"Nicholas Carraway?" the nurse asks, flipping a page on her clipboard and peering down at him over the wire rims of her glasses.
"That's me," Nick says, standing up and gathering his coat in his arms. His fingers clench anxiously into the rough fabric. "I'm here to see a Jay Gatsby?"
The nurse clicks her tongue and taps the chart with the back of her pencil. "Yes, it says right here..." she trails off looking down the hall. "You're his cousin?"
"Neighbor," Nick says, then, after a spot of hesitation, corrects. "Friend." Close friend? Confidant, maybe. But friend should be safe. It's probably safe to assume Jay would consider him that. "We're not related."
"That's odd." She draws a line through something with her pencil and then continues writing next to it. "I'll make a note of that, but it seems Mr. Gatsby listed you as his cousin. Do you know why?"
All Nick can do is shrug.
She quirks her eyebrow, and it's obvious that the gears in her brain are churning, but she doesn't vocalize any of her thoughts. "Down the hallway, up the stairs," she says instead. "Second floor, room 219. He's still unconscious. Don't expect him to wake up."
"Thank you," Nick says, and she nods briskly before moving onto the next person in the waiting room.
Nick's not the biggest fan of hospitals. In his opinion, he's spent enough time in them after returning from war to last him a lifetime. It's the smell that gets to him the most, though, and he raises up his arm in front of his face, burying his nose in the cuff of his sleeve.
The stairway is easy enough to find, signs attached to the ceiling guiding his way. The second floor is fairly straightforward if not a little daunting for the length of the corridor stretching out in front of him. It's not hard to imagine just how many people have been interned here.
Nick shudders and sighs then starts making his way down the hallway, his eyes skimming over the room number signs like water on an incline. For some reason, the numbers start large and descend as they go, wrapping around at the corner of the building. Nick's walked much of the length of the perimeter before he finally makes it to room 219. Carefully, he pushes open the door and steps inside.
For all that Jay looks sickly and pale, he also looks peaceful and untroubled in a way that Nick's never seen him awake. Nick's heart pangs selfishly in his chest. Oh, what he wouldn't give to see Jay like that in circumstances other than this.
The large, white bandage wrapped around Jay's head blessedly lacks any traces of blood, at least on the outer layers where Nick can see it. His hands have been carefully arranged at his sides, his fingers curled in slightly. Nick aches to touch him, to hold Jay's face in his hands, to cry into his chest the way he'd had when he'd found Jay in the pool, his blood rapidly staining the water red.
But time has passed. His emotions are no longer quite so sharp and immediate. Nick's had time to think things over and to make his peace. He's calm now. Collected. He has to be, despite the way that tears are already beginning to form at the corners of his eyes. He thinks about Jay and he thinks about loss and then takes the deepest breath he can before letting it out slowly. His heart rate goes back down to something resembling normal.
Jay's going to live, he tells himself. He's going to make it, and he's going to be fine, and then he and Jay can go back to just being something like friends.
The lump in his throat rises again, and Nick takes a stuttering breath, folding up his coat and setting it down neatly on the visitors chair.
"Hey, Jay," he tries, but it feels awkward to talk to him when he knows no one's listening. "I'm sorry I couldn't visit before. The doctor said I couldn't, said you were a little too close to death for visitors."
He watches Jay carefully for any reaction. Movement under his eyelids, a twitch of his lips, his brow, his fingers. Anything.
He gets nothing.
Sighing, he moves to the window, opening the blinds slightly and letting in a bit of natural light. "I wasn't sure if they'd let me come in this time. Otherwise, I would have brought flowers. I'm not sure what kind you like. You were always so focused on what—"
He can't do it. He can't stand to bring her up. Not here and not now.
At least it's not like Jay's awake to question him.
"The doctor says the bullet just grazed you," he continues, "but that it grazed you somewhere dangerous. Jay—" his voice breaks "—I'm so glad you're alive."
Silence fills the air. Jay remains painfully, painfully still. It's hard not to feel at least a little disappointed, even if he really hadn't been expecting anything better.
Nick picks up the newspaper that he'd brought with him and starts to deliver Jay the weekly news. It's not much, and it's boring as all hell despite Nick's efforts to make it more interesting. The book on health that he'd picked up at the library advised reading in situations like these.
When he's done, he folds the newspaper back up and slips it into his briefcase. His watch advises him that he should probably leave now or he'll miss his train.
Taking a deep breath, Nick rests his fingers on the back of Jay's hand carefully, relishing in the faint warmth that he can feel. It's real, tangible proof that Jay is still alive, and it's somehow more meaningful than any assurances a doctor could give him.
"I'll be back tomorrow," Nick promises. And the day after that and the day after that if necessary. He'll put up with the smell of the hospital, any strange looks that he might get from the hospital staff, the strain that it'll put on his schedule, anything. He's not even sure if it's for Jay's sake or his own, but he can't sit at home every day waiting for the hospital to call him with updates.
Gently, Nick withdraws his hand, already mourning the loss of contact and gathers his stuff. He has a train to get to.
Nick's on his eleventh visit and halfway through a rant-in-the-form-of-a-story about his coworkers—he's long since given up on reciting the news—when Jay's eyes blink blearily awake, his eyebrows pressing together in confusion.
"Jay!" Nick exclaims, jumping up from the visitor chair.
"Uh," Jay says. "Hi." He sounds strained and vaguely in pain.
Nick's about halfway to Jay's side before he remembers himself. The nurses will need to know that Jay's woken up.
"I'm so glad you're awake, Jay," Nick says, his hands handling the phone by the door clumsily in his excitement. "You've been out for just over two weeks now. Do you remember how you got here?"
"I'm—" Jay rasps and he winces like his voice has gotten caught in his throat. He must be parched.
"There's a cup of water on the bedside table for you," Nick says. The call connects, and Nick quickly gives a nurse the good news before hanging the phone up back in its place. He turns back around in time to see Jay draining the last few drops of water from the cup.
"Do you need more?" Nick asks. "I can get you more." There's a fountain down the hall. He's passed by it every time he comes to visit.
"No, thank you," Jay says, and Nick can hear the difference. His voice is still a little rough around the edges, probably from a considerable amount of disuse, but he sounds so much more like his old self. "And to answer your other question, I'm afraid I don't recall. I'm hoping you might be able to enlighten me?"
"Of course," Nick replies immediately.
Jay smiles. "I do appreciate it."
For some reason Jay has returned to his stilted, formal patterns of speech. It's a little odd. Jay had dropped the pretense around him a few days after revealing the real story of how Jay Gatsby had come to be. It doesn't sting, really, but it does leave Nick feeling a tinge of disappointment. It's no matter. Nick's sure he has his reasons.
"You were swimming in your pool," Nick explains, "and you were shot. George Wilson, the husband of Tom's mistress—" Jay frowns slightly at the mention of Tom "—he tracked you down and shot you." Nick touches the side of his head an inch or two behind his temple. "The bullet grazed you here, on the side of your head. I got you to the hospital as quickly as I could, and they had to operate. They—" Nick's voice catches in his throat and he swallows and tries again. "The bones, they—"
Jay nods sympathetically. "It's okay," he says, "if you don't know all the details."
That's not it. That's not it at all, because when Nick closes his eyes, he can still see everything that happened that day in stunning technicolor. The way that Jay's skin was cold in his hands, the blood in the pool, in Jay's hair, the wound itself, too reminiscent of what he'd seen during the War. But Jay doesn't need to know that. He never needs to know that, so Nick takes a great shaking breath and graciously accepts the out for what it is.
"I'm just so glad that you're awake, Jay. I was so scared for so long. I wasn't sure you were going to make it. It was touch and go for so long and I..." It's impossible for Nick to keep his open relief off his face any longer, propriety be damned. "Oh, Jay, I was so worried."
"Wait, wait," Jay says, still looking confused. "I'm glad I'm okay too, but, and forgive me if I've forgotten, but, uh, do I know you? I feel like I should but I can't— I can't even remember your name."
Nick feels as if a bucket of ice water has been dropped on his head and he has to take a few deep breaths to steady himself. It's fine. It's going to be fine. The doctor had warned him that Jay might have a tenuous relationship with his memories when he woke up, that it might take a few hours for him to come back to himself. "We're..." He hesitates, not wanting to make Jay feel uncomfortable. "We're neighbors."
Jay's brows remain furrowed for a few more seconds before his face smooths over and his disposition becomes sunny. "I must have some good neighbors then."
The nurse comes in then so she can check in on Jay's health, nodding as Nick tells her about Jay's amnesia before kicking him out of the room.
Maybe it's better if Jay just thinks that his being here was the neighborly thing to do.
Nick is still waiting outside Jay's hospital room when the doctor shows up. The doctor fixes him with a strange look and says that Nick should probably go home.
Nick nods, but it's another 10 minutes before he finally uproots himself from his spot on the opposite wall and makes his way back towards the exit.
When he gets to the station, he realizes that he has another hour before the next train home even arrives.
"He appears to have amnesia," the nurse says distractedly, frowning as she picks up a clipboard with another patient's information on it. "In most cases, the patient's memory is, um—" she flips a page "—it's usually back by now, so we're not sure how long this will last. He's not been very forthcoming with information, but his memories of the War seem to be intact."
"I...see," Nick replies, sneaking a look at the original clipboard. The name at the top is for one Bridges, Preston. So neither are Jays, then. Great.
"Anyway," the nurse continues, "he doesn't need to be kept here anymore. At the patient's discretion, he may choose to return home. Supervision is advised but not required." She glances at Nick over the rims of her wireframe glasses. "Is that enough?"
"It is, thank you."
"Wonderful," she says neutrally. "You can go see him now if you want."
"Thank you," Nick replies. "Again."
"Uh huh." She nods once, briefly, already reaching out to accept another clipboard.
Jay's awake when Nick walks into the room.
"Hello, neighbor!" he says sunnily, pushing himself up on the bed, the sheet falling down to his waist. The bandages are gone, and the only proof of his wound is the large scar on his head and the shaved patch on hair from where the surgeon had operated, already grown out about half an inch.
"Hello, neighbor," Nick replies, Jay's enthusiasm infectious as always.
"I am rather glad you've returned," Jay says, lowering his voice a little like it's a secret between the two of them. "I'm terribly afraid I still don't remember you, but I do appreciate the change of pace. As you might imagine, nothing much happens here."
"Oh, I can imagine," says Nick. Memories of his own time in the hospital threaten to resurface, but he quickly pushes them away. It's easy to do in Jay's presence. "In better news, the nurse tells me that you're free to leave."
"Yes, a nurse did tell me that too. Said my memories would likely be back in a few days, and everything should be fine after that." Jay sighs, a bit of his humor washing away. "I'm just not very certain where I'd go if I did choose to leave. I'm still rather weak in this state, I'm not sure I can take care of myself properly."
"I imagine your servants could handle all that," Nick says. Whatever ones are still left, anyway, but it's not like Jay doesn't have the money to hire more.
Jay's jaw drops and his eyebrows fly up to his hairline. "My, uh... My servants?"
Nick had never expected real, tangible proof that Jay'd told him the real story of his life, but if Jay had really made all of his fortune after the war, then really there was no way that he'd be so surprised.
"Your servants," Nick repeats, "so you don't have to stay here if you don't want to."
"Well," Jay says, "I have grown rather tired of these four walls.
Jay, it seemed, had grown tired of more than just the hospital room, judging from the way he's sleeping, leaning against Nick's shoulder while the train bumps along, dragging itself through the Valley of Ashes.
Nick would have driven, would have taken Jay's car to pick him up if he'd known that Jay was coming home today, but he'd received no advanced notice, had no way of knowing that Jay was fit to come back. It's strange to see him looking almost sallow in the fluorescent yellow lights of the economy car.
Nick nudges him when they reach their home station and Jay rouses easily. He's been a light sleeper as long as Nick's known him.
"Are we there?" Jay asks groggily, rubbing at his eyes, his hand freezing when his wrist rubs against the scar on his head.
"At the right station, at least," Nick says, standing up and shrugging his overcoat back on. He reaches his arm down to Jay who takes it and pulls himself up to a standing position. "We'll have to take a cab the rest of the way," Nick continues, keeping hold of Jay's hand and leading him through the thinning crowd toward the exit.
The midday air is just this side of oppressive when they finally reach the outside, and Nick busies himself with flagging down a cab. After about a minute, one pulls up to the sidewalk, and Nick turns back to Jay only to catch him staring up at the station building with something just shy of awe. The station isn't even all that much to look at, but the wide-eyed expression on Jay's face almost makes him look like some kid on his first-ever trip to the city.
"Come on!" Nick calls, waving him over and Jay follows, sliding into the rear bench of the cab after him. Nick tells the driver where to go and how to get there and then turns back to Jay only to find him staring out the window with rapt attention as the scenery starts to roll past them.
"It's beautiful here, isn't it," Jay says.
"You get used to it," Nick says, fighting the fond smile that threatens to grace his lips. He's starting to regret not giving Jay an advanced warning about the mansion. If a station is enough to draw Jay's attention, then he can't imagine how the staggering opulence of his own home will affect him.
Sure enough, as the taxi starts to approach Jay's mansion, Jay turns to Nick, surprise clearly written all over his face.
"Are we in the right place?" he asks, checking out their surroundings as if he were looking for something else other than the mansion they were clearly heading toward.
"Yeah," Nick says. "That's your mansion."
"I...suppose you'd know best of anyone," Jay says, looking a little shaken. "And you live in that one over there?" He points in the direction of Nick's cabin, but beyond it to the adjacent mansion.
A laugh escapes Nick before he can stop it, and he has to remind himself that Jay really couldn't know better. "No, no," he says. "You can't see it from here, but I'm renting a small groundskeeper's cabin." He points towards the small forest between the two mansions and Jay nods, relaxing slightly.
"I'm not that far away," Nick says, smiling. "If you ever need my help with anything, you can just send a servant over."
"I—" Jay reaches down to grab Nick's hand, the one resting between them on the bench, and clasps it warmly between his hands. "Thank you dearly, Nick."
"Yeah," Nick says, "of course."
The way he looks at Nick, it's...hopeful, which is strange, because it's not really a look that he ever sees gracing Jay's face.
"Were we close?"Jay asks, and Nick promptly finds his heart has relocated itself in his throat. "As neighbors, I mean," he clarifies when Nick doesn't respond right away.
"Ah, yeah." Nick lets out a breath as gently as he can without Jay noticing. "Yeah, I like to think that we were friends even."
Jay smiles again but this time more to himself. He removes one of his hands, the one holding Nick's palm, and lets their hands drop back down onto the bench. The other hand remains, a warm weight on top of Nick's.
It's all Nick can do not to stare at it dumbly. Jay wasn't a particularly physical person, but if this time the gesture is Jay's way of reaching out of support, if he's using it as a way to physically ground himself, then Nick will be damned if he's the one to take that away from him.
Even if he can hear his heart pounding in his ears. Even if he can feel the heat radiating off of Jay's hand like fire in his veins.
"I'm glad, then, to have a friend like you," Jay says, and suddenly it's that night again—the night that they first met, the night of Jay's party, and Jay's smiling at him and the whole universe has condensed down to just the space between the two of them.
Nick blinks and swallows and the moment passes. He says, his voice sounding a bit rougher than he'd expected, "I hope you don't mind that I introduced myself as your neighbor. With your memories being the way they are, I didn't want you to think I might just be—" he pauses, trying to find the right words "—taking advantage."
"I do appreciate it," Jay says as the taxi rolls to a stop outside of the mansion. "I think, in the end though, if you'd introduced yourself as my friend, I probably would have believed you." He withdraws his hand then—finally—and places it on his heart. "I can feel something in here that's telling me I can trust you ."
He leans forward, and Nick's brain fizzles and sparks as he wonders, just for a second, if Jay's going to kiss him, but then Jay's clapping one jovial hand on Nick's shoulder, somewhat weak from his time in the hospital, and then he's out the door with a kindly wave and one last goodbye.
It hurts, a little, to watch Jay leave, trudging up the steps to his mansion with his meager belongings. The tall doors open silently, the hinges still well oiled, still maintained in Jay's absence.
It's better like this, Nick reminds himself. It's better that Jay has his mansion and his servants. That there's this space, all these physical walls between them.
"So," the taxi driver says, "where to?"
Nick sighs and leans against his front door after he closes it behind him.
He lets his suitcase drop in the hallway, barely manages to get his coat and hat up on the hook before he's sliding down, his back pressed up against the wall. He takes a few moments to collect himself, all the pent up emotions of the last two weeks flooding back in from wherever he'd repressed them.
Jay's fine. Jay's alive and well, and that's what matters. He's going to be okay, he's going to be alright, he's going to be safe, and even if the police come knocking, it's not like Nick can't step in. All that matters is that Jay is healthy and healing and that he survived, amnesia be damned. Hopefully, he'll end up remembering Nick like the doctor said he would, but even if he doesn't...
It's selfish, he knows, to want his version of Jay back. To want their easy, non-physical camaraderie because it felt simple and uncomplicated in retrospect even if Nick consciously knows it never actually was.
The moment passes. Unshed tears no longer press at the corners of his eyes and he feels a sense of almost ethereal calm. After that, it's easy enough to continue on with his day as if nothing happened, even if all he's really doing is cooking himself dinner and ignoring the work that he'd taken home with him.
It's three in the morning when Nick is roused by someone knocking at his front door. He hadn't expected Jay to send someone over to request his help so early, and he certainly would have hoped it would have happened at a more reasonable time, but he'd said he would make himself available, and he wasn't about to go back on a promise.
He drags himself out of bed and pulls on a shirt. He probably should put more on if he's expected to walk over to Jay's mansion, but he's tired and really he doesn't want to make whoever it is wait any longer than necessary.
Hiding a large yawn behind his hand, he fumbles with the lock and opens the door.
The messenger Nick had been expecting wasn't a messenger at all. Instead, it was Jay himself, holding a large bag in his hands. He looks scared and apologetic which...Nick stifles another yawn. Hm. Why?
"Jay," Nick greets, stepping backward to invite Jay in out of habit. "I must say, I certainly wasn't expecting to see you again so soon."
Jay remains outside, not budging an inch. "I'm terribly sorry to intrude," he says instead. "I don't want to make assumptions but you said I could go to you if I needed help, right?"
"Of course. Anything."
Anything, of course, would probably be more graciously given at 8 am instead of 3, but it is Jay, freshly back from the hospital after nearly dying so it's not like Nick can't just swallow any complaints he might have.
"I don't think I can stay in that mansion," Jay says. "It's too large. I don't know anyone, and not just because I don't have my memories. At least with you I feel—" he gestures wildly, "—safe."
Nick wants nothing more than to pull Jay into a hug, but it's not something they did before Jay forgot anything, and Nick'll be damned before he does anything to take advantage.
"Hey, hey," Nick says as calmingly as possible. "Hey, it's okay. Why don't you step inside so we can get out of the cold."
"Oh." Jay flushes and smiles sheepishly. "My apologies."
He passes over the threshold, and Nick brushes past to close the door. When he turns back around, Jay is checking out the living room, visible from the entryway, as if he were looking at it with new eyes.
"It's homey here," Jay says quietly, eyes still trained away. It's a reflection more than a compliment, Nick figures, but for a lack of anything better to say, he thanks Jay anyway.
After Jay's finished looking, Nick gestures towards the couch. "Why don't you take a seat," he says. "Do you want anything to drink? Hot chocolate? I can put on some coffee."
Jay sighs, sinking down into the couch. His hair is disheveled and his clothes, a different set than the ones from the hospital, are rumpled. Every time Nick's seen him like this, it's always been on the tail end of a very long and usually rather bad day. "Hot chocolate sounds wonderful, but I wouldn't want to keep you up any longer than necessary."
"No, really, it's okay. I don't mind," Nick says, but stops when he sees the startled look on Jay's face that forms when he turns in the direction of the kitchen. "Or I won't then. Is everything alright?" He walks back over to the couch and takes a seat at the opposite end, maintaining the few feet of appropriate distance between them.
Jay is silent for a moment, staring down at his hands folded in his lap. "Physically, I think I'm doing great," he says when he finally does speak. "I don't feel much pain, and the place where I got hit is really only tender at worst but...mentally I'm just... I'm scared, Nick. I'm missing four years worth of memories, and apparently, in that short of a time, I was able to buy a mansion, and while I've always dreamed..." He trails off. "I just don't know who I'm supposed to be now. And I don't know why I feel so lonely."
"And staying here? Will that help?" Nick asks. He feels a stray bit of hope spark in his chest but he douses it quickly.
"I think it will," Jay answers. "I'm already feeling better just being here, I think."
"Well, if that's the case, then you're welcome to stay. I could never turn away a friend in need." And if Jay's the only friend Nick would really make that offer to, well, Jay doesn't need to know that. "Unfortunately, I don't really have a guest room, so you can take my bed, I'll take the couch."
"No, no," Jay says, standing up. "I couldn't possibly let you do that. It's your house. I'll be fine on the couch."
"Nonsense. You're still healing. If anyone needs a bed, it's you," Nick argues back.
They go at it for a few more minutes, Nick trying not to feel too excited at the easy back and forth. It feels almost like his old Jay is back again. This Jay, though, is a little rougher around the edges, less practiced, his wit has more bite, and his emotions are worn a little closer to his sleeve. It's not easy to forget that Jay is still missing his memories of the last four years. That he's missing his memories of Nick.
Jay eventually acquiesces, agreeing to take the room but only if they can reassess sometime later during the day after they've both gotten a good night's rest.
It's good enough for Nick, who gives Jay a short tour of the facilities before collapsing back on the couch. He feels...startlingly awake, raring to go after talking to Jay, but he piles on the blankets until he starts to feel comfortably warm, and sleep finds him anyway.
Nick wakes up first and busies himself with making breakfast. When Jay comes out some thirty minutes later, probably woken up by the sound of Nick's cooking, Nick hands him a plate of food.
"I've been thinking," he says, "about the bed situation. I do have a spare room that I never furnished, and I'm sure you have plenty of mattresses at your mansion. I'm sure we could arrange for your servants to send one over. That way we don't have to worry about anyone using the couch."
"Oh, that's smart," Jay says, bright-eyed. He sticks another fork-full of food in his mouth. He chews for a moment and then frowns. "How would we go about that?"
"I'm sure you can just call home from my phone," Nick says. "Tell them who you are and what you need them to do. I'm sure they'll understand since you were at least home for a little bit yesterday."
Jay hums thoughtfully, but the crease on his forehead between his eyebrows suggests that he's probably not particularly thrilled about that plan.
"You know," Nick says, "if you wanted to go back today to grab some stuff that you might need while you're staying over here, I'm sure you could just ask then."
Jay blinks and then nods, smiling widely. "That's a wonderful idea," he says and Nick feels warm, can feel his heart skip a beat.
"Hey, gotta keep you comfortable, right? I need to make sure this hotel stays top-rated, or I'll be out of a job," he says, and Jay just laughs.
The bed Jay's servants bring over after their little trip is smaller than any of the other beds that Nick's seen in Jay's mansion before.
When Nick asks about it Jay shrugs and explains that all of the other beds just felt too big and that he wouldn't know what to do with all that space. Besides, he explains, a smaller bed fits through the doorway and the narrow halls of Nick's home better. It'll be both an easier in and, eventually, an easier out.
Nick doesn't want to think about "out" all that much, even if he's pretty much already accepted that it's going to happen. In some ways, Jay leaving will be a blessing. He loves having Jay nearby, but the stress of want-but-can't-have is a little too much sometimes.
Nick helps the servants navigate both a simple bedframe and the mattress through the house and straight into the guest bedroom just across the hallway from Nick's own room. When the bed is finally pushed up against the corner, Nick stands back to consider how it looks when taken together with the minimal decor. For all of Nick's considerably lacking interior design knowledge, it looks normal there. It's comforting, in a way.
Jay's memory doesn't come back the day after that or the day after that either. Jay doesn't ask about his missing years and Nick wonders what's holding him back.
When he asks about it, Jay tells him he'd rather wait for his memories to come back naturally, despite Nick's increasing insistence that giving him at least a few details might trigger something in Jay's brain.
Instead, Jay asks, "Was I happy?"
And Nick finds that he can't really answer.
Nick catches him, though, looking at him with a question in his eyes. It's apparently one he won't verbalize because Jay never brings it up, and Nick can't bring himself to ask, can't bring himself to do something that might make Jay uncomfortable.
Nick teaches Jay to cook. It's probably too much of a personal allowance, the cramped kitchen keeping them in close proximity.
Jay, with his newfound impulse to touch, isn't making it much easier. He stands close by, reaching over to touch Nick's arm whenever he needs to get Nick's attention which seems to be shockingly often.
They're only running through the recipes that Nick knows well, and he's not a seasoned cook by any definition of the term. He's only got the basics along with a few pastry recipes he learned from his mom when his dad would allow it.
And for all the questions that Jay has, he seems to be performing quite well. Realistically, he should know at least a little. If Nick had been taught the basics while in the army, then certainly Jay would have been too, but Jay still asks questions and pays rapt attention as if he'd never even seen a stove before.
It's nice, though. Nice enough that Nick decides not to ruin the moment with questions.
Jay doesn't ask about Daisy. Nick wonders if he even remembers that she's here in New York, her mansion lying just across from them on the other side of the Sound.
Nick would think that Jay would at least be in some rush to find her, assuming he hadn't known about Daisy's whereabouts until a while after the War had ended. Jay, though, seems to be interested in little other than just living in Nick's space.
It is, on some level, incredibly flattering to think that Jay would consider Nick (or at least his house) compelling enough to hold his attention, but at some point, Jay's memories are going to come back.
The house is going to feel empty without Jay in it, Nick thinks.
He tries to tell himself that it's better that way, but for some reason, this time it just isn't sinking in.
Nick needs to go back to work. The excuse of a family emergency will only last for so long, and he'd rather his officemates not begin to question his absence. They already all knew that most of his immediate family was back in Minnesota and that he had no one that close in New York. Daisy, of course, didn't count. He'd barely even known her before coming here, had never mentioned her at work, and now that he knew her better, that was the way things were staying.
So Nick needs to get back to his wonderfully entertaining job selling bonds, which means that he needs to leave Jay at his home alone, and none of this would really be an issue. Except. Except Jay makes this face when Nick tells him this that is just shy of absolutely devastated (or at least it is, just for a moment, before Jay's schooled his expression back down to a very neutral smile), and the last thing Nick wants to do is to cause Jay pain.
"One more day," Nick says, sighing. "I'll take off for one more day, but then I have to go back."
"Thank you," Jay says, his shoulders slumping in relief, and Nick just knows it's going to tear him apart when he leaves for work the day after tomorrow.
His own pain he can deal with. Jay's pain? Not so much.
It probably isn't healthy, the two of them holed up like this for a week. Jay's regained much of his strength but seemingly none of his memories. Nick closes his eyes. This isn't working. They need a change of pace.
"You know," Nick says, "I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel a little cooped up staying in here all the time. What do you say we drop on over to your mansion for a little while and see how your estate's doing?"
Jay looks at him hesitantly.
"Wouldn't want anything bad to happen while you're off recuperating, right?" Nick asks. "Don't worry. I can help walk you through some of it if you'd like. You've gone over a lot of this stuff with me, so I think I know what I'm doing."
He flashes Jay a smile, and Jay smiles back. It's a little nervous, but he looks just fine otherwise.
"Alright," Jay says. "Yeah. Let's do it."
Jay looks out of place, which feels like a weird thing to say given that he's in his own mansion, but the way that he avoids walls and tables like he's afraid of touching something and breaking it is uncharacteristic of him. Or, at least, it would be if he'd never gotten amnesia.
It's still weird to see, regardless. He's so used to watching Jay walk through the weirdly tall hallways with confidence. Apparently, Jay Gatsby circa 1918 had yet to perfect that poise.
"Your office is this way," Nick says, leading Jay up the staircase and down the wide hall.
Jay trails behind, climbing up the staircase in the middle like touching the rails would be a transgression.
"You know you do own the place," Nick says, adding a bit of humor into his voice.
Jay sighs and quickens his pace a little to catch up. "I know. It just doesn't feel like it. I don't know if I ever told you this when I still had my memories, but I didn't exactly grow up with much."
Nick nods, opening the door to Jay's study and letting them both in. He closes the door behind them. "You told me once, about North Dakota and Dan Cody."
Jay's eyebrows lift a little, but he moves on in the conversation without mentioning his reaction. "So you can understand, then, why something like this would feel intimidating?"
Nick pauses to really consider it from Jay's perspective and...yeah. Presumably, Jay-with-his-memories had time to acclimate to this kind of wealth and luxury in a way that Jay-without-his-memories never had.
"Yeah," Nick says. "Yeah, I get it. I am curious, though. What's it like to wake up and find out that you're now among the super-rich?"
Jay wanders over to the wooden desk. It's an elegant work of art, carved by skilled hands, probably worth more than Nick would even earn in a single year, commission included. "It's...intimidating."
"In a good way?" Nick asks, coming up beside him to look at the papers left on the desk by the servants, official documents and hand-written notes alike.
"It's terrifying," Jay says, dropping the volume of his voice like it's a secret between them. "When I think about it, I'm paralyzed by fear. I think there must be a knowledge to being rich, and if there is, I certainly don't have it anymore."
"It takes no more learning than any other job, I think," Nick says. "You taught me a bit of it yourself, the boring stuff, mostly, since that was all I was interested in."
"Not interested in the glamor of it all, then?" Jay asks, a smile playing on his face, and he leans back against the table, his butt resting against the edge.
He looks good like that. In here. Too good. Nick swallows and looks away.
"Maybe at first," Nick admits. "It wore on me after a while. Didn't have the same allure."
"So you decided to learn the part with no allure at all?"
Nick laughs. He'd done it for Jay, of course, not out of some strange interest in day-to-day tedium, but it was probably better if he kept that one to himself. "Yeah," he says. "I suppose I did."
The visit home doesn't seem to trigger any memory-remembering processes, which is a tad bit disappointing, but it was, at the very least, a refreshing change of pace.
For whatever reason, it didn't seem to bother Jay that he was basically confining himself to the comparatively small walls of Nick's rented cabin, but Nick, who'd been living in them for the greater part of the year, would take any change of scenery if he could get it.
So it was nice, and even Jay seemed a little better for it, but at the end of the day, it was strangely nice to go back home.
Nick's first day back at work drags on like molasses. Aside from all his normal duties, all the coworkers he never talks to keep dropping by his desk to ask after his family emergency.
"My cousin," he explains. "He's fine now, but he wasn't for a while. The rest of his family lives out of state. It was a heart thing. Yeah, it's genetic."
That's usually the point where he stops before the office gossip grapevine can get its hands on his more personal details.
Nick supposes it would be fine to have all these people asking him questions if it actually managed to eat up some of the time that he left to work, but all of the conversations that feel like hours only ever turn out to be a few minutes at best.
Nick stares down at his desk, down at all the boring busywork, all the contracts, and all the damn letters he has to write and reply to. He'd never been particularly enthused by this job, but it was a job. It was something he could do and could do well enough to earn a salary and save. It was never meant to be his calling.
And yet somehow he's done all this work, day in day out without even thinking about it.
He sighs, leans back in his chair, and scrubs at his face with both hands, willing himself to wake up at least a little bit. This would all be easier if Jay was here.
There's nothing about the thought that's particularly new or notable, but it still comes as something like a revelation. The day's been painfully, painfully long because he misses Jay, because spending time with Jay had suddenly become his new normal. It doesn't bode particularly well for Nick, since Jay's eventually going to get his memories back and he's going to go back to his mansion, and the distance between them will reinstate itself.
He'll get over it. He has to.
Nick should probably be concerned that coming home and getting to see Jay again is so exhilarating. It's almost like it's enough to make the last 9 hours worth it.
Nick's in love with Jay. He knows he is, and he's known it for a long time, but using that love as a source of joy is...new. It's new enough that Nick can't bring himself to quash it back down with the rest of his feelings.
So he lets the happiness flow through him as it radiates from the place where Jay clapped him on the shoulder the second he walked through the front door. Right here, right now, he's living in a fantasy, and even if it's only temporary, he's still going to let himself enjoy it. At least for a little while.
The fire sparks to life in the fireplace, and Nick feeds it with a handful of twigs, watching approvingly as it grows in size. Just a little bigger and he can start adding in some logs.
He turns around to check on Jay who's sitting on the couch, staring at Nick like he's trying to figure him out, the way he's been doing since Nick picked him up from the hospital. Jay meets his eyes, quirks a smile, and then looks away.
Nick wishes he would just ask whatever question he's thinking of asking.
He sighs and turns back to the fire, squints at it, and loads on a few logs. The coals crunch and spark, throwing off a few embers. Nick grabs the poker and shifts the logs a little until they're in some semblance of just right. Good enough. He wipes his hands on his pants and turns back to Jay only to find him staring at him again.
"The question that's on your mind, you know you can just ask it, right?" Nick sets the poker down and rests one of his hands on his hip.
Jay looks conflicted. "I don't think it's the kind of question you can just...ask."
"Even if it's embarrassing, I'm sure I can handle it," Nick replies. He takes his customary seat across from Jay on the other side of the couch.
"Less embarrassing, I think. More dangerous."
"How about this," Nick replies. "I promise that, no matter what you ask, I'll answer it to the best of my knowledge, and I won't pass any judgments. Does that sound okay?"
Jay looks at Nick searchingly one last time and then says, "There's just something that I can't quite put my finger on, and I've been hesitant to ask. I've been trying to figure it out myself, but...were we..." Jay breaks eye contact and turns his eyes toward the fire. "Were we lovers?"
Nick's eyebrows shoot up. It was not the question he was expecting. "We weren't," he says, trying to keep his voice steady and normal. He doesn't know if he succeeds.
"Oh," Jay says, looking down at his hands. His expression is unreadable, though perhaps only because Nick is too wary to ascribe it meaning when he knows how biased he is.
He wants to say disappointed, almost, but disappointed would mean— It would mean, really, altogether too much at once, and Nick couldn't— He couldn't—
"I was never really sure," Jay sighs. "You've just been so careful and so kind, and I wasn't sure how to explain—" he takes one of his hands and curls it into a fist before placing it over his heart "—how I feel when I'm around you."
Nick stares at him, mouth open, but the words don't come. Jay can't— He can't possibly—
Jay crumples in response. "I'm sorry," he says. "I've overstepped. You've been such a good, good friend, and I've assumed things that aren't appropriate and—"
He stands, his shoulders hunched forward, curling in on himself. He looks small. "I should go," he says. "I should go." And just like that he's moving in the direction of the front door, not even towards his room to gather his things, and Nick needs to stop him, needs to—
"Jay—" Nick says, voice broken, and he's genuinely surprised he's managed to get anything out at all.
Jay turns back around, his eyes red and wet with unshed tears.
"Jay, I—" Nick recognizes, then, that he's a few seconds away from confessing his own feelings, so he cuts himself off. "You need to know what happened, Jay. The last four years—you need to know. Please stay." I need you to stay, he doesn't say.
A series of emotions play out on Jay's face, too quick for Nick to pick them all out, but he still sits back down on the other end of the couch.
Nick takes a deep breath to steady himself, clasps his hands together in his lap, and closes his eyes briefly before finally meeting Jay's gaze once again. He begins to speak.
Jay comes out of his room the next morning while Nick's cooking breakfast on the stove. He stands near the edge of the table, a comfortable distance away, his hands clasped together in front of him.
He's holding himself differently this morning. The curve of his back is more elegant, more practiced, and his general demeanor is just...less readable
Nick swallows, smiles, and then forces it to stay on his face when he realizes what's happened. "I take it your memories are back."
"Bits and pieces so far," Jay replies, smiling back graciously, "but I suspect it won't be long until I'm back to normal. You could tell?"
"Yeah," Nick says and turns his attention back to the egg sizzling in his pan. "You look more like your old self. So, uh, Daisy, huh?"
"It does seem rather foolish now, doesn't it?"
Nick's head snaps up.
"Gotta be honest," he says, "that's not what I expected you to say."
"I guess a life or death experience will do that to you." Jay laughs lightly. "I got some much-needed perspective."
"Well, believe me when I say that I wish you'd gotten that perspective a little earlier."
"It probably would have saved me a world of hurt." Jay says it with a bit of humor, but Nick can't bring himself to laugh.
"Yeah," Nick says. "Yeah, um, I'm really glad your memories are coming back. Guess all I had to do was tell you about your missing years."
"Yeah, maybe," Jay says. "I have this theory, though. I think maybe I wanted us to be together so badly that I just couldn't accept a version of events where we weren't. In a way, I was stopping myself from remembering."
"That's a bold theory," Nick says.
"That it is."
Nick flips the egg. It sizzles loudly. "You didn't remember me when you woke up when you were in the hospital."
"I didn't remember a lot of things." Jay pushes himself off the table and comes up to Nick's side. "Knew you were important, though."
Unsure of what to say, Nick pokes the egg with his spatula before lifting the corner and checking underneath it. It's about as good as done. He flips it back again, then lifts it off the pan and onto a plate that he hands to Jay.
Jay stares dumbly at the plate in his hands before setting it down on the countertop and reaching past Nick to turn the gas burner off.
"Nick..." He sighs, placing his hands gently on either side of Nick's face.
"I'm in love with you, Jay," Nick blurts. "Have been for years. But I never thought— I never—"
"Nick, I don't want to go back to the mansion. I don't want to go back to living the way I was." Jay's voice trembles and he continues. "And before I got shot, I was looking for something, and I was convinced Daisy had to be the one to give it to me, and I couldn't see— I just couldn't— Nick, it's you. It's you. I've spent my life just searching, and at first, I thought what I was looking for was money, and then it was glory, and then it was Daisy, but it's none of them. Nick, it's you."
"Christ, Jay." Nick's knees feel weak, and he sticks out an arm, holding onto the counter to steady himself.
"Nick." Jay breathes. "I remember you."
Nick threads his fingers through the hair at the back of Jay's head and pulls Jay in for a kiss. Jay hums warmly, and Nick can't stop the grin that spreads across his face, and he pulls back, laughing.
"I think, perhaps, it was a miracle that we got here," Nick says, breathless, and he drops his head down onto Jay's shoulder.
"One hell of a miracle," Jay says, and he moves his hands to Nick's back to pull him into a hug.
Nick feels warm. With Jay pressed up against him, standing in the sunlight streaming in from the kitchen window, he couldn't imagine feeling anything else. This time, when the fire in his heart sparks and ignites, he doesn't bother to put it out.