Where The Heart Is
“And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't wanna go home right now
And all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life
When sooner or later it's over
I just don't wanna miss you tonight.”
- Iris, GOO GOO DOLLS
He was standing outside the dream...but somehow still inside. Detached from his dream self. Watching as he stood at the sink, made the trade and punched the mirror. As if in slow motion, the glass exploded in every direction, clinking loudly into the sink, large, sharp shards hitting the floor. Other pieces hit his dream self in the chest, leaving small cuts in his t-shirt then dropping away.
Blood seeped through the webbed cracks of the shattered mirror, dripped from his sliced knuckles, and splattered into the basin of the sink.
“No...” A low voice choked out the single word. “Stop...don't do this!”
Nate swallowed tightly, his brow pinching. He'd been alone in the bathroom. Why was there someone else in the dream?
Shadows pressed at the restroom from all sides. The voice came from within the shadows. He strained to see who spoke and a face appeared as the newcomer stepped closer. The light above the bathroom sink glinted off the tears rolling down that face.
A young man's face.
Nate's throat closed, tight. He gasped for a breath, tears burning. Kyle.
Why was Kyle here? He hadn't been there the first time...
Nate's face twisted with anguish, his chest crushing in on itself. Was it possible? Some people believed in out of body experiences.
Kyle moved closer, reached for dream Nate then froze as if he couldn't get any closer. His hands squeezed into tight fists as the dream Nate stared down into the sink – then picked up a long, thin sharp shard of glass from the blood splattered basin.
“No!” Kyle screamed and beat at an invisible barrier with his fists, tears streaking his face. “Nate! Don't! Please, baby – No!!”
A crushing pain clenched Nate's heart as he watched the scene. His chest heaved. His dream self touched the jagged tip of the shard to his wrist, crying, choking out - “I can't let you die...I won't...”
“Sto-op!” Kyle wailed, smashing his fists against the unseen wall.
Nate squeezed his eyes shut and turned his face away as his dream self sank the shard of glass into his right wrist then ripped it down his arm. He screamed and dropped to his knees, falling forward, catching himself with his free hand smacking against the cold floor. His injured arm shook as he held it close to his chest, blood draining out in a steady stream. His breath shuddered and staggered. He gasped hard, sat back on his heels and shoved the chunk of mirror into his right hand. The glass trembled in his weak grip as his fingers struggled to close around it.
“Nooo!” Kyle fell to his knees, crying, screaming. “Baby, no! Don't you fucking do this! I don't want this, god dammit!”
His heart racing, Nate stared at Kyle, the guy screaming in anguish and horror as Nate's dream self raked the glass down his left arm, a strangled scream erupting out of him as he fell to the floor.
“Nate!” Kyle choked on his cries, clawing his hair. “God! Nooo!!”
Turning away quick, Nate clutched the door frame, shoved his forehead against the frame and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force out Kyle's wails.
“It's just a dream.” He whispered, shaking. “Just a dream. Kyle wasn't there. He didn't see you...he didn't...”
* * *
Nate came out of the dream with a sharp gasp, jerking forward in the bed. Hands immediately touched his chest gently, but with firmness.
“Easy.” A woman's voice, soft. “It's okay. I just need to change your bandages.”
The nurse appeared to be in her early thirties, her dark blond hair cut short and simply styled. When her expressive gray-green eyes met his, she smiled. There was sympathy in her gaze. Surely she knew how he had gotten his wounds. No doubt the entire medical staff knew.
Nate relaxed back against the pillows as she carefully removed the bandage from his right arm. He stared at the ceiling, not wanting to see what it looked like. Gaging from how badly it was throbbing, he could imagine the ugliness of the gash, even sewn up. When he'd inflicted himself, he'd been in too much pain – emotionally and physically – to really see what he'd done.
Twisting his head slowly, he stared out the window. It was dark again. He didn't remember most of the day. Periodically, he'd been given pain killers to keep the pain in his arms from becoming excruciating again. The pain medication put him to sleep. He remembered Janice being there off and on, no doubt dividing her time between him and Kyle.
A stinging began to burn in his eyes. He wanted to be with Kyle – now more than ever. And after his dream...
You were dreaming, that's all. Kyle wasn't there. That doesn't really happen.
“When can I see Kyle?” He whispered, his words breaking as tears squeezed his throat.
The nurse laid out fresh bandages on a tray. “The doctor doesn't want you up and moving for a couple days, at least.” She said quietly. “He doesn't want to take the chance of your stitches getting torn open and you start bleeding again.”
Nate cleared his throat and stared at the myriad of city lights outside the window. “Do you think...what I did...was stupid and irresponsible?” He whispered, a wave of emotion knotting his throat.
The nurse cleaned around his sutures then began to carefully wrap his arm with fresh gauze. “It isn't my place say.” She murmured, then met his eyes as he turned his head and looked at her. She added softly, “ But I think you did what you felt like you had to do...for the one you love.” She finished with his arm then met his stare again. “I think that your love for Kyle is a beautiful thing.” She smiled. “But I'm glad you're still with us.”
Tears filled Nate's eyes and dripped onto the pillows as he looked away.
“How are you doing this evening, Mr. Westfall?”
Nate twisted his head. The doctor walked to the foot of the bed and plucked his chart off the hook.
“Fine.” Nate murmured. He couldn't remember this doctor's name, but knew he was the one who had operated on him...who had saved his life.
The nurse moved around to the opposite side of the bed to tend to his other arm. The doctor didn't acknowledge her as she removed the old bandage, cleaned around the stitches then applied fresh wrapping.
Gathering the old bandages, the nurse smiled at Nate and went to the door. She dumped the soiled bandages in the biohazard bin, then stripped off her gloves and dropped them in the trash. She squirted hand sanitizer into her palm from a bottle near the door and rubbed it in then exited the room.
Nate looked at the doctor. He was studying Nate's chart. The man appeared to be around Stolsig's age, but his eyes had a dull look that lacked emotion. Nate didn't like him and was regretful it was Stolsig, rather than this guy, that he'd socked in the jaw.
“How is the pain?” The doctor moved around to the side of the bed, looking at the chart as he spoke. His question lacked concern, as if it was simply his job to ask.
“Not too bad.” Nate spoke low, wishing the guy would leave. The man didn't give two shits about him. Not really.
“On a scale of one to ten.” He said, his eyes still on the chart as he flipped up one page. “Ten being the worst pain, one being no pain at all...how bad is it?”
Nate licked his lips. “Four, maybe. Sometimes maybe five or six.”
Nodding slowly, the doctor dropped the page back down then finally looked at Nate. “How are you feeling...otherwise?”
Nate's eyes narrowed slightly, his eyelids twitched. Otherwise. What he was really asking was if Nate still wanted to off himself.
“I'm fine.” he answered with a tightness to his voice.
The doctor nodded slowly. He didn't believe him, staring at Nate like he was some whack job. If he could've made a fist and it wouldn't have hurt like a motherfucker, he might have clocked the man right then and there.
“I'm recommending you speak with someone.” He looked at the chart again and scribbled something down.
“I'm not...suicidal.” Nate said, low, tight.
“You tried to take your own life.” The doctor spoke low, detached. “What would you call it?”
Anger squeezed Nate's chest, thumping in his temples. “I was desperate...I was...trying to save Kyle's life.”
“And you consider that a rational course of action?”
Nate's breath puffed quicker through his nostrils. “I considered it my only choice. Rational or not.”
“Uh huh.” The man still wasn't looking at him. “Well, I still think it would be a good idea for you to speak with someone.”
“A shrink?” Nate bit tightly. “I'm not crazy. And I'm not suicidal.”
The man lifted his head and met Nate's stare with those dull eyes. “If you wish to get back in to visit Kyle Haney...then you will comply. I can't in good conscience allow you into the ICU without an evaluation.”
“Kyle Haney is my patient, Dr. Larson.”
Both Nate and the doctor looked up at the same time. Stolsig stood in the doorway. The way he was looking at Dr. Larson, Nate suspected he had about as much love for the man as Nate did. He entered the room and walked to Nate's bed.
“It's my call who is allowed in to see Kyle.”
Dr. Larson met Stolsig's stare with a challenge, but Nate noticed his eyes wavered just a bit – whereas Stolsig's didn't.
“Dr. Stolsig.” Larson started but Stolsig interjected.
“Mr. Westfall is neither a danger to himself nor to others.” Stolsig said, without hesitation or doubt. “His actions, though drastic, were not the result of suicidal tendencies.”
Larson lifted an eyebrow. “He attempted suicide.”
“He attempted to save his friend's life.” Stolsig pointed out. “Now if you'll excuse us, Dr. Larson, I would like to speak with Mr. Westfall in private.”
Larson's face pinched but his mouth clamped shut and he nodded silently, exiting the room.
Staring after him, the look in Stolsig's eyes clearly reflected his unspoken thought – what a prick.
Nate pressed his lips tight, suppressing a smile.
* * *
“How are you feeling, Nate?”
Though he fully believed what he'd told Larson about Nate not being suicidal, neither did the boy wish to be alive. It was evident in his eyes; like looking into a wasteland.
“I'm not going to rip open my stitches...if that's what you're asking.”
Greyson shook his head slowly, his heart aching for the young man. “That isn't what I'm asking, Nate.” He said. “I know you're not going to try and harm yourself again.” He looked at Nate's arms. “How is the pain?”
“Doesn't hurt much.” Nate spoke low. “At least not when I'm drugged up.”
A smile twitched Grayson's lips. “Well, before long, it'll stop hurting...even without the pain medication.”
Nate stared blankly at the foot of his bed. “Am I going to have to see a shrink before I can see Kyle again?”
The despair the kid was feeling emanated strong into his words. “You're not unstable, Nate. Once you're released from the hospital, and Dr. Larson's care, it will be solely my call whether or not to allow you into the ICU.” He nodded. “You'll see Kyle again soon.”
Tears seeped in and filled Nate's eyes. “How long...does he have?” Emotion thickened the guy's throat, causing his words to crack and thicken.
“It's hard to say.” Greyson murmured.
“Is he...” Nate's eyes shimmered heavily before releasing the tears. “Is he...in pain?”
Greyson sighed. “I want to say no.” He shook his head slowly. “But we can't ask him...so we can't really know for certain. But...I don't believe he is.”
“Do you think he's...in the dark somewhere?” Nate whispered. “Is a coma like...being lost in blackness?” He bit his lip hard, his chin quivering. “I keep having dreams about him...lost in the dark...trying to find his way back.” He closed his eyes, tears streaming. “He doesn't like the dark...even as an adult...he's never liked the dark.” He sniffed then cleared his throat. A quick smile twitched the corner of his mouth. “I used to make fun of him for being scared of the dark...and his inherent fear of spiders.”
The boy's eyes adopted a distant look as if he were remembering something specific, a smile playing at the edges of his lips. It was clearly a good memory and Greyson was grateful the kid had good memories to cling to.
“It's natural that you would have such dreams.” Greyson said quietly. “But it isn't likely that Kyle is conscious on any level. When most patients wake from a coma, regardless how long they've been in it, for them it's like going to sleep one night and waking up the next morning.”
Nate raised his eyes. “Do you think he can hear...when we talk to him?”
“I'd like to think, on some level, comatose patients can hear their loved ones words.”
The young man was staring up at him intently. “Do you believe...Ian could hear you?”
A sudden numbness spread through Greyson. His hear tightened and thumped harder. “No.” He whispered. “Ian...was brain dead. He was...already gone.”
“I'm sorry, I shouldn't have...” Nate dropped his eyes, regret in his voice.
“It's okay.” Greyson squeezed his shoulder with affection. “For as long as I live, any mention of my son will hurt like hell. But I can't just not talk about him, not remember him the way he was before he got sick.”
Tears rolled slowly down Nate's face. “How do you..do it?” His voice shook. “How do you keep...breathing...when you lose someone like that?”
It was a legitimate question. And one Greyson didn't have a direct, technical answer for. “I don't know.” Greyson admitted softly. “I won't lie and say every breath doesn't hurt. But you keep breathing...by remembering the good things. You learn to let go of your regrets, of the things you wish you had said or done, and you keep the good stuff. And embrace the reality that they knew you loved them...even if that wasn't the last thing you said to them.”
Nate's eyes closed as fresh tears squeezed out and slid down his cheeks. “The last thing Kyle said to me...he was begging me not to...leave it like that between us.” He shook his head, his face pinching in anguish. “And I told him...I had nothing left to give him...and I just walked out on him.” Sobs gripped him. “I told him to get out of my house...out of my life.” He shuddered, crying. “I didn't mean it...I didn't...”
Greyson leaned over, gripped the back of the boy's neck gently and touched his lips to his hair. “Kyle knew you didn't mean it, Nate.” He choked out softly. “He knew you loved him.”
“I want him back in my life.” Nate cried. “I want him back now.”
“I know you do.” Greyson whispered. “I know you do, son.” He drew away and cleared his throat as it knotted with tears. “Janice told me that...she suggested you go home for a couple days.” He looked at Nate. The young man was struggling to get a grip on his emotions. “I think it's a good idea. I think it would be good for you to get away for a short bit. Rest. Just take a break from all this.”
His chin trembling, Nate shook his head slowly. “How can I leave Kyle?” He shuddered. “What if something...happens...while I'm gone?”
“You can call and check on him every hour if you want.” Greyson said. “I'll give you my personal cell number. And if anything changes with him, I'll contact you immediately. But I really think...you need to get away for awhile.”
Nate swallowed thickly and glanced up at Greyson with wet eyes. “And Janice?”
He nodded slowly. “I'll look after her too.” he said. “She won't be alone.”
An unsteady breath escaped Nate. “I...I want to see Kyle before I go anywhere.”
“Of course.” Greyson nodded. “I'll see to it you get in to visit him.”
“I think you should take another day or so to let your wounds heal a bit.” Greyson said. “Before you get up and move around too much.”
Nate leaned his head back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling. “A day or so...it feels like forever.”
“I know.” Greyson murmured. Keeping the boy from Kyle was like refusing him air to breathe. “Just take this time to try and relax, get some rest.”
“Yeah.” Nate whispered doubtfully.
The young man's bond with, and need for, Kyle was almost frightening. What would happen to Nate if Kyle didn't make it? Despite the recent events, Greyson didn't see Nate taking his own life in the event of Kyle's passing. He didn't believe the boy would do that to Janice. But he would die...it would just be a slow and excruciatingly painful death.
The worst kind, Greyson attested.
* * *
As anticipated, the following twenty-four to forty-eight hours dragged out minute by minute. Nate looked forward to the administration of the pain medication because it helped him sleep, made the time pass more quickly. Though it killed him to see Kyle in his current condition, it killed him more not being by his side.
Only when Nate was officially released from the hospital and from Dr. Larson's care, did Stolsig grant him admittance into the ICU. His arms still hurt, but at least he could move them without them going into a screaming fit. His hands felt weak, and it was hard to make a fist with either one, but Stolsig said that was to be expected for now. He'd also warned Nate that he may have sustained permanent tendon and nerve damage, in at least one hand. It remained to be seen.
At this point, Nate didn't care. He'd done what he'd done to try and save Kyle. And if he could turn time back...he would do it all over again. His life meant nothing next to Kyle's.
The dream of Kyle screaming and beating at the invisible barrier faltered his steps as he made his way through the expansive ICU bay, following Stolsig. It had felt so real, Kyle right there, begging him not to do it. Insisting it wasn't what he wanted. But it was just a dream.
They passed various open rooms with curtains that could be dragged closed for privacy, but no doors, giving the nurses full observation of all the patients from the central station in the large ICU bay area.
Nate felt the nurses' eyes on him as he walked behind the doctor. His bandaged arms were no mystery; everyone was aware of what he'd done. When he chanced a glance at the staring faces, he discovered no condemnation or criticism...just sympathy and understanding. He took a measure of relief and comfort in knowing he wasn't revered as unstable and off his rocker.
“In here.” Stolsig drew aside the partially closed heavy curtain that hung down nearly to the floor, and motioned for Nate to enter the room. “I'll be right out here if you need anything.”
Nate swallowed tightly and nodded as he stood just beyond the curtain. The room was decent size but filled with so much equipment it felt small, cramped. The sound of air pressure from the ventilator filled Nate's head and squeezed his gut. The beeping of the machines the only indicators that Kyle was still alive assaulted him with nausea.
He's only twenty-two. He shouldn't be in a fucking ICU.
His eyes burned and he rubbed at them quick. Kyle looked much the same as before he'd went in for a second surgery. Though his skin seemed even more pale, as if his life was steadily draining away.
Nate approached the bed and rested his hands lightly on the cool metal railing and just looked down at Kyle. In the dream, he'd had his hair, he'd looked exactly like the last time Nate had seen him at his house. But now...he barely resembled the Kyle he'd known all his life.
“Hold on, baby.” He whispered, his throat closing as the burning in his eyes summoned a wall of tears. “Something will come through. It has to. I can't lose you. I won't.”
He dragged a hard chair up close to the bed and sat down, his back to the ICU bay, and carefully took Kyle's hand in both of his. He kissed his cool skin and longed to feel his hot hands touching him again.
“I know I always gave you shit about being a wuss, man.” Nate choked softly. “So prove me wrong...throw it in my face how...” His breath shuddered with sobs. “...how fucking tough you really are. I know you're too fucking stubborn to let me think I'm right.”
He pressed his lips to Kyle's palm and cried. It can't end like this, Kyle. It can't, dammit! I won't fucking let it end this way!
But in all cold hard reality – what could he do to prevent it from ending right here, in this room? For a brief moment, he'd had control, he'd known what to do. He'd taken what wasn't an option and made it an option. But it had been robbed of him. And now he was powerless. He could scream and curse at God, at Death, at Fate, at life itself...and it wouldn't change a fucking thing.
All he could do was stand by and watch Kyle die.
* * *
“You call me the minute you get there.”
The noise and jumble of voices swelled the air inside the LAX terminal, echoing inside Janice's head. Her arms were around Nate's neck, hugging him tight. He held her as tight as he could in accordance with his injured arms, which prevented a truly strong embrace.
“I will.” He murmured against her hair. “I promise.”
When Nate drew back, his eyes were wet. But it was the empty look emanating out of him that ripped at Janice's heart. The boy was lost without Kyle, as if he had no idea how to live a life that didn't include her son. But she couldn't tell him how, because she didn't know herself.
She touched his face as her vision began to swim and blur. “Just...try and not worry about things while you're home, ok? You need to let your mind...and your heart...rest.”
His throat worked and eyes watered as he gazed down at her. “They should have...let me save him.”
Janice pressed her lips together, tears breaking free. “No, baby...that wasn't the answer.” She took his hands. “Even if your heart had saved Kyle's life...losing you would have killed him.”
The emptiness inside Nate hollowed out Janice's heart as he whispered, “Losing him...will kill me.”
She squeezed his hands gently. “We haven't lost him yet.” She said thickly. “He's still with us.”
“Is he?” Nate's eyes shimmered. “Or is it just an illusion we've chose to believe is real?”
“Don't.” Janice whispered unsteadily. “Don't say that, Nate. Don't give up on him. Not you, baby. He needs you to have faith...to believe he can come back from this.”
Nate licked his lips and swallowed tightly. “I'm not giving up. I'm just...” He shook his head and choked back a sob. “I don't know what to do. I feel so...helpless. It isn't fair, we should be allowed a...” He struggled with another sob. “...a fighting chance. We shouldn't have to just stand by and watch him fucking die. It isn't fucking fair!”
He raked his hands through his hair, sobs forcing up his throat as those passing by shot him curious glances and whispered to one another their theories of the source of his outburst.
“It isn't, I know.” Janice trembled, ignoring the other people in the terminal. “So much about this life doesn't feel fair.”
Nate cleared his throat and wiped at his face as he glanced around the expansive terminal, not really focusing on anything or anyone. “I should go.” He said thickly. “It's almost time to board.”
“Okay.” Janice leaned up and kissed his cheek. “Have a safe flight. And don't forget to call me when you get home.”
“I won't forget.” He whispered.
Janice squeezed his hand with affection and wanted to tell him not to worry, that everything would be okay. But he knew as well as she did that everything coming out okay was against the odds.
When Nate walked away, she could almost see the weight of his world hunching his shoulders, threatening to crush him to the ground.
How much longer could he bear up under such an immense weight?
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