Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Baltimore, MD, June 2008

It was just a visit to a friend in the hospital.

Chaz was no stranger to an ER. This was just another chance taken too far. He was always sulky after those, because he hated to be reminded that the hero in his head and heart was still a little bigger than he was. But Daphne knew how to pet and praise and tease him out of a sulk now. She was proud of it. She was a good friend.

When she stood in the door of his room, the whole idiot vision she'd constructed of the next thirty minutes turned to vapor. The dark, the slanting glare of police spotlights, the smoke-thick air, had made it seem like something she'd read and envisioned, a movie she'd watched. Even in her nightmares it wasn't real.

She should have known better. She'd had the blood on her hands.

The dun-colored skull on the white pillow had Chaz's face, more or less, and his hair, its wildness suppressed by dirt. Dirty hair wasn't a priority. Not now. His eyes were closed and sunken. Under one a long scratch marked the jutting bone. Even that didn't seem to have color in it. The NG tube snaked across his cheek and into one nostril. The white tape that secured it was shockingly bright, like a fresh gouge in old wood.

He might have been cut out of an old browned photograph and stuck down on white paper. An image of someone who'd lived once, trapped forever motionless.

The bruises on his neck were purple and yellow. So were the ones on his arms, and the needle marks inside his elbow. Clean white gauze hid where iron had planed away the skin of his left wrist. His right wrist and hand were cased in plaster.

He was unaware of his body talking to machines: heart monitor, blood pressure, pulse ox. The machines pumped nutrition down the NG tube, saline and morphine into a vein in the back of his hand. Veins raised and ropey like an old man's.

A clean, white room that hissed and clicked and thumped softly. A room with its own breath, its own heartbeat. His were lost in there somewhere. She stared and searched for them, listened hard. But only the room had signs of life.

He wasn't dead. He wasn't going to die. They'd won. He'd won.

But they'd still lost him.

Her legs shook under her. Stand up on it, he'd say to her, and she had, but now she couldn't stand up on the damned linoleum, and there were no chairs... She swung back out of the doorway and put her shoulder blades to the wall, gasping, closing her eyes. She clutched her arms across her chest, but it didn't keep her from shaking, from weakness, from panic and black despair.

Coffee. She'd get herself a coffee, and drink it in the cafeteria, and buy herself another twenty minutes in which the world was still the world she'd lived in up until now and Chaz Villette was still her spunky irritable kid brother. And then she'd go in there and deal with this new world, whatever it turned out to be.

Chaz was sleeping. He'd never know.

She could have twenty minutes.