I'm procrastinating on other more pressing writing so have a bit of a wip that I am not letting myself properly work on until I finish my current projects, so I can motivate myself to get there:
His head is heavy, far heavier than he anticipated, and he sits in the ruins of this spell for a long moment, pressing his palms gingerly to curved horns that mirror the ones of the woman lounging on the chaise across from him.
And then his eyes find Caleb’s, who is staring at him with… as best he can describe it, something akin to awe.
Caleb swallows slowly, then closes his spellbook.
“Well,” Essek says. He doesn’t speak any differently, and when he stretches his fingers out in front of him, they do not look particularly different than the ones he knows. “This is, ah, interesting.”
He presses his hands to the horns again, smooth and hard as ivory, with the barest hint of a dimpled ridge along the top as they curl around his ears and come to an outward point.
“Essek, you look so great!” Jester squeals, sitting up and tucking her legs under her. He pulls his own knees towards his chest as he remembers that he is not wearing any clothing.
“Thank you, Jester,” he says, and when his hands travel to his face, the structure is not much different. The points of his ears have a bit of a round to them, not quite as long and tapered as before, but otherwise he does not feel fundamentally different. Even the sharp fangs in his mouth are the same. “May I have—“
Caleb stands wordlessly and finds his clothing on the bed, passing it back to him, then turning away to busy himself with his spellbook and component bag to give him some amount of privacy. Jester, predictably, does not.
“You know, you still kinda look like an elf, like your ears are way more pointy than mine, but like, maybe your mom hooked up with a devil once—“
“Jester, I would much prefer we don’t speak of my mother ‘hooking up’ with anyone, thank you.”
He pulls his robe around himself and stands, and—
“Oh,” he mumbles, as he almost falls over, and Jester rushes to catch his arm.
His body may not feel different, but there is something deeply wrong with his balance, and after a moment’s probing of the feeling in his limbs, he has a feeling it has something to do with both the additional pressure in his skull that his horns are causing, and the tail that he has up until now not noticed.
“Ah,” he comments dryly. “I briefly forgot that tieflings have an additional appendage.”
“Oh no,” Jester says, but the elated giggling she is hiding poorly behind the hand not occupied with holding him steady does not match her words. “Essek, we’re going to need to get you new clothes.”
Caleb has been fiddling with his component pouch for a bit too long to be believable.
He gives the tail—his tail, Light above and below—an experimental twitch, then catches the spade-shaped end of it.
Like the horns, it has a bit of a spine to it, just reminiscent of something reptilian, but the flesh is as soft as any other part of his body, and, as he feels for it, finally recognizes the nerve sensations coming from it.
the good days of two days ago
fandom: the west wing
tw: canon-compliant ptsd and self-harm
Josh had been avoiding GW like the plague, which is at least half the reason he didn't think to go have his hand looked at.
Of course, this is where Donna brings him.
He does his best not to hesitate too much when they walk in, and is pleasantly surprised when he goes through the doors and can still breathe right. Nothing changes. He doesn't have the knee-jerk reaction he thought he'd have. Still, it feels weird. The walls are recognizable. He can name some of the faces behind the counters, knows which ways go where.
But this is after. And, somehow, after feels worse.
People find it hard to believe he remembers anything after his surgery — and to be fair it's less of a remembrance and more of an acceptance of what he's been told —, but what he finds harder to believe is the extent of his own hubris.
He's well aware that when he asked "what's next?", he couldn't have known that three months later he'd be regretting that question this much.
(Almost dying had to have been as bad as it could get. Right? So bring on the next challenge.)
But he does know now, and he wants, more than anything, to go back to the perfect bliss of ignorance. To that moment just before the bullet pierced his skin, when he didn't know he was capable of harming himself just so he could concentrate on something other than his own thoughts. When his future consisted of nothing wilder than a celebratory beer before dinner.
There will never be a moment like that one again.
When he sits down on a chair and lets Donna take care of everything, this is when it finally hits him.
Even if he's ever done with this. Even if he can accept that he'll get better — and the jury is still out on that one — he'll never know what it's like to not have been shot at, anymore. He'll never know what's like to not have nightmares about it. To not feel like his own mind is not safe anymore. To not have to battle his own head for a second of peace.
He'll always know this, now.
It's an integral part of who he is whether he likes it or not and he doesn't, and the tall darkness of that truth casts a long shadow over everything else.
He flexes his hand and the sharp pain makes him wince, cutting his train or thoughts. He takes a look at Donna, who's talking to… Laura, he thinks, about God knows what.
And he can't feel anything.
Where once was this warm feeling at just the sight of her, Josh finds only space. A big, empty, space where he knows the doubts will go and disturbing thoughts will pool to form a lake for him to drown in.
There are many of those spaces, these days.
He almost bled to death in Rosslyn, and he was still alive when they took him out of there, but he wonders—
"What have I left there…?" he mutters to himself.
"At the White House?” Donna asks, sitting beside him. “You can get it back later."
Josh swallows, not sure how to explain himself.
“Yeah.” He's never felt so tired. A tired he knows sleep can't fix. "Sure."
Donna stirs beside him.
He feels her silence, rather than listens for it. Feels her thinking. Gets a little jealous that she can do it this freely.
"You know..." She says, "when I was a kid, I must've been about thirteen, I tripped on a cat and broke my arm."
Josh glances sideways to her instinctively. There's much he doesn't know anymore, but his body still knows the movement of their routines, and he's glad when he realizes those can still carry him through the motions of being him.
Donna gives him an embarrassed smile, continues, "Yeah, it's was this stupid— we had this gray cat who was always running around the house and this one time Angie was at a party, it was Halloween.
“My brothers were out, too, I can't remember where they went— anyway, it was just me and mom, at home, and I had come down with something. A flu, I think. People were having fun and I was just there watching some movie on TV, bored out of my mind. I was sick, I couldn't do anything about it. So... at some point the movie went to commercials, right, and I went to my bedroom to get something. I heard it coming back and I ran back to the TV room. The freaking cat ran in front of me, got tangled in my legs and I fell down on my left arm.”
There's a second while he processes that information.
"This is so very you," he says, "You know that, right?"
"Yes," she covers her face with her hands, "Yes, I do."
"No, I just—" but how can he explain? How can he make her see that, right now, knowing solid things about one's self feels to him like the highest of compliments?—
"The thing is, Josh," she interrupts, fingers nervously fiddling with a loose string in her coat, "What really happened is that I did try to do something about being sick.
“Mom kept some of the stronger medicine we had on a high shelf in the bathroom. There was nothing there that could get me out of a flu, I mean, it's a flu you mostly just wait it out. But I didn't want to wait anymore so—”, she has a rueful smile on her lips, now, “I couldn't reach it. The shelf. So I tried balancing on the lip of the bathtub. Mom was in the kitchen but the cat was there. He was just… looking at me. Like he knew this was gonna be blamed on him. Anyway, I fell. And I broke my arm. But it was hard to believe that truly happened, I couldn't believe I’d been so stupid. And so I—"
"Tripped on the cat," he finishes.
"I tripped on the cat," she repeats, "I think my mom knew anyway...? I think she saw right through it the moment she took a good look at me. But she never said anything, she just... took me to the hospital, and took care of me. She knew it would hurt too much to explain”.
There's a pause, just a moment, and in Josh flashes the understanding that she's never told this anyone.
"Whatever it is you forgot at the White House, you'll get it back," she tells him.
Josh feels water spring from under his eyes, and the light bouncing off her hair feels too bright. He directs his gaze back to the posters on the other side of the corridor.
"There's a bunch of people there to help," she continues, "We'll find it eventually. You don't have to look on your own."
He can't find his voice to answer, he just nods.
“Besides, the important things always turn up eventually,” she says, still solemn. Then she takes a sharp turn towards the trivial, “Oh, and did you know the White House has one of the best lost and found departments out there? All that security, I mean, figures.”
She starts describing the intricate world of lost articles and they get called up by a nurse.
He doesn't wonder what's next, this time. He does his best not to ask himself if he'll ever feel that warmth at the sight of her again — he doesn't want to burden himself with concerns for the future when the present feels uncertain enough.
There will be more challenges to face, for sure. But right now, there's this. His head blissfully empty and the sound of her voice, anchoring him outside of his own mind. He doesn't have to remember the gaps, and the empty spaces, or worry about where the pleasant things that were in there went.
Josh can just listen to her. The ebb and flow of her voice, loud and clear and rising high above the sounds of the emergency room.