Chapter 8

It was the familiar beeping of the hospital monitors that finally woke him. The smell he inhaled was as familiar as a friend and belonged to one that had saved him several times, but one that he was loathe to see. Antiseptic. He groaned softly, feeling the headache begin before he'd had a chance to do little more than crack his eyes open.

"Tommy?"

His eyes opened in surprise. "Kim?"

"Oh, Tommy!" She darted into the room, throwing her arms around him where he lay in the hospital bed. Her palms were swathed in gauze from wrist to the base of her fingers - something he didn't understand. "I was so afraid! I saw you hit that wall and I thought... I..."

He chuckled, wincing as the reason for his hospitalization came clear. Broken ribs. "I'm alright. The doctor wouldn't have let anyone but family see me if I wasn't."

Heat bloomed on her cheeks as she cast a guilty look towards the nurse. Tommy realized he'd said something wrong the moment before the nurse strode forward with a frown on her face. "I thought you said you were family, miss."

Kimberly's blush deepened as she cast a beseeching look back towards him. Her brown eyes begged for help as she mouthed a word at him. Fido? Finals... fiancée? He arched his eyebrows at her in surprise. She shrugged, as if to say it was the only way to get what she wanted - the only way to be close to him.

"It's alright nurse, Kim won't tax me."

"Miss Hart shouldn't be in here, Mister Oliver." The nurse's tone was stern and disapproving. "You've had a serious accident and need your rest. Adoring fans-"

"Fiancée, nurse," Tommy corrected quickly, not daring to look at Kimberly as he willingly compounded her lie. "But it's hush hush, so don't go calling the tabloids or anything, okay?"

The nurse's expression cleared. "Well, that's different. Still, don't stay long, Miss Hart. He needs to recover."

Kimberly settled onto a chair at the edge of the bed as the nurse left the room and gave them some privacy. "This looks familiar; only I think positions were reversed last time."

"Is this where you tell me I need to land on my feet?"

"Nope. You just need to learn how to drive."

He chuckled, grasping his ribs as pain shot through his chest. "Stick with what works, is that it?"

"Something like that." Her expression was serious. "I thought after everything you'd gone and died on me."

"Before I hear why you sent me a letter about someone you'd never mentioned before? Not a chance."

Her hand crept onto the mattress near his head as if wanting to touch him but not daring. "Now?"

"I know I said my place, but this is as close as it gets right now." His smile was faint. "I'll probably be here for a day or two for observation before they'll let me go."

"And what, you just hop right back on your bike?"

"Of course." His grin turned teasing. "So where's my teddy bear?"

Her laughter was soft. She bent down, rummaging in something on the floor and then produced a very familiar white bear that looked a little worse for wear but well cared for. The red bow around his neck was slightly tattered, but it was expected since the bear appeared to see a lot of travel. Kimberly put the bear up to his head and grinned, shaking it a little. "Binky says you need to be more careful; hospitals aren't a fun place."

"Binky knows this does he?"

Kimberly nodded sagely. "He came into my life in a hospital; I think he knows all about them." She stopped for a moment and then placed the bear on his chest, waiting.

"He's yours, Kim. I can't take him."

"You could borrow him. It's nice to have something to snuggle at night."

"I'm good."

She looked uncomfortable for a minute before carefully lifting the stuffed toy from his chest. Instead of putting it back in the bag, she cuddled it in her lap in a move that looked well practiced.

"I can't believe you still have that thing."

"Really?" She cocked her head at him. "I have most of the presents you gave me. The ones Rita and Zed didn't destroy anyway."

"Why'd you keep 'em?"

"Why'd you? I saw the cowboy hat in your trailer."

"Since when were you in my trailer?"

She blushed. "Your crew chief took me there to calm me down. Coach isn't too impressed with me right now."

"Oh?"

"I jumped the rail and the safety fence when you crashed and did some damage to my hands." She held up one hand, unwilling to reveal her role in pulling him from the flames. "Your crew chief got a kick and a punch before I realized where I was and what I was doing."

"You hit Wally?" He laughed and groaned, clutching his ribs as he curled into the pain. "Wally's gotta have loved that."

"I apologized." She looked away, toying with the ribbon around the bear's neck. "You were smothered in the flames of the wreck, Tommy. I thought..." she paused. "Your suit saved your life you know."

Flames? He vaguely remembered flames and that would explain the tenderness to his body. Time spent inside a flaming crash – it wouldn't have been the first time.

Kim continued. "The whole thing was caught on film and people started to speculate on why I was so worried about you. So when I came to see you I used it to my advantage. I had to see for myself that you were okay."

Tommy could relate. He could easily remember their reversed positions. The sight of Kimberly lying stretched out in a hospital bed, looking vulnerable, had scared the bejesus out of him. He'd never wanted to see her in that position again. "I'm alright; promise."

"Good." She fiddled with one of the bear's arms. "I guess I should explain, huh?"

He nodded. He'd been waiting a long time for this discussion and while he hadn't pictured it being confined to a hospital bed with Kimberly posing as his fiancée, it would do.

She took a deep breath, straightening her shoulder as if unconsciously preparing for a fight. "Where did you want me to start?"

"Wherever."

She cocked her head as if to say he was no help at all, and then began. "I guess I'll start with when I met Sean."

"He's mister wonderful, kind and caring?"

She flinched, as she had in his tent, but nodded. "He was at first. We started hanging out - he reminded me of you. At first, anyway. We just hit it off, and when he asked me out I knew I couldn't because of you."

"So you decided you belonged with him."

Her nod was miserable. "It was a mistake, Tommy. Sean was great initially, but as Gymnastics began to become more demanding, he wanted more of my time. He made me choose, saying he didn't want half a girlfriend." She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering the argument that had ended the relationship. "We fought, and I... I told him no one who really loved me would make me choose between them and my dream." Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears when she opened them to look at him again. "He told me if that was the case, he'd take comfort in the fact that I'd had that and not trusted in it. That's I'd lost you the way he'd lost me."

His chest ached - and not from his broken ribs. "Kim... why did you write me that letter?"

"I had to." She dashed the tears from her eyes with one hand. "I didn't know when I would be coming back. I knew that if I had met Sean, there was a possibility of you meeting someone else. Keeping you tied to me wasn't fair."

"It was my choice."

"You put your life on hold for me, Tommy." She smiled, her lips trembling. "You gave up, were willing to give up, so much to ensure I had my dream. I couldn't take that from you; it wasn't fair. Not after everything you've done for me."

He reached for her, pushing himself up on the mattress with one arm and hissed through his teeth as his side protested. Kimberly moved, the bear dropping to the ground as she placed both hands on his shoulders and pressed him back to the mattress.

His arm slid around her waist and she was dawn down, bending over the edge as she stared into his eyes. He searched them, looking for something specific; the Kimberly he'd known and the woman who still held his heart.

"You're an idiot, Kimberly."

She jerked away, her expression hurt.

Tommy draw her back down but had the pliability of a board. "If you'd asked to be set free, I'd have let you go. Instead you sent me a letter that turned my world upside down and sent me into a tail spin. I can't tell you how much it hurt; not just getting that letter, but having the guys read it to me."

Her eyes widened. "No!"

He nodded solemnly and let her go. "I tried, Kim. I tried to let you go because it felt like you were running from me; like that's what you needed. I even wrote you a response."

"Did you mail it?"

"It got returned, unopened. I figured at that point you wanted nothing more to do with me. That's when I quit the Rangers and joining the racing circuit."

"Oh, Tommy!"

He shrugged, feeling the knot in his stomach shrinking with the look in her eyes. "I did what I had to. I couldn't stay with the Rangers the way I was; I was more dangerous than helpful and it wasn't fair to them. So I chose my replacement and I walked away. I've been racing ever since."

"And I've been a fool." She glanced at the door and then lifted herself up onto the edge of the bed, looking at him. "I don't have the right to ask, but do you think you could ever forgive me, Tommy?"

His fingers curved around hers. "It doesn't fix the hurt, Kim, but it's a start. I could never stay mad at you in high school and I still can't. What is it about you, beautiful?"

She squeezed his fingers, her smile warming him straight to his toes. "I don't know... but you, Tommy Oliver are under my skin and won't leave."

"Then we're even, Kimberly Ann Hart." He lifted her hand and pulled it to his lips. "We're even."

fin