Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Baltimore, MD, June 2008
Johns Hopkins Hospital and a private room, Chaz thought. Jesus, the American Taxpayer could buy a couple of fighter jets for what this has got to cost.
But there were good reasons for it. Practical reasons. He needed a certain amount of isolation if the doctors weren't to spend their time replacing the rivets he popped when some damned stupid thing flipped him out.
At least he hadn't accidentally demonstrated his new getaway trick. He had half a notion he was being medicated for anxiety as well as pain. He hated to think what would happen when that stopped.
Well, he was valuable enough to be worth fixing, he supposed, even at top-of-the-line prices. And if he couldn't be fixed...
You could mothball a fighter jet.
Knuckles on the doorframe. "Anybody home?" Hafidha called, looking in.
She'd knotted her string-thin braids into a fountain on top of her head with a red velvet-covered elastic, and the light gleamed on the brushed titanium of her glasses frames. She stepped into the room and stopped. "So how are you? You look good!"
The meds blurred the edges, but Chaz could tell an off note when he heard it. This was a whole twelve bars of off notes. His fingers clenched before he could prevent them. The bedspread balled and crimped under his left hand, and his right wrist spiked with pain. He winced. He hoped Hafidha didn't notice. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing! I'm fine." Her eyebrows arched above her glasses. "Can I come in?"
"You already did." This was bad. However the rest of the team dealt with it, Hafidha, at least, ought not to treat him as if he'd become someone else just because he'd--
Nobody knew. Did they? If they knew, and realized he'd hidden it, even Hafidha might--
"Good," she said, and shut the door to the hallway.
Chaz's heart stuttered, nervous, under his ribs. "They don't like it when you do that," he warned.
"I scoff at their don't-like. Scoff, scoff."
The tension left him so suddenly it made him shiver. She sounded like Hafidha again. Nothing very bad had happened yet.
She pulled a chair close to the bed, sat, and plopped her bag on her lap. It was a very large bag, even for Hafidha, who had a list of things she refused to be separated from nearly as long as a quartermaster's list for an invading Roman legion.
"Chaz-- Okay, Smarty-boy, you're going to have to help with this. See, if this makes you go through the ceiling, Der Kommandant will have my guts for garters, as the saying goes. They've got a list of stuff at the nurses' station that nobody's allowed to bring in here."
"I know," Chaz said. He liked his other list better than the one they kept at the nurses' station, horrible as it had been. The other list wasn't seven days' worth of vengeful ghosts.
"So." She patted the bag. "This is on it, because it's food."
"I'm not allowed to have food?"
"Not unless it comes from the kitchen here."
"No wonder I'm not gaining weight." That wasn't fair. It wasn't a bad hospital kitchen, especially considering that most of his calories were coming from the tube threaded down his goddamn nose, so there was a limit to what he could swallow without risk of choking.
Steady there. He pushed away another surge of frustration and fear. He was getting better at pushing.
"Yeah, well. So I brought this. But promise, if you feel as if...it'll make you sick, say so right away, and I'll disappear it." She held out her little finger, crooked.
Chaz knew what the pause in that speech was for. "Make you sick" sounded so much better than "make you freak out." "Sick" was something you couldn't be expected to control.
He didn't always get a lot of warning, on the panic or the AZT puking. But he hooked his left pinkie carefully in hers. "I promise."
She let go and pulled a pack of sanitary napkins out of her purse.
"Hel-lo, smuggling, Pookie. And how sad is it that hospital staff go all 'Leper, unclean' over maxi-pads?"
Curiosity. That felt good, the little jab of brain chemistry. "Did they?"
"Honey, if they'd lifted it out of the bag, I'd have been so busted."
Now he could see the tape closing the bottom of the package. And from the way Hafidah held it, it was much too heavy. She pried the tape loose, and two plastic spoons fell out. "Mind you," she added, "there are maxi-pads in there. To hold the shape."
She dug into the opening and pulled out a round pint carton, shiny with condensation and melting frost.
He was salivating. He wondered if he might start crying. That would be awful. Don't do that.
Hafidha gave him a sideways look, as if she were afraid her gaze weighed more than he could handle. "It's ginger gelato. With pieces of ginger. Which are good for your stomach, you know. I thought it'd slide around the tube. You okay?"
He swallowed. "Yeah. I'm okay." His voice cracked.
She pulled off the top. He smelled ginger, cream, sugar. A wind from paradise. She handed him one of the plastic spoons and held out the carton.
He scraped the surface, the spoon catching on a ginger bit. He pried it free. Just a taste, not even a mouthful. If he wanted more, he'd have to-- He was breathing too fast. Easy, cowboy. If he wanted more, he'd scoop up more. He was in charge.
He put the spoon in his mouth, let the gelato slide off onto his tongue and melt. When all that was left was the bit of ginger, he chewed that, long and thoroughly. If he choked, Hafs would get busted. He closed his eyes and swallowed.
When he opened them, she was leaning forward staring, like someone watching the bomb timer count down. My friends waiting for me to go off. Get used to it, Chaz. Then the funny got through his filters: Captain Neutrino survived the plutonium ice cream! He grinned. "You'll never get that back out of here without getting caught. We'll have to finish it."
They took turns. He didn't get quite half the carton, because he got tired. But he made a respectable dent.