Okay, so maybe I didn't get this posted as early as I should have. But I technically it is still Saturday! /ashamed/

Everything hurt. His chest, his stomach, his head, all throbbed with a dull, aching pain. He wanted to sink back into the darkness to escape the pain, but something was dragging him to consciousness and he couldn't fight it. A groan of pain left his lips when he opened his eyes and flinched at the bright light.

There was sudden movement, a shout and more bustling near him. He gathered up the will to open his eyes again just as a young nurse leaned over him, "Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being excruciating, how's the pain?" She asked. A single tear slipped from his eye as he held up nine fingers. The nurse nodded and turned to adjust his I.V. Relief was almost immediate and he sighed thankfully. Only then, when the pain receded, did he see his parents off to the side, smiling.

The nurse proceeded to ask several questions and when she was satisfied, she pat his arm and told him she'd be back soon. His parents swept forward, eager. His dad gripped his shoulder and his mother grabbed his hand.

"How's Dil? And Chuckie and Kira?" He rasped and his mom burst in to tears. Alarmed he looked to his father.

"They're fine! Your mom's just happy you're okay." He said quickly and she nodded, wordlessly.

"Where are they? What happened?" he asked, throat raw and croaking. His mother pressed a cup of ice chips into his hands and he swallowed some, enjoying the crisp relief to his throat.

"Your brother told us what you did. You're a hero, Tommy." Stu said and he flushed, looking away.

"No, I'm not. Tell me what happened, I don't remember."

"Chaz was going to shoot Chuckie, you intervened and fought with Chaz and the gun went off. You were shot. Chaz… I don't know… maybe he realized what he'd done… or maybe he decided enough was enough. Either way, he shot himself." He suddenly remembered with surprising clarity and instantly wished to forget it. His heart ached for Chuckie and what he was feeling. Stu continued, "Kira called us and Dil kept pressure on your wound- "

"They said if he hadn't, you would've died!" Didi burst in, tearfully.

"Sounds to me like he's the hero." Tommy said. At just that moment, Dil walked in. The first thing Tommy noticed was the bright green bandage wrapped around his elbow.

"Hey big bro! You're finally awake!" Dil said grinning. He came forward and gave Tommy a hug.

"Were you donating blood?" Tommy asked as his brother pulled away.

"Sure was. Nothing else to do while waiting for you to decide if you wanted to stick around."

"Dylan!" Stu shouted, just as Didi gasped, "Dylan Prescott!" Dil grinned sheepishly.

"What do you mean?" Tommy looked from his parents to his brother, curious.

"You were in and out for a bit there." Dil said somberly, "'Touch and go' they said. You lost a lot of blood… you died once."

"Dil provided blood for you." Didi put in softly.

"Wow." Tommy murmured.

"Yeah." Dil said, "You're not allowed to die until you have a cooler car for me to inherit." He grinned and was met with collective sighs.

"Thanks man." Tommy said, grinning back. Dil just nodded. "So where are Kira and Chuckie?"

"Kira's taking care of Chaz's body." Stu said voice and expression grim," She and Chuckie spent some time talking with the police. They got a brief statement from Dil and may want to speak with you later."

"And Chuckie's waiting outside." Didi added, "Did you want to have some time with him?"

"Yeah, please." He said. His family gave him several more hugs before they finally bustled out. Didi wiping stray tears from her eyes as she went. It was several moments before Chuckie entered the room. When he did, it was very apparent he'd been crying, though that was no surprise, having seen his father commit suicide right in front of him. Chuckie stood there uncertainly until Tommy motioned him in. As he came closer, Tommy saw his eyes were flat, expressionless and he frowned, worried that his friend had lost all the progress they'd made.

"How are you?" Tommy asked and then winced at the stupid question. Chuckie turned away, pacing up and down next to the hospital bed.

"How could you ask that, Tommy!" Chuckie snapped and turned back to him, eyes full of tears. Chuckie wiped them away with his sleeve and Tommy started to apologize but Chuckie cut him off. "You're lying in a hospital bed after being shot by my deranged father! You almost died! How could you ask me that? Isn't that my job at this point?"

Tommy had to cover his mouth to stop the sudden morbid laughter threatening to escape his throat, "You're upset because I asked how you were doing, first?" He finally managed and Chuckie glared at him, obviously catching the playful tone.

"Because you asked at all." Chuckie said, "You almost died because of me! You should be pissed off or resentful, or something."

"Oh Chuck… it wasn't your fault, okay? I'm not upset because there's no reason to be." Tommy said and looked at him imploringly, to see that he understood but Chuckie was wiping away fresh tears.

"What's wrong with you?" he finally managed to gasp out, "What'd your parents do when you were a baby that made you so damned wonderful?"

Tommy was rendered momentarily speechless before he said, "Uh… I don't know… Cheerios?"
And Chuckie reached over, mindful of the I.V., and pulled him into a hug and sobbed into Tommy's shoulder.

"Do you know what today is?" Chuckie asked suddenly, moving away. Tommy was momentarily thrown off balance by the sudden change in topic. Then, looking at his best friend's grim face, he knew.

"Kimi's anniversary."

Chuckie nodded, expression etched with pain, "I don't know what I would've done if I'd lost you, my dad and Kimi all on this day."

"Well, you didn't, okay?"

"I'm sorry I brought this on you." Chuckie muttered, "If I hadn't come back, none of this would've happened."

"Yeah, but I'd still be short one best friend." Tommy grinned.

"Thank you Tommy. For everything. You've saved my life twice now. I don't how I'll ever repay you."

"Wait, twice?" he asked confused, "I only took one bullet, right?" The room was suddenly quiet, except for the ever present beeping machines, and the blood drained from Chuckie's face. Panic fought with something else and then, he simply seemed resigned.

"Do you remember the day you found me… and you asked me where I'd planned on going?" he asked and Tommy realized he wasn't sure he wanted the answer anymore. "I said I didn't know. But I did. I was going to drive the car off a cliff. Or into a lake. Or a wall. I was planning on ending it. I was done. I was tired. I didn't want to do it anymore." He finished, his voice cracking and it was a moment before Tommy could find his voice to respond.

"Well, thank you for choosing to stick around."

"Thank you for giving me a reason to." And they smiled at each other, Tommy feeling almost giddy, though he blamed it on whatever painkillers they were giving him.

"No Mom! They're being sappy!" Dil's panicked voice startled them and they turned to see Dil being shoved into the room by Didi; Stu and Kira following behind them.

And then, to Tommy's shock and amazement, Chuckie laughed out loud.

Tommy slept a lot over the next several weeks. He'd needed to undergo several more surgeries but was healing well and the nurses frequently praised his good attitude. His parents hovered frequently over him and he had stream of visitors, seeing the twins and his cousin for the first time in several months. Chuckie still wasn't quite ready to see them and chose to slip away before they arrived.

They arrived with balloons, cards and candy and he showed off his wound with an odd sense of pride and laughed when Angelica cringed and the twins 'oohed' and 'aahed' over it. Plans were made to see each other again soon with promises for the next visit not to be at the hospital.

Kira and Chuckie left for a couple of weeks, visiting Chuckie's grandparents who had long since given up hope of his return. They also held a small funeral for Chaz which was attended by Kira, Chuckie, Stu and Didi, and Chuckie's grandparents.

Chuckie and Kira returned from their few weeks away just as he was getting ready to leave the hospital, stitches itching and bruises almost gone. And when Tommy saw his friend, his jaw literally dropped at the sight.

For a second, Tommy felt as though he were looking in to the past, or at least seeing the Chuckie that should have been. His hair had been cut and the dye in his hair was almost gone (it had never responded very well to any dye) and it was nearly back to its natural color. A pair of glasses sat on his nose. His face had rounded out, was no longer sunken in and gaunt, and he was clean and healthy and smiling.

Kira started having Chuckie attend counseling. (He had been diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder, and was given a prescription for both.) He'd also taken a GED test and planned to attend the same community college as Tommy, though he insisted on waiting a few months. All the other changes were already somewhat overwhelming for Chuckie. Occasionally he confided to Tommy that he was afraid of everything being a dream and that one day he was going to wake up next to his dad in some hotel room, life unchanged. Over the months, these fears seemed to lessen and so did the times when he was unusually coarse and disconnected from every one.


A year later, two best friends stood in a cemetery, exchanging stories and laughing quietly as fall made itself known in the bitter wind and the swirling leaves. After some time one of the young men turned to the other and asked, "Still afraid it's just a dream?"

The other stood in silent contemplation before responding simply, "No."

"Good. Let's go get some coffee. I know this nice, cheesy place down the road."

Man… I'm just a sucker for happy endings… : ) Hope you all enjoyed.