Fletch sat at the desk on Darwin ward, staring straight ahead, lost in his own thoughts. All afternoon he had watched staff members wandering the halls with saddened expressions, some, like Dom, with puffy eyes. When he had seen Dom they had locked eyes for a brief moment, and the young doctor's expression nearly sent Fletch over the edge. That's when he had gone to sit down, and he hadn't moved for nearly 10 minutes.
He knew he should go see Essie. He knew there wasn't much time left, but every time he thought he could do it, his strength faltered and he stayed right where he was. Fletch clasped his hands and brought them to his mouth, resting his elbows on the desktop. He continued to stare into the distance, unaware of Ange approaching him from behind. As she placed a hand on his upper back, he turned his head slightly, then looked straight ahead once again.
"Have you been to see Essie yet?" Ange asked softly, running her hand across Fletch's back from shoulder to shoulder as she sat in the empty char next to him. He shook his head, eyes beginning to fill with tears even as they remained focused on some faraway point. Ange looked at Fletch as she gently rubbed his back.
"You really should, Fletch. You know there's not much time, and I know she wants to see you." She reached over and caressed his cheek softly.
"You promised to be there for her, no matter what, remember? Together."
Fletch closed his eyes briefly, and as he opened them, a tear escaped down his cheek. He turned to look at Ange and nodded as she reached up and wiped the tear away. She squeezed his shoulder.
"Do you want me to come with you?"
Fletch shook his head. "No, thanks love, I need to do this on me own." He reached over and squeezed her hand, drawing a shuddering breath as he stood. Ange watched him walk to the elevator, willing him to have the strength to get through the visit.
When the elevator doors opened, Fletch took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Exhaling sharply, he opened his eyes and slowly walked down the hall to Essie's room. Peering in, he saw Sacha sitting in a chair next to the bed, his head bowed, holding Essie's hand as she lay with her eyes closed. Fletch didn't want to sneak in and startle anyone, so he cleared his throat gently as he stepped into the doorway. At the sound, Sacha looked up and turned around. Seeing Fletch, he let go of Essie's hand, rose, and walked to the doorway.
"Fletch," he said, almost relieved. He enveloped Fletch in a big hug and whispered, "She's been asking after you." At this, Fletch felt his throat constrict, and his breath hitched. Sacha pulled back and placed his hands on Fletch's shoulders. Though his eyes were sad, he locked his gaze onto Fletch's and held it.
"Be strong, Fletch. Be strong for her," he said quietly. Fletch swallowed hard and nodded, trying to suppress his emotions bubbling just below the surface. Sacha squeezed Fletch's shoulders firmly, then walked out of the room.
Fletch drew a deep breath, steadying himself, and slowly walked towards the bed. As he looked at Essie lying there, so pale, tears blurred his vision and he fought to hold them back. When he reached the bed, Essie slowly opened her eyes and gazed up at him. She smiled weakly and, with effort, lifted her hand towards him. Trying to smile, he sat down in the seat and gently clasped Essie's hand.
"Fletch," she said, her voice hoarse. At the sound of his name escaping her lips, Fletch couldn't contain his emotions any longer. His smile disappeared as his chin trembled and the tears began to fall.
"Essie, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Fletch managed to choke out before a sob escaped and he began to weep softly. He lowered his head and kissed her hand gently, then lifted his gaze to hers. Although weak, Essie wore an expression of genuine confusion.
"What are you sorry for?" she whispered. Fletch sniffed and blinked as more tears fell.
"It shouldn't have been like this. We were gonna get through this together. I'm so sorry that I'm not-"
"Fletch." The sudden strength in Essie's voice surprised him, and he stopped talking mid-sentence and looked at her. There was a quiet hardness in her gaze, and she tightened her grip on his hand with a strength he hadn't expected.
"Don't do this. Don't you dare apologize for beating this, for living. This is how it was meant to be, nothing you do or say can change that. You were there for me when I needed it most, you persuaded me to not give up and because of that I had extra time with Sacha and Isla, time I wouldn't have had otherwise. You gave me a beautiful gift Fletch, never forget that." Essie's eyes began to fill with tears as she pressed on.
"Please, please don't ever feel guilty about surviving. You have four beautiful children who need you and every time you look at them I want you to think of me and know that I'll be smiling down and watching you raise them into wonderful human beings, just like their dad." Her voice broke on the last word and a few tears escaped.
Fletch reached up and gently wiped her tears with his free hand, even as his own tears continued to flow. He clasped her hand in both of his.
"I couldn't have gotten through this without you. You'll never know how much that means to me," he said softly, his voice choked with tears. Essie closed her eyes, a serene smile on her lips.
"I already do."
Fletch squeezed his eyes shut, fighting the urge to begin sobbing uncontrollably. He knew he needed to let Essie rest, but he didn't want to leave. As if she could sense his thoughts, Essie opened her eyes again and gave Fletch's hand a gentle squeeze.
"You'd better get back. Darwin will fall apart without you." Fletch let out a short laugh that was more of a sob, and he wiped his eyes. He kissed her hand one more time.
"I love you, Essie."
She smiled. "I love you too, Fletch."
Fletch rose and quickly walked to the door, catching Sacha's eye as he exited the room. Sacha could tell that it was taking every last bit of strength that Fletch could muster not to fall apart, and he let him pass without saying anything, just exchanging a simple nod. He knew Fletch needed space and there would be time to talk later.
On Darwin, Jac was fuming as she marched back to the desk after checking Fletch's office for the third time in the past 20 minutes. As they were a bit short staffed, he had told her he would have the blood work ordered for Mr. Mitchell half an hour ago, yet the chart was still sitting on the desk, untouched. As she angrily flipped the folder closed she spotted Fletch walking quickly into his office, as though he was on a mission. It's about time, Jac thought, annoyed, and, grabbing Mr. Mitchell's chart, she stalked down the hall to Fletch's office, ready to give him a piece of her mind. She rapped angrily on the door twice and opened it without waiting for an invitation. Fletch was sitting at his desk, his head bowed.
"You know what-" Jac began to rant, but stopped in her tracks when Fletch raised his head and looked up at her. His eyes were red and puffy, filled to the brim with tears. It took less than a second for Jac to realize where he had just come from, and she gently set the file down on Fletch's desk. Wordlessly, she walked around the desk to where Fletch sat, and bending down, she wrapped her arms around him as he began to sob. Jac held Fletch as tightly as she could, feeling him shake with grief, and thought of all the times he had done this very same act for her.
"I'm here for you," she whispered, planting a gentle kiss on the top of his head. "It'll be ok."