainder of your plan has me worried, however. I don't see how you can remove the emergency panel without making a sound."

"I don't think we can," Doyle conceded, making sure the harness straps wouldn't come in contact with his wound. "We'll need a noisy cover."

"How about a dustman's truck?" Murphy suggested, slipping on his climbing belt.

"It might look suspicious," Bates vetoed the idea. "There isn't any dust bins by the emergency room."

Leaning against a wall, Doyle closed his eyes and tried to ease the tension from his body. Adrenaline could affect his marksmanship. His ability with a handgun was the only reason he was being allowed to accompany Murphy in the rescue attempt. "An ambulance," he said, opening his eyes. "It wouldn't look suspicious if an ambulance approached the Emergency Room with its sirens blaring."

"I'll get one of my men right on it," Bates said, smiling his consent.

"Not Wright," Doyle anxiously countered.

"Not Wright," Bates reluctantly agreed.

Doyle handed the officer his R/T. "We'll let you know when we're in position."

"We'll be ready."

While he didn't doubt the man's abilities, Doyle was still worried. So many things could go wrong in a situation like this. One mistake and Cowley and Bodie would be paying for it with their lives. It was a responsibility Doyle had eagerly assumed. He regretted his decision. He could be the one left to live with the results.

* * * *

Though the teenagers were keeping their voices down, Cowley had no difficulty hearing their discussion. He almost wished he couldn't.

"Who are those guys, Kyle?" Jeremy asked, pointing to the CI5 agents.

"Some kind of cops, I guess," Kyle disinterestedly said, crossing to one of the plastic chairs and sitting down. "What difference does it make?"

"What kind of cops carry guns like these?" Jeremy asked, indicating the 9mm Browning in his hand.

"Does it matter?" Kyle yawned and rubbed his face.

"It does if they have friends who have guns, too."

Obviously not convinced either an old man or a wounded man presented much of a threat, Kyle turned his attention to Cowley. "Who are you, Guv'ner?"

Knowing he needed to buy time, Cowley pressed his lips together and dropped his eyes. Once their identity was revealed their lives would be considerably shortened.

"Answer me!" A bullet struck the floor only inches from Bodie's head.

Cowley raised his eyes, locking them with the younger man's. Kyle squirmed under the scrutiny, much as Cowley's own agents often did. Barely suppressed anger and contempt could be read in the steely blue eyes.

Wiggling under the stare, Kyle snapped off another shot. A slightly trembling hand made the bullet burrow into the wall near the exit doors. "Answer me, now," Kyle ordered, rising and waving the gun, "or the next bullet goes in your friend's head." Placing the muzzle against Bodie's skull, the teen stated the obvious, "There's no chance I'll miss from here."

Faced with the inevitable, Cowley admitted, "I'm George Cowley, controller of CI5 and this is one of my agents."

"Bloody hell!" Jeremy gasped, his voice raising an octave. "CI5!"

"Calm down, Jer," Kyle admonished. Backing away, he trained both guns on the two men.

"We're about to get our heads blown off and he says calm down." Tears welled up in Jeremy's hazel eyes.

"They can't do anything to us as long as we have their boss hostage."

"CI5 isn't known for playing by the rules."

Kyle stared contemptuously at his friend before returning his gaze to his prisoners. "They'll play by my rules this time or they'll be looking for a new head man."

"Let's surrender," Jeremy pleaded. "We'll get a few years in prison, but we'll be alive."

"You'll get a few years," Kyle corrected, nodding toward the cubicle where the doctor's body had been left. "I killed a man, I'll probably get life."

"Please, Kyle, I don't want to die."

"I said no!"

"Then you stay," Jeremy said, laying his gun on the receptionist's desk. "I'm giving myself up."

"You can't do that."

"Watch me."

The boy had taken only two steps toward the exit when a bullet entered the back of his head, dropping him in his tracks. "I told you, 'no'," Kyle quietly reiterated.

* * * *

Doyle instinctively ducked for cover against the wall as the echo of a gunshot reverberated up the shaft. Grabbing Murphy's R/T, he thumbed the switch connecting him with Bates. "What's happening?"

"It's hard to tell," the inspector replied, "they're at the extreme edge of the security camera's range. It looks like one of our brats just put a bullet in the floor near your men."

"Are they all right?"

"I can't tell for sure. My guess is it was meant as a warning shot."

"Roger." Just as Doyle was about to sign off, a second shot followed in the wake of the first. "Bates?" Doyle desperately cried.

"I think this one went into the wall." Bates deep voice cautioned, "I don't like what's going on here. You better hurry."

Doyle signed off without acknowledging the advice. It was a conclusion he'd already arrived at himself. Crossing to the edge of the shaft, he sat down. When he felt the tension on the line, he knew Murphy and Jax were ready. With total confidence in his companions, he pushed off. He'd been smart enough to know his injury was too severe for him to climb down the cables to the top of the lift. He just hadn't realized how much the harness would pull on the wound. Pain shot from his shoulder across his chest, taking his breath away. By the time he reached his destination, sweat had soaked his shirt. He was trembling so hard he could barely snap the clasp releasing the harness.

While he waited for Murphy to join him, he took deep breaths trying to slow his wildly beating heart. For the first time, he began to doubt his ability to accomplish his task. Maybe he should've let Jax take his place. The black man was almost as good with a handgun as Doyle. Would his pride get his friends killed?

Shunning the rope, Murphy rappelled down the cables. His mountaineering experience made the descent an easy one for him. He'd barely touched down on the roof when a third shot almost deafened them.

Doyle appropriated Murphy's R/T and signaled they were ready. He wished he could contact Bates and find out what was going on, but he knew it was too dangerous. His voice would echo in the shaft alerting the teenagers of their presence.

The howling voice of an ambulance penetrated the thick hospital walls. Doyle waited impatiently for the noise to become so loud it would drown out their activity.

With only one good arm, Doyle was forced to let Murphy do most of the work lifting the emergency panel. As soon as it was off, he dropped through the hole. His legs absorbed most of the jarring impact of his landing. Still, his shoulder throbbed in sympathy with his calves.

The last echoes of the siren had faded by the time Murphy's long legs hung over the edge almost reaching the floor. Doyle enviously watched as the other agent dropped the last few inches.

Pulling their guns from their shoulder holsters, the two men quickly took their positions. Keeping low, Doyle eased his head around the door. A quick glimpse showed him only one teenager. Using hand signals, he explained the change of plans this development entailed. They couldn't risk a gunfight with the hostages in the middle. They would have to try to take the teen alive and hope his partner would surrender.

With the fingers of his wounded arm, Doyle silently counted to three. As soon as the third finger folded, both men rushed through the door and took cover. Doyle behind a pillar, with Murphy shielded by a potted plant.

"Drop your weapons," Doyle shouted at the shocked teenager.

Anger suffused the freckled face. Pointing both of his guns at Doyle, Kyle pulled the triggers. Each hammer clicked on an empty chamber. Screams of rage followed the surprising result before abruptly dying.

Doyle cautiously peered around the pillar to see the teenager doubled over in pain. Cowley's locked fists drove down on the boy's exposed neck. The unconscious body fell limply to the floor.

His eyes desperately searching for the other perpetrator, Doyle called, "Where's the other one, sir?"

"He's already been neutralized, 4.5," Cowley wearily explained. "It's over."

Doyle let Murphy relay the news to Bates. His only interest now lay on the floor uncomfortably close to the boy who'd shot him. Kneeling next to the dark head of his partner, Doyle whispered, "Bodie?"

"What took you so long, Sunshine?"

Bodie's voice was weak and raspy, but having expected to find his friend dead, it was music to Doyle's ears. "You didn't expect me to miss my cuppa, did you?" he teased.

"Did you bring me one?"

His eyes resting on the bloodstained bandage, Doyle said, "I think there's another fluid you need worse right now, mate."

If there was a reply, Doyle never heard it. Cowley's hand on his arm gently pulled him away to give the doctors room to do their job - save Bodie's life.

* * * *

"Doyle, sit down before you fall down."

Cowley watched as the younger man reluctantly complied with his order. Doyle had been pacing intermittently for most of the four hours Bodie had been in surgery. It was an activity the doctor who'd re-bandaged his injured shoulder had advised against. Pain radiated from the cat green eyes. It was a pain Cowley recognized to be mental as well as physical.

The door to the waiting room swung open, admitting the surgeon Cowley'd met briefly before he'd disappeared with Bodie into the operating room. Blood liberally splattered the white gown he was wearing. Cowley had never been affected by the sight of blood - until now. Knowing it was Bodie's filled him with despair. "How is he, Doctor?"

"He's holding his own at the moment. However, we've run into a problem."

"What kind of problem?" Doyle belligerently demanded.

Unflinching under the other man's malevolent glare, the doctor explained, "The bullet's lodged between the spinal cord and the spinal nerve where it's affecting movement and sensation."

"What does that mean?"

"It means he has some paralysis. How much we can't be certain."

Not sure if he wanted to know the answer, Cowley asked, "What happens if you remove the bullet?"

"If there are complications, Mr. Bodie could be totally paralyzed from the waist down. It's even possible he won't survive the operation. If all goes well, he could make a complete recovery."

"Is there a chance the operation would be successful?" Cowley desperately looked for the silver lining.

"There is," the doctor conceded, "but there's less than a thirty percent chance."

"Leave the bullet in," Doyle said.

"Take it out," Cowley countered.

The doctor's glance shifted from one man to the other. "Who do I listen to?"

"Me," Cowley ordered, the tone of his voice leaving the doctor in no doubt. "If you check the records, you'll see Bodie has chosen me to act as his conservator."

"I'll have it checked right away," the doctor acknowledged. "In the meantime, I'll prep my patient."

As the doctor strolled from the room, Cowley was tempted to call him back. He wanted to tell him he'd changed his mind. Instead, he wondered if he'd just sentenced Bodie to death.

"You?" Doyle's shocked voice penetrated his superior's grief. "Why did Bodie choose you to be his conservator?"

Cowley knew what Doyle was really asking. Why didn't he choose me? When Bodie had told his superior his decision, Cowley had asked himself the same question. As he watched the partners work and play together, he found his answer. Was it an explanation Doyle would understand? "Bodie trusts you with his life, 4.5," Cowley said, "but not with his death."

"What?"

Exhaustion stealing the strength from his limbs, Cowley slowly sat down. "You can be a right selfish bastard, Doyle. Your response was for what you wanted. Not what Bodie would've wanted."

"We want the same thing," Doyle protested. "Bodie doesn't have a death wish."

Cowley shook his head. "You want Bodie to live under any terms, even if it means spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Bodie wants life only if its on his own terms."

"Even if it means no life at all?"

"Even then."

"Are you sure that's what he wants?" Doyle angrily lashed out, "or, is it what you want? Maybe you're the one who's being selfish? You don't have the power to keep a cripple on the squad. The only way you can keep him close to you is if he fully recovers."

Cowley clenched his teeth. "I'm the comptroller of CI5. I can do anything I want."

"Then do it!" Doyle waved a hand toward the operating room door. "Tell the doctor you've changed your mind."

"I can't."

"Can't or won't?" Tears filled Doyle's eyes. "If you cared about him, you'd do it."

Cowley quickly turned away. He couldn't tell the truth. He couldn't admit that his decision had been made because of his affection for Bodie. Maybe, if he'd stayed impersonal, he could defy Bodie's wishes and stop the operation. The very feelings he'd fought against for so long made that impossible. How he wished he'd never let the lad get under his skin.

* * * *

Doyle stared into the Styrofoam cup at the dredges left by the lukewarm tea. It'd been hours since Cowley had turned his back on him. Doyle felt no remorse, only anger. They'd all believed Bodie was the Cow's fair-haired boy. It appeared now they were wrong. Cowley would willingly let Bodie die. His life wasn't important, only his ability to do the job. It was a job Doyle wasn't sure he wanted to continue doing any more.

When the door opened and a doctor entered, Doyle ignored the intrusion. He'd already resisted two attempts to return him to his room. He wasn't in the mood to fight another battle, but he'd do what he had to do to stay where he was.

"Mr. Bodie has survived the operation and has been taken to the ICU." The surgeon who'd addressed them earlier leaned wearily against the doorframe.

Doyle blinked back tears of joy. Hiding his face, he asked, "Is he paralyzed?"

"It's too early to tell." Rubbing bloodshot eyes, the doctor explained, "Right now, there'll be some paralysis due to swelling. Once it goes down, we'll know more."

"But he'll live?" Doyle anxiously pressed.

The doctor nodded before qualifying, "Barring any complications."

Tenaciously hanging on to what little strength he had left, Doyle followed the surgeon out the door. "I'll call Murphy and give the lads the good news," he said, to no one in particular.

Considering their present relationship, Doyle wasn't surprised when Cowley didn't reply. Closing the door behind him, Doyle turned toward the pay phones. The last glimpse he had of his superior shocked him. Though all he could see was the older man's back, he could've sworn Cowley was crying. Reality destroyed the impression. Cowley hadn't even cried when Annie, the women he purportedly loved, left him. He certainly wouldn't cry because one of his agent's survived an operation.

* * * *

When Cowley pulled into the hospital parking lot, he was disconcerted to find the only empty space was under the same burned out light he'd parked under the week before. Wondering if this was an omen, he pulled into the spot. Repeating his actions on that arduous day, he turned off the engine. It took longer this time to form his mask. Even then, it was a fragile construction.

Though he'd received regular reports on Bodie's progress, he hadn't seen him since their ordeal. On sick leave himself, Doyle's constant attendance had been one factor, though not the primary one. He had been the one to decide whether Bodie lived or died, not some terrorist or a madman with a gun – George Cowley. He held lives in his hands every day, but this one life was different. The circumstances were different. It had been his order that had sent Bodie under the knife. Despite what the lad had told him in the Emergency Room, Cowley wasn't sure Bodie would've agreed with the decision he'd made.

Steering away from the doors illuminated by the EMERGENCY sign, Cowley headed for the main entrance. He barely noticed the figures scurrying by him as he headed for the lift. Each step was an effort of will.

Even though visiting hours didn't officially begin for another half-hour, no one challenged him when he passed the Sister's station and headed for Bodie's room. There were definite advantages to being the head of CI5. It was unfortunate there were more disadvantages. His agents would be surprised to learn how difficult it was for him to send them out on a case knowing - expecting - they might die.

Entering room 319, he stopped when he saw a doctor bending over Bodie's legs. "Sorry," he apologized, backing out the door. "I didn't--"

"It's all right, sir," Bodie quickly interrupted waving him back in, "you don't have to leave."

"Your doctor might feel differently, 3.7," Cowley wryly observed, continuing his retreat.

"You can stay," the doctor said, flipping the sheets off Bodie's feet. "I only have one test left to perform."

"Reflex," Bodie explained, raising his head to observe the proceeding.

Crossing to the bed, Cowley watched as the doctor ran the blunt end of his pen up the sole of Bodie's left foot. The toes curled in protest. The doctor repeated the action on the right foot and received the same reaction.

"What's the verdict, Doc?"

Though Bodie spoke lightly, Cowley could hear the fear underlying the question. It was a fear he was fighting himself.

The doctor smiled. "At the rate you're improving, Mr. Bodie, it won't be long before you'll be walking out of this hospital."

Bodie let his head drop back to the pillow. Closing his eyes, he bit his lip.

An observant Cowley understood the emotions threatening to overwhelm his agent. He understood because he was masking many of the same feelings himself. To cover his momentary lapse, and to give Bodie time to rebuild his defenses, Cowley held his hand out to the doctor. "Thank you, that's the best news I've had all week."

"Glad I could oblige," the doctor said, shaking the proffered hand. "I better be on my way. I like to try to get home for dinner on time at least once in a while."

Suddenly alone with Bodie, Cowley found he wasn't sure what to say. Being tongue-tied was a new experience for him. To break the awkward silence, he thrust a brown bag into Bodie's unresisting hands.

"Sir?"

"You won the bet."

A puzzled expression on his face, Bodie peeked into the bag. A broad smile split his lips when he saw what was inside. Pulling out a bottle of scotch, he inspected the label.

"It's pure malt," Cowley wryly observed.

Bodie pressed a button to raise the head of his bed. Reaching for two empty glasses, he handed one to his superior. "I think we should celebrate."

"Not while you're on medication, 3.7," Cowley sternly countered, taking back the bottle of scotch and the brown bag. "To ensure you don't disobey my orders, I think I better hold on to this until you're released."

"Ah, sir."

Bodie's petulant expression resembled a spoiled child who wasn't getting his own way. Cowley had to bite his lip to keep from smiling. His joy was short-lived. It evaporated quickly when his eyes rested on the unusually inactive figure. Despite the outcome, he harboured doubts concerning his decision. Needing to escape, he said, "I better get back to work. It looks like El Faddid is about to make his move."

"Thank you, sir."

"No need to thank me, 3.7," Cowley said, crossing to the door. "You won the bet fair and square."

"I wasn't thanking you for the scotch," Bodie sighed, catching his superior's eyes. "I was thanking you for my life."

"Save your appreciation for the doctor, not me."

"He already told me, if it'd been his decision, he wouldn't have operated."

"That's because you could've died," Cowley whispered, turning his face into the door.

"That kind of death doesn't scare me." Bodie's certainty was obvious. "I wouldn't want to live if it meant spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair."

"It's a possibility you still have to face if you stay in CI5," Cowley brutally countered, opening the door for a quick escape.

"I trust you to make the right decision again, sir."

Bodie's words followed Cowley out the door. He'd failed in his escape attempt. "Don't," he murmured. "I'm not sure I could make the same choice again."

* * * *

Doyle strolled slowly down the corridor. For once, he was in no hurry to reach Bodie's room. Tonight, he would have the truth. Tomorrow, he was due to report to Cowley for light duty. He had to decide whether to accept the assignment or hand in his resignation. Before he could make the decision, he needed answers to his questions. Only his partner could provide them.

"Mr. Bodie's in the solarium, Mr. Doyle."

Doyle's head jerked up to focus on the nameplate pinned to the left shoulder of a nurse's uniform. "Thank you, Sister Michaels," he said. Retracing his steps, he headed for the room at the other end of the long hallway.

Popular on sunny days, the solarium was all but deserted at this time of night. The glass enclosure provided a spectacular view of the stars, but it wasn't the constellations that commanded Doyle's attention. His eyes were immediately drawn to the lone occupant of the room and the wheelchair that had transported him here. Starlight reflected off the metal frame making Doyle shudder. The chair had come uncomfortably close to becoming a permanent fixture in Bodie's life - and his own.

The view almost making him want to whisper, Doyle said, "I never figured you for a stargazer, Sunshine."

"I'm not." Despite his denial, Bodie's eyes remained fixed on the starry sky. "Needed a different view is all."

Uneasy with his partner's unusual melancholy, Doyle asked, "Is everything all right? What did the doctor have to say?"

"Said I could be walkin' out of here in a week."

"That's good news, isn't it?"

"Great news."

"Has anyone told your face?" Pulling a chair up next to his friend, Doyle sat down. "Most people smile when they get good news."

Bodie let his head rest against the back of his chair. Closing his eyes, he said, "Cowley was just here."

"I thought I saw his car pulling out of the parking lot." Anger tinged Doyle's voice as he demanded, "What did he have to say?"

"He brought me a bottle of scotch."

"Our Cowley?"

A smile lifted Bodie's lips. "He was paying off a bet we made. He thought you were too badly hurt to rescue us. I bet him you weren't."

Emotions battled inside Doyle making him feel nauseous. On the one hand, he was proud Bodie had such confidence in him to know he would leave a hospital bed to save his partner. This knowledge, however, only made his pain more intense. Had Cowley been right when he'd said Bodie trusted Doyle with his life, but not with his death? "You know Cowley was the one who gave the green light on your operation."

"I know." Bodie nodded. "I already thanked him."

"Thanked him!" Doyle's chair screeched over the linoleum as he pushed to his feet. "You could've died."

"I know that, too."

"It would've been safer to have left the bullet in."

Bodie fixed his eyes on his partner. "I probably would've been paralyzed. It's not what I wanted."

"That's what Cowley told me." Unable to meet Bodie's gaze, Doyle crossed to the window and stared out at the brightly illuminated city. "He also said you chose him as your conservator."

"I did."

Choking down his disappointment, Doyle asked, "Why?"

"Ray," Bodie gently probed, "would you have chosen to leave the bullet in or take it out?"

"Leave it in," Doyle confessed.

"That's why I wanted Cowley." Bodie hit the arm of his chair with a clenched fist. "I'm not like you Ray. You would make the best of things and find solace in your books and painting. The only place I know, the only place I want to be, is out on the street. It's where I belong."

"It can also get you killed," Doyle reminded him.

"I've always been prepared for that." Bodie's hands shook the chair, making it rattle. "I could never prepare myself for this."

Turning, Doyle stared at his friend hearing a truth he'd always avoided. "Cowley said I was being selfish."

"You were." Bodie leaned forward. "But I'd still rather have you for my partner than anyone else."

Doyle softly repeated Cowley's admonition, "You trust me with your life, but not with your death."

"That about says it," Bodie agreed, covering his mouth to hide a yawn.

Smiling indulgently, Doyle crossed to the back of the chair. Unlocking the wheels, he wheeled it around. "Come on Goldilocks," he said, pushing the chair in front of him. "Let's go find a bed that's just right for you."

Though he hadn't learned anything he hadn't already known, Doyle felt better. Hurt pride had prevented him from seeing a truth he already knew. Despite what he'd thought, his relationship with Bodie hadn't changed. He would stay in CI5 and protect his partner's back as long as it was humanly possible.