Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 5

The Destruction and Discovery of Faith

The ICU waiting room spared not an inch of standing room to be found, and hours had passed since the majority of its inhabitants had given up their battles with security and hospital personnel to diligently remain where they stood, regardless if they were obstructing the hallways or not. Over a dozen men, covered in soot, ash, and sweat, crowded the small stuffy room on the sixth floor of Tacoma General, each of them waiting for just the slightest cause to begin to hope—the one thing they couldn't dare to interrupt their silent prayers for in fear of that one second becoming the one in which their prayers went unheard.

It had taken them too long and a life had nearly been lost on the scene, but they'd held on and fought valiantly against the clocks, cursing every passing second that allowed a beating heart to slip further and further away from them. The moment they'd lost hope and began to pray would forever remain ingrained in each of the men's minds and hearts for all eternity. Through the sirens and earth shaking rumble of the inferno they continued to wage war against, and above the voice of the rig's driver as he communicated with dispatch, they heard the medic's five words cross their radio airwaves that had brought each of their worlds to a screeching halt with perfect clarity - as if they'd been shouted through a bullhorn amidst the silence of a slumbering forest.

"He's crashing! We're losing him!"

The silence within the claustrophobia inducing confines of the waiting room, rank with the pungent odor of soot and smoke wafting off the men, resembled that of the grave moments they'd endured on scene after hearing those words. Only the occasional rustle of fabric accompanied with a distressful sigh broke the monotonous stillness surrounding them with almost timed intervals as one of the band of brothers would shift and resettle themselves back into their seats.

And amidst the sea of mourning men, one had finally crumbled under the weight of his own guilt. If only he'd been the one with enough courage to put someone else's life ahead of his own for once, he wouldn't be stained with his brother's blood, sweat, and tears. Tears blurred his sight as he stared down at his hands; a rippling, watery vision of flesh, dirt, and the maroon remnants of Edward's life force. His breath became trapped in his lungs, a prisoner of his despair as he prayed even harder to every deity known to man for a show of mercy.

"Rose...please take Emmett home," Carlisle sighed, unable to keep bearing witness to his youngest child breaking apart at the seams.

"I'm not going anywhere," Emmett growled, the evidence of his anguish breaching the barriers of his eyes and spilling down his cheeks, leaving behind streaks carved through the smudges of filth.

"Emmett, we won't hear anything until he makes it out of surgery..." the Chief paused, breathing through the pang of agony that ripped through him when his mind echoed the treacherous thought of 'if he makes it out.' "At least go clean yourself up and grab something to eat. Jasper...that goes for you too."

Jasper's eyes narrowed at his father's order, "Why just us? Why not the rest..."

"Because your my sons!" Carlisle roared, pushing himself off the wall to stand before them, shaking from the maelstrom of emotions battering every inch of his being. "And for once in your goddamn lives you boys will listen and do as you're told!"

He hadn't meant to snap at them but he'd lost the precarious grasp on his ability to remain calm and in control what seemed like a lifetime ago. Before his son, his flesh and blood and pride and joy, had even fallen through the floor, it had vanished with the lack of response to his frantic radio calls and had left him in a state of internal chaos and heart seizing panic. It hadn't subsided since those horrifying moments, and it wouldn't until his prayers were answered. If only Edward had done as he'd been told, they might not have been sitting in that god awful room waiting for just a sliver of hope in which they could cling to.

Morning came and passed with a lack of awareness from the men within the hell of their holding cell. The seconds and minutes passing in entire lifetimes of their own as they continued to wait were marked not by the movement of the sun across the sky above them, but by the incessant ticking of the clock above the doorframe. Each timed and precise tick reverberated throughout the room only to be absorbed by the weary bones of the vigilant statues of the men and women within, leaving in their passing wake permanent, invisible scars that would continue to haunt them for years to come.

"Mr. Cullen?" an exhausted voice beckoned the glances of over a dozen of the room's prisoners. Eyes from all directions and in varying states of alertness shot to the man standing in the doorway dressed in hospital issue scrubs and tiredly pulling the surgical cap from his head.

"Yes..." the Chief breathed as he stood from his seat, his wife firmly by his side.

"I'm afraid I have no absolute guarantees to give you at this moment, but we've managed to stabilize him for the time being," the man said, his expression one of intense sorrow as he gestured to the chairs they'd just vacated. "Please...have a seat."

"How is he?" Esme croaked through her tear filled and constricted throat.

"He's still in critical condition," the doctor sighed, squatting down before them so as not to tower over them. "Upon his arrival, we were unable to evaluate the extent of his injuries due to his unstable condition. He was rushed to surgery immediately for an exploratory procedure to find the sources of internal bleeding, which we've repaired. He's been cleared of the most life threatening injuries he's sustained, but he's not out of the woods just yet. I just wanted to let you know that he's still hanging on and his vitals are strengthening."

"Can we see him?" Carlisle asked, tears clouding his vision.

"Not yet, I'm afraid. He's made it through the first half of the surgery better than we'd expected, but we still have to get a clear indication of the extent of his other injuries. The surgical team is wheeling him back up from CT now as we speak. I don't wish to cause you any further distress, but I believe it's imperative for you to be fully informed on the situation..." he paused, trying to convey the information as gently as possible.

"During the scan we found that Edward has sustained injuries to his spine..."

"Is he paralyzed?" Esme spluttered as a torrent of tears rolled down the cheeks of every person within the room.

"I'm afraid it's a possibility but we can't be sure until the Neuro-spine team repairs the damaged vertebrae. I assure you we have one of the best surgeons in the country tending to him and everything possible will be done to prevent permanent damage. Dr. Ashford is hopeful that once the pressure is removed from his spinal cord, he'll regain motor function but, unfortunately, it's uncertain at this point."

"When will we know for sure whether he'll ever walk again or not?" Carlisle asked, his heart breaking into a million painful shards at the prospect of his lively son confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

"We'll know definitively when he wakes up, which won't be for a while yet. During the CT scan, it came to our attention that he has a small bleed in his brain that we're going to keep under close surveillance. It's minor at the moment and we have no reason to believe it will have any long term effects on his cognitive abilities, but we're going to keep him sedated for the time being to not only minimize the swelling but to make it easier for his body to heal as well."

Through the next hour, every person in the room listened to the doctor but only minimal details actually infiltrated their minds comprehensively. Brief words spoken together like collapsed lung and third degree burns stood out in their minds, malignant and terrifying against the more benign conveyances of broken leg and fractured ribs. The knowledge that one of their own lay broken and barely clinging to survival one level below them as they stood whole and unharmed, settled upon their shoulders, bearing down on them with the unrestrained weight of the world and causing each of them to sag beneath the burden of it.

"Carlisle...where are you going?" Esme whimpered after the good doctor took his leave, parting with words of keeping hope alive and promises to keep them informed continuously.

"For a walk...Esme, I can't...I...I just need to be alone for a few minutes," he struggled to respond, not wanting to break down in front of others.

Carlisle turned on his heel and left his wife to be consoled by his sons as he fought to keep himself upright and moving away from the view of spectators. Tears streamed from his eyes as his breaths tore from his lungs in staggered uneven bursts, his feet navigating his course on nothing more than instinct. His leaden body collided with a heavy wooden door, pushing it open with exhausted dead weight and spilling him onto his knees upon the burgandy carpet of the aisle leading toward the altar of the hospital's chapel.

"Damn you! Why? Why my son?" he wailed through choking sobs, expelling the last shred of energy his body contained and sending himself to the floor in a slumped heap of agonized despair. His cries echoed within the empty pew lined room, heard only by himself and the stained glass impressions of the Lord set ablaze by the sun in its descent toward the horizon.

The minutes of solitude the Chief had sought out dragged on in an endless fashion until the chapel had been shrouded in the veil of night, lit only by the soft glow of the recessed lighting and the candles that had been lit by patients' loved ones passing through. After what could have been an hour or more, Carlisle had managed to pick himself up off the floor and deposit himself onto the edge of a pew where he continued to sit motionlessly with unanswerable questions ravaging his brain and inaudible prayers falling from his lips.

He heard the door brush across the carpet as it opened, but paid no more mind to it than he had the half dozen or so other times it had opened in the last few hours. This time, however, the person wasn't just another loved one passing through and he made that fact known by wordlessly sliding into the pew beside the Chief.

Alec clasped his hands together and rested his forearms atop the back of the pew in front of them as he leaned forward and let his eyes roam the chapel in silence. He'd never been a man of extreme faith, but in light of recent events, he was considering becoming one. There wasn't a question in his mind that the only reason Edward was still alive because he was a fighter by nature.

Edward was a good man, an honest and selfless man; a man who wasn't finished making this world a better place to live in, and he wasn't ready for Edward's name to grace the memorial tree with the rest of their fallen brothers. If it was true that only the good die young, Alec was selfishly considering airing Edward's every misdeed in an attempt to prolong his years of Earthbound penance to earn his passage through the Pearly Gates beyond life. A defiant plea borne of desperation to keep his best friend amongst the land of the living.

"Doctor Ashford was just by the waiting room...I figured I'd come find you to tell you that he said the surgery went well and he's hoping for positive test results once the swelling in his spinal cord goes down. He said the Ortho team is taking over to fix his leg and he should be out of surgery within the next few hours."

Alec spoke softly, not wanting to startle the Chief but also lacking the energy to speak any louder. The stress of the day had taken its toll on each and every one of them, exhausting them physically and emotionally to the core.

Carlisle nodded absently as another unknown stranger entered and traveled along the far wall of the chapel toward the tiers of tea light candles. He waited for the person to retreat again before setting his tired eyes on the man beside him. A man he'd known as his son's best friend dating all the way back to the days long since passed of Kindergarten construction paper holiday turkeys and summertime tree house sleepovers. He focused on that familiar boy turned man before his eyes and allowed another tear to fall in his presence.

"I can't lose him," he breathed his confession as more tears began to flow and constrict his throat. "Not to death and not to a lifelong disability. I need my son back...the person he was before he ran into that building, not the shell of a person he'll become if he doesn't fully recover."

"Ya can't think like that, Chief. Edward's never admitted defeat to a challenge a day in his life and he isn't about to start now. You know damn well if the docs tell him he'll never walk again he'll fight with everything in him just to prove them wrong," Alec responded, meeting the Chief's watery gaze head on sternly.

Carlisle's eyes drifted downward as he nodded, the corners of his lips twitching upward slightly at Alec's words. If anyone had the strength and determination needed to achieve the presumably impossible, his son did.

"Anyway," Alec pressed on, clearing his throat and running a hand through his matted hair. "The guys wanted to know if you'd be alright with them coming down here to say a few prayers before they hit the road for the night."

"You should head out with need the rest to pull shift in the morning," Carlisle sighed, dragging his hands over his exhaustion worn face.

"Speaking of shifts, a couple guys from the other stations have volunteered to help cover us since we're down four men now. It was a smart thing you did pulling Em and Jas out of rotation until they can get their heads away from here and in the job where it needs to be," Alec nodded as he began to stand.

"I didn't have a choice and the jury's still out over pulling you as well," Carlisle muttered, uncomfortable with Alec returning to work so soon.

He was too close to the situation, too involved with the entire family to not be affected by it. Carlisle was just as worried about him not being focused on scenes and putting himself at greater risk of being injured as he was his own sons.

"I need the distraction, Carlisle...all this sitting around and waiting is driving me to the brink of insanity."

Alec's admittance was truthful for the most part. Being able to focus on something other than his best friend's critical condition was something he desperately needed, but he also needed to get away from Emmett. The accusation he'd made just hours before the horrific notion of Edward's death nearly became an actuality they'd both had to endure, had created a palpable and easily detonated strain between them. Alec feared one wrong move or audible word from him that Emmett didn't wish to hear would set him off, and the last thing he wanted to do was contribute to his severe duress any more than he already had. His earlier spoken ill words had done enough damage and no amount of sincere apologies could ever take them back.

The fact they'd managed to sit in silence within ten feet of each other for countless hours on end without Emmett lashing out at him was a miracle in and of itself. Alec wasn't about to press his luck, nor was he inclined to put Emmett in the position of having the both of them banned from hospital grounds when he clearly needed to be by his brother's side. Steering clear of him for a while was the least he could do to ease the sting of his heartless and completely untruthful words.

"I get it, Alec. Had it been anyone else I would've needed the same, but this is about as far from my son as my body will allow," Carlisle sighed, speaking of the room they inhabited on the fourth floor of the hospital as he stood from the pew. "Send the boys in. I should really be getting back up to the waiting room."

Alec looked into the bloodshot eyes of the man he'd come to think of as a father figure in his own father's twenty year long absence and reached out to place a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"He'll pull through, Carlisle. North Orchard Street wasn't his last call."

Fifteen minutes later, Alec returned with the entire waiting room in tow. Other men from their station on alternate shifts who weren't currently on duty had come to join them and offer the Cullen family their support, bringing the headcount within the chapel soaring into the high twenties when combined with their crew members and some of their wives. Carlisle thanked them for coming as they gathered and formed a circle, linking hands with their neighbors and closing their eyes for a series of silent moments before the Chief led them in prayer.

"Dear Lord, we come together today in prayer for our son and brother who has made the supreme sacrifice of placing another's life before his own in the performance of his duties. Through the intercession of our patron, Saint Florian, may you look upon him with eyes of mercy, may your healing hand rest upon him and your life giving powers flow into every cell of his body and into the depths of his soul, cleansing, purifying, restoring him to wholeness and strength for service in your Kingdom. Amen."

A chorus of solemn declarations of affirmation resounded from the members of the circle and in groups they approached the tiers of votive candles. In Edward's honor, some nearly twenty candles were lit and permitted to carry within their singular flames the hopes and prayers of his two families; the one he was born with and the one he gained upon his first uniformed steps into Station Twelve's house.

As the chapel began to clear and his family headed back up to the waiting room they'd occupied since before daybreak that morning, Emmett trailed far behind, hanging back in the shadows until the door had closed behind the last person. Once he'd obtained the privacy he needed, he made his way to the center of the first pew and lowered himself down to his knees. Tears fell from his eyes as he knelt, staring at the tiers of candles lit for his brother as he tried to form the words he desperately needed to say.

"I know I'm probably the least deserving of having my prayers answered. I never think of others before myself and I take the people in my life for granted daily...but my brother..." he choked up, unable to keep speaking as deeply penetrating regret and sorrow tore him right down to the quick.

"My brother...Edward...he doesn't," he croaked through his sobs. "He's selfless and good to the core and everything I wish I could be and I need the chance to show him that. I've done wrong by him so many times...I just...I need him to pull through so I can prove to him that I can be someone worthy of having him in my life..."

His eyes screwed shut tightly, sending a wave of tears down his face as his chest constricted and shuddered violently, trapping the air within as he seized up. When his breath was finally expelled, it came out in hitched bursts.

"Please," he pled heartbrokenly, "Please bring him back to us so I can at least tell him I love him. He needs to know that because I never say it."

In the back of the room, Alec stood silently, bearing witness to a young man's agonizing desperation. He'd meant to retreat upon seeing the youngest of the Cullen brothers kneeling in prayer, but the sounds of his sobbing had cemented his feet to the floor - and upon Emmett's final words before dropping his head down onto his fisted hands, his feet began to move him forward silently. He traversed the rows of pews to make his way to Emmett's side and lowered himself down onto the bench, reaching a hand out to place upon his back.

"He knows, Emmett. He doesn't need to hear you say it to know it the same way you don't need to hear him say the words to know he loves you too."

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