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Aftermath

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Aftermath
by d.d.drake
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The long white limousine pulled up to the door, disgorging it's single passenger into the darkness.  As Briggs entered the house, he raised one hand in acknowledgment to the driver.  She pulled away, leaving him alone.

As he closed the door behind him, Archangel allowed himself to rest momentarily against it.  It was late, almost midnight, and for him it had been a very long day.  He had watched the sun rise from a carrier in the Persian Gulf and set from his office at Knightsbridge, then spent the rest of the evening arguing Stringfellow's case with the committee.  Thirty hours, give or take a few time zones.  Gathering himself, he limped slowly toward the sofa, leaning heavily on the rosewood cane.  He was exhausted, and his leg burned as if it were on fire, the constant pain accented by a sharp bolt of lightning every time he put his weight on it.  He dropped his hat onto a chair, then paused to strip off his jacket and vest, tossing them across its back before collapsing on the sofa.

Stretching his leg did little to ease the pain.  He knew he had pushed himself too hard, but given the circumstances it had been unavoidable.  In the week and a half since he'd left the Firm's medical facility at Winterhaven, he'd jetted halfway around the world, chasing Airwolf and her creator.  The travel had taken it's toll.  The launch from the carrier had been the worst; belted into the rear seat of the F-14, he had nearly blacked out from the g-forces.

His weakness disgusted him.  Michael was accustomed to surviving on little sleep, working long hours under adverse conditions.  Dealing with a crippled frame that protested his every demand was a new experience, and one that he didn't relish.  Until now, rage and fury had kept him moving, but now Moffet was dead, and his death hadn't even begun to pay for his sins.  Thirty five dead at Red Star.  Marella still recovering from her coma.  Angela. Gabrielle.  And then there was what Moffet had done to *him*.

Too restless to sleep, Archangel pulled off his tie and loosened his collar. He picked up the remote and clicked on the television, idly flipping channels as he shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position.  Finally, he abandoned the effort.  Turning off the television, he rose stiffly, intending to put himself to bed.

As he passed by the open bar that separated the living room from the dining area, he spotted the vial he'd left on the counter.  Briggs had promised himself he wouldn't resort to the drugs, but...  the mission was over. Airwolf was back in friendly hands.  He reached for the vial.  Just this once. Michael popped the cover off the container and tapped two of the pills into his palm.  He started to head for the kitchen for water, then stopped.  To hell with it.  He reached beneath the bar and brought out a bottle, pouring a healthy portion of the dark liquid into a heavy crystal tumbler.  Swallowing the pills, he washed them down with the scotch as he eased himself carefully onto one of the bar stools.

For all practical purposes, his femur was still shattered, bits of bone being held together with little more than titanium plates and screws, supported by the plastic and steel of the brace hidden beneath his clothing.  The x-rays resembled nothing more than a jig-saw puzzle.  As for the leg itself -- he'd forced himself to take a good look -- once.  That had been enough.  Since then, he'd managed to avoid more than the briefest of glances.

Michael realized the tumbler he held was empty and he refilled it.  His thoughts turned again to Gabrielle.  He had lost one of his finest and most trusted assistants, and he had lost a friend.  He was responsible for her death.  He was the one who had sent her over there, into Moffet's claws.  Why? Was Airwolf worth her life?  Was Moffet?  Or was it only a selfish need for revenge against the man who had cost him so much?

Archangel turned, his attention shifting to the shelf of trophies above the mantle.  For decades, he had allowed himself only one obsession, one passion. It was a passion that had brought him into the Firm, had eventually brought him to command the Airwolf project.  Now Moffet had stolen the one talent that meant something to him.  The wall of awards only reminded him of what he had lost.  *Forever.*

Abruptly, he lashed out, swinging the cane like a club.  Several of the trophies fell to the floor with a loud crash.  His glass was empty again, and he poured another.  His leg no longer burned, the pain had metamorphed into a deep, throbbing ache that he knew would never really go away.  As Michael reached for the glass, he happened to glance up into the mirror behind the bar.  He could barely recognize the haggard reflection staring back at him. It was the face of a stranger, someone far older than he was, unshaven, unkempt.  Dark circles etched beneath the eyes...   Eye, he reminded himself. Singular.  The second lay hidden behind a pane of dark glass.  *Blind.*

Briggs swallowed down what was left of the scotch, trying to drown the blurry image that swam before him.  It wasn't fair.  If he had to pay some penance for trusting Moffet, why couldn't it have been his leg?  At least there were planes he could have still flown with one leg...

The mirror shattered as the heavy tumbler connected, turning the silvered glass to nothing more than a scattering of broken fragments.  Somehow, it seemed appropriate, a reflection as broken and tattered as his body.  He gripped the open bottle tightly.  Tipping his head back, he drank deeply from it, feeling the strong alcohol course down his throat.  Pulling himself to his feet, he staggered down the hallway and into the dark bedroom, hand still wrapped around the neck of the almost empty bottle.

Michael fumbled for and found the light switch beside the door, and in the sudden brightness the image found him again, staring back from above the dresser.  *No.*  The bottle flew from his hand and connected, cracking, splintering.  Without conscious direction, he continued on, finding himself standing before the bathroom sink, confronting the reflection above it.  A cake of soap bounced ineffectively off of the mirrored surface, followed by the ceramic soap dish with a more satisfying result.

He turned, and found himself staring into the full-length mirror that hung on the back of the door.  This vision was worse.  As if the haggard face and half-darkened glasses weren't enough, in this he could see the outline of the brace beneath the pant leg, and somehow, he could see the livid red scars gouged deep into the flesh.  The vision changed, became Moffet's leering grin, Hawke's grim visage, then Gabrielle, burning, dying of thirst in the desert. *No, damn it!  No!*  He brought his fists up, intent on hammering the images back into oblivion, mindless of the scarlet streaks that began to drip down between the shards of glass.

Time passed.  His slim reserves of strength spent, Archangel slowly leaned forward, letting his forehead rest against the cool wood of the door.  Tears ran unnoticed down his face, and likewise, he ignored the bloody smears his hands left on everything they touched.  It was then that the scotch finally found his stomach, and he dove for the porcelain bowl, collapsing beside it just as the night's binge came to it's inevitable conclusion.

It seemed like the heaving lasted forever, long past the point of emptying his stomach, tearing at still tender ribs.  Dawn was starting to lighten the sky by the time it ended, leaving him shaking and exhausted.  Getting up was out of the question.  Instead, he leaned back into the corner, letting the walls support him.  Eventually, he slept.

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Rosa Ramirez pulled the aging but still dependable station wagon onto the long drive.  It was a route she knew well; she had made this trip on an almost daily basis for nearly thirty years.  In the beginning, she had worked for Stephan Randall.  With his death, she had transferred her loyalty to his nephew.  As she had once told Senor Briggs, she came with the house.

Over the years she had worked for him, Michael Briggs had both treated and paid her exceptionally well.  While she usually saw little of him, she actively liked the man, despite his eccentricities.  Although there were only perhaps a dozen years between them, in some respects, she felt a certain maternal fondness for him.  They spoke occasionally, and he seldom failed to ask her about her family and how she was doing.

Her official title was that of housekeeper, but in reality, her duties were far more diverse.  He had asked her once if she'd prefer a more descriptive title, and she had jokingly replied that the most accurate one might be "wife."   It wasn't that far from the truth.  Every morning she would stop in
at the Briggs ranch house.  Often, there would be nothing more to do than water the plants.  Other days, she would perform the domestic chores that were usually handled by the woman of the house; cleaning, laundry, shopping. Occasionally, Briggs would ask her to cook; more often she looked after the place while he was gone, sometimes for weeks at a time.  It was a rather unusual arrangement, but it worked well for them both.  Now that her children were grown and had lives of their own, Rosa had quit her other cleaning jobs and kept only this one.  It paid well enough that she could live comfortably on it.

A little over three months earlier, Briggs had disappeared.  At first, it didn't concern her, his unexpected absences weren't uncommon.  A few days later, there had been a note waiting for her, asking her to call.  The slightly accented female voice at the other end had told her that Michael had been injured in an accident, and was in a private hospital.  Someone would pick up the mail at regular intervals, and she should take care of the house.

Over the months, she had run into the woman she learned was called Gabrielle on several occasions.  The reports on her employer were sketchy; she was told little more than that his condition was improving.  The longer his absence continued, the more worried Rosa became.  Then, without warning, one morning she found the limousine parked in the drive.

He was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee, his assistant Gabrielle seated beside him.  Briggs looked like hell; tired, drawn, quieter and more subdued than she'd ever seen him.  A cane leaned against the table, and he had his left leg propped on another chair, but the biggest shock was the darkened glass that made up the left side of his glasses.

Almost two weeks had passed since that morning, and Rosa hadn't seen him since.  Nothing at the house had been touched, and she assumed he hadn't been back.  She wondered if he might have returned to the hospital.

As she pulled up in front of the house, the housekeeper glanced around, half hoping to see the long white limo.  It was nowhere to be found, and she saw no signs of life.  Quietly, she unlocked the door and went in.  Immediately, she spotted the hat and jacket, laying atop the chair.  She debated calling out, but decided against it.  If he was sleeping, she didn't want to wake him.  He surely needed the rest.

Rosa had started for the kitchen when she found the fallen trophies.  A quick glance at the shelf confirmed that they hadn't fallen accidentally.  She had picked up the largest and started to set it back into position when she saw the shattered mirror.  "Oh Lord," she whispered beneath her breath, "Michael, what have you done?"  Setting the trophy on the bar, she hurried down the hallway.  In the master bedroom, she found the second mirror, and could detect the faint scent of the spilled scotch.

Looking around, Rosa saw the untouched bed and the closed door leading to the private bath.  She crossed to stand beside the door.  "Senor Briggs? Michael?"  Her soft call brought no answer.  Hesitantly, afraid of what she might find, she cracked open the door.

He was slouched in the corner.  To her infinite relief, she could hear him snoring slightly.  Rosa took in the broken glass, the dark, dried patches of red.  Stepping around the shards, she knelt beside him, gently touching his arm.  "Michael?"

"Ummm?"  He woke slowly, looking up at her through glasses that were still, impossibly, perched on the bridge of his nose.  "Rosa?"

She waited until he'd had a moment to begin to orientate himself.  "Are you all right?"

Briggs still wasn't quite sure of exactly where he was, or how he'd gotten there.  He was only sure of one thing.  "I feel like shit."

"I'm not surprised."  She touched his arm again in reassurance.  "Don't try to move, I'm going to get you some water.  I'll be right back."

Rosa slipped away, and Michael began to sort out just how he did feel.  His head pounded horribly, and his throat was raw.  There was a terrible taste in his mouth and his stomach still churned threateningly, although he doubted whether there could be anything left in it.  With the night spent on the hard tile floor, his leg had locked up on him.  He had started to work on trying to bend it when Rosa returned.  Thirsty, he reached out for the glass.

"No, let me."  She again knelt beside him.

It was then that he saw the blood on his hands.  At first it didn't register; then he looked around the room at the shattered mirrors.  Bits of memory started to return, uncomfortable images.  Sighing, he let Rosa hold the glass while he drank from it.  Finally, the taste in his mouth began to fade. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."  Tenderly, she examined his hands.  For the moment, the bleeding had stopped, but she knew it would start again as soon as the dried blood was disturbed.  "I'd better call an ambulance, or a doctor, at least."

"No.  Don't."

"Some of these are pretty deep.  You'll probably need stitches."  The damage had, luckily, been mostly confined to the edges of his palms.  If he'd used his knuckles, the results would have been far worse.

"No."  He needed to make her understand.  "If they ever find out what I did last night, I'll be out of a job."  Michael knew that Zeus had long wanted him off the committee  This would be all the excuse the chairman would need to show him the door.  "Please, Rosa."  His voice cracked, desperate.  "Please. It's all I have left."

While she had never been told, Rosa had a pretty good idea of just what line of work Briggs was in.  She knew he was right, in that kind of world, any sign of weakness would end a career.  "All right.  I won't call, at least until we see just how bad it is."  Considering, she looked around.  "First, we've got to get you out of here.  Can you get up?"

Tentatively, he tested his leg.  It might support his weight, if he could make it to his feet.  Getting up, though, would be a problem.  "I don't think so."

Rosa was a strong woman, long accustomed to heavy housework.  She braced herself and reached down.  "Give me your arm.  I'll help you."

He started to reach up to her and suddenly winced, pulling back.  "Michael?"

Briggs shook his head, immediately regretting the motion and its effect on his aching head.  "My damn shoulder blade's cracked.  It doesn't hurt until I forget about it and try to lift my arm.  Can you come around to the other side?"

Locking her arm behind his right elbow, Rosa carefully pulled him to his feet. She steadied him as he stood there waiting for the flare of agony from his leg to ease and for the room to stop spinning.  Finally, his head cleared. "I'm ok.  You can let go.  There's a first aid kit under the sink."

Reluctantly, she released her grip on him long enough to find the kit.  "Think you can you make it to the bedroom?  We've got to get you out of those clothes."

"I can make it."  Briggs forced himself to move despite his body's protests, knowing that if he didn't, she'd pick up the phone.  With Rosa half supporting him, he staggered into the bedroom to perch painfully on the edge of the bed. He didn't argue as she unbuttoned his shirt and carefully slipped it over his injured hands.

Rosa was shocked by what she found as she stripped off his upper garments.  He had lost weight, a lot of weight, and beneath the layers of clothing he was horribly thin.  Across his back and shoulder were littered fine fresh scars. She had seen a similar pattern once before, on her brother after he had returned from Vietnam.  Shrapnel.  Regardless of what she'd been told, it was obvious that whatever had happened to him had been no accident.

"There's a robe in the second drawer."  He gestured toward the bureau with a slight nod.

She found the rich silk robe and helped him pull it on.  "Stand up for me while I get these pants off of you."

Grimacing, he hesitated.  "Rosa, I'd rather you didn't."

The housekeeper chuckled.  "You think that I've never seen a man in his skivvies before?  Michael, I have three younger brothers and two sons, and I've stripped them all down more than once."

"It's not that."  He looked down at his bloodstained clothing and his injured hands.  Any attempt to undress himself would only reopen the wounds, and Rosa would call the medics.  Reluctantly, he stood.  As she began to pull the trousers down, he looked away, but he heard her sharp intake of breath and the muttered words of Spanish that he couldn't quite catch.  He fought to control his voice.  "Not very pretty, is it?"

The supporting brace did little to hide the massive damage to his leg. Something had ripped away much of the flesh and muscle, leaving behind a void barely covered by a patchwork of jagged scars and skin grafts.  For the first time, she realized just how much pain he must be in.  No wonder he had gone on such a rampage.  "Michael, I'm sorry."  As he sat back down, she untied his shoes and removed them, then slid his pants off.

"There's nothing for you to be sorry about.  You're not the one responsible. I am."  He stared at the ceiling, still refusing to look down.  Before she had a chance to ask him what he meant he changed the topic.  "There are pajamas in the dresser, would you get them for me?"

She retrieved the pajamas and found a pair of slippers beneath the bed. Dressed, he again forced himself to his feet.  At least the room didn't spin quite as erratically this time.  "Well, we'd better see what kind of a job I did on myself."

Rosa followed him out into the kitchen, where he leaned against the sink, resting most of his weight on his elbows.  Gently, she began to wash his hands.  As she'd predicted, several of the cuts began to bleed again, and she held a pad of gauze against the deepest.

"How's it look?"  The water stung as it found the open wounds, but compared to the pain he'd dealt with for over three months, it was little more than an annoyance.

"Not as bad as I feared," she admitted.  "From the amount of blood, I thought it would be worse.  I'm not sure why you bled so much."  Rosa shut the water off and guided him toward a seat at the table.

"Probably because of the aspirin."  He saw her confused expression as he settled into the chair.  "I've been eating them like candy.  My blood must be about the consistency of water by now."

She glanced up from his hands.  "They won't give you anything stronger?"

Briggs snorted.  "They did.  I just haven't taken them.  Until last night, at any rate."

Rosa met his gaze.  "What did happen last night?"

He didn't answer for a few minutes, then he slowly shook his head, ignoring the movement's effect on his pounding headache.  "It all caught up with me, I guess.  Exhaustion.  Anger.  Guilt.  More than a little self-pity.  It's been a long time since I drank like that, and I know better than to mix booze and pain killers...  At least, I should know better."

She was surprised by his candor.  "You got it out of your system."  It was as much a statement as a question.

Michael nodded almost imperceptibly.  "Yeah.  You can bet I won't do that again."

"Good."  The cuts on his right hand were not that serious, and she wrapped them with a bit of gauze and tape.  Turning her attention to the other hand, Rosa found that one deep gash was still bleeding freely.  "I hate to say it, but I think this really does need a few stitches."

Michael turned his hand to examine the cut.  She was right, it probably should have stitches, but it wasn't going to get them.  He gestured toward the first aid kit.  "Somewhere in there you should be able to find some butterfly bandages."

"These?"  She pulled out a small package.

"That's it."  He carefully flexed his right hand, checking to see how much he could move it without tearing the dressings loose.  Satisfied that his hand was relatively functional, he opened the package.  It took him a few minutes and Rosa's help to apply the bandages, and it wasn't the neatest job he'd ever done, but when he was finished the wound was closed.  "Good enough."  He
flashed her a quick half grin.  "You'd never know it, but I actually do heal fast."

"I can believe that."  Rosa closed the kit and started puttering around at the stove.  "If not, you'd still be in the hospital."  She looked over her shoulder at him.  "For that matter, are you even supposed to be out?"

He shrugged.  "I promised to take it easy."  More precisely, he had promised to go home and go to bed.  Not that he'd ever had any intention of doing it, or that anyone had actually believed him.

"That's what I thought."  She changed the topic.  "How's the hangover?"

Briggs scowled.  "Let's just say I know why I don't make a habit of getting drunk."  He remembered the last time all too clearly.  It had been shortly after he had said goodbye to Maria, and watched her get on the train...

Rosa poured out something into a cup, which she set down before him.  "Drink this."

Cradling the cup gingerly between his hands, he brought it to his mouth and sipped.  "Aggh!  What the hell is it, battery acid?"  He made a face and put the cup back down.

"Something to take care of your head.  What you taste is the Tabasco."  She regarded him with a mixture of affection and exasperation, as one might look at an unruly child.  "It's an old family recipe.  Trust me, it will make you feel better.  Drink it."

"I'd really prefer black coffee."  Despite his protests, he swallowed the vile tasting liquid.  "Satisfied?"

Rosa grinned.  "Now I'll get you that coffee.  What would you like for breakfast?"

The thought of food tightened his stomach into knots again.  "No, nothing. Not for awhile, at least."

"You're not going to get your strength back unless you eat, you know that. How about some cereal?"

Michael shook his head again, careful not to move too sharply.  "I can't, Rosa.  Not yet.  My stomach is still doing the tango."  He paused, debating just how far he could push his overtaxed system.  "Tell you what.  Let me go get cleaned up a little, get rid of this beard..."  He ran a long finger along the stubble on his jawline.  "Then you can make me some toast and that coffee you promised."

"Throw in a glass of juice and you've got a deal, but I don't want you going near that bathroom until I've swept up."

"Rosa, I did it.  I'll clean it up."

"Like hell you will.  I'm the housekeeper around here, remember?"  Her smile took some of the sting from her words, but it was obvious she didn't expect an argument.  "Let me get what you need and I'll take it into the guest bath." She started to head down the hallway.

"Don't bother, I'll just grab my travel bag."  Two decades of short notice flights had taught him to be ready to go on a moment's notice.  He kept one bag at Knightsbridge, another tucked away in the closet.  He glanced around a bit sheepishly.  "I don't suppose you have any idea what I did with my cane?" If he had to, he could get around without it, but the additional support was certainly welcome.

"I think I do."  She found the cane where he had dropped it after his attack on the trophies and brought it to him.  "How's that going to be with your hand?"

Standing, Briggs leaned on the cane experimentally.  "Ok, I think.  I'll be back in a few minutes."  Slowly, he limped off toward the guest room.

When he returned, Michael had shaved and combed his hair into place.  "I'm actually starting to feel human again," he admitted, flashing her a quick grin.  "Whatever was in that concoction you poured down me seems to be working."

"Told you so.  Since you're feeling better, I don't suppose you'd consider some eggs with that toast?" she suggested as she brought over the plate.

"Eggs?  No.  I don't feel *that* good," he cautioned.  "This will be fine." As if to confirm his words, he took a bite of the toast.

Rosa poured a second cup of coffee and sat down across from him.  "Michael, a little while ago you said that you were responsible for..."  Words failed her, and instead she indicated his injuries with a wave.  "What happened?"

He considered the question for some time before answering.  "I went against all my instincts.  I trusted someone I knew I shouldn't have trusted."

She smiled sympathetically.  "We've all done that a few times.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes."

Briggs could still see Airwolf hanging suspended before the control tower.  In his mind, he could hear Moffet laughing.  Laughing at him.  "My mistake cost over thirty people their lives, and it nearly cost me mine."  He turned and met her eyes.  "I should be grateful just to be alive, but sometimes all I can think about is what I've lost."

Rosa reached over and gently touched his hand.  "It takes time, Michael.  You need time to heal, and I don't just mean physically."  He had always been so active, so confident of his abilities and his own good looks.  It was hard to reconcile that memory with the broken, haunted figure that sat before her. "You're not going to come to grips with it all over night.  Right now you need to get healthy again and get your strength back.  The rest will come."

He stroked his mustache, an old habit.  "I wish I could afford to wait for that, but I can't."  Michael glanced up at the clock, and found that it was almost noon.  "Hell, I've got to get dressed.  I should have been at Knightsbridge hours ago."  He started to get up from the table.

"Forget about work.  Go back to sleep.  You admitted yourself that you're exhausted."

"I can't."  He shook his head.  "I've already let things slip too far out of my control.  I can't afford any more time away from the office."

With one softly voiced question, she played her trump card.  "How are you going to explain your hands?"

The agent paused, looking down at the bandages.  Rosa was right.  It might be easier to justify a few days off than to explain away the damage.  Michael sank back into his chair.  He glanced over at her with bemused annoyance. "Damn it, do you *always* have to be right?"

"I certainly try."  She smiled back at him before turning more serious.  "Michael, you shouldn't be here alone.  Is there someone I can call?  A friend?  Family?"

For a moment, he considered it.  He was, by his very nature, a solitary individual.  The demands of time and loyalty that the Firm made on him had only reinforced that.  He had many acquaintances, but there were few people that he could actually call friends.  As for his family, those bridges had been burned long ago.  "No.  There's no one."

"What about Marella?"  Over the years, his assistant had spent almost as much time at the ranch as he had.

"Marella's..."  He wasn't sure how to explain the effects the concussion had left on his long time associate.  "Marella's in worse shape than I am.  She has her own healing to do."

Rosa considered that.  "The other one?  Gabrielle?  That pretty girl who was here with you the other day."

His answer was scarcely more than a whisper.  "Gabrielle's dead."

She could see the pain in his face, a pain that had nothing to do with his injuries.  "I'm sorry."

"So am I."  It would be a long time before he forgave himself for sending her to Libya, if he ever did.  "There's no one else, Rosa.  Not that I trust."  He was well aware that someone in his department reported directly to Zeus, but he still wasn't sure who it was.

"Does that include current company?"

"Of course not," Briggs answered easily.  He had known Rosa too long to suspect her of being anything other than what she appeared to be.

"Then maybe I'll stick around for a couple of days, if you'll have me."

"You don't have to do that.  I'll be fine.  I just need to get some sleep."

She stood and began clearing the table.  "I know I don't have to.  I want to." Rosa turned to look at him.  "Michael, you've always been very good to me, to my children.  There were always presents for them at Christmas.  You helped my son get into West Point.  When my mother was dying and I couldn't get a flight, you were the one who flew me to Mexico City.  I've never been able to repay you for any of that.  Now, maybe there's something I can do for you." She smiled, and her eyes teased him.  "Besides, now that the children are grown and gone, the apartment is much too empty.  Not to mention the fact that your television is bigger than mine.  I can watch my soap operas here as easily as there.  Agreed?"

He nodded, chuckling.  "I suppose I wouldn't mind some company."  It might keep him from dwelling on things he didn't really want to think about.

"Good."  She waited while he got stiffly to his feet.  "Now, why don't you call your office and tell them you won't be in?  Then I want you to go lie down.  In the guest room.  I'll take care of... things... then I'm going to go out for a little while and do some shopping.  When you wake up, I'll make you dinner and some herbal tea."

"Tea?"  Briggs grinned.  "Not another of your hangover remedies?"

She shook her head.  "Some herbs are natural pain killers, Michael.  Others promote healing.  They're things my grandmother taught me about when I was a little girl.  I'm not sure how much it will help, but it's got to be better for you than all that aspirin you've been taking."

From where he leaned against the doorway, he shrugged.  The doctors had admitted there was little more they could do to help him.  "Your grandmother, humm?  Well, as long as your tea tastes better than that Tabasco, I'm willing to give it a try."  He started to turn toward the hallway, then turned back. "Rosa, can I ask you to take care of a couple things for me?"

"Of course you can, Michael."

He gestured toward the bar.  "I left a bottle of pills around here somewhere last night.  When you find them, dump them down the sink."

The housekeeper hesitated.  "Are you sure that's wise?  You might need them later."

"I'm sure."  He didn't bother to tell her that he already needed them.  As long as they were there, they remained a temptation.  It was a chance he didn't want to take.

"I'll dump them.  Was there something else?"

Michael sighed.  He still had mixed emotions about what he was about to ask. "I want you to get rid of my trophies."  Although the shelf was out of sight from where he stood, he could still see them, could read the inscriptions. Reno Air Races.  National Helicopter Championships.  A dozen others.  The memories they brought back were too sharp a reminder of just what Moffet had cost him.  Rosa started to object, and he cut her off.  "They're a part of the past, Rosa.  As much as I might want to, I can't live in the past.  Whatever the future holds...  it's down a different road."  It was time to close the door.  That part of his life was over.

For a moment, they stood there looking at each other, the immigrant housekeeper who had raised her children alone and the battered white knight from the privileged upbringing.  Despite the differences in their backgrounds and their lives, she felt a certain kinship with him.  Fate had intervened with them both, taking away the things they loved most.  Life hadn't turned out quite the way either of them had planned.  Finally, she nodded her agreement.  "They'll be gone when you get up.  Now go on, get some rest."

 

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