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Prudence, Chapter 54

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"What the fuck?! We have a pulse... is she breathing?"

"She's breathing-- mostly on her own!"

"Jesus Christ. Okay... keep the machines here, stay with her! I'm going to assist Dr. Brown with our other patient. Oh, someone let her husband know she's okay."

Mark sagged against the wall in relief. Against the backs of his closed eyelids, he could see the tracery of lines connecting Kristen to him and the others. The healthy links were all glowing, energy flowing into Kristen from him and Kayla, and a tracery of silver energy flowing into him, as well, seeming to increase the amount he could give to her. Kristen's own strands were a dim but solid golden glow, no longer flickering black and red. Kayla's green one, woven around and around his blue and Kristen's gold, brightened the gold wherever it touched it, and where it brushed the damaged link, it seemed to heal it, absorbing the red and brightening the line itself. The bad bond still seemed to be a drain, but not as badly, and it looked to be at least slightly healthier.

"Mr. Hasseran?"

He opened his eyes and looked up, his face still shadowed by the pain and shock of nearly loosing her. "Yes?"

The nurse smiled reassuringly. "She's stabilized. She's even breathing some on her own. We're leaving the respirator in for now, just in case, but her temperature is coming up, and her heartbeat is steady."

"Did you find out what's wrong?" he asked, knowing it would be expected of him.

She shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. Her heart stopped for no apparent reason, but..." She shook her head again. "It started up again on its own after we'd given up trying to restart it. It's been steady ever since, and her vital signs immediately started stabilizing."

"God," he whispered. "Can I... can I see her yet?"

She looked at him sympathetically. "Well... it's really against the rules, but in this case... there's just her and the one other patient, anyway, so come on in for a little bit. If she continues to improve, we'll move her to a regular room in the morning."

He nodded gratefully. "You... ah, I know you probably aren't supposed to say, but how in Angie doing? She's a co-worker of mine."

She frowned grimly. "It looked pretty bad for a little bit there. She went into convulsions. We got the breathing tube out before she hurt herself, thank goodness. I won't swear to it, but I think she's out of the woods. She's breathing on her own, now, too. We've got her on oxygen and can get her tubed again right away if she needs it, but it's looking good."

"Good," he said, leaning against the wall tiredly. If Angie was okay, Kristen would be too.

"If you're friends, would you know where her husband is? He's listed as her emergency contact, but we haven't been able to reach him."

He shook his head. "Sorry. The police said he left her."

"Oh dear," she said. "I'll tell the psychologist to be prepared for that, then. Come on in and see your wife, hon."

Kristen looked better, though she was still unconscious. When he took her hand in his, her skin was warm to the touch, and she wasn't quite as pale as she had been.

They let him stay with her for about half an hour, before the nurses told him that he'd have to leave, and that his father-in-law was waiting him in the lobby. He bent and kissed her forehead gently, and then reluctantly left the ICU.

Steven was waiting anxiously in the lobby, and Mark gave him a relieved smile. "She's doing better," he said. "It was... bad... at one point. She flat lined and they... they couldn't revive her." He closed his eyes and swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Then they did something to Angie, and her heart restarted spontaneously. That's also when Kayla and Aaron started providing energy."

His father-in-law went pale and slumped against the wall. "God. How is she now? How does she look?"

"Better," Mark said. "Her skin is actually warm. Why don't we go get some coffee, and I'll fill you in on what's going on?"

"Good idea. There are some machines down the hall."

It was typical hospital vending machine coffee, meaning it was wet and contained caffeine, and that was about all that could be said for it. Mark held the warm cup gratefully, nonetheless, and collapsed in one of the chairs. "Okay. Where should I start?" he asked.

"I'm not sure, honestly," Steven said, running a hand through his hair. "Has she woken up at all?"

Mark shook his head. "No. I think that as the drugs work their way out of Angie's system, she'll improve as well."

"Then how does Angie look? What are her chances?"

"Pretty good, I think," Mark said. "She's breathing on her own now, they said."

"Then Kristen should be all right as well?"

Mark nodded. "I think so. Especially because... well, it looks like Kayla actually healed Angie and Kristen's life-bond."

"How?"

"I'm not sure. The energy coming from her seemed to leave the life-bond... less raw, and, um, 'wounded' looking."

"There must be some way to protect her from this," Steven said, shoving back his chair so that he could pace the length of the tiny room. "What if she tries again, more successfully this time?"

That thought hadn't been a particularly comforting one for Mark, either, but he'd at least had time to think about it. "I think once she knows that it nearly killed Kristen, she won't try," he said. "And if Kayla can finish healing the life-bond, I'm not sure it would react quite like this."

Steven stopped pacing to frown down at him, and finally asked the question Mark had been expecting from the very beginning: "So, how did this happen in the first place?"

Mark sighed, taking a sip of coffee to delay a bit. He really, really didn't want to answer that. "Okay. Some of this happened before I was here, and I want you to promise you won't do anything without talking it over with Kristen first."

"Oh?" Steven asked, narrowing his eyes.

"Angie... slept with Kristen last year," Mark said, reluctantly. "I don't blame her. Well, obviously. That'd be rather hypocritical. But I greatly dislike what she did to her after that." He sighed again, holding up a hand to forestall protests. "She panicked, called Kristen a demon, and told her never to step foot in her office again. I understand why. She considered herself a child molester, and was trying to protect Kristen. If Kristen hated her and wouldn't come near her, then she'd be safe... but a life-bond is a life-bond, and all she did was cause intense pain to both of them."

"That stupid little--" Steven clenched his fists, sputtering incoherently.

"Easy, Steven. She was trying to protect Kristen. She didn't know about the bond, or what it could do."

"A trained psychologist would know the kind of damage something like that would cause any young girl, though!" Steven snarled.

"I didn't say I was happy about it. But... try to imagine having tried to stay away from Kristen's mother. Imagine the pain."

"Stupid," Steven said flatly. "Her religious hang-ups nearly killed my daughter."

"She didn't know it would, though," Mark insisted. "We talked, this morning. I told her about the life-bond-- but not about Kayla or Aaron. I asked her if she was going to do anything rash and she said...." He sighed. "She said she wasn't going to kill herself. And she told me she was going to leave her husband. I'm not sure what happened tonight. Do you think... do you think maybe this wasn't attempted suicide? That maybe it was him, not her who did it?"

Steven shook his head. "I know him. I don't think he'd do it, but if he did, he's smart enough he'd have stayed to see it finished. No. She probably just changed her mind when she found him already gone, son."

"Are you sure? Should I call the sheriff and tell him she was planning on leaving?"

"Hmm. She should be able to tell us what happened before too long, Mark. Let's not jump the gun."

"I guess you're right," Mark said. "Oh! But I do need to call Kayla and let her know what's up." At Steven's nod, he pulled out his cell phone, powering it up and dialing Kayla's number.

It was Aaron who answered, though, very quietly. "Hello?"

"I think she's going to be okay," Mark said immediately.

"Thank the gods." The boy's tired voice was full of relief. "Kayla's asleep. We're about halfway there."

"Okay, good," Mark said. "Are you driving, then?"

"Yes, sir. She made me promise to drive her to the hospital, then she passed out. She's okay, just a bit drained."

"Okay, then. Steven and I are here; we'll be waiting. Drive carefully."

"I will," Aaron assured him. "The road is basically empty, but I'll slow down a bit, now that we know she's going to be okay."

"I'll let you go, then, and give both of you the details when you get her."

"Yes, sir. We'll be there soon."

Mark flipped the phone closed and looked at Steven soberly. "Kayla saved two lives tonight."

"Quite possibly."

Mark shook his head. "I'm sure of it. I saw what her energy did to that link. I honestly don't think they would have made it without her."

"I'm not going to pretend to understand how you know that," Steven said, sighing. "But if you say you 'saw' it, I'll take your word for it. How is she?"

Mark laughed. "I'm not sure I could explain it very easily, either," he said. "She's asleep. More or less passed out when she and Aaron were... done. They're about halfway here."

Steven nodded. "If she did heal them somehow, I imagine such things don't happen without a price."

"Probably not. But... Steven, could I get you to do me a favor?" Mark asked. "I want to get something for Kayla, from me and Kristen, for what she's done. Maybe it will help."

"Oh?"

"A ring... gold, with alternating inset sapphires and emeralds."

Steven raised an eyebrow and looked at him knowingly. "A braided gold band? Stones nestled in the braid?"

Mark blinked. "What I'd actually had in mind was just... a plain band with rectangular stones. But I like your idea a lot better."

"Three strands or four in the braid?" Steven asked quietly.

"Um." Mark bit his lip. "Good question."

"Want some time to think about it?"

Mark glanced towards the ICU. "I'm guessing four. Unless it should be five, and I just don't know about that."

"Nothing's ever simple that was worth having," Steven said.

Mark's mouth quirked to the side. "Point." He stared off into space for a few seconds, then said, "Actually, make it three. For the people involved in the bonds that actually touch her."

"All right," Steven said, and Mark just waited, getting more and more nervous, until finally Steven raised a brow. "Are you waiting on me to condemn them for loving her or you for letting them?" he asked mildly.

With a short, startled laugh, Mark said, "Neither. I'm just waiting on your reaction."

Steven sighed. "I'm a practical sort of man, Mark. Monogamy isn't in Kristen's best interests. She's spent more time glowing this past month than my Jarai did in her entire too-short life. I'm not going to object to anything that brings that about."

Mark smiled, as much in relief as with humor. "Come Christmas vacation, we're going to see just how bright we can make her."

Steven grinned wryly. "It'll save money on Christmas decorations, anyway."

The laughter helped; it drained part of the tension out of the air. Of course, it didn't actually solve any of the problems.

"I'm just not sure what to do about Angie," Mark said, quietly.

"Neither am I." Steven looked grim. "I don't know how these things work, these bonds. How they form. Whether they can be broken."

"I'm not completely certain," Mark said, "But I don't think they can be broken. So we just have to hope she can accept loving another woman."

"There's more than loving another woman she'd have to accept, son."

Mark sighed tiredly. "Yeah. I know."

Steven rubbed his forehead. "There's a hotel attached to this hospital. I'm going to go rent a suite. Come on, and I'll give you your key."

***

"One of us should stay with her, in case she wakes up," Steven said, as he handed Mark a keycard.

"Yeah. I think maybe when Kayla and Aaron get here... well, if we can get more energy to Kristen, that'll have to help," Mark said, blushing slightly.

Steven just nodded. "You sleep now, then. I'll wake you up when I can't stay up any longer. Your phone ringing will wake you?"

"It should."

"All right, then. I'll go back and see if they'll let me in to stay with her. Call you in a few hours. I'll make sure they know to send Kayla and Aaron to the hotel."

Mark gratefully agreed, and within minutes of locating the room, he was asleep.



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