My sincere gratitude to GiuliettaC and, as ever, my darling dancesabove.
She seemed to be asleep when he came to see her. He stood quietly at the entrance to the ward, watching her from a distance. She was so pale, with dark circles under her eyes, and even her hair seemed to have lost its lustre; worst of all was her breathing, laboured and shallow.
He contemplated leaving; he didn't want to disturb her, but he also wasn't sure he could bear seeing her like this. This young woman who was always so bright and so kind… it was agony seeing her in pain.
As though she could sense him there, she turned her face towards him and opened her eyes. Their dark depths, usually filled with mirth, were overflowing with all the dire thoughts running through her head.
"Paul," she said hoarsely. It was a statement rather than a greeting.
"Sorry Sam, I… I didn't mean to disturb you," he replied, stepping closer.
"You haven't." There was effort in her words.
They talked of unimportant things for a little while, but as Milner made to get up from his seat by her side, she asked quietly, "I'm going to die, aren't I?"
Stopping in his tracks, Milner closed his eyes briefly in resignation. He sat down again, taking Sam's hand as she continued, "I heard the nurses talking about another woman with the same symptoms as mine. They have no idea what it is, but it killed her."
"We're doing everything we can, Sam. Mr Foyle, he… I don't think I've ever seen him like this before. He'll find a way to help you. Whatever it takes."
Sam smiled weakly. "He's been so good to me. He visits me, sometimes."
"Yes, I know," Milner smiled back. "He and Farnetti, both."
"I'd no idea it could feel like this. It makes me think that even if I should die, I haven't lived in vain. Even if he doesn't feel the same, at least I've known what it is to love someone so much it hurts."
Confused, Milner tried to make sense of her words. She seemed to be losing consciousness as she spoke, her words becoming hesitant and indistinct.
"Farnetti? Of course he loves you, Sam. As I've understood it, he asked you to marry him?"
"Not Joe," she murmured sleepily. "Christopher."
The use of the older man's Christian name threw Milner for a moment.
"Mr Foyle?" It surprised him how little he was surprised by Sam's admission. He'd spent just over two years with Sam and Foyle, listening to their conversations from the back seat. Sam's fondness for her boss was obvious; evident in the way she spoke, her jokes, and in her smile.
"Christopher," she repeated softly as she drifted into unconsciousness, a smile caressing her dry lips.
Milner released her hand, laying it gently on the bed, and stood to leave. Even as Sam slept, there was no air of peace about her, and he gnawed his lip with worry. He hadn't been around when the hospital had telephoned Mr Foyle, but the DCS had told him all he needed to know upon his return from seeing Sam. There was no doubt that Sam's condition was serious.
Milner reflected quietly that he'd never seen his superior officer so affected: once Foyle had found out what the illness ailing Sam was, he had been utterly determined to find a way to help her, to the point where he didn't seem to care what would happen to himself or his career.
When Foyle returned from his talk with Halliday, he was carrying a small bottle of what he called Streptomycin. Milner brightened: he had never heard of it, but as far as he was concerned, if it had any chance of curing Sam, he was glad of its discovery.
With Foyle it was a different matter. Even after handing the medicine over to the doctors, he seemed somehow flattened, as though he didn't dare to hope that it might help. Milner observed him, but offered no comment. They continued with the case, going to question the Cartwrights – though even to Milner, who earnestly wanted to help Martin Ashford, it all seemed unimportant somehow – and finally arresting Leonard Cartwright for the murder of Tom Jenkins.
Milner returned to the hospital the next day, and was relieved to find Sam looking much more herself. Though she was still weak and looked dreadfully tired, her breathing had evened out, her fever had broken, and the peculiar glassiness was gone from her eyes. Smiling, he brandished a bunch of tulips that a nurse had been kind enough to put in a vase, and placed them on her nightstand, before sitting down in the chair beside her bed.
"Hello, Sam," he said quietly, his joy evident in his voice. "It's so lovely to see you looking better."
"It's lovely to feel better, I must say," Sam replied. "Still not feeling top-notch, but the doctors are pleased."
"We all are. You really gave us a fright. Mr Foyle practically threatened to expose the operation that did these experiments if they didn't help cure you."
Sam smiled crookedly. "He's awfully kind. He was here last night. You know that…crossroads I was telling him about just before all this happened? Well, I've decided to just… head straight through it. Not change anything. D'you know, Mr Foyle actually said he thought I was 'invaluable'! Isn't that a jolly word?"
Milner couldn't help but grin at her enthusiasm.
"Definitely. And I'm glad you're staying with us. It wouldn't be the same without you."
"Thank you, Paul," she smiled. Then her face fell. "I do feel bad about turning down Joe, though. He's been very kind to me, but I just…"
"I understand," Milner said. "It would never have been a good idea to marry him if you weren't absolutely sure he was the one you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. Marriage can be difficult enough as it is, without beginning it with doubts."
Sam sent him an understanding look. "I'm sorry things are difficult for you at home," she said gently.
Milner shook his head, thinking of Edith.
"Don't be," he answered. "In any case, the point is that you shouldn't marry Joe when you're…" He trailed off, unsure if he ought to remind her of what she'd accidentally revealed to him.
"When I'm what?" There was a note of worry in her question, as though she dreaded his response.
"When you're in love with someone else," he said softly, noticing the way her eyes widened briefly before she assumed an air of nonchalance. She couldn't hide the blush that tinged her pale skin, though.
"What makes you think I'm in love with someone else?" she asked lightly. Milner smiled in sympathy.
"I'm afraid you told me the last time I was here. You were half gone from the fever."
Sam's face fell and she bit her lip. "Oh. Oh, dear."
"Sam, don't you think Mr Foyle deserves to know?"
"You mean I should tell Mr Foyle that I'm in love with someone else?" she tried to joke.
Milner shook his head fondly. "No, Sam. Mr Foyle deserves to know that you're in love with him."
"Golly. I really did let the cat out of the bag, didn't I?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Oh Paul. What a mess," she said unhappily, looking down. "But I can't tell him. Really, I… I couldn't bear the shame."
"You can't be thinking that he'd ridicule you?"
"No, of course not. I'm sure he'd be ever so kind, but… but it would ruin things, you know? He'd pity me, or think I was just a silly… and then he would feel awkward around me. Things could never go back to the way they were."
Her eyes were shining with tears, and when one of them slid down her cheek, she didn't bother wiping it away. Milner knew her most desperate secret, so there was no point in hiding a few tears from him.
He reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and gently mopped the tear off her cheek, his smile sad and compassionate.