When I first got my h/c bingo card I started to chew over a personal challenge where I'd go for a blackout using ficlets set in the pink Jeep verse. For a few reasons, that the verse seemed made for h/c, lots of characters to play with, and also that I wanted to stick to ficlet length, and figured prompts for those stories could be relatively self contained. Okay, and I'll admit when I saw the surgery prompt I started to think of Dr Gabe having to operate on someone in the hideout.
This is the first of those ficlets. To use the actual title, this is a story set in the And the Embers Never Fade universe. If you haven't read that it's basically MCR GSF where I wanted Bob to be one of the Killjoys.
Title: Under the Bone Tree
Prompt: hidden illness/injury
Word Count: 1752
Notes: Thank you to themoononastick for the lightening fast beta, and for always reminding me of that vital c in h/c.
Summary: When Bob gets shot he runs off and hides. That's just what he does, what he's always done.
The thing is, Bob knows he’s been stupid.
It’s hard not to when he’s hiding under a cluster of bone trees, curled up with his gun in hand, dirt under his cheek and sap dripping around him, deep crimson droplets that bleed into the ground where they land.
Bob’s covered in sap too. He can feel it on his skin, sticky and thick, smeared where at first he tried to wipe it away.
“You look like something that should be featured in Murder.”
Instantly, Bob aims, his gun held steady even as he curses himself for not hearing someone approaching. He drops his arm when Mikey ducks under a branch and crouches, his head dipped to avoid the spiked canopy of needle-like leaves. “I should take a picture and submit.”
Bob pushes himself up and bites back a groan at the feel of pulling raw flesh, blood starting to trickle once more. “If you do I’ll shoot you.”
“No you wouldn’t, and you’re out of charge anyway,” Mikey states. He drops to one knee and carefully pulls at the shreds of Bob’s shirt, his brow furrowed as he examines the wound underneath. “That needs cleaning.”
“Already has been.” Bob taps his fingers against the empty water bottle that’s lying close to his thigh. “I’m not stupid.”
A muscle twitches in Mikey’s jaw, the first indication that he’s anything but calm. “Except that you really fucking are.”
In the circumstances it’s a fair comment, but not one Bob’s going to let go unchallenged. “I can look after myself.”
“So you keep saying.” Mikey’s hair has fallen forward onto his face. When he pushes it back there’s blood on the pads of his fingers that transfers to his hair so he ends with red streaked against blond. “The others are out searching. I can go get them or you can ride back with me.”
“I’m not riding bitch,” Bob says, offence easier than truth. “I’ll get back on my own.”
“That’s not one of the options,” Mikey says. A pause and he reaches out, resting the back of his hand against Bob’s forehead. “You’re not running a fever.”
Bob indulges the touch for a moment, and then pulls back, pushing Mikey’s hand away. “It’s not infected.”
“Yet,” Mikey says, and sits completely, his legs crossed as he drags two fingers through a droplet of sap. “This shit can’t be sterile.”
“Some plants have antibacterial properties,” Bob says, trying for distraction as he ignores how his arm is starting to tremble. “The Chemists in zone A....”
“I don’t give a fuck about The Chemists,” Mikey cuts in. “You ran. You got shot and you fucking ran.”
Mikey’s not yelling, and that’s saying everything, because Bob’s heard him yell, loud and at length. Bob knows that mood, and knows how to counteract it with one of his own -- but this level of monotone leaves him uneasy. It also leaves him aware that while he knows Mikey, has been travelling with him and the others for almost a month now, he’s still learning his tells.
“You ran and we don’t do that.” Mikey’s mouth is twisted, turned down at each corner. “We don’t.”
“But I do.” It’s become a point of pride that Bob stays upright, and he wills his arm to stop shaking so he can face Mikey head on. “I got hit but I got up, the patrol got nothing.”
“You think it’s about that?” The monotone breaks, shattering as Mikey makes an abortive gesture, barely stopping himself impaling his hand on the spikes. “Ryan had to tell us you’d been hit, he had to use the codes to tell us about the zone runner who got spotted by a patrol, but escaped when they disabled his Barbie pink Jeep. And then you never came back, or stayed where we could find you.”
Bob’s head is aching, a dull throb as he tries to think how to explain, that he needed time alone to heal and lick his own wounds. It’s what Bob does, but in the end all he can say is, “I would have come back.”
“You should have come back straight away.” Mikey curls forward, his jacket pulled tight on his shoulders, “We’d have looked after you.”
Which is the heart of this problem. Where Bob’s still unsure of his footing, and it’s easier to run than accept help, no matter how freely and unconditionally it’s offered.
Mikey rubs at his knees, tracing scars that Bob knows remain angry and red. “Ray’s got that new burn salve he wants to try out and Frank will bring you coffee in bed. He likes to play nurse.”
“I bet he does,” Bob says, and pictures Frank helping Mikey, bringing him food, meds and water. It’s something that seems to come naturally to Frank, to them all as they take care of each another, something that lately, has extended to Bob too.
It’s something that Bob tries to remember, and reminds himself that it’s okay to accept. Like he does now, and Bob lets himself down, his breath caught in a gasp as he tries to relax while flexing his fingers, willing the trembling to stop. “That salve smells like bog gas.”
“You’re not going to eat it,” Mikey says, his mouth curling into small smile, and then, “You’d fall off my bike, I’m going to get Gerard.”
Bob lets his eyes close, says, “Unlike you, I’ve never fallen off of a bike.”
“That wasn’t my fault.” There’s the sound of Mikey moving, shadows flitting across Bob’s face, and then he feels Mikey’s hand on his shoulder. Bob opens his eyes, and sees that Mikey’s right there, his face inches from Bob’s. “I’m coming back, if you go somewhere else I’ll kill you.”
“You’d have to find me first,” Bob says, and then Mikey’s even closer, his mouth over Bob’s.
“We’d find you,” Mikey says, and his words are a vow, one that he seals with a kiss. “We’ll always find you.”
And that’s something Bob’s starting to believe.
Someone's shaking Bob's arm, and instinctively he goes for his gun. Finding it's not there, he opens his eyes, and finds himself looking up at patched canvas.
"You're in the tent, we hauled your sorry ass back," Frank says, and shakes Bob's arm once again. "You've been sleeping forever, I thought you'd be thirsty."
Bob blinks and rubs at his eyes, wincing when the movement pulls at the burn on his chest. "You woke me for that?"
"Yes I woke you for that." Frank sits back on his heels, kneeling on the edge of the sleep-mat. "So, do you want a drink? Some coffee or water to replace all the fluids you bled out."
"Water's fine," Bob says, and tries to work out the time by diffused sunlight alone. "Mikey found you."
"Of course I found them." The opening to the tent is pushed to one side, and Mikey steps into view. "I said that I would."
"And when he did we got back and you were passed out and half dead." Frank gets to his feet, snatching up one of the tin mugs from the floor and scoops it through the container of water. "Here, drink this."
Bob starts to push himself up, but his arms feel unsteady, and he flops back into place. "Head rush."
"I wonder why?" Frank mutters, but he puts down the mug and sits next to Bob, sliding his arm behind his back and helping him sit up as Mikey arranges pillows into a messy pile. When he's finished Frank eases Bob down, and picks up the mug, holding it to Bob's mouth.
Bob takes a drink, then says, "I can manage myself."
"Didn't we just go through this?" Mikey glares as he sits at the foot of the sleep-mats, his hand on Bob's ankle. "We know you can manage, but you don't have to."
“Because we’re a family, we look after each other.”
Bob sighs at the sound of Gerard’s voice, and looks around until he sees his shadow through the wall of the tent. “Are you lurking just to eavesdrop?”
“No.” Gerard steps inside, his face screwed up when he holds up a tub of Ray’s salve. “I was getting more of this from the Trans Am. It’s the coolest place to store it.”
It's also where they keep a lot of their supplies now, and Bob's looking forward to the time they have a permanent hideout, one with walls that are thicker than canvas. "You should keep it locked up, it reeks."
"It also helped save your life," Gerard points out, and puts the tub down close to the door. "That and Mikey finding you, and if he hadn't you'd have died, under a fucking bone tree. That's not a dignified way to go, not that you get to go at all. What you get to do is tell us if you get hurt, or if we're not with you to find us or stay in one fucking place, not run off like some kind of wounded animal. That's just stupid, and I know you're not stupid. Except when you really fucking are. Seriously, what the fuck were you thinking?"
It's an impressive speech, and Bob waits for Gerard to take a breath so he can attempt a reply, but it seems he's not getting that option.
"You're one of us now, if you hurt we hurt and we'll be there for you always. But you have to let us, and that means no running away. It means you stick around and let us help, you help us, you helped Mikey, why don’t we get that right in return?"
"Okay, fine," Bob yells and holds up his hand, cutting Gerard off. "I get it, no running away again."
“Did I miss the lecture?” Ray sounds disappointed as he comes inside too, crowding into a space that’s too small for five men. But as always they make do, fitting together as Gerard sits next to Mikey, and Ray on the other side of Bob.
It means he’s surrounded on all sides, and it should be uncomfortable, suffocating even when Bob feels so weak and unwell. But somehow it isn’t at all.
Mikey tightens his grip on Bob’s ankle, says, “No more running and hiding?”
“Promise,” Bob says in reply.
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