“Eren?” Mikasa whispered. She rubbed at the grit in her eyes just to be sure, but no, the body lying in the hospital bed hadn’t moved.
What time is it? She wondered idly. It was too much effort to turn her head around to look at the clock hanging over the door. Besides, the hospital had a funny way of playing with time. She’d been sitting in the waiting room for hours before Grisha had come and gotten her, explained that Eren had finally come out of surgery and that his injuries, though severe, were ultimately survivable. That moment now had a hazy, faded quality to it; as if it had happened years ago.
I even feel older. Ancient, even.
Mikasa tilted her head to crack her neck, which had started to ache. Her shoulders and neck were starting to tense too, from hunching over.
These chairs are so uncomfortable. They clearly weren’t designed to be sat in for long periods of time. Which is silly. What else would they be for?
Eren moaned softly, snapping her back to attention immediately.
“Can you hear me? Are you in pain?”
The doctor’s said he’d suffered a pretty good concussion, so he might not wake up right away from surgery. And when he does it would be normal for him to be extra groggy. It’s fine.
Mikasa fought the panic that was stating to claw its way up her throat. All the doctors and nurses, even Grisha were taking this so calmly. Talking in measured, sensible tones at the foot of the bed, while all she wanted to do was scream at the sky until her throat was raw and throw things at the blank white walls until someone put Eren back together. She’d do it herself, piece by piece if she had to.
Her phone buzzed anxiously in her pocket.
Mikasa traced the outline of the keys with her finger before decisively shutting it off.
I have more important things to worry about right now, rather than burdening people with my feelings.
She leaned over to brush a stray lock of hair off of Eren’s forehead, studiously avoiding glancing down the length of the bed. The uneven distribution of his body under the sheets made her feel like she was a small child again, sitting breathless in a closet while robbers tore her home apart.
Instead, Mikasa squeezed his right hand; the one not currently held together with pins and plaster.
“We are going to be okay, I promise,” She murmured into his ear.
The world was made of warped glass; semi-opaque, bubbling up and whirling off in unexpected directions. Sharp stabs of pain pierced through the cottony confusion, a sign that this was reality. The air had a stale, rubbery quality to it.
He cracked open his eyes, then immediately closed them against the sudden influx of light and nausea.
He tried to say “Mikasa,” but all that came out was a rusty groan. His lips were so dry, he thought they might split in two if he tried to open his mouth any further.
“Don’t try to talk,” she admonished. Eren heard the rustle of fabric, then the soft splash of running water. It felt as if his head was hovering a few feet above his neck, attached by a thin tether. He could float away at any moment.
Where am I?
“’M gonna miss my race,” Eren croaked, forcing his eyes open again. All he could see was the ceiling, stippled white. “Where’s the pool?”
If only it wasn’t so bright…
Mikasa drew a ragged breath, like she was trying to get a hold on her emotions.
That’s silly, Mikasa never cries.
“Here, drink this. Small sips.” A cup materialized under his nose. She was staring resolutely down at her feet.
She doesn’t want to look me in the eye?
“Gotta stay hydrated or Levi’ll yell at me,” he muttered sagely. Something about this fuzzy new world wasn’t making sense, but Eren also felt the pull of sleep, swift and strong as a black tide.
He tried to tell Mikasa to wake him up before his event, but he wasn’t sure he got the words out before the waves rolled in and overtook him.
The second time, he awoke with a gasp of pain and a curse. His father’s face appeared above the bed, like he was four years old and had just awakened from a nightmare.
“How are you feeling, Eren?” He clutched a coffee cup in one hand, knuckles standing out bone-white.
“Hurts.” His whole body was a mass of raw nerves; too many signals and sensations for his groggy brain to categorize all at once.
“You’ll be due for more pain medication soon. Do you remember what happened?” There was a tense quality in his father’s voice, stretched tight like a rubber band, that put him on edge.
Eren bit his lip, feeling the oxygen tube under his nose shift as he did so.
“I was at practice…”
Oh God, Jean. We had a fight. I ran off, and then
“You were hit by a car.” The unanswered question hovered in the air- What were you doing out in the street when you should have been in the pool?
Shoes slapping against concrete, head down, a horn blasting…
“How long do I have to stay here?” Eren suddenly felt very small. He remembered the long months Karla had spent, in and out, and right back in again. Until the whole family had memorized the hospital’s floorplan, right down to the garbage can placement in the cafeteria.
“Your injuries are very serious, Eren,” Grisha continued, each word catching in his throat. “I hate to say this, but I’m afraid-”
What’s with my leg? Why can’t I…
Alarm bells were ringing louder and louder in his head. The persistent sense of wrong that had been plaguing him around the pain intensified as brief scenes from his drug-induced haze flitted through his consciousness. Eren struggled to sit up, but his father grabbed his shoulders, wrapping him in an awkward half-embrace, taking care to avoid the bulky bandage that swathed his arm.
“Let me go!” He screamed.
“Please, calm down. I was hoping to cushion the blow, so that this wouldn’t come as such a shock, but clearly-”
“It’s gone, isn’t it?” Eren felt his body go cold. A numbness creeping down his back like ice water. “I want to see.”
Grisha bowed his head but inched aside.
“I want you to know that the surgeons tried everything, but you’d suffered several traumas and a dangerous amount of blood loss. That, coupled with the level of contamination in the wound… ”
But Eren wasn’t listening. He was staring, fixated, at the empty spot just below the knee where the rest of his left leg should have been.
This can’t be happening.
He blinked furiously; as if this could possibly be a mirage or hallucination. That he’d wake up, wiggle his toes under the blankets, and roll back over to sleep.
Grisha droned on in the background, but Eren couldn’t even comprehend what he was saying anymore. The ocean was roaring in his ears, freezing spray filling his chest, stealing air.
“Fortunately, they did manage to save your arm. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and rehabilitation, but you should regain full function.”
Greyness was fast encroaching, shrinking his field of vision down to two pinpricks; one a healthy, normal kneecap, the other a cliff jutting out into space. A sick, cold sweat erupted at the base of his neck.
“I’m so sorry.” Grisha squeezed his hand. “Can I get you anything?”
I think I’m gonna be sick.
Eren lay back against the lumpy hospital pillows and bit the insides of his cheeks to keep from screaming. He shook his head, tears beginning to clump on his lashes.
“Where’s Mikasa?” He finally managed to grit out.
His father blew out a long, shaky, breath. “I sent her back to sleep in her own bed. She only agreed because I told her she could miss school to come visit you in the morning.” A weak chuckle.
“I want to go home.”
“Let’s take things on a day-by-day basis, alright? A lot of this depends on how well you progress with the therapy. We also have to watch out for infection, which could affect your recovery time.” Grisha made it all sound so normal, so blasé. As if teenage boys lost their legs all the time. It was odd hearing his father’s voice through the filter of a medical professional, like he’d slipped out of his role as Dad and into that of a surgeon.
Eren wasn’t sure which he preferred. The blank, clinical tone was almost soothing; a dispassionate background noise for his overwhelmed brain. His thoughts hummed around like drunken bees, swerving violently around the fact that his life had been irrevocably changed.
Can we both ignore this too? Act like it’s happening to someone else so we can just get on with our day? As long as we don’t look each other in the eye, we can pretend that it’s not there.
Cuz that worked so well with mom.
At the same time, every muscle in his body ached. There were tubes everywhere; snaking in and out of his arms, under his nose. He didn’t want to think about the one taped to his thigh, which would explain why he didn’t have an urgent need to use the bathroom. He was connected to machines that would beep and whir in a language he couldn’t understand. Eren had woken up in an alien world; even his own body had warped into something unfamiliar.
“Please don’t leave.” The words slipped out unbidden no doubt aided by a hearty dose of painkillers.
“Of course not!” Grisha sounded surprised and hurt in equal measures. “Why don’t you try to go back to sleep? I’ll be here if you need anything.”
Eren settled back against the lumpy mattress and closed his eyes. Everything felt so surreal; as if he was watching this happen through a camera, or movie screen. Part of him still desperately hoped that he would wake up in his own bed the next morning, shaking his head at the bizarre dream he’d had.Somehow he managed to drift off listening to the rhythmic sound of his father’s breathing.