I'm Not Okay
Tony stands in the doorway to Danny's dimly-lit hospital room. He's not sitting in the one visitor's chair, because Nicholas is there. And he's fighting the urge to slouch against the doorframe for the same reason. Nicholas has his elbows on his knees, and his hands clasped in front of his mouth, and his eyes fixed on Danny. Tony is pretty certain that, even what it's midday outside and Nicholas is yelling and fixing and trying, it's still Danny that he's really seeing.
Tony clears his throat, but not enough for a full sentence to escape. "What are you going to do, if..?" He trails off, and waits out the ice age it takes for Nicholas to reply.
"I don't know," he says, a muffled admission into his knuckles.
The sun dips lower on the horizon, the shadows grow longer and the beeps of mechanical life grow louder and softer as Tony's attention loses its focus and drifts, like the dust motes spiralling invisible through the air. "Come on then," he says at last, a heavy sigh caused by many things. "I'll take you home."
The gears crunch painfully at the slow corners that sneak up on distracted drivers, but it's too familiar now for Tony to flush with embarrassment. The protesting, abused noises are the only ones that fill the car, giving wing to the elements otherwise unsaid. Nicholas doesn't speak much at all, out of uniform, and Tony feels guilty for not knowing if that's normal. Days and nights have blurred together until Sandford seems to be nothing but a silhouette of dusty buildings existing only at dusk and dawn, and Tony hasn't felt certain about anything for a long time.
Nicholas, sitting and slouching at the very edge of Tony's peripheral vision, is staring vacantly out at passing houses and field-like front yards. He has a hand to his mouth again, as if to keep half of his lack of expression a guarded secret. Even with only the arc of a cheek and the straight of an inner-wrist in sight, Tony knows the position by heart. Forefinger curled against the top lip, and the tip of a thumb pressed near colour-chart white teeth. Tony's son falls asleep the same way.
Tony is so absent minded, so caught up with weighty trivialities just out of reach, that he almost misses the turn right in front of him. Which is painfully typical. The car stops with a bump in his own driveway, which is nowhere Nicholas' home. Nicholas' home is more of an idea than anything else, something to be achieved in the fullness of time and post-communal rehabilitation. Home is wherever a spare couch is, and once again, Tony is left puzzling over whether this is at all normal, or something uncommon to Nicholas. And which of the two is more depressing.
There are no sneakers in the hallway except Tony's own, no toys or perfume-scented jackets. Tony is halfway through making sandwiches – the same corned beef that he had slowly been consuming with bread over the week – before Nicholas lowers both hands to the countertop.
"What happened?" he asks.
Tony has been wondering that since he first strapped his stab vest on so long ago, back when days had sunlight. "They went to stay with my sister," he tells the corned beef. "She didn't think that our boy needed to see bodies carted through the town and all."
Nicholas sounds young and cautious when he finally replies. "What do you think?"
Tony puts the knife down, puts his palms flat on the cutting board. As far as Tony is concerned, there's a good chance that the bodies will never stop filling the streets, silent ghosts marching up and down and damning them all for not doing better, for accepting the price of mediocrity and lazy afternoons with complete disregard. And Tony can't help but be amazed – along side the remainder of the Sandford constabulary – that Nicholas seems intent on accepting the damnation meant for them, that Nicholas toils alongside them, awaiting beside a still hospital bed for a sanction that will never be delivered.
"I think the couch has a loose spring," Tony says at last, his words buzzing in the heavy silence. "You may as well bunk with me tonight."
They eat their sandwiches standing up, shrouded in Nicholas' gentle silence. Tony has spent enough time sitting and doing nothing to last several wasted lifetimes.
Lying side-by-side in a dark room there is a demarcation of empty mattress between them, of awkward body parts pressed to attention and invisible uniforms. The other option is that Nicholas is always so stiff, so unwilling to relax. Tony had seen him asleep once, bent painfully to rest his head by Danny's hand. There had been an anxious rigidness to him even then. Everyone is anxious about Danny, and no one has been sleeping well.
Feeling the cogs of his own brain whir despite the gut-plea for relief, the electrical pulses in Tony's own cognition force him to wonder when Nicholas became the centre of it all. Tony doesn't even know how old the other man is. He knows the same about Nicholas Angel as everyone else, the same as a single lunch at the pub and an article on Google can offer: he didn't drink, and he'd killed a man at age twenty-nine. And one of those had already been proven wrong with enough gentle coercion.
Tony's stomach and everything below it wishes with a painful ache that he didn't know that last diamond fragment. Wishes that Danny didn't have that magic way of seeing things that weren't there, that Nicholas had the decency to remain immoveable, that Tony himself wasn't so alone right now.
Tony is trying to kick the habit of citing 'if only's. If only it hadn't been Frank. If only they hadn't been fooled. If only his wife hadn't looked at him that way, if his son hadn't followed suit. If only Nicholas wasn't the only thing making anything at all work. Wasn't so broken with those wide blue eyes and malleable with that flat, firm skin. The only point of gentleness and warmth in a town that was jagged with culpability.
Tony's not sure if the reel of pleas, of missed options are meant to excuse him or suffocate him; punishment or penance. But he's sure that there will come a time when he will regret the way the curve on Nicholas' hipbone fits into the concave of his sweaty palm, regret the way the mattress gives way to shifting weight and permits the press of one body against another. But regret is something that can only be dealt with in the harsh sunlight that never seems to shine. The hazy dimness cocooning them holds nothing but mindlessness; wide eyes that never quite meet, and harsh breaths that never quite fill lungs, and common fears that will never be shared as anything more than two mouths pressing against one another and familiar fingers curling against foreign skin.
Tony's biggest fear is that he won't regret this at all.