Beta: That Girl Six
Chapter 7 - Reprieved
Joshua in the hospital 2008
He loved indoor rock climbing. The feeling of Zen as he thought about the footholds to move his body in different positions brought with it the only time he didn't have dual loyalties. Despite the height, he never felt safer. He used the auto belay system so he did not have to rely on someone else anchoring him at the bottom.
Climbing outdoors was completely different. He couldn't allow his mind to travel and blank out, and situations that usually called for him to climb outdoors had nothing to do with safety. Joshua only climbed outside sparingly, and he didn't recall needing to do that in Wyoming. Yet he felt as if he was scaling a cliff, forcing pegs into the solid rock.
He tried to control his breathing, feeling he wanted to come down. "Lower down!"
His eyes were closed, so he opened them at least to glare at his belay partner. He wanted down.
"Call a doctor."
Joshua blinked at his mother. His mother would not come climbing with him. He tried to shake his head to clear it but was hampered. Then Carolyn was hovering in his view. She liked hiking, had gone to the indoor rock gym with him as his guest, but did not express any interest in outdoor climbing. She was not trained to belay outdoors either.
He couldn't hold on; he hoped the line would hold.
When he awoke the next time, he recognized he was in hospital room. The first clue was the oxygen mask on his face, then the noise of the equipment around him. There was also the scratchiness of the sheets against the sensitivity of his skin. He felt lifeless, yet overwhelmed at the same time.
One of the bedrails was down; Joshua noticed an arm near his. He turned his head in increments to the right, seeing the side of Carolyn's head pillowed against the mattress. It looked uncomfortable. He thought about waking her up, but she looked like she needed the rest. He moved his head again, focusing on the calendar in front of him until he was able to read the date, which wavered in and out of focus.
It didn't help him because he had no reference point for when he got there. He thought about his last memory, looked over the wires attached to him, and tried to feel the injuries to his body. The drugs in his system made the process lengthy, more than herbs would have.
It then came crashing down upon him—trapped in the cabin, being stabbed by Ruby, and believing he was dying due to the poison running through him. He moved his hand over so he was making contact with Carolyn.
She jerked awake with the contact. "What?" Getting her bearings, she turned to him.
Joshua did not say anything, taking the moment to be grounded by her presence. He was alive.
"Joshua, you're awake." She brought her hand under her eyes as tears began to fall. They seemed to be waiting for her to wake up.
"And . . ." His voice was hoarse, muzzled by the oxygen mask. He tried again, "and that makes you cry?" His voice tapered off.
"No, I'm really happy," she sniffed. Carolyn poured him some water into a small plastic cup, added a straw, pushed the mask up slightly, then lifted it to his mouth.
He controlled himself by taking small sips. He lifted his arms so he could grab the cup. They felt heavy and weak. Carolyn still held the cup; eventually she placed the cup on the table in front of him, and put the mask in place. The oxygen refreshed him. "What happened?"
"They called and said you had been hurt, and we rushed here and you were. We thought . . . And your mom and grandmother, then Adam . . . Mackland too, but he's not here."
He had no idea what Carolyn's rambling meant. Then he remembered he was supposed to help Sam with saving Dean. "And Dean? Alive?"
Carolyn pursed her lips; tears fell from her eyes in silent passages. "I . . . he's not . . . and I was so mean to him, and he called, he did, but you weren't any better, so I kept the conversation short. Mackland called me, and told me what had happened. He spoke to your mom, too." She hiccupped. "Alison's still too broken up to talk about it."
Joshua did not know what to say. Part of him knew he should be comforting Carolyn; she was blaming herself for something. Yet he had such an overwhelming feeling to mourn alone. They hadn't even got to say goodbye.
"I'm sorry. I should have been kinder to him, not just because he's The Guardian, but because he was always good to me."
He nodded. Maybe Dean was not always good to him, especially when he was a bratty child, but none of them had been all that good to each other back then. But they were all adults now. They had come to an understanding with Joshua admitting to himself he did respect the next Guardian.
"Joshua?" Carolyn had moved in closer so he had her full visage, her hair falling forward.
Joshua wanted to ask about Sam and Caleb. He wanted to know the details of Dean's death. Then he sought blissful ignorance, those days where he knew his place, not being Jim's boy or his father's, and trying not to care that he was always serving two loyalties. "I wish . . . ," he stopped, looked up at Carolyn to take her in. "I'm tired."
When he awoke next, his mother was watching him over a hardcover book she didn't seem to be reading. It took him a few minutes to get his bearings, the constriction in his chest giving him pause in his ability to communicate. The mask was replaced by a cannula.
"Joshua," she said. His mother had moved closer, running a hand through his hair, then resting the back of her hand on his forehead. "You are still running a temperature."
"I feel warm," he admitted. His eyes strayed to the other side of the bed to notice the nurses' station, along with his grandmother dozing in the chair Carolyn had been in earlier. "Carolyn?"
"Taking a break at the hotel. She's been here the whole time." His mother smiled in pride but then dampened the upturned corners. "She told you about Dean?"
"Yes." He was still in turmoil about his feelings, trapped to the confines of the hospital.
His mother removed her hand from his forehead, then went to his hand to give it a squeeze, avoiding the IV that was tucked in. "Your grandmother is going to be upset that I did not wake her up," she said with a tempered smiled. "She's quite smitten with Adam."
When Joshua frowned, he felt the slight pulsating headache being kept at bay by the pharmaceuticals coursing through his veins by the different IV ports. "She does seem to like the rugged look." His grandmother also had a fondness for Dean, Sam, and Caleb. He wondered when he would ever be able to stop saying their names together in one connection. "Is Adam here?"
"No, he left after a few days, once you were off the respirator." Her hand lifted with a quiver. "You were poisoned."
"I remember." He heard the worry in her voice but didn't know how to allay her concerns. He shifted on the bed to try to find the remote to bring the bed up in a higher position.
"I thought—I tried to drain the toxins, but it will need some more time. Your weakness will linger." She must have seen that he noticed her hand was shaking because she curled it in the floral oblong scarf that hung loosely around her neck. "Did you use the tincture?" She seemed to regain her composure.
The little scraps of his memory were coming back with the prompting. "I did."
"It saved your life."
"You're starting to sound like Mackland, Mother." Joshua wanted his mother to relax. It was unlike her to be so emotional. "Is he bossing around the staff here?"
His mother looked away. It was then Joshua recalled Mackland would not be there because of Dean's death.
She moved the scarf back and forth for a moment. "Joshua, when I came in and saw you . . . It just isn't the right time for Mackland and me."
Joshua was confused. It did not sound as if Mackland left to mourn and deal with the hole in The Brotherhood. "Right time for what?"
"For us. We need time apart." His mother stood elegantly straight.
He did not want to be the villain in the demise of his mother and Mackland's relationship. Yes, he had been against it at first, but then he realized his mother was happy. He wanted her to be happy. "I'm awake now."
"Yes, you are, but you are still in ICU until you no longer have a temperature, and I don't know when that will be. It is a side effect from the poison. After ICU, you will be in a private room. When you are able to go home, you will still need to rest and recuperate."
Joshua shifted in the bed, resenting his mother's litany about his poor health. He was unable to accept a long recovery period at this point, especially since he was feeling so weak. "Mother . . ."
"We both have our children to consider."
The conversation was clearly over. She had made her choice. "I am glad Adam was here to help you."
She moved her chair so she was no longer hovering over him. "He also arranged for the coven's contacts to guard you discreetly."
"Why? Because of Ruby?"
"They still feel there is a credible threat against you," Esme explained. "They take care of their own."
It was then he looked for his ring, to find it taped to his pinky finger, out of the way of the different monitors. "And The Brotherhood?"
"Robert was going to arrange security, but Adam told him it would be taken care of."
Adam overstepped Joshua's boundaries. "Mother—" Joshua started.
"Mackland agreed with Adam. They are reeling from their loss. We are all reeling from the loss. Dean was a good man, brother, friend and son." Her fingers covered her mouth.
Another reminder of Dean's death. It was strange to have someone he had watched grow up die. He thought about Caleb, how magnified the loss must be. He didn't expect a phone call soon, yet Caleb would stay informed about him as Joshua would do with Caleb and Sam. He'd have to make a call when he was alone.
Maybe all those times he saw Dean risk his life, be injured, had been warning signs about not getting attached. Yet there was one person he was attached to by blood who was missing. "Mother, was my father informed?"
She patted her hair back. He recognized all her tactics, using some time so she could find the right words. "I am sure he wants to be here, but . . ."
Joshua looked up at the ceiling. He had almost died, felt like he could slip away at any moment now even though he was on the mend, and his father had not come. This meant Harland Sawyer found his son to be weak. Harland could not tolerate weakness or having an Advisor for a son instead of a Knight. "Please, no excuses."
"No excuses." She reached out, placed his hand palm up, and with her fingertip traced a pentacle. "I promise."
Joshua wished he could sleep through the nurse changing his dressing. It was not as if it hurt; pain medication numbed all sensation. He could not see the wound since it originated on his back, but when it was exposed to air he could sense it. His nurse had introduced herself as Jane. She was petite with an easy smile and a secure manner. She talked about the hospital and the surrounding Casper area as she worked. By the time she was finished he knew that when he ventured out he could easily find the area's best Mexican, burgers, and chili.
Jane helped him so that he was again resting comfortably. "Please let me know if you need anything—anything you need to be more comfortable."
Carolyn entered, clearing her throat. "He's fine. Where's Grace?"
Grace was an older woman who had been the overnight nurse.
"She was off at seven today." Jane glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's a little early for visiting hours."
"Do you want me to come back in fifteen minutes?" Carolyn gave a tense smile, her voice going up an unnaturally high octave. The hours started at 10 am. It was 9:45. The staff had been relaxed about the rules.
"Jane, Carolyn's my girlfriend," Joshua stated, leaving no doubt that Carolyn should be allowed to stay. They had been quietly dating for a year between business trips to New York City, DC and her trips to North Carolina.
Carolyn was part of him now. He liked her genuineness, the way she wore her heart on her sleeve, showing all her emotions; with Jane, she was showing she was jealous, possessive. He knew what she was feeling. His mother had always been stoic, probably a side effect of dealing with Harland. Carolyn had her insecurities, but she was smart and tested herself to overcome them.
Jane nodded. "Okay." She set the call remote near his hand. "Just in case you need something."
Carolyn watched the nurse leave and go into the next room. She pulled the remote out of his hand, placing it on the table in front of him. He was amused and placed a hand over his mouth to cover his grin.
"I wanted to thank you for helping my mother and grandmother, and being here . . ."
She looked embarrassed. "I hadn't used my vacation time; Alison is covering my duties for The Brotherhood."
"She sent me a card." It was one with a cat on it. She had written Pru under its picture.
"Alison went to your house to get her. Pru's with her in New York."
Joshua had forgotten about his cat. He did have an automatic litter cleaner and food dispenser, but it would only work so long without refills. "How did she get the key?"
She was saved from answering by his grandmother knocking on the door.
"I took the shuttle from the hotel," his grandmother announced. She was wearing a black top with rhinestone stars and a pair of jeans with sneakers. Where his mother was more formal, his grandmother was casual.
Carolyn vacated the seat she had been sitting in, pulled it out so that his grandmother could sit. "I thought you'd like to go downstairs for breakfast? I'll stay with my grandson."
Carolyn darted a glance to Jane now at the central ICU station. "Sure, would you like me to bring you anything?"
"Oh no, thank you, dear." Jocelyn waved her off. "Don't worry. I'll make sure she keeps her hands off of him."
"I—it's—okay," Carolyn stuttered as she backed out of the room.
Jocelyn stood up, kissed his forehead, and brushed back his hair. "You're still warm, but this is the first time I've seen you awake." She sat down again. "I like that girl. It's been a team effort like Charlie's Angels."
He had been up for a few hours, and the late morning malaise was starting to take hold of him again. He tried to stifle a shiver. "Does that make me Charlie?"
"That makes you special." She rubbed his exposed forearm. "I'm supposed to go before you do."
Joshua could not think of the day when his grandmother would no longer be around. She was full of zest; yes, slowing down, but that was normal. "Not for a long time."
"I hope not." Her blue eyes were clear and had a sparkle of merriment to them. "Your friend Adam promised to show me around next time I am in his area."
"Grandmother—" He couldn't admonish her, but her flirting embarrassed him.
She was, as usual, nonplussed. "I'm old, not dead. Do you remember your grandfather?"
He was young when his grandfather died. His memories were few, and it was always from a position where he looked up to his grandfather, wanting to be swung around and tossed into the air, then caught in a hug. "A little. I remember him as a big man."
"Larger than life," she commented. She opened her purse to pull out a blue velvet bag. "I've been waiting for you to wake up because I wanted you to have this." She pulled out the silver band. "His ring."
Joshua knew he was supposed to put out his hand, but he felt nervous accepting it.
"I know you have your own, so you don't have to wear it, but I thought you would like it for sentimental reasons." Jocelyn placed it in his hand, then closed his fingers around it. "He loved you, and he would have been so proud of the man you've become." His grandmother's eyes grew wet. "I thought I'd finally seen another Triad with their Advisor, like with my Maxim." She sniffed.
He bit his tongue as the first thing that came to mind was it didn't matter who The Triad was because he was still The Advisor, but that wasn't the case. Dean, Sam, and Caleb had been raised in a traditional Triad, and the next one would not be the same. It would be the adulterated version. So Joshua said the next thing that came to mind, "I am proud to be his grandson, your grandson."
She smiled. "You don't look like your father. You take from my side. You know, I was blonde once." Jocelyn ruffled his hair.
He wished that was the case, but he was the spitting image of his father. His mind drifted for a moment to dwell on how it could have been had his grandfather been his male influence instead of his father. It was a synapse jump to knowing his grandfather would have reined his father in, made him be true to his mother. Joshua might have been Knight.
"That's why you're so handsome," his grandmother continued. "I can't wait to see your children, but you need to hurry up."
Joshua groaned, pulling him away from 'what if'. Lately, all her conversations with him revolved around great-grandchildren. It didn't help that she was in close quarters with Carolyn.
"But first, you work on getting better."
He would happily take that reprieve.
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