of course, when i warn everyone i’m in no hurry to finish this one and the muse is just dipping his toes in, that’s when i magically become unable to do anything else for more than an hour without coming back to writing. *facepalm*
you heard it here first, folks. giving yourself blanket permission to procrastinate is the best way to stay on task. :/
He zones out during your explanations, swaying with what you hope is fatigue and not a concussion, but when you fish it out for him to hold, he handles it delicately. You show him how it has a pneumatic ‘swim bladder’ to control its depth, which is more power-efficient than running the rotors all the time. He seems to understand. He puts it back in the tank, wincing at the contact of salt water on his knuckles, and his eyes widen as it purrs to life and settles to hover six inches off the bottom.
Norma taps your shoulder. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
You let her draw you away. It’s rude to whisper about people behind their backs, but it’s probably ruder to refuse to discuss an occurrence this odd. “It appears we’re done working for tonight,” you tell her apologetically.
She dismisses that with a slight headshake. “Do you want me to stay or go? I’m not sure I’m comfortable with — look, maybe we should call the police.”
“I can’t force him to press charges if he doesn’t want to,” you say, surprised. He might be wearing painted-on purple jeans and a satin shirt with sparkly goldfish on it, but he’s still a man. If he says he gave as good as he got, no force in the world will convince him to admit he was victimized.
“How well do you know him? He’s acting like he’s on drugs.”
“Not very, but I don’t think he is.” You give her an amused look. “Are you concerned for my safety?”
She glances at Eridan, then back at you, taking your point. He can’t be more than a hundred and thirty pounds soaking wet, and he already got beaten up tonight; you’re six-two, two-ten, and only gave up boxing because you needed your Thursday afternoons for Muay Thai. “Worried about the equipment,” she says.
“I’m not. Anyway, I don’t think he’ll talk while you’re here.”
“Call me tomorrow, then,” she says. She leans around you to wave at Eridan. “Don’t forget to ice that!”
His only reply is a wan smile. He watches the door once she’s gone, waits until the sound of her car has trailed away down the street before he speaks. “You’re as nice as I remember. I’m glad I came here.”
You give him a perplexed look. “I haven’t done anything yet.”
“You let me in,” he says simply.
“Oh.” You pick up his duffle. It’s damp. So is he, now that you’re looking. “It stopped raining hours ago,” you point out. “How long did —” You pause. You stare at him. “Did you walk here?”
He tells you. It’s… absurd.
“I can’t believe you. Come inside, for crying out loud; how are you still standing? Explanations can wait until you’ve got your shoes off and an icepack on your face. I can’t believe you.” Blathering in dismay, you usher him into your living room, push him onto the couch, and rush around collecting the things you need to take care of him.
He can hear you no matter where you are; your house is a silly little postwar clapboard shoebox, barely bigger than a trailer, and everything opens off the living room. He doesn’t answer you, though. You’re not really saying anything worth answering. It’s as if you had some pressurized pocket of mother-hennishness lurking within you, and his helplessness tapped it, and now you’ve got a gusher on your hands.
You clean the blood from his face, a scrape on his side that looks like he caught a doorframe on the way down, and the burst blisters on his swollen feet. You make up ice packs for his bruises. You give him some ibuprofen and make him drink a whole glass of orange juice. You disinfect everywhere the skin is broken, put band-aids on everything but his lip and give him some balm for that. The whole time, you cluck and fuss over what a wreck he is.
The more you chide him, the more relaxed he seems to get. Your scolding is his lullabye.
Finally, there’s no more you can do — at least, not without treating him like a child instead of a friend. You sit back against the other end of the couch, studying him. He no longer looks like a raw casualty. He looks like someone who’s being taken care of. Like someone who lives in a civilized society that helps people who get hurt. You think that’s what upset you so deeply when you first saw him tonight: he looked like a refugee.
He curls his feet under him and lets his head loll against the back of the couch, eyes half-closing. You say, “Don’t you need to take out your contacts before you sleep?”
“What? I don’t have contacts.” He lifts his head to study you with violet eyes that are apparently natural. There’s something almost offensive about that. “When did you ever see me with glasses?”
“Well, they got broken, so now I’m just learning to love the blur. Makes reading street signs a real joy.”
“How did you even know where I live?”
“Googled you. Like right after we met. I got to thinking walking out on you after you bought me lunch was kind of a stupid move. Like maybe I should call you up and say sorry or something. You have a pretty unique name, you know? All it turns up is Persian myth, some dead Afghani politician, and the Cal Sci robotics department. Anyway, I didn’t call, obviously, but you’re in the White Pages.” He sighs and sags, as if that speech exhausted him. He doesn’t seem to realize that following that logic chain and then remembering the resulting information might be something to be proud of.
“You could’ve called tonight,” you point out. “I would’ve picked you up.”
“I’d’ve been fucked if you said no,” he says, with a bitter twitch at the corner of his mouth. “He broke my phone,” he adds.
“The person who…?” You gesture to your own face where the worst bruise is on his. “Who was it?”
A laconic shrug. “This guy I was staying with. He’s a asshole. I should’ve left weeks ago.”
Something in his tone suggests it was more than that. “Your boyfriend,” you guess.
He snorts. “Boyfriends like each other. I was just trading my ass for a place to stay.”
“You’re homeless, then. I mean… were, even before you fought with your… roommate.”
“You’d be surprised how many actors are. I live on couches. It’s what I do. Pleased to meet you, I’m Prince Eridan of the Kingdom of Sofa.” This smile is a little less bitter than the last one. He pats the cushions beside him appreciatively. “I think this one is even long enough for me.”
You cross your arms and try to look stern. “You haven’t even asked if you can stay.”
“Well, you’re not gonna kick me out tonight, are you? That’s good enough for now.”
He has a point. With a sigh of resignation, you get up to fetch him a blanket and pillow. “Why me?” you ask as you return with them.
“I needed somewhere he won’t find me.”
The way he says that sends a shiver down your back. It’s so matter-of-fact. He doesn’t even seem to realize that it’s not typical to be afraid your boyfriend will track you down at someone else’s house and attack you again. He doesn’t think of himself as an abuse victim. He’s only taking reasonable precautions in the world he inhabits. A war zone just big enough for one.
You spread the blanket over him without another word. It’s no good telling him he’s safe here. You’re starting to suspect he doesn’t know what safe is. You’re tempted to tell him he can stay as long as he wants, but that would be a lie. You’re not in the market for a roommate, especially not a freeloading drama magnet.
You’re certainly not going to tell him: I have so many big-brotherly feelings about you right now, I want to give you a lollipop and have you show me on the doll where the world touched you. I want to go find your boyfriend and put my martial arts training to uses entirely unrelated to inner peace or cardiovascular health. Because you’re a wreck. Because you’re smarter than you think you are, and also an enormous idiot. Because you look like you’ve been living on discounted day-old bagels and ketchup packets for months. Because even with half your face swollen in technicolor, you’re so very pretty.
So you say nothing. You pat him on the shoulder, turn off the light, and go back to the garage. Just because there’s a hot mess sacked out on your couch doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do.