It’s the noise that wakes me, because the discordant mixture of sounds filling the space around me is like a drum beating hard and loud against my temple. My head feels like it’s going to explode with pain but my body is too heavy and unresponsive to do anything about it. It’s like gravity has somehow intensified in strength and it’s pulling me down into a sea of black that threatens to drown me.
I’m awake, though.
For awhile there was nothing, but I can hear things now. I can sense movement around me and I can feel. Someone is touching me, moving me, but I can’t decipher exactly what they’re doing to me because all sensation is convoluted by the noise and the pounding pain in my head. I try to think around the pain, to push past it and find a voice I recognize, but I can’t. The man I hear speaking is unfamiliar to me.
“Minor abrasions on both of her hands, wrists, and knees. There’s a fairly deep laceration on her right thigh. No GSW. From the look of the bruising over her limbs and torso, I’d say she needs a scan to rule out any internal injuries.” He pauses and presses his hands on the inside of my thigh, which are still sticky with blood. “And possibly a rape kit.”
It takes a great deal of effort, but I’m able to pry my eyelids back enough to see light and vague shapes through my lashes. The brightness intensifies the pain in my head and I’m still so drowsy that everything around me is really just one amalgamated blur, but when I’m able to push out a weak sounding whimper it catches the attention of the man holding my arm and he immediately leans over and begins shining a light into my eyes.
“Mrs. Grey, can you hear me?” I try to speak, but I can’t. My body just isn’t responding the way I want it to. “Mrs. Grey, my name is Ken Davis. I’m a paramedic. Do you know what’s happened to you?”
What’s happened to me?
The paramedic pulls the light away from my eyes and in the brief moment of darkness that occurs while my eyes adjust, the memories of tonight start flooding over me all at once. Ava in a puddle of blood on the foyer floor. Luke sinking to his knees after Gia shot him in the chest. Gia, Kommer, Christian. The last memory I have is of Andrew Lincoln pinning me to the floor, his hot breath washing over me while his hands groped by body. He told me he was going to take me, that he was going to violate me, and then he stabbed me with a needle. Now I’m in a strange place, unable to move and unable to scream.
Panic sets in but it’s not enough to free me from my almost paralyzed state, so as a series of ghostly, terrified sounds bubble through my lips, the paramedic leans over me to hold on to both of my arms. I don’t know, though, if that’s meant to comfort or restrain me.
“It’s okay, you’re okay. Can you speak?”
I do my best to shake my head, but the movement is so subtle I’m not sure he’ll notice and the inability to properly communicate when I have no idea what’s going on around me makes my entire body shake. What’s wrong with me?
“That’s okay. You’ve been incapacitated by a sedative drug, Mrs. Grey, and it’s affecting your motor skills and muscle control. We’re currently in an ambulance on our way to Virginia Mason Medical Center where they’ll be able to help mitigate some of the side effects you’re experiencing. They’re going to take care of you. We’ll be there in three minutes, okay?”
His words swirl through the haze of my mind, but dissipate without any lasting impact. I can’t concentrate for more than a few seconds at a time and already I can feel consciousness trying to slip away from me again. It takes everything I have to fight the temptation of painless bliss that beckons to me, but I do it because it’s the only way I can get answers to the questions that are the only thing pressing enough to stick through my fuzzy thoughts. Where’s my daughter? What’s happened to Andrew Lincoln? The last memory I have of tonight is of Christian bleeding on the floor a few feet away from me. He needed help, not me. So why am I the one in the ambulance?
I try to speak again, but the only sounds I can make are shallow, rapid gasps that make my head spin. No matter how hard I try, I simply can’t speak. So I spend the remainder of the ride in silent agony, simply fighting to stay awake.
When we finally arrive, the back doors fly open and the ambulance is filled with flashes of red and white light. The paramedics begin repeating the status of my condition to the doctors, who take hold of my gurney and pull me out into the brisk night air. None of them talk about my family or how I got out of my apartment. Through the flurry of movement and shouting, all I want to do is to scream for answers but I’m mute. Movement makes me nauseous and dizzy, and I want to close my eyes to stop the swirl of my stationary surroundings, but I know that if I do I’ll lose my grip on reality again. So, I force myself to swallow back the vile liquid creeping up into my throat and try to reach out for a hand close to me, thinking if I could just get someone’s attention they would know to update me on my loved ones. But nothing moves. Nothing changes.
The doctors whisk me through the automatic doors into the emergency room and for a split second my frustration and fears are interrupted by surprise over the commotion going on all around me. There are people everywhere, too many people, like I’m being wheeled through a FEMA relief center after a record breaking storm, and the room is filled with screams and the sounds of doctors calling for more blood and burn kits. I want to cringe away from a patient in a temporary bed only a few feet away from me who’s skin is charred black and blistered. He screams while a young doctor attempts to debride his wounds. It’s a scene repeated over and over again as I make my way further into the trauma center and the realization hits that I’m not the only one who’s faced something horrific tonight. The hospital is busy, and in the sea of people I don’t see one concerned family member standing by a bedside. Maybe that’s why no one is here with me.
Please, let that be why.
“Non-emergent cases in the hallway, Johnson!” a very frazzled looking doctor yells at the man steering my gurney.
“Sir, this is Anastasia Grey.”
“Shit. Gunshot wound?”
“No, sir. Minor abrasions, lacerations, and evidence of assault.”
The doctor drops the clipboard in his hand on the counter behind him and comes to my bedside to get a closer look at my injuries. His hands clasp around my wrist and I unconsciously flinch away from him, like I’ve developed some kind of new reflex that repels human touch.
“Did that hurt, Mrs. Grey?”
I moan, and am met with confusion.
“She’s been drugged, sir, and only just regained consciousness in the ambulance on the way here. The paramedic said she hasn’t been able to speak or move of her own volition yet.”
“Well, let’s get her a blood test so we know what’s in her system and a CT to check for any internal injuries. I’ll put the order in, take her straight there. There’s no room for an extra bed in here.”
“Yes, sir.” I’m jolted forward once more and pushed away from the crowd of people filling the trauma room. Too late, the thought crosses my mind that Christian may have been one of the patients being triaged in the room behind me, but the doctor moving my gurney through the hallways towards the imaging rooms misinterprets my anemic protests to go back.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Grey. You’re safe now. We’re going to take some images to make sure you’re not bleeding internally and then we’ll get you cleaned up. No one is going to hurt you. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
I’m not afraid. Not in the way he means. The helplessness of not being able to tell him stop him and get the answers I so desperately need is so much worse than the fear. The fear only exists because I still have hope, but that hope is tied to time and with every precious second that passes my impotence slowly drains away whatever optimism I’m able to conjure like water cupped inside my hands. I have no idea where my daughter is. I have no idea if my husband is alive. I have nothing. When the doctor leaves me in the hallway to wait for CT to be freed up so he can check on his other patients, I’m in limbo and after a few minutes of doing everything I can to shirk the aftereffects of the drug, I lose the battle and slip into blackness once again.
I have no idea how much time has passed when I wake up, but it must have been significant because I’m back inside the noisy trauma room with an IV stuck inside my arm. The pain in my head is gone and I don’t feel so heavy anymore, so I try to move but a voice quickly stops me.
“Easy, you might be weaker than you think.” I look up and see a new doctor standing by the monitor next to my bed looking down at me with concern. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” I rasp, and although the sound is feeble, I’m overjoyed simply by the fact that my voice responds at all. “I’m fine. Where is my family?”
“They’re in the waiting room. There isn’t space for extra bodies back here right now. We’re just waiting on the results from you CT. If everything comes back clear, you’ll be released tonight and they can take you home.”
“But my husband… he’s here? He’s okay? Does he have my daughter with him?”
His face falls and my stomach drops. “He’s, uh– here…”
“Where? Is he okay?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey, I’m not his doctor. I don’t have any updates on his condition. I believe he’s been taken into surgery though.”
It feels like all of the air is sucked out of my body at once, and for a split second I think I’m going to throw up. Of course he’s in surgery, I felt the blood he was losing with my own hands, but I don’t know long it took for the police to arrive after I lost consciousness or how quickly they were able to get him here. There’s no reference for me to gauge how serious his condition is.
I have to get to him. I can’t stay here and not know every single thing that’s happening.
“I need to leave,” I tell the doctor, but he shakes his head.
“It shouldn’t be much longer before we get your results, Mrs. Grey. I can’t discharge you until–”
“You don’t have to discharge me, I just need to get to the surgery floor. Please.” The desperation in my voice seems to resonate with him, because I can see the conflict in his eyes when he shakes his head.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grey. We’re going to get you out of here as soon as possible, I promise.” With that, he turns, leaves, and I’m alone again. Out of the twelve or so doctors who rush past my bed, none of them come to check on me again, so there’s no one for me to appeal to. God, what I would give for a phone. Even if Grace, or Carrick, or even Elliot can’t come back to see me, they have information on Christian and not having any form of communication with them has me just as helpless as I was when I first got here. It’s maddening and I make it only twenty minutes before I’m pulling at the tape holding my IV in place with the intent of getting off this floor and to Christian’s bedside. Doctors be damned. Unfortunately, I only just pull the IV from my elbow before I’m caught.
“Mrs. Grey, wait…”
“No!” My voice is sharper than I mean for it to be, but I can no longer hold back the eruption of emotion that’s been building inside of me like a pressure cooker. “You can’t keep me here. I don’t care what the consequences are or if leaving is against medical advice, I have to get to my family and you’re not going to stop me.” It occurs to me then that my assertion would hold a lot more weight if I had Luke with me to run interference, but even just the thought of his name brings back the images of Gia and the gun, and I immediately have to push that all thoughts of him aside. I can’t deal with the grief over losing my best friend right now. I have to keep it together.
For a tense moment, the doctor stares into the challenge burning behind my eyes, but he doesn’t have time to try and deny me again before the doctor I’d had before comes in with clipboard and inappropriately upbeat attitude.
“Great news, Mrs. Grey. Your scans are just fine and your system looks to be fully flushed of the flunitrazepam that was affecting you earlier. You’re good to go. I have your discharge paperwork right here.”
I snatch the clipboard out of his hand and use the pen wedged under the metal clamp to scrawl a messy version of my name across the signature line at the bottom. He takes the paperwork back and then hands me a pair of light blue scrubs, which makes me realize that I’m completely naked under the paper gown, when before I’d at least been wearing underwear.
“Where are my, er… clothes?”
“The police have taken them as evidence. They came to take pictures of your injuries earlier and they’re waiting outside to get a statement, but I’ll let them know they’ll need to contact you at a different time.”
“Oh… Thanks,” I reply, snatching the scrubs from his hands and yanking up the bottoms under the hospital gown. I should be more grateful, I suppose, since all he’s trying to do is get me out of here as quickly as possible, which is all I’ve asked for since I really woke up, but it’s hard for me to feel any gratitude when what he’s just said feels so violating. I lost my trust in the police months ago and after everything that’s happened tonight, it’s sickening to know they’ve been in here while I was unconscious. That they’re collecting evidence for a crime that they’ve had a part in. I don’t know where we go from here, I don’t even want to think past Christian’s surgery right now, but once we do leave and we begin to pick up the pieces of everything in our lives that has been shattered, the corruption inside the Seattle Police Department will be one of, if not the first, things that Christian and I will take on.
I’ll be sure of that.
The doctor gives me a tight smile, then taps his colleague on the shoulder and motions for him to follow him out of my makeshift vestibule. They close the curtain behind them to give me some privacy and I slip the scrub top over my head before darting out into the crowded trauma room and following the signs that will me to the surgery floor. It’s like a maze getting through the hospital, and I’m not even really certain I’m going the right way until I round the final corner and see Grace, Elliot, Kate, and Mia all seated in a line of chairs outside a set of double doors that are guarded on each side by a police officer.
“Ana!” Mia flies out of her chair and rushes towards me, but stops before she can hug me. “Oh my god, she’s covered in blood.”
“I’m fine,” I say dismissively, because I don’t want to waste any time answering questions right now about me right now. The first thing I need to worry about is the carseat in the chair next to Kate, which I can’t get to fast enough.
One question answered.
“Is she okay?” I ask, fumbling with the buckle to pull her out of her seat and into my arms.
“Yeah,” Kate replies. “The paramedics didn’t think she needed to be brought here by ambulance so we had her evaluated right when we got here. She’s perfect.”
“Oh, thank god,” I whisper, and then kiss the top of her head while squeezing her as tightly to my body as possible. “And Christian?”
Grace lets out a grief stricken sob behind me that makes my scalp prickle.
It’s Elliot who answers. “He was shot. The bullet lodged into his kidney and it can’t be salvaged. They’re removing it now. Apparently, there was a fire in an apartment building downtown tonight so the doctors have been too busy to talk to us regularly. That’s the last update we got.”
“What do you mean that’s the last update? What does that mean? Is he going to be okay?”
“He’s still in surgery. We’re not going to know anything else until they’re finished.”
Once again, I find it hard to catch my breath. Organ removal presents a litany of complications all in its own. His condition is serious, critical even, and there’s nothing I can do to help him or ensure that he’s going to be okay. It’s the worst kind of fear, knowing that I’m in danger of losing the man I love, but also being certain that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it or help him in anyway. The pain of that feeling is indescribable and the only thing that can give me even an iota of solace in this moment is my daughter in my arms. That’s something, a connection to Christian that feels tangible. Like comforting her when she fusses is somehow comforting him.
I start to pace, bouncing Calliope slightly in my arms as she tries to fall asleep, and while I do everything I can to ignore Grace crying steadily into a handkerchief, I realize for the first time that there should be another person here to worry with her, to hold her hand, and to assure everyone that everything is going to be okay.
“Where’s Carrick?” I ask, and the effect of my words is immediately apparent on everyone’s face.
“He’s uh…” Elliot begins, but Kate puts a hand on his arm and leans towards me. When she speaks, her expression and her voice are both careful, controlled, and purposefully reassuring. She’s going to give me bad news.
“He’s with your dad.”
“My dad? In Georgia?”
“No, Ray isn’t in Georgia. He’s–” She pauses to take a bracing breath. “He’s in the King County Detention Center.”
My eyes widen. “Jail? He’s in jail? Why?”
“For the murder of Ava, Kommer, Gia, and Andrew Lincoln.”
Elliot leaps out of his chair and holds his hands out like he’s afraid I’m going to drop the baby. “Easy, Ana…”
“I’ve got her, Elliot. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Okay. Your dad was the one who called 911 to get help for you and Christian. When the police arrived, they found four dead bodies and they had no conscious witnesses, and after questioning Ray, he admitted that he’d killed Linc. That’s how we all found out what happened. When they arrested your dad, the police called Mom because of the baby and so Dad went down to the police station to advocate for Ray. We picked up Calliope and brought her here. That’s all we know.”
“What happened, Ana?” Kate asks.
They all look up at me expectantly, and for the first time since I’ve woken up, reality catches up with me, begins to overwhelm me, and tears start to pool in my eyes. I don’t know if I’m ready to talk about this yet, but I also know how horrible feels to have no idea what’s going on and I can see the same agony I felt only a short while ago reflected in Grace’s eyes.
“She was there waiting for us when we got home,” I begin in a shaky voice. “Ava was already dead by the time we got into the apartment and Gia was there holding Calliope and a gun. We were wrong about Gresham, he was just another pawn. It was Andrew Lincoln. This whole thing was revenge for the money Elena gave Christian after the trial and the affair that they had. He said taking me would make things fair between them and Christian got shot trying to protect me. He said he was going to… going to…” I can’t finish the sentence. Instead, I break down into tears.
“Jesus.” Kate gets out of her chair, takes Calliope from me, and then helps me into an empty seat where I can try and regain my composure. All three of them reach out to put a comforting hand on me, but again, the physical touch feels invasive and uncomfortable and I end up just cringing away. Obviously, I was right before and I’m not in a strong enough place to talk about this yet, so I take a breath and then redirect the conversation to the things I need to know, rather than what I need to explain.
“Have any of you talked to my dad?”
Elliot shakes his head. “No, but Dad will get this sorted out. It’s going to be okay, Ana. It’s over.”
I want to nod, but it’s hard to feel reassured over his words when everything that could have possibly gone wrong over the last twenty-four hours, did.
“You know what,” Kate says. “You should go back and see Luke. He’s been asking about you and it might make you feel a little better.”
“Luke is dead Kate. Gia shot him before he even got near us.”
“No, he’s not dead, Ana. He’s banged up pretty bad and he had to have surgery to fix his pneumo… uh–”
“Pneumothorax,” Grace whispers.
“Yeah, collapsed lung, punctured lung, whatever. But he’s fine now. He’s awake and resting.”
She nods and after I realize that she’s completely serious, I scramble out of my chair and go to the reception desk, where a young, very tired looking woman is fielding a non-stop stream of phone calls.
“I don’t have an update on Grey,” she says, glancing irritably at Kate behind me as we approach the desk.
“No, I know. Luke Sawyer?”
“Are you family?”
“No, just a friend. A close friend. My name is Anastasia Grey.”
Her eyes widen with recognition. “Anastasia Grey? We’ve tried calling several times, you’re his emergency contact.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have my phone.”
“Well go on in. He’s in recovery room 237.”
“Great.” I turn, but then pause and look back at her with pleading eyes. “You’ll let me know when my husband is out of surgery?”
“Of course, Mrs. Grey.”
“Thank you.” I give her the most grateful smile I can muster and push away from the desk, but Kate doesn’t follow me. Whether that’s because she wants to give me time alone with Luke or because she doesn’t want to leave Elliot while we’re still waiting to hear about Christian, I’m not sure. But I don’t stop to ask her. I slip past the watchful eyes of the officers standing next to the double doors and then wind my way through the surgery floor until I find room 237. When I push my way inside, he rolls his head in my direction, away from the TV playing re-runs of an old sitcom over his bed, and then immediately sits up. The movement makes him wince.
“Don’t move,” I say, staring at him in disbelief. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
“Oh, no. I’m fine. Are you? What’s going on with Grey?”
“We don’t know yet, he’s still in surgery. Kate told me they’re removing his kidney.”
I nod and then slowly approach the side of his bed. As he sinks back in the bed, his face once again contorts with pain so I try rearranging his pillows in an effort to make him more comfortable, purposefully touching him a subtly as I can to make sure he’s real and that I’m not just experiencing some kind of lucid dream. There’s no way he should be here talking to me right now.
“Thanks,” he says, and then reaches up to brush his fingers over the part of my chest that is still caked with blood through the v of my scrub top. “You’re a mess. Are you okay?”
“Me? You’re worried about me? Luke, Gia shot you. I saw it. I thought you were dead.”
“No. You should know that you’d never get rid of me that easily.” He laughs, but that quickly devolves into coughing, which obviously causes him a great deal of pain. It hurts, seeing him like this, and as I pull my bottom lip into my mouth to hide the quiver from him, his smile fades and he reaches out for my hand. “Before I left Georgia, Taylor told me to make sure I wore a vest when I brought the son-of-a-bitch down. I think part of that was tongue-in-cheek, because he wasn’t wearing one during that drive-by, but it saved my life. It broke three of my ribs and punctured a lung… but I’m here.”
He looks down then, like he can’t bear to make eye contact with me anymore.
“Ana, I’m so sorry. I should have never let you go up there. I thought they had Gresham and I’d called Kommer on our way back from Columbia Tower. He said everything was quiet but… I just gave him heads up that you were on your way. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, it’s not…”
“Don’t tell me it’s not my fault. I’ve worked with this guy for months, closer than anyone else on the team. How did I not notice something was off about him? How did we not find anything that would tell us he was in on this?”
“Not everything can be found out about a person through a background check, Luke. Christian likes to think you tell everything there is to know about a person through their history, but knowing who they were doesn’t necessarily reveal their current motivations. Or their obsessions. Everything he did was for love, as twisted as that is, but we thought that the person he loved was dead. They weren’t married, they didn’t live together, I don’t even know when they talked… How could you have possibly known that he and Gia were together? I don’t think there was a way that we could have foreseen this from him. He played his part well.”
He shakes his head again. “But I was with him all the time. All those nights in Cambridge, on the flights… Jesus, I left him alone with you. That’s why I never really put much stock in the idea that it was him when we were trying to find the mole earlier. If he was a part of this, why did he wait? He had more than enough opportunities to make a move. Why didn’t he take you when he had the chance?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug. “Risk, I guess. Lincoln valued him more as the inside man than an abductor. That’s how he could stay ahead of us. He always knew our moves before we made them because Kommer told him everything.”
Luke’s jaw tightens as he clenches his teeth in anger and shakes his head. “I wish I would have been the one to kill him. He didn’t deserve a bullet to the head. I would have made it slow. I would have made it painful.”
His words are too visual and they bring back flashes of what happened so clearly I can hear the reverberations of the gunshot that hit Christian echo through my ears.
“Luke, please…” I reach up to dash away the moisture pooling against my lower lids and he lets out a painful sigh before moving over in his bed and pulling back the blanket so I can crawl up next to him. I hesitate at first, thinking I’ll hurt him if I even touch him, but he doesn’t seem to be worried about that so I move as carefully as I can until I’m nestled into the empty space at his side.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“No, it isn’t. You’re not fine, I’m not fine, but at least it’s over right? No more anonymous threats, phone calls, or strangers hiding in the shadows. You don’t have to be scared anymore. We all get to move on.”
“That’s up to you, I think. Whatever you need from here on out to make yourself feel safe, that’s what we do.”
“I just don’t want to go back,” I reply, my voice breaking. “I’m never going back into that apartment, Luke. We’ll stay with Grace and Carrick until the house is finished, or maybe Kate, my dad… I don’t care. But I’m never stepping foot inside Escala again.”
“Okay. We can make that happen.”
I nod and then try to calm my resurging tears by taking a few deep breaths and pushing as much air from my diaphragm as I can, like I can expel the memories with each long exhale. He gives me a minute to compose myself, but when I don’t speak again, he reaches for the remote to unmute the TV, which I now realize is playing an old episode of I Love Lucy. I’ve seen this one before, many times, and it’s a good one, but it doesn’t stop my mind from racing through all of the questions I still don’t have the answers to.
“Can I ask you something?”
I can’t help it, I laugh, but even though the movement of me in the bed makes him grimace, his face lights up a little.
“Kate said my dad was the one who shot Andrew Lincoln.”
“Lucky bastard…” A hard look silences him, and he nods. “Yeah. Ray shot him.”
“My dad is supposed to be in Georgia, Luke.”
He shakes his head. “Nope. Plan B.”
“Your dad spent 20 years doing special ops in the military, Ana. He has more experience than everyone on Grey’s team, Taylor included, and Taylor thought we were being stupid leaving him behind when we were short handed and we knew someone was still going to come after you. They talked and agreed he would come back. Taylor didn’t even call Grey until Ray was on a flight home so he couldn’t argue. But Grey knew you wouldn’t want your dad anywhere near this, so he and I decided his involvement would be on an as needed basis. Plan B. We didn’t know at the time that we were going to need him as soon as your book party.”
My eyebrows crease as I try and piece together what he’s saying with how I remember the last 24 hours. Christian had said something about plan b yesterday morning in his office and for me not to worry about it. Was that my dad?
“Wait, he was at my book party?”
Luke nods. “Yeah. Remember I told you we’d finally gotten one of his guys to talk and he told us their plan?”
“You mean your persuasive resources?”
“Your dad’s a scary man, Ana. He got the job done but, damn…” He tries to look repulsed, but he can’t hold back a small, overly pleased smile and once again, I can’t stop the small laugh that forces its way through my lips.
“Yeah, imagine being brought home at midnight by the police at the age of 16 for drinking beers under the overpass…”
He looks back down at me and narrows his eyes. “So all that partying before wasn’t actually a symptom of you and Grey breaking up? You’re hiding an alcohol problem, aren’t you?”
“Not as well as I thought, obviously.” He laughs at my joke, but it’s not long before my own teasing smile disappears and I start chewing on the inside of my cheek as a release for my nerves and uncertainty. “They arrested him, Luke. They’re charging him with the murder of Ava, Gia, Kommer… everyone.”
“Don’t worry about that. He didn’t kill any of them and what he did do is justifiable in the eyes of the law. He’ll be fine.”
“If they believe him. Luke, we can’t trust the police, remember? What if exposing Lincoln exposes the corruption in the police department and so they try to pin it on my dad and use the fact that I was drugged and Christian was shot to discredit our statements?”
“Then we’ll use the security footage.”
“Kommer disabled the cameras. There is no footage.”
“No. Kommer thought he turned off the cameras, but in reality he never had that power. There’s a master code in the system that we can use to shut everything down and every person on Grey’s team has that code, but, after what Leila said about him being in Escala, Taylor took four cameras off the mainframe and programmed them with a different code that only he has. The one at the bottom of the elevator, the one in the foyer, the one in the great room, and the one at the service entrance. Not even Grey can turn them off, only Taylor.”
“How do you know that if Kommer didn’t?”
“Because having cameras that can’t be turned off led to footage being on system that Grey never intended to be captured by security cameras, and Taylor doesn’t have the time to review film so he delegated to me to erase it all. Other systems had been compromised and he didn’t want someone to get into the home server, download the footage, and distribute it. Or use it as blackmail.”
“Like your wedding night.”
“Oh…” My cheeks flush and Luke immediately begins back peddling.
“I didn’t watch it or anything. Believe me, I’m not really interested in…”
“No, it’s okay,” I say, cutting him off. “This is good. This means that it’s all there. We have the proof of everything that happened. Actually, this is great. Luke!” Without thinking I quickly wrap him in a hug only to have him let out a horrible sounding groan of pain.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry! Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!”
“It’s fine,” he says in a tight voice. “Just… you stay on that side and I’ll stay on my side, okay?”
“Okay.” I ease back and lie absolutely still next to him, feeling guilty until I feel his body relax, and then rest my head on his shoulder. I still have things I want to ask, but I think that it’s probably better to let him rest now so I lay still and silent through the rest of I Love Lucy and then another episode of Bewitched, until there’s a knock on the frame of the door.
“Mr. Grey is out of surgery. He’s in a recovery room just down the hall, if you’d like to see him.”
“He is? Is he okay?”
“He’s still out from the anesthesia, but his surgery went well. They’ve already taken him off the vent and his vitals are strong.”
I turn a frenzied look back at Luke and he smiles. “Go. I’m fine.”
“Feel better, okay? And let me know if you need anything. Anything at all. I’ll be just down the hall.”
I lean over to kiss him softly on the cheek and then hurry out of the room as fast as I can behind the nurse. She takes me only four doors down and then moves aside to let me pass, but as I step inside the room, I feel as though I hit a brick wall.
The shock doesn’t come from the tubes in his arms or the beeps from the machine monitoring his heart beats, I can handle that. I expected that. The shock comes because I hardly recognize my own husband. The entire left side of his face is marred by deep purple bruise and his eye is so swollen, I don’t think he’ll be able to open it even after he wakes up. There’s a cut on his lip that looks like the doctors had to sew up and he’s so pale that every injury looks much more stark and severe than I’m sure it really is.
“Should I let the rest of your family back, Mrs. Grey? Or do you need a moment?”
“I-I–” I walk aimlessly towards him, like a zombie, too petrified to give her a proper answer. My eyes move over every inch of his face, pulling out anything and everything I recognize, and as I finally see him beneath the carnage, my chest heaves with a deep sob and I collapse into the chair at the side of the bed. I take his hand and curl my fingers with his, and as tears start to stream silently down my cheeks, I hear the door close behind me and we’re alone.
Grace falls apart when she sees him for the first time. Elliot has to hold on to her to keep her from collapsing to the floor while Mia finds another chair, but even though the nurse gave me at least half an hour before she finally let his family back here, I hardly register any of them. I don’t have the capacity to worry about comforting her or anyone else right now. The entire time I sit at his bedside, nothing is able pull my attention away from Christian, not even the doctors who come to tell us about his surgery and what we can expect as far as recovery goes. He’s going to be okay, I gather that much, but I don’t trust anything enough to take my eyes off of him for even a second.
The grief comes in waves. First it’s Grace, then Mia. She sits at the foot of his bed, holding on to his leg and trying to coax him awake by pleading with him and promising him anything that pops into her mind. It wounds all of us, listening to her fears for her favorite brother, but not as much as the sharp, single sob Elliot lets out when he finally breaks and can’t hold it back anymore.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Elliot,” Kate says. “You can be upset.”
“No.” He shakes his head and looks up at me. “Ana, I’m so fucking sorry.”
“This is my fault…”
“Elliot.” Kate tries to pull him into her, but he pushes her away, and then doubles over in his chair. “I brought Gia into our lives. I gave him someone else to use against us. If I hadn’t been so weak…”
“Stop, Elliot. It’s not your fault.”
“How can you say that? If I had never started dating her…”
“It’s not your fault, Elliot,” I repeat, interrupting him. “Gia was always going to be there. It had nothing to do to you. In fact, you were the part of their plan that failed.”
“Failed? What do you mean?”
“She only dated you to try and turn you against Christian. You’re his support system. When he needs to lean on someone, he goes to you and you’re always there. She wanted to take that away from him. Lincoln wanted to take that away from him. He’s self-destructive when he feels alone, easier to get to, so she tried to get Christian to sleep with her so that you would feel betrayed and you would walk away.”
“What?” He turns to look back at Christian, and, slowly, the look of blank shock on his face slowly fades to anger. So much so that, when he speaks, he’s almost incoherent. “He told me that she was trying to… that she… and I defended her.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of what you do. You stick up for the people you care about and you stand by them, even if they’re wrong. Sometimes, that can be a flaw.” He grimaces and looks away from me out of shame, but I reach across the bed to take his hand. “I’m not angry with you, Elliot. Who you are and the things you do are valuable enough to Christian that Lincoln knew he had to ruin your relationship if he was ever going to really destroy him. They preyed on you when you were weak, but you didn’t let them take what they were after. You were the part of their plan that failed. I have only gratitude for that.”
He presses his lips together and, after a long pause, nods. “Thank you, Ana. Seriously. I can’t believe how well you’re holding it together right now.”
“I’m not,” I tell him, then turn my attention back to Christian and silently beg him to open his eyes.
After the first few hours, the sleepless night begins to weigh on all of us. Elliot falls asleep in the chair across from me with Kate snoozing quietly on his shoulder. Mia curls up on the floor next to Calliope’s carseat and Grace nods off somewhere around 4 o’clock. Everything is quiet and dark, but there’s no way I can sleep, and I don’t want to. I’m not ready yet to face what dreams may come after tonight, so I force myself to stay awake by counting each and every breath Christian takes. When my head feels too heavy to hold up anymore, I lean over to rest my cheek on our conjoined hands and focus on the feel of Christian’s steady pulse beneath my fingers. The wait is agonizing and for the first time, I feel like I can truly appreciate what Christian went through after Calliope’s birth. I wouldn’t wish this torture on anyone. Waiting, not knowing… it’s devastating.
My body tenses and at first I think I have fallen asleep and the hoarse voice I’ve heard is just part of a cruel dream, but Christian’s fingers lightly squeeze mine, and I immediately sit upright in my chair, wide awake.
His mouth moves as he swallows and then, slowly, he turns his head towards me and opens his eyes.
“I haven’t seen it, but I don’t think I’m going to be on The Most Beautiful People list this year.”
Jokes. He’s making jokes.
“No,” I reply, and the half-laugh, half-sob sound the explodes out of me makes me sound insane. “You’re definitely going to lose out to Bradley Cooper.”
He too laughs and the pain of doing so is immediately apparent on his face. I reach over for the call button at the side of his bed, but he takes hold of my hand to stop me.
“Not yet. Where’s Linc?”
He doesn’t know? “Dead. My dad got into the apartment and shot him. He’s dead.”
“Good.” He lies still again, but I can tell from the tightness in his face that he hasn’t gone back to sleep. It looks like he’s trying to hide the amount of pain he’s in from me. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Calliope is fine. We’re all okay. I can call the nurse, Christian.”
He takes a deep breath and nods, so I reach for the plastic box hanging from the monitor and press the call button. Once the red light comes on, I move to sit again, but he grabs onto my scrubs and then shifts his hand up to cup the side of my face. For a long time, he just stares at me and then the corner of his mouth upticks into a soft smile.
I smile again and place my hand over his against the side of my face. “Hi.”
He pulls and I follow until I’m leaning over him and can place the softest kiss I can manage against his lips. He holds me there until the doctors come. In that kiss, as chaste as it may be, there is promise. Not for an ending, as I have been assured of all night, but for a beginning. A new beginning for both of us. Just us.
The nightmare may be over, but the dream has just begun.