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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chapter 17

He’d woken with a pounding behind his left eye, the feeling that someone or something was trying to drive a railway spike through his head. It hadn’t been this bad since that first morning after the Tampa game, after he’d woken up for the second time with a throbbing head and churning gut. He wasn’t nauseous now, but he would be if he got up, if he tried to eat.

She seemed to sense it, or saw him wince when she opened the curtains. Either way, the curtains were quickly and tightly drawn and when Cody came back from the bathroom wrapped in a gauzy white robe she had two Advil and a glass of water which he took gratefully. She took the glass back and then reached with her other hand to run her fingers briefly through his hair.

“Stay in bed today?” she asked in a whisper. He was about to argue, say he’d be fine in a few minutes, but the door swung open and Becky burst in, already in her swimsuit, her pail clutched tightly in her chubby little fist.

“Sidwheee come make castle?” she asked, beaming up at him. He winced and his stomach rolled threateningly. The little girl’s enormous blue eyes searched his face and she frowned. “Sidwhee sick?” she turned and looked up at her Aunt who reached down and ran her fingers through Becky’s curls.

“That’s right. So that means we have to be very, very quiet,” Cody explained, “and it also means that Sidney won’t be able to help with the sand castles today.” Becky didn’t try to hide her disappointment as her little shoulders drooped and her bottom lip trembled, but she nodded anyway and turned to leave the room. Sidney watched Cody guiding Becky away and sighed. The guilt made his stomach churn but for the first time it wasn’t about Flower and Jordy and Max and the boys. Now it was about a little girl who, unlike his teammates, couldn’t be expected to understand that a jackass had hit him in the head, on purpose, and there were just going to be days like this.

He hadn’t had a headache like this for weeks, maybe months, Sidney thought as he closed his eyes and pulled the comforter back up to his chin. He’d actually started to believe that he was better, or at least well on the way to recovery. A few more days of surf and sand and Dakota’s body moving rhythmically beneath his and he’d be able to return to the Pens locker room and the team.

He could already hear his doctor ‘tsking’ away about how he’d overdone it last night. Just the thought of how many times he’d brought her shuddering in his arms made Sid smile, but that made his head hurt worse.

Turning onto his stomach Sid buried his face in the pillow and cursed loud and long. It hurt his head but letting it out made him feel better, for a moment or two anyway. Now that she’d admitted it, now that he felt in the way she’d curled up against him and allowed him to hold her as she slept, he’d wanted to spend the day proving in every little way that he could think of how much he loved her. Now he was stuck in the dark, with a jackhammer in his head, hating his life.

‘Tension just makes it worse’, the doctor had warned him and with that warning in his head, Sidney rolled onto his back, closed his eyes and tried to think of nothing at all. The only problem was he couldn’t shut his brain off, as much as he wanted to, and he couldn’t seem to ignore the voice in the back of his head that was telling him he was fucking up.

Not just by staying in bed and not just by disappointing Becky either.  That voice that wouldn’t shut the fuck up was telling him that he was making a mistake and that this was a dream world and it didn’t matter how he felt now because once they were back in the Burgh it would all be different.

Sidney rolled onto his side and stared at the closed curtains. He wanted to tell the voice to shut up, that it was wrong, but the pounding in his head that told him that he was human and broken also reminded him that he’d never made a relationship work, not when he was playing hockey and he wanted to play hockey again, very much.


She watched her like a hawk, like a protective mother bear, looking for a single nuance, any momentary change in expression that would hint that Becky’s seemingly happy go lucky exterior was in any way masking symptoms that would need to be dealt with. The more she watched from her towel on the beach, having not so much as flipped a single page in her book, the more Cody was beginning to think that her niece was as resilient as Sidney seemed to think that she was.

She didn’t cry when one of the other kids took her pail, she did put a handful of sand down the back of his shorts and then ran away laughing. She didn’t shy away from any of the guards when the big men were forced to coral her when her hunt for seashells took her too far from their comfort zone. She giggled when they picked her up under their arm like a sack of flour. There was no sign of the rocking that Cody had seen on the trip to Pittsburgh. No night terrors. No wet sheets. She seemed....perfectly normal.

“If you look hard enough you might start seeing things that aren’t there.” Cody looked up to find Sidney standing over her, towel draped casually over his round shoulder, a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap pulled down low over his sunglasses. “She’s fine Codes, and if she’s not...we’ll deal with it as it comes.” Cody shrugged and returned her attention to the where Becky was skipping along the very edge of the water, shrieking whenever the water swept up and over her toes.

“We huh?” Cody moved over to make room for him as he knelt on the sand beside her.

“You’re not gonna start that again,” he sighed and though she couldn’t see his eyes, she imagined him rolling them behind the dark lenses of his Ray-Bans.

“I just can’t imagine you having time with all your...superstarness,” she teased, reaching over with her foot to push against his. That earned her the briefest shadow of a smile.

“If it’ll make you feel any better,” he said quietly, his hand sliding over hers’, “we can take her to the best doctors in Pittsburgh and if they’re not good enough....”

“I’m sure they are, will be,” she insisted, quickly catching on that he wasn’t in a kidding kind of mood. She glanced sideways at him but he was staring straight ahead. Not at the girls playing in the sand, just...ahead. “Still no better?” she asked, pitching her voice low.

“It’s better...ish,” he mumbled, wincing as one of the girls let out a high pitched squeal as a bucket of water was dumped over her head.

“You don’t have to be out here,” she told him as he withdrew his hand and pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. The sight of all those muscles working was enough to make her catch her breath. The way his jaw worked as he clenched his teeth...that made her worry.

“I’m fine, okay?” he snapped, an irritated tone in his voice that made it very clear he didn’t want to talk about it. Cody flinched and then climbed to her feet.

“Good, I’m glad,” she mumbled and sent a sideways glance his direction. “Is there anything that I” she asked, reaching over to brush her fingers along his thigh.

“No, one can do anything,” he snarled, continuing to stare straight ahead, his jaw clenched, anger written in every tensed muscle in his body. Cody let her fingers fall away from his leg and onto the beach towel.

He had every right to be cantankerous, she told herself, considering the obvious strength of the symptoms of his head injury that currently had him staring broodily at the water. Not that they’d every really discussed the topic. She knew. Everyone in Canada and any hockey fan in the States knew about the subsequent hits that had laid the greatest player in the game low.

“We could talk about it, about what you’re feeling?” she suggested, almost under her breath.

“Don’t wanna talk,” he snarled back, teeth clenched, snarling like some kind of crazed wolf. It hurt, stung. After everything that had happened in the last few hours, it felt hard to believe that he would shut her out like that. One look at the tense way he was holding his jaw told her that there was no use arguing the point.

Even so, she decided as she got up, walked down the beach and crept up behind Becky, she didn’t have to like his tone and she didn’t have to keep him company while he sulked.

“Gotcha!” she laughed as she grabbed her niece and swung her up in the air. Becky let out an ear piercing screech and part of Cody felt bad about that, but part of her didn’t. 

You knew this might happen,” the doctor’s voice on the other end of the line was firm but gentle. Sid mused that he thought he was probably using his bed side manner, soothing but honest.

“Yeah, good days and bad,” Sid replied with a sigh, sitting back on the bed, letting himself sink into the pillows and closing his eyes.

It would be helpful to be able to run some tests, do a CAT scan,” the doc continued and Sid nodded mutely. He’d been a lab rat so long he never protested when someone wanted to poke holes in him or send radioactive isotopes coursing through his body. “I’m fairly certain nothing’s changed,” the doctor continued and Sid didn’t need to hear the rest to know what he’d say.

“Yeah, I know, better to be safe than sorry,” he mumbled, letting his head loll forward.

It happens infrequently but brain bleed do occure...,” the doc began but Sidney ignored the doctor’s worst case scenario. His head hurt, yeah, like hell, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

“What were the other symptoms I was supposed to let you know about?” Sidney asked quietly, rubbing at the tightness in the back of his neck.

Other symptoms? Like nausea, vomiting,” the doctor began but paused when Sid let rip a frustrated growl.

“No! I mean...y’know, the mental stuff.” He was doing his best not to snap at the doctor the way he had at Cody. That was why she and Becky were eating with the Consular and his wife and he was sitting alone in their room. Not that he blamed her for avoiding him. It had to be confusing to be his whole world one minute and tossed aside like a toy that had lost its lustre the next. Not to mention her wanting to shield Becky from the angry wolf.

Are you having problems remembering things?” the doctor asked in a way that made Sidney picturing the older man in his white coat pulling out a checklist and licking the end of his pencil, ready to start ticking boxes.

“No, not like that like...moods or whatever,” Sidney curled his free hand into a fist and slammed it into a pillow.

“Anxiety, depression, restlessness,” the doctor began naming off the symptoms, “mood swings, intolerance to stress, emotional incontinence....”

“Yeah, that stuff,” Sid’s eyes popped open as he recognized the way he was feeling, “Didn’t you say it was like being bi-polar or something?” he muttered, trying to explain it. The doctor made a sound, one of those thinking sounds and Sid did his best to show a little bit of patience while he waited for the answer.

Maybe if I understood the context,” the doc finally prompted him. This was the part where Sid was glad he wasn’t sitting in a doctor’s office with the older man looking at him over his bifocals. He squirmed enough without having someone actually watching him do it.

“It has to do with a woman,” he began with a sigh.

Becky had wanted to sleep over with one of the Consular’s daughters. It had taken every last ounce of faith that Cody had to send her across the courtyard in her pyjamas, her bear tucked under her arm. She watched her go until the Consular’s wife, one of those Betty Draper types in a twinset with pearls and heels, waved and shut the door.

“She’ll be fine.” Cody shut her eyes and leaned back into Sidney’s now familiar arms. He had a bottle of wine in one hand. “Let’s go for a walk,” he suggested.

“Sure that’s good for your head,” she replied, maybe a little bitterly. He’d have been better at the small talk at dinner and his absence had been noted.

“It is better now and I’m sorry for being an ass earlier,” he said, kissing her temple and managing to sound truly remorseful. She was glad he didn’t say ‘if he’d been an ass’. It saved her from having to correct him.

“Don’t we need glasses?” she asked, looking down at where his free hand was stroking along her arm.

“I won’t tell if you don’t.” His chuckle was masculine and throaty but there was a certain edge to it that set off alarm bells in her head.

“I’ll just get something to put on over this,” she said, looking down at the light sundress she was wearing. It had been the kind of warm that makes your skin moist but now there was a wind coming off the ocean that was sending goose-bumps up her arms.

“Here,” he whispered, sliding a dark hoodie from under his arm and handing it to her. Cody unfolded it and smiled. It was one of his, a black and gold Penguins hoodie. It would fit like another dress, but it would be warm. With a shrug she pulled it on and zipped it up to her chin. The sleeves hung over her hands but that was okay. She didn’t really want to hold hands with him right that moment anyway.

He didn’t seem to notice, or at least he didn’t remark on her crossing her arms in front of her chest as they started down the path to the beach walking side by side. The only sound was the ebb and flow of the waves licking the beach. She’d thought it was a comforting sound before. Tonight it was a lonesome sound.

She kicked off the ballet flats she was wearing as they hit the sand, considered carrying them and then left them on the edge of the walk way. She could feel, even if she couldn’t see the agent following near behind them. If they weren’t going to let anyone kidnap them, she supposed they weren’t going to let anyone steal her cheap flats either.

“So, bad headache today?” she asked as she dug her toes into the sand. The sensation of the still warm sand underfoot made her think of that night they’d snuck out of their hotel room. She wanted to be able to smile at the memory of what they had done together out on the sand. She still couldn’t.

“Yeah.” His monosyllabic answer made her tense. She glanced sideways at him. He was looking down, at his feet.

“We have to go back soon, don’t we?” Cody asked as they walked. He didn’t reply. It was answer enough. “Are you worried about playing? Or about us?” she asked quietly, trying to read his expression. Sometimes he was easy to read, like when he smiled, or when he looked at her the way he had this morning when she’d woken up in his arms. Now though, as he stared out over the black inky darkness, she had no idea what he was thinking, except that it wasn’t about her, or not specifically.

“Maybe a little of both,” he admitted quietly before finally stopping and turning to look at her. “I am worried about going back,” he paused and then sighed, finally reaching for her hand. This time she let him take it. He ran his thumb along her knuckles. “When you said you didn’t think that I’d have time for you...I want to make sure that I do. I...I don’t know if I’m good at this. I mean...I want to be but I’m afraid I won’t be.”

“Are this the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ speech?” she asked, her heart racing, pulse jumping.

“What?” he looked startled, flushed. He stared at her, unblinking for a long moment and then, finally, shook his head. “No. No...I mean...I’m just saying that if, when we get back, if I turn into an’s not you.”

“See it is the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ speech,” she muttered, staring down at their joined hands.

“I said when we get back. I want you to come back to Pittsburgh with me and I don’t mean back to your place and my place but...I want you to come back with me. Dakota...I want you, both of you to move in with me.”


  1. Great work!! Can't wait to see what happens when they return to Pittsburgh!:)

  2. Woah. For a moment there i thought he was gonna break up with her. Glad he didnt :)
    Great chapter! Can't wait for the next one!

  3. I honestly didnt see that ending. great chapter as always.

    On a side note, can she really return to pittsburgh when she is in the witness protection program?

  4. Oh, the pain of the reality of this.. it's palpable. Love how you explored the feelings he is having because he knows what the Burgh life is really like. But, I loved his tenderness toward her also at the end. Hope their commitment doesn't wain to one another. Hope this doesn't end any time soon. It will be a long summer!