Jaime, Oscar and Max pulled into the Elgin driveway after a long day of traveling. No one was happier to stretch his legs than Max. He took off running the moment Jaime opened the car door. Helen and Jim came out to greet the tired couple. After a lot of hugging, Helen invited them for dinner.
Oscar and Jaime had been together for five blissful weeks in Washington. Arriving home from work in the evening to find Jaime there was the best experience he'd ever had. They had dinner and talked about their respective days before spending the entire night in each other's arms. Being able to discuss his day with someone was so refreshing. He found that he could let go of annoyances easier because she teased him out of them. Jaime had the gift of listening to him talk about options to solve problems without jumping in until he wanted her to. She had great instincts so was a valuable sounding board. For her part, Jaime was investigating the next professional step she wanted to take. She was leaning towards psychotherapy. It would require years of college courses to receive her doctorate but she had Oscar's full support and encouragement. The great thing about Oscar was that he was so supportive. He allowed her the room to grow. He was proud of her and encouraged her independent streak. It was so refreshing to have a man who didn't want to change her to suit his wants.
Dinner with Helen and Jim was much appreciated. Oscar had had dinner with them and Jaime and/or Steve dozens of times but he felt this was different. Now that he and Jaime were a couple, Helen went out of her way to treat him extra special and even more like one of the family. As always conversation flowed easily.
"Oscar, how long are you going to stay?" Jim asked as Helen served coffee.
"Not as long as I'd like. I'm going to work from the Los Angeles office for the next three weeks then I have to return to Washington for a few days. I hope to be able to work from Los Angeles often."
"When he can't come here, I'll go there. Now that I've got you, I'm not letting you go" Jaime smiled as she ran her hand across his chest while she handed him a plate of cake from behind the couch.
He looked up at her and smiled.
Helen saw the display of affection between the pair and smiled to herself. She'd never seen Jaime this happy, enthusiastic and, at the same time, at peace. With a pang of guilt, she realized that Jaime wasn't even this content all those years ago with Steve. Maybe Jaime and Steve weren't as "meant to be" as she'd always imagined. Who would have thought Jaime's "Mr. Right" would be Oscar Goldman. In addition to Oscar's usual quiet confidence was added happiness and content that Helen had never seen before. A month with Jaime had calmed him.
An hour later Jaime and Oscar said their good night. It had been a long day and both were ready to fall into bed. Oscar was especially looking forward to finally sleeping in Jaime's bed. It didn't matter that they'd been sleeping together for over a month. For 3 years every time he visited her he had eyed that 4-poster bed. He would daydream about waking up with her as the sun came into the window above the bed. It was a little silly but now the dream would be a reality.
In the early morning hours Jaime and Oscar were suddenly awoken by Max jumping on the bed and barking. Oscar was disorientated by waking in a strange place and the barking dog. Max's barking became frantic as he nudged them both. After a few seconds, it dawned on Jaime.
"Get up! There's an earthquake." Jaime shot out of bed and started putting on her robe.
Oscar was still trying to get his pants and shoes on when it hit. He'd been in a few quakes before but not like this. Max was still barking but at the front door. Things started falling off shelves and walls. Jaime grabbed Oscar and they practically jumped down the stairs. There was a huge crash as a tree fell through the roof crushing the bed. Once outside they could feel the ground shifting under their feet. Jaime could hear transformers pop as electric poles snapped. There were other explosions from gas lines blowing up. Max was barking and running around in circles which just added to the chaos. The horses were just as crazy as Max trying to get out of their corral. When they thought things couldn't be worse, Oscar and Jaime watched in horror as two trees crashed down on the Elgin house.
After what seemed like hours but was only a minute or so, the ground stopped rolling. They had already started for the Elgin home. Jaime busted down the door as both Oscar and Jaime yelled for Helen and Jim. Oscar figured that one of the trees had hit their bedroom and the other the kitchen. There was broken china and glass every where.
Jaime stopped Oscar for a second while she listened for the Elgins. "In the kitchen – Wait – near the bedroom."
After a quick survey, Oscar told Jaime, "You go to the bedroom. I'll take the kitchen. Be careful - I don't like the look of the ceiling."
Oscar headed for the kitchen looking and listening for one of the Elgins. He wanted to move quickly but had to restrain himself as he feared bringing the entire roof down. Finally he saw a hand. It was a man. "JIM! Hold on. Wiggle your right hand if you hear me!"
The hand wiggled and Oscar heard a faint voice, "My…leg…is trapped."
Oscar slowly pulled ceiling, tree and 2x4's off Jim. It wasn't easy but he freed Jim. His leg was cut badly but Oscar figured a few stitches would fix him up.
"Where's Helen?" Jim weakly asked.
"Jaime's searching. Was she still in bed?" Oscar asked hoping the answer was no.
"No, we were both up. She was…in the hall, I think." Jim started to panic.
"It's okay Jim. We'll get her." Oscar took Jim outside near the driveway.
"You stay here. I'll go help Jaime look for Helen."
Jaime had slowly picked her way to the hall. There was a great deal of creaking from the ceiling that had her really worried. She was relieved to hear Oscar helping Jim. Jaime ran across an 8" diameter tree branch that had to be dealt with before she could move on. Jaime karate chopped it then through it out of her way. Jaime then heard Helen from behind a wall.
"MOM, I hear you. I'm coming – hold on!" Jaime didn't quite know how to get through the debris and pull Helen free without both of them being killed. "OSCAR, I need you…" Jaime stopped yelling when she felt him beside her. "That was quick. Helen's behind that wall. Look…" Jaime pointed to the ceiling "Oscar, I'm afraid if I bust through this wall, the whole thing will come down."
Oscar looked at the wall and ceiling. Jaime was right – it looked very unstable. He went back up the hall to have a look. "Jaime, come here. Break through the wall here. Let's see if we can get to her from this end of the house."
Jaime punched a hole in the wall with her fist three times to make a hole big enough for them to survey the situation inside. It was a mess with fallen ceiling, support beams and broken furniture. They could see Helen's feet close to the door but not much else.
"Jaime, kick the wall - right there."
Jaime kicked a hole big enough for them to crawl in. Once inside they made their way to Helen. She was luckier than Oscar first thought. Helen's legs were pinned but the rest of her was free. The problem was there was debris just waiting to fall on her from above. Jaime trusted that Oscar would figure out the best method of releasing Helen.
Oscar picked up a 2x4 and handed it to Jaime. "Put it there. You lift it up and I'll get her." He then positioned himself where he thought it best to pull Helen out.
"Helen, Jaime is going to lift everything up. Hold out your hands and I'll pull you out. Understood?" After Helen replied yes, Oscar gave a quick encouraging smile to Jaime and she slowly lifted.
Oscar grabbed Helen's arms and pulled her out of the room. To his horror he heard creaking then saw Jaime leap through the hole into the living room before the roof collapsed in the bedroom. Jaime and Oscar hurriedly helped Helen out of the house before more of the roof came down. Helen was bruised and shaken up otherwise unhurt. She and Jim held each other tight as they watched their beloved home collapse completely. Oscar and Jaime sat wrapped up together on the ground next to them.
As Oscar looked at the devastation, he was amazed that none of them had been severely injured or even killed. The next step was to get Jim to the doctor for stitches and Helen to get a check up. The closest medical facility was at the airbase. That would also be a great place to start finding out what was going on and how he could assist.
"Oscar, we need to get to the base. Helen and Jim can get checked out and maybe we can find out how we can help others who need rescued" Jaime spoke softly to him.
"I was thinking the same thing. Helen, Jim we'll leave you here with Max while we dress then we'll make our way to the base so you can get treatment" Oscar's mind was racing in the effort to devise a plan of action.
The two couples piled into Oscar's rental car to take the short journey to the base. The roads were cracked and broken in places but they were able to go around them. The base was on lockdown but Oscar's status got them in. Jim and Helen were dropped off at the hospital. Jaime and Oscar found the base commander Tom Holloway.
"The earthquake center was just north of Ojai. Preliminary reports say it was an 8. The immediate area around the earthquake center is in the woods. Phone lines are down all over. Communication is limited."
"How may we help?" Oscar asked after looking at the map. He had some ideas but it was Col. Holloway's area of responsibility.
"Mr. Goldman, we have an area east of town that is unincorporated. The local authorities have asked for our help combing the area for possible victims. The best way there is by jeep."
"Oscar, I know that area." After exchanging a look and nod, Jaime continued, "Tom, we'll search there. The homes are spread out – it could take us a while. What should we do if we find injuries?"
"Assess the severity then radio for a chopper." Col. Holloway gave Oscar a radio and map. "Take some medical supplies, food and water with you."
With that Oscar went to secure a jeep and Jaime started gathering the supplies. In 15 minutes they were on the road. Oscar drove as fast as the jeep would go. It was refreshing to have Jaime at his side working as a team. He didn't get to take an active part in missions as much as he would like. Up the mountain road they went, Jaime directing him to the first house. The appearance of the house was that it had been empty since before the quake. Miles further along the bumpy mountain road was another home and another after that. Occasionally Jaime had to move some trees that had fallen but their journey was uneventful. Both were relieved that they had not found any injuries. It was nearly nightfall when they returned to the base. On their journey they had visited 6 homes. There were only minor injuries that even Jaime was able to assist in doctoring.
Oscar and Jaime were exhausted from getting so little sleep the night before and the hectic day. They found out that Helen and Jim had been released and that they were at Bill Elgin's home. Bill was Jim's brother. There was a message from Helen saying Bill had invited them to stay as well. It was close to midnight when they arrived. While they ate some sandwiches, they replayed their respective day. After Oscar and Jaime nodded off a couple of times, Helen sent them to bed.
Steve Austin had been on a mission in Thailand for a couple of weeks then he decided he needed a vacation. After talking to Russ, Oscar was preparing for a conference, Steve dropped out of sight. He went to Europe to tour around the Rhineland. He was back from his trip in New York when he saw on the news about the California earthquake the previous day. He tried calling his parents and Jaime with no success. He tried calling Oscar to see if he'd heard anything but Oscar wasn't home or in the office. Even though it was the weekend, Oscar was usually to be found sitting behind his desk. Steve decided to call Uncle Bill. To Steve's relief his mom answered.
"Oh Steve, we've had quite a time. Jim's right leg has stitches and both of us are bruised but thank God we weren't killed, Jaime and Oscar too. The house is destroyed. One tree fell in the bedroom and another into the kitchen. If it hadn't been for Max, Jaime and Oscar would have been killed. He woke them up right before the earthquake. They got out just as a tree fell through the roof right on top of the bed."
Steve didn't really catch the next few words as the part about Jaime and Oscar "woke them" and "bed" needed to be reviewed. Did he hear his mom correctly?
Helen was still speaking when Steve started listening again, "… Jim was in the kitchen and I was getting up when we heard Max barking. He was having an absolute fit. The windows were open so we could hear him very plain. I was headed out of the bedroom to find out what was going on when the earthquake hit. I fell down at the doorway when I heard a crack. The next thing I knew was a tree and the roof had me pinned. I wasn't hurt, yet, but was trapped. I heard another crash in the house but couldn't tell where. Well, it was in the kitchen and it pinned Jim under the table. Max was still barking but it sounded closer. The ground was still shaking when I heard Jaime and Oscar yelling then Jaime kicked the door down. Oh Steve, if they hadn't come home the night before Jim and I would be dead. Oscar was able to free Jim then he helped Jaime free me. She busted into the bedroom from the living room then lifted the ceiling and tree just enough for Oscar to pull me out. We just got into the living room when the roof started to come down more. Oscar drove us to the base hospital. They left us and went out rescuing people. You should have seen them when they got back at midnight. Their dedication is commendable but there is a limit. I tried stopping them going out again today but I just wasted my breath. We've had a few aftershocks but they've been small. I hope we don't have any large ones but we usually do." Helen finally stopped to take a breath. Her heart was pounding from thinking about the ordeal.
"I'm glad everyone's alright" was all Steve could say. His mom's horrifying tale plus hearing about Jaime and Oscar were a little too much for him to process. "Mom, I'm on my way out there. Is the house a total loss?"
"Steve, I would love for you to come home. I'll tell Bill to expect one more. Luckily there's plenty of room. I think the house is a goner but I would like to figure out how to recover some of our things. The carriage house too. Thankfully most of Oscar's luggage was still packed from when they arrived. He and Jaime pulled out the suitcases and were able to pack some of her clothes before we went to the base."
"Okay Mom. I'll…uh…see you tonight." Steve hung up the phone. His brow furrowed as he thought. Jaime and Oscar? This is news. She was dating Chris the last time he'd talked to her. When was that? Ah, while she was recovering from being poisoned. Oscar had been beside himself after finding out she'd almost given her life for him. Steve remembered Jaime and Oscar arguing about it in the hospital.
"You hypocrite! You would have done the same if it were reversed "Jaime thundered at Oscar.
"That's different!" thundered Oscar, eyes bulging and veins popping.
"How may I ask is it different?" Jaime countered her face red wearing an expression that made Steve back away slowly.
"Because…I…because it is!" Oscar looked like he was practically strangling on something but he stormed out of the room.
Steve thought about all the times he'd seen them together and what gossip he'd heard. He'd seen them hug and kiss but not too much. They did sometimes seem embarrassed and a little odd when he was around. He'd heard Oscar call her "Babe" which was usually a term used with a lover but Steve had never seen any indication that they were lovers. His parents mentioned that Oscar had been to dinner or was in town but not that he was sleeping with Jaime, until now that is. Then again, it wasn't something that under normal circumstances they would discuss. Washington society had generated a fair amount of gossip about them as they were always seen at receptions and Washington parties. Callahan never seemed to give much credence to the gossip. Jaime was dating Chris and Oscar was married to the OSI.
Oscar's my best friend, Steve thought. He's a great guy but…he's sleeping with MY Jaime. Steve had a vision of throwing Oscar head first into a wall. That's stupid Austin, Steve stopped himself. He and Jaime had written off their relationship years before. They had tried to get something going but they were too different. Jaime had grown a great deal in 3 years. In many ways she wasn't the same woman he'd been engaged to. Jaime had dated a number of guys besides Chris and Steve was okay with that. Why care if she's dating Oscar? Oscar wouldn't go into the relationship lightly, Steve knew Oscar better than that. If he had decided to be with Jaime, it was serious. Maybe that was it. Steve knew that he'd lost Jaime forever. It was a sad realization but a relief too. Now he didn't need to keep her in the back of his mind when dating.
Jaime and Oscar arrived at the base early. They were tired but it was a good feeling. They were doing something useful. They were the kind of people who gave of themselves unselfishly. Jaime watched Oscar with love and pride. Desk jockey that he was, Oscar displayed a powerhouse of energy and resourcefulness out in the field. She couldn't help but smile at him and give his hand a squeeze.
"What?" Oscar smiled back.
"I was just thinking you are wonderful. I love seeing you like this. There were a few missions that you'd been great to have along on. And I'm thinking how much I love you."
Oscar leaned over to kiss her, "Thanks Babe. I love you. It is refreshing to actually see the people we're helping. I'm use to 'The Big Picture'. I hate sending you on missions, I always have. You don't know how many times I tried to invent ways to go along but it never seemed practical. I didn't want you to think I didn't have confidence or trust in you. It was torture waiting to hear from you and your return. I…don't know how I'm ever going to be able to send you on another mission even if you wanted one." Oscar looked down then away.
Jaime squeezed his hand then leaned into him, "I know. I always wondered how you did it. Let's get through all this then we can figure out something, okay."
Tom Holloway was in his office preparing for another day of disaster recovery. There were now FEMA workers in the area. Trying to deal with federal and local government officials was annoying to the Air Force officer. He was relieved to see Oscar Goldman walk in. If anyone could handle the bureaucrats, it was him. "Jaime, Mr. Goldman, I'm really glad to see you. The FEMA and local government officials are driving me crazy. I don't speak their language. Would you mind working with them? I'll give you Captain Henderson's office."
Oscar was slightly disappointed to return to a desk but with Jaime's assistance, after more hours than it should have taken, they got all the conflicting agencies on the same page. All day was spent coordinating rescue operations, charitable donations, housing relief, food distribution and numerous other details during disasters. It was after 7 o'clock when Oscar and Jaime left the base. They were exhausted dealing with all the politics.
"Now Babe you see what I have to deal with everyday."
"No thanks, I'd rather deal with bullets whizzing by me." Jaime laughed.
Steve Austin had arrived at Bill Elgin's home an hour earlier. He was relieved to see his mother and step-father recovering. He took them over to the house. Despite his mother's worry, Steve went into the house to pull out some clothes and special items that he could grab. Looking at the damage, he was amazed and very thankful that his parents were still alive. If it wasn't for Jaime and Oscar's quick actions, they would have died. Steve had reconciled himself to their relationship but still was curious. How and when did it start? Why didn't they tell him?
Once they arrived back at Bill's house, Steve asked "Mom, how long have Jaime and Oscar been…together?"
Helen was taken a little by surprise. She thought Steve knew but then it hit her that he's been out of the country when the whole business with the NSB started. "I'm sorry son, I forgot you've been out of the country."
Helen told him the whole story. How Jaime wanted to retire then the NSB wanting to put her away and Oscar coming to warn her. "That's really when they realized what they meant to each other." Helen recounted what Jaime told her of being on the run and her return to Ojai. She told Steve how just days after returning from Washington, Jaime flew back there. She and Oscar had been together since that day. Helen told Steve about Jaime being shot and about sending Max to Washington on the private plane Oscar had chartered.
"Steve, I know you and Jaime gave up on getting together but I can see you are bothered. Is it that Jaime is with someone or is it because it's Oscar?"
Steve looked thoughtfully at his mother, "It's just a surprise. Jaime's my best girl and Oscar's my best friend. I'm glad they're happy. I guess I had in the back of my head that maybe someday Jaime and I might get together after all. Now…I know we won't."
Helen patted Steve on the arm and smiled. Just then they heard a car pull up, a great deal of laughter and a woman squeal. The door was opened by a high spirited Jaime and Oscar. Jaime responded first by stopping in her tracks with Oscar running into her then he saw what she did. Their eyes popped wide and they turned pink then gray.
"STEVE!" Jaime said in a very loud voice. Steve stood up to greet her with a hug. He and Oscar looked at each other in a manner that concerned Jaime.
"Hi Steve" Oscar said with a little hesitation.
"Hi Oscar" Steve replied while still looking at Oscar. "You look like you could use a beer. Wanna join me?" Steve saw Oscar's look of relief and a smile hit his face.
"Thanks Pal." One big hurdle down, Oscar thought to himself. He gave Jaime a smile and wink. She responded by giving him a silent but exaggerated sigh of relief.