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Fortunate Son

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ps: 100% fictional

Fortunate Son

 

by astolat

Fourteen across was auspicious, and he was writing in the p when the left side of the plane sagged out from under them, and they dipped what felt like ten feet all at once. David grabbed for his coffee as it tipped and the dregs ran all over the puzzle book; across the aisle, Archie jerked awake and looked around, sleep-confused, and then said, "Oh my gosh." A long black line of smoke was cutting horizontally across his window.

"Hannah, we need you up here," the pilot said, and the stewardess with the great legs ran down the aisle past them and towards the front of the plane. She stopped long enough to say, "Your seat belts—"

"Do you need help?" David said.

"No, please stay in your seats and make sure your seat belts are securely fastened." She said it like she was reading it off a cue card, and then she ran on into the front of the plane, leaving them alone.

The rest of the leather seats were empty: he rated a private jet now, since the album had gone platinum. The glasses in the shiny, polished-wood bar at the head of the cabin were rattling back and forth in their holders.

"Can we—" Archie started and stopped, and then he said, "do you think we can make a call?"

David took out his phone and tried turning it on. It got a couple of bars. He looked at it, and then he hit Andrew's speed dial with one hand and tightened his seat belt with the other. It went to voicemail, and he wasn't sure if he was sorry about it or not. "Listen, man," he said, trying not to overhear Archie talking to his mom, "I'm fairly sure you'll be giving me shit for this tomorrow, so don't get freaked out, but the plane's having some issues, so, just in case, uh." He stopped and tried to figure out what the hell he wanted to say. "Just in case," he said finally, "tell mom, tell everybody, I'm okay. It's okay. I'd do it all over the same way. I mean, probably I'd take a different flight, but you get it. All right? I love you, man. And I'm glad I didn't get you, because you'd probably say something and I'd start bawling, and fuck that."

He hung up and told himself it was good enough. Archie was still on the phone, half turned away in his seat to hide his face, and David looked out the window to try and give the kid some privacy. It was still pretty much solid gray outside, thick heavy clouds streaming away over the wing of the plane, and he couldn't see the ground. His stomach told him they were heading down, though, and fast.

Hannah came in again, her cheeks with red marks on them like she'd pinched them to bring in some color. "I need you to hang up and listen now," she said to Archie gently, and then she showed them how to take the crash position.

"I have to sit down," she said afterwards. "Remember, once we're down on the ground, you'll want to go straight to the emergency exit and get out of the plane. Don't take any of your things, just go and get a safe distance from the plane. The captain has already notified air traffic control, and they'll be sending a rescue team to pick us up. All right?"

She sat down a couple rows behind them and belted in. The clouds were starting to thin, and he thought he was seeing glimpses of the ground at weird angles, until a gust of wind broke through and he realized he was looking at mountains, huge and gray and white-capped, and the plane wasn't so much above as next to them.

Archie was staring down at the floor, shoulders curled forward, pale and maybe a little green at the edges. David felt the same way. "Hey," he said, and Archie looked up at him. "You want to sing something?"

Archie stared at him, and then he said, "Amazing Grace?"

"Start it off, I'll come in," he said, and Archie swallowed and started in on it, clean from the start as if he were on a stage. It was good. David had to think about the music to keep up, both of them watching each other to try and figure out on the fly which note they were headed for, and then David's face was cold and wet and sticky, and he had to wipe his eyes clean to open them, a sound like a kettle whistling somewhere behind his back.

"Cook!" Archie was leaning over him. "Cook, come on, wake up—Cook!"

"What line are we on," he said, thickly, and realized they weren't moving anymore. The world was hazy gray. His stomach hurt like fucking hell where the seatbelt buckle had dug into it, and his head was pounding. The air was full of bitter smoke laced with a licorice stink, sambuca from the smashed bar.

"Are you okay?" Archie said, edge of panic in his voice. "We have to get out of the plane."

"Yeah," David said, but his fingers didn't want to work. He kept trying to push the seatbelt buckle.

"No, you have to—" Archie said, and finally had to help him get it open.

When David stood up, he sank right back down to his knees without passing Go, falling against the seat in front of him while his head did a three-sixty on his neck, or what felt like it, and half his guts tried to come up. He shut his eyes and clung on to the seats to ride it out, breathing deep through his nose until his stomach quit seizing up and he could take another shot at hauling himself up.

"Come on," Archie said desperately, coughing.

"Yeah," David said again, but he couldn't make his legs move until Archie ducked under his arm and heaved to get him up on his feet. They limped down the aisle to the front of the cabin, to the flimsy door leading to the dining room and the cockpit, and after a struggle they managed to shove it open, pushing against something heavy. They staggered and fell out, smoke billowing out after them, right into snow—snow everywhere all around, and only a few stumpy trees in the distance through the whirling white.

"But—where did the rest of the plane go?" Archie said, already shivering. It was just the tail behind them. The whole front with the wings was gone completely, like someone had sliced it off. There was no sign of anyone else around.

They stood there just watching the snow fall for a few minutes while the smoke cleared out of the cabin behind them. "Maybe we should get blankets?" Archie said.

"Hang on," David said, shoving the words out. With one hand on the plane, he levered himself down and scooped up a handful of snow and rubbed his face with it, breathing deep. It made his skin sting, but it woke him up a little bit, anyway.

They went back inside, and Archie said, "Oh, my gosh—the stewardess—" He headed for the back, and David didn't think quick enough to head him off. "Oh," Archie said, pulling up short as he got to her row, and David caught up too late to do anything more than turn him gently away.

"Don't throw up," David said, rubbing his back. Archie swallowed hard. "Come on, start looking in there." David put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him gently towards the rear supply compartment.

He turned back to Hannah. The shrapnel—he swallowed, feeling pretty sick himself. At least it looked like it'd been quick. He got one of the blankets down and covered her face with it.

"I found a first aid kit," Archie called from the back.

"Yeah," David said, "bring that, that's good."

They took the rest of the blankets, some bottled water, and stuffed some bags of peanuts into their pockets. Then something in the back of the plane creaked noisily, and more smoke started pouring into the back of the cabin and streaming for the open door up front. They broke for the door themselves, coughing and eyes watering, with the black billowing smoke chasing them out.

One foot away from the side of the plane, the wind and cold hit like a solid wall, so fast some of the tears froze on David's eyelashes, and he had to rub them away. The snow had been flattened right around the plane, but after that it was piled thick and heavy. They managed to get up on top of it, but the newest snowfall was soft and fresh, and David kept sinking down to his thighs in it. It was fucking hard work to get every inch, and his thighs were burning with it by the time they got to the trees and collapsed against the first one, panting.

"My phone isn't working," Archie said after a minute, and it took David a few to realize what he was talking about. He dug into his pockets for his own, but it was dead too, screen cracked and bleeding black juice. He tossed it aside.

"They've got to see that, though," Archie said, uncertainly, and David looked back at the plane and the pillar of smoke rising. It vanished into the snowfall overhead.

He leaned back against the tree. He still felt like he was standing somewhere about ten feet outside his own head. He could see Archie looking at him, sideways scared glances, and he knew he had to get it together. "We better try and get under some cover," he said, and he started shoving away the snow around the tree with his legs. They packed it into walls on all three sides until they got down to the dead grass, and then they put one of the blankets down on the frozen ground and sat down with their backs to the tree, wrapped in the rest, with one over their heads.

It was weirdly quiet. The snow muffled everything, covered everything, and only the bitter wind cut through the weird floating feeling David still couldn't shake. He kept getting hit with flashes of the stewardess's ruined face, the blood in a thick line down her chin and purple on her blue uniform. He put a hand over his eyes and pressed down on the lids, like maybe he could squeeze it out of his head. Six hours ago he'd been eating eggs and bacon in a hotel room in New York with a Rolling Stone reporter, feeling like he was pretty hot shit, and he'd never seen anyone killed. Now he was crash-landed in the middle of nowhere with David Archuleta, of all people, and there was a dead woman's blood on his shirt.

It was a whole new level of absurdity, the two of them out here like this. At the tail end of the show, the PR people had really wanted to push the whole brotherly angle, and David had been fine with that—a little good cross-promotion karma never hurt anyone, and the kid was cool, for a seventeen year old. They weren't ever going to be best buds, but they got along, and Archie had loosened up a lot once it got down to just the two of them and he wasn't scared to death of not getting a contract anymore.

But it hadn't been something for real and ever—just a duet, a good show, a month on the media circuit, and done. The only reason they'd been flying together was because Archie had been doing the NYC rounds to promote his Christmas album, and it made sense to share. Except now the kid had probably saved his life, getting him off the plane.

"Thanks, by the way," David said, and looked over when there wasn't any answer; that was when he finally figured out the jittering at his side was Archie shivering so hard he was shaking. The kid was starting to get a dazed glassy look in his eyes.

"Hey," David said, and tugged him over. Archie came unresistingly, and though he tried to say something when David piled all the blankets over him, he couldn't actually get his mouth to form words. "It's okay, hang on," David said, and pulled Archie back against his chest, so they were nested under the whole stack and his legs were outside Archie's.

It was a little weird, but it definitely helped some. After a little while, Archie half turned and tucked in closer against him, and after that David wrapped his arms around him tighter, and both of them curled in even smaller. Finally the shivering started to die down, and David started being able to feel his fingers again, painful and prickly.

"Thanks," Archie said awkwardly. "I can—"

"Relax, man," David said. "Huddling for warmth in a blizzard after a plane crash is totally covered under the guy code."

"Oh, okay," Archie said, sounding really relieved, which almost made David want to laugh, except his head hurt way too fucking much for it. "Um, do you want some peanuts?"

They ate three or four bags each. David still felt pretty sick to his stomach, but he was starving at the same time.

He woke up with a jerk somewhere early in the morning. Archie was awake too, breathing fast and startled. "What was," he said, and the second boom hit and blanked out whatever he was saying, like thunder right over their heads, and the tree at their back shook and dumped some snow on the blankets.

"The plane?" David said, but he didn't really think so. A low hissing sound crawled out from under the wind and got louder, louder, and suddenly it was like being on the side of the road while an eighteen-wheeler blasted by, roaring overhead and the tree creaking. The blankets sagged with snow, although they tried to hold them up, until the faint light blotted out completely.

The noise stopped. "Are we under—we're buried—" Archie said, out of the dark. He had a hand knotted into David's shirt. David was holding on pretty tight himself, though, so he wasn't exactly in a place to criticize.

"Okay," he said. "Okay. We've got air, we can get out. All right?" He couldn't see the nod, but he felt it. "Okay. I'm going to try and work up the tree trunk. Can you keep the blankets up?"

"Yes," Archie said, past the tremble in his voice, and unwound from David to push them up and give him some room.

The snow wasn't packed too tight right above them, but there was a whole fucking lot of it. It was like swimming through mud, and it was almost hot now in their snow cave. There was even sweat running down David's back under his clothes. He pushed the snow out to either side, kind of sitting up against the trunk little by little. "Man, I am so never going to complain about chair squats again," he said when he was braced halfway up, mostly so he could hear Archie laugh, even if it came out a little wobbly. "So hey," he added, "I ever tell you the one about the Eskimo?"

"Um, what?" Archie said.

"So there's this Eskimo tapping on some ice," David said.

"Is this the ice rink joke?" Archie said.

"Man, you're ruining my vibe here," David said, and threw some snow down at him. Archie gave a little hiccup of laughter that sounded more real, and it made David's chest loosen up some.

He was standing straight up before he started to see daylight, though, and it took stretching his arm out and a little jump to break through the top crust and bring in a little air. It was so cold it hurt his throat to breathe it in, and he'd never felt anything better in his life. "I'm through," he called down, the first thing he'd said in a while, saving his breath, and Archie said, "Oh my God," like he really meant it.

David packed the snow away some more, as far as he could reach, and then he slowly squirmed himself back down again into the burrow. While he'd been working, Archie had managed to pack the snow upwards with the blankets and get them almost a roof, high enough he could sit cross-legged. David stretched his legs out, wincing, and propped himself on his side. "Listen, I think I'm going to have to boost you up."

"Then how am I supposed to get you out?" Archie said.

"Just dig from up top," David said. "Once we get my arms clear, I think I can get out, this snow's pretty solid. You think you'll be okay for that long?"

"I'll be fine," Archie said.

He zipped his jacket up most of the way, and they stuffed in the blankets and the bottled water and what was left of the peanuts. "Good look for you, man," David said. "It's the next trend."

"I don't really think so," Archie said, and David cracked up laughing, a lot more than it deserved, but it felt good, especially when Archie said exasperated, "Why is that funny?" and then hit him in the shoulder when he kept laughing, and then gave up and laughed too.

Archie wasn't laughing anymore when David finally managed to crawl out after him and collapse on the snow panting, who the fuck cared if it was cold. "What?" he said, when he'd caught his breath.

"The plane," Archie said, kind of small, and David looked for it. A thin slivery piece of the tail was sticking up out of the snow, like a shark fin breaking the surface. That was it; the rest was completely buried. The clouds had cleared up and it was a sunny day, and a slope of bare rock and snow was going straight up into the sky behind them. Past that it was mountains for miles, blue-gray and covered with snow, all looking exactly the same. No magic helicopters or rescue crews shouting.

"Okay, so, most people would feel pretty screwed right now," David said after a minute, and Archie dropped his head, "but, we won American Idol, and we just survived a plane crash and an avalanche, so I'm thinking our luck's got to be good enough to get out of this."

"What are we going to do?" Archie said. "Are we just—do we wait?"

"I don't know, man, I don't think we can," David said. "We stay out, we'll freeze. We stay under cover, they'll never see us."

"Yeah, I guess, just, people get lost all the time, hiking near me," Archie said. "We don't know which way to go."

"I'm thinking down is pretty safe to start with," David said. He looked at Archie. "Listen—that snow cave's pretty warm, and it's probably safe for a while. If you stick here in case someone finds the plane, and I take a shot, we could double our chances."

"No," Archie said. "No. You could get hurt, and it could snow again here and I could get stuck, and even if someone found me, then we wouldn't know where you were, and if you found someone, maybe you couldn't find the way back—" He stopped and took a deep controlled gulp of breath and slowed down. "No. If we're going, let's go."

"All right," David said, swallowing down the relief. He didn't really want to go it alone himself.

They split one more packet and a bottle, stuffed the blankets into their coats and pulled their hands inside the sleeves. The snow had gotten packed harder by the avalanche, and around the trees it wasn't as thick, but it was still rough going. They took turns going in the lead. Archie didn't break through the top crust as often when he went first, but with the wind right in his face he got cold fast, and it creeped David out how quiet and dull he got.

It didn't feel like they'd gotten that far before it started getting dark again, and even colder. "We better stop," David said. Archie kept trudging on until David reached out and snagged him by the shoulder. "Hey. We need to stop and get under some cover."

Archie just sort of blinked at him dazedly. "Come on," David said, and hauled him over to the biggest tree he could find, an old huge pine with not a lot of snow on the downward side. "Come on, here, start digging," he said, and got him working to move the rest of the snow away. Archie kept stopping and just standing there, sagging against the trunk, and David felt like an asshole making him start again, but he was scared to let him stop moving.

He dug around the other trees and stumps and managed to get a few dead branches, long enough to make almost a lean-to against the tree. He draped three of his blankets over it, and they packed the snow around the bottom and the other side to keep them from flying off. David had to pretty much tip Archie down and roll him inside, the kid was just way too out of it. He squeezed in after and pulled the blankets down behind them, tucking the loose ends under his side to keep them down.

"Hey," he said. "Hey, come on, stick with me here." He pulled the blankets out of Archie's coat and wrapped those around both of them, tugging Archie in close again with one arm while he got another pack of the peanuts out. "Hey. Hey. Talk to me, Archuleta." Archie mumbled something vague and didn't stir. "Okay, man, I'm sorry about this," David muttered, and slapped him hard on the cheek. Archie jerked, and his eyes opened a little. David slapped him again.

"I'm cold," Archie managed to say.

"I know, pal," David said. "Come on, eat this." He got most of the packet into Archie, and the food seemed to help a little. Archie started shivering harder, anyway, which felt like an improvement over not moving, and David wrapped his arms around him and rubbed his back.

He was too cold to sleep himself, and when it finally started to get a little warmer, everything else started to hurt, a slow pins-and-needles burn that started in his lower back, creeping down his thighs and up his spine. He could feel his heartbeat going at his temples, thump, thump, thump, like someone had put a nail right there and was trying to hammer it into his head. He shut his eyes and tried to breathe through it, all the way down to the gut and back out, but his breath kept getting quicker.

"Cook?" Archie whispered, after a while. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," he managed, because he had to be. "Headache."

Archie was silent a moment. "Do you mind if I pray?" he asked.

"Can't hurt," David said.

Archie started to pray softly, more like a conversation than something formal. The words faded in and out for David, but he breathed in time with the rhythm, and somewhere in there he managed to slip under at last.

He woke up a few hours later, still in pitch black, with his stomach knotting up in a cramp of hunger. The headache had faded back, and though he was still sore, it was more like after a rough workout, not the sharp pain, and their body heat had warmed the shelter up so it wasn't too bad anymore. Archie was asleep mostly on top of him, huddled in tight and breathing soft and even, a warm weight. David checked to make sure the blankets were still tight around them.

Archie stirred and lifted his head. "Oh, I'm on you," he said, and tried to slide off.

"Dude, it's fine," David said, holding him in place. "It's not worth losing the body heat." It was kind of comforting, too, in the dark. Not that he was going to say that out loud.

Archie hesitated a little more and then settled back down. "Are you better?" he asked. "You didn't eat anything."

"I'm okay," David said. "At this point, I'll save it for the morning." He stretched his neck out a little to either side. "I think we're going to need to stop during the day and warm up some, tomorrow, instead of just pushing through. It's too cold to go the whole day."

"I'm sorry," Archie said, low.

"Are you kidding me?" David said. "You're doing amazing."

"No, I'm not," Archie said. "I'm slowing you down. I should've stayed back at the plane."

"I'm pretty glad you didn't," David said. "I've got eighty extra pounds of insulation, it doesn't mean I can get out of this on my own. You saved my ass back there, man." Archie didn't say anything, so David thought about it, and then he added quietly, "My head's still messed up some."

"The headache?"

"Yeah, more than that," David said. "I'm pretty sure I've got a concussion. I've been seeing double a little. I don't want to scare you, man. If my head was going to explode it would probably have happened by now. But I'm really happy I'm not alone out here."

"Oh," Archie said, softly.

"We're going to get out of this," David said. "You know that, right?" Archie nodded a little against him. "Good."

They lay there for a while, just breathing, the sound uneven enough David knew Archie wasn't asleep. The air felt heavy and still. There were soft crunching noises outside that sounded like footsteps, even though he knew they weren't, and the tree overhead creaking. He felt like he should say something else, talk. The kid had to be pretty freaked out—God knew he was freaked out, and he didn't have half the excuse. But he couldn't come up with a way to start.

Archie was the one who actually started talking, instead. "Did you ever go camping?" he said, out of nowhere.

"I slept out by a pond once my senior year in high school," David said. "But all things equal, I'll take my nature viewed from a golf cart. What about you?"

"Not really," Archie said. "I always thought it would be cool, just, I never really had time. And I didn't do the class trip in ninth grade. The doctor didn't think it would be good for my voice, sleeping out, I guess."

"That sucks, man."

"What I mean is, I didn't want to, after he said that," Archie added, defensively.

"It still sucks," David said.

"Aw, I don't know," Archie said, and abruptly he fell quiet, and got a little smaller, like maybe he felt he'd put himself too far out there.

David stared up into the dark for a while, and then he said, "I was with this girl in Tulsa, while I was working out there." Archie lifted his head up a little, but he didn't say anything. "She was pretty amazing, she totally put up with me sleeping until noon, never having any spare cash, taking her to clubs every date, that kind of thing. After a while, we were talking about, you know, the whole marriage and the two-point-five kids thing."

"What happened?"

"She broke up with me," David said. "After I made top 24."

"What?" Archie said. "But, wasn't she happy?"

"Yeah, no, I mean, she was glad I got my break, but she—" David stopped and took a deep breath. "She'd figured I was going to be doing the music thing for two years, and then I was going to get a job and we were going to have a normal life. When I got through, she told me—she said she knew I was going to make it, and she didn't want to be in that world."

"I'm sorry," Archie said, after a minute.

"Yeah," David said. "So, it sucks, either direction."

Archie paused, and then tentatively said, "It's worth it, though, right? I mean, it's music."

David listened to the way he said the word, like he was talking about religion, and had to fight back the weird impulse to hug the kid. "Yeah," he said, roughly.

"Everybody always thinks," Archie said, "that it's my dad, or my family, and that they're all, oh, meal ticket, or something, except it's not them, it's me. I'm the one who wants it. It has to be, or I couldn't do it, and I don't get, I don't get why people don't see that."

"Most people can't tie their shoelaces at seventeen, much less know what they want to do with their lives," David said.

"You did."

"I really, really did not," David said. "I was going in ten different directions at your age, man. The band was for fun, my baseball arm was crapping out, my scholarship was theater, I majored in design, I did the frat thing—yeah. I had a good time, don't get me wrong. But it was definitely the scenic route for me."

"Oh," Archie said. Then he said, a little wistfully, "I was kind of sorry I didn't go camping."

"We'll go," David said.

"What?"

"This summer, after your tour. We'll do the Canyon. The whole thing, two weeks, whitewater rafting."

"Really?" Archie said.

"Yeah," David said. "We'll bring a couple of cheap guitars or something. We can write music out there, it'll be awesome." And the weird thing was, he wasn't just saying it; the idea had just hit him, but he really did think it would be awesome.

"Huh," Archie said. "That sounds—that would be really cool."

"All right, we're on then," David said. He shifted and got his arm under his head to pillow it. Archie sighed a little later, and his breath evened out. David listened to it until he fell asleep.


It was snowing again when they woke up in the morning. Without the sun, there was no way to tell which way they were going, so they just kept heading down and didn't worry about keeping in a straight line. "How are you doing?" David said, after a few hours.

"I'm okay," Archie said after a second, but it was slurred. They stopped and put together the lean-to again. It went a lot quicker in the light, and with Archie doing better, but it got a little more awkward inside. "Let it go," David said, while Archie tried to press himself along the back wall. "We just need to accept the inevitability of the ten million jokes about us sleeping together."

"At least they won't make you date someone from Disney," Archie said, though he gave up and huddled in.

"No, really?" David said.

"Yeah, they wanted me to take the girl from—a girl from a movie out to the premiere," Archie said. "And they told me she would—" He stopped and ducked his head in a little more.

David started laughing. "They told you she'd put out? Jesus, what the hell."

"It's weird, they really want me to," Archie said. "Go all the way, I mean. With anyone. And tell them about it. It's really creepy."

"Are you seriously planning to wait until you've done the ring thing?" David said.

"Well," Archie said, after a struggling moment, "I'm at least going to wait until I find someone I really like."

"How about ten years?" David said. "My niece will just be old enough to date."

"Isn't she eleven?" Archie said.

"Yeah, exactly," David said.

They fell asleep while it was still light out, without really meaning to, and it was pitch dark when David opened his eyes. It felt a lot colder, and there was a whistle of wind outside that the blankets couldn't keep out. Archie was awake and shivering against him. "Okay," David said. "I'm going to make you a bet—um, what do you want to win?"

"Gambling is a sin," Archie said, muffled; he had his face tucked in.

"Are you kidding me?" David said, kind of appalled, and then Archie giggled. "You little shit," David said, and poked him in the side until Archie yelped and tried to squirm away from the tickling. "Okay, come on, give."

"Um," Archie said, settling back in. "A duet."

"Huh?" David said.

"A duet," Archie said. "If I win, you do a duet on my next album. Oh, and play guitar!"

"Aww," David said. "I thought you were going to go for a car or something. Fine, and if I win, you'll do one and piano for me."

"Oh, but that's not, that's like me winning either way," Archie said. "You just sold a zillion albums."

"You never know what's going to happen with the next one," David said. "Okay, winner is whoever goes longer on name that tune without missing a song. It's got to be a song we've both heard at least once, though. No Australian top 40 from you, Archuleta."

"I'm still totally going to win," Archie said.

"Fighting words," David said, but actually neither of them played to win that hard, stretching the game out as long as they could. David finally missed Eye of the Tiger, of all the crazy things for Archie to pull out. "Yeah, I'll cop to seeing Rocky IV, you win," David said. "Although I get to mock you forever for knowing the words to the third verse of Eye of the Tiger, so it's kind of a wash."

"We could go to best of three," Archie said.

It kept them going until morning, anyway, and until the sun warmed up the little lean-to enough that they weren't cold before they even got out. They each ate another packet of peanuts, and drank the last bottles of water. "I know you're not supposed to eat snow, but maybe if we carry it in our clothes, it'll melt," Archie said.

They packed the two bottles full of snow, as much as they could force inside, and David put them in a blanket slung inside his coat. "Fuck, that's cold," he said. "Yeah, you think so," he added, when Archie tried to take one, and pushed him off into the lead. "Just walk, bright eyes."

The heavy cold lumps against his sides made it a lot harder to stay warm, though, worse than he'd expected, and it was definitely a colder day. Their breath steamed away in huge white clouds, and the top crust of snow had gone hard and crunchy. It broke with almost every step, and he kept falling through and getting covered over.

He meant to take over the lead at some point, but he lost track of time and pretty much everything else, too, other than going one step after another. Archie kept going doggedly on in front of him, and then at some point he turned off and David just followed after him, and then they were under an overhang, cold but out of the vicious wind. His hands were shaking as he got the bottles out from under his coat: they'd only half melted, even after that. "I think I'm going to have to do it one at a time, the rest of the way," he said, rubbing his sides hard, trying to work out the deep painful chill. They put the two bottles aside, wrapped up, and huddled in. The sun was still pretty high up, but neither of them suggested going on.

They did another round of name that tune, and then Archie fell asleep after a while. David stared at the rock overhead and tried to think of something to do. His head felt tight and painful, and he'd never been this hungry in his life. They had two packets of peanuts left, and then they'd be running on empty. He'd been hoping they'd run into someone, something—a road, a town. If they hadn't hit one yet, they had to be somewhere really in the back-ass end of nowhere, and it could be a hundred miles to anything. They couldn't make a hundred miles on no food and walking three hours a day.

It was going to be a fucked up way to go. Maybe no one would ever find them and it would be some crazy rock legend, the two of them disappearing mysteriously, and people would make up stories about spotting them in Vegas. Archie woke up when David started cracking up, and he said, "Us and Elvis, man," still laughing at himself, and Archie got the joke and laughed too, and then he got really quiet and still, and David was swallowing hard and putting a hand over his face, and he wrapped an arm around Archie's shoulders and pulled him in tight, saying softly, "It'll be okay. It's going to be okay."


It was maybe even colder the next morning. They didn't eat the peanuts at all, just drank half of one of the bottles of water, and tucked them back in. "When we run out," David said quietly, and clenched his hand when he saw Archie flinch, "I think we should find as much of an open spot as we can and just hunker down, and try and build a fire. It'll be our best shot to be spotted."

Archie nodded just once, and they set out again. The sun was out, and the snow glare hurt his eyes, so he mostly walked squinting down, watching where he was putting his feet. "Cook," Archie said, snagging his arm, around noon, and when David looked up, his eyes watered a while before he managed to clear them out enough to see what Archie was pointing at. Then it took a while longer to sink in that he was looking at five or maybe six roofs, poking out from between some low, bare trees.

They ran the whole way down the hill and into the street, halfway through the town before they stopped, bent over and lightheaded. The trampled snow behind them was the only mark on the long white stretch of it. The houses were all old gray frameboard, snowed in up to their first-floor windows, and most of those were broken.

"Hello?" Archie called, uncertainly. No one answered. They walked down the street and looked into the houses, the shrunken doors opening easily: they were all empty, except for a few old rickety pieces of furniture. "Oh my gosh, this is so creepy," Archie said, hugging his arms around himself.

"It's just an abandoned town," David said, silently telling himself, you are not allowed to have a breakdown in front of the kid. "Come on. This will be great, we can get out of the cold."

Archie gulped hard, but he totally manned up and nodded, and after they got to work, it turned out okay after all, relatively speaking. The best of the houses was still pretty run-down and crappy, but it had a coal stove—an honest-to-god old iron one—and a hod next to it with a small pile of coals left. They checked through the other places and turned up some matches, some newspaper, and a bottle of brandy that worked to get a fire going with some broken-up old furniture to help. Better yet, Archie found a jar of old dried beans in the cobwebbed corner of a pantry, hard as pebbles. He brought it in while David finished building the fire, and they looked at it.

"I think my mom rinses them first," Archie said doubtfully. "And then you have to cook them a long time?"

They found one huge washing-tub and a couple of old metal pots and lugged them in, full of snow, to melt on and in front of the stove. They started the beans cooking, and then David pulled a couple of chairs up to the stove and sat down to work off his boots. His feet hurt like hell, toes blistered and red where they weren't cold and white, and a couple of his nails had come off. "Man, that's ugly. Come on, Archuleta, let's see the damage."

Archie's feet looked maybe even worse: David felt like shit for not thinking, the kid had been walking around in sneakers, and his toes were curled up and bloodless white. "It's not that bad," Archie said, but he couldn't help little gasps of pain when he got his feet into the big tub of water. It wasn't more than lukewarm, but it felt boiling hot the first few minutes as David eased in too.

"Can you feel them?" David asked, after a while, when it was starting to feel a little better.

"Ow. Yeah. Ow," Archie said, deep relief in his voice as he checked his toes. "Ow."

They dried off in front of the fire, and then put on pretty much every bit of gauze and all the band-aids in the first-aid kit, after smearing their feet with the antibiotic cream.

"I know this is going to suck, but we should rinse out everything else we can," David said, so they ended up stripping and tying blankets around their waists, and getting their t-shirts and socks and underwear rinsed out and on the stove to dry.

Archie went and poked at the beans with the spoon they'd dug up, but an hour of cooking hadn't made much difference: they were still just a pile of hard lumps down at the bottom of the pot.

"In the meantime," David said, opening up the bottle of liquor again, "I know you don't do the drinking thing, but we're going to have some of this."

"I don't think—maybe that's not such a good idea," Archie said. "I don't really want to get drunk."

"Take it from someone who's been working it off for the last year," David said, "this stuff's got a lot of calories. A couple of shots won't get you soused."

"Then again, I could be wrong," David said, fifteen minutes later, when Archie started hiccuping nonstop.

"'m not—I'm not drunk," Archie said, with dignity. Then he hiccuped again.

"Uh huh," David said. He took another swig and shook himself all over like a dog. It tasted truly awful. "This would be an awesome moment for us to get found by some paparazzi."

"That would be okay," Archie said.

"You say that now," David said, "but drunk naked pictures on TMZ are forever." He capped the bottle and put it in the corner.

"I don't care, we could go have pizza," Archie said. "And hot chocolate." He hiccuped again. "I'm still cold, can we cuddle again?"

"Dude," David said. "Huddling for warmth."

"Whatever," Archie said, and flopped over against him.

"I'm not sure I'm okay with you having hidden depths of sarcasm," David said. He got Archie to lie down facing the stove, and curled up behind him. He pulled the spare blankets over them.

The beans had actually gotten a little bit soft by morning. "I'm going to try one," David said.

"Wait," Archie said. "I should try it."

"What?"

"If it's bad—"

"I am completely confident that I'm more used to puking up my guts than you are," David said. "Lightweight."

Archie turned red. "I said I didn't want to drink any!"

"Uh huh," David said. "One word: cuddle."

"Oh my gosh, shut up," Archie said.

"No, I think I'm going to be milking this for a long time," David said, grinning, and fended off Archie's flailing punch.

"No, but, listen," Archie said. "If I get sick, you can still go get help. If you get sick, I'm so screwed anyway."

"If you get sick, I'm not going anywhere," David said quietly.

Archie swallowed and said, "That's stupid."

David shrugged one shoulder. "Guess stupid's just how I roll."

In the end, Archie dug a quarter out of his pocket and they flipped for it, and he won. David shoved his hands in his pockets and told himself he wasn't going to yank the spoon out of Archie's hand, but it was hard, watching him swallow it. "I guess it's okay," Archie said. "It's not hard, anyway."

"Okay, we're waiting half an hour, then I'll take a shot," David said. They inched up the whole day, taking turns, and by nighttime they felt safe enough to each eat a tin cup's worth, with the hot broth.

"So, we're not dead yet," David said, after an hour.

"Um, no," Archie said, looking really pained, and then he farted. "Stop laughing! I can't help it!" he said, while David lay on his back on the floor crying with laughter.

"The look on your face, man," David said, gasping. Then of course he cut loose himself, and it turned into a contest that ended only when Archie yelped, "Okay, no, I'm so not letting you set yourself on fire," and grabbed the box of matches out of his hand and threw them across the room.


"Okay," David said the next morning, lowering himself back down to the floor to sit next to Archie. "Listen, man, we have to decide what to do here."

Archie was sitting up against the still-warm stove, hugging his knees to his chest. "How long do you think we can last?" he asked, looking at their supply.

"If we stick around here—a while now," David said. "There's wood, we can keep a fire going, and we can space out the beans. We've got at least a couple weeks to work with. Also, they've got to be looking for us like crazy by now."

"Unless they found the plane," Archie said. "If they couldn't dig it out, they'd think we were in there, and, um."

David smacked him upside the head a little. "You are just a little ray of sunshine."

"Ow! I'm just saying!" Archie protested. He added, "We could build a really big fire, maybe? If they're looking, they'll see that?"

They found one old house at the very end of the street, isolated from the rest of the town. "This is either a really good idea, or a really bad idea," David said, looking up at it.

"I guess we better get some of the snow off before we set it on fire?" Archie said.

They found some old barrels and climbed up onto the roof to brush away the heaps of piled-up snow, using old branches as brooms. It wasn't as cold as the day before, and they felt good enough to sing a little while they worked. They didn't do anything fancy, the air was too dry for that, but they ran through some Beatles, and then started in on American Pie, although they had to keep starting over again because they got the verses out of order, or ran out of breath.

"Okay, I concede I am completely wimping out here," David said, panting, as they climbed carefully over to the other side of the roof.

"Oh my gosh, Cook," Archie said, and grabbed his arm and pointed. All the way down the steep slope at the end of the town, there was a flash of black pavement and yellow paint, curling out of the trees.

It took another hour to get down to the road, sliding on their asses most of the way, and then they just collapsed by the side of the pavement and caught their breath. They waited half an hour, and David was about to start getting together some wood to start a fire when they heard the truck coming: low grumbling roar of a full eighteen-wheeler climbing up the mountain roads, and he jumped into the road and waved his arms.

"Y'all have car trouble?" the trucker said, pushing open the passenger door and leaning out, and then he said, "Holy fucking shit."

"Plane trouble," David said. He couldn't stop grinning. "Give us a lift?"

"Jesus fucking Christ, get in. Jesus," the trucker said, pushing the door open wider, and clearing the front seat by just shoving everything onto the floor, a stack of Playboys and crumpled fast-food wrappers. "They've been looking for you guys a week."

David hauled himself up and gave Archie a hand in after him, and they pulled the door shut. "Where are we?" Archie asked.

"This is route 135," the trucker said. "We're pretty near Crested Butte. In Colorado," he added. He just sat there staring at them, and then he said, "Uh, where do y'all want to go?"

"Uh," David said. "The nearest hospital, I guess. Listen, man, do you have a cellphone?"

"Yeah—yeah, absolutely," the trucker said, and dug it out. He shifted the truck back in gear and started up again. "Jesus," he repeated.

"Go ahead," David said, giving Archie the phone.

Archie stared at it a second and then he dialed, and then he was saying, "Mom?" The noise from the other end of the phone made David jump a little himself. "Mom! Mom, calm down—it's okay, we're okay—me and Cook, we're both okay, we met a truck driver, we're in Colorado—oh, I guess you already knew that. We're going to a hospital—where are we going?"

"Gunnison Valley's the closest I know of," the trucker said.

Archie repeated the name to her. "I'll call you as soon as we're there—yeah, I'm really fine, Cook was amazing, he totally saved my life—"

David had to blink hard a few times and he looked at the trucker instead. "Hey man, what's your name?"

"Oh, uh, Bill Whitney." Bill reached out a hand to shake.

"Dave Cook," David said. "Thanks, by the way. This is pretty great."

"Fuck, this is nothing," Bill said. "My girls are going to have a fit at me, they've been crying over you two nonstop."

"Well, you can tell them they've got front-row seats to any concert I give the rest of my life, anytime they want them," David said. "Listen, did anyone else make it, from the plane?"

"Yeah, one of the stewardesses and one of the pilots, he's in the hospital but they think he's going to pull through," Bill said. "The other one didn't make it, and there was another girl missing."

"Hannah," David said. "I should call her family."

"She didn't make it?"

"No," David said, and rubbed his face. It was starting to all seem unreal. The heater was blowing warm air over his feet, and the engine roar was so fucking ordinary, and then Archie said, "Okay, mom, dad, I have to let Cook call too—I'll call you again, I promise, soon as we get there—" and gave him the cellphone.

David stared at it, and then he put in his mom's number and waited, and the ring in his ear sounded weird and fake, and then someone who wasn't his mom answered and said, "Foraker residence."

"Aunt Linda?" David said, and she screamed in his ear and screamed again, "Beth! Beth, oh my God, Beth, it's David—it's David—" and then his mom was on the line, and David had to bend over and rest his head on his hand for a minute to catch his breath before he could really talk.

By the time he got off the line, Archie was already tipping over, half asleep, and when David straightened up again, he fell over the rest of the way and landed with his head on David's lap, curled his legs up impossibly small onto the seat and just went straight under. David slung a hand over Archie's chest and let his own head fall against the high seat back.


The hospital was a low single-story building in the middle of a five-block-square town, and the ER was empty when they arrived. The nurse on the triage desk was watching soap operas. Four hours later, after David got rolled back into his room after the MRI, the whole place looked like a fortress under siege: fifteen news vans up and down the street, police and fire trucks set up to block access.

"Honey, I'm really sorry, but somebody from your people put the fear of God into our management," the nurse said, when he asked her about Archie. "They told all of us we'll lose our jobs if we breathe a word about either of you to anyone who's not a family member."

"Do us both a favor and go make it clear that includes me," he said, "because if I don't get an answer, I'll take this thing out of my arm and go find him."

He flipped on the television, because it was weird how quiet and empty the room felt. CBS was showing a video of him singing "Time of My Life" at the finale, his arm around Archie, with a Special News Bulletin banner running across the screen and a voiceover in closed-captioning, with more on their miraculous escape, here is

"Someone who doesn't know anything about it," David said under his breath, and started flipping channels. The same crap was on every network, all the news channels, and everything else was just too stupid, getting on his nerves.

He'd mentally put thirty minutes on the clock, being generous because he was pretty sure they couldn't have done anything too bad to the kid. He was still getting ready to yank the IV when there was a timid knock on the door, and Archie looked in, with a nervous glance over his shoulder. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers, all of it squeaky brand-new.

"They gave you clothes already?" David said. "That's so not fair, man."

"You're okay?" Archie said, at the same time. "Oh—yeah, they, uh, I'm released, I'm fine. They just wouldn't tell me if you were—"

"Yeah, me either," David said. "Are they letting you out of here?"

"I don't know, nobody's here yet," Archie said. "I mean, there's all those people outside, but they're all press, and the police said they'd take me to a hotel, but—" He swallowed. "Is it okay if I just maybe wait here, until you—"

"Come on in before they catch you," David said.

Archie shut the door behind him and pulled a chair up to the bed. David put on the TV again and backtracked a few channels to the South Park episode. Archie took off his sneakers and climbed onto the bed with him to watch, and ended up mostly sliding down the half-raised bed to curl up along one side, watching drowsily while David flipped channels, past more of the news bulletins. "Are they, do they want you to do a press conference, too?" he asked.

"Yeah," David said. He'd already fielded half a dozen calls from the pack of 19E people who were on the way from LA. "On the bright side," someone on a conference call had actually said to him, "you sold another million albums this last week, and Archuleta's going to go platinum by tomorrow." There hadn't been any irony involved. Some other people on the line had cheered.

"And hey, only two people are dead," he'd said, which had put a merciful end to that line of conversation.

Archie said, "Is it okay if—can we do it together? If you don't mind—"

"No, I was thinking I'd throw you to the wolves and sneak out the back," David said. "Seriously?"

"Well, I didn't want to, you know—"

"Presume?" David said, raising an eyebrow way up.

"No, I don't mean—it's just—we're back, and everything is so, and it's all, and—isn't it weird?" Archie half sat up and waved his arm around, taking in the room, the quietly blinking equipment, the muted TV, the waving curtains, the whole ordinary civilized world.

"Fuck, yeah," David said. "It's going to be weird for a while. We'll get through it."

Archie nodded a little. Then he closed his eyes and pillowed his head on his hands and went to sleep.

The press conference was beyond a madhouse. The 19E people had tried to prepare them, but this wasn't something you could get ready for. It wasn't just the entertainment press this time, it was everyone—people who reported from natural disasters and war zones and the White House, all of them determined to get their questions in. It was so bad that, between flashbulb explosions, he saw the TMZ paparazzi break and get shoved halfway down the room.

He put his arm around Archie's shoulders, which were more rigid with terror than when he'd been half-frozen to death, and said, "Okay, just so you guys know, the only solid food we've had in the last week is airplane peanuts and some hundred-year-old beans. And we have a date with an 18-inch pizza after this, so keep that in mind and don't blame us if we run for it if this goes too long."

"Can we do that?" Archie whispered at him, except the mike picked it up, and a ripple of laughter went around the room. It was still a lot like being in a diving cage surrounded by great white sharks, but at least the sharks were smiling.

The publicists had written up a statement that was about three-quarters right, and the reporters had absorbed about three-quarters of that. There were a lot of inane questions about whether they'd been scared—"Um, yeah, a lot" and "I can't accurately describe how terrified I was and still keep it printable"—and what had been going through their heads—David told them about the Elvis thing and his Eskimo joke, which made them all happy—and what they were going to do now they were back.

"Go home," Archie said, longingly.

"What he said," David said. "Also, I've got a song to write for this guy."

They all ate that story up, too, and Archie brightened, like maybe he'd thought David hadn't meant it or something. Someone asked Archie what had been the worst part, and he said, "Um, right after the crash," and when they asked him why, he said, "Cook was—he'd been knocked out, and first I thought—so yeah. That was really scary. And, I guess, then when we were walking, and I was slowing us down—"

"Okay, that's enough from you, Archuleta," David said, shaking Archie a little. "So you're all clear on this, this guy saved my life at least three times out there."

Then they asked him what the worst moment was—completely predictable, but that didn't help. All of a sudden, he was back there under that overhang, ice cold all the way through, almost out of food and water, and he couldn't make himself speak. Archie's hand on his back curled a little bit against him, small and anxious, and David hauled up a smile and said, "Let me just say that beans on an empty stomach, it's really not pretty."

The handlers got them out, finally, and into an SUV with smoked windows. They were tailed by eight cars all the way to the Holiday Inn, which was apparently as close to five-star as it got in this town, but when they got there, the parking lot was crammed completely full of fans—thousands of them just milling around in huge puffy jackets, or sitting on the hoods of their cars. There were people on the roof, banners hanging out of windows all over the hotel, people having snowball fights and tailgating, and David didn't have to look hard to see a lot of drinking. There wasn't a sign of any security.

Archie stared out at the crowd in total horror. Their driver took one look and drove straight past the lot. "Guys, I'm not going in there," he said, looking at them in the rearview.

"No fucking kidding," David said. "Is there another hotel around here?"

"Oh my gosh, look at them!" Archie was sitting half up looking out the back window at the giant crowd, his mouth still open. People had guessed it was their car, thanks to the press following them, and now some of them were actually running after the car in the middle of the street, waving signs. The driver picked up speed and pulled away, cutting through a parking lot to ditch the trailing cars. He pulled out onto another street, past a Quality Inn not three blocks from the first place: it looked packed too. "Did they all just, I don't know, take any hotel around here in case we showed up?"

"Okay, forget another hotel," David said. "We need another town."

"I can take you back up to Crested Butte, they've got the Elevation, that's a big ski resort," the driver said. "Or there's the Retreat, if they're not booked. They've only got maybe ten rooms in the whole place."

"There," Archie said immediately. "Oh my gosh, there."

"You only need one night?" the clerk said, over the driver's phone.

"Yeah," David said.

"A couple checking in today had their flight canceled, so they won't be getting in until tomorrow. I'm sure they'd be happy to save the cost of the night. What's the name?"

"Uh," David said. "John Smith?"

The driver was a prince and stopped at a deserted bank branch so they could get cash out of the ATM, and at the hotel he went in and got them the key, so they managed to sneak into the suite without anyone seeing them. It looked pretty much like heaven—a little too much like heaven, actually, all white and gold everywhere, flowers in vases and a fluffy, white, canopied bed, covered with rose petals in the shape of a heart.

"Aw, that's really sad," Archie said, going over to the little table in the corner: there was a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket, with a Congratulations on your wedding! card next to it, and a tray of cute desserts. "Their flight got canceled on their honeymoon."

David walked deliberately over to the bed and fell down backwards on it, laughing.

"What?" Archie said. "How can you laugh, that's so mean."

"I'll explain it to you when you're older," David said.

"Huh?" Archie said, and then he got all pink and embarrassed. "Oh my gosh, we're in the honeymoon suite."

David laughed until he couldn't breathe anymore and started wheezing, and then Archie threw the shorter bathrobe at his head and refused to hand over the other one, even though the sleeves were too long for him.

So it was a pretty crazy place, but in an amazing way—big flat-screen TV, overstuffed couches, a fireplace, and even the floors were heated. Also there was an indoor hot tub, huge, with steam rising up off the water. They looked at it, looked at each other, and David shrugged. "Okay. We've got a choice of underwear in the tub, or underwear in the bed. I'm voting underwear in the bed."

"Um, yeah, okay," Archie said.

They both called home, first, and then David called 19E and got a panicked publicist who screamed faintly at him, "Oh my god, where are you?"

"Relax," David said. "We're fine, we haven't gotten trampled by a crazed mob—no thanks to the awesome planning, by the way—and the driver's coming to get us in the morning. He didn't tell you where we are? Good, I'll give him a bigger tip. No, I'm not telling you either. Bye!"

The phone rang as soon as he hung up, and he thought for a second that maybe the publicist had used some kind of crazy caller-ID thing to trace them, but it was the hotel clerk. "I thought I would ask you, the guests had ordered a dinner in their room tonight—do you want it? It's fine if not—"

"Oh, hell, yes," David said, and had to cover his mouth with his hand to keep from busting out laughing again, maybe a little hysterically, and freaking the clerk out. He got himself under control and said, "Listen, man, let me ask you something, can I pick up the tab for these people? No, I mean, their whole stay. In fact, throw everything else you have on it, the special dinner every night, massages, anything—Yeah, I'm completely serious, I'll give you my credit card for it tomorrow," because they had to spread some of this luck around a little, before five supermodels showed up with a case of Jager or Jimi Hendrix came back from the dead and wanted to jam a little.

The personal chef did get a little bug-eyed when he showed up, but he was a good guy and promised to keep the secret overnight, although he got them to autograph the fancy menu so people would eventually believe him. "I'll sign anything you want, just tell me this is true and there really is steak involved," David said.

"Gosh, I feel like I ate too much," Archie said, afterwards, and collapsed on the couch.

"Yeah," David said dreamily, sprawled out with a hand over his stomach.

They flipped on the TV and watched reporters running all over the mountains trying to find them and failing. In desperation, as the prime-time news hour hit, most of the networks started resorting to segments in front of different hotels where they weren't, about how the two of them had "gone into seclusion at an undisclosed location" to avoid the crowds of fans. Nobody really seemed to mind so much that they hadn't actually appeared: CNN did a piece on the people at the Holiday Inn, where a bunch of frat guys had set up a big stereo and projection screen and gotten everyone doing karaoke in the parking lot.

"This is possibly the coolest thing ever," David said, watching an entire girls' softball team, in uniform, belting out "The Truth" to cheers from the crowd.

They stuffed a bunch of CDs into the player and finally hit the hot tub, and David broke out the champagne. "And you can't have any," he told Archie.

"You made me last time!" Archie said.

"And I paid for my crimes," David said, in a fake sepulchrally-low voice. Archie grabbed the bottle away from him and defiantly took a swig, and then started coughing when the bubbles got in his nose.

"So predictable," David said, and yelled when Archie shook up the bottle and sprayed most of it on him in revenge until David got him in a headlock.

The exhaustion hit hard after only a little while roughhousing, and they dragged out and toweled down and crawled into the huge, warm bed. Archie shut his eyes and prayed a little, just his lips moving, and then he yawned and said, "Night, Cook," sleepily, and snuggled down into the pillows.

"Night," David said. With the lights off and the moon up, he could see the snow-covered mountains through the windows, lighter blue against the sky. He stared out at them and tried to talk himself into going to sleep, except he couldn't help thinking about just how freaking big they were, how fucking close it had really been—one more snowy day to hide the road, turning left instead of right and missing the houses, picking a different tree to hide behind during the avalanche.

He made himself lie down and shut his eyes. Next to him, Archie's breath evened out, went slow and steady. He shifted onto his side and curled a little closer, so his hand was brushing just against David's shoulder. David yawned hard all of a sudden, and pretty much like that, he slid under.


At least one person in 19E had a shred of human sympathy, because they didn't get sent to the tiny local airstrip: instead the driver took them the three hours all the way to Denver, where another team of handlers whisked them straight into a private room in the United Airlines first-class lounge.

David flopped down on the couch and stared out the window: it looked out on the airstrip, with the giant planes going up and coming down like clockwork.

Archie sat down next to him. "That's kind of reassuring, I guess?"

"Yeah," David said.

The airline rep came in. "Now, we can charter flights for you, which will take a little longer, or we can put you first-class on a commercial flight—"

"I looked up on Wikipedia," Archie said, "the odds of a commercial airliner crashing are like, one in ten million or something."

"Commercial," David said. "I'm totally stoked for commercial. Commercial is awesome."

"Me, too," Archie said.

"Okay," she said. "So it's Kansas City for you, and Salt Lake City for you. We'll get you booked and on the way," and she disappeared out of the room.

Archie was staring down at his hands, slumped a little. "It's going to be great," he said, after a minute. "To go home, and have some time off, before getting back to all the, you know, promotion, and." He stopped.

"Yeah," David said. He had a tour to get started on himself—19E was shuffling a few dates, but he was still kicking it off in February. A week at home, and then it would be right back into the whirl for both of them. He'd be in L.A. getting in a few more rehearsals, nailing down the clothes, fending off the makeup artists. Archie would be across town, working on the setlist for his tour and calling in to radio stations, hitting some more talk shows. Back to normal. He hadn't talked to the kid in nearly three months before they'd met up in New York for the flight.

After a while, the airline rep came back in and said, "Okay, Mr. Cook, the next flight to Kansas City is boarding now. I've booked a whole row in first class for you, and we'll get you on in about fifteen minutes, just before they close the doors. The cabin crew has been alerted, they won't let any passengers bother you. Mr. Archuleta, your flight's going to start boarding in about half an hour."

Archie nodded, then he lifted his head up and smiled at David, a little tremulous. "Have—have a good trip."

David looked at him, and then he said to the rep, "Can you get me on his flight?"

"I... sure? " the rep said.

Archie said, "But—oh. No, Cook—"

"Okay, let's do that," David said, reaching out to cover Archie's mouth. The rep glanced from him to Archie, a little puzzled, then left the room. David reached over for the phone on the side table and dialed one-handed, still muffling Archie's protests. "Mom?" he said. "Listen, are you okay with it if I get there a few days later?"

"Honey, you're alive. Right now I don't care if you want to move to Antarctica, change your name, and never call me again," his mom said. "You should enjoy this phase while it lasts, by the way, because I'll be over it before Mother's Day."

"Good, because otherwise I was about to be worried," David said. "I'm going to get Archie home."

Archie squirmed loose. "Cook, I'm fine, you really don't have to—"

"And I'm going to bring him home with me after," he added, and covered the receiver long enough to tell Archie, "And you do have to."

"Oh," Archie said, and quit arguing. "Okay."

David finished talking to his mom and hung up the phone. He put his feet up on the coffee table and leaned back, stretching his arms over the back of the couch. "So listen, a duck walks into a bar—"

Archie settled against him. "Is this the joke about the nails?"

"You're going to have to stop doing that," David said.

= End =

With oh so many thanks to boniblithe, Cesca, monkiedude, & the fabulous Terri for awesome beta! ♥

All feedback much appreciated!

 

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