My name came to me from far away, from far down a tunnel without an end. It echoed off the walls of my mind, loud at first and eventually fading to nothing.
"Georgina. Look at me, sweetie."
"Let her sleep, Hugh."
"No, I need to talk to her and make sure she doesn't have a concussion. Georgina, come on. Open your eyes for me."
Through a mist of black fog, my brain parsed the words and slowly found meaning in them. Some basic response in me wanted to comply, but my eyelids felt like they were stuck together. Thinking-let alone answering-was too hard, but more words came to encourage me.
"There you go, sweetie. Try it again. You almost had it."
With much effort, I finally managed to open my eyes. It was excruciating. My lids felt like they were made of lead. At first, I could only perceive one thing: light. I winced, wanting to sink back into that oblivion I'd been pulled from. And with this slight stirring of consciousness, all the pain I'd escaped from before suddenly returned. My head throbbed. My back burned. The cliché about breaking every bone in the body seemed like a very real possibility all of a sudden, and I was pretty sure I'd broken a few that weren't in my body. Sure, that didn't make sense, but with as bad as I felt, little did.
"Oh God." At least, that's what I tried to say. It came out as more of an indistinct moan.
"Easy there. You don't have to say anything."
I opened my eyes again, this time making out a figure leaning over me. I knew his voice so well that I didn't need to see his face, which was a blur anyway.
"Hugh," I croaked.
"Hey, ask her what-"
"Shut up," Hugh snapped. The jerky movement of his head made me think he'd glanced behind him, but I couldn't be certain.
He moved his face closer to mine, bringing his features into sharper relief. He was paler than I'd ever seen him, his face filled with lines of worry and fear I'd never thought him capable of. He looked even more upset than when he'd come to tell us about Jerome's summoning. Reaching out, Hugh held the lids of one of my eyes open and shone a small light into it. I squirmed at the brightness-or at least I tried-but he was fast and did it to the other eye before it caused too much discomfort. When he finished, he moved his finger around in the air and studied my eyes as I followed it.
"What's your name?" he asked.
The voice behind him piped up. "You already said her name."
Hugh sighed and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "What's his name?"
"Cody," I said. It was getting easier to speak, but the pain was going up the more conscious I became. Cody's voice was as familiar to me as Hugh's, and I felt certain Peter was here too.
Hugh asked me a few other factual questions, like the current year and the location, and also if I was nauseous.
"It all hurts," I said, voice still slurred. I couldn't even move, let alone distinguish nausea from the rest of my pain.
"Yeah, but do you feel like you're going to throw up? Right here? Right now?"
I thought about it. My stomach hurt, but it was less of a queasy discomfort and more of a someone-just-kicked-me-with-stilettos discomfort. "No," I said.
Hugh sat back, and I heard him sigh in relief.
"It all hurts," I repeated. "Can you...make it stop?"
He hesitated, and a moment later, Cody appeared beside him. "What's the matter? You've gotta give her something. Look at her. She's suffering."
"Understatement," I mumbled.
Hugh's face was still drawn. "I'm not gonna knock her out if she's got a concussion."
"She passed your tests."
"Those are field tests. They're not one hundred percent accurate."
"Please," I said, feeling tears well in my eyes. "Anything."
"We know it won't kill her," I heard Peter say. I'd been right about him being here.
Hugh hesitated only a little longer. "Go get some water."
Cody disappeared, and Peter replaced him by Hugh's side. Hugh's expression was still grim. "Sweetie, I've got to clean up your back, and it's going to hurt."
"A different kind of hurt. But this has to be cleaned up so you don't get an infection, and then I need to shift you to check out the rest of you. The drugs'll help, but it's all going to hurt at first."
"Go for it," I said, steeling myself. At this point, I couldn't really imagine worse pain. Besides, Hugh was a doctor. Everything was going to be okay now.
Cody returned with a glass of water. Hugh made me drink some first, just to make sure I could keep it down. When I did, he gave me two pills to take with the rest of the water. I nearly choked on them-my throat felt raw and swollen, maybe from screaming-but I got them down.
I wanted to ask what I'd just taken, but it seemed like too much work. "Should kick in in about twenty minutes," Hugh said.
I could see him fumbling with something in his lap. Standing up, he leaned over my back. Something wet touched my skin.
"Son of a bitch!" Again, my words were slightly incoherent, but I think he caught my meaning.
Stinging pain-a "different" pain, indeed-raced across my skin where he'd touched it. It was electric, sharp where the rest of my body throbbed. My desire to get away from that horrible stinging was so strong that I actually managed to move a little, but all that did was trigger the hurt in the rest of my body. The world blurred once more.
"You're making it worse," he warned. "Stay still."
Easy for him to say. I bit my lip as he continued. He was using antiseptic to clean the places Nanette had cut me. Necessary, as he'd said, but God, did it hurt.
"Talk to her," Hugh said to no one in particular. "Distract her."
"What happened?" asked Peter. "Who did this to you?"
"Nice distraction," said Hugh.
"Nanette," I said. Saying her name made my stomach turn, and I hoped I wouldn't have to go back on what I'd said to Hugh about throwing up. "She was...mad."
"I guess," said Peter.
"Mad I told Cedric about her..."
"Doesn't this kind of confirm your suspicions, then?" asked Cody.
Yeah, if beating up the person who'd ratted out your secret plans didn't sound suspicious, I didn't know what did. But if Nanette really was behind Jerome's summoning, why not just kill me outright and leave no witnesses?
Explaining that would take too many words and too much effort, so I just said, "I don't know."
"There," said Hugh, straightening. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
I tried to glare, but I don't think he noticed. He rummaged in his kit once more and then leaned back over to start bandaging up the wounds. With as much as he was piling on me, I had the feeling I was going to look like a mummy.
"Why didn't Dante stick around?" asked Cody.
"Huh? Dante?" The bandage pressure wasn't as bad as the cleaning, but it was still uncomfortable. I wondered when those goddamned drugs were going to kick in.
"He was here," said Cody. "He called Hugh and told him to come over."
Some of the exact details of what had happened with Nanette were foggy, but I felt pretty confident, head trauma or no, that I would have remembered Dante being around.
"Dante wasn't here," I said.
Hugh paused and looked me in the eye. "Then who called me? It was a guy, from your cell phone. Said to get over here and bring medical supplies-that you'd been hurt."
I frowned, and it came back to me, a shadow in the pain-filled haze of my memory. The strong arms and gentle voice.
"There was someone here..." I began slowly. "Not Dante. Someone else. He put me to bed."
Silence fell. A slight fuzziness was starting to tingle the edges of my senses, which I took as a good sign. It was more of a pleasant, dreamlike fuzziness-not the I-can't-handle-this-pain-anymore kind. There was still a fair amount of that, though.
The guys exchanged puzzled looks. "Are you sure it wasn't him?" asked Cody.
"Why would Dante leave her, though?" asked Peter.
Hugh snorted. "No telling with him."
"Stop," I mumbled. "It wasn't him."
"You can't remember a face or anything?" Peter asked. "Was it even someone you knew?"
I thought again, desperately trying to dig out the memory. There was nothing, though. Only that he'd been someone familiar.