Chapter 3: Shotgun Wedding with a Modern Twist
"They are talking about getting a myoelectric prosthesis. Apparently, something good came out of that wretched virus. It kept the nerve endings undamaged."
It was the first Piers had spoken since the initial greeting. Piers had been slipping in and out, but Chris was sure he'd been awake quite some time. He hadn't wanted to intrude, and had instead taken a seat to check through the reports he had brought along, keeping quiet company. Piers had the TV remote loosely in his grasp, but he hadn't changed channel for ages. The volume was turned low.
"That's good," Chris said reassuringly.
"It's supposed to be some kind of a fancier extension. The good that'll do. It's over for me. There's not gonna be any career left when you get maimed this badly."
"You don't know that." Chris could see Piers' desolate expression, and said forcefully, "Piers, I don't know. If I knew, I'd tell you."
He wouldn't let the matter go until Piers finally conceded and nodded, despite the forlorn resignation. He wasn't having any of that.
"Don't be so harsh on yourself. It's only been a little time," Chris said, gentler. "Something else, though. I don't want to pry, but I really haven't caught many details about your condition."
The resigned heave told him that the question hadn't come unexpected. "Shoot."
"The virus is purged?"
"Are you right- or left-handed?" Chris asked aloud and wanted to apologize instantly. He should know this. It was such an idiotic thing to ask, but Piers struck him as ambidextrous at times. Piers was forgiving, though, and only twisted his lip thoughtfully.
"I can do some things with both hands, but... predominantly righty."
"What about your eye? Can you see with it?"
"A little. Some. Yeah, I can see with it," Piers admitted. He seemed oddly uncomfortable. "There's a chance that the color might go back to normal—that it's just a trauma response—but that's not very likely. I see fine; it's just a mess." He gestured at his face without great enthusiasm, but Chris only shook his head.
"You got your battle scars," he said mildly. "All right, third degree's almost over. How's the rest of ya?"
Piers sank back onto the pillows. "I don't know. It's like they took out something that belonged there when they removed the virus. I'm not used to feeling so... powerless."
The bed rest probably wasn't helping much. Chris eyed Piers, who had let his eyes drift closed.
"Let's walk a little. See what's around here."
"There isn't really any reason why you'd have to keep lying down, is there, as long as you don't overdo it?" He knew Piers had to get up once in a while, but the nurses usually assisted him. He'd once helped Piers to the bathroom and stayed behind the door. He seemed fine with the walking, just had trouble with balance and tired easily.
Piers looked doubtful, but as Chris beckoned to him, he seemed to go for the idea and started to push himself up. It was clearly an effort, but Chris let him fend for himself. Piers got to his feet, and Chris helped a robe on him and fished out a pair of hospital slippers.
He gathered his own papers from where they lay and grabbed his coat, and together, they started for the door. Piers was holding himself up all right, but it was slow going. They made it past the front desk, where Chris informed the staff that they weren't running away, only going to look around. They took an elevator down a few floors, with Piers taking every opportunity to rest against any surface he could find. Chris steadied him, but Piers only winced.
"Jesus, like I'd never walked before."
"You're doing good. Don't worry about it."
They shuffled to the lobby area of one of the outpatient clinics, mainly in the interest of sightseeing and looking at people. Chris glanced at the man; Piers looked labored.
"Let's sit down. Over there." He picked up a gurney that sat unattended and helped Piers on it. The disposable paper sheet scrunched under their weight. "How you doing?"
"Hunky-dory." Piers was collecting his breath. Chris ran a sympathetic hand over his back and focused on the bustling of people. They had nothing to lean on, but Chris propped his arm behind Piers' back, offering his strength for support. He wasn't thinking anything much until Piers rested his hand briefly on his thigh. Way up.
His attention darted over. He met a hopeful grin, one he didn't know how to respond to. He gave a rueful smile back, but it reassured Piers, and they returned to staring at the crowd. The hand was gone, but something unexpected stood out amid the bustle.
Chris stared. "What's he doing here?"
Out of all the people, there was Leon, talking with someone. Leon glanced in their direction and held up a hand.
"He's the one who—"
"I remember." Piers averted his eyes and looked uncomfortable.
Chris kept by Piers' side as Leon crossed over to them, a stack of folders under his arm. He exchanged greetings with Chris and lifted the folders a nudge.
"I had to drop off a few files here and heard you might be around. Thought I'd drop by later to see how you were doing."
"Since when do they have you running errands, Leon?"
"Career move?" Leon offered. "I was passing through town anyway, so I thought I'd take care of this on the way."
Chris grunted, raising his hands. Wasn't his business if Leon wanted to be vague about it. Those files were probably classified as hell and something too important to be shared electronically. As he pondered this and that, Leon had already turned to Piers.
"Hi. We were never properly introduced. Leon Kennedy." Leon held out his left hand.
The moment Piers took to react was only fractional.
"Piers Nivans. Good to meet you, sir."
Chris saw amusement touch Leon's face. He hoped Piers hadn't caught it.
Leon was gazing at Piers intently, but his scrutiny ended in a small smile, and Piers was introduced to the second person after Chris who didn't shirk from him.
"Glad to see you're doing so well," he said sincerely, voice deep and musing. "Listen, I hate to cut and run like this, but I have to see these files through. I hope we get to catch up another time."
"Yeah, sure, Leon."
As Leon left with a nod at them both, Chris and Piers were left alone. Chris had a thoughtful look on his face, but then he dismissed absent parties from his musings and said out loud, "Ready?"
"Yeah, might as well." Piers found his feet and glanced at Chris expectantly.
"We should head back." Chris felt like a spoilsport to cut the tour, but Piers actually seemed relieved he wasn't pushed for more. The fatigue must have been taking over again.
They hadn't made it back to Piers' ward when two staff members came up to them. "Piers Nivans? We were looking for you."
Chris sharpened, but Piers hunched, sheepish. "I forgot. Physio."
"Oh. Right. You gonna be all right?" Chris had to check.
"Yeah, thanks. I'll manage."
Piers left with the men who seemed fit enough to help him along if his balance didn't carry, and Chris was left in the air. Chris straightened his jacket and hovered aimlessly. Piers would probably be in session for a while; his best bet was to leave and make something useful of himself. He'd come back the next day. He took a moment to freshen up, but didn't see a reason to stall further. He was just about to clear out when something stopped him.
"Chris." Leon had materialized out of nowhere, empty-handed. "I was just going for a drink or maybe to eat something. Care to join me?"
Chris hesitated, but he didn't have anything here. Piers had other engagements. Piers would be taken care of. "All right," he conceded.
They reached the hospital cafeteria, which Chris had assumed to be their destination, but Leon said almost instantly, "It's too noisy in there. Let's do something down the street. Doesn't have to be far."
Chris took one look at him. "Sure."
Chris went along and was led off the hospital grounds to the first bar they came across. It was a small place, with few clientele during the day. He watched without expression as Leon got a drink for himself and secured a booth for them. The turn landed on him, and he hesitated. A beer would've been fine, but he better not, even if Leon seemed fine with a little drinking on the job. He took a coffee.
Chris pushed into the booth. Leon sprawled on the other side, dangling his feet over the edge of the seat. Leon acknowledged him with a fleeting glance and returned to staring at his drink.
"Chris... what's going on with you and Piers?"
Chris stared. At length, levelly, "You wanna elaborate so I can be sure I'm hearing the question right?"
Leon was fidgeting a little, frowning to himself. "Back there, I couldn't help noticing you were very... friendly. You seem real close."
He left the curtain-raiser up for grabs.
How had he...? It hit home. Leon had seen Piers frisk him up. "There is... something."
Leon didn't interrupt. Chris debated with himself. He surprised even himself in the end.
"When we were escaping that underwater oil field, he decided to do the noble thing. He'd been infected, and he was gonna stay behind and make me the sole survivor. I could only think of one thing to say that'd make him change his mind and... I now find myself in some kind of a... relationship. Partnership."
"But you aren't gay," Leon said flatly.
"You tellin' me?" Chris' laugh was humorless.
More than one thing struck Chris as whimsically droll. Leon telling his private life off the top of his head and being spot-on about it, too. The fact they were having this discussion.
"I'm guessing... he's into it?" Leon probed carefully.
Chris' silence was answer enough.
"It must be difficult."
"You really wanna hear this?"
"There's no way I could let him down easily now. It's not him, but after what happened, with the mauling he took... Hell, Leon, it'd only seem like..."
Leon's look was grim. He got the picture.
Chris hmphed mirthlessly. "Never figured I'd see myself in a position like this."
Leon's look was sly. "You've never considered getting it on with a guy? Never? A military man like you?"
"That'd be the Navy, not Air Force," Chris said with a grin. "But truthfully, no. Hasn't occurred to me."
He and Leon had never been close. Maybe that was why it was so easy to talk to him now. He wasn't too close to the situation.
It took him a moment to hear what hadn't been said outright. "You?!"
Leon shrugged. "Why not? I was young once."
Chris wasn't sure it alleviated his pain, but the nonchalant confession tightened his chest. It made him feel like he wasn't alone with conflicting thoughts. Coming from an intensely private person like Leon, the confession felt like a vote of confidence. Leon didn't seem to make much of it, but it was hard to tell what Leon was thinking.
Leon was nothing but soft-spoken when he finally spoke again. "Chris... it's one hell of a situation. I don't envy you."
"Shotgun wedding with a modern twist," he said ruefully. He knew he could trust Leon to keep his mouth shut. He twirled the coffee in his hand and didn't feel like having even the first taste.
Leon untangled his feet, throwing a veiled gaze. "I should get going. Next assignment's already waiting. I really just thought I'd stop by when in the neighborhood."
"Glad ya did," Chris admitted.
"You planning to have any of that?" Leon gave a pointed look at his coffee.
"Gonna try yours?"
Leon hid his smile. They abandoned the untouched drinks and hauled out to the street. Their ways parted almost immediately as Chris eyed the hospital parking lot and Leon's path took him somewhere else. The time allowed goodbyes this time.
"Thanks, Leon. For everything you did," Chris said.
"You would've done the same, Chris," Leon dismissed, but he bowed his head a little. His voice didn't lack sympathy when he spoke. "Take care."
Chris shook hands with Leon, who grabbed his arm for further measure. And then Leon was gone, and he was left alone fending a fight he couldn't win, even though at the privacy of his head, he had already reached the only logical conclusion for his next course of action.
The prosthetics were contracted from an outside clinic, and Piers was invited for a visit. It would be weeks before they could proceed with the fitting, but the invitation was extended cordially and presented as a chance to get familiar with the idea and address any concerns in advance. The hospital would have arranged transportation, but Chris offered to take Piers himself, and Piers took up the offer.
Chris entered Piers' room in good time, only to realize he should've knocked. He was faced with Piers, wrestling to get into his pants and failing to keep the waist up long enough to close the zipper. Piers realized he wasn't alone, mortified, and angrily tried to hold the pants up by trapping them between the bed and his backside, but the pants were a little too loose.
That was the pair he'd fetched from Piers' locker. Christ, he'd picked those pants for Piers, and hadn't once thought how Piers was going to manage them.
Chris instantly made it to his side and replaced Piers' grip with his own hands. He did the pants up and closed them, barely daring to think what lay underneath. "This is just for now. It's not always gonna be like this," he said, voice low and thick, even as Piers recoiled from him, fighting a breakdown, face contorted in humiliation and embarrassment.
A nurse stormed into the worst chaos, and Chris quickly dismissed her. Privacy was again granted, and desolation was all theirs. Piers tried not to show his face, but he didn't put up a fight as Chris pulled his head to his shoulder. "It's sweats for you now."
Suddenly, the tenseness hit killswitch. The resistance dropped, and Piers gripped him desperately with one hand. Chris rubbed fingers in Piers' hair comfortingly and enveloped an arm around his back.
Piers half-hugged him before pulling apart, and Chris tactfully went to look for shoes, while Piers rubbed his face and regained his composure. He seemed more collected already by the time the shoes were on, despite the cloudy eyes.
They were still well ahead of schedule. Piers must have started well ahead on his own to manage as far as he had. Chris took the familiar seat he'd come to think of as his own, while Piers remained sitting on the bed, dangling his feet to the ground.
That was the first he'd seen Piers' face without adhesives covering it. The cuts on the right side of his face, extending to his forehead, were covered by the same silicone tapes, but the dark lesions were less prominent and slightly less expansive. The rest of his face was completely uncovered, though. Chris stopped for a good regard.
"That looks amazingly good."
Piers wavered between looking pleased and self-conscious. "They are using laser treatment."
"Laser?" Chris echoed. His brow furrowed. "Like, peeling skin off?"
"No. Bright light. Just light. It's supposed to be the next best thing in the medical field. No drugs. Increases blood flow and lets the body fight it out on its own."
Chris nodded thoughtfully. The scars really did look a lot healthier. They tinged the skin, but while facial scars tended to make constant companions, Piers' were looking much better, and in such a short time, too.
"We're not hard-pressed for time, but do you want to go already? We can go joyriding. Maybe even find a shortcut or two," Chris offered. He had something on his heart, but it was going to wait until later.
Piers stifled a noise at that.
Chris waited until he had collected Piers from the appointment, and Piers was back in bed before he thought of bringing the subject up, but seeing Piers so hopelessly exhausted, he was having second thoughts on his timing. His resolve only strengthened, though.
He knew he was digging his own grave, but it was the right thing to do. It was the only thing he could do. Piers wasn't meek. Piers was anything but helpless, but Piers was also fiendishly proud, dedicated, and having doubts. He would to do this, even when it meant inviting complications with both hands.
"There's something I wanted to run by you, Piers. It doesn't have to be now if you're tired."
Piers tensed immediately. "What is it?"
Chris knew the reaction well; they rarely had good news. "Relax. It's nothing bad, I hope. You'll be released soon, right?"
Piers settled back, seemed disappointed. "Yeah. I'm supposed to get out, come back for physio sessions and things like that, but it's outpatient."
"Yeah, I figured as much. There's something I've been thinking about, but hear me out first. And you're not obliged in any way." The disclaimers out of the way, Chris found Piers' undivided attention on him. He thought about his approach and went for gentle candor. "I know it's not easy right now. You need to rest and recover, and that's just how it is; these things take time. I was thinking it might be easier if you didn't go living on your own yet and was wondering if you'd rather come stay with me."
Chris stared at the floor, cleared his throat, smiled wistfully.
"My place isn't anything grand, but there's enough room for two. You don't have to say anything right now."
In the end, he wasn't surprised when Piers accepted.
Many thanks to Gypsie for the proofreading!
Published January 26, 2013.