The nurse led the men down the anonymous white corridor, followed by a silence that was almost physically present. When they reached the door, she cleared her throat awkwardly.
"This is her room."
She left as quickly as manners would let her.
Stephen nodded, stepping back. "You're her husband." His eyes dared Matt to injure her in any way, clearly warning him that at the merest hint of Nicole's distress, he would do more damage to Matt than Matt cared to imagine. Matt pushed the door open, looking as though he was in a daze. In the silence of the corridor, the sound of the door gliding and their breathing sounded artificially loud. Even from hear, the sound of her heart monitor was indecently loud.
Nicole lay on the bed, barely concious with the medication she had been given. Her eyes half-lidded, she could only see shadows and silhouettes. The bruises and broken bones barely registered with the doses of morphine that she'd been given, along with a sedative. In hushed tones along the corridor, doctors discussed how she had screamed when she had come round. How it would haunt them. How, with her face more bruised than not, she barely resembled a human, let alone the beautiful picture attached to her medical file.
She struggled to make out the figure coming towards her. He, for it was a powerfully-built male, was hesitant, his head low and his eyes fixed on her. She could see a glimmer there suggesting tears or wide-eyed horror. Matt returned her gaze, unable to approach her, transfixed as he was by shame. Guilt paralysed his vocal chords as his eyes travelled over her slender figure. Her face was swollen with bruises and gashes. A bandage travelled down from one exposed shoulder, an IV drip feeding fluids and medication into her blood. An awkwardly shaped lump near the end of the bed suggested a cast. Her breathing was shallow and strained. Her face was pale where it was not bruised. She was lying very still, the slight movements of her chest and the monitor the only things betraying that she was alive.
As though finally recognising him, her voice croaked weakly from split lips.
Still choked, all he could do was nod. After taking a second to process the movement, she seemed to errupt into life, cringing away from him, stifling a cry of pain as the sudden movement set fire to her injuries. She began to sob, quickly and breathlessly.
"Please, don't hurt me.." Her voice, muffled yet terrified, wrenched at Matt's gut. His heart twisted with guilt at the pain he had caused. He felt an acid taste in his mouth and a burning nausea that would not move. Blinking away tears of his own, he approached her, causing Nicole to curl into a ball as far away from him as possible.
"I'm not going to hurt you." His voice came out hoarse and strained, as though he had been screaming for hours without a break. "Nicole.. Please. I love you."
She flinched at the sound of his voice, pulling as far away from him as she could. The monitor told of her accelerating heartrate.
"Please go." The muffled request was liberally laced with tears.
"Nicole, I'm more sorry than I can ever say. Please, don't-"
"Matt, please just go"
"She said go."
Stephen's deadpan voice cut through their argument. Matt immediately shut his mouth, conveying his hatred through a poison glare. Stephen hissed at the sight of his best friend's state, going to her side, murmuring words of comfort to her. The sight of Stephen's hand on her shoulder drew a choked sound from Matt. She looked up to see his stricken face close down, going blank as he left the room.
Nicole couldn't help relaxing once he had gone. She allowed Stephen to soothe her, though deep down, she wanted Matt's gentle hand to caress her face. She wanted his voice to tell her that she would be okay and that the bruises weren't forever. And that she was still beautiful. She hated the fear he had given her and she cherished the bittersweet pain that came with his words to her. With his refusal to leave her side, even when she asked him to.
Out in the corridors, in a deserted room, Matt was slumped by the wall, his eyes unfocused. Moments before, heartbreaking sobs had wracked his frame. Now he sat, staring and motionless, looking more lost and vulnerable than he would ever show anyone.