The next few moments were a blur for Edward Smith. The adrenaline from his confrontation with the Butcher had begun to subside and he was once again starting to feel less than equipped to deal with the situation at hand. Nevertheless, he forced himself to press on for the sake of Tatiana. He couldn’t properly tend to the severely wounded woman in the icy freezer, so, he, regretfully, dragged her out of the room as she released heart-wrenching shrieks of agony. He pulled her as gently as he could to a room a few doors down the hall outside the meat locker. There, he sat her up against a box and knelt in front of her.
“Listen to me, you’re going to be alright!”
“It hurts, Edward. It hurts so much,” Tatiana whimpered, her legs restless and her lips quivering. Blood still gushed from the stump where her hand had been barbarically severed by the Butcher.
“I know, I know,” Edward replied, sympathetically. “Please, hang in there. I’ll be right back, okay?” The worried man rose to his feet and dashed out of the room and into the hall.
While Tatiana had been dangling from the meat hook in the freezer just moments prior, Edward had begrudgingly abided by her wishes, and left her there to “save himself”. Except, that was never his intention. In truth, Edward had been frantic, searching for anything he could to save the woman who inspired him so much. During his brief absence from her, he had come to find that the rooms that populated the halls outside were all filled with tools both meant for and fit to be perverted for torture. It was from one of those rooms that the businessman obtained the machete that he would later drive through the Butcher. The most important thing in the moment, however, was that those rooms contained multiple materials that could be useful for saving Tatiana’s life.
Edward kicked open one of the doors before him and hurried inside. Loud rustling and clattering echoed out from the room as he sloppily sifted through the many boxes and containers full of objects. From the mess he made, he was able to obtain multiple pairs of scissors, a dagger, a baton, and a resistance band. Desperately stuffing the items into his pockets and belt, Edward leapt to his feet and ran back to the freezer. He held his breath as the stench of frozen, half-decayed corpses plagued his nose for the second time in less than ten minutes. As quickly as possible, he stripped a few male corpses of their shirts and ran back out into the hall. Within a few seconds, he had returned to Tatiana in the room he left her in.
Edward was far from a doctor, but he had been friends with and roomed with medical students when he was attending university. During the current moment of crisis, he recalled some of the conversations he shared with those individuals about hypothetical survival scenarios. Over laughs and multiple drinks, he had come to learn quite a bit from those friends. Thanks to those conversations, Edward had the knowhow to fashion a torniquet from the shirts and resistance band he obtained from his excursion to the other rooms.
“Tatiana, can you hear me?” Edward asked, tying the resistance band around the wounded woman’s upper arm.
“This is going to hurt, but I have to do this, okay?”
Edward slid the baton into the cloth wrapping to form a windlass. Slowly, he began to twist the baton, forcing a vicious scream from Tatiana.
“It’s pinching my skin!” Tatiana cried.
“I know, I’m sorry! But there’s no way around it!” Edward said, twisting the windlass until the crimson fluid ceased flowing out of her stump. Once the flow stopped, he tied the windlass in place. “There, it’s done.”
Tatiana winced deeply, the pain of her sudden dismemberment still lighting her nerves on fire. The torniquet was adding to that pain, but it was indeed serving its purpose. The bleeding had stopped.
“This hurts like a bitch, but it worked. How the hell did you learn how to do that?” Tatiana asked.
“Some friends of mine, years ago. But never mind that, I’m so sorry that I left you behind, Tatiana...”
“That’s the problem,” the wounded woman started, “you didn’t leave me. Why didn’t you do what I said?”
“There was no way I was ever going to leave you back there and you know that.”
Tatiana scoffed and flashed a smile of disbelief at the man. “Even though I was as good as dead? Seriously, you think I’m crazy? You’re nuts for coming back and attacking him like that.”
“I’m not nuts... I think I’m in love.”
It took a moment for Tatiana to process the words that came out of Edward’s mouth, but when the realization came, so did a visible jolt of surprise. “You what?!”
“I think I’m in love with you, Tatiana!” declared Edward. “You’re the only person who has ever called me on my crap. And on top of that, saving you in that hallway, helping you right now... I would have never thought I was capable of the things I’ve done in the last few hours, but I am, and it’s because of you. You make me a better person, Tatiana.”
Bewildered, the woman felt the instinctual urge to bury her face into the palm of a hand she no longer had. “Edward, it’s great that you’re feeling great about yourself, really. But first, now is not the time for any of this—at all. Second, we literally only met just a few hours ago.”
“I-I know that. But still, my feelings are honest,” Edward insisted.
“Look, no offense, but that whole ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ thing doesn’t really do it for me. If I helped you, great. But you don’t have to ‘love’ me just because I made you do something selfless for once. I’m not interested in being with you just to be your conscience and help you be the best you. Have some self-respect, dude. And don’t be so naïve.”
Edward’s hopeful expression sagged into a dejected frown, and it was clear by the visibly slow and heavy way he swallowed that Tatiana’s response had dulled his confidence and enthusiasm greatly. Silence polluted the air as Tatiana looked away, the awkwardness of the situation beginning to hurt more than her grisly wound.
“You’re right,” Edward said, his response finally coming after an extended pause. “That was... Wow, I really stepped in it with that, huh? How embarrassing!”
“It’s fine,” Tatiana reassured.
“Let’s try this again,” he started. “The last thing I’d want is for you to be my keeper. You deserve so much better than that. I really do like you for you, and I’d like to have the chance to show you that.”
“Well, a good first step would be to ask me how I feel instead of just making it all about what you want.”
Edward grasped his knees and hung his head, shaking it and grinding his teeth. He cursed himself for his inability to communicate his feelings properly. More than that, he cursed himself for seemingly making things worse with every word that fell out of his mouth.
“Again, you’re totally right,” the blonde conceded. “In case you can’t tell, I’m really bad at this. I can only speak for myself, and I know that I really want to be with you.”
“Edward,” Tatiana started. “Even if we dated, we’d probably fight all the time and break up in like a week. You know, like every couple on those crappy reality romance shows after they end. Life isn’t like a romcom, your emotions are just running high. Truth is, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. You can’t love someone you don’t know. And anyway, you deserve someone that isn’t already dying. Again, self-respect, you lack it.”
“All right, fine,” Edward said, frustrated. “You don’t have to say yes, I respect that. But stop talking like that! It isn’t hard to see why you are the way you are, and maybe I am naïve, but personally, I’ve had enough of the never-ending pessimism. Here’s my vow to you, we’re going to get out of here, together. And then I’m going to pay for your treatments so you can kick that cancer’s ass. No matter what happens, friend or something more, I want you in my life, Tatiana.”
The woman’s eyes widened and then narrowed quickly. “No, I don’t need you to—”
“I want to pay for it,” Edward interrupted. “My fight ends when we get the hell out of here, but yours doesn’t. We only got this far because of you. You empowered me to fight and not give up against this asshole, now I’m telling you to stop being so damn cynical and let me help you fight back against this cancer.”
Tatiana lowered her head and shifted her gaze downward. Her lips quivered, this time not from the overwhelming pain that still gripped her, but from an onset of emotions she wasn’t prepared for.
“Just say yes,” Edward urged. “I can’t guarantee anything, but with the kind of medical care I could help you get, I know you could beat this thing.”
“I want to say no, I really do,” the woman admitted, her voice shaking slightly. “But what I saw in that freezer before... I hate to admit it, but it messed with me. It’s not like I want to die, but I at least thought I was ready to. Even when we were stuck in that tank, I could stay calm because it just felt like the perfect ending to my crappy life. But seeing all those men and women hanging in that freezer, slowly rotting away... I don’t want to end up like that yet.”
Tatiana punched the floor beside her in a futile attempt to hold back tears that were now pouring from her eyes.
Edward gently placed his hand upon Tatiana’s shoulder and spoke. “Nor should you. You’re fearless, Tatiana, but this time, let yourself be scared. Fear of losing you made me stand up and fight just like you said. It made me stronger, not weaker. This fear you’re feeling right now isn’t weakness, it’s your body begging you to fight to survive. So please... just say yes.”
Tatiana took a deep breath and looked up at Edward, no longer hiding her red, tear stained face. She was surprised to find tears welling up in his brown eyes as well. After a powerful gulp that swallowed her pride deep within, she spoke. “Fine, I’ll let you help me.”