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Stay With Me

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It was an ordinary day, before.

 

Diego had a planned therapy session with his family, and afterward another of their semi-forced bonding sessions. Thanks to them allowing Klaus to pick, they had ended up at a bowling alley. Poor taste, but then again, it was Klaus.

 

It was hours before Diego had made it back home, and by then, he was smiling. Spending time with his family was still odd, and stilted, and at times uncomfortable, but it was getting better with every one of their stupid trips and dinners and ‘quality time.’

 

He hung his keys on the peg and dropped onto the sofa, deciding to watch a little television before Sterling’s shift got over. If he was right, his boyfriend would be home in four hours. Plenty of time to relax before then.

 

He clicked on the TV, a news channel popping up and making him roll his eyes. Sterling was vigilant about watching the news, while Diego laughed and called him a stodgy old man. He much preferred his police scanner and the app on his smart phone.

 

The picture on screen caught his attention, though, and he turned up the volume. “..we’re just getting word now that the fire has been blazing for almost two hours. Firefighters are on scene, attempting to put it out and get residents out of harm’s way, but the building is being deemed unstable. We aren’t currently sure if all residents are out, and- oh! One of the firefighters is going back inside!

 

The video feed cut to a group of firemen, clearly arguing with one lone man, who was half way to the building. Their words and faces weren’t clear, but Diego got the gist- the man wanted to go back inside, and nothing was going to stop him. Diego watched with an ache in his chest as the lone firefighter turned on his heel and ran back into the building.

 

The reporter’s voice faded as Diego stared at the blazing building, waiting, waiting for the fireman to reappear.

 

He didn’t.

 

The building collapsed, and the firefighter was nowhere to be seen.

 

Diego didn’t remember leaving the apartment, or the drive to the scene. What he did remember was the thirteen desperate calls he made to Sterling, each going unanswered.

 

Hi, you’ve reached Sterling, I can’t come to the phone right now, but leave a message and I’ll get back to ya as soon as possible.

 

----

 

Diego barely remembered how he got there, at the crime scene tape, arguing with one of the cops on scene. “You don’t fucking understand, let me through! I need to get through!” He didn’t know how to articulate exactly why he needed through, but his hands were itching to draw his knives to show this idiot uni just how serious he was.

 

The cop rolled his eyes. “Look, kid,” Diego saw red, and the cop sighed, “I can’t just be lettin’ anyone through. This is still an active fire, and we gotta let the professionals deal with it.”

 

“My boyfriend is one of the professionals!” Diego didn’t realize how loud he had become until the cop flinched at the sound of his desperate cry. “He’s not responding, he’s… I need… Please.”

 

The cop’s face softened, and he sighed heavily. “Hold on, kid,” he said quietly, and this time the infantilizing nickname didn’t bother Diego. His gaze stayed on the cop as he drew his walkie. “Charlie, send one of your guys to me. I’ve got a hysterical civilian, says he’s datin’ one of your guys and he’s unresponsive.”

 

Diego heard the affirmative, his breath coming a little easier now that he was about to get answers. Hell, he thought with forced humor, it might even be Sterling coming to reassure him. His boyfriend would give him that disbelieving look he so excelled at, call him an idiot in that cowboy accent, and Diego would feel better.

 

Except that the firefighter who was walking up to him most decidedly wasn’t Sterling. It was one of the rookies who looked up to his boyfriend like a god. Jamison. He looked like hell, and his face was tear-stricken. He took one look at Diego and broke into fresh sobs. “Let him through,” Jamison said, somehow still commanding even while crying.

 

The cop hesitated, but ultimately acquiesced.

 

Diego couldn’t move for a long moment. Because the look Jamison was giving him. It was the look of someone with bad news, with horrible news, and there was only one firefighter who had been in the building when it crumbled, and… and there had only been one firefighter in the building when it crumbled.


“No,” Diego choked out, stumbling forward. He shook his head violently, grabbing Jamison’s shoulder and shaking it. “ No.” Jamison nodded miserably, and Diego’s cry was piercing. “ NO!

 

Diego thought he had known ultimate loss, when Eudora had died. That emptiness, the guilt, the bone-crushing sadness… But he and Eudora had been broken up for years when she died. The grief he had felt was losing his friend, his ex, someone he hadn’t been close to in so long and never would be again.

 

It was still one of the most painful experiences he had ever had, but it didn’t hold a candle to this. This gaping hole in his chest where his heart used to be. Every fiber of his being was revolting, and it was hard for Diego to draw breath, knowing that it had been Sterling, inside of that building.

 

Diego was only vaguely aware that he was being steered around, until he came face to face with his boyfriend’s squad. He didn’t know how long it had been since he had been blissfully ignorant, since his heart had been ripped out of his chest.

 

He didn’t know how long he stood there, against the firetruck, watching as Sterling’s coworkers, his friends, his brothers, put out the fire that had consumed him. He watched with morbid curiosity as the teams of firefighters and cops dug through the rubble to find Sterling’s body, because he was one of their own. He didn’t want to stick around to see the remains, he didn’t think he could handle it, but his body refused to cooperate. He was stuck in place, the hole in his chest aching fiercely.

 

The search seemed to last forever. No one suggested giving up, and Diego knew it was because Sterling was one of their own. If he had allowed himself to feel, the irony would have made him snort. Being one of their own didn’t stop them from allowing him to run into that building. They allowed him to die, but wouldn’t stop in searching for the husk of who Sterling used to be.

 

Diego was about to leave, to slip out of the whole mess and do.. something, when a shout pierced the air. A loud, triumphant shout.


“We’ve got him! He’s alive! Medic! We need a medic!

 

Diego had never run faster. He had to make sure, to see for himself - it didn’t compute, there was no way Sterling could have survived, and yet… he had to have, because Diego was still breathing, and there was no living in a world without Sterling.

 

He found the group surrounding Sterling in time to see them lifting Sterling’s facedown body onto a stretcher. Beneath him… was a little girl, maybe five years old, crying and bruised but otherwise unhurt. Sterling’s body had protected her from the flames and the rubble.

 

He didn’t have the time to waste on this little girl who was alive and well, when the firefighters were picking up the stretcher carrying his unconscious boyfriend. He clenched his fists in an attempt to control the violent tremors wracking his body, and followed the stretcher all the way to the ambulance that was waiting on the street.

 

The paramedics took over, loading Sterling into the back, while one looked at the gathered crowd. “We’ve got room for one to ride with him, who’s it gonna be?”

 

Diego didn’t give anyone much of a choice, pushing his way forward with a force he hadn’t known he had possessed, and climbing inside the ambulance. Sterling looked horrible, and it physically hurt to look at him, but not as much as it did believing he was dead. He forced his discomfort to the side, taking each rise and fall of Sterling’s chest as a small victory.

 

The paramedics were saying something, but none of it registered to him. He measured his breaths by Sterling’s, petting his boyfriend’s hair once he was free from his mask. “It’s gonna be okay, baby,” he whispered, his traitorous voice cracking. “You’re gonna be fine.”

 

Before the last word had left Diego’s lips, Sterling flatlined. His heart stopped fucking beating, and Diego stopped breathing. The paramedics shifted into overdrive, pushing him out of the way, and he watched from over their shoulders. “You don’t get to leave me,” he cried, and Sterling’s limp body jumped as one of the paramedics shocked him with the paddles. “Not like this, not yet, you stubborn son of a bitch!” Diego’s voice was thick with emotion, and the paramedics shocked Sterling again. “Please… please. Don’t leave me.”

 

The monitor was silent for the longest moment of Diego’s life, before the steady beeps of Sterling’s heartbeat showed up again.

 

They made it to the hospital without anymore scares, and he was ushered out of the vehicle while Sterling was pushed into the trauma bay. Diego tried to follow, but a doctor caught him by the shoulders. “You can’t go where he’s going, son,” the kind, stern voice said, and Diego felt himself wilt.

 

He allowed himself to be directed into a chair in the waiting area by some faceless person - they were all faceless, because he couldn’t concentrate on what they look like, he couldn’t feel, couldn’t breathe.

 

He knew that he should be calling someone, Sterling’s family, even his own, but all he could do was stare at the patch of ugly carpet beneath his feet. He was vaguely aware of Sterling’s squad arriving and filling the mostly empty waiting room, but he couldn’t pay attention to them.

 

He kept his silent vigil, until a nurse stopped in front of him, hours ( days? months?) later.

 

“Sir?” She said softly, as though she was afraid Diego would break, and Diego was pretty sure that was a fair assumption. He couldn’t imagine what he looked like, and he didn’t have it in him to care. “Mr. Sterling is out of surgery. If you would like, you can see him.”

 

A small, miniscule weight lifted from Diego’s shoulders, and he wanted to sob, because Sterling was alive, he wasn’t dead, he had a chance - but he was too numb to do anything but nod, and follow silently behind the nurse as she lead him to Sterling’s room.

 

Diego thought he would feel better when he saw Sterling, had the proof in front of his eyes that Sterling was alive.

 

What he saw brought him no comfort.

 

Sterling had always been larger than life, tall and broad and taking up more room than he had any right to, but there, in that moment, he looked so small. Unconscious against the stark white sheets on the hospital bed, Sterling didn’t resemble the man Diego loved at all. He was hooked up to a multitude of tubes and wires, monitoring his every function, and casts encased his leg and arm. He was so pale, drained of the healthy glow Sterling possessed at all times, and it hit Diego then that Sterling might not wake up. That it was a question of if, not when.

 

The sobs came then, with the realization. He fell into the chair by Sterling’s bedside, clutching his boyfriend’s cool hand in his. He stroked the rough skin, clinging to it like he was drowning and Sterling was the only hope for him.

 

Which, he thought somewhat hysterically, isn’t far off from the truth. Before Sterling, he had been a complete mess. Not to say he still wasn’t, but Sterling steadied him. Made him better. Diego choked on a sob, wondering momentarily if he had ever been able to do the same for his boyfriend.

 

“You know,” Diego said, some time, hours, or days, after, when the sobs died away. He had been staring intently at Sterling’s face for at least an hour, watching for any sort of change.


There was none, but he kept watching anyway. “You know,” he repeated, swallowing the lump in his throat. It was never this quiet between them, and the absence of Sterling’s silly humming or needling at him to just get to the point, it hurt, more than Diego could have said. “This is usually your job.” He squeezed Sterling’s hand lightly, the pad of his thumb brushing over Sterling’s palm. “Comforting, I mean. You’re so good at it.” He hummed as he brought Sterling’s hand to his lips. His eyes welled up with fresh tears. “I hate that it took this for me to be on the other side. But I’m here for you, plateado, all you gotta do is just wake up.”

Chapter Text

It had been four days since the fire.

 

Four days in the hospital, four days of Sterling unconscious, four days of nothing changing.

 

The first night, a nurse had tried to get him to leave.

 

“Visiting hours are over, dear,” the nurse in the doorway said, but Diego didn’t pay any attention. His focus was on Sterling’s unmoving face, on stroking his unbroken arm in the same way Sterling used to do for him.

 

The nurse cleared her throat. “I said, visiting hours are over, honey. You’re not married, so you have to go home for the night.” She sounded apologetic, at the very least, Diego thought absently, not moving an inch or showing any sign that he heard her.

 

She was beginning to become impatient, though, it seemed. “You have to leave, sir. Only family can stay overnights.”

 

Diego slowly turned to look at her, his dark eyes blazing. He held Sterling’s limp hand in his own. “He is my family,” he said darkly, a tidal wave of rage flowing over him. He glared, and he was fully prepared to grab one of his knives to make his point for him. The only thing stopping him was the threat of the hospital calling the cops. As much as he didn’t mind spending nights in holding cells, he couldn’t be taken away from Sterling.

 

The nurse’s face softened, and she sighed. “Just tell people you’re his brother,” she said kindly. “If they ask.”

 

Other nurses had tried, but they just sighed at his claim to be Sterling’s brother. After day two, Sterling’s parents had arrived from Louisiana, and told the doctors and nurses that Diego was to be given the same privileges to Sterling that they gave family and spouses.

 

Which made things much easier, because Diego was sure he had traumatized one of the doctors when, not long after he claimed to be Sterling’s ‘brother’, he had kissed him before leaving to find food.

 

Sterling’s parents stayed with Sterling in shifts, most of the day spent with Diego by their son’s bedside, but after one night of staying in the hospital room, they had decided to get a hotel room nearby. Diego still could not be persuaded away from Sterling.

 

It took four days before the brigade rolled in, and Diego really should have expected them.

 

“Alright, it’s time for you to go home and shower,” Allison announced upon entering Sterling’s room, followed by Klaus, Alex, and Vanya.

 

Klaus’ nose wrinkled, and he made an exaggerated face. “Seriously, bro, you reek.” His hand was interlocked with Alex’s, swinging casually, while Alex just frowned and turned his sympathetic gaze on Diego.

 

Diego scowled, tightening his grip on Sterling’s hand. “Fuck you too,” he snapped. Of course he didn’t smell great, he hadn’t had the time to shower. It was more time than he could spare away from Sterling. What if he woke up, and Diego wasn’t there? It was bad enough that he had to leave to eat and use the bathroom.

 

Vanya cleared her throat, quietly, biting her bottom lip. “He would want you to take care of yourself, Diego,” she said softly, with her big brown eyes wide and trained directly on him. He hated whoever had taught Vanya the puppy-dog look. It was hard to say no to.

 

“I can’t leave him.” Sterling’s parents were visiting Sterling’s sister in Jersey, bringing her back to see him, and Diego refused to leave him alone. Surely his siblings could understand that?

 

Allison arched a brow, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m pretty sure I just saw a waiting room full of off-duty firefighters who would jump at the chance.”

 

Diego’s eyes narrowed. As if he was going to trust Sterling with them, after they had allowed this to happen in the first place?

 

Alex’s eyes widened, and he elbowed Klaus. “Okay, so we aren’t going with that idea,” Alex said succinctly. “But, we’re here. Me and Klaus can stay with him, and you and the girls can go and shower and shit.”

 

Diego fixed his glare on Alex, who held up his hands in a ‘what can ya do’ kind of gesture, while Klaus rolled his eyes. “Go home,” he said flatly. “You stink and you look like you’re about to fall over. God, your fumes are probably why he’s still asleep; I would totally stay in a coma if it meant not having to smell you.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, and Diego scowled.

 

“I don’t think that’s how comas work,” Vanya said quietly, frowning at Klaus. Her gaze flickered to Diego, and she bit her lip. “I want to stay with him, too. Klaus, Alex, and I will stay, we’ll be right by his side, okay? And there’s three of us, so nothing bad will happen while you’re gone.” She saw Diego’s hesitation, and added, quite traitorously, “He would be happier to wake up, knowing you were taking care of yourself.”

 

Diego really couldn’t argue with that, because it was true. Sterling would chew him out for how awful he looked, if he was awake. He sighed, his shoulders slumping. “Okay, fine. I’ll go. But you stay with him every minute, and you call me if he so much as twitches. Okay?”

 

Vanya and Alex swore they would, while Klaus just rolled his eyes, but it was enough for Diego. He turned to Allison. “Let’s go.”

 

----


Allison was driving a familiar route, and Diego sucked in a sharp breath. “Take me to the mansion,” he said quietly, tugging his fingers and staring at his lap.

 

Allison’s curiosity was so strong Diego could physically feel it, but she didn’t ask. He let the silence linger for a few more minutes. “I can’t go back there,” he said finally, wincing as his voice cracked. “I can’t go back to our apartment, without him there, okay? Not… Not when he might not come back. I have some clothes left in my old room.”

 

Allison didn’t say anything for a long time, until they were almost at the mansion. “He’s going to wake up.” Her tone was even, as if she was just commenting on the weather.

 

Diego thought of Sterling, pale and still in his hospital bed. It had been four days, and he had shown no signs. He swallowed.

 

Allison turned to face him, after parking her car. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she looked less put together than Diego had seen her in years. It wasn’t until then that he remembered that his family loved Sterling, too.

 

He forced a smile, reaching over and taking his sister’s hand in his. “Yeah,” he said softly. You don’t know that, you don’t know that, you don’t know that. “He will.”

 

Allison smiled, squeezing his hand. She released him, giving him a playful shove. “Now let’s get you cleaned up so you can be there when he does.”

 

----

 

A kid, maybe twenty two, was waiting outside the hospital, pacing anxiously, when Diego and Allison returned. He looked up, caught sight of them, and breathed a sigh of relief.

 

“Diego!” The kid looked at him with haunted eyes. He looked strangely familiar, but Diego couldn't quite place him. “How is he? How’s Sterling? Oh god, I'm so sorry, I’m so fucking sorry.”

 

The choked apology was what made it click in Diego’s brain, and his blood boiled. This was Jared Kaiser, the idiot rookie whose shift Sterling had taken. Diego remembered clearly listening to Sterling tell him about the change.

 

“New kid gave me some sob story about his little girl’s dance recital that he promised to be at,” Sterling drawled with a roll of his eyes. Diego had snickered, running his fingers through his boyfriend’s hair while he whined. “And then come to find out, he really just wanted to go to his friend’s Game of Thrones premiere party.”

 

Diego laughed. “You could just tell him no,” he pointed out with a quirk of his eyebrow.

 

Sterling grinned, looking up at Diego and sticking out his tongue. “Nah. It’s not like I’m doin’ anythin’ that day anyway. But it still ticks me off, him lyin’.” He pushes himself up, crawling into Diego’s lap and smirking. “Besides,” he murmured, pressing their lips together, “what kind of boyfriend would you be if you didn’t listen to me bitch about stupid shit?”

 

You!” Diego spat, reaching for his knife instinctively, but finding nothing. Fuck. He had left his weapons at the mansion, opting to dress only in a comfy hoodie and a pair of well-worn jeans. He roared with frustration, stalking toward the wide-eyed kid and pushing him back, until he was pressed firmly against the brick wall, Diego’s forearm against his throat. “You’re the reason he's in a fucking coma!”

 

Diego faintly heard Allison coming up behind him, nearly flinching when he felt her hand on his shoulder. “Diego, he didn't make Sterling run into that building.” Her voice was quiet but firm, and any other time, Diego would have listened to her.

 

This time, though, he just shook his head stubbornly, pressing his arm harder against Kaiser’s throat. The kid gasped, struggling against Diego’s hold, and a vicious sense of justice washed over Diego. “Without you, he wouldn’t have been at that fire in the first place.” Diego’s voice was dangerously soft. The more Kaiser clawed at his throat, the harder Diego pressed down. Blood was rushing in his ears, and a dark part of him was almost enjoying it. All Diego could think was that Sterling wasn’t going to wake up, he wasn’t going to get better, he was going to have to watch his boyfriend fade before his eyes, and there was nothing he could do about it. But this? This he could do. He had been raised to punish bad guys and killers, and even if Kaiser hadn’t directly pushed Sterling into that building… he was the reason Sterling had been there in the first place.

 

Allison’s hand tightened on his shoulder, painfully, her nails biting through the soft material of his hoodie. Her voice was low and urgent. “This isn't going to make him wake up, this isn't going to get him back. He wouldn't want this!” She inhaled sharply. “Diego, if you kill him, they're going to take you away. They’ll take you away from Sterling, and he’ll wake up without you.”

 

That, more than anything, broke through Diego’s mindless rage, and he stepped back suddenly. Kaiser dropped to his knees, wheezing and gasping for breath as he touched his throat, a bruise already forming where Diego’s arm had been. His stomach tightened. “It should have been you,” he said viciously, a sob building in his chest. He turned sharply, so they wouldn’t see him cry. His shoulders slumped as salty tears fell down his cheeks, the rage leaving him as quickly as it had come. He rubbed his eyes, exhaustion replacing the adrenaline from his anger. “It should have been you,” he said again, softly, sparing the kid one last glance before pushing himself forward, towards the hospital entrance.

 

Diego could hear his sister murmuring apologies, and he would probably feel horrible about his actions later, but in that moment, all he wanted was to get back to Sterling.

 

----

 

Diego woke to a hand carding through his hair.

 

He had fallen asleep in the chair at Sterling’s bedside again, falling forward until his torso was draped across the bed, his head pillowed on Sterling’s thigh. His entire body ached from too many nights like that, and the leisurely petting he was receiving was the best thing he had felt in ages. A low, pleased noise came from the back of his throat, with zero input from Diego himself. He groaned, wondering which of his sisters had come to keep him company - his brothers wouldn’t dare stroke his hair.

 

It had been ten days. At this point, Diego’s hope was beginning to diminish, but, as his eyes fluttered open, he did his cursory check of Sterling’s face, the same still beauty reflecting back at him, just like every other day they had been there. He sighed, burying his face in Sterling’s stomach. He wasn’t sure why he kept expecting there to be a change.

 

“You been sleepin’ for a while,” said a raspy, all-too familiar voice. “And now you’re gonna keep me waitin’ even longer? It’s just plain rude.”

 

Diego’s head shot up, accidentally knocking away the hand that had been in his hair. Sterling stared back at him with a lazy grin, his eyes heavy from the painkillers, but open . “Yuh-yuh-you…” Diego swallowed, his gaze fixed hungrily on Sterling’s face, no longer still, but alive. “Y- I… You’re awake!

 

Sterling winced at the volume, but gave Diego a slow, easy smile. He cleared his throat. “Guess so.” His voice was damaged from the amount of smoke inhalation and lack of use, which they had warned Diego about, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care. Sterling was awake!

 

Mindful of his injuries, Diego threw his arms around Sterling’s neck, burying his face in his neck. Sterling’s small noise of surprise broke the dam inside of Diego, and he started crying in earnest, clutching the front of Sterling’s hospital gown with one hand while the other fisted in his boyfriend’s hair.

 

Sterling was silent for a few moments, just stroking Diego’s hair with his uninjured hand, before laughing nervously. “Di? What's…” he paused to cough into his arm, making a face before continuing. “What’s wrong? I mean, I know I was asleep for a day or so, and I’m the one in the hospital bed, but…” he swallowed, another cough, more intense than the first, wracking his chest. “Are you okay?” Sterling’s voice was tentative and tight with worry, and it dawned on Diego that he didn’t know.

 

Diego pulled back, tears blurring his vision as he frowned at his boyfriend. He bit his lip, reaching down to grab his bottle of water. He twisted off the cap, mindful of Sterling watching him, and held it up to Sterling’s lips.

 

Sterling glared, very clearly unhappy about being treated like he couldn’t do it for himself, but Diego just pushed the bottle closer, pressing into his plush lips this time. “Drink,” he ordered, giving no room for argument.

 

Sterling rolled his eyes, but complied. After he stopped attempting to argue, he seemed pretty damn thirsty. He finished the bottle in four gulps, and Diego smirked. “See? Better to just listen to me in the first place.”

 

Sterling rolled his eyes, again - seriously, was excessive eye rolling a side effect of comas? - and grinned, breathing heavily. “Don’t,” he began, his eyes falling closed for a moment as he inhaled deeply. “Don't go get… gettin’ cocky.”

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Diego leaned forward, brushing his lips over Sterling’s, his gut tightening as he thought about the conversation that they needed to have.

 

“Sterling,” he began, slowly. “You’ve been unconscious for nine days. Almost ten.” He swallowed. “We weren’t… I mean, they- fuck!” Diego’s voice cracked with emotion, and he shook his head. His next words were in a broken whisper. “We weren’t sure you were going to wake up.”

 

Sterling seemed to age years as he processed that, and it killed Diego to watch. Sterling seemed to reach some sort of internal conclusion, and shook his head. “No, that’s not… I saw your phone! When I woke up! It said it was Wednesday!” His lips trembled, eyes wide as he stared, horrorstruck, at Diego. “M-my… my shift was Monday, it’s Wednesday, that’s not…”

 

Oh, Sterling. Diego’s heart clenched. “It is Wednesday,” he confirmed sadly. “Wednesday the twenty-fourth.”

 

Sterling’s mouth opened and closed like a fish’s, but it made no sound. Diego was quiet, giving him the time he needed to wrap his head around everything.

 

Diego still wasn’t prepared, when after ten minutes of silence, Sterling’s first question was, “Is Savannah okay?”

 

Diego frowned. “Who?”

 

Sterling made a small, impatient noise in the back of his throat. “ Savannah. The little girl, from the fi- uh, from, you know…” he trailed off, wincing at the pained expression on Diego’s face when he only almost said the word ‘fire.’ “The little girl,” he repeated, desperately.

 

Oh. Her. “She’s fine,” Diego reassured, squeezing Sterling’s hand. “There’s a bouquet of flowers here somewhere from her parents, and they want to come thank you when you’re awake.” He frowned. “Which… you are, now. Shit, I need to get the nurses or a do-”

 

Sterling cut him off, shaking his head. “Not yet,” he mumbled, bringing Diego’s hand to his lips. He made a face, then began coughing again.

 

Diego was out of his seat in an instant, refilling the water bottle in the small sink across the room. He was back at Sterling’s side in a moment, handing him the opened bottle with clear worry in his eyes.

 

Sterling sighed, taking the bottle and taking a long swig. His voice was still raspy, but the coughing went away. He swallowed. “I swear, I’m fine. Just thirsty.” He jutted out his lower lip, and Diego swore. He was a sucker for Sterling’s puppy dog pout, and it was un-fucking-fair for him to use that now.

 

He hesitated to give in, but it was the middle of the night, and Sterling did seem fine, coughing aside, and the doctor had said that might happen anyway. He pursed his lips and sighed. "Fine,” he allowed, scowling. “But I’m getting them soon.”

 

Sterling grinned, and Diego’s scowl deepened. A small flare of anger lit in his belly. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”

 

Sterling shrugged. “My leg, arm, and side kinda ache, but they’ve got me on some good painkillers, so.” He sighed. “I’m fine, Diego, I swear.”

 

Quick as a whip, Diego reached forward and pinched the inside of Sterling’s elbow.

 

Sterling yelped, frowning at his boyfriend. “What did you do that for?”

 

Diego met his eyes with a desperate, pained glare. “If you ever do something like that again, you stupid fucking cowboy,” he threatened, his voice thick and sounding close to tears, “I swear to god, if you ever try to leave me like that again, I- I'll…” his voice faltered, fresh tears gathering in his eyes. He didn't know what he would do if anything like that happened again, and just the mere possibility made his throat close up with unbridled fear.

 

Sterling set the water bottle down, grabbing Diego’s hand and interlocking their fingers. He attempted a small, sheepish smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “And here I thought you were an atheist.”

 

It was a weak joke, but it was what was needed to diffuse the tension, so thick that it could be cut with a butter knife. Diego let out a rather strangled laugh. “You know what I meant.”

 

Sterling nodded. He did. He smiled again, and the storm raging in Diego’s chest quieted to a light rain. “I promise.” Neither of them needed clarification on what he meant, and it eased a fraction of Diego’s anxiety.

 

Sterling jutted out his lower lip once more, shamelessly. “Now will ya get up here and lay with me? You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

 

Diego frowned, eyeing him dubiously, -how were they both supposed to fit without hurting Sterling?

 

Sterling rolled his eyes. “I’m fine. You’ve slept on me before. There’s plenty’a room.” His drawl was thick, and it made Diego woozy, wanting to listen to what he said.

 

Diego heaved a sigh, reluctantly obeying, and crawling onto the bed. He chose Sterling’s right side, figuring he would be less likely to disturb his broken foot than the arm on the other side, and snuggled into his boyfriend’s chest. He was careful to keep his lower half away from Sterling’s, hoping not to jostle his broken leg, and he kept his hand away from the wrapped burn that emcompassed the left side of Sterling’s chest.

 

Sterling’s hand immediately began playing with Diego’s hair, and he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. Sterling pressed a feather-light kiss against Diego’s forehead, and Diego groaned, snuggling impossibly closer.

 

Sterling chuckled. “Alouette, gentille alouette, alouette, je te plumerai,” Sterling sang quietly, his rough voice washing over Diego like a warm blanket. Sterling always sang him silly French nursery rhymes, and it was more comforting than he had realized.

 

Still, he wrinkled his nose, weakly pushing at Sterling’s chest. “‘M not a baby,” he mumbled, barely stifling a yawn. He was so tired, and Sterling was so warm and solid beneath him.

 

Sterling paused, rolling his eyes. “Go to sleep,” he muttered, tugging lightly on Diego’s hair.

 

Diego huffed our a laugh, and he could feel his eyelids getting heavier as he listened to his boyfriend sing. “Je te plumerai la tête. Je te plumerai la tête. Et la tête! Et la tête! Alouette, Alouette.”

 

Diego drifted off, falling into a real sleep for the first time since the fire.