Steve woke slowly, a little disoriented. He sat up gingerly, stiffly, remembering that he was slouched in the armchair in the corner of the ICU cubicle. As he tilted his head from side to side, working the crick out of his neck, he glanced towards the bed and froze. Mike was sitting up slightly, the head of the bed partially raised, his eyes wide open and a warm smile lighting his face.
“Whoa,” Steve chuckled, “you look better. What a difference a day makes.” He got up and walked closer to the bed. “How do you feel?”
“Like my chest is being held together by tensor bandages,” Mike answered with a careful chuckle.
Steve smiled and chuckled back. “Well, it kinda is…”
Mike nodded with a rueful smile of agreement. “I thought you went home last night. When did you come back?”
Steve sat on the edge of the bed. “I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I might as well not sleep here instead of not sleeping there. But I did bring us back a little treat.” At Mike’s curious look, he continued, “There’s a small tub of Rocky Road ice cream in the freezer, with two spoons.”
“Oh, that sounds great.” Mike’s voice was low, as he was careful not to take deep breaths. He looked curious. “Wait a minute, what freezer?”
“Uh, yeah, the nurse’s fridge.” Steve almost looked embarrassed. Mike’s eyebrows rose. “What? Do you think I used my masculine wiles?”
“You had to have used something,” Mike chuckled then his face grew serious. He hesitated for a few seconds, looking down, then up again into his partner’s eyes. “Steve, I remember… I remember what happened before I was shot.” He waited while Steve retrieved the chair from the corner, pulled it closer to the bed, and sat.
“There were eleven of us. I know because I pushed my way onto the elevator just before the doors closed and Roy made a point of letting me know there were now eleven people in the elevator instead of the recommended ten.” He smiled at the memory and Steve did as well.
When Mike began again, he was staring, unfocused at the foot of the bed. “When the doors opened we started to walk to the cars. I was in the group at the front with Charlie, Allan and Derek. We were teasing Charlie about his weight and that he was the one who was going to choose the restaurant…and when he took his car keys out of his pocket, I elbowed him and the keys fell…
“I bent down to pick them up and that’s when I heard it – this incredibly loud explosion… I know now it was the first shot… and at the same time I heard someone moan … and then nothing…” He looked up at Steve. “I must have been hit by the second shot.”
Steve nodded. “That’s what we figure too. And that also explains the trajectory of the bullet that went through you. We assumed you were bending over, we just didn’t know why.” Steve braced himself; knowing his partner as well as he did he knew what the next question was going to be.
Mike laid back on the pillows, took as deep a breath as he could and closed his eyes for a few seconds. When he opened them, he was staring at the ceiling. “Steve, what happened to the others?”
Steve slipped his hand into Mike’s and squeezed, and took a beat to steady himself. “Everybody got hit, Mike.” He felt the grip on his hand tighten. “John Yu and Carl have already been released. Roy took one in the leg and it broke his femur; he’s going to be here for awhile.
“John Burkhardt, Dan and Ron are all in serious condition but they’re gonna be okay…Bob got hit twice in the chest and he’s critical but doing better…”
Mike had closed his eyes and his breaths were starting to get deeper and longer, even through the pain, and Steve could feel his grip tighten even more.
Steve took his own deep steadying breath. “Mike,” he began slowly, quietly, “we lost three…Allan, Derek…and Charlie.”
Mike squeezed his eyes tightly shut, and Steve could tell that he was having trouble breathing. The hand in his own started to shake, and Steve held on tighter, helping his friend to ride out this wave of grief and sorrow. Mike turned his head away but not before Steve could see tears forming under his eyelids.
Steve sat quietly until Mike got himself under control and his breaths became shallower and not as painful. He knew that Mike had figured out that he was the only survivor of that first group.
Mike turned to face him, his eyes shiny with tears. “The keys,” was all he said.
“The car keys. If I hadn’t bent down to pick up Charlie’s car keys… it should’ve been me, not him…”
“Mike, you can’t think that way. Besides, Charlie didn’t die in the garage, he died yesterday. Complications. He was shot in the stomach and they couldn’t get him to stop bleeding,” Steve tried to explain, but Mike was hearing none of it.
“If I’d just let Charlie pick up his own keys…”
“Mike!” Steve was getting worried. But he wasn’t prepared for his partner to pull his hand away and turn angry eyes in his direction. Steve sat back, startled.
“I’d like to be alone,” Mike said coldly. Steve caught his breath in surprise and started to shake his head, but Mike just repeated through clenched teeth, “I would like to be alone….please.” And he turned away.
Steve sat back, stunned and confused, but when Mike continued to stare at the far wall, he got up slowly and left the room.
# # # # #
“I don’t know what to do, Rudy,” Steve said slowly, staring at the mug he held in both hands on the table in front of him. He had found Olsen in the hospital cafeteria where the older man was attempting to finish a meal.
“I mean, I know he was shot in the chest, he’s on pain medication up to the eyeballs, and he just found out that he lost three friends and he was only one that survived, but I swear to god, I’ve never seen him turn that fast before, ever.”
Olsen had put his knife and fork down and was listening intently. He watched as the younger man took a sip of his coffee. “Let’s face it, Steve, that doesn’t sound like the Mike we know. He’s obviously had a lot happen to him in a very short span of time. He’s in a lot of pain, physically and emotionally. And he’s dealing with the reality that he could have just as easily been killed but for some reason he not only survived but he’s walking out of here in a couple of days, while those that he was standing there with are all dead. That’s one hell of a reality.”
Steve nodded as Olsen continued, “And not only did the others die, but they were his friends - his colleagues - and in the case of Charlie, someone who was a part of his life for almost 25 years. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t feel any survivor’s guilt,” he finished with a sigh.
“I hear ya,” agreed Steve, “but, no offense, that doesn’t help me figure out what I can do to help him.”
Olsen nodded in bemused agreement, but he smiled slyly as his pushed his tray away and began to stand. “Well, that may not help, but I think I know what will. Leave it up to me; I have an idea. Why don’t you take the next couple of hours and get out of here?”
Steve looked at the older man curiously but decided not to inquire further. But he did nod. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ve got to go to Mike’s place anyway and get him a change of clothes for tomorrow, and I’m gonna move him into my place until he can function on his own.” He shook his head ruefully as he stood. “That is, if we’re talking again by tomorrow…”
Olsen chuckled and reached out to pat Steve’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, you will be.”
# # # # #
Mike was lying deep into the pillows with his eyes closed, trying not to think, desperately wanting the oblivion of a sleep that wouldn’t come. An hour before he had been moved several floors up to a private room, but even in the quiet of the new surroundings, sleep was elusive.
He had heard the door open and close but chose to ignore it. But when he felt the light touch of a hand on his right forearm, he turned his head slowly and opened his eyes. Startled, he pulled his head back slightly, eyes wide, and whispered, “Maureen.”
The brown-haired, middle-aged woman smiled warmly. “Hello, Michael.” She stroked his arm.
Mike swallowed heavily, and took as deep a breath as he dared before he said, “Maureen…I am so, so –“
“I know, I know…I am too,” she said sadly, and he could see the deep sorrow in her red-rimmed eyes. Before he could say anything else, she continued quickly, “I’ve heard that you think it should have been you. Something about keys? About you picking up Charlie’s keys?”
Mike was staring at her, trying to figure out how she knew about something he had only told Steve a couple of hours before. He nodded, “I should have been in his place –“
“And if you were, it wouldn’t have made any difference. It wasn’t the gunshot that killed Charlie; it was his health.”
Mike looked confused.
“Charlie wasn’t in good health, Michael, and he hadn’t been for a long time. He chose to keep it quiet. Some of the brass knew and as long as he could still give one hundred percent to his work, they let him stay. But he was getting close to having to retire on a disability pension.”
“I don’t understand…”
Maureen smiled warmly. “Charlie had diabetes and high blood pressure. He was taking a lot of medications to keep it under control and he was doing really well with it. But one of the drugs he had to take was a blood thinner. And when he got shot, they couldn’t get his blood to clot and that’s what killed him, Michael.” She paused, letting her words sink in. “If he had been as healthy as you are, he would have been walking out of this hospital right beside you.”
Seeing the sadness in his eyes, she reached out and stroked his face, being careful not to touch the healing scrapes on his cheek and temple. “So you see, you have nothing to feel guilty about. Charlie had a fighting chance but the odds were against him.”
Mike closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying not to wince. He opened his eyes and smiled. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
She nodded, smiling back at him. “Charlie loved you, you know. He was proud of the friendship you shared. You can still do Charlie and me a couple of big favours. First of all, if you’re up to it, the kids and I would be very honoured to see you at the funeral on Monday.”
Mike nodded. “Nothing will keep me away. I’ll be there.”
“I know that,” she winked at him, smiling, and then her face grew serious. “Michael, I want you to find them, find whoever did this to you and Charlie and the others. Get them – for me, and for Charlie.”
Mike set his jaw, trying to control the shaking in his voice. “I will, I promise. If it takes till the day I die.”
Maureen nodded as they stared at each other for several seconds. Then she smiled and stood. “You need to get some sleep and I need to get back to my kids.” She smiled gently at him. “Are you okay now?” she asked kindly.
Mike smiled self-consciously and nodded. “Yeah, I am. Thank you.”
“Good. Do me another favour then?’
“Don’t be mad at your partner. He’s just relieved and happy that you’re alive and you’re going to be okay. Just like we all are. With everything that’s happened in the past couple of days, you’re like our little miracle,” she chuckled, then leaned over the bed and kissed his cheek.
“I’ll apologize to him,” Mike promised with a slight smile as Maureen crossed slowly to the door and looked back. She smiled at him from the doorway as she opened it and exited.
# # # # #
Steve was slouched in a cafeteria chair, nursing a coffee, his feet up on the seat across from him, an overnight bag sitting on the chair beside him. He was staring unfocused at the table.
He barely registered it when someone crossed close to the table, then paused and touched his arm. Startled, he looked up, into the bemused stare of his superior.
Rudy Olsen chuckled. “Mike wants to see you. They’ve moved him upstairs, room 512.” And with that he continued towards and door and out of the cafeteria.
# # # # #
Steve pushed the heavy door open and entered the room, leaving the overnight bag near the door as it shut behind him.
Mike’s eyes were closed and he looked asleep. Steve tiptoed quietly to the right side of the bed. Just as he was about to sit, Mike opened his eyes and Steve froze. Expressions neutral, they stared at each other for several silent seconds, then Mike smiled warmly.
Steve could see the apology in his partner’s eyes and relaxed and returned the smile, lowering himself into the chair.
“Hey,” said Mike quietly, “you still have that ice cream?”