Once again Ed was lying face down on a hospital bed, with Dr. Craig, Dr. Ritter and Dr. Hunter at his bedside. Bill Ritter was furious.
"After everything we did to get him back on his legs – how could he take such careless risks? I don't care about the publication of my new technique but we paid such a high price for his surgery. My daughter was in danger because of him, and that's why I can't forgive him."
Looking at Ed, whose face was turned the other way, he added: "You know, Sergeant, I really thought you'd be a little smarter than that. Was it worth playing hero?"
Through the fog in his mind Ed tried to understand Dr. Ritter's reproaches. He was very sorry for what had happened to Jenny Ritter, and he could appreciate that Dr. Ritter reacted emotionally about her. But these last few days, she had been safe. Enrico hadn't. His life was all that had counted. What would they have wanted him to do? He just couldn't get it.
Because in the doctors' eyes his lying here was entirely his own fault, he had to hide how he felt. He was glad that they couldn't see his face.
But Dr. Hunter noticed the signs all the same: The cramped back, the tense arms, the sweat on the patient's neck.
"That would be enough for the moment, I think," he said, shooing his colleagues away from the bed and out the door. "I'll take care of everything. Surgery as soon as possible."
In the corridor he laid his hand onto Ritter's arm.
"I understand very well how much all this affects you. But even though Sgt. Brown might have been stupid, he's still a human being in need of our help."
"That wasn't stupid, that was criminal!" Ritter grumbled, stomping away.
"What now?" Dr. Craig asked.
"Bill will calm down. And Sgt. Brown first of all needs morphine, and he needs it quickly."
"I've realized that too," Craig nodded, and Hunter headed off to get the medication.
"I'm giving you something against the pain, Sergeant," he said to Ed. "It's going to ease off in a second."
In an attempt to take his patient's mind off things Hunter asked: "Just tell me one thing, Sergeant: It wasimportant, wasn't it?"
Because he couldn't possibly talk through clenched teeth Ed just nodded. It had been important. And it had worked out. Enrico was safe. Very, very slowly he relaxed and finally fell asleep.
When he came through the main entrance of the Craig Institute, Ironside encountered Dr. Ritter. He got to hear a whole lot of what the doctor thought about his Sergeant.
"... Saving the world was more important, I suppose," he ended sarcastically.
"Sgt. Brown wasn't saving the world, just one little boy. Sure, there are a lot of little boys in San Francisco, but to his mother, this particular one means the world. At one point, Brown had to choose between this child's life and the use of his legs, perhaps even his own life. What choice would you have made, doctor?"
Ironside's voice was perfectly neutral, without any trace of offence. For a while, there was silence between the two men. Ritter broke it.
"O my God, what have I done to that young man? Will he ever be able to forgive me?"
"Perhaps at the moment helping him would be more urgent than being forgiven."
"Yes, yes, of course. I'll do whatever I can..." With that, Ritter hastened back to the patient he'd left a moment ago.
For a very long time Ironside had to wait in Dr. Craig's office, his anxiety growing by the minute. This time, he was alone, since Eve and Mark had to run the office in San Francisco.
When Craig came in he sensed the Chief's distress immediately.
"Relax, Bob – he's asleep now, and that won't change for some time. It's a miracle. His spine isn't broken anew. There's quite some damage to nerves and sinews in his back, that's why he was in so much pain. But we can treat that with conventional techniques. What's worse is the deplorable general state he's in. He's underweight, completely worn out and looks like he spent the last twenty-four hours in a tumble-dryer. We have patched him up as good as possible and set his broken wrist again. He's got quite a fight ahead, but given time and good care he still has a chance of a full recovery."
The Chief took a very long breath. He felt as if a weight had been liftedoff his shoulders. "Thank God!" he said, and he meant it. And then, smiling broadly: "You still have that bottle of bourbon in your cabinet, don't you?"
Twenty-four hours later, everybody wanted to know how Sgt. Brown was doing.
Ironside stayed in LA – officially because of some unfinished business about the drug case Ed had solved, but in fact it was because he couldn't leave his friend all alone.
Since Ed was still drugged out and hardly conscious, the Chief had to answer the same questions again and again: Ed was very weak, but doing as well as could be expected.
Angela took a big interest in the man whose life she had helped saving. Her boss had been very understanding and had even paid the replacement of the lock of his bookstore. But this time he had chosen one that couldn't be opened with a paper-clip!
Ben came by himself. He'd had a delivery to do to LA anyway. In the meantime, Lena had explained to him the whole story, as far as she knew it herself. He was glad that he had been able to add a small but important piece to the whole puzzle. And even though Ed wasn't aware of it yet, he had found a new friend.
In his half-sleep, Ed saw the door open again. It seemed to him that this time a very small person was entering his room. To get his attention, that little person pulled on his right arm and shouted: "Good Evening, Sergeant Brown! You know, you're my hero but now I have another one. And because of him, I will have to change my name, and..."
"Be careful, Enrico! – And I'm sure you don't make sense to Sgt. Brown!"
With that, Lena came in too. Enrico was picked up by a third person: A man with dark, curly hair.
"Ed, this is Marco, Enrico's father. Your Chief found his import company and then Marco himself in Brazil yesterday. He left everything behind immediately, and we've just met here in LA."
Marco was about forty years old and slightly plump and, through very thick glasses, he was looking at the immobilized patient in a friendly and compassionate manner.
Ed, who was far too tired to think straight, wondered briefly if Marco was another one of Lena's "lame ducks".
"Of course I would never have left Lena if I had known about Enrico. I'm very fortunate that we are back together and I intend to make both of them very happy."
No, Ed decided, no lame duck. He was a loving father. Exactly what Enrico needed.
"We will get married as soon as possible. We'll just wait until you are out of hospital, because you have to join the party. Without you, we wouldn't be here now!"
Through the fog in his head, Ed tried to focus on the little family – a little piece of the world was fixed, and he had been able to help.
Marco would be a loving husband as well. Exactly what Lena needed.
A faint smile crossed his waxen face. "I'll be happy to come," he whispered.
At that moment, Ed spotted Ironside looking at the four of them from the doorway. With mock sternness the Chief said:
"Be assured that the hospital will only let Sgt. Brown walk out of here on his own two feet. Otherwise – who's going to pay for all those crutches he doesn't bring back?!"
- Thank you so much, my dear readers and reviewers! Your comments keep writers motivated! You were very kind and patient with me. I know well that this story is more like a "spin-off".
- Thank you so much, my dear beta "Lemonpig", for enduring lots of "Ed"!
- Promise: Next story will be better balanced.