A/N: I realize that not everyone has the same religious beliefs. Some don't believe in God at all. However, I do believe in Him, and I believe that the events of this story are completely possible. Unlikely, but possible. Now, please enjoy, and remember to leave a review! :D
"I'm sorry," the doctor said in a soft, kind voice. "We've done everything we can do for him. But I think now, it's best to just let him... pass quietly."
Natalie's vision clouded with tears as she and Henry Zetterstrom shared a look. His eyes, too, were wet and pained. She turned to gaze at the still, nearly lifeless form of her boyfriend of barely a month, her best friend of a little over three months, the one thing she loved more than anything else in the world. Keith's eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling slowly with the forced air being pushed into his lungs via oxygen tube. He was pale, like a ghost, and dark circles beneath his eyes made him appear almost skeletal.
They'd started a new round of chemotherapy, giving him one last shot at having a future. But then he'd caught pneumonia, and everything had gone downhill. Now, here he was, in a hospital bed, practically at death's door.
"You're welcome to stay as long as you like," she heard the doctor continue, "but it's very unlikely he'll last through the night."
Henry gave a shaky sob, his face contorted with pain. Natalie didn't feel much better, but she was able to thank the doctor before he left. She took Henry's hand in hers, squeezing it tightly, both seeking and giving comfort. The older man managed to open his eyes, gazing at his son with longing. "I'm so sorry, Keith," he whispered.
Natalie squeezed a little tighter. "Don't blame yourself, Henry," she admonished, her voice surprisingly firm. "There's nothing more you could have done."
"He's my little boy..." he cried.
"And he loves you. He'll always love you. Death won't change that."
Henry collapsed into her arms, crying like a child. They sobbed together for a long time, before Natalie noticed that his crying had ceased, and he was now breathing steadily. She guided the sleeping man to the couch against the wall, putting a thin blanket over him. Then, once he was settled, she pulled a chair close to Keith's bed and sat, taking his hand in both of hers. His skin was cold and clammy against hers, and she knew that his time was close.
"Thanks for everything, partner," she whispered. "You've changed my life. And I love you so much..."
Natalie stopped, suddenly unable to go on. She couldn't say goodbye to him. Not now, not after all they'd been through. It was too painful. Biting her lip to keep the sobs from escaping, she lowered her head, letting it rest on the bed, next to Keith's thigh. For several minutes, she let herself cry, drowning in the grief.
Then, on an impulse, she did something she hadn't done in years.
"Please, God," she breathed through her tears. "Please, just let him live. He doesn't deserve this. Please, just... give him a little more time. Please..."
She continued her pleas in this fashion, while trying desperately to stay awake. But soon, she couldn't fight it any longer, and fell asleep.
The first thing Keith registered was white.
Lots of white.
White so bright that he had to squint for a few seconds to adjust to it.
Then, he saw a man, dressed in a casual suit of the same shade. He was pale, but not sickly, clean-shaven, and had short, dark reddish-brown hair. Keith frowned, wondering who this guy was.
"Hello, Keith," he said, his voice echoing.
"How..." he began, but stopped as it dawned on him. "Are... are you—"
"No," the man shook his head. "Just a messenger. Call me Adam."
"Okay, Adam," Keith said warily. "So, can you tell me where I am?"
"Well, let's put it this way: you're between worlds at the moment."
Keith's frown deepened, then something occurred to him. "I'm dead, aren't I?"
Adam smiled at him. "Not quite. That's why I'm here. I've been instructed to pass something on that the Boss thinks you'd be interested in." He reached into his pocket and produced what looked to be a small tape recorder, then pushed a button.
"Please, God," a familiar voice whispered from the speaker. Keith swallowed hard. Natalie. "Please, just let him live. He doesn't deserve this. Please, just... give him a little more time. Please..."
With a click, the sound was turned off, leaving only silence. Adam looked at Keith, his expression somber. "She's hurting," he stated.
Suddenly angry, Keith yelled, "Well, then why am I here? Why can't I be there with her? This is bull—"
"I'll stop you there," he interrupted. "And if you listen quietly, then I can give you the message I was sent here to deliver. Deal?"
Adam smiled. "This was never supposed to be your time, Keith. All of this has been a test. Do you remember how you felt before you were diagnosed with cancer?"
"Vaguely," he growled, wondering where this was going.
"You didn't care about anything. And when you were diagnosed, you seemed to care even less. That was made obvious by your numerous suicide attempts."
Keith looked away as he recalled one particular episode, in the back of his truck, where he had almost let it go off a cliff. In fact, that had been his intent. He was sure that no one could stop him, not even Natalie. But something in her voice, her frantic, desperate cries, made his heart break just a little bit, so he jumped into the driver's seat and slammed on the brakes. For her.
"And that's where she comes in," Adam said, bringing his attention back to him.
"Natalie?" he asked, frowning.
"That idea of yours, to ruin her life, was planted in your mind."
Keith stared at him. "Excuse me?"
"Don't sound so surprised. God's hand is in everything, even our thoughts and emotions. He likes to let us choose most of the time, but He'll step in when He feels it's necessary, and give us a little push. That's what He did with you. He gave you that idea, knowing that Natalie's presence in your life would help you, show you that there was something worth living for."
He paused for a moment. "Your time will come, Keith. As you like to say, 'Everybody bites it sooner or later.' But believe me, you're not in the 'AP Class.'"
Before he could stop himself, Keith quipped, "I failed the test, didn't I?"
Adam chuckled. "No, Keith. You aced the test. That's why you get to live."
"I do?" he grinned.
"That's actually up to you to decide." As he spoke, a door appeared behind him, and Adam turned. "If you're ready to move on, all we have to do is step through that door, and it'll take us on to the next life. If not," he gestured behind Keith, and he spun around to see a second door, "go through that door, and you'll go back."
"Oh, I'm going back," Keith said firmly, eyeing the door in question.
"I thought so," Adam laughed. "Just be forewarned, you won't remember me, or what has transpired here. Except for this," he added, and Keith looked at him. "If you go back, you must live your life to the fullest. No more childish attempts to end it early. Got it?"
Keith smiled at him. "Not a problem."
Adam laughed again. "You're a good kid, Keith. I'm sure you'll do well in life."
Leaving it at that, Adam turned, walking toward the opposite door. Keith watched him leave, then turned to the door that would lead him back to life. Life. He couldn't wait. Smiling the whole time, he turned the knob...
Natalie drifted slowly into consciousness, memories of the past few days coming back to her one by one. Keith's pneumonia. The doctor's regretful announcement. Her desperate prayer. She almost started crying again, afraid to open her eyes and find out it hadn't worked. Though it wouldn't surprise her.
Then she realized something...
Keith's hand. She was still holding it. And it was warm.
Slowly, Natalie sat up, opening her eyes.
He had regained some color. The dark circles beneath his eyes were still there, but there was a pronounced flush of pink in his cheeks. And the monitor beeped steadily with each beat of his heart, the high-pitched noise declaring his continued life.
"Oh, my God," she breathed, then she raced around the bed, gently shaking Henry's still-sleeping form. "Henry! Henry, wake up!"
He groaned, opening one sleepy eye. "Natalie?" he asked groggily.
She smiled. "Keith's still alive."
It took a moment for this to fully register, then both eyes flew wide open, and he sat up quickly. He looked at Keith, at the monitor, and finally at her. "How...?"
Natalie gave a quiet laugh, tears of joy welling up in her eyes. She went over to the bed, pushing the call button for the nurse repeatedly. A few minutes later, the nurse came in, wearing a sad, remorseful expression, which turned to shock as she saw the evidence of Keith's life. "It can't be," she whispered.
"He's alive," Natalie giggled, unable to contain her excitement.
The nurse continued to gape for a moment, then raced out of the room, returning soon after with the doctor. Everyone was silent as he stared at Keith, his brow furrowed. "It's not possible..."
Natalie, who had been holding Keith's hand, gasped at a sudden movement. His pinkie had twitched. She held her breath, looking at Keith's face, and his eyelids fluttered. The room was still, the air thick with tension and hope, as every eye was trained on the boy who should have been dead. Little by little, more signs of life appeared; his face got some more color, he took a few uneven breaths on his own, and even hummed quietly as he gradually regained consciousness. A few other nurses and doctors had wandered in, whispering to each other.
"It just isn't possible..."
"There's no way..."
"He should be dead..."
Then, after six and a half minutes of confused hope, Keith's eyes opened.
He blinked slowly, tiredly, and his brow furrowed as his vision came into focus. Every person in the room remained silent, watching in awe. Natalie squeezed his hand, and he blinked again. His head moved toward her, then his eyes landed on her face. She gave him a watery smile.
"Partner," he said in a hoarse whisper.
Natalie couldn't speak; she rose from the chair, pressing her lips to his forehead in a tender, careful kiss. When she pulled away, Henry stepped forward, taking Keith's other hand, crying silently.
Keith turned to look at him, and in the same, croaky voice, rasped out, "Dad?"
He sniffed, his lips quivering. "I'm here, son."
It was faint, barely even noticeable, but Natalie was sure she saw him smile.
"My God," a voice said. "It's a miracle."
Over the next several days, Keith's health returned to normal. Before long, he was sitting up on his own, cracking jokes and smirking like his old self. Another chemo appointment was scheduled, and preparations were made for him to return home. The night before his release, Natalie sat in his room, watching him sleep. Henry had left, wanting to clean up the house before he came home, so Natalie offered to stay with him.
She smiled to herself as she watched him breath, slow and steady, without any help from an oxygen mask. He looked the same as ever.
"Y'know," he said suddenly, making her jump, "most people would consider it kinda creepy when someone watches them sleep." He opened one eye, giving her a sly, sideways smirk.
Natalie glared at him. "But you're not asleep, obviously."
He laughed, letting his eye fall closed. "Touché, partner."
"You should be asleep," she chided. "You're going home tomorrow."
"Thank God," he grinned.
"And the doctor said you need to rest."
"I am resting."
Laughing again, he opened both eyes to look at her. "I'll sleep when I'm tired. Right now, I'm not. Believe me, I'm not going to go running around leaving bowling balls on random porches and yards any time soon."
"Good to know," she giggled. He didn't respond, choosing instead just to look at her, and she smiled. "You know, most people think it's creepy when you stare at them."
His expression didn't change, and he didn't bother to look away. Natalie didn't really mind. She loved his eyes. And frankly, she was just grateful he was alive, and able to stare at her. For a while, she'd been afraid she'd never see those piercing green eyes again. But here he was, heart beating, breathing normally, and getting better and better with each passing day.
"Why are you crying, partner?" he asked softly.
She blinked, and realized only then that a tear had escaped and made its way down her cheek. Embarrassed, she wiped it quickly away, glancing down at the floor. "I'm just glad you're alive, is all." Cautiously, she met his eyes again. His expression had softened, and a loving smile graced his lips.
"I'm glad, too."
Natalie couldn't hide her surprise at that. "Really?"
He sighed. "I know I've been a jerk about this whole thing. It's hard to act like you're happy when your life is basically shit. But..." Keith sighed again, obviously having a hard time putting his thoughts into words. He chewed on his lip for a few moments, then his eyes slid back to her. He took a deep breath, and surprised her once again by whispering, "I love you, partner."
Smiling tearfully, she said, "I love you too."
"And... I want to be around to show you that I love you."
Natalie moved to sit on the edge of the bed beside him, then leaned down to press a kiss to his lips. "I like that idea."
The following morning was a happy occasion; Keith was overjoyed to be leaving the hospital, and even more so when Natalie came with his dad to take him home. He adamantly refused to be taken out via wheelchair, despite his nurse's protests, and scared the wits out of several other nurses and patients when he ran down the hall, screaming, "I'm free, I'm free!"
As they came to the door, though, something caught Keith's attention. The janitor was emptying a garbage can nearby. Nothing out of the ordinary, but something about him seemed rather familiar... like he'd seen him before.
The man looked up, brushing a bit of reddish-brown hair away from his face, and smiled. Keith stopped, trying to figure out how he knew him, and then he winked.
He jumped, as if being brought from a trance, and looked at Natalie. "Yeah?"
"Yeah, I just thought I—" He had turned to point out the mysterious janitor to her, but he was gone, and so was the trash can he'd emptied. Keith looked around wildly, spinning around in an attempt to find him. But he was nowhere to be seen.
Natalie put a hand on his arm. "You sure you're all right?"
He frowned, puzzled, but shook his head. It wasn't really important. "Yep," he said, smiling at her. "Come on, let's go! Can't be wasting my freedom, can I?"
The happy trio left the hospital with bright hopes for the future. And somewhere, in a hidden alcove of the large building, a man with reddish-brown hair, dressed in a suit of white, proudly smiled down on them. Sometimes, he thought, it really pays to be a guardian angel.
A/N: I just want you to know, I bawled like a baby the whole time I was writing this story. Even so, I'm not so sure about the ending. But I'm glad it's finished. What do you think? PLEASE LEAVE A REVIEW!