chapter: LIIIMature

They were in the TransAm and the sun was coming up to the east, casting a strange, shifting, cold yellow light over everything.  There was blood everywhere.  His blood, her blood, someone else’s blood.  He was certain it was a mixture of all three.  Though he was propped up, Graeme still felt as if his body was reluctant to stay upright.  Breathing was excruciating and it wasn’t hard to tell why: the broken ribs he’d sustained in the fight felt shattered, and though he was desperately trying not to look, he knew he could see the jagged edges of his broken ribs protruding from gashes in his skin.  Some time ago the sea-sick feeling he’d had when she first began speeding through the narrow streets had subsided, but he was no more comfortable.  Gabriel veered around oncoming vehicles like a professional race-car driver, and he briefly wondered if she’d ever been one, without ever coming close to colliding with the other cars.  Her visible skill level did not ease his panic.

“I’m taking you to a hospital,” she said, hazarding a glance back at him as she navigated the streets.  “You’re going to be fine.”

His breathing was shaky and the pain was looming large in his mind, but he said, “No, just drive out of state and find a hotel.  I’ll be fine, but we have to get out of this town, this state.  We need to regroup.”

“Graeme don’t be ridiculous, you –“

He cut her off, waving a blood-covered hand at her dismissively, “Just listen to me.”  Every word was pushed from between his teeth, painfully, raggedly, full of the misery that had settled into his torso.  “Find a hotel out of state, okay?  I need you to trust me.” 

Her expression, or what he could make of it in the rearview mirror, was skeptical and panicked, but she bit her tongue and pressed a little harder on the accelerator.  He wasn’t sure what made her trust him, but he figured his performance in the fight before his injury was weighing heavily on her mind.  It was a better explanation than he’d have been able to give her on his own.  She could see the way his body moved – almost automatically – as if he could predict everything around him and move fluidly between blows.  Of course, he guessed, it wasn’t perfect or fine-tuned – not yet, if it ever would be – but it was impressive nonetheless. 

Time stuttered for him; fluctuating between agonizing moments and searingly fast instants.  Everything beyond the windows was a blur he couldn’t fathom into clarity, just a mess of lines and colors, stretching forever behind them.  He had no way of knowing how long they were driving except by how much blood he was losing.  The seat was soaked through and made disgusting slurping sounds whenever he moved.  All he could do was try to keep his breathing regulated and hope that the blood loss wasn’t going to kill him. 

Each breath was harder than the last and the first inkling of real fear crept in when he noticed how unsettlingly moist the air felt in his lungs.  The urge to cough began making itself a more prominent issue and Graeme didn’t need to think hard to know how much it would hurt.  Thankfully, Gabriel swung the TransAm into a parking lot and yanked on the emergency brake until the tires squealed and stopped moving.

“I’ll be right back,” Gabriel said over her shoulder, grabbing her purse and lunging from the car at a full sprint to the lobby doors.  True to her word, she returned within a few short moments – at least, he thought they were short, but the pain was still strong enough to be the center of his attention – and she brought the car around to the opposite side of the building, close to one of the doors.  She spared no time on anything besides helping him out of the car and into the hotel room, supporting most of his weight on her shoulder as she juggled him and the key card.

Swipe, nothing.  Swipe, nothing.  “Stupid fucking shit,” she snapped, swiping again, and the light turned green.  She shuffled them through the narrow door frame, kicking it closed behind them, and helped him to the bed.  Immediately, she began undressing him by yanking at the collar of his shirt until it ripped clean off.  A part of him wanted to say something clever, but it was silenced by the coughing fit that erupted from his lungs.

When it subsided and he pulled his clenched fist away from his mouth, a dribble of blood stretched, stretched, broke and dripped onto his jeans.

Gabriel said, “Tell me again why I didn’t bring you to a hospital?”

He sighed, his throat still hot like burning embers from his coughing fit, and said, desperately ignoring the way his voice cracked and splintered, “Because I have something to show you.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t good enough, Graeme!”  It was worry that laced her tone with venom, but it still stung.  “Your life is in jeopardy right now and you kept me from finding someone who can save you because you want to show me something?”

He shut his eyes, faintly aware of the clotting of his blood, and said, “It’s a very important something.”

“Well, what is it, then?”  Oh yeah, he thought, that was genuine irritation rolling off of her.

“You have to be a little more patient than that,” he answered, the faintest trace of a laugh lightening his tone.  Another round of coughing squashed that where it started, though, and Gabriel had to get him a towel from the bathroom for the amount of blood that came up.

“I don’t know if I can be that patient, Graeme.  It might be too late by then.”  Worry as thick as moss coated her words.

“It won’t be,” he said, nearly gasping between words, “I can heal from this, I promise you.”

“No you can’t!  Graeme, you’re a human being!  You need a doctor.”

He shook his head, his throat sore from speaking and coughing, his lungs exhausted from their efforts.  “I need a wrap for my ribs, that’s all.”

She blinked out of his sight and just as he was panicked she’d been called back to the upper realm unexpectedly, she appeared as quickly as she’d vanished, her arms loaded up with first aid kits and a random assortment of food.  Clearly, she’d raided a convenient store somewhere, but he didn’t remember her stopping anywhere on their way to the hotel.  Had he lost consciousness?  How had she vanished like that, or rather, had she at all or was he losing it again?

The End

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