That repetitious beep was really beginning to annoy me.
And I was freezing. Where had all the blankets gone?
Why didn't Vin turn off that damn alarm?
Had we gotten a new alarm clock?
"Ezra, can you open those pretty green eyes for me?" Vin sounded tired.
Well, of course, I could. My eyelids are just really heavy this morning for some reason.
And why did my chest feel like an elephant was sitting on it?
Why is it still cold?
"Please, Ezra? Please wake up, Ez'."
Why did Vin sound so upset? Had we overslept again?
I felt a drop of warmth land on my cheek then another and I realized that something was making my Vin sad. I had to find out what was wrong. Which meant I needed to open my eyes and for some reason, I was having an extremely hard time doing that.
But with a supreme effort, I forced them open briefly before they slammed shut again.
"Ezra!" Vin's voice sounded hoarse and now I knew there was really something wrong.
Could that croak be my voice?
"Stay calm, Ezra. I'm calling the nurse."
Nurse? What the hell was going on here?
But Vin was wiping my lips with something cool and wet. That felt wonderful and I tried to suck in some of the moisture. But my lips seemed as gummy as my eyes.
"Well now, Mr. Standish, how nice of you to finally wake up." The brisk voice went along with the cool fingers taking my pulse. "I called for Dr. Schoonover to come and see you, so I'd like you to try and stay awake for us. Thirsty?"
I guess that croak really was what passed for my voice.
Vin was brushing more water across my lips and the small trickle between my lips felt like a little bit of heaven to me.
I was beginning to get the picture. Something had gone wrong with an investigation and I'd ended up in the hospital again. I hate it when that happens.
"V-v-v-in?" Well, that was better.
"I'm right here, Ezra. Can you feel my hand?" His voice still didn't sound right.
"Y-y-yes." I could feel his warm fingers holding mine.
"Mr. Standish, how nice to finally meet you. My name is Dr. Schoonover and I'm glad to see that my winning streak will continue unabated for the near future." The prim voice sounded like my third grade teacher, Mr. Hathaway.
He then proceeded to put me through a series of exercises that told me faster than anything else could have that I was definitely on the disabled list.
"Very good, Mr. Standish. Is there any pain when I press here?"
Why do doctors always do that? Press a sore spot with a smile and ask you smugly if that hurts?
Of course, it bloody well hurts, I groaned.
"Good, good. Nurse, I think we'll add a little Demerol to his IV. The pain will continue for a while yet, Mr. Standish. However, even though it doesn't feel like it, you are getting better. Do you have any questions for me?"
Sadistic little man, I thought grumpily. Just you wait until I get my voice back.
Then the sleepiness crept in again and I fell back to sleep, still holding tight to Vin's hand.
This time I was determined to stay awake. Really awake, not the two-minute yawn that passed for waking in my current condition.
Forcing my eyes open, I found Vin sound asleep beside me. His hair was a tangled mess and looked like he hadn't washed it in a week. Even in his sleep, he was clenching his jaw and frowning.
Something was terribly wrong and there was no one I could ask. I didn't want to wake him from what was obviously a much-needed rest.
But my famous luck seemed to be holding when Buck stuck his head in with a worried look that changed to a relieved smile when I managed my own smile. He came on in and crossed to my other side, leaning over the bed so he could ask me how I was.
I swallowed a couple of times and he held a straw to my lips so I could drink some room temperature water. I'd never tasted anything so good.
Never letting my voice rise above a whisper, I asked my question. He looked startled but when he asked me what I remembered, I had to admit that my immediate past was a complete blank. Being in Seattle and seeing the Space Needle was the extent of my memories. I vaguely remembered being someone different but I couldn't think of my alter persona's name.
He thought for a long moment then gave me just enough information to tell me why I was in the hospital. The list of my injuries was extensive and for the first time I realized just why Vin looked so worn out. It had been ten days and I was still in ICU. The remaining bullet and its proximity to my spine worried me just a little and I was sure the Vin was worried too. Buck told me that my lover hadn't moved since he was first let in, except to shower a couple of times and eat a meal or two.
All his energy had gone into willing me to live.
I was truly blessed that this greathearted man loved me.
Buck's voice trailed off and I realized that Vin's eyes were open. Those azure blue eyes of his caught mine and the rest of the world went away. His fingers caressed mine and when he kissed each finger one at a time, I shivered at the intensity of his gaze. Then he was leaning over me and I finally had his lips on mine.
He tasted of coffee and toothpaste and something that was quintessentially Vin. I sighed and he lazily stroked his tongue between my chapped lips to touch mine. This was what had been missing, his taste and his scent and his touch. Now, I could begin to heal. So long as he loved me, I could face anything.
Even never being able to walk again.
My brain refused to look further ahead then the next few moments.
The rest of the world would just have to go away while Vin loved me.
He moved from my lips to scatter kisses over my face, his long hair stroking my starved flesh with tantalizing caresses. Buck must have left because the only sound in the room was my raspy breath and his almost silent repetition of my name.
Finally, he rested his forehead lightly against mine, sharing his breath with me. "I love you, Ezra. Don't you ever try to leave me again."
I could hardly talk above a whisper. "Love ... you ... Vin."
His eyes filled with tears but his smile was radiant when he brushed his lips across mine again. "I promise you that we will grow old together, Ezra, still just as much in love as we are right now."
"If ... not ... more." I was growing tired and he could tell that.
"Rest now, Ez'. I'll be right here when you wake up." He scattered a few more kisses down my throat to the hollow that always warmed me.
"Wash ... your ... hair ... herbs," was all I could manage before those damn eyelids of mine closed on me.
His chuckle followed me into sleep.
It felt like I'd been asleep forever.
But it wasn't as difficult to open my eyes this time. I already knew that Vin was here but he was whispering to someone else so I turned my head to see who it was.
"Josiah." I smiled at the gentle man who prayed for us so diligently.
"Son!" He beamed at me. "Thank the good Lord that you're getting better."
"Yes. Better." My energy levels were still low and my voice a mere rasp.
"Water, Ezra?" It wasn't really a question and Vin was already sliding the straw into my mouth so I could drink.
Really, we don't appreciate water the way we should. I was reminded that it was called the staff of life in the Bible. Or was that bread? As soon as I was done drinking, I'd ask Josiah. He'd know.
But closing my eyes to savor the water was a mistake.
This time I was damn well going to stay awake for more than a few moments. I set my will and opened my eyes to find Vin asleep by my side again. The window blind was open and the stars shone brightly in the black sky of night.
Vin's hair was tangle free and smelled of his shampoo. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with his scent. My chest didn't hurt quite as badly as it had before. I wondered how many more days had passed since I'd first awakened but really didn't care. I'd never felt so disinclined to do anything in my life.
This limbo between waking and sleeping was very comfortable and I wanted to enjoy it. I had the feeling that I'd have to come to terms with my wounds sooner rather than later but not now.
Not right now. Now was for star watching and listening to Vin breathe. I took another deep breath, then another and let my eyes drift shut again.
Maybe a little more sleep was called for.
The dulcet tones of Mr. Larabee woke me this time. He sounded quietly heated and Vin was giving him back as good as he got. Funny how an argument in whispers sounds funny instead of serious.
His head whipped around and he smiled down at me. "Ezra, you're awake."
"Mr. Larabee ... what?" I was not up to long conversations.
"I need a statement, Ezra. Even if it's just that you don't remember anything." He looked drawn and tense.
I could just imagine how hard he was working with one agent down and most of the bad guys dead. I had no problem with the fact that Vin and the others had probably done their lethal best.
"Space Needle. Meeting. Blond. Surfer build." I couldn't think of his name.
"Okay, how about Bob White or Sam Biltmore or Sydney Anderson?" He leaned in and waited impatiently while Vin let me drink.
And part of my brain began to work. "Sydney. Said that he had ... a sweet deal."
"Good." A smile finally replaced the scowl on his face. "Thank you, Ezra. Now, just rest and get better. We miss you." He touched Vin's arm briefly. "Take care of him, Vin."
"Always." Vin gave him a brief smile before turning his attention to me. "More water, Ezra?"
I nodded. "Please."
Vin held the water for me and let me drink my fill before setting it aside. "Love you, Ezra, more than anything."
"Me, too. How bad ... is it?" I managed to squeeze his hand a little.
"Not as bad as it could have been." He looked so tired. "They removed four bullets, ripped out your spleen, reinflated your left lung, repaired your pulmonary artery and cleaned you up."
"Last bullet." I reminded him of what the doctor had said.
He held my hand to his cheek and closed his eyes. "It's too near your spine for them to go in and get it. Dr. Schoonover says that the current inflammation around the wound site is the source of your current ... um,"
"Paralysis." I'd already tried to wiggle my toes and not seen the sheets move at all.
He nodded. "But when the inflammation goes down, he thinks that you'll have full use of your legs again."
"How long?" I knew he'd know what I meant.
"However long it takes." Vin had that stubborn look on his face that I knew meant he wouldn't listen to any other opinion.
And at the moment, I was selfish enough to take everything he was willing to give. "I'm glad you're here."
That bright smile lit his whole face. "It's just a good thing that you're so docile right now, Ez'. 'Cause I'm not moving from your side and you're not getting rid of me, no matter what."
"I should but I won't." I sighed and felt my energy begin to flag. "Love you too much, Vin."
"There's no such thing as too much when it comes to us loving each other." He still had hold of my hand but his other began to soothe little circles at my temple. "Sleep now, Ezra. Heal and get stronger."
I smiled while falling asleep.
The next day, I met Dr. Schoonover and felt that my original opinion was correct. He was a petty little man who just happened to be the reason that I was still alive. I was polite since it didn't hurt to have a doctor on my side but I reserved my options. I couldn't help but see that he considered Vin nothing more than a necessary nuisance and that prejudiced me against him.
And he was still asking me with a smile if it hurt when he pressed on every bruise I had.
So, I gritted my teeth and gave him the answers he wanted. I was flipping through my mental address book for orthopedic surgeons who might be able to give me a second opinion when I remembered Mother's second husband, a doctor in cancer research. I'd get J.D. to track him down for me. His brother had been a rather brilliant surgeon whom I had always admired.
I was exhausted when he and his entourage left. Vin was right there to rub soothing circles at my temples and give me a drink. Moving my arm took all my strength but I was determined to show some improvement every day. Odd how your goals change when you hurt everywhere. I'd made Vin promise to tell them that I didn't want further pain medication but the most they would allow is a diminution of the dose.
The pain was bearable and it gave me back a little more time with Vin and the others. Everyone stopped by at least once a day. Josiah gave me a running commentary on the hockey games that were playing. Buck kept me up on the gossip and the local betting pool. Nathan shared his research on forms of physical therapy to which I listened most intently. J.D. brought his laptop with him and looked things up for us. Mr. Larabee kept us up to date on the investigation.
But Vin and I seemed to be part of another world. I made him go home two weeks into my recovery when I'd been moved out of ICU and into a private room one floor down. I was awake most of the day and we celebrated my moving a toe with a series of kisses that had my groin twitching for the first time since I'd been shot. But neither of us had the energy to do any more than kiss.
He was exhausted with sitting by my side and sleeping half upright for days on end. So, I sent him home with Buck to sleep. I was a little restless and kept waking up to find him gone. But eventually, I fell to sleep and dreamt of us sitting on the roof of the warehouse under a simple pergola with some kind of fragrant vine growing up and over us. A hawk flew up and soared above us, drawing us both to our feet and out into the sunlight.
And when I awoke, I knew that I would walk again, eventually. But I also knew that my days as an undercover agent were over. When Vin came in looking rested, I asked him if he had dreamed anything the night before. He smiled and repeated my dream back to me. Piece by piece, he fed me a freshly baked croissant, light and buttery. I told him of my decision and he nodded.
"I always knew that this would be your last time, Ez'." He kissed my lips clean of breakfast and I smiled into the caress. Sitting back, he held my hand in his and played with my fingers. "You give up a piece of your soul each time you go undercover. I'm real selfish, Ezra, I want all of you. The Team needs your expertise and your contacts but I think that you'd be a real good teacher to the younger agents."
I thought about that. I hadn't gotten that far in my decision but I could vaguely see myself as a teacher. Perhaps I could teach others how to do what I had done. It was something to think about. In answer, I pulled him back down to my lips. Tasting Vin was always a delight but after the sterile air of ICU, he was a veritable banquet of tastes and scents.
His chuckle told me that I'd been caught out but I didn't care. I was alive and so was he. My work future might be uncertain but the rest of my life was positively copacetic. So, just for the hell of it, I moved both of my big toes. Then I did it again while Vin began gently massaging my feet, one at a time. When I got full mobility back, my muscles wouldn't be completely atrophied.
I would be a long time healing but heal I would. I had too much to live for to give up now. And the main reason for my optimism was quietly intent on rubbing my toes into ecstasy. Vin was my guardian angel and with him, I could overcome anything.
Anything at all.
End part nineteen