38.1 degrees Celsius/100.5 degrees Fahrenheit

Hours later, a hush had settled over the cabin. The subsonics had been turned off after the last set of injections, but there was a certain peace to the silence as well, even for Piper. It might have been relief, though; James's fever had definitely been dropping, and even after the oxygen had run out he had mostly slept peacefully, rousing occasionally to stare at Piper and mumble indecipherable words before sliding back into slumber. Piper tried to stay awake and watch him--he'd left him alone for long enough, he thought--but sheer exhaustion was taking its toll, and he kept falling into a half-doze in the chair.

He was not quite awake when he heard James announce, "There's a needle in my leg."

Piper opened his eyes, blinking a little fuzzily, and straightened up. "I know," he agreed. "I put it there." At that point his brain kicked in enough to actually process what he was seeing; James looked much more alert than the last few times he'd woken up. "How do you feel?"

He looked around, a mystified expression on his face. "That...that first aid kit was much better than we thought it was."

A real smile spread across Piper's face for the first time in a long while. "Welcome back."

Trickster's face was still rather ashen, but his personality seemed to be making a rapid recovery. "I was away?" He raised an eyebrow, and the familiar Tricksterish gesture made Piper want to smile even more. Then he frowned and shook his head a little. "My head...it's fuzzy." He shot Piper a look of sudden suspicion. "What'd you do?"

Piper shook his head, still grinning. "Now that's gratitude," he said, in a tone of mock-irritation. "I go to great lengths to nurse you through your fever, and what do I get? Accusations."

Trickster looked at him in baffled annoyance, clearly still struggling to pull his thoughts together. "Nursing me?" He hesitated. "I... Was I talking about clowns?" His eyes flicked back to the drip, and then to Piper. "What did you do to me?"

Piper raised an eyebrow, the irritation slightly more genuine now. "Among other things," he said dryly, "I gave you painkillers and antibiotics to get the fever down. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Trickster gave him a frustrated glare. "Where'd you get them?" he demanded.

Piper shrugged. "The bad guys have a very well-stocked infirmary."

The glare faded into blank, staring surprise. "You went..." He shook his head, again, and then winced. "That...that was stupid," he said, as if he could think of no stronger word. "Why did you...?"

Piper paused uncertainly, a dozen answers flitting through his mind. Because it was the right thing to do? Because you never deserved to have that happen to you? Because you're all I have left? "Because I didn't see any other choices," he said finally.

James looked at him, somewhat bewildered. For once, he seemed genuinely at a loss for words. "I... It still hurts," he said slowly. "Less...less than I remember. I think I remember..." He looked troubled. "How bad was I?"

"Pretty bad," Piper said; he could hear the flatness of his tone. "The wound got infected; your temperature was way up, you were delirious and..." And dying. But it wasn't true, not now, and if it wasn't true he didn't have to say it. "Do you want another shot of painkiller?" he asked abruptly, watching the way James's hands were trembling and the lines of tension in his body. "You're due soon anyway."

James hesitated, looking tempted. "I...in a minute," he said stubbornly. "When did you...? I don't remember you injecting me. And this...?" He looked at the drip, which was almost empty by then.

"It's like an IV; it's just to keep you from getting dehydrated," Piper told him. "I'm not surprised you don't remember; you were pretty out of it." Probably just as well he's blanked all of that out. Of course, now I'm going to give him the next injection while he's awake, and won't that be a pleasant surprise for him? He winced at the thought. And speaking of which... "Do you remember anything else?" he asked reluctantly.

James was frowning in worried concentration, evidently trying to dredge through his memories. "Not... not really. Something about--the door...?"

Piper, expecting a different answer, could only stare at him blankly for a moment. The door? Then the memory clicked and he broke into a grin. "Oh! Yeah, you were worried that somebody'd made off with it. Maybe you were hallucinating a ring of desperate door-stealing thieves."

James looked at him with an air of disbelief. "Okay, I really was out of it." He shook his head. "There's not much more that I..." Then he frowned again, and his eyes flicked up, to the smear of dried blood on the wall, and then flicked away just as quickly. "...I...can remember." His expression smoothed out into expectant curiosity, but Piper had caught the brief, troubled flash in his eyes.

The urge to smile faded. Having holes in your memory was a deeply unpleasant feeling, as he knew only too well. And I don't suppose being a control freak makes it any easier. On the other hand, Piper didn't think that knowing exactly what had happened would make James any happier. Piper wouldn't have minded missing it, himself. Maybe I can ask him about it...later. Much later. When we've both had about a week of sleep and he's stopped looking like the living dead and we've started repressing the nightmares--Stop. Focus. Simple words.

"You talked a lot," he said, trying to sound casual and not evasive. "Mostly it didn't make any sense." He hesitated, but the bloodstain was a silent demand for explanation. "You got a little violent at one point. I think you thought I was...trying to hurt you."

He watched James cautiously to see if that sparked anything, but he only shrugged and then winced a little, again. "Must have been the fever," he said, staring airily over Piper's shoulder. "Like I could ever see you as a threat."

His tone was dismissive, and Piper felt a flash of sudden exhausted fury. He bit his tongue on a response they would have both regretted, and took a long look at the other man. Even through the pain and the drugs, Trickster had started to reassert his usual self-assured mask, just as if he'd never flinched from Piper's touch, or tried desperately to fight him, or struggled through a fractured explanation of why he couldn't afford to like him... "You don't have to lie to me," Piper said, without thinking.

"I lie to everyone," Trickster told him. His face and voice were carefully controlled, but Piper thought there was a hint of desperation showing through the mask.

"Everyone isn't here," Piper said sharply. "Just me. And I am not a threat to you."

They stared at each other, Piper's gaze hot with frustration, and Trickster as coolly composed as if Piper hadn't said a thing. The silence seemed very loud.

It was Trickster who broke first, though. He slid his eyes away from Piper, and said vaguely, "You're an audience. I said that, didn't I?"

Piper's eyes narrowed. Oh, no, you don't. Not after all this. "Actually," he said deliberately, "you said I was a friend." Well. Allowing for translation, anyway...

There was an even louder silence, and then Trickster looked up again. "I say a lot of people are my friends, too." Now he just looked...tired. "I'm good pals with half the world, sometimes."

And warning me off isn't going to work, either. "Yes, I know," Piper agreed, and smiled at him cheerfully. "But with me, you mean it."

Piper could almost see a cutting response forming on Trickster's lips, but it never materialized. Instead he seemed finally to give in, and there was a whisper of a smile on his face as he said, "You seem awfully confident 'bout that."

Deciding it wasn't the time to bring up confused fever-ridden admissions, Piper only shrugged. "If you were trying to play me," he said lightly, "you'd be doing a better job."

The smile was faint and slightly rueful. "Nah, it's all a sting. And the gunshot wound's just part of my cunning ploy, don't you know? I...you'll have to excuse me if I forget what I was trying to achieve with it..." Trickster winced again, looking increasingly uncomfortable, although whether due to the injury or the conversation was hard to tell.

Piper took pity on him, deciding that that was probably as much of an emotional talk as either of them were up to anyway. "You were probably just looking for an excuse to lie around in bed while I waited on you," he suggested. "Speaking of which, I think it's about time for that shot." He patted James lightly on the shoulder and rose to go get the syringe.

James mostly managed to hide the relief. Mostly. "Oh good, drugs. Drugs sound great. Really." He paused as a thought seemed to strike him. "Oh, hey, the truck's still going?"

"Yes," Piper said, looking back over his shoulder. "It's now sporting a decorative rash of bullet holes, but it runs."

"Oh good. So, give it a day or so, or if we start running low on anything you can...I dunno, load me up in the back or something and we can get out of here." His tone conveyed the distinct impression that it would be his fondest dream to never, ever see the cabin again. Then he bit his lip. "But give me a lot of painkillers before you do that, okay?"

Piper thought about the logistics of getting James into the truck, and then all the way back to civilization, and felt slightly green. "Lots of drugs. I promise," he said with fervent sincerity. "And we can get more when we hit town."

"Right, I'm okay with that." James watched while Piper prepared the syringe. Then he closed his eyes and said, very quietly and sincerely, "Thank you."

Piper looked up in some surprise, and his eyes softened. "Anytime," he said simply. "Anytime."