At first, Billy was just another patient. He had spent his first few days in the hospital asleep, barely breathing and having to be fed nutrients through an IV. She hadn't thought about him much until the third day, when he opened his bright blue eyes for the first time. He could only stay conscious for a few minutes at a time, but even when he was awake, he didn't talk to anyone. Not because didn't want to, but because he couldn't. He never had any visitors.
One of Penny's favorite part of being a nurse was meeting the patients' family and friends and seeing the gratitude on their faces when she told them their parent or girlfriend or whoever was going to be fine. Billy had no one. That was when she decided that he would have her.
The first time she tried to talk to him he snapped at her. She had always been slightly awkward when it came to talking to people she didn't really know, so she busied herself with changing his IV while she spoke. "How are you feeling Billy?" She kept her voice soft and level since he was startled easily. He still jumped.
"What do you think?" His voice was cold and harsh, starkly different from her own.
She took that moment to really examine him. His hair hadn't been blond when they brought him in. It had been matted and stained with red just like the rest of him. His injuries were severe. She remembered want to throw up when she had cleaned his wounds. He was mostly covered in minor cuts and severe bruises, which hadn't required too much attention. He had broken five ribs, his left ankle, and he had a fracture above his eye. Behind his ear was a five-inch gash, which had been the cause of most of the difficulty.
"I think it would be best for both of us if you gave me a straight answer. Don't make me ask you the question."
Penny sighed. "Oh a scale of one to ten-"
"No! No more!" he interrupted, a joking smile on his face. She realized with a start that this is the first time she's seen him do that. She liked it. Penny laughed lightly.
She made for the door, but stopped at the doorway as she remembered something. "I was supposed to tell you that the police are coming this afternoon to talk to you about the attack.
His smile fell. "Couldn't you tell them that I'm not ready to t-talk about it yet?"
"We did the best we could to put it off, Billy, but this was the longest they were willing to wait. They were going to come the first day you were here. They didn't seem to even believe that you were unconscious." Penny felt awful. Billy was so sweet, and she didn't know if he could handle reliving the attack.
"I… I don't…"
"I'm so sorry."
Penny lingered in the room as the policemen talked to, or more at Billy. They were sitting in chairs next to his bed, where Penny had propped him up with pillows. He had reveled earlier that he had no memory of the attack, which Penny had pinned on the head injury. The police didn't believe him however, so they continued to question him persistently. Eventually Billy had stopped saying "I don't know" and just ignored them.
"We could try to trigger a memory recall," one of the police suggested.
Penny did not want that to happen. Many of his injuries suggested sexual assault. She had been there when people with head injuries had regained their memories of a trauma before and it was never pretty. It was a privilege for her to be in the room while Billy was being questioned, so she couldn't say anything to stop this.
"We have enough information from security videos and witness accounts to at least try it."
She could tell Billy was nervous by the way he tapped complex rhythms on his lap. He didn't `know what had happened to him, but he wasn't stupid. He knew what his injuries added up to, the bruises on his hips and thighs, and he probably didn't want to remember that. Penny kept alert, watching his face like a hawk for any signs of discomfort. There were plenty.
"You were at Ronny's on May 13th. You were there alone, and you didn't plan on being bothered. Suddenly a man sits down next to you at the bar. He was very tall, very muscular, and very drunk. He set his hand on your thigh, and he told you to go home with him. He clearly only wanted sex, so you pushed his hand away and said no."
Billy squeezed his eyes closed.
"He was persistent. He tried again, and you started to get scared." Penny was sure they were they were taking too much liberty with the story. How could they know what Billy had been thinking? "You decided that the drink wasn't worth the trouble and you left without paying. You stepped out to the street to hail a cab. It was raining, so not many people were outside to see what happened next."
Penny didn't want to know what happened next. Billy didn't either. "Stop it," he said weakly.
"He followed you outside and dragged you into the nearest alley. You fought, but he was so much bigger than you. He had one hand over your mouth so you couldn't scream."
"Stop," Billy demanded. He was shaking slightly. Maybe he was remembering something.
"He pushed you against the wall and kissed you." Penny found herself trembling with rage. "You fought him as he touched you, but he kept your arms pinned to the wall. You managed to get your leg free and you kneed him in the um… privates. He grabbed you by the hair and slammed your head into the wall. Maybe he meant to knock you out to make things easier for him, but it didn't work. Your eyes roll up to his face. Who is he? What did he look like, standing over you-"
"No!" Billy cried, and Penny quickly escorted the officers from the room.
"Shh, Billy, it's okay. They're gone now. You're safe." He cried loudly, shaking his head and struggling like the sheets were trying to restrain him. That needed to stop. Penny knelt on the bed and gently but firmly grabbed his shoulders. He sobbed and tried to wrench out of her grasp, but as a nurse, Penny was used to holding down patients. "Come on, Billy. I need you to come back to me. No one's going to hurt you. Breathe." When Billy's struggles began to lessen, Penny very gently ran her hand across his forehead.
The effect was instantaneous.
Billy immediately lost some of the tension in his muscles and gave a little whine. She looked at him in curiosity. Every patient was different in this kind of matter. Some didn't want to be touched at all, but Billy responded really well to it. She started running her hand through his hair and he calmed down quickly. His eyes closed in bliss. Very slowly, she took his hand in hers. Technically, she wasn't supposed to touch her patients outside of medical practice, but she was a nurse to take care of people, and this was what Billy needed right now.
The first time she touched him with being prompted he flinched. She had been checking up on him, changing his IV and looking over his injuries. He was extremely tense, so when she was done she sat down next to him and brought her hand towards his head. He shrunk back. "What are you doing?"
"You just seemed really tense and I thought…" He had responded so well to physical contact before that she was sure it would help calm him down.
"I don't like being touched."
She left without another word.
The first time she held him he was crying. A nurse on the night shift had asked her to switch for one night. "Oh hang on, Penny. Room 107 has nightmares. Okay thank you so much!" Thanks Jane.
That night, when she heard the heart monitor go berserk, she was at his side in an instant. Billy was thrashing in his sleep, tangled in the white blankets, which were slowly turning red. With the way he was struggling, he'd probably ripped out some stiches. There were tears on his face and he was yelling in his sleep. "No! Stop!"
Penny grabbed him by the shoulders. "Billy! Wake up!" He fought her, pushing her hands away. "Billy please!" She grabbed him again, holding him down on the bed. His eyes shot open and he yelled, sitting up quickly. Penny pushed him back down, but before she could pull away from him his arms were around his neck and he was crying into her shoulder. She hesitantly wrapped her arms around him and rubbed his back until he calmed down. When she thought he had fallen asleep she stood to leave. His hand whipped out and grabbed hers.
"C-Can you stay until I fall asleep?" Penny regarded him with caution. This was exactly what she was supposed to avoid. Staying could get her fired.
She fell asleep with him in her arms.
The police came to talk to him again a few days later, now that he was calmer and healed more. This time, they didn't let Penny sit in. Billy seemed a lot more willing to talk this time or at least that's what it looked like through the room's window. Even though Billy was talking this time, the police still seemed frustrated. They looked almost like they were having a yelling match. Eventually the police stood and left, and Penny was called to another room where her boss was waiting.
"Ms. Holland." His face was hard and grim.
"We're letting you go."
Her whole world crashed around her. This job was the only money she made. She could live a little longer off her last pay check, but then she had nothing. She couldn't afford to lose her job.
"W-Why?" She felt tears spring to her eyes.
"You have been caught on the security cameras several times having illicit relationships with patients. You've given us no other option. Please turn in your scrubs and go home immediately." That night she cried so hard the landlady came to check on her.
The first time they kissed he was running.
When she woke up that morning Penny realized that she wasn't the only one affected by this. As far as she knew she was the closest thing to a friend Billy had. Someone needed to be there for him. She got dressed.
Coming into the hospital as a visitor was weird. She stumbled through the visitor check in process, and the desk lady insisted on having someone walk her to Billy's room. When she got there he was curled up under some blankets, facing the wall with his back to the door. This was how he usually spent his time, either reading or napping. He only really did anything else when Penny was in his room. Then they would talk for as long as they could before Penny had to get back to work. It was at these times she would see hints of a personality before the attack.
She sat down in the chair next to his bed somewhat awkwardly. His eyes snapped open. "What are you wearing?"
Penny looked down at her sweats and tennis shoes. She hadn't put too much effort into dressing nicely. Billy had never seen her without her scrubs before, and if he was asking that question then he must not know she had been fired. "I um… don't really work here anymore."
Billy sat up so fast he must have hurt his ribs, but he didn't seem to notice. "What?"
"I got fired."
"I'm not really allowed to uh… touch patients besides medical practice and well…"
Billy's head fell into his hands. "Oh my god I got you fired."
"It wasn't your fault!" She quickly crossed the room and sat next to him as he groaned. "You didn't even ask for any of it, Billy, I was the one who broke the rules. It's fine."
"I got you fired!" He was panicking. His face had gone pale and he was trembling ever so slightly.
"Billy stop." She took his face in both of her hands. "Look at me." His eyes darted up to meet hers. "I am not letting you blame yourself for this. If I was mad at you, then I wouldn't have come back to see you, would I?" He shook his head. "On the bright side, I'll get to spend more time with you."
"Why would you want to spend time with me?"
Penny scoffed. "Why wouldn't I? I like talking to you. I didn't spend all of my free time in your room for nothing." They stared at each other for a moment before Billy's eyes fell and she realized she was still holding his face. She let go, noticing a faint pink tint to his cheeks. "Sorry."
"I-It's fine." Usually, he stuttered when he was nervous, but now he seemed less nervous and more… flustered. It was adorable. She felt herself blushing too.
After that, they spent hours talking aimlessly, trying to ignore all of the darkness in both of their lives. For a while, everything felt right. For these few hours, they could imagine that Billy wasn't in the hospital because of a terrible crime that he didn't deserve, and that Penny wasn't counting down her days until she had to fight for her right to live. Everything was fine, until she left for lunch. He had insisted that she eat when her stomach growled loudly in the middle of the conversation, so she went down to the cafeteria to grab some food.
When she got back to his room, he was gone. The sheets were splattered with red and his IV line along with every other wire and sensor that had been attached to him were dangling on the floor. She remembered washing and resewing the clothes he had been found in and leaving them on a shelf in his room when she still worked in the hospital. They were gone now, and his paper gown was laying on the floor. Other than that, there was no sign of him or where he could have gone. The window was still closed and locked, and the drop was too far for him to get out that way. She left the room at a run.
Billy was smart. He wouldn't leave if he didn't have a good reason, and there were no signs before she went to lunch that there was anything wrong. He was smart enough to know that he wasn't healed yet physically, so he wouldn't try anything too dangerous. He would make for the visitor's exit and blend in with the crowd. He didn't have any money on him when he was found (his attacker must have taken his wallet) so he wouldn't get a cab. He would probably start walking home. His address was on his file in the hospital computers, which she no longer technically should have access to. But she still remembered the password, so if she could get her hands on one… It was about time she visited one of her coworkers.
It didn't take much convincing to get a friend of hers to let Penny use her computer. In no time she had his address and was in a cab. She scanned the streets for any sign of Billy. He wouldn't be fast. He had been on fresh pain meds when she was talking to him before, so the drowsiness should be setting in any moment now. He would be bleeding too, and from how quickly he left he might have ripped his stiches out again in his haste. He shouldn't be hard to find.
He wasn't. The limping figure in the dark gray hoodie caught her attention immediately. "Pull over here please. Here, keep the change. Thank you!'"
She approached him cautiously from behind, unsure of how to do this. Finally she decided on the simplest strategy. She caught up to him and tapped his shoulder. She didn't expect to have to duck under a punch. When she stood back up he was backing away from her cautiously. His hood was up, so most of his face was cast in shadow, but she could see his eyes. They were wild and full of terror, red-rimmed from crying. What had happened in such a short time?
"Billy? What are you doing? What happened?" She stepped towards him, grabbing his shoulders gently. He shook her off.
"Stay away, Penny. I don't want you to get hurt."
"What are you talking about?"
"He's going to come after me. He's going to kill me. I need to get out of here. Please don't try to follow me."
"Who's going to kill you? Tell me what's wrong!" She grabbed his shoulders again, searching his elusive eyes for an answer. They softened.
"Penny… Thank you. Thank you for everything." Then he leaned forward and kissed her.
The kiss was short, almost rushed. His lips were soft but firm, still with some scabs and bruises from the attack. She barely had time to kiss back before he was gone, jogging off into the dark.
The next time she saw him he was doing his laundry.