38 – CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT – 1,100^38
Around noon, Don looked in on the office. If David and Colby hadn't been informed by Megan that Don didn't have anything to do at the moment anyway, they surely would have sent him away at once. There was nothing to do at the office other than taking down the mobsters' statements, comparing them with each other and writing the reports. It was a tedious piece of work and boring, but they didn't need Don for this. Besides, they had a somewhat queasy feeling at times, especially when they saw Don standing at the observation window to the interrogation room where Ivanov's statement was being taken down. Don's gaze had something murderous in it that made icy shudders run down their spines. Eventually, however, Don turned away from the window, said good-bye to his colleagues and left the FBI headquarters.
It wasn't until the afternoon that they went back to the hospital and still they were an hour too early to see Charlie. Though at least they got to know that his condition was stable and that was the best news they'd heard for an eternity. He wasn't in acute danger anymore; the antibiotics had made the pneumonia retreat and the weakness caused by the lack of nutrition and fluids was becoming less.
"Of course it's still possible that there'll be further complications, especially with a patient who's been admitted in such a critical state as Charlie," Dr Porter told them. "However, as things are now it seems as if he's out of the woods."
"So he'll get completely well again?" Alan spoke again for the whole group.
"As I said, I can't guarantee that. It's always possible that something unforeseen happens. And concerning long-term damage, we still have to watch Charlie's reactions and his mental state more closely. Until now he hasn't been conscious and responsive for a period long enough in order to provide us with the necessary insight in this respect."
"He's been conscious?" Don hardly dared to speak the question out loud. He almost blurted a 'Why didn't you notify us?'.
"Every now and then he's been awake for some seconds or even minutes or at least showed some reaction." A slight, lenient smile showed itself upon her face. "A conversation upon the weather, however, hasn't taken place yet."
Don inhaled deeply. He was dizzy. So that was it? Charlie had made it?
"Can... can we go to him now?
The voice didn't sound at all like his, but he momentarily didn't care a jot. The only thing that mattered was the doctor's nod.
0 – 0 – 0
He was light. Everything was light. He felt like a feather being blown with the wind until it found its destiny. He didn't know where he came from; he didn't know what had happened previously. He only knew that he was floating and that it should never stop.
However, wishes tended to be destroyed. His wonderful flight through the gentle air became troubled; the feather doubled up in uncomfortably cold gust of winds, curled into itself, trying to escape from the pain, but it didn't make it; the pain remained and held it in its clutches. It grasped the tender down tightly. He wanted to drift back into his pleasant dream, but reality drew him with it.
The pain reached a higher threshold and he groaned quietly, but that didn't improve things. There were furrows creasing his forehead and he thought he couldn't stand it any longer, but the pain still didn't release him.
However, all of a sudden the pain wasn't the only sensation anymore. As if through water he could hear voices, soft at first, but they were there and they were familiar to him. He remembered their tone and together with the tone images were surfacing from the depths of his mind. However, the images were blurry and incoherent and he longed to see not only the images, but also the real people. The desire was so strong that it opened his eyes.
The result was disappointing. The previously occasional voices had now completely fallen silent. And his surroundings were still blurry and so glaring that he kept his eyes nearly closed and blinked only cautiously. And he still couldn't see the people who'd been talking before.
No, there! There were fingers! And shortly afterwards Charlie felt a hand on his face. It was a bit rough and made him instinctively think of his father.
Oh. Maybe he was wrong after all? In any case he had a lot of difficulty in comparing the voice that had just spoken to that of his father. The voice sounded hoarse and suppressed and in a very strange way tearful. Charlie had never heard his father speak like that. Nearly never… It suddenly occurred to him that after his mother's death his father's voice had also sometimes had such a strange tone.
"Can he hear us?"
It was another voice, also male, also despite its familiarity, so strange. Charlie tried to open his eyes in order to see the owner of the voice, but the glaring light and the pain and the tiredness were too much. Perfectly slowly, Charlie was pulled through the pain back into the depths of sleep where he was floating. He'd have to wait until he could summon up enough strength for his next attempt.
0 – 0 – 0
The woman at the reception desk had given them the information they had wanted. Well, 'wanted' was relative. It was true, they now knew where Charlie was – but still in the ICU? That somehow didn't sound good.
They hurried along another corridor until they didn't have to search for the right room, for in front of them, Megan and Larry came through a door.
"How is he?" Colby asked as soon as they had come near enough so that he didn't have to shout.
The two of them whirled around to face them and Megan first exhaled deeply before she spoke, "Oh Lord, you startled us." She looked into their tense faces and a smile spread over her face. "Everything's okay," she appeased her former co-workers. "He seems to be over the worst. He's also opened his eyes a couple of times although he didn't seem to be aware of us."
David and Colby simultaneously inhaled with relief.
"And what about you?" David then asked. "Were you sent out of the room?"
"God, no," Megan laughed it off. "We just wanted to get a breath of fresh air."
"Yeah... I was just explaining to Megan that hospital air makes you sick," Larry added.
David laughed briefly. That was typical of Larry. And the fact that Larry was acting normally again had to mean that Megan was right.
"Do you think we can go in there?" Colby asked.
"Of course," Megan answered. "You just have to be quiet." A smile crept onto her face. "Although Don is not really obeying that order. I guess he's trying to wake Charlie up with noise."
With that, they waved each other good-bye and the two of them entered into the room.
Three of the four heads in the space turned to face them. However it was the fourth head that grabbed all their attention. Charlie was pale, if you disregarded the flushed cheeks. He seemed to have a fever; at least that was what the beads of sweat on his forehead indicated which Alan was, just and probably not for the first time, dabbing with a damp cloth. They could see that under the surface something was going on in Charlie, but he didn't wake up.
"Hey, you two," Don greeted them with a hoarse voice that was somewhere between a mezzo piano and a whisper as if he couldn't decide which volume was appropriate.
"Hey. How is he?" David inquired.
"Better," said Don, his eyes turned towards his brother and the corners lifted slightly in a smile.
All of a sudden the two agents felt the irrepressible urge to leave again. The atmosphere was heavy with emotions that were strong enough to keep intruders away. At least that was how it appeared to them even if the three family members would probably gladly have had them stay.
"We just wanted to look in on him," Colby began their justification in a whisper. "Megan told us he's made it?"
"Yes," Amita whispered back. She too, all of a sudden, had a smile on her face, although there was a damp glimmer in her eyes.
"That's awesome," David said in a low voice. He had a lump in his throat, but he didn't dare clear it. It was high time to leave anyway. "We'll come again later." And rapidly, though as quietly as possible, they left Charlie's hospital room.
On the other side of the door, they stopped and first of all breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh boy," Colby groaned softly. He didn't need to go on. David understood him perfectly and felt everything just as he did. They knew, however, that what they had just witnessed was good. If the feelings in the room were strong enough to make it impossible for them to remain there, they also had to be strong enough to bring Charlie back.
0 – 0 – 0
The more he approached the surface again, the more intense became the pain, but also the more intense became the hope and the wish to be able to hear the voices and see the faces again. This wish nourished the strength he needed to break through the surface.
He was there again. His eyelids were still too heavy to lift, but he perceived everything with remarkable distinctiveness. He could feel a soft hand upon his own and after an instant he realized that it had to be Amita's. He could hear voices, those familiar voices, and this time they were hardly distorted or muffled.
"I think he was just moving again." That was his father, without any doubt.
"Maybe he's finally waking up. 'Bout time." The voice was a bit scratchy, but also with that one there was no doubt that it was Don's.
With an immense effort Charlie opened his eyes. It was only a slit and he had to squint against the bright light, but this time he remained awake. He could recognize heads and the faces were familiar to him and matched his other sensations. He was there again.
Charlie needed only a couple of seconds to realize that his father had spoken and what he had said. However, he didn't know what he could answer to that, and neither was he sure if he was able to form words.
"How are you?" It was a female voice and it hit Charlie in the middle of his heart. Already merely to make Amita happy he had to answer, no matter what.
"Good," he tried to say. The word came out of his mouth as an indefinable sound and maybe that was the fault of his sub consciousness because it didn't want him to lie. And still, in a strangely transcendent way his answer was true. Of course he was in pain and of course he was weary and of course he felt far from optimum, but at least he felt; he received sensations, he could feel his body and was aware of his surroundings. Things weren't the way they had been during his past sleep of which he could hardly remember even now; he was there again, back in life. And this knowledge would have been enough to make him jump in the air with joy – if he hadn't been too weak to have even so much as lifted his hand.
"You lie dreadully," Don said, and Charlie thought he could hear him smile.
Charlie's gaze found him and his supposition was confirmed. And he found even more. He saw the contours of the faces around him and the eyes with that strange glimmer in them. Unshed tears, but that didn't make them less enigmatic. Why were they crying? Had anything happened? But what? He should be able to remember and should be able to understand the tears... He was too tired though. He momentarily neither wanted nor could try remembering sad things. What mattered now were the faces in front of his eyes. And he didn't know why, but he knew that he had missed them.
"Larry and Megan are here, too," Alan explained with a slightly shaking voice. Charlie could already feel that he was getting tired again, but he forced himself to keep his eyes open and to go on listening to his father's words. "They should be back in a couple of minutes. And David and Colby were here earlier, too."
Charlie could feel that he wasn't going to stand it much longer. Everything was just too much and he was so tired... His eyes fell shut again and once more the effort to re-open them became greater with every time.
"Hey buddy, you still with us?"
Charlie had nearly fallen asleep when he forced himself to open his eyes once more. He looked into Don's smiling face and his words accompanied him into a healing sleep. "Welcome back."