Courage
by Judith Freudenthal
1996

Natalie was on her way to work. She hated driving during storms, especially when the roads were covered with melted snow and the temperature was quickly dropping below freezing. The sun was low in the horizon and would be setting in about an hour.

Natalie kept an eye on the road and the traffic, knowing how easy it was to skid on the newly forming ice. The car next to her hit an icy patch, lost control of the vehicle sliding into her car with sufficient force to force her into a spin. Frantically, but calmly she tried to control the spin, panic began to overtake her as she could not regain control. She slammed into the passenger door of the car next to her as well as the rear end of the one in front of her, startling her, causing the fear to escalate. Suddenly everything went black.

 

The doors to the emergency room burst open as the paramedics rushed through with an unconscious and completely immobilized patient strapped to the gurney. It was Natalie.

As soon as she was transferred to the examination table the doctor began his examination. Other than blood covering one side of her face from a gash near her temple there were no obvious injuries.

 

About two hours later Nick entered the precinct ready for his shift, growing concerned as he saw the expressions of the other officers. Something was very wrong.

"Where's Tracy?" Nick asked concerned.

"Nick, you didn't hear? Dr. Lambert's been in a serious car accident."

"How long ago? How is she?"

"About two hours ago. They've been trying to reach you."

"I wasn't at home," Nick said as he raced out of the precinct. The fact that his other question went unanswered did not ease the knot forming in his stomach.

 

Nick rushed into the hospital and headed for the nearest nurses station.

"Can you tell me where I can find Natalie Lambert?" Nick said trying not to panic. "She's being examined. Have a seat in the waiting area and someone will be out to talk to you soon," The nurse said.

Nick entered the waiting area and was not reassured by the deep concern he saw on Tracy, Grace and Reese's faces. The knot tightened.

"Nick, where were you?" Tracy asked concerned.

"I was talking with an old friend. I must've left my cell phone in the car. Any word?"

"No. It's been over two hours," Reese said knowing that when it took this long it was usually bad news.

"What happened?"

"She was heading in to work when someone apparently lost control and slid into her causing her spin out of control and slam into two other vehicles. It was one hell of a mess. Two of the other vehicle's occupants died either onsite or were DOA," Reese said having read the preliminary police report. Rank sometimes did have its uses.

Grace was too upset for words and Nick took her in his arms and held her, rubbing her back gently to soothe her.

Nick's fear grew that he would lose his best friend. He fought down the panic threatening to rise. He wanted to go see what was taking so long, but knew he could not.

About thirty minutes later a doctor approached looking quite grim. Nick's heart sank. He hand his hand on Grace's arm and felt her whole body tense, awaiting the bad news.

"I'm looking for a family member of Natalie Lambert's."

"I'm the closest she has," Nick spoke up. "How is she?"

"She's in extremely critical condition. The accident caused massive head trauma. She's in a coma at the moment. The CAT scan showed severe brain damage, enough that if she somehow managed to regain consciousness she would not be aware of her surroundings. There is also extensive damage to her spinal cord. The damage was high enough that she would never be able to breathe without assistance."

Nick felt a great pain in his chest, as if someone had shoved a garlic coated wooden stake through it. Tracy and Reese both noticed how much paler than usual he looked and escorted him to the couch a few feet behind him. They did not need him passing out and giving himself a concussion.

"Can I see her?" Nick asked. He had had some hope of helping her before he had heard of the spinal damage.

"Yes. She's in the critical care ward."

"I wish I could have better news for you. I'm sorry," The doctor said as he left.

Nick saw the shock on Grace, Tracy and Reese's faces, and knew it probably mirrored what they saw on his. This can't be happening, ran through everyone's mind.

 

Nick's eyes glazed over as he remembered spending time with Natalie a few weeks ago after they had just come off a long busy night. There had been a multiple car accident with many fatalities. He had known that she did not want to be alone and had offered for her to spend the day with him.

"Nick, I need you to promise me something," She put up her hand to stop him when she saw that he was about to say something. "I need you to hear me out first." Nick nodded and Natalie continued. "If I am ever injured severely enough that I will never recover even with your help I want to be allowed to die. I do not want to be kept alive by machines. I will not live barely aware of my surroundings. That is not living."

"I will see to it that your wish is granted, God forbid it should ever come to that," Nick said knowing how important it was to her. He prayed that he never had to make good on that promise.

Nick felt someone shaking his shoulder and snapped out of it.

"Nick, you okay?" Grace asked concerned. She had not liked the way his eyes had glazed over.

Nick nodded sadly. "I was just thinking. I'm going up to see Natalie. Does anyone want to come along?"

"Yes," Reese said. He would go see Natalie and then leave Nick and her alone. The others just nodded.

 

The elevator doors opened and Nick saw the sign on the wall directing them to the left for the critical care unit. Grace, Tracy and Reese followed behind Nick.

 

The nurse stopped their progress. "Can I help you?"

"We'd like to see Dr. Lambert," Reese said.

"Only family members are allowed."

"I'm the closest she has to family. We were engaged. This is her sister and they are cousins," Nick lied knowing it was the only way they would get in without a hassle.

"Third bed on the left. You can only stay a few minutes. Her fiance can stay longer."

The four of them headed over to Natalie's bedside and were unprepared for the sight before them. Natalie's face was bruised and swollen along the left side and a bandage covered her left temple. A respirator hissed as it breathed for her. Her heartbeat sounded on the monitor as the graph tracked the state of her heartbeat. It was strong and steady. There were electrodes on her forehead which lead to the EEG, its graph showed minimal activity. Tubes and iv lines protruded from various parts of Natalie's body, making her look like something from a science fiction movie. A heavy duty cervical collar reminded them of the serious spinal damage.

Nick looked at his companions and saw the sadness, compassion and shock on their faces and knew his must be a close mirror image. Nick knew for certain right then that there was nothing he could do for her. He could not repair that much damage, not even Lacroix could. He was going to lose the woman he loved more than he had thought possible. A walk in the noon sun would hurt less than the diagnosis and now seeing her laying there looking so pale and helpless.

"Natalie, I know you probably can't hear me, but I'll miss you," Tracy said as a tear ran down her cheek. She did not know what else to say. She had never been good at saying goodbye or knowing exactly what to do in such situations.

"Natalie, you will be missed by myself and everyone who ever knew you," Reese said his eyes misting up. "We're all losing a friend and one of the best M.E.'s we've ever had."

"Natalie, honey why didn't you stay home? You would not have been the only one to do so," Grace said as tears ran down her cheeks. She took hold of Natalie's hand, careful not to disturb the iv lines and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I will really miss you, my friend." She kissed Natalie's cheek as a way of saying goodbye.

Tracy could no longer stand to be there and left the room. Reese had seen how disturbed and shaky Tracy was and followed her out. Out in the hallway Reese comforted Tracy. Both had tears running down her face.

"What is going to happen to her?" Tracy asked.

"I don't know," Reese said only telling the partial truth. He had a strong hunch what might happen, what a part of him hoped would happen. If that did not happen Natalie would spend years, decades possibly, lying there waiting for her body to waste away until some infection finally ended her existence. The Natalie they had all known and cared about was dead, only the shell remained.

Back at Natalie's bedside Nick and Grace embraced. Grace's tears flowed freely down her cheeks as he soothing rubbed her back. Nick fought back his tears, knowing he could not let them out now. He would do that later.

Grace stayed by Natalie's bedside keeping Nick company for hours. When she could no longer stand seeing her friend looking so pale and helpless she kissed her cheek one last time.

"I'll miss you, my friend. Your spirit will be greatly missed."

She had just lost one of her best friends. She hoped Natalie had left behind a living will, unable to bear the thought of her friend lingering in a vegetative coma. She took one last look at Natalie's face before leaving Nick to grieve alone.

Nick stayed by Natalie's side throughout the day and long into the night. He gently stroked her uninjured cheek and kissed lovingly before turning off the equipment and unhooking all the tubes, wires and IV's from her fragile body. He gently scooped her limp form up and cradled her in his arms as her heartbeat slowed and then finally stopped. He softly caressed her hair, while fighting back the tears that demanded to be shed. No one disturbed them as he had marked her chart DNR the at first chance he had gotten. He had whammied the head nurse into believing that Natalie had left a living will stating she did not want to be kept alive by machines. It was true, even though Natalie had never written the living will, despite meaning to.

 

Shortly before sunrise Nick was at his loft letting the tears flow. He had never hurt like this in his entire 800 years. He was tempted to drown his pain in blood and then watch the sunrise, but did not knowing that he had not yet been forgiven and would be forever kept from her. Suddenly he sensed someone in the loft with him and looked up startled.

"Thank you for carrying out my wishes. I can now rest in peace. I'll always love you and miss you. Maybe I'll see you again some day," Natalie said looking as beautiful as she ever had. She was smiling one of her warmest smiles, the kind that made his heart melt.

"I'll always love you, Nat. I'll never forget you. I will miss you too. Maybe we will see each other again, someday," Nick said, blood tears streaming down his face. His heart threatening to rip apart into a million pieces from the enormous sadness he felt. There was a void deep inside him that on one else would ever be able to fill. He knew she would never forgive him if he committed suicide and pushed all such thoughts out of his mind.

"I will continue my search for mortality," he said not wanting her to think she had wasted the last six years of her life. He was more determined than ever to achieve both redemption and mortality.

He felt her essence touching his cheek and he reached up and caressed hers for the last time.

The end.

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