InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ A Purity Short: Cacophony ❯ Alternate Realities ( Chapter 20 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~Chapter Twenty ~
~Alternate Realities~

~o~


Rubbing his forehead as he impatiently sat in the chair in the almost-soothing office on the third floor of the Rising Mesa Medical Center, an ultra-private youkai hospital on the outskirts of northeastern Las Vegas.  Cartham got the impression that it was meticulously decorated with the intent to calm the patients, maybe even to fool them into forgetting that they were here, that they were waiting for whatever diagnoses they were summoned there to receive.  Fresh flowers on the darkly stained wooden sideboard, arranged neatly in a crystal vase, walls painted a warm and soothing shade of peach . . . A very simple yet elegant kind of painting that depicted an idyllic summer evening: two old but comfortable looking rocking chairs, sitting vacant on the end of a grayed wooden dock that extended out over a lake . . . Soft lighting, punctuated only by the muted peach-tinged, golden glow through the shades that were pulled down over the windows behind the glass-topped desk that wasn’t so large that it might appear foreboding and seemed almost more like a work table than anything.

Cartham was seated in one of the comfortable, overstuffed chairs that flanked a low glass coffee table.  The nurse that had brought him up after the nerve tests had smiled at him before pulling a bottle of water from a refrigerated cupboard in the sideboard and offering it to him.  Then she’d assured him that the doctor would be up shortly to go over the results of the testing and waved a hand at the small intercom box on the coffee table, telling him that if he needed anything at all, to push the button on it and someone would be more than happy to assist him.

And then, she’d left.

That was nearly twenty minutes ago.

He sighed, scowling at his hands as he slowly opened and closed his fingers.  They were still numb—maybe slightly less numb than they were before, but nowhere near what they ought to be, and as much as he hated to admit it, he was starting to be a little more concerned about the lack of sensation than he wanted to be.

Dr. Ryan Geisselinger, a neurologist, was the one who Kichiro had arranged for him to see.  The muntjac-deer-youkai had tried to make a few jokes to lighten the mood, Cartham suspected, but he could see the concerned frown that drew his brows together as he stared at the computer monitor where blips and dots that seemed like nothing at all to Cartham appeared.  He’d hooked the hunter up to a bunch of needle-like electrodes, and those had fed information to the machine for a good half an hour at least.  Cartham didn’t know how long it took to make sense out of the data he’d collected, but he was about ready to find someone, tell them that the good doc could call him later with the results if he didn’t get a move on it.

Calm down, Cartham.  It’s not like you have anywhere else to be.

It’s the principle of the thing,’ Cartham argued.  ‘Can’t stand people like this: doctors, lawyers . . . tai-youkai . . . They’re always thinking that they’ll take their sweet time, doing nothing at all while you have to sit on your goddamn thumbs and wait till it’s convenient for them.

He’s not doing nothing, you know.  Jesus, why are you so on edge?

Shut the hell up.  I’ve still got shit to do, even if some people think I’m worthless.

His youkai heaved a loud sigh.  ‘Oh, my God . . . You’re still sulking over that call from Zelig?  Taking a little time off work isn’t really the end of the world, for Christ’s sake.

Cartham grunted, but didn’t answer.  He’d called Cain this morning before this appointment to find out if there was anything on the table, so to speak, and that bastard had actually said that he could have sworn that he’d already told Cartham to consider himself on extended leave until cleared by the neurologist.  It was stupid.  After all, a little stiffness in his fingers wasn’t really going to affect his ability to do his job . . .

Okay, well, instead of being all ticked off over having to take some time off, why not think about something else?  Try to look at the bright side of it, right?  Like how perfect this morning was . . .

Despite his overall testy mood, Cartham couldn’t help but to smile just a little at the memory of what it felt like, to open his eyes, to see Kelly there, curled against him, her cheek, resting on his chest as the warmth of her body lent him a sense of absolute contentment that he hadn’t wanted to lose.

All too soon, though, the alarm in her cell phone went off, waking her up—and him—in what he considered to be an entirely rude kind of way, and, just like that, she sat up, yawned, rubbed her eyes, and scooted out of the bed with a heavy sigh and without actually looking back, damn it.

Now, of course, she was at work, so, even if Cartham did decide to walk out of here right now, it wasn't like he could just go home and spend time with her, either.

Face it.  You just don’t like that you really have no idea, just what to do with yourself when you have this much free time.

He scowled since that was pretty much the truth of it all.  He supposed he’d never been all right with free time.  Even though he did tend to have a good amount of downtime between jobs, it wasn't the same.  Not knowing exactly when he’d get that call from Zelig meant that he perpetually stayed on his guard.  After all, he couldn’t afford to let his attention wane, even if he wasn’t on the proverbial clock, and he’d found it simpler to just stay on high alert, rather than to try to switch between the two modes, even in day-to-day life.

He’d almost decided that he was going to just leave when the door finally opened, and the rather diminutive doctor finally stepped into the room.  It seemed to Cartham that Dr. Geisselinger took an inordinately long time, fussing with the closing of the door, straightening his white lab coat before he slowly pivoted on his heel, raising the flat black tablet that he’d held at his side, scrolling and tapping as he frowned at the screen, uttering quiet little grunts and for several seconds before he finally lifted his head and managed a rather wan, very business-like smile.

“Well, Mr. Cartham,” he said as he stepped forward and sat down in the chair opposite the hunter, “I’m going to skip the pleasantries; I’m sure you understand.  I hate to tell you, but as you’ve probably realized already, there’s been pretty extensive damage to your nerves—most notably, the ones in your hands—although all indications are that you’ve likely incurred more extensive damage to other nerves, as well.  I’d like to recommend a few more tests to get a better indication of exactly how much more serious this is.”

“What kind of tests?” he asked, wondering just how many machines the good doc was talking about.

Geisselinger smiled in what was likely supposed to be a reassuring kind of way.  “Well, for humans, we’d normally recommend electromyography—EMG—testing.  For youkai, however, there is another test we’ve developed recently that we could try instead.  Basically, we’d submerse you in a tank of electromagnetic fluid  that could test your nerve endings in a much faster, much more precise way—and it takes about half of the time as the traditional EMGs.”

Cartham’s frown turned suspicious as he leveled a no-nonsense look at the doctor.  “Why don’t they use this test on humans, then?”

Dr. Geisselinger’s little smile turned almost apologetic. “It’s not that we can’t,” he said with a simple shrug.  “It’s a lot more expensive, so insurance companies aren’t too keen on it, but with youkai . . . Well, you may or may not realize this, but youkai on average have a substantially higher quantity of nerve endings.  It’s part of the reason why we sense things and feel things that humans simply cannot.  For example, your average dog-youkai possess uncanny abilities to smell things, so it would stand to reason, even without any scientific backing, that they would have more sensory—nerve—endings than another type.  Basically, much of it is dependent upon the kind of youkai, but that’s the gist of it.”

Rubbing his forehead, Cartham grunted.  “Whatever, whatever . . . Can it be fixed?”

This time, the doctor sighed, and he seemed to visibly deflate a little bit.  “I . . . don’t know.  Ordinarily, I’d say that you’re youkai, that your body should recover on its own, but . . .”

Cartham nodded, understanding what he was getting around to, long before he actually said it.  “Because of the ofuda,” he muttered, more to himself than to Geisselinger.  “Right.”

“I’m not saying that it won’t improve,” Geisselinger went on in a slightly stronger, somewhat more reassuring tone of voice.  “It may, and even so, we can get you into some physical therapy that should help, too.  Spiritual power, though, can act as somewhat of a . . . Well, for lack of a better way to put it, a cauterizing kind of effect.”

“So, it burned my nerves, is what you’re saying.”

Geisselinger nodded slowly.  “That’s what it seems like, yes.”

Cartham considered that for a long moment as he absently flexed his fingers a few times.

“That’s not all of it, though,” Geisselinger finally went on, interrupting the thoughtful silence.  He seemed to be growing increasingly agitated, and he slipped the tablet onto the coffee table before getting up to retrieve a bottle of water from the refrigerator for himself.  “You understand what nerves do, don’t you, Mr. Cartham?  Now, I don’t think you’re lacking in intelligence by any means, but sometimes, people don’t always realize what it could mean.”

Cartham’s frown deepened even more as he watched the doctor shuffle back over to the chair he’d vacated moments before.  “Just spit it out, Doc,” he growled, rapidly approaching the area where he’d lose his temper completely.

The doctor nodded quickly as he sat back down and cracked the seal on the bottle of water.  “If we’re speaking worst case scenario, the actual loss of feeling in your fingers is negligible.  People can live easily with dulled sense of touch without much trouble, provided they’re a little more cautious.  After all, you don’t want to end up, burning your fingers on a hot stove because you don’t realize that you’re touching a burner.  The real trouble, of course, is that these nerves are responsible for sending messages to your brain, so you’ll have to learn how to re-route those paths.”

Cartham digested that in silence for a little while.  He supposed that it wasn’t the worst-case scenario by any stretch of the imagination.  Even so, the prognosis didn’t look good, did it?

Dr. Geisselinger let out a deep breath, scooting forward in his chair, and Cartham could feel the intensity of his gaze.  “I talked to the Zelig this morning, and he indicated that he wants you back to as close to one-hundred-percent as we can possibly get you.  I’ve got a few colleagues who I’d like to consult about your treatment before we set up a schedule, if that’s okay with you.  One of them is working on a new option that we might be able to use.  It involves trying to re-stimulate those nerves, and he’s said that he’s had some success in some preliminary tests.  Let me check with him to see if it might be possible to try this out on you.”

“You want me to be a guinea pig?” Cartham growled before he could stop himself.

The doctor chuckled.  It was a pleasant sound, but at the moment, Cartham wasn’t inclined to humor him.  “Well, not exactly.  I mean, I would never recommend something on a strictly, ‘Let’s see if this works,’ kind of basis, but if there’s a chance that we can restore some of your nerve function, then wouldn’t that be worth looking into?”  When Cartham didn’t answer right away, Dr. Geisselinger shrugged.  “It is, of course, entirely up to you, but if we can reverse even twenty-five-percent of the damage, then it might well be worth it.”

It took a moment for the entire situation to really sink in.  The idea that the nerve damage could really be permanent, the hope that maybe it could be reversed in part . . . And yes, he knew that he’d made the right choices that day.  There wasn’t really anything else that he could have done at that time.  If he didn’t try it, then would he ever be able to work again?  Scowl deepening since he very vividly remembered, just how much trouble he’d had in doing just basic things—things like picking up his cell phone or fastening the buttons on his shirt this morning . . .

“Give me a couple weeks—three, at most—to do a few consultations, and then, we’ll discuss a comprehensive rehabilitation program,” the doctor said.  “Take a vacation . . . Relax or something.  Like I said earlier, your shoulder looks good, but you really need to let it heal a bit longer before we start you on any kind of therapy, anyway.”

Cartham grunted but didn’t really agree or disagree.  “Anything else?” he asked instead, unable to keep the hint of irritation out of his tone.

The doctor paused for a long moment, seemed to be considering what he wanted to say next.  In the end, he finally smiled, but the expression didn’t quite meet his eyes.  “Another concern is your actual youki,” he went on, deliberately taking his time, measuring his words.  “Youkai have two distinct systems in place.  One is your nervous system, and we’ve already talked about that, but the other one—the one that we know less about—is your actual youki.  Now, we’ve seen a few cases of actual damage like yours—maybe nothing as severe as yours—but the gist of it was that, having the network interrupted might well be a bigger problem than the nerve damage itself.”  Intercepting Cartham’s rather blank look, Geisselinger shrugged.  “It’s kind of like having a light switch on a circuit,” he went on to explain.  “I mean, not exactly, but the general idea is the same.  Simply speaking, you can switch a light on and off, but if it’s off, then it doesn’t get a connection, hence, why it won’t light up.  The damage to your actual youki system might well be more important than the nerve damage, in terms of your ability to control your youki, but we don’t know yet.”

“Sounds fabulous,” Cartham grumbled, trying to wrap his brain around the bleak diagnosis that had been so eloquently set down before him.

“It’s a challenge, sure,” the doctor said.  “Hopefully, though, we’ll be able to help you.  Hopefully, we can get you back to where you need to be.”

He sounded upbeat enough, Cartham supposed, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to start jumping on that bandwagon, either.  If he couldn’t do it?  If his system had been damaged beyond the ability to be repaired . . .?  What then . . .?

Sensing that the appointment was over, Cartham stood up and shook Geisselinger’s hand as the latter rose to his feet, too.  “Thanks,” he said, tamping down the irritation since he felt like nothing really had been settled, after all.  He understood that it was his own feelings of impatience that was bothering him more than anything else, but he just couldn’t help it, either.

Stifling the urge to sigh, he followed Dr. Geisselinger out of the office and through the lobby toward the elevator.

A couple weeks?  Maybe three?  And that didn’t even include however long treatment would take . . .

This . . . kind of sucks . . .

Yeah . . .’ he thought as he stepped into the claustrophobic metal box and pushed the button that would move him to the ground floor. ‘Yeah, it does . . .


-==========-


Stepping out of the bathroom with a burst of steamy air, Kelly shivered slightly as the sudden fluctuation in temperature hit her.  Wrapped securely in her fluffy bathrobe, she pulled the lapels a little more snuggly under her chin for a lingering moment before padding across the room to retrieve the salve off the dresser and turning to the bed.

When she’s gotten home an hour ago, Cartham was gone.  Whether he had come back and left again after his appointment or if he just hadn’t been home yet, she didn’t know, but she reminded herself that he really was a grown man, and it wasn’t nearly late enough for her to actually be worried, anyway.

The late afternoon sunshine was muted by the sheer curtains that hung over the window, and Kelly settled down on the edge of the bed, kicking up her foot as the robe fell open, and she uncapped the salve to scoop out a decent amount.  Smiling vaguely as the slight tingle erupted, deep under her skin as she worked it in, she sighed, but it was more of a contented sound at the instant relief from the bone-deep itchiness.  She had to admit, though, that in the weeks since she’d started using the stuff, she could definitely feel a marked improvement in the overall condition of her skin, and she thought that maybe the scars were lightening a little more, too, but she had to admit that could easily be wishful thinking.

Even so, whatever Kagome had put in the salve was nothing short of miraculous, in Kelly’s opinion—enough so that she’d actually told Belle that she ought to suggest that Kichiro prescribe it to any of his other patients that might need such a thing.  She’d also asked if Kagome would rather that Kelly learn how to make it herself, and Belle had replied that she’d be happy to do so, but it was kind of a process, and, after reading through the lengthy directions that Kagome had so carefully transcribed into English for her, she’d agreed that she’d rather just pay Kagome to work her magic instead.  Some of the instructions indicated the necessity of steeping certain herbs for a week, sometimes two, making sure to change out the water at least five times a day, in some cases, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Kagome had also gone ahead and sent Kelly a few more jars of the cream—larger jars that ought to last her a lot longer than the ones that Belle had delivered.  In return, Kelly had arranged for a very, very large bouquet of flowers to be delivered to Kagome since she’d also refused to take money from her, as well.

Letting out a deep breath, Kelly shrugged off the top of the robe, shivering just slightly as the warmth fell away.  Taking her time as she worked more of the salve, deep into her skin, her eyes drifted closed as she slowly, gently, cupped her hands, rubbed her breasts, savoring the deep relief.  It was something of a minor miracle that neither of her nipples had been burned, but the right side had been a little less fortunate, which had resulted in a graft that had covered more than half of that breast.  The left side only had an incision on the side where the graft had extended up into her arm pit and down along her side to about mid-thigh, only to wrap around her back.

“Hey, Kel, I—”

Kelly squeaked out a surprised little gasp, grasping wildly at the robe to try to pull it back on, even as her cheeks ignited in a hot, painful flush.  “C-Cartham,” she choked out, shoving her arm into one side of the rob, only to let go, to switch hands that held the robe up so that she could pull on the other side.

She didn’t sense him coming near, but she felt the sag of the bed as he sat behind her, and he reached out, gently pulling the back of the robe down again, ignoring her efforts to pull away from him as he reached over her shoulder and took the tub of salve.  “You . . . You can’t reach your back, can you?” he asked gently.

She flinched, but something about the calm quality of his voice helped to temper the acute discomfort—the embarrassment—that had exploded in her the second she’d heard him, open her door.  “Y-You . . . I-It’s okay,” she muttered, unable to peek over her shoulder, unwilling to look at his face.

He ignored that, too, and a moment later, she jerked slightly when the cool salve touched her skin.  It warmed quickly enough, though, as he gently, methodically, rubbed it onto her back.  “Do, uh . . . Do they hurt?” he asked at length, but he didn’t sound disgusted, didn’t seem at all put off by the scarring that he was seeing, up close and personally.  No, if anything, he sounded . . . sounded sad . . .

“They . . . They itch pretty bad sometimes,” she heard herself admitting, but her voice was so quiet, almost apologetic, as though she were sorry that he had to see her in such a state.  Maybe . . . Maybe she was . . .

He sighed.  “And this stuff helps?”

She nodded slowly, leaning forward as she brought her knees up, letting her cheek rest against them as her eyes slipped closed.  “Mhmm.”

As though he sensed the comfort that she felt, just having the cream, rubbed into her skin, he scooped out some more of it.  She heard him, rub his hands together—warming it—and a moment later, they returned to work it into her flesh, and this time, he was slower, more deliberate, like he was trying to prolong the relief that she was feeling.  Given that she couldn’t reach her back, it was such a welcome feeling, even if she couldn’t quite shake all of the self-consciousness that still hung around the edges.  “I . . . I can do this for you whenever you need me to,” he finally said.

She opened her mouth to tell him that it wasn’t necessary, that she really didn’t want him to worry about it, but his second soft sigh cut her off.  “If it makes you feel better, then it makes me feel better, too,” he told her.

He . . . He sounded like he meant it, didn’t he . . .?


-==========-


“So, what did the doctor tell you?”

Idly rubbing Kelly’s arm through the soft fabric of her night shirt, Cartham made a face that she didn’t see, huddled against his chest as she was.

It was late.  He’d taken her out for a nice dinner—a belated Christmas dinner of rack of lamb and all the trimmings at a restaurant nearby that he’d paid extra to create the holiday meal.  She’d liked it a lot, and then, he’d taken her to the theater to see a ridiculously girly movie that she’d wanted to see.  To his credit, he’d tried to pay attention, but there was only so much of it that he could take, so he’d given up about halfway through it, letting his mind wander, and thinking.

And it was during that movie when an idea had occurred to him, and, the longer he’d considered it, the more appealing it had become.  The thing was, he hadn’t yet suggested it to Kelly, and to be honest, he wasn’t entirely sure, just what she’d think of it, either . . .

Just now, however, he had to admit that he was surprised that she hadn’t asked that particular question sooner, but he supposed that she had been sidetracked by her own misplaced feelings of acute embarrassment when he’d inadvertently stumbled into her room while she was applying that salve.  The scarring, in his mind, was completely secondary, wasn’t it?  No, what he’d noticed when he’d found her . . .? That delicate expanse of her bared back, the gentle bone structure that was entirely graceful, even if she didn’t realize it . . . It had been all he could do at the time, to not grab her and kiss her silly, and, honestly, the only thing that had stopped him was the near-panic that was thick in the air around her . . .

“I know you’re not sleeping, you know,” Kelly pointed out when he didn’t answer her.

Cartham sighed.  “He wants to run some tests,” he said, purposefully trying to inflict enough nonchalance into his tone to curb her questions before she asked them.  “Said to give him a few weeks to set things up.”

She didn’t reply right away.  He supposed he’d have been surprised if she had.  “Okay,” she allowed in a non-committal kind of tone.  “Very simplistic answer . . . Suppose you give me the more in-depth one.”

It wasn’t a question, and he gave her a quick squeeze.  “You think I’m keeping things from you?”

“Oh, I’m sure you are,” she replied.  “You don’t have to, though.  Show me your scars, Derrick.”

He sighed again.  She wasn’t a stupid woman, and he knew that.  Why he’d bothered to try to keep it from her was entirely dumb on his part.  “There’s some nerve damage,” he admitted.  “Pretty significant damage, actually.  He wants to run some tests, find out how bad it is, and then, he wants to try out a few things, see if he can’t reverse some of it, at least.”

She digested that in silence for a couple long minutes.  “And what does that mean for your job?”

For about a second, he considered, trying to lie to her about it.  In the end, though, there wasn’t really a point to that, and he understood that, too.  “I don’t know yet,” he said.  “It’s too soon to tell.”

“Okay,” she said thoughtfully.  “So, what’s next then?”

Cartham chuckled, but it was a slightly hollow sort of sound.  “Well, that kind of depends on you.”

“On me?”

He nodded, lifting a hand, stroking her hair, absently thinking that it felt so soft under his hand . . . “Ol’ doc suggested that I take a vacation,” he mused.  “I mean, I got nothing else to do for the next couple-few weeks, right?  So, I was thinking . . . Why don’t you and I take off?  Take the bike, take a road trip, up the coast?  See the ocean?  Sleep on the beach . . . That kind of thing.”

She squirmed around, pushing herself up on her hands, her expression, thoughtful as she considered his idea.  “Well, I do have some vacation time,” she ventured at length.  “I’m not sure if I can take it on such short notice, though . . . But if I can . . .”

“Yeah?” he asked, breaking into a little grin.

She thought it over for a moment, and then, she smiled, too.  “A road-trip up the coast?  That . . . That sounds like fun.”


~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~ =~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~*~=~
A/N:
== == == == == == == == == ==
Reviewers
==========
MMorg
Emy ——— gahaynes
==========
AO3
Liz80 ——— TheWonderfulShoe ——— minthegreen ——— liad88 ——— gittelbug ——— monsterkittie ——— alchemie ——— Calvarez ——— Cutechick18
==========
Final Thought from
Cartham:
A road-trip?  Ni-i-i-i-ice
==========
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Cacophony):  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.

~Sue~