The fluorescent strip lights prise open my eyes, telling me immediately that I am, once again, not in my own bed. A warmth in my hand tells me that this time, however, Seb is with me. I tilt my head and watch him.
He is holding my hand in his sleep, pulled to his chest as he rests his head on my legs. My bed is high, raised so that the position is a comfortable one. I can’t bring myself to disturb him, but my knee twitches slightly, stirring him gently into a lighter sleep. As he wakes, I remember what happened, I remember his face, I remember how it twisted and how mine did too. But he’s here, right in front of me. How did he survive? Or was it one of my stupid hallucinations? That seems more likely, thinking about it, but it doesn’t explain why I’m lying in what I now realise is a hospital bed. My right arm is attached to an array of monitors next to me, which emit a monotone beep every time my heart decides to keep beating.
His eyes flicker open, locking onto me instantly. Rather clumsily, he jumps to his feet and kneels next to my head.
“Are you OK? Does anything hurt?” he asks. I consider the questions; I’m in surprisingly little pain, considering my current track record with mornings. I sit up, despite his protests, and lower the bed using a fairly simple remote hooked to the railing so that he can sit on a chair rather than kneel on the cold tiled floor. I look him right in the eye, smile and kiss him.
“I’m fine,” I whisper, our foreheads still touching. I feel more than see his grin, I guess he missed me.
“God, I’ve been worried, do you remember anything?” he asks, leaning my head back to look in my eyes, I guess checking my pupils. Or rather, pupil. He seems happy with what he sees, though I’m not sure if he’s just glad to see me awake or if he actually did check.
“Not really, I remember coming home from work but nothing else,” I lie. He takes a breath, looking slightly to the side of my face, trying to avoid eye contact.
“I came home and found you on the floor, it looked like there’d been some kind of struggle or something, but there was no one around. You were crying and screaming…” he trails off, still staring past me. “Then you passed out in front of me. The police are there at the moment, looking for fingerprints or something. If you can remember anything at all, it would be a great help to them.”
I manage to catch his eye, once again the point of weakness in his hasty defence. He always tries to keep calm, to not show anyone how he is really feeling, but I can almost see him reliving the scene in the reflection in his pupil. For the second time this week, I realise how concerned he is and how much he cares.
It reminds me again of what actually happened, or what I thought happened. It reminds me how the swordsman used Seb to provoke a reaction, just so that he could enjoy his attack more. A violent shudder passes through me as I feel the blade sliding through both mine and Seb’s skull again. My hand jolts to the top of my head, betraying my memory. Seb’s hands grab my shoulders, turning me to face him.
“What’s wrong? Do you think you hit your hea–ʺ
“–No! I didn’t hit my head,” I interrupt him in an effort to avoid anyone trying to examine my brain again. If they get so much as a whiff of head trauma, they’ll make me do memory tests, which I will fail. Then I will spend the next two weeks or so waiting to be put through a machine that won’t find any issues. Such a waste of time. They should be the ones getting their memory tested, maybe they’ll remember how I told them nothing was wrong, a statement that was then proved correct.
Seb is shocked by my outburst, but only for the moment it takes him to work out my reasons. He takes his hands from my shoulders and intertwines our fingers. He leans forward to kiss my forehead, forcing a smile across my lips.
“Don’t worry, V, you can always tell them to stop if you’ve had enough tests,” he whispers.
“But you know I won’t,” I say into his neck as he pulls me into an embrace.
“Then I will.”
“No you won’t.”
“You didn’t hit your head then,” he states plainly. I pull away from the hug, so that I can see his grinning face. I guess he’s not being serious, but I’ll play along.
“How do you know?” I ask in a slight sarcastic tone.
“You’re as stubborn as ever,” he replies.
I resist the temptation to hit him, instead giving him a cold stare, which he returns until neither of us can keep a straight face. We both burst into bright laughter, which makes the dull room brighten. Seb seems to radiate contrast and colour, though I can barely see him as I start to hyperventilate. My frantic breaths are obviously picked up by one of the various machines I am attached to, as our hysterics are interrupted by the swinging of a door and an out of breath doctor.
We both try to stop, but can’t help letting out the odd snigger, though we’re not sure why we’re laughing anymore. He sees us laughing and, although he doesn’t actually roll his eyes, he may as well have.
His face is not so much stern as aged, with loose, pale skin that seems a size too big for his face. His eyelids seem to be in a state of indecision, as if contemplating sleep constantly. The hair on his head is strangely thick, not even a bald patch that I can see, although the curls are faded and grey. He stands tall, but his head droops. I have never seen a more accurate depiction of disinterest.
“Ah, Miss…” he stops to check my notes, “Hlavinka. I’m glad to see you’re awake, has um…” he stops, clicking his fingers at Seb, trying to remember his name.
“Seb,” Seb and I say together.
“Yes, Sebastian, has he told you what happened?” he asks. I shrug my shoulders.
“He told me I was found unconscious at home.”
“Do you know why we’re keeping you in?”
He clears his throat, “It appears from the initial assessment that was made of the situation, that there was some kind of violent struggle with your attacker, whoever he may be–”
“–Seb told me that,” I cut in.
“Yes, I suppose he has,” he says, looking down at my notes before clearing his throat again. “Then you are aware that in any form of violence, head injury is our second priority only to rapid blood loss?”
I shake my head; he glances at Seb before continuing.
“Well, although we are not aware of any head trauma, we must rule out the possibility that you have sustained any major damage. For that reason, we would like your consent to perform a head CT scan, which can be completed within the next twelve hours.”
“No,” I say quickly. The doctor seems confused; I try to think of a valid explanation but nothing comes to mind.
“She’s pregnant,” Seb jumps in. He squeezes my hand to tell me to stop as I open my mouth to protest. I try to hide my glances, but I’m pretty sure the doctor can see them. I’m not quite sure how he plans to fool them; surely they’ll notice that there are absolutely no signs that I’m pregnant? His hand twitches slightly, he can’t be nervous can he? I’m the one who should be worried about this, not him. The doctor blinks for a moment and checks my notes again.
“There’s nothing about pregnancy on here,” he says.
“We’ve only just found out, I haven’t got used to the idea yet, so it slipped my mind, sorry.” Seb tries to cover his lie with another lie. He directs the apology at me, but I dismiss it with what I hope is a loving smile. Damn. I’ve never been any good at acting.
“Well, if you are pregnant, as you say, it’s probably advisable to avoid the CT scan if possible. We usually keep you in for observation for 48 hours to ensure there are no developments,” the doctor says in his slow drawl. Damn.
“Wait? You’re keeping her in for two days on the off-chance that she hit her head?” Seb argues. The doctor looks at him, seemingly bemused, and nods. I feel Seb squeeze my hand again, I suppose in apology. He doesn’t need to though, I knew this would happen, it always does. I lie back on the bed in submission, we tried, but now I’ll have to accept that once again, I will be trapped in this god-forsaken place.
Or I could escape to another.
I close my eyes.
Everything goes black.