Kit was in pain before she woke up. A scream burst in her lungs as she remembered the last images she had. She forced her eyes open, terrified of the memories.
“Miss Mason?” a soft voice came to her. “Miss Mason, it’s all right. You’re in the hospital. You’re going to be just fine.”
Kit gathered all her strength to move her head and find the person to whom the voice belonged. A nurse was standing at the foot of the hospital bed in which she was lying. Kit looked blearily at her arms and saw several IV’s running into them. She ordered her left hand to raise and touch the mask over her mouth and nose but her arm disobeyed; from rebellion or impossibility, Kit could not tell. Frustrated, she ordered her mouth to ask the nurse what was happening, but her vocal chords seemed indifferent as well. Her mind was the only part of her body that was working and it was driving her insane. She remembered the man. She remembered the pain searing through her head as he hit her. She remembered waking up for a second and screaming in pain before he hit her again. Even now, she could feel the emptiness of her stomach, the pit that was now bereft. Her insides felt like they were knotted and she was sore. She could not deny what had inevitably happened. She wanted to cover her face and weep but even her tear ducts would not respond to her pitiful request. Breathing became increasingly difficult and she just looked up at the ceiling. She felt the nurse come closer to her.
“I’m going to increase your pain dosage for right now so you can sleep. Your brother will be here soon. Try to rest.”
Terrified, Kit stared up at the nurse, desperately trying to convey her message.
“Don’t worry,” the nurse smiled gently, understanding. “You won’t dream.”
Kit closed her eyes in relief and let the nurse do her job.
Peter had never seen all the blood drain from his lieutenant’s face until he had witnessed the phone call. His forearm was still sore from where Crawford had grabbed him.
“Kit’s in the hospital,” he had growled.
“Is she all right?” Peter asked immediately.
Crawford swore. “Of course she’s not all right! If she were all right, she wouldn’t be at the hospital! Kit doesn’t get hurt. Kit doesn’t get caught. Kit fights her way out of whatever mess she’s in and doesn’t ask for or receive help. If she’s in the hospital, it’s because someone put her there.”
Peter felt a foreboding in his heart. Whoever put Crawford’s sister in the hospital was going to wind up there, too if Crawford had anything to do with it.
“I’ve got to get home,” Crawford said clearly. Peter nodded.
“Pack your bags. You’ll be on the first flight out of here. I can give you 72 hours and then I need you back. This mission is hot to go down as soon as we get a finite location.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” The men shook hands and Crawford left.
Peter bowed his head. He’d had feelings for Crawford’s sister since the minute he’d seen her at the graduation party a year ago. He had felt a draw to her that he could not explain. It was just a whisper but in his job he had learned that sometimes a whisper was more informative than an ear-shattering shout. He stood up and put the thoughts from his mind. For now, nothing and no one existed except that which was on this submarine and the mission to come. Focus. Home did not exist when he was in the field and the field did not exist when he was at home. It was the only way to survive.
Crawford got no rest the entire way back to the states. His mind would not stop racing. If it hadn’t been a big deal, Kit wouldn’t have gone to the hospital in the first place. If it had been something small, like a broken bone or pneumonia, the hospital staff would not have contacted him. Whatever it was was not good. He went straight from the airport to the hospital. He wasn’t sure if he believed in Peter’s Jesus or not, but he prayed anyway.
“Hi, I’m Crawford Mason. I’m looking for my sister, Kit,” he told the receptionist in a rush.
“Go up to the nurses station at the ICU on the second floor. They’ll get her doctor for you,” she said and pointed him to the elevators.
“Thank you,” he said quickly. His heart was beating in his ears. Why was she in the ICU? It’d been 24 hours since he’d been contacted. Shouldn’t she be out of critical condition by now?
“You must be Lieutenant Mason,” a very pretty, female doctor approached him almost as soon as he stepped off the elevator. They shook hands.
“Crawford,” he insisted.
“I’m Doctor Wood,” she said. “Doctor Halter was taking care of your sister but she requested a female doctor so here I am.”
“What happened?” Crawford asked, his patience and energy running low.
“Come with me, and I’ll fill you in on everything before you see her,” Doctor Wood began walking towards the nurse’s lounge. She indicated for Crawford to sit and then poured a cup of coffee, which she handed to him.
“What’s going on?” he asked again.
“Three sips and then I’ll tell you,” she insisted. “You look dead on your feet.”
Crawford hid his scowl in the coffee cup. It was good and strong. “Satisfied?” he asked her after a moment.
“Let me start off by saying that your sister is going to be just fine. All her wounds are very treatable and they’re already healing nicely. She got a pretty severe concussion and she lost a lot of blood. There was minimal damage done to her internal organs. She took quite a beating. She was in and out of consciousness for a while but now we have her on a strict schedule.”
Crawford narrowed his eyes. “What happened? She was in a car wreck or something?”
Doctor Wood closed her folder and looked intently at him. “Your sister was raped.”
Crawford went cold and the coffee cup slipped from his hand and shattered on the floor. The world rocked around him. Bile rose in his throat.
“What?” he stuttered in unbelief.
Doctor Wood continued softly. “The police are still trying to piece everything together.”
Crawford squeezed his eyes tight shut as he tried not to see the dark scene Doctor Wood was painting. Kit had been attacked, raped, and left for dead. The culprit had gotten away.
“The police have been asking to speak with her but I’ve told them they would have to wait for you. Kit has barely spoken. We thought maybe her vocal chords were damaged until yesterday when she demanded a female doctor.” Doctor Wood quirked a smile. “No surprise given what she just went through.”
“May I see her?” Crawford asked brokenly. He couldn’t believe this. His baby sister? He’d practically raised Kit. He wanted to vomit at the thought of her being raped. He could face any number of terrible dangers and keep this stomach but when it became his sister that was the victim, the story changed entirely.
“Yes, of course. Follow me.” Doctor Wood led him back to the hallway and told him which room was hers.
Crawford stood outside the door for a long moment.
“Deep breaths,” he whispered to himself. “You are Navy SEAL. You can do this. Kit’s ok. She’s ok.” He twisted the doorknob and stepped inside. His heart rate picked up as he saw Kit lying in the hospital bed. He felt sweat break out on the back of his neck. She moved her head and saw him. Her beautiful face was broken with bruises and cuts. She smiled at him with busted lips. Tears stung his eyes.
“Crawford,” she rasped. He took two strides to cross the room and sat down carefully on the edge of her bed. He took her small hand in his own and forced a smile.
“Not exactly the homecoming I was hoping for, Kit,” he tried to tease.
“I’ll have something extra special for you next time,” she promised. Crawford took his free hand and put it gently on top of her head. He looked over her face carefully, noting all the discolored bruises and cuts. Anger began to course through his veins but then he’d look into her eyes and sadness would wash away all his hatred.
Kit was relieved to have her brother here, someone she could finally talk to. She squeezed his hand. She wanted to weep at his soft touch. “How much time do we have?” she asked with her eyes closed. She didn’t want to hear the answer.
“Two days. Do you want to talk about it?”
Kit opened her eyes to meet his. “You know,” she began unevenly. “They say your first time is supposed to be magical.”
“Oh, Kit.” He broke and pulled his sister into his arms, feeling her body shake with sobs and his did the same. “This does not count, you hear me?” he choked. “You are not allowed to count this as your first time. Totally invalid.”
He felt her body break down against him and he knew she’d been holding herself together until he got there. He appreciated that. He had missed so much of her life and he hated missing more of it. He set her back on her pillows and brushed at the tears on her poor, bruised face.