Authors Note: Absolutely LOVED the Ethan/Cal relationship since they first came into this show but the last episode was a tour de force of brotherly love and I felt compelled to write them. There will be more as the show progresses, basically I love crawling inside Caleb's head here.
'There's been a car accident involving our doctors and Tess…'
There's a ringing in your ears instantly and Charlie's voice disappears into a distorted tape player as everything around you stops. No, no, no. That's not possible.
You move forward, drop the folder you're holding onto a table, every other case, every other issue forgotten.
Your blood freezes in your veins.
'Wow they're letting you drive, obviously in no rush.'
Oh god. That was one of the last things you told him, that and some horribly barbed remark about his stammer. Oh god, what if he was speeding? What if this accident is because he's gone out of his way to try and prove you wrong. You feel sick. Utterly sick.
Your mind zeroes back in as everything comes back into cold, hard focus. 'The driver of the other vehicle is on his way in now.'
'And how about the driver of our vehicle?'
Your hands drum nervously against the countertop. He has to be ok, he has to be ok.
'That's all I know' Charlie responds.
You let out a horrified breath. Jesus. What happened? What happened?
The dread settles well and truly, dark and cold in the pit of your stomach, like that macaroni your mom used to try and palm off on you and Ethan when you became teens.
Charlie's still talking but you're not hearing him. Ethan, Ethan, Ethan. The emotions that very name alone brings up. Affection, irritation, love, competition, responsibility, pain, amusement, guilt, safety. He is all of it. He is all you have.
You can't lose him. Not like this. Not with the last moments you had together being you tearing him down the way you did.
Charlie summons you and Robyn and you race after him, trying to swallow down the panic. 'Charlie? How serious is it?'
'All I know is what I said in there.' He tells you. Robyn wants to know what happened? And you freeze. Please don't be speeding Ethan, please don't be trying to prove something to me.
'From what I can gather, the other car just swiped them clear off the road'.
You breathe the slightest bit easier at that. Not Ethan's fault then, not Ethan's fault.
Doesn't mean he's not hurt though. Two serious, was that what Charlie had said? His words echo through the haze. Two serious. Please don't be Ethan you find yourself saying over and over in your head. Don't be my brother.
Connie has no shoes on, her head is covered in blood and she's clearly in a shocked state whilst trying to keep wholly on top of the situation. You zero in on her 'Connie, what's the update? How's Ethan?'
'He's Stable' she says, a hand out to placate you 'but he's trapped and until we get him out we won't know the full situation'.
You risk a look at Charlie and nod your head, pull yourself together Cal, pull yourself together. How is he trapped? Does he need anything amputating? Where is he stuck? How? By the chest? The limb? Is he pinned in his seat? Upside down? You want to know everything, everything but you are being ushered to help a grumbling man exiting another vehicle.
This is the other driver then. Your heart beats wildly and you feel an urge to lay him out right here. The doctor in you clamps down the brother and you hurry him into the hospital and towards a cubicle. Your body is in the hospital but your mind's on the road with your brother.
'Get off me, I said I was fine' the man before you is sullen and downright argumentative and you just feel rage. White hot rage. His daughter is trying to placate him but he is unrepentant and you just want to know your brother's ok without dealing with this ridiculous imbecile.
'You need to keep still so I can take a look at your head' you mutter.
'I told you I'm fine'.
'How about you let me be the judge of that.' You tell him. Forcing his arm down and picking up the swab from the bowl before you. 'So…' you know you probably shouldn't but to hell with it, 'what happened to cause this accident then…'
'They got in my way' he offers 'they got in my way and I moved them'.
You stare at him, stare at him for a beat, 'I'm sorry? They pulled out in front of you?'
'No, I was on the road and they got in my way so I drove into them.'
Your hand drops the bowl. 'You did this on purpose? You drove into a car full of people on purpose?'
His daughter jumps in 'no, no of course not, Dad don't be ridiculous, stop talking.'
You stare at him 'you could have killed someone…' your heart pounds 'you still might have killed someone.'
'Nothing to do with me' he retorts.
It's like he's been drinking, but he doesn't smell of it, his pupils are reactive, he can not seriously be this ambivalent. There's something not right here.
'The other driver…' you manage, hands shaking. 'how was he?'
'I don't know' he rambles eyes wandering 'he looked…'
You find your hands back on his shoulders, gripping, harder than you should.
'He looked what?'
Dead. Dead. Dead.
You feel the blood drain from your face at the same time your hands drop from his shoulders. You spin around and launch yourself away from them and out of the room. Nausea threatens to overwhelm you and you stagger across the hall into the bathrooms. You only just make it before you vomit everything you've eaten that day into the pristine white sink before you.
He's not. He's not. You'd know. You'd know. You'd feel it deep in your gut, deep in your heart you know you'd feel that. Surely. Ok so you clash all the time, most of the time you pretend you don't care about each other, but at worst you love him, at best you'd die for him.
You'd die for him in a heartbeat.
He's not dead. Not Mom and now him. He's not. He's all you have now. You won't believe it.
He's not dead.
Connie agrees to let you treat him. You pretty much beg her, but who else is going to do it? Your entire team of doctors are critical or injured and it's you and only you left. There's a moment after Connie agrees to let you help Ethan that you suddenly wonder why the hell you want to do this. It's trust I suppose. You trust nobody else with your brother, with the only person in your life you don't imagine you'd get over losing. You need to save him. It needs to be you.
You spend the next ten minutes in a complete daze of panic, shut it down Cal, shut it down. Why aren't they here yet? Did something happen? Did he crash on the way? How bad is he? Hurry hurry hurry. You distract yourself, talk to Beth but your hearts not in this and your irrational rage just bubbles below the service until you lash out at her poor parenting skills.
'Who looks out for me Caleb?'
His words from your conversation weeks before echo in your mind. Who does look out for Ethan?
He's always been so together, so responsible, so reliable. The safety net. You've just never overly considered it. He seemed to need people so little. Whilst you needed all the help you could get. You're aware you are a thoughtless individual a lot of the time, self preservation has always been your forte and it doesn't make you proud but he was so self reliant. So able. You just honestly never felt like he needed you. Not like you needed him.
That conversation had been an eye opener for sure. It had been enough for you to go home and think about it all night. Had been enough to have you going to Zoe and offering yourself up as a potential loss to the department, enough for you to fight his corner on that one. You'd never let him know that of course. You're the big brother, the screw up, the charmer, that's your role. That's the role you've written for yourself. You make the messes, he cleans them up. Mom knew it, you know it and Ethan knows it. That's why she left him your inheritance clause. And hadn't that made you mad.
The white hot injustice of it all, the slap in the face that your mother felt exactly the same way you did about yourself,that you were the screw up.
You don't notice him sat stony faced beside you, didn't hear him ask for any more words about him, for any scrap of her thoughts. You'd already blustered out of there and left him. Left your brother again. First sign of trouble and Cal runs, that's a given right?
'Who looks out for me Caleb?'
Ethan had always looked out for them. The sorry truth of the matter is that. The youngest member of their clan was the one to carry them. Always had been. Your mom had become a single mother just a year after Ethan was born. Your father and your mother had never been loves young dream and Ethan was a save the marriage baby that did not pay off. Another mouth to feed had only contributed to the financial issues and he walked after a year never to be heard of again. You wouldn't even know him off the street. The three of you had each other. It was almost enough.
You often wonder when you let yourself go there, why it was Ethan that stepped up? Why not you? You were the eldest after all. You can only conclude that you were your father's son. Irresponsible, angry and thoughtless. He was better. He's always been better. That's why you fight, that's why always with the competition, because you're second. You're always second. He might think he is but he's not. He's the better doctor, the better son, the better man. He never needed anyone the way you did. But he needs you now. He needs you now.
Time moves impossibly slowly and once you're done berating Beth you hear the wail of the ambulance siren and you start walking. It feels like someone's slowly squeezing your chest in a vice and as you get your first glimpse of your little brother through the doorway you exhale with a shudder. Lofty wants to know if you're alright. You lie to him 'I'm ok'.
You are not ok.
Ethan's a mess. A total and complete mess. Head and chest injury Tamzin reports all factual and efficient and you want to yell at her to care more, to feel more because this is your little brother lying bloodied and broken before you. You can't tear your eyes away from him. He's drifting in and out of consciousness and he doesn't seem aware of your presence. Clearly he was one of the 'serious' injuries Charlie spoke of then. All of your doctor training goes out of your head as you give in to the panic for a moment. You just want to grab him and run, take him somewhere safe, make it all better, you feel a rush of protectiveness so fierce it almost overwhelms you with its intensity. You can't run though. Not this time. It's like all of your failures, every jab, every neglectful incident is laid out before you on the gurney. You need to help him. You have to.
He's in serious pain, you can see it as you load him onto the bed, face pinched, white. 'Alright buddy?' you ask gently, touching his hand momentarily. Then the paramedics are gone and it's you, it's all on you now.
Pupils are dilated and it looks like he's finally seeing you for the first time. 'Cal?'
'Don't…' he's looking at you, terrified, hurt, confused 'don't try and speak.' You stare down at him, he needs reassuring you know this, and you make all the effort in the world to fake some confidence. 'I know what I'm doing'.
He stares at you and you can see the moment he falters, he's going to need to trust you ultimately, with his life, and he's never been given a reason to before. 'I promise Ethan.' You whisper. 'I've got this, I've got you ok?'
He blinks his acquiescence and you can literally see the second he decides to believe in you.
He's got a pneumothorax, that's what this looks like. Wheezing, shortness of breath, pain whenever you touch his chest. That's bad. That's really bad. You distract him, ask him if he agrees with you on that. He's out of it though and clearly unable to form an opinion amongst all the pain he's in. You play the clown, make jokes about him suing and desperately try not to fall apart.
He needs a chest xray and a CT then you'll know more, then you'll deal with it, the good and the bad.
It physically hurts to let him go, to let them take him. You do though. And you're left staring at closed doors praying harder than you ever have before.
He starts to crash before they even make it to CT.
'Ethan! Ethan! Can you hear me mate?' You have hands on his shoulders, his face, his hair. He's not responding and his bp is dropping and dropping. You hold the mask to his face and Connie arrives, 'give me an update'.
He's dead. That's the update. He must have a bleed. Oh god, he's got a bleed in his brain and it's going to kill him right here. 'Do you think this is an intracranial bleed?'
'It's a bleed but it's not from his head'.
She has a hand to Ethan's chest and you suddenly get what she's talking about. Becks triad. No,no,no how had you missed that, how had you missed your brother internally bleeding, heart being squeezed, preventing blood reaching the heart? Jesus. He's got a tamponade. How could you have missed that?
You are ripping yourself apart when Connie's words finally break through 'pericardiocentesis'. She can't do it. She can't do it. You have to do it. You can't, oh god you can't. You can't put a needle into his chest, what if you get the wrong place, what if he dies because you insert it wrong? No, you can't do that. You can't do it. You won't.
He's going to die. He's going to die if you don't. Who will you tease? Who will you test? Who will you have left then? Nobody. Nothing. You'll be alone, totally and utterly alone.
'Ok. Ok.' You pick up the needle.
This is the worst thing you've ever had to do and that includes watching your own mother die in front of you. This is worse this is so much worse. You were somewhat prepared to lose your mother but Ethan? No this isn't supposed to happen. This isn't meant to happen. It can't be on your watch that you lose him. It can't.
Your hands shake. You can't seem to keep them steady. Why won't they stay still? How are you supposed to put a needle into your brother's chest if your hands won't stop shaking?
You look at him. He's out of it. Unconscious, pale, he looks dead already. You can't do it. What if you kill him? You can't, you can't , you can't.
You put the needle down. Back away. Hands raised in surrender. This isn't going to happen. You won't lose him at your hand.
Then he's in VT.
You've never been this scared in your life and you doubt you will be again. 'We're going to lose him'. Your vision tunnels and suddenly you're seeing this baby, this toddler, this teenager with his geeky glasses and his big heart and you see yourself burying him and it's a future you won't be able to live with. It's a punch to the solar plexus. 'Don't take him mom' you think. 'Not yet.' And that's what has you moving again. He deserves years more, years of teasing and love and company and he does not deserve to go out like this, bleeding inside on some table while his big brother stands by and does nothing. He deserves a fight, he deserves the biggest fight you've ever fought.
You owe him that. You owe him everything.
And somehow the needle finds its way back into your palm and into his chest and there's this second when you're draining the blood from around his heart that you make a promise to him. Make a promise that if he survives this you'll protect him forever, you'll never let anyone hurt him again. You'll be the brother he deserves instead of the useless one you've been before.
He might have spent all his life being your safety net but you're catching him now.