humblest one, too,” Eli said with a half-smile, but dropped it when Ca
smile back. “You’re my friend. You’re getting better every day. This was your
first day back in the operating room in more than a month and you were amazing.
Who knows, before another month has passed Langton will agree that you don’t
need a minder. And maybe in a couple of months you’ll thank me for sticking
around even when you’re being an asshole.”
biggest asshole,” Ca
den insisted very seriously before finally offering Eli
a lopsided smile, and maybe, just maybe, it was something like an apology.
Eli closes the front door. The sound is so final, it makes Calden’s skin crawl,
makes him feel suddenly claustrophobic, more so than he’s felt in a long time.
He can’t stand the idea of being inside now. He needs air. He needs space. He
needs to not be here.
around, he almost runs smack into Eli before sidestepping and reaching for the
Eli, despite his tiredness, sounds alarmed. “What’s going on? Where are you
for a walk,” Calden says, hating that he has to give an account to anyone about
what he does but understanding the necessity of it. It’s hard not to
understand, not when he woke up in
a few hours ago and was offered
a crash course on what his own life is like these days.
come with you,” Eli says rather predictably.
of Calden wants to be glad at the offer of company. After all, when he woke up,
he had a vague feeling that he was going to be late for his lunch with Eli. Finding
Eli here and learning that he lives with Calden—that he is
him in a
way Calden hadn’t dared hope for—that’s the one bright side to this whole mess.
the same time, though, this is all too new, too raw. The words on Calden’s
chest feel true. In any case, he can’t imagine agreeing to having them inked
permanently into his skin if he wasn’t absolutely sure of their truth. But
maybe those words right now make everything a little more painful, a little
harder to bear.
The word scrapes his throat. “I want… I
to be alone.”
brow furrows into a frown, but his tone remains gentle. “Calden, that’s not a
are you afraid of?” Calden’s voice starts to rise in his annoyance
tries to control himself and continues
more quietly, although just as strongly. “I just woke
up. I’m hardly going to fall asleep while walking.”
licks his lips briefly, his frown softening, but not much. “I know you’re
upset,” he starts, and Calden can’t bear to hear another word. Throwing the
door open, he walks out and starts down the street without looking back to see
if Eli is following. He shoves his hands in the pockets of his coat and takes
long strides. The sidewalk still gleams wetly from the rain and reflects the
light from the lamps lining the street. Little by little, the sky lightens above
Calden, and the lamps start to flicker off.
city is waking
up to a gray, damp October
it’s still June.
realizing what he’s doing, he lets his steps take him to
early in the morning
and after an attack
to boot, the park is deserted. Most of the vegetable patches are bare; the first
freeze of winter must have come already. Calden tries to enjoy the solitude and
soothing after the hospital
, but the relief they
ephemeral. He tries not
to think about anything that happened today or years ago, but he’s never been
able to shut down his brain, not without the help of controlled substances, so
it all swirls in his head, a whirlwind that leaves everything in shambles.
part of the chaos is due to the
his arm. He can deal with that reality. It’s not like he can do anything about
it. The way he sees it, there are two choices, really. Live with his amnesia,
or die. If he’s lived four months like this already, there’s no reason to stop
tattoos on his chest
are probably in
large part the reason why he is still alive. He
thought Eli had lost his mind when he took Calden by the hand, led him
to the closest
, and bared his chest while asking Calden to do the
same. But those words explain how Calden has managed to wake up to the same day
over and over for months without throwing himself off a roof
or resorting to the solace found in a needle
The one thing that makes everything hurt so much this
morning is what happened after he and Eli returned from the bathroom. It’s not
like he knew that girl, not like it’s his fault she was wounded.
Abstractly, Calden knows why it hurts. One look at
her, and all he could see was Riley, all he wanted was to save her.
Worse, though. Everyone who saw him look at her must
have known exactly what was going on in his head. Everyone knew it wasn’t her
he was trying to save, but someone who has been dead for years, someone he
never even had the opportunity to save. He was already in surgery operating on
Eli when she was brought in, and by the time he came out…
a grunt, he stops abruptly in the middle of the path, raises both hands to his
head and grips his hair hard, as though by tugging violently enough he can pull
all the thoughts right out of his mind.
doesn’t work, of course not, but his mind does turn extraordinarily quiet when
two arms wrap around his chest from behind while a body presses tightly against
a second, no more than two, his instincts tell him to pull away, break free,
strike at his attacker.
it’s not an attack. He already knows that. He already knows whose arms, whose
body they are. And while he can’t remember ever being hugged like this, not by
anyone, or even wanting such comfort, it still feels oddly familiar—and oddly
home, love,” Eli whispers against the nape of his neck. “Please.”
drops his arms to his sides and bows his head; it’s the second time today that
he’s been defeated. This time is less painful than the first.
holds his hand all the way back. He holds on tightly, as though afraid Calden
will pull free and flee. Calden wants to do no such thing, though, not when
he’s busy memorizing the feel and texture and strength of Eli’s palms and
fingers. He pretends to himself he doesn’t know he’ll forget all this soon, and
probably forgot it many times already.
They walk up the familiar front steps still linked by
ten entwined digits.
you to take me to bed,” he says as Eli
front door. His voice doesn’t waver, but he still
feels his cheeks heat up.
turns back with an expression of surprise that soon shifts to something softer,
something sad. He’s still holding Calden’s hand. He pulls it up to his mouth
and just brushes his lips to Calden’s knuckles. They ache from when he punched
a wall earlier
in the OR.
on,” he says, and Calden isn’t sure if that’s agreement or not.
enter the house and have to separate to take off
, but soon enough Eli
takes Calden’s hand again in a movement that feels so practiced it makes Calden’s
heart ache a little.
house is dark, but they find their way up to the bedroom easily enough.
off your shoes,” Eli murmurs, toeing off his own.
does as he’s told, all the while watching Eli step into the bathroom
opposite the bedroom
where he turns on the light and the shower to let the water warm up.
When Eli comes back, Calden’s fingers are working at the buttons of his shirt,
though they’re trembling too much to make progress. He feels stupid and slow.
He asked for this, didn’t he? He wants this. He wants to stop thinking. So why
are his hands shaking?
takes over, squeezing Calden fingers between his before finishing unbuttoning
his shirt, then his trousers. Soon, Calden stands naked in the middle of his
bedroom, it has to be—and it’s not just his hands that are
shaking anymore. It’s been a long time since he’s done this. And even longer
since he did it with someone he cared about, although even then it wasn’t someone
he cared about as much as he does Eli.
waits for Eli to undress, waits for a touch, a kiss, something, anything at
all. What he gets is a smile and quiet words.
on. Get in the shower.” And after a brief pause, “I’ll be right there.”
Calden wonders how long it’s been since his last shower. He doesn’t stink, but
he doesn’t smell fresh, either. Of course Eli would want him to clean up before
they do anything. Of course. Why is Calden so damn slow today? Too slow. Much
water feels scalding when he first steps under the spray, but only because not
that long ago he was walking outside in the cold. He stands there, eyes closed,
head bowed, letting the water pound against the back of his neck.
Eli slips past the curtain and steps into the tub, Calden is aware of it, but
he still shudders when a cool hand settles on his hip and tugs lightly.
around for me. There you go.”
does as he’s told and faces the wall, waiting for what comes next, feeling
extraordinarily out of his depth. Whatever
the feel of shampoo being poured
onto his head or firm hands washing his hair.
would be a lot easier if you weren’t so fucking tall,” Eli mutters
good-naturedly, his fingers digging into Calden’s scalp hard enough to draw a
hum from him. “You know, I never felt short until I met you. Thanks so much for
feels the beginning of a smile trying to tug at his lips, but it fades quickly.
asked for intimacy, and in a way that’s what Eli is giving him, but it’s not
what Calden thought would happen. It’s like they’re acting a play, but Eli is
the only one who got a script, and Calden is supposed to improvise every line
this… Is this something we do often?” he asks after Eli has pushed his head
back under the spray and rinsed off the shampoo.
turns to face him, opening his eyes for the first time and taking in every line
of Eli’s lithe body. He swallows hard.
enough,” Eli says as he lathers a bar of soap between his hands. “Usually under
hands return to Calden, one on each shoulder, and it doesn’t feel like it’s so
much about soaping him up as massaging him. Calden watches Eli’s face as he
works, wanting to touch back but never raising a hand. He’s not sure if he just
doesn’t dare to or if he’s loath to interrupt Eli. Maybe both.
methodically, Eli washes Calden’s chest and abdomen, and his hand is a little
gentler when he touches the words over his heart. Calden’s arms next, one after
the other, from shoulder and armpit all the way to
the crook of Calden’s elbows. His hands after that,
scrubs them clean, palms and
fingers, as though they’re due in surgery as soon as they step out of the tub. Then
Eli crouches, and Calden’s breath hitches in his throat when gentle fingers rub
at his thighs and calves.
face is mere inches from Calden’s cock, but even that causes no more than
feeble sparks in his groin. Calden feels his face warm up, and it has nothing
to do with the hot water sluicing them both.
I…” His voice breaks, and he has to try again. “I’m so—”
Eli cuts in quietly as he stands again. “You don’t have to say anything. Turn
does, and those same marvelous hands that scrubbed every inch of his front now
rub against his back, ever so tender
Eli’s hands still, then come
around to encircle Calden, much like they did in the park. Eli’s mouth presses
to Calden’s back.
,” he whispers. “
Just don’t forget that, all right?”
rocks Calden’s body; he couldn’t say if it’s a stifled laugh or an aborted sob.
stay like that for a little while, and Calden is acutely aware of the half-hard
cock pressing against his
ass. He’s just
that his own cock isn’t even
half-hard. It doesn’t matter, he decides. He can just lie on his stomach, or
get on his hands and knees, and Eli won’t even have to look at it. He’s not
sure when it became about Eli, about giving something to Eli rather than trying
to quiet his mind. It doesn’t matter either.
the water starts cooling down, Calden shuts it off and they step out of the tub
together. Without a word, they dry each other before returning to the bedroom. Calden’s
nervousness, chased away by Eli’s loving hands, returns stronger than earlier,
and his heart stutters as he watches Eli approach the night table and open the
you trust me?” Eli asks as he faces Calden again.