Megan was the first one to get back. She started on dinner almost immediately after walking in the door, despite how tired her legs were. The boys would likely be starving when they returned. She was only marginally surprised when she found that Nick had left as well, though she couldn’t be sure if he was actually out looking for Dal. The guy was such a self-centered, excuse-making jerk, she wouldn’t be surprised if he just went out to make it seem like he had been looking so that no one would yell at him when they got back.
She didn’t know. It was hard to figure out what Nick was thinking at any given moment. He did his poker face extremely well. Even when Dal had been sick and close to death, while his face had been gaunt and his hands shaky, Nick hadn’t looked hysterical. He hadn’t shown any signs of emotion. When she’d first met him, it’d been obvious that he and Dal were quite close. Nick had shown a strong protective streak when Kris had been subtly bullying her son, he had shown a compassionate side when Dal had been upset, he had offered as much physical support as he was comfortable with (which wasn’t a whole lot, evidently).
And that had all gone to pieces as soon as Dal got better from his bout of sickness. She didn’t know why it had all gone to pieces like that, but it had.
“It’s not my fault if the little brat can’t handle it when I get moody!”
Megan scowled at her pot of water, waiting for it to boil. Nick had never shown such a lack of concern for Dal’s well-being before. She had thought that he would be willing to talk with her and maybe they could figure out what had caused Dal to decide to run away from home, but the man had instead immediately gone on the defensive for what had seemed like no reason.
And with how defensive he’d gotten, she couldn’t really help but think that he must have said or done something to Dal to convince him to leave. Perhaps he hadn’t done it – whatever it was – with the intent of driving the boy away, but it was the results that mattered. If Nick was the reason Dal had up and disappeared, he needed to take responsibility for that and apologize. And if Dal refused to forgive him, he would have to deal with that.
If that wasn’t the case, if Nick hadn’t done or said something to Dal, she could only imagine that he was really just a prick. In either case, Nick was a bastard of a man who needed to take a few minutes to grow the hell up. And if he wouldn’t, he wasn’t going to be able to maintain his relationship with Dal. Or anyone, for that matter.
She remembered him telling her that he’d been married twice, and that both times he’d been divorced. He had denied ever being friends with anyone. He hadn’t mentioned having any stable relationships with anyone. He had told her that his whole life had been swindling and scamming and lying and cheating and running for his life.
He had told her that he’d been alone since he was about four. His father had been an alcoholic and his brother a psychopath. His sister had killed herself when he was thirteen. His mother had walked out on him so long ago, he didn’t remember her ever existing in his life in the first place.
Megan then wondered if Nick had never had a relationship of any kind with anyone because he didn’t know how. The thought was surprisingly depressing. The anger she’d been collecting towards him dissipated slowly, and she was left with an empty feeling that she didn’t like. She didn’t know why she’d been fighting with him. She didn’t know why she’d been letting him bait her into verbal battles.
As she was dumping pasta into the pot of now boiling water, she tried to think of what had come over her. First, she’d found it impossible to access her emotions so that she could grieve for Jacob, and now she was being overwhelmed by all the wrong emotions. Was that what it was? Was it about Jacob, like Nick had said when they’d been fighting over dinner?
“You obviously have all that anger towards me murdering your nephew under control!”
She flinched, wrenched rudely out of her thoughts when she heard the door open. She stirred the pasta briefly before walking out into the living room to greet whoever it was that had come home.
“‘N oh my god, ‘e screamed every time ‘e opened ‘is eyes for n’ entire year. It was real funny at first, but then it jus’ got sad, n’ then it got funny again, oh man.” Ellis was saying, limping fiercely as he made his way over to the couch. He sat down, letting out a breath of air and groaning, before laughing a bit.
Dal chuckled, a sound that surprised Megan. When he’d laughed before, it hadn’t sounded… normal. He would either let out a breath or a bark of laughter, but it wasn’t ever a chuckle or a real, honest to goodness laugh. It had sounded like someone who didn’t have any control or strength in their throat muscles.
He had made a lot more progress a lot faster than she’d thought he would. Dal and Ellis probably didn’t realize the significance of the boy being capable of laughing. She would have to do an actual, full-body assessment later, to see if the rest of him was following along at the same pace. It was possible that his throat, jaw, and mouth were ahead of the game because he didn’t just chew gum all day, he also ate full meals and nibbled on various things throughout the day. That meant that he was giving his mouth and throat more exercise and in different ways than she had stopped to consider.
Her eyes then fell on Ellis, who was in the process of taking off his boots, Dal walking around the coffee table to sit beside him. Nick hadn’t come in with them. She had kind of been hoping that, considering how long it had taken Ellis to get back, Nick might’ve been with them. Evidently, her prayers weren’t answered. She hoped they weren’t going to have to go look for him, too. If he had gone out without the intention of returning, they would never be able to find him. Nick seemed like the kind of person who could easily disappear permanently. She had been fighting with him endlessly, but that didn’t mean she hoped he would go away forever. In fact, it meant quite the opposite. Nick had to come back, because she needed to talk to him.
Once Ellis had his boots off, he let out a relieved sigh, and turned to Megan, “Hey!” He greeted, “Is everybody home?” He wanted to know, and Megan shook her head in response. The younger man’s face fell, and she watched as he exchanged a glance with Dal. The redhead then noted that the two of them were sitting closer together than they usually did. Dal usually put about a foot of distance between himself and everyone else – save for Nick. Right now, however, he was within six inches from Ellis.
“Nope.” She replied, wondering what had happened between the two of them to cause such a change in behavior. Obviously they’d been talking. Dal had come in with his speech board tucked under his arm, and now it sat contentedly on the coffee table. “I went out looking without Nick, so I don’t know if he’s actually in on the search party or if he’s just taking a very long walk.”
Ellis looked worried, as he started twiddling his thumbs anxiously. Megan sighed softly. She wasn’t concerned about Nick. He was, after all, the most capable out of all of them. He was probably fine. He was either panicking as he searched the entire village of Brookhaven for Dal, or he was taking a walk with his head in the night sky.
“Don’t worry about him, Ellis.” She reassured, “If there’s anyone in the world we don’t need to worry about in terms of safety, it’s probably Nick.”
He wasn’t really looking for Dal. He wouldn’t lie to himself about that much. He wasn’t looking for anyone. He was, in fact, continuing to hope that he didn’t run into Megan, or Ellis, or Dal. Especially Dal. Considering how his day was going thus far, of course, he might very well run into Ellis and Dal. That would make for an awkward exchange.
Nick glanced up at the night sky. There was a thin, rolling cloud cover that just barely coated the moon once in a while and hid most of the stars. The night was much nicer than the day had been. The streets looked less awful in the cover of the evening, its bloodstains and battle scars well hidden. The stench that had been lingering in the streets alongside the bodies had subsided, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed by Nick that the quantity of corpses was significantly less. So much less, in fact, that he hadn’t actually seen a single body since he’d left the house.
He didn’t know what exactly that implied, but he could venture a guess – it was likely that some form of organized group was coming through and clearing out the streets. Probably either military, CEDA, volunteer survivors, or any combination of. He’d place his bets on CEDA or volunteers, though. The military was probably busy “securing the nation” or something stupid like that.
It didn’t matter. He hadn’t encountered anyone thus far, he didn’t expect to encounter anyone now.
Nick let out a sigh, turning his gaze back to the ground a few feet ahead of him. When he’d first left the house, he’d been in a sour mood. His pace had been much quicker than it was currently, and he’d been full of anger and hate and had sort of wanted to kill someone. Or something. Whatever came first.
Now, he was lost somewhere between thinking and not thinking. His head wasn’t really in the clouds, but it wasn’t really with him on the ground, either. He’d spend a great deal of time just counting the cracks in the sidewalk, or looking into houses curiously. Some of them had their lights on, others didn’t. He’d think for a while, and then his mind would still and nothing would come to him. He turned down a street – Spruce Street, to be exact. He counted the letters of the two words – twelve letters. Four vowels. Eight consonants.
He tried not to, but he wondered if Ellis and Megan had found the kid yet. If they’d be able to find him. He knew that, when he’d disappeared from his home when he was seventeen, he had made absolutely certain that he would never be going back. When he didn’t want to be found, Nick would not be found. He didn’t know if Dal was like that. When Dal had told him that he was a runaway, Nick had been under the impression that the kid hadn’t been trying to disappear. He had probably been trying to garner his parents’ attention. He wasn’t sure if this was different or not.
It was entirely possible that Dal didn’t want to be found, just as it was possible that he did want to be found. It was also possible that he didn’t care if he was found or not, because he was teetering on the edge of a five-story building. Though Nick tried not to dwell on that last option, mainly because it made him feel physically unwell. He couldn’t imagine what he’d do if Dal were to actually kill himself.
He made another turn, this time down Maple Street. Lots of tree names for the streets in Brookhaven. Eleven letters. Four vowels. Seven consonants.
He was beginning to think that he might be coming to terms with the simple fact that he wasn’t suited for relationships of any kind. He couldn’t manage a marriage, couldn’t manage partnerships, couldn’t manage friendships, couldn’t manage people in general. He didn’t really know why he’d thought he’d be able to maintain his relationship with Dal. It had been a stupid idea to do something like that in the first place. It had been stupid to try. If he’d followed through with his original plan – the one he’d come up with four to six hours after he’d met Dal – he wouldn’t be in this mess now, and the kid would probably be in a better place.
He didn’t know why he’d wanted to try and maintain his relationship with Dal. He didn’t know why he’d bothered. His history with relationships should’ve been enough to warn him that it wouldn’t work out in the end. It should’ve been enough to tell him that he would ruin it. It was what always happened. It wasn’t even like he was moping about how the world was cruel and he hated his life; it was a fact.
Nick wasn’t suited for relationships. He just wasn’t.
He turned a corner, and was immediately blasted in the face by an awful, incredibly bright light. He immediately lifted a hand to shield his eyes, his head pounding much harder than it had been a few moments earlier. As he was blinking the stars out of his eyes, a highly authoritative voice that instantly infuriated him spoke.
“Identify yourself, sir!” It called commandingly, and Nick felt his fists start to clench with agitation. He’d had a bad enough day. The bright as hell lights dimmed somewhat, and he lowered his arm to try and get a look at whoever it was he was supposed to be talking to.
He didn’t respond right away, his face settling on a glare. He could just barely see the silhouette of the self-important officials he had accidentally walked into. Volunteers, CEDA, or military? Military would be armed. CEDA probably wouldn’t be. Volunteers might be.
“Identify yourself!” The Authority spoke again, and Nick’s glare only hardened.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Whaddya think’s takin’ him so long?” Ellis asked no one in particular. He turned his head to look at the other two in the room with him. It was going on midnight, and still no sign of Nick. Dal was sitting on the side of the couch opposite of him, doing his exercises on Ellis’ ankles. Megan had told him to elevate his ankle, so he had propped his feet up on Dal’s lap. The kid hadn’t seemed to mind, and had actually had a fair amount of fun tickling him on and off when he’d first put his feet up. The little rascal had a sense of humor that Ellis hadn’t been able to see before. He liked it.
“I don’t know, Ellis,” Megan sighed. He felt bad for staying up. For some reason, Dal and Megan had decided to stay up with him once he had told them he would wait up for Nick. They didn’t have to stay up, he knew, and he sort of wished they’d go to bed.
Well, at the rate they were going, the three of them might pass out on the couch.
“Maybe he got lost,” The redhead continued, “Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s fine.”
Ellis frowned. Megan had seemed kind of off since he’d gotten back with Dal. He didn’t know what had happened, but he could at least guess that she had probably had another fight with Nick.
Several more minutes passed in silence. Ellis yawned, leaning back against the arm of the couch. His ankle was still aching something fierce, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been a couple hours ago. It’d been pretty badly swollen when he’d first got back, and Megan had done a full assessment of his ankle, deeming it sprained and warning him to stay off it, unless he wanted to do permanent damage to his leg.
“Ellis,” Megan spoke suddenly, and he looked over at her again. She was staring at him, her expression unreadable. “Have you ever lost anyone?”
Ellis’ thoughts halted at that question. He knew immediately that she was thinking about her nephew. Dal had paused in his exercises, his fingers hovering over Ellis’ ankles, and he looked sort of tense.
Finally, Ellis answered, “Yea, I ‘ave. My mom ‘ad a heartattack two years ago. N’ my dad died o’ cancer when I was twelve.”
Megan nodded solemnly, and fell silent for a moment. She seemed to be deep in thought. Dal was as stiff and silent as a tombstone, and Ellis wondered if they were walking on thin ice. After all, Dal had lost his mom a couple of days ago. Maybe they ought to not be having this conversation in front of him.
“How did you handle it?” The redhead in the armchair asked, and Ellis looked at her again. He had handled his father’s death much better than he’d handled his mother’s. His father had been a Vietnam veteran, and he had always been very unavailable. Ellis had never had a real relationship with him.
His mom, however… That had been a completely different story.
“Well, I handled m’ dad’s death pretty good,” Ellis replied slowly. “I didn’ know ‘im too well, he was pretty absent all the time. Vietnam vet, n’ all. But when m’ mom died… man, I was a wreck fer… prob’ly weeks. Not even Keith could get me outta th’ house for ages.”
Rather abruptly, Dal leaned over Ellis’ legs and hastily typed on the large keys of his speech board, “I’m gonna go take a shower. I feel gross.”
He quickly moved his legs so the kid could get around him, and Dal got up and headed for the stairs. Ellis watched him go, feeling bad because he knew his conversation with Megan – however brief – had chased him upstairs. The kid was obviously avoiding thinking about his mother’s death, and Ellis couldn’t blame him.
Losing a parent, whether you were close to them or not, was tough. Dal probably didn’t know what to feel about his mother’s death. She hadn’t shown him any affection in the short amount of time that Ellis had known her, and he couldn’t imagine that the rest of Dal’s childhood had been much different. It had been hard for Ellis to mourn for his dad, because he’d been like a stranger to him. They’d rarely spoken to one another, but Ellis had still cared for him. And once he’d come to terms with those feelings, the grief was easier to accept.
He looked back over at Megan, who was still staring up the stairs after Dal. Slowly, she turned back to face him, her eyes on her lap. Once again, she looked to be deep in thought. Finally, after several minutes, she looked up at him and their eyes met.
They needed to talk to Dal about his mom. He needed to grieve for her, because she was his mom, even if he had never had any semblance of a relationship with her.
Unsurprisingly, everyone was asleep when he slipped into the house noiselessly.
Surprisingly, they were all sprawled across the living room furniture instead of curled up in their beds.
Nick clutched his bleeding side as he walked into the house, slipping his feet out of his shoes near the household shoe pile so he could move about more quietly.
Dal was sleeping peacefully on the couch beside Ellis, looking entirely content despite the fact that he would likely wake up with a terrible kink in his neck. Ellis had his feet propped up on the kid’s lap, and something twisted in Nick’s chest at the sight. A strange, foreign kind of anger that he wasn’t accustomed to. But it was immediately smothered by an even stranger longing, until he had forced himself to look away.
It didn’t matter. Not really. He had screwed up and now he was moving on. He had no business getting mad at Ellis for taking his place as Dal’s number one.
He needed to tend to the wound in his side, anyway. He’d best not dwell on unimportant matters when he was slowly bleeding to death. It’d be easier if someone else was awake to help him with it, but he didn’t really want to wake them. He knew there was a bullet lodged in the wound. It didn’t feel like it was particularly far in, so he didn’t imagine it’d be that hard to get it out. It was going to suck a lot, but he could manage.
It wouldn’t be the first time he pulled a bullet out of himself.
He was incredibly lucky, as usual. The bullet had only hit him in a patch of flesh. It hadn’t hit any internal organs, it hadn’t nicked any large blood vessels. It hurt a lot, sure, but he wouldn’t die from it. Honestly, if he were to die from anything, it’d probably be whatever the hell was in that syringe they injected him with. “The cure.” Please. If it was a cure, it wouldn’t be hurting so damn much, he was sure.
He headed upstairs, walking into the bathroom. There was a package of straight-edge razors in the cupboard, he knew, so if he needed to make the wound bigger to get the bullet out, it wouldn’t be too hard. It would hurt a lot, and he’d likely lose a lot more blood, but he’d manage somehow.
He grabbed the rubbing alcohol out of the cupboards as well as the package of razors, setting them down on the counter before moving over to the hutch that stood over the toilet and grabbing one of the suture kits.
He pulled his shirt off, wincing at the pull of his injury, and dumped the blood-stained garment on the floor. That was trash, as were his pants. He’d throw them away later.
He sat down on the edge of the bathtub, not wanting to fall that far if he found the pain too much to bear. He wasn’t looking forward to this part. He thought back to Spruce Street and Maple Street. Twenty-three letters. What street had he encountered “The Authorities” on? Had that been Lover’s Lane? No, that was from a memory of New York. What had that street been called? Sisson Street, right. Another twelve letters. Make that thirty-five letters.
Nick gingerly palpated his side as he forced himself to think of those calmer things, searching for the exact location of the bullet. He didn’t have any clamps, so he would have to do this the hard way. He was not looking forward to it, but it had to be done. He couldn’t very well stitch this wound shut without removing the bullet.
Fuck “The Authority.”
He braced himself for pain, pinching his flesh just below the bullet, and started squeezing. He clenched his teeth as pain flared through his nerves, trying not to start swearing at the top of his lungs. Blood spilled out of the wound, falling to the linoleum floor in droplets. He could feel the bullet slowly moving, and that only made the pain that much worse.
Nick swore quietly, squeezing his eyes shut, face screwed up in agony. The bullet was farther in that he had thought it was, and it didn’t want to move very far. He was going to have to made the wound bigger and reach in to grab the thing. He wasn’t sure if his fingers were small enough for that, but he had to try. Worst case scenario, he’d start shouting curses and wake everyone up. Megan’s fingers were probably small enough.
With his free hand, he reached over and grabbed the package of razors, swiftly tearing it open with his teeth and pulling free one of the straight edges. Once again, he tried to steel his nerves and brace himself, even though he knew that it would hurt like hell no matter what kind of prep he gave himself. He pressed the edge of the razor to the wound, clenched his teeth so hard he thought they might break, and started cutting.
They should’ve grabbed Novocaine, or Lidocaine, or some other kind of caine.
“Son a bitch!”
Megan wasn’t entirely sure what had woken her when she jerked awake rather violently, eyes wide and searching for the strange, unspecified noise she’d just heard. She looked over at Ellis and Dal, who had both done much the same thing. They all looked around in confusion for the source of their rude awakening, but didn’t see anything. Megan glanced at the clock, noting with dismay that it was nearing eight o’ clock. Had Nick come back?
“FUCK!” She jumped, turning towards the stairs, eyes wide. Apparently, Nick had come back. She looked over at Ellis, who was in the process of slowly getting to his feet.
“I’ll meet you upstairs,” she said quickly, leaping out of her seat and jogging up the stairs. She looked down the hall towards Nick’s room, finding the door to his bedroom open. He wasn’t in there, though. She glanced in the other direction and saw that the bathroom light was on, and headed over there.
Megan poked her head into the bathroom, and her words died in her throat. The sight before her was gory and rather horrifying. There was a small puddle of blood on the floor of the bathroom, and Nick was sitting on the edge of the tub, hunched over a wound in his side that he was trying to carve into with a razor. His face was screwed up in pain as he swore colorfully under his breath.
She watched as he took a breath and started cutting into his own flesh again, and nausea bubbled up in her stomach.
“N-Nick?” She said uncertainly, and he paused in his ministrations and looked up at her. His face was white as a sheet. He’d lost a lot of blood, it looked like. There was still crimson liquid flowing freely past his fingers, out of a deep, ruined chunk of flesh in his side, a few inches above his hip.
“Hey,” he greeted with a strained voice. “I need your hands.”
She hesitated, mildly horrified that he needed her hands for something, before carefully stepping into the bathroom the rest of the way. Her mouth was dry and she felt sick. She’d never known herself to be a particularly squeamish person, but this was beyond that. Nick was carving into his own flesh with a razor. It looked like he was trying to make a wound in his side larger, for whatever reason.
“What do you need?” She hoped to god he just wanted her to mop up his bleeding side while he did whatever it was he was trying to do, but judging by the look on his face it was unlikely.
“There’s a… bullet in this wound,” he managed to say past his tense jaw. Megan’s eyes widened, dismayed, and she nodded. She had a feeling she knew exactly what he was going to say. “I need you to pull it out for me. I can’t… reach it and it doesn’t want to move.. easily. I think it’s… caught in some tissue or something. I just… I need you to pull it out before I bleed to death. Please.”
The fact that he said “please” surprised her, but she decided it would be best not to comment. There was a sound of footsteps, and Ellis and Dal appeared in the doorway, a relieved smile on the hick’s face that was wiped away the second he laid eyes on the massacre-like scene in the bathroom. His eyes widened as he took in the situation. Dal’s expression was it’s usual neutral, but she could see the look in his eyes betrayed his shock.
“Jeez, Nick, what the ‘ell?”
“Shut up,” Nick hissed, his eyes on Megan, “Would you?”
She couldn’t really refuse, could she? Either she help Nick or he continued to mutilate himself in an effort to remove a bullet. She swallowed hard, nodding mutely, and moved over to the side he had injured. She crouched down, looking at the mess of flesh and blood, and glanced up at Nick.
“Do you know how far in it is?” She asked.
“I’m literally holding it in place,” he replied tensely. “It’s not that far in, but I have sausage fingers.”
Megan smiled weakly at his attempt at a joke, reaching forward with one hand to place her fingers over Nick’s gently, just so she’d have a better sense of exactly how far in she needed to go. She took in a deep breath and reached forward with her other hand. She hesitated for a moment, glancing at Nick’s face. He was watching her hand intently, and she could tell he was bracing himself, just by how tense he was.
She steeled her nerves against her nausea, and carefully pushed her fingers into the wound in his side. Nick didn’t make a sound, but she could see his other hand clenching into an impossibly tight fist beside her. His breathing hitched, and he made a thin sound of pain, but didn’t utter another noise. She found the bullet without much trouble. The metal was slippery, though, and with the way Nick was holding it, she wouldn’t be able to pull it out easily.
“Move your fingers behind it,” she muttered, as if she were afraid of disturbing him. God, she felt like she would be sick at any moment. “I can’t grab it with you holding it like that.”
He nodded mutely, flinching as he moved his fingers appropriately, pushing the bullet forward just a tiny bit. She spread her fingers a little, pinching the bullet between her thumb and forefinger. After a second where she made sure she wasn’t pinching his actual flesh, she started moving her hand backwards, pulling on the bullet. It was extremely slippery, so she held on as tightly as she dared. She didn’t want to accidentally make it slip out of her fingers.
She was at the home stretch when Ellis suddenly moved forward, grabbing Nick’s shoulder and steadying him. Megan suddenly noticed that the man was going lax, and her eyes widened a fraction. She looked at his face, noting that his eyes were closed, his face ashen, if not a little green, and his skin was cold to the touch. He was definitely in the process of fainting.
“Meg,” Ellis said, and she quickly returned her attention to her task, pulling the bullet the rest of the way out. Ellis’ had his hands on both Nick’s shoulders, supporting almost his entire weight.
Meg quickly got up, turning on the water just long enough to quickly rinse off her hands. She turned to the cabinet, only to find Dal there, handing her the iodine and probably a dozen gauze pads. She smiled at him in thanks, and he nodded curtly in reply. She couldn’t stitch the wound shut, but she could clean it and cover it for him.
She returned to Nick’s side, deftly coating one of the gauze pads in iodine and pressing it to the wound, staining his skin yellow-orange. Nick flinched violently as she applied a bit of pressure, his breathing becoming ragged and the hand that had been pinching his side going limp. He fell against Ellis heavily, and the young man held him up as Megan cleaned out the wound and pressed several gauze pads to it, try to staunch the bleeding.
“Nick, hey,” Ellis was saying beside her, “C’mon man, wake up.”
Nick groaned in reply, his eyelids fluttering open. Megan smiled at him in relief, and he looked at her with mild confusion in his eyes. He looked exhausted. Slowly, he pulled himself further upright, blinking hard and smacking Ellis’ hand away absently. The hick stood on standby, as if he fully expect Nick to faint again.
“You okay?” Megan asked softly, and he nodded silently.
“Stitches,” he muttered. Dal grabbed the package of sutures from the counter top and handed it to Nick, who stared at him for a moment before taking the package. His hands were shaking something fierce. Before he went to bed, Megan was going to have to make him drink a lot of water to make up for all the blood he’d lost.
Once he had managed to thread the needle, it didn’t take very long for Nick to stitch himself up. The sutures brought forth only more blood, which Megan deftly wiped away with one of the gauze pads she held. Within ten minutes, the sutures where done and Nick was looking like he wanted to get up.
“D’ya wanna shower ‘fore ya’ go to bed?” Ellis asked, looking at the smeared blood all over Nick’s midsection.
“What do you think?” Nick grunted, standing up haphazardly. Ellis held out a hand jerkily, watching carefully to make sure the man didn’t fall.
“Okay, then,” Megan said. “Let me get up some of this blood off the floor.” She turned and grabbed one of the many towels in the linen closet just outside the bathroom door. She folded the towel in half and dropped it on the puddle of blood.
“I’ll leave that there for now. Ellis, could you either stay in here or wait just outside the door?” Nick glared at her but Megan ignored him. “Just in case he faints again.”
“I’m not… gonna faint,” Nick muttered, breathing heavily. Megan rolled her eyes, and Ellis grinned.
“No problem, Meg.” Ellis returned good-naturedly.
“I’m not gonna faint,” Nick repeated, this time a little more forcefully.
The redhead sighed heavily, turning back to the conman, “Nick, you lost a lot of blood. You’re clammy and sweaty and you fainted like, two minutes ago. Ellis will make sure you make it to bed in one piece. Deal with it.”
Nick glared at her, but it was such a weak, withering look, Megan didn’t find it at all threatening. She patted Ellis on the shoulder and walked out of the bathroom, turning back to Dal.
“Coming?” She asked, and he nodded, following her out of the bathroom. She was exhausted, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to sleep until Nick was safely in bed. If he fell in the shower or popped his stitches or something, she needed to be around to handle it. Dal and Megan headed downstairs, the boy taking up his post on the couch once again.
Megan looked over at him as he absentmindedly started doing his exercises. She had him tapping his fingers individually against the surface of his choice (he was using his knees at the moment). She wanted to improve his dexterity and stamina, as well as catch his thumb up to the rest of his hands. She also had him working on moving his tongue about in his mouth, touching it to the back of his top front teeth and the insides of his cheeks. She had also told him to try licking his lips more often. For now, she was mainly working on strength and stamina with all the exercises she gave him. The dexterity practice portion of it was more of a bonus than anything.
She didn’t expect him to be talking any time soon, but she hoped to have him sounding out vowels soon. His improvement was much faster than she had expected it to be. She had been wondering if it had something to do with the Green Flu. She had wondered if perhaps not only his physical strength, but also his healing capacity had been significantly altered. She didn’t know how that was possible, but she also didn’t know how something like the Smoker or the Tank could’ve been created by this awful strain of rabies.
She looked over at Dal. He still hadn’t mourned, much like Megan hadn’t. They had both lost someone important to them and it seemed like they were handling it the same way. She could figure, after seeing him interact with his mother, that he had probably suffered in the past, even if he wouldn’t have called it “genuine suffering.” The victims of abuse never thought that what happened to them had been all that bad. There would always be someone who had it worse.
She could tell that he was young, too. She didn’t know how old he was, but she could tell he was young. Younger than Ellis, older than Jacob had been. She would put him around sixteen or seventeen at the most. He was such a young person, and he had seen so much tragedy already. So much pain. It wasn’t fair.
It was never fair, though, was it?
“Hey Dal,” She suddenly spoke, and he looked over at her silently. She didn’t know what to say, how to word what she wanted to ask. She wanted to know if he was alright. That was what it came down to. She wanted to make sure he was okay. His mother had died. He had recently run away from home, and she still didn’t know exactly why.
But mostly she wanted to make sure that he was okay.
“Are you… are you okay?” She finally asked, and he stared at her. She watched his bright green eyes widened a fraction, and he looked almost confused. “A lot’s happened to you lately. And I know it’s not really any of my business, but I know no one’s talked to you about… well, anything. I want you to know that I’m here, if you need someone to talk to. I’ll always be here.”
She saw a sheen of tears in his eyes before he slowly lowered his head, hair falling into his face and obscuring it so she couldn’t see him. Slowly, he nodded. She smiled sadly at him, before getting up from her seat on the armchair and joining him on the couch.
“It seems we handle our grief the same way,” she said mock-woefully. “Super unhealthy.”
Dal giggled a little, the sound thick with emotion. Megan wrapped an arm around his shoulders gently, pulling him over, “I know we don’t know each other very well, but I would like to be your friend, if you’ll have me. You seem like a really bright kid, so I think I’d enjoy talking to you. We could talk smack about Nick all day.”
Dal laughed at that, rubbing his eyes and smiling widely. Megan smiled broadly, patting him on the head. Upstairs, she could hear the bathroom door opening someone padding down the halls. Nick was done with his shower. If she wanted to, she could cut her conversation with Dal short and go to bed. She could sleep for a few hours and wake up refreshed, and probably promptly make dinner (which had somehow become her sole responsibility, just as the dishes had somehow become Dal’s sole responsibility).
She wasn’t really tired anymore, though. She could take a nap later, or perhaps just sleep really, really well tonight. Right now, she kind of wanted to conduct a few experiments to gauge Dal’s progress. She wanted to talk to him more. She wanted to get him talking. She knew he hated being mute. Being quiet was one thing, being unable to communicate easily was a whole different can of worms.
She distantly heard Nick’s bedroom door close, and Ellis came limping down the stairs, supporting himself with the banister. He paused when he saw them on the couch, and she was sure she saw him smiling in the corner of her eye.
After Dal’s runaway adventure, she had noticed that he and Ellis seemed to be a bit closer, though it was hard to really tell in the amount of time since he’d been back. She knew that Dal had gone upstairs with Ellis rather than running ahead to join her immediately. She knew that Ellis and Dal had been sitting closer together that they ever had in the past.
She didn’t know what they’d talked about, or what had happened between them, but she was glad. It was better for Dal to be close to someone like Ellis. Nick was as emotionally unavailable as they came. Megan hadn’t said anything because it wasn’t her business, but she had felt that Dal had been too emotionally dependent on Nick. She was sort of glad they had “broken up” – their relationship had been extremely unhealthy.
She didn’t know if Nick was regretting whatever it was he had done. She didn’t know if he would try to fix it. She hoped he would. It would be a real, growing experience for him, and he needed that. He needed to understand that you couldn’t just have a relationship without any effort. It took trust and communication and so many other things.
She hoped Nick would see how Ellis handled his relationship with Dal and learn a thing or two.