Hidden Hearts

Chapter Seventeen:
Forever Changed

"I wish I knew what was happening."
Copper let the curtain fall from the window, biting her lip as she turned back to face her friends. "It's getting so dark out there and we haven't heard anything. I wonder if Topaz has even found her."
"More likely Alex is in surgery." Cynthia said sensibly. "If he was shot, would they not wish to remove the bullet?"
"I guess so." Copper frowned. "I just don't like not knowing. Sadie's one of us, after all...and this is a big deal thing."
"But Topaz is with her and she's not alone." Sylva pointed out. "I know what you mean, though. I want to know what's going on, too."
"It'll be all over the evening news." Nancy reached for the television handset. "Shall we?"
"We could." Copper pursed her lips. "I mean, we don't really know what happened, do we? And he can't have, well, you know. If he had, Topaz would have called already."
"So Cynthia is probably right, and he's in surgery." Sylva nodded. "Okay, Nance. Turn it on. Let's see what we got."
"Sure." Nancy flicked the set on, going through the channels until she found the twenty-four hour news network. "Ah. Here we go."
"A FBI officer has been killed and one injured in a shootout in the west side of the city this afternoon." The in-studio anchorwoman reported, a grim expression on her face as she read through the local news.
"Agent David Batten was shot in the head and Agent Alexander Bray suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder after officials surrounded a property on Lakeland View this morning in the continued hunt for Lucas Berris. Berris was the FBI's chief suspect in the string of eight murders carried out in six different states. Berris was also gunned down in the incident, and was later identified at the hospital morgue by his girlfriend, Ellen Rushmore, who attempted to slip bail but was arrested without incident this evening trying to leave the city's limits. Federal sources say that they are investigating Rushmore's involvement in the deaths of six women over a two year period, but believe that the main protagonist was Berris and that no murder charges will be brought against the young woman. The death of Berris is the culmination of an extensive nationwide search for the fugitive which began last December after he broke bail conditions in Los Angeles. The head of the FBI Department in Los Angeles has issued this statement."
The camera flashed to a sombre, middle-aged man in a suit, surrounded by officers and newsmen as he gave his statement at a local press conference.
"This afternoon, in connection with the investigation into the whereabouts of Lucas Berris, the FBI mounted an armed assault against a property in the west side of the city." He began slowly. "During the siege, the suspect began an offensive attack on the assembled officers and several shots were fired at that time. During the exchange of gunfire, the suspect was killed. One Federal Agent was also killed in the crossfire, and a second agent is in a critical condition at a local hospital. Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of these two agents, who conducted themselves with the utmost bravery and diligence in this afternoon's operation. Later this afternoon, a second suspect was also apprehended in connection with this case, though no further charges have been brought against Miss Rushmore at this time. I can confirm that the suspect was identified as Lucas Berris, and that he opened fire on officers before being killed himself."
"Well, I guess that gives us what we want to know." Sylva reached over for the handset, flicking the set off. "Cynthia, do your sensors have a chance of picking up anything else? I know you've hacked into FBI radio systems before."
"I have tried, but they seem to have changed the frequency." Cynthia shrugged helplessly. "Or my sensors are too tired to properly focus in on it. I am sorry."
"Well, then you should go shut yourself down." Copper said firmly. "Go on. Get some rest. Sadie would understand."
"I would rather not."
"But you're tired, and you're no good to yourself or anyone else if you burn out." Nancy pointed out. "Copper's right, Cyn. Power down and rest your hard drive. The three of us can more than manage Hollie if we need to."
Cynthia hesitated for a moment, then got to her feet.
"All right." She agreed. "But for the sole reason that creating an argument about it does not help Sadie or her situation. Just so long as you know, if you need me, I am there."
"We know. And if there's any change in the news situation, we'll tell you." Sylva promised. "You're not out of the loop."
Cynthia frowned, as if she did not agree, but she made no further complaint, slipping her watch off her wrist and setting it down on the table. With a moment of blurring and a flash of purple light, the hologram disappeared, and Copper sighed.
"Sometimes she has too much loyalty than is good for her." She said pensively. "She looked really beat tonight."
"She did, but she still had energy to care about Sadie." Sylva responded. "And that's what makes her what she is."
"True. But she can be stubborn." Copper responded. "And whatever she says, all this must remind her of Jerrica somewhat."
"I just wish Topaz would call." Nancy sighed. "I can't see why she can't just ring us and say no change."
"Guess no news is good news." Sylva shrugged. "Either way, guys, I think we're in for the long haul."
"Guess so." Copper frowned. "Poor Sadie. I hope she's hanging in there."

At the hospital, Sadie blinked, struggling to focus on the voice as she forced her aching muscles into a more comfortable position.
"Sadie, are you awake?" That was Topaz, and she reached up to rub her eyes, taking a deep breath.
"Did I fall asleep?" She asked, swallowing hard. Topaz nodded.
"You were pretty shaken by everything, and tired after giving the blood." She responded. "Ray and I decided not to wake you unless we really needed to."
"So what's happened?" Alert in a second, Sadie pulled herself together, casting her companion an anxious look. "Something has...Alex?"
"He's out of surgery." Topaz said gently. "They've managed to repair the damaged vessels, and in the process they removed the bullet. He lost a lot of blood, but what you gave him has helped. Meantime they've had some blood products sent over from one of the other hospitals in the area and he's been given a further transfusion as we speak. They said his condition is stable at present, and Ray's gone to see him. Apparently he's begun to come around."
"Gone without me?" Indignation flashed into Sadie's eyes. "How could he?"
"He said it was important he spoke to him before you saw him, and that you needed a moment to pull yourself together." Topaz shrugged. "I said you'd want to see him right away, but he wasn't taking any arguments on the subject. He left me to wake you and headed off."
She stood, pulling her friend to her feet.
"So let's get you looking presentable, and go find them both." She concluded. "Because right now you've mascara everywhere and your hair would look good on a scarecrow. I know that true love is blind, Sadie, but you don't want to scare him."
"Am I that bad?" Sadie asked apprehensively, and Topaz fished into her purse, holding out her compact mirror. Sadie glanced at her reflection, then swore.
"Sleeping sitting up is not good for you." She decided. "Maybe Ray had a point about me needing to pull myself together. Come on, I need to find a rest room, before someone admits me as a mental patient."
Topaz grinned.
"There's one just across the corridor. I saw it as I came in." She responded. "So let's go clean you up. I have my hairbrush with me, and we'll soon make you look human again."
Along the hall, in the little sideward where Alex was beginning to stir, Raymond had come to stand at his friend's bedside. Alex was still pale, he decided critically, and nurses kept coming in and out to check the progress of the latest transfusion. But he was alive, and his blood pressure had stabilised since he had come out of surgery. In his heart, Raymond knew that his friend would be all right now that the worst was over.
"And that being so, I need to speak to him before Sadie does." He told himself.
A blurry voice came from the bed, and Raymond met his partner's gaze with a smile.
"Look at the trouble you got yourself into." He said, by way of preamble. "See what happens when you play the hero?"
"Don't tease a guy when he's in pain, Ray." Alex's pale lips curled into a faint smile of his own. "What happened? Did we get him?"
"Berris isn't going to be a problem for anyone again." Raymond said categorically, sitting down beside the bed.
"Did I...?"
"No, I did." Raymond shook his head. "You got him in the leg, Al, but I brought him down. I was damn mad as hell, too. He killed Batten before he hit you. We had no choice."
"Batten?" Shock flooded Alex's expression, then he cursed. "Isn't Brenda pregnant again?"
"Yes, and Carteris got sent to break it to her." Raymond said grimly. "It's not an easy thing, bringing bad news. I was half afraid I'd be doing the same errand for you, for a while there."
"Sadie!" Alex's eyes widened. "Hell, does she know?"
"Know? She's been here for the last..." Raymond paused, glancing up at the clock. "Four, maybe five hours, waiting to be able to see you."
Alex cursed again.
"Why didn't you say so?" He demanded. "Don't tell me you ain't gonna let her in to see me!"
"Quite the opposite, actually." Raymond said slowly. "You probably owe that girl your life, Al...and I'm not kidding. I might've brought Berris down and the doctors might've stitched you up, but when we got here the blood bank was closed and they didn't know what to do for you. Sadie gave blood - and a lot of it - so you could go right down to surgery and get fixed up. If she hadn't done it...well, you might not be here now, swearing at me."
Alex was speechless, and Raymond smiled.
"She'll be in to see you in a few minutes, no doubt." He added. "I'm hoping she's making herself presentable first, because that's a shock you don't need right at the moment. And, while we're alone, there's something else we have to discuss. Man to man."
His smile widened, and he put his hand into his pocket, pulling out the scuffed ring box and setting it down beside the bed.
"You have to work on your wooing skills, Al. I always thought you were the romantic idiot, but this isn't the most romantic place to spend your anniversary."
Alex's gaze went from the ring box to his partner, then,
"Where did you get that?"
"You dropped it when you fell...after that bastard shot you." Raymond responded. "I figured you'd want it. It looks kinda expensive, and I figure you'd like it all the more if it was sitting on the finger of someone we both know, rather than in a dumpster somewhere."
"Is that your way of giving me your blessing?" Alex asked ironically. Raymond grinned.
"You don't need my blessing." He responded. "But she opened my eyes tonight, Alex. And you know what? Maybe she is good enough for you, after all. So I guess I'm returning it to wish you luck."
He tapped the box lightly.
"Just take better care of the wedding ring." He added. "Because there's no guarantee that I'll be on hand to scoop that out of whichever storm drain you drop it into."
"Ray, if she says yes, you'll be guarding that with your life." Alex said with a smile. "After all, who else would I ask to be my best man?"
Before Raymond could answer, the door of the hospital ward swung open, and Sadie shyly stepped into the room. At the sight of her, Raymond got to his feet.
"Well, you look like you've returned to the land of the living, Sadie." He said off-handedly. "Guess I'll leave you two to talk about whatever you talk about. I'm going to call my wife and tell her I'm heading home."
With that he was gone, and Sadie made her way cautiously to her boyfriend's bedside.
"Hi." She murmured, sitting down and taking his hand in hers. "How do you feel?"
"Is it a cliche if I say better for seeing you?" Alex gripped her hand loosely. "I've felt better, Sadie. But apparently it could've been a lot worse than it was, so maybe I've been lucky. Ray told me one of our men was killed today."
"Yes." Sadie nodded her head. "I was so afraid you were going to make it two."
"Ray said you gave blood. Is that true?"
Sadie blushed. Carefully she rolled up her sleeve, revealing the pad of cotton wool.
"What else was I supposed to do?" She asked. "Let you die? Don't be daft. I love you. It wasn't a big deal, Alex. I had something that could help you."
"Well, I guess that makes us ever more close." Alex remarked. "Your blood is inside of me now."
"True enough." Sadie grinned. "Just don't blame me if it gives you nicotine cravings, okay?"
Despite himself, Alex laughed.
"All right." He agreed. "But in all seriousness, Sadie, it was a big thing you did for me. So thank you. I know it's not enough to say, but I don't know what else there is I can say."
"You don't need to." Sadie shook her head. "Out there I realised how happy having you made me...and I didn't want to lose that. I just did what I could to try and, well, be able to keep you. Ray told me that it's tough to be involved with someone who does your job, but I kinda figured that didn't matter. I mean, I've been through tough things before. I've not found one that I couldn't survive yet, even if at the time I doubted myself. This time I didn't doubt myself. I just did what I knew I had to do, because I knew it was the only thing I could do."
"I'm sorry to screw up the anniversary." Alex looked sheepish. "It wasn't exactly as I intended."
"Trust me, Al, I'm well used to things not being how they were intended." Sadie said dryly. "And we are spending it together. Sort of."
"Together, in the company of several nurses and a few surgeons." Alex pursed his lips. "I had reservations and everything. I had it all planned out...I'm kinda bummed."
"Well, there's always next year." Sadie squeezed his hand. "And the one after that. Right?"
"Perhaps." Alex acknowledged. "But you don't understand. I mean, I'd worked out this whole romantic evening, because I wanted to talk to you, just us, about something important to me."
"Something important?" Sadie looked startled. "Has this something to do with Sandra's visit?"
"In a sense, yes." Alex agreed. "She decided to come out here after a conversation we had, even though she could spare less time than she thought."
"So what was it?" Sadie asked. "I mean if something is bothering you, you don't need to make fancy reservations just to broach it with me. Here's as good as anywhere, and after the day we've had, I don't want us to be keeping secrets. It's not something we do, and if there's a problem..."
"No, there isn't a problem." Alex shook his head. He lifted his free hand, gesturing feebly at the box on the unit. "There. Could you pick that up for me?"
"Sure." Sadie looked confused, but did as she was bidden.
"Open it."
"Alex, what is this about?"
"Just do it, huh?"
"Well, okay." Sadie frowned, fumbling with the catch of the box. "But I still don't see..."
As she flipped it open, words failed her, and her eyes became big with disbelief.
"It's not quite how I planned it, but considering what's happened this afternoon, I don't think I should wait any longer." Alex's tone was nonchalant, though there was anxiety in his eyes. "It is still our anniversary, after all, even if the food here is a bit less than perfect."
He swallowed hard.
"So, considering the madness that is being a part of my world, Sadie...will you marry me?"
Tears sparkled in Sadie's eyes.
"I had no idea." She murmured. "Is that why Sandra kept making little remarks about the anniversary, and you kept blushing at her?"
"Yes. I was afraid she'd give me away." Alex bit his lip. "Well? Sadie, if you need time to think about it, that's cool...but...don't avoid the question, huh? It's taken a lot of nerve to be able to ask it."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." Sadie blushed, setting the box down on the bedcovers. "And as for thinking about it, well, this afternoon I got a glimpse of what it'd be like to not have you in my life. And I don't really want that. It is a big challenge, getting involved with someone who gets happy putting himself in danger. But then, you're worth it, and even if that means I'm living with that hanging over me, so be it. I don't need any more time to think about it than that. If you really want me to marry you, then I'd be stupid to say no."
"So...that was a yes?"
"Of course it was a yes!"
"My brain's still a little foggy, so you'll have to excuse me." Alex's expression became one of relief. "I can't exactly put the ring on your finger right now, what with all these wires going into my arm, so it's not quite as I hoped it'd be. But I hope it means the same."
"Well, we can solve that." Sadie shut the ring box with a snap. "You keep this, and then, when you're better, we'll go out. We'll have a belated anniversary, and you can ask me properly then. You know my answer, so you needn't be nervous of doing it. But I don't want the ring until you can give it to me properly, in the way you planned to. Okay?"
"I guess so." Alex nodded his head slightly. "So long as I know the answer's yes, I can work with that."
He grinned.
"And I want you to have your romantic night, anyway." He added. "After this you more than deserve it."
"Yes, I think so too." A mischievous look crossed Sadie's face. "I spent five hours with Ray, for heaven's sake, and noone died."
Alex laughed.
"You owe him something, you know." He said playfully. "When Berris took me down, I dropped that."
He jerked a finger towards the ring box. "Ray found it and brought it back to me just before you came in. He seemed to think that I'd need it."
"He did?" Surprise flooded Sadie's features. "So that was why he wanted to talk to you so urgently! But I thought he hated the idea of us being together."
"He said you'd opened his eyes tonight, and I won't ask for any more than that." Alex shrugged his shoulders faintly. "Either way, it means something to know that my closest friend and my...well, my fiancee...are no longer on opposing teams. Because you know that he'd be my best man, Sadie."
"Yes, I know." Sadie nodded. Her eyes sparkled. "It's fine, really it is. We did talk tonight, and settled a few things that maybe we've never given each other the chance to settle before. I don't know that we'll ever be best buddies, but I think we can be friendly with each other."
She leant over, kissing him on the forehead.
"I love you, you know." She said softly. "And even though this has been a crazy day, it's an anniversary I won't forget."
"No, that's us." Alex said ruefully. "Unforgettable."
Sadie giggled.
"Well, it keeps life interesting." She responded. "Can I tell people? I mean, before I have the ring?"
"You're not planning on changing your mind before I get out of here and can buy you dinner?"
"No, not a chance." Sadie said firmly.
"Then tell who you like." Alex replied. "Hell, tell the Los Angeles press, if you like. I don't care who knows."
Topaz poked her head around the door at that moment. "Hi. I just spoke with Copper back home and told her what's going on. Do you still need me here? Apparently baby is asking for me pretty insistantly, and she's getting kinda teary that I haven't come to say goodnight yet."
"Oh!" Sadie's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh no, Topaz, you go if Hollie needs you. It's all right, really it is. Alex is doing better and they think he'll be okay."
"Hi, Topaz." Alex added. "Sorry to add to your eventful lives with yet another fun incident, courtesy of the FBI."
"I guess we're used to it." Topaz brought the rest of her body into the hospital room, coming to the bedside. "But we're glad you're going to be fine, Alex. I think we all realised we'd be losing a friend as well as Sadie losing a boyfriend...and we didn't want that."
"Well, tell the girls that I'm touched by their concern." Alex smiled. "And to take care of Sadie, too. She looks all in and I know I am, after today. You should probably take her back with you, now she's seen that I'm okay."
"But..." Sadie bit her lip, but Alex shook his head.
"No, you know I'm right." He said gently. "I need to rest, and you certainly do, after all you've been through. I'm not going anywhere - that's a promise. You can come see me tomorrow and I'll be out of here in no time, I swear. I have an incentive, remember?"
"Yes, you do." Sadie's eyes twinkled, and she bent to kiss him again. "All right, then you sleep and I'll see you tomorrow. But mind you get better quickly, Agent Bray. You have a dinner to reschedule."
"Yes ma'am." Alex winked.
Topaz grinned, linking arms with her friend.
"Then we'll go home, and say goodnight to my bad daughter." She said decidedly. "Sweet dreams, Alex, and feel better."
"Oh, I already do." Alex assured her. He met Sadie's gaze for a moment, then, "Much better. Believe me."
Sadie grinned.
"Me too." She agreed. "Much."

As the two Jewels headed out to Topaz's car, Sadie glanced down at her ring finger, holding her hand up to examine it better.
"What's with you?" Topaz asked, as she unlocked the vehicle. "You get blood on your hands or something?"
"Hrm?" Sadie looked startled. Then she blushed.
"Sorry. I guess I am acting a bit freakish." She admitted, climbing into the passenger seat and watching her friend put the car in gear. "Topaz, can I tell you something?"
"You can tell me anything, hon. You know that."
"I should probably tell you before you reverse out of here. You might hit something." Sadie giggled. "Topaz, he asked me to marry him. And...and I said yes."
"What?" Topaz paused in the middle of what she was doing, staring at her friend. "Oh my God, Sadie, he didn't!"
"He did." Sadie nodded. "Apparently he had this whole evening planned for tonight, and then that Berris guy got involved and it kinda messed up. But he didn't want to wait, considering everything. So...so he asked me. And I'm so excited...you wouldn't believe how I'm jumping around inside. I just had to share it with someone. I want to shout it out, but I don't really want to be arrested for causing a public disturbance."
"Oh my God." Topaz reached over to hug her friend. "Wow! Gee, you have had a mental day!"
"Are you...happy for me?" Sadie looked hesitant. Topaz smiled.
"Of course I am." She said, nodding her head. "And Syl will squeal from the rooftops when she knows. I'm sorry. I guess I'm tired and worrying that Hollie's all right - she doesn't usually cry for me when Cyn is babysitting her."
She looked rueful.
"But I am happy for you, Sadie. Really happy for you. After everything you've gone through, you deserve some good luck. Isn't that what I said earlier?"
"You did." Sadie nodded. She ran her hand along her ring finger, then, "I made him keep the ring until he was well enough to take me out and do it properly. He'd had it all planned and, well, since he's the only guy I anticipate ever proposing marriage to me, I want to have a romantic memory to go with it. Even though it'll be a little staged. And I don't guess we'll get married for a while yet. We're both busy, and then there's the whole deal with my paperwork and stuff. I know that, being in the line of work Al is in, he won't let any of that slip us by. But it doesn't matter. Today I guess I learnt that Alex is something really important to me. More than just the guy I'm seeing, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know what you mean." A slightly wistful look flitted into Topaz's eyes, but it was quickly quelled. "And I'm glad tonight's had a happy ending for you. I mean, it was your anniversary."
She put the car in gear, pulling out of the hospital forecourt and back onto the main road towards the Starlight Mansion. "So let's go home and share your good news with the others!"


Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's Fear
Chapter One: Los Angeles, 2015
Chapter Two: Enter The Stray
Chapter Three: Flashback - Sadie's Song
Chapter Four: Nerves
Chapter Five: The Dean Stacey Show
Chapter Six: Flashback - School Concert
Chapter Seven: Sandra Bray
Chapter Eight: The Dean Problem
Chapter Nine: Cursed
Chapter Ten: Flashback - Stir
Chapter Eleven: Secrets
Chapter Twelve: Robin Vs Nancy
Chapter Thirteen: In The Line Of Duty
Chapter Fourteen: Flashback - Griefstruck
Chapter Fifteen: Aftermath
Chapter Sixteen: Jewel Consult
Chapter Seventeen: Forever Changed