Claire’s voice rang out sharply over the organized chaos taking place inside the main lab. “Someone move that light so I can see! What’s his pressure? Give me a reading!”
Orderlies scurried to follow her barked orders as she worked feverishly over the injured man lying before her, her purple lab coat stained with crimson. Blood coated the floor around the gurney and continued to fall at such a rate that Claire was amazed the man was still alive at all. “Is X-ray set up as yet?” she demanded as she reached for a nearby hypodermic, her mind racing with possible procedures she may have to perform in the next five minutes.
“Almost ready,” a disembodied voice replied.
“Let’s pick up the pace,” Claire barked, “I need to see what kind of damage I’m dealing with here.”
Standing unnoticed in a relatively quiet corner, Hobbes and Darien watched the scene play itself out. The khaki shirt and jeans that Darien had been wearing were likewise stained with red, but his attention was riveted to the still form on the gurney, the day’s events running through his mind like a broken record. He stood straight and still, a hand covering his mouth, his brown eyes wide and haunted. Beside him, his partner likewise stood as still as a statue. Hobbes had his arms crossed in front of his chest as if trying to ward off a chill as he listened to Claire shout orders and listen to reports.
“Why’d he do it?”
The question had been asked so gently that at first Darien thought he had imagined it. He looked down at his partner, “I’m sorry, what?”
Hobbes looked up at the taller man, his brown eyes intense with a variety of emotions, “Why’d he do it?” he repeated, just as quietly, before he turned away again. “Why’d he go and pull a stunt like that?”
Darien reached out and placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder, he could feel the taut muscles beneath the jacket, tense and angry. “Because he’s an agent, just like us”
Hobbes snorted and shook his head, “He’s a paper pusher, Fawkes, he’s not cut out for field work,” the small man sighed heavily and rubbed a hand over his weary face. “Eberts had no right to be there. None.”
Darien gave the shoulder a light squeeze, “The Official thought differently”
Hobbes whipped around suddenly, pulling away from under the comforting hand, anger evident on his tight features, “I should’ve argued with him, refused to follow his order …” he trailed off in frustration, his hands now balled into tight fists at his side as he tried to make sense of the events that had brought them here. Behind him, Claire continued to work, her voice tense as she battled to save Eberts’ life.
Darien held his partner’s eyes, “You did argue with him, Hobbes, you gave every argument in the book and you even threw some curves in for good measure. The Official wasn’t budging, he thought that Eberts would be able to help out on this one seeing as how he has a background in the IRS.”
“Yeah?” Hobbes retorted, “Look what it got us! A blown cover, a botched mission and an injured man!” He turned back as Claire stepped away from the gurney, allowing two orderlies to began pushing it out the lab. As they wheeled by the two men, they gazed at the terribly pale man who seemed to be barely breathing at all. Then they were gone with a pneumatic hiss.
Folding her hands in front of her, Claire came to stand in front of the two agents; her face furrowed into a worried frown, her blond hair pulled back into a harried ponytail.
“Is he going to make it?” Hobbes asked first, getting to the heart of the matter, imitating Claire’s stance by folding his own hands before him.
The woman sighed and shrugged her shoulders, glancing down at the floor before looking back up at the smaller agent. “It’s really too soon to tell just yet,” she replied gently. “I’ve managed to get him somewhat stabilized so we can take some X-rays, let me see what I’m dealing with.”
Hobbes let out a heavy sigh as he turned away and began to pace in a small, tight circle.
“Claire,” Darien began, “are you saying that Eberts could … that he could …die?” His lean face melted into pure worry, his eyes distressed as he gazed upon the woman into who’s capable hands they’d deposited their injured companion.
She gazed into Darien’s eyes, her own blue ones reflecting the worry she saw there. “The bullet passed through his back, between his left shoulder blade and spine and exited from his sternum. That is a very serious injury, Darien, and I have no idea what kind of trajectory it took. I’ll know more once I see the film.”
Darien nodded numbly, her words tumbling over his head in an incoherent heap. Next to him, Hobbes continued to pace.
Claire turned to leave, but stopped as the lab door groaned open, “Darien,” she began, gazing at him over her shoulder, “how did this happen?”
Both Hobbes and Eberts stared at the Official as though he’d just asked them to stand on their heads and sing a duet.
“Excuse me, sir,” the smaller agent began, taking a step forward, “with all due respect … are you out of your mind?”
The Official glared up at Hobbes, his blue eyes as cold as ice. “Are you questioning my mental aptitude, Agent Hobbes?”
“No sir, not at all sir,” the small man had quickly answered with a glare up at the smirking lackey, “it’s just that this is a field assignment and I don’t think that Eberts is qualified for ---“
“Agent Hobbes, I decide who is and isn’t qualified for what mission when!” The Official had interrupted, “This assignment will require intimate knowledge about the inner workings of the IRS and how deals are handled,” he had jerked a thumb over his right shoulder, “who better than Eberts to accompany you”
“Perhaps if Eberts just gave us the information we need –“
The Official shook his head and heaved himself out of his chair, “Does you no good if things go awry, better to have him on hand if plans change”
“Sir, this man has had no experience –“
“Neither did Agent Fawkes,” the bigger man replied, coming to stand toe to toe with the small agent, “but that didn’t stop me from putting him in the field, did it?”
“Uh, sir, Agent Fawkes has a few … abilities that Eberts, here, doesn’t possess” Hobbes couldn’t stop the sneer that formed on his face as he cast a sideways glance at the object of their discussion.
The Official crossed his beefy arms across his wide chest, “Then perhaps Eberts has a few abilities of his own. This discussion is closed. You leave immediately.”
“Thank you, sir,” Eberts had piped up, grabbing some files from off the Official’s desk and cramming them under one arm. “I won’t let you down, sir. You can count on me, sir.”
Hobbes had been on the verge of making a snide remark when Darien had grabbed him by an arm and dragged him out the office, with Eberts close behind.
“Hobbes,” the taller man had begun, “there’s no use fighting it, okay? The fat man has spoken. Let’s just go, get the job done and get it over with.”
Hobbes cast a disgusted look over his shoulder and grunted, “Maybe you’re right, Fawkes. The quicker we start, the quicker we finish”
The steady beep and hum of medical equipment was almost deafening in the small, sterile white room. A single occupant lay in the room’s only bed, looking hopelessly out of place. The Official stood quietly by the side of the bed, arms resting lightly on the metal handrail as he silently gazed at the still form. Eberts had been hooked up to a ventilation machine, which was assisting in his breathing; the bullet had shattered two of his ribs which, in turn, had perforated one of his lungs and bruised his heart. The machine was a precautionary measure, the Keeper had told him.
The irony of the situation was not lost on the big man; only a few short months ago they had been in this exact room playing out this scene almost exactly, only it had been Eberts who had been standing vigil.
The young man’s face was paler than usual and there were dark circles under his eyes. His chest rose and fell in an uneven motion a testament to the erratic path the single bullet had taken once it had entered his body.
“Ah Eberts,” the Official sighed, shaking his head.
There was a small noise and when he turned, the Official saw the compact form of Bobby Hobbes entering the makeshift hospital room. The bigger man immediately drew himself up straighter, letting his hands fall to his side as he gazed at the smaller agent. Hobbes moved to stand on the opposite side of the bed, his eyes never once meeting the gaze of his superior.
“How is he?” He asked at length, casting a glance at the various medical devices strewn about the room before looking down at the bed.
“Keeper says that he’s not out of the woods as yet,” the Official replied, “the next twenty-four hours will be critical.”
Hobbes nodded absently and fingered the rail on the side of the bed, he had already spoken with the Keeper and she had filled him in on Eberts’ condition. The news hadn’t been encouraging, but Hobbes knew he was in capable hands.
There was a moment of awkward silence between the two men before the smaller agent glanced up suddenly, his face unreadable. “He saved my life you know. I should be the one lying there, not him. Eberts should never have been out there”
“It was my call, Agent Hobbes”
“And it became my responsibility once we got on scene,” Hobbes retorted hotly, his emotions threatening to become more than even he could handle. “You sent a man with absolutely no field experience whatsoever into a potentially dangerous situation. The mission was jeopardized, it blew up in our faces and now Eberts has to pay the piper.”
“Eberts had the information you and Agent Fawkes needed to complete the assignment”
Fury burned in Hobbes dark eyes, it radiated from his taut body, “He’s had the information we needed before, but you never insisted he accompany us on an assignment! Why now? Why this one?” his voice had risen with each subsequent word until he was nearly shouting, leaning over the bed to point an accusatory finger at his superior.
“Mr. Hobbes,” the Official replied, his voice dangerously quiet, “I don’t need to explain my actions to anyone, especially you”
“I’m not asking you to explain anything,” Hobbes continued, “I don’t want your freakin’ explanations! I’m trying to point out the error of your ways, you made a bad decision based on I-don’t-know-what and it backfired! Eberts got shot and Fawkes and I almost got killed trying to get out of there! Why can’t you accept responsibility for that and admit you were wrong?”
The Official gripped the metal handrail, and likewise leaned over the bed, his blue eyes blazing. “I am not some piss-ant desk jockey, Agent Hobbes, you will watch the tone with which you address me”
Hobbes stared at the man standing opposite him, varying degrees of rage coursing through his system. He had taken a lot from this man; taken the abuse, the joke assignments, the punk partner. He owed the man before him a lot, the Official and the Agency had given him his last second chance, however putting the lives of not just one, but three, men at risk was asking too much.
“Eberts should not be the one fighting for his life right now,” Hobbes replied, his voice as cold as the vacuum of space. “I knew the risks when I became an agent, always have. I accept them, I live with the outcome. Eberts is not a field agent, he never should have been asked to take a risk he knew nothing about.”
“Is it at all possible for you to shut up?”
“Robert, I am simply trying to ensure that we are all aware of the intricacy involved in this assignment. A lapse of information could prove disastrous”
Hobbes glanced over his shoulder to spear Eberts with a withering glare, “You continuing to flap your gums could prove disastrous,” he growled.
“Uh, Hobbes, you wanna watch the road, please,” Darien replied from the passenger seat, wincing as the van momentarily crossed the double yellow line.
The smaller agent turned back around, but not before he shot his partner an equally hostile look, “I got it, Fawkes. It’s under control. Don’t you start too”
“The Official sent me along to make sure you two agents were fully informed during the length of the assignment, I am only trying to do my job”
“Your job is pushing papers and kissing the fat man’s ass,” Hobbes replied angrily as he turned the van down a side street.
Eberts jerked as if he had been dealt an electric shock and glared inimically at the back of the other agent’s head. “My job is to guarantee that all pertinent information is gathered and disseminated in a timely matter for each assignment. Something I hardly think you would be able to understand, Robert.”
Hobbes looked over at Darien who looked as if he were trying to crawl out the passenger window, “Did he just insult me? I think I’ve just been insulted”
“Okay, look,” Darien said, throwing his hands up in the air, “it’s like riding with two kindergartners! Can’t you two just bury whatever hatchet you’re carrying so we can complete this stupid freakin’ mission and get on with our lives? You can go back to trying to kill each other when we’re done, okay?”
Hobbes grumbled about Eberts’ heritage under his breath as the lackey whispered something about mental stability, but both men remained blissfully silent as the van rumbled up the street.
Hobbes looked up at the sudden voice of his partner and watched as Darien strolled casually into his office, hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans. A clean pair, Hobbes noticed absently.
“Hey yourself,” he replied and lowered his head once again to the paperwork he was filling out.
His lanky partner folded himself into an empty chair, “Eberts is doing better,” he said, “I just came from the lab and Claire is pleased with his progress.”
Hobbes nodded his head as he continued to write, “Good to know the boss will get his paper pusher back, won’t have to put out any extra money for a new one.”
He heard Darien lean forward and saw him place a hand on the edge of his desk, “It’s not your fault,” his partner said suddenly and Hobbes felt his stomach churn at the simple statement. Without raising his head, he lifted his eyes to glare across the wooden surface.
“What the Hell are you talking about, Fawkes?”
Darien was unfazed, “Eberts getting shot was not your fault”
Several emotions presented themselves; embarrassment, anger, denial, grief. Hobbes decided to go with anger, as he threw the pen he was writing with down and leaned back in his chair with a glare, “And what makes you think I’m blaming myself?”
Darien leaned back in his own chair, his features sympathetic as he gazed at his partner, “Hobbes, you’re not fooling anyone, okay? Especially me. I was there, remember? I saw what happened, I saw what he did.”
Hobbes jumped out of his chair, moving to pace the length of one wall, looking for all the world like a caged animal. “He should never have been there”
“Wasn’t your call to make,” Darien replied quietly, knowing that his partner needed to vent, but not wanting him to assume the entire mantle of responsibility that wasn’t his to bear alone.
“I should’ve insisted”
“Would’ve made no difference, we both know that”
Hobbes ran his hands down his face with a sigh, “That’s not a risk Eberts was ever asked to take”
Darien got out of his chair and moved to stand in front of his partner, “Maybe it’s one he wanted to take, maybe Eberts needed to prove something to himself. To us. Show us he was more than a pencil pushing desk jockey.”
Hobbes gazed up at his friend, his entire body ached from stress and exhaustion, it had been over twelve hours since the incident and he felt as if the entire state of California had fallen on him. He realized that Darien did have a point, and a very painful one at that. He and Eberts had been at odds with each other ever since he had joined the Agency. Perhaps there was some jealousy involved; Eberts wanted the thrill of working in the field and he had wanted the approval of the Official. Each man had wanted what the other had. The grass was greener and all that crap.
Hobbes sighed and looked down at the floor, “He sure chose a Hell of a time to make a statement”
“We should use Agent Fawkes as our element of surprise and take advantage of our situation.”
“Will you shut up, please”
“I’m simply offering my opinion as to how we should take the felons into custody”
Hobbes rested his binoculars in his lap and turned to stare at the man crouched next to him, “If I want your opinion, Eberts, I’ll give it to you.”
“Hobbes, he’s only trying to help,” Darien said as he looked through his own binoculars.
“If he wants to help he can sit in the back of the van and keep quiet, maybe he’ll do me a favor and let me forget he’s here,” the smaller agent retorted as he brought his binoculars back up to his eyes. “I count three in the kitchen”
“I have two in the opposite room and one upstairs”
“Six all together”
Both men turned to look at Eberts.
“Good thing we bought the ex-accountant with us, Fawkes, we never would’ve figured that one out on our own”
Eberts scowled and turned away as Darien shot Hobbes a warning look that went unnoticed.
“Okay partner, you do your disappearing act and take out the three in the kitchen, I’ll deal with the two in the adjoining room. The ruckus will bring down our friend from upstairs and then we can pop him too. Get all of our ducks in a row”
“Wait a second, why do I have to take out the three in the kitchen?” Darien asked, lowering his binoculars to stare at his partner.
Hobbes glanced to the side, “Because you’re the only one here they won’t see coming and you can easily take out two before the third one even guesses that something’s wrong.” He turned to look back through his binoculars, “Besides, I have to raise a commotion with the other two.”
Darien muttered absently under his breath as he dutifully checked the monitor on his right wrist.
“What should I do?” Eberts asked hopefully
Hobbes put his binoculars aside and checked the round in his gun before throwing a glance at the lackey, “You should stay here where you won’t be in the way and let the professionals handle this”
Eberts frowned as the two men exited the van and headed toward the house where the embezzlers were hiding out. He shifted his position until he was sitting in the passenger seat and watched as first Darien disappeared and then Hobbes made his way stealthily into the residence. He was grateful that the Official had finally granted him the opportunity to get some field experience, but this was not what he had expected. He and Robert had always been at odds with each other, but he had at least expected the other man to give him a chance, if even a small one, to prove his worth. He had imagined that the smaller agent would know what it was like to try and gain the respect of others.
Some movement caught his eye and when he turned to look, he saw a shadowy figure making its way toward the house. Grabbing for some binoculars, Eberts quickly scanned the house; he saw Darien in the kitchen surrounded by three unconscious forms, moving to the right he saw Hobbes in the adjoining room, his gun pointed at three more perps. Eberts turned the binoculars to the new figure making his way across the yard near the back of the house, he had a gun drawn and a look of deadly intent on his face.
Realizing what was about to happen, Eberts bolted from the van and made his way toward the front of the house, in the opposite direction from which the seventh man was approaching. He reached the front door and threw it open, drawing a surprised shout from Hobbes who whirled around to point his gun at him.
“Dammit Eberts!” he shouted, “Do you want to get yourself killed? I thought I told you to –“
“Agent Hobbes!” he had shouted as he caught sight of the last perp coming through the back of the house, “Look out!”
The smaller agent had heard the intensity in his voice and had the presence of mind to start looking around for the source of the danger, from his vantage point Eberts knew he’d never see the other man in time.
With a sudden burst of speed that surprised even himself, he raced across the short distance of the room and threw Hobbes to the ground as the other man’s gun went off. Horrible pain seared through him, liquid agony made its way down his back and he felt as if he were being consumed by fire. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move, the air suddenly felt solid as it blocked his nose and mouth.
People were shouting all around him and he heard more sounds of gunfire. As the world around him began to darken and fade, he felt ice cold hands grab him and hoist him effortlessly into the air, introducing him to a whole new level of pain before the darkness had consumed him.
The ventilator hissed and hummed quietly to itself as the heart monitor kept its own rhythm. A nearby IV dripped the necessary medications into the slowly healing body beneath it. Hobbes sat in a nearby chair, quietly studying the unconscious figure. The Keeper had informed them all that Eberts had pulled through the worst of it, he was out of danger and would recover.
Hobbes had no idea why he was sitting here now; he should be at home, taking a nice hot shower and crawling into his bed, doing his best to forget the events of the past twenty-four hours. And yet, he found himself inexplicably drawn to this room, to this man who had saved his life.
He pushed himself out of the chair and went to stand by the bed, glancing down at the unconscious form. “You’re a real pain in the ass, Eberts, anyone ever tell you that?” he said, his voice low but void of any hostility. “The Official forces you on assignment with me and Fawkes, you refuse to follow any instructions and then you wrap things up by saving my life.” Hobbes shook his head and allowed himself a sardonic smile. “Yes sir, you’re a real piece of work, my friend. I suppose you want me to thank you now.”
He paused, glancing around the room to make sure no one else was present. “Thank you,” he said at last, his voice sincere. Then he smiled, “Just don’t expect me to like you now.”
He turned to leave when a sudden voice stopped him cold.
He turned to find a barely conscious Eberts gazing at him, his voice weak under the ventilation mask. “You’re welcome.”
Eberts paused to close his eyes and catch his breath, then he gave the other agent a small smile of his own as mutual understanding passed between them, “And don’t expect me to start liking you, either.”