GBAON Chapter 31.5

Kieran Byrne hated being in the hospital.  The lighting was garrish, distressed groans of pained patients rang through the halls, and the whole place reeked of antiseptic.  Everything about the place felt more to him like a prison than a place of healing.

Even worse than his surroundings, though, was being trapped in his room by nurses that immediately ushered him back to his bed the second they saw him up and about.  No matter how much he insisted he just wanted to stretch his legs, no matter how often he suggested they walk with him if they were so worried, his pleas to walk around were always ignored.  It seemed that the entire hospital staff feared going against the orders of both the human doctor and Healer Langley than they did defying someone as powerful as Kieran. That, of course, irritated him to no end.

The only time Kieran wasn’t either agitated or bored was when he had visitors.  Luckily, he had no shortage of visitors during the daytime. Shoshanna and Gabe took turns spending time with him so that he was never alone for too long.  Sometimes, they even visited at the same time. And as embarrassing as it was to deal with Gabe’s teasing over Kieran and Shoshanna’s still new almost relationship while Shoshanna tried not to laugh, Kieran was relieved to see how well the two of them got along.

Unfortunately, the hospital didn’t permit visitors to stay past eight at night.  It was nearly ten now. Shoshanna and Gabe had left—or rather, they’d been practically dragged out by nurses—at exactly eight p.m., leaving Kieran utterly bored and alone for the remainder of the night.

While he knew that eight was a perfectly reasonable time stop having visitors for a normal hospitalized person, it was agony for him.  He wouldn’t be able to so much as start feeling tired until at least one in the morning, not even with the nightly doses of morphine that the nurses kept offering him.  As a nocturnally inclined creature, no substance existed that could gift him with the ability to sleep before the witching hour.  He was now doomed sit in bed in silence with itchy back stitches and uncomfortably greasy hair until the early hours of the morning.

“This is even worse than being shot,” Kieran grumbled as he shifted around on his too-hard cot for what seemed like the thousandth time in the last hour.

“Not from a witness’ point of view, Sir.”

Kieran jumped at the sound of the familiar voice.  He looked around the room for the source of the voice until he noticed Elaine standing in the doorway wearing a pair of light blue scrubs.  Her arms were crossed and dark circles hung below her usually bright eyes. She looked stressed and more than a little apprehensive to come any closer.  Kieran found he could blame her, not after everything she’d gone through.

Kieran knew he ought to be relieved that he was no longer alone, and that perhaps he should say something.  Instead, the only things on his mind were two questions: how had Elaine managed to get in past visiting hours and why was she wearing scrubs?  Kieran figured the two questions were related and had a general idea of how Elaine might answer, but he was far too curious to be satisfied by the simple explanation he’d come to.

Before the questions could leave his mouth, though, Elaine continued, “Even with all the worst-case scenarios playing in my head, I never expected things to happen as horribly as they did.”

“In my experience, nothing ever goes the way anyone expects it to when there’s a trickster in the mix,” Kieran replied, keeping his tone as jovial as possible in the hopes of coaxing Elaine out of her apprehension.  “How did you—?”

“I may have, uh, borrowed a set of scrubs,” Elaine hesitantly admitted.

Kieran chuckled.  “Yes, I see that. But was that really all you had to do in order to sneak in?  Wasn’t it strange to anyone that they’d never seen you before?”

“You’d be surprised by how strong the human compulsion to be polite is,” Elaine explained, a slight smirk spreading across her lips.  “Everyone I ran into was more preoccupied over feeling rude for accidentally forgetting a nurse’s name and face than whether or not I was actually supposed to be here.”

“That’s so devious of you to prey on the better aspects of human behavior,” Kieran told her, unable to hold back his delighted grin.

Elaine rolled her eyes.  “You just nearly died, yet you’re acting as mischievous and carefree as when you’re at The Brambleberry.”

Despite her seemingly playful tone, Kieran couldn’t help but notice how Elaine had shifted uncomfortably when she mentioned what happened to him at the warehouse.  While it had been painfully obvious that Elaine was still suffering a great deal from the whole ordeal and while he was certain it was at least partially his fault that she’d ever been dragged into that mess, it hadn’t occurred to Kieran that Elaine would still be upset by his temporary death.

He suddenly felt overwhelmed by both guilt and the pressing need to make things better.  “I wouldn’t say I nearly died,” Kieran said slowly, hoping that whatever came out of his mouth next didn’t prove to make matters worse, as was so frequently the case for him.  “On the contrary, I think that might’ve been the first time I’ve ever started feeling alive.”

“Boss,” Elaine warned, although neither of them seemed to know just what it was she was warning against.

“Please, there’s no need to be so formal.  Call me Kieran.”

“Well then, can you please just stop deflecting and be serious for a moment, Kieran?” Elaine snapped.  “I’m trying to tell you something important.”

Kieran stiffened  A part of him had been expecting this moment ever since he saw Elaine being dragged into the warehouse.  But expecting it hadn’t prepared him for the way his heart ached when Elaine looked at him with all that sadness and confusion and frustration in her eyes.  He knew this wouldn’t be easy, but he’d never dreamed it would hurt so much.

“Sorry,” Kieran quickly apologized as he tried his hardest not let any sadness show on his face.  “But you can’t really blame me for trying to prolong the inevitable, can you?”

“Prolong the inevitable?” Elaine repeated slowly.

Kieran nodded.  “I presume you’re here to resign from your job at The Brambleberry.”

“What?”

“It only makes sense that you would,” Kieran continued, too focused on the way his stomach twisted and churned with disappointment to notice the growing confusion on Elaine’s face.  “After everything you’ve been through, it’s only natural that you’d want to resign.” Kieran paused to collect himself. He didn’t want to make this more difficult for either of them by getting emotional.  “Just know that you’ll be missed.”

Neither of them spoke for what felt like an eternity but was likely a few tense seconds.  The longer it went on, the more Kieran’s chest tightened and his palms sweat from the nerve-wracking anticipation that Elaine’s silence brought.  He desperately wished she would say something, anything at all, just to end this stifling silence—even though he was certain that her words would only prove to further upset him.

Kieran knew he was being selfish, but he couldn’t bear the thought of Elaine quitting.  They might not have been as close as he would’ve liked, but he still cared for her a great deal as both a colleague and a person.  She was kind and mostly honest and, perhaps most important to Kieran, she’d tried to avenge him when she thought he’d died. But like every other good thing in his life, Emilio had sunk his claws into her and took so much pleasure in hurting her that it finally drove her away.

Elaine just stared at Kieran until she could no longer hold back the beginnings of the amused smirk that twitched at the corners of her lips.  “I didn’t come here to resign,” she finally said.

“Are you sure?” Kieran blurted out, surprised, before clapping a hand over his mouth.  If she didn’t have any interest in quitting, then he really needed to stop talking before she changed her mind.

“Of course I’m sure,” Elaine insisted.  “Why would you even think that?”

“Well…” Kieran trailed off.  His mind was racing so fast from a mixture of relief, embarrassment and surprise that he was struggling to properly organize his thoughts.  “Working for me put your life in danger. Or rather, I put your life in danger.”  He sighed, heart growing heavier with each word that passed his lips.  He wanted to stop talking, to stop trying to convince Elaine to quit, but he couldn’t seem to shut up no matter how much he knew he ought to.  “You’d be a lot happier if you’d never even—”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence,” Elaine cut him off quickly.  “I knew full well what I was getting into when you offered me the job, and I accepted anyway.  And even after everything that’s happened, I’m glad I did.”

“But I…”  Kieran faltered under the intensity of Elaine’s stern glare.  He didn’t understand why he was even arguing with her. He wanted her to stay.  And if that’s what she wanted as well, then why couldn’t he just shut up and let her?  “I’m glad to hear that you’ll be staying.”

Elaine let out a relieved breath she didn’t even seem to be aware she’d been holding in.  “And I’m glad to be staying. There’s no one else I’d rather work for.”

“That can’t possibly be true, but I appreciate it nonetheless,” Kieran replied with an amused huff.  Even if he hadn’t almost gotten her killed, he wasn’t exactly the greatest boss. At least, he didn’t think he was.

“But it’s completely true,” Elaine insisted, her voice gentle but certain.  “Even more after what happened in the warehouse.”

“Is that so?”

Elaine nodded.  “You saved my life, you know.”

“Yes, I remember.  That’s sort of the whole reason I’m currently in the hospital,” Kieran quipped as he gestured to himself.  “Don’t tell me you broke in just to remind me of why I’m here.”

“Kieran,” Elaine warned, pursing her lips.

Kieran put his hands up in surrender.  “Fine, fine. It’s too soon. I get it.”  Kieran tried not to pout at Elaine’s poor reaction, but, upon remembering how Shoshanna had nearly slapped him over it, he decided he’d gotten off easy this time.  “So why exactly did you break in anyway?” he asked slowly. “It’s not like you couldn’t have just come during visiting hours.”

Elaine bit her lip hard and sucked in a sharp breath.  Her whole body went rigid and her eyes went wide with nervousness.  She looked like—and Kieran internally berated himself for being so on-the-nose—a deer in headlights.

“Because I wanted to talk to you in private,” Elaine finally said.

That was it?  Kieran sagged in disappointment over how utterly anticlimactic that had been.  With the overwhelming anxiety Elaine had been exhibiting, he’d expected some sort of dramatic and exciting confession.  But a private conversation? Well, that was hardly anything of interest.

“And what was it you wanted to talk to me about?” Kieran asked, trying not to sound disappointed by the letdown.

“I…” Elaine exhaled shakily.  “I wanted to start off by saying how sorry I am that your, uh, real body was revealed the way it was.”

Now it was Kieran’s turn to be paralyzed by nervousness.  His heart began to race and his hands trembled as he worried over Elaine’s next words, fearing that any moment could bring cruel taunts or harsh judgement.  In that moment, he hated her for forcing him to endure this particular conversation while he was still essentially bedridden and unable to escape.

Whether or not Elaine noticed Kieran’s distress, she certainly didn’t let it stop her from continuing.  Despite her apprehension, determination sparked in her eyes. “But, I also wanted you to know that I’m the same as you…” she faltered as she gestured to her body, a confused expression contorting her face as she struggled to find the right words.  “Just the other way around.”

Kieran’s jaw dropped.  He had hoped for a lukewarm opinion at best and expected a horrible, disgusted reaction at worst.  Never had he dreamed that Elaine would tell him the most exciting news of his life: he was not alone.

His heart fluttered as he was overcome by feelings of utter elation and soul-deep camaraderie.  While he’d been aware that other people like him existed, he’d always thought of them as little more than a distant, vague concept that made him feel a little less unusual.  And until this moment, that had always been enough. But now that he was face-to-face with someone like him, and because it was someone he knew and cared about, he could no longer fathom how he’d survived this long without getting to experience sheer joy of this moment.

A million excited, fragmented thoughts swirled around in his mind.  There were so many things he wanted to say—so many things he needed Elaine to know—that he could barely focus on a single one of them long enough to form a coherent sentence in his mind.

“That’s not at all what I was expecting,” Kieran finally told her, his face heating up with embarrassment as soon as the words left his mouth.  He felt like an ineloquent idiot.

Elaine covered her mouth, trying and ultimately failing not to laugh at Kieran’s comment.  “No, I suppose it wasn’t.”

“Oh, come on!  It’s not that funny.”

“It kind of is though,” Elaine replied, still chuckling between words.  “I’ve never seen words fail you like that before. Honestly, I didn’t even think it was possible.”

The heat in Kieran’s cheeks flared up once more.  He needed to get away from the subject of his rare and embarrassing experience of being tongue-tied as soon as possible.  “Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I feel honored that you trust me enough to share something like that,” he said quickly.

Elaine smiled softly.  “I can’t imagine there’s anyone I could trust with that more than you.”

 

Nicole Monti