A/N: Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for all of your kind words. They mean so much to me. Sorry this chapter took so long. For some reason, it was very hard to write and I got stupendously stuck. I am still not very happy with it. It feels a little flat to me but I wanted to get something posted. All the veterinarian stuff came from my emergency veterinarian medicine/equine reproduction binder and that is about the extent on my knowledge of equine scapular fractures. I do know all about (figuratively speaking) how painful a compression fracture in the thoracic/lumbar region is but I have never punctured a lung so I may have taken some liberties there. Obviously, this story is AU and I am ignoring some events from the show such as Ty's potential proposal and Mallory's relocation. As usual, I have done nothing besides quickly skim over this for major errors. All mistakes found are mine but if you point anything major out, I will fix it. Once again, thank you for reading and I hope that you like it.
There is a nurse who comes in the depths of night to check the various beeping machines. She is grey haired and sturdy with stories etched deep into her forehead and soft fingers that move soundlessly in her routines. It is her third night in the hospital, the first night after reducing her morphine intake, when she learns the nurse's name is Addie. Ty is still curled in the recliner by her bed and Lou is on the little cot they set up by the window so they exchange pleasantries in barely there whispers. Amy doesn't talk, not really, but she listens to the buzz of Addie's honey-soft stories that flow from a worn smile. Addie never asks what a girl like her is doing laying prone in a hospital. She asks about how she is feeling, about her level of comfort, then offers up stories and talks her back into sleep. Those nights that Addie can stay for a while in whispers, Amy sleeps until morning. She is grateful for Addie and her stories.
Nobody talks about Carmen. Then again, Amy doesn't ask about her either. They don't talk about the farm or what happened to the other horses that were in her care. She can guess and doesn't ask. Her family, both blood and extended, have never been good with fragile conversations. They tread soft around them and build calluses that can withstand the burden of protecting what needs to be protected. She is a fragile thing now and no one knows how to handle her. She can pretend that way so she let's them shape the conversation into their forced version of optimism. It is five days after her accident, right after her doctor says that she is going to be released sometime tomorrow evening, that Caleb comes and shoos everyone away so that they can repair their zombie-white expressions. He lounges in the seat, dusty black hat in his lap and spurs still attached to his muddy boots, and stares at her.
"How're you doing, Amy?" He finally asks in his lazy drawl.
She is allowed to be in a reclined position now so she turns towards the other wall and shrugs. These questions always seem to be so self-evident so she has stopped answering them and let's her family, the doctor, talk around her silence.
Caleb waits patiently, runs a hand through his curls, and laughs. "I guess that's a stupid question."
Amy doesn't smile much these days but, this time, she lets a slow wince of one slip through and meets his eyes. Like everyone else, he looks like someone who has been dragged through hell - all sleepless eyes and ragged complexion. He places his hat upside down onto the ground, leans his forearms on his knees, and steeples his fingers.
"Did you know," he starts slow, forehead knitted as if contemplating the exact words, "that Lynn McCleary showed Grand Prix on Elsa in the late eighties. She was long listed for the '88 Olympics in Seul, South Korea but the mare suffered a small tear in her flexor tendon that ended her Olympic campaign. The mare came back, of course, but was retired prior to the next cycle."
Of course, Amy knew the whiplash of a lady. In her seventies now, she still bred sport horses some of which have made it to the big leagues. Carmen was one of her hopefuls. The mare's mangled body, the imagine she concocted in her head late at night when sleep evades of broken necks and twisted legs, flashes in her mind. She has repressed these images and let her mind settle on the blank walls around her (save for the overly cheerful get well cards she has yet to read and the mockingly bright bouquet). She can still see how proud Carmen was, how she moved with the slinky power of a performer, and how she attacked work with a single minded ferocity. Like Amy, she loved the challenge."
"I know, Caleb." Amy says tipping her head away from him. "Mrs, McCleary sent her to us."
"Well," Caleb continues reclining in the chair once more, "she is pretty attached to the mare. Had big plans for her and -"
Amy snaps her head back to face him ignoring the fingertips of pain that traces along her spine. "What are you doing Caleb? I know the accident was my fault. I should have backed off instead of over facing her. If I had stopped before it escalated to that point she would still be alive and I wouldn't be here. You do not need to tell me that, Caleb."
"Alive?" Caleb asks, eyebrows drawing together. "Oh Amy, they didn't put Carmen down. What I was going to say was that if we can keep her still, which could be more than a major challenge, her shoulder should heal in 3-4 months. After another few months of pasture time and light work, she should be ready to come back."
"Don't lie to me - wait. What?" She says stopping herself as she tries to sort through the information she was just given.
"Hold on, I had Scott write everything down." He stands and digs his hand into a front pocket of his jeans. "She has what is called a nondisplaced supraglenoid tubercle fracture to the scapula with little joint involvement. Scott went in and cleaned out the debris and applied a small internal fixation. Carmen came out of the surgery fine and is resting at the equine surgery unit until she is safe to transport. They also found bone chips in her hock; however, with the amount of scar tissue they found, they think that the bone chips are an older injury and, possibly, the reason she had problems jumping out of combinations. Scott removed those, as well, and she will need to be maintained with joint injections but those are minimally invasive."
Amy sinks back into the bed, head reeling with the information. "The extra stress on her hocks from the combinations probably jostled the bone chips enough to make it painful. God, Ty asked if it was her hocks when she first came to Heartland."
Caleb leans forward both hands grasping hers. "None of this was your fault. There is a good chance that those bone chips would not have shown up on an x-ray. You couldn't have known that she was hurting. She is a tough mare. She is going to pull through as long as she doesn't kill us first."
"So," Amy says slow removing her hand from under his, "she is coming back to Heartland?"
"Yes, ma'am." He sits back and crosses his arms defiantly. "Mrs. McCleary thinks that it is the best for the mare and we agreed with her."
"Don't get me wrong," Amy starts, eyes closing. She swallows hard. "I am glad
that Carmen is going to be fine and that she still has a future but I don't want anything to do with the mare."
He stands, hat cradled between both hands. "Well its a good thing it isn't your decision. Now I have a cross tie and sling system to set up so I need to get going."
Footsteps echo loud in the little room as he strides towards the door before hesitating. "I know you are upset, Amy, but this is the right decision."
The door swishes closed and she lets herself cry.
The physical therapists are warmly efficient as they cultivate small talk while fitting the restrictive brace around her torso. The brace is a dull gun metal gray with a rigid spine, two small pads push the front of each shoulder backwards, a thick strap below her ribs which holds her core firm, and bracing pelvic pad. It is bulky, rigid, and forces her to walk in a tight, crab-like shuffle. She can feel the concussion of every shuffle-step she takes across the physio floor even as the brace renders her spine immobile. Two side support walkers, both broad men with crew cuts and permanent smiles glued to their faces, hover as she makes a slow turn and starts the journey back to the pony-tailed brunette at the end of the room. The shush-shush of her slippers on the carpet is a slow metronome and her breath clings in sharp pinches inside her chest. She hates it.
The preppy brunette stops her at the end of the room with both hands on her shoulders and a too bright smile. "Good job, Amy. I think you have had enough for today."
One of the support walkers, whose name may or may not be Chad, helps lower her back into the wheel chair and she let's him do most of the work.
"Now remember," the therapist continues once she is settled, "the brace stays on at all times unless you are sleeping or in the shower and keep any extraneous movement to a minimum so that you do not stress your lungs or your back."
Amy nods her understanding as she melts into the chair. She can feel fatigue pulling behind her eyes and her body feels rubbery, used. Other things are said, she is sure of it, but she hears nothing else.
Her grandpa is sleeping in the recliner in the far corner when she blinks awake in the weak evening light. He looks older, breakable, when he is asleep and there is something in his stillness that makes her sad. He shifts, mumbling something unintelligible, and she turns away not wanting to look at the vulnerability in his body any more. A page turns next to her and she shifts again so she can study the presence by her side. She knows it is Ty before she can see any part of him. She knows how he feels besides her. Knows the pattern of his breath and the feeling of his eyes on her. She shivers as his focus shifts away from the textbook in his lap to land on her. His face is partially hidden in shadows. They sharpen his cheekbones; settle in the hollows of his face, which have grown more pronounced through the week. He studies the length of her, eyes dark, and says nothing when she inches to the far side of the bed and pats the space she created.
"Amy," he whispers glancing quickly over his shoulder. "We can't."
She exhales, eyes bright. "Please, Ty."
He stares at her, still and quiet, before toeing off his shoes and curving around her in the small space. Lips brush her hairline softly, a warm reassurance, as he settles in place.
"Thank you," she breathes into the crevice of his neck and falls back asleep to the feeling of his fingers tracing up and down her side.
Homecoming is an anti-climatic ache, grey clouded and dreary. Exaggerated enthusiasm hovers like humidity in the air and she gives a cursory glance at the welcome home banner before shakes off both Ty and her granddad's attempts of helping her up the stairs. She step-pauses her way into the kitchen and then the living room gasping for breath as pain twists a knife in her back and her restricted ribs pulse red-hot. Dizziness rolls over her as she lowers herself cautiously down onto the couch. Nausea swims over her as the room tilts and crashes into black spots. Voices are distant, unimportant, as they echo against the roaring in her ears. Eyes closing, a cool hand brushes across her forehead, and she drifts into darkness.
When she wakes, the room is dark and she is in her bed with a quilt pulled up to her chin. A low rumble of conversation diffuses through the floorboards and she listens to it rise and fall in its natural rhythm. Her body is a quiet thrum of tension but she can deal with that as she swings her legs over the side of her bed. Vertigo dissipates slowly but steadily. Legs wobble when she pushes to her feet and shuffles uncoordinated over to her window. She can't see much in the moonless night but she squints and makes out the shape of the barn. The pitched roof fades into the darkness save for the faint glow of light seeping out of the big sliding door. The barn is old, well used, with paint peeling slightly on the trim (she and Mallory were supposed to paint it but never found the time), and a couple of its windows sag a little on their hinges. When she closes her eyes, she can hear the crunch and shuffle of contentment and smell the sweet dustiness that clings to everything. It makes her headache and she leans heavily against the windowsill. The door moans behind her. The pasture line is a twisting slow fade she traces with her finger. He smells like soap and familiarity as he slots himself behind her and wraps a tentative arm around her waist. The solidness of his body anchors her upright and she sags back against him. He absorbs her weakness, readily and easily.
Warm air puffs over the shell of her ear. "Come on, Amy, let's get you to bed."
A slow, shuffle, she turns in his arms. His fingers trail over cloth and plastic adjusting to the foreign ridges as he guides her around and pulls her close to stop the tipping momentum. They sway together and she clutches fabric, white knuckled and desperate.
"Easy, Amy," he whispers, lips grazing her temple lightly. "You're ok. Everything is going to be alright."
A breath stutters in the back of her throat. Ty holds her steady, breathes deep and evenly, as she shakes in his arms. It takes awhile but they take the ten or so steps to her bed in small increments. She bites her lip to keep from groaning when he lowers her to a sitting position. Everything tilts, swims, in front of her and she swallows down the sickness that threatens to take over. Nimble fingers work quickly to remove the brace before easing her down into the nest of pillows and tucking the quilt around her.
"Don't leave," she mumbles as he presses a slow, sweet kiss to her forehead.
"Never," he promises slipping into bed besides her. Fingers card through her hair as she presses closer into his warmth. "Sleep, Amy, just sleep."
She hums lightly, nosing at the thin cotton of his t-shirt, and stills.