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One Last Choice
Summary: Face finds out that there is always one last choice and one last hope. A continuation of the series, The Right Choice, and Handful of Choices 1-4.
Warnings: Illness and medical procedures, child and adult.
The young mother sat, holding her small daughter in her lap. The daughter squirmed and played quietly with the charm on the small gold chain she had received for her last birthday from a dear friend. She rarely took off, even for bath time. The monogrammed heart was her most beloved possession. Her mother looked nervously around them at the personal office of Dr. Maggie Sullivan. They'd been called back to the doctor's own space only minutes before and were now waiting for her to appear.
The child had been seeing Dr. Sullivan for two weeks now. She had recently moved to their town from Bad Rock. It was rumored that she had lost a husband and moved away to forget, but no one knew for sure. It was just past New Years and the nice lady doctor had opened her office for them herself, despite the holidays. Her voice had been grave on the phone that morning and Meagan swallowed down the feeling of dread that swept over her again at the memory.
Settling Natalie into one of the big leather chairs, Meagan got up to pace nervously. She ended up by the large bookcase, studying the framed photos there. Dr. Sullivan had apparently served in the Army for there she was smiling at the camera, arms around two other women in fatigues; they were undoubtedly standing in front of a camouflaged tent, clearly marked OR.
Meagan moved on to the next grouping of frames. In the center, there was another, older, smiling Dr. Sullivan, this time with an older, attractive man, who smiled mischievously around the cigar jammed into his mouth. Meagan shook her head and reached for the frame, staring at it intently. 'No, it couldn't be...it's just to much of a coincidence..."
Hearing footsteps clicking briskly down the tiled hall, Meagan hurried to put the frame back into its place. But her hands shook for some reason and she managed to catch the bottom of the frame against the shelf. It fell from her grasp and landed on the floor just as the doctor entered the office.
She looked up into kind, curious dark eyes. Picking up the photo and handing to the physician, Meagan apologized. "I'm sorry, Dr. Sullivan. I didn't.... I don't think it's broken."
Softly, the older lady took the offered frame. "It's okay. The frame could be replaced." She wiped the carpet fuzz from the smiling man's face and set it carefully on the shelf. "He was a very dear... friend.... I miss him a lot."
"I know... I miss them, too." Meagan whispered then looked up, praying she hadn't made the wrong decision. "Was Colonel Smith the husband that they say you lost?"
"We weren't married. How do you know him?" Maggie looked suspiciously at the petite brunette before her.
"The team was here several years ago. They helped us with a bad situation. And just recently they were back for a more... personal reason." Meagan darted a look down at her daughter as she spoke. "I knew them all. The colonel, BA, Murdock... and Temp... Face, I think you would know him by Face." Her heart raced as she dared to look fully into Maggie Sullivan's face for the first time since the older woman had entered the room.
Looking intently at Meagan, then focusing on Natalie, Maggie nodded. "Of course. I should have seen it. I didn't know... He never said anything and I've treated them all for various injuries for several years."
"He didn't know. I didn't tell him... until it was almost too late." She drew in a deep breath and waited on Maggie's response. Both were shaken from their shocked state by Natalie's voice.
"Mommy, who's in that picture?" Without waiting for an answer, she hopped off the chair and walked to peer up at the shelf. "That's my friends! It's Face and BA and Murdock! And the Colonel..." Her nose wrinkled. She'd never quite decided whether she liked the older man or not. "Were they your friends, too, Dr. Maggie?"
"Yes, Natalie, they were. I think they were everyone's friends."
Two days later:
General Hunt Stockwell looked up from his desk as his assistant Carla entered. He was busy, but the serious look on her familiar face caught his attention immediately.
"Yes, Carla? What is it?" He removed his glasses and laid them carefully on his blotter. Hunt Stockwell was a very careful man. He took care of his possessions and in return he expected them to be the best that he could acquire. His definition of care might not coincide with most of the rest of the world, but then he wasn't an ordinary type of man.
"This just came across my desk. An operative in military family affairs intercepted it. Abel 22 thought it would interest you." The attractive blond handed over the very slim file and waited for his reaction.
"Indeed. This does interest me... when was this filed and from where?"
"I want this to go through, Carla. Do whatever you have to do... and then get me Dr. Marcos Grecio. I'll need him here to bring all his research, ASAP." He glanced at the information once more then handed it back to his assistant.
Drawing in a deep breath, Carla approached the desk and laid her hand on his shoulder, the stiff gray material of his business suit giving only slightly under her light pressure. "Hunt, are you sure you want to do this... you could just have this pass through and not have to deal with it? They need never know it was in your hands."
"Carla, your sister was the best thing in my life for many years and if we don't do this, she'd never forgive me or you either." He smiled almost gently and awkwardly patted her hand on his shoulder.
"Carolyn was a saint and what she ever saw in you, I still don't know, Hunt. But, you're right... she loved you from your wedding until the day she died and she'd want you to do this."
Whirling to hide the tears filling her eyes, Carla exited the office and immediately crossed to the phone on her desk. "Abel 22? This is Empress 2. Proceed with the authorization. Priority one." Her voice shook just a little, but it was a long distance call... maybe 22 wouldn't notice.
Meagan turned from pushing her daughter on the swing and looked at the dark sedan pulling into the drive. Maggie. She smiled and spoke to Natalie.
"I'm going to go talk to Dr. Maggie, okay?"
"Okay mommy!" Natalie pushed the swing hard and let her head fall back to watch the sky flying above her.
Today was a good day. She felt good and Meagan was taking advantage, playing with her and making sure she had the best time possible. Forcing back the unwanted thoughts that this might just be Nat's last good day, she put on a bright smile and waited for her new friend at the backyard gate.
"Maggie! Hi! We're back here." She waved and beckoned the other woman forward.
"Meagan! I have great news.... It was approved. I got confirmation by fax today. The paper work went through and you don't have to worry about anything. She's being given full coverage and benefits." Maggie waved the paper and handed it over with a triumphant smile.
"That's great... I didn't think it would happen. I mean... Temp died... he died... branded a traitor, a murderer. I thought they would deny it based on that." Meagan clutched the paper and forced herself to say the words.
explain it. Maybe my friend pulled some
strings... Quite frankly, I don't really care.
It's about time the
"They aren't alive... but Natalie will be. And she'll know. I've decided to tell her Maggie. I want her to know who her father was. She remembers him. She still talks about him. I want her to know so that she can hang on to those memories." She sought approval from the other woman without even knowing it.
Maggie nodded and smiled encouragingly.
at Cedars Children's Hospital in
One harrowing mission after another had left the team exhausted, physically and mentally. This last one was fairly routine; at least it started out that way. Reuniting a confused young girl with her agent father and protecting the STAR WARS documents she carried with her had seemed to be a piece of cake. They should have known better....
Face maneuvered past Murdock's long legs and arms and made it to the other chair and even reached for the phone to call his sister, Ellen, to let her know they were safe and sound once again. But when his mind registered the feel of soft cushions supporting his weary body, his hand fell away; he closed his eyes and almost immediately fell into a light slumber.
The men stayed this way for some time. Occasionally one or the other of them would
stir, make some unintelligible noise about moving to the bedrooms, but it never
came to much and they continued to rest as they were until near dusk. The sounds of rapid footsteps on the marble
foyer floor woke Face and
Much to General Stockwell's ire the dogs were fond of the pilot and they never missed a chance to be close to him. Of course, like everything else the exacting general owned, the dogs were well trained and responded instantly to the command, given as he entered the room, to return to his side. The general smiled, pleased with their obedience, and returned to perusing the men in his living room. These men he knew he would never own, not Smith's men anyway. Santana was another matter, yet even as he thought of this, he also suspected that each day, the young Latino became more Smith's than his. This team would comply, as long as it suited them, but they would never blindly obey. They were not possessions to be looked over and slotted away until they were needed again. They never had been and they never would be.
And for that, General Hunt Stockwell held a grudging yet growing respect for them and had for some time.
Seeing that Smith was about to arouse his men to attention, he held up his hand and shook his head. Quietly he spoke, "No need, Colonel Smith. I only wish to speak with Lieutenant Peck." Glancing toward the man in question, Stockwell raised his hand in invitation to follow him from the room.
After exchanging looks with
Nonetheless, he was tired and really didn't want to think about his father right now. Face sighed and asked wearily, "What is it, Stockwell? I've told you everything that we know. I don't understand the notes in the margin anymore than you do."
Setting behind his desk and indicating that Face do the same in the chair provided, Stockwell shook his head and denied this. "No, I've quite got the diary and the rest of AJ's papers deciphered. Very simple really.... This is altogether unrelated."
"Well, if you're after a solo mission, you know we all
said no more, after
" I assure you, this isn't anything like that and you may take any one of the others that you can convince to go with you. It's just a simple courier drop." He reached into his desk and withdrew a large manila envelope. It was sealed and addressed to a Doctor Houston Gabriel. There was a name and address of a DC area hospital neatly printed underneath.
"You just want me to take this package to this doctor at this hospital and then that's it? I'm done?" Suspicious, Face eyed the package nervously. "What is this?"
"Medical research. There is a small child there, the child of one of my operatives, who might benefit from the information inside." He mockingly laughed at Face's incredulous look. "I'm not the evil step mother you know..."
"Yeah... right...." Face nodded and began to back out of the room. "I suppose this has to be delivered tonight?"
"Time is very important, Peck... tonight would be best." Stockwell quietly answered. "Who will you be taking with you?"
"Umm... Murdock, if I can wake him up..." Face swiveled and headed out the door.
"Very well." Hunt Stockwell watched the other man leave the room and added softly, "God speed, Lieutenant."
Murdock whistled softly and walked down the quiet corridors of the gaily-decorated Cedars Children's Hospital. Murals of bears and balloons covered the walls and bright, cheerful yellow was the predominant color. All around him attendants pushed children of all ages in wheelchairs and on stretchers. Staff members transported the smallest in little red wagons. Tired looking parents dragged along behind them, lugging IV poles and charts for the staff. Despite the dÈcor and the bright smiles on the staff's faces, Murdock thought this was not a happy place and he felt sorry for the child they were going to see. Stockwell's last minute instructions had been to take the packet to the assigned room and hand it over directly to the parent and presumably the Abel under his employ.
He and Face had split up to find the right room. The halls were long and winding and they were tired and ready to go home for a good night's rest. Seeing the room numbers start to approach 214, he quickly found their target, stopped, backtracked to the corner, and whistled for Face. Waiting for his companion to appear, he leaned against the wall and watched the door of the room they were going to approach. It opened suddenly and a shrill voice could be heard from inside.
"No, mommy, no, please..." The door drifted shut again and he heard no more.
Murdock frowned. That was just about the most heartbreaking sound he'd heard; yet it seemed strangely familiar. Face rounded the corner just then, straightening his hair and clutching the envelope to his side.
"Did you find it?"
"Yeah, Facey, it's right there, but..." Murdock held out a hand to stop him from going immediately to the door.
"I don't know..." He turned perplexed eyes back to the room and struggled to place the memory.
"Look, buddy, you're tired, I'm tired. Let's just do this and go home, okay? You can stay with us tonight." Face patted Murdock's shoulder comfortingly and headed toward the door.
As he came closer, he could hear the low rumble of a male voice within. "Look, baby, I'll go and Mommy can stay here with you, ok?"
The child inside must have agreed, for the door began to swing open even as Face raised his hand to knock on the wood panel. He smiled brightly and held out his hand. The words came from his mouth before his eyes focused on the person before him. "Hi... Mr. Hunt sent me..."
Wallace Burkes stared at the apparition before him not believing his eyes. "What the hell... who... how..."
"Dad... who is it?" Meagan circled around her father and looked at the figure in the door. "Oh my ..."
Meagan and Natalie had been in this room for only 36 hours, yet Natalie had been poked, prodded, x-rayed and examined relentlessly. At times it had seemed it would never end. She was tired, she was cranky and so was her mother. In fact, Meagan now knew what the term, 'dead on your feet' really meant.
So she stood and stared at the image before her, not disbelieving, but simply unable to comprehend what her mind was telling her. It wasn't until he spoke that the impulses being sent to her brain by her senses began to translate.
"Meagan... I..." Face was equally shocked and could only look at the woman before him. His heart began to pound and the exhaustion that plagued him minutes before vanished as adrenaline began to pump through his system.
Blindly, she reached out, pushing past her father's bulk and standing directly before Face. Her hands went of their own accord to his chest, feeling his heat and his heart beat through the thick sweater he wore. She clutched the wool and finally spoke, "Temp...is it really you?"
"Yes, it's me... Meagan... love..." He reached and pulled her to him, convulsively holder her tighter and tighter until neither of them could breathe.
"Oh, thank God... thank you, God..." She broke down completely, sobbing into his chest, holding on to her last hope, Natalie's best, last hope.
They stood clinging for long minutes until a small voice was heard from inside the room. "Mommy? Who is it? Is it Doctor Maggie?"
Gasping for breath, Meagan pulled herself away from his embrace and looked up into his eyes. For just a moment, she felt invigorated, hopeful and enthusiastic for the future for the first time this week. Then she heard the weak tone of her baby's voice and literally saw the world crash down around her in his eyes. He'd looked past her into the room and seen Natalie, lying in the big hospital bed.
She'd been crying before he arrived and the dark circles under her eyes were pronounced against the paleness of her tiny face. The shapeless hospital gown enveloped her and the stark white blankets were bunched against the rails where she'd pushed them off.
Her arms and legs were covered with bruises, some from needle sticks, some from accidental knocks against the furnishings in the room. Natalie bruised so easily these days that even a brush against a hard surface left deep purple bruises that didn't heal for days.
Meagan could see Temp assessing all of this quickly, absorbing the sight of his daughter without a word. She stepped back, took his hand and lead him into the room. "Nat... look whose come to see us."
Natalie stood up in the bed and peered at him. Her face lit up, eyes wide and mouth forming a perfect circle as she bounced slightly on the mattress. In a hushed, awed voice she proclaimed, "Daddy! But mommy said..." Before she could finish the statement, Face had crossed the room and grabbed her up in his arms. Giving a little squeak of surprise, but not struggling against him, Natalie allowed herself to be held. When it became evident that he wasn't letting go, she laid her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes, content to be with him. She hummed under her breath and plucked at the weave of his jacket. Eventually, her exhausted body gave up the fight and she fell asleep in his arms, lulled by the slight rocking motion as he swayed on his feet.
Face, mindful of the bruises he'd seen, held her carefully against his chest. He breathed in the fresh smell of baby shampoo on her hair and closed his eyes. Quickly opening them again, almost afraid he was dreaming, he eased her back just a little and looked at her. Kissing her forehead, he suddenly realized that she'd called him daddy. And that she was a very sick little girl...
His mind whirled, he knew that Stockwell had sent him here purposely... his was the child and he was the operative.... But how had Stockwell known? It didn't matter... he was here and he wasn't leaving anytime soon. Unsure if she was as asleep as she appeared and not quite ready to let her go either, he continued to hold her close, pacing back and forth in the space in front of the bed much as one would walk the floors with a fretful baby.
His hands held her secure against him, stroking her back and soft brown hair. He could feel her chest rise and fall against his. This feeling of holding the most precious thing on Earth was so new to him and he cherished each second. His eyes caught Meagan's over Natalie's head. He suddenly wondered if he looked as terrified and dumbstruck as he felt. He'd been hit with more emotional stimulation in the last thirty minutes than in the last eight months and he just didn't know how to handle it. So he simply held Natalie's tiny body and waited until he felt ready to hear the answers to the questions that filled his mind.
Finally, easing her back to the bed, he settled her against the pillow and watched her ease into a deeper sleep. He covered her with the blanket and at last turned to the room at large.
Seeing Meagan next to him, he reached for her hand and held on tight. Wallace Burkes and Murdock still lingered near the door, now joined by a staff nurse and someone who looked like they might be with security. He spoke softly so as not to wake Natalie, so softly that only Meagan could hear.
"What is it?"
"Leukemia. She was diagnosed about three weeks ago. It's advanced, very. She just wasn't sick, Temp, I swear. She was happy and healthy and I just didn't know until nearly Christmas... It's too advanced for just chemotherapy to work... she needs a bone marrow transplant." Meagan's voice was strained and that she felt guilty, for not having x-ray vision to see inside the little body to stop this process long ago, was evident.
Face nodded mutely and pulled her to him once more. He had a million questions and wasn't sure he really wanted the answers, but for now he'd take them one at a time. "Okay... when?"
"As soon as possible... Temp, we can't find a matching donor... I'm not good enough and there haven't been any random matches yet... but you... God, Temp, you might be...you might be a good enough match... she has so much of you in her... please..." She felt the tears start to leak out and run down her face but she did nothing to stop them; it was pointless. She rested her head against his chest, dampening his sweater with her tears.
He stared at the top of her head, aghast that she even felt she had to ask, but he held his disbelief in check. She was tired, exhausted and more than likely not thinking clearly. He merely nodded and spoke as firmly as his overloaded system would allow, "Of course... who do we see?"
Just then, the nurse speaking from near the door interrupted their quiet, private conversation. "Meagan... is there a problem? One of the other parents thought maybe you were being disturbed..."
"No, Melissa, no... for once, things may be going right... this is Natalie's father. He needs to be tested." Meagan stared up at him, a tiny glimmer of hope beginning to shine through the bleak fog that had surrounded her for weeks now.
Fifteen minutes later, Face was back from the lab where he had
gone to have his blood drawn. Natalie
remained asleep and he took a moment to call
Her eyes were closed and she looked dead tired. Her hair had worked its way out of the pony tail she'd secured it in hours ago and fell against her face. She breathed deeply, stretched and stood when he came near. "Hi. Did you check in okay?"
"Yeah, Murdock's already called. I didn't know... they're all on their way over here... I, uh, guess you have a lot of questions?" Face unconsciously rubbed at the gauze and tape covering the venapuncture from his lab sample just moments ago.
"Does that hurt?" Meagan reached out and pulled the edge of the tape away to peek at the site. The tape pulled at the fine hairs of his antecubital and he hissed softly. "Sorry, I guess so..." She avoided his gaze and wandered around the room aimlessly. Finally she came to a halt in front of the mirror and looked at him, reflected in the glass. "Yes, I have a lot of questions... and I imagine you do, too." Her gaze flickered over to the bed and to their daughter, asleep under the plain white hospital blanket.
Natalie stirred suddenly, whimpering and twisting fretfully under the blankets. Meagan soothed her by rubbing her back gently and murmuring softly in her ear. Settling on the side of the bed, she continued to rub and whisper to the small girl until she fell back into a deeper slumber.
Perching on the other side of the bed, Face watched mother and daughter, drinking in the sight of the pair of them. For long moments he merely watched. When Natalie reached out and seemed to be searching for something to hold on to, he offered his hand to the sleeping girl. She clutched his fingers in her own and sighed out a long breath. Easing into more comfortable positions, mother and father linked hands above her head, drawing comfort and strength from their bond with each other and their child.
Eventually, Meagan stirred. She slipped her fingers free from his and used that hand to smooth Natalie's hair from her face. She stood and looked over the sleeping form to the man on the other side. "I guess we really need to talk."
Face nodded and reluctantly released Natalie's now limp and sleep dampened fingers. "She looks so tired, so..." He trailed off, not sure exactly what he wanted to say, what he was willing to say, out loud. "Can we go somewhere so that we don't wake her? Murdock could stay here in case she wakes..." Face shoved his hands in his pockets, unsure of what she needed, expected or wanted from him. All those months ago, he'd told her to move on with her life. Had she? Earlier, she'd held him like he was still the only one she loved, but he now knew of the circumstances and could understand just about any reaction she might have given him.
"Okay, but I'll get Dad to stay, too. She may not remember HM if she wakes up suddenly." She walked out the door and to the small waiting room across the hall. Returning minutes later, Wallace and Murdock following, she showed Murdock how to call for the nurse if needed and then waved Face out into the hall. He grabbed her jacket and followed her.
The pair walked in silence to the elevator and then proceeded to the ground floor entrance. She walked quickly toward the outer door and pushed it open, revealing a small, formal garden area, lit by several hidden security lights. She shivered suddenly in the cold night air. Her breath puffed out in white frozen clouds and hung over them until dissipating into the starless night.
Face quickly stepped to her and draped her down filled jacket over her shoulders and briskly rubbed her arms, up and down. For just one moment she leaned into him, absorbing his warmth and his strength... then she suddenly let out an explosive breath and stepped away.
Without turning to face him, she asked, "So what do you want to know?"
A bit taken back by her almost belligerent attitude, he very carefully, in a neutral voice, said, "Just start at the beginning, I guess."
"All right." She perched gingerly on a nearby stone bench and began her spiel.
Five minutes later, she finished with, "And now we wait until your tests come back. If you're a match and you agree, they can take your bone marrow tomorrow, start her on the pre-transplant regimen and within a week to ten days, she can receive the transplant. If it takes, she'll be home within the next six weeks... if not..."
"Now, wait just one minute... there is no 'if not'... If I don't match, we'll find someone who does and when we do, it will work." He sat close to her and reached for her hands. She evaded his touch once more and jumped from the bench to pace near the evergreen shrubs that lined the snow dusted walk. He ignored her evasion and spoke again, "Just like there isn't anything for me to 'agree' to. She's my daughter. I love her and I'll do anything it takes to save her."
Her steps had grown more quick and agitated as he spoke and she suddenly whirled and glared at him. "This isn't some situation that you and your team can declare to be the way you want it. There is no plan to guarantee that this will work!"
"I know that, Meagan, love, but you have to stay positive... how many times did you tell me that first summer we were together?" He fairly ached to hold her, to sooth her jangled nerves, but the sparks flying from her eyes told her it wasn't going to be allowed right now.
"Don't tell me about that summer, Templeton Peck! I remember every minute of that summer and every minute of the summers that I spent without you. Every minute of every day... how can you talk to me about staying positive? How can you call me love and say that you love your daughter??? You let us think that you were dead!"
Her words hit him like a slap in the face and he stared at her, unable to form a response. How was he supposed to explain what they'd had to do to stay alive? To stay alive in the hope that some day he could come back to her, to them? His own words to her came back to him at that moment... you start at the beginning. "Meagan, please... let me try to explain... I know you must have so many questions..."
"There's only one question that matters, Temp... how? How could you do it? There were so many times that I wanted to die with you... When I thought that you weren't on the same earth with me anymore... that you weren't looking at the same sky and breathing the same air... I hurt so bad that I just didn't want to go on... but Natalie needed me and she still needs me... she needs us."
Meagan paused, visibly fought for control, and then continued, "You're here and she loves you and she wants you. So you see, even that question isn't important right now. Right now, the only thing that matters is Natalie and making sure she's better."
"I agree, Natalie is the most important thing, but..." He was interrupted yet again.
"There are no buts. Just Natalie." She walked away and entered the door to the warm interior of the ground floor of Cedars Children's Hospital.
Face slumped onto the bench where she'd sat. The stone was cold and slightly damp from the evening dew. He shivered, but never really noticed the cold. It was nothing compared to the chill in his soul.
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