Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter 12

The Comfort of a Saint

Within moments of Edward's first word, rasped through a dry and weak from disuse throat, Bella had nearly been trampled by the members of his family as they crowded the sides of his bed. Pinched between a bedrail and a column of electrical outlets and machinery, she had little room to move, much less breathe. Whatever moment had just passed between the two of them ended abruptly as she tried to squeeze her way out of the crevice they'd pinned her in.

As she ducked and slid out of his view, Edward's eyes frantically tried to follow her as the confusion in his mind hit paramount proportions. Everything was hazy and muddled, leaving him feeling sluggish, both mentally as well as physically, and obliterating his ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. As she disappeared behind the towering forms of his brothers, his hands clenched into fists at his sides as he tried to fight against the haze to call her back. Biting stabs of pain from something sharp being compressed in his palms flared his confusion even higher and he began to lift his left arm so he could see what was in his hand.


He heard his name, but the rest of the words became too muffled to understand as a hand encircled his and began to lift it. Edward's eyes remained latched on his own arm, but more specifically on the foreign and shiny object dangling from between their clasped hands. His eyes closed as he swallowed, trying to moisten his arid throat to push out the words to ask what it was that was in his hand, but when he tried, his voice was too weak to be heard over the hum of voices surrounding him.

Wanting to see the shiny silver object up close, he began slowly, and painfully, reaching over with his right arm to grasp it, but as his hand crossed in front of his face, another shiny object slipped from his fist and swung just inches in front of his face. His eyes darted to it and tried to focus on it as it swayed back and forth.

A medallion—in the shape of an officer's badge.

Edward's brow furrowed as his eyes followed its motion, like a pendulum attempting to lure him into an entranced state, but a flash of mahogany brown captured his attention from the foot of his bed. Cinnamon eyes and plump primrose lips smiled softly at him before those lips began to move, bringing with them warm familiar tones and entrancing him instantly.

"...let you all spend some time together."

Her words were followed by another soft shy smile in his direction, and their eyes locked once more, shamrocks and cinnamon sticks, before she disappeared through the doorway. Edward's head fell back against his pillow, his eyes open and staring unseeingly at the ceiling above him as he tried to clear his confusion.

She'd been there. Bella had been there—in his room. Standing beside his bed and caring for him with a tender touch that eased him from his slumbering state, so unlike every other time he'd awoken in horrific pain.

But what was she doing there? Why was she there?

And suddenly, he was hit with the most horrifying thought of all. Had she truly been there, or had she...

"Is she...dead?" his mouth formed around a gravelly breath.

"Who? who dead?" his father asked with furrowed brows and a concerned look.

"The girl...Bella," he forced out painfully through his parched throat. As if the dryness wasn't enough of a discomfort, the feeding tube extending down the back of his throat served as a constant irritant forcing him to feel the need to swallow to dislodge it.

"Oh man, bro, they need to lower your dosage!" Emmett's amused voice boomed. "No she's not dead. She was just in here."

"Why?" he breathed, confusedly looking between all their eyes for an answer.

Esme's eyes softened as she gazed down upon her son, tears of gratitude not only for him being awake and finally aware of his surroundings, but for the woman who had just left the room as well. Not many would have possessed the strength of character to stand beside her son and their family as she had, especially not after they'd unintentionally hurt her as deeply as they had. She truly was an amazing young woman, and Esme hoped with everything in her that Edward wouldn't push her away. He could be such a stubborn fool at times, too full of pride in his moments of need to allow a helping hand, and often too pessimistic to believe a person can act with truly selfless desires.

"Honey," she smiled softly down at him. "Bella's been here every day since becoming able to leave her hospital room. She's been so worried about you, we all have been."

"Edward," Carlisle cut in, his heart tugging at the degree of confusion on his son's face. "Just relax and give yourself time to come around. Do you know where you are? What happened?"

Edward's eyes drifted toward the ceiling once again as he tried to work his way through his muddled mind. He was aware he was in a hospital, and though his memory was hazy, he could remember being in a fire and he could definitely remember the girl—but anything beyond that and before the few times he could remember waking up in the hospital, he was unable to recall. Judging by the pain in his upper body, he knew he'd been hurt somehow. And badly. His head began to throb as he tried to remember exactly what had happened and how he'd gotten hurt.

"Fuck," he grumbled hoarsely, his right hand reaching up to rub his face. He wanted to rip the IV out of his arm to block the damn narcotics flowing into his system just so he could clear the cloudiness infiltrating his mind. He also wanted to rip the tube out of his nose and throat because the constant sensation of its presence was pissing him off.

But, just as his fingers came up over his eyes, a cool piece of metal smacked him in the face and his brow furrowed as he lifted his hand and eyed the badge shaped medallion he'd already completely forgotten was there. It frustrated him to no end how out of sorts he was and he wished beyond anything that the disorientation and fuzziness encompassing him would just dissipate already.

"What is this damn thing?" he growled, sending himself into a painful coughing fit. An agonized groan escaped his throat as something tugged at the left side of his chest, sending red hot flares of pain through his torso.

Within seconds, his confusion erupted into full blown panic, setting off all of his monitoring equipment as his heart took off at a frantic pace when he tried to move his leg so he could twist in the bed and see what was pulling at his side.

But his leg wouldn't move...

It wouldn't move.

He stared at his sheet covered legs, willing them into motion—but there was nothing. Not even a twitch of the fabric settled upon them.

Please no...please, please, no... his mind echoed as his lips formed the question he couldn't even hear the answer to, his pulse thundering too loudly in his ears to make out the words contained within the riot of alarmed voices all speaking to him at once.

Adrenaline from fear pumped through his veins, slowly clearing the haze in his mind and allowing him to process what was wrong with him with acute understanding.

He was paralyzed. Whatever had happened to him during that fire had paralyzed him. No amount of pain flaring up in his upper torso at that moment, not the tugging tenderness at his side, not the throbbing in his head, not even the searing pain in his stomach or back was able to surmount the agony seizing his heart at the realization.

"Get out," he muttered as tears began to prick at his eyes.

The voices of his family abruptly silenced as they looked at each other helplessly, but no one made a move to leave.

"Get the fuck out! Now!" he roared, the pain in his side and throat from doing so having gone completely unfelt through the shredding and shattering of his most precious organ.

His heart.

Edward's holler instantly captured the attention of his nurse sitting just outside of his room and she was out of her chair—paperwork and charting forgotten as she rushed into the room.

"I'm going to have to ask you all to step out." Her tone held no apology nor did it allow leeway for negotiation.

With worried eyes and weighted limbs, his family stepped away from the bed. Every member, aside from his mother, drifted from the room with reluctant and forced shuffles, each wishing they could shoulder his anguish for him.

"Sweetie," Esme whispered, leaning her head down to press a kiss to the only spot of his face his hands weren't covering; the very peak of his forehead.

"Please, Mom...please, not now. Just...go," he pled, attempting to steady his already strained voice so as not to betray the onslaught of tears that were on the cusp of emerging.

"Okay, okay," she conceded. "We'll be in the waiting room whenever you're ready."

Esme had barely taken a single step away from the bed before she witnessed the first clear droplet of moisture seep from beneath his hands and trail its way down his neck. Her own tears spilled over in response to the sight of that single rolling bead of heartbreak and, with a heavy heart, she departed the room to join the others in the waiting room just outside the unit.

Hours passed with no word from Edward's caregivers, or from Edward himself. A heavily grievous tension had settled within the beige windowed room, pressing palpably against the skin of the room's inhabitants. Carlisle and Esme sat huddled together, hands entwined and fingers caressing in silent support of one another. Emmett and Rosalie sat in the corner silently, Rose caressing his left hand as she held it between both of hers while he nipped and chewed away at the nails of his right hand, wearing them down to jagged and sore nubs. Jasper sat across from them, elbows on knees and chin resting in the nook of his thumbs and forefingers, his hands pressed together as if in prayer. Alice, to Jasper's left, sat an empty seat away, neither of them reaching out to comfort the other, both of their gazes trained on the speckled industrial carpeting.

And even to Bella, who sat clear across the room in a lonesome chair at the rear corner of the room, the marital strain between the middle Cullen children was thick enough to permeate her own armor of flesh and bone and slice right into her core. At a time when they needed each other the most, not an ounce of solace could be shared between them. They too, like Edward, had cast themselves into the darkness of suffering in solitude.

Within the confines of room 635, Edward's tears had eventually abated, leaving him staring blankly and emotionlessly at the glass wall covered in familiar photographs. His vision faded in and out of focus as he forced his mind into silence—a tremendous effort upon his own behalf to not permit himself to silently ask the one question he was aware he'd never receive an answer to.

His thumb ran continuous circles across the surface of the Saint Florian medal that had dangled between his father's hand and his own; a gift from a person yet to be named. As the figure of the Saint passed under the pad of his thumb, over and over again in a steady rhythm, the repetition of which he could no longer quantify, he began to pray.

He prayed for a show of mercy.

He prayed to be given the chance at what would become the defining battle of his lifetime.

He prayed for any end to this nightmare that wouldn't render him only half alive for the remainder of his life.

Edward's eyes closed at the precise moment the sun altered its position in the early evening sky to send the first of its rays through the window of his room. An intense ray of bright white light, illuminating particles and dust motes suspended in the air in its path toward the wall of photographs. When his eyes opened, a section of pictures stood out, lit brightly against the darkness of the others and displaying the faces of those closest to him. And in the very center of the light, illuminated the brightest of all, stood one of his most favorite memories of all time.

It was from his twenty third birthday and he hung suspended in the air laughing with his brothers and Alec grinning devilishly into the camera; the three of them holding onto his arms and legs. It was taken just moments before they'd hurled him, fully clothed, into his parents' pool. Not only did that picture serve as a memory of the day he'd been given Tango as his birthday gift, but it also served as a memory back to a time when everything was easier, not as strained—better. It marked a time when laughing and smiling still came as easy and naturally as breathing.

A time before financial crises, impulsive marriages, reckless irresponsibility, and heated family arguments began to tear his family apart.

"Edward?" A man's voice beckoned him from his memories. "I'm Dr. Ashford, one of the attending neuro-surgeons here at Tacoma General. I performed the surgery on your back the night you were brought in."

Edward nodded to him silently as he approached his bedside and tried to calm his racing heart. Standing before him was a man that held the power to make or break him.

"Your nurse, Linda, called me and informed me you'd awakened. I'd like to talk to you for a bit about your condition," Dr. Ashford began cordially as Edward closed his eyes and braced himself to ask the one question he needed answered.

"Is this permanent?" His voice was weak but, somehow, he'd managed to utter the words he so despairingly feared.

"At the moment, I don't have a definite answer as to whether or not your condition will be permanent. Only time will tell and we'll be conducting neurological tests on you daily to track any changes. I will tell you, however, that we are doing everything possible to prevent permanent damage. Has anyone explained the injuries you sustained to you yet?" he asked and Edward shook his head. Even if they had, he'd been so out of it the few times he could recall waking that he wouldn't have understood or been able to remember it.

He listened intently as the doctor explained each injury he'd received from falling through a floor. He had no recollection at all of falling, but as he tried to keep track of the broken bones, internal injuries, head injury, collapsed lungs and burns leading up to the three vertebrae he'd burst in his lower spine, he couldn't help but be thankful that he couldn't remember it. He tried to follow the doctor's descriptions of the surgical hardware they'd implanted to stabilize his spine, but all he comprehended out of it was something about rods and screws fusing everything together.

"Because your injury was in the lower levels of your spine, or your lumbar spine, there's a higher possibility that you can recover from an injury of this nature than if it had been in the upper thoracic or cervical regions."

"So there's a chance, at least...that I'll walk again?" Edward asked, resuming his circuitous thumbing of the Saint Florian medallion.

"We're hoping for more than a chance. How about we do a few simple tests to see where we stand right now?" he proposed, to which Edward nodded his consent, his breath held in his chest as he caressed another prayer to his Patron Saint.

"Can you try to wiggle your toes for me?" Dr. Ashford asked after he gently removed the sheet from the lower half of Edward's body.

"I can't," he answered, shaking his head dismally.

"Can you feel me touching you here?" the doctor asked as he placed his hand on Edward's right calf and gave a gentle squeeze.

"Not...really," he answered, furrowing his brow at the strange sensation. It was almost as if it was a phantom feeling his mind conjured up simply because he was looking directly at the area being touched.

"Okay, Edward. Do me a favor and close your eyes. I want you to tell me if you can feel me touching your leg, and where if you do, okay?" the doctor asked, removing his hand until Edward had fully closed his eyes. He waited for a series of moments before pressing down on different areas of Edward's right leg, applying various degrees of pressure. He noted when Edward's brow would furrow, but he wouldn't speak, as if he were unsure whether he was feeling something or not. As the minutes passed by, Edward's desperation to feel something, anything, mounted exponentially right alongside the terrifying dread that he, thus far, hadn't felt a thing. Dr. Ashford's final touch was a harsh pinch of the muscle on the back of Edward's calf.

"I felt that...I felt it," Edward nearly laughed. "Back of my right leg."

"Good, that's good," Dr. Ashford smiled as Edward's eyes shot open. "Okay, so you have sensory perception. It's decreased, probably due to the swelling of your spinal cord, but it's there. That's a good sign. I'm going to test your nerve reflexes now."

With one rough swipe of the back of Dr. Ashford's pen, it was all over. Excruciating pain shot up Edward's leg and radiated throughout his entire body as his foot jerked in response to the stimuli. The pain was so crippling that he lost his ability to breathe or scream or do anything but grip the bedrails to the point he could feel the dense plastic begin to give way.

As the pain began to gradually fade and return to the numbness he'd been oblivious to when he'd awoken, sharp gasps of air ripped in and out of his lungs as tears began to leak from the sides of his eyes. Not once in his life had he ever experienced pain of that horrific degree, but there was no argument to be had, he would have rather felt it a thousand times over than to have felt nothing at all. Simply because, with that debilitating pain, came the hope he so desperately needed.

"Are you okay?" Dr. Ashford asked, both sympathetic as well as concerned.

Edward fought to catch his breath, finally releasing his hold on the bedrails to drag his hands over his face. When he spoke, his voice was a combination of profound relief and near elation, "Yeah...yeah, I'm okay."

His breathless chuckle was further confirmation for Dr. Ashford that he had, indeed, returned to a tolerable level of discomfort. He nodded with an apologetic smile as he covered Edward's lower half once again with the sheet and returned to his bedside.

"Before we start talking about what's going to happen now, and what you can reasonably expect to experience over the next few days to weeks, is there anyone you'd like to have in here with you?" Dr. Ashford asked encouragingly.

"Yeah, actually," Edward sighed, resting his head against his pillow and turning it to look at the doctor. "My parents."

As his adrenaline faded, the haze stemming from the narcotics circulating in his system began to slowly return and he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, much of what the doctor was about to say would dissipate from his memory quickly. He needed someone with him that would comprehend everything they were being told, and much more, someone who would be able to retain the information as well.

"Absolutely. Just give me one second and I'll have your nurse bring them back," he nodded, stepping outside the room briefly to speak with Linda, the nurse that had put an end to the Cullens' earlier visit. When he returned, he held himself with a casual demeanor and lowered himself down into a chair beside the bed.

"So, do you remember anything from the incident? Anything at all?" he asked conversationally.

"Not really...just bits and pieces," Edward answered, shaking his head minutely as he idly wondered how he'd managed to remember the fire itself and the girl, but nothing really leading up to him being in the fire or away from him and the girl, Bella, being surrounded by flames. His mind was getting fuzzy again, his thoughts progressively becoming more disjointed and sluggish.

"I'm not really surprised by that. You sustained some pretty severe traumatic injuries," he paused, assessing him with a critical eye. "It's actually a miracle you've pulled through as well as you have so far. You're in far better condition than any of us could have predicted you would be the night you came in. It was really touch and go there for a while."

Edward tried to focus on his words, but his attention was being drawn away by the irritating tugging sensation on his left side, from what he now knew to be a chest tube. The discomfort jabbed at him with each breath he took, and the relentlessness of it was driving him insane. Everything was driving him insane. The constant pain radiating throughout his torso, the tender soreness of the healing burns on his arms, the numbness of his lower body, the drug induced cloudiness infiltrating his mind, the damn tube shoved in his nose and running down the back of his throat; the combination of all of it unceasingly barraging him was insufferable.

Without conscious awareness of it, he'd once again begun absentmindedly thumbing the medallion still threaded to his hand by its chain as his mind drifted further and further from the doctor's voice on a river of narcotics.

"Edward?" He heard his name along with a gentle tap against his other hand. "Stay with me, buddy. Just for a few more minutes."

"Sssorry," he slurred tiredly, his head rolling to the side just in time to see his parents approaching his room.

"Is everything okay?" Carlisle asked worriedly, his eyes darting between his son and the doctor as Esme quickly moved to Edward's bedside. Her hands automatically moved to her son, one covering his left hand and the other brushing over his forehead tenderly.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Edward murmured as he felt her warm fingers brush over his skin. His eyelids felt heavy and it was an effort just to raise them to look into her glistening eyes.

"It's okay,'s okay," she whispered to him, her head shaking slowly as a tear stealthily escaped her Herculean efforts to keep them at bay and she leaned over the bedrail to place a kiss on Edward's forehead.

"Everything's fine," the doctor assured with a kind smile just as Esme stood up straight, clasping her comforting hands around Edward's relaxed fist. "Edward just wished for you both to be present while I explained how we're planning to move forward now that I have a general idea of where Edward stands in regards to the possibility of recovery."

Esme and Carlisle gazed at each other, both hanging apprehensively on the doctor's every word; both hopeful and fearful of what news would be parted to them. Three long weeks they'd been vigilantly waiting for word on the fate of their son's future, and now that the moment was upon them, they were shaking with trepidation.

"Is there?" Carlisle asked fretfully, covering both Esme's and Edward's hands with one of his own. "A possibility for him to walk again, I mean."

Dr. Ashford looked between Edward's parents, knowing there was no definite answer he could give them, but not wanting to destroy their hopes either. He simply wasn't sure if Edward would ever recover full use of his lower extremities or just some varying degree of minimal mobility and sensation. The possibility of a full and total recovery was dependent upon too many factors, most of which were completely out of his hands.

"I'm hoping for the possibility of it," Dr. Ashford started. "I performed a short and rather basic neurological exam, so I have a baseline idea of what we're working with, but it will take some time for me to be able to give you a realistic prognosis."

He paused, regarding their sinking expressions carefully before continuing.

"Please, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen. I understand how difficult this is for all of you, but what Edward will need over the course of the next few weeks and months is for you all to remain positive and hopeful."

"I'll walk...again," Edward mumbled, beginning to lose his battle against the overpowering drugs in his system and allowing his eyes to close.

"I like that attitude, Edward. Determination can go a long way in rehabilitation," Dr. Ashford chuckled before turning his attention back to Edward's parents. "I'm fairly certain right now that the lack of motor ability and decreased sensation I noted during the physical exam are due to his spinal cord still being swollen. It's imperative that we get that down as quickly as possible because the longer it remains in that state, the higher the risk is that his nerves will suffer permanent damage. I'm going to put him on a stronger corticosteroid to try and bring that swelling down faster, and I'm hoping that as it reduces we'll see further improvement."

"Is there a reason it's still swollen? He's been on all sorts of medications for weeks now, shouldn't it have gone down already?" Esme asked worriedly.

"I wish there was a justifiable cause that I could pinpoint for you, but there isn't, I'm sorry," he apologized sincerely. "The truth of the situation is that he's sustained multiple traumatic injuries and his body can only heal at its own rate. We will do everything possible to help him where we can."

Esme and Carlisle listened attentively as Dr. Ashford explained the course of rehabilitative care that Edward would be undergoing, up to and including the start of nerve stimulation and basic physical therapy. Edward tried to remain focused on the doctor's voice, but was only able to comprehend minimal pieces of the information being relayed in his exhausted and barely conscious state. The only concept he truly understood completely, was that the next few months of his life would be a continuous uphill battle...

But even in his tired, pained, and drug altered state, he braced himself for the fight of his life.

Because it was one he intended to win at any cost.

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