Carl raced through the forest, knowing exactly where they took Joan - the same place from where Julia first emerged from. The grassy path seemed long, and Carl thought he would never reach the end, even though he was sprinting his fastest. Finally the path gave way to the clearing, but he didn't stop - he headed straight to his destination.
He paused a moment at the bushes in front of him. It looked like a normal thicket, but he knew there was an opening somewhere. He didn't have time to look or analyze, and he just dove right into the bushes. At last he emerged scratched and bruised to a sight that surprised him - a log cabin was in view a few hundred yards away.
Carl approached the house cautiously, staying in the shadows and out of sight. He looked in through one of the windows; the scene startled him and angered him. Joan was tied at the wrists, and Julia was yelling like a true madwoman. The back door opened to reveal Mandy and Darin, and Carl thought for a brief moment that they had seen him through the window, but instead they just ran from the cabin, not sparing him a look.
"The woman is fucking mad," Darin snarled as he made his way from the cabin at a run. "She's in there, ready to shoot Joan and she waves the gun around like it was our fault she loved him. Fucking crazy. It's better we just run. The police are going to find her and lock her up for the rest of her miserable life." Mandy just nodded and both disappeared through the forest.
Julia screamed after them, and shot at their feet as Darin and Mandy headed for shelter in the forest. She turned her attention to Joan. "It's entirely your fault!" She aimed the gun at Joan, and that's when Carl burst through the door of the cabin, tackling Julia. Julia lost her grip on the gun, and it skidded across the floor.
Joan gasped and threw her body off the chair. She crawled the best she could to the gun with her wrists bound and her leg bloody from the shot. Carl struggled to keep Julia beneath him, using his body weight to his advantage, but she clawed and kicked like nothing he had ever seen before. She was using all the dirty tricks from the book, not showing any mercy.
Just as Joan had reached the gun, Julia threw Carl off of her, slamming him against the table, and scrambled after Joan. Julia pushed her out of the way, and grabbed the gun.
"NO!" Joan shouted and tried to kick the legs from under Julia. Julia lost her balance, but at the last possible moment before she hit the ground, she pulled the trigger.
Joan couldn't muscle up enough energy scream, the pain was so intense. She tried to keep breathing, and she barely saw policemen clad in bullet proof vests break through the cabin door, or that Carl was rushing to her side as the policemen had Julia surrounded, before all went black and she succumbed to the pain.
Joan didn't know if she was dead or alive. She felt like she was floating in the clouds, but she could feel herself breathe in and breathe out. She was alive, or as alive as she could be. She slowly opened her eyes, and harsh florescent lights flooded her vision. She tried to shield her eyes, but her arm felt heavy -very heavy. Only later would she find out the reason for this is that the bullet had penetrated right next to her heart, making her left arm almost out of commission. She moaned and tried to sit up. As she moved, it felt like the world was rolling away from her, and she felt like she was losing her balance on the bed.
She felt someone's hands gently lead her back into the lying position. She sighed as she closed her eyes, and tried to gain some energy to talk. She took a deep breath, and opened her eyes, waiting for the harsh glare of the light to lessen as her eyes got used to her surroundings. The walls were of a cream colour, and there was a table next to the bed. She looked to her left, and there was Carl looking worriedly at her. She tried to smile, but it just took so much energy.
Carl got up from his chair immediately as he saw her eyes open. "Hey, you're up."
"Where am I?" she asked hoarsely.
"The hospital," he replied. Before he could say anymore, her eyes closed, and she was fast asleep again. He sighed. At least she had awoken, that was a good sign.
Lisa, the nurse, bustled in. "How is she doing, laddy?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "She awoke to say a few words, and then was gone again."
Lisa nodded. "Yes, I'm surprised she has even awoken this early, to tell the truth. Usually people inflicted with gun shot wounds near the heart take half a week, and she's only been in here two days. She's a fighter, that one." With that last line, she exited the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Carl sat down in his chair again. He was tired, hungry, uncomfortable, but none of that mattered until Joan was again healthy. After the police had taken Julia from the cabin, they searched the surrounding area for Mandy and Darin, finding them deep in the forest. All three had been taken into custody, awaiting their court date to decide their penalty. An ambulance had been called, and they took Joan straight to the emergency room. Carl wasn't allowed in the ambulance, and had to follow behind, but before he could start his engine, a policewoman had come up to him.
"Mr. Carl Slate?" she asked.
"Yes?" he replied impatiently. He wanted to follow the ambulance as soon as possible, not wanting to lose it in traffic.
She held a tape recorder in her hand. "We believe that you might want to hear this, sir, before it goes into police custody and filed away. We found it on the floor of the cabin, we suspect it might have to do with the reason why the Miss in the ambulance was harmed."
He frowned and took the tape machine. "What is it?"
He listened to the recording of what had happened in the cabin before he arrived, and his heart swelled at the declaration of what Joan had done - sacrificed her life for their love. He was speechless, and never before had he felt like that to anyone. Joan truly was his life now, no turning back. He collected himself a moment, and handed the recorder back to the woman. "Thanks very much." She tipped her hat and gave a little smile as he drove off.
Carl looked over at Joan lying in the hospital bed. Two days, and she still hadn't woken up. He was worrying, but the doctors that came in told him she was alright, the only thing to do was wait and let time heal it.
On the third day, her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled at Carl, who was sleeping soundly on the chair next to her bed. There was a clock on the far wall, and her eyesight seemed to have gotten better. It read 11:32PM. She slowly sat up, grimacing at the effect, but otherwise fine. She looked down at herself. She was dressed in the hospital robe, with gauze padding over the left side of her chest. She guessed that was where the bullet penetrated. She bent her knee on the leg with the bandage, and it was fine. It felt good to be alive, she thought contently.
Food was left on the bedside table. She looked at it, and her stomach lurched. She guessed she wasn't ready for food as yet. She looked back over at Carl. He seemed troubled, even in his sleep, and it looked like even though he was asleep, he wasn't getting any rest.
Thelma, a nurse on duty, was walking in the hallway, and happened to look in the room. "Oh my!" she exclaimed, and rushed into the room. "Ms. Pollock! You're up!"
Joan nodded. "Yes, thank you."
Carl roused from his sleep, first a bit groggy, and then instantly alert when he realised Joan was up. "You're awake!"
"I'm fine," she replied, humour slowly returning to her voice. She turned to the nurse, "Would you be able to get me some water, please?" The nurse quickly bustled out of the room to get a glass of water.
She rubbed her eyes and turned her attention to Carl, who was studying her with a look that she couldn't quite fathom. "What is it?"
He shook his head. "Nothing, it's great that you're up. How are you feeling?"
She shrugged, and then her shoulder started throbbing. "Ouch, well, as well as can be at the time I guess."
He nodded and the nurse returned with the glass of water. "Good to see you back to the living, I tell you," she said with laughter in her eyes. As soon as Joan was about to ask something, the nurse cut in, "the doctors said you could leave by the end of the week - three days from now."
Joan smiled. That was the exact question she was about to ask. "Thanks." The nurse nodded and hustled out of the room.
Carl looked as tired as ever, but happy that she was awake. Joan studied him, "You look extremely tired, hungry, and uncomfortable."
Carl was amused - this was exactly like how he felt. "Never mind me, how is wound feeling? Can I get you anything?"
She shook her head. "The only thing you can do for me is to speed up time - how in the world am I supposed to last three days on a hospital bed?"
He smirked, and for the last three days people from work and other friends came to visit her in the hospital. They all wanted to know what happened, and were more than shocked to find out who the culprits were. Her own parents flew back from their European holiday to see her and make sure she was okay. They didn't leave until they had the full story of what happened, although Carl and Joan were careful to leave out private bits of information. Before they left, they inquired from every nurse and doctor how Joan's progress was doing. By the end of their stay, the nurses and doctors all comically avoided her parents, and it was only after a full report on how good she was coming along did they take their leave back to their home.
Pete came to see her; he only needed some rest to recover from the ordeal. He was happy she was getting better, and said he was taking her advice and that he had booked for a two week vacation to the Caribbean. He chuckled, and three of them talked for a while before he had to go.
Joan sighed when everyone took their leave and it was her last night in the hospital. It was tiring to see everyone, and to pretend to put on a happy façade all the time. Only with Carl in the room did he really see how tired she was and how straining each visit was.
On the last day, the nurses helped Joan into her clothes and made sure her left arm was in a proper sling before she was allowed to check out of the hospital, even though her arm felt almost perfectly fine. She waved good- bye to all of them, and they all sighed as Carl left. He had been asked for plenty of autographs, but declined all of them until Joan was safely in his car buckled up.
The drive home was uneventful, Joan looked at the scenery for the most of it, happy enough that she was out of the hospital and on her way home. When they arrived at her apartment, Carl helped her out of the car, and escorted her up to the apartment. When she was safely inside, Carl left swiftly, almost as if he didn't want to stick around. She thought that odd, but her mind wasn't functioning normally. She shook her head, and went straight to her bedroom. There, she took of the sling, stretched her arm out, and went to take a long, hot, much needed bath. She promptly fell asleep until the next day.
That morning she made herself some coffee, and turned on the television. There she saw the story of the ordeal with Julia, even though it had been a week since it had happened. She didn't want to watch it over and over, and she could barely believe that it was all done - that horror that had lasted for months was finally finished. How did she go back to the way life was? She couldn't, that much she knew. She needed to talk to Carl. What would she say? She didn't know, but she knew she had to talk to him.
Dressed and ready to leave, she grabbed her car keys and headed down to her car. There she opened the door, got in, but hesitated in starting the engine. What would she do once she got to his place? What would he think? She contemplated this worriedly. What if it was just over for him? What if he didn't want to see her again after everything? She didn't know if she could bare that, but then why had he left so suddenly last night?
She closed her eyes for a brief moment, wondering if her life would ever be totally complete without him. Her heart sank, but she would only have to give it a try.
"Excuse me, miss, should you be driving in your condition?" asked a voice.
Her eyes snapped open. The voice turned out to be no other than Carl, and what a sight he was. She didn't think he had ever looked so spectacular. The morning sun was shining behind him, and he was smiling down at her, one arm leaning against the top of the open car door, the other in his jeans pocket. She stammered a bit, caught off guard as her heart burst in joy, but she kept it carefully hidden. "C-Carl, what are you doing here?"
"I wonder." He grinned, "Of course here to see you!"
She smiled, his jet black hair wet from a shower he obviously just took, and she could smell his musky man scent, and she was falling for him all over again. She took a breath and looked away. "I-I was just going over to your place to talk to you."
"You? Driving right now?" He shook his head, smiling. "I don't think so, miss. Not until you get better, and get that sling right back on your arm."
She started to protest as he reached around her, grabbed the keys out of the ignition, and lifted her easily off her seat and onto the ground. "Now, that's better," he said, chuckling. "Anywhere you want to go, sweetheart, I will be your personal chauffeur," he said, doing a sweeping bow.
She laughed, "You are too much!"
"Now what did you want to talk to me about?" he asked curiously.
She turned serious at his question, but tried not to hesitate. "Well, first of all, we need to talk - all of those little secrets you wouldn't tell me about." He raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. She shifted a bit, but had to continue. " .like the tracker on my car? Where did you get that from? how did you manage to get those letters of William Smith?" She was damn curious, and wanted an answer, although she did feel like she was being a little bit nosy. But she did have a right to know! "You would have had to break into the police station and hack their files to reach them, either that or hold someone up at gunpoint and make them give you the letters."
To her utter surprise, after she finished speaking, Carl broke into side- splitting laughter. She was taken aback and confused. After his bout, he looked at her and tried to control himself, but started laughing again.
"Did I miss something here?" she said, slightly annoyed.
He took a couple of deep breaths, a smile still playing on his face. "You think that's what happened? That I broke into the police station, or held a gun to a poor clerks head?" He shook his head, and Joan saw he was still trying to contain himself. "To answer your question, and not have you report me for breaking and entering. They gave those files to me and the tracker too, after I asked them for it."
Now she was even more confused. "Why would they give those things freely to the public?"
He shook his head again, "No, they wouldn't give it to the public, but a resigned undercover cop they might."
Her mouth gaped open. "'Resigned undercover cop'? You used to be an undercover cop? You're kidding, right?"
"Not at all, love," he smirked. "Before I became an actor. It runs in the family."
It dawned on her. "That would explain a lot of things - the high skilled martial arts, the tracker on my car, the files, the comfortable use of a gun." Her eyes widened - it runs in the family? She looked at him startled. "Was that what your father's job was - a detective business?" He nodded, amused and impressed by her intelligence. "And that's why you used to move around France so much."
He smiled. "So there you have it, all your questions answered. Now let's get that sling back on your arm and go for some brunch," he replied, grabbing her hand and heading towards her apartment.
But she held her ground. Now that that was cleared up, she needed to answer the question that had been plaguing her since last night, and the question she needed an answer to desperately. She hesitated a long moment, then asked, "Why did you leave so suddenly last night?" He let go of her hand and slowly turned to face her. She could tell he was taken aback.
"Last night?" he asked, thinking back. He paused, but didn't answer.
"Yes, last night." She was dreading the answer, but she needed to know. Why didn't he just answer her? He didn't say anything, but seemed as if he was in deep thought. After a moment longer, she said angrily, "Look, if you want to break it off, then just tell me, but please don't play me a fool. I need to know now." Her heart was breaking already, and tears threatened to spill onto her face.
He didn't answer right away, but played with a strand of her hair. "Julia had a recording of what happened in the cabin. I listened to it, and sweetheart." he trailed off, struggling with words. Joan's eyes widened - he found the recording. Her cheeks became flushed with embarrassment.
"And what did you think of it? Pathetic? Lousy? Just tell me, but don't lie." She jerked her head away from his playing fingers, and took a step back. "Spare me the endearments. If you want to just end it fine. That's absolutely fine with me," she spat out, and tears started spilling down her face. How had her life become such a mess in such a short time? How would she go on without him?
"NO! Oh no, Joan," he said, wiping away each tear with the pad of his thumb. "When I heard it, it." He shook his head. "You endangered your life for our love, just because." He took a deep breath, but didn't continue. Joan knew he was going to break it off. She closed her eyes, waiting for the axe to fall. Oh dear god, she thought. How will she live without him?
"Look, I already know what you are going to say," she said bitterly. "Just say it so we can get on with our own separate lives, and-"
"Joan, I love you," he cut her off.
"I don't want you to try to comfort me. Just get a-" she snapped her eyes open, and stopped what she was saying. Surely she had heard wrong. She must have. He couldn't have said that, not without meaning it. Maybe it's just her overactive imagination.
A smile slowly crept on Carl's face at Joan's realization. "I love you," he repeated. "I've loved you ever since you tried to speak your broken French in that restaurant, my heart leapt out for you."
She took in a breath, and needed the car to support some of her weight. He reached out instantly and steadied her, putting each arm around her, and lowered his lips to hers. Her lips were soft and warm and tantalizing. He lifted his head to look at her, and she gave him a dreamy smile. Her dreams had become a reality. "Oh Carl." She took a breath, kissed him back with all of her might, loving him more than ever. "Oh Carl, I love you too. You don't know how you have changed my life since you've come. Just don't leave me, ever."
She felt through the kiss his smile. "I'm afraid you can't get rid of me that easily, sweetheart." She smiled too, and wrapped her arms around his neck, not wanting to let him go. Her heart, mind, and soul were in complete bliss, and she couldn't have been more overjoyed.
"You know," he said between kisses. "I could show you those all those enticing French moves I was talking about, one by one."
She moved her body invitingly. "Let's go up to my apartment, and see what you can do."
"My pleasure," he replied chuckling, and both of them couldn't have been happier.
Author's Note: So what did you all think about it? How was the ending? Hope you all liked. Anyways, as a last lil' note, I would just like to thank the reviewers for helping me to complete this project. I had such a great time writing it - and [sniff sniff] I can't believe it's finished already! Oh well, anyways - back to the subject - the faithful, oh adoring reviewers, I thank so much. To Gabriel Malone, katelyn devaney, Midnight Owl, KayteeLern, TaiTai66, unknown558, Raven O'Connor, Gabriela Binx, GcRiotDreamer09, medusa28, agua-angel, PiDDLiN, and goo goo ga ga 00 - thank you! And a SPECIAL thanks goes out to SpawnMeister666 and Hex Reedglimmer- cheers! Thanks everyone.
Adieu, and until next time,