Title: Touches Just Skin
Word Count: 3200
Disclaimer: All belongs to Vinnie Mac
Takes place later on, not the present.
Notes: Written on the anniversary of my friend's brother's death from cancer.
Listen to Rascal Flatt's, Skin, and you'll get chills. Country's not my cup of tea but… damn, that song. Goosebumps.
Cody was waiting with bated breath in the small hospital room, the ugly green gown and tape around his wrist making him on edge.
He was nervous. Worried. Afraid. Actually, petrified was more like it. His heart was beating at a pace that made him wonder if it was possible for a man of his age and health to have a heart attack. Cody sighed, glancing at the wall clock, wishing that he'd brought someone along with him to keep him from having a mental break down. His parents didn't know he was here. His friends didn't. His coworkers. He'd only told Vince because he needed to clear the time off with his boss, citing that a 'concussion' was the reason that he would be missing Raw that week. Not that he was waiting on test results.
It didn't seem right that at twenty four he would be having these kinds of complications, that there was a possibility that he might not live to see thirty. Just a month ago, he'd been planning the rest of his life out, staying in the WWE for years until he eventually retired in his forties. That he was wanting to have the house, picket fence, dog, the whole nine yards with his lover. And now that seemed like a far off dream of a life he might have a chance to live.
It had started with a bruise that wouldn't heal.
Then the loss of appetite, the fatigue.
He had assumed it was from exhaustion. From the traveling, the long hours in the gym and spent training.
He didn't even want to think it.
Because that would make it real.
Outside the birds were chirping. The sun was shining bright, a few clouds dotting the expanse of blue… A perfect day in Marietta. He wondered if he'd make it to summer in time to see his mom's prized flowers bloom, the ones that his Aunt Gretchen sent a few years ago. Funny, he couldn't remember what color they were. He thought they might have been red. Or orange. Something that insignificant seemed important now with the possibility that he might not make it to see them. And his father. He'd be taking his antique roadster to the car shows, making a fuss about Cody touching the glossy finish. Would Cody be there to witness his father take home another trophy? Thanksgiving? Christmas? Would his family be mourning him during the holidays, wishing he was with them instead of… He might make it to see the first day of winter. But probably not the last.
And Ted. His Teddy would lose his best friend, his partner in crime since they'd been small. Ted would feel betrayed and probably angry at Cody for not telling him. Would Cody make it to see his godchildren? He wondered if Ted would name a son after Cody as a tribute to his friend, as a reminder, as a way to pass on Cody's legacy since he wouldn't be able to have any children of his own?
Randy. Hiding this from Randy was… It was wrong. Because Randy was his lover, his partner, his everything. Randy would be devastated, he'd be inconsolable. He never wanted to hurt Randy but this would kill him. The walls that Cody had spent the last two years breaking down would be erected again around Randy's heart. Randy would become distant. It was how Randy dealt with his problems; he kept them buried underneath cynicism and indifference until Randy eventually became immune to them. And Cody didn't want that. Because the Randy he loved was his shining star in an oppressive stretch of darkness and he didn't want to lose him. Didn't want that flame extinguished.
Cody wanted to make it to be there with Randy when Alanna started school. When she had her first date. He and Randy had already discussed that no boy would be good enough for Alanna. Alanna's graduation. Being there when Randy walked his daughter-their daughter-down the aisle. To be a grandfather.
He wanted to have a private ceremony with their closest friends and their families, to finally have them belong to each other. He wanted to retire with Randy. Wanted to spend the rest of his life waking up beside him. He wanted to grow old with Randy. To be two grumpy farts sitting on their porch in their rocking chairs, holding hands and just loving each other, and throwing rocks at the neighborhood kids and telling them to get off their lawn, and-
The door creaked open, Cody's heart skipping several beats as he met the shadowed face of his doctor.
"Cody. There… There's a problem. Your white counts too high and the red blood count's too low," Reed said, drawing the chair close to the bed, the man that had been his doctor since infancy patting his leg soothingly. "It's leukemia, Cody," Reed's voice was choked, "Acute myeloid leukemia. Abnormal white blood cells are accumulating in your bone marrow and interfering with the production of your normal blood cells. I'm sorry, Cody."
Leukemia. Cody closed his eyes.
"How long?" Cody asked softly, hands gripping the sheet so tightly the knuckles were strained white, the skin stretched taught. Leukemia… "Charlie, how long do I have? I have to know. I have to- Oh God." Cody felt numb but he could feel the tears streaking his cheeks.
"Seven months if left untreated."
Cody nodded, "And…what are my options? What's the survival rate?"
Charlie shook his head, "Five years with treatment with a 15 to 70 percent survival rate. It all depends on how much your body fights it. How much you take to the treatments. We'll initially treat you with chemotherapy to induce a remission. You may want to consider hematopoietic stem cell transplant. It's not going to be easy, Cody. You'll have to stop wrestling. We can't take a risk of having-"
"I know!" Cody snapped, releasing a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, "I know, ok? I gotta go. I can't- I should tell my family. My friends."
Charlie nodded understandingly, "Alright. We'll discuss everything when you're ready but… don't put it off for long. We need to start chemo as soon as possible."
"I'll be back in a few days."
"Take care of yourself. You're going to need your loved ones. It'll be tough and you'll have many varying levels of emotion as you come to terms with it. But rely on them. Don't shut them out. I've seen it happen too many times, Cody."
The music would stop playing for him but the beat would have to go on.
Cody glanced at himself in the mirror. His appearance hadn't changed. He was still tan, still muscular but how long until that faded? Until he became weak? Until he was forced to be bed ridden because he didn't have the strength to walk or move? His hair would fall out. Cody swallowed the lump in his throat, hearing the dogs bark and the door bell ring; his sudden request for a get together had been met with confusion and suspicion. Most notably from Randy.
Would Randy even want him? Once he became a shadow of the man he was now? When he lost his muscle, lost weight and became emaciated? Would Randy still love him bald? Pale? Tears pricked at Cody's eyes. The mere thought of losing Randy because of his cancer was painful. He might be able to handle the chemo but… If Randy abandoned him… Cody didn't think he'd have the will to fight. Randy was his driving force these days. The one that kept him grounded and sane and made him feel like he'd never felt before. Would Randy find someone else that was whole and healthy? Someone that…that wouldn't die before thirty?
He paused at the bottom of the stairs. There was Ted minus Kristen. Cody had never been close to his friend's wife. Brett Dibiase, of course. He and Brett had been twin terrors growing up, the two getting closer when Ted went off to college. His sister Kristin. Dustin. His parents. Ted's and Randy's parents. He was close to them all, had grown up around them. And there was Randy, leaning against the fireplace with his arms folded in front of his chest, t-shirt clinging to every defined muscle; he wasn't so positive if Randy would stay with him, especially since their sex life would be lacking for months to come. Cody reigned in his emotions. He didn't need his mom and dad to see him cry. Definitely didn't want Randy to see it.
"Cody, my boy, what's goin' on?" Virgil asked, voice silencing the conversations, everyone turning to look at Cody expectantly.
But he saw no one but Randy and those beautiful gray eyes that were truly the window's to Randy's soul. "Cody?" Randy queried, brows knitting together. Cody knew there a thousand different scenarios in Randy's mind but he doubted Randy's picturing this one.
"I'm sorry," he said, on the verge of losing his carefully collected control. "I'm so sorry. I wish it wasn't true but it is and-"
"Baby boy?" Ted looked at Cody, alarm and panic flitting across his face.
"I have cancer," he blurted out.
Gasps and cries filled the massive living room of his parent's home. His hands were shaking as he looked at his loved ones. His mother was clutching desperately to his father, sobbing. His dad was gazing at Cody with horror. Dustin and Kristin were comforting each other, Cody a little surprised that his half brother cared that much. Ted's parents were in shock, the Dibiase's and Orton's gazing at each other bewilderedly. They'd practically been his surrogate family through the years. Brett had sank onto one of the couches, head shaking in denial. And Ted. Teddy was sagging against the wall, face completely ashen, silent tears coursing his cheeks.
Randy was emotionless but Cody knew he was hurt. Randy's chest was heaving, his hands were balled into fists as his sides, his bottom lip was just barely trembling; a sign that he was keeping himself under control. "What… What kinda cancer?" Brett finally spoke, the dark cloud amassing over them all.
"Leukemia. Acute myeloid leukemia. It's… It's rare."
"When'd you find out?" Kristin frowned.
"Yesterday. I… There were a few bruises that weren't healing and I've been so tired lately and I haven't wanted to eat… I didn't have a concussion."
"How long?" Randy snapped, the anger Cody had been expecting rearing its ugly head. "How long until you fucking die?"
"Randy!" Ted growled, crossing the room in a few long legged strides, slamming Randy up against the wall hard enough that the knick knacks on the mantle wobbled dangerously. "You're a fuckin' bastard, you know that?! Your boyfriend found out he's got cancer and you're mad at him?! Well fuck you!" Ted's arm was drawn back, about to punch Randy and-
"STOP IT!" Kristin sobbed.
"Ted, that's enough!" the elder Dibiase scowled, grabbing Ted by the arm, "We're all upset about this."
"Randy," Bob Orton frowned, "You need to calm down-"
"Calm down?!" Randy's voice was borderline hysteria, his cool mentality unraveling at the seams, "Answer the goddamned question, Cody!"
"Seven months untreated. Maybe five years with chemo and other treatments," Cody said quietly, stomach knotting uncomfortably, tasting bile on his tongue. "I didn't ask for this, you know. It's not my fault."
"He knows, baby," his mom was attempting to reassure him, her eyes already puffy and red, "But this is… It's a lot to take in. And I-" The waterworks were on again as she pressed herself against his dad.
"You're getting chemo, right?" Brett was rocking on the couch, arms wrapped around himself. Cody kept forgetting that Brett was younger than him. "I mean, you're not gonna let this beat you, are you, Cody?"
Cody shook his head, "No. I'm not. I still have to go back and talk to Charlie about all the options, about the chemo, the drugs. Everything. I need to know. I'm going to research it. This cancer isn't taking me down without a fight."
"That's my boy," Virgil's grin was sad but hopeful.
"We're all here for you, Baby Boy," Ted said, arms wrapping loosely around Cody, "We'll be there. Through it all."
The door slammed shut, echoing throughout the house.
Randy was gone.
The tears came. He couldn't stop them. Not now. "He doesn't want me anymore. Why would he? I'll be dead in a few years. Why stay with someone that doesn't have a chance for a future?"
"Cody Runnels!" Ted glared at him heatedly, "Don't you say that shit! You might outlive us all! Stop giving up just because Randy's being an asshole. I'm goin' to give that motherfucker a piece of my mind!"
"Ted!" Dibiase yelled after his son but Cody knew nothing would stop Ted. Not when he was in one of his moods.
Cody wearily sat down, holding his head in his hands, his parents sitting on the edges of the couch, their hands rubbing his back soothingly. Kristin was resting her head against Cody's thighs. Dustin was lingering nearby, looking torn between following Ted and staying with Cody. "I don't blame him. There're a ton of people that Randy can choose from. Sam would probably take him back."
"He loves you, Cody," Bob said, "I know my son. He'll come around. Just give him some time. How would you react if you'd just found out that Randy had cancer? You'd be mad too. Knowing you, you'd throw a temper tantrum," Bob smiled wanly.
"Yeah, he would," Dustin grinned, nodding.
"Thanks, guys," Cody's smile was forced, his eyes watery, cheeks raw.
He just hoped Randy wasn't gone forever.
Charlie had been thorough in explaining the details of his cancer and the treatment processes. His parents had been there with him, holding his hands, making him feel like he was ten years old again and had just broken his leg in three different places. The chemo would start immediately. The drugs would be numerous. But the leukemia had been found in time that his survival rate was over fifty percent. Cody was hopelessly optimistic that perhaps there was a chance for him after all.
But maybe not a chance for him and Randy.
Randy hadn't answered his phone. Hadn't come by the house. He'd simply disappeared. Ted hadn't been able to find him. It had been Ted and Brett that had held him all night as he cried himself to sleep, the severity of the situation crashing down on him all at once. Finding out one was dying and losing one's lover all at once was taxing on one's psyche. And soon, Cody would have to announce his illness to the WWE Universe. They deserved to know. Vince would probably have a press conference, would no doubt coddle him. Vince was like a second father to him. And his friends. He wondered how they would take to it? Remorse? Anger? Acceptance? Supportive?
Cody eyed himself in the mirror, at his bald head.
The dark locks were on the tiled floor of the bathroom.
He didn't want to wake up one morning to have his hair on his pillow or have it fall out in clumps. Soon, he'd look like any other sick, cancer patient. Thin, gaunt, pale. His blue eyes that Randy loved so much would be lackluster and dull. No wonder Randy had bailed on him. He wouldn't want him either.
"Stop mopin'," Ted's arms were around his mid-section, the blonde's head resting on his shoulder, "Come on, you need to eat."
"Dude, I'll force it down your throat. Let's go."
"You know, you don't have to stay with me," he said, walking behind Ted, "I'm sure Kristen doesn't like it and you're supposed to go to Australia with the rest of the roster in a few days."
"You really think I care about any of that?" Ted looked affronted. "I've known you for twenty years, Cody. I'm not goin' anywhere. Vince knows, ok? He's making a storyline right now that has me getting surgery on my labrum, alright? And Kristen will get it over it. You're stuck with me. Brett too."
"Thanks, Teddy," Cody ignored the tears. He couldn't control them. He was an emotional wreck.
"I love you, man. You're my best buddy."
Cody nearly stumbled over his own feet as he came to an abrupt pause at the bottom of the staircase. "Randy?" his heart was thumping loudly and he was so sure everyone could hear it. He braced himself against the railing, drinking in Randy's appearance like a man in the desert finding an oasis. His eyes were swollen, face red and raw, his knuckles were bruised and cracked. The brim of his baseball cap couldn't hide it. "Why'd you leave? I-"
"Brett!" Ted hissed, dragging his brother towards the kitchen, leaving Cody and Randy alone.
"God, Randy, I thought you hated me!"
Randy shook his head, tentatively approaching Cody. Would Randy be like everyone else and treat him with kid gloves now that they knew he was sick? Randy gently ran a hand across Cody's head, feeling the ridges of his skull, the baby soft skin… "Looks good on you."
"Randy…" his choked on a sob.
"But hey, you can match me now," Randy smiled wryly, taking off his cap, revealing his freshly shaved head.
"Randy! Your hair was just growing back! You said you wouldn't cut it."
"Come on, I couldn't let my man be bald by himself."
Cody touched Randy's head, feeling a few uneven textures across his scalp, touching just skin. "You did it when you left."
"I did. I'm sorry I ran out on you. I… I hate that I did it. That I made you cry. That I wasn't at your doctor's appointment today. But… I had to leave. I couldn't… God, Cody, I love you," Randy's eyes were glistening, "So much. I don't want to lose you. Not when we just found each other. Baby, I… Damn it!" he cursed, rubbing his eyes angrily with the back of his hand, "I'll be here, Cody. Through it all. I swear it. I'm not letting you go. I can figure something out with Vince and I'll stay with you. I'll go to all your appointments. I'll push your wheelchair when you don't have the energy to walk or I'll just fucking carry you. I don't care what anyone thinks about us. I'll hold your hand when you have to puke because of the drugs and chemo and I'll never let you outta my sight. And Alanna will try to help but she'll understand when she gets older that her Monkey isn't-"
Their tears were falling freely, "And she'll want you there. I mean, we're going to scare off all her boyfriends, remember? We talked about it. And grandchildren, Cody. I can't bear to think that I'll have to spend a day without you."
Cody was against Randy's chest, inhaling the familiar scent, knowing that he would be loved. Even if his time was over prematurely, in a few years, a few decades even, he knew that he'd been loved in his life. That he'd been given the greatest gift of all. And no cancer could beat that.