She was supposed to be home at six sharp; it was now ten after. Nikolai's calm expression belied the panic that was starting to build up inside his chest, and he paced the apartment, pausing occasionally to glance at the clock on the wall.
She was never late. At least, not without telling him first. She knew how much it made him worry when he didn't know where she was. She knew it tore him apart, led him to imagine all of the worst-case scenarios—accident, injury, kidnapping—which then led to a strange wrenching pain somewhere deep inside of him. He'd always been an anxious person, despite his aloof appearance. The first and only time she'd been late coming home, he'd had something close to a panic attack, and when she'd opened the door to see him huddled on the couch, clutching her pillow, she swore she wouldn't ever put him through that again.
She was understanding, after all. Anya hadn't been anywhere close to as understanding as she was. Anya hadn't understood that Nikolai needed to keep tabs on his lover—needed to be with his lover 24/7, not because of any abnormal fixation or obsession, but because he didn't know how to function without the woman he loved. And he was well aware of his dependency, which was why he was all the more protective. In a way, it was like protecting himself.
The phone suddenly rang, startling him out of his thoughts, and his head jerked up. He answered it so quickly the first ring didn't get a chance to finish.
"Hello?" he said, hopefully.
"I'm looking for a Nikolai Arlofsky?" a man said. His voice was unfamiliar and business-like, and it sent a chill down Nikolai's spine.
A feeling of dread spread through him as he replied, "That's me."
"I'm calling to inform you that your girlfriend is in the hospital."
Nikolai's heart stopped. No.
The man continued. "She was involved in a three-way car accident, and she is now in the operating room. You were listed as her contact, and—"
"No," he said, out loud, his fingers going numb. His hands began to shake. "No! No, no, no."
He dropped the phone and stumbled towards the door, barely remembering to lock up before he flew down the steps and out into the cold November evening. His heart raced as he ran to the edge of the sidewalk and tried to hail a cab, waving a hand frantically.
It had to be a mistake. She couldn't have been in an accident—she was such a careful driver. If she hadn't been so careful, he wouldn't have let her drive in the first place. He cursed himself now, for agreeing to lend her his car on his off days. He cursed himself for taking the day off. It was all his fault. How could he have been so stupid?
When a cab finally pulled up to the curb, the driver giving Nikolai a lazy look and asking him where he wanted to go, he was on the verge of tears. He hurriedly gave the driver directions and then leaned back, clutching the edge of his seat so hard his fingers turned white. In the thirty minutes it took to get to the hospital, he reached a simple conclusion: if she died that night, he'd follow her—without any regrets or hesitation.
He burst through the hospital doors, and a few people looked up, startled at the sudden breach of silence. He ignored their stares and rushed to the counter, telling the nurse sitting in front of the computer, in between gasps for air, who he was looking for. When she asked him for his ID, and he wasn't able to produce any—he'd forgotten everything back at the apartment—she pressed her lips together.
"We can't let you in then," she said, shaking her head.
"Please!" he said, desperately. "Please, I need to see her. I n-need—"
"Those are the rules, sir. I'm very sorry."
His mouth snapped shut and he bit down hard on his lip, tasting blood. He forced himself to calm down as he contemplated his options: he could return to the apartment and get ID, or he could try to navigate the hospital himself, though he doubted he'd find the room she was in. Better yet, he thought grimly, he could hold the nurse at knifepoint and threaten to kill her if she didn't speak up.
But before he could act on any of his options, the nurse, oblivious to the murderous aura emanating from Nikolai, decided to take pity on him.
"Alright, I'll take you to her." She stood and moved out from behind the counter, gesturing for him to follow. "I don't think you're lying, anyway. Your girlfriend actually mentioned your hair and eye colour before she fainted—as if she knew you'd come without your ID. You two must be close."
At her words, Nikolai's heart throbbed. "We are—we are close," he said, huskily, his voice thick with emotion. Just picturing her in his mind could make his pulse quicken, although his heart was pounding for a different than usual reason right then. "How is her condition? Is she alright?"
"Well," the nurse said, checking her clipboard. "She came out of the operating room twenty minutes ago, and she's sleeping, but I think the doctors okayed visitors. Just don't be disruptive, alright? Here we are. Go ahead. You have half an hour."
He nodded his thanks and slipped inside, closing the door behind him. The nurse's footsteps slowly faded into the distance. He turned around to face the bed, and when his gaze focused on his girlfriend, he sucked in a sharp breath.
She looked worse than he'd expected. Her lips were a cold shade of blue, and her complexion was pale—so pale that the contrast between her skin and the bruises blossoming along the side of her face was alarmingly stark. She was wrapped up in bandages, and tubes entered and exited her body as if she were being invaded by an alien life form. The only thing that covered her was a thin white sheet, and Nikolai wondered if she was warm enough—hoped she was, and muttered under her breath that she better be warm, or he'd find those damn doctors and slit their throats.
He grabbed the chair by the wall and pulled it up to the bed, taking a seat.
"Oh, ўмілаваная," he whispered, breathing shakily. He took her hand in his and ran his fingers over her knuckles. "Why? Why did this happen to you? I should have locked you up. I should have kept you at home. You're not going anywhere without me now."
He kissed her hand and then lay his head to rest on the bed, breathing in deeply. Even with the smell of the sharp lemon-scented cleaning agent in the air, he could detect the faint lavender perfume she liked to wear.
"I love you," he murmured, quietly. "I love you so, so much. I'm not letting you out of my sight ever again."