"Rob - Rob, go get Mort from outside. Her hand..."
Melanie Carter's first act when she was discharged from the facility had been to rush right back to the hospital where Carmen was held - she'd lost a lot of blood and had stopped breathing on her own for a short while, so oxygen had been cut off from her brain and put her in a coma - but she was alive. Until Mel's arrival, the hospital staff had refused to let Mort in to see her, leaving the man an absolute wreck, but with Melanie's shrill insistence at the front desk that Mort was still designated in Carmen's advance directive as her decision-maker, and Rob's explanation of the fact that he had come across Carmen still holding the man's hand, they finally conceded in allowing Mort to visit her in the intensive care unit.
It had been a week since then - Carmen had been almost continually sedated and barely conscious, as she'd needed intensive surgery for the gunshot wound in her abdomen. It has been mostly embedded in musculature, but the internal bleeding was extensive. In that time, she'd regained a little lucidity as the police came by to get the whole story, but she had written it sloppily, having been dependent on a breathing tube at the time. Still, with the victim's insistence that it had been an accident along with a thorough interview of both Rob Wallace and Mort Rainey seemed to all point in the same direction.
By the time they had been able to step her down to a transitional care unit until she gained consciousness back fully, Rob, Melanie, and Mort began swapping shifts at staying by her bedside. On Saturday, they had all decided to stay with Carmen together, but Mort had needed to step outside for a cigarette - he had taken the habit up again in full force, just for the week. Carmen would probably be furious - but he'd take furious. Mort decided it was better that he felt the urge to smoke than to speak with imaginary voices.
While Mort was outside smoking and Rob was getting a bottle of water from the vending machine in the hallway, Melanie was sitting alone with Carmen when the dark-haired woman's fingers extended, and she made a small moaning sound. Melanie frantically called for Rob, who made a dash for the elevator to fetch Mort from outside. Melanie, meanwhile, was right back in the chair at Carmen's bedside, grasping the her hand anxiously.
"C'mon, Boss Lady," she said with a weak laugh, her eyes already a little teary at the realization that this was the most responsive Carmen had been in a week. "You've got a whole stack of work piled up -"
The response had been almost inaudible, as it came from barely parted lips, but Melanie heard it - she was sure. She squeezed Carmen's hand tighter and smiled even more tearfully. Carmen's hand twitched a little more, and she smacked her lips slowly. "Wh-where am I?" she asked hoarsely, her voice practically covered in cobwebs from disuse.
"Ohmygod," Melanie said, clapping her free hand over her mouth. "Carmen - you're in New York Presbyterian -"
"Presby - I can't afford this," she groaned slowly. "Mel?"
"Yeah. Yeah, it's me. I'm okay. We're all okay," she said tearfully, laying her head on the bed next to Carmen's hand. She laughed a little, to which Carmen responded with a small smile - truth be told, Carmen had been terrified that she'd never hear Mel laugh again. Even if Carmen found Melanie Carter's effervescent demeanor exhausting at times, she wouldn't deny that it was more than welcome right now. Mel sighed again, still squeezing Carmen's hand - and it was then they realized that somehow over the course of all of this, they had become best friends. Not just good friends. Not just old college friends. Carmen Anderson and Melanie Carter had somehow developed a deep, sincere friendship. "Rob's on his way back with Mort."
At the mention of Mort's name, Carmen finally started the effort to open her eyes. Her eyelids felt heavy, and even through the thin skin, she already felt like the room was going to be too bright for her eyes to handle. She tilted her head away from the source of light and finally managed to open them almost halfway. She found that she was looking directly at the door where Mort had just appeared in the doorway, out of breath like he had just run a marathon. His eyes met hers immediately, and both of their expressions shifted - Mort's, into a dumbstruck look of complete confusion and fear that he was hallucinating again, Carmen's into a small smile.
"Hey, you," she said hoarsely. "I guess I failed - I was supposed to die -"
"You flatlined - you practically did," Rob said, appearing in the door as well. "Don't say that ever again, Carmen, or I swear -"
"Empty threat," she chuckled tiredly. Mort walked over like he was carried by a force other than himself until he was right next to Carmen's bed, and he kneeled next to the bed, not even bothering with the chair. Melanie and Rob looked at one another and shared a knowing smile.
"We'll leave you two alone for a while - I'm starving," Melanie said, getting up from her own seat and hurrying over to Rob, nudging him out the door. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, realizing he wasn't the one who Carmen needed to be there for her right now, and he took Melanie's hand to step outside, shutting the door behind them. Finally alone, Mort finally looked at Carmen, who looked at him with such deep, unreadable emotion that he was surprised neither of them broke down right there.
"I can't believe you did that," Mort said, shaking his head. "I can't believe you -" He didn't even know how to describe what had happened - had he been the one to shoot her? Had she shot herself? "I don't even understand how I'm not in jail right now - they know it was my hand that fired the gun. They knew you were in my house -"
"I took care of it," Carmen said tiredly. She winced when she attempted to shift her weight a little, only to be met with sharp pain from her healing abdomen. She had to pause and take a few breaths before she continued. "They asked me to write it out for them, remember? I told them you and I had fought and... I came to see you... and you were just out of it. You had the gun and you were saying you would shoot yourself. I tried to get it out of your hands-"
"Why did they believe you? This is me we're talking about."
"Who else would they believe?" Carmen asked calmly. "It was you, me, and then Rob - and all Rob saw was you trying to save me."
"You shouldn't have lied for me, not again," Mort said, reaching out and grabbing a hold of Carmen's hand. Had he not just broken her heart the previous day? Hadn't he just proven himself too scared to fight for her, less than twenty-four hours before she proved she was willing to give her life for him? He didn't even know where they stood right now - he had been terrified that something would happen, that she would be gone before they could figure it out. The absence of anger on Carmen's face now, however, was almost harder for Mort to accept because it had meant she had already forgiven him. "I - am going to do everything for you. Everything in the world."
"Will you get a haircut?"
Carmen laughed weakly - she couldn't manage much, as it pulled on the numerous stitches in her midsection - before her smile went calm, and she looked at Mort with the same peaceful warmth that she did, late that first night in Cape Cod. "I love you," she said quietly. "More than life itself - when the choice came down to only one of us getting our lives back, I don't think there was any question."
Mort made a strange sound that was a mixture of forced laughter and a restrained sob - how was he supposed to forgive himself for giving up on her now? He wished he could have said his intentions were completely unselfish, but a part of his purpose had been to save himself the guilt of knowing he had dragged Carmen down. He had never felt guilty for anything that had happened, and he didn't know he could handle it. Now, despite the fact that he'd given in to the fact that he was a coward - and he was sure Carmen had figured that out - the woman he loved was lying in a hospital bed. For him.
"Hey," Carmen said, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze. "You don't have to get the haircut. It's okay."
Mort looked up and saw the smirk that embodied her so well had returned to her face, but he couldn't bring himself to return it. After a pause, he took a breath and reached into the pocket of his slightly threadbare cardigan and pulled out something small; he kept his hand closed around it for a moment before unclenching his fist and revealing the engagement ring in his palm.
"I have no right to ask you to take this back," he said. "But I'm going to. Carmen..."
Mort immediately felt bad when he saw that her eyes were filling with tears, but wasted no time; he immediately reached for her other hand and slipped the ring back where in belonged and leaned over, kissing him on the forehead.
"Mort, can you please cry?" Carmen said with a weak laugh, reaching up and wiping her eyes. "I hate being the only one crying, I feel like such a putz." She took in as deep a breath as she could manage and looked Mort directly in the eye, reaching for his hand again. "I - I'm going to be off my feet for a long time," she said honestly. She was no doctor, but she knew enough to be aware of the fact that she wasn't in good condition. She couldn't eat, she was sure she could hardly get up if she tried. It was going to be a long, tiring next few months. "But after it's over -"
"I told you," Mort interrupted. "I am going to do everything. I owe you my life," he said, and true to Carmen's request, his eyes actually looked as though they were beginning to water. Carmen suddenly felt slightly frightened by the realization that he was very, very serious. When he said that he was willing to do everything, he meant it. Even if Carmen's only desire, even if their engagement were to be off forever, was for him to have a chance like this - to move on without Shooter or anything else haunting him - he would give that all up in his attempts to repay her. She suddenly began to wonder - could she go the rest of her life with him knowing she allowed that to happen?
The conclusion she came to was clear to everyone but Mort Rainey when the first day after Carmen came home from the hospital, he drove to her cabin to see her and found only a completely empty cabin, and an envelope taped to the screen door with his name on it. He opened it and found the engagement ring, along with a note in Carmen's handwriting, bearing only one short phrase that was somehow meant to explain everything: