AN: This chapter is probably no more than a few days after they reached the hospital. I don't think Kelly was the only one to suffer from nightmares.
The merciless sun beats down, blinding him as he looks up at the cross. The screaming and wailing around him reaches a fever pitch, but he only has eyes for the white body hanging, crucified.
Was Jesus white?
Why do you ask that, Alexander?
In the books. Jesus is always a white man in the books, Mommy.
His mother smiles, serene, as the Inquisitors run through the church. Can't you see them, he wants to scream at her, but his voice is choked back, catching in his throat. He opens his mouth to yell a warning, but no sound comes out.
The fact is, son, no-one can say for certain sure what Jesus looked like. White folks like to draw him white. Black folks, well, some of them follow the white folks' lead, some draw him black, like Reverend Johnson's church. But the important thing isn't his color. It's in your heart.
Red, red, that's his color. Scourged with a thousand lashes. I thirst. Why have you forsaken me? I didn't mean to. He tugs at his mother's hand, to save her from the Inquisitors. The white fingers slip from his grasp.
The cross. If he climbs up the cross, he can save him. The harsh wood is slippery with the white man's blood, but Alexander crawls up. He slips, hands instinctively clutching at the white man's chest, fingers digging into the wound in his side. Kelly cries out, and Scotty snatches his hand away, and slips, nearly falling. His fingers clutch out desperately, and catch hold of the bony feet, pull the flesh ripping past the nail that pierces—No—Kelly screams, and Scotty lets go, and falls down, down, down...
He hits the ground with a thud and a harsh yell. The ground is not loose earth but smooth plastic, the metal poles by his head cold and sterile. He blinks once, twice, the strip of moonlight on the floor… Floor. Hospital. The poles are the legs of the cot, the plastic is the floor tile…
Kelly's screams are all too real.
Scotty flounders up out of the tangle of blankets, flinging them roughly aside and letting them fall where they will. Staggering drunkenly across the room, he lands on Kelly's bed, coming to rest with a thud, like falling off a cliff, like falling off a cross, the smell of iron and blood and sweat still in his nostrils, and his fingers curl around the bedstead, his breath coming hard and fast. "Wake up," he calls, feeling his voice grating in his throat. Kelly doesn't answer, and Scotty hollers, "Wake up!"
"I can't..." With a gasp, Kelly jackknifes up. Only his face immediately crumples at the pain of the movement and he falls back down, Scotty's hands flying away from the bedrail and catching him before he can bust his stitches.
"Kel, it's just a—" He means to lower Kelly gently to the bed, he really does, but his hands aren't too steady either and he can't let Kel land on his still-bleeding welts, only twisting him sideways in mid-air isn't the greatest idea bcause he ends up falling to the mattress with Kelly, fetching up lying half-alongside him, one arm awkwardly trapped underneath his partner, facing the red lines adorning his bandaged back.
Normally, Scotty would expect some quip about we gotta stop meeting like this and how Kelly's not that kind of a girl, but now there's only harsh panting. No wonder; he'd lay dollars to little green apples that his trapped arm is causing Kelly excruciating pain, jammed up like that against his strained spine and lacerated flesh. "Wanna give me…" Scotty swallows hard. His voice is unsteady, and Kelly's not so far gone that he won't notice. "…gimme a hand here, Herman?"
"With—the greatest of pleasure." Scotty hides a wince at Kelly's voice, small and tight with pain, still rough from his nightmare.
"On three, then." He has to stop to catch his own breath. "Nice and slow."
"I have never been known to rush the important things in—Ah." Kel can't quite hold back a gasp as Scotty lifts him with one arm and slides his other arm out from under him, but Kelly Robinson's a trouper, and if he is trembling with pain and strain when Scotty very gently eases him back down, it's not something Scotty will ever admit to noticing.
"Havin' a—" Scotty was about to say "a bad night", make it into some kinda funny question, but his voice catches in his throat like it did before, the dust and sunlight choking him. Swallowing hard, he lays his free arm carefully across Kel's shaking body, just to prove to himself that the guy's still breathing.
Kelly sighs, a wisp of breath in the sterile air. His partner doesn't seem to expect Scotty to finish the sentence. Attaboy, Kel. That's what friends are for.
They lie there, talking too much of an effort and overrated to boot. why have you forsaken me? If this was a normal situation (will things ever be normal again, he wonders?) Scotty'd probably offer Kel a backrub. As it is, he's afraid to so much as touch the man because of his injuries. His hand has other ideas, though; it's stroking Kel's upper arm as gently as it knows how, pulling the sheet up over his bandaged torso, smoothing the fabric softly over his bare skin. The appendage appears to know what it's doing, so he lets it, allowing his own head to sink further into the pillow. Soft. Nice.
After a long pause, Scotty feels Kelly's tension gradually subside. Slowly, the corded muscles relax beneath his arm, the trembling quieting. "You 'right?" Kelly slurs. Man, his voice, low and dark, out of its usual register, is frightening. Scotty's hand reacts before his brain, smoothing over Kel's bandaged cheek, stroking his hair, as Kelly has done for Scotty when he's feeling hurt and vulnerable, time and time again. Always caught Scotty, always pulled him out of the fire, and Scotty has forsaken failed to catch him this time. Wasn't there to break his fall.
"That bad, huh?"
"You." Kelly's breath is coming faster, like he's tiring. "Failed. To answer. A simple…" He's flat-out panting now.
"Kelly. Will you pipe down and get back to sleep?"
"What? Conference with the President? Interview at two? What do you gotta at three o'clock in the morning?"
"Never asked ya…"
"Is this the time for existential…"
"Listen to me. Please, man." Into Scotty's sudden silence, Kelly breathes, "Never asked you… if they… if they hurt you, Jack. If they maybe… did somethin' to ya…"
Scotty can't help it. He begins to laugh.
"Oh, that's nice. You dismiss my concern…"
Heartened by Kelly's indignant tone, Scotty keeps laughing, but clams up in a hurry when he realizes that the shaking of his body is jarring Kelly's welts. "Aw, sorry, Kel, but you…" He snickers again. "You just worry 'bout yourself, 'kay? Nobody touched a hair on my head." He blinks, smelling iron and blood and sand. "Wouldn't let me share none of it, man. You took it all, for the both of us."
"Glad to hear it," Kelly mutters. "You were out cold…"
And just like that, Kelly's crying, his face crumpling beneath Scotty's hand, dampness sliding over his knuckles. Stunned, helpless, he blinks as his fingers automatically caress Kel's cheek, wiping the tears away. "Aw, don't…" It's been wonderful pretending, just for a moment, that things were gonna be fine, but he should have known better than to think that Kelly – that anyone – could just shrug off something like this. "It'll be all right, man. Just… need time, is all."
"Sorry… shouldn't…" Kelly mutters.
Scotty nearly shakes him, but halts just in time, shocked at what he almost did. "You got noth—ah, just shut—Mgrph," he concludes, all smooth and suave, and then his body catches up with his independently-thinking hand and snuggles in to his partner, warm and close, tucking him tighter into his embrace without hurting him, and anyone who says that that isn't an achievement with every inch of Kel's body cut and swollen can just go fly a kite. "Gonna look better in the morning. Just wait and see."
Kelly doesn't make an answering quip, doesn't say a word, just clenches his jaw so tight the muscle trembles under Scotty's hand, and all Scotty can do is murmur meaninglessly and wipe his tears away, and hold him. They have a long way to go. Scotty knows it, maybe he didn't realize how far, but still…
The bleeding and broken figure drops off the cross. It's a long way down, but the fall is slow, and he's there to catch the white man before he hits the ground. The torture has been terrible, the blood drips to the ground like rain, but his arms are strong enough to cradle his beloved friend close, lift and carry him away to where he can tend to him, care for him, make him strong again.
All the time in the world, all the love in the world, all the kindness in the world. If that's what it'll take to make him whole, then that's what he'll give, and gladly. And more.
In their sleep, the two men smile.