I’m brought to by the sound of approaching sirens. I quickly scan my surroundings and I see Ruby lying a few feet away from me on the diner floor covered in blood. This is a nightmare, it has to be I stopped him. I try to reach out to touch her, my arm aches and I’m too weak.
“Whoa buddy,” I hear a voice and immediately react reaching for my gun. I turn and aim and see Leon’s kind face staring at me with his hands raised. I drop the gun instantly and I look back at Ruby.
“She’s okay, it’s not her blood. I think she just fainted, the ambulance is almost here, just hold on.” The voice fades into the darkness.
I can hear voices in the darkness and I try hard to distinguish them. One is more pronounced than the others, it’s barking orders. I feel a stinging pain in my upper arm and the back of my hand. I flooded with a calming warmth like a wave and I just let it take me over.
I can feel someone prodding around my bullet wound and I want to open my eyes, but I don’t have the strength. I feel heavy, and relaxed and I know I’m in good hands as I hear the familiar voice of Doctor Connors ordering a nurse to fetch something. I feel like I’m in a warm bath but instead of floating in it my body has sunk to the bottom of the tub, I succumb once again to the heavy darkness.
I’m in a hospital, I know this. I reason with my mind as I become more aware. I still can’t open my eyes but I can smell the overpowering cleanliness around me. I can hear the foot traffic and medical talk outside my room. I can hear the beeping of the machines beside me and I can feel the smooth gentle touch of someone’s hand in mine. The door to the room opens and I hear a gasp of shock.
“Miss Andrews, you shouldn’t be in here.” I hear Dr Connors say. The hand in mine recoils and I feel abandoned and cold.
“I just wanted to sit with him for a while,” I hear Ruby’s voice and it lights up the darkness I’m in with a warm glow. “Is he going to wake up soon?”
“Miss Andrews, he’s only been unconscious for two days. It shouldn’t be much longer. He lost a lot of blood and we almost lost him during his surgery.” Dr Connors explains to her.
“Are you supposed to tell me all of that?” I hear her ask.
“Well I’m sure he considers you family.”
“Well he shouldn’t.” Ruby snaps at the Doctor. “I have no idea who he is. Everything he’s ever told me was a lie.”
I want to reach out to her, if only my body didn’t feel like it’s magnetized to the hospital bed. The doc walks to the other side of the bed.
“Miss Andrews, you still don’t remember him?” He asks sadly. I hear a chair slide against the floor urgently and I flinch at the sound.
“No, and stop calling me that. It’s obviously not my name. Everyone else seems to know everything about me, even homicidal maniacs.” She’s almost yelling at the doctor now.
“Please calm down, you’ll don’t want to distress the baby.” The doc tries to settle her.
“Huh,” Ruby laughs a nervous laugh, “distress the baby, that’s funny. What about distressing the mother of the baby whose father is either a homicidal maniac fugitive, or a man who I have no memory of who has done nothing but lie to me since we met.” Her voice is hoarse as she begins to sob hysterically.
“I’m sure everything can be explained when Mason wakes up.” Dr Connors tries to assure her.
“That’s why I’m waiting here, I want the truth from him as soon as he wakes up. Before he has a chance to think up more lies to tell me.” Her voice is cold and distant and it sends a chill into my very marrow. I hear the footsteps towards the door then they stop.
“Do you remember anything new?” I hear the doc ask from the doorway.
“That’s just it, I remember Viktor, the bar, New Orleans, everything except him. What does that mean? Perhaps I wasn’t really in love with him. Viktor told me that I told him that James was really an undercover agent, because I was ordered to get close to him by the family. What if that’s true? What if all this happened because this poor guy is operating under the misapprehension that I loved him too?” Her rant is barely discernible through her tears and sobs.
“I don’t believe that. From the first moment you found out you were pregnant you’ve known you loved the father of your baby. You’ve been writing those letters in your journal begging for him to find you.” The doc says assuredly. Ruby’s quiet sobs come to a sharp stop.
“How did you know about the letters? I never told anyone about them.” Her voice was back to cold and distant.
“I have rounds to do right now, we’ll talk about this later.” Doc calls as he leaves the room. Great doc, now she’s really going to think everyone has been manipulating her. The heaviness is beginning to lift and I start to move my extremities. I take in a few deep breaths and I smile as the smell of peach scented shampoo breaches my senses. I can feel the warm afternoon sun on my arm and I try to open my eyes.
“Are you awake?” I hear Ruby’s voice encourage me as her hand tightens in mine. I move my head to face the direction of her voice. I want her face to be the first thing I see when I open my eyes from this dark fog. My eyelids feel like they’re fused shut and I finally manage to tear them open. I blink a few times as I try to focus on the sun kissed angel beside me. I try to speak as I squeeze her hand but my throat is dry.
She moves away from me for a moment before she returns holding a plastic cup to my lips. I take a few sips of water and swallow hard as the rawness of every injury from the other night comes to the surface. I look into Ruby’s eyes as she takes the cup from my mouth. I let my eyes plead for the forgiveness my heart seeks, but she turns her face away from mine.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she begs in a whisper.
“Like what?” I rasp.
“Like you can just make this all okay with one look.” She cries as she pulls her hand from mine and stands up.
“Ruby,” I whisper her name like a wish I’m scared will be overheard. Her head snaps back to face me as she paces around the bed hugging her arms to her chest.
“You called me that, the first day I met you in the diner.” She accuses and I just nod in response. I can’t lie to her anymore. “Tell me who I am.” I look towards the window begging for divine intervention to not have to be the one to blow her world apart. “No more lies,” she pleads.
“I want to tell you everything, but not here.” I try to pacify her. I see the rage build in her eyes.
“I’m not giving you the opportunity to fabricate more lies to tell me.”
“I haven’t lied to you Ruby,” I plead. She raises her hands up in frustration as she runs her hands through her hair and a tear rolls down her cheek.
“Don’t call me that,” she cries in disgust.
“It’s your name, well actually your name is Alyson, but your nickname is Ruby. You got your nickname from a bar patron at ‘The Red Fox’ because of the red wig you used to wear to work there.” I tell her trying to abate her fury a little.
“Knock, knock.” A voice calls from the door and I turn to see agent Greenberg entering the room. Ruby turns away from him and walks towards the window and folds hers arms stubbornly across her chest as she stares out to the horizon.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Greenberg asks and Ruby ignores him. I shake my head in response to his question. He takes a seat next to my bed. “I just needed to get your story from the other night.” He tells me as he looks pointedly towards Ruby who is still playing statue at the window.
“Ah mam, we need to discuss classified information, could you give us a few minutes please?” Greenberg asks her back as she refuses to move.
“Its fine, she should stay for this.” I tell him certainly.
“Look, I don’t care if you two are close she can’t hear the details of this case.” Greenberg announces officially. I look at him ruefully.
“You don’t understand, this is Ruby, she was the asset in witness protection for assisting in the Nolikov case I was on.” I explain. Greenberg slides his chair out as he rushes towards the door and slams it shut.
“Jesus Christ Harris, you should’ve told me who she was.” He booms exasperated.
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t trust anyone else with the information.” I say as I see Ruby turn slightly towards the conversation.
“She’s been here this whole time and you knew it. You knew he would come for her as soon as he was loose and you still said nothing. I lost two good agents Harris, because I thought they would just be backing you up if Nolikov came after you.” He accosts me through gritted teeth. I drop me head at the memory of the two agents propped up in a horrid display in the diner that night.
“I wouldn’ve sent the entire force down here if I had all of the facts Harris.” He continues.
“That’s why I couldn’t tell you,” I cut him off, “Viktor would’ve spotted the trap a mile away, I couldn’t risk it. He’s volatile when backed into a corner and he would’ve killed her.” I spit at him not meaning to be disrespectful but I stand my decision.
“So you went rogue, setting a trap for him using a pregnant woman as bait.” He accuses me. I shake my head.
“No the plan was for him to come after me, but it backfired. I coerced one of Nolikov’s lackeys into helping me set the trap.”
“Do I want to know how you coerced this guy?”
I shake my head in response, trying not to leave Ruby more horrified with me than she already is after that night. Greenberg looks like he’s about to blow a gasket.
“I went by your house on the way here, it looks like a bomb went off, what happened?”
“I was awaiting Nolikov, instead he sent in a team of armed assassins. I managed to take out the six men in my house easily enough, then the three around the perimeter took a bit more time. By the time I realised that Viktor wasn’t there it took all of two seconds to figure out where he was.” I explain thoroughly deciding to leave out the part about my prisoner turning helpful during the firefight.
“You took out nine well-trained heavily armed men whose mission was to kill you, and all you have to show for it is this,” he says incredulously as he points to the wound on my arm. I nod and he smiles proudly for a moment. “Where are all the bodies?” He asks concerned.
“I called a maid service,” I mock him. He nods understandingly. Less bodies equals less questions and paperwork.
“Okay then, I’ve just got to deal with the four you left at the diner.” He says thankfully. I nod reassuringly at him. Ruby’s silence is starting to worry me as she still remains frozen in place facing the window.
“I took out the guard at the back door then I lured the other one out from the back of the kitchen. I made my way in then I stormed into the front of the diner form the kitchen and I took out the third man with Nolikov. I wasn’t fast enough to stop him from pulling his usual trick of exploiting my weakness.” I say solemnly looking towards Ruby.
“I read to file of the take down that night at ‘The Red Fox’ Harris.” Greenberg affirms.
“Viktor was using her as a human shield, and I couldn’t get the shot off.” I explain.
“I don’t buy that, I saw the precision bullet holes in the rest of the bodies. I also know your records on the firing range. So try another excuse.” He accuses me.
“Fine, I froze. All I could see was her face, I couldn’t risk that he would jerk in a split second and I would hit her instead.” I say as my eyes begin to sting. “I could see the whole event from that night again in my mind. Dozens of agents were the only thing that kept him alive last time and I knew I wasn’t going to let him walk out of that diner. One way or another.” I confess. I look towards Ruby and I can see a tear making its way down her cheek as she lowers her head towards the floor with her body still facing the window.
“Denton covered up your involvement with the asset to protect the case, didn’t he?” I nod as shame and guilt replace all emotion in my body. My best friend died because he revealed his exposed his identity in order to protect us during the Nolikov take down. Viktor should never have known about him. Greenberg places a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to imply that...” I wave his apology off as I shake my head at him.
“Look, I’m just about done here. I’ll head back to D.C. I won’t mention the involvement of the asset in this. It’s probably a safe bet that the Marshalls have no idea what’s going on.” He smiles at his snide remark, “as for the two of you, as far as I’m concerned the case is closed so you’ve done nothing wrong.” I look at him gratefully as half turns towards the door. He stops just before the doorway.
“I’ll put your status back to extended leave pending early retirement. I’ll be in touch, good luck to you both.” He announces before he disappears into the hallway. Ruby doesn’t even have time to turn around before someone else joins us in the room.
“Hey doc,” I try not to sound too grateful for his timing.
“How are you feeling Mason?” Dr Connors asks as he checks my vitals.
“Ready to go home.” I smile at him.
“We’ll see about that.” He huffs.
The doc sets about testing my motor responses and asking inane questions to determine any brain damage.
“I’m okay doc,” I assure him as I stop his fussing with my wound, “trust me I’ve been through worse.”
“I’ll say, I had the Bureau fax me your medical file. I’m amazed you’ve lived this long.” He says sounding impressed. I look warningly at him as he follows my gaze towards Ruby.
“I’ll set about getting you released so you can go home, I think agent Greenberg has mollified our local law enforcement so we shouldn’t have any problems.” He assures me.
“He can’t go home,” Ruby says all of a sudden from the window, and I didn’t realise how much I can miss her voice in such a short time. I’m confused by her statement as she turns to face us.
“Your house was destroyed remember, you can stay with me.” She says with her mind made up. I can still see the lack of recognition on her face but I’m hoping she’s more open to the idea of me now.