A Stitch in Time

Chapter 21

Full circle.

Once again, he sat in a hospital waiting area, drinking lousy coffee and worrying about Jeffrey. But then he'd been wired, ready to jump out of his skin with anxiety. Now, he felt numb, his senses deadened by the events of the last few hours.

Susan had taken charge of everything--she'd Omnied them to a hospital in the same area, told a hasty but plausible story about them being hikers who'd discovered a road accident and a single survivor, and given the hospital personnel Jeffrey's name, claiming that he'd told it to them before losing consciousness. At any other time, Bogg might have felt guilty or at least embarrassed for not contributing more to their cover, but even through the fog enveloping his brain, he sensed that Susan needed to keep busy. That she was in no condition to dwell upon what had happened--any more than he was.

She came towards him now, still looking pale and drawn and nursing her own styrofoam cup of coffee. "They've brought Jeffrey back from the ER," she reported, sitting down beside him. "He's got a concussion and some cuts and scrapes--but they think he'll be all right."

He's an orphan, Bogg thought. How can that be all right? But not wanting to upset Susan, he just nodded.

"And the staff is trying to contact his next-of-kin."

That would be his Aunt Elizabeth, Bogg remembered. The woman whom Kathy had described as not caring much for kids.

Kathy. The grief threatened to well up again, like a geyser, but he forced it back."Where is he now?"

"They've put him on the children's ward." Susan lifted the cup of coffee to her lips, then seemed to lose interest and set it down on the low table beside them. "Phineas--I have to go. Back to Headquarters, I mean. They'll be expecting a full report on this."

Bogg nodded dully. Wars might rage and empires might crumble, but paperwork was a constant. And Susan--by the look of her, she might even find a small measure of comfort in that routine right now. Or distraction, at the very least. He wondered what was going to distract him.

"Maybe you should come back too," she said.

"I can't leave Jeff."

"Phineas." Her voice was very gentle. "What does your Omni say?"

He had almost forgotten it was there. Unhooking the device from his belt, he flipped back the lid.

A green light had never looked more wrong. Two good people were dead, senselessly, leaving their only child in the guardianship of a woman who did not care for kids.

Glancing at Susan, Bogg saw the same feelings reflected in her eyes, then she looked away and down, schooling her face into impassivity. "His aunt will be here soon--and she doesn't know us from Adam. We probably shouldn't be caught hanging around here."

"But--" Bogg began automatically, then stopped as he realized that she was right. If they lingered here, the authorities would want to ask them more questions about the accident and how they'd just happened to be on the scene. Susan's cover story might not hold up indefinitely, so the most prudent course was to Omni out.

Of course, knowing that made it no easier to accept. Especially knowing that Jeffrey was lying unconscious in a hospital bed, destined to wake up to unimaginable pain.

Susan touched his arm. "It's not forever," she reminded him. "You're going to see him again soon."

Bogg stared down at the Omni, still open in his hand. "Yeah--about six months from now."

Six months before he was destined to blunder into Jeffrey's bedroom and turn the boy's life upside-down. The mistakes he was going to make . . . out of impatience, inexperience, and simply not knowing everything the kid had been through. The man he had been then--brash, brusque, and more than a little self-centered--seemed as remote to him as someone from another planet.

The man he was now knew and understood too much--and ached with the realization that there was nothing he could do, about any of it. Except leave, and let history take its course.

"I want to see him."


"Not for long," he broke in. "I know I can't stay. But I can't leave without looking in on him, one last time." Despite his efforts to remain calm, his voice roughened and broke on the last words.

"I--I understand." Susan's own voice was unsteady, her eyes suspiciously liquid. "I'll show you where the children's ward is."

They had put him in his own room, scarcely bigger than a cubicle but private, at least. Bogg waited until he saw the nurse who'd gone into Jeffrey's room come out again, then slipped down the corridor and let himself in.

"Hey, kid," he said softly to the unconscious form on the bed.

Jeffrey lay propped on pillows, his face nearly as white as the gauze bandage encircling his forehead. He had cut his left temple when Drake pushed him down the slope and the blood had trickled unnoticed into his hair. Bogg had nearly panicked when he first made the discovery, only to have Susan point out that scalp wounds always bled alarmingly. Against the pallor, the scratches on his face--another legacy of his downhill tumble--looked red and angry, even though Bogg was sure that they'd been cleaned and treated.

But all that was nothing, compared to what he would feel when he woke up. And discovered that the two people he loved most were gone forever.

Bogg swallowed, blinked his stinging eyes. "I have to go," he told his future partner. "But I couldn't without seeing you first. Without telling you--how sorry I am that this happened. To all of you.

"I wish I could stay, be here for you when you wake up, but that's not possible. It could screw everything up, and for your sake, I can't risk it. So all I can say for now is--hang on. Hang on, because I'm coming for you, as soon as I can. It won't be exactly the same. I won't know or understand the way I do now, and you'll have to be patient with me, 'cause I'm gonna say some pretty stupid things until I do." Bogg tried for a smile. "So I apologize in advance for being an insensitive jerk when we first met. But we got past it--and we'll get past it again.

"That's what partners do," he added softly. "And families . . ."

His voice caught on the last words. He swallowed again, then reached out and laid his hand lightly against the boy's cheek.

"Stay strong, kid. I love you."

Turning away before he could change his mind, he flipped open the Omni. The dials swam before his eyes, but he ignored them and hit the automatic switch instead, fleeing the grief he could not stay to solace.

1982 fell away in a blur of tears and stars.

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