"You missed the ending."
The light was entirely different from what he remembered, and the DVD player was closed and off to the side on a table. It couldn't be morning, could it? When had he fallen asleep? He stretched carefully, testing, stopped at a warning twinge from his back.
Still…things seemed a little better…a little less inertia weighing him down. He yawned before he could stop himself. "Happy, right?"
Coop snorted. "Yeah, but what a ride to get there. Sheesh."
A familiar aroma hovered in the air, and he squinted at Coop suspiciously. "That coffee? Where's mine?"
"Here." Coop handed over the paper cup. "It's black, though. And don't tell. I'm already in trouble for the schnapps."
Don accepted the cup between his bandaged palms and swallowed a sip, the familiar bitterness welcome. He held the cup out with both hands, letting his head drop back into the pillows. "What you still doing hanging around here anyway? Madden didn't call you back in?"
"Naw," Coop dropped into a chair next to the bed and stretched his legs out in front of him. "Gave me some time off. Has some crazy idea that seeing you take an ice ride to the falls was trow-matic. I figure time off is time off, so what the heck."
"Yeah, looks like you're really doing up the town." Don accepted the cup again and took another sip before handing it back.
"Hey, that redheaded EMT stops by here every day – there are worse places to be."
"Yeah, saw the DVD player's still here."
"Guess who else stopped by? By telephone, anyway?"
Don groaned and rubbed his wrapped paws over his face, ignoring the proffered coffee this time. "Man. Again? Can't believe I missed them…" He let his hands fall and peered at Coop hopefully. "You make 'em feel better? Tell 'em not to come?"
Coop chuckled. "Yeah, that'd work, right?"
Don released an unwise sigh that caught somewhere beneath his breastbone and started a cough. The magic straw made a reappearance and he took a careful sip, coughed again to clear his throat. "They're coming…?"
Don blinked. "Then…?"
"Cordy. She took that phone an' went into this fountain o' med-speak…man, it was G-D beautiful. Got all those ruffled feathers smoothed down…had 'em eatin' outta her hand."
Don tipped his head back into the pillows, closed his eyes and swallowed a rush of relief.
"So, that would be so terrible? Your folks show up ta fluff yer pillows and buy you a coupla balloons? I could make myself scarce."
He shook his head, eyes still closed. STILL dragging? How was that even possible? Shouldn't he be rested by now? "No, it's not – remember Quantico?"
Coop aimed his empty cup at the trash and shrugged. "More or less."
"Remember how…things were all…sort of…theoretical? I mean you got the idea and all, but then you went on active duty, and…well…" He opened his eyes. "It's not the same. I mean, not the same as just knowing about it or even talking about it, not even the same as photos…seeing it. Once you see it, well – " he shrugged. "That's it. Those pictures never go away. They live in your head forever."
Coop wordlessly handed him the water cup and straw and he took a deep sip, then a breath, pushing the cup carefully back onto the wheeled table in front of him. He had to swallow again before continuing. "I know my folks worry. I guess I can't do much about that. But…seeing me like this…that makes it real. They don't need to live with those pictures in their heads."
Coop was silent. Then he gave a short nod.
"Well! You're awake!" A small woman in scrubs entered with a brisk smile and crossed out the name "Kip" on a whiteboard, adding "Jill" in its place. She glanced at a screen next to the bed, then checked his chart. "Looks like you could try some breakfast, if you're interested."
Don eyed her cautiously. "Depends. On what you call breakfast."
She smiled. "Well, it will be bland to start. How about oatmeal or yogurt and some fruit? We could even go crazy and mix them together."
"Will I recognize them?"
"You'll have to tell me. We'll use it as a vision/cognizance test as well."
Don sighed. "Why not. Um – I assume this is oatmeal you can eat through a straw?" He held up his hands.
"Ah. Well," she studied his chart for a minute. "Let me see what I can do."
Coop waited until she had disappeared through the swinging door. "I could feed you," he offered sweetly.
"Try and I'll kill you."
Coop gave a crack of laughter. "That I'd like to see."
"Don't count me out."
"Bud, even before this last gig I knew better than that. Hey!" The door swung inward again, but it wasn't the nurse this time. "Perfect timing. They were just threatening to serve Donnie hospital food."
"Aw…" Cordy put down a bag by the door and slipped out of her parka. "Terrible to save a man's life and survive death by iceberg, only to succumb to death by slop." She studied the screen by his bed and then narrowed her eyes at him, smiled. "You are looking better. More like a living person."
"Thanks. I think," Don held up a bandaged mitt. "Wait a minute – back up. Are you saying Chambers is going to make it?"
"Looks like. For what, I'm not sure, but alive is better than dead, I guess."
"That's what I bet on every day. C'mon, you must too."
Cordy smiled. "Guess that's true. Long speech for you – that deserves a reward." She opened the bag and pulled out a carboard carton labeled Box of Joe and a waxed paper bag, then lined up a row of three paper cups. "A little coffee should hit the spot about now – lots of milk in yours, until you're further along."
"That's how he likes it anyhow." Coop stood, watching the proceedings with interest. "Me, I like mine black and strong."
"How did I know that?" Cordy laid out a pile of glazed donuts next to the cups. "They have great donuts in this town – sometimes we cross the border just to have a few."
"Mm." Coop bit one, nodding his head approvingly. "His doc know about this, or should we be ready to shuffle them out of sight?"
Cordy shot him a look. "Some of us know enough to check with medical personnel – kind of a professional courtesy."
Coop wiped sugar off of his upper lip. "Sounds like some of us aren't a lot of fun."
"Sounds like some of us don't know what fun really is."
"Maybe when some of us are done, somebody could hand me a donut? No hands, remember?" Don lifted his bandaged paws plaintively.
"Sorry." Cordy broke a donut in two and arranged one half between his palms. "Let's try it a little at a time."
"Thanks." Don managed a tentative bite and smiled appreciatively. "And not just for this – Coop tells me you talked my folks down. Thanks."
"Not a problem. I've got that speech pretty much homed. As it happens, parents don't love you hanging out of choppers and scrabbling down cliffs either."
Coop reached for a second donut. "Kind of funny – everybody wants one of us there when we're needed, but nobody wants it to be their own kid."
Don shrugged. "Somebody's gotta do it."
"Kind of my point. Ready to switch donut for coffee?"
Don nodded, accepting the cup and easing it toward his lips. He swallowed carefully and then sighed. "That's the stuff. Starting to feel normal again."
"Don't get cocky. But a lap around the hallways might be a good project for later."
"Seriously?" Don brightened.
"Well, we'll check with your physician," Cordy gave Coop a meaningful look. "But you seem ready."
"So…when do you think I could get out of here? In your professional opinion? Man, I've had enough of these four walls."
Coop gave a crack of laughter. "Look who's pretending he's even seen them. You'll have Cordy thinking we don't enjoy her company."
Cordy shook her head, but she was smiling. "Tell you what. We can ask your doctor…" she skewered Coop with another stern glance, "…and if you're good and follow orders, once you're released, we'll have a field trip to a theatre I know that shows retro films. My treat. Both of you." She handed Don the second half of his donut. "That will discourage you – " she handed a fresh one to Coop, "from leading him down the wrong path."
Coop bit his donut in two. "Like anybody can lead this guy anywhere he doesn't wanna go. More movies you have to read?"
"It'll be good for your cerebral development. You seem like you could use it."
Coop choked on a mouthful of donut and dissolved into a paroxysm of coughing. Cordy obligingly hammered between his should blades. "You guys ever have poutine? You shouldn't come this close to Canada and leave without trying some."
Coop and Don looked at each other, and then back at her.
"French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. Not a single nutritional value to speak of, but is it good."
"Oh, great. Not only am I reading movies now, but I'm also eating fries with gravy, instead of ketchup, like God intended?"
"They're potatoes, Coop," Don pointed out, surreptitiously suppressing a yawn. "You eat potatoes with gravy all the time."
"And I remember a whole lot of sniffling during that movie you keep protesting about," Cordy added.
"Hey, her baby died!"
The door swung inward to reveal a nurse pushing a small cart. "Well," she eyed them quizzically. "Sounds like a party in here. I need to take Agent Eppes' vitals and freshen his bandages – if you could wait outside?"
Coop gave Don's blanket-draped foot a pat as he passed. "Be right back,"
"Yeah," Cordy threw him a smile. "We'll pick up some magazines" She gave Coop a sly look. "And more tissues."
"The baby was dead." Coop protested doggedly, as he strode through the door on her heels. "She was baptizing a dead baby!"
The nurse was arranging a tray at his bedside. "This won't take long. You might feel a little discomfort – just rate it for me from one to ten. I know not having use of your hands is a problem, so let me know if there is anything you need me to do for you."
"Sure." Don watched her begin the process of cutting the bandages from his left hand, decided he wasn't sure he wanted to watch and turned his head, wincing a little as he found the sore spot there. The vase of flowers filled his vision, bright and faintly fragrant. He studied them, even through the sudden tug of adhesive at his fingers, hissed before he could stop himself.
"Sorry." The nurse sounded focused on her task. "On a scale from one to ten?"
"I don't know. Three, maybe?"
"Better that you're feeling something there anyway."
The skin of his fingers went cold as she spread something over them, layered his palm with what felt like gauze. He kept his eyes on the bright vase. The flowers were a mixture of lilies and gladiolas and some yellow flowers he didn't recognize.
Pretty. And kind of cheerful.
He could picture his mother meticulously selecting them, almost hear his dad arguing that maybe a plant would be better, his mother rejoining that a plant required care. He smiled a little, even as tape tightened around his fingers. After a second he sighed.
"I guess I do need something." He felt the scissors start on his right hand, winced as his fingers broke free. "Maybe…" the ointment was on this hand now and he had to close his eyes and bite his lip for a moment.
"On a scale of one to ten?"
He unclenched his teeth. "Um…four, I guess?" He tentatively tried to flex his fingers.
Ouch. Okay, that one was more like a six…
"Maybe you can write and send a note for me?"