Race strode down the hallway, clenching and unclenching his fists, his eyes blazing. He did not stop until he was outside and away from the hospital. After what he just heard, he could not guarantee that he would not hurt someone just for looking at him wrong. They had already gotten to the restaurant when Benton realized he had left his phone back in Jonny's room. He and Race had headed back, intending to just grab the phone and return. Race had panicked momentarily at the voices coming from Jonny's room under he recognized Phil. He and Benton had both had a hard time keeping their seething anger contained as they listened to Jonny talk about his ordeal. He paced back and forth, willing himself to calm down. He wanted to see Jonny, to wrap the kid up in a hug and promise him nothing was going to hurt him, but that was his father's job right now, not Race's.
Race grabbed his cell and scanned the address book until he found the number he was looking for. "Frank Holland? It's Race Bannon. I need a favor."
Harold Keeler hunched his shoulders and stared at his feet as a guard escorted him from his cell to an interrogation room. He kept his eyes glued to the floor until he heard the door slam shut. When he finally looked around the room, he was surprised. The previous times he had been interrogated, the rooms had been blindingly bright; this room was lit by a single flickering overhead bulb. He glanced at the one way mirror and looked right through it to the empty observation room. The slight unease he had felt coming in here was turning into a churning ball of worry. This was not right; this was not normal. Suddenly, he heard movement behind him. Turning around, his stomach tightened, and it was all he could do to keep from vomiting. Slowly, a white-haired man in a red polo walked out of the shadows. Smiling coldly, he bent down until he was eye level with Keeler.
"WHAT HAPPENED?" Phil roared at Agent Sam Marlow. Marlow was the liaison between the agency and the supermax prison that housed the criminals they apprehended. Phil was standing in a corridor of that prison, right outside an old interrogation room.
Marlow shrugged his shoulders, "Don't know. The guard said he was told to bring Keeler to this room and come back in an hour. He did like he was told, and saw the same thing you saw."
Harold Keeler sat in a corner of the room, knees drawn up to his chest, rocking slowly as he mumbled to himself. There was not a mark on him, but the man's mind was clearly gone. The only intelligible thing anyone could make out was the word "red". He sighed as he saw the psychiatrist entered the room. Keeler was going to spend the rest of his life in a padded cell; Phil did not need a professional opinion to tell him that.
Marlow took a quick look inside to make sure there were enough guards to escort Keeler wherever the doctor wanted him. Everything was in order, so he turned and briskly walked away. He had told Corvin the truth; he had no idea what had happened in that room. Now, if the director had asked if Marlow had gotten a phone call from his old friend Frank Holland…or if Holland had asked to set up a meeting between Keeler and Bannon…or if Race Bannon had been slipped a false key card when he arrived…or if Marlow was glad the sociopathic doctor was going to spend the rest of his life in a straight jacket…but Corvin had not asked him those questions, and he certainly was not going to volunteer the information. He smiled to himself as he stepped out of the prison into the cool night air and headed for his car. As he reached for the door, he saw something move out of the corner of his eye.
Race stepped into the small pool of light cast by the street lamp. Sam Marlow stood in front of him, hand on the car door. Race nodded his head slightly, his eyes conveying his gratefulness. Marlow smiled and nodded in understanding. Race backed into the shadows and waited for the other agent to climb in his car and leave before turning and jogging to the other end of the lot where his own transportation was waiting.
Jonny lay in the tall grass, his eyes closed, soaking in the warm sun. Suddenly, a back and white torpedo landed on his chest, briefly forcing the air from his lungs. Sitting up to catch his breath, he smiled and scratched Bandit's ears. The little dog barked and ran circles around Jonny before running away only to return moments later with a small rubber ball that he obliging threw as far as his still weak muscles would allow. Bandit managed to give his master a disgusted look before trotting after the ball that lay barely twenty feet away. He picked it up and headed off in search of a playmate with a better arm. Jonny grinned and looked around. A small sailboat broke the surface of the lake, with two small dots on board that he guessed were Hadji and Jessie; good smells wafting from the cabin told him Race was hard at work grilling steaks for dinner; he did not see Benton, but figured he was probably inside the cabin, catching up on work. He smiled as he lay back down. They only had a few more days here before Jessie and Hadji headed back to school. Part of Jonny wished he was heading back to NYU, but he had a tentative promise from his dad to let him go back after Christmas if he did everything the doctors, therapists, shrinks, and overprotective family members told him to do.
His dad. His thoughts instantly went back to that night at the hospital.
He had cried for what felt like hours while Benton simply held him.
He continued to cling to Benton as he whispered, "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm so, so sorry."
Benton pushed Jonny away from him far enough to look into his eyes, "You have nothing to apologize for."
"But I…I…" he swallowed and tried to look away, but his father's hand under his chin kept him from doing so.
"Jonny," Benton said firmly, "I want you to listen to me. You did nothing wrong. None of this is your fault. I don't care what you told him. If giving him my inventions kept you alive or spared you even a second of pain, then I'm glad you did. I would part with everything I own for you or Hadji. You two are my world. Do you understand me?"
Jonny nodded, the truth of the statement reflected in his father's eyes, but there was one more thing he needed to know.
"Dad," he whispered, "Do…do you blame me for what happened to Mom?"
He did not think he had ever seen Benton's eyes get so hard so fast in the moment before he was drawn into a bone-crushing hug that answered his question much better then the low, growled "Never" that accompanied it.
Race was absent all day, not showing up until lunch the following afternoon. He would not tell anyone where he had gone, but Jonny saw a knowing look pass between Race and Benton. After that, life seemed to settle into a more normal routine. He spent the next couple of weeks in the hospital, building back up his muscle tone until he was at least able to walk to and from the bathroom unassisted. He also began meeting with a shrink daily; fortunately, he was able to talk Benton – and the psychiatrist – down to only three sessions a week by the time he was discharged. His nightmares also began to get better; he still had one or two a week, but he was not screaming out loud or waking up in a cold sweat. Going home – being able to sleep in his own bed – was great. Unfortunately, it also meant the press knew exactly where to find them. They were home for barely a week before Race suggested that an undisclosed vacation spot might be the best place to spend the rest of the summer. Benton agreed and Jonny suggested the cabin. Even he was not sure why; he just had a vague sense of security associated with it that was hard to explain. Fortunately, no one asked for a reason, and all agreed that a cabin in the mountains was perfect.
He stuck to the cabin and meadow for the most part, unable to articulate the unease he felt near the water or in the woods. Luckily, he had thrown up and nearly passed out the first time he forced himself on to the small sandy beach that surrounded the lake, so no one was pressuring him into water-related activities. Subsequently, the forest did not seem nearly as bad, and he was able to control the discomfort long enough to take a quick hike. After that, he decided to play the I-am-still-recovering-from-a-coma card and spent the rest of the vacation relaxing in the hammock behind the cabin or out in the field, usually with a book or his laptop. Jessie still tried to talk him into joining her and Hadji for whatever activity was planned that day, but everyone else was content to let him do his own thing.
They probably wouldn't be so nice if I showed the slightest inclination to go off on my own. He smiled to himself. So far, everyone had been very accommodating to his request that someone always be visible. Hadji had even agreed to share a room with him – although the fact that the cabin only had three made that kind of a moot point.
"Want some company?"
A familiar voice dragged him back to reality, and he gave his dad a big grin. "Sure."
Benton gently lowered himself to the ground next to Jonny, wincing slightly as his joints reminded him exactly how old he was. They sat in silence for a while, watching the sun move closer to the horizon as the sky slowly changed from clear blue to fiery reds and oranges.
Benton reluctantly broke the silence, "How are you?"
Jonny thought about the question for a second before finally shrugging his shoulders, "Physically? Great, although Bandit may decide to become Jessie's dog if I don't improve my throwing arm. Mentally?" He paused, chewing on his lower lip as he considered his answer. "It's going to take time. I still hate being alone, hate the dark, and strangers terrify me." He held up a hand to keep his dad from interrupting, "But I'm getting there. I know it's going to take time, and I'm not going to get better overnight. Being here has helped, and I think I'm ready to get on with life."
He shrugged again, "It felt safe. I know it sounds crazy, but the last couple of weeks it's felt like Mom was here with us. After she died, I wanted to come back here so badly, but you kept saying no, and after a while I kind of forgot about this place." He fiddled with a long blade of grass, "I think I came back here when I was in the coma."
Benton refrained from commenting, letting the silence stretch as Jonny continued to play with the grass. He knew that given enough time and space, eventually Jonny would say what was on his mind.
"It sounds crazy but I keep having these dreams. It's just me and Mom here at the cabin. At first, it's like we're here on vacation – we play games, I help her with dinner, or sometimes we just sit outside, watching the clouds. Then it starts to rain, and she runs away, down to the lake. There's a rowboat on the beach, and she climbs into it. I want go with her, but I can't. She tells me I have to go back; she says you need me. She hugs me and tells me she's proud of me and loves you. Then she's gone, and I wake up."
He pinched the bridge of his nose, using the movement as a distraction while he fought against the tears that threatened to fall. "The craziest part about it is after I wake up, I feel content. It's almost like I finally got a chance to say goodbye. At the same time, she made me come back. I don't think I could have done it without her."
Benton draped his arm across Jonny's shoulders and gave them a quick squeeze. "No, Jonny, I don't think that sounds crazy at all."
Jonny smiled and drawing his knees up to his chest, rested his chin on them. For the first time, he began to believe that he could see a light at the end of the tunnel. He was not out of the woods yet, but he had hope for the future.
"Jonny! Dr. Quest!" Hadji called as he jogged over to them, "Race says dinner's ready, and if you aren't there in five minutes, he's eating it all."
Jonny turned to Benton, "We'd better go. I saw the way Race was looking at those steaks earlier and wouldn't put it past him to carry through on his threat."
Hadji grinned and offered Jonny a hand up.
Benton raised an eyebrow and frowned playfully, "What! You offer to help the kid and leave your poor father to fend for himself."
Jonny laughed, "Hey, I'm still in recovery. Besides, Dad, we both know that you hate to be treated like the old guy you really are."
He laughed again and took off as fast as he could, followed closely by Hadji. Benton grinned as he watched the two of them. Jonny was right. He has a long road ahead of him. This won't be fixed in a day or a week. But he will recover. He believes that and so do I.
He looked down at the lake, a shimmering pool of gold in the sunset. "Thank you," He whispered softly, "Thank you for giving me him back to me."
Author's Note: That's all folks! Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think. I'm probably going to take a break now, but I have plenty of ideas begging to be written, so I probably won't be gone long.