“I’m not sure why I’m here.”
Jet let out a slight grunt of exertion as he said, “To clarify, Juno, are you referring to your position at this very moment or in a more existential sense?”
“The first one. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to talk about that second one,” Juno answered as he watched the man underneath him, amazed that he still seemed to retain the ability to speak in full sentences despite their current activity.
“Juno, I am certain we have already discussed this. We are here, in part, because you have disclosed to me how much better you feel after we are done.”
Juno watched a bead of sweat slide from the Big Guy’s forehead into his hair and grumbled, “Don’t let it go to your head. Also, I’m pretty sure you’re exaggerating my actual words.”
“Regardless, my point still stands.”
“Yeah, yeah. I wasn’t talking what we’ve been doing these past few nights in general, anyway.”
“Then to what are you referring?”
“This,” Juno said, gesturing down at the barbell holding an obscene amount of weight that Jet was currently bench-pressing with relative ease. “Why am I here spotting you? Is it so I can, what, have a front row seat if this bar with, like, a million pounds drops and I’m unable to keep it from crushing your chest?”
“It is safest to practice weight-lifting with a partner. Do not sell yourself short, Juno.”
“Don’t sell myself short? Are you kidding? This thing weighs more than me right now.”
“Yes, but you would be astounded what a person can achieve with proper motivation and a timely surge of adrenaline.”
“Oh my god,” muttered Juno, “And they say I don’t have any sense of self-preservation…”
Jet gave one last small grunt as he finished his set and racked the weights without assistance. Sitting up, he ignored Juno’s last comment. “Now, I believe it is your turn.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Juno started to carefully remove the majority of weight from the bar. “Give me a hand, would you?”
He was halfway through his set—and struggling significantly more than Jet had—when he absently heard the door open, his focus mostly on eking out another one or two reps before his arms gave out.
However, he snapped to attention when a voice that he immediately recognized said, hesitantly, “Ah, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Juno racked the barbell and sat up in time to see Peter turn to leave. “Wait.” Peter froze, back to him. “Were…you looking for me?”
“Yes, but I can see that you’re busy. I’ll find you later.”
“No, we’re mostly done here anyway,” said Juno, trying to keep his voice light.
Jet, quick on the uptake as usual, started to gather his gear. “Yes, I believe we are done. Juno? Thank you for the workout. I will meet you here tomorrow after dinner?”
“Yeah, sure, Big Guy.”
Jet nodded and started for the door. “Good evening, Peter,” he said as he passed the other man on his way out.
“Good night, Jet.”
The door closed after Jet, leaving Juno and Peter in relative privacy.
“You know,” said Peter conversationally as he walked over to one of the unused weight benches—Juno noted that his stride, though stiff, seemed a bit smoother—and took a seat, “I have to admit that I didn’t fully believe Rita when she informed me that you had been spending your evenings here.”
“Why? You don’t think I’d be into working out?”
Peter shrugged one shoulder. “It’s not something you’ve ever mentioned.”
“The Big Guy caught me in here once and got it into his head that I wanted to get into some sort of routine,” Juno admitted. “Unfortunately, he’s pretty persuasive.”
“Yes, that he is.”
“Why are you here?” Juno asked, grabbing his towel and wiping his face.
“To be honest, my main intention was to return this,” he replied, holding up one of the gym’s elastic exercise bands. “Vespa and Buddy are having a date night of sorts. I told Vespa that I could manage her prescribed stretching exercises on my own for at least one night.”
“But you said you wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes. More specifically, to ask a small favor.”
“I…may have over done my exercises slightly,” he said, reaching up to rub at his shoulder and sounding abashed. Juno raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue. “I’m due for one of the analgesics that Vespa has prescribed but I’m having difficulty opening the bottle one-handedly.”
Juno felt the corner of his mouth quirk upwards. “You’re telling me that Peter Nureyev, master thief and escape artist extraordinaire, hasn’t figured out the trick to opening a bottle of pills with one working arm?”
“I’ll have you know that such a skill isn’t markedly relevant in my usual line of work,” Peter sniffed dismissively.
“Well, lucky for you, it is in mine.” Juno stood up. “C’mon, let’s go impart some of my hard-won wisdom unto you.”
“Thank you, Juno,” said Peter, pushing himself into a standing position with a slight groan. “Though, no offense, I hope I don’t have reason for such a skill to become useful in the future.”
“You going to make it back to your room okay?”
“Admittedly, not very quickly, but yes, of course. I made it here, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, because you have such a great track record with not re-breaking your bones.” Juno hit the mechanism to open the door and then stood to the side to allow Peter to proceed him out into the hall. “I say this a lot, but I actually mean it this time when I say that I’m pretty sure Vespa will kill you if you do it again.”
“Juno, we’ve already discussed this: at this point, my bones have been very well stabilized. The only real limitation to ambulation is discomfort.”
Juno snorted, “Yeah, that’s pretty much the biggest understatement ever.”
“You’re talking to a connoisseur of broken bones, here. There were a couple of times I had fractures that were too severe for bone sealant and needed surgical fixation. I know how agonizing even fixated fractures are for at least a week after fixation.”
“I also suspect,” Peter said, limping slowly alongside Juno, “that, of all people, you understand how even more agonizing it is to be confined to a bed for any period of time.”
Juno hummed in agreement. “Yeah, that’s a fair point.” He glanced at Peter and noted that his jaw was clenched in pain and his eyes were narrowed in focus that he, from past experience, suspected was from the constant calculation of how to place each step in order to minimize the discomfort. “Need a hand?” he asked, taking care to keep his tone light.
“No, thank you Juno. I’m quite alright.”
Juno stopped. “Nureyev, your limping is making me hurt.” Then, when Peter continued walking, Juno added, voice low and concerned, “Peter, don’t be an idiot.”
Peter stopped. “Fine,” he sighed, raising his left arm slightly. Juno ducked under it and placed his arm around Peter’s waist, taking on some of his weight. Together, they continued their slow progress to Peter’s room.
Once inside, Juno helped Peter sit on the edge of his bed and the grabbed the empty glass on his nightstand.
“You don’t have to, Juno,” called Peter as Juno went to fill the glass from the faucet.
“I vote we skip the part where you protest me helping you,” said Juno, placing the glass back on the night stand. He picked up the bottle of pills and cracked it open with the ease of long practice.
“Very well.” Then, eyeing the open bottle in Juno’s hands, added, “I thought you were going to teach me how to open that single-handedly.”
“I can, if you want,” said Juno. He braced himself before adding, “Though, it’s kind of a painful trick and…I’m more than happy to open it for you when you need?”
Peter looked up at him, startled. “I’d hate to have to ask that of you, Juno.”
Juno shrugged. “It’s no big deal.”
“Then, in that case, I suppose we can postpone the lesson. To be honest, I’d like to avoid further aggravating my shoulder for the night.”
Juno peered at the label and then shook three tablets into his palm before passing them over to Peter, who tossed them back. Juno handed him the glass of water.
“Thank you, Juno,” Peter murmured as he handed the glass back. Juno placed it back on the night stand and stood, awkwardly, as Peter toed off his shoes and slowly shifted to position himself under the covers.
“Is there anything else you need before I go?” ask Juno, still standing in the middle of the room and feeling awkward for it.
Peter spent several seconds slowly inching himself into a recumbent position against his pillows before letting out a measured breath. “Only for the medicine to kick in.” He looked at Juno and said, somberly, “Though, if you wish, I’d enjoy your company.”
Juno hesitated for a moment before allowing himself to say, “Yeah, sure.” He went to strip off his shirt when a realization made his heart sink. “Actually, sorry, I’m pretty much a walking biohazard,” he apologized, gesturing at his shirt, which was still damp with sweat.
Peter laughed lightly, eyes shining. “Then, by all means, please go shower. But…the offer to stay doesn’t have an expiration date, Juno.”
“Good to know.” Feeling buoyed by a sentiment that may have been optimism, he allowed himself to lean over Peter and lay a chaste kiss on his lips. “I’ll be right back,” he promised.
Peter, if possible, looked even happier.