“If you think you’re endangering yourself, you should travel separately.”
That was what Gyro had said to him after they fought Stroheim, but whether or not he meant it didn’t matter. The thought made Johnny's stomach lurch, and for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why. It had been weeks since and the words still returned to bother him, occasionally rearing their head to torment him with the very idea of leaving Gyro behind.
They sat together at their temporary campsite, playing cards as they waited for their freshly caught rabbit to cook. Boiling in a pot beside it was the wild carrot Gyro had found beside the stream.
“Johnny, come here.” He had called over his shoulder earlier that evening, crouching down to look at something. When Johnny reached him he pointed to two white flowering plants beside each other. “Can you tell the difference between these?”
Johnny looked puzzled for a moment. “They’re the same thing, aren’t they?”
“Wrong. This-” Gyro pointed to the plant on the left. “-is hemlock, which is incredibly poisonous and can kill you. And this-” He pointed to the one on the right. “-is Queen Anne’s lace. Otherwise known as wild carrot.”
Gyro pulled up the plant on the right, revealing a thick root Johnny could see as vaguely resembling a carrot.
“I’m gonna show you the difference so if you’re ever alone out here you don’t end up poisoning yourself. Look at the stems, the hemlock has purple spots and is smooth, while the Queen Anne’s lace has a hairs on the stem.” He pointed carefully to the differences and Johnny could see them immediately.
“And can you see the shape of the flowers? The wild carrot is flat, hemlock has separate groups of flowers that are curved.” Gyro picked one of the flowers from the wild carrot and held it up to Johnny, for a wild moment he thought Gyro was offering it to him like some mad gesture of affection, but he was simply trying to give him a closer look. “In the middle here, you can also see one tiny red flower. There are some other differences, but that should give you something to go on.”
“Jeez, Gyro, where do you learn all this shit?”
Gyro shrugged, tossing the flower over his shoulder and leaning down to harvest a few more carrots.
“I’ve led a long and complicated life, Johnny.”
“Oh shut up you dick, you’re only a few years older than I am.” Johnny rolled his eyes and scooted back over to the campsite. Gyro followed him.
“Johnny, you may criticize me but… do you think I carrot all?” Johnny blinked at Gyro for a moment, staring down his stupid grin. “Carrot all… care at all…” Gyro offered.
“Oh I heard you the first time.”
“Not gonna write that one down?”
“No, because that is shit. Your worst one yet.” Johnny snatched the plants from his hand and turned away from him to wash the soil off of them in a bucket of water, Gyro didn’t seem to mind that Johnny hated his joke, he just smiled at the back of his grumpy head.
The carrots were bland, not really anything like the ones they were used to, but they were starchy and filling, which is all that really mattered. They discarded their game of poker to eat, which Johnny was secretly glad about because Gyro was absolutely kicking his ass.
They ate in silence, stuffing their faces desperately; Johnny had never known hunger like it. Growing up in a wealthy family left little room for him to experience the hardships of life like hunger or lack of shelter, and although he’d been on his own for the last two years, this race was the one thing in his life that was teaching him real human experiences. Sharing those difficulties with Gyro made it all seem like an adventure.
After dinner they picked up their cards again and Johnny, sick of losing at poker, decided to teach Gyro how to play go fish.
“Do you have any queens?” Johnny asked.
“Go fishing.” Gyro said, getting it wrong for the fifth time.
“It’s not go fishing, its just go fish.”
“Whatever!” Much to Johnny's amusement he was getting frustrated, and when Johnny laid down his final four cards Gyro threw his remaining deck down, not used to losing for once.
“Vaffanculo. I prefer poker.”
“And what’s that mean, huh?” Johnny smirked, collecting all the cards back together.
“It means ‘you're the best’, my dear friend.” Gyro said bitterly.
“Hm, somehow I doubt that.”
When the hour grew late enough to turn in for bed, the two of them squeezed into their small tent together, sleeping beside each other for warmth.
They had started in separate tents, but while the race wore on, necessity overrode pride, as it often did. The first time was a particularly cold night, Johnny woke up shivering, that wasn’t new, but this time was different, he had never felt cold like this before. It was a cold that reached inside him and grabbed him by the bones.
There was only one way Johnny knew how to warm up quickly, so with determination and his mind made up he threw his blanket around his shoulders and opened the entrance to his tent. It was still the dead of night. There was light snow softly falling, and it had been for a while judging by the layer on the ground around him. As quickly as he could manage he shuffled on his butt across towards Gyro's tent and slipped inside, shutting the fastening tight and turning around to look at Gyro's sleeping figure.
Whether or not Gyro would think it was weird remained to be seen, this was a survival tactic, and neither of them could afford to be fussy right now. This was a matter of life and death. Gyro woke immediately when Johnny laid down beside him, lifting his head slightly, and after a moment of confusion he settled down, allowing Johnny to scoot closer to his warm body.
They retained a respectable boundary at first, hands were kept to themselves, there was no cuddling, it was simply functional. Neither of them mentioned it that night, or any other night when it became a regular occurrence, until Johnny's tent remained packed away for good.
Fighting together, riding together, eating together and now sleeping together, it was a natural progression of things. Neither of them had felt so comfortable with another human being in their lives, and slowly, as they became more familiar with one another, as their bond grew tighter, they allowed the boundaries to be pushed. They faced danger together in the day and at night they held each other close, sharing not only warmth but also an appreciation for the other’s presence. The nights weren’t even so cold anymore, but the routine remained.
The feelings blossomed in Johnny's cold chest before he even realised it was happening, it was weak of him, he knew that. Gyro would hate Johnny if he knew how dearly he cared for him but despite the fear he just couldn’t let it go.
It was a particularly mild night, and the two of them lay tangled together, Johnny's hand running through Gyro's long hair. The older man was sleeping, but Johnny couldn’t. All he could do was lie there, sadly thinking.
It was quiet outside, the world was at peace, and there was nothing to be heard but the soft wind and crickets chirping, but Johnny couldn’t stop the racing thoughts that tripped over each other in his mind.
Gyro would be leaving soon. The race would be over and he would return to Europe, leaving Johnny alone to try and forget the enigmatic Italian with ridiculous gold teeth.
He would miss bickering over shitty jokes and having his ass kicked at poker. The way Gyro taught him all sorts of useless facts about things Johnny had never even known about his own country. The stupid songs he’d come up with to pass the hours.
Johnny turned his face towards Gyro's and squeezed his eyes shut, ignoring the tears that escaped to roll down his cheeks. In his sleep Gyro shifted, pulling Johnny closer and sighing out through his nose, even that tiny action made Johnny's heart ache with longing. How could he ever be apart from him? How was Johnny meant to go on without Gyro at his side?
He must have been squeezing Gyro back a little too tightly because he moved again and rubbed his face against Johnny's wet cheek.
“What’s up?” He asked, voice thick with sleep as he patted Johnny on the shoulder.
“Ain’t you gonna miss it here?” Johnny whispered. It was unspoken but both of them knew what Johnny really meant was ‘Ain’t you gonna miss me?’
“I’ve got nobody, Gyro.”
“You’ve got me.” He mumbled. Being half asleep, he clearly didn’t understand what Johnny was saying, and he said no more before he was back to snoring in his ear.
It hurt. It hurt Johnny so badly. He yearned to be able to just cast aside propriety and simply tell Gyro how sincerely he felt about him, but a deep-set fear gripped his mind, a fear that spoke in his father’s voice. He couldn’t. It wasn’t right, it just wasn’t how things were done. He couldn’t do that to himself and he couldn’t do it to Gyro, so instead he forced himself to settle for quiet embraces and heartache.