A/N: Special thanks to my betas, Sakia Rumei and MyLifeSoundtrack. This chapter is brought to you by my current preoccupation with tornado shelters. I'm the weirdest.
Caid wakes up to the sound of glass shattering and rain splattering over his face. He sits up, gasping and immediately terrified, pawing at his eyes because he can't see. He can't see. There's cold rain slicking down one side of his face, glass scraping over his skin, and there's no way to know if he's bleeding or hurt, because he's so dizzy with adrenaline.
Before he knows what he's doing, he's screaming for Josh—a voice-wrecking, wet scream, glass tinkling as it skids across the floor. He presses his hand against the mattress to lever himself up, and comes away with a tearing pain in his palm, glass gritting in his skin. "Josh," he screams. "Josh."
The wind is so loud he can barely hear his shouts ripping out of his throat, but then there are strong arms around him, trying to drag him out of where he's tangled in the sheets. Initially, he struggles against them, animal instinct telling him to curl into a ball and stay put, but the arms persist, and soon he's pressed tight to a bare chest, and Josh is yelling into his ear. "Come on, come on. We've got to get under the stairs."
Caid starts taking in breaths that are too deep, and his legs are locked up and stiff. "Am I bleeding? Josh. Josh, I can't see."
"Shh," Josh says, heaving Caid out of bed still wrapped in a sheet. "I know you can't. But you have to walk now. I can't—shit, Caid, I can't carry you. Come on, sweetheart, you have to do this for me."
For the first time, Caid notices the tornado siren wailing through the air. "Caid!" Josh yells, shaking him a little to get him into motion.
"Sorry," Caid says, tripping over the sheet around his feet before ripping it off of him and grabbing onto Josh's offered arm. "Okay, go. I'm good."
Josh leads him through the house that's rattling and wincing in the wind, and when they make it to the top of the stairs, Caid clings on and they go down as quickly as they can into the sticky-hot garage. There's a space under the stairs that serves as a tornado shelter, and Josh urges them into it, settles them down on some rolled up carpet that's itchy against Caid's legs.
Thunder shakes the walls, and Caid scrambles into Josh's lap, shaking and terrified. Josh's heart is fluttering against Caid's chest.
He feels like some feral animal, clutching hard at Josh's shoulders, murmuring words that should sound like please and don't and oh god, but are really just growls and whimpers. His heart is racing so hard he can feel it in the tip of his nose, his fingernails, the shells of his ears. His eyes are shut tight only so he won't have to keep wondering why being this scared doesn't automatically make his body heal itself and see again.
"Shh," Josh keeps saying. "Shh," and "Come here," even though Caid is already as close as he can get—his legs locked around Josh's bare waist, his arms caught between their heaving chests, his face pressed to Josh's neck.
"We're gonna die," Caid moans as the garage door whines and bucks in the wind. The siren's howl rips through the noise and the whole house shudders.
"Don't be a baby," Josh says, but he's scared, too, Caid can tell. His hands splay out over Caid's back like he's trying to cover as much of him as possible. "I've got you."
Above them, something crashes and breaks. Caid flinches and feels sick to his stomach. Josh is murmuring a litany of comfort into his ear, his mouth brushing over whatever piece of Caid he can reach, "We're gonna be fine," he's saying. "I won't let anything happen to you. Ever."
Caid turns so his forehead is pressed to Josh's sweaty temple, and he takes in one trembling breath. "I know," he says. "I know you won't."
The wind beats against the house, making it sound like it might buckle and rip apart. Caid shudders, because it sounds a lot like…
It sounds like a lot like a car barreling into a newspaper stand, that sickening boom and tear of sheet metal, the smell of heat, the screech to seems to go on forever, on an endless line straight towards him before—
"Caid?" Josh says, rubbing Caid's fingers where they're clenched tight over Josh's shoulders, probably hurting him. Caid doesn't let go. "Talk to me."
"My accident," Caid says frantically, "This is like that." Oh god, his whole body quakes and he ducks under Josh's chin. As if that will get the smell of gasoline out of his nose, keep away the memory of a car coming straight towards him, not stopping, not stopping, somebody screaming, maybe him, maybe not, and the last thing he ever sees is a reflection of himself in the windshield.
"This isn't like that," Josh says, cutting through all of it, at that last second before he's catapulted over a windshield like he's nothing but a ragdoll. "I'm here now."
Caid slips his fingers into the hair at the nape of Josh's neck, heaves a shuddery breath over his skin. "Yeah," he says.
"Keep talking to me. Pretend we're not here."
"I miss being able to see," Caid says for the first time since he got out of the hospital. Everyone kept saying how grateful he should be to even be alive, that it had seemed petty to complain about losing his sight. He doesn't know why he's talking about it now, except that it's all he can think about. "The color green," he says. "You and Tally. Myself. Do you know how hard it is to clip my fingernails?"
Josh huffs out a laugh, one arm snaking behind his neck to run his fingertip over Caid's nails. "Diva," he says fondly. "What do you miss the most?"
"All of it," Caid says. "The clear difference between being awake and asleep. Sometimes, when I dream, I'm blind, but most of the time I'm not. Sometimes I wake up panicked at not being able to see. And I—I'm just missing so much. You're all going hazy."
"Jesus," Josh says, taking hold of Caid's hands. Caid doesn't know if he realizes he's done it, but it feels nice so he doesn't say anything. Josh takes a deep breath, chest expanding and shifting against Caid's. "When we found out about your accident—when your mom called—I answered the phone and it was. Caid, it was the worst I've ever felt."
Caid hums, stroking his fingers down the back of Josh's neck and feeling the other man shiver. Rain's still pelting the garage door, and Caid remembers reading somewhere that the rain always stops before a tornado touches down, so he lets it comfort him slightly.
"I thought, you know—of course I thought—what are we going to do if he dies? What am I—and Tally was a mess. All of us were, but especially her. We both love you so much, Caid, Jesus. I know I give you a hard time, but I—"
"Josh," Caid says, "Shh. I know." He drags the pads of his fingertips over the knob of Josh's spine, and his heart starts thundering in his chest—not for the storm, but for how Josh's panting breath feels gusting over the side of his face.
He tries to reign himself in. Knows Josh loves him like a little brother. That he's only letting Caid this close because they're both so scared. But the siren shuts off and Josh doesn't let him go, and Caid shifts in his lap so that he's not clinging on so much as draping himself over Josh's thighs. "I love you, too," he says, and it comes out husky and low, in a way he's never heard his voice sound before. He swallows.
It feels just like it did when he was sixteen, and they'd somehow carved a space out of the world for each other where no one else could reach them. A space where Tally exists, and Caid loves her, but he doesn't feel guilty about his lips dragging purposefully over the shell of Josh's ear. A space that feels lush and safe, and Josh breathes out heavy and fast when Caid bites down on his earlobe.
But then, Josh laughs uncomfortably and says, "Well, I always thought Tally was too nice to you. You need an older brother to rag on you sometimes." And the whole thing comes crashing down around them, and Caid is horrified with himself. Gorge rising, furious.
"The siren stopped," He says, stumbling to his feet. He remembers that his hand is hurt, and cradles it to his chest, swiping his other hand over his cheek to make sure there's no glass there.
"Caid," Josh says, like he wants to be saying something else entirely, but Caid cuts him off—can't deal with any of this now that he's securely back in the real world where he just threw himself (literally) on his sister's fiancé.
"Um, so my window's broken, obviously, but let's go back upstairs. I need you to take a look at my hand. There's glass in it, I think. And then we'll—one of us should call Tally and let her know we're fine. And maybe—"
"Caid," Josh says, standing and putting his hand on the small of Caid's back to guide him through the garage. "Take a breath. Stairs first, then hand."
"Okay, yeah," Caid says, flushing. He brushes off Josh's hand and goes up the stairs slowly, toes sliding along the tops to find when he should lift his other foot, fingers skating up the bannister. He takes long, deep breaths, wincing away every time Josh tries to touch him. "I got it," he snaps.
Josh backs off, but stays behind Caid the whole way, even though he could get to the top in about a third of the time. This is the reason Caid never gets close with anyone who isn't family. It's too easy for them to do a number on you. Josh wanted him before, when Caid's mouth was on his ear. If he'd just angled his head to the left a tick, they would have been kissing. They would have been—
But they didn't, and Josh made it pretty clear that he sees himself as Caid's brother. Jesus. Caid has never been more confused in his life.
"Come to the bathroom and we'll get your hand fixed up," Josh says when they get to the top of the stairs. Caid is grateful that he doesn't try to guide him there, and he takes his time, listening to Josh ahead of him, moving through the rooms of the condo to check for broken windows.
When they meet in the bathroom, Caid feels for the edge of the tub and sits down, holding his hand palm up in his lap. Josh takes it gently and hisses. "It's pretty ripped up," he says, letting it go to poke through the medicine cabinet.
"How bad is the house?" Caid asks, ignoring the cold flash of pain as Josh picks glass out of his hand with tweezers.
"Your room's the only one that anything happened to. There's a limb through the window and it knocked a mirror off the wall." Caid feels him tug his hand closer, his breath stinging as it pulses out over his damaged skin.
"Hmm," Caid says. "Well, it's not like I needed it, so…"
"Yeah, I guess," Josh says, distracted. "I'm going to pour some hydrogen peroxide over this. It shouldn't hurt." Caid sits stiff as Josh guides his hand over the tub— bringing their bodies close together—and the liquid gushes cold over his hand. He flinches, and Josh's hand cups his more fully. "Okay?" he murmurs, his mouth almost touching Caid's cheek.
"Fine," Caid says, wanting so bad to turn his face and catch Josh's full lips with his, but knowing he won't be able to take another rejection tonight. "It's just cold."
"Oh," Josh says. "Um, here, take this towel and pat it dry. I'll get the Neosporin."
"It's not that big of a deal," Caid says, doing what Josh asked anyway. "Just slap a Band-Aid on me and go call Tally."
"Humor me," Josh says, smearing thick Neosporin over the meaty part of Caid's palm. It tickles and stings all at once. He listens to a bandage unwrapping and Josh smooths it down. "There you are."
"Thank you, Dr. Maxwell," Caid says, and he means for it to sound sarcastic and biting. Instead his voice takes on a weird seductive tint. His own body hates him, apparently.
He wishes he could see Josh's face in that moment, because his fingers tighten around Caid's hand and he makes a strangled noise before putting a cool rush of space between them and making a racket out of putting everything back in the cabinet. "Listen," he's saying, rushed and a little frantic, "You sleep in Tally's and my room tonight, okay? I'll take the couch."
"No," Caid blurts. The last thing he wants right now is to curl up in Josh and Tally's bed. He really doesn't need any extra reminders that he's still half-caught in a lust high for his sister's fiancé. "I'll sleep on the couch."
"I can't sleep in there!" Caid says, breathing hard. "Okay? Please don't—make me."
Josh sounds so lost when he says, "There are just so many windows in the living room. The storm may not be over."
"Then I'll stay awake," Caid says, even though all he wants to do is fall asleep and hide from all of this for a few hours.
Josh sighs. "Okay, come on. I'll call Tally while you listen to the radar."
Caid follows Josh towards the living room, brushing past him when he stops at the phone on the wall of the kitchen to make the call. He sinks into the couch, tugging a blanket around him and letting Josh's voice wash over him. "We're both fine," he's saying. "Yeah, I'll call somebody in the morning to come fix it. Yeah. No. I will, yeah. Love you, too. Bye."
Something about listening to the half-conversation puts him at ease, and he's well on his way to sleep when Josh sits down on the other end of the couch and turns on the television. "—warning has been lifted for Champaign County, although severe thunderstorms are expected to persist until…"
Caid doesn't realize he's fallen asleep until Josh's snore wakes him. The television is off, or muted, and Caid's feet are draped over Josh's lap. He shifts to get more comfortable, and Josh's lips smack together before he goes back to snoring. Caid nudges his thigh with his toes to try and get him to stop and Josh jerks, yawns, and says, "Sorry," before laying his hand on Caid's ankle.
For once, Caid is too tired and relaxed to complain.
The next morning, he wakes up to the sound of a vacuum coming from his room. He stretches and walks slowly through the house, pausing to knead at the sore muscles of his neck and shoulders. When he gets to his room, the vacuum shuts off and Josh says, "Careful—stay there. There's still glass all over."
Caid yawns and sits in his desk chair while Josh goes back to cleaning up. The room is hot and sticky, but the occasional breeze through the broken window feels nice. When he wakes up fully, he thinks he'll be mad and embarrassed about last night, but for now, he lets his mind drift gently, resting his cheek on his palm.
"Well, that's the best I can do for now," Josh says, shutting off the vacuum. "The window guy's supposed to be here soon. I thought we could get out of here and leave him to it?"
"Sure," Caid says, shrugging, "Sounds good."
Somewhere, underneath this quiet easiness, part of Caid is pushing him to be angry, to be hurt, to ask Josh what he's thinking when he says he loves him and that he'd do anything for him. Part of him is telling him it's time to do something about all these years of forcing down questions over lingering touches and soft words. Soon, that part is going to come out—Caid knows it—but he doesn't want to deal with it now.
Josh leaves him alone to get dressed, and by the time he's ready, the window guy is there and Josh is telling him what happened. "Yeah," the guy says, "It's been a busy day already. Damage all over town."
As if on cue, Caid's phone rings, announcing Eric's the one who's calling. He leaves Josh and the window guy alone and goes into the living room to answer. "Hey," he says.
"Hey," Eric says, sounding relieved. "Just checking to see if you're okay."
Caid leans back against the wall and rubs his hand over his chest, which feels tight with guilt. "That's really nice. We're fine here. My window got smashed, though. What about you?"
"Oh, campus didn't get touched, really. There're some limbs down, but nothing big."
"I'm glad," Caid says. He feels horrible for not even thinking of Eric until now, but when he lets that simmer up inside him, other flashes of anger start swelling, too. Why doesn't he want this guy—this guy who cares about him enough to check and make sure he's okay? And why does he want Josh, who's nothing but head games?
"Hey, listen," he says, because he's an adult and adults make choices like this. "Want to hang out today? You could show me around campus or something."
"Sure," Eric says, and Caid convinces himself he likes how eager he sounds. Convinces himself this is going to be great.
"Okay, cool. I'll have Josh drop me off at your dorm in a half hour if that's okay."
"Can't wait," Eric says softly, like he really means it. Caid hangs up with a hum of agreement because he can't force the words.
"You, uh, have plans, then?" Josh says, and Caid gasps and drops his phone.
"Jesus! I didn't know you were in here," he says, stooping down to feel for his cell. Josh beats him to it, putting it in Caid's palm and curling his fingers around it before letting go. Caid feels a blush hot on his cheeks. "Um, but yeah. Sorry. I know we were gonna hang out, but can you take me to Eric's instead?"
"For sure," Josh says brightly, like he doesn't care at all. And maybe he doesn't. It doesn't matter to Caid either way. "Boyfriends trump brothers-in-law every time."
Caid frowns, and swallows down all the things he could say. Stop calling yourself my brother-in-law. Eric's not my boyfriend. I know you wanted to kiss me last night. Instead, he forces out a laugh and says, "Yeah, well. You know me."
Josh drives him to campus, singing along to the radio in his unashamed way, and Caid hates it. Hates every minute of it. When he pulls to a stop, Josh says, "Call me when you need me to come get you."
"Oh," Caid says, "I'll probably stay over actually, so…your game thing is tomorrow, right? I'll just have Eric drop me off there."
He wants it to hurt—the dismissal—but Josh says, "Okay, cool. You want me to try and get him a ticket?"
Caid wants to pout and kick the tires of the car, because Josh is supposed to be upset. He's supposed to be a belligerent asshole and make some joke about Eric working at FedEx. Caid doesn't want this cheery, supportive act. "No," he says. "He'd probably think that was really lame."
"Listen, you don't have to come," Josh says—and at least there's a little anger.
Caid shrugs and smiles tightly. "No, it's fine. Anything for my brother-in-law."
A/N: I am so sorry this took so long and still managed to be so short. This story is really been a test for me—one I don't know if I'm passing, but whatevs. Thank you all, as always, for your support. It means so much to me!
On a side note, I have been on a reading frenzy, y'all! I'm so excited by so many stories I've been introduced to recently, but I wanted to list a few because they're just so so good. I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but I'll rec them next time if I remember.
My Boyfriend Makes Me Feel Inadequate by JHeartbreak: This story, guys. THIS STORY. It's so cute and tugs on all my heartstrings. I want to be besties with both of the main characters, but particularly Kieran, rawr. It's written with omniscient narration, which I haven't encountered much on this site, and JHeartbreak carries it out beautifully.
All Cats Are Grey by Honunjama: Again with the flails, I'm telling you. This story is so good and so different from anything I've ever read. Get a cup of something hot and sweet and curl up to this. Guh. You will want to cuddle all the characters. It'll srsly be like, "Can I get my arms around all of you at once? idek, let's give it a shot."
What's Found When the World is Left Behind by MyLifeSoundtrack: okay, I'm biased because this girl is my internet best friend 5eva, BUT this story is so freaking good. If you've read any of MyLifeSoundtrack's stuff, you'll know she's like, a mastermind with dark characters and twisty plots, and this doesn't disappoint. Plus also, tattoos and piercings, kiddos. Hit me where it hurts so good.
Cosmos by PinkHart: Just okay, take a deep breath and let me lay this on you—the planets are all high school boys. THE PLANETS. There's this fantastic love triangle between Sun and Moon and Earth and PinkHart is so funny and smart with her space knowledge. ((flaps around happily)) Well. I've been rendered unconscious because of cute overload.
And last, but certainly not least,
I 90 West by goudacheese: I can't even, you guys. I seriously have so many words about this story, but I can't get them out because of all my feels about it. Just know it's the funniest thing I've read in so long, I wish all the characters were my friends in real life, and it's a ROAD TRIP FIC! What a great summer story, right? Yes. Trust me. You will read this and—like me—want to cram it into your heart regions for keeps. A fanclub is in the works. Lemme know if you want a tee-shirt.
Oh man. I'm just so excited for you all to go read those if you haven't already. Let me know when you do so I can fangirl about them with you! ((dances off)) …sorry for the longest A/N everrrr.