The Waiting Room

"Friendship is a sheltering tree." - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He doesn't know how long he's been waiting. His eyes shift faintly to the clock on the wall, forcing himself to focus on the motionless hands.

Six o'clock.

His mind registers that it's been six o'clock for hours. The clock is frozen, whether by some cruel twist of fate or by pure chance, at the exact minute he brought Roy in.

His hand jerks with an odd spasm as he wipes the dried blood off onto his pants' leg and then swipes at the crimson flecks staining the fabric.

He knows the amount of blood a human body contains like he knows his own name but he still can't grasp that all that blood could spill out of his partner and allow him to survive.

The blood is caked under his fingernails from his tearing aside the hastily cut clothing to get at the wounds, hand still white from clenching an artery for twenty minutes in the back of an ambulance while his partner's pulse flickered beneath the fingers holding in his life.

He turns his hand toward his face, eyes blurring with fatigue, hand wavering as he attempts to make out the time. The glass is shattered, hands frozen at twenty-five until six. There's a scrape on his skin where his hand slammed into the wall as he dragged Roy out of the building just before the second flashover.

His eyes flicker to the scarlet splashes poised like dewdrops on a petal that discolor his shoes. More of his partner's blood spilled on him, long dried. He rubs at it anyway, frictioning the shoes between his hands until his skin chafes, as if removing the blood will erase the day.

He thinks the blood splashed on him when he helped lift his partner onto the table because he remembers feeling the wetness as Dr. Brackett asked him if he was hurt.

A watery laugh tottering on the edge of hysteria escapes his chafed throat, releasing some of the smoke he inhaled while trying to pry the beam off of Roy's chest. No permanent damage. It wasn't his lifeblood leaking out onto the hospital floor faster than the IV could drip back in.

He shoves the images to the back of his mind. He can't think about that now. Tomorrow after he knows if he still has a partner he can fall apart.

He wraps his arms around his shoulders, holding himself together, and looks back up at the clock as if he expects it to have moved.

There's a movement out of the corner of his eyes and he darts to his feet before even focusing on Dr. Brackett's face. It's set stiffly, emotions unreadable. His breath catches, traps in his lungs until he feels his brain starving for oxygen.

"Roy?" It comes out in a harsh gasp of air as he fights for something to hold onto, to brase himself against the words he can already taste.

Dr. Brackett looks bone weary, head barely lifting, wiping his hand across his forehead.

"He'll make it, Johnny. It was close but he'll make it."

For a moment he can't comprehend the words, each syllable a foreign entity. When understanding comes all the stiffness, the rigid fear that held him upright collapses and he slumps forward, arms on his thighs, forehead bent against the crimson stains.

An arm settles around his shoulders and he realizes it's Dixie. He hadn't known she was in the room.

"Come on, now." Her voice is achingly gentle, a reminder of how close he came to losing his partner this evening. "You won't do him any good if you make yourself sick. Let's get some food into you."

He allows himself to be helped up and led like a child out of the waiting room.

He looks up at the clock. It's moved, the barest fraction of a centimeter, but it's moved.

"What time is it?"

Dixie touches his wrist gently. "Just a few minutes after midnight."

"Its tomorrow." The words escape in a strained and hoarse whisper and air rushes into his lungs, the first full breath he's taken since it happened.

"Are you all right, Johnny?" Her voice is concerned.

He squares his shoulders, lifts his chin.

"I will be."