after.midnight // v.naked
Summary: The thoughts are always there, under the surface.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story belong to Cowlip. Except for the one that doesn’t.
Coming out of a coma was never the way they portrayed it on television. It wasn't like waking from some nightmare, eyes wide open, lungs desperately trying to take in air, heart beating a thousand miles an hour as you ask yourself where am I? and what happened?. It wasn't struggling to push the darkness away, searching out the good, thoughts, images, feelings, anything to escape the terror haunting you in that dark abyss of nothingness. And it sure as hell wasn’t eyes prettily fluttering open, awake and conscious and fully functional.
Most people don't understand that being in a coma is being unconscious, completely and totally unaware of anything going on around you. Unaware of the doctors informing your family of your progress, the nurses coming in every two hours to make sure you're still alive. Unaware of the sound of your mother’s voice begging you wake up, please just wake up; the quiet murmurs of your friends praying to any deity that would listen for your speedy recovery. Oblivious to the silent tears of the man you love.
He had been conscious for three whole days before he managed to even open his eyes. He hadn't known at the time that he'd spent the last two weeks lying in bed, waiting for his body to finish healing itself. He'd known he was in the hospital, the steady beeping of the heart monitor and the dull throbbing ache of the IV being his first clue. But he hadn't quite remembered how he’d gotten there, how he'd gone from tracking Brian down at Babylon to ask him a question he'd never really expected a positive answer to, to this, whatever this was.
When he first opened his eyes, he'd been aware of nothing save the sterile white of his room, the smell of disinfectant, the taste of conditioned air. He stayed awake for all of three minutes, staring at the wall in front of him, before he drifted back to sleep.
Five weeks after he gets out of the hospital, he and Brian are curled up on the couch watching ER. It’s not his favorite show, there’s a program about Salvador Dali on A&E he’d rather be watching, but Brian thinks Dr. Kovac is hot and prying the remote out of his hands Thursday nights at ten is nearly impossible. After missing the last six episodes, Brian is being more possessive of the remote than usual. Neither of them consider going out. The thought of being surrounded by people still scares the shit out of him.
He’s not really paying attention, mainly lying there with his head on Brian’s shoulder trying to stay awake, when the words grand mal seizure, subdural hematoma, and intracranial pressure register in his mind.
“Hey, I had those,” he remarks thoughtlessly, his attention now on the television screen. Surrounded by a team of doctors and nurses, a teenage boy is lying on the ER table, his lifeless body covered in blood. There’s something familiar about the image and it only takes one look at Brian’s suddenly ashen face to realize what it is.
Despite the dark hair and olive hued skin, that boy dying on the ER table looks a lot like him.
Brian’s gaze is glued to the screen and there is so much pain in his eyes it breaks his heart. He slips the remote out of Brian's hands and, with the push of a button, the screen clicks off. Then he wraps his arms around Brian, holds him tight.
Brian doesn’t watch another episode of ER for nineteen months.
No one likes to talk about that night or the three nights that followed. Whenever he brings it up he gets pained, averted eyes or vaguely exasperated looks. Debbie tries to hug the pain out of him; his mother's eyes fill with tears she’ll try her hardest not to let fall. The guys tell him to put it behind him, to think more positive thoughts. Brian’s the only one that tells him to his face he doesn’t want to talk about it, that he wants to forget the whole thing ever happened.
It’s not so easy for him. He’s the one with the images trapped inside his head, screaming to be released.
He often wonders what they’d say if he told them that he could draw the grains of wood from the bat Chris hit him with in his sleep. What would their reaction be if he told them that he remembers seizing in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and the wide-eyed panic he saw in Brian’s eyes that one last moment of consciousness he had? Would it be so easy to look away from him when he tells them about how he almost died on the operating table, that, even though he was only half aware of what was going on around him, he could still hear the monitors flatline? That, if he closes his eyes, he can still hear doctors and nurses rushing around trying to save his life?
He wants to ask them if they think they hurt more than he does, if hours sitting in a hospital waiting room equals his blood spilled on a parking garage floor. Is their worry as significant as his mind blocking all of the good things, but allowing the bad to have free rein? Are their sporadic visits worth as much as his constant struggle to walk into a room full of people and not feel the walls closing in on him, to fall asleep one night without waking up a few hours later screaming out in terror?
Instead he goes about his day and wonders, if he buries the pain deep enough, will it eventually fade away.
“Hi, my name is Justin, and I’m a victim of a hate crime.”
The doctor simply smiled and said, “Tell me why you’re here.”
He had a speech all prepared, one he’d agonized over for days. He was bashed three years ago and he’d never really dealt with it, but all the years of not dealing had led to him acting out in a not so positive way and he wanted to finally put it all behind him so that every couple of years or so he wouldn’t go all vigilante again and try to rid the world of heteros everywhere.
He opened his mouth, prepared speech ready to be recited, but nothing came out. Not one practiced word. He just sat there in the plush brown leather chair, watching the doctor watch him and, after a significant amount of time had passed, he said, honestly, openly, desperately, “I just want everything to stop hurting.”
He hadn’t even really realized he did hurt, not until that moment. He was happy. Happier than he’d been since he was seventeen and his entire world changed. He had a partner who loved him, a family that adored him. He was back in school learning about things he loved, and something he’d help create was about to hit the big time. There was nothing in his life that wasn’t going right, so why the hell was he sitting in the dark trying to curb the urge to heave breakables at the walls?
But Dr. Reynolds just flashed him a reassuring smile. “I think maybe we can work on that.”
“It’s been three years, four months, and twenty-seven days since my last confession.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I’m in therapy.”
“For the bashing.”
“Dr. Reynolds wants you there for the next session.”
“Downtown. The Standard Building. Two o’clock. Be there.”
“I’m not going to any damn therapy session. Not even for you.”
“Yes, you will.”
“Because you love me.”
“Try again, Sunshine.”
“And if you don’t, my dick’s newest hobby is going to be riding your ass.”
“Fine. I’ll be there.”
People thought there was nothing worse than taking a bat to the head, your blood pooling on the concrete floor of a parking garage. It wasn't a good thing, not at all, but it wasn't the worst thing. The worst was going to rehab every day, willing your body to do the simplest task without excruciating pain. The worst was watching your friends and family stare at you with pity in their eyes as you try to comprehend just how close you came to dying when, at 18, you were supposed to be invincible.
The worst was burying the pain so deep inside that you walk around thinking you were fine until a breakdown on your therapist’s couch leaves you broken and raw and knowing just how wrong you were.
He still doesn't remember much, four years later. He doesn't remember shopping to find the perfect tux, giggling and laughing with Emmett in the dressing room of some upscale boutique. He doesn't remember the color of Daphne's dress or the flowers in her corsage. He doesn't remember what Brian looked like when he walked into that room full of happy, excited teenagers, what kissing him on that dance floor felt like, or just how happy he’d been at that moment.
He has plenty of other memories from that night, none of them good. The look in Chris's eyes, the loud crack of wood hitting bone, the sound of Brian's voice calling his name. He remembers when he thought knowing all that would be better than knowing nothing.
He’s learned that letting it all go was the best thing of all.