Benton sat silently by Carter's bedside, slumped back, though his
eyes watched the younger man carefully.
A part of him was relieved Carter had gotten this far, another part was furious that this had happened at all. On the one hand, Carter should have been at home, asleep peacefully in his owm bed. On the other, he should have died from his injuries; the fact that he was still alive spoke not only of tenacity on the part of both patient and doctors, but of something close to a miracle. So Benton was caught between cursing whatever higher powers there were, and thanking them.
Carter had been dead on that traincar. And he had been dead again on the OR table, more than once Benton had forced Elizabeth to admit. And here, in ICU, he was still closer to death than life. He wasn't breathing for himself, and there was no sign of his waking. But he was here. He wasn't in the morgue; he wasn't dead. Benton glanced at the heart monitor for reassurance. Carter was most definitely alive. Now if he would only wake up and show Peter there was no reason to wish otherwise.
Benton sat upright as soon as that thought crossed his mind, hating himself for bringing it up. When Elizabeth had told him there was little chance that Carter would make it through surgery, that had become the main issue. Nothing mattered except for Carter surviving. Now that he had, the other considerations were starting to reappear.
The EEG proved the resident still had brain activity, but that wasn't enough for Benton. He needed to know Carter wouldn't suffer any long- term effects; he needed to know that Carter would still be Carter. And there was no way of knowing that until he woke up.
Benton sighed, slouching again, crossing his arms and throwing his head back in an effort to stretch out the kinks in his neck. He stared up at the ceiling for a long moment, then brought his head forward again.
"Hi, Peter," Kerry said, hovering in the doorway. "Anything?" she asked.
Benton shook his head. "Not yet."
"I got some information from the police," she continued hesitantly. "I'm not sure if you..."
"What?" Benton asked, with little enthusiasm. It no longer mattered - the man was dead. He had taken five innocent people with him, and Carter... Benton glanced across at the familiar, still features. Peter was glad he was feeling so numb; there was no outlet for anger anymore. There was nothing to be done but wait to see what the total damage would be.
"He was a drug dealer," Kerry said.
"Okay?" echoed the attending disbelievingly.
"What do you want me to say? 'Damn those drug dealers'?" Benton asked wearily. "Because honestly, Kerry, I don't care. The guy's dead. And I won't lie: I'm glad that he is." He looked at her directly, as though expecting her to have some sort of reaction to that admission.
She gazed down at Carter for a moment. "Me too." She sighed deeply, easing herself into the other chair in the room. "I just... I thought you wanted answers."
Benton regarded her mutely, his eyes unreadable. He had wanted answers; he had wanted explanations. But after a few hours of sitting here, after a few hours of wondering what-if, he had come to the conclusion that there wasn't a good enough reason in the world for what had happened today. After a minute, he said, "Not anymore. All I want is for him to wake up and for this to be over."
Kerry nodded, understanding. "Do you want some company?" she asked neutrally, not wanting to impose herself by sounding hopeful.
"Not really," Benton said, giving her a grim, apologetic smile. "I..." He wasn't sure why he didn't want anyone else there. It would have been a distraction, and he was kind of hoping for one of those. But if Carter woke, and wasn't... Benton didn't know how he was going to react, but he was sure that he did not want an audience.
"You don't have to explain," Kerry reassured him. She was not sure when it had happened exactly, but she was well aware that Benton was more entitled to sit here with John than anyone else aside from Millicent Carter. "Call us when he wakes up, would you?"
"Okay." Kerry levered herself out of the chair, taking one last look at the resident. She smoothed over a lock of his hair with a light hand. Then she nodded at Peter and exited the ICU room.
Carter shifted slightly, his eyelids flickering slightly.
"John? John, can you hear me?" In an instant, Benton was on his feet, leaning over the younger man anxiously.
Carter blinked at him fuzzily, then tried to speak, but only emitted an unintelligible croak.
"Okay, take it easy. You're on a vent, don't try to talk," Benton ordered, running a hand over his hair and sighing shakily in relief. He couldn't ascertain much, but it was evident that the resident recognized him. That was a start. "John, do you know where you are?"
The brown eyes darted around his surroundings, then focused back on Benton with a resigned look that signaled his awareness. He tried to speak again.
Benton shook his head in reproach. "Carter, I told you, you're on a vent. You know what that means: you can't talk yet. All right?" Carter gazed at him imploringly. "Don't look at me like that. You're not ready to be extubated. Do you understand me? Blink once for yes."
Carter blinked obediently, though his expression was grudging.
"Are you in a lot of pain?"
The resident seemed to have to think about that for a moment, then blinked twice.
"Is that no?" Benton asked, getting another single blink. "Are you sure you're okay? Because we can get you something."
Carter blinked once.
"Okay." Benton gave him a long look, then smiled reassuringly. "You're going to be fine, Carter." Oh God, that felt good to say; it felt even better to believe it. It had been way too close this time; in fact, it had happened this time. Benton shook his head, trying to dislodge that idea. It hadn't happened permanently, and that was all that mattered. "You're going to be fine," he repeated emphatically.
Carter made yet another effort at communication.
"Unless, of course, you continue to piss me off."
Carter managed a faint smile. Then, with an urgent, earnest glare, he attempted again.
Benton started to deny him again, then thought the better of it. If Carter was this upset about something, he'd never get rest without being sedated. "Okay. Here's the deal: I turn it off for one second, you get to say one thing, and then you're going to rest for the night, all right? And your one thing better be less than three words," Benton warned. "Deal?"
Carter blinked once.
"All right." Benton flicked off the ventilator, leaning down to catch the nearly inaudible words.
"Others?" Carter whispered hoarsely.
Without replying, Benton restarted the vent. Carter waited, the brown gaze expectant. Benton sat down again, steepling his hands under his chin. After a second's hesitation, he said, "Everything's okay, Carter. Don't worry about it."
Carter stared at him, wishing he weren't so exhausted that he could barely see straight. He could sense the surgeon wasn't being entirely truthful with him, but he couldn't be sure without looking at Benton. He blinked, trying to focus, but it wasn't working.
Benton rested his hand on the younger man's arm lightly. "It's all right. Just get some rest." He watched Carter drift off to sleep, wishing for a split second that Carter had not been quite so Carter. He had known the second he had flipped off the vent what the question would be, and had regretted caving in, but by then it had been too late. He hated having to lie to the younger man, but there was really no point in telling him the truth tonight. Tonight Carter had survived, and that was enough for Peter.