Twenty seconds…ten minutes?
Alex couldn’t remember how long they huddled together, desperately holding onto each other as they knelt on the broken asphalt. It wasn’t until the wind changed direction and doused them in a cloud of cold water vapor from the fire hoses that Alex loosened her grip on Regina and looked inferno still raging in the building. Sweet Jesus. She closed her eyes to block out the images.
A pair of strong hands lifted Alex and Regina to their feet.
“Come on, we have to get you out of here,” the gruff voice rumbled in Alex’s ear.
Alex stared numbly at the firefighter. It took a moment for her to recognize that the person hidden behind the bulky turnout gear and soot stained face was Regina’s friend, Todd.
“You both need to get checked out.” He splashed through water-filled potholes and guided them carefully through the rubble filled alley.
As they turned the corner onto the street, Alex shielded her eyes from the bright strobes flashing atop the emergency vehicles that lined both sides of the street. She watched two firemen work feverishly to drag a serpentine length of hose towards the front entrance of the warehouse.
“Where’s TJ?” Regina shouted over the deafening noise of heavy equipment.
“The kid? He’s being flown out by the chopper,” Todd replied, as the staccato noise of a helicopter engine worked into a crescendo as it lifted off the street. He directed them to one of the waiting ambulances.
They all turned and stared at the building as another loud rumble shook the structure and thick black smoke billowed from one of the second floor windows.
“We need you inside,” one of the firefighters shouted from the front steps.
“Go on.” He nudged Alex toward the paramedics.
Alex boosted Regina up into the ambulance and hoisted herself up behind her. She slumped down on the stretcher next to Regina and gathered the smaller woman into her arms.
Todd gave Alex a thumbs-up sign and shut the door after the paramedic climbed into the rig.
Behind her, the paramedic reached over and slipped an oxygen mask over Alex’s face. Startled, she yanked it off as a flood of unbidden memories caught her off guard.
Regina’s gentle touch on her face settled her pounding heart. “Alex, it’s okay. Keep it on,” Regina soothed her as she replaced the mask over her friend’s face.
Alex inhaled the oxygen greedily and met Regina’s anxious gaze. “Thanks,” she managed to rasp and buried her head in her hands.
Regina accepted an oxygen mask from the man and held it up to her mouth. Overhead, the wail of the sirens blared as the rig pulled away from the curb.
Slowly, the shock and horror of the evening’s events sank into Alex’s consciousness. More than once she buried her head against Regina’s neck and battled the waves of raw emotion that threatened to overwhelm her. If I feel this way, god…we need to time together to talk. Later.
She felt the tremulous clutch of Regina’s hand around her bicep and the shuddered breath as her companion choked back a sob.
“We’re going to be okay, Regina,” Alex said quietly, as she wrapped her arms around her companion.
A short ten-minute ride later the ambulance’s sirens cut off as it rolled to a stop in front of Saint Xavier’s Emergency Department. Alex lifted her head when the double doors to the rig were pulled opened.
“What’ve we got?” She heard Jon’s voice from outside.
“A thirty-five year old female with smoke inhalation. She’s alert and her vitals are stable.” He started to give Regina’s information when he turned around and held his hand out. “Ma’am, wait. You can’t get up.”
“The hell I can’t. I work here.” Alex pulled off her oxygen mask and climbed out of the rig despite the paramedics protest.
“Alex! Jesus Christ, what the hell happened to you?” Jon’s eyes widened as he stared at her soot smudged face and tattered clothes.
She ignored him as she reached up and helped Regina out of the rig. “Long story, Jon. Did they bring anybody else in yet?”
“We already got a young kid with smoke inhalation and two more on the way.”
Alex slipped her arm around Regina’s waist and guided her to the double doors. She punched the keypad and the glass doors slid open.
Jon spotted one of the nurses coming out of a storage room as he entered the Emergency Department and called out to her. “Maggie, get me two blood gas kits and tell Sandy to get over here.” He led Alex and Regina down the hallway and into an empty exam room.
“Jon, you’ve got patients in worse shape than us,” Alex protested as she helped Regina onto the stretcher.
He pulled a stethoscope from his lab coat pocket as he whipped the curtain closed. “They’re in route and the kid is awake and stabilized, so my concern is you two at the moment. Now sit down and let me take a look at the two of you.”
Alex complied and curled an around Regina’s shoulder as the younger woman shivered. “You’re cold.”
“Freezing,” Regina responded as her teeth chattered.
“Jon, get me a couple of blankets.” Alex held out her hand as Jon pulled two out of a linen cart in the corner of the room.
He handed them to her and then listened to Regina’s lungs. He looked up as Maggie entered the room. “Run a trauma panel and blood gas on both of them.”
“What happened to you two?” Maggie asked as she slid up Regina’s sleeve and swabbed the doctor’s arm with an alcohol wipe. After probing once for the vessel, she slipped a needle into an artery.
Regina flinched and tightened her grip around Alex while the nurse drew her blood for the test.
“Do you think Cassandra made it out?” Regina asked and buried her face against Alex’s neck.
“I don’t know, Reg.” She met Jon’s probing eyes and shook her head when he opened his mouth to voice a question.
An hour later, after she endured being examined, Alex leaned back against the semi-reclined stretcher in the trauma room. Regina was medically cleared and took the opportunity to escape to the locker room for a well-deserved shower.
Alex frowned at Sandy while the nurse took her blood pressure again. “Are you trying to purposely cut off the circulation in my arm?”
Sandy glared at her from beneath furrowed eyebrows and adjusted the earpieces of the stethoscope. “Shh. I can’t hear a damn thing with you talking.”
“Bullshit. You’re covered in soot. Have you looked at yourself?”
“Sandy,” Alex growled.
“What?” She ripped the blood pressure cuff off of Alex’s upper arm.
Alex ran a hand through her hair and grimaced when she looked at the oily soot that stained her hand. “All I want to do is go wash this crap off me.”
“Well, here’s the Ventolin. Make sure you do the whole respiratory treatment before you move one foot off that table.”
Alex sighed and flopped back against the hard mattress. “Give me that. The sooner I start the faster we’re getting out of here tonight.”
The door to the room opened and Regina walked in towel drying her hair. “Here, I thought you might want these.” She set a pair of scrubs and several hospital towels down on the stretcher. She glanced back and forth at Sandy and Alex.
“You two okay?”
The nurse stepped back and nodded. “Just making sure the good doctor here does what she’s supposed to do.”
Regina eyed the plastic oxygen mask that Alex was holding over her face. “Don’t worry she will.”
That got a grin from Sandy. She turned and started washing her hands in the sink. “I’ll be back in a little while. You’d better be resting, Alex.” She turned around and felt a warm blush creep up her neck.
Regina was sitting on the stretcher tenderly wiping the away the streaks of soot and dirt from Alex’s face with her damp towel. When she was done she leaned in and stroked the angular sweep of Alex’s jaw line with gentle fingers.
Alex tilted her head and a smile played at the corners of her lips. They both moved toward each other and Alex brushed her lips against her partner’s mouth, enjoying the sweet softness that welcomed her.
Sandy swallowed and tiptoed out the door, wishing fervently that neither of them realized she was still in the room.
Regina’s eyes twinkled as she pulled away from Alex. “Poor Sandy.”
“She’ll live. Besides you’re the only one allowed to mother me like this.” Alex brushed her thumb over Regina’s lips. “God, you’re a beautiful sight.”
Regina blushed. “Just freshly scrubbed and clean, except I can’t get the smell of the smoke out of my nose.”
Alex stopped her hand, and tangled her fingers in Regina’s hair. She leaned closer and inhaled the scent left behind by the herbal shampoo she used in the shower. “I kept thinking about all the things I would miss if we didn’t make it out of there.”
“What like sniffing my hair?” Regina quipped and felt some of the tension between them drain away.
Alex snorted indignantly and wrapped Regina in her arms. She was quiet for a moment, acknowledging the nervous energy that still ran through her core from the affects of the adrenaline. She spoke softly into Regina’s ear. “No, I’d miss our life together and all the things we still have yet to experience.”
Regina pulled back and stared at Alex. A wistful smile touched her lips and she tilted her head. “Are you getting all sentimental on me?”
“Never.” Alex rubbed her nose against Regina’s and then smiled. “Only with you.”
Regina clasped one of Alex’s hands and lifted it to her lips. She eyed the handcuff still locked around Alex’s wrist and shuddered. “They’re going to find someone to take these off.”
Alex glanced down at the angry bruise that discolored her wrist. “Not much of a fashion statement I guess.”
“Hardly.” Regina met Alex’s watchful eyes and looked away to hide the tears that welled up in her eyes.
It was Alex’s hand that drew her back.
She cupped Regina’s face and wiped away tears as they rolled down her fair-skinned cheeks. “Come here.”
“I was so scared.” Regina’s lower lip quivered. “I thought we weren’t going to make it.”
“I know.” Alex pressed her lips to Regina’s head and held her close. She’d felt death closing in for one brief moment as the heat of the fire threatened to melt the soles of her shoes as she desperately struggled to reach the gun.
Regina took a calming breath and hugged Alex fiercely. “I knew you’d get us out of there.”
Alex kissed the top of her head. “I think you believed enough for both of us, love.”
Regina’s face flushed and she lifted the oxygen mask up to Alex’s mouth. “Here, you need to finish this. You’ll feel a thousand times better.”
Alex nodded, inhaled the humidified air, and pulled it away again as another more urgent thought pressed to the forefront of her mind. “Have you seen Matthew around?”
Regina folded her arms and cleared her throat only relaxing after Alex replaced the instrument in her mouth. “He’s got a nasty bruise on his chest and a flesh wound in his shoulder. Thank god he had a vest on.”
“Which room is he in?”
“Six.” Regina rested her head on Alex’s shoulder and closed her eyes. A weary exhaustion seeped through her and it only took a few minutes before the blonde-haired woman was snoring lightly.
Alex closed her eyes, enjoying the warm pressure of Regina’s body where it pressed against her length. She pressed her lips against Regina’s head. I don’t know who was looking out for us tonight…whoever it was, thank you.
After she finished the treatment, Alex gently lowered Regina down to the stretcher and covered her with one of the blankets. She leaned over, nuzzled Regina’s neck, and inhaled the warm, clean scent of her skin. “We’ll get out of here as soon as we can. I promise.”
Alex walked out of the room and squeezed past two orderlies who were pushing a stretcher through the crowded hallway. On her right, an elderly woman argued with one of the nurses about her husband having to wait so long for a bed on one of the medical floors.
Halfway to the locker room, she heard her name and turned around to see Todd walking toward her. “You okay?”
He shrugged. “Too much smoke. After, I got you guys to the ambulance they found two more people inside. We got them out just as the roof started to come down.”
“Are you getting checked out?”
“Yeah,” he replied sheepishly. “I’m waiting for…” His voice trailed off as a medical student suddenly ran past him with an oxygen tank and darted into one of the storage closets.
Alex watched the door swing shut. A frown crossed her face and she glanced at Todd. Her eyes narrowed as he ducked his head and coughed into his hand. “Why do I know I’m not going to like this?”
Todd trotted alongside her. “You won’t, I mean…don’t go in there.”
Alex skirted around him and opened the door despite his feeble protests.
Two pairs of eyes stared up at her and one tail thumped enthusiastically on the floor. The Shepard whined and twitched his ears as Alex groaned. After she recovered from seeing one of the medical students holding the oxygen mask over the German Shepard’s snout, she quietly shut the door and pressed her forehead against the door. “Why am I not surprised?”
“He wasn’t breathing when the guys found him. I had to do something,” Todd stammered helplessly.
“I would have done the same thing,” Alex replied honestly. “Just don’t let anyone see him when you take him out.”
“I won’t,” he promised. “Here, this is why I was looking for you.” Todd held out what was left of her jacket. “I found this outside the warehouse. It had your wallet it in it and this.” He handed her the black ring box.
Alex stared at the partially burned remains of her wallet. She blinked back tears as a wave of emotion she didn’t have the strength to deal with hit her square in the chest. She reached out and took them from Todd. “Thanks,” she managed to get out.
“Don’t mention it.” He waved his hand and let it drop back down to his side. “I’ll get him out of here as soon as they’re done.”
Alex walked backward a couple of steps and then quickly turned to escape into the quiet solitude of the locker room. She straddled one of the benches, sat down, and rested her elbows on her knees.
The hinges of the ring box creaked as she opened the lid. Inside, the diamonds gently twinkled back at her and the overwhelming certainty of how close she had come to losing everything swamped her. Alex hung her head as tears brimmed in her eyes. Her shoulders shook and she broke down crying.
Get up and take a shower. You’re going to scare the crap out of Regina if she comes in here and sees you blubbering like a baby. She wiped her eyes in irritation.
Alex placed her wallet and the ring into her locker and closed the door. She turned the water on in the shower and let it run as she stripped out of her filthy clothes. Steam filled the locker room as Alex pulled the curtain aside and stepped into the tiled shower.
Turning the hot water up as much as she could stand it, Alex stood beneath the pounding stream, letting it soothe some of the bone deep ache she felt.
After she showered and scrubbed the soot and grime from her body, Alex dried off and changed into a pair of light green scrubs. She shifted her shoulders settling the fabric over her scraped and bruised skin.
Alex gathered her belongings and walked out into the hallway. She checked the admission board and found which room TJ was in. She walked over and stopped outside the door when she saw Regina sitting beside the boy’s bed.
The doctor leaned against the door and smiled at Regina when their eyes met. She really does have some incredible instincts with kids, Alex mused as Regina leaned in and pulled the covers up around the boy’s shoulders.
A moment later, Regina walked out of the room, balled up her isolation gown and threw it into the hamper outside the room.
“Hell of a night, huh?” Alex ran her hand through Regina’s still damp hair and then wrapped an arm around her shoulder. She closed her eyes as a wave of lethargy swept over her.
“It’s not over, yet,” Regina fumed, as she broke away from Alex’s embrace and washed her hands in the sink.
“Whoa…what’s wrong?” Alex followed Regina, her gut suddenly churning as she caught the waves of anger rolling off the younger woman.
Regina spun around, her eyes flashing intensely as she met Alex’s concerned gaze. “He remembers what happened when he got attacked at the warehouse the first time.”
“And.” Alex’s eyes darted anxiously over Regina’s angry countenance as she waited for an answer.
“Someone chased him down and handcuffed him in the alleyway. After that he just remembers waking up in the hospital.”
“That’s one lucky kid.” They both turned as Jon walked up behind them. He threw a paper towel into the wastebasket by the sink when he finished drying his hands. “What the hell happened in that warehouse?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Alex rubbed the bridge of her nose and took a breath before she looked back at him. “Any word on Cassandra?”
“They found her collapsed by the front door of the warehouse. She’s got serious burns on her hands and arms, probably trying to get the door open. She took in a lot of smoke.”
“There was a man with her,” Alex added dispassionately.
“They flew him in on the chopper.” Jon furrowed his brow and waggled his hand, a sign he tended to use when things didn’t look particularly good for a patient. “It’ll be a miracle if he makes it through the next seventy-two hours.”
“We got out just in time.” Regina closed her eyes and shuddered, remembering the ground-shaking explosion that rocked them to their knees. She met Alex’s sober gaze and then leaned in against her.
Alex looked down the hallway and sighed as she saw Matthew walking toward them. On his left was a police officer and Alex cursed vehemently when she recognized him. Just when I thought tonight couldn’t get any worse.
“Alex, Regina.” Matthew looked at both of the women. “This is officer will get you out of those things.”
Regina lifted her head from Alex’s chest and eyed Derrick warily. “They couldn’t send anybody else or you couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Which was it?” she snapped, as she held her arm out.
Derrick glared at her as he undid Regina’s handcuff. “Neither. I heard the call go out over the radio and I was the closest. They didn’t say it was you,” he sniped testily.
“Listen, just shut up, and do what you need to do.” Alex looked in at TJ as she held out her arm, pointedly ignoring Derrick. “It’s weird that he ended up at the warehouse again. Why there of all places?”
Regina furrowed her brow and looked up at Alex. “I wonder…do you remember that backpack you picked up from the warehouse several weeks ago?”
Alex nodded. “Sure, Sandy found it beneath a stretcher.”
“What about me?” The curly-headed nurse popped her head up and stopped writing notes in the medical chart she’d been engrossed in.
Alex shook her head and smirked. “We’re talking about the backpack you found in the warehouse a few weeks back.”
“Oh.” Sandy shrugged and went back to writing.
“What backpack?” Derrick scowled at Alex as he unlocked her handcuff.
“Oh come on, you and your partner came in because we called the police. You couldn’t pass up the opportunity to harass me,” Regina stated boldly in front of everyone.
“What about it?” Derrick’s face flushed as he clipped his keys back on his belt.
“Do you still have it?”
“Because I think it belongs to this kid,” Regina explained.
“How the hell do you arrive at that conclusion?”
“This is the same kid who got admitted to the hospital because he was beat up so badly in the alley. Why would he go back to a place he got attacked by if he wasn’t looking for something?”
“How should I know?” Derrick’s eyes darted back and forth between them.
“I’m not asking you.” Regina rolled her eyes. “Do you still have the backpack in your cruiser?”
“Nobody claimed it after we filed a missing person’s report. It might still there.”
“Can you go check?”
Derrick stared at her incredulously. “You’re kidding right?”
“Come on if it’s his, think about how it’ll make him feel to have it back. The poor kid doesn’t have anything else,” Regina insisted.
Derrick stood with hands on his hips for a moment and then left them all standing in the hallway as he pivoted on his heel and stormed away.
“Is he always that way?” Matthew asked.
“He’s probably wishing he was putting the cuffs on me and not taking them off,” Alex replied, as she stared after Derrick’s retreating form.
Regina made a clucking noise with her tongue and swatted Alex in the stomach. “Don’t you say that.”
“Hey.” Matthew stepped in front of Alex. “I want to thank you for saving my life back there. I wouldn’t have made it out if you didn’t haul my ass out of there.”
“We weren’t going to leave you lying there.” Alex rubbed the bruised skin from where the metal had dug into her wrist. “So, what happens now Matthew?”
“They’ll be a grand jury investigation. I’ll need you to be available for a deposition.” He walked away from the group and motioned Alex to follow. “You should get a lawyer to look out for your interests.”
Alex demeanor immediately hardened and she set her hands on her hips. I knew it was too good to be true. “Are you charging me with anything?”
Matthew shook his head. “No, I talked to the District Attorney. We’re not bringing any charges against you. This case the government is developing against the hospital exists only because you brought it to my attention. The hospital will consider you a hostile witness. That’s the only reason I’m suggesting it.”
Alex exhaled and let go of the sudden tension that built up inside her. “Are we done here tonight?”
“You’re free to go. I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know when I’ll need you.”
“Fair enough.” Alex tilted her head back and squeezed her eyes shut. Fiery images morphed and crystallized in her memory. She hated the feeling that she had no control and never had it been so clear to her as when she stood shackled to pipe and watched the flames raging toward the ceiling.
She tucked it away in the far recesses of her memory and tried not to think about it. Alex looked at Regina who was standing alone, leaning against the wall outside TJ’s room. I’ll deal with that later, right now I need to get her home. She’s operating on pure adrenaline and nothing else.
The double doors at the end of the hallway swung open and Derrick walked toward them.
Damn, Alex walked over, making it to Regina’s side several seconds before Derrick arrived.
He dumped the backpack on the floor at Regina’s feet. A well-worn stuffed tiger tumbled out on to the floor. “Satisfied?”
Regina ignored him as she picked up the stuffed animal and then snatched a gown from the linen cart next to the room. She shoved her arms into the sleeves and entered the room.
Alex watched as Regina raised the head of the hospital bed and then she reached in and yanked the curtain closed, blocking Derrick’s view of the boy. “He doesn’t need an audience.” She turned and stared him.
Derrick hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and assumed a bored looking stance as he looked around the bustling department. “Hey, I didn’t know you all treated animals in here,” he announced loudly enough for everyone in the immediate area to hear.
Alex whirled around to see Todd, carrying an odd shaped lump draped in a sheet out of the supply closet. Four brindle colored paws poked out from underneath the white cloth and a pair of pointed ears flicked curiously beneath it, taking in all the strange noises.
“Oh, look. He’s so cute,” one of the nurses exclaimed. Two other medical staff realized it was a dog and immediately left the nursing station to fawn over him.
Todd looked at Alex from over the dog’s hulk and his face colored with embarrassment. “I tried.”
“What is that dog doing in here? Jon waved his arms excitedly. “Do you know how many infection control policies you’ve just broken? Get him out of here!”
“Do you have to make a grand announcement?” Alex clamped a hand over her eyes. “I told Todd not let anyone see him sneak that damn dog out of here.”
Jon turned and gaped at his colleague. “You knew about this?”
“Yes,” Alex admitted.
“Hey, doc.” Todd squeezed between the two nurses to stand beside Jon. “I brought him in because he wasn’t breathing when we found him.”
Lucky poked his head out from underneath the sheet and stretched his neck out to sniff Jon’s ear.
Jon scratched his ear and tried to keep a smile from crossing his lips as he stepped back from the curious animal. “Just get him out of here,” he grumbled.
Alex folded her arms over her chest and stared accusingly at Jon. “You wouldn’t have turned him away either, you old softie.”
“I think you inhaled too much smoke.”
“Quite possibly,” she remarked with a shrug.
“What’s all the commotion about?” Regina pulled the curtain back and walked out of TJ’s room, coming face to face with Derrick. “Aren’t you finished here?”
Derrick looked over Regina’s shoulder and made eye contact with the boy for one brief arrogant second. “Must be the kid’s lucky day.”
Lucky’s ears twitched and he struggled violently, fighting his way out of Todd’s arms.
At the same time, the monitor in TJ’s room shrilled and the boy cried out in fear. “No, no, no!”
Regina darted back inside the room as he scrambled higher in the hospital bed, putting as much distance between him and the police officer. “TJ, what’s wrong?"
He curled up against the mattress and trembled violently despite Regina’s reassuring touch. “It’s him. I remember his voice!” TJ wailed.
“What did he say?” Alex whirled around and stared at the boy.
“Lucky, no!” Todd cried out as the dog kicked him in the chest and sprang to the ground. With his hackles raised and a low ominous growl, rumbling deep in his chest, he stalked toward Derrick.
Everyone scattered out of the dog’s way. Matthew hopped up onto a counter and drew his legs up, while Jon plastered himself against a wall and yanked a code cart in front of him.
With a wide-eyed look of fear, Derrick scrambled backwards and tripped over his feet in his haste to get away. Lucky launched his body airborne and slammed into Derrick, pinning him to the floor with his bulk.
Derrick flung an arm up to fend off the gleaming fangs that snapped close enough to his face that he felt the dog’s hot breath. Lucky clamped down on his arm and held tight. “Get him off me!” Derrick shrieked.
Todd ran forward and grabbed hold of the dog’s collar. “Lucky, stop!” He grabbed the dog’s snout and tried to pry his mouth open.
“Todd, get me a syringe.” Alex broke open a lock on one of the code carts. She quickly rummaged through one of the drawers and pulled out an ampoule of Valium.
“Do you know how much to give him?” Jon ripped open the plastic packaging and handed the syringe to Alex.
“How much do you think he weighs?” Alex flipped the plastic cap off the bottle and slipped the needle inside.
“Good enough.” Alex drew the dose into the syringe and then knelt down beside the dog’s hindquarters. “Todd, hold him tight.”
“Jesus Christ just shoot the damn dog,” Derrick cried out as he frantically tried to take his gun out of his holster with his other hand.
Todd released Lucky, lunged over the dog’s body, and pinned Derrick’s arm to the floor. “Don’t even think about it,” he snarled, as he clamped his hands around the officer’s wrist.
With one last look at the tangle of bodies on the floor, Alex pinched a handful of skin and jabbed the needle into the furry haunch. “Sorry, boy.” She eased back and waited for the drug to take effect, hoping she hadn’t given him too much.
Seconds later, Lucky relaxed his grip on Derrick’s arm and settled down at Todd’s feet. He rolled onto his side and pawed at Todd’s arm as he panted nervously.
The fireman looked helplessly at Alex and ran his hands over the dog’s massive shoulders. “Is he going to be all right?”
“I think so,” Alex replied and patted the dog’s shoulder. “Should’ve used it on him.” She nodded at Derrick who rolled to his knees and clutched his arm.
“That dog’s being put down,” Derrick sputtered as he climbed slowly to his feet. “He tried to kill me.”
“If he wanted to kill you he would have ripped your throat open and not just held onto your arm.” Alex discarded the needle and whirled around. “Don’t you even think of laying a finger on him.”
Regina stepped from the room and stood beside Alex in the hallway. “Derrick, he says he remembers you.”
“That kid? He was knocked out.” He waved his hand in the air. “What the hell can he remember?”
“You handcuffing him in the alley,” Regina shot back.
“That’s bullshit!” Derrick’s voice cracked. “He…” his voice trailed off and he hobbled over to a linen cart and grabbed a towel from a shelf.
Alex stormed after Derrick, her eyes glinting dangerously as she pointed an accusing finger at him. “He was what, Derrick – running from you just like Regina was the night you attacked her? Was that it? Did you beat the crap out of him just like you tried to do to Regina?”
Derrick’s pupils dilated until all that she could see was a sliver of his brown irises around the inky black circles.
Alex advanced on him her lip curling into a feral snarl. “Go ahead, say it! He was what?”
Everyone around them was silent, riveted on Alex as she gathered her fury and bore down on the police officer.
Derrick’s nostrils flared and his eyes darted around as he looked hopelessly for a sympathetic party. “H…he ran.”
“He ran, so you chased him. You son of a bitch, you ran him down like some common criminal and beat him to within an inch of his life. Didn’t you?”
Derrick flinched and cowered back against the counter.
Alex curled her hand into a fist and cocked her arm back, her whole body vibrating with the intensity of her anger. “Say it.”
Derrick swallowed audibly and nodded his head as the words slipped out in a hoarse whisper. “Yes.”
“You don’t know how much I want to do this right now,” she growled.
A hand touched her arm and she glanced down to see mist green eyes peering back up at her. “Alex, please don’t.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” she snapped and immediately regretted the harshness of her voice when she saw the confused and hurt look in Regina’s eyes. “Next time pick on someone your own size,” Alex snarled at Derrick.
Matthew lowered himself off the counter top and walked a wide path around the panting dog. He looked Derrick up and down, reached for his holster, and relieved him of his gun. “It seems to me you won’t be needing this anymore, officer.”
“You’re going to take her word over mine?” Derrick backed away from Alex. “What about the dog, it attacked me!”
Jon walked over, folded his arms, and brought his face close to Derrick’s. “What dog? I didn’t see any dog. Did you, Alex?
“Nope. How about you Matthew?”
“It’s a hospital. There are no animals here. Sit down, officer,” Matthew ordered.
Alex yanked a chair out from behind the nurse’s station. She spun it around and presented it to Derrick. “Sit.”
When he made no move to do so, Alex grabbed his jacket, spun him around, and then roughly shoved him into the chair.
Sandy walked out from behind the nurse’s station and pulled a pair of latex gloves from her lab coat pocket. She shoved her hands into them. “Let me see that.” She unwrapped the towel from around his arm and yanked up his shirtsleeve. “You won’t even need stitches. Too bad.”
“That hurts.” Derrick yanked his arm away from Sandy.
“Looks like you’re going to have fun tonight,” Alex said to Sandy.
The nurse rolled her eyes and shook her head in exasperation. “What the hell are you still doing here?”
“Haven’t a clue,” Alex remarked. She looked around the department and saw Regina enter the locker room. With a sigh, she followed her partner.
She pushed the door to the locker room open. Regina was leaning against her locker, her head resting against the door as she undid the lock.
Their eyes met and Regina glanced away first as she opened the narrow door.
“Hey.” Alex dropped her arms down to her side and walked up behind her. “I’m sorry I snapped at you out there.”
Regina glanced up at her and gave her a sad smile. “You were angry at Derrick.”
“Don’t make an excuse for me, Regina. I took it out on you.”
Regina nodded her head in silent acknowledgement. “I feel bad leaving TJ here.”
Alex rested a hand on Regina’s shoulder and massaged her thumb over the tense muscles in her neck. “He’s safe for now.”
Regina closed her eyes and tilted her head back against Alex’s chest. “I wish there was something more we could do for him.”
“You saved his life,” Alex stated quietly.
“So why doesn’t that feel good enough?” Regina turned to Alex with a completely forlorn expression on her face.
Alex scuffed her sneaker against the floor and chewed on her lip. “I think I know why.”
Regina studied the thoughtful look on Alex’s face. “I think maybe it’s because we get to go home tonight and he doesn’t.”
Alex nodded in agreement as she gently traced a finger over Regina’s eyebrow. “Well, maybe this time when he’s better, there will be a family he can finally call his own.” She offered her hand to Regina. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Regina gladly accepted the warm embrace of Alex’s hand. “I can’t think of any other place I’d like to be right now.”
Part 30, The Conclusion
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