Bleeding Entropy (1)
Oleander Myst


…the inexorable tendency
of the universe and any
isolated system in it to
slide to a state of
increasing disorder…

They never tell you in Quantico how much your partner means to you. Oh sure, they say that a partnership is like a marriage; your partner becomes your spouse in some ways. In fact, even though the Bureau discourages it, some partners become real spouses. The only differences are the rings and the fact that you live in the same house. But the thing they never tell you is how much it hurts when you lose that spouse. Words can’t prepare you for the boundless pain you feel knowing that you might be a ‘widower’. You lose half of yourself. But rushing to my fallen partner’s side and trying to block out the hundreds of horrible scenarios running through my head, I don’t think I’ll lose half of myself. If she is sucked into the abyss, I’m certain that all of my soul, my essence will follow her. It will only be a matter of seconds until whatever is left follows. Our souls and minds have melded a long time ago. Kill one, you kill both. She is far too precious to be anything but immortal. And death is a mortal weakness.
* ~ *NYU Medical Center, 4:24 AM* ~ *
As soon as I run into the ER, a dark, dirty cloud wraps around my heart and mind, making me want to recoil from the feelings of pain, desperation, and suffering that seem to permeate the tiled walls of the room. The very thought that Cleo, her body—if not her spirit, should have to fight the dark demons of eternity in a place like this are horrifying. It’s as if somebody carelessly threw a silk sheet into a pile of coal dust. The nurse at the desk seems as if her shift ran out an hour ago. The ER is a busy place this morning, and the frazzled nurse lets me know that telling me who was admitted four hours ago is far down on her list of priorities at the moment. Finally I flash my credentials, which halts her just long enough to listen to my question: Where is the FBI agent that came in here at about midnight? Her answer is curt: she hasn’t heard of any FBI agent coming in here. I try again. Has a white female with wine-red hair, about 5'2", come in with a gunshot wound? She stays still just long enough to spit out an answer that makes my blood freeze in my veins. Two short, white, red-headed women were admitted to the ER with gunshot wounds within the last five hours. One died an hour ago. I wheel away, running down the hallway, away from the oppressing atmosphere of the ER. I can feel the demons that are pain and suffering nipping at my heels as I race to find someone who can help me find my partner. And as I run, ignoring the glances of the people I blow by, four words pound in my skull with the sound of my footfalls on the green floor. She is too precious.
* ~ * ~ *
“Agent Sparks!”
I barely hear the voice calling out my name. Suddenly I hear footfalls behind me and a hand on my shoulder, dragging me to a halt and spinning me around. My fists ball up, ready to strike out, when I hold back, recognizing the man who has abruptly stopped me in my search to find Cleo. If I were a Marine recruit, I’m sure I’d be quaking in my boots at the sight of Assistant Director David Bosch. He’s angry in a paternal way, a look I’ve seen before, so I’m not intimidated by it. I take a breath, looking away into the distance for a moment, trying to make Bosch think I’m far less panicky than I know I am. When I look up, Bosch no longer looks angry. His eyes have lost their steely look he usually wears when about to give me a dressing down, and the look that replaces them makes the continuous scream in my brain shriek even louder. His eyes are dull, full of sorrow and pity. She couldn’t have been the one. She’s survived too many greater threats to be felled by a single bullet—an unworthy lump of lead perforating her ivory skin. Suddenly I don’t want to hear the next words out of his mouth.
I do not want to believe.
My heart is in my throat as I ask Bosch the questions nobody has answered.
“How is she? Where is she?”
“She came out of surgery a little more than an hour ago. She’s in the Recovery/ICU. The doctors have done all they can, but it’s pretty serious...”
For the first time I’ve ever seen, Bosch looks afraid.
“Luckily the paramedics got there soon after it happened.”
Bosch, tough Marine that he is, seems at a loss for words.
Surgery. Some man in green scrubs elbow deep in gore, frantically trying to tie off dozens of torn blood vessels, stitch together perforated intestines. . .racing against Cleo’s own thready heartbeat and the blood it sends coursing through her body to squirt out the mangled network of ruined tissue. The bright, bright, arterial blood, running all over everything, making the job a slippery mess, staining the surgeon’s arms and coating the front of his scrubs. Wet, slippery slurping sounds as his hands delve into Cleo like a kid with his hand in a bowl of spaghetti on Halloween. Blood spattering on the floor as it flies from the hands of the nurses handing gleaming steel scalpels and clamps to the surgeon and taking the bloody, used ones away. . .
I fight back that scenario, by far the worst, and stamp down the urge to puke.
“Where is she?”
The question burns bright in my mind like a candle, the tongues of flame licking at my feet, urging me to run, to find her and wrap her in the security of my presence. Nothing will happen to her while I’m there.
“Room 207.”
Suddenly he realizes what I’m going to do.
“But don’t—”
His order falls on deaf ears as I bolt away from him, his hand sliding off of my shoulder.
“Agent Sparks! Sparks! Get back here—!”
I’m gone before he can even finish his threat. I’d rather die than be without her for eternity. She’s more precious than life itself.
* ~ * ~ *
  My eyes begin to burn with hot tears of anger and sadness. Only the brightly colored signs with their bold white letters and arrows are visible through my blurring vision. I try to blink the tears away, but fresh ones just take their place. I haven’t even seen her yet and I’m already crying. I skid around a corner, halting slightly as I catch sight of the nurse’s desk and glass doors blocking the entrance to the ICU. The whole thing reminds me of a certain Georgetown ICU five years ago. Those doors weren’t much of an obstacle then, and they sure as hell won't be much of one now. I slow down to a fast walk, passing the nurse without so much as a sidelong glance. She stands to stop me, careful to stay behind her desk, seeing my anxiety.
“Sir, I can’t let you go in there without permission. If you give me your name—”
I cut her off. I know my name isn’t on any list that she has. Bosch would have seen to that; knowing hospital policy is to not let the ICU turn into a circus. Still walking I reach into my jacket, flashing my credentials.
“My name is Josh Sparks and I’m an agent with the FBI. My partner is in there, room 207.”
The nurse seems unruffled by my attempt to make my mission seem more important than her job. Right now, my mission is far more important than breathing.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in there unless-” she stops for a minute, glancing at something behind the desk, “—agent Reede’s doctors say it’s okay.”
She gives me a polite but firm smile.
Right now I’d do anything to get in there. Even shoot myself in the chest. I opt for the easy way.
“Look, there’s a man here, David Bosch; he’s an assistant director at the FBI. Get hold of him and he’ll iron the details out.”
I slip back into a jog, going so fast that the sliding doors of the ICU barely open in time to keep me from smacking into the glass. The nurse’s protests are muffled through the glass as the doors shut behind me. A quick glance behind me, and I know I won’t be alone for long: the nurse has a phone in her hand, angrily speaking into the receiver and glaring at me. I turn back again, facing the long corridor that stretches in front of me. The hall is filled with the muffled sounds and beeping of dozens of monitors and machines. The sound of quiet sobbing brings my eyes to focus on a gray-haired woman sitting on a plastic chair near a closed door. Her head is bowed; her hands covering her eyes while a man dressed entirely in black except for his white collar, a priest, stands by her side. I turn my eyes away, looking right and left for the number I want. After an eternity, the white numbers catch hold of my eyes, drawing me in as if they were a black hole: 207. My vision blurs again as I slow down, still staring at the numbers. My heart is pounding in my throat, and I realize that I’m afraid—afraid of what I’ll see when I open that door. A long time ago, I once hoped that I would never have to see Cleo in a place like this again. Despite that, in the back of my mind, I knew it was one of the biggest lies I’ve ever told myself. She could’ve left at any time, dodged the danger of the past and future. And while my rational mind knows that she has chosen to stay, that for some reason my quest is now, to some extent, hers, I just can’t escape the feeling that I’ve done this to her. Get away from me Cleo, I’m a death magnet. The tears brimming in my eyes threaten to overflow as I lay my hand on the door handle. She’s far too precious to be cast away like this.
* ~ * ~ *
My heart breaks into a billion pieces the instant I see her. She’s covered in IV lines, tubes, wires, and bandages, so much so that I’d think it was someone else if it wasn’t for her hair. She looks weak, crippled, lying there helpless, and seeing her like that terrifies me; the Cleo I know is strong, it’s almost blasphemy against her spirit, her personality, to have her so totally dependent on machines like she is now. The last shred of my self control crumbles and the tears fall. I’ve never felt as full of despair as I have now. I know that I’ve always felt the need to protect the ones I love, and knowing I’ve failed, especially with Cleo, brings on such a potent cocktail of grief and despair I seriously doubt someone not as used to experiencing it would kill themselves. But it’s a way of punishing myself for my failure. I don’t know when, or why, Cleo has become one of the people I’d jump in front of a train for. It’s a gradual process, a deepening and reaffirmation of something that was always there—a seed that only needed a little trust and time to grow and flower. Like opium, she’s something I can’t live without, and it’s at moments like these that I realize that every callous word, every moment I took her for granted should be considered a crime. The addict only realizes how cold the world will be without his drug only once it has been taken away. Oh God, Cleo. Don’t leave me. I move slowly, like I’m in slow motion, my eyes never leaving her face. Finding a chair by touch, I pull it so close to her bedside that the bed frame digs into my kneecaps. I ignore the pain, and focus on her, concentrating on a single thought so single-mindedly that soon everything but the beepings of the machines surrounding me gets through my self-imposed mental walls. Like a mantra, the thought races through my mind, dulling all sensation. It almost seems like a desperate hope, but somewhere, deep inside me, I hope that Cleo can read my mind and hear my prayer. Don’t die, Don’t die, Don’t die, Don’t die, Don’t die, Don’t die, Don’t die, Don’t die, Don’t die. . .
* ~ * ~ *
I am standing on the beach, the crystalline water lapping at my ankles. The breeze ruffles my hair and the sound of it whispering through the palm trees, carrying the faint perfume of lilacs, brings a smile to my face. The sun hangs low in the sky, a fat bulging ball the color of the brightest autumn leaves. My smile widens as I feel a pair of arms encircle my waist, their owner pressing against my back. I can feel a face press between my shoulder blades, and then I sigh in contentment as a pair of lips presses a kiss into my back.
  No human can possibly be happier than I am now.
I wait a second, wanting to savor the sensation of love, happiness and complete, utter joy that I feel, knowing that I owe it all to the person holding me. Love is too inadequate a word to describe the feelings I have for that person; what I feel transcends the boundaries of speech and even song. The moments pass, and then I turn, tilting my head down to look into the eyes I can feel looking up at me. As soon as my eyes focus on the figure, I am shocked and horrified by what I see. The figure is shifting like the sand, the numerous colors melding and running together like a lava lamp or a child’s watercolor painting. For a moment, the figure fades out like the last scene of a movie, the wraith’s touch and visage disappearing before fading back in again. For a moment I can make out a face, the features snapping into clarity for an instant before blurring again. It’s Cleo. Desperate, I reach out to grab her before she fades away again, but my hand passes through her, the colors rippling around my arm like waves in a pond. I cry out, screaming her name, screaming for her not to go, and she stops, her colors turned to shades of gray in mid-disappearance. I beg her not to go, not to leave me, that she can’t leave me—not when we’ve made each other feel the way we have. She seems to hear me and leaps forward, reaching out with open arms and squeezing me like I’ve saved her from the very talons of Hell. I let out a cry of joy as I feel her materialize in my arms, becoming wonderfully solid and undeniably whole in every way—and I can see her. I squeeze her back, letting her know I’m here and everything’s all right. But my euphoria is crushed when I realize she’s sobbing, her breaths coming in short, ragged gasps. And she’s saying words I never want to hear her say again. She’s whispering, in a voice dangerously close to a scream, pleas for me to save her, to protect her from the demons gathering on the horizon to take her; demons massing to drag her away, to rape and then kill her. Her fingers become claws, digging into the skin of my back. Suddenly she stops, and then starts speaking so fast I have to strain to separate the string of sounds into coherent syllables. She’s saying the Lord’s Prayer. I beg hold her, unable to see the demons that she is so afraid of. I can feel her tears begin to soak through my shirt, and my heart rips at the realization I can’t save her from her demons, that I can’t whisk her away and protect her from this—the most menacing of dangers. She goes stiff in my arms before she looks at me with such a look of pain, horror, and surprise that I am immediately reminded of a dark, dark day in my hallway not that long ago. A day I almost thought she’d die right in front of me. And then she screams. And screams. And screams. And screams.
Suddenly her head jerks up, her eyes meeting mine in a steel-bound gaze. And in that instant I can see all the pain, all the fear and terror, all the doubts and insecurities she’s been bottling up for the last twelve years smothering the pureness of her soul like a tremendous oil slick. Then she screams my name, a brief shriek, and then she’s gone. The tears come, unbidden, and the sun sets. But there are no stars. Then it starts to rain, the drops falling onto my face. And as a drop trickles into my mouth while I sob, I taste the metallic tang of blood. It’s raining blood. And for some reason, I know it’s Cleo’s. And then I scream, crying out to the heavens to take me too. I don’t want to live anymore. Not without her.
* ~ * ~ *
* ~ *10:17 AM* ~ *
I’m thrown into the harshness of the waking world with a jolt, and then I can feel myself falling. I open my eyes, only to see the floor rushing to meet my face. I let out a yelp as I hit, smacking the side of my face against the gray vinyl below.
“Josh! Josh, are you all right,” a concerned voice calls from across the room.
There’s a scurry of feet and I can see the outline of a blue-jeaned leg out of the corner of the eye that isn’t glued to the floor.
“Josh? Are you all right?”
The voice, heavy with motherly worry, is easily recognizable as Maggie Reede’s. Rolling over on the floor, I grimace at the burning pain rippling up and down my cheekbone. I sit up and, in a painfully similar fashion to her daughter, Mrs. Reede pulls the hand I’ve pressed against my cheek away and checks me over with a critical eye.
“What happened?”
Her question is filled with the feeling that she already knows what caused me to take a nose-dive off the chair. For a moment I consider lying, but Mrs. Reede would see through that right away. I choose the honest route.
“I had a bad dream.”
She nods in grave understanding, and I realize she’s probably experienced quite a few of those herself. There’s no doubt that those dreams share the same subject as mine. Thankfully she says nothing else, laying a comforting hand on my arm as I stand. Immediately the dream hits me full in the face, and I whip around to check on Cleo. I hold back a sigh of relief when I see her, still lying as still as. . .no. . .still lying in that bed, tubes and wires still in place. I chastise myself for felling relieved that she’s still there, fighting in a hospital. Ripping my eyes away from Cleo, I turn to Maggie.
“When did you get here?”
“A few hours ago. I hurried as fast as I could once I got the call....”



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Copyright © 2001 Oleander Myst
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