I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 11: Karma

By: S X Meagher

Conclusion: Part 12

As the back door of the ambulance opened, the phalanx of photographers nearly prevented the stretcher from being wheeled into the E.R. Luckily, the police were also on the scene, and they did their best to clear the path.

Conor and Brendan went with the baby, and Ryan stayed glued to Jamie’s side, refusing to budge when they reached an examining room. An attendant strode into the room, took one look and her, and demanded, "Sorry, you’ll have to wait outside in the lounge."

"I’m not leaving," she muttered, grasping Jamie’s ice-cold hands. "Can you cover her with some blankets?" she asked, showing her irritation. "She’s freezing to death!"

He put his hands on his hips and glared at her. "You have to leave!"

"Call the fucking cops," she spat, her patience at an end. "I shot the last guy that tried to separate us." She turned and gave him a stare that made him gulp. "Now get her a goddamned blanket!"

Just then a calm looking young man strolled into the room. "Problem?" he asked, sizing up the standoff between Ryan and the orderly.

"She won’t leave," the orderly accused, equally angry.

"It’s okay, Robert," the doctor said. "I think I can handle her." Turning to Ryan, his face broke into a grin as he stuck out his hand. "Rick Marshall," he said with a friendly tone. "Some display you two put on tonight. We were all watching in the doctors’ lounge."

Ryan didn’t extend her own hand to shake the doctor’s. She actually barely seemed to have heard what she said. "She’s freezing," she stated once again, leaning over Jamie’s body to check on her. Her own body was shivering so roughly that it was hard to decipher her words, but her concern was only for her lover. "Can’t somebody get her a damned blanket?"

Ducking out of the room, the doctor returned with several. A nurse came in and tried to get Jamie’s clothes off of her, but the waterlogged garments didn’t lend themselves to removal in the usual way. "I’m gonna have to cut them," she decided, and Ryan backed up just enough to let her work, still chafing one icy hand with both of her own equally cold ones.

As the clothing was cut away, Ryan’s eyes landed on her partner’s stark-white body, Jamie’s entire form shivering violently. Her extremities had a bluish cast to them, and as Ryan stared at her, she was overcome with a rising sense of panic which quickly turned to horror – her imagination causing her to view the shivering body as still and lifeless. Her mind began to race, and she forced herself to recognize that she was nearly hallucinating. But her relief was short-lived when she realized with shocking clarity that because of her decision to save the men who tried to kill them, she had put Jamie’s life at risk … putting her in as much peril as the felons had.

Struggling with the horrible realization, she grasped the small, cold hand harder and harder, until Jamie’s weak voice finally said, "Ow!"

Ryan immediately released her grip, then practically fell onto her to cover her torso with her own body, holding her so tightly that Jamie could barely breathe. The doctor could see that Ryan was on the verge of hysteria, but he had to take a look at Jamie. So he tapped Ryan on the shoulder and spoke soothingly to her. "Get up now," he said quietly. "I have to look at her." Another tap – this one harder, brought no reaction. Ryan was sobbing incessantly, and Jamie’s shaky hand had risen to pat her on the back. The doctor could hear the blonde’s soft voice trying to calm her partner, but it wasn’t doing much good.

Conor poked his dark head in, and the doctor started to order him out of the room. But when the man saw his sister bent over her lover, sobbing hysterically, he raced in and cried, "My God! Is she …?"

"I think she’s fine," the doctor interrupted, staring at him helplessly. "I don’t know what’s wrong here, but I can’t even get a look at her."

Finally understanding that Ryan was losing it, Conor wrapped his strong arms around his sister and started to pry her away from her lover. Ryan was holding on so tightly that Jamie’s body started to rise with her, so he urged, "Come on, Ryan. Let her go. She’s okay, but the doctor has to look at her. Please, Sis, let her go."

She looked up at him as her hold loosened, and he saw the utter confusion and raw pain in the red-rimmed eyes. He turned her and held her tight, soothing her while he tried to guide her out of the way. But as strong as he was, and as terrified, upset and fatigued as she was, she would not leave Jamie’s side. "NO!" she cried, doggedly grabbing onto the examining table.

Conor met the doctor’s eyes and shrugged his shoulders. "We’ll try to stay out of your way," he offered helplessly.

"Fine," the doctor agreed, deciding that he wasn’t going to be the one to remove this determined young woman from her partner’s side.

Now that they had a little room to move, the doctor and the nurse worked together to remove the bisected clothing from beneath Jamie’s body. He then wrapped her in the blankets, moving the covering around as he examined her.

With her frozen clothing off, Jamie still shook, but she started to feel a tiny bit of warmth suffuse her body. She was fully conscious, albeit a little slow, and a little hazy on details. Her biggest injury seemed to be her sore ribs, where Wendell had kicked her when pushing her from the car. Rick palpated the area, and gasped as Jamie cried out in pain and Ryan grabbed his arm. "Don’t you dare hurt her," she growled, making him shrink back from her wild glare.

"Ryan, it’s all right," Jamie soothed, her voice still weak and shaky. "He’s got to examine me, honey."

Looking at her own hand as though it had moved involuntarily, Ryan shook her head and said, "I’m so sorry. I … I don’t even know what I’m doing."

"It’s okay," the doctor said. "I’m finished now." He patted Jamie’s shoulder, and said, "You seem just fine. There’s no sign of internal injury, and your lungs are nice and clear. You’re the luckiest pair of people I think I’ve ever met – but you seem perfectly healthy."

Jamie looked up at him and urged, "Don’t let Ryan get away until you look at her. She has a history of head trauma."

The doctor wanted to say that he didn’t doubt that in the least, but he thought he’d better keep his opinions to himself. He examined Ryan with her standing up – since he didn’t want to argue with her any more than he had to. Her pupils were normal and exactly the same size, and she was able to track his penlight without difficulty. She had a nasty cut on the inside of her mouth, a small slice had been carved into her cheek, and her lip was swollen, but those few superficial injuries seemed to be the only ones that her head had sustained.

He put his warm hands under her shirt to palpate her belly, finding nothing out of the ordinary. She was, of course, covered with bruises, but her main source of pain seemed to be her still-shaking muscles. Her joints didn’t appear to have sustained any injury, much to his surprise, and he soon pronounced her fit as well. "I’m going to prescribe some muscle relaxants, and something to help both of you sleep," he decided. "I’ll give you just enough so you can get some rest tonight and tomorrow. I don’t want either of you to develop a dependency," he added. "You’re both going to have some emotional repercussions from this," he predicted. "Take my advice and try not to rely on substances to get yourselves through it."

Jamie nodded, thankful that the doctor seemed to understand how horrible the entire event had been for them, and that he also cared enough to urge them to care for themselves in the proper way.

"Thanks," she said. "We’ll take care of each other."

"I can tell that," he smiled.

She tugged on his coat, and he leaned forward. "Can you give her a shot of something to calm her down? I’m afraid she’s going to have a stroke."

He gave Ryan another lingering gaze, seeing the wild look in her eyes. "Uhm … level with me," he whispered to Jamie. "Is she on something? Crack, crystal meth?"

"No!" she insisted.

Ryan’s strong hand gripped the doctor’s shoulder and she pulled him upright. "What are you hiding from me?" The look in her eyes was absolutely frightening, but her pupils were not dilated, and she seemed lucid otherwise. "What’s wrong with her," she demanded.

"She’s fine," he said, trying to soothe her. "She’s worried about you, Ryan. Quite frankly, you’re acting a little strange."

"SHE ALMOST DIED!" she cried at the top of her lungs, forcing the doctor back a step.

He shot Jamie a look, nodded once, jerked his head at the nurse, and they both left the cubicle.

Ryan shrugged off Conor’s loose embrace and went to her partner, wrapping Jamie in a bone-bruising hug.

"Honey …?"

Ryan lifted her head to look at her, sorrow filling her watery blue eyes.

"Your clothes," she muttered. "Please take them off and cover yourself up in one of the blankets."

Ryan shook her head and went right back into the hug, but Jamie persisted. "They’re making me wet, honey. I’ve just started to warm up – don’t get me wet again." She would have been willing to sit in an ice bath to feel her partner’s embrace, but she didn’t want Ryan to stand there in her dripping clothes for another moment, and she knew she would comply if the request was framed properly.

The dark-haired woman stepped back, looking even sadder as she released her. "I’m sorry … I didn’t realize …"

"Hey," Jamie whispered, "we’re all right, honey. No one was hurt. Try to remember that."

Ryan couldn’t even give voice to the guilt that filled her soul. She just nodded and started to remove her clothes, not even noticing when Conor stepped from the room to give her some privacy. The nurse brought a set of extra-large and medium scrubs in, and Ryan insisted that she could dress her partner. The thought never entered the nurse's mind to argue, and she quickly departed as well.

Tenderly, Ryan slipped the loose garments onto her partner’s clammy body, then covered her with the blankets once again. When she was finished, she once again began to undress, and Jamie observed her carefully as she peeled the sodden clothing off. She had red welts all over her torso from lying on the gun, banging into the bike rack; and wrestling with the felons in the water. She moved slowly, but she didn’t seem to be in too much pain – which was reassuring. The nurse came back in with a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory for Ryan, but she insisted that Jamie take it.

"Ryan," she said softly, "I don’t need it, honey. The doctor wants you to have it for your muscles. I was sitting in the car, baby, not holding onto the roof."

"Oh." She opened her mouth and swallowed both pills, Jamie’s worry increasing when she saw how confused and slow she was.

Ryan looked at the nurse and asked, "Can you tell me where my little cousin is?"

"Your brother is with her. I was in the room during the examination. She’s a little cold, but other than that, perfectly fine."

"Thank God," Jamie murmured, almost under her breath.

"Oh, the doctor wants to know when your last tetanus shot was," the nurse asked.

"Mine was just a couple of years ago when I was traveling in the third world," Jamie recalled.

Ryan just shrugged, looking confused.

The nurse left the room, and a minute later the doctor returned, this time with a burly security guard. He gave Jamie a look and she grasped her partner’s hand, saying, "The doctor has to give you a tetanus shot, Ryan. Will you let him?"

Her eyes flitted between Jamie and the guard, trying to figure out why the huge man was in the room. Finally she let her partner tug at her to get her to sit, and then lie on the table, while Jamie scooted off. "She won’t give you any trouble," she informed the doctor.

He looked dubious, but her prediction soon proved accurate, as Ryan’s eyes rolled up into her head before the first needle pricked her skin. His eyes grew wide and he started to withdraw the needle, but Jamie assured him, "She always faints at the mere sight of a needle." He shot her a warning look, but she insisted, "I promise you, she’s not on drugs, doctor. She’s just desperately afraid."

"She doesn’t act like she’s afraid," he mused, looking carefully at the perfectly composed features of the unconscious woman.

"She’s afraid for me," Jamie quietly informed him, sparing a deeply sympathetic glance at her lover. "There’s nothing worse for her."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When the blue eyes fluttered open, Jamie was gazing at her from close range. "How do you feel?" she asked, her voice sounding strangely muddled and her image not quite sharp.

Ryan reached up and rubbed her eyes. "Fuzzy. How long have I been out?"

"Not long," Jamie assured her.

Ryan started to get up, but immediately lay back down. "Dizzy," she muttered.

"Honey," Jamie said, leaning over her, "I asked the doctor to give you something to relax you. He gave you an injection of Valium. It might make you a little groggy."

Her blue eyes blinked slowly, then a flash of pain flickered through them. "Did I scare you?"

"No, no," the smaller woman whispered, placing soft kisses all over Ryan’s bruised face. "Never, sweetheart. You’ve never frightened me. You’re just very, very anxious, honey, and I wanted to make sure you could calm down a little. That’s all," she soothed.

Ryan blinked again, then slowly nodded. "I feel okay now. Help me up?"

Jamie lent her an arm, and Ryan slowly sat, then waited until she was sure she was steady. Confident that she was, she got up from the table, standing still for just a moment. To Jamie’s eye, the Valium had just taken the edge off, leaving Ryan relatively close to her normal state. Conor poked his head in at that moment, carrying a perfectly contented baby. Ryan’s entire demeanor softened and she held out her arms. "Hi, punkin," she murmured as he handed her the child. "Miss me?"

Caitlin was dressed in a disposable diaper and a tiny little cotton gown, both courtesy of the hospital. She tossed her little arms around Ryan’s neck and cuddled furiously, while Ryan cooed to her and kissed her head.

The unhappy orderly came back in and sniffed, "Someone from the hospital administration is coming down. Wait right here."

"We’re going home," Ryan said firmly. "They can bill us like they do everyone else."

"That’s not what the police think," he said with a smirk as he turned and left the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan poked her head out, Brendan was having a highly agitated discussion with a man in a rumpled suit. "You can have them all day tomorrow," he promised, "but they’re too exhausted and beat up to even give you a cogent statement tonight!"

"Look, I’ve got a report to write, and I can’t write it without any information. Every reporter in the city is parked outside, and they’re demanding answers!"

Ryan strode across the floor, her paper slippers shushing quietly. "What’s the problem?"

"Detective Bettis," the man said, extending his hand. "We need a statement, ma’am. I know this is tough for you, but we can’t put off police business."

Brendan decided to play his trump card, surprised at himself for even thinking of it. "You probably don’t know this yet, but the other woman involved is Senator Evans’ daughter. I think the department would want you to handle her with kid gloves, don’t you?" His big blue eyes were giving the detective a very meaningful gaze, and the man allowed his shoulders to slump as he conceded.

"How about we let you go home and get warm and dry. We’ll come to your house to interview you in … two hours?" he asked, looking to Brendan for approval.

Glancing at Ryan, Brendan nodded. "That will be great. Thanks for your understanding."

He turned and smiled at his sister as the officer left and said, "I’ve turned into a name dropper!"

Ryan wrapped her arms around him, and he felt the strong shiver that shook her body . He walked her back into the examining room, the enormity of the situation finally hitting him. When he caught sight of Jamie, looking so rumpled and small in her roomy green garb, he let some of his emotions out, and tears began to stream down his handsome face. His display of emotion caused Ryan to relax the scant control she had managed to find. Brendan wrapped an arm around each of his sisters, and the threesome stood huddled together, crying helplessly, all relieved beyond words that they had managed to survive.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As the O’Flahertys emerged from the treatment room, a distraught Tommy came running down the hall, eyes wide with alarm. "Where is she?" he cried when he spotted then.

"She’s with Conor," Ryan advised, pointing to the waiting room. He careened around the corner, and when his eyes landed on his child, a strangled cry flew from his lips as he leapt for her. He enveloped both Conor and Caitlin in a bear hug, rocking them back and forth as he sobbed.

In her 24 years, Ryan had never seen such a display of raw emotion from her cousin. Of all of the boys he was the most reserved, even though she knew that he was fairly demonstrative with Annie. He was usually quite even-tempered and calm, and she privately thought that he was more like her maternal grandmother than anyone else in the family. Perhaps it was partly because of his job, but he always behaved dispassionately about traumatic events. But seeing him standing in the waiting room, crying his eyes out, gave greater testimony than she could have imagined to the place his young daughter held in his heart.

After a very long while, he lifted his head and spotted Ryan, seemingly for the first time, even though they had already spoken. He lifted one muscular arm in invitation, and she willingly let him include her in the group hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," he murmured in a soft chant.

Caitlin had been concerned since he'd arrived, and now that they were all hugging her and crying, she began to get a sense that something was wrong. When she scrunched up her tiny body and began to wail along with the adults, they broke apart, more to preserve their hearing than anything else. "Take her home," Ryan advised. "Annie has to be out of her mind with worry."

He smiled faintly at Ryan. "Your father had to be physically restrained to keep him from coming down here. But it’s such a zoo outside, I begged him to stay home. He’d likely spend the night in jail after decking a few of those jerks."

"Good call." Ryan smiled back, knowing that her father would not think twice before taking out a few reporters with his bare hands.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They were just about to leave, when a perky young woman came in the room and announced, "We’re getting set up for the press conference. Would you like to freshen up a little bit, Ms. O’Flaherty, Ms. Evans?"

Despite the sedative, Jamie saw every shred of Ryan-the-intimidator return with a vengeance. She stood up very straight, and leveled her gaze at the woman. "We’re not participating in any such thing. As a matter of fact, I would be home in bed right now if I felt I could leave without being arrested."

"But …"she said as her eyes went wide, "people are dying to get to know you both. You’re heroes!"

"Ridiculous," Ryan scoffed. "We have no intention of giving up our privacy to become a news bite. If we’re done here, we’re going home to our family," she declared defiantly.

"But the police …"

"I’ve spoken with the police," Brendan assured her. "They’ve allowed us to leave."

The woman looked disappointed, but she was powerless against a bevy of determined O’Flahertys, so she stood aside and offered no further comment. Conor placed a supportive arm around the back of each woman and helped guide them out of the room. But the news media had packed the entrance to the E.R. so tightly that a number of security guards were on hand just to allow emergency patients to get inside.

Brendan led the way, trying to clear a path, but the crowd of still and video camera operators descended on them like a swarm of locusts, with each person shouting out a pithy question – mostly along the lines of, "How does it feel to be a hero, Ryan? What do you want to say to America, Jamie?"

Ryan shot a few murderous glances that she was fairly sure would not make it to the local newscast, since her scowl did not fit the image they would try to create for her. Brendan used his powerful body to push roughly through the crowd, caring not a whit if he crushed a few of the lemmings on the way. They finally got to the police cruiser that was to take them to the truck, but when half of the media scrambled for their cars and trucks, Brendan asked the officer to drive them home. "I don’t think they’re going to give up easily, Sis," he said worriedly.

His prediction proved all too true, as they pulled up to the house and gawked at the legion of trucks, generators, and photographers just waiting for them to arrive. "No fucking way," she muttered. "We’re talking to no one that we’re not related to!"

"It’s gonna be tough," he advised her.

"This is where it comes in handy to have a police officer with a nice big gun," she said sagely as she stared at the officer’s blue-clad back.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Minutes later, they were locked in a crushing embrace with dozens of relatives, thanks to the strong-arm tactics of a dozen O’Flaherty men who had pushed the crowd of reporters off the deck. Brendan appointed himself family spokesman, and he went back out onto the deck and spoke over the railing. He announced that neither woman would be giving interviews this night or ever, and asked that their privacy be respected. He knew that the gesture would fall on deaf ears, but at least he was on record as trying to be polite.

After the crowd had calmed down, Martin and Maeve and Catherine and Jim each grabbed their respective children in a desperate embrace. All six sets of eyes cried helplessly as they clung together. Jamie looked around the room and found her grandfather, holding out an arm to invite him into the hug. She cried even harder when she felt his arms close around her, sinking into his embrace just as she had when she was a child. Eventually, Martin pulled away and ordered, "Downstairs with the both of you, and don’t come back until you’re warm and dry."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

By the time they got downstairs, the drugs had really kicked in and Ryan was even slower mentally than she had been at the hospital. She grabbed Jamie from behind, and they tumbled to the bed in a jumble of arms and legs. By the time they hit the mattress, Ryan was crying again, an element of hysteria to her sobs that worried Jamie deeply. Struggling against the force of the embrace, the smaller woman pulled away from Ryan to turn and face her. Clutching the damp head to her breast, she soothed, "Tell me, honey."

Ryan’s mouth opened slightly and immediately shut tightly. Two more times she tried to speak in a calm fashion, but she finally gave up and gasped, "I almost got you killed tonight, Jamie! I know you know it! You said yourself that you’d kick my ass in heaven if we’d died." She started to cry again, her remorse over her actions overwhelming her.

Jamie felt sick to her stomach, her words coming back to haunt her in a way she hadn’t anticipated. She had assumed that Ryan would be cavalier about her actions – just chalking it up to doing what one had to do when another human was in peril. It didn’t dawn on her that Ryan would not only take her seriously – she would hate herself for what she had done. "Oh, sweetheart," she sighed, holding Ryan close. "I … I don’t … I didn’t mean that! I’m so sorry." She tightened her hold and rocked her lover for a few minutes, kissing her dark, fishy-smelling hair repeatedly. Pulling back, she looked into Ryan’s sorrow-filled eyes and said, "Ryan, you have to be who you are. The woman I love is so generous, so filled with love for others; that she does things that are – to most people – very foolhardy. If you asked 1,000 people if they’d risk their life to save someone who was trying to kill them – most of them couldn’t even keep a straight face. They’d think you were crazy just for asking the question!"

"I am crazy," Ryan muttered. "I’m fucking insane."

Jamie grasped her chin and held her still, forcing Ryan to meet her eyes. "You are not! I don’t want to hear another word like that out of you!" She kissed her firmly, trying to make Ryan feel how much she loved her – just as she was. "One of the things I love the most about you is how much you value human life. That’s who you are, Ryan, and you could no more stop being that way than you could stop being tall or left-handed. It’s part of what makes you you – and I love you with all of my heart."

"I would have died if you’d drowned, Jamie," she sobbed pitifully. "I would have died!"

"Look," Jamie said, still holding her chin. "You’re more athletic than I am … you’re stronger than I am … you’re a better swimmer than I am … hell, your lungs are bigger than mine," she insisted, recalling a breath-holding contest in her parents' pool that she had lost by almost a minute and a half. "Going after those two didn’t risk your life nearly as much as I risked mine by going after you! Are you angry with me?"

Ryan blinked slowly, her eyes round and looking puzzled. "No … I’m not angry with you," she murmured.

"You should be," Jamie said firmly. "You didn’t want me to follow you … you told me not to … but I did so anyway. I made the decision to die with you if I couldn’t bring you back, Ryan. But instead of saving you, I passed out from lack of oxygen. If you hadn’t pulled me to the surface, I would have started to breathe underwater – and I would have drowned. My death would have been from my own hard-headedness," she insisted. "You’re a risk-taker," Jamie decided. "I’m not. Trying to follow you was crazy – even though I’d do it again in a heartbeat," she said, sparing a small smile for her beloved partner.

"I love you so much," Ryan sighed, holding her close. "I’ll never be able to tell you how much."

"You show me every day," Jamie assured her, "I know exactly how much you care for me. I just hope you understand how I feel about you."

"I do," Ryan said, a smile curling just one corner of her mouth. "I do, Jamie."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan stood in the shower with the comfortingly warm water cascading down her body. Jamie stood behind her, washing her with a reverence normally reserved for royalty or deities. Finally, Ryan turned and whispered into her lover’s pink ear, "I’m okay. You can be a little more aggressive. I proved tonight that I don’t break easily." Ryan was obviously trying to act like things were back to normal, and Jamie did her best to contribute to the illusion.

"You certainly did that," she agreed, with a small smile. "Those idiots had no idea who they were fucking with! They had an argument because of you," she informed her.

Ryan really didn’t want to hear the details of what went on in the car, but she didn’t want to prevent Jamie from talking if she needed to, so she just gave her a blank look and waited.

"When they were almost out of bullets, the crazier one of the pair pointed the gun right into my face," she said, shivering violently, despite the heat of the water. "I could honestly see his finger whiten on the trigger," she said. "But his brother reminded him that you were still up there on the roof, and he reluctantly agreed that he hated you worse." She smiled up at her partner and said, "So, remind me to never complain about you being a pain in the butt, okay? Your ability to annoy saved my life."

Ryan just leaned down and turned off the water, managing to get out of the shower just before her knees gave way. She fumbled around, her wet body almost causing her to slide off, but managed to sit on the closed toilet lid and catch her breath. Jamie cursed herself for relating the story, her plan to lighten the mood having gone horribly wrong. She wrapped the shivering woman in a towel and then stood in front of her, holding her head against her belly until she calmed down slightly. "I’m sorry for telling you that," she whispered.

"S’okay," Ryan nodded. "You had to live through it. I should know these things."

"Maybe someday," Jamie sighed, "but not now."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie was warm and dry before Ryan, since her hair was so much easier to finish. "You go on up and reassure your parents," Ryan told her. "I’m afraid to come up with one drop of water still in my hair – Da will check," she added.

Three minutes later a soft knock on the door announced Martin’s presence. "Can I come in?" he asked when she turned around.

"Of course, Da." She turned off the dryer and faced him, waiting for him to speak.

"Come sit," he indicated, moving to the loveseat. When she did so, he placed a hand on her shoulder and pulled her to his chest. "We’re all so proud of you, sweetheart. Not only that you saved Jamie and Caitlin, but that you did so with so little bloodshed."

Her eyes grew wide and she started to shake her head, "Da, I don’t want to talk about it."

"Shh," he soothed, tightening his hold. "I know it was hard for you to shoot that man, sweetheart." He rocked her quaking body, saying, "As angry as I was when I watched it on TV, I’m very proud that you dove back in to rescue the feckers. That’s what makes you such a wonderful young woman," he insisted, giving her a squeeze. "We’re both so very proud of you, Siobhán."

She nodded. "Aunt Maeve told me how she felt."

"She’s proud of you too, love. But I wasn’t referring to your aunt. I was speaking of your mother and me. She was with you tonight, you know."

"I know," she croaked through her tear strained voice. "I could feel her when we went by old St. Patrick’s. I said a little prayer to her right before we hit 7th Street – just before they started to shoot through the roof at me."

He grasped her tightly to his chest, unaware of the details of the travails his baby had been put through.

She sat up a bit and pulled her hair out to the side. As she ran her fingers through it, an inch-wide clump fell from her fingers to drop next to her neck. The clump was at least four inches shorter than the rest of the hair, and as he looked at her in question she explained, "One of the bullets hit the sleeve of my jacket, but didn’t scratch me. Another would have hit me in the head, but we were climbing Nob Hill and I shifted backwards; and the third hit so close to my head that it shot right through my hair. Is that just luck?" she asked helplessly. "I think Mama convinced somebody upstairs that she wasn’t ready for company just yet."

"She could charm the slither out of a snake," he whispered, his voice choked with tears. "I’m glad to know she hasn’t lost her touch." He rocked his youngest child in his arms for a long time, humming the lullaby that Fionnuala had always sung to her. After they’d both cried themselves out he said, "I’m so glad your mama didn’t call you home tonight, Siobhán. I don’t know how I’d go on without you."

"You won’t have to, Da. I’m going to do my best to never come that close again. Life is too precious to give it up without a damned good reason."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan emerged from the stairway, Mia pushed through the crowd to wrap her arms around her and hold on for a long time. Finally lifting her head, she smiled up at Ryan and said reverently, "You rock."

Ryan started to reply, but Mia kissed her again and turned to dash back to the corner. "I volunteered for phone duty," she said quickly as she picked up the phone on the third ring. "Hello, this is Mia Christopher. How can I help you?"

Blowing Mia a kiss, Ryan looked around and found her partner sitting in the corner of the dining room, leaning heavily against her grandfather. Giving them their privacy, she went into the kitchen and found her Aunt Maeve making sandwiches. She entered quietly sat down on a stool and just gazed at the older woman until she looked up and noticed her niece. Without a word, Maeve walked over to her and held her, holding on until both of them were unable to shed another tear.

After having her aunt force-feed her a sandwich, Ryan went into the living room and found her partner, grasped Jamie by the hand and made her way to the center of the crowd. The occupants of the loveseat immediately vacated to let the young women sit. "Beer or whiskey?" Kieran asked as soon as they were settled.

"Nothing for me," Jamie said. "My stomach is still too upset."

"Wish I could," Ryan said, "but I’d be on my ass if I drank anything with the drugs they gave me."

"You’d be in good company," Kieran assured her. He bent to kiss her head and said, "I predict most of this crowd will be on their asses before the night is through."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie left to use the facilities, Catherine spied the opening and took her spot on the loveseat. She didn’t say much, and Ryan guessed that whatever she said would be slurred, but she wrapped her arms around Ryan’s neck and squeezed until the larger woman let out a gasp of pain. When Jamie returned, her mother didn’t look like she was in any condition to get up, so she sat on Ryan’s lap. Catherine captured her legs and put them up on her own lap, removing her socks and beginning a tender, if drunken, foot rub.

Jim spotted the threesome, and came to sit on the arm of the piece behind his wife, placing a protective hand on her shoulder. "I missed a lot of the detail here," he admitted. "Why were the three of you out on a night like this, anyway?"

"We were taking a huge load of presents to Jennie’s group home," Jamie informed him. "The car was packed with clothes and computers …" She looked up at him and said, "It’s all gone now."

Catherine’s gaze sharpened, and she assured them, "Don’t give it another thought. I’ll take care of it tomorrow."

They both smiled at her, assuming that her promise would be lost in the drunken haze in which she currently resided.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

An hour later they had not moved from their spot. Jamie noted that not one member of the family had said much about the incident, and no one had asked them to recount anything that had happened. But, one after another, they would come stand by them and pat them gently on the head, or touch a face, or a shoulder. It dawned on Jamie that the O’Flaherty way was not to talk about upsetting events at all. They all had a good idea what had happened, since they saw most of it on television. They all assumed that the incident had terrified them both to the core, so there was really no sense in making them talk about it again. But they all offered physical affection, which seemed so much easier for Ryan to accept. I wonder if this is genetic, she mused as Donal came by and kissed her on the top of her head. But when Annie came over and sat on the arm of the loveseat and pulled Ryan’s head down to rest in her lap, she reasoned, It must be learned behavior, since Annie’s clearly not blood related.

"You’re hair’s still a little damp," she chided Ryan. "And you still feel cold." As she spoke, she was gently trailing her fingers through Ryan’s still damp hair, but all at once her calm demeanor collapsed completely, and she broke into nearly hysterical sobs. Ryan reached up and gathered her in her arms, as Jamie scooted off her lap.

"It’s okay, Annie," Ryan soothed. "She’s all right. Not a scratch on her sweet little head."

"Because of you two," she sobbed. "Only because of you. If you hadn’t done everything … I mean everything, right …"

"You don’t know that," Ryan murmured. "You don’t know that we made the right choices, and you don’t know what would have happened if we’d done something different. You don’t know, Annie. We don’t know. The only thing we’re sure of is that she’s absolutely fine now. That has to be enough."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan got up to take a call from her family in Ireland, the news reaching them as soon as they woke. CNN had been heavily running the story of the senator’s daughter and her harrowing brush with death, and a neighbor of Ryan’s grandparents had gone running to their door to inform them of the incident.

Speaking to her family upset her more than she would have guessed. Perhaps it was the distance – perhaps it was because she so longed for a hug and a snuggle from her aunt – but whatever the reason, she was feeling very shaky after she hung up.

Just to have a moment to herself, she climbed the stairs to the upper floor, going up just halfway to avoid being noticed. When she didn’t come back to join Jamie, the smaller woman got up to look for her. It took a while, since the stairway was the last place she expected to find her, and when she caught sight of her, tears sprang to her eyes again.

Ryan was sitting on a stair-tread, her arms wrapped around Duffy’s neck, the big, black dog tenderly licking the tears as they fell from her eyes. Jamie could see that her lips were moving, and that Ryan was obviously sharing something with her beloved pet. Duffy was, as usual, the soul of understanding – and Jamie left them to their embrace, knowing that there were things Ryan felt safe sharing with Duffy that she wouldn’t share with anyone else on earth.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The police arrived at nine o’clock, and after a little discussion, they decided to conduct the interview in Ryan’s room. Both Jim and Brendan insisted on being there since they claimed they were representing the women. But Ryan’s eyes goggled when Conor stepped in and insisted that he was representing Ryan also.

They went downstairs, and a few minutes later they began the questioning. When it became clear that the young women’s perspectives were completely different, they decided to split them up. One officer, Jamie and Jim went up to Rory’s room, while Ryan and her brothers stayed downstairs. Conor pushed his chair back a bit and tugged on Ryan until she sat sideways in her chair and leaned back against his broad chest. He rubbed her shoulders and arms briskly, ostensibly trying to bring some feeling back into her appendages; but in reality, he just couldn’t touch her enough. Conor had considered his baby sister his personal charge since the day she was born, and this terrifying brush with death had affected him profoundly. He found the image of her going under to rescue her attackers flooding his mind, and every time it happened he held on a little tighter, until she finally whispered, "You’re bruising me, Con."

"I’m sorry, Ryan," he said quickly as he released his grip. "I just … I …"

"I know, Conor," she said as she kissed his cheek. "I know."

He gave her a small smile, and wrapped her in a gentler embrace for the duration of the interview.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When they were finished, Ryan was dismayed to learn that the officers wanted to switch places and question them all over again. She was bone tired and emotionally drained, but she didn’t feel that they had much choice, so they submitted to a second bout of questioning, this one a little quicker than the first.

It was after midnight when the gathering started to break up. As the last of the cousins departed, the news media finally got the message, and began to pack up their equipment too. Mia agreed to sleep in Rory’s room since he was in L.A. and would not return until the next afternoon, and after a quiet discussion, Catherine agreed to go with Jim to his apartment.

Just before they left, Jim pulled Ryan aside and placed his hands upon her shoulders, looking into her eyes until she began to feel uncomfortable. "I will never – ever question your love for my daughter again. I know that we’ll probably never be friends, but I want you to know that I feel a level of gratitude towards you that I can’t even begin to put into words. Thank you," he said, a few tears dotting his cheeks.

She leaned in and gave him a hug, the very first one in their relationship. "She’s my life," she said simply, putting a motivation to her heroic actions.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Before departing, Jim called the San Francisco police department and explained his situation. A few minutes later, three squad cars pulled up in front of the house to escort them to the apartment. "Is this necessary?" Catherine asked.

"I don’t want to speak to any reporters," he insisted. "They’ll keep them away from us until we get into the building."

They said goodnight to everyone, with Jamie worriedly watching as her father and her grandfather practically had to carry her mother down the narrow staircase.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The police escort worked perfectly, and after dropping Charlie off, Jim and Catherine entered the gold-toned elevator of the building just a few minutes later. When they reached the unit, Jim flicked on the television, and was dismayed to see that the story had morphed by the time it had reached CNN. Now the headline was "Senator’s daughter taken on wild ride." "Great, just great," he muttered as he sank into the sofa to watch the story. Catherine sat beside him, and he found that his hand was captured by hers as she leaned against his shoulder. Once the announcer made clear that Jamie was his daughter, the story focused more on Ryan’s heroics, showing dozens of shots of her hanging onto the car, and a few of her diving repeatedly into the bay. When the footage of Jamie’s limp body being lifted into the boat appeared, Catherine buried her head into Jim’s chest and cried until she was physically exhausted.

Eventually he got her to her feet, and led her to the second bedroom. She paused in the doorway and asked in a shaking voice, "Will you stay with me? I can’t bear to be alone." She looked so fragile and helpless that he would have agreed even if he hadn’t felt as great a need for contact himself.

"Let’s go in the bigger bedroom," he suggested, and she followed his lead, obviously not in the mood to argue about anything. He started to remove his sweater, but saw that she was standing in the middle of the room, looking completely lost.

Going to her, he placed his hands on her shoulders and said, "Let me help you get undressed."

Again, she nodded, looking up at him with grateful brown eyes. Her alcohol intake had been so moderate lately, that the massive infusion she had imbibed since the incident began had served to render her more helpless than she could remember being. He removed her sweater, and fumbled with the zipper on her slacks for a moment, finally freeing it and sliding her slacks down her legs. It dawned on him that she had no clothes in the apartment, so he hurriedly unbuttoned his blue dress shirt and handed it to her. She still made no move to help, so he unclasped her bra and slid it from her shoulders, then tossed it aside as he eased her arms into the oversized shirt. He smiled at her as he rolled the sleeves up time and again, finally freeing her small hands.

He kicked off his loafers, and shucked his slacks, then pulled back the covers and guided her in. Unsure of how much contact she wanted, he got into bed on the other side, maintaining a respectful distance until she scooted across the bed and wrapped her body tightly around his.

"She’s okay, Cat," he soothed as his hand ran through her hair. "She’s home in bed … perfectly safe. Ryan will protect her," he said confidently, realizing with a sharp blow of recognition that Ryan had taken over his role as his daughter’s protector – and had performed that role better than he ever could have.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Before she went up to bed, Mia handed Ryan the phone tally. Jamie leaned over her shoulder to review the ridiculously long list, marveling at the sheer number of people who had called.

"Wow, she’s from grade school," Ryan murmured as she surveyed the pages. "Cool, the entire volleyball team called. And looks like almost the entire basketball team – wow, even Coach Hayes. I wonder if I broke any rules tonight," she idly mused. "Hey, when did Jordan call?" she asked Mia.

"You were in the shower," she explained. "But she said to tell you she loves you."

"The feeling’s mutual," Ryan smiled.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Despite the muscle relaxant, Ryan’s body began to stiffen up as the night wore on. After making sure that she took another pill as well as the sleeping pill, Jamie gingerly began to remove Ryan’s clothing. There were no obvious injuries on her partner’s body, save for scrapes and bruises and the swelling and cuts on her cheek and lip, but she winced every time she moved.

"Are you sure you didn’t tear a muscle or a ligament?" Jamie worried.

"No. I’m just stiff and sore. There aren’t any exercises I do that replicate hanging from a roof rack for an hour," she said with a crooked grin made slightly more crooked by her swollen lip.

Jamie felt her stomach grip again, but she tried to maintain her outward calm. "Maybe we’ll have to devise a new workout for you," she mused. "It could be all the rage. Berkeley matrons will be hanging off their SUVs in droves."

"Thanks," Ryan murmured quietly, acknowledging her partner’s attempts to normalize the situation.

"Don’t mention it," Jamie smiled. She helped Ryan into a turtleneck and sweat pants, a telling concession to the numbing cold she had been forced to endure. She climbed into bed with a grunt, and a sharp intake of air when Jamie curled up against her side. "Come lie on my chest," the smaller woman urged gently.

Rolling onto her side, Ryan placed her head on Jamie’s shoulder, letting out a deep sigh in the process. "This is perfect," she hummed in pleasure. "You’re the best pillow in the world."

"Everyone would want to be a pillow, if you were the head that rested on them," she said. She held her as tightly as her own bruised ribs would allow, but Ryan was too restless to settle down.

With a frustrated sigh she sat up, gasping a little as she did so. "It’s gonna take a lot more than a sleeping pill to knock me out." She sat up against the headboard and drew her knees up, draping her long arms around them and resting her chin atop a knee. "I just can’t turn it off."

"The movie?" Jamie asked softly.

Ryan breathed out heavily. "That’s what it’s like, isn’t it?"

"Yeah." Jamie sat up, too, also wincing from the effort. "It’s like a really terrifying movie that’s on some kinda loop. It just repeats and repeats and repeats."

Nodding quickly, Ryan said, "I bet our movies are different."

"Yeah. I’m sure they are. We had very different experiences."

"In a way, I bet it was easier for me," Ryan mused.

"Yeah, sure," Jamie chuckled. "It’s a lot easier hanging off a car in a driving rainstorm."

"You were with them," Ryan said, her voice growing dark. "I can’t imagine that wasn’t its own level of hell."

Jamie gazed at her partner for a few moments, then said, "We were each in hell, Ryan. But we got through it." Gently pulling Ryan’s hand from its grip she held it in one of her own hands and traced the veins and tendons with her index finger. "There’s only one way to get though the night, sweetheart."

"What’s that?"

"To summon up some of our powers of denial," she said thoughtfully. "I think we need to try our best to stop the movie from repeating and stop obsessing about what we did, and what they did, and what might have happened."

"Easier said than done," Ryan commented quietly.

"I know that," Jamie agreed. "I know that we’ve been through a horrible ordeal and that our brains are just trying to deal with it. But I think we’d be much better off if we stop obsessing about what did happen and try to focus on what didn’t happen."

"Go on," Ryan said.

"I know this is a ‘Is the glass half full or half empty’ kinda thing," Jamie said, "but in this case, I think it might help us."

"Uhm … you wanna go over all of the injuries we could have right about now?" she asked hesitantly.

"No! That’s the last thing I want to do," she said, shaking her head. "All I want to do is thank God that you’re in this bed, and I can feel your warm body, and hear you breathing." She took in a breath, trying to avoid crying again. "We’re alive, Ryan," she whispered. "By any reasonable measure, that shouldn’t be so. But we are." She brought Ryan’s hand to her mouth and placed a dozen kisses upon it, caressing each long, graceful finger in turn. "This might sound funny," she quietly mused, "but I keep thinking of how I’ll feel when I give birth."

"You lost me," Ryan admitted.

"Well," she said thoughtfully, "giving birth is probably the most dangerous thing that most women ever do, right?"

"Uhm … sure, I guess that’s true."

"So, it’s dangerous and frightening, and extremely painful," she said, shivering a little, "but when you hold that new life in your hands women almost uniformly report that they don’t think of any of that. All they do is marvel at their child, and thank God for giving them the miracle that they hold." She smiled at her partner, tears running down her cheeks again. "I don’t want to think of the pain, or the fear, or the danger. I just want to thank God for letting you lie next to me in this bed. I want to count your little pink toes and your chubby little fingers, and assure myself that you’re the perfectly healthy little creature that you appear to be."

"I am," Ryan said, smiling through her tears. "I’m your perfectly healthy little creature."

Jamie wrapped her arms around her precious bundle and whispered roughly, "Thank you, God. Thank you for giving me this wondrous gift."

Ryan was sobbing softly, her head nuzzling against Jamie’s neck. "I love you so much," she sighed. "I’m eternally grateful that you’re whole and safe and that we’re lying in our own bed, holding each other." She shivered violently and started to add, "By all rights …"

Jamie shushed her by placing her fingers upon her lips. "By all rights we’re just where we’re supposed to be. I don’t know how we made it. You don’t know how we made it. But none of that matters, Ryan. We did make it, and I’m so overcome with gratitude that I’m about to burst!" She hugged her tightly again and whispered, "We’ve been born again, Ryan. Share my joy!"

The dark head lifted, and Ryan let her eyes settle upon her partner. For all of the terror of the long night, Jamie's face bore a peacefulness – a look of true serenity that absolutely amazed the larger woman. She opened her heart to the emotion that was just spilling from her partner, letting in as much as she could bear – allowing it to soothe her tortured soul. She felt like she was draining the very lifeblood from her lover, but Jamie was gladly offering the transfusion – trying to share the grace that made her spirit soar. Slowly, Ryan began to nod, a smile so faint that it was barely visible starting to blossom. Bit by bit it grew and brightened, until it nearly mirrored Jamie’s. Eyes glistening with unshed tears, feeling her lover’s spirit filling her own body, she wrapped her arms tightly around Jamie and let the energy continue to flow between them. Finally, she released her just enough to gaze into her eyes and speak. She managed just one sentence, but it was the distillation of every tender emotion that coursed through her body. "You’re my miracle."

The End

Book 12: Lifeline

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