1. Stay With Me by mamogirl
Stay With Me
“You should go home.” Brian’s voice was a mere whisper, rough and so raspy that made Nick wince just thinking how much it must hurt to pronounce those four words.
“That’s out of question.” Nick replied, shifting his position on the most uncomfortable chair he had ever sat down on. He looked over the half closed door, wishing that someone would finally remember their existence and put an end to his partner’s misery, whether it was sending them home or keeping him for the night. It had been his idea to come to the ER, frantically worried to death about the way Brian’s fever didn’t want to lower down after a week and how his breath seemed to come out more shallow and shallow as minutes and seconds passed by. Though, the thing that had Nick most worried was how Brian hadn’t fought back and hadn’t put down his foot saying how he just needed a good night of sleep; instead, Brian had let Nick lead him into the car, slowly and carefully walking down the steps as if he had been uncertain and unsure about his balance, and held his hand through all the drive to the nearest hospital, squeezing it from time to time as if he had been in pain: every time it had happened Nick had speeded up, cursing the traffic as his worry for his partner increased with every mile.
Partner. A small and almost invisible smile curved Nick’s lips at that name. That definition that made he and Brian more than just friends or more than simple boyfriends: it was most definitive, a statement of how they had come to share more than just a couple of kisses here and there, or being on a few dates that had definitely left them wanting and yearning for more. And it wasn’t as scary and terrible as he had always thought it would be; it was, actually, the complete opposite because there was nothing better than having a steady and stable presence in his life: someone he didn’t have to impress or pay everyday; someone that wasn’t going to use him to gain success and attention, abandoning him as soon as he got whatever he had wanted from him; someone that had always known him even better than himself and had waited, patiently, that he would get his problems, troubles and demons sorted out before reaching out and giving him his heart to hold.
Almost unconsciously, his hand reached for one of Brian’s, hidden under the plain white sheet that was covering him, like his mind and his soul had to have a proof that it was really happening in the real world and not just inside one of his dreams, one of those that had been his company when he had been so alone, so miserable and full or remorse and regrets to actually call the man and talk to him. But Brian’s hand was so warm, it radiated so much heat that one could actually cook an egg on his skin, that it couldn’t be a dream. More like a nightmare, though, because the room was too white and the smell of antiseptic too strong not to remember that they were, still, in a hospital room and not spending the night in his or Brian’s house, since they still hadn’t decided which one was a better fit for them or if they should begin to look for a house together. In Nick’s mind, moving together with someone had always seemed such a huge and giant step: it meant giving up his independency, adjusting his routine to someone else’s who might or might not break up with him if things got rough.
Not with Brian.
Nick had already caressed the idea of searching and finding the perfect house for the two of them, without feeling pressure or that kind of anxiety that was able to steal away his breath and making him feel like he was being thrown inside a cage as a prisoner. He hadn’t spoken about it with Brian, an unknown fear had always stopped him before even starting to suggest it: maybe it was just a leftover of a survival instinct, an old coping mechanism in case Brian wasn’t even considering moving together and was just happy with how things were between them; maybe it was a way to protect their relationship, after so many years of fights and battles that had left behind traces of destruction and stones of fears, regrets and remorse that were hard and difficult to just make disappear with one kiss.
The funny thing was that, until that night, Nick had never thought about how to come forward, how to define and put a name on his relationship with Brian: most of their friends already knew about them, had known for years that they were meant to be together long before he and Brian put their differences and the past aside and decided to start all over again. Partner. Boyfriend. Companion. There were so many words that Nick had wanted to use when they had first arrived at the hospital but the nurse didn’t give him the chance to present himself, just assuming he had been a friend and letting him stay with Brian only because it was a slow night and it was going to be a long wait before a doctor would come and visit. And, strangely, that had hurt because he wasn’t just a friend, he had never been only a friend to Brian and... well, a part of him had ached when Brian hadn’t said anything to correct the nurse, though it would have been kinda difficult with a mask of oxygen placed on his mouth and nose. And, if Nick had to be honest, he still hadn’t admitted it with Brian: they, or actually he, never called each other boyfriend and all those other words; they had just kinda slipped into being in a relationship without acknowledging it, perhaps afraid of what damage they could do to something that was still being born, still fragile and unsure that needing to be protected, given their history.
And Nick, this time, didn’t want to take any risks and lose Brian forever because that wasn’t the first time they tried to build a relationship outside the lines of being friends. And it had never gone well, blames and responsibilities divided and shifted between two people so different from who they were now. It seemed like they had always chosen all the wrong moments for the “I think I feel more than just friendship, why don’t we try and see if we can be together?” : at first they had been too young, or at least, Nick had been too young to understand what it really meant to be more than a friend, to be what Brian needed at the time and failing so miserably that it had been some kind of miracle that they managed only to grow apart instead than forgetting completely about each other. And then… well, then Nick had been too busy trying to find the wrong kind of love, that kind of rush and ecstasy that came from just being eager to be part of something and be the center of attention while Brian had tried to hide his feelings, his disappointment and despair under the facade of being the perfect man, husband and leader possible.
Only after some time, after years and years of almost destroying himself and themselves, Nick had understood what he hadn’t back then: he hadn’t understood what Brian had been trying to teach him all along, that same thing he had been searching and looking for in the wrong places and with the wrong people; back then, Nick hadn’t been able to see that different light in Brian’s eyes whenever he was around, he had even misunderstood that distance he had put between them as hate and disappointment when, in reality, Brian had only felt an ocean of failure because he hadn’t been able to protect him, to take him away from his toxic and poisonous family and let him touch, feel and know exactly what being loved meant. What being in love with someone meant.
In the last weeks, days that they’d had all for themselves without work or travelling around the world, Nick had been starting to realize that what they had, what he and Brian had, was real love. And he didn’t want to take any risks, he didn’t want to watch that castle being destroyed by a sudden wave or storm just because they had skipped building and making sure that the ground of their relationship was solid enough to resist. And that included staying by Brian’s side, even if it brought back not so pleasant memories.
“You don’t have to stay here all night, Nick. - Brian’s voice made its way through Nick’s thoughts, bringing him back from his mind and focusing his attention to what was surrounding them. Brian tried to smile, a futile attempt to lighten up the atmosphere and peel away that gaze of worry that was clouding Nick’s blue eyes. - They’re probably gonna keep me here all night. There’s no need for both us not to sleep. We have a recording session tomorrow...” Brian’s voice trailed off in a fit of that raspy and rough cough that had the ability and power to steal his breath away, and clearly not in that amazing and pleasant way that always happened when Nick looked at him in a certain way, that way that made him feel like he was the only person in the entire room. And world. The same world that was spinning around him in that moment, confused and glossy figures instead of people and objects until a cool sensation started to spread from his forehead, the same place where Nick had placed his hand and was gently pushing him back to lay down again.
“There won’t be any recording session tomorrow. I’ve already called Aj and told him that you are sick.”
“I may not be able to go. - Brian started to reply, and raise up again, but the firm hold of Nick’s hand prevented him to do so. All he could do was letting out a frustrating sigh, though it seemed more mixed with one filled with relief because Nick’s hand was still on his forehead and it felt like paradise. Ice cold paradise. - But you have to go.” He finished, turning slowly his head towards the boy and looking at him with all the energies and strengths he could master, though Nick appeared as a blur of blonde, pink and blue. They were already running late and they couldn’t afford another missing day, though a part of him was filled with relief because he didn’t want to live, again, that feeling of being left out of the writing and making process of the record. He didn’t want, again, to feel like he was a liability, something that the group could do without and, even worse, could do and be better if he wasn’t there.
“Stop!” - Brian thought, sending that message through the inflamed and burning roads of nerves and fibers that were fighting the fever in hope they would get it to his brain. - That is never going to happen again. We are all different people. Nick, especially.” He kept trying to reason with himself but memories and reality kinda kept mashing up together, making him feeling like he was floating through time and the only anchor to the present was Nick’s hands, one firmly secure within his and the other stroking his hair, damp by sweat.
Nick shook his head, more determined not to let Brian win that argument. His hand squeezed the one he was holding, fingers interlacing together with their companion while the tips caressed the skin, an attempt to comfort both of them. There was tension in Brian’s body, Nick could sense it in the way all his muscles were so rigid that even his knuckles had changed color, going from that shade of pink typical of high temperature to a deadly white as if his mind couldn’t calm down, couldn’t stop circling around the fact that he was again in a hospital, a place that certainly didn’t bring out the best memories of their relationship. Though almost twenty years had passed by, though forgiveness had been given as the ultimate gift and with the purpose of acting as a stone that crashed those big mistakes that immaturity and stupidity had forced to make, Nick was almost sure that those echoes of images and feelings of abandonment were hiding and ready to show themselves as soon as he would do what Brian was asking him to.
Even though the last thing Brian would be willing to admit was that he didn’t want to be all alone in a hospital.
And this time he wouldn’t be all alone. That was one of the reasons why Nick wasn’t going to leave that uncomfortable chair, with the only exceptions being going to the bathroom or for a walk towards the first vending machine or for one of those horrible hospital coffee. It was hard to detect and, maybe, in another lifetime Nick wouldn’t have been able to see and understand that grey that was clouding Brian’s eyes, or the way his fingers hadn’t yet let go of his hand, but now he knew better and that was a fear that he himself had to live with for a long time: the idea of being left alone, the dread of being left behind as if nothing had changed or as if, in that case, everyone thought and believed that Brian hadn’t any scars left from that only time where all of his friend let him down.
“Yes, I have to stay with you. I don’t like the idea of you staying here all alone.”
“It’s okay. I’m used to it.” Brian said, a sad smile as if he wanted to reassure Nick that it was okay, that he wasn’t going to get mad at him or hold a grudge if he decided to get back to their house. One of their houses, since they still hadn’t discussed or talked about the next step. But that smile, and those words, wanted to be a sort of comfort for Brian too, a sort of reminder that he had already been down that road and he already knew not to expect for the world to stop only because he was sick or in need of a hand to hold.
It was a crossroad, both Brian and Nick understood it as if they were physically standing at that point where their path could continue as one or could divide and take different directions. Nick could listen to Brian, Nick could get up and go back home, acting as if he didn’t know how much that gesture and act would hurt Brian beyond repair. No, not only Brian but their relationship too because there would be no turning back, there wasn’t going to be another chance to undo that mistake made so many years ago. And Nick still felt that pang of guilt and remorse slowly coming back to life, like a sleeping beast that was raising its head as if those words had wanted it back, calling it and warning it to be ready to use its claws to draw blood and leave another scar. Somehow, Nick wanted to make it up to Brian for what had happened, for that first rift that had started to build a wall between the two of them. Nick wanted to prove to Brian that, now, he could count on him because there wasn’t any other place he’d rather be than there, by his side, even if it was in a hospital room.
“No way. I’m not gonna leave you. Isn’t it part of the whole being a couple?” Nick had wanted his reply to be a joke but, instead, it came out more serious and forceful that he intended to. Or, maybe, he hadn’t wanted to reassure Brian about what they were, about their relationship and what they meant to the other; maybe he had wanted to reassure himself and, for the first time, admit what his heart had been trying to tell him for a while.
For a moment, stretched in minutes and seconds that made Nick think that he had finally and thankfully fallen asleep, Brian said nothing, and not just because there was that rattle of cough that didn’t want to let air out of his lips. It was, mostly, because of that bubble of mixed feelings that was going to burst inside his heart: he was touched by Nick’s care, that implied acknowledgement of what had happened and the promise of not let happening never again; he was touched by the love that was coming through their hands tangled together, that love that Brian knew Nick was able to give to someone but that he still hadn’t been able to see and grasp. And, of course, part of that bubble was happiness because finally Nick was admitting what they were, in a tone so full of confidence and normality that made him feel more confident about their future.
More confident, especially, about Nick’s love for him. A simple joke had been able to dust away all his doubts and fears that his fever had been able to bring back and nag his mind since the moment they had stepped inside that building. It made him feel a little bit guilty, because those doubts shouldn’t even existed, not after the way Nick had supported him with his voice problems and stood up for him when he didn’t have the strength to do it for himself.
“Pass me my cellphone.” Brian said suddenly, waking Nick up after he had dozed off. Nick looked up at him half confused half skeptical, because he remembered that they weren’t supposed to use cell phones.
“Why?” He questioned him, getting up and going through his clothes.
“Because I wanna write down this date.”
“You mark every time you go to the hospital?”
“No, idiot! - Brian exclaimed, his half laughter and half cough almost got Nick panicked. - I just wanna remember the day that you finally said, for the first time, that we are a couple.”
Nick wanted to reply something, yet, any possible words just seemed to disappear from his mind. It was something so Brian, so typical of him because Nick still could remember the sting of a jealous bee every time he saw and observe Brian doing all those romantic stuff for other people that weren’t him. So, instead of ruining that moment with wrong words or saying something totally stupid and out of context, Nick just leaned down and took Brian’s face with both hands, his eyes set and glaze into Brian’s glossy eyes. “Yes, we’re a couple. You know it always takes me a while before realizing something.” Nick finished that sentence with a brush of lips, a soft and butterfly kiss that tasted like fresh air and love. Especially love.
“Thank you.” Brian whispered back, closing his eyes because the walls had started again to spin as if he had suddenly got on one of those merry-go-rounds.
“For what?” Nick asked, helping him laying down again.
Brian took a deep breath, not really used to admit those kind of things out loud. Especially to Nick, especially to someone he had promised and swore to protect, to be a kind of superhero who couldn’t break down in tears or admit that he might needed help too.
“Thank you for staying here with me. I don’t like being alone.”
Nick kissed Brian on his temple, grateful that his admission had inspired and kinda pushed the other man to finally open up and let himself been seen even with all his weakness and flaws.
“I’m not gonna ever leave you alone. Ever again.”