AUTHOR'S NOTE: All right, here we go again. When we left our
heroes... I think you all remember what's going on,
right? I wrote this at four in the morning so
apologies to everyone. A big huge thank you to Debbie
for telling me the limits of people's ability to
diagnose over the phone! :)
Peter Benton had never timed himself, but he was damn sure that running five blocks had never taken him so long. He had decided instantly that driving to the scene would take too long: people who weren't genuinely trying to get home had probably congregated there to watch. Unconsciously Benton shook his head in disgust.
He knew that Carter could not hear him, but that knowledge did not stop him from mumbling reassurances into the phone. He kept up a litany of encouragement as he raced towards the El station. He was almost positive that many pedestrians had cursed at him as he plowed through them without regard, but he had heard none of them. His attention was fully focused on the cell phone against his ear.
The police stopped him about a block from the El platform nearest the train. Luka, panting from the sprint to catch up, was almost grateful. Then he realized that Benton would not be dissuaded from his headlong rush by a few dozen uniformed cops.
"I have to get up there - " Benton was shouting at one of the policemen. The cop looked seriously unimpressed.
"Sure, pal, everyone has to use the El today. Look, reporterman, we don't have time for your - "
Luka had to leap forward in order to stop Benton from lunging at the policeman. Without looking at the surgeon, he forced himself between the two of them, his back to Benton, holding up one hand in an attempt to placate the cop. "Look, we must speak with the person in charge."
"Where're you from?" asked the cop suspiciously, as though suddenly considering a terrorist angle.
"That's not important," Luka dismissed the query with an almost rude abruptness. "We need to speak to whoever is in charge."
"What the hell makes you think the person in charge will talk to you?" an elderly policeman joined the conversation.
"We have one of the hostages on the phone," the Croatian doctor stated simply.
The two cops exchanged glances. "Come with me," the older one said.
Luka smiled grimly at the surgeon; Benton was again listening to the phone and missed the silent communication. They wordlessly followed the cop to the platform.
A tall, thickly built blond man in black turned around at the call, frowning as he registered the newcomers. "What's this?" he asked the cop icily.
"They say they've got a hostage on the phone," the cop explained.
"And you believed them?" scoffed Henryson. "Look, I don't know who you are or which paper you work for, but we're busy right now. So take your cameras and your tape recorders and your little notebooks and get the fuck away from here."
Benton regarded the SWAT man coolly. "I'm not a reporter, I'm a surgeon at County General. I got a phone call about five minutes ago from someone I believe to be on that train."
Henryson's expression didn't change. "Show me some identification," he ordered.
Rolling his eyes impatiently, Benton dug into his pocket for his wallet. Henryson glanced through various forms of ID, then handed it back. He did the same to Luka's proffered wallet. When he looked at them again, his countenance had lost some of its hostility. "I'm sorry; we've been hounded since this whole thing began. So you think someone on that train called you?"
"He's still on the line," Benton confirmed.
The man gazed at the surgeon incredulously, then snatched the phone away. He listened closely for a minute. "Damnit!" he cursed loudly, thrusting the cell phone back at Benton. "You can't hear anything aside from that damn breathing!"
Luka cringed slightly, darting a quick look towards his colleague. Benton stared at Henryson, his expression blank. Then, before Luka could stop him, the surgeon punched the SWAT leader solidly on the jaw. Henryson fell backwards with a grunt of surprise, landing hard on the platform.
The attending stepped forward hastily, barring the other team members from attacking Benton. "That's a friend of ours on the phone line," he explained rapidly, his worry eliciting a stronger accent than usual. "He's - " Luka paused, unsure exactly what was happening on the other side of the phone. He knew that it had to be pretty horrific for Benton to be reacting this forcefully, but there had not been time to demand a full account.
Benton glanced at the attending, rubbing his stinging knuckles absent-mindedly. "It's obviously a chest injury, you can hear him struggling to breath, for all I know he could have a punctured lung or worse! I can't diagnose from the phone, I need to get in there... He's running out of time."
Behind them, Henryson stood up slowly, gingerly fingering his jaw. He waved away the concern of his colleagues. "I'm sorry," were his first words, which Benton ignored. "Your friend, huh? Another doctor? Male, brown hair, brown eyes, tall, slim?" The SWAT leader was suddenly confronted with a dark, blazing glare mere inches from his face. He met it without flinching. "We saw what happened. He's still alive?" Benton nodded curtly. "You should be grateful."
"He won't be for long," the surgeon snapped, angered by the man's attitude.
"Can I?" Luka reached for the cell phone, needing to hear for himself in order to confirm what Benton had said. Neither Benton nor Henryson took any note of the attending, too immersed in staring each other down. After a moment, Dr Kovac plucked the device from Benton's grasp himself, moving a few paces away to listen.
Henryson frowned at the surgeon. "You didn't see what happened. If your friend is alive, and managed to call you, he's damn lucky."
"He is *not* lucky," Benton grated out, fury only just restrained. "He is in severe respiratory distress. That 'damn breathing' you heard is what a person sounds like when they're dying, okay? You have to get him out of that train NOW."
"We're going in as soon as we can." Henryson glanced at his watch. "Should be ready in three minutes."
"I'm going with you."
The SWAT team leader blinked. "What?"
"I have to go with you. Carter needs help now. It can't wait three minutes, or however long it takes you to clear that train car. I have to go with you."
"What?" Henryson repeated in a tone of disbelief. Then, shaking his head as though to clear it, he answered, "No. It's too dangerous."
"I'll take my chances."
"I can't allow it."
"I am telling you, I'll chance it."
"And I'm telling you, Mr Benton, you can't go in with the SWAT team. You're obviously very upset and I can't allow your emotions to get in the way of our work."
Peter rubbed his forehead in frustration, willing himself not to lose his temper again. "It's Doctor Benton, and I'm not asking you to give me a gun or to let me lead the damn charge. All I want is to get in there as quickly as possible. He is DYING, do you understand that?" The surgeon had to tuck his hands under his arms to stop himself from reaching out and shaking the man.
"And I have twenty-one other people to consider, do you understand that?" Henryson sighed, and dropped his gaze. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet. "Look, I have a friend in there too, and right now I don't even know if he's still alive. I know that you're worried, but you can't just go barging in there."
"You're going to go barging in there," Benton pointed out, unconvinced and unmoved.
"We're trained for this. You're not. Wait until - "
"I can't!" Peter exploded. "He's *dying*! You can't expect me to stand around here and wait!"
Henryson looked at him with sincere sympathy. Benton desperately wanted to hit him again. "You're going to have to. I'm sorry."
Before Benton could respond, Henryson was pulled off to one side. "Captain, we're ready," a fresh-faced, boy-man reported in a low voice. Benton glared at the youth: this is what they were sending in to rescue Carter? A kid? And they weren't going to let him near the train?
The surgeon began to stalk in their direction when Luka grabbed his arm.
"Dr Benton, I think - "
Peter didn't even look at him. He had forgotten the other doctor was there. "Just give me a second, okay?" He continued towards the pair of policemen.
"Dr Benton, you must listen to this now!" Luka insisted, yanking the surgeon towards him and forcing the phone into his hand.
Carter's breathing had become noticeably shallower; there were long pauses between each labored inhalation. Benton turned away from the Croatian doctor, his hand instinctively going to cover his mouth.
"Come on, Carter, just hang in there a little longer," he muttered under his breath. "Just a little bit longer." He watched the SWAT team prepping for invasion, and started to pray silently without realizing it. Aloud he continued his empty reassurances,"You're doing good, man. You're going to be fine; they're going to get you out of there."
Carter's breathing was so soft and sporadic that several times Benton thought it had ceased altogether. He stopped speaking and just listened for the sound of Carter trying to draw in oxygen, practically holding his own breath until he was sure Carter had taken another. He listened intently, eyes narrowed in concentration, hand gripped so tightly around the phone that his fingers were trembling.
There it was: that gasping, gurgling, far too shallow breath. Benton waited mutely, every muscle tensed. Take another breath, take another breath, come on, Carter, damnit, breathe....
The phone was silent.