He rested his forehead against the rail of her hospital bed, not sure that he could bear the thought of watching her breathing become slower and slower and slower. Behind him stood her father and his wife, holding each other and looking on as the doctor made his examination.
"It won't be long now," Bryce said, finishing with his examination of Nikki and stepping back to stand with Nathan and Aimee. "Unless you want to put her on a breathing machine."
"No." Zane's head popped up and he glared over in Bryce's direction as he picked up the hand that lay so still on the bed and held it in his. "Her immune system is gone. I don't know what's keeping her here now other than God, but enough's enough. We have to let her go. It's her time."
Bryce started to object, but Nathan held his hand up and everyone looked to him to see what he had to say. Nikki was, after all, his daughter. Although Zane was engaged to Nikki, he wasn't her husband, so Nathan had to be the one to decide what to do - put his oldest surviving daughter on a machine to keep her alive, or let her go.
"What if," Nathan said quietly, "it wasn't her time to go yet and the machine were to keep her alive until she could breathe on her own again?"
Zane shook his head fiercely. "Think about how little it would take to kill her if she did start to breathe on her own again, Nate. She can't even fight off a little cold on her own anymore. Even the tiniest bug could mean the end of her. She's at some kind of peace now - would you really want her to die any other way, and do you really want to live with the blame if you hooked her up and she went on in the same condition until the end of time?"
"Maybe I want more time with her," Nathan replied, letting go of his wife for the first time that day to cross his arms in front of him. "And if that gives me the chance..."
"Maybe you just need to be thankful for the time that you had with her, Nathan." Zane spat back. Then his gaze turned to Nikki's face, so full of peace and in such contradiction to the tension that raced through the hospital room now. "As much as I want her to stay alive, I don't want it to be at the expense of her peace of mind, and I don't want to interfere with whatever it is God might have planned for her and through her."
Zane bent his head down so that he was speaking near Nikki's ear and whispered, "I am so thankful that I had even the little time I did with you, Nikki Lake. As much as I'll miss you, I'll be thanking the Lord every day that you're with Him, and someday I'll be with you up there. Go in peace, my love..."
That said to his beloved, Zane slowly rose to his feet and walked over to Nikki's father. "You do whatever you're going to do, Nathan, and I'll be at her side every day until she's gone. I won't break that promise to her, and I hope you don't break the promise you made to her - to do what is the best thing for her."
Nathan nodded, an unreadable expression Zane knew too well crossing his face. Zane would know soon enough what decision would be made, but never by looking at Nathan.
"Whatever you do, old man, be thankful for the time you had."
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