Gradually, the hypothermic coma gave way to a deep sleep, then to a lighter, more restless hovering on the edge of consciousness. Finally, a sensation penetrated Sam's awareness. It was not so much a pain as a deep discomfort, which perversely he found strangely comforting. It took a while for Sam to locate the source of the feeling, and when he did, he awoke with a start and tried to scuttle his torso upward in the bed, a look of alarm on his face.
"What the…?" he struggled to come to terms with what was being done to him.
A nurse was there at once, restraining him, her voice gentle and soothing.
"Hush now, lie still. It's all right. You're safe now."
'Safe' was a relative term, when you were in the process of being violated.
He found he was shaking, with cold and with fear, but as he looked at the nurse's sympathetic face, his rational mind suddenly calculated what was happening. The cold reminded him that not so long ago he had been far too cold even to shiver, and had needed some serious thawing out. That was what they were doing. In order to help raise his core temperature, they were giving him a warm water enema!
"Oohhhhhh, boy!" he breathed, still a little freaked by the intrusion upon his person, but appreciative now of the reasoning behind it.
He realized that his retreat had been hindered by tethers in the form of tubes protruding from both arms. These carried blood out of his body on the right, circulated it through a pump and a series of coils, which warmed the blood before returning it to the body by way of his left arm, bypassing the heart and so warming the body. It was an inspired reversal of a common technique developed in the 50's to cool the blood and thence the body during serious operations.
Another face floated into his field of vision, the friendly face of his Coach, Hank Montgomery, looking tired and drawn.
"How you doing, B-J? You look like Hell, son."
Sam felt every bit as bad as he evidently looked. Every single muscle in his entire body ached with an intensity beyond imagining. Every joint felt swollen and uncomfortable. His stomach felt tender and sore, a legacy of the savage spasms caused by the cramps, and he was fatigued beyond measure.
"I'd say… that's w-where… I've been" replied Sam, his voice rasping, "Only… it has a r-reputation… for being… just a t-tad warmer!"
Hank sniggered, and patted him on the arm, surprised at how cold the flesh still felt beneath his own warm hand.
"Try to get some sleep now. You need to rest." Ordered the nurse.
Feeling more relaxed by the acceptance of his treatment, which he was medic enough to recognize as both necessary and desirable to ensure his recovery; Dr Beckett drifted once again into the friendly arms of Morpheus, and slept the sleep of the just.
The tubes had finally been removed when Sam found himself abruptly returning to full consciousness once more. As his addled mind, which had fallen to dreaming, relived his ordeal, and his dreams reminded him sharply that he had not suffered alone, he sat bolt upright in the bed, staring straight ahead with unfocused eyes:
Al could tell it wasn't exactly the smartest thing Sam had ever done as his friend's pale face blanched whiter still.
"Whoa, Sam, bad move buddy."
Sam had instantly reached this conclusion of his own accord, and collapsed back to the horizontal in pretty short order.
"You're telling me?" he sighed wearily, eyelids drooping again.
He'd intended to go and find her, to see for himself if she was all right, but the effort required to get him up and out of the bed would have taken way more energy than he currently had at his disposal.
Though his heart rate had returned to normal - and then some - and his blood pressure had risen to a more acceptable level, as had his temperature, he still felt incredibly weak.
"What's that, sonny?" Queried the Doctor, suspecting that his patient was still a trifle delirious.
Sam pulled himself together with the barely conscious effort of one long practiced in dealing with such abnormal circumstances.
"Please, tell me how Becky-Lou is. I need to know." Sam Beckett a.k.a Bobby-Joe Parnell was feeling guilty and vulnerable and scared. He'd tried to protect her, to save her. He was sure he remembered that he'd tried pretty darn hard. But had it been enough? He was at once both anxious and afraid to have his query answered.
"She's out of danger, hon. She hasn't woken up yet, but they say she's gonna be just fine."
His still befuddled brain fancied he heard his mother's voice, comforting, calming reassuring, warm. He felt enfolded by her protective love, safe and exonerated.
When he opened his eyes, however, it was not Thelma Beckett's face he saw, but it was the next best thing. B-J's mother was sitting by the bed, holding his hand, crying softly, and Al stood behind her.
"What are you doing here?" he asked his friend, with an unusual lack of discretion; having belatedly remembered Al's other ailing partner, and his insistence that Al should go to her.
-"That's exactly what Ruthie asked me!" Al responded.
-"That's a charming welcome for your poor old Mom." Sam had the notion that if she hadn't been so worried about the state of him, he'd have received a swift clip round the ear for his insolence.
"I only meant," he hastened to assure her, looking at Al with a 'now look what trouble you've got me into' expression, "how did you get here so fast?"
Al promised his friend he would explain everything later, when they were alone.
"Fast? You've been asleep for more than two days, sweetie. I was fit to be tied when they told us what had happened. Then when I first got here and set eyes on you, I thought I was gonna lose you."
She sniffed and began crying anew.
"Don't cry, Mom. I'm okay, honest." As if to prove it, Sam tried to sit up again, but had to admit defeat before he'd gained much ground.
"Tell your Momma the truth now; how are you really?"
"Fine, honestly, except…."
"I knew it, what's wrong, honey?"
"Only that" his voice was husky, "I sure could use a hug." He guessed she could too.
She enveloped him in the warmth of her motherly love and for a while he forgot he was Sam Beckett and she Lillian Parnell. It was as if she really was his mother, or he really was her son. It didn't matter which. He felt safe in her arms, and comforted, and freed for a while from the responsibilities of adulthood.
"Thanks, Mom. I needed that." He whispered, as they finally broke apart. She smiled indulgently at him.
It was true what his own mother had often told him, "Mother-Love is the most powerful force on Earth. It protects and nurtures and heals." There was no pain, or bad feeling or Boogie Man it could not either drive away or at least diminish.
"Anything else you need, son?" Lillian fussed over him, plumping his pillow.
Sam could think of quite a few things, most of them fairly basic requirements, like more sleep, but the one that came strongest to mind at that precise moment was food, his recent experience having left him feeling drained in more than one sense. The thought of a warm meal was too tempting to resist.
"Uh, I am kinda ravenous," he declared, "I could use something to eat."
"Of course, honey." She was already on her feet, and making for the door. "What would you like? Anything you want, anything at all, whatever your little heart desires, you just name it and I'll get it for you."
Sam had no doubt that she would make good on that promise, if she had to commandeer the hospital kitchen and spend the next couple of hours creating some intricate culinary masterpiece, to satisfy his most outrageous whim.
"I'm so hungry I could eat anything," he replied earnestly, "I really don't mind what." He paused, considering his statement and deciding it needed one slight qualification, "anything except..." he sighed deeply, so that it was almost a shudder, "not ice cream, please."
Everyone in the room, including the invisible Al, burst into spontaneous laughter at that, even Sam himself managed to smile, though in truth his plea had been a serious one.
"Well," declared the doctor, "at least his sense of humor is still intact. And a healthy appetite is a good sign. I think we can safely say the prognosis is quite good in this case."
Mrs Parnell's step was noticeably lighter as she bustled out to find him some sustenance.
Sam remembered suddenly and very clearly his own mother sitting by his bedside.
It had been the spring of his eleventh year, when he was helping on his parents' farm and had been savagely kicked in the groin by a cow that was having trouble calving. He'd been laid up for nigh on a week, and he had limped for a good deal longer than that, and the pain had been indescribable. The shock of the incident had caused a lock of hair on his forehead to turn snow white overnight, and so it had remained throughout his life.
When it happened, he'd pressed his lips tightly together to keep himself from crying out. It hadn't been all that bad, in fact more numb than painful at first and he'd wanted to carry on helping his Dad, but his leg burgeoned from a shoot to a sapling in moments and then gave way under him. He'd fallen to the ground at his father's feet, yet for a moment John Beckett, engrossed in comforting Esme, the distressed cow, failed to notice. It was only when the numbness wore off, and the pain hit Sam abruptly with all the force of an atomic detonation at ground zero, that he could stay silent no longer and the scream that escaped his lips was as Joshua at the walls of Jericho. A loud and mournful ululation emanated from him, strident, unending, and as the pain and the cry built to a simultaneous crescendo the walls of the red barn shook, reverberating with the dreadful sound. Esme was temporarily forgotten as his father turned to see what had provoked such a din from his normally placid son. Then his father saw what must have happened and whisked his son up in his arms, carrying him into the house whilst at the same time his mother and brother came flying out to see what was amiss.
What had happened in the next few minutes, or maybe hours, were a blur to Sam, and not because of his Swiss-Cheese memory.
When he'd come to, it was with a rush of awareness, which arched his back and caused the scream to take up precisely where it had left off, continuing till he had no breath left to scream.
They had divested him of all his clothes in an attempt to assess the extent of the damage that had caused such a severe reaction. He was lying on his bed; stark, buck-naked as the day he was born, in the altogether, and altogether too hazed by pain to care. His leg was swollen up thick as a tree trunk and almost twice the girth of its counterpart. The whole area of his upper thigh and groin was a single massive purple bruise, which burned with the heat of a hundred suns.
As his Mom applied a cold compress to reduce the swelling, eliciting a hoarse throated squeal, his dad shook his head and said that he had been lucky. (Sam decided his definition of lucky must differ significantly from that of his father.) "If that blow had been an inch or two further over he'd have been gelded for sure." This curious proclamation gave Sam no comfort whatsoever, as the agony welled up to ever-greater degrees within him, so that he howled mournfully as a wolf baying at the full moon, till finally it hurt too much even to moan, and he was reduced to heavy rasping breaths.
His Mom mopped his fevered brow with a tepid cloth, and held his hand, though he dug his nails into her palm with each spasm that gripped his vitals.
"Gee, Mom, it hurts. It really HURTS!" Sam complained between sobs, "Make it stop, Mom, PLEASE make it stop."
He was driven half mad by the pain, his dull, lack-luster eyes staring unfocused at the ceiling of his room, his hands clawing for the soothing touch of his mother's arms. His bruised and swollen pudenda throbbed interminably, like the base beat of a pop song, with an intensity that was beyond endurance. There were moments when he sincerely felt he would have preferred it if he had been Bobbitized instead.
Tom had laughed nervously at first in embarrassed sympathy. But when he saw the terrible strain etched on his baby brother's face, he'd fussed round like a mother hen, running to fetch fresh cold cloths as each one warmed on the radiator which was his sibling's leg. He couldn't look Sam in the eye; he didn't want Sam to see that the big brother he thought so strong and tough was fighting back tears of his own.
John Beckett phoned for the doctor, only to be told he had gone to deliver twins to a couple who ran a farm on the other side of town and was likely to be gone for some considerable time. John had tried to help, but found himself feeling superfluous in the sick room, and soon returned to tend to Esme.
Thelma had given her son some junior aspirin, but far from killing the pain as the packet promised, they barely managed to stun it. The pains in his crotch made him want to double up, curl up protectively into a hedgehog ball, but the swelling of his leg would brook no such maneuver and kept him stretched out flat, the slightest movement sending him whiter than the immaculately laundered sheets he lay on.
Thelma stroked his hair, his arm, his cheek, and spoke reassuringly to her son, but she felt helpless in the face of his torment. It cut her to the quick when he pleaded, eyes like saucers, voice cracked:
"The pain's so bad, Mom. Make it go away. Please, you gotta make it go away, I can't bear it."
He looked gaunt, haggard, far older and more care-worn than his tender years had any right to look.
Then, to his eternal chagrin, dazed and confused as he was, he had reflexively answered Nature's sudden insistent call. His water hissed and steamed as it ran down his leg, burning like acid as he passed it, making him whimper pitifully. As ill luck would have it, Katie had chosen that precise moment to seek everyone out, feeling ignored. With the innocent glee of a six year old, she chanted in singsong fashion:
"Sammy's wet the be-ed, Sammy's wet the be-ed. Who's the baby now, brother?" she mocked, trying to sound superior, "I stopped doing that ages ago."
When Mom tried to pull a sheet over him to restore his dignity, he'd had to push it away with frantically flailing arms, as even that slight weight was unbearably oppressive to him.
Tom glared daggers at Katie and pulled her out of the room, telling her sternly:
"Shut up, Katie, leave him alone. He couldn't help it. Sam's been hurt and he couldn't help it."
Katie rushed to her room in a flood of tears, both from the unaccustomed telling off, and because she was frightened by her brother's pain.
Thelma knew she needed a loving hug and a motherly pep talk, but Sam's need was the greater.
"I'll go." Offered Tom, feeling guilty for snapping at her.
Thelma drew Sam into her arms and told him not to worry; she wasn't cross; it would be okay. Sam shook with paroxysms of sobbing.
"I'm sorry, Mom, I love you. I'm so sorry. It's just that it hurts real bad."
"I know," she crooned, "I love you too, honey. It'll be all right. It'll pass, I promise. Its okay, Mommy's here." She mopped his brow again and stroked his cheek, drawing his head into the shelter of her bosom, and for a moment the pain subsided.
When she'd got him into a dry bed, Thelma sat with her son, tending his wound as best she could; making him as comfortable as possible, which heaven knew was so far from comfortable as to make a mockery of the word. She felt every tremulous shudder he gave like a knife twisting in her heart as she lulled him to sleep, exhausted by the pain and the shock and the fear and the shame.
For a timeless time, Sam had dozed fitfully, drifting in and out of consciousness, floating on a sea of confusion, awash with pain. The terrible pulsing agony burrowed deep down to reach the very depths of his subconscious, drawing him back up to sweating bouts of troubled, twitching, jerking movements as his mind tried to escape the prison of his tortured body. Whenever he writhed thus, his mother was there to restrain him, to soothe and calm him, to hug him and assuage his fears
After his acutely embarrassing 'accident', Thelma had fetched a vase for his convenience. At first, he refused to use it, holding everything in – for the prospect of a repeat of that awful burning sensation; the agony he'd experienced, the feeling that he'd be split asunder by the stringent acid flow, left him quaking in abject terror. He wouldn't drink when his Mom tenderly offered him water to replace the body fluids he was so profusely sweating off. He didn't want to need to pass urine, and with the confused logic of childhood, and a mind dulled by pain and fever, he figured that if he didn't take it in, he wouldn't need to let it out again. Thelma had patiently convinced him that the more he drank the weaker the solution passing through and therefore the less painful it would be. Finally, the natural born scientist in him recognized the wisdom of her counsel.
Nevertheless, the next few times he availed himself of the wide necked vase, he had needed to grit his teeth and screw up his eyes to keep from blubbing at the torturous activity, making him curse his gender and the design of his anatomy.
Though the recollection of that long ago injury was vivid enough to make the adult Sam wince, still his abiding memory was of his mother's embrace, her untiring presence, her unfailing love.
No matter how often he surfaced - from sleeping nightmares of being trampled to death by herds of stampeding cattle, to waking ones of excruciating pain – over the next couple of fever-ridden days, he had never once found himself alone. Mom had always been there, napping in a chair by his bed, instantly attentive as soon as he so much as stirred. When she had found time to grab herself a meal, much less cook for the rest of the family, was beyond the scope of his imagination. He only knew that she was constantly there for him, and it was her love, and her love alone that had brought him back from his personal Gehenna with his sanity intact.
With the unique perspective that Leaping afforded him, he could well imagine what that diligence had cost her. He understood now that in some ways her suffering had probably outweighed his own. He wished he could tell her somehow how grateful he was. He felt sure that he had taken it all pretty much for granted at the time, and the thought grieved him. (In fact, as ever, Sam Beckett didn't give himself enough credit – he had shown a degree of appreciation uncommon in one so young.)
When the fever had finally broken, he had slept heavily for a while, a deep and dreamless sleep. He awoke to find that the dreadful throbbing had at last abated, to be replaced by a dull nagging ache and a deep-rooted tingling, stinging itch he couldn't scratch. It couldn't quite be called a pain, but it was almost as unbearable. He sucked air in sharply and noisily through his teeth, startling his Mom from the nap she'd snatched while he was peaceful.
He fidgeted, not knowing what to do with his hands. The instinctive part of him wanted to scratch and scratch furiously for all he was worth at the offending area like a dog with a fresh case of rampant fleas. The other, rational part of him knew he was still not ready to endure tactile contact in that region.
As ever, his mother was there, gently holding him still, her voice soft, yet full of tight-reined emotion.
"It's all right, Sam, Mommy's here. Is it still hurting bad, honey?"
"Not exactly, Mom, it sort of itches and stings. I can't describe it, but it's driving me crazy. Will I ever feel normal again?"
He was more lucid now than he'd been for Heaven knew how long, and his eyes were brighter, but Thelma could still sense his extreme distress, and knew he was suffering more than he wanted to acknowledge. She drew him to her in a tight embrace, her heart bursting with love and compassion
She'd have given anything and everything if she could have waved a magic wand to make her son better. She'd prayed and prayed, made promise after promise to God if he'd only see her youngest son whole again. She'd eulogized about what an exemplary life he led, how he was a dutiful son, full of filial affection. She'd begged that if such punishment were somehow unwittingly deserved, that retribution should rather be heaped upon her own head, that Sam might be spared.
Now that the worst of the crisis was over, Thelma gave heartfelt thanks to God for returning her son to her. She determined that she would do all in her power both to minimize his trauma during his recovery and ensure that the whole family showed a proper gratitude to the Lord in their prayers and in their lives.
She distracted him now from his discomfort – which she assured him was a positive sign of healing – by playing word games with him, and reading with him, and quizzing him on any topic under the sun (she never once caught him out).
And when his fever starved body finally demanded sustenance, his Mom had brought him….
Mmmm, so good he could almost smell it now.
And so it came full circle - as Lillian Parnell returned to his hospital room bearing a huge bowl brim-full of steaming hot chicken soup.
"Get this down you, son." She instructed, with a look that left him in no doubt he was expected to drink every last drop.
'Is that every mother's cure-all?' Sam mused, 'chicken soup and cuddles'. He sipped the warm broth gratefully as she spoon-fed him, a lopsided smile on his cracked lips.
Perhaps it wasn't such a bad prescription after all. It was certainly putting color back into his cheeks.