What did you do in the war?

. . . which one?

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Continuation of the Volchok AU, for werewolf_hacker
exhaustion
inwhichwar
Eventually, Kati recovers enough strength to be a little more with-it and capable of tracking. She's still doped to the rafters on pain medication -- her leg is in too many pieces for that to be anything less than a necessity. And she's still easily exhausted, as her body funnels all available energy and resources into repairing what it can, regaining some ground. But she can string a sentence together, hold up a conversation, make decisions, and follow a detailed discussion of her care and her injuries.

All things considered? That isn't precisely a mercy, because the details of her injuries -- a damaged spine, mangled muscles in her back and thigh, shattered hip, shattered femur, fractured tibia, patella and ankle bones in so many pieces reconstructing them is a joke, not to mention the nerve damage and the burns -- well. It's enough to send even someone much stronger than her into a black spiral of despair.

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[Ben is there, to hold her up, to give her something to fight for. Someone to fight for. He's got no doubt that if he wasn't in the picture, she might have succumbed to that black despair. Dad knows he nearly did, back in the day, more than once.

So, he's there. Holding her up, being her rock, being her reason.

Even though the circumstances absolutely suck, it almost feels good to be that for someone. Other people got practice enough doing it for him. He likes to think he learned something from it all.]

[And it helps, it does, more than Kati knows how to express. Even with Ben at her side, some days the prospect of recovery seems too daunting to contemplate. Without him?

She doesn't like to think about what that would be like. She's aware that some people around the hospital want him out of the picture -- he makes them uncomfortable -- but screw them, anyway, they don't matter. She isn't doing this without him.

There's a whole team of people working on her treatment, physicians and surgeons, trauma specialists, a pain specialist, a reconstructive specialist. Some days, she has trouble keeping them all straight -- she blames the narcotics. They all seem to have an opinion on the best thing for her, including one trauma specialist who, for the last nalf-hour, has been very subtly hinting that amputation and a prosthetic might be the easiest solution.

But that thought horrifies her, more than she's let anyone besides Ben see. She needs her leg. What is she supposed to do without it? Kati glances at Ben, then shakes her head at the doctor, closing her eyes.]

No. Danke, I understand what you are getting at and I am not interested. Good afternoon.

[Ben steps forward. His role as guard dog has been well-established at this point.] You heard her. She keeps the leg. So unless you've got something constructive to suggest, stop haranguing her and go away.

[The doctor gapes at him for a moment, then abruptly closes her mouth. She can understand why Dr. Childs is always leaving this room in such a black mood -- really, who does the slave think he is?

But she's also a little bit cowed by the thought of just what the slave might do if she crosses him, so she retrieves her clipboard and retreats with relative alacrity. Kati cracks an eye to watch her go.]

Ach, my big bad wolf.

[He's a little abashed, and he sits down and takes her hand.] You want me to stop playing bodyguard, Mistress? I just don't like you being bullied when you're drugged and hurting, is all. [He bares a fang.] I'm not sure they're wanting to do what's best for you, or easiest for them.

No. You do not have to stop.

[Kati squeezes his fingers. She no longer gives a damn who sees her being affectionate with him. Screw them all.

Besides, it isn't like hiding it did a damn thing to protect either one of them.]

I am glad one of us has the strength to give them an earful when needs be.

You'll get stronger. Gonna be okay. [He nods firmly.] Probably take awhile. That's all right. I know from physical therapy and all that happy horseshit. Won't be easy, but we'll get through it.

Together.

[One corner of her mouth turns up. It's not really a smile, but it's an attempt at one.]

I do not know what I would do without you here, Volchok. Not that I would have lived to find out, without you.

[He stares at the floor.] They probably wouldn't have blown you up if it weren't for me, Mistress.

Pretty brutal way of firing you. Giving you your leg as a nearly-severance package was not cool. [He bares a fang.] And if they come back, they will not like the results.

/at parents' place for the weekend btw

[Kati grimaces. The thought has never been far from her mind.]

No doubt they will come. They do not do things by halves.

Unless it should be that they decide this is punishment enough. To leave me crippled-up and weak and useless.

[He straightens.] Hey. You are not useless. You've still got your brain and your heart. That's enough for me. And if they can't see that, then they're heartless and brainless both. And fuck them, anyway, for doing this to you.

There's more to you than your body, Mistress. Don't let anyone ever tell you different. They didn't break your mind. They won't break your spirit.

Trust me, that's worse.

[Kati huffs out a tired breath.]

The spirit is willing, Volchok, but the flesh is in a very bad way. And even if I should pull myself together, when all is said and done . . .

[She leaves the conclusion unspoken; nobody needs a mercenary with only one good leg. ]

When all is said and done, you're still my Mistress and we'll find something to do that doesn't require you to physically exert yourself. If necessary. Hell, I used to be on a cane and they fixed it. Might take some time.

But we'll get through it.

Right? [He needs her to get through it. For his own sake as well as hers. And he's not above being shameless enough to use that, either, if it motivates her to get better.]

[She recognizes that need, and it honestly does help her keep going. Because whatever her werewolf wants or needs, he gets.

And if what he needs is her making an effort, refusing to succumb to the temptation to lay down and die, well then. She'll do that for his sake.

Even if she isn't sure she believes in that nebulous something-else-to-do he mentioned.]

So long as we hang together, yes. We will get through it.

[The subtext there, that she can't do this without him and would honestly fear trying, is probably exquisitely clear.]

I got your back and your front and any other part you need me to have. For as long as you'll have me. Which I hope will be a really long time. [He has a visceral fear of being sold off because she thinks he can and should do better than a "cripple."]

Mistress, I'm serious. Please. Please don't sell me? [He hates how small and uncertain he sounds, but he really can't help it. He's been sold for stupider reasons.]

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