Disclaimer: The basic premise and two out of the three main characters aren't mine (borrowed from BVE without permission but no harm, no foul, no money made). The setting, events and the third main character are mine; you're welcome to borrow but please ask me first.
Note: This is a missing scene/follow-up to Mother's Boy. If you haven't read that, you will be lost. Very lost, in fact.
With extremely grateful thanks to Vanessa for allowing me to bounce this off her as I wrote (and for helping me fix the ending). Also with very grateful thanks to Gamine for also permitting me to bounce this off her as I wrote. Ladies -- thank you.
Please offer feedback -- it tells me how I've done.
While You Were Sleeping
Sooner or later someone was going to have to invent a more comfortable hospital chair, Kimberly decided, wriggling against the hard plastic to try and find a more comfortable position. Unfortunately, there wasn't one to be had.
Of course, if certain members of her family would refrain from nearly killing themselves...
She sighed again and studied the sleeping form of her husband. His face was pale, made luridly so by the deep purple-yellow bruises beneath his eyes. On the far side of the bed, a saline drip was being fed into his wrist to combat dehydration. This wasn't simple exhaustion, this was physical burn out.
It had taken a holoscreen conference with Trip before the full extent of what Eric had done was known:
"The QM's designed to run from a solar-kinetic cell, which is fine and which is what the chrono-morphers run from too. If a chrono-morpher gets overwhelmed, the morph cuts. If the QM gets overwhelmed, it taps into the user's bio-energy to sustain the morph until the user can get to safety. It sounds like a good idea in theory, but when Time Force Tech tested it they discovered that it was prone to exhausting the user physically -- it nearly killed the test user because of it. They installed safety protocols so that the user wasn't completely drained, and redesigned the chrono-morphers so that they didn't contain the feature at all -- it was deemed too much of a risk. For Eric to be like this...he has to have overridden the safety protocols."
Kimberly wanted to berate Eric for doing that -- for playing chicken with his own life like that. Except that Trip had defined how long the safety limit was. Two hours. If Eric hadn't overridden the safety protocols, they wouldn't have found him. The demorph would have destroyed the cavity Eric had been trapped in, crushing both him and the other occupant. There was a possibility that Eric's body wouldn't recover from the physical drain. Compared to the definite reality of being crushed to death, Kimberly knew which was preferable. That didn't make it any easier to swallow.
She shifted again in her seat.
"You have been home, right?"
Kimberly rolled her eyes at the voice from the doorway. She bit back a more facetious answer as footsteps walked up to her. "Yes, Ben, I have been home." She felt Ben's hand come down on her shoulder. Looking up and round, she saw him giving her an appraising look.
"Kim," he said gently, "I'm not trying to be cruel -- or whatever you think it is I'm doing. I just want to make sure that the first thing Eric gets to hear about when he wakes up is not that you've put yourself in the next room because you're not looking after yourself."
Kimberly sighed. "I know." She looked back at the bed. "It's hard."
Ben squeezed her shoulder. "He's a fighter, Kim." He gave a quiet huff of laughter, not particularly humorous laughter, more rueful, perhaps recognising the inherent cliché in the phrase. "He's got two very good reasons to beat this."
"Three," Kimberly whispered.
"He's got three reasons," Kimberly said. "Except I haven't had the chance to tell him about the third."
"Oh, Kim..." Ben wrapped his arm around her shoulders in a gentle hug. "He will be OK."
A muted buzzing sound cut across the moment. It took Kimberly a moment to place it -- the length of time it took Ben to pull his pager out of his pocket.
"Damn." Ben sighed.
"It's OK, Ben," Kimberly said quietly.
"Someone will drop by later," he promised. Bending down, he whispered in her ear, "Take care of yourself."
Kimberly managed a weak smile. "I will."
She heard him walk away, but her attention was solely reserved for the occupant of the bed, who hadn't moved so much as an inch. She had thought it would be easier to bear if someone else knew the whole truth -- about the baby -- but it wasn't. If anything, the gnawing fear and ache was worse for telling Ben because now she also felt guilty. Ben knew Eric was going to be a father before Eric did. That didn't seem fair. Or right.
Kimberly leaned forwards in her seat, propping her head on her hands. This whole mess wasn't right or fair.
The knock on the door pulled her from melancholy thoughts.
Craning her neck, Kimberly looked round and found a middle-aged Asian lady wearing a hospital gown and sitting in a wheelchair in the doorway.
"I...can I help you?" Kimberly asked, frowning in puzzlement.
"I'm sorry to bother you," the lady replied. "I...my name is Annie Myers."
It took Kimberly a moment to place the name. The person whose life Eric had saved. On the heels of that recollection came the recognition of her surname. It hadn't hit Kimberly the night before. She hadn't had time to think about all the details of what Eric had told her about the other person in the cavity -- other things were more important at the time. There certainly hadn't been time afterwards, when the true extent of Eric's exhaustion became apparent. But now...
"I...was hoping," Annie continued, hesitantly. "Hoping...to..."
Kimberly offered her a smile. "C'mon in."
Annie looked a little startled. "You don't mind?"
"No." Kimberly shook her head.
"You know who I am?" Annie queried, not moving.
Kimberly's smile turned reassuring and nodded in the direction of the bed. "He won't mind."
Not looking at all reassured, Annie finally entered the room, although she still hung back. "He hates me," she murmured.
"No he doesn't," Kimberly replied. "He might have said he does, but he doesn't." At Annie's frown, Kimberly added gently, "I heard about yesterday lunch time."
Annie's head dropped. "I shouldn't have come back. I... I should go."
"No." Kimberly shook her head. "Didn't yesterday tell you anything?"
"That my son hates me...as he has every right to do."
Kimberly sighed. Now she knew where Eric really got his stubborn streak from. "No he doesn't. On either count."
"And you would know this because...?"
"Kimberly Myers," Kimberly replied, introducing herself. "I'm your daughter-in-law."
Annie looked about ready to bolt. Kimberly cast a glance at Eric's sleeping form and made a decision. "Let's go somewhere we can really talk." Not giving Annie the chance to nay-say, Kimberly uncurled herself from the hard plastic seat, stood up and took hold of the wheelchair's handles. "C'mon."
A few minutes later, they were both seated in a comfortable canteen area, a glass of water in front of Annie, a large cup of coffee close to Kimberly's hand.
"You shouldn't drink that stuff," Annie commented.
"Probably not," Kimberly replied. "But right now, I need something stronger than water -- and I never was much for alcohol."
Annie smiled faintly and sipped her water.
Where to start?Kimberly wondered, staring meditatively into her coffee.
"He didn't tell me," Annie said softly.
Kimberly looked up. "Tell you what?"
"When we were trapped -- he didn't tell me who he was."
Kimberly wasn't terribly surprised. "What would you have done if he had?" Annie shrugged a little. "Eric probably figured you'd be uneasy knowing it was him. Particularly given what he did yesterday lunch time..."
"And given I'd already screamed at him once he probably wasn't too far wrong," Annie admitted wryly. "He scared the living daylights out of me."
"Doesn't sound like Eric," said Kimberly, frowning. "He..."
Annie managed a faded smile. "It wasn't his fault." Kimberly's eyebrows climbed at that. "It all happened so fast. The hotel started to go and this red blur just seemed to swoop down on me. He picked me up..."
"He was going to get you out," Kimberly supplied as Annie faltered. "His last comm. message was that he'd got another casualty and that he was trying to find another way out -- the stairs were collapsing."
Annie nodded. "He held me close, shielding me from the falling debris. Then we were falling too, though we didn't fall far. He landed over me and kept shielding me from the rubble. I don't know how he did it. I couldn't see exactly what he was doing -- it was dark and dusty and noisy and I was scared out of my wits."
"I can imagine," Kimberly commented.
"When it all stopped, I sort of realised that he'd been kneeling over me...when he collapsed on top of me. I kind of figured he was unconscious...except that as I wriggled out from underneath him, he didn't seem to be breathing. That was really when I lost it...thinking I was trapped in there with a dead body. And when he came round...I screamed."
Kimberly winced in sympathy. "That would have scared me, too."
"So I guess I can understand him not telling me the truth." Annie sighed.
"But you still wish he had," Kimberly guessed.
Annie shrugged a little. "I told him things I never wanted Eric to know."
Kimberly chose her words carefully. "Maybe it's better that he does know," she said.
"I don't deserve his pity or his sorrow..." Annie exploded.
"Why not?" Kimberly asked.
"I screwed up his life...made it hell...I was a lousy mother." Annie drew in a shuddering breath. In a tone of bitter self-recrimination, she continued, "I'll bet he's never told you why he doesn't have any trophies or medals from the martial arts tournaments he won. I'll tell you: He doesn't have them because I pawned them so that I could buy booze. What kind of mother does that to their son?" she finished, her voice and expression full of self-loathing.
Inwardly, Kimberly winced. Setting her cup down, she reached across the table and took one of Annie's hands in her own. "I know that things were difficult for you..."
"How can you possibly know?" Annie snapped. "How can you possibly know what it's like trying to bring up a child on your own?"
Kimberly tightened her grip on Annie's hand. "Because I've been there and I've done that. Four years in a loveless, violent marriage; two years on my own."
Annie looked taken aback. "I...didn't realise."
"No reason for you to," Kimberly replied gently. "So I do know that things were difficult for you. I also know that Eric knows that. And I think...from things he's told me, that he doesn't bear you a grudge for it."
Annie blinked. "Excuse me?"
Kimberly smiled a little. "He doesn't blame you. Not for that. Eric is a lot of things. Chief amongst them is a kind, good, honest man. He knows how hard it is for single parents, and meeting his father last year..."
"He met Frank?"
Kimberly didn't miss the way Annie's eyes lit up at that. She nodded. "Kind of a long story."
Annie cracked a genuine smile. "Somehow," she murmured, "I expected that. Trouble had a way of finding Frank."
"It has a way of finding Eric too," Kimberly agreed wryly.
Annie hesitated a beat, then asked, "How did you meet Eric?"
Kimberly offered her a grin. "That was courtesy of my daughter, Alice. I moved to Silverhills from Florida just after Alice's fifth birthday...after divorcing my ex-husband. I didn't really know the area we moved to and I didn't really have time to get to know my neighbours." Annie nodded, clearly recognising that situation. "We'd probably been living there about nine or ten months when someone new moved in next door. Alice was fascinated by it all."
"I can imagine," Annie commented, smiling.
Kimberly returned the smile. "Another couple of months passed. About the only sign that there was someone in the house was the way mail came and went from the mailbox and the occasional presence of an SUV parked outside the place. We never actually saw anyone...which, of course, fascinated my daughter even more. She started making up stories about the person living next door."
Annie laughed. "When did you finally solve the mystery?" she asked.
Kimberly grinned. "About a month after Alice's sixth birthday, school was out for the summer, so she was around during the day. Didn't seem to matter how many times I told her not to leave the backyard, she'd get out and start wandering the neighbourhood exploring. And one day, to her great excitement, the SUV was outside the house during the day. Well, you can imagine what happened next."
Annie grinned. "I take it your neighbour suddenly found himself with a little guest?"
Kimberly nodded. "Bold as brass, my daughter climbed the fence between the yards while he was out in the backyard, feeding his love-birds, and introduced herself. I was mortified when I found out a bit later in the day, but he was really good about it -- introduced himself as Eric Myers, and earned my undying gratitude by inviting Alice to help look after his birds."
Annie looked both amused and a little surprised. "Eric did that?"
Kimberly nodded. "He is wonderful with Alice and she adores him. She and I are both very lucky to have found him."
Annie's expression turned wistful. "It sounds it."
Kimberly offered Annie a gentle hand squeeze. "It's not all been plain sailing -- six months after meeting him, my ex-husband came after me, looking to settle a few scores; two months after that, some of Eric's past caught up with him...that was when he met Frank..."
"Do I want the details of that?" Annie asked.
Kimberly shook her head. "Not really. At least, not from me -- that's one for Eric to explain."
"You think he'd tell me?"
"You're his mom," Kimberly replied.
"Who walked out on him thirteen years ago..."
"...After making sure that all the legal paperwork was straightened out."
Annie sighed. "I'm sure that really makes all the difference to him."
"Deep down, I think it did," Kimberly replied. "I know it hurt him that you left -- I can't say it was otherwise. But you didn't abandon him -- not truly -- and deep down, he knows that."
"You think so?"
Kimberly nodded. "I don't just think it, I know it."
Annie might have had another question beyond that, Kimberly never found out as a member of staff came into the cafeteria.
Kimberly suddenly felt a lead weight in her stomach. To judge from Annie's expression, the other woman's reaction was much the same.
The nurse offered a reassuring smile. "Your husband seems to be waking -- I thought you might want to be there."
Kimberly glanced at Annie, opening her mouth in preparation to invite the other woman.
Annie shook her head. "No. You go -- you're more family than I am." She softened the words with a smile. "Besides, 'Dan' promised me he would persuade Eric to talk to me. I didn't believe him at the time. Maybe I do now."
"I'll make sure he does," Kimberly promised.
Leaving Annie seated at the table, Kimberly hurried after the nurse. It hadn't seemed like a long walk heading to the cafeteria on the way there, but the return journey seemed interminable. Finally, after what felt like miles of hospital hallway (although it was probably no more than a hundred yards), she reached Eric's room. His eyes were still shut but the bruises beneath them seemed to have eased, and his eyelids were fluttering.
Kimberly retook her seat. Was Eric waking up? Or was this just a bout of dreaming? Would he open his eyes or would he retreat into a deeper sleep? Seconds stretched into hours as she held her breath, waiting.
Dark brown eyes finally found the energy to open, although the spark of life they usually contained was all but smothered by the exhaustion filling them.
Kimberly felt every single fibre in her body relax at the single syllable. He was OK... "I'm here."
"You OK?" he whispered.
Kimberly smiled. "Yes -- I'm OK."
Eric smiled weakly in return. "Good." His eyes slid shut again. "You don't mind 'f I..."
Kimberly leaned forwards and gently squeezed his hand. "You sleep -- we can talk later." There was no response. To judge from his breathing, sleep had claimed him once more. Kimberly smiled faintly, leaned forwards and planted a gentle kiss on his cheek. "Hurry and get better, my love," she murmured. "You have people waiting for you now."