Ambrosius wakes up to pitch black darkness and the steady beep of machinery. The smell of antiseptic is strong, but familiar, so at first he doesn’t understand the rapid pounding of his blood in his ears or the feeling of suffocating weight on his chest–and then he remembers. Heat flickering at his feet, the putrid scent of jaderoot, and sharp points of pain, crackling through his body until his whole body is aflame. Red bleeding into his vision, with only the hideous roar of the monster accompanying the clear, sharp regret that he hadn’t been able to tell Ballister what he’d always wanted to–
“Sir Goldenloin!” says an unfamiliar voice, feminine and high-pitched. Ambrosius decides to make an educated guess as to its owner; it’s quite a feat, considering how his head feels like it’s going to explode. “You’re awake!”
“Doctor?” he says, “What happened?” He tries to sit up, but his entire body radiates a wave of pain in protest. As he’s frozen, hands rummage around him, before gently nudging him back into a semi-prone position. He leans back gratefully onto the new pile of pillows.
“How much do you remember?” There’s a quiet gurgling sound, and then a cool surface is being pressed to his lips. Ambrosius carefully grasps the glass and takes a long drink before responding.
“There was…there was a battle, with a horrible monster…and the Institution was destroyed, and Ballister….Where’s Ballister?”
“That’s quite right, Sir Goldenloin. You and Lord Blackheart ended the beast together, but unfortunately you’ve been quite injured. Lord Blackheart just stepped outside for a moment, I’ll go get him. He hasn’t left your side before this, so I’m sure he’ll be ecstatic to hear you’re awake–and don’t touch those bandages!”
The doctor gently moves his hand away from where it’s been scratching at his temples. Ambrosius complies obediently, almost dizzy with relief at the news that Ballister is alive, and then listens as her heels click away. In reality, she must be gone for only a few minutes, but for Ambrosius, time passes unbearably slowly. He feels like he’s a child again, waiting for a Father Christmas he knows won’t come; he hopes, nonetheless.
“Ballister!” He says, sitting up in bed. Or trying to, at least, before he feels hands upon him, pushing him back into the pillows.
“You need to rest,” says Ballister. His voice is still the same rich, smooth baritone that Ambrosius always envied; now, he just lets it wash over him. “You were badly injured, and the doctor said you’ll need plenty of recovery time.”
“What happened to the director? The Institution?”
“She’s dead,” says Ballister shortly. He doesn’t volunteer any additional info, and Ambrosius wises decides to let it go for now. He wants to ask about the monster–the girl–but that might be a conversation to leave for a day when he can actually see Ballister’s face. There’s a thousand other things that must have happened, too, in the ensuring chaos, but he doesn’t want to think about that right now.
“How long have I been in here?”
“It’s about five days now. You gave us quite a scare.” There’s a tremor in his voice, barely perceptible.
“Us?” says Ambrosius softly. When Ballister had ran off, to save the girl, and Ambrosius had turned away to fight the beast, he had had anger and bitterness and resentment fueling his bravery. Now, surrounded by the quiet sounds of the hospital, the only thing he has is the beat of his heart, reminding him that he’s alive. And maybe that will be enough.
“Mostly me,” Ballister admits. Ambrosius exhales slowly. He feels heady, almost drunk, but that may just be the drugs talking. There’s so many things he wants to say–so many things he wants to tell Ballister, before there’s ever a chance he’ll lose him, before they ever part ways like that again, uncertain and afraid. The words all stick in his throat, though, and he trembles with how badly he wants to get them out. Ballister must mistake his silence for fatigue, because he just says, “Anymore questions, or will you sleep now?”
Ambrosius ignores his dry tone. “Are you injured, Ballister?” He reaches out a hand, blindly, and touches cold metal. It’s still a shock, after all these years, but the frisson of regret running down his spine isn’t new. He squeezes hard on the metal digits, trying wordlessly to convey some of his feelings–Ballister is alive.
“I’m okay,” says Ballister after a beat, which Ambrosius takes to mean I’m in pain but I can’t let it ruin my noble aura of villainous strength. It leaves him warm to know that really, some things don’t ever change, no matter how much Ballister insisted that everything did.
Now, however, they are at an impasse. Ambrosius is exhausted; the events of the past few days, whatever drugs he’s currently been dosed up to the gills with, and the adrenaline from having Ballister so close to him again–it’s all hitting him at once. He doesn’t want to let go, though; he’s not ready to let Ballister leave him again. And then he has a brilliant idea.
“Come in,” he says instead, scooting over to one edge of the bed and lifting up the edge of his blanket. Even that small action leaves him breathless with pain. He can feel Ballister’s judgmental stare, blind as he is; he can even picture the telltale glower when Ballister says, “We’re not children anymore, Ambrosius, and the doctor will be back.”
“Ballister,” Ambrosius says, in the equally patronizing tone that he’d learned from the best, “I’m in pain, and so are you”– ignoring Ballister’s grumble of dissent–“and I’m cold. The doctor won’t care; you’re a hero. An injured hero. Will you please come in?” His voice sounds plaintive to his own ears, but he’s still a little startled when Ballister sighs; then there’s just sounds of shuffling cloth, a dip in the mattress, and a warm body next to him. Either Ballister is more tired than he’s letting on or he’s just entirely pitiable. Both are possible at this point.
“Are you happy now?”
“I’ll be happy once you get some sleep,” says Ambrosius, and pretends that Ballister can’t see his lips curling up at the corners. At the end of the day, he still feels safest around Ballister. They’re still grasping hands–Ballister hadn’t bothered to untangle them when he’d crawled in, and Ambrosius is glad.
Lulled slowly deeper into sleep by Ballister’s steady breathing, Ambrosius smiles into the darkness.
Maybe everything will be okay, after all.