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Gauze and Linen

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1.

Soft gauze slides over his eyes and cracked lips press against his cheek. "Just a flesh wound," Alec says; his voice is coarse, as though he has been sick, and James strains to make out the words over the ringing in his ears. He looks up at Alec through the loose weave of the bandage, taking in his sunken eyes and pale skin, the cut on his thin lips, the reddish bruise spreading across his cheekbone. He thinks he sees Alec smile, although it might have been a wince. "You'll be fine," Alec whispers, and the gauze covers James' eyes once, twice — until he's in darkness.

"Drink." Something cold and wet touches his lips. James opens his dry mouth and lets the water in, Alec feeding it to him in small gulps, letting it wet his tongue and throat. "And this," Alec says, and the chalky taste of pills on his tongue is unmistakable and familiar; so is the feel of Alec's fingers in his mouth, pushing open his lips and rubbing against his flesh. What follows is a kiss, or something like it; water flows into his mouth from Alec's, washing down the bitterness of the pills and the taste of blood. With his eyes covered and his head cradled in Alec's arms like this, he can feel Alec's heartbeat reverberate against his skin. It's loud, fast, erratic. The hand pressed to his cheek is shaking.

"Good boy," Alec mumbles against him. The next kiss burns the cut on his lip, and the alcohol — cheap brandy, James thinks, dimly — tingles as it runs over his tongue and throat. The sensation stirs him awake, his conscious scrambling to the surface, and he thinks he lifts his arms to embrace Alec; instead, a sharp pain shoots through his shoulder that leaves him breathless, hands clenched into fists and body frozen in place from the shock. "Don't," Alec says, and it sounds almost like a plea. Is Alec crying?

"Go to sleep, James."

He does, a shallow slumber induced by the medication and alcohol. He knows it well and finds a sort of comfort in it, in the numbing of his limbs and the fog that settles over his mind, finds comfort even in the undercurrent of pain. Nothing unusual, he tells himself as he drifts off to sleep. He might have mumbled it out loud, and thinks he hears Alec chuckle and reply, "Exactly."



2.

He sleeps and dreams of metal crashing against metal, the creaking of steel as it's forced violently to bend. The sound of shattering glass, the feel of weightlessness at the moment of brute impact, that quarter of a second when his mind anticipates the pain before it hits. He is trained to brace for it. To the point that it has become instinct he is trained to protect his head and internal organs, to then open his eyes against the pain and assess. Always assess. But in his dream, he only remembers the pang of pain — and then nothing. Where is he? How did he get here? What is that loud noise inside his head?

He comes to with a gasping breath and realizes that his teeth are clapping uncontrollably. A stiff, coarse fabric is wrapped around his body, but he feels as though all his warmth is seeping out of him and soaking into a hard, icy ground beneath him; he wants to stand, but his left arm pulls at tight bandages and he loses his balance, unable to even groan as the pain takes his breath away. He lies, stiffly, waiting for it to pass, aware of each beating of his heart shooting a wave of dull pain through his upper body and out to his extremities.

"James," he hears, warm palms suddenly cupping his face, and he breathes in deeply and lets his body relax back onto the hard mattress. "I've re—— the —tor. You——ight." James hears the words but his mind can't parse what, exactly, they mean; although even if he could, his jaw is trembling so much he would barely be able to utter a word in reply. What he wants to ask for is those hands, Alec's hands, large and warm, against his skin, for Alec to stay. But he can't speak.

"A moment," he hears Alec say, and the hands slip away. James hears the rustling of clothing and, as he focuses his senses, the turning of a generator somewhere distant. The coarse fabric around him is peeled off and James groans as he notices that his arms and legs are bare, but immediately warm arms curl under his underwear and legs tangle in his. Alec presses his body tightly against James' right side, and covers them both with the blanket.

James knows this feeling of smooth, warm skin against him. He tries to reach out, like the dozens of times before when he grabbed Alec's arm and pulled him closer, but instead, Alec grabs his right hand and squeezes. A thumb circles on the back of his hand and feet rub against his feet, the friction almost burning. He sighs, turning his head to his right, and feels Alec kiss his cheek. He realizes he's no longer trembling. It might be psychosomatic. James isn't sure.

"You'll be fine," Alec whispers, and James finally sinks into a dreamless sleep.



3.

"He carried you 12 miles from the crash site to the safehouse," M is telling him, his clipped accent as crisp as the white walls and white linen of the hospital room. James is barely paying attention; with his head rolled to its side on the thick pillow, he is gazing through the window blinds at the familiar shadow standing in the hall just outside. His right eye is bandaged, forcing him to strain his left, but James doesn't take his eye off the figure.

"He slowed the bleeding from your left shoulder and kept your body temperature up," M continues. "A shard of glass cut open your eyelid, which I must say was not a sight for sore eyes. Everything else is merely cuts and bruises. There will be no permanent damage. Plastic surgery has been scheduled for later in the week."

"Thank you, sir," James mumbles, and finally M takes the hint and stops talking, tossing James' medical chart onto the bedside table before exiting the room and gesturing at the figure outside.

When Alec enters the room, James winces in sympathy although he knows Alec has seen worse days — they both have. Alec must already have been discharged and is dressed in his usual dark suit, but a large strip of gauze covers Alec's left cheek, barely concealing a purplish bruise; a cut still looks fresh across the corner of his lips; his right hand, holding his coat, is tightly bandaged. James wants to reach out with both arms and pull Alec to him, feel his firm body against him again. Instead, he raises his right arm just a few inches towards Alec before he has to stop himself with a groan.

Alec smiles, tight-lipped, as he meets James' eyes. His eyes are blood-shot and James thinks the corners of his mouth seem to tremble almost imperceptibly. Alec opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out; instead Alec shakes his head, brows furrowing, and takes a shaky breath before covering his mouth with the back of his hand instead. Stifling something — a noise, words he might regret, James doesn't know.

"You don't cry," James quips, breaking the silence between them. Alec lets out a short, breathless laugh, and the tension visibly escapes his shoulders.

"Which is why you're not seeing me cry, James."

James grins, feeling the bandage pull at his cheek. "Just something in your eyes, as they say."

"Exactly. Glad to see you still have your wits about you."

There is silence again, Alec's smile fading from his face as he takes James' right hand and sits gingerly on the edge of the hospital bed. Alec's green eyes search James' face intently, as though he still can't quite bring himself to believe that James is here, alive, rather than slowly bleeding out next to him.

"Just a flesh wound," James whispers. "Exactly like you said."

Alec smiles again, a brief twitch of his lips. "And as you know, I'm always right," he says, and James thinks for a moment that Alec will kiss him, but instead Alec leans in, burying his face in James' neck. He can feel Alec's nose press against him and feel Alec's breathing, warm and humid; then, he thinks he feels something hot and wet trickle down his skin.

"Alec," he calls, but without a beat, his mouth is covered by Alec's bandaged hand. When Alec lifts his head again, his eyes are dry and his expression is calm.

"I shouldn't feel this way about you," Alec whispers, almost as if to himself. James doesn't reply. Alec's fingers are running through his hair, brushing it away from his face, and then Alec traces the lines of his eyebrow, his cheekbone, his chin, his lips.

"Kiss me," James says. And Alec does, dry, cracked lips pressing softly against his own. It's nothing like how Alec always kisses him: wet, smelling of alcohol and tasting of sex. James breathes in. Alec smells faintly of soap and aftershave. James closes his eyes and imagines for a moment that they are anywhere but here: in his own bed, in his barely lived-in flat; in a sun-filled terrace by the foot of the Alps; in a houseboat under the fireworks of Hong Kong. He then takes these thoughts and locks them away, letting them sink to the bottom of his consciousness.

The kiss ends just as softly as it began, Alec slipping away from him with a mumbled "You'll be fine." James lets his right arm fall onto the cool linen as he watches Alec straighten the front of his shirt, push back a strand of hair from his face, and walk towards the door.

"Alec," he calls, and Alec's head turns towards him, his expression neutral. "There's no one else I would rather have by my side."

Alec seems to consider this for a moment. "What a compliment, coming from the great James Bond," he quips, finally, with a smile, and closes the door between them.