A/N: WHAT NO I'M NOT DEAD JEEZ
What is funny is that darkling hospitals, Rachel muses, look an awful lot like person hospitals. She'd thought…she doesn't know. That they'd be super-advanced or super-archaic or something. But she finds herself only in a thin white hallway outside of a room she's been told she isn't allowed to go into yet. She sits on a bench, clutching the hem of her shirt for dear life and hoping nobody looks at her strangely. It makes sense, doesn't it, that their bodies would work basically the same way. Right?
Beauregard clicks up the hall, with his wings folded demurely inward and his hands by his sides. He has sad eyes.
"Good morning," he says tonelessly, sitting next to her.
"Good morning," she lies. "Any news?"
"Doctor's supposed to come out in a second and give us the official update."
Rachel feels sick to her stomach, but she doesn't say so. She's already lied to her parents about going to bed after seeing Liam in the hospital.
Which, by the way, was an awful experience. She'd done the same thing she is doing now, waiting outside a white room in a white hall waiting to be told "he's okay," but she'd also been sitting there worried about how Ambrose was. She was worrying about everything. In a sense it was a relief to only have to be horribly guilty about one boy now.
A tall blonde woman wearing gloves and a white suit steps out of the room and smiles at the two of them, waiting, and approaches.
"You two are here for Ambrose?" she says with a slight and vague accent.
"Yeah," Beau says.
"It…was harder than it should have been," she frowns and clicks her darkling teeth together. "His body was not…good. His condition. On a normal darkling…" she sighs.
"H- he'll be okay, right?" Rachel asks.
"Yes," the doctor replies wanly. "But it was hard. Harder than it should have been," she repeats.
"So you said," Beau says bluntly.
"His bones are weak," she tells him, looking him straight in the eye. "His body is weak. He is not eating enough. As if he is rotting from the inside. He works too hard. There is hardly a body there at all. I do not know how he was even walking."
"Habit," Rachel says, almost to herself.
The doctor shoots her a look that effectively reads as condescending.
"When I let him out," she continues, "He must eat more, and better. And sleep more, and better."
"Yeah, I know," Beau mumbles. "I've been trying but he doesn't listen to me."
"Who does he listen to!"
Beau shrugs. "Can we go see him?"
She purses her lips, and looks him over. "He is asleep," she says curtly, but opens the door for them before walking away crisply on her sharp heels.
"Jesus," he rolls his eyes, "What's up her ass?"
"Don't tell me you weren't thinking that."
She's about to reply when she sees Am on the bed and forgets words. She takes a breath.
He looks weak. Pale. Unhealthy. A thick pad of gauze has been taped over his entire left cheek, and on it she can see stains of sickly yellow. He doesn't have a shirt on, and she can see that the entire left half of his ribcage has been padded similarly. His chest rises and falls weakly; she can see his ribs clearly. She was right. Too skinny.
In a sleeping fit, he mumbles something and whines, wiping his hand up his face and into his hair. He rolls onto his back, kicking at the blankets a few times before growing still.
"Holy…" Rachel trails off. She sheds her crocs, not even having to think about it, getting onto the thin bed. She lays down on his right side, so as not to brush any of the injuries, laying her head on his shoulder and an arm on his torso.
She presses her head down, feeling the bony shoulder beneath it press into her temple in such a refreshingly alive way.
(Beauregard leaves the room feeling pretty damn embarrassed.)
Ambrose is still.
He opens his eyes; bloodshot.
He can feel warmth on his side, hair sprawled over his bare skin; it's wonderful.
He reaches up an arm around her back; hand on one shoulder, rubbing his thumb over her skin. "This," he says, very quietly so as to try and not disturb the moment, "Is not how I meant for it to go."
"Really," Rachel says, rolling her eyes but smiling fondly all the same. "You thought you'd be the big hero and sweep me up in your arms?"
"Well, yes," he replies with a quiet whisper. His voice is harsh, like he has a sore throat. "Excepting that I don't think I could successfully carry a small dog in my arms, let alone a person."
"Hm," Rachel mumbles, closing her eyes. He's quite warm, for a darkling, but not in a sick way. It strikes her that it may seem awkward to be so close to a nearly naked boy, but it isn't, of course. "….doctor – your doctor says you should be eating a lot more. I think she thinks you're anorexic or something."
Ambrose sighs. "She's not the only one."
"Well, why don't you eat!" she sits up and smacks him in the shoulder softly.
"I do to eat. It just never seems to help," he protests.
Rachel tuts and lies back down on him. "What did you eat yesterday?"
Ambrose has to think about it for a little while. He licks his lips and closes one eye, then opens that one and closes the other. "Water," he says.
"No," he continues. "I also had most of a can of soup."
She looks dubious. "What kind of soup?"
"Ambrose!" she flicks him in the jaw and he laughs, coughs, looks uncomfortable for a moment and pulls her closer.
"I," he says, "Am supposed to be the one taking care of you."
"I," Rachel says, "Am not the one who needs it," and kisses him on the temple.
(If darklings could blush…)
He rolls over onto his good side to face her, pulls her in so far that her head is tucked under his chin, her arms around his too-thin waist.
"Just…" he sighs, puts his face on top of her head. Inhales. "Just give me a minute. I just need a minute…" She can feel his warm breath on her hair. She closes her eyes and fingers the thick gauze on the left side of his ribcage. He smells like bandages and smoke.
She isn't sure if he's crying, and she'll never be sure, but he does shake once and squeeze her. She squeezes him back and whispers, "Oh, sweetie…" and things like that into the hollow of his neck. "Oh, sweetie…it'll be fine…I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry…you're okay…"
You'd think that these mothering coos would make him angry, or feel emasculated, but they don't. He's glad to hear them. Which is sad, really, if you think about it.
After a few minutes, he's fine again, and his hold grows a little looser. She scoots up so they're facing each other directly. Touches the patch of gauze over his cheek.
"It'll scar, you know," he tells her. His red eyes seem clearer than usual. Softer, too, even though that doesn't make any sense. "All of it. My face, my side…darkling scars are, are silver, you know. Not very shiny, though. But sort of shiny. Really noticeable…"
"Does that bother you?" she asks him, smiling.
"I don't know. I just – why are you being so nice?"
"I'm trying to throw you off. First I'm mean, now I'm nice, you never know what to expect, I –"
"Can I please kiss you?"
Rachel frowns and looks a little taken aback. "I don't think you've ever asked to do that before."
He does it again, and pulls away.
"It's a good thing," he mutters, very close to her, "That you'd decided before this. Because otherwise," she pecks his lips very lazily, "I would think this is entirely pity."
"No," she says, "I'm just really disoriented. I'll go back to ignoring you once you're discharged from the hospital."
He closes his eyes, breathing longer and more relaxed. "…love you," he mutters, almost as an afterthought.
"Yeah," says Rachel noncommittally, even though she feels warm inside.
A few minutes later some stupid asshole decides to interrupt their communal nap.
"Well! Well," says a slinky voice, "Who would have thought." Rachel opens her eyes, which she'd closed, and frowns. Ambrose sits up, keeping an arm around her and leaning his back against the wall.
"Oh," he says quite blandly.
A very pretty person with very white skin, very white hair and very brown eyes is leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. He is sharp in face, and beautiful, and Rachel decides quite promptly that she doesn't like him. He is smirking.
"Surprised to see me?"
"Not really, why?"
Rachel feels like she's in a bit of a compromising position, and would like to leave or at least hide her face, or stand up, maybe, but Ambrose's arm is very tight around her shoulders.
"Oh, I was just in the neighborhood, heard you were here…decided to drop by."
"Hn," Ambrose says, sounding quite upset. "What do you want, Laurie?"
But Laurie has already quite lost interest in Ambrose, instead turning his gaze to Rachel who sits up a little more and tries to figure out what it is that's so interesting about her.
"I can't believe it," he says, "I just can't. Imagine! A darkling bagging a pureblooded human! Has that ever happened?"
This time it's Rachel that speaks. "Caroline – "
"Pureblood, sweetie," the man says condescendingly, "Everyone knows she comes from one of those awkward hybrid families from when darkies and people could interbreed."
That's the word he uses. Darkies. Rachel shivers and looks at Ambrose, who looks cold and angry.
"Laurie," he said in a hushed voice, "Don't do this now."
Ambrose does not say anything about "darkies." Not even after it's used again.
"Why? Does the darkie need his privacy?"
"And you," Laurie says, looking at Rachel, "Why are you here? Did this one promise you things? Money, jewels, fame? They lie, you know, all of them. It's a race of tricksters and thieves."
"He didn't do any of those things," she says very quietly, "Please just leave us alone."
"Ha!" the man says, coming closer. He walks right up to Rachel, his arms crossed, painstakingly gorgeous and bright in all the right places. "Don't do this to yourself, girl. They can't produce happiness. It's not in their nature. Darklings are dark, it's how they're built." He glances at Ambrose. "It's nobody's fault. Get out while you can!"
"I'm sorry," Rachel says after a few seconds, "I don't even know you." She is angry, she knows, because she is afraid he's right. The happy darklings seem few and far between.
He chews on his lip and steps backwards. Ambrose is still holding tight to her shoulder. "He can't give you children," Laurie says quietly. "Darklings and humans. They can't produce offspring, they're different species – "
"I know," Rachel lies. Her gut twists inside. She hadn't been thinking about it, but it doesn't mean it's a good thing. "I know that."
"Laurie, shove off," Ambrose says quietly.
Laurie does not shove off. Laurie frowns and takes a step forward, clenching one fist and glaring at Ambrose. "He can't make you happy," he tells Rachel. "I'm doing this for your own good; if you're that desperate to be in a fantasy world come live with us – "
"Your fantasy world," Ambrose says, "Involves burning pigeons and stray cats."
"To keep the streets clean," Laurie says.
Ambrose sighs. "I know that royalty are supposed to be kind to other royalty," he says, "And I know you're a fucking prince or whatever, but I cannot deal with you right now. Just…not now. You can call me darkie when I'm not hospitalized."
"Ambrose, you know as well as I do that this girl –"
"Is the only thing keeping me from standing up right now and slicing you in half."
Rachel is sick of meeting new people. She thinks, to herself, that it ought to have stopped by now. His world is too big.
"I'm just trying to spare an innocent little girl from…from you people," Laurie mutters.
"That's very chivalrous of you, but I think she can decide fine on her own," Ambrose replies. "And you know, you're not making it very easy for me to win her over. Why can't you go bother my uncle? He's the one who set the house on fire in the first place."
Laurie shakes his head. "You're being selfish."
Ambrose shrugs. "You're butting in on something you don't understand. You only met Rache just now." He blinks and holds a hand to his head. Rachel sits up a little better.
"I – "
"Please leave," Rachel asks him, and looks up with the most innocent brown eyes she can master. "He really needs to sleep."
So the angel, who is obviously enough a light fey, winces and leaves the room, slamming the door on the way out (for which a light fey nurse scolds him).
And Ambrose rests for a good few hours, soothed to sleep by Rachel's voice and meaningless nothings.
Conversations are sporadic, whispered, and in the dark.
"Do darklings live much longer than humans?"
"Well, we're not immortal, if that's what you mean."
"Pff. No, I know that, doofus. I mean…well, yeah."
"…I suppose so. One hundred years is pretty common, one-ten isn't unheard of. On average about ten or fifteen years longer than a person, I guess….If this state of my body keeps up, I won't even see eighty."
"Don't say that!"
"What? That I'm going to die early?"
"Don't talk like that, I mean it! I'm gonna make you eat more, and – and you just watch, you'll be healthy in no time. I'll get that cook guy to help me out. If we get you back to normal weight there's no reason why you shouldn't get nice and old and gross and wrinkly."
"…I… hadn't thought of that. …I hadn't thought of…I mean, would I have to change a lot?"
"No, just find time to eat. Wouldn't take long, really. I'd…I'd help you figure it out. It's not like this is something you can blow off, anyways."
"…yeah, okay. Yeah."
"Hey, you know, what are you doing this summer?"
"College stuff, mostly, finding out where I might wanna go."
"Could you do that…here…?"
"What, you mean in the hospital?"
"No, I mean…well, at the castle or…"
"I mean, not that you would it's just - …"
"No, I mean, I think so but I don't think my parents would be cool with that. I can't really explain it to them."
"But what if we told them you were interning as a baker's apprentice for Maurice?"
"…can I actually do that? Can I learn to bake and stuff here?"
"Yes. He could use the help; why?"
Beau flies her back in the early morning.
Ambrose can't fly any more; his wings were too damaged. With a lot of physical therapy, and even more time, maybe. But not for now.
He said he didn't care, as long as he can use this for collateral to keep her glued to his side. She laughed, or tried to, anyways, smoothed her thumb over his cheek and stood on her tiptoes to kiss his forehead affectionately before leaving.
And now in her room, staring at the ceiling, she begins – for the first time, the very first time – to feel just a little giddy about having a boyfriend. Which is, all things considered, pretty fucking hilarious.