Libera me de Morte

Disclaimer: I do not own, lay claim to or make money from Flatliners, the characters, or anything else covered under copyright law. The following is a work of fanfiction for entertainment purposes only.

There was a strange tension, between all of them, after the night that Nelson flatlined for over twelve minutes. Maybe it was easier for him, not having to see them all in school every day. He moved in with Rachel, but their relationship was strained, and he found himself wondering why he'd ever been drawn to her. With her restitution made, she lost the sweet vulnerability she'd had when they'd hooked up, and some days he felt them little better than strangers, even when they made love.

He took a warehouse job, with blessedly long hours and decent pay, and between that and her studies, they managed to spend minimal time together, though she'd had him move in with her until he could return to school.

When they did manage to get together, Nelson was sullen, withdrawn, and eventually stopped coming all together.

It was surprising to him, then, when he came home one frosty evening in November. He opened the door to the flat as a gust of wind blew a shiver down his spine, to find Nelson standing quietly in the doorway to the kitchen.

"Nelson? How did you get in here?"

The blonde regarded him without replying, and Dave noticed something strange. The crescent shaped scar by his eye, that he'd had since their brush with death over a month ago, was gone.

"Why are you with her?" Nelson asked softly, hurt obvious in his voice.

He found he couldn't answer, and Nelson repeated his question again, looking a little like a kicked puppy.

"I... I don't know..."

"Dave?" Rachel's voice behind him,turning on the light in the flat, and Nelson vanished. "What are you doing in the dark? God, you look like you've seen a ghost."

He shook his head slowly, feeling the same sense of dread that he'd felt that day on the train, when the memory of Winnie Hicks had come back to haunt him. "... was Nelson in class today?"

She looked a little confused. "Yeah, I just saw him ten minutes ago. Why?"

He shook his head slowly. "Never mind... it's nothing." He forced a smile, forced tenderness and care that he didn't feel anymore as he moved to embrace her, kiss her. "Come on... let me help you relax...."

He woke early in the morning, showering quietly so as not to wake Rachel. Closing the bathroom vanity after retrieving his toothbrush, he felt an icy tingle run over him, and Nelson's reflection came into view, behind his own. "David...."

He yelped despite himself and turned, but there was nothing there. Shaken, he dressed quickly and headed off to work, trying to forget about it.

It was nice to lose himself in manual labor, and by the time the shift was done, he'd almost forgotten about the visions. Then as he got into his truck, he felt the world twist around him, felt that icy shudder.

"Why...?" Vision of Nelson in the passenger seat, expression hurt, accusing. "Why are you with her, Dave? You don't love her...."

He closed his eyes tightly, gripping the steering wheel. "You aren't real, Nelson. Leave me be." He felt a soft sigh, soft breath of air, and when he opened his eyes again, the vision was gone.

He met Rachel for dinner, something they seldomnly managed to find time for anymore, but he couldn't concentrate, mind wandering as she chatted idly about classes and coursework. Pondering her, their relationship, pondering the question that his hallucination had asked him. Finally, she laid her fork down. "Are you all right, Dave? You've only been half here all night."

He forced a smile. "Yeah... just a little tired, I guess. Hey - the other guys... they're doing okay, right?"

She shrugged. "I guess. Everyone's changed, you know. I mean, Steckle's always okay, but even he's deflated. I'm not sure I know Joe anymore, his panty chasing was always his defining characteristic. But I kind of like him better now."

"And Nelson...."

She sighed. "He's still the same. Charismatic, driven, but sometimes a bit of an asshole. Sometimes I think he hasn't changed at all, but he doesn't... he doesn't really smile anymore, doesn't talk to me. Maybe he just wants to disassociate himself with the whole mess. I don't know." She frowned a little. "You would have thought it would have brought us together...."

"I don't think we quite know what to do with ourselves anymore," he found himself replying, pushing a piece of chicken around his plate with his fork.

"At least you and I still have each other," she said, though he could tell there was uncertainty, unease behind her words.

He forced a smile. "Yeah."

That night, he re-lives the events from the fall in his head. Nelson flatlining - nine minutes, ten, twelve. Himself screaming at the religious paintings in the basement of the church hospital, screaming at a God he didn't believe in, screaming at the rest of them not to give up. Doing CPR, mouth to mouth, using the paddles, trying to shock him back to life. But this time, no matter what he does, he can't bring Nelson back.

He woke up in a cold sweat of terror, shuddering, and had to leave the bed so as not to wake Rachel. He curled on the end of the sofa under a throw, arms wrapped around his knees, breath coming in panicked sobs. His rational mind knew it was just a dream, knew the mechanics of why he was feeling this way, but it didn't help him shake the bone chilling terror.

Then, softly, gently, he felt the lightest touch on his hair, fingers stroking over and over. Weight that settled next to him on the couch, heavier than Rachel. An arm gently curling around his shoulders, with a warm, musky scent, a familiar cologne. And he knew that it wasn't Rachel, knew that there couldn't be anyone else in the apartment. But it felt good, warm and calming in the face of his irrational terror that he couldn't bring himself to try and dispel the hallucination. Gentle hands urged him to curl up against the arm of the couch, and the warmth stayed with him until he managed to fall asleep again.

As the week progressed, the hallucinations began to happen more and more, sometimes even when he wasn't alone. It was always Nelson - sometimes just quietly standing there, but more often asking him, again and again, why he was with Rachel. Emotion that ranged from anger to despair. And he found he couldn't answer him, couldn't even answer himself.

Sometimes, though... ever so often, it was nice. The feel of a comforting presence, silently protecting him. What he'd felt when he'd died, the few short moments of bliss before he was revived, before the nightmares started. It made him miss Nelson's company.

Finally, he went back to the hospital, one afternoon when he wasn't working, waiting outside the classroom where he knew that everyone else was inside. He didn't have to wait for long. Nelson slipped out quietly shortly, a little before the end of class, almost bumping into him. "Dave!"

"Hey..." He smiled, suddenly feeling awkward. "Sorry to drop in unexpected... just wanted to chat a bit. How have you been?"

Nelson hesitated, glancing down at his watch. "I'm ok... I'd love to talk but I have to be up at the university in an hour...."

"I'll give you a ride?"

The blonde paused, looking slightly uncomfortable, then gave him a little smile. "Sure. Thank you."

He watched Nelson as they left the hospital. His friend looked tired, that was obvious, eyes darkly shadowed. He was pale, the crescent shaped scar from his injury in the fall standing out pink and shiny against the rest of his skin. "You look a bit like you're working too hard, doc."

Nelson gave a soft chuckle, "Haven't been getting a lot of sleep. You know how it can be. You coming back to class soon?"

"Two and a half months." He sighed, and gave a little shrug. "It'll be good to get back into the swing of things." He climbed into the truck, waiting until Nelson had done the same before starting out to the university.

"It'll be good to have you back." Nelson gave him a little smile, almost wistful. "It's not quite the same without you around."

"Thanks. Too bad I'm going to be behind the rest of you."

"You'll catch up in no time."

Dave looked out at the road, the looming university. "I got you here a bit early, sorry... can I buy you a coffee or something?"

The blonde hesitated, a little uncomfortable again. "Yeah sure. That would be great."

He parked by the small campus coffee shop, and they settled at a small table by the window, sipping coffee silently for a long moment. Nelson finally broke the silence. "How is Rachel?"

He shook his head slowly. "You see her more than I do, I think." He sighed. "Look, I... I have to talk to you about that." Nelson gave him a little quizzical look, and he sighed. "I just... it was lousy of me. I knew you liked her. I shouldn't have gotten involved with her. Things were just so crazy with... well, you know. Still... it's not an excuse, it's a shitty thing for me to do to a friend. I'm sorry."

Nelson watched him quietly, a strange look on his face. "This is a bit of a strange time to be bringing all this up, Dave."

He sighed. "Yeah, I guess. Just been doing a lot of thinking, that's all." He waved the waitress over, who refilled both their cups. "Will you forgive me?"

Nelson shrugged. "There's nothing to forgive. Sure, I thought she was a good looking woman. But I wasn't so into her as to be angry at you about it."

He watched his friend for a long moment, suddenly confused. It didn't seem like he was lying. "You... didn't seem all that happy about it back then...."

The other man shrugged again. "You can't tell me that any of us were behaving entirely normally then." Nelson stirred his coffee slowly, silent for a long moment. "They said... the night I was gone for over twelve minutes... that you were the only one who didn't give up on me."

Dave wet his lips, lacing his fingers around the ceramic mug, even though the heat of it hurt his hands. "Well... they did help...."

Blue eyes looked up at him, tired and a little sad. "Thank you, David."

"I promised I'd bring you back, didn't I?" He fought back the remembered feeling of panic and despair that sat like lead in his stomach, and managed a little smile, which Nelson echoed, almost ghostly.

Nelson glanced at his watch. "I'd better head off," he said, almost a little wistful. "Lets do this again sometime?"

"Yeah, definitely." He sat for a few moments longer and watched Nelson walk away across the campus, finishing his coffee. He'd hoped that his apology would be the end of whatever was going on, be his absolution, but something told him that he hadn't solved things. It had felt different, when he apologized to Winnie. Sighing, he left the building.

The winter wind kicked up around him, cold on the back of his voice. Nelson's whispered voice. "Why....?"

"I don't know," he growled, more to himself than the hallucination. "I apologized. I don't know what else you want me to do."

He returned to his car, throwing it into reverse to pull out and go home. As he did, he glanced over his shoulder through the truck window, and caught sight of a flash of blonde hair passing right behind the truck. Nelson. He slammed on the breaks in a panic, throwing the car in park and jumping out, rushing to the back. "Nelson?!"

Nothing. Of course. He frowned, half annoyed at himself, half relieved, and tried to calm his pounding heart, tried to fight down the rush of adrenaline in his veins. He turned back to get in the car, only to find that the apparition stood in front of it now, and as he watched him, Nelson turned, walking a few steps back toward the university, then slowing and looking back expectantly over his shoulder, waiting for him.

Dave sighed, turning off the truck and locking it, following him as bidden. Watching how his long coat caught the winter wind. And slowly, the world around him began to twist, to darken, the scenery changing. He tried to move faster, but the vision in front of him always managed to keep just out of reach. Before he knew it, he was chasing Nelson up the steps of the hospital, into the basement again. Night time, in the damp, as it was in October, and as they approached that room, his heart began to race. Nelson broke into a run, pushing through the doors to the room where they'd held their experiments, and it took him a moment to pull together the courage to follow, dreading walking into another experiment, dreading walking in to see Nelson flatlining on the table.

As he pushed through the doors, however, the hallucination faded abruptly into blinding daylight. He blinked, stunned, trying to regain his vision, and heard a voice next to him. "I'm sorry, can I help you?"

He turned, eyes working again, to find himself in a university classroom, with a quiet looking, middle aged woman standing beside him. Behind her was a ring of chairs, a little over twenty people sitting there. And Nelson - the real Nelson this time, his glare shooting daggers at him.

"I - I'm sorry, I'm not sure I'm in the right place... what is this?"

The professor gave him a warm smile. "This is a support group for gay and lesbian students and their friends."

It took his brain a moment to take in what she was saying, and what it meant. But somehow he was already speaking, acting like it didn't shock him at all. "Oh good, I'm in the right place then. Can I join you?"

She smiled again. "Of course. Everyone with an open heart is welcome here, as long as you respect the confidence of this room. Please join our circle." She perched on a stool in the circle, and he sat down quietly in an empty seat, part way across the circle from Nelson, who was still watching him angrily. The teacher smoothed her skirt. "I'm sorry, lets continue. William?"

Nelson's eyes flicked away from him, answering to the unfamilliar name. "That's all I have to say, Professor Leadey. Thank you."

She nodded, and invited the next person in the circle to speak. Sharing challenges, reasons for coming to the meeting for support, and some, small personal victories. It was a little strange to listen to, but at the same time, somehow familiar to him, and he found himself strangely comfortable, sitting and listening to their experiences. He watched Nelson out of the corner of his eye, wondering how long he'd been coming here without telling anyone, wondering if everything he'd said back in the fall about Rachel was just a farce....

The person next to him finished talking, and he realized the professor was looking at him expectantly. "Oh... um, sorry...."

A smile. "That's ok. You don't have to share any time you don't want to. But will you introduce yourself?"

He gave a little shrug. "Yeah, sorry... I'm David, I'm a... well, I'm a med student. I... I guess I'm just here because I'm trying to figure some things out."

The professor gave a knowing nod. "I hope you'll feel welcome here."

He leaned back in his chair, thinking. Why was he really here? He'd followed the vision, but why did he stay? And why had his hallucinations lead him here in the first place? Because of Nelson? Because of himself? He'd always pushed away the idea of being homosexual very firmly from his mind, despite a few episodes in high school. Was that what he was supposed to come to terms with....?

The professor spoke for a short time, when everyone in the circle had been offered the opportunity to share. She talked about the pain of facing the challenge of being homosexual, and how a person could move beyond that pain by reaching out to help those in need, either in a like situation, or any kind of difficulty. And he found himself thinking of Nelson again, about the desperation he'd felt the night of their last experiment, and how good it felt the few times that his hallucinations brought him comfort instead of worry.

When the circle broke up, the professor encouraged them to stay and socialize, but he slipped out quietly, not wanting to anger Nelson any more. He paused at the classroom doorway, trying to figure out the way to the building exit. But he'd only taken a few steps when he heard his name behind him, and turned to see Nelson - the real one - standing behind him. The blonde man strode past him, grabbing his sleeve as he did and pulling him around the corner roughly, voice low and angry.

"Why are you here, Dave? Why did you follow me?"

He stammered, not even knowing himself how to answer. "I - I didn't follow you..."

"Right. Don't lie. Why are you here?"

Underneath the anger, he could see hurt in Nelson's eyes, betrayal. "I just... I'm just trying to figure some things out, that's all. I wasn't lying."

"This isn't the place for your kind of things, and you know it." Nelson stepped back, looking away. "I trusted you, you know."

"Nel - William? I didn't - I honestly didn't mean to end up here with you. I know it's hard to believe, but... I'm sorry."

"Sure." Nelson refused to meet his gaze. "Do me a favor and don't come here again. And don't try to contact me again."

"Nelson...."

"Don't call me that here." He turned, and threw off Dave's hand when he tried to catch his arm. "I'm serious, David. Get out of here."

He nodded slowly, and let him leave, turning for home.

For the rest of the night, there wasn't anything else he could think of but Nelson's anger, his look of betrayal. His hallucinations were strangely absent, and at one point he idly wondered if it was because he was doing a good enough job punishing himself that they didn't have to. When he slept, it was fitful, his dreams a strange mix of memories, of the same nightmares of Nelson dying, and just of Nelson himself, his expression hurt, betrayed, speaking words to him that he couldn't remember. And then, just before dawn, his dream self finally just gathered Nelson up in his arms, holding him tightly in an embrace that felt rather more than platonic. Face buried in his hair, murmuring, "Don't be angry with me. Please. I need you."

When he awoke, Rachel was curling around him in the early morning light, nuzzling his neck, stroking his chest. "You having bad dreams, Davey?"

"... yeah." It felt stiff, unnatural, laying with her. But still, he reached for her when she offered herself, losing himself in the physical and somehow realizing afterward that he felt nothing for her at all.

He lingered in the apartment after she left for class, showering, not caring for once if he arrived at work late. Feeling the world twist into hallucination as he stepped back into the bedroom to find Nelson sitting on the end of the bed.

"Why are you with her?" the vision whispered softly, blue eyes hurt, vulnerable.

"I don't know," he replied, wishing he could take that hurt away. "Because it's safe. Because I'm afraid to hurt her."

"Even if it hurts me?"

He glanced away, conflicted, not even looking up as Nelson stood, even though he could feel his hand come to rest against his bare skin, feel the fingertips that brushed his lips. "Even if it hurts you?" The vision murmured, and Dave shuddered.

"I'm not important."

"You are. Decide for yourself who you want to be."

He closed his eyes as nimble fingers traced his features, nerves singing under the gentle touch. "I'm so confused...."

"Then don't listen to Nelson. Go back to the university again next week."

"... all right." The feeling of touch on his face, his arm faded, but not before he felt Nelson's lips press to his jaw in a gentle kiss.

He spent the days that followed in turmoil. The hallucinations didn't leave - in fact, they increased in frequency, and he could see Nelson almost anywhere he looked, watching him quietly. Sometimes speaking to him, when he was alone.

His dreams increased in frequency as well, and he re-lived the night of the final experiment over and over. Sometimes it played out as it actually happened, Nelson finally reviving after so long. And sometimes it ended in a nightmare, in him working eternally to revive him with no result. Sometimes he woke up from those screaming, and he couldn't explain to Rachel why, couldn't shake the bone chilling terror, the utter despair at the thought of losing Nelson.

Almost a week later, the dream changed again.

He was the only one in the room when Nelson revived. His friend tugged him down to curl close to him on the table under the heating blanket, and he nuzzled his face into Nelson's bare shoulder.

"Were you afraid that you'd lose me?" the dream Nelson murmured, fingers stroking through the waves of Dave's hair in a way that made him shiver.

He nodded, ever so slightly, and somehow found himself completely at ease with the intimacy of their embrace.

"More afraid than when Rachel went under?"

He hesitated, and nodded again. "I couldn't let her die... because I didn't want you to feel responsible for her death, or for turning her into a vegetable. But if you'd died on the table... I don't know what I would have done."

Nelson's fingers, gentle on his back, stroking up and down his spine. Nelson's lips pressed to his hair, breath warm against his skin. "Why?"

He closed his eyes, let his fingers slowly stroke Nelson's bare chest, trace the line of his collarbone. "I can't imagine a world without you."

The question again. "Then why are you with Rachel?"

He couldn't answer, but reached up to cup his face, to claim lips that parted slightly to receive his kiss, feeling a rush of desire as he did so. Nelson pulled him closer, body pressing insistently against his, and the embrace turned to caresses, clothing tugged aside to touch bare skin, limbs tangled together as their kisses became needy, desperate.

He awoke from that dream in a sweat, hard and aching, and had to slip from the bed carefully to keep from waking Rachel. Locking himself in the bathroom, he turned on the shower and stepped in, closing his eyes as he curled his fingers around his cock, not being able to keep his thoughts from returning to the dream as he helplessly finished what it had started.

He dressed in silence afterwards, leaving the apartment when dawn was just touching the sky, buying a cup of coffee and waking along the bank of the lake, thinking quietly. It had seemed obvious at first, why he was having hallucinations again, what he needed to atone for. That he'd wronged Nelson by taking Rachel from him. But that wasn't the case, he knew that now. After the dream, he couldn't deny it, as much as he tried. Something - whether it be some great cosmic force, or his own conscience - wanted him to come to terms with the connection he felt with Nelson, with what he'd been denying for so long. Now he just had to figure out how to do so.

That afternoon, he arrived at the university intentionally late, trying to time his arrival to close to when he'd burst into the gathering the week previous. He had no trouble finding the room this time, and noted a small printout taped to the door with a rainbow and the words "GLBT - Affirmation". Taking a deep breath, he turned the handle and quietly slipped in. He spotted Nelson immediately, and was relieved that he hadn't kept the man from attending, relieved that he could catch him. The blonde stiffened, and shot him a brief, angry glare before turning back to the student who was speaking, ignoring him entirely.

Dave pulled up a chair, sitting quietly, giving a little apologetic smile to the professor for his tardiness. He folded his hands in his lap, trying to convince himself to follow through with what he'd decided to do, focusing on breathing, slow and deep. He had no idea how the real Nelson would react, but he had a feeling that he wouldn't be as cooperative as the Nelson from his dreams.

"David?" The professor's voice roused him from his thoughts. "Would you like to share anything with us today?"

He was silent for a long moment, long enough that he figured he'd better say something before she moved on. "... yes."

A gracious smile. "Please go ahead."

He let his forearms rest on his knees, leaning forward. "I came here because... because of my best friend in med school. There was this girl that he liked, that I thought that he liked... but I started dating her a month ago anyway...."

He glanced up to find Nelson watching him, expression guarded, still cold, and he almost lost his nerve. But absolution was never easy. "But... what I've realized is that it's all just a farce. I don't love her, I don't even really like her anymore. But I don't know how to stop, because I'm too chicken to tell my friend that it's really him that I want, him that I - that I love, and not her at all." He let the rest of his breath out, slow and long. "So... that's why I'm here, I guess."

He looked up at the instructor, not being able to bring himself to look at Nelson. She was smiling graciously. "Thank you for sharing that with us, David. Is your attendance here helping you with your troubles?"

He gave a very soft laugh, looking down at his hands. "Well... it's good to finally say it out loud, I guess. I just... wanted the strength to admit it to myself. And to him. I'm slowly finding that. Thank you."

The instructor moved on to the next person, and he continued to gaze at the floor, trying to work up the nerve to look up at Nelson. Then he heard the sound of a chair being pushed back, and all he saw was the back of Nelson's head as he left the classroom.

Once the circle broke up, he didn't stay, disappearing out the door quietly. There was no sign of Nelson, though he hadn't really expected his friend to stick around. He ducked into the restroom and splashed his face with cold water, leaning heavily on the sink and watching the water disappear down the drain. He wasn't sure what to make of Nelson's reaction, and couldn't shake the fear that somehow he'd just made things worse.

Then he felt that ice cold tingle run down his spine, felt the world around him twist, and when he glanced up at his reflection in the mirror, Nelson was behind him. Not real, no scar on his face.

"What do you want from me?" He asked the reflection softly, helplessly, worried that if he turned he would disappear.

In the mirror, Nelson came up behind him, chin resting on his reflection's shoulder, a hand on his arm. "Why are you with her?" The reflection whispered, the same words as always and he could almost feel Nelson's breath against his ear, which made him shiver.

"I'm afraid," he replied softly. "I don't know what else to do. Tell me what to do...."

"You know what to do," the reflection replied, just as soft, and Dave closed his eyes with a shudder.

"You left. You'll reject me," he replied, eyes still closed, willing the vision to stop, willing it to go away. Then he felt hands close around his biceps, turning him gently and insistently, pressing him up against the wall. A shuddering breath, warm against his skin, and then lips pressed to his, urgent and insistent, gentle at first, then tearing rough and needy kisses from him, kisses that made his heart pound so madly that he was sure it would burst from his chest.

"Nelson..." he whimpered, and then the creek of the washroom door hinges as it opened snapped him back to reality, snapped his eyes open, and the vision was gone.

"Save me...." he heard the whisper play about him, and stared blankly for a moment at the student who'd entered before pushing past him and leaving.

The drive home was uneventful, but he couldn't forget the whispered voice, couldn't forget the sensation of Nelson's lips against his. He parked in front of Rachel's apartment, grabbing a large duffel bag out of the back of the truck and let himself in. Heart pounding, he started to load his clothes and things into the bag, grabbing a garbage bag when he couldn't fit anything else into the duffel.

He'd just finished stuffing his textbooks into his bulging backpack when he heard the apartment door open behind him, heard Rachel's voice. "Dave...."

He straightened slowly, turning to look at her. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I can't do this anymore."

Her lips pressed together into a thin line, taking in the bags, the absence of his things, surprisingly calm. "So you were just going to leave without saying anything?"

He gave a soft sigh. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I think... I don't really think there's anything else that needs to be said. We're not right for each other... we're not what each other is looking for."

Her jaw trembled, and she looked away, arms coming up to half wrap around her body. "But... but we could pretend, couldn't we?"

He resisted the urge to reach out and comfort her. "We've been pretending for over a month, Rachel. You needed a father figure, and I needed...." he stopped, unsure of what to say. "I needed to feel needed. Anyway. It's not fair to either of us to continue this."

She nodded slowly, still trembling, eyes bright with unshed tears. "Where will you go?"

He hadn't really thought that through. "Apply for my own apartment, I guess. Or find someplace to stay until I can."

"You won't stay here until..."

"No." He reached out then to cup her cheek gently, brushing a tear away with his thumb. "But thank you."

She drew a shaky breath, then pulled away. "I can't stay here and watch you go. Please leave the key on the table when you go out." And with that, she picked up her purse and left.

He finished packing, scanning the apartment to ensure he'd removed all traces of himself. Then he loaded the bags into the back of his truck, taking her key off his keyring and leaving it in the middle of the table as she'd asked, locking the door behind him. He'd expected that leaving would appease his nerves somewhat, but found that it wasn't really the case, and drove around aimlessly for an hour or so before ending up at the hospital. The basement was still under renovation, and as he walked through it to use the washrooms, he was reminded all too acutely of their experiments, of the panic of watching Nelson flatline, not being able to bring him back.

When he finally fell asleep, stretched uncomfortably across the front seat of the truck under a rough blanket from the back of the truck, he dreamed of old memories. The five of them, when they'd started their crazy experiment. Nelson and all his confidence and bravado. Having coffee in the little diner late after the first time he'd flatlined. And then Nelson stopping him, the day he'd been suspended. Asking him not to leave, and the strange vulnerability in his eyes despite his bravado. "I need you. I need you to bring me back. Please..."

There was a knock on the car window, and he awoke, but everything around him was icy cold, colder than the night outside. Nelson's hands against the glass, his whisper audible despite the barrier. "David... Save me...."

He woke up for real, and his stomach twisted with nervousness, urgency, and a strange kind of fear. Without really thinking, he started the car, driving to Nelson's apartment. The clock read 2am, but he could still see a faint light coming from the windows. A whisper in his ear. "Hurry...."

He threw the truck in park and jumped from the drivers seat, keying in the code to enter the building and running up the stairs, his heart pounding in his chest. Knocking hard on Nelson's apartment door. "Nelson?"

A faint sound inside, glass tinkling. A soft curse. But no answer. He pounded on the door again. "Nelson, please! I know you're there, please open the door!" He continued pounding, calling for him, and finally heard the sound of the chain being pulled back, the door opening just enough to see his friend inside.

Nelson looked haggared, sleepless, but expressionless apart from the fatigue. "Hello, Dave."

He suddenly found that he didn't know what to say. "You left the meeting."

There was no change in expression, though his blue eyes were turbulent. "Yes. Well. Is that why you've come to wake me up at two in the morning? You could have called earlier."

"I...." he stopped. "I moved out of Rachel's apartment. I didn't have a phone."

A flicker of emotion, surprise, but Nelson schooled his expression again quickly, clamping down on it. "I see."

He was silent for a few moments. "Can I... talk to you for a bit?"

"We're talking now."

"Inside?"

"No." Well shaped lips drawn into a firm line. "Say what you need to."

Dave glanced away, swallowing hard, finding his mouth very dry. "I did today, at the university. But then you left." He looked up. "Why were you there?"

The blonde gave a mirthless, crooked smile. "Billy Mahoney."

"... what?"

"He hasn't left," Nelson replied, with a slight tremor to his voice that David recognized as the first hint of hysteria. "Funny, isn't it? I died for twelve minutes. But I still see him everywhere."

"I thought you said he wasn't angry with you anymore."

A soft sigh. "He's not. But..." he sighed again, and shook his head. "Come in."

He stepped back from the door, leaving it to open on its own, and Dave came in, shutting it carefully behind him.

The sparsely furnished apartment was tidy, almost clinically clean, apart from a smashed bottle of some clear liquid on the floor, and a filled syringe on the desk beside a length of rubber tubing. Nelson perched next to it, fingers hovering over the syringe for a moment before settling to rest on the varnished wood surface next to it, but he didn't try to explain it. "I didn't understand back then," he said slowly. "I was just a boy. Billy was so slight and vulnerable that it woke something in me that I didn't want to feel. Two days before he died..." Nelson swallowed hard, but continued, voice almost creepy in its lack of emotion. "I kissed him in the boys washroom. And then I killed him, when he'd trusted me. I've been pretending to be normal ever since." He gave the softest laugh, entirely mirthless. "I've only been going to that meeting for a month, you know. I thought maybe he'd leave me alone if I admitted to someone that I liked... him. Guys. Never expected you to find me there."

"I'm sorry," Dave whispered, but Nelson waved it away.

"I should have stayed dead," he stated, and it chilled Dave how seriously he said it.

David moved forward, kicked at the shards of the bottle to read the label as the glass skidded across the floor. His heart sank, though he'd half expected it. "Potassium, Nelson?"

The blonde didn't acknowledge his words. "I thought he wanted an apology... but it seems he just wanted me. That's my punishment. He wants me to join him."

"To Die? Maybe he doesn't want you to die. Maybe he just wants you to stop hiding, stop going after girls you don't want. These visions are about us becoming better people, not about the people we see, I know they are. And death is just the coward's way out, Nelson."

"What do you know about that?" Nelson spat, suddenly angry. "I'm the only one who failed his test, the only one still being punished for all this shit."

"You're not the only one," Dave shot back, feeling frustration mount.

Nelson snorted. "What's wrong with you now? Haunted by another playground victim?"

"No, Nelson. I'm haunted by you." He stopped, reigned back his anger, and ran a hand through his hair, pushing back the hair that had fallen in his face. "For weeks, everywhere I've turned you've been there, asking me why I'm with Rachel, over and over. That's why I met with you that day. I thought I needed to make peace with you, apologize to you. Then I started to realize... that maybe you were asking me why I was with Rachel... because you were trying to make me admit... how I felt."

Nelson stayed silent throughout his tirade, but grew paler. Finally, he spoke. "Why are you here, Dave?"

He wet his lips again, and drew a deep breath for strength. "I need you, Nelson."

Blue eyes searched his and he could see the turmoil that his calm expression covered. "Why?" For a moment, he couldn't answer, and Nelson asked again, a tremor of anger in his voice - or was it desperation? "Why, David?"

He turned his eyes away, drawing on his last reserves of courage. "Told you this afternoon... I'm in love with you."

Nelson's voice was deadly calm, and he couldn't bring himself to look up at him. "You mean that?"

A soft, bitter laugh left his lips, unbidden. "I'd put myself through this if I didn't? Yes, Nelson. I mean it." He raised his eyes to him, and spoke again, surprising himself by how raw his voice was. "Please... don't leave me again."

For a moment, Nelson didn't reply, eyes a mass of emotion as he held his gaze, then suddenly he moved, off the desk, darting forwards to grab the front of his shirt and press his lips to Dave's, hard and desperate and needy. Lips slightly rough with stubble, tasting of coffee as they parted to let Dave taste him. Dave let his hands come up, trembling, clutching his shoulders tightly. He gave in to everything he'd been feeling, years of repressed yearning, need, and let loose the all emotion he'd bottled up since the night he'd almost given up on saving him. "Oh god, Nelson - !"

Nelson broke from the kiss but didn't let go, forehead pressed to his, words breathless, quivering against him. "Don't let him take me, David. Don't leave me alone. I don't want to die today. Please..."

"Shhh..." he breathed softly, bringing a hand up to stroke through tousled blonde hair. "I won't let you go, not ever again. I swear."

Nelson let out a long, trembling breath, silent for a few moments, clinging to him. "You always... you always keep your promises. Thank you." He pulled back, just enough to meet his gaze, looking rather vulnerable, and his voice shook a little as he spoke. "How did you know to come here? How did you know that I...?"

Dave glanced down for a moment. "I... you told me to come. You wouldn't let me sleep. Told me I had to... to save you." He gave a soft sigh. "I've been having horrible nightmares about it all week. Remembering that night, but... no matter what I did, I couldn't revive you, I...." He sighed, searching his eyes, smoothing his thumb over the crescent shaped scar on his cheekbone. "Will you promise me one thing, Nelson?"

Nelson gave a small, brave smile. "Of course."

He swallowed hard. "Don't... don't go under again. Ever. For any reason. Please."

Nelson's smile faltered, and he swallowed, before giving the barest nod. "I won't."

"You promise?"

"... just as long as you're with me, David."

He let his fingers trail down, traced his well shaped lips with his thumb. "I won't leave you."

"Then it's a promise." He hesitated, kissing the pad of his thumb lightly, looking up at him, pleading. "Tonight, too? He can't - if you're here...."

He leaned in to brush his lips against Nelson's gently, trying to reassure him. "Tonight too."

He felt Nelson's hands relax, untangling his fingers from the fabric of his t-shirt, slipping them around his waist. A little curious smile as he pulled back, and a hint of the old Nelson's arrogance in his voice, teasing. "You even been with a guy before, Dave?"

He gave a soft chuckle, looking away for a moment. "In high school. Well, sort of. Got hopped up on E a couple of times, did some fooling around. Nothing farther than that." He raised an eyebrow, challenging. "You?"

Nelson snorted. "Dave, I went to Stoneham School for Boys. No one there was gay, of course. But young boys like me, away from their families... some of the older boys took care of us. In their own special way." A shadow of darkness crossed his features, and he shook it off, looking up at him. "I'm not ready for that right now."

Dave gave a little smile, feeling rather relieved. "Good. Me neither." He watched Nelson fight back a yawn. "You look like you have become very intimately acquainted with sleep deprivation for at least these past few nights, however."

A little sheepish chuckle. "Yeah."

"We should both get some rest. Lets get you to bed."

Nelson nodded, pulling back, hand slipping neatly into Dave's, tugging him from the room, into his darkened bedroom. "Never accumulated much furniture in here, I'm afraid. I guess you and I can find some common ground in our minimalism. I can blow up an air mattress if you want, but my bed's big enough for two."

He wet his lips. "Sounds good to me. Air mattresses are a pain in the ass."

He heard a soft chuckle in front of him, Nelson re-claiming his hand to unbutton his shirt, tossing it and his pants in a white hamper. "Make yourself comfortable then."

Dave pulled off his tshirt, half folding it and dropping it on a nearby chair, adding his jeans to the pile after a moment's hesitation, tucking his shoes and socks underneath of it. He glanced over to see Nelson stretched out under the covers in a thin white cotton t-shirt and boxers, watching him with a little smile. He pulled back the comforter for him. "Come on. I don't snore."

He chuckled, stretching out next to him, pleasantly surprised at how well their bodies fit together as Nelson curled around him, nestling his face against his bare shoulder.

"Mmm... thanks for staying, Dave...."

He let his fingers trail through blonde hair, smiling at his words. "Told you I wouldn't leave. Get some rest... I'll be here."

Nelson raised his head, pushing himself up enough to look at him, without saying anything. Dave felt his fingers trail lightly up his bare chest to smooth a strand of hair out of his face, and shivered under the unfamiliar sensation, lips parting to draw a soft breath. He felt Nelson cup his face, and the blond gave a little smile, then leaned in to claim his lips again.

He arched into the kiss without thinking, just feeling, giving a soft moan against Nelson's mouth. He returned the kiss, lips parting as he felt the tip of his tongue flick against them, yielding to him before turning the tables, tasting him back. He slipped a hand up to tangle in Nelson's blonde locks, keeping him from pulling away, claiming more kisses. It was different, very different from kissing girls, who were generally soft and pliant and yielding. Nelson was fire and strength, demanding, almost desperate, and it turned him on much more than he'd expected. He was sure his lips would be sore by morning from the force of their kisses, from the slight stubble on Nelson's skin, but for now he didn't care, drinking in the feel of his lips, gasping for breath against his mouth.

He was pleasantly surprised to find that Nelson was very much the same in bed as he was in the rest of his life - driven, focused, talented as hell, far better than he could have imagined or dreamed. And perhaps part of that was the emotional connection, the simple need to lose himself in Nelson, to finally act on everything he'd been feeling.

After their passions had been sated, they curled together in Nelson's bed. Dave was exhausted, but at the same time entirely blissed out on the comfort and joy of being with him. "Nelson? Want me to crash here with you for a couple of weeks? I have work most days but I'll be here in the evening...."

Blue eyes looked up at him in the darkness. "Only a couple of weeks?"

He smiled. "Well... if you'd like a more permanent roommate... I can stay as long as you like."

Nelson made a soft, appreciative noise, nestling his face against Dave's hair. "I'd like that very much," he murmured, fingers slowly stroking his shoulder, lazy circles against his skin, yawning. "David... thank you."

He turned to kiss his hair gently. "Get some sleep. Hope that will keep the nightmares away."

Nelson gave a sleepy murmur of agreement, and slowly the fingers on his chest stopped their caress, and Nelson's breathing became slow and deep.

He was just drifting off himself when he heard his name whispered, felt a cool breeze on his skin. He opened his eyes to see the doppleganger that had been haunting him standing in the doorway to the room, watching him with a little smile.

He tightened his arms slightly around the real Nelson, eyes not leaving the hallucination. "What do you want now?"

The shadow held up the syringe he'd seen in the other room, letting it dangle from between his fingers, then moving to calmly crush it against the doorframe, letting the shattered glass and liquid fall to the hardwood floor. "Good work," he said softly. "Take good care of me." Then he turned, and slowly faded into the darkness.

~~~~~
*fin*