We don't live in this reality, and we don't live in that.
But we live, don't we? We live.
"Pierce," he says, "Doctor Pierce, Doctor Daniel Pierce," because if there's one thing he knows, has always known, will always know, it's his own name.
"Nice," says Kate, and she tilts her head and smiles. The flashlight shifts and one of Daniel's pupils contracts, shrinking, half of itself, Kate reflected in hazel. "Good to see that bump on the head didn't jar everything loose."
Daniel pictures the inside of his skull as shelves and doorless cupboards, with miscellaneous odds and ends strapped and bolted in place. Each memory a book or a glass vase, a ceramic penguin, an hourglass. Each object immoveable, kept tight to the ivory walls, so when he stumbled on campus and ran up against a tree limb and sent himself spinning, everything stayed more or less in place. It's not the first time it's happened. The music in his ears, the movement of his hands, distracts him. The music in his ears is not all from his Walkman. The blow to his head: he hears his blood singing, an orchestra, a blacklight rave as conducted by Beethoven.
He presses the heel of his palm to one eye. "Just what I needed. Possible concussion."
Kate tucks the flashlight back in his pocket. "Ah, you know what they say. Your head is your least vulnerable spot."
"That's a joke, Kate, it's meant to imply stupidity, it's, it's not meant to be taken literally."
Her smile goes fixed, her eyes wide. "Gee, really, Professor?"
He thinks about it, smiles sheepishly. "You knew that."
Kate tightens her grip about his elbow. "I know a lot," she says airily. "I had a great teacher."
He'd hit his head, and sent it spinning half off his shoulders. He'd hit his head, and stumbled sideways, stride broken in two and a half pieces, jagged-edged. He'd hit his head, and she was beside him, caught his weight and redirected his path, back onto the walkway, one hand tucked securely in his arm, the other reaching up to steady his gaze, to hold him still, to hold him. His head is his least vulnerable spot. His heart is wide open.
"You're going to have a heck of a headache," she says, and fishes a small pillbox out of her pocket. He flinches at the sight, but the white pills are clearly marked with an A, and he knows she means well. So he takes the painkiller when she offers it, and the water bottle too, and swallows and swallows, eyes closed.
When the pill's gone, he composes himself for a second, then looks at her.
"Been a long day," she says, tossing two aspirin in her mouth. She retrieves the bottle from him and takes a long drink, eyeing him sideways. Between them they've finished it, between them there's nothing, between them there's just enough space for him to breathe. He watches her fingers tight around the plastic. He watches her mouth on the rim.
She turns the cap securely, then looks around for a recycling bin. "Feel better?" she prompts, and Daniel takes her by the shoulders and turns her in the proper direction.
"Much," he says, as they stroll off together to be environmentally conscious, because this is a team effort, it takes both of them, and they do this well. They do this well, and he walks a straight line, under his own power, and her arm in his lends him strength, leads him on.