Fic: What About Now? - Chapter 20
Title: What About Now?
Feedback: Yes, please. I adore everyone who take a second to drop me a line.
Disclaimer: NOT TRUE, and hopefully most will never ever happen. I own nothing.
Beta: As always, the eternally awesome legolastariel is my biggest help and support in all this. I'm forever grateful!
A/N: Story begins at the O2 Arena concert November 30th.
A/N 2: Dedicated in its entirety to the ever lovely and always supportive legolastariel!
Summary: Jared is fighting for his life. Colin is fighting with himself. And the press is fighting for a story.
He could not believe that he was actually doing this.
Colin felt like a stalker. Like an idiotic, desperate and pathetic stalker. He was sitting on the street corner a good fifty feet away from Jared’s house in a grey, intentionally unremarkable rental car that he had picked up only for this trip. He had not dared show up in his Escalade as he feared that Jared would recognize it immediately if he caught a glimpse of it.
From his spot in the dark, he vaguely observed that the light was on in the living room and in the studio. He could not actually see the rooms or their occupants from here as Jared’s house was situated in a way that gave it a relatively high amount of privacy, even with its small size and its positioning in a rather humble neighborhood. But through the hedge and the many trees in the front yard, Colin could make out three columns of light reflected onto the wet grass. He had spent a large amount of time in that house, he knew that two of the columns were from the windows in the living room and the last was from the glass patio door in the studio.
Someone was definitely home.
Colin stifled a sigh as he fought another battle in the ongoing war within himself. He fought with his heart, his conscience and everything that he was – and everything that he had ever wanted and ever loved.
He knew that he could leave the car, walk the small distance to the house and then knock on the front door. Because then Jared would open it. It was that easy. It would be so simple and just like that he could reopen the lines of communication and just like that, their destiny would no longer be set in stone and impossible to change – like it was right now.
Four long weeks had passed since their horrible fight and Colin felt as though his world was falling to pieces all around him. It should never have come to this. Never ever. They were supposed to be together always, together till the very end and not this. Not apart and miserable with no resolution in sight.
Jared was a fucking asshole. He was a conceited, selfish and smug asshole who wanted everything his way and never cared for anyone else’s wishes. Not even the people he professed to love were taken seriously when the stupid fucker had a plan. Jared had trampled him, he had thrown almost four years of love back in his face and the idiot still could not see it and refused to concede even a millimeter.
And yet, Colin missed him so much he wanted to cry.
He knew that he owed Jared nothing and he knew that the son of a bitch was least as much at fault as Colin was, but that did not make things easier. A part of him wanted to march up to Jared’s door, throw it open and demand that the little shit talked to him and that they found a solution to this mess. But he did not. And he knew deep in his heart that he would not.
He knew that he had gone to the trouble to pick up a rental and he knew that he had driven here late in the evening without actually planning to engage his now former lover. He knew; as much as he had been loath to admit on the way here, that this was his goodbye.
This was his last return, this was Colin closing this door and nailing it shut before it killed him.
Deep down, they had always somehow known that it was most likely going to end like this. They never avoided the word forever, but they also made pretty damn sure that it did not pop up too often and in too many conversations.
They had played with open cards and with open hearts, but they had never really played for keeps.
Colin felt his chest tightening. He took a deep breath and tried to force away the emotion that was threatening to overtake and overwhelm him completely. Biting down on his fist he turned his gaze away from the house as he held back the sob that wanted to break free.
Fuck you, Jared. Fuck you for not coming back to me. Fuck you for stealing my heart away and never returning it, even when you are long gone and moving on. Fuck you.
None of this was fair. None of this was right. Within a month, his life had been turned upside down and one of his existence’s main focal points disappeared in a haze of broken hearts, shattered expectations and overwrought despair. A pit of selfishness, narcissism and too little, too late would do that to a couple, no matter how much love there had once been.
His family had been confused, but solidary and supportive when Colin showed up heartbroken end devestated. Yet as time passed; Eamon admitted that while he had never doubted the love between his younger brother and the rock star, even a fool could see that a lot of things were not working for them.
But none of that was going to help him now. A life without the man he had for years considered the love of his life was resting in front of him.
He did not have the luxury to linger in the past and spend a few years licking his wounds, something he would not be surprised to see from Jared, as that had always been the singer’s style when thrown out of balance. But it had never been Colin’s and that was the case now more than ever.
He was a father now. He was a man with a thriving career. Tomorrow needed his attention and James deserved a dad who was not a wreck, broken heart or not. Tomorrow was a new day and as much as Colin knew that he was leaving behind all of his love with a man who no longer wanted it, tomorrow would need to be embraced and Colin would show Jared and the rest of the world that he did not falter.
Colin would manage with no Jared, no drinking and no falling apart. A man could learn to survive without a heart, of that he was sure. Of that he had to be sure.
Turning on the engine and putting the car in gear, Colin pulled out unto the road and drove away into the night.
Colin could not help but wonder if he should be bothered or happy at the fact that he had more or less moved into Jared’s house on an unofficial basis. Technically, the singer had never offered up his place for more than a single night, but that had not stopped Colin from staying anyway. And as long as Jared did not kick him out, he would stay. For the rest of his life if he could, but that was a conversation for another day, a day lying far off into the future, as it was not a road he had any plans on walking down right now. Not because he doubted his own feelings, he knew quite well how he felt about Jared, it was more of a patience and care issue combined with an overall uneasiness and doubt coming from the still ailing rock star’s side. Time was needed for Jared and Colin was going to honor that all the way through, even though his heart and body were screaming for a chance to go all in and go back to the good old days of great sex, great laughs and great conversations.
Colin got up from the couch and wandered into the kitchen, feeling rather distracted and kind of lonely as he roamed through the house on his own.
Jared had gone to bed early, tired from a long day of continuous physical therapy and at some point Colin expected to join him.
Going to bed had never really been something that he put a lot of thought into in his daily life, yet in the past many days, going to bed had become one of the highlights of the day. Even when Jared had spells of remoteness and emotional distance, he still invited Colin to sleep next to him, guard his rest and even hold him. Colin cherished every night he spent with the man he loved in his arms. He cherished waking up in the morning to find that Jared’s body had reached out for his during sleep and was wrapped around his own. It not only moved him, it also calmed some of the restlessness he still felt in regards to their shaky relationship status. It made him feel now, more than ever, that it truly did not matter what they were called currently in words and terms, because their bodies and souls did the necessary talking. And even if Jared was not ready for romance, sex and discussions of an official relationship, his body and soul still appeared to call out for him and nothing could be more heartwarming and encouraging than that.
Jared’s bed and arms were waiting for him, but Colin could find no rest right now. The week that was lying in front of him would likely be spent at his own apartment, seeing as Henry would be with him for all seven days. It was not that he did not want to introduce his son to Jared properly, because that he definitely longed for. However, he knew that there was still too much stress in Jared’s life for this to be prudent. Sure, he had no doubts that it would go well, as Henry was very social and easy to manage and he knew that Jared would do everything he could to make a good impression on the little boy. It had a lot more to do with the fact that he knew the singer would be stressed and tense and likely feel that he did not measure up, no matter how great the meeting went. Jared was still so affected and tense these days that he wanted to protect him for a little while longer, at least until he started causally seeing and socializing with other people than the very few he had not been able to get rid of.
Pondering the situation, Colin walked aimlessly through the quiet house without any particular destination in mind. He could really use a cigarette, though.
Looking around him, he decided that the backdoor through the studio into the backyard would likely be the best place to go if he wanted to smoke in relative privacy.
As he neared the big windows facing that part of the Leto owned land, he noticed that the decorative lights were on in the garden. Walking closer, he saw Shannon sitting on a deck chair near the back steps with a beer in his hand, huffing on his own cigarette. He briefly debated with himself if he should leave the drummer alone and find somewhere else, but apparently, he was a stickler for punishment and he could also not deny that a little bit of curiosity made him continue on as well.
Silent, he pushed at the already open door and with soft footfalls he made his way onto the deck, walking closer to the other man.
“I thought you quit?” Colin remarked gently.
“Jeez, Colin!” Shannon startled and almost dropped his beer bottle as he tensed up on the chair. “You scared the shit out of me, man!” The drummer hurriedly leaned forward and immediately stubbed out the only half smoked cigarette in the dewy grass in front of his feet, before wiping his fingers on the wet grass as well, trying to lessen the smell that lingered on his hands.
Biting back a smile, Colin stepped even closer. Bending down he offered Shannon one of his own cigs and the drummer shrugged slightly before happily accepting it.
Taking his own lighter out of his pocket, Shannon lit up the new cigarette and inhaled the smoke into his lungs. “I did quit and I’ll have you know that I’m not a fulltime smoker anymore, but there a days – nights – where they can still be… you know… relaxing.”
Colin sat down on an unoccupied deck chair and lit up his own cig with steady hands in a practiced and comfortable maneuver. Blowing out the smoke he nodded. “Yeah, I do. Been smoking all me life and even though I know Jared isn’t that big a fan it’s still a vice that’s hard to lose.”
Shannon agreed silently as he pulled in another drag, enjoying his smoke with a slightly lessened sense of guilt as he was seated next to the one man in this household – other than Tomo – who would not give him any heat for still needing a cigarette on some days.
The released smoke swirled in the night air and crickets were chirping a lullaby not too far away, as the two men enjoyed the calm of the evening in LA. Classic Hollywood night time – as Jared liked to call it.
Shannon took another drag before turning around to look at Colin. There was a question that had been on his mind more than once over these past few weeks, but there had never really been a good time to voice it before now. He briefly wondered if breaking the almost-comfortable silence was even a good idea, but there were so many important things that had still gone unspoken between them. They practically shared a daily life, seeing as they both lived an existence that had a tendency to revolve around the same man.
“I gotta know this,” Shannon spoke up, his voice carrying more demand than curiosity, “if London hadn’t happened, do you think that you’d have gotten back together with my brother?” The question was asked without any true presumptions, but the follow through in the drummer’s voice was unmistakable, even as they continued to casually gaze up on the many fireflies buzzing around the lights in the garden.
Colin sat up on the deck chair properly and for the first time during their briefly shared interlude in the backyard he looked at Shannon. Really looked. The older man’s attention was captured by the night sky so there was no gaze for the actor to meet. Colin took in the comfortable and well-worn clothes that covered what the drummer’s little brother had always described as 90% muscle and 10% subtle and hidden internal rhythm. People waxed poetic about Jared’s appearance all the time, but anyone who had ever been in the same room as Shannon would know just how intimidating, impressive and magnetic the older man was. He had one hell of a presence and a down-to-earth charm that made many people envious. According to Tomo, it was a Leto thing – you got used to it.
The question was not exactly one he had expected to hear from Shannon, but that did not change his answer. Besides, the thought had permeated and played around in his mind more than once already.
“To be honest, I’ve asked myself that quite a few times at this point,” the Irishman offered and Shannon wondered at the response for a second. He had expected for Colin to immediately tell him that there had been no doubt in his heart and that it was meant to be – just like that.
“Not no.” Colin said with the certainty Shannon had expected to arrive at some point. It was almost soothing in its predictability. Not that the younger man had given him any reason to doubt it so far. “I think… yes. Yes, we would. But probably not like this. And not now. For some reason…” Colin paused and cleared his throat, looking up at the night sky before shaking his head. “For some reason, I often thought that when we got older we would one day meet face to face at some showy, ostentatious Hollywood shit-fest and suddenly, the moment would be right, you know?” Colin took a deep breath and stubbed his finished cigarette in the grass near his feet before leaning back and looking up at the few stars you could still see this close to the inner-city of the bustling and ever-lit LA. “As if suddenly, one day,” he continued, “all the history between us would evaporate and there’d be no more awkwardness and uncomfortable silences and shit.”
Shannon nodded slowly as he leaned back and looked at the stars as well. There was genuinely no tension in the air and the drummer found it difficult to figure out what to do and say with that strange absence. The only thing Colin and Shannon shared was Jared and though that should be basis for some sort of truce, it had worked against them more than it had ever helped.
Colin looked over at the silent musician, ready to defend himself and his words but to his surprise he found no anger or loathing on Shannon’s face. It might be a ruse, yet he somehow uncovered a willingness to continue on, dig himself a little deeper and give away a little more.
“You already know that I have no problem admitting that I never got over him, but things are rarely that easy. It was pretty damn hard to be honest. And pretty damn painful.”
Shannon looked over at Colin, feeling wary and unsure on how to approach from here, as there was quite a bit of apprehension still begging to be let out. Still, he figured that talking about all the crap that preceded London might actually do them some good for once. Maybe even help clear the air. Therefore, he continued on and this time there was no hesitation and no kindness as he said what had been on his mind again and again, “I get that, I really do, but there is still no denying how easily you moved on, Colin, where Jared could not. You have another kid now and for all intents and purposes, it truly looks as though you didn’t give a shit,” Shannon said harshly. “And I’m still not completely convinced that you really cared back then. Sure, I can see from your actions these past few months that you truly love and care for him, now, yet I don’t understand what’s changed? And I gotta admit, no matter how much you’ve put into this I still can’t shake the fear that this is all just a matter of you wanting what you could not have.”
“I don’t really know what to say.” Colin let out, stunned by the words thrown out there by Shannon.
“Well, think of something!” Shannon griped and the drummer found himself needing to suppress the familiar urge to throw a few more verbal punches.
Colin had expected to feel anger stirring in his veins along with a need to retaliate with something nasty so they could get one of their usual arguments going, but to his surprise, the only thing he wanted was to make Shannon understand his side of the story.
“I did love him, Shannon! I always loved him! I loved him so much it was fucking painful, but your brother – for all of his lovable qualities – can be quite the asshole when he wants to be. And face it, I’ve never been the kind of guy that enjoys being alone for long stretches of time – and I won’t apologize for that,” Colin said breathlessly as he tried to make a point. “Even though I was still emotionally invested in Jared, it didn’t exactly change the fact that he was out of my life. And that he wanted to be out of my life.”
“But why did you not try to get him back? Because I still don’t see what’s supposedly changed now.” Shannon pushed again as he tried not to get too mad at the not so subtle digs at Jared’s personality. His protective instincts were raging; even though he knew all too well just how frustrating Jared could be on some days. Particularly when stress and tensions ran high – and with the fast-paced lives they all lived, that stress and tension was practically a guarantee a lot of the time. Yet that would never change the fact that in his eyes, he was the only one in the whole wide world who had the permission to badmouth his brother – anyone else was asking for a kick in the teeth.
“I did want him back. I wanted him back from day one. You keep making it sound like it was a clean break with no grief or hard feelings on my side and that is not true!” Colin said strongly before running a hand through his hair, “In the beginning, even though I was so very pissed at him, my heart still felt like it had been ripped to pieces and at no point did it ever feel over for me. And I never wanted it to be over! I still expected a resolution to it – that something would happen. But as the days passed, things got more and more complicated and the space between us got larger and larger until it felt like there was no way to cross it safely,” Colin explained, hoping that Shannon was willing to listen and for once not sell him short. Despite the heatedness of their argument so far, there had been no true and proper anger, yet some very real arguing done. Necessary words were being exchanged and there was a purpose to it – a need. Somehow, Colin felt like this talk with Shannon had the potential to mend some fences. Or at the very least, get a bit closer to those damn fences.
“I still don’t get how one night could fuck up so much between two people who supposedly loved each other!?” Shannon could not help but exclaim, without even trying to mask his annoyance, but for a short moment the annoyance had no direction. Colin, for once, did not feel the blow as the question dug at Jared as well, even though the man was not actually present.
“It’s not that simple…” Colin began, but Shannon cut him off with a truly angry huff.
“For fuck’s sake, you can do better than that, Colin. Give me something, then. Make it simple!”
“We were aiming to hurt, okay! We were aiming to FUCKING HURT!” Colin yelled out suddenly, before turning away with anguish on his face that a surprised Shannon did not really understand.
“Isn’t that usually the whole point of arguing?” Shannon asked honestly, the previous anger gone, swallowed, as he tried to follow changing moods of the man he was questioning.
“Yeah, I’m sure it is, at least to some people. It’s tough to explain, Shannon, whether you want it to be or not!” Colin ran a hand through his tousled hair as he padded his breast pocket in search of his cigarettes. Pulling out a fresh one, he lit it up and took a heavy drag. He held it for a while before releasing it into the night air, along with only a small portion of the tension he now carried with him.
“We were best friends before we were anything else, something you already know,” the actor began. “But the respect between us… It was so much more… All that shit we went through during Alexander, all the shit we had shared with each other through the years, it had all built up to a trust and a bond that was hard to show and hard for others to understand.” Colin tried to explain. He had never said any of this out loud, not even to Jared. It was not a secret, far from it, yet they had always done their best to not try and over-define what had made them what they were.
“What so many people forget about the roles we took on is that they were not just two star struck lovers, they were fucking best friends as well. They were all and everything to each other. And yet, it was still so much more.”
“We relied on each other for every ounce of emotional support in that fucking desert. We relied on each other for everything and we took it all in. But it did not end with the end of filming. We went home and it became abundantly clear that neither of us could let it go. He was my best friend and my confidant. And yet, it was still more. He was not just a lover or a boyfriend, or someone I fucked around with. He quickly became the one man in the whole wide world I would take a bullet for without asking a single question. He was the one man for whom I would rather walk through a burning fire than ever lie to,” Colin pushed on, his voice carrying a certain amount of anger-fueled desperation.
“It’s fucking hard to explain, because it was not a bond that was built on what people usually bond over. No shared blood, hell, it was never really a romantic thing, no – we’re in it because we have to be – thing either. It was not even about the fucking sex! It was… We were… He was everything. It was overwhelming and it was rough, because it was so overblown and weird and not made to fit our real, actual lives. And everything kept clashing and throwing sparks.”
Colin stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. He gazed up on the night sky as he tried to juggle the words in his head, desperate looking for the right way to explain it. And this time his desperation was not for Shannon's benefit, he just truly needed it to make sense in his own world as well. It was too important for him for it to be squandered on the worst and first words that jumped into his brain.
“For a long time we were happy. You know that, as well. We tried our very best to make it work, but we were both on foreign ground. And that ground ended up crumbling underneath us. And suddenly, the respect that had carried us for years was gone and the one person I never thought would falter in my heart became the one person I was trying to damage and hurt, to bring pain.”
Colin stopped talking. The silence hung in the air like a thick fog but there was only one person on the deck that could break it. Shannon wisely kept his mouth shut as he watched the focus and the overwhelming concentration on Colin’s face.
“At that point, I knew we were broken,” Colin began again. “I knew that what we had was gone and it could not just be fixed by an apology and a make-up fuck. The bond was broken.”
“And how the fuck do you move on from that, huh?” Colin spat as many years of frustration suddenly found an outlet. “You got any wise ideas? If the bond that connects you and Jared one day crumbled what the hell would you do?”
And for once, Shannon did not say a word.
“We got too cocky,” Colin continued. “When a bond like that disappears, you disappear with it. You grab your shit, you get in your car and you disappear with it.”
Silence descended upon them again, but this time they were both hesitant and unwilling to say anything more while they tried to make sense of what had been said so far.
It was odd for Colin to share all this with someone like Shannon, but for some reason it felt like the only right thing to do. Shannon, whether Colin wanted it or not, was a hugely important part of Jared’s life and Jared’s heart. And therefore, Colin also needed to be able to interact and spend time with the drummer without there being sparks of anger flying around every other second. Shannon deserved to be in the loop. But it was hard for Colin to just let go and say all this to a man who had never really approved of him.
“And yet, here you are now,” Shannon suddenly said softly, with a certain amount of understanding in the hazel eyes.
Colin nodded. “At this point, I think both Jared and I understand that it can never be what it was, ever again. But maybe we can make it something else. Something entirely different. What we thought were our strengths turned out to be an inherent weakness. Maybe we can do it better this time around,” Colin answered, as he embraced the longing in his heart that over the past few minutes had turned stronger than it had been for months. He missed Jared, his scent, his embrace, his mind and everything he was and had ever been.
The dark of the night seemed endless and the air took on a chill that made both men sink a bit deeper in their seats as they tried to stay warm.
Suddenly, Colin let out a snort.
“What?” Shannon asked, confused at the sudden mood change.
“So much time has passed at this point. So fucking much. Much more than what makes sense, really. We spent all these years apart, created this huge amount of distance between us and build all these impenetrable walls. And now, well, now I cannot help but wonder, if all it comes down to a competition to see who could be stubborn the longest,” the Irishman confessed.
To Colin’s surprise, Shannon let out a huge laugh at his words. “Well, engaging my brother in a battle of wills like that was your first mistake! He’s a stubborn little shit and he’s never know when to throw in the towel.”
Colin could not help himself and he laughed out loud as well. “Tell me about it! I thought I was bad but he’s unbeatable at that sport.”
He leaned back on the chair and crossed his legs, at this point feeling strangely comfortable out here in the yard. There were trees, bushes and untamed nature everywhere and it was quite the contrast from the usual gardens of Hollywooder’s. You rarely found a backyard in LA that had not been manicured to perfection by some team of employed gardeners. It was relaxing and it reminded him of the house he grew up in for some reason. It almost made him miss Castleknock, but only almost. LA was his home now and had been for years. Even though he would always treasure his roots and never sell his home in Ireland, this was still the city he belonged in now.
They shared the brief silence without any discomfort, before Colin began again, yet this time the merriment was gone and his voice was almost haunting in its softness.
“When I got the call… It was so odd, as I had spent quite a few hours that week thinking about him and even though reconnecting seemed redundant and impossible, I had still entertained the thought of calling him – just to see if I could drum up the willingness from Jared, as well – to try and take a look at our past and our issues. Maybe just have a civil conversation or something. But I was also angry that I had to be the one doing it, why not him? He still had the effect on me and on me heart as he’d once had, but I never made a move. It seemed so farfetched and even though Alicja and I weren’t exactly tight anymore, I still didn’t want to rock the boat,” Colin explained unhappily. “And it seems so ridiculous now. Almost cowardly to be honest…”
Shannon really wanted to muster up some blame and rack down on the guy for this part of the story, but he found that he could not. At least not for this. The drummer had never been a pro at relationships or even casual love, but even he was aware of how tricky and complicated relationships could be at a certain point. He himself had never been the type of guy willing to put his heart on the line for anyone, other than those he shared a platonic bond with – never any lucky females – so he was hardly the one who should be allowed to judge. Not that that had ever stopped him – he was a Leto after all.
“That night in December, when Tomo called and told me what had happened, what was going on... I can’t recall ever feeling such raw fear.” Colin confessed and Shannon closed his eyes at the words, bowing his head as he too was brought back to that hellish night. He could definitely identify with the raw fear.
“Suddenly, everything that had gone between us didn’t matter, you know? When someone you love that much rests between life and death, all of the stubbornness goes out the window. It doesn’t matter who said and did what. When someone you love is dying right in front of you, you’re forced to make up your mind and start focusing on what is actually important. And he is important.”
Shannon stayed silent as he thought about Colin’s words. Jared was indeed important. To the both of them.
Many people loved Jared. Thousands upon thousands had over the years proclaimed their undying love and devotion for his baby brother, and he had no doubt that in their hearts it felt true and real. And he could relate to them easily, for in his eyes, his brother was a very lovable person, even with his stubbornness and temper, as well as the occasional rude behavior, Jared was indeed someone you could lose your heart to.
Shannon loved his brother. Tomo loved his friend. Their mother loved her son. And Colin, well Colin loved Jared. In all the world, except for maybe their mother, the two people sharing a talk and some cigarettes in the yard were probably the ones who cared for Jared the most.
And before he even realized it, Shannon had spoken.
“I will always feel like I failed him that night,” Shannon whispered and Colin almost missed the soft confession. His heart went out to the man sitting next to him. The Letos’ sense of duty was irreproachable and impossible to beat. He could not imagine anything other than Shannon having a hard time with all of this, which prompted his next words.
“How are you dealing with it all? I know just how close the two of you are, so I can’t possibly be the only one feeling the pressure and this almost debilitating worry for him.”
Shannon kept staring straight ahead, the hazel eyes glazed and unfocused. Minutes passed while the drummer gave no response, seemingly lost in his memories and the somewhat shaky recollections collected from that night.
Colin looked up at the few stars he could see, enjoying the small amount of light they gave away. He had all night and he was not going to push his luck with Shannon, in fact, he was surprised that they had managed this long without ending up at each other’s throat.
But Shannon was not done. The musician riffled through his pockets and pulled out his crumpled pack of twenties along with his green Bic lighter. Lighting it up, he took a drag and held it for a second before he exhaled heavily.
“He's alive,” Shannon said calmly. “He’s still struggling – but he’s alive. I gotta focus on that. I'm not doing a 100 percent, I'll admit that. And once he's okay again and starts smiling and laughing a bit more often, I'll have my break down. I'll drink a lot of whisky, break some furniture and maybe have a good cry. And then I’ll likely call and yell at him – and then dip his toothbrush in chili oil. Maybe that’ll teach the little shit not to almost die on me.”
Colin snorted. It sounded like a good idea to him. Had Jared been his brother and not the man he loved, Colin would likely have done something similar.
Shannon had no idea why he was saying all this to a man he was never really sure he liked. But the more he thought about it, the more he felt the need to acknowledge that he was sitting next to the one man who knew what it was like to love Jared. And also a man who knew what it was like to sometimes hate Jared a little bit as well. Jared was not perfect, he was not always all he made himself out to be, but neither was he as little as he sometimes suspected. No, he was not the easiest person in the world to love and Shannon loved Jared so much it hurt and so much that he got hurt sometimes as well. And so did Colin.
Meanwhile, in another part of the house
For a brief second, Jared was convinced that the sound of raised voices had awoken him. But then as sleep fled him entirely and he found himself lying wide-awake in bed listening, no discernible voices could be heard and instead, he accepted that a fleeting dream had played a trick on his mind. There were no voices anymore.
He was alone.
Turning in bed, he reached out a hand and grabbed the Blackberry resting on the nightstand, checking the time. 0:53 AM. Colin usually joined him at midnight - half past at the latest.
At that moment, Jared felt a bit ridiculous as he lay there in his bed pining away for a man he was not truly with, but before the degradation could take hold and one more bout of cruel internalized bullying could begin, a very certain and a very promising decision took over. He was reminded of the pledge he had forced upon himself to try and regain control over his thoughts. He wanted so badly for the voice blabbering away in his mind to be on his side again and he really did not care how self-absorbed that sounded. Sure, he was not aiming for a complete narcissistic take over, but this never ending punishment that he put himself through was starting to get a bit grating.
He had no idea when it had come to this, when he had reached this odd point, but somewhere in between Colin making a heartfelt appeal that Jared considered opening up towards music again, the notion of Jared having changed significantly and the pressure building from the record company, something seemed to be happening within him. And there was also no forgetting and no downplaying the many hours spent talking to Doctor Andrew Stahl, no matter how unsettling it could be to sit there and prattle on about his deepest secrets and concerns to someone he truly did not know.
After the cruel series of moments where it became painfully apparent that he had no control over his raging psyche, something within him started fighting for attention. His uncontrolled tail spin needed to stop and he knew that he needed to do the work himself – no one else could. He was on a roll now and he was pushing on, hoping that he was fighting in the right direction for once. He was not entirely sure where all these new feelings were taking him, but he doubted it could be worse than the hole he had been stuck in since December.
That pitiful, shit-tastic December from hell. Oh, how he loathed it.
Hopefully, Colin would show up soon. Now that his brain was talking again, he really wanted it to shut up and let him rest.
Which brought him right back to Colin. And Colin, well Colin gave him something and while Jared never talked of it to anyone, it had become a crucial part of his life in a very short time. Colin gave him security. He gave him safety. Protection. He gave him everything that opposed the overwhelming amount of vulnerability clogging his heart and soul.
Vulnerability was a strange feeling for him. Most of his life, he had done everything to gracefully avoid it. If asked, especially by a well-meaning fan or an interviewer wanting to try and go deeper and get something more out of him than what he chose to offer and reveal, he would say that he embraced it and saw it as a teacher. Yet it was becoming rapidly clear to him that he had been talking out of his ass. Sure, he had had moments where life was hard and it sucked and where he felt incredibly affected by the events happening around him. The lawsuit, in particular, had been cruel and there had definitely been moments where he felt like he was losing his grip, and moments where he felt like the world had well and truly abandoned him, screwed him over and stolen from him.
But these past few months had been so much more unsettling than anything he had ever lived through before. And this vulnerability was no longer a feeling that tickled at the back of his mind on a day or two every other year. It was now something he could no longer shrug off and leave behind him. Vulnerability had become part of his make-up and part of his overall life, his every thought and every feeling.
He had almost gotten used to it by now. It had almost become a part of the new and far from improved Jared that had taken over his life post London. That and the ridiculous amount of crying he was doing these days. Back in the good old days, he had never really been a big crier. Years seemed to pass by without him shedding a tear, but these last many months had seen him bringing out the waterworks so many times he had probably set a new personal record.
Luckily for him, no one gave him too much shit about it.
Suddenly, the door to the room opened very gently, making it apparent that the person on the other side was being careful not to make too much noise. The man he had been waiting for appeared in the doorway and Jared found himself settling slightly at the sight alone, a tiny shred of safety stirring within him.
Colin came into the room fully and looked at the bed’s occupant, wanting to see if he was awake or asleep. Meeting eyes that were open and aware, Colin’s face was overtaken by a tender smile. Yet there was more.
So much more. Jared – for the first time in quite a few years – could not read Colin’s expression. He simply did not recognize it. But for some unknown reason, it made him feel warm inside. There was soul, anguish, relief and love – a whole lot of love – in the deep and dark brown eyes. Colin looked at him as though he was the reason behind the sun shining and yet, there was a profound sadness hiding in his expression.
“Hey,” Jared whispered softly, feeling slightly confused. There was no response though. Not turning on the light, the other man merely stepped closer to the bed and a second later he had stripped down to his boxers and was crawling under the covers. Before Jared had a chance to react, two arms unapologetically snaked around his waist and he was pulled back into a tight embrace, the firm, warm and so very familiar body behind him bringing him home.
They rested in silence for a few minutes, before Colin suddenly whispered, “I’ve probably never told you this before, but… I’ve never gotten that whole love thing, before I met you.”
It was such an odd thing to suddenly blurt out and there was a part of Jared that wanted to question it and dig around a bit more to solve this, but another part, a louder part, did not care about the time and place and as Jared closed his eyes, he felt his heart lighten.
Abruptly and for the first time in their many days of sleeping in the same bed, Jared changed the game just slightly. For the first time, he changed position and turned around so that he was facing Colin and looking right into his eyes. These past many days, Jared had only allowed Colin to hug him, he had not been interested in hugging back or showing affection in an obvious way. A pensive frown was on the angular face accompanied by a rawness that Colin had not seen for a while. For many years, in fact. Jared began worrying his lower lip with his teeth and it was obvious to the younger man that the singer had something he needed to say, yet he was not sure how to proceed. At this point, Colin knew better than to push. He had all the time in the world.
The second surprise came when the comfortable weight of a palm resting on his waist suddenly disappeared. A second later, a careful, hesitant hand with long and slender fingers ever so gently brushed a strand of hair out of Colin’s face, in a move that felt so much like déjà vu that Colin’s heart almost broke in his chest. It had been so many years since the last time Jared had done that.
Colin’s expression must have given something away, because Jared’s hand fell away as though he had been burned and a deeper sadness settled in the blue eyes. Colin was just about to open his mouth and apologize for a slight he was not sure he had committed, when Jared spoke.
“Tell me that things will get better? That you and I will get there in the end?” The singer’s voice was so very soft, never straying above a whisper, yet the emotion in it was unfathomable. “Because I don’t think I can live with you and me not existing after all this is over. I needed you before. I’ve always needed you, Colin, but this time I don’t think I can go on living like before. I need you. I really fucking need you in my life and in my arms and in my heart…” Jared sounded close to tears and Colin did not hesitate for a second. He pressed a kiss to Jared’s lips and then he pulled the man close to him. As close as he could without hurting him and pressed yet another kiss into his hair.
“I’m not going anywhere, love. And this is not over, not by a long shot! You and I are stronger than all of this, I promise you that.”
Jared hugged Colin back as hard as he could, feeling the sentiment deeply. There was still so much uncertainty in his life and he knew that was still a long time to go before that changed. But he was willing to fight to get some things back. His heart could take nothing less.
1 week later
Colin could not remember the last time he had felt this wretched. The bedcovers felt clammy and sticky with sweat – yet at the same time ice cold and unable to assist him in stopping the shivers that ran along every single pathway of his nervous system. A dull ache was pumping in his veins and throbbing in his head. In addition, there was no denying the overpowering nausea forcing his stomach into a painful knot.
He had feared that this would happen.
Alicja had spent the last week in New York doing a few castings and a photo shoot, making Henry Colin’s responsibility for those days, something he had no problem with at all. He loved both his boys fiercely and any time spent with them was good time. The last two days, however, had been spent in the king size bed, watching DVD’s, reading stories and sleeping. His little guy had picked up a nasty bug at day care and he had been feverish and unable to keep anything down.
Yesterday after dinner, Colin had dropped off the still sickly Henry with his newly returned mother, the little boy happy to see his mommy again. Colin had felt a tickle in his throat as he drove away from the home that had once been his own, but he had pushed it out of his mind and returned to his apartment. Alicja still lived at their formerly shared LA residence and he had no plans to kick her out at any point. He knew how much she liked that house and how comfortable Henry was there. Moreover, seeing as he was the one who left her – with very little warning – he really did not want to cause her more trouble or complicate her life any further. He knew he was in the wrong.
Yet, he was still amazed at how well they had transitioned from being a couple to being friends who shared an amazing son. There were very few hurt feelings and Colin was happily surprised at how much better they connected now, compared to before.
The moment Colin set foot in LA after returning from his first bedside vigil in London, he had started looking for a new place to live. From the brief back and forth he had had with the mother of his youngest child, she had made it crystal clear that she did not want him to return to their shared life. They had been building up to a break up for quite a while, but neither of them had expected the circumstances that brought them there. Alicja knew where Colin’s heart laid and she wanted to let the man go. No one desires to be second best in any scenario and the young woman wanted her own freedom to search for something better. She did not want to stand in Colin’s way and Colin did not want to stand in hers.
Colin was not exactly strapped for cash and that made it easy for him to find something temporary that still had all the trappings of a modern home. He had found what he was looking for rather easily – or Claudine had. It was not something he planned to spend the rest of his life in, but it made do. A penthouse apartment on the fifth floor of a rather cozy residential area in the heart of Beverly Hills, fully furnished and with a not too shabby view of the expanse that was Los Angeles. In his bedroom alone, there were four beautiful overhead windows that allowed in the bright sunlight.
Something that Colin really hated right now.
His head felt like it was close to exploding. Rolling over in bed, he looked at his watch and he was surprised to see that it was noon. He was by no means an early riser in the same regard as Jared, but that did not mean that he slept the day away either. He was usually wide awake at nine – ten at the latest. But apparently, his body had craved the extra rest.
He was definitely ill. Whatever had ailed Henry had made the jump to him as well. He was just happy that his immune system had postponed breaking down until after his son had left. Taking care of an ill toddler while being ill yourself was definitely undesirable.
Lying back, he took one deep breath after another as he tried to force down his nausea, but it was no use. With a groan, he staggered out of bed and hurried into the adjacent bathroom where he released what little content he had in his stomach. It was not a lot and before long, he was dry heaving as his body tried to turn inside out. After several painful minutes, his stomach finally gave up and exhaustion took over. He slumped to the side and leaned his forehead against the cool tiles of the bathroom wall.
He had rested there for a small lifetime when he suddenly became aware of his cellphone wailing on the nightstand, vibrating and coming close to sliding off and falling to the floor. Colin did not even attempt to walk upright, instead he crawled back into the bedroom. Reaching his bed, he leaned against it as he pressed accept call, putting the phone to his ear.
“Huh?” Not his most eloquent greeting but he did not have energy for anything better.
Such a sweet voice. Just hearing it made him feel a bit better.
“Hey,” Colin echoed, this time with slightly more gusto.
“You okay?” Jared asked softly.
“Henry got you too, huh?”
“Definitely.” Colin groaned as he pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hand. “I’m not coming over today, that’s for sure. I feel like shit.”
“Don’t worry about it, Colin, just get some more rest, it’ll make you feel better,” Jared answered and Colin took comfort from the caring tone of voice he could hear over the phone, appreciating it more than the other man likely knew. The words were standard and could have been said by anyone, but there was a particular tone of voice, which only the ones who knew Jared well had ever heard. It was for family only and it warmed Colin’s heart that they had managed to reach the point where Colin was allowed to hear it again.
“Thanks, Jay. I’ll talk to you tomorrow; I’m heading back to bed.”
The call disconnected and Colin pulled himself up on his bed once more, creeping under the covers. Letting out a sigh, he curled into a ball and re-invited the slumber that had claimed him before.
In all their many years together, Jared had a hard time remembering when a single week apart was enough to make him feel this out of sorts. He had always loved Colin’s company and he had always felt entertained and content when they were together, but a week apart had been a minimum for most of the years they had known each other, so it really should not be noticeable. Well, he also blamed the lack of work and appointments for making him feel bored and somewhat lonely. Usually, he himself would have been too busy to even fit in more than two or three phone calls, which really brought home just how much his life had changed and how utterly everything had been turned on its head.
It had been an hour since he closed the call. And it had been a week since he saw Colin last.
Craning his neck, he looked upwards at the massive building in front of him. It was the first time he had ever been here. He knew of the address, sure, yet he had never set foot here. Colin had always come to him and not the other way around.
But it was time to change that.
In fact, save for the necessary medical check up’s, Doctor Stahl’s office and the trip to the label’s headquarters, this was the first time he had left his house since returning from London. He only left for business and never for pleasure. No trips to restaurants, no trips to the store or to other locations. No errands and no strolls in the neighborhood. It was not until he stood on the sidewalk in front of Colin’s home that it occurred to him just how isolated he was from the world these days.
Shannon had dropped him off without a fuss and without any comments at all. He had no idea what had happened between those two, but he was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
He could not help but feel a bit shaky and nervous as he looked around, hoping not to find a pap hiding in a bush nearby. He felt a slight tremor in his body, a discomfort that tagged along with his current fear of exposure. For a long minute he really wanted to call Shannon back here and demand that he returned to pick him up and drive him home. Immediately.
But that would not be fair towards Colin, not fair at all. And after everything his ex had done these past many months, Jared really wanted to give a little back. For once, it was not a choice motivated by guilt and a feeling of not being enough. This time, the motivation that had carried him out of his house/cave was an honest desire to be there for Colin, to make him feel better.
And also, it felt rather great to not be the sick one for once.
Slightly more comfortable with his decision, Jared entered the building and took the elevator to the fifth floor. Shuffling into the narrow hallway on his crutches, he made his way towards the building’s top floor apartment. And that’s where he ran out of good ideas. Sure, he could knock on the door and Colin would likely let him in, but he did not want to interrupt the other man’s rest. Looking around him, his eyes fell on the welcome mat outside the door.
It could not possibly be that easy.
He stepped backwards and with his right crutch, he pushed at the mat, sliding it away. Bingo.
“You’re such an idiot, Colin,” Jared said amusedly.
Leaning down and picking the key up, he unlocked the front door. There was no way he was going to leave it outside for anyone else to find, though, so he pushed the small piece of metal into his back pocket.
Moving around on his crutches, he entered the spacious apartment as silently as possible. It was fully furnished, rather tastefully too, but that did not make up for the complete lack of personality. If it had not been for the many toys strewn about, a handful of dirty dishes in the sink and Colin’s jacket on the back of the kitchen chair, the place would have been utterly soulless. When you had seen as many hotel rooms as he had, you learned to recognize and almost detest the too standard décor.
Walking into the kitchen, he opened the fridge and looked at its contents. It could have been better, but what little there he would make do with. Taking out some fresh fruit, he made a plate of some cut up apples and bananas. He knew from experience what Colin liked when he was ill. A shared past definitely came in handy for moments like these.
Jared knew he could not carry a plate and use his crutches at the same time, so he found some saran wrap and made a little goody bag that he could hold in his hand without too much trouble.
Entering the bedroom, he found Colin curled in on himself, buried in the many blankets. The younger man was very pale and his usually olive skin was covered with a thin layer of sweat, his dark hair matted to his head. It was disheartening to see someone with that much energy reduced to such a miserable state. It was disheartening because it was Colin and he never liked to see any of his loved ones suffering. And Colin was a loved one, a very, very loved one.
Jared walked closer to the bed, doing his best not to make too much noise. Colin was closer to passed out than he was to asleep, but the singer was still careful not to disturb the sick man.
He sat down on the bed and rested his crutches against the nightstand. He could not help but be reminded of the last time he had snuck up on Colin like this. Hopefully, this would be lot a less awkward than that particular night. He was surprised that Colin did not stir, but from the heat radiating off the actors body, the fever still had quite the hold on the younger man.
Leaning back against the headboard, Jared began his vigil. Pulling his Blackberry and his headphones out of his pocket, he pulled up a docudrama and began watching. His phone held a ton of videos, about as many as the smallish memory card could handle. They came in handy when you became stuck in a never-ending series of delays and with the amount of travel Jared once did, situations like those were not exactly foreign territory.
An hour passed with no activity from either of them, as Jared entertained himself and Colin slept, but as the movie finished, Jared felt the call of nature and he made his way into the bathroom. Once done, he aimed for the kitchen again. Pulling out two bottles of water from the fridge, he put them in a plastic bag so that he had a chance to carry them with him. Looking around the big kitchen, he rummaged through the cabinets looking for the shelf that carried aspirins and other home remedies. Finding them in the cabinet above the sink, he put them in the plastic bag as well.
Returning to the bedroom, he was surprised to walk in and find his favorite pair of brown eyes open and watching him.
Jared could not help but smile.
“Hey, sleepy head.”
Colin smiled back as he sat up properly in bed. “How long have you been here?”
“A while,” Jared said as he moved closer. As he reached his side of the bed, he let his crutches lean against the nightstand once more and sat down next to Colin.
There was a moment of comfortable silence, as they both took a breath and let the world be what it was.
Colin felt a bit better. His head still ached, his chest felt rather congested and his stomach was not exactly cheering, but compared to before, it was still better. He could not deny that he was incredibly happy that Jared was actually here. As tough as things still were for the singer these days, no one would ever have demanded that from him. Colin least of all.
“I got you some aspirin,” Jared remarked as he leaned over the side of the bed, picking up the plastic bag and removing the pill glass along with the water, before holding them up to Colin like a prize. “And I even have some fruit over here as well if you regain your appetite,” he added, gesturing towards the nightstand.
The Irishman happily accepted the pills and the water felt nothing short of heavenly going down his throat. Putting the bottle away, he leaned backwards again and his eyes closed.
Jared was just about to assume the younger man had fallen asleep, when Colin whispered, “Sing me something?”
“I’m sorry?” Jared exclaimed, more than a little surprised. Even though in hindsight, he should not have been. He had sung for Colin quite a few times before, in times of sickness, in times of happy relaxation and even in times of building passion. It had always been such a casual and natural thing for him to do. He had always loved to sing, but even more, he had always loved to sing and be listened to by individuals who enjoyed it and approved. Someone might call it an ego thing; he had no idea if they were right about that. It was not something he had analyzed so much, but when it came down to it, what in his eyes drove it, had always been the simple gratification, fulfillment and acceptance from the people he loved that drove him.
But that was back then. This was now. As in right now.
Colin had opened his eyes and he looked at Jared with clear, expectant eyes. There were no judgment and no pressure, just an acknowledgment of his request and an acceptance of whatever Jared chose to give him.
“I don’t know...” Jared whispered and looked away. He could not deny that he felt put on the spot, but even more, he could not deny how much he felt like a failure.
Colin could see the emotions playing in the big blue eyes. The despondency and the degradation most of all and he did not like it one bit.
“I will never, ever, force you, love. But I will also not deny how much I have missed your voice.” Colin said simply. Boldly, he reached out and grasped Jared’s hand, which had been resting on the singer’s thigh. Jared tensed for a second, but as Colin intertwined their fingers, he visibly tried to relax himself.
There was a long period of silence. Both men were leaning against the headboard, Jared looking straight ahead and Colin looking at Jared.
Jared licked his lips and opened his mouth slightly and Colin was sure he was about to get his wish fulfilled, but nothing happened.
Eventually, Jared turned away.
Colin gave the hand he was holding in his own a gentle squeeze before closing his eyes and leaning back against the headboard, intent on getting some more rest. A part of him wanted to implore Jared, try and convince him that it was okay and that he should give it a go, but these past few months had given him a new perspective and a new way of approaching the man he loved. As always, there were many words he wanted to say, but he knew that it would be wiser to give Jared some space and the freedom to proceed as he wished.
“Aside from yours and his’ unlucky infection, I assume you and Henry had a good week?” Jared asked softly, bringing Colin’s focus back to the present and to the presence in his bed. He recognized the attempt at a comfortable change of subject and the effort guided towards a relaxed conversation. And he was okay with it.
“He’s the greatest,” Colin answered, always happy to talk about his boys with the one man in the world he wanted to share them with for the rest of his life. “He’s so intuitive and such a happy little guy. You’d love him,” he said fondly.
Jared smiled happily, exited that Colin never hesitated in trying to connect him to the most important part of his life. It honored him that the younger man considered him worthy of that despite his rather miniscule experience with children.
“That I don’t doubt. You’re not the brightest crayon in the box but your genes aren’t half bad.” Jared teased, unable to help himself, as Colin had a way of making him feel oddly comfortable. Along with Shannon, he had an ability to make Jared peek out of his shell, no matter how far back he was hiding.
“Thanks a lot, dear, you always have a way of making me feel loved,” Colin groused back, but not before giving Jared a gentle shove, almost pushing the grinning singer off the bed.
Giving a peace offering, Jared shifted on the bed and leaned his head on Colin’s shoulder. Squeezing the man’s hand, Jared softly said, “You’re a really good dad, Colin, and with you in his life, Henry is going to be a terrific young man.”
Touched, Colin pressed a kiss against Jared’s crown as he thanked the higher powers in this world that the man resting next to him was once more a part of his life.