This is the kind of thing that happens to other people. You hear about it on the six o’clock news or on the radio while driving to work. You read about it in the righteously angry tweets that surround things like this, keeping it relevant until the next story comes along to push it into obscurity. That’s all it is when it happens to other people: a story.
But when it’s David—his David—well to Patrick, this is hell on earth. Will people they know find out about this like that? Will Jocelyn Schitt be driving to get groceries and hear the words hate crime along with their names on the radio? Or will Twyla read about it on the Twitter account Alexis forced her to make?
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that their wedding anniversary is never going to feel the way it did only a few hours earlier. He’s never going to be able to think of it as the day they said their vows through shaky, happy tears, surrounded by their friends and families. Or as the weekend away they’d saved up for to go to the Big Apple (“We are not doing ‘The Big Apple’, Patrick” ) so that David could introduce Patrick to his favourite haunts which had been surprisingly low-key and just pretentious enough. No, from now on Patrick is positive he’s only ever going to see the date marked in his calendar and think of David lying unresponsive and absolutely wrecked in this hospital bed. Or of his own raw face and aching body.
What matters is that David hasn’t woken up yet.
This whole goddamn city, not just the day, is going to have a black mark against it forever. As if Patrick hadn’t already been wary of New York in the first place.
He looks away from David for just a moment to acknowledge Alexis as she stands in the doorway. She must have caught the first redeye back. Her purse clatters to the floor and she stares at him like a deer caught in the headlights, eyes taking in every bruise and scrape on his face before flicking over to the state her brother is in.
It comes out in one word, her voice smaller than Patrick has ever heard it. Taking a few steps into the room (purse and its contents strewn forgotten on the floor behind her) Alexis stares wide-eyed at the pair of them.
“Who did this?”
Not for the first time in the past four hours, tears well up unbidden in Patrick’s eyes. He looks back to this unconscious version of his husband and can feel his chin tremble. He clamps his jaw shut, unsure if he can go through this again. Explain it all again. But then she’s kneeling in front of the chair he’s sitting in, one hand on the hospital gown covering his knee. Her bright blue eyes, brimming with unshed tears of her own, are holding his focus beseechingly.
“Patrick, what happened?”
And again, like it has three times already tonight, the dam brakes and Patrick is sobbing painfully into his hands, his cracked ribs buckling under the strain.
“Fuck!” he gasps. “Alexis, I– I– fuck...”
FOUR HOURS EARLIER
“I’m sorry, did you think cosmopolitans and martinis were the only cocktails ever created?”
David had that look on his face. The look that said he was trying to be scandalized but was enjoying being the teaser and not the teasee too much to maintain it. As they stepped out of the cocktail bar and into the warm August night, he looped his arm around Patrick’s and entwined their fingers. They were both happily buzzed and looking forward to the bottle of wine waiting for them back at the apartment. The reason they’d been able to afford the three-day vacation at all was that Alexis had offered them her place while she was on a business trip to Toronto.
Patrick rolled his eyes and shot him a harried smile. “I’ve always been a beer or wine guy. Excuse me if my only point of reference for cocktails has been 007 movies and being forced to watch all six seasons of Sex in the City.”
“M’kay, it’s Sex and the City,” David corrected, leaning away just slightly as they walked and narrowing his eyes. “And would we say forced or…?”
Patrick stopped walking and looked at David, eyebrows shot up in disbelief. “You made me turn off the Jays game, David.”
David hummed and scrunched up his nose in vague acknowledgement. “On that note…”
He unwound his arm from Patrick’s and pulled at his hand, leading them both into an alley off of the street. Further down the gap in the two buildings on either side of them was a small side entrance to an Italian restaurant, the fairy lights around the doorway and sign giving David’s high cheekbones a golden hue. The taller man leaned against the brick wall and pulled Patrick closer to him by the lapels of his dinner jacket, sliding down just slightly so that they were roughly the same height. He kissed Patrick’s jaw and then mouth softly.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Patrick murmured against the kiss, “but was it the mention of baseball that made you want to make out in a dark alleyway, or are you just trying to distract me?”
“Hmm, maybe I thought it was a good time to give you your anniversary present.”
Patrick leaned back, “That sounds like an activity I’d much prefer doing back at the apartment.”
David didn’t seem to have sex on his mind though. Smiling even wider and shaking his head, he reached into the pocket of his leather jacket (the one that still made Patrick weak in the knees after a year of marriage), and pulled out what looked suspiciously like two…
“Are these baseball tickets?”
David’s grin turned into a slight grimace, “I mean, let’s hope so cause I had to triple check with your dad to make sure they were the right sport let alone the right team. So if they’re not this is on him, not me.”
Patrick looked at the Jays vs Yankees tickets closely and read the seat numbers. “David, how did you afford these?”
His husband preened a little and accentuated each word he spoke next with a tap against Patrick’s shoulders, “I may have been setting money aside for exactly this.”
“You mean the money you were saving for those new Rick Owens sneakers? You’ve been saving forever for those!”
David’s expression was pained as if he too couldn’t believe he’d spent the money on sports instead of shoes. “Let’s not rub it in. They would have looked really good with my Hermes rollneck...”
Patrick bit his lip sympathetically and nodded, “They really would have. Thank you so much for your sacrifice, I love it. Does this second ticket mean you’ll be joining me at the stadium tomorrow?”
The grimace was back, “I’ve been told there are a plethora of fried snacks at these things to distract me. And if that isn’t the case, we can never speak to your father ever again. So, you know...choose your next words wisely.”
Patrick laughed and leaned in for another kiss.
“They sell hotdogs.” Kiss. “And nachos.” Kiss. “Even corndogs.”
“That sounds revolting and I will be eating all of it.”
They spent the next minute or two kissing languidly against the wall before the drunken slap of a slur shouted from the mouth of the alley forced them apart. Patrick turned his head to see three guys blocking the way out. They looked like college kids in their twenties. Big college kids. David cleared his throat and stood up straight, pulling at Patrick’s hand.
“Let’s go,” he said under his breath, tense but not as thrown by the slur as Patrick was.
David, he knew, had heard it all before and probably worse.
“This queer is wearing a fucking skirt,” the one at the front of the group scoffed, his lip curled in disgust.
“C’mon,” David was saying, edging toward the restaurant door, clearly meaning to duck inside until these idiots got bored and left.
But Patrick’s brain was engaged in some abrupt mental gymnastics. First and foremost, this was the kind of moment he’d been secretly dreading since coming out a few years earlier. Thankfully, and surprisingly, the closest run-ins with homophobia he’d had were a handful of weird looks from older women in the grocery store in Elm Valley or the tittering of grade school kids who had once seen him and David kissing. And while a little upsetting, those instances had been so mild they hadn’t properly prepared him for something like this. It was like his brain couldn’t process what was happening.
Second, it felt so incredibly jarring to hear the word that David used so freely to describe them both thrown back at him as if it were some vile, disgusting thing. It had honestly taken months for Patrick to say the word queer without feeling like he was doing something wrong, and queer was one thing but fa–
He couldn’t even think of the word without his brain stalling out and converting it to the more palatable f-word. Meanwhile, these douchebags had just thrown it at them as easily as if it were any other word in the English language.
Third, and this was probably the reason his legs weren’t obeying David’s tense orders to move, the insults to David had activated some primal need within Patrick to stand up for and protect his husband. Which was, objectively, not necessarily the smartest reaction to have when it was three against two, and Patrick and David were well below the weight class in comparison.
“What the fuck are you looking at?” one of the men demanded when Patrick hadn’t torn his eyes away from them.
“Patrick, don’t,” David was saying more forcibly, now that the closest of the assholes was stepping toward them.
That plea, more than the others, seemed to snap Patrick out of it and he finally felt David’s other hand gripping his arm tightly. As the other man advanced, Patrick took a few steps back, stumbling awkwardly into David who clearly hadn’t expected him to move so readily as he was pulling his arm.
“We don’t want any trouble,” he heard himself say before the guy glanced back at his buddies with a smirk and then sucker-punched him.
It was like hearing the crack of a wooden baseball bat inside his head, reverberating off the sound of David gasping his name. What followed was a flurry of fists and rough hands, feet and knees in soft places. While it happened, while he had his arms curled protectively around his head, Patrick couldn't help but marvel at how quietly two people could be so brutalized. Aside from a few hoarse grunts and the odd gasp, being attacked sounded like dampened air hanging heavy and humid around them. Or like he was hearing it from underwater. At some point, Patrick found himself with his back against the pavement, unsure of how he’d gotten there. What was worse, when the onslaught finally stopped at the sudden shouting of new voices raised in alarm, he painfully forced his body to roll over, eyes searching for one thing and one thing only. But the scene before him made absolutely no sense.
The name tasted coppery in his mouth. Someone, a woman, was pressing his shoulders back to keep him down and he tried to fight her before her soothing voice coaxed him back. It was painful to move, more painful than anything he’d ever felt before, but it would be worse not to. Because there was David, laying a few feet away, face covered in blood and his now filthy white t-shirt ripped from the neck down. A man was gently rolling him on his side, facing Patrick, and he wanted to tell them to stop, that they were hurting David even more.
“Stop...stop d–don’t to-touch him…”
But it was then that Patrick realized what the guy was doing. Because David was choking...choking on the blood pouring out of his nose. The world swam around him and Patrick thought he might be sick. Through the chaos, he thought he heard the woman’s voice again.
“I need an ambulance, or...or two. And the police.”
Alexis is still crouched down in front of him, but now her head is lowered and he can’t see the tears streaming down her face. Like pushing through a fog, he reaches down and puts a hand—two fingers splinted—against her dark blonde hair. She sniffs and finally looks up, but it’s not worry in her eyes, it’s fury.
“Did you talk to the cops?” she asks, standing up and swiping a limp hand beneath her eyes.
She sets her jaw and steps away from him, pausing only to recover her purse from the floor. “I’m going to go find them. This is not happening again.”
That last part forces Patrick’s brain to backtrack. What is she talking about, again? But before he can call her back, there’s a groan from the bed.
“David!” Patrick leans forward and watches as David furrows his brow and tries to shake his head but can’t around the stiff brace keeping his neck straight. “Shhh, baby. Don’t move, just keep still.”
He cracks one bloodshot eye open and then the other and groans again, no doubt having a hard time seeing through the swelling. “Fucking ow.”
Patrick can’t help but chuckle humourlessly (and somewhat desperately) at the welcoming, if raspy, sound of his voice. With one of David’s arms in a cast and his other wrist splinted for a sprain, Patrick is wary of holding either of his hands, so he just leans forward and kisses his shoulder gently. To kiss his face would be to kiss the bruises and other damage there, and it all looks so painful that he doesn’t think he can do it.
“Jesus,” David is running his eyes up and down Patrick’s body, taking in his own black eye and split lip, the butterfly strips on his eyebrow, the splints on his fingers, and the way he’s gingerly holding his ribs. His lip trembles and he squeezes his eyes shut again, but the tears are already rolling down his mottled cheeks.
“Hey, hey,” Patrick leans forward and needs to touch his husband now, can’t imagine one more second without contact, and settles for laying a hand on his elbow where the cast stops. “I’m okay, David. I’m just a little sore.”
That may be the understatement of the century but the truth is, Patrick is far better off than David; David, who had gotten the brunt of the attack. He presses forward.
“We’re both going to be okay, I promise.”
David takes a deep breath through his nose and grimaces. “My head…”
Alarm bells ring in Patrick’s mind and he kicks himself for not pressing the call button immediately when David had come to. He presses it now. “A nurse is coming, baby. Just keep your eyes closed okay? Just try and relax.”
By the time Alexis returns, a doctor has confirmed that David has a severe concussion and a nurse has given him a stronger dose of morphine, making him drift back into a less frightening state of unconsciousness. For Patrick, slightly less drastic pain killers take off the edge. He’s exhausted (it’s 3 AM), and he’s been cleared to leave the hospital, but he can’t bear the thought of leaving David alone.
“Do you want me to get you anything?” Alexis asks when she returns and he’s given her the rundown he’d been too upset to voice earlier.
They’re waiting to get David into surgery to deal with a knee injury and a fractured cheekbone that needs to be repositioned. And while the neck brace is precautionary, the doctors are keen to keep an eye on the swelling around the top of David’s spine. Not to mention the concussion will be as unpleasant as anything in the coming days, if not weeks. If not months. Any chance of them heading back home on Sunday has gone out the window. It will be a while before David is fit to travel.
“Um...a change of clothes if you can. Mine are…” bloody he thinks, but he can’t say it. “Our bags are at the apartment.”
He picks at the thin hospital gown he’s been sitting in, unwilling to put the clothes he’d been wearing back on. He wants to burn them.
“Right, mhmm, no problem. I um...I called Mom and Dad. I told them not to come until tomorrow,” she glances at her phone and gives her head a tiny shake, “ugh, this afternoon I guess. Um, and I texted Stevie. She’s angry. But I, like, don’t have Marcy’s number so…”
Patrick casts around for his own phone but when he finds it, it’s dead.
“Here, why don’t you just add it to my phone, and I can call them while I get you your stuff,” she offers generously.
“Thanks, Alexis,” Patrick says tiredly, adding the number to his childhood home into her cellphone. “Just...they don’t need to fly out. Please tell them that. We’re going to be okay, I just...they can’t really afford it.”
She doesn’t leave right away, just stands at the end of David’s bed and watches him with a look on her face that Patrick doesn’t recognize. She’s smouldering with a kind of anger that seems out of place on Alexis. Patrick remembers what she’d said earlier.
“What did you mean before, about this not happening again?”
She doesn’t look at him, but her long thin fingers curl around the rail at the foot of David’s bed until her knuckles turn white.
“He never told you about St. Michael’s?”
The words have a ring of Catholicism to them that Patrick has never associated with any of the Roses. He shakes his head no.
“When David was fourteen, he went to this boarding school,” her voice has taken on a steady quality to it, low and purposeful without her usual um’s and like’s. “He’d had some embarrassing tabloid run-ins and I guess Dad was worried about reputation or something. It was a real old money kind of school that was known for setting kids straight or whatever. Nouveau riche kids were kind of...looked down on by everyone, you know? Anyway, David was…” Alexis lets out a frustrated huff. “Well he always has such a hard time making friends, and he was showing off or something, I don’t know. Being edgy just to make them like him–”
Patrick wants to stop her there because he knows this version of David exists (has even seen milder versions of him when he’s feeling particularly insecure), but it’s almost too painful to hear now. To know how much 14-year-old David just wanted someone to care, and knowing that this story is not going to end happily for him. That no one really would care until almost half a lifetime later. But Patrick doesn’t stop Alexis, because he also needs to know how this plays out. And he knows that the frustration rolling off of her now, and the way she’s throwing it back to David, isn’t accusatory. It’s guilt. Because he knows Alexis has never had to try to make friends a day in her life, and she hates that David struggles.
“–and of course that school was just full of assholes and creeps. And anyway, one day we get a call and David’s in the ho-hospital.” Her voice cracks and her grip on the bed railing tightens. “This group of guys thought he was acting too...too...anyway, they cornered him in the locker room and beat him up. It was really bad. Mom and Dad enrolled him somewhere else after that and it just sort of...went away.”
She would have been, what? Ten at the time? Still young enough to be attached at the hip with her older brother before the modelling and jet setting took over her life. Patrick stares at her and then turns his attention to David. They could be married for fifty more years and he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to hearing these stories. He’s not shocked this one hasn’t come up either—he’s sure it’s the kind of thing David has buried so deeply beneath other life experiences that he barely thinks of it anymore. Or doesn’t allow himself to.
“I take it no one was held accountable?” Patrick wants to be shocked on David’s behalf when Alexis just shakes her head, no. But he’d be naive to be, considering this is hardly the first story he’s heard where rich white kids got off scot-free for assault. “Did you find the cops I talked to?”
“Hmm? Oh, uh-huh. They seem nice, capable or whatever.”
He can almost hear her tying them up in Alexisisms until they agreed to whatever it is she’s demanded of them. Suddenly she lets go of the bed and turns to him with a watery smile.
“I’m going to get you your things and call your mom. And I’m going to find someone to get you a cute little cot to sleep on or something, cause this,” she gestures widely to him in the chair, “is not a good look for your posture. David would never forgive me if I let you get all hunchy like that French bell guy.”
She boops him on the nose, but before she can leave Patrick catches her hand and holds it gently. She stops and they look at each other, caught in the amber of the moment—both wanting to cry and both holding it back through their exhaustion.
“Thanks for coming, Alexis.”
Once again, her eyes take in the injuries on his face.
“I’m really glad you’re okay.”
And then she’s gone.
His head is pounding and the sound of his mother’s dramatics is grating on David’s last nerve. He’d woken up an hour ago, knee and face having been operated on earlier that day, only to find his hospital room overcrowded and overwhelming.
He can’t think about his face, or anything else for that matter. There’s just too much of everything to wade through.
“Um, Johnny…” David can pick out Patrick’s polite frustration under the din of Moira’s non-stop chatter, even with his eyes closed as they are now. “I think maybe David could use a break from the, uh...the conversation.”
“Oh, oh of course son. Moira, honey? Why don’t we give the boys a bit of privacy, hmm?”
“But Jo-ohn, how am I to care for my sweet bébé boy if we retire from his convalescence chamber?”
“I think the doctors have everything under control dear…”
“I simply refuse, and I’m a little taken aback that you’d be so willing to leave him high and dry!”
David should be touched by the fact that she’s condescended to visit the hospital let alone demand to stay there, considering her general stance on germs. Then again, he’s not sick he’s just...well, better not to think about it.
“Now, Moira that’s not...well I wouldn’t…”
His Dad is faltering and David clenches his teeth, hoping he finds a second wind so that David isn’t forced to angrily send her out of the room himself. He takes what he hopes is a calming breath through his nose and feels Patrick’s steady hand on his shoulder. David refuses to open his eyes.
“Oh my god, mom.”
Great, adding Alexis to a Rose argument is never any help.
“David is obviously feeling super shitty right now, and we’re all like, overcrowding him or whatever. Let’s just go and get lunch so he can sleep it off.”
Or...wow. Maybe Alexis isn’t completely terrible after all. There’s a long pause while his Mom evidently reads the room around her.
“Well, obviously he is desperately exhausted!” Moira exclaims just a notch too loud despite her attempt at a stage whisper. “John, we must occupy ourselves elsewhere and give David and poor Pat-rick some privacy.”
David almost feels a smile creeping up into the corner of his mouth as she spins the idea to leave into her own suggestion. That is until he catches an onslaught of Chanel No. 5 and opens his eyes to find her leaning over him.
“David, my love?”
The perfume sends his stomach lurching and before he has any warning, whatever is left in his stomach from last night’s dinner works its way up his throat and out onto the floor, narrowly avoiding Patrick’s shoes as he jumps out of the way.
Never mind, he hates Alexis.
“Fuuuck…” David groans as he falls back against the pillows, wanting to clutch at his agonizing body but unable to with his hands trapped under the cast and splint.
His head feels like someone’s holding a jackhammer to the spot where it had smacked against brick (nope, don’t think about it), but it’s really his broken ribs that are screaming the loudest. And his face. And everywhere fucking else that’s attached to a nerve ending.
Patrick’s cool hand smooths the hair off of his forehead. “David?”
It takes a minute before David realizes that the noise of his family has been replaced with blessed silence. He cracks his painfully swollen eyes open and sees that Patrick has moved to the other side of the bed and is looking a little green himself. The Roses are nowhere to be found.
“M’sorry,” he says thickly, slightly worried he may not be completely past the stomach pyrotechnics.
As if reading his thoughts, a nurse appears at Patrick’s side producing a kidney-shaped bowl that Patrick takes gingerly. “It’s okay, Mr Rose. Nausea is normal with a concussion. If you think it’s going to happen again, let’s aim for this.”
David only gives a non-committal grunt and picks a spot on the ceiling in the hopes that focusing on it will keep the room from spinning. He tunes out the low conversation between his husband and the nurse. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a middle-aged guy duck into the room with a mop and bucket and tries hard to ignore the embarrassment burning its way across his cheeks.
“Sorry,” he grits out again through clenched teeth, not taking his eyes off the spot on the ceiling.
“Don’t sweat it, happens all the time.”
He thinks maybe Patrick chuckles at that, even if sounds a little forced. Finally, the mess cleaned up, both the janitor guy and the nurse leave them alone in the room.
“Okay, so throwing up with three broken ribs and that headache must not have been fun. I would have kicked your mom out a lot sooner if I’d known you were feeling that sick.”
David shakes his head a little and immediately regrets it. “It was her perfume. I thought hospitals were supposed to be scent-free?”
Patrick makes a sympathetic noise. “I’ll text Alexis. Maybe she can convince her to shower before they come back.”
David closes his eyes again, trying to block out the sudden guilt at the thoughts rolling through his aching head. His face, as messed up as he knows it is (he hasn’t cared to look in a mirror but he can feel it) must give him away.
“David, what is it?”
Patrick is looking at him with such concern that David can’t help but tell him, his voice trembling barely above a whisper. “Do they have to come back?”
Patrick looks torn. “They flew here from LA, and they’re really worried about you.”
He knows they are, and under different circumstances he wouldn’t really want them to stay away. He’s touched his parents actually came, given the fact that they’ve been absent from many a hospital visit in the past. But being here, being like this after what happened—seeing Patrick’s own pain clear as day on his face and the way he holds his aching body—is just too much. And his parents aren’t exactly exemplars of calm and support. If he’s being honest, David just wants to drown the whole experience out with a fistful of painkillers. He hasn’t really been awake long enough to talk about what happened let alone really think about it, and every time either of his parents had looked at him in the last hour it had been obvious they were itching to say something. He’s frustrated to find that he can’t decide if he wants them to or not.
If this is anything like the last time, he thinks resentfully, they won’t.
But, a small hopeful voice in his head hedges, they’re not the same people this time around. And Alexis, well he’s not sure he actually wants her to leave. He remembers her back then, clingy and afraid for weeks afterward, but loving and gentle too...
David shuts that train of thought down.
“I know,” he replies weakly, because Patrick is waiting for a response, wide-eyed and worried. “I’m just tired.”
Patrick runs a hand over his face, exhausted. “Me too.”
It’s like something breaks in David then. Something that he didn’t have time to feel when he’d woken up to a room full of people, wanting only Patrick but unable to demand it. He wishes he could erase every cut and bruise from his husband’s body. Wishes he could press the rewind button on their lives and go back to the moment he decided to pull them into that alley to give him the tickets instead of just waiting until they got back to the apartment. Most of all, David wishes he could muffle out the memory of what had happened next. Of being swarmed and held down. Of taking a beating and watching Patrick take his too. Of not being able to protect him from the extremes of their world, when that very switch had been flipped in his head the second Patrick had told him he’d never kissed a guy before.
Guilt that he knows is irrational floods his chest, and with it anger and misery. David couldn’t protect him...
He reaches out his stiff arm (the one with the sprained wrist) and touches Patrick’s stomach, the only part of him that he can awkwardly reach.
“Patrick…” it comes out thin and watery, accentuated by the hot tears pricking at his eyes.
Patrick lowers his hand and his face nearly drops, but he’s clearly trying to keep it together. Those eyes though—there’s no keeping them quiet.
“I’m so sorry,” David chokes out. “I’m so sorry.”
Patrick drops into the chair so that they’re closer to eye level, and sets the bowl aside so he can very gingerly take David’s hand. He’s crying then too, and David doesn’t feel so alone. “Me too, god me too.”
Patrick understands, David knows. Understands that David isn’t outright blaming himself for what happened, but that he’s apologizing in that objective way. Apologizing for an innocence lost and for that small piece of security he knows Patrick may never get back. That he himself never truly got back. That David is apologizing on behalf of the Universe for dealing them such a shitty hand, just when things had been going so well. That he’s apologizing for the scales being tipped out of their favour and for maybe, just maybe, being the thing that tipped them. This queer is wearing a fucking skirt. He pushes the thought away and focuses on Patrick’s hand in his and cries.
Patrick had thought he was all cried out, but apparently not. It hurt his cracked ribs like hell to do it, but on the other hand Patrick is almost certain a part of him had been waiting for the moment he and David could find this release together.
It’s strange to realize, once they’ve both quieted down, that they’ve never really cried like this in front of each other. Sure, David can be set off by most benign words of kindness or even a particularly sappy car commercial, and Patrick isn’t made of stone. But this feels guttural and raw, and it doesn’t leave Patrick feeling any better for having done it, just quieter as if it needed to happen one way or the other.
He’s so tired, and he’s got his head face-down in arms crossed on top of David’s bed—David’s splinted hand carding stiffly through his hair. Suddenly the hand slides loosely away. Has he fallen asleep? Patrick looks up and then sits up straight.
David is sitting against the pillows, staring glassily ahead of him. The absence of awareness sends an icy chill down Patrick’s spine, and he’s about to reach out and touch him when suddenly David’s body goes taught like a stiff cord. His jaw clenches and his eyes partially roll back so that they’re looking up to the right. Both arms shoot out straight in his lap, fingers clawed, making small jerking movements. The chair slides back with an awful screech as Patrick jumps out of it and presses the call button at David’s side.
“Help!” It comes out small and almost soundless and Patrick stumbles to the hallway to try again but a nurse is already meeting him at the door.
She takes one look at David and calls out to the nurse’s station just down the hall. Patrick almost doesn’t understand what she says.
“The patient is seizing!”
“I FaceTimed with Patrick last night. I wish we could, it’s driving me crazy not to see you for myself.”
It’s a startling admission coming from Stevie and David doesn’t have the heart to tease her for it. The only thing stopping her from flying out is the fact that she’s handling the store for them. She’d taken a week of vacation and enlisted Jocelyn to help. It’s telling how out of sorts David feels that he hasn’t spent the call demanding updates and telling her how to run things.
David desperately wants to see her face too, but he’s still on a strict no-screen policy and had to get a nurse to pull up Stevie’s number for him to even have this call in the first place. Everyone, David included, is taking the no-screen thing very seriously after the seizure two days ago. Not that he had looked at a screen once before it happened. In fact the doctors have assured him that seizures, while alarming, are common enough with severe concussions. It just seems safer not to push things. And if he thinks Patrick had looked wrecked the first time he’d regained consciousness in the hospital, it’s nothing in comparison. This had been...upsetting.
He shifts uncomfortably in his bed, trying not to think about the confusion and exhaustion of coming to afterwards. It had lasted well into the next day and that frightens him.
“Well,” he says, trying to hold the cellphone to his ear in a position that doesn’t make his wrist scream in protest, “maybe if you’re very good I’ll let Alexis send you a picture.”
He’s not even sure why he’s suggesting it. He hasn’t been able to look at himself in a mirror yet, but maybe there’s something safe in the idea of handing that horrible little pressure in his chest over to Stevie for safekeeping until he can do it. He’s not sure why. Patrick and his whole family, not to mention half the hospital staff, have already seen his broken body. But this feels different, like he has some semblance of control over who gets to be a part of this hellish experience. And anyway he knows she’s willing to carry that fear for him as long as he needs her to. Not long ago he would have worried about burdening her with it, but he knows he’d do the same for her if she needed him to, god forbid.
“One and then you have to swear you’ll delete it immediately! I’m serious, Stevie. It’s for proof of life only. No one needs to have evidence of this.”
His own words stop him short. Yesterday two detectives had arrived at the hospital to take pictures of his injuries as actual evidence. Like...for proof that a crime had been committed. They’d apparently done the same to Patrick the night of the attack, but were told by David’s doctors to wait until he was out of surgery and ready to be interviewed. It had felt...invasive. He’d ended the interview feeling wrung out and exposed, having let them take their pictures (eyes squeezed shut the entire time) and responded to their questions as thoroughly as possible—getting the impression that they were disappointed with his answers.
Could he describe the three men? Sort of, he was having a hard time remembering their faces.
Had he fought back? His bruised knuckles and the samples Patrick told him they’d scraped from under his nails in the ER clearly said he had tried even if it was all a blur.
Had he or Patrick done anything to provoke the altercation? Fuck everyone and everything, thank-you very much.
“Cross my heart,” Stevie is saying, softer than usual. “But maybe get Patrick to take it. Do we really trust Alexis?”
Fair point. She’s been shockingly comforting these past few days, and even the detectives had said she’d been pestering them for updates, which...okay, he doesn't really know what to do with that. But Alexis and pictures ripe for social media are like a dry Californian forest and a flamethrower. Not worth the risk.
“How was he?” David hedges, thinking of Patrick spending the night at Alexis’s apartment for the first night since he’d been admitted.
“Rough,” she says honestly, and David is grateful for Stevie’s bluntness. “I don’t think he appreciated being kicked out of the hospital.”
“I didn’t kick him out,” he protests. “He needed to sleep in a real bed, and shower and just...he needed a break.”
“I know. And so does he, even if he was being a total baby about it.”
There’s a pause and David can tell she’s hesitating about something. “What? What is it?”
She clears her throat, “Alexis says he was having nightmares last night.”
Who could blame him? After St. Michael’s, David hadn’t slept through the night for a whole year until he started stealing from his mother’s pill stash. What a long and winding road that had started him on, ending right at the door of the motel over fifteen years later.
“Are you sleeping okay?” she asks, interrupting his thoughts.
“Mhmm, the one benefit of knee surgery is that this hospital has some very good drugs,” he says lightly but it sounds forced and he knows she isn’t buying it. “They put me right out at night.”
Which makes it insanely hard to wake up out of the nightmares when he does have them. He doesn’t say that part though.
“Right. Any word on when you’re getting out of there?”
“Ugh, I can’t fly with the concussion, but the words ‘two to three days’ have been thrown around a few times this morning.”
David is sort of dreading leaving, if he's being honest. Because leaving means moving his body, and moving means feeling the pain in his ribs and knee tenfold. And it means having someone else other than a nurse help him change in and out of clothes, which means having another person get up close and personal with the very extensive bruising covering about 80% of his very sore body. And seeing the bruises means reliving the attack again which means—
“Hmm, well it sounds like you'll need to find another way to get home...”
She sounds like she’s scheming but before he can demand Stevie spit it out, Patrick is knocking gently on his door with a bouquet of gift shop flowers in his hand. The bruising around his eye and jaw has begun to lighten up, but he doesn’t look like he slept much.
“Patrick’s here, gotta go.”
That throws him a little—they are very tight-fisted with their I love you's—but before he can say anything back, she’s already hung up.
“Was that Stevie?” Patrick asks, pressing a feather light kiss to David’s forehead.
“Mhmm. So don’t die of shock, but I may have just promised her photographic evidence that I’m okay.”
Patrick looks like he wants to challenge David’s definition of okay. Which, fair since he feels like he’s literally been pushed through a meat grinder. But he’s alive so...just don't think about it.
“Um, wow, really? Okay, do you want me to…”
David nods solemnly. “Let’s get it over with before Alexis shows up and demands one of her own.”
He sets the flowers down on the bedside table and pulls out his phone. David flashes him a loose interpretation of the middle finger under the bulkiness of his splint.
“Send it and delete it, please and thank-you. Then get over here and kiss me properly.”
Patrick smiles tiredly and obliges.
“I missed you,” David says, not caring if he sounds whiny because it’s true.
“And whose fault is that?” Patrick asks, a hint of real hurt in his voice.
“Hmm, well I like my husband rested, showered, and shaved thank you very much. How’d you manage that with two broken fingers, by the way?”
Patrick flushes. “Your sister may have helped.”
“That is both disturbing and adorable. Let’s never speak of it again.”
When he responds, his tone is a bit flat.
Patrick had thought he was holding it together pretty well the last few days up until he’d woken up shouting, unsure of where he was and still feeling rough hands pulling at his body. It had only been Alexis, and Patrick is pretty sure he’s never going to be able to forget the look on her face when—still half asleep and out of his mind—he’d shoved her bodily off the bed and onto the floor. If he thinks about it too hard, he’s worried he’ll fold into himself and collapse under the weight of his guilt.
She’d been so forgiving, so ready to stand back up and coax him out of his dream. To press a cool glass of water into his hands, and then to push him back into bed when he’d swallowed half of it, abandoning her spot on her couch to crawl under the covers with him. He’d wondered if she had done the same thing after what happened to David at St. Michael’s? He was positive he wouldn’t sleep after that, terrified he’d strike out at her again, but her steady breathing and murmured assurances had eventually sent him into a gentler sleep than before.
Alexis hadn’t mentioned it once when they’d woken up the next morning. Just booped his nose when he tried to apologize, and dragged him into the bathroom to help him take care of the meager three day growth on his chin. But Patrick can't seem to let it go.
Now she’s sitting in the chair beside David’s bed, flipping through a Cosmo magazine she’d pilfered from the waiting room as if none of it had ever happened. She shimmies her shoulders the same way David so often does, and looks up excitedly at her brother who’s resting his eyes.
“Oooh David, let’s find out what season you are!”
David doesn’t even look at her. “With my complexion? We’re both summers Alexis, obviously. As if we haven’t known our seasons since birth.”
“You’re no fun. Mmm, Patrick let’s do you!”
“Have you met more of a winter, honestly?” David snaps.
“Well excuse me for trying to find something to entertain you, David! Or would you prefer Mom and Dad’s company instead?”
David’s parents haven’t returned since the vomit incident, properly frightened off but still haunting the city like guilty spectors, and Patrick knows it’s a sore point for him. He shoots Alexis a warning look but then abruptly remembers the sound of her gasping as she fell to the floor last night—which, now that he thinks about it, sounded a lot like David’s gasping a few nights ago under the flurry of angry fists—and looks away again. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, ignoring the pressure against his bruised eye.
“Do whatever you want, just do it quietly for once in your life.”
Patrick feels like his body is buzzing with angry energy and he sinks into the chair on the other side of David’s bed, holding his head in his hands. He wishes they’d cool it for once.
“Eat asbestos, Alexis!”
A pressure he doesn’t understand builds in his chest.
“Ew David, you eat asbestos!”
“Shut up, both of you!”
He doesn’t recognize his own voice.
The room drops into a cold, barren silence, and Patrick is shaking when he looks up at them. They both look like they’ve been slapped, but there’s understanding lingering under the hurt in Alexis’s eyes.
“Sorry,” David’s voice is small and Patrick can’t look at him.
“I just...I just need some air.”
He stands up briskly and leaves them, catching the look they share as he goes and ignoring David when he calls after him.
What is this thing writhing in his chest? This anger and fear, coiled like a snake and ready to strike when he doesn’t expect it? Patrick walks blindly, as quickly as his cracked ribs will carry him. He’s unsure of where he’s going until the cool air conditioning of the hospital is replaced with the heavy August humidity. He leans against the wall beside the hospital entrance and tries to catch his breath. He doesn’t recognize this version of himself. This person who physically assaults his sister-in-law and who shouts at his hospitalized husband. He feels like he’s one misstep away from becoming some kind of monster.
Patrick’s phone buzzes and he sees Stevie’s name there. Either she has some kind of sixth sense or David has worked his way around his screen ban to beg her to call him. Patrick doesn’t even begrudge him the effort.
“Hey,” he greets her hollowly.
“So, word on the street is you’re having a freakout and ran away from your husband. Which I’ve been informed is patently unfair since said husband is stuck in bed with a bum knee and can’t follow you.”
Dammit, Stevie. All he can manage is a painful noise from the back of his throat in reply.
“In any case, I’ve been deputized as a back-up husband. So consider yourself followed. Lay it on me, what’s going on?”
Patrick is convinced that no one in the world deserves Stevie Budd, least of all him at this moment. But he’ll take her, because he’s desperate and he’s half convinced he’ll fall apart right here and now if he doesn’t confide in her.
“I think I’m going crazy.”
She takes a deep breath on the other end of the line. “Why’s that?”
He tells her about what happened with Alexis last night, and about shouting at her and David just now. He tells her about the thing in his chest, and about what he’s afraid it means. When he’s done she doesn’t speak for a while and he’s afraid he’s scared her off.
“Okay, that was...a lot. I’m going to say this once, because I think you need to hear someone say it: Patrick, you are not a spousal abuser. But you were attacked, and that’s pretty fucking traumatic. Which means you should probably cut yourself some slack. Also, can I suggest that maybe you talk to someone about it? Like a professional someone. Don’t they have doctors at that hospital?”
A pathetic sort of laughter bubbles up in his chest. “Probably.”
“It feels good to get things off your chest, doesn’t it?” she asks as if pointing out the obvious to a slightly stupid child.
Which, Stevie probably assumes all children are slightly stupid and he shouldn’t be surprised that she’s lumping him in with them.
“Good. Now it’s my turn.”
He braces himself for her to tell him off for being ridiculous, or for making David worry. But instead she just says:
“If I have to listen to one more story from Jocelyn about what Roland does with that massage oil you guys sell, I am going to Vincent van Gogh both my fucking ears off and stick my head in your paper shredder. And then I’m going to haunt your asses until you swear to never restock this fucking oil so long as Roland Schitt breathes the air within thirty thousand kilometers of this store. As back-up husband, I am invoking my right by back-up marriage to demand it be removed from circulation.”
The thing in Patrick’s chest uncoils by a pretty substantial fraction and he genuinely laughs this time.
“Thanks for calling, Stevie. I love you, you know that?”
“I can’t hear you,” she says, and her voice sounds distant as if she’s holding the phone away from her. “That’s one ear off already!”
They hang up and he takes a deep breath. There’s nothing else to do for it but head back to David’s room. He makes the trip slowly, dreading whatever he’s going to see in David’s eyes. Will it be fear or pity? Maybe worry. Maybe anger. Maybe just that terrifying emptiness that had been a precursor to the seizure. Patrick picks up the pace at the thought and soon he’s standing in the door. David is alone staring back at him.
There’s only unabashed love in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Patrick blurts out.
“I know, come here.”
He’s got his arms as open as he can get them and Patrick all but falls into them, ever careful to be gentle. So gentle.
“Do I get to hear about it, or is this for Stevie’s ears only?”
There’s maybe a hint of worry in his words and Patrick pulls away from him. Sitting down and hanging his head, he recounts exactly what he told Stevie. His throat feels dry by the time he’s told David he thinks he needs to find some kind of counselor to talk to properly.
“I feel like I’m failing somehow,” he says, tugging at a loose thread on David’s blanket. “You’ve been keeping it together and...and I can’t stop feeling like I’m falling apart.”
David sighs and leans back into his pillow. “Patrick, I can safely say that I am not keeping it together. Pretty sure you are looking at a Vesuvian-level meltdown waiting to happen. And when it happens it's going to be bad.”
Patrick looks at him, really looks at him but has to admit he doesn’t really see it. After their big mutual break down a few days back, David hasn’t really been especially emotional. He’s just seemed tired and, understandably, physically in pain.
“It doesn’t seem like it.”
David gives him a cheerless smile, “Getting the shit kicked out of me for being queer? Been there, done that, made a lifetime of bad decisions to forget about it the first time around. This level of cool detachment takes practice, sweetheart. And I have to say, as much as you’re hurting, I’m happy you don’t have past experience with this kind of pain to hide behind.”
“Alexis told me about what happened when you were a kid.”
“Well...Alexis only knows what she was told. Are you upset I never told you?”
“No! God no, I just...I’m sorry it happened at all.”
David reaches for his hand, “Me too.”
“Will you tell me about it now?”
David considers Patrick for a moment and then seems to decide that maybe he needs to unleash this gnawing beast from his chest too, just as Patrick has done.
“I was just a dumb kid,” he says, leaning his head back into his pillows and closing his eyes. Patrick rubs his thumb in circles against David’s knuckles. “My parents sent me to this reform school after the first time I was in the tabloids. I don’t even remember what I did. I don’t think they quite knew how to handle it though, and Rose Video was sort of in its hay day so there was all this like...concern over maintaining their reputation. Not that my mother wasn’t always toeing that line. Anyway, they sent me to this weird fucking boys school, which was predictably awful. It was pre-rhinoplasty, if that doesn't tell you everything you need to know. Anyway, I ended up falling in with this jock a grade or two ahead of me…became really close…”
His voice has gone from blasé to distant the further down memory lane he goes. Patrick can picture a young, unsure David developing a crush on an older, handsome athlete. In Patrick’s mind, David is awkward but teetering on the cusp of rebellion—far from home and falling in love, maybe for the first time.
“Anyway, it turns out what clandestinely happens in the third floor janitor’s closet is really supposed to stay there. Because one day one of this guy’s douchie sporty friends found a...suggestive...note I’d left in one of his textbooks and…”
He’s staring off into the distance now, face pinched with the memory, his cast-encumbered hand reaching absently to his neck as if reliving some horrifying piece of time. Tears are starting to roll down his cheeks but he doesn't seem to notice them. Patrick wants to tell him he can stop but David starts talking again.
“I think the worst part of it all was that he was there, and he didn’t stop them. They got me in the locker room and...and beat the ever-living shit out of me, and he didn’t stop them. The smell of gym sweat still makes me sick...”
Patrick thinks back to all the times David has refused to go near the bag he keeps his baseball gear in. How he refuses to let him keep it anywhere near their bedroom, and makes him shower almost immediately after coming home from every practice or game. He thinks of the times he's teased him about it and the thought makes Patrick feel a little sick.
“After that, my parents sort of threw in the towel in terms of being disciplinarians. I think the experience scarred them enough that they just leaned into their hands-off approach, reputation be damned. We’ve never really talked about it...”
That seems to be as much as he’s willing to say, and Patrick wants to bundle him up and never let go. He settles for pressing kisses against his knuckles instead.
“What was his name?”
“He didn’t deserve you.”
David finally turns to look at him. “Hmm, agreed. But it’s taken an embarrassingly long time to realize that. I did a lot of bad things, and put myself in a lot of dangerous situations to keep all that pain and fear out of my head. I almost killed myself with all of it, trying to escape. And you know what?”
“It didn’t work. In all these years, only one thing has ever made me feel moderately human and safe.”
“What?” Patrick repeats, and he knows the answer but also knows he needs to hear it and David needs to say it.
“You. It’s still you, it will always be you. And I may seem okay now, but soon, very soon it's going to hit me Patrick. Hard, and when it does I am going to be very much not okay. That fear and pain and self-loathing are back in my head all over again and I can feel the dam breaking, it just hasn't happened yet. And it’s so incredibly unfair that this happened to us, but I know no matter how bad it gets in my head I'll be safe, because I still have you. And you have me, you know that right?”
“I know, David, I know.”
“So no drug binges for you, Patrick Brewer! And no desperate on-again, off-again affairs with C-list celebrities to forget either, thank-you very much.”
Patrick stands to kiss him properly, swiping David's hot tears away with the pads of his thumbs. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“But also, maybe yes to counselling,” David suggests with a little less conviction, fingers absently reaching to twist the engagement rings that he’s not currently wearing. “Because that’s probably not a bad plan for the both of us, even if it sounds awful and was probably Stevie’s dumb idea…”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Patrick takes a deep breath and, for the first time since leaving the alley, he feels himself exhale.
How are you telling 2020 to fuck off while you ring in the New Year? I'm binge writing and doing sad things to beloved fictional characters. Happy pre-2021 my dudes!
A woman is crying.
David is standing in the middle of the alley, one end blocked by faceless looming figures, and the door to the Italian restaurant (his only chance for escape) is stretching further and further away from him with every passing second. Even if he could run fast enough to reach it, his legs won’t move. And the women...she’s still crying. He can hear her, but he can’t see her.
“Let’s go,” he says to her—whoever, wherever, she is. His voice sounds strained and terrified. “C’mon, we need to get out of here.”
Because the figures are almost on top of him now, and the heady stench of sweat-soaked lacrosse gear is filling his nose. And the boys—yes he’s sure of it now, they’re the boys from the school’s lacrosse team—in their burgundy St. Michael’s uniforms are painfully vibrant under the harsh lights in the alley. It’s Kyle who is standing front and center.
“This queer is wearing a fucking skirt,” he’s saying only it’s not his voice, it’s someone older.
David can’t seem to focus on his face. Every time he blinks, Kyle’s boyish features slide grotesquely between the expressions of three total strangers in the night, like a thumb smudging through the oil paint of a still-wet portrait on cheap canvas. The smell of sweaty, sport-weary bodies becomes mixed with the overpowering smell of cheap Calvin Klein cologne.
Hands, hands from every direction claw at his arms, his legs, his face. One hand presses against his throat until he can’t breathe at all. He tries to fight them off, scratches and bites like a feral cat but there are too many hands and the woman is still crying.
“David? David, fuck, wake up. You’re dreaming, okay?”
The hand on his shoulder, not large and rough but small and persistent, pulls him out of the nightmare. He blinks rapidly into wakefulness, trying to remember where he is. It’s proving difficult considering the person looking back at him should be where he’s not.
“Stevie?” It comes out in a gasp as he struggles to find equilibrium.
He’s still in his hospital bed in New York and his best friend is apparently here with him—eyes red-rimmed and puffy—instead of back home where she’d been when he’d spoken to her three days ago. It’s late in the morning, and he thinks maybe he dozed off after his less than pleasant counselling session. He remembers Antony, the overworked, baby-faced hospital counsellor, saying something about avoidance not being a healthy coping mechanism. Case and point: the nightmare. The thing is, David is petrified of picking at the precariously constructed walls protecting him right now. He’s just not ready for what lies behind them…
Once again, he shoves the train of thought down.
“Why are you here?” his mouth asks even though his brain means to say thank god you’re here.
She rolls her eyes, turning slightly to scrub at them with the sleeve of her flannel shirt. “Wow, what a warm welcome.”
She’s going for dry sarcasm but it doesn’t quite land.
David closes his eyes for a second, taking deep controlling breaths. The leeching grip of the dream is finally beginning to shake loose, and his body aches from the effort of having it just as thoroughly as his mind does. Finally, when he’s sure he’s not going to scream or go catatonic on her, he exhales slowly and looks up at Stevie once again.
“All good?” she asks, eyeing him with some trepidation.
“Peachy,” he groans.
“You look like shit, David.”
“Wow, okay. Goodbye. Nice of you to come, now fuck off forever please.”
“Shut up,” she says and he does because there’s a look on her face that he’s never seen there before.
It’s shock, and fear, and helplessness all warring across her dark eyes and pale complexion. But under all of that, there’s anger too—a low rolling fury that he thinks he understands because it’s exactly what he’d felt when he’d woken up to see Patrick’s beat up face for the first time earlier that week.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” she’s saying.
“I seem to recall sending you a picture.”
There’s no bite to his words. They’re being Soft Stevie & David™ right now, and that is a rare thing that makes him nervous and warm in equal measure.
“Why do you think I came?”
And that right there is an uncomfortably tender pill to swallow. “Is it still that bad?”
He knows it is. He has caught Patrick and Alexis staring at him as if pained just by the sight of him. Has heard the sympathetic clucking and tsking of nurses, and has seen the colour drain from his father’s face and heard the catch in his mother’s voice the one time they deigned to return to the hospital after running off that first afternoon. The bruises he can see (when he’s not actively looking away and pretending they don’t exist) on his arms and legs, have been very slowly morphing from impossibly dark purples to dark blues and in some places a sickly green. He knows it’s bad, can feel how bad it really is well after his pain medication peaks. He thinks that if he sees them all, sees the way his whole body looks now, he may crack into a million pieces. He hopes maybe she’ll brush the question off and give him the courtesy of ending this soft and genuine moment with a joke or jab.
“It’s still that bad.”
They sit with that for a long, uncomfortable moment until neither of them can take it anymore.
Stevie, it turns out, has come with a purpose and it isn’t only to confirm that David is in fact earning his morphine drip. He’s being discharged today and with the option to fly home off the table, it turns out she flew in so that she can rent a car to take him and Patrick back to Schitt’s Creek herself. She tells him all this while they fall into a more familiar cadence of conversation, waiting for Patrick and Alexis to come back from packing up their stuff at the apartment.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” David groans, “but I’d rather have JT’s frosted tips circa 2002 than spend the next ten hours stuck in a moving vehicle.”
The thing is, the effects of the concussion have only barely let up. And by barely, like basically not at all. While David hasn’t had another terrifying seizure, his head is almost always one constant ache and the nausea is only managed with medication but is never really gone completely. He can barely eat for fear of everything just coming right back up. Not to mention the lights in his room have been kept consistently low since he got here due to a very unpleasant sensitivity he’s developed. So being stuck in a moving car, dizzy and painfully jostled, under the bright light of day sounds like a fucking nightmare, and he tells her as much.
“We’ll take it slow,” she promises. “I kinda figured neither of you would be in any shape to do the full drive. Luckily, Rosebud motel has a location by the border. So we can spend the night there and give you both a break. I’m also kind of hoping you’ve got something on your very long list of prescription drugs that might knock you out for the worst of it?”
He pulls a face, “Oh my god, yes. A light coma would be perfect.”
“Is that what I said?”
When Patrick gets to the hospital, packed bags in hand, he finds David asleep and Stevie watching him like a hawk. Her head snaps up the second she hears him come in and she’s launching herself into his arms before he can brace himself for it, making him drop his dufflebag where he’s got it sitting on top of David’s suitcase.
She jumps back like a scalded cat. “Oh fuck, sorry! Jesus, I’m such a fucking moron!”
Patrick breathes deeply through the pain in his ribs but flashes her a grin and opens one arm up to beckon her back into the hug. “It’s okay, Stevie. Come here.”
She stands a little straighter and her face slips into a mask of disinterest as she clears her throat. “No, nope, that was embarrassing enough the first time around.”
Patrick rolls his eyes and closes the space between them, forcing her to accept the hug anyway.
“I’m really glad you came,” he says gratefully into her hair before she’s pulling away, disgruntled.
They’d talked about it on the phone the night before, and he can’t thank her enough for doing it. Patrick was not looking forward to attempting the drive alone. Her eyes (has she been crying?) flicker past him, a hint of a smile pulling at her mouth.
“Yeah well, I brought some back-up with me. We had to fly in separately but…”
From behind him in the hall he hears her voice. “Sweetheart?”
His Mom is standing in the doorway, and he barely says the word before she’s swallowing him in a hug, solid but gentle. He thinks he hears Stevie say something about coffee before making her exit, but he’s not listening. It feels like he’s barely breathing in his mom’s arms, and it’s horrible but good all at once. The stress of the last week peaks once again, the way it has been doing for days, and he presses his face into her shoulder anxiously.
“Oh, Patrick. What did they do to you?” she asks tearfully.
They’ve been talking and texting almost daily, and he even FaceTimed her and his dad the first night he’d gone back to Alexis’s, but he can tell she’s still shaken to be looking at the damage to his face in person. When they finally separate, she tilts his chin back and forth to take in each bruise (now more green than purple) and to assess every stitch with a keen nurse’s eye. Suddenly, Patrick is incomprehensibly relieved to have her making this trip with him to get David safely home. She’s only been retired a year now, and her medical sense is as sharp as it's ever been.
Still, there’s some guilt at having her come all this way. He gently lowers her hands from his face and holds them loosely in his, careful of his broken fingers.
“I’m feeling a lot better, honestly.”
She doesn’t look like she believes him.
“Was your flight very expensive?” he asks.
“Don’t even think about worrying,” she says sternly. “I had AirMiles to spend.”
He doesn’t push it, but he wonders if the Roses helped pay for her ticket. He knows that David’s parents have been feeling guilty for not being more actively involved in his immediate recovery. But Patrick also suspects that Johnny at least understands that he and Moira ride a fine line between being helpful and becoming the center of attention in any given situation. In fact, Patrick is almost positive that by avoiding his son, Johnny (in his own backward Rose way) was doing his best to shelter David from that. Whether David wants to see it like that or not is a different story. Regardless, they flew back to LA a few days ago, and it feels good to have at least one of their parents here to lean on.
His Mom is looking over his shoulder now at David asleep in the bed, and her eyes well up with fresh tears at the devastation she sees there.
An hour and a half later, David is refusing to let Patrick help him change out of his hospital gown and into sweats and a zip up hoodie, opting instead for the assistance of a nurse while everyone waits in the hallway. Patrick tries not to take it personally—this kind of thing has been happening all week—but he has to admit that he’s feeling pretty useless.
He thinks he gets it though, even if David isn’t ready to talk about it. Nobody outside of the hospital staff has actually seen David without his hospital gown on, not even Patrick. Despite what people might think, David has a pretty substantial protective streak to him and Patrick thinks maybe all this is just his way of keeping Patrick from seeing the more extensive results of the attack. Patrick has his own bruises, mostly around his shoulders, and they are upsetting to look at. He worries though, that the pressure David is putting on himself to protect Patrick may be building up into something unmanageable.
I can feel the dam breaking, David had said just days ago.
For Patrick, his own dam is a pile of waterlogged rubble. The nightmares persist and his emotions feel all over the place, but he has to admit that talking things out does help. He’s already done a virtual meeting with a therapist out of Elmdale, and he’s been more than a little surprised to find a sympathetic ear from Alexis ever since the pushing incident. No one would deny that she can be a little vapid, but she’s been there for him when it counts and he’s grateful (as always) to have found himself with a sister in his life.
Which is why it’s so hard to leave her behind when they’re all ready to pile into the rental car, finally setting off for home. He gives her an extra tight squeeze, murmuring a heartfelt thank-you into her ear and accepts one last boop on his nose.
“Text me literally every little thing, I mean it,” she demands of no one in particular, but swats Stevie’s arm for emphasis.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Stevie grumbles as she struggles to push the middle seat down in order to give them enough room to ease David into the back seat.
It’s a seven seater SUV with enough room for David to keep his leg elevated on the back bench while Patrick can lean one of the middle seats back far enough to give his aching ribs a break. Stevie and his Mom have apparently worked out a driving schedule already.
As for David, a nurse has wheeled him out to the curb in one of the hospital’s wheelchairs, having given him a healthy dose of painkillers after they’d asked for something that would help him sleep for most of the ride. He’s already struggling to stay conscious, so Stevie and Marcy do their best to get him up out of the chair, onto his (mostly) good leg, and into the back. They’re both extremely careful with him, but by the time he’s belted in, he’s gone slightly grey from the pain and has a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead. With his large white sunglasses on to block out the painful afternoon light, it’s impossible to see if he’s even got his eyes open. But when Patrick clambours in awkwardly behind him and takes his place in the seat in front of David’s legs, David reaches out to hook a forefinger around Patrick’s pinky.
Patrick will take every inch of physical contact he’s allotted.
The car rumbles to life and within minutes David is asleep, and Patrick let’s himself begin to doze too.
David hadn’t been exaggerating. When the dam breaks, it breaks violently and with little warning.
They make it to the Rosebud Motel in Niagara Falls by around eight o’clock that evening. The first half of the drive goes smoothly enough, but when David’s medication begins to wear off they have to make several stops to contend with car sickness triggered by the concussion before Patrick’s mom deems it safe to give him another dose. By the time they roll up to the familiar red Rosebud sign, everyone in the car is tense and ready for a good night’s sleep.
David has woken up again by the time they arrive at the motel, and the struggle to get out of the SUV leaves him gasping and breathless. Patrick almost panics at the thought of making his husband limp from the parking spot to the room. Then he sees his Mom pulling out a simple, folding wheelchair from the back of the car. There’s a few short inches of pink metallic ribbon tied to one of the handles and he recognizes it immediately.
“Did you lug Nan’s old chair all the way to New York?” he asks as David gratefully lowers himself into it.
His mom just shrugs, “You can thank your father for that. I forgot we even had it in the garage.”
“Thank you Clint Brewer,” David grits through clenched teeth as Patrick wheels him toward the room, Marcy and Stevie following with everyone’s bags.
It’s August in Niagara Falls and even though she owns the motel chain, all Stevie can get with only a few days' notice is a room with two double beds and a cot which she immediately claims as her own. Patrick can see she’s looking fairly wound up and takes pity on her.
“I think we got this if you want to take a break,” he says to her quietly while his Mom helps David out of the chair and into one of the beds.
She chews her bottom lip, clearly needing to be by herself for just a little while, but also unwilling to leave in case she’s needed.
“Honestly, Stevie,” Patrick all but pushes her out the door. “Grab a drink, smoke a joint, or just get some air. You’ve earned it.”
“Fine, but text me immediately if you need me,” she relents and lets herself be shooed away. He knows she won’t go far.
Back in the room, Marcy is propping David up with pillows and smoothing his unruly hair off of his forehead. He’s looking pale and unwell enough not to be awkward under her tender ministrations.
“David, sweetheart? I need to check your temperature and change the dressing on your knee before you go to sleep.” She glances at her watch. “It’s also time for your medication. The dramamine should help with the nausea and dizziness.”
He makes a throaty noise of recognition and lets her take the temperature and swallows his pills willingly. He doesn’t even say anything when she rolls his sweat pants up above his injured knee to rewrap it—just keeps his eyes closed and lets out the occasional grunt of discomfort.
“How about a shower, hmm?” she asks when she’s done and Patrick sees David stiffen.
But his Mom doesn’t notice because she’s peeking into the bathroom at the standing shower, nodding approvingly at the bar that’s probably been installed on the wall for older patrons of the motel. She then inspects the flimsy plastic chairs sitting around a small breakfast table.
“We can put one chair right in the shower and the other outside to prop your leg on. And Patrick can help you with the basics. We just need to wrap that cast up in a plastic bag so it doesn’t get wet.”
David is shaking his head slightly but Patrick feels a sudden swell of something inside of him. Something like usefulness that hits him so strongly, he doesn’t know what he’ll do if David refuses to let him help with this one simple thing.
His Mom pats David’s cheek and says, “Maybe we can even do something about this beard. Though I must say, it does look handsome on you.”
That might be what pushes David to agree in the end. He reaches his fingers up as if only now realizing that his usual perpetual five o’clock shadow has been left unattended for seven full days. If nothing else, it has been this outright lack of interest or dramatics over his daily grooming that has really been leaving Patrick feeling anxious over David’s state of mind. That he would so willingly ignore something so integral in his daily life is beyond worrisome.
But Patrick is already wrapping his cast in the plastic bag Stevie’s breakfast had come in that morning, while his Mom sets up the chairs in the bathroom.
“Patrick, wait,” David says anxiously, but Patrick stops the words with a quick kiss.
He feels good about this. Back home, nothing makes David feel human again after a bad day like a hot shower.
“I got you, baby, don’t worry.”
Later he’ll wish he had paid attention to the look on David’s face, or the way his pulse was visibly jumping against the vein on his neck. But right now, Patrick is feeling more sure of himself and more useful than he has since the minute David had pleaded with him in the alley to leave and Patrick hadn’t. He feels so good about it that he completely ignores the strain on his ribs as he eases David up off the bed and leads him, limping to the bathroom. There, he positions David in the chairs his Mom has set up and slides himself into the cramped room.
It’s so cramped that he can barely get the door closed, but he does and leans against it to catch his breath. Okay, yeah, the ribs are still very much cracked.
“Sweater first,” he smiles broadly and leans in to unzip David’s black hoodie.
David is trembling slightly, and Patrick’s grin is quickly erased by the time the sweater is fully unzipped. The manic feeling of purpose dissolves completely to be replaced by outright wretchedness at the sight of mottled flesh, and Patrick has to remind himself to breathe.
David’s eyes are closed.
With more care then he has ever handled anything in his life, Patrick slips the sweater off of David completely and in the process of leaning around him to do it, sees the pattern of a shoe clear as day in the bruising above his husband’s kidney. He wants to be sick. To cry. To drown himself maybe. He wants the bruises to end, but the horror show has only just begun. Patrick gingerly kneels down to tug the sweatpants off of David’s legs, and there along the side of the thigh of his injured leg, the bruises are still almost black as if he’d only gotten them yesterday. How his thigh bone isn’t bruised is a miracle to Patrick.
Soon David is sitting in only his boxer briefs, mouth clenched tightly closed and eyes kept firmly shut. There’s barely an inch of him that those sons of bitches haven’t left their mark. His face, his chest, shoulders, stomach, arms, hips, back, legs. He’s covered in nothing but painful reminders of their anniversary night. It’s like someone has taken a meat pulverizer to him and Patrick can’t comprehend the pain—doesn’t understand how he sat beside this man’s hospital bed for seven days and never truly understood the level of damage hidden beneath the fabric of his hospital gown.
He does need to be sick now, and he lurches over to the toilet just in time. He kneels there for a moment, catching his breath when suddenly, a short, distressed sob rips him from his momentary stupor. He snaps his head up to see a look of pure horror on David’s face.
Patrick’s back had been to the door.
The door with a full length mirror hanging off the back of it right across from where David is sitting.
He hadn’t known, or even he—in his idiotic crusade to atone for a split second decision made seven nights ago—would never have exposed David to this. Not in a million years.
“David? David, I’m so sorry. Honey, please look at me.”
But David can’t seem to tear his eyes away from his reflection. His eyes have never been so wide and he is openly sobbing now around sharp painful gasps.
“Boys?” Marcy’s voice calls them from beyond the door but Patrick can’t deal with that and David at the same time.
“Baby, shhh. I’m sorry, I’m here. Don’t look at that, look at me.”
It’s clear that David isn’t hearing him, so Patrick puts himself bodily between his husband and the offending reflection. It’s the wrong move though. The bathroom is small, so small that in this position Patrick is towering over David’s shaking body so closely that he can feel David’s laboured breaths puffing against his chest. David cries out and squeezes his eyes shut, curling into himself as tightly as his broken body will allow. With his own sob, Patrick recognizes the position as one he had curled into himself that night. Arms tucked around the head, knees curled to chest in some instinctively protective fetal position. As if he thinks Patrick is going to hurt him.
In one wrong move after the other, Patrick reaches out in desperation and at his touch David all but flings himself off the chair and onto the floor. His voice cracks when he cries out in pain, but he drags himself to one corner of the bathroom, shaking and crying, and gasping for breath. Patrick stumbles to the opposite corner, as far away from David as the room will allow, and slumps down onto the cold tiles. He watches helplessly as David claws his hands through his hair and rocks frantically back and forth in tiny, quick motions.
The words come out with every panicked gasp and Patrick wants desperately for David to stop saying them.
I know no matter how bad it gets in my head I'll be safe, David had told him a few days ago, because I still have you.
Only then does he register that his Mom has been knocking on the door. It’s unlocked and she opens it to find them like this.
Patrick stares up at her wide-eyed, tears coursing down his face.
“I didn’t mean to,” he gasps.
“...that’s it, easy does it…”
Everything feels very slow and very far away.
“–into bed, one more step…”
The familiar voice and meaningless words almost anchor him. It’s tempting to try and hold onto them, but floating away into nothingness is tempting too.
“Can you hear…?”
Somewhere, he doesn’t know where but he can feel it nearby, there is a terrifying thing lying in wait. It’s like a gluttonous shadow, absorbing everything around it. If he’s not careful it will absorb him too...
His eyes are open—he knows, because he feels how heavy they are—but it’s like a flashbulb has gone off without dimming, and he can’t see anything but the light. He wants so much to just lean into that clean, white emptiness before him.
“...sit...there you go...”
It would feel safer to disappear into it. Safer than staying here where the thing can find him and suffocate him with rough hands reaching down his throat, and knees, feet, and fists crushing his bones into dust. Safer and easier...
So much easier…
David is staring off into space, unseeing. He’s finally settled onto the edge of the bed closest to the bathroom, and the word catatonic seeps into Stevie’s head but she ignores it. Instead, she tries not to have a mental breakdown of her own while she avoids looking at her best friend’s pulverized body and pulls his sweater back on at the same time.
“Please say something, you idiot,” she pleads under her breath but he doesn’t respond.
She wants her over-the-top, annoying David back. She doesn’t know how to take care of this version of him...can barely take care of herself without him by her side, snarkily gnawing at her bones while she gnaws at his. And, yes, this level of codependency is unhealthy but she fucking needs it, okay?
Behind her, she can hear Marcy unsuccessfully trying to coax Patrick up off the bathroom floor and it makes her breath catch.
Loving them both hurts so much more than she ever thought it could.
Stevie slowly zips David’s hoodie up but gives up on the idea of tugging his sweatpants back on. He’d been remarkably pliable when she’d stood him up in the bathroom and walked him out, but even in this strange waking coma he’d needed to lean his tall frame against her to move, his leg next to useless. Now that he’s sitting, she doesn’t think she can get him fully dressed without hurting him. Instead, she guides him back so that he’s lying down, and pulls the blankets up over his bare legs to keep him warm. And to cover the state of his thigh so that he won’t have to look at it. Not that he seems to be seeing anything at the moment.
Yeah, she pretty quickly put together what had set off the chaos she’d found a few minutes ago, following a cryptic SOS text from Mrs Brewer. She’d entered the room to find all three of them crowded in the tiny bathroom, Marcy kneeling in front of a stammering, shell-shocked Patrick in one corner and an unrecognizable David in the other. Never in her life has Stevie frozen the way she did upon really seeing the extent of his injuries as he sat eerily still in only his underwear. But it was the empty look on his face that had really made her blood run cold.
“I didn’t know...he didn’t...he saw and then...the mirror…afraid of me...”
Through the jumble of Patrick’s incoherent rambling, Stevie pieces it together. This whole time David hasn’t seen what he looks like, hasn’t gotten a good look at what those fuckers did to him. She knows he hadn’t seen his face up until then, but by the looks of things, neither of them had been prepared for David seeing his full reflection in the bathroom mirror.
“Fucking hell,” she says to no one in particular.
Stevie debates checking on Patrick but it sounds like his mom has that sort of under control. So instead, she kicks off her shoes and changes into an old pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt she stole from Jake before climbing into bed with David. He’s freezing cold, so she tucks herself into his side, hyper aware of putting pressure anywhere but wanting to warm him up. It seems pretty safe to assume the married couple will not be sleeping together tonight so she doesn’t feel too bad about claiming the spot.
She needs to feel his body against hers, to feel the rise and fall of his chest like a mother watching over a sleeping newborn. She needs proof that even though this is very much not okay, he at least is alive beside her. She wants to force Patrick into the bed too, so that she can sleep with her fingers pressed against both their pulses if only to wake knowing that the recurring nightmare in which Alexis calls with news of their deaths is a lie.
She glances up at David’s face as he lies on his back, staring passively up at the ceiling. With a tentative hand, Stevie guides his chin so that his head is turned to face her. There’s no recognition in his eyes.
“Go to sleep, David,” she whispers, and her stomach flips when his eyes actually begin to droop closed. “It’s okay, I’ll be right here. Sleep.”
Patrick doesn’t know how long he sits on the hard bathroom floor before his Mom convinces him to stand up. He’s all cried out, all panicked out, but there’s still a horrible pit of dread in his stomach that makes him terrified of what he’ll find out in the motel room. Will David look at him with terror again? Afraid that Patrick will hurt him?
“You need to sleep, sweetheart,” his Mom says when he hesitates at the door. “Everything will feel better after a good night’s sleep.”
It’s a well-worn motherly platitude but he thinks even she isn’t convinced by her own words. Regardless, he puts one foot in front of the other and follows her out of the bathroom. If he was expecting more heart wrenching dramatics, he finds none. David is asleep under the covers on one bed beside Stevie, who sits up at the sound of them entering the room.
The look on her face isn’t angry or accusatory. It’s not even carefully blank, the way she usually likes to keep it when emotions of any kind run high. No, she looks concerned and that almost makes Patrick feel worse. Because she should be angry with him. Because he did hurt David, and this is all his fault.
But he’s simply too exhausted to say any of this, and ignores her in favour of crawling into the other bed with his back to everyone, not bothering to change.
Marcy once cared for a patient with Dissociative Disorder, back when she’d done a three-month stint in the psychiatric ward of the hospital. The girl had been eleven and a trauma victim. Her own father had...well. Marcy can still remember the way Libby would slip from a full blown emotional fit into catatonia at the drop of a hat, as if a switch had been flipped in her mind. She saw David do the same thing when she’d pushed her way into that bathroom, and knows what she’s looking at immediately.
Her heart sinks.
Now, she sits on the cot in the darkness of the room and watches as her son-in-law sleeps, his hand tucked protectively in Stevie’s, their shallow breaths matching for pace. She has to bite back the anger she feels on his behalf. On Patrick’s behalf. In the next bed Patrick sleeps curled up into himself, alone. The exhaustion from the incident had knocked him out almost immediately, which is a small blessing.
Marcy has never been a violent person. But when she thinks of the three men that did this to her sons, well...she never knew she could think this way about other human beings.
Things do not feel better in the morning. Stevie has their bags packed in the car before Patrick even wakes up, and his Mom has grabbed breakfast sandwiches from the Tim Horton’s down the road. While they eat in uncomfortable silence (Patrick pulling his food apart but with no appetite to actually consume any of it) they wait for David to wake up on his own. When he hasn’t so much as stirred half an hour before they want to get back on the road, Stevie moves to shake him awake.
If this had been a normal trip, they’d need at least an hour and a half of buffer time before heading out so that David could get ready. But it’s not…
Patrick hasn’t been able to look at his husband all morning. He’s been weighed down by guilt, despair, and helplessness and he’s had to content himself with just knowing David is there in the bed, but not going to him or holding his hand for fear that he’ll only make things worse. He miserably pulls apart the english muffin in front of him, trying not to think of how David had flinched away so violently last night, or how Patrick had ignored every sign that he’d been anxious in favour of feeding into his own pride.
He can’t look at David when, out of the corner of his eye, he sees him rise to sitting with Stevie’s help. He can’t look when he hears her defeated sigh.
“Mrs Brewer,” she calls, her voice strangely thin.
Patrick can’t help it. He turns to face them but can’t figure out why Stevie is upset. He waits for David to screw up his face in pain, or for him to cry out, or do anything. But his husband is just staring ahead, eyes unfocused and face slack. Is it another seizure? But no, nothing happens. And that seems to be the problem.
His mom sits on the edge of the bed and snaps her fingers in David’s ear. When he doesn’t respond, she moves her index finger from left to right a few inches away from his face.
“David, honey? Can you follow my finger?”
He makes no indication that he sees it, just stares off into the space above Marcy’s shoulder.
“That’s okay, dear. We’ll try again later. Are you hungry?”
She breaks off a piece of a breakfast sandwich and holds it up to David’s nose, maybe hoping the smell will garner a reaction but it doesn’t. She hums unhappily.
“What’s...what’s wrong with him?” Patrick asks.
“He’s zoned out,” Stevie sniffs, shoulders hitched nearly to her ears and not meeting anyone’s eyes. “I’m gonna go check us out.”
She escapes from the room, and Patrick is left to watch as his Mom considers David for a moment, not really understanding what Stevie means. Marcy retreats to the bathroom and returns with a cup of water and David’s morning pills. She makes a small sound of approval when she places both into his hands and he curls his fingers around them. It takes some coercing, which mostly amounts to her moving his arms for him, but she eventually manages to get him to swallow the pills and half the water. He looks almost robotic as he does it.
“Mom,” Patrick presses as she takes the cup away again, “why is he...?”
She doesn’t look at him when she answers, just pulls the sheets away from David and helps him maneuver his legs off the bed. “He’s disassociating, dear. Good David, easy does it.”
He recognizes her nurse’s voice. It’s smooth and matter-of-fact. He remembers the time he broke his arm during a game of shinny when he was eleven and how she’d explained what was happening every step of the way, from the car ride to the hospital to the minute they’d put him in a cast. It’s a comforting voice for soothing nerves and it holds a tone of authority that leaves no room for worry or argument.
“I’m going to help you put your pants on, David. Patrick, come here please.”
He hesitates. “I don’t…”
She doesn’t let him sink into his misery, instead ignores his protests and says, “Patrick is going to help you stand, David.”
So he does. He crosses over to the other side of the room slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, but David doesn’t seem to notice. With his heart in his throat, Patrick places his hands firmly under both his biceps and gently guides David up. It’s as if, though deaf to them, David’s body moves by muscle memory—coaxed by a nudge here and a tug there. Soon he has his arms around Patrick’s shoulders, leaning against him on his good leg, while Marcy tugs his sweatpants on. As she works, Patrick can’t help but nuzzle into David’s neck, breathing him in and half expecting to feel a kiss planted on his temple in response. But he doesn’t, and when he leans back a little to look up into David’s face there isn’t anyone looking back.
It makes Patrick’s chest hurt.
“Is this my fault?”
He’s asking David, but his Mom answers. “It’s no one’s fault, sweetheart. It’s his mind’s way of protecting him from what those men did to him. To you both.”
Patrick noses his way back into the crook of his husband’s neck, vaguely aware that his Mom has finished with the sweatpants. “I’ve got you, David. I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere.”
“Help him into the wheelchair, Patrick.”
He does and as they wait for Stevie to return, Patrick cards his fingers through David’s unwashed hair, unsure of how he managed to spend the whole night and morning away from him.
Twenty minutes later they’re on the road again.
He hates to think it—because David’s strange, silent pliability frightens him—but packing his husband into the SUV had almost been easy without David tensing up and cringing in pain. He appears to have retreated to a place within himself where he doesn’t feel much of anything. Or Patrick hopes he doesn’t. Even the car sickness David had experienced from his concussion yesterday doesn’t make a comeback, though Patrick’s Mom still makes sure to give him his medication and they slip the large sunglasses into place to keep him comfortable.
As they drive, Patrick looks to the back seat constantly, hoping for any flicker of consciousness. There’s none.
He knows David has truly slipped to a place so far inside of himself that Patrick can’t follow when they pull into a roadside stop. Patrick needs to use the facilities, and his Mom suggests he at least try to get David to use the bathroom too. He wheels him into the extra large stall, and the experience is painful and physically awkward but they manage. Except that David would never let Patrick take care of him like this if he was himself, not in a million years. He would hate it, would loathe the loss of independence and privacy to handle such an intimate task on his own. He would throw a fit, not a mind breaking one like last night but one full of dramatics and regular tears, and...and...what if he never throws a David-typical fit ever again?
Patrick cleans them both up and then gives himself exactly two minutes to stare at himself in the mirror and spiral into a well of fear. What if he stays like this forever? What if it’s some kind of delayed brain damage that the doctors missed at the hospital? What if they only got to have one year of normal marriage and they didn’t even appreciate it at the time?
He takes a deep, calming breath. If David never snaps out of this, Patrick will be there to take care of him. If it’s a physical problem, they’ll get a professional opinion. If this last year, and the two before that, is all they get to have together when Patrick has been Patrick and David has been David...well he really did appreciate it at the time. He did and he does now too.
But that's not all they're going to have together. He has to believe they'll get more time.
He tilts David’s face up and kisses his forehead with every ounce of tenderness in his body.
“I’ve got you,” he tells him, willing him to hear it. “You still have me, I’m still here.”
Patrick shouldn’t be surprised to see his Dad’s car in the laneway of the cottage when they finally get home, considering his Mom’s solo trip to New York. And sure enough, there he is ready to help them unload out of the rental when they park.
The first thing he does is draw Patrick into a fierce hug, holding him there as if afraid to let go. Patrick leans into it, and is pulled out of the moment only by the sound of Stevie heaving the wheelchair out from the back of the SUV.
“Shit–” he starts to say, and looks toward the steps leading up to the front door, but is gobsmacked to see a rudimentary ramp made of plywood in their place. “Dad, did you…?”
“A very intimidating woman by the name of Ronnie Lee has been helping me get the house ready,” Clint says with a crooked smile.
But of course, because while Ronnie hates Patrick she loves David. He’s about to ask what his Dad means by getting the house ready, but Clint leans past him to offer a hand getting David out of the back seat.
Patrick thinks a phone call must have happened between last night and now, because his Dad doesn’t seem thrown by the fact that his son-in-law isn’t acknowledging his existence. No, he just bites back the same look of shock that everyone gets seeing David’s face for the first time, and helps ease him into the wheelchair without comment. He even takes hold of the wheelchair and steers him up the driveway. Patrick takes his bag from Stevie and they follow his husband and parents to the house, but before they get to the door she stops walking and bumps his shoulder gently.
They’ve barely said two words to each other all day, not since she walked in on the mess of last night. But she doesn’t seem to be holding it against him.
“Welcome home, Brewer.”
They share a bone weary look and he leans forward to kiss her forehead. She doesn’t even fight him on it.
“You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried.”
He can almost cry from exhaustion when he walks inside and the familiar smell of home hits him. And then he really does want to cry when he catches sight of the stairs leading up to the master and guest bedroom. In all the chaos of the last week he hasn’t put any consideration into how the house isn’t remotely David-friendly, with their bedroom on the top floor and the only bathroom up there having a deep tub that will be impossible to get him in and out of with his leg.
It feels so strange not to have planned everything down to the last detail. So out of character for himself. He can’t remember a time in his life when he’d left so much important shit up to chance. Well, okay, aside from the whole running away to a podunk town and jumping into business with a very sexy stranger. But he'd married said stranger, so...
Now, he doesn’t know how they’re even going to live in their own house, and David isn’t himself, and Patrick has next to no idea what’s even happening with their store, and how is he supposed to–
His Dad must see the look of panic on his face because he opens the door immediately to the left of the entranceway—the one that leads to Patrick’s home office—to reveal an immediate solution to the stairs situation (at the very least). Inside the office, the desk has been replaced with the double bed and nightstands from the guest room upstairs.
“Ta-da!” Clint says with a small flourish. “Your Mom and I figured, what with the knee surgery, getting up and down those stairs was going to be impossible. So Ronnie helped me move some things down here after she installed the ramp. Your queen mattress wouldn’t have fit, but the double gives you enough room to wheel the chair in and out. She also put a temporary bar in the main floor shower and I picked up a plastic stool from Canadian Tire for David to sit on while he washes. We had to move your desk to the garage, but maybe you can work at the kitchen table once you’re ready to?”
He doesn’t really want to think of David and showers but that’s kind of beside the point right now.
“I don’t know what to say, you’re a lifesaver,” Patrick sniffs, a little overwhelmed, and then something occurs to him. “Wait, how long have you guys been here?”
“Well once we knew when David was being discharged, we wanted to make sure the place was ready for when you boys got home. Plus Stevie needed help with the store.”
“I thought Jocelyn was helping?” he asks weakly, a bemused smile pulling at his mouth and he feels out of practice with smiling.
“We’ve been tag teaming it. I think you’ll be pleased with our sales too. The whole town has been in and out all week to support you two.”
Patrick genuinely laughs—it feels foreign in his chest—unsure how to keep up with the swell of love and affection for his family and his town.
“Thank-you Dad...I just...thank-you for everything.”
“Any time, kiddo.”
The smell of spices and something tropical.
Soft textures against his skin.
Voices in the distance.
It comes to him slowly like heat seeping into a stone hearth.
But with it also comes the thing, the shadow, the beast. Flayed and broken and pulling its wretched body closer and closer. Reaching out to choke him, to crush him.
He lashes out and retreats deeper and deeper into the white.
“David? Look at me, David. Come on, please...”
Just moments ago, they had gotten David situated on the couch in the living room, an alpaca wool blanket from the store spread out over his lap, with everyone sitting around the room eating Marcy’s coconut curry. She’d apparently been busy before flying to New York, stocking the freezer with an endless supply of ready-to-eat meals, and this was one of them.
Patrick had been carefully feeding David spoonfuls of it, which he had surprisingly been swallowing, when out of nowhere he’d made a sort of keening noise and shot his casted arm outward, knocking the bowl clean out of Patrick’s hands. He's sure he’d seen a flash of something in David’s eyes, but it’s gone now and he’s sort of slumped over as if he can’t hold his head up. David shudders slightly and begins to lean over like he wants to lay down. Patrick hurries to get off the couch so he can help maneuver him into a more comfortable position.
“What the hell was that?” Stevie asks, stricken.
She’s clutching at Clint’s arm, and it must have been a reflex because she lets go and jumps away like she’s been given an electric shock when she notices.
Patrick’s Mom crouches down and places a hand on David’s good cheek, looking into his glassy eyes. “David, sweetheart?”
His only response is to slowly blink his eyes closed until it’s clear he’s falling asleep.
“Should we really let him sleep there?” his Dad asks. “It can’t be comfortable.”
Marcy frowns a little but stands. “Let’s let him rest for an hour, and if he doesn’t wake up on his own by then we can move him to the bed.”
“What...I mean, how...” Patrick tries to string together a coherent thought, “...was he awake? What just happened? Is this...good?”
It’s his turn to get a cheek pat from his Mom. “He might do this sort of thing, sweetheart. He might start talking, or making noises. He might even try to move around. We won’t know until he does it. It might mean he’s working on coming back to us, but it just as easily could mean he’s going to be like this for a while longer. There’s no way to know for sure.”
Patrick sits back down on the couch on the small spot of free space by David’s legs. He takes his husband’s hand in his and rubs his thumb across David’s knuckles. Stevie has disappeared somewhere and his Dad sits back down in the chair watching them.
“Is there a psychiatric clinic in Elmdale you could take him to?” he asks, plainly worried. “I’m sure you’re one hundred percent right about what this is Marcy, but I really think he needs to see a doctor.”
“Yeah, I should really call and make an appointment for tomorrow. I just…” Patrick sighs and closes his eyes.
Why does everything have to feel so insurmountable?
“I can call,” Stevie has returned, paper towels in hand to clean up the spilled curry. She tracks the trajectory of the yellow liquid across the floor, up the wall, and then up some more, snorting at what she sees.
Patrick follows her gaze and can’t help the small bubble of laughter that rises to his throat. There’s a four inch streak of curry right above him on their pristine, white (“Um, this colour is clearly Swiss Coffee, not something as pedestrian as white Patrick”) ceiling. Only one person in this entire house has any chance of reaching it and he’s currently out cold.
“Who knew David had such a good arm?” she says dryly and that sends Patrick over the edge.
Soon they’re all laughing, maybe a little deliriously, until every one of them is cackling through tears. It’s dumb, and ridiculous, and it makes Patrick’s sides hurt but he doesn’t give a damn. It feels so good to release this tension inside of him in a way that isn’t huddled up on the floor crying in his mother’s arms.
For the first time in days, he feels almost human.
Early the next morning, while the others are still asleep, Patrick wakes Stevie up to ask her to come check on the store with him. He could go by himself, or even wait until his Dad opens it for the day, but if he’s being honest he’s strangely nervous to run into people. His face is healing, but it’s still a mess and he doesn’t even know how to begin explaining what’s happening with David. He’s not sure he wants to feed into the gossip he knows the town must already be thick with. It’s too personal, it’s too raw. It’s his and David’s, and he doesn’t want to get cornered into talking about it with well wishing townsfolk. So in the event that he does run into anyone, he knows fewer things are more intimidating than Stevie Budd at 7:30 AM before she’s had a coffee. He’s loath to leave David, but the other man is fast asleep in the office and hasn’t had any other incidents like the one at dinner.
They take Patrick’s car to make the short drive into town, and he unlocks the store while Stevie moodily schlumps her way over to the cafe to get their drinks. Arriving home had been great, but stepping into their store is a little like walking into heaven. Patrick is surprised at how much he’s been missing it. He finds everything is more or less intact, although he can immediately spot little things out of place here and there. Labels not lined up just so, a display that looks only mostly right, the witch hazel toners sitting next to the eucalyptus foot creams instead of with the under eye moisturizers. None of it is wrong, necessarily, but it is certainly all incorrect. With a pang, Patrick feels David’s absence from Rose Apothecary at every little turn. His skin itches at being away from him…and the guilt of why he’s in the state he’s in itches right back.
He distracts himself with straightening bottles, and mentally thanking every single person who has been pitching in so that the store can stay open. He knows it can’t last forever and he dreads when they’ll inevitably have to pull back to return to their own lives. With a sigh, he starts to move toward the back room when the bell on the door chimes. Patrick half turns, expecting Stevie, but is accosted by a man’s hand gripping his arm. He squeezes his eyes shut and sucks in a breath.
“Pat! Heard you and Dave got back yesterday! Jeeze, will ya look at that shiner!”
He doesn’t hear half of the words and understands none of them. Instead, the memory of a caustic voice seems to be ringing in his ears.
What the fuck are you looking at?
Patrick stumbles back, eyes still closed, reaching behind him for David—to protect him, or to push him toward the restaurant door—but he hits...a wooden counter? His broken fingers throb at the contact. It’s getting a little hard to breathe and he ducks down, throwing his arms protectively around his head, and waits for the beating to start.
But it doesn’t.
“What the fuck, Roland?!”
He’s not in the alley.
“Whoa there, Stevie! I didn’t do anything, I swear! I practically found him like this…”
He’s in the store.
“Get. Out. And keep this to yourself or so help me god, I will feed you your own hands, finger by fucking Cheeto-covered finger!”
The bell chimes again and Patrick looks up blearily just in time to see Stevie emphatically locking the door. She's huffing with anger, a drink tray from the cafe gripped tightly in one hand.
“Well that was embarrassing,” he croaks shakily, painfully unfurling his body but not getting up off the floor.
Stevie leans against the counter and slides down until she’s sitting beside him.
“It was strangely cathartic for me,” she says flatly and he bites out a brittle laugh. “You good?”
“Oh, probably not,” he replies with a lightness he doesn’t feel, taking a long centering breath.
The disorienting panic slowly begins to ebb away.
“Well that works out perfectly then.”
“While we’re in Elmdale at David’s appointment today, you can drop in at your therapist’s office and see if they can pencil you in for a chat this week.”
Patrick lets his head drop onto her shoulder.
“If you’re here looking after me and David, who’s out there looking after you?”
She doesn’t answer for a while, but eventually she rests her head against his and says quietly, “I’m keeping a tab. You two owe me big time. When all this is over, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be glued to your couch double fisting cheap whiskey for a month.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Later that afternoon, Doctor Boratto is telling Patrick pretty much what his Mom already has. David’s mind has shut his sense of awareness down in an effort to protect him from the trauma of the attack.
He sits in the airy, white office holding David’s limp hand while the doctor runs through a series of cognitive tests, none of which garner a response.
“Because this is the first time David has dissociated,” Doctor Boratto says, “we’ll need to play things by ear. There is no strict baseline for how long an episode can last. Some patients exhibit catatonic behaviour for hours, some for days…”
Patrick doesn’t want to hear this.
“...some for much longer than that. When he does come out of it, he may be exhausted. If that’s the case, let him sleep. He’s doing hard work inside his head right now, even if it doesn’t seem like it. I would suggest making an appointment with me as soon as possible when he does come to. It can be a disorienting experience, and he would very probably benefit from a session. It would also help me in terms of creating a treatment plan for him.”
Patrick nods along, trying to keep up.
“There are also activities you can do with David to help stop future episodes. For instance–”
“This is going to happen again?” Patrick knows his voice sounds desperate and he feels like an idiot for asking the second he sees the look on Doctor Boratto’s face.
“Mr Brewer, trauma is a fickle thing. Given what you gentlemen have both been through, I’m sure you yourself have been experiencing the unexpected highs and lows that come with living with what happened.”
Ah, right. Patrick is sure he’s been giving himself and everyone around him emotional whiplash for days. He just nods.
“I’m going to email you some resources that will help. But for now, what David really needs from you is patience and care.”
Patience and care. Those are two things that Patrick has in spades when it comes to David Rose.
The clean, white emptiness is starting to itch.
He desperately wants to feel the safeness of it.
To be buffered by it.
But it’s starting to feel like a smothering hand covering his mouth and nose, and digging into his ears with a persistent static.
The hand belongs to the thing, broken and bloody and slithering out of the shadows to grab at him.
He can no longer escape from it here in the white.
He's trying but it finds him again and again, its gaping maw screaming noiselessly in the void.
Patrick helps David sit on the edge of the bed, ready to settle him in for a nap since his eyes have been fluttering sleepily ever since they left the psychiatrist’s office. Remembering he left David’s clean pajamas upstairs, Patrick is about to run up to grab them when he hears a low, pained hum.
Spinning around, he sees that David is still staring off into space but his breathing has sped up to panting and his dark brows are pinched together just slightly.
“David?” He tries to keep his voice calm, the way Doctor Boratto had suggested.
David hums again, and he sounds...afraid. His whole body begins to tremble. Patrick baulks. Is David afraid to be in the room with him? They’d spent last night in the same bed and he hadn’t so much as twitched, but maybe…Patrick starts to leave the room to call for Stevie or his Mom, but David whines again and his breathing is speeding up in earnest now.
Patience and care, Patrick thinks as he hesitantly sits down beside his husband, letting their arms brush together.
“David, I’m still here. I’m still here with you.”
The effect is almost instantaneous. David’s breathing slows and the divot of worry between his eyebrows melts away. The shaking settles, and his hand—the one no longer encumbered by the wrist splint—turns over ever so slowly in his lap, as if it takes a herculean effort to manage it. Patrick, hope blooming in his tight chest, reaches over and entwines their fingers.
David, still unseeing, blinks slowly and sighs.
He. Fucking. Sighs.
Holding back tears of relief, Patrick leans in to press a kiss to his husband’s neck. It’s the first time David has acknowledged anything around him in two days and it is not nothing.
It’s fucking something.
Eeeeeee, we're coming up on the end!
Just a quick note, this arthritis-inducing writing binge has come from being off from work for the holidays, which ends today. So while the last two chapters are all thought out and ready to be written, they may be coming to you a little slower than the rest of this fic has.
You've all been SO lovely with your comments—honestly, they make me so incredibly happy and motivated, I love you, I love you, I love you—so I wanted to give you fair warning. The end is nigh, but it might take me a few more days to get there than I'd like!
The beast hunts him.
It cries out in the white.
With every guttural, blood choked wail, his own throat aches and chokes too.
It’s coming for him.
Or to him.
He can feel its fingers raking at his back.
Feels it like the fingers are his own.
Every time it gets this close…
Every time he gets this close…
The beast, the thing, the shadow pulls away.
A hand takes his.
He’s safe. He’s safe. He’s safe.
It seems that David’s brief reaction to Patrick isn’t a fluke. As the afternoon wanes, it becomes evident that it only takes a few minutes left alone or in the company of anyone else for David to become agitated. His breathing becomes harsh, his hands shake in his lap, and sometimes his eyes widen with fear at things that no one else can see. When this happens, only Patrick’s presence and voice seem to settle him back into a state of neutral calm.
It sends an uncertain thrum through Patrick’s veins every time, and he makes a point of staying close by. On one hand, he worries about what could possibly be going on inside of David’s head. On the other, he can’t help but feel useful. Feel needed. Feel like the protector he should have been.
So he falls back into old, well worn habits. When Patrick passes the couch on his way to get a tea, he strokes his hand across the back of David’s neck. When they sit side-by-side watching Bridget Jones fumble through her love life, he holds David’s listless hand in his. He touches his arm, squeezes his shoulder (gently, so gently), and he never passes up an opportunity to be tactile. To kiss his forehead, his temple, his neck. He doesn’t kiss him on the lips though. He’s saving that for when David truly comes back to him.
Hope. This is what hope feels like.
It’s this hope and perpetual need to care for David that eventually convinces Patrick to revisit the shower situation.
After dinner that evening, he catches his Mom looking between him and David.
“What? What is it?”
She sighs. “I think it’s time we try and get David cleaned up.”
Patrick tenses. He’s almost positive he can’t go through that again.
“She’s right,” Stevie says, brow raised in a challenge. “Do you really want David coming around and finding out he hasn’t showered in three days? It'll be your funeral.”
“Or,” Marcy raises a placating hand when he opens his mouth to argue, “we can always do a hospital classic: a bed bath with a washcloth.”
The problem isn’t really either one of these options, and Stevie and his Mom know that. It’s the fact that Patrick subjecting David to this is how he wound up becoming a walking coma patient in the first place. Patrick’s chest tightens at the memory of being cramped in that tiny motel bathroom. Of David seeing his own reflection for the first time.
Of David throwing himself to the floor.
Stevie puts a hand on his forearm. “If you don’t want to do it, I can. But I really think David would be a lot more comfortable if it was you taking care of him when he’s like this than me or his mother-in-law. No offence, Mrs Brewer.”
“Not to mention he’s been really clingy with you all day. It might be harder on him if it’s not you…”
There’s that thrumming in his veins again. He hates Stevie because of course she would know exactly what to say to get him to agree to this.
Patrick cards his fingers through David’s limp and unwashed hair. “I guess…”
“We’ll be right here if you need us, son,” his Dad adds and the reassurance mollifies him slightly. “Just say the word.”
An hour later, they’re alone in the bathroom and Patrick is steeling himself. He’s redressed David a couple of times now since the motel, forcing himself to calmly do it last night to prove he could without becoming a wreck. So the thought of seeing David’s injuries laid bare isn’t what’s making him hesitate, although they still make him feel nauseous. It’s the mirror. He needs to cover it, or…Patrick pumps a few globs of soap into his hand and frantically swipes his hand across his reflection over and over again, breathing hard, until the whole mirror above the vanity is covered in blurry streaks, rendering it useless. Exhaling, he turns to David who stares off as vacantly as ever from his seat inside the walk-in shower.
One of the most difficult things about him being like this is that there’s no way of knowing if he’s in pain. Patrick’s Mom assumes he is, and has been regularly giving him his many prescriptions. But the doctors had started tapering off the dose of his pain meds even before they’d left New York, and David had definitely felt it then and hadn’t been able to hide his discomfort. This version of David hides everything though, so if Patrick hurts him how will he know…?
There’s a soft knock on the door which remains unlocked.
“Everything okay in there?” Stevie calls out.
“We’re fine!” he calls back, trying to keep the desperation and irritation out of his voice.
He can do this. He can do this. David needs him to be able to do this.
Patrick steps forward and goes through the motions of undressing his husband and then himself. He folds their clothes neatly on the counter and just goes for it. He almost has a heart attack when David shudders under the warm spray of the water, but it’s followed by the smallest satisfied hum that draws Patrick’s hesitancy out like venom from a snakebite.
He can do this.
First, he takes his time massaging David’s favourite shampoo into his hair, inhaling the familiar scent. Then he runs a soapy washcloth up and down his lean body so, so lightly, careful to keep the cast and knee dressing dry. David has lost weight since the attack. It had been so hard for him to keep anything down in the hospital with his concussion, and getting him to eat in the last few days has been hit or miss. As Patrick rinses the suds off the patchwork of bruises he thinks that maybe a smoothie before bed will do the trick. Something fruity and filling. He nods to himself. Yes, that sounds like a good plan.
It feels nice to plan and to think about something that’s almost normal.
At one point, David closes his eyes and leans forward, resting his forehead against Patrick’s slick stomach. He almost thinks the other man has fallen asleep, but he feels the soft flutter of David’s eyelashes against his skin as he blinks. Patrick strokes the back of his head lovingly.
“David?” he all but whispers.
Nothing. Not yet.
When the water begins to run cold, Patrick turns off the shower and towels David dry. He lets out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. They did it.
There’s a tapping on the door just as he tugs David’s arm through the sleeve of the grey Jay’s hoodie he’s always stealing from Patrick’s closet. Patrick dips to kiss his shoulder before opening the door to reveal his Dad leaning patiently against the frame. He looks at the state of the mirror and then to where David is sitting in the wheelchair. The sweater is still open and David’s brutalized chest is visible, but he doesn’t make a scene or comment on it. Instead, he holds up the black leather toiletry bag he and Marcy bought David last Christmas.
“Thought maybe David would appreciate a shave.”
Patrick smiles gratefully. “Yeah...yeah I think he would.”
Then he remembers the bulky splints on the fingers of his right hand, and how he can’t even shave his own face let alone David’s.
To his surprise, Clint pulls the stool out of the shower, towels it off, and takes a seat so that he’s eye-level with his son-in-law. He reaches out and carefully zips up the hoodie before pulling David’s razor and shaving cream out of the bag. Patrick watches him as he works in silence for a while, from his place at David’s side, slowly rubbing circles against David’s back to keep him calm. There’s a look of pure patience and concentration on his Dad’s face with each stroke of the razor against David’s jaw.
“I couldn’t protect him when it really mattered.”
The confession is out of his mouth before he realizes it, sounding small and private.
His Dad’s hand pauses for a second before starting up again, and he looks into David’s eyes when he responds. “My guess is that he’s been thinking the same thing, son. Doesn’t make it true.”
He wipes off the last of the shaving cream from David’s jaw and stands up, turning his attention to Patrick.
“He’s going to need to lean on you, Patrick. But please don't forget to lean on him too.”
The feeling of safeness dissipates.
Something bigger, more urgent takes its place.
He’s running, gasping for breath.
The beast is closing in, he can feel it.
It’s drawn to him and him to it.
It overtakes him.
It keeps running.
He can feel its terror entwined with his own.
Can feel its laboured breaths panting in time with his.
He follows it now, out of the white and into the shadow.
“Patrick, honey? David needs you.”
Patrick hurries to finish changing into flannel pyjama pants and an old t-shirt. In the living room, David has become restless. His lips tighten and fall in and out of a grimace, and he keeps lifting his fluttering hands out of his lap. His good leg bounces and his face is pinched in concentration. Every once in a while, a groan passes his lips. It’s the most agitated he’s been all day. Stevie is sitting next to him on the couch with her arm around his broad shoulders, but she might as well not be there at all.
Patrick takes her place and while David does lean into him, the jittery movements don’t relent. If anything they become more pronounced as he starts rocking back and forth in a small jerking motion.
“Maybe he’s coming out of it?” Stevie suggests, tentatively.
No one dares to say anything—they’re all hoping she’s right. One-by-one, Stevie, Clint, and Marcy take their seats. It becomes a kind of silent vigil, marked only by the sharp breaths coming from David. They watch, and they wait.
They stay like that until well after midnight, when finally David’s physical exhaustion seems to start winning out against his internal struggle.
“Patrick,” his Mom leans forward, watching David. “He’s falling asleep. We should put him into bed at least.”
So they do, and Patrick crawls in next to him. He listens to the sounds of the others tucking in for the night—his parents in the master bedroom and Stevie on the couch—sure that none of them will sleep tonight. Beside him, David is clearly fighting fatigue, but eventually he settles into a restless sleep.
Patrick, curled up on his side, holds David’s hand and watches over him.
He stops running.
The darkness is thick and he can’t see.
Suddenly small lights flicker to life.
They cast a golden hue across an alley lined with brick.
A man, face freshly beaten, is standing there.
The man doesn’t hear him, just reaches out a desperate hand, but his legs appear to be rooted in place.
He looks to where the man is reaching and there it is, huddled and shaking at the end of the alley.
Figures surround it.
Savagely battering against it with feet and fists.
Not a beast though, no...
David is staring down at himself huddled there on the ground.
He was wrong, it’s not better here.
He needs to go back.
He needs to go now.
Hands grab him and pull.
Patrick is jolted awake by David’s voice and the hand in his being torn away as the other man nearly flies off the bed. Patrick grabs him just in time, and manages to pin him down against the mattress. When he’s sure his husband isn’t going to do something to hurt himself, Patrick jumps out of bed and turns on the light.
David is looking around the room frantically, and for a second Patrick thinks to himself what is he seeing in his head? But then David’s eyes lock onto his and the confusion there is brimming with awareness.
“Holy shit, David?”
He hears the door open behind him but ignores whoever has come in.
David is shaking and very clearly disoriented.
“What...where...my head…gaaah...” he curls forward, cradling his head and shielding his eyes.
“The light,” someone (Stevie?) says, and the room is dropped into darkness.
Patrick climbs back into the bad and almost pulls David into a hug, but stops himself.
“David? Baby, can I touch you?”
Patrick wants to cry at the sound of his name coming from this voice. His favourite fucking voice in the entire goddamn world. He wants to cry—he might be crying.
Without another second of hesitation, Patrick sits with his back to the headboard and scoops David into his arms, resting his husband’s head against his chest. He rocks him gently, soothingly, and strokes a hand up and down his arm as David’s fingers cling to his bicep.
“Shhh...I got you. I’m right here.”
“I don’t...I don’t know…what’s...Patrick...”
David’s mumbling eventually slows down along with his breathing. Almost as quickly as he had woken up, he’s drifting asleep in Patrick’s arms just like Doctor Boratto had said he might.
Patrick finally looks up to see his parents and best friend standing in the doorway to the office. His Mom and Stevie are crying, a mixture of alarm but also something close to happiness clear on their faces. Stevie turns, maybe to experience this emotional overload in private, but Patrick’s Dad is standing behind her, and she barrels right into him. Without a second thought, Clint pulls her into a tight hug, his own chin trembling and his relieved eyes never leaving Patrick’s.
Patrick’s heart is racing with adrenaline.
David came back.
David fucking came back.
The gentle rise and fall of slumbering breath slowly draws him into waking. The smell of fresh laundry tickles at David’s nose and he lazily opens his eyes. It takes his brain an extra long time to recognize the collegiate lettering of Patrick’s alma mater written tightly across his husband’s chest. He peers around the room, struggling through a sort of mental fog.
Where are they? It’s like David can see the pieces but can’t figure out how they fit together. They’re not in their bed, they’re in the guest bed, and they’re not in a room that should even have a bed in it. It’s Patrick’s office but…how did they get here?
Anxiety bubbles up into his chest.
He’s too tired and groggy to figure it all out and he closes his eyes thinking he may fall asleep again. But it feels like maybe he’s been asleep for far too long. It feels like...he doesn’t know. Like there's something he's forgetting, something bad but...Nothing seems to be making any sense.
Nothing except that his body aches (what’s new?) and also that Patrick is here. He breathes in the smell of Patrick’s shirt again, and even the ache seems to seep away from his muscles and bones as if David’s body knows—on some cellular level—that it’s home where it belongs, curled up against Patrick’s soft frame. He looks up at his husband’s face, so tender and open in sleep, and rises up to lean on his elbow so that they’re face-to-face. His body protests but he ignores the pain. Even through this haze, even with the worry crackling like static in the back of his head, David can think of only one thing.
One tender thing.
He leans in and presses a soft, feather-light kiss to Patrick’s lips.
Patrick leans into it before his whiskey eyes even flutter open. They’re hooded with sleep when he asks:
“Am I dreaming?”
“Am I?” David counters, unsure.
Patrick’s eyes rack into focus and his mouth spreads into a slow, wide smile like tide water spreading over beach sand. He reaches up to hold David’s face in his hands, tears spilling over onto his cheeks.
He kisses David’s lips. His cheek. The bridge of his nose.
“No. No David, you’re not dreaming.”
Hey, so you remember that time I said I was going to maybe slow down for these last two chapters? Yeah, apparently my brain didn't agree to that and so I found the time to write Chapter 7 anyway, and also I might have a small-ish writing addiction? Or like...a physical imperative to brain dump all current ideas to make room for new ones?
Anywho...hope this is actually good because now that we're so close to the end, I am N-E-R-V-O-U-S.
11 MONTHS LATER
The surgical scar on his cheek is still just this side of pink. It’s a half inch line that will fade to a fine milky white in time, but even after almost a year David finds himself staring at it. This is where a man’s foot collided with his face. This is where a doctor cut him open to push the bone back into place. But it’s also where Patrick kisses him first thing in the morning when he thinks David is still sleeping. It’s where both Marcy Brewer and his mother lovingly run their thumbs when they cup his cheek to greet him. He wonders if they realize they both do that?
There are other scars too, but David doesn’t look at them—tries not to think about them. Can’t breathe when he does, even now.
We don’t put recovery on a deadline, Doctor Boratto likes to tell him.
Taking a breath and slowly exhaling, David assesses his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He does this every day now: takes five minutes to look deeper and longer at the physical things that make him him. For a long time he’d had trouble recognizing the man standing there wearing his clothes. It was like seeing a stranger’s brutalized face in the reflection and brushing that stranger’s teeth, or combing that stranger’s hair. Even after the bruises had faded away, the person staring back at David had been this unknown interloper for a very long time. That had frightened him more than dissociating—still does sometimes.
It’s taken months of work to get to a place where he can finally definitively say that's me, David Rose—those are my eyebrows, that’s my hair, my lips, my nose, my eyes, my scar.
Patrick has been working hard too since the attack. He’s made it so far when it comes to letting go instead of bottling up his guilt and worry. They’re both doing so much better these days. But David knows it’s been difficult for him to be the one left bereft whenever David’s mind shuts down and steals him away. It happens less often now, and if they recognize the signs early they’ve learned how to cut episodes off at the pass. Get David walking, get him talking, have him identify tactile things, do facial mimicry exercises to redirect his mind. He does it all, and sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t.
When it doesn’t, Patrick has learned that David needs to be able to take care of him too afterward. He’s even learned to let him.
The five minute alarm rings on his phone and David stops it, turning his focus toward his post-shower skin care routine and taming his hair until it's perfectly coiffed. The familiarity of it makes him hum contentedly. He gives himself this time as a reward for the mirror exercise, thinking about nothing in particular as he applies his serums and creams. The sounds of idle chatter and the clinking of dishes coming from downstairs create the perfect backdrop of calm domesticity. Patrick and Stevie are down there now, probably talking about the party tonight, and things feel easy and comfortable.
Nothing is fixed, not completely. But they’re learning to be a little bit broken together, and lately it feels like they’re coming up on a corner and are onto better days. David’s lost in that optimistic thought a few minutes later when he leaves the bathroom and turns the corner into the guest room.
He finds Stevie shoulder-deep in the closet where the bulk of his wardrobe is stored.
“Excuse you,” he announces indignantly, “why are you rooting through my closet like a handsy little trash panda?”
This at least has not changed. No matter how emotionally draining it’s gotten in the last year, their friendship will always be cemented in Stevie winding David up, and David acting like he doesn’t like it. Yes, they can be Soft Stevie & David™ when either of them needs it—and shit, they have both really needed it in the past year—but more often than not they just crave the familiarity of ruffling each other’s feathers. Having that to fall back on has been a saving grace for them both.
It’s a love language comprised of acrimonious digs and smoke screened affection, and it’s one they speak fluently to only each other.
Stevie doesn’t even acknowledge him now, just delves deeper into the overstuffed closet until she pulls out the garment bag with his kilted wedding suit in it.
“Gotcha!” she says triumphantly and lays it out on the guest bed.
It’s then that David notices she’s wearing her suit from the wedding. Her hair is slicked back and she’s made a real attempt at putting on makeup today. He’s instantly suspicious.
“Um, okay,” David gestures wildly at everything, “what is happening right now?”
“Get dressed David,” she replies flatly but her eyes shine with mischief. “We’re going to a party.”
“Yeah, a weird motel appreciation pageant,” he points out and then, remembering himself, rolls his eyes and adds, “Which, I am obviously so thrilled that you were asked to host. But I also obviously respect this suit far too much to subject it to that. Even if it is going to be an incredibly stylish and very well catered event despite budgetary constraints, thanks to yours truly.”
“Uh-huh,” she unzips the garment bag, revealing the kilt and jacket. “Put the suit on.”
David feels his stomach lurch unexpectedly at the sight of it. If only it were that easy. Still, he’s not really following what her grand plan here is.
“Stevie, this is a very sentimental outfit to me. I refuse to wear it to the Hospies.”
He says the event name like it’s Chuck E. Cheese or New Jersey. When she’d told him last month that Rosebud Motel Group had been chosen last minute to host the event in Schitt’s Creek, it had only taken a few panicked texts from Stevie to convince him to help her plan it. Also, it had been all sorts of cathartic to put his energy into doing something for someone else for a change. And if he owes anyone, it’s Stevie.
“And if I told you that the Hospies story was all an elaborate ruse, and that this suit is very important to the aesthetic of the evening, what then?”
David pulls his shoulders back, scandalized. “I’m sorry, what the actual fuck have I spent weeks helping you plan, if not this bizarre motel awards ceremony?”
His mind whips through a mental Rolodex of every conversation they've had about this, and he has to admit there have been holes in her story all along. He's just been so eager to focus on something other than everything that he's happily and blindly ignored them all.
She shrugs, her blank face giving nothing away. “You won’t find out unless you suit up.”
He frowns. His interest is piqued but so is his anxiety. Eyeing the perfectly pressed pleats of the black kilt, David can’t help but think about the plaid Alexander McQueen skirt that he’d asked a nurse to get rid of back in New York almost a year ago. This queer is wearing a fucking skirt. He still hears the words ringing in his ears sometimes on bad days. He’s never said anything about it outside of Doctor Boratto’s office, has just silently gone ahead with his life with that particular statement piece missing from his wardrobe. In the early days after New York, he’d secretly purged every skirt from his closet. Except this one. He couldn’t bring himself to do the same with it. It means too much—represents too much love and commitment to just throw it away.
He thinks of Patrick on their wedding day—and every day this past year—and strokes the leather detailing lovingly. There’s pain there too though, and he doesn’t know if he’s ready to confront it. Stevie must see something in his face that cuts her teasing short, because her voice becomes softer and her eyes warmer.
“Or maybe we pick something else out to wear. That’s okay too.”
She doesn’t understand his flurry of emotions but because he’s David and she’s Stevie, she doesn’t need to. And that comforting thought pulls David a little closer to a decision he didn’t think he’d be making today. Because she’s clearly got something up her sleeve, and this means something. He runs his fingers along the artfully stitched hem of the kilt, like cautiously pressing on a bruise. He’s surprised to find that it doesn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. This must be the corner he’s been expecting or maybe that personal growth Doctor Boratto is always going on about. Still…
“On a scale of one to ten,” he asks quietly, “how much will I regret not wearing this to whatever is actually happening tonight?”
A satisfied smile tugs at Stevie’s lips. “Oh, I’d say about twenty-six. Maybe higher.”
She leaves him to change and David takes his time pulling the suit on. He’s grateful to find that not only does it fit, but that the fringe of the kilt falls well below the surgical scar he knows covers a substantial side of one knee. He’s surprised but pleased to discover that not only has time unexpectedly been healing this part of him, but that one chink in his armour does not strip him of its protection. When he steps out of the guest room ten minutes later, heart far lighter than he’d expected it to be, he walks right into Patrick in the hallway.
Patrick catches David in his arms with an oof and holds him out to get a better look. Something passes over his face as he takes in the outfit. David may never have said anything about the skirts, but of course Patrick has noticed he’d stopped wearing them at some point. He runs his hands down the sides of David’s arms and then his hips. He fingers one of the black pleats, his eyes burning with something like knowing but also desire. He raises his eyes up to David’s and clears his throat.
“Stevie strong armed you too, huh?” he asks, gesturing to the wedding suit he’s wearing and not asking the real question why now? Or maybe even why ever stop wearing them?
“She can be very persuasive.”
“Can I persuade you two to hurry up?” she calls from downstairs.
Patrick rolls his eyes, but stays glued to the spot for a moment. He tugs David’s hips against his and draws him into a kiss.
“You look good in this,” he murmurs, sending shivers down David’s spine.
David had been wrong all those months ago. Three thugs in the night can’t take this away from him.
They pull up to the motel just as the sun is setting, the peak of the white tent in the back visible over the roof. Patrick, who has silently been suspecting Stevie’s Hospies lie for weeks, immediately spots his parents’ car in the parking lot and holds back a grin. He takes David’s hand as they get out of the car, unsure what to expect but feeling lighter than he has in a long time.
It's been hard. So hard that sometimes he can't pull himself out of bed to face the day. But when that happens, David is always there. Between his own bad days, he props Patrick up and carries the weight for both of them. And when Patrick's guilt weighs him down like a stone, David reaches out to lighten the load every time. Patrick thought he knew love the day David had fallen to his knees lip synching Tina Turner. He thought he knew love when they'd exchanged vows in town hall. He knows love now, really knows it, when David offers him his shoulder to lean on during his darkest days.
As they walk, Patrick's heart leaps to his throat. Seeing David—smiling and present—in his kilted wedding suit, framed by the setting summer sun has that effect on him. Or, well, he’s scowling now, suspicious of what Stevie has tricked him into planning, but Patrick loves this look on him too.
It isn’t until they follow Stevie around the corner though, that Patrick fully realizes the scale of what she’s done. What everyone has done.
Almost the whole town, with his parents and the Roses front and center, is standing there on a laminated dance floor surrounded by tables and smiling at their shocked faces. They’ve got champagne flutes raised and laughter in their eyes. The entire scene has David’s artful touch all over it, from the tasteful table centrepieces to the string lights hanging from the ceiling. There is, however, one thing Patrick suspects he never had a hand in: hanging above the bar is a banner that reads Happy 2nd Anniversary Patrick & David.
“What…?” David’s jaw has dropped and he can’t seem to find the words.
It’s a month too early to the day of their real anniversary. Patrick turns to Stevie and says as much.
“I dunno what you’re talking about,” she grins with a knowing glint in her eye. “I distinctly remember you getting married in July.”
David looks at her in shock and then pulls her into a tight hug, tilting his head back in an attempt to hold back his happy tears from falling. Patrick throws an arm around her too and kisses the top of her head, ignoring her mild protests. She and the rest of their friends and family have literally rewritten time so that the happiest day of their lives needn’t be overshadowed by the anniversary of their worst day.
Patrick lets out a watery laugh as his parents and David’s family converge on them. Alexis happily throws her arms around him, and he watches over her shoulder as Johnny pulls David into a hug followed by Moira cupping one of his cheeks in her hand before kissing the other.
It had been rocky those days in New York, but David’s parents have really stepped up in the last year. They’ve helped out financially when the store took a hit during the first month or two of recovery when David had been unable to work. And, like his own parents, they’ve made a point of visiting every couple of months. Sure, the visits haven’t always been calm but they've always been welcome. Their families are so different, but Patrick can see what Johnny and Moira’s presence has done for David. He feels it too. He can’t fault them for the effort they’ve put in even if it’s so different from how his own parents have helped.
And then there’s Alexis. Alexis, who Patrick has gotten so much closer with in the past year. Alexis, who has become something of a confidant—albeit a bit of a loose lipped one considering it had to have been her who told Stevie he and David have been dreading the arrival of August 15th. He can’t begrudge her for that though, all things considered. Alexis, who has stayed so on top of the assault investigation that she often knows the details before they do, in her quest to get her brother the justice he never received when they were children.
Patrick steps back and surveys the crowd before him. He never would have suspected when he came across Ray’s job ad four and a half years ago that this strange little town would not only give him a new home and a new purpose, but a whole new family too. Stevie, Twyla, Ray, his baseball team, even the Schitts. Hell, even Ronnie. Everyone really. This whole town has been offering its shoulder to lean on from day one, and he loves them all so much for it it hurts.
“My sweet boy.”
His Mom is pulling him into a tight hug and he feels his Dad’s warm hand against his neck.
“Happy anniversary, son.”
“I can’t believe you tricked me into organizing my own party.”
David and Stevie are sitting on the floor of the Love Room three hours later, backs against the bed. It’s just a short break to escape from the party. Half an hour earlier, he had burst into his millionth bout of happy tears at something Roland had said and took it as a sign that he needed an emotional time out.
“It wasn’t that hard. You’re like a truffle pig for party planning. Plus I figured you couldn’t complain about the decorations if you chose them.”
“M’kay, eat trash,” David takes another hit from the joint she passes him. “Thank god you don’t wield any real power around here. You’d be a menace.”
She gives him a deadpan look. “Who says I don’t?”
“Well that’s just unsettling,” he mutters, pulling a face.
At the sound of the door knob turning, they both look up to see Patrick slipping into the room. The sounds of laughter and chatter from the party-goers fall away as he closes the door.
“I thought I might find you two in here.”
“Care to join us?” Stevie offers through a cough, holding out what’s left of the joint.
He holds up a hand in refusal, sitting down beside them and pulling David into his side. “Rain check, you two finish it off.”
David grins knowingly, riding on the gentle wave of his high. “Patrick is too afraid to get high in front of Marcy.”
Patrick grimaces, “You’d be afraid too if she caught you smoking behind the hockey rink with your friends and dragged you home by your ear.”
“Why would I go near a hockey rink?” David asks, scrunching up his nose.
Stevie snorts, “That’s not that bad.”
David mirrors Patrick’s pout and pats his cheek in a very Marcy-like way. “He was nineteen.”
That sends Stevie cackling. David joins her until his sides hurt and he can’t help but feel at home between these two, badgering and poking fun like nothing has changed. It has, obviously. Absolutely everything has changed. But these moments where the three of them so easily fall back on their old teasing habits almost makes up for the other shit.
“Okay, okay,” Patrick says with a long suffering sigh, thoroughly unable to hide his smile. “Time to return to the people, David.”
David groans, but it’s only for dramatic effect. He lets Patrick haul him to his feet, slightly unsteady on his bad knee, and then reaches out to pull Stevie up too. They tumble out of the Love Room—Stevie still choking on laughter—and make their way back to the party. Something slow and sentimental is playing from David's carefully curated playlist and couples are already swaying cheek-to-cheek in the middle of the tent.
“Hard pass,” Stevie announces, beelining for the snacks but getting caught up by Alexis who pulls her onto the dance floor and forces her into a very grade school-like shuffle.
Patrick grins at the disgruntled look on her face as Alexis proceeds to talk her ear off.
“Hmm, and what about you?” David asks, tugging on Patrick’s lapels to get his attention and walking backwards onto the dance floor. “Can you spare a dance for your husband?”
Patrick slides his hand around David’s waist and pulls him closer, taking the lead wordlessly. His eyes are charged and he leans in to press a kiss to David’s neck.
“I love you,” he whispers against David’s skin.
A small, private smile pulls at the corner of David’s mouth. “I love you too.”
He closes his eyes as they sway to the music, surrounded by these people who stood guard over their lives during their worst days. David could live a thousand years and never be able to fully express his gratitude for Stevie, his family, the Brewers, and all the people of his town. They've given him back his wedding day, and he can barely wrap his head around that.
David whispers his I love yous to them all into Patrick’s hair
Yeah, things may never be exactly the way they were before. Things still fucking hurt. But better days are ahead of them, and this one? This one has already been pretty damn perfect.
GAH it's DONE. Between work and the world being on fire this week, this one got away from me a bit. Not gonna lie, it was a challenge to write. Hope it's not total traaaaash!
I kinda want to make a Part 2 to this that is just stand alone chapters of moments from this story that I either wrote and cut for pacing, or have been thinking of but couldn't find a place to put them that flowed. Any appetite for that?
(Extra points for anyone who noticed the Kurt Vile "Pretty Pimpin" song reference in this chapter that weirdly gave me the idea for this whumpfest)