Things Remembered On Waking
by Shrift

He wakes up feeling thirsty, the wound in his gut aching anew with every heartbeat. It doesn't take long for him to remember where he is -- nothing else smells quite like a hospital, with the scent of strong antiseptic that almost smothers the sourness of pain and the sweet rot of death. His scalp twitches and his skin feels tacky, and he wonders if they'll finally let him take a shower today.

Clothes rustle as someone shifts in the chair next to his bed, and he knows without opening his eyes that it's Eric sitting there. Lauren's always touching him -- holding his hand, her palm resting over his heart, her fingers brushing over his forehead. He understands why she does it. She loves him and needs to reassure herself that he's really okay, but an uncharitable part of him thinks she's also doing it to stake a claim, to show everyone who he belongs to, and he's not sure how he feels about that yet. When Sydney visits, she fills the room with nervous tension, all beautiful and anxious, somehow drinking him in with her eyes and looking like she'd rather be anywhere else but there at the same time. He doesn't know how he feels about her, either, and the nightmares he's been having about Syd stabbing him again certainly aren't helping.

Eric's different. He's quiet, undemanding, and always ready with a smile or a glass of water. Maybe it's something he learned from three months of being stuck in the hospital, but he doesn't ask. There are a lot of things that he doesn't ask Eric.

It's peaceful like this, and Michael wishes he'd stop by more often. Mostly Eric's only there when Lauren and Syd are both in the field together, like he knows Michael needs someone to take his mind off worrying about the two of them.

Maybe the rest of the time, Eric thinks he'd be intruding. Lauren's been pretty protective of him lately.

"Hey, Mike. You awake?" Eric says.

"No," he says. The bed dips and Michael opens his eyes to see Eric grinning at him with his elbows resting on the mattress.

"I had a girlfriend who used to do that," Eric says. "I think she pretended to be asleep so she wouldn't have to talk to me. Ashley. You remember her?"

He raises his hand above his head and says, "The one with the hair?"

Eric nudges his arm. "Hey. Big hair was in that decade."

"She looked like a poodle," he tells him. "You said so yourself."

Eric turns his face into his palm and laughs. "Oh god, did I ever tell you about the time she gave herself a home perm?"

Michael smiles. "Once or twice."

"Okay, so you've heard all my stories," Eric says, "but that one warranted a repeat, because I'm telling you, she looked like the Bride of Frankenstein."

Eric's grimace makes him laugh, and Michael turns onto his side and curls up around the resulting pain in his gut. "Ow."

"You okay?" Eric asks, reaching out to grip his shoulder.

"Yeah," he says, "just... don't make me laugh."

Eric nods seriously. "Don't make you laugh. Right. Okay. Uh, I'll pretend to be someone with absolutely no sense of humor. Who do we know with no sense of humor?"

"Are you kidding me?" Michael demands. "Who do we know with a sense of humor?"

"Marshall," Eric says, and then shrugs. "Of course, his sense of humor is totally lame, but hey, the little dude has a girlfriend, which is more than I can say."

He's noticed that Eric talks a lot about his old girlfriends. Thing is, they're all ex-girlfriends from ten or fifteen years ago, and Michael can't remember exactly when Eric stopped dating. He's a good-looking guy, smart and funny, and he holds down a good job. Sure, he's a big guy, but it's that solid kind of big that comes in handy when you need to move a couch, bodycheck some big gorilla on the opposing team, or push a car out of a ditch. By all rights, Eric shouldn't have trouble finding women who want to date him, so Michael thinks it's a little strange that he hasn't gone on at least one date in the last two years.

Maybe it's his fault. He turned into a mess after they found Sydney's body, and Eric's probably the only reason why Michael's still alive. He lost track of the number of times Eric basically carried him home, rubbed his back while he hugged the toilet, and never mentioned how often he sobbed into his pillow before he finally passed out. He woke up to the sound of snoring in his ear and Eric's damp shirt clutched in his hands more times than he cares to admit.

Those were the bad times, when Eric would just watch him with sad eyes and make these quietly horrible comments about passive suicide that made Michael feel guilty enough to stay sober for a few days.

It's disingenuous to think that's the only reason Eric doesn't date anymore. Michael recognizes the looks that Eric's started giving Sydney, because Eric looks at him the same way. He has for years.

"Hey, Weiss," he says without thinking.

"Yeah?" Eric says, his face open and guileless.

He wants to ask him so many things. Things like, 'So, do you like other guys, or is it just me?', and 'Do you only want Syd now because I'm taken, and she's slept with me?' And then there's the real kicker: 'Are you in love with me?'

He doesn't want to know the answers.

"Never mind," Michael says.

"You sure you're all right, man?" Eric asks, glancing worriedly at the door like he wants to get a doctor.

Michael doesn't ask any of those things because he's selfish. He has Lauren, but he needs Sydney and Eric around, too. If he says anything, it could ruin the delicate balance. Eric might stop hopelessly waiting for Michael to wake up and embrace the alternative lifestyle, and the way things are right now, he'd probably take Syd with him.

He loves Lauren, but she's not enough.

"I'm just tired," he finally says.

Eric pats him on the shoulder. "Go back to sleep, Mike. I'll still be here when you wake up."

"I know," Michael says. He closes his eyes. "You always are."


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