Cedar Creek 

There had come a point where it was clear that Iago was not really in any state to get himself home. Even living reasonably close to the Cage itself hadn't been a good argument for him sitting in the driver's seat of anything, and walking back was out of the question. It had seemed, then, at some point that Iago hadn't really pinpointed himself, that Sokol had decided it was his duty to make sure the battered lion got back to his apartment safely.

Iago was, sincerely, very grateful.

Cognizant enough to provide his address, he sat in the passenger seat of the car with the heels of his palms pressed lightly to his eyes, leaning into the door as he battled the headache of the century. He hadn't realized it until they had left the absolute chaos that was the Cage full of weres, but there was a ringing in his ears that bothered him. At least when he was sitting still the world had stopped trying to move on its own, though felt a little woozy any time he had to walk far.

Ingrid had taken her pound of flesh for his trespass. He wasn't even mad, in spite of the angry red of bruises around both sides of his head or the way he couldn't quite take a full breath without pangs and aching.

He knew two things: he was feeling exhausted, though not quite sleepy enough to doze off while on the move, and if Ingrid had hit him any harder this could have ended very differently.

But he was fine. Or was going to be fine. He didn't want Sokol to worry--it was just so strange to have anyone worried.

At some point during the hours that had followed the lions' spar, Sokol had pulled out his phone and looked up the symptoms and treatment for a concussion. Then he had spent several minutes in the midst of chaos with his eyes wide and his jaws set tight, reading about how easy it was for his lions to accidentally kill each other. From that point on, he had assumed a kind of rigidity of body and character that would not leave until he was sure Iago wasn't going to die from head trauma.

It had been fun. Whatever. And Iago would most likely be fine, but also his brain could be bleeding so Sokol was not inclined to let him wander off on his own. So he chauffeured, dicking around with the air conditioning and eyeballing the older man as he did so. "How is your brain?"

A fair question. As someone inclined to downplay an injury, Iago chuckled to the question, though he didn't move from where he'd plastered himself to the door. The sound was brittle, purposefully weak so as to not aggravate the condition.

"Something's definitely still ringing," he admitted.

Iago was keeping his hands pressed over his eyes, so that was probably nothing to worry about was it. Sokol gave him a long look before returning his eyes to the road. "How does it compare to after the fight? Being...dizzy, remembering things."

At least here, with less distractions, it was much easier to focus on what someone was saying to him. Still, though part of him wanted to look at Sokol, as if that would reassure him, he couldn't bring himself to just yet. This was possibly the least pain he'd been in in a while, and he was fair certain that moving would undo it.

Which was a shame, because his lion was pining for some contact.

"Not as dizzy. Sitting still is better." Remembering things, though... How bad had it been? "Not sure about remembering."

Part of the trick with forgetting was you often don't remember that you'd forgotten.

It was fine. It was fine. Sokol was going to swallow his tongue, but it was fine it was fine it was fine. They were close to whatever fleabitten apartment Iago inevitably lived in and he would read what exactly doctors did in case of a brain bleed and find the closest emergency room and know precisely how long it would take to drive there.

Everything...was fine.

"Do you have any medication at home for the pain?"

Iago lived in a third story walk up.

He hadn't yet considered how much that was going to suck in a minute.

Instead he was thinking, trying to remember the last time he'd bought advil or something. Sometimes he needed it, but it had been a while since he'd ended up in any skirmish that had left him hurting more than a few hours or overnight. Nothing serious. Did he still have any around?

"I think so."

"Okay." Possibly. He wasn't eager to stop at a gas station, and over-the-counter medication was a drop in the bucket anyway. He would hold his tongue on any other questions, restricting himself to a great many side-glances as they approached and eventually arrived at their destination. Not so far, really.

He twisted the key out of the ignition and waited to see if Iago was capable of uncovering his face.

The silence made him a little more tired, a little more drifting towards just shutting off entirely. But the car coming to a halt and then silencing brought him back, and his head finally lifted, blinking blearily in the dim orange lighting of the parking lot he knew well.

"312," he said, reminding Sokol of the apartment number. Or perhaps a little himself, though he was fair certain autopilot could have gotten him there without the number. He wasn't... drunk or something. Man, drunk would have been more fun. Why hadn't he drank more at the fight party!?

Grasping for the door handle and pawing off his seatbelt, he had a sudden desperation for a few lungfuls of night air in the dead stillness of a parking lot.

"Right," he responded, unnecessarily, and would exit the car with enough speed to be on the other side before Iago made it out. He looked like absolute shit, too; seeing him as anything but peppy was...unsettling. He didn't like it. "You look like you're feeling good."

He'd managed to get out without keeling over, though the world lurched somewhat for going from sitting to standing again. He'd also managed to get the door shut behind him, though he had to support himself on the car briefly, blinking in continued mild confusion to find Sokol there. He hadn't realized the man had even exited the car, but he was there enough to realize his perceptions were... off.

One thing for sure: he wasn't playing vigilante tonight. Maybe not at all this week. He was already miserable thinking about it.

"I'm okay," he insisted, wanting it to be true. There was no justice in the world if he couldn't at least make it up two flights of stairs and down a short catwalk to his home, right? Pushing away from the support of the vehicle, he was pretty sure that as the excitement of the night was fading his ability to power through was waning.

Really, this was the first time he had seen Iago looking anything like he felt his age. He would be interested if he wasn't preoccupied with watching him for any sign of worsening head trauma and feeling vaguely borderline-panicky at how disoriented the man looked. Pocketing his keys, he stepped in alongside Iago and put a hand at his back, an invitation to have an arm thrown over his shoulder, though not an imperative. "Lead the way," said mildly, as if Iago was deciding anything on his own tonight.

It was disconcerting. Being fussed over at all felt a foreign concept. It left him self-conscious while also gave him the path towards being grateful. Hated that Sokol had to see him like this, literally beaten down and struggling, but was simultaneously glad to feel like he wasn't alone. Pride and independence was getting jumbled with goodwill and friendship and Iago just...

Stepped. Forward. They could go towards the stairs and it was only towards the bottom of those, a few steps up, that he realized he was definitely not going to make it without Sokol's literal support. Moving brought back some of the teetering effect, and he was quick to take advantage of Sokol's proximity. Laughing faintly again, as if to play it off.

"You're going to have to carry me," he said, and he swore he was a million percent joking.

So, had the medic who'd looked at Iago been in any way qualified to do so? A knock on the head shouldn't make anyone incapable of climbing stairs, he was damn sure. But he bottled up his screamies and managed a smile, a joke, still trying to gauge whether they needed to turn around and head for an emergency room. "I'll just leave you down here. You can curl up on the big step." It was called a landing but he didn't know that word.

"Don't tempt me, it's nice out here," he said, and with a quick inhale through his mouth to steady himself--shallow enough to not pull at his injured ribcage too hard--he stuck to Sokol's side like his life fairly depended on it, but was able to make his steady way up the steps. With the lions mashed together he found some solace beyond himself.

Swallowing up any further jokes in favor of preserving what stability he had for getting upstairs, he found once he had a good sense of movement he was... alright. And soon enough, the catwalk down to unit 312 lay before them on the far corner of the building.

It re-occurred to him then that Sokol had never been here before.

The lions were nice. The blonde one wouldn't stop trying to lick the darker male's head, but he was otherwise being a perfect lamb, all four paws to himself. Sokol let them do what they did as he navigated the serpentine route to Iago's unit, at last. "Keys," he prompted quietly, as his eyes went from window to window along the building.

Thankfully his fucking hands weren't broken and with a realization that, yes, Sokol did not have the means to open the door, he reached into his pocket to fish out his very sparse key ring. Easier than struggling to focus on it himself, it was easier this way.

Inside, the corner unit proved to be just enough for one man who didn't like coming home and staying there more than strictly necessary. Windows on the west and north sides, the smallest of kitchen units, a battered leather sofa and a small flatscreen at the wall nearest the front door, with a rumpled bed in the far corner near the single door that one could presume led to a bathroom.

It wasn't exactly tidy, for all he didn't own much, but it wasn't like he'd been expecting company, either.

He had sort of known, half-known, that seeing where Iago lived would make him uncomfortable and sad, and he was right. It was not a home at all, only a squatter's residence. Awful. But convenient that his friend was too busy with a brain injury to be studying his face for a reaction.

He studied the kitchen drawers and thought he probably did not want to see the bathroom. He continued with the same calm, gentle tone he had used since they faced the start of the stairs; he wasn't sure where it had come from. "Bed or couch?"

Inside home, with the door shut behind them, Iago found his mind wandering, thinking maybe they needed to open the windows. Especially the one by the bed. He was envisioning just laying there and dying-without-actually-dying with the night air coming and... man, this headache was not letting up. Time was, allegedly, his friend, but for someone used to healing at a pace that was alarming, just a few hours felt like forever to keep feeling like shit.

For all his daydreaming about the bed, the couch was closer. He gestured vaguely in that direction rather than saying it, pretty sure he could get there on his own at this point but unable to refuse Sokol's assistance.

All right. He was going to dump the man onto the couch, find a light to turn on, and get him a glass of water. If that went without incident, he would open the windows, because it was musty, and lock the door. The television on would be preferable, but he wasn't convinced Iago used it for anything other than watching DVDs; this uncertainty meant that the next thing was to turn up some painkillers. He shifted to look at Iago and reassured himself he was still awake; he looked small and raggedy in the dark. "Where will I find the medications?"

Collapsing onto the couch with the sort of relief rest rarely brought him, he tucked into the corner where he was supported more or less upright and began to pull off his shoes, tugging unhappily at laces before he could dump the first one to the floor and pull his foot up onto the cushion comfortably.

"Uh..." He had to think about it, really. At one point he'd been storing the things so rarely needed in the kitchen above the fridge, but... it was hard to reach when you were a certain height, which was not ideal when you needed pain medication for whatever reason. If he still had some (which he did, though that was yet to be confirmed) it would in... "Bathroom, I think."

Of course the bathroom. He nodded, with more theatrical dread than was really necessary, and walked into the saddest, dirtiest bathroom of his life. It almost made his bones hurt, it was so dingy, and there were dark hairs dusted over everything and sink gunk, toilet ring...keep it together, Sokol. He pulled open the cabinet under the sink and found, without too much trouble, an enormous bottle of aspirin. Made unforgettable eye contact with a caterpillar-like fuzz of dust, hair and filth particles collecting along the baseboard. Shuddering, he stood up and inspected the label while doing a loose sort of multiplication, factoring in were metabolism.

All told, he was only gone a minute, and then nudging his way onto the couch, pouring out a generous handful of oblong white pills and offering them over to his invalid friend. "Drink up."

Iago managed to get his shoes off and ended up curled into his corner, listening distantly to Sokol moving about, before picking up the glass of water he'd been brought and pulling it up to press at the side of his head. It was barely cooler than the air, but it felt oddly nice against his aching temple. Eyes closed, he only opened them again when he felt the weighted presence of the other man beside him.

Accepting the offered medication with his clawed hand, he set about swallowing them a couple at a time, desperate for anything to make him feel at least marginally less agonized. Drank the water down to the bottom before he sighed and tried to focus on the fact that the world had stopped swaying again now that he had sat down long enough.

Maybe he'd just have to live in this spot forever. What a terrible fate.

"Thanks," he told Sokol, feeling it insufficient as gratitude went, but with little else to offer.

He had checked most of the items off his list. While Iago slept, he would spend the entire time reading more about concussions and inevitably shake him awake intermittently to be sure he wasn't bleeding out internally, but for now he could settle into the sad, sagging couch and...be kind of a dick to his friend. In a fun way! "You look like you're feeling sorry for yourself."

Shoving his glass off onto the water-ringed narrow strip of a side table, he'd tucked his hands into his lap, most of his weight into the arm of the couch while his feet pressed towards Sokol--probably to make that inevitable contact that the lion demanded and that Iago had absolutely no protests against. The comment put a strange look on his face, torn between skepticism and something more positive but harder to define.

"Is this 'I told you so,' about fighting and losing?" he questioned. Iago liked to think he didn't sound cross, but being literally sore did have a way of wearing on the spirit.

Sokol draped an arm over the back of the couch. At the accusation, his eyebrows rose in innocent protest, and he shook his head with a smile that meant butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "I didn't know she was going to beat you. It was a good fight until she knocked you out." Oh, Ingrid.

It was a good fight. Even though the piercing murder in his skull that persisted, Iago believed as much as well. It was likely he'd challenge Ingrid again down the line. There was just too much potential there to shy away from.

"Bet I would have gotten her if I hadn't pissed her off," he decided, not entirely boastful for all he was reasonably certain of himself. He had been doing very well, but rage was a powerful ally for a few critical moments and Ingrid had wielded it well. A pause, then he asked, quieter, "You think she's okay?"

He snorted; Iago would at least have had a chance, but it was hard not to put money on the veteran gym trainer, even with a power difference. "But you did." Using that clawed hand at all, in a spar, had been awfully stupid.

Sokol was tired, too. It had been a long, loud night, and in comparison, the little studio apartment was as small and dark and quiet as a den. At Iago's question, he reached over to grab the top of the man's foot, pressing a thumb gently into the muscles there. An affectionate gesture. "She'll be all right. A couple of shifts, I think, and she'll look presentable."

If he was King, he could have helped them both. But he wasn't.

But he did. No arguing against that, and even with his brain rattled about, he knew better than to tell Sokol now that he got into physical scuffles with sufficient frequency with people far less amicable towards him than Ingrid.

The words and the touch that followed those thoughts were firm and certain and soothed some of the blips of concern Iago had been feeling. Ingrid had not deserved what he'd done to her, but the same could not be said for what she'd done to him in retaliation. It had been an accident, but it was no excuse and so he wouldn't even say it. Not now--though maybe he had earlier, and he simply couldn't recall.

"Think she'll be mad at me?" Ingrid was very hard to read.

Tired as he was, he didn't think he could sleep just yet. Part of him wasn't sure he could...? With Sokol here it seemed a waste to close his eyes. He wasn't sure he had really anticipated the man's staying but it made sense, and he'd make no comment on it, no part of him wishing to imply that Sokol would be better off at home and not watching over him. Even if maybe it could have been true.

He snorted at that. Kept looking at the dingy old sock on Iago's foot. "When I met her, it was in Red Rock, and we were both shifted, she'd killed a deer. I tried to take it from her as a joke, and I still don't think she's forgiven me." He thought about that for a while. "But I think she likes to have something over my head. Maybe she'll be more friendly to you now that she thinks you owe her something."

He did like Ingrid, really. She was a world unto herself compared to the women he usually spent time with, but she was strong, and competent, and at least capable of a sense of humor when she chose to be. He would have to upend her with something, for her unexpected appearance and her dig at him tonight.

Iago laughed gently for the story, though it did hurt his head to do it. He winced and had to close his eyes, sinking a little further into his spot, not so mindful of Sokol's space. At this hour and this context it hardly felt worth it to pretend that he didn't take comfort in the proximity.

"She's going to be strong like us before long at all, I bet. Now that she's realized we're both trouble."

She did remind him of some of the Vale lionesses, but only in the best way. It was mostly his hope that that wouldn't change.

Iago's feet were making their way into his lap, and for this trespass Sokol folded his hands on his stomach instead. Some fine balance of contact, what he could convince himself was appropriate. He was still smiling to himself, thinking he would have to outpace her. "We should start thinking about what territory we'd like to claim."

He didn't expect to do so now, but it was something that came up, as it often did, when he was mulling over the day.

Pride talk was strange, much like a lot of what went on with Sokol. It wasn't in Iago's heart to drive for it, to push for more lions. He was just really plainly happy with the ones he had already met, and he imagined he could have carried on exactly like this for the rest of forever, maybe. But Sokol had ambition and vision and Iago was hard pressed not to respect that. If anyone could do it and not make Iago want to crawl out of his own skin, well...

"Shame about Red Rock, honestly." Not just claimed, but doubly so. No chance of making nice with the coyotes in face of that.

"It is." He had been haunting that blown-out prairie town for half a year, unaware of what other groups were on the rise. "North Glenn is the other option, if we are going to try for a place with a chance of hiding lions. Otherwise...my father's Pride went out to the country to shift. It's not unusual." It was also not particularly what he wanted. Sokol was melting into the couch, too.

"Eh, trees," was the odd opinion of a man who loved to climb when he was on two legs, but liked the wide openness when he wasn't. As far as he was concerned that put North Glenn out, and Avondale probably, too. "I guess i don't mind a little travel for when... you know." Articulation was currently a skill he did not possess. The headache was backing off by fractions, and though his ears were still ringing, he noticed it less.

"Could always just take Cordova. Lions and skyscrapers." It was an amusing thing, though his chuckle was pale.

That made him smile, too, remembering with the faintest of horrors their cramped shift in his apartment. It could have been worse. "Maybe. I'll ask Ingrid." And there was still the matter of procuring another lion. "How is your head?"

"Little better. Still bad, but..." Maybe it was the edge of sleepiness that was creeping up on him as he puddled more onto the couch. Should have gone to the bed, really, but he doubted Sokol would have done anything but hover stupidly on his feet over there.

Politeness demanded that he tell Sokol he was sorry for inconveniencing him with all of this, but no such words were forthcoming.

He still couldn't believe she had hit him hard enough for a brain injury. It was awful. "You should shift in the morning. Otherwise it might stay with you for weeks." MONTHS.

The idea of shifting, right now, was actually terrible. Not often he felt that way, but the idea of pain on top of pain and just plain not having the energy... and with legs all but in Sokol's lap, the lion was content to exist exactly as he was.

In spite of this brief distaste for one of his preferred activities, Iago saw the wisdom in it. He nodded as best he could. "You could always just drop me off in the outskirts on your way home."

At some point, Sokol did need to go home, right?

Ha. "And how would you make it back to home?"

Oh that was... probably valid. Thinking ahead was not the simplest task right now.

"I have legs," he argued, even while knowing it was a very weak argument in the face of the fact that Sokol had fussed over him hard enough to bring him home like this.

He was really amused, but tactful enough not to razz Iago completely while he was half-asleep and concussed. "Walking up all your stairs as a lion."

"I'd fit," he insisted from the spot where he'd tucked his face somewhat into the back of the couch, then he cracked on lavender eye to peer at Sokol. "I could shift here but I've never actually done it."

The walls were... pretty thin. Part of the reason for taking up a corner unit, honestly.


We can go out together, he came very close to saying. It was almost compulsory, to schedule a next time before they ended a visit, and he felt like. There was a whole list of things he wanted to do with Iago. He could eat up every second of his time in this way.

And that would be. Inappropriate. He hadn't forgotten the overwhelming moment at the mall. The overwhelming moments in his apartment. He just hadn't figured out what to do about them yet, either.

"I'll call Ingrid tomorrow. Maybe we can have a shift during the week."

That was a thought he wouldn't have considered on his own, but after their attempted blinding/murder on each other, Iago found he was somewhat more attached to the idea of the woman than he had been previously. She was an odd compliment to what the duo already had, but he didn't hate it at all. He was still rather worried that her justified irritation would persist beyond the Cage.

"Oh, you should," he agreed, and winced and had to change where he was laying a little when he pressed a little too hard onto the curve of his eye with the back of the couch. He was going to have a very fashionable out edge black eye tomorrow. "She could use one, too, so may as well."

He had just enough optimism to not worry too hard about the potential of her turning them down for now.

"I will." Go to sleep, Iago.

"I'm waking you up in an hour to be sure you are not dead."

For some reason that struck him as funny and though the giggle was brief and made his chest hurt, it faded into a sigh. Sleep had been creeping on him for a while now, and he finally found a position that wasn't killing any part of him in particular so... the sigh was a muffled yawn. He was actually a little hungry but currently without the willpower to even mention it, let alone do anything about it.

"See you then," he said, and when he closed his eyes, it was as if his brain was more than ready to dead itself for as long as it could. A last fleeting thought would be about whether or not Sokol would get any rest at all.

He wouldn't :C.

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