It was hard to tell which was worse: the glaring white-enameled chaos of the Emergency Room, or the fact that Rorschach had to be there. Or rather, Walter. It was Walter who got injured beyond a point he could work past as Rorschach – Walter who'd been unlucky enough to be standing in just the wrong place when a trainee lost control of a pallet full of fabric that crushed him against a wall. He supposed he was lucky one of the rolls fell in front of the jack's wheels and stopped it before it did more than crack his ribs – at least two, judging from the vivid sense-memories that were re-playing annoyingly in his head as he waited. Daniel was off ostensibly in search of coffee; he'd briefly tried keeping Rorschach distracted from his impatience, but he finally opted for just giving his partner space.
The entire factory floor had gone quiet when it happened, and his supervisor turned white as a sheet, he remembered. The trainee had been babbling something, but he'd been too busy taking stock of his breathing to pay it any attention. He didn’t think anything had been punctured, but it was still bad; he couldn't pull in a deep breath and any movement of his torso was painful enough that he knew pursuit or serious combat would be impossible. He'd had to call Daniel, finally – he wouldn't let them call an ambulance at work, but he could barely walk under his own power.
It was Daniel who'd talked him into coming here – harangued him, really, when it became apparent he was out of his depth in offering help. So he sat, watching others in worse shape than him cycle through the churning morass of blood and sickness and desperation held barely in check, waiting his turn, gritting his teeth through the pain and reflecting on the irony that he was being kept waiting because his condition was so much better than others'.
Endless, monotonous hours passed… and then suddenly it was his turn. He was led to a secondary waiting area outfitted with cots and curtains, leaving his partner's not-hovering behind and preparing for a whole new round of waiting.
"All right…" The nurse swept into the curtained-off area. "What've we got?" He stayed quiet while she checked a clipboard. "Upper torso injury… Work accident?" He nodded confirmation and she reached for a blood pressure cuff. "Not much of a talker, are you?"
"Not much reason." He grunted slightly as she rolled up his sleeve and lifted his arm to get the cuff around it. She didn't apologize for the pain it cost him, but she didn't move him more than necessary, either. He endured her hand on his wrist for a pulse, and glared as she matter-of-factly stuck a thermometer in his mouth.
Once that indignity was finished, she scribbled onto the clipboard and looked him in the eye again. "All right, let's see what we're dealing with. Can you get your shirt off, or will you need help?"
His hands were already undoing buttons, even as the motion sent shards of pain through his torso. "Can do it myself."
She raised her eyebrows, but waited for him to struggle his shirt off. He was reaching for the hem of his undershirt, but she stopped him. "Just lift it so I can get a look…" Her left hand held the hem of his shirt, but she didn't touch his skin. "Mm, got you good, huh. Where do you work?"
"Trainee lost control of a pallet jack, pinned me against wall."
"Ouch – what was on it?"
She hissed through her teeth as her right hand hovered over the perimeter of what even he could see was spectacular bruising at his front and back. "Lucky it didn't take your legs out first. Take a deep breath." He obeyed, irritated at the hitching of air in his throat. "Again – okay, I'm going to touch, sorry if it hurts…" He stopped a flinch at the sensation of firm fingertips at his back, his side, another part of his back. "…Where'd this come from?" He tensed as she went to touch the stitches he'd forgotten were along his right side from a bust he and Nite Owl had done last week. Her eyes were wandering.
"Got mugged." He flipped the hem of his shirt over the injury to stop her prying, but it only shifted her attention to his hands where they gripped the fabric.
She was taking in more and more of his hands' appearance, and what she could see of his arms. "Looks like you got a few licks in yourself. You work out?" He didn't answer. This was a mistake, he realized; injury or no, this wasn't a safe place to be.
She moved back into view, her lips pressed tight. "Well, so far it looks like you only cracked a few real good. Let's get an X-ray to be sure." The radiology tech's arrival prevented any response on his part, and he did what he could to maintain a normal stride to the exam room. More shifting, more prodding – the X-ray machine buzzed and beeped, and each new noise ratcheted the price ever higher in his head. An invisible fist was crushing his torso into a hot painful haze, and his lip curled over clenched teeth by the time they were finished.
Finally it was over, and the nurse – Rita, her lanyard read – collected him once again. "Okay – they're cracked all right, but not going anywhere, and there's not much we can do besides wrap them for you to keep things from moving too much. I'll get you something for the pain 'til you can see your doctor."
"Don't need drugs. Fine like this."
He glowered as she looked up from fetching a wrap bandage and realized his error in refusing medication as her eyebrows went up once again. "Not that I'm trying to push anything on you, but you're likely going to want something before too long."
"No. Have to work."
"You're not going to be able to work for a while, hon." His expression must have betrayed something, because her jaw set. "Look, I'm gonna write you something to take to work, 'cos you won't be in any shape to do much for a month or two. It happened at work, so if you haven't filled out an incident report, do it first thing tomorrow so it's on Workman's Comp."
He blinked. It hadn't occurred to him that his shoddy employer might have to pay for his medical costs. Daniel wouldn't have to use his money for Walter's bad luck. Still, he'd have to watch himself at work to make sure the money actually came – maybe find something to encourage his employer to do the right thing.
"Here, let's get your shirt up again…" She moved toward him again.
He wanted to leave – just leave and take care of things himself, or have his partner do this, the way they'd patched each other up before. Every time she came near him, he could sense her taking in more details, picking him apart, judging him –
"You know," her voice was mild as she worked with brisk efficiency, "I end up seeing pretty much everyone here. Especially the ones people don't like to think about. Fights, gang wars," she arched a brow at him, "muggings. Doesn't matter who it is or what happened, I have to treat them – even the ones who did the mugging, or the beating, or the shooting. I see Katieheads, Neo-Nazis, assholes who beat their wives or their kids, you name it. And it occurs to me," she said, wrapping another layer over his creaking ribs, "I think I'd rather have to treat the people who tried to hurt others, instead of the ones they got to hurt – or the ones who stopped them."
He froze as their eyes met – but she only reached to settle his undershirt over the bandage and hold his shirt up while he numbly settled back into it. He forced his arms up to fasten the buttons once again, watching her as she bustled with forms, and then turned back to him with a small sheaf of papers.
"Take this to the front desk and fill it out; you'll need it for your employer. I'll send up a restricted duty letter for you to pick up there, too. You still need a doctor, but in the meantime you'll want to use ice packs for the swelling, only fifteen minutes at a time, and at least some Tylenol if you're gonna be stubborn about painkillers. Practice taking deep breaths, or you can get pneumonia. Eat more, and drink milk – don't give me that look, I'm serious – your bones need something to heal. And sleep. You'll forget, 'cos everyone does, but I'm saying it anyway. If anything gets worse - you start coughing up blood, you can't breathe - get back here right away." She walked him to the hallway leading back to the waiting area. "If anyone needs to know, I'm usually in on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from eight at night to six in the morning." Her mouth quirked in a half smile. "Just in case anyone needs to know."
A page came over the intercom and she turned, nodding a distracted farewell. Rorschach watched her disappear back into the chaos, gone as fast as she'd appeared.
He continued back toward the waiting room, and debated speaking to Daniel about stocking up on milk.