tagRomanceHero's Reward

Hero's Reward

byS-Des©

It's been a long time since I submitted this story. Although it had been well received, I always felt that I could have done more to make the story special for the readers. I finally got the time (and energy) to re-edit the story from scratch, so if you haven't read it in a while, please try it again and let me know what you think.

Thanks to my original editor, Angel-Love and to the people who helped me with the technical aspects of the story. It was very much appreciated.


*

Jeff walked out of the bar deep in thought. He would be thirty years old in just two weeks and had very little to show for it. There was a decent job, a string of short relationships and a lot of bills. He never thought his life would have turned out like this. He was smart, athletic and well educated. Although he wasn't every girl's dream, he was attractive by most standards and had his share of relationships with desirable women.

Unfortunately, none of the relationships had lasted more than a few months. At this point he was starting to worry that it was a trend without an end in sight. He considered himself a good guy and had always wanted a family. It was beginning to make him doubt himself and his future.

He was having a lousy Friday night. It was midnight and he was walking out of the bars alone...again. At least since it wasn't cloudy the moon lit up the streets and made it seem a little less depressing than it should have been. It all made him wonder if things would ever turn around.

As he turned the corner, he noticed the street was a little more deserted than usual. He attributed it to everyone still being in the bars having a good time, or on their way home to have a better one.

As he walked past the alley on the East side of the intersection, a noise attracted Jeff's attention. He peered into the darkness between the two buildings and his heart stopped. There was a young woman struggling with two men. They were dressed in jeans and torn shirts. Both wore the same color bandanas making Jeff suspect they were in a gang. It would have been normal for the neighborhood. The crime was getting worse in that section of the city and he wondered why the hell she was there alone at that time of night.

He was quiet as he tried to decide what the situation was before doing something stupid. From her struggles, he was almost certain this wasn't some kind of game. After a few moments, his eyes adjusted and he could see she was a petite brunette, about five feet tall, thin and well dressed. But what Jeff noticed most was that she was drop dead gorgeous.

Confident that this was a real attack, he pulled out his cell phone and stepped back away from the alley.

"911," a woman's voice answered. "Please state your emergency."

"I'm on the corner of Superior and Wabash. There's a woman being attacked in the alley by a couple of thugs. Please hurry!"

"Sir, I have officers on the way. Please wait for them and don't get involved."

A muffled scream put an end to that thought for Jeff. He cautiously glanced around the edge of the building and saw that the girl was being held from behind by one man as the other ripped her shirt. He reached a hand inside to cup one of her breasts and Jeff couldn't stop himself from walking toward them.

He set the phone down on a garbage can so the operator might be able to hear some of what was happening.

"Hey, what's going on?" he demanded.

The man in front of the girl whirled around to face him, "You need to mind your own business. We're all friends here." The girl moaned through the hand the punk in back had put over her mouth.

Jeff quickly did the math on the situation. If neither man had a gun, he was confident he had a chance. The alley was wide enough for him to maneuver, giving him the room he'd need to deal with two men at once. He hoped for an element of surprise on his side, because he didn't appear to be an imposing opponent. At under six feet tall and about one hundred, eighty-five pounds, he wasn't going to frighten anyone based on his imposing image.

What they didn't know was the years of martial arts training he went through in his mid-twenties and the tournament fights he participated in. He wasn't overconfident; his teachers had thoroughly taught him the need to have the proper amount of respect for an adversary. Any fight can be lost if you slip, turn an ankle, miss a punch, or make any one of a hundred other mistakes that can happen in the heat of the moment. Also, he had to hope neither of the hoods was holding any surprises for him.

No matter what, Jeff couldn't let them hurt this girl. Her eyes pleaded with him for help and he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't try to protect her. When he refused to move, the man in front of her showed him the knife in his hand. His partner holding the girl nodded and said, "Take him."

Jeff tried to appear unnerved, hoping he could still avoid a fight. "Listen, nobody has to get hurt here. Just let her go and we'll head the other way."

The man with the knife sneered and said, "Only one of us is going to get hurt. You should've kept walking."

Jeff saw the man tense as he moved forward. He swung the knife in a wide arc, keeping it around chest level. Jeff smoothly stepped inside and blocked the thug's arm with both hands. His right hand flashed out quickly and caught the attacker in the cheek with the back of his fist. Jeff continued his movement, stepping under the man's arm, grabbing his wrist and turning it in.

The punk dropped the knife with a whine and Jeff finished the move he had practiced thousands of times with a roundhouse kick to the ribs. As the man doubled over in pain, Jeff stepped in and finished him off with an elbow strike to the nose. He was rewarded with a loud breaking sound and a cry of pain as the man dropped to the ground.

Jeff stepped back and looked at the man holding the girl. Now that he was closer, he could make out her condition. She had been roughed up a little, with her face showing several cuts and scratches. He still hoped to get out of this without any more violence. It was possible the girl could get hurt in the melee or that he could lose, putting her in even more jeopardy than before.

"I'm telling you, let her go and we'll walk. You can get your friend and go your own way. Neither of us wants to get hurt, just let her go." Jeff considered telling him about the call to the police, but worried that the piece of shit might panic and hurt the girl, or decide his only option was to take her hostage.

The man looked like he was considering the offer, but suddenly threw her into some garbage cans against the brick wall. She fell to the ground in a heap. The thug stepped quickly toward Jeff, hoping to catch him off guard. Jeff retreated a couple of steps, trying to get a clue about this man's proficiency with a knife. The first one was sloppy and easy, but he wasn't about to make any assumptions. Jeff guessed the man was about six feet tall, two hundred pounds. His height gave him a little advantage, especially while using a knife.

As he stepped forward, Jeff made a dangerous gamble. He quickly slid his back foot up to his front one, raising his knee high. The man fell for it and raised his hands to protect his face, putting too much weight on his front leg. Jeff brought his left leg down with all his force, catching the other man just on the inside of his knee. The joint gave way with a sickening thud, bending to an impossible angle. As the man hit the ground with a scream, Jeff stepped back to keep from getting hit with a frantic swing from the prone attacker.

He was trying to decide what to do about the man who was still a potential threat when he heard startled cry, "Look out!"

He looked up and saw the girl staring past him with a fear in her eyes. He realized something bad was about to happen, so guessed a direction and spun quickly while stepping away. Unfortunately he guessed wrong and felt an explosion across his chest. The pain hit him a fraction of a second later. He took another step back as he realized he was facing a new adversary. This one must have come from the street. He was wielding the knife the first man had dropped.

Jeff was afraid to bring his hand to his chest. He knew the wound was bad and didn't want anything to distract him from the man in front of him. There couldn't be any more mistakes or he knew he wouldn't be walking out of the alley again. The new man made small motions with the knife, waiting for Jeff to commit himself or for the loss of blood to take it's toll. When Jeff felt a wave of dizziness hit him, he decided to act immediately. If he waited much longer, it wouldn't matter anyway.

He stepped forward and threw a quick jab that missed badly. This gave his opponent an opening and he moved in with a stab aimed at Jeff's chest.

This was what Jeff had been hoping for and he twisted, bringing his left arm across to push the knife wide of it's target. This kept his right arm free and he brought it across, hitting the man as hard as he could across the bridge of the nose. It caused his assailant to stumble back into some other trash cans, where he fell hard. Unfortunately due to his injury, Jeff now lacked the strength to cause the kind of damage he had earlier. He knew the man wouldn't stay down and didn't believe he'd be able to finish him off.

Where are the fucking police? he thought angrily.

His momentary distraction was the second mistake he had hoped to avoid. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a quick flash, then felt the side of his head erupt in pain. The force of the blow spun him into the wall. He shook his head, trying to clear the fog. When he looked up, he realized he could no longer focus. There were no more options. The fight was over and he had lost. He faced the man who had just hit him, his first opponent, who had used Jeff's distraction with the others to recover enough to get to his feet and hit him with a pipe he found laying on the ground.

The first punch he learned in his martial arts training was a unique one. The teacher wanted to reinforce how dangerous fighting could be in order to discourage students from being too eager to get into trouble. He chose to show them how to turn their hand on an angle and strike the target with the bone just below the base of the index finger. The blow was supposed to catch the opponent in the windpipe, which would stun virtually anyone. The thing that made the class understand how serious it could be was when the teacher explained that hitting your opponent in the wrong spot could be fatal. You could collapse his windpipe or cause him to bleed into his lungs. It was a lesson Jeff never forgot, causing him to avoid fights at all costs.

Now it was all he had left. He stepped in and punched as hard as he could, ignoring the throbbing pain in his chest. Whether it was skill or just dumb luck, he struck the man exactly where he intended. He was rewarded with a strangled cry as the man stumbled back to the wall and fell. Jeff staggered as he was hit with another wave of dizziness. He also realized it was becoming impossible to focus his eyes at all.

He heard a trash can fall and knew that the man who cut him was getting back up. There were no more tricks to play, so he quickly considered his last action. He decided to give the girl as much of a chance as possible; the police had to be close. He stumbled toward her and fell.

He pulled himself on top of her, covering her body with his and whispered, "The police are on the way, you just have to stay away from them a few more minutes."

He marveled at how hard he must have been hit. He heard a ringing in his head and it was rising in intensity. He couldn't shut out the noise as he felt himself slipping into unconsciousness. Suddenly the alley was filled with blinding light, then everything went black

~~~~~

The noise was no longer a loud ringing sound. Instead it was a soft, repetitive tone. Jeff slowly realized he was hearing the sounds of machines operating quietly. It was completely dark and he wondered if he was still in the alley. Suddenly he remembered the girl. He tried to sit up, but only got his head off of the pillow before the pain overtook him. He groaned loudly, his head falling back down.

"Don't move," he heard a soft female voice say. He felt a warm hand on his shoulder, gently restraining him. "Sarah, get the doctor, he's awake."

Jeff heard the sound of footsteps, followed by a doorknob being turned. As he heard the door click shut, the voice returned. "Don't be afraid. You're in the hospital. Everything's Ok now, you just need to relax. Your sister was here but she had to leave to pick up her kids. She'll be back in a couple of hours."

He felt a wave of nausea sweep over him as he tried to think. "Who are you?"

The high-pitched voice answered, "My name is Paige. You saved me in the alley." He heard her sniff, trying to hold back tears. "I can't believe you did that. It was the bravest thing I've ever seen."

Jeff felt a pair of soft hands grasp his. He tried to joke. "It wasn't that brave. Trust me, I was scared out of my mind." He wondered why she didn't just turn on the light.

He felt her pull his hand up to her face and she dragged her cheek across it. "Trust me, you don't know what scared is. I . . . I don't know how to thank you. I'm just glad you're all right. When I saw all the blood, I was afraid . . . " her voice trailed off. Jeff knew he had been extremely lucky.

He was getting frustrated by only being able to hear her voice. He remembered how beautiful she was and wanted a chance to see her. "Paige, would you turn on the light. It would be nice to actually meet you face to face."

She hesitated, "Jeff, the lights are on."

~~~~~

" . . . So we believe once the swelling goes down, your sight will return. I'm sorry but there are no guarantees."

Jeff laid there in shock as he listened to the doctor trying to sound encouraging without promising anything. The hit he took in the head from the pipe had given him a concussion. It had caused hemorrhaging and swelling that was putting pressure against his optic nerve. The temporary part was what scared him, nobody was sure if it would be OK in a week, a month, a year, or maybe never. The doctors considered surgery, but because it could be risky, preferred using medication and time to deal with it for now.

They had his eyes bandaged, even though the vision loss was total at this point. There had been some improvement in the three days he had been hospitalized, but not enough to be sure he would make a full recovery. The doctor let him know that if he didn't make significant improvement in the next few days, they would have to consider surgery to relieve the pressure.

The blood loss from the chest wound almost killed him, but turned out to be far less serious than the concussion. The cut wasn't too deep, so there wasn't severe muscle damage. The doctor warned him not to try saving any more damsels in distress for a while, but said he would make a full recovery in a relatively short period of time. They thought his condition would keep him there for two or three weeks, if there were no complications from the head injury. After explaining everything that had happened and what to expect, he excused himself. He motioned for Jeff's sister Katy to follow him out of the room.

When they got back to his office, the doctor explained everything that was involved with Jeff's injury and his recovery. "Covering the eyes is not essential, but in a case like this there are a few good reasons to consider it. First, he will have complete blindness for a short time and his sight will gradually recover as the swelling recedes. Without the bandages, he will constantly strain to try and see, which can cause severe migraines."

"Second, I want him to completely rest with as little stress as possible. The injury to his chest will force him to be immobile, so he'll be here anyway. There's no reason for him to do anything but heal. Third, I'm concerned about the potential for depression. If he sees little or no progress day after day, his chances of slipping into a depressed state will be increased. My best guess would be, we're looking at about three weeks for significant progress, although we'll need to monitor him closely to have a better idea."

Katy listened intently and considered everything he said. "I'll go with your recommendations. I know my brother, he isn't known for being patient. It would be best to force him to rest and give him no other options."

"Good, then assuming we can treat this without surgery, we should know a lot more in a week or so. We'll keep a close watch on his progress and I'll let you know if there are any changes in his condition."

~~~~~

When Katy left with the doctor, Paige took Jeff's hand. "Your sister will be back in just a minute." Her voice became thick with emotion. "I'm so sorry this has happened to you. It's all my fault."

Jeff could hear her sobbing. Even though he felt overwhelmed at his situation, the thought of the beautiful young girl blaming herself for his condition was too much.

"Paige, please don't. If you start crying, then I'll start crying, then the nurse has to come change my bandages."

He was rewarded with melodic laughter as she was caught between sniffling and laughing. He also picked up a noise from the far side of the room. It distracted him for a moment, but he decided his mind was playing tricks on him.

Jeff started to feel a little uncomfortable. Here he was, sitting with a young woman he didn't know and had no idea what to say to her. "Can you tell me what happened after I passed out?"

Paige took a second to gather herself. "While you were telling me the police were on the way, I started hearing the sirens. The guy who hurt you with the knife tried to run, but when he got to the end of the alley, the police cars pulled in front and hit their flood lights. He tried running past us toward the other end, but there was a fence he couldn't get over. You injured the other one's knee so badly, he never got off the ground. He gave up without a fight."

"What about the third guy?" Jeff said, remembering the strike he used.

"The paramedics got there right after the police and did that thing where they cut open the throat so he could breathe . . . "

"You mean a tracheotomy."

"Yeah, that's it. They said you collapsed his airway. I guess it was pretty close." Noting Jeff's troubled frown, she added, "Everyone knew it wasn't your fault, you just did what you had to. You were already hurt so badly, I can't believe you were able to do that to him. I wanted to help, but I just couldn't make myself get up. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. There's nothing you could have done and if you had gotten hurt I would have felt like it was my fault for barging in there and starting the fight. I want you to know that when I saw what was happening, I called the cops and then thought about what I was going to do before trying to help. I don't want you to think I just ran in there like it was some cowboy movie.

I knew it could be dangerous for you if I did the wrong thing, so I tried to come up with a smart way to handle it. When I saw them . . . " he paused because he didn't want to upset her, "getting more physical with you, I just couldn't wait any more. Are you all right?"

Paige answered immediately, "I had a few cuts and bruises, but it wasn't a big deal. It scared me a lot, but my family's been here since it happened. I just fine; thanks to you."

She paused for a moment, "Anyway, there was one cop who pulled you off of me. When he saw how badly you were bleeding, he didn't hesitate. He dropped down beside you and put pressure on the cut to stop the bleeding and keep you alive. He refused to move until the paramedics got to you and took over. He's stopped by several times, checking to see if you were going to be OK."

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