Kelly drops to his knees beside Scotty as the dust settles. For a moment he can't breathe. Scotty can't be hurt – he can't – not after all this, and then... Nothing else matters. He bends—his head's hurt—thank God not serious—chest, ribs, stomach, arms, everything checks out okay.
Relief swamps kelly, and the room spins. He bows his head. Scotty shouldn't be lying here on the hard floor—he tries to lift him, but the room darkens even more. Damn it, where's the light gone all of a sudden?
"Stand aside, sonny," Uncle Harry's voice comes from somewhere above him. "I'm not so far over the hill that I can't carry your buddy's skinny butt."
In the rising darkness, he sees work-roughened hands slide under Scotty's body. No, Kelly thinks – I can carry him – he got hurt carrying me, so it's only natural… A snort. He doesn't know how much of this he actually managed to say out loud. Maybe not all that much.
Harry lifts, heaves—no, he ought to—they've done so much for him, he's brought them such grief—but Scotty—why's the air so thin in here? Smoke? Kelly can't breathe, can hardly see, and the heat's stifling... oh, damn…
There are soft hands, lifting him up. He's not sure—Alta? She gets him to his feet, and he staggers. He owes her so much, so many apologies, has to make it up to her… But the room's swaying, and then it's all gone.
Softer, warmer. Still dark. Bed? Softness, on his face. Wet, like… he can't make it out. It makes the heat less hard to bear. A hand on his brow, stroking. He doesn't even… But it's gone again.
Fire, acid. He's burning.
It's his leg – it's in flames. He flails, jerks, dizzy, lost. Sick, nauseating, scraping the skin off him. He cries out, but chokes on his own spit. He's dizzy and wants to pull away from the pain – get out get out where's Scotty the house is on fire – he brought this on them he caused this – but something soft surrounds him, strokes his head, soothes the panic. Soft sweet embrace, apron-smell… His eyes fill with tears and he squeezes them shut, a child again as he falls backwards into time.
The pain's still there, the rasping, wrenching grate of a hacksaw—"Sure bet you've got the mother of all stories to tell 'bout this one, Kelly." His uncle's gruff, warm voice makes him clench his fists, even as his aunt's hand strokes his cheek. He's too dirty for her to touch, his face is all stubbly, he shouldn't be here… he's burning up. Burning. Good practice, the muzzy thought creeps into his brain, for later. For when he has to burn forever.
"Almost done, Herman," a low, deep voice murmurs above him. "You couldn't stay asleep for another minute?" It should sound funny, but Scotty's voice is sad.
Scotty. Scotty's hurt—Kelly's eyes snap open, but then he has to squeeze them shut, disoriented; for a second, he doesn't understand where he is, the room almost seems to be floating. Ceiling, he makes out, ceiling and his aunt's lap, and where's Scotty? But the pain drags him down, and he jerks.
"This part just ain't no fun at all. Not much longer, Kel." Strong hands grip his leg, patting his knee. Kelly wants to check on Scotty, but even if the room weren't spinning he understands the unspoken injunction – don't move – and it's second nature to comply. The skin's being ripped off his ankle, a bitter, unclean sensation like his leg is rotting to pieces. No escape he clenches his jaw and screws his eyes shut but there's no relief but then why should he deserve relief but God it hurts and can't he just be done with—
Strong hands close on both of his as the pain spikes, and he grips onto them helplessly in his agony. "Hold on good, Kel…" A blast of filthy, sick burning and he twists, but he's held warm and fast, anchored, and he holds on and then "Thank God," from Scotty, in a thoroughly disgusted tone, and the thud of metal hitting wood. His leg is lifted, and in the time it takes him to realize the shackle is gone, gentle arms are already around him, more than one person's – he's surrounded on all sides by support, and someone is saying something about getting him clean.
"Penicillin, too, for that infection," Harry says authoritatively. "Got a whole bottle left over from that infection last month."
Scotty says something approving, and grateful, but Kelly's too busy working out why the tile is dancing underneath his feet. He stumbles, but his aunt and uncle's arms are around his waist. After all he's done to them, it's hard understanding why they're giving him so much, why there's so much love around him, but he's too tired to think about it anymore and so he stops trying to understand.
The shower just won't stop fading in and out, like he's falling asleep in the middle of it, however hard he tries. Alta is saying something in the tone of a woman who's won an argument, about how right she was to insist that they install indoor plumbing, and Harry is saying something in the tone of a man who's kinda grudgingly proud of having been talked into it, and meanwhile the warm water flows over his clothed body, Scotty picking loose the fabric stuck to his skin a little at a time. When he falters, they sit him down on the edge of the clawfoot tub. Alta withdraws when his shirt is off, and then it's just Harry holding him up and Scotty unwrapping the makeshift bandage, stripping off the rags on his lower body, holding them carefully away from the raw bands on his ankles. The water burns where it touches the flayed flesh, but Kelly understands the necessity of getting the grime out, and Scotty's being as gentle as he can, soaping where Kelly's not hurt and letting the water flow and sluice over the rest.
About halfway through, Kelly finds himself feeling secure, and leans back against Harry. Scotty won't let him suffer, not if he can help it. And if he does, it's probably necessary.
When they're done, they wrap him in clean towels, keeping the rough fabric away from where the shackles bit. He can tell, because he was steeling himself for pain, only there wasn't any. His aunt's waiting for him as Uncle Harry and Scotty support his stupid tottering carcass into the bedroom. The master bedroom. Big bed. Giving him their… But he can't protest, not that they would listen to him even if he had the strength.
There are more towels on the bed as they lay him down, and Alta dries his hair and croons to him as Harry brings up a steaming mug of hot soup, insisting Kelly drink it before he lets him have any painkillers or penicillin. His partner nods his approval, and so Alta helps Kelly sit up, her hands around his, raising the mug to his lips. Meanwhile, Scotty slathers far too much salve on his wrists and wraps them thickly in gauze, does the same for his ankles, then scans the bottle of medicine and nods approval as Harry shakes out two for a loading dose. Then his partner just kneels back and smiles smugly as his aunt and uncle give him the medicine, lovingly supporting his embarrassingly weak body.
He's starting to fade out when a sweet tea, aromatic with herbs, is raised to his lips. "For fever," says the feminine voice above him. Aunty Alta. So much trouble, so much pain, so much… His miserable, dizzy ruminations falter as the hot tea sweeps all thought away. His head is lying on her soft shoulder, her breasts supporting his back, her hands cupping his shoulders, and he's a little boy again, and cries. Scotty lies back in bed and accidentally on purpose lays his ankle across Kelly's knee, and his aunt and uncle make soothing noises. After all he's brought upon them, he can't understand why they're giving him so much, why there's so much love around him, but he's too tired to think about it anymore and so he lets it go.
It's very late when his eyes open again. The first thing he notices is that the room's still, not spinning; silent, not buzzing. He feels different somehow; still really weak, but so much better it's like someone handed him a new body. The burn in his chest is receding; the air no longer feels like a knife going in. His wrists and ankles are only throbbing softly, instead of feeling like they were being chewed off like the limbs of some animal in a bear trap. And the fever feels like it's finally broken.
The fever. Scotty took care of him when he had a fever. Scotty – Scotty's head—
Kelly straightens suddenly, panicking. The movement shocks him with pain, and his stomach rebels, but he can't care, because Scotty—
—is right there in the bed next to him, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted, lying on his good side.
Kelly slumps in relief, reaching out, fingers brushing the dark hair where the bullet graze lurks, an ugly gouge now clotted with congealing blood, barely visible in the dimness of the room. Kelly touches Scotty's temple again, shuddering. Too close, too damn close. Nothing in the world would have mattered if—things are already bad, but if anything had—He won't think it, can't. Scotty's going to be all right and that's all that matters.
"Rest, now, Kelly. Everything will look better in the morning."
He half-turns in bed – the motion sets the room to spinning, but he ignores it. His eyes fix on Alta's soft, sweet smile. He drinks in the sight of her for a moment, completely overwhelmed, and whispers harshly, "Why?"
She shakes her head in the look of fond exasperation he's only ever seen on women, and Scotty. "You're ours," she chides him. "Now go to sleep, child."
He opens his mouth to say something, argue or apologize perhaps, but Scotty shifts on the bed next to him, and he turns towards his sleeping partner and adjusts his covers, and the pillow is so soft and the pain is so much less sharp…
When next he blinks awake, it's grey pre-dawn and he can't even remember falling asleep. Aunt Alta's gone, and Uncle Harry is sitting there. Slowly, he manages to turn his head towards him. Before he can speak, Harry reaches out and pats him on the shoulder. "We took care of everything," his uncle smiles. "Know just how to clear it with the law, too. You boys rest till morning, then you can get going. We'll handle it from here."
So much, they're giving so much, when he's only ever brought them death and destruction, polluted his childhood home… Kelly raises a hand, covers his eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispers.
Harry gives a healthy snort. "Older folks got just as much right to defend their country as kids like you boys. Getting too big for your britches if you think you can stop me."
Kelly lowers his hand at that, blinking. Uncle Harry rubs a hand over his mouth, his face quirking in a smile. "Good to know we're not over the hill yet. Can still be of use to our country when it matters." His piercing gaze bores into Kelly, stripping his defenses bare. "Thank you for giving us that chance, son."
Kelly swallows. He can't – he can't mean it, surely…
"Get some sleep," his uncle commands. "Gonna be traipsing about the country soon enough." He leans forward and pulls the covers a little higher around Kelly. "I've got something for you, too, but that can wait till morning."
It's too much like the long-ago promises of Christmas presents. Kelly's eyes burn, and he turns away… and his eyes fall on Scotty, eyes closed, face slack, one blistered hand lax on the pillow. Blistered because he was too much of a coward to face his relatives. God, is there anything he hasn't ruined, anything he hasn't…
Scotty's eyes open slowly. "…feelin' 'kay, Kel?" he mumbles.
Kelly opens his mouth, but his breath hitches and he can't speak.
The dark, damaged hand comes up to touch the bandage covering Kelly's chest wound. "…pain?"
Kelly swallows. "I…"
Scotty's eyes shift, looking above Kelly, and he sees that Uncle Harry's leaning over the bed. "Got 'ny more of th'…?"
"Sure." His uncle disappears, and is back in a ridiculously short moment with a glass of water and three aspirin. "Down the hatch."
Kelly sets his jaw. "Scotty, too."
Scotty opens his mouth and then closes it. His uncle just chuckles and brings another dose.
It's awkward getting each other sat up to take the medicine, but they manage it. Uncle Harry helps, and Aunty Alta comes in as well, propping them up – man, he and Scotty are such a pair, ready for the old folks' home – and settling them back into bed when they're done. "Take good care of each other, now," Alta tells them, and Kelly has to blink back the burn in his eyes again. The painkillers push him down into the soft comfort of the bed, and Scotty only half-playfully ruffles his clean hair and then lowers his hand to rest, gently, on the bandage on his chest. Alta smoothes his hair down, and Harry covers them both up snugly. It's hard understanding why they're giving him so much, why there's so much love around him, but he's too tired to think about it anymore and so he simply accepts.