Sucker Punch

Sam and Carl had never really fought before... well, before. And afterward, any quarrel they might have had was always dwarfed by the enormity of what had occurred during that time. It always seemed there was nothing worth fighting over.

Until now.

Sam's fist connected with Carl's face—hard. Carl stumbled backward, clutching his nose. "You—you hit me!" he yelped, more in shock than anything. He brought his hand away, and stared in disbelief at the red on his fingers. "And I'm bleeding! I didn't even know we could do that!"

Sam looked, if possible, even more shocked than Carl, as if he could hardly believe he'd just done that.

Carl began gingerly prodding at his face in a crude self-examination. "Ow. Ow. Ow…"

Molly stepped forward. "Stop being such a baby. Look, tilt your head down—right—and pinch it and apply pressure. Yeah, like that. Sam, get some ice."

Sam jumped. He'd been watching in quiet shock. Molly hadn't said two words to Carl since arriving. He forced himself to get moving and followed instructions.

When he returned, Molly had procured a first aid kit (from where, they never knew—like so much else, it just seemed to appear), and after the ice had numbed Carl's face a bit, Molly was able to clean up enough of the blood to get a good look.

"Ouch. Well, you're gonna have a real pretty black eye, and your nose will need a few bandages, but I don't think anything's broken. Now hold still." She smeared some antibacterial ointment on a tissue, then started to clean the torn skin. Carl winced. "I said hold still!"

As Molly applied the ointment, Carl glanced at her with a rueful smile. "You're—ouch—enjoying this far too much, aren't—ow!—you?" Molly said nothing, but smiled and hummed quietly under her breath.

A few minutes later, Molly stood up and surveyed her handiwork critically. "I think that's the best I can do." Carl said nothing, staring at her in quiet astonishment. "What?" She grinned. "Do you want a lollipop?"

"Well, I was hoping you would kiss it and make it better…" Carl drawled sardonically, raising his eyebrows. Molly's eyes widened, and Sam took an involuntary step forward. Carl instantly realized he had gone too far. His smile melted into an almost comical look of horror, and he scrambled backward so quickly he tumbled to the ground, his hands raised defensively. "Kidding! Just kidding please don't hit me!"

They were for frozen for a moment in a sort of tableau, staring at one another—Sam with one hand clenched and half-raised, Carl on the ground with his arms shielding his face—then they both started laughing at the same time. Sam looked at his raised arm in slight disbelief, as if wondering whose it was, then relaxed the fist and extended his hand to Carl, who grasped it and pulled himself up, still laughing.

The next morning, as Molly had predicted, Carl came down to the kitchen with a truly unpleasant-looking swollen face, bruised purple and black. (Which was as odd as the blood the day before, but no one realized it at the time.) Sam looked up from his breakfast and winced, then immediately tried to act as if he hadn't. Carl caught his eye, and grinned. "You really did a number on me," he observed, looking very cheerful about it. Sam looked half-ashamed, half-defiant, but chuckled all the same.

Oda Mae showed up and raised her eyebrows at Carl, but said nothing. When Molly entered the kitchen, Carl looked up from his cereal and greeted her, as he always did, without much hope of a response. "Morning, Moll." He had done this every day, despite never once receiving more than a glance in return.

Molly smiled at him. "Hi, Carl." Carl almost dropped his spoon as she busied herself pouring coffee.

As she sat down, both hands curled around her mug, Carl studied her, wondering if he should push his luck. Finally, he decided to go for it. "So… are we… good?"

The smile dropped from Molly's face, and she met his querying eyes with a serious expression. She frowned and bit her lip, apparently in deep thought. "No," she decided at last. "But we're getting there."

Carl's face lit with relief. It was a start, a real start, and that was more than had seemed possible for so long. "Wow." He chuckled. "Shit, if I'd known, I'd have asked Sam to slug me ages ago."

Sam grinned and called cheerfully down the table, "Anytime!"

They ate and talked, and as they did, a tentative camaraderie descended on the table. An old, deep wound healed a little bit more.