She pulled up my shirt and poked the left side of my back gently. No words, just a sigh. Couldn’t be that bad then. No tears. No shouting.
“We need to get that washed. And you need to warm up, you’re freezing.”
She picked a shower faucet, right in the centre of the row running down the far wall. I would have picked the corner. I always did.
The tap squealed, metal-on-metal, and a torrent of water stuttered out of the shower. A cloud of steam began to fill the room. I smiled a little as Beth’s glasses steamed up, and a little more as her frown shifted from worried to frustrated. She pushed tem them up onto the top of her head, parting her hair neatly, but the little crease between her eyebrows remained.
“Come on.” I hadn’t moved from where we had been.
“I can’t see shit, Alex. Come on.”
I’d worn her glasses once, her sight wasn’t that bad. Maybe a few feet away things got a little blurry, reading was hard. But from any distance, the idea of her seeing me… I was aware my body was a wreck. I dreaded to think what colour half of it even was after tonight, and that’s ignoring the rake-like ribs and boyish figure.
If Beth was into girls, I really didn’t understand what she saw in me.
Another sigh. “Okay, fine. Just get in wearing all that. It’s already wet enough.” She tugged my sleeve, pulling me off-balance. Something I would never have let happen in a fight. Before I could instinctively pull away – clothes weren’t for showers – she’d pushed me against the cold tiled wall and under the torrent of water.
Too hot. My skin burned, fingers and toes flashing with intense pain.
I fought to get out but Beth had her arms in the way and my soaked clothes tried their best to tangle my limbs into ineffectuality.
“Shush, you’re just cold.” I closed my mouth, unaware I was making any noise at all and now determined not to.
After a few seconds the pain subsided to a fuzzy pins-and needles. I relaxed, but gave Beth a furious glare I couldn’t entirely commit to.
She pulled back and let out a quiet, restrained laugh, before her expression fell back to the gentle frown. “You stay here. If I come back and find you’ve even thought of moving…”
I think she even put her fists on her hips. I nodded, and let her go. I was still half-caught between a sleepy tired and lingering fight-paranoia. I followed her instructions, didn’t move a muscle, ignoring the corner of the hard tiles digging into my back or the rain of warm water running down my face, blinking as it dripped into my eyes. But I couldn’t rest my mind.
I traced her steps through the building in my head. First to our room, probably. Stairs, hallways, door. Give her a few minutes to find the first aid kit. Now what? Maybe it wasn’t all there, maybe she couldn’t find it. Danni was always well stocked. Her room was down the hall. An easy detour.
Her room wasn’t so well known. Might take her a bit longer looking… but she must be or she would have returned by now.
Minutes past. I shifted uncomfortably under the stream of water and steam. Maybe she went back to the door, retrieved the gun I’d brought along. That’s what I would have done. Shouldn’t have let her leave it. That might account for-
The door kicked open and she came through it shoulder first, her arms held my jacket a few items of clothing and the battered cardboard box I recognised as our impromptu first aid kit.
She dumped it by the door, away from the drains running down the centre of the room for the showers, and picked out a bundle of clothes in an old towel, tossing them across the room just outside the growing path of grimy, red-stained water running to the drains.
“Put them on. You’re not staying in that. I promise not to look.” She crouched down to pick up my armoured vest, holding it to the light for a closer inspection, facing safely away from me.
I retrieved the clothes she’d thrown. A t-shirt, one of my own faded monochrome grey, if probably the smallest size I owned, still big. The other was a pair of shorts. I wasn’t one for shorts, the only time I’d ever worn them was gym class, where things seemed to be designed for optimal torture.
The class where you’re going outside and likely to be pushed over and scrape your knees to hell? Let’s provide the least protective, least-thermally efficient item of clothing besides underwear. This was Montreal for god’s sake. Montreal. Today was the first time it had rained instead of snowed and it was freaky, this close to winter.
Beth had them for sleeping in, if I had to guess. I’d never seen Beth wear them. I would have remembered seeing that much-
“Hollow point, I’d say.” Her voice made me jump. Even with her back to me, I blushed at my train of thought. Every moment I got distracted there was more chance she’d turn around and find me half-way through getting changed. It was enough to get me over my reservations.
Shorts was better than no-shorts. I twisted the taps until the flow of water ceased, returning us to a blissful and easy-to-monitor-for-intruders silence.
As she picked pried out a shard of mangled dull metal, letting it fall soundlessly to the floor, I hurried to get out of my clothes. I vowed to spend the minimum time possible in any state of undress.
“You’re lucky. These things are nasty, but easy to stop. Three inches lower and…” She shuddered.
First, pants. The t-shirt I had on was longer. Pants were priority. They clung to me, resisting all attempts at removal. I wrestled on, panic at having them half-way down my leg hindering a rational approach to removing them. I discovered a long gash down one leg, bleeding profusely into the dark material and gluing it to my skin. I hadn’t noticed the pain.
Eventually I managed to peel each leg free and I threw them to the side. Their impact made a satisfying squelch. Victory.
At least the shorts were easy, having little leg to battle with and a vague attempt to dry my legs. I pulled them over the top of my still-soaked underwear, trying to steer clear of getting any blood on them.
The t-shirt wasn’t so easy. Again, blood had tried to mesh gouged flesh with fabric. Tearing it apart again stung like hell, but it was less an ordeal than pant legs.
While I replaced it with the clean version, being mine I didn’t care about bloodstains. Beth was still run her fingers over every inch of the battered surface of my vest searching for any more significant damage. Or stalling for time. Probably stalling.
“Um.” Done! I managed to get dressed. I felt like a fool.
She turned, and grinned. With only one thing to grin about, I looked away and pulled at the shorts as if I could pull them any lower. Did trying not to blush have to make my cheeks seem a thousand times hotter? It didn’t help, I was sure it just made it worse. A feedback loop. Flawed Design.
I should have seen through this ruse as another of her attempts to get me to wear something stupid. God forbid the day she gets me into a skirt.
But by the time I raised my eyes again she had her head in the first-aid-box, rummaged around, picking out bandages, tubes of cream and little bottles of disinfectant. Now for the fun bit.
I sat when she gestured, and endured her probing figures and the stinging liquid she dabbed on my injuries. I didn’t remember any of them specifically, bar the bullet, which had apparently managed to break my skin from sheer-blunt force. I dreaded to see the bruise.
But no bullets to join the one lodged somewhere in my back a long time ago. Only cuts and scrapes, the worst of which ran from high on my hip down my thigh to my knee. I had to pull the shorts up slightly at the edge for her to properly dress it. She didn’t seem to notice, just tutted and grumbled at nothing, or rather at me.
But for its messiness and jagged edges of torn skin, it seemed forgivingly shallow. It certainly wasn’t the slick fine-edge of a knife wound. If I had to guess, I’d say I caught a nail when the broken gutter had dumped me on my back in the pile of garbage.
Disinfected, glued and patched, I bent my knee to check the dressing still gave me free-enough movement. I didn’t want to be restricted.
“You should keep off that leg.” She took my chin in her hand and tilted my face, looking into my eyes for a second before focusing on a graze on my cheek. She quickly judged it too small to bother with, but her fingers, still warm against my chin. I didn’t meet her eyes, trying not to imagining how close her view of the older scar dominating my face was.
“It’s fine.” I mumbled. “Doesn’t even hurt much.”
Her lips pursed together, but she didn’t respond for a while.
“Breathe in for me.”
“I-” My breath caught, I’d been breathing all this time. She didn’t need to ask.
“Properly. I know those short breaths. You used to do them, but stopped a while back. Take a deep breath, as far as you can. You can’t think I don’t notice?”
I hesitated. I knew what she thought. I knew she was most likely correct. But still, I didn’t want to worry her. I’d managed before.
I gradually filled my lungs, bracing for the shooting pains that would come – but every time I reached what I thought I could get away with she gave me a look that said she wasn’t having any of it.
Eventually I couldn’t push past the pain. I let it go with a spluttering cough, not helping sooth the stabbing jabs in my chest.
“You broke them again.” She looked like she was putting all her effort into resisting punching me.
“They’re crap.” I complained. “It’s not my fault they can’t keep up. I didn’t break anything else this time.” I neglected to mention the second finger on my right hand. I think I’d managed to do that in pulling up the dead-bolt on the door me and Mike were ready to pounce from. It wasn’t my trigger finger, I could deal with a bit of pain from a little fracture.
She sighed again. “Nothing we can do about it, but you need to rest. A lot. Now.”
I opened my mouth to protest, just in time for the thud of a boot on the broken step I always took care to skip.
Someone was here.