He lifted his head up, ignoring the screams of the paramedics around him, searching for her.
Suddenly, he saw her looking straight at him, hair as bright as the sun, mouth red like wine, and when their eyes met, she smiled at him, one so warm and full of hope that he felt his heart swell and his eyes fill with tears. ~2,280 words
His eyes slowly blinked open, bursting through the crust that had sealed them shut, and took a sharp breath in. The sun was shining directly from above, through the clouds and trees, creating a canopy of light and dark that fell over his body like a patchwork quilt. It was only then when he realized that he was on his back, in the middle of the woods, looking up at the sky with little to no feeling below his waist.
With eyes fluttering in the sunlight, he tried to move his toes. He felt neither the press of his trainers nor the feel of the ground. As he moved up his body, trying next his calves, then his thighs, he finally understood that his legs, if they were still there, were senseless. He couldn’t feel them, he couldn't move them, and thus he had no means of getting up. He was weak, helpless, and for all he knew he could be bleeding out on the forest floor at this very moment. When he tried to think of how he got there, of what had happened to cause this paralysis in his legs, he found his memory gone.
Perhaps it was a side effect of this accident he had somehow gotten himself into. Maybe his memory would come back to him and he'd remember why he was in a forest, lying on his back, and staring at the sun. At least the sun warmed the skin on his face, the only area on his body that he could feel anything with.
He tried his fingers once, to see if they would move on command, and found that they could only twitch as if caught by an electrical spark. The rest of his body he didn't dare to move for fear of further injury. His neck and head he kept perfectly still, focusing only on his breathing and the sun, that wonderful, slowly retreating sun.
As he stayed there, for hours or minutes he did not know, his lips grew cracked and dry, the crust on his eyelids (blood, he had surmised) grew heavier and heavier, and soon even his breathing started to slow to a quiet rustle, so quiet that even the fluttering of the leaves in the sunlit breeze drowned it out.
As he pushed the blood up and out of his mouth with his tongue, wetting his lips with his own dwindling life, he began to accept his fate. No chance of rescue, no hope of a miracle, and no desire to live. He closed his eyes, and began to count his increasingly laboured breathing, waiting for the inevitable to come and swallow him whole.
Even under closed lids, he could tell when the shadow passed over him, removing the sun from his face and the last thing he had ever wanted to feel. Yet when that shadow moved, when the sun came back to his face and warmed him once more, he coughed. This was no grim reaper, no death that he sought, but something else that denied him of his end.
Through plugged ears, he faintly heard a voice, a woman's voice, speaking in words that seemed to come from far away, muffled as if by a great distance. He groaned, trying to open his eyes only to find that the strength to do so, not the will or the desire to, had already left his body and bleed into the earth.
He felt a warm hand touch his forehead, more muffled words, before all feeling stopped, all thinking and all awareness ceased, and he passed out.
“Mr...ith,” a voice said, rousing him from his rest, “-an you...me?”
He moaned back, trying to give an answer, trying to find his sense, and found himself only swallowing more blood.
“Mr. Smith?” the voice asked again, this time much clearer.
Was that his name?
He opened his eyes, finding them free of dried blood, and saw a paramedic hovering over him, a bag of blood held in red hands. Was that for him? Was that his own blood staining the poor man?
He nodded his head, decided that if they wanted to call him Mr. Smith, then he'd let them. He looked up at the canopy of light once more as he felt himself hoisted up into the air, presumably on a gurney, feeling the sun leave his face as they moved him into the shade, and felt the loss almost as palpable as that of his legs. Something had been taken from him and there was nothing that could be done about it now. Eventually, he knew, there would be hospital lights instead of the sun, central air instead of cool breezes, and the cold hands of nurses instead of the warm hand of--
He stopped all that he could for a moment, hurriedly looking around for the woman with warm hands, the one who had talked so sweetly to him, for even as he was unconscious he had heard every word, right down to the depths of his soul. He lifted his head up, ignoring the screams of the paramedics around him, searching for her.
Suddenly, he saw her looking straight at him, hair as bright as the sun, mouth red like wine, and when their eyes met, she smiled at him, one so warm and full of hope that he felt his heart swell and his eyes fill with tears. She was the very meaning of beautiful and, as the medics injected him with something which, apparently, knocked him unconscious, his last image was of her and the life she placed within him.
The words amputation, no response below the waist, spinal cord damage, prosthetics, donors, blood transfusions, and all other sort of technical, medical jargon was flown around him by doctors and nurses who seemed to think that he cared. Instead, with all of the drugs and the cocktails of pain killers coursing through his veins, his brain was too clouded, too off and away in some other place where he could still see angels with bright hair and full lips behind closed eyes, to even think about the ramifications of what had happened to him.
For that matter, he didn't even know what had happened to him. The police had eventually come to talk with him, to see if he could remember anything about "his attack," as they called it, but as he continued to tell them through slurred words and half-formed sentences, he couldn't remember a damned thing and, if they would be so kind, to stop pestering him about it.
And, furthermore, he refused to use the word “crippled” or let anyone else use it to describe him. He would not, under any circumstances, allow his self-pity to get in the way of his life. Even so, for all he knew, his new life had just begun when he had first opened his eyes to the light shining through in the forest, caressing his eyes and his senses like a new lover lying in his bed. Everything before that, before that forest, before that woman, was gone, and he knew it as if by a feeling rooted deep inside of him.
John Smith was a new man, mangled though he was, and he'd have to reinvent himself.
For days on end he slept on and off, the drugs doing some to combat the phantom pain he felt from his lost limbs, and the less he looked down his body to see flat sheets, the better. Nurses, doctors, and specialists, they all came and went, but the drugs were never increased and his pain, his suffering, his longing for the sun continued. Stuck in a controlled hell, he lied there, more upright than completely flat, and hurried up and waited.
One morning – or so it must have been for the curtains were open and the light of the sun was finally shinning once more upon his face -- he turned towards the door and, for the first time, saw no nurse or doctor but a beautiful woman with clothes slightly torn and ragged.
Standing in that doorway was the woman who had saved him, who had given him a new life, who had breathed hope and desire back into his lungs without even touching his lips. She was here, right in front of him, and she looked nervous.
“Hiya,” she said, worrying her hands in front of her.
“Hi,” he replied back.
“I'm, ah” she started, looking anywhere but his face, “Rose. My name's Rose Tyler.”
“Rose,” he said, smiling for what may have been the only time in his life. “Nice to meet you. I'm, well, John Smith. I guess.”
Rose tentatively stepped through the door, her feet now placed slightly inside of his room. “You don't know who you are?”
John shook his head. “Not one clue.”
“Oh, well, I'm sorry.”
He chuckled. “Don't worry about it. I don't really care.”
They stayed like that, her an inch inside of his room and he sitting up in bed, for an endless, awkward, and wonderful moment.
“Won't you come inside?” he asked. “Stay with me for a bit?”
"Don't you have someone to be with you?" she asked gently, coming around to the other side of the hospital bed, the one where his arm was not covered in bandages, IVs, and other monitoring equipment.
He shook his head, looking down at where his legs should be. The admission, more than his loss of limbs, felt like a failure. First he couldn't remember anything about his life before the forest, before finding her, and now there was no one to claim him, to say that he belonged with them, either as part of a family or a partner. He was, in every way, alone.
Then, a warm, shy, and very much alive hand took his own and squeezed gently, as if afraid to break it. He looked up, finding Rose sitting by the bed in a plastic chair, her hand in his. Her smile was just as nervous and heart-warming as the gesture, one so insecure hat he wished he could erase it completely from her shining face.
"I'm alone too," she said. "I mean, I still have me mum and my ex, but I left."
John's thoughts perked up at the mention of an ex. "You left?"
"Yeah," Rose nodded, "I wanted something more than being a shopgirl. Know what I mean?"
He grasped her fingers tighter within his hand, holding onto them with all his strength, still only managing a soft squeeze. "Yeah, I know," he replied, forgetting the fact that prior to all of this, his memory was lost. He knew nothing yet still he understood what it meant to run away from something, to try and escape from a future he did not want. He understood exactly what she meant.
They stayed silent for a while, their hands still held together gently as if through some binding force, until his morning dose of pain killers were given to him by a nurse and his eyes grew heavy. Even if they helped with the pain, both real and psychological, he wanted one more minute, one more hour with this Rose before he nodded off and, most likely, never saw her again.
Just as the nurse was leaving, so was the warm hand that covered his, and fear suddenly overtook him. In a desperate attempt to keep Rose with him, he opened his eyes with all his might, fighting desperately against the medications that ran happily throughout his body, and clenched his fingers around her retreating hand. He carefully pulled her back to him. At her confused look, he felt a little bit of colour flash across his face. How foolish of him, he chastised himself. Who would want to stay with a damaged man such as he, one whom she barely knew? Just because she had saved his life, had called the paramedics on her mobile while passing by on an empty back-road, never meant that she would stick with him.
As his eyes closed, as the pain medications played with his brain, he heard the distant scratch of a chair and the soft warmth of a palm cupping his cheek.
And then darkness.
John woke mid-morning to find that nothing had changed: his legs were still gone, his pain was still constant, and Rose was still holding his hand.
He smiled down at her, even though she couldn't see him with her head resting against the bed like that, and suddenly he felt more alive than ever before.
“Thank you,” he whispered, half hoping to rouse her.
When she brought her head up to look at him, she smiled back.
“You're welcome,” she said, sitting straight up in her chair and used her other hand to run it along his arm. “I didn't want you to be alone when you woke up.”
“Stay with me?” he asked softly, the worry in his voice evident even to him.
Rose pulled her chair closer to the bed and nodded.
"Thank you," he said again, rubbing small circles into her hand. The effort required to do that one small task, to feel the silk of her skin against his dulled and pained thumb, made everything seem worth it and the rest of the world disappeared but for the two of them.
“Thank you,” he repeated once more, his throat tightening as the emotions broke free from the chains he had placed around them.
She tilted her head slightly, moving closer to him. "For what?" she asked.
John's lips quivered slightly.
“I'm so glad I met you, Rose Tyler.”