Greg remained at the bottom of the ocean for a long time, but he could always see the glittering light right above the surface. There were times he swore he could feel Nick's fingers brushing against his, but he couldn't quite reach out and grasp them. Felt that if he could just slip his hand into Nick's, he would be taken permanently into the darkness. And he wanted to go. He wanted to be with Nick. But every time he felt that seductive caress at his fingertips, every time he felt that he would finally catch Nick's hand, something would pull his attention back to that glittering light, and then the touch would be gone and he would be alone.
Sometimes, he was sure he had already been pulled into the darkness. Perhaps he was in Purgatory, and this was his final purification as he was made ready for the vision of Heaven. He had always been taught that Purgatory was only a temporary condition of torment for those without mortal sins, but he had killed two men in his life: Dimitrius James and Nick Stokes. And while he may not have killed Nick, he was pretty sure he hadn't successfully saved his life, and it sure felt the same to him.
So perhaps he was in Hell. Maybe this was his fate, to live at the bottom of the sea for the rest of his eternal days. Sometimes, he thought that was true. Because sometimes, at the bottom of the sea, he would see those half-closed eyes staring at him. Sometimes, they were empty. But sometimes, they were begging Greg to save him, and that was the worst of all.
Then, one day, Greg felt those fingers brushing against his. But they weren't coming from the bottom of the sea this time. They were coming from above. They reached for his hand, gently, tenderly, pulling him closer to the glittering light. And he saw those eyes, but they weren't empty. They were a deep, intense brown illuminated and alive with a bright fire that challenged the sun. They softened at the sight of Greg, smiling at him, beckoning him, and he knew everything was going to be okay.
That was the day Greg broke the surface.
The first person he saw in what he was almost sure was real life (and not the bottom of the sea) was a woman standing beside him. She was focused on something else, and she hadn't noticed him yet, but he could see her. She moved fluidly, as if she had done this a thousand times before, but he wasn't quite sure what she was doing. Something at his arm, near his elbow. She was humming as she did whatever it was she was doing, and the sound was foreign to Greg's ear. He had only heard water for...well, he wasn't sure how long. But it was a welcome relief to hear her.
Her eyes met his, and she smiled as she ceased in her humming.
"Hey there, sweetie," she said cheerily, leaning closer to him. "Where you been?"
He wasn't sure. But wherever he'd come from, he was very tired after his journey, and it wasn't long before he closed his eyes and drifted into sleep.
The second person he encountered was someone in a white coat. He would only stand at the foot of Greg's bed, and Greg didn't like him. He kept waking him up and trying to talk to him, to coax him into conversation. He would ask Greg all kinds of questions and try to get him to do things, but Greg was tired and the man didn't have kind eyes. Why would he want to talk to somebody that looked so grouchy? Greg didn't have time for this, and would only consider the man in the white coat briefly before yawning and stubbornly returning to the comforts of sleep.
The third person Greg saw in real life was someone he was sure he knew. She was sitting in the chair beside him, her dark and wavy hair draped over her shoulders, her sweatshirt two sizes too big. She looked tired, but more than that. She was weary, the wrinkle between her eyebrows too prominent for her age. She was looking at something else besides him, and he wasn't sure how to get her attention, but he knew he wanted to talk to her. He just couldn't seem to command his body to move. He was too heavy.
He waited until she looked at him, although he really didn't have a choice. First, she touched him, her fingers gently trailing patterns on the back of his hand. They moved to a paper bracelet around his wrist. To the course hairs on his arm. Her eyes followed her touch, her brow knotted and that little line between her eyebrows creased. She was frowning. She looked so serious.
Finally, her eyes traveled up his arm and to his face, and finally, she saw him. She smiled at him, her hard expression softening immediately.
"Greg," she whispered, her gentle fingers brushing his hair back behind his ear. "There you are."
He wanted to say something to her, but he didn't know how. Felt a longing in his chest that he didn't understand. A deep and thick haze of confusion surrounded his brain, and he was sure she could answer all of his questions if he could just find the words. Who was she? Where was he? What was happening to him? He searched her eyes, knowing his answers were in there, if only he could figure out how to ask.
"Do you remember what happened?" she asked, her voice soft. "Do you know where you are?"
He looked around the room, struggling to focus. The walls weren't very colorful. There was a small television near the ceiling. He was in a bed. And she was sitting there, next to him. Why couldn't he say that to her?
"Do you know who I am?" she asked. Of course he knew who she was. But what was her name? As if reading him, she asked, "Do you remember my name?"
He opened his mouth, but the sounds wouldn't come. Almost with embarrassment, he cast his eyes down, his fingers brushing over the thin fabric of the bed sheets. But his muscles were weak, he couldn't grasp the fabric between his fingers, and added that to the list of things he was currently unable to do.
"Greg," she urged, her voice wavering. "Tell me my name."
Greg. That was his name, but what was hers? He looked at her again, forced air out of his lungs in a choked breath. He was trying, but he couldn't seem to get it right. His brain was so foggy, everything seemed to be moving at hyper speed and he was stuck in slow motion. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to do this? Why couldn't he remember?
"Please, tell me my name," she said again, biting back tears, and Greg knew this was important. He knew he had to do this. "Please, please, Greg, just tell me my name."
Finally, mercifully, he made a sound. It wasn't her name, not yet, but he was getting there. Her eyes were searching his frantically, her body tense as she waited with bated breath. She needed this, he could feel it. Just give him time, Sara. Just give him time. He'd get there, he promised. He just need time...
She burst into a nervous laughter, smiling as tears spilled onto her cheeks.
"I knew it was you," she said breathlessly, clumsily wrapping her arms around him as she pulled him into an embrace. She smelled clean and her touch was overzealous but comforting at the same time. It was familiar, she was familiar, and he felt relieved.
"I knew it," she repeated, over and over. "I knew it, I knew it, I knew it..."
There was that man in the white coat again. This time, Greg understood that he was a doctor, but that didn't mean Greg had to like him and those hard, unforgiving eyes. The doctor pulled the blanket up from the bottom of the bed, exposing Greg's bare feet.
"I'm Dr. Ambrose. I'm going to give you a little exam, okay? Can you push against my hands?" he asked, pressing his hands against the soles of Greg's feet, and Greg tried, but he wasn't very strong. The doctor smiled anyway. "Good. That's very good. Now I'm going to press them into the mattress, and I need you to push your legs up, okay?"
Greg wasn't very good at that either, but once again the doctor smiled.
"Great," he said, and moved to the side of Greg's bed to take his hands. "Now squeeze my hands. Harder. Very good. Push. Pull. All right. Follow my finger."
Greg's eyes followed Dr. Ambrose's finger from left to right, north to south, then close to his nose. He felt very inept, but the doctor kept smiling at him and telling him how great everything was. It seemed insincere, especially when Greg would catch sight of that condescending stare.
"When does he get to leave?" Sara asked eagerly, standing on the other side of Greg's bed. She had hardly left his side since he had awoken from his slumber earlier, and while she kept asking him thousands of questions, he had been unable to figure out how to answer any of them, or what the answers would even be if he could.
"Let's just take it one step at a time, Ms. Sidle," Dr. Ambrose responded curtly, before turning his attention back to Greg. "Do you know what happened to you?"
Slowly, but surely, Greg was going to find the words. He was determined to. He clenched his jaw, knotted his brow, concentrated. Took a few deep breaths, searching for the words in his brain. Searching for a way to say them. He looked at Sara, at the doctor, both of whom were watching him expectantly, and it was incredibly intimidating. But he was going to do this. He could do this. Finally, he was able to spit out something, however garbled it was.
"I drowned," he finally said with conviction.
Both Dr. Ambrose and Sara regarded him with disbelief.
"Greg, you didn't drown," Sara said, sitting down at the edge of his bed and taking his hand. "You were shot."
He looked at her with confusion, sure that wasn't what had happened, and he shook his head. That was ridiculous. Wouldn't he remember something like that? He had been at the bottom of the sea. Nick had been there too. He remembered Nick's eyes watching him, Nick's hands reaching for him, pulling him to shore.
Suddenly, Greg looked at her, swallowing hard. Tried twice, frustrated he couldn't find the words, find a way to say them. She was looking at him so patiently, which was even more infuriating. He wasn't a child, he was a grown man, he should be able to do this.
"Nick," he managed.
Sara shared a look with the doctor. Greg remembered that look. It was the same look Sara had given that other doctor in the emergency room when Greg had asked her to check on Nick in the next room. Had that been Sara, or maybe that had been somebody else? Why couldn't he remember anything clearly? Why was everything such a disorganized mess in his mind?
"Nick isn't here," Dr. Ambrose responded quickly. "You were shot three times, Greg. Once in your chest, once in your leg, and once in your hip. You still have a bullet in your hip, but the other two were removed. You were in pretty bad shape, but you've made a great recovery so far."
Where was Nick, if he wasn't here? Was he at home? Why wouldn't he be visiting? Was he busy? Maybe he was working. Didn't Sara have a job? Greg was almost sure she did, but he couldn't remember. What he did remember was that he most certainly hadn't been shot.
"Nick pulled me out of the water," he said slowly, clumsily, his tongue thick and heavy in his mouth.
"Greg, you've been in a coma for four weeks," the doctor said, and Greg's eyes widened. Four weeks? He had missed four weeks of his life? "You're just a little confused, which is normal."
Greg looked at Sara. Her eyes were wet and her lips were tight, and there was that little crease between her eyebrows again. Greg shook his head. The doctor was wrong, and he needed her to understand that.
"Sara," he pleaded, his small voice desperate.
She turned to look out the window, and it made him angry. Why wasn't anyone listening to him? Didn't she care that the doctor was wrong? How could they take care of him if they didn't even know what had happened to him? This was a hospital, for God's sake, shouldn't they be able to tell the difference between drowning and a gunshot?
"Ms. Sidle," Dr. Ambrose asked gently. "Can I please see you in the hallway?"
She smiled tightly at Greg, patting his hand, and it felt patronizing. "I'll be right back."
He watched as they stood in the hallway, sharing harsh whispers. Sara looked angry, waving her arms and shifting her stance with agitation. The doctor appeared calm, his arms crossed over his chest, but Greg could see in his posture that he was tense. What were they talking about? Why couldn't he be included in the conversation? Were they conspiring against him? Why didn't they want him to know he had drowned? And where was Nick? He would have been honest with Greg. Is that why he wasn't here? They didn't want him to be honest?
They entered the room again, and Greg cast his eyes to his blankets, rubbing the thin fabric with his fingertips. Sara sat down in the visitor's chair, crossing her arms over her chest as the doctor resumed speaking.
"Greg, I'm going to ask you some questions now," he said. "Can you tell me what year it is?"
Greg regarded the doctor with irritation, pouting considerably. He didn't care what year it was, and he wasn't going to answer any stupid questions until they told him what happened.
Dr. Ambrose repeated, "Can you tell me what year it is?"
He wanted to tell the doctor to go fuck himself, but it was probably best he couldn't figure out how. Instead, he only offered a defiant glare before returning his gaze to his bedsheets.
"Greg, do you know the year?" Dr. Ambrose asked again. This time, Greg lifted his arm to the small portable table in front of him, pushing the plastic cup of water towards the doctor roughly, knocking it off of the table. It splattered on the doctor's crotch before dropping to the floor, spilling water everywhere at his feet. Oops.
"Greg!" Sara chastened, quickly standing and picking up the upended cup.
The doctor sighed. "All right, I think I'll give you a break and come back later. Ms. Sidle, perhaps we should let Greg rest a while. I'll get a nurse to clean this up."
Dr. Ambrose quickly left, leaving Greg and Sara alone, but Greg didn't want to talk to her either. She was a traitor.
"Greg, I'm going to come back later, okay?" she said, touching his hand with gentle fingers, but he pulled away. She pressed her hand to her mouth, looking away as she bit back tears, and instantly Greg felt guilty, but he was still mad. Maybe if she felt bad, she would tell him the truth. She took a deep and shuddering breath, exhaling sharply before turning her eyes back to him. She smiled sadly. "I'm glad you're back."
Greg watched her leave. Cast his eyes to the window. It was dark, but the lights of the city were sparkling. He closed his eyes, hoping to dream about the bottom of the ocean, hoping to see Nick while he was there, but when he fell asleep, he saw nothing.
To be continued.