Read Anterograde Online

Authors: Kallysten

Anterograde (11 page)

“Eli,
I think I need to go home,” he said, trembling.

Eli
let out a shaky breath. “Yes, yes, you do, you idiot. Let’s go.”

Eli
didn’t let go of Ca
l
den’s wrist as they went down and retrieved his
jacket. He
had to
let go in the
car,
but he held on to him again as soon as they arrived
home. Only after closing the door behind them did he
truly
let go and
say, “You’re going straight to bed. Up you go.”

Ca
l
den’s answer
was a shaky nod. He hadn’t said a word since the roof, although he sometimes
mouthed words or shook his head. Eli followed him up to his bedroom. He stood
by the door, arms crossed and staring at his shoes as Ca
l
den stripped
down to his
boxers
and climbed into bed.

“How
long?”
Eli
asked then, walking over to the window to close the curtains.

“Nine
days,” Ca
l
den murmured.

Eli
clenched his fists twice. “Why?”

He
knew the answer, but he needed to hear it.

“I
just had to know,” Ca
l
den said blankly. “I needed to know how long I could
function
.”

Eli
snorted. “I don’t call this functioning, Ca
l
den. You’ve been seeing her for days, haven’t you?”

Ca
l
den was silent
for so long that Eli thought he’d fallen asleep.

“I
could ignore her at first,” he finally said. “I knew she wasn’t there. But then.
I miss her. I wanted her to be there, even when she said horrible things.”

“And
because you wanted her there, you couldn’t ignore her anymore,” Eli finished
for him. “And you still didn’t think to yourself, ‘hey, maybe I should stop
pretending and actually sleep.’”

“No.
I told myself it was worth it if I got to remember a little longer.”

Eli
sighed. “Remember what, Ca
l
den?”

“You.
Remember that you live here now. That you… you take care of me. Even when I’m
an idiot.”

The
words were unexpected. Ca
l
den resented being ‘taken care of’ with a passion. He
allowed it because he understood it was necessary, but he was vocal in
expressing how much he hated it. And now this…

“You
are an idiot,”
Eli
said gruffly as he walked to the door. “Sleep now.”

“Could
you…”

Eli
paused and looked back. Ca
l
den was little more than a shadow buried under the
sheets at the far end of the bed.

“Could
I what?”

“Stay?
It’s easier to ignore her if you’re here.”

After
a second of hesitation, Eli walked back over, toeing his shoes off and sitting
on the bed with his back to the headboard.

“I’ll
stay until you’re asleep,” he said quietly. “And then you’ll have a nice, long
rest. And when you wake up, I am going to yell at you until I lose my voice,
and it’s going to feel so, so very good.”

Ca
l
den shifted
under the sheets, turning to face Eli.

“You’re
going to yell at me for something I won’t remember?”

“I
most certainly will. And once you’re sufficiently chastised, I’ll make you
write about it in your diary so you won’t play that stupid game ever again.”

“Why
not do it now?” Ca
l
den asked. “Get it over with.”

“Because
I don’t
want to have
to compete with a
ghost
for your attention. And because you should be
sleeping already. Now shut up and close your eyes.”

Ca
l
den did close
his eyes, but after only seconds he was speaking again.

“Threaten
to leave,” he murmured. “If you want me to take you seriously, just say you’ll
leave if I try this again.”

Eli
opened his mouth and closed it again without uttering a word. Was this it? The
ultimate weapon against Ca
l
den’s stubbornness? A threat to leave him to his fate?
Eli could never do it, but could he lie convincingly about it?

“You’d
know it wasn’t true,” he said, trying to turn the words into a joke.

“No,
I wouldn’t know,” Ca
l
den said, still as quietly. “It’d be the most
terrifying threat.”

Eli
didn’t have an answer. But he did know that he wouldn’t hang this particular
threat over Ca
l
den. Not for this, and not for anything.
He wasn’t that cruel
.

It
was only moments before Ca
l
den’s breathing evened out in sleep.

It
was hours before Eli stood and left the room.

 

(
next chronological chapter
)

 

September 27
th

 

 

It
comes out of nowhere.

One
second,
Calden is rolling his eyes while Petters
is going over the assignments for the afternoon; he’s given Calden a broken arm
that needs a metal rod inserted.
It’s a
waste of Calden’s time and skills, and everyone in the room knows it. Maybe
he’ll grab one of the interns and supervise while he or she performs the
surgery.

The
next moment, he’s looking at Eli and it strikes him, like lightning out of a clear
blue sky. He never cared about kissing, but now he really wants to. Even
better: he’s allowed. Isn’t he?

It’s
still terribly new. Only a little more than a day for Calden, less than a month
for Eli. But it’s there, in the way Eli looks at Calden, in that little glint
in his eyes that’s all at once possessive and affectionate—that glint that says
he knows Calden is annoyed and planning a token rebellion against Petters.

Calden
doesn’t care where he is or why. He doesn’t care that there are people around
them
. All that stops him is that he
never asked who, if anyone, knows about their
relationship, and even that is a flimsy excuse.

While
Petters keeps rambling about supplies and proper procedures, Calden pays him no
attention whatsoever and shifts closer to Eli. They’re both standing against
the wall at the back of the room, and waiting is torture. At long last, Petters
ends the meeting, and people start drifting out. Calden turns sideways. Eli looks
at him, questioning silently. Seconds trickle by and at last, at long last
they’re alone. When Calden cups Eli’s face with slightly shaky hands, Eli’s
expression softens, his smile a little shy all of a sudden, his eyes a little
darker, pupils dilated wide before Calden even leans in.

For
a moment, their lips are close but not touching and they breathe the same air,
share the same space, like a bubble suspended in the
staff room,
keeping the rest of the world at bay. Eli breaks the tension by raising a hand
to the back of Calden’s head. It settles at the nape of his neck with an
intense familiarity, fingers tangling into Calden’s curls.

All
it takes is a light pressure from Eli’s hand, and their mouths come together
for a chaste kiss. Calden’s eyes flutter closed, and he focuses on the feel of Eli’s
lips against his. They’re as soft as he imagined—and, oh, how often he’s
imagined this… He’s lost count of how many times he watched Eli’s tongue flick
out between those lips, an unconscious gesture that nonetheless rarely failed
to make Calden’s heartbeat jump. He had all the pains in the world not giving
himself away. But now… now he doesn’t need to hide anymore.

That
very same tongue now traces the seam of Calden’s lips, seeking entrance. Before
Calden can grant it, the door clicks open and breaks the moment. They come
apart immediately, hands falling away. Calden blinks a few times. Eli is still
smiling, but his cheeks are flushed. Calden suspects it’s as much from arousal
as embarrassment. A loud cough draws their attention to Petters, standing by
the door.

“If
you have better things to do than your job,” he says dryly, “feel free to go home
at any time.”

Calden
doesn’t care what Petters or anyone else thinks about him and his choice of
romantic partner. But he has no clue if he made Eli uncomfortable, no frame of
reference to know what he thinks right now, so he turns a questioning look toward
him. Eli’s eyes are crinkled from smiling so much. He places a hand to the
small of Calden’s back and gently directs him toward the exit.

“Work
comes first,” he murmurs, low enough that only Calden will hear.

It’s
a terrible innuendo… or is it a promise?

Calden
approaches the door. Petters’ eyes are still on him, and his disapproving look
is more than Calden can bear.

“Anything
you want to say?” he asks, stopping to stare at Petters.

Petters
huffs
. “Nothing I haven’t said before.”

“Don’t
,” Eli say as he steps closer, until his shoulder is
pressed to Calden’s. The expression on his features is closed off when moments
ago he was so happy, and Calden’s annoyance only increases.

“We
don’t require your blessing,” Calden says archly.

“My
blessing for what?” Petters asks. “Ruining the life of the one person you ever
looked like you cared about?”

“Cut
it out,” Eli says in his hardest, coldest voice. “You’ve said your piece before,
and I already told you it doesn’t concern you.”

“But
he doesn’t even care!” Petters snaps, his gaze turning to Eli with something
that looks startlingly like sympathy. “He doesn’t realize what any of it means
for you. How can you have a relationship with someone who doesn’t—”

“Enough!”
Eli glares at Petters for all he’s worth
.
“For you to think Calden can’t do his job even after he’s proven you wrong is
one thing, but if you want to take things down the personal road, we’re going
to Langton right now.”

Petters
looks affronted. He puffs up his chest and sputters.

“What
I want is for you two to act like professionals! You may have given up on your
medical career to play babysitter, Doctor Wright, but if you intend to stand in
this room and wear scrubs, you’ll act like you belong here and keep your
displays of affection out of the hospital.”

The
‘babysitter’ jab causes Calden to see red, and he starts to take a step forward,
but Eli stops him by resting a hand on his chest.

“The
meeting was over,” he says coolly. “The room was empty. You came back in here.
What for? To catch us in the act? Lieben and Forsythe were whispering to each
other and playing footsie under the conference table during the entire meeting
and you never said a word to them about acting like professionals.”

“Of
course he didn’t,” Calden sneers. “All he wants is an excuse to get rid of me.
But he’ll have to try harder than that.”

Petters
is still protesting when Calden marches out of the room, Eli right on his
heels.

“I
should talk to Langton anyway,” Eli mutters. “I’m fucking tired of it.”

Calden
knows Eli means Petters’ attitude, but he still winces inwardly, some of Petters’
words ringing out too clearly in his mind. What if Eli tires of more than that?
Despite what Petters said, Calden does care about Eli’s career. Calden did a
damn good job on his arm after a demon’s axe severed it, and he knows for a
fact that nothing stops Eli from wielding surgical instruments anymore—nothing
but himself. First he used his arm as an excuse not to practice and became an
administrator, and now he uses Calden as an excuse to barely even do that
anymore.

“You
can’t talk to Langton now,” Calden says decisively. “We’re due in the OR.”

“Right,”
Eli says. “I’ll go when you’re done.”

“No,
when
you
’re done. Today you operate, I watch.”

Eli
laughs hard enough to earn a reproachful glare from a passing nurse.

“Don’t
be stupid. I haven’t operated in years. I can’t.”

“Your
arm is fine,” Calden says, unfazed. “And surgery is hardly anything you can
forget. Look at me.”

The
attempt at humor is met with a flat look. Eli doesn’t say another word while Calden
introduces both of them to their patient and does the last check-ups. When
Calden starts scrubbing his hands and forearms, Eli is at his side, cleaning up
as well, though he says pointedly, “I always scrub before I accompany you in
the OR. It doesn’t mean I’m going to touch a scalpel or anything else.”

“Why
not?” Calden insists. “I didn’t reattach your arm so that you’d fill paperwork
all day, or be anyone’s babysitter, let alone mine. You’re a doctor. You’re a
surgeon
.
And you’re going to—”

“Leave
you to deal with this,” Eli cuts in, “and go talk to Langton. You don’t need me
to fix a broken arm.”

And
with that, he rinses his arms and hands, dries them, and walks out without a
backward glance before Calden has figured out what to say. He’s about to walk
after him when a nurse peeks into the room to tell him they’re ready for him in
the OR. If she thinks anything of Eli’s absence, she doesn’t say.

Eli’s
absence, however, is all Calden can think of as he makes the incision, realigns
the shattered bone, screws in the metal plate, and works on tiny sutures he
perfected under his father’s guidance long before he entered medical school.

It’s
not that Calden needs Eli here. He’s not even on his second day awake, and fatigue
is nothing more than a slight ache in his knees. He doesn’t need anyone to keep
an eye on him, the way the diary said Eli does. But he’s been by Calden’s side
ever since Calden woke up, and the idea that he’s not now, that he went away
because of something Calden said, sits like a dead weight in the pit of
Calden’s stomach.

What
if he doesn’t come back?

The
thought strikes out of nowhere, and for a few seconds Calden stares at the knot
he just tied, needing to cut yet unable to move, paralyzed by the fear of being
alone, a fear he never experienced before he woke up and learned he and Eli are
a couple.

“Doctor
Hayes?” one of the nurses says after a few seconds. “Is something wrong?”

Shaking
his head is as much an answer as it is an attempt to shake his fears away. He
finishes his work and steps back, drawing the mask off his face, rattling off
aftercare instructions the nurses don’t really need. He accompanies his patient
to the recovery room, and that’s where Eli joins him a few minutes later.
Calden’s heart jumps to his throat at the sight of him, and it’s all he can do
not to throw his arms around Eli and kiss him desperately.

“I sat
down with Langton,” Eli says grimly as they walk out together.

“And?”
Calden manages to say.

“Mixed
results. He promised to talk to Petters about singling us out, but he made the
point that public displays of affection are prohibited by the handbook. Which I
should know seeing how I updated the damn thing not even a year ago.”

He
smiles self-deprecatingly at that, but Calden doesn’t have it in him to smile
back, not when that fear is still lingering on the edge of his consciousness,
like a danger just out of sight.

“Did
you like that?” he asks quietly as they enter the deserted staff room.
“Rewriting the handbook. Being an administrator.”

Eli
shrugs and helps himself to a cup of coffee. “Rewriting the handbook was
boring, but the rest is all right.”

Calden
lowers himself into a chair and watches him for a few seconds before asking,
“And being a babysitter? How boring is that?”

Sighing,
Eli rolls his eyes. “Forget what Petters said. He’s an idiot.”

“But
you could do so much more,” Calden insists. “You could be a surgeon again
instead of—”

“I
don’t want to be a surgeon,” Eli interrupts, setting his cup of coffee down
with enough force that the coffee sloshes over the rim and onto the counter. “Me
not working in an operating room or in the field anymore has absolutely nothing
to do with your situation.”

“But
you do work in an OR, don’t you? You stand there and chaperone me. How boring
is that for you? How long until you realize you want more than that? More than
me? How can this go anywhere when I force you through the same motions over and
over? This isn’t a relationship, it’s an infinity loop, and you’re the one
trapped in it.”

The
words come out of nowhere, or maybe out of Calden’s newfound fear that Eli will
leave. How could he not leave, really, when he has more reasons to go than to
stay?

“Right,”
Eli says with a small snort. “Clearly you’ve been tricking me for four months,
and I have no idea what living with someone who has your condition is like,
because obviously I’m an idiot.”

“I
didn’t say—”

“You
know what? This is one conversation I could do without having over and over.
Luckily I know just the thing for that. Come on, we’re getting out of here.”

He
strides through the room like a man marching to battle, takes Calden’s hand and
pulls him to his feet. Ca
l
den offers a token protest at being dragged by the
hand like a child toward the changing room. Eli’s answer is to roll his eyes at
him. He only lets go so that they can get back into their street clothes.

Signing
out takes mere moments. Apparently, everyone is used to Calden’s shifts being
shortened without warning. Eli doesn’t say a word as he drives them across town
to a tattoo shop Calden hasn’t visited in years. Except that he did, he
realizes with a jolt, thinking of the tattoos on his arm and chest.

Soon,
Eli is in the tattoo chair, his chest bare, his expression determined. Ca
l
den remains
close, his eyes wide and his heart beating too fast under the two fingers
rubbing absently as his chest. He just heard Eli tell Leo
n
what he wants
inked into his skin, but he still finds it hard to believe.

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