Lo, they are finished. And beta'd, and tweaked, and everything. :-) Call it a little present to you all before I head off to Scotland for a week.
A couple of quick notes: this series covers five different fandoms. Not many actual spoilers, and most of them qualify as AU or possibly-AU in some way, because of that unifying theme. The only exception is the Supernatural fic, which is one of the reasons I'm posting it NOW instead of later: it's also serving as my theory for the 3rd season finale. (Although if you've seen up through the 3rd season ep "The Kids Are Alright," I'd deem it technically spoiler-safe.)
Author's Notes may follow.
Mild warnings for language and, uh, kinda intense angst.
In Fire, Some Say In Ice
You want to ask him who spiked his cornflakes with stupid this morning, but go for the short version instead. “You can’t do this, Sam.”
“I have to do this.” When he turns to look at you, he's all anger and challenge and you wonder if he's forgotten every freakin' thing you've ever taught him.
You're so damn frustrated you can't help clenching your fists, like you want to take a swing at him and knock some sense into that thick, college educated brain of his. But you can't do that, so you start pacing the room to work off the fear. You're gonna have to duke it out with words, and that’s the one weapon you’ve always had a hard time landing a solid blow with. “The hell you do. She’s lying. Won’t even tell you what she wants. What, that’s not a red flag?”
“I’m hardly the first in this family to deal with a demon.”
“This is different, Sammy,” you shout, but he just huffs and rolls his eyes. You get in front of him, block his way. “Hey, I knew the terms before I signed. Dad and me, at least we sold things that were ours to sell. Ruby’s askin’ a higher price than that.”
You don’t breathe, you can't. You're too busy praying he'll realize how stupid he's being.
“Doesn’t matter.” He says that like it’s fact, and it’s not, it’s not even close. “She holds the contract; I’m getting it back.”
“Sam.” One last thing you can try, if you can get your voice above a whisper while you watch him walk away. “Sam. Dad didn’t make his deal for me. He made it save you, okay? So I could save you. Don’t throw that away."
“I’m not. And I’m damn well not throwing you away, either. Got that?”
And that? It's like the ground just gave out from under you. You have to lock your knees to keep standing. There’s nothing else to try, you’re not even armed for once in your goddamned life. Not that a gun would help, ‘cause just the thought of putting a bullet between Sammy’s shoulders makes you want to puke.
The world’s going to end because your brother loves you too damn much. And because you honestly didn’t see that coming, because you didn’t think this was something you’d ever have to fight.
“Sam! Don’t you go!”
He keeps walking. Away from you. Away.
2. the sentinel
I’ve always been a pretty heavy sleeper. The pounding on our front door an entire floor away got through to me at about the same time Gina’s voice did. “Blair? Honey, wake up.”
“Oof. Yeah. I got it.” I stumbled out of bed into icy air—damn, after 3 years I still wasn’t used to Michigan winters– and grabbed my robe off the bedpost on my way into the hall.
The pounding continued; at this rate, whoever it was would wake our neighbors. Between the cold and the adrenaline, I woke up enough to recognize the knot of dread in my stomach. The middle of the night was never a time for good news.
At least there were some things it couldn’t be.
It wasn’t a telephone call from someone in Cascade.
The pounding stopped as soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs. “Blair!”
I couldn’t get the door open fast enough: deadbolt, lock, disarming the damn alarm system. Jim leaned heavily against the door frame. Clouds of breath blurred his outline in the light from the streetlight behind him. He stumbled inside as soon as I opened the door, and immediately turned to slam it and throw the bolt.
“Jim! What are you doing here?” I groped for the light switch on the entry wall, and his hand unerringly snagged my wrist.
“No lights.” The words were breathless, but sharp; an order rather than a request.
“What’s going on?” For a moment he didn’t answer. I was wide awake now, and trying to decipher what I could by the light that leaked in through the windows. “Jim?”
He lifted his head, straightened his shoulders. “You have to go. Get Gina, get the kids. Go.”
“Why, what happened?”
“They’ve figured out I’m not the only Sentinel in existence. And they’ve figured out how useful we’d be to them.”
“Who the hell are ‘they’?” I had a pretty good idea. We’d talked about the risk of discovery off and on since that first year. And again, after Gina showed me her research. After we decided to look for other children like Sean. Like Jim had been. But there’d been nothing like this, no hint of it, in all that time. I’d almost stopped considering the possibility at all.
Jim’s laugh was dry and short. “Lee Brackett’s working for them, if that jump-starts your imagination.”
A footstep on the stairs behind us made me jump. “That can’t happen. My research is all public.” Gina sounded absolutely confident, but she didn’t turn the light on. “There’s no way some secret government faction is going to be monopolizing it.”
“It’s not enough. The only public data is your work on hyper-senses. Not the full Sentinel deal.” Jim took a step backwards, leaned against the door. “I should have stepped forward. Made sure this didn’t happen. I’m almost at retirement anyway, it wouldn’t have mattered. I just didn’t think.”
He still sounded breathless, and my own breath caught in my chest as I listened. “Wait a sec. Gina, isn’t Beth Winters working on something—“
“Yeah, at the Genome Project.” Gina pressed up against my side, her hand gripping my shoulder. “Jim, we have proof. It just needs to go to publication.”
“Doctor Beth Winters is missing,” Jim said tightly. “Along with anything she might have been working on.”
No wonder Jim had appeared at our door in the dead of night. “So they’ve already started information control.”
The breath went out of Gina in an audible gasp. Her fingers dug into my shoulder, and I turned to steady her, afraid she was about to collapse. “Oh fuck,” she said, my wife who makes a deliberate point of not swearing. “Oh, God, oh, my God. Beth had DNA samples from every single kid at the Center.”
I almost collapsed with her. So not only did this mystery group have the knowledge to identify Sentinels and carriers of the genetics, they also had a ready-made list of targets.
“You have to go.” Jim dug into his jacket pocket, and pressed a cell phone into my hand. “New, disposable, not traceable to you. Warn who you can. If you’ve got any favors to pull in with members of the press, see if they’ll get the word out. But go. Now.”
I strained to make out his face in the dimness. “I know at least two reporters who’d love to interview you, man.”
“I’m not coming.” He answered my question before I could ask it: “They can track me.”
Jim grabbed my arm hard enough to leave a bruise. “It’s not something I can get rid of. I’m staying here. And you don’t have much time.”
Gina broke away from me, stood on her tiptoes and kissed Jim on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, voice thick with tears, before she ran for the stairs.
“Jim—“ I wanted to ask how he could be sure, why he wouldn’t at least try, where he’d gotten this information, but he stopped the words with a hand across my mouth.
“Chief, there’s no time. I’ll stand watch while you get Nikky and Kate. But I’m staying here.” He stepped back, took up a guard position at the window beside the door. “Go.”
In the light from outside, I saw what he’d managed to mask with the dark, with his voice. His cheeks were wet, and for maybe the first time since I’ve known him, he looked . . . terrified. One hand pushed back his jacket, and I knew it rested against his pistol. He looked at me. “Just . . . go.”
In my mind’s eye, I could see him still standing there when they came for him. Sighting, taking them out one by one. Kneeling on the floor, checking the last bullet in the chamber, putting the barrel of the gun in his mouth before they could break through the door.
I wanted to say something—goodbye, or I love you, or take care, but nothing came out.
3. stargate sg-1
“Come on, Carter, move!” Jack’s hand yanks on her sleeve and she picks up her pace, bolting out of the ‘Gate room after Daniel and Teal’c.
The door slides shut behind them, cutting off the shimmer of an open wormhole and the pulsing alarm of an overloading generator. “You realize, sir,” she gasps, feet pounding the concrete,” if this works, it’s taking the whole top of the Mountain with it. Kinda pointless–“ He shoves lightly between her shoulder blades, herding her through another set of steel doors. “Kinda pointless to try to find cover.”
This is a dead end, a storeroom, and she turns to find Jack shrugging. “Yeah, well, I don’t feel like sitting at ground zero today.”
For some reason, that’s the funniest thing she’s heard all week. She grins at him. “Yes, sir.”
“How long?” Daniel squints at her through dust-streaked glasses. He’s the only one of them in civvies, because he’d been about to drive home when the lockdown started.
She glances at her watch, calculates back from the moment she pressed the button. “One hundred and . . . fifteen seconds.”
Daniel blows out a shocked breath. She reaches over to pat his shoulder, but that doesn’t seem like enough, and she ends up hugging him as tightly as she can. “Love you,” she says, and feels her face growing warm, but it’s the truth, and what else should she say right now?
Clearly, Daniel gets it. He hugs her back, says, “Me, too,” and his tone is warm, amused.
Teal’c is standing next to them. In for a penny, in for a pound, Sam figures, so she stretches up to fling her arms around his neck and plants a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” is what comes out of her mouth, and she’s sure that’s exactly right, even if she couldn’t tell you what she’s thanking him for.
One arm wraps around her, the other hand cups the back of her head. “No, Samantha Carter. My thanks to you.”
“Hey.” Jack sounds as unhurried as if they have more than a minute left to live. “Don’t I get any?”
Sam turns around and he’s grinning at her. “Any what, sir?”
“Any Carter.” It only takes him one long step to reach her, and she doesn’t think to stiffen her spine. The next thing she knows, she’s bent backwards and supported by strong arms, and being very--very--thoroughly kissed. For a moment she doesn’t move, but hell, it’s not like she hasn’t thought about this herself, so she slides a hand behind his head and kisses him right back.
“Wow,” she hears Daniel say. And when Jack lifts her back to her feet, Teal’c is smirking.
Still standing in the loose circle of Jack’s arms, Sam asks him, “What was that for, sir?”
“It’s ‘Jack’,” he tells her, and his lips twitch in a tiny twisted smile. “We’re gonna be permanently retired in less than a minute, and who knows if we’d get to do that afterwards?”
“Jack, I thought you didn’t believe in an ‘afterwards’,” Daniel says.
Sam swallows down a chuckle at his voice, at the air quotes he makes with his fingers, and even more at the roll of Jack’s eyes as he ignores the question and asks, instead, “How much longer, Sam?”
She pushes back her sleeve. “Twelve seconds, s-- Jack.”
Jack nods, then puts one hand between her shoulder blades, grabs the back of Daniel’s neck with the other hand, and steers them into one solid concrete corner. Teal’c assumes a position opposite Jack, his hands likewise spread protectively around his other two teammates. “Down, everyone,” Jack says, and pushes them into a crouch, all four of them together, Jack and Daniel and Teal’c and Sam.
His hand is warm on the back of her neck, Teal’c’s just below it, Daniel’s glasses glinting in front of her. But she can’t think of anything else to say, and none of the others speak either. She’s counting down internally, five, four, three . . .
“See you on the flip side,” Jack says.
Daniel’s head whips towards him. “Seriously, Jack, are you saying you believe in an afterli . . .”
Sam feels something bubbling up inside her, tears stinging her eyes, but the word and the laughter and their faces are all wiped away in one sharp rush of wind and light and fire.
4. the invisible man
You’d think five years of bein’ this punk’s partner--of havin’ access to his singular advantage in the stealth department--might make a guy sloppy. Might lessen his own hard-earned skills.
Not Bobby Hobbes. If anything, I've had to get better at sneaking, at moving without disturbin’ a hair. Just to keep up with the kid.
And it's paid off. He doesn't twitch a muscle as I approach the hospital bed and stand over him.
‘Course, the meds could have something to do with that, too.
He's just lyin' there. Head looks pretty damn small without all that hair.
“Fawkes,” I say. Not even all that loud. Just his name, just enough force to make sure he’ll hear it. But he jumps like someone stuck a taser in him, eyes wide as saucers as he rolls over to face me. Takes me a second to figure out what's different about that, and I already know what went down. I grin at him. “First time I spooked you and didn’t see silver, partner. Congrats.”
He squints at me, forehead all wrinkled up like I’m talking to him in Taiwanese. “What d’you…?” Then his eyebrows shoot right up. He puts a hand to his head, and his mouth drops open when his palm slides along bare scalp. He stops when his fingers nudge the edge of the bandage plastered across the back of his skull. Then he closes his eyes and lies real still.
I can tell what he's trying to do. Makes my grin a little bigger. “C’mon, Fawkes, it’s not that hard to figure out.”
He opens his eyes, brings one hand in front of his face, flexes it and turns it. It stays right where you'd expect it to, on anyone but an invisible man. Fawkes looks past his fingers at me. “You sure they didn’t just shoot me full of that adrenaline blocker stuff?”
I shake my head. “I was watching ‘em the whole time. It’s out. And you’re still here.”
“Well….” His mouth works, like he's lookin’ for the right words. “Crap. What now?”
Straight into the hard part. Alright. Call the past five years training for this moment.
I drop my voice to a whisper. I've already got my back to the camera, not that it'll matter in a minute or so. “Think ya can walk?”
“What?” The tone of voice says he heard me, he just doesn't believe I’d ask that a few hours after he’s had brain surgery.
“Can you walk?”
His eyes narrow. “Where to?”
“Someplace you won’t be looked for.”
“What’s the alternative?” Fawkes raises an eyebrow and crooks a grin. “The Agency of Sequestered Seclusion?”
“Not even close, my friend. You got outta there too easily.” I tap his forehead with one finger. “Still a lotta stuff in your head they need to keep under wraps. This time, it’ll probably be way in the middle of nowhere and underground to boot.”
Fawkes snorts. “They got the damn gland back. What else do they want?” I don't bother answering. A minute later he sighs. “Yeah, I can walk. What, did you turn off the cameras? How long to do we have?”
“Long as it takes,” I tell him. I take a step back from the bed, and the lights go out. Even the emergency ones. I grab Fawkes’ elbow and have him sitting up before he can blink. “You good?”
“Uh. Gimme a sec.” He swallows hard, and I cross my fingers that he's not about to hurl all over my fresh-pressed jacket. “Yep, good.”
It takes a long dizzy moment for him to get his balance, one arm slung across my shoulders, feet sorted out, headed in the right direction. “How d’you know where you’re going?” Fawkes demands as we start moving step by quiet step through the medical unit. It hasn’t taken him more than a few seconds to realize we weren’t bumping into crap on the way. It takes the same few seconds for Fawkes’ natural sneakiness to reassert itself; even dizzy and drugged, he moves like a cat.
“Observation and memory, my friend. Not all of us rely on Quicksilver night vision to navigate.” I don't tell him how much of this room's construction was overseen by Claire, that the alarms won't sound, nor that there's a computer virus playing headgames with the local mainframe. “Don’t worry, Eberts killed the cameras.”
We've made it to the door when Fawkes jerks to a stop. He's breathing hard; if this could've waited, I would have never made him get up out of that bed. I lock his arm more solidly across my shoulders, taking as much weight as he'll give me. "I gotcha, partner."
"We're really doing this? We're leaving?" he asks. He sounds like a little kid. And he's deliberately hanging back.
I know what that's like. I've had weeks to plan this out, to come to grips with what my life would look like on the run. And I still feel the tug. Years of service will do that to you--for every mission gone wrong, every bastard for a boss, there's the moments that make you glad you were there, and people like Alex and Claire and even Eberts, who make you wish you didn't have to move on.
"Yeah. You're free, enjoy it," I tell Fawkes. The longer version of this plan can wait. Till his head doesn't feel cracked open, till he's had some time to think. But for now.... "You're the expert here, pal. I'm a law-abiding citizen of these fine United States. I expect some solid advice on bein' a criminal. You think you can pull that off?"
Fawkes laughs, then shifts his weight and shuts up to use his breath for walking.
Charlie took his time walking down the corridor to his brother’s apartment door, grateful for the shade that cut the late afternoon heat. He lifted a hand to knock, then hesitated. Maybe Don wasn’t here. Charlie hadn’t bothered to call before driving over. Maybe this was a waste of time. He’d already tried to talk to Don, and Don hadn’t been interested.
Charlie curled and uncurled his hand, then lifted it and knocked.
There was no answer.
Traitorous relief warred with disappointment. Maybe Don hadn’t heard him. Charlie knocked again, then bent close to the door, listening.
The voice was quiet, slurred, but unmistakable. “Yeah. Who is it?”
“Don,” he called, pitching his voice to carry through the closed door. “It’s Charlie. Can I come in?”
The voice became a little clearer. “Mmm. Jus’ a minute.”
Charlie pushed both hands into his pockets, fidgeting with the key ring there, and waited. He should have heard noises. Footsteps, maybe, Don clearing up or just coming to open the door. The bolt sliding back.
He heard nothing.
After a long minute--it was at least sixty seconds, not that he was counting--Charlie knocked once more, putting urgency into it this time. “Don, are you going to open the door?” In a fit of pique Charlie rattled the doorknob. It was locked, of course.
Still no response from inside. Charlie pounded the door with the flat of his hand, an echoing series of booms. “Don! Are you okay?”
He held his breath, listening as hard as he could. Except for the breeze sighing through the open corridor, and rock music drifting out of an apartment to Charlie’s left, there was silence.
Charlie pounded on the door and called again, trying to figure out how to get into his brother’s secured apartment. He tried the door again, but it was definitely locked, probably deadbolted as well. No windows opened on the corridor here, and Charlie had seen the outside windows when he entered. Those on the ground floor were barred.
Still no sound. Charlie tried to slow his breathing, tried to think. He brushed the sweat off his palms on the legs of his jeans.
The right-hand pocket chinked.
Keys. Car keys, which meant Alan’s keys, since Charlie’s Prius was in the shop.
Charlie dug the fat key ring out of his pocket and started shuffling clockwise through the bits of metal. Blue rim: house key; black rim: garage; plain gold: safety deposit box. . . . The ring slipped through his shaking fingers and clattered on the concrete at his feet.
Cursing silently, Charlie scooped up the keys and started going through them counterclockwise. You are seriously overreacting, he told himself. Don’s just avoiding you. Which is weird, but he’s been doing it a lot lately, so it’s not that unlikely . . . .
The only sound was the rattle of the keys. Maybe Dad doesn’t . . . . There. Small, gold, neatly marked with a plain white rim: the key to Don’s apartment.
It took Charlie three tries to get the key into the lock. The same key turned the deadbolt. “Don?” he called, pausing with his hand on the knob. “I’m coming in, all right?”
When there was no answer, Charlie pushed the door open.
The blinds were drawn against the light, leaving the room gray and dusky except where the flicker of the muted television set cast a glow across the floor. There were dirty dishes on the end table, along with a few empty beer bottles piled underneath it, but if Charlie noticed any of that, it was only in passing.
All he saw was Don, sprawled on his back on the couch, left hand resting on his stomach, the other hanging off the edge. Sleeping. Charlie stepped into the apartment and closed the door behind him. “Knock it off, Don, I know you heard me out there. I want to talk to you.”
His brother didn’t move.
“Don?” Charlie crossed the room in a few quick steps, and bent down to shake Don’s warm shoulder. “Don, are you okay? Hey, wake up.” He shook him again, first gently, then harder. There was no response at all; Don’s eyelids didn’t even twitch, and the dangling hand swung limply.
A surge of fear clawed its way up from Charlie’s stomach. He held one palm in front of Don’s mouth and nose, holding his own breath until he felt the shallow movement of air that said his brother was still breathing. This time, there was nothing gentle about the shaking: Charlie used both hands. “Don! Wake up, you’re scaring me. Come on, wake up!”
Nothing. Charlie straightened up, breathing fast, and looked around for an explanation. Cups, dirty dishes, a blanket balled up at the foot of the couch, a baseball game playing on TV.
An orange prescription bottle on the end table, at Don’s head.
With a quick glance at his brother, just to check that nothing had changed, Charlie snatched up the bottle. Ambien. A sleeping pill. He switched on the table lamp, then turned the bottle, noting that the date of this (unrefillable) prescription was a bare eight days before. The container had held thirty pills, and at a rate of one per every eight-hour rest period, there seemed to be fewer left in the container than there should have been.
Charlie wrenched off the lid and tipped the blue tablets out across the table’s surface. It was the work of a moment to count them: eighteen.
That’s four unaccounted for. Charlie checked the label again; it clearly prescribed one capsule per rest period. Don had been at work all week, so he couldn’t have been sleeping straight through the day. There weren’t any cautions listed on the label itself. I need more data. Other variables. The beer bottles weren’t fresh, he could smell that. What else could have interfered?
And who might know? Charlie glanced around the room once more. Nothing jumped out at him, and Don still slept. Charlie turned the bottle and found the number of the pharmacy that had filled the prescription. The handset of Don’s cordless phone was on the end table as well, and it was the work of a few moments to dial.
“East Alameda Pharmacy, how can I help you?” The voice was young, female, and perky.
Charlie cleared his throat. “Um, I need to know the normal dosage for Ambien CR. And what kind of side effects there might be if that limit is exceeded?”
There was a slight pause. “Okay, the normally prescribed dose is one capsule per sleep cycle. Side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, headache, confusion–“ Her tone sharpened. “Sir, by ‘exceed the limit,’ do you mean accidental overdose? Did you take more than is recommended?”
“Uh, I don’t. . . .” Charlie rubbed his face with his free hand. Don’s face was starkly pale under the lamp’s glow. “It’s not me, it’s my brother. I can’t wake him, and I thought, maybe he just needs to sleep it off?”
The girl’s voice sharpened. “Is he responsive at all? Maybe you should be calling 911 instead of the pharmacy.”
Charlie’s vision narrowed abruptly to Don’s still face, the darkness of the patches beneath his eyes, the slightly parted lips. “Um. Yes. Maybe. Thank you.” The girl was asking him for his name, for his brother’s name, but that didn’t seem terribly important. He thumbed the handset off and dropped it on the floor next to the couch. One last time, he tried to wake Don. Shaking produced no effect, just as before; neither did an open-handed slap across the face. “Don!”
It was the dark, bluish tint to his brother’s lips that sent Charlie scrambling for the phone again. He couldn’t remember having dialed; by the time the dispatcher’s calm voice answered, he had his right hand spread lightly across Don’s diaphragm and was trying to figure out if Don was still breathing.
The dispatcher interrupted his count. “This is 911. What is your emergency?”
Charlie moved his trembling fingers to Don’s mouth and nose and tried to gather his thoughts. “Um. My brother–he won’t wake up.” Way to collate data, he scolded himself, and tried again. “Male, 36 years old, unresponsive. I can’t tell if . . .” Charlie took a deep breath himself, and closed his eyes, trying to feel for any exhalation from Don.
“Sir, what is your location?”
The unemotional tone helped; Charlie took another deep breath and rattled off Don’s address.
“Is there anything else you can tell me? Do you know what might have happened?”
Charlie’s gaze shot to the prescription bottle. “There’s a bottle of prescribed sleep aids here. I think some might be missing.”
“Thank you, sir.” She paused, then came back on the line. “There’s an ambulance responding to your location right now. Can you tell me if your brother is breathing?”
Charlie blinked away tears–of frustration, he supposed–and cleared his throat. “I, uh, I can’t tell. And his name’s Don.”
“Well, let’s check, all right? If Don is having trouble with that, I can talk you through CPR.”
Numbly, clumsily, Charlie followed her instructions: pulling the pillow from under Don’s head, tipping his head back to ensure an open airway, checking for a pulse (there, but slow; feeling its beat under his fingers nearly made Charlie cry out with relief), checking for breath.
If Don was breathing, Charlie couldn’t tell.
The dispatcher talked him through the moment of blind panic that followed, and Charlie found himself kneeling half on the couch, pinching Don’s nose shut, and struggling to breathe air into his brother. It was hard; Charlie found himself calculating the approximate air pressure needed to inflate the lungs and lift the weight of a human rib cage, and tried to adjust his air volume accordingly. The dispatcher’s voice still echoed from the handset, wherever he’d placed it, but Charlie’s world had become breathe, listen; breathe, listen; breathe, listen, and it took a sharp rap on the closed door break his concentration.
Charlie tried to straighten and found himself too dizzy to stand. Gloved hands helped him up, moved him away from the couch. He sat down hard on the floor, gasping for breath, as the two paramedics started working on Don. They were talking, but the words, even the numbers they were using to designate pulse, blood pressure, whatever, sounded like so much gibberish. They found the bottle of pills and secured it (as if this were a crime scene, Charlie thought). One of them had a mask over Don’s face, using a hand pump to accomplish what Charlie had been doing before.
The other one, a buff blond guy who reminded Charlie of Colby, started firing off questions. “What’s his name? Do you know how many of these he took? How long since you noticed he wasn’t breathing?”
Charlie’s head spun. “Don Eppes. E-p-p-e-s. I don’t know. I don’t–maybe five minutes?” He checked his watch (5:03), but couldn’t remember what time he’d come into the apartment, much less how long after that he’d realized that Don’s lips were turning blue. “I don’t know.”
The medics went back to ignoring him and had Don loaded onto their stretcher in another minute or two. Someone’s got to go with them to the hospital, Charlie’s mind whispered, conjuring up memories of his father in a hospital waiting room, signing papers for his wife, not able to speak to Charlie, only getting up to wrap his arms around him and hold on for dear life. He pushed himself up off the floor and followed them out to the ambulance, pausing to close and lock the door.
Charlie didn’t notice the paramedic’s outstretched hand until he bumped right into it. “I’m sorry, sir, there isn’t room for you to ride with us. We’re headed to Glendale Memorial Hospital. Can you follow us?”
Charlie, not trusting his voice, nodded, and watched the paramedic hop into the back and swing the doors shut. Sirens wailing, the ambulance roared out of the parking area and down the avenue.
For several long moments, Charlie just stood there, not sure which way to move or what he should be doing next. He felt like more than half of him had sped off down the street with Don. Please, please, he found himself thinking, over and over, please, Don, not you too. Dad . . . .
Dad. Oh. Charlie fumbled in his pocket. Yes, the keys were there; yes, by a miracle, so was his cell phone. Still standing in the middle of the parking area, Charlie dialed home.
An unexpected voice answered. “Eppes residence. Whom are you trying to reach?”
“Larry?” Charlie rubbed his aching forehead with his free hand. “What are you . . . uh, could I . . .”
“Charles, what’s wrong?”
“It’s about Don, I . . . . Is Dad there? I need to talk to him.” Charlie swallowed hard against a sudden lump in his throat.
A confused scramble of noise on the other end of the line resolved into Alan’s warm voice, tight with worry. “Charlie, what about Don? What’s going on?”
Charlie’s vision blurred. “I couldn’t wake him up. I tried, but I, I couldn’t even tell if he was breathing.” He blinked, and two tears spilled unheeded down his face. “So I called an ambulance. They’re taking him to Glendale Memorial.”
There was complete silence. Charlie gripped the cell phone tightly, afraid of Alan’s reaction, afraid for Don, just . . . afraid.
But when Alan spoke, he sounded all right. “Charlie, you’ve got the car. Come pick me up, we’ll go to the hospital together. You hear me?”
That wasn’t good enough, somehow. “Dad, I’m closer here. I’m going straight to the hospital, okay? Someone has to be there. This is quicker.”
“Charles Edward Eppes--” Alan’s sharp tone was interrupted by Larry, so close to the phone now that Charlie could hear his offer.
“Alan, let me drive you. Charlie’s probably upset enough that he shouldn’t be driving at all.”
Charlie let out a sigh. Larry was probably right, but there was no way he was going to wait to be picked up.
“Fine,” Alan grumbled. “Charlie, we’ll meet you at Glendale Memorial, okay? And you drive carefully. One son in the ER is more than enough for today.”
“Thanks, Dad. I’ll see you there.” Charlie tucked the phone back into his pocket and ran for the car, not even bothering to wipe away the tears that had stained his cheeks.
Comments and critique welcome, as usual! I hope you all enjoy.