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Spinning, Unspun

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The world spun dizzily around him in a chaotic wash of color and shadow. Voices rose and fell on either side, but they seemed to be filtering up through deep water and he couldn’t make out a single word. His skin felt abraded, oversensitive to the point of pain.

Jack licked his lips; his tongue was thick and dry. His voice rasped strangely in his throat. “What--”

“--the door,” one of the voices said. Jack blinked slowly, and the dark-colored blur to his left resolved into Daniel Sousa. He looked grim and worried from inches away, which meant that the strong hand holding Jack up on that side had to be his. Jack tilted toward him and then, without any clear idea of why he was doing it, tucked his face into the hollow of Daniel’s throat, nuzzling at the skin under his jaw. He could smell clean sweat, a sharp hint of aftershave, and something else: a cloying, too-sweet odor like rotting flowers.

Daniel went still. His voice, when he spoke, was a hoarse, explosive exhale. “Jack--”

“Hi,” Jack mumbled without lifting his head. Stubble rasped against his lips. His head was spinning like he was drunk or feverish or both. “Whass--what’s goin’ on?”

“You’ve been drugged.” That was Peggy. She was a little farther away than Daniel, but a moment later her hand landed on Jack’s other arm. “We’re going to take care of you.”

“Oh,” Jack said, letting his eyes slip shut. He was being propelled gently forward by both their hands. Between the two of them, they were taking most of his weight, which was good because it felt like all of the joints in his legs had gone slippery and loose. His head hurt less with his eyes closed, but it made the dizziness worse, a queasy rolling sensation like he was trying to keep his feet on rough seas. He opened them again. The room was tiled in white, blue wallpaper up above with a pattern that he couldn’t focus on well enough to see. Lights over the mirror on one wall and reflecting in the rippling water that half-filled the sink. A monogrammed hotel towel had been tossed carelessly to the floor. He remembered leaving it there after his bath this morning. Or some morning, anyway. Before--

He squeezed his eyes shut again as Peggy and Daniel propped him against the edge of the sink. Light swam reddish through his eyelids.

“Jack?” Peggy was saying. He opened his eyes again and looked at her, the sharply lovely lines of her face softened and blurred like he was viewing them through a rain-drenched window. “What is it?”

“Th’ light,” Jack managed. “Hurts.”

“Oh,” Daniel said, and reached past him to depress the button, throwing the room into gloom. “Photosensitivity must be one of the side effects--is that better?”

Jack hummed acknowledgement.

“I ought to have broken more heads than I did back there.” Peggy sounded angry now, but her hands were gentle, settling on Jack’s shoulders. He wasn’t wearing his shirt, he realized; her fingers rested on bare skin. He had no memory of taking it off. “Jack, where’s your suitcase?”

“What?” Jack said blurrily.

“You’ve still got residue on your skin. We need to rinse it off. You’ll need clean clothes.” His eyes slipped closed again, and her grip firmed. “Jack. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled. “Uh. Closet. ‘S in the closet. Th’ hall--” He gestured vaguely, trying to drag more words out of his fuzzy brain. He was distantly aware that he’d be mortified about all this later, but in that moment he just felt loose and strange and very, very glad of the warm point of contact where Peggy was touching him.

“I can find it,” Peggy said gently, releasing him. Jack started to slide sideways, and Daniel’s larger hands caught him.

“Sorry,” he mumbled as Peggy’s footsteps retreated out of the room.

“Don’t be,” Daniel said. “Not your fault. Here, c’mon.”

He eased Jack down so that he was sitting with his back against the sink base, the smooth porcelain a line of ice between his shoulder blades. It was uncomfortable, but it anchored him in a world that still seemed to be lurching and swaying around him. Daniel’s warm hands were tugging his socks off, then his belt. Then his pants; Jack tried to lift his hips to help, but it was still an awkward bit of wrestling to get them off. Daniel was muttering as he did, mostly to himself, or at least so it seemed: profanity and imprecations that seemed to be directed, for a change, at someone other than Jack.

A moment later, a wet cloth ran over his face, lifting sweat and grit from his skin. He swallowed a soft noise, and Daniel murmured, “Just hold still, it won’t take long, I promise.”

The door swung open with a creak of hinges that sliced through Jack’s pounding skull. There were soft footsteps on the floor.

“I have pajamas,” Peggy said quietly from somewhere over his head.

“Thanks,” Daniel said, just as quietly. The washcloth lifted from Jack’s skin, then reappeared, rinsed and warm. Daniel worked carefully and methodically, and he didn’t complain when Jack leaned against him, forehead to his chest, warm broadcloth over skin; he just handed the washcloth off to Peggy, who completed his ablutions with the same gentleness. It was a blurry daze as they helped him into his pajamas. Jack felt like a rag doll being passed back and forth between them: braced against Daniel’s shoulder as Peggy tugged his pants up, leaning back against Peggy as Daniel buttoned his shirt.

It should have been humiliating, and maybe it would feel that way later, but in the moment he just felt--safe. Cared for, in a way that he hadn’t been since he was a child. The closest he’d come in recent memory was the nurses at the hospital after he’d been shot, and that had been brisk, professional efficiency. Not this.

He had a dizzy memory of being strapped down to a table, sweating and dazed and furious while unfamiliar voices spoke overhead about dosages and possible side effects and if this works, he’ll be completely under our control, Doctor, please be patient--

--and Peggy and Daniel were lifting him again. He staggered between them before Peggy slipped an arm around his waist to steady him.

“Steady goes,” she murmured. “The bed is just over there. Can you manage it?”

“Gon--” Jack licked his lips again. The inside of his mouth felt cottony and dry and he was as weak as a kitten, but his head seemed clearer. “Gonna throw me over your shoulder if I can’t?”

Daniel huffed laughter, and Peggy sounded warmly amused when she said, “Let’s hope it won’t come to that. One foot in front of the other, come on.”

He could just barely manage that as long as they were taking most of his weight, but it still took what felt like an age to cross the room, shuffling like an old man.

They’d gotten him out. Peggy and Daniel had charged in, guns blazing, and they’d gotten him out. And they were still here; they hadn’t vanished into the fog of a fading nightmare and left him alone.

This thing between them was fragile; he knew that. Sometimes he thought that the only thing really holding it together was the fact that they’d all apparently come to a mutual decision not to talk about it. Peggy and Daniel--that was easy. Obvious to anyone with eyes how they felt about each other, how well they went together. Jack was the puzzle piece that didn’t fit, and that was before bringing any one of a dozen other complications into the picture. He knew that. He’d already determined to enjoy it for as long as it lasted and let it go when it inevitably ended, before everything went sour between them and he lost the two people who were--no matter what else--some of the best friends he’d ever had.

That didn’t mean he was in any hurry to end it, though. And that meant pulling his own weight, handling his own problems, and not clinging to the pair of them like a child or a drunk as they maneuvered him gently onto the bed.

“The blanket?” Daniel said, over his shoulder, and Peggy turned it down. Between the two of them, they got Jack settled on the clean, cool sheets; Peggy pulled them back over him and Daniel arranged the pillows under Jack’s shoulders and head so that he was tilted slightly upright. It helped with the dizziness, but only a little. The world still felt like the deck of a ship pitching and rolling in rough water, although he didn’t remember ever getting this seasick in the Navy.

He became aware that he was clutching at Daniel’s arm, and forced himself to let go. “Uh. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Daniel said with a slight smile, straightening.

Jack watched him blearily, expecting him to pull himself upright and go do something useful now that Jack was safely put to bed and clearly not dying, but instead he just leaned down to pull off his shoes, then settled on the mattress, leaning his crutch up against the wall. On Jack’s other side, there were two soft thumps and a creak of springs as Peggy did the same. Still in her suit, she curled up on top of the bedspread. Her stockings were torn; he could see a run down her shin, bloody skin beneath. She smelled faintly of gunsmoke, and her hair was a loose, frizzy riot of curls.

Daniel shifted, unbelting his pants and pulling them off. There was a shuffling noise as he removed the harness and his prosthesis, then settled onto the mattress beside Jack in his boxer shorts and his button-down shirt.

“That’s quite a look,” Jack mumbled, patting his good knee clumsily.

“I’m thinking about debuting it at the dance hall, what do you think?”

“I think,” Peggy said from his other side before he could answer, “that you both ought to be quiet so we can get some sleep before we’re called in to debrief. It’s been an extremely long two days for all of us.”

Two days? Jack thought. Out loud, he said, “You guys really don’t have to stay. Look, I’m fine, I can call room service if I need anything--”

“Do be quiet.”

“Yeah,” Daniel added, slinging a warm arm over him. “Shut up, Jack.”

Peggy’s hand settled on his chest as well, a second warm anchor, her thumb rubbing small, soothing circles through his pajamas. Jack knew that he probably ought to argue them out of it, send them back to their own separate rooms--or, hell, they could share, it would be a scandal but it wasn’t like it was much of a secret--but somehow the words just didn’t come.

Bracketed between their hands, the world seemed to stop its spinning. Jack closed his eyes, and let go.