"Where are you? Are you at the hospital?"
"I'm on my way. I'll be there as soon as I can." He quickly changed out of his uniform, jumped into his car and sped to the hospital, praying that Mitch would be okay. A half-hour later he arrived at the Emergency Room. As he entered the waiting area Cameron flew into his arms crying hysterically. He hugged her tightly. "I'm here, Cameron" He said softly, not saying the usual platitudes of 'he's going to be okay' and stuff like that. After a few minutes she calmed down. "Have they told you anything yet?"
"No, other than he's critical and they don't think he's going to live."
"Oh, God, Cameron, I'm so, so sorry. This is all my fault."
She pulled away from him slightly. "How is this in any way your fault?"
"When I woke up this morning, there was a note on the nightstand from Mitch which basically wished me luck on my exams."
"So what does that have to do with the accident being your fault?"
Aaron wouldn't look her in the eyes. Blushing, he responded. "This is kind of embarrassing." He rubbed his hand across his face. "At some point during the night I kicked the covers off me." He paused trying to figure out his next words. In a quiet voice he continued. "I woke up on my back. I-I-I was hard, and the head of my dick was sticking out of my underwear. I'm sure he saw it and was bothered by it, being straight and all. I don't know of any straight guy who wouldn't be bothered by being alone in a bedroom with a gay guy whose dick was hard and exposed. I never meant for that to happen. I'm…I'm…I'm so sorry, Cameron." He buried his face in his hands as the tears started to fall.
She sat down next to him and put her arm around his shoulders. "Aaron, you have nothing to apologize for. You..." she began.
He jerked away as if her touch burned him. "How can you say that? How can you even stand to touch me? You took me into your home. You and Mitch have both gone out of your way to help me, and this is how I repay you, by possibly getting your fiancé killed." He was so filled with self-loathing he couldn't stand himself.
"Aaron, you were asleep. It was really hot last night. You are a young, healthy male. You show me one guy, gay, straight or bi that can intentionally stop themselves from getting an erection in the morning, especially when he's asleep."
"Still nothing" She interrupted. "Mitch watched plenty of porn when he was younger. The sight of another guy's hard-on wouldn't upset him. The only way it would have is if you had stripped naked and made a pass at him which a, you wouldn't have and b, you were asleep so you couldn't have."
"Ah, there's something you need to know about the first night I stayed with you guys." He said, nervously. She looked at him puzzled. "The next morning when he came out of the bathroom as I was going in, I kinda checked him out. I'm sorry. It's just a natural reaction for me. I didn't mean anything by it." He said, his words rushing out of his mouth.
To his surprise, she laughed. "The only time he doesn't get checked out at least three to four times a day by both men and women is when he stays home all day. Aaron, we don't know what happened. It could have been someone driving drunk or speeding or falling asleep at the wheel or a dozen other reasons. There is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt. You were not responsible. Stop blaming yourself."
A doctor came into the waiting room. "Is there someone here for Mitchell Lewis?" She asked. Cameron immediately approached her. "Are you a family member?"
"No, I'm his fiancé. All of his family lives on the mainland."
"And your name is?"
The doctor consulted the chart in her hands. "He has you listed as next of kin. Please, let's sit down." She took a seat next to Aaron. "Miss Carothers" she began, glancing at Aaron "wouldn't you rather sit somewhere more private? No offense intended towards you, sir" She said to Aaron.
"It's okay Doctor. This is Aaron Suarez. He's a close friend. Whatever you have to say, I want him to hear it as well. I'd be telling it all to him anyway and I'd rather he heard it straight from you."
"Okay. I'm not going to lie to you. He's in critical condition, but he's somewhat stable. He has numerous internal injuries and has lost a lot more blood than we would have liked. It's going to be touch-and-go for the next few days. Quite frankly, the head injury is what worries us the most. We can't even do a CT scan or MRI because it's not safe to move him at the moment although his EEG shows normal brain activity for someone in his condition. There is one other thing. His blood alcohol level was 0.23, way over the legal limit. I'm so sorry. I wish I had better news. If anything changes, I'll let you know."
"Can we see him?" she asked in a voice choked with emotion.
"Not yet. I'll have someone contact you as soon as he's stable enough and we can move him into the ICU." Barely holding it together, Cameron thanked the doctor who nodded and left. Suddenly Aaron made a mad dash to the men's room where he barely made it into a stall in time to empty his stomach. Full of self-recrimination, he sat on the toilet and cried. This is all my fault. What do I do now? How to I make it up to them? Ten minutes later he exited the men's room and almost knocked Cameron down as she was standing just outside the door.
"Aaron, are you okay?"
He turned away from her and started literally beating his head against the wall, calling himself every vile name he could think of.
"Aaron, stop it. This isn't helping Mitch." He turned and looked at Cameron, his eyes dull and haunted. He slammed his head back against the wall one last time and slowly slid to the floor, unconscious. Cameron ran and got a nurse who immediately called for help, a gurney and a doctor.
"What happened?" Doctor Adamson asked as she examined the unconscious man and wrote out the orders for a head and neck CT scan. In a very short time Aaron was whisked to Radiology.
"I'm not really sure. Right after we spoke with you about Mitch's condition he suddenly ran into the bathroom. When he came out, he started hitting his head against the wall, calling himself all sorts of bad names and holding himself responsible for Mitch's accident."
"Is there any way he could be to blame? Were they out drinking together?"
"No. He was on duty at the Air Force base when it happened. I know because when I got the call about Mitch, I called him. When I couldn't get him on his cell, I called his work number and got a hold of him there."
"Did they have any kind of argument?"
"Then why do you think he feels responsible?" the doctor asked, trying to figure out what was motivating Aaron's behavior.
Do I tell her or not? If I'm not careful, it could be the end of Aaron's career in the military. "Doctor, can we keep this strictly between us, you know, doctor-patient sort of thing?"
"Well, he's currently my patient, so anything you tell me concerning his behavior will fall under doctor-patient confidentiality.
"Okay." She proceeded to tell her everything that Aaron had told her, leaving out only the part about Aaron being gay.
"So you think that he was intentionally harming himself out of guilt?"
"I'm not sure it was intentional. I think he was trying to punish himself because he believed he was responsible for Mitch's accident, and hearing that he might die made him believe that he would be directly responsible for his…" she broke off, unable to speak the word 'death'. "Anyway, it would go against his strongest beliefs."
"And what would those beliefs be?"
"That all human life is sacred and must be protected at all costs. He's an extremely dedicated Firefighter and would literally give his own life to protect the lives of others."
"Ah, I see. That explains his behavior. If he's as dedicated to his beliefs as you say he is, then believing himself to be the cause of another person's death, however untrue that might be, would tear him apart, make himself doubt himself and his convictions."
"That would certainly fit the Aaron I know."
As they were talking a very groggy Aaron was wheeled back into the ER. "I believe a talk with one of the psychologists would be helpful. Thank you for your help, Miss Carothers. If you will excuse me, I need to check on him and see what the tests revealed." She left and consulted the reports from the Radiologist. Before going to talk with Aaron she asked for an update on Mitch's condition. "Mister Suarez I'm Doctor Adamson. How are you feeling?"
"I have the mother of all headaches."
"I'm not surprised. We'll get you something for that shortly. You have a concussion. We're going to admit you for overnight observation. If you'll give me the number to your superiors we'll let them know where you are." She caught the stricken look on Aaron's face. "Don't worry, son. We'll tell them that you hit your head and was knocked unconscious. Keeping you overnight is standard procedure for a head injury that results in a concussion and the loss of consciousness. Miss Carothers explained to me what happened this morning and there are two questions I must ask you." She noted how Aaron's face turned deathly pale. "Did you have an argument with Mister Lewis, an argument of any kind?"
"Were the two of you out drinking together earlier?"
"No. Cameron –Miss Carothers– called me at work and told me what happened to Mitch uh, Mister Lewis."
"Then, despite whatever you may think to the contrary, you are not responsible for his accident. However, I think you need to talk to someone about it, so I'm going to ask one of the staff psychologists to stop in and talk with you in the morning. Just talk, that's all. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go have the nurse give you something for the headache and get you admitted." As the Doctor reached the door, she turned back to Aaron. "Oh and by the way, Mister Lewis' condition is improving. We'll be moving him soon to the ICU."
"So he's going to make it?
"We're cautiously optimistic. It's still too soon to say with any certainty."
"Thank you, Doctor."
Shortly after Aaron was settled into his room his station Chief knocked on the doorframe. "Aaron, may I come in?"
"I got a call from the hospital telling me you were here and I wanted to stop by and see how you are doing."
"Thanks for coming by, Chief. I'm doing okay. They're only keeping me overnight for observation and letting me go tomorrow."
"Why are they keeping you? What happened?" The Chief asked, concern showing in his face.
"After I got the call that my girlfriend's cousin was in an accident and was critical, I rushed over here. When I ran from the parking lot, I wasn't watching where I was going, tripped and hit my head on one of the columns and knocked myself out, giving myself a concussion. I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean for this to happen. I was only thinking about getting to my girlfriend as quickly as I could."
"But you're okay other than the concussion?"
"Yeah, keeping me overnight is standard operating procedure."
"Good. I'm glad you're okay. I'm sure you have quite the headache."
"That's the understatement of the millennium. It feels like my head is in a vise and someone keeps tightening it."
"How's your girlfriend holding up?"
"Not well. She and her cousin are extremely close. If he dies, she'll be beyond devastated." Well, at least the part about Cameron being devastated is the truth. It bothered him to lie to his Chief, but if he told the complete truth, he'd probably get kicked out of the Air Force. His last station Chief was okay with him being gay, but he was pretty sure his current Chief wouldn't be.
"Okay, well, I'll let you get some rest. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call the station." He gripped Aaron's shoulder in a caring gesture.
"Thanks Chief. I'm sorry that my carelessness is going to leave you shorthanded at the station."
"Don't worry about it. We've got everything covered. You just get better. If you need a ride back to base, call me."
"Thanks, Chief, but I'll be okay. See you tomorrow." The Chief took his leave and headed out.
Shortly after he left, Iukekini came in. "Baby!" he exclaimed as he pulled Aaron into a fierce hug, tears flowing down his cheeks.
"Can't…breathe" Aaron croaked.
"Oh, God, I'm so sorry. Are you okay? When Cameron called me I was so scared. What happened?"
As Aaron told him about Mitch, tears fell down both their faces. "I don't know what I'll do if Mitch dies, or is paralyzed or has brain damage or something because of the accident. It's all my fault."
"No, baby, no." Iukekini said gently. "You're not responsible. If what you said was true, Mitch obviously has some issues he needed to work through. He just did it the wrong way."
"I don't know how I'm going to make this all up to Cameron and Mitch."
Cameron chose that moment to walk into the room. "I'll tell you how you can make it up to us."
"Just name it and I'll do it."
Cameron smiled inwardly. How easily he fell into her trap. Aaron was the only person she knew that would rather cut off his arm than break a promise.
"Okay. I have your word, right."
"Yes!" he responded without any hesitation whatsoever.
"Good. You can make it up to me by stop punishing yourself for something you had absolutely no control over and stop feeling guilty because you did nothing wrong."
"But…" he began.
Cameron put her hand over his mouth to shut him up, effectively cutting off his protest when she said "remember, you promised to do whatever I asked."
Aaron realized then that he'd been neatly tricked. He grinned as she took her hand away from his mouth. "Bitch, you tricked me."
"I had to. It was the only way to get you to stop beating yourself up over this." She turned to Iukekini. "I don't know what issues you think Mitch might have, but it's the only thing that makes sense. Drinking and driving is something he'd never do, especially after losing his first wife and six-month-old son to a drunk driver two weeks before his third wedding anniversary."
Both men looked at her in shock. They both vowed to themselves to never get behind the wheel if they'd been drinking, even if it was only one beer. "I swear that is something I will never do, Cameron." Aaron said softly, but with strong conviction in his voice.
"Me too" Iukekini quickly replied.
"Anyway, now that we've gotten the guilt thing out of the way" she glared at Aaron as if challenging him to argue "I came to see how you are doing and to let you know that they moved Mitch into the ICU and were able to replace the blood he lost through a nick in the artery in his shoulder from a piece of flying glass. His internal injuries were from him hitting the steering wheel before the airbag deployed. For some reason, his seatbelt didn't lock when he was thrown forward like it should have. He was wearing it properly according to the paramedics. He has some abrasions on his arms and face from the airbag, but there won't be any disfigurement. They were able to do a CT scan and his neck is broken. It's too early to tell whether he'll…" her voice faltered. Aaron reached out and took one of her hands, Iukekini the other. "he'll be a quadriplegic or not." She lost it then. Aaron pulled her into his arms and let her cry on his shoulder, his thoughts turning to how he'd be able to make some kind of healing oil or ointment. He still had the book Clark gave him on oils and incense when he was learning how to make magickal candles.
"When will he be allowed visitors?"
"I don't know, probably not until he regains consciousness. His parents are flying in from the mainland tomorrow."
"Let's hope that's soon. I need to see him."
"You need to worry about yourself." Cameron said vehemently.
"Not in my nature."
"Well, it is now. I can't be worried about both of you." She turned to Iukekini. "You need to talk some sense into your boyfriend, or maybe you need to fuck it into him."
Both men blushed as they remembered that Aaron was supposed to spend the night with Iukekini the following evening.
"That's better. I'll let you get some rest. I'll see you guys later."
"I'll walk you out. I need to get back to work. My lunch break is almost over." Looking at the door to make sure no one was walking by Aaron's private room he bent down and gave him a quick, but loving kiss. "I'll be back later. I love you."
"I love you too. See you later."
A week later, a nurse was making his rounds when he stepped into Mitch's room just as he regained consciousness. "Aaron?" he said softly. The nurse immediately pressed the button on his Vocera unit. "Find Doctor Adamson." He said.
"Finding Doctor Adamson…" The unit responded.
After a couple of seconds the Doctor responded. "Ryan? What's up?"
"Mitch Lewis is regaining consciousness. He's asking for someone named Aaron."
"I'll be right there."
A few minutes later the doctor entered Mitch's room. "Mister Lewis I'm Doctor Adamson. How are you feeling?"
"Like I was run over by an aircraft carrier" He slowly croaked out. "Where am I? What happened?"
"You're in the ICU at Pearl Harbor Memorial. You were in a car accident a week ago."
He was silent while he slowly digested that information, "a week?"
"Yes. When you were brought in you were in critical condition. We weren't sure if you were going to make it or not."
"Am-am I going to die?" His voice was choked with fear.
"No. We were able to replace all of the blood you lost and the internal injuries you suffered were not as severe as we initially thought. Let's take a look at you." She pulled the curtain around the bed and removed the covers then took a reflex hammer and slid the tip along Mitch's left foot, from heel to toe. She smiled as she saw Mitch's leg jerk. She repeated the process with his right foot, observing the same reaction. She proceeded to touched both feet and legs at various spots, asking if Mitch could feel the touch, receiving an affirmative response each time. She continued to touch Mitch at various spots on his abdomen, sides (discovering that he was extremely ticklish) and arms, very much pleased that there appeared to be no loss of sensation anywhere on Mitch's body below the neck as they had initially feared.
"Well, Mitch, it looks like you're in pretty good shape, all things considered." The doctor smiled at him. "Do you remember what happened to you?"
Mitch thought hard, but nothing came. "No, I don't. When will I be able to see my fiancé?"
"How about tomorrow? We want to run a few more tests. I'll give her a call and let her know she can visit you tomorrow."
Mitch's brow furled. "Her? My fiancé's a he. His name is Aaron. Aaron Suarez."
Doctor Adamson thought fast. "I'm sorry. My mistake. If you'll give me his number, I'll call him. Who is Cameron Carothers? She's been here several times asking about you."
"She's my cousin." He frowned again. "I'm sorry, but for some reason I can't remember Aaron's number." He said with a little fear in his voice.
"Don't worry about it, Mitch. A little amnesia is not uncommon in cases like yours. Now that you're awake, you memory will return in a few days. I'll get your fiancé's number from your cousin. Rest now and I'll check in on you tomorrow." She left the room and retrieved Cameron's number from Mitch's chart.
"Miss Carothers? This is Doctor Adamson. Mitch has regained consciousness."
"Oh, Doctor, that's fantastic!"
She could hear her tears through the phone. "Miss Carothers, there is something serious I need to speak with you about. Mitch is claiming that you are his cousin and that he's engaged to Aaron Suarez."