Everyone hated hospitals. Rivers would admit, there was a lot to hate about hospitals. The smell. If it didn't smell like disinfectant and ammonia and alcohol swabs it smelled like blood and piss and worse. The beeping. The dull looks on half the faces of the people who worked there, day in, night out.
He didn't hate hospitals. He liked them, they were simple. When you were in the hospital you had one job to do, to get better. That was all you had to do. They fed you, they gave you clothes to wear that, okay, were kind of silly looking and embarrassing if you stood up too quick. They took you to and from the bathroom, you barely had to do anything. Didn't have to do anything at all if they had you hooked up to those machines. You didn't have any responsibilities, to anyone or anything. All you had to do was lie back and let the tiny little machines of your body, immune cells and blood systems and whatever, do their work.
Rivers was cool with that. He could lie back and let his body do its work. Close his eyes and let someone else worry about it for now.
"The only problem is..."
David Creegan sat in the chair opposite. Creegan visited, the rest of the team didn't. Hell, he wouldn't have visited himself if he'd been in the hospital, except he was in the hospital. The rest of that thought crashed into itself.
"The only problem is..."
Rivers closed his eyes again. "Why are you still here?"
"You were saying something. The only problem is..."
Had he gotten distracted in mid-sentence again? "Dammit, Creegs, the one time you listen to me..." Rivers opened his eyes, stared at the ceiling. "The only problem is they took me off the good drugs. So my body's asleep, but my mind's awake."
Creegan chuckled. If he said something it was lost in the thud of a revelation hitting Rivers in the face. He repeated it, though, so it didn't matter much. "You want your mind to be asleep?"
"I want not to think so much." Maybe Ben wanted that. Maybe that was why Ben did the drugs, to keep his mind asleep. To keep him from having to think about something. Except Rivers felt he was justified in not wanting to think about what his brother's dead arm felt like under his hand. "I don't want to talk about it."
"You're going to have to talk about it eventually. It'll keep building if you don't."
Creegan had his soft, deep voice on. Vibrato underneath. Or maybe that was the blood in his ears. Rivers propped himself up on his elbows even if it hurt. "You know, the funny thing about you is, I can never tell when you're joking."
"I don't know if I can joke anymore, you know?" Creegan kicked his feet out in front of him, crossed them at the ankles. "Jokes are dependent. On things. Things I don't have access to anymore, connections. I don't know if I can make that connection."
Rivers knew what he meant. Creegan was the most out there son of a bitch he knew. "You make jokes all the time," he told the ceiling, flopping back again and hissing in pain when the impact rattled all his tubes and innards.
"Don't do that. No, I don't make jokes. I tell jokes, that's not the same thing." Something rattled; Rivers thought it was the zipper on his coat.
"You tell good jokes."
And then the silence floated down again and smothered them until it was time for Creegan to go. Wherever he went when he wasn't at the OSC or the hospital.
After the hospital came the exit interview, and then a week's leave before he could go back to work. They waited to hold his brother's funeral till he could walk, and he insisted on being a pallbearer anyway. Something like that. No one wanted to have that argument with him.
He thought, as he hoisted the weight on his shoulder and felt the pull of it down in his stomach, that he could hear his own voice talking to him from the crowd. Having a conversation with someone else but also talking to him. I can't carry you anymore, he said. Had said. To Ben. And Ben would say, if he'd known what he was going to do, you're going to have to carry me one last time. Or maybe that wasn't it. Maybe that was just what they said in badly-written movies.
When it was all over he made his way back to his car only to find Branca leaning against it, waiting for him. "Not ... quite what I expected."
"Not what you expected?" That half-there smile, like she knew what he really meant but wanted to hear him say it. She smiled like that a lot.
"Not who I expected."
She shrugged, untucked her hands from her pockets and came out and away from the car, onto the grass. "David thought it would be better if he didn't come to ..." She looked around at all the black and all the somber and the gray against the sunshine. "He thought it would be easier on you if I came instead."
"Easier." David Creegan contradicted himself two or three times in one sentence, and then went back and forth over it until you were dizzy. Shouted at random intervals and in ways that made no sense to anyone not him, gesticulated in big arm swings and took giant strides, made leaps of intuition and got hunches and went after them without letting anyone else in on what he was thinking. And the worst part about it was, he didn't see anything wrong with any of it. No. The worst part about it was, he was taking Rivers right along with him. "Yeah, I guess it would be." His family would have been terrified.
They walked along the grass between the graves while his family went back to the house. He'd found his brother's body and then gotten stabbed and almost died, no one would wonder why he didn't show up to the reception. Even if it was just a bunch of people all standing around trying not to say how they figured Ben would always die with a needle in his arm some day.
"David, you call him David now?" he looked over at the tiny woman walking next to him.
She looked back up at him. "I always call him David. What, you think we..." and her eyes widened a little, and she laughed. "No, no. God, no. I don't think I'm ready for that. I don't think he's ready for that."
"I don't think the world's ready for that," he admitted, laughing a little at the thought. It was a silly thought. He didn't know why he'd thought it.
"You know, he's not a bad guy," she pointed out, but she laughed, too. "I don't know. Besides, it's against regulations, you know that."
"I know. I wish I didn't." Just for laughs, he played it for laughs. He didn't know how he felt about dating co-workers anymore. He'd tried it once, it hadn't gone well. Branca didn't know that. "Isn't it supposed to rain at funerals?"
"Did you want it to rain?" Branca stepped over a gravestone, sensible shoes. Good idea, because the grass gave under their feet, the ground saturated with all the rain they'd already gotten.
"Hell, I don't know, I just..." No, he couldn't walk anymore. He sat down on someone's headstone, slumped. One hand scrubbed over his face, stubble pricking against his fingertips. Damn, he should remember to shave tomorrow morning. "He was a grief counselor, you know? A goddamn grief counselor. How's that for irony. I went to see him to get my head wrapped around this. I don't even know what I got."
Branca didn't sit, she stood by him, one elbow propped on the other hand crossed over her stomach. "Do you think this is something you can get your head around?"
"I don't know. I don't know, I don't think this is something you ever get your head around. You just live with it."
Creegan caught up with him on a bench outside the office building later that day, over by the smoke shack. No smokers meant they could breathe, but the heavy moisture in the air and the metal tang on the tip of his tongue told him it was going to be a thunderstorm soon.
They sat on the bench, one on each end. At first he thought Creegan was imitating him on purpose, now he wondered if Creegan sat the same way he did because it was how he related to people, by mirroring them. Not on purpose but how he put the pieces together. Elbows on knees, hands draped down between, shoulders bent against the OSC and their problems and their work because that was how they operated. They shut everyone and everything else out.
"They letting you back in?"
Rivers nodded. "Exit interview went all right. I got another day or two to process, then I'll be back on the job on Wednesday."
One hand scrubbed over the other. Usually Creegan gave him more to go on than that. "Kinda looking forward to it, actually. I was getting tired of walking around my apartment, anyway."
"You could always walk somewhere else."
Out of the mouths of lunatics. Rivers managed an exhale that sounded kind of like a laugh. "Yeah, you know, I thought about that, too. But it's been raining. Is it just me or is it always raining, here?"
"Could always move to somewhere nice and sunny. Aruba. Florida." Creegan wasn't kidding, either, he was genuinely trying to be helpful. Rivers favored him with one of his you're a special kind of crazy looks and a grin.
"You know how many whackjobs come out of Florida?"
"So we'll put one back in."
That bark of laughter took him by surprise. He sat up for a second, then leaned back and just laughed, just let it come. Even if it hurt. "Ow, man," Rivers closed his eyes and grinned. "Don't do that. It still hurts when I anything."
Next to him, he heard Creegan chuckle softly. The man did everything way too soft. Except when he shouted.
"How'd you do it?" Funny, his lips were moving, but he didn't mean to say words. Oh well. "How'd you get past the ..." Something. The words came when they weren't wanted and left at the most irritating times, right when he needed them.
Creegan got it anyway. "The nightmares. Night sweats. The way you think you're fine, but you're not fine, it's right there lurking under the bed. Waiting to grab you." He looked up, out at something only Creegan could see, let alone describe. "The way it separates you from everyone. At least you didn't get stabbed in the head."
"Do you know how much force it takes to stab someone in the head?" He regretted it the second he said it.
"Not the eyes. You go through the orbital sockets, it's right..." He even did that little twisting motion, like holding a shish-kebob.
It did rain all the time, here. It was going to start raining any second now. "The worst part about it is, I don't feel bad about it. Anymore. It's just a thing that happened. I'm still alive. Ben's dead. Those are the facts, you know? Thinking about it won't do anything, won't solve anything. Won't fix anything." He made a wild gesture as he spoke and smacked the back of one hand against the arm of the bench, then frowned at it. Creegan watched.
"Not thinking about it won't make it go away, either. You have to..." Creegan leaned forward and towards him, hands shaping something out of the air. "You have to make sure you make a place for it. In your life. Otherwise it makes its own place for you, it takes over, and the next thing you know you're reacting, you're not acting, you're letting it do the acting for you."
"I am the master of my fate...?"
"I am the captain of my soul." Creegan grinned. Like a puppy, or a child, when he'd done something right. Rivers reached out and patted his head.
Water started to drip. One, two drops on the back of his hand, one on top of his head, rolling down the back of his neck. Good, the anticipation was killer. Rivers banged his head off the palm of his hand. "I keep... all these things, you know? I kept saying. Not so funny anymore."
It took Creegan a second to get there, but he did. "Gonna break this case if it kills you?"
"I'll live forever or die trying." Rivers snorted. "I keep thinking stuff like that. And then I stop, I have to change the words. In my head, you know? Like I can make it different. Like I can change what happened." His fingers moved on their own again, bruised knuckles still hurting where the skin had rubbed off, but they moved. Plucked at the shirt over the scars. "But I can't. I can't change what happened." And that was a whole other issue, a whole other one hand rubbing the inside of his arm where the IV had been. He'd never done needle drugs in his goddamn life and now he wondered if that was what it felt like. The injections, for Ben. Right before the drugs hit his system, the push of metal, the intrusion into the body.
"Yeah, I know." The rain didn't follow through on its promise. They stayed on the bench.
Creegan gave him the moment and then switched gears so fast Rivers could swear he heard the gears grinding. "So, I guess this kind of ruins your chances at being on the next OSC calendar, huh?"
He looked over at the other man, who was giving him both bland and wide innocent eyes, blinking too fast. Rivers thought he was trying to flutter his lashes. If so, he failed. Hard. "What were you, Mr... June, July? One of those hot summer months..."
"Oh, christ, Creegs..." He groaned, dropping his face into his hands and then raking his fingers through his hair. "How the hell did you find out about that?"
"No, I thought it was really neat. I mean, the pose was a little stiff, but the lighting really flattered your..."
"Are you hitting on me?"
"No." Beat. "Maybe."
"You're a freak, you know that, right?" Which didn't stop him from leaning in and whispering around a grin. "Besides, you're not pretty enough for me."
"I'm, wait, I'm not pretty enough for you?" The yelp followed him as Rivers stood, laughing, heading back into the building to get the last of the paperwork. "I'm not pretty en-- okay, who's pretty? By your standards, who's your type, who's your kind of pretty."
"Yeah, he's got the whole big broad shoulders thing going on, but his eyes, you know, you ever look at his eyes? They're so pretty..." And he knew Swopes was coming down the hall, too, as they went through the doors, he knew it by the look on Creegan's face and how the laughter got squelched under a too-serious mask. He kept walking anyway, backwards, then leaned against the taller man and looked up at him. He definitely fluttered his lashes better than Creegan. "You're a very, very pretty man, you know that? Hold me."
Swopes blinked. "What? What, wait, what?"
Creegan leaned against the pillar, laughing. Everyone stared. Business as usual.