Waking Up
by Jessie

Summary: Rivers. Branca. A hospital room. Post-ep for "Grief."

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: Mostly for "Grief," with references to "Entropy."

Disclaimer: Touching Evil, its characters and situations, are not mine. No money is being made from this story. No harm is intended.

Archive: Please just ask first. Otherwise, you can find the story on my homepage, idea no. 8.

Author's Note: I never planned on writing a Touching Evil fanfic. And if the thought of writing one ever did cross my mind, the product sure didn't look anything like this. But after "Grief," well, I just couldn't let the poor guy suffer a stab wound and his younger brother's death without at least getting a story of his own.

Feedback would mean the world to me. Please let me know what you think.

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"Hey. You and me against everything. You remember that?"

Mark Rivers opened his eyes. It was the first thing he could remember doing in a while.

On his bedside was a plastic vase of flowers- he had no idea what kind- with a plain white card sticking out at an angle, just so. It had the pre- printed "Get Well Soon" taking up one corner. Printed in the center, it read: "From the OSC." Nice.

He blinked. It was the second thing he could remember doing since... What was the last thing he remembered? There was a knife. Blood. Branca over him. Holding him. What was before that? How did he get there? A man. A... psychologist? Ben.

Oh God. Ben.

He shut his eyes. His head hurt and he felt suddenly queasy. Maybe emotions affected a person differently while lying in a hospital bed. That's where he was, wasn't he? A hospital. He didn't want to open his eyes again just yet, but he could smell it. Hospital air.

The queasiness subsided for a moment, but then... Oooh. Nope. There it was again. He was pretty certain this wasn't just grief anymore. The sharp pain in his abdomen agreed with him.

Rivers leaned over the side of the bed as far as he could and threw up.

As soon as his stomach was completely empty, he lay back and closed his eyes again.

At least he was alive, right? Something in him wilted a little at the realization that that sentiment was more and more becoming the barometer for whether or not he was having a good day. Good day: alive. At least. Bad day... Figure it out.

You'd think this philosophy would lead to a lot fewer bad days. But here he was lying in a hospital room, fresh out of "critical condition." Things just weren't looking as bright and cheery as they used to.

Ben's face flashed across his closed lids then. Ben's lifeless face. Ben's pale, desperate, lifeless face.

Rivers shook his head and tried, instead, to think about the case. He'd caught the bad guy. Or, rather, the bad guy had caught him. But it was over now. They'd solved it. He let his mind wander over the idea, but Ben's face still kept appearing in front of him. Ben sitting on the bench. Ben's voice on the phone. And then his own voice from earlier. "...Everything you were as a kid has made a real shitty adult..." "...I don't want to see you back at my place... I don't want to see you at all."

Mark pulled his thoughts back again, violently. He tried to distract himself with that last case again, then of its bloody ending. He could still feel it. The slow trickle of blood from his shirt onto his hands. The hard floor underneath him. The couch holding his head up. Then Branca's hand on his head. Branca's hand holding onto his wound for dear life. As if it was the thing that could save him and not the thing that he needed saving from. He heard her voice in his head. It was pleasant sounding. How could she be so goddamned pleasant like that? Kind. In their line of work.

But then, he'd always been a lot more "pleasant" then most would think possible too. Given his job. He was playful and, he could admit, still kind of young at heart, despite everything.

He was too nice was what it was. A pushover. A softie. Ben had said it often enough.

God. Ben.

"You should do something about that."

Rivers opened his eyes quickly, and then regretted it as the fluorescent lights hit him. He blinked and looked ahead. Standing in the doorway to the private room, Susan Branca folded her arms across her chest. She made a face at the mess on the floor near his bed.

Rivers groaned. "I'm sorry. I-" Susan stepped into the room, interrupting him.

"Jesus, don't be sorry about that. Wait a second. I'll go call a nurse to clean it up." Branca disappeared for a few moments. Rivers chastised himself for the apology. Somehow he always found himself apologizing to this woman. Or wanting to, at least.

Before he knew it, Branca was back inside the hospital room walking towards his bed, and a short, brunette nurse was quickly mopping up the vomit on the floor. Time passed differently in hospitals, he could remember that much from his countless visits in the past. But he was still having trouble catching up.

"I'm sorry..." He tried to say to the nurse. He hated the idea of any one having to take care of him, to clean up after him. That was the difference between him and Ben. Had been the difference.

The nurse 'tskd,' barely glancing up at him. She did this sort of thing all the time. It was her job. He shouldn't be sorry about it.

Fuck. There he went trying to apologize to every one. He was lying in a hospital bed, just this side of death, and he still felt the strongest urge to apologize to the entire world for not having what it took to take care of every one.

"How are you feeling?" Branca stood over him and smiled warmly.

"Hopefully, worse than I look."

She smirked, then glanced up at the flowers across the bed from her. "From the OSC?"

"Who else." It wasn't a question when he said it. He turned it into a statement purposefully. He didn't want her trying to answer.

She gave him a brief look that seemed to suggest that she knew what he was doing, then turned her attention back to the flowers. "Gardenias. Nice."

It was something his mother would have known. The kind of flower. He could barely tell the difference between a rose and a tulip, but it had practically been her passion while he was growing up. He remembered her garden. He remembered that time he and Ben had dug up one of the bushes, trying to make a trench to play their war games. She'd cried when she found it, and then grounded them both.

"So what brings you to County General this morning, Branca?" He tried to keep his voice even and casual despite the pain still in his gut and the medication he could feel running through his system. He felt queasy again, but swallowed it down.

Branca smirked. "I came to check on you. You gave us kind of a scare back at the office."

"Yeah. The flowers really communicated as much."

She frowned and glanced around the room. It was empty save the flowers and usual hospital d├ęcor. It looked as though she was his first visitor.

"You have any family, Rivers?" The way she asked wasn't mean. It just was. They were both used to getting right to the point of things.

"My parents died awhile ago."

"I'm sorry."

He shrugged.

Branca hesitated and pulled a chair up to the bed. She sat down. "Creegan mentioned, once, that you had a brother."

He barely flinched. But the pain in his gut twisted again, and he had a harder time swallowing back the sickness. "I don't."

Branca stared at him quietly for a moment. She knew he was lying. Or else she understood what he meant. At any rate, there were a few uncomfortably quiet moments as she watched him, until, finally, he cleared his throat and she took in a breath.

"How are you, Mark?"

She crossed her legs and pulled a strand of hair behind her ear. She had rarely, if ever, used his first name. No one at the OSC did. That was just the way they worked. Kept things professional. Separated your home life from your work life. Work life: he was Rivers. Home life: he was Mark. Well... not anymore he wasn't. Ben had been his home life. Now that Ben was gone, there wasn't any one who'd be calling him Mark anymore. It was a strange thought to have.

"Other than the stab wound, you mean?" He tried to smirk, but closed his eyes and tensed instead as something shifted in his gut. It hurt like hell.

Beneath his closed lids, more images of the previous few days flashed. He saw Ben sitting on that bench again. Saw that man come at him out of the corner of his eye. Saw Branca over him, holding him.

"Mark. Mark, stay with me. Right here, Mark."

He heard her voice in his head. Felt her hands on his wound and on his face, keeping him with her.

"Hey... Beautiful..." He thought he remembered saying, and smiling. He could see her try to smile back.

"Shh." She'd said it again and again. As if she'd been trying to quiet whatever was going on in her own head rather than his ramblings as he slipped from consciousness.

There'd been tears in her eyes as she leaned over him. And he'd wanted to apologize again, right there, even in that delirious state, for letting her watch yet another man in her life fall. He kept thinking, as he slipped from consciousness, over and over again he thought that here was the second man in her life whose death had been his fault.

"Other than the stab wound." Branca answered, not missing a beat. Her eyes continued to stare right into his. She wouldn't look away.

It was so tempting just to let it all out. To tell the woman in front of him what he was feeling and why. But then he remembered how his life actually worked. "I knew there was a problem the other day when I almost opened up to one of the other agents. And you- you don't do that. You, uh... What we do is we keep everything bottled up..."

But then- he also remembered Ben. "...You ask him how he's doing- what's going on- he goes off on, like, this ten minute dissertation about how screwed up his life is..."

He missed Ben.

He looked up at Branca, swallowing. Trying not to get teary-eyed. Thinking of ways to blame the medication if he did.

"...Not too good." He answered honestly.

There was no way he was going to cry in front of her. He pursed his lips and brought a hand up to cover his eyes. He just didn't trust himself in this situation. Some part of him was just stupid enough to let it all out to her. And that couldn't happen.

He wasn't sure how much time passed as he lay there, but suddenly he felt a hand over his own. It lifted his up and away from his face, and set it beside him on the bed. He opened his eyes and saw Branca standing over him.

Branca continued to hold his hand, looking down at him with what he could only think to call sympathy.

He glanced down at her fingers wrapped around his on the bedspread, then back up to her.

Wetting his lips, he found himself close to tears once again, but willed them away as best he could. "My brother..."

Branca's own eyes grew slowly teary and she gave him a small, supportive smile. "I know." She said, squeezing his hand.

Tears came to his eyes as well and he looked away.

"I was supposed to look after him. But even when we were kids... he just couldn't get the hang of it. Couldn't do things on his own..." He swallowed again, forcing down the emotion.

They were both quiet for a moment, Branca just looking at him, holding his hand tightly. Rivers staring at the wall, trying to collect himself.

In his mind, more memories came to him. Some of Ben- always of Ben- and some of those couple days following his brother's death. He remembered Branca trying to talk to him at the hotel. "I just wanted you to know... I heard you."

Damn it. He'd been an ass hole to her. Again. One more thing to apologize for.

Rivers turned his head back to look up at his coworker.

"How are you, Susan?"

Branca laughed sadly, as if fighting back tears herself. "Good days and bad days."

He knew exactly what she meant.

"How's this one looking?" He asked.

She blinked and squeezed his hand again. Tears no longer threatened to fall from her eyes, but he was almost certain that he, himself, wasn't quite out of the woods on that one yet. Still, he returned her gaze until, without warning, she leaned down.

Rivers cringed as another sharp pain from his stomach hit him forcefully. But Branca took her other hand and placed it against the side of his head, and he relaxed. She leaned down and kissed his forehead gently, then pulled away enough to see his face and offer a smile.

"...Better." She said.

Mark took in a ragged breath. It was the first thing that he'd wanted to remember doing in a while.

The End.