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It would be difficult to guess what time it is. The silence is broken by the methodic, grating ticking of a clock nearby, but Leech gave up looking for its source some time ago. Otherwise, the only noises are the typical sounds of an institutional night: the squeaking of nurses' shoes, doors opening and closing, hissed whispers between staff that seem to echo even louder than if the words were spoken at a normal tone.

He is grateful that the machines are muted: those dramatic monitors showing heart rate, oxygen intake, and other vital signs, the ones which always pulse loudly in television shows until the staccato beeping levels out into a morose B-flat with the cessation of life. The screens themselves are on, of course, but it has been some time since Leech stopped checking them. Several hours, perhaps, since the surgery, and it seems that the man in the hospital bed will continue to tenaciously resist death as stubbornly as he does everything else.

The stretch of time between being woken by Duster's call and arriving at the hospital exist only as flashes of memory, vibrant with panic and haste but strung together nonsensically. Leech does clearly recall insisting that the tattoo artist go home some time ago: the man has a new baby and its mother to care for, and once the panic smoothed into the usual worry Leech was entirely capable of keeping watch over the prone form all by himself. Kellen left with Duster, as well, but only after his brother insisted.

How long since then? He can't guess. There is yet no light coming through the cheap venetian blinds to indicate dawn's arrival, although Leech would almost swear that he's been sitting in this uncomfortable chair for a day at least. Perhaps he has; perhaps he's never been anywhere else and will never be anywhere else. Perched in a chair, occasionally jolted by shocks of fear and anger, staring at Ruckus' beaten, bandaged body for eternity - it would be a suitable Purgatory for Leech, and probably Hell for Ruckus himself.

Every now and then he'll sit forward, touching the unconscious man's cheek or weaving their fingers together, sometimes even rewarded by an involuntary twitch of a hand or mouth. It's too alluring to touch him, remind himself that Ruckus is here, relatively whole and entirely alive. It was a doubtful prospect these last six months. Hope may spring eternal, but for Leech, worry about Ruckus is every bit as perpetual. Lately, it was more present than ever before in their lives: months of hope, despair, then attempts at resignation, until some word came from Duster to give again the dreadful, half-cynical hope. Was it worth this? It did not matter by this point, it just was, and Leech grimly suspected it always would be until the day came when instead of a hospital, Duster would call from a morgue.

Absorbed in the self-torment of these circular thoughts, Leech is disproportionately startled when the face at which he's been staring twitches and the eyelids flicker. His heart is suddenly beating hard and fast, as if he had just been yanked back from the edge of a precipice, and before he can compose himself Ruckus' eyes are open and staring blearily at the ceiling. He turns his head from side to side minutely, and Leech can see the exact instant when the injured man realizes where he is.

With actions still clumsy from anesthesia, but nonetheless frantic, Ruckus presses the heels of his hands into the inclined mattress in an attempt to sit up; the attempt is a failure, and as if to make up for it, to do something that is a start to getting free of the place, he moves his right hand into his lap and gropes with his left at the multiple tubes and wires taped there. The intention is to rip the IV lines out by main force, and divining this purpose finally impels Leech to jerk to his feet.

He's at the bedside and catches Ruckus' left hand with his own to restrain it. This close, he can hear the man's shallow rapid breath. He startles as soon as they touch, and turns a wary gaze to survey Leech. Again, a moment stretches out before Ruckus processes what he's seeing, and it seems an endless time to the parasite. Finally, those oddly pale eyes clear, hesitance draining from them; the tension in the hand Leech is clasping drains at the same time, and as Ruckus breathes his name, Leech experiences an almost shattering sense of relief which forces him to look away momentarily.

When he can focus on Ruckus again, he's found rubbing his face with the IV-infested right hand, the two splinted fingers sticking out absurdly as the remainder curve naturally. Leech winces sympathetically as the digits brush over bruises and stitches, but the older man doesn't seem to feel any pain from the action. His hand drops heavily back to the bed, and he sighs out. "Fuckin' hate hospitals."

"I know," Leech says, whispering unnecessarily to match Ruckus' quiet tone. Belatedly, he relaxes the near-crushing grip he has on that other hand; Ruckus doesn't seem to have registered any pain from that, either. "I'm gettin' to be pretty sick of 'em, myself."

Apparently accepting that he is not, after all, able to escape the place immediately, Ruckus drops his head back to the pillow. Leech can see him thinking, can almost read the thoughts off his facial expressions; it's a rare priviledge even with as long as they've known each other, and if he were not so doped up, he would certainly be concealing them better. "How'd I get here?"

"An ambulance, I guess?" Leech offers a shrug, leaning a hip against the bed rails. "Nobody mentioned it."

"So how'd you get here?" This question comes with a sharp gray look, and Leech can tell that the drugs are impairing Ruckus' understanding less and less. This is not surprising in one who's been unintentionally building up a tolerance to narcotics for nearly half his life.

"Duster called me," Leech says simply, rather than giving a facetious answer about having driven. "As fer how he knew, they got his number from the cell phone you had on you."

Ruckus' eyes narrow and his forehead wrinkles - he's thinking of how he didn't have any numbers programmed into the phone, for security reasons - then the eyes widen briefly, before relaxing - he must have forgotten to clear the number from his recent calls list, wondering did anyone threatening find it, relieved by the thought that Duster had been here recently and was therefore presumably in good shape and not murdered. "Where's he at? Take off?"

Leech nods. "It's 'bout three in the morning, mebbe later. He stayed til you were outta surgery, but after that I told him to go home. He felt bad, leavin' Maggie alone with the baby all night."

"Oh." Ruckus' voice is flat, face blank as he processes that information. "When'd she'd have the kid?"

"A month ago, or about that. It's a girl." Oddly, Leech finds some refuge in this mundane conversation, catching up on the events Ruckus missed while he was on the lam and simultaneously repressing his own feelings of frantic worry and deep gratitude.

Ruckus nods slowly, and Leech can see him casting about for another neutral topic. His motivation is probably the same: He has no desire to deal with Leech's emotions, either. Giving him some slack, Leech squeezes his hand before releasing it, straightening up away from the bed.

"The nurse told me to let 'em know when ya woke up," he offers in explanation as he steps away.

Only to immediately freeze when that hand lifts and gropes unsteadily towards him. "Wait, Leech."

Hearing his name said by that caustically roughened voice, for the first time in nearly six months, Leech is helpless to resist. Eying Ruckus uncertainly, he steps back and reclaims the man's left hand, looking down at it to avoid embarassing either of them by showing how affected he is. When he's certain his voice won't waver, he murmurs in a forcedly casual tone, "Yeh?"

But no response comes immediately, besides Ruckus' fingers squeezing his, until Leech does lift his eyes to meet the colder pair focused on him. Once he has, the corner of Ruckus' mouth twitches.

"I look that bad off, huh?"

Nonplussed by the question, Leech uncertainly tracks his gaze over that familiar face, the arms, and what can be seen of the body, as if he hasn't spent hours staring at it already and marking out each bruise, each laceration, each stark black stitch, each bandage. Eventually, his attention returns to those eyes, and he makes a motion somewhere between a shrug and a nod. "Bad enough. Why? Feelin' vain all of a sudden?"

"No," Ruckus says, giving another brief half-grin in acknowledgement of Leech's poor attempt at humor. "Jus' figured, yer not pissed at me, so it must be pretty terrible."

For some reason this comment disarms Leech thoroughly, breaking through his tension and his own grin comes easily, even accompanied by a quick, quiet laugh. "I'm plenty pissed, but yer right - I can't yell at you when ya look this pathetic." Taking another step closer, Leech leans down to press a brief but solid kiss to Ruckus' mouth, not sparing the tear at the corner where the piercing was evidently almost ripped out. When he pulls away, the patient's eyes are closed, but that corner of his mouth is undeniably curved. Repressing, as well as he can, his own smile, Leech speaks quietly. "I'm gunna go get the nurse; I'll be back."

Keeping his eyes closed, Ruckus tightens his fingers around the others in acknowledgement before letting them go.


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