Writer' Note: This chapter makes a small reference to The Things We Feel. Might want to read that if you get confused. ;) Although, not understanding the reference will in no way hinder the rest of the chapter or story for you.
Beeping slowly rouses me. My world comes into view in the shape of a white room, obscured by the end of my bed, and a large machine to my right. It takes me a moment to register everything, and when I finally understand where I am. Not again…I groan. I couldn't have tried to kill myself – not again, not after the last time. I lift my arm. My shoulder feels numb, and my wrist is marred by I.V. lines. I look past the tubes and the sight of my scarred wrist brings tears of relief to my eyes. The red scars are like neon signs against my pale skin, but they aren't reopened. I didn't try to kill myself.
Then, the whole day comes flooding back to me. Picking up Teri. Being attacked from behind. Getting kicked out of the hotel room. Wandering for hours. Anita picking me up. Shooting a cop. Locating Teri. Shooting Anita and Natalia. …Being shot.
"I'm glad to see someone's awake."
The nurse is a petite woman, with hair about as red as mine used to be. She wears wiry glasses and holds a clipboard smartly against the crook of her elbow while she marches up to check the stats on the machine.
"How are you feeling, Renee?" she asks.
"L-like I've been shot," I croak.
"Hmm, no kidding. Let me get some ice chips for you, okay? I'll be right back."
The nurse clicks away in a whoosh, and for a minute I blink, wondering if I imagined her. But nope, she clicks back in moments later, carrying a Styrofoam cup. "Here ya are," she says, flashing a smile at me.
I close my right hand around the cup and use my left to spoon in a mouthful.
"You gave everyone quite a scare," the nurse says. "You almost died. But you're stable now, so everything's okay!" She nods emphatically.
I need coffee to be able to deal with her cheerfulness. "Mmm…" I murmur without commitment.
"You also have some people who've been trying to visit you for hours. One of them is another patient of this very hospital! Do you feel up to seeing anyone?"
Forget coffee. I need a cigarette. Wait…patient? "Who's the patient?" I ask, frowning.
"A woman named Kim McAllen."
Mc…oh. Stephen's last name. "Is she okay?" I ask.
"She has a couple of bumps and bruises, but she'll be right as rain sooner than you can say…" The woman shrugs playfully. "…rain!"
"Let me see her."
"Okay, then! I'll be right back."
Another nurse wheels Kim into the room a few minutes later, and my stomach drops. A couple of bumps and bruises? Her lip's busted and swollen, her eye and cheek black, her hand is bandaged, and god knows what the hospital gown is hiding. "Renee!" Kim says. "I'm so glad you're okay." Then she frowns at the nurse. "Could you take me closer so I'm not shouting? Thank you." Now right beside my bed, Kim leans forward, placing a hand on my arm. "Thank you so much for saving my daughter," she says tearfully. "And…I'm so sorry. I feel like this is all my fault!" She bursts into tears.
"Kim, how could it be your fault?" I ask. Honestly, the thought bewilders me. "And…what happened to you?"
"Yesterday morning, when I got to work, someone told me there was a package waiting for me in the counseling office. I had no idea what a package would be doing there, but I went anyway. Someone drugged me and when I woke up, some Russian woman wanted to know where you were. I tried not to tell them but they…" She gestures to her bandaged arm. "They kept hurting me, and when I couldn't take it anymore I told them…" She shudders. "I told them my address."
"What?" I say.
"I thought the house would be empty!" Kim cries. "Stephen was supposed to be at work and Teri was supposed to be in preschool. I thought I was saving your life but I was only putting my daughter in danger!"
"You couldn't have known Teri was sick," I say. "It's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault." Including mine…I have to remember that. "It's only Natalia Pavel's fault…and her people's."
"Pavel?" Kim sniffs and wipes her eyes. "That name sounds familiar. Like someone my dad mentioned."
"Jack?" The mention of him reminds me of how…harsh…he was.
"Yeah, uh, he's out in the waiting room with Teri and Stephen."
Teri's name jolts my mind. "Is Teri all right?" I ask.
"She's fine, thanks to you. A little sick and very upset, but alive." Pain flashes across Kim's face. "I…I escaped a few hours after they took me. All I could think about was making sure you were all right, that they didn't find the hotel name written down anywhere or something. And when I got home and found Dad and Stephen and realized my daughter was gone, I was so scared. I couldn't stop shaking. I couldn't stop crying. I…I couldn't be you. I couldn't save her."
What? And I was the brave soldier? "Kim, the only reason I was able to find Teri was because her kidnappers were stupid enough to think I'd ever – ever hurt the people I care about. They…" I swallow. "One of them came to me after I left the hotel room last night. To recruit me against your father."
Kim frowns. "Why would you go against Dad, though?"
"…I'm not sure I'm the right person to tell you that."
Thankfully, the nurse interrupts us. "The doctor needs to see Renee now, Kim," my super-friendly nurse says.
"Oh, of course…" Kim gives me an odd look, but allows the other nurse to wheel her back out.
The doctor walks in and my nurse leaves, giving me a happy wave farewell. I'd kind of like to know what happy pill she's on, and if it could be prescribed for me, too…"Hello, Renee," the doctor says, flipping through the clipboard. "I'm Dr. Shaw. You've had a rough night, huh?"
"Well, I'm no psychiatrist, but I'm here to help if you want to talk." I like her already. Mellow, open, respectful. I could get used to a doctor like her. "Now, we were able to retrieve the bullet and stop the bleeding, but you have to take it easy for a while. Easy," the doctor reiterates gently. "Are you in any pain right now?"
"You will be later. I'll be prescribing some heavy painkillers as well as some antibiotics to ward off infection. The painkillers will make you sleepy, but they'll save you a lot of unnecessary pain." She pauses. "I heard about what you did for that little girl. You're a brave woman, Renee."
I'm beginning to think the whole world is bipolar. One second, I'm the bitch, the next, I'm the brave savior and protector. "Thank you," I say quietly.
Dr. Shaw's hazel eyes are on me softly. "Do you have anyone to stay with once you're released?"
I blink. "I don't know…"
"Well, you have a small but fierce army out there wanting to see you. I'm sure one of them will drag you home, whether you want them to or not. I want to keep you here for the next week. You were very lucky – the bullet missed the bone. It did hit the muscle tissue, but your recovery will be far less than what it would be if bone repair needed to happen. If all goes well, I hope to release you very soon." The doctor pauses, then grasps my good shoulder. "It was touch and go for a while, but you made it. Remember that." She glances down at my wrists for a moment, then smiles at me again.
"Dr. Shaw? Some policemen want to talk to Ms. Walker."
Dr. Shaw looks down at me. "Well," she says, pocketing her hand, "do you feel up to telling the police what happened?"
"Sure," I say. "Let them in."
The cops finally cease their questioning about twenty minutes later, and as they leave, a couple of familiar faces enter.
Little Teri comes rushing in, with Stephen right behind her. She looks up the side of the hospital bed, and then looks back at her father. "Up!" she insists.
Stephen gives me a questioning look, and I nod. He comes over and picks her up so she can crawl against my side. She curls her tiny little arm around me, and I feel my heart melting. "I thought you were gonna die," she says.
"Ahh, it'll take more than a couple of bad guys to do me in," I joke, for her benefit. She giggles into my arm.
"Ricky said there's nothing worse than the boogie man, but those guys were worse than the boogie man, weren't they?"
The image of Anita's face, and Natalia's, appear in my mind's eye. "Yes, they were," I say.
"Are they going to hurt you anymore?"
"No, they're not going to hurt me anymore. Or you."
Teri yawns, and then coughs. "Thank you, Renee."
"You're very welcome, angel."
"You're the angel," Stephen says quietly. I give him a startled look. "You saved my baby girl. I won't ever be able to thank you enough for that."
I'm not sure how to handle the gratitude. I shrug one-sided, and say, "You don't have to."
He swallows. "I'm sorry for not listening to you."
I give him a knowing smile. "You couldn't have done anything differently."
"Yes, I could have. I could've insisted that we listen to you."
"What's done is done. We're all alive, Stephen." It's more than I could've asked for, and more than I dreamed I'd be given.
He nods, and then says, "Teri, let's let Renee get some rest, okay? And you need to rest, too. You're an ill little lady and you need your get-well sleep."
I give Teri one last squeeze, and her father picks her up. "Say goodbye, Teri."
The toddler is already falling asleep against her father's shoulder as he walks out.
I glance at the clock on the wall. It's 9:45. Then it must be Thursday morning. Wow. A couple of weeks in California and I've already gotten myself tangled into a catastrophe. I'm tired enough to sleep for another couple of weeks, though, and I'm glad the nurses left the solid gray curtains firmly shut. I could really use some sleep, just like little Teri.
I close my eyes, and as I start to drift off, I wonder about the one visitor I didn't receive…
An unfamiliar nurse carries in two vases of flowers, one dark purple, one sky blue. The sky blue vase contains bright yellow flowers, and the other, an arrangement of soft purple and pink azaleas. A card sits by the blue vase.
"Renee: I thought this room could use some color. I hope you like yellow! – Kim."
I don't, actually, but the gesture makes me smile. And the flowers aren't really bad, either. They're like sunshine. I just hope someone takes them away before they start to brown – the browning is why I don't like yellow flowers.
The azaleas, though, are perfect. I love azaleas, especially the pink ones. I know they're really girly, but…they're pretty. I touch one softly, wondering who left them. There's no card with them.
My mind turns to other mysteries. Like where Jack was. He was the only one that didn't come in to visit me this morning. And now visiting hours are nearly up. I frown. Which annoys me more – the fact that he's not here, or the fact that I miss him, despite the things he said?
"Renee?" Dr. Shaw says from the doorway. She walks in. "Your first full day is almost over. How're you feeling?"
I move my upper body experimentally, and shards of pain lance through my shoulder. "Oww…"
"Not so hot, then." She extracts a syringe and puts it in my I.V. "This'll stop the pain and help you sleep tonight, too."
"No, wait –"
The doctor pauses.
…Jack might still come. Unwilling or unable to say the words, I whisper, "Never mind."
She shrugs, and pushes the painkillers into the I.V. Moments later, a heady numbness fills me, and drags me to sleep.
"Well, well, well, good morning, sleeping beauty." Dr. Shaw walks in, looking fresh and bright. I won't let my opinion of her degrade just because she's obviously a morning person…
"No, don't apologize. The body always does its best healing when you're asleep. You slept a few hours longer than I'd anticipated, too. That's good."
I want to ask when I can leave, but I don't exactly have anywhere to go. Or a cent to my name. Well, I had about fifty bucks a couple days ago, but that disappeared with my clothes. If I felt naked back at Jack's old apartment in New York, I definitely feel it, now.
"Are you up to a visitor this morning?"
I try not to wonder who it is when I crack half a grin and say, "Some poor fool wants to see me before I've had coffee?"
"Funny. And yes, I think he's very anxious to see you. I think he's wanted to see you since you got here, but I'm not sure why he hasn't come in before now."
I lick my lips and swallow. "Send him in."
Dr. Shaw's eyebrows furrow curiously. "Don't you want to know who it is?"
"I know who it is." And I'm not sure if I hope I'm right or wrong.
She shrugs. "Okay, then."
The doctor walks out, and almost as soon as she leaves, that perky nurse pops back in. "TGIF!" she says. "Are you hungry this morning? I have raspberry jello, orange jello, lemon jello, watermelon jello…"
I notice a decidedly male body fill the doorway, and although I don't look at him, I can tell from my peripheral vision that I was right. I'm not sure how to gage his current state…probably because I haven't looked at him. Funny thing about that. I look down at my hands. "Nothing, thanks. I'm not hungry." That's a lie. Or, I think it should be. When did I last eat, anyway?
"Are you sure? We have pudding, too, and other types of food if you don't want jello."
"I'm sure," I say.
And then he speaks, his voice gruff, but softer than I've ever heard it. "Excuse me."
The nurse looks back at him, and then between us. She comes to some sort of conclusion that we'd like to be alone together because we're madly in love, because she giggles and nods like a bobblehead. "Okay, then," she says, quickly leaving the room. I wouldn't want to be the one to appraise her of the real reason we'd like some privacy.
Jack walks in, toward the center of the room, several feet away from the bed. "Hey," he says.
I rub my nose with my I.V.-free hand. "Hi."
He doesn't say anything else, and I force my eyes to look up. My eyes travel about halfway up his body, and then I instinctively drop them when I reach the middle of his chest. I don't know why. But the distance and the silence and the awkwardness are bothering me, and so I say, "I'm not going to bite, Jack."
It was about all the invitation I could muster, and he accepts it a few seconds later, walking forward to the side of the bed, to where a visitor's chair rests against the wall. He stands in front of it, rather than sits, and his fingers just barely graze the crisp white sheets. And I close my eyes, inhale, and then force myself to meet his eyes.
His eyes are blue. I knew this before, but it seems more important now. His eyes are blue, and pained. Regretful. Almost as regretful as the day Bill Buchanan died. That shocks me slightly; am I really worth that amount of pain and regret?
"I don't know what to say," he says finally.
I blink, and look down. "I can't tell you what to say," I say, and a déjà-vu feeling trickles down my back. My words parallel the words Jack had told me before he was wheeled away to the hospital, during the last few moments in which I'd ever thought to see him alive. The meanings are vastly different, though – he had been charging me with making choices I could live with. I'm charging him with finding the right words.
"There are a lot of things that I should say," he says. "That I need to say. And none of them feel adequate."
I know some of the things I need to hear, but I can't tell him what those are. Doing that would invalidate them, somehow.
Jack sinks into the chair, heavily. "I…I wanted so badly to believe that nothing would happen to my family… I've tried so hard to get out, for…years. I finally thought I was, and then an old informant knocked on my door, and…"
"…everything went downhill from there," I finish for him. We smile grimly, sadly, brokenly, at each other, remembering the day we met for the second time.
"Then when we flew to California, I thought my life was finally reaching some kind of…I don't know. 'Trickle-down phase.' When Chloe called for help, I…I felt like I had to go. It wasn't entirely like you said. Yeah, I wanted to, but more importantly, I needed to. But I told myself that I wasn't going to lose a single person, not one. That's…" He closes his eyes. "That's why I asked you to stay behind. I'd be more likely to lose you if you came with me."
"You didn't really think I'd be able to protect your family?" I ask, pained.
"No. I don't think you'd need to." He pauses. "I snapped when I came back and found out that Stephen couldn't find Teri. Or Kim. I just…lost it."
"I know what it's like to lose it," I murmur. I'm not sure it's the same thing, though. But maybe it is? Maybe my losing it with Vladimir directly parallels Jack losing it with his own devil's misfortune.
"I'm sorry," he says. He lifts a hand toward my cheek, then stops, and the hand falls back against his side again.
"Go ahead," I whisper. "Touch it."
Jack hesitates, then gently touches the bruise he left across my left cheekbone. It's not a horrible bruise – I know, I saw myself in a mirror yesterday; that wasn't a pretty sight – but it is visible. "It doesn't hurt," I say. "It or my neck." There's a ring of very faint bruising around my neck, too.
"That doesn't excuse me," he says darkly, lowering his hand. "I had no right to so much as touch you."
"I would rather you'd have," I say. "I don't care about the bruises, Jack. I don't like them, but they'll heal. That's what happens. Bruises heal." I wave at my shoulder. "Bullet wounds heal." I look down at my wrist and hold it up slightly. "Even cuts heal. But…" Do hearts heal?
"But?" he says.
"I've never felt pain like when you told me you…you couldn't believe you loved me." I doubt that moment would top the list of worst moments in my life, but it was definitely among the top three or four. I'm not sure where to rank it exactly. Was it worse than my father's death? My mother's? Was it worse than torturing Wilson, and then being tortured by my own guilt? Where does one generally rank losing their boyfriend on these types of lists?
"I can't tell you how sorry I am for that," he says. "If there was something I could do to take them back, I would. But I can't. All I can do…" He pauses, and looks down, as though preparing himself for something difficult. He looks up, a pleading look in his eyes. "…is beg for the chance to earn your trust back. Your trust and your love." My expression must look pained, because he surges onward, saying, "I know I don't deserve it, but any amount of time. A week. A day. Anything. Please."
"You never lost my love," I whisper. Disbelief freezes his face. "My trust, though…that's another thing entirely."
His nostrils flare with a huge inhale. He looks so upset. "Just say the word…" he says, "and you never have to see me again."
I shake my head. "I don't want that, Jack."
"What do you want?" he asks softly. "Anything. We can make it happen."
We. I like the sound of that, even over the inner raging of my secret feminist. I have two great desires. They're sitting on a podium, sharing it unhappily. One is my desire to be with Jack, to have a warm relationship and a family. The other is my desire…my need…to never be one of those battered women, who keep returning to the men that hurt them. I swallow. Can I really have both, or will one shove the other off the podium out of spite? And if I can only have one, which will win?
"Why didn't you visit me yesterday?" I ask.
"…I didn't think you'd want to see me." The same words as those he spoke to me when we met the second time, in CTU New York, only spoken this time with much more cause behind them.
I take a moment to breathe. I don't think, I don't remember, I just breathe. I look into his eyes while I take my moment. When the moment's over, I say, "I want us to try. No time limits. No ultimatums. Just…just us, back together. To see how it goes."
Jack huffs in relief. His eyes are watering, to my surprise. "Thank you." He wipes his forehead, and then covers my hand gently with his. "Thank you."
Maybe he shouldn't thank me. I didn't totally lie – I'm not going to give him a time limit or an ultimatum. But I am going to give him the ultimatum's lover: a condition. He can't hurt me again. I don't mean the bruises, because hell, I might snap and throw a punch at some point, too. God knows I've already stabbed him once. But he can't hurt my heart again. I'm not sure I, Renee Walker, could survive it. Because when I became Zadan to save Teri, a large part of me wanted to stay like her. Forever.
"I'll extent our hotel reservation, if I can. If I can't, I'll get us a new room," Jack says.
"No," I say.
"What?" he says, confused.
"Get the West Lake apartment," I say.
"Are you sure…?"
I can hear the unfinished question clearly: Am I sure I want to be getting an apartment with him, when I'm not even sure if I'll ever trust him again? When I might leave him at any moment? Well, I won't be just leaving him at any moment, but I understand where he's coming from. "Jack, I'm not sure about a lot of things. But there are some things I know perfectly, and among them, is that I'm tired of living in a hotel. I want…I want a home, Jack."
He nods slowly. "Okay. We'll get the apartment." He rubs his thumb over my hand. "Renee?"
"I know you don't exactly trust me right now, and for good reason. But…how you feel about me…you said you still love me. Is that one of the things you know perfectly?"
I close my eyes. It's not just that I'd go anywhere for him, I suddenly realize. It's that I'd do anything for him, too. It's scary, but also thrilling. A little bit troubling, and very, very strange. This is what love is, I suppose. Scary, thrilling, troubling, strange.
I open my eyes, and meet his blue ones. "Yeah, it's one of them."
Writer's Note: I know I said I probably wouldn't update this week, but tomorrow's exams are going to be easy as pie, I uploaded the last chapter today, to celebrate my last official day of pre-cal. (WHOO!) I had originally planned for there to be two more chapters, but it just sort of worked out that the ending occurred in one big chapter. So yep, this is the end of Anywhere, to be followed by a sequel: The Redemption We Seek. Hope you liked Anywhere. I had lots of fun writing it. :)