Don't you love me anymore, Martin? Don't you love me?"
He jerked awake silently, his training holding even after all this time. Slowly, carefully, he slid out of bed. Tottering to the bathroom, he got a glass of water and headed back to the bed.
Partway there, he stumbled over a wrinkle in the carpet. He wobbled and, unable to catch himself with his stiff legs, fell heavily to the floor. He buried his face in the heavy shag vainly trying to stifle his cry of pain.
"Martin?" The overhead light flipped on and Roger rushed into the room.
"Rog – Trish needs – to vacuum – down here." Gritting his teeth against the pain, he pushed himself up from the floor.
"Here, let me help." Roger put his arm around the younger man's waist and eased him onto the bed. "You need a pill?"
"Definitely." Settling back against the pillows, Martin forced his clenched fists open, urged the knotted muscles to relax.
"What were you doing up, anyway?" Roger handed him two pain pills and a glass of water.
"I had a dream. Vicki was – " He gulped down the pills. "She was angry with me for not dying."
"That's your guilty conscience talking." Trish swept into the room.
"Guilty – "
"You're still blaming yourself." She dropped a towel where the water had spilled on the carpet. "So you make her blame you, too."
"Thank you, Dr. Murtaugh," he said sarcastically.
"Uncle Martin?" Carrie peered around the edge of the door. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, sweetheart." He smiled at the Murtaugh's youngest daughter.
"Uncle Martin had a bad dream." Trish pulled the covers up to his chin and laid a motherly hand on his forehead. "He's okay now."
Now that she'd been noticed, Carrie bounded into the room. She stood by the bedside looking sad.
"Come on." Martin pulled the bedcovers back so she could climb in.
"Carrie, you get back to bed." Her father pointed at the door.
"But, Dad, he needs someone to sit up with him." She tucked her teddy bear under Martin's arm. "He sat with me when I dreamed about Freddy Kruger."
"Honey, he's the one who let you stay up and watch Freddy Kruger."
"Details, details." She waved them away. "I'll tell him a bedtime story and get him back to sleep."
"It's okay, Rog, I need a little company." Martin pulled the covers around her.
Roger shook his head. "All right, but you go back to bed right after the story." He smiled at the picture Martin made, Carrie under one arm and Teddy under the other.
"And don't jump around, remember Uncle Martin's got a few holes in him." Trish followed Roger out of the room.
"So, what kind of story have you got for me?" He settled Carrie more comfortably against his side.
"A nice one, with a princess and a castle!" She wriggled excitedly.
"Just make it one where nobody jumps around." He grimaced at the flash of pain in his shoulder. "No gymnastics, okay?"
"Okay. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away – "
"Wait a minute, I think I've heard this one. Princess Leia and Han Solo, right?"
"Wrong! They live in the galaxy next door!" Carrie shook her head. "Now, there was a castle by the seashore, and a beautiful princess lived there. She was so beautiful that all the princes in the other kingdoms wanted to marry her."
"What were her measurements?" Martin teased her.
"Perfect! Now hush!" She frowned. "Where was I? Oh, they all wanted to marry her, but she only wanted one of them. He was tall, dark, and handsome, and had the bluest eyes."
"Like these?" He crossed his eyes, making her giggle.
"Yes! She wanted to marry Prince Martin, but the old King said she had to marry whoever killed the dragon."
"The one that was flying around burning up the countryside, silly. So, there was a royal proclamation." She pantomimed blowing a trumpet. "Whoever kills the evil dragon will get to marry the beautiful Princess Victoria and live happily ever after!"
Martin felt the blood drain from his face. Luckily, Carrie was too involved in her story to notice.
"So Prince Martin got his magic sword out of the closet, got on his horse and rode off to fight the dragon!" Brandishing her imaginary sword, she told him how the brave Prince faced down the giant, ugly dragon.
Tears burned his eyes, tears he couldn't blame on his injuries or Carrie's bouncing.
"So they kissed for a looong time and then they lived happily ever after!" She wound up her tale with an enthusiastic hug to his ribs.
He sucked in air painfully. It was surprising how much strength little girls have. "C–Carrie, please!"
"Oh! I'm sorry!" She let go immediately. "I was just trying to make you feel better."
"I know." he hugged her cautiously. "Do you think people live happily ever after?"
"Sure! Mom and dad are – lots of people do." She noticed the tears glistening in his eyes. "Do you miss her a lot?"
Martin didn't have to ask who she meant. "Sometimes more than others. I don't know if I'll ever not miss her."
"You'll see her in heaven someday, and then you won't have to miss her anymore." She snuggled sleepily against his side. "Grandpa died a few years ago and I miss him a lot. But Momma says he's in heaven playing checkers and having fun." She stifled a yawn. "An' someday I'll see him in heaven."
"But not for a long time." He dropped a kiss on the small hand that held his. "So you think Vicki is up there having fun or whatever while she waits for me to show up?"
"Yeah." She nodded sleepily. "But not for a long... long... time..." Her head dropped onto his chest as she drifted into sleep.
He let the tears go now that Carrie wasn't awake to see them. Raising his free arm, he wiped them off his cheeks. The pills urged him to sleep, and his arm fell back around the teddy bear.
He continued to stare at the sparkling water. He knew the voice without looking.
"Vicki." She was wearing faded jeans and one of his flannel shirts, his favorite outfit.
"I miss you." She slipped her hand into his.
"I miss you, too." He squeezed her hand gently.
They sat in silence for several minutes, watching the waves rush in and back out. "I don't want to die anymore, Vicki."
"I know." She raised his hand to her lips. "It's okay, I'll be waiting."
Standing, he brushed the sand from his jeans. "I'll always love you." Taking her hands, he helped her to her feet.
She slid her arms around his waist. "I love you, too."
They hugged tightly for a long moment. Pulling her arms loose, he kissed her softly before turning away.
"Goodbye, Martin." Her voice floated after him as he walked to where Sam splashed in the waves.
"Huh?" He struggled to open his eyes.
"I'm gonna put Carrie to bed." Roger whispered.
"You have to let go of her first." Tugging at the arm Martin had wrapped around Carrie, it took him several tries to loosen the younger man's grip.
Opening his eyes, he smiled at Roger. "You've got a beautiful daughter."
"Yeah, isn't she, though?" He smiled with paternal pride.
"An' Rog', thanks for letting me stay with you guys."
"No problem. You just concentrate on getting better." Lifting Carrie from the bed, he hugged her to his chest.
"I am better, Rog, I am better." Closing his eyes, Martin slid back into a peaceful dreamless sleep.