word count: 3111
summary: Carter gets stitches. Set after the final tree-house scene in the main comic.
Written May 2016
It didn’t take long for Adrian to find himself at the hospital.
They really should have gone right back up the ravine when they had fallen into the river, but Adrian had been on another planet. He was on an endorphin high, giddy and excited, all butterflies and heartbeats and emotions spinning fluffy and bright like cotton candy. That Adrian had nothing to be concerned about besides Carter laying under him, wet and muddy and grinning at him in a way that disarmed every one of the fail-safes he had hammered up inside of himself.
But that was over. Now Carter was sitting beside Adrian on the plastic waiting room chairs, waiting for his name to be called, holding a tea towel against the back of his head.
His mother had driven them here after they had emerged from the ravine, red-faced and dirty and covered in various amounts of blood. She didn’t seem too phased by the whole thing, all things considered. She was chatting on her cellphone outside, probably reporting to her husband on the on the state of their child who had fallen down the ravine and cut his head open. Not the first time this has happened, she said when they had gotten in the car.
Still, Adrian couldn’t help feeling guilty and responsible. He had gotten them both into an emotional tizzy and dragged their son down a ravine landslide. He was lucky they both still had their heads.
Adrian gave Carter another side glance, and caught Carter looking at him. Adrian flushed. Carter didn’t. In fact, he looked grey.
“I’m afraid of needles,” said Carter.
Carter was babbling. “I think when I was little, stitches were a major fear of mine,” he said, sweat beading off his forehead. “Like a needle and thread poking through your skin and tying it together? Isn’t that just super scary?”
Carter’s voice was pitched about an octave higher than normal. He was already pale, but Adrian wasn’t sure if he should attribute that to fear or blood loss.
He wanted to hold his hand. He settled with patting Carter on the shoulder awkwardly.
“Yeah,” Adrian said, staring at the tiles on the floor. “I haven’t had stitches either, it seems really scary.”
Carter turned to Adrian, his eyes weirdly shiny, and nodded rapidly. “I know right?” he babbled. “Needles are scary! Sometimes they hurt a lot and sometimes they don’t hurt at all, but they always hurt a bit so every time I get shots I just end up trying to remember math equations in my head and I can only get to 3×5 on the multiplication table before my mind gets fuzzy.”
Adrian smiled. “You’re panicking,” he said.
“Maybe,” Carter stuttered.
“Little kids get stitches all the time,” Adrian said. He wanted to pat Carter on the knee, but he just kind of clutched his own instead, fingernails denting his skin. “You’re gonna be ok,” Adrian said.
Carter sort of stared off at nothing. Adrian watched him carefully, waiting for the light in Carter’s eyes to flick back into focus.
“What if they shave my head?” Carter finally babbled out.
Adrian opened his mouth, and then closed it. “Well,” he said. “They might. Maybe a patch.”
“Oh,” Carter said. “Then I’ll have a bald spot. It’ll look weird.”
“Well a botched scar would look weirder.”
Adrian regretted saying that the minute it left his mouth. The wave of realization that flowed over Carter’s face was enough for Adrian to know that he had given Carter something else to panic about. “Am I gonna have a weird scar?” asked Carter. “It’s gonna be there forever, right?” He stared off in a daze, before whipping around to Adrian.
“Do you like scars?” Carter asked, like it was suddenly the most important thing in the world.
Adrian stared at Carter. He was a vision, with his pale, sweaty face, the tea towel sticking his hair up like a cockatrice, the way his voice trembled as a slurry of words tumbled out.
Adrian wondered how it was possible that a mortal creature could be so pure and impure all at once.
Adrian wanted to tell Carter that he was more worried about his brain becoming mashed potatoes than anything else, but Adrian didn’t want to bring up another reason for a panic attack. So he just closed his eyes, turned to face Carter, and smiled at him with everything he had.
“I like all your scars,” Adrian said simply.
Carter’s pale complexion rapidly improved after that.
In the end, Carter needed five stitches. Adrian watched as the Emerg-doctor numbed the back of Carter’s head with local anesthetic before cleaning the wound out with tweezers and gauze. Carter cried big blubbery tears, his lip bit shut, and Adrian patted his leg. When it was over, Carter looked at him through his tear-streaked face to smile at him.
Adrian left the emergency room with Carter at his side and red marks from his own fingernails on his leg.
Adrian had pulled their hands together on the car ride back from the hospital.
Carter hadn’t even realized that he had at first. He was tired, covered in sweat, his head throbbing dully through the haze of painkillers. His mom had the radio on, softly crackling a song about partying on the weekend. The sun was stretched low and golden in the sky, poking his eyes with brightness. Adrian was staring out the window beside him, saying nothing.
Carter looked down at their fingers threaded together, and then up at Adrian. He was faced away from Carter, his hair glowing red in the warm light. The back of his head didn’t give anything away.
Adrian was always kind of like that.
Shy wasn’t the right word for it, but neither was frigid. Adrian’s feelings seemed to exist at a weird intersection between anxious and desperate, honest and furtive. Here and there, Carter was understanding the cues, understanding how he operated. The more of Adrian’s honest side that he saw, the more Carter saw how he covered his soft spots. He was beginning to understand, even though he did have his doubts, that Adrian may have truly liked him this whole time.
Carter had accused Adrian of using him those weeks ago. They had fallen in a frustrated spiral, and then Adrian had opted out. He said “I can’t,” and Carter was scared to follow. Carter had been so sure, for so long, that this was something that they were moving along with together. For that week, he was unsure. He thought that maybe Adrian had just given up on feelings.
In general, the whole week was a rollercoaster ride that Carter wanted off on. But the ride had changed, taking him off the rails and into the clouds. He was suspended in midair, hanging in the dreamy floaty place that seemed to catch his mind and slow time around him.
Carter stared down at the fingers, then glanced up at Adrian’s ear, his face not visible as he turned away to stare at the outside. The car hit a pothole and his fingers twitched just slightly in Carter’s.
The back of his neck was as red as his hair, as warm as the sun on Carter’s skin.
Carter didn’t wait for the next bump in the road to tighten his fingers against Adrian’s.
“Let’s see your stitches, loser.”
Carter had been home for five minutes before Rebecca had appeared in his doorway. Materialized was probably the most accurate description of it; she had formed from thin air like a wraith. Carter had jumped in his seat, barely managing to catch his 3DS before it fell into the paper plate of pilfered barbecue leftovers.
“Smooth,” said Rebecca from the doorway.
Carter rolled his eyes at her, pulling himself back into his nest. “Are you just gonna stand there or am I supposed to invite you in?”
Rebecca’s mouth twitched. “I’m a vampire now?”
“That seems right, you’re draining enough.” Carter patted the pillow beside him on the floor. “Siddown.”
Rebecca didn’t take the pillow. Instead she scooched in behind him, poking through Carter’s hair like a monkey looking for mites. He ignored her, keeping at his gym battle.
“Aw, it’s covered by a bandage.”
“Well, what did you expect?” Carter sighed as his Vaporeon fainted unceremoniously. “Did you just want to see blood and gore?”
“Duh,” Rebecca said. She took her fingers out of Carter’s hair and scooched up along his back, leaning her chin against his shoulder. Carter didn’t bother turning around.
She watched him play video games a lot when they were kids, and it wasn’t that much different now. She made a snorting noise as got his ass handed to him, his Pokemon woefully under leveled for this battle.
“Things going well now?” she asked softly.
“Hm?” asked Carter, turning his head. “Are you being sarcastic, or—”
“You were crying all week,” said Rebecca. “Things weren’t going well. But you’re happy now, so things are going well now, right?”
“Uh, well,” Carter stuttered. “Not wrong, I guess.”
They watched Brock’s league of ground-rock types destroy Carter’s HP, but Carter couldn’t manage to feel embarrassed. His sister was still silent in the way that he knew she wanted to say something.
“He’s just a boy, so don’t let him stomp all over you that much.”
Carter grinned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.
Rebecca pouted, smushing her chin sharply into his shoulder. “He’s hurt your feelings before,” she said grumpily. “I wouldn’t want him to do it again.”
Carter reached back and ruffled her hair. She jerked back, pushing away at his face like a cat.
“Jeeze, dude. What the shit, I just braided this.”
“You,” Carter shook his head, turning to get a good look at his little sister. She looked irate, her hair fuzzy, and was staring at the pillow Carter was sitting on like she was considering beating him with it.
Carter just leaned back and smiled.
“You’re acting like the big sibling, Beck,” Carter said. “Are you trying to keep me safe?”
Rebecca let out a huff, pulling her braids out as she rose abruptly to her feet. “The only one that’s allowed to make you cry is me,” she said, making her way out the door. “If that changes I’m gonna have to kick his ass.”
Carter watched her go before turning back to his game, feeling a warm fuzziness fill out his stomach as he was forced to retreat from the rock gym.
Then Rebecca was back in the doorway, her newly freed hair hanging down in a kinked wave.
“Hey, you want a popsicle?”
Carter probably wasn’t supposed to using his phone.
Adrian had been there when the doctor recommended that Carter take it easy on the electronics while his head healed. To Adrian, this was logical. Adrian had a concussion when he was younger, and he knew that this was the general procedure when you wanted to recover from a head injury.
Even though Adrian knew this, but still he found his eyes trailing over, staring longingly at his black screen as if it was going to buzz to life at any second. He was waiting for a new message, or maybe a snapchat, anything, really. A facebook message, a pigeon with a letter. A rock tapping at his window.
Adrian had spent hours with Carter today and it still didn’t feel like enough.
After the drought of time that they spent together, Adrian felt spoiled, hungry for more even though he already had so much. He thought about love songs that paralleled drug addiction, and thought for the first time that they kind of had a point.
His self-control had been pushed to its limits today. Adrian had struggled for the entire hospital ordeal to not hold Carter’s hand, and that had fallen through the minute they were in the car. Burning with embarrassment and some kind of powerful happiness, he had wrapped their fingers together while the car rattled home, staring out at the neighbourhood around them to keep himself in check.
Carter was really too much for him.
That thought was abruptly cut short as the sound of his phone vibrating on his desk caused him to stop breathing.
It was from Carter, of course it was from Carter. It was like Adrian’s thoughts were manifesting into reality. That, or Carter happened to be wrapped up in the same obsession that Adrian was trapped in.
Yeah, that was probably it.
Adrian wrote his response in two seconds, and then waited another forty seconds to send it in order to seem like he hadn’t been waiting for Carter to text him all evening.
Adrian stared at that one for a while. Then, without thinking, he flung his phone across the room, where it ricocheted against a leg of his desk before spinning to a stop on the carpet. Carter’s message was still on the screen, taunting him.
Adrian flopped face-down on his bed and screamed into his comforter.
He only had so much self-control.
Ten minutes later his phone vibrated from where it had been left on the floor, lit up and shaking.
Adrian rolled over in his bed, and stared at it for a split second before launching himself across the room.
“Hello?” He gasped.
“Are you up?” asked Carter on the other end.
Adrian closed his eyes, rolling his eyes back into his head. “No,” he said. “I’m speaking to you from my dreams.”
Carter let out a noise that sounded like a laugh.
“I wanna see you,” he said.
He hadn’t noticed before, how dry his throat felt. Adrian swallowed. “You saw me two hours ago.”
“Yeahh,” Carter whined. “But…”
“I need to study,” said Adrian, mentally congratulating himself for managing to choke those words out.
“Hmm,” said Carter.
There was a silence that accompanied that, hanging between them in this unspoken understanding. Things were different now, after all. They had a lot of odd phone calls before this one. But this one, it was different.
Adrian licked dryness from his lips.
“I need to study tomorrow,” he said hoarsely. “I’ve got another provincial in two days. I need to go to bed.”
“Alright, sure,” said Carter. “But what are you doing on Monday?”
Adrian rolled his eyes. “Studying for the retake?” he said. “You’ve gotta do that one too, you know.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Carter sighed on the other end. It sounded so light and wistful, and Adrian mentally chastised himself before he started waxing poetic in his own head. “What are you doing after that?”
“You mean summer break?” asked Adrian.
“Yeah, do you want to do something?”
Adrian stared at the unearthly green glow of the plastic stars on his headboard, shining through the dim of his room. He felt his hand twitch beside him, like a memory that he had momentarily remembered and forgotten.
Have you been camping before?” asked Adrian.
“Yeah, sure,” said Carter. “Some summers we go to Shuswap.”
Adrian reached out and picked at the plastic glow stars. “We should go somewhere,” he said.
“Camping?” asked Carter.
The silence crackled briefly on the other end of the line. “Alone?”
Adrian thought about that for a second. He wanted to say yes, but he didn’t at the same time. Yes would be giving in to every single one of his emotionally charged whims. Yes, right now, sounded like an excellent idea.
“My mom would not be down with that,” Adrian choked out.
Carter made a farting noise over the phone. “Oh come on, you’ve gone off on your own before, right?” he said.
Adrian’s lip twitched. He was right, she had let him go off on his own before. Adrian just needed to phrase it the right way.
“She might not be down with this in general, but she’s let me go off with Maria before to Chilliwack,” Adrian said. “If Maria comes, it’ll probably be fine.”
Carter sounded excited at that. “Oh good,” he said. “Bring Maria. I’ll bring Jason, we’ll be good. We’re doing extra credit earth science, that’s all you have to tell them, and you’ll get to go off alone for a week.”
Adrian closed his eyes, a grin tugging at his mouth. “Shut up or I’ll start believing you,” he muttered.
“Heh,” said Carter. “Do I sound that convincing?”
Adrian’s breathing felt tight in his chest. He did, but Adrian would rather hang up than admit that.
He curled up tighter, feeling sleepy all of a sudden. He had every right to, he was late, and they had a long day.
“I’m sure something’s gonna go wrong,” Adrian grumbled. “It always does.”
He listened to Carter breathe for a bit, suspended in this quiet spot. It was like they were next to each other, inhabiting the same space rather than being across the neighbourhood from each other.
When Carter spoke, his voice was growly and low and deep. Adrian pushed his phone hard against his ear to hear him properly, his mind lulling off to somewhere softer.
“It’ll work out,” Carter said quietly.
The plans for the trip came slowly and erratically. Carter didn’t officially have online access for two more days. When Adrian received the messages, they came through like a broken dam. The plan was disjointed, but everyone was in on it. Maria and Jason were coming, and they could bring supplies. Manning Park was decided on, and they all put a week aside in their schedule for camping.
Adrian threw himself into studying for his own exams, wondering how it would feel once the week passed, and the anxiety cloud of school would be washed away by the wind. It felt less stifling than it normally did at this time of year. Normally he would be wrapped up in so many things, theatre and exams, ignoring invitations for summertime parties. But in less than a month, Adrian felt like things had changed so much. For the first time, it felt like there was something greater happening in his life than his exams or theatre. There was something that he felt deserved all of his attention, something that occupied his mind in a way that was intrusive and not unwelcome.
Adrian counted the days down on his calendar, looking forward to the end of school and the beginning of his summer.