It had been a Biology test earlier that year. They'd asked the class to learn about birds, of all things- the genus and order of the ones listed in the textbook, a fairly boring subject if ever there was one. It had been pointless, too. What part of their course asked them to know about stupid birds?
Still, in a moment of rarity, he'd left his work to the last moment. A late afternoon in February found Lukas in the public library, sitting with a pile of books and cursing the entire education establishment. He could be home right now, doing something of use, and instead he was studying for this ridiculous test. He was half tempted to throw the book across the room in a temper, and was only stopped by the thought of being banned for life. Maybe it would be worth it, to provide something more interesting than this rubbish.
With a sigh, Lukas cracked open the book to the next section. He had kingfishers and eagles finished- there was four sections, and he dimly remembered the heron section from class. With a finger running beneath the words, he read the sentences aloud in a low tone.
"Hummingbird. Kingdom, Animalia. Phylum, Chordata. Class, Aves."
This was boring. It was utterly, amazing boring.
"Order, Apodiformes. Family, Trochilidae. Subfamily, Phaethornithinae."
Maybe if he hit his head off the desk hard enough he'd crack his skull and be saved from learning this.
"Fairly short lifespans- several years after maturity, have a heart rate so fast it sounds like humming, reaching well over a thousand beats per minute... come in a variety of colours and species, among the smallest of the birds... eggs smaller than your finger. Amazing," he said dryly, fingers tapping on the spine of the book. This was really going to help him in life, knowing about a stupid bird. At other times, he would have found this engrossing, taking in the information like there was no tomorrow. This time, however, had the pressing thought in the back of his mind that he already had a ton of work at home, and poor Emil was probably starving without him.
He could always learn this before class. This would have been interesting it if wasn't school work.
Lukas packed the books back onto the shelves, mood dark and mind distracted. It was getting late already- the library was nearly empty, and he was quite sure that one of the librarians was asleep. Emil was home alone, and the sky was already an inky black. Their mother would be working that night, so it was up to him to have dinner ready, and the Norwegian dully ran through his plans for that night as he pulled on his coat and scarf.
The pain in his chest first came when he walked out the door, passing another boy with a stack of books in his arms. It was quick and sudden, entirely unexpected, but the sudden sharp sensation made him let out a gasp, stumbling in his path. Lukas placed a hand against the brick wall, seeking support as his breaths came quickly, the pain in his chest receding to a dull ache.
What the hell was that?
"Hey, are you all right?" The stranger who had been entering the library had paused, turning to cast a worried gaze upon him. Lukas barely spared him a glance as he straightened, only catching sight of blond hair and wide blue eyes as his mind tried to ignore the pain.
"I'm fine, thank you." His words came through gritted teeth and he turned without another word, continuing down the steps of the library as he tried to reason with his thoughts. It must have been the cold air, the suddenness after the warmth of the library. That seemed the most plausible explanation.
"Are you sure? You don't seem fine-" He ignored the stranger, ignored the concern offered to him as his thoughts turned to returning home. He had the Chemistry homework to finish tonight, and the History- it was going to take forever, and he could see another sleepless night ahead of him. Lukas really needed a break. He needed a parent to take up some of his responsibilities.
Well. Maybe not. He looked after Emil better than either of their fathers could.
"You should really get that checked out. That pain in your chest- you shouldn't just leave it." Lukas paused on the steps, half-turning at the other boy's shout. One of those empathetic idiots, probably, who clearly hadn't noticed that he'd dropped some of his books. With a ragged sigh, the Norwegian bent down to pick them up and with a few steps back to the doors of the library, offered them to the blond. He blinked, giving Lukas a smile as he took them from him. "It could be something serious, you know."
"Yeah. Maybe." Privately, Lukas had no intention of going to a doctor. It would a time consuming waste for something that was clearly just a muscle ache, or a pain from the cold air. "Thank you for the concern." Eager to leave and avoid a conversation, he knew that he was lacking any politeness in abruptly leaving, but Lukas was uninterested in keeping up appearances. The brief interaction was forgotten when he was halfway home, both the pain and boy pushed from his thoughts by other forces in his mind.
Besides, was it really worth worrying about? Somehow, Lukas doubted it.
The unnatural, man made sounds were deafening. The rhythmic thumps cut through his mind like a razor, a sure catalyst for him waking up.
When one struggles to wake from sleep, it's as if they are underwater. Surrounded by crushing yet weightless strength, coherent thoughts are unable to be produced, and they're left to stay in a half-dreaming, confused state. That's how he remained, unable to fully wake up and escape the dreams, as life carried on around him and the monitor kept up with its dull beeps.
"Sit back. There's not enough space."
A creak of the chair, and an irritated huff made its way into his range of hearing.
"Mathias, sit back."
"Shut up. It's fine."
"It's not- you're not leaving any room-"
"I told you to shut up. Do you really think I'm going to do something stupid?"
"Don't speak to T'no like that. Stop actin' like a child."
"I'm so sorry. I didn't realise I wasn't allowed to be upset."
A harsh sigh, followed by the sound of someone running a hand through their hair.
"I hate this. I hate it."
"I know. We all do. Think of how Emil must be feeling right now."
"Better than you think. I'm not a little kid."
The voice was low, peppered with irritation and tiredness. A soft laugh came from another.
Silence reigned, only broken by their breathing.
The tension in the air was tangible, and one of those surrounding was struggling to breath evenly.
"He... he will... he'll..."
"Mathias." A gentle voice, full of sympathy, addressed him. "Stop this. You're upsetting yourself even more. It's only been a few hours, you know."
"A few hours. How long am I going to have to go through this?"
"...Emil. I'm sorry."
"For what?" The voice that spoke was fierce, as if daring to him to continue.
"For this. For everything. For acting like I'm the only one hurting."
"No. It's not. Get over here."
"I'd rather not, thank you."
"Come on, don't be so proud. Now I know where Lukas gets it from."
An uncomfortable quietness followed his words.
"...Emil? Emil, please don't cry. It's going to be okay, I promise."
"How can you promise that?"
"Because it's true. You trust me, don't you?"
"I..." A swallow, and then a voice filled with unease. "I don't know.
"...Probably smart of you, I guess. I don't have the best track record."
After a brief moment of confusion and concern at the pained whisper, he let sleep take its hold on him again. Dark unconsciousness passed over his mind, and he was only too eager to welcome it.
"I... uh. Well. I never really spoke to you when you were asleep before, and I don't know what to say now."
Mathias traced circles onto Lukas' palm with his pointer finger, eyes trained on the floor. For some reason, he was unable to look at the Norwegian's face, to let his eyes settle on the pale skin and gaunt visage. Instead, his gaze examined the tiles of the hospital floor, and his empty hand ran up and down his jean-clad thigh. It was always weird to get back into his ordinary clothes after wearing those of the hospital for weeks. It was strange, too, to sleep in his own bed and wake up in his own home, instead of to Lukas nestled in his side. The nurses were already suspicious of him, and Tino had to gently tug him out of the ward and leave his fellow patient behind. It wasn't as if his guardians could stop him coming in the day, though. They'd all sat around Lukas' bed after his operation, Emil's head on his shoulder and the Icelander apparently out of tears to shed.
"I read sometimes. You'd always sleep just a little easier when I was reading to you, even if you fell asleep before I finished. I guess it's just my lovely voice." A weak smile tugged at the corners of Mathias' lips, but it soon faded as he sighed heavily. "You never looked peaceful when you were asleep. You were always frowning, because it was painful, wasn't it? Your heart was always bothering. I couldn't help you at all, but now- you look different, I guess. You don't look peaceful; more like emotionless. But... it's something, isn't it? It has to be. I hope it's your heart getting better, because with this pacemaker... you're meant to get better, Lukas.
"You really should've woken up by now, but the doctors say that it's not too worrying. Your overall health isn't in a great state, so the rest of your body is waiting to catch up with your heart. You said I couldn't do anything for you when you were dying. Now I can, though, now you're meant to get better. I can make sure you don't rip out the wires, or strain yourself, or use anything that'll stop the battery working..." Mathias trailed off, shrugging and smiling sheepishly even though he knew Lukas couldn't see him. "It isn't as great as properly saving you, but it's something. Small things help in the long run.
"I have a confession to make." The Dane swallowed, and his teeth clamped down on his lip as he struggled for words to say. "I first started to like you because I thought you'd understand me. I thought you'd know what it would be like, to go through heart problems and fell... like an outcast, I suppose. It was pretty stupid of me to begin with, seeing as how I'd never seen you in here before, but I was desperate. I was so lonely, Luke- Lukas. Berwald and Tino have each other. I've never had anyone, and I've always wanted someone to look out for me, and vice versa. I was desperate for someone, anyone, and then you come along, all silence and beauty, like you're a godsend. I wasn't sure what to do, to be honest. I learnt pretty quickly that this was your first time, but still... when someone like you shows up in my life, I'm not going to let you go easily, am I?"
Mathias paused, then gave a snort of a laugh, shaking his head as his cheeks flamed with embarrassment. "I sound like a stalker, right? Let me rephrase that- I wanted to attempt to have you in my life. I'm selfish, I'm self-centred, I love myself; I've heard it all before, and in a way, it's true. I am selfish. I am self-centred. But it's not just me. I care about you, too. I'd do anything for you Lukas, and I know I've fallen in love too quickly and too deeply. I can't help it though, and I can't really describe it.
"I really did consider giving you my heart. It's not great, and you'd still have problems- but at one point, you were so sick that it looked like you wouldn't live at all. I was mostly trying to ignore it, but I knew that something needed to happen. The doctors wouldn't hear of it, and told me that I was a stupid little boy. Emil didn't want it to happen either, and it was a good point that he had: you wouldn't be able to accept it if I died to save you. You might not be in love with me, but knowing that I was dead so you could live? It would ruin the life I'd let you have. And, in hindsight, it's not the best idea I've ever had."
The Danish boy lifted Lukas' limp hand and pressed a kiss to the smooth skin, sighing heavily. Contrary to the previous times he'd seen the Norwegian asleep- or rather, knocked out after a procedure- there was a dull sort of acceptance in his heart. Lukas was going to get better, in the end, in some ways. He was never going to get completely better. He'd still have a damaged heart. He'd still need to visit the hospital at times, and he could potentially get ill again. Yet thanks to this pacemaker he was alive, here and now, breathing before him and living. He'd been given a second chance at life, and Mathias was only too eager for him to make the most of it.
Maybe Lukas would die, years into the future, from a complication from his arrhythmia. Maybe he'd die from his own heart problems. But for Mathias, there really was hope in there future. The doctors had been quick and keen to reassure him that Lukas had a real chance of getting properly better, and leading a somewhat normal life.
"When you get home," he said, voice steady and firm, "when you're well enough, I'm going to take you to the sea shore. You might complain, about it being childish and impractical for a proper first date, but Emil told me that you haven't seen the sea in years. I'll steal Berwald's car when he's too busy with Tino or Peter, I'll take about twenty blankets, in case you get cold, and we can just sit and look at the sea. I'll be quiet, I promise; you'd probably tell me to shut up anyway, if I was talking, but I'll be quiet the whole time. It'll be for you, after all. It'll all be for you."
His voice broke off, and Mathias simply gripped Lukas' hand tightly. The tears couldn't have fallen if he'd tried. He'd cried enough, anyway, probably more for Lukas than his mother and father combined. It was jarring to think, but he'd accepted it after a short think. After all, Lukas was something entirely new and wonderful to experience. In this situation, it had been a matter of time to fall in love with him.
"Remember what you said about being a hummingbird?" he said suddenly, a new thought striking him. "You said that they live only a few years before dying. I looked them up, when I got home- did you know that the oldest one lived to be twelve years old? That's older than a lot of bigger birds, and it's impressive for something so tiny. A miracle, you could call it. I'm not quite sure about bird-to-human years, but it's an extraordinarily long life. I'm not saying you'll have that- a long life is good enough- but you could be like that hummingbird, rather than one of the others. You are unique, after all. You could live a lot longer than you think you will: after all, aren't you alive now, when you were convinced that you'd die?" Mathias smiled briefly, and let out a long breath. "You can do it. I know you can."
He pulled his phone from the pocket of his jeans, checking the screen of the device. Visiting hours were over twenty minutes ago- sure, he could push his luck, but all he needed was to get in trouble with the nurses, or Tino and Berwald. Sighing, Mathias rose to his feet, and gently unfurled his fingers from around Lukas' hand. "I've got to go. I'll be back- well, the next time visiting hours start. You wouldn't expect me to miss any time with you, would you? Like I said: I'm probably stalking you." With the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, Mathias leant down to press a soft kiss to Lukas' forehead. "I love you. See you later, Lukas."
As he trailed from the ward, Lukas' sleeping image pressed into his mind, the Dane felt strangely calmer. If Lukas had been awake, it would have probably been embarrassing to tell him all of that, but he still hoped that the Norwegian had heard at least some of what he was saying.
At this stage, there wasn't much more he could hope for.
"You know," Mathias had said suddenly one day, gaze focused on the ceiling and voice thoughtful, "my literature teacher once called me an idealist. He was kind of an asshole- you know when you get those teachers who love picking on you for no damn reason other than writing you off as an idiot the minute you walk in the class? He kept me behind after school once, slapped my essay on the table, and told me that I wrote like a five-year-old on crack cocaine who still thought life was full of sunshine and happiness."
Lukas snorted from his own bed, turning a page of Mathias' book and beginning to read again. "He was right. I haven't seen your essay writing skills, but I've never met someone with a more idealistic view of the world."
"I'll pull out my paper on Jay's character in 'The Great Gatsby' for you sometime. It'll move you to tears, I swear." Mathias frowned down at the bedsheets, pulling at a loose thread in the stitching. "He'd never taught me before, so he didn't know that my mother had died a few months before. There he was, telling me I was an idealistic airhead, while I was smiling and nodding and holding myself back from punching him."
"You should have." Lukas' eyes drifted from one page to the next, and one hand moved to rub at the place in his arm where the needle of the IV entered his vein. It was aching today- it was like that, sometimes. "I'm surprised you didn't tell him to get off your back."
"It wasn't worth the fight. Yeah, I could've just told him that my mom had killed herself and that I had a heart condition just to wipe the smug look off his face, but he wasn't worth it. He was just a sad old douche who didn't like the fact I still had hope for the future." Mathias stretched, the bones in his shoulders cracking as he let loose a long sigh. "I say that the world needs more people like me."
"And I'd agree." Lukas glanced up to meet Mathias' eyes, and he arched one eyebrow at the hurt look he was wearing. "I'm not being sarcastic. How you still come up with your jokes and remain so cheerful after everything that's happened to you is astounding." Mathias' tense look relaxed, changing to one of gratitude as Lukas added, "What was your essay about anyway?"
"God, I have no idea." The Dane shifted in bed until he was lying on his side, chin resting in the palm of his hand as he frowned at Lukas. "Probably 'I want to meet a nice girl and have a few kids and live happily ever after until I die at the ripe old age of a hundred and twenty'. Maybe 'Meeting a guy in hospital and turning gay for him while he verbally abuses and insults me' would have gotten me a higher grade."
"Probably not. That's even stupider than the first one." Lukas returned to the book, hearing the creak of springs as Mathias pulled his sheets tighter around him. "He was right about the idealism thing, though. It isn't as bad as English teachers make it out to be, just so long as you don't think that you can seize control of the government and achieve everything you want in live. Things don't work so well in your favour when you try and do that."
"Like you'd know?" Mathias snorted, but descended into thought a moment later. "Nah. I don't want all that. I just think that you don't find happiness, right? You have to achieve it on your own. I think that's what I wrote about, actually- that I was going to have a townhouse in the city and a family of my own. Not that I wanted to have it, which is what everyone else wrote about- I said that I was going to get it, which is probably why I got yelled at."
"If that's what you wrote about, your English teacher was an idiot." Lukas tucked a strand of hair behind his ear and turned another page as the Danish boy mulled over his words. "I think it was perfectly fine to say that. It wasn't 'I want to take over Northern Europe and call myself the King of Scandinavia'. Having a home and a family is what most people expect in life."
"Maybe it was too generic." Mathias shrugged, rolling onto his back and closing his eyes. "It's not really generic for me. There's been a few times when my heart's played up, and I've thought that I was going to die. Having something to myself is really all I've wanted."
"And there's nothing wrong with that." Lukas rubbed at his arm again, wishing he could numb the skin. "I thought idealism was believing that it would come true. You don't seem very positive about it, for some reason. That's not being an idealist. Your heart problems aren't that serious, anyway. Your life is going to be fine, and I'd be surprised if you didn't get your dream sorted out."
Mathias was silent. After a few moments, the Norwegian looked over to find the Dane staring at him with an almost unsettling intensity.
"...what is it?"
"Nothing." He offered nothing more than the cryptic answer, and Lukas returned to his book with a huff as Mathias pulled the sheets over his head.
He never did find out what it was that gave Mathias' eyes that haunted look, what made him end the conversation and avoid returning to it. However, with some bitterness, he could all too easily imagine the Danish boy with a wife and children, and a happy, healthy life.
When he first came to awareness, Lukas opened his eyes and tightened his hand around Mathias', vision focusing on the room as he squinted in the bright light and took in a deep breath.
When the others in the room first noticed this, their response- save for Berwald- was immediate and had almost the same force as a bomb.
Emil was the first to realise, and his mouth fell open with a gasp as he tugged Tino's arm to alert him of Lukas waking up, of the dark blue eyes focusing on him with a puzzled frown. All of a sudden, the four descended on him- Tino fervently asking him how he felt; Berwald trying to calm him; Emil grasping his arm and asking question; and amidst them, gasping for breath as he sobbed brokenly, Mathias clutched him tightly as if unable to believe he was alive before him.
"Mathias- Mathias! Let him go, let him breathe!" Mathias released him as if burnt at Tino's words, eyes wide upon Lukas' form.
"I didn't mean to- I didn't hurt you, did I? Are you all right, Lukas? How do you feel?"
Lukas didn't immediately focus on his words. Instead, his attention was pulled to what felt like a box implanted under his skin, and he reached up with his right arm- his left feeling sluggish, somehow- to feel it. His hand was slapped away by Mathias, but instead of snapping at the Dane, Lukas was taken aback at the feeling- at the feeling of his heart beating normally.
"Don't touch that." Mathias' tone was warning, but he instead gripped Lukas' hand in his own. "It's your pacemaker- you can't dislodge it, okay? Don't raise that arm, either; use your right arm if you need anything, or get me to do it."
"What..." Initially struggling with his words, Lukas took a steadying breath. His hand tightened around Mathias' as he looked up at him again, eyes wide and incredulous. "I'm alive. I'm alive."
"Yeah. You are." His voice was soft, and there was something akin to pride in Mathias' expression as he pressed a kiss to the Norwegian's hand. "You're alive, Lukas. You're going to be okay."
Lukas nodded slowly, mind still thick with the fog of sleep. His gaze slid to Emil standing beside Mathias' kneeling figure, the Icelander staring at him as if unable to believe he was actually awake. He'd never seen his brother wear such an expression as the one he was wearing now- one a pure mixture of relief and delight. Emil perched on the end of his bed, mindful of his legs, and his hands fluttered over Lukas' form before he reached out to take a firm hold of his wrist.
"You had another flatline," Mathias began, voice low. Tino had taken a seat on the other side of his bed while Berwald drew a chair up, the four now surrounding Lukas as Mathias offered him an explanation. "The doctors said they'd take you to the Kolibri Room- I had no idea what it was, but it turns out that they threw you into surgery. It was your last chance. If you died during surgery, they wouldn't bring you back. They were reluctant enough to give you a pacemaker as it was- they thought you'd die on the table."
"Mathias." Berwald's voice was sharp, a warning sign for Mathias to stop going into such depth. The Dane glared at him, but waited for Lukas to squeeze his hand before continuing.
"Well, anyway... you came out of surgery after a few hours. Emil was here, and he was a wreck."
"They wouldn't tell us anything," Tino added, rubbing the hem of his shirt between thumb and forefinger, "because they wanted to wait until the last moment. Something about the risk pacemaker implantation had on an ill teenager with bad health and a heart that wasn't beating anymore; I thought it was unnecessary worry, really."
"Yeah. It was." It was Emil's turn to add something to the conversation, and his voice didn't rise out of an undertone. "They wouldn't even tell us if you were alive or dead."
"Not until they came to say they'd moved you to intensive care, anyway. You were back in this ward again after a few hours, once your heart had stabilised. It was touch and go for a while, to see if the pacemaker would really work for you- I think they did some of that ablation thing again, too. But then your heart monitor settled down, and I swear, Lukas, it was the best thing I'd heard in my life." Mathias' sombre expression had cracked into a wide grin and Lukas simply watched him, watched the new emotions playing across his tired face. "That's when we knew you were going to be okay."
"You..." Emil swallowed heavily, pausing to choose his words carefully before speaking again. "You're never going to get completely better. You're always going to have arrhythmia, unless you get a heart transplant- which doesn't seem likely. There are far too many people on the transplant list, and they haven't put you as needing one urgently."
"But you're going to be okay!" Mathias interjected, who seemed to be suddenly filled with excitement after speaking. He looked more relieved than Lukas had seen him in weeks, and his eyes shone with hope as he spoke to him. "You have the pacemaker now, and you have the medicine already; the doctors are going to get you more and monitor you in the future, but it doesn't matter. You're going to leave the hospital. You're going to carry on with your life. You're going to live."
"They're not going to let you go right away. Usually you can leave a few days after a pacemaker, but your health isn't good enough." It was Tino's turn to speak up; the Finnish man seemed eager to reign back Mathias' excitement with reality, and his sweet face was creased with apology. "Your weight is still too low, and the doctor said it would be safer to keep you in here for a few more weeks, just to make sure you're back to normal again. Well, not back to normal, but you know what I mean-"
"You have to take the one in the blue capsule first thing in the morning, and then the red one later- you can't go on rollercoasters, strain yourself too much, take some other medicines, and you'll have to take things easy for the first few weeks." The Dane was counting his information off on his fingers, eyebrows knitted together in a frown as he thought. "You can't lift your left arm for six weeks, either; I got them to write a list of all the things you should avoid and take care of. I tried to keep it, but Emil says he's going to be looking after you. I wanted to do it, though!" He added this with a pout, expression that of a young child denied a treat.
"You live in the same house as me. I think I'd be better to look after you," Emil said, rolling his eyes and giving a small sigh. "I'll mostly be in the house with you and sorting out what medication you have to take and when- just things to make sure that you're all right. I told Leon not to come round, though, not for a few weeks yet."
"Not ever," Lukas muttered, earning him a wounded look from Emil. He hadn't changed his mind about Leon, whatever the others thought. In his eyes, he was still the same smug, arrogant who wasn't anywhere good enough for Emil. He'd let his brother work that one out for himself- if he ever attempted to, that was.
"I'm going to be coming 'round every day, though. Not every day, because Berwald and Emil told me that you would probably get sick of me, but just enough that you know I still love you." Mathias flashed him a grin, so different from his tense smiles of the previous few weeks. It was staggering to see the difference Lukas' health had on him, both physically and emotionally. "I'm going to help you get better, now you actually have the chance to get better. I'll help you through this, Lukas, you hear?"
"I think that's too big a question to say when he's just woken up," Tino said smoothly, pulling Mathias' arm. "He's just woken up, after all. We best let the doctors know he's awake."
"Ah'll do it." Berwald disappeared out of the double doors, Tino following in his footsteps. Mathias shifted in his kneeling position, quiet again as he seemed content to just watch Lukas with a small smile. The Norwegian turned his attention to his brother, Emil's own violet eyes focused on him.
"I'm never going to get better?"
"No. Not completely." Emil's tone was quiet, gaze unblinking. "They said you could get worse again in the future. But it shouldn't happen- the pacemaker will keep your heart rate normal, and you'll have to have it replaced every few years. Your life should be normal enough with it, though. You're alive. That's the main thing." Mathias nodded along with what he said, and the Icelander gave a small sigh. "You really scared us."
"I know. I'm sorry." He couldn't think of anything else to offer him but an apology. Already, tiredness was closing in on his mind again. "Do I still have the IV in?"
"Yes." Mathias' eyes were closed, forehead resting on the bed. He pulled Lukas' hand to his face, placing the back of it against his cheek. "I went home two days ago, and the nurses nearly cried of happiness when they took my IV out themselves. They told me that I'd be banned from the hospital for life if I even considered taking yours out."
"And did you?" Mathias' lips lifted in a small smile, and he met Lukas' question with a soft laugh and kiss to the back of his hand.
Satisfied, Lukas allowed himself to fall back asleep once more. This time, though, it was to the comforting presence of the two people he loved more than anything else.
To Mathias' irritation, his apparently wonderful plans for the future had to be put off until Lukas was well enough to leave the hospital. This didn't stop him from coming to visit every day, or questioning the doctors continuously of his condition while sneaking him as much licorice as he could carry. Emil dryly noted that Mathias was acting as if he was their mother, rather than Lukas' questionable boyfriend- he'd also adopted Lukas' habit of checking to make sure his brother was looking after himself properly, and Emil seemed less than pleased with two now acting as if he couldn't take care of himself.
The Icelandic boy's only escape from the questioning came when Mathias was distracted by Lukas' imminent release two weeks later.
"You really are better again, right? It's safe for you to leave?" Lukas had been struggling to button his shirt, his left arm immobile in a sling, but raised his eyebrows at the Dane's worry. Mathias was standing by the end of his bed, holding his bags and looking tense. The Norwegian had regained most of his previous weight, and the deadened look his face had held was smoothed into one more healthy, but he wore a familiar exasperated look.
"They know what they're doing- there are professionals here, Mathias." Finally finished with dressing himself, Lukas took hold of his hand and tugged him along. "Besides, I know I'm healthy again. You're heard my heart, and I haven't thrown up in nearly two weeks."
"Yeah. I noticed." Mathias winced at Lukas tightening his hand at his tone of voice, but he grinned and pressed a kiss to the top of the Norwegian's head. "I'm happy you're coming home, Luke."
"Lukas. And I know; you haven't shut up about it for days." Throwing him an amused look, the two walked slowly in the direction of the hospital's pharmacy. Lukas seemed perfectly fine to continue at the pace, but Mathias seemed anxious to pull ahead, causing Lukas' eyebrows to draw together in a frown. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing; I just want to get out of here, at last." Sighing at his eager words, the Norwegian grudgingly let himself be pulled along the corridor. "We're going to go out together, all right? The other guys know about it- I told Berwald before I left this morning."
"I knew this was going to happen. You were saying it for weeks beforehand. It'll be nice." Lukas pressed his forehead against the Dane's arm, sighing deeply. "You were late getting here. Did you sleep in?" At Mathias' sudden silence, he glanced up at him with the question weighing between them. "Mathias? What's wrong?"
The blond boy, unexpectedly, seemed to consider just what to say. Meeting Lukas' gaze, he gave a breath sigh before saying, "No, I didn't sleep in. I called 'round to the local cemetery before I came here, and I lost track of the time." At Lukas' arched eyebrows, he added, "I was talking to my mother."
"You were... talking to your mother."
"Talking to a gravestone."
"Well, yeah." Mathias adopted a confused expression, and his voice was defensive when he next spoke. "What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing. I was just clarifying." They continued along the corridor, the Dane stroking the back of Lukas' hand with his thumb. He eyed Mathias before speaking, and his voice was cautious. "What were you talking to you mother about?"
"Oh." Here he gave an embarrassed laugh, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "I was talking to her about you, actually. Told her that I'd met a nice guy, who was in hospital but was leaving today, that I was happy... it was just nice, to get it out to her. When I need to think or clear my head, I visit her grave. I usually bring a bouquet of orchids- they were her favourites- then sit down and just talk. She'd be pleased, to know I was doing well."
"That's nice," Lukas said quietly, absently, thinking about his words. He could see the smile Mathias was trying to keep in place, his eyes that were just a little too bright. "She'd be proud, you know. Of you."
Mathias turned his head to face him, eyebrows raised and expression incredulous. "You think?"
"Of course. I never met her, but I don't see why anyone wouldn't be proud of you. She did a good job of raising you." He spoke honestly, but Mathias stared at him as if he'd never heard anything like it. "What? It's the truth."
The Dane didn't say anything; Lukas was honestly surprised when he didn't. Instead, he grasped his hand tightly in thanks, face flushed as he struggled with keeping his composure. The Norwegian only patted him on the back, leaning into him as they walked into the pharmacy.
When they left the building, Lukas clutching a bag of new medication and an order form in his sling-free hand, Mathias' first action was to hail a taxi. It was only after they clambered into the back, the Dane holding him tight to his side, that the other blond thought to ask what his plan was, receiving a triumphant grin in response. "The beach."
"The beach? It's freezing- why the hell do you want to go to the beach?" Mathias reached over to ruffled his hair, and Lukas jerked out of his reach with a huff. "I was hoping you'd actually thought something out rather than trying to kill me as soon as I leave the hospital."
"Give me some credit, Lukas, and trust me," the Danish boy said, rolling his eyes and sighing as the car started up. "I brought a jumper for if you get cold, and a blanket, but it shouldn't be too bad. Where else are we going to go that's quiet? Besides, Emil told me that you haven't been to the sea in years."
"Well. No. But we could've gone to the library if you wanted quiet." Against his will, a blush coloured Lukas' cheeks. "I- sorry. Sorry for snapping at you. I'd like to go to the beach."
"Couldn't quite catch that, Lukas." Mathias was acting his usual infuriating self, a smirk tugging his lips, and the Norwegian scowled at him. "What did you say?"
"You heard me."
"Nope. What was it again?"
"I'm sorry." His words came through gritted teeth as he held back the impulse to hit his arm.
"I'm sorry, Mathias." He was obviously enjoying watching Lukas squirm with discomfort.
"And I love you, you idiot." Lukas silenced his laughing with a kiss, and the journey seemed surprisingly short thanks to their battle in the back of the taxi. Under normal circumstances, he would've hated to kiss someone in such a public place. But a new excitement filled his veins at the final escape from the hospital, and he was with Mathias. The Dane's soft skin, the hands moving through his hair, and smirk into their kiss was argument enough.
As Lukas had predicted, it was cold. The beach front was empty, and he stumbled out of the taxi to stare at the grey, churning waves as Mathias paid the driver and followed with their bags. Slinging an arm around the Norwegian's shouders, the two made their way down the slope until, stopping dead in his tracks, Mathias dropped the bags in the sand and sat down cross-legged, staring up at him expectantly. "Here's good. Nice view of the sea."
"I guess." Lukas sat by his side, motions still slow and cautious. They were silent for a few moments, Lukas' head on Mathias' shoulder as they stared at the sea. Emil had been right- he hadn't been here in years, probably when he was twelve and his brother ten. The sun often burnt their fair skin, so Emil would only be sent out after being doused with the highest factor Lukas could find. In a way, Mathias' logic was right. On a day like this, it was just the two of them, content to be in each other's company and past the gates of their previous confinement.
"Where's your family?" All was quiet, save for the sound of the sea, the overhead gulls, and his soft voice. The Dane thought for a moment, reaching over to grasp a bag as he spoke.
"At home, I think. Berwald's probably doing some carpentry- he's obsessed with it in his spare time- and Tino's probably cooking. You and Emil are coming to dinner tonight, by the way. Emil already knows."
"Of course." Mathias tucked a blanket around them both, letting Lukas fit himself against his side with a sigh. "You seem to plan a lot of things around me."
"It's the best way to do things. It'll be different now though, now you're better again. We can be happier, for one." He pressed a kiss to the Norwegian's cheek, and Lukas allowed himself a smile at the action.
"Yeah. We can." Shifting, the blond moved to lie with his head in Mathias' lap, fingers moving to stroke through his hair as he let his eyes slide shut. "You understand that I can get worse, though. I can get ill again. The arrhythmia's not completely cured."
"I know." Mathias busied himself with stroking Lukas' hair, fingers moving down to smooth over his face and jaw. "That's the first thing the doctors told us. But you've got a fighting chance, Lukas, if it does get worse- you've got the pacemaker for starters, and that's almost definitely going to keep your heart regular. Yeah, you'll have to get it replaced, but so what? You'll still be healthy. Your heart will still be normal."
"As normal as it can get." Smiling slightly, Lukas exhaled deeply, breathing ghosting over Mathias' fingers. "The next thing you're going to say is that we'll be together forever. I'm right, aren't I?"
"Of course. Don't expect anything else." Leaning down, Mathias pressed a gentle kiss to Lukas' forehead. The Norwegian could feel his heart speed up, but this time, it wasn't because of his heart. Instead, it was the sensation of Mathias tracing his collarbone with a feather-light touch and now trailing kisses down his cheek. "Did you think that we weren't?"
"We could always break up," he offered, shrugging slightly. "It happens. I don't want it to, though. I really do want to be with you."
"That's good. I do, too." Another comfortable silence stretched out between the two, Lukas' eyes fixed on the sea as he shifted on Mathias' lap. He hadn't expected anything to work out between the two of them. Towards the end, the Norwegian had honestly though that he'd die in the hospital- there would be no returning home to Emil, no goals to carry out, no future with Mathias. Now, able to stare at the rest of his life and know that it was in his grasp, he felt somehow overwhelmed at the thought. He was jerked out of his thoughts by Mathias' sudden voice, and glanced up at the Dane. "We did rush into a relationship too quickly. You've said it before, but I guess it's true."
"It is. We can work on it, though." Lukas reached up to stroke a hand along Mathias' cheek, the other boy leaning into his touch with sombre eyes focused on him. "Like you said earlier: I'm going to live. I have sixty, seventy years ahead of me to spend with you. There's plenty of time to work on the boring things then." Mathias snorted, but was cut off when Lukas pulled him down into a kiss. When they broke apart, Lukas kept his available hand against the side of Mathias' face, thumb stroking along his cheekbones. "I love you, Mathias."
"I know." His words were met with a smile from the Dane, but Mathias' smile faded and expression grew serious as Lukas didn't break his gaze. "You love me. Okay. That's different from usual because...?"
"Because I'm in love with you, idiot." At Mathias' stare, Lukas gave an exasperated sigh. "Did you expect less?"
The Dane remained silent, stunned out of words, until Lukas laughed and kissed him again, hooking an arm around Mathias' neck to pull him against his body.
All too soon, the sky began darkening, and the air around them grew colder. Mathias helped Lukas to his feet as he pulled his phone out, beginning to text as he spoke in a low voice. "I'll get Berwald to pick us up. You like steak, right? 'Cause there's fish, if you don't want any-"
"Steak is fine." Lukas lent against him, and Mathias readjusted the blanket around his thin shoulders. "I appreciate it. I still don't know why you've all decided to be so kind to me. Sometimes I don't think I deserve you."
"Don't be an idiot," Mathias scoffed, reaching to take Lukas' hand again. "I don't think I deserve you. After all, the first time I met you I got myself slapped by a dinner tray, remember? Climbing on top of you wasn't my best idea."
"Definitely not. Your expression was funny, though." Smiling slightly, Lukas let his head rest against the curve of Mathias' shoulder. "Maybe it was a good idea, though. I met you."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it was." The sun was setting on the horizon as they stood by the side of the road, waiting for Berwald to arrive. Squeezing Lukas' hand, Mathias spoke again in a low voice. "If you do get sick again, I'll be here for you. You won't though- I know you won't- but just so you know, I'm always going to be here for you."
"I know you will. Likewise, for you. You're probably not going to get rid of me." Mathias wrapped an arm around him, and Lukas pressed his cheek against his broad chest. "Still, we're going to be okay. We have to be. I really do love you, Mathias."
"I love you too, Lukas. Never doubt that." Lukas smiled up at him in the gloom, a gesture reciprocated by Mathias, as the lights of Berwald's car made their way towards them.
"I won't. I promise."
"Alright?" Berwald asked as they climbed into the back, eyes meeting them in the mirror. Mathias nodded, Lukas offering the Swede a faint smile.
"Great. Thanks for the lift." Berwald only nodded with a hidden smile, starting the car again as Mathias' hand found Lukas' in the dark and held tight, the white of his teeth flashing with his usual wide grin. This time, unlike previous chances in the hospital, Lukas returned it with one of his own.
They were going to be okay. If he knew anything, it was that. He wasn't healthy, not really, and they both knew it. But somehow, it was all right. He had the pacemaker- while not an overall cure, it meant that he was going to live. He was going to survive, be there for Emil,be the support Mathias had never had, and be able to face tomorrow with Mathias' hand tight around his. Lukas was sure of that.
And if that wasn't a reason to keep living, he didn't know what else was.