*Disclaimer: If I owned them, we would be halfway through Season 2 already. Just joking! I love you, TNT!*
Daniel paced the tiny waiting room like a caged animal; nervously fidgeting with the Styrofoam coffee cup that a gentle voiced nurse had brought him earlier after Daniel had flat-out refused to leave the room for even a short break. The dark liquid inside had long gone cold, not that he had any intention of drinking it in the first place. He had only accepted it to be polite, but was finding an unexpected comfort in the simple act of holding onto its smooth surface. It gave him something else to concentrate on, if only for a short time, before his attention unfailingly returned to the woman who was fighting for her life just beyond the burgundy restricted access doors.
Kate, his colleague, his friend, had been in surgery going on four hours now; her doctors working feverishly to fix the damage the bullet had caused as it had ripped through her torso. It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were simply going to pick up a witness who had run after claiming he was being threatened by some unnamed force. They hadn't been expecting to find their witness in a pool of blood, or the sudden ambush that followed. Daniel shook his head bitterly as he continued trudging back and forth across the room. The look on Kate's face as her body crumpled to the floor was etched permanently into his mind; taunting him with the savage image of her, broken and bleeding out in front of him. A heavy tremor overtook him. Cold coffee sloshed out of the cup and over his hand as he trembled. He cursed loudly. It felt as though he were stuck a nightmare, only this time it was very real and there would be no sense of repose that comes after awakening.
Placing the container on the nearest side table, Daniel sank down into the worn and ratty cushions of the small waiting room couch. Leaning forward, he pressed the palms of his hands to his eye sockets as if to block out the horrific pictures that had been tattooed onto his brain. Swallowing hard past the lump in his throat that hadn't left since they'd wheeled Kate into the OR, he stifled the primal cry that so badly wanted to escape.
After a moment, Daniel sat up again, staring forward and taking in several deep ragged breaths to try and regain what precious little control over his emotions he still held. Thankfully, it was late, or maybe early, and the waiting room empty. If he was going to have a full-on break down, at least he wouldn't have to deal with a roomful of strangers offering him empty sympathies.
Probert had come in with them, but returned to FBI headquarters shortly after Kate had gone into surgery; leaving Daniel to his vigil alone. He cared a great deal for Kate; a bond formed among partners, but thought he would be more valuable to Kate by wrapping up the case rather than skulking around the hospital waiting for word on her condition. Daniel didn't doubt his story, but he suspected that Probert felt confined in that waiting room and had to get away from the tension that hung so thick between the two men. Daniel knew he shouldn't, and that it wasn't fair, but he couldn't help but blame Probert a little for what happened in that warehouse. He was Kate's partner, why hadn't he been able to protect her? Why had he held Daniel back when all Daniel needed in that moment was to be by side?
Daniel had called Lewicki a little while ago and asked him to try and get contact information for Kate's father, Joe Moretti, who had been out of town visiting relatives in New York. Daniel knew it was probably a long shot Lewicki would be able to get him the information, and the FBI was probably on it anyway, but it made Daniel feel as though he were doing something useful. Something he hadn't felt since the moment Kate had been shot. Knowing Daniel as well as he did, Lewicki hadn't even tried to talk him into coming home to rest or for a change of clothes. Instead he had offered to bring supplies to Daniel. On the outside, Daniel and Lewicki's relationship often seemed stormy, and even Daniel would admit he was more than guilty of taking advantage of the young grad student, but deep down he knew what a true find it was to have someone like Lewicki around to keep him on track.
Looking down at himself now, dressed in a pair of hospital-issue, electric blue scrubs, Daniel hoped Lewicki would get there soon. Who knew where these had been. The unfamiliar garments felt itchy against his skin and he reached up to absently scratch at the offending sensation at the back of his neck. The clothing Daniel had been wearing at the scene had been smeared heavily with Kate's blood so the FBI had confiscated it as potential evidence in case…in case… No! No, he wasn't even going to consider that in the realm of possibility. Kate was in that operating room with some of the best trauma surgeons in the city of Chicago. She would be just fine; she was in excellent hands.
Hands… Daniel risked a glance down at his own, tinged pinkish where they still held traces of the life giving essence that had drained from her body while Daniel had desperately battled to hold her together; rubbed raw from the number of times he had scrubbed at them under scalding hot water, trying to remove the most unwelcome reminder that Kate may never wake up from this. Unbidden moisture stung his eyes as he turned his hands over slowly in his lap, palms toward the sky, in a pose of supplication. An ironic position for a self-proclaimed skeptic to find himself in, but if there was some all encompassing deity up there; he would plead to whoever would listen to spare the life of the woman he lo—cared so deeply for, not for his sake but for hers.
Letting out a harsh, humorless laugh at his own cowardice, Daniel berated himself internally. Even now, in this situation where everything hung in the balance, he couldn't cop to the feelings he had for the beautiful, vibrant young woman who had first come into his life as a student those many years ago. He traced the heart line of his reddened palm with the thumb of the opposite hand and granted himself a small smile as he recalled her back then. Bright- eyed, eager, and maybe a little naïve, Kate had quickly gone from being a pretty face in the crowd to one of his most promising students. She wasn't there to flirt with him, nor was she simply there for the credits. She seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say and grasped the concepts quickly. This had only heightened her appeal in his eyes so Daniel had taken the only appropriate course of action he could come up with; stonewall her. Unfortunately, his strict, self-imposed rules about getting to know his students personally were no match for her quick smile and keen mind and it wasn't long before she had reduced stone to rubble.
Of course, no matter how much he had fantasized, nothing more had ever happened between them. Daniel couldn't deny there was something deeper there, and it was mutual, but he never would have jeopardized her future in that way, especially so long as they were student and professor. Beyond that was the five ton elephant in the room, his condition. It had become a stumbling block in more than a few of his past relationships to the point where he'd pretty much given up dating altogether. He'd had Natalie; that was enough. Kate had been one of those rare instances where Daniel had let his guard down and considered that he could let someone else inside his tightly contained world. But that luxury was fleeting and eventually he would remember why he would never be worthy of someone like Kate Moretti. Not that any of it mattered right now. The smile faltered from Daniel's face and he was brought back to the waiting room; all white walls, dated furniture, and the smell of antiseptic.
There was still no movement from behind the closed doors. Lounging against the cushions of the couch, Daniel threw an arm over his eyes and suppressed an involuntary yawn. Sleep wasn't an option, but his body still felt weighted and weary. It'd been nearly twenty-four hours since he'd slept and, truthfully, even longer since he'd taken his meds. That combination plus a complete disregard for his routine was a recipe for disaster, but Daniel didn't give a damn about his own well being at the moment. He even wished that Natalie were there with him, offering a comforting ear or some words of wisdom; if worse came to worse, he would need her more than ever to get through this. Breathing a heavy sigh, Daniel closed his eyes against the too bright florescent overhead.
"You do know just how big of an ass chewing I would give you if I knew you weren't looking out for yourself, right?" A husky voice chimed in from beside him.
The sound of that all too familiar tone caused Daniel to bolt upright, backing up against the armrest as he jumped. His eyes widened as he found himself face to face with Kate, facing him sideways on the sofa with an arm slung along the back. The initial wave of relief that washed over Daniel was so overwhelming that he almost broke out into a fit of uncontrollable laughter, but the impulse abated quickly and was replaced by nagging unease as he noticed something was off about this Kate. The brightness of her eyes and mischievous smirk were in sharp contrast to the angry red stain that stood out on her lower right side.
"No no, what's going on here? You're supposed to be in there!" Daniel gestured toward the OR doors. His tenuous hold on his sanity was in a tailspin now.
Kate sighed despite the amusement that still shown on her face. "Relax, Daniel. You know as well as I do that you don't believe in ghosts."
"But I do believe in hallucinations." The coiled tension ebbed from his body as he came to the full realization of what was happening. Of course, this wasn't his Kate.
"That's what you get for not taking your meds for three days." Kate glared pointedly at him.
"I've been…busy." Daniel tapered off, lamely, avoiding her penetrating gaze.
At that Kate scoffed, but didn't offer any further comment. After a moment's pause, she continued. "You should head home and get some rest, Daniel. You can't do anything more here tonight, and your condition is obviously getting worse." She snapped two fingers in front of his face to redirect his attention her way. "When I come out of this, you're going to have to be the strong one for awhile and you can only do that if you're healthy."
"You'd be here alone." Daniel shook his head. "And what if you don't come out of this, Kate?" He questioned his voice tight. "I saw you go in there." Spacing out as he flashed back, he snapped out of it saying, "Do you have any idea what it would do to me if I left and you…" It was painful to even contemplate the words let alone say them aloud. "I can't…just…leave you here."
Kate rested her head against her hand. "Didn't think you would. Since when have I ever been able to tell you to do anything? But, I had to try. Just promise me, promise her," She nodded towards the far double doors. "That you'll take your meds and get some rest sooner, not later. I'm going to need you and you're no good to me locked up." She said, smiling gently.
Daniel shot the hallucination Kate a half-smile, half-grimace and a nod before diverting his attention to his hands sitting in his lap. There was too much red in this room; it used to be his favorite but now he was starting to hate the color.
"So how are you holding up otherwise?"
This time, it was Daniel's turn to mock, his voice cracking a bit as he spoke. "How do you think I'm holding up? I just saw someone I…care about get shot! I watched you die on the floor of that warehouse, Kate!"Daniel met her eyes; his own filling with undisguised anguish before they wandered to the spot of red that seemed to expand against the crisp white of the button-up shirt she wore. "I couldn't…I didn't…I should have done more! I…I…"
Kate reached towards him and gently touched his shoulder, attempting to comfort him before he fell into a full blown panic. "Daniel, you can't blame yourself for anything that happened in there. You did everything you could!"
"The hell I can't!" Daniel denied vehemently; his vision clouded by the tears that had formed in his eyes. "If I had figured it out before! If I could have just gotten to you sooner…"
"You may have ended up like me in there, or worse." Kate finished for him, cutting off his response.
Daniel didn't want to acknowledge the truth in her statement. "Or I could have saved you."
Kate reached across tilting his chin up so that he no longer addressed the deadly blossom marring her side. Daniel felt the vice that was twisting his insides ease its grip as his gaze was directed back up to her face, so vivid and alive; a soothing balm after seeing it only hours earlier so close to death.
"My eyes are up here." She broke the silence. "And, you did save me. I'm alive in there, right now; thanks to you. You did what you could for me, now it's in their hands."
Daniel folded his arms across his body. "Still, if Probert had just let me go to you…"
Kate held up a hand, cutting him off again. He never remembered his previous hallucinations being quite so assertive. "Daniel, you can't blame Roger for doing his job. None of us knew where that shot had come from; if he'd let you go you could have been shot, too. You know this. Roger was doing exactly what I asked him, following protocol and protecting you." Her face turned deadly serious. "I've told you before that I would never, ever forgive myself if you got hurt on my watch and I meant it."
While the Kate from his subconscious had meant to help put his mind at east, Daniel's heart only sank further as he came to the realization that there was one thing that could have prevented this tragic turn of events. His throat constricted as he spoke.
"I shouldn't have been there. If I hadn't, Roger would have been free to back you up like he should have; instead he was forced to babysit me when he should have been watching your back."
"But, Daniel, you're forgetting that it wasn't supposed to be a high risk assignment! Hell, neither of us was even wearing our vests like we should have been. Maybe we could have been more aware? Yes, but we were only supposed to go talk Thomas into coming back into protective custody; and with his history of mental illness, you were going to play a pretty critical part in that if I remember right. None of us expected a dirtbag with a gun to show up first." Kate reached toward him and brushed his cheek with her thumb. "Not even you can have all the answers, Professor."
Daniel leaned forward and scrubbed at his face with his hands. He felt the guilt bubbling inside of him as he realized he hadn't even spared a thought for the young man who had been killed. He knew he should have felt worse, but his mind had been so consumed with Kate these past few hours that nothing else mattered. Her face, her terrified eyes in those moments just before she lost consciousness, would haunt him forever. He only hoped he would be given the chance to replace that mental picture with some newer, happier memories soon.
"I know…" Daniel admitted glumly. "It's just that it's you, Kate." He peered over at her. "You've been one of the few constants in my life. It'd never really occurred to me before now that something like this could happen; and now, thinking I might lose you like this, and knowing that I was there and couldn't help tears at me."
Beside him, Kate sighed softly before she said, "You've always known my job is dangerous, you just refused to acknowledge it."
Daniel chuckled slightly. "You remember when you first told me you were considering a career in law enforcement? I laughed." He sent a questioning glance over at his illusion; she responded only by pressing her lips together in a wry smile. "I thought you were making a joke. Wow, the tongue lashing you gave me over that one, I can still feel every word today." Sure he'd known that Kate was a legacy through her father who was a former Chicago police detective, but back then it had been a stretch for Daniel to imagine this tiny wisp of a woman taking down the city's most dangerous criminals.
Daniel shook his head in a self-deprecating manner before turning serious once again. "So, yeah, I guess on some level I've known, but you've always had this fearlessness that makes you…I don't know… seem invincible somehow. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it's part of what attracted me to you." He wondered to himself how these things came out so easily now, but the thought of actually confronting Kate with them made his heart want to jump out of his chest. "Then seeing you lying there today looking at me, hurt and vulnerable, I just wanted to protect you, and I couldn't. I felt so helpless, Kate."
Kate laid a reassuring hand on his thigh. "Daniel, I've never needed your protection. I knew what I signed on for when I took my oath of office. This was hardly my first, and I seriously doubt, will be my last close call. All I've ever needed from you is your support and, when you're ready to admit it, your love." His cheeks flared red and heated as he looked up at her, his eyes wide with shock; she grinned at his reaction. "Don't look so surprised; I came from your subconscious. But do yourself a favor, when I come out of this, don't wait for the next close call. There may not be a next time."
"Doc?" A voice from behind him caused Daniel to turn. Lewicki was standing in the main entryway with a black duffel bag in hand. His eyes held confusion as he approached Daniel slowly, as though he were approaching a wild animal. "Somebody else in here?"
Daniel whipped around to the seat next to him only to find it empty; Kate was gone. A keen sense of disappointment came over him as he stared at the spot where she had just been. As crazy at it sounded, she kept him sane this whole time. She may have not been real; a product of his own overactive neurons, but talking it out with her had kept his head away from whatever was going on in that operating room. Who's to say what kind of horrible scenarios he might have come up with if she hadn't shown up to distract him. Now that she was gone, all those overpowering feelings of worry and uncertainty came flooding back ten-fold.
Daniel heaved a sigh. "No, Lewicki. I was just…nevermind."
Lewicki gave Daniel a doubting look before reaching into his jacket pocket and thrusting a small cylinder into Daniel's hand. Peering down at it, Daniel immediately recognized his prescription bottle. He stared at the ugly orange plastic for a moment before returning his gaze to Lewicki who was holding out a bottle of water toward him.
"Take it." Lewicki ordered, his voice sounding loud in Daniel's ears. "You've been running on what, close to four days without them?"
"Three, but who's counting?" Daniel answered sardonically before he came back in an incredulous tone. "Wait, have you been counting my pills?"
"Someone's gotta' watch out for you, Doc. You're obviously not doing it yourself." Lewicki proffered the water again.
The icy stare Daniel gave him lacked its usual bite thanks to the combination of anxiety and exhaustion, but, as usual, Lewicki steadfastly ignored it. Grabbing at the red-labeled bottle with a pained expression, Daniel twisted open the pills, popping one into his mouth before following it up with a long swig of the tepid water.
"There. Happy now?" Daniel knew he was being a stubborn ass, but, as much as he didn't want to admit it, he was relieved Lewicki was there. This small shred of normal banter between them helped ease the pressure that had taken up residence inside Daniel's chest.
"Ecstatic." Lewicki deadpanned before shifting completely on axis. Compassion radiated from his eyes as he questioned softly, "How's Agent Moretti doing? Have you heard anything?"
The wave of reality once again crushed over Daniel and he could only shake his head morosely as he took a moment to gulp down a breath past the stone blocking his airway. Once he was able to speak again without faltering he said, "No, no one's come out of there since they took her back." He chanced a glance toward the OR doors; willing them to open with any sort of news. "God, Max! I don't know. You didn't see her. She was so pale…"
The events of the day were replaying through Daniel's head on a seemingly constant loop. Talking casually as they drove to the warehouse. The shock of finding Thomas dead when they arrived. Kate slumping against the concrete wall as she was hit, a light trail of red following her to the floor. Daniel wanting desperately to get to her side as Probert held him back behind the shelter of a crate. The sticky, warm feel of blood as it seeped through his fingers while he tried to apply pressure to her wound. The fear and pain in her eyes as they pleaded with him to make it better before they closed one final time…
Grim thoughts had once again begun to fog Daniel's mind, but before he could let himself fall too far into the darkness Lewicki was dangling the black bag before his face.
"The change of clothes you asked for." Lewicki explained. "I can't imagine how they got you into those scrubs, but it's got to be driving you crazy. I wasn't able to track down Mr. Moretti either, but I did put a call into the bar to see if whoever was left in charge knows how to get in touch with him. I'm still waiting on a call back."
Daniel tried to verbally thank the young man standing in front of him, but the words felt like sand in his mouth. Why was it damn near impossible for him to show any sort of appreciation toward Lewicki? It was like drawing blood from a stone. The images that analogy invoked nearly made him physically sick, but he did manage a tight nod at Lewicki was he took the bag and headed the short distance down the hall to the restroom he had changed in earlier; Lewicki following which caused Daniel to stop.
"Not that I don't appreciate the mother-henning, I think I can handle this on my own. Thank you very much." Daniel continued to walk, as did Lewicki.
"I know how you feel about hospital food, but I'm going to try to find something around here you'll eat."
"I couldn't eat anything if I wanted to."
Lewicki was unfazed by his protest. "You need to eat something, Doc. You've been so busy that I'm guessing you didn't even have lunch, and you know from experience that the pill you just took shouldn't be taken on a completely empty stomach." Daniel couldn't argue that point with him, but he wouldn't concede either so he wordlessly pushed open the door to the restroom and went inside.
It was only a matter of minutes before Daniel was back in the waiting room in a fresh set of his own clothes. Despite the sterile environment of the hospital, the idea of spending any length of time in the small communal restroom was nauseating. Plus, he needed to be back here in case there was anything new. Daniel looked down at his new attire and hated himself for wishing that Lewicki had brought him anything but the maroon t-shirt he was wearing. He had hoped being in his own clothes would have made him the slightest bit more comfortable, but the truth was he felt numb. He'd run the gambit of emotions just in these last few hours, some more than once, and now he felt in limbo; as if the world, and himself, were stopped until the fates had decided Kate's destiny.
The morbid tranquility didn't last long as Daniel felt his heart leap back into action when a somber and slightly worn looking man in doctor's scrubs emerged from behind the doors he had been staring holes into all night. Daniel tried to ignore the crimson splotches that dotted the front of the elder man's scrubs as he rose to his feet and crossed the room in three large steps.
"Family of Kate Moretti?" The doctor asked, in spite the fact that they were the only two in the room.
Daniel was close to hyperventilating as he replied. "I'm a friend of hers. I was with her when she came in. How is she?"
The apology was evident in the doctor's eyes even before Daniel had finished speaking, and Daniel felt the cold current of dread as if flowed like ice water through his veins. Kate was dead. They hadn't been able to save her.
"I'm sorry, sir. Unless you are family or next of kin, the law prohibits me from discussing Ms. Moretti's condition with you."
Listening to the frantic thrum of blood pumping in his ears, Daniel almost missed the doctor's explanation, but as the words registered in his brain he found himself becoming increasingly agitated. Kate could be alive or dead back there, Daniel was at his breaking point, and this guy was spouting off legalities to him!
"I'm a doctor! I went to med school, and I know all about HIPAA!" Daniel snapped, anger and utter desperation getting the better of him. "But right now I don't give a damn about all that! Today, I watched my best friend, the woman I love, get shot and nearly bleed out through my fingers." To prove his point, he held up his reddened palms to the stunned and silent surgeon. "I've been sitting here for I'm not even sure how long, waiting for some word that she's going to pull through and, now, you're here, you know, but you can't tell me because we're not family?!"
Daniel knew he was starting to come unhinged, so he paced back the other direction in an attempt to regain some of the clarity that was starting to feel like a distant memory. When he turned back toward the doctor, whose name he didn't even know or care to learn, his voice was calmer but still wavered as he spoke, "We may not be related by blood or marriage, but she's the closest thing I've got to family. I don't think I can stand another minute not knowing. Can't you give me something, anything at all? Please."
Begging wasn't a word that had ever been in Daniel's vocabulary, but he was willing to do whatever it took; if only he could hear that Kate still lived and breathed beyond those seemingly impenetrable doors. It could go either way. He could see the compassion in the eyes of the surgeon, who had no doubt seen his share of distraught loved ones in this waiting room over the years, but the logical part of his brain, which was barely functional beyond the swirl of emotions clouding his judgment, couldn't fault the man for doing his job; just like Roger had been doing his at the warehouse.
Finally, after several never-ending moments, the surgeon took pity on Daniel and said, "As a fellow medical professional you understand the risk I'm taking, but… We've stabilized Ms. Moretti and she is in recovery now."
Daniel released the massive breath he didn't even realize he had been holding as he sank into a crouching position, holding his head in his hands. A few salted tears leaked from behind his closed eyelids as the surgeon continued.
"She's not out of the woods, yet. The next few hours are going to be the most critical and she's got a long road ahead of her. As you already know she's lost a lot of blood. She's very weak and while we're pumping her full of antibiotics, we still need to watch for infection. That being said she's young, healthy, and strong. With a bit more time I'd be confident to say that I expect her to make a full recovery."
After coming to his feet, Daniel thanked the doctor quietly, receiving a sympathetic cuff on the shoulder before the doctor took his leave. Daniel stood alone in the waiting room once again, but this time the air didn't feel quite so stifling. Kate was alive! Even more her prognosis was better by the minute! That mantra kept repeating over and over in his head and each time it did, he felt himself come back to life as well, little by little.
As he walked back further into the waiting area, Daniel caught a glimpse of the soft voiced nurse who has offered him the coffee earlier as she retreated down the exterior hallway. He vaguely wondered how long she had been in there, but in the end it didn't really matter. Kate was alive. His only wish now was to be able to see her with his own eyes; to watch as her chest rose and fell with every life giving breath, but he knew to ask would be pressing his luck. At this point he could only hope that the Bureau has gotten in touch with Mr. Moretti and that he gets here soon. There were calls he needed to make, but Daniel just needed to take a second to let the entire day soak in. The fatigue finally hit him like a ton of bricks as he sagged into the sofa cushions and allowed his eyes to fall closed for a brief minute.
Daniel didn't even realize he had fallen asleep until he was roused by someone jostling his shoulder. His eyes shot open, blinking rapidly against the lights in the waiting area. Once they had adjusted, he could make out the faces of Lewicki next to him, and the kind nurse, he couldn't remember her name, above him.
"Dr. Pierce?" It was the young red-headed nurse who spoke first; she apparently had been the one to awaken him.
"Yes?" His voice was groggy and rough and he wondered how long he had been asleep.
"Please follow me." She kept her tone low, and she was scanning around her as she walked towards the hallway leading out of the surgical waiting room.
"Wait, what?" Daniel's brain was still a little fuzzy and he didn't understand what was happening. Were they kicking him out? "I'm not going anywhere until I see Kate."
The nurse turned back to him with a frown. "And I'm trying to help you do that, but you've got to keep your voice down." she hissed. "Look, they've moved her into the ICU for the night. I can get you in to see her, but only for a few minutes."
Daniel was wide awake now as he absorbed every word the nurse muttered beneath her breath. He looked over at Lewicki who nodded back before eagerly getting to his feet and preparing to follow the nurse.
"I need to see her…please."
Motioning with her head in the direction she had come from, she beckoned Daniel to follow. They walked a little ways down some winding corridors until they reached an elevator. Daniel felt his anxiety build as the nurse pushed the up button. I only do elevators for you, Kate. Daniel thought to himself, echoing the same phrase he had uttered to her not all that long ago. After a tense ride in which Daniel tried not to show his apparent discomfort, they stepped out onto the seventh floor. Keeping a brisk pace, the nurse led him down another corridor.
"I was there when you went off on Dr. Bryant." She murmured. "At that moment, I knew you weren't going anywhere until you saw her." Daniel remembered seeing her hurrying away after his confrontation with Dr. Bryant.
"Why are you doing this? You could lose your job if someone finds out." Daniel asked.
"You love her." She stated matter-of-factly. "And you're starting to make me nervous pacing the waiting room. Besides, no one's going to find out, right?" She smirked over at Daniel.
"Right." Was all Daniel could muster after the surprise of hearing his deepest kept secret coming so casually out of the mouth of a complete stranger.
After reaching the ICU, the nurse punched in a code to let them into the secured wing and Daniel followed her past several darkened ICU units. She stopped in front of Unit 5 and turned to Daniel.
"It's shift change, and we're at minimal staff now anyway. I can get you five to ten minutes tops before people start asking questions. Don't waste it."
Daniel nodded his understanding and the nurse pulled open the glass door, ushering him inside. The room was small but clear walls made it open to the nurses' station outside. The lights were dimmed to accommodate the late hour, but even through the dusk Daniel could make out the form of Kate Moretti, looking very petite and unbelievably frail against the hospital bed swallowing her. She had oxygen to help her breathe and a large assortment of machines making a whole acoustic range of beeps, tones, and hums as they monitored her vitals, and she still looked frighteningly too pale, but to Daniel she was the most beautiful sight he could have seen.
Approaching the bed cautiously, Daniel could take his eyes off of Kate as he perched on the edge of the chair sitting next to the bed. This is the only place he wanted to be ever since learning she had made it through surgery. She appeared to be sleeping; the picture of serenity, not in agony or fear as he had last seen her. And he would joyfully replace that image with this one until he could see her smiling eyes again. He concentrated for a moment on the slight rise and fall of her chest as the breath came and left her body. Aside from the mechanical beep of the heart monitor, this was the most sure physical sign he had that she was indeed still with him.
Carefully, Daniel reached out and grabbed her left hand resting on the bed beside her, being mindful of the IV line protruding through her ashen skin. It was cool beneath his touch, but not in a particularly unpleasant way. With time she would regain the warmth and vibrancy to her complexion. What made him stop and wonder the most, however, was the faint but steady beat of her pulse under his fingertips as he gently stroked the underside of her wrist. Daniel had been terrified he would never see her alive again so all of these little things he'd taken for granted were all the more precious now. He wanted to speak to Kate, say something to let her know he was there even if she couldn't respond in kind, but he found himself choked up so he settled for holding onto her hand like a lifeline and playing a little with the red and white hospital bracelet affixed to her arm. She looked wonderful and terrible at the same time, if it were possible; and gazing at her now Daniel vowed he would listen to the advice of the hallucination that had come to haunt him earlier and not wait until it was too late to let her know how he felt. There would always be that insistent voice in his mind reminding him that he could lose her, whether to the job or to his own personal inadequacies and self-doubt, but he was sure now that it would be a hell of a lot worse to lose her with the 'if onlys' alone to keep him company. He would much rather take the memories and sustain on those for the rest of his life.
As he sat still, pondering the curve of her cheekbone he noticed her eyelids had begun to flutter faintly. Maybe she was dreaming. He only trusted it was of something pleasant and not the nightmare of the ordeal she'd just been through. But then something unexpected happened, her eyes opened. She hadn't appeared to have seen Daniel, yet. The cadence of the heart monitor accelerated as her eyes darted around the room, trying to focus on something familiar, anything. Daniel could sense the panic rising in her and he stood, still holding onto her hand, leaning over her so closely that he filled her line of sight.
"Kate, it's ok. Look at me. It's ok." He kept his tones hushed, and brushed his hand along the side of her head, caressing her chestnut hair. After a terrifying moment, Kate finally looked over at him and immediately terror in her eyes stilled. She tried to voice what had sounded like the start of his name past her dry, cracked lips but it died before she could make it out.
"Don't try to talk. I don't know if you remembered anything that happened, but you were shot, Kate. You're in the hospital, but you're doing well and should be fine. You hear me?"
Kate's nod was barely perceptible, but her eyes shown with understanding. Daniel felt a minute squeeze of pressure on his hand as she gripped his fingers. He didn't know whether he wanted to collapse into her with relief or run screaming out into the corridor, but both didn't seem like particularly good ideas at the time so he simply locked his gaze to her steady yet sleep-laden one and continued to massage her scalp with the fingers of the hand she wasn't clinging to. The motion lulling her back into unconsciousness.
A noise from the doorway nearly caused Daniel to jump out of his skin.
"Time to go, Dr. Pierce." The young nurse called softly. "If all goes well tonight, Dr. Bryant will probably move her to a regular room tomorrow and you can see her again then."
Daniel didn't want to release her, but this short time he had been allotted would be more than enough to keep him going until he could see her again the next day. He placed her hand gingerly back onto the bed just as he had found it. Before straightening up completely, however, he was bowled over by the urge for one last moment of contact before he was escorted out. Leaning in further, settled his lips against the crown of her forehead in the barest whisper of a kiss, lingering before moving in closer to her ear and whispering those three little words that had long been forbidden directly into its shell. Maybe she wouldn't remember, and maybe this was still taking the coward's way out, but in his mind there would be time for awkward confessions later. This was enough…for now.
Up righting himself, Daniel turned to walk out of the ICU unit, but not before taking one more glance at Kate's face. If his heart had been hooked up to the monitor, it would have been spiking off the charts at what he saw. Kate eyes, while still drowsy, were open and watching him. No surprise, no disgust, no pity, only a tender acceptance and contentment were visible in their brown depths.
She already knew.
*My third offering for your approval or condemnation. Reviews are more than welcome, but keep in mind I do cry at the drop of a hat (ie: everytime I watch that new Budweiser commercial with the clydesdale) I took some major liberties with my rudimentary understanding of medicine and HIPAA so forgive me for any errors in that respect, or with anything else. Enjoy! ~Zeph*