Summary: The bumpy road to recovery.
Three years and one week before the end of the world, Sam was waiting for midday to roll round. The morning dragged. She was distracted during her morning therapy and found difficulty in things that should have been simple. She snapped at her therapist and she snapped back. It was an uncomfortable morning. Midday couldn't come quick enough. When it did Sam was hovering in the doorway to her room and trying to watch without seeming to.
Midday passed with no sign of Doctor Fraiser. Sam's fingers tapped impatiently on the arm of her chair. The minutes dragged out and Sam berated herself for being foolish, for caring so much whether someone she had just met stopped by for lunch or not. Sam watched the clock above the nurses station tick onto eight minutes past and began to think about giving up.
The door to the ward opened and none other than Doctor Fraiser slipped in. She was wearing a skirt today, a black one that was visible as a dark line that contrasted starkly against the skin of her knee and her lab coat. Sam's heart was in her mouth and she held her breath, watching carefully as the Doctor stepped almost cautiously up to the nurse's station and flashed her ID. There were words, questions and gestures towards Sam's room that made her feel uncomfortable. She twitched and battled with herself. It was stupid, this woman was here to see her and she had every right to be. The Sam she used to be wouldn't even have considered hanging back, but the Sam she was now felt perpetually out of her depth. She shook her head and made her way to the nurse's station. Nurse Walters watched her approach with little short of suspicion.
"Doctor Fraiser, thank you for stopping by," Sam announced with slightly more confidence than she felt.
"Sam, it's good to see you again," Doctor Fraiser said with a sudden brightness. "Lunch, as promised," she declared, holding up the bag.
"Excellent, shall we?" Sam gestured down the corridor and turned as quickly as she could manage in an attempt to lead the way. Doctor Fraiser followed her, clutching the bagged lunch almost defensively.
"In here okay?" Sam asked when they got to her room, suddenly feeling very conscious of how almost sterile it was. She'd been here for many long months, but the number of personal possessions would have only filled a shoebox, a small one at that.
Doctor Fraiser looked in and shrugged, "I'm here for the company, not the ambiance."
Sam blushed and led the way in. Doctor Fraiser looked around and placed the bag on Sam's table before taking a seat in the chair next to the bed. She looked around and shrugged, "I didn't know what you liked so I brought a couple of things."
"I'm not fussy"
"Philly cheese steak or meatball sub?"
Lunch was great. The sandwiches were tasty, but Sam barely touched hers. She listened to Doctor Frasier (Janet, please) rant about her research project and her patients. She specialised in exotic diseases, but emphasised how un-exotic the work actually was, (all unpleasant rashes, mucus and unhappy people). The hour went by far too quickly and Janet was balling the sandwich wrapper up and aiming it at the bin before Sam even knew it.
"Thanks for stopping by," Sam said.
"It was different, how about same time next week? I appreciate the break from the staff canteen."
The week passed. It dragged like so many of them always did, but was accompanied by good news. Her sensation was getting better, her strength and self care was improving. There was tentative talk of moving home and independent living. Doctor Wright, who'd been her closest colleague and one of the few who hadn't moved on, stopped by and when she updated him he beamed and suggested he get the adaptations done to her house now so that it would all be ready. When they got a date he would make sure the kitchen was well stocked and everything was ready to go for her. He seemed happier than she was and the feeling was somewhat contagious.
She asked permission when she wanted to escape this time and Nurse Stott grudgingly accompanied her to sit in what passed for the hospital's garden. It wasn't quite the same as escaping under her own steam and it lacked the illicit thrill that she had enjoyed so much, but it was pleasant. They reached the garden through an intricate maze of corridors within the hospital and Sam didn't get to see if Janet was hiding out on the fire escape or not.
Lunch with Janet rolled around again and Sam had a good day. The neuropathic pain and spasms were low in intensity and frequency, which did wonders for her mood. She did her exercises that morning successfully and felt buoyant when Janet stopped by. They chatted easily over chicken Caesar salads eaten straight out of Tupperware tubs and Janet grilled Sam gently and tactfully about herself. She asked her about what she was into and Sam rattled off the hobbies she'd had before the accident. Not that she'd had much time for hobbies, but she'd approached them with the same focus she applied to her work. Sam wasn't just into things, she excelled at them. She told Janet about the vintage motorcycles and cars she'd restored, most of them to sell on, but one bike she'd kept and ridden, a lot.
"It's an old Harley, a real beaut' of a machine. I bought it off a guy who had bought it with the intention of renovating it, but between kids and work he never found the time. It had been sitting in his garage for eight years by the time he finally gave up and admitted he was never going to fix it up. I restored it and that thing sounds beautiful. So many collectors want to preserve these machines, to get them working again only to let them sit somewhere and shine as if they had their own private museum piece." Sam shook her head, "I ride that bike because that is what it was designed for. When I get on the open road and let it go full throttle, I can feel its spirit soaring. There are few satisfactions in this world that surpass that of a fulfilled purpose."
Janet was blinking at her with her fork paused between tub and mouth, "Rather philosophical. Quite a hobby."
"I also listen to Jazz and like to watch science fiction so that I can correct the physics."
Janet laughed, the spell broken and finally got her fork to her mouth. Sam realised she'd been talking in the present tense and wondered if Janet had noticed or not, either way she was relieved she hadn't pointed it out. She wasn't sure she could handle the thought of never getting to ride her motorcycle again being voiced.
"So," Janet began hesitantly, but with deliberate casualness, "How is the recovery going?"
Sam sighed, "Good apparently. I have a bit of voluntary movement in both legs and it's getting gradually better. Pain sensation is patchy, but limited to hips and the outside of my thighs, though I'm getting neuropathic pain from all over. The limit of touch sensation seems settled at the top of my pelvis and temperature is also patchy, but getting there. Everything is much easier now that my arm has healed and I can use it properly. I'm getting much better at getting around generally and there's talk of being able to move home eventually, after some modifications have been made of course."
"That's good news."
"Yeah, it's a while away yet, but I'm eager to get out of here."
"I'd better enjoy these lunches while I can then."
Sam smiled, caught in the surprise that Janet was enjoying their lunches and that she'd spoken about it as a regular thing. "Well, I'm not going anywhere yet," she managed.
"Same time next week then?" Janet asked, dropping her fork into her empty tub.
"It's been an hour already?" Sam glanced at the clock on the wall and at the only half eaten salad in the tub. She'd been too busy talking to remember to eat properly. She put the fork down and reached for the lid.
"No, no, finish it. I need to get back to work, but I can pick the tub up later or even when I come next week. Don't worry."
"Okay. The salad is good. You're a good cook" Sam stabbed a few lettuce leaves.
"You've been eating hospital food for months. Your opinion isn't informed enough to hold much weight."
"So, once I'm out of here and eating food in the real world you can cook for me again."
Janet raised an eyebrow at her, suggesting she was being presumptuous, but smiled as well, "Deal." She popped the lid back on her tub and got up from her chair.
"See you next week then," Janet reiterated and leant to plant a quick kiss on Sam's cheek. She looked embarrassed by her own gesture and Sam could feel herself blushing, which didn't help. The proximity to Janet brought a wave of slightly stale cigarette smoke, deodorant and washing powder that shouldn't have been as euphoric as it was, but it sent Sam's heart racing.
"Hey Sam," Mark said and bent to give her a hug. He caught the back of her wheelchair with his arm and looked awkward. Sam felt awkward too. She didn't need any physicality for that and wondered if it had been a mistake to invite Mark to visit. She was still surprised that he'd agreed so readily.
"Hey Mark, you're looking good." It wasn't just a compliment. He really was. He was finally, in his late forties, beginning to fill out a little. He wasn't overweight, but his corners had been softened as if he was contented in his life. It was a good look for him.
"I brought you a present," Mark said brightly and fished in his jacket pocket.
Sam raised an eyebrow, "I think the last present you got me was a jam jar full of earth worms."
"Give me some credit, I have moved on a little since I was thirteen." Mark handed her what looked like a bumper sticker.
"A little," Sam teased and read the sticker. "'That's how I roll'?"
"It's for your wheelchair." He over explained, nervous of her reaction, "They didn't have 'My Other Car's a Space Shuttle,' but believe me, I looked."
"Thank you for this, and for coming to visit. I've missed you."
Mark hesitated briefly, then smiled, "I missed you too. So, how are you?"
"Getting there, slowly, but surely."
"They letting you out of here anytime soon?"
"In a few weeks if everything goes according to plan. How is everyone?"
"James is hitting puberty with a vengeance, but we're coping. He's been offered a place on a master class program for gifted students too, which he's pretending not to be excited about because that's 'uncool'. Rachel is still into soccer of course and she's pretty good. She's doing all sorts of camps with that. Oh, she's started learning the trumpet too. Apparently the piano wasn't enough. Helena sends her regards and wishes you a speedy recovery of course."
Sam smiled, "It's been years since I saw them. Tell Helena thank you, of course."
Mark looked awkward again, he shifted in the chair. "Yeah, she said to, um, invite you to visit sometime."
"She always was trying to re-build those bridges."
"Yeah, do-gooding peace maker," Mark joked.
"I think I might take her up on that, sometime, if that was okay with you. I've had a lot of time for thinking and I'm not okay with letting things stay how they are between us. I know you have a lot of anger, but it's been a long time." The words she'd thought and prepared carefully in her mind came tumbling out in a long and unstoppable stream.
Mark nodded, and looked slightly embarrassed, "I have to admit that when I heard about the accident I had some regrets about how we were, are, with each other."
"I know I've made some decisions over the years that made you angry. I knew they would, but that wasn't why I made them."
"I know Sam. I was angry at you, Dad and the Air Force for a long time."
"You blamed him for Mom's death and then when I joined the Air Force it was like I was taking his side, but there weren't ever sides."
"I know. Actually, I stopped being angry a long time ago, even with Dad."
"Huh," Sam considered this. "How come there's been this big gulf between us for so long?"
"I let you think I was still angry, because it was easier, because even if I wasn't angry anymore losing Mom always hurt and will always hurt."
"Losing my brother hurt too."
Mark sighed and rubbed his face, "I know. Truth is..."
He stopped and put his head into his hands, "You look so much like Mom. You're a constant reminder." He spoke quietly and then glanced up at Sam guiltily.
Sam rolled over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, "I miss her too."
"You can't help looking like her," he put his hand over hers.
"So, you should come visit. We'll drag you along to all the kids stuff, you can embarrass James and spoil them both and we'll catch up properly on the last quarter decade of each other's lives."
"I'll take a long weekend," Sam dropped the weak joke into the tense atmosphere and let it flail.
"So, you're allowed out right? I don't have to you know, sign a form or anything?"
"I haven't been sectioned Mark, I am free to come and go."
"You probably should have been, but wanna go get dinner? My flight home isn't until the morning."
"You're really taking this building bridges thing seriously aren't you?"
"Helena's insistence again."
"That woman is too good for you."
"Our last lunch," Janet declared with exaggerated sadness when she arrived bearing two bags of sandwiches and chips.
"Well, lunch does exist outside these four unpleasantly green walls," Sam took the sandwiches and put them out onto two plates waiting on the table. She handed one across to Janet, who took it and took a relaxed seat on Sam's bed.
"Pretty much," Sam put her lunch onto her lap and looked around the room. She'd accumulated more stuff within her hospital room than she thought she had and it was enough to look messy in the process of packing.
Janet raised an eyebrow at her and Sam shrugged and took a bite of her sandwich. "It's hard to be excited about going home. It should be mundane. I'm looking forward to it, but excited isn't the right word. There's so much to think about and do."
"I'll lend a hand. I'm in the good books with my boss right now."
"So you're going to take advantage of that by getting straight back into her bad books by taking an extra long lunch?"
"I've got my pager. Besides there's a certain comfort in familiarity. I don't quite know what to do with myself if she's not after my head for something."
"You must have been hell in school," Sam joked.
Janet put her head on one side, "Actually, I wasn't too bad in school. Out of school was another matter, but in school I was very focussed and goal orientated. I wanted to be a Doctor in the Air Force from a surprisingly young age."
"Yeah? In some ways I was always going to join the Air Force, even if there were periods where I wouldn't have agreed. My Dad was a General."
"I was the first in my family to join the Air Force; we didn't even live near a base or anything. I'd like to say there was some kind of profound reasoning behind my motivation, but it was just something I decided I wanted to do."
"And you did it?"
"Yup, for seven whole years after medical school, the Gulf War and through one ill advised marriage."
Janet shrugged, "I was caught having an inappropriate dalliance with a senior officer and it was agreed that perhaps the Air Force wasn't the best place for me. I was given an honourable discharge. It was all very reasonable. Then I got a job here, moved and got on with practising medicine."
"That must have been like having the rug pulled from under your feet."
Janet shrugged again, "It was at the time, but we move on with life."
Sam gave a sympathetic smile and opened her chips. She didn't know what to say, but there probably wasn't much she could say.
"So, are you having a welcome home party?"
"I think some of the staff on the ward will throw a party after I've left," Sam joked semi-seriously.
Janet smiled, "but no house warming party tomorrow night?"
"There isn't really anyone to invite if I had a party and there will be a lot of sorting out to do. Perhaps you could help me acclimatise to non-hospital food at the weekend though?" Sam rushed the last few words out and glanced up at Janet nervous in the face of potential rejection.
"Sounds fun. I'll have to give you my phone number," Janet reached into her pocket and grabbed a pen. She looked around and Sam handed her a scrap of paper.
"Ooh, mine has been reconnected now. Doctor Wright, er Derek, took care of it for me." Sam found another bit of paper and wrote on it. She looked at the paper and smiled, exchanging phone numbers was such a normal thing. She was so close to real life.
Next: Two Years And Ten Months