Nikolai woke to find his cheek pressed against white sheets that smelled of citrus, realizing with a start that he must have fallen asleep while watching over his girlfriend in the hospital. Feeling a little disoriented and groggy, he blinked a few times before raising his head to look around, squinting against the sunlight streaming in between the curtains. Outside, the bustle of people and traffic drifted in from the half-open window, and in the background, the machine that was hooked up to his girlfriend beeped every few minutes, rhythmic in a comforting way. He stifled a yawn, stretching his arms over his head, and then turned his attention back to her, reaching forward to mesh his fingers between hers.
"How are you?" he asked, quietly, gazing worriedly at her bruised face. Her eyes were closed—she hadn't woken yet since the surgery—and her lips were still blue. But he thought her complexion looked a little pinker today, and the observation relieved him just the tiniest bit. "Are you feeling better? Are you cold?" He looked around the room, wondering if there was a temperature reading somewhere, or a thermostat he could mess around with, but the technological contraptions on the walls were foreign and complicated, and he had no idea how to work them. He bit his lip, feeling useless.
"The doctors say you'll wake up soon," he said, trying to infuse some optimism into his tone, for both her benefit and his. "You'll be okay, I promise." He gave her hand a squeeze, watching for a reaction, or any kind of response—anything to indicate she could hear him. But there wasn't one. No fluttering of her lashes, or parting of her lips, or trembling of her fingers.
Nikolai's voice became low all of a sudden as he whispered, "I'm sorry." He drew in a sharp breath and held it in, as if to hold down something—and he was holding down something; he could feel it in the pits of his stomach, twisting and churning, he just wasn't quite sure exactly what it was. "I should have been there. I should have—I should have done something. When that man told me you'd been in accident, I..."
He shuddered, his grip on her hand tightening. "ўмілаваная," he murmured, forcing the memory of that phone call out of his head. "ўмілаваная, I'll protect you from now on. I won't let this happen to you again. I'll be with you forever."
He leaned forward and brushed his lips against her left cheek, then her right, her forehead, kissing her on the lips last, the brief contact making his pulse quicken. Then he settled back in his seat, running his thumb over her knuckles gently.
"And I'll find the person who did this to you," he promised, giving her lovely sleeping face his best smile. "I'll find him, that bastard, and tear out his lungs."