illustrated by bardicsidhe
I’m making it, Kit realizes, his grip on his nonstick soup ladle going momentarily slack. Then he recovers, regrips the handle, and continues stirring his freezer-fresh ravioli, making lunch for himself on the gas range of his new apartment. This is the first time, he thinks, that the accident feels far enough away.
Kit doesn’t have a long time to spend with his ravioli, or his thoughts. He’s working on a degree for biomedical ethics, and has to be on campus in two hours for his afternoon Clinical Issues class. It was a time-consuming program even before the whole world got difficult. Now he moves slower, but the world hasn’t changed its pace, so school and family are basically all he has time to concentrate on.
Kit spends two weekends of every month at home to humor his mother. She would be happiest if Kit would let her shoot a tiny GPS chip into his arm, the kind that would post a stream of data to her cell phone, updated every fifteen minutes. She’s had this planned for years, way before he traded in sneakers for wheels, so it doesn’t chafe any more severely than any parental territorial impulse would.
“Isn’t that a violation of the Hippocratic Oath?” he asked her over winter break a year ago, cradling a big bowl of her home-made ravioli in his lap, feeling its warmth spreading through his body like it was a small space heater, or a cat. She laughed.
“That’s for doctors! And you’re not a pet, so I don’t have to be ethical to you.”
“I’m filing malpractice,” Kit had countered, mouth full. He swallowed, washed it down with strawberry juice, and grinned. “Veterinary malpractice, as reported by a real live Kitten. It’ll be on the news.” His mother’s laughter filled the kitchen, sinking into the marble countertops, stone floor, and heavy wooden rafters. Kit once thought these stable, unshakable surfaces stored her laughter like batteries, releasing it slowly: emotional air fresheners. It meant his mother’s kitchen was one of his favorite places to be, before and after the accident. All the years of stored humor and warmth leached out to him when he waited quietly in the middle of the room, between the island bearing his mother’s pasta press and the steel-and-chrome refrigerator. When his mother wasn’t there with him, he could remember her laugh as it used to be, before his accident made it nervous and tinny.
Kit would be happiest just calling home to check in whenever the thought occurred to him, which would average out to once a week. He enjoys talking to his mother for the first few minutes of every conversation, before she asks how he’s holding up, or whether that tauntingly brief pain he felt in his left leg three months ago has ever returned. It hasn’t. Once she starts in that way, it’s near impossible to stop her; the effort saps all the joy from the conversation, and all the energy from Kit. And the more frequently he calls her, the shorter those first few moments feel. So they compromise: Kit comes home every other weekend and calls on the ones he doesn’t, and his mother leaves the injectable GPS tags at her veterinary clinic.
Kit’s already finished his plate of ravioli, a fact he doesn’t notice until the scrape of metal on china wakes him from his reverie. It’s easy to think about home, and going there, these days, and he finds himself doing it more and more. He doesn’t mind going home as much anymore, though he claims he doesn’t truly prefer the new setup – he’s simply getting used to it. This coming weekend is a visit weekend, though, and Kit wishes it wasn’t. He never gets work done at home, no matter how strictly he tries to ward off distractions, and midterms are approaching fast. He needs the time to study.
It won’t be all bad, he reminds himself, leaving his plate and fork on the table and pushing his chair back carefully. There’s a bank of cupboards at his back, and if he goes too far his chair will roll straight into them. The counter’s edge is just at the right height to smack the back of his skull, and he’s not in the mood for a headache. There’s midterms coming up, and it’s going to take him the entire next hour to travel only two miles, to his lecture on the near end of campus. He doesn’t have time for headaches. But the visit home won’t be all bad. His sister Ariel and her kids won’t be there, and his mother will make him the good ravioli. It’ll be okay.
Kit rolls into the bedroom, where he changes as much as he’s able on his own, getting into his shirt and sweater. He loops his cell phone lanyard around his neck, where it always is except for showers, and text-messages Saul to come over and help with the rest. Saul is a little over twice Kit’s age, though he looks older, and he lives across the hall from Kit’s apartment, in 2A. Charlie, Kit’s roommate and more or less best friend, is a Biology major. He spends his whole Tuesday on campus, suffering through an early lab and back to back lecture classes. Saul has a key to Kit and Charlie’s apartment, and helps Kit when Charlie can’t. He never went out much before Kit and Charlie moved in; now he and Charlie take turns on a joint grocery run and Saul never plans his outings while Charlie’s at class.
In the bedroom, the blinds are still drawn, so it looks like twilight at three in the afternoon. Saul puts the brakes on Kit’s chair and gets one arm around his back, under his arms. Kit braces one palm on Saul’s shoulders, the other on the arm of his chair. They both shove, and Kit lurches upward. Saul steadies him and Kit shoves down on the elastic of his pajama pants; Saul helps tug them downward. Kit braces both hands on his dresser, holding himself up in a fragile balance, while Saul kneels at his feet, lifting them one at a time out of the puddle of pajama pants and into the Slinky-like coils of his waiting jeans which Charlie had set out early that morning, before either Saul or Kit were awake. It’s Charlie’s little way of apologizing for Tuesdays, and Kit smiles every time.
Once Kit is dressed, Saul pads his way into the kitchen to polish off his share of the ravioli. Kit’s lunch is Saul’s too, the only payment the man will ever accept. Kit and Saul are not friends, at least not in the conventional sense of the term. Kit does not know what Saul busies himself with when he isn’t helping Kit; Saul does not ask how Kit’s degree is going. Saul knows Kit’s mother is a talented cook and a veterinarian; he’s greeted her, and received her thanks, on most of the weekends Kit goes home. Kit has gathered, here and there, that Saul was once vital and full of energy; Saul was also once in love. Both of these conditions passed at the same time, Kit surmises, and does not ask about the missing lover. Yet he trusts Saul to undress and dress him, and even help with baths when Charlie is not around and it can’t be put off. Saul has something about him that makes it easier to trust him, Kit figures. The movies would call it quiet dignity. Kit calls it Saul being Saul.
Saul knows how to not pity Kit when his knees don’t lock like he needs them to and he topples over, despite the support he silently demands from the dresser or the doorframe. His fingernails flash white and his features close up in concentration; he wills himself not to fall, wills the wood and plaster to hold him up. Sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes Saul can’t even catch him before he’s down. Saul simply picks him up – Kit helps if he can, demanding everything from his flutteringly weak thighs, deadened calves, and useless feet – and they try again. Usually they don’t even have to speak.
It doesn’t hurt; it can’t, Kit laughs to Charlie and his mother, who are less calm about those kind of accidents. From his hipbones on down, his nerves have packed up and gone home. Almost a whole year ago, they all turned off and busted the on switch on their way out. Other than phantom flinches, and phantom pain, there is no on switch anymore. Kit has accepted this. He’s adjusting “surprisingly well” according to his psychologist and his physicians, especially for “someone of his age and lifestyle.” But Kit has always been practical, and it’s not practical to ask why he’s twenty one and nearly completely paralyzed below the waist. He knows exactly why, how, and when: Eleven months ago, he fell out of the bleachers and hit scaffolding on the way down. Blunt trauma to the small of his back then equals caudal equina syndrome now. It’s not that complicated. And beyond the information his doctors have provided, there’s googling and Wikipedia. He still hasn’t gotten around to expanding the CES Wiki stub into a full page, but is determined he eventually will, after he finishes his degree.
He’s not sure, but he thinks that his classwork might actually be going faster now, after the accident. The soccer team alone had tied up roughly thirty hours a week; he’s also withdrawn from the game development club, though that was mostly due to interpersonal issues. The accident simply provided a convenient way to make his exit without causing faction wars. If he looks at it from an efficiency point of view, it almost looks like the accident’s been helpful.
“What did I miss?” Kit hisses, rolling into place beside Dallas in the front row of their auditorium lecture hall. The hydraulic-assisted accessible double doors behind him slide slowly closed; Professor Mittean acknowledges him with a raised eyebrow, but doesn’t break pace to make any spoken comment. Kit scrambles a pen and his composition notebook out of his bag as quickly as possible, keeping one ear on Dallas’ summary of the lecture outline so far and the other on Mittean’s current point.
Tardiness has stopped bothering him, and most of his professors, by this point. He doesn’t make a habit of it – if anything, he has a problem with chronic and excessive earliness – but there are more unavoidable delays for wheels than feet. Today’s was as simple as the city bus; there’s another wheelchair-bound gentleman living up the hill from Kit’s building, and the buses are made to hold one chair at a time. The driver apologized, but Kit just smiled and waved him on with considerably more patience than he would have offered a year, or even five months, ago.
He’s still changing fast, he knows, but tries not to think too hard about it whenever the topic comes up. Instead, Kit scratches down quick notes about the replication rates of stem cells in fetal pigs – why it matters, he doesn’t know, but figures Mittean will either explain or forget to put it on the exam. He tends to be convenient like that.
“You sure you don’t wanna hang onto these notes,” Dallas asks Kit after class, juggling the contents of his bookbag into it while walking beside Kit’s chair. His friends joke that they hang out with him for the traffic control advantages; even the sheeplike freshmen tend to notice and give ample clearance to Kit and his chair. Today, like most days, there’s a small halo of quiet space around the two of them, reducing the chance that Dallas’ books will be knocked out of his hands. The eye in the center of a wheeled hurricane, Kit thinks, and shakes his head.
“I’ll call if I change my mind, but just give me the photocopies next week, and that ought to be enough. Exam’s not for two weeks anyway.” He sounds more confident than he feels because he’s not about to let Dallas foist his only copy of the afternoon’s notes onto him. Kit doesn’t do well with favors, and Dallas doesn’t do well without notes.
Ahead of them, the path divides; Kit rolls to a stop and takes the opportunity to change the topic. “I’m headed for the caf, anyway,” he says, gesturing left; Dallas winces immediately. “It’s the ramp,” Kit reminds him, meaning the student union’s sorry excuse for accessibility.
“I’ll push you, man,” Dallas begs, tugging towards their right. “Give your arms a break for a minute. Please? Let’s hit the union. I want Quizno’s.” He clasps Kit’s shoulder briefly, wheedling. “You do too, you hate the cafeteria’s crap. C’mon. Quizno’s!”
Kit bites his lip, rusty bangs shading his eyes as he tugs his cell phone up by its lanyard, opens it, checks the time and the tiny color-coded blocks of his daily schedule. They’re in the middle of a fat green block of free time. Class time, orange, is a whole ninety-five minutes away.
“Okay,” he sighs.
Dallas is smart enough not to flaunt his victory. He hands his bookbag over, letting it down gently into Kit’s lap on top of Kit’s messenger bag. He could drop it; Kit can’t feel the weight. But even if the bag held only a folder, rather than being stretched to capacity as it is, Kit would appreciate the gesture. He can carry Dallas’ things while Dallas metaphorically carries him. He’s not unable to help his friends – chair or no chair.
Unencumbered and whistling something inane, Dallas pushes Kit efficiently and unobtrusively around the side of the student union, bypassing the grand main entrance for a small wheelchair ramp a couple hundred yards down the length of the building. There’s a method and rhythm to pushing a wheelchair, and Dallas is knowledgeable of both, balancing pace and dexterity so easily that he almost appears to be walking by himself. The back of Kit’s chair is almost high enough that Dallas doesn’t have to stoop, though it has no handles. He could be any self-involved student crossing the campus on an errand of entirely his own purpose.
Kit glides in front of him effortlessly, missing all the rough points in the sidewalk, both hands free. He reaches around Dallas’ bag, sorting the contents of his own while they travel. Keeping his hands busy keeps his mind busy, and makes it easier to try to control his rush of indulgent guilt. When his chair is pushed, no matter how many bags or packages Kit carries in exchange, he truly feels like an invalid.
Kit allows Dallas to kiss him, just lips and no tongue, when they part ways after their late lunch. They’re in the hallway just outside Kit’s next class, on the fifth floor of a very old building with a very old elevator. Reaching this classroom is one journey for which Kit never rejects help. The building mostly hosts history professors and history classes; as such, it doesn’t get much traffic, especially on the fifth floor. They’re safe, relatively so, and Kit knows that Dallas yearns for Tuesday and Thursdays afternoon in this hallway more than either of them like to admit.
Refusing to kiss back would be as much of a lie as not, so Kit kisses Dallas gently, wordlessly telling him the things he always does. No. Can’t. You don’t know what you’d be getting into. Dallas thinks he could handle having a handicapped boyfriend, and has emphasized this with much vehemence every time the topic is discussed. They’ve talked about it all of two times since the first post-accident kiss in the hospital.
“You better not use this as an excuse to dump me,” Dallas told Kit then, intolerant of disagreement, and because Dallas was crying and Kit’s mother was watching, Kit tolerated the commands. “I’m not allowing it,” Dallas vowed, “I’m not through with you.”
Dallas made this announcement in a fit of what he thinks was true emotion and Kit knows was nothing more than wishful thinking. He lets Dallas say they’re still boyfriends, but knows Dallas is overestimating himself.
Tonight, Dallas doesn’t leave silently, like he should. Kit doesn’t hide his frown, even as Dallas whispers hopeful promises gently in his ear, bent double to reach.
“You’re wrong,” Kit murmurs back without venom, without feeling. Dallas reaches for Kit’s hand, but Kit jerks it away and grips his wheels tightly: the invalid’s equivalent of tensing his legs to run away. Dallas kisses him again, forcing it, and straightens up with angry embers in his pale blue eyes. They face each other like that, stiff and abortedly aggressive.
They’re both opening their mouths to snap at the other when rustling footsteps from around the corner announce the approach of another student. Instead of waiting for the redheaded girl to pass by with her excessive armful of textbooks, Dallas walks away briskly, too fast for Kit to get his words together, or even decide whether he wants to call him back or not. Kit glares at the back of his friend’s head until he’s turned the corner, a brief moment of pettiness that feels like indulgence.
“Do you need help?” The girl’s whisper-light voice is sudden enough to make Kit jump. She’s still there, standing a few feet left of his chair, where he should have already noticed her. He stares at her, disoriented, for one moment too long; she repeats herself.
“Oh, no, I’m—” Kit realizes what he probably looks like, eyes wide and expression lost. He schools it, carefully controlling his mouth and eyebrows. The girl offers a smile that looks diluted, or as if it’s seen from a distance.
“Here, let me at least get the door, okay? To apologize for startling you.”
“Okay,” Kit says, and realizes that for some reason it is okay to accept her help. The girl leads him into the room, moving one of the student desks out of line so he can wheel his chair into its place. He locks his wheels and begins to unpack his things, already thinking ahead to the evening’s lecture.
Again he’s startled to realize she’s still in the room. “No, I’m okay. You don’t have to help me,” he begins. She laughs lightly.
“Librarian,” she shrugs, “So it’s kind of a reflex by now.”
Kit grins a little. “Thanks.” She smiles back and bows slightly, and backs out of the doorway. Kit turns back to preparing his books as the first of his classmates trickle into the room, and does not think of Dallas until he loses his pen in his lap and has to paw around for it.
At home, Kit puts jasmine rice and water in the rice cooker, adds a little olive oil once he thinks of it, and gets the lid on just before a spasm of deep muscle pain judders up his spine and into his shoulders, folding him forward in his chair. He breathes deeply, trying not to vomit, and concentrating on methodically dispelling and releasing the pain. But after five minutes the stabbing sensation hasn’t left his body, and he accepts this is one he’s not going to be able to wish away. Laboriously, Kit rolls into the bathroom, distracting himself from his body’s malfunction by tending to his catheter, splashing cold water on his face and neck, and massaging the tops of his thighs. He thinks hard about the numbing, clinical scents of latex gloves and medical tape.
It takes fifteen minutes until the pain is really all gone, and when it is, Kit doesn’t trust the respite enough to feel truly relieved. He rolls into the living room to stare at the television for an hour, stomach still swimming with discomfort. Charlie’s arrival home, fifteen minutes later than normal, ends that. Kit tries to focus by unpacking his messenger bag and spreading its contents across his bed like it’s a desk, organizing notebooks and flashcard stacks in priority of due date, but all the post-its he’s placed in his planner to make sense of the midterm crunch look like code and a headache grows quickly. Meanwhile, Charlie cooks bland hamburger patties with green peas and rice. It makes a passably balanced meal, plain enough that Kit can definitely keep it down. Kit puts all his work away undone and they have dinner in the living room with soda and the TV turned low.
“Saul’s moving, maybe,” Charlie then says without preamble, and rather than despairing Kit suddenly wishes he had asked this morning about the man’s missing lover. Charlie explains the situation to Kit, summarizing the discussion he had with Saul in his fifteen minutes between entering the building and entering the apartment. Kit scrapes his plate clean while he listens. Saul isn’t sure about the move, yet, and he’d have to give at least forty-five days’ notice, and he’d let them know even before the landlord, he promised. They were ‘good boys,’ Charlie relates, mimicking Saul’s slow peat moss voice.
“Don’t wanna do wrong by you boys, y’understand,” Charlie-as-Saul says, and Kit smiles softly to think of Saul’s tendency to seem relic-like at the oddest moments. “But I gotta do right by me, too.”
“You told him that was alright with us both, right?” Kit asks, and Charlie nods. “Good. I’ll come up with something. He’s been amazing, but hey, I’ll find another method.” His pragmatism is a comfortable nest, a useful and logical defense mechanism.
Charlie is less used to the idea. “I could reorganize my schedule…”
“No,” Kit snaps, then softens. “No, Charlie, that’d be stupid. It’s cool. We’ve got a while, we’ll think on it. Right now, I just want bed.”
It’s only eleven, but Charlie’s had a long day. He doesn’t fight Kit’s evasion, just helps him to the bathroom to wash up and empty his catheter again, then to bed. Once Kit and Charlie have wrestled Kit into his bed and Kit’s sheets into organization, Charlie usually gives Kit’s legs a hard massage, loosening stagnant blood and flexing the immobile muscles of his lower thighs and calves. Tonight, Charlie pushes curly hair back from his face, expression conflicted as he looks down at his friend. “I’m—” he begins, and Kit waves him off with one hand.
“It’s okay, Charlie, we can skip it tonight. You’re wiped.”
“You sure?” His earnesty is destroyed by the yawn that sneaks between his words.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Go get sleep, man, you’re starting to get self-sacrificing on me.”
“Can’t have that,” Charlie laughs, and eagerly retreats into face-down sprawling slumber.
Kit remains awake for a little while, but finds his racing thoughts of school and Saul drifting into disorganization much more quickly than he had expected. Though it’s been barely twelve hours since he got up, he feels as exhausted as Charlie probably does. Tonight, he’s even too tired to be frustrated at the fact that he is so easily worn out. Maybe it’s a cold, he shrugs, and sleeps.
It’s a week and two days until he talks to Dallas about it. In that time, Saul finalizes his decision to leave. On Thursday and again on Tuesday, Dallas doesn’t kiss Kit at all when he leaves him in front of his history classroom; the absence of their ritual makes Kit’s heart clench up, his ribcage seem shallow and pinched. He recognizes the feelings from before the accident, and wheels himself into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face and wait out his arousal. His sex has perked up a little, barely noticeable, but he can’t feel it at all. It might as well not even be there. And despite his frustration, his heartbeat has changed pace. As he thinks on it, it speeds even more, pushing rough breath through his lungs. Kit stares into the bathroom mirror and admits to himself that, functional or no, he has not become asexual. He still has lust. The emotion attached to that realization is much slower to fade than his flush is to fade. Its residue clings sourly to the back of his throat all through class.
Distracted from the lecture, Kit finds his thoughts again wandering to the apartment building, and his looming need to find a new aide. It might finally be time to apply for an in-home nurse, at least part-time, he muses, but the thought makes him a little ill. It would set his mother’s mind at ease, but it’d wreak havoc with his own self esteem. Not an option, then.
Saul’s not leaving for a few weeks, anyway, so Kit can put off the decision for a while longer, and he does, following thoughts of his neighbor on their own twisty paths. From what Kit can see, Saul actually has gotten a worse deal than Kit has, in terms of their lives as a whole. Saul doesn’t have the ability to focus and compartmentalize that makes Kit so able to handle his chair and everything that goes along with it; Saul isn’t pragmatic the way that Kit can be.
But Saul is there for him, every day, unchangeable as the sun rising. Kit has come to rely on that predictability, and he knows he’ll miss it when it’s gone. He figures that Saul, who has apparently had transitory luck his whole life, can only have become the vehicle for so much regularity and strength in Kit’s somewhat upended life because something up there hates him. Kit hates it on principle, presuming Saul won’t hate it for himself.
Despite the distraction of his altruistic aggression, Kit’s thoughts circle again to the problem of Saul’s departure, which hangs over him more heavily than the problem of Saul’s shitty luck. Kit finds himself thinking about his boyfriend as well, who has been house-hunting in a laid-back way for months now. Dallas has recently mentioned that yet another potential house has fallen through; offhand, he figured it was because of his friend’s credit, again, and is planning to confront the guy some weekend, hoping for a straight answer and some forward progress. They’re halfway through the semester already, summer just around the corner. Most of the housing units closest to campus have booked their summer and fall lessees already, and Dallas, in his Dallas way, is getting worried. Kit thinks he can see a solution.
“I found you a place,” Kit announces, the next Thursday evening before his class. Across the table, Dallas stares; Kit takes a big bite of his burrito and stalls. They’re down the hall from his history classroom in an old stone and oak study nook; the pale sunlight coming through the leaded glass windows makes the wood’s worn varnish glow a bright honey brown that matches Kit’s eyes.
“Is that all,” Dallas shrugs, resuming his rhythm of eating; Kit swallows his own mouthful and cuts him off.
“No. It’s only a single, but – Saul’s moving out.”
There’s silence; Kit holds Dallas’ eyes so he knows where they’re looking. “Really,” Dallas says slowly. Kit remembers with a sinking feeling that it’s been a week and two days since Dallas was willing to kiss him.
“Yeah. Across the hall from Charlie’s and mine.”
For a moment, Kit thinks he’s bespelled Dallas, somehow. Too many emotions are flying behind his eyes to count, but Kit understands them all, somehow, even as fast as they’re flickering through the blue. Dallas doesn’t have the kind of blue eyes that change shades with his moods, but if he did Kit thinks they’d be stormy slate-blue right now. And for all the motion in his eyes, not a muscle of his body moves for the longest time. Kit recognizes the stillness as fear. The discovery that he knows Dallas much more intimately than he had previously realized quietly hovers in the background of his other thoughts, anticlimactic.
“You need help on Tuesdays, don’t you. That’s what this is,” Dallas says eventually, shaking himself briskly, turning his gaze down to his food. Kit frowns, envisioning all his tangled emotions sliding off Dallas’ shoulders like raindrops. It angers him; he wants the rain to stick and stay.
“I’m not going to live next door to you and let you cocktease me, Keith,” Dallas snaps, his eyes narrowing. Kit flinches, uncomfortable hearing his given name from Dallas, but latches onto the lead anyway.
“That’s the thing, Dallas, and you’re making me think better of bringing this up with you, because I thought for a sec you could manage it but—”
“I don’t love you for your ass, Kit.” Dallas is smirking, and when Kit looks up his friend is combing handfuls of blond bangs back from his face. It makes his eyes look more blue, somehow; they’re set in an expression that lies somewhere between resignation and exasperation. “It’s flat from sitting in your fucking chair all the time.”
Kit has to laugh. “Yeah, and it’s out of proportion too, now. Big strong arms –” He flexes in demonstration. “But nothing below. Look, Dallas, I don’t think—I know—you’ve got no idea. You’re not ready for dealing with—”
“You’re not, Kit,” Dallas counters in low tones. Kit stops short, finding and holding Dallas’ eyes while he continues.
“I’m not the one who’s gonna have the worser time of it, Kit, you’ve got a perfectly functional mouth and really strong hands.” His smirk is supposed to make the statement lighter and naughtier, Kit presumes, but his stomach is a hard, heavy knot, he’s pushed aside the remaining portion of his burrito, and all he feels is nauseous. Dallas is still talking, but Kit barely needs to listen to know what he’s saying.
“It’s not practical and it’s not efficient but it’s what you need, damn it. You don’t have to give up on it for life; you can’t.” Dallas exhales loudly, frowning. Kit’s face twists in wry sympathy unrelated to the issue at hand, momentarily distracted just by Dallas’ expression. He realizes it, recognizes it for what it is, and sighs. “I don’t care how determined you are. If you keep trying to ignore it one day you’ll end up with a bottle of gin and a hooker and a lot of confusion how you got there.”
“A hooker couldn’t get me off,” Kit snaps, cranky.
“Course not,” Dallas agrees, more cooperative. “So you can’t just bank on the physical anymore, so? There’re other ways. This’s where your heart has to take over for your dick.”
“Why the hell are we having this discussion in public?” Kit wants to know, burying his face in his arms on the table despite the empty hall and silent air.
Dallas’ expression goes sour. “Like you’d agree to be anywhere private with me,” he says. Kit lifts his head, opening his mouth to protest; Dallas lifts a finger and Kit silently waits. “Name the last time it was just you and me – hell, you and me and Charlie too – anywhere.”
Kit thinks. Then frowns, chewing his lower lip.
“You haven’t given this – us – a chance to prove we can’t make it, Kit,” Dallas says slowly, his voice soft. Kit wishes someone would come down the hall. He needs an interruption – where’s that redheaded girl from two weeks ago? No one prevents Dallas from driving in his final point.
“Every time you kiss me you hold back. Of course it won’t happen, can’t happen, if you treat it that way.”
Kit doesn’t go to history class that evening. Kit goes home, taking Dallas with him, and asks Charlie to please find something extraordinarily interesting to do at the Barnes and Noble down the street for an hour or two. Charlie does.
After Charlie’s gone, Kit rethinks his decision to let Dallas help him tonight. He’s never lifted Kit into or out of his chair before. Most of Kit’s muscle tone and weight has been lost over the last year, and his legs are long and thin like spaghetti noodles. Dallas was shorter than Kit by about a foot, before the accident; now, the length difference is still there, but Kit’s coordination isn’t.
“Shit,” Dallas mutters, ducking under Kit’s arm to support him. One of the brakes has slid open and the chair twisted away as he tried to lift Kit out of it; they’re still standing, but it’s a near thing. Dallas seems perfectly okay with the clumsiness, taking it in stride as he tightens his near arm around Kit’s waist and takes a step forward, towards the bed; Kit is awkward and two seconds away from just texting Saul and asking for his help instead of facing Dallas like this.
“It’s okay,” Dallas murmurs absently against his shoulder, concentrating on being delicate with Kit’s legs whether or not Kit can feel the tops of his feet dragging against the floorboards, and Kit wonders how exactly Dallas knows how to sound so casually intense. His grip on the dresser to their left falters; Dallas supports him.
“Didn’t know you were so damn strong,” Kit mumbles, timing his words to hide them in the whuff of fabric and bodies as he finally collapses lengthwise on the bed. Dallas hears him anyway and grins. “Proper inspiration. Now shut up, you’re on the quilt.”
Once Dallas has tugged the blankets free, he tucks them over Kit, making a show of drawing them all the way up to his chin. It’s not as neatly as Charlie or Saul can make them, but Kit doesn’t mind and says so. Dallas doesn’t respond, but lies down beside Kit outside the covers. Kit can feel his chest and arms folded up against his right side, and his heartbeat thudding against Kit’s elbow.
“It’s pretty arrogant of you,” he says finally, when it’s clear Dallas isn’t going to say anything until Kit does, “Telling me what I’m ready for, telling me what I’m trying to avoid, telling me what I’m afraid of—”
“If you think I’m wrong, go ahead and say so,” Dallas counters quietly, propping himself up on one elbow and looking down on Kit with eyes that are bright and clear in the thirty watts of his little desk lamp’s light. “I’m not going easy on you or coddling you or whatever. If you think I’m pushing your chair, tell me to get my hands the hell off of you.” He lays one hand, palm spread flat, on the center of Kit’s chest, and its heat radiates like a burn through the quilt and his sleep shirt. Kit inhales sharply, almost panicking.
Dallas is calm and unshakable as he continues. “Tell me to get my hands the hell off your chair if you think that’s what I’m doing, Kit. Otherwise, stop coddling yourself and give me a square chance.”
“Stop talking so much,” Kit sulks, dizzy with panic and the need to beat down his emotions before they take him somewhere he’s not been in over a year, somewhere he’s afraid to go anymore. Dallas stops talking, but doesn’t lift his hand.
“Stop— stop—” Kit tries again, but he doesn’t know what to tell Dallas to stop, and by this point it’s obvious Dallas isn’t going to listen to him anyway. Kit jerks in a hard breath when Dallas kisses him, and when he tastes Dallas’ tongue against his own he knows he’s sunk, for better or worse. It’s a short scramble after that till Dallas is under the quilt with Kit, hips pressed up against Kit’s and his arms wrapped hard around Kit’s neck and shoulders. Dallas is a starving man and Kit is a banquet; Dallas is a desert and Kit is the oasis.
Kit’s hindbrain knows where to go from here. They keep kissing, and the way Dallas doesn’t calm down, doesn’t mellow it out, makes Kit think he plans to keep going till he’s physically pried away. Meanwhile, Kit’s imagination has leaped ten steps ahead, reminding him that Dallas is right, he does have a versatile mouth, and he should practice some of the other ways he can use it, just to see if his talent’s gotten rusty over the last year of disuse.
All this keeps Kit too busy to notice what is going on in the rest of his body right away. Once he does, tonsil hockey abruptly stops being fun at all. He pushes free of the kiss, doing as much as he can to roll away from his boyfriend, but Dallas is on Kit’s bad side. Even if he weren’t, Kit’s own dead weight from the waist down keeps him pretty well pinned. Kit substitutes emotional chill for physical distance and tries to keep his shoulders from shaking.
Dallas is already sitting up, propped on one arm and using the other to tug gently at Kit’s shoulder, trying to flatten him out again so he can see his face. “Kit, Kit, come on,” he’s saying, and hearing Dallas’ voice – concerned, but also still rough and low with want – cuts into Kit like a knife to the gut. He starts sobbing.
In the next second, Dallas has cloyed his body to Kit’s, wrapping one arm around Kit’s waist to anchor them together. Dallas’ weight shifts as he lays his own legs over and between Kit’s and tugs those close also. Kit can’t feel that except in the way it makes the bed move. He also can’t feel Dallas’ hips pressed against his own, but he’d guess his boyfriend is half-hard and fading quickly. The desire to know for sure rips another sob out of him.
“Kit, it’s okay, talk to me buddy, I’m right here, I’m right here, I’m right here,” Dallas murmurs into his hair, raking hard fingertips through Kit’s hair over and over again, hairline all the way to his nape. The angle he’s put his arm on to be able to do that has to be hurting him, but he isn’t letting on at all, and Kit’s too needy and broken to suggest he stop, even though he’ll probably have to massage the knots out of Dallas’ shoulder later, when this is all over.
The thought makes Kit hiccup, a dash of humor that throws off the rhythm of miserable sobs he’s worked himself into, and he manages to draw a few sighing breaths that aren’t teary. Then Dallas turns his hand against Kit’s chest, rubbing the side of his thumb along Kit’s breastbone through the shirt, like he always used to do when they were naked and sated. It sends Kit off again, worse than before, and soon Dallas’ head is laid on the pillow beside his own, both arms wrapped tightly around Kit’s ribcage to hold him down while his sobbing jerks them both back and forth on the mattress, wrenching Kit’s muscles with every move.
It takes a long, long time for Kit to come down from crying. Every time he starts to relax and calm down, some little thought or sensation sparks a memory, and another wave of bitter mourning slams down over his head. Eventually, his body simply gives up, and though he still feels the need to cry, the tears and the muscle tension needed for it simply won’t come. Bonelessly limp in Dallas’ arms, Kit discovers he can’t even badger his body into continuing to mourn everything else that it can no longer do.
“God damn it!” he screams, muffling the sound against the round of Dallas’ shoulder. Dallas pulls harder, holding Kit’s dead weight as near to his body as is possible. Kit’s exhaustion means Dallas can’t relax the tension of his arms at all. They’ve been laying like this for the last twenty minutes at least, since the last of Kit’s tears wrung him dry, and now Kit’s sure he’ll have to rub the knots out of his boyfriend’s muscles. It’ll probably take hours.
Kit’s thoroughly distracted himself from thinking about anything other than the nuisance of having to give Dallas a deep-treatment massage for something that he could have avoided in the first place. It comes as a shock when Dallas speaks, and not just because he hasn’t spoken since the whole crying fit started.
“I want to touch you,” Dallas whispers against the nape of Kit’s neck. Kit freezes, his whole body tensing up, and Dallas rubs little circles with his whole palm, flat and generic, across the skin over Kit’s heart. “Please. Trust me, Kitten.”
It’s not only because Dallas brought out the whole nickname that Kit gives in, but if he’s honest that is a big part of it. He nods, a very small movement, and prepares himself to feel nothing. Even as he braces for it, he knows he can’t protect himself from this pain.
Dallas moves delicately, tracing his palm gently down Kit’s chest and stomach to the hem of his shirt. His fingertips run upward under the fabric, dancing across Kit’s skin with a prickle like the fine ends of wires. Kit squirms a little, getting into it despite himself; Dallas hums his pleased smile against the back of Kit’s neck and keeps going. His movements are carefully measured, precise like guided missiles and slow like the glaciers.
Kit whimpers, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes from frustration and impotent anger as his boyfriend brings him to an arousal they both know that Kit cannot complete. Dallas’ hands stay carefully above Kit’s navel, where every little scrape of his nails or callouses against Kit’s skin can be felt like a small electrical spark. After ten minutes of this slow torture, Kit writhes clumsily onto his back and bats Dallas’ hands away long enough to get out of his shirt and expand the available canvas. Chuckling, Dallas helps Kit strip, lifts his shoulders from the mattress and leans them against his own bare chest, and continues his soft caresses.
The whole time, Kit weeps. These tears are silent, acquiescing to Dallas’ touches like small prey accepts death after the hawk has it cornered. He trembles in Dallas’ embrace, skin alight with pleasure but mind wholly preoccupied. Kit is only paying halfhearted attention as Dallas cradles and worships his skin; he focuses instead on a morbid vigil.
Kit is waiting for deaths. He is certain that his memories of being with Dallas, the intense and often gymnastic pleasure they reached together, are about to be invalidated by the inescapable realization of his impotence. The steady flame of loyalty Dallas holds for him is about to die, he knows, in a few minutes, as soon as his blocky, gentle hands reach further down, cradle the remnants of Kit’s own extinct heat. Everything most precious to him, which he has held at a distance and in memory for an entire year, is about to crash down around his ears, because Dallas wouldn’t take no, because it was inevitable. Because he is ruined, and he will ruin it all with his touch like winter cold creeping into the bones.
Minutes pass in a haze, and it’s maybe a half hour later before Kit realizes that Dallas’ hand is now moving slowly and calmly across his chest, simple back and forth sweeps that kindle his heart, not his loins. He blinks, looking around the room to get his bearings. Black shadows lay thick in all the corners, seeming to obscure even the alarm clock on Charlie’s nightstand across the room. In the weak halo of light from Kit’s bedside lamp, Dallas is propped up on one elbow beside him, his expression absolutely beatific.
“What – I – what happened? Dallas, what…” Kit doesn’t have time to be embarrassed that he’s admitting to zoning out. He needs the information too badly.
“Thank you,” Dallas murmurs, his shaggy blond hair swinging forward gently as he bends to kiss Kit’s lips, then his forehead. With one thumb he strokes over Kit’s eyebrow, continuing down the lines of his cheekbone and jaw to rest gently on his lips. Despite himself, Kit is soothed.
“But,” he begins more calmly, voice small in the quiet nighttime of the room. “What did I—?”
“Nothing,” Dallas says softly, making Kit blush for no understandable reason. “I wanted to touch you. I did. That’s all.”
A little flare of anger goes up in Kit at that, and irrationally he sends it roaring out of him without censor. “You think this means we can make it? You think it’s that easy?”
“No,” Dallas says, cutting Kit off. His expression is more somber, but no less reverent. Kit couldn’t translate everything in it for the life of him. “No, it’s not that easy.”
Dallas’ smile gets a little bitter tang to it, and Kit guesses that must be in reaction to his expression. He doesn’t know what his face is doing, just that the dried tear tracks running from the corners of his eyes back to his ears suddenly feel tight and itchy. He wants to scrub them away, and the evidence they provide too.
“We can do it, Kit. You just did do it. You let me touch you.”
“It’s not that easy,” Kit protests, petulant and desperate. He can’t let Dallas win this point. If Dallas is right, Kit has wasted a whole year of their lives.
“You want me to prove how easy it is?” Dallas asks him, his tone slanted in suggestive challenge. Kit opens his mouth to say yes, reconsiders, and snaps his teeth shut across his decision.
“Stop pushing my chair,” Kit hisses, eyes wide in the dim light. Dallas jerks back like he’s been stung.
“You think this proves anything?” Kit continues, fanning his sudden anger higher with every word. “You’re not going to get off, you know I can’t, and you think it’s all better? You think it’s that easy?”
“No,” Dallas says, trying to cut Kit off. His expression is liquid and intense. “This wasn’t—”
“Just shut up, Dallas,” Kit interrupts him, and there’s a venom in his voice that’s never been there before. He can feel his face twisting, expression gruesome; Dallas recoils further, beginning to detangle himself from Kit, and he smiles an awful, bitter smile that makes Kit sick.
“Shut up,” he says again, even though Dallas isn’t talking any more, “Shut up, this isn’t a good thing, okay? This isn’t enough and it can’t be, and I’m broken, and you need to leave now.”
“Leave, Dallas,” Kit whispers. Dallas does.
While Dallas is moving around in the rest of the apartment, gathering his things and making more noise than is strictly necessary, Kit hears the apartment door open. Then there’s Dallas’s voice, then Charlie’s. Great, he thinks, and tries to make out their hushed, brief conversation. He can’t, only the tone of it: Charlie sounds worried and trying not to show it; Dallas is cranky and brusque. The apartment door closes, hard, and Charlie comes into the bedroom to stare at Kit laying in the center of the rumpled bedclothes, his hips still twisted to the side where Dallas had laid them.
“You’re a fucking moron,” Charlie tells Kit clinically, then helps him straighten out his body and gives him an all-over massage, deep and twice as long as normal. Kit thinks that if he hadn’t spent all his tears on Dallas, he would cry at Charlie, too.
The next day, Kit phones his mother. He doesn’t tell her about what happened with Dallas, but the way he stays on the phone longer than necessary, listening more attentively than usual to her horror stories from the clinic, lets her know that something happened. The way she carefully doesn’t ask about Dallas or his pain, focusing on his classes and the upcoming weekend’s trip home, lets him know that she hears him, and cares. They talk about Saul leaving.
“I could come stay with you for a little while until you get something else set up,” she suggests, and Kit envisions Charlie’s reaction to that idea.
“If it comes down to it, Mom, I’m glad to have that option,” he says diplomatically.
By the end of the call, Kit still doesn’t have any answers about the aide problem, or any of the others. But for the time he’s on the phone, he feels better.
The weekend at home is a chance to escape, and Kit knows that but doesn’t let it stop him from using it. He spends much of his time in his mother’s kitchen, pretending to soak in all the stored-up laughter he used to believe in. He mostly convinces himself that it makes him feel warmer.
Kit resolves two things: that he will not think about Dallas from Friday through Sunday and, if Dallas calls him, that he won’t pick up the phone. Dallas doesn’t call, which saves Kit the trouble, but by Monday he hasn’t received so much as a text message and begins to worry. Then he catches himself and stops.
Class proceeds as usual, except that Dallas doesn’t show up to Mittean’s Tuesday lecture. The front row feels colder than it should, but Kit ignores it and keeps taking notes. He makes it to his fifth-floor history classroom alone.
Tuesday night is colder than it should be, a fault of the winter that just won’t let go, and Kit is already in a black mood as the lift raises him into the bus for the ride home. It’s his least favorite kind of bus, a crowded one, and three girls his age shoot dubious glances in his direction, as if they doubt his need for the chair, as they are displaced from their seats in the front of the bus to make room for him. Kit does his best to ignore them, fails, and sets the brakes on his chair and a grim frown on his face.
His sulk lasts about ten stops. The bus rolls through the center of the college district and out the other side, discharging more passengers than it takes on in a frustratingly concentrated tangle of legs, arms, and bookbags. A mother with three small children boards and arranges her brood on the seat directly opposite Kit’s chair, the one intended for the elderly. The children enthusiastically turn the bus into an aural zoo while their mother nurses her coffee and Kit grits his teeth. As more students and commuters cram onto the bus, packing all the seats and the aisle, he ducks the inevitable stray elbows and tries to breathe evenly, reminding himself that it would only make things worse if he let his anger get the better of him and suffered a pain flare right now.
The bus empties as it nears the edge of campus and the dorms, and Kit breathes a little easier; the children disembark and half the passengers smile in relief. This carries Kit through most of the trip, until the stop two ahead of his. At that point, a young man and woman board and remain standing at the front of the bus, both looking fashionable and neatly put-together. Kit guesses they’ve just come off a date, and is prepared to bitterly glare at them until the bus lurches into motion and unbalances them. They stumble against each other and Kit’s chair, and there is a flash of silver, then the chime of metal on metal, as they fall forward.
The man ends up on his knees, pawing the floor of the bus frantically, while his girlfriend watches with clear confusion, holding on to the overhead aluminum rail to keep her balance. Other passengers crane their heads to see what the man is hunting for, but Kit only taps him on the shoulder, then points under his own chair, where he saw the silver flash disappear. His guess is right: the man resurfaces, face telegraphing his relief, and, still kneeling in front of his girlfriend, smiles up at her, one leather-gloved fist closed tightly.
“I do,” the girl laughs, her eyes twinkling, and the man gapes, then opens his palm slowly to reveal a silver engagement ring, one solitaire diamond poking into the crease of his fingers. The stop-request chime dings, a red light going on over the girl’s head, as her eyes widen and her jaw drops open. She drops to the floor, kneeling in front of her boyfriend, and whips off her gloves, taking the ring in both hands. Disembarking passengers, prepared to make a fuss at the obstacle in their aisle, instead wait and coo at the couple as the girl kisses the ring, gaze locked with her boyfriend’s, and slides it on. His eyes tear up, and the crowd begins to applaud.
Beside them, Kit stares at the ring, bright against the girl’s dark fingers, then at the man’s gloved hand tightly gripping his fiancée’s bare left hand. Even after the couple has moved to a pair of empty seats, twining their arms together, he stares vacantly into the space they occupied, thinking, and nearly misses his stop.
The distance to his apartment building passes more slowly than usual. The sidewalk is clear, save for a patch of dark ice just past the bus stop shelter which takes him by surprise and makes him grab hastily for his brakes. When his chair stops, Kit finds to his relief that he’s still clear of the soft, grassy devil strip which would catch and hold his wheels. He rolls forward, dismissing the incident almost immediately, and navigates the rest of the trip without incident. The air is sharp and cold, but clear in his lungs as he pushes his chair a little faster than usual. A pedestrian walking the opposite direction sees him coming and steps aside, grinning at Kit’s enthusiasm as he rolls past. Kit grins back.
At home and alone, he quietly detangles himself from scarf and coat, breathing deeply of the apartment’s warm, comfortable-smelling air, and wheels into the kitchen to fetch a beer. With it and his cell phone in his lap, schoolwork left in its bag on the living room futon, Kit rolls into the bedroom and brings up Dallas’ number on speed dial.
When Dallas arrives, Kit bends him forward and greets him with a kiss, then says: “You’re not touching me tonight.” Before Dallas has time to turn his shocked expression into a cuss and head right back out the door, Kit slides his palm from Dallas’ elbow to his stomach, groping downward. The heel of his hand bounces against the curve of Dallas’ cock through his sweatpants, which is quite hot but not yet hard, and the blond sucks in a breath, taken off-guard.
“No, Kit,” Dallas says, then: “Yes, ohhh, baby, yes.”
Kit smiles as he strokes his flat palm up the length of Dallas’ cock, muscle and tactile memory returning in waves. He knows how to do this, and that, at least, is comforting. “Strip,” he orders his boyfriend, smiling a little. He’s either in denial or finally healing. He’s banking on the latter.
Dallas strips himself and then wraps his arms around Kit, bodily lifting him out of his chair and dropping him on the bed so he bounces a little. Kit laughs in disbelief while Dallas tugs off his sleep bottoms. “Proper inspiration,” Dallas smirks.
He leaves Kit’s boxers on, which Kit’s grateful for – not only because of the catheter, but because he’s less embarrassed, somehow, if he can keep his broken equipment covered up, even nominally. And despite the fear or frustration he ought to be feeling, Kit feels like it’s healthy, it’s simply right, to see Dallas’ blue eyes take on the deadly-sharp quality that only comes when he’s ready to be fucked. Dallas’ whole face is glowing, elated and hungry, and Kit knows it’s entirely his own doing. Something deep inside his heart clicks into place, the first barrel in a lock clicking true.
“Why did I ever, ever say no,” Kit’s murmuring, spitting into his palm and reaching out to take Dallas’ thick, stout length in hand before he’s even climbed all the way into the bed with him. Kit squeezes gently and Dallas gasps and weakly lowers himself down, draped across Kit. He’s breathing harshly into the joint of Kit’s neck and shoulder, vibrating through his shoulders but still mindful enough of Kit’s comfort to keep most of his weight held off his partner, and to be careful of causing pain, and to avoid the catheter.
It’s complicated. Kit knew this to start with, but as Dallas maneuvers over and around him, mindful of half a dozen concerns even as he’s greedy for his own pleasure, the fact is truly driven home. Dallas drops kisses across Kit’s skin when it occurs to him and otherwise pumps his hips in a shallow rhythm against Kit’s hand. He’s uncut; his sheath is warm and soft against Kit’s palm and his cock slides inside it with a purpose, the head bumping gently against Kit’s wrist on every stroke. Kit’s not even thinking about his own dick anymore, his skin ultrasensitized and alight with every glancing touch and caress.
“I’m not going to last, Kitten,” Dallas rasps against Kit’s skin. As answer, Kit rolls his head sideways, pressing their cheekbones together, so he can take the crest of Dallas’ ear between his lips and suck. Dallas moans and bucks into Kit’s hand. He wraps his own big hand around Kit’s on his own cock, stripping it hard and beginning to rock the bed. Kit slows him with gentle sounds.
“Kneel above my head,” he murmurs, “C’mon. Hold onto the headboard.”
Dallas’ eyes go wide; he licks his lips and obeys. Kit’s too nervous and eager to be smug. He slips his arms under Dallas’ thighs as he gets into place, cupping his ass with one hand on each cheek, elbows braced on the bed just inside Dallas’ knees. Above him Dallas is getting a good grip on the headboard and staring down on him with bright eyes. Kit gets his lips good and wet, works up enough saliva in his mouth, and opens his lips into a perfectly fuckable O. Dallas’ whole body tenses; he spits a curse and guides himself in, shuddering as he goes. Kit knows in that moment that Dallas has forgotten about the catheter, the wheelchair, and the accident. In the next moment, he forgets too.
Kit seals his lips tight around the base of Dallas’ cock, the tip of his nose gently brushing the wiry thatch of hair above it, and tries out a gentle hum. It makes Dallas scream and come, just that fast. Kit’s startled, but he manages, swallowing as much of it as he can, letting the rest dribble out the sides of his mouth. Dallas sags above him, going boneless, and his cock jerks in Kit’s throat twice more before he withdraws, crawling awkwardly down to lay against Kit’s side, face buried in Kit’s shoulder. He keeps shuddering, well after his orgasm’s aftershock should have passed, and Kit finishes licking his own mouth clean, then nudges Dallas’ chin up with one hand so he can see his eyes, which are damp in the corners.
“A whole fucking year I’ve been waiting for that, and I lose it in ten seconds,” Dallas says, the twist of his mouth betraying the emotion his steady voice won’t.
“It’s okay,” Kit tells him, and means it. He kisses him carefully, intending to keep Dallas’ taste from him, but Dallas forces Kit’s mouth open with his tongue, slicking it against the rough pad of Kit’s where the taste of his come still lingers.
Dallas kisses the breath out of Kit, so rough and long that Kit can’t last all the way through it, and finally has to push him back and gulp air.
“Sorry, God, you –” Dallas stammers, and Kit kisses him briefly to shut him up.
“I’m sorry,” Kit murmurs. Dallas watches him carefully for a long moment, licks his lips, and nods.
“It’s okay now.”
Kit hesitates, then blurts: “It’ll be more okay once you’re ready for round two,” even though he still doesn’t believe that Dallas can really let a whole year of the wrong decision slide so easily.
“Hell,” Dallas breathes, shaken and still hungry, then smirks impishly. “I’m gonna have to concentrate harder on keeping my balance next time, ’cause crushing you wouldn’t be the most romantic thing ever, I think.”
“You didn’t this time,” Kit sighs, then curls closer to Dallas as much as he can. Dallas helps, winding their bodies together like ivy vine, stroking Kit’s hair back from his forehead.
“Yeah, guess I didn’t,” he mumbles, which is the last thing Kit hears before he sleeps, dreaming of running like the wind on the soccer pitch, variables and numerals from the games he used to program swimming in the air around his head like digital fish. And in the goalie’s position, crouched and ready to catch him, is Dallas, and both his gloves are off.