Naturally, word got out fast. It's not every day that a war hero comes back from the dead. Chuck had been back in the world of the living for about a month, and within that time Autumn had gone from medical student to Public Relations Rep. And she could honestly say that studying medicine was far more simple. She was constantly getting rushed to meetings with doctors and politicians, physical therapists and psychologists.
"Anytime you want to trade, dear," Janelle joked one afternoon over tea. "What I wouldn't give to be your age and stuck with a strapping young man like Mr. Hansen."
Autumn could only roll her eyes and keep her mouth shut. During the last few weeks Chuck has barely managed to tell her "good morning" let alone carry on a conversation longer than five minutes that wasn't about a fight. One would think that being aware of a second chance at life would change a person's dynamic and their way of thinking, but that didn't seem to occur to Chuck. But the passion to fight is what made him so dangerous to an enemy, and so successful.
A sigh escaped Autumn's lips as she laid down for bed, maneuvering into a position that she finally deemed comfortable. When she closed her eyes she could see Chuck laying still on the table surrounded by who she now knew were none other than Herc (Chuck's father), and Raleigh and Mako Becket. Had she known back then she would not have acted so casual around them. Of course she assumed they were her father's colleagues, more doctors and scientists. But not war heros.
She shifted in bed as she continued to replay that morning. Autumn couldn't help but wish she could go back in time and just wait in the other room with the other doctors. It was in that initial awakening that she became Chuck's official-yet-unofficial caretaker. Her mother thought it would be good practice for Autumn in the future when she had patients dealing with similar things that Chuck was: memory recovery, physical instability.
Despite advances in technology, this was still the first attempt at trying to bring a human back to life that had actually succeeded. The twist was something so natural and obvious that it was no wonder it had been overlooked in the past. Although Chuck may have the same physical appearance as he had three decades ago, he was "conceived" and born, and grew naturally over time.
The day he awoke was in fact his twenty-ninth birthday. And every day for the last twenty-nine years Herc came to visit with Autumn's father and grandfather to check in on Chuck. Using the same technology that created the Drift, Herc would enter a state of deep sleep and transfer his memories to Chuck's unconscious mind. Small intervals, at first, but soon Herc would transfer a day at a time's worth of memories. Day by day, Chuck became closer to the man he was at the time of his death both physically and mentally.
At 4am Autumn's cell phone rang. She kept her eyes closed and searched for it under her pillow, barely opening one eye once she held it to answer.
"Hello?" she answered groggily. It could only be her mother or her best friend Calla on the other end, there was no reason to hide her sleepy irritation.
"Darling, so sorry to call you when you're sleeping, but I'm afraid I'm going to need you to come over to the office," Janelle apologized.
"What's the matter?" Autumn asked, barely managing to sit herself up.
"Just try to get here as soon as you can, all right? Thank you, dear, I'll see you soon."
Her mother hung up and left Autumn to try and pull herself together. Despite how important Autumn knew this was, it was difficult to fight the tears and impending tantrum exhaustion brought on. It seemed that if her dreams weren't preventing her from a good night's sleep, an emergency could do the trick just as well.
The road was wet and a light drizzle was falling as Autumn paced to Jameson. She was the only person awake that wasn't at work - she could see a few fishing boats on the water and smell fresh, warm bread baking coming from Gillian's Bakery a few streets over. As the cold wind blew against her, Autumn cursed and prayed that her mother would at least have a mug of tea waiting for her. If twenty-one years of living here hadn't given Autumn more of a tolerance for the cold, then she was doomed until the day she left Margate.
After ten minutes she arrived at the security check and held her badge up to the guard on duty. Autumn had never met this man before, since she had never had reason to be going to Jameson this early in the morning. But the soldier nodded her in all the same, and within a couple more minutes she was hanging her scarf and coat in her mother's office.
"Goodness, Autumn, couldn't you have dressed a little more appropriately?" Autumn's mother exclaimed.
Autumn looked down at her outfit. She had worn this dress a few times while coming to the military base; a long-sleeved navy blue drop-waist dress with a pleated skirt. The hem wasn't too high above the knee, but even so she was wearing black tights and shorts. Well, to keep me warm more than anything, Autumn thought, not daring to let the truth escape her lips, if only to save her from more scolding.
"If this is truly an emergency, then surely there are more important things we should be discussing than my outfit. You should be thankful I didn't show up in my pajamas," Autumn replied, raising her eyebrow.
Janelle ran her hand through her sandy blonde hair and let out a deep breath. "I didn't mean to imply that you look underdressed, Autumn. But I should have at least told you not to wear something you don't want ruined... Come along, then."
Janelle informed Autumn of what was happening as they walked through the base. Autumn could tell they were heading for the barracks and she quickened her pace to walk beside her mother. Chuck had been running a fever since earlier this afternoon and wasn't getting any better. Naturally, maintaining Chuck's health was priority. His first two weeks awake had been rough and there were quite a number of close calls. Chuck's stress levels were very high and had probably brought on the fever he was currently suffering from. Janelle had originally planned to have him monitored around the clock, but both Herc and Chuck deemed it too extreme. The man was a war hero, after all.
As the two women approached building five of the barracks, they opened the door to the hallway on the first floor and did their best to step lightly. The echo of Autumn's boots in the hall didn't help quiet Janelle's fast-paced tromp in her own heels. When they arrived at room 15-S Janelle tapped on the door. After a moment, the door cracked open and Chuck retreated back to his bed, letting the women walk in on their own.
Autumn glanced around the bleak room briefly. The walls were bare, the furniture boring and utilitarian-looking. There was absolutely none of Chuck's personality in this living space. Autumn shook her head, trying to shake the silly thoughts. This isn't the time for foolish things like interior design criticism, Autumn scolded herself.
"Chuck, dear, you're burning up," Janelle exclaimed, dabbing his forehead. "Did you push yourself too far today? You know it's going to take a while to get back to the physical state you were in back in your fighting days."
He let out a frustrated sigh. "I'm not daft," Chuck said. "That old man should have just minded his own business—there's no reason to fuss over a bloody fever."
"Your father's just worried about you, Chuck," Janelle responded calmly. "We all are. We just want to make sure you're taking proper care of yourself."
With that, Janelle stood and walked over a few steps toward Autumn. "If his fever gets worse, call me immediately. If not, I'll see you tomorrow."
Autumn's eyes went wide. "Let me walk you out," she said, following her mother through the front door and closing it behind her. "Are you mad?!" she shouted in a whisper. "You want me to spend the night here with him like a babysitter?"
Janelle glared at her daughter. "I need you to step up here, Autumn. You want to be a doctor? Then start paying your dues. He is a sick man, and if something were to happen to him—on our watch or not—we would be held responsible. Do you understand what will happen to us if we fail to keep him alive and healthy?"
The thought hadn't crossed Autumn's mind... God only knows who funded this entire experiment, let alone how much it cost over the last three decades. Janelle let out a soft sigh when she saw that her daughter had put her childish reservations to the side and understood the importance of watching over Chuck.
"Just call me if you need anything, all right? You're going to be fine."
Janelle gave her daughter a quick kiss on the cheek and made her way back to her office. Autumn took a deep breath and let herself back into Chuck's room. He was laying on his bed, facing the wall, his back to her. She decided to sit down on the one armchair in the room and try to settle herself in for a quiet night of staying awake. The sound of Chuck's breathing was reassuring, but he mumbled and tossed around quite a bit. Suffering from fever induced dreams, no doubt, Autumn thought. After about an hour he settled down when rain had started to pour, and Autumn could tell the sky was beginning to lighten.
"Autumn," Chuck grumbled, his face half buried in his pillow.
She stood up and walked over to his bed, sitting on the very edge of it. "Yes, Chuck? Would you like a glass of water?"
"Will you administer it orally?" Autumn could hear the smirk, even through his illness.
She rolled her eyes and gave him a playful push on the shoulder. "Be serious for once. I'm trying to help you out here."
"You should go home, Autumn," Chuck replied.
"And face the wrath of my mother? I'd rather deal with your grumpy attitude, thank you very much."
"I don't blame you," Chuck laughed.
"So what do you really want, Chuck?"
"I want to go back to sleep," he said.
Autumn touched him on the shoulder and gave him a light squeeze. Something inside her told her that he was referring to a deeper sleep than the one that overcame him in the following minutes.