Authors: Jenn Stephens
and J. M. McClure
A/N: Takes place after the Series Finale 'Mission La Roca'.
Having slept on the plane, Eva wasn't tired as they made their way through the airport. They were home. Home.
She'd hoped to bring Berto home.
Suddenly Eva didn't want to go home. Didn't want to go back to her empty apartment. It was already getting dark outside, she noticed through the airport's large windows. It somehow seemed worse to be going home alone when it was dark.
Natalie was, as usual, walking beside Stephen. They were talking softly, but she heard one word very clearly. 'Jack'. She was happy that Stephen was going to get to spend some time with his son, but it served as yet another reminder of Berto's absence. Then Frank said something that got Stephen's attention.
Before she could change her mind, Eva stepped forward to walk beside Natalie. "Natalie. . . I need a favor," she said in a soft voice that only Natalie would hear.
Natalie loved to watch Stephen's face when he spoke of Jack, the way it lightened and how the lines softened. Losing those boys to the federal troops and almost losing one of their own. . . . it had all made Stephen reevaluate his priorities and it was about time.
She'd watched the years slip by until it was nearly too late now and there was no one in her near future anyway, only vials and syringes and sleepless nights. She was destined to be Aunt Nat and never Mommy, something she had, and hadn't, accepted.
It had hurt to watch Eva with Berto. She wanted with every beating cell of her heart for Eva to be able to take that child back with her, be the mother he needed. Have him fill the hole in her best friend's life. And another very tiny chamber of that same heart said 'why you? Why not me?'
Wearily she hated herself for even having the thought, for ever discovering that unworthy part of herself.
She wanted the best for Eva. Always.
Eva's voice slipped past her thoughts. "Oh. Oh, sorry, Eva, I was a million miles away. What did you say?"
With a glance to make sure that Frank and Stephen were still talking, and wouldn't hear her, she repeated her request. "I need a favor. . .if you don't mind. . ."
"Anything, Eva, you know that," Natalie said and she was pretty sure that her friend knew that she did, indeed, mean it. She hated the lost, bereft look in Eva's eyes and would do just about anything to banish it.
She only had one thing she needed to do before she could call it a night anyway.
the concern in her friend's eyes, Eva managed a small smile. "I
don't really feel like going back to my apartment. Could I crash at
your place tonight?" She hoped that Natalie wouldn't press her
for details. At least not while they were still in the middle of
the airport, with Stephen and Frank a few steps away.
Natalie didn't hesitate, didn't question, simply slipped her arm in Eva's and said, "Let's get our luggage and head there right now."
She nodded a good night to Stephen and Frank, totally ignoring the confused, curious looks on their faces and headed for the luggage turnstile. "I do have one stop to make, but it can wait until after a shower that might have a real prayer of washing off eight pounds of desert sand, a change of clothes, and a drink or two. Sound like a plan?"
Now sure she wouldn't have to face her empty apartment immediately, Eva relaxed and smiled. "Sounds like a great plan. Thanks." After a second's pause she continued. "The stop is to see Miles, isn't it?" she asked, even though she was sure she was right. Natalie was rather predictable in her need to take care of Miles. Or any of them on the Team for that matter. It was one of the things Eva liked best about her friend.
Natalie closed her eyes as she remembered Miles' face when they readied him for shipment home. The illness had taken its toll. His always thin face was gaunt and his brown eyes had the same haunted look she'd seen on the rest of the survivors.
It was his second night home and he'd finally been in the care of a fully staffed, well equipped hospital with round the clock care. He was finally safe and she could at last relax and leave his care to someone else.
You're damn right she was going to see him.
"Yeah," she said simply.
"Ten bucks says
he's reading some medical book when we get there," Eva said, an
indulgent smile on her lips. She took a deep breath as they walked
outside. It was still spring, and the night air was refreshingly
cool. . . and smelled of gasoline. Yes, she was
definitely back in the States.
"If he is, I'm taking it away from him and hitting him in the head with it," Natalie said with the first genuine laugh she'd enjoyed in far too long. "Not taking that bet."
A drenching rain made the night unwelcoming and Natalie assumed cabs would be more scarce than usual. As always it took far too long to retrieve their luggage, cajole a cabbie to pick them up and make it to the security of Natalie's apartment, but finally. . . finally.
Nat dropped her luggage on the sofa,
took Eva's bag and dumped it beside hers, said, "It can sit there
and stare accusingly at us until morning. We've got everything
we need either in our carry ons or in my closet. You're
almost a guest so you get the shower
first, but don't hog it, girl, I'm smuggling in 40 pounds of alien sand on my body that I want to dump down a drain."
In an almost irresistible impulse, she turned to Eva and wrapped her in a hug and held on, then pulled away with an awkward laugh. "That's because we're all here, in one piece, well, mostly, and I am so glad just to get us home." The rare show of emotion pushed her away and she headed for the kitchen. "I mean it, move it on that shower. I'll make us some girly drinks in the meantime."
Eva was already emotionally off-balance from the events in South America, and the impulsive hug almost had her crying. She knew it would be good for her to cry and let the emotions out, but from long habit she pushed the tears back before they could form and headed to the shower.
Twenty minutes later she walked back into the living room wearing her oversize tee shirt and a pair of sweat pants. "Your turn," she told Natalie.
Clean and refreshed, oddly strengthened after the
shower, Natalie stepped out into the living room to find Eva, her
back to her, staring out the glass walls at the clear night.
Those windows--two full walls of glass--had been the chief selling
point of this
apartment to Natalie.
When she was tired or discouraged, she could sit on the couch and have a magical vista spread out just for her bringing her own world back into focus. For just a moment she stood there and watched her friend in silence.
Then with a sigh, she picked up the glass of wine sitting on the table and joined Eva in her silent observation of the rainbow lit city below and the lightning show that seemed created just for them.
Having been to Natalie's apartment a couple times Eva was familiar with the spectacular window view, but she'd never seen it at night. 'Berto would love this.' At the thought she sank down onto the sofa and took a quick gulp of wine. She had no idea how long she'd been staring out the window when Natalie sat down beside her. "This wine is excellent," she noted, taking another sip.
Her hair hung damp down around her shoulders. She was dressed in a cast off shirt from some mad love affair long ago forgotten and left behind, Nat picked up the wine glass that Eva had poured for her. Well, perhaps that was wine tumbler. But then maybe this evening called for a little more wine than usual.
She was about to join Eva at the window when the phone rang, sidetracking her. She stopped, scooped up the receiver from a nearby table and said, "Hello?"
She cocked her head at Eva and smiled. "Yes, we're fine, and yes, she's here with me." A pause and she ran her fingers through her damp hair, separating the long strands. "I'm going to see him in just a little while. Thanks for telling me."
She started to hang up the phone then said, "Stephen, thanks for checking on us."
When she joined Eva at the window, she took a sip of wine and said, "He's checked in on Miles. He's settled in, seems okay."
Eva smiled. "That's good to hear. So should we go see Miles now, or wait a while? I'm sure Stephen put the 'Fear of Conner' into the hospital staff watching Miles. . ." Eva said with an impudent grin. Conner was nothing if not protective of his Team.
A laugh and a drink of wine were never a good
thing. Natalie choked, wiped her lips and laughed again.
"They've probably got 3 nurses assigned just to Miles after
Stephen's been there. I think we can take some time to relax a
little. Enjoy the view. The quiet.
The fact that no one is in danger of dying beneath our hands."
She pulled in a breath of air.
"I'm sorry, Eva, I didn't mean to get all dramatic. Just tired, I guess."
Eva gave her
friend a look of understanding. "No need to apologize, Nat. After
the last few weeks I'd say we're all well past just being tired,"
Eva said. "This is an amazing view," she added, staring back out
the window, thinking again of how much she'd love to show it to
Berto. Forcing her mind away from that thought Eva returned her
"You save a lot more patients than you lose, Natalie. A lot more. And as I've heard you tell Stephen, you can't save them all. Sometimes. . . it's just not. . ." She fell silent, unable to continue. She had been going to say, 'sometimes it's just not meant to be'. But that was too much of a cliche. And too close to her thoughts on Berto. Something else that just hadn't been meant to be.
Natalie took another sip of wine, then brought her eyes up to her friend. In her soft voice, she said, "You would have made a wonderful mother for Berto, Eva. It was chance that brought him to you and chance that took him away. It's perfectly all right for you to be angry about that."
"Right now all I feel is the pain. It still hurts too much for me to feel anything else. . . even anger. I think I'd rather have the anger. . .scratch that. I know I'd rather have the anger," she softly admitted. She'd rather have anything than the loss and pain she currently felt. Anything to fill the emptiness she always felt. For those few hours Berto had done that. He'd filled the emptiness with hope. With the one thing she'd always wanted, but never had. A family of her own. Someone to love.
Eva took another gulp of wine. "You'd have been a great Aunt for him," she told Natalie, hoping to change the subject away from herself.
"You know," Natalie said, "and I realize
perfectly well that you don't want to hear this right now, but
Berto, even though he was a wonderful child, he's not the only
one. You can have one of your own, Eva. Or adopt.
They are so many children out there just like
Berto. . ."
She knelt on the overstuffed couched and literally lay across the padded seat, her eyes still on the panorama of the city below them. "I know I sound like... like people who get paid to say things like this, Eva, but I'm your friend. I would say better things to you if there were any. I'd make it better if I could. All I can do is offer to be here."
She turned then and set the wine glass on the table.
"I know there are other
children. . . But Berto was special. I know; all kids are special. .
.But Berto. . . I know it sounds crazy, 'cause I only knew him for
a few days. . . but I loved him, Nat. To have one of my own, I'd
first have to find someone I wanted to be the father. And adoption
agencies don't like single parents. Especially not single parents
who work as much as I do. . ." Eva's voice trailed off and her
eyes widened as realization hit
her. "You sound like you're speaking from experience. Like you've had people say those things to you." She let it go at that, rather than asking a direct question. Natalie would tell her if she wanted to.
Natalie patted the couch beside her, her face pale in the light of the single lamp.
"Come sit with me," she said, and when Eva did, she continued, "I miscarried. Years ago. I was single and some people even told me I was lucky to lose the baby." She laughed but it had a harsh sound to it, angry and sharp.
"Others," she continued, "those who meant well, assured me that I could have another baby, that I was young, healthy, yadda, yadda, yadda." She laughed, genuinely that time and even got a half smile from Eva.
"But what they didn't understand was that I wanted
that baby." Her eyes welled but she fought back tears. "I
didn't want another potential baby in the future, no matter how
perfect, how cute, how adorable... I wanted that baby. They
just didn't understand that
at all. I don't think anyone can unless they go through it themselves."
sighed, took up her wine glass and Eva's as well, clinked them
together and took a sip. "You've wondered before, I know," she
said with a smile, "why I'm such a workaholic. When I work, it's
not that I'm forgetting or that I'm substituting." She laughed
softly. "Not completely and not any more at least. I'll admit at
first I couldn't wait to get back to work and they couldn't pry
me away from my cases with a crowbar. I
had no social life, no relaxation, no time that I spent just with me. Because I didn't want to talk to me, not at all."
She twirled the scarlet
wine in the glass, watching it smear crimson around the crystal.
"To be honest, I know it's supposed to be unhealthy, dumping yourself into your work, but it worked for me. I don't think I would have survived otherwise. Eventually, I could actually look at a woman with an infant and smile because it was something beautiful. I
don't know if that will work for you, but you're very much like me in that. . . so. . ."She smiled, trailing off the words.
Eva smiled. "Thanks. You're right, and I guess I should have thought of that myself. I've done it before," she mused. Eva realized she'd actually said the final sentence aloud when she saw Natalie's curious look.
She took a sip of wine before explaining. "I grew up in foster homes. After I graduated High School I was out of the system. I spent that summer searching for my birth mother. I was sure that she'd realized years ago that she'd made a mistake giving me up and had been searching for me, but they wouldn't tell her where I was."
Eva gave a short, self depreciating, laugh.
The memory still hurt, even years later. "What can I say? I was
young. I had to have some dream to hold onto. I got a fast wake up
call when I found her. When she opened the door it was like I was
looking in the mirror in the
future. We looked almost exactly alike. But she said she didn't have a daughter and slammed the door shut in my face."
She took yet another sip of wine. "It was only a week until my college classes started. I cried for most of that week, then when classes started I spent most of my waking hours studying. I got straight A's, but. . . it didn't really matter. I had straight A's, but no one to tell that to. No one who cared. When I wasn't studying, I was partying. Getting drunk, so I could forget the sound of that door slamming."
"Didn't work, did it?" Natalie mused, running one finger over the lip of her glass. "As much as I hated to hear it said, it's true. . . only time. . . it's the only cure and even it's only a partial cure."
She set the glass on the table and met Eva's eyes. "You do know you will survive this, don't you? As harsh and unfeeling as that sounds, it's the truth. We do survive, it passes and we move on, we go beyond. I'll always have a hollow place in my heart for that baby I never saw, and you... you'll always have a blank spot in your life where Berto should have been."
Leaning forward, she placed one hand on Eva's. "You remember who you do have, Eva. It's not the same, I know. But you have me and Miles and Frank and even that cranky one. We all love you. That will never change."
Eva swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. "Thanks, Nat. I. . . I've never had a family. Not really. I've always felt like I was alone. I think that's why I bonded with Berto so fast. He was alone, just like me. But I wasn't going to let him have that life. . . my life. I was going to make sure he had a family. That he wasn't alone anymore. . . And I wouldn't have to be alone anymore either."
She gave a soft, bitter laugh. "Guess that sounds pretty selfish, huh? I wanted to give Berto a home for my sake as well as his."
She looked up and met her friend's eyes. "But I'm not alone anymore am I?" she asked with uncharacteristic uncertainty. It was something she'd never let herself imagine before. They were her friends, certainly, but her family? She suddenly realized the most important thing Berto had taught her. Family wasn't about blood. Family was about the emotional ties, not the blood ties. She loved her friends as much as she would any family. And if they also loved her, wasn't that as good as saying they were family? The thing she'd spent her life searching for, Berto had helped her find. Just not in the way she'd thought.
Finally the tears she'd refused to let fall did. Out of habit she quickly reached up to wipe them away, but the tears continued to fall.
"Not selfish, just honest," Nat said as she moved over on the couch and put her arms around Eva pulling her close past that first, instinctive little resistance. She rested Eva's head on her own shoulder and let her cry, felt some tears track their way down her own face.
"Its like that," she nearly whispered into Eva's dark hair, "give and take. You need and we give and we need, you give. It's the way love works." She stroked Eva's hair, the fine strands tickling her nose, brushing her eyelashes.
They sat there for what seemed like a long time, like a short time. Silent, entwined.
When Natalie felt Eva stir within her arms, sniffling, she said, "You know what, we have part of the family we need to go see. Someone who doesn't seem to know what's good for him. I guess he'd be the incorrigible kid brother, don't you think?"
"Definitely," Eva agreed, dashing the last tears from her cheeks and smiling. But then, Miles often made her smile. It was one of the things she valued in their friendship.
"Guess I'm not real used to this 'love' stuff and how a family works," Eva admitted as they stood up. "Thankfully, I'm a fast learner. Especially with a good teacher," she added, giving Natalie a grateful smile.
"Oh good grief," Natalie said in mock
horror, "now I have to add 'teacher' to my resume, and Stephen
will find some way to make me work on Sunday at 3 a.m., my one hour
off." She snagged her jacket from the rack and Eva's as well,
wondering if it was going to
be enough protection from the storm that had escalated since they'd been at her apartment.
The heater in the cab pretty much did its job and they were mostly dry by the time they arrived at the hospital, just in time to be soaked again on their way inside. One ornamental umbrella wasn't much protection from a full-fledged storm it seemed.
When the reached Mile's hospital room, the doctor was just stepping outside and Natalie excused herself to speak to him, leaving Eva in the room with a still sleeping Miles.
For a second Eva saw Berto lying
in the hospital bed, but she quickly forced her mind back to reality.
'I may have lost my son, but I still have my brother to worry
about,' she reminded herself. Thinking of the outraged expression
that would no doubt appear on
Miles face if she ever called him her 'kid' brother, she smiled.
He felt her before he actually awoke. Felt the weight of her presence, the heavy sadness that would dwell with her for a long time to come. He didn't know what to say to her and he was so tired. Drained by the sickness. Drained from the long flight home. It would be so much easier to just lie there with his eyes closed and fall back into a dreamless sleep. Not face it. Not face her.
But it was Eva. And he couldn't do that to her. He blinked open his eyes, winced even in the dim light, tried to say hello but his dry throat wouldn't allow it.
Eva's smile disappeared as she heard Miles groan.
A moment later his eyes opened.
"You're looking better than the last time I saw you. . . but, then, that really isn't saying much," she added, teasing him. Seeing him look over at the water glass on his bedside table Eva picked it up and held it so he could drink through the straw.
It slid down his throat, cool and soothing, and he found when he tried again to speak that words actually came out of his mouth. "How are you doing?" he asked.
"Better than you are," she told him. She didn't want to lie to him, but she wasn't ready to go into details either. Not with her conversation with Natalie still so fresh in her mind. She wanted a bit of time before she talked about Berto or her time in South America again. "So are the nurses fighting over who gets to take care of you?" she teased him, with a grin.
He managed to give her a smile. "More like who has
to take care of me. I'm evidently a 'bad' patient." His
pale face shifted into a wistful expression. "I just want to
go home, Eva, somewhere familiar, where. . . " He bit his lip, his
eyes misted and he
blinked quickly. "Somewhere I don't have to be afraid." He gave her an unconvincing laugh. "Stupid, isn't it? I mean, I'm perfectly safe here, I just... I just don't feel... like I've made it home yet."
"I know the feeling," she told him, a sympathetic look on her face. She vividly remembered crashing as the earthquake hit. And for Miles, having been trapped in the Church, the memories had to be even worse. It was no surprise that he still didn't feel safe. "I was going to crash at Natalie's for the night. . .but if you'd like I could stay here and keep you company," she offered.
Color finally washed into his face and he ducked his head away from her. "No, no," he said, nearly stuttering in his embarrassment. "You don't have to do that, Eva. I've tried to sleep in those chairs before. I think there's some kind of anti-cruelty law in motion now against them." He laughed weakly, then said, "No, you go on home with Nat. You'll be a lot more comfortable there. You deserve some decent rest. It's been a hard trip."
Before she could answer, Natalie spoke from the doorway. "How long's it been since you had a really good delivery pizza, Miles? You're looking a little skinny to me. I've got a deck of cards. There's a special on Animal Channel tonight about the most dangerous animals and insects in the world and I'm jonesing for that pizza. What do you say, guys?"
"Pizza sounds good to me," Eva said. "But I'm not sure Miles is up to losing to me at cards again," she teased, grinning at him again.
Miles looked at Natalie. "Hey, Doc, this guest is giving me a hard time. Think you could get security to throw her out?" he asked in a teasing voice. The teasing vanished into something bordering on fear.
"No, no," Miles' eyes widened. "I don't mean that, Eva, please don't go." He went quiet for a long moment then said. "We almost lost each other. If you don't mind staying here just for a while...?"
Eva gave Miles a reassuring smile. "Relax, Miles. I knew you were teasing. And I'm the one who offered to stay. But right now I'm gonna go order that pizza." Flipping open her cell phone she walked from the room. The team had ordered pizza often enough when they were working late nights that she didn't even need to ask the others what they wanted on their pizza. Half would be Hawaiian for her and Natalie, and half vegetarian for Miles.
After ordering the pizza she didn't immediately return to the room, but stayed in the hall, staring out the window. The rain was still pouring, and only faint, wavering lights could be seen.
Miles was right.
They'd almost lost each other. Natalie, herself and Miles to the
earthquake. Frank and Stephen to the rebels, and then Miles to the
disease. She'd almost lost her family before she'd even known
she'd found them. And she had lost Berto. . . Using the back of her
hand she dashed away the tears that fell, and wondered how
long it would be until she could think of Berto without crying.
She stayed staring into the darkness for another minute, then forced a smile to her face and returned to Miles' room.
Miles didn't ask her why she'd been gone so long, he simply offered her his usual shy smile, reached out a hand for hers and pulled her to a seat beside the bed.
"Your deal," he said, "your game."
"I don't know. It doesn't seem fair to take money from a sick man," she teased, but she'd already picked up the cards. She even managed what she felt sure was a convincing smile.
While she shuffled the cards she looked at Natalie. "So how is the patient doing?" She knew Natalie would have looked at his charts while she was gone. That was just Natalie. She drew her own blood, ran her own tests, and checked on her patients herself.
"Actually," Nat said, curling up into a seat at the bottom of the bed and smoothing out a place on the bedspread for her cards, "he's doing better." She gave Miles a genuine, fond smile. "Do you have any idea whatsoever how much you scared us?"
Flushing, he ducked his head and mumbled, "Sorry."
Natalie reached over and with one finger, lifted his chin, "You scared us because we care so much about you, that's all. There's nothing to be sorry about."
Eva gave Miles a somewhat indulgent smile. He was so hard on himself. Always expecting more from himself than anyone else did. Well, except maybe Stephen. But as they'd said before, Stephen suffered from a bad case of high expectations. "You saved those boys, and Kris. Nat's right. You have nothing to be sorry for. . .unless you lose this game," she teased, beginning to deal the cards.
"Rats," Natalie said, "no ice. Eva, do you mind?" She held out the ice cup with a teasing waggle watching Eva get up with an exaggerated groan.
Before turning to the door Eva glanced at Miles. He was smiling, but clearly tired. 'At least he's recovering,' she thought as she gave him a grin before walking out the door.
"Stay here," Nat said as if Miles were going anywhere, getting a pair of raised eyebrows in response. "I'm just going to run check on your chart again. Be right back."
When she returned just a few minutes later, he was sound asleep, his cards fallen loosely from one lax hand.
Ice bucket in hand, Eva allowed herself a small smile as she paused in the doorway. Miles was asleep, and Natalie was pulling the blanket up over him.
"Guess that's our cue to leave for the night," she said in a soft voice as she moved to stand beside Natalie, and gathered up the cards, putting them back in their box.
"Fastest game of cards in history," Natalie agreed. She leaned forward, gently touched a feather-light kiss to Miles' forehead and picked up her purse.
"You make a great 'Big Sister'," Eva teased. She and Frank had shared more than one smile at the Big Sister and Little Brother relationship Natalie and Miles had.
"Well," Natalie whispered, gathering up her things and closing up the pizza box, leaving it where Miles could reach it when he woke and turning off the light, "this little brother is giving me grey hair."
Eva gave her friend a look that mixed disbelief and amusement. Natalie was still years away from grey hairs.
When they were out in the hallway, she said in a normal voice, "Do you think he looks okay? He looks okay, doesn't he? I feel like it's my fault I let him go up there in the first place. I'm the one who sent him to check it out."
"He looks a lot better than he did. He'll be fine, Natalie. And you know Miles. He'd have gone even if you told him not to," she pointed out. "Miles is like you and Stephen that way. He always puts his patients ahead of himself. It's one of the reasons you're such good doctors."
Nat shook her head, but she was smiling. "It's just that he's so young, you know." She sighed, then brightened, wrapping her arm around Eva's shoulder. "What do you say we go out and get wild. We can pretend the world didn't almost end. How about it? Just us girls?"
"Sounds great. I heard about a new dance club just before we flew South. . . and things went South," Eva added with a wry grin, and the thought that she was spending too much time with Stephen and Frank. She'd never used terms like 'gone South' before she met them. "We should go see if it's as good as I heard. It's not even too far from your place." After the stress and insanity of the last weeks, a night of dancing sounded perfect to Eva. 'just what the doctor ordered,' she thought with a small grin.
"You're on," Nat said as she leaned on Eva and pulled first one then the other shoe off, sighed in relief, then hailed a cab.
With her first real laugh in weeks Eva followed Natalie into the cab.