Kelly's first thought when he saw his partner go down was "Oh God, I've killed my partner with my stupidity." The last couple of days had just progressed from bad to worse in rapid succession and all of it was his fault.
His partner, Alexander Scott, had just been shot down by Kelly's former teacher, Russ Conley. Kelly didn't know how bad it was but he wasn't going to stand still long enough to give Conley another go. He hurled his tall body at his former mentor and friend, using his natural grace and athleticism in almost automatic mode. He couldn't stop to check Scotty. Conley had to be finished.
The fight played out closer and closer to Victoria Peak's edge. Conley was in a very simple killing mode. He could not leave witnesses to his traitorous actions. Especially these two. They had the ability to stop him should they go free. Former friendships meant nothing to him. Kelly, on the other hand, was battling to stop Conley without killing him. He considered that a major lapse on his part but one he could just not overcome that easily. Kelly was completely capable of killing, though it gave him no pleasure, but loyalty was very, very difficult for him to overlook. Russ Conley had been more than just a friend. He'd been his mentor and someone Kelly had admired and trusted. Still, if it meant saving Scotty, he was going to put Russ down permanently.
Just as Kelly came to that conclusion, the fight ended in dramatic fashion. Kelly flipped Russ over his shoulder, far over in this case, as Russ went flailing over the cliff. And even then Kelly found himself reaching out to try to save the man even while berating himself for what he considered weakness. It was too late though. Russ Conley was gone. And Kelly had finally managed to follow his original orders after all. Only it wasn't him who was going to be stuck paying the bill for this botch-up. Scotty was the one who had been handed the check. Kelly could only hope that the payment wouldn't be too high.
Kelly, his somber brown eyes just a shade glazed with shock, confirmed Conley's death far below, then spied the weapons control component which had cost them all so dearly. It was such an innocuous little thing and yet it had been the catalyst for so much destruction.
Kelly turned quickly to check on Scotty. His friend was laying on the ground but was obviously alive. Kelly felt his momentary terror subsiding quickly though feelings of guilt still weighed him down. Bending down, he could see that his partner's wound was not that bad, though obviously very painful. Any other time, he might have segued into their normal badinage but he just couldn't manage it this time.
"I'm sorry," Kelly mumbled, checking the bleeding leg. "I'm sorry," he reiterated again as he moved to help his partner. He couldn't seem to stop, needing to tell Scotty so much and only able to manage those two words. "I'm sorry," he repeated again, in complete despair. He'd failed at everything this time, failed to do his job, failed to see what was in front of his face, failed to move fast enough to prevent his partner from taking that bullet. That was the major wrong and Kelly didn't know how else to acknowledge his error.
"So am I. Don't worry about it," said Scotty quietly after the second apology. "Don't worry about it," he repeated, even more gently, after Kelly's third reiteration. Normally he would have been giving his buddy a bad time or made light of the situation. This was one occasion, though where he could see that he needed to give Kelly some reassurances. Neither man was good with mawkish sentimentality but Scotty tried to let his partner see that he was still right there next to him. Partnerships were about trust and Scotty wasn't going to let Kelly think this one was foundering. There was some talking that needed to be done in their future, he surmised. In the meantime though, he needed to get Kelly off the subject of what should have been done or not done, and on to the here and now. Time for talk later.
Kelly helped Scotty up and they began making their way along the pathway .
"Ok, sport, get me over to that bench and let's see what's what," Scotty said, taking over from his too quiet partner. Scotty had left off the gentleness in his tone and shifted to a deliberate matter-of-factness. It was time to shake off his partner's feelings of guilt and get him to start thinking productively again. Scotty took a look at his wound, not surprised to find it bleeding copiously.
"Leaking pretty good here, Kel . Since I doubt that you're carrying a handy-dandy Boy Scout first aid kit, why don't you rip something up and get me wrapped `fore I bleed all over the nice tourist attraction . That shirt you're wearing looks good, for starters, " said Scotty, eyeing his quiet partner covertly.
"Yeah, alright, " said Kelly, eyes down on the wound and his thoughts tumbling profusely. "Listen, Scotty, I should have….."
"You're gonna have to get some pressure going on this thing, man. That's it, nice and tight," grimaced Scotty." Now go find me some transport, Jack, so I can start taking advantage of our generous health plan."
And so it went, til Kelly found himself sitting in the emergency waiting room, with most of his shirt in tatters, blood on his hands, and guilt in his heart. He'd had enough experience with bullet wounds to know that Scotty's injury wouldn't keep him down for long but he felt the need to stay until he could go in and talk. And maybe see if his partner still wanted to stay in the partnership.
So it was with some trepidation that Kelly entered Scotty's hospital room a few hours later. He'd had way too much time to go over and over all the things he should have done. The list had gradually been expanding and his regrets magnifying as each minute ticked by. He poked his head into Scotty's partitioned portion of the room, not knowing what he'd find. If his partner really had time to think about things…….
Scotty was sitting up in bed, eyeing his dinner tray with deep disgust.
"Why is it……always….. green jello? Is there a green jello god that holds reign over all hospitals, do you think? Or maybe they buy it by the caseload cause no one else wants it. Probably get a discount on it. A major discount . And why I've got to eat green jello anyway, I don't know. I mean, I'm only going to be here overnight. Couldn't I forgo the pleasure just this once?" Scotty moaned.
"They're only keeping you overnight?" Kelly asked, his normal demeanor much subdued. "That's good." He made a pitifully obvious attempt to revert back to his normal tones. "Eat your jello, man. It's good for you. Gives you……I dunno….. jello energy, or something."
Kelly's attempt at normalcy dribbled away as the effort left him drained .
"Listen Scotty, " he began.
"If you're gonna be telling me one more time how sorry you are, you're going to be wearing this jello, Duke," Scotty emphatically stated. "I went along with this whole let's-help-Conley gig just as much as you did, you know."
"Yeah, but that's 'cause I made you. You wouldn't have bought it for a second except that Russ was my old teacher and I was trying to help him make things right again. Admit it. You would have done what we were told to do, wouldn't you? If I just hadn't wanted to believe. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and look where it got us. Look where it got you," Kelly said miserably.
"Oh? You made me, huh? Strange how that was. Must have missed out on all that somehow. Maybe I was in the shower when you were doing all that?"
"Oh come off it, Scotty. I blew this one royally and you know it. Russ used me. He played me and I let him. He gambled on my weaknesses and it nearly got you killed. He knew I couldn't do it, Jack. No matter what I said, he knew I couldn't kill a friend. What kind of a professional does that make me? Huh? Answer that, if you can?"
"You are so full of it, you idiot! Since when is it a weakness to be loyal to a friend?" questioned Scotty, furious not at the man in front of him but at dear departed Russ. Kelly Robinson was too good a man and too good a partner to have that jackass, dead or not, mess with his mind.
Kelly wasn't ready to be mollified. It had, after all, been a very long wait on that emergency room chair. He'd had way, way too much time to fret.
"When that friend is a damn traitor and I've been told so by the higher ups. And when I should have done what they ordered before my partner got to leak blood all over Victoria Peak!" he shouted.
"Cripes, Duke, lower the volume . If that nurse comes back in here yelling `bout the noise, you're the one doing the apologizing. And, so what? Can't you be human sometimes too? So, you wanted to believe in the man. Heck, he sounded ok to me too. I would have said something if it didn't ring true. You know that, Kel. Does that mean that I'm a lousy spy, too? " glared Scotty .
Kelly gave him back glare for glare, unwilling to give himself a break.
"But I'm the one that was calling the shots on this one. You know it and I know it. I should have done what I was told to do in the first place. That's all a part of being in this business, after all, following orders."
"Ok, yeah right, let's just be mindless little automatons and never question orders," Scotty said, pounding his food tray for emphasis. "You could no more do that than I could and that's one of the reasons I put up with you, Fred C. But, and correct me if I'm wrong here, fella…. wasn't it Russ who said it best? What was that he said? Not to become corrupted by facing evil with a stronger evil of our own. That made sense to me then and it makes sense now. So what if it was said by a man who didn't acknowledge the meaning of his own words. It's more important that we….both…..follow that rule. Both of us, Kel," said Scotty, driving his point home with repetition.
Kelly looked up slowly, finally willing to meet his partner's eyes. Scotty's words were finally beginning to penetrate through and make a dent in his pent-up feelings of guilt. But he still wasn't quite ready to let it all go. Maybe it would go on a back burner for a bit, maybe it would fade with time. He gave a little, slightly wan, smile. It was a feeble attempt but it was a beginning.
"Ok, guess I know when I'm licked. Should know better than to try to use words against a Rhodes Scholar. But, for what it's worth, I am sorry."
Scotty figured Kelly was on the mend, even if this day might add one more little personal demon to Kelly's oh-so-capacious storage room. His partner wasn't ok yet but his mending had started. They'd heal up together in the next few days.
"Accepted and forgotten, ok? Kel, don't beat yourself up over this. Conley was good. He was very good, only it just wasn't for anybody but himself. He knew your greatest weakness and exploited it, sure, but it just so happens to be your greatest strength too. Don't you think I've got you figured out by now, Duke? Yes, you're a professional, hardened spy. No you don't…… ever….like to think the worst of anyone you call friend. Yes, that can be a lousy trait in our profession. No, I wouldn't want to continue as your partner without that particular trait. Now, you need to go away so I can eat and then get some sleep before my leg falls off. And, no, you can't have my jello."
Kelly gave one of his rare gentle smiles, the type he gave only when deeply touched.
"I thought you hated green jello? Besides, I think it bounced off the tray when you were pounding on it. I'm guessing that it's now fuzzy green jello," he said, glad as all get out that Scotty was the man he was.
"Bring it on anyway, you fool. I've changed my mind. I'm thinking of becoming a jello aficionado and what better way to start than with the truly unique. Now go away and let a true connoisseur go to town."