A Time For Heroes – Chapter 24 – Death in Montreal

p_montreal-7They landed in Montreal shortly after 4 pm. Steve, Claude, Ginny, and Jas went ahead to the hospital. The rest of the team would follow.

Thérèse had been moved into a private room in the ICU and she was surrounded by her family. Ginny’s uncles and cousins were there, of course, and Thérèse’s sisters and their families. Ginny felt sorry that Steve would have to meet her family this way.

As soon as she walked in, Thérèse beckoned her to come beside her.

“Ma fille, you came!” she exclaimed in French. “I didn’t know if I’d see you.”  She held Ginny’s face in her hands and searched her eyes.

“You are in love again. I’m so glad.” Thérèse said. “Is this him? Introduce us.”

Thérèse didn’t understand a great deal of English, so Ginny introduced Steve to her aunt and uncle in both English and French and translated for him.

Thérèse was always a tart and wanted to know how big Steve’s equipment was!

Her uncle chastised Thérèse for being too forward, but she waved him off.

“I want to know that my sweet girl is well taken care of.” she said.

Ginny looked around quickly at Steve. He was chatting with her cousin, Pierre, who was in the armed forces, and raised an eyebrow at her when she looked. Maybe he understood more French than he was letting on, or was she blushing?

Ginny turned back to her aunt and said “Ma tante, he’ll do.” and winked.

What she really wanted to say was how wonderful a lover he was, how he made a noise in his throat just before he came, how he treated her like his queen always. She had shared all of these tidbits about her other lovers with her aunt and more. But the room was full of well-wishers and it was not a place to share such intimate details.

Thérèse caressed her niece’s cheek. “I will not know this one as I have the others.” she said, sadly.

Ginny felt hot tears prickling the corners of her eyes.

“Not unless you watch us, ma belle tante.” Ginny’s voice squeaked at the end as her tears flowed unchecked and she put her head down on her aunt’s chest and sobbed her despair.

Steve was watching her with concern, but didn’t go to her. He knew that she was where she needed to be.

Thérèse saw his concern and smiled at him. He smiled sadly back. He would do, she thought.

When Ginny’s tears had subsided, Thérèse brushed a tear away with her hand and said, “Tell me of him in your prayers, ma belle. I will hear.”

Thérèse pulled her close for another hug, then released her and turned to comfort her husband.

Ginny sat for a moment, not sure what to do. Then she felt Steve’s hand on her shoulder and looked up to see a worried look in his blue eyes.

She covered his hand with hers and gave him a little encouraging smile. Then she set about greeting her family. She had made a beeline for her aunt when she’d gotten there and now had to make up for it.

Had she warned Steve about all the kissing? Well, he would learn. They made their way around the room full of cousins and aunts and uncles. As she introduced Steve, each female relative kissed him on the lips. Her male relatives were a little more reserved and only her uncles kissed Steve on both cheeks as they shook his hand.

There were more in the hallway, so it was a good 45 minutes before they made their way around the corner and out of the press of family.

Steve wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. The last kiss had been a little sloppy. “Those are all your relatives.” he said, incredulously.

“That’s not all of them,” she said, counting the ones she hadn’t seen, “but, yes, all of those are my relatives.” She smiled and shrugged apologetically at him. “I should have warned you. I’m sorry.” She reached up and stroked his bottom lip with her thumb and he kissed her deeply.

When he pulled back, he smacked his lips and said, “You know, I think my lips are actually sore from all that kissing!”

She giggled. He loved that sound!

“Don’t wimp out on me, Rogers.” she said, teasing. “There’ll be more relatives at the funeral and this lot will probably want another go.”

He smiled. He could think of worse things to have to deal with.

“I was surprised that you wanted to leave your aunt.” he said, changing the subject.

“Well,” she said, thoughtfully, “I couldn’t talk as freely with her as I’m used to doing, with so many people around. And most of them have been there for days, so the gallows humour was starting.” She shook her head. “I’m just not there yet.”

“Glad my French is so bad, then.” Steve understood gallows humour. Being in the field and around death so much, that was most of the humour soldiers shared.

“You would have probably enjoyed it. I sat with this group when my grandfather died. I ached from laughing!” She shook her head. “If she lasts another day, I’ll be there. Just not yet.”

Steve caressed her cheek with his finger and asked, “What were you blushing for?”

Damn, she had blushed!

“Um.” She giggled, nervously and looked away. “Was I?” Let’s try evasion, she thought.

He sighed, impatiently, and said, “Your aunt asked you something and you looked back at me and you were beet red.” He lifted both eyebrows at her, expectantly.

Ginny was looking down and smiling. She rubbed her forehead and clearing her throat, finally said, “She asked me…how big your equipment was.”

Steve was shocked! “She asked you what?!”

“You have to understand,” Ginny said, quickly, “I shared a lot about my lovers with my aunt. She was my confidante, my advisor.”

Steve thought about this for a few minutes. “Would you have told her about our lovemaking?” he finally asked.

“Some of it.” she said, thinking about how that conversation would have gone. “I think she would have enjoyed hearing about exploring.” They both smiled at that memory. “I would have told her how your treat me like your queen.” Tears were starting to flow down her face. “I would have told her how conflicted seeing you fight made me…so proud but so scared for your safety.” Steve pulled her into his arms and held her close, caressing her back and whispering comforting words as she sobbed into his chest. She still had his handkerchief, so she used it to wipe her face and nose once the worst was done.

“I would have told her that you’re the love of my life, the best, and I would do anything to see you smile.” Tears were still flowing, but the sobbing had stopped and she looked up at him.

The tears clinging to her lashes were almost his undoing. He pulled her in to his chest again. “You’ve done it again, you know.” he said, huskily.

“What?” she asked.

“Taken my breath away.” He kissed the top of her head and she felt his tears falling on her.

 

This is how Ginny’s cousin, Vivienne, found them half an hour later.

“Geneviève, there you are.” Vivienne said, in English. “We’ve been looking for you. It’s soon. You should come.” Vivienne reached her hand out for her cousin’s hand and Ginny took it. Steve followed the two cousins back into Thérèse’s room.

The crush in the room was overpowering. Steve found a spot against the wall near the door and pulled Ginny back to lean against him.

Thérèse’s breathing was laboured and her eyes were closed. The nurse sat beside her with Thérèse’s wrist in her hand, monitoring her pulse.

Ginny could feel the edges of pain starting to gather in her core and she whispered to Steve, “We have to go.” She took his hand and pulled him through the crush of people at the door.

But she didn’t quite make it. Just short of the hallway, she doubled up in pain. Hands reached for her to keep her from falling, but Steve was behind her. He pushed her through the door, scooped her up into his arms and headed for Jas’ room up the hall at a run.

When he laid her on the bed, she curled into a fetal position to try to contain the pain.

He crouched down so she could see him and brushed the hair off her face. Sweat was starting to mingle with her tears and her hair was clinging to her face.

“It’s worse.” she managed to whisper. “It’s worse than last time.” and she let out a high, whimpering moan as she rocked on the bed trying to deal with the pain.

Jas and Wanda were there. They had all agreed on no drugs. Not only did they not have any effect, Jas believed that’s what might have stopped Ginny’s heart the last time.

Jas pulled Ginny’s shoes off and worked on the pressure points in her feet to block the pain receptors. This seemed to give Ginny a little relief, so she continued.

Wanda sat quietly beside Ginny trying to find the source of the pain.

Peter was watching the monitors and shaking his head. Other than an elevated heart rate, all of her other readings were normal.

Steve was still crouched beside the bed by Ginny’s face, whispering encouragement to her. Jas told him to get her to breathe like a woman in labour.

Steve looked up at her and said, impatiently, “Like I’ve ever been with a woman in labour.”

Jas smiled and showed him a couple focused breathing techniques and he tried to get Ginny to do them, but then the pain would reassert itself and she’d be lost in a moan again.

Wanda was moving her hands over Ginny’s body and Steve gave her a withering look. He knew, firsthand, what Wanda could do and she’d better not be trying that shit on his girl!

“I can’t find the source of the pain. I can work with Jas to block the pain receptors and see if that helps.” Steve saw red mist moving around her hands as she started to work.

Ginny felt the level of pain diminish, but then if flowed back and she let out a low moan. Nothing helped for long, and the intensity was building. She knew she was close to unconsciousness and maybe death. The last thing she wanted to see was Steve’s eyes.

She squeezed his hand and looked deep into his eyes as long as she could. She could see the lines of worry etched on his face. She wanted to tell him she loved him, but all that came out was another moan as she lost consciousness.

Her hand went limp in Steve’s, and he jumped up to check the monitors. Not trusting them, he found the pulse in her wrist and let it bounce against his fingers for a long moment.

“Her heart didn’t stop.” he said, daring to breathe again.

“I told you I thought it was the drugs that did that last time.” Jas said. “See the sharp drop in blood pressure as she lost consciousness.” She was pointing to one of the monitors. “If she was on something else that dropped blood pressure, it would be enough to stop her heart.”

Glory had lain Ginny on her back and was inserting an IV.

“Now what?” Steve asked, still clutching Ginny’s wrist.

“Now we wait.” came Claude’s voice from the door. “It usually lasts 1 to 2 days. Then she will wake up and go on with her life.”

Claude came over and put his hand on Steve’s back. “Jean-Guy will let us know arrangements. In the meantime, I will go and get drunk with my beau frère.” He clapped Steve on the back, and with a sad smile, walked out the door.

Steve couldn’t even imagine Claude’s pain right then. To have lost his wife…and now to have that wound opened again with Thérèse’s death and watch Jean-Guy go through the same pain.

He looked down at Ginny. The pinched look of pain had faded from her face and she looked like she was just sleeping.

You got a win this time, Rogers, he thought. You might not be so lucky next time.

He found a chair and sat down hard and rubbed his hands over his face. He checked the clock. Fifteen minutes…the longest fifteen minutes of his life.

Jas had mentioned labour…was this what labour was like? If so, he was glad that they wouldn’t be able to have kids! That was a bit of news he had just gotten a couple of days before.

Peter came over and put his hand on Steve’s shoulder.

“You okay there, Steve?” he asked. “You’ve got that deer in the headlights look.”

“Just a long day with too many surprises.” Steve answered.

“You should get some rest.” Peter said. “It looks like she’s out for the count.”

Sleep…he hadn’t thought about where he would sleep. He still didn’t want to leave. Guess he was sleeping here, then.

“There’s a big chair in the hall, if you want to drag it in.” Peter smiled at him. “It was in our way, but we knew you wouldn’t leave.”

So he dragged the chair in, found a blanket and then checked on Ginny one more time.

Her arms felt cold, so he found where the warmed blankets were and placed one over her. He remembered how good it had felt when she had done this for him in the infirmary. He thought he saw her smile, but it was so fleeting he wasn’t sure.

Then he settle down in the chair where she could see him if she woke and closed his eyes.

 

The night had seen no change. Ginny’s vital signs were strong, but she was still unconscious.

There was a steady stream of visitors throughout the day. Ginny’s condition was well known in her family and they all wanted to make sure she was okay. They all spoke English and chatted with Steve for a bit when they came.

Finally, Steve saw a familiar face. Pierre was married to Ginny’s cousin, Vivienne, and they had chatted a bit the night before about their experiences in the armed forces.

Today, Pierre and Steve had the time to really talk and get to know each other.

After about an hour, Steve said to Pierre, “I’ve got a bit of a dilemma. I need to buy a suit.”

Pierre thought for a second before saying “There is a big and tall men’s shop about a block away, if you want to go.” Pierre was free for the afternoon and offered to go with him.

They picked out a charcoal grey suit with a dark blue and light blue shirts and matching tie. He was even able to get the pants altered by next day. That should be soon enough. Dress shoes and a belt finished the outfit.

When they got back to the hospital, Claude and Jean-Guy were there talking to Jas. Both looked like they had been drinking hard the night before.

Jean-Guy had made the funeral arrangements. Visitation was the next 2 days at 3 and 7, and the funeral was on Saturday morning. Jean-Guy hoped Ginny would be able to make at least the funeral.

“Nothing is certain.” Claude said. “Each episode seems to be getting worse, but we’ll see. We are hopeful.”

Claude asked Steve when he had last eaten. Breakfast the day before had been toast and fruit, so dinner two days ago, he admitted.

Claude and Jean-Guy hustled him out the door to find some food.

The next couple of hours were spent in delightful conversation with two Frenchmen over several bottles of wine and a delicious steak dinner.

Getting to know Claude a little better was the great bonus of this dinner. Steve still felt that he had never gotten on his good side, until now.

He offered to drive them out to Jean-Guy’s, but the two men declined, opting to use the Metro instead; Montreal’s subway system. Jean-Guy lived right off the subway line and they could come back the next day for his car.

When he got upstairs, Ginny was still out, the night staff was on and Steve went to find a book or magazine to read until he was ready to sleep.

About a chapter and a half into the cheesy romance book he had found, his eyes were closing. So he got up, kissed Ginny on the cheek and whispered, “Goodnight, my love.” and settle down to sleep.

 

Ginny opened her eyes. She had no idea what time it was or how long she’d been out this time. She looked up at the monitors, and if the time stamp was right, it was just after 3 am and she’d lost a day and a half.

A quick look around showed her that Steve was sound asleep on the big chair beside her bed. She watched him sleep for a few minutes, aching to touch him, to crawl into his lap and have his arms around her.

She stared at the ceiling for a long time. Then she looked at the IV. She reached up and turned the drip off, then she pulled the tube out of the needle assembly in her hand.

She sat up slowly and felt a little dizzy at first, so she sat until that subsided. Then she stepped onto the cold floor and touched Steve’s arm.

He woke with a start, but when he saw she was awake and up, he sat up and opened his arms. She sat on his lap and curled up in the chair while he wrapped the blanket around the two of them. He wrapped his arms protectively around her and she turned her face to him for a kiss. It was slow and sweet and lasted just long enough to start to rouse his desire.

“I love you.” she whispered. “I tried to tell you before I lost consciousness, but I couldn’t speak through the pain.”

“I got that from the look in your eyes.”, he said.

She found that she was sleepy. Being unconscious was obviously not the same as sleeping.

She laid her head against his chest and was asleep in minutes. He took longer to fall asleep again; he was enjoying the feel of her in his arms again. But eventually he, too, drifted off.

 

He was awakened by Jas hissing at him, “Rogers, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“She came to me, Jas.” he said, defensively, trying not to move.

Jas paused at that. “Well, if that vein opened up, she could be bleeding out.”

“She left the needle in.” he whispered, sleepily.

He placed his cheek against the top of Ginny’s head and closed his eyes again.

Steve drifted in and out of sleep for the next hour until, finally, Ginny stretched and he opened his eyes to see her serious brown eyes staring into his.

She smiled and said, “Eyelashes.”

He pulled an apologetic face and said, “Sorry.”

She stretched a bit more, then put her arms around his neck, laid her head on his shoulder and said, “Tell me what I missed.”

So he told her about the funeral arrangements, and all the people who had come to see her yesterday, and about going with Pierre and buying a suit, and about dinner with her dad and her uncle.

“You’ve been busy.” she said.

“You have a wonderful family, Genviève, but no one calls you Ginny, do they?” he asked.

“Ginny was my mother’s nickname. I doubt most of them even know that I’ve adopted it.” she said.

“What colour is your suit?” she asked.

“Charcoal grey with a couple of blue shirts. The salesgirl said they complement my eyes perfectly.” he said with a raised eyebrow.

Ginny smiled. “And I wasn’t even there to protect you.” she said, making a frowny face.

Steve chuckled. “I managed.”

“Oh, your cousin, Vivienne, said she’d bring over a couple of dresses she thinks might fit you for the funeral. And I asked Glory to go back to the jet and get your blue dress and whatever else you need…shoes and such.” he finished, lamely. What did he know about women’s clothing?

“Oh, good.” she said. “So I don’t have to go to ma tante’s funeral in this.” She pulled at the pink and white striped hospital gown she was wearing.

“I need a shower.” she said, grimacing as she sniffed an armpit. “Do I have any clothes here at all?”

“Just what you were wearing when you got here.” Steve answered.

“Perfect! How would you like to take this starving girl out to Timmy’s for breakfast?” she asked.

He pulled a scared face and said, “You’d better clear that with Jas first. She’s already bitten my head off once this morning.”

“For what? Ginny asked.

“For sleeping with you in my lap.”, he said.

It was her turn to give him an apologetic face. “Sorry. Just couldn’t bear to be this close to you and not in your arms.”

Ginny went to find Jas, her clothes and the shower in that order.

By the time she came out, dressed and ready to go, Vivienne was there with dresses. This would mean Ginny wouldn’t have to wear the same dress all 3 three days. She hugged Vivienne with sincere appreciation.

There was a Tim Hortons across the street from the hospital, so they headed there.

“Tim’s is kind of a Canadian icon.” Ginny explained. “Food isn’t great, but the coffee and doughnuts are and they’re fast.”

They ordered two breakfast sandwiches and two coffees; Ginny tried the dark roast, since that was new since she’d been back.

Once they had eaten, they lingered over their coffees, trying to plan out the next few days.

“We’re going to need a hotel.” Ginny said. “We could probably stay with family, but I can’t guarantee the sleeping arrangements. We may have to be in two separate places.”

“Hotel.” Steve said. “Your family is great, but having someplace to retreat to might be welcome.”

“Agreed.” Ginny picked up her phone and called her dad to get the location of the funeral home and the church.

They were all in her uncles neighbourhood, so they looked for a hotel nearby and found one a couple of blocks from her uncle’s house and booked it.

Ginny called Jas to see who was still at the hospital and if they wanted coffee. There were four of them and, yes, they did want coffee.

So armed with 6 more coffees and a big box of Timbits, they arrived back at the hospital.

Jas, Peter and Glory were there along with Tony. The rest of the team and most of the equipment they’d brought was already gone. Steve and Ginny’s duffle bags had been brought from the jet.

“So where are you kids staying?” Tony asked.

“There’s a cute little hotel around the corner from my uncle’s.” Ginny said. “We’ve got a room there.”

“Not staying with family?” Tony asked.

“You didn’t see how big Ginny’s family is, Tony.” Steve said with a half-smile. “It’ll be nice to have someplace to hide.”

Tony laughed at this. He had heard how big French-Canadian families could be.

Once the coffee and Timbits were done, they said their farewells. They would probably see everyone again in less than a week, but there were still hugs and tears. The last few days had been pretty intense.

Once they had picked up Steve’s suit, Ginny took Steve on the Metro to their hotel. Other than the French signage, it wasn’t much different than riding the New York subways.

They got to the hotel around noon, and once they told the concierge that they had a funeral visitation to attend at 3, they were allowed to check in early.

The room was quite large. There was a king-sized bed in an alcove and a small sitting area with a couch and TV and a couple of chairs. The building was old but it had been kept up and it was very charming.

After hanging everything up, they sat down on the couch to catch their breath.

Ginny pulled her tablet out to get their bearings.

“Okay. 3 o’clock at the funeral home, which is here.” She pointed to one of the dots on the screen. “We can walk over. It’s only a block. Don’t know what’s happening for dinner, but I know a couple of good restaurants in the neighbourhood. There might be a family thing, though. We’ll find out this afternoon.”

Ginny rubbed her hand over her face.

“If you’re still tired, why don’t you go and lie down?” Steve asked.

“I think I’m going to have to.” she said. She gave him a sleepy smile and got up. He followed her to the bed and pulled the blankets back for her.

He kissed her softly on the lips and said, “You’ve got a couple of hours. I’ll wake you in plenty of time.” He stroked the hair back from her forehead, smiled and left.

Ginny heard him turn on the TV quietly; flip a couple of channels before settling on what she thought was an old movie, before she drifted off to sleep.

When she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder a couple of hours later, her first instinct was to shake it off; she felt like she had just fallen asleep. But when she opened her eyes and saw Steve’s beautiful, blue eyes staring back at her, her second instinct was to pull him into bed with her.

When he kissed her, she deepened it until they were both breathing heavily.

He finished with a couple of chaste kisses and pulled back to look at her.

“Who’s insatiable now?” he said, softly.

“I can own that.” she said, and kissed him deeply again.

He growled deep in his throat as he pulled away. “Damn.” he said. “Rain check, though. We’ve got to get ready. I would have woken you earlier if I’d have known.”

Ginny lay on the bed with her head propped on one hand smiling at him. “Are you saying no?” she asked.

“I’m saying later. Time and place Ms. St. Pierre.” He already had his suit pants on with an undershirt and Ginny thought he looked delicious.

She looked at the clock and saw that he was right. She wanted a shower and she wouldn’t have time if she delayed.

In the sitting room, the ironing board was set up and Steve’s suit and her dresses were hanging all freshly pressed.

“Is that what you spent the afternoon doing?” she said with a smile.

He smiled at her surprise. “Army training. I like my creases crisp.”

She looked at the dresses Vivienne had brought for her. Both the lawn green and her blue one were a little plain. The other one was peach and cream and not really suited to her colouring.

“Too bad I didn’t think to bring a scarf or some jewellery. These are pretty plain.” she said, pulling the skirt of the green dress out to get a better look.

Steve went to his duffle bag and pulled out a flat box and gave it to her. “Will this help? I saw it in the store window next to the men’s shop and I thought you’d like it.”

The box was clear on top so Ginny could see that the silk scarf inside was all the blues and greens of the ocean. It was beautiful!

“That’s perfect!” she said, pulling it from the box. It was an infinity scarf so it fell in a loop over her hand. “And so are you!” She kissed him sweetly on the lips before holding the scarf up in front of each dress to see that the colours were a perfect match.

She was facing away from him but he knew all wasn’t right when she stopped and crossed her arms around herself. He stepped up and put his arms around her.

“It’s okay.” he said, quietly.

“It is.” she said, turning her head to see him. “You’ve just taken my breath away, is all.”

“Oh, is that all!” he said, kissing her on the cheek. “I’m getting used to that.”

She turned and gently punched his shoulder.

“Clown.” she said, smiling, and headed for a shower.

She came out a few minutes later in one of the hotel bathrobes. Steve had the dark blue shirt on and was working on his tie in the mirror. Ginny noticed both her and Steve’s shoes were sitting, gleaming, by the door.

Ginny dug out a bra and panties from her duffle bag along with a package of nylons and grabbing the green dress, headed for the bed to get dressed.

Steve turned from the mirror to see Ginny in bra and panties pulling on nylons and he looked away, shyly. He would have to stop being such a prude, he thought.

“Oh, your dad called!” he said. “Dinner is at your uncle’s tonight. He said just his girls and their families and Claude. I guess you’re one of his girls.” He smiled at her as she put the green dress over her head.

“Always have been.” she said, popping her head through the neck of her dress. There was a zipper up the back, which she tried to pull up on her own. Steve saw that she was struggling and went over to help. Once the zipper was up, he planted a kiss on the back of her neck, which sent a chill of delight through her body.

Ginny didn’t turn around but said, “If I had time…” in a husky voice.

Then she turned around and gave him a very suggestive smile. She fixed his shirt collar in the back where it wasn’t quite covering his tie and went to put on some make-up.

A little bit of eyeshadow and eyeliner and a minty tasting lip gloss was all she wore even for the most formal occasions. Steve didn’t notice much of a difference, except for the shiny lips.

Jackets and shoes and Ginny’s new scarf were added and they were ready to go.

Ginny stopped Steve before they left to straighten his tie and his jacket and said, “Well, you clean up nice!”

He smiled and leaned down to kiss her softly on the lips. He came away with his lips tingling from the mint in the lip gloss.

“Let’s go.” he said, checking his watch and offering her his arm.

“Allons-y.” Ginny responded with a flourish.

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