I had been waiting in the recovery area for about thirty minutes when Jason’s hospital bed was wheeled in by two orderlies. Dr. Lee, Dr. Fintan Brigant, and an older doctor followed—along with a male nurse I hadn’t met.
“You could definitely pass for a doctor in that,” Dr. Lee chuckled.
I simply nodded, before moving to Jason’s side.
“He’s okay?” I asked.
Dr. Brigant came to stand next to me and put his hand onto my shoulder briefly—in a comforting motion. I wondered how many people—though most of them had probably been the fathers of his patients—that he’d comforted in such a way.
“He’s a little weaker than we’d hoped he’d be when he came out of surgery, but we don’t think it will set back his overall recovery time by too much,” he assured.
“What happened? Why did his heart stop?” I asked.
The older doctor stepped forward a little; he had an air of authority that I usually noted in generals.
“His little heart got overwhelmed by everything he’s been through,” he responded. “Based on a study of Jase’s cardiac rhythms yesterday, I’d thought that the bruising around his heart would not affect the surgery, but sometimes those things are difficult to predict. We’ll keep an extra eye on him for a while, and I’ve already ordered constant cardiac studies to ensure that there’s not an underlying issue with his heart that the bruising is exacerbating—or masking.”
I noted that the doctor had an accent—not the same as I’d heard so much of in the London area when I’d gone to visit Pam, but similar—Welsh maybe?
“Dr. Brigant?” I asked.
“Yes. Where are my manners?” the distinguished-looking man stated. “I am Dr. Niall Brigant.” He nodded at me, and I nodded back.
“Thank you. Thank you for making sure he didn’t die,” I found myself saying to the doctors.
All three nodded their acknowledgment.
“The procedure to set his broken femur went perfectly,” Dr. Fintan Brigant shared. “Despite the severity of the break, I think he’ll have very limited issues with it once it’s healed.”
“And the area around his amputation?” I asked gesturing toward the leg that was not in traction.
“The wound is really clean. As I’d hoped, he’ll be able to keep his knee, and the nerves I worked on the day he was brought in are reactive. That will make adapting to his prosthetic that much easier when the time comes. With this kind of amputation, he really should be able to walk very soon after he can put weight on his broken leg.”
“That’s good,” I said, looking back as Jason.
“We’re going to keep him in here for about 24 hours just in case he needs to go back into surgery and because there is constant monitoring here,” Dr. Niall Brigant said. He pointed to the male nurse, “Ben will keep an eye on him.”
I nodded at the man, who looked to be about 35 years old. He had a kind look in his eyes—as if he’d take it personally if anything bad happened to Jason. I liked that.
“And my intern Karen will be checking on him every half hour,” Dr. Niall Brigant assured.
“Should I remove my things from his other room?” I asked.
“No. Dr. Ludwig is planning to move Mrs. Herveaux in there this afternoon if her vitals hold,” Dr. Lee informed. “And—though we made an exception and let you be in here now—you won’t be able to stay in here after 5:00 p.m.”
“What if he wakes up?” I asked, suddenly pensive.
“He won’t, given his current level of sedation,” Dr. Niall Brigant assured. “Karen will stay with him whenever possible, but after a certain time, we don’t allow visitors to stay in recovery. And I don’t make exceptions for that policy—not even for a brave Marine, Captain.”
I nodded. “Yes, Sir,” I said, accepting that his word was final. I didn’t like that particular policy, but I also knew that a lot of rules were already being broken for me, and I wasn’t going to push my luck.
Dr. Fintan Brigant patted my shoulder again, and then he and Dr. Lee left while Dr. Niall Brigant checked Jason over.
I couldn’t help but to look on in concern.
“He should have already died—about three times over,” Dr. Niall Brigant said once he was done. “You should find comfort—and strength—in the fact that he has not.”
I looked at him. “Yes—when Ms. Broadway told me about his condition—and his mother’s—I realized how lucky they were to be alive.”
Dr. Brigant nodded. “I’m sure that you have seen a lot of injuries, Son—maybe even more catastrophic trauma than I’ve seen during my whole career.”
“Yes, Sir,” I responded, knowing that he was likely accurate.
“Well—then you know that sometimes it’s not about the injury. It’s about the person underneath it. The strength of the heart—the reason why I became a doctor in the first place. The heart is what determines life or death—and not just its beating either.”
“Yes, Sir,” I repeated in agreement.
“This child and his mother are both made up of sturdy stock, Captain. Rest in that knowledge.”
“Thank you, Sir,” I said, feeling a little choked up, though my emotion did not come through in my tone. The doctor gave me a nod and then left.
Ben came over a few minutes later to offer me a chair and to apologize that I couldn’t have food or drinks in the recovery area. He also explained the process I’d need to follow if I left to use the restroom or to get some food; basically, I’d have to “scrub in” again.
As he went about checking the two other patients in the recovery area, logging information into their charts as he did so, I sat down next to Jason. Having nothing else to do, I thought about how much he resembled his father and what a good friend Bill Compton had been to me. I couldn’t help but to feel an almost overwhelming sense of thankfulness as I contemplated the gift Bill had given to me—the honor of looking over the little boy in front of me. I wondered if Bill, too, was looking out for him from the afterlife. I hoped so; Jason would need all the help he could get, adapting to the changes that were heading his way.
If he survived.
“You will,” I whispered to Jason.
My thoughts turned next toward whether or not Bill was looking over Sookie. And that led to the inevitable—reexamining what being in the same room with Sookie had made me feel.
One thing was for certain: I’d never felt such a thing before—as if my heart were beating for another person, as if some sort of thread was attaching me to her.
Pulling me to her.
Some bond that seemed beyond anything real-life had ever taught me existed.
It was wrong to feel such a thing for her. I knew it was very wrong.
Once again, I listed off the reasons for that in my head.
She was in a vulnerable condition.
As soon as she woke up and learned about her husband’s death, she would be in an even more vulnerable state.
In addition to her husband, she’d also just lost her grandmother, whom I knew had raised her from the time that her parents had died. And she’d lost Jackson Herveaux, whom I knew—from Jason—that she’d started calling “Dad.”
She had a long road of recovery ahead, and so did her son.
She would likely not want to have anything to do with a man for a long time—after having been widowed for a second time.
Even if she did ever seek out another, she likely wouldn’t want a Marine.
And—even if she could stand facing the risk of another husband dying in combat—I didn’t have much at all that I could offer her.
Materially, I had some money in the bank from the sale of my parents’ Long Beach home, though I’d used a chunk of my half of the profits to cover the real estate agent’s fees. Indeed, by the time the remaining debt on the house had been put against the profit, there hadn’t been very much for Pam or me at all. Thankfully, my sister’s natural father was very wealthy. Of course, my Captain’s pay was good and I’d not had many expenses, so I’d saved a fair amount of my salary over the years, but I knew—having once heard Bill talking to his father, William, about it myself—just how much wealth Bill had left for Sookie and Jason. It was a lot more money than they’d ever need. Moreover, given Sookie’s independence, I doubted any money I had would impress her at all.
As for security—I couldn’t offer her much there either. I was a Marine. As long as I was that, I would have to go where they sent me, for even the most stable of duty stations could be disrupted by the outbreak of a new conflict.
That left me with only myself to offer. And who was I? Beyond what I did for the Marine Corps, I didn’t feel like I had much of a “me” worked out. Oh—I tried to be a good brother to Pam. And I’d always tried to be exactly what Jason needed at the time: whether it be a friend, a father figure, or a more “distant” uncle. However—when it came down to brass tacks—there just wasn’t much to me, beyond the pretty package I knew that some women appreciated. Indeed, if anything, a smart woman should stay away from me. My therapists had determined that I was “prone to emotional disconnection,” a wonderful “asset” for a Marine.
A horrible one for a man looking to be more than just a warm body to a woman in need of a fuck.
And—anyway—even if Sookie could overcome all of my shortcomings, I had to consider the main reason why I could never be with her.
He’d asked me to watch over his son and his wife.
Not to be a father or husband.
I shook my head. If Bill was watching, he’d likely be disgusted by my thoughts about Sookie.
Moreover, both Jason and Sookie needed me to be strong for them as a caretaker. That was where my focus had to be—not on sentimental thoughts or ideas.
“I’ll be strong for you and your mother, buddy,” I said, using an endearment I’d heard a couple Marines call their sons—when I’d happened to overhear them on the phone. The word coming out of my mouth surprised me a little, making me feel a warmth I’d not experienced.
I sighed, wondering if I ought to try to avoid such endearments—and then deciding to do just that. Jason had asked me to call him “Jason”—after all.
My thoughts were interrupted when a striking-looking woman entered the area, nodding to Ben as she walked into Jason’s little cubicle.
“Hi, Captain Northman. I’m Dr. Karen Newton, Dr. Brigant’s intern,” she introduced herself. Even behind her mask, I could tell that she was smiling, and I would almost guarantee that it was a lovely one.
In fact, she really was lovely all over. She was slim, but not too slim. Her eyes were large and bluish-green, and I could tell that her hair was a vibrant red because of a few wisps that were defying her scrub cap. I couldn’t help but to appreciate how she looked, having not been around many women who were not under my command.
Despite that appreciation, however, I found myself comparing her unfavorably to Sookie.
“Dr. Newton,” I said, even as she took her own moment to assess my physique.
Her eyes sparkled with appreciation. “I see you’re wearing one of our uniforms. I really hope to see you in one of yours soon. I just love a man in uniform,” she added flirtingly.
“I was told this is the proper attire for this area of the hospital, Ma’am,” I said, making sure that my tone was respectful, but not encouraging.
Her eyes showed a moment’s disappointment before she nodded. Then she took a few minutes to look over Jason, checking the readings on the machines as well as the output in his urine bag before writing some information down.
“I’ll be the one conducting the study of Jase’s heart—just to make sure there is nothing wrong with it beyond the bruising from the accident. Dr. Brigant was thinking that Jase might have a slight heart murmur, based on some of his initial assessment, but that could be from the bruising, too.”
“What would that mean?” I asked.
“Usually nothing. Murmurs are generally asymptomatic, but they can indicate a valve problem. It’s not unheard of to develop a valve issue because of trauma. Or—it’s possible that Jase’s developed with his last growth spurt. Usually, when that’s the case, the issue resolves on its own. But we want to make sure there’s not a more serious valve problem—either caused or exacerbated by the accident.”
I nodded and went to sit down so that Dr. Newton could finish up her work.
“He’s doing well—following the surgery,” she assured when she was finished.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” I returned.
She gave me a little nod, and I could tell that she was smiling again. “I’ll see you in about half an hour, Captain,” she said before she leaving Jason’s area and passing the desk occupied by Ben. She stopped for a few minutes and used the computer. I didn’t show any reaction as Ben quietly teased her for being “shot down” when she’d tried to get with “the Marine.”
It wasn’t their faults that my hearing was better than average—despite my many years of being underneath water and then way too close to exploding bombs. I was just glad that Dr. Newton wasn’t planning to try flirting again. Indeed, she felt awkward for flirting at all when she was supposed to be focusing on Jason.
“Jason,” I said to myself as I looked at the boy.
I couldn’t fault Karen since I’d been focusing too much time thinking about Sookie and how beautiful she was, instead of keeping my focus where it belonged: on the little boy in front of me.
“I’ll try to do better, Jason,” I promised.
Ten Hours Later
I heard a muffled beeping sound—as if I were lying in a tub with my ears below water and the beeping was coming from overhead somewhere.
It was getting louder though.
My alarm clock?
The first thing I recognized after the beeping was that every inch of my body felt heavy. I tried moving, but I seemed trapped in one of those odd dreams a person can get entangled in when they are right between being awake and falling asleep.
The scary kind where it feels like you’ll be attacked or die if you don’t wake up.
But I couldn’t wake up.
Yet I was aware. And I really, really wanted to wake up.
I knew that I needed to for some reason.
“Mrs. Herveaux?” came a voice from above me. “You moved your fingers, Mrs. Herveaux,” the male voice spoke again. It sounded familiar somehow, but I couldn’t place it with my head still underwater.
“Mrs. Herveaux? Sookie!” the voice said a little more urgently. “Please,” the man seemed to beg, though more quietly. “Please be okay.”
“Okay?” I thought to myself. What did the man mean? Why wouldn’t I be okay?
“Can you squeeze my hand again?” the voice asked.
I think I tried, but I couldn’t tell if I’d done as requested.
“It’s okay if you can’t,” the voice soothed. “I’ve got you.”
I felt him squeezing my hand; the feeling was comforting.
It was like one of those lifesaver rings that was thrown from a boat to a drowning victim. Did those things even have a name? I couldn’t think of it as I seemed to be drifting away again.
“I have you and Jason both.”
The mention of my child brought me back toward the voice; I was swimming against the current now. I wanted to ask the voice what it meant. What was wrong with Jase?
But I couldn’t open my eyes.
And then I couldn’t even try.
A/N: First the good /bad news: I will have another chapter of this story for you this week, but it won’t be Friday. It will be Saturday. I have an all-day work trip on Friday, and by that I literally mean ALL DAY! I am leaving my house at 3:30 a.m. and won’t be home until about 11:00 p.m. So Saturday.
Second, the bad news. Though I am working on The Engine (kleannhouse can confirm), things are going slowly. I’ve hit a bit of a rut in my life: a series of migraines, work stress and a death in the family (it was expected because the person was quite old and “ready” to go, but it was still hard). On top of that are allergies. Anyway, I’m feeling “meh” right now, and writing while “meh” is hard for me to do. I’ve had a few PMs asking about that story, so I wanted to give you an update. I still don’t think the delay of that story will be extended, but I’m going to need a few more weeks of your patience so that when I begin again, I won’t have to keep hitting the pause button.
Finally, about this chapter. I have to say that I love this Eric. I identify with him. It took me a long time—and I still struggle—to find my own self-worth. This Eric has been put through the ringer in life, but he’s survived. He just needs some help learning the thrive. But that will come.
Anyway, thanks for continuing to read my work. I still take a lot of pleasure in writing, despite the “meh” days. Please leave a comment if you have the time and the inclination.
All the best until Saturday,
As I said before, I didn’t ask Seph for character banners especially for this story; however, I’ve used Karen as a character before, so I’m attaching that banner by Seph. Also, I’m including pics of the Niall and Ben in this story.