Double Shifting by Michaela Grey

 

1

The first thingDima registered was how much his head hurt. It was an all-encompassing ache, starting somewhere on the right side near his temple and radiating out and down. His neck hurt too, his ribs sharply protesting when he took a breath.

The second thing he registered was an insistent beeping. It cut through the fog in his head, drilling right to the center of his brain and making him flinch.

“St-stop,” he whispered. He tried to lift a hand but it wouldn’t move, something holding it fast. Was he paralyzed? Fear jolted through him and he drew a pain-soaked breath.

“Don’t move,” a gentle baritone ordered, and the voice was so calming, so familiar somehow that Dima found himself relaxing in spite of the panic still jangling his nerves. “I’ve called the nurse, just don’t move.”

Dima tried to open his eyes. The room was dimly lit but even so his retinas felt seared, and he clamped his eyelids shut again, biting back a groan.

The door swung open and crepe-soled shoes squeaked, coming closer.

“I think the beeping is hurting his head,” the same voice said, pitched low and soft. “Can it be turned down?”

“Of course,” a woman said briskly, and a few seconds later, the beeping receded into background noise. Dima swallowed the grateful lump in his throat, but he was asleep again before he could thank the stranger.

* * *

The next timehe woke up, his head still hurt but it didn’t feel quite as ready to crack open and let his brain spill out. Dima took careful stock. His ribs felt broken—probably at least two of them, he decided. And something was still keeping his hand pinned to the bed. Dima tried to move it, and the weight lifted from it abruptly.

“Hey, you’re awake,” the same voice said. Dima wanted to know what he looked like, who he was, but he was afraid to open his eyes again. “I had them turn the lights as low as possible. It looked like they were hurting your head.”

Dima cracked one cautious eyelid. The room was almost completely dark, illuminated by light from the hall and running lights set in the floor along the wall, glowing faintly. Dima opened his other eye and turned to the source of the voice.

It was a man about his age with dark circles under his brown eyes. His five o’clock shadow was almost shockingly dark against pale skin, dark curly hair cut close on the sides and longer on top. Mobile brows were drawn together in worry as he met Dima’s gaze, but he tried for a smile.

“Hi,” he whispered.

“Wh—” Dima cleared his throat. “Who are you?”

* * *

The next severalminutes were absolute chaos. The man hit the nurse call button several times and four nurses invaded the room, crowding around the bed and pushing the stranger back to give them room to work. Dima’s hand felt cold when the man let go of it, but he submitted to the examinations, answering the questions obediently.

“How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Four. Now three. Five.”

“What’s your name?”

“Dima Lebedev.” He had no idea where that answer came from, but the nurse just nodded.

“What year is it, Dima?”

“2012,” Dima said immediately.

“And do you know where you are?”

Dima hesitated. “I thought… Finland, but… you’re speaking English. What’s going on?”

One of the nurses patted his hand. “The doctor will be in to talk to you soon. Hang tight for me.”

Several of the nurses left and the man scooted his chair back to the bed. He didn’t try to take Dima’s hand again, something which Dima was faintly grateful for. His eyebrows were pinched even closer together.

“You really don’t remember me?” he asked softly. There was something in his voice but Dima was too exhausted and hurting to parse out what.

“Should I?” he said instead.

The remaining nurse, checking his IV, snorted. “Considering you’re married to him, I would hope so, honey.”

Dima turned to look at the man, who suddenly couldn't seem to meet his eyes. “We’re married?” he asked, disbelieving.

“My name is Rory O’Brien,” the man offered. “It’s, um. 2020, and we—we play together. For the Boston Otters.”

Dima stared at him. “We play in the NHL?”

Rory nodded.

“And we’re married?”

Rory’s mouth worked, and he shot a look at the nurse.

“Alright, alright,” she said cheerfully. “I’ll get out of your hair. Doctor’s on his way.” She pointed at Rory. “You’re going to have to leave at ten, visiting hours will be over.”

She disappeared before either of them could protest, and Rory scooted another inch closer.

“Why don’t I remember you?” Dima whispered. He felt impossibly small and exhausted, and he wanted—he held out a hand without thinking, and Rory grabbed it immediately.

“I don’t know,” he said. His thumb rubbed rhythmic patterns on the back of Dima’s hand. “Maybe the doctor can explain it.”

“Don’t leave,” Dima said, hating how fragile he sounded, but Rory just squeezed his hand.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

The door opened again and a small, brown-skinned man bustled inside. He was balding, with round glasses set on a snub nose. “Mr. Lebedev,” he said, consulting the chart at the end of the bed. “I’m Dr. Daniel Hernandez. How are you feeling?”

“My head hurts and I can’t remember the last eight years,” Dima said miserably. He was holding Rory’s hand so tightly it must have hurt, but Rory was making no complaints.

Dr. Hernandez hummed, flipping a page. “Temporary post-traumatic amnesia is not uncommon, especially considering the severity of the injury you sustained. Mr. O'Brien, keep the shocks to a minimum—immersion in present-day life will not help him remember.”

“Temporary,” Dima said, grasping at the lifeline. “You mean it’ll come back?”

“It should,” Dr. Hernandez said. He scribbled something on the paper, then rounded the bed and pulled a small penlight from his pocket. He peered into both Dima’s eyes, then listened to his heart and lungs. “You’ve got a bad concussion, so no electronic screens for the next two weeks. That includes phones, tablets, and television. No reading either. After that, fifteen minutes a day, but if your head starts to hurt again, stop immediately. Someone will need to be with you to observe your symptoms for the first twenty four hours after release, to make sure you’re not getting worse.”

“I’ll do it,” Rory said immediately.

Dima said nothing, his head spinning.

“You also have two broken ribs and a sprained wrist,” Dr. Hernandez continued. “The wrist needs to be kept immobile for at least a week but it should heal quickly. Your ribs are wrapped. The bandages need to be removed once daily to give your body room to breathe, then reapplied.”

“I can’t remember all this,” Dima said helplessly. His head was aching and he just wanted to go back to sleep.

“I’ve got it,” Rory said, squeezing his hand again, and Dima relaxed. Rory had it. Rory would take care of him. Dima didn’t even know who he was, but somehow he had absolutely no doubt that Rory would remember every word the doctor said and follow it perfectly.

When the doctor left, Dima looked at Rory, who gazed steadily back. His brown eyes were full of worry, but he managed a smile as Dima stared at him, searching for anything familiar, anything that would trigger a memory.

He liked Rory’s face, he decided. Either he hadn’t shaved in a few days or he preferred stubble, Dima didn’t know, but even several days of growth did nothing to disguise the dimples that flashed when Rory smiled. His nose was long, his mouth wide, and warmth shone from him. Dima wanted to curl up against him, let Rory hold him and keep the world at bay, and he was a little shocked by the impulse. He didn’t know this man.

Rory’s smile slipped and he rubbed his face when Dima said nothing. “I’m—I need coffee. Do you want some?”

“Three creams—”

“Two sugars,” Rory finished, standing. His smile was tired. “I know. Be right back.”