Chapter 24 Al awoke slowly. The first thing he was aware of was that his mouth was dry. He licked his parched lips, trying to wet them. As he opened his eyes, he was aware of the second thing. He was not wearing what he fell asleep in. In fact he wasn't wearing much at all, only his briefs. He attempted to sit up, but was overwhelmed with a wave of nausea that knocked him back down. He hadn't felt this bad since his last hangover in 199-something. He couldn't remember the last time he had gotten drunk. His head throbbed as he sought to make sense of his current situation. He lay back down to allow the wave to pass. He looked around for Beth. She wasn't in the room so he tried to call out for her. His voice was a hoarse croak, and his throat was sore. Just what the hell was going on here? He settled back on the pillows for a few more moments, gaining strength. Finally he managed to stand, and he pushed the rising waves of nausea aside. He grabbed his robe and made his way out to the living room as he dressed. Beth looked up from the book she was reading. "Nice to see you awake, Sleeping Beauty." she joked. He sat next to her on the couch. "How long..." His voice was still hoarse. He cleared his throat and tried again. "How long was I asleep?" Beth went to get him a drink of water. She handed it to him and answered. "About 36 hours give or take an hour." She watched his reaction. He took the glass and gulped it before answering. "36 hours? Why didn't you wake me?" She took the cup from his hand. "Easy. You'll shock your stomach." No sooner were the words spoken, Al found himself running for the bathroom. His stomach flip-flopped once then emptied itself of the water he had just taken in. He retched a few more times but his stomach was empty. He sagged back against the bathroom wall, confused. Beth waited patiently for him to return. When he did, she helped him to the sofa. She handed him another glass of water with instructions to sip it. He did so carefully not wanting a repeat trip to the bathroom. He eyed her warily. "So what is going on here?" "What's the last thing you remember?" He closed his eyes, thinking solemnly. A vision of Sam lying on the side of the road, battered and bloody filled his mind. His stomach squeezed again, but his will was stronger now. His eyes opened. "Nightmares. I remember nightmares." "Anything else?" Her voice was soft, soothing. "No." He hesitated. "Wait. I remember getting up at least once to upchuck." He grimaced at the memory. "What happened, Beth?" He gripped her shoulders so she would have to answer him. "We don't know, Al." She removed his hands and placed them gently on her lap. "The first night you ran a temperature of 102 and you slipped in and out of consciousness. When you were conscious you called out for Sam." She waited a beat before saying any more. Al had continued so sip the water slowly. "I don't remember." "We considered calling the doctor, once your temp reached 105. However it didn't stay there long, only about an hour. We cooled you off the best we could. The fever broke, and you slipped into a deep sleep. Verbena said that you needed your rest, you had a rough day, Monday, with Donna's baby being born." She took the empty cup from him. He relaxed back into the couch cushions. The water was staying put. That was progress at least. "How's Sam doing? Any news?" "Not according to Ziggy. Sam's still in the coma. No change." She placed a hand on his forehead. It was cool. She smiled. "How are you feeling?" "Terrible. Take my worst hangover and multiply it by two. Then you'll be close." His head was still pounding but at least his stomach was starting to settle. Beth got up and headed for the kitchen. "Do you think you can eat? We can start with dry toast." "Yeah, you do that. I'll hop in the shower and get dressed." Beth prepared him a simple breakfast of toast, orange juice and an apple which she cut into slices. She heard the shower stop and knew he was going to be out soon. Truth is she had been worried when the fever had gotten so high. She still wanted Al to see his doctor, but she knew better than to bug him just yet. She didn't want to start a fight. Al came out of the bedroom fully dressed. He was wearing navy today. Navy trousers, a teal blue shirt, and his navy jacket with the gold pinstriping. The gold bolo tie, his teal fedora and his favorite gold shoes completed the outfit. Beth had to admit, he looked handsome. Her heart skipped a beat and she went to plant a kiss on one freshly shaven cheek. The scent of his cologne mixed with the scent that was pure Al, and she had to step back before she started something that she knew Al wouldn't be up to finishing. Al went to sit at the table, giving Beth a small smile. She brought his food and a bran muffin for herself. She sat opposite him and watched him eat slowly. In between bites she caught him up on Project business. Nothing major had happened while he was indisposed. Al was glad to hear that. He really had needed the rest. He was starting to feel better now, and the pounding in his head had receded to a dull ache. He looked up from his plate to find Beth staring at him. "Al? Did you just hear a word I said?" She looked at him quizzically. "No, sorry." He apologized. "My mind was elsewhere." "I said, that Donna will be coming home today. The doctor couldn't see any reason for keeping her, so she is being released." Al finished up his breakfast. "That's great. You want me to go pick her up?" Beth cleared the table. "No, I'll do it. You have to check on Sam. Also the meeting with the Senators and the Board is today." He raised an eyebrow as he stood. "That won't take all day." He walked over and got out two of his cigars out of the box on the desk. She came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on a dish towel. "With you it does." She smiled knowingly. He let that remark slide for the time being, and strode over to her. His arms wrapped around her and he pulled her into a close hug. "You know me well, Beth. Okay. You pick up Donna, I'll check on Sam and the Board, We will meet for lunch. Agreed?" He paused waiting for her answer. His arms around her filled her with warmth. She really didn't want to let him go. She could be held like this all day and be fully content. She broke the embrace and looked at him. "Agreed. On one condition. That if you start feeling weak, or nauseated, you come back here. Okay?" He kissed her forehead. "Okay." His lips then lowered and he enveloped her in a soft kiss. "See you soon." As he left Beth couldn't help but wonder if she should have pushed for him to see a doctor. She dismissed her concerns for now, but if he suffered a relapse, she would make him go. Even if she had to take him by herself. His kiss lingered in her mind, the scent of him still in her nostrils. She loved that man so much. She checked the time and saw it was almost time to go get Donna. With a small smile and Al still on her mind, she went to get ready.