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Just Mangled Guts Pretending

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Oliver wakes up, and he's still HIV-positive.

It feels like something should be different, in his world, in his life, but it's not. His blankets are still warm. His bed is still soft. The sunlight that trickles in through his blinds are still the same color that they were yesterday. His alarm clock still has numbers that glow green. There are birds chirping outside, unaware that anything has changed. Maybe it hasn't. The world doesn't give a shit about his problems.

Connor is sleeping right behind him, on his front, one arm hanging off the bed. His expression is more severe than it usually is when he sleeps, carrying around a tension that might be for Oliver, might be for work, might be for himself. Oliver can't say.

They haven't talked about this in any depth yet. Last night, Oliver mostly cried, and Connor mostly sat by his side, silent as Oliver sobbed into Connor's sweater. The tears have dried in sticky, salty tracks on Oliver's face. He checks himself to see if he wants to start crying again.

The answer is 'no'. He's all out right now. Try again tomorrow morning.

He goes into the bathroom, stares at himself in the mirror. He's seen all of it, And the Band Played On, Philadelphia, Angels in America, The Normal Heart, RENT, all sorts of movies and shows about the AIDS crisis. He imagines his face hollowed out, covered in sores, slowly dying of simple infections his body should know how to fight off. It's different now, of course. There are drugs, all sorts of drugs, and it's not a death sentence the way it used to be. He might never develop full-blown AIDS. But he still imagines it.

He starts up his morning routine, because he might as well. What else is he supposed to do? He brushes his teeth, rinses out his mouth with mouthwash, starts to shave down the stubble on his face.

"Hey," Connor says, coming into the bathroom behind him.

Oliver startles, not used to being interrupted, and he manages to nick his cheek with the razor. It's a shallow cut -- doesn't even hurt -- but it wells up quickly. In the mirror, the blood stands out, vivid red against his skin. Strange to think that it, along with everything else inside of him, is toxic now.

"Shit," Connor says, "sorry. I'll go get the--" He's sleepy and quiet, bled of his usual energy. There was something big going on yesterday at work for him. He wasn't answering Oliver's phone calls or his texts all day.

"No," Oliver says, his voice calmer than it has any right to be. "I'll handle this." He reaches for the small, plastic first aid kit that he has tucked away in the medicine cabinet.

Connor's giving him that look, the intense one that usually makes Oliver's neck prickle and his mouth water. Today, Oliver's feels too empty to respond like a normal person. Connor says, "I'm not afraid."

"You should be," Oliver says, avoiding his eyes. He pulls out some alcohol swabs, some bandaids. They gave him informational pamphlets on this, didn't they? Tips and tricks to keep your friends and family members and loved ones from becoming infected. He hasn't read through any of them yet. They're sitting on his coffee table in a neat stack, waiting for him to be ready to open them. He needs to schedule more appointments, more tests. There's a lot of things he needs to do.

He's always been a bit of a klutz, so he goes through the motions on auto-pilot, swab yourself down, feel the sting, apply a bandaid, wait for the bleeding to stop. He looks down, ready to throw everything out, and he realizes that he left the alcohol swab on the bare counter. It's soaked red with blood, but it doesn't look like it's stained the white porcelain underneath at all. He wonders how strong the disinfectant is going to have to be to get that patch of counter clean again.

"Here," Connor says, once again materializing at Oliver's side. Oliver hadn't even noticed when he left. He holds out a plastic bag.

Oliver dumps the trash into it -- wrappers, swab, razor -- careful not to touch anything this time. Not Connor, not the bag. "Thanks," he says.

Connor nods and disappears again, leaving Oliver once again with his thoughts. He needs to wash his hands. His face is still half-covered in shaving cream. He still has half a morning routine left to go. This is nothing. It's going to be like this for the rest of his life.

When he's finally done with all of it -- it takes longer than usual because of how his hands are shaking -- he finds Connor in the kitchen in the process of making coffee. His back is hunched, and his eyes have the same hollow, haunted look that he wore on the morning after the bonfire.

"You don't have to stay," Oliver says.

Connor turns to look at him and shrugs his shoulders. "It's fine. Coffee?" He pours out two mugs, handing one of them over to Oliver.

Oliver takes it without thinking. The mug is warm between his palms. "I meant that I don't want you staying out of pity or whatever. It's okay. You don't need to take care of me."

"I already put in all that effort into getting into your pants. Do you really think I'm going to give up now?" Connor tries to smile, but it's a half-hearted, pathetic thing.

Oliver doesn't say anything to that, letting the joke fall flat. He turns the mug in his hands and imagines throwing it against a wall, watching the ceramic shatter into pieces and leave an ugly brown stain behind. He could move onto the plates next, destroying them one-by-one. He could take one of the kitchen chairs and use it smash up his TV. He could just keep going until his apartment looks as awful and disastrous as he feels. But there's no point. At the end of it all, it won't change a thing. There's no way to undo this. There's no going back.

Connor steps in closer, trying to get into Oliver's personal space. Oliver flinches and pulls away, trying to keep a little distance between them. Connor takes the hint and doesn't come any closer.

The silence sits heavy between them. Oliver sips his coffee so he doesn't have to look Connor in the eye. He usually takes it with cream and sugar, but he wants the bitterness today.

"Oliver," Connor says eventually, "I don't know what you want me to say." His voice is brittle, ready to crack.

"I don't know what I want you to say either," Oliver says. He thinks about how he turned the hot water in his shower as high as it would go last night , how it had hurt a little, and how he imagined it burning all the way through his skin, disinfecting him, cleaning him inside and out.

"But I'm here, okay?" Connor says, a little louder this time, and his voice doesn't tremble at all. "I'm here, and I'm not leaving."

Oliver takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says, almost allowing himself to believe it.

Connor leans in and presses a kiss to Oliver's unbandaged cheek. Oliver lets him. Connor stays there, so close Oliver can almost feel the rise and fall of his chest. It would be so easy to give into it, to let Connor catch him. He spent most of his day yesterday lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, sick to his stomach, not able to eat. He doesn't know how to talk about it, and he can't bring himself to do anything that he needs to do, and Connor is right here, warm and alive and making the kind of promises that Oliver needs to hear.

"I'm not good at any of this," Connor says, barely louder than a whisper. "I get that. But I don't want to be anywhere else."

Oliver puts his mug down on the counter. He closes his eyes. "Okay," he says again, and this time, he lets himself fall.