Not quite an hour later, we pull up to the emergency room entrance of University Hospital, looking through the window, I see two men in suits, standing under the emergency sign, grim and impatient, with them is a petite woman, engulfed in an overcoat that looks ten sizes too big, her delicate features creased with fatigue and worry, Gavin's mother, our Aunt Heather. As soon as Gavin opens the door to the SUV, she's there, grabbing his face in her hands, looking at him with that assessing look only a mother can give, and firing questions as only a mother can. "Are you alright? How are the girls? I woke up and they were gone. I was so worried. I'm so sorry. I should have kept a closer eye on them. Auntie told me they were up to something, but..." Gavin cut off her words, pulling her into his arms, whispering words I couldn't make out; and guilt, roughly the size and weight of a cannonball, landed my stomach and just stayed there. I glanced at my sisters, yep, they had it too.
"I think we messed up." I whispered.
"Definitely." Christy agreed, as Allie cried silently; her eyes riveted on the woman who meant so much to all of us.
"We suck." Lena spat out, her voice loaded with self-disgust.
Looking through the window of the vehicle, we were all too chicken to get out of; my gaze homes in on Heather's face pale in the harsh white lights coming from the hospital entrance, her cheeks shimmering with tears...
Oh yeah, we suck.
"You will start at the beginning. You will tell me everything down to the most minute detail, and do not insult my intelligence by attempting to lie to me." It was a nod to Gavin's fierce ancestry, that he still looked plenty intimidating, lying in a hospital bed, half naked, bruised and bandaged, with an iv in his arm.
He'd been taken off by those grim men in suits as soon as we arrived, leaving the four of us with our guilt and our Aunt, who looked at us without recrimination of any kind. Saying that, "Gavin is surely mad enough for both of us." She did however, insist we be examined by a doctor, who unfortunately found that we had no deadly contagious diseases, so no quarantine, so no delaying the inevitable...
So here we are, the four of us sitting in a row at the foot of Gavin's bed, like naughty children.
The doctor wanted to keep him overnight due to a slight concussion and dehydration. After quite a bit of arguing, that didn't end until Heather, in that implacable, but gentle way of hers, quietly informed him that it would ease her mind if he did, indeed, do as the doctor instructed, Gavin grudgingly allowed himself to be admitted. So he was in a foul mood times two. This was going to be awfully unpleasant, not that we didn't deserve it. As the oldest I decide to just jump into the deep end of the shit storm feet first.
I take a deep breath and just throw the words out there,"We've been, sort of, spying on you for the last two years."
I heard Aunt Heather gasp, but it was the only sound in the room. Gavin was completely silent, he didn't move, he didn't blink, hell, I don't think he was breathing, he might have been made of stone, then finally...
One word, in a dead flat whisper. No bellow, no extended rant about responsibility, reckless behavior, childish selfishness... nothin'. This was not the usual Gavin reaction. Nervously, I flicked my gaze to Lena, sitting next to me, she was pasty white, her eyes wide. Oh, hell if he was freaking Lena out, who we liked to call Mini Gav, we were in huge trouble.
"Yeah, uh, we used an old fashioned tape recorder, hid it in your vent system. Lena said most bug sweepers wouldn't pick up on it, cause you know it wasn't wireless, and since we have a key, well it wasn't very hard.
More silence. He's looking at us like he's never seen us before, then quietly,"Is that right?"
"We were worried about you?" Allie whispers tremulously.
One eyebrow shot up, "You were... worried... about me." he repeated hollowly.
"Yes, you have a very dangerous job you know." Christy pointed out, helpfully.
Both eyebrows shoot up, "I have a dangerous job?" still in that flat quiet voice.
"Well...yes." Allie reinforced breathlessly.
"I have a dangerous job?" a little louder now, "I have a dangerous job? Then still louder, his face going red, his eyes wide "I..have a dangerous job?."more volume, his face deep crimson. Silence for one heartbeat, another, then, the volcano that is Gavin McIntyre in a full temper finally blows, " I have a DANGEROUS JOB? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" he roars, jumping out of bed, grabbing his short hair with both hands, probably in an effort to keep them off of us, pacing like a caged lion, he roars, "HAVE YOU GIRLS LOST YOUR DAMN MINDS? WHAT THE HELL? TWO YEARS? CRHIST, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA THE TROUBLE YOU COULD HAVE BEEN IN... THE DANGER...HOLY SHIT! I DON'T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS."
Finally out of breath, or just too dumbstruck for words, he just stands there, in his, gym shorts and nothing else, his lungs working like giant bellows, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. Wow, I think he's so mad he's beyond speech. At this point I have serious doubts about giving him any more details, he's liable to pop a blood vessel. I risk a glance at Lena, raise my eyebrows in question, she just left shoulder shrugs me. Okay, so no help there.
"FUCK!... YOU GIRLS!... SHIT!'" He finally manages to sputter, resuming his pacing, his face now an alarming shade of puce. I glance anxiously at Aunt Heather, she seems to agree, that this level of angst can not be helping his recovery, she steps forward, "Gavin, sweetheart..."
She doesn't get any further, at that moment two beefy guys in security uniforms burst into the room, a woman, who I recognize as one of the floor nurses standing behind them. Not surprising, Gavin's bellow could probably be heard well into the next state, much less up and down the quiet halls of the hospital. Crap and double crap, could this night get any worse?
One of the security guys steps forward, cautiously. He may be beefy, but Gavin, the giant, has a half a foot and at least 75 pounds on him. "Sir," he addresses him, his voice low and steady, like he's trying to calm a mad dog, "you need to calm down, and get back into bed." Gavin just stands there, his head tilted slightly to the side, like the guy was speaking in tongues or something.
"Gavin dear, you're frightening the nurse." Aunt Helen steps forward and places one delicate hand lightly on his arm. Gavin looks down at that tiny hand for a full ten seconds, breathing deeply, visibly working to get his temper under control, "I'm sorry," he whispered down at her, his large hand moving to cover hers, then shaking his head, "They just, I mean... I wasn't expecting..."
And a second guilt sized cannonball joined the first one in my stomach.
"I'm so sorry ma'am," Gavin looked past the security guards, to the nurse. "I have no excuse. Please accept my apology."
The nurse, a stout African American woman with a kind face, smiles and walks over to him, taking hold of his arm and escorting him back to bed. "Don't think on it for one minute." She assures him, "Didn't scare me a bit, got three teenage boys myself. Mercy, do those kids make me crazy. I just don't want you to hurt yourself is all." She explains, while deftly helping him back to bed. Then pouring him some ice water, and handing it to him. "Now sounds like to me, you could maybe use something stronger, but we don't have anything like that here, and you need to hydrate. So you drink all the water in this pitcher for me, and maybe I can call the doc and get him to prescribe a nice Valium, or somethin' to help you relax."
Lena speaks up for the first time, "That would be awesome."
By silent, mutual consent, we all took a break. Gavin drinking the water, while his eyes roamed over the four of us. It was Aunt Heather who spoke up next.
"Girls, I understand you being worried, I am too, but what I don't understand why you resorted to this? You put all of us at risk, including Gavin. What in the world? Did you just wake up one morning and lose your minds?"
None of us said one word, maybe if we just ignored the question...
"Now that's a real good question, Mom." Gavin, smelling blood in the water, was suddenly watching us like a hawk, and was it my imagination or did his gaze land and stay on me. "Well?"
"Well...uh...what was the question?" I ask innocently, stalling for time.
"The question, Mckenna, is what prompted this particular form of insanity. What possessed you four to do something so abominably stupid!?"
Oh crap, he was revving up again.
"What the hell prompted you all to behave in such a completely irresponsible, insane... Christ...when I think what could have happened....JESUS, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA...?"
All of a sudden, Christy, calm quiet little Christy, jumps to her feet, shouting, "SHE WASN'T SLEEPING! OKAY?"
For a second her words don't register. I'm too shocked by her unusual flare of temper, but as the shock fades the words sink in. No, no she wouldn't, "Christy," I hiss over Allie and Lena who are looking back and forth between us with identical Holy Fuck expressions. "Shut. Up."
"No." Christy looks at me, calm once more, except for the stubborn set to her chin, "No Mac, he needs to be told," her face softens, "I'm sorry, but he deserves to know."
She's right I know she's right, but fuck...I nod, and wait for the ax to fall.
"After the accident, you know the explosion, the one you said was no big deal, but nearly killed you. When you left the Navy and went to work for Homeland Security, Mac started having nightmares again, a lot. They got bad, really bad. She didn't sleep, wouldn't eat. Aunt Heather didn't know what to do. It went on for months. She wouldn't talk about it, not with us. I don't know about her therapist, but we heard Aunt Heather on the phone, they were talking about committing her..."
"What?" Gavin's go eyes wide, and I see horror and shock and anger, "What the fuck Mom?" his voice rising, he turns to Heather "Is this true? What the hell? Why didn't I know about this?"
Oh God, I don't want to be here for this. It's just like before. Poor Mackenna...Poor disturbed Mackenna... traumatized.. not right in her mind...I put my hands over my face and try to block it all out.
"She...got better" I could hear the tears in my Aunt's voice, "She didn't want you to know. She was adamant, would fly into a rage if we even broached the subject of telling you. She was afraid you'd worry, get distracted, and then, she got better..."
"When we started spying on you." Lena finished. Her voice quiet, "It was Christy's idea, but I agreed, we all did, and it worked. She got better. Heather just thought it was a temporary episode, brought on by your accident, but well..."
Heavy silence filled the room, but there was no silence for me. I hear the barren voices speaking words in my head, traumatized... unstable... psychotic... dangerous. I rub my arms, suddenly chilled to the bone. I feel myself shake. The voices turn to screams, smoke fills my vision, and with it, the smell of burning flesh. My stomach rolls, I can't get any air, the smoke's too thick. My heart racing, I open my eyes, but still everything is gray, and the screaming, someone's screaming. It's all spinning, flying through my mind fast, too fast, and then...pain. I grab my head against the agony shooting through it, an arrow dipped in acid, "STOP! PLEASE STOP!" the words scream in my head, but they come out barely a whisper.
I can't breathe. I have to get away from the smoke, and …. Ah Goddess...the smell. I jump up, blindly trying to run through the gray, away from the screams, the smell, the pain. I hear voices but they' re far away. I feel something grab me, but with the strength born of panic I throw it off. Stumbling through the haze, and then I'm caught and held. No! I can't be trapped here, not again. Struggling furiously, I push, pull, kick, and finally scream in the face of whatever holds me, but I'm stuck, held fast.
Then, over all the screaming and chaos I hear a whisper, "Mckenna,"
That's me, I'm Mckenna.
"Mckenna baby, come back. You're safe."
Safe. The word flows through my mind, a balm to the searing pain.
"Do you hear me baby, come back now." The whisper is clearer now, the screams fading, "Come on baby, I'm right here."
I follow the voice, my mind latching onto it's husky warmth, "It's just me Mckenna, It's Gavin. I need you to come back, now." Gavin, yes, Gavin needed me.
"Gavin?" I hear my own broken whisper, barley there.
"That's right babe. It's me. You're doing great, just keep coming, I'm right here." the burning smell fades, and my head fills with a familiar smell of warmth and spice.I take a deep breath. Oh, I love that smell. I feel a steady heartbeat under my cheek, my breath returns to my body, and finally... the smoke clears.
I'm back in the hospital room, in Gavin's arms, held tight against him. I blink up at him, my gaze latching onto his hazel eyes, gentle and calm,"Gavin?"
"Hey there," he whispers back, brushing his lips across my forehead.
"What...where is everybody?" tears sting my eyes, "I didn't hurt anybody. I wouldn't hurt them. Did I...?"
"Shh. No baby, they're fine, just wanted to give you some privacy is all." Then, picking me up, he carries me over to the hospital bed and lays me down. Quick as anything, he strips off my shirt, and is working on getting my jeans off before I can protest. I make a weak attempt to push his hands away, but my arms feel like noodles.
"Mckenna, I've got to get you warm, your skin is like ice." he murmurs gently, working to remove my shoes, so he can pull my jeans off.
Even as the words leave his mouth, I feel myself begin to shiver and shake. By the time I'm down to my bra and panties, I'm feel like I've been dipped in ice-water, and welcome the warmth of Gavin's body, as he crawls in beside me and pulls me to his chest, wrapping himself around me and tucking the blankets around us like a cocoon.
"Sshh, babe, just give it a minute," Gavin brushes his lips across my forehead, the light touch burns my frigid skin, "You'll be alright, it's the adrenaline." He reminds me gently. "When it wears off, your body temperature drops. This is the best way to warm you up."
I'm shivering and my teeth are rattling like mad. I just want to snuggle into Gavin and close my eyes, but knowing where we are, I pull back and try to put voice to the single demand I've made over and over again, since the first few months after my mother's death. "Nnnno ddocc..ttt," I can't get my mouth to cooperate, my teethe are chattering hard enough to shatter.
"Ssshh," Gavin whispers, his large hand moving to the back of my head and tucking me under his chin, his strong fingers kneading to the tight muscles at the base of my skull, gently working out the knots, "I know, babe. No doctors." his other hand running in soothing lines up and down my spine, "You need to rest. Close your eyes Mckenna, I'm here. I won't let anyone take you baby, ever. "
His voice is both gentle and fierce, and I know nothing can hurt me when I'm wrapped up in his arms. It seems the only time I feel safe is when this man is holding me, before my tired brain can latch on to this new thought, I sink into peaceful darkness.