edit: changed her name...because I wasn't thinking when I wrote it how close Ella was to Bella. :headdesk: lol
There have always been days that I have hated the human charade. For a doctor, it is almost impossibly hard to justify leaving a patient when their need is critical, leaving a hospital during an epidemic. Still, it's part of the price I have to pay to be in this position. It's easy to say that, when in retrospect, when it isn't happening. At the time, however, the guilt is always overwhelming.
I do what I can, of course. I have pretended to sleep in snatches in on-call rooms, even pretended to drink coffee if the others do and I need to keep up appearances. Whatever I can. There are times, though, that no amount of extra hours could change the outcome. Usually, I can judge fairly impartially. All doctors become adjusted, with time. Of course, that only works if you don't get attached. And sometimes, that simply happens. Whether you intended it to or not.
I hung the chart on the end of the bed, brought a hand up to rub absently over my eyes. I had to at least look a little tired, a little worn. I had, after all, been here for 18 hours.
"Are you sure you're alright, Dr. Cullen?"
I nodded, pulled up a chair beside hospital bed. "Yes, yes I'm fine. A little tired, but I'll be alright. I'll sit with her for awhile."
She eyed me for a moment, but the there was no mistrust there. Only pity. Ah, so even she could see it. Well. Jasper had said sometimes I wasn't very good about hiding my emotions, and that was one subject on which he certainly was an expert. I slid the chair closer to the bed, rested my elbows on my knees and my head on my hands. Her heartbeat had slowed, her breathing weak. It wouldn't be long now. Not long at all. A moment, a breath…almost as short as her life seemed in comparison to mine. She was only 7 years old.
I had known the odds when I began treatment for neuroblastoma a year before. It was rare, aggressive, not much research into its cause or treatment. The survival rates were terrible, and I knew all of this from the beginning. Knowing the facts, however, had no effect on the very real truth that there was just something about Rachel. The hospital I was currently employed in was a teaching hospital, and as such we took the patients no other hospital would, took those unable to pay. She was an orphan, in the care of a Seattle orphanage. Her mother had died of an overdose when she was three; her father was unknown. She had no home, no family. And she was positively the brightest, most wholly endearing child I had ever met. She was magnificent, perfect in every respect but her health. Awake, she never failed to bring a smile to my face. Now…now I was watching her die, rather slowly, honestly. She had not been conscious for two days now, and I had scarcely left her side. Dr. Webber, her specialist, had been by twice, sympathetic. He had a little more distance from this particular case, however, and he pointed out what I already knew: There was not a thing left to be done.
Nothing, nothing but one thing. One thing, something that only I could do. The thought was torturing me, tempting me all the more because it wasn't an option. She was not old enough. If she could have only lived a few more years! Five, at least! I could have, perhaps, done it at 12. Certainly at 13; I had met immortals that young. But 7…no, there was no way. I had no choice, and the powerlessness was killing me. I loved her, and I never should have.
Her heart jumped erratically before stabilizing and I reached forward, took her tiny hand in my own. It was far too cold. I smiled, briefly, thinking of what she would have said, awake. How she would have blamed it on me. She had said, always, that I was from the North Pole. In her mind, it accounted for both the feel of my skin and my lack of a tan.
I caught the familiar scent just before two warm arms wrapped around me from behind, her gentle hands pulling my head back to rest against her chest. I relaxed into her, closed my eyes to concentrate on the feel of her fingers combing through my hair, her lips on my forehead. "How is she?"
"It's not long, now."
Esme sighed, tightened her hold on me. "I'll stay with you."
My throat felt tight, constricted. I wanted to tell her no, that she didn't have to do this, to see this. She could go home, be with the family. She didn't have to suffer with me. But I was far too selfish to actually say the words while she was touching me. I needed her here, desperately. If anything could make this bearable, it would be her touch.
She nudged me gently forward in the chair, slid in behind me, her legs falling to either side of mine, her body pressed against my back and her head on my shoulder. "Is that woman coming, her guardian?"
The head of the orphanage, Ms. Carlson. She was a kind woman, overworked and underpaid. I shook my head. She had many children to care for, and she could not be everywhere at once. "Said she'd be in tomorrow morning." And tomorrow morning, it would be too late.
She sat back a little, her hands falling to my back to rub gently at the muscles there. We could feel no fatigue, in these bodies, but all the same it felt good beyond belief. I sighed, rolled my shoulders back as I arched into the touch. There was no one in all the world as thoughtful as my Esme. "Jasper wanted to come with me, but I told him to stay with the others, for now. He wanted you to know, though, that he'll be here in five minutes if you need him."
"I know he will." Ah, Jasper. If any of my children did not see themselves clearly, though they all had their moments, he was the worst. He was a strong man with a good heart, though he hid it well to any outsiders view. I knew him well enough to know he had been worried when I stopped by home last, had known it even further in the way he hovered close to me before I had darted back out the door. He had seemed indecisive then, ready to follow me if I had showed the slightest inclination. He could have helped, yes, but he was my son and I looked out for him. With his gift, I kept him away from the hospital as much as possible. There was too much pain here, inside these walls. I didn't want him to have to feel it. Besides, this was an experience he shouldn't shield me from. Somehow, I needed this to hurt, if only because it was supposed to.
"Has she woken up at all?"
"Not since Monday afternoon." I had been here, for some of that last conversation. She was listening to an abridged children's version of Black Beauty being read by one of the hospital volunteers, and she had smiled for me when I had stuck my head in the room to check on her. It wasn't long after that that she fell asleep, and when she hadn't woken up for dinner, they had paged me. I stroked my thumb against the back of her hand, careful of the IV line in the back of her hand. She had had far too many of those, for her young age. Far too much pain all around. "I knew this would happen, from the beginning."
Her hands paused on my back but she said nothing, only wrapped herself close to me again.
"I knew better than to…" I trailed off, shaking my head. "The odds of survival were 9 to 1 against her."
"Carlisle…" Her grip tightened a little when she said my name. "None of that matters. Not when it comes to loving someone. Things like that just happen, and there's nothing you can do. Nothing anyone can do."
"There are doctors that don't get attached, doctors that never have to go through this. Not like this."
"Yes, there are. And none of them are the man I love." She shifted right, turned my head so I could see her. "The man I love has far too much goodness in him for it to ever be contained, too much love and compassion to ever be able to fully reign it in. It's a good thing, too, because without those qualities, he wouldn't be the same. Not as good of a doctor, and not as good of a man, either. Carlisle…" She kissed my cheek, let her lips hover just over my skin. "You don't want to be like them. If you were, you'd be losing something vastly more important. Something worth whatever pain it brings with it."
She was right, of course. She always was. I knew that, when I truly gave the subject thought. Still, at the moment it would have felt far better if my heart had been missing entirely instead of merely silent. I let my hand fall to one of hers around my waist, entwined them together. Somehow, I felt better. Good enough to tell her my darkest secret, because I had shared it with no one. Well. Edward had to have heard, but he was, as always, good enough to keep his mouth shut. I had, at least, spoken of it to no one. "I want to keep her, Esme. I want it so badly it's driving me crazy." Now that the initial words were out, some sort of lock I had had on the subject had broken and I took a deep breath before rushing forward. "I want to give her a home, a family. I want to be her father, to take of her, to watch out for her. I want to watch her laugh with Emmett and learn from Edward. I want her to have you for a mother, to finally get the nurturing she's never had. I know exactly everything we could give her, and the fact that I can't, that medicine can't save her and I can't either…" My voice dropped farther, energy spent. "It's killing me, Esme."
She squeezed my hand, gently. I could feel her breath against my neck as she leaned into me, thinking, communicating without words. I knew how she felt long before she spoke. "Me too. It sounds wonderful, and I can think of no one I would want more as my fourth daughter. But this isn't your fault. This is…call it a shortcoming by medicine, if you will, but the disease that's taking her from us so young is nothing we can fight. I know…" She sighed, and I could hear the urge to shed tears for this little one she barely knew. "I know it isn't fair. But we have to let her go, and you know that far better than I do."
Letting go had never been my strong suit. I hadn't even been able to let her go, not even when I knew she had wanted to die. Of course, that didn't make a very effective argument in this case because in Esme's case, everything had turned out. Well, not alright. Perfect. Nor had I been able to let of Edward or Rosalie. I had kept Rose, in fact, even when Edward disagree rather vocally with that decision. No, I wasn't good at this. Maybe God was trying to teach me something by tying my hands this time, forcing me into a position where I was unable to cheat death.
I bowed my head, unable to look at Rachel anymore. There were, I already knew, 2,347 dots in the tile directly below me. I shifted my eyes to the leg of the chair, the grains in the wood. The feel of her warm lips against the back of my neck drew a sigh, the wave of comfort from that simple action far more powerful than I would have expected.
Yes, I was so very glad she had stayed. I would have been lost without her.
Slowly, I clicked the paddles back into place, let my right hand rise to turn off the low even hum of the monitor. The room was, for a moment, silent but for the breath of the nurse. We had both stopped breathing, and though she was across the room in the corner I could feel her presence, her eyes on me.
"Time of death, Dr. Cullen?"
I struggled for a moment, at a loss. On cue she slipped forward, her hand taking its place in mine. The nurse probably looked at her curiously, then, but I didn't care. With her to steady me, I could answer. "3:55 AM."
Alright, so I said Hollow was the MOST depressing thing I would ever write…not the only depressing thing. This one was pretty hard.