Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 7

The Gift of a Blessed Saint

Six ICU wasn't a very cheery place to begin with, but to the hoards of visitors that frequented the unit in hourly rotations, it had become their land of Purgatory. The place where the living are forced to lay their eyes upon the ones they love as they hover a hairsbreadth away from death continuously. It was damning to the spirits of all those who ventured beyond the steel gray doors and into room 635, the largest unit room at the very end of the hall from which the constant hum of a ventilator and beeping tones from numerous monitors emanated into the hall, but still, they somehow managed to keep hope alive in their hearts.

Each person who had come to sit with Edward since he'd made it out of surgery had brought with them something with which to decorate his dreary sterile room. Countless pictures of he and his friends and family smiling together adorned the walls and glass door along with a Maltese cross window decal from each station. A Tacoma F.D. t-shirt, with the signatures of everyone who had stood vigil permanently etched upon it, hung beside the dry erase board that displayed the date and his nurse's name...two pieces of information that had already changed with greater frequency than Edward's constant critical condition.

The waiting room outside the unit had been jam packed with bodies for nearly forty straight hours, leaving no room for the visitors of patients not possessing the last name Cullen. It was a surreal sight; one that had many hospital employees, patients, and visitors taking double and triple-take glances in their direction as they passed by. Never before had many of them witnessed such a mass gathering of living statues; unnaturally unmoving in their somber silence.

As both the clock above the door and his wristwatch counted down the last five minutes until the next bedside shift change of room 635, Carlisle finally came back to life after fifty five consecutive minutes of conscious slumber and rose from his chair with a sigh. The sigh itself acted as an alarm clock for the other inhabitants of the room, and like clockwork, they wordlessly came out of their hibernation. With just flickers of their gazes and subtle shifts in their poses, they silently chose who would be released from their holding cell for the span of the next coming hour.

After the first half hour following Edward's relocation into his unit room, the nurses were forced to place a limit on the maximum number of visitors his room could have at any given time. The enclosed space and entire end of the hallway had just become far too crowded for them to tend to their patient efficiently. Room 635 now had a maximum holding capacity of three, excluding the two who had become permanent inhabitants of the room.

With Esme's unshakable determination to remain by her son's side, Carlisle and his sons had taken to rotating, allowing one of the Cullen men to remain within the walls of their loved one's room at all times as well as two additional visitors. His hour had finally arrived, and he stood anxiously awaiting the hum of the electric doors to open and allow him entrance as Emmett emerged.

At his third turn in his five foot pacing track, his eyes caught sight of Charlie turning the corner. His steps slowed as the father of the girl Edward had given his life for—a girl he remembered fondly from many, many years before when she was just a tiny little thing with pig tails, big beautiful innocent brown eyes, and a toothy smile as she proudly showed off her shiny plastic deputy badge that was pinned to her purple overalls.

That image, still so vivid in his mind, gave him pause to wonder where the hell the years had all disappeared to so quickly. She was no longer that adorable little girl, but a beautiful young woman...and the sole reason his son lay lifeless and hanging on by a thread.

His mind and heart were at war with each other constantly. He'd always taught his sons that every life they attempted to save was just as significant as their own, and deep down, he truly believed that. But, in the place he'd found himself standing in for the last two days, his heart was screaming in agony that his son was more important.

The thought made him ill each time he faced one of her parents.

It made him ill because she was just as vital a part of their lives as his son was of his own.

It made him ill because had he known just who it was that was trapped in that building, he too would have been inside of it, putting his own life on the line to save hers the way Edward had.

It made him ill because while their child had been injured and continued to suffer just trying to breathe on her own, they'd made frequent trips to his end of the floor with the sole purpose of checking on his son's condition...and he hadn't once traversed the long corridor to her room with the same caring intentions.

Yes, he was relieved that she'd fared far better than his own flesh and blood, but with his heart and mind at complete odds with each other, he couldn't bring himself to physically force his feet to carry him in her direction.

"Any change?" Charlie asked, wondering if they had any results from Edward's last brain CT scan yet. He'd been sitting on edge for the last two hours waiting for an opportunity to come inquire about it.

"No...the bleed is still growing slowly," Carlisle answered with a heavy heart. "They scheduled him for another scan in a few hours. If it continues to get worse they're going to bring him back up to the OR to relieve it."

Charlie's eyes closed as his shoulders slumped, "Jesus Christ...I don't..." he shook his head sorrowfully as he swallowed thickly. "Carlisle, I'm so sorry. I can't even...if there's anything, anything at all we can do for you, please don't hesitate to ask. Renee and I are forever indebted to your family."

"Thank you, Charlie. How's Isabella?" he asked, feeling half the man he'd once thought himself to be.

As he stood before a man without a selfish bone in his body, he questioned when, in his mind, it had become acceptable for himself or any other individual within his ranks to willingly give their life for another, but for that notion to become wholly unacceptable to an insufferable degree when it came to his children. Never before had he considered himself to be even just slightly hypocritical, but for nearly the last forty eight hours, it had become the only word capable of defining him in his entirety.

He'd known the day each of his sons crossed the firehouse's threshold, wearing their city issued uniforms, that there would, almost undoubtedly, come a point in their careers when they'd have to make the one decision that haunts the dreams of every man in their profession. He'd known it, and he'd been accepting of the assumed inevitability of it, but somewhere in the translation of that nightmare becoming a reality, his acceptance went up in flames, leaving behind a giant pile of hypocritical intolerant ash.

"They're talking about possibly intubating her again," Charlie sighed as he roughly ran his hands over his face. "Her breathing's gone to shit over the last few hours but she keeps fighting them off. They gave her some kind of breathing treatment an hour ago that seemed to help a little, at least enough to let her rest...somewhat anyway."

Carlisle's heart sank violently, sending a sharp pang through his chest along with a wave of sickening nausea. Two full hours he'd sat inside that damn waiting room with ample opportunity to get up and walk down the hall to check on her, but hadn't and he had no excuse. And yet, Charlie had every excuse in the world with his daughter taking a turn for the worse to not leave her side to check on his son—but he still came.

Because he valued Edward's life just as much as his own daughter's.

"Dad...I'm takin' Rosie home but I'll be back," Emmett's tired voice drew Carlisle's attention. He turned and looked over his son standing before him, dead on his feet with continuously darkening bags beneath his swollen bloodshot eyes and nodded as he held his arms open for his daughter in-law.

"I'll see you tomorrow morning. Make sure you and the baby get some decent rest tonight, okay?" he spoke softly as he rubbed her back before ducking his head and dropping his voice to a whisper. "Try to convince him to sleep for a few hours before coming back, please? He can't make it much longer and we don't need him falling asleep behind the wheel."

"I already planned on it. We'll be back first thing in the morning," she whispered back before releasing her hold on him and stepping back into Emmett's side.

"Drive safely, Em," he warned worriedly.

"I will, Pop. I'll be back soon," he nodded as he and Rose stepped into the elevator.

Carlisle watched as the doors closed, obstructing his view of his family, before turning back to Charlie. "I'm gonna head want to join me?"

Charlie shuffled his feet unsurely, knowing there was an entire room full of people that had been patiently waiting to be allowed in to see him. "I'd like that...but they've all been waiting nearly all day."

"It's fine, Charlie. Most of us have been in at least once today," Carlisle assured him.

He nodded and sighed in relief, grateful for the opportunity, "I won't stay long...just a few minutes."

Charlie didn't wish to inconvenience the Cullen family or their friends, but he wanted to see the man who'd rescued his daughter with his own two eyes. He needed to see that he was still alive and fighting as valiantly as his family and friends had been relaying.

He was also desperate to thank him for what he'd done; even if he couldn't hear the words.

Charlie followed Carlisle through the steel gray doors and into the intensive care unit with newly energized leaden feet, listening to the echoes of their footsteps in the hall mix in with the continuous beeps and hums flowing from the unit rooms. A nurse dressed in navy blue scrubs smiled softly at the pair in passing greeting as they turned the corner, but Charlie's eyes were focused only on the last set of glass doors at the end of the corridor and the back of the woman who'd been inside of them for countless hours. As they approached, the woman's head turned toward them, eyes and features aged dramatically since Charlie had seen her last as she slowly rose from her chair and turned to face them.

"Esme...I'm so sorry," Charlie spoke softly as she placed her hand in his outstretched one and tried to smile.

"How is Isabella? I apologize I haven't come to ask...I just...I can't bring myself to part from his side," she returned, misty eyed and sincere.

Charlie's eyes drifted from her grief stricken ones to the lifeless body in the bed before them, the only motion coming from the ventilator forcing air into his lungs through a tube, and answered her with the only words he could summon at the sight before him.

"She's fine...she'll be fine," he stammered as his eyes drifted back to hers. She had enough to worry about in regards to her own family, she didn't need to worry over his as well. "And please, don't apologize. If the situation were reversed, Renee nor I would have been capable of stepping away from our child either."

Feeling the tightening begin to claw its way up his throat again, Charlie reiterated their offerings to assist them in any way possible should they need anything during their time of heartache and hardship. It didn't matter to him if it was a request as mundane as making a run for decent coffee for all of them or if it was to relocate an unmovable mountain, he'd exhaust his last breath attempting to fulfill the request.

"That's very kind of you," Esme smiled softly as she wiped a tear from her eye. "I was actually just getting ready to go ask his nurse for some fresh cloths...would you mind staying with him for a minute?"

Her question was more of an offer, one they both acknowledged he needed at the moment. The awkward shuffling of his feet and hesitant look in his eyes were the only cues she needed to understand he needed a moment of privacy with her son. She'd seen the very same outward signs on many a man that had ventured into the room since she and Edward had entered it. While she'd found it impossible to separate herself from the unit, never able to wander more than a minute's walk away from his room to approach either the nurse's station or the lavatory, she could endure stepping aside for a few moments to grant privacy for words she both didn't need and couldn't bear to unwillingly eavesdrop upon.

"Not at all...and thank you, Esme," Charlie replied appreciatively.

The ability to convey emotional words and gestures had never been a strength of his. To some, he quite often came across as stand offish and even downright stony. But, as Esme and Carlisle retreated and he made his way toward the side of Edward's bed, that impenetrable exterior melted away, leaving behind a soft and warm mound of emotionally overwhelmed old man. An old man that had seen so many horrors and so much violence and coldness in the world that he'd grown numb over the last three decades of his life. Numb to the entire world outside of his home, for only within the safe warmth created by the love his family shared could he allow himself to feel once again.

And he felt now—outside of his home and family and with greater anguish than he'd ever before experienced.

Tears welled up in his eyes as his fingers slipped beneath the collar of his shirt, searching for the strand of metal that had laid against his skin for nearly the last two decades. He lifted the chain and medallion over his head and lowered himself down into a chair beside Edward's bed. A tear slipped from his right eye as he took in all the machinery surrounding him, keeping him alive.

Charlie gripped the medallion tighter in his palm as he said a silent prayer for the son, the brother, the friend, and the hero fighting for his life before him. When he opened his eyes, he thread the chain through Edward's still, motionless hand, enclosing the medallion within his palm.

"My little girl was six when she gave this to me," Charlie began to talk, closing Edward's hand into a fist around the medal. "She even had it blessed by a priest before she allowed me to wear it. I'll never forget the look on his face...he'd been friends with my old man for many years and knew we weren't Catholic, but Father Sheehan indulged her determination to have it blessed by a priest in the biggest church within Tacoma because if it was the biggest, then it was God's favorite and I'd always be kept safe."

Charlie ghosted a chuckle as his eyes began to tear fiercely, his facial muscles quivering in their effort to remain stoic.

"I tell you this because I want you to know the biggest part of the woman you saved...the best part. Her love and heart know no bounds to those she allows within it and she's as stubborn as the day is long when she sets her mind to doing something for someone blessed enough to be a part of her life. Because of that love, this medal's kept me safe for eighteen long years...I'm leaving it with you for the next eighteen."

His stoicism failed him as he tightened his grip on Edward's closed limp fist, tears streaming down his face as a strangled breath escaped his throat.

"Thank you for bringing her back to us."

Charlie's final spoken words were accompanied by an echo of a silent plea within his mind. "Saint Michael...Pray for him."

As he rose from his seat and crossed the room to lift the silver marker off the stand and sign the shirt that had little room left in which he could leave his family's name, Esme and Carlisle returned. He found a small patch of navy blue right above the Maltese cross emblazoned on the left chest and, in his steadiest hand, left the lasting mark of their presence with him in the form of the single word Swan — because even if his whole family wasn't beside him physically, their hearts and thoughts were with him continuously.

"I'll stop by and let you know the results of his next CT scan as soon as we get word," Carlisle assured Charlie as he led him back out of the unit.

"Thank you, I'd really appreciate it," he nodded, meeting Carlisle's eyes solemnly as the steel gray doors opened, revealing the sea of silent statues in anguished mourning once again.

Back in Edward's room, Esme ran cool water over one of the clean cloths she'd retrieved and rung the excess water from it before moving to his side. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as she gently passed the cool cloth across his sweat dampened and feverish skin, over his smooth forehead and brows, unmarred by the stress lines they usually held with a constancy she'd never known of before him.

A tear, the number of which she'd long since lost track of, trailed down her cheek as the cloth glared its rusty hue when she lifted it; the hue of the remaining dried blood she'd been unable to completely remove from his beautiful dark auburn hair. As she turned to return to the sink, her shimmering eyes caught a glint of light off shiny metal upon his hand and her brow furrowed as she reached out to tenderly take his hand in her own and inspect the foreign object.

"Esme? What is it?" Carlisle asked worriedly as he returned and spotted her hunched over their son's bedrail.

"I don't know. It looks like...a medallion?" she questioned as her eyes drifted upward. "I think Charlie left it with him."

Carlisle made his way to her side and took his son's hand from hers, and there, within the palm of his clawed hand, laid a weathered and worn from age and use pendant in the shape of an officer's badge.

"It's a Saint Michael medal...he's the patron Saint of police officers and healthcare workers...people who take oath to protect and save the lives of others," Carlisle breathed as he closed Edward's fist back around the medallion.

"He's got some pretty powerful forces on his side if Charlie left his lucky talisman with him," John "Fitz" Fitzgerald commented as he stepped into the room with his wife at his side. Carlisle and Esme turned to face him as a faint knowing smile crossed his lips. "Man's never taken it off in all the years I've known him...not since the day Bella had it blessed and placed it around his neck."

Two hours later, Edward's parents stood outside the CT scanner's gantry room and anxiously awaited the results that would either have their son heading back up to his room or to the operating room again. Carlisle leaned against the wall, allowing it to hold up the weight he no longer had the strength to as Esme paced short fearful steps back and forth in front of him. When the doctor emerged from the control room and informed them that the intracranial bleed hadn't grown since his last scan and he wouldn't need to undergo another surgery, Esme and Carlisle shared a fully loaded look with each other. Relief, disbelief, and a common unspoken thought was passed between them...

Powerful forces indeed.

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