Dunno how happy i am with this, but it's been too long. So, here it is. Thank you all for your patience, and rest assured i haven't forgotten or given up on any of my stories.
No matter how hard Matt fought consciousness, it just kept coming back. The first thing he was aware of was the deep, aching pounding in his head. He laid in bed with his eyes closed for a while, knowing if he moved it would only get worse. His mouth was sticky and felt glued shut. He tried to drift back to sleep, but the memory of the last few days kept nudging at his foggy brain. He'd killed Jay. He winced as the thought sent what felt like a ragged knife through his brain. Dark, bloodshot eyes cracked open and he reached for the nightstand. The bottle wasn't there. Had he knocked it over? He couldn't remember. Matt shifted until he could see over the edge of the mattress, expecting to see Southern Comfort seeping into the carpet and a few swallows left in the bottle. There was nothing.
Matt propped himself up on his elbow with a groan, trying to sit up until a wave of nausea hit him and he belched. No matter, some water, an aspirin, and some hair of the dog was all he needed. Just a drink to get him through the day. Ugh, make that three aspirin. He struggled up and swung his feet onto the floor, then pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. Shit. Where was that bottle? And why was he alone?
"Johnny?" he called, then winced again as the sound of his own voice threatened to split his skull.
"Right here," a soft voice said from behind him. Matt turned and saw his boyfriend quietly shutting the bedroom door, a big glass of water in his hand, the other curled around what Matt assumed were pills. Johnny handed the water and pills to him, and Matt took them gratefully, draining half the water before he took a breath. It didn't do much for his roiling stomach, but he could keep it down.
"You're an angel, sweetness," Matt rasped. "Where's my SoCo?"
"Gone," Johnny replied. Matt was too wrapped up in his discomfort to notice the sour twist to his lover's pouty lips.
"Musta drank it. Get me the other bottle, will you? I'm sure there's one left," he said with a hiccuping burp, then finished his water.
"You didn't drink it," Johnny said, his arms folded. "I got rid of it. And you're not getting any more."
"Dammit, Johnny," Matt complained, rubbing his eyes. "It's just a shot to get rid of this fucking hangover. Can't you see I'm in pain? Now stop fucking around with me."
"Just a shot. Then just a shot turns into two. Then three, then you're on your way to another bottle before you pass out again. I am not living this way, Matt. You're going to have to find some other way to deal with Jay's disappearance, because I'm not going to watch you drink yourself to death."
The speech had a rehearsed quality that set Matt's teeth on edge. "Are you cutting a fucking promo on me? Fuck, just get outta my way and I'll get my own fucking bottle." He got up to cross to the door, but Johnny stood in front of him.
"No! I'm not letting you do this! You're out of control. You haven't showered, you haven't even changed clothes. All you do is get wasted and cry while everyone else has been trying to keep this place in order and find Jay. You think this isn't hard on them? On Chris, on Adam? On me?" Johnny's lip quivered and his chocolate eyes filled, but all Matt heard were accusations. Wasn't he responsible enough for this tragedy? And Now Johnny was trying to lay more on him. His head throbbed, he really needed a drink.
"I said, get the fuck out of my way," he growled.
"I said no," Johnny said, his chin lifted. Matt grabbed the offered throat and slammed Johnny against the door he'd been blocking.
"How the fuck are you gonna stop me, huh?" Matt hissed, sour breath close enough to ruffle Johnny's hair. He glared, certain his anger and more powerful build would intimidate Johnny into backing down, despite the fact that Johnny himself was a fighter, lithe and quicker than Matt. That fighting fire he so loved in those soft doe eyes had disappeared, but not replaced by fear. That fire had been quenched by a poignant sorrow.
"You gonna hit me, Matty?" Johnny whispered. "Is that what we do now?"
The question hit Matt like a bucket of cold water over his head. The blinding rage brought on by his guilt and his hangover dissolved, and he backed away in horror. "Shit... Johnny, I..." Matt trailed off. He couldn't think. There were no excuses, no magic words that would make everything all better. He flopped down to sit on the bed, his head in his hands. "I'm sorry."
Johnny pushed off the door and looked down at his boyfriend. "I'll put up with a lot of bullshit, because I love you, Matt. But I won't be abused again."
Matt flinched. Johnny was referring to his controlling ex-girlfriend, Melina. She'd almost broken him, but he'd finally found the courage to leave her and realized he didn't have to live under somebody's thumb. To be compared to her cut Matt deep. Unable to look Johnny in the eye, he mumbled, "I didn't mean it, sweetness. I just... I feel so fucking bad. About everything. I deserve worse than this hangover."
Johnny knelt and took Matt's hands in his, catching his eyes. "It wasn't your fault, Daddy. Jay going missing..." His voice broke a bit, and he reached up to stroke a hand down Matt's stubbled cheek, searching for strength. He wasn't finding any. He cleared his throat and went on. "It's just a thing that happened. You couldn't know he'd leave the house, or about the storm."
Matt's puffy eyes filled, his swollen lips trembling as he admitted aloud what he knew in his heart. "I killed him."
"No. Oh no, baby..." Johnny's heart broke. He reached for Matt to stroke his unwashed hair that stuck out in all directions and hug him close, but pounding on the door before it flew open interrupted him.
Shane stood in the doorway, looking breathless and grinning ear to ear. "You guys. They found him. Jay's alive!"
"What?" Johnny stood up, eyes wide and heart pounding. "He's okay?"
"Well, I don't know about okay," Shane said, that grin plastered on his face. "I guess he's sick, but he's alive. Everyone else just left for the hospital. Matt? Oh Matt, buddy..."
Johnny sat down on the bed and gathered his boyfriend into his arms, just holding him as Matt sobbed.
Tyler drove as fast as he dared to the hospital, the vehicle bumping and crawling over ice and packed snow the plows had left behind. Shannon sat up front fucking with the radio, while Chris sat behind Tyler, with Adam and Jeff in the last row of seats. To keep from going crazy with the slow pace of the car, Adam and Chris were on the phone with a couple of worried mothers who had heard about the storm on the news.
"Yes, Ma," Adam said. "I know you were worried. You're the first one I called."
"Carol, it's Chris. I wanted to call you and tell you that Jay is safe. He'd gone for a walk and gotten lost in the storm..."
"Oh Ma, I'm so scared... They said he's really sick."
"We don't know his condition yet. We're on the way to the hospital now. Here, I'll give you the name of it, you can call ahead."
"Okay. Okay, thank you, Ma. Yeah, the rest of us are all fine. Oh. You saw that? Well, we're kinda dating now..." Adam said, a smile tugging at his lips when the hand in his squeezed his fingers.
"I know. We were... I should have been with him, Carol. I shouldn't have left him... I'm so sorry..." Chris hunched over in his seat, his voice choking as he wiped tears on his sleeve. Adam glanced up and undid his seat belt, moving up beside Chris.
"Hey, Ma? I gotta talk to Carol and call Vince. We'll have a long talk later, I promise. Okay, love you too." Adam put down his phone and grabbed Chris's, putting it up to his ear as Chris buried his face in his shoulder. "Carol? It's Adam. I know, Mom, no one saw him take off or knew about the storm. Just a whole bunch of bad timing. Yeah. Call the airlines, and we'll call as soon as we know anything. I promise. Okay. Love you, Mom. Bye." Adam hung up, holding back his own tears as Chris tried to calm down. "No one blames you, Chrissy. Not Carol, not me. It wasn't your fault," he soothed.
"You want me to call Vince?" Jeff asked quietly. They'd left most of the phone calls to Shane, hoping Matt would help, as all their phones had messages from people who had heard about the storm and couldn't get a hold of them. They'd probably called Vince already, but Adam felt like he needed to talk to the boss himself. Sure enough, Adam gave Jeff a hard look over his shoulder.
"No, I can do it. Just give me a minute."
Jeff nodded and sat back, understanding. He'd seen that look and heard those words from Adam's lips before, and even though it was usually in the ring, Jeff thought the same principle applied. Adam was hurt, hurt bad, but he needed to feel strong and keep going. Jeff would let him do what he needed to do, but he'd be watching carefully.
Tyler led Shannon back to the waiting room, a tray of coffees in to-go cups in his hands. No one had asked for any, but it gave them something to do while they all waited for word on Jay. Adam and Jeff sat holding hands on a tan couch that stretched along a wall made mostly of tinted windows, and Adam carried on a light conversation with an older woman that sat next to him. Matching chairs and sofas were strewn around the open room, forming several waiting areas with their own little tables, a few occupied with other waiting families. Tyler set the coffee down on the table in front of Adam, noting Chris standing alone, staring out at the snow and chewing on his nails.
When they'd first arrived and asked about Jay, the lady at the desk had told them he was with doctors, and pointed them to the couple that had brought him in. Chris had introduced himself and immediately grabbed the grey-haired man in a crushing hug. Mike Wheeling was a bit surprised, but patted Chris's back anyway. Jade had willingly taken Adam into her arms, cooing to him and petting his long golden hair as if used to comforting men twice her size. After the first round of thank-yous, Chris and Jade sat down to discuss Jay's condition while Mike and Tyler went over where he'd been found, and why the rescue squad hadn't thought to contact private residences within their search grid. The minutes had stretched into an hour, then two, and now they were just waiting.
"I brought coffee," Tyler said, pulling the cups out of their little pockets and feeling useless. "Sugar and creamer is on the tray there. They only had the powdered stuff. I can get more if there's not enough." He held out a cup to Jeff, who shook his head as Adam grabbed another. "Jade, Mike? Coffee?" he asked the older woman and her husband who sat in a chair nearby.
"Reckon I could use it," Mike said in his soft Texas twang, leaning forward to take the cup from Tyler. "Thank you, son."
"You really don't have to stay, we know it's getting late" Adam said, gesturing towards the darkening sky outside with his stir stick. "And you've done so much for us already." Jade patted Adam's knee with a warm smile.
"We couldn't dream of leaving now. After caring for him the last couple days, I feel a bit of responsibility for him."
Mike smiled fondly at his wife. "She's been worrying at the poor boy day and night, making ointments for his frostbite blisters, feeding him broth, changing his socks."
"I'm worried about his foot," Jade said with a frown. "But I'm sure the doctors will fix him right up. And I think I can rest assured he will be well cared for with you boys. You seem to love him very much." She nodded over at Shannon, who had hung back unnoticed behind Tyler. His arms were laden with balloons and stuffed animals. Jeff's lips curled up in a smile.
"Damn, Shannon. Did the gift shop vomit on you?"
Shannon shrugged, blushing. "I guess I went a little crazy." He let Tyler help him unload the gifts onto the table, handing Adam a little blue bear when the blonde eyed it. "Here, keep him. I know you got a thing for teddies."
Jeff opened his mouth to make a lingerie joke, but his words died when a doctor strode into the room and stopped at the nurses' desk. All the families waiting went silent, watching to see who the nurse would direct him to, whose questions would finally be answered. Adam's stomach flip-flopped when the nurse gestured in his direction, and suddenly he regretted the sips of coffee. He handed Jeff the half-empty cup as he stood.
"Chris, the doctor's coming," he said, holding his hand out. Chris jumped, then turned and cleared his throat, taking Adam's outstretched hand to draw strength from.
"Hello, I'm Dr. Otero. Are you the Reso family?" the doctor asked. He looked too young to be a physician, all dark tousled hair and round cheeks, but his grey eyes were sharp as he surveyed the bunch that all rose to their feet.
"I'm Jay's brother," Adam said, clutching Chris's hand with his heart in his throat. It was close enough to the truth, and he didn't think they'd be doing a blood test to see if they were really related.
"And I'm his fiance," Chris added. They exchanged names, and Dr. Otero launched into an explanation about the effects of hypothermia and frostbite. Chris listened, his features set in determined lines as he took in every word and asked questions. Adam felt light-headed when the doctor mentioned dry gangrene and a slim chance of amputating Jay's foot, but Chris calmly told him that Jay was a professional athlete and to make every effort to save it. They started talking about medications and pneumonia, and Adam wanted to scream at them both to shut up and just tell him that Jay was going to be okay.
Jeff noticed Adam getting ready to tear his hair out, and said, "Listen doc, is Jay gonna be all right? Bottom line."
Dr. Otero inclined his head towards Jeff. "We can tell he was in excellent health before this incident. He has some hard days ahead, but barring any complications, he has every chance of coming through this just fine."
Adam sighed and ran his hands through his hair. Fucking doctors and their weasel words, but it was enough. "Thank you. Can we see him?"
"He's currently sedated, but you're welcome to sit with him. We find that patients recover faster with a close support group. We allow two visitors in the ICU at a time."
"That would be us," Chris said, indicating himself and Adam. They shared a quick goodbye and another heartfelt thank-you to the Wheelings, then followed the doctor down the hall. Chris's heart sank when he looked in the window to the room the doctor led them to, seeing a bed surrounded by machines and a nurse bending over the body lying there. That couldn't be Jay. His strong, gorgeous, laughing Jay lying so silent and still... but as they entered the room he saw his beloved's face.
"Oh, Jay," Adam murmured. The nurse had been applying something to the red, peeling skin on Jay's forehead and cheeks, but straightened and stood aside to give them room. Chris stepped closer, peering through the clear plastic of the oxygen mask that covered Jay's nose and mouth. The tip of his nose caved in on itself, a tiny line of stitches crawling across it where they'd cut out dead tissue. His hospital gown hung off one shoulder, pulled down to accommodate the chest tube sticking out from between his ribs, while smaller tubes lodged in his arm. The machines hooked with wires to his body hummed and beeped softly, and Chris found an odd comfort in them telling him Jay was alive.
Adam sat on Jay's right, his eyes red and watery and his lips puckered as he gazed at his best friend. "Can you hear me, Jason?" he asked, smoothing short, crumbled blond locks of hair. "It's Adam. We're here. We've been looking for you. You're gonna be okay..."
Chris swallowed when Adam's voice cracked, his heart racing as he looked down at his boyfriend's left hand. He wanted to hold it, but the fingers were peeling and blistered. Bandages wound around his right hand, as it had been more exposed, gripping his phone in the snow. The doctor said there was nerve damage that would hopefully heal along with the fingertips, which had gotten the same treatment as his nose. Hopefully, he'd said. The thought that Jay might never be able to feel their hands entwined together again threatened to crush him, so he beat it back and focused on caressing Jay's arm and bare shoulder.
"I'm so sorry, Jay. I'm sorry I let you go. I swear I'll never let you go again. You just work on getting better." Chris stroked the overgrown whiskers on Jay's cheek, then tugged gently on his earlobe, rubbing it under his thumb. It was something Chris often did while Jay was driving or they were snuggling, an absent-minded habit of being close, and Chris hoped he could feel it and know he was there. When Jay didn't respond, he turned to the doctor and nurse in the corner going over the chart in hushed tones. "When will he wake up?"
Dr. Otero looked up. "The sedation should wear off in an hour or so, but he's still running a fever and is on some heavy pain medication. I'm hoping his fever breaks tonight, but when he wakes up he might be a little off."
"We can handle it," Adam said, still fussing with Jay's hair. It gave his something to focus on besides how ravaged Jay looked. Chris stood.
"Are you his primary nurse?" he asked the woman. A small, sturdy woman with a no-nonsense air, but a friendly face, she outstretched her hand to Chris.
"Yes. I'm Rhonda."
"Chris, nice to meet you," he said, taking her hand and feeling her grip his firmly before letting go. He put on a charming smile, dampened as it was by the worry-lines on his forehead and the tears that threatened his eyes. "Rhonda, if you have time, I'd like you to tell me what all these machines do and what his medication schedule is."
Rhonda nodded, a hint of a smile on her thick lips. "Of course, Chris. I appreciate family who wants to be involved. I'll give you the tour."
Hours later, Chris dozed at Jay's bedside. He'd convinced Adam to go back to the cabin and get a good night's sleep, and come back in the morning. Adam had balked at first despite his drooping eyelids, until Chris had pointed out they didn't want Adam wandering the hospital in his sleep. Adam had relented with a blush of shame, but Chris knew he was better off getting rest in bed with Jeff than staying here and making his sleep problems worse. Chris himself hadn't been more than an arm's length away from Jay since he'd arrived, and now curled in a comfy chair with a pillow under his head. The television played at low volume near the ceiling, and at first Chris thought that was the source of the groaning. He struggled upright to reach for the remote, then his eyes flew all the way open when he saw Jay stirring, and he reached for the call button instead.
"Jay?" His temperature had gone down a couple degrees, and earlier Rhonda had switched his oxygen mask with a tube that ran under his mangled nose. Chris had put a thin layer of Vaseline on his lips, but they were still chapped and cracked, and Chris winced as they parted.
"Chris..." Jay's voice sounded harsh and garbled as it spoke the name, and it was the most beautiful fucking thing Chris had ever heard.
"I'm here, babe. Chrissy's right here, you're safe with me now." He pet Jay's arm and shoulder, anywhere he could safely touch to reassure him. Jay blinked, his blue eyes rolling and squinting as they tried to focus. The night nurse bustled in, and Chris called her over. "He's waking up."
The nurse checked his vitals and asked how he was feeling, but Jay just blinked, looking confused until his wild gaze landed on Chris.
"Chrissy... smile in the snow... pretty..." He reached up a hand to touch Chris's face and Chris held it gently, wary of the blistered skin and tubes. Sure enough, Jay's eyes squinched shut. "Ow..."
"I know, baby," Chris reassured. "You got hurt, you're sick. Just be still and rest, I'm right here."
"Thirsty," Jay replied, smacking his lips. The nurse looked up from a machine.
"I'll get some ice chips and inform the doctor on call," she said, then left them briefly to get a cup of ice and a spoon. When she returned, she gave them to Chris.
"I got you. Here, this'll help," he said, nudging at Jay's lips with the spoon until he opened. As the chips melted on Jay's dry, heated tongue, a doctor came in to check him over. The doctor on call turned out to be an older lady.
"How do you feel?" she asked. "Are you in pain?"
Jay swallowed and blinked again, blue eyes hazy. "Tired... found tree..." He groaned again and turned back to Chris. "Hurts..."
"What hurts, love?" Chris asked, then felt his heart rip apart when Jay's reddened lips trembled and he reached for him.
"Just hurts... please..."
"Okay, okay. Shh, lie still," Chris shushed, caressing his shoulder and kissing his hair. "Can you give him something to get him through the night?" He knew Jay's nerves were raw from the frostbite, and every inch of snow-burned skin must be in pain. He'd never seen his Jay so child-like. Childish, sure, when they were bickering or he had a silly mood on, but not helpless and vulnerable like this. Chris felt like he'd do anything to spare the man he loved more pain. He glanced up to see the doctor already injecting the IV.
"The best thing for him now is to rest and heal," she said, making a note on the chart.
"You hear that, Jay?" he asked, tugging on his earlobe. "Close your eyes and rest so you'll get better. And when you feel better, we'll go to the beach. Somewhere warm, with the sand under our toes and the waves crashing. We'll get married on a tropical island and we'll live happily ever after, how does that sound? I love you."
Jay hummed, a tiny smile curling the corner of his lips. Not knowing what else to do, Chris sang to him, and watched over him as he drifted back to sleep.