It's long, but I need to wrap this up before NaNo begins, and Rule of Three will wipe out the rest of October. So, the Conclusion:
They stayed until well past last call, Sean Patrick returning to the stage to sing harmonies with Alan until the bar turned off the sound system and tired, annoyed bartenders started herding everyone out into the cold. As a group, they crossed the street to where everyone was parked, breath blowing puffs in front of everyone except Sean Patrick, who was barely breathing because of the cold. "How can you people live like this?" he muttered, pulling Lori close against his side.
"You get used to it," replied Alan. He was actually only wearing a plain Navy peacoat, his ungloved hands in his pockets.
"Don't know if I want to," said Sean Patrick, shivering, tucking his face deeper into the thick wool of his scarf. "It's cold enough to freeze my freakin' dick off." Then he glanced sideways at Lori. "Pardon."
Lori just laughed. "I just hope that doesn't happen, handsome. Oh, damn it!"
"I forgot my purse. Wait here a sec. I'll be right back."
"Hurry, gal." Sean Patrick fumbled with a cigarette as Lori rushed back to the bar before they could lock the door, while the others said goodnight and started to get their own vehicles warming up. Alan waited with him, leaning on Lori's Mustang while Sean Patrick smoked and stamped his cold feet on the asphalt.
"Might get some snow tonight," Alan observed.
"I don't miss snow," replied Sean Patrick. "That's something we never get in Los Angeles."
"Did it snow much in San Antonio?"
"Not too much, but sometimes we'd get flurries in the north fields. I hated it long before I was a vampire." He blew a stream of smoke into the cold air, looking up at the stars. "I'm gonna miss that sky, though."
There was a sharp squeal of tires on the street. Sean Patrick looked up just as Alan shouted "Lori!" and then he was moving before he could think about it. Somehow he was already running, as fast as only a vampire could, his heels slipping slightly, as she stepped off the curb and a battered pickup truck careened wildly around the corner. He reached her the same instant the truck did. It hit them both.
He felt her slip from his grasp as he was thrown onto the hood. He smashed, hard, into the windshield, catching just a glimpse of a frightened, dazed face before he saw sky, streetlights, and then darkness again as he bounced off the side of the truck, then rolled down. He hit the frozen asphalt and felt the back tire roll over his torso, then lay there, dazed, vaguely aware of the taillights disappearing down the block. It all took less than a second, barely a heartbeat, leaving him staring at the sky through a haze, the odd idea flitting around his mind that if he could lift his head, look at his body, it would be just like one of those cartoons, his torso flattened in the center with a tire tread running through it. That was what it felt like.
"Sean Patrick. Can you hear me?"
Alan's white hair swam into view above him, his dark-skinned face a mask of panic. Sean Patrick felt his mouth move, but he couldn’t get enough breath to speak. "It's okay, don't try to talk," said Alan, then looked up and shouted, "Someone call nine-one-one!"
Sean Patrick tried to protest, moving one hand feebly. His fingers barely twitched. No ambulance, no police, no hospitals. That would be bad. He'd have to be declared dead again, start over, and that was always so damned hard, so much damned paperwork. But Alan didn't seem to hear or notice. There were shouts and screams and somewhere far off a siren started to wail. Alan took off his coat and threw it over Sean Patrick, oblivious to the cold. "Stay still," he commanded, but Sean Patrick couldn't have moved if he'd wanted to.
He could hear voices, all worried or frightened, and the smell of human fear and panic was rising over the cold scent of the town and the prairie. Sean Patrick could feel his head spinning as the pain started to wash through him, brushing the haze aside. He struggled to move, but every effort to lift an arm or draw a breath sent agony searing through him. He needed to breathe, but he couldn't. If he couldn't breathe he couldn't talk, couldn't tell them not to take him to a hospital. He just needed a little blood, to heal.
The sirens grew louder, filling his ears. People were everywhere, their voices echoing in his head but their words meaningless. A young woman's face appeared. She was wearing a heavy jacket with a fake-fur collar, and the badges of an EMT on her chest and arms. "Mr. O'Connor?" she said, shining a pen light into each of his eyes. "Don't try to talk. Hold still," she commanded.
Sean Patrick shifted his gaze from her face to the man who knelt near him. They were lifting him gently, putting his head and neck into a brace, and something similar seemed to be going around his middle. Cold air touched his skin. Panicking, he searched the crowd around him for Alan's white hair.
"Don't worry, Mr. O'Connor," said the male EMT. "We know. You're going to the right place." There was a prick of a needle in his arm and he struggled against the drug. No! They couldn't take him to the hospital!
In the moment just before unconsciousness claimed him, he thought of one other thing.
Where was Lori?
Sean Patrick took a breath. It still hurt, badly, but he was able to do it. He knew the scent that filled his nose as he drew air in. Sterile, antiseptic, medicinal, all bravely trying to cover over the unmistakable odors of sickness and death. He was in a hospital. God, another morgue. It was always a morgue.
Better than a coffin, he supposed.
With as much care as he could, he breathed again. It didn't smell like the morgue. The death was far away. There was a mattress under him, a bed made with stiff but clean sheets, not a hard metal slab. A blanket covered him. Shallow and slow breaths as he tried to remember details, and classify the scents around him amidst the hospital smells. Dakota Bob had been here, but was not now. Alan was here, sleeping. And another, familiar and comfortable scent, one he really needed right now. "Matt?" he tried to speak, but while he was sure he'd said something, he honestly couldn't feel his vocal cords moving, nor did he hear anything. He tried to open his eyes. That didn't work, so he started to mentally catalog the myriad pains in his body.
There was a slow and steady beeping near him. The pain seemed intense, yet oddly dulled. There was something pinching the back of his hand, as though a clamp was attached to the thin skin there. His chest throbbed, but it was a distant throb. Drugs, that had to be it. Drugs strong enough to work with his vampire circulation and keep the worst of the pain at bay. He struggled again, forced his fingers to move.
"I think he's awake," came Matt's deep voice, a soft rumble, as warm and welcome as a cozy blanket on a winter night. Sean Patrick felt Matt's big square hand close around his own, not the one that was being pinched. "Sean Patrick?"
Sean Patrick tried to speak again, dragging his aching eyes open. It was too bright, everything was too blurry, but it seemed like Matt had leaned close to hear. "Shouldn't have me on morphine," he thought he said, but Matt just frowned at him as though he were speaking Russian. "I'm an addict." He moved his eyes from the indistinct face to the bag that hung nearby, dripping clear fluid into the painful pinch on the back of his hand.
"Oh! Don't worry about it, Sean Patrick. If you weren't on morphine I don't think you'd be able to stand it," said Matt, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
"Is he talking?" asked Alan's rough voice, sounding weary.
"Sort of. I think he was worried about the morphine," replied Matt, squeezing Sean Patrick's hand again. There was a scraping sound and Matt sat down, having dragged a folding chair closer to the bed. "Do you know where you are?" he asked.
Sean Patrick didn't try to talk again. The effort was making him dizzy. Instead, he twitched his fingers against Matt's hand in acknowledgement of the question. Then he frowned and tried to squeeze back, suddenly struck by everything. He was laying in a hospital bed, with drugs dripping into his hand, and yet he was not breathing. Not well, anyway.
"It's the magic wing, Sean Patrick," said Matt, somehow understanding anyway. "I didn't know about this kind of thing, either. Apparently it's not completely unheard of here. They have specialists to take care of wounded vampires."
"Nightwalkers," a businesslike voice came from the doorway. A woman in scrubs bustled in, carrying a plastic bag filled with dark, thick liquid. "We don't take care of just any vampires here, what do you think we are?" She bent over Sean Patrick and smiled at him. "Coming around, are you? I'm Nurse Stephens, I have some experience in Nightwalker care. Pleased to meet you, Mr. O'Connor."
He managed a smile, which appeared to please her. "I assume you're hungry. Don't try to answer, breathing's going to hurt for a while. Fangs out, if you please."
Sean Patrick stared at her, confused, a moment, then realized what was in the bag she held. She wore an expression that expected acquiescence to her order, so he didn't try to argue. He extended his fangs. She held the bag for him, and slipped an arm under his shoulders. He winced as she lifted him slightly, but he bit into the bag. The blood was fresh, and human. Like the blood Lori had given him, it was free of anticoagulants, the taste like heaven itself. Sucking it out of a plastic bag wasn't the best way to get it, but at the moment it was absolutely perfect.
Blood sent healing power flowing through his limbs and cleared his vision. Now he could see the room without the blur, as well as Matt and Alan. Neither of them looked like they'd gotten any sleep, and Matt was unshaven, dark circles of worry under his eyes. He still looked like a movie star. Sean Patrick pulled back, licking his lips as his fangs receded.
"That's better," said Nurse Stephens. "A few more of those and you'll be feeling more like your old self." She carefully laid him back down, checked the drip on his hand, and gave his hair a familiar ruffle. "Call me if you need me."
Sean Patrick blinked a few times, and was able to reach for Matt, tugging him closer. "What are you doing here?" he whispered. This time Matt could hear him.
"You think I wouldn't come? I was on a plane almost before Alan hung up the phone," replied Matt.
"Sorry," Sean Patrick breathed. It wasn't the first time Matt had gotten a phone call like that.
"I'm given to understand this one wasn't your fault." Matt was trying to sound jovial, but it was falling rather flat.
Sean Patrick closed his eyes. Breathing required a lot of effort, and the morphine, coupled with the fresh blood, was pulling him back into blessed darkness. Again, as he started to slip away, he remembered. He struggled to stay awake. "Lori. Where's Lori?" his voice was barely audible, even inside his own head.
Matt's tired face looked even more weary. "I'm sorry, Sean Patrick," he said with as much tenderness as his rumbling voice could manage.
Then Sean Patrick couldn't struggle against the drugs anymore.
The next time he woke up, he felt much better. Stronger. The scent of the hospital seemed more cloying. His first thought was how much he hated it. The second was the realization that Dakota Bob was the one sitting next to him now. He opened his eyes. Matt and Alan were gone. "Where's Matt?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
Bob looked up from his book. "I sent him to get some sleep. I don't think that youngster's put his head on a pillow since the accident. Are you hungry?"
"Yes," Sean Patrick admitted. Bob reached for the button and pressed it. Sean Patrick lifted one weak arm, then the other, looking at the IV taped to the back of his hand. "Lori?" he asked that question first this time, not worrying about anything else. Nothing else mattered right now.
Intense sadness passed over Bob's usually immobile face. "They tell me she probably died instantly, Sean Patrick. There was nothing that could be done. When you both got hit, she was thrown one way, you another. She hit the sidewalk hard." He was blunt, not cushioning the blow, but his voice was calming, doing something to ease the hard knot that started in the middle of Sean Patrick's chest. "She never woke up. You didn't fare much better."
"The driver of the truck?"
"Young. Scared. Drunk. He ran. They tracked him down. He's being held for vehicular homicide and assault with a deadly weapon. Matt doesn't think you'd want to press charges for the latter."
"Matt's right," muttered Sean Patrick, his chin sinking down onto his chest. At that moment Nurse Stephens came in with another bag of blood.
"Hello, Professor," she said, smiling at Bob.
"Jean," he responded, nodding at her.
"Here we go, Mr. O'Connor, fangs out."
"Yes, ma'am," Sean Patrick responded, this time able to take the bag and drink on his own.
"You're making very good progress. Doctor Berman is pleased." She fluffed up his pillows and checked the IV.
Sean Patrick licked his fangs, then continued to drain the bag, not really caring what it looked like. Bob and the nurse made small talk as she made sure Sean Patrick was comfortable and everything was working right. Then she took the empty bag and bustled out again.
"Do you know everyone in this town?" he asked when she was gone.
"Not quite, but nearly everyone who went to USD," replied the Indian. "Are you going to be all right?" he asked then, concern flashing in his dark eyes.
"No," replied Sean Patrick. At least he was being honest. He sank into his pillows again, the hard knot in his chest returning, worse than before. Lori. Soft auburn hair and bright talent, young vibrant life, snuffed out in a second, and he was left alive.
As though he'd heard Sean Patrick's thoughts, Bob said, "If you'd been human, you would have died, too."
"That doesn't help."
"Knock knock," came a voice from the door. Sean Patrick looked up to see Ben, Janie, and the rest of the gang come in, followed by Jimmy Takahashi. A wave of guilt passed through Sean Patrick at the sight of Lori's brother. "They said we could all come in, you were awake."
"I'm awake," replied Sean Patrick. "At least for now. They're keeping me pretty drugged up."
They passed through the awkward, tense first moments, fumbling with pleasantries, trying to come up with something to say, dancing around the obvious, the bad. Ben, his face pale and drawn, was filled with a false cheer, and asked questions, looking over the machines Sean Patrick was hooked up to. "I thought vampires just healed, like that," he snapped his fingers. "I was surprised to find out you needed to go to the hospital."
Sean Patrick shook his head. "Not like in movies," he said.
"Nightwalkers do heal quickly, Benjamin, but not instantly," Bob put in, his calm voice easing the stiffness in the room. "As Sean Patrick says, not like in the movies. Suppose," he continued, adopting a professorial tone, "a human had been hurt like this and survived. What do you think would happen?"
"I don't know. Years of therapy, I guess," replied Ben, shrugging, but answering the Professor's voice like a good student.
"Exactly. A human might have been in a coma for, say, weeks. Then struggled with healing and physical therapy for months, probably years. Our nightwalker here, he was in a coma for a few days. He'll struggle with healing and therapy for weeks, maybe months. A human might carry the scars forever. A nightwalker, maybe years." Bob looked at Sean Patrick. "Maybe more than that. But after a while, he'll be fine."
"After a while," echoed Sean Patrick. "I don't even know how badly I was hurt. The way Matt said I couldn't stand it if it weren't for the morphine, made me think it sure wasn't good."
"It was extremely bad, my friend," said Bob. "I don't even know if the children here realize."
Sean Patrick looked from Bob to each of Lori's young friends. Children, indeed, even if they looked the same age as him. He wondered if they occasionally forgot he wasn't actually nineteen, not like them. The years had left no mark on him, but he barely remembered what it had actually been like, being nineteen. He flexed his aching hands.
"You had a spinal cord injury, Sean Patrick," said Matt's voice from the doorway. "That's how bad it was." He still sounded tired, and there was that undercurrent of fear in his tone that gave Sean Patrick another twinge of guilt, for putting his godson through this again, as he had years ago when he'd hit a red light late at the same time someone else jumped their green early. That accident had put him in the morgue. Los Angeles had no magic wing, no way to tell a vampire wasn't actually dead as long as his body still existed.
Matt came all the way into the room, gripping Ben's hand briefly in greeting as he sat down, leaning heavily on the bed rail. "If you'd been human, you'd be permanently paralyzed, or dead, too." Matt's unconscious echo of Bob's words made everyone quiet down. Sean Patrick jerked his head up, and scowled slightly at his godson.
"We'll talk later, Matt," he said as firmly as he could. "I'm still pretty wiped. Could I talk to Jimmy a few minutes? Alone?"
Everyone said goodnight and quietly shuffled out, leaving Jimmy, who came to the chair Matt had vacated. "You know no one in our family blames you," he said, sitting down and patting Sean Patrick on the shoulder. "You were good to her. She cared about you."
"I'm sorry, Jimmy. I'm so sorry."
"It's all right, Sean Patrick. I know," replied Jimmy, opening his hands. "You did all you could. We know that."
"I want to help, Jimmy," said Sean Patrick. "Anything I can do, anything at all. Medical bills, funeral expenses. Please. Let me."
"I'll talk to my folks. I'm sure they'll appreciate it," he said, patting Sean Patrick again.
"I loved her. I haven't even had a chance to process any of this." Tears were starting to come, pricking his eyes, even as pain and weariness was threatening to take him back into oblivion.
"You need to rest. Go back to sleep, Sean Patrick. We'll talk again. I want to ask your doctor about whether you can come to the memorial service we're having for Lori. I'm led to understand you might or might not be able to come."
"I want to go. Please. Let them know. I have to be there. I assume I've already missed the funeral."
"We'll see what we can do," said Jimmy, nodding. "It's in a few days." Once more, he patted Sean Patrick, then stood and left the room. The door closed behind him. Sean Patrick dropped his head back into his pillows and let himself cry.
The next day and the next were marked by brief periods of wakefulness where there was always someone there to distract him, to keep his mind busy, and always some nurse or other with a big bag of blood, and they stayed to make sure he drank every drop.
But finally he woke with an empty room around him, giving him a chance to take a mental catalog of his various aches. Most appeared to be centered in his chest and stomach, although his arms hurt, too, especially his right arm, which had been the side the truck had hit. He shifted slightly in the bedclothes, running his hand experimentally over his middle. There were wrappings holding his ribs in place, and he wondered if they'd been broken as well as his spine. Probably, it would explain why breathing had hurt so much. It wasn't so bad, now. The bones were knitting, rapidly, considering the good care he was getting.
He was prodding experimentally at his torso for tender spots when he suddenly sensed a vampire, close by and moving closer. Of course, he couldn't be the only vampire around. This was the 'magic wing' of the hospital, after all. There should be other vampires. Nightwalkers. He looked up as his door opened and a slim, straight-backed man with a mid-twenties face and ancient eyes, wearing a doctor's coat, came in. He smiled at Sean Patrick and took the clipboard from the foot of the bed.
"Good, you're awake. I've wanted to meet you," the vampire-doctor said. The name on his coat read "Berman."
"You're my doctor?" asked Sean Patrick.
"Yep," was the casual reply. "Have you fed yet today?"
"No, not yet. I don't think." It was hard to keep track of how many days had actually gone by. "Depending on what day it is."
"Well, Stephens says you've been doing very well in general, but your nephew tells me it's hard to get you to feed regularly." He fixed Sean Patrick with a stern look as he reached for the buzzer and pressed. "You will heal faster, and stay healthier in general, if you feed regularly. That means every day, at least three times a day."
"Where does the blood here come from?" asked Sean Patrick.
"Healthy, voluntary donors, just like any blood bank," said Dr. Berman. He hung up Sean Patrick's chart and came to press his fingers against the side of Sean Patrick's neck. It took forever to get the pulse, but Dr. Berman appeared to be extremely patient. "I understand you'd like to go to your friend's memorial service today."
"If at all possible," said Sean Patrick.
"I'm not ready to discharge you. I want you where I can keep an eye on you, and make sure you'll do what you're told until you're completely healed. You're going to need a couple weeks of physical therapy, at an outside guess."
Sean Patrick glared at the other vampire. "I owe it to her to pay my last respects," he growled.
"Don't take that tone with me, youngster," said Dr. Berman with annoying good cheer. "I am going to allow you to go, but you are not being discharged. You will return to the hospital afterward, and I've already enlisted your nephew to make sure of that."
"How long have you been a doctor?" asked Sean Patrick meekly, accepting the orders without further argument, although he was bristling inside. He didn't too often meet someone older than him.
Dr. Berman didn't answer right away. He stepped aside as another nurse came in with a bag of blood, and he waited while Sean Patrick drank. When the bag was completely empty, the nurse took it away, her dimples dancing as she smiled at Sean Patrick. Dr. Berman watched her go, one side of his mouth quirked up in a half-smile. "You've already charmed all the women here. I understand that's one of your talents."
"I can play the piano, too," replied Sean Patrick in a snide tone.
Dr. Berman tsked his tongue against his teeth. "To answer your question, I have been a practicing physician since 1862. I dressed my first wounds at the Battle of Shiloh."
"What side?" asked Sean Patrick.
"I'm afraid I'm a Yankee."
That made Sean Patrick grin. "Well, I don't have any feelings one way or the other on that one. All my family, we were just plain Republic of Texicans. I was born in 1863."
Dr. Berman didn't ask if that meant born as a human or reborn as a vampire. "You are just a baby."
"You aren't that much older," said Sean Patrick, "if you started up in '62."
"I didn't say that was my first career," replied Dr. Berman. "I marched into the war as a soldier, coming off a previous living as a political analyst and newspaper writer. Before that I was a college professor, teaching physics. And believe me, teaching the sciences was never very easy in those days. At least in straight math I could avoid the eye of the church."
Sean Patrick looked closely at him. "How old are you?"
"Given the state of records at the time, I'd hazard a guess at having been born between 1312 and 1325, give or take, and that was the Julian calendar. I'm not as ancient as some, but I've been around a while. I've seen advancements in medicine that would make your head spin."
"Well, that's been just since I was a boy," said Sean Patrick. "We were just learning about hand washing."
"True enough." Dr. Berman leaned on the bed rail a moment, his brows furrowing over his narrow nose. "Professor Red Horse tells me you were made by Amanda. The Vampire."
Sean Patrick blinked at the precise way the doctor chose the word, almost spitting it as though it were an epithet. "Yes," he said.
Dr. Berman narrowed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. "Well, he's right, but I'm really not sure how," he muttered, then he shrugged. "Fascinating. Anyway, as to you leaving the hospital. It's not entirely normal procedure, of course, but in the case of nightwalkers sometimes procedures can be changed. I've already told Matt you're to be brought back as soon as you start showing any signs of fatigue, and you get an extra pint when you get back. Speaking of which, how often do you feed daily?" He took Sean Patrick's chart again and started jotting notes on it.
Sean Patrick, still scowling in confusion at the remark about his sire, shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe a pint, if I find someone willing. If I'm really hungry, I might try for more."
"Oh good God, man, no wonder," snapped the doctor irritably. "You should be getting no fewer than four pints a day, and better to get six."
"Six!?" Sean Patrick yelped, startled, then modulated his voice. "Six pints? How in God's name does one get six pints a day?"
"Family, generally. I understand you have one?"
"It's not as large as it used to be," muttered Sean Patrick. "At least, not the ones who live nearby. I can't ask the ones I do have for something like that, not every day. How do you still have family?" He turned the conversation to the doctor.
"Mine's actually significantly larger now," replied Dr. Berman, "and that's not your business. Your business is to take care of yourself so you can take care of them. And conversely, they're there to take care of you. Listen to Matt. He's there to help you."
Sean Patrick scowled still more, sinking into his mattress. Six pints! Who could he hit up, every day, like that? Dr. Berman relaxed slightly and smiled at him. "Cheer up. You're doing fine," he said. He gave a wave and left, whistling as he walked into the hallway.
Sean Patrick was dozing over a copy of American Gods when Matt came in with a wheelchair. Sean Patrick sat up. "What's that for?"
"You, stupid," replied Matt.
"I can walk," said Sean Patrick, twitching his legs experimentally. They felt heavier than a fully loaded semi tractor trailer.
"Oh, really?" Matt lowered the rail on the side of the bed and gestured. "Come on, then."
Sean Patrick favored his nephew with a sour expression and worked his way sideways, turning his body with more effort than he'd thought it would take and panting a little as he paused to rest, his feet off the side of the bed. "What am I going to wear?" he asked, stalling as he tried to find the strength to move. "I haven't even asked about my things."
"I took your room at the B-and-B," said Matt. "Your stuff is fine. And I have your suit here." He took a large FedEx box up from the seat of the wheelchair. "We'll get you dressed first." He opened the box to reveal Sean Patrick's favorite suit, a black-on-black embroidered western suit modeled after one of Johnny Cash's, which he had not brought with him to Dakota this time. It had been neatly and professionally pressed and packed so it wasn't even slightly wrinkled. At Sean Patrick's look, Matt explained, "I called Seana and had her send it."
"Thank you," said Sean Patrick. He disconnected the IV and tried to stand. Matt caught him as his knees buckled, his legs lacking the strength to hold him upright. "Shit," he swore, clinging to Matt.
"I told you," Matt grumbled, lifting Sean Patrick back to the bed. "Now let me help you, God damn it."
He tried not to feel humiliated as Matt, surprisingly patient, helped him dress. Finally Sean Patrick was seated in the wheelchair, trying to bend his feet enough to get into his boots. "I'd rather wear my Paul Bonds," he said, as Matt tugged a plain black boot onto one foot.
"Sorry," said Matt, giving him a wry expression. "You were wearing them the night of the accident."
Sean Patrick opened his mouth to say "so what," but then it sunk in what that meant. "They cut them off, didn't they?" he said, more resigned than irritated.
He slumped. It wasn't the cost of the boots, hardly inconsequential, but they had been custom made for him as a gift from Matt's youngest sister Tara. "Shit. I don't suppose you added that into the insurance settlement."
"The kid who hit you barely had liability. His insurance company's already paid us everything they're going to, unless you want to sue him. Lori's parents are," said Matt.
Sean Patrick slumped still further. "No. We don't need to do that."
"I thought not." Matt straightened Sean Patrick's string tie and stepped back. "Not bad. You ready?"
"I think so," replied Sean Patrick, although he didn't feel ready at all.
"You ever think about becoming a nurse? You're good at that," said Nurse Stephens from the door.
Matt chuckled. "Nah, I haven't got the temperament for it," he said. Sean Patrick made a rude noise and Matt swatted him on the back of the head. "I'm a bit on the impatient side."
Nurse Stephens chuckled as Sean Patrick scowled at Matt, then she carefully covered the IV stent in the back of Sean Patrick's hand. "Now then. Do not overexert yourself. You haven't even started physical therapy yet. Dr. Berman says it's all right, but I wonder."
"I'll be all right, honey," said Sean Patrick, smiling up at her. "And I promise, I won't run off."
"Damn right you won't." Matt gripped the handles of the wheelchair and spun it to face the door. "You don't want to be late. Let's get a move on."
It was still icy cold outside, something Sean Patrick had forgotten about while trapped inside the hospital. The sun was mostly hidden behind threatening dark grey storm clouds and a frigid wind was whipping in off the prairie. It cut through the heavy wool suit like razor blades. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," he gasped.
Matt cursed. "Sorry, I forgot," he muttered, shaking out a blanket and throwing it over Sean Patrick, tucking it in around him like he was an invalid.
"You couldn't have gotten my overcoat?" Sean Patrick said through chattering teeth.
"Wearing it the night of the accident, I know. I have others."
"In Los Angeles," said Matt. "Now shut up and let me get you in the van."
Sean Patrick huddled in the blanket while Matt rolled the chair to the loading curb where a rented Dodge caravan stood, marked with a "temporary parking" permit. Sean Patrick had been expecting something that could hold the wheelchair, but Matt just lifted the vampire into the passenger seat and left him to buckle himself in while he folded the wheelchair and stuck it in the back of the van.
Snow flurries started to pelt the windshield as they drove to the church. Matt's expression darkened as he started the wipers going. Matt didn't have any more experience with driving in this kind of weather than Sean Patrick did, so it was slow going. Matt's huge shoulders hunched forward as he concentrated on the road ahead of them. He said nothing, and Sean Patrick felt like he was hunched, too, closing in on himself as they crawled through the streets toward the church.
He'd never been inside a Lutheran church before. He was rather surprised to see it didn't look all that different from the Catholic churches he'd gone to all his life. "I was kind of expecting less ornate, more grim and foreboding," he whispered to Matt. "This looks almost like a Catholic church."
"A church is a church," replied Matt, folding up the blanket before wheeling Sean Patrick into the front vestibule. A few people were there already, clumped in mostly silent groups around the door that led into the chapel. There was a podium with the guest book, and a place for gifts to the family. Into that, Sean Patrick slipped the envelope with the check he had written, and then signed his name.
"I don't know. I knew a fellow who lived through the Reform. Always gave me the idea that a Lutheran church would be a dark, austere box with no decorations at all, breaking away clean from Catholic claptrap."
Matt grunted something. Despite all of Sean Patrick's best intentions, Matt had grown up completely estranged from the church and was, for all intents and purposes, completely atheist. Sean Patrick sometimes felt he'd failed somewhere. What Matt said was simply, "Plenty of claptrap here."
Sean Patrick didn't respond.
Jimmy detached himself from a cluster of people and came up to them, shaking Sean Patrick's hand. "I'm glad you could come," he said. "Come and meet the rest of the family."
Lori's family didn't look any more Japanese than she had. Lori's father was a slim, slight man with dark hair and Lori's eyes, except for the slightest hint of his Asian ethnicity; her mother was taller than her husband, and from her Lori had gotten her bouncy auburn hair. Both of them wore the lost, empty expression he'd seen many times before on parents who lost children, no matter what age. Still, they somehow managed to smile at him, that ghostly "thank you for coming" smile people wore at funerals. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. O'Connor," said Mr. Takahashi, gripping Sean Patrick's hand tightly. "Lori spoke very highly of you."
"You made her very happy, Mr. O'Connor," said Mrs. Takahashi, shaking Sean Patrick's hand when her husband released it.
"I'm sorry for your loss," said Sean Patrick automatically, that most irritatingly weak platitude he'd said so many times before. He couldn't remember how many funerals and memorial services he'd been to in his life, how many people he cared for who had died. "She was a wonderful young woman." And I loved her, he added inside his head, swallowing a lump that was rising in his throat. He was already tired, the lack of morphine starting to tell on his strained and mending muscles and bones, but he couldn't let it show.
The service wasn't in the huge main chapel, but a smaller and more intimate one down the left-hand wing. Matt rolled Sean Patrick up the aisle to a spot near a pew where there was a space for handicapped worshippers, then sat next to him in the pew. As always happened, women stared at him, whispering. Matt pretended oblivion, but Sean Patrick could see him returning clandestine glances. Being engaged hadn't changed him at all.
The altar before them was draped with flowers and banners. A portrait of Lori that had probably been her high school senior picture stood on the upright piano, and of course several of her paintings, including a print of Nightwalker, were on display as well.
Alan came in and sat next to Matt. Slowly the pews filled, soft voices murmuring around him as Sean Patrick bent his head over the rosary he pulled from his pocket and mourned silently, not listening as Matt and Alan chatted together.
A slim young man who bore a resemblance to both Lori and Jimmy went up to the altar and stood behind the podium, swallowing before he spoke into the microphone, "Thank you, everyone, for coming." He stood silent a moment, then said, "I'm Thomas Takahashi, Lori's oldest brother. It's not really a surprise to me she had this many friends."
Sean Patrick mentally ran through a decade as he listened to Lori's brother, his beads sliding through his fingers methodically, silent prayer he knew was for himself more than anyone else. He had no doubt that Lori, wonderful person she had been, would be rewarded in the afterlife. He'd always been a believer. He never had found reason to stop. Thomas invited others to come up and speak, then slipped back to his seat, wiping his face. A pretty woman Sean Patrick guessed was a wife or girlfriend gripped his hand and hugged him.
Several minutes passed before Alan got up and went to the podium. His soft voice didn't seem to need the microphone as he talked about his friendship with Lori. He told a humorous story about posing for her that made the family smile, then sat down again. After another long silence, Jimmy got up and went to the podium. "I know this might be an unusual request," he said, "but I think Lori might like it if Sean Patrick sang something for her."
Sean Patrick started, his attention abruptly shifted from the rosary in his hands to the altar, and then around him, to the others in the audience. Several looked as though they would appreciate something, anything, to take the heat off them, save them from having to stand up and try to talk or share their private pain. Singing would save him having to try and come up with words he simply couldn't say. After a moment, he nodded, and Matt wheeled him up the ramp to the piano. There was no hesitation as he flexed his fingers over the keyboard. "Lori told me once this was her favorite song," he said, and started Bridge Over Troubled Water.
The familiar words flowed through him, making their way over his aching throat. Singing when he wanted to cry was a challenge, but it wasn't the first time. The lyrics gave him the words he needed, as he promised Lori he would be there to dry her tears, there to lay him down over her troubled waters. But she had no more troubles. Now he had to traverse his own, by himself.
A voice joined his, taking on the harmonies, and he felt Alan's hand on his shoulder as he reached the climactic point of the song. He was somehow able to finish, bending his head over the keys as he played the final chords, and the music slowly faded. There was silence around him, no one even seemed to breathe. Sean Patrick drew in a deep breath himself, and whispered to the keys, "Goodbye, Lori."