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Gone But Not Forgotten

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He can't stop thinking about the trees.

He remembers everything about the day of Alan's funeral. He doesn't believe people who say, whenever they went through something nasty, that they suffered so much they can't even remember what was going on. Pain works on facts of life like fire on iron. It makes them hot enough to burn into skin. Hot enough to leave a mark. If you suffer deeply enough, there's not a single detail of what's going on that you can forget, no matter how much you'd like to. People who say they forgot, simply weren't really in that much pain. Their personal iron wasn't hot enough to leave a scar.

He remembers everything, instead, down to the last, most insignificant detail. He remembers that the grass needed mowing, for example. Alan's mother kept fretting on the spot because the ends kept tickling her naked ankles. She was trying to resist the urge to scratch herself with the pointy ends of her shoes, and Jesse thought she looked really funny.

He also remembers Virginia's soft crying sound. He had never heard a person crying so softly. He himself was a loud crier. He didn't see the point in keeping his pain on the inside, it was like holding in a sneeze. It's painful, and ultimately useless, because people know when you're sneezing anyway. Crying was the same thing to him – if there was pain, it needed to be let out. It's not like you can really hide it from people who know how to look.

Virginia's crying was different, though. The softness of that sound didn't sound hypocrite, and it didn't even sound like an attempt to show strength to people around her, people who kept looking at her insistently, knowing very well how she must have been suffering for her brother's sudden death, given how close they had always been. No, that softness wasn't for show, it wasn't for the others – it was for herself. It was a desperate attempt not to give in to such a deep pain she knew it would devastate her utterly, if she had let it free to roam through her body, carried throughout her system by the blood she shared with what was left of Alan, locked in the coffin.

Jesse remembers that sound. He believes it will haunt him in his dreams forever. He never thought something so soft could shatter something. And yet, it had shattered his heart.

Given that he still had anything left to shatter by then, anyway.

Among all the stupid things he can remember there's the fact that Calista, Alan's baby sister, could not stop crying. That the new wife – was she the third? The fourth? He had lost count years before – of Alan's father had thought appropriate to wear zebra printed shoes to the funeral. That Blaine had never looked more handsome to him than he did when he leaned in to drop a white rose on Alan's coffin as it got lowered down into the grave. That he had realized, looking around, that he was surrounded only with Alan's people, and that no one from his family had come to the funeral, despite him telling them when and where it would have been.

And that the trees were dancing, that day.

It was windy, and as he raised his eyes not to watch the coffin finally disappear inside the hole he saw them swinging right and left, those high, thin trees they always put in graveyards. The wind was howling, and it sounded like a song, and the trees seemed to be dancing on that song – a sad song, but with a nice rhythm. He had closed his eyes and he had started swinging too. Right and left, right and left. Every time he moved, his shoulder hit gently against Blaine's, and after a little while Blaine had started moving against him, as if he was swinging in the wind too.

Then he had realized that he didn't really want to dance, not at all. It didn't matter if he liked the song, or the company of the trees. Dancing was something Alan's. Something he only did with Alan. He wanted to forget it.

So he had stopped.

(In less than a few seconds, Blaine had stopped too.)

Now, he doesn't think about any of these things that often, not anymore. He thinks about Alan too much to really have time to spare to relive over and over again every little detail from his funeral day. But today, he really can't stop thinking about the trees.

He hated those trees for a while, after coming back home. Didn't matter that their dance was a sad one, that they were dancing to a sad song, dancing in itself seemed to be inappropriate, an unacceptable, offensive display of life during such a circumstance as a funeral.

And yet, he thinks now, isn't displaying life what living beings do all the time? Can it really be stopped, even when someone dearly loved is lost? Isn't striving for more life, really, all there is to living?

“You seem more nervous than I am,” Blaine smiles, sitting next to him on the chair in the waiting room. He reaches out and touches the back of his hand with his fingertips, and Jesse raises his head to look at him. He looks tired, but generally better than he looked but a few days ago. Alan's bone marrow must be working efficiently inside him. “Are you okay?”

“Are you?” he asks back, holding his gaze. He has no idea how he could be holding up. Alan died in a car crash. He was speeding up with his motorbike on the highway, rushing to the hospital to come see him. Blaine had just been diagnosed with leukemia.

How does a person recover from that? How do you go on living knowing you were the reason why your friend died, and that despite dying he still saved your life as a last goodbye?

Christ, Jesse just lost a lover, no implications whatsoever, just the raw loss of him, and he still has no idea how to wake up without crying every morning. But Blaine – he was sick, he lost the person he loved the most in the whole world, he was somehow partly responsible for that loss, he's only just recovering from his illness, and yet he seems to be doing fine.

Jesse doesn't resent him for that. He's sure Blaine's punishing himself enough for that. Blaine is the self-punishing kind. He does that silently, though, so people can't know, and they can't pity him – because he doesn't want their pity. His sorrow is graceful and elegant, and Jesse appreciate it. But he can't understand it. He can't be graceful and elegant. He's too busy being a mess.

“I'm fine,” Blaine answers, still smiling.

“Is that enough to be okay?”

Blaine shrugs, looking away. “For now, I'm content with being just fine. I'm counting my blessings.”

Jesse looks away too, hoping not to have upset him. Blaine's taking good care of him. He doesn't want to irritate him, even though, more often than not, he can't help it. It's just one of the things he does to try and cope with it. Pushing boundaries until people are forced to push him back. He's doing it with Virginia, refusing to answering her calls. He's doing it with Alan's mother, refusing all her invitations to come stay at her place for a few days, until he's better. He does it with Blaine too, hoping never to cross the line that would make Blaine say he's had it with him – the line that would make Blaine finally push back like all the others did, like Virginia stopped calling, like Alan's mother stopped asking to see him.

“Mr. Anderson?” a nurse comes calling, stopping respectfully a few feet from them. Jesse looks at her. She's healthy and full of life. A little chubby around her hips, perhaps. Her arms, innocently revealed by the short sleeves of her uniform, look beautiful enough to take a bite off them. Jesse wishes he didn't have to see her. “Doctor Vanderbilt is ready for you now.”

“Thank you,” Blaine says with a polite smile, standing up. If Jesse's words bothered him, there's no trace of that on his face anymore. He turns to look at him and gently puts a hand on his shoulder. He's slowly learning that touching him makes it easier for Jesse to keep his focus on him. Alan got that right away. Five minutes after first meeting him, he was already constantly touching him with discreet but significant gestures – a hand on his shoulders, or on his hips, or at the small of his back – to keep him always focused on himself. “Will you wait for me here?”

Jesse stands up, pulling away from his touch. “I need a cup of coffee,” he says, avoiding the question. He turns around, moving towards the vending machines. He doesn't watch Blaine disappear behind the door of Doctor Vanderbilt's office, just like he didn't watch Alan's coffin disappear six feet under.

He walks down the hallway, ignoring anyone on his path, wishing everyone could disappear from the hospital. It's been happening more and more since the funeral. His enduring people skills have been decreasing by the day. If it's Blaine, he can stand it. He can be in his company and not wish to run away from him instantly, or to kill him, even better. But when it comes down to other people, he just can't. It started with the condolences parade and it only grew worse in time. He wonders if it is like this for everyone who lost someone – if Virginia hates it too, for example. People's pity. Their I'm sorrys.

He never liked people much, that's true, but those sorrowful expressions, those sad eyes, the way they have to tilt the head to the side just a little like dumb dogs, as if they thought such a gesture could make them more likeable while offering their heartfelt regret for the fact that he was fucking stripped naked of the only person he loved, really loved, in the entire world, those things Jesse just can't stand.

And it seems like they've got a talent for it, people, for reading grief in his soul. They detect it, as if it had a scent, as if it changed his features. And when they know it's true, that he's lost someone, there they go with the theatrics. The sorrowful expression. The sad eyes. The tilting head. I'm so sorry for your loss. Well, he's sorry each and every one of them didn't die instead of Alan. That's what he's sorry for.

He gets to the vending machines and looks at them with empty eyes, barely seeing them. Why did he tell Blaine he needed a coffee? He doesn't need a coffee. He doesn't even want a coffee. He wants Alan back. God, how hard can it fucking be? He just wants him back. Is there a vending machine for that? For taking back your lover after he's been taken away from you? Or is there something else – anything really – that could just take this pain away, make it more bearable?

He'd take anything, right now. Anything that could distract him. Even for a second.

He opts for a macchiato, because that's what Alan would've gone for.

He's got his finger to the button already, when he hears a voice rise above the quiet murmuring of the waiting room.

“No, you don't understand. If you did, you'd let me see a fucking doctor. Right now.”

He turns towards the voice and sees a guy standing in front of the reception desk. He's tall, lean, dressing kind of casually. He must be more or less his age, but he doesn't look the part. Jesse looks at him and sees a teenager: confused, agitated, out of place. He used to be like that before Alan. That was too many years ago, though, he can't say he really remembers. He removed a lot from those years. Pointless to hold on to painful memories, he thought. It's ironic, considering now painful memories are all that's left of Alan to him, and he wouldn't give them up for anything in the universe.

“Mr. Karofsky-Hummel,” the nurse tries to explain with a patient sigh, “As I already told you, there's a waiting list. You're not the only one suffering in this room.”

“I'm telling you, there's something wrong with my lungs,” the guy insists. He places his hands on the desk and leans on it, trying to close the distance between himself and the nurse. “You have to let me in right now. This isn't normal. I had surgery less than a month ago.”

“Then you should be home, resting,” the nurse says. Her voice is a little cold, and Jesse finds her instinctively unpleasant. The guy is clearly agitated. That's not how you deal with agitated people. “Sometimes it's normal to feel weird after a transplant, Mr. Karofsky-Hummel. You have to give your body the chance to get used to the new lungs.”

“For Christ's sake!” the guy hits the desk with both hands wide open, the slamming sound echoing through the half-empty room, making more than a few heads turn towards him. Not Jesse's, though. He doesn't need to turn, he was already watching. Following with mechanical movements as the vending machine released his macchiato, and then holding the scorching hot plastic cup in his fingers feeling no pain at all, he was already watching this guy melt down, thinking Alan used to freak out like this too, when he saw things going in the wrong direction and he couldn't even understand why. He was a patient man, but his patience disappeared altogether when he felt wronged in any way, like no doubt this guy feels right now. “For all you know I could be rejecting these lungs! And all you're able to tell me is to go back home and rest? I've already done that! I've been doing that for almost a month, and I still keep having asthma attacks. What are you waiting for, to admit me? That I collapse here on the floor?!”

“Mr. Karofsky-Hummel, please, calm down,” the nurse's voice seems to color with understanding for the first time since she started talking to the guy. Jesse looks at her. She seems frightened. It's not his condition frightening her, though, it's the noise. She's scared someone might scold her because she's letting him scream and shout like that. “Please, as I told you, a doctor will be with you very soon. Just be patient.”

“I've been patient!” the guy insists, “And you wanna know what else have I been? Sick. You've given me sick lungs. You've given me fucking asthma!”

“Mr. Karofsky-Hummel, this is impossible,” the nurse sighs, standing up and walking towards him to try and calm him down by proximity. Jesse lets out a half-bitter smirk, because that's a good tactic, but it only works when you actually wanna be close to the person who's getting close to you. In fact, the boy takes a step back, and the nurse stops walking, apparently hurt by the speed of his movement. “We double and triple check all the organs we transplant, Mr. Karofsky-Hummel, it's just—”

“Jesus— Stop calling me by my last name so obsessively, for fuck's sake! You sound like a fucking broken disk! Mr. Karofsky-Hummel here, Mr. Karofsky-Hummel there, just let me see a fucking doctor!”

“Mr. Karofsky-Hummel—”

“Fuck you!” he screams all of a sudden, and then he seems to falter, he almost trips, and he has to lean against the desk for balance. “Fuck...” he breathes out, and he shoves his hand into his pocket, fishing for something. Predictably enough, it's his inhaler. And Jesse turns away, his heart skipping a beat and then falling down into the pit of his stomach as if unhinged.

Alan suffered from episodes like these, every now and then. He had stress-related asthma attacks that used to block his breathing entirely. It only happened when he was extremely upset or scared of something, he had gotten tested Jesse has no idea how many times, and all the tests had always shown his lungs were in perfect conditions, that there was nothing to be done about it, that the root of it was psychological. To hell with psychology, Alan used to say in a short chuckle. Everything I can't understand about myself, it's my mind protecting me, because obviously I'm not ready to understand it yet. Well, that time never came.

“Mr. Karofsky-Hummel,” he hears the nurse say, “I need you to calm down now.” Then she shouts, “Call doctor Vanderbilt!”, and Jesse thinks it's curious that everything seems to be revolving around Sam today. Blaine first, now this guy too.

He turns towards him again when he hears a loud noise coming from his direction. He's collapsed to his knees and, for reasons he himself is not sure he understands, he feels compelled to move a step towards him, as if to try and help him up.

And the guy raises his eyes on him. They're blue and clear and terrified.

And they recognize him.

Jesse steps back, his heart beating like crazy, as the guy wheezes and whimpers and then falls face-first on the floor. He seemed to know him, he looked at him as if he had already seen him before. But Jesse's sure – pretty sure, at least – that never happened.

Soon enough, people start crowding around him. A couple nurses pull him up, Sam rushes by his side, checks his pupils and tells them to bring him to the E.R. and intubate him right away.

They disappear behind the very same door Alan went through the last time Jesse saw him alive. He presses his hand against his stomach, and tries to repress the urge to throw up.

*

Blaine walks in a moment later, and finds him still standing in front of the vending machine, the untouched macchiato getting cold in the cup he still holds in his fist. His hand's shaking a little, but he hasn't noticed. He can't stop looking at the door the guy went through, even though it's been still since then and nothing else has happened in the last few seconds.

“Hey,” Blaine says, touching his shoulder to catch his attention. Jesse turns to look at him with troubled eyes, and Blaine's expression changes into a more concerned one. He frowns lightly, stroking his arm with his fingers. “Are you alright? You look pale.”

“I'm...” he tries to lie, how difficult can it be? It's two simple words, I'm fine.

They refuse to come out.

He lowers his eyes, and lowers his arm too, forgetting he's still holding the cup. It tilts dangerously forward, the macchiato's about to spill out, but Blaine stops that from happening.

“Oops,” he covers Jesse's hand with his own and then takes the cup from him.

It's such a simple and nice gesture, just so thoughtful, charged with an affectionate intimacy that living together only helped to cement in the last month, that Jesse feels weak in his legs. Alan used to have so many gestures like these towards him. And he's so tired to keep noticing things that remind him of Alan in the most unexpected ways.

He leans in, resting his forehead against Blaine's shoulder. He's a little surprised by the gesture, but the time for surprise is very short. Instantly, he wraps his arms around him, rubbing his back. “There, there, Jess,” he whispers sweetly, “What's wrong?”

“I'm exhausted,” he breathes out, closing his eyes. He inhales Blaine's scent deeply, it's masculine and familiar, and it manages to comfort him a bit. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't make this about me.”

“Jesse,” Blaine chuckles, squeezing him a little harder, “Everything is about you. I know you're in pain. I understand it. I'm here for you.”

“I know, but I wanna be here for you too. It's just that...” he wonders if he should tell him about the weird look that guy threw his way just a moment before collapsing on the floor. Perhaps he's reading too much into it, perhaps it was just a feeling and telling Blaine would be pointless anyway, so he sighs, shaking his head and moving even closer to him, pressing his whole face against the nice, rich fabric of his jacket. “Nevermind. How did it go with Sam? Is everything okay?”

“Yes, actually,” Blaine smiles warmly, kissing him on top of his head, “The test results are promising. I'm doing better.”

“I'm glad about it,” he smiles too, breaking away from the hug only to lift himself up on his tiptoes and kiss Blaine on his cheek, “It's important to me that this... this thing is helping you, somehow. It makes things seem a little less senseless. Like there's a meaning to it, in a way.” His smile falters a little. “Not exactly a meaning I was dying to find out, but still. It helps.”

Blaine's eyes fade away behind a veil of tears for a moment. If he shed some, Jesse doesn't see him, because he pulls him in for another hug, a shorter one, but somehow more intense. “Alan always said you were wise beyond your years.”

“I'm pretty sure I'm not,” he says. And he believes it. He's a fool. Love has made him a fool, and grief made a joke out of him. “But he liked to think so and I never tried to make him change his mind. I was scared he wouldn't have liked me anymore.”

Blaine remains silent for a moment, his fingers almost digging into Jesse's arms. “He liked you before he knew you, Jess. He liked you before both of you were born.”

“I don't believe that.”

“He did,” Blaine finally pulls away, and now he's smiling again, and there's no trace of tears in his eyes anymore, “That's enough. Now come,” he gently holds him by his elbow, guiding him back towards the hallway leading to the exam rooms, “Let's say goodbye to Sam and then go back home. Do you want to go home?”

“Yes,” he nods. He's well aware of the whiny voice he just used to speak. He's not proud of himself, but he's too tired to pretend not to be weak, even though if anyone deserved that he made an effort in that sense, that person is Blaine.

They move freely through the whole hospital, at this point. Sam's an old friend of both Blaine and Alan, and she took care of everything, after he died. She's even in charge of the whole organs donation things, and she updates them regularly, disclosing with Jesse everything she can possibly disclose with him without breaching the law. She believes this might help him, in time. He hopes she's right. Meanwhile, Jesse's ending up spending much more time than he would like here, which is annoying. But also made him earn a little freedom within these walls.

He uses that freedom when, walking down the hallway, he takes a brief peek into one of the rooms and sees the guy from before. He's awake, and he's lying down on a bed, looking straight in front of him with faded eyes. The line of his full lips is hard and tense, and Jesse stops by the door, staring at him.

“Can you give me a moment?” he mutters under his breath.

Blaine stops a few steps ahead of him, turning back. “What's the matter?” he asks, and then takes a peek inside the room too. He frowns lightly, before looking back at him. “Do you know him?”

Jesse thinks long and hard about the answer. “Sort of,” he says in the end, “Just give me a second. I wanna talk to him alone.”

Blaine clearly doesn't understand what the problem might be, or who the boy in the room is, for that matter, but he doesn't protest. He nods and precedes him to Sam's private room.

Jesse breathes in and out, gathering his courage, and then finally walks in. The door is open, but he knocks nonetheless, trying to catch the guy's attention. He turns to look at him and his eyes open up wide as they focus on his face. He straightens his back, sitting up. “It's you,” he says.

Jesse thinks he might be referring to what happened before. After all, they did lock eyes for a moment. So he just nods, sitting on the skeleton of a chair he's got next to his bed.

“What's your name?” he asks.

“Leonard,” the boy answers. Then makes a face, as if disappointed in himself for saying it. “But call me Leo, please.”

“Leo. I'm Jesse.” Jesse nods, studying his features more attentively than he could do before. He's handsome, despite the wild mass of curls hiding half his face and making his head look bigger than it actually is. He's handsome, but he's tired. He's got gray bags under his eyes, and he's pale. He remembers one time, Alan had to meet his dad the next day. He was always nervous whenever he had to meet him, but this time he had to discuss something particularly distressing, something about the family business and money, the two topics of discussion Alan loathed the most in the world. He had spent the entire night with his inhaler pressed against his lips. He hadn't slept a second. He was pale just like Leo is now in the morning. He had ended up not going to his father at all, and he had spent the rest of the day being angry at himself for it. He was so irritated he had treated Jesse like shit all day. Jesse remembers hating him so much because of it. There's nothing he wouldn't give for one more hour of angry silence, now. “What's the deal with you?”

Leo doesn't seem surprised by his question. He relaxes against the pillows, propping himself up to keep sitting without wearing himself out. “I was born with a congenital lung condition,” he explains, looking away with not particularly well-hidden shame, “I've been on the list for a transplant since my doctor said that was a viable option. I've waited almost five years, and then almost a month ago finally...”

Jesse tenses up on the chair, his hands clutching around his knees. That's around the time Alan died. If Leo's the person who received Alan's lungs... but it can't be, no. That'd be unbelievable. Jesse shakes the thought off himself as fast as he let it crawl up inside him. “Didn't you feel better, after the transplant?”

“At first, yes. The first few days were amazing,” he exhales, tilting his head backwards. “You wouldn't believe it. People don't understand how wonderful it is to breathe freely. They take it for granted, but they shouldn't. I had never breathed like that. I could feel the air actually filling up my lungs, I could hold my breath for such a long time and then exhale so deeply. It was extraordinary. And then...” his eyes darken as he looks down again, “Something went wrong.”

“What was it?”

“I don't know, that's why I came here. It started all of a sudden. I kept having asthma attacks. I had never had ones before, it was terrifying. I thought the lungs had collapsed or something, but they didn’t. They scanned me, they told me they're fine, but these episodes keep happening and I can't stand it anymore.” Then he moves his eyes on him. For a moment, he bites at his bottom lip and it's clear in his eyes that he's not sure if he should say anything else. But then he does. “And... there's something else.”

Jesse moves a little closer to him. He's curious. “Something else?” he asks, inviting Leo to talk.

Leo looks away and blushes lightly. “I'm pretty sure if I told you, you'd say I'm crazy.”

The way he says it, as if he was a kid trying to explain that the broken vase his dad is so furious about wasn't his fault while every circumstance indicates otherwise, makes Jesse chuckle. “Try me,” he says.

Leo looks back at him, and try him he does.

“Every time I'm having an episode,” he says, “Seconds before I collapse, I see things.”

Jesse opens his eyes wide, backing off a few inches in surprise. “Like visions?”

“I don't know. No, I wouldn't say visions. Not usually, at least. They're more like memories. Flashbacks. And...” he bites at his bottom lip again, “I don't know if you noticed it, but I looked at you before I fainted in the waiting room. I... I looked at you because I thought, fuck, this is not a flashback anymore. This is a vision. It's getting worse.”

Jesse frowns, clutching his hands around his knees, nervously. “I don't understand.”

“Yeah, I don't either. But these flashbacks I have... I see things. Things happened to someone. They feel like... like they've been happening to me. And you—”

“No, Leo, I don't understand.”

“I'm trying to explain, but it's hard.” Leo breathes in and out, closing his eyes, trying to give his thoughts some sort of order. “Okay, let me try and explain it better. I'm there, having an asthma attack. Okay? And suddenly I start seeing things. Like sometimes happens to people during seizures, you know? I'm in a kitchen. I'm cooking.” Then he stops. He looks at him. “And there's you.”

Jesse's breath gets caught in his throat, and he stares at Leo with unbelieving eyes.

“What do you mean me?”

“Of course I couldn't know it was you before today,” Leo looks down, embarrassed again, “But I recognized you instantly when I saw you. You...” he smiles a little, blushing deliciously, “Tend not to go unnoticed. I bet you've been told that already.”

“Only by people who wanted to take me home for the night,” Jesse mutters in a low voice, lips and throat both dry.

Leo blushes even more, and finally covers his face with both hands. “I'm doing this all wrong,” he says.

“I'm not sure there's a right way to do this,” Jesse comments, swallowing hard, “Continue.”

“Well, I see you in that kitchen. You're staring down at your empty plate and you're pouting, and I don't know why, but this upsets me. I want you to stop, so I ask you what you want to eat for dinner. And you say,” and Jesse's heart skips a beat, “Pink strawberry cheesecake.”

If he wasn't sitting down, he'd need to lean against the wall not to collapse on the floor.

“This...” he tries to swallow, but his mouth is so dry he ends up swallowing air and nothing else. And still, it manages to taste bitter anyway. “This is impossible.”

“I know,” Leo nods, “I don't know why I see these things, but this was the first and I've seen more, and...” he turns around and looks at him, and his voice grows weaker as he keeps speaking, “...and you're in everything I see.” He swallows too. “What's wrong? Are you sick?”

“I... don't know,” Jesse tries to swallow again and brings a hand to his throat, clutching it. Everything's spinning around him. What Leo said makes no sense. He remembers that day. He remembers trying to call his mom on the phone for hours, and he remembers her avoiding each and every one of his calls. He remembers the day turning to night, the sun disappearing, his mood worsening. He remembers greeting Alan with a laconic hi when he came back home from work, and then running to his bedroom, to lock himself in. He still used that room, back then. He remembers coming down for dinner, then, he remembers pouting, staring at that empty place. But it wasn't Leo asking him what he wanted for dinner. It was Alan.

“...Jesse?” Leo calls him, and Jesse looks up at him. He doesn't know what to think. He feels lost and confused and his mind refuses to make sense of what he just heard. Leo seems concerned, and Jesse feels a little guilty for making him feel like that when he's the sick one, but he can't control the broken synapsis of his brain any more than he could control the weather. “Did I say something wrong?”

That's when Jesse hears Blaine's voice calling him from the hallway. He must've finished saying goodbye to Sam, he must be wanting to go back home. His voice, somehow, sounds more real than Leo's. It breaks through the dream-like bubble Jesse pictures wrapped around Leo's room, and the bubble bursts.

He stands up.

“I don't know,” he answers honestly, “I'm not sure. But I have to go.”

Leo tenses all over, sitting up with his back straight once more. “Will I see you again?” he asks expectantly.

Jesse's not sure how he should answer that. Maybe, he could say. During the next asthma attack. But he doesn't say that. He tries stretching a smile over his lips, but he fails. “I don't know,” he says then, “Take care.”

He turns around and leaves the room abruptly.

*

He doesn't know how long he's slept tonight, but it can't have been longer than a couple hours. At some point he started having a weird dream. He was with Alan, of course. They were at the movies or something. He couldn't see the movie, though, the screen was black. Perhaps the show hadn't started yet, or perhaps there was no show ready to happen at all. Still, he was sitting there in the dark, and at some point he had turned towards Alan, sitting next to him, and Alan had smiled. Jesse had smiled back, and then the light had gone out altogether, and when it had come back Alan's face wasn't Alan's face anymore. It had turned into that guy's from the hospital. Then into Blaine's. Into his mother's, his father's, all of Alan's relatives in quick flashes. Finally, his own. And his own face, talking with Alan's voice, had said stop looking at me. Start looking for me.

He had woken up soaking wet with perspiration, unable to go back to sleep anymore. Spent the rest of the night lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, thinking how the hell can I start looking for you? I know exactly where you are. Someplace I can't reach. Unless I... he hadn't even dared to finish the thought. That has been the only thing he has asked out of his sanity. To at least hold him back from suicidal thoughts. He has allowed himself to dive into the deepest pit of desperation he's ever visited in his entire life, but he refuses to allow himself thinking about suicide.

He's nervous, this morning. He feels tired and he can't take his mind off that guy in the hospital. Leonard. No, Leo. He asked to be called Leo.

His face in the dream didn't fit on Alan's body at all. And yet it didn't feel like it had been planted there like some sort of foreign body. It seemed to belong, somehow.

And that's fucking frightening.

“Do you want some milk with your coffee?” Blaine asks, moving swiftly from the coffee machine to the table. He's organizing it for breakfast, taking a ridiculous care with it. There's fruit, sandwiches, milk, cornflakes and a frightening amount of different snacks all over it. Jesse couldn't eat a sugar grain right now.

“I'm not hungry,” he says, trying not to sound too rude, “But thanks.”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Blaine smiles warmly, placing in front of him a huge mug filled with such a weak coffee he can see through it. “How can you not be hungry? You haven't had dinner yesterday.”

“I ate something when I got hungry last night,” he lies.

Blaine sighs patiently, but he doesn't lose his smile. “You know you should keep a decent schedule for your meals, Jesse.”

“I know, but I don't want to,” he answers with a short shrug and a mischievous smile.

“Don't be a pest,” Blaine chuckles. Then he sits down next to him, and starts sipping at his coffee. He chuckles once again, putting down the mug. “You won't believe what kind of craving I woke up to this morning.”

“Chocolate?” he asks, pushing away the mug and started playing with an orange to trick Blaine into thinking at some point he'll eat it, “What are you, pregnant?”

“No, I don't think so,” Blaine chuckles again, “I've been a nun recently.”

“And your vote of chastity is clearly the only reason why you cannot be pregnant, I see,” Jesse nods, “What are you hiding from me?”

“Stop it!” Blaine laughs wholeheartedly, throwing his head backwards. Then he looks back at him and his smile gets even warmer. “Papaya juice.”

Jesse stops playing with the orange and sinks his nails so deeply inside the skin some juice spills out, and drips down his hand and the inside of his wrist.

“Alan's favorite,” he says.

Blaine can't know what this means to him, of course. He doesn't know about Leo, Jesse hasn't told him. Still, he feels his heart start to race, and he can't control the way his mouth and throat turn dry after hearing his words.

“Exactly,” Blaine says in a sweet, short chuckle. He doesn't notice how upset Jesse is, or if he does he probably judges it normal. “Maybe it's a collateral effect of having his bone marrow inside me, liking the same things he liked,” he jokes. Jesse would like to tell him to stop joking about something that might just be true, but his voice seems lost somewhere between his throat and his stomach, and he can't seem to be able to find it back. “We'll have to be careful,” Blaine adds, winking as he leans in to stroke his cheek, “I might end up liking you too.”

And then he does something he had never done before. Something Alan, instead, used to do all the time when they were alone.

He pinches his cheek, and part of Jesse's mind clearly tells him what, now, you weren't expecting this? After that boy and the papaya juice and how fast Blaine's learned how to handle you after surgery, after all that is happened you weren't expecting this?

His body, though. His body wasn't expecting it at all. And he jumps back like a spring, overthrowing the chair on the floor, tripping over it, falling on his ass, hurting his wrists when, trying not to hurt himself too much, he points his hands against the floor not to fall right on his tailbone.

“Jesse!” Blaine yells, standing up. In a moment he's crouching by his side, checking him all over, “Jesse, what the hell? I was just joking, what—”

“Don't touch me!” he screams, unable to control himself, “What— Why would you say that?! How do you know?!”

“Jesse, baby, I don't know what you're talking about,” Blaine removes his hands from him instantly. He's worried that he hurt himself, but he's more worried that Jesse won't let him touch him ever again if he doesn't back off right now. “Please, calm down.”

“Don't ask me to calm down!” Jesse screams again, scrambling on his knees and then on his feet, “Why did you do that?” he asks, looking down at Blaine.

He stares at him with lost eyes, on his knees on the floor. Jesse doesn't know why he keeps kneeling like that. He wants him to stand up. He's tempted to grab him and make him stand up.

“Jesse, I was just joking, I promise,” he says, “I didn't want to offend you. I hope you know I would never touch you with a—”

“I don't care about that!” Jesse interrupts him, furious, “You— You touched me like that. That...” he touches his cheek, pressing his palm against it. “That pinch you gave me,” he says, his voice growing progressively weaker, “Why? Why did you do it?”

“... Jesse, baby,” Blaine finally stands up. He speaks slowly in a low, soothing voice, putting his hands on both his shoulders and squeezing them gently. “I don't know. I don't know why I did that or said those words, I didn't think it would be that much of a problem. I was just playing around. If I offended you—”

“This has nothing to do with me being offended,” Jesse shakes his head and tries to back away from him, but Blaine holds him firmly, knowing exactly, this time, that if he lets him go now he's never going to get close to him again, for sure. Jesse tries to look deeply into his eyes, tries to read at the bottom of their shining golden light, where is this knowledge coming at you from?, how do you know all this? He stops struggling and looks down, his arms falling limp down his sides. “...that pinch— you can't know that, but Alan used to do that to me all the time. Only when we were alone, though. I complained about it, because it made me feel as if he thought he was handling a child or something, so I had asked him to stop doing that. He told me he couldn't, that every time he saw my cheeks he wanted to pinch them and he couldn't possibly resist the urge. He played the clown, you see. But since he knew it embarrassed me, he never did it in public. Not even when we were with close friends.” He stops talking and closes his eyes for a moment, inhaling and exhaling to try and control himself. He wants to cry so much. He already feels the familiar stings of tears knocking behind his eyelids, pleading to be let out. “You couldn't know that. You shouldn't know that. How do you know that?”

Blaine looks at him and Jesse can see on his face that he has no idea what he's talking about. Now he's sure, if there was even a chance that Alan might've told him about the pinch at some point, this was not the case. He didn't know. He just did it. And that's probably even worse.

“Jesse, I swear,” his voice falters just a little, though his eyes remain on Jesse, “I had no idea. You have to believe me.”

Jesse swallows. He doesn't try to run away anymore. “I do,” he says, lowering his eyes. “...Blaine, there's something I haven't told you about yesterday.”

Blaine frowns lightly, confused. “What's that got to do with it, now?”

“It does,” Jesse swallows again, and then reaches out blindly for the chair, “I need to sit. Give me a moment.”

“Yes. Sure.” Blaine backs off with a sigh, helping him pick the chair up from the floor.

Once Jesse's seated, Blaine does the same. He keeps staring at him as if he had all the answers. Jesse's almost sorry all he's gonna have for him are more questions.

“Do you remember that guy I stopped by at the hospital, yesterday?”

Blaine frowns again. “The more you say the farther we seem to be moving from the point, Jess. But yes, I do remember the boy. You spent a few minutes in his room. You refused to tell me why.”

“Because I was scared.” Jesse swallows, torturing his own fingers. “Something happened with that guy. I'm not sure how to explain it.”

Blaine instantly whitens up, staring at him in utter disbelief. “Jesse...?” he asks uncertainly. Jesse understands he misunderstood and lets out a weak, dry laughter, shaking his head.

“Not that kind of something. I was getting my coffee and I saw him fighting with a nurse. He was agitated and kept saying his new lungs weren't working as they should, that he kept having asthma attacks. And the more agitated he got, the harder it was for him to breathe.” He looks up at Blaine, questioningly. “Ring a bell?”

He takes a few seconds before answering. He crosses his arms on the table, in front of himself, and leans on it, keeping his eyes on Jesse. When he speaks, he does it in a low, controlled voice, as if he was trying to handle the situation. (As if he could, Jesse can't help but thinking bitterly.) “Jess,” he says, “What are you trying to tell me?”

“I sat with that boy in that room and he told me he had lung disease. That he finally got a transplant less than a month ago. But that since then he's starting to have these episodes he can't explain. The doctors keep telling him he's fine, but he's not. And... and he told me that every time something like that happens, just before he collapses he sees visions. Like flashbacks. And that I'm in all of them. And Blaine,” he looks up at him, his voice shaking with emotion and distress, “Blaine, he described one of them to me, and it was something that really happened. Something that I remember, Blaine, except that it was Alan with me, not this guy. But he remembers it as if he was there instead of Alan. He's got Alan's memories. At least— I don't know, some of them.”

“Jesse,” Blaine brings a hand over his face, massaging it wearily and then passing it through his curly locks, combing them backwards. “Jesse. Baby. You're making no sense at all.”

“I know,” Jesse lowers his eyes again. Now that it's out, he feels a little lighter. He's still scared, but perhaps Blaine will help him. Perhaps he could. “But I know what I've heard. That guy— his name's Leo. He told me something only I could know. And you...” he looks at him again, “You just did something you shouldn't have known. I don't know—“ his eyes start filling up with tears, he can't hold them back anymore and, frankly, he's not sure he wants to, now that he doesn't have to keep some sort of control over himself to let the message across, “I don't know what's happening, I don't know how to explain it, but I think Leo's got Alan's lungs, just like you've got his bone marrow, and you're both acting weird, and I think I wanna know more about this.”

Blaine looks down, letting go of a weak, short smile. “You mean you want to talk to the guy again.”

“And to you too. I wanna talk with you both, to try and make sense of this situation. Please. Let's go back to the hospital.”

“But he's probably gone home, by now,” Blaine notes. Jesse looks at him intently, trying to tell him what he wants to say without uttering a word. Blaine, obviously, gets it right away, and now Jesse isn't surprised about it anymore. “No,” he says, “Jesse, we can't ask Sam. It'd be unfair. She doesn't deserve that.”

“Blaine,” Jesse climbs with his knees on the chair, leaning in on the table. He puts both his hands on the one Blaine still has resting on the table, and not even for a minute he breaks eye contact with him. “Please.”

And like Alan before him, Blaine is unable to say no.

*

Blaine is nervous, Jesse can feel it clearly as if anxiety was a disease that could be passed on, like a cold or flu. There's an electrical quality to the air surrounding him. He knows Blaine doesn't like the idea of having to ask Sam for a favor, especially when said favor is in breach of her professional ethic. But Jesse needs to see this through. He absolutely needs to see Leo again, to speak with him.

He needs to understand what's going on, because otherwise, he's sure of it, he's gonna lose his mind.

“For Christ's sake,” Sam opens the door all of a sudden, walking in quickly. The unruly mass of her blonde, tightly curled hair follows her like a yellow cloud as she opens her coat and the first couple buttons of her peach-colored flowery shirt. “Honestly,” she huffs, sitting on the chair behind her desk, “I don't know what it is about old people and leg ulcers. They come in waves like seasonal flu, I swear. Every time a workday starts with some white, cute little granny with a bloody hole on her ankle I just know by the end of that very same day I will have seen at least a dozen similar ones.” Both Blaine and Jesse chuckle, a little uneasily, perhaps. Her complaints are funny, and usually they'd be laughing wholeheartedly, by now, but their hearts are too damaged to be whole, at the moment, and Sam will have to settle for half-assed laughter, at least for the time being. ”Maybe there's a club,” Sam goes on, crossing her ridiculously long legs, abundantly left bare by the short black skirt she's wearing underneath, “The Venous Ulcer Club. They probably have a card and discounts in all the major malls of the town.”

“Can’t wait to be eighty years old to be part of that club too,” Blaine attempts a joke, and Sam waves her hand in mid-air, huffing again.

“You have legs of a twenty years old, damn you,” she comments, “I imagine you’d have to get to at least a hundred and twenty years old to see a varicose vein on it. Lucky us,” she concludes with a smile, “Now chances are you might get to that.”

“Even with a new bone marrow,” Blaine smiles, crouching his shoulders, “I doubt I’d get to a hundred and twenty years, Sam.”

Jesse listens to him as he says it and can’t help but think that he hopes he does, instead. If he leaves him too, what else is there for him?

“Speaking of which,” Sam reprises, still smiling, “I doubt you’re here for another checkup, it’s way too soon. Your blood tests were fine a couple days ago. Is there something wrong?”

“No, Sam, it’s not like that,” Blaine answers, shaking his head.

“Actually, yes, there is something wrong,” Jesse interrupts them. Blaine asked him not to, before coming in. He clearly doesn’t trust him with explaining this to Sam, and Jesse can’t blame him. But he’s had enough of small talk. Alan used to say he only knew one way, and that way was a straight one. Blaine used to joke about that, he said it was true, that it was amazing how gay he could be despite all that straightness, and Alan laughed along, but he was serious, and Jesse knew it. He knew Alan read inside him as if the pages of his personal book were written in his blood, and he could recognize it to the touch, to the smell.

Well, now it really his. History. Their history. It’s written in Alan’s blood. And Jesse can smell it too.

“I need to know the name of the people who received Alan’s organs,” he says, spitting it out in one breath.

Silence falls heavy upon the room, and for a moment Sam even holds her breath, looking at him as if he was crazy.

“You can’t be serious,” she says.

“Sam, I need it,” he insists. He can’t look at her because he feels ashamed at himself, but he can’t help it. “I can’t explain why, but you need to trust me.”

“Jesse, dear, you’re grieving. If there is one thing that I can’t do, it’s trust you, right now.”

“This has nothing to do with me grieving,” he shakes his head and looks up, and when she sees the way she’s looking at her, as if these words had indeed convinced her once and for all that yes, this is all about him grieving, despite what he says, he bites at his inner cheek and tries to convince her otherwise. “Or maybe it is,” he concedes, crouching his shoulders, “I don’t know. But I need to find those people. One of them—“

“I don’t wanna listen to this madness anymore,” she stands up, shaking her head and turning her stern, disappointed eyes on Blaine. “You knew he wanted this, and still you took him here. Congratulations, Blaine. You deserve the months it’ll take you to mend his heart after you deluded him into thinking this could be a solution.”

“I didn’t—“

“He didn’t tell me anything,” Jesse stands up too, facing her in the only way he knows, straightforwardly. “I met one of these people already. I don’t know his name or where he lives, but I need to speak with him again.”

“Jesse, you don’t need to speak with any of those people any more than you need to swallow a mouthful of cyanide,” Sam insists, turning back towards him, “Besides, how do you even know this person you spoke with was one of Alan’s receivers? Whoever he is, he doesn’t know where his new organs come from.”

“But I do.”

“No, you do not!”

“I do, because something is happening to these people!” Jesse raises his voice, clutching his fists down his sides. Then he turns to Blaine, speaking softly to him. “Tell her.”

Blaine sighs. He has the eyes of a man who knew this would happen, and yet went through it because it was necessary. They remind Jesse of that one time Alan agreed to drive him back home to his parents. He knew they wouldn’t have let him in and, if Jesse’s honest with himself, he can admit he knew it too. But he wanted to hope otherwise, against all odds. Or perhaps he simply needed that door to be shut on his face one last time, to finally accept that it wasn’t gonna change, that that part of his life was over. Alan knew all this before it would happen, and he had agreed to drive him there nonetheless. And he had held him through that night and through the countless ones that had followed it as he cried the loss of both his parents. His first real grieving experience. And for two people who didn’t even have the decency to be dead yet.

“Recently,” Blaine says, “I started acting weird. It’s not something I control and it’s not something I do on purpose. In fact, I don’t even notice.” He looks up at Sam, knowing perfectly well that, by the time he’s done talking, she’ll believe him crazy. Nonetheless, he knows Jesse needs it, and so he soldiers on. “I’ve started speaking and acting like Alan around him.”

Sam’s arms fall limp down her sides as she drops down on her chair, huffing. “Blaine, please,” she sighs, “This is a simple episode of transference, I’m shocked that you wouldn’t even think about it. You both suffered a great loss, it’s only obvious that—“

“Sam, I remember— I know things I should not know,” Blaine interrupts her, shaking his head, “That’s not transference, a transference would be Jesse trying to see Alan in me.”

“That’s exactly what I believe is going on!” she replies, opening her arms wide in disbelief, “He can’t deal with the fact that he’s gone and how that happened, and so he sees him in you, his best friend. And somehow you managed to receive that signal like an antenna, and—“

“No.” Blaine speaks softly, with his eyes down, shaking his head. He doesn’t wanna fight about this, that’s obvious to Jesse. He doesn’t wanna fight about it, but he’s still gonna fight for it. “You have to believe me. There is something going on here. If it was just me, I’d probably agree with you, but this guy… he’s something different. And if what Jesse told me is true—“

If what he told you is true?”

“It is,” Jesse insists stubbornly. He sits down again, and watches Sam intently. “Sam, listen to me,” he says in the softest voice he can manage, “I know I’m asking a lot of you. I wouldn’t if I didn’t need it so bad.”

“Oh, I’m sure you need it bad, Jesse.”

“Even if you were right,” he goes on, his voice breaking in half a sob. He didn’t mean for it to happen, he did not want to cry. Did not want to move her to pity. But it’s happening anyway, much like any other uncontrollable thing. “Please, consider it. Even if I just needed this to deal with my grief, tell me their names. I I don’t do this, I just—“ he stops for a moment, trying to catch his breath. He hates to speak while he’s crying. He never manages to do both things well. “I just know I’m gonna lose my mind,” he finally concludes, looking down.

He doesn’t raise his eyes to look at Sam, but he can still listen to her. He hears her stand up and move a few steps away from her desk. The soft rustle of her clothes, the clicking sound of her heels against the floor. Then, her voice. “I think you’re not okay, Jesse,” she says, more warmly than he thought she would, “And I’m convinced this is not what you need.” She leans on her desk, clicks on her mouse a couple times. Then moves away again. “I won’t give you those names. But sometimes I’m distracted. And I have patients waiting for me.”

She walks out of the room and closes the door behind herself. It takes Jesse a few seconds to understand she’s left a few files open on her desktop. The files they were looking for.

*

The name of the receiver of Alan’s heart hasn’t been disclosed yet. The file on Sam’s computer was empty, but there were two other, there, beside Blaine’s. One was Leo’s. The other guy’s named Cody Petersen. He received Alan’s corneas, but something seems to have gone wrong during surgery, and he’s in a drug-induced coma. Jesse can’t wait for him to wake up. And besides, he wants to speak with Leo first. After all, he is the first he saw behaving like that.

Leo lives near the university. Jesse’s never been to this neighborhood, and he doesn’t like it much. It’s chaotic, there are too many bars with too many tables on the sidewalks, and too many people sitting behind them, shielded from the world by piles and piles of books. He doesn’t trust people who need to get out of her homes to study. Either they want to flaunt their superiority by knowledge in your face, or they’re actively searching for something to distract them from studying itself. In both cases, they’re the worst kind of liars, those who lie to themselves.

He vaguely wonders if Leo might be like them. Then he tells himself that no, that’s impossible, Leo could never. And then he gets angry at himself, because what the hell does he know about this guy, really? Nothing except his name and the fact that he had lung disease and now he’s got new lungs who gave him another disease which was never his to begin with, along with memories he shouldn’t share.

The truth is he can feel himself descend into a cave he’s not sure will ever lead to another side. Or end, for that matter. Like Alice, he’s falling head-first down the white rabbit’s hole. And his white rabbit’s dead. So his hole can be nothing but a tomb.

“Are you ready?”

Blaine’s voice makes him snap out of it, and he turns to look at him with lost eyes. No, he’s not ready. He will never be ready for this. Nonetheless, he’s going to do it, and so he nods, knowing that Blaine will understand exactly what he means.

They ring the doorbell, and then listen to silence for a few seconds, followed by a light rustling – feet on carpeted floor, a stomping.

Then the door opens, and Leo appears behind it. He’s already different from the hopeful guy Jesse last heard asking when could he see him again.

“You,” Leo says. His voice is dark and heavy, and Jesse instinctively knows he doesn’t feel good. This must be a bad day. He can recognize them, now. He’s been gathering a massive experience in bad days.

“Hi,” he tries a little smile as he half-turns, pointing his hand at Blaine, “This is Blaine, a friend of mine. Can we come in?”

Leo throws an uncertain look at Blaine, and then looks back at Jesse. “How did you find out where I live?” he asks, instead of answering.

Jesse shakes his head. “You don’t wanna know,” he says. Then he smiles again. “I thought you wanted to see me again.”

He’s well aware to be playing dirty. If what he thinks is true, if there really is a part of Alan inside Leo, Leo’s bound to react in some way to his presence. He knows this is almost like forcing him, but he needs to force him, somehow, to be sure he’s right.

Leo moves away from the door, hissing. “Do what you want,” he says, leaving the door open.

That’s confirmation enough, for now.

Leo clearly lives alone. His house his tidy enough, for a college student, but not family-tidy. It’s clear that there’s no schedule as far as cleaning goes, and there are books scattered around the whole sitting room, not all of them manuals, actually.

He leads them to the kitchen, which is spotless, instead. He opens the refrigerator and, offering them his back, he asks them if they want something to eat or drink. He tells them he was about to make himself a sandwich. That he could make some for them too. Then he starts listing potential ingredients. Ham. Salami. Mozzarella. Cucumber. Olives.

“You’re nervous, aren’t you?” Blaine says, breaking the endless stream of words coming out of his mouth.

Leo falls silent right away. His fingers close angrily around the edge of the refrigerator door for a moment, hard enough to turn his knuckles white. Then he turns around, slowly, leaving the door open as he leans on the table, both hands wide open on its wooden top.

“Yes,” he says, “I am. I have two strangers in my house, and one of them I thought I wouldn’t meet anymore,” he adds, looking at Jesse.

Jesse looks down, vaguely embarrassed by Leo’s accusatory gaze. “I’m sorry,” he says.

“I know this isn’t an ideal situation,” Blaine tries with half a smile.

“And with not an ideal situation you mean that it fucking sucks, I’m sure,” Leo retorts angrily, and then clicks his tongue. “And who the hell are you, anyway?!”

“I’m someone that’s going through what you’re going through,” he answers calmly.

Leo falls silent once again, studying him suspiciously. Then he turns towards Jesse. “He’s having episodes too…?”

“Not exactly of your kind,” Jesse explains, “No asthma for him. Perhaps because he didn’t receive Alan’s lungs, but his bone marrow.”

“Alan…?” Leo frowns, shaking his head, “Who’s Alan now…? What are you talking about?”

“Alan is my boyfriend,” he says. Then he bites at his tongue and corrects himself. “Was. He was my boyfriend. He died in a crash a month ago. He was on his way to the hospital because Blaine had called him with the result of some analysis that said he had leukemia. He was riding his motorbike and he was speeding, and a car ran him over. He was still alive when he arrived at the hospital. He was alive when I saw him go to surgery. He was dead when he came out of it, tho.” He stops for a moment, catching his breath. He’s looked into Leo’s eyes incessantly, as he spoke. He saw his expression change from anger to shock and finally settle for sadness. He wonders if he’s starting to understand. “He was a donor. He had the card in his wallet. Blaine got his bone marrow, they managed to get it from him before it was too late. Then they took out everything else they could get from him. Lungs, heart, kidneys, corneas. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. I’m sure there’s a dozen other things he had inside himself that they took out to give somebody else. But you’ve got his lungs. And I’m sure of it because the vision you told me about last time we met— us in that kitchen, you cooking for me. That happened. I was there. But you weren’t. Alan was. And somehow that memory is inside you, now. And I think it’s because of the transplant.”

For the longest time after he stopped talking, Leo doesn’t say anything. Blaine clears his throat and attempts a “perhaps this wasn’t the best way you could’ve told him, Jess,” when Leo finally bursts into a nervous laughter, passing his fingers through his hair.

“You’re crazy,” he says with a shaky voice, “You must be.”

“Maybe, but I think that’s what’s happening,” Jesse replies, looking down.

“What’s happening is crazy like you are!” Leo yells in his face, “And what’s that got to do with him? He got this person’s bone marrow and what, is he having visions like me?”

“Not visions,” Blaine tries to explain in a low, controlled voice, opposing a serenity he must fake to Leo’s extremely real complete lack of it, “But I’ve taken up some of Alan’s expressions. Some of his gestures and some of the things he liked. Things I couldn’t know. And I’m doing them and saying them to Jesse.”

“Ha, right, sure,” Leo laughs bitterly, shaking his head, “That’s a nice, elegant way to say you’re fucking him. So what, your best friend dies, saves your life with his bone marrow, you start fucking his grieving boyfriend and this fucking insanity is what you come up with to justify yourself?”

“I would never do something like that!” Blaine protests, standing up in outrage.

“Even if it was so,” Jesse insists, “How would that explain what’s happening to you? We didn’t even know each other.”

“How would that…” Leo laughs again, shaking his head, “You think at this point I give a shit about a fucking explanation anymore? Look at me, Jesse! No doctor can understand what my problem is! I’ve gone through a dozen tests and they all say I’m perfectly okay! I keep choking in the middle of the night for no fucking reason and I keep seeing you, fuck, I see you everywhere, everything fucking triggers me, I see someone walking into a shop and it’s you, I see someone buying fruit at the grocery and it’s you, I get into my fucking bed at night and you’re waiting there for me, and you keep talking to me about explanations! I…”

He stops talking suddenly, and he coughs right after that. Blaine’s offended expression instantly turns into a worried one when he sees him whiten up, but Jesse was expecting it. At some point, while Leo’s rage mounted and his voice got higher and angrier, Jesse saw this happening in the back of his mind. He saw Alan go through the very same thing, and he braced himself for it.

Leo starts coughing harder. He can’t breathe.

“Fuck,” Blaine says, “Where’s his inhaler?”

Leo reaches out for it on his own. In a surprisingly lucid gesture, despite the tremors of his hand, he fetches the inhaler from his pants’ backpocket and takes a deep breath.

It’s not enough.

“Shit,” Blaine grabs his phone, “I’m calling an ambulance.”

“No,” Jesse says. He’s surprised by how steady his own voice sounds. Inside, he’s all afire. He feels as though he couldn’t see what’s in front of him clearly, Leo’s face keeps turning into Alan’s and then reverting back to its true self, and yet the path ahead him stands out like Dorothy’s yellow brick road.

He stands up from the chair and kneels down next to Leo. He’s sitting down, his arms limp and motionless, his head tilted upwards as he tries to inhale as much air as his respiratory system lets him.

“Leo,” Jesse says, placing a hand on his leg, “Listen to me.” Leo looks down at him and his eyes are watery with tears. He seems desperate, and what’s worse is, Jesse doesn’t only see it, he feels it, he knows it. He offers him a smile, hoping whatever worked when he asked to be let inside his house works again now. A single tear rolls down Leo’s cheek, and Jesse knows it did. “Count with me,” he says, “Don’t worry. Your body will know. Count with me. One, two, three.”

“One,” Leo wheezes, grabbing Jesse’s hand with his own and squeezing it fiercely, “Two… three.”

“Right,” Jesse’s smile widen a little, “Four, five, six.”

“Four,” Leo repeats, “Five, six.”

They go on like this until 39. Then, Leo finally calm down, and once he does, once he starts breathing properly again, the real weight of what just happened falls upon Jesse’s shoulders in its entirety. He falls on his ass on the floor, and moves back a few inches. He looks up at Blaine, and he’s looking at him with eyes so wide Jesse can almost see himself reflected into them. “How the hell did you do it?” he asks, “You made it stop.”

Jesse turns to look at Leo. He bent over, his elbows resting on his thighs, his head sinking between his shoulders. He’s still breathing heavily, but he’s fine. “Alan used to have asthma attacks just like this,” he explains then, so Leo can understand it too, “His lungs were fine, he wasn’t allergic to anything, it was anxiety. When he got nervous or angry, that’s how his body would stop him. And whenever that happened, counting forward was the only thing that worked. His mother had taught him. And he taught me.”

Leo finally raises his eyes on him. He’s still crying, but he’s doing it silently. “I can’t believe it,” he says.

Neither can Jesse, honestly. And yet.

*

Leo moves in with them that very same night. He only packs a bag with a few things. Jesse’s the one asking him to do it. He refuses, at first. Jesse just says please, and that’s enough to convince him. He tells himself and them that it’s safer like that, that if he gets sick again at least Jesse will be able to help him, but they all know that’s not the real reason why he’s doing it. Whatever that reason is, and it’s not clear to any of them yet, it certainly isn’t safety. On the contrary, Jesse can feel there’s a subtle pull towards self-destruction leading them down the way. He’s scared about it, but Alan used to tell him fear needed to be acknowledged, faced and tamed, and he wants to try that.

Blaine’s house only have a spare room, and Jesse’s using it. He promises Leo they’re gonna find a more comfortable solution in the days that are going to come, but for tonight he only has a couch to offer. Leo seems embarrassed, but he accepts and thanks Blaine for having him. He sits on the couch and throws a confused glance at Jesse. Jesse feels he wants to ask something to him, but he doesn’t, and Jesse decides not to push.

Then, Blaine says he needs this day to be over. He says it exactly like that. He doesn’t suggest it might be time to go to bed, he doesn’t say he’s tired, he says he needs the day to be over already, and he retires to his bedroom with a quick goodnight. He doesn’t even stop for dinner.

Leo and Jesse look at each other awkwardly for a few seconds. Then Jesse looks down and tells him he’s going to go to bed too. He almost hopes Leo will ask him to stay, instead, but he doesn’t, and Jesse leaves. He hides in his bedroom, gets under the covers, pushes his head underneath the pillow and tries to sleep.

He tries hard enough to give himself a headache. Then he realizes that was not trying, it’s simply hunger, and he stands up, sighing deeply.

The house is dark and silent, and Jesse walks through it silently like a dog. He passes by the sitting room and sees Leo lying down on his back on the couch. He’s got his eyes closed, and Jesse takes for granted he must be asleep. It’s nice to see him sleep soundly like that, so he smiles and slips into the kitchen. He can still hear Leo’s voice listing ingredients for their potential sandwiches that never were. Ham. Salami. Mozzarella. Cucumber. Olives. He spots them all inside the refrigerator, and uses them for a sandwich big enough that he’s pretty sure it won’t even fit his mouth.

It doesn’t matter. It’s the first time he’s hungry – really hungry – since Alan died. He’s going to enjoy this.

He cuts the sandwich in half. Puts it on a plate. Then he heads out, dead set on eating it on his bed and who gives a fuck about the crumbs he’ll be covered with comes morning, when he sees Leo’s not sleeping anymore. That is, if he ever was. He’s sitting on the couch and he’s looking at him as if he had been waiting for him to come out of the kitchen for the last few minutes – which he probably was.

He’s also smiling. A soft, sad smile that makes Jesse feel weak in his legs.

“I thought you were sleeping,” he says, moving closer and sitting next to him on the couch.

“I was trying,” Leo says, shrugging, “I didn’t wanna do this.”

“This being…”

“Talk with you,” he answers with an apologetic smile, “I was hoping to avoid it, honestly. But I can’t. And the funny fact is,” he chuckles uneasily, “I don’t even think I have something specific to tell you. I just wanna let it out, I guess. If it makes sense.”

“I can’t find anything that makes sense in this story,” Jesse sighs, putting down the sandwich on the coffee table. Seems like he isn’t gonna enjoy it, after all. “I’m sorry about it. I’m sorry that it happened, and that I dragged you in it. Believe me, if I thought there was a way to solve this, I’d try it.”

“Why are you apologizing?” Leo asks, tilting his head, “Why do you think it’s your fault?”

“Well, it’s my boyfriend inside you, making you act weird and attempting to kill you every time you get angry.”

“Then it’s your boyfriend’s fault, not yours,” Leo offers with a tiny smile.

Jesse can’t help but chuckle, even if it’s probably too soon for such a joke. In fact, it hurts. But he chuckles nonetheless.

“I apologize on his behalf, then,” he says.

Leo chuckles too. There’s something soft about the sound his laughter makes in the thick silence enshrouding the house. Something that makes Jesse’s heart feel warmer.

“It’s not all bad, you know?” Leo says, “Some moments… some of them are nice.”

“Really?” Jesse chuckles softly, moving a little closer to him, “You’re gonna have to make some examples.”

Leo remains silent for a little while. He seems to be thinking about what to say for a very long time, not as if he was fishing for something, but as if he wasn’t sure he should be saying it at all. Then, he decides he wants to.

“There’s a memory that keeps coming to me,” he says in a low voice, “We’re naked on a bed. I don’t know that for certain, but I’m pretty sure you just refused to have sex with me for a reason I can’t remember or understand. I know in my heart that I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time, and I’m fucking frustrated, and I wanna bite you, but I don’t because I know that if I do you’re gonna be angry at me.”

Jesse chuckles, covering his face with both hands. “God…”

“Don’t laugh, I’m trying to share something.”

“You’re sharing too much,” he chuckles again, “But I remember that afternoon,” he smiles, looking back at him, “Go on.”

“There’s nothing else, really,” Leo shrugs, looking away in embarrassment, “We’re both there, lying down. I’m hard and horny. You’re not, though, and I have to respect that. And yet, you’re… you’re warm.” Leo raises a hand and rubs his fingers together as if he could feel that warmth on his skin right now, “And you’re close. And I feel that all my struggling has an end, you know. That there’s a prize at the end of the road, and that prize is you, and you’re worth it. And I’m content.”

Jesse holds his breath and covers his face once again. He doesn’t wanna cry. He doesn’t wanna cry. He’s happy. He doesn’t wanna cry.

He cries.

“Please, don’t…” Leo says softly, moving his hands away from his face to touch his tears with his thumb, “I don’t like to see you cry, apparently,” he explains with a short chuckle. Then he turns serious again. His fingers won’t leave Jesse’s cheek. “You’re so stunning, in every one of my visions. You take my breath away. Metaphorically speaking.” Jesse laughs weakly, and Leo smiles at him. “Every time I feel bad it’s like, I can’t breathe, and I get so sick, and then I see you with my mind’s eye and for a split second I’m completely at peace, before I collapse. I can’t think this is all bad. There must be a reason for it, and I think we could find out what it is together.” He stops for a moment, smiles a little wider. “And that’s nice.”

Jesse feels the warmth of his fingers on his own cheek, and the familiar sting of tears is forgotten, as if it never existed at all. He swallows, and only when he feels the warm caress of Leo’s breath on his lips he understands how close they’ve gotten.

Leo leans in. Jesse knows if he doesn’t move away it’s gonna happen.

He moves away, his heart pounding in his chest, hard enough to deafen him.

“No,” he mutters confusedly, “Not… not yet. It’s not… it’s too soon.”

Leo straightens up his back and looks away, embarrassed. “Of course,” he whispers under his breath, “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”

Oh, but I do, Jesse would like to tell him. But he doesn’t.

*

Things change as inevitably as the turn of the seasons. Jesse lets it happen because he can't even think about fighting it, right now, and also because, honestly, it feels good. Closeness feels good, it feels good to let someone in.

Neither Leo nor him know exactly how this thing works. They go with the flow, expecting nothing from it. Leo hasn't tried kissing him again since Jesse pulled away that night, and Jesse's glad about it, because he doesn't want to have to push him back again. (And he's not even sure he would. On the right night, when he misses Alan the most and when whatever's working inside Leo works well enough that Jesse can almost feel Alan's scent getting close to him, he could even say yes. He doesn't wanna think about it, but he knows he could.)

Blaine doesn't like it. When they're too close on the couch, watching something at night after Leo's been attending classes all day and Jesse's been attending the white wall of his bedroom waiting for someone to be back home not to feel so desperately alone anymore, he looks at them sternly. He doesn't dare saying anything, but Jesse knows he doesn't approve.

But then, it's not like they're doing something wrong, is it? Leo mostly feeds him. He seems to have taken over his own shoulders this specific part of the whole taking care of him process. Since Blaine is practically unable to cook anything, not even scrambled eggs, without attempting to burn the whole house in the process, Leo gladly took that over. Every day, around 6 PM, he comes back home, smiles at him and walks into the kitchen, which he turned into his reign in less than a couple of days.

Jesse usually sits as close to him as possible, watching him move swiftly between pots and frying pans, as if he was born to handle them. He waits around to smell the scent of seasoned food and chats with Leo about what he did during the morning. Leo always asks him if he got bored, and when Jesse inevitably says yes he never misses a chance to say he's sorry about it.

Last night, while he was mixing ingredients for some ravioli's filling, Leo suddenly chuckled and said “you remember that time I mixed spinach with whipped cream because that Korean website said it would've tasted amazing as pasta sauce? God, that shit sucked.”

Jesse felt his heart sink at the bottom of his stomach. “Yes,” he said weakly. He remembered laughing like crazy after Alan tasted the sauce and almost puked on the stove. He stood up and hugged Leo from behind, hiding his face between his shoulder blades.

Leo huffed patiently. “I did it again, didn't I?” he said with a sigh, “It was him, not me.”

Jesse's starting to question if there even is a difference, at this point, and what does it matter anyway.

Tonight, Leo's cooking lasagna. He's had an episode earlier in the evening. Jesse counted to 15 together with him and Leo didn't even faint. He laughed, instead, when he started breathing properly again. “I don't have visions before collapsing anymore, because I don't collapse anymore, but I still see you all the time,” he said. It was such a sad and at the same time comforting thing to say that Jesse cried a little.

Blaine comes back home while Jesse helps him set down layers after layers of pasta on top of layers after layers of meat sauce and béchamel. Jesse feels good enough to turn to look at him with a smile, but Blaine meets that smile with a dark, troubled expression, and Jesse stops smiling right away.

“Did something happen?” Leo asks, looking worried. He doesn't like it when Blaine's in a bad mood. Things that in any other day would be met with a sigh and a resigned smile tend to be met with cold glares and reproaches when Blaine's not okay.

“Was it the casting?” Jesse asks, putting the pot filled with meat sauce down on the kitchen counter top. If they give him the part, this would be the first job he gets after retiring because of the sickness early last year. His big comeback. Jesse knows it's important – even though the idea that Blaine could go back to his everyday life, that things could go back to the way they were before as if nothing really happened, as if Alan was nothing but a detail in the background, that doesn't change the big picture once erased, scares him to death.

Blaine shakes his head and takes his jacket off. He's unusually silent and Jesse doesn't know how to interpret that. He walks closer to him and puts a hand on his shoulder, and when Blaine turns to look at him Jesse understands that what he had mistakenly read as bad mood is really just worry and sadness.

“Sam called me,” he says.

Jesse's heart skips a beat as he clenches his jaw. He removes his hand from Blaine's shoulder, instinctively searching for some personal space, but then he sees Blaine's eyes sadden even more, and he touches him again. “About what?” he asks, trying not to sound as troubled as he is.

“The other kid,” Blaine answers with a sigh, “The one with Alan's corneas. They're waking him up tomorrow, and then they'll send him home. Sam says...” he sighs again, as if speaking these simple words were costing him too much, “If you want to see him without having to stalk him to his home, you should do it now.” He stands up, then. While Leo keeps himself busy putting dinner in the oven not to break this moment for them, he cups Jesse's face in his hands and speaks softly to him. “Now you've got to choose, baby. Do you want to see him or not?”

Jesse doesn't even need to say the word. His eyes – and isn't that appropriate – speak loud enough.

*

Jesse remembers looking at the picture archived in Cody's file on Sam's computer, but he also remembers doing that distractedly, as if he didn't matter much, all in all. If he had paid proper attention, he wouldn't have missed how beautiful he looks, and frankly he imagines his head must've been on a different dimension not to notice it the first time around either.

If Sleeping Beauty was a boy, and dark haired, he thinks as he walks into the room and towards the bed where Cody's lying, that's exactly what she'd look like. Porcelain skin and tiny figure almost disappearing underneath the covers, and those girly features, the small nose, the bangs, that heart-shaped mouth with naturally red lips. He looks exactly like a princess out of a fairytale, there's a magical quality to him, maybe because he's so delicate.

Jesse holds his breath as he approaches the sleeping boy. He hears Leo breathe out “is he even real?” in the background, and he almost chuckles at that, but he manages to hold it in. It's not just his beauty that's mesmerizing him, forcing him to walk silently towards him as if under a spell, it's a pull he can feel, deep into his bones, or his heart, or his stomach, wherever they say the soul should reside. It's pulling him in like a rope, and tugging at the other end of it, with his tiny hands with slender fingers, there's Cody.

But he smells like Alan.

He stops by the bed and looks down at him. Cody seems to be sleeping peacefully. His breathing is slow and regular. He lies perfectly still. A little unnatural as he looks, almost like a doll that's been placed there waiting for a kid to return and command it to open its eyes by changing its position.

“Are you sure you want to do this, love?” Blaine says in the softest of voices. He's close, and Jesse's thankful for it.

“Yes,” he answers. But he can't listen to the sound of his own voice, because his heart's thumping so hard that thumping cancels out every other noise.

Beauty's still sleeping. Just like prince Philip, he leans in. He doesn't want to kiss him, just look closer at him as he shakes him by his shoulder, hoping that'll be enough to wake him up.

Turns out Cody didn't even need touching.

He opens his eyes suddenly, looking straight at him. He doesn't seem like someone who's just woken up, let alone who's just come out of a coma. His eyes are awake, clear and alert. He props himself up on both hands as Jesse jumps back so quickly he almost trips, and Blaine has to catch him with both hands to help him stand.

Cody seems a little surprised to see Blaine and Leo in the room.

He doesn't seem surprised at all to see Jesse, though.

He smiles, and the way his lips curl tears apart something in the fabric of the universe.

“Jesse,” he says, and Jesse's heart just breaks, “I can see you. Finally.”

He falls down on his knees, crying. Cody says something about being sorry. But then he adds he was so eager to see him he couldn't wait anymore. And Jesse just screams that he wants to be taken back home.

He's done.

*

He only experienced the world through hearing, in the past few days. After what happened at the hospital, he honestly didn't want to see anyone for a while.

He guesses the utter lack of logic of what he's been experiencing in the last month finally took its toll, somehow. It was bound to happen, there was something weird in the relative serenity with which his mind kept processing things it shouldn't have known how to process. For some reason, after listening to his dead's boyfriend memories coming out of the mouths of his best friend and a complete stranger, being called by his first name by a formerly blind boy whom he had never even met before was finally too much. They've crossed the line between oddly mysterious and completely fucked up. More than that, they haven't simply crossed it, they've stomped on it, they've covered it in dirt, they've erased it from the ground irreversibly. There's no coming back from something like this. You can maybe come back from people mimicking your dead lover's habits, you can justify that with transference, and you can maybe come back from a stranger telling you he sees you in his dreams, you can call that a fucking coincidence, you can call it delusion, you can call it whatever you like.

But a stranger waking up with functioning eyes for the first time in his life. Recognizing you. Calling you by your first name. Telling you he couldn't wait to finally see you. You don't come back from something like that. He feels as though some cog within life's perfect machine changed shape forever. Everything's still working as it should, but it's different at the core, at such a deep level that the world in its entirety seems like a completely different place, even though it hasn't changed one bit.

For anyone else except him, of course.

And Alan. Whatever's left of him.

In any case, looking at the bottom of Cody's ridiculously blue eyes, as blue as Alan's were, and seeing knowledge in them, seeing his reflection in them, made him want not to look at anyone else's eyes for a while. Listening to what was going on outside his room has helped him not to feel too desperately alone, but his door has remained locked the entire time. It's been three days and he hasn't eaten or drank a thing. He's not sure how long he can go on like this, but he's well-intentioned to test it.

Over the past few days, both Leo and Blaine have tried to lure him out. He's listened to their voices and to their reasons – you can't lock yourself in like this, Jesse, you need food, water, you need us, you need to come out of there – and though he felt pulled towards them, and though he recognized they were right, he decided not to come out. The sound of their voice is soft. He likes it. Both voices remind him of Alan in different ways. Blaine's got his thoughtfulness and practicality, while Leo's got his playfulness, and that special, subtle undertone that always made Alan sound younger when you spoke with him over the phone.

He's listened to their voices calling his name on their own, and then he's listened to them mixing together into one single voice, still calling out to him, and it's been good.

Like it feels good to listen to them now as they talk to each other in the kitchen. They speak in a low voice, probably believing he won't be able to hear them like that. But every single cell of his body has turned into a sound receptor. All of his being aches for nothing else but listening. And so he listens.

“We must find a way to convince him to come out,” Leo says stubbornly. Jesse can feel the soft screeching of his knife and fork against the plate as he cuts his dinner. Roasted chicken, judging by the smell.

“We can't force him, Leo,” Blaine sighs patiently. He lifts the glass from the table, swallows what's inside it. Water or wine, probably. “He has to come out on his own terms.”

“What if he doesn't have any?” Leo insists, “What if there are no terms? Maybe he just wants to stay there. Indefinitely.”

“We must respect his decisions.”

“No we don't.”

“Leo...”

“Stupid decisions don't deserve respect. It's like when he decided to quit university all over again. Even back then—“

Jesse can feel Blaine freeze on his chair, and Leo must notice it too, because he stops talking. There's a silence, and then a sigh.

“I'm sorry. I'm never aware of it when I do it.”

“I know,” Blaine must be smiling, now. That small, sad, apologetic smile he's been mastering in the last couple weeks. A smile that isn't Blaine's and isn't Alan's either. It belongs to a new person that's a combination of the two. “I'm just not used to it yet.”

“I'm not sure this is something we will ever be able to get used to,” Leo says. Jesse listens to the light creaking of the chair as he rests his shoulders against it. He must be exhausted. They both must. But he can swear he's more exhausted than them both, and then some.

“I know you're confused,” Blaine says, “And you feel bad about this.”

“No, feeling bad doesn't even begin to cover it, Blaine,” Leo sighs, and the chair creaks again as he moves forward, “I feel like I'm going mad. I feel like I can't understand what's going on and that's the reason why I will never be able to solve it. And that if I can never solve this he will never be happy, and if that happens I—”

“Leo,” Blaine interrupts him. Jesse knows he's touching him, right now, a light touch on his cheek or his shoulder, to help him focus on something else than his anxiety. Alan tending to Alan's needs. In two different bodies. “Breathe. Please. I can't have you go through a fit if he's not here to fix you. I don't know how to do that.”

Leo lets out a bitter laughter, but Jesse knows he's calming down. He can feel it in the sound of his voice. “We're all in need of fixing and no one seems to know how to do that, apparently,” he says.

Then the doorbell rings. A sudden noise, unexpected. Jesse, his ear glued to the wooden door, gasps lightly and takes a step back. They weren't expecting any guests, not as far as he knows, at least.

One of them walks to the door, opens it. It was Blaine – Jesse only knows because it's his voice the one he hears next. “It's you,” he says. He sounds surprised.

Light steps in. “I need to see Jesse.” A familiar voice. Jesse can't connect it to a face, though. That's frustrating.

“How are you even...?” Leo tries to ask. The other voice interrupts him kindly but decisively.

“Don't ask, please.” There's a smile in that voice. Still no face to it, though. “I just need to see him.”

“Pet,” Blaine replies with a heavy, weary sigh, “Listen to me. I'm sorry you had to come all the way out here to receive a no, but believe me, doesn't matter how much you need to see him, he's not going to want to see you.”

The other person remains silent for the longest time. Jesse presses his ear back against the door. He wants to sink into that silence, he wants to know every single part of it intimately. Maybe, if that voice doesn't have a name, that silence could.

“It doesn't matter,” the voice says. “I have something to tell him. Please, tell me where he is.”

And Jesse moves away from the door, finally recognizing him.

It's Cody.

*

“Please,” Cody says, his voice soft and pleading, “Let me in. It's me. Let me in.”

“I don't want to,” Jesse knows he's shaking. He can feel it in his own voice, in the way it trembles and hesitates with every single word.

“Please,” Cody repeats. A soft sound announces Jesse he's leaning against the door. He can picture him so perfectly. His small hands on the wooden surface. That tiny frame barely holding any weight against it. “I need to see you. Open the door. Let me in.”

I can't do it, he would like to tell him, because I feel that if I do my heart will break, my mind will shatter and my whole body will come undone, and there will be nothing left of me other than a bundle of pain and sadness, and I can't afford it. Because I promised. I promised I wouldn't let this destroy me. So I can't let you destroy me.

But the truth is he wants to be destroyed. That subtle pull towards self-destruction he already felt when it was just Blaine, Leo and him seems stronger now that Cody's involved too. Because his mere existence is terrifying, and Jesse knows he should be running from him, and yet all he wants to do is get closer again, like that time in the hospital when he leaned in and almost touched him.

He opens the door. Cody's standing right there. He's even prettier than Jesse remembered and his eyes look so much like Alan's Jesse wants to beg him to let him die at the bottom of them.

He doesn't move away from the door, doesn't let him inside the room. They speak on the threshold, Blaine and Leo watching them at close distance, behind Cody's shoulders.

“How the hell did you know I was here?” Jesse asks. He tries to be hard, tries to confront him steadily, but he's a mess. He's just a mess, and when Cody moves forward, his body answering a silent call Jesse can't hear but can feel very well, he steps back, because he knows if Cody touches him he's gonna be done and over.

Cody stops moving forward, sensing it. He seems disappointed – no, not really disappointed, saddened by it, but he doesn't protest. “I just figured you'd have gone to Blaine,” he says, “It's what you always do when you're not okay, right?”

“Yes, but you shouldn't know that!” Jesse cries out, holding onto the door to help his legs keep him standing, “And how the hell did you know where Blaine lives, anyway? You've never seen him! You've never been here! Christ, you were fucking blind up to a week ago!”

Cody lets him vent, meeting his screams with calmness. His eyes are clear and bright, their baby blue so soothing they look like angel eyes more than human ones. Jesse remembers one time – Alan and him had been out all night, dancing. Alan loved to dance. His love for dancing had been passed on to Jesse, somehow, and they could go on for hours twisting and turning on the dance floor, until they almost passed out from exhaustion. It was five in the morning when they got back home. Jesse was so tired he just wanted to collapse. But when they passed through the door, Alan had grabbed him and pressed him against the door. He had lifted him up. “Hold on to me, kitten,” he had told him. He had fucked him standing against the wall, eyes into his eyes, steadily, for what Jesse remembers to be an eternity. Mesmerized by those eyes, Jesse truly believed time to have lost any kind of meaning, at least in that moment. Shit, he can remember it so clearly.

He wonders if Cody remembers it too.

“I don't have an answer for that,” Cody admits, looking down for a moment. Jesse finds himself thinking no, please, look back up at me, don't take that away. He doesn't voice the thought, though. “All I know is I started seeing you when I was unconscious. I wouldn't know how to explain this better. I had never seen a thing in my life and the first thing I could finally see, even though I was just dreaming, was your face.”

“Please,” Jesse's voice breaks as he brings his hands over his face, trying to hide his tears away, “Don't talk to me like that. I can't. I can't stand it.”

“I knew who you were.”

“This makes no sense.”

“I knew your name.”

“Stop.”

“I knew I had to come back here, because you needed me, Jesse,” he reaches out and grabs Jesse's hands. He holds them in his own and pulls them down, away from his face. Through the liquid veil of his tears, Jesse looks at him and finds a troubled young man waiting for him there. A troubled young man with the eyes of his troubled older lover. “I couldn't leave you alone, you see?” he goes on, “I couldn't just die. I had to come back.”

And then he does something unpredictable. He leans in, pressing his lips against Jesse's. He doesn't take it slow, doesn't wait for a positive answer. He just kisses him, because he wants to – and Jesse feels it deep within his soul, deep within every fiber of his body, deep where every painful thing he's clinging to hurts, he feels it, and he knows.

And he does the unexpected, and kisses him back.

He kisses him back, and he cries. He holds onto him, and he cries. He listens to Leo holding his breath and he listens to Blaine's silent surprise, and he cries.

And he think of Alan. And he fucking cries. Until he's exhausted enough to collapse.

And this time, too, Alan's eyes are looking at him. Just from a different body.

*

The next day, Blaine decides this is crazy, and he needs this arrangement to work differently. He can't allow this madness into his own home, and what he means, really, is that Jesse needs to put himself back together, and give a meaning to his days again.

Jesse gets angry, of course. How does Blaine think he'd be supposed to do that? Give a meaning to his days. His days have no meaning. Not since he lost Alan. Especially since this started happening, his days have been nothing but a neverending sequence of senseless actions.

“Please,” Cody said then, lightly touching the inside of his elbow with his fingers, “Don't speak like that. You're not alone anymore.”

For some reason, this made him feel guilty. As if he was refusing a present, something precious countless other people would've died for. How many people lose a loved one, after all? And how many of them would give everything and anything for just another minute with the dead, in any form they could appear to them? Most grieving people would be perfectly happy with a monstrous apparition, as long as its voice sounded like their deceased loved one. And he's got three beautiful, kind, caring, living and breathing people there for him, all reminding him of Alan in their own unique ways, and he dares complaining about it?

That's why he remained silent as Blaine started speaking again, never losing his composure despite what he had just heard him say. “These are two perfectly good reasons why your life needs order again. First, it has none. Second, it's not just yours anymore.”

“You think I belong to you, now?” Jesse replied defiantly.

All three of them had answered together, so perfectly in sync to be more than just a little bit eerie. “Yes.”

Jesse just couldn't argue with that.

So now, Blaine's the one in charge of giving things an order again. He drives him to his therapist the rare times Jesse admits he needs him. He takes care of his meds, makes sure he takes them when he's supposed to and that they never run out of them. Tidies up his bedroom. Washes his clothes and makes sure he changes them every couple of days. He even bathes him, when Jesse doesn't want to do that on his own, because some days more than others Jesse really can't see the fucking point of it, of anything, really, and when he can't, Blaine has to do it for him.

Jesse's thankful to him for it. He'd be lying if he said every now and then this didn't annoy the fuck out of him. But then again it happened with Alan too, back when he was still alive. Alan needed method, he needed to know how and when things would've happened. Surprises and disorganization didn't work well with his tendency towards anxiety. Jesse, on the other hand, had never known an organized day in his life, even before his life became a mess because of his parents' ridiculous inability to accept the fact that he might not turn out to be the son they had always hoped for, and sometimes Alan's excessive need to keep everything tidy and perfectly scheduled seriously maddened him.

No relationship can ever be perfect. And his relationship with Alan was as close to perfection as it could possibly be. So, if he's honest, he doesn't struggle to admit that, despite how angry he gets whenever Blaine reminds him to take his pills twice when he could just say it once, he really appreciates him for it. Because he's the main reason why he hasn't lost his mind yet.

Leo's role hasn't changed – he's good at feeding Jesse and at deluding him into believing that the next time he hears him speak he will do it with Alan's voice, so he decided he could keep doing just that, and Jesse's perfectly okay with it – while Cody's one is still to be precisely understood.

He's not living with them, at least not yet. Jesse asked him, just like he asked Leo, but Cody wasn't convinced about it. He smiled and hugged him – he's so soft sometimes when they hug Jesse just wants to cling to him and never let him go – and told him he didn't believe it was the case just yet. “Besides,” he added with a tiny, embarrassed smile, “I have my parents.” Which helped reminding Jesse that no matter how much these people talk and act like Alan, they aren't really him. (And here Jesse thought, once broke into pieces, a heart couldn't be hurt anymore. Turns out every shard can be fractured into smaller parts, and it's a potentially everlasting process.)

He's always with him, though, Jesse barely even has the time to miss him when he's not around. And whenever he is, his thing seems to be kissing.

If they had told him two weeks ago, or even just a few days ago, Jesse would've struggled to believe there could've been an alternative reality in which he would've been back at kissing people, let alone it happening in the very same reality where he had lost his boyfriend a month before. And yet, something about Cody made it feel right. Maybe it was his eyes, or the way he spoke to him, or the very words he used speaking with him. Or maybe it's just because of the way Cody deals with him, which is physical, practical, devoid of any unnecessary discretion. He's always the first initiating contact, and more often than not they just end up spending the whole night wrapped up in each other, kissing and cuddling until Jesse falls asleep.

That's what happened tonight too, except Jesse hasn't fallen asleep yet.

Cody arrived after dinner bringing four Disney classics DVDs, saying he absolutely needed to watch them. That he's been catching up with Disney ever since he got his sight, and he couldn't wait anymore to watch Beauty and the Beast. Leo chuckled and told him sometimes he was ridiculous, and Cody answered with such a sweet laughter not even Blaine's grumpiness was safe from it, and that too melted in an indulgent smile as they settled on the couch and turned the TV on.

Leo made sandwiches for everyone. He has a talent for them – he's good with any kind of food, really, but his sandwiches are huge and so tasty sometimes Jesse would take them against a four course meal.

They ate together, watching Beauty change the Beast into a decent human being, and all the while, despite the tension that could easily be felt coming out from both Leo and Blaine as they watched, Cody's kept his hands on Jesse, just to make him feel them, exactly like Alan used to do. He's touched him on his neck and shoulders, he's passed his fingers through his hair, playing with his straight blonde locks, and he's kissed him – he's kissed him a lot, he's kissed him incessantly.

At some point between Beauty and the Beast's ending credits and The Hunchback of Notre Dame opening ones, stuffed with kisses and tenderness, Jesse has decided to lie down, his head on Cody's soft lap as he kept passing his fingers through his hair and his legs outstretched on top of Leo's and Blaine's.

He's closed his eyes and he hasn't moved since then. He's been minding his breath carefully, he doesn't want them to think he's just faking to be asleep. It's not like he's avoiding speaking with them, it's just that he loves it when they're taking care of him, and this is one of the million ways they have to do that.

“Honestly,” Blaine says softly after a while. He's got his fingers loosely wrapped around Jesse's ankle and that touch is so kind and soothing it almost makes him want to weep. “I don't know how you do it.”

He must be looking at Cody, because he's the one answering him. “Do what?” he says, in his typically gentle voice.

“Behave like that with him. Act so close,” Blaine sighs as if saying these things cost him. “All the kissing and hugging. I can't understand it.”

“It's not something I decide to do,” Cody smiles softly, Jesse can feel it in his voice, “It's not even something I simply want to do.”

“Well, no one's pointing a gun to your head, sweets, you know?” Leo jokes, and Cody laughs softly.

“No, I know. But I was trying to explain. It's something I need to do. Or, actually... something I know in my heart that I have to do. Because it's right. It's like there was a voice inside me, telling me to behave like this. Teaching me how.” Cody smiles again, while Jesse's heart shrinks as if caught in a press. “It's a nice voice. I like listening to it.”

Yes, Jesse thinks, I loved listening to it too.

“It's... the same for me too, in a way,” Leo says. He swallows, and his hand moves on Jesse's leg, from his shin, where it was resting, to his knee. “It just... most of the time I want to do different things for him. I need to see him happy. I need to see his smile or I can't feel accomplished. It's sad, I know, I shouldn't...” he sighs, shaking his head, “I know it's not me. Or, I mean, I know I should know. But it's inside me, and I don't know how to push it out of my system. And... it's not always, but every now and then I...”

“Oh, God, not you too,” Blaine groans, clearly annoyed.

“Listen, it's not like I wanted it, it just happened,” Leo replied just as distressed as Blaine's annoyed. “But don't worry, the one time I tried Jesse pushed me away. He's probably not interested.”

“I doubt that's the problem...” Cody notes.

“Whatever the problem is,” Blaine shakes his head decisively, “I can't even listen to that, and I don't know how you manage.”

“You mean you don't feel that way about him,” Leo says, but it's clear in his voice that he won't believe whatever answer coming out of Blaine's mouth that isn't the same that would come out of his own.

“It doesn't matter how I feel about him,” Blaine says, avoiding the question, “It's just— It doesn't feel right to me. Jesse's Alan's boyfriend. Alan was my best friend. I can't even think about— God,” he sighs again, “And you two didn't even know him up to a few weeks ago, how can you even—”

“I feel like I've been knowing him for a much longer time,” Cody interrupts him. His voice is calm and sweet, but there's an adamantine quality to it, meaning he's open to question a lot of things about what's happening to him and to them, but not the authenticity of his feelings.

Blaine sighs patiently, and remains silent for a long while. “I know,” he says in the end, “I didn't mean to make you feel attacked. Either of you, really. It's just that this might be too much for me. I experience this differently than the two of you. You never knew Alan, you never even met him. I did. He was the closest person I had in the entire world, he was a brother to me. You just have his memories, I have those and my own memories of him, and I'm—”

“Please,” he stops him from saying anything else without even opening his eyes. His voice makes more noise than a thunder in a perfectly still night, and Blaine falls silent right away. “Please, stop talking about these things. It hurts.”

He finally opens his eyes and looks up at the three of them. He's crying though he didn't want to, but that's become more or less a habit, by now.

“Shit...” Leo instantly bends over him, holding him up, keeping him in his arms, “Please, don't cry. I hate to see you cry.”

“I know,” Jesse sobs, “You say it all the time.”

“Alan or me?” Leo asks in a broken voice, and Jesse cries louder.

“You both.”

Cody leans in, hugging him too. “Jesse, please, don't cry like this,” he says softly, “You... you have to understand this is not something we can ignore. Something is happening to us, we have to talk this through.”

“But I can live like this,” Jesse says in the weakest voice, pressing his forehead against Cody, “Even if we talk about it, we will never be able to solve it. Because there is no solution. And listening to you talk about him breaks my fucking heart, and that I can't take, but this...” he searches for Cody's lips blindly, and they meet in a featherweight kiss, “This hurts me in a way I can control.” He turns towards Leo and kisses him too. “This I can take.”

Leo receives that light kiss with his lips half parted and his eyes wide open. He remains perfectly still for a second, and then, as if that kiss had ignited something inside him, he leans in and kisses Jesse as he would've liked to do that night on the couch and countless other nights that followed. He kisses him long and hard, pulling him close to himself, stroking his hair, pressing his well spread hand against the small of his back.

When the kiss die out naturally – the only thing Jesse can remember dying out naturally in what seems like a very long time – he turns to look at Blaine too. He watches him expectantly, eyes filled with tears, and puts a hand on his chest, in a direct silent call straight to his heart.

Blaine bites at his inner cheek, and then leans in, fighting against himself. Just a light brushing of their lips, then he pulls back. Jesse's frustrated, but he knows he can't push that. He accepts this as it is, complicated and messy and unbearable for the most part, and then amazing when they least expect it to turn out.

They hold him on the couch for hours, afterward. This time, he falls asleep for real.

*

Someone's stroking his hair as he slowly wakes up, and it feels amazingly good. It must be pretty early in the morning, because the house is silent and there's no breakfast smell yet. Breakfast is one of the new improvements Leo brought to Alan – who was a pretty good cook but didn't really care for breakfast. He was an early bird and he preferred an orange juice, a quick jog and a hit shower when he woke up.

Leo is quite the opposite as far as waking up is concerned: he wakes up late, slowly and in his own time, and he cannot even function if he hasn't ingested an amount of food that would on its own be enough to feed the entire population of a small African country. Pancakes, fruit and milk can never be missing on his breakfast table, and since he firmly believes there is no meal as important as breakfast he's pretty keen on making sure the table isn't lacking anything anyone else might like, which apparently means, besides Blaine's black, strong coffee, a ridiculous amount and variety of chocolate snacks, which appear to be the only things Cody ingests. Which is frankly absurd, considering how thin he is.

All this naturally has a house full of very different but deliciously blending scents as a consequence, something Jesse's coming to anticipate and love very quickly. It's also helping him reset his temporarily confused biological clock: every day Jesse wakes up a little closer to the right breakfast time, his sense of smell guiding him out of his luckily dreamless sleep and into a waking dream state that usually comforts him until he's aware enough to start facing reality head-on again.

Today there's no scent, though, which must mean Leo isn't awake yet. The gentle hand stroking his hair can't be him, then, and he doubts it could be Cody either, because he didn't spend the night and it seems too early for him to be already here.

He isn't surprised when he opens his eyes and finds Blaine's gentle smile waiting for him. He's still stroking his hair slowly, feeling them under his fingertips. Jesse remembers he hasn't had a shower in days and whines, trying to pull away. “I'm dirty,” he says, his voice heavy with sleep.

Blaine chuckles softly, speaking like Alan first. “I don't care,” he says. Then that distant light fades away from his eyes, that spark of a different soul disappears, and Jesse knows it's because Blaine put it off, blowing on it like a candle. “But it might be better for you to wash yourself, actually. What do you say?”

“I say I don't want to,” Jesse whines again and turns on his side, his back to Blaine, “Five more minutes.”

“Come on,” Blaine chuckles, wrapping him in his arms and pulling him up from the bed, “These are the last peaceful moments we're going to enjoy for the day. In an hour the Kitchen Demon will have awaken and the Disney Angel will have come over, and we will have to yield under their reign of terror.”

Jesse laughs, resting his head against Blaine's shoulder. “They're not that bad,” he says.

“No, they're not. Actually, they're adorable. Still,” Blaine smiles and kisses him on his temple, “Sometimes I miss when it was just the two of us.”

Jesse isn't sure if he means the two of them, Jesse and Blaine, when they lived alone together after Alan's death, or the two of them, Jesse and Alan, before he died at all. He doesn't wanna inquire, so he just turns his head and kisses Blaine on his cheek. “Fine,” he says, “Hot bath.”

Less than fifteen minutes later, he's sitting at the bottom of the bath tub, surrounded in warm, soapy water up to his neck. It smells good, something flowery Jesse couldn't identify for his life but finds nice nonetheless. Blaine's passing a soft sponge all over his back and Jesse's trying not to shiver too much whenever he feels his fingers accidentally stroking his bare skin.

How this happened, he doesn't know for sure. He's never been attracted to Blaine, before, but then he was always attracted to Alan, back then, so he couldn't know for sure if Blaine was never his type and he's just seeing Alan in him now or if having Alan before prevented him from seeing any real attractiveness in Blaine though there was plenty of it. It's too much of a confusing thought, and Jesse's decided to try and take things simply, at least for the time being. He doesn't need to overcomplicate this, it's already complicated enough.

Still, something's changed in the way he deals with Blaine. He's sure part of it must come from the fact that Alan's death had numbed any kind of desire for intimacy within him, a desire of intimacy that's blooming again now, constantly watered by Leo's and Cody's attentions. But Blaine holds a different fascination to him, compared to them. They've got bits and pieces of Alan's memories inside them, but Blaine is the only one whose hands touched him before he died. His arms hugged him, his shoulders rubbed against Alan's as they danced whenever they happened to go clubbing together. There's a link between them all and Alan, but Blaine's link is more concrete, it relies on physical contact, not just on an emotional one.

More often than he would like to admit, Jesse finds himself wondering about Blaine's hands. Thinking, would it be as if Alan touched me, if Blaine touched me with hands that touched Alan first?

It terrifies him, the strength with which he would like for something like that to be possible. He doesn't even care if it's a morbid desire, at the bottom of his heart he knows this whole thing, despite how good it feels at times, is morbid as hell already. Blaine wouldn't add to that. Not enough to cross the line, at least. (If a line is there at all anymore, that is. Jesse lost sight of it weeks ago and he's not sure he'd be able to find it again, even if he wanted to.)

“Would you relax?” Blaine says. His voice is tense, despite his request. “I won't touch you, I promise.”

“Yeah...” Jesse sighs, bringing his knees to his chest and hugging them, “I know you won't.”

“Please, don't sound so disappointed,” Blaine sighs deeply.

Jesse shrugs dismissively. “I can't control it.”

“That's too much of an easy answer.”

“But it's the truth, nonetheless. You know that.”

Blaine sighs again and stands up, pacing the room. “For fuck's sake, Jess.”

Jesse watches him, biting at his bottom lip. “I'm sorry. I know you're not comfortable with this.”

“I'm not comfortable with this because it's wrong,” Blaine spits out, turning to look at him sternly. He's never looked more fatherly, Jesse thinks staring at him. He looks more fatherly now than his own father's ever looked in his entire life, he thinks.

“If you're trying to make me feel ashamed,” Jesse faces him down fiercely, “Don't even bother. You have no idea how I feel. You have no idea how far beyond I am from shame at this point. I just—”

“Jesse, Christ!” Blaine raises his voice, losing his temper altogether. He was standing a few feet from the bath tub up to a second ago, now he's kneeling right beside it, too close for comfort, a hand on the back of Jesse's head, fingers curled around his blonde damp locks. “You think this is easy for me? You think I don't feel anything? What do you think I'm made of, stone? I see you wrap yourself around Leo and Cody all day long, every day, everywhere, all the time, and you think I don't feel what they feel too? That the same voice talking to them isn't talking to me too, that I don't see you the same way they see you, that I don't fucking want to...” he groans, clutching harder at Jesse's hair, forcing a tiny whimper out of his mouth. “Fuck!” he yells, finally letting go of him. He stands up again nervously and moves a couple steps back, unable to stop looking at Jesse.

Whose heart is beating so fast he thinks it will tear a hole through his ribcage and his chest and just jump out, exhausted.

He stands up, breathless, speechless, completely mesmerized by the strength of Blaine's hand, of his voice, of the need he could sense in his hold.

He's naked and wet, and it's cold, and he doesn't care.

“Why don't you take me?” he asks under his breath, “If you want me, why don't you take me?”

“Because Alan was my best friend,” Blaine answers, holding his gaze just because he doesn't wanna look at the rest of him, “And I want to respect his memory.”

Jesse steps out of the bath tub and towards him, leaving water footprints in his wake.

“Fuck memory,” he says, looking up at him, “I don't want it. You're all I've got of him now. And I want you to take me.”

Blaine raises his hands impulsively, wrapping his fingers around Jesse's arms, right underneath his shoulders. He grabs him hard enough to turn his skin white under the pressure and red at the edges of it. Yes, Jesse thinks, bruise me. Leave a mark. Let the dead leave a mark on the living.

And then Blaine's cellphone rings in his back pocket, and the stupid melody of his ring tone echoes grotesquely in the steamy silence of the bathroom. Blaine mutters a curse and lets go of him, and Jesse growls in frustration, turning away and passing a hand through his hair to comb them backwards and out of his face.

“Yes,” Blaine answers nervously. His voice is followed by a long silence, and when he speaks it's changed tone, meaning there must be someone Blaine isn't angry to hear from on the other end of the line. “Yes, he's here, but can you...” he stops for a moment as he listens, Jesse guesses, to the other person explaining the reasons why no, he cannot call again at a later time. “Fine,” he says then with a sigh. He turns towards Jesse and offers him the phone. “Sam,” she says, “She wants to speak with you.”

Surprised but intrigued, Jesse forgets his frustration and answers the phone. “Sam?”

“Hi, Jess,” she says sweetly. There's a smile lingering in her voice. Jesse likes people who manage to turn their smile into a sound. “How are you?”

“As okay as I can be, I guess,” he answers.

“Are you taking your meds?”

“Are you my therapist, now?”

“Please,” she sighs, “I'm just worried about you.”

“Sam,” Jesse cuts the conversation short, “Why did you call?”

She remains silent for a little while, thinking it over. She might change her mind, Jesse think, whatever the reason she called is, she's probably thinking she should quit while she still can.

She doesn't, though.

“I know I shouldn't say this. But I've seen you're not okay and... I don't know. Maybe I'm hoping this will bring you peace, somehow.” She takes a deep breath, and then speaks again. “They've finally disclosed the name of Alan's heart recipient. He's a guy a year younger than you, name's Adam Walker. Surgery's coming to an end as we speak.”

For a moment, everything turns black in front of his eyes. He leans against the tiled wall and he doesn't even feel how cold it is. “What...” he mutters confusedly, while Blaine comes closer, worried about him.

“Please, don't do anything rush,” Sam goes on, “Just take a couple hours now and think about it. It's over, Jesse. There won't be any other transplants. Not any other that matter, anyway. This is his heart. This is it. It's done. Maybe now you can move on.”

He doesn't answer her, he doesn't see a point in doing so. There's nothing he really wants to say except he didn't wanna know any of this.

He interrupts the call and looks up at Blaine.

“Baby, Jesus...” Blaine says with a broken voice, holding his face in his hands, “Why are you crying?”

Jesse swallows, leaning against him. “They've given his heart away, Blaine.”

Blaine holds his breath for a second, then wraps his arms around him and hugs him. “Fuck,” he just says. They stand still forever, after that. Jesse dares to hope he will die within that hug, that his body will just stop functioning, give up, surrender.

It doesn't happen.

*

“I won't do it. I won't go.”

He had hoped he could enjoy this breakfast way more, especially because of the effort Leo seems to have put in preparing it. Just his pile of pancakes must be at least 15 inches tall, and the smell of maple syrup is so sweet it's almost sticky, despite the fact that it's obviously impossible for scents to be sticky at all.

Too bad. It clearly wasn't meant to be. Like a chance at happiness for him, for example.

“Are you sure you don't need a few hours to think about it, Jess?” Blaine tries, stroking the back of his hand. He's sipping at his coffee, sitting right next to him, and he seems just as shaken as Jesse is. He's trying not to show it, but he's way paler than he usually is, and that's enough for Jesse to know for sure.

“No,” he answers, “I don't wanna think about this. I can't do it. I just can't. Just thinking about it—” He stops abruptly, standing up and moving away from the table, the pancakes, breakfast as a physical thing and also as a pleasant mental place in which to hide out for comfort. “It hurts too much,” he finally says, when he manages to get in control of his own voice again.

“You wanted to see us, though,” Leo replies, sitting down opposite to Blaine and moving Jesse's chair away from the table to invite him to sit on it again, “You sought us out.”

“It's not the same,” Jesse answers, though he isn't sure about it. Perhaps it is the same, it's just him feeling it differently. “It's... it's his heart,” he sits back down, propping an elbow on the top of the table and resting his forehead on the palm of his open hand. “His heart is a different matter.”

Cody's been silent up to now. He's been leaning against the wall behind him, close to the door, with his arms folded over his chest. He seems to have a different understanding of this whole situation than the others do. Jesse suspects it's because he must feel as though he's already been granted a miracle. When something outstanding and impossible has already happened to you, you recognize it more easily if it happens again.

“I think,” he says with his usual sweet and soothing voice, “I think you're scared, Jesse.”

Jesse turns on the chair to look at him, frowning. “I'm not scared, I'm in pain. There's a difference.”

“There is, but I think this is not the case,” Cody finally unglues himself from the wall, and walks towards him. He stops just a couple inches from him, and then sits down on his lap, wrapping his arms around Jesse's neck. He does it so naturally Jesse doesn't find it in himself to stop him. Besides, the feeling of his light weight on his knees is pleasant. It gives him the illusion that he might be the ballast holding him with his feet on the ground. “I think you're scared because this is complicated and you're worried meeting another one will complicate it even more.”

“Let's say you're right, and I am scared,” Jesse protests, “Can you blame me? This is going to complicate things.”

“Not any more than they already are.”

“Yes, it will, because it's his heart,” Jesse insists stubbornly, “It's the most precious part of him and I can't deal, Cody, okay? I simply cannot deal. That's it.”

Cody, Blaine and Leo exchange a few meaningful looks. Jesse can almost listen to their silent conversation. We need to say something. We need to help him out of this. We need to help him understand.

Cody turns back towards him and kisses him lightly on his lips. “This Adam guy... I feel connected to him already,” he says, “I can't be sure, but I bet it's the same for the others too. I've started feeling it in the last hour or so. I believe that even if you had not told us that our heart had been transplanted,” he says it like that, our heart, and it's upsetting and so heartwarming at the same time, “I would've known anyway, because I felt there was something missing and now, instead, I feel something tugging at me.”

Jesse exhales, resting his forehead against Cody's neck. “Is it the same for you two too?” he asks.

“I wouldn't have been able to explain it like that,” Leo says, “But yes. There is something. Some connection, I don't know. I feel it. I'm curious about this guy.”

“Jesse, baby,” Blaine holds his hand, stroking the back of it with his thumb, “You know I've been the most wary of us all about this. So if I tell you now that I think we should go and meet this guy, you must know mine is not the opinion of a crazed person who can't wait to throw himself head-first into disaster. And yet, I think we should go. It might... I don't know,” he sighs, “It might help.”

Or it might turn out to be a disaster after all, Jesse thinks, because sometimes you don't want to throw yourself in hot water, but you end up drowning anyway.

But he's not strong enough to fight against them, now. Alan's heart is in someone else's body. It's beating again.

He wants to listen to that heartbeat.

*

He doesn't look like Alan at all, despite the similarity in their names and the heart they're sharing, this young man lying unconscious on this hospital bed. He's really good-looking, for example. Not that Alan wasn't, actually, but Adam's more canonically handsome than Alan ever was. He doesn't have Blaine's mature sensuality, he doesn't have Leo's stunning model-like features, he doesn't have Cody's confusing and ambiguous allure, but he's got that particular healthy beauty that all sportsmen have, reaching its peak right around the age he is now.

Which is kind of ironic, considering he's just undergone heart surgery.

“He's a footballer,” Sam says, checking out his vitals on the monitor, “Three months ago he collapsed during a match. He knew he had a heart condition, his doctors were aware, but the situation had deteriorated fast and uncontrollably. He's been put on the list for a transplant and he finally got a new heart today.” She moves away from the machine helping Adam breathing, and she turns back towards Jesse, who's standing next to the bed, looking at the sleeping guy. Behind him, Blaine, Leo and Cody try not to do the same.

“What is wrong with him?”

“Heart surgery can be unpredictable,” Sam sighs, putting down Adam's medical records, “Everything seemed to be fine, but he hasn't woken up yet. We're waiting to see if he does.”

“What do you mean if?” Blaine asks, frowning.

“I mean that there's a chance he doesn't,” Sam answers, trying not to sound too annoyed by their presence. She was already wary about letting Jesse in, let alone this quite numerous caravan of people following him now. “Jesse,” she says with another sigh, “You shouldn't have come here. This is not why I told you.”

“I know,” Jesse says in a low voice, moving even closer to the bed. He reaches out for Adam, stroking his cheek with the back of his index finger. “I'm sorry for all the troubles I've caused you, Sam. I know this must seem crazy to you, but I need to do this one last thing. Then, I promise I won't bother you anymore.” Then he raises his eyes, looking at her. “Can you leave us alone with him for a moment?”

Sam instantly backs away, not even trying to conceal her disappointed expression. “Absolutely not, and I'm shocked you'd even ask.”

“Please,” Jesse insists, looking straight at her. He's hoping whatever force is driving him is strong enough to contaminate her, to convince her to step away.

And maybe it really is that force working on her. Or maybe she just feels how desperate he is for it.

She clicks her tongue. “Five minutes,” she says, “Then you're all out of here.”

She's gone the second after, and from the moment Jesse hears the door click closed there is nothing else in the universe except for him and Alan's heart, resting inside of Adam's chest.

He sits down on the edge of the bed, tentatively holding Adam's hand in his own. “I hope you don't mind the shaking,” he says, trying to stop the shivers coursing through his body. He doesn't know if it's excitement or fear. Maybe both. “Um, hi. You don't know me. Or maybe you do, the pretty one there knew me,” he says, tilting his head towards Cody. “Anyway. Just in case. I'm Jesse. And you're...” he swallows uneasily, “You've got my boyfriend's heart in your chest. And— And that's okay, I mean, I'm happy it'll help you, but I think... I believe, yes, I believe a little part of you is also mine. So...” he squeezes Adam's hand a little harder. It's so frighteningly cold. “You have to wake up, okay?” he whispers, leaning in towards him, “You have to wake up because we really need to have a chat about this heart of yours. And you have to wake up because...” his voice breaks a little, and he tries to stop it, but then he gets tired of trying, and he just lets it go, “Because I can't lose you again, okay? So please, wake up.”

He stops talking right after that – he's exhausted, and speaking with his throat encumbered by the tears is wearing him out. Silence falls heavy on the hospital room. On the hospital itself. On the whole world, like a heavy wool cloth covering everything up, numbing every sound, every very sign of life on the planet.

He waits – they all do.

Now he's gonna wake up.

Just like Cody did.

And he's gonna call him by his first name.

And everything's gonna make sense, because this will be the final proof they need to believe this is really happening.

Yes, now he's gonna wake up.

But he doesn't.

*

They don't talk about it for the rest of the night. They don't even try, and Jesse's grateful for it because he himself doesn't know what to think. He was sure – really sure – Adam would've woken up. That this ridiculous magic holding them together would've worked on him like it had worked on Cody and Leo before. But Adam lied still on his bed, his eyes stubbornly closed, the line of his lips straight and motionless like a statue's one.

Jesse touched his chest. Felt his heart beat underneath his fingertips. But that wasn't enough. It wasn't enough.

Once home, Jesse decided he wanted to sleep. Leo asked him if he would like to have something for dinner, but Jesse insisted he just wanted to sleep. So he lied down on his bed in the guest room, for the first time really aware of its oversized dimension for a single person, and as he stared at the ceiling he cried because he honestly didn't think he could do anything else with himself except crying and hoping to melt away with his tears.

Then they gathered around him. He didn't ask, didn't even suggest it, they did it on their own volition. Cody curled up by his side, letting him hug him like a teddy bear. Blaine slipped behind him, offering his lap as a pillow. Leo wrapped himself around him from the other side, his warmth enveloping him like a blanket. “Please, stop crying,” he kept saying. “Don't cry, Jesse,” Cody added. And then Blaine. He called him kitten, breaking his heart. And he finally fell asleep.

He's woken up suddenly by a noise that shouldn't be there. Something so ridiculous it's annoyingly out of place.

Blaine's stupid ringtone.

He turns on the other side, groaning, as he hides his face against Leo's chest. “Blaine...” he whines, “Throw that shit out the window.”

Blaine only barely wakes up, muttering a confused apology. He grabs his phone and moans because he kept it in his back pocket for the entire night, and now his back hurts. “Yes,” he answers groggily, “Shit, Sam, it's fucking 6 AM, why did you...” but he stops talking right away, and Jesse opens his eyes wide, knowing this must be about Adam. “I understand,” Blaine says, sitting up straight, “Thanks for the heads up. I'll let you know.” He ends the phone call and Jesse and him turn towards each other at the same time. “He's awake,” he says.

“What...?” Leo mutters, yawning and stretching out.

“Who's awake?” Cody asks as he rubs sleep out of his eyes.

Blaine keeps looking at Jesse and Jesse alone, ignoring them the same way he wouldn't look at an arm if it started itching while he was performing. “Adam,” he says, “He just woke up. Sam thought we'd like to know.”

They run. Something possesses Jesse, he doesn't know what, he only knows he wants to get there, he wants to see him, he needs to look into his eyes and see how their light changes color the moment he recognizes him. He needs it more than he needs to breathe, and he needs it to happen now.

They get to the hospital. The nurse at the reception desk doesn't want to let them in, Jesse begs her to call Sam. “She'll know,” he says, such a desperate undertone in his voice the girl decides to comply. Sam's embarrassed, and angry at them, and at him especially, for being unable to let go of this obsession.

But she lets them in, and as far as Jesse's concerned she can be angry if this means he gets to see Alan rise in someone else's eyes like the sun once again.

Except that doesn't happen.

Adam is awake, yes, sitting on his bed, his broad shoulders barely contained underneath the hospital gown he's wearing. He seems to be okay, the only things attached to him now are the heart sensors and the IV needle. He looks healthy. But Jesse was hoping to see him smiling. He was hoping for him to know who he was.

Instead, the first thing Adam asks when he sees them walk in is “Who are you?”

It hurts more than it should, but it's a vague pain, at first, numbed down by surprise and hope that this might be temporary.

“I'm Jesse,” he says with a little smile, “Don't you remember?”

“Remember?” Adam frowns confusedly, “Do we know each other?”

“Not exactly,” Jesse chuckles nervously. He's so anxious for him to recognize him that he doesn't even mind the words coming out of his mouth. “I'm your—”

“We have something in common,” Blaine interrupts him when he understands what he's about to say, “You and us, I mean. We all have the same donor. His name was Alan and he was my best friend.”

Somehow, the explanation doesn't manage to reassure Adam. “I don't understand,” he says, “How do you even know who your donor was? It should be a secret or something.”

“In my case, I knew,” Blaine smiles, “He donated his bone marrow to me.”

“In our cases, we deduced it,” Leo goes on, speaking for himself and Cody, “Because as soon as we were out of surgery, weird things started happening to us.”

“Weird... how?”

“We had memories we weren't supposed to have,” Cody explains, “I was blind up to a couple weeks ago, for example. I received Alan's corneas and now I can see, but together with that came memories of Jesse.”

“Me,” Jesse says, raising his hand. He keeps thinking, now he's going to recognize me. It's just a matter of time. Perhaps we just need to jog his memory. If we keep talking with him, he's surely going to remember. “I was Alan's boyfriend. Both Leo and Cody knew me before they even met me, because what they had received from Alan made them remember me. Or at least, that's what we believe is happening.”

Adam doesn't answer right away. For a little while he stares at him, speechless, as if waiting for them to start making sense already. When he finally understand they aren't going to, he frowns. “Are you all out of your mind?” he asks.

“I understand this is hard to wrap your mind around,” Blaine tries with half a smile.

“No, this is batshit crazy,” Adam shakes his head, upset and annoyed, “Who the fuck are you even? I don't know you. Who let you in?”

“We thought you might recognize Jesse,” Cody tries, crossing his arms behind his back, “Like we did.”

“What the fuck are you even talking about?!” Adam snaps, blindly searching for the remote control on his nightstand, to call for assistance, “You're nuts! Completely nuts! Recognize you?” he turns to look at Jesse and glares at him, angrily even, as he spits out, “I have never seen your face in my life, and I'd rather keep it that way.”

He could've shot him through the heart, Jesse thinks as he takes a step back, it would've hurt less and, at least, it would've killed him.

What happens next, he only watches it, he doesn't really see it, and the memories won't stick with him long. Blaine tries to calm Adam down. He asks him to listen to their experience, hoping that maybe that will help him remember. Adam answers screaming that he's got nothing to remember because he doesn't know him, and all he wants if for them to get the fuck out of his room and never come back. When Leo tries insisting, Adam starts calling for the nurse.

His voice screaming “Nurse! Nurse! Get these fucking people out of here!” is the only thing Jesse will truly remember of that morning for years.

*

He drops down on a chair in the kitchen feeling useless and utterly broken. There is no word that can describe him better than that. He feels disconnected, his mind from his body, the single parts of his body with one another. He can't make sense of himself anymore. He can't even believe he was so stupid to invest so much in... whatever this madness is. Was. Has been.

Leo remains on the threshold for a moment, lost in his own thoughts. Then a new resolution comes into his eyes, and he declares he's gonna make lunch. He tries to take some suggestions for the menu, but no one seems interested in giving any. They all keep answering “anything is okay”, and Jesse simply doesn't answer. In the end, he decides to go with his own inspiration, while Cody and Blaine sit down around the table.

He hears them speak but he's not really listening.

“Perhaps we didn't understand what was going on,” Blaine tries to rationalize it, “Perhaps this was just some sort of small-scale mass hallucination.” He turns to look at Jesse. “You weren't ready to let go of Alan and somehow this need was passed on to me. And once we were both convinced, perhaps we convinced Leo and Cody too, without really understanding why and how and what was happening.”

“This makes no sense...” Cody replies, shaking his head. His baby blue eyes are locked down on the table top, on the surface of which he's torturing his fingers. It's the first time since he came into his life that Jesse sees him hopeless. “It doesn't explain Leo's memories. And what about me? I knew his name. How could you have convinced me? I didn't know you.”

He's right, of course he is. This makes no sense. Blaine's explanation demands a suspension of disbelief capacity that Jesse's not sure he can enforce.

But then again, what else there is to do about it? Why should he want to keep insisting, why should he even try again, why should he keep banging at that wall, breaking his own hands while doing so?

Adam doesn't know who he is. So what use is it to try and understand why this isn't working as it should?

Alan's heart doesn't recognize him.

*

In the dream, Alan's stroking his hair and Jesse knows it's him. He could always recognize his touch through the hands of a million men. Even during the early stages of their relationship, when Alan had already taken him in but Jesse refused to stop cruising for other men trying to prove his point of, he supposes now, being an asshole, every time he came back and Alan touched him, whether it was an innocent cuddle or whether he wanted to have him bent over on the kitchen sink, he could always feel the difference.

There's always a difference when someone who cares about you touches you, as opposed to the touch of someone who couldn't give a shit if you're dead or alive comes tomorrow morning.

He doesn't know where they are because his eyes are closed. He knows it's soft, though. It must be a bed.

“You stopped looking for me,” Alan says. His voice feels like a thorn piercing his skin.

“No,” he answers, pressing his face against his shoulder and inhaling his scent, “It's not that I stopped. It's that you're not here anymore.”

“But I am.”

“That's not you.”

“Who told you so?”

“They are different people.”

“They are.”

“Then it's not you.”

He hears him scoff a small laughter. Jesse tries to open his eyes because he wants to see that smile again, he wants to kiss the smile on Alan's face and he wants to do it with his eyes wide open, to burn that picture in his eyes forever.

But he can't. It's typical of dreams, after all, isn't it? To give you something beautiful and then make it impossible for you to enjoy it fully.

“It’s more complicated than that. Don't give up on me,” Alan says as Jesse feels him fade away together with the evanescent quality of the dream.

He opens his eyes and it's late in the morning. Breakfast smell is everywhere, and he's alone in bed. Blaine must've woken up early, the day he stops going out for a jog when the sun rises each morning will probably be because he's already dead. And since the breakfast smell means Leo's already in the kitchen, Jesse can only suppose Cody must be with him.

He stands up and puts a random pair of pants on. He’s not sure if they’re Blaine’s or if they’re one of the few pairs he took with him when he moved from Alan’s house to Blaine’s. He figures there’s no point in trying to tell the difference, now.

He walks downstairs and Leo is indeed cooking. Waffles. Cody’s mom got a waffle iron as a prize for some cooking contest, apparently, and since she’s Italian, though not exactly born and raised, she was already one step ahead of all the other competitors. So she won, and she got a new waffle iron, but since the old one was still perfectly functional Cody ended up bringing it to Blaine’s home, and the moment Leo set eyes on it he instantly decided he wanted to marry the thing.

So they’ve been having waffles non-stop for the last five days, which is still an amount of time reasonable enough for Jesse not to be bored by it already. He smiles taking a peek inside the kitchen and watching Leo as he mocks Cody asking him to grab the sugar bowl from the top shelf of one of the cabinets. Cody must be the shortest grown man that isn’t a midget that Jesse’s ever seen. He’s 5’1, and despite being all legs he’s really so short he not only often passes for a pre-teen kid – helped undoubtedly by his androgynous, childish appearance – but ends up needing to grab a chair to reach heights a normal person wouldn’t even need to get on their tiptoes for. Jesse still remembers that time he asked if he could have a shower, and then spent ten minutes trying to reach the shower head, before finally realizing it was hanging too high for him. He had to call Leo to have it brought to a lower level, and Leo has never forgotten about it, nor he probably ever will.

It’s fun to watch them joke, though. Cody’s stretching his arms so much the t-shirt he’s slept in curled up around his waist, and Leo’s laughing, telling him he can see his ass, while Cody blushes and protests and tells him to stop saying embarrassing things.

He chuckles, and they finally notice he’s there. “Jesse,” Leo says, turning to look at him with a smile on his lips, “Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” Jesse nods, “But I’ve got no time, I wanted to take an early walk. Can you save a couple waffles for me?”

“Where are you going?” Cody asks curiously, walking closer to him and kissing him on his chin, “Can I come with?”

“Not today,” Jesse smiles back, and then leans in to kiss him on his lips, “I’ll be back soon. Is Blaine out running?”

“When isn’t he ever?” Leo snorts, making a face. The mere thought of physical exertion is sometimes enough to disgust him deeply, “I don’t even know how he manages.”

“He’s 42 and he wants to preserve his beauty,” Jesse chuckles, amused, “Maybe you should think about it too.”

“Shut up, I’m fucking gorgeous,” Leo grins, and Jesse laughs, shaking his head.

“I’m not answering that,” he says. Then he turns around and leaves the house. There is clarity in his mind, a purpose. If he thinks about himself a few nights ago and compares it to the person who’s taking the bus to the hospital now, they’re two different people, people he couldn’t even believe have crossed paths, let alone shared a body, a mind.

And yet there he was that night, broken, hopeless, empty.

And here he is now. Fighting against an unbearable old man who demands to occupy two seats instead of one on account of his fake leg.

Luckily there’s not too much of a crowd at the hospital. There’s just a few people waiting for their turn, and none of their problems appear to be serious. Jesse only has to sit and wait for 20 minutes or so before they finally introduce him to Sam’s personal office.

She seems surprised to see him. “I was sure you’d never set foot in here again,” she says, crossing her legs and resting her shoulders against the back of her chair. “Not after what happened last time.”

“Things got a little out of hand last time,” he replies, sitting down opposite to her.

She raises an eyebrow, looking straight at him. “A little out of hand, you say. And yet for some reason I remember having to call security to have your posse removed from the premises.”

“I don’t have a posse.”

“Right, your dead lover’s reincarnation boyband,” she spits out pungently. Then she remembers herself and sighs, passing a hand over her face. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I shouldn’t have said it.”

“It’s okay,” Jesse answers, “I know why you did it. I understand you. I know it’s not easy to deal with grieving people.”

“No, it’s not easy to deal with grieving people, Jesse, but we’ve crossed that line weeks ago,” she says sternly, “I’m seriously worried about you.”

“You shouldn’t bother,” Jesse says with half a smile, “I’m okay.”

“Please…”

“At least as okay as the situation lets me.”

“No, Jesse, you’re mistaken,” she leans in, tapping her index fingertip on the table, as if underlining her point, “I’ve seen grieving people, okay? I’ve seen a lot of them. People who have their heart broken are always a little out of control. They’re bound to make regrettable choices. And that’s normal, and it’s normal that it’s a long-lasting condition, because grieving and healing from grief are processes, and they take time, and in the meanwhile people suffer, and do stupid things because of their pain. But you, my boy, you’re not just making mistakes and suffering, you’re unleashing a frankly overwhelming amount of pain and you’re unleashing it on clearly fragile people with clearly fragile minds who are indulging you into believing this thing is real, when it is not.”

Jesse keeps his mouth shut through her monologue. He knows she needs to say all this. It’s her professional opinion, and also the expression of her friendly concern. He’s even grateful, in his own way, that she feels so involved with him to need to share all this.

But he isn’t gonna listen to a word of it anyway.

“I don’t expect you to understand this, really,” he says, “Not even to accept it, actually. If I were you, I wouldn’t believe in this either. Sometimes, even being myself, I still can’t, so…” he shrugs, “I understand perfectly.”

“No, you clearly don’t.”

“I understand your opinion, I meant,” Jesse smiles sadly, “It doesn’t mean I have to share it.”

“For Christ’s sake!” Sam groans, raising both hands in frustration, “I should fucking have you committed, Jess.”

“I know you won’t,” Jesse keeps smiling, “And I also know why. It’s because you think this is all about me missing Alan.”

“And it isn’t?”

“No,” he shakes his head, “I’ve been dreaming about him. He’s trying to tell me something.”

“Jesse, Alan’s dead.” Her voice is sharp, and he knows she’s using it as a weapon, to hurt him, hoping such a raw pain will be enough to make him snap out it. She should know, though. At this point, his skin is covered with so much scar tissue it’s almost like he’s wearing an armor all the time.

“I’m aware, Sam.”

“He can’t be telling you shit.”

“I disagree,” he sighs, looking down for a second, then back up at her. “Listen, I know you’ll get angry, but I need a favor. I need to see Adam Walker again.”

“No,” she shakes her head resolutely, “Absolutely not. That guy had you thrown out of his room and the hospital last time you met him. He was a patient just out of heart surgery and you dangerously agitated him. I’m not going to let that happen again. Besides, he’s not here anymore. He’s been dismissed a couple days ago. He’s gone home. Forget about him.”

“I can’t.”

“You have to, it’s not a possibility problem.”

“I can’t,” he insists, “I have to talk to him. To make sure he’s not like the others.”

“This thing does not exist, Jesse!” Sam raises her voice and stands up, pacing the room, “Get it out of your head! He’s not like the others for the very simple reason that none of them is like anyone else, they’re just obviously confused, and— and you’re taking advantage of that!”

“You think it’s fun for me?” Jesse frowns, “You think I enjoy it?”

“I think you can’t let go of Alan’s memory and you would do anything not to let it go.”

“Yes, and that’s right!” he stands up too, facing her angrily, “And I’m not ashamed of it! Fuck you, Sam— You think you know loss just because you’ve seen other people going through it? You don’t know loss, believe me. Loss is a person you go to bed with at night. It’s eyes staring at you from every fucking picture on the wall. It’s reading a text and answering it even though you know that number’s disconnected. That’s loss. And you can’t— You can’t fucking resent someone because they can’t deal with it.”

“I don’t resent you, Jesse, I’m worried you’re just making it worse for yourself, and in the process you’re certainly making it worse for other people, people who had nothing to do with this to begin with!”

“That’s what you think, but I’ve talked to them, I know what they feel, I know what they remember, and I’m telling you, you can’t dismiss this so easily. They are going through something.”

“Something you put them through!”

“No, something that came to them!” he insists, “And it might be coming to Adam too.”

“But what makes you so sure about it?!” Sam yells again, slamming her hand into the table.

“Alan told me,” Jesse simply answers calmly, “I dreamt about him, and he told me I must keep looking for him. So I have to see Adam. I have to speak to him. Please, give me his address.”

Sam looks at him, completely shocked by his words. She’s speechless for a very long moment, as she drops back on her chair, exhausted.

“How am I supposed to answer that, Jesse?” she asks weakly, “It’s so far beyond common sense there are no arguments I can use against it.”

He sits back down too, placing both hands on the table. Then he reaches out for her, squeezing her hands into his own. “Just give me his address. I won’t tell anyone you gave it to me. But I need it. If you don’t give it to me, I will find it some other way.”

She falters, he sees her. He sees the million other ways he could find that address flow behind her eyes in a stream, and she’s thinking that maybe it’s better that she surrenders now, before he ends up winning the war anyway destroying himself in the process.

She sighs, looking down. “You had promised you wouldn’t ask anything of me anymore,” she says, disappointed and saddened.

“I know, and I’m sorry,” he answers, looking down, “If it makes you feel any better, I’m not promising anything now. I learned my lesson.”

She lets out half a bitter laughter, shaking her head. “It makes me feel like shit,” she replies. Then she grabs a pen and a post-it from the pile next to her computer’s keyboard, and she writes Adam’s address down.

*

He's never broken into a home and he's quite surprised to find out it's way easier than he thought it'd be. He's never believed in fiction, whenever he watched a movie or a TV show in which the main character just needed to push a window open and slip through it to get into a house he's always thought that was bullshit. Turns out, fiction was right, at least on this.

There's a window left ajar on the ground floor. It opens on a tidy, kind of cheap-looking sitting room with an old orange couch the color of which has faded away, a small coffee table, a TV screen and a couple of libraries in a corner. There's a carpet on the floor, under the table, and it's orange like the couch and the curtains. It seems soft. Jesse's shoes sink pleasantly in it and for a second he's tempted to take them off and walk on it barefoot. He doesn't, though. He's got no time for this. He must keep looking for Alan.

He walks out of the sitting room and into a small hall. There's the front door. On the other side of the sitting room door there's an opening in the wall, no door. The kitchen's there. It seems pretty small from the outside, but there's a table in it too, pressed against the wall. Everything looks old, but also pretty cozy. Jesse likes it, but he doesn't dwell on it too much. He heads down the hallway, finding the stairs. He climbs them silently, keeping an ear out for any sound that might help him find out where Adam is.

There are three rooms upstairs, two of which have closed doors. Jesse instinctively heads towards the only one the door of which is open, and he's not surprised to find out his instinct was right. There Adam is. Folding up clean t-shirts out of a light blue basin, for some reason.

Jesse stops on the threshold, looking silently at him for a moment. He knows the moment he speaks everything's gonna change. He wants to enjoy the quiet for a second. He wants to enjoy the sight of him, of his broad shoulders underneath his creamy white t-shirt as he skillfully folds each piece of clothing and puts it away in a pile, ready to be put away in the half open drawer already waiting for it.

It's a ritual that speaks of everyday life, of family, of intimacy.

It all shatters when he calls Adam's name, and Adam turns around with a yelled curse, his eyes open wide and a hand pressed hard against his chest. The t-shirt he was holding in his hand falls on the floor, and before everything else Adam leans in and picks it up, muttering an annoyed “fuck”. For some reason, the gesture makes Jesse smile sweetly. Adam seems exactly the kind of man whose sense of propriety would force to pick up clean clothes from the floor first, even in front of a stranger who just broke into his house.

Alan was the same.

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” Adam finally growls, throwing the t-shirt on the bed and looking threateningly at him, “How did you get in?”

“The window downstairs,” Jesse explains quietly, “It was open.”

“Right, so you thought that was an invitation to break the law and come inside?”

“No, I didn't take it as an invitation,” he shakes his head, “I just did it because I wanted to speak with you.”

“I thought I had made myself clear enough when I said I didn't wanna speak with you at all. You and your nonsense. What the fuck were you even thinking coming in like that? You're lucky my mother wasn't here. And you could've given me a heart attack!”

“You have a new heart now,” Jesse simply answers, “A strong, healthy one. Isn't that the point of this whole situation?”

“I don't give a fuck about the point or the situation,” Adam spits out, “I'm calling the police.” He walks towards him and for a second Jesse's sure he's going to punch him in the face or something, but in the end he changes direction and Jesse understands he wants to walk around him and leave the room.

He doesn't let him.

“Stop,” he says, placing a hand on his inner elbow and holding it in his fingers.

“What the fuck are you doing?!” Adam shrugs him off and takes a couple steps back, “Don't touch me, you got me? Don't even come near me!”

“Why?”

“Because I don't fucking know you!”

“You do,” Jesse insists stubbornly, getting close to him again, “Alan told me.”

“Your fucking dead boyfriend? Your dead boyfriend told you?”

“Yes.”

“You're fucking crazy!” Adam yells, backing away every time Jesse takes a step in his direction, “I'm fucking done with you— You have to get out of this house, now.”

“No, you have to listen to me,” deaf to his protests, Jesse keeps advancing. “Do you remember that time you took me to the aquarium in Cleveland?”

“What the fuck? No, of course I don't! I've never been there!”

“You've been there with me.”

“No!”

“Yes. You took me there. Took us a two hour drive and the night before we hadn't even slept. You were exhausted but it was my birthday and my parents refused to call me and you wanted me to have something nice. So you took me there.”

“I never did anything like that, I have never seen you before in my life!”

“No, you're wrong,” Jesse closes the distance between them, grabbing Adam's t-shirt, holding its fabric between his fingers, “We did that. We walked the underwater shark tunnel and you could tell I was scared even though I pretended not to be. So you held my hand even though I had asked you not to, because you knew I needed it.”

“Let me go,” Adam says, closing his hands around Jesse's. He tries to pull back, but he does it more weakly than before, and Jesse notices something different in his eyes, the spark of doubt. He decides to use it as a lever, and presses forward.

“We also stopped by that tank with octopuses inside,” he insists, “You joked about picturing me in one of those ancient Japanese drawings with ladies wearing kimonos and big octopuses fondling them.”

“Jesus Christ, stop it.”

“And by the time the tour was over it was so late, and we were both so exhausted, that I almost fell into the touch pool, and you grabbed me from behind and you held me close and you said something to me.”

“No...” Adam shakes his head confusedly, trying to back away and ending up against the bed, “No, stop, I...”

“What did you tell me?”

“I was never—”

“What did you tell me, Adam?”

“Shut up, I don't know! I was never there!” Adam yells, but his eyes are filling up with terror and Jesse knows, he can feel something's awakening in him.

“Yes, you were. You were in a different body but your soul was there and you must remember. You said careful, I can't lose you like that. You told me you couldn't lose me like that,” his eyes fill up with tears at the memory and Adam's hands squeeze his own tighter, “You said that. You said that! How did you call me?”

“No, I—”

“How did you call me?!”

“Shut up—” Adam gasps, “I don't—”

“How the fuck did you call me, Adam?!”

“Kitten, I called you kitten, for fuck's sake!” he finally cries out as he lets go of his hands and grabs him by his shoulders, shaking him hard, “I called you kitten cos you had scared me so much and I only barely managed to grab you and I...”

He stops talking when he realizes what he just said. His eyes fall on Jesse and he stares at him in utter disbelief, his breath suspended, as if he was floating deep in space.

Jesse swallows, tears streaming down his face. Adam's hands on his shoulders feel so warm. He can only hear his voice call him kitten over and over again, and it's everything. Everything he wanted, everything he could possibly ask for.

He pushes through his hold. He presses his lips against Adam's, and Adam doesn't even react. He receives the kiss and remains there, motionless, for the longest time.

Jesse pulls away and looks at him. Come on, he thinks. Come on, oh, God, please, come on.

And Adam whispers, “Kitten...”, and then he moves forward, pressing their lips together again. And the moment that happens, Jesse's brain just disconnects. He doesn't care about anything that's happened up to now, and he doesn't care about anything that will happen in the future. Alan's heart recognizes him again. Alan's there, with him, and he's kissing him, he's holding him, and it's not an illusion, it must be true, because Adam tastes exactly like him.

He stops questioning it. Who cares what this is and how and why it's happening? How dares him spoiling a miracle with doubts and questions? A miracle is a miracle. It can't be explained rationally, it can only be believed in. And he believes it. He's a fucking believer now, whether it’s God granting this gift to him or the Devil himself, he's a fucking believer.

He clings to Adam, pulling him hard against himself, and Adam answers with the same intensity. His yelling from before, forgotten, all the times he said no, forgotten, all his refusals to acknowledge what was going on, forgotten. They're raw and exposed like flesh under wounded skin, their kiss is messy, wet, hungry and desperate. Adam grabs him harder, they fight the lovers' fight as they both try to win control over the kiss, then Adam, being stronger than him, manages to push him down on the bed.

It's the first time they stop kissing since they started, and Jesse finally has a chance to look into Adam's eyes, and Alan's inside them. The color's different and the shape's all wrong but he's there, in the hungry light making them shimmer, he's there, in the strength of the breaths that send Adam's chest heaving, he's there, in the way his strong hands close for a moment around his wrists and then let them go only to scatter all the folded and yet-to-fold t-shirts around, to make for room for their bodies clashing.

It's a moment's look, then it's Adam's lips again, pressed hard against his own, wide open and wet. His tongue thrusting inside his mouth, his teeth biting into his lips. It's heaven, and heaven's a garden on fire, hot, lively, desperate and heartbreakingly beautiful.

And bound to be consumed by flames and pulverized in smoke and ashes.

Which is what happens when Adam stops all of a sudden, withdrawing his hands after they had slipped underneath Jesse's t-shirt.

“Jesse, wait,” he breathes out, ceasing to move altogether. He rests his forehead against Jesse's, keeps his eyes closed and tries to breathe slowly, to regain control over himself. “We can't do this.”

“I'm sure I can,” Jesse says in half a whine, trying to kiss him again.

Adam pulls back, his lips curled in an unwilling, weak smile. “Then I can't,” he says, “I need a second.”

“I can wait a second.”

Adam laughs, this time. “It's a longer second,” he replies.

Jesse huffs, resting his head against the mattress. He exhales resignedly, and then passes a hand over his forehead and eyes. “Okay,” he finally surrenders, “Okay, I understand.”

“You do?” Adam chuckles.

“No, I hate you,” Jesse mutters, forcing another weary laughter out of Adam's throat, “But I know what you mean, and it's okay. I just... I know this must be a lot to work through. I mean, I don't know it, because I'm not going through it, I'm just seeing it happen. But I can imagine it. Because...” he looks down, sighing, “If it's painful and overwhelming to you as much as it is for me, it must be living hell.”

“I'm not sure painful is the word,” Adam smiles softly. He's got his hand on Jesse's naked hip and it's just the sweetest thing ever. This need for closeness they both share. Two people who had never met before. Held together by the heart of a third one. Who isn't even here anymore. “It's damn confusing, though, that much I can tell you.”

Jesse chuckles and follows his instinct, hugging him around his neck. He kisses Adam on his temple and Adam answers with a serene smile that's more than Jesse could ever hope to achieve with him today on its own.

“I know I'm asking for a lot, but I'd like for you to come speak with the others,” he says.

“Now?” Adam makes a face.

“Yes,” Jesse nods slowly, “I need them to see you. And I want you to speak with them, because they can help you. They've been through it already.”

“And are they over it now?”

“No,” he shakes his head, “But they're working on it. They're better already. I want you to be better too. So please, come.”

Adam hesitates only for a moment. Then he says yes.

*

Adam's not completely at ease, sitting around the table with the others, Jesse can tell. The food Leo prepared and the beverages Blaine provided helped him in the beginning, but when the time came to finally start talking about the real stuff he found himself at a disadvantage, playing with people with a considerably longer experience on the field, to use a metaphor he himself has used while trying to explain the others why he isn't so eager to really start digging inside this.

“Maybe it'd help if we tried to establish some connection between us all,” Cody suggests, lazily nibbling at a chocolate, caramel and nuts bar.

“I thought we were already connected,” Blaine replies, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, but I mean, we're not very synchronized, are we?” Cody insists, swallowing another bite of his snack. “I mean, we've gone through a few memories we have, but we have no big pictures. Only details, and when we happen to share a memory it's never all three of us— sorry, Adam, all four of us, but two at a times, tops. Like, that time we went to the park and a squirrel ate all our sandwiches,” Cody chuckles, and Leo's laughter instantly mirrors his own, “Leo and I have that in common, but Blaine doesn't remember it.”

“It's true,” he nods, “I only know it happened because Alan told me about it. While that time Virginia came to visit us and found us naked on the couch...”

“Virginia,” Adam whispers, his eyes holding a knowing light as he remembers something, “My... our...” he shakes his head, annoyed with himself and embarrassed by his own hesitation, “Alan's sister.”

“Yes,” Blaine nods with an encouraging smile, “That memory, I share it with Leo, but Cody doesn't remember it.”

Cody shakes his head, to reinforce Blaine's statement. “This is why I think we should find a memory we all share, to have some ground on which we can build... something,” he shrugs, “I don't know what exactly, but I can't know everything.”

“Fly down, sweets,” Leo chuckles, leaning in to ruffle Cody's hair. “Okay, I have it. This is important, we must all know it. You remember when Calista was born? And we took Jesse to see her and he kept calling her Calliope for unknown reasons?”

Jesse chuckles, covering his face. “I couldn't remember her name for my life,” he says, “Calista's a hard name to memorize.”

“It really isn't,” Blaine chuckles, “But I'm afraid I don't remember that. Or maybe the memory's just erased by my own. I was there with them too. So maybe I don't have Alan's memory about it because I already have my own?”

“I can't remember it either,” Cody says, “I know it happened because I remember dad... Alan's father, I mean, talking about it. But I don't remember listening to Jesse calling her Calliope directly.” He turns towards Adam, studying him with his baby blue eyes. “What about you?”

Suddenly feeling on the spot, Adam seems to shrink on the chair he's occupying. He shakes his head quickly. “Nothing,” he says. “But maybe... maybe you remember that one time we... Alan...” he sighs deeply, shaking his head. Jesse understands his inability to settle on a pronoun, or a subject for his sentences for that matter. It's funny and cute, and he strokes the back of Adam's hand with his index and middle fingers to try and make him feel better. Adam answers with a little smile as he resumes talking. “That one time we,” he finally settles, following Leo's example, “Went to the beach. And we fell asleep, except we were under the umbrella, while Jesse wasn't, and when we woke up he was red like a lobster?”

“Oh, shut up!” Jesse protests, outraged, “I haven't forgiven you for that. Asshole. You let me roast.”

“I was asleep!” Adam chuckles, “And you...” but he stops talking when he looks around and sees Leo, Blaine and Cody are not following him. “You don't remember this,” he says, disappointed.

Blaine shakes his head. “I'm sorry,” he says, and it's clear in his voice that he really means it, so Adam shakes his head and looks down, smiling gently. “There was that time, though...” he goes on, “You remember? You said we were putting weight on.”

“Oh, come on, Blaine,” Jesse protests, scoffing, “Not even I remember that.”

“Liar!” Blaine answers, outraged, “It was important!”

“No, it wasn't,” Jesse sighs, resting his chin on the palm of his hand. He knows if they go on like that there's no hope to find a memory that connects them all. He wishes he could help them, but fishing blindly doesn't seem the best way to do it. And yet, fishing blindly is the only thing he can do.

So he closes his eyes and tries to focus on something intense enough to have a chance to be stuck in all of their minds. And as he searches for a powerful memory, something grand Alan could've done for him or vice versa, it's something relatively small that hits him, something apparently inconsequential.

He decides to go for that.

“We found a dog, once,” he says, “It was some sort of huge black pug. He was really ugly. I loved him the moment I set eyes on him.”

“Ah, yes,” Blaine chuckles. Jesse's sure Blaine shouldn't know about the dog, because Alan and him decided they would keep that story for themselves alone. Then he's sure these must be Alan's memories, not Blaine's. “We called him Napoleon, right? Like that pig from Animal Farm,” he chuckles again, “God, mother nature hadn't been kind to him.”

“No, it's true,” Leo chuckles too, “You remember the way only one of his underbite teeth was sticking out of his mouth? And he had such a stupid expression, with those eyes big as bowls passing from us to you and back again.”

“Yeah, he seemed like he wanted to ask us something but he didn't know the language,” Cody smiles tenderly. “And we decided to keep him because he had been ran over by a car and the bastard hadn't even stopped to check on him. He was limping but he seemed alright, but...” and there he stops, his blue eyes clouding instantly.

“... but he wasn't,” Adam finishes for him. He's tense, at first, as if struggling to recognize that memory as his own. But it grows inside him. It takes all the room it needs, and he ends up owning it. “He didn't want to eat or drink and we called the vet and he told us that was normal, that he was probably just stressed out after getting lost and hit, and that if he still didn't wanna eat by the morning after then we should have brought him over. Then he fell asleep, and he seemed to breathe regularly, he seemed fine. But when we woke up the next day we found him dead on the carpet.” Adam sighs deeply, passing a hand through his hair. “Jesse cried for hours. We decided not to tell anybody. And we swore to ourselves never to adopt a dog.”

Napoleon's memory still bites at him unexpectedly, every now and then, but he's processed it years ago. He remembers suffering like hell for a week or two. Then he remembers healing.

He wonders if it's gonna happen this time too. And then he understands if it happens, if he really heals, it's not gonna be because he got over Alan, but because he still has him with himself. And not metaphorically, not in spirit or any similar bullshit people use to delude themselves into thinking they haven't been left alone.

Alan is really there, with him. He can see him clearly in these people's eyes. He hears him in their voices, senses him in their presence, feels him in their touch.

“I love you,” he says suddenly, looking at them all.

They meet his eyes with their own, and don't answer because they don't need it.

It felt exactly like it felt saying it to Alan in the past. And they know it.

*

They settle, because that’s what human beings are programmed to do. They look at a dire situation and their first response to it is always no, that’s too much, I will never get used to it, but then, somehow, every time, they manage. They adjust. Jesse didn’t even think it could be possible for a situation such as his - theirs - to happen in real life, let alone get used to it, and yet he wakes up every morning, now, expecting Leo’s breakfast smell. Expecting Cody curled up by his side. Expecting Blaine’s attentions to make his life easier at the most unexpected times. Expecting Adam’s strong arms, his powerful kisses, and the ridiculously adorable sound he makes when he pulls away, embarrassed, and comments that he didn’t even know he liked boys after kissing him hard enough to turn his lips swollen and red as ripe cherries.

He expects all these things because they’ve become part of his life. And because he likes them. He’s become dependent on them. They’re part of his support system, much like Blaine, Leo, Adam and Cody themselves. Every single part of this arrangement keeps him going. He’s like a puzzle. He’s a big picture made out of a number of smaller pieces held together by their interlocking parts. Leo feeding Cody slices of cakes from his own fingers holds him together. Blaine counseling Adam on how to wear a jacket confidently. Adam lifting Cody up with his hands around his waist to help him get to the sugar bowl on the top shelf. Cody smiling playfully like a kid when he softly kicks Blaine on his thigh for a joke he made on him while they’re all nesting on the couch watching a movie at night. These are the chains holding each part of him attached to the others – without them he floats away, he loses himself.

He loses Alan again. Which is even worse than losing himself, in his opinion.

A routine sets in. Every morning they wake up. Sometimes Cody and Adam are there too, sometimes they’re not, they all end up coming back there to have dinner anyway. Leo and Adam go to college, Blaine evaluates audition proposals and Jesse helps out Cody with finding a job. Leo comes back late afternoon, he starts cooking. Adam’s back an hour later, after his rehab sessions. Blaine usually comes back minutes before dinnertime, if he’s been out. They all sit down around the table. They eat sharing inconsequential chit-chat about what happened during their day. They joke. They remember each day something more, as if their minds were aligning, overlying, resonating with each other, striving for perfect harmony. They watch something on TV – more often than not, it’s a Disney classic. Then they go to bed. They all kiss him stupid, then sometimes they stay, they curl up around him and fall asleep like a bunch of kittens around their sleeping mom, and some other times they just bid him goodnight and go back to their lives, Leo back to his apartment, Adam back to his mom, Cody back to his parents, Blaine back to his bedroom.

Jesse doesn’t push anything forward. Honestly, he’s scared of the direction things could take if pushed. He doesn’t want this to change in any way. He wants it to remain exactly as it is, forever. Maybe, if no part of it ever changes, it will never be over.

It’s easy to forget the passing of time when all your days look like the ones that preceded them, and you already know they look exactly like those that will follow them too. But time has a way to remind you of its everlasting presence.

In his case it’s the calendar he finds hanging from the wall back in the apartment Alan and him used to share. He’s there with Virginia cos she asked him for help emptying it out. She told him he could take whatever he wanted with him, that her mom would’ve understood. He thanked her and promised he was gonna call in the weekend. Now he feels ready to. He misses them. He misses their dinners and their company.

Virginia was happy about it. She feels better, she seems better, and she told him the same when she saw him. She’s moving on. Jesse wonders if she found something to remind her of Alan, something that she can always bring together with her, like he did. Or if perhaps she’s simply stronger than him. That’s a possibility too.

He’s going through Alan’s clothes and he already found a few things he picked out to bring back to Blaine’s house. He wants to give these things to the boys. A purple hoodie with dark purple stars on the inner lining for Leo. A leather jacket for Blaine. A dark gray shirt for Adam. A silly black t-shirt with The Lion King’s warthog’s outline and a writing saying Pumbaa instead of Puma on the front for Cody.

Then he closes the wardrobe door and there it is, the calendar. It’s stuck in October, the month Alan died. Jesse can’t look at it. So he picks it up and flips through the pages down to February.

The 23rd is circled in red. He drew a cake with candles on top of it with a red marker.

It’s the date of Alan’s birthday. Coming up in a week.

“He would’ve been 43,” Virginia says, picking the calendar up from his hands and looking at it. “Had you planned something special?”

“We were weighing up options,” he admits, “Alan wanted to take me to Europe. Amsterdam. I’ve never left the USA.”

Virginia smiles, and Jesse sees the ghost of a smile on the corner of her eyes. Perhaps, he thinks, she’s not moving on at all. Perhaps she’s just very good at pretending.

“That would’ve been nice,” she says. Then she throws the calendar away in the black plastic bag she’s carrying it around the house, filling it up with disposable things.

Yes, it would’ve been nice. And just like the calendar, now it’s just scrap paper.

He tries not to bring that sadness home with himself, together with Alan’s clothes, but it sticks to him like sweat. The boys notice it, and even though he tries not to explain too much at some point Blaine remembers about the birthday, and in a matter of seconds they all know they were gonna turn 43 on the next week, back in their previous body.

Adam is the first hugging him. He almost runs ahead of everyone else, wraps his arms around him and squeezes him hard.

“It’s not necessary,” Jesse answers, shaking his head, “I’m okay.”

“But Jesse,” Leo says with a sigh, “You’re crying.”

Jesse’s heart skips a beat as he realizes it’s true. And that you can lie with your voice, but not with your body, especially when pain is involved. He clings to Adam and cries softly, letting it all out. It’s easier, when you’ve got someone holding you, and a bunch of other people already preparing reality to welcome you the moment you’re done with it.

Adam walks him to the couch, where Cody’s already waiting for him, patting a hand on his own thighs. He lies down, resting his head on Cody’s lap. The others sit down around him. They’re warm, and they’re all touching him gently. He could live off this, breathe only through their scent. He inhales and exhales deeply, his heart finding peace once again.

“I can’t see you like that,” Leo sighs, predictably. He really doesn’t work well with Jesse’s tears.

“Tell us if there’s something we can do for you,” Cody says, “It’d be pointless to spend that day moping around the house.”

“Why don’t we go out?” Blaine suggests. He’s stroking Jesse’s tummy with his hand through the thick wool sweater he’s wearing. It feels good enough to cry about it, but Jesse knows it’d make Blaine sad, so he doesn’t. “It could help take your mind off things, if only for a little while. Come on, where do you want to go?”

Jesse thinks about it, searching for a good place in his memory with his eyes closed. Then he looks back up at Blaine and answers. “I want to go dance to the Prince of Persia,” he says. It’s where Alan and him went to dance more often, and Blaine knows it – both as Alan and as himself, since he usually ended up going along with them, or meeting them there – and this is the reason why he meets Jesse’s answer with a furrowed brow.

“That would defeat the purpose, babe,” he answers, “We’re trying to take your mind off things. Not to remind you of them even more.”

Jesse shakes his head, looking calmly at him. He feels peaceful, serene. Crying purified him, lifted a weight off his shoulders. “I know it’d be good for me,” he says with straight eyes and a straight voice, “I don’t need to take my mind off Alan, I just need to try and learn how to keep thinking about him feeling good, instead of feeling like shit.”

They end up admitting this makes sense. So the Prince it is.

*

It’s Friday night and the Prince is so crowded they only managed to get in because Blaine, having been a devoted customer for the good part of the last decade, is well-known and respected by all employees, including the bouncers. He smiled charmingly at the one standing post at the entrance tonight and he recognized him easily despite the few months he’s been missing since his sickness. The man even told him it was great to have him back, and called him sir.

“Sir?” Leo smirked, raising an eyebrow as they walked in, “Seriously?”

“Don’t mock and be grateful,” Blaine had muttered, hitting him lightly on his nape.

Jesse had laughed, and then he had smiled observing Blaine’s hand lingering there, massaging Leo’s neck through the soft helmet of his black, thick, curly hair.

They’re sitting on a couple couches around a table, now, in one of the few lairs the club offers to customers in need of some privacy. The dancefloor is far enough not to bother them, overcrowded and filled with stomping, sweating, swinging people as it is, and yet close enough to offer a good show. Dancing people are pleasant to look at. Jesse watches them and imagines himself between them, shaking to the groove, getting lost in the thumping sound of the bass, melting away in the crowd.

He’s on edge and Blaine knows it, because he knows him twice as deep than the others. He sips at the drink he ordered and stares at the bottom of his glass stubbornly, making a point not to ever cross eyes with Jesse.

“Why are you so damn gloomy, man?” Adam asks him, half-emptying his non-alcoholic cocktail in one sip. They’ve tried to convince him to drink some beer, but to no avail. He’s a sportsman before he’s a 22 year old human being, apparently. “We’re out, we’re having fun and you suggested it, so you’ve got no right to sadness tonight.”

“I’m not sad,” Blaine replies glumly, swallowing what’s left of his drink and signaling a waitress passing by for a refill, “I’m just in utter disagreement with all of this.”

“You can’t disagree with a dance club, Anderson, a dance club is not a person,” Leo notes, rolling his eyes.

“See if I care,” Blaine answers, showing off a childish attitude that’s just ten percent him and ninety percent Alan-when-things-didn’t-go-as-he-had-planned. When I suggested a night out I was thinking more of dinner in a nice restaurant and then a movie, not a drunken night in a potentially triggering place.”

Jesse laughs. He’s having his third rum and coke and he might just be a little out of control, but he doesn’t care one bit about it. Not tonight.

“See what I mean?” Blaine protests, pointing a finger towards him as Jesse slides down the back of the couch, half lying on top of it, “He’s completely wasted already. It’s obvious he doesn’t feel good.”

“I beg to differ,” Jesse chuckles, crossing his legs as he leans against Cody’s shoulder, left bare by the wide-necked t-shirt he’s wearing, and leaves a soft kiss on it.

“Blaine, seriously,” Adam says, “You worry too much. Your hair are gonna turn white prematurely if you don’t stop stressing about everything.”

“I think we’re already on our way to that,” Leo mocks him, laughing, “He is past his forties, after all.”

“My hair are perfectly fine,” Blaine replies crossly, “Even though I really cannot see a stress-free future for me, at least as long as I’m surrounded with you pests.”

“Still,” Adam shrugs, “Jesse’s okay.”

“And you know that because…?”

“Because I’ve listened to him speaking about this night,” Adam smiles, “And he seemed to know what was best for him. You should trust him.”

“No, you’re not asking me to trust him, you’re asking me to trust your opinion on his mental health, which is fairly different.”

“Nonetheless,” Leo interjects, “I felt the same as Adam. So I think Blondie’s right on this one.”

“Me too,” Cody nods, turning towards Jesse to kiss him on his cheek.

Jesse receives that kiss with a pleased smile and crosses eyes with Blaine. He smirks wickedly and blows him a kiss, and Blaine huffs and shakes his head, annoyed. “Why don’t I feel the same too, if we’re all supposed to be connected and feel the same?” he asks.

Leo laughs, reaching out for his beer and emptying the second bottle. “I think it’s because we all incarnate different parts of Alan,” he explains, “I’ve had time to think about it and I believe that’s how it works. I’m the cook, Cody’s the cuddle-provider, Adam there is the sexually charged maniac—“

“I’m not a sexually charged maniac!”

“—And you’re the father figure. So of course you’re the one who’s constantly overly worried about him.”

“Hey,” Adam insists, “I’m not sexually charged, in fact, I’m quite the opposite, if you really want to know. Or at least…” he blushes lightly, “I was, before I met you guys.”

“You also were straight, as you told us,” Cody nods.

“I still am straight,” Adam replies stubbornly.

None of them feel the need to remind him he’s been the one who got closer to actually have sex with Jesse, in multiple occasions, out of the four of them. Jesse uncrosses his legs and then crosses them again, and Adam’s eyes follow that movement as if mesmerized by it, and they all think reality made its point enough.

“Fair enough,” Blaine snorts, “But if I really am a father figure, then I’m probably also right, too.”

“Why?” Leo asks doubtfully.

“Fathers are always right,” Blaine shrugs.

“I happen to disagree,” Jesse chuckles, “Mine is an asshole.” Blaine doesn’t answer to that, because he knows Jesse’s right, and he also recognizes it might be better to drop the topic altogether. Smiling gratefully, Jesse stands up from the couch, crosses the space dividing them and drops on his lap, wrapping his arms around Blaine’s neck. “I’m tired of talking,” he says, “I’m ordering a drink for all of us.” He half turns, locking eyes with Adam. “And you’re drinking too.”

“But—“

“I’m asking,” is all he needs to say.

As it always happens – as it used to happen all the time with Alan – a drink becomes several drinks, and Adam somehow ends up swallowing all of them, as do the others.

Things get loud, messy, confused. At some point, Jesse grabs Leo’s hand – or is it Blaine’s? He can’t tell anymore. They’re all Alan to him, at this point – and drags him to the dancefloor. And as if he was a fisherman, dragging fishes along in a fishnet, they all follow. They follow in his scent, or in the empty space his body leaves through atoms and molecules in the fabric of the universe as he moves.

They’re there, surrounded with people and yet somehow safe in a place that’s all for them, and for them alone. The music’s loud enough to ring in Jesse’s ears, and he follows its rhythm as he starts swinging right and left, his arms outstretched above his head, his eyes closed, his lips barely parted.

He feels the others surround him, place themselves in circle formation around a central point that’s him. It’s like magic’s guiding them, or magnetism. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t care. The music goes on and he moves, and every time he moves he ends up rubbing against one of them. There are arms around him, holding him, stroking him, squeezing him, and he can barely tell who’s who. They’re all different and they’re all the same person. They’re all Alan and he doesn’t even know who he himself is anymore, he only knows he wants to be a part of them.

They start kissing him, and he doesn’t pull back. Blaine tastes like Leo, who smells like Cody, who touches him like Adam, who kisses him like Alan used to. Everything is perfect and Jesse opens his eyes because he wants to bear witness to that, to that kind of perfection that most people on Earth never get to experience in their life, that kind of perfection that’s been granted to him as partial compensation for what he lost.

That’s when he notices something’s changed. In all of their eyes. They’re looking at him differently, like they want to bite him, like they want to swallow him.

Over the last few months, he’s slowly gotten used to them wanting him. But he hasn’t had a chance to get used to a desire as violent such as this, so powerful their bodies release it like some kind of pheromone, a special scent he can pick up, something that tickles him, making him feel itchy all over.

They stop moving together. Their muscles are tense. Cody’s squirming, Adam’s heaving, Leo’s eyes are so intense they could melt stone.

Blaine moves a step closer to him. “Fuck it,” he says. He grabs his head, pulls him in, kisses him voraciously, leaving him breathless. “Let’s get back home,” he says then, his forehead pressed hard against Jesse’s.

He feels like he’s never wanted anything else more than this.

Except Alan, of course. And in a way, now, they’re one and the same.

*

When they finally get home after a long, tense and unbearable drive, Leo only manages to resist as long as it takes to get to the door. Then he crashes against Jesse, pushing him into the wall. Jesse hits his shoulders and hisses in pain, but it’s a good pain, it’s a hungry pain, a pain that makes him feel alive, and Jesse welcomes it wholeheartedly, parting his lips for Leo’s voracious kiss.

“I can’t wait any longer,” Leo moans against his lips. Jesse knows the same goes for himself too, and he throws a confused glance at the others. They’re standing behind Leo and they’re all over him the second after. A procession of tongues and hungry lips. Jesse closes his eyes and stops trying to tell one from the other, stops pretending he cares for it. He raises his arms and someone picks him up. He’s kissed all the way to the bedroom – is it his own? Is it Blaine’s? Does it even matter? – and then he’s laid down on the bed by arms that could belong to anyone and everyone.

Something soft presses against his arm. Could be Cody’s thigh. He tries touching it upwards, he reaches the recess between those thighs, palms that hardening crotch. Cody whimpers liquidly and Jesse wants to melt together with that sound.

Someone’s tugging at his clothes. Could be Adam. Jesse follows the tense lines of those muscles up those arms, shoulders and neck. His fingers dive into the tangled mass of Adam’s wavy blonde locks, and Jesse wants to get lost in that softness.

Lips are kissing him up and down his neck. Could be Leo’s. He turns, searching for them, his lips meeting with them suddenly, unexpectedly. The kiss is fast-paced, ruthless, shameless. It tastes spicy and it tastes like beer, so it must be Leo, and Jesse wants to drown within that taste.

Arms are hugging him from behind, and they’re powerful, they’re strong. Must be Blaine. Jesse leans back against his chest, knowing Blaine will keep him up, knowing Blaine will sustain him like he always did. And Blaine does, and Jesse wants to die between those arms.

Warmth surrounds him, pleasure is everywhere. Someone touches him between his legs and now he can’t tell who’s doing it anymore. Someone else slips his fingers past the waistband of his pants. Hands are slipping underneath his clothes everywhere. Fingers passing through his hair. Lips rubbing against his skin, leaving wet traces behind themselves.

His lovers move together in perfect synchronicity. Jesse revels in that feeling and parts his legs for them, for them all, for the one person they all represent. And then someone penetrates him and his breath is cut short as his body instinctively recognizes the shape, the length, the girth, the feel.

He opens his eyes and, as impossible as it is, Alan’s lying on top of him. His powerful shoulders and arms are tense in the effort of propping him up so that he doesn’t weigh on him too much. His blue eyes are looking at him kindly and lovingly, and his thin lips are curled at the corners in a gentle, half-amused smile, as if he was about to start mocking him.

“I know this is not Amsterdam,” he says, “But it’ll have to do.”

“Oh, God, shut up,” Jesse whimpers, throwing his arms around his neck and wrapping his legs around his waist to keep him close and inside himself, “Am I dreaming?” he asks, but he doesn’t care for the answer.

“Not exactly,” Alan says. It really is his voice, it doesn’t just sound like it, like the texture of his skin, which is the same Jesse can remember, not simply something similar.

“How is it possible?” he asks then, looking up at him.

Alan’s smile widens, as he keeps stroking his side with a well-open hand. “Don’t ask me for a rational explanation, kitten,” he says, “I don’t have one. All I know is I couldn’t disappear like that. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to let you go, not without saying goodbye one last time. Somehow my desire must’ve been so strong it ended up clinging to all these people hiding a piece of me within themselves.”

“But it makes no sense,” Jesse sobs, hiding his face against Alan’s neck. He feels the tears coming up, pooling at the corners of his eyes. He doesn’t wanna spoil this. He doesn’t wanna spoil this, so he’s not gonna cry, he thinks. Then he cries nonetheless, and Alan welcomes the whimpering sounds he makes against his skin, passing his fingers through his hair, moving slowly inside him.

“I know,” he says, “But it’s given me a chance to be with you again. I’m not gonna argue with that.”

Jesse thinks he doesn’t wanna do that either, so he clings to Alan’s shoulders, throwing his head back when he starts moving a little faster, diving a little deeper, sending pleasant shivers up and down his spine. “Were you…” he moans, licking his lips, “Were you really inside them? Or was it me trying to see you so hard I made you up?”

Alan lets out half a weary laughter, kissing him tenderly on his forehead. “I was inside them,” he confirms, “Aware. Conscious. Waiting for the right opportunity to bring them all together. I don’t know how, but I knew if I could do that, I would’ve had a chance to say goodbye. So thanks for helping me out with that.”

“But I did nothing,” Jesse sobs again, covering Alan’s jaw in salty kisses.

Alan smiles again. He searches blindly for his lips and kisses him so deep Jesse feels as if a part of him was being planted deep within his soul. That way it won’t leave him anymore.

“You never stopped looking for me,” Alan says. And the last ripple of Jesse’s pleasure courses through him like a water stream, erupting from him in long, hot shots.

Then things start to blur out. Exhausted, he lies on his back, heaving, unable to open his eyes. Alan’s voice is still whispering in his ear. “Don’t worry,” he says, “Starting from tomorrow, things will get better.”

Jesse reaches out for him and finds four bodies moving around him, four voices moaning in pleasure, the warmth of four breaths surrounding him.

He sobs again, then his voice breaks in a last moan, and he slips from wake to sleep without even noticing.

*

It’s really late when he wakes up the morning after, later than he’s ever woken up, at least in a very long time. He feels as though he had slept for days, but it’s only February 24th, as the clock on Blaine’s nightstand – so it was Blaine’s bedroom – informs him.

Somewhere in the universe, Alan is 43. Here, now, Jesse feels good.

He passes a hand over his chest and stomach, and he can’t help but chuckle. Someone cleaned pleasure off him while he was sleeping, but his skin’s still a little sticky. It feels good to still have a trace of what happened on his body, no matter how faint.

He stands up slowly, enjoying the warmth of midday’s sun passing through the curtains on his back and shoulders. As if he was some sort of sunlight-fueled device, he feels himself fill up with energy to the touch of those hot, evanescent fingertips.

He puts a pair of pants and a random t-shirt on. Could be Leo’s. Could be Adam’s. It doesn’t fit him, but it feels good.

They’re all gathered around the table in the kitchen, already. On top of it, the usual display of healthy food, with a few junky exceptions for Cody.

Leo smiles upon seeing him, and walks hastily towards him. “Hey,” he says, “Good morning. I made pancakes.”

“No waffles?” Jesse chuckles.

“Thank God the waffle frenzy is over,” Adam says, standing up to welcome Jesse in his arms as he approaches.

“Praise the Lord!” Blaine comments, throwing his arms up in the air. Then he lowers them to cup Jesse’s face with them, inviting him to stand on his tiptoes so that he can kiss him on his lips.

Jesse finally wraps up the tour, sitting down on a chair right next to the one on top of which Cody’s kneeling. Once he’s seated, Cody moves from his chair to his own lap, and places a chocolate-flavored kiss on his lips. “You look good,” he says.

Jesse chuckles, nodding. “I know,” he says, “And you feel different,” he adds, turning his eyes on them all.

“You noticed?” Leo says, sitting between Adam and Blaine, excited to share his opinion, “I felt it too when I woke up. Something changed last night.”

“All those memories we had… I mean, they’re still there,” Adam says, “But they seem more… I don’t know, distant? Like they’re not personal memories anymore.”

“Right,” Blaine nods, “They feel like something someone told us. Like my own memories of the things Alan used to tell me about you two, you know?”

Jesse nods, understandingly.

“We’ve even tried triggering ourselves to see if we could summon some new ones, like we did that time about Napoleon,” Cody says, “But we came up with nothing. It’s so weird.”

“But it doesn’t feel bad, right?” Jesse asks with an amused smile.

They all shake their heads, looking at him as if he was holding the answer within his eyes, keeping it secret for them. And for a moment Jesse thinks maybe he should tell them. He should tell them what Alan told him last night, he should tell them what happened, how their bodies fused into one, their souls mixed into just one spirit, giving life and breath to his lost lover one last time.

Then he realizes what he really wants, right now, is to have breakfast with these people, instead than with a ghost.

And he just smiles and tells them not to worry about that, as he holds his plate up for Leo to fill it with a dearly missed 15 inches tall pile of pancakes.

*

He visits Alan’s tomb at the graveyard on his own, a few days later. There’s a persistent winter wind blowing, and as he stands in front of the headstone he notices the trees are dancing to it again.

He starts swinging with them. This time, he doesn’t stop until they do.