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Fifteen years could be an agonizing eternity or just a fleeting moment, gone too soon, depending on one’s perspective and state of mind during such a revelation.

For Medic, as he lay beneath quilted blankets on a king-sized bed in a cozy California bungalow, snuggled against a massive, warm body reposed in sleep, his revelation was very much that of the latter. It had seemed only yesterday that the space beside him on his bed was cold and empty, even when his former wife was there, her back to him. Only yesterday that the space somewhere in the left side of his chest was equally cold and empty. Yesterday, that he’d resigned himself to an existence of deceit and bleakness, where there was no sunlight to stave off the darkness, no sunlight to nourish and nurture the stifled soul that longed to flourish and fly and be free, free.

But in fifteen years, so many things could happen. So many things could change, be it with the very first meeting of his eyes with another pair of blue eyes across a dining table in a fort in a New Mexico desert, or with the very first touch of large, mighty hands upon his body, so gentle and reverent. Or with his very first kiss with the possessor of those hands, a hulking Russian bear of a man whose class moniker was truly apt, whose smile lit the world, whose joyful laughter crumbled the walls that had incarcerated him within for a lifetime.

Heavy. A word, a name, that somehow managed to encapsulate everything that meant anything at all to Medic.

Heavy’s bare right arm enfolded his torso above the blankets, a bulwark of living muscle that sheltered him from the morning chill, from the shadows within and without. In fifteen years, Heavy’s physique had scarcely changed, likely due to the systematic treatment with his healing formula throughout their employment with RED. Heavy was as brawny and enormous as ever, with that extensive chest that contained that great, big heart, with that rotund belly so comfy to rest his head upon after a long day’s work at his pediatric clinic, and those arms, those magnificent, burly arms that never hesitated to embrace him, that caught him when he fell and raised him up to his feet once more.

Heavy. A man, just a man, who somehow managed to recreate the universe for him, and gave it hope.

In the curtained dimness of their bedroom, Heavy’s features were softened, made even younger. Heavy’s thin, dark pink lips were parted, revealing clean teeth that were endearingly misaligned in certain spots. Heavy’s nose was aquiline though slightly crooked from an old boxing injury, a distinct form that Medic would trace with his fingertips when he allowed himself to be maudlin – which, to his chagrin, had increased more and more with each year – or when Heavy was asleep like he was now, unaware of the vulnerability his other half felt in his absence. Heavy’s eyelashes were lush, long semicircles that grazed prominent cheekbones, eyelashes that Medic sometimes privately envied as they weren’t sparse and fair like his. Heavy’s head remained bald and shaven where there was any hair despite his constant propositions that Heavy grow it out, which Heavy had quietened years ago by mumbling, “Is dark brown and very curly. I look like doll vith hair.”

However, Heavy eventually did grow out a dense moustache and beard for him. Just once, but he had immortalized the rare look in a photograph, and it now hung alongside numerous others on the left wall of the main hallway. Framed, vibrantly colored glimpses of their life together. Their love.

Helena, his secretary at the clinic for the past twelve years, was the one who’d suggested the idea of hanging an entire wall of photos as part of their home redecoration project a decade ago. That same night, he and Heavy had a lengthy discussion in bed about coming out to Helena, about the rippling consequences of such an act should Helena react poorly.

“If she tells ozher people, you may lose your job at zhe community center as vell. Nein, you vill lose your job!”

Heavy quietly pondered on the matter for some time.

“Is true. I like being boxing coach for kids and teenagers at the center. They are not afraid of me. They like me. They see another person, just like them. But … I do not know if they still vill if they know I am gay.”

“It is zhe parents you should vorry about,” he’d whispered in reply, and then he had not been able to say more, a choking lump of fear lodged in his throat at the possibility of losing all his patients, his pediatric practice, of being condemned and accused by their community of using said practice to harm and prey on children. When such panic ran rampant, the truth was meaningless. They would lose their home, their peace, their life together. They would be on the run, belonging nowhere. Again.

Heavy hugged him tightly, as if he’d read his mind.

“This is if Helena really tell. Only if.”

He said nothing, staring sightlessly at his spectacles on the bedside table. If. What a terrifying word it was.

Heavy stroked the nape of his neck, then murmured against his forehead, “So do ve let the other team vin? Or do ve continue to love each other, and live?”

His answer, after pressing one hand against his own fluttering chest, was a tender kiss upon Heavy’s lips and a night-long nuzzling of Heavy’s cheek while Heavy cradled him close underneath the covers.

A week later, after framing and hanging up many pictures of them together that they’d never dared show anyone else before, he invited Helena over for dinner and unveiled the adorned wall after the meal. Helena, just five feet tall, just twenty-three years old with a head of wavy, auburn hair and bright, green eyes, stared at the photographs for many minutes in silence. Those minutes had felt like forever to Medic. He had to school his visage into a neutral expression and stop himself from rubbing at his covered left forearm where that damned serial number was, at the skin there that seemed to be blistering as if he was being tattooed all over again by Nazi camp wardens.

He could sense Heavy’s gaze upon him as he cleared his throat and asked with an outwardly nonchalant voice, “So. Vhat do you zhink?”

Helena’s expression was unreadable.

“What do I think?” She turned to face him, her eyes as guileless as they always were. “I think … I see two people very much in love with each other.” She paused, her head bowed. Then, she lifted her head and looked him in the eye once more, and said, “Two good people, who saw a lonely, lost girl walking the streets because she had no one and nowhere else to go, and gave her a second chance when nobody else would. I think it took them a lot of trust to share this part of their life with me. And I’m honored that they did.”

The brilliance of her smile at that instant almost rivaled Heavy’s, and Medic easily blamed it for the sudden haziness of his sight, grateful that Heavy was too busy rushing to Helena to give her a bear hug and swing her around and round as they laughed together. Heavy had done the same to him after Helena’s boyfriend of three months – now her husband and father of their two children – picked her up for a date and left them to their intimate solitude, whirling him down the hallway and into the living room, chortling when he repeatedly smacked unyielding shoulders and threatened to throw up all over the carpet.

The Wall of Life, as Heavy had baptized it, inspired the installment of several more of its like in other rooms in the house as the years passed. In the living room were photos from their vacations to various major cities in the country, like Philadelphia, New York City, Las Vegas and neighboring ones like San Diego and Los Angeles. In Medic’s home office were photos of his clinic’s inauguration in 1970 and dozens of his patients’ portraits whom the parents of aforementioned patients had given him after being healed under his care. Some were preteens, some were babies carried by their mothers, some toddlers smiling toothlessly, but all happy and well. In the kitchen were photos of their birthday celebrations and holiday-centric feasts in which other former RED team members would appear over the years, guests to their suburban sanctuary, the only people in their current life who knew anything at all of their pasts.

In 1969, the year their contract with RED concluded, almost everyone else on the team showed up on their doorstep on Christmas Eve and stayed till after Boxing Day, gorging on Heavy’s and Engineer’s cooking and getting drunk off their buttocks on Demoman’s special recipe of eggnog. The only two people who didn’t show up was Pyro, who’d vanished into thin air and left no means of contact, and Soldier, who was, as Engineer had delicately put it with a grimace, indisposed and unable to leave his allocated accommodations at this time. In 1971, Soldier would attend the Christmas celebration, accompanied at all times by Engineer, stultified by an assortment of antipsychotic drugs to the point of monosyllabic interaction, glazed stares and sporadic drooling.

Soldier was not someone Medic liked very much, especially during their RED days. Soldier had harangued him and Heavy countless times, ridiculing their ancestry, their home countries, their physical appearance, their accents, anything that was different from Soldier’s definition of American. But when he saw Soldier for the first time since leaving the Badlands, he had felt pity for the severely narcotized man and conferred with Engineer about his medication before Engineer and Soldier left for Detroit, Soldier’s home city. Engineer had little optimism for positive change in Soldier’s therapy at a psychiatric hospital there since it wasn’t him who was Soldier’s official guardian, but Soldier’s father, a general in the military who must have been really repugnant to evoke such anger in Engineer as the mild-mannered man spoke about him with a steel-edged growl.

1973 was the last year Medic and Heavy would see Soldier. 1976 was the last year they would see Demoman and Scout, as Demoman would return to Scotland to be with his parents and his Highland Demolition clan, and Scout would get married – unsurprisingly, with a speedy shotgun wedding – and settle down in Boston as an insurance salesman and end up fathering three pairs of twins, all girls. 1978 was the last year they would see Engineer, although they maintained regular communication via letters and telephone calls with the Texan to this day.

Wish I could be there with y’all this year, Engineer had written in a letter that arrived before Christmas in 1979. Christmas just ain’t the same without you fellers around. Saving up money for more trips to Michigan. Still trying to get guardianship of Jane from his insane old man, but I’m starting to think it’s a losing battle and I’m angry at myself for that. Haven’t seen Jane since March. I don’t know if he even remembers me or y’all anymore. But I ain’t gonna quit. Not just yet. Say hello to Spy and Sniper for me, will ya?

“Jane Doe. That iz Soldier’s real name,” Spy had clarified for them that Christmas, halfway through dinner.

Dressed in a cherry red sweater darned with smiling snowmen on ice skates, Heavy said with an expression of disbelief, “Who vould name their son Jane?”

“A geezer with a really lousy sense a’ humor, that’s wot,” Sniper, sitting beside Spy at the table, said after swallowing a mouthful of roasted turkey. While Spy still wore his balaclava and tailored suits, Sniper had long ago discarded the slouch hat and aviator glasses while indoors. Sniper’s dark hair was profuse and glossy in the golden illumination from the dining room’s wrought iron chandelier, and his feline-like eyes were narrowed with disdain.

“It certainly explains Soldier’s overcompensation,” Spy said, sipping his glass of Pinot noir wine in lieu of smoking. Medic had forbidden it anywhere inside the house.

“If Mom an’ Dad called me Jane, I’d yell at everybody an’ feel like blowin’ ‘em all up with a bloody rocket launcher all th’ time too.”

Spy’s left arm was propped on the backrest of Sniper’s chair, behind Sniper’s shoulders, and Spy’s left hand rubbed at Sniper’s shoulder as the Australian man spoke, but neither Medic or Heavy blinked an eye at it. They’d discovered the true nature of the relationship between Spy and Sniper in 1972 on Christmas night, when they strolled out into the garden for a breath of fresh air and stumbled upon the other two men making out in the bushes next to their freshly sown bed of Julia Child roses. After a few awkward seconds of all four of them standing around and not quite looking at each other, Heavy grabbed him and kissed him stupid, and under the stars, they all then chuckled in relief, their friendship renewed. Strengthened.

Spy and Sniper visited them for Christmas every year since, even joining them for birthday dinners and public holidays when the worldly pair of travelers could make it to San Francisco. Spy would never divulge any details of his missions or for whom he was working at any given time, but unexpected to Medic, the once reticent Sniper now effortlessly filled the gap with animated tales of his journeys with Spy across the globe, like the time they were on a safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and were chased by a raging bull elephant, or the time they climbed the Andes in Peru, walked the Inca Trail and saw with their own eyes the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Heavy would sit on the carpeted floor and gaze up with Sniper with the wide eyes of a captivated child, while he sat on the armchair behind Heavy and also listened raptly, his knee touching Heavy’s back, his hand petting the back of Heavy’s head now and then.

Spy would lounge on the sofa beside Sniper, silent, the ends of his lips curving up whenever Sniper became even more lively with his narration. Perhaps it was that the masked man knew Sniper was no longer the recluse of few words, that their being together had drawn Sniper out of the dark and into the light, and that, Medic could relate to, profoundly.

No one who’d tasted warm sunshine would wish to crawl back into the icy shadows. No one remained unchanged by love for long.

In early 1980, he and Heavy would receive news of Soldier from Engineer again, in an atypically succinct letter of three near-illegible words in black ink: Lobotomy. God damnit.

Heavy had stared at the letter for a long time, at the random spots that dotted its flat surface and smeared the letter ‘y’ in ‘Lobotomy’, as he sat at the kitchen table with the letter in hand.

“Dell is in love vith Jane,” Heavy murmured, his eyes old and sad. “Nyet … he alvays vas.”

Medic, his own heart leaden by the news, by Heavy’s melancholy, put aside the washed plate and dish rag in his grasp and went to stand behind Heavy, putting his hands on Heavy’s slumped shoulders, pressing his cheek to the crown of Heavy’s head.

“Zhe outcome for a lobotomy can vary vildly,” he said, also gazing down at the letter. “From vhat I know about it, it had a mixed success rate. Zhere have been cases of mentally ill patients going through zhe procedure und becoming calmer.”

“But most are never the same again.”

He sighed, then murmured frankly, “Ja. Most patients vere crippled for life, or in a permanent vegetative state.”

Heavy said nothing more, and let the letter fall from his hand onto the table. Then, wordlessly, slowly, Heavy reached up to take his hands in those strong, large hands, to pull them down over that broad chest and clasp them there, as if to protect them, to protect him, and he stood where he was and as he was till his lower back ached. He hadn’t complained. He was far too riveted by the sensation of Heavy’s smooth scalp against his face, by the steady beating of Heavy’s heart beneath his palms. The heart he’d literally held in his hands, once upon a time. The heart that was his, all his.

Heavy spent the subsequent day in the living room calling Engineer’s house in Bee Cave, Texas, sitting patiently in the armchair next to the side table upon which one of their customized rotary telephones was, gripping a red, plastic receiver against his ear. After the tenth attempt, Medic could no longer hold his tongue and placed one hand on Heavy’s left shoulder and said benignly, “Heavy. Perhaps you can try again later, ja?”

Heavy glanced up at him, receiver still against his ear.

“Just one more try,” Heavy replied, his puppy dog eyes so hopeful, so undeniable, and Medic nodded, stroking the back of Heavy’s head once, and then went to the kitchen to brew some tea while Heavy dialed Engineer’s number yet again.

Engineer finally picked up the phone in the evening, as their Sunday was coming to an end and Medic was lying on his side on the sofa with his head pillowed on Heavy’s thigh, his eyes trained on the television and his ears trained on Heavy’s voice and breathing. Once the initial queries of concern were declared, Heavy hadn’t uttered much, a grunt of acknowledgement every so often, a ‘da’ or ‘okay’ or ‘vhat vill you do now?’ at other times. The conversation finished with Heavy saying with a consoling tone, “Ve are alvays here to help. Vhatever you need, just ask, tovarishch.”

Heavy said nothing in its aftermath. He merely drew Medic closer to him, one hand caressing his hair over and over, and Medic knew then that what Engineer had to say about Soldier was not encouraging. That night, as they settled into slumber, Heavy spooned him from behind, enclosing those hefty arms around him as if to shield him from faceless physicians wielding ice picks, from inner demons, from anything that would separate them. He hadn’t complained. He was warm. He was safe.

But whatever it was Engineer told Heavy, he would find out very soon that it had affected Heavy more than he realized. Throughout the following week, Medic would catch Heavy making phone calls in Russian, speaking in a low, hushed voice, terminating the calls as soon as his presence was noticed. The last time, Medic overheard Heavy long enough to memorize Heavy saying into the phone, “Kogda vy mozhete otpravit zoloto i brillianty? Mne eto nuzhno v sleduyushchem mesyatse. Yeshche luchshe yesli raneye ... Da … Da , eto bylo by khorosho. Bol’shoye spasibo.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t personally know any other Russian people, and therefore couldn’t obtain a translation. At least he knew ‘khorosho’ meant ‘good’ and ‘spasibo’ meant ‘thank you’, which … did not help much.

Three weeks after that particular call, Heavy’s personal workshop in the basement – where Heavy’s retired Minigun, Sasha, was exhibited on one wall – abruptly became off-limits to him. It was an amendment of territorial boundaries he learned of only when, on a Saturday morning, he passed the basement door and saw a handwritten sign stating in red capital letters: NO DOKTORS ALLOWED. The little heart doodled at the bottom did not assuage his annoyance at not being informed beforehand of this unforeseen development.

Hmph!” he’d huffed aloud, crossing his arms over his chest and frowning at the sign. Well, Heavy could forget about milk and chocolate cookies for this afternoon’s snack!

When Heavy placidly dismissed his questions about the secretive, raucous proceedings going on in the basement and denied making any mystery calls, their lovemaking plummeted from five to six times per week to just once a week. Heavy had never behaved like this towards him before, and Heavy knew, knew that he could not, would not abide any deceitfulness in regards to their relationship. He’d suffered decades of that with his ex-wife already, a travail of a marriage that finally died when she cheated on him with the Demoman from BLU and eloped.

Based on the noise he could hear through the basement door whenever Heavy was in there, it was evident that Heavy was molding and polishing something metal. Was Heavy making weapons in there? And if he was, was it for himself, or for someone else? Someone like the Mafia? Were they the ones Heavy spoke to on the phone in Russian?

Or worse, what if Heavy was doing to him what his ex-wife did? What if Heavy was having an affair? With another man, a Russian man? Another younger man, who would surely be handsome and brimming with verve, unlike his decrepit, archaic self?

The tormenting notions scuttled in unrelenting circles in his mind, sullying his focus on his work at the clinic, causing his imagination to run wild and his temper to blaze at the slightest of things. If it hadn’t been for Helena’s forbearance and excellent public relations skills, he would probably have lost a dozen patients in the first week alone. Heavy’s surprise visits to the clinic just worsened the situation, and he’d been glad that Heavy mostly spoke to Helena, out of earshot.

The rising tensions between him and Heavy culminated in an inevitable outburst from him, an ill-timed one that was all the more aggravating to him as it occurred seconds after Heavy had thrust into him, stretching him and filling him up to the hilt. Demolishing the inner dams that had restrained the river of his exasperation, liberating a torrent of it.

“Tell me vhat you’re hiding from me!” he exclaimed, clenching hard around Heavy’s cock and halting Heavy’s thrusts with his legs, desperate for an explanation. “Tell me!”

Heavy shocked him by withdrawing completely out of his body and ceasing their bout of sex right then and there, without any grievance or any acquiescence to his demand. Heavy didn’t become irate with him, or show any hints of frustration. Heavy was kneeling on the bed, bowing his head, hunching his shoulders like a guilty man, as if he felt bad that whatever he was up to behind Medic’s back had begun upsetting their relationship this way, but also felt that he still couldn’t tell Medic what he wanted to know.

“I … cannot,” Heavy had said softly to his back, after he turned away from Heavy and curled on his side, facing the wall. “But I promise, you vill understand soon, moya lyubov.”

He called you his love, his treacherous mind said to him. Would he call you that if he was in love with another now?

He didn’t dare to consider the answer. He was afraid it might be precisely what he dreaded most.

For the first time in over ten years, there was a cold and empty space in his bed, a foot wide between him and Heavy. He resisted rolling over for an hour, two, and then, as he started to shiver even under the covers, he rolled onto his back and saw that Heavy was still awake too, staring up at the ceiling with half-shut, forlorn eyes. When he slid across the space between them, Heavy turned his head to look at him, and Heavy did not say anything and simply raised his arm, a gesture beckoning him to refuge.

“I am still angry vith you,” he whispered half-heartedly, nestling into Heavy’s flank, nuzzling his lover’s solid shoulder and thick neck with his face.

“I know,” Heavy whispered back, carefully tucking the blankets around them. “I know.”

Medic fought to cling onto his ire, to keep in mind that Heavy was intentionally concealing things from him and admitting that with no intention of stopping. Then Heavy kissed him on the crown of his head and whispered, “Just know, vhat I am doing, it is for you. For us,” and he lost the battle immediately, falling asleep in less than a minute, Heavy’s arms enveloping him, his shivers gone.

That was not to say, however, that his irritation had been permanently removed. It would still flare up from time to time, particularly at the clinic whenever he saw Helena and her cheerfulness was even more exuberant than usual. Sometimes he would catch her smiling merrily at him, as if she knew something that he didn’t, as if she also had secrets from him. Verdammt, even her husband, a polite, easygoing ex-Marine named Jonathan who more often than not bore a solemn expression, had smiled at him as well, as if he knew something that he didn’t.

What was going on? Was the world going mad around him?

He would receive the answer to the former question – at last! – a month after the basement workshop became off-limits, on a cool Friday evening after a long, hectic week of work. Two teenagers and three young children had suffered stomach flus, a four-year-old girl had a high fever that resulted from a lung infection, a ten-year-old boy had badly scraped his arms and legs while skateboarding, and dozens of other kids had the common cold or one variety of cough or another. Four of twelve babies spewed on him during their regular checkups. Earlier in the day, while wiping away vomited milk and who knew what else from his face and neck in the clinic’s restroom, he almost forgot why he got involved in pediatrics in the first place.

“Masochist, zhat is vhat you are,” he’d said to his reflection in the mirror above the sink, shaking his head. He was also smiling to himself, recollecting the day he and Heavy had moved into their new bungalow, the day Heavy had suggested he open his own clinic to ‘take care of little babies’. It was just like his Heavy to have ceaselessly mocked BLU’s mercenaries as babies only to have such affection for real ones.

When he was about to lock his office and assist Helena with the clinic’s shop shutters, Helena ran up to him and told him, in a rather faltering way, that her husband was coming in and required his medical attention right now, and that he couldn’t leave yet. Without a second thought, he strode towards the clinic’s entrance doors with Helena to meet Jonathan there, but when the stocky, blond man ambled in appearing healthy as a young stallion, Medic’s eyebrows had shot up his forehead. They’d shot up even more when Helena shot her husband a mild glower and Jonathan grimaced, pressed his hands to his belly and groaned in what was possibly the lousiest pretense of sickness Medic had witnessed. Some of his toddler patients were more convincing!

“Could you see to him, Doctor? Please?”

Helena obviously learned the art of puppy dog eyes from Heavy. Medic sighed, unsure of whether to laugh or be annoyed. What were these two young ones up to, here?

“Fine, fine,” he replied, having decided to play along with their little game. “Come along, Jonathan. Ve vill see to your … ailment.”

As he and Jonathan passed the reception desk on the way to one of the examination rooms, he saw from the corners of his eyes Helena walking to the desk and picking up the phone’s receiver that, interestingly, had been left on the table top. Who was on the line?

“Okay, he isn’t leaving yet … Yeah … So how much time do you need? Ten minutes, is that enough?”

Helena was almost whispering, but in the hush, he heard every excited word. Who was on the line? Who wanted him delayed from leaving?

There was one person he could think of, one person who’d behaved so out of the ordinary for the past two months.

Just know, what I am doing, it is for you. For us.

“Uh, Doc, is it this room?” Jonathan said, and Medic, his heart suddenly thumping fast in his chest, swelling with a anticipation he hadn’t felt in ages, had to blink hard before replying, “Ja. Please sit on zhe stretcher.”

There was something rather dichotomously humorous to Medic about the ex-Marine sitting on the rainbow-colored, teddy bear-printed stretcher, and his lips couldn’t help arching up as he listened to the man’s heart with a stethoscope and checked his blood pressure. He wondered how long it would take for Jonathan to realize that he had not inquired about any supposed symptoms and was just going through the motions.

As he detached the cuff of the blood pressure monitor from Jonathan’s right upper arm, he heard the phone at the reception desk ring twice before Helena picked it up. This time, he was too far away to listen to Helena’s side of the dialogue, but he had an inkling of it when Helena showed up at the door and gave Jonathan a quick nod.

“Oh, hey!” Jonathan said, slipping off the stretcher and putting on a show of patting his own stomach and hopping from one foot to the other. “I’m feeling a lot better already!”

“Vell, zhat is good.”

Medic had to swivel away from Helena and Jonathan to conceal his smile of amusement at Helena rolling her eyes over her husband’s dreadful acting. It was a good thing Jonathan was a mechanic and not an actor.

If Jonathan’s energetic hopping had been forced, Helena’s was very much genuine. She was virtually bouncing off the sidewalk as they said their goodbyes to each other after closing up the clinic.

“Have a great weekend, Doctor! See you on Monday!”

“Danke, Helena. You und Jonathan und zhe children have a good weekend, also.”

Her exhilaration must have infected him, for his feet lightly tapped a rhythm on the pedals as he drove home in the dark red 1970 Cadillac Eldorado he shared with Heavy and he hummed along with whatever song was playing on the radio, his lips persistently curving upwards in spite of his attempts to keep them straight. Were his worries for naught, after all? What was waiting for him at home?

As he parked the car on the cobblestone driveway in front of the house, he saw that it was dim inside. That in itself was uncommon, since Heavy would always switch on the living room lights after dark even if he was busy in the basement workshop, unless of course, he wasn’t at home. But the porch lights were on, which meant Heavy was home.

Upon reaching the oak front door with its stained glass window, Medic saw a handwritten note taped to it. He peeled the note off and peered at it.

“Dear Doktor,” he read aloud, his lips now trembling from the effort to not outright smile. “Please go to bedroom und change into new clothes. No peeking in backyard!”

The two little hearts doodled at the bottom were his undoing, and he grinned, his eyes crinkling, the last vestiges of night in his heart giving away to daybreak.

“Vhat are you up to, mein Kuschelbär?”

Inside the house, he switched on the lights for the main hallway. All the curtains in sight were drawn. Whatever was in the backyard was something Heavy definitely didn’t want him to see yet. He dashed to the bedroom, switched on its ceiling light, then halted in the doorway, his breath hitching and his eyes widening at the pristine tuxedo laid out neatly on the bed and the burnished pair of black leather dress shoes at the foot of the bed. The tuxedo was, without a doubt, tailored and sophisticated attire, and his breath hitched again when he saw the white tag attached to the collar of the tuxedo’s black jacket.

“Giorgio Armani!” he said to himself, touching the refined, black letters that identified the fashion designer on the tag, touching also the side tag that confirmed that the suit had been made in Italy. It must have cost Heavy an ample sum of money. If Heavy had a suit done for himself as well, double the sum, maybe more.

He washed his face, brushed his teeth and styled his hair in record time in the ensuite bathroom. The tuxedo fitted him like a second skin, complementing the masculine silhouette of his body and his long legs, accentuating the fullness of his shoulders while slimming his waist. The shoes molded to his socked feet and were very comfortable despite being new. The black, silk bow tie – though it sent a pang through his heart with the remembrance of his dearly departed Archimedes – was his favorite piece of the ensemble, for it was embroidered with flying white doves that had splashes of red upon their breasts. The bow tie, too, must have been commissioned.

It was as he fixed the bow tie around and underneath the collar of his dress shirt that he noticed there was another handwritten note on the bed where the tuxedo had been. It said: Dear Doktor, go to kitchen and through back door. Still no peeking!

Smiling, he hurried out of the bedroom, feeling as weightless as air, feeling like a reborn man in his new outfit. The lights in the kitchen were on, and he saw that even there, all the curtains were drawn. When he sniffed the air, there was a whiff of … wine. Something roasted with wine, and something else that was sweet, something chocolate. Heavy must have cooked dinner just before he arrived home, and even washed and put away the utensils. But where did the food go?

Medic glanced at the back door leading to the backyard garden. The multi-paned, white object, so commonplace, was now a magical entry to the great unknown, all that stood between him and the recent enigma that was his lover.

“Heavy?”

Instead of seeing his garden patio, his beds of Polar Star and Kardinal roses, strawberry trees and evergreen blueblossom shrubs after opening the door, he saw instead a short tunnel shaped by tall bronze arches and flowing white silk. It was lit inside by long strings of golden, electric mini lights that stretched from the top corners of the back door to the other end of the tunnel, where a curtain of identical strings of electric mini lights hung all the way to the ground, shrouding what was beyond from his eyes.

He took a deep breath, awed, then shut the back door behind him with an audible bang to alert Heavy of his presence. After all the effort Heavy had put in for this night, the last thing he wanted to do was catch Heavy off his guard and ruin whatever big reveal Heavy had in store for him.

His dress shoes clacked across the rustic copper slate slabs of the garden patio.

He slid his hands into the curtain of lights, then lifted and parted them.

“Doktor! You are here! Vait, stand there, please.”

Medic almost didn’t hear Heavy’s request, stunned as he was by the transformation of the backyard into an intimate, inviting haven enclosed by a white, pitched-roof tent with white PVC walls and steel beams and columns for support. More long strings of golden mini lights crisscrossed the ceiling of the tent, so layered that it was as if all the stars in existence had floated down from the heavens to join them, casting their perpetual glow upon the beds of iridescent flowers within the tent and on a round table draped in red satin in the center of the tent, a candlelit table for two. The radiance also glinted off the silver surfaces of several domed plate covers, the transparent crystal of graceful wine glasses, the sleek necks of as yet unopened wine bottles and silver utensils impeccably arranged on the table.

Once again, Heavy had somehow managed to recreate the universe for him, and gave it such beauty.

“Doktor, look here, please.”

Out of nowhere, there was a blinding flash of light. Medic blinked a few times, then squinted through his spectacles at Heavy, seeing an SLR camera in Heavy’s right hand.

“Vy prekrasny,” Heavy murmured, gazing at him with a tender smile and eyes that were warmer than all the lights and the stars, and Medic found himself at a loss for words as he gazed back at the man he’d fallen in love with so fervently. The man who not only loved him still, but loved him this much.

Heavy was in a similarly designed tuxedo that flattered and balanced his robust figure, that restructured him into towering elegance and virility in the flesh, and also wore polished, black leather dress shoes. Heavy’s bow tie was also custom-made, but he wasn’t near enough for Medic to see the embroidery work on it. Medic suddenly craved to fall to his knees in front of Heavy, to glide his palms up Heavy’s legs, to press his face against Heavy’s belly clothed in immaculate, white cotton and wrap his mouth around Heavy’s manhood over the highly woven fabric of the black tuxedo pants and suck and suck until Heavy came like a geyser in it, spoiled Armani pants be damned.

Heavy. His man. His lover, his best friend, his other half. Perfect, so perfect.

“Vhat does zhat mean?” he rasped as Heavy set the camera on the table and then approached him, still smiling, still gazing at him with all that love.

“It mean, you are perfect,” Heavy replied with a likewise husky voice, caressing his cheek with the back of large, gentle fingers, and Medic’s throat and chest constricted almost painfully. All these weeks, all these weeks of being distraught and irate towards Heavy, of thinking the worst of him, and here the man was the whole time, building them a small piece of paradise on earth, just because it was in his heart to do so.

“Dummkopf,” he said, pursing his lips to stop them from tremoring with emotion, clenching his hands into fists that then battered Heavy’s undefended chest. “Dummkopf! Dummkopf! So zhis is vhat you vere hiding from me?!”

Heavy’s smile grew wider, even kinder.

“Doktor is too smart for me to give clues,” Heavy murmured, grasping his hands, petting the wrath out of them, out of him. “You vould have guessed. Then special night is not secret anymore.”

He let out a rather undignified squeak when Heavy literally swept him off his feet, bearing him with ease with one arm behind his lower back and the other arm under his knees.

“Vhat are you doing? I can valk to zhe table myself, you know!”

Heavy’s smile diminished, but not the warmth in his blue eyes. There was now an earnest composition to his features.

“I must do this. Please.”

Heavy carried him to the table as if he was a treasure of infinite value, as if the very act was a significant part of Heavy’s plans for the night. As if Heavy was … carrying him across the threshold, and Scheiße, his throat was clogging up again and his arms had to be excruciatingly tight around Heavy’s neck and oh, Heavy’s bow tie was embroidered with little Sandviches and Heavy smelled so wonderful and how, how was it that a man could miss someone he saw everyday so much?

Heavy kissed him on the forehead after setting him down on a cushioned, ornate seat, then removed the dome plate covers that ensconced their meals: Roasted beef tenderloin steaks served with golden brown potatoes, a crisp salad of green beans and lettuce drizzled with poppy seed dressing and a basket of honey rolls. They were some of his most favorite foods, and naturally, Heavy knew that very well.

“Doktor, you vant to see vine selection?”

Medic let his fingers linger on Heavy’s when Heavy sat down and passed him one bottle of wine, and Heavy’s eyes twinkled. He sensed their gaze on him as he examined the beige label on the wine bottle, as his brain gradually processed the cursive, black letters on it.

“Heavy … zhis is Trollinger,” he said, his lower jaw sagging.

“Da, from Stuttgart.” Medic sent Heavy a sharp glance, and Heavy said with a coy smile and lowered eyes, “I do not know if you actually like Trollinger vine or not. But I thought maybe you vould like something from vhere you vere born. Something from home.”

He stared at Heavy, speechless, his heart saying what his lips could not.

You are my home, Liebe meines Leben. You are.

“It vas important for tonight that there is something from your homeland because there is something from mine and, vell, do you know one of Jonathan’s aunties can speak German?” Heavy was rambling, a definite sign of nervousness. “Da, she help me call vinery in Stuttgart and order few bottles of Trollinger from, uh, Württemberg because they export very little and Jonathan also help set up tent and lights and Helena bought white silk for arches and da, they help very much. Da.”

Medic didn’t realize he’d said nothing in reply until Heavy’s expression fell and Heavy mumbled, “You … do not like it, Doktor?”

“Nein.” When Heavy’s expression fell even more, Medic said, “I love it,” and just like that, elation returned to Heavy’s visage, and Heavy grinned at him and cupped the side of his head with his right hand. He, in turn, pressed his lips against Heavy’s palm, his hand cupping Heavy’s.

The dining didn’t begin until after Heavy had affixed the camera to a mechanical tripod near the table and fidgeted with a small, metal device sticking up from the camera.

“Is camera vith thing called self-timer,” Heavy explained, turning some dials on the device. “Dell modify camera and mail it to me. Camera now can take photo by itself. He even make this tripod so camera can move by itself.”

“But, Heavy, zhe camera is not polaroid … if ve send zhe pictures to a photo developer –“

“Is okay, Doktor. Dell also make custom photo developing machine for us.” Heavy wiggled his eyebrows in a salacious manner at him. “Now ve can take big naughty pictures, da?”

Medic showed his appreciation of Heavy’s suggestion and labors of love by feeding Heavy throughout their delectable meal, tearing the honey rolls into bite-sized pieces to be hand-fed to Heavy, cutting up the succulent steaks for him and pouring the wine, chuckling when Heavy took a sip of Trollinger and made an amusing face. Trollinger was an aromatic, fruity wine that was an … acquired taste.

“Is sveet,” Heavy said after swallowing the first gulp, his expression back to its jovial incarnation. “Just like you, moy krasivyy golub.”

On any other night, Medic would have rolled his eyes at the sentimentality. But tonight, his whole face brightened and he affectionately dabbed Heavy’s slick lips with a napkin, both his stomach and heart full in the best way.

“So, even Engineer knew about your plans for tonight, hm?”

Heavy, in the act of feeding him a forkful of potato, gave him an abashed smile, and said, “Had to tell him vhen I ask about making camera able to take photo by itself. He vill make one for himself too, so he can take photo vith Jane.” At his expression of surprise, Heavy added, “Da, he got custody of Jane. They are living together now in Texas.”

Medic mirrored Heavy’s smile. To hear such positive news tonight, news of their comrade, friend overcoming so many obstacles to finally, finally be together with the one he loved … it had to be a good omen.

Both their appetites heightened, they consumed the remainder of their fine dinner fast. It was only as Medic wiped his own lips with a napkin that he became aware of Heavy being awfully silent, of Heavy pouring himself a fresh glass of wine and gulping it down in one go. As much as Heavy liked to deny it, it actually took a great deal of alcohol to intoxicate him into a blitzed mess, and in all the years they’d been together, he’d never drunk to that point. Watching Heavy trying to do that now was … interesting.

“Heavy? Is somezhing zhe matter?”

Heavy didn’t reply. Instead, Heavy abruptly stood up, inhaling deeply, puffing out his chest like he was preparing himself for a momentous task and there was zero room for fouling it up. Medic’s gaze of bafflement followed Heavy as he walked around the table to stand in front of him, still silent.

“Heavy?” Medic reiterated, more faintly.

Heavy went down on one knee before him, one gigantic hand reaching into a jacket side pocket to pull out and present a small, round and red velvet box with a black-and-white insignia engraved on its cover. It took him a moment to recognize the insignia as his and Heavy’s class icons combined into one, the cross of his icon set in the center of Heavy’s icon as if – like how they’d been as a team for RED – his icon was protecting Heavy’s.

It took him another moment to recognize the box for what it was: A ring box.

“Da, you vere right, I did make calls in Russian,” Heavy murmured, that coy expression and smile back on his striking face, his eyes innocuous like a child’s. “You know I am from Dzhugdzhur Mountains in Khabarovsk Krai. I vas born there in gold mine village, and it vas company that own that gold mine I called. I vanted gold and diamonds from place of birth so that, vell … no matter vhere you are, there is alvays piece of me vith you vhen you vear … this.”

Medic couldn’t breathe. His heart was thundering and his blood was rushing through his ears as he stared at the two diamond-crowned gold rings in the opened box, mounted side by side on white velvet, one larger than the other. The larger ring had Heavy’s class icon incised along the outer side of its band, while the smaller one had his class icon. They were creations of tremendous precision and design, creations in which much love and time had been involved. Creations that Heavy, with decades of experience working with delicate metal parts for weapons engineering, would have been capable of producing in his temporarily Medic-restricted, well-equipped basement workshop in the past month.

What could he have possibly done in his entire life to be this fortunate?

Whatever it was, he yearned to know so that he would never lose this fortune, never lose the living, breathing, loving embodiment of this fortune.

“Ve … ve cannot legally marry.”

He hoped that the wet hoarseness of his voice was imagined. It just wouldn’t do for him to bawl like one of his baby patients.

“I do not care about approval from others,” Heavy replied, drawing his left hand that was certainly not quivering to firm, dark pink lips that kissed it. “Only yours.”

Oh, Gottverdammt, somehow the lights above must have increased tenfold in luminosity for his eyes were burning and a bubbling, moist sound was trying its hardest to gush out of his throat and he wasn’t sure if it was going to be laughter or a sob that would encourage waves of more. And Heavy, his marvelous and perfect Heavy, wasn’t teasing him at all about his imminent emotional outpouring, still on one knee, clasping his hand, waiting. Willing to wait forever for him.

“Vell?! Are you going to ask me or not?!”

It seemed all the imposed harshness of his tone did was intensify the tremor of his lower lip and the damp blurriness of his vision, but even so, Heavy’s smile from ear to ear was as vivid and breathtaking as a supernova.

“Moi darogoi vrach, vill you take me to be unlawful wedded husband, to live together in unholy marriage and promise to love, honor, cherish and not poke too much vith syringe, in sickness and health, in all seasons, rich and poor, till death and beyond?”

Heavy’s mischievous twist of the vow prompted the sound embedded in Medic’s throat to be born as a soft, blissful laugh, and though something wet was trailing down his face now, Heavy still did not tease him. He blinked, wishing to see Heavy’s gorgeous mien in its total glory, to memorize it as it was tonight to be remembered for the rest of his life.

“Ja … ja, of course I vill,” he rasped, and then, Heavy was sliding his ring onto the fourth finger of his left hand, a flawless fit. The ring felt as if it was always meant to be there, real and true, a tangible symbol of their love. Not a scornful shackle, or a bitter reminder of a world without a sun.

A piece of Heavy, with him wherever he went, always. Heavy, his other half, lover, best friend.

Heavy, his man, his husband.

When he slid Heavy’s ring onto Heavy’s finger, he felt the trembling of Heavy’s hand in his and saw the glistening of those exquisite blue eyes. The thought that Heavy was as moved as he was, that his colossal Russian bear was this close to bawling like a baby too, was too much to endure and he hurled himself into Heavy’s embrace, binding his arms around Heavy’s shoulders as Heavy stood up, kissing Heavy’s parted lips and tasting salt and sweetness and everything he adored. The innumerable lights above them became a cosmic swirl of mini shooting stars as Heavy twirled in a circle around the table with him in those amazing arms. He could hear Heavy laughing, and someone else too, someone who sounded unbelievably happy and content, who sounded just like him.

It was laughter he could really become accustomed to, very much.

“Now kiss the groom! Again!” Heavy said, and Medic delightedly complied, their kiss this time an open-mouthed, tongue-delving one. A replenishing kiss, a sealing of their lifelong pledge to each other. A kiss just like the very first time, the very first one that had gifted light to his shadowy world, that nourished and nurtured his dormant soul and taught him to fly.

He was soaring. He was free.

They’d made love on the red satin table cloth laid out on the grass, surrounded by their roses, barely stripping off each other’s Armani suits in time before he pounced on Heavy and gave Heavy a deep-throated blowjob that had the poor man covering his mouth with both hands to muffle bellows of pleasure. He’d fantasized about making love in the garden for years, and now that it was a reality, he was pouring every bit of acquired skill and experience he had into sucking and swallowing his husband’s huge erection, verbalizing his appreciation with loud moans of his own. Then, just before Heavy came, he had let Heavy slip out of his mouth and offered himself wholly to Heavy, on his hands and knees on satin, wriggling his bottom in enticement. Unlike Heavy, he didn’t gag himself as Heavy pounded deep and rapidly into him from behind, and Heavy almost had to stuff his mouth with his dress shirt when he started screaming from the ecstasy of Heavy inside him, above him, right hand feverishly caressing his chest, stomach and cock, left hand holding his on the satin cloth, their wedding rings gleaming.

For a while afterwards, they lay sprawled on the cloth, panting, catching their breaths, kissing again when they had the energy for it.

“Oh,” Heavy mumbled out of the blue. “I forgot dessert.”

“You already had it, mein Liebling,” he replied, nipping Heavy’s lower lip, and they chuckled together, basking in the afterglow. He enjoyed it nearly as much as the lovemaking itself. He could listen to Heavy’s heartbeat, sense Heavy’s pulse against his cheek.

Then, a familiar blinding flash of light, and he and Heavy turned their heads in unison to see the SLR camera on its mechanical tripod hovering nearby, its lens aimed at them.

Or rather, at a very specific portion of his anatomy.

“Doktor, I think camera took flashy photo of your butt.”

In three days’ time, after using Engineer’s photo-developing machine, they would find out that the camera had indeed photographed his buttocks, along with hundreds of shots of the candlelit dinner, the proposal and then the blowjob and astonishingly artistic angles of Heavy penetrating him and of them coming. They’d had a blast skimming through the pictures on their bed, sniggering at shots in which they made involuntarily comical expressions, cooing at the ones that featured creative perspectives and lighting. One of Heavy’s most favored shots was of him reclined on the red satin cloth, his head hemmed in by roses, his spectacles on his chest, his hair tousled, his eyes shut and his lips arched in a small smile. It’d been taken after Heavy had gotten up to don his pants and shirt while he lazed on the ground a little longer, reluctant to begin the process of cleaning up, of tidying away Heavy’s hard work.

“Ve must hang it up,” Heavy had said while scrutinizing the photograph, partially lounging on him, head in the crook between his neck and shoulder. “Bedroom need Vall of Life too. Can alvays lock door so no visitors peek.”

“Only if ve hang zhis vone of you too,” he replied, pointing at a picture of Heavy wearing just the tuxedo pants and dress shoes, gazing at the camera with the eyes and stance of a victorious king. A smiling king who’d won it all.

“Deal.”

So since then, on the wall above their bed was Medic’s most prized photo collection of all, irreplaceable snapshots of them during one of the most joyous nights of their lives. If he glanced up now, there on the upper left corner was the full-figure portrait Heavy had snapped of him when he entered the tent. Beneath it, a picture of Heavy carrying him to the candlelit table, their heads and cheeks touching, and beneath that, a picture of him hand-feeding Heavy a piece of honey roll while Heavy stroked his hair. On the upper right corner, a regal, three quarter-figure portrait of Heavy, gazing at him off-camera. Next to it, a picture of Heavy on bended knee before him, brandishing their wedding rings and kissing his left hand. Two rows below that, below the picture of him reclined on red satin, a picture of Heavy sliding the ring onto his finger, both of them smiling, their eyes glistening. And in the center of it all was their ultimate choice for the focal image: A portrait from the waist up of them cuddling on the red satin cloth after their lovemaking, kissing each other’s lips, their eyes closed and their rings in clear view.

He was no superstitious man, but he had come to think of the photographs as vigilant sentinels that watched over him and Heavy as they slept. Their slumber used to be plagued by nightmares of their pasts, though like the luminous San Francisco weather with its sporadic storms and natural disasters, nowadays they had lessened, their incorporeal claws dulled with a mere gaze at the photographs above the bed. For Heavy, the nightmares were of the Gulag in Kazakh SSR, eight months of hostile wintriness and darkness that Heavy could only speak of to him twice in all their years together, of seeing other homosexual men raped daily by prisoners and wardens alike, of fighting the same attackers, fighting for his very life day and night so he would not end up like the snow-covered, mutilated corpses beyond the camp’s fences.

In the first month of living together here in their bungalow, Heavy’s nightmares were frequent and violent, often peaking with frightening roars and swinging fists at ghosts long disappeared. When one occurrence lead to Heavy punching a gaping hole in the wall above the bed’s headboard, Heavy brooked no argument from him on sleeping in separate rooms until the most recent spate of nightmares were gone.

Nyet, Doktor! I do not vant to hurt you!”

It’d been one of the very few times that Heavy had shouted at him, those humongous hands gritted into helpless fists, that beloved baritone voice vibrating with trepidation. With concern, for him.

“I have nightmares too, mein Schatz,” he’d replied softly, sitting on the side of the bed, looking up at his flustered lover who stood in front of him. “Have I ever hurt you? Do you zhink I vould sleep any better vithout you beside me?”

“But look at hole in the vall!” Heavy exclaimed, gesticulating at it, aghast at himself. “Next time, could be your head! Nyet! Vill not allow it!”

“Heavy.” He stood up and laid his hands on Heavy’s heaving chest, gazing into Heavy’s wide eyes. “How many times have ve slept togezher in bed?”

Heavy’s breathing slowed as he contemplated on the question, and his hands and face slackened as he murmured, “I … do not know. So many days and nights. Cannot count them all.”

“Exactly.” Heavy frowned in puzzlement, and Medic said, “Ve have slept in zhe same bed togezher so many times, endured so many nightmares und yet, you have never hurt me.” He then held Heavy’s right hand in his. Heavy’s bandaged hand. “Ja, you could have hit my head. But you didn’t. Even in sleep, you vould rather hurt yourself zhan me.”

He saw in Heavy’s eyes the very instant Heavy conceded defeat, felt it in the embrace of Heavy’s arms that clutched him snugly to a body as warm and comforting as sunshine. He smiled to himself, returning the embrace with equal fervor, rubbing his cheek against the side of Heavy’s neck.

“I do not know vhy nightmares are so bad now. I thought … I thought they vent avay years ago.” Heavy’s arms tautened around him even more. “I am happy. So happy vith you. I do not understand.”

“Maybe it is because … our dream has come true. Because ve are living zhe dream now.”

Heavy was rocking them back and forth. It had a lulling effect on him, and he shut his eyes and sighed against Heavy’s shoulder.

“So … nightmares vant to claim dream back?”

“Maybe.”

Heavy snorted and gritted his hands into fists again, resolute fists that didn’t quaver.

“Then little baby nightmares vill have to fight me first.”

Medic’s smile widened.

“Zhere he is. Zhere is my Heavy,” he whispered, and for that, Heavy kissed him gently on the lips after he leaned back.

“Doktor, you must promise,” Heavy said somberly, the tips of their noses grazing.

“Promise vhat?”

“If I become danger to you, you must do vhatever you can to vake me up. Hit me. Hurt me if that is only vay.”

“I vill … only if you promise me zhe same.”

Heavy’s mouth opened, ready for protest, but then shut once more. With furrowed brows, Heavy eventually said, “I promise to vake you up vhen you have nightmare, but I vould never hit or hurt you.”

“Zhen you cannot ask me to do zhat to you, can you?”

For that, Heavy kissed him gently on the lips again, this time in apology.

“You vin, moi darogoi. You vin.”

“Nein. Ve vin,” he murmured into Heavy’s lips, and Heavy did not protest that either.

For him, his nightmares were of the year he was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp along with tens of thousands of other inmates, driven to exhaustion, starvation and malnutrition by extreme labor in Schutzstaffel workshops in the industrial area outside the western camp perimeter. As the bearer of a pink triangle, he was in the second lowest level of the prisoner hierarchy, and like Heavy, he had witnessed other homosexual men being assaulted and beaten to death by soldiers and other prisoners. One of his worst recurring nightmares was of being preyed on by SS soldiers for target practice, covering his pink triangle with both hands, running and running, tripping and collapsing face down on harsh, glacial ground. Seeing the guns aimed at the pink triangle, at his heart, then screaming, screaming as the bullets sliced through the air towards him.

Sometimes he would feel the bullets strike him. Other times he would thrash about and scream himself awake before impact, other times confusing the SS soldiers with mercenaries from BLU. But every time he woke up, Heavy was there, waiting unwearyingly for him to come to his senses, switching on the bedside lamp to repel what remained of the nightmare. Hugging him until he stopped shivering, until his eyes no longer stung and his chest no longer throbbed with phantom pain.

Sometimes, Archimedes would be there as well, if he’d let the dove into the bedroom before retiring for the night. Archimedes would perch on his shoulder and nuzzle his jaw and neck, as if to say, don’t cry, master, I’m here, I’m here.

It was in the final week of May, 1977 that Archimedes would console him that way for the last time.

There was a part of him that had known then that Archimedes’ days were truly numbered, when Archimedes would stay with him for hours on end, even at the clinic, nestled between his shirt collar and the crook between his neck and shoulder, so quiet and stationary. At home, in the garden, when he clasped Archimedes to his chest and stroked the dove’s white feathers, Archimedes would gaze up at him, as if to say, thank you, master, for everything.

He didn’t want to hear those words. Didn’t want to acknowledge their finality. But reality never did give a damn about a man’s denial of it, and on a Thursday, as the sun was setting, as he sat under the shade of one of the strawberry trees in the backyard with Archimedes in his hands, Archimedes fell asleep and never woke up.

He had no idea how long he sat there with Archimedes in his grasp, how long he sat with his legs folded up, his head bowed and his shoulders shaking, with Archimedes squeezed to his chest as if doing so would somehow transfer some of his life force into the now hollow body. It’s just a bird, a silly bird, a vicious voice in his head hissed, but his shoulders just shook harder and he couldn’t open his eyes and his face, throat and chest hurt. Everything hurt, and he was so fucking relieved that Heavy was still at the community center for the youth boxing competition. Once this idiotic fit was over, he’d do what he had to do and get over it long before Heavy got home and saw him in such a pathetic condition. He would.

Months later, he would learn from Heavy that he’d sat there under the tree with Archimedes for over three hours. Heavy had rushed back from the community center when his call home at nine o’clock wasn’t picked up, on a hunch that something terrible had transpired, and once home, Heavy had discovered him where he was in the backyard garden, slumped against the tree trunk. He was unaware that Heavy was even there until he was pulled into a crushing hug and rocked from side to side, until he felt dampness in his hair and heard murmured words of consolation in Russian.

Was it raining? Was that where the water in his hair and on his face was coming from, rain from a cloudless, starlit night sky?

Rain or not, he and Heavy had stayed in the garden for hours more, with Heavy now the giant, sheltering tree that kept him upright, that let him cling to Archimedes for a while longer, just a little while longer. At some point in time, Heavy had gone inside the house and returned with a thick cupboard box with mounds of cotton wool in it. There were dried spatters of dark red on the cotton wool, almost brown. Blood. Medic didn’t know where Heavy found the stained cotton wool, or the box, but they made for an apt final resting place for Archimedes, and he’d mutely observed Heavy dig the small grave next to the strawberry tree with a garden spade, the box with Archimedes laid in it on his lap, his eyes sore and moist.

“Vill make headstone,” Heavy murmured, after he placed the box into the grave and Heavy buried it under soil with his permission, a jerky nod.

Slumped against Heavy, sepulchral, shattered, he did not reply. Archimedes was dead, really dead. Another loved one was dead. Again.

In the morning, unbeknownst to him at first, Heavy called Helena to cancel all his appointments and keep the clinic shut until further notice unless there was a dire emergency. He lingered in bed the entire day, drained of all strength. Wordless. Empty. Heavy took the day off work to be with him, cooking their meals and encouraging him to eat, even if it was just a mouthful or two. For breakfast, he managed one mouthful of cereal in milk. For lunch, he didn’t eat at all, and drank a half glass of water. For dinner, he managed three mouthfuls of a tuna sandwich and another glass of water, but none of it refilled the abrupt void within him. That night, just like the night before, he could not sleep, and instead he stared at a white feather next to his spectacles on the bedside table till dawn.

That day, he returned to work at the clinic. Helena had simply hugged him when he arrived. That alone had been nearly enough to set him off once more. Like Heavy, Helena knew how much Archimedes had meant to him and she’d kept appointments to a minimum. Even so, he gratefully welcomed the wailing, crying and tantrums from his patients, drowning himself in them and in the treatments for their various illnesses. It kept his mind off the small grave in his garden, off the fact that he would never feel Archimedes perch upon his shoulder again, or see his old friend frolic so gaily in blood and guts, or have the dove gaze and coo at him as if he comprehended everything his master said to him. Perhaps Archimedes always did.

True to his word, Heavy had fashioned a stainless steel headstone for the grave, an unembellished, rounded one with Archimedes’ name incised in bold letters on the top half and, in smaller letters, a quote by Edvard Munch on the bottom half: From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.

Encircled as the grave was by the beds of roses, the quote was one that resonated with Medic and brought him some solace.

Nonetheless, for nine days, he avoided the backyard altogether. Heavy picked up gardening duties without demurral, but would send him sympathetic glances whenever they were in the kitchen and he drew all the curtains shut. He couldn’t stand to see the headstone. It was like a punch to the gut every time. In time, he would be able to handle it. Just not yet. Not yet.

At the end of those nine days, on a Saturday, his self-imposed exile from the garden was broken by Heavy, who came back into the kitchen during an afternoon weeding session and suddenly said to him, “Doktor, you must come into garden.”

Standing at the kitchen table with a large, cross-section slice of fresh salmon in hand that he was about to season with dill, he gaped at Heavy, robbed of words yet again. So this was how Heavy was going to compel him back into the backyard? Did Heavy not understand that he wasn’t ready yet?

“Please, moya golubka, come into garden. Is important. Vould not ask if it vas not.”

He gaped at Heavy for a couple more seconds, then set the slice of salmon back onto a plate on the table and sighed heavily.

“Fine,” he muttered, trudging to the sink to wash his hands. Heavy waited for him to walk outside first, and he almost resented Heavy for that, resented Heavy for obliging him to face Archimedes’ grave again.

You could turn around and walk back in, you know, spoke that vicious voice in his head. He’s not the boss of you, is he?

For a half second, he was tempted to swivel around and flee back into the house. Then he glanced behind at Heavy, at Heavy’s face, and saw the compassion, the love there, and inwardly told the voice in his head to get lost. Heavy wouldn’t lie to him. If Heavy said there was an important reason for this, there was.

His stomach fell when Heavy sauntered ahead of him and headed straight for the strawberry tree beside which Archimedes’ grave was. He turned his head away from the sun-struck headstone and stared at Heavy’s broad back. Why did it have to be that tree? What else was there that could be so important?

“Here, Doktor, I carry you up.”

Heavy grabbed him around the hips and thighs, raising him up into the air, up into the branches of the strawberry tree. He glanced above him at copious leaves, uncertain of what he was supposed to see.

“Look more to left. At fork between two big branches,” Heavy instructed, and he did so, squinting at the shaded area, at something in it that seemed a lot like … a nest.

“Heavy,” he said, his breath snagging, his eyes wide. “Lift me up higher, bitte!”

Heavy obeyed, and with one boost, Medic was face to face with a loosely constructed nest of twigs, grass and weeds, and with its three small occupants. Medic had to blink twice before he realized he was looking at an adult, white and brown-feathered dove and her two sparsely feathered squabs, their eyes opened to a peek, chubby with food. They had to be four or five days old at most, still pinkish and feeble.

“Do you see them?” Heavy asked, and as a smile spread itself across his face, he replied, “Ja ... Ja! I see zhem!”

The mother dove wasn’t puffing up in his presence. She didn’t consider him a threat to her or her babies, even as he reached out to cautiously grip the nest with both hands, and this caused a lump to sprout in his throat. There was only one reason she wouldn’t fear him. One reason she would already trust him, trust that he wouldn’t hurt her or her babies, that he would take care of them.

“Little baby birdies!” Heavy said, smiling and petting the squabs’ heads with the pad of his forefinger after setting him down on the ground again.

“Zhis tree …” he murmured while he gazed at the stainless steel headstone nearby, the lump still there in his throat, the nest and its precious dwellers cradled in his arms. “Now I know vhy he vas alvays here, before zhe … end. Vhy he alvays vanted me here vith him.”

Heavy wrapped one arm around his shoulders, and he leaned against Heavy’s sturdy torso, gazing down with warm eyes at the dove and her squabs who gazed back at him. Heavy, with the body of an intimidating bear, the smile of the gladdest person in the universe and the soul of a profound poet, spoke the words that he’d needed so much to vanquish his grief.

“In the flowers, in his babies, Archameedees lives on.”

In the six years since, Archimedes’ offspring had gone on to produce offspring of their own, and they had gone on to produce offspring of their own too. Once where there’d been just one dove, there were now at least fourteen of them, a multi-generation family of Archimedes’ descendants with their mates from elsewhere and their squabs, a family whose number remained steady even when the squabs grew into adults and set off to explore the rest of the world like their parents had. Medic had named each one and remembered all their names and individual characteristics without fail while, much to his amusement, Heavy couldn’t differentiate any of the adult doves to save his own life.

“I am better vith dogs,” Heavy had mumbled with a pout that still made Medic’s insides flurry with a strange, delightful feeling. “So many kind of dogs in zhe vorld! Just one look and you can tell vhat kind of dog it is. But dove all look the same! Also cannot bark vhen there is danger or problem!”

Medic had bantered with Heavy many times over the issue of doves versus dogs, but it was only in October of 1980, four months after their home wedding, that he seriously pondered the notion of purchasing a good, reliable dog to guard their home and them. A dog that, as Heavy said, could bark and alert someone when there was danger or a problem.

A problem, like Heavy suffering a traumatic heart attack in the living room while he was pruning some of the roses in the backyard on a Sunday afternoon.

The first sign of trouble that he perceived was Euclid and Fibonacci, two white doves like their father, flitting about in agitation, flying into the house through the open back door then out again to swoop over his head, even scratching his scalp once. After the third time, he’d sat up with a worried frown, having never seen the normally unruffled doves behave this way.

“Vhat is wrong? Vhat is it?”

Fibonacci swooped over his head again, then flew towards the house and landed in front of the doorway of the open back door, twitching a smooth, white head and glancing at him as if to say, hurry, master, follow me and hurry inside!

The pruning shears fell from his hand. By the time it bounced on grass, he was already sprinting through the kitchen to the living room where he last saw Heavy, with Fibonacci and Euclid and another dove, Newton, accompanying him via flight. At the entry to the living room, he halted in his tracks as if he’d smashed into a brick wall, his chest and stomach turned to ice, his sharp inhalation of air fragmented and audible with horror.

Heavy was spread-eagled on the carpeted floor next to the sofa, unmoving, right hand clutching at the left side of his chest. Heavy’s open eyes were bleary, unfocused. His face was colorless. A frozen mask of impending death.

HEAVY!”

How he’d succeeded in holding himself together, much less in calling 911 to give the operator their address and other crucial information without screaming his lungs out, he would never know. As it was, the operator had to tell him at least four times to speak in English and not German, to slow down, don’t panic, take deep and long breaths, and tell her where he was and what happened. As soon as she confirmed an ambulance was on the way, he dropped the phone receiver and scuttled to Heavy’s side on all fours, anxiously stroking Heavy’s pallid face, blinking his stinging eyes over and over to clear them.

Heavy’s lips were curving up in a slight smile. A loving smile.

“Do not sleep, do you hear me? Do not close your eyes.”

Heavy’s lips curved up a bit more, and in those beautiful blue eyes, Medic saw a light he’d seen before. An agonizing, cruel light that’d also been in Archimedes’ reddish-black eyes, before he died.

Nein!” Medic yelled, slapping Heavy hard across the face, his own face scrunching up uncontrollably. “You vill not give up! I forbid you! Do you hear me?!”

Heavy blinked up at him, eyes wider, brighter. Then, Heavy smiled slightly again, a smile that hinted at determination, perhaps even some amusement.

“Good,” he rasped, petting Heavy’s cheek where he’d slapped him. “Now stay vith me. Stay vith me.”

It took Heavy several attempts to speak.

“… navsegda.”

The sole word emanated as a croaky whisper. Since their wedding, Heavy had taught him an assortment of Russian phrases and words, enough that he knew what that word meant, enough that he knew how much Heavy had said with it.

“Forever is too short,” he whispered back, doing his best to also smile, his lips tremoring. “Too short, mein Mann.”

When the paramedics – one man, one woman – arrived within minutes, it took him all his willpower to leave Heavy’s side to open the front door for them. It took all three of them just to elevate Heavy off the floor and onto the stretcher that sagged under Heavy’s weight. As they rushed to the ambulance parked outside, Medic blurted out any beneficial information he could think of to the paramedics: Heavy’s lack of chronic illness and allergies, the current list of vitamins and supplements Heavy was taking – which was very succinct – and, to the paramedics’ shock, Heavy’s utter lack of sickness in any manner for the last twelve years.

The journey to the hospital in the ambulance was a haze to Medic. One paramedic, a blonde called Angela, had to sit at the head of the stretcher to monitor Heavy’s vital signs and administer aspirin and glyceryl trinitrate. He’d knelt on the rigid floor to be as physically close to Heavy as possible, to hold Heavy’s hand, despite there being a cushioned bench along the left side of the ambulance’s interior, and he didn’t care a whit that she could see the hand-holding, see their matching rings on the fourth fingers of their left hands. Heavy’s eyes were still open, gazing at him over an oxygen mask. Abiding by his command to not close his eyes, even now.

In the emergency room, two nurses had to tow him away from Heavy in the resuscitation area to the visitors’ waiting area. They bombarded him with all sorts of questions: Did the patient have health insurance? Did the patient’s health plan cover treatment in this hospital? Did he have the patient’s insurance card with him? Did he have a file of the patient’s health information with him? Who was the patient’s doctor and what was his or her contact number? Did the patient have health insurance that covered treatment in this hospital?

In twenty-eight hours’ time, he would be told by the cardiologist ministering to Heavy, a Dr. Evans in his early fifties, that he had shouted so stridently and irately at the nurses in a mix of German and English that everyone in the resuscitation area heard everything he said. He would also be told by Dr. Evans that the ER team knew Heavy was a fighter when Heavy smiled at the furious ranting, when Heavy kept his eyes open throughout every examination and procedure to determine the severity of the heart attack and mumbled to them that he would ‘take his doctor out for a nice meal once all this was over’.

The procedures, Medic knew by rote. Heavy would be hooked up to intravenous fluids and morphine and undergo an electrocardiogram to diagnose damage to the heart or blockages in its arteries, and if there was blockage, instantaneous reperfusion of the artery had to be performed either with thrombolysis or an angioplasty. And if open heart surgery was required, the surgical team would surely discover the device in Heavy’s chest.

That, and the giant baboon heart attached to it in place of Heavy’s original heart.

How was he going to explain that?

Twenty minutes after Heavy was triaged to the resuscitation area, Dr. Evans – a six-foot tall man with salt-and-pepper, curly hair and brown eyes – came out of the resuscitation area and approached him.

“Mr. Heavy told me you’re his doctor, and that you’d implanted some … machine in his chest twelve years ago. He isn’t sure whether it’s a pacemaker or not. He said it was something called an … Uber?”

Now that the nurses weren’t harassing him anymore about insurance and money and had left him alone, he was a little more composed, his arms crossed over his chest more as a self-hug than a display of outrage. He felt very cold, even in his cashmere argyle sweater and slacks. He wanted to see Heavy, to be with him and inspect what the other doctors and nurses were doing to him so they didn’t mess up and hurt him. He wanted to see Heavy again. Now.

The more inquiries Dr. Evans made regarding the Uber in Heavy’s chest, the tighter his arms became around himself, his lips pressed into a thin line as he answered each question with a weary tone. Ja, he was Heavy’s doctor and ja, he was the one who’d implanted the device into Heavy’s chest and ja, it was true, Heavy didn’t take any anti-rejection medication in spite of having had a heart transplant and nein, he wasn’t a cardio-thoracic surgeon but the surgery was necessary for Heavy’s survival, and it’d worked, didn’t it?

Of course, his lips were sealed over the fact that he’d designed the Uber, that TF Industries had manufactured and patented it in exchange for ten million US dollars extra to the salary they’d already been committed to pay him upon completion of his contract with RED, one of its subsidiaries. His confidentiality about the Uber, the Medi-Gun, the Quick-Fix, and all his knowledge on RED and TF Industries had been part of the deal. Breaking that deal with TF Industries would not be a prudent move, as the contract clause concerning such a move blatantly stated: Any disclosure of your activities with TF Industries and its subsidiaries outside of aforementioned companies at any given time will result in immediate termination of any and all contracts with us, and of you.

After experiencing firsthand the daily bloodshed and war that went on between their team and BLU’s with TF Industries’ sanction, he had zero doubts that TF Industries would keep their side of the pact.

Dr. Evans said something about being very impressed that Heavy’s chest showed no surgical scars whatsoever from the transplant. Something about Heavy’s erratic, abnormal ECG readings that he’d never seen before in his career. Something about Heavy being in a very weak condition right now, too weak even for exploratory surgery, and that Heavy had to be admitted into the coronary care unit for more diagnostic examinations. More ECGs, more blood tests. More medication, perhaps even a cardiac catheterization. Once the first twenty-four hours passed, the hospital would make a final decision on surgery based on Heavy’s condition then.

Medic’s chest and belly turned to ice again when the possibility sank in that the Uber or the giant baboon heart, maybe even both, were malfunctioning now. Under RED’s employment, he’d had the liberty of using whatever resources RED granted him to design, build and maintain his medical apparatuses. At the time he implanted the Uber into Heavy’s chest, he hadn’t ruminated about the future, about Heavy becoming such an essential element in it, about the consequences of using a trial prototype of the Uber with an animal heart into a human being. He’d never imagined that he would fall in love with Heavy and buy a home together and marry the man.

What if it wasn’t the Uber malfunctioning? What if Heavy’s body was rejecting the giant baboon heart now? What if the giant baboon heart had to be removed as soon as possible, and there was no new heart to replace it, a heart resilient enough to pump blood through Heavy’s gargantuan body?

What if he’d passed an irreversible death sentence upon the man he loved so damn much without even knowing it?

When that sank in, he sat down hard on a chair behind him, hearing Dr. Evans ask him from a million miles away if he was all right. Three years on, he was still clueless as to what he’d replied or how he’d responded. All he could see then was Heavy’s heart exploding into bloody pieces in his hand, so violently that one piece whacked one of his laboratory doves in the chest and sent it spinning in the air.

Someone handed him a cup of water. He drank it reflexively, without thought. A few minutes later, or maybe a few hours or a few days, he heard Dr. Evans tell him that Heavy was being moved to the CCU. Heard a different voice asking him if he was family, a chilly male voice thinly veiled with disgust. Heard Dr. Evans firmly say that he was, that he would be permitted to accompany Heavy in the CCU and if anyone wished to challenge that, they were free to bring it up with the ethics committee.

There was an elevator ride. An eon-long shuffle down a long, sterile corridor to the CCU, then to a room with one occupied bed loomed over by medical paraphernalia. Heavy was in the bed, swathed in blankets up to the chest, a nasal cannula snaking across his ashen face. Heavy looked so frail, so small.

Dr. Evans was speaking to him again, something about having procured a private room for Heavy to keep prying eyes out. It was Dr. Evans’ benevolent tone, though, that jolted him out of his daze.

“Vhy?” he asked hoarsely, staring in bemusement at the other doctor as he sat in a chair at Heavy’s bedside. “Vhy did you do zhat for us?”

Dr. Evans glanced at his left hand. At the ring on his fourth ringer.

“Family takes care of its own,” Dr. Evans simply said, an enigmatic statement that Medic would come to genuinely appreciate months afterwards, after Helena enlightened him on slangs used by the gay community. By gay people just like him and Heavy.

Even more unanticipated than the private room was the absence of hostility from the rest of the CCU staff at him staying overnight in the room with Heavy. Visiting hours were very restricted, that he knew without having to ask. Strings had been pulled for his convenience and it must have cost whoever did it, that he also knew, and so he was passive and co-operative whenever Dr. Evans came in to perform more ECGs or whenever nurses came in to draw more blood from Heavy for tests. It was the least he could do to be able to sit at Heavy’s side in their darkest hour yet.

Slumber eluded him. Time seemed to grind to a standstill. He sat slouched against the hospital bed, his head resting on Heavy’s right hand above the blankets, staring with groggy eyes at Heavy’s face. At its waxen complexion, so much like an embalmed corpse’s, so unlike its usual rubicund, healthy glow. He ached to climb into bed with Heavy, to slide his arms around his other half and lay his head upon that extensive chest and listen to the beat of that great, big heart. To travel back in time to the Infirmary in 2Fort twelve years ago, to that instance when he’d recklessly destroyed Heavy’s original heart with that blast from the Quick-Fix and … and killed him.

He allowed himself one sob. Just one. The tears were too stubborn to obey his demand to stop.

He shut his eyes. Then, he opened them, and saw sunlight streaking across the wall above the headboard of Heavy’s bed. Morning sunlight.

“Dobroye utro, moy muzh.”

Heavy’s eyes were open too. Heavy’s hand beneath his cheek was moving, caressing his face. The nasal cannula was gone from Heavy’s face. Heavy was gazing at him, fondly.

Heavy was awake.

“You look like a doggie drag you up tree,” Heavy murmured, smiling, and Medic sat up slowly, flabbergasted by the incredible improvement in Heavy’s condition. The sallowness of Heavy’s face was no longer there. The dark circles around Heavy’s eyes had vanished. Heavy appeared rejuvenated, as if the heart attack had never transpired. As if Heavy had been restored.

“Is zhat any vay to compliment your husband?”

He prided himself on the steadiness of his voice. But when Heavy aimed that beautiful, ear-to-ear grin at him, that grin that lit his world, the steadiness of his very being promptly gave way to a shuddering that unmasked him of his transient bravado, and his face crumpled. He leapt on the bed and enfolded his arms around Heavy’s shoulders, burrowing his wet face into the side of Heavy’s neck. Sensing Heavy’s pulse there. Beating, beating so steadfast. Heavy was returning his embrace as ardently, petting his hair, humming from deep within that broad chest.

“Doktor … vhere are ve?”

Medic shifted onto one elbow and raised his legs onto the bed so that he laid on his side next to Heavy. Now he saw the nasal cannula, wedged between the pillow and the headboard. Heavy must have taken it off.

“This is not home,” Heavy added, brows creased as he glanced at the medical equipment on both sides of the bed, at the taped tubing and IV needles affixed to his left forearm. “Vhere are ve?”

“You do not remember vhat happened, meine liebe?”

Heavy blinked once, twice, then glanced sharply at him, eyes widening with recollection. When Heavy pressed one hand to the left side of his own chest, Medic placed his right hand on top of Heavy’s and entwined their fingers.

“Da … da, I remember a bit now. Vorst pain I felt in long time.” Heavy blinked another time. He narrowed his eyes, concentrating, then mumbled, “Doktor … Eehvans. That is doktor who treat me?” At Medic’s nod, he said, “Da, I remember him now. He said I had very bad heart attack.”

“Ja.” Medic swallowed visibly. “I … I found you on zhe living room floor. I don’t know how long you vere lying zhere. If it had not been for Euclid und Fibonacci …”

Heavy relaxed into the pillow and bed, one end of his lips arching up in a sideways smile.

“Birdies knew I vas in trouble?”

“Ja. Zhey kept trying to get my attention. To get me inside zhe house. Zhey knew somezhing vas wrong.”

Heavy grunted, then said, “Must spoil them dumb vhen ve go home.”

Medic chuckled, and Heavy joined him and they closed their eyes as they touched foreheads. When they were looking each other in the eye again, Heavy murmured, “Doktor Eehvans said I should be dead.”

“Vhen?”

“I think it vas … last night. Had heart attack yesterday?”

“Ja.”

“Then it vas last night. I vas avake but also sleeping. Could feel your head on my hand. It vas veird, Doktor. I could hear machine make noise and Dr. Eehvans talk to me. He said I am fighter. He said new heart you give me twelve years ago must be really good if it survive bad heart attack like this. He said, if my heart vas not so big and strong, I vould be dead.” Heavy traced the outline of his jaw with a forefinger, smiling tenderly at him. “You saved me, again.”

Ten minutes later, Dr. Evans walked in to find them still cuddling on the bed, Heavy’s arms around him, his head upon Heavy’s chest and Heavy’s chin on the crown of his head. He would have laughed at Dr. Evans’ almost comical reaction of shock at Heavy’s apparent recovery if he wasn’t as dumbfounded himself about it. After yet another ECG and blood test, Dr. Evans came back with the results and said with a tone and smile of awe, “I … can’t explain what’s happened here, but I have good news. According to the latest ECG, it seems your heart is fine now. Your blood test checks out as well.”

Heavy grinned and said, “That is good news, doktor!”

Dr. Evans shook his head from side to side, as if he couldn’t trust his senses anymore.

“Just hours ago, your ECGs indicated your heart suffered severe damage. I triple-checked the machines to make sure they weren’t faulty. You were going to be prepped for surgery tonight, but now …” Dr. Evans’ smile expanded with sincere optimism. “Well, gentlemen, I don’t believe in miracles … but I think I’m looking at one right now.”

Medic glanced at Heavy, at Heavy’s perfect face and smile, and knew exactly what the cardiologist meant.

Dr. Evans recommended another day of more monitoring and diagnostics, just to be safe. Heavy’s extraordinary return to good health was irrefutable, but Heavy’s case was unprecedented. A miracle, like Dr. Evans had remarked. More tests had to be performed to confirm the recovery wasn’t temporary.

During the wait for the test results, Medic had called Helena from the hospital to tell her about Heavy’s heart attack. He’d caught her in time before she left home for the clinic, and after being reassured that Heavy seemed all right now, she fulfilled his request to go to his house to pick up Heavy’s health insurance card and policies. In twenty minutes, she was at the hospital with Jonathan with said items. To Medic’s relief, the comprehensive insurance did cover treatment in this hospital, a fact he gleefully conveyed to the nurses who’d assailed him with the barrage of insurance-related queries yesterday.

Heavy napped for most of the day. Medic took the opportunity at lunchtime to go home, eat something, take a shower and change into fresh clothes. Then he went to the clinic, attending to patients whose appointments that afternoon had not been cancelled yet. In the evening, after making some Sandviches for Heavy at home, he returned to the hospital and was permitted again to stay overnight at Heavy’s bedside. Due to Heavy’s restricted diet in the CCU, he had to hide the Sandviches in his coat and yes, as a doctor himself, he knew what he was doing was bending the rules. But Heavy was hungry and disliked the food served by the hospital. If Sandviches were what Heavy wanted, Sandviches were what Heavy was going to get.

That night, after the last ECG verified that Heavy’s comeback to good health was persevering, Medic slept peacefully in the encirclement of Heavy’s arms. Fourteen hours later, Heavy was officially discharged with Dr. Evans’ blessings.

“Whatever it was you did for his heart transplant,” Dr. Evans said to him as he and Heavy got into a taxi, “I’d pay you a load of money to teach me how to do it too.”

He’d laughed good-naturedly, then told the cardiologist that miracles were not his forte and that he had nothing to do with Heavy’s startling recuperation. Two days later, however, while in a telephone conversation with Engineer in the living room after dinner, he wasn’t so certain about the latter anymore.

“Doc, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s your healin’ formula.”

He was sitting on the sofa with the head of a sleeping, mildly snoring Heavy on his lap, frowning as he considered Engineer’s assertion.

“It is a healing formula, ja, but … Heavy und I have not been dosed vith it since ve left RED.”

“Me neither, but guess what? I haven’t fallen sick since. Not even once. In twelve years. Ya don’t think that’s strange?”

“Until zhe heart attack, Heavy never fell sick eizher. Or … me.”

“That’s what I mean. Betcha a million bucks the others haven’t fallen sick either. Jane doesn’t count, though. What happened to him was –“

He heard Engineer swallow audibly, and for several seconds, Engineer didn’t speak. Earlier in the chat, he could tell Engineer had to coerce himself into describing the aftereffects of Soldier’s lobotomy to him. The procedure had been so destructive that when Engineer got to the psychiatric hospital in Detroit seven months ago, Soldier was in a persistent vegetative state, unresponsive to any external stimuli, even feeding. Soldier had become a comatose zombie, ostensibly beyond all hope.

It was the reason Soldier’s father had transferred custody to Engineer and written off his only son as ‘dead and useless’.

“But he is talking und walking now, ja?” Medic asked, and Engineer jauntily replied, “Yes. Yes, he is. He hasn’t needed his cane since yesterday. He can speak whole sentences now, and remember a lot more about our RED days. Yep, just the other day, he asked where that ‘fat, Sandvich-lovin’ communist’ was.”

Medic laughed, gazing down at Heavy’s tranquil face. That was indeed something the old Soldier would say about Heavy.

“Hey, Doc, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s the healin’ formula at work. It’s changed us. I think it still is. Have ya noticed we haven’t aged, either?”

He was silent for a moment before answering, “Ja. I have. Heavy does not look older, zhat much I can tell.”

You haven’t aged either. Sure, I haven’t seen ya and Heavy since ‘78, but when old geezers like us don’t look any older after a decade, ya know somethin’ ain’t right somewhere.” Engineer paused, then said, “Or maybe I oughta say, ya know somethin’ is right somewhere. You mighta just found the fountain of youth here. The real deal.”

“Hmm. Perhaps,” Medic murmured as he stroked Heavy’s scalp.

“How else do ya explain Heavy’s recovery from the traumatic heart attack? How else do ya explain Jane’s recovery? The doctors in Detroit said he was a goner. Doctors here said the same thing. Told me I oughta put him in another God-damn psychiatric hospital ‘cause he’d be just dead-weight. But look at the gorgeous bastard now, he’s stompin’ up and down in my house, he knows who I am and he, well … a week ago, he said … he loves me. I can’t ask for more than that, right?”

Medic smiled, knowing Engineer had to be blushing.

“You vould be surprised at vhat you can get by asking for more.”

Engineer chortled, then said, “Ya all right, Doc. Ya all right.” In a more solemn tone, he murmured, “If it wasn’t for you, Jane woulda been trapped with a ruined brain for the rest of his life. And he wouldn’t be here with me, livin’ a second chance. We’re indebted to ya for life, friend.”

“Vell,” Medic said with a wider, pleased smile, “zhere is one vay you can repay me.”

“Name it.”

“Remember zhat idea I had? For zhat home video camera vith its own moving tripod …”

Engineer had guffawed till he was wheezing, drolly accusing him of being an ‘old, nasty pervert’ and he’d cackled as well, causing Heavy to rouse and wonder what was so hilarious. Engineer had gone above and beyond the call of duty in building that mobile home video camera for him, shipping it to their home just in time for their first wedding anniversary. It’d been wise of Heavy to suggest celebrating their anniversary on the weekend closest to the official date, for when they tested out the camera in the bedroom and successfully filmed some rather risqué videos and watched them together, Heavy’s libido had rocketed through the roof. Heavy had pounded him like a jackhammer until they tumbled off the bed, and they’d made love so many times in various rooms in the house from Friday evening until Sunday evening that on Monday, in his office at the clinic, he had to sit on a donut cushion. So did Heavy.

For their second anniversary, he’d surprised Heavy with a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park, knowing how much Heavy still missed the splendid, mountainous natural vistas of Siberia that he could not visit again after absconding from Russia during World War II. They had stayed in the historical Ahwahnee Hotel, in one of its rustic cottages among lofty dogwood and pine trees so they had plenty of privacy. During the day, they strolled along the river near their cottage and then hiked some of the easy trails in Yosemite Valley, encountering a mule deer with imposing antlers, a sleeping spotted owl on the low branch of an oak, and an adult American black bear that took one look at Heavy and scampered away into the forest. At sunset, they sat at the round table for two provided on the front patio and admired the radiant, mingling colors of red, gold, purple and light blue above them, sipping Cabernet Sauvignon and nibbling on aged gouda cheese. After one scrumptious dinner in the hotel’s dining hall, they made love on the king-sized bed of their cottage’s spacious bedroom, then outside the cottage, underneath the stars and among the trees, with Heavy standing and supporting his weight while he clinched his legs around Heavy’s waist, his head thrown back, moaning his bliss.

As for their third anniversary … well, he would find out what Heavy had planned for today, sooner or later.

Medic tilted his head back and glanced up at the Wall of Life above the bed, at the invaluable photographs there. It had seemed only yesterday that Heavy had proposed to him and united them in matrimony in all the ways that counted, that Heavy had slipped his wedding ring upon his finger where it’d remained ever since. Only yesterday that they’d purchased their California bungalow, signing the requisite deeds, hugging each other at the front door of their new house, their home. Yesterday, that Heavy had smiled at him for the first time, shook his hand and then rocked the foundations of his universe by yanking him into an air-robbing bear hug and bestowing a kiss on both cheeks.

But fifteen years could pass by so swiftly. Fifteen years of laughter and tears, of trials and achievements, of friendships, of love, and if he had it his way, there would be fifteen more years of it all with Heavy. And another fifteen years. And more, more.

“Navsegda,” he whispered, gazing at Heavy’s visage once more, tracing the bridge of Heavy’s aquiline nose with the tips of his right fingers.

Heavy, still slumbering, did not respond.

When Medic kissed Heavy on the cheek, Heavy sniffled, head turning towards him. Still, Heavy slept. Heavy looked just like a boy when he slept, a boy with no troubles and all the hopes and dreams a heart could contain, and Medic was reluctant to leave the bed and Heavy’s soothing warmth. He did so after ten minutes, carefully shifting Heavy’s arm away from his torso and then slithering off the bed, naked. In the ensuite bathroom, he unhooked his black-hemmed, red robe from behind the door, donned it and performed his morning ablutions in near silence lest he awakened Heavy.

En route to the kitchen, he was greeted by Gauss and Hilbert, Euclid’s progeny, who flew to him and perched on his extended forearm.

“Guten Morgen  to you as vell,” he replied to their coos.

In the kitchen, he opened the back door to let them out into the garden, then went to the fridge to take out fresh milk, orange juice, bread, eggs, butter, and raw bacon and sausages from the freezer. As he cracked six eggs into a glass mixing bowl to be beaten and whisked with milk, salt and pepper, Fibonacci flew in and settled on his right shoulder to observe his cooking endeavors.

“Do you zhink I should make vaffles too?” he asked the dove, adding butter to a heated sauté pan over medium-low heat on the stove. “I better check if zhere is honey. Heavy loves his vaffles vith honey.”

Fibonacci cooed, as if to say, so do I!

“Ja, ja, I know you like it too.”

Once he scrambled the eggs, Medic fried the bacon and sausages, and it was as he was transferring them onto two plates on the kitchen table that he heard very familiar, weighty steps headed towards him. He smiled to himself, then quickly pivoted around to face the sink and wash the frying pan as Heavy entered the kitchen. What would Heavy think if he saw him grinning like an idiot this early in the morning?

“Schönes Jubiläum, my handsome husband,” Heavy murmured into his ear.

Medic was straight-faced as Heavy embraced him snugly from behind, but his traitorous lips were threatening to curve up again at Heavy making the effort to speak in German and compliment him. He snorted and retorted, “Go sit at zhe table, you sentimental, old fool, before zhe doves eat your breakfast!”

Contrary to his allegation, Heavy wasn’t fooled for a second by his stern act. He felt Heavy’s cheek against his own bunch up as Heavy smiled. Then Heavy kissed him on the cheek, a sweet and chaste kiss, and a half second after Heavy turned around, a grin flashed across his face, dazzling as the morning sunshine that cascaded through the windows. After placing the cleaned frying pan and spatula on the dish rack next to the sink, he put on a deadpan expression again and swiveled around. Heavy, bare-chested and garbed only in striped, rainbow-colored pajama pants, was sitting obediently at the kitchen table, grinning. At him.

I saaaaaw iiiiiiiiiit,” Heavy teased, pointing one forefinger at his visage, and he seized a piece of bread from the loaf on the table and lobbed it at Heavy’s face, grinning even more than he did minutes earlier. Heavy laughed even as the bread struck and stuck to his face, and soon Medic was also laughing, toppling into Heavy’s open arms, detaching the bread from Heavy’s face and shaking his head at Heavy devouring it in a single bite. As Heavy began partaking in the food, Medic toasted some bread and buttered them, leaving three pieces on a separate plate for the doves to gobble.

“Do you vant vaffles?” he asked Heavy when he joined Heavy for the meal, and Heavy shook his head and said, “Not today. Better not eat so much.”

“Vhy?”

Heavy chewed on a mouthful of bacon, swallowed it, then said with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “Is like swimming, you do not know?”

Half-way cutting a sausage into bite-sized pieces, Medic quirked one eyebrow and said, “Swimming?”

“Da.” Heavy nodded sagely, poker-faced. “Vant to boink like bunnies, must not eat too much for at least half hour before boinking.”

As it turned out, they lasted a mere seven minutes after breakfast before they were indeed ‘boinking like bunnies’, with Heavy reclined on the carpeted living room floor next to the sofa while Medic sat astride Heavy’s hips, putting his sinewy thighs to good use as he fucked himself on Heavy’s thick, long cock. Heavy had a pillow under his head, watching him with heavy-lidded eyes brimming with arousal. Heavy caressed his thighs and shins, letting him dictate the pace, keeping those large hands away from his erection as he’d bade because he didn’t want to come yet, he wanted to prolong the sensations of Heavy filling him up deep inside, of rubbing that special spot inside again and again. Prolong it forever if he could, so that it would dominate the memory of Heavy sprawled where they were now, pale and dying and leaving him.

“Doktor, here I am,” Heavy murmured, caressing his heaving chest, his neck and the side of his head, “Here I am, staying vith you.”

He came hard, grinding his hips down, splattering Heavy’s chest with semen, his inner muscles constricting around Heavy’s cock in a vise-like grip. Heavy came too, with a soundless roar, with those hands clutching his flanks and holding him down till Heavy’s semen trickled out of him and down his inner thighs.

They stopped counting after the fourth time. By lunchtime, they’d moved from the living room floor to the sofa, with Heavy taking him from behind, squashing him into the cushions, shaking the sofa with every thrust. He reveled in being pinned down by Heavy’s bulk, in being overpowered, overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of Heavy’s lust and adoration for him. No one else had ever loved him like this. No one else had ever truly loved him for him, like this.  

He was fortunate, fortunate beyond words.

“Tonight, ve have dinner in the city,” Heavy said to him later, while they munched on Sandviches that Heavy had eagerly prepared when he was too worn-out from their incessant lovemaking to do so. “Have already cleaned our suits.”

“Aren’t you going to tell me vhere?” he asked, lying prostrate on top of Heavy on the sofa, his head on Heavy’s chest as he listened to Heavy’s unwavering heartbeat.

Heavy smiled down at him and tapped his nose.

“Naughty Doktor. You know is surprise.”

“Hmm, our Armani suits … I vonder … It must be a fine dining restaurant, ja?” he mused aloud, smiling impishly. “Could it be zhat new French cuisine restaurant between Nob Hill und Union Square –“

He let out a piercing squeak when Heavy pinched his left buttock in playful reprimand. Heavy grinned in amusement and pinched him on his right buttock, hoping to hear that embarrassing noise from him again. Inevitably, after some frisky wrestling, they made love for the umpteenth time, sucking each other off in the ‘69’ position, he on all fours while Heavy lounged lengthwise on the sofa, grasping his hips. Heavy’s mouth was immense enough  to encompass his genitals, and the instant Heavy began sucking on his cock and balls, he was conquered, his come spurting down Heavy’s throat less than half a minute afterwards.

Halfway through Heavy languidly fucking him with him sitting face forward on Heavy’s lap, with Heavy’s hands holding his thighs apart and Heavy kissing and sucking the length of his arched neck, the phone rang.

Oooh, oh, Heavy … don’t answer it,” he rasped, his eyes shut, his right hand grabbing at Heavy’s nape, his left hand stroking the area where their bodies were joined, hot and slick from friction and lubrication. “D-don’t … answeroooooh, mein Gott, ja … right zhere …”

The phone continued to ring as Heavy sped up his thrusts, slamming into him, and soon he was screaming too much from pleasure to notice the ringing or its cessation.

“I zhink … ve need … a shover,” he panted against Heavy’s cheek in the afterglow, sensing more of Heavy’s semen exude from the sore though very satiated opening of his body as Heavy used one hand to gently withdraw his softening cock. He hissed as the head of Heavy’s cock popped out.

“You are feeling pain, moya lyubov?”

The concern in Heavy’s tone brought an affectionate smile to his visage, and he petted Heavy’s head and nuzzled Heavy’s face, his eyes still shut.

“Just soreness. It vill pass. It alvays does.”

The phone rang again.

Medic peeled his eyes open and scowled at the phone on the side table nearby, dearly wishing right there and then that he could shoot lasers out of his eyes to vaporize the noisy contraption. It could not be Helena, since it was a Saturday and the clinic was closed. Whoever it was, they had better have an excellent reason for calling now.

Heavy sighed, then said, “I better answer. Could be important.”

Medic sank back against Heavy’s stalwart body, resting his arms on Heavy’s left forearm over his abdomen.

“Hello … Oh, it is you, Marcus! Nyet, is fine … So vhat is … Vhat?” Heavy stiffened, his face going slack with incredulity. “Andrew? And Tony? But vhy …” Heavy frowned, his eyes narrowing. “Okay … So they vill only talk to me? How long vere they – I see. Okay … Okay, tell them I vill be there soon. Tell them not to do something stupid ... Spasibo, Marcus.”

Medic rotated so that he sat on Heavy’s lap with his legs parallel to the back of the sofa, so that he could gaze into Heavy’s eyes. Having put down the receiver, Heavy now bore an expression of concern of a different kind. The kind a person bore when a major storm was brewing in the horizon.

“Vhat did Marcus say?” he asked quietly, his left hand flat on Heavy’s chest. Marcus Garcia was another teacher at the community center where Heavy worked, a Mexican-American teaching Spanish to youths and adults alike and sometimes assisting Heavy with boxing training classes. Marcus was one of the very few trusted friends they had made in their current life who knew they were gay and practically married, and accepted them as they were. 

Heavy sighed another time. He rubbed the top of his bald head with his right palm, his frown increasing.

“Marcus say two of my boxing students vere fighting in the locker room at community center. He does not know vhy and they von’t tell him. He say they vill only tell me and vill keep fighting each other unless I go.”

Medic cupped Heavy’s cheek with his left hand, and murmured, “Zhey respect you.”

Heavy gave him a small, appreciative smile, then kissed his palm.

“I must go. But I do not vant to.”

“I know. Do vhat you must, mein Kuschelbär.” He stretched his body and limbs, wriggling on Heavy’s lap, knowing Heavy was staring at the moving contours of his svelte, hairy torso. “My arsch needs a time-out anyvay.”

“Evil Doktor,” Heavy mumbled, eyes twinkling again, and Medic kissed him on the tip of the nose. Kissing on the lips guaranteed Heavy wouldn’t leave the sofa for another hour yet. Or two. Maybe three.

“Go. Ve can resume zhe fun vhen you return.”

His legs wobbled for a moment when he stood up. Although they regularly made love, it’d been quite some time since they had a sex marathon like today’s. He was amazed that Heavy got up without so much as a judder, smoothly, nimbly like an athlete in his prime.

Then again, since when was he ever not amazed by Heavy’s endurance and vigor?

“Da, you are right. Need shover. I smell like sex.”

At the last word, Medic’s cock twitched.

“You know vhat? Let’s shover togezher! Ve can save vater zhat vay!” he suggested wickedly, waggling his eyebrows, and Heavy backed away from him, putting on a mock expression of horror even as those stunning blue eyes twinkled on.

“Nyet! No shover together! Cannot resist you!”

“Ja! Shover togezher!” Medic replied, chasing after Heavy with a thrilled cackle when Heavy dashed out of the living room and down the hallway towards the bedroom.

NYET!”

“JA, JA, JA!”

As expected, he emerged the victor, sharing the commodious shower with Heavy who washed his hair but wouldn’t touch the rest of him. It was understandable. He couldn’t touch Heavy at all, not without pouncing on Heavy and setting off another round of sex. Or two. Maybe three or four. Heavy made it all the more difficult to inhibit to his libido by dressing in a Hawaiian shirt, white sports coat, stone wash jeans and leather boots, an ensemble that was becoming all the rage and complemented Heavy’s physique. He, on the other hand, was in a plain red, long-sleeved t-shirt with a low v-neck and dark grey sweatpants. He’d never bothered with low-collared shirts, until Heavy commented that his chest hair peeking over his shirt’s collar was one of the most sexually arousing visions ever to him.

“Evil, evil Doktor,” Heavy said, running huge fingers through his chest hair above his t-shirt’s collar. “How to resist you?”

They were now standing face to face in the main hallway by the front door, reluctant to part from each other. Medic grasped Heavy’s hand with both of his against his chest, and said with one raised eyebrow, “I did not know you actually vant to resist me.”

Heavy tapped his chin with a forefinger and smiled that beautiful smile again.

“Vill be back soon.”

“Very vell.”

They risked one kiss, a hasty peck on the lips. Anything more, and they would be making love right there on the floor, like they had on at least three other occasions in the past.

“Ya tak tebya lyublyu.”

“Ich liebe dich auch. So viel.”

Standing in the doorway of the open front door, he observed Heavy climbing into their Cadillac and reversing it onto the street, waving goodbye when Heavy glanced at him. He smiled at Heavy blowing him a kiss in reaction. How was it possible to already miss someone so badly while they were still within eyesight?

“Sentimental, old fool,” he whispered, still smiling, but he wasn’t sure whether he was referring to Heavy or to himself.

He waited until the Cadillac was out of view before going back inside the house. Without Heavy, the bungalow was abruptly larger, quieter. Emptier. Without the company of their doves, on this day it would have been unbearable. First, he plucked Heavy’s pajama pants and his robe off the floor beside the sofa and dumped them in a basket in the laundry room next to the kitchen. Then, as he sauntered over to the kitchen to go out into the backyard, he glanced at the majestic Hermle longcase clock next to the archway between the living room and kitchen. The arrows on its dial face pointed to five minutes before three o’clock. Hours had yet to tick by before dinnertime.

He busied himself with weeding his roses and evergreen blueblossom shrubs while the doves fluttered about in the afternoon sunshine, sometimes landing on his head or shoulders to monitor his progress. It just seemed like yesterday that he’d tidied this particular section of the garden. The weeds were becoming tolerant to the weed-killer.

“Remind me to buy more Preen, Archimedes,” he said casually in the direction of the stainless steel headstone a half dozen feet away. “Maybe adding more veed killer vill do zhe trick.”

Peculiar as it was, chatting with Archimedes was comforting to him although he was well aware that Archimedes’ corpse had long rotted away. He was a man of medicine, of science, and yet, there was a tiny portion of him that really did believe Archimedes was listening and watching over him and Heavy.

“Do you remember zhe first time you saw Heavy? I should have known zhen zhat he vas zhe vone vhen you became so excited und played in his guts as if it vas zhe first time again. You never did zhat vith zhe ozhers on zhe team. Scout didn’t count because you fell in und got stuck under his liver. Und zhat vas so filthy, by zhe vay.”

He sat up with his feet under him and grimaced when he spotted one of the doves flailing about in a puddle of mud nearby.

“Eudoxus! No!” he called out, waving one gloved hand to shoo the now grimy dove away from the mud. “I just gave you a bath yesterday!” Then, he crossed his arms over his chest and glanced at Archimedes’ headstone, making a face that was an amalgam of a sour expression and a curbed smile. “Look at your dirty grandchildren! Zhey must have inherited it from you!”

It was probably his imagination, but he could have sworn he heard an old, familiar coo that seemed to say, but of course, master, it is I living on in them.

After giving Eudoxus his second bath for the week in the kitchen sink, Medic went to the living room to check the time via the longcase clock again. It was now twenty minutes past five.

Heavy wasn’t back yet.

Hypatia, one of Fibonacci’s white and brown-feathered offspring, was balanced on his left shoulder, and he said in reply to her coo, “I do not know eizher vhy he hasn’t returned yet. Maybe Marcus needed help vith ozher matters.” Hypatia cooed a second time, and he said, “Nein, I don’t know vhen zhe dinner is, or vhere. It is supposed to be a surprise, remember?” He sighed. “Maybe I should catch up on reading zhose medical journals.”

By half past six, with no word from Heavy, tendrils of apprehension were coiling up within him. He switched on the porch and garden lights, the living room lights and then the lights in the bedroom where he’d been since Eudoxus’ bath. The doves sensed his anxiety and stayed near, perched on the dressing table, mirror and bedside lamps. They watched him, their heads moving side to side in synchronization, as he paced the tiled, wooden floor in front of the bed.

“Heavy vould call,” he muttered to himself, absent-mindedly nibbling on his right forefinger, his left forearm held against his stomach. “Heavy vould call if he vas coming home late. He vould.”

He darted to the living room to make a call to the community center. After four rings, his call was answered by a woman with whom he wasn’t acquainted.

“Oh, yes, Mabel’s on vacation right now,” Veronica, the center’s new and temporary receptionist, said in an affable, mellow voice. “I’ve been busy in the filing room the whole afternoon, so I might have missed seeing Mr. Heavy. Can you please describe him for me?” Once Medic did so, she said, “Oh, he’s a really big Russian man with a big smile, right? I saw him coming in at about … ten minutes past three? Yes, he smiled and said hello, but he also seemed in a real hurry. I’m afraid I haven’t seen him since. Wish I could be of more help.”

The tendrils of apprehension within him creeped ever higher as he put down the phone receiver. He sat on the sofa where he’d made love with Heavy mere hours ago, chewing again on his forefinger, surrounded once more by his faithful doves. Something was wrong. Heavy would call if he was going to be late. Verdammter mist, it was their anniversary! Heavy had hinted for months that he had something exclusive planned for tonight! Something was wrong. Heavy wouldn’t just go missing!

He jumped to his feet and restarted pacing, this time in the space between the sofa and the low, glass coffee table. But … what if Heavy really did go missing? What if something appalling had happened to Heavy, and Heavy was now unable to contact him? What if Heavy was hurt and he didn’t know it? What if Heavy was dying somewhere out there, and he didn’t know it

VERFLUCHT NOCHMAL!”

Not a single dove flinched at his yell of vexation. They were so inured to him screaming during sex with Heavy that this outburst was nothing, and they carried on gawking at him, craning their necks now and then. He stood where he was with his hands in fists against his chest for another second, then flopped back onto the sofa to stare at the textured ceiling, loose as a ragdoll. No, nonono, he wasn’t helping himself with these unruly speculations. It was equally plausible that Heavy was all right and was simply unable to call him yet. And anyway, what was he going to do?

Heavy had the car, and he was confined here unless he called a taxi. Then there was the quandary of telling the taxi where to go. He didn’t have the faintest clue where to begin searching for Heavy, aside from the community center. If he went to the police, they would just laugh and tell him Heavy was an adult man who could take care of himself and to come back after twenty-four hours. Also, the receptionist at the center had said she hadn’t seen him since early this afternoon, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still there.

But if he was, why didn’t he call home, even once? What if Heavy had already dealt with the trouble at the center and was going around town making other preparations for tonight?

That was just as plausible. And Heavy never told him what time the dinner was.

Medic groaned and covered his face with his hands, pushing his spectacles up to his forehead. Fine, he’ll wait another hour. Just one more hour.

“Vhen he comes back, I am going to strangle him,” he muttered as he switched on the television. The verbalized words didn’t do a thing to reduce his anxiety.

To his vast relief, there were no reports of any fatal vehicle accidents on the local news. No news of any dark red Cadillac Eldorado crashed to smithereens or of any gigantic Russian men found wounded or … worse. Nothing. Nichts. For the next forty-five minutes, he would glance from the television to the longcase clock and back at intervals of five to ten minutes, his belly roiling more and more with each passing minute. At twenty minutes past seven, he gave in to the urge to call the community center again.

“All right, I’ll look for Mr. Garcia for you,” Veronica said chirpily. “Don’t worry, dear, I’ll call you back in ten minutes’ time.”

For a few minutes, Medic was distracted by his conjecturing of Veronica’s age. He hadn’t been called ‘dear’ by anyone other than Heavy for decades.

As promised, Veronica called back, but did not deliver any positive news.

“I made an announcement via the PA system, but it looks like Mr. Garcia and Mr. Heavy aren’t here. One of the teachers just came by to confirm that Mr. Garcia’s car is still here, but not Mr. Heavy’s. I’m afraid that’s all I have.”

After returning the receiver to its cradle, he curled up on his side on the sofa, staring sightlessly at the television. Well, that was that, then. The Cadillac wasn’t at the community center anymore, which meant Heavy wasn’t there anymore. Getting a taxi to the center would have been a waste of time. Where did Heavy go? Was Heavy on the way back?

He hung onto that minuscule sliver of hope for another hour. Then another hour. Ten more minutes to that, and it was half past nine, and he was cold and hungry and paralyzed from alarm, having remained in the same position for so long that some of the doves had settled on his left arm and hip to nap. Gott im Himmel, this not knowing was as awful as the discovery of Heavy on the living room floor during the heart attack, except when the heart attack transpired, there were actions he could take. He knew what was going on, what he had to do to save Heavy’s life.

But this, this was a whole other level of hell

The snoozing doves suddenly woke up. They fluttered to the window facing the front yard and driveway, then back to him, flapping their wings against his face and neck. He struggled to a sitting position, his right arm and leg beset by pins-and-needles.

“Was ist los?“ he whispered, his lips and mouth dry.

Then, he heard the running engine of a car. A massive V8 engine to power a massive, dark red, five and a half meter-long car.

He almost tripped on his face as he sprinted to the front door, his right leg rebelling against him, causing him to smack his left shoulder against one side of the archway between the living room and main hallway. He scarcely felt it. He fumbled with the front door’s knob, cursing at it when it wouldn’t cooperate with him. When the door swung open at last, he ran out onto the porch, his breath snared in his throat, his hair tousled as the doves surged out of the house from behind him in a squall of white feathers and coos.

It was Heavy in their Cadillac, Heavy switching off the engine and climbing out of the car. Shutting the driver’s door with a sluggish nudge, as if he was exhausted. Heavy, plodding up the driveway to the porch, and seeing Heavy being capable of that, seeing his beloved husband home and alive loosened Medic’s tongue and his temper.

“Vhy did you scare me like zhat?” he snarled at Heavy who now stood in front of him, his eyes wide and stark. “Vhy did you scare me like zhat?!”

Then he saw the crimson stains on Heavy’s white coat, smeared all over the right lapel and chest.

Shocked into muteness, he lifted up trembling hands towards the stains, gaping at their bright redness. Arterial blood. Heavy had arterial blood stains on his coat, why did Heavy have blood stains on his coat and was there more blood underneath the coat and oh Gott, was Heavy hurt

“Nyet, moi darogoi, it is not mine. Not mine.”

Heavy held his hands with one hand and stroked his head with the other, from forehead to crown to the nape of his neck. He blinked up at Heavy, reeling from feeling again Heavy’s assuaging touch, his bewildered brain leaping to conclusions.

“Vere you attacked?” Upon envisaging Heavy being assaulted by unknown assailants, alone, while he was here at home and not there at Heavy’s side, his vision went red. He itched to grab his trusty Bonesaw – or even better, his daunting Amputator - from the basement workshop and hack the foolish Schweine who’d dared harm his husband, and he yanked at Heavy’s coat lapels and shouted, “Who attacked you?! Tell me who –“

Sshh, no one attack me. Blood is not mine. Is Tony’s.”

The quiet, despondent words sapped Medic of his indignation, of all his exasperation that had accumulated in the past six hours. He gazed at Heavy’s visage, at the sorrow there and embraced Heavy tightly without another word, pressing his cheek to the left side of Heavy’s neck, sensing the bobbing of Heavy’s Adam’s apple as Heavy swallowed hard.

“Andrew had knife. Stabbed Tony in chest three times. Vas too slow to stop him.”

“Oh, mein Heavy.”

He guided Heavy into the house to the living room, both arms around Heavy’s waist. Heavy sat down on the sofa with a sigh, leaning forward with elbows on knees, one hand rubbing a high forehead. Medic went to the kitchen to retrieve a glass of water and returned with it, setting it down on the coffee table and then assisting Heavy to strip off the soiled coat. Some blood had also soaked into Heavy’s Hawaiian shirt. Heavy stripped that off too, then drank all the water from the glass.

“Is fine, Doktor. Just throw away clothes if cannot wash.”

There was something that tugged at his heart about Heavy striving to maintain some semblance of normalcy, to console him when he wasn’t the one who’d just witnessed a brutal knife attack on one of his students by another.

“Happen so fast,” Heavy murmured, staring at the flickering screen of the muted television. “Like lightning.”

After leaving the stained clothes in a heap on the floor, Medic sat down beside Heavy, wrapping his arms around Heavy’s torso, leaning his head against Heavy’s when Heavy drew him nearer with one arm around his lower body and the other around his shoulders. He wasn’t cold and hungry anymore. He was warm and safe and complete again.

“I thought it vas small matter. I valk straight to Marcus’ office and saw the boys there vith him. They looked so calm. I thought because they are friends that problem vas over already and I could come home, but suddenly Andrew become very angry and then they vere shouting at each other and Marcus vas also shouting at them to stop.”

“Vhat vere zhey fighting about?” he asked, rubbing circles on Heavy’s lower back.

Heavy snorted and said, “Oldest story in book. Fight over a girl.”

“Mein Gott … attempted murder over a girl? How old are zhese boys?”

“Eighteen. Both.”

Medic stroked Heavy’s flank and back, uncertain of what to say in reply. Having survived World War II and its death camps, having worked for RED and its grueling one-year contract of daily slaying, he and Heavy were no strangers to violence. They’d exulted in it during their RED days. But then, there was the Respawn system. There were no permanent consequences for dying in the Badlands. And fourteen years ago, when their RED contracts concluded, they’d pledged to leave the violence behind, so that their new life together would be one of security and serenity.

Today, it had revisited them in such unforeseen circumstances, and on all days, their wedding anniversary.

“I told committee that center need metal detectors,” Heavy growled. “Is not safe enough to just trust youths to obey rules.”

“Heavy, it vas not your fault.”

Heavy sighed noisily, then sagged against him, tautening those brawny arms around him. He didn’t mind that it was getting a bit challenging to breathe properly. He needed the physical contact, the closeness, the reconnection, as much as Heavy did.

“I know. I know, but … I should have checked for weapons. It happen so fast. Andrew vas accusing Tony of chasing girl he really liked, and Tony vas saying girl like him and not Andrew. They are good at boxing, so I know they can hurt each other bad if no one stop them. I move them apart and told them to grow up, act like men, not little babies. Tony said he vas sorry. I vaited until Andrew also say it and then told them to talk about problem like men. I thought it vould be okay vhen Andrew agree … then vhen Tony give Andrew hand to shake, Andrew had knife and jumped on Tony and stabbed him.

“Everybody in office vas yelling. I pull Andrew off, but vas already too late. He stabbed Tony near heart and Tony vas bleeding bad. I did not think, just carry Tony through back door of center to the car to rush to hospital. Marcus bring Andrew vith us. Andrew vas crying like a baby all the vay in front seat. Marcus vas in the back vith Tony, stopping bleeding.”

Medic continued to stroke Heavy’s back and side, listening attentively. It was healthier for Heavy to talk uninterrupted about the incident than to bottle it up inside.

“Chyort, on vay to the hospital, policeman on motorcycle tried to stop me! I vas speeding and he keep sloving car down until I shouted at him and he saw Tony in the backseat. Then he put on sirens and lead us to nearest hospital. Doctors and nurses in ER took Tony avay. Marcus called parents. Then more police come, ask me and Marcus questions. Then Tony’s parents come, then Andrew’s parents.” Heavy shook his head, rubbing his cheek against Medic’s as he did. “It vas crazy. Andrew’s father vas … really racist mu’dak. Tony’s mother vas already crying, but he say to her face anyvay that he hope her … her … I cannot say very rude vord for Latino people.”

“I know vhat it is,” Medic murmured, already detesting this bigoted man who he had never met and never wished to meet. Unless he could eviscerate him.

“He say to her face he hope her son die. That he vas ‘brown boy’ who ask for it. I vas so angry, I punch him in the face. He vent down like sack of potatoes.”

He smirked at the satisfaction in Heavy’s tone, and said while rubbing Heavy’s tummy, “It felt good, didn’t it?”

Heavy did his best to not smile. For about two seconds.

“Da, it felt very good,” Heavy replied, and for a minute, they snickered, the disconsolate mood somewhat lifted. Then, Heavy said, “Too bad policeman saw me do it. Andrew’s mother vanted to charge me for assault.”

“Vhat?” Medic reared back, his teeth bared, his eyes blazing. “She vanted to do vhat?!”

As he entertained delicious thoughts of strapping the mother and father of this Andrew to stretchers so that he could cut them open with  a scalpel while they were still conscious, Heavy clasped his shoulders and shook him mildly.

“Vait, vait. Listen to rest of story first, moy muzh.” At his nod, Heavy was cuddling him again, and Heavy said, “So after I punch Andrew’s father, mother told policeman she vanted to charge me for assault. Said she vas vitness and so vas he. Too bad for her, he also heard vhat her husband say to Tony’s mother and he told her if she charge me for assault, then Tony’s parents can charge husband for racial harassment. Also too bad for her, policeman was tall, black man who got really angry vhen she insult him also vith racist vord.” Heavy scowled, his brows lowered and his lips compressed. “Then Marcus tried to make peace, and horrible woman attack and insult him also. She vas screaming that her son vas innocent and me and Marcus, ve foreigners, hurt Tony instead. Then Tony’s mother got so mad too, and she attack the other mother and Tony’s father also join the fight and then ve vere all trying to stop them. I told you it vas crazy, Doktor.”

Medic stared at Heavy, his mouth open in an ‘o’ shape.

“Und vhere vas zhe young Andrew in all zhis?” he said once he found his voice again.

Heavy’s scowl was replaced by an expression of pity.

“He vas sitting on floor next to his knocked out father. Still crying. I believe he really did not mean to hurt Tony. Young people can do stupid things vhen they have great feeling that is not returned. And he is just a boy.”

“Vell, so is your other student.” Medic paused, then asked, “Tony is alive?”

“Da. Doktors at hospital say he vill be okay. Knife miss his heart by three inches. But he vill need therapy and … no more boxing for him for long time.” Heavy shook his head again. “When fight ended, Andrew confess in front of everybody to the police. He say his parents told him it vas his right to take avay competition over white girl. That ‘brown people’ are below them and that less ‘brown people’, the better.”

He felt Heavy shudder with revulsion.

“Und here I zhought ve had left all zhat behind in zhe var,” he said sardonically, feeling every year of his age.

“I know.” Heavy was tongue-tied for a minute. Then he mumbled, “After writing vitness report for police, I vas free to go. I saw the time and quickly call restaurant from police station … but it vas too late. Restaurant already give our table to other guests. No room for new reservation for five months. And da, it vas new French cuisine restaurant you vanted to try.”

Medic tilted his head back so he could study Heavy’s face. Its attractive features were guilt-laden, and knowing Heavy as intimately as he did, Heavy’s hunched shoulders, bowed head and lowered eyes meant Heavy was preparing himself for an onslaught of disappointment and displeasure, as if he deserved to be rebuked for the day’s chaotic events. This tugged at his heart even more, and he kissed Heavy long and lovingly on the cheek, his arms squeezing Heavy’s broad shoulders.

“It’s fine, meine liebe. It’s fine. All zhat matters to me is you’re all right, you’re home,” he rasped, blinking blurry eyes, and it was true and he knew that Heavy knew it from the kiss to his lips that Heavy gave in return, from Heavy’s fond smile.

“It is good to be home,” Heavy said, and with that, the pieces of their universe were back in their rightful places and their smiles at each other were of gladness and gratitude.

“I vill see vhat ve have in zhe fridge.”

“I vill take shover. Be vith you soon.”

“Okay.”

He watched Heavy shuffle to the bedroom, then switched off the television and plucked Heavy’s coat and shirt from the floor, placing them in a separate basket in the laundry room. He would have to wash those by hand. Dried blood was not easily removed from white garments, and he should know. RED had to frequently ship in new white coats for him when the blood drenching his old coats couldn’t be washed away by the commercial laundry machines available on base.

By the time Heavy joined him in the kitchen, he was preparing the raw ingredients for shrimp Alfredo pasta: Angel hair pasta, peeled and deveined fresh shrimp, half and half, butter, chopped fresh parsley, grated Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Heavy had changed into a white t-shirt and black sweatpants, an outfit that also complemented Heavy’s physique. When he pinched Heavy’s right buttock as Heavy ambled past him, the shrill squeal that Heavy let out made him chortle till his cheeks ached.

“Now ve are even!”

A cooking time of a half hour became ten minutes longer thanks to Heavy chasing him around the kitchen in mischievous revenge, arms raised, fingers pinching the air like a crab would with its pincers and lunging at his bottom whenever Heavy got near enough.

“I am Butt Pincher! Fear me! Pinchy, PINCHY!”

Heavy emerged the victor of this battle, having discerned his fatal weakness of laughing so much till he couldn’t run away anymore and could only sprawl helplessly on the kitchen countertop as Heavy tickled him and pinched his rump and kissed him silly. The lively workout was a catalyst for their burgeoning appetites, and later, outside at the garden patio’s hand-cast, antique bronze dining table, they had a simple candlelit dinner, accompanied by their doves who had their own plate of the pasta. The Pinot gris wine they had in stock went nicely with the shrimp Alfredo pasta, its light and slightly fruity flavor cutting through the creaminess of the pasta.

Tonight, the sky was strewn with stars, glittering diamonds on ethereal, black velvet. As they ate side by side, Heavy would sometimes glance up at them, a meditative expression on his visage, as if he was brainstorming and seeking inspiration for … something.

“Vhat are you zhinking about?” Medic asked him, touching his forearm.

Heavy just smiled at him and caressed his cheek, a silent, sentient mystery.

It was when the meal was finished and they were on their shared, third glass of wine that Heavy said softly, “You vant to hear another story?”

Medic, snuggled against Heavy’s side with Heavy’s left arm around him and his head upon Heavy’s shoulder, angled his head back to look at Heavy’s face and said just as softly, “Ja. Vhy not?”

He knew he was in for a treat when Heavy leaned back against their antique bronze seats with him in a comfy embrace, gazed up at the stars and said, “There vas once little boy who vas born high up in the Dzhugdzhur Mountains to two gold miners. He vas very small baby, or so his mother told him. He vas so small, his father thought he vould not live past vinter. But he did, and vhen he live to be one year old, he had become very big boy. Vhen he vas four years old, he vas already big as boy two times his age, and he vas also very strong and healthy. His mother and father vere very proud of him and love him very much.”

Medic saw that Heavy had a smile of nostalgia, and he smiled too, imagining Heavy as that teeny, fragile baby who grew into the giant, cherished boy. Heavy must have been adorable as a baby and toddler, plump and rosy-cheeked.

“The boy had peaceful childhood. His village vas so far avay from everything else, but he had everything he need there and for long time, he did not vant anything else. But one day, vhen he vas nine years old, he saw another boy kissing girl. He had strange feeling inside him, and he could not stop thinking about kiss. He could not stop thinking about the boy.

“He thought it vas normal for boy to like boy like a boy likes girl. He tried to kiss another boy, to feel vhat it vas like, but the boy hit him. Vhen his father found out, father shout at him for long time. Told him boy cannot like boy because it vas evil. That he vould go to hell. So the boy never kiss another boy again. But … boy grow up into man, and he could not stop himself from kissing other men. He could do that only vhen he move to Moscow at seventeen, avay from village and parents who keep forcing him to have girlfriend.”

Medic rubbed Heavy’s belly, a gesture of comfort. Unlike Heavy, he was a late bloomer and had his first homosexual experience when he was twenty-two, but he knew the torture of living a double life, of deceiving everyone he knew about one of the most intrinsic sides of himself. He, who had married a woman after that one scorching homosexual experience in the vain hope that it would transform him into a heterosexual, knew all too well.

“Then in Moscow, vhen he vas eighteen, he met a man and fall in love for first time. The man vas twenty-six and vas pianist, very good pianist. The man had travelled the vorld and knew so many things, and boy vith body of a man vas hypnotized by him. They move into little apartment together. He vas in university by now and also vorking part-time. He thought they vould love each other and stay together forever.” Heavy grunted, a sound that was both cynical and doleful. “One day, after class in university, he vent home and saw his lover vith someone else in their bed. Vith a woman.”

Medic’s hand went motionless. This was the first time Heavy had ever spoken about former lovers to him, not that Heavy didn’t want to do so in the past. It was he who’d requested that they let sleeping dogs lie, who’d felt drained just from telling Heavy about his soon-to-be ex-wife at the onset of their relationship, and if he was to be honest with himself, he didn’t want to know who else had been subjected to Heavy’s expertise in lovemaking, who else had possessed Heavy’s heart before him. For months after their first time making love in Heavy’s room in 2Fort, he’d been wracked with insecurities, wondering when Heavy was going to wake up and realize what an inexperienced, odd, old man he was, a loser whose wife fled into the arms of another man because he could not gratify her. Wondering when Heavy was going to realize a strapping, younger man like him deserved a more superior lover, and leave him.

But Heavy didn’t leave him.

On the final day of the their contract with RED, in the Infirmary as they were packing up his possessions, Heavy told him about California, about a dream he had of settling down in a cozy, little house in a tranquil suburb there. Settling there with someone he truly loved, someone who truly loved him.

“Share the dream vith me, Doktor,” Heavy had said to him then, standing in the sunlight streaming through the high windows of the Infirmary. “Let us make it come true.”

And fourteen years on, they had done just that. Fourteen years on, he was no longer the same man who’d had harbored all those anxieties, who believed that bleak darkness was all he would ever have in his world.

“He could not believe his eyes,” Heavy said quietly to him now, just as glorious in candlelight as in sunlight. “He thought it vas mistake. Then his lover say to the woman, ‘Do not mind him. He is nobody. Just ignorant village boy,’ and he knew vhat he saw vas real. He vanted to feel angry. To hurt lover for hurting him this vay. He vas very big, strong man by then. Could have crush his lover’s head, crush woman’s head also. But he just hurt. He vas just hurt boy in a man’s body.”

“Oh, mein Schatz,” Medic murmured, fantasizing about using an Engineer-built time machine to hunt down this pianist and make him suffer for bringing anguish to the man he truly loved. Perhaps he would carve off each finger as the pianist watched, then make the wretch eat them. Or even more fun, remove the wretch’s skeleton while he was conscious, just like he did to that Nazi scum!

He felt Heavy smile against the top of his head, felt Heavy’s hand patting his in acknowledgement of his empathy.

“He pack his things and left apartment vithout looking back. He found another place to live and finish university. He had friends, but no one really know him because he did not vant to be in the light vhere people can see him. He like the darkness now, because in there, he did not feel anything. Then there vas var. For a vhile, he enjoyed the fighting. He enjoyed the shooting very much. He loved big, noisy guns best, because they vere so loud that noise vould help him ignore silence in his heart. Sparks vhen bullets shoot out vas so bright, it help him ignore darkness in his heart. So he keep shooting, and shooting. Then, he make big mistake of letting lust control him, and then, he vas sent to Gulag.”

Medic rubbed Heavy’s belly again. That part of Heavy’s life story, he had heard before. The first time was in Heavy’s room in 2Fort a month into their relationship, and the second time was in the living room of their home, two weeks after they moved in. Both times had required a fair amount of alcohol to instigate. Both times, Heavy had voluntarily disclosed the details. He was not about to turn the tables and pressure Heavy into telling it again anytime soon. He wouldn’t want Heavy doing the same to him about his year in the Nazi concentration camp either.

“Vhen he escape from Gulag and came to America,” Heavy said, skipping that segment of his life history as Medic anticipated and understood, “he still loved shooting, still loved noisy, big guns. Vhen he started vork for American army, he had material and money to make his own gun. So he make biggest, noisiest gun of all, Sasha!” Heavy chuckled, causing Medic to vibrate along with his chest. “Da, Sasha. One hundred fifty kilograms of big, noisy gun that fire two hundred dollar, custom-tooled cartridges at ten thousand rounds per minute, and cost four hundred thousand dollars to fire … for twelve seconds.”

“You never get tired of saying zhat, do you?”

“But is true! Sasha vas great weapon. He still is. It is just that I do not use him anymore. But vhen I still did, ah, he make fear real for many, many enemy soldiers. Small versions for American army kill many Nazis in the var and please army generals. But you know that, Doktor.”

“So vhat happened after zhe boy-man created zhe ‘biggest, noisiest gun of all’?” Medic asked, playing along with his husband’s narration. He was curious to know where it was going.

Heavy chuckled again, then said, “Vell, his big, noisy gun’s little brothers and sisters give him royalty vhen they are sold. Also, he alvays got good contracts from the army, and vas never out of vork. But, as years go by, he become used to being alone. He had much money, but did not know vhat to do vith it. He vas bored. He did not feel anything. Vhen he vas not shooting, everything vas just dark and quiet inside him. Too dark and quiet. So he put out ad, say he is looking for exciting job! For job vhere he can shoot every day and get big pay for it!”

Medic smiled at the jolliness of Heavy’s tone. He’d accepted the job with RED for identical reasons, except he shot syringes from his Syringe Gun, red projectiles from his Blutsauger and arrows from his Crusader’s Crossbow. And yes, it had been fun to fire them, even more so at BLU mercenaries.

“Soon, a company he had not heard of before contact him. A company called Reliable Excavation Demolition. They tell him he is vhat they have been looking for job of heavy weapons guy, and after he check over contract, he sign it and joined RED for a year. He fly to New Mexico on their money. There, he take train into place called the Badlands and vent to a battle fort called 2Fort. It vas interesting place, a place RED build just for fighting every day. He vould also be vorking vith eight other men who also like to fight! He had never heard of job like this before, and he vas very excited for first time in many years.”

Medic awaited the continuation of the tale with bated breath. It was dawning on him now, what Heavy had said about himself, about the darkness and the silence, and how familiar it was.

“On first day of job, he met them all. Some of them did not like him, some vere friendly, polite, and some vere … strange. And then, there vas one, who vas different from them all.” Heavy sighed. It was a deep sound of reminiscence, of fulfillment. “He vas standing apart from the others, under the sun. His face vas turned avay, but he knew from vay the man stand straight, his head high, from his fit body shape, long legs and neat hair that he vas handsome man. He vas in vhite coat, red gloves, brown pants and black boots. There vas a birdie on his hand, and he vas talking to it, touching birdie’s head. It vas like he vas glowing in sunshine, like angel come down from heaven. Vhen the man turn and valk into fort, he saw the man’s face and his breath vas gone. He vas right, it vas an angel.”

Medic tightened his left arm around Heavy’s abdomen, sensing the beginnings of a lump in his throat. To his shame, he didn’t recall that specific instance much, only that he’d been cranky about having to work with a horde of uncultured brutes and had no inclination to socialize with any of them. He’d been telling Archimedes that with a sneer. How, then, could Heavy have seen so much …  beauty in him?

“He guessed from man’s armband that man is doktor for team. At first dinner, he try to talk to doktor, but he cannot get through to doktor. Vhen he look into doktor’s eyes, all he saw vas endless vhiteness that hurt his chest and make him vant to hide from it. He did not understand vhat he saw. He vas scared … but at same time, he could not stand to be far from doktor. He vas scared of vhat he saw inside doktor, but somehow he knew he also need it. So every day, he vent to see doktor in doktor’s office, even vhen he vas not sick. At first, doktor vas annoyed at him for disturbing so much, but then doktor ask him to help in lab and he vas very happy.”

A part of Medic, a microscopic part, was tempted to speak up, to deny that he was annoyed at Heavy’s repeated visits to the Infirmary. The rest of him was captivated by Heavy’s yarn, choked into wordlessness by the growing lump in his throat, by the memories.

“Day after day, they spend time together, fighting BLU, playing chess, talking hours avay. He learn that doktor can play violin very vell. He learn that doktor take practice of medicine very seriously even though sometimes he do veird things, that doktor had hurt and sadness in his heart too, just like him. He learn that vhen chest hurt every time he look at doktor, it vas good kind of hurt. And then, one day, he saw something even more beautiful than doktor’s face.” Heavy paused for a moment, then murmured with a lower, gravellier voice, “It vas smile of joy upon doktor’s face. It help him finally to realize vhat endless vhiteness in doktor vas. It vas light. Light so bright and warm that other stars cannot compare. He had been in quiet darkness for so long that he forgot vhat light look like, so long he forgot vhat it feel like to dance in the light and hear laughter again.

“And then he also learn that all his other lovers in past, they vere just tiny, veak candlelight, gone vith single breath. They vere nothing compared to the sun he had found. The sun that fill his vorld vith light, vith life. Vith hope. The sun that fill the silence in him vith his voice, his laughter and melodies of violin for rest of their peaceful days. The sun that stay by his side vhen the night comes, that greet him in the morning vith kiss on cheek vhen he thinks he does not know. The sun that loves him, even though he is fat and bald and old. The sun … that is you, moi darogoi vrach.”

To Medic, who had sat up to gaze at Heavy’s face with eyes gone misty, whose throat was hopelessly clogged now, it seemed that even the stars and the moon above were holding their breaths in reverence of Heavy’s heartfelt testimony. The doves seemed to be doing the same, huddled together on the table around the lit candles, staring up at Heavy with unblinking, lustrous eyes.

Medic tried to say something, to say anything that didn’t involve him breaking down like a blubbering idiot due to the most humbling, astounding anniversary gift he’d been bequeathed by Heavy yet.

And, amusingly in retrospect, Heavy just had to misconstrue his speechlessness for dissatisfaction.

“Who I am joking? Silly story cannot make up for ruined restaurant dinner,” Heavy muttered, eyes downcast, head bowed once again. “I am so sorry. So stupid. I vill call restaurant again tomorrow and beg for table –“

Whatever Heavy was going to say next was stoppered by his kiss, a mind-blowing, devastating kiss that had Heavy arching backwards and flailing those rugged arms about and making noises that proved that, oh yes, Heavy was definitely enjoying it. When they came up for air a millennia later, Heavy looked like he’d been hit on the head with an anvil, his eyes crossed, mouth open in a goofy grin, and Medic had to kiss him again, gentler, sweeter.

“Never be sorry. Never be sorry for being zhe magnificent man you are,” he said huskily into Heavy’s lips, grasping Heavy’s exquisite face in his hands.

“Ah, moy muzh, you steal vords from my mouth.”

Another millennia of kissing and amorous fondling later, and he was sitting on Heavy’s lap, rubbing his nose against Heavy’s, smiling at Heavy gliding large hands under his shirt to caress his back.

“Could not take you out for fine dining tonight … but I can give you very special dessert,” Heavy said, low tone tremulous with desire, and Medic’s smile widened into a lascivious grin.

“Oh? Is zhat so?”

Mmm, but there must be certain vay to prepare.”

Heavy’s hands had slid higher, pressing against his shoulder blades, pressing him against Heavy’s right shoulder.

Oh? Und vhat is zhat?”

Once again, Heavy amazed him with his physical might by standing up and lifting him onto aforementioned shoulder in a fireman’s carry in one efficient movement. He laughed effervescently, startled by the abrupt shift of positions but also exhilarated by the thought of what was to come. Namely, them.

“LET ME GO!” he shrieked, his voice high-pitched with anticipation. He smacked Heavy’s buttocks with both hands, giggling when Heavy smacked his in retaliation as Heavy marched back inside the house and headed straight for the sanctuary of their bedroom.

NEEEEVEEEEEER!” Heavy bellowed in reply, loud enough that it reverberated off the walls of their home, and Medic was fine, just fine with Heavy honoring that vow.

And in the morning, long after daybreak, Medic laid beneath quilted blankets on a king-sized bed in a cozy California bungalow, snuggled against a massive, warm body reposed in sleep, sheltered from the morning chill by the bulwark of living muscle that was Heavy’s arm. Light was seeping into the room, but he was in no hurry to open the curtains. His life-giving, soul-warming sun was already right here in his arms, filling his silence with deep, stable breaths, filling his vision with a most beloved face, filling his world with the brightest, most beautiful light to which no other star could compare.

Right here, where they've always belonged. With each other.

 

 

Fin