The next day, they made Greg move. First, they removed his catheter, which was awful, but they didn't take the irritating tube out of his nose they had been using to feed him while he was unconscious. Maybe later, he would pretend to accidentally pull it out. Nurses helped him get into a wheelchair, and by helped of course he meant they manhandled him into it while making it seem like he'd done all the work. Congratulated him like he was some kind of idiot.
Which, most of the time, that's what he felt like. His brain was stuck in a fog. He knew what he was supposed to do when he wanted to do something. He knew what he was supposed to say when he wanted to say something. But he couldn't seem to connect his brain to his body. It took an agonizingly obscene amount of time and was excruciatingly frustrating. He would get so angry he wanted to strike something, but it never made him feel better when he did.
So they took him downstairs every day, into a room that resembled a gym but not quite, and stuck him with a bunch of other people that needed rehab, some of whom were in much worse condition than him. Perhaps he should have been grateful he wasn't like them, but maybe he was just too disillusioned to understand that he was, which was a thought that only served to depress him.
His therapist was named Abby, an incredibly beautiful woman that had been blessed with an insurmountable amount of patience. She always seemed so excited to see him even though he didn't think he was much company in his current state. She would encourage him and push him during his exercises, waiting when he became too frustrated to continue, soothing him until he had the will to try again. Sometimes, he would even succeed.
Mentally, his mind seemed to switch between lucidity and delusion. Some days, he was sure he had drowned instead of being shot, and would inform the physician he was stupid for not being able to tell the difference. Once, he thought he was in California. Once, he thought he was in a barn, which wasn't a very sanitary place to keep a recovering patient, and he made sure to voice his opinion on the matter. He would sometimes yell at the doctors and nurses like a belligerent drunk, accusing them of conspiring against him or trying to poison him, throwing bedside items at them until they left, slamming the door behind them. Those were not his finest moments, and he would always apologize profusely to the staff, who thankfully never seemed to take anything personally.
Some days, he understood that he had been shot, and that he had suffered from something called hydrostatic shock, which had caused his coma. The force of the bullet entering his chest had created a balloon effect in his circulatory system, forcing fluid under high pressure through his veins and capillaries and arteries away from the point of impact. This had caused most of the damage to his brain, along with the blow to the back of his head he'd received when he had fallen after getting shot.
Every day, Sara was there. She would come and see him, talk to him while she held his hand. Even on his bad days, she would wait patiently for him to come back, always talking him down from his ledge before he jumped. Sometimes, she would cry, although she always tried to hide it from him. Once, when he had awoken from a long, tranquilizer-induced nap after one of his less than flattering incidents, she was sitting in the visitor's chair and leaning her head against his mattress, crying unabashedly into his bedsheets. He pretended to still be sleeping as he listened to her choked sobs, wishing he could comfort her. It seemed the least that he could do after everything she had done for him, but he didn't have the nerve.
She informed him shortly after he had awoken that his parents had come to see him when he'd first entered the hospital, but had left after two weeks. She was evasive about the reason why, but he didn't press her. She wanted to call them, and asked several times, but Greg never let her. He was afraid of his mother's reaction. He knew she would never leave his side, that she would cling to him and coddle him, and he didn't want to be treated like a child. He wanted to get better, to push himself as hard as he could, and he knew she would hold him back.
If he were to be honest with himself, he was mostly afraid to call his mother because he knew she would be mad. Greg had designated Nick as his health care surrogate, which meant that Nick would be in charge of all of Greg's medical decisions should he be unable to make them himself. If something happened to both Nick and Greg, he had chosen Sara as an alternate, fearing his mother would keep him on this earth by any means possible. To live the rest of his days as a vegetable hooked up to a bunch of machines was something he was definitely not interested in, and he knew his chances of meeting that fate were high if his mother were in charge. Regardless, he knew shutting her out of her only child's final medical decisions was something she would take to heart, and he just didn't think he could deal with that on top of everything else.
Later, he would learn the reason why his parents had left was because they were legally ordered to. They had filed an emergency injunction against Sara, the hospital, and the state of Nevada in an attempt to gain the rights to make Greg's medical decisions and transport him to California. When they had been denied by a judge, shit had hit the fan. At least, that's how Sara put it, but he didn't really want to know the details.
After three weeks of consciousness, Greg's mind had nearly returned to him completely. He hardly had any bad moments, although sometimes he would still catch himself bordering a state of confusion. His heart would race and his breath would catch as he panicked, standing right at the precipice between sanity and delusion. It would only last for a few seconds, but it was still terrifying to think one day he might accidentally step right off of that cliff and fall permanently into the abyss.
He still couldn't really remember the shooting. Sometimes, he would grasp pieces of it at the edges of his mind, but they always seemed like slivers of recollected dreams rather than reality. The doctors told him he might never remember. They said it as if it were a good thing, but Greg would desperately reach for those tendrils of memories, needing to remember. He was missing something important, he just didn't know what it was yet.
He knew Nick had been there, knew Nick had been shot. Knew Nick was no longer in the hospital, because that's what they had told him, but he didn't know where Nick was. He thought he remembered Nick visiting him a few times, but it seemed so fleeting he couldn't be sure if it had been a dream. The times Greg had temporarily drifted into delusion felt like dreams, maybe that's when Nick had come to see him and that's why Greg couldn't really remember.
"Where is Nick?" Greg asked, as Sara changed the channels on the small television in his room.
"Nick's not here," she responded, just like she always did, and her body tensed, just like it always did when he asked about their friend. And he would always accept that answer, because he was too afraid to press the issue further. Knowing that Nick was not there – but that he was somewhere – had been comforting, especially on those days that Greg drifted so far into insanity he felt as if he would stay there forever. It was the only reason he ever returned, that gentle caress of fingers brushing against his, leading him back from the brink.
"Where is he?" Greg asked, more firmly this time.
"He's...resting," Sara said, her eyes focusing pointedly on the television.
"Where?" he pressed, determined, but there was an unmistakeable tremor in his voice. "Where is he, Sara? Please, just tell me where he is."
She looked at him, and he knew.
Nick was dead. His Nick, who would make him breakfast at six at night because Greg wanted to eat pancakes for dinner but he didn't know how to cook. His Nick, who would walk the dog in the morning when Greg was too lazy to get up on their day off even though Greg was the one who had wanted the dog in the first place. His Nick, who would leave a post-it note with a sweet or filthy quote from some famous piece of literature Greg never recognized written on it in random places of the house for Greg to find later in a delightful surprise, although romantic gestures really weren't Greg's thing.
His Nick. Dead.
He heard the wretched sounds of heaving sobs before he realized it was him. Felt arms around him, pulling him close, and he clung to Sara desperately. He pleaded with her to please tell him it wasn't true. Please just tell him Nick wasn't dead. Please, please, Sara, please. But she only cried, apologizing over and over again. She was sorry. She was so, so sorry.
"I want to see him," Greg cried, his voice muffled by her shirt. "Can I see him?"
She paused abruptly, leaning back to look at him with red and puffy eyes. "You can't," she whispered sadly. "His parents took him to back Texas. They had his funeral over a month ago."
No. This wasn't happening. He didn't even get to see him one last time? He didn't even get to say goodbye?
"I can't do this," Greg suddenly said. "I can't. I can't do this."
"Greg – "
"I can't," he repeated, again and again and again. "I can't, I can't, I can't..."
His mind was spinning. He felt himself once again balancing precariously on that precipice between sanity and madness, but he didn't want to be in a reality where Nick was dead. He screamed at Sara, pushing her away with such force she nearly fell. Pulled his IV and arterial lines, spraying blood into the air. Monitors began blaring as he ripped cords out of the machine in the wall, disconnecting his blood pressure cuff and heart monitor.
"Greg, please calm down," Sara urged, holding her hands out to him in a pleading gesture as he got out of bed. "You're going to hurt yourself."
Two nurses swiftly entered, unprepared for the chaos. Greg grabbed the small, portable table, flinging it across the room at them. One of the nurses barely dodged being hit, and she quickly left, calling down the hallway and returning shortly with three men.
"Greg, you have to calm down," Sara said frantically, but he had already lost to the madness. "Just lay back down and we can talk about this.
"Fuck you!" he yelled, his voice hoarse as he grabbed an arrangement of flowers from his nightstand and threw it at one of the men coming towards him. The clay pot shattered against the wall loudly, sending dirt and flowers everywhere. "Get the fuck away from me! Don't fucking touch me!"
They flanked him from all sides, forcefully grabbing him and pushing him back into bed. A nurse quickly injected him with sedatives as the other nurse placed him in hard restraints. They replaced his lines and reconnected his monitors, ignoring him with patient stoicism as he screamed and cursed and flailed against his restraints. Sara sat down in the visitor's chair beside him, crying into her hands as she once again waited for him to come back.
Eventually, Greg did return. Eyes half-closed, sedated, he lay in his hospital bed, in restraints, feeling incredibly guilty for his epic temper tantrum. He wasn't sure just how many more apologies he would have to offer the staff before the end of his stay, but he was sure he would be sending lots of coffee and donuts following his departure.
Anger now dissipated, all Greg was left with was a deep sadness that he was sure would never leave him. Nick was dead. He kept repeating it to himself over and over again, but he couldn't grasp the concept of living without him. How was he supposed to do that? What was he supposed to do without his other half? Who would walk the dog every day? Did Nick expect Greg to do that all by himself now? He really expected him to get up that early on his day off so the dog could go outside for a little while? It was inconceivable. How could Nick leave him to do that all by himself?
"Can I come in?" Sara timidly called from the doorway, holding two cups of coffee. She had left for a little while, and they both looked considerably more composed upon her return. Although Greg was pretty sure his placidity had more to do with sedatives than self-restraint.
"Yeah," he responded hastily. "I'm really, really sorry I freaked out."
"It's understandable," she said, sitting down at the edge of his bed, her eyes meeting his. There was something in them he couldn't quite read, and he regarded her curiously but didn't say anything. She removed his restraints before handing his coffee to him. "I don't know if you're allowed to drink this. Also, it's from Starbucks. Sorry."
He smiled with amusement. "It's okay. You're the last person I'd consider a corporate fascist, even if you do work for the man."
She returned his smile only briefly, before fidgeting with the plastic lid of her coffee. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," she said quietly. "The doctors didn't want me to say anything while you were still confused. They were afraid of what it would do to your...you know. Your mental state. And how it would affect your physical recovery."
"It's okay," he said, nodding into his coffee. He bit his lip, his eyes burning. Wanted to ask but was too afraid. Felt as he did when he first woke up. Knowing what to say but unable to find a way. Finally, in barely a whisper, he managed to say the words. "Is it my fault?"
"Is what your fault?" she asked.
He met her eyes for only a moment, unable to hold her gaze for any longer. His cheeks flushed with shame. "Is it my fault that he's dead? I can't...I can't really remember what happened. Is it my fault?"
"Oh, my God, no," she replied quickly, putting her cup on the table and taking his from him. She placed her hands in his, grasping his fingers tightly. She leaned close to him, trying to get him to meet her eyes, but he couldn't look at her. "No, Greg. You tried to save him."
"But I didn't?"
"No, because you were shot three times," she stated dubiously. "You did everything you could, but Nick's injuries were too severe. He lost too much blood before the ambulance even got there."
"If I wasn't..." he began, his voice hitching in his throat. "What if I wasn't injured? If I did something different could I have saved him? Was there a chance he could still – "
"No," she said, firmly.
"Are you telling me this as a friend or a CSI?"
She smiled, brushing his hair gently behind his ear. "Both. And you need a haircut."
To be continued.