Chapter 8: The Wish
Hal seized as pain shot through his body. A flash of light lit behind his eyelids but quickly went dark again. He could feel himself slipping.
He jerked again, muscles involuntarily bunching in a unified, jarring response to the violent shock passing through him. Light bloomed again, bright red behind his heavy lids, and steady, rhythmic beeping began.
Something was pressed uncomfortably hard against his face, and he coughed spasmodically as a burst of air was forced into his lungs. The pressure lifted from his face and he moaned. His whole body hurt. Focusing on his breathing, he rolled his head to the side, feeling as if he’d been struck by lightning.
A gloved hand rolled his head back. White light pierced his vision and then faded, only to return immediately in the other eye. Groaning, Hal turned his head away again, blinking through the splotchy after-images plastered on his retinas.
He blinked again. A crucifix?
Frantically he searched for a face, but his head was once again forcibly rolled back to stare at the ceiling. The gloved hands were back. They pressed against the back of his jaw, forcing his mouth open. Something hard and cold slipped past his teeth.
Frantic, Hal swiped his arm up, knocking away the hands attempting to intubate him. “No tubes,” he managed weakly. “No tubes, no vents… I refuse.”
A familiar voice answered back, sounding slightly impatient. “Sir, I need you to lie still, alright? This is going to help you breathe.”
“I can breathe fine,” Hal argued, turning his face away from Doctor Benjamin Turner as he came toward him again. “Please, I need to give confession.”
Hal watched the young doctor hesitate and look over to Hal’s other side. Hal turned to look as well, moving gingerly, searching the space over his shoulder, hoping, praying.
“…My son, there will be plenty of time for that once your health is a bit more stable.”
Hal breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the calm, kind voice of Father Donahue drift in from above his head. “Father, I am in immediate fear for my life and I want to confess my sins. Right now.”
The priest shifted around the side of the gurney, allowing Hal an easier view of him. “It’s not important, not right this very second. Let the doctors do their work, then—”
“—It is important. Right now.”
“My son, I—”
Hal reached out and grasped the sleeve of his jacket. “Father Nathan Donahue, from one unworthy servant to another…”
Father Donahue froze in his motion to call the doctor back over.
He studied Hal’s face for a long moment. “I’m sorry… have we met?”
Hal nodded, giving the priest a fierce stare. “In another life. Father, it’s very important. I need to speak with you. I’ll refuse any more medical treatment until I do.”
Father Donahue cast an uneasy glance at Doc Turner. “Would you agree,” he began hesitantly, “to accept treatment if I promise to meet you in your room? I can have a nurse tell me where to expect you.”
Hal could feel the worry begin to show on his face, and the cadence of the nearby beeping increased.
“My son, you have just suffered a major heart attack. You need medical attention.”
Hal turned his head to look at Doc Turner, still arrested in a position of waiting, his gloved hands held casually away from his body. Slowly, Hal nodded. It wouldn’t do him any good just to wind up back in Hell before he had a chance to fix things.
He still held a tight grip on the priest’s sleeve. “You’ll wait there for me? Go nowhere else?”
Frowning, Father Donahue nodded. “I will wait.”
With a horrible pang, Hal remembered the last time the priest had said those words. He released his sleeve, swallowing back the thick lump in his throat as he relaxed back onto the gurney. “Alright, Doc. I’m all yours. —No tubes, though.”
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned…” Hal hesitated, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable. “That is what I’m supposed to say, right? I’ve never done this before.”
Father Donahue lifted an eyebrow at him in a speculative manner. Hal had adamantly refused the blue curtain beside his bed when the priest attempted to screen himself from view, requesting instead that he sit facing him. He needed the reassurance of being able to see Father Donahue’s face for this.
“Haven’t you ever gone to confession before?”
Hal grunted a laugh, wincing at the lingering pain in his muscles. “Father, I’m not even a Catholic. I didn’t believe in any of this stuff until—” But he cut off his words, turning his head away and clenching his jaw. “I’m right about this, though? Whatever I tell you during confession, you have to believe, or something like that… I think I heard that in a movie once, or… something.” He was babbling and he knew it, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.
Father Donahue eyed him for a long moment, assessing him. “Why don’t you just tell me what’s on your mind. Start at the beginning.”
So, Hal took a deep breath, and told him. He told him about the bus, and Doc Turner, and Amelia. He told him about Amun, and the things he’d said, what he’d done to the others… He spoke of their journey together, the church, and of Gadreel, trapped forever in a prison of his own guilt, and finally of the priest’s own self-imposed penance to protect the world from Amun being reborn. He told him everything.
And then he cried.
Three days later, Father Donahue wheeled Hal to the small covered bus stop by County General’s main entrance. Grunting a bit, he hefted himself out of the oversized hospital wheelchair and onto the long bench, not even minding the slightly sticky feel of the dirty metal.
The Priest had left Hal’s room after his nightmarish confession that first day in a state of silent reflection—or stunned disbelief; Hal could have easily believed both. He was sure his story had completely blindsided the man, but Father Donahue had returned the next day while Hal was eating breakfast and began peppering him with questions, trying to poke holes in his story, likely, but seeming more and more fascinated the more he challenged it. The following morning, he returned again, two large coffees in hand and seeming different, somehow—more animated, more… alive. Hal had no other word for it.
He gave Hal a brief pat on the shoulder now, before bending to lift the worn middle of the wheelchair seat, collapsing the bulky frame. “I’ll take this back to the greeter desk. Be right back.”
Nodding as he stepped away, Hal leaned his head back against the plexiglass barrier of the bus stop. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, only to open them again a moment later when he felt someone join him on the bench. He glanced over.
The girl gave him an uncomfortable look when his eyes didn’t immediately return to where they had been. She reached up and began twisting the end of one pink-tipped, black pigtail. “Umm, can I help you?”
Hal suddenly realized he had been staring. “No-um, excuse me. I was just—that’s a very pretty cross,” he managed, recovering quickly. Two teenage boys took the bench next to her, their greasy, dyed-black hair swinging identically forward into their eyes as they sat. One of them rolled his eyes a bit at Hal’s comment, shaking his head.
But the girl smiled, reaching up and fingering the tiny silver cross at her throat, making Hal feel a little better about his slip.
The familiar hiss and whine of heavy brakes engaging brought Hal’s attention back up to find a bus rolling to a stop in front of them. Bracing himself with one hand against the back rail, he began to struggle to his feet. He quickly gave up, flopping back down on the bench to give it a second try.
A pair of small hands took his elbow in a firm grip. “Um, were you a patient?” she asked, casting a quick glance at the plastic bracelet around his wrist. “…Do you need some help?”
Just then, Father Donahue came jogging back around the corner. “Hal? Oh, good, is this you?”
Hal glanced at the bus, watching the two boys climb the rubber-coated steps. “This one’s me,” he confirmed, “And I’ve even enlisted some help to see me safely to a seat.”
Father Donahue turned to look at the young woman at Hal’s elbow. His motions hesitated, eyes passing rapidly from her neon-pink hair, to her artfully torn black clothes, to her heavy platform boots, then finally to the cross at her throat. Hal knew what he must be thinking; he had described Amelia in great detail during their talks.
“Father Nathan Donahue,” he said then, extending a hand in introduction. “It’s very kind of you to offer your help, Miss…?” He left the question hanging.
She took his hand with an embarrassed sort of smile. “Amelia.”
Father Donahue’s quick intake of breath was subtle, but Hal had been listening.
“Amelia,” he repeated, releasing her hand after a brief squeeze. “You know, the hospital is always looking for volunteers. You seem to have a knack for it.”
She gave a quick laugh and another shy smile. “Yeah, sure… I’ll look into it.” Then she glanced down at Hal. “Ready?”
Between Father Donahue and Amelia, Hal was able to make it onto the bus without difficulty. Taking his seat, he turned to look out the window.
Father Donahue was back on the curb, contemplating the sidewalk with a level of attention that told Hal his mind was off somewhere very distant. As the bus started to pull away though, he looked up. His face was drawn and intent, and he didn’t break his gaze with the bus even as it turned out of sight.
Taking a deep breath, Hal leaned his head back against the seat.
Good. This was good.
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