Author's Notes: No matter how it looks, stay with me. I promise that I won't kill either of the boys!
This couldn't be happening. It wasn't supposed to happen like this.
It didn't matter how many times Chris told himself that the situation in which he presently found himself was unreal, it didn't seem to change anything. He was still in the back of an ambulance, covered in blood. Sam's blood.
He might have been able to understand it if it had been a job. He would have expected it. Keel had perfected a kind of mindset while he was working that allowed him to embrace everything that happened. This was different though. They hadn't been working. They'd finalized the case. All that had remained was to head back to England, so that Sam could write the report, while he caught up on a little 'Resident Evil III' with Richards. They'd been going to the airport. It had been over...
They'd been in the Taxi heading to Airport when Sam had almost casually pointed out how much time they had until the flight for London left. Chris had recognised the tone instantly. The old, 'Chris, there's something that I really want to do, but I'm not going to come out and say it because you'll just say no, so I'm going to get a few concessions out of you first,' routine. Sam, it turned out, wanted to visit the kid that had helped them locate the kidnappers they'd been sent to stop. As far as Chris was concerned, they'd said their good-byes and it was over. Every now and then though, Sam got a bee in his bonnet about something, and there was no reasoning with him about it. Funny how Sam had no problem seeing this trait in his partner, but refused to acknowledge it in himself...
The kid, Sarah Jenkins, was a twelve year old who existed with her family in borderline poverty. Chris could certainly feel bad about it, but he could not envisage growing up like it. He'd come from quite an affluent family. Sam could understand though. Maybe that was why he'd been so determined to speak to the kid one last time before he'd left. Maybe he'd seen something of himself in the child... Chris didn't know. Sam did have a point though when he'd said that they would never brought matters to such a quick an happy end without the girl's help, so Chris had agreed that they could visit with her briefly before they left.
They'd found her on the street outside her building with some of her friends. Sam had gone to talk. Keel had wondered if Sam was aware of the stares that he was getting. A good looking, well dressed white foreigner talking to a group of poor black kids. Keel had been forced to suppress his laughter at the looks on the faces of people passing by. Sam evidently didn't care. The Brit could be thick-skinned sometimes.
Chris had noticed a little store across the road and had gone to acquire some chocolately goodness to sustain him on the long flight home. He'd just been coming out of the store when it had happened. He'd been about to head over to Sam, trade a few quick words with the kid, and then announce that it was time to leave, when he'd noticed the group of teenagers standing on the corner behind Sam and the kids. There was nothing odd about that. New York streets were full of teenagers hanging out with their friends. They were loud, but didn't look like they wanted trouble. Sam would be aware of them...
What he would be less aware of was the car full of young men that was coming around the corner up the street. It looked innocent enough, but something triggered Keel's survival instincts. Something about that car had put Keel in mind of a circling shark. Keel had felt himself tense, but before he could do anything, all Hell had broken loose.
Chris looked down at his partner's frighteningly pale face and tried to smile reassuringly. The silver-green eyes were open again, but Chris doubted that Curtis had any real awareness of what was going on. Keel realized that Sam looked more confused than anything else, as though the Englishman couldn't quite credit what was happening with being real either. Chris reached out to gently push his friend's hair out of his eyes. For a split second, Curtis' remarkable green eyes focussed on Keel and he knew that Sam recognized him and was aware that he was there. However, before Chris could say anything to reassure his partner, a cough sent spasms of pain through the Englishman and sent a fine spray of blood up into the oxygen mask that was being held across his face by the paramedic. Sam became lost in his own inner struggle once more, and Chris could only watch helplessly.
A drive-by shooting. What an unbelievably stupid way for it to happen. The wrong place at the wrong time, and that was all. At least Sam had saved the kids; Chris clung to that thought amid the senselessness of it all. And as for the shooter... That Son-of-a-Bitch wouldn't be shooting anyone anymore, Chris thought with no sense of satisfaction. That Asshole had been in the wrong place at the wrong time too. He'd anticipated an easy hit on a rival gang. What he'd encountered was a CI5 agent who'd just seen his partner shot down in cold blood. The results had been predictable... and messy. Keel had been forced to shoot to kill in order to stop anyone else from getting hurt, but the shooter had been nothing more than another teenager. Kids with guns. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
He couldn't really recall exact details of the incident; it had all happened much too quickly, and Chris had been in survival mode. What he could recall was reaching Sam's side and being frightened by the amount of blood there had been. He remembered other things too of course; the screaming, the kids crying, the shouts and confusion. Mostly though he remembered the blood. That and the realization that this wasn't some petty flesh wound. Sam had been hit seriously, and he knew it. They both knew it.
"Chris?" Sam's voice, thick with pain, sounded in his ears as he had torn his jacket off to use it as a pillow for his badly wounded friend. "Chris, I ..."
"Shut up Curtis!" he heard his own voice, made harsh by fear as he replayed the scene in his mind. Sam had reached up for his partner's arm and Chris had caught the Englishman's seeking hand fiercely in his. He remembered noticing how cold Sam's hand felt...
"Chris... This is bad." Just like Sam to state the obvious, even at a time like this.
"Not that bad." Chris growled. "You've had worse."
"When?" Sam had tried to laugh and had been wracked by a wave of pain. Chris responded in the only way he could think of. He'd put his free hand under Sam's head and supported him until the pain dulled again.
Chris didn't know when Sam had received a worse injury, couldn't think of it off hand, but he must have at some point. He had to have been hurt worse than this before...
"Chris... I don't... don't think..." Sam's attempt to speak had been punctuated by short gasps of agony until Keel had cut him off.
"Shut UP Sam!" Keel had snarled. "I don't wanna hear it! You're going to be fine. Just fine. D' you hear me? Fine!" Chris had been a little stunned by the savagery in his own voice. Sam hadn't been surprised though. Those green eyes of his had held grim understanding as he'd looked up at his friend. All Chris had been able to do was tighten his grip on his friend's captured hand and hang on, as though he could hold Sam with him through the strength of his grasp alone if necessary. It had seemed to take forever for the ambulance to get there...
Chris was so caught up in the circumstances that had led to his partner and himself being where they were that it took the movement of the paramedics to make him realize that they'd arrived. Keel half stood up as the gurney his partner was strapped to was pulled smoothly from the back of the vehicle. Keel leapt after the small crowd of medical staff that suddenly surrounded his friend, racing him to the ER. There was no way that Keel was letting them remove his friend from his sight. He followed them to a room and a small Hispanic woman tried to stop him from entering with his friend. He tried to explain that Sam was his partner. That it was his job to keep an eye on Curtis. The woman had remained firmly resolute. He could not enter. Keel had asked to be able to watch what was happening from the door. The woman had heard the pleading in his voice and wavered. He had sworn not to get in the way and she had caved in. So Keel found himself watching a group of people he did not know determine the fate of his closest friend, while he watched helplessly from the sidelines.
Keel had no idea of what they were saying to each other; those Doctors and Nurses that were in with his partner. Medical talk was just one more foreign language to Chris. The American wondered if Curtis would get the gist of what was happening if their places were reversed. Probably. If their places were reversed, Keel thought with a hysterical snort of laughter, Curtis would be shouting advice to the medical staff by now, unshakable control freak that he was. He'd have thought of some way to make himself useful by now, instead of standing in the doorway watching like a frightened child.
Keel clenched his jaw for a second, then gravely gave up his personal fight. For once he was going to be completely honest with himself. He was frightened Dammit! He was frightened that Curtis would abandon him, as everyone else he cared for had abandoned him. He was tired of losing the people he loved to violence! And for God's Sake! What a way for it to happen! It was so...random! So pointless! Sam Curtis was a good man! Too damned good a man to be snatched away so uselessly!
Keel looked around the room, but no one seemed to notice him standing there, half in, half out of the door. No one was ready to reassure him with a look or a nod. Everyone's attention was too firmly fixed on Sam. The people in the room were snapping instructions at each other. They were sticking things into Sam. Machines were being attached to him. The expensive shirt and jacket his friend had been wearing were history. Chris could see the gunshot wounds even from where he was standing. The room was tense. That couldn't be good. The doctors were worried. He could see it... OK, so they didn't know Sam like he did. Couldn't possibly know what a fighter he was. They wouldn't be so worried if they knew him...
Keel's thought was cut off by a high pitched alarm. The American's throat suddenly closed up and his stomach twisted painfully as he realized that he'd been lying to himself, in spite of his silent oath to be honest. Curtis wasn't going to be all right. The Englishman really was going to leave him. He knew it because according to the machines and the corresponding actions of the medics, Sam Curtis had just flat lined...
* * * * *
What the Hell's going on? What are all these people doing? How did I get here? Who's that on the table...
Oh my God.
I remember now. Car. Gun. Protect the kids. Shots. Chris leaning over me.
I've been shot. I've been shot and I'm dying. I don't believe it. I'm having one of those 'lack of oxygen to the brain' type hallucinations that people sometimes have before they kick it. Wow. This is... kind of... well... eerie. Nice to know that the doctors haven't given up on me. Still working I see. I don't know that I'd bother in their shoes. If I look as bad as that in reality, I'd be declaring it a day. Wonder if I can let them know that I'm still awake in here. Probably not...
Chris? Where..? Oh! There you are. Over by the door. Hang on a tick, mate, I'll be right with you. Can I move?
Yes! It's like being up and about, but no one can see me. This is really freaky... It's so realistic. I know it's just a chemical reaction thing, but I feel like I could reach out and touch everyone. They're all so... I don't know... three dimensional, I suppose.
Hey, Chris... Chris? Chris mate, what's wrong? God, you look like you've lost your best friend...
Oh. Yeah. Right. That was insensitive of me. Sorry mate. Look, don't feel too bad about it. It was bound to happen eventually. Just glad it was me, rather than you. You'll be all right. Backup and the others'll help you with it. You'll have a new partner before you know it, and you'll get along great with who ever it is. Because you're like that. You're a cocky, loud and impulsive bastard, but people can't help but like you. I know I couldn't. Tried to stop myself from liking you, right back in the beginning, but that was a losing fight, and I'm glad I gave it up. You aged me, you did; what with all of the jumping in where angels fear to tread you do, but it was worth it. Honest.
Come on mate, don't look like that. Look on the bright side, maybe your next partner won't be such an anal retentive prat! Maybe he or she won't mind the constant mess and the ducking out of the report writing. Maybe your new partner won't nag you so much. You'll get on like a house on fire, and you'll wonder why you were ever so upset that I left...
God, Chris, don't look so frightened. You'll be all right, and so will I, I suppose. As soon as this hallucination thing wears off, I guess that I won't feel much of anything, any more. Chris? Oh God, Chris! You look like you're going to cry. For me? Oh Lord, man, I'm not worth it! You were always a better person than I was. More empathic. More caring. Stronger in who you are too. The truth is that I don't want to leave you here, but that's because I hate the thought of doing without having you around. Guess it won't matter to me for much longer, but you're going to be fine. I know you are.
Don't be so upset Chris please..? God! This is so very bizarre! I can touch you! You feel... real! Guess you can't feel me though. How can you? You are a figment of my chemically imbalanced brain...
* * * * *
Chris shuddered as he watched the doctors work. He felt as though someone was wandering over his grave. They were trying to resuscitate Sam, but they didn't look like they were having any luck. Cold fear gripped his heart as he watched their frantic efforts.
"Come on Sam," he whispered. "You can do it. You can make it. I know you can."
* * * * *
Nice to know you've got so much faith in me. I don't think I've got much choice in this though. I...
Hey, Chris, what's that? Out in the Hall? Oh. You can't see it, can you. What was I expecting? You're just a figment...
There's a light out in the Hall...
Oh, shit! I must be ready to go. This is that bright light thing they all talk about. God, how cliché. You'd think that if I was going to have a hallucination, I'd come up with something a little more original... Still. It's rather pretty, for all it's cliché. Just wait here a moment, Chris while I go have a look at it for a minute. I'll be right back...
Hang on, what's happening here? I'm not moving, but the light's getting closer. I know it's just a hallucination, but... what if...
What if I've been wrong about everything and there really is an afterlife?
If there is, I'm probably screwed. They'd kick me out after some of the shit that I've pulled.
Oh for God's sake, Curtis! If you're going to kick it, at least have the decency not to get hypocritical now. You haven't believed in things like life after death since you were a kid. Heaven and Hell exist on Earth. You create your own paradise or purgatory. You've always believed that. Stop looking for an 'out', now that you're faced with the end...
God! There's actually someone standing in the light up there! Bloody Hell! What if I HAVE been wrong? Oh shit... No wait. This is just the Hallucination. It's just a stage in dying. Lots of people say so. Dear God, I've become conformist. That's pathetic.
This is strange. Everything I've ever heard about this kind of thing says that you meet up with people you've loved and lost at this point. I don't know this woman. No, wait, that's not right. I've seen her before. Where? Come on, Curtis! Gorgeous blonde like that, you should bloody well remember...
Lord but she's beautiful. Where the Hell do I know her from?
"Hello, Sam." Oh great. She knows me. What do I do here? Apologize and tell her I've forgotten her name? God, how embarrassing!
"It's alright, Sam. Don't worry. We've never met... Not officially, any way."
Great. Beautiful and a mind reader. "This is going to sound like a dumb question, but are you ... like ... a guardian angel or something?"
"Something like that." She sounds amused.
"Why are you here?" Way to go, Curtis. Smooth, very smooth.
"Actually, I've come to ask you to go back."
Shit! They really are kicking me out! I can't believe it!
"Don't be silly, Sam. No one's judging you at this stage. You've already done that for yourself, and while I think you were a little hard on yourself, no one can turn you away if you truly want to go on. It's just that this is the gate. Once you go past this point, there's no going back."
"Why do you want me to go back? Do I get that as a choice?"
"Yes. Going back is still an option for you, but it won't be for very much longer. And you are really going to have to want to go to actually get back, but it is still an option if you want to take it. As for why I want you to go back, well, that's something entirely selfish, I'm afraid. I need you to look after Chris for me."
"Chris. He needs you. Not just because you're his partner. Because you're all he has to rely on."
Oh my God! I know who she is now. I've seen photo's. But that would mean...
"Precisely, Sam. Please, understand. Chris has always needed an anchor. He's so idealistic, in his own way. He's so ready to fight for what he believes in. He needs a safe place to fall back on to recharge. Without it, he'll drift and lose his way. His parents provided that for him once. I've provided it for him for a time. Now it's your turn. He almost didn't find you in time when he lost the rest of us. He needs you to stay desperately, Sam."
"You're wrong. He'll be fine. Chris can look after himself." She can't be right...
"Am I?" She sounds so very sad. "Do you think he'll slow down for a while, just because he lost you? No Sam. He'll attack all of the injustice around him that much harder, and what do you think will happen to him without you to watch his back and bring him back to earth with a reality check occasionally?"
"I... don't know."
"Yes you do. You know what will happen. He'll be taking that same walk that you just did before he can find his feet again. Do you want that?"
I suppose what she's asking me here is, can I visualize a world, which didn't have a Chris Keel trying to save it from itself? The answer is no, of course.
"I would have stayed with him if I could, but I couldn't. I wasn't given the option." She's looking at something over my shoulder, and she's worried. I can tell. What's she looking at..?
* * * * *
Chris could see the looks that the doctors were giving each other. They were going to give up. They couldn't! They couldn't give up! Chris felt his throat tightening and his eyes beginning to burn. This wasn't right! It was so damnably unfair!
"Please, Sam," he whispered. "Try harder..."
* * * * *
Chris? Sam turned slightly. I heard that... What the Hell was going on back there?
"Please," the woman whispered urgently behind him. "There isn't much time. If you're going, you must go back now. Please?"
I look at her. She's waiting for my decision. "Be seeing you." I'm surprised at how grim I sound.
"Eventually? Count on it. Not for a while yet though..."
And the light disappeared...
* * * * *
"We've got a pulse!" Chris' head snapped up and he stared intensely into the room. The doctors were working frantically again, but the despair that had begun to gather had been dispersed.
Alive. Sam was alive. One of the doctors was saying something about getting him into surgery. Chris turned away for a moment and rested his forehead against the doorframe. He released a shuddering breath that he had been unaware of holding and felt wet warmth on one of his cheeks. Keel savagely dashed the tear away with the heel of his hand, and turned to glance into the room again.
He continued watching for a moment, then a tall, heavy set man approached him with some forms that needed filling out. Keel hesitated for a minute, then took the forms and stepped away from the door. He wasn't sure why, but for some reason, he was suddenly, absolutely certain that Curtis would stay. He left the doctors to do their work.
* * * * *
"So, how're you feeling today?" Chris was like an over enthused puppy right at that moment. Keel often got like this when he'd been worried for a while, and then suddenly found the tension taken away. Sam looked across at him fondly. He wondered if the American knew how much life he injected into this building while he was here. Curtis knew that the medical staff were already getting to like his partner. Not that this was unusual. Chris had that sort of an effect on people.
"Like I was hit by a truck," he admitted wryly, and was irritated by how weak his voice sounded.
"You're looking better." Chris acknowledged, then pulled a face. "Not that this is any great feat, I gotta tell ya. When they brought you in here at the beginning of the week you looked like shit."
"Has anyone ever told you what a charming Bastard you are?" Curtis demanded. Chris just grinned.
"You didn't see yourself." Keel gave a broad grin at that point. "And if you think that I've been uncomplimentary, wait 'til Backup hears that you're up for taking calls. She said some terrible things about you, when I called HQ to tell them we'd been delayed..."
"Great." Sam sighed.
"Don't worry. She was just upset. She doesn't have as much faith in you as I do." Keel grinned.
"Really?" Sam smiled back ever so slightly.
"Yep." Keel nodded. "Never a doubt in my mind that you'd be fine. You're too damned stubborn to just give up and die."
"I see." Curtis looked at his partner strangely.
"What?" Keel demanded suspiciously.
"Oh, nothing." Sam said quickly. "Hey, don't suppose you could get me some water?"
Keel looked at him, suspecting that he was being redirected for some reason. Curtis put on his best poker face, and Keel nodded slowly. "Sure." He said after a moment.
"Thanks." Sam responded, allowing his exhaustion to sound in his voice.
Keel gave him another slightly uncertain look, then smiled and wandered out of the room in search of some water to give his partner. Sam watched him go and sighed. He thought about the strange dream he'd had. Keel had told him about how close it had been. It was going to be a while before he was up on his feet, but Sam knew that he had been lucky. He'd even had one of those weird hallucinations people sometimes had when they were close to death. He'd though about telling Keel about the dream, but had decided against mentioning anything to anyone. It wasn't important, and he certainly didn't want Keel to know about some elements of it... It would only upset the American.
It was his subconscious. On some level he had been worried about his partner, and that had been the result. His subconscious had summoned up someone to interact with that he knew would share his concerns about Chris... Strange chemical imbalance in the brain, plus worry, had resulted in a weird, three-dimensional dream. That was it, and that was all...
At least, that was his story and he was sticking to it...
So why could he almost swear that someone, somewhere was laughing at him for some reason..?
Curtis shook his head and decided that it didn't matter. As Keel re-entered the room, he pushed the thought from his mind. He was alive, and that was all that mattered. He'd leave the philosophical questions for another day.
Summary: Curtis and Keel find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the consequences are potentially lethal.