"Reardon, let's go," Jack ordered as he passed by her desk, the nasal voice adding to the tone of the command.
Amanda sighed, leaving the paperwork unfinished on the desk as she jumped up to follow. Just five more minutes, and she'd have completed it. It has been a very long day, and the next thing on my agenda was a cold beer. But am I going to get that? No, of course not. "Where are we going?" she asked as she followed him into the elevator.
"Meeting with a CI, goes by the name of Little T. He won't show if we're five minutes late; let's hope traffic downtown isn't bad." He fell silent, as usual.
Amanda cast a glance at Jack out of the corner of her eye. His face was an inscrutable mask — no different than any other day. Sometimes she wondered if she'd imagined it: the kiss to her cheek in the hospital, the strange look in his eyes. He had never brought it up again. He could hardly speak for the next couple of days and then he went home on medical leave. None of us hear from him for seven weeks, and then he's back here acting as if nothing happened. Well, I can act, too, she thought determinedly. His attitude seemed the same as ever — jaded with that hint of antagonism. The only difference was that it wasn't quite as intense as it had been. She sighed to herself. I meant what I told him; I am really tired of trying to figure him out. He doesn't make sense!
The ride was no different from any of the others; Jack said nothing, which drove Amanda nuts. She had learned to keep her mouth shut by now; chatter brought nothing but more trouble later. At least if she was quiet, she had a chance of getting grudging approval out of him. There was, of course, no chance of getting anything more. Jack apparently didn't do affirmation.
"Damn it." The muttered curse drew Amanda out of her thoughts. "Traffic is on the heavy side; we're going to be late," Jack said with a frown.
"You think the CI will just split before we get there?" Amanda asked, eyebrows raised. Jack gave her a sardonic look before turning back to the road. Amanda rolled her eyes. "OK, so that's a yes."
Fifteen minutes later, they pulled up in front of a sad-looking building. It had obviously been an office at one point, but unlike the other buildings on the street, was no longer in use. Jack got out of the car and closed his door. He suddenly patted his belt. "Damn it! Left my cell phone at my desk. You have one yet, Reardon?" Jack asked.
"Not yet. But we've got the radio, right?"
"Yeah." He sighed and began to walk toward the building.
Amanda took in the boarded up windows and blocked front door. "We're meeting the CI here?" she whispered.
Jack turned and just looked at her. "Yes."
"Inside this building?" Amanda felt she needed to clarify.
"Yes." Jack kept walking.
Amanda stopped for a moment. "How are we getting inside?"
Jack reached up to take hold of a metal bar on a set of scaffolding that rose several stories. "We climb," he said, illustrating his point.
Oh, you have got to be kidding me. Amanda wasn't afraid of heights, of course — you couldn't be an FBI agent with debilitating fears like that — but she had a healthy respect for them. I much prefer staying on the ground, thank you very much. It didn't look like tonight she was going to get her wish. She sighed and started climbing after Jack.
"Just where in the building are we meeting this CI?" she whispered before following Jack into the second story via a missing window.
"Right." Isn't this an adventure? she asked herself.
Jack was ahead of her at this point, flashlight illuminating his path. Clearly, he had climbed this before, as he had scaled up the scaffolding rapidly, leaving Amanda to struggle to find her next handhold. The streetlight was just far enough away to be not-so-helpful. Ugh, wish I'd known to bring a flashlight, she thought as she ducked in the window and tried to follow Jack without tripping on the nearly-invisible debris scattered across the floor. She had just spotted him climbing the steps to the next floor when the building began to shake.
Oh s***. Amanda had known that when she moved to L.A., she might end up in an earthquake at some point. The others in the office had joked how she would show her newcomer status the first time she was in one. "Everyone in L.A. is used to quakes; only the newbies and tourists freak out," Stoddard had told her.
Amanda took a deep breath and reminded herself that the buildings in the area were built to strict codes and would not collapse with an earthquake. As the trembling grew more violent, she sank to the floor, trying not to fall flat on her face. She flung her hands out to steady herself and caught them on some debris, which she shoved aside despite the pain. Outside she could hear a crash and breaking glass.
She snapped her head up as she heard a loud thud/clang, immediately followed by a pained cry. The room abruptly plunged into darkness. Trying to walk would be stupid — that much she knew! — so Amanda started to crawl towards the stairs. The quaking settled down as she got there, and she stood up. "Jack!"
"Care - ful," he groaned. "Step broken." It was well he had warned her; the stairway was pitch black without the flashlight.
Amanda stopped short. She began inching up the stairs, tapping her feet around to test each step before bearing weight on it. She paused when her foot encountered a hole in one of the steps, then bumped into what had to be Jack's leg. He groaned again. She bit her lip. Without being able to see his injuries . . . "I can't see you, but it feels like your leg is still in the hole. I'm going to try and see if I can't help you get it up out and onto the platform in between floors, OK?" He grunted his agreement, and she felt her way along his leg, avoiding the open gash she soon encountered. He groaned even louder when she came across his ankle. "I think your ankle might be broken, so I'm going to try and support it as you lift your leg out. Ready?"
"Lifting it up now. OK, see if you can crawl up the rest of the way." Jack pulled himself up the stairs as Amanda propped herself up, keeping his ankle steady. Once his ankle was free, Jack rolled onto his back with a grunt and Amanda ever so gently settled his leg on the landing. "Do you know where the flashlight went?"
Jack didn't reply, and Amanda started patting the floor on hands and knees, careful to avoid bumping into Jack. Her hands finally closed around it in one corner, but--"Damn! It's busted," she lamented after flicking the button off and on. Amanda sighed and set it down, crawling back over to Jack.
“What about Little T?” she asked him.
"Long gone; told you he'd leave if we were late," Jack said, his voice strained. "Damn traffic."
A few seconds went by. In the distance, she could hear faint alarms — building security that was tripped by the quake — and the occasional siren quite far off. Up close, the only sound was Jack's breathing. On impulse Amanda slid one hand across the floor to find his and clasped it gently. "I can't see enough to treat your leg. I'm going to have to go outside for help. Will you be all right until I get back?"
Jack squeezed the hand back, sending a shock through Amanda's system. "Go," he urged, releasing her hand.
"Don't try to move," she ordered as she began to feel her way down the treacherous steps again. Every instinct screamed at her to run, but she forced herself to carefully navigate through the debris that littered the floor of the room. I hope that was the last of the quake! Descending the scaffolding was harder than ascending it, but the adrenaline had turned up her focus level; she scrambled down like a mountain goat on a cliff. And then turned to see a large plank sticking out of the car's windshield. It was jammed against the steering column and glass littered the front seats. Wonderful. Just wonderful, she thought with a sigh.
Amanda sprinted around the car to the passenger door, reaching in to grab the radio. "Anybody there?" She waited a few seconds before repeating the call. She looked around the block; most of the buildings on the street were dark, with only faint alarms echoing. One near the end of the next block had a small cluster of people in janitorial uniforms.
She felt like smacking herself when it occurred to her. Brilliant, Agent Reardon, of course everyone at the Bureau has either gone home or evacuated the building. No one can even hear you.
There was no point in waiting; Jack's leg was in bad shape. She could still feel a slight stickiness on her hands from his blood. She scanned the rest of the street. There! A Walgreens at the end of the block. Unfortunately, it was all dark, which meant breaking in. Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and first aid is a pretty good excuse, she rationalized. She picked up a piece of concrete lying on the ground outside "their" building and hefted it. Seems heavy enough.
Amanda headed down the street at a brisk walk. Upon reaching the building she looked over the store's windows, finally selecting one. Here goes my chance to feel like a criminal, she told herself with a grin. She lifted the concrete and heaved it as hard as she could towards the window. The resulting crash was so loud she winced, sure that someone was going to stop her. She jumped as shrill beeping assaulted her ears and instinctively froze, scanning around her for signs of unwanted attention.
Keep going! her inner voice ordered, and she made herself ignore the alarm and move forwards. While she did have her creds and could defend her actions to any police that showed up, it would hurt their chances of talking to the CI again and Jack had seemed to think this was important. There was also the matter of Jack's injuries, which could be any level of severity. She quickly knocked out enough glass to step through without cutting herself. The first thing she did was grab two canvas bags from the stack by the counter. Her mind whirled through the supplies they needed as she darted about, stuffing them into the bags: flashlight and batteries (which she paused to assemble immediately so she could see to find the rest of the supplies), pain pills, bottled water, energy bars, gauze, antiseptic, scissors, elastic bandages, general bandages, ice packs . . . Her eyes lit upon the beach towels, and she grabbed a couple.
The other thing they would need was something to keep warm with until she could get some help — aha, fleece blankets! A few of those went into the bags, now bulging. She spotted a rack of sweatshirts proclaiming their eternal love for L.A., and grabbed one in each of their sizes. "Shopping" complete, she darted out of the store, keeping an eye out for other people. So far nothing, but there were voices on the next street over.
Climbing up scaffolding with bags on your shoulder was no easy task. She breathed a sigh of relief when she was over the windowsill and on the second floor again. She set her bags down, sorting out the necessary items into one bag to take with her. "Jack?" she called, picking her way through the debris with ease, thanks to the steady beam of the flashlight.
She gasped as she turned the corner to see the stairs. One step in the middle had a jagged hole, with blood and bits of fabric on the sharp metal edges. Her feet fairly flew up the steps, bounding over the broken one without missing a beat.
Huh, he actually listened to me; hasn't moved an inch since I left. The implications of that were either very good or very bad; she decided not to think about which was more likely. Settling to the floor beside Jack, she trained her flashlight on his leg, grimacing when she saw the depth of the gash. "Jack, this looks really bad," she said. There was no reply, and she jerked her flashlight up to his face.. "Jack?" A note of anxiety entered her voice.
His eyes were closed, but he opened his mouth instead. "I know. Treat it. Decide what to do later."
She paused a second. "This is going to hurt like hell," she warned him.
"I know." Pain tinged his voice. "Just get it over with."
"OK," she replied. She ripped the scissors free of their packaging and used them to cut his pants away. Blood had fused the fabric to the wound in parts and Jack groaned each time she pulled a section away. "All right, I'm going to pour some disinfectant on the wound now."
"Don't warn me, just do it," he managed to choke out.
She pressed down his knee to prevent his leg from twitching, and winced as she poured the liquid over the gash. Jack inhaled sharply, squeezing his eyes shut. Amanda set down the bottle, screwing the top back on as she did so, and set the flashlight up to illuminate the general area. She glanced at Jack's face. A tear trickled down one of his cheeks. At last, a chink in his armor? She slipped her hands around one of his, holding it until he pulled away. She took that as her cue to continue. The rest of the treatment was less troublesome; first the gauze went around the leg, then she wrapped a beach towel around it with an elastic bandage to hold it firm. The ankle elicited a sharp intake of breath as she slipped off his shoes and socks and wrapped it, but he otherwise simply gritted his teeth. He still has to be tough, of course. She expected no less; given his behavior after taking a bullet to his vest, she figured he'd have to be dying to willingly demonstrate any pain.
"There," she said, patting his uninjured leg. "All patched up as well as I can do for now. And given the amount of pain you're in — don't even try to pretend you're not," she ordered, "this would be a good time to take something for it." She held up the bottle of pills and shook it. He didn't respond; she took that as agreement.
"Here," Amanda said, lifting Jack's head a little and handing him a bottle of water and several of the pills. She quickly backed off on the elevation when he grimaced. Right, too high on the torso and you've got pressure on the ankle, she noted.
"Now," she said upon setting the water bottle back down, "we have two choices, really, as far as I can tell. We can either hang out here on this landing until I can get some help, or we can try moving back to second. You pick."
He popped the pills and swallowed. "Move down."
"That's gonna hurt like hell, you know." She raised an eyebrow at him.
"Shut up and help." The rough words belied a gentler tone, and Amanda smiled slightly before throwing the supplies back in the bag and hoisting it on her shoulder.
"OK, so how do we want to do this?" She grasped the flashlight in her hand and stepped partway down the steps, taking stock of the situation. "I hold your leg out while you use the railing and my shoulder as makeshift crutches?"
Jack slowly propped himself up on his elbows and nodded in assent. "Let's go."
The first hop resulted in a loud groan from Jack. S***, he must have jarred his ankle! "OK, stop. This is clearly not working. Sit," Amanda ordered. He raised an eyebrow at her, but did what she asked. Wow, that's a first. "Try sitting on the edge of the step and scooting down with the three good limbs."
She almost regretted her plan as she saw the pain in Jack's eyes every time he pressed down on the steps with his hands, but they were moving now, and there was no point in sitting on the stairs forever.
Once at the bottom, Jack scooted back into a horizontal position, and Amanda lightly rested the leg on the ground. All right, let's see what we have here. She picked up one of his wrists, turning it over and shining the flashlight on it. Jack tried to pull away. "Stop. Let me see," she said firmly. He looked away, but left his arm where it was. She glanced back to his palm; the flashlight's beam showed myriad cuts and broken skin in several places, along with a serious friction rash. She laid the arm back down and grabbed the other one; it had a similar pattern of wounds. "These took the brunt of your fall, didn't they?" she asked him in a soft voice. She was unsurprised when he made no move to answer. More patching up. I'm glad for that first aid training!
Out came the bottle of hydrogen peroxide again. Jack tensed as the liquid bubbled on his hand, but didn't make a sound as Amanda wrapped his hands in gauze, creating a mitten-like effect. When his sleeve slipped back from his forearm, she caught sight of the rest of the cuts. Always have to be tough, don't you, Jack? Amanda rolled her eyes as she began treating them as well. By the time she finished, he had bandages covering good portions of his arms.
Amanda heard voices outside, and quickly finished her bandaging. She slipped across the room to the window, flicking the flashlight off as she did so. If they were people who could help . . . Her hopes faded as she caught sight of a group of young people poking into the car. "Cool radio, man," one called to his friends. Another chimed in, "They won't be needin' no radio with the car like that." A chorus of "nope!" and whoops echoed back as they expertly detached it from the car and hauled it off.
"S***!" Amanda hissed. She held her breath as they checked out the locked trunk. The last thing we need is for them to get a hold of that shotgun. They attempted to pry it open; a few curses drifted up towards her when they met with little success. They soon gave up and sauntered down the street; she let out the breath slowly, blowing at her hair. Great. Jack's hurt, we've got no phones, nor any radios, and if I climb down there I'm likely to run into more of them. Now what?
She switched the flashlight back on and made her way back to Jack, sinking to the floor. "So. Here's the situation. You're wounded badly enough that I'd like to see you in a hospital right away. But I don't think I mentioned that the car is busted, did I? With a board right through the windshield and blocking the steering column. Or the fact that a gang just stole the radio out of it." The sarcasm was thick enough to cut with a knife.
Amanda wasn't sure what reaction she expected from Jack, but a hint of a grin was not one of them. "What?" she demanded.
She almost regretted her tone of voice, as his face quickly lost the amused look and went back to his usual expression. "Nothing, sounds like you've summed it up pretty well."
"And?" Jack just looked at her with eyebrows raised. She clarified, "And what do we do next? Do I try to climb down and dodge who knows who to find somewhere open to use their phone, or wait till morning, or what?"
Jack was silent for so long that Amanda thought he must have tuned her out. But finally he spoke, "Wait till later, maybe morning. Too risky in this part of town for you to wander around alone."
"I'm not a helpless woman, Jack, I have a gun," she pointed out.
"Yeah, and so do a lot of criminals. All it takes is one guy hidden while you've got your gun trained on the visible one, and you're made. What, did you tune out completely when they went over that at Quantico?"
Amanda sighed, opened her mouth to speak--No, he doesn't need to hear that--and closed it again. Instead, she scooted over to his feet to check the circulation.
Just as she bent down to inspect closer, Jack spoke again. "I'll be fine, Amanda."
Her whole body froze. He actually just called me Amanda. Since when does he do that? "How do you know?" She forced herself to continue, verifying that there was still good color in his toes.
"The gash missed any arteries, it's bandaged up as well as can be, and the broken ankle certainly isn't going to kill me."
Was that a compliment in there? Amanda shook her head in amazement. She decided not to answer, sitting back up and glancing around. A slight discomfort reminded her of another predicament. She dug out the water bottle that Jack had drank from and took a hearty swig. "Thirsty?" She held it out. Jack gave her one of his looks. "Well, it's either empty this or try to find an empty bucket, but I don't think you're up for standing any time soon," she told him.
It took him only a few seconds to catch her meaning, upon which he silently held out a hand for the water bottle. "Oh no you don't," Amanda insisted when he was about to lean on his forearm to prop himself up. Jack rolled his eyes but didn't fight her lifting his head. They swapped the bottle back and forth until they had emptied it. Then Amanda set down the flashlight. "You first." She shoved things aside to clear a path to the window, then gazed out it until Jack indicated he was done. This has to be the evening from hell, she thought as she looked down at the ruined car. If it gets much worse, we're looking at a life-or-death situation.
She found a connecting room to do her business in, grateful there was a bit of gauze left to use for toilet paper. Oh, for a working toilet, she wished. Even a dirty gas station bathroom is looking pretty appealing right now. Even better would be a sink, and she hadn't thought to snatch any sort of disinfectant for their hands. I guess there's the hydrogen peroxide . . . She regretted that a minute later, back at Jack's side, hands throbbing from cuts she hadn't realized she'd gotten. "Son of a . . ."
Jack glanced over at her. "Hurts like hell, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." She sighed. "Stuck here for the night, huh?"
"Might as well get comfortable."
"Yes, well, about that . . ." Amanda trailed off, and began to pull the supplies out of the bags. The food and water were set aside. The other beach towel . . . "Oh, here, this should work," she said, retrieving a smaller bucket from a corner of the room. "Need to get your leg elevated." She draped half of the beach towel on the bucket. "Scoot this way a bit more." She gestured towards the wall behind Jack's head. He said nothing as he used his elbows — the one body part he can use, she thought in half-amusement — to inch his way backwards. Amanda carefully lifted his leg up to rest on the bucket and wrapped the rest of the beach towel around it.
Working one of the fleece blankets underneath Jack was somewhat trickier, but, "I am not having you freeze to death because you were stuck lying on a concrete floor all night," she told him when he tried to protest.
"I don't need you fussing over me like a nursemaid, all right?" he said.
Amanda threw her hands up in the air. "Fine, next time you cut your leg open, you can patch it up," she said. He really doesn't think I'm good enough to be his partner, does he? The thought stung a little, and she turned away, pulling out the sweatshirts. The scissors made quick work of the tags, and she relaxed into the added warmth as she slipped her sweatshirt on. She clutched Jack's in one hand, staring down at it indecisively. Finally, she set her jaw and turned to face him again. "Do you want a sweatshirt?" she asked, holding it out.
He took it from her and attempted to pull it on. The back of it caught on the blanket under him and bunched up at his neck. He yanked at it uselessly; Amanda watched, but made no move to help until he turned and glared at her. Right, yell at me for helping one minute, glare at me for not helping the next. You are so logical, Jack.
Lifting his upper body high enough to slide the sweatshirt on was easier than it should have been, thanks to all the practice earlier. She reached for the other fleece blanket and held it, glancing over at Jack. He'll freeze if we don't trap as much heat as possible, she told herself, opening it up and draping it over him.
Jack turned his head to watch her; Amanda avoided his gaze, tucking the edges of the blanket around him. "There, that should help keep you warm," she said. She stood up and walked over to the window, leaning against the side of the opening as she glanced down at the ruined car. Why do I even bother trying? It's always the same.
She let her mind wander as she gazed out the window until Jack cleared his throat and pulled her back to the present. "Was this your first earthquake?" Jack asked.
Amanda turned to answer the question. "Yes." She looked back out the window again.
"You'll get used to them. Mostly they aren't all that exciting."
"Exciting," Amanda said flatly, shifting her body to lean back against the wall. She raised her eyebrows at Jack, who didn't respond. "Yeah, it's exciting all right. Remind me to choose a better location next time."
Jack was silent for a bit before speaking again. "Most of the people who live here end up betting on the magnitude and fault line of various quakes. My money's on 5.8, Yorba Linda fault."
"Seriously? You're trying to start a bet now?" Amanda rolled her eyes. "I don't know anything about the fault lines." She leaned her head sideways to watch the street again; more young men were sauntering down it, and she backed away from the wall quickly to avoid being seen. The nearest clear spot next to a wall was beside Jack; she sighed and returned to sit by his head.
Amanda rested her head against the wall, listening to the sounds outside. The young men's voices carried well in the cool air. The security alarms were still echoing faintly; some had probably been silenced. Inside the building, the only thing she could hear was the sound of their breathing. The flashlight was lying on its side, casting a gentle glow over the area; she reached over and flicked it off. "Might as well save the battery."
They sat in silence for a while until Jack spoke. "Did you always want to be an FBI agent?"
Really? Now he decides to be curious about my life? Amanda rolled her eyes again, thankful for the darkness hiding them from his view. "Yeah, ever since career day in high school. As a kid I figured cop, y'know? There were more cops than FBI in the stories I read or heard about."
"Well, there are a lot more cops, period," Jack pointed out.
"Yeah," she said with a nod. "But as soon as I looked into what the FBI involved, I knew it was for me."
"Why?" he asked.
Amanda glanced over sharply, grabbing the flashlight and flicking it back on so it illuminated his face. Jack turned his head towards her, opening his eyes as he did so. "Why do you want to know?" she asked. "I mean —" She paused to find the right words. "I just don't even —" He said nothing, gazing at her expectantly. Amanda raised her eyes upwards, sighing. "I hate seeing people get away with doing something really wrong," she said. "You know, that smug 'you can't touch me' attitude. I've seen too many people hurt with that. Kids all the time in classrooms, pushing each other around." She looked at Jack, shrugging. "Life's just a bigger classroom. And the FBI goes after the biggest bullies."
Jack studied her face for a few moments before looking away. The edge of a breeze drifted into the building, and Amanda shivered. She wrapped her arms around her as she looked towards the window. I wish I could snap my fingers and make it morning already.
"You don't have a blanket," he observed.
"No, I only grabbed two." Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Jack starting to push back the blanket lying on top of him. "Don't you dare! You'll freeze without it," she said quickly, hand reaching out to yank it back down.
"Yeah, well, you're freezing without one," Jack said.
"Oh, for heaven's sake — here!" Amanda said with exasperation. "Sit up," she ordered, hand already pushing below Jack's neck to help. Before he could speak, she sat on the blanket behind him, stretching her legs out on either side of his hips. She quickly leaned over to drag the sack of supplies closer, then pulled his head back against her chest before leaning back against the wall. "Happy now? Shared body heat should keep us both warm." She pulled the fleece blanket around his side and started to tuck it in between them, with her arms on the outside.
Amanda froze as bandaged hands gripped her wrists firmly. Jack tugged her hands and arms underneath the blanket, doing his best to wrap it around her sides as well. Oh my— what do I even— She took a few slow breaths and finally got up the nerve to move her hands on top to wrap around his. OK, if anyone asked me what I thought I might be doing tonight, this would've been the last thing I'd think of!
She willed herself to relax, hoping Jack couldn't sense her racing heartbeat. Considering the back of his head was against her and she had a thick layer of sweatshirt over top of her usual outfit, she figured probably not. The shared body heat was helping; she could feel the chill dissipating all along where his back pressed against her torso. Her mind, however, was still stuck on his actions, so she decided to widen the focus and mentally examined everything she'd seen of Jack to date.
Her first introduction to him had been the interview — where I made a fool of myself, she thought, closing her eyes — and things hadn't improved much thereon. She'd seen little of him for the rest of the case until the end, where he'd handed her a compliment wrapped in a sexist remark. Way to go, Jack.
They'd started on the wrong foot to begin with, and now it seemed he merely tolerated her. He'd only given her a grudging handslap upon success with the Pitts case, for instance. Except that when Tulli had been shot, he'd actually cared; she could tell. He'd listened, he'd said just what he needed to to help her get through it. And then he seemed to go back to his old self; even getting shot in the vest didn't seem to improve his disposition.
Then there was the kiss. She still did not know what to make of that. Was it just to get her attention and keep her from leaving? If that was his plan, it had worked; she had to grant him that. She might've concluded it was the painkillers, except he was clearly quite alert otherwise. Was he trying to use the drugs as an excuse to kiss her? But then, that would mean he wanted to kiss her, and that was a thought she was not prepared to entertain.
Amanda sighed. She still was no closer to figuring him out. The most she could guess was that somewhere down deep, he cared about her. And if pressed, she'd confess she cared about him too — even though he was the most exasperating, stubborn, incomprehensible person she'd ever met.
"Not your idea of a great evening?" She figured he’d felt her sigh.
Amanda snorted, opening her eyes. "Not even close." Privately, she had to admit that it was nice that for once he had to rely on her, but this wasn't the way she'd have chosen for it to happen. Her stomach rumbled.
"I think I saw some food in that stash," he said.
"Yeah, I grabbed a couple energy bars. Want one?" she asked.
"Sure." Jack slipped a hand out of the blanket, but Amanda grabbed it and pushed it back down.
"Let me get it," she ordered, reaching over for a bar and unwrapping it. "You are not going to go messing up my nice bandaging job with sticky food. I'll hold, you bite," she said, lifting the bar up to his mouth. She held back a grin at the thought that she was hand-feeding her training agent.
It didn't take long to eat her own energy bar, nor drink water afterwards. She glanced at her watch. "Ugh, it's not even eleven o'clock yet! How long do I have to wait before I can go get help?"
"Until the gangs have moved on," Jack answered. "You hear that?" The silence following his question was punctuated by the occasional voice, and the unmistakable sound of a gunshot was heard. "There's something going on the next street over, maybe even on this street. I don't want you walking into that." Amanda sighed. "Give it another couple hours," he continued.
"I'd better at least check your circulation," she said, inching out from behind him. She unwrapped the beach towel and winced. "Jack, you're bleeding a lot here; it's starting to soak through the outer towel." His toes felt a bit cool; she chafed them gently, trying to bring some warmth to the skin.
"I'll be fine," he told her again.
Amanda bit her lip. The worst of it was that he was right about going outside; it was too risky right then. The most she could do was keep him warm. She wrapped his leg back up and slid back behind him; this time there was no hesitation as she curled her hands around his. She felt the tips of his fingers; they weren't that warm, but not cool either. OK for now, she told herself.
Waiting silently was intolerable, Amanda decided. She made it five minutes before speaking. "OK, I know you hate to fill silences, but I think we need to keep talking. If nothing else, to make sure you're all right." There was a 'hmph' from Jack, but otherwise nothing, so she pressed on. "The only thing I know about L.A. and quakes is the Charlton Heston film. So no clue about the fault lines, but I'll bet you twenty bucks that it's 6.0, not 5.8."
Jack gave a short laugh before asking, "And if it's 5.9?"
"Then we're even."
"OK, you're on." Jack paused for a moment before speaking. "You always live in Texas before this?"
"All my life; grew up in Austin," she said. "What about you? You live in California before this?" She corrected herself. "Well, obviously you have, or you wouldn't know anything about the faults. How long ago was it?"
"Ten years ago, used to be at the San Diego office," he answered.
Amanda blinked. She was actually getting information out of him? "Is that where you learned Spanish?"
"No." His answer was abrupt; she waited until he finally spoke again. "I studied it in college; spent a year in Mexico." He didn't volunteer any more information, and Amanda decided she'd better back off just in case. She was still trying to think of something to ask that wouldn't make him clam up when he surprised her by asking, "Four brothers, huh?"
"Yeah. I was kid number four. Followed the older three around and got into as much mischief as they did."
Amanda shared a couple tales of her own childhood to keep the conversation going. Halfway through the third tale, she realized Jack hadn't spoken for a while. She stopped speaking abruptly, reaching a hand up to feel his forehead. It was cool and clammy, and his breath was rapid. Oh no. "Jack? Can you hear me? Say something if you can."
"Yeah ... still here," he managed to say between breaths.
"I think you're going into shock," she said. "I'm going to check your toes, OK?" He grunted, and she slipped out from beneath him, wrapping the blanket around him securely to lock in as much heat as possible. The flashlight revealed what she feared: his skin was mottled, and cold to the touch. She wrapped them back up, and sat back for a second. She bit her lip again. There was no way around it. "Jack, I'm going to have to go for help now."
"Too ... risky," he said.
"Riskier than letting you die?" she asked him sharply. "This is bad, Jack. I don't really have a choice. I'll be as careful as I can, but I have to go now." She pulled the sweatshirt off and folded it up, tucking it under his head. Her hand found his shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. "Don't you dare die on me, OK? I'll be back as soon as possible." She snatched up the flashlight and dashed to the window.
Other than darting her eyes across the street and finding no one nearby, Amanda didn't hesitate at the scaffolding, scrambling down it at record speed. She made her way along the street as fast as she could, only pausing to duck behind a trash can when she saw two gang members having a violent disagreement. The few minutes that it took for the gang to move on felt like an eternity. She circled around the trash can as they moved past, until she deemed them far enough away and resumed jogging. The Walgreens was as she had left it; she slipped through the hole in the glass and started hunting for the phone. If I hadn't been in so much of a rush to patch up his leg, I'd have thought of calling immediately, she thought ruefully. It was not one of her better judgment calls, she admitted to herself. But then, she truly hadn't known how his leg was doing, and for all she knew the time she took to call could have made the difference between life and death. It still might, for that matter.
There — a phone on the counter! Her fingers fumbled as she snatched up the handset and punched in the three digits. "911, state your emergency." Amanda sighed with relief as she began to speak. The woman on the other end listened attentively and promised immediate help. "You said second floor?" the operator asked to confirm.
"Yes, the ground floor is boarded up; you'll have to break down the door to come up that way," Amanda answered. "I should probably head back there, try to help keep him warm."
"All right, just leave the phone off the hook for us, okay?"
"OK, and hurry!" Amanda set the phone down on the counter and slipped out the hole in the glass as quickly as she could. For once fate seemed to be smiling on her, as there were no signs of life on the street, and she could run back to the building where Jack lay. Before she knew it, she was bounding through the empty window and over to him.
"Jack?" she said, searching his face with the flashlight. It was startlingly pale, and her heart skipped a beat as she knelt in a hurry and pressed her hand to his forehead. It was cooler than before, but she could still hear his rapid breathing, and she quickly slid her body behind him again. A lot of heat escaped from the head, she remembered, and used 'her' sweatshirt to fashion a makeshift hat. She tucked the blanket in against her chest, wrapping her arms around it — and him. "Just a little longer, Jack; hang in there." There was no verbal response, but his head slowly turned, pressing his forehead against her neck. She shivered at the chilly skin and adjusted the 'hat'.
It seemed like an eternity until the sound of sirens could be heard. Soon flashing lights cast patterns on the ceiling, and a crash resounded downstairs. "Oh, thank God," she breathed, as their voices could be heard calling. "Up here!" she called back.
The paramedics laid the stretcher next to the two of them, and Amanda carefully slid out from behind Jack so they could lay him on it. She picked up all the supplies she'd gathered, scooping them back into the bags. "You want to ride with him?" one of the paramedics asked her as she collected the last of the items.
"Sure," Amanda answered, climbing into the back of the ambulance. She watched them as they laid a special blanket over him and started an IV. Her hands pressed against each other, and her eyes never wandered.
"He's gonna be just fine," said the same woman. She met Amanda's eyes as the agent glanced up. "The IV will put a lot of those fluids back, we're working on warming him up, and they'll clean that wound out at the hospital." She gestured to the leg, still wrapped in the bandages Amanda had put on.
Amanda nodded, looking back down at Jack. His eyes stayed closed, but when she reached a hand out to his and gave a gentle squeeze, there was a faint grip back.
The paramedics swept Jack away when they reached the hospital, and Amanda soon found herself showing her badge to the woman behind the desk. The admitting clerk didn't bat an eyelash as Amanda explained the unusual situation that had led to an FBI agent being rescued from the second story of a building which no one was supposed to be in anyway. When they started asking about medical history and information, however, she had to plead ignorance. "I really am not the person to answer that," she told the woman. She suspected John might have a better idea, which was how she found herself on the phone a few minutes later, waking up a sleepy boss.
"Amanda? What's going on?"
"Uh, you know Jack's paranoid CI? The one that goes by Little T?"
"Yeah?" He yawned.
"Well, uh, we went to meet him at an office building under construction, east of downtown. And, well, the earthquake happened, and Jack fell and gashed his leg open, and ended up going into shock by the time help got there, and we're at the hospital," she finished in a rush.
"You're where?" John asked, sleep disappearing from his voice rapidly.
"Linda Vista," she answered. "They're asking for medical history and I don't know all that."
"I'll be there in a few minutes." The call went dead, and Amanda sighed.
"He says he'll be here in a few minutes," she told the woman behind the desk, and sat down in one of the chairs, leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes. She had nodded off for a moment when she felt a hand shake her shoulder slightly.
Amanda opened her eyes to see John crouching in front of her. His eyes were sympathetic as they traveled over her tired countenance, pausing to take in the scratched-up palms of her hands. "Sounds like it's been a long night."
"Yeah. Jack's still back with the doctors; they had to clean out his wound."
John nodded. "Where's the Bureau car?"
Amanda smiled and shook her head. "Ruined by the quake. Loose board on top the scaffolding went through the windshield. Some kids stole the radio too. Might want to get someone to tow it before they break into the trunk and grab the shotgun."
John raised his eyebrows as she described it. "I'll do that. Meanwhile, it sounds like you're short on wheels. If you can sit tight while I take care of this, I can drop you off at the Bureau lot to pick up your car."
She nodded, yawning. "I'll just take a nap; these chairs aren't as bad as people say."
He smiled at her. "I'll be back," he said, standing back up and striding towards the front desk.
Amanda closed her eyes again. Her own bed would be wonderful, when she got there, but this chair would certainly suffice. For one, it was warm . . .
"Amanda," a voice called in what seemed like the next minute.
"Hmm?" She forced her eyes open. John was sitting in the chair next to her.
"Jack's settled in a hospital room for the night; they're wanting to monitor his leg for infection," John said. Amanda nodded. He scanned her face. "You patched him up, didn't you?"
John smiled. "You did well; the nurses were commenting on how well the leg was treated for the supplies you had."
"Thank you, sir," she answered, surprised.
"He's not asleep yet, was asking for you. I figure we might as well stop by his room before I take you back to the Bureau." John stood up, grabbing one of Amanda's hands to help her up, and turned towards the elevators.
Amanda followed John through the hallways to the wing where Jack was. For a minute, she could have sworn there was a hint of a smile on Jack's face when he saw her, but one blink later and he was his usual self. "Can I borrow your cell phone?" he asked John.
"I don't think they like people using them in here," John said, raising his eyebrows.
Jack's only response was a glare and an outstretched hand. Gutsy move, Amanda thought, but that's Jack for you.
John cooperated with a slight smile. "I'll go be lookout, then." He walked outside the room, stopping in front of the doorway.
Jack was already dialing as soon as he had the phone. "Sit down, Reardon, you look as tired as I am," he ordered, gesturing his hand towards the chair beside the bed. Amanda sank into it and leaned back, watching him.
The phone finally connected. "Little T? It's DiRado," Jack said. He listened for a moment before continuing. "Yeah, sorry we were late; it was the traffic." He nodded as Little T talked some more. "Listen, I won't be able to make it tomorrow night. I'm in the hospital." A pause. "No, it was the quake. And the stairs in that building. Doesn't matter." He waited again, and Amanda smiled to herself at the exasperation his face was starting to show. Nice to see someone else can be as frustrating as him! "You can still meet, just not with me. I'll send my partner. You can trust her just as you trust me."
Amanda was glad she had enough control of her jaw not to let it drop open. She was still trying to make sense of that astonishing statement when Jack hung up. Her face must have shown her shock, because he suddenly smiled at her — a real, genuine smile.
"You'll meet him tomorrow night; take Stoddard with you," he told her. Amanda was still in shock from the smile on top of the statement. "I told him to call my cell tomorrow — take it with you when you leave the Bureau." Amanda could only nod.
At that moment John poked his head back in. "Nurse headed this way; ready to go?"
Jack held the phone back out to him. John came over to his bedside and took it. "I'll come by tomorrow, see how you're doing," he told Jack, who was already closing his eyes. John turned to Amanda, who still felt like she’d been hit over the head with a board. He raised his eyebrows, but only said, "Let's get you back to the Bureau."
The ride back was as quiet as the ride with Jack at the beginning had been, but the atmosphere couldn't have been more different. Amanda found herself replaying Jack's statement — and the smile — again and again. Of all the things that he could have said, that was one of the last things she would have expected. And she hadn't been sure he even knew how to smile like that. She certainly couldn't think of the last time she'd seen him with any smile besides a sardonic grin.
Back at the Bureau, she surprised John by telling him she'd go upstairs before heading home in her car. The building was nearly abandoned, and she quickly found Jack's desk — and the cell phone. She shook her head, and a wry smile crept onto her face. One piece of technology, the lack of which had changed the entire evening. The outcome could have been fatal; she knew that as well as anyone. But instead . . . she reviewed some of the surprises of the evening. Instead, things had turned out rather well, on some fronts. "You can trust her" was still ringing in her mind, and it finally sunk in. She grinned widely, and her tiredness seemed to lift some.
"Now that was worth it all!" she proclaimed to the empty room as she walked back to the elevators.