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"In time, I'll be alright."

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Relief washed over her when the door swung open and she finally saw him.

At first glance, he didn't seem hurt. He looked skinny, skinnier than usual, pale, his hair longer and tousled, his beard shaggy. Not to mention the dark rings under his eyes.

But he was alive. That was what mattered.

He sat there on the ground, blinking up at her, hope and surprise in his expression.

Ellie smiled at him and helped him up. When she did, she noticed he wasn't wearing his own clothes. The oversized t-shirt reached the middle of his thighs, the sleeves nearly reached his elbows. It made him look so small, fragile even.

His steps were slow but every time she looked back over her shoulder, he wasn't far behind.

They left the container he had been held captive in and went to one that housed an office.

Once inside, Alec went straight to the table and leaned against it.

Ellie noticed his hands shaking a little. She wasn't sure if he was cold, weak or both. "I'll be back in a moment, maybe we can find you some proper clothes."

He sighed and nodded.

It hurt to see him so worn out, so tired. She wanted to wrap him up in a blanket and make him a cup of tea. But what were the chances he'd let her?

She wanted him to be alright. She wanted him to be alright so badly. She sighed. She'd do her best, she'd be there for him as far as he'd let her.

And right now, that meant finding clothes. Something that would warm him up until she'd brought him home.

 


 

He watched her leave.

All he wanted was to get home, to finally get home. But no, she wanted to find clothes for him. He was too exhausted to argue, too exhausted to say anything.

Most of the tension slowly left him now that they had found him. It made way for fatigue. So much of it. He had been too tired to argue and now he felt too tired to be relieved, to be happy. Seeing Ellie standing in the door had given him momentary relief. But now he simply wanted to get home, clean up and sleep for hours and hours.

He would deal with everything later. Much later.

The door opened and Ellie came back. Her eyes briefly lingered on him. Then she put what seemed to be the clothes she'd found down next to him.

"Here you go. I'll-" She gestured to the door. "I'll give you some privacy. I'll be right outside."

He hummed and nodded. He should thank her. He really should. But he still couldn't bring himself to talk.

He turned to inspect the clothes. A jumper and worker's pants. The fabric seemed thick. It should keep the blood from leaking through, shouldn't it? At least for a while. Hopefully for long enough.

He wasn't sure if the door had already closed so he turned his head to check.

 


 

With a hand on the doorknob, Ellie watched a moment longer. She didn't want to leave him alone. She was too worried something might happen to him. That he might collapse and hit his head. Only he knew how he was doing and so far, he hadn't said anything.

With a sigh, she forced herself to tear her eyes away. It was no use standing here. But just as she was about to, something caught her attention. It took her a moment to process what she was seeing. A shudder ran through her, her eyes widened.

Blood. A trail of blood.

She took a few steps closer.

A trail of blood running down the inside of his thigh.

"What happened to giving me privacy?"

His voice tore her from her thoughts. They were the first words he had spoken. His voice sounded rough from disuse. He sounded tired. Endlessly tired. It only made her heart ache even more.

 


 

"What?" Why was she staring like that? He really didn't have the energy to figure out her thoughts.

But instead of answering, she walked closer.

His frown deepened. What was she up to?

He got an answer when she stopped in front of him and without a warning reached for the hem of the t-shirt he wore.

"Wha-" He took a stumbling step backwards and fell against the table. "What're you doing?" He hated that his voice pitched so high. Panic always did that to him.

Her eyes flicked up to meet his, her brows furrowing. Her eyes focused on him with an intensity he hadn't seen before. It made him want to shrink away, away from her scrutiny. He gripped the hem of the shirt, pulling it down, gripping it tightly in case she'd try again.

When she looked away, her eyes no longer boring into his, he hoped she'd leave. But then he saw her eyes widen in shock. He followed her gaze.

Shit. Blood started soaking through the shirt, he had held it so close it pressed right against his crotch. Fuck. His heart hammered against his ribcage. His thoughts raced. What should he do now? There was no way to cover this up, was there?

Too late, he noticed her hand shooting forward, grabbing his wrists, pulling at them, prying his hands free from the shirt. He didn't have the strength in him to fight. With his chest heaving from the effort, his hands shaking, he could only watch as she lifted the shirt.

 


 

Ellie stared in horror. A dark red stain stood out in stark contrast against the white of his underwear. It was completely soaked. Soaked in blood.

With this much of it… that kind of heavy bleeding and given the location of the bleeding, that could only mean one thing, couldn't it?

The thought made her shudder, her stomach twisted. She didn't want to think about it, it was too gruesome to even consider. And yet… what else could it be? There was no other possible reason than an injury.

Ellie swallowed hard and looked up at him again, trying to catch his eye but he kept his head turned to the side. "What did they do to you?" she asked softly.

"Nothing."

Her frown deepened. "That's not nothing." Her eyes briefly flicked to his blood-soaked underwear.

His jaw clenched, he closed his eyes, his trembling hands balled into fists by his sides.

What did that mean?

Hesitantly, she reached out. But just before she could slip her fingers under the waistband, he bat her hand away.

"Miller!" He stared at her, his expression tense. But he didn't look angry, instead, he looked worried, scared.

What could he be scared of?

"You're not taking off my pants!" he hissed.

"But you're hurt! You're bleeding! We need to get the fabric off the wound! We need to get you to a hospital!"

He didn't seem to get it, or he didn't care.

He made a frustrated noise. "I'm not hurt! There's no wound!"

"Bullshit! I can see you're bleeding!" She couldn't care that her voice grew louder and louder.

He groaned and rubbed his face with his hands. "It's not what you think."

What was going on with him? Denial? Delusions? "What do you mean it's not what I think? What else can it be?"

He didn't answer. The rigid set of his shoulders told her he wasn't going to.

Oh, she would be royally pissed at him for his stubbornness if she wasn't so worried. They were really running out of time. Who knew for how long he had been bleeding. "Take them off!"

"No!"

She tried to reach for the waistband again but he swatted her hands away.

"Miller for the last time: hands off," he said weakly.

It would have sounded intimidating if he didn't look like he could pass out any minute.

Was it the blood loss? He did look extremely pale. The pain? It had to have been painful, unless they had given him something he was likely still in a huge amount of pain. Hell, she wasn't even sure how he could stand. So was he in denial? Was that what it was? It must have been traumatic. If so, she couldn't believe anything he had said. And she needed to act now, they had already wasted too much time. "We need to get you to a hospital! Right now!" She began fumbling for her phone.

"I don't need a hospital!"

"Oh, yes, you do! Look at the state of you!" But before she could even unlock her phone, he surged forward and grabbed her wrist.

"No!"

Her head whipped around. "Yes!"

She watched him take a deep breath, his eyes closed for a moment.

"I'm not hurt," he said, slower now, the exhaustion painfully clear in his voice. "It isn't what you think it is." He stared at her, his eyes pleading.

He didn't look deluded, he didn't look hazy from pain. Instead, his gaze was clear. Ellie found herself hesitating. She wanted to believe him. And the clarity in his voice, his eyes, his expression didn't match that of someone who had lost a lot of blood, was still bleeding on top of that, and had been hurt in such a horrible way.

Her heart twinged as something came to her mind. He hated hospitals, he despised them. Did he hate them enough to lie? To throw all common sense into the wind? Worst of all, she couldn't safely answer that with no. Assuming he told the truth felt so much easier to come to terms with. But easy wasn't always right. Rarely, in fact. But he didn't look distressed or dazed enough to be hurt so badly...

"Okay," she said slowly. She could only hope she wasn't making a huge mistake in believing him. "You're really not hurt?" She couldn't keep herself from asking, worried as she still felt.

He shook his head. "No."

She nodded. Still, worry gnawed at her.

"Drive me home, Miller."

"I will."

She watched him hastily put on the pants. The sight of the blood still made her stomach twist. She knew she could only feel at peace when she had found out where it came from. But now wasn't the time. "Come on, then." She held the door open for him.

Quickly, he followed her. "Don't tell anyone about this," he said quietly, only loud enough for her to hear.

She blinked and looked back at him. Something about the way he said it made her worry if she had made the right decision after all. Was this only him protecting his privacy or was there more to it?  Renewed unease settled heavily in her stomach.

He stepped closer to her, his voice serious. "Promise."

"I promise."

 


 

During the drive, when the remainders of panic wore off, he thought about what had happened. She didn't seem to have figured out why he was bleeding. As much as he felt relieved by that, he also knew she wouldn't drop it. Not until she had figured it out. And she wasn't stupid. She would find out. It was only a matter of time.

"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?" she asked as she stood in the door.

"Yes, I'm sure," Alec said for what felt like the tenth time.

"But will you be alright on your own?"

He sighed. Why did she have to care so much? About him of all people. "I'm an adult, Miller. I'm fully capable of taking care of myself." It probably wasn't fair to be so harsh to her. But his patience was wearing thin. He needed to be alone. He needed to clean up and then sleep.

And yet she stubbornly looked back at him.

 


 

Ellie knew he wouldn't let himself be convinced. Annoying him until he let her stay felt heartless given the circumstances. But she knew he lied when he said he'd be alright on his own. Two months of captivity were bound to take a toll on anyone and it wasn't like he had been the picture of good health, to begin with. Leaving wasn't an option.

As she tried to figure out how to convince him, she heard Daisy calling her name.

"What's going on?" she asked curiously as she walked closer

While she still tried to find the right words, Daisy looked through the open door into the house.

A smile broke out on her face. "Dad!" She ran towards him and hugged him tightly.

For a moment, Ellie worried that the force of Daisy's hug would knock Alec off his feet. Luckily it didn't and he hugged her back just as tightly.

Alec looked up for a short moment. "You can go now, Miller."

"But-" She sighed and stopped herself when she noticed his tired expression. He wasn't alone now. She didn't like leaving Daisy alone to take care of her father, though. She was just a teen, she shouldn't have to. "Daisy, love, if anything happens or you need anything, you can call me, alright? No matter when."

Daisy nodded, still holding onto her father. "Okay. Thanks."

She nodded. That was all she could do for now, wasn't it?

With one last look at Alec and a heavy heart, she left.

 


 

Alec inhaled and exhaled slowly. He felt some of the tension leave his body, making way for even more fatigue. But now he was finally alone. Well, almost. But Daisy wouldn't ask so many questions. And more importantly, she knew something Ellie didn't.

"Are you hurt?"

He leaned back a little to see Daisy's face. Her expression mirrored the worry in her voice.

"No." He shook his head.

A slight frown appeared on her face, she cocked her head.

He knew the signs. She didn't believe him. He averted his eyes. "Got my period," he mumbled. "D'you have a pad?"

Daisy looked startled for a moment but quickly caught herself. "Yeah, wait a sec, I'll get you one." With that, she pulled away and hurried to the bathroom.

And just like that, she was gone, no arms around him anymore, no warmth under his hands. With a deep sigh, he went to get a set of clothes from his closet.

Daisy waited for him by the bathroom door.

He took the pad she held out to him. "Thank you."

She smiled briefly, it didn't reach her eyes. "They're in the drawer with the toilet paper."

Alec nodded.

"Dad… Are you okay?"

At the tone of her voice, his chest tightened. She sounded so worried, a little scared even. And he couldn't blame her. She chewed on her lip, anxiously waiting for him to answer. He couldn't lie to her, he didn't want to. "Not really," he said with a sigh. "I'm very tired, my body hurts. It's been… bad. But-" He swallowed hard, trying not to tear up. "I'll take a shower, drink something and then I'll sleep."

She nodded. "Okay. I'll make tea for you."

"Thanks, darlin'."

A small smile appeared on her face. A real smile this time.

It gave him strength somehow. He had missed her so much . There had been moments where he hadn't been sure he'd ever see her again. But now he was home at last. And she was there with him.

Before she could see the tears in his eyes, he went into the bathroom and locked the door.

He tossed his clothes onto the toilet and leaned over the sink. Slowly, he looked up.

A mess of a man stared back at him. Deadly pale, dark rings under his eyes, his hair and beard a mess. He tore his eyes away, he couldn't stand seeing his reflection for another second. Quickly, he took off the clothes he wore and tossed them on the floor. He'd throw them all away later.

The tiles hadn't felt cold under his feet, the water of the shower, however, felt scalding. He lowered the temperature until it was bearable.

And then he stood under the spray for several minutes. Listening to the water, feeling the warmth seep into his skin, feeling it chase away the cold that had settled deep in his bones.

After washing his hair, watching the foam disappear down the drain, his focus shifted. His eyes fixed on the bloody mess between his thighs. He sighed and started washing the blood away. The smears on his legs went easily, he couldn't say the same for the half-dried, tangled mess between his thighs, however. Carefully, he tugged at the clumps, wincing when they pulled at the hair.

When the ordeal was over, when the last of the blood swirled around the drain, he felt tears sting in his eyes once more.

He couldn't stop his hands from trembling as he wiped the first tears away. But once the dam had broken, there was no stopping it. All the pent-up tension, fear and frustration spilt.

Finally, after so long, he felt safe again.

A sob escaped him, his shoulders shook as more and more tears ran down his cheeks.

When the tears had stopped, when his sobs had died down, he was left feeling empty and so incredibly tired. He turned off the water and slid the door open. Steam hung under the low ceiling, he couldn't see anything but the vague shape of himself in the mirror. Good. He didn't think he could bear facing his own reflection just yet.

He grabbed a towel and mechanically dried himself off. He got dressed in the same way.

A quick look in the mirror told him his eyes looked normal, his cheeks weren't speckled with red anymore.

Nothing indicated he had cried.

There was no need to make Daisy see him like that. She had already been through enough with him being kidnap- going missing in the first place.

 

He found her sitting at the table with two cups of tea and a plate of sandwiches.

With a deep sigh, he sat. He cradled a mug in his hands, feeling the warmth it gave off. After a moment, he took the first sip. He closed his eyes as it ran down his throat, feeling the warmth settle in his belly, soothing him.

He took another sip, and another and before he knew it the cup was empty. Only now, he noticed which mug he held in his hands. Ellie had given it to him on their first Christmas together, here at his house. She had told him that from the moment she'd seen it, she had known this was the perfect gift for him. It had reminded her of him. She had had it months before Christmas. It had warmed his heart then to know she thought of him and it did now. She was a wonderful friend. Ellie was a wonderful friend. He should call her by her first name more often. She deserved it.

As he continued to stare at the empty mug in his hands, feeling so warm and comfortable, reality caught up with him. This short moment of happiness and relief didn't last. Of course, it didn't. For him, these kinds of things never lasted for long.

Fatigue and pain crashed over him once more, his entire body felt heavy, his muscles ached. He yawned.

"Is there anything else I can do?"

Daisy's soft voice shone a light into the darkness inside his mind. He looked over at her.

She chewed her lip again, she picked at her thumb. He hated seeing her like this. He wanted to see her happy and carefree. She deserved to be. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine." He put on a smile, trying to reassure her. As much as himself perhaps.

But of course, she wouldn't let herself be fooled that easily. She was too clever, she knew him too well.

"In time, I'll be alright. I promise."

This time, she nodded and reached out to take his hand. "Okay."

He smiled then. A real smile. He felt the pull in his cheeks. Feeling her hand against his own, calmed him. It almost made him feel warm and relaxed like he had before.

Eventually, he took a deep breath. He could barely keep his eyes open anymore. "I'll-" he gestured to the bed as he stifled a yawn.

Daisy gently squeezed his hand. "Sleep well, dad."

"Thanks, darlin'."

 


 

Daisy watched him leave, his movements slow, almost measured.

The initial excitement, relief and sheer happiness of having him back had long since faded. In reality, everything turned out to be a lot more complicated. She couldn't help feeling like there was something she should do, like it would be blatantly obvious to anyone but her. This left her stuck trying to reach her dad, trying to let him know she wanted to be there for him, trying to have some positive impact, trying to make him feel better. But she wasn't sure anything actually worked. She sighed. The only thing to do was to keep trying.

With one last look at him, now sound asleep, she took their mugs to the kitchen and put them in the sink. She went to get the plate of sandwiches and put it in the fridge for later.

What should she do now? Was there anything to do? There was nothing she could do for her dad right now. Except being quiet so she wouldn't wake him. She had math and history homework due later this week... No. There was no way she'd be able to focus on that. Her eyes flicked over to her dad again. He had turned onto his back.

It was stupid, she knew that, but she worried he would disappear if she looked away for only a moment too long. That he would be gone and she would be alone again.

 

Daisy didn't know how long she had been sitting at the table, idly playing games on her phone, always checking if he was still there. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him stir. Without thinking, she got up, wanting to go to him. But she decided to wait.

He sat and carefully stretched. Then, for a while, he sat on the edge of his bed, staring at his own feet. When he looked up, his eyes almost immediately found her.

She gave a small smile and in an instant, his features softened.

With a quiet groan, he got up and made his way over to her. Less than an arm's length from her, he stopped.

What did he- Oh. He had reached out and pulled her close. Practically on instinct, she wrapped her arms around him. His beard brushed against her temple as he leaned even closer. His hands tightened their grip on her shirt when she began caressing his back.

After a few minutes, Daisy could have sworn, she felt his shoulders start to tremble. Only a little at first but more and more as time went on. He really seemed to need this hug… Part of her felt happy this was something she could give him. But at the same time, it was yet another sign of just how not alright he was.

As he slowly pulled away, Daisy caught a glimpse of him wiping away a few tears before he let go of her entirely.

Determinedly, she kept her hands on his waist. "We can hug more if you want," she said quietly. She almost worried that if she said it too loud, the moment would break and she'd spook him.

Without a word, only a small nod, he leaned back in. He immediately buried his face in her shoulder and this time, she could feel him shake from the start.

Her chest tightened. It hurt to see him like this. Maybe especially because she never had before. She had never seen him so quiet, so vulnerable. She wrapped her arms tighter around him, holding him as close as she could and caressing his back.

After many minutes, they separated and he looked a little more relaxed, a little less sad.

He blinked slowly before yawning. " 'm going back to bed. Will you be alright?"

"Yeah, I'll go to sleep soon too." She smiled and gently squeezed his hand.

He nodded. And then he leaned in to kiss her forehead.

Her eyes closed of their own accord. Later she might be embarrassed to admit how much she had missed this. But right now? In this moment? She savoured it.

 

As Daisy lay in her bed in the dark, her thoughts kept her awake.

She had checked on her dad before going to the bathroom and again when she got out. And then one more time before she got into bed. But now she wanted to check again.

The thought of waking up the next morning only to find his bed cold and empty, to find out it had all been a dream or worse yet, that he had been taken again, wouldn't leave her. She couldn't shake the worry, she couldn't shake the fear. So after some debating, she made a decision. She grabbed her pillow and got up.

After standing next to his bed for a while, watching him, pondering if she should really do this, watching him some more, she finally reached out to touch his arm. "Dad?"

No reaction.

Gently, she shook his shoulder. "Dad?"

He moved a little and squinted at her. "Hrm? What's going on?"

She took a steadying breath, pushing down the nervous feeling in her gut. "Can I sleep here tonight?" Quickly, she added: "I can't sleep alone."

Even in the dark, she saw his eyes widen. "Yeah, 'course." He shuffled back to make room for her.

She put her pillow down next to his and slipped under the blanket. Immediately, a comforting warmth greeted her. It reminded her of the times she had crawled into her parents' bed as a child after a bad dream.

And just as she had done all those years ago, she moved closer and wrapped her arms around him.

He immediately returned the hug and kissed her temple.

A weight she hadn't previously noticed lifted off her chest. She revelled in the warmth around her, soaked in the deep comfort that came with it. And now that she didn't need to worry if he was still there, sleep quickly claimed her.

 


 

When Alec woke up he wasn't sure why at first. Dizzy and a little disoriented he fought against the tired haze clouding his mind.

Someone touched his shoulder. He blinked several times before fully opening his eyes. Daisy. Daisy sat on the edge of his bed.

"Morning," she said with a smile.

"Mornin'." He cleared his throat.

"I'm sorry I had to wake you. But… I don't think I wanna go to school today. I don't want to leave you alone."

Oh. His heart sank. She still worried about him. Of course, she did. He nodded and tried his best to push away the guilt. "I'll call them."

"Thanks."

He smiled back at her. Then, with some effort, he got up. His muscles still ached. He had grown used to it to the point he could walk normally by the time he reached the phone.

When he got back to the bed, he frowned. The blanket and pillow lay on the floor and Daisy currently struggled to pull the last corner of the sheet around the mattress.

"Why did you change the sheet?"

She made a startled sound and accidentally dropped the mattress, nearly toppling over in the process. "Oh, uh- There was blood on it. Not too much but we should wash it."

He sighed. "I really haven't missed that…" He felt the seat of his pants and immediately noticed it was damp. "I'll go change." But as he turned around, he stopped. "Thanks. For changing the sheet."

"Sure." She smiled back at him.

He felt glad she'd be here today. Sure Miller would come around at some point but for most of the day, he would have been alone. Alone with his thoughts. That wouldn't have been good.

Now with new pants and a fresh pad, he felt a little better. Less sticky and gross for sure. "D'you still have the sandwiches you made yesterday?"

"Yeah, they're here, in the fridge."

He followed her voice to the kitchen.

She put the plate down on the counter and pushed it towards him.

 

"I've been wondering...” Daisy began as they sat together on the couch a few hours later. “Did Ellie find out?"

"Hm?" He looked up. "Find out what?"

"That you got your period. Wait, does she even know you're trans?"

He shook his head. He had pushed all thoughts about that aside. He didn't feel ready to consider all the things that could happen. "She doesn't know. But she saw the blood."

"Oh... Did she say anything?"

He laughed dryly. Hard to imagine Ellie not saying anything. "She tried to take me to the hospital, she was convinced I was hurt." He sighed. "Luckily, I managed to talk her out of it." But he knew it was only a matter of time until she would find out. How much did she know already? How long would it take for her to know enough to connect the dots? He really hoped she had kept her promise of not telling anyone...

Daisy's voice tore him from his thoughts. "Even if she finds out, I'm sure it'll be alright."

Always the optimist... He shrugged. "I don't know."

"Ellie doesn't seem like someone who'd be transphobic," she continued.

It hurt to consider that. But he knew it was always a possibility. Always a risk. "You can never be completely sure."

Before Daisy could reply, the phone rang. He quickly went to get it. "Hardy."

"Hi! Do you mind if I come over for lunch?" Ellie asked.

He checked the clock. “It's already 12. It's practically lunch."

"I know, that's why I called. So... yes or no?"

"Yeah, alright. Yes."

"Great, I'll be over in 15. You don't need to get any food for me though, I've got my own."

He hummed. "See you then."

"Ellie?" Daisy asked.

"Yeah. She's invited herself over for lunch." He sat down on the couch with a sigh.

"She probably just wants to check on you. I bet she's worried."

He sighed again. It was probably true. "I suppose."

"We need some groceries anyway so I'll go to the store while Ellie's here," Daisy announced.

A little surprised, he nodded. "How much money do you need?"

"Uh... 50 maybe?"

He went to get his wallet and gave her 60£.

"Do you want anything?" she asked as she grabbed her coat.

He thought about it for a moment. Was there anything he wanted? "Don't think so. But thanks."

She smiled at him, then put on her shoes. At the door, she paused. "Dad?"

"Hm?"

"Call me when Ellie's left, okay? I don't want to interrupt your conversation."

His eyes widened a little. Did she think or expect him to tell Ellie? Or did she want to give him the option to talk more freely about how he was doing? Either way, it was probably better that way. "I will."

"Great. See you later, then."

"See you. Be careful."

After Daisy had closed the door, he couldn't shake the anxious feeling. What if Ellie would ask him questions? He didn't want to lie to her but he didn't quite feel ready to tell her either. It had been so long since he'd had to tell anyone.

 

In the end, he decided to take control of the matter. There would be too much uncertainty otherwise.

After Ellie had asked how he had settled in, when he might be ready for a police interview and how Daisy was doing, a comfortable silence settled over them.

It took him a few minutes to gather his courage. "So... have you figured it out?"

She looked up with a small frown on her face. "What do you mean?"

He grimaced inwardly. "Why I was bleeding. Have you figured out why I was bleeding?"

"Oh, that. Right.." She stared at her plate for a moment, then slowly brushed the crumbs off her fingers.

His heartbeat picked up as he waited for her answer.

"I can't make sense of it," she finally said. "I thought about it a bunch of times and... I believe you that you weren't- or aren't- hurt but I can't think of a single other reason why you could possibly have been bleeding.”

He nodded.

"A man can't bleed without being hurt. If you were a woman it would be obvious," she rambled on.

Despite himself, he laughed. The whole time had tried to figure out a way to tell her, to come out to her. And now she gave him this, the perfect starting off point. He took a deep breath and slowly released it. "That's close to the truth," he began. "I am a man but I did get my period."

She scoffed. "Now you're messing with me!"

"I'm not." He shook his head, his heartbeat racing. "I'm trans, transgender."

In the moment of silence that followed, he almost held his breath.

Ellie blinked. "So you..." He could see the cogs turning in her head. "When you were born you were... a girl?"

Hesitatingly, he nodded. "I was assigned female at birth but later I figured out I'm not a girl."

"Okay," she said slowly.

A weight lifted off his chest. He could clearly see she was still processing but going by her reaction so far, he didn't feel like he had anything to worry about.

Another minute passed and she began to look more and more puzzled.

"Ask."

"Huh?" Ellie looked up, a little startled.

"You like you've got a question. Or questions. You can ask."

She began fidgeting with the paper napkin. "I hope I won't say something weird." After a moment of hesitation, she asked: "Do you always get your period?"

"No." He shook his head. "I take testosterone. Monthly. I couldn't take it there obviously and because of that, there's more estrogen in my body again. A few other things started changing too."

Ellie nodded. "That makes sense I guess." She stayed quiet but he could feel there was something else. "I think I should apologise. I shouldn't have lifted your shirt. Or tried to take off your underwear."

He hummed but he didn't know what to say.

Before he could stammer an awkward reply, Ellie started talking again: "It's just... You were being your usual stubborn self. And I know there's no way to get you to do something when you're like that. I mean, there is but shouting at you after you'd spent two months locked up isn't right. And I thought- I thought whatever injury you've got, you'll keep that to yourself. Maybe even drive yourself to a hospital after I brought you home. Or not go at all. I know how much you hate hospitals. Being the stubborn prick you are, you might just risk your health or even your life over that." Ellie looked a little out of breath now that she'd finished her apology-turned-rant.

He looked at her with wide eyes, he couldn't help it. Because in this very moment, something became clear to him. All that... All the complaining and fussing about him, she only did that because she cared about him. She seemed to care so much about him. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "Sorry for making you worry."

She smiled at that, her eyes shining bright. She playfully kicked his shin under the table.

And now he couldn't help smiling too.

"I'm glad you're not actually hurt. You gave me such a scare when I saw you bleeding like that!"

He laughed quietly.

"It's not funny!" she complained halfheartedly.

"I know, I know." After a moment of silence, he asked: "What did you think had happened to me?"

And all of a sudden, Ellie went still. The smile on her face disappeared from one second to the next.

He almost regretted asking. But how bad could it be?

"I thought..." She swallowed hard. "I thought they'd cut your penis off."

Oh. Oh. That's how bad it could be. "Now I understand why you were so frantic," he said softly. He couldn't even begin to imagine what that was like... thinking that someone had been mutilated like that.

Slowly, she looked up. "I'm really glad there's a completely harmless reason for all that blood." She laughed quietly.

"Yeah."

And that was it.

Silence settled over them again. It didn't feel uncomfortable or stifling, it never did with Ellie. This was one of the things that made him feel incredibly lucky to have met her. She cared about him, she cared a lot. And now she knew he was trans and she accepted him. Without a fuss, without strange comments. He felt blessed to have gotten to know her and become friends with her.

Because that's what they were, right? Friends.

He caught her eye and smiled.

A soft smile lit up her face.

A comforting warmth enveloped him.

No words were spoken, no words needed to be spoken.