“Benjamin,” she murmurs as if she’s seen a ghost. “What are you doing here?”

What am I doing here? Did she honestly just fucking ask me that?

I ignore the question, taking just a moment to observe her physical injuries. I can’t see much other than her temple is bandaged on the left side with blood seeping through. Her olive-toned skin is incredibly pale, but I imagine that’s just exhaustion coming down off the adrenaline I know had to have been fueling her body.

“Tell Dr. Peele I have permission to discuss your case with him,” I command, trying to ignore the hurt expression on her face.

No words of comfort. No hug. No sweet kiss. No concern for how she’s feeling. Just an order to let me in so I can make sure she’s okay.

Which is something she should have done from the start.

Elena nods at Dr. Peele. “You can talk to him about my medical situation.”

I give my back to Elena, and Dr. Peele starts blabbing. GCS was excellent at a fifteen. That meant she had spontaneous eye-opening response, has been verbally responsive, and obeyed all commands for motor response testing.

“We’re waiting on a plastic surgery consult for the laceration at her temple,” Dr. Peele says as he moves to a standing computer station in the corner of the room. With a few taps on the keys, he’s pulling up the CT scan results. “Looks like we’re still waiting for radiology to read these—”

“I’m a neurosurgeon,” I mutter as I push in beside him to study the digital pictures on the screen.

“Oh,” Dr. Peele says, taking a step back to let me examine it more closely.

I take a few moments, critically studying the digital slices of Elena’s brain. I always knew it would be a beautiful brain, and I’m relieved to see it intact with no evidence of swelling or bleeding.

“It looks good,” I tell Dr. Peele, but of course, he’ll need to verify it with the official review by the radiologist.

“I’m going to go check on the plastic surgery consult,” he replies, leaving me alone with Elena.

Now I can stop being a doctor and be a concerned boyfriend, but for the life of me, I’m not sure what that means. I’m now battling a mix of relief she’s fine with the terrorizing fear she could be dead right now.

I turn slowly, hating the look of distrust on her face. I’ve not behaved how she expected or needed.

When I take a step toward her, Elena’s eyes well up with tears and my heart shreds. I move to the side of the bed, taking her hand in mind. I bend over, brush my lips over hers softly, and whisper, “You’re okay. You’re going to be fine.”

And the whole time I do that, I have to restrain myself from fleeing. Because while part of me wants to comfort her, hold her, chase away all her scary memories, the truth is most of me wants to leave all this far behind.

The truth is it only took one bad thing happening to her to make me realize I could not survive losing her. Had he hit her a little bit harder, or had the gun gone off and she’d been shot, she could just as easily be lying in the morgue with me holding her hand.

I managed to pull myself back from that type of loss once, but I truly don’t think I could survive it again.

These past few weeks, the way I put up walls and closed myself off to love, devotion, and relationships had seemed so silly, but now it doesn’t seem stupid at all. Seems safe and secure to me.

I make myself stay, though, because I can’t abandon her right now in her greatest need. I’m not that much of a selfish dick.

“You’re going to be fine,” I say again stupidly, knowing damn well she doesn’t need my medical reassurances right now.

Elena nods, gives a tiny sniffle, and dashes the tears away with the back of her other hand. I reach behind me, grab a small chair, and pull it to the side of the bed so I can sit.

“How did it all happen?” I ask, dreading hearing the details.

Her voice is tremulous, unsure, and childlike. I’ve never seen Elena without her trademark confidence and sass. Right now, she’s the victim of a violent crime and she’s been reduced to it. I squeeze her hand a little tighter as she recounts what happened.

Christ… all for fucking drugs. She almost died so someone could get their fix.

“I thought he was going to execute us,” she says softly, but the impact of those words feels like a nuclear explosion within me. My ears ring as she goes on to explain. “Told us to turn away from him. To get on our knees. I knew that meant he was going to shoot us, but he didn’t have the fucking guts to look in our faces as he did it.”

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