Disclaimer: The only thing I own is the story idea and only some of the witty remarks. I own so little; so please don't steal.
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He knew it. He knew it all along. It was impossible not to; he had seen Gene's face when he fell from the tree, and Gene wore his emotions on his face even if he thought he didn't. It scared him, the guilt and the hint of triumph he saw and they burned themselves into his mind. They kept him up at night when he was in the infirmary but he couldn't bring himself to tell them to Gene. Gene was a fragile sort of boy, the kind that wouldn't step off the platform if there wasn't anyone like Finny to extend a hand to him.
But, Finny thought, he was wrong. He had been wrong for so many years to think such a thing was above Gene. He was harder than Finny thought, to the point it felt like he was meeting him for the first time. Maybe he was the sort to take the hand extended toward him and pull him off the train and onto the tracks in front of a speeding train. It scared him terribly but he would never say it.
He couldn't walk right or play ball that always got his mind away from dangerous thoughts, but he was never angry at Gene. It was more of a secret awe – the kind you gain when you reach out to pet a kitten and realize you've extended your hand to a tiger instead. And he had a nagging suspicion that Gene was angry with him, the type of anger that made him jostle the limb, and it wouldn't do to be best friends in a fight.
Finny was curious to know what he had done to earn this anger. He wanted to dive deep into Gene's consciousness and find the source and fix it, kiss it better. So he pushed away the frivolities like his leg and threw himself around Gene, hoping to corner the flighty spot. He smiled and took an end of the bandage and slowly coaxed it free.
He was afraid of what he might find, but when he reached red, raw skin, all he discovered was the same wide-eyed fright. For Gene had been reaching for his hand all along, even when he was looking the other way. Gene was afraid of the train leaving without him, of jumping and landing on the tracks himself with the train rushing at him. Most of all, he was afraid of himself and the ability within himself to have done such a thing to anyone at all – much less Finny. It turned him white and paralyzed.
This fear scared him most of all. After all, he had read many articles in bed about soldiers who could do all sorts of unthinkable things under fire and it was this sort of instinct that made Gene perfect for the war. But the war scared him too, the reality that people would want to kill him, and that all his friends could be dead around him. It was only boys bravado that tricked them all into thinking they were ready. None of them were, if Leper was any example. He didn't want Gene to die, and this was strange because Gene had hurt him.
He was afraid of what Gene was trying to tell him with his eyes; not I pushed you out of the tree, because he already knew that, and Gene knew that too. It was something murky and mysterious, like the smell of a girl or the sand he couldn't wash out of his clothes even though they'd gone to the beach so many months before. Finny was not ordinarily scared of a lot of things, but he couldn't meet Gene's eyes since he didn't want to see what he thought he always knew.
He would have a lot of time to think about things, now, during the surgery. His foot would be set and he'd be able to let it heal itself and in that time, he could sit with Gene in the library and reach over and take his hand. He would take it slowly, because he knew what Gene could do when he was scared. Finny watched dully as ol' Stanpole worked at his leg and felt a twinge in his leg but it didn't hurt and he wasn't afraid of pain.
It was strange, though, he could watch this, because he swore he had been given anesthetic before. He had been lost in his thoughts, though, so perhaps he had gotten mixed up.
Really, he wasn't afraid of Gene, but of what was happening between them, something delicate like string. There were all sorts of implications, some that made his toes curl pleasantly. When he woke up (because he was going to wake up, somehow, even though he could see this), he would have to speak with Gene, and that worried him somewhat, but there were scarier things that came when one grew up. There was no ill will between them anymore, it was all removed. They might go for the war together but they wouldn't die, death was out of the question – and it would be alright, just like it always was.
He would reach out and grasp Gene's hand firmly and pull him along with him. And the trains, they wouldn't touch them.