The corners of my vision darkened, and then it swallowed me whole. I sank into nothingness, a quiet loneliness where I could rest and be still.

Then, the world exploded—bright lights, commands, beeping in my ears, and pinches on my hands and arms.

I blinked. “Thomas?” My voice was muffled by the oxygen mask over my nose and mouth.

“She’s back!” a woman said, standing over me.

The concrete bed beneath me was now a firm mattress. The room was white, making the spotlight overhead seem that much brighter.

I heard answers about my blood pressure, pulse, and oxygenation but none about my neighbor, my partner, the man I loved.

“Liis?” A woman stood over me, shielding the light from my eyes. She smiled. “Welcome back.”

My lips struggled to form around the words I wanted to say.

The woman brushed my hair from my face, still squeezing the bag attached to my oxygen mask, the hissing noise next to my ear.

As if she could read my mind, she gestured with a nod behind her. “He’s in surgery. He’s doing great. The surgeon says he’ll be just fine.”

I closed my eyes, letting the tears fall down my temples into my ears.

“You have friends in the waiting room—Val, Charlie, and Joel.”

I looked up at her and frowned. Finally, I realized Charlie and Joel were Sawyer and Marks.

“Susan just left to let them know you’re stable. They can come back in a bit. Try to rest.”

“You don’t call family, do you?” I said, surprised at how weak my own voice sounded.

I shook my head, and she reached across the bed before putting a lighter mask over my nose and mouth. A hissing came from inside.

“Deep breaths, please,” she said, leaving my line of sight, as she adjusted the equipment surrounding me. “You’re going to have to go upstairs later, but the doctor wants to get your stats up first.”

I looked around, feeling groggy. My eyes blinked a few times, almost in slow motion. My body felt heavy again, and I drifted off for a moment before jerking awake.

“Whoa!” Val said, jumping up from her chair.

I was in a different room. This one had paintings of floral bouquets hanging on the walls.

Val smiled and nodded up once. I looked over, seeing Thomas sleeping soundly. The rails had been lowered, and our hospital beds had been pushed together. Thomas’s hand was covering mine.

“He had to pull some serious strings to make this happen,” Val said. “Are you okay?”

I smiled at Val, but her face had darkened with worry.

Val picked up the call button and pressed it.

“How can I help you?” a nasally voice said.

The volume had been turned down so low that I could barely hear it.

Val raised the plastic remote closer to her mouth, so she could whisper, “She’s awake.”

Val gently patted my knee. “Stephanie will be in with your pain meds soon. She’s been awesome. I think she’s in love with Thomas.”

“Hey, Charlie,” I said, using the remote to sit up a bit.

He and Marks were sitting on opposite sides of the room.

Sawyer frowned. “You’ve already died once in the last twenty-four hours. Don’t make me kill you again.”

I giggled and then held my breath. “Damn, that hurts. I can’t imagine what two feels like. Thomas probably won’t be able to move when he wakes up.” I looked over at him and squeezed his hand.

Thomas immediately looked to his left. His features softened, and a tired wide grin formed. “Hey.” He pulled my hand to his mouth and kissed my knuckles. He relaxed his cheek against the pillow.

Sawyer stood. “I’m going to head out. Glad you’re both all right. See you at work.” He walked over to me, kissed my hair, and then strolled out.

Marks snorted. “On the condition that he keeps the condo.”

She shrugged. “I hope you were serious when you said you wanted a roommate.”

“It’s only temporary anyway,” Marks said. “I’m going to talk her into moving in with me.”

“Fuck off,” she snapped. She smiled down at me. “You just worry about getting well. I’ll take care of everything. It’s perfect timing anyway. You’ll need someone to help you cook and clean.”

Marks looked at Thomas. “You’re shit out of luck, buddy.”

“Can I move in, too?” Thomas teased. He held his breath while he shifted to get comfortable.

Val motioned to Marks. “We should go. Let them rest.”

Marks nodded, standing and patting Thomas’s foot rail. “Hang in there, brother. We’ll hold down the fort.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Thomas said.

Marks held out his hand to Val, she took it, and they walked into the hallway together.

He nodded. “Marks said they’re taking care of it, keeping it along the same lines—a mugging gone wrong.”

“It’s taken care of. Benny has no clue that Travis will be knocking on his door soon, and Tarou will just think he’s lost his infiltration. The investigation can go on as planned.”

I nodded. Thomas rubbed my thumb with his, and I looked down at our hands.

“I hope this is okay,” he said.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” he asked.

Thomas held my hand against his cheek and then kissed my wrist. Slowly lowering our hands to the mattress, he settled in, relaxing, as he made sure he could see me until he fell asleep.

Thomas needed me. He made me happy and made me crazy, and he was right: only together did we make sense. I refused to ruminate on what would happen next, to analyze the probability or logistics of a successful relationship, to try to control whether I felt too much. I’d finally found the kind of love that was worth risking a broken heart.

We’d had to find each other to finally understand that love could not be controlled. Predictions, assumptions, and absolutes were illusions. My love for him was volatile, uncontrollable, and overpowering, but…that was love. Love was real.

EVEN THOUGH YEARS HAD PASSED since the last time I had half-unpacked boxes lying in every room, the organized chaos still made me smile. Memories of moving into my first condo in San Diego—even the first volatile months—were good ones, and they had carried me through the stress of training in my job as the newest Intelligence Analyst at the NCAVC in Quantico.