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Matt Devlin Lives, part 1

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Andrew was sitting in his office watching numbers scroll by on his monitor when his desk phone rang. He picked it up. “Andrew Martin.”

“Mr. Martin?” A woman’s voice, with barely controlled anxiety. “This is Detective Inspector Natalie Chandler.” Matt’s boss. Andrew felt his heart clench, and then speed up. “I’m afraid I have some upsetting news for you.” Oh, no...

“Yes?”

“Matt’s been shot. He’s been taken to Royal London Hospital, and he’s in surgery. As you’re his next of kin...”

“I’ll be right there,” Andrew said, shutting down his computer. “Thank you.”

Shot. This was the call he’d always dreaded, the one he’d pushed to the back of his mind and hoped would never come. Where? How badly? In surgery, DI Chandler had said - that meant he was still alive, at least. He shrugged into his overcoat and grabbed his keys.

“Kate, I have to leave,” he said, walking past the department assistant’s desk. “Family emergency. I’ll have my mobile, but it might not be easy to reach me. I’ll phone you when I know more.” He was out the door and into the lift before she could say a word.

By the time he’d found a parking spot near the hospital, he was wondering if it might not have been faster to walk. Congestion pricing didn’t seem to be doing a thing to reduce London traffic. Not that anything short of a teleport would have been fast enough for him. He hurried to the A&E desk.

“May I help you?” the receptionist asked.

“Yes. I’m looking for a patient, Matt Devlin? He came in with a gunshot wound. I understand he’s been taken to surgery?”

“And who are you?”

“I’m his partner.”

“But his partner is already in the waiting room,” the receptionist said, puzzled.

Andrew took a deep breath. “His civil partner.”

“Oh, I see. Through those double doors, down the hall, there’ll be a sign on your left.” In a kinder tone, she added, “He’s in the best hands.”

“Thank you,” Andrew said, and went through the doors, exercising a huge effort not to break into a run.

The waiting room held a young couple, a matronly woman whose head tipped to one side in a half-doze, and a stocky, exhausted-looking man with iron-gray hair. A lidded paper cup sat on the table next to him, and he held a half-eaten pastry in his hand.

“DS Brooks?” Andrew said. “Andrew Martin.”

“Ronnie,” he corrected, holding out his hand. “So you’re Matty’s other half?”

“Funny,” Andrew said. “I was just about to say the same thing to you.” He sat down next to Ronnie. “Have you heard anything?”

“Not yet. No news is good news, I expect.” Ronnie looked into Andrew’s face. “I rode with him all the way here,” he said gently. “He was still conscious when they brought him in, son. I’ve seen worse survive.”

“How long has he been in there?”

Ronnie looked at the waiting room clock. “Almost an hour. It only seems like longer.” He picked up his cup, took a sip, and made a face. “Tea’s gone cold,” he said. “Want me to get you anything from the hospital canteen?”

“No, thank you,” Andrew said. “I don’t think I could eat anything.”

“Suit yourself,” Ronnie said, getting up from his chair. “I won’t be long.”

Andrew sat, trying to suppress the urge to get up and pace. He picked up a magazine and leafed through it, not realizing for several minutes that he was trying to read an article about Simple Weeknight Suppers. He set it down again.

Ronnie came back into the room, one hand balancing a cardboard tray with two cups, the other holding a paper bag, and his mobile phone pressed between his shoulder and his ear. “I know, sweetheart,” he said. “God knows I’d rather be there than here. Matt was going to give me a lift when this happened. As soon as I know, I’ll come straight to you. Meanwhile, give him a kiss from his grandfather, yeah?” He sighed. “I love you too, sweetheart. Bye.”

Andrew raised an eyebrow. “My daughter,” Ronnie said. “Had her baby today. My first grandchild. What timing, yeah?”

“Oh, no,” Andrew said. “I mean, congratulations. Shouldn’t you be there instead of here?”

“As if I could leave before I knew whether Matty would be all right,” Ronnie said. “I brought you some tea, in case you’d changed your mind.”

“Thank you,” Andrew said, taking the cup. It was sweet and milky, nothing he’d ever have chosen - he favored black coffee - but, as he sipped it, he felt it calm the shakes he hadn’t even noticed until they slowed.

A surgeon came into the room, and Andrew looked up, hardly daring to breathe, but the man approached the dozing woman. He spoke to her, and she blinked awake; Andrew couldn’t hear what was said, but, from her smile, he presumed that the news was good. She picked up her handbag and walked out.

Ronnie opened the bag and took out a chocolate croissant. “Sure you don’t want one?” he said. “I picked up enough for both.” Andrew shook his head, his throat too tight to speak. Ronnie looked at him sympathetically. “It’s going to be all right,” he said, biting into the pastry himself.

Andrew’s mobile phone buzzed. He glanced at the sign that said “NO CELL PHONES” and decided to ignore it. He checked the display and pressed the button. “Kate?”

“Andrew. I hope I’m not disturbing you?”

“Not really,” he said. No more than I’m already disturbed. “Did you need something?”

“You left in such a rush,” the secretary said. “Jeremy just wanted to know if you’d be here for the Lawrence meeting tomorrow.”

“I don’t know yet,” Andrew said. “Better to assume I won’t be.”

“What is it, Andrew?” Kate asked, concerned. “Are you all right?”

“It’s Matt. He’s been hurt,” Andrew said. “I may need to take some leave, I’m not sure.”

“Matt? Oh, no,” Kate said, clearly picking up the implications of a police detective being “hurt.” “I’ll let Jeremy know. Take care of yourself, and give Matt my best, all right?”

“I will as soon as I can,” Andrew promised. “I’ll phone you.” After the usual goodbyes, he rung off.

“Your job?” Ronnie said. Andrew nodded. “Do you know, the whole time we’ve worked together, I don’t think Matty’s ever said what you do?”

“I work in the City,” Andrew said. “Banking. I’m not surprised he didn’t mention it. Matt won’t talk about work at home, either. He always says he wants to keep them separate. Though even if he doesn’t tell me the details until a case is over, I can usually tell if it’s a bad one.” Ronnie made a noise of agreement. “This latest one was one of the worst, wasn’t it?”

“You could say that,” Ronnie said. “But we’d won. We were just coming out of court, and then... this.”

“Outside of court?” Andrew said, bewildered. “What happened?”

“Someone just took a shot at him,” Ronnie said. “From a car. He spotted it, too, before it happened. Shoved the kid down, and yelled at Alesha to get out of the way, and didn’t get down fast enough himself.” Seeing Andrew’s stricken look, he added, “I’m sorry.”

“Do you have any idea who it was?” Andrew said.

“That’ll be my job to find out, won’t it?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Believe me, it’ll be top priority,” Ronnie said. “Right now we can’t even be sure they were shooting at him, and not at Alesha or the kid. The kid had just been witness for the Crown against a drugs dealer, after all.”

Andrew was wondering what to say in response to that when the waiting room door opened again. A woman in surgical scrubs approached them.

“One of you is Matt Devlin’s partner?” she said.

“Well, both of us, really,” Ronnie said. “I’m DS Brooks, I work with Matt, and this is Matt’s partner, Andrew Martin.”

“Oh. In any case, I’m Jesminder Rasgotra. I’m the surgeon who was working on Mr. Devlin, and I have good news for you. He’s going to be all right.”

Ronnie’s face lit up in a brilliant smile. Andrew could feel himself smiling, too, even though he was blinking back tears. “That’s wonderful,” he said. “What happened?”

“He was shot twice in the upper chest,” Rasgotra said. “One bullet went through without hitting much of anything in the way of major blood vessels or organs, although there was a certain amount of damage to his scapula. The other one nicked his esophagus along the way. It was a pretty straightforward repair; he’ll need tube feeding for a week, while it heals, but it shouldn’t give any lasting trouble. His scapula needed a plate and screws, and he’ll need physio and rehab. I can’t guarantee how much range of motion he’ll recover. But, all in all, for someone who took two bullets, I think he’ll do very well.”
“Thank you, Dr. Rasgotra” Andrew said.

“Actually, it’s Ms.,” Rasgotra said. “”Back in the days when surgeons were also barbers, physicians considered themselves far above mere surgeons, and were very jealous of the title of Doctor. Even though we go through the same medical training now, and then some, the usage has stuck.”

“Oh, I see,” Andrew said. “Well, Ms. Rasgotra, thank you again for all your work on him. I’m sure you saved his life.”

“DS Brooks here gets some of the credit for that,” Rasgotra said. “If he hadn’t kept pressure on the wounds until the paramedics arrived, things might have gone a lot worse.”

Andrew turned to Ronnie. “You didn’t say anything about that.”

“Didn’t seem worth mentioning,” Ronnie said, looking embarrassed.

“Even so, thank you,” Andrew said. He turned back to Rasgotra. “When can we see him?”

“He’s being moved to the intensive care unit. We’re going to keep him under sedation until the morning, so he won’t disturb any of the repairs, and so that he can rest and heal, but you can see him now.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Ronnie said. “Show us the way.”

“You’ll have to gown up,” Rasgotra said. “We’ve got him on plenty of antibiotics, but he doesn’t need any additional exposure to infection.”

“That’s fine,” Andrew said.

“Yeah,” Ronnie added. “Let’s go.”

If it hadn’t been for the surgeon’s reassurances, Andrew would have been much more worried at the way Matt looked, still unconscious. The parts of his face not covered by an oxygen mask were pale, almost grey, hardly darker than the blue-figured hospital gown that thankfully covered his wounds. IV tubes and monitoring equipment surrounded his bed, all connected to him at various points, as offputting as any hedge of thorns. The heart monitor beeped in steady counterpoint to the hollow hiss of the oxygen. Andrew supposed that the steadiness, at least, was a good sign.

“He’s stabilized nicely,” Rasgotra said. “And, though he lost a fair amount of blood, his pressure never dropped to a point where we’d need to be concerned about oxygen starvation to the brain, so there’s really no risk of brain damage. He ought to come through very well.”

“Good to hear it,” Ronnie said. Andrew let out a breath he’d been holding.

“As I said, he’ll be kept sedated until morning,” Rasgotra said. “It might be best if you went home and got some sleep.”

“If it’s permitted, I’d rather stay,” Andrew said. He couldn’t imagine being able to sleep if he left Matt’s side.

“There are no set visiting hours in intensive care,” Rasgotra said. “If that’s what you’d prefer, I’ll let the nurses know.” With that, she left the room.

“I’ll stay too, yeah?” Ronnie said.

“Of course not,” Andrew told him. “You’re going to go see your new grandson. Give me your mobile number, and I promise to call you if there’s any change.”

“All right, then,” Ronnie said. “Will you call me before they wake him up?I want to be here.”

Andrew bit down on the denial he’d wanted to make. It didn’t matter that he wanted the first face Matt saw to be his. DS Brooks spent as much time as he did with Matt, maybe more. He’d seen him shot. He’d helped save his life. If he wanted to be there when Matt woke up, he certainly deserved it. “I’ll be sure to,” he said.

“Right, I’ll be off, then,” Ronnie said. “See you in the morning.” His expression softened. “I’m glad Matt has you.”

“Thank you,” Andrew said around the lump in his throat. “Don’t keep your grandson waiting.” Ronnie nodded and left.

Andrew walked over to the bed, edging in between the equipment, and took Matt’s hand in both of his. “Matt,” he said softly. “Matt, cariad, I’m here, and I’ll stay right here with you until you’re awake. I love you, Matt, and you’re going to be all right.” He reached up with one hand and smoothed Matt’s hair away from his forehead, stroking the skin at his temple with his thumb.

He remained like that for several minutes, repeating his endearments, until a nurse walked in. When she tapped him on the shoulder, he jumped.

“Sorry, love,” she said. “Didn’t mean to startle you. I need to check a few things, so you’ll have to move.” Andrew stepped away from the bed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, automatically.

“I’ll only be a minute,” the nurse assured him. She made notes on a clipboard, and then turned back to him. “You’re his partner, aren’t you?” she said, her voice kind. Andrew nodded, murmuring assent. “Let me see if I can move some of these things so you can bring up a chair,” she offered. “Bit more comfortable than standing there all night.” Andrew thanked her, stepping aside to let her rearrange things, and sat gratefully in the chair she drew up to the bed. It was hard, molded plastic, but he barely felt it. He took Matt’s hand again. “There’ll be one of us in and out on our rounds all night, but you can stay as long as you like, love. I’ll see if I can’t find a pillow for you, and a blanket. We’ll take good care of him, I promise.”

Andrew stayed by Matt’s bedside the whole night, never managing more than a half-hour’s doze. “Everything’s going to be all right, cariad,” he said, in one of the moments when he spoke again, instead of silently holding Matt’s hand. “You’re going to get better, and, once you’re well, we’ll take a holiday somewhere warm and we can lie in the sun and not do anything. You’ve earned it.”

At the morning shift change, a new nurse came in to shoo him out of the room. “It won’t be long,” she said. “But we’ve got to sort out all the equipment and things before we take him off the sedative, and you’ll be in the way.” She looked him over, taking in the dark circles under his eyes and the stubble on his face.”Go down to the canteen and get yourself a bit of breakfast,” she said, making it more an order than a suggestion. “You won’t want to be asleep yourself once he wakes.”

“You’re right,” Andrew said. “Thank you.”

A cup of coffee and a sausage roll later -- Andrew hadn’t thought he could eat, but, after the first bite, he’d discovered he was ravenous -- he phoned Ronnie.

“How is he?” Ronnie said. “And how are you?”

“They’ll be stopping the sedative in a few minutes,” Andrew said. “I’m fine, really.”

“See you soon, then,” Ronnie said, and rung off.

Matt was still asleep when Andrew got back to the room, but, even to Andrew’s untrained eye, he looked better. The breathing mask had been replaced by a simple tube under his nose, and his face had more color in it. One of the nurses had thoughtfully left his chair in place next to the bed. Andrew sat down and took Matt’s hand again.

A few minutes later, Ronnie opened the door. Matt turned his head towards the sound, squinting his still-closed eyes until his face resembled a confused mole’s. Ronnie sat down in a chair facing the end of the bed. Andrew squeezed Matt’s hand. “Matt, cariad,” he said.

Matt blinked awake, groaning softly. He squeezed his eyes shut again.

“You’re back with us, Sunshine,” Ronnie said.

Matt took an experimental breath and swallowed, his throat working. After a wince, and another breath, he croaked, “I feel like death warmed over.”

“You look like it, too,” Ronnie said.

“Don’t listen to him,” Andrew said. “I’d kiss you, but that tube is in the way.” Matt’s face looked troubled, or possibly in pain.

“Hey, none of that, then!” Ronnie teased, grinning. “Save it for when you’re alone.”

Matt attempted a smile. “Will someone please get the elephant off my chest?” Andrew felt asif his heart would burst out of his.

“That's not an elephant, it's just a couple of bullet holes, Matty,” Ronnie said.

Matt’s laugh turned into a groan. “Oh, is that all? No big deal, then.” He squeezed Andrew’s hand, turning to look at him. “How long was I out?”

“Only overnight,” Andrew said. “About eighteen hours, all told. It only feels like weeks.”

“Have you been here the whole time?”

”Allowing for how much bloody traffic there was getting over here… yes. I made Ronnie leave to go see his grandson once he'd seen you come out of surgery.”

“You could have gone home, had a nap,” Matt scolded faintly. He looked at Ronnie. “How is he, then? Hopefully looks nothing like you, eh?”

Ronnie laughed. “He's as beautiful as his mother, and don't give me that! Strong, too. Nothing wrong with his lungs.”

“I'm glad,” Matt said. “Tell her congratulations for me.” He smiled at Andrew again. Andrew smiled back, relieved to hear Matt bantering with his partner, and trying not to show how close he was to tears.

“I'll do that,” Ronnie promised. “You get out of here soon, so you can come tell her yourself, if you like.”

“I'll try my best, Ron,” Matt said.

“I'll leave you to it, then, yeah?” Ronnie said, giving Matt and Andrew a benevolent smile.

“Yeah. Take the elephant with you,” Matt said, grinning at Ronnie’s back as he walked out of the room. He turned to Andrew again. “You could have gone home, you know.”

“No, I couldn't,” Andrew said. He stifled a yawn. “I should call the cleaner, make sure she’ll feed Lucky.”

“I think we're out of cat food, actually,” Matt said. “Maybe there's some of the wet stuff in the fridge.”

“I know we had at least one more tin.”

“That's all right then,” Matt said. He closed his eyes for a moment. “Really, though. You could have had a nap.”

“As if I could have slept,” Andrew said. “You look like you need to, though.”

“I'm all right. I'm glad you're here, anyway.” Matt sighed. “But when I sleep, promise you'll go home and do the same, yeah?”

“I promise,” Andrew said. “It's not as if I'm going to sit here the entire week.”

“Is that how long they're saying?”

“Pretty much. One of the bullets nicked your esophagus, and they can't let you eat properly for a week until it's healed.”

“I can't eat for a week?”

“Looks like you're stuck with the tubes.”

“Hell,” Matt said, closing his eyes again.

“I'll make up for it once you're home,” Andrew promised. “I expect it'll be soft foods at first. How does pureed chestnut bisque sound? And flan after?”

“Pureed what, now?” Matt said.

“Soup. Made with roasted chestnuts. And some sage,” Andrew said. “You liked it last time I made it.”

“All right,” Matt agreed, not sounding as if he cared very much.

“I love you,” Andrew said.

Matt smiled again. “I love you too.”

When a nurse came in and made the usual fuss about Not Tiring Him Out, Andrew didn’t even mind. He kissed Matt on the forehead, and went home to get some sleep.