Imprint
Author: AnnmarieM

Chapter 4
Just pull your arm out of my bed, would you?

Two weeks later

Fifteen days exactly. It had been two long, stressful weeks and his condition had still not changed. Ali was not sure whether to continue hoping in vain for a miraculous recovery, or just begin the grieving process. He wasn’t dead yet, after all. But he wasn’t very alive, either.

The signs were all there, she had realised one night while lying on her bed and waiting for sleep to claim her. The dark circles under his eyes, the shifty gaze and tense movements, as though he felt someone would attack him at any moment. She wasn’t sure what exactly these signs meant, but they had been there. Hell, he had even told her outright but she had just ignored him. She felt tears prickle her eyes now when she thought back to that particular mistake, about how she might have been able to prevent it if only she had believed him. But no. She had stupidly assumed that everything was about her and had never thought that maybe that was just his way of asking for help.

He had asked for her help. She had refused to give it. And now, he was as good as dead.

It was her fault. Maybe not all of it, but if she had not been so blind then she would have seen, she would have understood. She would have gone with him that day when he decided to skip school. She would have offered her support and maybe she could have seen the car before it hit him; maybe she could have saved him. And if she did not save him, then at least she would be with him. She deserved it more than he did, after all. All that time he had honestly been distancing himself for ‘her own good’ while she had been self-centred and arrogant.

Ali let out a heavy, wearied sigh as she entered the flower shop near the hospital. She had already been in here so often that the owner knew her well. He gave her a friendly smile as she walked in and the little bell above the door tinkered. She came to renew Sean’s flowers every three days. Sometimes they were daffodils or daisies, tulips even. Once she had been daring and bought roses. “He must be a very lucky young man,” the jovial shopkeeper had commented with a suggestive wink that day, causing her to blush. Today, however, she stuck with daffodils. They were pure and white; everything she wished she could be, for him just as much as herself.

When she’d paid for the flowers she left the shop, saying a polite goodbye, and began to make her way to the hospital. The sun was already beginning to sink, casting long and menacing shadows along the pavement. It got dark so early nowadays. Although autumn was still in full bloom at the moment, it would wither soon and winter was only too happy to take its place. Ali sighed quietly to herself, keeping her head down as she hurried through the emptying streets. She’d been a mess lately. Ever since Sean had almost been killed…she could not sleep well, she could barely eat, and she could not concentrate. Liz came with her a few times to the hospital, to provide some form of silent comfort.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she had said on various occasions. “You couldn’t have done anything to stop it. It was just coincidence.” Ali would have liked to believe that, but sometimes she felt like there was more to it: that it was more than just coincidence. The day it happened Sean had been trying to explain something to her. Maybe those two events were somehow related. She shook her head solemnly as she strode through the hospital car park, to the front doors. Things did not happen simply because of ‘coincidence’. Things happened for reasons, and something did not come out of nothing. Ali White was a logical girl. She lived by rules and facts, refused to believe in magic and generally had a lot of common sense. Yet funnily enough, she was ruled by her emotions. It just depended on who won the internal battle inside her – her head or her heart.

And when it came to Sean, it was always her heart.

As she entered the hospital, signed in at the reception desk and was escorted up to the third floor to the recovery unit, she wondered why. Why was it that he could make her do almost anything just with one of his rare smiles? Why did she feel so lonely, without him sitting beside her in class? The invisible hold he had over her made her curious sometimes. And sometimes it hurt as well, knowing that he would never feel the same way about her. But she could live with it. She’d lasted all these years, after all.

They showed her to the room and led her inside, to the stark white ceilings and walls and the various beds dotted around the ward with curtains to protect the privacy of whoever was behind them. She found his bed easily and after being told that she would only have ten minutes at the most, slipped behind the curtain. His head was propped up on a pillow, a mess of dark hair splayed out across pure white linen like a splatter of ink. His gaunt face, white to match the bedding and shadowed ominously, looked fragile and yet his expression disturbed even in sleep. Large indigo smudges defined closed eyes and ivory lashes that contrasted with the pale skin. He looked unwell, she thought to herself sadly.

She walked to his bed and replaced the daffodils she had bought in the vase on his bedside table. A few ‘get well soon’ cards were littered on the table from various people at school. A few she recognised from the boys that Sean sometimes talked to, and some from girls who she didn’t know. They didn’t matter though. Did they really care whether he woke up or not? Did they come to visit every few days, antagonise the nurses into updating them of any changes to his condition? Ignoring the cards, she sat down in the seat and waited. Waited for what, she wasn’t sure. It was quiet, all except for the steady beep from various machines. She let out a sigh as she gazed at him, wishing that none of this had ever happened, wishing that he would just wake up now and tell her it was all over. That he would wake up and tell her she wouldn’t have to wait anymore.

“I should’ve gone with you that day,” she murmured softly, to herself or his unconscious body she wasn’t sure. “You tried to tell me, and I just ignored you. I’m sorry.” It was still silent so, keeping her eyes fixed on the steady rise and fall of his chest, she continued. “It’s been quiet at school lately without you, even if you never used to say that much in the first place. I’ve really missed you, you know.” She reached out tentatively and curled her fingers around his cold hand, clutching it tightly. “Please wake up…because I’m scared that you never will.”

She waited then with baited breath in the silence that buzzed in her ears and reverberated through her head. It was a desperate hope that somehow he had heard her and would suddenly wake up, just like the cliché. The logical part of her already knew that it would not happen, but she wanted to hope.

In the end though, nothing happened. She felt frustrated; desolate. He simply lay there unchanged – an old and worn rag doll trying to be put back together again. She stood up from the chair slowly and let go of his hand with a small sigh, her heart heavy and weighed down with the disappointment. Then she left his bed quickly and quietly.

As the curtain drifted back to shroud the bed and its occupant, a finger – ashen in colour – twitched once in the dying sun.

*****

The first thing that Sean felt as his consciousness was slowly dragged back from the realm of oblivion was a dull ache that started somewhere where he guessed his legs were, and then slowly worked its way up his body until it manifested into a full-blown headache. Although he was consciously aware of the pain and the throbbing that seemed to be just about everywhere, he could not see anything other than darkness. It took him a long time to finally realise that his eyes were closed. After a long struggle however, he managed to crack one of them open and now a small stream of blinding white light filtered into his awareness. It reminded him of too-early mornings spent listening to the radio alarm clock blaring loudly yet not having the energy to reach over and switch it off. Maybe this was what was happening now. The only difference being that everything ached and he couldn’t seem to move.

Finally, after a lot of effort, he managed to peel  open his eyes and persevered through the annoying bright light that threatened to blind him. His vision wavered, blurred and then gradually began to clear into a stark white ceiling as the pain faded slightly. If it did not hurt to breathe, he would have let out a sigh of relief. However as his awareness continued to return, so did memories and with them a painful bolt of realisation. He suddenly realised that this was evidentially not any normal school morning, and nor was it a weekend. There was a reason behind the pain, the headache, the temporary paralysis. And dammit, he would prefer school over this any day.

That horrible screeching of brakes rebounded inside his head that was threatening to burst and he could still see a flash of the front of that car that had come careening around the corner before he had been hit. He tried to blink away the memory, tried to forget and focus on the present moment, but the fear and the pain still lingered and festered in his mind. Using all of his willpower, he shakily flexed one hand and tried to reach out in vain. His body was obviously damaged quite badly, but he could not feel anything except for the physical pain. After a little while, Sean finally gave up trying to move. With an inward sigh he closed his eyes again and waited for something to happen. Well, guess I’m stuck here for the time being…

Yet ‘the time being’ was not too long, only another half an hour. By that time, the pain had already faded into a dull ache and Sean was surprised to say the least. He had been run over and had almost died. Surely it was supposed to hurt more than this? Well, he preferred not to question and accepted the fact gratefully. Now, he found he was able to move his limbs and he felt relieved. Digging his elbows into the surface he happened to be lying on (which he still could not pinpoint) he ignored the sudden stabbing return of pain in his arms and shakily managed to push himself up, grappling with his hands and after a few minutes of exertion and heavy breathing finally managed himself into a sitting position.

He blinked: twice. And yet the image did not fade.

He had imagined that he was lying in a hospital bed, all dressed in white like some crude replica of a fallen angel, and that he would wake up to find himself surrounded by beeping machines on all sides and tubes connected to his body. So it came as a shock to him when he realised that he was sitting on the floor, the hospital bed right beside him and beeping machines connected up to whatever lay in the bed. Upon further inspection from his position on the floor, Sean caught sight of a mop of dark hair plastered to a pure white pillow. So intrigued, he spent the next few minutes forcing himself up onto his shaky legs and collapsing several times while trying. However when he had finally managed it, leaning heavily against the bed for support, he felt like the world had fallen out from underneath him.

In the bed, lay…himself.

It did not make any sense whatsoever. Sean struggled to stay standing as he choked on air and his legs wobbled precariously. It was him that was lying in the bed…well, his body anyway. He was staring into a mirror. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be possible.

But it didn’t matter anyway, because in the next moment he came to the odd realisation that he was falling before everything faded into black again.

*****

The next time he woke up was to soft voices that faded into a comforting background din. His head pounded but the rest of his body felt numb, so he blinked blearily and found himself staring up at the same stark white ceiling again. After the initial deliriousness had worn off he tried to hone in on the voices. They were quiet and muddled and he could not make them out, but two of them sounded familiar. His family, maybe?

And then with a sudden jolt of realisation that sent a shooting pain through his chest, that last image of himself lying in the hospital bed came back to him.

Maybe it was just a weird dream. He felt a little more relieved at that thought, but waited until the voices from outside the curtain had faded away until he once again attempted to push himself up. He made it to his feet without falling and tried to lean on the bed again. Except this time, something strange happened. He let out a rough gasp of shock as his arm slid into the bed. He stared, eyes wide and horror growing inside of him, at his hand which had now disappeared into the pure white covers and the top half of his arm which was still protruding from it. For a moment, the world spun and blurred in front of his eyes. He stumbled, nearly toppling over, but then he heard a calm voice over the deafening roar in his head.

“Just calm down and pull your arm out of my bed, would you?”

The words sounded utterly surreal and Sean’s legs threatened to give out again when he realised that it sounded very similar to his own voice. He turned, eyes wide and still unable to speak, to the owner of the voice. Propped up against the pillows was his own body; the same unruly dark hair, the same ashen skin, the same untidy eyebrows and the same light freckles. There was only one big difference. Instead of his normal icy blue eyes, he found himself staring into two identical pools of burgundy.

He did not know how long he held the stare for, but his head felt like it would droop from the weight of all his questions and thoughts. He was vaguely aware of sliding his hand out of the bed, not feeling anything at all, and then staring down at it in wonder. None of this felt real. Hell, none of this was real. How could it be when he was having a staring match with himself and his hand had just phased into a solid object?

So he laughed at the absurdity of it all.

His laugh sounded crazed, even maniacal, to his own ears. This was certainly the strangest dream he had ever had, and the most vivid. His other self – his body, or whatever else he could call it – frowned from the bed in bemusement.

“What the hell’s so funny?” it asked. Sean chuckled again, before forcing an answer past his chapped lips.

“This is all just a nightmare, that’s it,” he said, trying to convince himself. “None of this is even real…I’ll just force myself to wake up.”

From the bed, those burgundy eyes twinkled with amusement. “And how do you propose to do that when you’re iridescent?”

Sean still wasn’t sure why he was having a conversation with his own body, but shook that thought away. Some dreams could be pretty absurd, after all. So he just chuckled again and raised a hand, in an attempt to pinch himself awake. Yet when his fingers literally phased part way into his arm again, and he still could not feel anything solid, he began to get worried.

“It’s not going to work, don’t bother,” came the unhelpful comment from his…body.

Sean shook his head and blinked. Of course this was going to work. It was just a nightmare dammit! And nightmares ended sooner or later, even the worst ones. He turned back to the bed’s occupant, searching those unfamiliar eyes for answers. They were amused, he noticed with some aggravation.

“What do you know?” he asked scathingly, in his hoarse voice. “You’re just a figment of my imagination, so either say something useful or shut up.”

It was a strange experience, talking to his own body as though it were someone else. It was even stranger however, when his own eyes rolled at him in reply. “I know this must be hard for you to accept,” it said in a patronising tone. “But face it: this isn’t a nightmare, and I’m certainly not any part of your imagination. Saying something like that is an insult.”

Sean glared. “Of course this is a nightmare, how else is any of this possible?”

It smirked at him. “If you won’t listen to me and would prefer to spend the next few days trying to ‘wake yourself up’ then be my guest.”

Sean just ignored it. The room looked real, it looked real, but it wasn’t real. He tried to pinch himself again, tried to hit himself across the face, tried anything really, but it was all in vain. Every time he tried he would never feel any physical contact whatsoever and the hand would simply phase through his skin. He became steadily more agitated as his actions grew more urgent and reckless, until his hand began to phase right through his arm and came out the other side looking no different.

Finally he stopped and tried to close his eyes, hoping that when he opened them again he would have ‘woken up’.  But it never worked. He tried again and again, but seven tries later and nothing had changed. His head felt like it would burst. A surge of fear was clawing at his insides, threatening to rupture his chest at any moment. He wanted to cry and scream at the same time, but he held the urge in. Most of all, he wanted to wake up. Except now he was starting to lose faith that he ever would. A part of him – the logical part – had an inkling that this might actually be real, but he couldn’t believe that. He turned to it for answers.

“Why isn’t it working?” he cried out desperately. “What’s going on? And…and, who are you?”

This time, the amused sparkle in those burgundy eyes had dimmed to be replaced by a strange seriousness. “This is my body, now,” it said. “This body no longer belongs to you. I expelled you from it. Now it belongs to me, and you’re just an…imprint of it. That’s all you need to know.”

Sean looked to the side, to see the heart monitor beeping. He looked to the bedside table, to see ‘get well soon’ cards in intricate detail and a pretty vase of daffodils. How could this be a nightmare? When you’re dreaming, you’re not supposed to be consciously aware of it. Everything shouldn’t be in so much detail, everything shouldn’t seem so realistic.

He looked back into the eyes that weren’t his own, searching for something. Whatever it was, he did not find it. Those eyes were deep and guarded, wearied by the years yet still alight with a curiosity that he couldn’t pinpoint. They were too real to be a dream. All of it was.

And with that realisation, he welcomed the darkness back again for the second time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A/N: Hm...I think this chapter's a bit rushed personally, but what's everyone else's opinions? Anyway, thanks for reading!

Currently listening to: 'I'll always remember you'...this song totally wasn't used as an ending theme for the tenth pokemon movie *looks shifty* 

 

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