The lights flickered above her, blending and spinning, but she could only focus on the suffocating silence. In all her time living in the city, it had never been so quiet before.
A cough shook her body, and she wondered why it hurt so much.
Why is it so quiet? Where is everyone?
She tried to bring her hands up to make sure she didn't have on earmuffs or something, but her limbs wouldn't obey.
God, she thought, blinking furiously to try and get the stupid lights to focus, Did I go out drinking or something?
But no, she wouldn't have, because he always warned her that drinking when he wasn't there was dangerous. She smiled softly at the thought of her heroic husband, knowing that he'd be pissed if he found her in the middle of the city.
The thought stopped her. Why was she in the middle of the city? Was she on the ground? That would explain why her body felt so cold – God knew that concrete in the middle of January had no heat whatsoever.
Yet that still didn't answer her main question: Why am I in the city, anyway? Did he need something?
Sifting through her fuzzy thoughts, she tried to recall what had happened that day.
"Up you go, Sleepy," she cried, jumping onto the bed beside him and yanking the covers down so she could see his face.
He cracked one eye open and glared at her. "Leave me alone." He rolled over to his other side, leaving her to face his back.
She scoffed and rolled her eyes. Honestly, for a supposed 'superhero,' he was actually quite lazy at home. "Not a chance," she flopped across his waist, her legs flung over, her face back in his. "It is a beautiful Saturday, and we have errands to run."
He finally managed a crooked smile. "You won't let me stay home? You know I'm not very helpful, anyway."
Planting a kiss on his forehead, she kept her voice stern. "Tell you what. You come with me to pick out a new couch, since that was your fault anyway," he winced at the reminder (he'd thrown the couch through the wall in a fit of rage after a botched mission), "And then you can come back home while I get groceries. Deal?"
"Deal." He agreed, pulling her close so he could plant an actual kiss on her lips. "I'm sorry about the couch." The words were murmured against her lips, but she still heard the regret.
"Hey now," she ran her fingers through his hair soothingly, "None of that. You're coming with me to get a new one, so it's fine. Besides," her grin turned mischievous, "This one will be our couch."
His smile widened, and he pulled her left hand down from his hair to press a kiss against the wedding band and engagement ring that resided on her fourth finger. "You have a point, Wife."
She sat up, running her fingers over the pout that appeared on his lips. "I always do, Husband. Now, come on!"
Racing out of the room, she laughed when she heard his grumbled curses. Six months married, and she hoped they never left this 'honeymoon' stage.
Oh, she realized, That's right. We went out. But . . . where is he?
Surely he wouldn't leave her lying in the middle of the street. Not unless . . . maybe something had happened to him?
Trying to turn her head and make sure he wasn't already beside her, a pained gasp was pulled from her lips when her entire body protested the slight movement. Giving that up for now, she tried to catalog her injuries.
It was useless, though; her whole body felt numb, and she still couldn't get her limbs to listen.
Maybe I'm in shock? She remembered he told her once about an instance where he'd gotten hit by an explosion, and had felt nothing but numb for minutes. Probably the most terrifying minutes of both their lives.
When he entered the room, she burst into violent sobs that shook her body. She'd been watching the news non-stop, biting her nails because of the terrifying standoff between him and a group of self-named 'Rebelists,' who had threatened to blow up an entire office building if they weren't given three-million dollars.
In a show of what the media called 'heroic' (she deemed it stupid, unreasonable, and infuriating), he'd entered the building, snatched the bomb, transported it to middle of the Artic Ocean, and let it detonate.
But he hadn't come back right away, and the immediate question was, "Is Our City's Savior Done For?"
God, she hated the media.
He approached her slowly, falling to his knees in front of her and pulling her into his arms. "Hey, now," he soothed, "I've got you, Babe. I've got you."
"I was–so–s-so–worried, about y-yo-you," she hiccupped, her head nestled in his shoulder, "D-d-don't ever do that again!"
"I won't," he promised, running his fingers through her tangled locks of hair, "I promise. Okay? Never again. I'm sorry I worried you. I'm sorry. No more tears, alright? No more tears."
She cried until she fell asleep, finding comfort in him, even though he smelled of smoke and seawater, and his skin was covered in a layer of frost.
I must be in shock, then. Was I hit by an explosion?
No, she realized, mouth twitching into a slight smile when the lights flickered again, and she could make out the streetlamps above her. The city's very own set of stars, she liked to think.
Not an explosion . . . something else? What was I doing?
Several long beats went by, but it was hard to keep track of time with the silence in her ears.
Oh! I was going to get groceries. And that part had to be right, because she remembered picking out a new couch with him, then giving him a kiss before he went home and she went to the store.
I need milk. And eggs. And– Her mental checklist was stopped when a face appeared above her own.
She blinked once, twice, three times, and then his masked features came into focus. With them came all the sounds, a sudden cacophony of noises so obnoxious she screwed her face up and wished she could raise her hands to press them against her ears.
"Shit, shit, SHIT!" he cursed, running his hand over his face. It was only then that she recognized the panic in his eyes, a horror so vivid she wished she could comfort him.
"You shouldn't curse," she told him, her throat burning with the words.
"And you shouldn't speak," he snapped in reply, bringing his hands up to cradle her face. "You're fine. Okay? You're going to be fine."
Her brows furrowed in confusion. "I know. I always am. I want to go home." What was he talking about? Sure, she was sore, but once he brought her back home and let her rest, she'd be alright.
His face slackened with grief, "Not yet," his voice caught and he cleared his throat before continuing, "Not just yet. Soon though, yeah? Soon." He turned away from her, snarling the words, "Did you at least call the goddamn ambulance?" at some poor innocent bystander.
"I forgot to put flour on my list," she confessed suddenly, her eyes trained on one of the streetlights.
"Don't worry about it," he shook his head, as though her train of thought was ridiculous, "We can get it later." She shifted her gaze to his features, watching as the skin around the mask visibly paled as his eyes traveled down her body.
"Do I look bad, or something?" she croaked, hissing when a sting of agony traveled up her spine. The numbness was beginning to fade.
"No, of course not," he was quick to soothe. Too quick. His voice was too cheery, his smile too false. "Always beautiful, Babe. Always."
"Liar," she grimaced as the pain began to travel throughout her body, leaving her breathless and panting. "I want to go home," she cried, tears brimming, "Please, please can we go home?"
Water began to collect in his own eyes. "Not yet, remember? Soon. Stay awake, okay?"
His eyes traveled from hers once more, and this time his tone was less threatening and more pleading when he exclaimed, "Where the Hell are the medics? What the Hell is taking so long?!"
Someone mumbled an answer, but she couldn't move her neck to look and see who it was. She coughed, and something wet landed on her lips. His gaze darted to the substance immediately, and the hysteria building in his eyes caused her own to climb.
"What is it?" she asked urgently, idly noticing the metallic taste in her mouth, "What's wrong?" Every second he didn't answer only worried her more, and the tears began to run down her cheeks. "What happened? I don't remember . . ." she trailed off, her gaze growing distant, because she did remember.
She just hadn't wanted to.
She was walking to her favorite grocery store, one hand on her purse, the other clutching her phone. It was chillier than she'd expected, now that the sun was setting, and she regretted not taking a thicker coat.
The sound of sirens penetrated the already noisy air, and she released a slow breath, watching it fog. They were police sirens, and she wouldn't be surprised if he was already on his way to save the day.
She smiled at the thought. Her brave, sometimes stupidly fearless husband was one of a kind, that was for sure.
Her phone buzzing in her hand brought her from her thoughts, and she pressed it to her ear without reading the Caller I.D.
"Babe," his voice bordered on frantic, "Where are you?"
She looked around, eyes stopping on the front of her intended grocery store, less than a block away. "I'm a block from the store. Why? Need something?" She moved her purse to her shoulder, using her now-free hand to press against her opposite ear; the sirens were growing louder.
"No!" Now he was definitely panicked. "Get out of there! Some asshole robbed a bank, stole a truck, and is mowing through civilians – get the Hell away from there!"
Her entire body stiffened. Not because of his words, but because she could see it now. A large Dodge screeched around the nearest street corner, tires smoking and asphalt sparking as it went.
The phone slid from her grip. "Crap," she muttered, ducking into the nearest shop, a small boutique. "Get away from the windows!" she hollered, gesturing frantically, "Go, go, go!"
With a frenzy of confused shouts, the people inside obeyed, ducking behind the counter and sales racks. She made the mistake of looking behind her, to see where the truck was.
It swerved to avoid another car, ramming into the boutique. Glass shattered, and she threw herself down, covering her head with her arms. She felt the glass scratch her skin, and she peeled open her eyes, stifling a cry of shock when she saw the front of the truck two feet from her face.
She stood slowly, noting that the driver was unconscious behind the wheel, a trail of blood dancing down his forehead. She couldn't relax though. Not when the smell of gasoline was so stark. Whirling around to face the dazed shoppers, she screamed, "It's going to blow – get out!"
They started to scramble out the other entrance, but it was too late. A loud burst of noise, followed by a wave of heat against her back, and the world fell silent.
It was an explosion.
"Oh," she mused, blinking slowly, "I'm dying." That would explain why she felt so bad, at least.
"Hell no," he spat immediately, "You're not."
A single tear fell down the side of her face. "I am, though. I don't feel good."
"You can't!" a sob caught in his throat, tears of his own falling behind the mask. "God, Babe, you can't."
Her heart ached at the sight of him, her normally fearless hero. "I don't think it's your choice. At least we already picked out the couch." He only cried harder at her words, his shoulders shaking, one of his hands trailing over her face, his touch a soft paintbrush soothing her skin.
"I won't put that stupid couch in unless you're helping me," he choked out, "You always have a say in decorating, remember? I'm shit at it, so you have to help. Don't do this."
His words were growing farther away, sounding more garbled by the second, and she knew she was running out of time.
There's never enough time.
"Can you take off the mask, please? Just for a bit." She hated to ask it of him, but she was beginning to panic, and she knew seeing him would soothe her.
He obeyed instantly, uncaring of how many people were watching, or what the consequences would be. He had always been that way with her, and it brought warmth back into her quickly cooling body. "There," he said once he'd pulled the mask off, placing it in her numb fingers, "You can hold onto it, alright? Once you're better, you can give it back."
She snorted, wincing when even that hurt. "That's stupid. We live together; we're married."
"Exactly," he continued, swiping a hand under his eyes, "So you have to give it back, otherwise I'll go through your closet to find it, and I know you hate that."
"Fair enough." She grinned, confused when he flinched at the sight of it.
"An ambulance is coming!" someone yelled, and he relaxed minutely.
"Thank God," he breathed. "Just a bit longer, now."
Her eyes had already slipped closed, and she hummed in acknowledgement. "I wish I could see the stars."
He released a string of curses. "Open your eyes. Babe." She did, barely, looking at him through the slits. "Good," he praised, eyes darting between her and something over her prone form, "When you feel better, I'll take you out to the country for a little vacation, alright? Wherever you want, and we can look at the stars every night. Got it?"
"That sounds nice," her eyes slipped shut, and she no longer had the strength to open them. "That sounds . . . really . . . nice."
His cursing, the sirens, and the shouts of bystanders all faded into the background, highlighted by one thought: Huh. There's blood all over my lips.
"Don't touch her! Let . . . asshole! I'll . . . you!"
"Sir, we . . . back up, so . . . Sir!"
"If you . . . I don't care . . ."
I can't breathe. Where am I? Why do I hurt so much?
Let me go, let me go!
"You're hurting . . . what the Hell . . . doing?!"
"We'll be forced to . . . behave, Sir."
"I'll show . . . you can shove . . . behavior."
Ow. Ow. Ow, ow, ow, owowowOW – Oh, God, that hurts!
Screams, then silence.
She didn't wake up like they did in the movies. There was no sudden opening of her eyes, no gasp of breath, no snapping up and hugging her loved ones close.
Instead, she came to slowly, her breathing slow and even. The first thing she became aware of was the smell of hand sanitizer, must, and steel. Next came sounds, and all she heard was a steady beeping, the flipping of papers, and a woman's soft voice muttering something.
The voice had vanished, the smell of hand sanitizer had eased slightly, but the beeping was still steady when she cracked open a single eye.
However, she didn't wake to the simple white walls of a hospital, like she expected. Rather, the walls were made of what looked like solid metal sheets (it would explain the smell, at least), the technology was high-end, and a stack of newspapers sat in the empty seat by her bed. She struggled to sit up slightly, wincing when her stomach screamed in protest.
She grit her teeth and pushed through, eyes trailing down her body. She was swathed in a cloth gown (better than paper, her mind thought idly), nestled under soft blue sheets and thankful there was a touch of color in the otherwise industrial room.
Peeling back the covers with no small amount of hesitation, she pulled up the gown just enough, gasping at the sight of her abdomen.
A large, jagged, puckered scar sat on the left of her belly button, stretching from her waist to the bottom of her chest. "Damn," she whispered breathlessly, running her fingers over the stitches, regretting the decision when it sent a searing pain throughout her entire body.
With a grunt, she snatched her fingers back, collapsing back against the pillow, her heart beating as though she'd just run a marathon. The beeping grew faster and louder; she threw her hands over her ears, tears gathering in her eyes because it was just too much. Too loud. Stop! STOP!
As her consciousness faded once more, she could have sworn she heard his voice.
"You're alright, now. You're alright."
The second time was easier. She felt better rested, and her senses came back as one. When she opened her eyes, he was there, sitting on the edge of the once-empty seat, eyeing her as though he'd known she would wake up soon.
"Oh, thank God," he breathed with palpable relief, slumping back into the chair and rubbing a hand over his weary face. "You scared the shit out of me, Babe."
She managed a crooked, apologetic smile. "M'sorry," her voice was raspy, like it hadn't been used in a while, and she screwed her face up with distaste. "Water, please?"
He was already out of his seat, holding a cup with a straw to her lips and letting her take several long sips before he pulled it away. "Take it slow," he murmured, setting the cup down and running gentle fingers down her face. "How do you feel?"
Her smile was larger this time, and she puckered her lips, pressing a soft kiss against his finger. "Better. Do I want to know what happened to me?"
"No. You don't need to know, and I don't want to remember." He snapped, yanking back from her and pacing the length of the room.
Holding back a sigh, because she knew he could be stubborn as Hell, she changed the subject. "Okay. Where are we?"
His pacing paused just long enough so he could look at her. He seemed to realize she needed some form of information, and gave in with a heavy breath of air through his lips. "A special government facility. I would have pulled my hero card, but I didn't need to."
The tone of his words implied that he wasn't going to say more on the subject, but he didn't have to – she already knew. "People saw you, without your mask. Oh, God," she closed her eyes with regret, "I'm so sorry."
He laughed, but it was an empty, broken thing. "Are you shitting me? I don't care what the Hell they saw. God, I was just so worried." He leaned against one of the metal walls, sliding down until he was on the floor, his head clasped in his hands. Eyeing her through a crack in his fingers, he choked out, "You can't ever do that again, you hear me? Oh, God." And then he burst into gut-wrenching sobs, and she wished more than anything that she could go to him. But trying to only made her groan and clutch her stomach.
"Don't do that," he somehow managed to snarl, even through his tears, and a true smile lit her face.
She reached up one weak hand, "C'mere."
He stumbled to her side, kneeling by her bed, bowing his head over the side and crying into her sheets. "It's alright, now," she repeated his words from earlier, knowing without a doubt that it was him, "It's alright." She ran soothing fingers through his hair, "Everything will be alright."
A week had gone by since she'd woken, and she still sat in the top-secret government facility hospital bed. It was a Tuesday, and he'd been gone all day. It was some type of hero business, but he hadn't told her much. She wasn't stupid, though, and she had a feeling he was facing severe consequences for revealing his identity.
Yeah, and whose fault is that? Her conscious replied snootily, Because it's not his.
He'd reassured her multiple times that he didn't care, that he'd do it again in a heartbeat if it helped her hold on longer.
Regardless of where he was, and who was responsible, she was bored, and needed to pass the time somehow. The nurses who came in were all different, covered in a mask and more or less faceless, and wouldn't speak unless absolutely necessary.
Blowing out a frustrated puff of air, she looked to his chair, reaching out her fingers and sifting through the stack of newspapers that had taken his spot. One near the bottom of the stack caught her eye, and she slipped it out carefully.
Mourning Over Mortality: City's Hero Reminds Us that Life has an End
Beneath the title was a picture of him, the side of his face shaded eerily by the yellow streetlights. He held her in his arms, and she was clutching his mask in her hands, her eyes glazed and looking through him.
In other words, it was utterly heartbreaking. The only upside was that his features couldn't be easily discerned, and she could only hope that he still had some part of his civilian identity hidden.
"You shouldn't be looking at that," his voice made her jump and squeal.
"When did you get here?" she asked, one hand held over her racing heart.
He released an exhausted sigh, shifting the newspapers to the floor and collapsing in his chair. "Just now. Why are you reading that shit?"
She snorted. "Why are you?" she asked in reply, gesturing to the newspapers and shooting him a pointed look.
"Because it's my job to know what they're saying, not yours," he retorted snippily, snatching the paper from her hands, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it at the wall.
A pregnant pause settled, broken only by her soft question. "Do you ever forget about it?"
"Huh?" one eyebrow cocked, "What?"
She waved vaguely at the crumpled paper. "Mortality. Do you forget about it?"
He leaned back in his seat, regarding her carefully for several long moments. "Mine? Sometimes. Yours?" he suddenly looked fifteen years older as he pulled her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles. "Never. I never forget yours."
Her heart breaking at the pain in his voice, she took her hand and pulled his face to hers, kissing him soundly. When she pulled away, she sent him a loving smile. "And I never forget yours, husband. I guess we're even, huh?"
A breathy chuckle left him, and he kissed her once more. "God, I missed you."
Yeah, she decided, Everything will be alright.
It was only several days later, when they were snuggled up on their new couch watching her favorite comedy, that she pondered a question no one had seemed to ask.
Why should heroes remember mortality?
Pressing a sleepy kiss into his hairline and seeing him smile in response, she knew: Because without mortality, how can we remain human? Without mortality, what would they have to fight for?
The promise of death only made living so much sweeter, and it was something she would never forget.
*Claps slowly, utterly in awe of own writing skills* Wow. W-O-W. What a ride, huh? Man, I was stressed just writing it; I can't imagine how awful that must have been to read. LOL. Nothing like a bit of angst/suspense/general sappiness to really get you through the day, don't you think?
Anyway, hope you enjoyed, and feel free to drop a review into that nifty little box to let me know what you thought.
I'll seeya next time, kiddies,