His head hurts.
It's the first thing Gyro feels when he wakes up.
The second thing is the familiar, constant jolt of a horse trotting under him.
His whole body is heavy.
And his throat is dry.
Actually his body hurts like hell.
Oh, God, he thinks, he's going to throw up.
He lurches forward and falls, falls again.
It was a sunny winter day, Johnny was relieved the weather was so clement. God was obviously still on his side. Riding was easy and peaceful, as the sun rays caressed his cheeks.
He had left New-York two days ago, after a week of staying in a luxurious hotel - fully paid by Steel as a thanks for what Gyro and him had done for him and Lucy.
Johnny had recovered and tended to his Italian friend with Lucy's help.
Stephen Steel had insisted to give Johnny money when the young man announced his departure.
Well, to be fair, Steel insisted for Johnny not to go.
Gyro was still unconscious, and might need more care. But Lucy had been clear : there was nothing more they could do, except wait and hope for Gyro to wake up. At this point, his body was barely functioning and Johnny had to force water down Gyro's throat himself.
The steel weren't sure he was going to open his eyes ever again.
"He's going to wake up." Johnny had immediately answered. He had left the next day, on Slow Dancer, Gyro's limp body sitting against Johnny's back. Valkyrie, Gyro's horse, was attached to Slow Dancer loosely so she could trot next to her calmly.
Today was a sunny winter day, so Johnny was sure God was on his side.
Yesterday had been cloudy, even colder. Johnny stopped riding earlier than he was supposed to. He was still in a city, he had reached Trenton, and to his surprise, when he went to a hotel, the people in here were already in the know of his arrival.
Stephen Steel's courtesy.
Employees soon were taking care of the horses, others were offering to help carrying the unconscious body.
Johnny was dubious, he didn't want to let anyone else touch Gyro. But he himself was still healing from the race's wounds and going back to riding this early on was tiring, more so than usual.
Plus, every passing patrons would probably judge the man in a wheelchair who was carrying what looked like a dead body on his lap.
So he accepted the help, sent a thank note to Stephen Steel and the next day, after another sleepless night he went back on the road, hoping to reach Philadelphia before night. He wasn't really excited about it. Even if he was young, Johnny wasn't really excited about the whole new industrial development, and big cities in general. These were for normal people.
Johnny stopped being normal the day he lost his legs.
Racing the Steel Ball Run had marked him deeply, and Johnny knew he was made for this life, the wandering and exploring kind of life. Many would object that this life wasn't made for a paraplegic young man.
The west had been completely tamed, but it was yet to be occupied.
The city was too noisy, it never stopped, it was always moving.
Some things about it were good of course, like the help Johnny had received for him and Gyro, the convenient stores and the fast travel, but Johnny yearned for these moments he shared with Gyro, lost in the plains, not a soul to be seen for kilometers away.
Just the two of them, and their horses.
The sun was slowly setting when Johnny heard the noises of the town more and more. He could see it too, profiled in the horizon. Slow Dancer was still trotting slowly, her and Valkyrie often snorting at the ominous noise the new tram was making.
Johnny was riding along the Delaware River, slowly, hands loose on Slow Dancer's reins. His back hurt because of Gyro's dead weight on him, his shoulders were stiff, but at least he could feel the man breathe against him. That's all he really needed.
He was lost in thought when Gyro's breath became suddenly faster, so he did not notice it, and couldn't predict what happened next.
Gyro's body tensed and slid on the side, before Johnny could react.
At first, Johnny thought he's the one who let go of Gyro unintentionally, but Gyro yelled, as he hit the ground, and rolled over to empty his - already empty - stomach.
"Gyro ??" Johnny shouted as he urged the horses to stop.
Slow Dancer immediately leaned forward to let Johnny roll off of her in their usual dismounting dance.
Johnny crawled towards Gyro, breath fast and short as his heart was painfully pounding in his chest.
"Gyro!" He groaned as he grabbed the man by his shoulders to make him look up.
Gyro was still twisting on the ground, seized by spasms as he was breathing with difficulty.
As soon as Johnny grabbed his shoulder, the younger man could feel how Gyro was shaking, quivering with every breath he took in.
He was burning.
When Gyro looked up, it felt like a punch right in Johnny's guts. His eyes were empty, the green of it almost gray, looking through him as if he wasn't seeing Johnny, and for a few seconds Johnny thought he was losing him again.
Gyro whispered "I was dead." before he passed out again, falling on the grassy ground in a soft thud.
Johnny felt himself still, unable to move.
No, he couldn't be.
God had promised.
Johnny forced himself to crawl closer, to slide his hands under Gyro's arm to push him on his back. He leaned in and pressed his face against Gyro's chest, desperate, eyes wide open.
He willed himself to stop breathing and moving completely, so he could listen.
And here it was.
Gyro's strong, consistent heartbeat.
He was breathing, too, shallow but still there.
Johnny closed his eyes and let out a soft sob, fingers tightening on Gyro's cloth. He stayed there for a few seconds, hiding his tears from God.
After a while, he shook himself out of his stupor. He needed to keep going, get to a hotel - send a message to Steel and Lucy.
Gyro had woken up.
It was almost easy to get back on the road.
Slow Dancer had learnt how to crouch and stay low enough for Johnny to go back up on her, and with Johnny newfound motivation, his upper body strength was enough for him to drag both of them up on the horse.
Valkyrie had been surprisingly cooperative too. She had a really soft side to her that Johnny had never taken the time to notice.
Once they arrived in the center of Philadelphia, just like in the town of Trenton, a few employees of the hotel Johnny stopped by went out to help him and take care of the horses.
Johnny was relieved this time. He even let one of the men help him down and on his chair.
"He woke up!" He kept saying, his eyes watering again. People were indulging him with fake smiles and small awkward laughs but Johnny was okay with it.
Once in the huge bedroom, Gyro's body lying on the king size bed, his head propped up on a fluffy pillow and Johnny sitting by on a comfortable chair, the young jockey let himself relax for the first time in a while.
Gyro was alive, it was real, God had kept his promise. It was a matter of time for him to wake up now, Johnny knew it. So he didn't leave his side one second as the sun was setting slowly outside.
Time passed, Johnny had to turn the electric lights on.
It was weird, this kind of light, but Johnny wasn't really impressed. Even though urbanization wasn't his favorite thing, he had seen it all. Kentucky was a bit behind on that fast development but it was still in the East.
He took a bath, the fancy copper tub in the same room, but it was already a luxury, after the months Gyro and him spent on the road. He was about to go to bed, clean and calm, ignoring the food that a bellboy brought into the room earlier, when finally Gyro gave signs of waking up.
Johnny had just propped himself on the mattress when Gyro opened his eyes.
Johnny's breath hitch in his throat and he stilled.
Gyro sat up and winced, bringing a hand to his head, groaning louder.
"What the fuck happened??" He mumbled and he patted his own head. "Where's my hat?"
He seemed completely lost.
He looked around and his eyes - dazed but bright, lively green eyes - found Johnny.
He smiled, a toothy golden grin as Johnny snorted at the fact that the first thing that idiot would, of course, ask, was his hat.
"Hey there, Johnny boy. Looking good."
Johnny's throat tightened. He crawled forward and came close to Gyro to throw his arms around him and hug him tightly. "Don't talk." Johnny said, as he felt Gyro ready to tease him about this.
Gyro laughed. That signature, ridiculous "Nyohoho" of his.
Johnny could feel his heart swell with relief and affection for that man. Gyro didn't hug him back, but Johnny didn't need him to.
He was alive.
Gyro's laugh died down and fell silent. He was thinking. Trying to remember.
What the fuck happened?
Johnny sat back, looking at Gyro, waiting.
But Gyro kept silent and the way his distrubed gaze was emptying made Johnny's worry come back.
"How are you feeling?" He asked.
Gyro's eyes found Johnny again and his eyes lit up again.
"Awful. Like you spent hours stomping on me with your horse, did you stomp on me with your horse, Johnny?"
"No way. What a loss of time." Johnny smiled at him softly.
It was easier to smile, today. Johnny hadn't smiled a lot, since January 19th.
Today was January 28th. Johnny will remember that date.
Gyro lost his smile again, and his mind went somewhere Johnny couldn't follow.
"What's the last thing you remember, Gyro?" He asked, and the Italian was back on track.
Gyro raised a hand and slipped his fingers through his golden hair. "Damn be my memory, Johnny. All I remember is…"
His eyebrows furrowed slightly. "Lucy. We were running after her because Valentine was… I don't know. You know Johnny, that president wasn't really nice."
He frowned and Johnny scoffed. He moved his legs to cross them together.
"He's dead. I think…" Johnny said.
"Oh. How come? You think??" Gyro scratched his unshaved beard and he grimaced. "Wait, how long have I been asleep?"
His fingers were caressing the sharp angle of his jaw. His beard had grown over his usually perfectly shaped hairy squares. It was the clear sign of lost time.
Johnny looked down, frowning. He didn't really want to talk about what happened already.
" You should eat something and take a bath. You reek like a pig barn."
Johnny's accent was always fun to hear for Gyro, but today it frustrated him.
"Don't you leave me in the dark here Johnny." He said, as he stood up with difficulties. He managed, to Johnny's relief, and stumbled up to the trolley where the food was waiting, lazy fumes emanating from some roasted meat.
Gyro started to eat like he was starving, and he probably was, bringing handfuls of potatoes up to his mouth to devour them loudly. He even moaned.
"I'm sure it's not that good." Johnny said with a smirk.
Gyro pointed him with his finger, juicy meat in his fist. "Don't change the subject here, Johnny. C'mon, give a starving man his memory food."
Gyro stared at him, proud of his comparison. He even smiled at him, juice sliding down his chin and dripping on his shirt.
Johnny made a face but he ended up cracking a smile.
That felt familiar, Gyro throwing a bad pun at him and Johnny indulging because he just liked encouraging the man who was once his mentor and was now his friend.
Warmth spread in Johnny's chest, but he felt like he couldn't cry victory already.
Something was wrong with Gyro. He just couldn't put his finger on what it was.
Gyro kept eating and eyeing the bath with envy. "I need to go to the loo, but you definitely tell me what happened when I come back."
Johnny shrugged and looked away. "It's downstairs, don't get lost."
Gyro hummed a sort of song as he shoved more potatoes in his mouth. He left then, legs clearly wobbly, but he was regaining his strength quicker than Johnny expected.
While the italian went away, Johnny kept staring at the door.
He couldn't even believe it. Everything worked out perfectly. Johnny kept thanking God in silent prayers, but an acid sensation of worry still kept nagging at him.
Well, he thought, being brought back to life could only be this bizarre, right?
"So you mean that I fainted and that you took down not only Mr President but also Diego??"
Gyro was obviously not believing any of that, and Johnny was offended. "You ass, I sure did, and y'all hafta admit I is a goddamn hero." Johnny sputtered, ego bruised.
Gyro laughed. "I didn't understand any of that."
Johnny threw a pillow to his face.
"Fuck you, you're the one I ain't understanding!"
They laughed together. Gyro went back to drying his hair with a towel. He liked the luxury, he had bathed while singing a new song that Johnny had written down on his travel notebook, lazily.
"Y'know, I'm glad the girl is safe. Still not over how she wants to stay with that old man but I mean, he sure has heavy arguments, if you know what I mean." He made a weird move with his fingers,rubbing them together.
"Money, Johnny. That girl got herself some sugar for the rest of her life." Gyro smiled and showed his ridiculous grill.
"Aren't you the royal kid?" Johnny said as he turned on his belly, his legs tangled together. He was still writing in his notebook, and Gyro for once wished he could read what was written.
"I hope this is a joke Johnny and if it is, I'll tell you, you definitely need lessons in comedy." Gyro stood up from his spot on the bed to walk around.
Johnny snorted. "Sure thing."
Gyro went to the window. It was grimy, covered in dust but it was hidden by a beautiful red curtain.
He cocked an eyebrow. At least he could still see through the dirty glass.
"Where are we?" He asked.
"Philly." Johnny said before he slammed his notebook close. "We left New York two days ago. Don't you… Remember that you woke up earlier today?"
As Johnny sat up, Gyro turned towards him.
He was rubbing his freshly shaven chin. "Like I said, last thing I remember was running next to that train and fighting Holy president for Lucy Steel."
Johnny looked down.
"Let's sleep, maybe you'll remember more tomorrow."
Not that he wanted him to.
When Johnny woke up, the first thing he did was sit up and turn around to press a hand on Gyro's chest. Rather forcefully. He just really wanted to feel his heart beating.
It made the Italian groan and open an eye, groggy.
Johnny sighed in relief and let himself fall on the bed, keeping a hand on Gyro's chest as he usually did since January 19th.
But this time, Gyro took his hand and pushed it away softly.
"Don't startle me like this. Lemme… Shit, where are we at? What day is it, the race…"
Gyro was starting to panic.
Johnny turned around and patted Gyro' shoulder.
"Calm down. The race's over."
"What? Did I win? We need to celebrate!"
Gyro shot up and threw the blanket off.
Johnny made a face.
"We lost, Gyro. To that black guy with the weird stand."
He wasn't going to mention Diego's disqualification and how he was killed by Lucy after fucking up Johnny with his own rotation. The loss was still crushing.
Gyro stilled, and Johnny watched as his gaze became vacant once more. Johnny sat up and frowned, "We ended third and fourth." Half the truth. Gyro would just have to stay away from the results of the race.
"I see." Gyro voiced, but his expression was closed. He stood up and looked around for his clothes. "Where…"
"Cleaning Service." Johnny answered. He cleared his throat. "Steel filled us in with some good compensation for saving Lucy y'know. He'd be ready to lend the money for…"
He didn't want to bring that up. He didn't want to remind Gyro that he had a life to go back to.
Silence took place between them and Johnny thought Gyro was losing himself again, but as he was about to suggest breakfast, another luxury they'll have to do without afterwards, Gyro said : "That explains the damn fine room Johnny! And cleaning service? We're living the good life ain't we?"
He looked at Johnny over his shoulder and he smirked at him.
Johnny felt his guts tighten but he only smiled back.
Gyro was alive.
And so they were back on their horses.
Valkyrie was obviously really happy to ride again with her master. She had been strutting and parading while Gyro laughed and let her do so.
He was clearly just as happy to ride with her again. As they were getting out of Philadelphia, after a morning of shopping for camping, for their horses and even for themselves, Gyro was leading the way, singing as he used to do when he was particularly happy.
Johnny felt like nothing could happen to them.
They were made for this life.
He was floating, as Slow Dancer was trotting slowly behind Valkyrie.
He knew Gyro still had more questions. He knew he wouldn't be able to hide the truth from him forever, that Gyro would leave him behind at some point. He knew, but for now, he didn't want to care about that.
It was another sunny day, even though it was cold, and their every breath was producing small clouds of steam that disappeared lazily in the sky above them.
The horses were heavily loaded down, so they couldn't ride as fast as they used to.
But it was fine, Johnny thought .
They weren't in a hurry, now.
No matter what was going to happen, no matter the future, they were together, riding again, ready for more adventures.
On the road again.