It hurts, and it doesn't hurt. That's the thought foremost in Des' shellshocked brain. A sort of white-hot pain that radiates from everywhere and nowhere. It crawls over his limbs, prickly and cold, and sinks into his back and through his ribs, before pooling in the pit where his stomach should be. It's a bit like having butterflies in your stomach, but the angriest butterflies in the world, ones with razor-sharp wings that deliver a thousand cuts with every frenzied flap. He tries to picture what they'd look like, and somehow decides they'd be black and white, with jagged wings. Probably pretty wicked-looking, if they actually existed. He doesn't know why it matters, or why he cares. He doesn't know much at all, really, except that there was a gun, and a woman, and Jake, and...
He can recall what happened, but just barely, as though from a scene in a long-forgotten bad movie, watched on the couch at three a.m. after eating way too much junk food. He can remember creeping round the building to reach the control panel on the wall while Jake went to distract the blonde with the gun. What was her name? Leslie? No, that's not right. Leslie is an entirely different blonde, with an entirely different gun, and one that Jake wants to distract for entirely different reasons. No, this one was called...Sonja. That's it. And she was, for lack of a better word, bad, for reasons he's having difficulty recalling just now. All that matters is that they had to stop her, and Jake needed his help to do it, and that was all the reason Des needed. But to do that he needed to get to that control panel, and it meant sneaking around the perimeter of the tarmac, keeping to the shadows, so Sonja wouldn't see him. And he got there, he really did. He did his best sneaking, the sort that would make every TV secret agent proud, and he reached his target, and pressed the buttons that needed to be pressed, and then...
He remembers hearing the bang, but the significance of it to him wasn't readily apparent. His first instinct was to look and see if Jake was okay. It was only when he felt something sticky plaster his shirt to his skin that it occurred to him to look down. It was only when he took in the sight of the crimson-soaked cloth, and then looked up to meet Jake's horrified eyes, that the pain registered for the first time. And it cut him down then and there.
He'd always wondered what it would be like to be shot. Not fantasized, exactly, or wished for it. But he was well-aware that a lot of Jake's cases involved dangerous people with a nice line in weaponry, and the chances were that, sometime, he was going to find himself on the wrong end of one of them. He already had, in a sense. He'd been shot once before, but the bullet-proof vest he'd been lucky enough to be wearing at the time had prevented any damage beyond a couple of bruised ribs, and the wind being knocked from his lungs. He thought he'd handled it rather well, well enough that he was ready to take a bullet for the team if need be. The impact had hurt so much, he hadn't thought the actual bullet could do anymore damage.
Not surprisingly, he was wrong.
For awhile, it hurt like hell, and he collapsed to the tarmac clutching his abdomen. And then there was the sound of Jake yelling at Sonja to stay where she was, and the wail of sirens, and the clump of boots on the ground, and it was all Des could do to scream in a futile effort to pierce the wall of sound, and hope, pray, that someone out there could hear him. Because he was half-blind, with the sweat running into his eyes, and the tears running out. He doesn't know how long he laid there. Half a second. A million years. Too long.
But then there were voices, and hands pushing his own aside, and the crackle of radios, confirming the approach of an ambulance through the fuzz of static.
But above all, there was Jake. He owned the first pair of hands, the ones that gripped Des by the shoulders, and gently rolled him onto his back so he could examine the wound, and Des knew it because of the creak of the leather jacket accompanying each movement. Des could hear the hissed intake of breath that meant what he saw wasn't good. "Any of you geniuses know first aid?" was the question barked hoarsely at the clutch of officers, and then Des knew it was really bad because Jake sounded completely terrified. In the course of their work, Jake was probably scared, or at least worried, dozens of times a day, but no matter the situation, most of the time he sounded overwhelmed, or exasperated, or annoyed, or downright angry. And even when he was scared, Jake was more than likely to bluff it out than give into it. The sound of Jake's words spoken with naked, undisguised fear in the tone tell Des more than a doctor's diagnosis ever would.
"Des, listen to me. If you die on me, I'll kill you, y'understand?"
A ghost of a smile tugs at Des' lips. The words sound harsh to the objective observer, but to anyone who speaks Doyle, they're the ultimate profession of affection. It's always been difficult to know if Jake cares about him at all, or if he sees Des as nothing more than cheap, willing labour and a minor irritant. Des has chosen never to believe that, because Jake is as close as Des will ever have to a big brother, and the idea of being abandoned by someone else somewhere along the line is more than he can bear. But this clinches it. Des already has a dad, albeit an incarcerated one, but a big brother is a welcome addition to a family that has been painfully wanting for most of his life.
The pain subsided for the most part a few minutes ago, giving way to the prickles and the razor butterflies, and he knows logically that this probably isn't a good thing. He can still feel the roughness of the tarmac through his jeans, and the chill of evening air, can still sense the humidity bringing with it the promise of rain, and hear the wail of the sirens that are probably his ambulance in the distance. But he's too tired to move his head, even to look at Jake, so he settles for staring straight ahead, to the area just to the left of one of the cops' ears, a view that's becoming gradually more unfocussed. He knows his brain is shutting down. Usually he flits from one idea to another at hyperspeed, desperately trying to urge his mouth to keep pace with his internal stream-of-consciousness monologue, but now the thoughts come slowly, labouriously, and with great effort, as though he's wading through a pool of mental molasses. Seconds are hours, and minutes are days. Even sound comes slowly, each word drifting into his ear and taking an age to climb up into his consciousness. At some point, he realises that Jake is dialling a number on his phone. He can hear the burr as it rings, that's how close Jake's head is to his.
"It's Des, Leslie. Sonja shot Des!" Jake snaps into the phone, not bothering with the pleasantries, which is saying something where Leslie is concerned. He barely pauses to let her respond before demanding, "Get dad on the phone quick. And where the hell is the ambulance?"
Des isn't certain that the ambulance will make much of a difference at this point, but he doesn't have the energy to tell Jake that. But it's fine. He's not afraid, not anymore. He doesn't want to die, but he's so tired, and all he wants to do is sleep. Sleep and dream. Dream about the people he's leaving behind, the people he'll miss so much. Jake, of course, and Mal. Rose. His dad, who he'd only just started to know again. And Tinny. Always Tinny. Even if she could be mean, and infuriating, and sometimes just plain confusing, and he never quite understood what exactly the nature of their relationship was. But when things went right between them, they went so right, even if they were snatched moments like that kiss in the van. Des felt his eyes slide closed, but he could see Tinny's face behind the lids. Could taste her on his lips and smell her hair.
"Des!" Jake screamed in his ear, but Des was already far away, alone with a face and a smile.