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Fic: Paperweight [Eli Stone]



Paperweight

Eli had never liked hospitals. It wasn't the noises that bothered him, or the smell, or the regular interruptions – day and night – when a nurse checked on him and wrote in his chart. For Eli it was the boredom.

When he awoke from the operation, knowing that he had more good to do, he just wanted to get started. But recovering from brain surgery, as it turned out, took some time. Patience was required – a virtue Eli had not mastered.

At first, he had plenty of visitors to keep his mind off the tediousness of being laid up in hospital. They came throughout the day, sitting by his bed and talking even after he grew tired and craved a respite. While he appreciated their coming, he was frustrated that he was still bed-bound. He let them talk about what was going on with their lives, all the while being denied rejoining his own.

Then, after a while, the visits weren't as frequent. Nate still came by every day – there was no excuse for him not to, seeing as how he worked in the hospital. But then even he stopped dropping by on his days off. Eli didn't like to mention it, and assumed his brother was spending more time with Beth and Ben. He supposed he wouldn't want to hang out at the hospital either, if he didn't have to.

His mother's visits waned. She apologized profusely whenever she returned but there was pain in her eyes. Eli knew she didn't like hospitals either, and understood that she was probably thinking of her husband who had shared his aneurysm. His father's life, and eventually his death, had been so different from Eli's. But he couldn't find the words to discuss it with her. Like so many things when it came to his father, Eli remained silent.

His colleagues from WPK not visiting he could forgive. They were busy, he got that. Jordan ran a tight ship and he could hardly expect them to take time out of their day to sit around a hospital room. But Taylor had stopped coming in the evenings, as she had done so diligently in the first weeks after the operation. Even though they weren't together anymore, her absence hurt him. Patti, of all people, made excuses for her, but Eli wasn't much interested. Taylor had made her choice.

There was only one who was there with any regularity anymore. Only one of his friends who knew how bored and frustrated he was feeling. Eli thought it would be Chen, who seemed to understand him so well, but the good doctor had never been to see him. Despite Eli's coma vision or delusion, whatever it was, he realized Chen had probably not forgiven him for going through with the operation and was punishing him. Eli felt it was a little harsh, considering he hadn't gone and died or anything.

No, it was Maggie. She was the one who appeared by his bedside every night after work and throughout the weekend. She was unfailingly cheerful when she arrived each day which, when you were stuck in bed, could grate after a while. But Eli came to rely on her appearances, even if it was to remind himself that another day had passed and he was one day closer to getting out.

She came every day and filled him in on what was happening at work. He heard about all the big cases that were going on, and all the little ones she was handling herself. Those ones she described in excruciating detail, but he tried to keep his grimaces polite. It wasn't just updates she brought him – Maggie never arrived at the hospital without some form of sustenance. She knew he hated hospital food, so she smuggled in something different each day.

"Mmm, what do we have here?" she said in a sing-song voice that annoyed and amused him at the same time. She didn't wait for him to respond before unwrapping a couple of hot dogs. "Straight from the vendor outside the office. They're a little cold and one got smushed in my bag on the end here, but you get the idea."

She deposited the foil package on his table and didn't seem to mind that he wasn't eating them immediately. In truth his appetite was still pretty nonexistent. He just didn't have the heart to tell her not to bring the food, and suspected she would anyway. Maggie launched into a retelling of that day's staff meeting, complete with her Jordan Wethersby impersonation that would have earned her a withering glare from the managing partner if he ever heard it.

Eli watched her as she spoke, concentrating on her lips moving more than the words. Unembarrassed under his gaze, she smiled and didn't pause. She had gotten used to that too. When he first started working with her she would have questioned him for staring at her, worrying that she was doing something wrong or there was a mark on her face. She would have frowned that familiar frown and badgered him into saying what was on his mind. But not anymore.

Instead Eli could look at her from his hospital bed, pretending to be engrossed in what she was saying but all the while wondering why she had cut her hair shorter than usual, and what had caused the scar between her eyes. He never asked her these things, feeling they were too personal. He didn't want her to get the wrong idea why he was asking. She was engaged to another man and they were friends. Or work colleagues. Yes, work colleagues. That was better. And a hell of a lot easier.

He was relieved that she never talked about Scott. He would certainly have never asked after him, which Maggie seemed to intuitively know. Their conversations were always about work, except for a few times when Maggie told him stories about her time in law school and how nervous she had been during mock trials. He didn't doubt it, remembering how truly awful her first few court appearances had been. But he noted with some pride in his own mentoring abilities how much she had progressed in the last year, and that perhaps she would come into her own eventually. At least Eli hoped so. He wasn't a miracle worker.

By the time Maggie left of an evening he was exhausted, even though she rarely gave him a chance to get a word in. Perhaps it was the timbre of her voice, but he would find his eyes growing heavy by the time she looked at her watch and announced reluctantly that she had to leave. He slept soundly after that until the night nurse checked on him a few hours later.

After some time – he had trouble keeping track of the days – Maggie's evening visits were the only bright spot in his day. Though the TV was on during the day he was so tired of soaps and talk shows that he preferred the incessant buzzing of the fluorescent lights. Nate's visits grew shorter and his brother had little to say most days. He often mumbled something about a troublesome case he was working on but whatever it was, it didn't make for a very entertaining conversation.

One day, after Eli had counted the holes in the ceiling tile directly above his head for about the fiftieth time, he realized that it was late. Some god awful dancing program with washed up celebrities was droning on in the background and he realized Maggie was late. He waited, growing agitated, as an hour passed and still she did not arrive. The dancing program ended and then visiting hours were over. She hadn't come.

It was disappointing, probably more so than his family's lackluster visits, if Eli admitted it to himself. Annoying as Maggie could be sometimes, her being there of a night was part of his routine. And in a place where there was nothing but routine, it threw him off when she didn't turn up.

He decided not to be petulant about it the next day, even though he had practiced a few sarcastic remarks about her punctuality in his head. But she didn't come the next night either. Eli thought she was being inconsiderate now. She could have at least called him. Didn't she care about the awful hospital food anymore? How could she go another day without telling him every single detail about whatever unimportant case she was assigned to?

On day three of no visit from Maggie he was angry. He had plenty of choice words to say to her when she bothered reappearing. But she didn't come the next day, or the one after that. Eli felt himself becoming more withdrawn as the fury turned into a profound sadness that settled upon him, like a weight on his chest. He felt abandoned. Betrayed. Alone.

Deep down he knew he was being irrational. Maggie didn't owe him anything. He had certainly treated her poorly in the past. He had been curt with her when he could have been more tolerant, dismissed her interjections instead of explaining things better so she learned something. He had confused things between them by kissing her the way he had, just because he was feeling vulnerable. He had punished her for choosing her fiancé even after pushing her away.

Eli had plenty to be sorry for when it came to Maggie. But he couldn't apologize or try to make it up to her unless she came back, or he finally got out of the hospital. When the latter seemed an interminable time away, he could only hope that she would return.

It wasn't until Sunday afternoon that he saw her again. He knew it was Sunday because the hospital chaplain had appeared in his room, hoping to coax Eli into a conversation. Once again he had gone away disappointed. Eli figured on killing some time by taking a nap after he left when Maggie suddenly appeared at the doorway.

She had the good grace to look sheepish, and any spite he was feeling over her absence drained away at the sight of her. Maggie took her time as she walked to her chair by his bedside, unusually quiet. But Eli waited for her to speak first.

"I'm sorry," she said simply. "I know I haven't been to see you for a while."

Almost a week, he wanted to point out, but didn't. She looked guilty enough without him rubbing it in.

"I've been busy," she went on, mentioning a new case. But then she pressed her lips together. "It's been difficult to come here."

Eli frowned. Something told him it wasn't work that was the issue. If that was the problem she would have talked it through with him. Eli felt fairly sure of it.

Even though they didn't discuss personal matters, he was going to question her about what was troubling her so much, when someone else appeared at the door. Maggie looked up sharply.

"I said I'd only be a minute," she said to Scott who hadn't taken a step inside the room. "You said you'd wait downstairs."

"I've been waiting 20 minutes, Macaroni," Scott replied quietly, though Eli knew he must be exaggerating.

Maggie sighed in annoyance. Eli waited for an explanation but with Scott a few feet away she clammed up and just stared at him.

"Come on, it's time to go," said Scott. Although his words were gentle they still rankled Eli. Since when did Maggie allow herself to be bossed around by a man?

"Aren't you even going to say hello to Eli?" Maggie said in a deadly tone. "You don't need to be so rude."

Scott's jaw clenched. When Maggie turned a withering gaze on him he let out a frustrated breath.

"Fine. Hi, Eli. Can we go now?"

Maggie rolled her eyes as she turned back to Eli. "Go wait in the car. I'll be down in a minute."

She waited until she heard Scott leave before her face softened.

"Sorry about that," she said.

Eli was aggravated that she felt the need to apologize for her fiancé's behavior and didn't want to hear it. Maggie grew silent again. She twisted her engagement ring on her finger, careful not to look at Eli.

"I can't do this anymore," she whispered eventually. Eli was surprised to see that tears had formed in her eyes. She stared at her hands as she continued. "I tried to keep things the way they've been – work, home… you. But I'm just deluding myself, aren't I? Some things will never be right, no matter how much I want them to be."

Eli was thoroughly confused. Although not an unusual sensation when it came to dealing with Maggie, he was really at a loss this time. He had never seen her so defeated.

"Maggie, what–"

"Scott and I have discussed it and we've decided to go back to Ohio."

Eli was stunned. He didn't know how to respond.

"I thought everything would be different after your operation. I thought you could live your life and I could live mine and everything would just go on. Maybe some part of me hoped that we'd…" She shook her head, sighing. "It was stupid. I know you don't feel that way about me."

Eli swallowed hard. He didn't know what he felt anymore, except the creeping desolation when she had been absent. If he were braver he'd tell her exactly how lost he had been feeling, but she never gave him the chance.

"But I still thought about it. I thought about it every day I came here. That maybe if I tried harder or prayed harder things would be different." A tear slipped down each cheek, leaving a faint trail in her makeup. "You were supposed to tell me to go away and stop being so annoying."

He was surprised at that, as he had dropped a few unsubtle hints in the early days of her visits. He had suggested plenty of times that perhaps she was spending too much time at the hospital. Maggie, as usual, had ignored him. He didn't know what she was going on about now.

She wiped her cheeks and sniffed.

"I'm so sorry, Eli. I wish… I wish things were different. I'll miss you. I think I'll miss you for the rest of my life."

Eli let out a soft laugh in confusion. But his face darkened when she stood up to go.

"Maggie, wait. Just wait a minute. You don't have to go back to Ohio. You belong here. You should stay."

She pulled her handbag onto her shoulder, unable to look him in the eye. Then her fingers were covering her mouth, pinching her lips in what he realized was an attempt not to cry anymore.

"Please, Maggie," he said, desperation sneaking into his voice which made it difficult to speak. "Don't leave me."

She reached down and curled her hand around his, squeezing it. Her grip tightened as her resolve faltered and her eyes were watery again. She bent down and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Eli smelled her perfume and inhaled deeply.

Now was the time for action. He had to stop her. Whatever was going on with Scott, they'd sort it out. She couldn't leave.

He wanted to grab her arm – restrain her from pulling away if he had to. He would make her see that he did care, that he did need her. But Eli's hands wouldn't cooperate. They didn't grasp her arm and hold on tight. She stood up and turned slowly towards the door.

"Maggie, wait!" he cried, but she walked away. He yelled louder. "Maggie!"

She stopped in the doorway but didn't face him. He could see her shoulders rise and fall with ragged breaths. He held his own breath as he waited to see what she would do. He waited for her to turn around with a crooked, teary smile and ask him what he wanted.

But she didn't turn around. Only her gaze rose to meet that of his brother who appeared beside her.

"You said goodbye?" Nate asked.

Maggie nodded. Eli watched as Nate squeezed her arm in a supportive gesture.

"We tried, Maggie," he said with difficulty. "He never wanted this. He made me promise not to keep him in this state and I can't do it anymore… I made a promise."

"I know," she replied.

"What state?" Eli asked, his voice still loud. "I'm here."

"I feel like I've already let him down," said Nate. "It's been nearly three months."

"You haven't," Maggie insisted. "We all hoped that, maybe with a bit of extra time, he'd wake up."

Nate nodded mutely.

"What are you talking about?" bellowed Eli. "Hello? Guys, come on, this isn't funny."

"When?" she asked in a voice so quiet Eli barely heard her.

"Tonight. Our mother wanted to be here when…" Nate didn't finish the sentence.

"Tonight?" Maggie shrank back involuntarily.

"You can stay if you want to… If you want to be with him too."

Maggie shook her head hastily.

"I have to go," she blurted out.

Maggie glanced fleetingly back at Eli. Pain crossed her face before she forced herself to look away, then she was gone.

Eli yelled her name, then his brother's. Nate still stood in the doorway but he didn't look up.

"Nate, for God's sake! I'm here! I'm awake!"

Eli stared in wide-eyed horror when Nate didn't hear him. Neither of them heard him. None of them ever heard him. He squeezed his eyes shut and prayed that when he opened them things would be different.

But when Eli's eyes opened he just saw an empty doorway. Nate was gone.

FIN

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
les342
Sep. 30th, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC)
Oh wow! That's the only thing I can think of to say. This was a wonderful fic, especially the ending. It was very emotional and powerful. It even made me cry. Very nicely done, I really liked this fic.

Okay, so I guess I had more to say than wow afterall. LOL
broedym
Sep. 30th, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks. *hugs* Not that I like making people cry or anything. ;-)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )