When You Dance With the Devil

© by J. ĎHarleyí Elmore, 2003 Ė 2004

harley2u@aol.com

DISCLAIMERS

See disclaimers in Chapter One

Chapter Thirteen, Part 1

Keeping Deven as calm as possible was the only contribution Lydia felt she could make at the moment. Her medical expertise was of little use other than to explain to her friend what was happening. The list of injuries continued to pile up as the trauma team finished their preliminary examination and then transported their patient down the hall for a series of CT scans.

Speaking softly to the injured woman, Lydia explained everything that was being done and why. The damage created by Devenís broken ribs to the soft tissues in her chest and abdomen remained a grave concern to the whole team especially since there were signs of hemorrhagic shock. Rigidity in her abdomen indicated internal bleeding, and it was this area that the surgeon currently focused on. Bleeding from the spleen or liver could be fatal if not rectified in time, and Iverson anxiously awaited the results of the scans.

Though it was difficult to concentrate, Deven listened as intently as possible to everything she was being told. The tube that had been inserted down her throat made it impossible to ask any questions, and the only communication left to her was the connection she had with Lydiaís hand.

Manny, you bastard. So help me, if I survive this, Iím going to kick your ass. A soft laugh wanted to bubble up, but there was nowhere for it to go. Survive? Are you listening to Lydia, Masterson? Iím trying, but quite frankly, I donít know what it all means. Do I need a spleen? Iím sure I need my liver, but the spleen? What the hell does it do? To spleen or not to spleen, that is the question.

"Deven, you have a lot of trauma to your face but none of those injuries are considered life threatening, and we canít repair them until the swelling goes down," Lydia said. "As for the setting of your hand, thatís going to require some metal work. Weíve already contacted the orthopedic surgeon to take care of that. You wonít be able to wear a cast because of the cuts on your wrist, but this will work well. "

What does my face look like? What if they canít fix it? What if I spend the rest of my life some hideous looking freak? Deven had never been concerned with her looks. Sheíd always just taken them for granted. But suddenly faced with the prospect of deformity, she found the idea of being a mutant of her former self a horrifying prospect. And what about Rhian? Oh God, I canít let her see me. Lydia, you canít let Rhian see me! Please donít!

As the panic began to take hold, Deven became visibly agitated. Not understanding the cause, the doctor assumed it was the pain and tried to reassure her. You donít understand, Lydia. I canít do this! What about the kids? Theyíre already afraid of me at times because Iím your basic asshole, but this? I donít want my children to be afraid of me! And my students? What students? Youíll scare everyone away, Masterson! Youíre going to look fucking freaky, and youíll never be able to do the martial arts if they canít fix your hand.

"And my friend, weíre concerned that you show the symptoms of a moderate closed head injury," Lydiaís voice broke through the womanís rising terror. "Youíve got some swelling in your head, and theyíre trying to determine if there is any bleeding present. Depending on what the CT scans show will determine what course of treatment weíll take. You might have to have surgery, Deven, to relieve the pressure."

What the fuck does that mean? I have brain damage? Iím going to end up some sort of vegetable? Or crippled? No! I canít.

The idea of being unable to do for herself and having to become beholden to anyone for anything caused her to groan around the intubation tube. Rhian will think she has to take care of me and I canít have that! I canít have her feeling obligated toÖto. Just the thought of the degrading things that might need to be taken care of by someone else made her want to throw up.

This isnít happening. Oh God, sheíll feel sorry for me, damn it! I canít live with that! Great Spirit, please. Iím begging you. Let me die. Donít you see? It would be better for everyone. Rhian doesnít need to spend her life thinking she has to care for me. And my son doesnít need any more burdens because of me. Iíve fucked up his life enough. Theyíll move on. Theyíll be able to get on with their lives and all the shit I brought them will be gone. Let this end for all of us.

Grandmother, please look after them. I donít want them to suffer. Help them to understand that this was for the best.

Dr. Iverson reviewed the last set of scans and noted his patientís pallor. "Howís her BP?"

"Dropping," a trauma nurse replied.

"Lydia, weíve got to get her to the OR."

The doctor inclined her head in acknowledgement. "Deven, can you hear me?" A slight squeeze of her hand indicated that the martial artist was still semi conscious. "You do have some internal bleeding that they need to patch up so theyíre going to take you to surgery now. Iím going to go see if Rhian is here yet. Alex went to get her. Iíll let everyone know whatís going on."

Deven tried to speak. No! Make Rhian go home! I donít want her here!

Even as she struggled to find some way to convey her wishes to Lydia, Deven felt her awareness fading once more. A warm, calloused hand settled on her forehead as if checking for a fever and though she knew it couldnít possibly be real, Deven recognized the touch. Grandmother. The smell of burning sage and sweetgrass filled her nose, and a strange sense of calm settled over her. Iím so tired, Grandmother. Itís too hard to keep fighting, and there really isnít any reason to anymore. The touch shifted and lightly caressed her head.

Iím sorry, Rhian. Donít be sad. Youíll be so much better off. She settled comfortably into rising oblivion with the fervent hope that it was for the last time. And just before she sank completely into what she prayed was the prelude to her death, Deven heard the words like a whisper in her head. "Lottare per la sua vita. Lottare per il suo amore."

***

Not looking forward to the next task, Lydia took her time walking back to the ER. Deven was in the most capable hands she knew, and there was nothing more she could do for the woman other than pray. Scanning the crowded waiting room, she braced herself for what lay ahead and then made her way toward where Rhian waited.

"Lydia, where is she?" The landscaper asked, rushing forward toward the approaching doctor. "I need to see her."

"You canít, Rhian."

"Donít give me some hospital mumbo jumbo about the rules, damn it! I need to see her."

"Rhian, I didnít mean you canít see her because of that. You canít see her because theyíve taken her up to surgery. I need you to contact her family."

"I did," Rhian practically growled. "They donít want anything to do with her."

Lydia bit the inside of her lip and then asked, "I donít suppose you have power of attorney?"

"No," she answered sadly.

"Yes, you do," Kelly stated.

"I do?"

"Yes, you do," the lawyer answered. "And the forms are in the car. As soon as Carl gets here, youíll have them."

"I donít understand. When? When did she do that? Deven never mentioned that she was going to do that."

"I know. Sheís a stubbornly secretive cuss at times." Kelly placed an arm across Rhianís shoulders. "Everything was finalized last week. She was going to tell you as soon as I got the paperwork to her."

The landscaper looked completely shell shocked to the doctor, and she worried about how she should proceed in relaying the particulars of Devenís condition. "Letís go over here," Lydia suggested and steered them to a nearby consultation room. Once inside, she indicated that Rhian and Kelly should be seated and then closed the door.

The room was small, and Lydia found it downright stifling. Leaning back against the wall with her hands behind her back, she let her gaze drop to the floor. "Iím not certain where to begin." Taking a deep breath, she released it slowly as her head lifted and she looked directly at Rhian. "She has multiple fractures to her ribs, which appear to have lacerated her lungs, spleen, and possibly her liver. As a result, she had a collapsed lung and is bleeding internally."

Rhianís eyes went wide with alarm and Lydia almost stopped but there was too much this woman needed to know. "They inserted a tube in her chest to drain out the air that had accumulated outside of the punctured lung, and they had to intubate her because she wasnít breathing well enough on her own."

Pausing again, Lydia studied Rhian closely. The younger woman thus far was managing to maintain her composure. "The internal bleeding has caused her to go into shock and thatís why they had to rush her into surgery. They need to see where exactly itís coming from and repair the damage. She also has fractures to her right hand and an orthopedic surgeon has been called in to repair that as well."

"They hit her with a crowbar," Rhian muttered. Shaking her head, she tried to clear it of that vision and the memory of Devenís howl of pain. She pinched her nose hard in an effort to stop the urge to cry.

"Cowards," Jay spat out.

He stood behind Rhian, looking to Lydia to be almost as shaken as the landscaper. "Well, it is broken," Lydia continued, "and they wonít be able to put a cast on it because she has some deep abrasions to her wrists." She said that last part to her husband hoping he understood the implications of what might have caused such injuries. With a slight nod of his head, he let her know that heíd caught the inference.

"She has blood in her urine which tells us that there is trauma to her kidneys." Lydia stepped forward and sat in the chair across the table from the other two women. She looked compassionately at the landscaper who was definitely struggling now to keep herself together. "There is a lot of bruising and swelling so itís hard to tell exactly how much damage has been done to her face. But preliminary scans show fractures to her cheekbones and sinuses, and her jaw. They wonít be able to do much about those until the swelling goes down in a few days. And we believe that she has some brain trauma."

"What do you mean?" Rhian asked tentatively. There was so much to try and understand, and she just wanted it to stop. She wanted Lydia to say it was all a joke and that Deven was waiting to be taken home. As unrealistic as that was, this other, the things that Lydia was describing were nearly impossible to absorb.

"The skull doesnít move," she explained to the small group. "Itís rigid and inflexible. The brain, however, does have the capability to move around. When the head is impacted, the brain can shift away from the point of contact and sometimes it collides with the skull on the opposite side. There doesnít appear to be any hemorrhaging in her head, but there is swelling. Right now I donít think theyíll operate on her for that but will attempt to treat it medicinally."

"Oh, my God," Rhian gasped. Jay placed his hands on her shoulders, and she unconsciously leaned back into the contact.

"Rhian, Iím not going to make light of this. She is in critical condition right now and her chances have been diminished by how long she was in this condition before she was found. Mortality rates increase with the more time that passes between the time of the trauma and the beginning of treatment. But that said, she is in the most competent hands right now, and she is strong. She did wake up a couple of times. She knew who I was, and she said your name."

As hard as Rhian tried to contain it, a sob was wrenched free. She covered her face with her hands and wept at the pain that her lover must have endured. Kelly reached over and pulled the younger woman into an embrace. Holding tightly to Rhian, Kelly felt her own tears flow and indulged in a moment of shared misery.

Lydia pushed a box of tissues closer to the distraught women and waited. She hated this part of her job, and it was especially difficult given that she knew the women personally.

Rhian reached for a tissue and wiped her face. "Sorry. Itís just so much to take in. Is sheÖis she going to be all right?"

"We donít know," Lydia replied. "The next 24 to 48 hours are critical. If she makes it through the surgery and the next day or so, then the odds are improved but even then there are no guarantees. And if she does survive, we canít predict right now what permanent damage there may be and any possible long term problems she might have."

Rhian lowered her head and stared at her clasped hands. Please, honey. I need you. I donít care if there are long-term problems. I donít care. I just want you with me, Deven. Iíll take you anyway I can have you. So, please donít give up.

"What now?" Jay asked. His voice sounded strained from the effort it was taking to contain his own emotions.

"Now we wait," Lydia answered. "Rhian, since you have power of attorney, there are some things you need to sign." She looked at the womanís bowed head, and then at Kelly. "Maybe you could help her out with those."

"Certainly," the lawyer said.

The last thing Lydia wanted to do was to instill a sense of false hope, but she felt that the fear on her friendís face required she say something. "Rhian, sheís been through a lot, but she is alive."

"Thanks, Lydia," the landscaper responded quietly. A thought suddenly occurred to her, and snapping her head up, she caught the doctorís gaze. "Was she?" She couldnít think of a delicate way to ask the next question. "Was she raped?"

"There was no indication of a sexual assault."

Rhian nodded her head and felt Jayís hands gently squeeze her shoulders in silent understanding.

Part 2

Rhian stood at the window, staring through the panes of glass at nothing in particular. Her gaze moved from place to place in the gathering dusk outside, but she made no effort to actually focus on anything. The activity beyond the confines of the hospital was of no import to her. People were coming to visit. Patients were being released. New parents were taking their infants home. None of that mattered. None of them mattered. She watched it all with an indifference she hadnít known she was capable of.

For brief moments the whole situation would seem surreal to her, and then the grim reality of why they were in the hospital would press in, forcing her to maintain a level of composure she neither felt nor wanted. The only positive thought she could muster was that it was quiet where they were. Lydia had brought them to another waiting area that was closer to the OR, and there were only a couple of other people in the room besides them.

The silence was both a blessing and a nuisance. The relative quiet left few distractions from the turmoil of thought and emotion that seemed bent on torturing her. And yet, it also left her alone with an internal solitude that she desperately needed in order to try and come to terms with everything that was happening.

The injuries Lydia had described were shocking and difficult for Rhian to clearly comprehend. Her knowledge of anatomy was limited to the aesthetic not the biological. The minimal facts she possessed of the internal workings of the human form were founded on high school anatomy classes and her own experiences - none of which encompassed the level and type of damage Lydia had described. In truth, she was at a loss to fully comprehend exactly what was happening to her lover and at the present time too confused to initiate an intelligent enough dialogue towards gaining a better understanding.

That Deven could die was very real and yet somehow merely an illusive idea that her heart refused to grasp onto. She staunchly refused to give it more than a cursory thought because to do more might make it a reality - one that she wasnít willing or able to face.

Instead, she thought about the last time sheíd been in this hospital. That day Deven had saved her life, and that experience had become a pivotal one for her. The events of that single day had forced her to look deep down inside herself and come to understand the depth of her love for the martial artist and the direction she wanted her life to go.

Deven had never lied about the past or what sheíd done, and Rhian had never blamed her for anything that had happened between them because of it. If the martial artist was guilty of anything, it was her belief that she solely bore the burden of the past and had an obligation to protect everyone, except herself, from it. In so doing, she repeatedly kept Rhian from knowing what was going on and subsequently excluded her from the decision making process.

There was a sort of nobility about Deven that fed her desire to protect those she loved. A nobility that was as appealing as it was frustrating for the landscaper. No matter how hard Rhian had tried, it was evident to the younger woman that Deven still clung to the idea that this was a solitary burden to be carried alone, and in so doing, the martial artist still had not fully accepted the idea of equality in their relationship. Rhian knew sheíd been guilty of exactly the same thing not so long ago. But sheíd fervently believed that theyíd reached an agreement that there was no room in their relationship for secrets like the one that had brought them to this place.

We have an awful lot to talk about, Deven. But first, you have to do something for me. You have such a skewed sense of right and wrong when it comes to yourself. Your sense of fairness and justice is so much more forgiving of others than yourself, and that my love, is not fair. Not to you, and definitely, not to us. So, Iím asking, no Iím begging you, please donít give up. I canít bear it, Deven. Without you, I donít even want to try. So, please, donít turn your back on us. I need you.

Rhian wrapped her arms around herself and listened to the sounds in the small room. There were the low murmurings of conversation between Jay and Nicole, Carl and Kelly. She could see them in the reflection of the window and realized she had absolutely no incentive to join them.

Attempts at talking with her had dwindled off hours ago as their dialogues had begun to sound like forced platitudes and nothing more. It had now been nearly twenty-four hours since the whole ordeal had begun, and for her part, Rhian felt at a complete loss as to what to say to anyone.

And so, sheíd turned inward, seeking to find some level of understanding and strength to deal with everything that was now happening. The waiting wasnít that bad sheíd decided. It was the not knowing that was eating away at her - the constant feeling of being poised on the edge of hopefulness and despair that drove her to want to scream one moment and laugh hysterically the next. I am so losing my mind.

She glanced over to where Nicole and Jay were sitting, holding hands. The man was keeping such a tight grip on his emotions, she wondered how much longer heíd be able to contain them. This had to be difficult on him. That he felt guilty for having kept Devenís secret was weighing heavy on his shoulders, and she wondered if she should go over and attempt to talk to him. But even as she pondered that, she just couldnít get her feet to move in that direction. He should have said something. But how could he, Rhian? He gave his word. You canít break that bond between them. And you shouldnít want to. This is between you and Deven.

Her attention was drawn to the roomís entrance where a tall man dressed in hospital scrubs was talking with Lydia. They spoke in hushed tones and the expression on Lydiaís face revealed nothing, sending a sinking feeling to the landscaperís stomach. Her head told her to go over and find out what was going on, but the rest of her just couldnít find forward momentum. And so she remained standing in place, her thoughts and emotions filling her with dread. As Lydia and the man approached, she still found herself unable to budge.

"Rhian," Lydia said. "This is Dr. Iverson. Heís the trauma surgeon that has been treating Deven."

The landscaper was aware that the rest of her friends had now come to stand nearby and welcomed their presence. "Hi," she finally managed to utter. "Is she?" She licked her dry lips nervously.

"Hello," he said kindly. He looked from face to face and recognizing Jay from the school, he gave the man a slight nod before turning back to face the young blonde woman before him. Lydia had explained the relationship of these people to his patient and the apparent lack of immediate family. The particulars didnít concern him. Deven did, and if these people were the ones who would help her, then so be it. "Sheís out of surgery and in recovery."

The relief was unbelievable, and Rhian fought hard not to burst into tears. "May I see her?"

"You have to understand that Deven is critical, and I expect she will remain that way for awhile yet."

The overload of emotions coupled with a lack of food caused Rhian to sway slightly on her feet, and reaching out quickly, Dr. Iverson gripped her upper arm to steady her. "Why donít we sit down?" he posed while guiding her towards a nearby chair. He sat in the seat next to the landscaper, turning slightly in the chair so he could look directly at her while still being able to make eye contact with the others. "I know that Dr. Perez gave you a briefing earlier on Devenís injuries, so Iím not going to go over that again unless you want me to."

Shaking her head slightly, Rhian felt embarrassed by her inability to think of anything relevant to ask the surgeon. "Dr. Iverson, I honestly havenít been able to fully understand everything yet. Iím sure Iíll have a lot of questions later, but right now, I just want to know how she is."

"Fair enough," he said. "Deven lost a lot of blood. There were multiple lacerations to her lungs, liver and spleen caused by her broken ribs. We were able to suture them, and we were able to resect the spleen. Given the amount of trauma she sustained, the damage was less than I had thought it would be. I can only attribute that to her well-developed musculature. I donít anticipate that any of these injuries will incapacitate her long term. However, I want to reiterate that she is not out of the woods by any means. We had a couple of close calls in there."

"What do you mean?" Jay asked.

"Her blood pressure dropped rapidly as we were taking her into the OR. We had a difficult time getting her stabilized and keeping her that way." He wasnít certain that they realized the severity of the situation. "She left us there for a couple of minutes, but we managed to get her back."

No one spoke as each individual was trying to face the reality of Devenís condition in their own way, and he allowed them a few seconds to digest the information before he continued. "I feel confident that we were successful in repairing the internal damage to her abdomen and chest." He took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Iím concerned about the injuries to her head. Besides the contusions and a concussion, Deven is showing signs of edema."

"Edema?" Rhian croaked.

"She has some swelling in her head. You see, the cranium is inflexible. It doesnít have the capability to expand. When the brain swells for any reason, itís limited in how far it can extend because of the confines of the skull. Iíve consulted with a colleague of mine and we both agree that at this point weíd prefer not to treat her surgically if we donít have to. What we will do in lieu of surgery is to monitor her closely and keep her as calm as possible. Weíll also be administering a drug called Mannitol, which will keep the swelling from increasing.

"When she first awoke in the ER, she became quite agitated and violent. I donít want to risk her thrashing around and possibly hurting herself further, so weíre going to keep her sedated. Weíll bring her up out of the sedated state at regular intervals to check on certain neurological responses and then sedate her again until the swelling is down to a tolerable level. Unfortunately, given the wide range of her other injuries itís difficult to fully test her neurological responses. But I can assure you that if at any time she appears to worsen or there isnít any improvement, we will relieve the pressure surgically.

"Once Iím certain sheís stable enough, sheíll be moved from the recovery room into ICU. I expect sheís going to be in there until we can wean her off the respirator." He watched the young woman before him carefully, trying to gauge if he was getting his message across. The eyes that met his were intelligent, and he had no doubt she would come to understand everything once the shock wore off. "Any questions?" he asked.

"What about the damage to her face?" Kelly inquired.

"A maxillofacial specialist will be called in to evaluate her. They wonít be able to do much for a few days mostly because of the swelling. You could help whoever will be doing the evaluation by providing any recent photographs of Deven you might have."

Relieved to have something positive to think about, Jay quickly answered, "No problem."

Rhian waited until the surgeonís vision returned to her and then looked him directly in the eyes. "Is she going to die?"

Dr. Iverson returned the frank gaze. "Iím doing everything I can for her, but I honestly canít answer that question. She gave us a couple of scares in the OR, but for whatever reason, she stayed with us. Sheís a strong woman. "

"What about long term problems?" Jay asked. "Will she be able to continue in the martial arts?"

"Again, I wish I could answer that but the truth is, I just donít know yet. None of the damage I repaired today will stop her. But until we have a better idea of whatís going on neurologically, we just donít know what permanent damage she might have. If there are no long-term disabilities as a result of these traumas, she could return to the martial arts but limited for a while. There will certainly be no contact of any kind for the better part of a year. Her hand has been repaired and the orthopedic surgeon thinks that with the proper therapy she should regain full functionality."

He looked at each of them in turn. "I wish I could give you more definitive information, but at this point, itís too soon to tell. Iím not going to make light of this. Sheís in bad shape and has a very long road of recovery ahead of her. You have to understand that with head injuries such as this, there is brain damage. We just donít know to what extent yet."

"Brain damage?" Rhian groaned softly and slowly began to rock back and forth in the chair.

Kelly quickly sat in the seat on the other side of the distraught woman and placed a comforting arm across her shoulders. "Easy, honey," she said in a soothing voice, and then addressed the surgeon. "What are we talking about here?"

"You have to understand that the brain is a complicated organ and when it comes to brain injuries, every patient is unique. The types of problems they might face are a culmination of many variables. One is the severity of the trauma. Another is the location of the trauma in the brain. The individual themselves is probably the most indefinable variable. There is no standard treatment or prognosis like there are for other injuries. There are some problems that are relatively common to brain trauma, but that is not to say that Deven does or will have any of them."

Kelly gently rubbed Rhianís back in comfort. "What kinds of problems?"

"There may be some partial paralysis, short or long term memory troubles, confusion, difficulty showing or expressing her emotions, problems with speech, sleep disorders, depression, headaches, and possibly seizures."

Rhian closed her eyes and groaned softly. Sheíll never accept any of this. It will kill her. Slowly but surely, sheíll die inside.

"When Deven first awoke in the ER, she was confused. But after Dr. Perez got her calmed down, Deven was mentally aware enough to answer my questions to the best of her physical limitations. That was a good sign. Look, weíre getting way ahead of ourselves here, because we wonít know what weíre dealing with until the swelling goes down and we can more effectively test her. Then we can decide on the most effective treatment to address any issues that may, and I stress the word may, appear."

The silence lengthened they each grappled with the information theyíd been given. "Please, if you have any other questions, feel free to contact me or talk to Dr. Perez."

"When can we see her?" Rhian asked, the question bordering on a demand.

"Ms. McKenna."

"Call me Rhian," she interrupted.

"Rhian, sheís going to be in recovery for some time. Iím not moving her until Iím certain sheís ready. That could take hours. She canít see right now because of the swelling to her face, and she canít talk because of the intubation tube. And for the most part, sheís sedated enough not to even know youíre there."

Her gaze remained steady though her voice had taken on a pleading quality. "Please."

Dr. Iverson carefully considered the request. You donít know what youíre asking. But maybe it will put everything into perspective for you. "Iíll make a deal with you. You can have five minutes with her in recovery and then you have to go get something to eat. In fact, I would suggest you go home because there isnít anything you can do right now." Rhian looked at the man as if heíd just lost his mind. "Go home and come back in the morning. Your job will come soon enough, and believe me it wonít be easy. You have to help her recover and that could take a long time."

Stepping closer, Lydia knelt before the landscaper, placing a hand gently on her knee. "Rhian, Iíll keep tabs on her and let you know if anything changes. I promise. Otherwise, Dr. Iverson is right. You need to rest and keep your strength up because you have a lot youíre going to have to deal with. Deven is going to need every ounce of strength you can give her to face what lies ahead."

Rhianís head dropped. "Iím afraid to leave," she admitted. "What if something happens to her? What if she wakes up?"

"I understand. But whatever is going to happen will happen whether youíre sitting in this room or at home with the children. Itís out of your control. And given the sedation, itís highly unlikely sheíll wake up."

"May I at least tell her goodnight?"

"Iíll take you to her," Lydia said as she stood back up.

"What about Jay?" Rhian asked. "Please, he needs to see her, too."

"Five minutes," Dr. Iverson repeated. "Together. Not each." He stood and regarded the small group once more. "Rhian, I strongly suggest you take our advice. In fact, I suggest you all do. Now if youíll excuse me, I need to go check on my patient."

"All right, you and Jay follow me." Lydia said. "The rest of you can either wait here or go on home."

"Weíll wait," Nicole replied more to Rhian than the doctor. "Iíll go call your parents and let them know weíll be coming home in a bit."

"Thanks," the landscaper replied and moved to follow Lydia in the direction Iverson had just gone. Her mind was already attempting to prepare her for the next challenge.

***

The apprehension was making her dizzy, but somehow Rhian still mustered enough fortitude to follow Lydia down the hall. Her imagination worked doubly hard to create a mental sketch of what Deven might look like given the information both doctors had provided. The only frame of reference Rhian had was her own brief time in the hospital after the accident that had killed Sean. But the injuries sheíd sustained then and those that Deven had been subjected to were vastly different.

Her concentration on the creative task was so complete that she actually jerked away in alarm when Jayís hand attempted to her grasp her own. Glancing up at him, she gave him a sheepish look and apologized. His features were strained and his mouth set in a grim line. God, heís known her since he was six years old. She couldnít imagine what he was feeling. A part of her didnít really care because she was struggling so hard with her own emotions. There just wasnít any extra at the moment to give him.

Lydia stopped and waited until they were near enough that they could talk in muted tones without disturbing any patients in the vicinity. "Okay, weíre almost here. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Are you kidding me?" the landscaper asked. "What do I have to do to convince you all that I have to see her?"

"No, Rhian, Iím not kidding." Stung a little by the womanís incredulous tone, the doctor paused for a moment, biting back a retort. She was walking a fine line between her profession and her personal feelings for Deven and the woman standing before her. "I want to be certain that you understand that she is in bad shape. This isnít some movie or television show. This is Deven and itís very real."

Lydiaís efforts to prepare her for whatever lay in that room filled Rhian with dread. Her heart rate became elevated, her palms grew moist, and the dryness in her mouth made it difficult to speak. "I understand."

But no matter how hard sheíd tried to mentally prepare herself, coming face to face with the horror of what had happened to her lover nearly forced her to her knees. A low keen rose from deep within, and she clinched her jaw and pursed her lips to keep from wailing out loud. The apprehension in her stomach turned to nausea and beads of perspiration formed on her forehead and upper lip. Her eyes locked on Devenís face and her vision began to dim, causing her to sway unsteadily. If it werenít for Jayís quick reflexes, she would have ended up in a heap on the floor.

"Whoa," he said as he quickly placed his hands under her arms. Looking past her, he saw what had caused her to collapse and felt his throat close. "Oh God," he croaked.

Lydia stepped directly in front of Rhian, effectively blocking the view for the moment as she assessed the womanís condition. "Do you need to sit down?"

Reaching out blindly, Rhian grasped Lydiaís arms in an effort to steady herself. "Just give me a minute." Closing her eyes against the reality of the hospital room, she took several breaths as Deven had taught her, inhaling slowly through her nose and exhaling gradually through her mouth. Pull yourself together, Rhian! They warned you. She opened her eyes and blinked several times. "Sorry. I just didnít."

"Itís all right. I know itís a shock." Lydia looked closely at the younger womanís eyes. "Are you sure youíre okay?"

"Iím as okay as I can be under the circumstances." Releasing her grasp on Lydia, Rhian squared her shoulders and took one more cleansing breath before nearing the bed. Her eyes scanned the machines and tubes that were connected to her lover, listening to the soft hissing and beeps of the various pieces of equipment.

Beginning at the foot of the bed, her gaze drifted up the still body to finally settle once more on the damaged face. Her artistic mind betrayed her by burning the vivid discoloration and mutated features into her brain, and she knew with a certainty that sheíd never be free of the vision. With a great deal of effort she took another step forward and placed her hands on the bedrail.

"Hi, honey," she said as she tentatively reached out and stroked Devenís forearm. It appeared to be the only part of the womanís body that was approachable. With her other hand, she reached up and wiped away the tears that blurred her sight. "The doctor says that the surgery went well, and you should heal up okay. But itís going to take awhile. Donít worry though. Iíll be with you the whole way. The kids are okay. We got home just fine. Dad called the police and Alex has been working on finding you and whoever did this. Heís the one that told me theyíd found you. Kelly, Nicole and Carl are all in the waiting room. They wanted me to tell you that theyíre thinking about you." She knew she wasnít saying anything of importance and was on the verge of babbling nonsensically, and so, she bit the inside of her lip to stop the rambling.

Leaning closer, she whispered, "Deven, I donít know if you can hear me. I hope you can because Iím so very much in love with you. I want you to remember that. I love you. I need you. I know this canít be easy for you, honey. I know you have to be suffering, but please, donít give up. I canít do this without you. I donít want to even try." A tear dropped onto Devenís shoulder and Rhian watched it slowly follow the bruised flesh until it disappeared out of sight beneath the hospital gown.

"You have to believe in us, love. Nothing else matters but us and our children." She sniffled and glanced at the monitor, watching the various readouts follow their normal display routine. She wasnít certain what sheíd expected. That Deven would hear her voice and suddenly wake up. Or that the monitor would somehow signal that she was listening. But nothing changed. Deven remained as she was and Rhian felt a helplessness sheíd never known.

"Rhian," Lydia said softly. "Itís time to go."

Her eyes searched for something, anything that would give her hope. Leaning over the rail, she kissed Devenís forehead. "They wonít let me stay, love. But Iíll be back. I promise. I love you. Donít you dare go anywhere or so help me, Deven, I will." Her voice trailed off. "Just donít, okay?"

It was an internal struggle but she stepped back to allow Jay room to near the bed. He moved closer and stood awkwardly looking down at his lifetime friend. "Hey, Dev. I have to tell you, you look like shit," he whispered. "Listen, you hang in there. No need to worry about anything except healing up. Weíll take care of everything." He blinked several times and chewed his lower lip. "I love you, Deven." Without another word, he turned away, and as if sensing that Rhian wasnít going to leave on her own, gently prodded her away from the bed and out of the room.

Once in the hall, Rhian stopped and leaned back against the wall. She stood staring at the floor, her arms across her chest. Jay and Lydia watched her for several seconds before he finally asked, "Are you okay?"

"This isnít real. This just canít be real."

Lydia placed a comforting hand on the landscaperís shoulder. "Rhian," she began but then stopped, uncertain what to say.

"How could someone do that to her?" Rhianís head lifted as she asked the question and the depth of her heartache was palpable.

"Thatís what Alex is trying to find out," Lydia offered.

"I know Mace didnít like her, but to do this. Why? Because she stopped him from raping me?"

"I donít think it was that, Rhian," Jay said. "Mace was a lot of things, but this is way over the top for him."

"How can she even be alive after all of that?" she asked the doctor. "How can she possibly survive this?"

Lydia observed that the landscaper had grown quite pale and a faint sheen of perspiration now covered her face. But before she could respond to the questions, she watched Rhianís nostrils flare and her throat constrict. "Come on," she said as she grabbed the womanís upper arm and began leading her rapidly down the hall. They reached the bathroom with no time to spare as Rhian rushed over to the toilet, fell to her knees, and purged her system.

Having not eaten since morning, her stomach was empty, but that didnít stop her body from heaving uncontrollably. Her stomach convulsed until she began to see stars and then gradually settled. Exhausted from the exertion and the emotional strain, she sat back on her heels and closed her eyes. "Damn, that hurt."

Lydia gently wiped the young womanís face with a damp paper towel and then helped her to her feet. "Okay?" she inquired.

"I think so. Iím so sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about," the doctor assured her.

Slowly Rhian walked over to the sink, purposefully avoiding her reflection in the mirror. She splashed her face with cool water and rinsed out her mouth. Pressing a damp paper towel to the back of her neck, she smiled in reflex to a memory.

The change in her expression puzzled Lydia. "What?" she asked curiously.

"I was just thinking about the first time I saw Deven. We looked at each other across the bar and I felt really weird. Itís hard to explain. My stomach got upset and I was all flushed." She shook her head at how naïve sheíd been then. "So I went to the restroom and placed cold compresses on my face and neck until I felt calm enough to go back out and face everyone. It freaked me out a little. I didnít equate what I was feeling with her. I thought I was coming down with something. A short while later we actually met and I couldnít stand her."

The vision of Deven as she now was filled her head, reaching down into her gut and filling her with an unfathomable sorrow. Lifting her hands, she covered her face as the tears came, deep wrenching sobs from an aching heart and a shocked soul. "IÖcanítÖlose her," she cried out. Lydiaís pulled her into a hug, and she wept against the doctorís shoulder. "I canít." She didnít try to stop the tears. She couldnít have if sheíd wanted to.

Lydia held the woman, trying to sooth her pain. Sheíd believed from the moment she first met Rhian that she truly loved Deven. And even though she hadnít seen Deven since high school, Lydia knew without a doubt that the martial artist valued this woman and their children above all else. She hoped that Deven survived it all intact and that Alex was able to bring whoever was responsible to justice. "She isnít gone, Rhian. Sheís still with us. Every minute that passes with her still here is a good thing. Have faith in her strength and love for you."

Stepping back, the landscaper nodded slowly. "I know. I just." She swallowed the new tears that threatened. I just what? I just canít take anymore? Rinsing her face once more, she dabbed it dry. "Thanks, Lydia. I better go talk to the rest of the gang." She gave the doctor a small smile and then turned for the door.

Jay was waiting when they reemerged, his face etched in concern. "You okay?"

She shrugged. "Are you?"

"I donít know," he answered. "I never. I mean she." He couldnít put his thoughts together. Despite the fact that she was younger than he, Deven had always been the formidable one. She had pushed him from the day theyíd met, but heíd never felt the drive within himself that she naturally possessed.

His role in their relationship had been subtler. Where she was driven, he was more inclined to apathy. Where she would rage for days against one thing or another, he was laid back unless she went too far and then he would step in to help contain her. But let someone lay a finger on her, and he could be just as indomitable.

Heíd never believed it possible that anyone would ever truly hurt her. Not again. And he couldnít help but wonder if her current situation had in some way been a failure on his part.

Rhian recognized the expression of guilt that had claimed his features and caused his shoulders to slump under its weight. "This isnít your fault," she said. "There was no way you could have known what was going to happen, Jay. Not unless youíre psychic."

He nodded. "I know. But I still feel like I should have pushed her more into telling me exactly what was going on. Instead, I spent the last couple of weeks mostly pissed off at her."

"And donít you think I should have picked up on more? I live with her. I look back on things now and I can see all kinds of little things that should have, at the very least, caused me to question her."

There was still too much to deal with, and she was just too tired to consider anything more just then. She gave the man a solid hug, and then said, "Letís go." Stepping back she turned towards the waiting room. "Do not let me forget to call Tiernan when we get home."

"You got it," he said as he placed an arm across her shoulders, and they walked back to their friends in comforting silence.

Part 3

"Rhian, this is Dr. Hadari," Lydia said as she walked into the ICU room.

The landscaperís head snapped up from where it had been resting against Devenís thigh. "What?"

"Sorry. I didnít mean to, uh, surprise you."

"No. My fault. I didnít mean to doze off." She stood, stretched out her back and faced the doctor. "What did you say?"

"I wanted to introduce you to Dr. Hadari. Sheíll be doing the facial reconstructive surgery on Deven."

The maxillofacial surgeon was a petite woman of Middle Eastern decent, but what struck Rhian the most about the doctor were her genuine smile and the gentleness of her gaze. "Hello, Ms. McKenna," she greeted the landscaper, her voice tinged with a slight accent.

"Rhian, please."

"Very well," she responded with a modest inclination of her head. "I understand you have some photographs for me."

"Yes." Picking up her portfolio from where it rested on the foot of the bed, Rhian removed several recent snapshots of Deven and handed them over to the surgeon. She stood in silence, waiting, while the doctor examined each in turn and then went through the stack a second time, extracting some and returning the rest.

"She has wonderful bone structure," Dr. Hadari commented. "Her features are quite symmetrical, which is rather unusual. Few people have true symmetry to their faces. Itís always interesting to see someone who comes very close."

"I donít know if these will help, but I have a couple of sketches as well," Rhian offered as she handed over the drawings sheíd made of the martial artist.

"Who did these?" Lydia asked.

"I did," Rhian admitted shyly. Aside from her family and Deven, sheíd never shared her artwork with anyone. "Itís a hobby of sorts."

"I had no idea you were an artist. These are good. Youíve truly captured her."

"May I keep these?" Dr. Hadari asked.

"Yes. Those are actually copies. I still have the originals."

The doctor shifted her gaze from the sketches to the young blonde. "Let us step over here out of the way, and I will explain to you what will happen tomorrow."

Rhian glanced back at her lover and then followed the two doctors over to the nursesí station. Laying one of the drawings on the countertop, Dr. Hadari began to explain the location of the injuries. "Deven has fractures to her maxillary sinus here and across the bridge of her nose here," she said as she indicated the location of the breaks on the sketch. "There is also a fracture to her cheekbone here, and two to her mandible in this area."

Reaching into her pocket, the surgeon retrieved several small pieces of metal. Opening her hand, she showed them to Rhian. "I will be attaching small plates, such as these, to the bones on either side of the fractures. This will stabilize the bones, allowing them to heal most effectively." She picked up one of the samples and a small screw and handed them to the landscaper.

Rhian felt the cold metal in the palm of her hand. Moving the plate and screw around with her fingertip, she examined them closely and wondered at the technology that allowed them to affix something so small under her loverís skin. Then the thought of them cutting Devenís face open caused her to shiver.

Dr. Hadari reached into her pocket again and pulled out another object. "This is called an arch bar. After I have secured the breaks in Devenís jaw, I will attach one of these to her upper teeth and one to the lower teeth. You see these little hooks?" She pointed to the front of the arch bar, and Rhian nodded. "Once the arch bars are firmly in place, I will immobilize her jaw by securing elastic bands around the hooks on the top and the corresponding hooks on the bottom."

Rhian shook her head not grasping the concept completely. Dr. Hadari smiled. "It is still sometimes referred to wiring the jaw shut even though the elastic bands are commonly used today."

"Oh."

"It is necessary to keep the jaw immobile so that the bones can mend properly."

"How long will her jaw be, um, immobilized?"

"That depends on how well she heals, but generally it is six to eight weeks."

Rhian gasped. "Six. Eight. But, how will she eat?"

"She wonít be able to chew anything. Her diet is going to be very limited. Mostly liquids and purees that she can suck through a straw. There is a device that is somewhat like a syringe with a curved end. This can be used to push thicker substances back behind the teeth. But the swelling and pain will have to lessen quite a bit before she can use that. She is going to experience some weight loss. On average, we can expect her to loose between ten and twenty pounds.

Looking first at the surgeon, and then at her neighbor, Rhian said, "She doesnít have twenty pounds to lose."

"Rhian, it sounds like a lot but believe me, itíll be all right," Lydia replied. "There are several good products that can be purchased to provide the nutrients sheíll need."

The landscaper studied the small pieces of metal in her hand. "How will you? I mean, will there be much scarring?"

"Oh, no," Dr. Hadari answered. "Incisions are made to be as inconspicuous as possible, usually along the hairline, inside the mouth, and underneath the jaw line where scarring is nominal or hidden by natural creases or shadows."

"Okay, but how do you get to where the bones are broken to attach these things then," Rhian asked in confusion. "If you make the incisions in those areas, how would you say, get to her cheek bone? The closest would be through her mouth."

This part of the discussion was often the most squeamish for people and Dr. Hadari hesitated slightly, not knowing how this young woman would accept the procedure. "True. To access the facial bones, the incisions are made and the skin is carefully peeled away."

Both doctors watched as the blood drained out of Rhianís face. "Hey, easy," Lydia said as she wrapped an arm around the landscaperís waist to steady her. "It sounds a lot worse than it is."

"You have got to be kidding me." She closed her eyes, trying desperately not to think about what they were intending to do to Devenís face. "Please tell me you arenít serious."

"Rhian, breathe," Lydia coaxed.

Embarrassed by her lack of control, the landscaper pulled herself together and opened her eyes. "Sorry."

Dr. Hadari placed the photographs and sketches in a folder and removed some information that she handed to young woman. "These explain in more detail how the surgery works and what can be expected. I know it sounds gruesome, but believe me, it is the best way to ensure there is not much scarring. From what Iíve seen in the scans, I think we can expect her to have a full recovery from these injuries. But as with all operations, there are some risks and I want to be sure you understand that. The biggest issue we face in this kind of surgery is nerve damage, but I assure you that I will do everything I can to minimize that possibility."

Nerve damage. God, when is this going to end? We take two steps forward and then have to step back again. "When will you operate?"

"The surgery is scheduled for nine tomorrow morning. I donít anticipate any complications associated with the operation. Of course, you must understand that Deven is still quite weak and her body is still trying to deal with the trauma she sustained. Iíve consulted with Dr. Iverson, and we both think that the intubation tube will remain in place for at least twelve hours after tomorrowís surgery. Weíll start weaning her off of it gradually, and if she is gaining sufficient oxygenation on her own, the tube can be removed as early as tomorrow night."

Rhian glanced back towards where her lover lay. The inflammation of Devenís face had definitely gone down, but then it had been four days already. "All right." She looked back at the surgeon and returned the plate and screw. "Thank you, Dr. Hadari. Iíll read through this information."

"Good. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me."

"I will." Rhian watched the doctor walk away and then glanced at Lydia. "So, how is she really?"

"Sheís doing well. The neurological tests have all been positive. The swelling in her head has definitely decreased though sheís still got some in there. Her dependency on the ventilator has diminished. Sheís at 50% right now, which isnít bad at all. They just want to keep her on it until after the surgery tomorrow as a precaution. Once sheís off the ventilator then they can remove the chest tube. Her urine has cleared. The incision from the surgery is draining nicely. Itís a little inflamed but thatís not unusual. The same for her right hand."

"When will she wake up?"

"Well, not until the intubation tube is removed. So perhaps, tomorrow night or the day after." With her arm still around Rhianís waist, they walked back towards where Deven lay. "How are you holding up?"

"All right."

"Then why do you look like youíre about to drop?" Lydia asked.

Rhian placed her hands on the side rail of the hospital bed and looked down at the sedated woman. "Iím not sleeping well."

"Are you eating?"

"As much as I can. My mother keeps pushing me, but Lydia, I just donít have much of an appetite these days."

"Hmm." Lydia turned Rhianís face towards the light and studied her bloodshot eyes. "How are the kids holding up?"

Rhian sighed under the doctorís scrutiny. "Seana keeps asking me when we will be going home. I donít think she understands that Deven isnít there. Itís interesting in a sense that she would think of Devenís house as home after spending most of her life in my parentsí house."

"And Tiernan?" Lydia prodded as she gently pressed against the lymph nodes along Rhianís neck.

"I donít know," she responded sadly. "Every time I call over there Iím told heís asleep or unavailable for one reason or another. Laura assures me that heís getting my messages, but I donít believe her. I donít think Devenís mother is allowing Tiernan out of her clutches for any reason. I wish now that Iíd slapped that witch and shoved her broom up her ass."

Lydia took a step back and chuckled softly. "Iím sure you do. What about if I pick Seana up and take her over to play with Star and Freddie?"

"That would be great except that being that close to the house, I donít know how sheíd deal with not being able to go home. But Iím sure sheíd love to see the kids. Maybe we can arrange for them to come visit her."

"Sure. As for Tiernan, try not to worry about him too much. He pretty much grew up there and doesnít seem the worse for it."

"Youíre probably right. I just donít want him to think we abandoned him."

Lydiaís pager went off, and she read the display. "I have to go, but Iíll stop back by. Rhian, please try to eat better and if you want, I can prescribe something to help you sleep. Believe me, youíre going to need your strength when she starts to come around. Besides all the physical aspects that have to be dealt with, I imagine there are going to be some emotional and psychological issues as well."

"I hadnít even thought about that." And Iím not going to right now. She ran a hand through her hair and then rubbed the back of her neck in a mannerism she didnít recognize as one sheíd picked up from Deven. "Maybe it wouldnít be a bad idea. Something mild though."

"Sure. Iíll drop it by in a bit," she replied as she walked away to answer her page.

Rhian reached out and gently wrapped her fingers around Devenís forearm. The past four days had been nearly indistinguishable as one day blended into the next. Sheíd spent hours in this small space, watching people come and go Ė checking Devenís vitals, changing the intravenous solutions, and generally just poking and prodding the sedated woman. And through it all, the martial artist had remained mostly unresponsive.

Rhian had been present once when the neurologist had awakened Deven just enough to respond to some questions. The martial artist had moved her toes and the fingers on her left hand when prompted to do so. At the time, Rhian hadnít understood the enormity of that simple feat. It was later that she fully understood the ramifications and had nearly wept with relief.

"Well, honey, it seems that youíre doing so well that theyíre going to do some repair work on that beautiful face of yours tomorrow morning. After that, I think things are going to start looking up. At least weíll get some of these tubes out of you."

She studied Devenís still features. "Can you even hear me?" She sniffled and sat back down. That she was tired was a given. She hadnít slept much at all in the past four days. Resting her head once more against Devenís thigh, she allowed her eyes to drift shut. "Do you have any idea how much I love you and how much I miss you? I hope so," she murmured.

To Be Continued in Chapter Fourteen



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