The lights of Los Angeles seen through the car window seemed dimmer tonight after the fiery blaze of the rocket that carried away the final remains of his beloved wife.
Wife. Even after six weeks the word felt strange, foreign, to him. Sylvester couldn’t think of a good reason why, his genius mind was more attuned to numbers than words. (Women in their twenties with MS have a mortality rate of… No he can’t go there. Not again.) Megan was the opposite of foreign to him. She was everything that was comforting and safe; she was home to him, even if their only married domicile had been her hospital room.
“It’s tough…” Cabe broke the silence as the SUV glided through what remained of late night traffic. “Losing someone you love…”
The ache in Sylvester’s chest rose up, new pangs of grief and guilt for forgetting the other man’s loss, so lost in his own.
“I can’t even imagine losing a child,” he managed.
Cabe nodded, ever stoic, though the hard lines etched in his face seemed somewhat softened in the shadows.
“You have to focus on the good times,” he said, seemingly more to himself than to Sylvester. “You can’t dwell on what could have been. Megan wouldn’t have wanted that.”
“I know.” Sylvester turned his face to the window then closed his eyes against the invasion of the city. They had at least twenty more minutes and the memories behind his eyes were where his love awaited. “I miss you,” he mouthed silently as her beautiful smile came to life in his mind’s eye.
She should have been surprised that Walter didn’t let go of her hand at the beach, but somehow she wasn’t.
As the rocket flew into the sky, the flame so bright Paige almost wanted to shield her eyes against it, she’d felt like Walter’s anchor, keeping him from following into the ether. Without Megan, without the prize to work for that he was sure would save her, it seemed Walter was adrift – unable to bury himself so deep the grief couldn’t reach him.
His breakdown at the garage had been so unexpected, so raw and yet so necessary. No one knew what to do other than to not interfere. Walter needed to go through that, as painful as it was. He needed to acknowledge his loss fully, not as a genius, but as a bereft brother who had lost his beloved sole sibling.
Even thinking about it made Paige choke up. She couldn’t imagine losing Ralph; he was her life, a part of her that could never be completely separate from her. Her son was as necessary as air to her. Megan had been the quiet driving force behind Walter’s actions for years. She’d grounded him, reminded him of his humanity, made him love when he thought love was irrational.
There wasn’t even really any discussion of who would drive who home. Walter just held her hand until they arrived at the car and he had to let go. Still, he seemed reluctant to do so, staring at their joined hands for a second before releasing her.
“It is a little easier to drive with two hands,” she teased lightly before they got into the car.
“One is capable of more precision handling using both hands, indeed,” Walter rattled off, “though easier is technically debatable, particularly utilizing aftermarket…”
“Walter,” she said, shaking her head at him. “It was just a joke.”
She unlocked both doors and opened the driver’s side door quietly, putting a finger to her lips as a reminder to Walter to also be quiet since Ralph – who had loved the rocket launch, but couldn’t fight the late hour afterwards – was fast asleep on the back seat. He was curled up with his sweatshirt folded under his head as a pillow and a blanket over his prone yet seat-belted form.
Once they were settled inside Paige started the car, looking back to check if the sound had woken her son and to adjust the blanket to cover him better.
“I’m glad he was here to witness the launch,” Walter whispered.
“Oh believe me,” she whispered back. “He wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Walter’s expression shifted, anguish rising up anew.
“I wanted Megan to be here, to see it, to know I won the prize for her…”
“Walter,” Paige put her hand on his knee which quieted him. “She knew you loved her. That was what really mattered.”
“Right.” His gaze went right out the windshield and into nothingness, the struggle for control clear on his troubled face.
Paige moved to take hold of his hand, laying their rejoined hands back on Walter’s knee.
“I’m here if you need anything at all… If you want to talk… Anything…”
Walter just nodded, as if not trusting his ability to speak.
Paige finally let go, backed out of her parking space and headed for the freeway.
After a few minutes of silence, just before the onramp, Walter spoke again – his voice oddly fragile in the quiet space.
“I don’t want to go back to the garage. I… I don’t want to be alone.”
The pain in his voice was like a blow, pain so evident she felt the echoes of it as if it traveled like shock waves through the air between them.
“You’re coming home with us then,” she stated firmly, maneuvering the car into the left hand turn lane to change directions. “Tonight you can have some of my famous eggnog and tomorrow you can help Ralph put together the electric motor kit I bought him.”
The tiny curve of a smile graced Walter’s lips and Paige felt like she let out a breath she’d been holding. He’d be fine. Sylvester would be fine. They’d all be fine. It was Christmas and they’d saved the day.
“You know, Ralph won’t need any help with that motor kit.”
She shared a glance with Walter, letting her smile brighten and encourage his own.
“No, he won’t,” she agreed, already imagining them the next morning sitting on the living room floor analyzing each piece, fully engrossed in their engineering work as she sipped her eggnog. “But he’ll definitely have more fun building it with you.”
Crossing the threshold of Happy’s place, Toby nervously played with her car keys, feeling uncertainty rise unbidden within him. Abruptly she took them from him with an admonishing glare and placed them on her key hook. That she’d let him drive her car was already a shocker; that she told him to take her home had been about as far out of the realm of possibility yesterday as Megan’s rocket was now far from the Earth’s surface.
“You want something to drink? A beer? Wine?” Happy gestured to the kitchen as she walked towards it.
“Whatever you’re having I guess,” he said with a shrug. This new thing between them seemed so tenuous, too ephemeral, he feared one wrong word and it would evaporate into a fight and end.
Happy turned away from the kitchen and headed over to the small shelf that served as a bar in her apartment.
“I almost died today so I’m ready for a real drink.” She took hold of a mostly full bottle and poured a liberal amount into a glass, downing a solid swallow like a shot. Toby watched the effect go through her as she shuddered at the strength of the alcohol. After a second or two to recover, she held up the bottle and glass. “Want some?”
Toby crossed the room, took the glass out of her hand and took a sip, putting it down on a nearby table before taking the bottle away as well.
“What I want requires us not to be drunk.” He reached for her, pulling her into his arms slowly, as if giving her the time and opportunity to get away if she wasn’t ready. “And not drenched in dam water either.”
A split second after it was out of his mouth Toby felt the shiver of horror go through the small frame pressed against him… Felt Happy hide her face in his neck as if trying to evade the horror of the recollection of her near death.
“I was so sure…” she murmured, her breath warm and so wonderfully alive against his skin. “I mean, I’ve been in dangerous situations before and I was always sure… I mean Walter… Everyone at Scorpion… I trust you guys with my life.”
“Only this time…” Toby held her tighter, burying his face in her recently washed hair. She smelled clean and warm yet with a tinge of smoke as if she’d been near firecrackers not a space rocket that night.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “This time I was sure I was a goner. I went down that pipe so fast… I didn’t get a chance to get a breath…” She stiffened at the memory and Toby rocked her gently, shushing her as words failed. Her breath started coming in little hitches as she forced herself to continue. “I couldn’t breathe! And the pipe was so small, it closed in around me… There wasn’t any air, any hope… And then when they tried to pull me out, the whirlpool almost pulled me right out of their hands. If you and Cabe hadn’t shown up to help…”
Toby almost couldn’t bear to hear the woman he’d known as impossibly strong and brave suddenly fall apart. He knew this had to be killing her inside, but all he could do was hold on and see her through until the end.
“Shh… It’s okay. You’re safe now. You’re safe with me.”
“I couldn’t hold on any longer…” Her voice was barely more than a whisper. “I could feel their hands slipping and there was nothing I could do…”
“Don’t think about that part,” he admonished gently. “We did get there in time. We did save you. You’re here: Happy Quinn, eighth wonder. You are a force of nature and you live to fight another day.” Reluctantly he pulled back enough to tip her face up and wipe the wetness from her cheeks. “Hey… You must be exhausted. You should settle down for the night… Get some sleep.”
She sniffled a little, rubbing her eyes as she pulled away enough to regain some composure.
“I don’t know… I might just stay up…” When Toby looked at her quizzically, she explained. “I’m afraid if I try to sleep I’ll have nightmares and I can’t deal with being back in the pipe again… Not this soon.”
Toby nodded. “Well, how about we do a little cognitive behavioral therapy designed for claustrophobes before you settle down? That might help keep the damn dam away.”
Happy managed a soft laugh. “You and your dam jokes.” She looked up at him, that familiar smirk on her lips finally back again. “Of course you realize this means I’m not driving you home.”
Toby held up his hand in a boy scout style salute. “I promise to remain a perfect gentleman tonight. All bets are off after that though,” he teased. “I don’t know how long I can go without reverting to my boyish inner twelve-year-old.”
At that she truly laughed, a full throaty sound that was uniquely hers with more than hints of the mirth they had shared so many times at the garage.
“Good,” she said. “Perfect gentleman are boring.” She took hold of his hand and headed towards the bedroom. “But how about you work on an older boyish version of you, say like your real age?”
“I am as you would have me be…” Toby’s executed a shallow bow with a flourish yet his voice was sober, serious. This was his chance to see Happy’s true self and she deserved nothing but the best he could offer in return – the best version of himself he could be for her tonight and beyond.
“Good,” Happy responded, looking pleased as she drew him into the darkness of her bedroom. “Because I’m ready for another of your well-executed kisses about now, Doc.”
She took off his hat and tossed it onto her dresser. This time it was her pulling him close.
“Here comes number two,” he joshed, leaning in. “Prepare to lose count before morning…”
Dawn rose on Sylvester dreaming of a day at the beach with Megan. She giggled delightedly as she scurried away from the waves breaking on the wet sand, as if daring them to catch her. The midday sun shone down upon her, a glint of gold catching his eye as a ray caught the slim band on her finger: her wedding ring.
They may not have had rings and a real honeymoon in life, but they could live out years together in the hours he slumbered.
Dawn’s first light announced the new day through Paige’s kitchen windows. She could see it from the living room sofa where she sat propped against the pillows with Walter’s head on her lap.
They had stayed up so late talking after he’d carried Ralph to his room – sharing whispers, secrets, sadness and tears until nearly four in the morning.
She’d dozed a bit and been awakened by the encroaching light before deciding to sleep again. Looking down she smiled at the smooth carefree lack of expression on Walter’s face. He was at peace finally.
As he stirred slightly she automatically began threading her fingers through his hair, absentmindedly remembering that was how she had finally gotten him to fall asleep hours earlier.
Letting out a long breath she watched him quiet again and closed her eyes to join him in blissful repose.
The first time Happy woke up she was clawing at the air, flailing and gasping as the nightmare refused to release her from its watery grasp.
“It’s okay! You’re safe! You’re safe!” A voice came out of the dark as did strong arms, grabbing her, grounding her, bringing her back to her senses. “I’m here. I’ve got you…”
It took almost an hour to fall back asleep after that.
The second time she woke up it was easier. Toby’s arms calmed her once again, his soft words and reassurances – along with the comfort of his warm body next to hers – sending the nightmare on its way again.
At dawn she woke up a third time, this time without any dream or nightmare. She found herself completely encircled by Toby’s arms, her head pillowed on his chest. She felt soothed by the regular rise and fall of his breath despite how recently she had been denied that for herself.
She slipped her arm around his waist, nestling closer, pleased that even in sleep he adjusted to her as if to make her more comfortable at his own expense.
Last year it hadn’t worked out, but she wasn’t the same person this year. She wasn’t even the same person she’d been the day before yesterday.
Yesterday they saved Christmas and sent a woman into space. Perhaps it had just been her ashes, but if they could do that as a team, then Happy felt fairly certain she and Toby could figure out a way to make it work.