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surrendered at the start of the game

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Jill’s hands are dirty.

Well, that’s not true. She washed them as soon as she got to the hospital, scrubbed under hot water until her skin was pink. But they feel dirty, covered in the lingering specter of sticky wetness. 

Elbows propped on her knees, she wrings her hands between them, rubbing her thumb back and forth against a chapped knuckle, tries to dispel the phantom sensation. Remind herself that it’s not real, that there’s nothing there but pale, calloused skin. 

Her hands may be clean, but her shirtsleeves are soaked in blood. Elly’s blood. 

It’s been hours since they took Elly into surgery. How many, Jill couldn’t say, the time going past in a blur. She’s been posted in an uncomfortable chair in a nondescript hallway like a sentinel. Staring at the stain, stark against the white of her shirt, watching it turn from red to worn, rusty brown.

Her jaw aches from clenching against the feeling that’s squeezing at her chest; she still can’t decide if she wants to throw up or scream.

“Guv?”

Jill blinks, looks up to find Quinn standing over her, worry on his face, and a steaming cup of tea in hand. She takes it with a small, grateful smile, sips at the too hot liquid and barely feels the burn.

“Any word?” he asks. Jill just shakes her head, doesn’t trust her voice to not betray her.

Quinn hovers awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot. He’s the only one in the CID who knows about her and Elly, the only one who knows that she’s here in the hospital in a capacity far beyond official. His mouth opens, snaps shut again just as quickly.

“I brought your spare shirt,” he says, holding out a plastic covered hanger. She knows what he’s really saying is she’ll be all right and I’m here for you . But they’ve never been that kind of friends.

“Thanks,” she says, voice like gravel, draping the shirt over the chair beside her. “You should get back to the station. Let them know that I-,” she coughs, the words sticking in her throat. “Tell them…”

“I’ll take care of it, Guv.” The understanding in Quinn’s voice is almost too much. Jill focuses her blurry eyes on the tips of her loafers. “We’re gonna find him. You have my word.” 

A hand squeezes briefly against her shoulder, and she hears footsteps receding into the distance.

Eventually she manages to get herself into the ladies, her legs stiff and heavy. She strips off her shirt in a stall, pulls on the crisp blue one from the bag. Stuffs the ruined fabric into the trash on her way to the sinks.

Jill catches her reflection in the mirror as she washes her hands, sees the tightness around her mouth, the darkness beneath her eyes. She looks old, tired. 

Terrified.

The view shifts in her mind’s eye, a sense of familiarity washing over her. She remembers a morning a few days prior, brushing her teeth in the bathroom of her flat. Elly appeared behind her, fresh from bed; dark hair a mess and sleep-filled eyes, wearing a baggy t-shirt that only just fell to her thighs. She reached past Jill to grab her own toothbrush, pressing warmly against her back for a moment. Their eyes met in the mirror, both smiling around mouthfuls of minty foam.

It’s the kind of domesticity Jill never thought she wanted, certainly never looked for, but now like so many things with Elly feels only right.

Out of nowhere anger boils up inside her; rage at the unfairness of it all mixing with the blind fear of losing Elly. All consuming, bursting out of her with a snarl.

A shock of impact shoots up her arm where her fist connects with the metal towel dispenser, the pain clearing her head a bit. She flexes her hand, glances between her distorted reflection in the dented metal and the smear of blood across her knuckles.  

Doesn’t look back as she returns to her post.

 

- - -

 

A faint groan pulls Jill from a fitful doze. For a moment she’s disoriented, hardly knows where she is. A second soft noise snaps her mind into focus, and she straightens in the chair.

One of the nurses took pity on her in the late hours. Somehow convinced the attending that, given the nature of Elly’s injuries, it was only sensible to have a police presence in the room as a precaution. The significant look she gave Jill as she asked if she’d be willing to stay spoke to her perceptiveness. 

Elly’s eyes flutter open and sheer relief that washes over Jill leaves her a little dizzy. She sees Elly’s brow furrow, confused, her eyes huge and dark against the waxy pallor of her skin.

“Hey, you’re all right,” Jill soothes, taking Elly’s hand where it lies limp against the stiff hospital blanket. “You’re at the hospital.”

Her mouth opens as if to speak, but all she manages is a dry cough. Jill grabs the cup of water from the bedside table, holds the straw to Elly’s parched lips as she takes a small sip.

“Did you catch him?” Elly rasps, and Jill can’t help but smile. Of course that’s what she’d worry about.

“Not yet, but we will. Quinn’s on it.” She lifts Elly’s hand, settles it more firmly in her own. “I’ve been slightly preoccupied worrying about you.”

Elly hums softly, squeezing back around Jill’s fingers.

“When’s the last time you slept?” she asks. “You look terrible.”

Jill barks out a laugh at that. “You’re one to talk.”

“At least I have an excuse.” Elly chuckles, the sound fading into a pained groan as her stomach muscles clench, and Jill has to push back the memory of Elly moaning in pain in a pool of her own blood. She presses her lips to Elly’s knuckles, takes a slow shaky breath.

“You scared me, Eliza,” Jill whispers against her skin, voice thick. Elly’s grip tightens, and Jill feels the brush of fingers against her hair.

“I’m sorry.”

There’s so much Jill wants to say, but Elly is already starting to fade, eyelids drooping. In that moment, Jill vows to not let another day go by without making sure that Elly knows exactly how she means to her.

For now, she reaches up to smooth Elly’s lank hair back from her forehead, thumb brushing against her cheek.

“Get some sleep.” Elly murmurs a bit, pressing her cheek into Jill’s hand.

Jill starts to pull away, to let Elly rest, but her hand clenches, holding Jill in place.

"Stay close,” Elly asks, the words a little indistinct, slurred with exhaustion. “Please?"

Jill just scoots her chair closer, slotting their fingers together.

“I’m not going anywhere.”