Encounter on a Rainy Night
Author's Note: For this story, I've borrowed two characters from DeckerM's works: one is Jess Miller from A Year in Seattle. The other I won't reveal right now, but if you've read Briar you'll recognize him. Thanks to DeckerM for her kind permission to borrow her characters and present this story.
Whoever said this stuff was waterproof obviously didn't test it in Seattle, Jess Miller thought miserably as another little rivulet of water meandered its way past her collar and down her back to pool with all the others in the band of her pants. She shivered a little, but continued packing up her gear, preparing to stow it back on her bike. Guess they're not paying me to be comfortable, though.
It was one of those nights when anyone with any sense at all should have been home in a warm bed with a hot drink, a fluffy blanket, at least one cat, and something good on the trid. Unfortunately for Jess, a couple of the other paramedics in the department had chosen the previous day to come down with raging cases of the flu (it had been going around the station for weeks now--she was surprised she hadn't caught it yet herself) which meant that everybody else had to work double shifts to compensate. Funny thing, the trauma victims didn't have the good manners to hold off their injuries until a full complement of emergency personnel were available to assist them. If anything, it seemed like the opposite was occurring.
Jess sighed. This was the third call on her second shift, and she was exhausted. Most people didn't realize that it wasn't the physical aspect of the job that was the hardest--not completely. Sure, hustling the bike through traffic, hoisting gurneys, and extricating people from crushed vehicles all took a toll, but it was the emotional part that could really hit hard. The daily diet of misery, pain, blood, death--that was what took it out of those whose job it was to be first on the scene when tragedy struck. That was what caused paramedics to burn out, to give up...sometimes to let the misery enfold them completely and never allow them to surface. Jess knew them all too well, and after nearly sixteen hours, she wanted nothing more than to get away from them for awhile. Only one more hour and I'm out of here for three days. Maybe I'll even get a chance to relax for a change.
It hadn't been a good day all around. Two heart attacks, one head injury, three traffic accidents, one near-drowning, and a guy who had ripped hell out of his leg while trying to elude Lone Star over a razor-wire fence. They'd all survived and probably would continue to do so, but none of them had been easy. With every call Jess had been forced to struggle against her old enemies Pain and Suffering and Death, and every call had done a little more to deplete her energy. Home was looking real good right now.
She finished stowing the gear and snapped the catch on the tail-trunk, preparing to mount up and be on her way. The ambulance had already left with the patient, the last of three who had been in the car that had skidded off the road and crashed into a tree. The smell of alcohol had been strong inside, mingling with gasoline and burned oil, but Jess hadn't given herself time to judge. If there was any of that to be done, the time was later, after the patients had been taken care of. Usually by then she was too tired to worry about it.
She sighed, thumbing the starter and feeling that little catch of relief she always felt when the bike roared instantly to life. She didn't like to think of just how vulnerable she was out here on the bike, her body unprotected against both the elements and every inattentive driver on the road, but the relief was a small concession to the fact that at least her fragile mode of transportation was usually reliable. The bike's headlight illuminated the rain-slicked road ahead of her, the spinning blue and red lights of the police cars flashing weird patterns into the puddles. At least I get to leave. The cops'll be here for at least another hour finishing up their investigations. Jess dropped the shifter into first, gave the bike a little throttle, and moved carefully off, nodding a farewell to the policemen as she left. Normally she would have waved, but not with the oil on the road from the accident. One cop returned the nod; the other one was busy examining the accordioned front end of the wrecked car and making notes.
"Okay," she told herself out loud as the police lights faded in the distance behind her, "Now it's just back to the station, fill out some paperwork, sack out for a couple of hours and then I'm home." Her voice sounded strange, hollow inside her helmet. She knew she was tired--probably too tired to be riding right now. But what was the alternative? She couldn't leave the bike and call for someone to pick her up; there probably wasn't anybody available at the station to do that even if she did. Besides, she was counting on the general discomfort caused by the rain and the cold to keep her awake long enough to get back. It was a longer trip than she liked, due to the fact that the last call had been somewhat out of her area, but she was still sure she could make it. She'd ridden in worse shape than this.
Just gotta get back to the station. There can't be any more calls...not this close. She wasn't sure if she was trying to reassure herself or convince herself.
She saw the motorcycle down fifteen minutes later as she topped a rise and prepared to slow down for the tight turn she knew was coming up. Only that knowledge and the resultant slowing saved her from plowing right into the bike, which lay in the middle of the road on its side, its engine still running. Oh, no...No...not now... she thought, but she was already pulling her own bike to the side of the road, killing the engine, scanning the area for the rider.
She found him almost immediately, sprawled by the side of the road where he had apparently slid after the bike had gone down. Fatigue forgotten, Jess moved around her bike with practiced ease, gathering the things she would need. She was on the radio as she hurried over, dropping flares even though she suspected there would be little or no other traffic on this road tonight.
The news from Dispatch was not good. There were no ambulances in the area, and the other paramedics who might get there in time were all on calls. The dispatcher promised to send someone as soon as they became available. For now, though, Jess was on her own.
Nothing new...but why tonight?
She dropped down on her knees next to the fallen motorcyclist, setting up her portable light so she could see better. It was hard to tell much about him except that he was male--his body was covered in rainsoaked leathers, his head encased in a brightly-colored helmet. His leg was bent at a strange angle under him. The liquid pooled beneath his neck was probably blood.
Her training took over immediately. She unzipped his jacket, checking for a heartbeat. It was there, erratic and weak, but there. "Hang on," she told the man. "Just hang on. I'm gonna take care of you...You'll be fine..." She didn't know if he could hear her, but she knew that the soothing sound of her voice couldn't hurt and might help. The rain was forgotten now; her only focus was on her patient.
When his breathing began to falter, she knew she would have to get his helmet off. She knew it was unwise to remove the helmet on a motorcycle accident victim, but in this case the alternative would be worse. Working quickly but gently, she immobilized his neck and then unstrapped the colorful helmet and slid it with utmost care from his head, tossing it aside as soon as it was free.
Her eyes widened when she saw him. He was young--couldn't have been more than eighteen or nineteen at the most. His dark hair was plastered to his pale face, his eyes closed, blood running from his nose. Jess closed her eyes for a moment. This one wasn't going to be easy.
She continued all the standard checks: blood pressure, respiration, pupil reaction, and called them in to the doctor on duty at Seattle General, then moved around the young man, following the doctor's orders, setting up an IV, applying patches with the directed dosages. "Just hang on, hon...The ambulance will be here soon, and I'll stay right here with you until they get here...You're gonna make it..." Even as she spoke the words, a little voice in the back of her head was telling her otherwise. She ignored it.
If she had not looked up to see if the lights of the ambulance, the police, anyone was approaching, she might not have seen him.
A man was standing there, a few meters away, watching her.
Jess raised up a bit from her hunched position over the young man. "Hey--little help here?" she called. Perhaps if the man had a car, they could transport the victim that way; it wasn't ideal, but it was getting to the point where there wasn't much choice. This kid didn't have much time left if something didn't happen soon.
The man did not move or speak.
Jess looked up a little more sharply. "Hey, I'm talking to--" She stopped as she got a good look at the man.
He stood there, tall and straight, well-built in a dark suit. His hair was dark and curly, his eyes the color of the sky on a summer day, his expression...compassionate.
Despite the rain falling all around him, he was not wet.
All at once, although she had no idea how, Jess knew who this man was. Maybe it was all the years of fighting him that did it. Instinctively she moved around the young victim, putting herself between him and the newcomer. "You can't have him," she growled.
The man took a step forward. His eyes were wise, ageless, gentle in a young and handsome face. "He is already mine," he said. His voice, though soft, carried well across the distance.
"No!" Jess was breathing hard through clenched teeth, whirling back around to continue working over her charge. "No! He's not yours. You're not taking him!"
Again the man moved closer, but not too close. He watched Jess' efforts with calm patience. "Jess..."
Her head snapped around. "How do you know my name?" she demanded, even though she already knew. Beneath her hands, the young man's heart slowed as his systems began to shut down.
The newcomer's lips quirked in a tiny mirthless smile. "I'm not your adversary, Jess," he told her softly. "Despite what you might believe, I am not your enemy. Your fight is not against me." He indicated the young victim. "He is already gone. Don't make him wait..."
"No..." she whispered again. She redoubled her efforts, knowing that it was useless. She looked up at him, despair in her eyes. "Why? Why now? Why tonight?"
The man smiled. "I thought it was about time we met," he told her. "You curse me often enough, I thought you might like to meet the one you've been cursing."
This is not real. This is not happening. Jess continued CPR on the young motorcyclist, willing him to live, willing his heart to stop its inexorable slowing, willing the ambulance to get here. "Why shouldn't I curse you?" she cried. "I try--we all try--the best we know how to save them, and you come along and take them away. Look at him!" She indicated the boy with a savage head movement. "He's just a kid! He's got years and years of living to do. Why not let him have it? Why does he have to go now?"
A brief shadow crossed the man's face, and his expression was once again neutral and gentle. "It is not for me to say," he told her softly. "I do not make such decisions. I merely carry them out." He took another step closer. "It is time, Jess."
Jess glared at him. "Give me one good reason why I should let you have him."
The man drew himself up, and for a brief moment Jess got the impression of white-feathered wings unfurling behind him. She blinked and they were gone. "Because much awaits him," the man told her gently. "He is expected, and will be welcomed."
Jess stared numbly at him, then looked down at the young man who lay in the street with water and blood pooling under him. She felt his heart struggle and stop beneath her hands. She nodded. Tears sprang to her eyes as she slowly rose. "Tell him...I'm sorry I couldn't help him..." she said, her voice sounding wooden in her ears.
"He knows," the man with the gentle voice told her. He took the final step forward, leaning slightly over the still form. Again, Jess got the impression of wings, and this time she also saw a shining form appear briefly, rising up from the still body, and then both wings and form were gone. After a moment, the man was too. "Au revoir..." echoed in her mind as he faded.
Jess stared at the spot where he had stood for a long time, then looked down at the young motorcyclist, at the shell of what less than an hour ago had been a vital, living young man. In the distance, she could hear the far-off sound of a siren approaching. She bent down and closed the young man's eyes, then rose again.
Until we meet again, she repeated to herself as she began mechanically gathering up her gear. Next time, don't be so sure you'll win.
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