Chapter 4

A Touch of Love

It had to be the hardest thing he ever had to do. Gray agreed it would be best if Julius informed Alice of her condition while he dealt with Nightmare and Lorina.

He wasn't even sure how Alice took the news. She simply sat there, considering and disturbingly silent. Like the young doctor would know what to say. All he could do was silently wheel her back into her room and let her deal with it on her own.

Now, Julius felt completely exhausted, plopping himself onto the closest chair. He dropped his head into his hands, trying to rub away the violent throbbing in his skull.

There had to be something he could have done differently. He could have suggested different medicines, different exercises done in her physical therapy… or maybe it was all inevitable. There was just nothing more he could do.

"Julius!" At the sound of his name, the Monrey languidly turned his gaze up. He could only release a low sigh, watching as his superior marched towards him, his stride long and deliberate. "Julius, what is the meaning of this... nonsense Gray was telling us?"

"Nightmare, calm down! You're condition!" Gray shouted from behind him, followed by a distraught Lorina.

"Oh, forgo my blasted condition for a moment!" Nightmare said, pausing for a moment as a gagging sensation arose from his throat. He coughed once and spoke evenly, "Julius Monrey, explain to me why in the world did my own assistant tell Miss Lorina and me that Alice was dying?"

Julius remained impeccably silent, refusing to move or offer a response.

Lorina's voice transcended from a distance, her tone soft and weak as she said, "B… but I thought everything was going so well… I even heard her physical therapy was going splendidly!"

"We both assumed her body was getting stronger, not weakening, and surely not dying," added Nightmare sternly, his single gray orb fixated on the blue-haired doctor. "Please explain it now, Julius."

The young doctor merely stared at his superior, pools of silver meeting his cold, almost impassive blue.

"Yes… please, Dr. Monrey... please explain." Julius rotated his head around, watching the eldest Liddell walk passed Gray and stand beside Nightmare. Her green orbs were glassy and wide, regarding him with an emotion more striking than hope, an emotion he had seen far too often in his years as a doctor.

"I… I thought everything was going so well… I mean, she was even able to walk a little wasn't she? That must have meant she was getting stronger. I thought… I thought…" Lorina choked back a small cry, her hand flying to cover her quivering lips.

'…sorrow.'

Julius ran his fingers through his long, blue locks and cleared his throat. "Yes, I will admit, her overall physicality seemed to have been improving. Even though she still is very weak, she was able to muster enough strength to walk." He paused for a moment and felt himself release another heartfelt sigh. "But…"

"But what?"

He remained silent for a long moment. Gray then took liberties to continue. "You see, congenital muscular dystrophy is a subset of muscular dystrophy, characterized by gradual muscle deterioration as well as a general state of weakness."

"Yes, Gray, I believe Miss Lorina and I know what the condition is. What about it?" said Nightmare.

"But what you both never even thought of was that this particular condition affects not only voluntary muscles, like those in legs, arms, and so and so forth. It can also affect involuntary muscles." The dark-haired Ringmarc paused, allowing such information to absorb in their heads. "…like those located in the heart."

Both figures fell impeccably still. Both their eyes widened at the very implication.

Nightmare then said, "Wait... You can't be saying that even though she is physically growing stronger, the muscles in her heart are growing weaker?" Neither Gray nor Julius answered. "That's simply ridiculous. That sort of case affects only one in a million!"

"Well, meeting someone like Alice is one in a million, isn't it?" At that statement, Nightmare calmed down, momentarily dropping his gaze in consideration.

Gray handed a folder over to his superior. "If you don't believe us, please check the report yourself."

The Clover leader took the folder into his hands and skimmed through the pages with unreadable eyes. Lorina floated over to his side and read along with him.

A single, silvery orb blinked, regarding the words with an air of disbelief. "No way..."

"Wait... I don't seem to understand." the young brunette said, drifting away from the confusing medical terms and towards the Clover assistant and doctor. "What is this folder talking about? What's CK?"

Julius promptly informed her, "When we are dealing with cases like Alice, we run different tests to see how their condition is fairings and monitor the rate of muscular deterioration. One test we use frequently is a blood enzyme test."

"For those afflicted with muscular dystrophy, their muscles tend to be "leaky". They release enzymes in the blood stream," Nightmare added eloquently. "CK, or creatine kinase, is an example of the enzymes leaked into the blood and acts as an indicator for muscular dystrophy. The blood enzyme test helps us determine the levels of CK in the blood and help us monitor her condition."

Gray then continued the explanation. "In this blood report, we noticed high levels of CK, much higher than we originally expected. Her condition usually leads to a more consistent CK levels, but this report said otherwise. Then I examined more thoroughly her involuntary muscles, like her lungs, her brain, and especially her heart..."

Gray lost all will to continue, allowing his question to fall and hang suspended in the air. The two figures seemed to understand.

"Then if that's the case, surgery is even out of the question..." Lorina noted dismally, her gaze descending to the linoleum floors.

Julius nodded his head in affirmation. "Trying to surgically remove and replace those muscles near the heart is almost homicidal. It would cause more harm than good."

"So there's truly nothing more we could do..."

No one else uttered a single word. None had the courage to admit such a simple fact, submit to such an overwhelming state of hopelessness and failure.

There was a sniffling sound as well as a stifled cry. "I… I think I want to talk to my sister… just for a little while."

All three men merely watched as Lorina ghosted over towards Alice's door, entering the room silently and gently closing the door right behind her.

XxX

"This silence is insufferable!" Gray and Julius raised their silent gazes from the floor, watching their silvery-haired boss stare intently at the door. "Honestly, how long does that girl intend on monopolizing Alice's time? I think we all would like to see how the girl's doing ourselves."

"Well, this is Miss Lorina's sister, Nightmare," Gray informed him tersely. "It would only make sense that she is spending so much private time with her."

"But that is my office. As leader of this hospital, I should have a right to go into my office when I so please!"

"Maybe then you should actually start acting like a leader, caterpillar…" grumbled Julius, apathetic to the harsh glare Nightmare shot at him.

Before the Clover leader could respond and retaliate, a brown head peeked out from the doorway, obtaining all of their attentions. "…Alice would like to see the three of you."

At the sound of the young girl's name, the three figures promptly rose to their feet and headed inside the room. The first sound that greeted them was the steady beeps of the monitor. Julius instructed the nurses to set it up, to help them properly keep watch over Alice's condition – more exactly the beatings of her heart.

All three men expected Alice to be apprehensive, crestfallen, in a state of an almost hopeless despair.

No matter how tired the girl looked, how weak she seemed while lying on the hospital bed, they could still see the brightness in her face, the cheer in her green eyes.

Alice's eyes immediately lit up. "Nightmare, Gray, Julius… I'm so glad to see you guys."

"How are you feeling, Alice?" Gray asked.

"Been better. I've just been really tired lately. That's all!" answered Alice, her lips quirking up into a weak smile.

The Clover trio were rendered completely speechless. How could she still be smiling? How could she still be so cheerful even though she was dying? Wasn't she at all scared?
As if reading their minds, Alice suddenly said, "You know, I'm not scared of dying, at least not anymore. I know my heart will never truly stopping beating even when I'm dead!"

Such a statement was illogical, completely and utterly impossible. Had the degradation continued to affect her brain and started making her delusional?

Nightmare asked in curiosity, "How?"

The young girl's face softened, regarding each of them with serene, pensive eyes. "Did you know? A heart never stops beating. A person will always live on in other people's hearts, the lives they had touched and those who touched theirs… and you guys really did touch mine. You all gave me so much and never gave up on me. You all have no idea how much that means to me… I know I'm starting to sound horribly sappy and cliché, but you made these days truly the greatest days of my life. Thank you all so much!"

Everyone remained perfectly silent, unsure how to respond and even what to say.

Gray and Julius remained still in their place, their stolid expressions softening and eyes dulling. A tear was evident in Nightmare's single orb while Lorina began crying.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Alice's eyes suddenly grew heavy, slowly lowering over her green orbs. A smile was still on her lips.

Beep…. Beep….

The monitor slowed, quieting to a single stream of beeping. All they could do was watch this girl slip right through their fingers.

Even though Alice was no longer of this earth, no longer present in the physical sense, they all swore they could still hear her heart beating, warming their own hearts with her special light, a light that only came to a select few. Alice had touched their lives in the most mysterious of ways. Her presence gave one a sense of bravery, another optimism, and another a sense that magic was still present in this world.

It was because of one single gift. What they gave her was far more than she never expected, a gift she only once dreamed about.

They had touched her heart with love.


A/N Notes: The end! I hope it was alright. Not sure I liked how it turned out that much. =_=;;

I was thinking of actually considering on ending differently (having Alice actually live instead), but this one struck me more. I don't know. Maybe if I feel like it I might play around with an alternative ending.

Thanks for reading~

(There's also a poll up! Please vote? :])