Ava felt so tired as she awoke. Stretching out her arms, she blinked back the inevitable sleep caking her eyelids shut, and yawned. Only, she didn’t. She couldn’t move. Startled by her frozen state, her jaw complaining, as it felt trapped in a yawn that wouldn’t come, she started to panic. Her heart started to race, and an alien sound kept pace with it. Voices were approaching her, but they were muffled, and her ears felt pressurised, as if she were underwater. Hands ran over her skin, and she desperately fought to move her arms, to swat the stranger away. She didn’t know who they were, why they were touching her, or what they wanted. The hands were cold, almost plastic, as they moved up to her inner elbow. Pressure followed the hand, a chill spread up her arm, through her body, and she felt herself falling.
Rising back into consciousness, Ava moved to bolt right up out of bed, and remembered too late that she was stuck. She tried to take a deep breath to calm herself. She didn’t want those cold hands coming back, or what they had done to her. But she couldn’t breathe. Something was covering her mouth, and it felt as though something was filling her throat. The realisation made her try to choke. She wanted to cough, to breathe, to scratch. She wanted to move. That sound was still there, increasing in speed, matching her racing heart. She realised she had heard that sound many times before. When she had been treated at the hospital. But why would she be in a hospital?
“Shh, darling. It’s ok. I’m here.” Her mother was here? A heart-breaking sob followed, accompanied by a pathetic sniffle.
“Mary, she can’t hear you.” Her father was here too. Why wouldn’t she be able to hear them? It suddenly fell into place. Not being able to move, the heart monitor, the breathing tube. She must be in a coma. But, why would she be in a coma? The last thing she remembered was being in that dark alley with William. Had he broken his promise? Maybe he had left her there to die, rather than fulfill a simple request, one that would save her life nonetheless. What would it have cost him? Just a few drops of blood, nothing really. Was she here because of what he had done to her, or had her disease finally won out, leaving her body in a defenceless state. This had been what she had feared the most. Being a vegetable, living only through machines, her mother crying over her limp body, praying that she would get better when everyone knew she never would. Only, this was worse than that. In that situation she had always prayed she would be oblivious to her surroundings, brain cells dying away, leaving her vacant. No, this was far worse. She could hear her mother crying, and she could feel the machines invading her. This was hell. She felt a desperate need to cry, but no tears came. As if on cue, her mother grasped her hand with a vicious tightness. It hurt, but it helped.
“Doctor. Is there any news?” Ava had heard the footsteps signifying a new entrant into her tomb. She couldn’t see him, but she could hear and smell him. His cologne was far too strong, and she created the image of an older man in her mind.
“I’m sorry, but no. Nothing we have done has resulted in any change.”
“But, it is the cancer, isn’t it?”
“That’s the problem, her cancer hasn’t changed since I examined her last. I know that last attempt to treat her failed, but I stand by my diagnosis that she had at least a year left before this kind of degeneration.”
“Thank you doctor.” Doctor Cologne marched out of the room as his pager went off, leaving her parents alone in the room with her. “I swear, if the police find that brute, I’ll kill him myself.”
“David, stop.” Ava felt her mother’s hands cover her ears. But it did no good, because she could still hear them.
“Don’t do that. She can’t hear us.” Her father, ever the pessimist.
“David, hurting or killing that boy won’t bring her back to us. They’ll find him. They have his picture on the news all the time. Someone will see him. He can’t hide forever. But, when they do find him, I need you to promise me you won’t do anything stupid. I can’t lose you too.” So her mother already thought she’d lost her. She couldn’t really blame her mother; Ava felt pretty lost herself right now. Well, at least she had an answer. It was William who had put her here, not her cancer. That didn’t make any sense though. Why would simple blood loss leave her here in a coma? Surely they could just give her a blood transfusion, and then send her home. Sure, she would still be a ticking time bomb, but then she could at least find William and… Well she didn’t know what she would do to him. What could anyone do to him? He was, after all, a vampire.
Ava continued to drift in and out of consciousness. Sometimes naturally, and sometimes by that dreaded needle when she got herself worked up and her heart rate shot through the roof. Still, it was strange to think that, even in a coma, she needed to sleep. Every time she had woken, her mother had been there. Not once had she left other than to go to the toilet. Her father had brought her food and coffee to keep her going. Ava appreciated her mother’s dedication, but the smell of the food was driving her crazy. She was sure that she was being fed through some sort of tube, but she couldn’t taste anything, and her mouth felt dry as a bone.
“Mrs Whyte, you really should go home, and get some sleep.” Doctor Cologne was back again.
“No. I can’t leave her.” Ava was conflicted. Hearing her mother in pain, caused her pain, but the idea of not having her there was just terrifying. She heard the doctor turn and move to leave, but her mother interrupted him. “Can she hear me?” There was a long pause, and Ava started to wonder if the doctor had left, and her mother was just talking to herself.
“I think she can hear you, but I’m afraid that’s my personal opinion, not my medical one. Seriously though, Mrs Whyte, you should get some sleep. She’s not going anywhere, and if she can hear you then she’ll want to hear that you’re looking after yourself, won’t she?” Ava felt her mother’s forehead touch her arm. It was warm, maybe too warm. She hoped her mother wasn’t getting sick. Hospitals were horrible places. They were always full of sick people; just like her. Ava’s mother lifted her arm, dead and lifeless like a doll, and kissed her hand.
“I know you’re right. But, I just can’t leave her alone. What if she can hear me? Then she’ll get lonely when I’m gone. Then, even if she can’t hear me, what if she wakes up and she’s all alone? She’ll think that I gave up on her. I am never going to give up on her, and I need her to know that. I have to stay.” The doctor didn’t say anything else. Instead, Ava heard his shoes clicking on the floor as he left her room.
Ava was exhausted in spite of all the sleep she was getting, and the fact that she wasn’t actually doing anything. All she could do was lay completely still and listen. She couldn’t even have the pleasure of breathing since the machines were doing that for her. She listened to her mother cry, her father pace, and numerous doctors and nurses come in with no news. Her senses had started to make up for her inability to see or move. She could detect even the slightest movement of her bed, and hear the subtlest of movements from her visitors. Even when weight was merely being shifted from foot to foot, she could tell.
She longed to open her eyes, being completely blind to all of her surroundings was unbearable. She could taste the plastic in her mouth that went on down her throat to keep her alive. She felt every poke of a needle, and she despised the sensation of cold rubber covered fingers on her skin whilst they injected her with fluids that didn’t seem to be having any effect. Every now and then, her mother would lean over her and stroke her hair as she spoke of good times and old memories. That was pleasant, but not enough. She wanted to scream and shout, throw a tantrum, break something, do anything, but not lie helpless in a hospital bed, waiting for her parents to give up and pull the plug.
This was all she had been thinking and dreaming about since she had first gained some level of consciousness in the hospital bed that had now become her whole world. It was as comfortable as a stack of bricks, and she was covered with itchy blankets that were infuriating her. Her skin was burning with the incessant itch that begged to be scratched, but she couldn’t comply, and it was driving her crazy. She would happily rip her own skin apart at this moment to rid herself of that stupid itch. With all the fury building up within her, she thought she might explode, and then, all of a sudden, the world disappeared with a horrible sinking feeling.
It was worse than the first time the doctor had sent her back to sleep with that injection. She felt as if her whole body had been compressed into a vacuum, and dragged down into the depths of God knows where. Panicking she thrashed around and opened her eyes. She was struck dumb when she saw something other than the inside of her own eyelids. Right in front of her was, well, her. She was looking at herself, lying in a hospital bed, looking worse for wear with matted hair and no makeup. There was a mass of machinery surrounding her, all connected to her through various tubes. It was not a pleasant sight, but it was better than the sight on the other side of the room. Her mother. She was curled up in a ball on a chair, with her coat halfway draped over her and her neck resting at an awkward angle as she slept. She wanted to comfort her mother. Tell her it was ok to let her go; unplug the machines. But, even if she could speak to her mother, she knew she would never have the courage to say it. She wanted to live. She had been so desperate to live that she had risked the last year left of her life, trusting a vampire to change her, to save her.
Taking in her surroundings, Ava noticed that there was an abundance of flowers surrounded by cheesy get-well-soon cards on a cheap, white dresser under the windowsill. She wanted to know who they were from, but she couldn’t move from the spot she was on. Her feet felt cemented to the ground. It reminded her of the childhood game she used to play at school. Stuck in the mud. The ridiculous thought made her laugh. The ability to breathe, to laugh, to see! This was amazing. If only she could move. She tried to will herself to move, and found that, even though it was a challenge, she could just about put one foot in front of the other. Just as she reached the foot of her bed, a nurse entered, and walked straight through her.
The shock of being passed through by another person was just too much to take, and it sent her screaming back into the rigid body under the itchy bed sheets. As the nurse performed her exam, rubber gloves and all, Ava knew she had found something strange, something different, maybe even something magical. She wasn’t crazy, or at least she really hoped that she wasn’t, so she started trying to replicate the desperation she had felt before. Maybe she could get to that out of body experience again. She needed to move, she needed an escape, even if it was only temporary. Even if it was only madness.
William pulled his hood forward in an attempt to cover his face as much as possible. He cursed humans for their technology. Never before had he needed to skulk around, worried that a small box could capture his image and then share it with the world. Did they not miss their privacy? The hospital was practically deserted, and all he could hear was the loud echo of his shoes connecting with the laminate flooring. Approaching the nurse’s station, he scouted the area. Seeing no one, he slid behind the desk and riffled through the files, all the time looking for one name. Whyte, Ava Whyte. He was having no luck, and he was only half way through the files, when he heard the lift doors ping open. He dropped to the floor and held his breath, which was ridiculous, as he’d grown out of the need to breathe well over a century ago. He listened to the squeaking sound of a nurse in her plimsoles walking past. He couldn’t help but mentally chastise her for dragging her feet. His mother had always been a stickler for that habit.
As he heard her close a door behind her, he released the unnecessary breath; it was a force of habit. Staying low, he flicked through the remaining files until he found her. Room 392. Replacing the files back in their holster, William skulked down the hall, keeping all of his senses on high alert should anyone come out onto the floor. Luckily, all of these patients were in long-term comas. As they were unlikely to wake up, or need any extra medical assistance, the staffing at night on this ward was minimal. Finding her room was easy enough, but standing outside looking in, he warred with himself.
There she was, hooked up to all kinds of equipment. What if they were right? How did he know that she could even complete the transition now? No one had ever been held for so long in-between their two worlds, and so no one knew if she could, or even would, wake up. No one knew what would happen if she did, or what she would be like. She could be crazy, damaged in horrible ways, or even a vegetable. Vampires never tangled with human technology, as long as they could help it. This was unknown territory. Maybe he should listen to the council, and maybe he should leave her here. At least until the media attention had died down, because if he did this, and she was… broken, then he would have not only ruined her life, but his own as well, for nothing. A door opened down the hall; it was the shuffling nurse. William dashed into Ava’s room, and quickly, but quietly, shut the door behind him.
Now that he was in the same room with her, mere feet away, he was mesmerised by her. He had tried to resist her the first time she had tracked him down. But, if he was honest with himself, he had wanted to say yes to her request immediately. Only a glimmer of remaining morality had stopped him. He had let her wear him down, and reluctantly agreed. He had imagined what it would be like to have someone around him again. He had been alone for so long. Now he had really gone and screwed things up. She seemed so peaceful, but he had no way of truly knowing that. He decided then and there, that he had to give her a chance. If he didn’t get her out of here right now, then he would always wonder, and he would always be wracked with guilt. She had relied on him, and he had let her down. Not tonight. Tonight he was going to be her white Knight in shining armour. The one she had always asked him to be.
“Don’t worry Ava, I’m here, and I’m going to get you out of here.”
He didn’t know why he was talking to her. He had no idea if she could hear him or not. He supposed he’d just done it to reassure himself. Not sure what most of the equipment was for, or any of it for that matter, he just ripped out the needles and the tube that had been jammed down her throat. William cringed as he threw the tube down on the floor. He was amazed, in a horrified sort of way, at what humans would do to stay alive, even when they weren’t actually living. He picked her up and cradled her in his arms. She was so light, and she just flopped, limbs completely limp. He hoped she would wake up, that she would be ok, and that she would recognise him. But his hopes would have to wait, because first of all he needed to get them both out of this hospital without being seen. Getting in hadn’t been much of a problem, but getting out with a girl in a hospital gown cradled in his arms was definitely going to attract unwanted attention.
He spied a wheelchair packed up and tucked behind a table in the corner of her room. He kept a hold of her with one arm whilst unfolding the contraption, and then placed her gently into the chair. He draped a blanket over her lap, hoping it made the whole charade look less suspicious. Unable to think of much else to do, he wheeled her out of the room and towards the lift. There was a flushing sound, and then the sound of a door swinging open. It was shuffle nurse coming out of the bathroom, having clearly not washed her hands.
Panic built inside William’s chest as he frantically thought of any valid excuse for being here, and for pushing a coma patient around in a wheelchair without her life support machines. But none of that was necessary because the nurse merely slumped into her chair, threw her feet up on the counter, and proceeded to read some trashy magazine, all the while not paying the slightest bit of attention to him or Ava. The lift doors pinged open and William restrained himself from rushing in at a supernatural speed.
Slowly pushing her in, he made sure to keep his head low so that, even if the nurse could be bothered to look up, she wouldn’t see his face. The doors closed at an agonisingly slow speed, but eventually they were moving down towards the basement. All was going well until the doors slid open on the ground floor, right into the reception area. William desperately hammered on the button to close the doors, but it wasn’t fast enough. Stood there in reception were Ava’s parents.
He knew them because he had been waiting so long for them to leave Ava’s bedside. The mother was especially determined not to leave her daughter unaccompanied. It had been annoying, but also incredibly endearing. He watched as their eyes went wide with shock, fear was painted across their faces as they saw their little girl slumped in a wheelchair without any of her life support equipment, which they thought was keeping her alive when it was merely freezing her in place. Just before the metal doors clamped together, William heard a gut-wrenching shriek from Ava’s mother, and he knew all hell was about to break lose.
He swept Ava out of the wheel chair and waited for the lift to reach its destination. As the doors started to open once more, William’s patience had expired. He wrenched them open, bending them out of place, and raced to his car. Throwing Ava across to the passenger seat with no care for her comfort, he slammed the door shut, turned the key, revved the engine and shot off. Security had already made it to the car park entrance, but their only means of stopping him was to stand there with their guns trained at him, shouting over the roar of his engine. Little did they know that their small metallic bullets had about as much effect on him as their meaningless words. He pushed the pedal all the way down to the floor, mentally reminding himself not to push too hard or his foot would go flying through the floor of the car, and flew out of the entrance. He managed to take a guard along with him for a few yards and sent another flying. He would feel bad about them later, but for now he needed to get as far away from this hospital as fast as possible. He needed to take Ava somewhere safe until she woke up.
Oh, how he hoped she would wake up.
Ava could hear the birds singing, feel the breeze caressing her skin, and the hard earth beneath her. A huge sigh of relief escaped her. She hadn’t faded into the black for good. Then she realised that she had actually taken a breath, on her own. Her eyes shot open and she sat bolt upright. She could move! Looking around, she took in her surroundings. Obviously, she wasn’t in the hospital any more. She’d known that already. Instead there were trees and shrubbery all around her. She could see some of the birds she’d heard singing, but apart from them there was no one else here but her. Her last memory was of William throwing her into a car and speeding away. She remembered the fear. What would happen without those machines? She would die. Did William know what he was doing? It had been such a relief to hear his voice, to know he hadn’t given up on her, and that he hadn’t left her for dead, but she had still been so scared. Now as she sat here, awake and able to move, she wished that she had never doubted him. At the very least she had to thank him. But, where was he?
“William?” Ava called out as she clambered to her feet. Her limbs shook underneath her. She felt light headed. She felt hungry. When there was no response she started to panic. She may be alive, but she had no idea where she was. How was she supposed to survive out in the middle of nowhere on her own? “William!” There was a rustling sound coming from the bushes, and then he came into view. She was so relieved to see him that she ran straight over and threw her arms around him. She felt his surprise, but he recovered fast, and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her ever so slightly.
“Ava, you’re awake, thank God!” Ava chuckled into his shoulder.
“I don’t think God had anything to do with it.” He pushed her out to arms length and took her in from head to toe.
“You look good, and you have good strength there.” He winced as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I think you may have even left some bruises there, though they’ll be gone before we can check.” Strength? Bruise him? But he was a vampire. Oh, wait. She put a hand to her chest and felt nothing.
“I have no heartbeat.” Williams smile was strained as he shook his head.
“No Ava, your heart won’t beat again. You’re not human anymore.” Ava’s face broke into a giant smile and she started to laugh.
“You did it? You did it! I’m not going to die!” She started dancing around the clearing, a mere blur to any human eye, but clear as day to William. “Take that cancer! Yes!” She felt free, and so very alive. She had felt already dead for years, being put through so many experimental trials, giving up hope of ever seeing it past her 21st birthday. Now here she was, looking at reaching much more than that. She could even live forever.
“Ava, please, you need to keep the noise down in case any one hears you.” His smile was still strained, and finally Ava picked up on it. She stopped her dancing, and let her arms fall back down to her sides.
“William, what’s wrong? Why do I have to be quiet?” He looked down at the ground, refusing to meet her eye. She moved in closer to him, confused and now slightly afraid.
“You’re not dead, but there are a lot of people who want to change that. Both human and vampire.” He kicked the dirt at his feet, like a child who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Then it all came back to her. What her mother had said at her bedside. Police were out showing everyone pictures of William; they had started a real manhunt. What were they going to say now? It was no longer just attempted murder; it was kidnap of a coma patient on top of that. In fact they would probably be expecting to just find her corpse, and were branding him a murderer now. The news would be having a field day with this one. But why were vampires after them as well?
“I get that the police will be after you, but why are vampires after us?” William’s hands flew up to his hair, fingers gripping at tufts of it and pulling it tight. He looked everywhere but at her. “William?” She tilted his head back towards her with a gentle touch under his chin. He gave in, looked her in the eye, and she bit her lip. His eyes were full of fear. What could he be afraid of?
“I’ve attracted a bit of attention getting you out of that hospital. Well, I got my fair share of attention for putting you in there, but at least then I was just expected to stay down below, at least for a few years, until the case was dismissed and I was forgotten. But, I couldn’t leave you there. Maybe I should have. Now you’re fighting for your life again, and it’s all my fault.” Ava felt as if her heart was breaking. Not because her life was in danger, albeit a completely different kind of danger. But, because of how torn up he was. He had risked everything to save her. Apart from her parents, no one had been willing to do that for her, ever. Pushed by impulse, she clasped his face between her two hands, and stared right into his eyes.
“We’ll get through this. You saved me once already. You can do it again. We’ll do it together.” A single tear escaped from his eye, and she reached up on her tiptoes to kiss it away. His face was full of shock, and for a few moments they just stood there, so close to each other they could feel each other breathe. Then, in a movement so fast that it knocked the air out of her lungs, he kissed her. His mouth pressed hard against hers, his tongue feeling its way past her lips to caress her own. She groaned and let herself fall into his body, leaving him to support her. By the time they separated they were both panting. A force of habit, just like breathing. Smiling, he leant down, pressed his forehead down against hers, and whispered to her as he stroked her cheek.
“We’ll get through this. Together.”