Place: Triton Station
Verin stormed into the galley and kicked one of the benches. Hard. Yeah, it hurt his taloned foot, but it left a good dent in the metal. Dents helped.
"What's the matter, Grumpypants?" Ms. Ivana cooed in not quite her smartass voice. "And where's your cowboy?"
"They kept him at the fucking hospital," Verin growled. It's just a cough, he'd said to Corny the night before, and now his cowboy was in the intensive treatment unit. Guilty, yeah. He felt like the biggest asshole just waving off Corny's pain.
"Oh." Ivana dropped the bitchy tone for concerned. "What did the doctors say it was?"
Corny had started coughing after the donkey-fucking disaster of Shax's house theft plan. It'd started off slow —a short fit of coughing in the morning when he got up, another maybe halfway through the night. After a couple of days, the coughing grew more persistent, but Corny hadn't been concerned, so Verin wasn't. What'd he know about humans and colds and shit?
But it'd gotten worse. The previous evening, Corny could barely talk without hacking. When they'd woken up that morning, Corny had said it felt like a hay wagon had collapsed on his chest. Verin had to call for a transport to the station's med facility 'cause there was no way in all the rings and caves of hell that Corny would've made it walking.
"They have to do some fucking nanobot procedure." Verin leaned both palms against the counter. "Clean out his lungs."
The silence after that statement was so out of character, Verin lifted his head. "Ivana?"
"Clean what out of his lungs?" she finally asked, hushed and clipped.
Verin cleared his throat. "Smoke."
"Your hissy-fit smoke?"
"No, don't be stupid. That's steam, most of the time." Verin had to clear his throat again. Fuck. "Cigar smoke."
"Cigar smoke." He could almost see Ivana tapping her fingers and raising her manicured eyebrows.
"Yeah. Shut up. Shaxy said I couldn't smoke in the galley anymore and smoking in the shitbag hold's a fire hazard. What the fuck was I supposed to do?"
"So you smoked in your cabin." Ivana snorted. "In that little enclosed space with Corny right there."
"There's filters and shit! Corny said he didn't care!"
"Uh-huh. So what now, Lizard Feet? Are you quitting?"
Lizard Feet? Ivana hadn't called him that in years. She had no fucking right and Verin did not feel guilty. Feeling guilty was for suckers and humans. "Like it's any of your business. I'm going back to the med center for some peace and fucking quiet."
There had to be some way to blame Shax for this. It hadn't started until after the last crap job, then the galley banning. It was Shax's fault, damn it. Like it always was. Verin managed to fume, stomp and steam all the way back to the room they'd assigned Corny for after the procedure. Only a few minutes passed before they brought Corny in…and Verin's fume-fest abruptly died.
Corny didn't have much more color than the frost-white sheets. The wheezing had stopped but so had everything else.
"He's not...?" Verin couldn't say it. Hell's gates, no. Please.
"We'll take the stasis field off before we transfer him to the bed, Mr. Hammer." The taller of the two masked and gloved attendants said. "He came through it like a champ."
Verin sagged in the visitor's chair, silent, watchful and aching as they settled Corny into bed.
"He'll have to stay with us overnight, of course. But the docs don't foresee any problems."
He nodded, unable to locate where his voice had gone. Probably rolled under the bed. When the attendants left, Verin gathered Corny's cold hand up in both of his. He couldn't put his head down with all the tubes and wires. His horns would get tangled. So he waited, uncomfortably and impatiently, until Corny opened his eyes.
"Hey, cowboy." Verin didn't even try for a smile. Wasn't happening.
"Hey, there, tall, dark, and horny." Corny pulled up a ghost of a smile with his whisper. "You look terrible."
"Ha! Look who the fuck's talking." Verin was going for teasing but his voice cracked and wavered. "Nah. You look a fuckton better. Corn, I—"
"Ver." Corny squeezed his hand, a pitiful ghost of his usual sure grip. "I'm a mite tuckered but I'm gonna be right as rain soon. It's all right."
Verin nodded and pressed Corny's knuckles to his forehead until he could sound like himself again. He didn't want to leave when they told him visiting time was up but, yeah, he got it. Cowboy needed his rest. Slouching back to the Brimstone, he didn't even care that he was wreathed in smoke and people were crossing the transport lanes to get away from him. So much not caring.
When he climbed up the Brimstone's ramp, Shax was waiting for him. "Ver, how is—"
"Not talking. Shut the fuck up."
Vision still clouded by his own personal smokestack, Verin brushed past and kept going to his cabin. Quit smoking. Ha! Fat fucking chance. Centuries of smoking behind him. Centuries. He wasn't giving up something he enjoyed for some stupid human. He'd told the damn cowboy not to come with him. It was Corny's own fault.
He kept trying to tell himself these things as his eyes welled up and his chest tightened, as he kept returning to the image of Corny blue and gasping on their bunk. Damn all fragile humans, anyway. Except now he was crying and he hated crying. Still, he let himself for a few minutes, ugly, heaving sobs, finally gathering himself together as he retrieved his boxes of cigars from the cabinet over the bed.
No one had to know but Corny. He could… Maybe in bars and shit like that. Quietly, making certain no one saw him, Verin made his way to the airlock and placed the boxes of cigars inside.
"Wouldn't do this for anyone else. Hope you know that, cowboy," he whispered as he cycled the airlock.
The next day he'd be able to bring Corny home and as he watched the boxes turn end-over-end out into space, Verin was surprised at how little it hurt to watch them go.