Joe desperately wanted to stop him, but he knew that saying something would only lead to another fight. So he just watched from across the room, leaning unobtrusively against an old fuselage and trying not to wince every time he saw Dex's mouth tighten in agony.
The engineer limped from under the wing of the plane to the part- and paper-strewn table nearby, consulted a blueprint, and hobbled back. The arm that wasn't encased in plaster reached up, did something Sky Captain couldn't discern at his distance, then withdrew and pushed the outer panel back into place. He struggled for a moment, trying to set the bolts without dropping the metal sheeting on his own head, and finally resorted to holding the cover up with his cast so that his good hand could tighten it down properly. He flinched visibly as he hugged the broken limb back against his body, and then glanced around as if he were afraid someone might have seen him evince pain. Spotting Joe, he sighed and made his way over, well aware that a showdown was imminent.
Knowing that he'd been discovered, Sky Captain moved forward quickly, not wanting the other man to have to travel any more of the distance between them than was absolutely unavoidable. They drew to a stop when they were face to face, both wearing determined expressions.
"How long have you been standing there?" Dex asked, attempting to cross his arms out of habit and failing.
"Since I tried to take you dinner and found you not in bed. Which, by the way, is where nine out of ten doctors would agree you should be."
"I had work to do. The wiring in your starboard wing was completely fried. I wasn't comfortable with the idea of you flying it like that, and I know that you'll go up before I'm back to work."
"You do remember that you're having surgery tomorrow, correct?"
"Yes. That's why I had to finish this tonight."
"You're hurt, damn it, you shouldn't be working!"
"If I don't work, you'll be the one hurt. Or worse," Dex countered hotly. "Besides, I'm not in pain."
"Oh, right, and I suppose the limping and the pained faces are all part of your new Igor impression?"
"You know they won't let me get any real work done in the hospital. At least let me go under the knife in the morning having done everything in my power to keep you safe while I'm out of commission. Let me have that little bit of consolation, all right?"
Sky Captain was shamed into silence for a moment. "And if I let you do that, Dex, then in what manner am I keeping you safe?" he asked finally.
"That's not your job, Cap. It's the other way around and you know it."
"It is my job," he growled. "Especially since it's my fault you're hurt."
"It isn't your fault," the engineer insisted. "It was the other driver's fault, he was the one who ran the light."
"I should have seen him. I should have been able to avoid him."
"Joe, he was on my side and I didn't even see him coming. It wasn't your fault," he repeatedly gently. "We're both alive, and we're getting a massive settlement out of it. Everything's fine."
"No, it isn't. If it was, you wouldn't have to be…" he flailed wildly, "…cut open in twelve hours to have your arm screwed back together. You wouldn't be limping, and we wouldn't be fighting about this. We could just have a drink, have a laugh or two, and go on with life. Like normal."
"We can still do that. Nothing's changed, except that you've been angry ever since the accident. I can't figure it out, so I vote that you just tell me. What are you so worked up about?"
"I'm not worked up about anything, I just don't want you taking unnecessary risks."
"I'm not. I'm just working, like I always do, every day. It's no riskier than it was before. Yes, there are dangers, there are always dangers, but they're inherent to the job. They can't be completely controlled. That's life, Joe." He half-shrugged and smiled. "It's just life."
"You could have been killed," the pilot whispered back miserably, no longer caring whether the level of despair that thought caused in him was inappropriate.
"Yeah, I could have been," Dex agreed. "But do you know what?" he added, leaning forward conspiratorially. "I wasn't. I'm right here, right now, with you. And we're fine. A little banged up, I'll admit," he lifted his arm slightly, "but functional. So a doctor has to put a few screws in my arm to make it heal right. So what? I think it's pretty amazing that we can do that with people. A hundred years ago they would have just cut my arm off, do you realize that? And they would have done it without anesthetic, without post-operative painkillers, without sterilized instruments. If this had happened a century earlier, I could very well have died from it. But it didn't. It happened now, and it happened with you. Now that surgeon tomorrow can knock me out, put me back together, and let me go home with a bottle full of happy pills guaranteed to make me utterly oblivious to pain. Trust me, those are all really good things."
"They wouldn't be needed if I-"
"More importantly," Dex interrupted him, stepping closer until they were mere inches apart, "when I'm getting antsy and don't want to stay in bed anymore despite doctor's orders, I will have someone who is equally as bad at following the rules to keep me where I belong. Someone who will do everything in his power to keep me amused in spite of my misery at hearing work going on all around me and not feeling involved. Someone who, if I pouted just the right way, would probably put off a meeting with God himself to keep me company. Someone who my life would be meaningless without and, therefore, someone I will do everything in my power to keep safe, even if that means working when I'm supposed to be resting." He stared up at him wordlessly for a moment, hoping his message had been conveyed clearly enough. "Do you get it now, Joe?"
"I get it, Dex," he whispered back, disbelief mingling with ecstasy in his eyes. "But that doesn't answer my question of how I'm supposed to keep you safe if you insist on being so damned belligerent."
"I guess that's up to you to figure out," the engineer replied. "I mean, you say I should be in bed, but I'm not tired. Maybe if you came up with a creative solution that would make bed more interesting for me…"
Sky Captain gasped slightly, steeled himself, and then grabbed the man in front of him and pulled him into a hard, needy kiss. "I don't think you have to worry about your bed being uninteresting ever again, Dex," he promised when they finally broke off.
"Good," he answered, nuzzling against the pilot's neck as his feet were lifted off of the floor. "I've got some ideas I've been working on just for some time when I'm stuck in bed."
"Been saving them for something special?"
"Yeah. Problem I've been having is, they're all two-man jobs." He grinned at the moan his words drew out.
"I think I know someone who can help you with that."
"Let's get started, then. You know I can never wait to dive into new projects."
"Is that what I am? A project?" He frowned down at the other man.
"Not just any project, Joe," he whispered with a soft smile. "My life's work."