Title: In the Hospital
Author: The Moo
Description: He gets shot in the back again, but this time it's very different.
The message on Margaret's answering machine was only a few terse words. "He's been shot. Chicago Hope Hospital. Intensive Care Unit." That was all. The familiar voice on the other end of the line hadn't needed to identify either himself nor who had been shot.
Ray Vecchio filled her in when she arrived. "Zuko came after me. Fraser was fast, he got me out of the way, and took the bullet himself. They can't operate yet – he's not stable. He wouldn't survive the surgery. So, they're waiting. If his vital signs stabilize, they'll operate.
"And, if he doesn't stabilize?" Margaret asked it automatically, without thinking.. Ray was too worried to be polite. He just rolled his eyes at her.
"Dear God, no!" she breathed, as Ray steered her to the door between the ICU waiting room and the unit proper.
"She's here," Ray said to a nurse. "I figured you'd want to see him," he said by way of explanation to Margaret.
The nurse addressed Margaret. "You can stay with him, but if we tell you to leave, you leave at once. Okay?" Margaret nodded and followed. The nurse pulled a curtain aside and inclined her head towards the man in the bed, then left them to attend to another patient.
So eerie to see Fraser like this: perfectly still. Most of the time when she was looking at Fraser he was, in fact, motionless – standing sentry or awaiting her orders. That was a lively stillness, of a man ready to burst into action once released. This lack of movement was ghastly. She could barely breathe. "Not stable."
She watched his face. His eyes were so gently closed, upper lids barely touching the lower lids. She might never see them open again. "Wouldn't survive the surgery."
Doing nothing was intolerable. She had to act.
"Fraser, this is Inspector Thatcher," she addressed the unconscious man in her sternest voice, and just a little too loudly, "I forbid you to die."
The nurse who had let her in came up silently behind to listen.
"I want you breathing and your heart beating. You are to recover without delay. That's a direct order." Then she continued watching, standing there in silence. * Am I expecting him to do something now? Just get up and say 'Understood'? *
A touch on her shoulder made her jump. She spun in the direction of the touch to see the nurse. Her name-tag said 'Ms Hunt'.
"Does he HAVE to listen to you, dear?" Ms Hunt asked, kindly.
"Yes, I'm his commanding officer. He's never disobeyed me yet."
The nurse smiled. "We should try this for all our patients. Get their bosses in here. Who knows? You two army?"
"Police. From Canada. You've heard of 'Mounties'?"
Ms. Hunt looked surprised. "They have those in real life? With horses and everything? You always get your man, right?"
"Something like that," Margaret said, absently, "Unless the man gets us first."
Ms. Hunt stood with Margaret for a few minutes and then spoke again.
"Why don't you tell him what you really want to tell him?"
Margaret stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"That you love him. That's what you really want to say, isn't it, dear?"
"No!" the denial was so loud, so sharp, so abrupt, that Ray could hear it through the partition. "Of course not," Margaret repeated, even more cross in her embarrassment.
The nurse insisted. "You mean, you've never told him. He doesn't even know."
"There's nothing to know."
Ms Hunt ignored that. "Then, if he dies, you'll have to live with the fact that you never told him. Sure you want to risk that?" She looked down at his face. "He sure is handsome. If you don't want him, dear, I'll be happy to have him. He married?"
"Would you mind?" declared Margaret, "This is completely inappropriate!"
"Maybe," the nurse said, mildly, and drifted off to some other duty.
Meanwhile Ray, alerted by the sound of the sharp words, moved closer to the glass, peering in with an inquiring face. Margaret waved him away and shook her head 'Nothing'. Then she bent low to Fraser's face.
"Fraser," she whispered, "This isn't official. It's not an order. It's just for your information. I . . . " She paused. She was his superior; he was her deputy. What she was about to say was wrong in every way but one – it was the truth. And if he didn't make it, how could she go through the rest of a lifetime knowing she had never told him? "Fraser, I love you."
There. It was said. He might recover and she might never have the nerve to say it again. Or, he might die never knowing. Whatever happened in the future, the most she could do at this particular moment was done. The awful weight of the unspoken sentence was off her heart now. "Fraser, I love you," she repeated, "Please don't leave me."
She stood beside him for some few minutes longer, then became aware that Ray was still standing at the glass, watching her as she watched Fraser. There didn't seem to be anything more she could do at this point, so she took a last look at Fraser, fixing his face in her mind, just in case he should be taken from her, and then came out.
"What was all that about?" demanded Ray.
"Nothing," she said, sharply, "You can take a turn now."
Ray didn't push it, but, damn her! What's the use of barking at an unconscious man?
He moved confidently to his partner's bedside. It was a place he had been before on other occasions; he'd been there for hours now; he expected to be there a lot longer. Bred of a more demonstrative stock than Margaret, he lay his hand gently on Fraser's brow, without hesitation.
* That's not hair, that's a pelt. * He thought back over the old jibe as he moved his hand over Fraser's head. "Don't let her scare you, Benny. Ray's here." His eyes teared. "I'm right here no matter what happens."
Whether because of Margaret's severe order, her more tender confession, Ray's brotherly love, his own sturdy resilience, or some other unrelated vagary of existence, Fraser did stabilize. The surgeons removed two bullets from his back: Zuko's and Ray's. Fraser made a textbook recovery, far faster than the last time. This time, only his body had been harmed – by an enemy. No wound from lover or friend slowed him down.
He even took pain medication, as much as needed to make himself comfortable, without any argument or fuss. No visions haunted his waking or his sleep. The first day he was able to hold a coherent conversation without drifting off to sleep from the drugs, Fraser confided in Ray.
"With that bullet out of my body, Ray, I feel, somehow, that the last bit of Victoria has been excised. She's out of me, in every way, and I think . . . " he paused, fearful of the enormity of what he was about to say, ". . . I think, I could even love someone again."
"How about forgiving someone, Benny," Ray began, carefully, fearfully. "First I shoot you in the back, then I let you take this bullet for me. Are you going to forgive me for those things?"
Fraser's eyes met Ray's and held them, the Mountie's expression deadpan.
"No, Ray. I'm not going to forgive you."
Ray froze with shock.
"I'll never forgive you because there never was anything to forgive. I owe you a debt for stopping me from ruining my life. Ray, thinking back on that time I realize that even if I had died right there on the railway tracks, I'd have been better off by far than if I had succeeded in running away."
"No, Fraser, that's going too far."
"Remember what I said back in that bank vault, Ray? Some things are worse than dying."
"And now, with Zuko?"
Fraser smiled. "I'm a weaker man than you think I am. I could never get through the rest of my life had you died and I failed to prevent it. I'm a selfish fellow. I'd rather have you mourn me, than have to be the one to mourn you. Does that make sense?"
Ray sat down on Fraser's bed and threw his arms around the Mountie. For the first time in their short but eventful friendship, they hugged. Fraser inexpertly ventured to place his hands on Ray's arms while Ray clutched him. Leaning into the unfamiliar experience, he learned what men from time immemorial have known – that embracing a treasured friend feels good.
They were in this position when Margaret came into the room, saw what was going on, turned on her heel and fled without another word. Ray wriggled free from Fraser and went chasing after her, catching her just before she got into the elevator.
"Inspector! Don't go! That wasn't what it looked like!"
"Of course not," she said haughtily, "Nothing is ever what it looks like. Detective, would you give me and Fraser a few minutes alone?"
Ray was doubtful. He wasn't sure Fraser was strong enough for a bout with the Dragon Lady, but there was really no graceful way to say no. Still, he had to try to protect Fraser somehow. "Inspector, could you go just a little easy on Fraser? I know he acts like he's all well, but he's still shaky."
* He thinks I'm going to eat Fraser alive, * thought Margaret, astounded. * My God, I really do come off that bitchy! * The realization stung. She ignored Ray in her distress and went into Fraser's room.
She found him lying on his back, his blue eyes staring at the ceiling, not seeming to register her entrance. She sat down on a chair beside the bed.
"Fraser . . . " she ventured.
He turned very slowly towards her, meeting her eyes now, and holding her gaze.
"I did as you ordered, sir. I kept breathing. It wasn't easy but you were right. I've never disobeyed you."
It was her second shock in as many minutes. He had heard her order him to live! He must have heard the rest!
"Did you, by any chance, hear me say anything else, Constable?"
"Well, sir, yes I did. But it may have been the stress of the moment . . . I wouldn't want to hold you to . . . I mean, I'm sure you couldn't have been serious . . . "
If she were to change the Dragon Lady image (how foolish of Vecchio not to realize she knew he called her that) and win Fraser for herself, now was the time.
"I was perfectly serious, Constable, I mean, Fraser, I mean . . . " she steeled herself for the next word, " . . . Benton. But if you don't feel the same way, I understand. You can forget I ever said it."
Her hands were folded, sedately, in her lap. He reach the closer of his own hands towards them, trembling, and rested it on top of them. It seemed he would have wanted to do more, but was still too weak. "Sir, would you ever consider marriage to an inferior?"
Shifting her hands ever so slightly, she wrapped them around his. "Never, Benton. I could never marry someone unless I admired and respected him. Such a man would never be my inferior, no matter what his rank."
She might never have this again, to be stronger than he was. She raised his frail hand to her lips and kissed it. "When you're well enough, we'll make plans. For now just concentrate on getting your strength back. You're going to need it."