“How much time is on those other bombs?” Rob asked.
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“Five minutes, I think.” I said.
“What do you mean ‘you think?” Look at your damn watch. You did remember to start the timer, didn’t you?”
“Of course I set the damn timer.” I said. I had forgotten to set it in the past, though. “Do you think I’m an idiot?”
“No, don’t answer that.” I said. I looked down at my watch to make sure that I actually did remember to start the timer.
“Why’d you stop?” Rob asked, bumping into me.
“To check the time.” I said. “We have uh…4 minutes and…no, 3 minutes now and 58, 57, 56…”
“Ok, ok- I get it. Are you just going to sit there and wait for the time to run out or are we going to finish the mission?”
“Hey, don’t yell at me. You asked how much time we had. And it’s not like I know where we’re going. You have the map and the coordinates and yet for some reason made me crawl up here first.” I knew why he made me go first- he hated the small, confining ducts we were crawling through. The self-proclaimed “man of titanium” was claustrophobic.
“Or course you know where we’re going. It’s not that difficult to figure out. We’ve been planting the bombs in every room we come to. You find a vent, drop into the room, plant a bomb and move on. It’s not rocket science.” I couldn’t think of a smartass come back so I just continued to move forward, looking for the square of light that indicated a vent.
Our mission was to destroy the manufacturing facility we were in. It was run by a militant group that continually tried to take over. This particular building served as a warehouse and, on the basement, as a small training camp. It was a fairly unknown site, known only to a few people at the top of the organization. One of our informants had just found out its location by chance. We didn’t know exactly what was in the building but it didn’t really matter. Destroying something like this would be a huge blow to their cause.
It was actually a boring assignment, though. Because it was so unknown, there was minimal security. To the outside world it was a clothing manufacturer so excess security would have sent up some red flags- unwanted attention. There were cameras in every room and a security force of maybe 50 for the entire building. There was a huge duct system running through the entire building so it wasn’t too difficult to avoid detection. The ducts were large enough for a person to move through, but not comfortably. I was slender so I could move fairly easily, but my partner, Rob, was a big guy, with broad shoulders. His shoulders brushed both sides of the ducts and the bombs he was carrying kept getting snagged on the seams.
To destroy the building, our goal was to plant bombs in every room along the center of the building. A single explosive large enough to destroy the entire building would have been too difficult to get into the building. Small explosives were more effective and easier to get into the building undetected. We were using old fashioned timed explosives. A remotely activated system would have been easier and safer for us but the building had sensors that were capable of detecting the radio signals that those systems put out. The time crunch made the mission slightly more exciting.
“Alright, there’s another opening about 10 feet ahead.” I said.
“I know that.” Rob said. “Remember, I’m the one with the map.”
What an asshole. He could be so irritating sometimes. We reached the opening. I removed the grate and dropped down into a storage room.
“Bomb’s away!” Rob said, dropping a bomb down to me. He didn’t bother to come down.
“Great, make me do all the work.” I said.
“That’s what women are for.”
I looked around for a place to mount the bomb and spotted a camera in the corner, pointed exactly where I was standing. I ducked behind a large crate quickly.
“Watch it- there might be lions in there, waiting to eat you.” Rob said.
“You didn’t tell me there was a camera in here, you jerk!”
“Huh?” He lowered himself out of the duct a little and looked around. “Oh. Well, you never asked.”
“I shouldn’t have to ask. What if they saw me? That could ruin the whole operation.”
“Relax sweetheart. The security guard watching the monitors is probably too focused on his jelly donut to notice you. Or sleeping. That’s what I’d be doing if I were him.”
“You’re always sleeping. And don’t call me sweetheart. Try to be serious for a change.”
“Honey, I’m always serious. Anyway, do your work now. You’re wasting precious time.”
“You’re an asshole.” I said.
“And you are still wasting time.”
As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I looked around to find the best place to stick the bomb and decided to just stick it to the crate I was leaning against. I stepped back under the opening in the duct and waited for Rob to help me back up. He was no where in sight.
“Hey! Asshole! Pay attention. Help me back into the duct so we can get rid of that last bomb.” He reappeared in the opening and just lay there, looking down at me.
“What’s the matter, shorty? Can’t get back up here yourself? At least try.”
“So you want me to jump around like an idiot and attract even more attention?” I said, pointing to the camera.
“Well…yeah.” He said. “Where’d you put that bomb anyway?”
“Who’s the one wasting time now? It doesn’t matter. Just help me back up.”
“No, where’d you put it?” He lowered himself out of the duct a little and looked around the room, trying to spot the bomb. I stood with my hands on my hips, trying to look as annoyed as possible. I looked at my watch and saw that we had barely a minute left. The next vent shaft was probably only 20 feet away and it wouldn’t take me very long to plant the bomb, so we weren’t really that pressed for time. We were just going to teleport out after planting that last one…but he was really beginning to irritate me. He suddenly froze and all the humor drained out of his face.
“What?” I said, thinking I had somehow messed up when setting up the bomb. He didn’t answer me. He flipped down out of the duct and started pushing me towards the side of the room. “Quit pushing me.”
“We have to get out of here.” He said. “Get us out of here now.”
“What? Why?” I was extremely surprised.
“It doesn’t matter. Just get us out of here now!” He turned away from me but was still pushing me to the wall. Suddenly there was a hot blast of air and Rob was slammed against me. We both slammed into the wall. The world was moving in slow motion. Vaguely, I could hear alarms going off over the ringing in my ears. I could barely think. It couldn’t have been my bomb that had gone off. We both would have been dead if it had been our bomb. I hadn’t set it up wrong. It couldn’t be that bomb. I just couldn’t get past that idea.
It was hard for me to breathe. It felt like there was a weight on my chest and there was smoke everywhere. I went to put my hand on my chest and realized that Rob was pinning me to the wall. I couldn’t tell if he was conscious, or even alive. He started sliding down but I grabbed him under his arm and used my hand to keep his head still. I slid us down into a sitting position.
“Why did you do that?” I whispered, suddenly realizing that he had just saved my life. He mumbled something that sounded like, “Because I love you.” I dismissed it. He couldn’t have said that. And it didn’t really matter what he said. What mattered was getting the hell out of there. Our bombs were going to go off any second. I held onto Rob and teleported us to the hospital.
The emergency was mostly empty. I felt almost deaf coming from the noise of the factory to this quiet room. One nurse stood talking to a little boy with a black eye and his mother. The kid was holding an ice pack over his eye. The nurse glanced over her shoulder as she registered our arrival. She ran through the doors into the room, presumably to get some help. The woman she had been talking to look after her in surprise and anger. And then she noticed that we had entered. She grabbed the little boy and turned him away from us.
Rob was in bad shape. I laid him on the floor, trying to keep his head as still as possible. He wasn’t awake anymore. The left side of his body had been turned toward the explosion and was pouring blood. I was covered in blood and a pool was quickly growing on the floor.
A team of doctors and nurses rushed into the room. I stepped aside and let them work. They seemed to all be talking at once, shouting stats and orders, attaching equipment, trying to stop the bleeding. Within minutes they had him on a cart and hooked up to various pieces of equipment. They wheeled him out of the room and I started to follow but was held up by a nurse.
“Come with me please, ma’am.” She said, taking my arm. I shrugged out of her grip and tried to follow after my partner. The nurse grabbed my arm again, firmer this time.
“Don’t die, asshole!” The insult didn’t come out as I had intended it too. My voice was shaky, hardly my own at all.
“Ma’am, I need you to tell me what happened.” She said, severely.
“There was an explosion.” I said, watching as they wheeled Rob into a far room.
“I’m gonna need more than that.” The nurse said. “One of the other nurses is calling the police right now.”
That caught my attention. “No, there’s no need to call the police.”
“Ma’am, you said there’s been an explosion. It’s obvious to me and everyone else that this is a police matter.”
“No. It’s really not.” I said, getting slightly annoyed. Didn’t this woman know who I was? I sighed impatiently. “Can we go into a more private room?”
“Sure.” She said, eyeing me suspiciously. She led me into an exam room, out of view of Rob’s room.
“Now will you please explain what happened?”
“I can’t.” I said. The woman was clearly frustrated with me. I searched in my pockets for some sort of ID. I wasn’t sure I had any on me. “We work for the government. That’s really all I can tell you.”
“Ma’am, do you really expect me to believe that?”
“I’m sorry, but you don’t recognize me? I don’t really like to make myself public but…I’ve been making an effort lately. I thought at least hospital staff would know who I am…”
She gave me an annoyed look and then did a comical double-take.
“I’m so sorry ma’am. I should have known…there was a flier that went around a couple months back but…I never thought…” She stammered.
“It’s fine.” I said. “But I really can’t answer any of your questions and you really should go tell that other nurse not to call the police.”
She nodded and rushed out of the room. I sat down on the exam table, feeling drained. I didn’t want to have to deal with these people. Did they really need to know what happened to treat him? I didn’t think it was necessary. The nurse came back in about 15 minutes later, carrying a roll of gauze and some other supplies.
“You don’t have to worry about the police, ma’am. It’s all taken care of. Your friend is being taken up to surgery. A fractured rib punctured his lung and it needs to be repaired. They managed to stop most of the external bleeding on his chest but they’re worried that there may be some internal bleeding so they’re going to check for that also.” She said, placing the medical supplies on the table against the wall. “Now I’m just going to take care of you and then you can go up to the post-op room and wait for him to get out of surgery, if you’d like.”
“I’m fine.” I said. I didn’t want to wait for Rob to get out of surgery. I wasn’t sure that I could take seeing him. For some reason, it felt it would be too much. I didn’t really understand it, but I didn’t give it anymore thought. Sleep was at the top of my mind right now.
“No, ma’am. You have a cut on your arm that looks pretty bad. And I’d like to get you upstairs for a scan, to make sure you don’t have any other injuries that I can’t see.”
I looked at my arm and noticed there was a pretty deep gash 4 inches below my shoulder. I hadn’t even felt it. A lot of the blood on that arm was my own and not Rob’s, as I had thought before.
“I’m fine, really. My partner…he was in front of me when the bomb went off…I didn’t even know there was one. But he stepped in front of me. He took most of the blast. I really just want to go home and get some sleep.”
“I understand, ma’am. Just let me fix up your arm and get you that scan. I’ll have you out of here in no more than half an hour.” She said. I nodded and she started to bandage my arm.
“His name is Robert.” I said. The nurse looked at me questioningly. “My partner, the one going in to surgery- his name is Robert.” I didn’t know why, but I thought it was important that they have a name for him. I didn’t like the thought of the doctors referring to him as “Patient X” or “Smith” or any other name but his own. The nurse just nodded and continued cleaning the cut. She finished quickly and then took me up to the fourth floor for the scan. It came back normal, as I had expected, and I was allowed to go home.
I changed as quickly as I could, wanting to get out of the bloody outfit as quickly as possible. MY bed had never looked so inviting to me. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. I awoke in the same position I had laid down in, on top of the covers. I twisted my head to see what time it was and a bolt of pain shot down my neck. For a moment I just lay there in confusion, trying to figure out why my neck- my whole body- was in so much pain. It felt like I had been hit by a truck. The whole incident came back in a flash- the mission, the explosion…Rob.
I decided that I should go to see him. It was my fault he was in the hospital in the first place. He told me to get us out of there. I should have just listened, but instead I questioned him. It was the way we always were with each other. Neither of us just did what the other said…unless it was serious. And he had definitely looked serious. I had never seen him look so serious. And yet I had still questioned him. I hesitated. And now he was in the hospital.
I went over to the mirror on the wall to get a look at myself. I didn’t look nearly as bad as I felt. I was a little grubby looking, but I decided to wait until after I checked on Rob to shower. I told my reflection to quit being so sentimental about Rob. He was probably fine.
I teleported to the main atrium of the hospital and then just stood there. I was suddenly afraid to go see him. And I didn’t know where he was. Of course I could just ask the woman at the front desk, who was currently on the phone. That was her job, to direct people to the right place. And it was my job to check on my partner.
What if he hadn’t made it out of surgery? I hadn’t given them any contact information so they wouldn’t have been able to contact me if that had happened. I had to go see him now, just to see if he was alive. I didn’t know what I’d do if he was dead.
What the hell was I thinking? He wasn’t dead. I would know if he was dead. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I did. I would know he had died. I just would. I shook my head, clearing those thoughts out of my head and went over to the front desk. The woman told me Rob was in intensive care, room 312 on the third floor. I took the elevator up but just stood still once I got up to the third floor. I didn’t really know why, but I didn’t really want to see him. I just…didn’t. I forced myself to walk to his room but I just stood outside of it, looking in at his through the window.
His left side was facing the window and was covered with gauze. Blood had seeped through in some spots. There was a white bandage on his cheek covering a cut that I hadn’t even noticed before. He had a tube down his throat, helping him breathe. He was sleeping.
I was completely absorbed in my thoughts when someone spoke up from behind me, “You can go in if you’d like.” The sudden break in silence startled me, making me jump and sending electric bolts of pain down my spine. I turned to see an older man in a white lab coat standing just behind me.
“I’m sorry I startled you.” He said. “I’m Dr. Meleski, Robert’s doctor. You don’t have to stand out here in the hallway. You can go in and see him if you’d like. He’s not awake right now, but he can hear you if you talk to him.”
“Thank you.” I said, not moving.
“Actually, are you Robert’s partner?” he asked. I nodded without saying anything. I was still looking into his room. I couldn’t seem to look away. “I have his belongings for you.”
He went over to the nurses’ station and came back with a plastic container. It had Rob’s ruined clothing and the one remaining bomb, the one we hadn’t been able to place. I wondered what the doctors had thought of that or if they even knew what it was. They knew better than to ask questions, though.
“Thank you.” I said, quieter than I had intended. Dr. Meleski smiled warmly.
“How is he?” I asked, not really interested in the answer. He was breathing through a tube so obviously he wasn’t doing very well. He definitely didn’t look good.
“He’s in critical condition, so we’re keeping an eye on him. He lost a lot of blood and he had some extensive internal damages. He has three fractured ribs, one of which punctured his lung. We were able to repair that but we also put a breathing tube in to ease his breathing. He hasn’t woken up since he was brought in. We’re going to keep him in intensive care.” He looked at me and then softened his tone, “He’s young and he looks like a strong guy. I’m optimistic about his recovery. I’m guessing he’ll be in here for no more than 5 days, a week at the most.”
Hearing all his problems listed like that was overwhelming. I didn’t know what to think. He sounded so…delicate. I was using to worrying. I never had to worry about him. He was the strong guy. I thanked the doctor and walked away from Rob’s room. I couldn’t go in and see him. I just couldn’t.
I teleported home and collapsed on my bed. My eyes were watering. No- I was actually crying. I hadn’t cried in years. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had cried. I didn’t really understand why I was crying. The doctor said he was optimistic. He said 5 days. He was right- Rob was a strong guy. If they told him 5 days, he’d probably make it 3. He would be fine. For some reason those thoughts did nothing to comfort me. All I could think about was how helpless he had looked. He couldn’t even breathe on his own.
I decided that I just wasn’t going to think about it. It wasn’t my job to worry. I went there to make sure that he was alive. He was alive. I shouldn’t really care. And yet for some reason I did. But I wasn’t going to allow myself to care. That wouldn’t do any good for anyone. I wasn’t helping him by lying on my bed crying my eyes out. There was nothing I could do to help him. He was in the one place where people were able to take care of him, so there was nothing to worry about. I forced myself to stop thinking about him and fell asleep again.
I awoke several hours later, reaching for someone next to me. My hand landed on the empty bed next to me, bringing me out of my dream. I had no idea who I was expecting to be there or why they would be there…I had always lived alone. I wasn’t the kind of girl who brought home a new guy every night. Or ever. I didn’t have the time.
The pain in my body wasn’t as bad, but I was incredibly stiff. I felt like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz. I got up and flexed a little bit and decided to run myself a hot bath to help loosen me up. The hot water stung a little bit as I slid in. I let the tub fill until the water was up to my neck. I lay back against the tub and relaxed, letting my mind wander.
Shit. Paperwork. I hadn’t even begun the paperwork for that last mission. Or the mission before. I was way behind. And I hadn’t contacted anyone about the last mission. I didn’t even know if it had been successful, though it should have been. That one bomb we didn’t place shouldn’t have affected the overall destruction. There was going to be a lot of extra paperwork because of what happened, though. I hated paperwork. I was always left with the paperwork. If I left it to Rob, it’d never get done.
Of course it wouldn’t get done. He was in the hospital with a tube down his throat. He wouldn’t be doing paperwork- or anything- for a long time. I wondered if he had woken up yet. I couldn’t imagine how he’d feel when he did wake up. If I were in his condition, I wasn’t sure that I’d want to wake up. They would give him pain medication so he wouldn’t feel too bad. I should probably go see him again. And this time actually go into his room. I was dreading it and I still couldn’t understand why. I didn’t really want to think about it. I would just go see him and be done with it. I got out of the tub and got dressed and promptly lost my nerve.
I spent the next couple hours doing paperwork and then I went for a run. When I got home I was suddenly overwhelmed with stomach cramps. I hadn’t eaten in more than 24 hours so I made myself a huge meal. I really had to go visit Rob, I decided. Before, I could change my mind I put the food away and left.
I teleported myself inside his room so I couldn’t chicken out and run again. His room was quiet. The only sound was the faint beeping of the machines attached to him. It wasn’t right for me to run away from my partner. I mean, he was my friend too, not just my partner, even if we did argue a lot. He shouldn’t be left alone, anyway. It didn’t seem right for someone to be left alone in a hospital. I pulled a chair up beside his bed and sat down.
“Ok, now what am I supposed to do?” I said quietly. “It’s been…30 hours now and you’re still asleep. I’ve always said you sleep too much but this…this is different. This…it’s not you being a lazy jackass. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t think there’s anything I can do.”
I looked up at Rob, half expecting him to come back with some smart remark. But he just lay there unmoving.
“I finished the damn paperwork. You always leave me with the paperwork, you jerk.” I put any of my usual bite in the insult. “I still have to call central and tell them about you. No doubt there will be more paperwork. It never ends. It’s so boring. God, everything is going to be so boring now.”
I hadn’t even bothered to think about that yet. What would I do with him like this?
“You know they’re not going to let me go on any missions without you. I have nothing else to do. Just boring work. Nothing exciting. I’m gonna miss that. They’re too worried that something will happen to me. And maybe they’re not so wrong. Maybe…maybe even you weren’t wrong.” I stopped, remembering a conversation we’d had a while ago.
Rob and I had been joking around like usual, planning for some missions. I couldn’t remember exactly what the mission had been but it had been more dangerous than usual, more exciting. We were debating who should go in first, since the place was likely to be filled with armed security.
“I think we both know I’m a better shot.” I had said. “And I’m faster than you. Obviously I should go in first.”
“First of all, you’re a terrible shot. And that totally makes up for and lack of speed. And I’m not slow that you either. I’m pretty much better than you in every way. I should definitely be going in first.”
“Please, get over yourself. We both know that I’m faster. I’m smaller too. A smaller target is harder to hit. You can’t argue about that. And I’m smarter too. And prettier and…well, I could go on and on.”
“Well, you’re not going first and that’s final. I don’t care how many reasons you can come up with. You’re just not going first.”
“Don’t be such an ass. You just want to take all the credit. You go in, take out most of the guys and you look great to central. Self centered bastard.”
“Don’t be such a bitch. That’s not why.”
“Please, enlighten me.”
“If you go in first there’s a greater risk of you being shot.” He said. All the humor was gone from his voice. I didn’t know how to deal with it so I just ignored it.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“You can’t get shot.” He said.
“It’s not your job to worry about that.” I said, starting to get pissed off. Central always worried about me getting hurt and so we were usually stuck with safe, easy, boring missions. Finally we had gotten a challenging mission and he was ruining the excitement with so much worry.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s my job. I care if you get hurt.”
“You shouldn’t care. I don’t care so you shouldn’t care.”
“That’s stupid. How can you not care about yourself?”
“Ok, so you do care about yourself? You’re the one insisting that you go in first and take on the most danger. Obviously you don’t care about yourself either. Anyway, I never said I didn’t care about myself. I can handle it. I’m a big girl. I don’t need you or central or anyone else worrying about me. How am I ever going to get better if everyone is always making me live on the safe side. You have to take risks to get better.”
“Why do you think central gave you a partner in the first place?” he said. We were both yelling at each other now. “No, I already told you, it’s not about central. You never think about anything but trying to find some excitement. Can’t you just be happy with what you have? Do you have to take stupid risks all the time just so you can feel some excitement? I don’t know if you realize it, but you’re kind of an important person. If you get hurt or killed, you won’t be the only one affected. Everyone will be affected. So quit being such a selfish bitch for once.”
“So now you’re going to play the patriot. Well, here’s a news flash: I can take care of myself. I really don’t care how everyone else will be affected. I didn’t ask to be this important person. I didn’t volunteer. I do my job and I do it well. But it doesn’t make me happy.”
“You never told me that before.” He said, looking like I had just slapped him in the face. “I thought you loved your job.”
“It’s ok. Someone has to do it. It’s not fun though. Politics sucks. People suck. It’s depressing. I don’t really have that much influence. I always have to rely on other people in order to finish the job. I hate that. In this job, I feel like I’m doing something, actually making a difference by myself. I didn’t want a partner but I had to take one otherwise they wouldn’t have let me do this at all. I’m sick of relying on other people all the time.”
“Everyone has to rely on other people. It’s the way things go. You can’t do everything by yourself. I talk a big game, but I know I can’t do everything by myself. These missions they give us…most of them do require two people. I don’t mind having a partner and I wish you didn’t mind so much either. Besides, don’t you ever get lonely? I mean, you work all the time…do you have any time to really interact with other people?”
“That’s really none of your business. Why are you acting like you care about me anyway? I know you didn’t want a partner either, or did you forget about how much you complained when you were assigned to me? You complained that you’d never get any good missions and about how you were used to working by yourself and you didn’t want to be held back by a girl…any of this ringing a bell?” I said. I was pissed. How dare he…
“Yeah, I was pissed off. But you know what? Working with you isn’t so bad. I actually like working with you.”
“So you’re going to go in first and risk getting shot, all to prevent me from ever seeing any sort of danger?”
“Basically, yeah. I’d take a bullet for you any day. And that doesn’t have anything to do with your other job, either. I do care.”
“Now who’s being stupid?” I mumbled. He didn’t appear to hear what I said. “Look, I never asked to work with anyone. I never wanted to work with anyone and I still don’t.”
“Yeah, I got it. Talk to central about it when we’ve finished this mission. You’re not going in first, though and that’s final.” I had left after that. The next day we carried out the mission as planned. Neither of us had ever mentioned that argument ever again.
And now he was here. He had taken more than a bullet for me. I never asked him to do that. I never asked anyone to do that for me. I didn’t care very much if I lived or died. I wasn’t born- I was created. I was created to do one job and I was never given any other options. My “parents” tried their best to keep me happy but only because I performed better when I was happy. Everything went towards me doing my job the best that I could. I was sick of it.
I didn’t believe what Rob had said. He probably thought that he cared about me, but I doubted even that. People only cared about me because of who I am- the queen of the universe. Created and appointed to do that job. I was considered to be one of the most important people in the universe and I hated it. I was sick of being important, of people always trying to make me feel important so that I can do my job better. I was convinced that that’s all Rob had been doing, trying to make me feel better so I’d let him go in first. For all I knew, central had given him instructions to go in first so I wouldn’t be in as much danger. Central had probably given him instructions to protect me no matter what. And to keep me “happy” central- or even my “parents”- had told him to keep quiet about it. They knew I wasn’t happy with everyone so paranoid about my well being. Rob only cared that I stayed alive so that I could keep running the universe. Very patriotic, yes but I hated him for it.
It never occurred to me that he could have meant what he said but now…I was beginning to wonder. I complained so much and yelled at him; it wouldn’t have been at all surprising if he had used me as a shield instead of the other way around. But that wasn’t the way it had happened at all. He still tried to protect me and I just stood there and questioned him. And because I hesitated he had almost died.
I leaned forward and put my hand against his cheek. His skin was warm against my hand.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I whispered. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times.
“You’re finally awake.” I said. He looked around in confusion. “Do you remember what happened?”
He tried to shake his head. “It’s ok. Don’t try to move. You’re pretty messed up. We were on the mission and there was an explosion. It was probably a warning from one of their rivals. We must have been pretty close to the center of the explosion. But you…” I stopped and lowered my voice. “You were in front of me and absorbed most of the blast.”
He closed his eyes for a few minutes; I thought he went back to sleep. But then he opened them again and tried moving his right arm.
“I said don’t move. You’re going to hurt yourself, you idiot.” I sighed and realized that my hand was still on his face. I didn’t know what he’d think of that, but I thought that maybe he hadn’t noticed it. I didn’t risk pulling it away because he’d definitely notice it then. I could tell from his face that he wanted something. “Um…oh, you want that tube out of your throat, right?”
He tried nodding again.
“Ok. Let me go find a nurse and see if she’ll take it out.” I left and went to the nurse’s station. There was only one nurse there and I asked her about removing Rob’s breathing tube. She said she would have to talk to his doctor about it and went to find him. She came back a few minutes later and said that the doctor gave her permission to remove it but if Rob started having trouble breathing she would have to put it back in.
He coughed a little after she removed the tube and winced in pain. The nurse told him that she would bring him a cup of ice chips to help with his dry throat.
“I’m surprised to see you here.” He said. His voice was barely a whisper and he sounded like a smoker.
“I had to make sure you were alive.” I said. He didn’t say anything. The nurse came in with a cup of ice and a spoon. She put them on the swinging table attached to his bed and moved the table in front of him. She helped him to adjust the bed so that he was partially sitting upright and then left. He lay back against his pillow with his eyes closed.
“If you go back to sleep now your ice will be water when you wake up.” I said.
“I don’t know how that idiot nurse expects me to eat this ice anyway.” He said without opening his eyes. “It takes so much energy just to move it a little bit. And my shoulder feels like it’s filled with glass.”
“I can help if you want.” I said.
He raised his head a little and looked at me suspiciously. He collapsed back against the pillow and in a resigned tone said, “Thank you.”
I picked up the cup and fed him an ice cube. He ate it without opening his eyes.
“So, how do you feel?” I asked.
“Like shit.” He said. “Everything hurts. I can’t move. I have to be fed like a baby.”
“Are you hot?” I asked, noticing that his face was covered in sweat.
“No.” He said. “Why?”
“You’re sweating so I thought you might be hot.” I said.
“No. I just hurt. Everything hurts so bad. Especially my chest. I feel like someone ripped the skin off and then tried polishing it with sandpaper.”
“Oh.” I said lamely. I fed him another ice cube and wiped some of the sweat off his forehead. He didn’t say anything or open his eyes but just turned his head against my hand. I felt…I don’t really know how to describe it. I could definitely see that he was in pain and it was really bothering me. I had a strange pain in my chest but I just attributed it to sympathy pains or something stupid like that. For some reason that I couldn’t- or just wouldn’t- identify, seeing him like he was, so helpless, was killing me. It was suddenly overwhelming so I left without saying anything and went to find a nurse to see if anything could be done for his pain.
I went back to his room a few minutes later, feeling more composed. I didn’t like feeling like I did before. I didn’t really understand it or even want to try to try to understand it. I decided to just put all that garbage aside. I didn’t really want to go back at all but I knew it wouldn’t be right of me to just leave. Besides, the nurse had said that there was a way to reduce his pain.
“Did you go back to sleep?” I asked quietly, afraid to wake him if he had.
“No.” He said. He looked exhausted though.
“The nurse told me that if you just push this button,” I said. I showed him the button on the IV line that the nurse told me about and pushed it for him. I put it down next to his hand so that he could reach it if he needed it. “She said you can push it every fifteen minutes if you need to.”
“Thanks.” He said. I could see that the medication was already starting to work. His face relaxed and he wasn’t sweating as much. I wiped some of the sweat off and he leaned against my hand.
“I’m tired.” He said, his voice nothing more than a whisper.
“Go to sleep then.” I said. “Do you want me to lower you down?”
He nodded against my hand. I lowered the bed so he was lying down again. He was asleep before the bed was finished reclining. I left with that heavy feeling in my chest again. I just about ran out of his room and teleported myself home as I was going down the hall. I couldn’t identify the feeling but it scared me so I refused to think about it. I immersed myself in work and tried to forget about everything but I’d periodically find myself thinking about the mission and my visit to the hospital. I didn’t want to think about it so I decided to just go to sleep. I couldn’t worry or think about such stupid things if I was asleep.
It took me nearly an hour to fall asleep but I finally drifted off. Suddenly, I was standing in Rob’s room again. It was a lot brighter than I remembered and had an odd quality to it. Rob was lying in the bed and I walked over to him and just looked at him. I was really confused by the emotion that was over powering me. Then the light bulb went on in my head- I finally had a name for what I was feeling. Before I could say it out loud I was jarred out of the dream by the sound of the phone. I hadn’t even realized that I’d been dreaming.
“Hello?” I said.
“Have you forgotten that you’re supposed to call us when you finish a mission?” A stern male voice. I recognized it as one of the higher ups from central.
“Sorry, sir. It’s been kinda…hectic.”
“When we agreed to let you do these missions we understood that you would be following orders and SOP like everyone else who works for us.” He said.
“Yes, and that hasn’t changed. I finished the paperwork, anyhow.”
“Yes, but don’t you think that it would have been prudent for you to have contacted us about your partner’s condition as soon as possible, rather than waiting? It’s been 3 days now, hasn’t it?”
“Well obviously you know about his condition so why do I have to call and tell you?”
“We bothered to look into it because neither of you bothered to report in to us about the success of your mission. At least your mission was successful.”
“That’s good to know. Did you find out about the other bomb that was in there that took out my partner?” I asked.
“What other bomb? We didn’t bother to investigate the site, although if you had reported in to us as you should have I may have had an answer to your question.”
“Bullshit.” I said, annoyed. “You don’t care what happened. All you care is that one of your agents was taken out. You don’t really even care about him. You really just care that you have one less and you’re probably worried about distributing the work to the remaining agents.”
“All that matters to us is whether our agents are capable of carrying out orders. I have always questioned your ability to do that.”
“Now you won’t have to worry. My partner is no longer able to carry out orders and complete missions and you won’t let me without him.”
“You are absolutely correct. We may contact you again after your partner has fully recovered but don’t count on it.” He said and then hung up. God I hated talking to those assholes. They didn’t want me to work for them. They didn’t like worrying about me any more than I liked them worrying about me. It was their job to worry, though.
I paced a little bit trying to think of something to do. I could go visit Rob again but I wasn’t really sure that he wanted to see me again. I had already gone to check on him, as a partner really had no more reason to go. And yet I actually wanted to go again. I knew that if I tried to do any more work that nothing would get done. I decided to just go to visit Rob. Hopefully he would be sleeping so I wouldn’t have to explain myself. If he was awake…I’d just make up something.
I teleported myself into his room and sat in the chair I had sat in before. I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. Rob was asleep, though, so I at least didn’t have to worry about explaining myself to him. I entertained the idea of leaving but decided to stay. I didn’t really have anything better to do at home. And he was my partner. I wondered if anyone else had come to visit him. He never really talked about his family much. I knew they weren’t on the best of terms but I figured that something like this might bring them back together. It was probably stupid to think of something like that but I didn’t really know why they weren’t speaking.
He didn’t look good. He was pale and he seemed to be having trouble breathing even though he was asleep. A nurse came in to check on him.
“How is he doing?” I asked.
“Not so well. His doctor doesn’t really understand it. We can’t find anything wrong with him but his vitals have been dropping little by little since yesterday.” She said.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so.” She said. She finished checking on him and left. I felt so useless. Why had I even bothered to come? Of course there was nothing I could do. It felt wrong to look at him; he looked so vulnerable. I was used to seeing him as the strong guy.
He opened his eyes and looked around and closed his eyes again when he saw me.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. He probably meant for it to come out hostile but it came out as barely a whisper.
“I just came to see how you were doing.” I said. I reached out and put my hand on his head without thinking. I guess I wanted to comfort him or something; I really hadn’t though about it at all. I mentally scolded myself for doing something so stupid and waited for him to say something about it.
“You already did that.” He said. “You didn’t have to come again.”
“If you don’t want me here, just say it and I’ll go.” I said. He was starting to sweat a little bit. I wiped it away, again without thinking. Luckily he didn’t say anything about it again. He actually seemed to lean into my hand.
“Did you call central?” he asked. I couldn’t believe he was actually worrying about work.
“Someone called me.”
“That sucks.” He said. He tried to laugh but ended up coughing weakly. “Damn that hurts.”
“Quit laughing, you moron. Just lay there and be quiet.”
“Yes, mother.” He said. “So what’d they say?”
“Same stuff they usually say. I didn’t do my paperwork fast enough. I don’t even se why they have to do paperwork in the first place.”
“Here we go again.” He said. He was having trouble breathing so it came out in the same level whisper. After working with him for so long I knew how he meant to say it, though.
“You say the same thing just about every time.”
“They knew how you were doing without me having to do a mountain of paperwork. They knew how our mission went those other times too, without me having to do the paperwork.”
“Yeah, but they have to send out other agents to find those things out. And then someone else does the paperwork. It’s a waste of resources. It’s easier for them just to have us do it.”
“They could just wait for us to do it then. I always get it done. They never give us a deadline and yet they get all pissed off if it’s not done in like a day.” I said.
“We’re supposed to do it as soon as we finish the mission.” He said.
“Whatever. You say ‘we’ like you have done paperwork. I don’t think you’ve seen a single sheet of all the paperwork we’ve had to do. If I didn’t do it, it’d never get done.”
“So what, you wanted me to do paperwork while I was in surgery? Or sleeping?”
“I’m not talking about just now.” I said. “I’m talking about…always. I always do the paperwork.”
“Well, it’s what you do, right? I just figured you’d be really good at it.”
“Asshole.” He smiled and then sighed.
“I’m tired.” He said.
“Go to sleep then.”
“Go home and do more paperwork.” He said. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against my hand. I wasn’t sure if he really wanted me to leave or if he was being sarcastic. I could barely understand what he was saying, let alone discern any sort of tone of voice.
“Has anyone else come to visit you?” I asked.
“Who would visit me?” he said. I think he sounded a little bit annoyed but it was really hard to tell.
“I don’t know…friends? Family? Aren’t those the kind of people that are supposed to visit you in the hospital?” I said.
“Yeah, if I had any of those things, I suppose you’d be right.”
“You have family.” I said. “Everyone has family.”
“You know I don’t get along with my parents.” He said.
“Maybe you should just call them anyway. Maybe they’d like to know that you’re…here.” I said.
“I haven’t talked to my parents in years. They wouldn’t care.”
“You don’t know unless you try. I can call them if you’d like.” I said.
“Forget it. You don’t know…never mind. Let me go to sleep, please.” He said.
“Ok, but I really think you should call them.” I said. He didn’t answer me so I assumed he was asleep. He had always been able to fall asleep fast. He had a tendency to fall asleep when we had to wait for something when we were on missions. It was slightly annoying and yet amusing. I knew after a minute or so that he was definitely sleeping so I left. There was no point in sitting there and watching him sleep, although part of me kind of wanted to.
I went home and did some more work and slept. It took me a while to decide if I should go back. For some reason I really wanted to go and see him. I never thought I’d care so much if he got hurt. I mean, he was my partner and stuff but that didn’t seem to explain everything. I wondered if he would care about me if our situations were reversed. I tried not thinking about him for a while but that only seemed to make it worse. Everything I tried to do seemed to remind me of him in some way.
I kept wondering if he was doing better or if he had somehow gotten in touch with his parents. His parents couldn’t just leave him there in the hospital by himself. I knew that if he talked to them that they’d almost definitely come to see him. That’s what parents are for, right? To be there for their children no matter what. My parents were…different. I wasn’t born and so they didn’t care for me in the same way. But they had taught me that that’s how parents are supposed to behave. It seemed horribly wrong for Rob to be there by himself. Even I felt that, so his parents would have to feel it too. They couldn’t just not care.
If, for some reason, his parents did go, though, I didn’t want to leave him there alone. My obligation as his partner had really ended the first time I visited and I knew it was strange that I had gone again.
I finally made up my mind to just go to see how he was doing. I teleported myself just outside of his room. If his parents were there or if he was awake, I wouldn’t go in. I wouldn’t want to bother his parents and I wouldn’t want to have to explain myself if he was awake. He’d definitely want to know why I was visiting him for a third time and I honestly didn’t have an explanation. I didn’t know why I wanted to see him t badly or why I couldn’t bear to think of him left alone and I didn’t want to think about it. I was afraid of the answer.
Fortunately he was sleeping and alone. I decided to sit with him a little bit, until I could talk to a doctor or nurse and find out how he was doing. He looked worse than he had the last time I had visited. He skin was pasty and there were dark circles under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept in ages although he was sleeping. I put my hand on his forehead; he definitely had a fever. A man in a white lab coat came in the room. I recognized him as Dr. Meleski.
“Hello, how are you?” he said, coming over to shake my hand.
“I’m fine, thank you.” I said. “How is he?”
“Not so good, I’m afraid.” He said, checking some of the monitors. “He’s been getting steadily worse since he got here.”
“Is there something wrong with him?” I asked, thinking maybe he had an infection or something he was treating.
“Not something medical. His chest is healing nicely. His shoulder isn’t looking too bad, but for some reason his vitals are falling daily. I’d almost say he doesn’t want to get better.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re doing everything possible to make him better. By all reason and logic he should be getting stronger, not weaker like he is.”
“Oh.” I said. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Does he talk to you? He doesn’t seem to ever want to talk to the nurses or myself. He’s always sleeping or at least pretending to sleep while we’re in here. We’ve tried waking him up but he doesn’t respond. I would like to talk to him to see how he’s feeling, to see if there’s anything we can do to help him get stronger.”
“He told me last time I was here that he felt fine.” I said.
“Yeah, he said that to one of the nurses the one time he spoke to anyone.”
“I’m sorry. He tends to be really uncooperative with people.”
“If you could get him to talk to us, that’d be great.” He said.
“I’ll try, but no promises.”
“Thank you.” He said and left the room.
Rob could be so stubborn sometimes. He could say all he wanted about me not being able to accept help from other people, but he was just as bad. He complained as much as I did about having to work together, with the exception of that one time… And the doctor couldn’t be right. Rob wouldn’t just give up. He couldn’t just give up. It wasn’t what we did. Surrender was not in our vocabulary.
I sat with him for another half hour before I decided to leave. He didn’t wake up while I was there and it felt strange to just sit there and watch him sleep. It wasn’t really a bad feeling but it wasn’t exactly good either. I didn’t bother to think about it enough to describe it. I was thinking to much as it was and I didn’t like it. That’s the real reason why I left.
I went home and immersed myself in work. I scheduled a bunch of meetings for the next two days and forced myself to think of other things. There were always other conflicts I could focus on. Two planets were threatening war with each other and I put my mind to resolving that conflict. During the meetings with the leaders of those planets I found myself always thinking of Rob. I used to talk to him about these sorts of conflict. He loved to hear about who was going to war with whom and I liked to talk about it. He even had some useful advice sometimes. I mentally scolded myself every time he crept into my thoughts. I didn’t want to figure out why I was thinking about him so much or why I cared about him so much. It felt…dangerous, somehow and not in a good way. Thinking about him gave me an odd feeling in my chest that I chose to ignore.
It was that feeling that eventually made me drag myself back to visit Rob again. A part of my mind that I could usually ignore just wouldn’t shut up. I just wanted it to go back to sleep so I could go back to concentrating on work. I just had to see how Rob was doing.
I teleported to his room right after I got out of yet another unproductive meeting. He looked horrible, on the edge of death. He looked like he had lost some weight. His face was so pale and his eyes were so dark…it hurt to look at him. He was sitting up a little bit and his head was kind of slumped to one side. A nurse brushed past me, startling me a little.
“We had to sit him up a little to ease his breathing.” The nurse explained to me as she went about her chores. “The doctor said that if he continues to get worse he’s going to have to put the breathing tube back in.”
I nodded without saying anything and the nurse left the room. I grabbed the chair that had been moved to the side of the room and sat down next to him. I stroked his hair and wondered if there was anything I could do. He half opened his eyes and looked around.
“Hey. How are you doing?” I said. He somehow managed to look at me like I was stupid.
“Great.” He wheezed. “Just…great.”
“You keep getting worse.” I said, as if he didn’t already know. He didn’t say anything, just looked away. “The doctor said you won’t talk to him or the nurses.”
“I’m always sleeping when they come in here.” I just sat there for a minute, feeling awkward and wondering what to say next. My hand was still on his head although he didn’t seem to notice. “Actually, I talked to one yesterday. I asked her for a phone and I called my parents.”
“Really? Are they going to come?”
“My mom answered the phone and she didn’t even know who I was. When I reminded her, she hung up.”
“Did you call back?” I asked.
“Yeah. She told me not to bother calling again. And then she hung up. I didn’t call back a third time.”
“I’m sorry.” I said. I couldn’t think of anything better to say.
“It’s ok. I didn’t really want them here anyway. All they ever did was complain about me. I’m sure they’d just do the same now.”
“But…honestly, what is there to complain about? You have one of the best jobs in the universe and you’re good at it. You get to work with me.” I said with a smile. “I mean, what could they have to complain about?”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” he said. I looked down at my other hand and didn’t answer. He sighed. “Forget it. Just leave me alone. I was fine sleeping until you go here.”
“I didn’t wake you, did I?” I asked.
“Holy shit…stop pretending that you care.” He said. He coughed weakly.
“Who says I’m pretending?”
“Why should you care?” he said. “You have more important things to think about. Isn’t there a war about to start? There’s always a war about to start. So don’t…don’t pretend like you care. I don’t need your fake sympathy.”
“I’m not faking.” I couldn’t believe how much his words were hurting me. I was actually on the verge of tears.
“Please…” he said. His voice was weaker and he seemed to be having more trouble breathing. I wondered if he was getting sicker until I saw the sadness in his eyes. His eyes were so…miserable.
“Are you even trying to get better?” I said, on the verge of yelling at him. I was so upset that I was having trouble controlling my voice.
I can’t. The doctors are taking care of that. Apparently they’re not doing a very good job though.”
“They can’t do their job if you’re not cooperating. And even if they do their best, which I think they are, if you don’t want to get better there’s nothing they can do that will make you better.”
“I don’t feel like getting better.” He said miserably.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what’s the point? My own parents hate me. I have no friends. All I have is a job, which is nothing. Even the job is starting to lose some of it glamour. I know you’ve been noticing it too. It just isn’t fun anymore. Nothing is. I have nothing to look forward to so why bother to get better?”
“I’m sorry.” I said. “I had no idea you were so miserable. I just…I thought you were happy. You seemed happy.”
“Yeah, I always pretended to be happy for you. I didn’t think you’d care how I really felt. I still can’t believe you actually care. You’re probably just acting all concerned so I’ll get better and you can go on missions again.”
“Do you really think I’m that selfish?” I sighed and tried to think of something… “Don’t answer that.”
We both just sat there for a moment and then I knew exactly what to do. It seemed so obvious to me now. All of my confusing feelings…it was one of those rare moments of clarity when all the answers just seem to line themselves up in front of you.
I leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips. He looked at me questioningly, hopefully. I smiled at him as sincerely as I could.
“Please, you can’t die. I need you. Look forward to more kisses and…I don’t even know. Just, please don’t die.” I said. “I love you.”
Author's Note: If any of you reading this can think of a proper title, please comment and tell me what you've thought of! I suck at titles...