Some feels, just in time for the holidays. Happy holidays to all of my readers, and because I imagine this is my last update before the New Year, happy New Year to all! Your support and reviews from the past year have always been a source of cheer for me and I thank each and every one of you!
CH 20: Baptized by Fire
"Yessss…" Charles Hoyt sneered, watching the footage play out for the second time in front of him, the feelings of ecstasy and euphoria slowing rolling through his body with each passing frame. He twirled the sprig of lavender in his fingers, brought it to his nose and inhaled deeply. "Jaaaanne." Memories of her after her first Games filled his head as he smiled and savored the recollection of her skin under his hands, the smell of her and the lavender oil he spread slowly across her body. "Oh, we'll be together again…soon, so very soon."
On the screen before him, fire engulfed everything it touched. Buildings. Fields. Human beings. No. Not human beings, he reminded himself. Rebels. Filthy, treasonous rebels, worse now to him than the Avox slaves in the Capitol. They had wanted to set it all on fire, and so he had given them flames. Even the sky seemed to burn as he watched District 9 disintegrate in front of him. And Jane Rizzoli. Oh, he would make sure everyone, from the Capitol to what remained of the districts would see that final glimpse of her. Their Mockingjay, human, no better than the rest of them.
"Play it again," he instructed, waiting expectantly for his head of security to restart the footage. "Ahhh," he closed his eyes for a moment, "it's like music isn't it? The bullets. The explosions. The screams." He looked towards his general, a tight, plastic smile curling his lips. "Don't you think? Like a masterful opera!"
Hoyt stood, sliding from behind his desk as if dancing, he twirled his imaginary partner towards the center of the room. "The symphony's crescendo! Listen to their desperation! They know that they end is near. Ahh!" He watched as his soldier's camera had her in sight. "The beloved hero. The Mockingjay. She bleeds, yet, she fights on…oh, but not for long, my dear. The fear in her eyes, oh, how I've missed that look. And the coup de grace…" He closed his eyes again, the powerful explosion on the screen, so loud, it seemed to shake the room around him.
"Again, sir?" The general asked.
"No," he smiled, satisfied for the moment, "That's enough for now," Hoyt plucked some roses from a nearby vase and cupped the full, red buds in one hand as he buried his nose in them. "Her body. Dead, alive, it makes not difference really. Did you bring it to me?"
The gathering of men in the room tensed and shifted uncomfortably. "My commander in the district reports they were unable to recover it…"
"WHAT!?" Hoyt spun to face them, his hands clenching around the stemmed flowers in his hands, thorns piercing his skin and drawing blood, which snaked in red ribbons from his palms to wrap around his wrists. "I WANT HER BODY!" He bellowed, walking towards his general, his voice calming but the words still spilling out in a pointed hiss. "She is mine! She always has been, and I will have her, or you will know the fate of those who disappoint me."
Heat. Searing heat. And the smell…smoke, and scorched earth, but worst of all…burning flesh. Human flesh. You never forgot that smell. Her heart pounded as she waited for the flames, waited for them to close around her, melt her skin, and replace the air in her lungs. But, there was no pain, only a body on top of her and arms wrapped around her. And when the weight fell away, an even greater fear gripped her, forcing her to turn to look at the charred corpse that had shielded her. It was featureless, burned beyond recognition, but in the pit of her stomach she knew exactly who it was.
"NO!" Maura screamed, her body jolting upright from the nightmare, but the wrist restraints caught her. She arched her back, pulling at the immobilizing bindings, willing them to snap, to set her free. Nausea and an unusual pain gripped her stomach, her fingers flexed, straining to touch her belly as the alarms from the monitors played backup to her own screams. The baby…even the baby knew. "LUCIUS! LUCIUS!" She managed his name a few times amidst the otherwise wordless shrieks as she thrashed and fought to break herself free.
Something was wrong. And when the door to her room flew open, just how wrong was written all over Lucius's face. He ran straight to her, turning off all the monitors, quickly and with no mind to being gentle, ripped the IV from her arm. "You have to promise me…" he looked in her pleading eyes, "…you have to promise you'll do exactly as I say."
"What's happened?" Maura asked meekly, her hands trembling as Lucius took hold of the cuffs around her wrists.
"Promise you'll do exactly as I say. If you do anything to interfere, I will chain you back to this bed myself, do you understand."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she nodded, watching as Lucius freed her from the restraints. "Is she dead?" It was barely above a whisper.
"Not yet," he answered, taking Maura by the hand and leading her from the room.
"We're losing her!" One of the nurses yelled as they ran with the gurney down the halls from the hoverport towards the medical wing.
"Move!" Boggs pushed the woman out of the way and jumped onto the gurney himself. He rolled Jane onto her back, more than aware that what little skin was left would be torn off by the sheet when they rolled her back over. That was if she lived for it to matter. He clasped his hands, one on top of the other and placed them over her sternum. "Don't you dare," he ordered, pushing rhythmically against her chest, forcing her heart to keep beating. "Not after all this. Goddammit! Breathe!"
Jane's eyes flashed open, wheezing and gasping for air and then with what little air she had sucked in, screaming as her body began to seize and convulse.
District 13's doctors were already waiting in the operating room and descended on them, pushing Boggs and everyone else away, turning chaos into order as they worked in almost choreographed precision around her. Boggs took Frank Rizzoli by the arm and pulled him back, leading the stunned man reluctantly from the room. "You're bleeding…"
Frank looked at his arm, the unnatural bend and the blood-soaked bandages that hid the protruding bone from his sight. "It doesn't matter."
"We'll get you something for the pain…" Boggs caught the older man as his legs gave out and eased him to the floor. "Sit here," he watched as Frank nodded vacantly, "I'll get you help."
"Her first," he mumbled, closing his eyes as the pain overwhelmed him, the adrenaline that had kept him conscious since the attack all but gone, "her…fir…" He slumped unconscious to the floor.
Boggs looked up as Lucius came running down the hallway, Maura, barefoot and clad only in a hospital gown running behind him.
"In here?" he asked as Boggs nodded.
Maura didn't budge as Lucius went to lead her through the doors. He looked back, his eyes falling where Maura's hand gripped her stomach. "I don't want to watch her die."
Lucius squeezed her hand in between both of his, "Trust me," he waited for her to look up and into his eyes, "Whatever happens, you need to be in there."
It was all so painfully familiar. The flurry of doctors and nurses, the bright surgical lights casting an eerie glow off of white smocks and silver instruments. The bleating beeps of machines that always managed to pierce through even the loudest melee of voices. She recalled how terrifying it was to be scared, in pain, and on that gurney surrounded by strangers. Maura started to walk towards the fray but Lucius stopped her.
"No," he squeezed her shoulders, pushing her back the one step she had taken until her back touched the wall of the operating room. "You promised."
She couldn't even see Jane behind the wall of bodies, until the doctors moved to roll her on her side facing the direction where Maura was standing. They parted, a small sea of white revealing black and red flesh, fresh blood winding over dried blood and ash to trickle down Jane's arm that was hanging off the bed and then dripping from her fingertips. The droplets that splashed one at a time to the now forming pool on the white tile floor became the loudest sound in the room, drowning out everything else. They were all she could hear. The room and bodies in it all became a blur, Maura's eyes widened, and all that filled them was the tortured sight of the body on the gurney, her back and left side claimed by the flames.
The trunk of the Baobab is fireproof! She remembered frantically leading them in there to shelter from the flames that were herding them across the savanna. I've got you, Jane assured her through gritted teeth as heat radiated all around them. She thought they'd be safe inside the tree…both of them. The flames had gone as quickly as they had come, but in their wake, black earth and bloodied skin and Jane, trembling and moaning in her arms as she tried to fight the pain from the burns.
Through her tears, Maura watched as Jane's eyes rolled back, nothing but white, but then fought to stay conscious, to focus her gaze once again. A bloodied and trembling hand lifted, fingers reaching out in her wife's direction as her eyes begged for the gesture to be returned.
Maura surged forward, her bare feet slipping tractionless across the smooth floor as Lucius blocked her path. "Please…" she choked out, struggling against his grip with every ounce of strength she could muster. "Please, Lucius, please…" A memory. "In the Games, she…she promised she wouldn't let me die alone."
His hands relaxed their grip, slowly loosening their hold on her, his eyes never dropping her gaze as he evaluated the tone of her words. "Please," Maura mouthed silently. He let her go, stepping aside.
Tears streaked their way through the blood and grime on Jane's face, gritting her teeth she focused everything she had on lifting her arm just a little bit higher, reaching for the body that was slowly making its way towards her. At first, she wasn't even sure if it was real, or if the pain from her wounds and the drugs that were being pumped into her were making her hallucinate. But, the touch. The touch was real. Fingers that hesitantly met her outstretched hand, warm skin, and as she struggled to keep her eyes open just one second longer, the last thing she saw was the light glinting off a ring as Maura slid the band from her own finger over the blood-soaked finger in her grasp.
Her legs folded underneath her, Maura sat curled up in a chair, obsessively twisting at her now bare finger, at the place where the wedding band had been placed and worn for the few days until it was back in its rightful place. She had felt like something was missing before Constance had given her the ring to hold on. The feeling was even more stark now. She barely noticed as Lydia draped a blanket around her. "You'll catch a cold," the young woman said softly, pulling the blanket all the way around Maura's body. "That wouldn't be good for the baby."
The baby. Maura looked up at her, eyes trailing down to Lydia's own pregnant belly, much larger than her own. "Just a few more weeks," Lydia smiled, sensing Maura's question as her hands rested against her stomach where the baby boy inside her was kicking.
The sound of Angela's voice drew Maura's attention back to where Jane lay.
"That's it," Angela cooed again, swiping a wet cloth across her daughter's face. "You'll wake up, good as new." On the other side of the bed, Constance dipped a sponge in one of the basins of warm water the nurse had just delivered and began tending to the mats of dried blood in Jane's hair. Maura watched as the water Angela squeezed from her cloth filled an empty bowl a muddy pink color. The two women worked their way around the regeneration machines carefully positioned at Jane's back and side. Meticulously they worked to wipe the blood and caked dirt from otherwise unwounded skin. When the water was too soiled to do anymore good, they sent for more, waiting patiently until the nurse returned so that they could continue with their bathing.
Maura tore her eyes away from Jane's body to see Korsak had pulled up a seat next to her. "Vince…"
"I was beginning to think I'd never see you two in the same room together ever again," he smiled, but his eyes revealed him to be just as weary as everyone else in the room. "She died you know…technically speaking…six times on the way back here. I thought she had given up. That this time, she just wasn't going to fight anymore. And then she saw you in the operating room. It gave her hope. You're her will to live."
"She told me once, that she'd never leave me…"
Korsak reached for her hand, "She never has."
Maura wiped a tear from her cheek, "I left her."
"You're here now."
Maura looked back at Jane, where Angela and Constance continued to tend to her, and then across the room where Tommy sat with Lydia, to the door where Patrick Doyle stood, and finally back into Korsak's eyes, "What's left of me."
Korsak shook his head, "Everything you were, is what you are. And she'll show you that, if you let her."
Heat. But, not like before, not like the flames. A soothing heat washed over her, enveloping her, calming her from the inside out. Hands wandered lightly over her skin, leaving tingling trails in the pattern of their touch. Maura sighed with contentment, a soft hum slipping from her lips, hands kneading at the blanket wadded up in her grasp. Lips replaced the feeling of fingers on her skin, her mouth parted, waiting for the kiss.
We waited so long for each other.
Maura gasped, pulled awake against her will from the dream into the sterile reality of the darkened room in the medical wing. Everyone was gone, except for her. At first, she thought it was just another dream, that they wouldn't have left her in Jane's room alone. But the small light next to the bed illuminated the room just enough for Maura to see that no other bodies rested in the shadows.
Jane stirred in her sleep, groaned, and not held in place by the regeneration machines, rolled onto her back. The pain would have woken her immediately if not for the sedatives, still, her body arched and twisted in her sleep trying to turn back to her side and away from the excruciating contact.
Maura stood but paused, expecting a doctor, a nurse, anyone to come through the door to help. But, no one did. Quickly, she moved to Jane's bedside, grabbing Jane's flailing left arm and pulling until she was able to resituate her on her side. Those few seconds had caused a light sheen of sweat to collect on Jane's skin, glistening under the light from the bedside table. Maura held tightly to her arm to make sure she didn't roll over again, and with her free hand traced from Jane's shoulder across her upper back where skin still remained, hot and damp. She looked down as Jane's hand wrapped around her forearm, squeezing and anchoring them together. The excited beeping on the monitor began to calm as Jane's breathing steadied.
"Maurrr…a," she slurred through her sleep. Her eyes fluttered, and Maura tried to pull away, not ready yet to face Jane awake. But, Jane's grip on her arm only tightened as her eyes continued to jerk until they opened just enough. Victorious over the medically induced sleep, she panted from the exertion of waking, willing herself not to give in to the allure of quiet, unconscious painlessness just yet. "Maura…" she whispered groggily, her voice raspy and scratchy from smoke, as she fought the sickening pain that threatened to drag her unwillingly back into the nothingness.
Maura froze, her body stiff as fear paralyzed her; she watched as Jane's eyes slowly tracked to find her face. The death grip on her arm relaxed, fingers uncurling until Jane released her entirely. Freed, Maura told herself to run, out of the room, down the hall...away. But, still, she couldn't move, not while Jane's eyes held her gaze.
"Yours," Jane whispered shakily, her hand turning as she presented her palm to Maura.
Instinct forced Maura's hand into the one offered her before she even realized what had happened; Jane's fingers again closed around her.
Jane squeezed, relishing the familiar touch she had been deprived of for too long, "I will be your truth…" Hot tears ran down her face and over her lips, salty, frustrating tears as she felt herself slipping away. "I love you…I always have."
Her grip fell limp as sleep overtook her. Maura carefully placed the ailing woman's arm back on the bed and close against her chest, tenderly tucking the sheet around her front to cover her while leaving the bandaged burns of her side and back exposed.
Quietly, Maura padded across the room, carrying one of the chairs back to Jane's bedside she sat and accepted her vigil. "There are so many promises I can't make you," she said softly, reaching out to wipe at the already drying tearstains on Jane's cheeks. "There's so much I still don't understand…but, one thing I do know…I won't leave you. For some reason, I can't."