crossed out

1. ice between the wheels


There is cold, and then there is warm, and hands wrap around his torso, not his neck. Colors and sounds blur together, and he can barely keep himself upright but there is someone lifting him up, someone wrapping a jacket around his shoulders, someone speaking to him, muted and gentle.

O' muse,

Something has gone all missing and fuzzy, and he finds himself at peace.

2. the throat of the lark is crushed

He comes to. All he remembers is a long and thin crack in the wallpaper.

3. reckoning (or: you can't keep this up forever, kid)

Draven hasn’t cried in a long time. His usual response to stress and terror and despair is the strange numbness that comes from years of compartmentalization, a sort of long-term and low-scale ego death after putting himself last for so long. He hadn’t cried when he’d gotten the call that James was alive, nor when he’d first seen their mangled, bloody, burned body recovered from the cell they’d pulled them out of, nor when they shut him out and spoke only in paranoid, backwards venom. Draven hadn’t cried as James trembled in his arms from horrific nightmares they could barely remember, and he hadn’t cried as he held their hair back while they coughed up bile into the sink. He wishes he could say it was out of a conscious effort, a measure of respect towards what James is going through, but the truth is that the reality of it all just hasn’t sunk in fully, and he wonders if he’s been avoiding it.

And then Draven sees them after the first procedure, and it hits him, seeing his partner's trembling body on the mattress. It hits him as James grasps anxiously at Draven's jacket for something to ground him in the here and now, as he visibly struggles to make a connection between face and name and memory. James stares at him now, a held gaze with only the faintest hint of recognition, desperately trying to communicate something that's getting lost in the mired sea of his current brain chemistry. He eventually mumbles a question he's asked several times already—who are you? where am I?—and Draven repeats I'm Draven, I'm your boyfriend, I'm here to take you home. Then, because the feeling is becoming unbearable now that he's recognized it, too heavy to keep in his chest, he adds in a whisper he almost hopes his partner can't hear: I'm so fucking glad you're alive.

They're still gazing at him when they get the okay to go home. Still staring with half-lidded eyes, medical bracelets adorning both thin wrists, patches of hair buzzed down; they look too fragile to even stand, Draven thinks, and then immediately feels guilty at the thought, even as he half-carries James to bed. Fragile isn't the right word—not for someone who's lived through what he did—but he can't apply anything else to the mental image, this gentle wisp of a thing with the eyes and smile of his lover.

Once they're in bed, it takes them only a few minutes to fall asleep, and Draven waits a few more, just to make sure it's a peaceful rest. When their scarred lips part and their head lolls slightly to the side as their breathing evens, Draven stands, and leaves the light on, and looks back at James before shutting the door. He makes it all the way to the living room before the tangle of everything in his chest unfurls, and he finally allows all the pent-up sobs to break him to pieces on the kitchen floor.

4. in the attic, nonlinear

He had spoken it gently—hey, tentatively tucking a strand of hair behind his ear in the passenger seat, hey, James.

For a little while, things are fine. James walks like he’s avoiding ghosts, but it’s more out of lightheadedness and loss of spatial awareness than a weakened body from dehydration and seeing things that aren’t there. He speaks, jumbled at first but then slowly coherent, smiling in the halfway-sedated sort of way when he sees Draven, registering his face, taking a minute to piece together the name.


James had avoided touch before—shunned it, almost, seemed terrified and distrustful of it, and Draven had given them space and kept quiet about how much it ached not to hold them. He can’t help but ask now, though, because he can’t tamp down on the nerves in his brain that light up when James smiles that tell him that’s him, that’s your James, whole and alive and here and all in one piece sewn back together—

It’s quiet, nervous: "…Can I hug you?"

In lieu of a response, his partner lurches towards him tiredly, still loopy from the sedatives, throwing the entirety of his feeble weight on Draven’s shoulder. The feeling of holding something alive, a living breathing thinking loving hurting human being, is sudden and overwhelming. He almost doesn't know what to do with the responsibility of being alive; it doesn't feel right, being so immediately and wholeheartedly trusted.

"Easy," Draven mumbles, wrapping James in embrace near effortlessly and stopping himself from saying anything else, because right now every thought in every corner of his mind is wrapped up in James, James, James with his soft gray eyes and James who always laughed at his jokes even when they weren’t funny and James who had been growing out his hair and talking about starting a little herb garden, James who he’d been planning on marrying next June when the rain let up, James, the center of his everything for the past five years now, James who’s back and here and himself again after being cut to pieces by something outside of reality’s bounds—

He holds them tighter, and says nothing more.

5. crawling out of the television

Light, and warmth. He’s wrapped in a blanket, laid flat on his back on a slightly stiff mattress that creaks like his joints when he wakes. There’s a man next to him, seated at the foot of the bed, reading. He knows this man, but not his name.

He coughs weakly. His body feels numb and wavering, a miasma of painkillers fighting pain and leaving static behind. The man at his bedside with pretty green eyes looks up and he sees now the worry engraved into his expression, sending hesitance into the motion as he sets down the thick book with a blue cover and a title he can’t read.

"James," the man says, and it registers to him that James refers to him—his name—that James is the body lying under the duvet wrapped up in gauze and half-feverish—and he smiles faintly and wonderingly.

"Hey." He clears his throat, clearly anxious but fighting it back, keeping it down, smoothing out his voice with a gentle hand.

James does not recognize the man at his bedside, but he knows him, so he lifts an arm and reaches out with a weak hand, wanting to confirm his presence. He stares at it as he does so, wondering if he’s always been this thin and shaky, if his knuckles had always been faintly blue, but he doesn’t have long to wonder because the man takes his hand and smiles the kind of wobbly half-there smile your face defaults to when tears are a last resort.

He does not recognize him, but he cares about this man, and the only thought swimming in James’s addled mind is that he does not want him to cry. He leans in further, an invitation, something that feels practiced and natural, and the man helps sit him up in bed, keeping him steady. Then, he holds James, cradling his body to his chest, gentle and trembling with conviction all at once.

It occurs to him now in his arms that the man is holding him carefully because he has been hurt, because something eluding his grasp at the moment has hurt him, because something happened to him. Thinking about it makes his head pound, so he nestles himself closer, feeling impossibly small and slightly outside of reality but tethered back down, tied to the here and now by an absence in his head and the man whose name he does not know who smells like gunpowder and old books and a home.

James doesn’t realize he’s shaking until the man squeezes his shoulders and murmurs words, and he has to think for a moment before they register—hey, hey, you’re okay, I’ve got you—warm and frightened and gentle. He grasps lightly at the fabric of his jacket, and the man rests his head against James’s, affirming it, relaxing ever so slightly even though he needs to be strong right now.

"What happened?" he croaks out, his voice sounding disused and small. "To—me, did… did something happen?" He’s having trouble focusing; the room feels hazy and dim, and he's starting to grapple with consciousness.

He can feel the man’s shoulders tighten as he breathes in, holds it, breathes out, and he’s pulled closer in the embrace. "Something bad," he says, uncertainly. "You were hurt. Almost lost an arm. You'll be okay." There’s months of worry in the touch, a sense of terrified hope, and something clicks.

"Oh," says James, then, without thinking: "You saved me, right?"

The man who loves him hugs him tighter, and does not respond.

6. gray gray gray gray gray gray gray gray gray gray white gray

He sleeps.

7. crawling out of the television, act II

There is a man at his bedside and everything is melting around him, but the man whose name he’s forgotten again remains in one piece.

James keeps his eyes closed because even the dim mid-afternoon light filtered from the closed blinds makes his head pound and turns his vision into an overwhelming strobe, and the man at his bedside speaks to him gently and presses paper cups full of water and milk and broth into his hands. He looks tired, and several times James tries to rise to his feet and fix things for himself before being brought to his knees by the ringing in his ears.

The man says things to him, then, when he falls out of bed, quiet, anxious things like james, no, hey, and i’ve got you, it's okay, and then he is saying hey, no, don’t cry, please don’t cry, and James had not recognized that he had been crying until he hears the words, and he feels unfathomably numb and distant until he is lifted and settled back under the covers.

Based on the aching way his body responds to it, he thinks that he must not have been held in a very, very long time.

8. it's not as if you could try any harder, either way

But no—it couldn't last forever. It was good, too good for them and too good for the last three million years or months or whatever time-segments had started leaking out of his mind as he lurches upright in bed, remembering something.

A lot of things are repeating now, nonlinear, in the tumble cycle. Bear with me, okay? We'll come away soft and warm.

"…I." He’s not certain where he is, nor if his reaction to that would matter. It’s cold, and there’s someone in bed next to him (he doesn’t remember this either, nor if it would be appropriate to feel this sort of thick stirring sickness about it). "I think I’m going to throw up."

He doesn’t—he dry heaves over the sink while the person he’d slept beside (a man, taller than him, dark and handsome but with a certain deep worry etched into his features) holds back his hair and murmurs things which aren’t really meant to be interpreted right now, and his throat burns like hell but it’s the right kind of burn. With every retch he feels a part of himself emptying, draining out from the head, and the feeling he’s left with is a near-pleasant sort of nothingness that nonetheless strikes him as unnatural.

I don’t remember driving here.

The man rubs his back, mumbling gentle somethings like shh, I’ve got you and let’s get you back to bed, alright? and at the same time James (this is his name, it dawns on him now) thinks to himself Am I sick?, the words fall out of his mouth in a thick tangle.

His chest rises and falls, and the man pauses.

"Yeah," he says eventually, and James’s shoulders relax because he recognizes sickness like one would an old family friend. "If you work yourself up it’s just gonna make it worse, so—so try not to worry and just focus on getting some rest, okay?" He’s being herded back to the bedroom now, limp like a ragdoll. "Anything you need, I’m here. Okay?"

This part is unfamiliar—the way his heart settles when he’s able to curl up in this stranger’s bed again, the light dance of his fingers along James’s shoulders—but, then again, more things than ever are escaping his mind at the moment. This would do, for now.

rating: +6+x
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