"Merry Christmas," Nick murmured into Greg's ear, coming up behind him to spoon in their bed. "I've got a big Christmas package for you."
Greg burst into laughter. "I don't remember seeing any big packages around here."
"I guess you don't want it then."
"No, no, I'll take it," Greg said, his fingers trailing over Nick's hip. "I love average- to medium-sized Christmas packages."
"I don't think a dog is such a good idea," Nick said as they stood in the shelter, dozens of dogs barking and howling around them.
"Come on," Greg urged. "It's too late now. We're already here, they're already looking at us. You can't turn back now."
Nick's eyes traveled over all of the dogs in various shapes and sizes. Landed on an ugly, old white mutt whose tail was wagging so hard the metal of her cage rattled loudly.
"That one," Nick said, pointing. The volunteer worker opened the cage, the old female dog bounding down the corridor and heading straight for them. She jumped and licked and circled around them with the energy of a puppy, and they were hers. All hers.
"What will we call her?" Greg asked, his fingers scratching behind her ears.
"Daisy," Nick replied with certainty.
Greg nodded. "A beautiful name for a beautiful girl."
Drunk at Greg's apartment watching a college football game. Greg wasn't really interested in college football – or any sports, for that matter – but he enjoyed spending time with his friend. Couldn't imagine in just a few months that they would be more than friends. Couldn't imagine in just a few years that they would wear matching rings.
"Greg," Nick breathed, hovering over Greg as they moved together, making love on a rare Sunday afternoon they both had off from work. Nick's ring dangled over him on the necklace around Nick's neck, glinting in the lowering sun."Greg...stay with me."
"I'm here," Greg whispered, gripping Nick's shoulders, pulling him closer, and he never wanted to let him go.
"Can you hear me?"
"What?" he asked, confused. "Of course I can hear you."
"Can you hear me?" Nick asked again. "I need you to stay with me."
"I don't understand."
"Greg, stay with me."
He was pulled into consciousness with a start, his eyes snapping open to bright and harsh fluorescent lights. Pain. All he knew was pain, and he couldn't breathe and he didn't know what was happening. There was something obstructing his view, a pressure on his face. He was inside of a small space, faces hovering over him.
"Greg, can you hear me?" A woman's firm voice talking to him. "Stay with me, okay? Do you know where you are?"
An ambulance. He was in an ambulance, and there was an oxygen mask on his face, and he didn't have any clothes on.
"Do you you know where you are?" she repeated.
"Where's Nick?" he croaked, his mind spinning.
"They took him in another ambulance," she replied.
"Is he okay?"
She shared a look with the other paramedic before turning her eyes back to Greg. "I'm sure he's fine. Do you have any allergies to any foods or medications, Greg? This is an important question, I need you to answer me."
He was dizzy and nauseous, and suddenly he felt as if he would be sick. He couldn't catch his breath. Tasted copper on his tongue. Heard urgent beeping as alarms began blaring. He was suddenly combative, trying to remove his oxygen mask and pull his IV lines, swinging his arms at the paramedics in an attempt to push them away. His body's instincts were kicking in as he began to physically fight for air in the small space of the ambulance rig.
"O2 sats are hitting the 80's."
"Give me the restraints," the male paramedic said, before the darkness took him once more.
Greg was there but not there. He could hear, but only pieces of conversations were registering in his brain. Could see only through a dim haze, and that was when he wasn't too tired to keep his eyes open. He knew he should be in pain, but his body was numb. He felt as if he were trapped underwater, unable to muster enough strength to swim up and break the surface of the sea. He felt as if he were drowning. He felt as if he were dying.
He was dying.
"Thirty-eight-year-old male, GSW to the chest, through-and-through. One to the leg and one to the hip, no exit wounds. GCS 4, pulse 164. O2 sats less than 90. Thirty milliliters of normal saline given until he blew out his IV."
"Why is he restrained? Is he dangerous?"
"He was fighting us in the rig. He's just disoriented, he's been in and out. He's lost a lot of blood, we haven't been able to stabilize him."
"All right, give me a large-bore IV, wide open, and let's get rid of these restraints."
There were so many people fluttering around him, talking quickly and loudly over the sounds of beeping alarms. Hands touching him, poking him, hurting him, and it was all so overwhelming. He felt himself panicking, his heart was racing and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. A face leaned over him, a beautiful woman with long dark hair. She blocked the bright, circular exam light above him, creating a false glow of sanctity behind her head. Was she here to claim him? To take him to the bottom of the sea?
"What's your name?" she asked with a melodious Spanish accent. Her smile was gentle, but her voice was firm.
"Greg," he barely was able to whisper.
"Greg, I'm Dr. Ramirez. This is Dr. Hunt. We're going to take good care of you, okay?" She turned to one of the several nurses beside her. "Get the ultrasound, and page the ortho surgeon on call. His leg is a mess."
"No breath sounds on the right, decreased breath sounds on the left," Dr. Hunt said, before removing his stethoscope from Greg's chest and shoving it into his lab coat pocket. "Get me a 28 french."
Greg's eyes traveled around the room as he attempted to gain his bearings, and he caught sight of two large, swinging doors to his right. A nurse pushed through them to move into the next room, and he could see a flurry of movement beyond the threshold. It was much louder and more chaotic. Alarms were blaring and everyone was yelling as they frantically worked, but Greg couldn't make out what they were saying. There was a man lying on a gurney, white sheets stained red with blood, one arm hanging limply over the side. It was Nick, but he didn't look like Nick. He looked ashen and frail; he looked like a stranger. Someone was pumping a bag of air into a tube in his mouth. Someone else was standing ready with a defibrillator. There were physicians barking orders and nurses pushing medications and opening all kinds of disposable medical kits. The doors swung back and forth only for a brief moment before they closed, and then Nick was gone.
"What are they doing to him?" Greg asked, grabbing Dr. Ramirez' arm. She had been gliding an ultrasound wand across his chest, studying the machine's screen intently. She briefly followed his gaze to the next room.
"Is that your partner?" she asked.
"Yes. What are they doing to him? Is he going to be okay?"
"They're doing everything they can," she replied almost dismissively, returning her gaze back to Dr. Hunt. "He's got bone fragments in his lungs and around his heart. Looks like his diaphragm and stomach are damaged too."
"Someone page surgery and let's get a foley in," Dr. Hunt ordered.
"Is he going to be okay?" Greg asked again, agitated. Why were they ignoring him? Didn't they know this was important? He pulled his oxygen mask down, propping himself on his left elbow as he attempted to see through the windows of the doors. "What are they doing to him?"
"Greg, they're working on him," Dr. Ramirez said, gently pushing on his shoulder. "You have to stay still, you've been very seriously injured."
"What are they doing to him?" he demanded. "Can you check on him, please? Just check on him for me. Please? I just want to make sure he's going to be okay."
Dr. Ramirez sighed, looking at the other physician and then to the nurse beside her. "Carla, please check on him."
Carla nodded, pushing open one of the doors, but only enough to peek her head in. Her body blocked Greg's view, but not the noise. He could once again hear monitors blaring, voices shouting, but he still couldn't understand what they were saying. His mind was spinning, he couldn't get his brain to focus, and he was so angry he couldn't pull himself together. The nurse came back into the room, looking at Dr. Ramirez with uncertainty, but Greg could see something else in her eyes too. Something much darker.
Dr. Ramirez smiled comfortingly at Greg. "They're still working on him, but he looks good."
There was a sudden, searing pain in his left side, followed by an intense pressure pushing into him. He felt as if he were being stabbed, his insides shifting as something bored its way into his chest. He cried out in pain, hot tears escaping his eyes, his breath exploding from him in short bursts.
"Chest tube's in," Dr. Hunt announced. "Lots of fluid here."
"You're going to need surgery, Greg," Dr. Ramirez said. "Is there someone we can call for you?"
"Nick," he said, because that's who would have been called on any other day. Nick would be here with him, holding his hand and telling him that everything was going to be okay.
"Who's Nick?" Dr. Ramirez asked, leaning closer to him. "Your father? Your son? A friend?"
"I think that's who's next door," Carla responded quietly. She looked at Greg. "Do you have any family, Greg?"
"I feel sick," Greg said, his stomach turning. "I think I'm going to be sick."
"Turn him!" Dr. Hunt yelled, and he felt hands on him, rolling him towards the edge of the gurney. Someone pulled his oxygen mask off. He vomited violently, gripping the hard metal guardrail as he tasted acid and copper and watched in horror as bright red blood spilled to the floor. Suddenly, everyone was shouting in a volume and intensity that had matched Nick's room.
"Sats are dropping! He's bradycardic!"
"Push an amp of epi! Get me the intubation tray!"
"He's going to arrest!"
"We're losing him!"
Greg felt himself rapidly sinking further and further underwater. He fought hard to swim towards the light and break the surface, but he was so tired. He felt so heavy. Imagined Nick in the next room, his lifeless, pale body on blood-soaked sheets. Remembered the look the nurse had given Dr. Ramirez. Thought maybe he'd meet Nick at the bottom of the sea. Maybe he was already down there waiting for him. How nice would it be to see him again? So he closed his eyes, and allowed himself to drown.
To be continued.