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Just in Time for Christmas

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David didn’t want to get out of bed. Not for any reason that pertained to himself, it was just that he didn’t want to leave Matteo alone. The silent numbness that had taken root in Matteo’s heart, in his mind, scared David more than he could explain. He’d never seen his boy this low. Sad and quiet, yes, he’d seen that. Tired and lazy, he’d seen that, too. But never this. The limpness of Matteo’s whole body, the way his eyes dimmed so dark that there was no more shine to them. There was no twinkle to the pale blue of his eyes, and it frightened David to no end. He didn’t want to get out of bed because he didn’t want to leave, he didn’t want to go away and come back to find Matteo in the same position in their bed. David couldn’t even convince him to get up for food, and he would only eat nibbles from what David brought to him in the morning. Leaving his blond boy like this, so utterly still and dead to the world, made David want to cry. His attention in class was waning because he kept thinking about Matteo, if he was okay, if he was eating.

But he had to get out of bed to go to class, so he did, with a heavy heart and a muddled mind. He got dressed quietly, slipping on his binder and his tee-shirt and his sweater, pulling on his boxers and his pants, pausing to look at Matteo between each. He hadn’t moved.

“Matteo?” David asked, going to kneel down on his side of the bed. “Do you want some breakfast?”

Matteo opened his eyes, both bleary and a little red, and he nodded slightly.

“Is there anything in particular?”

Matteo shrugged.

“What about some cheese toasties?” David smiled at the memory, but it dropped when Matteo didn’t smile back, he only shrugged again. “Okay. I’ll be right back.”

When David returned, Matteo still hadn’t moved, and when David placed the plate in front of him, all he did was stare at it. David ran a hand through Matteo’s hair, sighing to himself. He had no idea how to handle this, and nothing that he read on the internet was helping him at all. The advice was either to give him space and let whatever this was run its course, or to get him immediate help. David couldn’t even get Matteo out of bed to take a shower, how the hell was he supposed to get Matteo to a clinic? The whole situation was freaking him out, but for the first time in a while he didn’t want to run away. David wanted to stay with his boy, wanted to be there for him, just like Matteo had been there for him. It was just hard when he didn’t know what was going on and Matteo wasn’t telling him. When Matteo wasn’t letting him in.

“I have to go to class, okay?” David leaned down to place a gentle kiss on Matteo’s cheek. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Text me if you need anything.”

Matteo nodded, his eyes sliding closed.

Sighing again, David picked himself up and walked out to the room, pausing at the door for a moment to look back. “I love you, Matteo.”

 

*

 

David was halfway through his fourth and final class of the day when his phone buzzed to signal a text. He usually wouldn’t have taken it out, but if it was Matteo, then he wanted to answer. He cursed himself inwardly for his decision, months ago, to take this many classes on Tuesdays. He didn’t get out until 17:30, and now that is was November, it was starting to get dark. He had been regretting the decision for weeks, even before Matteo started to get bad. He was home late, which meant that he didn’t get to see much of Matteo before they went to bed, and he had early morning classes the next day, which he was always tired for, especially if he and Matteo had gotten up to anything the night before. He should have planned better. It was 16:24 when he got the text, and he pulled his phone towards him with clay covered hands, smiling slightly when he saw it was from Matteo. Opened his messages and went to find the one Matteo had sent.

From: Matteo <3

Hey

I love you

I’m sorry

David frowned.

To: Matteo <3

I love you, too. Sorry about what?

Matteo?

There was no reply, and an iron fist clamped around his heart and David couldn’t breathe. He shoved his phone into his pocket, grabbed his bag, and left, sprinting from the room, ignoring his professors shouts. David was out of the class building and running towards the bus stop, his mind racing faster than his feet. If something was going wrong, if something bad was happening, if he waited for the bus, he’d be too late. A moment's hesitation passed before David was running again, this time towards home, towards Matteo, saying fuck it to the bus and angry at himself for choosing the bus instead of his bike that morning. The sky was dark but he knew where he was going. His lungs were burning by the time he reached his street, his legs filled with a stabbing pain. He collapsed at the bottom of the stairs, his whole body protesting movement, but he had to keep going, he had to move, he had to get up the stairs.

With screaming limbs, David pulled himself from the floor and started up the stairs, pulling his key from his bag on the way. He was glad they were only three floors up, any further and his body would have stopped working, but his throat was raw when he got to their door. His body, while frightened and in pain, was on autopilot and he took off his shoes and jacket, kicking them both to the side. Opening it and pushing it forward, he called out for Matteo, his voice weak. There was no one else home and the apartment was so silent that David was worried Matteo was gone.

“Matteo?” David called again, straining to hear over the frantic thumping of his own heart.

There was a small sound, the movement of a limb in a bathtub, and David hobbled over, his legs starting to stiffen. He was in shape, but not in good enough shape to run halfway across Berlin and up three flights of stairs without feeling it. And he was feeling it bad.

“Matteo?”

The door to he bathroom was slightly open, and he could hear the water running now that he was close enough. He looked down at the floor right outside when he found his foot in water, soaking into his sock. He watched it for a moment, frowning. Pushing open the door, a scream rose in David throat, and he slipped on the wet tile as he ran inside, falling hard on his left elbow, but he didn’t feel the pain. He lunged at the tap, turning off the water and trying to prevent any more from spilling onto the floor. Property damage was a distant though, but he pushed it aside as he slipped his arms under Matteo and lifted him from the bath, still in his pajamas, seemingly asleep.

“Oh, please, please,” David muttered to himself, stumbling back and pulling Matteo on top of him. “Please, please, Matteo. Wake up, Matteo, wake up.” He started to pat Matteo’s cheek, none too gently, until the other boy groaned quietly, low in his throat, and David could have wept, if not for the situation at hand. “Matteo, look at me, please, baby, look at me.”

When Matteo’s eyes blinked slowly open, just slightly, and he looked at David, his eyes were glazed and unrecognizing. He continued to watch as David called an ambulance, his voice coming out in a rambling mess, shaking and tight and embarrassing on any other occasion. The lady on the other end was reassuring, or at least she was trying to be, but David almost couldn’t hear her. His eyes had zeroed in on a knife, laying just to the side of the bath, its blade slick with blood. His chest felt tighter and tighter by the minute, and his gaze slide to the bathwater, tinted pink. He turned his head back to Matteo, taking in fractured details, his face, the paleness of his skin. The water soaked into his shirt, making it two shades darker. The freckles on his neck.

The dark red blooming from his wrists.

Suddenly, Matteo was being pulled from his arms, and the paramedic had to hold David down, keeping him from running after the stretcher.

“No!” he yelled. “No! Matteo!”

“Sir!” the paramedic yelled back. “Sir, please, we’re only trying to help.”

“Matteo!” He started to struggle in the stranger’s grasp.

David somehow ended up sobbing on the floor, held tightly in the paramedics arms, his hand running through David’s hair comfortingly. Hot tears streamed down his face and he gasped for air, bent double.

“Please…” David whispered. “Please, I need to be with him, please, he can’t die, he can’t die.”

The paramedic stood them both up, pulling David to his feet.

“Come on,” he said, walking them both down the hall. “Tell me your name.”

“David…”

“Okay, David, let’s go down to the ambulance. You can sit up front with the driver, okay? I promise you, we’ll be taking good care of Matteo in the back.”

“No, I have to be with him, he’s… he’s not okay, you don’t understand.” David followed him down the stairs and to the ambulance.

“I understand perfectly well, David, please, get into the front.”

David listened and stumbled into the front seat, sitting down and staring out of the front window. The ambulance started moving, and he reached up to wipe the tears from his face, but before he did, he noticed the blood on his hands. He didn’t remember touching Matteo’s wrists, but he must have. He closed his eyes, resting his head back on the headrest. A flash behind his eyes, his own hands holding Matteo’s above his heart, the slick of blood against his fingers. David sat forward with a gasp and opened his eyes.

“Hey, kid, are you alright?” the driver asked.

“Matteo,” David said. “Please, oh please, don’t be dead. Don’t be dead.”

 

*

 

David was sat in the waiting room, staring at his hands, the blood that had sunken into the lines of his palms, that had slipped under his nails, when the others got to the hospital. It had been a strange group chat, telling them what happened.

ok. cool.

David: Can someone come get me? I’m at St. Hedwig

Jonas: The hospital?? Why?? Are you okay??

David: I’m fine. Can someone come get me?

Carlos: Bro, what happened?

David: I’m in the emergency room but they won’t let me in to see him, it’s family members only. Can someone come get me?

Abdi: Who can’t you see??

David: Matteo. They won’t let me in, it’s family members only. Can someone come get me?

Jonas: Bro, you’re repeating yourself. I’m on my way, I’ll take you home, okay?

David: Can someone come get me?

He didn’t even really remember texting, his whole evening was starting to blur together, with skips in time and jumps and black patches. His brain wasn’t taking it in.

Jonas sat next to him cautiously, his hand coming to rest on David’s upper arm. “David?”

“Can you take me home?” David asked, his voice small.

“I think something’s wrong with him,” Carlos said.

“Let’s find a nurse,” Abdi whispered, pulling Carlos away.

Jonas wrapped his arm around David’s shoulders. “Hey, I’ve got you. You’re okay. You’re going to be just fine.”

“I shouldn’t have left.” David felt crushing guilt settling into his chest. “I shouldn’t have left this morning, it’s my fault, this is all my fault.”

“No, it’s not.” Jonas shook his slightly. “None of this is your fault, no one is to blame. Matteo is just… hurting, right now.”

“If I’d been there, this wouldn’t have happened.” David felt his breathing pick up. “I can’t… I can’t breathe….”

Carlos and Abdi were finally back with a nurse, and she took one look at David before calling for an assistant. She kneeled down in front of him and took his wrist in her hand, pressing her fingers into his pulse point.

“Can you tell me your name, sweetheart?” she asked.

“D-David.”

“Okay, David, I need you to lay down. Can you do that for me?”

He nodded, but he didn’t move.

“Now, David,” she said.

Jonas reached down and pulled David’s legs into his lap, causing David to tilt over sideways until he was laying on his back on the bench, eyes searching the ceiling. The nurse leaned over him with a small flashlight and moved them over his eyes, causing blips of light to burn into his vision.

“Okay,” she said, looking up when another nurse came over. “Get me a blanket, he’s going into shock.”

“Shock?” Jonas asked.

With a nod, the nurse checked his pulse once again, counting.

“Do you know if he’s injured?”

“No, I don’t.” Jonas swallowed. “He came in with our friend, his boyfriend, Matteo Florenzi? He called the ambulance, he saw what happened, but… we don’t know what happened.”

“Florenzi?” the other nurse asked. “The blond teenager in intensive care?”

“I… I guess…” Jonas looked at the other two, who shrugged, sharing his look of concern and fright.

The second nurse leaned in close to the first, trying to stay quiet, but Jonas could hear him.

“Florenzi’s in intensive care for self harm wounds, it looks like a suicide attempt.” The second nurse nodded to David. “If he’s the one to call in, then he must have seen it. That could be causing the shock.”

“And you don’t know if he has any injuries?” the first nurse asked again.

“No.” Jonas shook his head.

“His elbow is bleeding,” Carlos said, pointing slightly.

“Thank you.” The nurse rolled up his sleeve and they all hissed at the split skin, the mess of blood. “This looks painful, but not enough to cause shock. He’s probably gone in because of the… because of what he saw.”

“Is he wearing any tight clothing?” the second nurse asked, looking up at Jonas, spreading the blanket over David while the first nurse went to get an oxygen mask.

“I don’t…” Jonas’ eyes flicked over him. “I think he’s wearing his binder.”

“His… He’s trans?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” The second nurse called over his walkie talkie to see if there was a bed available. “He’ll be just fine, he just needs to get more oxygen into his system.”

The voices around David were starting to blur, and there was a darkness creeping into the corners of his vision. He felt something get placed on his face, over his mouth and his nose, and cool, fresh air flooded his lungs, but it wasn’t long until the world went dark and silent.

 

*

 

David woke up in a hospital gown and in a bed that wasn’t his own. He didn’t remember getting into the bed, or the gown, but he didn’t remember most of last night, if he was being honest. He shifted slightly, his whole body going cold when he realised he wasn’t wearing his binder. He looked around, finding only Jonas asleep in the chair next to his bed.

“Jonas?” David whispered, pulling the flimsy blanket over his chest. “Jonas!”

“Hmm?” Jonas’ head snapped up. “You’re awake!”

“Yeah.” David shook his head. “When did I get into this bed?”

“Last night,” Jonas answered, leaning forward. “You went into shock, and then you passed out. They had to take off your binder.”

“I know.” He sighed through his nose. “Why did I go into shock?”

Jonas shrugged. “The nurses said it was something you saw, some… “trauma”, the nurse called it. You hurt your elbow, but she said that wasn’t bad enough to cause this.” He swallowed. “David… what did you see? Did… did Matteo try to kill himself?”

The bathtub, pink water, streaks of blood on his hands.

David closed his eyes and leaned back against his pillow. He felt a tear slip down his cheek, and heard Jonas sigh, his breath warbled.

“Fuck,” Jonas whispered.

“Ah, you’re awake!” There was yet another nurse stood at the split in the curtain. “There you are, David.” She smiled at him, coming in to give him a check over. “So, if your pulse is at a low enough rate, you’re all set to go!”

“Can I go see Matteo?” David asked, his blanket still up over his chest.

“Of course! He’s been moved from intensive care into his own room until he wakes up, but you can definitely go see him.” She smiled at him once more. “You’re all set, David. You clothes are on the chair, I can draw the curtain for some privacy.” She left with yet another smile, closing the curtain behind her.

“I can step out, too,” Jonas said.

“No, just… close your eyes.”

Jonas did as he was told as David stepped out of the bed, pulling off the gown and slipping his pants back on, but he stopped and stared at his binder. He had worn it for too long yesterday, and he could feel it in the ache in his back, but he didn’t want to go without it.

“Are we going straight home?” David asked.

“After we visit Matteo, yeah, we’re going straight home.”

David pulled his tee shirt and sweater over his head, marveling numbly at how there was no blood on it, before carefully folding his binder and putting it into his hoodie pouch.

“You can open your eyes again,” David said, slipping his feet into his shoes.

Jonas did, smiling at him slightly. “Let’s go visit Matteo.”

 

*

 

Matteo was still asleep when David and Jonas walked into the room he was in, but it was almost like he knew they were there. He woke up a few minutes later, his eyes scrunching, hands going to rub at his face. When he blinked his eyes open, David almost collapsed onto his chest, feeling Matteo wrap his arms around him.

“Hey,” Matteo whispered.

“Hey.” David sighed and moved to sit up slightly, but Matteo wouldn’t let him. He shifted so he was laid next to him, burying his face into the front of Matteo’s hospital gown. “You scared me.”

“I’m sorry.” Matteo’s voice was still a whisper.

Jonas took on of Matteo’s hand in both of his own.

“Hey, bro,” Jonas said, his voice choked slightly.

“Hey.”

David stayed in that room with Matteo for a few more hours, holding each other, not saying much. At one point, as David was wiping away the tears from Matteo’s cheeks and Jonas was laying on the other side of him, David chuckled slightly.

“What?” Matteo asked.

“You have an eyelash,” David answered, holding it up on the end of his finger. “Do you get a wish now?”

Matteo almost smiled, but it was like he’d forgotten how to. “It’s just an eyelash.”

Matteo’s mother eventually showed up, in tears, followed closely by a nurse. David and Jonas were instructed to leave, in kind words, and told that they could come back tomorrow. Matteo’s eyes watered as he watched David leave, and David had to pull himself away.

“He’ll be okay,” Jonas said, wrapping an arm around David’s shoulders. “He’ll be fine.”

 

*

 

When David got home, having said goodbye to Jonas at the train station, he didn’t expect to come home to yelling. Hans was yelling at Matteo’s door, calling him an idiot for leaving the water in the tub on and letting it soak into the hallway. He wasn’t even trying to open the door, so sure that Matteo was home.

“He’s not in there,” David said, rubbing his eye. “Hans! He’s not home!”

Hans looked at him, eyes wide in surprise. He’d never heard David yell before. “Then where is he? Because he was the only one home last night, and he left the fucking water on.”

David just stared at him for a moment. “I turned the water off but didn’t get a chance to clean up after we left. I’m sorry, I’ll do it now.”

“No, Matteo will clean up his mess.” Hans crossed his arms and sighed. “He’s been getting better with social stuff, with acceptance of the community, but I cannot stand his home habits. Do you know how much it’s going to cost us? There is no way we’re getting the security deposit back. That boy will be paying it back with his own money, and-”

“He tried to kill himself!” David shouted. “He filled the bath, got in, slit his wrists, and waited to die. Does that make you happy? Does that make you feel good about being mad at him?”

Hans’ eyes widened even more. “He did what?”

“He’s in the hospital, he slit his wrists, he’s probably going to be held for psychiatric evaluation, and all you care about is the fucking security deposit?”

“I didn’t know!” Hans protested.

“Did you even go into the bathroom?” David ran a hand through his hair. “Did you even look at what’s in there? Because you wouldn’t have been yelling at him through the door if you did.”

Hans shook his head.

“Of course you didn’t.”

“How was I supposed to know?” Hans said.

“By checking!” David yelled. “And by not jumping to conclusions!”

David pushed passed him into Matteo’s room, into his room, and sat down on their bed, covering his face with his hands to take in a deep breath. He needed to calm down, he needed to breathe. He’d never felt this angry in his life, this sad, this uncertain. Matteo was alive, and that’s really all that mattered to him. Sighing, David let his hands fall to his sides, his left hand brushing against a piece of paper. Looking down, David recognized Matteo’s handwriting, but he couldn’t. Not right now. So he picked it up, flipped it over, and put it on the bedside table.

Gathering himself, David took off his sweatshirt, pulling the binder from its pocket, and walked out of the room. He found a mop in the kitchen and stain remover under the sink. He found a bucket and some latex gloves there, too, and took in a deep breath, bracing himself as he entered the bathroom.

Most of the water on the floor had evaporated, and part of David was happy there wasn’t much damage. He closed the toilet lid and placed the bucket and stain remover there, leaning the mop against the sink and pulling on the gloves. Steeling himself, he looked to the bath, the water now a murky pink, but there were brownish red streaks on the lip. David shook his head, plunging an arm into the water to pull the plug, watching as it drained slowly. He knelt next to the bath, eyes still focused on the swirling water, and breathed in heavily, trying to stop the stinging in his eyes and along the bridge of his nose. He looked, numbly, at the floor, at the rusty spots and blotches that tracked from the bath to the door. He was met with blue socked feet, and Hans, standing in the doorway, wearing his own pair of latex gloves and carrying a box of baking soda.

“For the tile,” he said, his voice somber and quiet. “Let me help.”

David nodded, not opening his mouth, because he knew if he did, he’d either start yelling again with the anger swelling in his chest, or he’d start crying again. He watched as Hans started to scrub at the tiles with a flannel, a white one, quickly staining it pink. When he’d gotten off the excess, Hans poured the baking soda out and waited, moving to the next blotch.

“You know,” Hans said. “When I met him, I thought Matteo was nothing more than a stoner kid. And for a while, he just proved me right. I think it was a month after he’d moved in when I saw that there was a lot more to him. He was sat in the corner of the kitchen, on the floor, hidden from view, unless you were looking, just… crying. Silently. And I knew, from my experiences with friends, that he was having a panic attack. It was frightening, to see him like that, all huddled up in himself. He wouldn’t let me touch him, but he didn’t tell me to leave, so I just sat there and talked to him.” Hans sighed, pouring more baking soda. “I forget, sometimes, that we’d had that moment. You have to believe me, David, I do love him. But…”

“First impressions are lasting,” David finished.

“Yeah.”

David nodded, sitting up on his haunches to start scrubbing the bath. When he was done, David turned back to the floor, moving the door slightly, until his eyes locked in again on the knife, laying in its pool of rust, and he picked it up numbly. He placed it into the bucket, which he didn’t end up using, and started to scrub the floor. David was confused to see that his world was blurring, but then he felt arms wrapped around his shoulders, and Hans was pulling him close.

“Shhh, he’ll be okay.” Hans pressed a kiss to his forehead. “And so will you. You’ll be okay.”

 

*

 

David stood in the bathroom door, the bath now sparkling clean and smelling slightly of baking soda. He stared, towel in hand, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash cradled in the other arm. He shook his head, closing the door behind him, and dumped his stuff on the floor. He turned the shower on and stripped, careful not to look in the mirror, sticking a hand into the stream to see if it was warm enough. When it was, he stepped in with the bottle of body wash and started to clean himself. He started with his hands, and watched as the lingering blood came up from under his nails. He then moved up his arms, carefully tracing the veins of his inner wrist, drawing a line in the suds with his finger where he remembered the one on Matteo’s arm being. He stared at it for a moment, memories of dark red behind his eyelids, but instead of the creeping sadness, David just felt anger.

How could he? How could he think that this was the way to deal with anything?

David shook his head again and continued up his arm, under his armpit, across his chest, and down the other arm.

What could this possibly solve? It didn’t solve anything, it just made it absolutely impossible that things would get better!

Down his stomach and in between his thighs, the back of his knee, the heel and sole of his foot. In between his toes, up his shin and over his knee. Up the side of his thigh, across his lower back, and down the other leg.

Why didn’t he think that it would hurt them all so much more? More than seeing him laying in that bed all day and all night? Why didn’t he think of them?

Over his shoulder, scrubbing as much as he could reach, before behind his back, getting what he couldn’t. The back of his neck, behind his ears, the front of his neck, his chin.

Why didn’t he think about what it would to do him? What it would do to David? How much it would hurt for him to find his body?

His cheeks, scrubbing hard with the flannel, over the bridge of his nose, his forehead, blinking harshly when he got it into his eyes.

How could he think it was the best option? What drove him to that?

Placing the cloth on the lip of the bath, picking up the shampoo, squeezing some into his palm. Rubbing it into his hair. Tears from the body wash still running down his face.

How could he have gotten that bad?

Raking short nails over his scalp, feeling the sweet sting of hot water against his skin. Rinsing out the shampoo and replacing it with conditioner. Hands tracing slick fingers down his cheeks, panting out a harsh breath.

How did he get that low?

Waiting until the conditioner could be washed out, feeling the water rushing down his back. Chest and throat tight, sobbing for air, crossing his arms over his chest, holding onto himself with wet fingers against wet shoulders. Stepping under the burning water to rinse out the conditioner.

How could David not have seen it?

David loved taking showers. It was his own little secret when the water tasted like salt.

 

*

 

When David woke up, his hand reached out into the empty space. He sighed through his nose and opened his eyes, finding the paper on the bedside table almost immediately. He’d suggested that Matteo buy that bedside table a month after they’d started dating. David was amused but also slightly annoyed by the fact that Matteo would just dump his stuff off the side of the bed, so they’d gone out and bought bedside tables, one of each of them. Matteo’s was a mess, really, with his phone, chargers, a few joints, and a slew of random papers. David reached over and picked up the one he’d left on the bed.

David.

I don’t know what to write or if I’m going to write it well. I can’t explain what’s going on in my head. I don’t have a way to say it. I have never I never went through the shit you have, and it makes me feel guilty when I talk about my shit. I grew up with both of my parents. for a while . I grew up with best friends that I could trust. No one left me when I came out. My mother loves me, and she loves you. My father is trying to make a better relationship with me, and he wants to meet you. I feel like I don’t have the right to feel bad, not with what you went through. But that doesn’t sound right, too. I don’t think you have more of a right, or that I resent you for it. I don’t. I love you. I’m just so in my own head that I feel like I can’t talk to you because I don’t want to put more shit on you. You deserve

Everyone is moving forward, making lives for themselves. I’m not. I’m stuck.

I can’t talk about it. I can’t get my words out, even when you ask me to. You tell me that nothing I think or say is wrong, that when I’m trying to express myself, if I can get it out, then it’s how I feel. I don’t know how to explain the stuff that’s going on in my head. I feel so I just don’t know how to say it. How I think. How I feel.

When I’m with you, everything makes sense, or at least it feels like things could make sense. But I can’t make you stay with me all the time, you’d end up hating me. You probably already hate me. I’m pathetic. I know it.

I love you.

Please, never forget how much I love you.

Matteo

David read it over again, numb words settling into a numb mind. He put the paper back onto the table, pulled the blanket over his shoulder, and went back to sleep.

 

*

 

It wasn’t strange for David to wake up next to someone when he was used to it, but it was strange for it to not be who he was expecting. David woke up, his arms wrapped tightly around someone, but it took him a few minutes to realise it was Jonas. When he did, he pulled his arms away, curling them against his chest. The other boy was asleep, too, his face soft in the evening light, and it wasn’t hard for David to understand why Matteo had been so in love with him. Jonas was cute, but not Matteo cute. Not the messy goblin king kind of cute. Oh, but thinking about Matteo was setting off tears again, so David went back to cataloging every part of Jonas’ face. With a strange sort of disconnect, he knew that it was creepy, to stare at him when he was asleep, but he couldn’t care less. It was a distraction.

It took David a while to realise that he was being stared back at, and he realised his mind had wandered away. He couldn’t particularly remember what he was thinking about.

“How are you?” Jonas asked.

“Angry.”

Jonas sighed. “Understandable.” He paused for a moment. “I read the note.”

“How could he be so selfish?”

“Selfish?” Jonas shook his head gently. “I don’t think he was being selfish. It may have seemed like there was no way out. You did it, too.”

“Me? I never tried to kill myself.”

“No, but… you kept trying to run away. You run, and to those you’ve run away from, you’ve died. Matteo felt that the only way to get away from everything was to run away, only he was running from things inside of him, where you were running from things outside of you.”

“But…”

“You love him?”

David hated it, but he nodded.

Jonas sighed again. “Did him telling you that he loved you change you wanting to run away?”

Swallowing, David shook his head. “I didn’t really believe it until…”

“Until what?”

“Until we had sex.” He chuckled humourlessly. “As superficial as that sounds, it took me a few days to really know he wanted to be with me. He saw me… almost at my most vulnerable, and he loved me anyway.” He paused. “But I don’t want to leave any more. I know he loves me, I know that he knows that I love him. Why would he want to leave?”

“It took you a few days to believe him, right?” When David nodded, Jonas smiled slightly. “And you had all this outside stuff going on, people looking at you, smirking, knowing about you, and it only took you a few days of Matteo being with you to realise that he was really, really there for you. Matteo, on the other hand, has had months of being with you, months of acceptance. He’s had no one telling him he isn’t what he is. No one looking at him funny. So why would he feel like he had to run away?”

“Exactly.” But David could feel that Jonas was going somewhere with this.

“Matteo had everything that you went through, only it was all in his head. And I’m not saying that to disregard what he went through. His mother is sick, mentally, and he’s been so afraid of turning out like her, probably since he could understand that there was something not right about his family. About the way his mother acted, the way his father yelled. So Matteo has been so focused on being mentally healthy, or at least looking mentally healthy, that it became an obsession. He had to be okay, he had to be normal. He had to be straight, he had to be manly, he had to be everything his father was and his mother wasn’t. And then-”

David rolled his eyes. “What? And then he met me?”

“No,” Jonas said. “Though I can see why you would think that. I was going to say, and then we became good friends. We’d known each other since we were born, practically, but we didn’t really become good friends until we were 13. He was already lying, already acting when we got close. But me? I cried at the drop of a hat, I liked singing, I liked playing with girls, I liked everything that boys aren’t supposed to like. I got him to play dress up, I got him to sing outside of the church. I think that I made him realise that there are a lot of ways to be a boy. He quit the school sports teams, he stopped wearing the stupid clothes that everyone wore. But… He couldn’t stop being gay. And that was the one thing that I couldn’t show him was okay. I talked about girls, I talked about having sex with girls. I made fun of the gay guys in our schools. I know that I couldn’t have known, that it’s not my fault. And this is where you’re right. But then he met you.”

“And what did meeting me do?”

“Told him that it was okay to be himself.”

David thought for a moment. “But… all of this stuff… is good. You taught him how different guys could be, I… I don’t know, taught him it’s okay to be in love with a guy. It’s all good.”

“He didn’t know anything else,” Jonas said. “Nothing but the acting and the lying. He found out that he could be himself, and then realised that he didn’t know who he was. Before you, it was getting by day after day by pretending to be someone he wasn’t. He only had to think about getting through the next day. He had nothing to plan for, other than how to keep up the pretense. But now? He has something to plan for, and he doesn’t know how to. To him, he’s got nothing going for him, because he doesn’t have a plan, he doesn’t have a personality, he doesn’t know who he is. He has no future, he’s nothing. And could you imagine having a partner in all of that? Truly believing that he has no future, nothing to give, and that he has someone who is with him during all that?”

“It would make me feel good,” David said, but he didn’t really know if it was true. “If someone loved me, even when I didn’t think that there was anything in me? I’d feel supported.”

“Now add depression into that.”

“Depression?”

Jonas nodded. “He’s obviously depressed, he wouldn’t try to kill himself if he wasn’t. Maybe it’s part of something else, like bipolar, or borderline personality disorder, but it’s depression. With that tugging on every thought, every idea. Most likely, it would make him feel even worse. If he thinks he has nothing going for him, and he has someone who loves him, there’s no way that this person, that you, can really love him. There’s no way that you can love him without eventually hating him because he has nothing to give, no direction to go in. You’ll leave, and he’ll be all alone again, and if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s to be alone. Matteo isn’t a particularly complex person. He’s deep, and there is a lot to him, but he’d not complex. He’s not very intricate.”

David snorted. “No. Give him some good food and a nice place to sleep and he’s all set.” His smile dropped. “Or, at least he used to be. You think this all adds up?”

“That, and the fact that he’s not going to university, and the rest of us are. Maybe he feels left behind.”

“Maybe…” David sighed. “I’m not angry anymore.”

“You weren’t angry to begin with.” Jonas smiled. “You just needed some explaining.”

Nodding, David shifted. “Can we go see him?”

 

*

 

When they got to the hospital, they were met with an empty room and a not so nice nurse.

“I told you he isn’t here anymore,” he said, frowning.

“But he was here yesterday morning,” David protested. “He was brought here two days ago and he was here yesterday.”

“Yes, and he got transferred yesterday,” the nurse snapped.

“Can you tell us where?” Jonas asked, a hand on David’s shoulder, trying to calm him. “Please, we’re his friends.”

“Sorry,” the nurse said, not sounding sorry at all. “Patient confidentiality.”

David saw red. “You know, you’re a terrible nurse.” He shook his head. “Let’s go, Jonas.” He turned around and started to leave.

“Your friend wasn’t a good patient,” the nurse snapped back.

“It doesn’t matter if he wasn’t a good patient,” Jonas said, his voice icy calm. “That has nothing to do with you.” He smiled. “You being a good nurse is a completely different matter.”

They were outside the hospital when David sat down on the bus stop bench, scowling. “What a piece of shit.”

Jonas nodded, taking out his phone. David watched as he typed, waited, and typed again. “His mother says he’s at Humboldt Hospital. We can go visit if we want, and maybe bring him some new clothes and his toothbrush.”

David nodded. “Let’s go.”

 

*

 

Matteo was surprised to see them, to say the least. He did smile, though, so it was a good surprise. David almost expected him to be asleep again, or at least pretending to be, but he was up and reading something.

“Hey,” he said when he saw them. “How’d you know I was here?”

“Your mother told us,” Jonas said. He wheeled the small suitcase they’d brought over to the side of Matteo’s bed. “And we brought you clothes and your bathroom things.”

“Thank you.” Matteo was watching David, who hadn’t yet said anything. “I’ll unpack in a little bit.”

“What are you reading?” Jonas asked.

“Uh…” Matteo flipped over the book, to read the cover. “ The Prisoner of Azkaban.

“Have you read the first two?”

“No.” Matteo smiled. “But I’ve seen all of the movies.”

“Well, I’m sure that counts.” Jonas looked at David, who was looking anywhere but Matteo. “I’m going to go find the bathroom.”

When he left, David found himself staring at the floor.

“Please don’t run away again,” Matteo said, his voice quiet.

“I won’t.”

“You’re thinking about it.”

“No, I’m not.” David sighed, scuffing his foot against the tile. “I’m not.”

“Then what are you thinking?”

David shrugged. He blinked, and found tears in his eyes again. It had come to him, for a fleeting moment, in the shower two days ago. Now, it came back with a full force, and he felt a sob rising in his throat like a sickness. “I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Matteo asked.

“Because I didn’t see this coming.” David sniffed, feeling his nose begin to get blocked up, his face flush with tears that he refused to let fall. “I left when you needed me and I didn’t get there in time to stop you. I should have been at home and you wouldn’t have done this.”

Matteo sighed. “Yeah, I wouldn’t have done it that day… but I think I would have done it anyway.”

David looked up at him, looking at him in the eye for the first time. “What?”

“I think I would have tried to do it either way.” Matteo shrugged. “If you were there… it just would have been two days ago. Maybe it would have been yesterday. Maybe some time next week. I don’t think you could have stopped me.” He held out a hand, his sleeve pulled down over his palm. “Come sit with me.”

Numbly, David took his hand and sat across from him. “I couldn’t have stopped you?”

“This isn’t your fault, or… your responsibility.” Matteo hook a finger under David’s chin, easing his head up to look at him. “It’s not your job to take care of me.”

“How are you so okay?” David asked. “You’re in a hospital, you’re under psychiatric evaluation… you’re so calm.”

“I’m high.” Matteo smiled at David’s startled face. “They put me on some sedatives and now everything doesn’t feel so bad. That’s why I used to get high all the time, but it stopped working after a while.”

David nodded. “Do you know how long you’ll be here?”

“The doctor said four weeks.” Matteo leaned back against his pillows, still holding on to David’s hand. “Will you visit me?”

“All the time.”

“All the time?”

“Yeah. Every day if you want me to.”

“I think I’d like that.” Matteo smiled again when David laid next to him. “Though, I want you to take care of yourself, too.”

David nodded. “I will.”

 

*

 

The next four weeks went by both quickly and slowly. The nights that David spent at the clinic with Matteo seemed to flash by, watching him get better and better every day. He smiled more than he had for a while, laughed more, too. David loved to draw him smiling or laughing, or just being. His instagram soon filled up with picture of his drawings of Matteo. He wasn’t the only one to visit Matteo, either, and most nights he wasn’t able to get more than a few minutes alone with him. Not that they’d do anything when they were alone aside from a little bit of kissing. They didn’t need to have any of their friends walk in on them. They had enough of that at home.

It was the days at university and work that went by slowly. Matteo was always on his mind, but he didn’t have many intrusive thoughts about that night anymore. Sometimes, after he’d gotten home and he had done all of his homework, he’d lay in bed, trying to get to sleep, and his mind would rush back to the blood on his hands and the blood on the tile, but it got easier to push it aside. Unchecked anger sometimes rose in his throat, but he was never angry at Matteo. He was always angry at himself. Even though Matteo had reassured him that it wasn’t, David still blamed himself in the late hours of the night. It was something that was going to take a while to shake.

David loved to hear about Matteo’s days. The good and the bad. If anything good came out of this, it’s that their communication was so much better than before.

“Tell me about your day,” Matteo said one day, when they were laying in his bed at the hospital, having stolen a quiet moment for themselves. “Tell me everything.”

“Everything?” David asked.

“Everything.”

“Well.” David let out a mock serious sigh. “That’s a tall order. I woke up, got out of bed, went to the bathroom-”

Matteo laughed, giving him a slight shove. “No, not that. The important stuff, the good stuff.”

David shoved him back, grinning. “Oh, so now you’re being specific, Mr. Florenzi?”

“Yes, I am, Mr. Schreibner.”

“Okay.” David placed a gentle kiss on Matteo’s jaw. “The good stuff. I went to my classes and I continued my sculpture.”

“The cat?”

“Yeah, the cat.” David smiled against Matteo’s neck. “Thank you for remembering. I then went to my appointment at the clinic, the check up.”

“How’d that go?”

“The nurse said I was doing good. She said that my progress was really nice, that the T was taking affect the way it should be. The doctor then came in and basically said the same thing, but…” David grinned. “She said that I’d be eligible for top surgery starting in August next year.”

“Really?” Matteo shifted down so that they were face to face. “Like, really really?”

“Like, really really.”

“David, that’s great!” He leaned in and kissed him, putting all of his happiness and hope into it.

David felt slightly overwhelmed by the support, still so unused to it, but he basked in it instead of pulling away. Matteo was happy for him, truly happy for him.

“No more binder soon, huh?” Matteo asked. “No more unhealthy habits?”

Rolling his eyes, David pushed him away again, playfully, smiling slightly. “You’d get along with my doctor so well. She nearly gave me a beating when she found out I’d worn it for three days straight.”

“What? Three days?” Matteo asked. “When?”

David bit his bottom lip, looking slightly guilty. “You know that first weekend we spent together? After our first kiss but before I came out to you?”

“Yeah?”

“Then.”

Matteo blinked at him. “David… that would have been a really good time to tell me and then be comfortable.”

“I wouldn’t have been comfortable,” David said. “I would have been even more uncomfortable, at least on the inside, to be around you, this guy I knew barely anything about, without my binder. Look at how you reacted when I came out to you. It took you a whole week to come to terms with it.”

“No, it took me two days to come to terms with it. Maybe three. It took me a week to realise that it changed nothing about how I felt about you. That I still loved you.”

David was silent for a moment. “It only took you three days to be okay with me?”

“It took me no time to be okay with you.” Matteo pulled him close again. “I was always okay with you. I just needed those days to wrap my head around what it meant, what it really meant, and then it took me the rest of the week to really know that, no matter what, I was in love with you.” He shrugged. “I still ask stupid questions, and I may have stared longer than I should have the first time I saw you completely naked, but it doesn’t change that you’re the man for me.”

“I’m the man for you?” David repeated, trying to joke around, but there was hope in his voice.

“Of course.” Matteo smiled at him. “You’re the perfect man for me.”

 

*

 

David skipped class to pick Matteo up from the hospital. He went up to his room and helped him pack, feeling that there was something on Matteo’s mind.

“What’s up?” David asked.

“I feel weird about leaving.” Matteo sighed and zipped up the suitcase. “I’ve only been here for a month, but this has been my normal for a month. I don’t know if I can go back and face everything without the support of this place.”

“Well…” David went to stand next to him, taking his pale hands in his own. “You have all of us. You have me.” He smiled. “So you have all the time in the world. And you have your therapist, who has a 24 hour phone number. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Matteo nodded.

They were on the train home, huddled close, the suitcase stood in front of them, when Matteo’s voice went quiet again.

“Do you…”

“Do I what?”

“Do you still have my note?” Matteo swallowed. “I just… I wanted to look at it again.”

David nodded. “I couldn’t make myself throw it away, for some reason. You lived, so… I don’t need it to remember you by or anything, but I couldn’t.”

“That’s okay.”

 

*

 

When they got home, they were surprised by the amount of Christmas lights and tinsel strewn around. Hans slid happily into the hallway, decked out in a green elf tunic and tight white and red striped leggings. He hugged Matteo tightly, swaying them both back and forth.

“Ohhhhh, my little butterfly, I’ve missed you!” he said.

“You saw me yesterday,” Matteo grumbled, but he returned the hug. “What’s with all the decorations?”

“It’s Christmas in a week!” Hans exclaimed, letting go and clapping. “We’re decorating!”

“We?” David repeated.

“Oh, yeah.” Hans smiled. “Everyone wanted to help, so everyone is here!”

“Everyone?” Matteo repeated.

When they walked into the living room, Matteo was thrown back to right after David had been outed, with all of his friends gathered in his flat, but there was a festive air this time. They each took their turns hugging Matteo, Amira and Hanna hugging him for the longest. Amira had tears in her eyes when she pulled away.

“I know it won’t mean much to you,” she said, wiping her eyes slightly. “But I prayed for you.”

Matteo smiled widely at her. “It means a lot to me, Amira. It means you care enough about me to tell your God about me. Thank you.”

“Woah,” Hanna laughed. “Someone gained another brain cell.”

“Oh, yeah,” Matteo joked. “They gave some to me in the hospital, I think the total has raised to three now.”

“Three?” Abdi asked.

“Well,” David said. “The one you four started with, the one I brought to the group, and the one Matteo got.”

“Nice!” Jonas shouted, holding up fistfuls of tinsel. “Now we have three brain cells to share! We’re gonna be so smart!”

The night went on a bit more like that. David eventually found himself curled up in bed, Matteo’s head resting on his stomach, both of them panting slightly from the month of abstinence.

“I missed you,” David said, running a hand through Matteo’s hair.

“You missed my dick, more like,” Matteo chuckled.

David smacked him on the shoulder. “No, asshole. I missed you. A lot.”

“I know.” Matteo rolled over onto his front, placing a kind kiss over David’s sternum. “I missed you, too.”

“Even though we saw each other every day.”

“Even though.”

 

*

 

A week later, David woke up wrapped up in Matteo’s arms, content for the first time in a while. It had surprised him every morning until now that he wasn’t alone in the bed. He played with Matteo’s fingers for a short while before tracing his thumb over the pink scars on his wrists, his mind not really taking it in. It would be a while until he was used to the sight of them, but he would. They would fade to silver, but they’d never go away.

“What are you thinking?” Matteo mumbled into his neck.

“That I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

David was quiet for a moment, until, “Matteo?”

“Mmm?”

“Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, David.”