The Worst Thing That Could Happen . . .
I stared at Michelson for about ten seconds before I opened my mouth. Sam had asked me "pleasantly" to count ten before I said anything negative or angrily to anyone. Count ten. My ass...
"Tell me again," I said carefully. "He was out of your sight..."
"For a half hour, sir. Only!" Michelson was at attention and staring at the wall.
"Half an hour. You've read his fan mail, for Christ's sake." I rubbed a hand through my hair and made a mental note to get it cut. "You do this again and I'll have your ass so quick you won't be able to sit for a month. Got me?"
If Sam knew that I'd hired a security team he'd have my ass and not in the biblical sense. I'd be drawn and quartered like in that Mel Gibson film he used to describe all the time. Thought he'd scare me. The thing that scared me the most was the thought of losing him and that was a distinct possibility .
The Project had been publicized and some true fanatics didn't like the idea of anyone wandering around having their way in time and possibly changing things. Not that the government had really released all that much--with nuts it doesn't take much to set them off. Sam had received death threats--true and sincere ones. He didn't seem to care and frankly, I was scared. Which is why I hired the armed guards that he didn't see, that were his constant shadow except for a stinking half hour this very afternoon. · ,
It was time for me to knock off anyway. Hopefully he'd be home and waiting for me.
The house was dark as I pulled up into t.he 'ga:fage. Mayix; Sam was still at work and I’d gotten another misdirected report from those nozzles'. Tossing the car keys on the counter, I suddenly realized that although the house was dark there was someone sitting in the living room,
still and silent, just sitting there. "Sam?"
He didn't lift his head. Or stir. Just silent.
"Sam?" I sat down next to him and took its hand. He didn't react at all. When, finally, he turned to face me I saw the absolute betrayal in his eyes.
"I could knock you into orbit," he said quietly.
'"For what ?"
"Don't play innocent," he replied, withdrawing his hand from mine. "You put security on me?"
"No!" His jaw was hard and stubborn. From the little light from the kitchen stove I saw look in his eye, something that I called "Beckett Fury". Not good. "You'll fire all of the lllight, or so help me."
"I can't." I sat back on the couch and eyed him, sizing up the anger in his face, mentally measuring how pissed he was. "I didn't hire 'em. The government did. They answer to me but I can't fire 'em."
"On whose authority?"
"I don't know, probably Weitzman, or the Committee.They know about the letters, Sam. They know more than one or two nice citizens would like to kill you." My voice was strained and felt as I'd burst inside from the way I felt. It was sort of like angry but working into fear. Sam needed to know how scared I was. "They keep you safe. They lost you this afternoon."
"They didn't lose me," he said quietly. "I lost them."
My mouth went dry. Trained security people and Sam had lost them for a good half hour. A million things could have happened to him in that mall. I didn't know what to say. Since the s had ended he had valued his freedom to move about the world above anything else.Any sort of restraint was met with objection. I felt myself shaking. I'd read those letters, too.
Sam was openly gay, and I wasn't far behind. I'd resigned my commission but they'd let keep command of the Project. I pushed a lot of paper but I lived with Sam and could be his partner without worrying about blackmail. Some of these fan letters spoke of his choice, and mine. The threats were directed at Sam...not me.
"Al?" There was a tinge of worry in his voice. I felt his warm hand on my wrist a moment before I realized he was scared. "Look, I know you're doing this for my sake but..." A frown narrowed those greenish eyes of his like a thundercloud passing over. "Are you okay?"
I swallowed and nodded. "I guess I need a glass of water."
"Coming up," he said, concerned.
In a moment he had the glass in my hand and I was sipping at it. Kneeling at my feet he looked up and met my eyes with some concern. He'd snapped on the lamp by the couch and was looking at me like a doctor and less like my partner.
I reached up and took the empty glass from his hand. He didn't look good. Gray, maybe, or sick. I'd noticed he was tired lately, and maybe worried. Since all the press about PQL he'd been under a lot more stress and before that, the leaps, I supposed. Before he could object I got his suit jacket off, loosened his shirt and had him resting on his back, feet up on the couch pillows. His pulse was thready and too fast.
"Did you take your blood pressure medication today?" I asked, keeping my voice level and calm.
He frowned. That was answer enough. He'd forgotten again. I got the pills from his briefcase and fed him two with the water. When I brought the bp cuff he made a face but allowed me to use it. The readings were very high, and it took some doing to keep myself from letting the worry bleed into my expression.
As I packed the cuff into my bag I felt his hand on my shoulder as it moved towards my cheek. He touched me carefully, almost tenderly for him and tried to smile. Sitting on the edge of the couch next to him, I leaned down and gathered his body into my arms, smiling as his lips touched my throat. His arms came around me and held on tight. I think I felt how afraid he was then.
"You're fine," I began. But he cut off my words.
"I can't lose you ," he said quietly. "Do you understand that, Sam?"
"You won't lose me."
He sighed and held me tighter. I felt his thoughts telegraphed through the embrace. I was his own, his very own and the only one he cared for in the world. He told me that every night, every moment he could when we were alone. Even though I was nearly fifty years old, Al called me his baby. We'd been together for a very long time. Neither of us cared to think of life without the other.
We held each other. I felt his pulse against my cheek as it slowed and calmed. "Okay," I said finally, laying him back on the couch and making him comfortable. "I'll accept the guards as long as I can see them. No bugging my phones..."
"They don't do that."
"Only sometimes and not in the house," he said quickly.
"Very-my directions, dammit." He sounded only a little angry.
"You're pissed off about this afternoon." He nodded, tightly. "Al, I knew they were there. I go into a restaurant with my sister, they're at another table. In Hawaii!" He sighed. "I go out with Beeks for lunch here or to the mall and I see the same set of people trying very hard to look as if they don't see me." I cocked my head and gave Al a look that I hoped he thought was endearing . "I'm pretty observant; Al.How Jong did you think this would work?"
"Actually, it's gone on longer than I thought it would."
I caught myself glaring at him. "It has?"
"I thought you'd figure it out inside a week." He yawned and stretched out flat on the couch, resting his head against the pillows I'd propped at one end. "Had a bet with one of the guys--Michelson. He's the one I suppose..." Another yawn and a grimace. "You'll wanna meet the guy..."
"You need bed rest."
"M'fine." Sleepily he looked at me, eyes slitted. "Why doncha just lay with me here?"
I didn't need a second invitation. The couch had been bought specifically to hold both of us. Before I could think twice about his back or mine I had eased him over my body and the two of us were sandwiched neatly together. I wrapped ·both arms around him like he was a teddy bear and kissed the back of his neck.
"Mmmm." Al pressed his butt against my crotch but not like it was an invitation. More like he was trying to sink inside me or become part of me. I wasn't terribly turned on. The reason I was home most of the time was the project physicians idea. i'd only returned six.months before from Leaping. On my 'landing' as we called it, I'd pushed myself for three straight months, barely thinking, or much else. Of course I'd ended up flat on my back in the infirmary. From that point on I was never as strong as I'd been before. My body was weakened, despite all the things the physio had tried to do with it during the Leaps. I'd pushed too hard and past the point of endurance. Now I paid the price by working at home on those days when I could barely lift my head from the pillow when Al's alarm went off. With rest, and reassurance, I would be fit probably in another year.
My only mistake today had been the quick trip to the mall to get some socks Al had mentioned were lacking in his wardrobe. Blue ones, sky blue. I'd played the little game with security and ended up here, tonight, with my lover feeling poorly and upset with me.
Still holding Al, I snuggled into the soft leather couch and grinned as he snorted and burrowed tighter against me. Turning in my grasp he pressed his cheek against my shoulder and pressed both hands flat on my chest precisely where my heart beat would be felt. I knew then he was deeply asleep. It was his way of reassuring himself I was there and alive.
It looked as if we'd have another night, as we had so many others. Until daybreak or when the first light came through the louvered drapes, we would sleep on this couch.
The sun did not wake me, or Al's voice. Something very cold was pressing against my throat. Swallowing hard against the pressure Icracked my eyes and realized that Al was no longer in my arms and a stranger was standing over me.
"Get up," he said. His voice was low and even. He wore a stocking mask and the gun pressed against my adams apple was chrome plated and expensive (and effective) looking. "Now, Dr. Beckett."
So much for Al's security. Maybe it was some kind of exercise. Icould only hope. "Where's..."
Before I could say anything else, or even look around, another man in a mask, larger and with a presence that seemed even more intimidating jerked me from the couch to a standing position. Iwasn't about to say a word or move more than they made me with that gun against my skin.
I glanced around and nearly fell as they shoved me towards the back door. "Move!" My bare feet tripped against the wood floor and I nearly fell as the giant forced me ahead. That was when I saw the crumpled figure in the kitchen and realized they'd somehow managed to get Al from me and had hurt him. I didn't hesitate and even in my weakened condition I knew I had to fight, regardless of the damned gun. I swung around and surprised the first man, knocking him and the gun ass over teakettle. I lunged for the door and hit the panic button by the side of it, a little device Al had installed that alerted the base if we had trouble.
That was one security device he'd told me about and I'd objected to. There was no sound when I hit it but I knew that Ziggy was alerting the base and White Sands Marines were probably on their way in seconds.
The moment my finger pressed the button, the 'Giant' as I called the larger man, grabbed my wrist and practically snapped it. Nausea hit me and I fell to my knees. The other one was on the floor behind me, rubbing his neck and glaring at me and Giant.
Both men's attention was averted from me the moment we heard the sound of sirens approaching thhe house. Shouting and men.
"Get him in the bedroom. Take the other one there."
Giant practically tossed me in the main bedroom. There was one exit--a door that led to the fenced in pool area that was surrounded with evil, spiky cacti. It would be more than difficult for anyone to get over the fence, let alone the sharp spined guardians.
Another moment and the door opened. Giant was carrying Al in his arms and dumped him unceremoniously on the bed. My eyes were caught by him and the shadow of someone by the sliding doors. I saw a small figure and an automatic weapon.
"Two more of us are outside Beckett." Giant's voice was low and quiet. "Stay in here and there will be no problems. Go out there and you can kiss it all goodbye." The bedroom door closed and I heard something being placed against it. A chair, perhaps.
Al was out and bleeding. He might have fought them, I was sure of that. It wasn't unusual for me to have slept through it--I slept through a lot more than that lately. Sleep was a drug to me, deep, dark, velvet. It was part of the Leap effect. I had to be very careful not to let sleep take me now. The way my left wrist was aching I doubted that anything could help me sleep through it. Giant had done a number on it but it seemed nothing more serious than a bad sprain.
"So much for your security," I muttered and tried to make my lover as comfortable as possible. Most of the damage was done to his head, almost if they'd pistol whipped him. His hair was sticky with blood. Doubting they'd mind if I used the adjoining bath, I got some towels, the first aid kit and some hot water and cleaned his face as best I could.
My fingers pressed against his throat. He grimaced but didn't wake. His pulse was slow and steady but his skin was damp with perspiration. I got his shirt off, eased off the shoes that I'd neglected to remove earlier and managed to tuck him under a blanket that I kept at the foot of the bed.
I heard something heavy being moved and wondered what our captors were doing. Perhaps pushing the larger pieces of furniture against the front door, as ifthat would hold back the Marines. I had to smile stiffly at the idea.
"Sammm...oh my head." Al flinched and opened his eyes. He blinked twice and stared at me. "What the hell hit me? I got up for a glass of water and then..."
"We're under siege," I said evenly, quietly. The phone rang at precisely that moment. I didn't think it was in my best interest to pick it up and neither did Giant. Before it rang a second time he was in the room and tearing the phone off the dresser and the plug from the wall. Without a word he left the room and closed the door.
"Tell me that guy wasn't wearing a stocking mask," Al whispered.
"Must me my luck. It's like a bad Mel Gibson flick." Al grimaced as he tried to tum his head.
"Don't," I said, sitting next to him and easing him back against the pillow.
"You got a good knot on your noggin'."
"You have a great bedside manner," he grumbled. "How long have I been out?"
"Hard to say. You got up from the couch?"
"Yeah, then wham!" His pallor alanned me. It had gone from ruddy to gray in less than a moment. "Who kid, I don't feel so good." My fingers found his pulse point and I realized with alarm that his heart was pounding. The worst thing I could do at this point was get him agitated. Or let them cause more alarm than he already felt. "Get some rest," I said, getting up from the bed. I didn't release the grip I had on his hand.
His eyes narrowed. "What are you up to, Sam?"
"You need your medication and I need to find out what's happening. The good thing is that I managed to hit the panic button seconds before they could get me out the back door."
"You..." His face relaxed but his color didn't really change. "Way to go, kid. There's probably fifty or sixty of America's best out in the driveway right now."
"There's at least four of these guys and they've got automatic weapons. I have a feeling they wouldn't hesitate to use." I glanced towards the glass doors and noticed the two out there didn't seem to care if I saw them or not. They had masks like the others and dressed in black. Al was right. It was like a bad movie.
The big guy that had came in to do disrepairs on our phone entered again. Just grabbed Sam by the arm and before either of us could object had him out the door. All I could do was lay there helplessly and listen. I had a very good set of ears, ask anyone under my command. I heard Sam cry out once but it sounded angry. That knot that I'd felt in my chest tightened only a fraction. The last thing I needed was for me to have some kind of friggin' heart attack.
"We're both alive," I heard Sam say. Maybe he was talking to Michelson, if he was still alive, or the Marine commander and that would be...oh, Blake I thought , at this hour. It was three a.m. by the alarm clock. Another strangled sound as if Sam was angry but couldn't get to what he was pissed off at.
"They are both alive," I heard a smooth voice say. "For now. One billion dollars and safe passage." I heard the phone being clicked off and then, "If you hadn't hit that button, Dr.Beckett, your friend would be fine and you'd have been returned safely once our demands were met. Months of careful planning have gone down the drain and I don't for a moment doubt that we will still succeed at our objective."
"Yes. Lots of it." I heard a small scuffle and then something that made my throat go dry. The sound of a bolt being drawn back, a gun at the ready. My head swam as I tried to push up from the bed and I fell right back again. They'd really done a number on my skull. "Don't try that again," Smooth said.
"I need the briefcase," I heard Sam say, his voice very hard, very unreasonable. Oh God, I thought, don't go stubborn now. Just get back in here and be with me. Sam was speaking again. "The Admiral needs his medication and a doctors attention."
"You're a doctor," Smooth replied.
"He needs a hospital," I heard Sam snap back. He didn't lower his voice either in deference to me. "He has a heart condition and high blood pressure."
I heard the catches on my briefcase being snapped. It wasn't locked, never felt a need to do that and locks had a tendency to slow me down when I needed some paperwork.
"What is all this?"
Damn. The handlink was in that briefcase. An old habit. I'd meant to return it to the IC but hadn't. It'd probably been in there since the day Sam returned to us.
"It's a type of phone," Sam lied. "Just give me the pills..."
"You don't tell us what to do," Smooth said. I heard a slap. Then another scuffle and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Another sound of struggle and something breaking.
The door opened and Sam was basically tossed in by yet another person (there were five?) who's dark, angry gaze raked the room before he tossed in my pills and slammed the door behind him.
Sam didn't stir. I couldn't get up. "Oh, Sam..." By sheer force of will I pulled myself up and by bracing myself on the bed and crawling across three feet of carpet I managed to reach him. I grasped his left hand and heard him gasp in pain. That's when I saw his wrist was swollen, black, and blue.
"Oh." Sam pushed himself up to a sitting position with his good hand and tried to smile at me. "How'd you get out of bed?" He rolled his eyes. "Never mind, Al. Where there's a will, right?"
"Right." I reached for him and didn't object as he eased me against him.
He scooted carefully back and leaned against the end of the bed, manoeuvring me with my head in his lap. It was better than pillows and far more secure. "Glad we got the extra thick carpet, ain't ya?" I grinned. Sam had objected to the expense but I'd replied that we might, from time to time, not make it to the bed.
He must've remembered. There was a glint of humor in his eyes. "I broke the lamp," he said. "The crystal one in the foyer."
"S'okay," I said. "We'll get two more. Never liked that lamp. Are you okay?"
"I'm angry," he said, although his voice was peaceful. I felt rather than saw him reach for something. "I need to get this pill down you," he said as I heard him shake something into his hand.
"I don't need water."
I just swallowed the pill dry. The doc said I could under certain conditions. The room was dark, lit only by the small security lights by the pool. I heard nothing outside; the house was basically soundproof to outside noise. We were about twenty miles from our nearest neighbors, so that was never a problem.
His fingers were probing my throat, searching for a pulse.I looked up at his face and tried to be reassuring.
"Okay." He took a deep breath to probably cleanse himself of the anger and to clear his head. I knew my boy and he was probably :frustrated and angry. "There's no way out, Al. I'll be honest. They had me talk to David Blake."
"I was right."
"What?" he questioned. "Nothing. Go on."
"I talked to Blake," he repeated. "They want a billion dollars..."
"And safe passage."
"You do have good ears," Sam grinned. He winced over the smile and I knew he was hurt.
"How did you do that to your wrist?"
"They did it. Giant--the big guy--grabbed it when I hit the panic button.Too late, for them anyway."
"Sprained, not bad." He didn't say much when he was hurting. I knew he was very angry right now. "I need to get you back on the bed and check you over thoroughly."
He managed, without dropping me or jarring my head, to get me on the mattress and dressed in clean p.j.'s and his cool hand on my forehead. I had complained about the bedtime clothes but Sam insisted it would help me relax. He gave me a quick exam, gentle and as careful as ifl were made of porcelain.
"I'm fine," I snapped as he turned away to get a glass of water for me. "You worry too much. What did you do out there anyway? Play G.I. Joe?"
"No." He handed me the water and watched as I drank it down. When I set down the glass I snapped on the lamp closest to Sam so I could do an exam of my own. There was a spreading bruise over his right cheek, precisely the size of a hand. "I don't let anyone hit me," he said simply.
"Smooth did that?"
"You call the big guy Giant and I call the other nozzle Smooth. It works."
"He's more like James Coburn," Sam replied, sinking down by me on the bed, laying on top of the comforter. He was barefoot I noted. They were going to take him out in an old UCLA basketball tank top and shorts?
"It's a botched kidnapping," I said aloud. Sam only nodded. "They would have had to kill me," I said. "I let the nozzles get me like that..."
"Shh." Sam pressed his lips over mine, only a moment of comfort from the kiss. His fingers touched my mouth and I could hear the sound of voices in the hall just beyond the door.
I couldn't hear much but I knew from the tone they were worried. Worried terrorists or kidnappers or whatever they were could be the most dangerous. They'd take chances, do things that they'd normally not think of proceeding with.
"They have an arsenal," Sam said. "A lot of weapons. The one... Smooth."
He smiled when he said the name. It might have made things less scary. "He has a AK47. And a mean looking.45 AutoMag."
"Not reliable," I replied. "They have a tendency to jam."
"I wasn't thinking of that earlier when he had it pressed against my throat," Sam snapped.
His face instantly softened. "I'm sorry. I'm... angry."
"About you." His attention went from the voices to me in a moment.
"Turn that light off in there!" The door opened briefly as I snapped off the lamp. "And don't try anything!" Smooth said, slamming the door shut.
"Try and get some sleep," Sam said, allowing me to lean against him. I reached up and pressed my hands against his chest to feel his heartbeat, the one that thudded as hard as my own. We were both scared. I let that sensation of him sink me into an uneasy rest.
I heard the voices. They rose and fell, seemingly angrier with every passing hour. Al was sound, his snores soft and warm against my chest. I held him gently against me. I knew I couldn't sleep, had to stay vigilante. They'd tried to hurt him earlier and I wasn't about to lose him again or let them near.
Without access to my medical kit I didn't know what his condition was. I knew he was agitated, that his heart was working harder than it ought and that he was sick and needed an E.R. and good care.
The door opened and Smooth entered, closing it softly behind him. At least he had the presence of mind to notice that Al was asleep. I didn't move a muscle as he came over to the bed. He didn't seem to care if I was holding Al or if the embrace was closer than a friend would hold another.
"How is he?" he questioned, just enough authority in his voice to anger me.
"Not well," I whispered. "He needs his rest. What do you want?"
His mouth twisted in a grin and the dark eyes narrowed. "Well, we would have gotten more if we'd have managed to get you away from here. The best laid plans, Dr. Beckett, went awry."
"Did you kill our security?"
"Let's say we slipped in under their net," he replied.
"I really can't talk to anyone wearing a mask."
"Then you must've had a difficult time on Hallowe'en," the man said. "You must understand that if I take this off, or any of my men are seen by you or the Admiral then neither of you will leave this place alive."
I had a feeling that was the case, regardless. Smooth shrugged. "Rest," he said. "This will be over before you know it."
"I'm not worth a billion dollars to anyone but him," I said evenly. Smooth's gaze narrowed. "Not to the government, or the country. They have the work I've done and it's over. I'm a tired man, a man that's been there and back and you better realize that I'm not worth a dime. They don't pay off terrorists."
"You had better be wrong," he said, and left.
Al slept still, not moving, not stirring. Just his breath against my chest. I cupped my hand around his face in a protective gesture and leaned against the headboard of the bed. I was tired. Dead worn. The last thing I should do was sleep. Ifl did...
Al...how I loved him. I played with the curls that threatened to frame his beautiful face.
They were damp with sweat, plastered against his moist skin. He needed a haircut, I thought, and to be kissed and loved and cared for. We needed another fifty years or so to do this right.
I must have dozed because the sound of automatic fire snapped me out of a snore. I almost rocketed off the bed but Al's restraining hand on my forearm stopped me. The door slammed open and Giant and Smooth and another person, slightly smaller than Smooth stormed in. They tore me from Al's grasp and forced me out the door.
The smaller man ran back into the bedroom and I heard a shot, a discharge of automatic fire. Everything in me collapsed and I knew in my heart they had killed my partner. Then I felt as ifit didn't matter what they did to me; I was as good as dead anyway.
They jack-stepped me to the front door and I found myself struggling and fighting every inch of the way. Giant grappled with me and managed to get his arm around my neck and choke me as the door was swung open.
There were, as Al said, about fifty Marines around the house. Every one had a gun trained on the door and on the men holding me. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Giant had a hold on me and for a second I realized that he had relaxed the grip he had on my neck. I used every bit of strength I had left and broke from him. I scrambled and then the world just exploded.
I found myself on the ground, spitting gravel from our walk out of my teeth and terrified. I didn't want to get up and everything hurt. I saw the white stones around me turn to red and felt empty and sick to my stomach.
"Get a medic over here. Dr. Beckett?"
I didn't care. Al was dead. What did it matter ifI bled to death. I closed my eyes to Blake, to anyone who came near me.
"Dr. Beckett?" Blake's voice rose in concern. "Get those others secure and secure the house." His hand grasped my shoulder gently. "The medics are corning, Dr. Beckett. Where is the Admiral?"
I swallowed and tried to focus on Blake. The man was inches from my face, his uniform pants stained with my blood. "They killed him," I said.
Closing my eyes again I let the blood loss and ambivalence take me.
When I woke I saw the world through a fog of red and knew the doctors, some from the Project, working desperately over me. I was shot, remembered how that felt, what it was like. Numb but painful and as ifmy body had been emptied of everything.
Then I remembered the sound of gunfire and knew my love was gone. I had nothing. The darkness slipped me away as they inserted a needle in my arm. I didn't care.
When the guy shot out the sliding glass doors I knew something was up. The last desperate attempt at killing anything, anyone. I saw the Marine in our backyard fall into the pool and the blood spread through the blue water. All I cared about was Sam, that they were taking him away and frankly, they were reckless and past the point of being careful.
I tried twice to get out of bed and twice I fell back. The third time I cursed, got to my feet and used the wall as a brace to get me to where I knew they were. The front door. Before I made it halfway there the front of the house exploded in a shower of glass and wood fragments. I slid myself quickly behind a barrier of kitchen counter and prayed. I could hear the words, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners," coming from my lips as the barrage continued and then, suddenly, silenced.
Blake was barking out orders and I knew that the good guys had won. But what of Sam? Had I lost him?
I made it to my feet and saw the glass. Before I moved another step I grabbed a pair of Sam's huge sneakers and stuck my feet in them. It was enough to protect my feet so I could get to the front door.
Smooth was unidentifiable. His face was gone. Giant was near him, on his stomach, blood stanching the air. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two others being cuffed and the one that had shot the Marine laying dead on the ground near the night blooming circus.
The main focus was on a man laying several feet from Smooth. Sam. I felt my heart clench in my chest and forced myself to his side, or as close as I could get. There was so much blood staining the white stones, as if they were red, red with Sam's life. I knew I was crying, thinking he was really dead.
"Admiral?" Someone grasped my shoulders and I realized it was the Project physician, Richardson. "He's been shot. We're medivacing both of you to White Sands. They have facilities there..."
The Project, I thought numbly, was equipped for every contingency, up to and including trauma care. It was closer than any other hospital and could save Sam's life.
They got him on a gurney and I saw the true extent of his wounds. He'd been shot several times and I knew that it had been the only way out. Blood soaked the white sheet they tossed over him and I knew it was a matter of minutes before he bled to death. Helpless, I sat in a corner of the helicopter as it flew to White Sands and prayed. Prayed like I hadn't prayed in my life.
They got me in one room and swept Sam to the project hospital. I sat there and let David Richardson do his tricks, checking my b.p., clucking over that and then the whole damned heart exam. The room I was in was next to where they'd taken Sam. Through the wall I heard the intense buzz of activity.
Richardson's hand clasped my shoulder. I met his level, blue gaze. "Tell me," I begged. My voice was broken from my throat being so dry--from fear, I supposed.
"He might not make it, Al. They did all they could to avoid this. It was the only..."
"I know," I replied, gritting out the words. "They didn't have a choice." I forced back the bitterness, the tears and the thought that he was a room away and I hadn't said anything to him. "If he lives, so help me, David," I whispered. "I'll retire, I'll quit this whole thing and we'll go wherever he wants. He's been asking about travel. Over and over, he keeps saying we should take 'that' trip to wherever. Just point at a map and go. Cuba, he says, now that it's opened up, or maybe South America. Never been there, he says." The words were choking me as I heard the intensity of noise rise in the next room. "Is Beeks here?"
"She's on her way."
I swallowed. "I need her," I said. David's eyes widened a little in surprise but he was still grave. This was just too serious a situation to kid around. "So help me," I said, with a tinge of panic in my voice. "So help me, God, if I lose him I'm not going to let myself live much longer. I can't. I've waited my whole life for him. Do you understand?"
Everyone close to the Project knew about Sam and I. No one said anything to me about it but I knew that they all understood. There was too much electricity between Sam and I for them not to comprehend the seriousness of our relationship. It was closer than lovers and bonded moreso than anything I'd felt in my life.
I was so out of it that I let David help me into some comfortable civvies and out of the blood stained pyjamas that Sam had dressed me in forever ago. I had knelt in his blood, I knew, or fallen there, staring in shock as they had tried to hold him together. He'd died enroute, as I barely recalled. More I didn't remember. Maybe for the best.
Nothing and no one could keep me from him while they prepped him for surgery. I sat near and watched. He was white as the pebbles we had in front of our house, pale and sick and dying. The life readings, what I could tell, were weak. He'd lost so much blood and emergency surgery and transfusions were all they could do to keep him alive. The trauma surgeon had been flown in, he was prepping and Sam laid there, his eyelids translucent, closed over his greenish gaze that I longed so much for.
They let me hold his hand once and I kissed it. David handed me a little bag with his rings and watch. I clutched it tight in my hand as they rolled him into surgery. His hair was covered by a plastic bag and the room was permeated with the smell of blood. There were bloodstained cloths everywhere on the floor, on the gurney he'd been brought in on.
Hours passed and David did force me to nap. I took one in my office and another after I'd she was worried. I'd practically told David I was suicidal.
I'd sleep and dream of the smell of his blood, of that slim body soaking the ground in red and his face as they tore him from me. How afraid he'd been, but not for himself For me. For my safety. For hours I wept, I worried and I...prayed. A lot. Beeks prayed with me, the old prayers the ones where I asked God for anything for Sam, for his life, bargained , realized that didn't work and then prayed some more.
And slept. And dreamed.
I felt sick to my stomach and so numbed as if I were wrapped in formaldehyde. My eyes focused and I realized I was somewhere with windows and sunshine and fresh, cool air.
One face came into focus. Beeks. She was so pretty, her smile bright and happy. I supposed she'd been there the whole time. Then I smelled the blood and I remembered the whole thing. My world and the sunlight retreated to a pinpoint of pain--that I'd lost Al.
They'd taken him from me and I was alone. That hurt more than the needles that dug into my flesh, more than whatever was holding me to the bed. I saw Beeks face turn from joy to alarm in a moment as I struggled to free myself from the prison of needles and straps and hoses that were inside me.
She held my wrists tight with one hand and hit the call button with the other. Then I heard myself start keening, a sharp, long, painful sound that came from my chest, my heart, my soul. The dark brown eyes widened and she released my hands and tried her best to comfort me.
"It's okay, Sam, it's okay," she said, over and over. But it wasn't okay. I kept the noise up, the sound growing louder as I remembered that Al was dead, that I had lost him and that I wanted to be with him now.
"Stop it!" she snapped and it startled me enough to silence the pain. I did quiet and then I realized that something had been slipped into the I.V. Her hand was brushing back my hair. "You're at the Project, Sam. You went through three hours of surgery but you're alive. Your sister is coming in a day or so. It's going to be okay."
I couldn't stop the tears that poured from my eyes or the panic that welled up in me.
Turning my face away from her I simply closed my eyes. The moisture still poured down my face but at least I didn't have to see anyone who cared, not until I could handle it.
"It's okay, Sam." Her touch was soothing. I felt her stroke up and down my arm in a gesture that I was sure she'd seen Al do many times. It lulled me, relaxed me and soon I felt myself sink deep into sleep.
The next time I woke it was night. Very dark and no sounds except the machines that were supposedly keeping me alive. And something else, a low sound that seemed to be in my ear.
Then I realized, dimly, that it was Al, living, warm and breathing, half on my bed, half in a comfortable chair. He was asleep, one hand on the bed, the other flat on my chest just over my heart and the little sensor that monitored the beat of it. Carefully, I reached and touched the reality of his soft scented hair and his cheek that seemed wet from tears perhaps.
We'd both cried too much. He wasn't dead and I had another chance. I let myself feel the reality of his life and that he was alive a few moments longer before I allowed myself to fall asleep with his hand counting the beats of my heart.