A Breath on the Door

1:20 PM

With a groan Rose yanked open the industrial doors of the Grotto and staggered in. A seven-hour trip with three layovers, bad food, almost no sleep and a pounding headache had done a lot to erase her pleasure in visiting the World Oceanographic Institute's conference in New Guinea. She dropped her suitcases on the floor and let Barnum enthusiastically wash her face; the big dog wagged his tail and made happy little whimpers as he kissed her repeatedly. Rose managed a tired chuckle as she rubbed his ears lovingly.

"Yes I missed you too, big boy. Oh you are such a good baby." Looking up, she saw the note on the table and smiled to herself as she read it.

Hi Brat--Welcome home, you globetrotter--I wish you'd called earlier and I could have picked you up from the airport.  I had to run a few errands, but I should be back by six at the latest. Go take a bath and get some sleep, 'cause you're going to *need* the rest once I return---Grrrrrr.

Love ya now and always,

Mac

She yawned, moving slowly towards the bathroom when the nausea that had been haunting her all day roiled up in her stomach. Hurrying, she managed to reach the toilet before the retching started. Barnum followed her, watching in puzzlement as she threw up. Rose weakly spit the last nasty taste of bile into the bowl and flushed.

"Oh man--what was that all about, huh, boy?" she joked softly, rinsing out her mouth over the sink. "Whoo--I thought I put my bad oyster days behind me."

She ran water in the tub and dropped her clothes in the hamper, climbing in slowly and gratefully, since her head was seriously throbbing. Barnum peeked over the edge of the tub, sneezing at the mound of bubble bath, and Rose flicked water at him.

"I'm okay, ya big lifeguard,"

He settled on the bathmat, head on his paws as she relaxed in the water. The soak did her good; she even managed to shave her legs and wash her hair before the fatigue began to creep back. Her legs and arms felt weighted with lead, and it took all her strength to climb out of the tub. Barnum whined a little; she put a hand on his back and let him support her as she staggered through the door.

"Oh--gotta rest," she dropped onto the four-poster bed in a crumpled heap, tugging fitfully at the dark green afghan at the foot of the bed. Barnum gave a little chuff and lay down next to the bed. Occasionally he raised his elegant head and gave a small whine.

6:16 PM

Mac pushed the door open with a frown, nearly tripping over the suitcases that still stood within a few feet. He set the bouquet of roses and bags of groceries down then looked up to the platform where the bed was. He sighed as a sense of relief surged through him. She was home.

"Zonked, huh? " he asked of Barnum, who had trotted over and was nudging his thigh. The dog wagged his tail briefly, and then looked at him.

Mac laughed. "Kibble for you, omelet for me, and we'll let the Brat sleep in--whatcha say?"

Barnum wagged his tail again, and followed Mac into the kitchen, keeping a serious doggy eye on the preparations. Once done, they both ate, Mac at the table, Barnum at his bowl. Occasionally Mac glanced at the bed. He scooped up the roses, carried them over and smiled down at the sleeping woman as he set them on the bed next to her. He pressed a kiss to her forehead.

He flinched.

 The extreme heat radiating off of Rose's skin startled him, and MacGyver gave her a worried look, but her breathing was slow and steady, and he hated to disturb her. "Okay--take the dog for a run, let you sleep--I don't like that fever much, but the rest will do you good," he muttered.

9:40 PM

Rose moaned. Her eyelids fluttered, and she shivered, shifting under the afghan restlessly. Across the room, Mac set the copy of Double Whammy he'd been reading down and came over to sit on the edge of the bed.

 He stroked her hot cheek. "Hey Brat--"

"Mmmmac. Cold--" Rose muttered. He frowned. Rose gave a hiccupping hitch, and moaned, rolling over to the edge of the bed. Mac was faster than she was, and grabbed the wastepaper basket, shoving it under her chin when she leaned over and retched.

 The sound echoed noisily in the tin can, and Mac winced. "You're one sick baby. Need some water?"

Rose managed a weak nod, resting her head, some of the vomit in her hair.

"Head hurts--" she whimpered. Mac came back with a warm wet washcloth and a cup of water. He wiped her hair and face, feeling the heat come through the cloth, then gave her a tiny sip of water. It didn't stay down. She threw up again, and he sighed.

"We better check your temperature, Brat."

The ear thermometer quickly confirmed the fever: 104.2 and rising. Mac drew in a deep breath. He reached for the dresser, yanking open a drawer and grabbing some clothes.

"Time to go in, Rose--let's get you dressed and in the car."

During the ride to the Emergency room Rose slumped in the seat of the jeep, clutching the old blue afghan around her shoulders. She looked lost and small in the flannel shirt and sweat pants. In the light of the parking lot she was flushed; Mac steadied her as he helped her out. Rose had one arm around his neck; he longed to carry her, but knew she didn't want that, so he coaxed her along through the sliding glass doors.

There were eight people in the rows of plastic chairs around the admitting nurse's station. Mac sat Rose in an empty one and hurried to the thin, grey-haired nurse, who looked up at him wearily.

"My wife's got a temperature of a hundred and four . . ."

"Name and insurance," the nurse interrupted. Mac traded the cards he had for the clipboard full of papers and went back to Rose. She managed a weak smile at him.

"They need mom's . . . maiden name, my pin number and the last five movies I saw?" she teased in a whisper.

 Mac gave her a wry smile as he filled in the paperwork."Just about--how long have you been out of it, Brat?"

"Started feeling crappy . . . on the last flight out of Honolulu, but managed okay . . . until I got home . . ." Rose hitched again, her eyes going wide in panic; Mac looked around frantically and snagged a plastic shopping bag that blew across the floor when the sliding glass doors opened to admit someone. He patiently let Rose vomit into it and tied it off as the admitting nurse scurried around her desk to cluck at them.

"Nice catch," she declared to MacGyver, who was too busy studying Rose to do more than nod. The grey-haired nurse took it and laid her free hand on Rose's forehead. She bit her lower lip.

"Let me see what I can do to move her up to the next slot," she whispered to them before hurrying away.

Mac slid his arm around Rose and sighed again. They sat that way, both of them dozing for a long while as they waited. Rose shivered, huddling down against Mac's shoulder and he gently stroked her hair.

Finally, another nurse, this one Asian and round, came up, calling out, "Briar Rose MacGyver?"

Starting, Mac lifted his chin and the nurse zeroed in on them. Rose tried to stand, but she swayed dangerously until Mac slipped an arm around her waist. The nurse stepped on the other side of her.

"Right this way," she muttered cheerfully. Rose managed to make it into the examining room, clutching Mac's arm as she woozily sat on the edge of the examining table. The nurse rolled a blood pressure cuff on her patient's slender arm, pumping it up as she ran through a list of questions. Mac stood against the wall, watching.

Weight?"

"One eighteen,"

"Height?"

"Five three--"

Mac snorted and Rose amended, "Sort of--"

"Allergic to anything?"

"Paulie Shore movies," Rose whispered. The nurse managed a smirk, and wrote 'no' on the sheet as she waited for the blood pressure needle to settle. After reading it, she looked up sharply at her patient.

"Wow, this is pretty low--let's get your pulse." She took it, made another notation on the paper and frowned. "Well Mrs. MacGyver, how long have you had this fever?"

"About . . ." before she could finish the statement, Rose quietly slid sideways.  Mac grabbed her shoulder; he and the nurse laid her gently back on the table, the paper crinkling under her.

"Rose!" Mac leaned over her. The nurse stepped out to the hall, calling something. Footsteps came down the corridor in a hurry and a barrel-chested man in a lab coat pushed his way into the examining room. Mac reluctantly stepped back as the doctor bent over the unconscious Rose, checking her eyes and pressing a hand to her thorax.

"Dehydration, start an IV--we need full blood panels with a biological screen priority--ask Winton to step in and get her admitted. Are you the husband?"

"Yeah," MacGyver responded quickly.

 The doctor glanced up at him for a moment, as if weighing how much to say. He finally asked, "Has your wife been out of the country recently?"

"New Guinea, for a conference. She just got back this afternoon," he replied in a rush of words.

The doctor nodded grimly. "I'm Doctor Patrick Keene--I don't want to alarm you, but the Center for Disease Control issued a bulletin two days ago on a new hemorrhagic fever coming out of the south Pacific Rim. St. Joseph's got three cases this morning, and we have two others here right now, all from flights out of LAX. I suspect your wife's got it too."

MacGyver paled; his gaze turned to Rose, who lay insensible on the examining table and he reached for her, but Doctor Keene shook his head, even as he busily set an oxygen mask over Rose's face.

"You're going to need a complete screening yourself, Mr. MacGyver. We'll take care of her, you go with Nurse Tsai--"

"But--"

"She's going to be fine," The doctor insisted. "Right now, we need to make sure you're not infected, and that we get her started on some Ribavirin." Seeing the man's stricken expression, Keene dropped his tone down a bit."Mr. MacGyver, we've got to take care of both of you."

5:14 AM

Rose writhed, whimpering in the searing heat of herself. She could hear whispers in strange voices and smell odd flavors through her torqued senses. Time after time she called for Mac, ran to find him always one or two steps ahead and beyond her. He was ignoring her; she was sure of it. As they crossed the valley of her fever, she pleaded with him to stop, to talk to her . . .

"The delirium is frightening, but in a lot of ways it's a good sign--means she's fighting," the nurse whispered to MacGyver as he stood in his hospital gown and looked through the ICU quarantine window at his wife.

 His big hands were pressed flat to the glass, and his complexion was pallid in the bright lights."When can I see her?"

"Soon," the nurse reassured him. "You've got a clean bill of health, and Mister Thornton's on his way with a new set of clothes."

Mac dropped his forehead to the glass, sighing harshly; the nurse patted his shoulder.

"Doctor Keene is optimistic--you brought her in early, and we've got a pretty aggressive antibiotic therapy going," she pointed out. Mac managed a weak smile, but kept his eyes locked on the small woman beyond the glass.

Pete Thornton found him there twenty minutes later, still rooted to the spot. He came up and laid a gentle hand on Mac's shoulder. "How's she doing?"

"She's getting cared for," Mac replied in a monotone.

 Pete glanced through the window before softly mentioning, "I called your in-laws. They'll be here within a few hours, and I've got something for you to wear."

"Thanks," Mac made no move.

 Pete waited, and then coughed. "Not to get rude about this, but the back of your gown is open, and you've been mooning everyone walking by."

Mac started and twisted, glancing over his shoulder then at Pete, who shrugged.

"Hey it's my job to cover your ass--" he handed MacGyver the paper bag of clothing and smiled. Tentatively, Mac took it, looking a little lost; Pete gave him a nudge. "Get dressed--I'll keep an eye on her. Go."

Mac returned moments later in a blue Henley shirt and black jeans. His hair was still tousled, and the faint 5 o'clock shadow darkened his jaw, but he looked a little more awake. Pete handed him a small carton of orange juice. Mac gratefully drank it. "Okay, now you're looking halfway normal--take a minute and tell me everything."

Mac did. He outlined Rose's trip and deterioration, the diagnosis and ended with Keene's guarded prognosis. "--So she's holding her own at the moment," he finished in discouraged tone. Pete gave a thoughtful look at his friend.

"I checked with a buddy of mine at the CDC--so far there are seventeen cases of Vamino virus here in the States, and another twenty three scattered across the South Pacific." He paused and added softly, "Seven deaths so far, but mostly in spots without medical facilities."

Mac's mouth tightened. He ran a hand through his hair and turned his gaze to the quarantine window. "Deaths . . . oh God, Pete--"

"Mac, one of the best virologists in the country is right here, and Rose is in his hands. Yeah there have been deaths--you needed to know that--but you've done what you can, and Rose is getting the best care."

"I know, but it's so hard to stand by and not be able to do anything," came Mac's strained confession. "I'm just no good at waiting and watching, Pete." His hands curled into tight fists.

"I know--but right now, there's nothing more you can do. Meet with Matt and Lara, and then go get some sleep, Mac," he advised kindly. Mac gave him a bleak smile.

9:40 AM

 From down the hall, Lara launched herself at Mac, snagging him into a fierce hug that left him breathless and almost knocked him over. He wrapped his arms around the small woman with a pang; she was so like Rose in size and strength.

"Oh Mac!" Lara brokenly whispered, reaching to touch his face.  "Darling, are you all right?"

The tender concern of the question broke him; he hugged her tighter, bending down to whisper back raggedly,"No."

Lara held onto him, her hands coming up to rub his back for a long moment as he buried his face in her shoulder. Finally when Mac was ready, he loosened his grip, blinking hard against the tears. Lara kept a hand on his arm as he looked up at a grave-faced Matt.

"Lad," Another hug, fierce and powerful this time; Mac took comfort in the strength of his father-in-law, and broke away moments later with a regretful sigh.

Lara had already drifted over to the quarantine window, her hands over her mouth as she looked into the room. Little Russian prayers leaked out of her as she stared, frightened into tears.

Rose lay on a hospital bed under an isolation tent. Three different tubes snaked out of her slender arms, an oxygen mask covered her mouth and nose, and restraints held her onto the bed.

"Why have they tied my baby down?" Lara murmured in shock.

 Mac came up behind her and put his hands on her small shoulders."She's delirious, and sometimes she thrashes around. They don't want her to get hurt, or disconnect the IV," he explained tiredly. "It looks barbaric, but they have to do it, Lara."

"Oh . . ." Lara reached for Matt without taking her eyes from Briar Rose. Matt wove his fingers with those of his wife.

"Lara love, we need to talk to the doctor. He'll want her full medical history," He murmured soothingly. Lara turned huge, stricken eyes at her husband; he steered her gently to one of the sofas in the waiting area. Mac leaned his forehead against the glass again, fatigue and fear washing through his system in a surge.

"Come on Brat. Don't you dare . . ." he couldn't bring himself to voice it as he wiped his wet eyes.

3:32 PM

Rose wondered where everyone was. The Grotto seemed so empty. She wandered, seeing mile after mile of bookcases. All the books were green, and when she looked again they were all red. Reaching for one of them took at least a year; her hand barely touched the spine of the nearest one when she realized she was outside now, looking at a dog that wasn't Barnum, but she knew it was a friend . . . as she reached down to pet him, her fingers stretched out, longer and longer and longer . . .

Groggily Rose opened her eyes. The dim light seemed to be filtered through something, maybe plastic. She sighed. Her hand fluttered; her wedding ring slid off her finger onto the floor, making a tiny musical clinking sound as it did so. Convulsively her fist tightened. She gave a moan.

"Just relax Briar Rose," the nurse muttered in a soothing tone. Rose tried to turn her head and look at the woman. She wondered why the nurse was hiding under all the plastic, but it was too hard to figure out and she was too tired. Gently she drifted off to sleep again.

4:22 PM

"Mr. MacGyver, at least let us give you something to help you sleep. You're not doing anyone, least of all you wife any good by stressing yourself out. Go home or stay here, but I insist you get a couple of hours of sleep. Right now Rose is stable and her blood panels are looking good. We'll call you if there are any changes, I promise," Doctor Keene argued.

 

 MacGyver braced himself against Barnum's frantic welcome and patted the dog lovingly as he entered the Grotto. A faint stench hung in the big room and he sighed.

 Barnum looked mortified, but Mac merely tugged the dog's ear playfully. "Hey, it's my fault too for not having Evelyn come take you out, pal," he tiredly consoled Barnum as he went to clean up the accident.

Barnum followed him everywhere, even into the bathroom while he showered, and Mac found himself talking out-loud to the dog. It seemed to soothe both of them. Mac dried off, reluctantly swallowed the sedative Keene had prescribed, climbed into fresh clothes, and then dropped himself on the bed, grabbing the phone in one hand to keep it close.

 Something tickled his nose, something unexpectedly fragrant. He looked to his left at the flowers still scattered on the bed quilt, wilting American Beauties he'd brought home the night before, and the sudden rush of fear, pain and fatigue hit hard right to the core of him. Mac rolled over on them, burying his face in the crook of his elbow as he lay across the bed. His entire frame shuddered with the force of his sobs.

9:53 PM

The phone rang. Groggy and disoriented, Mac jerked awake and frantically grabbed at the receiver, almost knocking it off of the bed before managing to answer it.

"'lo?"

"Mister MacGyver, Patrick Keene here. Rose's fever broke about twenty minutes ago. She's awake and asking to see you--Hello? Mister MacGyver?"

 

They had pulled the plastic tent back, but that was the only change that Mac could perceive--the tubes and oxygen line remained. Rose was propped up against pillows, looking pale and frail in the unflattering light. When he walked in, Rose turned her face to him and smiled; Mac thought she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. "Hey Brat--" came his unsteady voice.

Even though he was wearing a mask, he kissed her brow. She managed a weak pout that told him he could do better; grinning, he dropped another on her lips through the gauze.

Behind him, Doctor Keene laughed."Sorry for the masks--We know she's no longer infectious, but ICU protocol demands them. Yes, she's definitely on the mend. Let me mention right now that one of the lingering disabilities of this virus is vocal cord paralysis. Rose isn't going to be able to talk for about two weeks or so--nothing permanent, nothing serious, but for at least half a month you'll be getting the last word, Mr. MacGyver."

"Geez, that will be a first," he responded, sitting on the edge of the bed. Rose rolled her eyes, but stilled smiled.

 Keene chuckled. "I'll give you two a moment, but Mr. MacGyver, I need to talk to you afterwards."

Neither of them really noticed when Keene left; they were far too busy staring at each other. Rose mimed a pencil and paper--Mac picked them up from the table next to the bed and handed them to her. She scribbled a quick note: Next time, just to let me go tag sharks--

Mac shook his head and winced, remembering their argument ages ago, but when he looked up from the paper to Rose's face she was smiling a little sadly.

 He relaxed by degrees, getting the joke. "Geez, you had me really scared there, Brat," he confessed in a low husky voice. "And I know you didn't mean it, but . . ."

She frantically scribbled another note, her small hand flying over the page. Hey, could have happened to you too, Mac. I'll try real hard not to contract anymore fatal diseases, I promise. Now where's my ring?

He glanced up from the note, puzzled. Rose showed him her bare left hand, listlessly waggling the fingers at him.

"I didn't take it--maybe the admitting team did when they ran you through decontamination."

Rose weakly shook her head, indicating she'd asked already. Mac thought for a moment, then got down on all fours and then looked under the bed, searching carefully. The ring winked at him, and he scooped it up gratefully.

"Got it--it musta slipped off when you were thrashing around," he confided to her. Still on his knees, he gently but firmly slid it back on her finger, noting how it hung loosely. He brought her hand up to his masked lips.

"We'll get it resized, Brat, okay?"

She was drifting off to sleep, her fingers locked on his tightly, a melancholy smile on her lips. He watched her for a few minutes more, then gently disengaged her grip and slipped out, looking for the doctor.

"Well, it looks like your wife is going to be one of the survivors," Keene told MacGyver gently. "I am sorry about the miscarriage, but at this point in time, neither Doctor Singh or I think it was related to the virus . . . Mr. MacGyver?"

Mac's stunned expression hit Keene hard; he leaned over the desk and sighed heavily. "Lord, You didn't know she was pregnant--Well there's a good chance she didn't either. According to the hormone levels in her bloodstream, she was barely three weeks along, hardly enough to register on a home pregnancy test."

"She was . . .” Mac mumbled, dazed.

Keene shrugged. “Early miscarriages are more common than you think. I don't want to sound callous, but they happen for a reason, and neither you nor your wife should feel guilty about it."

Mac lifted his eyes to the doctor's; Keene's expression was empathetic and honest. "Your wife is a strong woman, and Lord knows when the right time comes, the two of you will be fine parents, so don't worry about that. Right now, however, we need to get Rose back to health. She's going to stay here for another four days or so. Once she's discharged, though, she'll be weak, and will need some home care until she's steady enough to manage on her own."

"Okay," Mac struggled to concentrate on Keene's words even as his mind still reeled with the events of the past day? Day and a half?

He fought back a yawn as Keene spoke again. "She'll need fluids, of course, and probably some moderate exercise. Try not to let her get too tired out--I don't think they'll be a relapse, but with these new strains, it's impossible to predict."

***                  ***                  ***

A week later, in the middle of a rainy afternoon, the jeep pulled up at the Grotto, and Rose smiled in sheer pleasure. Five days of her mother's fussing and enforced hospital bed rest had left her longing for home. She started to climb out, but Mac swung around the front of the Jeep and snagged her arm.

"Hey hey, slow down," he chided. Rose shook her head impatiently and clambered out, pulling her grey oversized sweater around her tighter. Mac hit the door opener and had to physically restrain his wife from running in; she made a face at him.

"If you don't listen to me, you're gonna spend the next two days in bed--so just crank it down a notch, Brat," he warned her. She sighed dramatically and slowly stepped in to Barnum's happy whines. More doggie kisses followed as Rose made a huge fuss over him. Barnum wriggled with happiness, and his tail wagged so fast it blurred. Mac stepped around the love fest with the flowers and other stuff from the hospital, grinning.

"Yeah, you were missed," he told Rose. She smiled at that, and slowly made her way across the big room looking around at it. On one wall, the collage of antique hockey and skating postcards hung between big maple bookcases. Mac had vacuumed and dusted, and even the faintly ugly gilt mirror looked clean. Rose dropped into one of the overstuffed sofas with a sigh, stretching out happily.

Mac brought her a mug of steaming chicken soup; she took it eagerly as he dropped down beside her and sighed.

"As soon as you get that into you, maybe you ought to take a nap,"

She shook her head defiantly and reached for the notepad. Are you nuts? I'm not sleepy--I want to DO something--

"Okay," he shrugged. "You can read, or watch TV, or maybe practice your cello."

Rose shot him a very specific look; he reddened, shaking his head. "Rose, you just got out of the hospital," he argued gently, "And I know--" he paused awkwardly, meeting her eyes. She gave a nod. Mac tried to continue, but all he could say was, "I mean, about--"

She set the soup down and climbed into his lap with a sigh; he took her in his arms, holding her warmly against his chest, burying his face in her hair as she rested her cheek against his shoulder. They stayed that way a long, long time, comforted. Finally, Rose reached for her writing pad and bent over the page, handing it to him a moment later.

The miscarriage actually started at the conference. I wasn't going to tell you because I knew you'd be upset.

"So it wasn't the fever?" Surprised, Mac studied Rose's face. She shook her head emphatically and wrote more. I was worried you'd freak that I was pregnant AND I worried that you'd freak that I miscarried--sort of a no win situation here, Mac.

"I would not freak about you being pregnant!" he countered in a slightly resentful tone. "I mean, sure, it might take a few minutes to get used to the idea, but it's not like I haven't thought about it a lot in the last year or so--hell, in the last five days, to be more specific."

And what exactly have you been thinking? Came the next note.

MacGyver looked at it long and hard before answering. "I've been thinking that maybe . . . it would be . . . good," came his drawn out admission. "Rose, I've spent a long time alone, and it was sort of an okay existence. Then you came into my world and changed that, you and Barnum made it," he spread his arms out, waving helplessly, "full of this stuff I never really knew about--fighting, building, teamwork--"

Loving?

"Yeaaaaaah--" he blurted, wiping a hand across his face in embarrassed pride, "Yeah, that's a big part of it too--not just sex, but the having somebody there."

 No matter how far you go, or how long you're gone, I'm here, yours the way you've always wanted me-- Her next note reminded him.

 He nodded emphatically."That's it exactly. So when I saw you in the ICU, dying for all I knew, all I felt was this empty pain that I'd never have a part of you to keep forever, that we hadn't really finished this life between us, you know?" His expression was more serious than she'd ever seen it; she pressed a kiss to his temple.

I know.

 Did you also know you can't look at the babies through the Maternity wing window anymore?" Mac admitted to her softly. "I wandered all through the place, and the maternity ward's more secure than Fort Knox. Maybe it was a good thing, considering how I was. Bad enough to cry outside your window without doing in there too, huh?"

Oh Mac--

"Hey, it's just that, yeah, I have thought about kids a little more seriously now, okay?"  He confessed. She tweaked his nose and gave a thoughtful little sigh.

Great. But there are a few things to be considered too, pal--it might be nice if I got my Master's done, for one.

"You're practically finished, though--one more seminar class in resource management, and then all you'd have to do is present all the work you did this past year as a project."

She nodded, shifting on his lap and earning a groan and an arched eyebrow for it as he took her chin in his hand, forcing her to meet his eyes.

"Don't do that--and don't give me that innocent look either--you know perfectly well what you're doing--" he groused. She tossed him another note.

Mac, not that I'm keeping tabs on this, but it has been a while, and I can't help getting squirmy around you.

Well the feeling is mutual, but I'd rather wait a little while to if we can handle it," came his reluctant confession. "Let's make sure you're healthy first, okay?"

She sighed dramatically and climbed off his lap with reluctance.

Okay. Better get out your earplugs or take Barnum for a walk then-

MacGyver grinned, glancing in the far corner to where the dusty cello stood waiting. "Come on boy--let's leave the Maestra in peace, shall we?"

***                              ***                              ***

Rose read, and wrote, and finished painting the closets. Mac kept an eye on her, but let her take things at her own pace, satisfied that she was on the mend. To her credit, she didn't try to do anything overly-strenuous, and gave herself enough time to get better. The late January weather blustered and cleared regularly but within a week, a storm blew in.

It was a big one, and although both Mac and Rose knew it was coming, they headed out to Almadorio's Pizzeria to pick up the pizza together anyway.

Enzio teased them as they came in, wet and dripping. "You two again--you drive me crazy, you MacGyvers!"

"Hi Enzio," Mac greeted him with a resigned smile. Rose hid her giggle as the proprietor went into his usual mock-tirade.

"Always phoning in the same order--half this, half that--one side vegetarian with Mama's best tomatoes and mushrooms and oregano, and one side three cheeses and olives and green peppers. Why can't you just agree on one pizza, eh? Or get two, my prices aren't that bad!"

"Because Miss Nitpicky here won't eat leftovers, and refuses to feed them to me or the dog, Enzio. So it has to be one pizza, with two different preferences," Mac replied good-naturedly. "At least we both like the breadsticks."

"That's 'cause they're free," Enzio argued, even as he handed over the fragrant box and rang up the charges. Rose took it, hopping around while Mac fished out his wallet.

"You be careful driving back, eh? The weatherman's saying that it's gonna get worse before it gets better out there."

"Yeah-- and thanks, Enzio. See you again in two weeks," Mac nodded, herding Rose out again in to the streaming rain. They climbed into Rose's old green pickup and headed out of the parking lot, the headlights barely cutting through the downpour. Rose sniffed the pizza box hungrily as they headed down the back road to the wharf.

"No sneaking a slice," Mac warned. "You always take one from my side and then try and claim you didn't--I'm getting wise to you, Brat."

She made a virtuous face and laid her hands on the top of the box. Mac snorted. "Put the breadstick back and nobody gets paddled--" he accused, right before the engine coughed and died. Mac tried to turn the engine over again as they hydroplaned to the side of the road, but it merely spluttered. They glided to a stop in a deserted little rest stop near a scenic view. A single ghostly light flickered in the parking lot.

Rose looked at Mac. "Battery?" came her whisper. He checked the dials on the truck, shaking his head.

"Naw, the charge is still running the lights. I'm guessing either the fan belt or maybe the alternator. I better get out and check."

Rose peered out the windshield down at the darkness over the edge of the horizon. "Power's out--" she told him in a hoarse undertone; Mac stopped digging through the glove compartment and sighed.

"Yeah, with this wind I'd guess a couple of power lines are down--Brat, your flashlight's dead--again. How am I gonna be able to see under the hood?"

"Sorry."

"Yeah," the hard whistle of the wind combined with the downpour cut through his words. Mac looked at the rain rattling on the windows and gave a noisy sigh."Okay, backup plan. We eat pizza and wait for the rain to stop."

Rose passed him the box, grinning. They both munched away, and halfway through their second slices, the streetlight above gave a little 'pop' and went out, leaving them in the shadowy dark of the rest stop.

Rose giggled, but Mac merely sighed in resignation."It's almost 10 o'clock, so I can either try to fix the truck myself, or call someone to come get us," he concluded with a grumble.

"Don't think you're going to get through until the storm passes," came her hoarse whisper. Mac tried the phone, and listened to the static for a long moment as Rose packed up the remains of the pizza and set the box on the shelf under the back window. The wind outside grew stronger, rocking the truck with gusts every now and then. Rose shivered, and looking at her, Mac made her scoot over on the bench seat closer to him as he put away the phone.

"Cold?" He asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She snuggled against his side, shaking her head.

"Not now--" she murmured happily. With gentle hands, she took his face and pressed her nose to his, trying to stare into his brown eyes, but it was too dark to see them well.

"New plan," she croaked. "You can get out, get soaking wet and do a MacGyver thing to fix the truck, or . . ." she trailed off softly.

"-Or what?" he asked, slightly confused. "You know we have to get home."

 Rose dropped her head and took the lobe of his ear very gently in her teeth; Mac gave a strangled sigh, his arms sliding around her waist.

"Or . . . we could just wait for the storm to die down . . ." she breathed indistinctly into his ear as she nibbled.

"Yeah." he gulped, his eyes crossing slightly, "Uh, that sounds like a good choice." Rose smiled against the side of his neck, feeling his pulse accelerate under her lips. Deliberately, she kissed from just under his jaw line up to his bottom lip, sucking on the pizza flavor of it until he gave a growly little whimper.

"You're *asking* for it, Brat--" he warned, huskily.

"Yep--" Rose's reply was cut off by a serious kiss; Mac focused everything in it and she was breathless when they broke apart, clinging to him with shaky hands.

"Wow--I need to make demands more often," came her spluttered comment. Mac laughed low in his throat, and very slowly twisted, looming over Rose until she was pinned beneath him on the bench seat. She smothered a giggle against his shoulder as his hands, warm and sure slid under her sweater and bra in one fluid movement.

"So what's your first demand?" he teased. Rose gave a helpless little moan as his fingers toyed with her hard nipples.

"How 'bout--don't stop--" Rose gasped.

"Ohhhhhhh--" He breathed back against the side of her face, "Good demand--"

Years later neither Rose nor Mac remembered the storm's fury; the felled power lines, the downed trees and heavy mudslides. Their memories centered instead on the warm cocoon-like interior of the truck; the soft slick kiss of bare skin, their intimate whispered endearments and renewed passion re-ignited with desperate intensity. What Mac could never find words to say, his body urgently demonstrated time and again as Rose clung to him, joined with him and reveled in him.

By late dawn they lay in deep slumber, curled awkwardly with each other on the truck's seat and it took the officer several minutes of rapping on the window to wake them.

"You folks okay?"

"Uh, yeah," Mac scrambled to retrieve his shirt, blushing. Rose gave the officer a sleepy smile, brushing her tousled hair back. The officer nodded back reassured by the wedding ring and the contented expression.

"Heck of a storm--you folks stall out?"

Rose nodded as Mac tried the ignition once again. It sputtered, but caught, right at the last second, bringing smiles to three faces all at once.      

"I'd have that alternator checked once you get back," came the advice. Mac nodded, and hopped out long enough to take the pizza box to the garbage can.

 The office sidled up to Rose's window and cleared her throat. "You're all right?"

"Well I guess we'll know in September, huh?" Rose croaked sweetly, winking. The officer grinned at her, and gave Rose a knowing look, finally breaking into a laugh as the truck slowly drove off and down the hill into the bright light of a new morning.

END