"Hey, Iok! Whatcha doin', man? We're all waitin' for you!"
Ioki looked up from the file in his hands and pulled a grimace. "I have to finish this, before I leave."
"Don't be a jerk," Penhall retorted. "It's your birthday! Fuller isn't gonna get on your case for turning in your paperwork a day late, when he's waiting with the rest of the gang."
"I don't know..."
"Harry!" The door banged, and yet another pair of feet came clumping up the wooden stairs. Judy Hoffs exploded into the Chapel in a swirl of coattails and outrage. "Harry Ioki, what are you still doing here?!"
"My job," he answered, somewhat testily.
"No, you're not." She reached over and flipped the file closed. "You are officially off the job and off the clock, as of now. I have been delegated by your coworkers - your very hungry coworkers - to get you over to the pizza parlor in the next five minutes. No excuses!"
He reached for the switch on his lamp and was about to flip it off, when they all heard a strange rumbling sound that made them freeze in apprehension. It seemed to come from the very walls, as though the old building were groaning on its foundations, and a light dusting of plaster sifted down on their heads. Suddenly, the lights flickered out.
Hoffs gave a soft hiss of fear, and Penhall grabbed her arm for reassurance. "What the hell was that?" he demanded.
"An earthquake," Harry whispered.
"That's impossible!" Hoffs protested. "We've never had earthqu..."
"I know an earthquake when I feel it."
"Oh, God. I've got a bad feeling about this!"
"Don't panic, Jude," Penhall urged. "It couldn't have been a very big one, and the Chapel is still standing. Let me get my flashlight, and we'll clear outta here."
He made his way carefully through the pitch dark room, toward his desk. After a moment of fumbling and muttering, the others saw a bright beam stab through the darkness and illuminate Penhall's face. He grinned at them. "All set!"
As if triggered by his words, the floor began to shudder again. Hoffs screamed.
"Get under cover!" Ioki shouted, but she was too paralyzed by fear to react.
The rumbling once more filled the air, growing louder and louder, accompanied by a horrible creaking and smashing. The floor pitched wildly, throwing Hoffs to her knees. She huddled against the buckling wooden planks, listening to the world convulse around her. It wasn't stopping this time. The heaving and shuddering only grew more violent, while pieces of the ceiling crashed down all around her. She began muttering a prayer under her breath.
With a protesting howl, one of the building's main support beams tore loose from its mountings. The floor tilted crazily, and heavy objects began sliding ominously toward some unseen vortex in the middle of the room. Hoffs' feet lost purchase on the angled surface, and she landed flat on her stomach, skidding toward the unseen hole.
"No! Doug! Harry! Help me!"
A hand closed around her wrist, stopping her slide, and Ioki's voice reached her over the horrible cacophony. "I've got you!"
And still the earth moved. It seemed to go on for a lifetime - fear stretching the seconds into eternity - with no respite from the destruction. Another beam came down, along with most of the decorative wooden screens that adorned the ceiling. A huge chunk of wood fell not three feet from Hoffs, bringing another scream of pure terror from her. The floor sagged and split, and she felt open air under her feet. Her body went into free fall.
"Oh, God! Harry!"
"Hold on, Jude!"
Hoffs dangled over emptiness, nothing between her and a plunge into darkness but the clasp of her partner's fingers around her wrist. "Don't let go! Please!"
Ioki's answer was lost in the sound of splitting wood. The floor above Hoffs' head folded in on itself, her partner's hand was torn loose from hers, and her body plummeted downward. She heard the ominous sound of bricks and wood being pulverized, even as she felt the rain of debris all around her and knew that she was about to be buried alive. Then her right foot landed on something solid, and the last thing she heard was the sound of her own bone snapping. Pain exploded in her head, spinning her into blackness.
*** *** ***
Captain Fuller crawled out from under the table and staggered to his feet, calling, "Hanson? Blowfish?"
"Down here, Coach." Hanson's pale face peered at him from beneath a nearby table.
"Are you two all right?"
"Does motion sickness count?" Hanson scrambled out, followed closely by Sal. Both men looked haggard in the faint moonlight pouring through the remains of the window. Tom's eyes had grown so big that they seemed to swallow his entire face. He looked around at the wreckage of what had once been a friendly little restaurant in stunned silence.
Sal muttered, "Oh, man."
Shaking off his own paralytic shock, Fuller said in a bracing tone, "Come on, guys, we have work to do. Tom, you start getting all these people sorted out. Check for injuries and make sure everyone is accounted for. Sal, I need you to shut off the gas main, then go through the kitchen and turn off everything. If either of you find the manager, send him to me. I'm going to see how badly the building is damaged, in case we need to evacuate..."
"Captain." Hanson gripped his arm urgently, halting his move to leave. "What about the Chapel?"
Fuller's face tightened. "We have responsibilities here."
"What if Penhall and the others were inside?"
"There's no way that old heap stood up to a quake this size," Blowfish said.
"Then we'd better pray they weren't there," Fuller snapped, covering his fear with anger, "because we can't abandon a building full of civilians to go looking for them."
Hanson turned away, his mouth pressed into a hard, rebellious line. He did not argue, but the smoldering look in his eyes told Fuller that he neither agreed with his decision nor accepted it easily. Fuller couldn't blame him. He felt exactly the same way.
"As soon as we're done here, we'll go," he assured the two scowling young men, "so let's get busy."
*** *** ***
"Jude? Jude, are you all right?"
A bright beam of light stabbed into Hoffs' eyes, making her groan and twist away. But the familiar voice kept calling her, refusing to let her sink back into unconsciousness. She dragged her eyes open again to find Doug Penhall bending over her in concern.
He gave a sigh of relief and sat back on his heels. "You scared me."
"Where...where are we?"
"Near as I can figure, we're in the church basement, with most of the building piled on top of us."
She let her eyes stray up to the buckled and split piece of floor that served as a ceiling, hanging only a few feet above their heads, and groaned again. Doug played the flashlight beam around, letting her see that they were trapped in a veritable maze of fallen masonry, broken beams, exposed pipes and shattered furniture. She couldn't see more than six feet in any direction, without encountering another wall of rubble.
"How are we going to get out?" she asked, in a terrified whisper.
Penhall took a long, long time to answer. "I don't know. I think I know basically where the stairs are, but..."
"Don't say it. Doug, I think my leg is broken."
Penhall turned the light on her legs for a moment, then ground out, "I'm damned well sure it is."
She didn't ask him how he knew.
He put on a brisk, businesslike manner and once more began playing the light around. "First, I gotta find Ioki, then I gotta find those stairs. Between the two of us, we'll get 'em clear." He favored Hoffs with a pale imitation of his usual smile. "We'll get you outta this, Beautiful. Count on it."
But mention of her partner had brought Hoffs' fear back in full force. He'd been right above her when she fell! He should be close by! But where?
"Harry?" she called, in a cracked, breathless voice. "Harry?!"
They both heard the sound of rubble shifting, then a familiar voice answered, "I'm over here, Jude!"
"Where? I can't see you!"
"I don't know where. It's dark." Ioki sounded irritated, which served to calm most of Hoffs' fears.
"Are you okay?"
"I'll be all right, once we get out of this place!"
"Keep talking, would you Iok?" Penhall bellowed. "I'll follow your voice!"
Ioki obediently began talking, mostly about how he had planned to spend his birthday before the earthquake so rudely interrupted it, while Penhall used his flashlight to locate the source of the sound. He eventually traced Ioki to a pile of rubble six or eight feet away. It formed a rough wall, but it did not quite reach the ceiling. A gap of about a foot separated the rubble from the floorboards above. Penhall crawled over to the pile and shone his light at the hole.
"Can you see the light, Harry?"
"You think you can fit through that hole?"
"I gotta take the light away, man."
"Where are you going?"
"To look for a way out. I think I know which way we have to go, and I want to do some exploring before..."
He broke off that thought, but Harry understood him clearly enough. Unlike Hoffs and Penhall, he had experience with earthquakes, and he knew that the aftershocks could come at any time. The faster they got themselves out of this basement, the better chance they stood of surviving. Penhall was only showing good sense.
"It's okay. I can climb through in the dark. Be careful, Doug!"
"You betcha. Listen, Iok, when you get over here stick close to Judy. She's hurt, and I don't want her left alone."
"Thanks, man. I'll be back as fast as I can." With that, he turned away from the pile and made his way over to Hoffs. "I'm gonna look for a way out. Harry's on his way, so you just hang tight. Okay?"
"Okay," she answered in a whisper. "Hurry back...please!"
"As fast as I can," he repeated. Then he gave her shoulder a quick squeeze and headed into the maze, leaving an ominous, airless darkness in his wake.
Hoffs stayed quiet for a few minutes, letting the noises Harry made as he climbed around in the rubble act as a reassurance and anchor to her. She didn't want to distract him, and she didn't want to betray her fear. But it seemed to her overcharged senses as though he were taking a ridiculously long time to get here.
"I'm coming, Jude."
Hoffs heard the sound of feet scrabbling over loose masonry, but she couldn't tell from the noises what, exactly, was happening. Ioki swore softly, and something heavy shifted against the rubble. Then quiet.
"Harry? Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Hang on..."
"What's wrong?" Her voice had an edge of panic to it that she could not control.
"It's a tight fit." He muttered something else, apparently aimed at the detritus blocking his path, followed by the distinct sound of tearing fabric. "Rats."
"I hope that was your clothing," Hoffs called, "not something that can't be mended!"
Ioki laughed, humorlessly. "Be there in a minute."
From the sounds that reached her, Hoffs guessed that he was sliding down the pile and bringing a fair amount of it with him. She instinctively covered her head with her arms and screwed her eyes shut against a fresh cloud of dust. Suddenly, a new and ominous noise reached her - the clink of stone striking metal.
Hoffs lifted her head, searching for the source of the noise, just as an evil hissing filled the air. There was a strange popping sound, the hiss became a howl, and Ioki gave a startled gasp. In the next instant, his body hit the ground with a solid thud, and he let out a nerve-shattering cry of pain that tore an echoing cry from Hoffs.
"Harry?!" She twisted around to drag herself over the cluttered floor, oblivious to the flare of agony in her leg. "Harry, answer me!!"
He did not answer, but she had no trouble locating him in the total darkness. His every breath was a ragged moan that set her teeth on edge and brought tears to her eyes. It took her frustrating moments to navigate the distance between them, during which she alternately called to her partner and screamed for Penhall at the top of her lungs. As she drew closer to Ioki, she could feel a hot mist in the air, collecting on her skin and turning the dust to slime. Then she understood. The steam pipe had burst.
At last, she reached her partner where he lay at the base of the rubble heap. Her frantic hand brushed his shoulder, then his hair. "Talk to me, Harry, please! Please!! Damn it, Harry! Don't do this to me!"
She fastened her hands in the front of his jacket and pulled with a strength born of terror. Ioki's deadweight shifted toward her, and then he was lying across her lap, clutched tightly in her arms so that she could feel him shuddering convulsively. Her hold on him tightened, and she began to sob in combined fear and pain.
"Oh, God," she moaned.
The call came from a distance, off to her right. She turned to see the beam of the flashlight bouncing from point to point, as Penhall scrambled and crawled through an obstacle course of fallen beams to reach her.
"Hoffs!" he called again, frantically. "Ioki!"
"Doug, help me!!"
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" The light moved closer with agonizing slowness.
Hoffs buried her face in Ioki's hair and sobbed, "He's coming. Hold on, Harry."
Penhall finally crossed the last barrier that separated him from his teammates. He crawled on hands and knees toward the sound of Hoffs' voice, following her tearful cries till the flashlight beam touched her face. At the sight of her, he swore viciously and almost threw himself across the last few yards of floor.
"God, Jude, what happened?! I heard..." He broke off, unwilling to voice exactly what he had heard, but Hoffs' agonized moan told him that she knew what had brought him back so precipitously. His flashlight moved over her, to freeze on the figure huddled against her.
Ioki lay with his head in the crook of her arm and his hands covering his face. In the harsh light, the stain of blood on his fingers showed glaringly red. His teeth were clenched in an effort to stifle the cries that rose to choke him and maintain some vestige of control, but his entire body shook in reaction, and his breath came in ragged sobs.
For a hideous moment, neither of his teammates moved or spoke. Then Penhall broke the stasis by offering the flashlight to Hoffs and whispering, gently, "Hold this, Jude."
She obediently disentangled the fingers of her left hand from Ioki's jacket and took the flashlight.
When Penhall clasped Ioki's wrists to pull his hands away, Ioki reacted violently. He tried to wrench away from Penhall, turning his face into Hoffs' shoulder and crying, "No!"
Penhall tightened his grip. Slowly but irresistibly, he forced the other man's hands down and away from his face. Ioki fought him with desperate strength, but Penhall had the advantage of weight, leverage and pure muscle.
With Ioki's hands pinned to his midriff, Penhall leaned close to whisper, "It's okay, pal. It's just me."
Ioki made another futile attempt to break away, then tilted his head back and sobbed, "No...god, it hurts it hurts it hurts... Doug! Doug!"
"Shh. I'm right here. I've just...I've gotta see what you did to yourself, Iok. You've gotta hold still! Come on, man. Hold still...hold still...It's okay. Shh." He lifted his head and hissed at Judy, "The light! Hurry!"
She gave a start, as she realized that the flashlight was shining uselessly toward the ceiling. Struggling to control the shaking in her hands, she angled the beam to fall on her partner's face. As the light touched him, both she and Penhall gave simultaneous gasps of pain.
"What the hell happened?" Doug choked out.
"The pipe burst." Her voice broke on a sob.
"It looks like...burns."
"Steam burns. But where is the blood coming from?"
"He's torn 'em open."
"No...Oh, God, Doug! There's metal in some of those cuts!"
Before Penhall could answer her, Ioki tore his hands free and lifted them toward his face. Penhall snatched at his wrists again, shouting, "No! Harry, don't!"
With another shattering cry, Ioki twisted away from him so violently that he rolled out of Hoffs' grip and pitched onto the floor.
"Harry!" Judy screamed.
Doug made a grab for him but missed, and he landed hard, face down in a jagged, filthy pile of rubble.
"Keep the light on him!" Penhall shouted, as Hoffs let the beam wander again.
Penhall bent over his teammate and caught his shoulders. When he tried to turn him over, Ioki resisted. "Let me help, Iok. Please." Once again, Penhall's superior strength prevailed, and he lifted the smaller man's body with surprising gentleness.
Hoffs waited until Penhall had him cradled securely in his arms, then she slid closer to the two men and shone the light on Harry's face. This time, Ioki made no attempt to fight Penhall's restraint. He lay brokenly against the larger man, while bouts of vicious shivering tore through him every few seconds. His eyes were closed, and oddly dark tears trickled from beneath his lashes. A soft, chilling moan rose in his throat, but he clenched his teeth and ruthlessly swallowed the agonized sound.
Judy rested her free hand on his rumpled, dust-caked hair. "You don't have to fight it, Harry," she whispered. "Scream, if you need to."
His little sob of laughter told her that he had heard, but he only turned his head away and clenched his teeth a little more tightly.
"Nobody's gonna hear but us, and we'll understand."
"If I start s-screaming," Ioki whispered into Penhall's shoulder, "I'm never gonna s...ngh!... stop."
She leaned over to rest her cheek against his forehead for a moment, and murmured, "It's okay, sweetie."
"No, it... Ungh! ...hurts, Jude. It hurts."
"I know. I'm sorry."
His entire body stiffened, as a gasp of pain was wrenched out of him. He took a ragged breath, let it out on a moan of pure agony, then began to cry in earnest.
Penhall gathered him up, cradling his shaking shoulders in one arm and supporting his head with the other hand, and held his friend tightly against his own body in a protective, comforting gesture.
"Happy Birthday, pal," he muttered, in a voice rough with pain.
*** *** ***
Tom Hanson scrambled through the wreckage, the knot in his stomach growing tighter with every minute that passed. He forced himself to maintain control, to move with care over the treacherous ground, while a panicked voice in the back of his mind screamed at him to hurry...hurry... But he would do no one any good, if he put a foot wrong and found himself up to his armpits in broken floorboards. Fighting down his panic, he continued picking his way around what remained of the Chapel, moving slowly but inexorably toward the parking lot in the rear.
The violent north-south motion of the quake had dumped large quantities of rubble into the narrow driveway that had once separated the old church from the warehouse next door. The warehouse still stood - barely - but the driveway was now nearly indistinguishable from the church itself, being nothing but a mountain of shattered bricks and torn beams. Hanson chose it as route to the back of the building, because it had solid pavement under it, instead of a basement and a wrecked foundation. He didn't relish getting this close to the sagging, drunken side of the warehouse, but he preferred it to the north end of the lot, where Blowfish hunted for the gas main in the shadow of the Chapel's single remaining wall. That teetering stack of bricks and mortar only stayed vertical because it had fallen against the building immediately beside it, and with aftershocks coming every few minutes, it could crumble at any time.
Another tremor hit, and Hanson instinctively dropped to his knees, his arms up to shield his head. The shaking stopped as quickly as it had started, but it took Tom a few minutes to recover his breath and his nerve. The loose bricks shifted beneath his boots, as he staggered to his feet again. A quick glance at the north wall, to reassure himself that it was still intact, a swipe of his sweating palms against his pant legs, then he set off again.
Tom breathed a sigh of relief, as his feet touched asphalt and he found himself in the relatively clear space of the parking lot. Thanks to the direction of the ground's movement, little rubble had fallen here. The exterior staircase now lay on the pavement, with a pile of masonry around it, but the bulk of the wall had collapsed inward.
In the fitful moonlight, Hanson could navigate the parking lot fairly easily. He skirted around the truncated remains of the back wall, hopped over a piece of the stairway, and came to a dead stop. There, directly in front of him, was Doug Penhall's truck. He simply stared at it for a long, slow minute, unable to process what he saw or come to grips with the implications of it. Then he tore his gaze away and looked around for the other two cars, praying that one of them, at least, would be missing. Maybe then he could hold onto the slim hope that his friends had gotten out of the building alive. The sight of the Deuce and Hoffs' red Volkswagen, parked side-by-side and half buried under fallen bricks, brought a murmur of pain from him.
"Captain!" he shouted. "They're here!"
The next few hours blurred together into a nightmare. As the rain clouds thickened and the moonlight faded, the three men climbed ceaselessly through the rubble, hunting for some sign of their missing friends and struggling not to let their fear get the better of them. Fuller managed to reach the dispatcher on his mobile phone, but any hope that emergency crews would arrive in time to help quickly died. They were on their own, and they had nothing but their bare hands and a couple of flashlights to work with. But none of them would admit that their friends were dead or that the building had defeated them. They would search until they had turned over every last brick.
Tom lay flat on a ragged section of roofing and shone his flashlight into a large hole, oblivious to the rain that ran down his collar and plastered the hair to his forehead. He'd located the stump of a main support beam jutting out of the wreckage, and with a few minutes' work, had uncovered a gap in the topmost layer of debris. For the first time in this endless, agonizing night, he got a glimpse into the carcass of the old building.
After a few moments of playing his flashlight beam around, he lifted his head and called, "Captain! Come take a look at this!"
Fuller came scrambling over to him, with Blowfish hard on his heels. "Did you find something?" Fuller demanded.
"Sort of. Look."
The captain hesitated for a moment, reluctant to peer into that black opening. Then Tom shot him an impatient glance, and he pushed aside his morbid fears. "What is it?"
"This hole goes right down to the basement, and look. There's the coke machine lying down there."
"How did it get into the basement?" Blowfish asked. "That's two stories down from the Chapel."
"Fell through the hole?" Hanson offered.
Fuller nodded thoughtfully. "If that beam ripped a hole in the floor, anything could have fallen through. Or anyone." His eyes met Hanson's squarely, and he saw a gleam of hope in their brown depths. "The basement has solid concrete walls. If they held together..."
"...and if they propped up some of the collapsed floors..." the younger man murmured.
"...and if any of them actually made it down there alive... That's an awful lot of ifs, Tom."
"But it's a chance! Some kind of chance!" Hanson jumped to his feet and started down the rubble heap toward the parking lot. "And it gives us a place to start!"
Fuller hesitated for one more second, then sighed and stood up. Offering a hand to Sal, he said, tiredly, "Let's get started clearing those stairs."
* * *
Doug let his head fall back against the pile of debris behind him and closed his eyes in exhaustion. He ached in every bone and muscle, his throat felt as though it had been gone over with a rasp, and every time the ground twitched he thought the pounding of his heart would burst his ribcage, but in spite of his physical and mental misery, all he wanted to do was sleep. A pleasant numbness began creeping into his brain, dulling the edge of his fear. His breathing slowed. His muscles went slack. He slipped into a light doze. And then an aftershock hit.
The movement jerked him roughly awake and set his pulse racing. He automatically tightened his hold on the still body on his arms, hunching over to protect his teammate from the debris that sifted down on them, and muttered a quick, useless prayer - about the hundredth he'd offered that night. When the tremor stopped, Doug straightened up and brushed some of the powdered brick off of his head and shoulders.
Bending close to Ioki, he murmured, "It's cool, Harry. Shaking's stopped." Ioki gave no sign that he heard. He had not reacted to the aftershock, which made Penhall suspect that he'd passed out again, but it was hard to tell. He had not moved or spoken in so many hours, even when obviously awake and in pain, that Penhall couldn't be sure whether he was completely unconscious or just too out of it to notice anymore.
At least he knew that Hoffs wasn't hurting. For an interminable time, he had struggled to reassure her, while she tossed and muttered in agony, called for him, demanded light to see his face, and insisted that he keep talking. He could do nothing about her thirst, cold or pain, but he could keep her from feeling alone. And that had seemed to be all she really wanted. But finally, shock and blood loss had gotten the better of her, and she had sunk beyond the reach of her body's torment.
Doug groped for his flashlight, switched it on, and turned the beam on Hoffs' unconscious form. She lay close beside him, half curled on her side with his flannel shirt folded under her head as a pillow and his biker jacket tucked around her for warmth. The jacket also covered her head, forming a shield for her face, and it was now coated with a thick layer of debris. Doug flipped it back to get a good look at her. Her breathing was shallow and irregular, her skin clammy, her lips bloodless. Even with his limited medical knowledge, Penhall could tell that she was running out of time.
As he adjusted the jacket again and switched off the light, Penhall felt his own loneliness rise to choke him, tinged with claustrophobic panic. He wished that Ioki would wake up and talk to him - he needed another voice, another presence, to hold back the suffocating darkness - but Harry didn't want to cope with reality anymore than Doug did, and he had a better excuse for avoiding it. Doug would just have to stick this one out alone.
Settling himself back against the pile of rubble, and checking to be sure Ioki's head still rested securely in the hollow of his shoulder, Penhall closed his eyes. Exhaustion got the better of him, in spite of his fear, and he began to drift off in the middle of composing a letter to the Chief of Police, complaining about the lousy working conditions at the Chapel.
Faint, troubling noises disturbed Doug's sleep, but he couldn't tell if they were real or part of his uneasy dreams. He heard the distant wail of sirens, muffled shouts, strange knockings and bangings. At one point, he imagined he heard Tom Hanson's voice calling him, but his traumatized, distrustful mind refused to believe it, and he slept on. Even when he heard the scrape of booted feet on concrete, he tried to ignore it. It was just a trick of the dying building, a phantom noise sent to torment him with false hopes. He would not be fooled.
The blessedly familiar voice rang clear and unmistakable in his ears. As his brain limped back to consciousness, drawn by his partner's call, a dazzling light fell on his closed eyelids.
"Doug, wake up!"
A hand touched his face, then moved to the pulse point beneath his jaw. He heard a sob of relief. Very slowly, he dragged his eyes open, squinting against the light. And there, right in front of his eyes, was the most amazing and beautiful sight Doug had ever seen in his life...Tom Hanson.
As their eyes met, Tom blinked back sudden tears. "Hey, Partner."
"Hey, Tom," Doug whispered. "I knew you'd come."
*** *** ***
Penhall sat in the tiny room, listening to the hypnotic beep of the monitors and watching Hoffs sleep. He could barely keep his eyes open, but he refused to go back to his own room for the night. He needed to be close to his teammate, where he could remind himself that he was not alone. It seemed, no matter how warm the room or soft the bed, no matter how many times he told himself that he was safe in the hospital and not trapped in the smothering darkness beneath a decimated building, that he could not shake that cold, gut-wrenching dread. He needed to be within touching distance of his injured friend, just as he had through the hours in the basement, only now it was for his sanity, not hers.
Help had almost come too late for Judy. By the time the paramedics had lifted her from the rubble, she was more dead than alive. And Tom's descriptions of what had gone on in the ambulance made Doug's blood run cold with fear. But she had made it here alive, and she had come through surgery. And Doug intended to make sure that she did not wake up in this place alone.
Footsteps sounded on the linoleum. Penhall glanced up to find Fuller and Hanson standing just inside the door, dressed in standard blue uniforms. Doug raised his eyebrows at them.
"We're on duty," Fuller explained. "We just stopped by to check on you."
"In your blues?"
"Everybody's in blues, right now. They need any cop who can walk out on the streets."
"Does that include me?"
"No." Fuller's face softened. He could see the exhaustion and stress in Penhall's face, and he understood the compulsion that kept him here, beside Hoffs, when he so patently belonged in a hospital bed of his own. "I've arranged for you to stay here for a couple of days, at least, for observation. When they release you, go see Dr. Elliott, the Department psychiatrist."
Penhall's eyes widened. "How come?"
"Briody and I agree that the best thing for you is to stick close to Hoffs and Ioki, right now. They need somebody they can rely on for moral support, and you need to be there for them. I've briefed Elliott, and he's agreed to keep you off duty 'til both of you feel you're ready to go back."
"So, it goes on my record that I'm bonkers?"
"No, it goes on your record that you're suffering from shock, in the wake of your ordeal during the quake. That's perfectly believable...and probably true."
"Captain, why are you...why are you going to so much trouble to keep me off the streets?"
"Because you need the rest. I don't want you out there, in the middle of all that chaos, after what you've been through. And because I don't want Judy and Harry left alone."
Penhall blinked back unwelcome tears. Maybe the captain was right, and he was suffering some kind of stress reaction. It seemed he couldn't control his emotions anymore. "Have you been talking to the doctors?"
He reached out to touch Judy's arm with gentle fingers. "How bad is it?"
"It looks like they're both going to make it. I think we need to be grateful for that and not worry about the rest."
"Tell me the truth, Cap'n."
Fuller sighed. "She really did a job on her leg, both in the fall and afterward, and they don't know if they can reconstruct it properly. She was too weak for them to keep her in surgery any longer than necessary. When she's stronger, they'll try again, but there are no guarantees."
"Which means what?"
"She could lose the use of her leg."
"Aww, man..." Penhall ducked his head to hide fresh tears from his captain.
"Don't assume the worst, Penhall. She may come through this just fine."
"I shouldn't have left her," he mumbled into his sleeve, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. "I shoulda stayed right with her, made sure she didn't hurt herself."
"Doug." Hanson moved up to his friend's side and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "Take it easy."
"I left them. I thought I could find a way out, so I took the light and I left...God, Tom, I should never have left them like that!"
"It wasn't your fault."
"She wouldn't have tried to move around, if I'd been there. And Harry..." He broke off and pressed his lips together, waging a silent battle with himself for control. When he could trust his voice again, he asked, without lifting his head, "Is he out of surgery?"
"Yes." Tom's hand tightened on his shoulder, and Doug knew that his partner was anticipating his next words. When none came, Tom murmured, "They wouldn't let us see him. He's still under the anesthetic."
Doug nodded, still silent. He could feel the tension gathering in the room, as both Hanson and Fuller wondered at his reticence and waited on eggshells for him to ask the inevitable question. But Doug didn't need to ask. He already knew. He'd been in that basement with Harry, held him tight against the pain for interminable hours, lifted him onto the stretcher himself, ridden next to him in the ambulance, cradled his head between his hands when he fought the paramedics and whispered reassurances in his ear to calm his panic. There was absolutely nothing his captain or his partner could tell Doug that he had not already seen with his own eyes. And the last thing he wanted - for himself or for them - was to put them through the strain of telling him what he already knew.
When the silence had dragged on to the point of pain, Fuller cleared his throat to break it. "Penhall..." he ventured, in a rasping voice.
Doug's head came up. He turned a somber gaze on Fuller and said, before the other man could continue, "I'll go check on 'im, soon as I'm sure Jude is okay."
"They won't let you in his room."
"Yeah, they will. Don't worry about Ioki, guys. I'll handle his doctors, and I'll be there when he wakes up. You can count on me."
"I know we can. Listen, Doug," Fuller sucked in an unsteady breath and blurted out, "Harry was hurt a lot worse than we thought. You need to be prepared."
Penhall fixed a level stare on him, saying nothing.
After a tense moment, Fuller whispered, "You know, don't you?"
Doug simply repeated his soft assurance. "Don't worry about Ioki." At their mutely disbelieving looks, he added, "I'll look after him. Trust me."
Penhall waited until his colleagues were gone, until he could face the doctors alone and on his own terms, then he left Hoffs' room and went in search of Ioki. He found him nearby, in another part of the ICU that was more private than Judy's curtained enclosure. They had put him in an isolation room, with glass walls that shut out noise and stray germs but allowed the staff to see in. To Doug, it looked like an enormous aquarium. He instantly hated it and told the doctor so, in no uncertain terms.
Dr. Travis just smiled and told him to be patient. "It should only be for a day - two at the most."
"Why's he up here, anyway? I thought he wasn't in any danger."
"No immediate danger, but injuries like his are complicated, both physically and emotionally. We need to monitor him for infection, and we need to get an accurate assessment of his mental state. Until we're sure he's out of the woods on both counts, he will be under constant observation."
"I guess that makes sense. It just doesn't seem...fair."
Travis quirked a half smile at him. "I know what you mean."
Penhall turned to gaze through the glass door at his teammate, and he felt his heart turn over. Harry looked so small and fragile, with all the tubes and tape and machines everywhere, and his hands lying still on the blanket like that - palm up, the fingers curled slightly, like a sleeping child's. One stray lock of hair fell over his forehead and trailed across the heavy, bloodstained dressings that covered his eyes. Doug had an overwhelming urge to push it back into place, to smooth the rumpled strands into some kind of order, just so he'd look more like himself...not so young...so broken...lying against that stark white pillow with his incredibly black hair all in a mess around his face...the cuts and burns looking so fiercely painful...and the bandages...
Doug felt tears sliding down his cheeks, but he made no move to wipe them away. He was only vaguely aware of the doctor still beside him and didn't give a damn what the other man thought of his emotional display. All he wanted, at that moment, was to see Harry's face - all of it - without any gauze or tape in the way. Maybe then he wouldn't feel so lost, as if someone had taken away his friend and left this strange, battered, broken child in his place. He needed Harry back, just as he needed Judy close by him, and he didn't care how badly damaged his face was if he could only see it.
He knew what those bandages covered. He'd seen the bloody tears running from beneath Harry's lashes...and worse. Nothing could shock him. But this strangeness, this sense of loss and separation, brought his panic bubbling to the surface again. He took a shaking breath and pressed his palms flat against the glass.
In a voice that barely carried past his own lips, he whispered, "I'm comin', Iok. I'll be there, I promise, you just gotta trust me."
* * *
"Harry? Can you hear me? It's Doug." He reached over the chrome rail and touched Harry's right hand, where it lay on the blanket. "C'mon, pal. It's okay to wake up."
Harry's fingers closed loosely around Doug's, bringing a wide smile to the cop's tired, lined face. With his free hand, Doug brushed that annoying lock of hair out of the way, then rested his hand on Ioki's head and murmured, "Thanks, man."
Penhall glanced up as Dr. Travis entered the room. The doctor moved around to the far side of the bed where all the machinery stood, with the duty nurse on his heels, and started fiddling with things. Doug watched him only long enough to assure himself that Travis didn't intend to do anything stupid - like open his mouth - then he turned his attention back to his half-conscious friend.
"I been waiting for you to wake up," he said, mostly to mask the sound of Travis' movements. "It's kinda lonely around here, with nobody to talk to."
Ioki stirred slightly, and his clasp on Doug's hand tightened.
Doug continued, in his most cajoling tone, "Jude's asleep, and you're asleep, and Fuller and Hanson are off playing cop. I don't even have a pack of cards to keep me busy."
Harry turned to orient on his voice, then he smiled fractionally and whispered, in a slurred, sleepy, disconnected way, "Doug. You're here."
"In the flesh. You take it easy, man, and don't try to talk."
"...thought you wanted s...someone to talk..." His words faded out, as though he had fallen asleep in the middle of his sentence. His hand went slack.
Penhall shot a startled look at Travis. "Don't worry," the doctor murmured, "he's bound to drift in and out a bit. He's still mostly anesthetized."
Dr. Travis' prediction proved true, and Harry spent the next hour or so fading back and forth between waking and sleeping, never completely one or the other. Each time he woke up, he'd greet Penhall in that fuzzy, cheerful way, not remembering that he'd spoken to him just a few minutes before. Then, after having time to do no more than mumble a few words to his teammate, he'd drift off again.
Doug found it oddly comforting. Harry was obviously feeling no pain and was glad to have him there. The trusting way he held Doug's hand and smiled at him, when he realized yet again that his friend was there, brought all of Penhall's protective instincts to the fore. He wished that this period of sleepy acceptance didn't have to end - that Harry didn't have to come back to ugly reality - until Doug had found a way to make it all go away.
Make it all go away...that was a hell of a pipe dream, a hell of a goal to set for himself. 'You never learn, do you?' he thought, bitterly. 'Always gotta be the hero! Always gotta screw it up somehow. That's what got you into this mess to start with. Running off to save the day, instead of lookin' after your buddies. Now one of 'em's crippled, and the other one's...never gonna forgive you.'
Harry stirred again and gave a small sigh that had an echo of pain in it. This time, he didn't wait for Penhall to speak first, but called, softly, "Doug?"
The crimson and white gaze tracked over to his face, and Doug knew, with a sudden lurch of fear, that Harry was really awake this time. "I thought...you'd gone."
"I'm not going anywhere." Penhall reached up to smooth the midnight hair back from Ioki's forehead. "Just relax." After another moment of watching his friend's face, he asked, "You need somethin' for the pain?"
"Ngh...no. Doug, we're...we're in the hospital, aren't we?"
"Judy, too. She's right down the hall."
Harry took a moment to digest this news, while the pain lines in his face deepened and his hold on Doug's hand grew more desperate. Doug was trying to come up with something to say, to break the silence, when Harry drew in a long, ragged breath and whispered, "I remember...some of it."
"Shh. Don't, okay? Just...let it go for now."
"Is it as bad as I remember?"
Penhall couldn't quite smother a soft grunt of pain. He felt as though someone had kicked him in the solar plexus. For a frantic minute, he wished Travis were here to help him - tell him what to say - but the doctor had left an hour ago, and Penhall was on his own...Penhall the screw-up.
What the hell was he supposed to do? He had strict orders not to discuss his medical condition with Ioki, but he also had strict orders not to upset him. And nothing was guaranteed to upset Ioki faster than lying to him or dodging questions! But, if he said the wrong thing...
It took him only a fraction of a second to decide. And amazingly, his voice sounded completely even when he answered, "Yeah, Iok, I'm afraid it is."
"I can't see you." He lifted his left hand to brush the bandage that covered his eyes, but Penhall caught it and pulled it away, before he could touch any of the raw cuts or burns on his face. "Is it because of the bandages?"
A tremor of fear passed through Ioki's body. "Take them off."
"I can't do that. You're just gonna have to live with 'em, for now."
"No! No...Doug!" Ioki tried to wrench his hands free, but Penhall held on tightly and pushed him firmly back against the mattress. "Doug, please! I don't want them...take them off! Please!"
"Trust me, Harry," he urged, his voice harsh with strain, "you're only gonna hurt yourself! You gotta lie still!" As Ioki continued to fight his restraint, he cried out, "It isn't gonna help! Harry, listen to me, it isn't gonna help!"
Ioki collapsed into his pillow, going suddenly limp. When Doug eased his grip on his hands, Ioki pulled them free and drew his arms protectively against his body, twisting onto his side with his back to the other man. His breath came in ragged sobs, edged with pain, and his shoulders began to shake.
Penhall watched him for a moment, his own eyes stinging with tears, then murmured, "It's gonna be okay. We're gonna get through this - you, me and Jude - together."
"Leave me alone," Ioki whispered.
"It's gonna be okay," Penhall repeated, doggedly. "Trust me, Harry, I'm gonna make it be okay!"
"You can't." Ioki tried to say something else, but it came out as a sob. Turning his face into the pillow, he curled up in a tight knot of pain and began to cry.
Penhall clasped his shoulder in an attempt at comfort, but at his touch, Ioki flinched sharply away from him. Defeated, Penhall could only sit with his hands lying helplessly in his lap and watch his friend's silent, tearless weeping, while tears streamed down his own cheeks. The nurse found him there an uncounted time later, still sitting, staring through a sheen of tears at the back of Ioki's head.
"Officer Penhall? You asked me to tell you when Detective Hoffs was awake."
"Judy?" His brain struggled to throw off it's paralysis and think again, while he blinked stupidly at the nurse. "Awake?"
"She's starting to come around."
He glanced back at Harry, wondering what to do. "Iok..." Harry did not betray, by so much as a breath, that he heard. "I have to go. I'm sorry, man. I don't want to leave you alone, but I have to be there for Judy, too." When he still received no sign that Harry was listening, he sighed and got to his feet. "I'm only a shout away, if you need me. Take it easy, pal."
Then he trudged out of the room to face yet another awakening.
Penhall found Hoffs in a kind of twilight state, brought on by anesthetics and heavy pain medication. She tossed restlessly against her pillow, trying to find a position that would afford her some ease, and muttered to herself. After the incredibly difficult scene he'd just endured with Harry, Doug didn't have any reserves left to cope with this. He slumped into the chair and fixed his eyes on his friend's pain-lined face, his own agony pushed back behind his exhaustion and guilt and sense of failure, back where he wouldn't have to confront it. In this half-numb, half-tormented state, he waited for Hoffs to wake up so he could try, yet again, to salvage something from the wreckage.
When Hoffs at last dragged her eyes open, she found Doug Penhall asleep in the chair beside her. She watched him for a moment, her eyes glassy with pain and clouded with confusion, trying to remember how she'd gotten here and why Doug was in attendance - dressed in a hospital gown and robe. Then she reached over to touch his sleeve.
His eyes fluttered reluctantly open to fix on her face. Suddenly, he lurched upright in his chair. "Jude! What...? Aww, man, I fell asleep. I wanted to be here when you woke up."
"You are here," she pointed out.
He grinned in spite of himself and caught her outstretched hand in both of his. On an impulse, he bent to plant a kiss on the back of it. "I can't tell you how great it is to see those gorgeous brown eyes open and smiling at me."
A ghostly smile drifted over her face. "I'm glad you're here." She thought about that, then added, "I'm glad I'm here."
"Me, too, babe. Me, too. Can I get you anything? Are you feelin' okay?"
"Yeah..." Her eyes drifted closed, and her voice dropped to a bare murmur. "I think...I think it hurts. But everything's so...furry..."
"...blurry...fuzzy..." She giggled slightly. "I don't know." Her eyes cracked open and moved to find him. "Am I still alive, Doug?"
"You betcha. Alive and kicking."
"Ooohhh!" she moaned. "Don't say kick!"
"Sorry." A wry smile lit his face, and he confided, "You're really stoned, Jude."
"Am I?" She giggled again, a note of hysteria in the sound. "Is that why ev...mmh...every time I try to cry, it comes out as a laugh?"
"Doug..." He dropped another kiss on her hand and squeezed it hard, telling her that he was listening. "It really...does hurt!"
"And I'm really scared..."
"It's okay. You don't have to be scared anymore."
Her eyes closed once again. "Thank you. My hero."
Penhall shuddered at her choice of words, but managed to say, warmly, "Get some sleep, Jude. I'll be here, if you need anything."
"...always here when I...need you..." She appeared to drift off, but suddenly she asked, in a strong voice, "Is Harry okay?"
"Oh, good. I was worried about him."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of everything."
"You give my partner a big kiss from me," she murmured, as she once again settled down to sleep. "Tell him to...come see me..."
"I think we'll pass on the kiss."
Hoffs chuckled. A pause, then she said, "Doug? When we get outta here, let's move someplace where they don't have earthquakes. All three of us...go someplace safe...you, me and Harry...we can...can open a bowling alley."
"Sounds like Hanson's dream job."
"We'll invite him, too. He can...polish the balls."
"Yeah? What am I gonna do?"
"Security," she mumbled, with a smile, "and I'll be the manager."
"Of course. What about Iok?"
"Hmmm...handle the money. And serve drinks. He'd get the biggest tips, anyway...him and Hanson...bring in all the single women..."
Penhall shook his head in wry amusement. "Just what Ioki's always wanted to be...a cocktail waitress."
"He'll do it. For me."
"Then you better ask him, next time you see 'im. I'm damned if I will," he added ruefully. Judy Hoffs stoned out of her gourd was turning out to be a novel experience. "Now, quit talking and go to sleep."
"I want to see Harry."
"Please...tell him I want to see him...?"
Doug hesitated, then lied, smoothly, "He's asleep."
"When he wakes up, then...you'll tell him..."
"I'll tell him. I promise."
Another smile tilted Judy's lips, and she gave a contented sigh. A second later, she slept.
Penhall spent the rest of that interminable day moving from one room to the other, trying to give both of his friends his undivided attention, while weak with exhaustion himself. He finally fell asleep in the chair beside Ioki's bed, and the hospital personnel conspired not to disturb him 'til he'd slept himself out. The ICU duty nurse, Sarah, slipped a pillow behind his head and draped a blanket over him, smothering the impulse to plant a kiss on his forehead.
She had watched him jolly Hoffs out of a crying jag and hold her hand through a fit of the shakes, then come in here and murmur steady reassurances to Ioki while the doctor cleaned and dressed the cuts on his face. The minute he had weathered one crisis, he hurried to the next. Hoffs clung to him like a lifeline. Ioki barely acknowledged his presence. But both of them waited tensely for the sound of his footsteps in the hallway, and neither could relax and draw an even breath 'til he sat beside them. To an experienced eye like Sarah's, it was clear that something more than concern for his friends drove Penhall to such lengths, but it was equally clear that these three people were bound very strongly to one another. The trust his injured friends placed in him spoke volumes for the kind of man he was.
They all survived the day, and dusk brought reinforcements. Hanson and Fuller traipsed into the hospital, looking grim and exhausted, and headed straight for Penhall's room. Of course, he wasn't there, but Hoffs was awake and delighted to see them - if a little groggy and prone to tears. Dr. Travis had strictly banned them from visiting Ioki, so they settled in to keep Hoffs company 'til Penhall surfaced. When he finally did, both Hanson and Fuller were shocked by his appearance.
Fuller snagged him as he came in the door to Judy's room, catching his arm and guiding him back outside. In the relative privacy of the hallway, he demanded, "Where have you been, Penhall? What have you been doing to yourself?"
"I've been doing what you told me to do...looking after my teammates."
"Doug, you need some rest."
"I'm okay, Cap'n. I got a little sleep this afternoon."
"Where? In a laundry cart? The nurse says you haven't been in your room all day."
"I took a nap in Ioki's room."
Fuller looked taken aback. "They let you in there? Travis told us..."
"I told you that I could handle the doctors," Penhall interrupted, bluntly. "No offense, Captain, but I've spent the last twenty-four hours trying to keep Jude and Harry from coming unglued, and I don't need a lecture from you to top it off!"
The captain laid a calming hand on his shoulder and let his voice drop to a murmur. "No lectures. I appreciate what you're doing, and I know it's hard to...to see them like this. But you won't do them any good, if you put yourself into Intensive Care." Switching tracks, before Doug could prolong the argument, he said, "We've been talking to Hoffs. She's a little ragged, but she seems to be holding up okay."
"It comes and goes." Penhall shot a grim look through the open door, his eyes reflecting his anguish as they touched the woman in the bed. "I don't know what they're giving her for the pain, but it's got her so whacked-out she can hardly remember her own name. She's still hurting, but she doesn't notice most of the time."
"Have you told her about Harry?"
Doug shook his head. "I don't know how. She's...she's so fragile right now, with the drugs and everything, it's like her feelings are all right up front. I'm afraid of what it'll do to her." He gave a sob of laughter and whispered, "She's talking about moving to the Mid-West and opening a bowling alley! She wants the three of us to go somewhere safe! Run a business together! Can you believe that? How'm I supposed to ruin it by telling her the truth?"
"She's got to hear it, sooner or later." At Penhall's stricken look, he hurried to add, "But I won't second-guess you. If you don't think she's ready, we won't mention it."
"I don't know if she's ready. I only know I don't have the guts to tell her."
"Have you asked her doctor for advice?"
"Doctors? They always give the same advice...lie, lie, lie... Doc Travis wanted me to lie to Iokage, and Travis is one of the good ones!"
Penhall shot him a tearful, defensive look and snapped, "No!"
"Good. How is Harry doing?"
"Lousy. He won't talk to anybody - not even me - and he freaks out if anyone touches him. Travis practically had to sedate him to change the bandages. I've never seen him like..." Doug took a shaking breath and tried to laugh at his own blunder, but it came out wrong. "Of course I've never seen him like this."
"Can I help? Or Tom?"
Penhall shook his head. "Travis has put a lock-down on his room, 'til he's moved out of ICU. The only reason they still let me in is 'cause Iok won't let anyone else near 'im."
"It's good that he has someone he trusts close by."
Doug murmured a few words of agreement, but Fuller could see the doubt and misery in his face. It started an unaccustomed ache in the Captain's chest. This was killing Penhall - feeling responsible for his injured colleagues and single-handedly trying to rescue them. As far as Fuller could tell, Penhall was still trapped in the ruins of the Chapel, hunting desperately for a way out. If something didn't give soon, he'd tear himself apart.
"I'm going to sit with Hoffs," he informed Penhall, in his most level and authoritative voice. "I want you and Hanson to go get some coffee. Have dinner. Take a breather. You both need it."
"You can, and you will. That's an order." In a softened tone, he added, "Judy will be fine with me, and there's nothing much we can do for Harry right now. So spend some time with your partner and unwind a little."
Doug capitulated. He didn't have much choice, and he didn't have the energy to fight his captain. Hanson quickly agreed to join him. He followed Penhall down the hallway, making no comment when they headed in the opposite direction from the elevators and cafeteria. He had already figured out where his partner was taking him and had no desire to stop him.
Tom halted in front of the glass wall and gazed in disbelief at the eerie scene on the other side. A blue-white light filled the small room, bleaching all color out of it except the winking lights on the monitors and the garish stains on the piece of gauze taped over Harry's eyes. Everything else was colorless...lifeless...somehow unreal... Harry lay curled up tightly on his side, his hands pulled close to his chest in spite of the IV tubes running from his wrists, and his face half hidden in the pillow. Only the faint movement of his breathing broke the total stillness of the room.
Hanson watched him for a moment, then murmured so softly that Penhall could barely hear him, "He knows, doesn't he."
"How did you tell him?"
"Believe it or not, it was easier than lying."
Another silent minute, then Hanson spoke again. "Let's go, Doug."
Penhall shot him a bitter glance. "Can't stand to look?"
"I can't talk to you here," he answered, patiently.
With one more long look at Ioki, Penhall nodded acceptance and turned away.
In the cafeteria, Hanson bought them both a good-sized meal, then located a table in a private corner of the room. He sat down and started to eat, but Penhall could do no more than pick at his food in a desultory fashion. Hanson watched him with understanding eyes.
"You're still trying to rescue them, aren't you?" he asked.
Doug didn't answer. He simply stared at his plate, while his breathing quickened and the fork in his hand trembled.
"You've already done your part," Tom urged, gently. "You don't have to kill yourself to save them. They're out. They're safe. We all are. And it's gonna be okay, Partner."
With a small sob, Penhall swept aside his plate and dropped his head to the table, burying his face in his arms.
Hanson reached over to clasp his shoulder. "It's gonna be okay."
A muffled, tearful laugh answered him. "That's what I've been saying, over and over again, like a broken record." Another laugh. "Now we're both liars."
*** *** ***
Tom scooted the chair up closer to Judy's bed and leaned forward to prop his forearms on the chrome rail. She turned to smile a welcome, the expression at odds with the lines in her face and the tears starting in her eyes. Her hand lifted to brush his arm, and he laid his own over it, clasping her fingers warmly.
It was so hard to see her like this. So hard to meet those once-brilliant eyes, now fogged with drugs and glazed with pain, set deep in bruised shadows against her strangely colorless skin. She lay against a stack of pillows, with every imaginable kind of medical paraphernalia strung about her, a tube feeding oxygen into her nose and IV needles dripping fluids into her arms. Her right leg was swathed in heavy bandages, tied into a plastic splint, and propped carefully on pillows. Somehow, the thing that troubled Tom the most was the sight of her bare toes sticking out of the bandages. His eyes kept straying to those toes, wondering if they were cold and whether or not he should pull a blanket over them.
"You look so tired, Tom," she whispered. "It must be awful out there."
He gave her a crooked smile that could not hide the exhaustion in his eyes. "It is."
"Go home and rest."
"I'll rest better here." He tightened his hold on her fingers. "I'm beginning to understand how Penhall feels, not wanting to get too far away." A tear slid from the corner of Judy's eye, and Tom reached over to wipe it away. "What's wrong, Jude?"
"Nothing, honest. It's the drugs. I just cry all the time...or laugh...or say stupid stuff. Thinking about Penhall...makes me cry." She gave an undignified sniff. "Where is he?"
"Getting some sleep, I hope."
"I know it's crazy, but I can't really relax without him here. The poor guy...I don't give him any peace."
Tom gazed wistfully at her. "Will I do, in a pinch?"
"Of course you will. You're such a good friend, Tom...all of you guys are...holding my hand and putting up with my tears..." She hesitated for a moment, then added in a sullen tone, "I wish my partner would do as much."
Tom looked startled. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, I've been asking Harry to come see me since we got here, but he won't."
"Jude, Harry's confined to quarters, same as you."
"Yeah, sure. What'd you think, that he was too busy playing Chinese Checkers to visit his partner?"
"I don't know what I...I just... Why didn't Penhall tell me that?" she demanded. "He kept saying that Harry was asleep or off with his doctor, or some other lame excuse, instead of just telling me that he wasn't up and around yet. What's the deal?"
"Cut Doug a little slack, okay? He doesn't have all his oars in the water, at the moment. He probably didn't want you freaking out, because Ioki's in ragged shape."
"Oh, please, I was there, remember?" Her sarcasm was as pronounced as her earlier melancholy, and Tom knew the drugs were loosening her tongue again. "I know Harry almost got his face blown off by that steam pipe! I saw it! Of course he's in ragged shape!"
"Then... why are you so pissed that he hasn't been in to see you?"
"Well, Penhall kept saying he was fine. Every time I asked, he'd say Harry was fine, great, no problem, he just had something better to do than visit me. I was...I was beginning to wonder if I'd imagined the whole thing..."
"You didn't imagine it. He did almost get his face blown off."
Tom's dour tone drew her gaze to him, and for the first time, the drug-induced cobwebs seemed to clear. She looked at him with stark clarity and a cold, rational understanding. "The metal put his eyes out, didn't it?" Tom nodded once. "I thought so."
She lay quietly, staring at the ceiling, while Tom wondered what was going through her mind. Her lack of reaction confused him, considering the overall state of her emotions. Finally, he couldn't resist commenting, "I expected some tears."
"What is there to cry about? What good does it do?"
"Makes you feel better?"
"I'm not the one who needs to feel better." Glancing over at Tom again, she asked, "Is that the big secret everyone's been keeping from me?"
"Stupid. Like I wouldn't notice." A pause, then, "How...how bad is it, really, Tom? How does his face look?"
"Pretty awful, right now, but I think it looks worse than it is. The burns are minor, and the doctor says they'll heal without scarring. Some of the cuts are pretty deep, but they're thin...hairline scars at the worst. Once the swelling and bruises go away, he'll look a lot more like himself."
"What about his eyes?"
Tom took a careful breath, willing his voice to stay even and his stomach to stay in place. "They, ummm...they had to remove all the damaged tissue to prevent infection. He'll need reconstructive surgery, after he's had more time to heal." At Judy's faint choking sound, he hurried to assure her, "Dr. Travis says they're real good at this stuff, now. He says they can put his face back together so nobody'll be able to tell the difference."
"That's the same thing they said about my leg," Judy murmured. "Stick in a little steel, a little silicon, graft this muscle, replace that bone, lube up those plastic joints and presto! Good as new! Except, it won't work and it'll hurt all the goddamn time and you'll rust in the shower, but hey! You've got your leg back!"
"All those replacement parts, and you're still not a whole person!"
"Maybe you should go bionic," Tom suggested, in a desperate attempt at humor.
"Get an upgrade?"
"Why not? Tell 'em you want the high tech performance model. Yamaha Sports Leg."
A slightly hysterical giggle met his words. "What kind of warranty do they offer?" She giggled again and covered her eyes with one hand to hide her tears. After a silent moment, she whispered, "Thank you for making me laugh."
"Tom, will you do me a favor?"
"Tell Harry I want to see him."
"I'll tell him, but I don't know if it'll do any good."
"Please. Can't you make his doctor understand that I need to see him?"
"It isn't the doctor. In fact, they moved him out of ICU tonight, into a private room, so all the restrictions are lifted. He can see anybody he wants and do pretty much anything he feels up to."
"Then what's the problem? I know that look, Tom. Something's wrong."
"Not exactly wrong." Tom sighed wearily. "Look, Jude, you know how Harry is. He deals with things his own way. Keeps to himself. And when he's upset or afraid, he doesn't...share it with anyone. That's just how he does things."
"Is that what he's doing now?"
"He's totally shut down. He goes through the motions - does what he's told, answers questions, pretends to listen when you talk to him - but he's a blank. He's just...packed up and gone away. Dr. Travis thinks he's suicidal. Penhall thinks he's angry and trying to punish us. Fuller...Fuller doesn't know what to think, and it's making him crazy."
"What do you think?" Hoffs whispered.
"I think he's hiding. Trying to be invisible, so we'll all leave him alone. I think this is a really exaggerated version of what he always does when he's scared, and I think, when he comes to terms with what's happened, he'll come back."
"That sounds like the Harry I know."
"But until he does, there's no way to reach him."
In spite of the tears and pain in her eyes, Tom could see that she meant it. He smiled wanly at her and squeezed her hand. "I'll tell him you want to see him, and I'll do my best to get him here, but don't..."
"No, Tom, don't worry. I can wait. If you just...make sure he knows that I'm waiting for him, then whatever he decides is okay. Really."
"Consider it done."
*** *** ***
The room was quiet. Finally, blessedly quiet. So quiet that he could hear the rain spattering softly on the window. After the awful noise and stress and fuss of the move from ICU to here, the quiet came as an incredible relief.
Harry curled up a little more tightly in the chair and propped his head against the cold glass of the window. He was unbearably tired, but it never occurred to him to get back into bed. The chair provided a warm, closed in and comfortable space, and he liked listening to the rain. It made him feel as though he were part of the world again, not locked up in some horrible room full of beeping machines and whispering nurses, where he wasn't allowed to get up and walk around or sit in a chair or listen to the rain or do any of the simple, normal, pointless things that made him feel human.
That soft sound of water on glass was about all the contact with the world that he could handle right now. It helped him relax and drift toward sleep, without the familiar knot of fear in his stomach that usually came with solitude. He hadn't been able to sleep in the ICU, except when they pumped him full of drugs or when Penhall kept vigil beside him, and that hadn't been real sleep. But now, thanks to the quiet and the comforting rain, he felt safe and warm and a little fuzzy around the edges, as if all he needed was one good yawn and he'd drop right off.
The soft tap of a knuckle on the door jerked him out of a light doze and brought his head up with a start.
"Officer Ioki?" an unfamiliar, feminine voice said. "You have a visitor."
Harry felt his stomach twist with tension, and he wanted to burst into tears. Why couldn't they go away and leave him alone? Were they afraid he was going to jump out of the stupid window? All he wanted to do was sleep!
Then his visitor stepped into the room and said, calmly, "Hey, Iokage. How's it going?"
Hanson! Harry's face softened in relief, and for a brief moment, Tom thought that his old friend was going to come out of hiding to greet him. But in the next heartbeat, Harry was gone again, leaving only a battered, silent shell of himself sitting in the chair. Inside the prison of his own head, he was laughing and crying and telling Tom how much he'd missed him and how glad he was to see him and how scared he was and how being in the hospital sucked and how totally screwed life was and how much it meant to him to hear that wonderful, familiar voice again. But none of it reached his friend. None of it got past the wall of isolation and despair that surrounded him.
Tom watched the welcome and the life drain out of Harry's face, and reminded himself not to take it personally. As many times as he had seen Harry do this exact same thing to other people, he had secretly hoped that he would rate special treatment, and he had underestimated how difficult it would be to confront that cold, tight, withdrawn look when it was directed at him. His own words to Penhall echoed again in his head, saying patiently, "It's just Harry being Harry. Don't make a big deal out of it." Well, it was time to put his own advice into action.
"Mind if I come in?" he asked, as he crossed the room to sit on the edge of the bed.
Harry's bandaged gaze followed his progress with unnerving accuracy. He made no comment, as Tom settled himself on the bed facing the chair and the dark, rain-splattered window.
Ioki hesitated for a moment, then answered, "Listening to the rain."
Hanson grimaced. "It's been falling non-stop since the quake. The whole city's about to be washed into the river. And I think my uniform is growing mildew." He got no response - not that he had expected one - and his voice trailed off into silence.
Neither man moved or spoke for a long, slow minute, while the muffled sound of the storm seeped into the room. Hanson took the time to really look at his friend, and he suddenly realized that most of what he saw in Ioki's face was exhaustion - not withdrawal or anger or fear - just simple exhaustion. The man needed some sleep. This was something Hanson could empathize with.
"Listen, Harry, I'm not gonna stay long," he said. "I've been working twelve hour shifts, and I'm almost as tired as you are. I just wanted to stop in and say hello, since they took the Do Not Disturb sign off your door." He paused, then added, "I'm sorry I couldn't come sooner. I wanted to be here - so did Fuller - but the doctors didn't give us a choice."
"Good." A wry smile strayed over his face, and he asked, with a laugh lurking in his voice, "Did Penhall and Fuller drive you nuts tonight?"
Harry answered, in a perfectly flat tone, "They mean well."
"Yeah, but they gave you a headache, anyway, huh?"
"Meaning me, too. Okay, I get the message, and I'm outta here."
He started to get to his feet, but Ioki halted him with a soft, "Wait."
Hanson obediently sank back onto the mattress and waited, while Ioki collected his thoughts and mustered the energy to voice them. When he finally spoke, he didn't sound flat and emotionless anymore. He sounded scared.
"Penhall said you found us."
Tom nodded, then remembered that the gesture was wasted on Harry. "Yes. Me, Fuller and Blowfish."
"He said...Judy would have died, if you hadn't come when you did."
"She had a close call."
"Is she okay? The truth, Tom, please."
'Great,' Hanson thought, 'more of the truth. Why doesn't anyone appreciate the value of a good lie anymore?' Out loud, he said, "The truth is that she's out of the woods, but her leg is a mess. The doctors are talking about multiple surgeries, artificial joints, muscle transplants, all kinds of heavy-duty stuff just to get her walking again. And it may not work."
Harry scrunched up a little tighter in his chair, as though trying to physically protect himself from the import of Tom's words. "Have you seen her?"
"I just came from her room."
"How...?" He broke off, fighting to keep his emotions dammed up behind his defensive wall, while the tears crept into his voice in spite of his efforts. "How is she doing?"
"It's hard to say. She's in a lot of pain, and she's scared. Angry, too, I think. But all her emotional reactions are skewed by the drugs they're giving her, so one minute she's crying and the next minute she's telling dumb jokes." He shot Ioki a searching look and added, "She wants to see you. She asked me to tell you that."
Ioki stiffened. His gauze-white gaze shifted away from Hanson, and the shadows almost visibly thickened around him. He took an unsteady breath and opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out.
"Harry, she's your partner and your friend, and she's worried about you. Can't you do this? For her? It would mean a lot to her."
He shook his head fractionally.
"She knows what happened. It won't freak her out to see you like th..."
"Stop. Just...stop it. I can't...I don't want to see anyone."
"Okay." The wheedling note drained from Hanson's voice, and he shifted back into his previous calm, undemanding mode. "She'll understand." He got to his feet again and headed toward the door. "And so do I, pal. Get some sleep, and I'll talk to you later."
Hanson paused in the doorway to glance back over his shoulder. "Yeah?"
"Thank you, for saving my partner."
"You're welcome." It was not lost on Hanson that Ioki had not thanked him for saving his own life, but the young officer knew better than to comment on this omission. Maybe, someday, Harry would learn to be grateful for that as well.
"Tell her I..."
Hanson waited for him to finish, then prompted, "What?"
Ioki shook his head. "Nothing. Never mind."
"Okay. Good night, Harry."