Spoilers: Be Still My Heart, Beyond Repair
Description: A day late and a dollar short. More like three weeks.
Note: This fic is, like, four years late, but hopefully not short or lacking in any way.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it.
Carter awoke from sleep feeling like a cold lead brick: stiff, heavy and chafed. His body was a disorienting mixture of numbness and dull pain: he was sure he couldn't feel whole regions of his body, yet he had random aches everywhere, and even the parts that didn't hurt felt indescribably bad. He almost felt detached from himself. Carter had spent the vast majority of the last few weeks in an almost coma-like sleep, occasionally emerging when the morphine drip was running low, or his body craved to confirm his existence. Only in the last few days had he woken long enough to have brief conversations with his grandmother or take stock of his surroundings. He had managed to surmise that he was still on a bedpan, that the...accident hadn't been a nightmare and that Lucy really was dead. It was usually enough to put him right back to sleep.
He opened his eyes, blinking to adjust to the light and saw his grandmother in his line of sight. She was in a recliner that was poised in front of his bed and she was fighting sleep vigorously, though essentially losing. She was nodding and starting every few seconds. Carter felt a selfish relief that she was still there, but he was also sure that she was probably over-exerting herself. He looked to his right to find Benton standing there.
"Hey Carter, how you feeling?" he said, while reading Carter's monitors. Millicent suddenly awoke. Benton took a critical look at one of the IV bags, turning it over in his hand. "You doing OK, up here?" he asked with a furrowed brow.
Carter cleared his throat, which was a little sore. "Yeah," he muttered faintly, nodding for added clarity.
"Good. Let me know if they pull anything. I'll be up here on everyone like white on rice." Benton was uncharacteristically chipper. Carter knew he was putting forth the effort to appear cheery. He smiled a little. "We gonna check out some of those incisions later, but to tell you the truth, you're killing this mug. No signs of post-op infection." Carter nodded again. "Alright, man, I'm on call in 10 minutes, but I wanted to run up here before I went on." Carter smiled again.
"Thank you," he whispered. Benton nodded and turned towards Millicent, who was just outside the bathroom, about to go in. "Hey, how you doing?"
"Well enough," she replied, a little groggy. Just then, the phone rang.
"Hello?" Benton answered. "Yes, he's here, but he's unable to speak on the phone. Can I give him a message?...Eleanor and Jack?" Carter looked up with heightened attention. "....OK...No problem...You too...Bye." Benton hung up. "An Eleanor called, says she and Jack just got off at O'Hare. They'll be here within the hour."
Carter managed a nod...and a question. "What did she say?"
"That's all. Just that they were on their way." Benton paused. "She sounded too old to be a girlfriend. Was that a sister?"
Carter shook his head. "My mother." His voice was weak, and it hurt to talk. Had he been intubated at some point?
"Oh, your mother? I don't think I've ever met her." He then displayed a kaleidoscope of facial expressions that ended with a mute nod and patted Carter on the shoulder. "I'll see you later, OK?" Carter nodded again with a smile, and watched as Benton left the room.
It had been unmistakable. Peter was thinking what had intermittedly tormented Carter for the last three weeks.
Several moments passed before Millicent reappeared, and took her position by Carter's bed. Carter lifted his perforated arm to get her attention.
"Yes John," she said, rising and moving towards the bed. "What is it?"
"Mom," he said. Millicent's face registered more questions than answers, "She's coming." Millicent nodded understandingly.
"Is Jack accompanying her?" she asked, then "When are they coming? How do you know?"
Carter nodded towards the phone. "They're coming tonight," he said. The effort just came short of scraping his throat raw. He winced a little.
"OK, that's enough," Millicent replied soothingly, and returned to her seat.
Carter would be glad to see them. His father had spoken to Gamma several times since the...accident. His mother had sent a card. Even so, he longed to see them. There were times during the worst of it, when it was really bad, that he had wondered if he would ever see them again.
Carter didn't feel himself fall asleep but soon he was waking to the sound of his own name. It was Jack, standing over him.
"Son," he said, his voice a little pained. "How are you feeling?" It always took Carter a moment or two to make his transition into the world of the living, and he blinked twice before attempting to answer. "You don't have to answer," he said.
"Thanks for coming," Carter muttered, in the ragged voice that he refused to own.
"No, no," Jack said shaking his head, "We should have come," he paused, looking away, "sooner."
There was another voice behind Jack.
"Hello, dear." It was Eleanor. She was standing just behind Jack and staring at Carter. She looked frightened, but only if you knew her. "What have they done to you?" She placed her Prada handbag on the end of the bed, and it rested just next to Carter's feet, before placing her manicured hands on the bedrail. She looked beautiful, in stark contrast to his battle-worn grandmother and the practical nurses. "How long must you stay here?"
His grandmother intercepted the question. "He shouldn't talk, Eleanor. He's exhausted and in a lot of pain." Eleanor glared at Millicent over her shoulder and continued to watch John. They all continued in silence for a while.
A nurse entered, and Carter vaguely remembered her name being Patricia.
"Hello, my name is Patrice, and I'm the nurse that'll be taking care of John tonight. We haven't met." She held her hand out for each parent. "How do you know John, here?"
"We are his parents," Jack stammered. The nurse nodded blankly, her lips pursed. "Is everything OK?"
"Oh, yeah," she chirped. "He has a long road ahead of him, but it's a blessing he's alive. The doctor may have already told you, but he's progressing very well. I'm just here to get his vitals." She wrapped a blood-pressure sleeve around the only bare part of his upper arm. She scribbled on her clipboard before pushing buttons on his monitors, scribbling more down as she did.
"How is everything?" Jack implored, after she appeared to be done.
"Generally good," she answered. "His blood pressure and pulse are a little weak, and he's been a little anemic here lately. But that isn't abnormal with his injuries. They have him on iron. Everything looks good." she said. "I'm going to see you again, around two." With that, she flitted from the room.
Jack settled into a chair near the bed, and his wife followed suit. There was small talk for a while. Jack and his mother caught up on...everything, as she filled him in on details that he already knew about but couldn't get enough of. Eleanor retreated into magazines and the contents of Jack's billfold. Occasionally they'd look at Carter, their faces tinged with pity and just barely veiled with false contentment. Millicent was the most relaxed; keeping vigil had become her routine, and she was as at home tirelessly watching over Carter as she would be in the lounger in her sunroom.
Talk of the trip here, recent developments in Tokyo, and frequent offerings of a more comfortable chair, or a soda or something from the snack machine (all of which Millicent declined) kept them distracted for a time. Carter, although silent, kept awake for much longer than usual, soaking in evidence that he was still alive, and had family around him to prove it.
But subjects of trivial interest and effected facial expressions wore thin, and beeping monitors, groans from other rooms, and the battered son tethered in bed drowned out even the most avid attempts at cheer. Eleanor was the first to crack.
Carter reawoke sometime during Leno's monologue to find his mother looking around the room with disdain. She was uncharacteristically fidgety, and tense. It was evident that she was agitated with and even resentful of the beds, and drapes, and ice chips, and nurses and odors. She was NOT in her element. Carter felt a fleeting tinge of guilt watching her squirm. This scene was all too familiar: Mom, helpless and agitated, watching her ailing son fight for his life. Maybe she shouldn't have come. Maybe Carter shouldn't have pressed.
He could feel some tension in his back, and pressing his elbow against the railing, pushed himself to his side just a little to relieve some of the pressure. The movement was met with an excruciatingly acute pain that tore through his back and shoulders. He moaned loudly, clenching his teeth to suppress a scream and his head collapsed back to his pillow. Tears were pressed from his eyes, and sweat from his brow. A monitor began to bleat furiously.
"John," all assembled cried out simultaneously, his father moving towards the bed.
"What happened," he asked. Carter, mute with pain, nodded towards his left side, motioning for his pump. "What John? What do you want?" Jack asked, looking frantically for a clue. Carter could only meet his grandmother's eyes with a pleading look.
"For Crissakes, Jack," she said, getting up and going to Carter's side, "he wants the pump." She took it and placed it in Carter's hand. He pushed the red button firmly, closing his eyes as he did. He tried to bring his breathing under control, and waited a moment, waited for the medication to relieve some of his suffering. "There," she said tenderly, sweeping his hair from his face.
"What happened?" Eleanor asked, perched firmly behind Jack.
"He must have moved in a painful manner, and aggravated his injury." Millicent said, making her way back to her command post. "The PCA pump gives him a dose of painkillers when the pain gets unbearable."
"What if he gives himself too much?" Jack asked, a little concerned.
"He can't. It will only dispense so much per hour." Jack nodded understandingly, his fear assuaged some. Eleanor looked similarly relieved.
"I'm impressed, Millicent," she remarked, "you're really familiarizing yourself with the details. Maybe that's where John got the doctor bug from." She was only half-joking.
"Well," Millicent began, "when you care for someone, you concern yourself with the details." Eleanor immediately caught the tenor of the comment, and her face dropped to a barely repressed scowl.
Soon a nurse, an RN, entered the room. "Hello, I'm Cindy. We heard John's monitors going off. Is everything alright?"
Both Millicent and Eleanor ventured to answer simultaneously.
"Hmm," the nurse replied, "Let's see." She walked over the monitor, pressing some buttons and seeming to come up with nothing. "It seems his blood pressure shot up for a moment there."
"I'm concerned about his pain management," Millicent said. "He seems to be in so much pain."
"We're working to keep it managed." She turned to Carter, speaking loudly. "Make sure you communicate to us when you're in pain, OK John?" she said. John rolled his eyes; he could write himself a prescription for more drugs than she knew about. This was going to be a long recovery. "There's one more thing." She paused. "We only permit two visitors in the ICU at a time." Jack was the first to respond.
"But we haven't see him in quite some time. We just arrived from the airport. There must be some exception...I mean, John works here," he countered.
"I understand, um...Mr. Carter?" Jack nodded. "But these rules are in created in the best interest of the patient. You understand the nature of our policy, I'm sure." The group didn't seem to be pacified in the least. "I'm trying to work with you; visiting hours ended two hours ago." A collective sigh rung out among the crowd. "He'll be out of ICU very soon, and then all of you can visit with him." She looked at Millicent. "What about you, Grandma? Why don't you go home and get some rest? You sure you up to another all-nighter?"
Millicent looked at the nurse with a sullen expression.
"My name is Millicent and I am more than capable of determining what I am up to doing," she replied. The nurse just let out a chuckle as she headed for the door.
"Alright, Millicent. I'll let you all decide."
There was a moment of silence. Eleanor lifted the Prada bag from the bed. "John, we'll have to leave you tonight, but we'll return in the morning."
"Eleanor," Jack snapped. "Maybe Mother does need the rest." Eleanor's eyes met his with some dissatisfaction. "Besides, we just got here. It's our turn."
"Excuse us," she told Carter and left the room. Jack followed. Their silhouettes could be seen gesturing through the frosted window, and Carter knew the battle lines were drawn. His mother wanted to leave, and she would have her way. She always did.
Moments later they entered again.
"Your mother..." he stammered, "We're going to head back to the hotel - " The hotel? Carter thought " - and relieve Mother in the morning." He looked exasperated. Carter knew he couldn't' hide his own disappointment.
Carter protested to the extent he could. "Gamma should - " he coughed, "Gamma needs to rest."
"She will, John," Eleanor interjected, "tomorrow. Now, shhhh. Get your rest and we'll see you in the morning." She punctuated the sentence with a wink, like you might wink at a child after a card trick. Her eagerness to leave was insulting at this point.
"Walk with us, won't you Mother?" Jack said. "You need some air." She looked to John, who nodded consent and she followed them out of the room. Jack paused before leaving.
"See you tomorrow, son," he said, and exited the room.
Carter watched the door shut with a vacuous pang in his chest.
"Mom," he whispered, frustrated, angry and alone. He turned his head to the wall, closed his eyes and began to cry.