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A Bitter Pill

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She can’t hear a damn thing.

That’s the first thing Judy realizes when she comes to. There are nearly half a dozen doctors swarming in and out of her vision—two wolves, a porcupine, a koala, a leopard, and a fox. She feels herself being lifted, moved, pushed down on a gurney as they run her down white-walled hospital hallways when she realizes that the fox isn’t a doctor, it’s Nick. He’s angry—she can’t hear him but she can see, barely see, in the way his lips snarls over sharp canine teeth that he’s yelling. Her head hurts, dare she say killing her (it probably is) as they try to push him back before wheeling her into what must be a trauma room.

Nick doesn’t move too far away—she can still see his ears coming in and out of her peripherals—but part of her wishes he would. She’s a mess, a painful mess, and no one should see her like this: not strangers, not doctors, not Nick. Judy screams, she screams, but she can’t hear herself so it feels like they can’t hear her so she screams louder but they only give her sympathetic looks (Nick’s, the most heartbreaking of them all).

She’s gasping for breath, struggling to breathe when she sees an electric razor in one of the wolf's paws. They’re shaving her chest while the porcupine gets a needle and then before she knows it they’re making an incision and she’s being pricked and prodded and they stick a damn tube in but she still can’t breathe.

The other wolf and the koala argue over her while the leopard holds up a slender finger to her eyes and moves it back and forth. She knows the drill and follows it back and forth and after a few tries the leopard tries to say something to her but as to what, she doesn’t know.

Finally the koala pushes the wolf away and leans over her. Judy catches a glimpse of Nick hovering before the leopard pushes him back and the koala reaches down with nimble fingers, grabs her jaw and yanks it hard.

Her whole body convulses in pain and the leopard pushes her arching down back on the bed and she screams screams screams as loud as she can. Everything hurts and she feels more poking and prodding and someone’s sticking needles and tubes into her chest but then breathing starts to feel a little more… normal. It hurts, like when she’s run too hard too quickly, but it still sorta feels the way breathing has always felt to her and she figures this is a sloth paced step to progress.

While the koala works on her jaw, the leopard moves down to her leg: mangled, twisted, bone poking out. The porcupine is busy with getting her what looks like to be a blood transfusion and the wolf is doing something to her lungs, perhaps. The leopard snaps her fingers and gestures for Nick, who comes over and holds down her leg and then there’s a push and a snap—

It’s another wave of excruciating pain and this time, she’s glad she can’t hear her own blood-curdling scream.

Judy sees Nick’s lip quiver and eyes gloss with tears before he allows one of the wolf's to escort him out of the room, replaced by yet another doctor—nurse, surgeon, whoever—that looks like a meerkat that practically jumps up on her hospital bed and gets in her face.

Judy’s eyes are wide and she tries not to blink because if she blinks she might not wake up again, or at least it feels that way. The meerkat says what she thinks is the same phrase over and over again but her vision is blurry and hazy and she can’t make out the words on his lips. He snaps his fingers and then the porcupine looks in her ears.

It seems they finally pick up on the fact that she can’t hear anything.

The meerkat gives some orders and then the world starts to fade. Judy’s eyes feel as droopy as her ears and she fights fights fights to stay awake but they must have given her something, something to make her sleep and she’s screaming as best she can but she can’t make out any words, not even no, not even stop, because she feels so broken she might not wake up, God, if she closes her eyes…

Her eyes close anyway.

 


 

When she wakes again, she still can’t hear anything.

The swarm of doctors is gone, along with the gurney; she’s in a bed with fluffy pillows and a thick blanket. She looks down (her vision is better, less fuzzy, but things aren’t quite right) and notices her leg is in a cast, her other foot in a bandage, one arm in a sling, and the other one stuffed with tubes and IVs.

Her room is empty, save for a lot of flower arrangements, two empty pudding cups, and her fox cop of a partner sleeping on a chair on the other side of her generously big hospital room. Judy grunts and tries to get his attention, but it doesn’t work, so she opens her mouth to say hi hey hello what’s happened to me—

--only to find she can’t open her mouth.

Her good arm, if she can call it that, reaches up to touch her mouth to find that someone has screwed it shut. She’s never had braces before but she knows they aren’t supposed to be this bad and she starts to panic. Hoping its loud enough she grunts from the depths of her throat and luckily, it startles Nick awake.

His computer, which had been in his lap when he fell asleep, falls to the floor as he rushes to her side. Nick slaps the nurses’ button before he scrambles to her side and takes hold of her good paw, squeezing is gently, but firmly.

Calm Down, he mouths, or maybe says (Judy can’t tell). Over and over again, he tells her: calm down, calm down, please, calm down.

But it’s too late. She’s having a full-fledged panic attack.

One of the doctors from earlier (how much earlier, she doesn’t know. Has she been asleep for hours? Days?) comes rushing in. He gets a pair of pliers and with a reluctant look, goes into her mouth and cuts cuts cuts until her jaw snaps free in the most painful way possible.

It hurts so badly, but at least she can breathe. She tries to speak, to ask what’s happened, but the panic attack is too much for her battered body and she drifts back to sleep.

 


 

The next time she wakes up, she hears the beeping of her own monitor.

This time Nick is awake, scribbling at a million different forms he has scattered on a spare chair and spread out in different piles on the floor. He’s sitting against the wall next to an outlet and his computer is up. Judy’s vision still isn’t 100% back, but she can see he has several different tabs and files open and the screen is amber, adjusted for night-time eyes.

She looks out her bedroom window and notices its dawn.

Judy tries to say something but finds that, once again, she cannot speak—those damn wires are in her mouth again. But she wants Nick’s attention so she grunts as loudly as she can before his head snaps up, eyes wide with surprise and relief, and he rushes to stand up (his joints pop in protest) to meet her by her bedside.

“Hey, there,” he says slowly, but not loudly. He points to his own ears. “Can you hear me?”

Judy nods, and Nick smiles in relief.

“That’s good. They said your hearing would be back soon, but this is earlier than they expected. You just might be back on your feet in no time.”

She has a hard time believing that, especially considering her damn mouth. Disgruntled, she grunts again and points to her face, demanding an answer.

Nick’s smile falls. “Your jaw was broken, so it has to be wired shut for a while so it can heal,” he explains. “You woke up two days ago and you were panicking and you couldn’t breathe so they cut the wires, but they had to rewire it again. I’m sorry, but it has to stay.”

She whines, a little noise from the back of her throat, before she slumps a little in her bed. Her eyes scan the room and eventually she snaps her fingers to where Nick’s things are jumbled in the corner. He makes a few guesses as to what she wants before he realizes the noise she’s making sounds vaguely like phone, and he paws it off to her.

She types in his code and immediately opens the camera app and turns the front camera on just so she can see the damage—

Judy thinks she might have screamed if she weren’t so tired of it.

God, she looks awful. Her eyes, both of them, are bloodshot with black and blue shiners. Her nose is scarred and covered in a crusty scab. There’s a laceration on her cheek and one of her ears has a nasty rip in it—practically a whole chunk—and she knows it won’t heal, that it’ll be ripped like that forever and—

“Okay,” Nick sighs, taking the phone from her. “Staring at yourself isn’t going to keep you in good spirits. You look like hell, I could have told you that.”

Judy glares as best she can before she holds out her paw, demanding for the phone. Nick looks reluctant before she mimes out the act of texting and he gives in with a heavy sigh and opens the new message app before handing over the phone.

What’s the damage? She types out.

“Uhhh,” Nick puffs air into his cheeks before he lets out a long sigh before he walks over to the computer by her bed. “Skull fracture, concussion—that’s why your head probably kills, I’m sure—, temporary hearing loss, broken arm, broken toes, real broken leg, and of course, the jaw.”

Judy just stares.

“We got him,” Nick whispers. “The bear that tossed you like a rag doll. We…I got him.”

Judy blinks once, twice, before she types out something else:

Did you kill him?

Nick reads her text but when he lifts his head, he can’t quite meet her eyes. “I wanted to,” he finally admits. “But no. I didn’t.”

Something strange tugs at her heart, something she can’t quite define, but she pushes the feeling away. It’s easy enough considering how much pain she’s in.

 “Your parents will be here soon,” Nick says in way of a subject change. “Also, if anyone asks: I’m your husband. It’s the only way I could get anyone to let me stay. So play along,” he winks, and even though Judy isn’t in much of a mood to be cheered up, she can’t help but feel a little bit better because of him.

Judy’s eyes flicker to the door and she sighs. Her parents are going to go bonkers when they see her and she’s starting to wish that the hearing would go away again, just so she doesn’t have to hear their worried screeches and high pitched cries. As Nick would say: bunnies, so emotional.

“You get through this, okay?” Nick whispers and she looks back up at him when she feels his ever so gentle touch to one of her ears. “I know it hurts, but you can do it. You just have to stay strong. Okay?”

It isn’t until Nick wipes away her tears from her cheeks does Judy realize she’s been crying.

“I know it hurts,” he says again, voice thick with emotion, and she swears he might cry too.  “I’m so sorry, Judy. I’m so sorry I couldn’t stop this.”

He doesn't call her Carrots or Fluff or Rabbit; he uses her full name, which means he's being serious, and serious isn't a good look on him. She wants to tell him not to cry, not to worry but she can’t; so she settles for watching Nick press the button on her PCA.

“Get some rest,” he whispers.

Judy thinks she feels him kiss her between the ears before she falls asleep.