John knows that Dave’s not exactly going to be in tip-top shape when the ER staff finally deems him sober and sorrowful enough to pop in for a quick visit. He’s not stupid, after all, and he was actually there to witness first-hand Dave breaking his everything trying to ollie over a couple of stairs (or twenty) on the ricketiest second-hand skateboard their combined inventories could produce.
(Dave’s eyes may or may not have been closed at the time.)
(His sword, however, had most definitely been drawn.)
(There’d been alcohol involved.)
(And a bet involving a cantaloupe, somehow?)
(Things got a little sketchy after their fourth round of Super Mario Shots.)
Point being, John may not recall all of the specifics leading up to the Great Ollie Wipe-Out That Broke Dave, but he remembers the sickening crunch of his landing with sobering clarity. He’s had the past few hours slumped over bad waiting room coffee to dwell on the memory of Dave still and silent at the bottom of the stairs (how black the curtain blood streaming over half his face had looked in the dim yellow streetlight, how angry and accusatory the wailing siren of the ambulance had been as it cut through the darkness of their shitty college neighborhood), the breathless stretch of time before he’d shifted with a pained grunt under John’s hands.
(Somewhere lost in the jumble of crisis John must have learned how to fly, because he doesn’t remember his feet ever touching a step in his rush to aid his fallen friend.)
He’s not stupid. He’s not. He knows Dave is going to be pretty busted up. But there’s a nagging part of his brain offering up a dim recollection of taking a screwdriver to the hardware of one of Dave’s decks, never to retighten it, and that’s way more shit than John is able to process right now so he pushes it all back, convinces himself that he did nothing wrong, this was just an accident, and that Dave is going to be okay. Not sunshine and lollipops, obviously, but okay.
Just like he always is.
He browses the 24-hour gift shop as he waits, picks up this really sweet “It’s a girl!” balloon that Dave is absolutely going to love. It’s pink, and shiny, with a little smiling anthropomorphic train on it.
A train! Pulling a car full of nonsensically stylized exotic animals!
Nobody could ever be mad at anyone bearing such a fine specimen of foil and helium.
Buoyed by his purchase and renewed sense of optimism, he pushes back the curtain encircling Dave’s bed, his best Hey-Dude-Sorry-I-Was-Involved-In-the-Shenanigans-That-Lead-To-Your-Hospitalization grin firmly in place, ready and eager to annoy his best palchum good roommate back to full health.
Reality, however, has a less than kindly disposition.
“Holy fuck, Dave. You look like shit!!”
Dave is almost unrecognizable. He’s got some sort of collar on and bandages wrapped around half his face, thick white padding completely covering one eye. There’s blood matted in his hair, and what little of his sickly pale skin is visible is mottled with bruises and stained yellow from generously smeared antiseptic. John’s so caught up in trying to make sense of the tangle of tubes and wires and straps encasing his friend that it takes a moment for him to register that the two heavily-swaddled and inhuman looking lumps folded stiffly across Dave’s lap are his arms, his fucking arms and oh my god.
Oh my god.
John is never getting drunk within spitting distance of a skateboard ever again.
Any other day Dave would shoot back with a quip about the less than aesthetically pleasing proportions of John’s own features, maybe turn the insult around and reclaim it to crow about how ‘yes mr egbert i am the shit how kind of you to sing my glorious praises now pass the fucking dr pepper’, but today he just blinks, his un-bandaged eye swollen a shiny, angry red and surprisingly naked looking without his shades, and briefly lifts the two un-taped fingers of his left hand in greeting.
“Yo,” he croaks.
“Dude.” John approaches the bed cautiously, balloon held in front of him like a shield. “I knew it wasn’t gonna be great, but I didn’t know it was gonna be bad.”
“Both arms.” Dave shifts as if to lift them up in victory, blanches, and carefully resettles. There’s sweat on his forehead, and his voice is tired and tight with pain. Whatever they’ve got in his IV, it’s obviously not enough to block everything. “Left took the worst’ve it. Fractured some carp—metacarp…? Buncha hand bones, some fingers. Snapped my collarbone ‘n fucked my elbow over pretty good. Eye should be okay, though.”
“Jesus.” John can’t take his eyes off of the fascinatingly grotesque swell of Dave’s fingers. He takes a cautious step towards the bed, reaches out...
“Don’t!” Dave snaps.
He jerks back his hand, as if burned. (Way to go, Egbert.) “Sorry, sorry!” He smiles sheepishly, but Dave just bites his lip, doesn’t smile back.
John’s still holding the balloon. He feels faintly ridiculous about it, so ties it onto the rails of Dave’s bed for want of something to do. He can feel Dave’s eyes watching his every movement, wary and tense like a cornered stray.
(He hates feeling like he’s screwed up.)
He scrubs at his face with both hands, sighs. “So, what happens next? You’re getting casts put on, right? What color are you thinking?”
Dave doesn’t exactly relax relax, but the hard set of his mouth softens slightly at the corners. “Not yet. Gotta have surgery first, pin some shit back together, and they can’t do that ‘til tomorrow.”
“What, like, tomorrow tomorrow, or today tomorrow?”
“I don’t—” For a moment, Dave looks genuinely lost. “Fuck, what time is it?”
When John checks his watch he’s as surprised at the answer as Dave is. “Past four,” he laughs. “Shit.”
“Shit,” Dave agrees, sounding dazed. His fingers curl slightly in the sheets, seeking purchase. “Did you call my bro?”
Oops. Knew he was forgetting something. “No, not yet.”
“Call ‘im,” Dave sighs. “Might still be up. Tell ‘im the breaks are all closed, nothing through the skin, and that I’m on concussion watch for a bit longer but should be in surgery soon.”
“Okay.” Should he be taking notes? It feels like he should be taking notes. Maybe talking to a doctor or something. “Anything else?”
“Go home ‘n shower,” Dave mumbles, his eye slipping closed. “You stink.”
John’s not going to argue with him there. The other humans and lone troll in the waiting room have been giving him a wide berth, so he must be pretty rank even by hospital standards. “I’ll let you sleep, then.”
Dave groans, dragging his eye back open with visible effort. “Can’t. Won’t let me. Not until they’re sure m’brains won’t slide out my ears.” It’s fucking bizarre to hear him sound so helpless and frustrated like this, so different from the cool bravado he personifies most of the time. He snorts bitterly. “This sucks.”
“Yeah, I know.” He does, kind of. John broke his wrist when he was six, falling out of the tire swing, and hospitals are pretty generally terrible. Dave looks like he could use a manly embrace of comfort, but given how hard he’d flinched away from John’s first attempt to touch him John settles on patting awkwardly at one of his ankles.
This, at least, earns him a soft but genuine chuckle.
John’s got one hand on the curtain, but he stops, looks back. “What?”
Dave’s staring up at his balloon, watching it slowly twist and bob in the air currents.
“I’m thinking neon,” he says. “For my casts. Green for one, pink for the other.”
John beams, shoots him a double thumbs up.
“Go for it, bro.”
If the pre-dawn bus ride of shame back home was bad, and having to call Bro Strider at bugfuck o’clock in the morning with news that his little brother is in the hospital was ten times worse, confessing their ER-destined shenanigans to his own dad is downright shame-puddle inducing.
Upside of it is that there are several care packages and at least one get well cake already in the mail to await Dave’s return home, which is always a boon to their food budget. The downside of it is that those care packages are sure to come with ten tons of guilt in the form of several hidden, earnestly written notes from Dad detailing just how much he loves him even when he makes mistakes, how proud he is to have a son willing to turn to him for help in times of pain and need.
God, his dad…
His dad is the absolute worst.
A shower, a few hours’ sleep, and a heaping plateful of scrambled eggs (patron foodstuff of hungover bachelors the world over) has John feeling halfway human again. It feels weird without Dave in the apartment, empty and conspicuous in a way that’s never bothered him when Dave was out at a gig or one of his long, meandering walks or stuck on campus for a couple of hours. John busies himself with cleaning up the remnants of last night’s misadventure—even the deer on their half-empty bottle of Jägermeister glowers at him disapprovingly—but washing out shot glasses and wrapping up Nintendo controllers isn’t nearly enough to fill the void left in Dave’s absence. He palms his keys, stomps into his shoes, and sets off back to the hospital.
Dave’s out of surgery and in an actual room now. The bruising is darker and more extensive, but he’s lost the collar and the worst of his gray-tinged pallor. Still no casts, probably has to wait for some of the swelling to go down, but it’s good to see that Dave’s awake, sitting up, and coherent again.
“J’n!” he slurs. “Heyyy… Hey Eggert. Lookit… I broke m’ arms, John.”
At least he’s happy to see him.
“Hold still,” chides the nurse snipping through the gauze wrapped thickly around his head. John seems to have walked in right in the middle of a bandage change. “You’re cut up enough already, don’t need me stabbing you accidentally on top of everything else.”
Dave’s range of motion is limited, but he manages a convincing enough double take.
“You’re new,” he frowns. He’s a lot more expressive without his shades, and his voice has the slow, concentrated cadence of someone who is heavily medicated and trying (and failing) not to sound like it, his twanging drawl more noticeable than ever. “Where’s’a other nurse? Th’ hot one?”
John cringes, glancing anxiously back at the nurse—a freckled, thirty-something woman in maroon scrubs with a soft, pleasant face that reminds John of his third-grade teacher— but she just laughs and shakes her head.
“Shift change, honey. I’m Nurse Robbins, but you can call me Darla, remember?”
Dave doesn’t, apparently. She pats him sympathetically on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry. You’ll see Nurse Nitram again tonight.”
Dave—there’s really no other way to describe it—beams at her. Like a kid on Christmas Eve.
(It’s kind of terrifying to witness, actually.)
And with that he surrenders himself, soft and compliant, to Darla’s very capable hands.
There’s no denying it. Dave is on DRUGS.
John leans back against the wall, well out of the way, and watches with morbid fascination as the layers of gauze and wet cotton padding are peeled back, revealing—
Dave’s right eye looks like something out of a horror movie, swollen completely shut and gunked up all to hell. There’s an angry line of stitches running down his forehead to slice clean through his eyebrow (missing the eye itself, thank god) only to pick up again for an inch or so right at the top of his cheek.
With a lurch to the pit of his stomach John realizes that Dave must have landed face first on his sword.
“Ow,” Dave mumbles as she carefully probes the area with a soft wipe. “F’k’n… Tha’ hurz.” He sounds more annoyed than genuinely pained, restless under all the fussing. John decides to give him (and himself, fuck, Dave could’ve lost an eye…) a distraction.
“So I called your bro.”
This gets Dave’s attention. “What’d he say?”
“He, uh…” In deference to Nurse Robbins’s professionalism (she really is doing an excellent job pretending not to eavesdrop as she readies a fresh dressing) John decides to censor the more… intimidating specifics of the conversation. “It wasn’t bad. He just called us a bunch of idiots. Affectionately.”
This does not go over well. Dave tenses on the bed, his good eye narrowing until only the barest hint of red iris is visible. “Liar.”
So much for fucking censorship. “It was terrifying,” he confesses. “I almost shit my pants.”
Dave sighs, relaxes. “Tha’s my bro.” The corner of his mouth quirks back in what for Dave counts as a sloppy grin. “Fess up. Gimme the play by play of your epic verbal beatdown.”
The thing’s John’s willing to do for broship.
“Dude, there was just this… silence. Stretching on and on forever, like the floor dropped out of the universe and left me stranded of space. I kept looking around thinking he might actually be in the apartment somewhere already, insta-revenge teleportation or something, y’know?”
“He can do it,” says Dave. “I’ve seen him.”
Greeeeat. “Thanks, Dave. It’s not like I needed to ever sleep again, anyway.”
Dave dismisses this most genuine expression of gratitude with the barest twitch of his fingers. “Don’mention it.”
“Anyway.” John pushes his glasses back up his nose. “He did eventually call us a bunch of idiots, though. After grilling me for like fifty years about how fast you were going and how you landed and whether there was any damage to a whole list of nerves that I cannot even fucking remember right now but trust me, it was extensive. He says he’s working a rave tonight, all-nighter, but after that he can take off for a visit. Help you get resettled into a routine, make sure your casts are appropriately disfigured with Sharpie, the usual drill.”
This next bit requires a more delicate delivery. “He also said to tell you—seriously, dude, this is all him, not me—and I quote:“
Dave groans, with it enough to see where this is going.
John clears his throat, straightens himself to his full height.
“’I warned you,’” he intones solemnly, “’about stairs, bro.’”
If Dave were in full control of his upper extremities, this would no doubt have earned John a most impressively executed double flip of the bird.
“There,” says Darla, smoothing the last bit of tape into place. “All finished.”
John has to suppress a snort as Dave goes cross-eyed attempting to inspect her work. “How do I look?”
John opens his mouth, but Nurse Robbins beats him to the punch.
“Pitiful,” she says. “Just absolutely pathetic.”
To John’s great puzzlement, she and Dave exchange sly, conspiratorial winks.
She tops off his pain medication before she goes, leaving with a promise of lunch (Dave looks apathetic about the idea until he finds out apple juice is on the menu) followed by a consultation with his orthopedist. As soon as the door clicks shut behind her, John gets right down to more serious business.
“So,” he says, eyebrows all a-waggle. “You have a hot nurse?”
Dave’s been drifting ever since Darla administered the dose, but he seizes onto the topic with all the intensity and focus he and his IV drip full of opiates can muster. “Hooooo-leeeee fuck, John. So hot. So… so hot. Fuck, you don’t… You don’t even know, ‘s so hot.”
“Oh?” He pulls up the visitor’s chair and settles himself in for some good, long TMI. It’s rare for him to hear Dave gush unironically about, well, anything, but especially his love life, and John’s committed to thoroughly enjoying the experience (while filing away this conversation for future blackmail use, of course). “Why don’t you tell me?”
“Mmm.” Dave’s eye swirls slowly in its socket as he tries to refocus on John’s new lowered elevation. “Tall,” he mumbles. “Like, so tall. Wanna… climb that. Like a tree. Wanna get all koala on that hot bod. All muscles and… muscles. And a rack out to, like…” He spreads his arms as much as he’s able (which isn’t much, but the message is clear). “But more.”
John’s mental image of a trim track and field star in a tight white minidress and matching cap balloons suddenly to cartoonish proportions.
“Dude,” he laughs. “You dog! Did you even get a look at her face?”
Dave just stares at him blankly, so John reframes the question. “What color eyes? Blue? Green?”
“Brown,” Dave sighs, his own eyelids drooping heavily under the inevitability of sleep. “’N Gold. And really… warm. Like choc’late. Golden… choc’late.”
This shit is getting downright sappy. John’s set to press for more details—had Dave scoped her ass? what was she wearing? had he said any embarrassing shit to her while under the influence?—but there’s something else gnawing away at his subconscious. Something from this morning, on the phone with Bro, something he’d registered at the time but not really understood.
“When I talked to your bro, at one point he promised to kick my shit all the way back to Seattle until I was nothing but a mound of pulp on my dad’s front doorstep if he got so much as the slightest hint that I’d pulled a… What was it.” He squints up at the lights, trying to remember. “A Gene Forrester on your ass. What’d he mean by that? Is that a band or some other musical allusion I’m way to uncool to ever fully understand?”
Dave’s quiet for so long that John starts to wonder if he’s already asleep. “Issa book. A Sep’rate Peace. Dude’s all… envious an’ shit ‘bout his best friend’s game, and straight up knocks him outuva tree.”
John shifts faintly in his seat, uncertain as to why he suddenly feels so uncomfortable.
“Or mebbe it was’n accident,” Dave continues dreamily. “Dude doesn’ even know… hisself, mosta th’ book. Anyway. Other bro dies, ‘n the end.”
“Well,” John chuckles, horribly conscious of how forced he sounds. “Good thing for my dad’s doorstep that this was definitely an accident!”
“Yeah,” says Dave, almost too soft to hear. “Good thing.”
As John discovers the hard way during Dave’s next bandage change (his arms, this time), Dave’s surgical team used some sort of grub-based biosealant while closing him up.
On the one hand it’s good, because that shit goes deep and has a much better prognosis as far as fighting off infection and minimizing secondary nerve damage. The scarring isn’t exactly cosmetically appealing, hence their reluctance to use it on something as relatively shallow as the cut on his face, but beneath the strips of puffy, blood-colored flesh all of Dave’s fine motor long stringy bits should be right as fucking rain, all said and done.
On the other hand, Dave is stuck in the hospital for a couple more days while they watch to make sure that the tiny, teeming grubs don’t interbreed too vigorously.
It freaks John out kind of a lot just thinking about it. He prefers his applied ectobiology entirely fictional or at the very least locked away in sterile labs for people in rubber gloves and snazzy lab coats to deal with.
After becoming intimately acquainted with Dave’s emesis basin (how could Dave just lay there and fucking watch as Darla peeled back the bandages and why couldn’t Bro drive cross-country faster so that he was the one stuck dealing with this shit gross gross gross) John is all too happy to slink home for some quality time with the nearest open bottle of eye bleach.
He’s got work the next day, a double shift to make up for calling out the day before. Waiting tables at the local Wacky Theme Chain Restaurant is okay enough for a summer job—definitely less fun than all the flair had lead him to believe, but loads better than Dave’s seemingly never-ending work-study as a one-man scanning machine down in the bowels of the library archives—but he’ll be glad to leave it behind once school starts back up again.
There’s not much of a lunch crowd, for once (maybe the universe is apologizing for all the grubs), but after that work is the usual routine of cleaning, napkin-wrapping, kitchen prep, and the all-too-brief lull of boredom as a few late afternoon diners trickle in followed by a rampaging tidal wave of high-demand, low-tip tables.
If he never has to fetch another four extra sides of ranch dressing or make change for a damp bill soaked in foul-smelling, mystery liquids ever again, it’ll all be too fucking soon.
John clocks out just after ten and decides to swing back by the hospital to tuck Dave in goodnight and hopefully treat himself with a glimpse of Dave’s double-F Florence Nightingale. Technically the diurnal ward is closed to non-family visitors, but he manages to bribe his way past the night receptionist, a bored-looking ladytroll with horns like spears who brightens immediately at the sight of his various and sundry sassy suspender accessories. Soon she’s got a tiny plastic ice cream cone riding shotgun next to the mustard yellow lineage sign pinned to her ID badge and John’s being buzzed through the locked ward door like it ain’t no thing at all.
“Dave?” John opens the door to Dave’s semi-private slowly, quietly, on the off chance that he’s acquired a roommate during his absence. “You awake?”
He hasn’t, and he is. It’s past lights-out, but Dave’s bedside lamp is still on, haloing him in a sickly yellow hues. The grubs have apparently wrapped up their dirty work well ahead of schedule, because his post-surgery dressings have been swapped out for two hard casts—a pink one on his right arm that stops just short of his elbow and a green one on his left that runs all the way up to his armpit.
“Oh wow,” John says, stepping out of the shadows and into the pool of light. “I didn’t know they were gonna wrap you up so high.” He takes a moment to admire them, the fiberglass-wrappings pristine and unyielding, the splash of obnoxious color against the institutional beige and navy of his slings and figure eight brace. “Shit, do you think you’ll even be able to jerk off like that? That would majorly suck. Or how about— Ha ha, oh man, forget shaving, how are you even going to fucking shower?”
“Fuck off,” Dave growls. “Just fucking fuck off, okay?”
John stares at him, dumbfounded. Surely Dave’s thought about all this already, right? “What the fuck, bro?”
“Fuck you,” Dave spits, legs twisting restlessly in the sheets. “Fuck you fuck you fuck your fucking face, you fuck!”
John takes an unconscious step back (message received loud and clear, sir, no need to snarl it twice) but catches himself mid-abscond. He peers closer, notes the sweat dampening his gown in large patches, the mottled flush spreading over his neck and face, the desperate, off-rhythm twisting of his fingers in the sheets.
“Dude. Are you okay?”
“No,” Dave groans, voice breaking on the knife’s edge between frustration and despair. “I— I can’t, John, I can’t. It’s the fucking—“ He jerks his head, eye rolling wildly. “Ffffucking benzos. Switched me over, and they’ve got me all—”
He arches suddenly off the bed, legs spread and heels dug hard into the mattress as he thrashes, gagging in pain as his weight is forced onto his injured shoulder.
“Fuck,” he gasps. “I can’t, I can’t…”
Dave on drugs two days ago was all kinds of hilarious.
Dave on drugs today is absolutely terrifying.
This, John realizes with astounding clarity, is a job for a professional.
If this were TV alarms would be going off everywhere and a team of brilliant but emotionally dysfunctional and sexually promiscuous doctors would be rushing through the door, twenty syringes in each hand, but in reality John, in his panic, cannot find the fucking call button for the life of him, so he has to settle for a more direct approach.
He crashes out into the hallway, dazzled momentarily by the sudden flood of fluorescents. It’s empty as far as the eye can see, the nurse’s station temporarily abandoned, everything still and shuttered and quiet but for the squeak of his sneakers on the blue and white vinyl. He tries the door he came in through, but the lock works both ways, and when he presses his face against the glass the yellow-blooded troll with a fondness for human frozen dairy delights is nowhere to be seen.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck!
A door opens down near the end of the hall, and out steps an absolute beast of a troll. He’s seven plus easy even without accounting for his horns—massive, bull-like protrusions that would scrape the ceiling in any pre-warp hospital—with arms like a linebacker and thick hair cut close in a short, fluffy mohawk. John marks him immediately for an orderly of some sort. Not exactly the help John was looking for, but better than no help at all.
“Hey!” He picks up speed, waving one arm wildly over his head. “Hey, down here!”
The troll stops, looking up from his clipboard with a frown. “Careful,” he calls, voice soft and thick with the throaty, clicking accent of an Alternian-born. “They just mopped, and the floor—”
John skids through the hazard rather gracelessly, but manages to catch himself just before he falls flat on his face in front of the burly troll.
“I need to find… A nurse,” he pants. “Or a doctor. Somebody who can dole out meds? Where should I—?”
The orderly’s expression twists briefly in annoyance, but he’s already turned to follow John back down the hallway. “What’s the problem?”
It’s only now, up close, that John can make out the fine black line work of tattoos running up and down both dark grey arms, the glint of multiple gold piercings rimming the edges of his long, rounded ears. The brightly patterned scrub top that clashes cheerfully with the standard-issue maroon of his pants has to be a decoy of some kind, because this guy’s obviously kept on reserve to manhandle (trollhandle?) only the worst of troublemakers into compliance.
Whatever. So long as he knows what buttons to push to get somebody with some medicinally-oriented secondary schooling and the letters after their name to prove it down here ASAP.
“It’s my friend. He’s… I dunno. He’s freaking out! He broke both his arms and they stuck him in casts today and it’s like he’s having some sort of fit I don’t—”
The troll’s eyes go wide. He’s obviously a student of the “do as I say, not as I do” school of thought, because between one step and the next he switches from a walk to a smooth, hurried jog, leaping over the drying puddle with a single bound as he hones in on Dave’s room without ever having to be told the number.
(There’s a faint, muffled metallic sound when he runs, but John’s too busy hustling to keep up with those long legs to give that particular mystery much thought.)
Steps away from the door there’s a crash followed immediately by a strangled, high-pitched yelp, more animal than human. It’s horrible enough that John pauses at the doorway, unsure whether he needs to see whatever is going on inside, but the orderly ducks in without hesitation.
Blood drops on the floor—clockwork beetles, black, round, and glistening—a tangle of sheets, and Dave, still and very, very white. John’s first, less than rational thought is that he’s dead, oh god oh god he’s dead, but the wounded noise Dave makes as the orderly carefully (so carefully, his huge hands almost dwarfing Dave’s very human frame) turns him over onto his back quickly assures him otherwise.
“It’s all right,” churs the bull-horned troll, and something about the way his throat rumbles around the words makes even John—hovering tense and helpless in the doorway—breathe a little slower. “It’s okay. You fell, and it hurts—quite a lot, I’m sure—but it’s okay. We’re going to fix it, all right? You’ll have to listen and, answer my questions, however you can, but we’re going to fix it.”
Dave looks dazed but manages a quick, breathless nod. He trembles, lips moving soundlessly but for the wet, shuddering gasp of each breath as he fights for air. The pain of falling seems to have shocked all of the obscenities out of him. He offers no protest to the orderly’s persistent questions and gentle but pointed prodding.
(Had Dave hit his head? Was he experiencing pain in his arms anywhere other than the sites of the initial breaks? Did he remember falling? Had he seen or smelled anything strange just before he fell? Had he been felt afraid, closed in, dizzy, for any period leading up to the fall?
No, no, yes, no, wide-eyed, vigorous yes.)
“Okay.” The orderly (or maybe he’s a doctor, he certainly does know an awful lot for a hospital bouncer) tucks away his penlight, settles back on his haunches. “You’re having a bad reaction to your new medication. That is a thing that is, definitely happening. But I think that at least some of it, maybe quite a lot, is all in your head.”
“I can’t move,” Dave whimpers, so nakedly panicked that John feels compelled to turn away, embarrassed for his friend. “I can’t breathe.”
“You can,” the troll assures him. “You are. You’re having a panic attack. When it passes, so will these sensations. Not,” he amends, “that they aren’t real, I don’t mean that. And I don’t mean that your emotional state isn’t, heavily compromised, pharmaceutically, at this point in time. But at the core of this attack are your feelings of, vulnerability, and claustrophobia, and those would be there even without, um, the high-dose benzodiazepines. Which you will be phased off of, uh, quite promptly, I promise.”
Whoever he is, John thinks this bull-dude is doing way too much talking and not near enough getting Dave up off the goddamn floor, but Dave watches him rapturously, transfixed by the rhythm of his long, rambling cadence, breath hitching brokenly as he tries (and fails) to match that pattern himself.
The troll sighs.
“I can’t give you a shot,” he explains. “What I would normally administer, in this situation, is close enough, chemically, to what’s giving you trouble that I don’t want to risk it. But I can try something like what I did last night, when you were having breakthrough pain. Would that be, okay?””
“Oh fuck,” Dave moans. “Yes. Please, just—”
The troll reaches out, brushes one grey, calloused hand to Dave’s temple, and Dave… John can’t really describe it. He doesn’t go rigid, exactly, but it’s like his whole body surges into the touch, like lightning to a wire, and then all the quivering, gut-churning panic in him just… Melts away. He slumps, boneless, on the floor, not even flinching as his casts bump hard against the cold tile.
For some reason, all of the little hairs on John’s arms stand on end.
The troll takes Dave’s pulse, peers deeply into his eye, and nods to himself in satisfaction. “I think you’ll be more comfortable in your human, horizontal recuperation platform, yes?”
“Yeah,” Dave agrees, voice distant and faintly robotic. “Sounds good.”
“Okay. I’ll help you sit up, whenever you’re ready.”
“M’ready,” Dave mumbles, lifting up his arms slightly like a toddler asking to be picked up. With a smile the troll shifts behind him instead, supporting his back until Dave is folded more or less upright.
“Feet underneath you.” Dave shuffles to comply. Beneath his gown his muscular legs look delicate, doll-like, the bony bumps of his feet achingly prominent. “Up on three. One, two—“
The troll ends up taking most of his weight, not that that requires any visible exertion on his part. He chats with Dave as he gloves up and reconnects his IV, tells him they’ll have to wheel him down to x-ray in the morning to check for new breaks but that it’s okay if he sleeps for now. It’s good to sleep, good to dream deep, restful dreams, breezes ghosting across the surface of bottomless black oceans, thoughts quiet and patient until Dave is ready to pick them up again. Dave nods dully along, letting the troll turn and position him as needed as fresh cushions are tucked under his arms, along his sides, and doesn’t protest as the bars alongside the edge of his bed are raised to their maximum height. By the time fresh blankets are tucked around his feet and pulled up his body he’s been snoring raggedly for a couple of minutes.
John watches everything, careful not to blink too much. He’s heard stories, okay, seen this kind of stuff on the news, read it in school brochures, but he never—
It takes physical effort not to flinch when the troll finally looks up at him, gold eyes seeming to glow in the gloom.
“C’mon.” He gestures towards the door with a toss of his head. John thinks about how easily the points of his horns could pierce flesh. “Let’s let him rest.”
Out in the hallway the world is bright and clean and sterile and full of rational right corners. The troll—Jesus, John had almost forgotten just how goddamn big he was, what with all the crouching and the sheet-tucking and the Vulcan nerve pinching—turns to squint down at him (brown eyes, John notes for the first time, soft and warm like caramel, or—), one ear flicking as he chews thoughtfully at his dark lips.
(My, Xenonanna, what big fangs you have.)
“You’re, ah, John, right?”
John doesn’t ask how he knows. John concentrates on keeping his mind carefully blank of anything he wouldn’t want someone with freaky troll powers to pick up on. “Right.”
“Well, I know that that was really scary, what you just saw, but it’s not all bad. You’ll be happy to know that Dave should be able to go home soon, probably tomorrow, even. Barring any, ah, additional complications.” He grins crookedly at John, like a mouthful of bared glinting horrorteeth can be anything close to reassuring.
“Great,” says John, in his best end-shift smile-through-the-pain voice. “That’s… really great. Really.”
There’s something else glinting in the harsh fluorescent lights, something roughly at eye level that’s annoying and flashy enough that John eventually has no choice but to glance its way.
It’s his lineage pin, the silver circle clashing with the gold in his ears, the round, horned symbol filled in with brown. Just like the troll at the reception desk, he’s attached it to his name badge. John’s never really been good at picking out Alternian script—his brain just refuses to switch over to the right-to-left format—but there’s no need for fluency when the troll’s name and position are reprinted helpfully in large Roman letters:
TAVROS NITRAM, RN