Aubrey takes a bullet to her side during a scrap with a burglar one week later. It didn’t stop her from incapacitating the guy and keeping him pinned to the floor until backup arrived. In the whirlwind that followed, the last you saw of her was the on-call medics sedating her to get into the transport back to HQ.
You get called in two days later. Apparently she's asking for you.
She’s been getting progressively more hostile towards the medical staff and having panic attacks, the nurse explains, as he leads you to her room. She refused to speak to a psychologist, and this point, she’s stopped conversing in any meaningful way with anyone at all. The only thing they could get out of her was a request for you to visit.
The nurse shows you in and shuts the door, and then it's just you and Aubrey.
You weren’t prepared for just how sad she looks. She’s curled in on herself, all pale, with bags under her eyes. She looks like she’s been crying. She glances up at you as you enter, but says nothing.
"Hi." You force a little smile and tentatively circle around to the chair beside her bed, where you take a seat. "Good to see you’re still with us. How are you feeling?"
"Bad," she answers flatly, sniffing and all but confirming your suspicion of her crying. You almost don't know where to go next.
"They told me you've been having a rough time," you say, finally. "Is it something I can help with?"
She looks, not at you, but through you for a few moments. You wait patiently for her answer.
"What you said," she says, eventually. "About the support stuff."
"I think--I think I want that." She sniffs again and wipes at her face. "But I don’t know where I’m supposed to… go. How to do it."
"Okay. Well, one thing at a time. We can work on that when you're out of here. That said, if you need psych support, that’ll move a lot quicker if they give you a preliminary assessment in here."
"I don't want to speak to them."
"You'll have to, at some point."
"I know. But not right now. I don't want to speak to them while I'm here. I want to go home."
"Okay." She has her reasons. "Did they tell you when you can leave?"
"No. They kept touching me when I told them not to and then they tried to make me talk to the psychologist. I said I didn't want to, and they wouldn't leave me alone until I asked them to call you." Jesus Christ. Okay. You need to have some stern words with someone.
"Do you want me to find out when you can leave?" you offer, and she nods, sinking a little lower against the back of the bed and pulling the sheets up over herself. "Okay. I'll be back in a minute."
The second the door shuts behind you you let the veneer fall, grit your teeth and rake your hands down your face. You're pissed that they pushed her around like this. You're pissed that nobody who knows better has done anything about it. This shouldn't have happened.
You only have to walk about ten feet before you spot a nurse. "Hey," you call out, flagging them down with one hand. "You know this patient--Aubrey? Aubrey Still? Who's been looking after her? Because they all owe her an apology." You get the feeling from the nervous look on the elf's face that you're looking at one of those people right now. "Apparently she was being manhandled without consent. Is that true?"
"She was being aggressive--"
"Because people were ignoring her boundaries? Because the situation was triggering for her?" Maybe you weren’t here to see it, but you suspect you’re hitting the mark. "We should know better than that here. When is she going to be medically fit to leave?"
"Caring for her necessitates physical contact. If she would just speak to the psychologist--"
"Are you serious right now?"
"She needs to be seen. I'm not at liberty to discuss the intricacies of the matter, but her behaviour since she was admitted has been concerning. It warrants an assessment, for her own benefit."
"She got shot not even two days ago! This can't wait until she's recovered? Let her get back on her feet, and then we can worry about behaviour. When can she leave?"
It's at times like this your height really comes in handy, because the nurse looks distinctly unsettled as you loom over them.
"I'll--I'll ask the doctor to check on her as soon as possible."
"Thank you." Stepping away, you don't break eye contact until you cross the threshold back into Aubrey's room and the door puts a solid barrier between the two of you.
"Well," you say to Aubrey as you take up your position back in the chair, "I don't know when you're going to be able to leave, but they're going to send someone to check on you, so I guess we'll find out then." Her eyes widen and she ducks a little lower under the sheets. "They won't--They won't treat you like they did before. I promise. I spoke to someone about it. I'm sorry you had to go through that."
She looks at you like she doesn't know what to do with the apology you just handed her. Eventually, she emerges from underneath the blanket.
"Can you stay here?"
"While they check you?"
"If you want me to." She nods quickly. "Okay. I'll stay. You know they’re going to have to touch you, though, right?”
She looks away, nods slowly, and falls silent again until the doctor arrives, flanked by the same guilty-looking nurse you accosted twenty minutes ago. All emotion evaporates from Aubrey’s face as the doctor looks her over, checks on the wound in her side. From where you're sitting, it looks sore, but it's clean and well-stitched and on questioning, Aubrey denies being in much pain. There's something about her in this state that's unsettling. Robotic, you would say, if it didn't feel like an inappropriate word choice. Like she's going through the motions of something she's forced herself through a hundred times before.
“Can we try taking some bloods again?” The doctor looks expectantly at Aubrey, who hesitates, but then nods, reluctantly unfastening the top of her gown to expose the veins near her shoulder, as the nurse busies themself preparing a syringe from the trolley they carted in along with them. “Okay. Just relax, this time. It’ll only take a few seconds.”
Aubrey barely flinches when the needle pierces the vein. It is over and done with in a matter of seconds, the tiny pinprick of blood that remains covered with a little blue band-aid, which in turn disappears back under her gown as she re-fastens it at the collar.
“Excellent. Okay. We’ll need to check in a couple more times over the next few days, but if everything’s coming back clean, and you’re still healing well, we can talk about discharging you then. You will need someone to help you out at home, though. You’re not going to be able to do anything strenuous. You probably won’t want to, either. You’re going to be sore for a while, even with painkillers. We’ll give you a full discharge plan closer to the time.”
"And the psychology assessment?" You narrow your eyes at the doctor as he glances over at you. "It can wait until she's recovered some, yes?"
"...We can postpone it, for now," he replies, looking just as uncomfortable under your gaze as the nurse did, and turning to address Aubrey again instead. "Someone might have to come and ask you one or two questions as part of your debrief, but we can discuss arranging the full assessment for some time after you've been discharged." Aubrey nods wordlessly. An awkward silence hangs in the air, finally broken when the doctor clears his throat.
“Well, we’ll get these bloods off to the lab, and with any luck, you’ll be out of here ASAP.” Aubrey nods, again, and watches as the nurse de-gloves and they and the doctor exit the room. As soon as the door clicks shut, Aubrey slumps back against the bed and sighs heavily, clenching and unclenching her fists as she stares up at the ceiling.
"Well," you say, "I think that went okay."
"Yeah." She nods slightly and closes her eyes. "I'm not going to be able to work for a while, am I?"
"Not until you pass the health exams, no."
"Did I fuck up?"
The question is so uncharacteristically transparent that it throws you off for a moment.
"I was stupid and I let myself get shot, and now I’m gonna be stuck, doing nothing, just--being useless to everyone."
"Woah, woah, woah, slow down, there." You’re a fraction of a second from reaching out to take her hand before remembering her thing about being touched. "You didn't fuck up. It's okay. These things happen. We all have to be prepared for it.
"But I could have avoided it. I should have avoided it."
"Maybe, but that doesn't matter, now. We can't change what happened. You’ll learn from it, like we all do. There's no point beating yourself up about it, okay? Just rest up, and make sure you're at 100% before you come back." That... raises a question in your mind. "Are you--Do you live with anyone? You shouldn't strain yourself while you’re recovering."
You suck in a breath through your teeth. "Well, they might want to keep you here longer, then."
"No." Her eyes snap open and she sits up to look at you, a pained look flashing across her face briefly as she moves. "I'm not staying here. Don't let them keep me here. Please."
"Do you have any friends you could stay with?"
"Nobody that could stay with you? Nobody to help at all?"
“Then… you’re gonna have to stay.” You shrug helplessly. “They won’t let you go until you can look after yourself.”
“No. I’m not staying any longer than I have to.”
“Well, you’re gonna have to.”
“No. Please. There’s gotta be something--” She falters, there, tripping over the rest of whatever it is she wanted to say. You’re already flipping through a list of potential solutions in your head; unfortunately, they’re few and far between. There’s just one that stands out as the most viable.
You breathe in, hold it, and then exhale hard. You can’t believe you’re doing this. You really are your parents’ child.
"Okay. How about this: you can stay with me for a little while. Just until you’re good to go home on your own."
Aubrey’s expression changes immediately, though not quite in the way you’d expect; the fear is clouded over by suspicion.
"What's the catch?"
"No catch. I just want to make sure you're safe. It's either that, you stay here, or you go home alone and risk hurting yourself again. We already know option two is off the table, and I don't like option three. Neither will you, if you tear something and land yourself back in here."
She stares at you for a bit, like she's trying to figure out where the lie is or like she's waiting for you to drop the act. But she can't, and you don't, and eventually she falls back against the bed, defeated.
"Okay. Fine. As long as I can get some things from home first."
She looks down, fiddling with a lock of hair between her fingers, and then back up at you, after a few seconds.
"Can you come and see me again? While I'm still in here?"
"As long as I have time, sure." You nod firmly. “I’ll let you know. And if there’s anything you need, anything you want, just let me know. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Her eyes slip shut, and her whole body heaves with a deep sigh. "Look, I'm… tired. I'm gonna try and sleep for a bit."
"Should I go, if you want to sleep?" She nods, and you rise from the chair. "Okay. I'll see you later. You know how to get hold of me. Really, if anything comes up, if the doctors get shitty with you again, tell me. I'll come and talk to them."
"Okay," she murmurs. You shoot her one last look over your shoulder as you make for the door. You almost don't want to leave her; all of a sudden, you feel so very, very protective of her.
"I'll talk to you later, Aubrey."