NOTE 1: This chapter occurs four days after the previous.
NOTE 2: “Fire watch”—in the military—refers to a sentry in a non-combat area, usually guarding something or someone of some importance.
June 29, 2010 • 7:00 p.m./1900 hours
When I became aware again, I heard the voice again.
It was reading to me.
I tried to awaken, but my eyes still wouldn’t open. After a few moments, I stopped fighting them. And I just listened instead, hoping that my ears, at least, could tell me what the hell was going on since my eyes weren’t cooperative.
The reading continued.
What was the book again? I knew that I knew it, but my mind couldn’t quite click to the title. The word “Air” popped into my mind. And I recalled magic—or something like it.
Air. Magic. Flight. I still could not place the words within a book, so I tried to place the voice.
It was so familiar—as if I’d heard it speaking for years, but speaking to someone else. But that didn’t make sense.
I thought of Bill. I hadn’t done that in a while. Oh, at times I would look at my son—at Jase—and see only Bill looking back at me. I’d loved Bill so much—but he’d died.
Was I dead?
Did angels just read through the classics in heaven? Gran would love that.
There was something about Gran. I tried peeling my eyes open to see her. I imagined them cracking open a bit, though I knew they’d not really moved. Still, I could see her. She was stooped forward, her body in an impossible position. She was dressed in a light yellow dress for our outing to the movies and dinner. She’d been intensely happy not to have to be using her cane on the outing.
My squinting eyes told me that she’d be very upset that she’d stained her dress; it had been new—a purchase made at Tara’s store just the month before.
But how had she stained it?
I could hear Gran’s voice teaching me about how to get stains out of clothing. I was ten. “For ink, you should try rubbing alcohol. For grass, a little dish soap. For chewing gum—which your brother always manages to get on his clothing—you have to warm up some white vinegar. For blood, soak in ice cold water and rub the stain out gently with your fingers. And don’t let it set; if it does, blood will likely never come out!”
Gum and blood—very different kinds of stains. But they both led me to think about my brother Jason. He’d been so handsome in his uniform, and Gran had been so proud of him. She’d made him spit out his gum before taking pictures on the day he left for his last tour of duty. His last month of life.
He’d died in a uniform. Had anyone tried to remove its stains as Gran had always successfully removed the gum from his jeans, shorts, and shirts? Even a pair of socks once!
Yes—Gran was a miracle worker when it came to getting a stain out!
I felt my eyes closing to Gran, but I tried to keep my senses open. The reading became drowned out—at first with a whirring noise. And then with a scream. Was that me screaming?
“Alcide!” I yelled, though my mouth didn’t move. I heard scraping metal—bending, breaking, tearing.
I felt pain and a sense of hotness before cold.
So cold. So cold. So cold.
“Mommy! Mommy!” came a weeping child.
“Jase!” I tried yelling, but nothing came.
Crying. Was I crying? No—the crying was from behind me.
So cold. So cold. So cold.
No—both of them.
“Boys!” I tried to yell. I couldn’t.
I was shaking, but not moving.
So cold. So cold. So cold.
The voice was still reading somewhere in the distance, and I tried to return to it—to get away from the cries and the scraping metal.
And the pain.
And the cold.
I couldn’t move.
I was frozen.
I couldn’t hear the voice anymore.
8:00 p.m./2100 hours (one hour later)
“I’ll sit with her for a while,” Nurse Indira said gently.
I shook my head.
“Your voice is raspy from all the reading, Captain,” she said.
“It’s all I can do for her,” I said, sounding rather helpless, even to my own ears.
“You should sleep a bit,” she replied. “I haven’t seen your head touch a pillow since my shift started, and that was twelve hours ago. Halleigh said you hadn’t done much better during her shift.”
“I’m used to limited sleep, Ma’am,” I assured.
She sighed. “At least take a little walk. Maybe a shower? My shift’s over, but I’m gonna stay right here till you take twenty minutes for yourself. No arguments! And—keep in mind, Captain, that my kids won’t be happy if I’m too late to tuck them in,” she added, her voice just a bit more forceful, but still steeped with compassion and the good humor she always seemed to have.
I looked away from Sookie and up at her.
“How’s Jason?” I asked.
She sighed. “Better—thank goodness. He’s still on track to get brought back to this room tomorrow morning.”
I nodded, praying that nothing else would go wrong with the little boy. Four days before, I’d heard basically the same words from Dr. Niall Brigant—that Jason would be strong enough to be moved out of recovery and into the room I was in within a few hours.
But that hadn’t happened.
I pinched the bridge of my nose.
“Okay. Twenty minutes. Thank you, Ma’am,” I agreed, rising to my feet. It took me a few extra seconds to get my hand to disengage from Sookie’s. It and my arm were a little numb, having stayed pretty much in the same spot for several hours—for a large part of several days and nights really—as I’d learned how to turn the pages of the book that I was reading with one hand.
That was better than trying to keep myself from holding her hand at all! That seemed an impossibility at this point, even though a part of me still knew that doing so was wrong. But she’d squeezed my hand before—when I’d gone to see her, following Jason’s leg surgery, to tell her that I’d been with Jason in the recovery room. I knew that she had!
Twelve hours later, she’d had a setback, and Dr. Ludwig had worried that Sookie might need to go back to surgery to relieve more pressure on her brain. But—thankfully—medicine had worked to get Sookie back on track.
Jason, however, had suffered an even bigger setback than his mother had.
I sighed. It had been while Jason was in emergency surgery that Sookie’s setback occurred. I’d thought for a while—too long—that I would lose them both.
I gave Sookie one more glance before getting up to grab my knapsack from the little desk. I’d thought, several times, about trying to write some correspondence over the past several days, but I couldn’t concentrate. After Jason took his turn for the worse, I’d been loath to do anything other than to watch either him or his mother constantly, fearing that—if I didn’t—one of them might slip away from me.
I knew I wouldn’t rest easily until they were both with me—at the same time.
I hurried into the small attached bathroom and turned on the shower. Being clean would be nice. Corporal Reynolds had been something of a godsend, making sure I had fresh clothing each day. After a day in civvies, I’d asked him to arrange for my camos to get washed. In truth, I was used to the way they felt on my body, and getting used to jeans again as I sat in hospital chairs wasn’t ideal. I’d try again once I felt like I could leave the hospital for more than the ten-minute walk I’d allowed myself each morning once Amelia arrived.
Tara had needed to eliminate her time at the hospital for the time being; unfortunately, Sookie’s and Jason’s setbacks had caused her blood pressure to spike. And she had her own child to worry about.
I stepped under the hot spray and felt myself and my body sighing with relief.
Of course, that feeling made me feel a little guilty.
But I tried to concentrate on the positives.
Yes—it had been a hard four days for Jason. In some ways, his hardest yet. The results of the heart study that Dr. Karen Newton had been conducting caused her to call in Dr. Niall Brigant at 0300 hours on the night after his leg surgery. I’d been sleeping at that time—waiting for Jason’s return to his room and waiting for his mother to be moved there as well. Sadly, neither of them had made it in there that day, though Sookie had been moved to the room about twenty-four hours after expected.
Ironically, Sookie was now in Jason’s old room, while Jason was in Sookie’s old room in the more heavily monitored section of the ICU.
“Of course, that’s better than the alternative,” I muttered as I scrubbed my blond hair—at least, what there was of it.
When I closed my eyes to rinse out the shampoo, my mind drifted back to four nights before. Because Dr. Newton called in Dr. Niall Brigant as soon as she noticed something amiss with Jason’s tests, he was at the hospital when one of the valves in Jason’s heart stopped letting blood through. In fact, according to Nurse Ben, Dr. Brigant had already been prepping Jason for surgery when it happened.
Things went quickly after that. Jason was rushed into surgery at 0358. Nurse Indira woke me up not long after. I’d been pacing a hole into the hospital floor during hour two of Jason’s valve-repair surgery, when Nurse Indira came in to tell me about Sookie’s setback.
For an hour, I’d felt glued to the floor, unable to move or think. Breathing even seemed hard.
I’d stayed in that zombie-like state until Dr. Ludwig came in and ordered me to “sit” because she was “too damned tired to look up at me.” She’d told me that the medicine she’d administered to Sookie already seemed to be helping a little, but that—if need be—they would take Sookie back to surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain faster. Dr. Ludwig had made it very clear to me that she’d never lost a patient on her operating table and that she didn’t intend to start that night. I’d felt marginally better, but was still worried about both Sookie and Jason.
And then the doctor had told me to get to my feet and to follow her. She’d taken me to Sookie’s room and instructed me to keep her company while the medicine did its job and Dr. Brigant did his.
I’d immediately taken Sookie’s hand—no longer capable of wondering if it was appropriate for me to do so or not.
And—just like that—I’d felt able to breathe again, able to wait for news about Jason without suffering a cardiac arrest of my own.
Jason’s heart had been difficult to restart after his surgery, according to Dr. Niall Brigant. But it had proven resilient. The valve repaired, Jason had been taken back to recovery, where I’d been able to see him again. I’d stayed with him until 1700 hours—when I was kicked out. And then I’d gone to Sookie’s room to sit with her. Thankfully, by then, she’d been declared “better” from her setback; moreover, by 2100 hours, she was deemed ready to be moved to Jason’s old room—despite not having woken up yet. Dr. Ludwig had told me that she’d wake up “when she was damned good and ready.”
It had been nice not having to leave Sookie that night—to stay in the room with her. I’d continued reading to her, holding her hand while I’d done so. And then I’d slept—only to be woken up by a nurse again, this time Nurse Maggie telling me that Jason had been rushed back to surgery again because his lung had collapsed!
Again, I’d taken up Sookie’s hand. Again, her touch had kept me sane.
That surgery had taken almost three hours. And—again—Jason had been moved to recovery, where I’d stayed with him until he was moved into the wing for more serious patients in the ICU—into his mother’s old room. Having no patients in recovery at the time, Nurse Ben had been so kind as to constantly monitor Jason for the first few hours after he was moved. And Dr. Newton had been in and out, still conducting studies of Jason’s heart.
I could tell that both of them had taken a shine to the little boy who just wouldn’t give up fighting for his life.
That night, I’d stayed with Jason until 2100 hours—before being shuffled out to Sookie’s room. Although I’d been afraid to sleep, I’d done so—but not on the bed. I’d kept hold of Sookie’s hand as I’d laid my head down to rest it next to her uninjured leg.
Nothing bad had happened that night, and—when Amelia arrived the next morning—I’d actually taken a short walk after checking on Jason. Amelia had stuck with Sookie during regular visiting hours, and I’d been content to stay with Jason. Once Amelia left and I was kicked out of Jason’s room again, I returned to Sookie, again reading aloud for a while before sleeping as I’d done the night before.
And that brought me back to today.
I was woken up at 0230 hours by news that Jase’s urine output was abnormal; unable to return to sleep, I stayed alert and pensive for the rest of the overnight hours—though I read to Sookie, hoping that my nerves wouldn’t transfer onto her.
At around 0400 hours, I’d thought that I felt her hand move again. I’d spoken to her—begging her to open her eyes. But she’d remained still, so I wasn’t sure if I’d felt anything or not. At 0700, Jason’s problem seemed to resolve, and I was allowed to go to his room at 0900, leaving Sookie under Amelia’s watch.
A few hours before, I’d returned to Sookie’s room—once again—after I’d needed to leave Jason’s room for the night. Amelia had left not long after that, and I’d picked up Jane Eyre and Sookie’s hand once more.
An hour before, I’d imagined that her hand had fluttered slightly when I’d loosened my grip a bit. But there had been nothing since then, and part of me worried that all of my sensing of “movement” from Sookie—at least after that initial strong hand squeeze—was just wishful thinking. The other part of me sensed—somehow—that Sookie was fighting hard to open her eyes.
Now, I was apprehensive about not being by her side if she was trying, but it wasn’t like she’d wake up at my prompting anyway. And Nurse Indira was right. I had needed a shower—badly—as I’d been leaving Jason’s or Sookie’s sides only long enough to go to the bathroom, refill my coffee cup, and occasionally eat a quick bite.
After I was done with my shower, I dressed and then returned to Sookie’s bedside—where Nurse Indira was writing in Sookie’s chart.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yes. And your twenty minutes isn’t even half over, Captain,” she said a little playfully.
I nodded in reluctant agreement and grabbed the travel coffee cup I’d asked Corporal Reynolds to get for me. After refilling the cup and making a fresh pot of coffee, I walked down the hall toward the stairs, but instead of opening that door, I went to the door that led to a small patio that the nurses used, mostly for smoking.
Though a lot of military men did pick up smoking, I never had. But I didn’t mind the residual smell. I was just grateful to be out in the night air. The warm breeze was the opposite of what Iraq had been like at night. While Iraq’s heat always quelled quite a bit as night fell, Louisiana’s air had a way of getting heavier at night—the heat refusing to leave with the sun.
The humidity would take some getting used to.
I sipped my coffee and looked at the stars to get my bearings.
And I prayed.
If all went well, Jason would return to his room in the “regular” ICU ward the next day. And he and Sookie would finally be together. I truly believed that would make a difference for them both, but I understood the rationale of not having them in the same room until the doctors were confident both would survive.
After another sip, I put the code into the door panel, returned inside, and then went back to Sookie’s room.
“Well. Eighteen minutes is better than none. Thanks for indulging me, Captain,” the kind nurse said.
“Thank you for making me,” I returned sincerely.
Nurse Indira patted my arm and then left. I picked the book back up and found where I’d left off. We’d need another before long.
I let out a little sigh, took Sookie’s hand into mine, and then read.
9:20 p.m./2220 hours (one hour later)
I’d been listening for the reader’s voice for a while, hoping he’d return. But he hadn’t. He could have been gone for a day or a year, but time didn’t matter once the voice was back.
Air. Magic. Flight.
These words went through my head again as he read.
Still, I couldn’t figure out the book.
It had something to do with love.
Lost love. Love delayed. Love restored.
I couldn’t remember, so I listened, concentrating on the voice more than the words.
The voice’s timbre was strong; it comforted me. I couldn’t help but to believe that—no matter how difficult a situation was—that voice could keep a person steady.
The voice was deep, but not too deep. Alcide’s voice was a bass—low and almost growly at times. I wondered where that voice was, but I couldn’t muster the strength to ask.
The voice speaking was richer than Alcide’s. It was a Baritone. The voice was smooth and seemed to caress the air.
The voice was expressive, moving over the words in a way that brought their meaning to life.
That brought the people within them—though I couldn’t quite catch their names—to life.
I tried to follow their example—to bring myself out of my sleep.
But I couldn’t. And then I heard a familiar passage:
“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”
Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.
“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”
“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”
“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
“For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it.”
“Jane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited: I will be still too.”
Air. Magic. Flight.
Jane. The name struck a chord. “Eyre”—not “air!” my mind exclaimed. “Jane Eyre!”
The voice was reading one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre, to me.
And the portion he’d just read was my favorite part. Jane was no bird—no magical creature. She was simply a human—a woman—who wanted to be free. She was prepared to leave behind the man she loved in order to preserve the “self” she’d developed. I’d always admired her for that.
Meanwhile, Mr. Rochester was tortured. He seemed so solitary in ways, but craved a family and love. He’d made some bad choices and was suffering. However, in knowing Jane, he recognized—right from the start—his other half.
Yes—it was a love story. The mysterious Jane had captivated Rochester at first sight. And he’d equated her with something magical in order to explain his captivation. But she wouldn’t allow him to think of her like that. She was flesh and bone—strong, but breakable. Unwilling to be broken.
Unwilling to be broken.
But not broken.
“Mrs. Herveaux?” the voice stopped reading. “Can you move your hand again?” it asked.
“Sookie! Please!” the voice changed, pleading with me.
Though I was certain I’d never heard the voice saying my name, it became even more familiar when it repeated, “Sookie.”
I squeezed the hand holding mine with all of my might—and accomplished what likely amounted to a twitch.
But it was something.
“Sookie!” the voice said excitedly.
I opened my eyes to that voice, needing to solve the riddle of whom it belonged to.
At first, I couldn’t focus—nor could I think clearly.
I’d expected brown eyes to greet me for some reason. Bill’s brown eyes with green flecks? Alcide’s chocolate eyes with hints of gold, especially when he was emotional.
But I saw blue. Sky and sea. Calm and comforting.
I focused a little more. The face I saw was so familiar. It was handsome, almost impossibly so. I thought momentarily of those movies where people lose their memories and awaken to husbands or lovers they didn’t expect—or something equally unrealistic.
The beauty I saw before me almost made me hope for such an outlandish thing. However, my brain cleared a bit of its unfocused fog, and I recognized the person in the room with me—the person holding my hand.
Captain Eric Northman?
A/N: Okay—so this chapter was hard to write, and I’ve spent a while even today adding a bit. Thus, don’t blame Kleannhouse if you see obvious editing errors. I was trying to keep it clean through tears at one point as I added some stuff about Jason (Sookie’s brother). Anyway, in addition to wanting this chapter to pull at your heart and convey Sookie’s sense of frustration and questions, I wanted to skip ahead a few days without throwing things off kilter. And I’m obviously not a medical doctor, so with a lot of things, I’m in uncharted territory. I hope that I kept things pretty clear. Here’s a breakdown of the last few days Eric narrates—just in case it was confusing:
June 25, 2010—early morning Jason is taken into surgery for his femur repair (Chapter 10) / Eric sees Sookie in-person for the first time and begins reading to her / Jase has some trouble with his heart in surgery / Tara and Amelia arrive (and Tara gives her POV—Chapter 11) / Eric goes to the recovery room to sit with Jason (Chapter 12) / After he has to leave the recovery room that evening he goes to see Sookie; she squeezes his hand as she fights for consciousness
June 26, 2010—early morning: Dr. Karen Newton notices that Jason’s heartbeat is irregular and thinks there’s a valve problem; she calls in Niall. Within an hour, Jason is in emergency surgery / Eric is told / While Jason is in surgery, Eric is told that pressure is building in Sookie’s brain; he worries he’ll lose them both / Dr. Ludwig assures Eric that medicine is helping Sookie, and he is taken to her room to sit with her as Jason’s surgery continues / After Jason’s surgery, Eric goes to the recovery room until he has to go for the night
June 27, 2010—While Sookie is finally able to be moved into the less severe wing of the ICU, Jason suffers another setback, a collapsed lung. There is another emergency surgery. / When possible, Eric is with Jason. / When he can’t be with Jason (due to visiting restrictions), he is with Sookie. He spends his first night “with her.” He’s afraid to sleep, but finally does by putting his head next to her uninjured leg on the bed.
June 28, 2010—Jason is moved into Sookie’s old ICU room in the more severe wing. Eric spends the day with him as Amelia is with Sookie. Eric returns to Sookie’s room after he has to leave Jason’s. Again, he reads to her and tries to sleep by Laying his head onto her bed.
June 29, 2010—in the predawn hours, Eric is awoken to find out that Jason’s urine output isn’t normal. He cannot sleep, so continues his reading until Amelia arrives to sit with her as he goes to Jason’s room as soon as he is able. Jason’s problem, thankfully, seems to resolve itself. / After Eric is once again kicked out of Jason’s room that evening, he goes to Sookie’s, as is his habit now. Once Amelia is gone, he takes her hand and reads to her, sensing that she might be trying to move. / Indira makes Eric take a break. / Eric recommences his reading; this time, Sookie hears him again. She finally wakes up.
Okay—so I hope this little chronology helps you out. I initially wrote a chapter (sometimes two) per day (this was my first rough draft), but the story wasn’t flowing, so I scrapped about thirty pages at one point, opting to write a new chapter (this one) to move forward the timeline but convey the needed information.
I hope you enjoyed it and will leave a comment if you have the time and/or inclination.
Oh, by the way, here is my Jase: