Axiom Ch. 07bydrunkenphilosophy©
Rebirth. So oft talked about, celebrated in movies and literature. To be pushed again through that amnion and expectorated into life, refreshed and renewed. Was that what he was hoping for? That fateful night where seconds ticked by in acrid droplets that burned through the membranes of his memory. The one where his persona - that richly cerebral being, all logic and computations and calculations, cracked open like a chrysalis that ached to metamorphose.
Rebirth. Was this rebirth, then? Was this some fucking rejuvenation? The reset he needed so goddamn badly in his life, or was it nothing more than some giddy illusion of renewal that happened in the final moment before death? Whatever it was, he couldn't give a fuck anymore. This moment was a new nadir, a new depth he'd never sunk to before, and he'd be damned if life could get any lower than this right now. The only thing he knew for sure was that he would greet Death that night.
"She's gone into V-fib!"
"Charging...ready. Clear!" Shock.
"V-fib, no pulse!"
"Charging...ready. Clear!" Another shock.
Aidan watched in silent horror as they tried to restore the normal sinus rhythm of her heartbeat. Thankfully her heart had gone into fibrillations - it wasn't pumping per se, merely twitching out of synchrony. The defibrillator would restart the heart's natural rhythm, converting the chaotic spasm of the cardiac muscles into a proper functional beat. Aidan's own heart had almost ceased beating, drowning in a deluge of emotions that he wasn't ready to handle.
"V-fib, still no pulse!"
"Charging...ready. Clear!" Strike three.
Finally, her heart kicked back into action and started beating on its own accord. The alarms quieted down and the doctors were visibly relieved. She still wasn't out of the danger zone, but she was alive. They just stood in their places around her, still watching for any signs of cardiac instability. The machines continued to beep in contentment, reporting normal values for all her vitals. Good heart rate, respiration normal.
He was still numb with shock when one of the doctors came out and started talking to him. Aidan just nodded blankly at the doctor's words. He could only catch bits and pieces of the conversation, having been a little lightheaded throughout the whole ordeal. From the snatches he had gathered, it sounded like she was going to be okay.
"...stabilized, in good condition..."
"...under strict monitoring...watch for any developments..."
"...was a rare complication, shouldn't be a recurring problem..."
Even so, he couldn't quite process it. Feeling a little overwhelmed, he just excused himself and started walking towards the mens washroom. The insides of his mouth felt like sandpaper and his skin had gone cold and clammy. He turned on a tap and started to splash water all over his face hoping that it would help him to sober up.
Looking up, he saw his reflection in the mirror and couldn't recognize the man that was staring back at him. The man in the mirror had the look of a hunted animal. Shaken, he tried to regain his composure and continued to wash his face. Only then did he realize that his hands were trembling violently.
For the first time in many years, Aidan cried. It started as a hollow sob, a listless gasp that turned into a choked cry of anguish. After all that had happened tonight, his sanity was hanging by a thread. The same could be said for her life.
How was it that yesterday night they were discussing office gossip over mouthfuls of seafood and sangria and today her heart stopped beating for eight minutes? She was quite literally dead in both the medical and legal sense for eight minutes. Gwyneth went over to the afterlife and came back. The grief came down in torrents, destroying whatever was left of his already brittle psyche.
Fear. The fear of losing her was such a visceral reaction, he actually felt like retching. The nausea hit him hard, inciting a gurgle of dry heaves. He felt sick to the marrow. Then there was the guilt of knowing that this was all his fault.
If only he had been more vigilant. If only he had possessed the foresight to anticipate this. If only they were prepared. If only he was less arrogant. If only she was protected. Safety deigned a price far beyond any fortune could have afforded, and he knew it. His only option now was to hope that his mistake wasn't a fatal one.
The teardrops mingled with the water on his face. There was no point in holding back now. Fear. Love. Grief. Guilt. All these years, he had thought that he was immune to this kind of crap. He'd prided himself on being the master of his feelings, displaying excellent control in every aspect. It had been so easy to laugh off the woes of those gripped by emotions - he'd made good on every opportunity to mock these poor people.
Other than anger, which was his default setting anyway - he only felt whatever he chose to feel. Not anymore. Now he was totally spent, having been burned to the core. If getting to him had been their plan then well, mission fucking accomplished. They'd chosen the perfect spot and struck him precisely at his Achilles' heel.
The tears didn't last long but they made a significant enough impact. Feeling quite depleted he cleaned himself up and made himself presentable before shuffling back out in a daze. Michael offered to let him go in to see Gwyeth, saying that she was in a stable condition and that it wouldn't hurt for him to just go in and talk to her. Aidan hesitated, being worried for her well-being but upon Michael's insistence that it was totally safe, he was more than happy to take up the offer.
Michael pushed open the glass sliding doors of her room and stepped aside to let Aidan through.
"Wait," Aidan remembered at the last minute. "Can I borrow your stethoscope?"
Michael looked a little baffled but dipped his hands into the pocket of his labcoat and fished out the instrument without asking any questions. He would be observing them from outside anyway. Aidan closed the door behind him and moved towards the bed, his heart thumping painfully in his chest.
When he got a good look at her his heart gave a little lurch. Looking at her, you wouldn't think that she had just narrowly escaped with her life. There was nothing to indicate what had happened other than a small wound on her left cheek which was already beginning to swell, partially hidden by the oxygen mask on her face.
The room was silent apart from the constant beep of the monitors. He settled into a chair beside her bed and leaned forward to be closer to her. Not even the injuries could mar the alluring features of her face. She didn't look like she was in pain, she just looked like she was sleeping. Serene, happy and comfortable like she was in his bed.
He wondered if she was dreaming. If she was, was she currently having nightmares about the incident? Did her mind just totally black out as a protective mechanism to survive the trauma? Could her subconscious hear him right now? He didn't know but the one thing he knew for sure was that she would be fighting. Aidan reached for her hand and gingerly took it in his as if she were made of porcelain.
"Hey, it's me." His voice resonated against the gaping silence of the room. "I don't know if you can hear me, but I'm just going to try anyway."
"You..." he broke off, hanging his head low, suddenly at a loss for what to say. "Gwyneth, you simply are the most incredible person I've ever met. Words can't even begin to describe how proud I am of you right now. How I feel about you." He brushed a tendril of hair off her face with a gentle sweep of his fingers.
"God, you're so beautiful, you know? Everything about you endears me to you. Everything Gwyneth, every little detail." He looked at her bruised face and his heart felt like it was in his throat.
"Did you know that every time you're hungry, you start biting your lower lip? And I can tell when you really like something." He gave a shaky laugh, his nerves unsteady. "Your eyebrow starts twitching and you fold your arms to feign nonchalance but there's that twinkle and that twitch and it gives you away."
He stopped for a while, temporarily crippled by the wave of affection the words drew out. "And...and you're a bag girl. You're such a bag girl. When we're walking past women you never check out their shoes. Your eyes go straight for the bags."
The bittersweet memories came rushing back, all the little fragments of her that he held so dear bursting forth like flower buds in bloom. "When you're angry and you're trying to rein it in, your eyes widen and you don't say a word. Every time you're upset, every time someone makes a mistake you just bite your tongue and graciously ignore the gaffe. You could always fire back, take up the anger and retaliate but you never do. Because that's what true strength is. Because you, Gwyneth, you embody the very meaning of courage."
"You're such a rarity, a gem. I wish that I could just tell you how much I love you. How you make me smile without even trying. There are so many things I wish I could tell you, but...but everything I want to say seems so inadequate.
"Right now, Gwyneth words are futile. I should have told you earlier. Should have said it to you that night - I don't know why I held back, but...Jesus, Gwyneth, please, just come back to me. Please, please promise me you'll be okay. If you can hear me, if you're there, please, just - please. Please."
He closed his eyes and rubbed his face, struggling to pull himself together. She still looked at peace, a proverbial sleeping beauty awaiting the fateful kiss to bring her back to life. Aidan couldn't excavate any deeper inside himself, couldn't find anything else to say. Remembering the stethoscope, he fished it out and plugged the earpieces in. His hands skated gently over her ribcage, careful not to disturb any of the electrodes that were taped to the skin of her chest.
He found a good spot and there it was again, that heartbeat. A little faint, but to his ears it was incredibly loud and extremely close. It was the only sound he wanted to hear. That was his prayer, his hymn, a sacred invocation. The anthem to his being. He just sat there, holding the stethoscope to her chest, forgetting time as it slipped past the two of them. Locked away in another universe, the world around them forgotten.
Her family arrived not long after. He was waiting outside her room, settled into one of the chairs when the entire posse bustled in with Dylan amongst them, anxious to see her. Gwyneth's mother rushed into the room with her sons and Dylan close behind, barely registering Aidan's existence.
Aidan watched as the family circled his unconscious lover. As soon as she neared the bed and got a good look at her daughter, she started to blink back the tears, clapping her hands over her mouth. Gwyneth's three younger brothers milled around the bed awkwardly, wearing stoic expressions, but he could see the grief hidden in plain sight on their faces.
Gwyneth's mother reached out, took her daughter's hand and kissed it. A small sob escaped from her as she tenderly stroked her daughter's hair. Dylan put a supporting arm around her, rubbing his hand up and down her shoulders in an attempt to console her.
Seeing the frank affection in the room did nothing to assuage his guilt. It only made it worse. Still he couldn't tear his eyes away from the family in front of him. It affected him deeply, to see the love of a close-knit family - Gwyneth's support team. They were here now, they were going to be there for her, just as they always have been.
Dylan glanced at him and caught his gaze briefly, but his eyes flicked back to Gwyneth, as if he couldn't even bring himself to look at Aidan. It was a small, quick gesture but Aidan could feel the hostility in it. He felt like an outsider, an interloper that was encroaching on personal family territory.
Julian, who was sitting in the chair beside him, noticed his discomfort.
"Perhaps we should leave," he advised Aidan. "Allow them to have some time to themselves. They should have all the space they need."
Aidan didn't want to go but he knew that his presence couldn't be what the family desired. He wanted to stay and maybe help out somehow - leaving right now felt so rude, but Julian had a point. This was a family crisis and family was everyone in the room. Not him. He didn't belong here. He nodded back at Julian and the two men got up, ready to make themselves scarce. They hadn't taken more than a few steps when Gwyneth's mother walked out of the room and caught up with them.
"Excuse me, are you Gwyneth's colleagues?"
Aidan turned around to face her. She was either nervous or cold, judging by the way she crossed her arms in front of her chest. Her wide, almond-shaped eyes were searching the two mens faces for answers. It was evident that she'd been crying throughout the night - her nose was all red and puffy and her eyes looked pretty bloodshot.
"Hi, I'm Aidan Scodelario." He extended his hand meekly. "We spoke over the phone?"
Her eyes shone in understanding and she took his hand, giving it a halfhearted shake. "Ah, I remember. Have you had a chance to see her yet?"
"Yes, yes I have. The doctors said that she's in a stable condition. All we can do now is wait for her to wake up." He couldn't tell if she knew about the cardiac arrest. If she didn't, should he tell her? He darted a look at Julian, who must have read his mind because he shook his head slightly.
Aidan hesitated for a moment, but all he had to do was take one look at Gwyneth's mother and he knew. What kind of a manipulative asshole would withhold information like this from a distraught mother? True, it couldn't be what she needed to hear right now, but better for her to find out now than later.
"Mrs. Kenner, Gwyneth went into cardiac arrest an hour ago." As soon as the words left his mouth he saw the shock ripple through her face. "The doctors managed to revive her, and she's safe now. They've assured us that there's absolutely nothing to worry about - it was an extremely rare complication and her vitals look very good."
He wasn't sure that she heard anything other than the words 'cardiac arrest'. A frown creased Julian's brow, showing that he disapproved of Aidan's decision. The pain was so evident on her face that Aidan briefly regretted telling her. It was hard enough to know that her daughter suffered from life-threatening injuries without having to hear about the complications.
"What happened?" Her voice came out as a hoarse whisper. "Who did this to her? Why would anyone do this?"
Julian's head snapped up at that question and his eyes flashed a warning at Aidan. He obviously didn't see a need for an outsider to know the finer details of the Ceres coup. The arrest was talk of the town right now and the last thing Julian wanted was for people to know about their involvement in the case.
Aidan caught his friend's nonverbal signal, feeling more irritated than ever. What a coward, he thought. Julian was all grand plans and big money but ultimately he had no qualms about running to Aidan for help. He was thoroughly fed up with his friend's attitude by now.
"We believe that she was attacked because of her involvement in the Ceres lawsuit. Has she mentioned-"
"That's enough," Julian cut him off in a stern voice. "Mrs. Kenner," Julian put on a polite, almost patronizing smile. "We hope you understand that this involves some sensitive matters-"
"Lynch, stay out of this." Aidan's eyes were burning with anger. "I make the decisions here, not you - and I think that she has every right to know." His tone was scathing. "In fact, I think that maybe it's time you left. Don't worry, I have everything covered over here. I'll keep you posted."
Julian lifted his chin in defiance but he knew that the fight was lost. Tonight he'd seen a whole new side of Aidan he'd never seen before and if anyone was going to try to anger this man, it sure as hell wasn't going to be him. Aidan was strung so tightly, it looked like he could snap at any moment. If anything, Aidan was right - Julian wasn't much of a man of courage. He just glowered at Aidan before turning sharply on his heel to leave. Aidan watched him disappear, his fists clenched into tight balls.
When Aidan turned back to face Gwyneth's mother he noted the confusion on her face. This wasn't the first impression he was hoping to make, but circumstances left him with little choice. He took a deep breath and gestured towards the chairs. "Mrs. Kenner," he said gently, "I promise to tell you everything about the case and how Gwyneth was involved. Have a seat - would you like some coffee?"
And tell her he did. From the facts of the Ceres case to the grisly chase scene at the dockyard - he spilled it all except for one: he omitted the details of their budding romance. Somehow he felt that this wasn't the way he wanted her to find out about their relationship.
She didn't say anything much, mostly she just nodded and answered with the sporadic 'yeah' and 'I see'. In fact, the more he told her, the more calm she seemed to get. At some points in the conversation her sons wandered over but she held up her hand and gestured for them to leave them alone. Finally he finished the story and they both sat there in silence. He watched her as she stared at her paper coffee cup, unable to predict how she was going to react.
"So..." Mrs. Kenner lifted her face to look him in the eye. "You took her off the case?"
"I did. She wasn't too happy about it, but she knows why I did it."
Uncertainty clouded her eyes. "But if you already took her off the case, why did this happen? She had nothing to do with Ceres. She's not a threat."
Aidan winced at the question. As much as he didn't want to tell her the truth just quite yet, he couldn't leave her in the dark. She was sharp - she had sussed on pretty quickly and definitely wanted an explanation.
"I believe..." he laced his fingers together and stared at them. "I believe that they went for her because we were romantically involved. We've been going out for a few weeks now."
A pregnant pause hung in the air. When he looked up to meet her eye, he could tell that she was feeling quite conflicted. As much as she didn't want to blame Aidan, she was still a grieving, hurting mother. It was hard for her to ignore the fact that her daughter had almost died for one sole reason - because she had dated this man. Logic would dictate that technically, it wasn't his direct fault but the both of them knew better. Aidan himself carried the guilt and Mrs. Kenner didn't know whether or not to be angry at him.
"I'm so sorry," Aidan said quietly. "I'm so very sorry about everything. I never meant to cause her harm, never meant to put her in any danger. There really is no point in me going on and on about how I didn't mean for anything to happen - the fact is, it did happen and it's all my fault. I should be the one lying there, not her. I'm the reason she's in there right now."
His jaw hardened and he shook his head. "If you want me to stay away, I will. I've caused enough hurt, the last thing I want, is to hurt her any more."
A dart of pain stabbed through his heart. He loved her - he really did, with everything he had. But after tonight, it would seem that he was all kinds of bad for her. She was so beautiful - outgoing, patient, kind. Big-hearted and generous, so full of love. And him? An arrogant workaholic loner with anger issues, amongst many others.
She deserved so much better and he didn't feel like he could be the man to make her happy. Heck, he couldn't even protect her. The guilt continued to gnaw at him as he thought of how he'd failed to do something as basic as keep her safe. Mrs. Kenner turned away from him, staring blankly at her daughter's sleeping frame. She didn't say a word.