Shreveport, Louisiana • June 24, 2010 • 1600 hours/4:00 p.m.
Captain Eric Northman was a fine specimen of a man. I’d never let on to Tray, but the captain was probably the most handsome man I’d ever seen in person.
It wasn’t, however, Captain Northman’s looks that made me feel better as soon as I woke up and saw him in Jase’s room.
No—it was something else about him.
It was the sense of calm pragmatism with which he took in Jase’s appearance, even though I could tell that seeing the broken little boy was tearing him up inside.
It was the determination in his eyes—fighting with and then overcoming the sadness in only seconds.
It was the way he held his body, as if he were ready to face the worst hand that fate might deal, yet stay standing through the playing of that hand.
It was the sense of understanding in his expression—as if he’d been through horrible times before and would drag everyone around him, as well as himself, through any hardships in front of them.
It was the hope in his eyes that indicated that—even in the worst situations—survival was possible.
I found myself wondering what kinds of things he’d had to survive.
His strength was clear and compelling—and intimidating.
In truth, I knew next to nothing about Captain Northman—beyond the little tidbits I’d learned from Sookie and Jase—yet I also knew immediately that I could trust him to be strong in the uphill situation that faced Jase and Sookie. He was there to take command, and I felt an immense and immediate sense of relief.
Though I felt almost like I was intruding, I watched as Captain Northman went over to Jase’s bedside and took his hand. My heart caught in my throat when Jase—almost immediately—opened his eyes and actually made the effort to focus them onto the man talking to him.
That was something I’d not seen him do up until then.
I watched the exchange between Captain Northman and Jase and felt better by the second as Jase seemed to relax into the strength of the captain’s voice. Hell—I was doing the same! Only when Jase called Captain Northman, “Daddy,” did the man’s stance change. Impossibly, that one word—misspoken by the heavily drugged boy—seemed to make the tall Marine stand even straighter than he’d been standing.
Probably straighter than he’d ever stood—even in front of a General.
I wiped away a tear when Captain Northman assured the little boy that he wasn’t going anywhere.
Yes—there was now a weight off of my shoulders.
I’d been so worried about taking care of Sookie and Jase—wondering how I could help them through all the therapy—both physical and mental—that lay ahead of them. I’d been agonizing over the logistics, wondering if I could convince Tray to put our own plans for a family on hold for a while so that we could help Sookie and Jase—quite literally—get back onto their feet by moving into the old Stackhouse farmhouse for a few months or maybe even longer.
As I stood watching Captain Northman and Jase, I knew I’d still be helping my best friend and her son through what lay ahead of them, and I didn’t mind doing that. But now I also knew that I didn’t have to be the main one burdening the responsibility.
Captain Northman had them.
“Well—aren’t you just what the doctor ordered,” came the acerbic voice of the neurologist on both Jase’s and Sookie’s cases. Though her line might have been interpreted as suggestive, it was clear that she’d not meant it to be. She’d meant it to be factual.
Dr. Ludwig’s height made everyone have to look down to see her, but it was her eerie stealth that had caused me to miss her coming into the room. I swore—every time I interacted with her—it seemed as if she just materialized out of thin air!
Like a troll of some kind!
The captain turned around to face her.
It was almost comical how far he had to look down—and how far she had to look up. But if Captain Northman noticed the height difference, he didn’t let on. After tenderly placing Jase’s hand back onto the bed and then tucking it under the blanket, he approached the short doctor with his hand outstretched.
“Ma’am, I’m Eric Northman,” he greeted.
“And I’m Dr. Amy Ludwig, Captain,” she said, showing that she could tell his rank from his uniform. Despite having a husband in the Air Force, I couldn’t have done the same.
As they shook hands, two more doctors came into the room.
“This is Dr. Fintan Brigant, the Orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Maxwell Lee, our best rehab specialist and prosthetics designer here at Shreveport General. In fact, we’re all the best that the state of Louisiana has to offer,” Dr. Ludwig added unapologetically.
“But not the humblest,” Dr. Lee chuckled, even as he reached out his hand to shake Captain Northman’s. Dr. Brigant then stepped forward to do the same.
“Northman?” he asked. “I thought you were the boy’s uncle—Jase’s father’s brother.”
“We were brothers,” Captain Northman said firmly. And I could tell that is exactly how he thought of them.
“They had different fathers,” I piped in. It wasn’t a lie, after all.
Dr. Brigant nodded and—thankfully—didn’t ask for any proof that the captain was a blood relation. God knows the hospital had already bent quite a few rules to let Tara and I have access to Sookie and Jase, probably because most of the rest of their family had died in the crash. And the one adult who wasn’t—Hadley—was understandably focused on her own little boy.
“Well, let’s get on with the update,” Dr. Ludwig said, somewhat impatiently. “I’ve got patients to check, including this one.”
Dr. Lee and Dr. Brigant shared an amused look as Dr. Ludwig took charge; they were used to it.
“I’m the lead doctor on Mrs. Herveaux’s case—since her head trauma is her most serious injury.”
Captain Northman nodded in understanding. “How is she?”
“Honestly, she’s still fighting for her life, but she’s starting to win that fight,” Dr. Ludwig smirked. “The swelling in her brain has finally begun to subside—thanks to a procedure I did yesterday—during which we relieved some more of the pressure. Her body is still dealing with trying to recover from six surgeries in less than a week, however, so she’s weak. We’ll have to wait until she wakes up to know for sure whether she’s suffered any lasting brain damage.”
That statement hung in the air for a moment before Dr. Brigant picked up, “She has a compound fracture in her right leg. However, the break should heal just fine, given a bit of time.”
“And her back?” the captain asked. “That was broken too—right?”
Dr. Brigant nodded. “Yes. But there are no signs of paralysis. Hopefully, the fracture will heal with limited long-term effects. However, in the worst-case scenario, she might suffer chronic pain and end up with a slight limp.”
“Not if I can help it,” Dr. Lee said with a smile. “With the right program, we’ll do all we can to limit her long-term pain. But she’ll have to manage it for the rest of her life to a certain extent.”
Dr. Ludwig picked up the narrative. “From the impact of the crash, she suffered some internal bruising. That’s what led to her spleen rupturing. However, she’s stabilized. We’re keeping an eye on some bruising around her ribs, which was causing her to breathe irregularly. Medicine is currently helping with that, however.”
Captain Northman took in that information with a nod.
“Jase’s road to walking again will take even longer than Sookie’s,” Dr. Brigant sighed. “And he’ll need at least one more surgery. Right now—if he holds stable—we’ll do it tomorrow morning.”
“The femur repair?” the captain asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Dr. Lee said.
“Call me Eric,” the captain instructed.
Dr. Lee acknowledged him with a nod. “Given how clean his femur break is, we’ll be able to do some light rehab on it within a couple of weeks—as long as his ribs are healing nicely, and we’ll start trying to build up his strength in his arms, too.”
Captain Northman nodded in understanding.
“During his surgery tomorrow, I’m also going to clean up his right leg a bit and check some nerves—to make sure they’re still functional—near his knee. If they aren’t viable, it would be better to bring the amputation higher—to go ahead and amputate his leg up to here,” he informed, gesturing to mid-thigh on his own leg.
I cringed and teared up, while Captain Northman stood steady.
Dr. Lee continued, “I’m hoping Jase will be able to keep his knee joint in order to help him to walk—and to run—more normally. But—either way—he’s young enough to be able to adapt quickly to whatever prosthetic he needs. It took the emergency workers almost two hours to get him out of the vehicle and get him here, so at the time of the initial amputation, there was so much swelling that it was hard to discern the status of the knee. Plus, he had other medical priorities.”
Again, the captain nodded in understanding.
“If everything looks good with the current status of the amputation, I’ll get started on his prosthetic, and we’ll be able to start teaching Jase how to walk with it in about four to five months—as long as his left femur heals as expected.”
“Good,” Captain Northman commented. “And his heart? What’s the bruising like?”
“It doesn’t seem too severe—though we’re keeping a close eye on it,” Dr. Brigant informed. “My father, Dr. Niall Brigant, is the Chief of Staff and the Head Cardiologist at the hospital. He’s been consulting on the case.”
The captain took in that information with yet another nod. “What about Jason’s head wound?”
“Heavy swelling at first,” said Dr. Ludwig, “but, once it was relieved, he regained consciousness pretty fast.”
“But he’s not keeping it for long,” the captain commented. Though his voice was neutral, it was clear that he was expecting an explanation.
“Frankly,” responded Dr. Brigant, “he is still being heavily sedated. Letting Jase regain complete consciousness right now would cause him to have to experience a lot of pain. We could give him milder drugs to help that pain, but there is no way to completely eliminate his discomfort without the use of heavy narcotics like morphine.”
“That’s what he’s on now?” Captain Northman asked.
“Yes,” Dr. Brigant responded.
“Won’t he have to experience discomfort eventually? Sooner or later, he will need to be awake for longer than thirty seconds at a time,” the captain pointed out.
“We want to wait until after his femur is repaired to cut back on the meds,” Dr. Ludwig said definitively. “And it’s best to keep his heart going a bit slower as long as the bruising remains,” she added. “Heavier sedation will limit his potential agitation.”
“And—of course—there’s his mental health to consider,” Dr. Lee said, with a concerned expression. He looked at Jase and then lowered his voice. “When he finally wakes up fully, he’s going to be dealing with the deaths of three close family members. Honestly, we are hoping the news about his mother will be more positive before he truly understands what’s going on around him. In fact, if all goes well, we’ll be able to put them in the same room after he is out of recovery tomorrow.”
“For now, she’s still in worse shape than he is,” Dr. Ludwig said soberly, though she continued with a twinkle in her eye, “but the brain is a remarkable thing. We think that—if they are together—they’ll both be better able to heal more quickly.”
Captain Northman seemed to be considering something for a moment. “Yes. People heal better when they aren’t alone,” he said, as if he could recall a thousand examples of just that. “And Jason will have the trauma of his amputation to deal with as well.”
“We’ll get him started with a therapist, Dr. Claudine Crane, as soon as he’s more aware,” Dr. Lee assured. “Her two specialties are working with those who have suffered life-altering physical trauma and counseling those who have lost a loved one due to trauma. In other words, she’ll be a perfect counselor for both Sookie and Jase.”
“Honestly, even if Sookie doesn’t improve to the point that we feel comfortable putting them in a room together right away, we’ll start lowering Jase’s morphine dosage the day after tomorrow—if his surgery goes well. Now that you’re here, I think he can handle what he’ll need to,” Dr. Ludwig said in a knowing tone.
“Wait,” I piped in. “You think you might not be able to move them into the same room?” I asked. “Honestly, I figured you would have already done it by now—since Jase and Sookie are both on the same floor. I mean—I know that Sookie’s in a more monitored area, but couldn’t Jase just go there?”
“They don’t want to risk Jason being in the same room with her yet,” Captain Northman said insightfully. “To be in the same room if she goes into cardiac arrest would bring him even more trauma, even if he seems to be sleeping through it all. A part of him might hear his mother die.”
“Oh,” I said, wiping away a tear and feeling stupid for not figuring that out on my own.
“That’s right,” Dr. Lee confirmed softly.
Just then, Tara came in. She’d been with Sookie in her room for the last several hours, while I’d sat with Jase. “Hey,” she greeted, looking at the doctors and then at Captain Northman. “Nurse Indira said you’d gotten here. I’m Tara.”
The captain nodded and shook Tara’s offered hand. “I’m Eric. I met your cousin, Corporal Reynolds. Make sure he knows he’s been helpful.”
She smiled and nodded. “I’ll tell Lafayette. Uh—I was just heading down to the cafeteria for some food.” She looked at Captain Northman and then at me. “Either of you wanna come?”
“I will,” I said, figuring it would be good to leave the captain and Jase alone, given the strong bond they clearly already had.
“Could they bring me something here?” Captain Northman asked, looking at the doctors. “May I have food here?”
“Yes,” Dr. Ludwig shared. “You can have food in here, but not in Mrs. Herveaux’s part of the ward. I’ll arrange for a tray to be brought up.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” the captain said with a nod.
“I hear we need to thank you,” said Dr. Brigant. “You’re AB-Negative?”
Captain Northman nodded.
“Well—it’ll be nice to have more typed and crossed blood on hand. I’ll ask Nurse Maggie to take your donation in here—so that you don’t have to leave,” Dr. Brigant said.
“May I stay here overnight?” the captain asked. “I know I am not Jason’s parent, but I’d prefer not to go anywhere until after he and his mother are in the same room. And—even then—I’d like to be able to stay overnight and then be relieved when Amelia and Mrs. du Rone can be here.”
“Tara,” my friend piped up. “Please, call me Tara.”
“Since it’s against policy for any non-parent to stay the night, we’ll have to ask the Chief for an exception,” Dr. Brigant said somewhat cautiously, as if trying not to get Captain Northman’s hopes up.
“But he’ll cave,” Dr. Ludwig said confidently before turning and striding toward Jase to begin her exam. “Even if his own son’s too afraid to ask him to. I’ll ask, and he’ll say ‘yes’.”
Dr. Brigant chuckled. “You know my dad likes you more than me,” he said to the unpleasant doctor.
She rolled her eyes before focusing on Jase.
Captain Northman moved so that he could observe the doctor. Given the intentness of his gaze, he didn’t even seem to notice as I grabbed my purse and left with Tara.
We made it as far as the elevator before she commented. “I had no idea that Captain Northman was a freakin’ Adonis!”
I chuckled. “Me neither. But the important thing is that he obviously thinks the world of Jase!”
“Yeah—I got that from his protective stance when we were leaving,” Tara chuckled.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, I grabbed her hand. “I’m so glad he’s here.” I wiped away a tear. “And it’s not just because he’s like this big, strong man either. I know we could have done this without him. But—uh—he just has this aura about him that makes me know that everything’s going to work out—you know?”
“You and your auras,” Tara chuckled. “One might think you’re a witch or something.”
“But—for the record—I hope you’re right,” Tara emphasized, squeezing my hand.
I called Corporal Reynolds to let him know that I likely wouldn’t need a ride to my new home until sometime the next day. He asked if I wanted him to bring me some of the civvies he’d already managed to get for me, but I declined.
Until I had official permission to stay overnight at the hospital with Jason, I wasn’t about to change out of my uniform, and I had a fresh one in my knapsack. I knew I’d be able to get more accomplished if I was dressed in uniform; I’d experienced firsthand how civilians would bend the rules a bit for military personnel. And—to stay with Jason—I was willing to use any advantage I had, even though I hated the idea of manipulating others in any way.
Nurse Indira, who’d brought me in a hospital tray not ten minutes after the doctors had exited, apologized up and down, promising that dinner would be better. Apparently, the main lunch dish, Salisbury steak, was not one of the Indian-American nurse’s favorites. And—since it was so late in the afternoon—my lunch had likely been reheated, according to the contrite nurse.
I didn’t bother letting her know that it tasted like a gourmet meal to me. Though MREs had been getting better and better over the years—no longer tasting like sandpaper—those were saved mostly for when we were on patrol. Marines were offered “cooked” meals when they were on a base of some kind, even if it was a pretty rudimentary one. Regardless, food during deployments got redundant as hell—unless a soldier happened to be stationed with a cook who was able to get some fresh ingredients, a feat that wasn’t easy, given the fact that food security was essential to a base of soldiers. Yes—as frightening as it might sound—I’d led enough briefings about the dangers of eating unapproved food to have become reticent about buying even an apple from a local marketplace. And even the best chef in the world could only do so much with the mostly nonperishables that the Marine Corps had to offer to its soldiers in the rougher parts of the world.
Moreover, due to my previous mission and my hurried trip, that Salisbury steak was my first hot food for almost two weeks! It was an even bigger bonus to have vegetables that weren’t out of a can on my plate!
After eating, I stood up to stretch a bit. Although becoming a Captain had meant more time behind a desk, sitting for long stretches of time still made me a bit antsy. I walked over to check on Jason. Nurse Indira had been kind enough to explain what the various monitors meant, so I studied them for a moment to ensure that Jason’s vitals were within the expected range.
Assured of that, I took my laptop out of my knapsack. Although I didn’t know if I could access the Internet from the hospital, I knew that I could draft some emails to people I kept in touch with. First and foremost, I needed to let Pam know about my changed situation. Also, I needed to contact my old counselor, Dr. Avery, to have him send my files to Bailey Base, where I figured I’d need a new psychologist sooner rather than later. Alternatively, I planned to look into seeing Dr. Crane so that I wouldn’t have to leave the hospital to get my counseling.
Clearly designed for long-term stay in mind, Jason’s room had a small desk, which I settled at. It wasn’t much later that Nurse Maggie entered, pushing a small cart with the equipment needed to draw my blood.
“Well—I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news,” she grinned.
I stood and raised my eyebrow in question.
“That little blood sample we took from you earlier came back clean as a whistle, so I’m here to be your own personal vampire.”
“That’s the bad news?” I asked.
“No,” she chuckled. “The bad news is that I’ve been told to beg and coerce you to become a regular blood and plasma donor.”
I frowned. “What’s the difference?”
She smiled and gestured for me to sit and put my arm onto the top of the cart she’d brought in; then, with an alcohol swab, she cleaned the site where she intended to draw my blood. “Well—regular old blood has everything, including red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma—the whole shebang, so to speak. But it takes a while for red blood cells to replenish, so we let people donate that only once every three months. We can take plasma in between those times though.”
“How?” I asked curiously.
“You do like to learn—don’t you, Captain?” she chuckled. “Basically, we hook you up to a machine that draws your blood; separates the blood cells from the plasma; and then re-injects your red and white blood cells back into you, along with saline.”
I considered for a moment. “Would I be weaker—in between. I’ll need to be at my best for Jason and his mother,” I said, glancing at the child.
“Plasma donation might be a bit much then; in my experience, most people who donate it feel some fatigue, especially if they do it often. So I’d suggest just regular donations,” she whispered conspiratorially. “Plasma works opposite of blood, so you’re actually a universal donor of plasma, which can be really helpful for certain kinds of treatments, but you’ve got other priorities right now. A once-every-three-months donation of blood, though, wouldn’t affect your overall energy level. And we could always call you in if there’s a special need for plasma.”
“I’ll do that,” I agreed quickly. It really was the least I could do, given that the hospital was helping to keep Jason and Sookie alive.
Nurse Maggie smiled widely. “Thanks. I’ll let the lab know. Just be aware that they will call with reminders if you forget to come in for your donation. And I might joke about bein’ a vampire, but those folks really are!” she winked and shuddered in an exaggerated way.
I mustered a smile for her as she got me situated to take my blood.
She’d injected the needle, and I was already filling the pint-sized bag when she said, “Oh yeah! I almost forgot the good news. The Chief of Staff, Dr. Brigant—not Fintan, but Niall—has upped you to honorary parent status for as long as Jase is here.”
“That’s good,” I said with a smile.
“Yeah—it’ll be good for Jase. That’s for sure!” she enthused as she went over to the partition that had been dividing Jason’s half of the room from an unused half. Once moved, it revealed a similar set-up to the one on Jason’s side.
“You can use the other hospital bed in here for tonight and until Mrs. Herveaux can be moved in. After that, we’ll bring in a cot for you on the nights you stay. It won’t be that comfortable, I’m afraid, but it is padded, and it’ll be much better than that old thing for someone of your size,” she said, pointing to a chair next to Jason’s bed.
It was clear that the chair reclined, but it would have likely been more uncomfortable than throwing a couple of blankets onto the tile floor and sleeping there.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I assured as Nurse Maggie checked the bag.
She grinned. “You’re a fast giver. The boys and girls in the lab will absolutely love you, though I bet the girls will love you more,” she added with a wink as she disengaged the bag and then covered my small needle wound with a piece of cotton before securing it to my arm with a bandage. “That can come off in a couple of hours.” She took out one of two orange juice containers she’d brought and opened one. “These will help you not to suffer any tiredness.”
I nodded in understanding and obediently drank as Nurse Maggie shed one pair of gloves for another and then checked Jason’s vitals and head bandages.
“Everything look good?” I asked as she completed her work.
“Yes. He’s really doing great—all things considered. Oh—and we do have an ethernet line you can use to access the Internet in here; it’s a little slow, but it gets the job done. I’ll bring you an access code and the cord you’ll need if you like.”
“Thanks. That would be useful,” I said with a nod.
“Well—we’ll see you in a bit,” she smiled as she collected her equipment and my blood and left.
A/N: In this chapter, I wanted to offer a different view of Eric—from someone watching him. A reader of the previous chapter pointed out that he is dealing with the situation of Jase and Sookie’s injuries and the tragedy surrounding them in a very soldierly way: assessing the situation and then jumping into action to deal with it practically. I think that the thing I find most admirable about soldiers is their ability to stay calm in the face of horrible situations. In this story, I’m trying to present Eric as “a soldier’s soldier”—meaning he fulfills all the best kinds of stereotypes we understand about soldiers, even as he deals with the fall-out of facing and living through wars. I wanted to use Amelia’s point of view to help paint this picture of Eric, and I hope that I succeeded in making him relatable to soldiers you know. Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed this chapter and the other one from this week. I should be back Tuesday with another one.
Please leave a comment if you have the time and/or inclination.
P.S. I have been working on The Engine—if you are following that story. I have had to put it onto a short pause again—hopefully just a couple of weeks though. Since The Journey Itself is pretty much done—except of last-second polishing—I intend to keep up the two-a-week posting schedule.
NOTE: I haven’t asked Seph to do character banners for this story because most of the characters are familiar and “cast” the same as their TB counterparts; however, here are some that are not. Seph did some of the banners below for previous stories. For others, I’m just putting a pic here to show you whom I’m visualizing. 🙂