“Mr. Spencer, it’s been three weeks. His condition isn‘t improving, and at this point…I‘m sorry, but there‘s nothing more we can do.” A perfectly even voice, pitched low with just the right amount of gentle sympathy. “I know it’s going to be difficult, but it’s really time you start thinking about…what decisions you’re going to make.” A perfectly placed hand on his shoulder, squeezing with just the right amount of pressure to convey understanding and condolence.
He barely resisted the urge to break every one of the doctor’s fingers. Slowly.
“With your permission, I’d like to send one of our social workers up to speak with you about--”
“Just send the papers.” His own voice, always low and just a bit gruff, now sounded as though the words were being scraped out over sandpaper. He didn’t look up from the pale face his eyes had been fixed on every waking moment for far, far too long, but he felt the body standing behind him stiffen. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Mr. Spencer, I really think--”
“It doesn‘t matter what you think,” he interrupted, his tone soft and reasonable--which somehow only highlighted the underlying threat in his words. “Get out of here and send the damn papers. I’ll--” He swallowed hard, his voice suddenly failing him. “I’ll think about it,” he murmured, the words coming out in a choked rush that ordinarily would have had him sneering at such a display of weakness.
The doctor sputtered for a few moments, before hastily exiting the small, dark room. Once again, a blanket of heavy silence descended on the room’s two occupants, broken only by the cold, impersonal beeping of a heart monitor and the reptilian hiss of the ventilator. Henry leaned back in the surprisingly comfortable chair some compassionate nurse had rustled up for him the first week and finally took his gaze away from Shawn’s face.
His son’s skin seemed almost translucent under the harsh light of the single lamp at the head of the bed, ashen and colorless, bruise-dark circles standing out starkly around sunken eyes. Shawn had lost a startling amount of weight despite the IV pumping necessary nutrients into his body, and one of the nurses had said a feeding tube would soon be an option.
Except Shawn’s doctors weren’t talking to him about feeding tubes.
“Gus? Gus, what the hell? It’s three in the morning!”
“Mr. Spencer, it’s Shawn! You’ve got to…you’ve got to come. Please, you’ve got to come.”
Henry had always known this, this thing his son had going at the SBPD was going to come back and bite him in the ass. But not like this…never like this. He’d thought it would just end like all of Shawn’s other escapades--with his boy peeling out of town on that deathtrap he called a bike, possibly with law enforcement and a few angry husbands/boyfriends/fathers on his trail. Shawn would drift around the country for a few months, pick a spot, and start the whole reckless, irresponsible cycle all over again.
It was not supposed to end like this.
“What happened? Damn it, Gus, talk to me!”
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry. They said it was all right, Shawn just wanted to look. Just a quick look, he promised! I couldn’t do anything…I’m sorry, Mr. Spencer. He pushed me out of the way—I tried to drag him down with me, I swear I tried! They said it was all right.”
It hadn’t even really been Shawn’s fault. The restaurant Shawn had led the police to in an effort to shut down a money laundering ring had been declared clear. It had been a stupid, rookie mistake by one of the detectives under Lassiter, and Shawn had paid for it. Paid for it when some two-bit thug had decided taking out the ‘psychic’ that had busted him was worth more than trying to escape.
According to the witness reports, his son had never had a chance to do more than shove Gus out of the line of fire, taking four bullets before Lassiter subdued the assailant. One in the shoulder, one in the side, two straight to the chest. By all rights, Shawn should have died then and there.
“Mr. Spencer, your son’s heart stopped three times on the way to the hospital. He made it to surgery, but you need to prepare yourself—it doesn’t look good.”
It was only Detective O’Hara’s and Gus’s on-the-spot efforts that had kept Shawn alive long enough for paramedics to get to him. They’d kept him alive. Henry would never be able to find the words to tell them how grateful he was to them—not if he tried for a hundred years. Keeping Shawn from bleeding out on the floor had not negated the fact that he’d taken four .38 Specials to the upper torso, though.
“The bullets missed the heart, but not much else. Shawn suffered damage to his lungs, liver, and small intestine. We had to remove part of the intestine, as well as reinflate the right lung. The next twenty four hours are critical.”
Massive blood loss.
Severe lacerations to the liver.
So began a nightmarish parade of vigils in the ICU waiting room, his son’s best friend beside him, waiting to hear if Shawn was going to make it through. Three surgeries, and every time he had seen it in their eyes—they weren’t expecting Shawn to live. Henry’s entire world had narrowed to the sickening surge of hopefeardread each time a doctor approached him, the crush of desperate thankfulness each time he realized he’d get to see his son alive at least one more time. It seemed all he knew now was the false brightness of fluorescent bulbs, the stench of blood and sickness no amount of antiseptic could completely cover, and Gus’s endless, broken apologies for something he could not have prevented.
And Shawn, fading away right before his eyes.
In the past three weeks, Henry had all but moved into the ICU, watching with growing despair as his boy stubbornly clung to life, but failed to get any better. Too much blood loss, too much organ damage…just too much. The last surgery had seen him sink from unconsciousness to a coma, and his damaged lungs had seemingly given up the ghost. The respirator was doing Shawn’s breathing for him.
And now the doctors were asking him to turn it off.
To take away life-support. To allow his son, his child to die.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Fathers were not supposed to bury their sons. He couldn’t believe that with all the cases he had taken, all the times he had put his life on the line, it should be Shawn who went first. It was impossible. Shawn’s entire existence seemed to belie the very idea of death.
Damn it all, they were just starting to get back to some semblance of a relationship. He was just starting to be a part of Shawn’s life again. No matter how reluctant he acted, he’d been secretly overjoyed to find some common ground with his son again. He’d thought he had been given another chance to fix things, to help Shawn finally realize all the potential he held. How could that be over?
Sighing softly, Henry glanced over at the clock hanging by the door, wincing as he noted the time. Five in the morning. Gus would be arriving soon, allowing Henry a couple of hours for a much-needed shower and maybe some real sleep at home. Between him, Gus, and Detective O’Hara, they’d managed to arrange it so that there was always someone sitting with Shawn. Henry was a well-decorated ex-cop and Shawn had dated five women on the nursing staff in the past…minor details like visitation hours were overlooked.
Given the fact that Shawn had actually been dating two of the women at the same time, Henry really couldn’t fathom why his history with the nurses worked in their favor, but he wasn’t going to complain. That was just the way things apparently worked in Shawn’s world.
Slowly, he reached over and let one hand rest on Shawn’s forehead. “You really stepped in it this time, didn’t ya’ kid?” He let his fingers card lightly through his son’s hair. “I finally got a hold of your mom tonight. She’s in China, if you can believe it….some kind of traveling art history tour. Apparently left her laptop in Italy and couldn’t get cell reception at the monastery they were staying at. Surprise, surprise, huh? At least you come by it honestly. She’s catching the first flight out of Beijing. Said to tell you she…well, she said to tell you she loves you, and she’ll be here soon.”
Henry had been prepared to be furious with his ex-wife, once he had finally gotten into contact with her. He’d been ready to scream, rant, and rail at her for being so far out of touch. It hadn’t lasted beyond the explanation of what had happened to their son. In those few moments, the anger, hurt, and rancor simply drained away, and she wasn’t his ex, or the flighty woman he’d been struggling to track down for almost a month. She was the mother of his child and they had talked for nearly two hours while her tour manager made arrangements to get her back stateside, comforting each other (however awkwardly) and assuring each other that Shawn would be fine, their boy would pull through.
It would destroy her when she found out the doctors’ prognosis.
Henry leaned back in the chair and scrubbed his hands over his face, pressing against his eye sockets until he saw little bursts of color behind his closed eyelids. God, he was tired. He couldn’t quite remember when he had last caught anything more than a few hours’ sleep in his own bed. Mostly, he’d been existing on catnaps in the very chair he was currently occupying, and copious amounts of the hospital cafeteria’s crappy coffee. Intellectually, he knew he was on the verge of burning out entirely. He needed real sleep, real food, and real time away from the constant stream of well-wishers from the precinct. Their strained, pitying worry was almost more than he could bear.
Even as the thought occurred to him, he brushed it aside. Maybe, maybe, when Shawn’s mother arrived, he would take more than a quick break. Maybe he would go home, take a shower that lasted longer than five minutes, cook a real meal. Maybe he would sit down on his couch, and somehow the answer to what he should do would magically fall into his lap.
Maybe Hell would freeze over.
How was he supposed to make this choice? He’d nearly keeled over when he’d been informed he was the one Shawn had named as his Power of Attorney. Shawn trusted him to make the necessary decisions, to know what his wishes would be and carry them out. Despite all that had passed between them, Shawn trusted him with that. And he had no idea what he was going to do.
He knew what he wanted to do--he wanted to tell the doctors to take their prognosis and shove it up their collective ass. How could they expect him to just give up on his son like that? To just…let Shawn go like that? Yet, was that what Shawn would want? To be kept alive by machines? To slowly wither away into a mere shadow of himself, while his friends and family watched?
It frightened Henry more than he would ever admit to think that the answer was probably no.
He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t—
Henry’s hands dropped from his face and he sat up ramrod straight in the chair, his eyes snapping towards the door of Shawn’s room. It took him a bare instant to assess and categorize the person standing in the doorway, nervousness fairly radiating from the thin frame. It wasn’t a doctor, or any of the nurses on duty. It wasn’t anyone Henry had ever seen before, as a matter of fact.“Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”