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In Recovery

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Arms loaded with three grocery sacks, Nina intended to head straight into the kitchen.

An intention somewhat hampered by six feet of miserable vampire sitting crumpled across most of the doorway.

Correction: Six feet of miserable vampire sleeping crumpled across most of the doorway. Or possibly passed out. Did vampires pass out?

She picked her way carefully round him to deposit the sacks on the table. Even when her arms were free, she hesitated to wake him, and hated that she hesitated. She'd managed to shed most of her wariness of him, if only by a sort of attrition -- it was simply too exhausting to maintain when she shared a roof with him. And knew he'd give his life for the man she loved. And knew, as long as she was being honest, that he'd probably do so for her as well.

That last made her feel a bit guilty for being wary and for maybe resenting him sometimes. But it wasn't as if she'd asked it of him, was it? And none of it made her any more eager to risk startling him. Still, it was ridiculous to just leave him there, one leg flung out in front of him and the other pulled up to his chest, his head drooping over it and his face mostly obscured by unruly hair. He didn't seem to be breathing, but then he didn't need to.

"Mitchell?" When he didn't stir -- Christ, what if something was really wrong with him? -- she knelt next to him and set a hand on his shoulder. "Mitchell."

He snapped his head up, inhaling sharply, and she managed not to jump.

"Nina?" Mitchell blinked at her under eyebrows pulled into a twist of confusion, and she felt that much more foolish for the wariness. "Weren't you going into town?"

"I did. Two hours ago. I dropped George off at work and went to the Tesco, and now I'm back." She frowned. "You can't possibly be comfortable like that."

He almost smiled, the closest she'd seen him come to it since... the day of the gas leak, it would have to be, when the whole street had gathered round Annie's tea tray. A million years ago. "I can't possibly be comfortable anywhere at the moment, but I appreciate the thought."

The wince as he levered himself up underscored the statement, as if he felt every minute of his hundred and sixteen years. Maybe he did; God only knew what the vicious cycle of feast and famine really did to his body.

And God knew the latest go-round qualified as a feast.

"You have a bed, you know."

"I know. I’ve spent enough time awake in it." He raked a hand back through his hair, accomplishing nothing that she could see. "If I sleep now, it’ll be that much harder tonight. I need to get back to a routine. Structure."

Nina nodded, seeing the sense of it, and peered into two grocery sacks before she found what she was looking for. "Five packets of coffee." She pulled one of them out. "Hopefully that’ll last us more than three days."

Mitchell’s answer was somewhere between a mutter and a grunt, but she took it as an acknowledgment that he’d been the one going through most of the coffee, and he started putting things away without being asked. By the time she had the cafetiere burbling away, he’d got to the last sack.

He held up the big box of Sugar Puffs as she turned round. "Cheers."

"No problem. Pour me a bowl while you're at it, will you?"

"Sure." This time he did smile, a weak and crooked thing, but there all the same. "Thought I was the only one who liked this stuff."

Nina leant back on the counter, arms crossed. "I think most people like it. We just had to go and grow up, and start feeling guilty for eating crap."

"Silly thing to feel guilty for."

"Easy for you to say. You're not going to rot your teeth or get fat." She cocked her head curiously. "In fact, it's probably better for you than proper food, isn't it?"

Mitchell shrugged. "I dunno. Food's food. I never thought about it much."

Well, there was a shock.  "You're not building new cells or anything. You don't change. You just need fuel, and sugar's the most efficient. I mean, apart from..."

"Yeah, I suppose." He poured milk in both bowls, then pushed each to a side of the table and set spoons beside them. Over his shoulder from the fridge, he added, "Mostly it’s just easier. Cooking isn't really my thing."

"Another benefit of moving in with George?" The coffee was ready, and Nina poured out two mugs and met Mitchell at the table.

"Definitely." He sat down and dug into the cereal, explaining around mouthfuls, "I tried to learn once, but I maybe possibly accidentally set fire to Josie's kitchen."

She suspected there were any number of things he had tried once. For someone who was theoretically going to live forever, he didn’t have much of an attention span sometimes. Still, the one thing he kept trying, despite a growing catalog of failures, was the one that really mattered. She had to respect that.

He’d left the newspaper she’d bought at the center of the table, and Nina considered a moment before sliding it toward him. "There’s a list of names in there. From the train."

He froze, staring at the paper as if it might bite him.

"I couldn’t work it out at first," Nina said. "All those hours listening to the radio. That’s what you were looking for, wasn’t it?"

Mitchell swallowed. "Yeah."

"Was it just you?" When those eyes snapped up in her direction, part of her wanted to run. She was sick to death of running. "George doesn’t want to know. I’m not George."

"There were two of us." His voice came out as if forced past gravel and broken glass.

"And twenty of them."

"Yeah."  He watched her for several seconds, obviously waiting for a stronger reaction.  When there wasn’t one, he went on, "You’d have had a lot to say about that, not long ago. When Carl was staying with us – "

"Carl killed someone he loved." Nina wrapped her hands round her coffee mug, suddenly chilled. "I still can’t fathom that. I don’t know what I think about this, but… I don’t know."

Slowly, gingerly, Mitchell pulled the paper over and opened it to the second page. He stared at it for nearly a minute, reading over the list several times. "Someone loved them. All of them."

"And now you know their names. Does it make it easier?"

"No. Not easier." He closed the paper, folded it, set it back in the center of the table. "But it’s important. I’m the only one who knows what really happened to them. Well, me and – " He stopped short of naming the other vampire involved. "I’m all they’ve got. I need to know. I need to remember."

There was silence for a bit longer, not exactly awkward, then Mitchell picked up his spoon and started munching away again.

They were still in a drafty cottage in Wales, and Annie was still gone. Even so, Nina found herself hopeful that they’d all sleep better tonight.