Something must have softened in his expression because Trustfund gave him a weak smile, gesturing at Ethan’s temple.
“…You’re a healer?”
“Yes,” said Ethan, holding out his hand, “I’m a cardiothoracic surgeon here. I was part of the team looking after your sister.”
Trustfund shook his hand.
“Javier,” he said, mouth twisting in a very handsome picture of self deprecation, “I apologise for…I didn’t mean that you…is she going to be alright? No one’s told me anything.”
“She should be transferred to ICU soon,” said Ethan, shifting so they weren’t in the way of the doors.
Javier followed, straight-backed in a way that reminded Ethan of the military doctors. He moved with neat, economical steps.
“She came in about an hour and a half ago, with a bullet wound through the lung,” said Ethan, “but we were able to stabilise her. It was touch and go for a bit, and we had to take her to an operating room. She’s a firestarter?”
“Great. As you might know, conventional anaesthetics often interact with Aptitudes in different ways, and so it was safer and quicker for me to assist. She will be on dampeners for now, and it might be a little while before she wakes up.”
“I understand,” said Javier, a little hoarse.
He was standing just a shy too close for comfort, eyes flickering from Ethan to the door behind him and then back again. Javier kept fiddling with his cuffs, worrying at the absence of cufflinks. He wore an old fashioned watch on his right wrist. It bore fingerprint smudges on its face, like rosaries after prayer.
Curiously, Ethan could feel the underlying current of worry, sharp and visceral at the back of his mouth. It seemed second-hand somehow, but smoothed over any irritation he might have had. He made a mental note to himself in Vegas’ best sardonic voice: avoid exhaustion, affects apathy.
“I managed to regenerate the damaged apical segments, so she should not have any lingering issues in terms of lung capacity,” said Ethan, “but we need to keep her here to monitor her condition. Her heart stopped briefly.”
“Her…” Javier trailed off, pressing both hands to his face.
Ethan could see the corner of his lip, twisted tight and trembling.
“It’s not a good idea to move her anywhere right now. We’re a level one trauma centre, she’ll be in a special ICU ward to make sure her Aptitude doesn’t cause any danger to herself or others. This is a very capable — ”
“I want to see her,” said Javier, dragging one hand hard across his eyes, “please. The surgery is done right? That’s why you came out to get me?”
Ethan let out a very long breath.
“I’ll have someone fetch you as soon as she’s settled,” said Ethan.
He turned to step away. Javier grabbed him by the wrist, and there was a jolt behind Ethan’s breastbone; like a shot of adrenaline but bright at the front of his vision. Ethan blinked rapidly, eyes inexplicably wet.
What the fuck.
He tried to pull back. Javier held on.
“No, you’ll take me to see her right now,” he said.
Ethan pointedly looking down at his hand, then back up at Javier. There was an awkward pause.
The man let go.
“I understand you’re upset,” said Ethan, slowly, “but she may still be in theatre. Things can’t be interrupted, it’s not safe. Please take a seat and I’ll —”
“Why are you here if she’s still in surgery?” Javier demanded, jaw working and eyes darting to the door, “I thought you said she’s stable. You’re the healer, you should be there with her!”
Ethan had heard much worse, but the words made the aftertaste of failure all the more sour. He had never fainted during an operation before.
“I don’t trust the security here,” said Javier, switching tact so fast it gave Ethan whiplash, “my sister just got shot, and I’m scared that someone is going to…I just need to see her. Please. I’ll keep out of your way.”
Perhaps the inexplicable urge to sob was simply due to exhaustion, thought Ethan. He held Javier’s gaze for a long moment. Up close, the resemblance with his sister was uncanny: the same severe features, the same eyes, the same arching brow. Ethan wondered if Javier was a fire starter as well. Perhaps he would explode something if Ethan didn’t take him to ICU.
“You’re not a firestarter too, are you?” he asked, bluntly.
“No,” he said, “and even if I was, you can’t ban me from seeing my sister.”
Ethan was really sick of being told what he could and could not do by a walking-talking Trustfund.
“Actually,” he said, acidly, “I can. Would you like a demonstration?”
Javier stared at him. He was doing this a lot. Eventually, he seemed to relocate his power of speech:
“…I apologise. I’m a little….it’s been a long night. Being here,” he gestured at the others waiting, “and downstairs in the ER I thought the worst. I just want to see her.”
Ethan considered him; the earnest gaze and unsteady fingers.
Ethan let out a breath.
“Just because you…this isn’t about asking me nicely,” he said, exasperated, “look, I can take you up to the ICU lobby, and I’ll ask Trauma how long she’ll be.”
Javier ran a hand through his hair, and nodded.
“Thank you,” he said, words bookending a shaky exhale, “I…thanks.”
Ethan just gave a half shrug and turned, making his way across the length of the waiting room towards the lifts. Javier followed like a shadow, long strides clipped so they walked shoulder to shoulder. Absently, Ethan noticed the other man wasn’t wearing any socks. He slid his phone from his pocket and pressed through to the ICU nurse.
“Just checking that Mr Lim’s firestarter is not going through post op,” said Ethan, glancing at Javier, “…alright. Good. I’m bringing her brother upstairs now.”
Desperate family members were not an unusual sight at the hospital, but Javier was oscillating so much between tearful worry and shrewd solicitousness that Ethan wondered if he was about to have a melt down. As they waited for the lift, a nurse passed, ushering a woman into one of the private rooms branching off the waiting area. They disappeared from view.
Then, apropos of nothing, Javier flinched so violently that his elbow hit the wall.
Ethan stared at him.
“Are you alright?”
Out of sight, a sudden wail of someone sobbing; muffled by concrete and glass.
Javier was staring through the pastel wall, knuckles white around his left wrist. Ethan looked towards the wall as well, unease unfurling in his stomach. There was nothing there. But before he could say anything else, the lift chimed to arrival.
The abrupt appearance of nurses seemed to snap Javier out of his daze.
“Sorry,” he said, flashing Ethan an unconvincing smile as he stepped past into the lift, “…hospitals stress me out.”
Ethan followed, punching in the next floor up for ICU.
“Getting this sort of news can be hard,” said Ethan, carefully averting his gaze.
They stepped out together, and Ethan led them down a wide sweeping walkway framed by dark windows. He stopped by the first chair he saw, took Javier by the elbows and sat him firmly down.
Ethan pulled out his stethoscope.
“Uh,” said Javier.
“Take a deep breath for me,” said Ethan.
Javier did as he was told. Ethan pressed two fingers to the pulse at his throat, and held it there under the guise of counting. A healer’s aptitude was geared towards the physical, but often there were physical ramifications of whatever was going on. Ethan frowned, looking away from a distracting gaze, sharp and hazel.
Elevated pulse, he thought, and shallow breathing, but that wasn’t unusual. No obstructions, no unusual temperature, nothing struggling.
“What are you doing?” said Javier, “I thought we were going to the ICU.”
Ethan could feel the deep bruises that ran along one knee and around the hip, torn blisters on the feet and the tender fray of a calf muscle. No injection sites. He lifted his hand away when a migraine pulsed warningly behind his left eye.
“Are you taking any medications?” he asked, pulling out a pen light and shining it briefly into Javier’s eyes, “or other substances?”
Javier raised an eyebrow.
“Just painkillers. Headache,” he said, “…what’s this about?”
Ethan folded his arms.
“Only a little concerned,” he said, “what kind of painkillers? Were you drinking?”
Javier let out an aborted laugh.
“Was I — ? No. Look, I got call telling me to get here because my sister got shot, so I’m not exactly acting my best right now,” he said, “but I haven’t ingested any illegal substances, rest assured.”
Ethan narrowed his eyes.
“I didn’t say illegal.”
Javier dragged a hand down his face.
“Look, you can do a blood test or scan whatever later, but may I please see Rina?”
Ethan tilted his head.
“I don’t need scans,” he said, though that wasn’t strictly true. He gestured at his monitor. “I’ll know.”
“Do you also know that you have blood all over your…“ Javier tapped his own jaw.
Ethan’s hand went reflexively to his chin, and it came away with rust. Vegas, he remembered. Great, he had been wandering around the waiting room covered in blood. Very reassuring. Ethan sighed, stepping back so Javier could get up.
“Occupational hazard,” he muttered, pushing open the double doors and taking them through the waiting room that sat adjacent to the ICU wards.
A nurse sporting a dark ponytail came down the corridor to meet him. His familiar face broke into a wide grin at the sight of them.
“Hey Paul,” said Ethan, “I was in OR 5 with Lim. Firestarter?”
“Ethan, Ethan, Ethan,” said Paul, smacking a tablet against Ethan’s elbow, “Holly told me I had better not see you up here, or else!”
Ethan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. At this point, he was so tired he was wide awake.
“They just got her settled,” said Paul, “standard dampeners and local, but that’s it for now.”
“Is she going to be okay?” asked Javier, his whole body drawn tight as if he was going to try bolt down the corridor.
Paul glanced at Ethan.
“Brother,” Ethan said by way of explanation.
“Yeah, I figured,” said Paul, “she’s stable at the moment, probably thanks to Doctor Magic-Hands over here —”
“Yes, thank you Paul,” said Ethan, taking Javier by the elbow and walking them the rest of the way towards the Aptee ICU wards.
“Do you need me?” said Paul, sounding like he had five coffees in a row.
“No, thank you,” called Ethan.
Like the containment bays downstairs, these rooms had no windows. Ethan knocked loudly, before scanning his pass and opening the door. Javier took one look at the figure lying on the bed and made a sound like he too had been shot through the lung.
He barreled past Ethan, coming to an unsteady stop at the side of the bed, hands hovering like he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to touch. Ethan took quick stock of the various IV lines, the ventilator mask, the suppressor bands around her upper arms next to her blood-pressure cuff and the neck brace.
“She’s had her ribs reset,” said Ethan gently, “and several large incisions, so be careful. But you can hold her hand, it’ll be okay.”
Javier ignored the chair on the other side of the bed, sinking to his knees so he could hold his sister’s right hand in both of his own. He pressed the back of her knuckles to his mouth, head bowed, knuckles white and eyes squeezed shut.
“Rina, Rina,” he was saying, over and over, “thank god you’re — I thought…I thought maybe –“
Inexplicably, Javier was fumbling at his watch strap with shaking fingers. He let it drop to the floor with a careless clack that made Ethan wince, but something in Javier’s expression immediately loosened; clutching his sister’s hand like a life-line.
He was crying, lips white from swallowing back the sound, face scrunched up. Side by side, they looked like photographs of each other, taken worlds apart.
“I’m going to kill him for leaving you there,” Javier murmured, barely audible, “can you hear me? I’m here. I’m here now.”
It was a moment before Ethan realised with alarm that his own eyes were wet. He forcibly shook himself, checking over the display at the end of the bed and the steady blink of the machines along the wall. He kept well clear of bare skin.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” Javier was saying, words bound tight and heavy to each other, dragging him down as he sagged against the unyielding bed-frame, “I’m here, you’re okay, you’re…god, don’t leave me, please, I don’t know what I’d… I’m here. I’m here. I’m here now.”
Crouching slowly so that he wouldn’t startle anyone, Ethan picked up the watch and slipped it into Javier’s coat pocket. Javier looked up at him, eyes red and hair a mess.
“…thanks,” he managed.
Then, “do you know when she’ll wake up?”
“Probably not for another few hours,” said Ethan, “I had to regenerate part of her lung and she’ll need a lot of time to recover from the surgery. Her ribs had to be reconstructed.”
“Can’t you just heal her?” asked Javier, still on his knees, looking for all the world like a man at prayer.
Ethan shuffled his feet, uncomfortable to be standing.
“I’m sorry,” he said honestly, turning so Javier could see the red light on his monitor, “I’ve been in back to back surgeries all night and she was really touch and go. I was regenerating a lot, just to keep her alive for the surgery. I’ll pass out if I try anything right now.”
“Then call someone else,” said Javier, staring at his sister’s face, “surely —”
“I’m the only Healer here at the moment,” said Ethan.
“Then have someone come in,” said Javier, eyes wild, “she’s going to be in unnecessary pain when you could just heal the —”
Ethan pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Listen,” he began.
“You cannot be the only healer on call. I’m having her moved.”
Aaaand they were back at square one, thought Ethan, incredulous.
“Are you kidding m— she is not going anywhere,” said Ethan, “you’ll put her in serious jeopardy. Do you want to take that risk?”
“You said she was stable!”
“For now,” said Ethan, “here, where we can keep monitoring her in a stable environment —”
“I want a bloody healer who can do their job,” snapped Javier.
Ethan stared. Then he pulled out his phone, still holding Javier’s gaze, which was rapidly turning guilty.
“Hi. Paul? Can you send someone into ward 3A. Yes, yourself is fine. No, she’s still doing okay, I need to speak to you about…future care plans.”.
Javier stood up, one hand still around his sister’s wrist.
“It’s not just about getting a healer,” he said, jaw tight, “I don’t trust the security here.”
Ethan glared right back.
“I’m not letting you put my patient in danger,” he said, feeling sick to the chest: get out of my OR, you’re no good to me like this.
“Not after I regenerated half a lung. She suffered a cardiac tamponade. I had to keep her heart beating in my hand while I she was hemorrhaging from six places, and moving her would only —”
There was a rap at the door.
“Everything okay in here, Doctor Faulkner?” said Paul, opening the door.
His smile faded at whatever expression Ethan was wearing. Javier looked very pale.
“Fine,” said Ethan, and spoke fast in an attempt to steady the tremor in his voice: “this gentleman here wants to transfer the patient. He has concerns with security and my competency as a healer. I do not authorise this transfer, her condition is too delicate. Make sure she stays here. He can take it up with Mr Lim in the morning, once visitor hours resume. If she doesn’t wake up in the next two or three hours, redo the neuro and check her scans. ”
“…righto,” said Paul, “noted.”
“Look I didn’t mean —” Javier started, but Ethan cut him off with a shake of his head.
“No, ” he said, desperate to leave the room; a sour pressure, alien against his ribcage.
Perhaps the exhaustion was really messing with his head. He took a deep breath.
“I apologise for my outburst,” said Ethan, “I understand you want the best for your sister. I’m sorry I can’t do more right now but what’s best for Rina is to stay here. You can bring in another Healer if you’d like, but she’s not moving tonight.”
“That’s not…” Javier ran a hand through his hair again, “ …I’m…of course I’m grateful for —”
“I don’t do this for gratitude,” said Ethan sharply.
His fingers curled around an empty weight. He felt a little sick. What if he had passed out on that gurney? She would have died before they reached the OR.
“Sorry,” Ethan said, colourless, “I think I should go. Paul, can you…”
“I’ve got it, don’t worry,” said the nurse, “you’re almost three hours over – go home.”
“Wait,” Javier tried again.
“Please get some rest,” said Ethan.
He hesitated, hand on the door.
“And don’t take any more…painkillers.”
© Frances Wren 2019, all rights reserved.