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Darkness Falls

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“Uh, Stone Cold,” Spinelli called out in a plaintive, yet insistent voice. 

Jason groaned as Sam broke off their kiss.  Closing his eyes, he cursed beneath his breath.  Spinelli’s timing couldn’t have been worse.  Schooling himself, he opened his eyes, glowering at the look of mirth on Sam’s face. 

“Wouldn’t be having this problem,” he grumbled, adjusting his jeans, “if it weren’t for you.” 

His scowl only served to launch Sam into a fit of giggles which were ill-stifled with a hand hastily slapped over her mouth.

“Hold that thought.” Jason said as Sam began to lick and nip at the palm of his hand.  “This shouldn’t take long.”

“Stone Cold!” 

Spinelli’s voice grew more insistent, brooking on mildly hysterical, and Jason stood and bent to plant a kiss on Sam’s upturned lips as he sighed and headed in the direction of the kitchen. 

“Whatever this is,” Jason ground out as he strode across the short space between the living room of his penthouse and the dark kitchen, “it had better be good.”

Why was it that Spinelli couldn’t have bothered to turn on the kitchen light?  The boy seemed to have zero common sense and it grated on Jason’s nerves.  He just wanted to get back to Sam on the couch and resume what they had started; hopefully the mood hadn’t been killed. 

“What is…?” Jason flicked the light switch on, flooding the room with light, drowning out the remainder of his question.  He stood, blinking dark spots out of his eyes as reason wrestled with the macabre scene before him, each fighting for dominance as to which was the true reality. 

Jason’s intended chastisement was stolen from his lips and he drew a sharp intake of air as though he’d been hit with a sucker punch to the gut.  Spinelli stood before him, soaked to the bone, wavering on his feet, white as a sheet save for the river of red pooling steadily beneath him.

“St…one C…cold, I…” Spinelli blinked sluggishly, “think…,I” he gasped for air, holding a shaky hand out toward his mentor, clenching and opening the fingers of his fist as he fought to breathe, “I think…I need,” Spinelli wheezed and coughed, a thick, bubbly sound, “hos…pi…tal.”

Jason lunged for Spinelli as the young man collapsed, catching him carefully around the waist and pulling his back toward his chest in deference to the knife which was sticking out of the hacker’s stomach.   Slipping on the blood and water slickened tile of the kitchen floor, Jason cursed as he fell and his knee slammed hard against the ceramic, cracking a tile and causing him to see stars.

A myriad of questions demanding answers flitted across the surface of his mind, but his voice did not seem to want to comply.  His throat, tightened in fear, was aching and parched.  His injured knee throbbed in time with the much too rapid beat of his heart. 

His hands were clammy and slick with sweat, his fingers clumsy as he felt along Spinelli’s neck for a pulse.  His reassurance that Spinelli’s heart was beating was short-lived when the hacker’s body suddenly went taut and then slack in his arms.

“Spinelli,” the three syllables were spoken in a hoarse whisper against the young man’s ear, “you stay with me,” he commanded, “you hear me?  Spinelli?”

A weak nod and a shuddery intake of breath was Jason’s only answer.  Not heeding the blood-stained tile, he settled back off his aching knee and sat, cradling Spinelli in his lap, making it easier for him to keep his hold on the rain soaked young man and more comfortable for the both of them .

Jason reached into his back pocket, bringing his hand back empty he swore.  “Sam!”  He hoped that his voice did not betray any of the panic that he felt, that it would not cause Spinelli any more alarm than the young man already felt.

“Jason?”  Sam called back.  “What’s taking so long?” 

“Sam, call for an ambulance, Spinelli’s been hurt!”

“What?”  He could hear Sam rising from the couch.  “How?” 

He hoped that she would dial 911 before entering the kitchen.  That she would hold off on her curiosity and for once just listen to him without question.

Much to his relief, he heard her punch in the numbers on the cellphone as she walked to the kitchen, heard her voice, hesitant as she spoke to the 9-1-1 operator, “Uh, yes, someone’s been injured at 122 Harbor View Drive, Port Charles, New York.”

There was a pause as she listened, a distinct intake of breath as she set foot in the overly bright kitchen, a stuttered, “H…Harbor View T…Towers, p…penthouse nu…number t…two.  You’d better hurry.”  She was beside them in an instant, slipping on the bloody tiles, sliding and then kneeling in a pool of warm blood next to the pair.

“Ma’am?” Jason heard the tinny, calm, yet insistent voice issuing from the phone held forgotten in Sam’s hand.  “Ma’am, can you tell me the nature of the injury?”

“Sam,” Jason gestured with his head, unwilling to let go his hold on Spinelli to wrest the phone from her, “phone.”

Startled, Sam turned her gaze from the handle of the knife sticking out of Spinelli’s stomach to the phone in her hand.  Looking at the phone blankly, she placed it against her ear and listened as the, thankfully persistent operator on the other end of the line repeated her question for the umpteenth time, her voice still and calm, held and edge of urgency to it.

“He…he’s been stabbed,” Sam intoned automatically, her eyes fixated on the unsteady rise and fall of the knife handle as Spinelli thankfully continued to breathe.

“What was that?”  Sam asked in confusion, not having heard what the operator had said over the pounding of her own heart.

 Jason could no longer hear the voice of the operator; his attention was solely on Spinelli.  “What happened Spinelli?  C’mon, tell me what happened,” he whispered, breath brushing against the younger man’s ear. 

Spinelli stiffened in his grasp, struggling weakly against the man’s hold, his blood-caked hands reaching for the handle of the knife in wide-eyed, air-gulping panic as though he just realized there was a knife stuck in him. 

“No Spinelli, stop,” Jason grabbed the wrist of the boy’s questing hands and held them away from the protruding cutlery.  “It’s best if you leave it in for now.”  He had no idea how his voice had come out as calmly as it had as he was anything but calm on the inside.

“That’s it, good, Spinelli, just relax.  I’ve got you,” he soothed as Spinelli’s arms went limp. 

Jason let go of the hacker’s wrists and let out a grateful sigh when his charge’s hands hung limply by his side.  “Can you tell me what happened?”

“A knife,” Sam supplied.  “No, no, it’s still there, stuck inside his stomach….yeah, there’s a LOT of blood…” Her eyes scanned the kitchen floor, lingering on a particularly large splash of blood near the kitchen sink.

Jason closed his eyes and attempted to steady his breathing.  Counting to ten, he released his breath and stilled as Spinelli took a shuddering breath matching his own.  “Spinelli?  You still with me?”

“S…Stone C…Cold,” Jason had to strain to hear the younger man’s words, “hurts.  C…c…cold.”

“I know it hurts,” he winced as the words left his mouth.  He knew all too well how much stomach wounds hurt and would never have wished something like this on Spinelli, ever.  “Can you tell me what happened?”  He tried again, hoping that Spinelli would be able to provide an answer.

“Th..The storm…the…the d…door was o…pen,” Spinelli’s words were slurred and he hiccoughed before resuming his speech, “I was…I was,” he gulped for air, “just getting some orange soda.” 

His eyes sought Jason’s, searching them for understanding.  Jason nodded for him to continue, not wanting Spinelli to stop speaking.

Spinelli frowned in confusion, shifting his eyes toward the door which led to the breakfast nook, the newest addition to the penthouse. 

“The door,” he stated, “it was open… I…I went to c…close it…” he gestured, a slow, deliberate raising of an arm, in the direction of the door to the balcony which was just off the kitchen.

Jason noticed for the first time that night that there was a storm raging outside.  Had he been so engrossed in Sam’s company that he had failed to notice the lightning and thunder and the accompanying deluge of rain sluicing in through the still open door?  Had he been so busy making out with Sam that he hadn’t heard Spinelli crying out to him earlier? 

He paled as he thought of Spinelli, fighting off his attacker in the rain, calling out for help that never came while he had been safe and dry, cuddling with Sam in the living room, not even fifty feet away.

“Spinelli,” Jason urged when the young man suddenly stopped speaking, “what happened?  Who did this?”

“Yes, he’s conscious.  I think…” Sam let out an anxious breath as she caught a brief nod from Jason.  “Yes, he’s conscious.”

Sam’s voice seemed to be coming to him from a rather long tunnel as Spinelli struggled to remain awake.  He was cold, wet and tired, and his stomach felt as though it was on fire.  His eyes turned toward the source of the pain and his mind blanked for a moment and he frowned in confusion.

How did that get there?  The black handle of a knife was sticking out of his stomach.  He had to get it out; surely it wouldn’t be a good thing to just leave the knife inside of him like that.  He reached for the knife and scowled when his arms would not cooperate.

“Stop that Spinelli,” Stone Cold’s stern voice scolded him, making him feel all of two years old with his hand in the cookie jar.  Pouting, he stilled and waited until his mentor removed his iron-glad grip from his wrists before he renewed his efforts to remove the offending object from him.

“Spinelli!  Don’t!” 

Stone Cold sounded angry and Spinelli shivered in fear, letting the hand that had gripped the knife handle and pulled at it fall away gracelessly.  Didn’t Stone Cold understand that he had to take the knife out?  Didn’t he know how much pain his Jackal was in?  Maybe Stone Cold wanted him to be in pain.  Teach him to be a real man, like he was; a man who could scoff at pain and laugh in the face of danger.

Maybe it had been Stone Cold out on the terrace clad all in black.  Maybe it had been his trusted mentor who’d thrust the knife into him, twisting it sadistically before slipping away, blending into the dark shadows of the night, leaving behind only an echo of laughter and his knife discarded  in his trusted protégé’s stomach.

“Spinelli.”

Stone Cold’s voice had lost its anger.  Now his mentor almost sounded contrite.  Spinelli wanted to turn around, see the look on the other man’s face, but, try as he might, he couldn’t seem to twist his body around.  It felt as though it was cemented in place.

“Spinelli, stop.”  Did Spinelli depict a note of pleading in the mobster’s voice? 

He bent his head back, so that he could see Stone Cold’s eyes.  Though his view was upside down, he felt a small measure of comfort in being able to see his mentor’s unwavering blue eyes.

 “You’re going to hurt yourself if you don’t stay still,” Stone Cold admonished.

Spinelli snorted.  Hate to point it out to you Captain Obvious, he thought wryly, unable to garner the energy necessary to provide the man with a verbal response, but the Jackal is already hurt.  And no thanks to you, he added nastily.  Slightly shocked by the turbulent tone of his thoughts, Spinelli tried to brush off the traitorous thought.  It wasn’t, couldn’t be Stone Cold’s fault that the Jackal had been hurt...was it?

No, it isn’t his fault, Spinelli insisted as he thought back to the brief and thoroughly one-sided struggle which had left him decidedly worse for wear.  Yeah right, came the perfidious voice, if your precious ‘Stone Cold’ hadn’t been busy playing tonsil hockey with his ‘Goddess’, he might have heard…

“Shut up!” Spinelli countered to himself, unaware that he’d spoken aloud and that Jason’s ears had picked up his half-spoken whisper.

“I’m sorry Spinelli, just…”

Had Stone Cold’s voice broken just now?  You wish, Jackal, his snide voice replied.  Always wanting what you can’t have.  You know that you can’t have it, right?  Stone Cold’s heart.  It belongs to Sam and Michael and Sonny and Carly and…

SHUT UP!  Spinelli silently raged at the persistent voice in his head, knowing that his name would be nowhere on that list of the people whom Jason cared for.

“Just leave the knife where it is for now.  I know it hurts, but help’s on its way.” 

Help, the disloyal voice scoffed, you’re a little too late for that Brooding Wonder.  It’s a miracle that you were able to pull your plundering lips off your precious Goddess when your faithful Grasshopper called out to you.  Wait, oh yeah, that’s right, you didn’t, not until it was too late.

‘S not true, Spinelli insisted, Stone Cold came. 

Right, the treacherous voice mocked, chuckling insidiously, making Spinelli sick with the allegations it was lobbing against his trusted mentor, Stone Cold came after his precious, the word seemed to be spat out, grasshopper had been stabbed and then, your beloved mentor, voice thick with sarcasm, took his sweet old time getting here.  How many times did you have to call out to him before he even heard your voice, huh, Jackal?  Completely pathetic.

Spinelli felt the twist of the knife afresh and gasped as the words began to sink in.  That’s right, the voice took on a very unbecoming smugness, the Jackal doesn’t mean as much to his prized mentor as Stone Cold means to him.  He is and always has been nothing more than a means to an end.  A lowly errand boy for his cherished Master to order about on a whim.  He doesn’t care for you Spinelli, has never cared for you, has only and ever taken advantage of you.  He would have left you to bleed to death on the cold, white tiles of his kitchen floor, cursing as he had to clean up your spilled blood, the voice hissed in mounting anger.

That’s not true, Spinelli insisted faintly.  Stone Cold cares for the Jackal.

Does he?  Does he really?  Is that why he didn’t hear his valued Jackal’s struggles with his assailant?  Is that why he took his sweet old time to come to you when he finally did hear you calling out to him?

SHUT UP!  Spinelli leaned back against Jason’s chest in an effort to ground himself.  His head spun and, though his stomach no longer felt like it was on fire, he could still feel the cold steel of the knife within it and wanted nothing more than to yank it out. 

When he sensed that Jason had turned his head to answer a question he hadn’t even heard Sam pose, he reached his hands up to remove the knife, hoping that his negligent mentor would not notice the movement.

Hah!  He thought in triumph as his trembling hand curled around the handle of the knife.   His brows furrowed in concentration and sweat coated his forehead, as he struggled to pull at the stubborn knife.  The victory as he managed to shift the knife slightly out of his stomach was short-lived as new flames of agony began to lick at his gut, leaving him panting and his vision darkening dangerously as pinpoints of light spotted it.

“Spinelli!”  Jason hissed against his ear. 

Angry with himself and with the recalcitrant boy who had not listened to him, he grasped the wrist of Spinelli’s hand which still had a quivering hold on the knife, and applied pressure to it.  Jason flinched at the pained gasp his action elicited from Spinelli, but his goal had been accomplished, Spinelli’s grip on the knife loosened.

“I’m sorry Spinelli.”  Jason had the feeling that his apology had fallen on deaf ears as Spinelli bit down on his bottom lip and sank back against him, a spasm of pain shaking his frail body.  Spinelli held his breath and it seemed an eternity to Jason before the boy took in another shuddering breath.

“I’m sorry Spinelli,” he apologized again, furious at himself for expecting Spinelli to be able to listen to him in this pain-altered state.

“Hurts.”  Spinelli’s whimper caused his heart to clench.

“I know.”  Jason gently brushed Spinelli’s sweat and rain soaked hair away from his eyes which were shut tight against a fresh wave of pain.  “Just hang in there buddy, help’s coming soon.” 

Jason forced himself to assess Spinelli’s wound, to see what further damage he had allowed the younger man to inflict upon himself by his negligence. 

“Fuck,” he growled. 

Spinelli had managed, in that small window of time when his attention had been momentarily diverted, to wriggle the knife upward, so that part of the blade was now visible.  That, in and of itself was not all that problematic and had not caused the young hacker to cry out in pain.  In his effort to wrest the knife from his belly, he had managed, much to Jason’s horror, to gouge a one inch tear in the vicinity of his navel.  Blood was pooling in the wound, soaking into Spinelli’s shirt, spilling over his side, plinking to the floor, red splotches discoloring the tile in a macabre abstract painting comprised of Spinelli’s lifeblood.

“How is he Jason?”  Sam eyed the pair; her gaze moving from the hilt of the knife sticking out of Spinelli’s stomach to his much too pale face. 

His skin looked sweaty; his dark hair was plastered to his forehead.  Her eyes were drawn once again to the knife, noting with alarm that it seemed to have been twisted and that more of it, the glinting silver blade coated in blood winking at her, was in evidence than had been before she’d been engrossed with her conversation with the 9-1-1 operator.

“What happened?”  She reached out to touch the obtruding knife, her shaky hand having a morbidly curious mind of its own. 

“Sam,” Jason bit out, glaring at the woman who knelt beside him.  What the hell is she thinking?

 Jason’s incredulous voice reached her ears in time to still her insubordinate hand and she clenched it into a tight fist, drawing it back as though scalded.

“Jason,” her voice was small and tremulous to her own ears. 

Her eyes were focused on the trail of blood which Spinelli had left in his wake.  Her stomach clenched in revulsion and fury as she saw Spinelli’s bloody tracks leading from the still open balcony to the kitchen where all three were huddled. 

Her mind flashed to all the sun gladdened moments she had spent on that small balcony, replete with a small table and chairs.  Eating breakfast out there with the birds chirping was one of her favorite ways to greet the day. 

Yet, now, after tonight, Sam knew she would never indulge in that simple pleasure again. If she tried, the experience would be marred by visions of blood and a remembrance of that awful knife sticking out of Spinelli's abdomen like some sort of psychotic totem.

“Sam?”  Jason’s voice snapped her out of her reverie.  “Think you could get the door?”  Jason jutted his chin in the direction of the glass door which was now swinging wildly in the wind, banging listlessly against the wall.

Nodding, Sam stood on unsteady legs and made her way carefully across the slippery tile floor, skidding in a pool of blood-tinted rainwater.  Catching herself on the counter, she narrowly avoided plunging headlong out the door of the balcony.  Heaving a sigh of relief, she steadied her footing and slammed the door shut against the wind, locking it with a satisfied twist of her wrist.

“Jason, whoever did this might still be out there.”  Sam shivered as she peered out the glass door.  Suddenly she wished that they had gotten curtains for it when Spinelli had suggested it.

“I know.”  His voice was resolute and held the promise of retaliation for whoever had done this to the boy he held securely in his arms.

“Who would…” Sam couldn’t even voice the question.  Her eyes searched Jason’s face for an answer and came up empty.

“I don’t know Sam, but…” Jason’s eyes grew steely and Sam looked away.

“When I find him Sam.”  He absentmindedly stroked Spinelli’s hair, unwittingly smearing some of the boy’s blood into its damp curls.  His fingers twisted in the boy’s hair and he stilled their movement, looking at the mass of dark hair twined about them.

“When I find the bastard who did this to Spinelli,” Jason paused, his face contorted in an unholy grin which frightened Sam in its intensity, “I’ll plunge this fucking knife into him and twist it until the motherfucker begs me to stop and then,” his blue eyes, cold with hatred met hers and she shuddered.  Unable to look away, Sam nodded mutely for him to continue.

“And then, I’ll kill him.”  Jason’s voice was completely void of emotion; he continued to tenderly stroke Spinelli’s hair in a soothing rhythm.

Cold as ice, Sam thought as she finally looked away from Jason’s piercing gaze and to the blood-stained floor.  This side of Jason always scared Sam, as much as it excited her.  And, right now, she herself felt the feral call to kill or be killed, to avenge the spilling of Spinelli’s blood. 

She shivered as her eyes traced the pattern of Spinelli’s blood, marveling with grotesque awe at the way it had gathered in the grooves of the tile and pooled there and how it seemed to creep and crawl through the crevices, connecting tile after tile throughout the kitchen.  It snaked across the floor, undulating its viscous way toward the refrigerator marring the pristine tiles and forever making an impression upon her retinas that would now always see red, even when it was once again sterile white.

“Stone Cold,” Spinelli’s whispered plea broke through Sam’s reverie and she shook herself, diverting her attention once more to the wounded boy on the floor. 

His chest was heaving with the effort it took him to breathe, and, if possible, he looked paler than he had mere moments before.  Sweat seemed to be pouring off of him even as he shivered.

Sam cleared her throat, speaking over the all too loud beating of her heart, “Jason, I think we’d better get him off the floor.”  She walked toward the pair, subconsciously avoiding the blood-spattered tiles as she made her way.

“We need to keep him as stable as possible,” Jason cautioned.

“Right,” Sam replied grimly, “how do you want to do this?” 

“I think it’d be best if I take his upper body and you take his feet.” Jason gestured with his chin and Sam positioned herself at Spinelli’s feet.

“Spinelli,” Jason spoke directly into Spinelli’s ear, “Sam and I are going to move you onto the couch, okay?”

“Wha…?”  Spinelli’s eyelids fluttered and he took in several shallow breaths.  “Move?  Why?” 

Stone Cold’s finally tired of you.   See?  It’s like I told you, you mean nothing to the man and now he’s going to throw you out just like the rubbish he thinks you are.

That’s not true!  Spinelli defended his mentor.  Stone Cold wouldn’t throw his faithful grasshopper out.

Then what is this nonsense about moving his valuable Jackal when he is obviously so grievously wounded?  You’re in pain and your beloved guru is insisting that you move.  If he cared anything for you, he would not be asking you to move at a time like this.

“Spinelli?” 

Stone Cold’s voice sounded tense and Spinelli struggled to remain in control of his thoughts even as they grew steadily darker.  What was it that Stone Cold was trying to tell his Jackal?

“This might hurt a little,” Stone Cold’s breath was tickling his ear.  He strained to hear his mentor’s words over the hammering of his heart.  “I’m sorry and I promise that, once this is over, I’ll make it up to you.”

“On the count of three.”  Jason nodded at Sam who was crouched at Spinelli’s feet, sliding her hands beneath them.  “One, two, three…” and with a grunt, he stood, his knee protesting the sudden movement. 

Not able to straighten his knee fully, he stumbled, cursing at Spinelli’s sharp intake of breath.  His feet were afire with pinpricks of pain as his pinched nerves received the blood that had been cut off while he’d held Spinelli on the floor.

He tottered slightly before gaining his bearings and hobbled backwards out of the kitchen and into the living room, ever mindful of Spinelli’s rapidly increased breathing and the boy’s hastily paling pallor.  He grimaced at Spinelli’s barely audible, “Ow,” and willed himself to focus, not on his roommate’s redoubled pain, but on his immediate destination – the couch.

Sam scrambled to keep pace with Jason.  Careful not to jostle her fragile cargo, she slammed her elbow into the corner leading from the kitchen to the living room and drew in a hissing breath as the pain exploded, blossoming from her elbow to her shoulder.  Biting her bottom lip, she staggered forward, inwardly cringing as Spinelli cried out in pain.

“Hang in there Spinelli, only three more steps and…” And what, Jason?  What the hell can you possibly promise him now?  Shit, how much paler can the kid get?

“Sam, prop his legs up on the arm of the couch!” Jason’s voice was urgent. 

He gently laid Spinelli on the cushions, worried at the fact that Spinelli seemed to have stopped breathing and the way his face was twisted in a mask of tortured agony.

“C’mon, breathe Spinelli,” Jason urged, waiting with bated breath as he knelt beside the couch, idly stroking Spinelli’s hair as he silently implored the unresponsive boy to take in just one more sacred breath of air. 

He wasn’t asking for much, not in the grand scheme of things, just that this boy, who meant more to him than he’d ever be able to say in mere words, continued to breathe and to be counted among the living.  He’d be willing to trade his own life to secure Spinelli’s.

He was rewarded when Spinelli drew in a shuddery, but shallow breath and the boy’s eyes snapped open, immediately seeking those of his mentor and frantically searching them for something Jason could not fathom.  

“H…hurts,” he stammered, his eyes welling with tears.

Gaining small comfort from the look of deep concern in Stone Cold’s steely blue eyes, Spinelli attempted to draw nearer to his mentor, only to have the man’s hand stay him. 

“S…Stone C…c…cold,” Spinelli fought to find the words to express what he needed from his mentor.  “It hurts, please make it stop.”  He whimpered, his eyes beseeching, pleading with Stone Cold to make the pain go away, to make him all better. 

He knew that all his Master would have to do is wave a magic wand or say the right thing and his belly would stop burning with whatever acid had been spilled upon it and was eating through his skin and internal organs. 

“P…p…please,” Spinelli grasped Stone Cold’s hand and pulled it to his chest, imploring the stalwart man to end this unbearable pain.  “It hurts s…so bad.”

“Shh, I know,” Jason murmured consolingly as he smoothed Spinelli’s hair back from his face.

It pierced him to his very soul the way Spinelli pleaded with him, as though all he had to do was wave his hand and he’d be alright.  The faith that Spinelli placed in him floored him on a good day, but now, with his life on the line, Jason feared that the young man’s faith had been badly, horrifically misplaced.  He couldn’t help Spinelli in the way that he needed him to; as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t take away his pain.  He was useless to Spinelli.

 “Help is on its way.”  He glanced at Sam who was dazedly rubbing her bruised elbow, eyes fixated on Spinelli as though he would cease to breathe if she turned away.

“Is he okay?”

Sam’s question caused Jason to start and he inadvertently twisted his knee as he turned to face her.  Breathing through the jarring pain, he pushed himself up until he was crouching beside the couch.  He carefully rearranged his limbs until he was seated upon the coffee table, his fingers never leaving Spinelli’s hair, as if his touch was tantamount to keeping the boy alive.

“I don’t know,” he answered tersely, his eyes locked on Spinelli’s. 

“Where the hell is that ambulance?”  He turned to face Sam as he asked the question, not wanting to startle Spinelli with the fear he knew could be read in his eyes.

“It’s only been,” Sam looked at the display on her cellphone, “ten minutes.  It should be here soon.”

At least she prayed that it would, she didn’t know how much longer Spinelli would last; he’d already lost so much blood, she feared he didn’t have much more to lose.  The paleness of his face blazed out from the maroon of the couch, he looked like he could be his own ghost.

Chapter Text

Spinelli moaned and grasped at the fabric of the couch, his breath coming out in gasping pants as he breathed through what must’ve been a wave of pain.  Jason clutched Spinelli’s hand with one of his own and allowed the younger man to squeeze it as the pain washed through him.  His grip was so frighteningly weak that Jason found himself squeezing it in compensation.

Petrified, Jason held his breath until Spinelli’s grip loosened in his hand and he relaxed against the cushions of the couch.  His eyes darted to the knife and he breathed a relieved sigh as he noted that it had not shifted since that fateful moment in the kitchen when Spinelli had gotten ahold of it due to his negligence.

Spinelli’s breathing grew more shallow and erratic and Jason was at a loss for what to do as his friend began to toss and turn, momentarily displacing his hand from where it rested upon his brow.  He gently cupped Spinelli’s face between his calloused palms, stilling his thrashing so that he would not accidentally cause any more damage to his already abused abdomen, removing his hands only when Spinelli had become stationary. 

“Stone Cold,” Spinelli’s words were spoken so softly that Jason had to lower his ear to the boy’s mouth to hear.  “C…can’t help you now,” he swallowed, “S…spinelli, you’re all alone…always have…been…a…lone.”

Jason’s brow furrowed in confusion.  What the hell is Spinelli talking about?  I’m right here with him.  He focused on the last part of what the hacker had said, that he’d always been alone, wondering when that had been the case. 

“Spinelli,” he spoke cautiously, not sure if he really wanted to know the answer to the question he was about to pose, “Spinelli, what are you talking about?  When…when have you been alone?” 

He thought back to what felt like an eternity ago, but had in reality been more like thirty minutes and his heart lurched painfully as he realized that he’d let Spinelli down then, that the young man had been left alone and that he had even considered not responding to him when he had called out for help. 

Spinelli’s eyes widened in fear, the green irises quickly being overridden by the black pupils and his breath hitched as he opened and closed his mouth mechanically.  Jason got the sense that he was about to speak, but was fearful to do so and wondered what had happened to cause this sudden onset of trepidation.  Had he finally, through his thoughtless actions, managed to sever Spinelli’s undeserved, yet wholehearted trust in him?

“S…s…sorry,” his voice sounded small and childlike to Jason’s ears and tore at his already aching heart.  “Damian was a bad, bad boy.  He…he needs to be punished.”

Spinelli sucked his bottom lip between his teeth and his eyes searched the room frantically, eventually falling upon Jason.  He blinked his eyes rapidly, as though trying to keep from crying.

“D…Damian was bad,” he continued in that much too small voice which made the hairs on the back of Jason’s neck stand up, “and needs to be p…punished.”  The last half of the sentence was delivered so matter-of-factly and clearly that Jason had no doubt in his mind that these had been oft repeated words.

Spinelli shifted, as though to turn over on the couch, but Jason caught his shoulder and held him in place, flinching at the look of abject terror that action had brought to his friend’s face.  Spinelli’s broken sobs were punctuated by confusing ramblings which left Jason feeling equally baffled and terrified.

“Please, no.  Please, not that punishment.  Damian will be a good boy.  Please Unca Davy.  Please, please let me go.” 

Spinelli’s eyes were boring into Jason’s and yet they had a faraway unfocused quality to them which made Jason think that Spinelli was no longer grounded in the present.  It was clear that he was not seeing his trusted mentor, Stone Cold, but whoever the hell this ‘Unca Davy’ was and that he fully expected some sort of punishment from said ‘Unca’.  Jason’s blood boiled as Spinelli began to whimper and plead with his ‘Unca Davy’.

“Damian promises he won’t tell Granny about our secret.  Please don’t hurt me, please,” he begged.

“Jason, I think he’s in shock,” Sam said, alarmed at the bizarre scene she was witnessing between the two.

Jason, keeping his hold on Spinelli lest the younger man attempt to turn over and run himself completely through with the knife with which he’d been impaled, looked over at Sam, trying to process what she’d just said and what it meant that he was supposed to do. 

“What?” He asked in confusion.

“Spinelli’s in shock,” Sam slowly enunciated, wondering briefly if Jason wasn’t in shock himself, “we’ve got to do something to staunch the bleeding.”  She sat next to Jason and tentatively reached out to touch Spinelli’s clammy skin, “And we have to warm him up.”  His skin was cold to the touch, though he continued to sweat profusely.

“Jason!” The sharply spoken word snapped him out of his temporary state of shock and he truly looked at Sam, ignoring Spinelli’s muddled murmurs in favor of doing something tangible to help him.

“I’m going to go upstairs and get some towels and blankets, stay here with Spinelli and try to keep him calm and still.”

Sam still remembered some of the training she’d had from a brief stint when she’d posed as a paramedic for a scam that she’d been running.   The promised ambulance had yet to arrive and she knew that Spinelli was in shock, and that, unless they got him somewhat stabilized, he would die.

“Jason, did you hear me?”  Sam touched his arm, hoping that physical contact would bring some measure of comfort to him as he attempted to comfort a very distraught, confused Spinelli.

“Yes, Sam,” he replied, much to her relief.  “What the hell do you think’s keeping the paramedics?  They should’ve been here by now.”

“I don’t know Jason, could be the storm.” 

Now that she stopped to listen, she could hear the wind as it howled outside.  She felt the rumble of a rather loud clap of thunder as it accompanied a sudden streak of lightening which lit up the dark sky outside the penthouse.  A fresh onslaught of rain accompanied the lightning strike and Sam rushed for the stairs as Spinelli’s breathing became wheezy and he began clutching at the fabric of the couch once again as though desperately fighting for air.

“It’s okay Spinelli,” Jason soothed, finding a small amount of guilty solace in Spinelli’s silence. 

A boy scared by a thunderstorm was something he could handle, he knew how to offer comfort for such things and had had enough practice at it to be confident in his abilities.  But, whatever kind of ‘punishment’ his friend had been subjected to as a young child was way out of his element to know how to handle.  His heart broke as his mind conjured up scenario after scenario, each one worse than the last, of what ‘Unca Davy’ had done to the young Damian Spinelli which could engender such pitiful pleading.

“You’re okay,” he whispered to Spinelli and smiled as he ran his fingers through the younger man’s hair like he used to do for Michael when the boy was younger.  

It had always worked with his nephew when he was frightened and had served to lull him to sleep.  He didn’t know if it would be a good or a bad thing for Spinelli to sleep, but decided to operate on the side of caution and try to keep him awake and as alert as possible.

He silently rebuked himself for the bald-faced lie he’d just told his roommate when Spinelli’s eyes sought his and the naked, hopeful trust within the bright green orbs stole his breath away. 

“’M safe?” He whispered quietly, eyes searching Jason’s. “Unca Davy not gonna find out?”

“Y…yes,” Jason stammered. 

The wounded-animal look in Spinelli’s eyes stirred up an oft avoided paternal instinct within him and he knew that he would do whatever it took to protect the young man lying on his couch.  Not only would he be willing to give up his life for him, but he’d also be willing to kill for him. 

“You’re safe,” Jason paused, before continuing quietly and deliberately, sensing that Spinelli was still not in the right frame of mind, “Damian.  Uncle Davy won’t hurt you ever again.”

Spinelli blinked, took in a shuddery breath as he searched Jason’s face for veracity.  A slow, broad smile lit up his face and Jason returned the smile without compunction. As soon as the smile appeared, however, it vanished, and Jason frowned as Spinelli scrutinized him with an assessing scowl before the boy, clearly he was no more than five years old in his present state of mind, opened his mouth and spoke with a shrewdness no young child should have.

“You promise?”

Swallowing hard, Jason nodded dumbly. 

“I promise,” he spoke after a moment, allowing Spinelli to read the truth of his words on his face and was relieved when that slow smile replaced the hard scowl Spinelli had been wearing.

Silently, he vowed that, when all of this was over and Spinelli was safely recovering, he’d hunt down, not only the man who’d stabbed him, but also ‘Unca’ Davy.  Neither man was going to harm another hair on his protégé’s head.

“Jason!” Sam called from the base of the stairs causing him to whip his head around.

The cellphone was cradled in the crook of her neck, an assortment of blankets and towels billowed from her arms, atop them rested Jason’s first aid kit.  He mentally whacked himself upside the head for not having thought of retrieving it himself at the onset of this horrific evening.

Lightning flashed with a wicked crack, illuminating the room with an eerie, iridescent glow.  It was there and then gone, plummeting the room in inky darkness when it left.  Sam let out a startled cry and stumbled forward carefully, mindful of the invisible, but wholly solid obstacles in her way.

“Sam.”

She used Jason’s voice as a guide, stubbing her toe along the way. 

“Ouch.  Damn it.” 

She didn’t have time to waste; Spinelli didn’t have time for her to waste.  Though the line had long since gone dead, she continued to hold the phone up against her ear with her shoulder as she hobbled the short distance from the stairs to the couch.

Spinelli whimpered in the dark, his breathing coming in rapid gasps and Jason’s eyes snapped to the shadowy form which was a shade blacker against the backdrop of ebony the power outage had plunged them into.  Spinelli was writhing beneath the hand he’d placed on the younger man to keep him still.  For a moment Jason was at a loss as to what had happened, why the darkness which had befallen them had not caused an immediate response from the younger man. 

Turning his head slightly so that he could see what it was that Spinelli was seeing, he drew in a sharp intake of breath as lighting struck so suddenly that it took him by surprise.  There was a hulking silhouette, illumed solely by the white of lightning, looming at the foot of the couch.  Spinelli’s whimpering increased and he scrabbled, trying to back away from the menacing shadowy figure at the end of the couch. 

Crap.

“Spinelli,” Jason’s voice was firm. 

Though he wished he could be gentler, he knew that if he didn’t get through to Spinelli in a matter of seconds the boy would successfully embed the knife further into his abdomen in an effort to escape the specter whom he clearly believed to be his attacker. 

“Spinelli!”

His roommate’s flinch at the harshness of his tone was bizarrely illuminated by yet another flash of lightning and Jason steeled himself for what he had to do. He grasped Spinelli’s shoulders in a painful grip, digging his fingers into them, hoping that the pain would serve to break through the boy’s panic.

Spinelli drew in a shaky breath, but stilled beneath Jason’s iron-like grip.  Tears sprung to his eyes.  His mentor was holding him still, giving the madman clear access to him, allowing the man to slice into him again and again.  He could feel the steel blade as it was rammed into him. 

He bit his bottom lip against the pain as it blossomed from his gut and the pain spread through him like a wildfire.  In spite of his resolve not to cry, not to let his mentor see how much it hurt, a single tear wended its way down his cheek.

“Sam, move goddamnit!” Jason growled out. 

Couldn’t she see that she had startled the injured hacker?  He kept his eyes on Spinelli, meeting the boy’s wary glance with a look of concern. 

“Spinelli, it’s just Sam,” Jason explained reassuringly.

Spinelli’s breathing had gone from shaky to wheezy in a matter of seconds and Jason worried about him.  Had he even heard him? 

“Spinelli,” Jason urged, “listen to me.  You’re safe, there’s no one else here besides Sam and me.”

Spinelli stared back at him blankly, eyes becoming unfocused as the night was lit up by another flash of lightning and he grimaced.  Spinelli’s face was bloodless, even his lips lacked color, having taken on a grey hue. 

“Here are the blankets and towels,” Sam placed them on the coffee table next to Jason, plunking the first aid kit directly on top of the mound.  “Jason,” her voice wavered as she looked down at the silent cellphone, “Jason, they’re…the ambulance, it, it isn’t coming.” 

Jason could sense the impending tears in her voice, yet kept his eyes on the shadowy visage of his roommate. 

“What do you mean they’re not coming?”  Jason barked out, chastising himself when Spinelli recoiled.

Letting out a nerve wracked sigh, Sam ran her hands through her hair.

“There was some sort of major accident, a building’s on fire, and the streets are filled with water and apparently…” her voice trailed off, “the ambulance crashed. Jason, they aren’t coming.  They said that we need to take him to Mercy.  General Hospital’s emergency is overflowing; all emergencies are being brought to Mercy.”

“Can’t they just send another ambulance?” Jason’s terse words belied none of the fear he was feeling. 

Spinelli needed to be at the hospital a half an hour ago.  How was he going to get him to the hospital now?  An ambulance would not only be quicker, but he’d at least be taken care of by professionals along the way.

“There aren’t any to spare, too many other emergencies or something like that.” Sam hadn’t really listened to what the operator was saying after she’d told her that an ambulance wouldn’t be coming.

“What the fuck are we supposed to do now?” Jason asked in a whisper. 

“I don’t know Jason.” 

He could hear the resignation in Sam’s voice and balked at it.  As another volley of lightning lit up the room, he grit his teeth and vowed that he would do whatever it took to make sure that Spinelli survived.  If he had to carry him all the way to Mercy, he would. 

“Sam, get me a flashlight,” he commanded, loosening his grip on Spinelli’s shoulders, belatedly realizing that Spinelli had ceased his squirming a minute ago when he’d either realized that it was not his attacker hovering over him in the gloom, but Sam or maybe he’d just given up.  Either way, now was Jason’s chance to act and do all that was in his power to help Spinelli. 

“There should be one in the catchall drawer in the kitchen, next to the refrigerator.” 

He tried not to picture Spinelli’s blood, dark red spots decorating the tiles in a desecrating pattern of morbidity.

Though Sam hesitated, she really did not want to reenter that room anytime soon, she moved forward, shaking the irrational fear from her.  There was nothing in that room, no one lurking in the shadows waiting for an opportune time to attack her.  She refused to think of the blood, slick on the smooth tiles as she moved through the gloomy kitchen, lit only by the gray sky coming through the paned window door of the breakfast nook.

Gripping the handle of the drawer with trembling fingers, Sam glanced around the kitchen, surreptitiously looking behind her, stifling a frightened cry as lightning flickered and crackled in the air around her.  The sky beyond the fateful door was a phantasmagoria of greys, black and white-gold streaks which blinded Sam. Turning away, she pulled on the drawer muttering low curses as it caught on something within.

Heart racing along with her panic, she fished inside of the drawer and let out a triumphant, “Ha!” as she managed to work it open.

It was with a vast amount of relief that she managed to procure the flashlight Jason had spoken of and wrest it from the depths of the untidy drawer.  Though she did not relish the thought of staying in the kitchen a second longer than she had to, she took a moment to check the flashlight, releasing pent up air when a steady, unwavering beam issued forth from it.  Though the drawer had been in a sad state of disarray, at least the flashlight had working batteries in it, she thought ruefully.

“Spinelli?  You okay?”

Jason found Spinelli’s quietness and the absence of his endless speech-making, punctuated by his frequent quips, to be unnerving.  The only sign which even indicated he was still alive was his labored breathing.

How long had it been since Spinelli had first called to him?  He and Sam had been on the couch safely ensconced in each other’s embrace, Spinelli just a few feet away in a perilous grapple for his life.  And he could take none of it back, couldn’t rewind time to secure his friend’s life.  Couldn’t respond quicker to Spinelli’s call.  Couldn’t take back his less than gracious thoughts toward the young man slowly bleeding to death on his couch.

Enough.  He pushed his thoughts of self-recrimination aside, there would be plenty of time to make it up to Spinelli later; he’d make sure of it.

“Spinelli,” Jason spoke tenderly, hoping that the young man hadn’t passed out and could hear him.  Where the hell is Sam with the flashlight?

“I’m going to try and,” he swallowed before forging on, “stop the bleeding.  I…I’m sorry, but it might hurt some.” 

He knew it would; he’d had plenty of personal experience to testify to the fact that it would hurt like a son of a bitch.  He, from undesired personal experience, knew exactly how insidious belly wounds were. They were like being branded over and over again until you wanted to die more than you wanted to live.

Spinelli remained alarmingly quiet, the booming sound of thunder covering the sound of his wispy breathing.  Jason had no idea where to begin, though he’d been wounded oft enough, he’d had little occasion to tend to the wounds of others. 

Closing his eyes briefly, he recalled how he’d been tended to in the past by Elizabeth, Robin and Sam when he’d been injured.  The wound caused by a knife couldn't be that different than one caused by a bullet, could it?

Spinelli would know what to do or would be able to look it up on the internet and find something about how to treat a victim of stabbing.  Why did it always come down to this?  Not realizing the importance of the ones he loved – the   value – until something happened to point it out to him in harsh, unforgiving black and white.

His own gut contorted in a symbiosis of pain as he reached, with palsied, blood-encrusted hands for one of the towels Sam had brought.  Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he placed a hand above the wound site, not yet applying pressure, and wished that Sam would hurry with the flashlight. 

He really didn’t want to mess things up and, though he knew that gut wounds were notorious for being long, arduous harbingers of death, taking an individual a good amount of time to bleed out unless an artery, or worse, was nicked, he didn’t want to waste any more time.  Judging by the now sluggish flow of Spinelli’s blood, Jason ascertained that nothing major had been punctured and took it as a godsend.

“Sam!” Jason called out into the dark.  

The towel, some crazy duck pattern on it, was scrunched tightly in his hand, hovering above Spinelli’s pierced stomach. 

“Where’s that flashlight?” 

He really didn’t want to screw this up, if he was going to be the cause of more pain for Spinelli, he wanted it to be the right kind of pain and not cause more damage.

“Got it!”

Sam’s triumphant call did little to ease the disquiet which had settled in the pit of his stomach.  Only when the beam was being trained on the trembling form of Spinelli on the couch, the yellow light bouncing off the knife handle at an odd angle, did the tension begin to ease only to be replaced by an awful dread. 

Blood, black in the stream of light issuing from the flashlight Sam had trained on Spinelli, oozed around the wound.  Spinelli’s white tee-shirt had been driven into the laceration by the tip of the knife.  Funny how Jason hadn’t noticed it before in the harsh overhead fluorescent lights of the kitchen, but all that he seemed able to focus on at the time was the handle of the knife and how it shouldn’t be where it was.

The flashlight seemed to accent the grisly injury and cast it in stark contrast to the bright white cotton of Spinelli’s ruined shirt.  Swallowing back a swift, unheralded onset of bile, Jason steadied his hands by sheer force of will and concentrated on the nature of the wound itself, rather than on his damaged ‘grasshopper’.

He was suddenly at a loss for what to do.  Looking at the duck-patterned towel without really seeing it, he brought it down to dab at the blood pooled around the protruding knife, mindful of the handle. 

Sam gasped, and the beam of the light bobbed and dipped before stabilizing once again, concentrating directly on the wound until it consumed every particle of light the battery-operated beacon had to offer in its ghastly maw.

Jason stilled when Spinelli sucked in a pained breath.  He was immediately remorseful; it hadn't been his intention to put pressure on the wound just yet.  This was merely an exploratory exercise, an attempt to staunch the blood flow, and map the perimeter of the wound.  When he had to inflict pain, as he knew he must, he would first warn Spinelli, prepare him as best he could.

 “Sorry Spinelli.” Jason’s quiet apology fell on deaf ears.

“Ow, hurtssss,” Spinelli hissed, eyes shut tight as he panted through the pain. 

He struggled weakly against Jason’s hold on him, inadvertently scratching his reluctant captor’s wrist.

“Spinelli, stop.”

Jason grasped Spinelli’s wrists in his free hand and applied as much pressure as he dared; wanting only to cause the young man to cease his attack, not cause him additional pain.

Spinelli panicked and began kicking; Unca Davy only bound his wrists when he was about to administer a punishment.  He had to get away.  He’d done nothing wrong this time, he was certain of it.  He hadn’t. 

His tummy felt icky and like he’d been forced to swallow pins and needles, something that he’d only ever been threatened with if he’d told granny about what he and Unca Davy did together when she was out of the house.  He hadn’t told her.

“Unca,” he gasped, “I promise, I di…din’t tell granny.  Please stop.  I be good.  No more pins, my tummy hurts.  Lemme go, I be good.”

Shit, not this again.  Jason fought down an upsurge of anger. 

“I know Spinelli,” he responded as calmly as he could, “I know you didn’t tell granny.  You did nothing wrong.  Uncle Davy isn’t here, it’s just me and you and Sam.  Please open your eyes and look at me.  Come on Spinelli.”

Spinelli kept his eyes closed tight.  He didn’t want to open them, didn’t want to see his uncle’s face looming over him.  He had only one thought in mind, and that was the thought of escape.  He had to get away before it happened again and before his belly was torn apart by the sharp pins and needles he’d been forced to swallow. 

Little boys weren’t supposed to get into their granny’s sewing kits.  They weren’t supposed to eat the shiny silver pretties in it.  He couldn’t tell granny that he hadn’t meant to do it; Unca Davy would only make it worser for him if he did.

“Sam,” Jason ordered, “come, sit on his legs.”

It was clear that Spinelli had not heard a single word he’d said and that was cause for concern.  Though his kicking was weak and ineffectual, it could still cause the blade to shift in him dangerously.  Jason couldn’t let that happen.

The light bounced and banked haphazardly off the living room walls as Sam hastily made her way toward the end of the couch.  Her heart hammered in her chest as she fought off nausea inspired by the small, terrified voice of her private investigative partner.   It scared her. 

She’d never heard such a childlike lilt in Spinelli’s voice before. It was unlike any aspect of the carefree younger man she had known for four years now.  Sometimes he was quiet or morose, but then he always bounced back with his seemingly endless optimism undimmed.  This was a darkness she had never suspected dwelt inside him, and the places her mind automatically went to upon hearing his words, made her flinch.

She lingered at the end of the couch a moment before recalling Spinelli’s earlier panic when he’d thought she was his attacker, though it paled in comparison to whatever he was experiencing now, she did not wish to be the cause of any increased distress, intentional or not.  Hesitantly, she lowered herself onto Spinelli’s legs, the beam of the flashlight striking the ceiling as she slid into place. 

His thrashing was effectively and immediately stilled by her added weight even as his breathing began to quicken and he struggled feebly beneath Jason’s strong, immovable hold, attempting to throw him off and buck up off the couch.

“Hold still Spinelli,” Jason admonished in a frustrated growl.

“N…n…no.” Spinelli shook his head vehemently. 

Even with his eyes firmly shut, he could see his uncle’s dull blue eyes, the man’s bulbous red nose and wide, crooked-toothed smile as the man leered at him, smothering his smaller body beneath his own. 

He couldn’t move and his belly was getting worse, it felt like he was being burned only it wasn’t like the other times when uncle held the lighter up to his skin without touching it, just enough so that he felt the heat. He was not allowed to squirm, no matter how hot it got.  No, this time the flames were licking at his pins and needled tummy, eating it up with white-hot streaks of pain.

“L…let…me…go,” he managed to choke out between gulps of air which made his belly blaze with the fire.  “I…pro…mise…won’ tell.”

Jason leant against Spinelli’s torso, using most of his weight to hold the younger man in place as the young man continued to squirm and writhe beneath him.  Though he knew that it was making whatever nightmarish reality Spinelli was trapped in worse, it was more imperative that he keep him still and tend to the wound before things got even more fucked up than they already were. 

How the hell was he going to break through to Spinelli and let him know that he wasn’t his ‘Unca Davy’?  How was he going to get him to stop fighting against him so that he could get him the help he needed?

Sam took a cleansing breath and tried to concentrate on the tasks she’d been given.  Spinelli’s life depended on her and Jason’s ability to stay calm and take care of him.  As she righted the flashlight, once more focusing it on Spinelli’s gored stomach; she hoped that Jason would be able to get through to him.  She didn’t know how much more of this they could take.  How much more Spinelli’s broken body could take.

“Spinelli,” Jason tried once more, closing his eyes as Spinelli continued to wriggle beneath him, “ah hell, could really use the Jackal about now,” he muttered and almost let go as Spinelli immediately ceased his efforts to get free.

“S…Stone Cold?” Spinelli wheezed.  His eyes flew open, meeting those of his startled looking mentor.  “Wha…why are you arresting the movements of your faithful grasshopper?”

Stone Cold seemed to be holding him down and he found that he couldn’t move.  There was a searing pain in the vicinity of his stomach, the origins of which he was unable to place.  The last thing he remembered was tiptoeing past Fair Samantha and Stone Cold as they cuddled in the living room.  He hadn’t wanted to disturb their time alone together, and hadn’t even so much as turned on the kitchen light as he pulled open the refrigerator, letting the feeble light which spilled forth from it guide his snack gathering.

“Spin…Jackal?” Jason corrected, baffled at the transformation from frightened child to confused, yet very much tranquil and controlled young man which had taken place before his very eyes. 

This was the Spinelli he was used to; this was something he could work with.  He’d puzzle out what had happened later, after Spinelli was safe and healing in a hospital.

“Stone Cold, are you alright?”

Spinelli was thoroughly bewildered.  Why was he lying on the living room couch?  When had he gotten there?  Why was Stone Cold holding him down?  Where was Sam?  When had it gotten so dark?

Jason blinked and then laughed a dry, harsh guffaw which ended in a cut-off half-sob of dread and relief.  Was he okay?  There was a knife sticking out of Spinelli’s stomach and yet the boy was asking if he was okay? 

Jason shook his head.  No matter what happened to him, it seemed that Spinelli was always thinking of how others were doing.  Jason’s heart grew heavy with the mounting realization that, as the Jackal, Spinelli truly might not know what had happened to him and that he’d been grievously wounded.

He didn’t know what it was called and didn’t even know if it was real or not, but could it be that Spinelli had more than one version of his personality locked up within himself?  Was he fractured and broken on the inside, showing only minute shards of who he really was depending upon the occasion and the person he was with? Was there more to Spinelli than the Jackal, Spinelli, Damian and the frightened child he’d just witnessed?  Was the grasshopper a separate portion of his disjointed self?  Was this all ‘Unca Davy’s’ doing?

“Uh, Stone Cold?”  Spinelli’s voice held a note of concern.

He nodded, having nearly forgotten Spinelli’s question.

“Yes, Jackal, Stone Cold’s…er, I’m, okay.”

“Then would Stone Cold kindly remove himself from the Jackal, this…” Spinelli jutted his chin downward as he couldn’t move anything else, “is a tad uncomfortable.”

“Sorry Sp…er Jackal.”

Jason didn’t want to risk losing this version of his roommate, even though it felt awkward addressing Spinelli as the Jackal.  Though he didn’t completely release his hold on Spinelli, he eased up a bit.

“Do you remember what happened?”  Jason questioned.

“Uhm…”

Spinelli thought for a few seconds, mindful of the pain which seemed to be radiating from his abdomen.  Stone Cold hadn’t moved enough for him to see past the man’s broad shoulders and anxious blue eyes.  He shook his head no.   What was it that he was supposed to remember?

Spinelli pulled in a breath of air to speak, and grimaced, panting as fiery pain shot through his abdomen. 

“Would Stone Cold be so gracious as to enlighten the Jackal as to what has transpired, what it is that he is supposed to recollect?” Spinelli’s tone was so wistful that it pained Jason.

Smiling grimly, Jason took a fortifying breath and, continuing to shield Spinelli from the wound in question, sought for an answer which wouldn’t serve to frighten his roommate or send him into shock again. 

“S…Jackal,” he let out a breath, his grip on Spinelli’s shoulders tightening marginally, causing the younger man to flinch almost imperceptibly. He quickly loosened his vice-like grip and tried to find the right words.  “There…there was an accident…”

“Fair Samantha?” Spinelli instantly regretted his attempt to sit up as white hot pain flared from his stomach and Jason’s fingers dug into his shoulders once more, keeping him firmly in place.

“Sam’s okay Spin…er…Jackal.”

It was challenging for Jason to remember how to address Spinelli.  He wanted his old, unbroken Spinelli back of sound mind and body. 

“Just lie back and breathe…in…out…follow my voice, okay?  That’s it…in…out…in…out…”

Jason demonstrated a few shallow breaths, happy when the pained scowl on Spinelli’s face eased and his breathing began to even out.

“Then…who?” 

Spinelli’s eyes grew wide as realization began to dawn on him and pieces of a puzzle he really did not want to put together began to fall into place.  The unbearable pain in his stomach, Stone Cold’s insistence that he not move, the absence of direct light in the living room – all pointed to something Spinelli really did not want to think about; didn’t want to remember.  A cold, cruel hand, stifling darkness and ripping, searing pain.

“Spine…Jackal,” Stone Cold’s voice was like a slap to the face, sobering him up quickly.  “It’s important that you stay calm,” he cautioned.  Spinelli nodded, batting down his terror with a whimper. 

“Just…just inform the Jackal as to what has transpired,” he urged with a grimace.

“There was an accident, you…that is…” Jason fumbled with the words, “you were stabbed.” 

There, he’d said it.  Nothing like just ripping a band aid off, scab and all, Jason thought sardonically.

Spinelli’s brows wrinkled in confusion.  Jason watched as first denial, and then horror flitted across his protégé’s face as his words began to sink in and Spinelli measured what he had been told against the pain infused experience of these past few moments. 

Spinelli couldn't ever remember feeling such agonizingly sharp bursts of pain, not even when his spleen was ruptured.  The pain lent credence to Stone Cold's assertions, though he couldn't quite recall it, and he definitely couldn't see it as he belatedly realized the wound was being hidden from view, he now vividly believed in it.  He had indeed been stabbed.

“I…the Jackal…understands,” Spinelli replied slowly. 

He still, for the life of him could not recall how it had happened.  He’d gone into the kitchen for a late night snack and woke up on the living room couch with a knife in his gut and no recollection of how it had gotten there. 

Had he fallen on a kitchen knife?  It certainly wouldn’t be his first clumsy accident with what could be construed as a lethal instrument, but somehow that didn’t ring true.  There was something at the back of his mind trying to come to the fore, yet something else was blocking it, keeping the memory from him under the guise of protection.

Sam watched in morbid fascination as the flashlight continued to keep its silent, slightly sturdy vigil, trained directly on Spinelli by her somewhat steady hands.  Every now and again the light wavered, casting the handle of the knife in grotesque puppet like shadows against the far wall.  Another streak of lightning, followed by a rolling boom of thunder, lit the night beyond the penthouse, jarring the trio on the couch. It was unnerving, and Sam wanted a redo.

Suddenly the enormity of the situation struck Jason, jolting him from his state of inaction.  If he didn’t tend to Spinelli’s wound, didn’t get him to the hospital, didn’t get a move on, Spinelli would die.  Spinelli’s life was in his hands, and he momentarily wondered if those who’d tended to him when he’d been shot had felt so utterly small in the battle against impending death.  Had the fear of unintentionally beckoning, rather than staving off death, paralyzed them?

“J…Jackal,” Jason stuttered, “I need to…we need to get the bleeding under control.  I…”

Jason’s eyes were apologetic.  He pursed his lips. 

“I’m going to need to apply some pressure to the area around the wound.”

Spinelli took in as deep a breath as was comfortable, expelling it almost as soon as it had been taken.  Nodding faintly, so as not to jar his injuries, he took another shallow breath before announcing, “The Jackal understands and acquiesces.”

“It…”Jason paused, maintaining eye contact with Spinelli as he spoke, “it’s going to hurt.  I need you need to stay still as possible, no matter how much it hurts.  If you need to, you can squeeze my leg.” 

Jason guided Spinelli’s hand until it rested on the leg closest to him.

Spinelli bit his bottom lip and nodded.   Jason turned away and Spinelli fought the urge to call him back.  He knew he had to be strong, had to let Stone Cold do what was necessary, yet he was woefully afraid. 

Guided by the amber glow of the flashlight, Jason once more began to wipe gingerly at the blood coagulating around the wound site.  Spinelli’s audible wince caused him to momentarily still his movements before returning his attention to cleaning up the blood as best he could.  He could not allow himself to become distracted.

The beam of the flashlight vacillated a little.

“Sam,” Jason’s soft rebuke caused the beam to steady.

Jason looked over at the quiet woman, scrutinizing her for any signs of shock.  Though she was not prone to panic, he knew that tonight’s events had shaken the both of them.  Her slight form, obscured by the lightless room, was shaking indiscernibly.  Jason had no time to determine whether it was from tears or an adrenaline crash.

“Can you move the light closer?”

He motioned with the now blood-soaked towel and smiled when the increased light revealed that the bleeding, though it had not ceased, had slowed down considerably since they’d gotten Spinelli prone on the couch.  Tossing the towel aside, he reached for another, wiping as much blood from his hands as he could, ignoring that which had congealed and dried within the lifelines of his palms.

“Sam, could you shine the light on the first aid kit please?” 

The beam of the light rested on the kit he meticulously kept stocked and he flipped it open, quickly searching through the contents to find what he needed: gauze and tape.  A bleak smile accompanied his find and the flame of the flashlight followed his movements as he returned to tend to Spinelli’s injury with the necessary accouterments.

“Sp…Jackal,” Jason said as he looked briefly at the young man’s face, “I’m going to start dressing the wound.  I need you to stay still no matter how much it hurts.  Remember to squeeze my leg as hard as you can; it’ll help with the pain.” 

Sometimes transference did seem to help cut the pain, whether it was merely psychological or not; Jason hoped it would work for Spinelli. Absurdly, images of weather-beaten cowboys biting down on a leather belt or wooden branch as a bullet was dug out or a wound was cauterized came to mind.  Liberal applications of whiskey internally as well as externally had been employed in such cases and Jason found himself wanting just that to help dull Spinelli’s pain.  But, this was not the Wild West and Spinelli was not Clint Eastwood.

“I’m going to apply a little pressure now,” Jason explained as he pressed down on the wound. 

Spinelli’s face blanched and he gasped in pain, digging his fingers into Jason’s leg on reflex, his other fingers dug into the fabric of the couch.  Had his legs not been immobilized, he would have twisted and further torn his injury.

Jason cursed as the flashlight dipped and bobbed, swathing Spinelli’s wound in darkness as Sam quietly apologized and readjusted her hold on the errant light.  Shaky light was better than no light, Jason mused humorously as he continued to minister to Spinelli’s injury, hoping that he could at least get the bleeding down to a minimum trickle before he brought the wounded man to the hospital.

He didn’t know how he was going to do it with the storm raging around them, but he owed it to Spinelli; couldn’t stand the thought of losing him to something so fucking mundane as a stab wound.  He’d survived worse, Spinelli would too.  He’d make sure of it.

Spinelli bit down hard on his bottom lip, drawing blood.  His gut felt tight and enflamed and wherever Stone Cold pressed down on it, it felt like he was being skewered with a hot poker.  It didn’t matter that his mentor was working slowly and warning him each time that he applied pressure, he’d gone past hearing as the pain took over, his life reduced to little more than moments of mere pain punctuated by longer moments of blistering, mindless pain. 

Hard-pressed to choose, he would take the pain not induced by his mentor’s all too capable hands.  He’d known that the man was renowned as one of Mr. Sir’s best enforcers, but had yet to experience Stone Cold at his finest. 

Now, he had to acknowledge that the moniker he’d afforded his master was brutally and applicably appropriate.  Spinelli wondered what it would be like to suffer beneath Stone Cold’s expert hands were the man not trying to be gentle and shuddered involuntarily. 

Had the man not taken a predilection to him, he’d certainly be in a lot more pain, though, in all honesty, he would be hard-pressed to come up with something more painful than the current torture he was being forced, by necessity, to endure.

“Almost done,” Jason promised. 

The dressings he’d applied were already stained red with blood.  Spinelli’s bandaged abdomen looked absurdly like a gory patchwork quilt. The knife sticking out of his gut was an ugly reminder of what had happened only a half an hour ago, if his watch was to be trusted.

His whole world had been turned upside down in thirty short minutes.  His understanding of whom and what Spinelli was to him had suddenly become a lot clearer, and, with it, the thought of losing him, became much more frightening than he’d ever say.  Losing Spinelli would be like losing a part of himself, and he refused to have that happen.

“Done,” Jason proclaimed; a grim smile on his face. 

Spinelli held his breath, fearful of letting it out lest the burning pain return sevenfold.  He was vaguely aware that the light pressure of Stone Cold’s hands was no longer there pressing down on his wound and, though he was momentarily relieved, he was filled with a sudden apprehension that Stone Cold had abandoned him.  He let out a long, sobbing breath and was instantly and tangibly rewarded when Stone Cold leaned forward and placed a hand tenderly against his cheek.

“Jackal,” Stone Cold seemed to search his eyes for something before continuing, “I’m sorry.”

“Huh?”  Spinelli couldn’t process what it was that his mentor was sorry for, shouldn’t he be the one apologizing for ruining his and Fair Samantha’s romantic evening?

“I’m sorry for putting you through so much pain.”

Spinelli blinked in confusion.  What had Stone Cold done to cause him pain?  He was having a hard time comprehending what it was that Stone Cold should be expressing his deepest regrets for.  Surely he would do nothing to cause harm to his stalwart grasshopper.

“Sp…Jackal?” 

Stone Cold was looking at him with something akin to fear and it sparked a like response in Spinelli who spoke hastily to assuage the other man.

“The Jackal fails to comprehend what it is that his redoubtable mentor has done which requires his contrition.” 

Sweat beaded his brow and he was panting by the end of his impromptu speech.  Why was the simple act of speaking suddenly insurmountably challenging?

He looked away from Stone Cold’s captive gaze and toward the source of an agony which spread like venom from his stomach throughout the rest of his body.  He failed to put two-and-two together as his mind raced to reconcile Stone Cold’s apology and the grotesque tableau which assaulted his sight as his eyes lit upon the object which was the causation of the fiery pit in his stomach. 

In the ghostly light which illumined it, Spinelli mistook it for something from a sci-fi movie.  He was a human insect pinned to an inhumane shadowbox.  Stone Cold and Captain Samantha were the impartial alien scientists conducting an ungodly experiment.

He attempted to free himself, but he was effectively fixed in place and, though he could feel his legs, he couldn’t move them.  The gasping breaths he drew in hurt him and he cried.  He didn’t want to die.  Not like this.  Not as an abject object of intergalactic research.  It fit with every alien abduction movie he’d ever seen that he was not given at least a sedative to ease the pain. 

No, it was an inexorable fact that aliens, whether they befriended you first, as had the scheming Stone Cold and unsympathetic Cold-Hearted Sam, were heartless and treated their innocent victims with a cold callousness.  It wasn’t that they were particularly cruel, but they lacked the ability to empathize with their human guinea pigs.  It was known fact in the scientific world, or at least that of the fictional depiction of it.

As a species, aliens were vastly unaware of the excruciating pain which they visited upon their hapless human subjects. At least that is what Spinelli chose to believe.  It was what he told himself while watching the movies (humans could hardly impose the same standards and value they placed for human life on extraterrestrial beings, he had reasoned with magnanimous dispassion) and how he chose to currently delude himself. 

He refused to believe that Stone Cold, emotionless alien or not, would wittingly put him through so much intolerable pain, they’d been through so much together over the years – it would be unconscionable. Even for an alien.

He flailed, or, rather attempted to, but his arms were effectively restrained and he whimpered in torment of body and mind.  Stone Cold’s cool cobalt eyes bore into his.  He was efficiently pinioned by the earth invader’s detached, professional perusal of him.

“Lemme go,” he begged in a desperately impassioned susurration, even though he knew that his supplication to the entity he’d known as Jason Morgan would be in vain.

“Not again,” Jason bemoaned as he reasserted his iron-clad grip on Spinelli’s upper body, making it impossible for his roommate to thrash around.

He’d had enough of Spinelli looking at him as though he was an evil monster about to eat him, as though he was the sole cause of the other man’s immediate suffering.  It caused his heart to ache when Spinelli’s eyes, glazed with pain looked at him with that wretched mixture of accusation and resignation.

“Jason, we’ve gotta get him to the hospital,” Sam’s voice was taut with anxiety, “he seems to be getting worse.  I thought he was better for a while there, but…” 

She was growing increasingly concerned with Spinelli’s uncharacteristic behavior and the way he kept attempting to free himself from their hold.  She was terrified that he would somehow manage to loose their hold on him and cause himself even greater damage. 

Even if his struggles failed to free him, there was the danger of infection which Sam feared had already begun to set in; they’d done nothing to counteract one.  Jason’s careful bandaging would do little to combat a staph infection or peritonitis.

“We have to get him some professional help.  I’m worried that he’s…” Sam couldn’t even finish her thought.

“I know,” Jason snapped, turning his head toward his wife, keeping his weight on Spinelli’s shoulders so the boy couldn’t move.  “Are you sure they won’t send another ambulance?”

“There isn’t another one to send,” Sam said plaintively.  “The storm…”

“Fine,” Jason cut her off, his voice gruff. 

His fingers curled in his anger, cutting into Spinelli’s shoulders painfully.  Vexed, scared, and grieved, Spinelli turned his head and bit one of Jason’s offending hands with as much gusto as he could muster.  It dizzied him, but he gave his punishing mentor a brief cynical, self-satisfied smile when Jason gasped in pain as he removed the transgressing appendages from his tender shoulder.

“Ouch!”

Jason examined his hand in the dim light and frowned at the red marks which Spinelli’s unanticipated bite had left on his hand, it would bruise, but thankfully the bite hadn’t broken through skin.  He hadn’t realized that he’d been gripping the injured man so hard. 

“Sorry Spinelli,” he apologized, giving the younger man a contrite, yet stern look.

Spinelli glared mutinously back at him and Jason sighed.

“I didn’t realize that I was causing you pain,” he amended.

Spinelli contemplated the alien-man before him, reading remorse in the sag of his tense shoulders. 

Nodding slightly in acceptance of Stone Cold’s apology, Spinelli murmured out a terse, “Apology accepted,” before looking away and staring at back of the couch.

“What’s the plan Jase?” Sam asked.

“With the power out, using the elevator is out of the question,” he thought aloud, “that leaves us with the stairs.” 

He groaned inwardly as he thought of navigating the twenty-five flights of stairs in the dark while carrying Spinelli.  It was bound to be rough and cause the younger man an excruciating amount of pain.

“I’ll go ahead, and light the way with the flashlight,” Sam’s voice betrayed a sense of relief and resolve now that it seemed they would be getting out of the entrapping penthouse and that Jason had a plan.

“Right,” Jason agreed, wondering how best to pick up Spinelli. 

He wanted to avoid causing him any more pain and yet knew that it would be inevitable.  He vowed instead to cause him as little additional pain as possible, hating that, no matter what he did, it would cause Spinelli to suffer further.  The boy had already endured more anguish than he ever should have, and, by the sound of it, the majority of it had been caused by those he’d initially trusted.

Fuck.  He hated to be yet another bad guy in Spinelli’s life, temporary though the situation would be; it would seem to last forever in Spinelli’s mind. 

Why the hell couldn’t the idiot ambulance driver have driven a little more safely?  There was a fucking storm going on around them and the dimwit had to get in an accident.  An ambulance was no doubt tied up in rescuing the moron who was supposed to be helping Spinelli and bringing him to the hospital. 

He uncharitably wished death upon the ambulance driver who’d crashed and single-handedly forced him to be Spinelli’s self-appointed tormentor and savior in one fell-swoop. It wasn’t fair, to either of them.

“How do you wanna do this Jason?” 

Sam, anxious to get moving, remained seated on Spinelli’s legs, waiting for Jason to make an executive decision.  Her nerves were frayed to the point of breaking and she didn’t quite trust herself to make life or death decisions for her investigative partner. 

They were somewhat close, but he and Jason were far more intimate friends than Sam could ever hope to be with the younger man.   She knew that Spinelli liked her and valued her input and friendship and liked having her around, but it was nothing on the scale of what he felt for Jason.

Spinelli was devoted to Jason in a way he’d never be devoted to anyone else and Jason conversely so.  They had a camaraderie which belied their many differences in personality and demeanor.  They complimented each other like a strong, flavorful pepper jack cheese paired with rich, full-bodied sangria.  Spinelli was flight and fancy to Jason’s anchor and root in reality. 

Both men were committed to each other in a way that sometimes made Sam feel as though she was an outsider.  She was jealous, in a way, of their fidelity to each other and often felt as though she was an intruder in the penthouse, even though she was Jason’s wife.  Neither man had ever gone out of his way to make her feel unwelcome; as a matter of fact, both men had done everything in their power to make her feel at home, and yet, she didn’t. 

Now she understood that, even were Spinelli to move out of the appropriately named regrettably pink room, no one would be able to forcibly remove him from Jason’s heart and vice versa.  They were one and the same – twinned.  Spinelli’s pain was Jason’s; Jason’s, Spinelli’s.

Spinelli couldn’t die.  She wouldn’t allow it.  If he did, he’d take an invaluable part of Jason with him.

Chapter Text

“Sam, get off his legs, I’m going to lift him,” Jason’s voice was purposefully harsh. 

He had to act quickly and without too much consideration for the additional pain he’d be causing Spinelli because it was inevitable.  He couldn’t let it immobilize him.  If he did, it could cost Spinelli his life.

Spinelli felt as though his legs were floating free when Sam stood up from securing them beneath her lithe frame.  They felt foreign to him and, try as he might, he still couldn’t move them as they refused to comply with his directions, much to his consternation.

“Spinelli, on the count of three, I’m going to lift you…it’s going to hurt, I need you to be brave, okay?”

Jason waited a heartbeat, concentrating on Spinelli’s face, frowning slightly when it appeared as though the younger man hadn’t even heard him.  He was instead staring resolutely at the end of the couch, an intense look marring his features.  He was clammy with cold sweat, giving him an unhealthy, pasty glow.

“Spinelli!”  Jason’s firm tone brought Spinelli’s wounded gaze up to his illumined visage and Jason raised an eyebrow at the stubborn pout his roommate cast in his direction.

 “The ambulance isn’t coming.  I need to get you to the hospital.  I have to carry you.  Do you understand?”  He enunciated each word as though he was speaking to a two-year-old, the words echoed in the small space between them.  The muscle along Jason’s jaw twitched as he waited for Spinelli’s answer.

“The Jackal comprehends Stone Cold’s clearly communicated correspondence,” Spinelli’s voice, though soft carried an ample amount of disdain for the manner in which his mentor had chosen to address him.

“Good,” Jason ignored Spinelli’s rancor, “I’m only going to say this once.  Listen carefully.” 

He waited until a very sulky Spinelli was actually looking at him. 

“I’m sorry.  I don’t want to cause you any more pain, but I will do what is necessary to get you the help that you need.  Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Spinelli seemed to fold in on himself and Jason chided himself for speaking so bluntly, yet it had to be done.  He couldn’t endure to have Spinelli thinking that he was punishing him like his Uncle Davy or whatever it was that this latest bout of fear had been brought on by.

“Good.  Now, I’m going to count to three and I’m going to pick you up off the couch.”

Spinelli nodded; his brow furrowed slightly as he thought through what Jason had said.

“The Jackal must vehemently protest Stone Cold’s proposed course of action.”

“What?”  Jason had already begun the mental countdown and had leaned forward to pick up his roommate.

“The only manner in which the Jackal will be leaving casa de la Stone Cold will be on his own two very capable legs propelled by his own two feet,” he protested and scowled when Jason’s arm forestalled his attempt to rise.

“Damn it,” Jason swore and straightened, ignoring the twinge of pain as his knee popped into place.

Trust the kid to be stubborn at the most inopportune time.  Spinelli looked peaked and in shock and here he was protesting his only means of transportation.  Sometimes, for all of his smarts, Spinelli could be a real idiot.

Jason unceremoniously plucked Spinelli off the couch, grasping the afghan draped over the back of the couch and gingerly wrapping Spinelli in it as he lifted him.  He briefly closed his eyes to block out the way Spinelli’s face scrunched up in agony, but was unable to ignore his roommate’s stifled yelp of pain which accompanied his abrupt actions.  No time for remorse, he thought ruefully.

“Sam, lead the way,” he ordered. 

His mouth was set in a thin line.  His knee creaked and ached as he took a step forward.  Spinelli wasn’t by any means overweight or bulky, but his added weight was going to take a toll on the minor injury to his knee.

“Put your arm around my neck,” Jason directed Spinelli as he leaned against the doorframe, readjusting his hold on Spinelli so that it would be more comfortable for the both of them. 

They had a hallway and an innumerable amount of stairs to make it down before they reached their initial destination, the SUV.  Jason wanted to be sure that he had a good enough hold on Spinelli so that he wouldn’t drop him and that his muscles wouldn’t weaken too quickly.  He knew that they would burn and tense and he mentally prepared himself to withstand the strain his precious cargo would extract from him. It wasn’t even a thought that he wouldn’t do this.

Blushing slightly at the indignity of being carried like a wayward child who’d fallen asleep in the car or simply refused to walk, Spinelli bit off the protest before it found its way to his lips and complied.  He wrapped his arm around Stone Cold’s neck, noting, with envy, how muscular his mentor was.  He was such a wimp by comparison. 

Sure, he was smart, but, well, he’d kind of rather have a musculature similar to Stone Cold’s than smarts.  Then, he’d be able to take care of himself when things like this happened.  Just like Stone Cold, he wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else for help.

He was surprised at how winded he felt when he’d finally managed to bring his arm up and around Stone Cold’s neck.  It had taken an inordinate amount of effort and he felt unduly tired for having accomplished such a simple task.  He had to suck in shallow breaths to counteract the inexplicable pain and muscle fatigue which accompanied his minute actions.

He was ashamed that he had to be carried and highly doubted that Stone Cold would have subjected himself to the self-same treatment he was requiring of his grasshopper.  His master would indubitably have left the penthouse of his own accord, not that Spinelli could have carried him if their situations had been reversed.  He shuddered at the thought and felt Stone Cold’s grip on him tighten in response and found, much to his chagrin, that it was as comforting as it was disconcerting.

Exhausted beyond all comprehension, Spinelli let his head rest against Stone Cold’s chest, hoping that the man wouldn’t mind as he didn’t think he had the strength, pathetic as he was, to hold his head up at the moment.  Whether Stone Cold and Cool Sam were aliens or not, he was beginning to understand that he would be unable to navigate the dark terrain on his own and that he, against all common sense, was going to have to trust them.  His body and even his brain just hurt too damn much for him to do much else.

Sam waited for Jason to adjust to Spinelli’s weight, watching the pair through the fringe of her bangs.  The flashlight bathed them in a cool light and gave her a distorted view of them.  From her vantage in the darkened hallway, it looked as though the two were a strange amalgamation of one.  It was oddly discomfiting, but she shook it off as another vagary of the nerve-wracking night.

The light from the flashlight flickered, bouncing off the beige walls before it colored the corridor in a soft yellow glow as Sam steadied it and surged forward, responding as much to the urgency in Jason’s voice as Spinelli’s sharp intake of breath.  She did not dare look back, trusting that Jason would follow the wending light.

A streak of lightning hissed, cutting a jagged line through the stormy sky.  It was followed by a deafening crack of thunder which reverberated in the eerily empty hallway.  Sam jumped involuntarily and resolutely straightened herself as she continued to guide the way to the stairwell which would lead them to the parking garage.  It wouldn’t do for her to jump at the slightest sound, Jason and, by extension, Spinelli, was counting on her to keep the light steady.

She shivered and shook off the sudden sense of trepidation which had settled upon her.  The dark hallway loomed ahead of her; the beam of the flashlight kept the shadows at bay as she approached the heavy steel door, giving them access to the lower floors as well as the roof.

A tiny spark of hope blossomed in her chest and died immediately as she wrenched the door open and the recesses of the stairwell were solidly cloaked by the inky darkness which had permeated the penthouse.  There was no backup power generator to light their way.  That responsibility rested solely upon her shoulders and the dinky neon green flashlight she’d fished out of Jason’s catchall drawer, a flimsy weapon against the all-encompassing darkness.

She wielded the flashlight before her, sending shadows scattering in dizzying arrays where the hesitant shaft of light bent and twisted them against the cold concrete backdrop of the crepuscular stairwell.  Something fluttered overhead and Sam squeaked, brushing at her hair irrationally as she trained the flashlight in the hall behind her, waiting for Jason and Spinelli to join her, fearing that she’d gone too quickly, taking the all-important light with her in her haste to lead them all to safety.

Damn, she should have thought of that before she’d taken off ahead of them.  She hoped that Jason hadn’t been struggling with his burden in utter darkness as she made her way steadily down the hallway. 

“I think you’d better go ahead of me, I’ll stay close behind and aim the light before you,” Sam suggested when Jason hastened to her side, carrying a pale and shaky Spinelli in his arms.

“I think it’d work better that way,” Sam offered by way of explanation when Jason deferred to comment.

“Fine,” Jason answered shortly as he squeezed around her and stepped into the stygian interior of the stairwell. 

Spinelli’s hand clenched into a fist in the fabric of Jason’s tee-shirt as the door clicked shut with a resounding clang behind them, swathing them in an inky black which the flashlight, clutched tight in Sam’s hand, did little to sway.  A soft moan accompanied the slight tension of his frame and Spinelli struggled to keep a second one from escaping his lips.

Jason cataloged Spinelli’s pain as something he would make up for later.  He took a steadying breath, ignoring the throbbing pain radiating from his banged-up knee and followed the insubstantial, yet solid stream of light Sam shot ahead of them.  He could do this.  He had to do this, no other choice, really.  Someone’s life rested, quite literally, in his arms.  Failure was not an option.

The passage between the rails of the ugly staircase and the wall was narrow.  Jason had to take a moment to readjust his grip yet again so as not to accidentally knock Spinelli’s head against the rusty metal railing.  He made a mental note to talk to the building’s maintenance team about getting the railings repaired as the thought of Spinelli’s head inadvertently making contact with the decaying metal was cause for concern.  Spinelli did not need to add the threat of tetanus to a growing list of injuries.

Spinelli drew in a shaky breath, his knuckles digging into Jason’s neck as he whimpered.  Oh god it hurts.  Can’t breathe…

“Shh, it’ll be okay,” Jason murmured, brushing a strand of sweaty hair from Spinelli’s forehead.

Preceded by the transient beam of light, Jason made his way down the first flight of stairs, inching foot by foot along each shadowed step, mindful of cushioning Spinelli’s head when he reached the first twist in the stairwell.  It was painstakingly slow going and Jason’s knee protested each bend, but he kept on going, riding out the adrenaline rush, milking it for all it was worth. 

At first, each step down elicited a pain-filled groan from Spinelli as his injured body was inadvertently jarred.  Jason’s heart clenched and fluttered uncomfortably each time, lending him a moment’s more adrenaline at Spinelli’s cost.  Sweat dotted his forehead and he kept his eyes steadily on the flickering light, trusting that it would get them safely to the basement as quickly as possible.

First flight conquered, onto the second.  Take a second to breathe.  Keep going.  No time to stop.  No time to think.  Gotta get Spinelli to the hospital.  Follow the light.  We’ll make it.  Just one step at a time.

Sam followed as close behind as she dared, almost, but not quite touching Jason.  The shapes and shadows from the flashlight she held before her created an uneven light on the stairs.  It was almost as though they were traveling down a dark and twisting lane with only the yellow light painting a path on the stairs which would guide and keep them safe from the dangers which lay beyond its glowing arc.

The sudden vision of a girl dressed in blue gingham, wearing ruby red slippers following a winding yellow brick road came to the forefront of her mind and she quickly pushed it aside.  She was not Dorothy, Spinelli was not the scarecrow and Jason was not the Tin Man.  This was not some fairytale, though there would be a happy ending if she had to call in a favor with the Wizard of Oz.  Hell, she’d go toe-to-toe with the devil himself if it was necessary.

“How you doing Spinelli?” Jason asked breathlessly as he twisted around a corner, mindful of Spinelli’s head.

“Okay,” Spinelli answered out of habit, voice weak with pain. 

An unbidden whimper escaped his parched lips and he buried his head into Jason’s chest. He hurt everywhere, but didn’t want to worry Jason unnecessarily. The man was already carrying him down the stairs like some damnable damsel in distress.  The least he could do was deal with a little bit of pain, like his steadfast master would.

Jason had to strain to hear the quiet response and fear tightened its ungainly fist around his heart.  The heretofore steady beam of the flashlight flickered and the storm raging outside took this moment to remind them of its presence with an earth quaking boom of thunder which shook the very foundations of Harborview Towers.  Spinelli cried out in fear and Jason absentmindedly ran a hand through the young man’s hair.

It was an unwelcome reminder that once they reached the end of the dark, but dry stairwell, they’d have to face the full fury of the storm currently raining it's vengeance down upon the forsaken city of Port Charles.  Jason didn’t even dare to hope that the storm would lessen by the time they’d made it to the SUV.

“Good,” Jason mustered as much goodwill as he could into that single word response.  Spinelli’s head bobbed and lolled against his chest and his arm slackened its grip around his neck.

“Hold on Spinelli, we got a few more flights to go here,” Jason aimed for lighthearted and settled for something just a shade short of morose. 

A little white lie won’t hurt either of us, he reasoned as he looked into the darkness that lay ahead.  Countless, shadow-blackened steps awaited their decent.

“You okay Jason?” Sam was pressed up lightly against his back, the beam of the flashlight canted off the floor before them at a skewed angle.

Jason stiffened, straightening his back.

“Yeah, just taking a breather before we hit the next flight,” he said to assure himself as much as Sam and the boy he carried in his arms.

“C’mon Spinelli,” Jason urged when the hacker’s arm slipped a little more, falling out behind them.  “You got to hold on just a little while longer,” he lied.

Spinelli blinked and took in a shuddering breath as he maneuvered his arm, with Sam’s help, so that it was resting once more around Jason’s neck.  He whimpered and bit down hard on his bottom lip as a fresh wave of pain rolled over him.

Jason’s jaw popped and his gut clenched at the tiny whimper.  Taking a deep, fortifying breath, he once more began the interminable descent into the darkness below.

Breathe, shuffle, twist, bend the knee, step down, straighten, breathe and begin again.  Jason got into a rhythm and, though sweat began to pool on his forehead and drip into his eyes, he continued his laborious descent, counting mindlessly as he went.

One-hundred twenty, hundred twenty-one, hundred twenty-two, hundred twenty-three…hundred thirty-seven, crap, turn…watch out for Spinelli’s head.  That’s it…hundred forty, hundred forty-one, hundred forty-two, hundred forty-three, hundred forty-four, ouch, damn knee…where the fuck’s the light? 

It took a moment for it to register in his mind that the light which had been guiding them down the steps was missing and he’d taken the remaining steps down to the next landing without thinking, operating solely on autopilot.  He came to an abrupt halt in the pitch-dark stairwell, body moving forward slightly on momentum until he brought it to a standstill.

“Sam?”  His voice was gruff with thirst, anger and worry.  Sweat stung his eyes and he drew in a long, shuddery breath of air.

“Sorry Jason,” Sam’s voice floated down to him from somewhere above.  Apparently the lack of light had made itself known to her far sooner than it had Jason.  “I’m working on it.” 

A loud clink and clang followed her stricken declaration and faded, recalcitrant light flickered and died before coming to life once again on a soft, bitter anathema from Sam.

“Got it!” She exclaimed, the triumph clear in her voice. 

When the light had first flickered and failed, she’d felt a constriction around her heart as the darkness enveloped her.  Her step faltered and she’d come to a careening halt.  She couldn’t see the hand she held up in front of her face let alone Jason and Spinelli.  Her heart thudded in her chest and she fought her inclination to shout out in fear.

She stood unmoving, barely breathing, willing her heart to stop its mad assault against her ribcage.  Over the pounding of her heart, she could hear the steady cadence of Jason’s boots click-clacking against the concrete and she breathed a sigh of relief, placing her own foot on the next step.

Letting out a second shaky breath when Jason’s descent suddenly ceased, she held her breath and waited, listening intently.  Spinelli’s soft mewl of discomfort drifted up to her and she suppressed her own matching sob.

Jason’s voice, steel-edged and commanding broke through her panic and she rubbed her sweaty palms on her jeans before slapping the errant flashlight against her thigh.  Surely the batteries couldn’t be dead yet…She nearly cried in relief when the light flickered on and light continued to emit from it after she’d whacked it against her thigh a third time. 

She practically flew down the stairs separating her from Jason and Spinelli, stopping just in time to avoid a collision.  The light issuing from the flashlight was dim, but stable as she trained it on the steps which lay ahead.  How many had they gone down already?  How many were left?  There seemed to be an unending supply of them.

“Steady there Spinelli,” Jason encouraged the whimpering young man. 

His fingers were once again fisted in Jason’s tee-shirt and his breathing came in laborious, yet shallow pants.  His other hand clawed at the afghan draped around him as he rode out the latest onslaught of torture brought on by his stomach wound.

Jason lost count of the stairs as he resumed the descent into the never-ending abyss.  His mounting concern for Spinelli, whose death grip on the neck of his tee-shirt was just short of choking him, overrode everything else as he mindlessly continued his downward spiral.  His only thought was to get Spinelli to safety so that he could be made well and whole once more.

Though the light which showed them the way was faint, Jason followed it as a lifeline, putting his faith in its ability to continue to give off just the right amount of luminescence they needed to make it through this momentary darkness.  Such faith was normally reserved for a hallowed few who’d earned it via blood, sweat and even tears, not haphazardly placed in inanimate objects or people who popped in and out of his life. 

His faith was not arbitrarily placed because he’d learned, the hard way, that when faith was given indiscriminately, disappointment would be the least of the repercussions.  He hoped that his trust would not be in vain, that the light which had thus far, aside from a brief lapse, acted as bellwether paving the way, would continue to remain faithful to them. 

He would not tolerate a single mote of hypocrisy; not when it could cost the life of one of his best friends.  He had precious few of them as it was, and Spinelli was, his steps faltered and he was nearly felled as the thought struck home, more than just a good friend. 

The young, artless man had made a singular niche for himself deep within what had long ago been a sepulcher of death and mulch within his toughened heart.  It was an amazing, foolhardy grace that Jason had, until this moment, taken for granted.  It was merely momentum which kept him moving and his feet from stumbling on the next couple of steps as the thought slid home. 

Spinelli was not someone he simply tolerated, like an acquaintance or an associate, though at first, it had been like that.  He hadn’t approved of some of the Spinelli’s choices and had been barely able to stand his presence when he’d first brought him home.  He had only taken him in because of a sense of obligation and a knowing that, on his own, the young hacker’s life would have been smote out on the whim of one mobster or another.  It was a guilt he’d be unable to rationalize away, and so he’d given him a place to stay instead.

In the beginning, it had been a tenuous alliance at best.  Spinelli had gotten on his nerves and his unwavering loyalty, which Jason felt had been unearned until more recently, grated against his conscience. 

He hadn’t liked the boy and yet Spinelli had been and continued to be unfaltering in his fidelity to him.  He’d loved and followed him unquestioningly, like a devoted puppy who continued to love his master even when pushed aside and severely maltreated. Had he finally understood and come to value Spinelli as a loved one only to lose him to something completely out of his control?

Spinelli moaned plaintively and the fingers twined in the neck of Jason’s tee-shirt tightened, this time choking his transporter.  But Spinelli remained oblivious to Jason’s distress as an intense pain ripped through him.  He was no longer cognizant of where he was or who was holding him; the only thing which existed for him was the siren call of pain and suffering so concentrated that it swallowed him whole in its thick, constricting embrace.

“Spinelli,” Jason sputtered.  Though he was finding it difficult to breathe, he did not stop moving.  His steps remained quick and sure.

He could do nothing to remove Spinelli’s fingers from his shirt, could only hope that the pain which had caused this unbidden attempt to strangle him would soon come to an end so that he could breathe more comfortably.  Sweat was now coating his forehead and continued to drip into his eyes and his knee   had gone from a burning ache to an unsettling numbness and still, he did not stop. 

He’d lost all track of time as each step melded seamlessly into another.  How many flights had he mastered?  How many more remained?  How many times had he swiveled Spinelli’s head around a tricky corner terrified that he would inadvertently bump it against the rusty railing? 

Though Jason surmised that only minutes had passed since entering the lightless labyrinth, it felt like he’d been slogging through the dark quagmire for endless hours.  Spinelli’s grip tensed and then his fingers went slack and Jason’s heart skipped a beat, skittering in his chest once he realized that Spinelli’s arm was still slung around his shoulders and not hanging limp behind them creating yet one more obstacle for him to watch out for.

He silently thanked whatever deity might be watching them in their mad dash through the ill-lit corridor.  The light had not completely failed them yet and Spinelli was still somewhat capable of keeping ahold of him.  He was evermore the puppy awaiting praise for fulfilling his master’s unspoken command. Jason wordlessly commended him, saving his grasshopper’s well-earned acclaim for later, when he’d be more aware.  Right now Jason doubted that Spinelli would hear a single word he uttered.

Sam concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and focusing the beam of the flashlight continually before them.  Without missing a step, she wiped at the sweat gathering on her brow with the back of her hand, ignoring the muscle fatigue which threatened to claim her and render her useless. 

Both Jason’s and Spinelli’s safety rested on her ability to keep it together, to hold the light tenable before them.  She’d nearly been undone when it had stopped working earlier and she’d lost the boys to the swift, now hated darkness. 

No question about it, a nightlight would be featuring in her nights for the foreseeable future.  From the discovery of Spinelli, brutalized by an unseen foe, in the gloomy kitchen, to the storm-induced power outage, to the aphotic stairwell she now found herself in, the night had been a nightmare of obscure shadows, pockmarked with grisly images of blood which had not halted their attack on her mind since she’d first seen the knife sticking out of her amiable partner. 

Why anyone would wish to harm the sweet, young man was lost on her.  None of this night made any sense, save for Jason’s unfailing, take-charge attitude for which she was more than grateful.  He, and the working flashlight, was what had been keeping her from falling apart.

The beam of the flashlight tapered and waffled, casting long, garbled shadows on the concrete walls which Sam found unnerving.  The light grew in intensity for a few seconds, and then dimmed perceptibly, giving them only a weak, diluted path to follow.

Sam prayed that the light would not quit on them as it had earlier.  They needed it more than they’d needed anything ever before.  All else which had come before this moment had been meager shadows, preparation, for what was happening here and now.  Neither light nor Jason could fail; Sam’s trust rested unreservedly in both as did Spinelli’s very life.

The formerly faithful light which had guided them down the first several flights of stairs almost without a hitch continued to weaken, sputtering every now and then to a brightness which belied its size before succumbing fully to the surrounding darkness.  Sam lost her footing and fell heavily onto the landing, slamming her elbow on the steps below her.

“Ouch! Shit!” 

She fumbled with the flashlight.  Its metallic surface was slippery in her palms, and, though she managed to eke out some light from it by tightening the loose head, it slid from fingers slick with sweat.  She scrambled after it, reaching out with dull fingers, watching in mute horror as it bounced from stair to stair, always just out of her reach. She crab-crawled down the stairs after it, her elbow screaming in pain at her failed attempt to retrieve the rebellious flashlight.

It threw sidelong ghostly beams of diffused light onto the walls, ceiling and railings, creating odd, misshapen shadows in its wake as it continued to jump from stair to stair.  It skittered toward Jason’s feet and Sam’s mouth opened in a silent scream of warning as Jason’s foot, balanced precariously mid-step almost stepped upon it. 

Unheeded, it continued to bounce jauntily down the stairs, finally smacking into a corner of the wall and flying toward a railing.  It went sailing past the railing and down the middle of the dark corridor, its light forever lost in the stairwell’s deep chasm below.  Sam choked back a howl of anger and pain.  She’d lost the flashlight, their beacon. Her elbow smarted and she couldn’t see or hear Jason.

“Sam, what the hell?”

Jason’s accusatory voice reached her as though from a supreme distance, and, though he sounded pissed, she welcomed it. She wasn’t alone in the dark, and though she felt selfish admitting it, she was happy not to be alone.

Jason’s heart hammered in his chest as the light suddenly went all wonky and he was met once more with a nebulous darkness, the tentacles of which reached for and grabbed at him, immersing him and Spinelli in its lurid pool.  The darkness was punctuated by a resounding clamor as, what he assumed to be an out-of-control flashlight, fell down the stairs, heading directly for him and Spinelli.

He sent an ill-worded prayer up to the same deity he wasn’t sure existed that he wouldn’t trip over the tumbling flashlight.  An epigrammatic suspiration of inarticulate praise flitted through his mind when he narrowly missed stepping directly onto the flashlight as it zoomed past them before zinging off the wall and being flung down the center of the now blackened stairwell.

He hadn’t meant to snap at Sam.  He knew that she hadn’t purposefully lost hold of the flashlight.  But there was an irrational, overtired side of him which had to affix blame for the horrors of this night on someone and right now, Sam was a convenient target. 

He’d only asked one thing of her, to hold the fucking flashlight, and she’d failed in that small task.  His knee buckled and he swore aloud, causing Spinelli to start and gasp in pain as he tried to jerk away from an angry Jason.

“Shh, Spinelli, shit, it’s okay.”

Jason’s jaw creaked with the effort it took him to stop the string of swearwords which wanted so badly to find voice.

“Stupid, fucking idiot,” Jason couldn’t help swearing as the injustice of it all settled on his shoulders. 

How the fuck was he supposed to get Spinelli to the hospital now when he couldn’t even see the fucking wall in front of him, couldn’t even tell where the next step was. 

“God, fucking, damn it!  Utterly fucking useless.” 

His blasphemy echoed in the close confines of the stairwell, ringing loudly in his ears and he felt Spinelli tremble.

Spinelli gripped Jason’s shirt in his hand, trying to pull himself up into a position so that he could lower himself to the ground.  Stone Cold was mad at him and had every right to be.  He was nothing but a useless waste of space, an unworthy burden to his mentor.

“Sorry, sorry,” he uttered between painful gasps.  “Just, please, Stone Cold, h…help me down.  I…the…the Jackal won’t be any more trouble,” Spinelli sputtered, certain that Stone Cold’s profanities had been aimed at him, who else was useless?  He had to get away.  Had to stop being a nuisance before Stone Cold’s hatred of him was irrevocable.

“Just…just p…put m…me down, I…” Spinelli drew in a shuddery breath and held it, “I… can w…walk,” Spinelli begged feebly, tears spilling over as he wept. 

“J…just give me a s…” he hiccoughed, “second chance.  I promise…prom…ise, I won’t mess up again, Stone Cold.  I’ll…I’ll be g…good.  I…I…I can w…walk…” his voice, wary with apprehension as he felt Stone Cold tense, hitched on a broken sob. “W…won’t be a b…” his breath caught in his throat a and he swallowed, “burden.”

Devastated, Jason’s heart plummeted in his chest as Spinelli struggled ineffectually against his ironclad grasp.  Terrified that Spinelli would injure himself even more, he hugged the boy to himself, resting his forehead against Spinelli’s, observing that it was swathed in a cool sweat.

“Shhh…Spinelli,” Jason attempted to shush the frantic boy in his arms. 

He should’ve kept his temper in check, should’ve known that Spinelli would assume he was talking about him.  He’d always taken things to heart and thought the worst of himself, but, truth was, Spinelli was not a burden, had never really been, even back when he’d first moved into the penthouse.  It had been difficult for Jason to transition from living alone to having a roommate, but, looking back, he wouldn’t take back his invitation for Spinelli to stay.

“Spinelli, I’m sorry…it’s not you,” he promised the panicky young man.  “I just…lost my temper for a minute there.  Sam,” he swallowed his anger toward the woman as he reasoned that she hadn’t meant to lose the flashlight.  It wasn’t something she’d planned and his annoyance toward her and the situation would not help Spinelli, it would only serve to frighten him more.

“Sam lost the flashlight,” he finished in a hoarse whisper.  “I was… upset about that, not at you.”

“If…if the… Ja…Jackal hadn’t been so s…stupid in… the f…first place, n…none of … of th…this would have ha….happened,” Spinelli gasped out, misery dripping from every word he spoke.

“What the hell are you talking about?” 

Now Jason was angry at his protégé and he let some of the anger he felt leak into his voice.  He pulled back slightly.  His forehead no longer quite resting against Spinelli’s, but still close enough that the heat emanating from him warmed Spinelli.

Spinelli could only think: Does not compute, but he doubted that Stone Cold would appreciate the phrase.  And, he didn’t think he had the energy to explain to his mentor that, if he had been more careful, if he had been able to fight off his attacker, then, they’d all be safely tucked away in the penthouse, enjoying their separate evenings.  Stone Cold and Fair Samantha would be enjoying a rare evening alone together; he’d be traversing the superhighways of the internet. 

Instead, Stone Cold was risking life and limb to cart his injured roommate down flight after flight of stairs; Fair Samantha, and her trusty little flashlight, acting as conductor to this madcap dash.  In the end, he simply wasn’t worth it.

“’M not worth it Stone Cold,” he breathed out wearily.

“Goddammit Spinelli,” Jason swore, punctuating each word with a quiet exclamation, “Yes! You! Are!  Worth! It! This is not your fault; so, shut the fuck up about it.  I won’t have you badmouthing one of my best friends to my face.  Understand?”

Spinelli grappled with Stone Cold’s harsh words, trying to work out what he meant by them.  Does not compute…does not compute…surely he…no…it can’t be…he couldn’t be saying…could he?  Stone Cold does not feel for you the same way you feel about him, his inner traitor intoned negatively.

“Do you understand?” Jason asked once more.

Spinelli nodded, and then shook his head.  He’d apprehended Stone Cold’s words in a literal sense and, yet, he couldn’t fathom his master’s meaning.

“Spinelli,” Jason’s voice was weary and strained, “I don’t blame you for any of this.  What happened isn’t your fault, and…you’re worth more than an evening between Sam and me.” 

There, he’d said it.  He just hoped that his words weren’t lost on his wounded friend and that his wife would understand.

“O…okay,” Spinelli managed. 

There was still a large part of him which called him a fool for even thinking of taking Stone Cold’s words at face value, but he chose to ignore it.  He didn’t have the strength necessary to carry on an inner argument with himself.

“Good.”

Jason nodded. Touching his forehead to Spinelli’s once more in a brief offer of comfort, he pulled away and squared his shoulders. 

“Okay, now we have several more flights of stairs ahead and no light.  It’s going to be slow going, but I promise you that I’ll get you down them.”

“The Jackal trusts in his mentor’s ability to navigate through the nebulous corridor with great acuity.”

 Spinelli smiled at having been able to speak, unhindered by his increasing difficulty to breathe evenly. Though his words had come out barely audible, he trusted that, in the overwhelming quietness of the stairwell, Stone Cold had heard every word he’d spoken.

Sam hesitated on the steps behind the pair, fearful of intruding on the moment, fearful of incurring Jason’s wrath.  She hadn’t missed his exclamations and knew, rightly, that they had been directed at her, rather than at Spinelli.  And, though she was hurt, she understood.  Jason had been counting on her to provide light and she’d failed him; failed them. 

“Jason,” she spoke timidly, “I’m sorry.”

Sighing and bringing his swirling emotions under control for the sake of Spinelli, he nodded, belatedly realizing that Sam would be unable to see his gesture of tentative forgiveness in the darkness. 

“I know,” he offered tiredly as he silently counted to ten and then resumed his dark-hampered flight down the remaining steps.

Sam trailed behind, keeping, as best she could, an arm’s length away from Jason.  It felt as though the darkness was closing in around her, drinking her in, erasing her bit-by-bit as she continued her descent.  If she was this frightened walking down the stairs of her own accord, she couldn’t even begin to imagine how scared Spinelli was.  For him, it must be like floating in a dark morass of nothing.

The going was slow, but Jason was once more working up a swift cadence, deftly putting one foot in front of the other without stumbling or banging Spinelli’s head against one of the rails.  He carefully felt out each step ahead with the toe of his boot before taking it down. 

Spinelli’s diminutive whimpers and pain-filled moans came at regular intervals and wore on him more than the dull aches in his knee, shoulders and lower back did.  He could hear Sam following not too far behind and was mildly relieved that she was still there. 

With the absence of light, it was hard to feel a connection to anyone or anything else other than the boy he was carrying.  He even felt distant, separate from himself, as though he was suspended in a vast void of nothingness.  Spinelli was the only thing which seemed real because he was a fixed weight in his arms, giving him a distinct purpose and goal which Jason vowed to attain.

Though the light was gone, Jason felt that he was making good time.  They no longer had the light, but they also no longer had the fear that it would peter out hanging over their heads, beleaguering them with the anxiety of losing it.

His pace had slowed considerably, but he hadn’t allowed fear of the unknown to keep him from continuing.  He trusted that he would be successful, that his knee would not give out, that the stairs were whole, in spite of the dismal state of the railings, and that the rest of their trek would be smooth sailing from here on out.  God knew that they deserved a break after everything else that had happened.  Even if he didn’t deserve one, Spinelli sure as hell did.

Chapter Text

A sense of confidence he’d been lacking since he’d discovered Spinelli in the kitchen not quite an hour ago filled Jason as he continued to steadily descend the stairs in the dark.  The absence of light no longer seemed an overwhelming obstacle.  Each step was where it should be; the turns came at regular intervals.  Jason reveled in the uniformity of the stairwell, praising whoever’d had a hand in constructing it.  They’d certainly known what they were doing.

Spinelli’s breathing had evened out, though whimpers and moans broke through the echoing sound of Jason’s boots as they clicked against the concrete, and he made no effort to talk, his head resting listlessly against his chest.  Sam’s smaller footsteps were barely audible, just loud enough to reassure Jason that she was making her way down at a matching pace, following at a safe enough distance so as not to accidentally bump into him.

Though his muscles strained with the effort it took to carry Spinelli down so many flights of stairs, it barely registered with him save for having to stretch or readjust his hold every now and again to make things more comfortable.  It wasn’t hard, after all, to carry one’s brother.  As a matter of fact, it was a matter of honor and pride, one he wouldn’t trade or share with anyone else.  He understood how soldiers could carry their grievously wounded buddies miles through enemy territory, unmindful of their own personal safety.

 Sam found the dark to be confining in its all-encompassing black.  Her elbow was stiff and swollen and it ached.  It was hot and stuffy in the enclosed stairwell and her hair stuck to her sweaty face as she concentrated solely on following Jason’s even footfalls.  She inwardly castigated herself for losing the flashlight.  If only she’d had a better grip on it.  If only her palms hadn’t been sweaty.  If only none of this had happened in the first place. 

She hadn’t missed Spinelli’s frenetic apology to Jason for what had transpired and it had made her sick with remorse for how she’d summarily dismissed Spinelli’s past misgivings about his personal self-worth.  She should have done more to help the younger man value himself.  He’d done so much to help Jason over the years.  He’d done more than enough to earn his place in the penthouse and then some.  He was also a damn good private detective.  His cyber skills were nothing to scoff at either.  He was invaluable, not only to Jason, but also to her.  When would he begin to realize this?  It was a pity that he felt he had to apologize for something that was not his fault.  She determined to show Spinelli just how valuable he was and to nag at Jason until he did the same.

Spinelli lamented that he was causing his mentor additional pain. He winced whenever Stone Cold grunted in exertion.  He also could not help but hear how quickly Stone Cold’s heart beat as his ear was pressed tight against the man’s firm chest and worried for his master’s wellbeing.  What if Stone Cold suffered a heart attack from the strain of carrying him?  He couldn’t abide that, would never be able to live with himself if he somehow survived and Stone Cold expired from overexerting himself in saving his protégé’s far less important life.

He could feel Stone Cold’s chest heave with the effort it took to take air into his lungs and his concern for the man escalated.  Spinelli was a weighty burden that no one should have to bear, let alone the man who was the epitome of manliness.  It would be a true tragedy were Stone Cold to be felled by his far less important grasshopper.

“Stone Cold,” Spinelli scowled at how weak his voice sounded; he wasn’t even sure that Stone Cold had heard him, he could barely hear himself.

There was no answer save for the resounding click of Jason’s booted heel as he continued, undisturbed, down the stairs.  Spinelli took a few shallow breaths; it was less painful that way, before attempting to garner his mentor’s attention once again.

“Stone Cold,” he spoke the two words as loudly as he could manage, grimacing at how the effort caused his stomach to burn when the muscles clenched around its steely intruder. 

He mentally fortified himself, if he couldn’t even manage to speak two words without eliciting excruciating pain, how was he going to manage what he was about to propose?  It was pathetic.

“Spinelli,” Jason puffed out between steps.  “Is everything okay?  You aren’t in anymore pain are you?”  Worry coated his voice and Spinelli frowned. 

“I’m fine,” Spinelli lied.  His stomach smoldered as it clenched.  He hoped that Jason had not heard the pain in his voice.

“Good, I think we’re almost halfway down now.”

Spinelli could hear the smile in Stone Cold’s grunted words and he hoped for his mentor’s sake that what he’d surmised was true.  If they were halfway down, what Spinelli was about to propose would make things much easier for the tiring man, and it should be far more manageable for him as well.  

“That being the case, the Jackal,” Spinelli paused to breathe, criticizing himself for his inability to speak without causing himself more pain.  It was downright humiliating and would do nothing to help him argue his case. 

“Would like to propose,” quick, shallow breath, wait out the pain, “that Stone Cold,” damn this dagger in my gut, “release his unwieldy,” inhale, “burden,” exhale, “so that he may rest.”  More than deservedly.

Two quick breaths, “The Jackal,” ouch, be a man, ignore the pain, “can surely,” why the hell is this so hard? “walk the,” ride out the fucking pain, don’t let it master you, “rest of the way on his own,” breathe in, breathe out, “two feet.” 

There – that had only taken a good two minutes to get out; it was bound to convince Stone Cold that he could walk the remainder of the steps on his own – not. Fuck, shit, goddamnit, ow!

“What’s that?”  Stone Cold’s voice was tense.

Jason had not stopped his mindless one-foot-in-front-of-the-other pace to listen to his Spinelli’s rambling suggestion, certain that it would be something with which he would be reluctant to comply.  He concentrated only on not tripping and not striking Spinelli’s head on the corroded railing.  Spinelli’s welfare was all that mattered at the moment.  Though he knew instinctively that it would hurt Spinelli that he hadn’t been listening to him, that mental wound was far less lethal than the physical one with which he was currently contending.

Spinelli didn’t know if he could possibly gather enough breath to repeat all that he’d said.  His heart fell at the thought that Stone Cold hadn’t been paying attention to him at all.  That speech, short as it was, had taken a lot out of him and Stone Cold didn’t care enough about him to even bother listening.  When this was all over, he’d be moving out of the penthouse for good.  If Stone Cold placed so little import on him, then he needn’t be bothered with him any longer.

It was completely lost on him that his mentor was doing everything in his power to save his life and that his personal value did not lay in cleverly worded phrases or in his willingness to lighten his master’s load, but rather in who he was and what he meant to his master.   As he pouted, mourning his incapacitated state and inability to clearly communicate his desires, he plotted his move, wondering if he could stay at the Metro Court for a month or so until he figured out what it was that he wanted to do.

“Spinelli?”  Jason pressed; he was suddenly worried that Spinelli had passed out as he hadn’t even heard so much as a whimper from him since he’d finished his short speech.

“I want to walk the rest of the way,” Spinelli had no trouble getting the words out as pain took a backseat to his self-righteous anger.   Hurt and annoyance colored his words.

Jason faltered on the next step.  He’d thought that they’d already dealt with this back in the penthouse.  He should’ve known that Spinelli wouldn’t let it drop and, that, with his blood loss, shock would cause him to be confused and irritable.

“No,” he replied tersely, regaining his momentum.  “Don’t ask again.”

Spinelli sputtered.  “Wh…a…hu…gah…the Jackal wasn’t requesting permission,” he managed to gasp out between breaths.  Incensed at Stone Cold’s audacity, Spinelli attempted to move his legs, but was mortified when they wouldn’t obey his wishes.

“I know it’s uncomfortable, but stay as still as you can,” Jason instructed.  His shoulders and arms had begun to grow numb and Spinelli’s movements, though they’d been slight, threatened to loosen his hold.  “Please,” he added as an afterthought, unaware of how anxious the single word sounded.

“Spinelli,” Sam called out, having overheard the exchange.  “Don’t worry about Jason.  Just do as he says.”  She hoped that she’d come to the right conclusion as to why Spinelli was once more demanding to walk.  “He’s got you.”

“Want to walk,” Spinelli insisted.  The pout was evident in his voice.

“Tell you what,” Sam spoke the way she would to a small child, sensing a change in Spinelli’s demeanor, “when this is all over, you can walk down every single stair on your own.  Okay?”

Jason bit his tongue.  What the hell was Sam going on about Spinelli worrying about him?  He wasn’t the one with a knife sticking out of him.  And what was this nonsense about Spinelli walking down twenty-five flights of stairs when he was well again?  He frowned when he felt Spinelli nod vigorously in agreement to Sam’s plan, doubting that, when all was said and done, Spinelli would be doing any such thing, especially not with a properly working elevator a few feet from their door.

“’Kay, promise?” Spinelli twisted his head, presumably to look at Sam, but only ended up smashing his face against Jason’s chest.

“Promise,” Sam’s voice held a note of amusement.

“Hey, how come it’s so dark?” His voice was muffled by Jason’s shirt and he turned his head so he could breathe easier.

Jason tensed and nearly missed the next step at the childlike quality of Spinelli’s voice.  Not again, he pleaded.  Please not Uncle Davy again. 

“There’s a thunderstorm,” Sam answered lightly.  “The power went out.”

“Oh,” Spinelli whispered.  Jason could almost hear the gears whirling in his mind as he thought about what he’d say next.

“Where’s the thunder?”

“You just missed it,” Sam lied easily. 

“How come you’re carrying me?”  Spinelli adjusted his face so that he was looking up at Stone Cold, even though he couldn’t see him in the darkness.

“Because you’re hurt,” Jason didn’t even make an effort to temper his voice.

“Oh,” Spinelli frowned as he considered Stone Cold’s words.  He thought some and then nodded.  His tummy didn’t feel too good.

“Where’re you taking me?”

“To the hospital,” Jason ground out.

“Oh,” Spinelli pondered the situation, “must be hurt real bad then.”

“You’ll be fine,” Jason assured him, not willing to give him any cause to panic.

In spite of Spinelli’s devolvement into a childish state, he was being far less difficult to handle.  He was no longer squirming and his pain seemed to have ebbed or maybe, Jason hated the thought, his younger self was simply more used to pain and was better able to handle it.

“Will it hurt?”  Spinelli’s voice was small and the hand holding onto the collar of Jason’s shirt tightened its grip.

“Will what hurt?”  Jason had no clue what Spinelli was asking. Wasn’t he already hurting?

“The doctors,” his soft voice was petulant, not understanding how the strong man could not know what he was asking, “will they hurt me?”

“No, they won’t hurt you,” Jason rushed to reassure him, “they’ll make you feel better.”

“You sure?” 

The only other time Spinelli remembered going to see a doctor had not been fun at all.  It had hurt and he was scared that the same thing would happen this time too.  He knew that doctors were supposed to make you all better, but, if that was the case, then how come the doctor he’d seen had made him feel even worse? 

“Yes, Spinelli, I’m sure.”  Jason assured him.

Spinelli wanted to trust the man holding him, but didn’t know if he could.  He sounded sure enough, but what if he was lying just to get him to trust him.  His Uncle Davy had done that many times.

“It won’t hurt?” Spinelli questioned again.

“The doctors will make you better,” Jason hedged. 

He didn’t want to promise Spinelli that there wouldn’t be any pain, because the doctors would have to assess the wound, and, that would hurt.  On the other hand, he didn’t want to tell him that it would hurt, in case he became agitated.

“Spinelli,” Sam’s voice drifted to them through the darkness, “it might hurt, just a little… at first, but then you’ll feel much, much better.”

Jason hissed as he bit back a sharp retort.  What the fuck was Sam thinking telling Spinelli that it would hurt when the kid was obviously terrified of going to the hospital as it was?

“I don’t want to hurt anymore,” Spinelli’s frightened voice tore at Jason’s heart.

“I know,” Jason spoke before Sam could respond.  “I don’t want you to hurt anymore either.”

“No one wants you to hurt anymore,” Sam rushed to add, lest her partner mistake the meaning of her words.  “But, sometimes it hurts a little more before it gets better.”

She didn’t want to frighten him, but didn’t think it would be good to lie to him.  His trust seemed so thin when he was in this frame of mind.  She knew that he’d take anything that she or Jason said at face value and that, if they lied, they’d lose his fragile trust and it would take a lot to regain.

“Why can’t you take care of me instead?” Spinelli asked Jason in a subdued voice.

“I would if I could,” Jason declared softly, “I would if I could.”

“He is Spinelli,” Sam offered in support, “he’s doing what he can to help you.  He’s taking care of you.” 

Sam didn’t want Jason to sell himself short.  He often took on monumental tasks for others, and hardly ever got any thanks for what he did.  Not that she felt Spinelli needed to thank Jason for what he was doing now, but, Jason needed to understand that he was doing what was best for Spinelli, that he wasn’t failing the young man. 

Jason could be so self-effacing with the amount of guilt he took on and Sam knew that he was feeling guilty for what had happened to Spinelli, even though it wasn’t his fault.   And, with Spinelli being so childish and completely out of character, she was willing to bet that Jason’s guilt was escalating rapidly.   It wouldn’t do any of them any good for Jason to let the guilt he felt over the situation eat at him.

“How many flights have we gone down?”  Jason asked. 

He was getting uncomfortable with the course of the conversation and wanted to take Spinelli’s, as well as his, mind off of what yet awaited them.  It wouldn’t help Spinelli to worry about undergoing treatment which would cause him more pain before it healed him. 

He had half a mind to tell Sam off for causing Spinelli even more distress.  He’d tensed up in his arms when Sam had spoken of how it might hurt before it got better.  He knew, intellectually, that Sam had meant her words to be comforting, but they’d had the opposite effect and it infuriated him.  She should have kept her thoughts to herself, he had things under control, would have known better than to lie and tell Spinelli that the doctor’s wouldn’t hurt him.  He understood Spinelli’s fear and just how precarious the ground was upon which his trust resided. Jason was loath to break that tentative trust; it’d cost him far more than he was willing to give in remuneration.

“I’m not sure,” Sam sighed. 

She could tell by the tone of his voice that Jason was irritated with her.  She’d only said what she’d felt needed to be said, and, once this was all over and Spinelli was recovering, they’d talk about what had happened, what had been said and what had not been said.  They’d talk about what had been hanging over their heads far before the fateful events of this evening.

It wasn’t just about Jason’s devotion to his work keeping them apart, making it impossible for them to spend time alone together.  She loved him, but didn’t know if he loved her in return.  He’d said the words, had made romantic gestures, and had even asked her to move into the penthouse, but, something seemed to be missing.  It felt as though there were some sort of wedge between them and she didn’t know whether or not it was worth it for them to attempt to remove it, provided that they could even identify what it was.

Watching Jason with Spinelli this evening made her heart ache for the child she’d lost, made her wonder what it would be like to have a child with Jason.  He’d make a wonderful father, in spite of his misgivings.  Adoption wasn’t out of the question for her, but, she knew how Jason felt about being a father.  He’d given up his own son to protect him.  Would give up his very life if he felt it were necessary.  Was this the wedge?

“See if you can make out the number on the next landing.” Jason left the please in his request unspoken.

“Sure.”

Sam sighed as she lifted the hair off the back of her neck for ventilation.  It was hot in the close confines of the Cimmerian corridor and the stairs seemed to be never-ending; it was depressing.  It would be good to see how much progress they’d made and how many more flights they had left.

When she reached the next landing, she felt out for the far wall with her hands, pulling them back with a gasp and shaking them to dispel the dusty spider web she’d encountered. Her elbow throbbed and she wiped her hands frantically on her jeans, brushing them through her hair to check for any more of the web or, even worse, the spider.  Her heart beat wildly as she imagined spiders crawling on her skin. 

She could feel them creeping along her arm as she fought for control over her imagination.  The darkness was not helping.  She closed her eyes and laughed hysterically at the uselessness of her action.  There was no difference, she was equally blind whether her eyes were open or closed and the imagined spiders were still tiptoeing their way along her arms, under her skin, beneath her shirt, in her hair.  She couldn’t get rid of them though she raked her hands down her body, scratching and clawing at them.

“Sam?”  Jason called back over his shoulder as he continued his descent. 

He could hear her strained laughter cut off by frightened sobs and, in spite of his focus on the stairs and Spinelli, he was worried.  He took the next step, accidentally slipping on it and twisting his foot at an awkward angle.  White hot pain shot up his leg, as his knee was wrenched in the process, and he held his breath before letting it out in short breathy pants.  He inadvertently tightened his grip on Spinelli.  He was deaf to the younger man’s aggrieved gasp as he hopped down the next three steps on his good leg in an attempt to regain his balance and not lose Spinelli.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, crap, shit… fuck!”  He couldn’t see past the red and white dots which flashed in and out his vision as he hobbled onward, gasping in pain, his knee bent in an instinctual effort to keep his weight off of it.

“No, no, no!” He shouted out in frustration as his knee refused to straighten and tears, borne of sheer pain, leaked from eyes scrunched up in agony.

Shaken from her spider web-induced imaginings, Sam snapped to attention when Jason swore.  She pushed away from the wall, not bothering to look for a number as she carefully made her way down the stairs to get to Jason and Spinelli.  She felt her way down, using the wall as her guide.

“Jason!”  She called out as she went, nearly losing her footing as she practically ran.

“Jason, are you okay?” She waited for his answer and when none came, her heart stopped for a split second as her imagination took over once again and she pictured Spinelli sprawled out on the steps, the knife skewering him like a shish-kabob.  

“Oh my god, is Spinelli okay?” She shouted.

“Jason!”  Sam’s voice reverberated in the cramped space as it bounced off the concrete entombing them.

“No…” Jason bit his bottom lip, head resting against the cool concrete wall he’d nearly collided with, Spinelli tucked up close to him.  “I mean, yes, Spinelli’s okay.”

“What happened?”  Sam asked. 

She was shaking as she placed a hand on Jason’s back.  It was wet, drenched in sweat, and she could feel the heat radiating from his body.

“Twisted my knee,” he said between shaky breaths.  “Were you able to work out a number?”

“No, oh god, I’m so sorry,” Sam’s head swam as she tried to figure out how they’d be able to make it down the rest of the stairs.  It seemed like ages ago that she’d spoken with the 9-1-1 operator.

“What can I do to help?” 

“Try calling 9-1-1 again, see if they can send someone.” Jason’s heart plummeted as he conceded defeat.

Sam dug the cellphone out of her back pocket and flipped it open.  The screen lit up and, for a second, Sam relished the light before her fingers flew over the number pad and she dialed.  Hitting speakerphone, she waited of an answer, getting only the warbled beep, beep, beep of a busy signal in return.

Shutting the phone and opening it once again, she redialed, hoping that the number would go through, cursing when it didn’t.  Three more times she dialed and waited and was met with the incessant beep of a busy signal. 

“Sam,” Jason’s voice was resigned, “stop.  It’s not going to get through.”

“Damn it!”  Sam snapped the phone open one more time, jabbing at the numbers with frozen fingers. 

She held her breath when the action was met with a dial tone and then sobbed when a rote message hailed them: “We’re sorry for any inconvenience, the networks are temporarily unavailable.  Hang up and dial the number at a later time…beep.”

God, or whoever the hell is listening, can’t you just give us a break here?  Jason inquired wearily.  I’m doing everything in my power here, a little help, please.  Not for me, for Spinelli.  He doesn’t deserve this.  I can’t do this on my own.  I can’t even straighten out my knee without seeing stars.  Damn knee.

“Am I going to die?”  Spinelli’s voice, scared and small, muffled by Jason’s tee-shirt, broke through Jason’s reverie.

“What?”  Jason’s voice betrayed none of his worries, “No, you’re not going to die.” 

“Okay,” Spinelli didn’t sound convinced.

“Jason, what’re we going to do?”  Sam’s cheek was resting against his back; she absentmindedly massaged the shoulder Spinelli’s arm was draped over.

“Get down the damn stairs,” he said with far more confidence than he felt. 

Squaring his shoulders, he backed away from the wall, gingerly resting a small amount of weight on his injured leg, wincing audibly as his knee protested the movement.  If their initial descent had been slow going, the remainder of it was going to be at a turtle’s pace, but, Jason was determined to go on, he had no choice with the assertion that outside help was really not going to come.

“Feet don’t fail me now,” he muttered as he limped down the next few steps, mindful of how Spinelli’s breathing had taken on a hitching wheezy quality. 

However much pain he was in, Jason reminded himself that Spinelli’s was categorically worse.  He could and would endure the flaring pain in his knee for the sake of his grasshopper.  With that thought in mind, Jason forced his own pain aside, bracing himself physically for the long trek ahead.  The promise of reward, in the form of aid for Spinelli, at the end of their harrowing journey, gave him a smidgeon of hope which he clung to as he limped along, creating a new tempo for his compromised gait.

Spinelli kept as quiet as he could, knowing that the man who carried him was in terrible pain and that any complaints from him would only make things worse.  He tried to keep his own cries of discomfort, stemming from the overwhelming pain in his stomach, as unobtrusive as possible.  Though he tried to suppress them entirely, he found, much to his vast embarrassment, that he could not.  He tried to psych himself out by pretending that all was well and that this was only a dream, but that didn’t work.

The thought that he was going to die terrified him and consoled him at the same time.  On the one hand, he really didn’t want to die, but on the other hand, he was in so much pain that he almost welcomed death’s cool embrace, knowing that, then, he’d at least be pain free.

He wasn’t sure if the man who carried him could be trusted.  Though he’d told him he wasn’t going to die, Spinelli could feel it in his heart that the man wasn’t being entirely truthful with him.  There was a very real possibility that he could die, and, if it meant that his two heroes would have a better chance at survival because of his death, he would gladly give up his life. 

Spinelli breathed in as deeply as he could and held his breath, wondering if he’d be able to short-circuit his body’s primeval imperative to live before it lost the fight on its own as his body shut down.  He felt his face heat up and his heart race as he struggled not to breathe, trying to usher death in under his own recourse.  He lost his impromptu battle and exhaled loudly, gasping for air that he was mutinously trying to deny his body.

It was an effort for Jason to breathe, his lungs burned, and every step hurt.  He wondered idly if he’d broken his knee or just sprained it.  By the time they made it down the stairs and into the hospital, all of them were going to need medical attention, he mused ruefully.

When Spinelli stopped breathing, Jason’s reaction was immediate and far less panicked than he thought it ought to be.  He didn’t pause, sensing that if he did, it would waste minutes they didn’t have.  Instead, he counted the moments of stillness in his head, feeling Spinelli’s increasing heartbeat thudding against his own chest, taking comfort that it too had not ceased.

When Spinelli’s breathing resumed, the boy was choking, gulping in huge mouthfuls of air, as though he’d been holding his breath on purpose.  Inexplicably angered by the thought that Spinelli had held his breath as some sort of morbid experiment, Jason grit his teeth and wished that he could smack him upside the head for being so stupid and scaring him unnecessarily.

“What the hell do you think you were doing?”  Jason managed to ground out.

“Oh…uhm…” Spinelli wasn’t sure how to answer, doubting that the truth would do anything to lessen the anger that the other man exuded.

“Don’t you dare even as much as think of doing that again.”

Spinelli could feel the low rumble of the words in the man’s chest and rapidly nodded a contrite acquiesce, wondering how the other man had known what he’d been attempting to do.  It was downright disturbing how he seemed to know his very thoughts.  What manner of man was it who could read another man’s mind?

“I told you, you’re not going to die.  Keep breathing.”  The unspoken, or else, rang out loud and clear in the surrounding darkness, enveloping Spinelli.

“Okay,” Spinelli whispered, snuggling closer to his very own Superman, grasping even more of the soothing fabric of the man’s tee-shirt. 

He’d often dreamt of being rescued from all of the horrible things in his life by the gallant superhero one day.  Settling against the solid chest of his savior, he pictured a young, dapper George Reeves as his rescuer, for he’d grown up watching the reruns of the serial TV show, decked out in the hallmark blue and red costume, an emblazoned ‘S’, embossed in yellow, stitched across the front of his heroic attire.  The red cape, billowing magnificently behind as he saved his young, faithful acolyte.

“Twelve!”

Sam whooped as she strained her eyes to read the light grey numbers painted on the darker grey door on the landing above where Jason and Spinelli were.  She’d used the light from the display of her cellphone to read the weathered numbers off the door. 

They were halfway there.  Her heart soared and she grinned in delight.  Feeling lucky, she typed in the three magical numbers which could bring much needed help and waited. 

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience, the networks are temporarily unavailable.  Hang up and dial the number at a later time…beep.”  So much for that.  At least they had one small victory and could rejoice in that. 

“Just eleven more flights before we reach the basement,” Sam exclaimed jubilantly, her steps lighter as she walked to catch up with Jason.

“Three-hundred thirty steps,” Jason intoned.

“Maybe,” Spinelli ventured tentatively.

“No,” Jason summarily cut him off.

“But,” Spinelli really did not feel like walking, yet it was the right thing for him to offer to do it. 

He didn’t want Superman to think of him as little more than a mere mortal, weak and insignificant.  Though, he was rather like Jimmy Olsen in this scenario rather than one of Superman’s compatriots, fighting the good fight.

“Just hold tight,” Jason ordered.

“Aye, aye,” Spinelli replied as heartily as he could, marveling at his good fortune to have the superhero of his childhood dreams rescuing him.  Although, in his dreams, he was working alongside him, this wasn’t half bad as fulfilled dreams went, however, he could do without the searing pain and tremendous sense of helplessness.

“Almost there,” Jason ensured with far more certainty than he had. 

His injured knee was stuck at a crooked angle and he couldn’t place much weight on it without fear of it buckling.  He was now sweating profusely and the muscles along his shoulders were so taut that he feared they would snap under the stress.  Spinelli had grown heavier on the last couple of flights.

Where was good old Superman when you needed him?  Jason wished he could siphon off some of the Man of Steel’s strength, just enough to make it down the last eleven flights.  The superhero wouldn’t even notice that it was missing.

Chapter Text

He’d double-checked his makeshift alarm system – a shopping cart from Dominic’s Grocery on the corner of fifth and seventh avenues, filled with aluminum cans discretely collected from back alleys located throughout the city, placed on the top step of his landing in the stairwell – before all of the power had gone out and, now that there was no electricity to be had by anyone, he felt very smug.  The rest of the residents would thank him when his foresight had saved them all from the government’s heinous plot to turn Harbor View Towers into a detention facility for alien life forms, of that he was certain.  

Now, they laughed at and mocked him, said terrible things about him behind his back, but, after he averted the impending disaster, they’d all be looking up to him, clapping him on the back and smiling.  The days of kids calling him, Crazy-eyed Jim McGreasy, while their parents watched and shook their heads, but said nothing, would soon be over. 

Soon, they’d be hailing him, James McGregor, their hero.  He despised the nickname, Jim; it always made him think of smelly, sweaty socks, crowded locker rooms, undeserved wedgies and Coach Miller, who had done his best to humiliate him on a daily basis.  It made him sick and shaky just thinking of it.

He paced his small candlelit living room, checking the multiple locks on his door every third pass.  The lightning didn’t frighten him, but the thunder – it made sure he was awake and vigilant, as he should be at such a time.  A number of things that the government had plotted against him could be hidden beneath the loud rumble.  Sound checks, subliminal messages, the click of a camera as it recorded what he was doing, and, if they knew he was onto them, thunder could mask the deafening crack of a gunshot and his screams should the bullet not hit its mark head on.

Yes, the government knew how to use a storm to its fullest potential.  He wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t orchestrated the storm themselves.  It appeared that they were finally putting their plan into action tonight, but he was prepared to thwart them and save the building. 

He’d seen one of their agents, dressed head-to-toe in black, rappelling down the side of the building past his picture window and his heart had all but stopped.  At first he thought that maybe he’d been seeing things and had foolishly raced to the window, peering through the crack in the curtains which had enabled him to see their agent before he’d come to his senses and had quickly pulled the curtains shut and doused his lights so those watching would not be able to discern his shadow through the curtains.

The storm grew in intensity as he gathered his materials and put his contingency plan into action, swiftly putting the cart into place at just such a position that it would pose a problem for anyone ascending or descending the stairs.  They’d have to move it aside, and, when they did, the rope attached to it would set off the bells he’d anchored it to just outside his door, mercifully located near the stairwell which no one really used.  The nearly overflowing aluminum cans would spill and create a diversion, making it difficult for the secret agents to keep their footing.

 Additionally, he’d placed invisible tripwires, made of fish line, a few steps below and above the strategically placed cart.  If the agents made it past the cart, they’d be in for a rather unpleasant surprise.  Satisfied that he’d made the stairwell sufficiently intruder-proof, he had set obstacles up and down the hallway leading to and from his own apartment.  No one was going to be able to get to him. 

He had enough provisions to barricade himself in his home for a couple of months should his plans somehow fail.  His stacks of newspaper lining the walls could be used as toilet paper and even bedding.  He had canned milk, tuna, fruit and plenty of bottled water in gallon-sized containers scattered throughout his home in case they cut off the power indefinitely.  This was one man the government would be unable to oust from his home.

Lastly, just before the power was cut off, he had checked his weapons, making sure that he was properly armed for the imminent siege.  His shotgun rested next to the door, he placed a revolver in the fridge and a rifle next to his bed.  He had a cache of weapons in a case he kept in an alcove just off the kitchen.  It hadn’t been easy to put his improvised armory together, especially with the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenic he’d been precipitously labeled with as a young adult when he’d been placed in a psych ward by his parents, but he’d managed to do it.  It had been slow work and he’d had to create numerous aliases, but he’d done it and, if his father had still been in his life, he knew that he’d be proud of him.

Neither of his parents ever called anymore.  He hadn’t seen them since he’d been released from the hospital over a decade ago.  At first, he hadn’t wanted anything to do with them and then, it was they who wouldn’t return his calls.  If it weren’t for his grandmother, Lois, leaving him this place, he might still be living on the streets.  But, she had provided for him in her life, and, in her death, had provided for him through her estate.  The only thing she had required of him when she’d been living was that he take his meds and, while she was living, he’d done that, even though they made him feel funny and he didn’t quite trust them.

He’d continued taking them for a while after her death, but had stopped a couple of months ago because he feared that the government was trying to control him through the pills and that Doctor Phillips was on their side.  The deceptive doctor was planning to change his meds and tamper with the dosage.  He’d said that the drugs James was taking weren’t working right. 

The little potbellied doctor always dressed in tweed and his office smelled of peppermint and pipe tobacco which always made James feel ill.  He always left the office feeling drugged and strange, as though he’d been brainwashed. 

On his last visit, he’d espied a video camera cleverly concealed in the beady black eyes of a teddy bear and had also found a bug ingeniously hidden in the potted geranium that sat on the receptionist’s desk.  The government was spying on him because he knew what they were up to with the aliens, and they knew that he knew. 

He wasn’t safe and now they’d sent someone after him – the man in black.  They’d even created a storm to cover up their movements, but, he was onto them and it wouldn’t work.  He would do what had to be done to make sure they didn’t take over and that they didn’t experiment on him or the others. He was ready.

The candles flickered and danced, forming indistinct patterns of moving shadows on the walls and ceiling.  James wondered if the government was controlling them too as one of the shadows crept and crawled its way toward him when he checked the titanium locks on his door once more.  A knife-wielding shadow threatened him, stabbing at his eyes, but he warded off its attack, wisely shielding his eyes with his arm before the knife could strike home.  Thwarted, the shadow slinked away, cunningly melding itself into the surrounding shadows, disappearing from view.  James clutched a candle to his chest, warily guarding its flame from the encroaching shadows.

Lightning struck, lit up a patch of sky outside the window bright enough for James to see it through the heavy curtains.  A tremendous roar of thunder followed immediately and James clutched at his heart pulling back his hand shakily, checking for blood he was sure would be there.  He knew too much.  They knew that he knew. 

It is only a matter of time before they take you out, a sinister voice hissed, the speaker was crouching somewhere just outside of his vision and he whirled around, looking for the elusive owner of it.  The speaker, hidden amongst the shadows, shook with laughter when James pointed the candle in his direction. 

You have to get them first, take them out before they get to you, another voice urged, this one was closer, but James couldn’t make his face out, it was obscured by the dark shadows. 

They’re coming for you, you know.  They’ll take you with them; make you into one of their mindless puppets.  They’ll take your insides out and rearrange them and put you back together again, like Humpty Dumpty.  The sinister voice cackled.  There is no escaping them.  They’re coming to get you and they will succeed.  You won’t be able to stop them.

James grabbed his shotgun from the floor and turned around in tight circles, looking for the man, knowing that he was one of them, that he’d been sent to break him down.  He and aimed the shotgun at the man who was taunting him from the safety of the shadows, but he disappeared as another brilliant flash of lightening briefly illuminated the room.

The government was an expert in using the storm to cover their tracks and James realized that he might be in over his head.  He was terrified, not sure how he’d be able to keep the trespassing voices at bay as they began to filter in through the electrical pulses of the furious storm going on outside.  They were growing louder and longer, along with the shadows, masking the lightning’s answering thunder.

James cowered on the floor, near the shelter of his door.  The candle, dripping hot wax on his hand, warded off the approaching shadows and the nasty voices that hid within them. 

“Go away!” He shouted, pulling at his hair with his free hand and tucking his head between his knees so that he wouldn’t have to see the slithering approach of the shadows as they tried to get at him.

“Shut up!” He plugged an ear with his finger, giving up on hiding from the shadows.  The candle was a good shield, defending him from the shadows with its soft, yellow glow, surrounding him with its protection. But its light could do nothing to stop the voices.

“Leave me alone!” James banged the back of his head against the door, the noise drowned out by another peal of thunder.

“You can’t take me.  You can’t…please just leave me alone,” he begged.

We’re going to get you, there is no escape.  Vile laughter accompanied the voice as it whispered in his ear.  James looked at the shadow sitting next to him, the speaker had no face.

His scream, born of impotent fury, and mind-numbing terror, was drowned out by thunder, and the voices, oblivious to the storm, continued their assault on their confined victim.  James closed his eyes, holding the candle in front of him, trusting it to keep him safe from the dangerous shadows as he rested his head against the door and tried to ignore the jeering voices.

Another sound, an off-kilter jangle of bells, made it through the cacophony of voices whispering and shouting in James’ ears and it startled him, stilling the voices.  His eyes flew open and he scrambled to his feet, taking in shaky breaths.  His alarm had sounded.  There was an intruder.  His trap had worked.

He turned from the shadows, and, with trembling hands, hastily unlocked the numerous locks on his door.  Careful to avoid the booby-traps he’d set in place, he slowly made his way to the compromised stairwell.  His hand reached for the knob and he cursed as he realized that he’d neglected to bring a weapon and didn’t have time to go back for it.  He’d have to hope that luck would be on his side.

Jason’s foot caught on something that shouldn’t be there and, unable to brace himself or prepare Spinelli for the ensuing fall, Jason staggered and swayed on the waylaid step in an attempt to maintain balance.  Cursing aloud, he crashed, Spinelli first, into something solid which brought them to a screeching halt as it was sent in the opposite direction clanking and clattering down the steps. 

He was shoved backward with the sudden impact and teetered precariously on the last step before the tenth floor landing.  His foot slipped forward and he rotated, twisting his body, usurping the forward momentum his fall would take so that, instead of landing on top of Spinelli, he would fall backwards, taking the full impact of the fall for the both of them.

He didn’t know what damage, whatever it was they had collided with, had done to Spinelli, and was not willing to risk plunging the knife all the way through him by accidentally falling on top of him.  Tears of pain and frustration pricked his eyes as his body began to fall.  There was no way in which he could brace himself; he could only hope that the impact of the fall would not break anything. 

Grateful that he was falling backwards and not forwards, he waited for his back to slam against the stairs, mentally preparing himself for the unavoidable collision of his back with the hard, unforgiving concrete.  What happened instead was as much disconcerting as it was surprising.  Instead of his back crashing into a bone-breaking surface, it met with something soft and pliable, yet strong that shoved back and yet helped steady him at the same time.

“Sam?”

Jason was relieved as he felt her wiry body fighting with his for supremacy against the infinite pull of gravity.  Though they had little hope of winning, he silently cheered her on, entreating a nameless deity for the crucial success.

Spinelli had once more stopped breathing, holding his breath, but this time, not out of insubordination, but out of necessity.  The pain in his lower abdomen had increased a hundredfold when he’d been slammed into something hard, making it impossible for him to think straight let alone continue the mundane task of taking in life sustaining breaths.   He whimpered, gibbering incoherently.

Sam grappled with a tottering Jason, fearing what would happen to Spinelli if Jason fell.  Even if he didn’t fall on the smaller, incapacitated man, Spinelli was bound to be hurt.  And, if Jason were further injured, there was no hope of getting Spinelli down the stairs; she couldn’t carry him by herself.  She didn’t have the strength, and no amount of adrenaline would be enough to aid her in the effort.  She was hoping that the adrenaline rush, which had rocketed her into action at the sound of the crash, would be enough to help keep Jason on his feet and get them moving once more.

It was a miracle that Spinelli had remained conscious throughout this whole ordeal.  She didn’t know if it was due to his fluctuation through differing altered states of mental awareness, or shock, and wondered if this latest incident would push him over the edge into loss of consciousness. 

 Would it be easier, less painful for him, if he was unconscious?  Would it make things harder or easier on Jason if Spinelli was out cold?  What would it mean if he was no longer awake?  Would it lessen his chances of survival or improve them?

One thing was certain, if he suddenly became unresponsive, it would cause no small amount of worry for Jason.  Sam hoped that Spinelli, though it might mean living through another horrific flashback of what appeared to be an unpleasant childhood at best, would remain awake and alert. 

“You okay now?”

Sam had wrapped her arms around Jason’s waist and propped her shoulder up against his back, hoping that it would help stabilize him.  Her face was smashed against Jason’s side and, for what felt like nothing short of eternity, Jason reeled to and fro.  Sam planted her feet and stood her ground, flexing along with Jason’s staggering movements, lending support where it was needed.

“Just help me regain my bearings, kinda hard here in the dark.” 

A spasm of unbearable pain rent his knee and he drew in a sharp breath as tiny gold stars sparked behind his closed eyelids.  For a minute he leaned on Sam’s slender frame, panting through the pain, aware only of his own need to take oxygen into his lungs and expel it to help ease the pain.

“Okay, on my count,” Jason said breathlessly, “push up and come around on my side, help me stand straight.”

“Got it,” Sam replied.

“One…” Jason breathed through the pain, “two…” he bit his bottom lip, “three…” he grunted with the effort it took to attempt to stand with Sam’s help.

Sam released her hold on Jason’s waist as she propped him up; her arms hovered near his waist lest he need to lean on her once again.  Their relief that Jason was able to remain upright on his own was short lived as the door next to which they were standing was suddenly flung open.  The action startled them both and they spun half around facing the now open door, Sam once more anchoring Jason as his feet faltered.

Spinelli’s breath was expelled in a wheezing puff of air as though the wind had been knocked out of him. Jason blinked in the darkness, making out a darker, man-shaped shadow in the dark hallway that lay beyond the stairwell.  He blinked again, realizing dilatorily, that the man-shape held something bright and very much like light in his hands which unfortunately served only to blind him and make the gloomy shadows that much darker.

Sam gasped, clutching at Jason’s side as the man drew nearer, brandishing his flickering light.  Spinelli panted and moaned, arching his head back in pain, clenching the fistful of Jason’s tee-shirt he still held in his hand, tears streaming down the side of his face.

Though they were now awash in light, they were unable to clearly see the figure standing in the open doorway as he remained behind the light and it did little to illuminate him, giving him the slightly disturbing appearance of a featureless phantom.  Sam squawked as the ghostly shape trespassed the invisible barrier of the threshold between hallway and stairwell and intruded upon their limited space in on the square-like landing.

His smell preceded him and Sam automatically placed a cupped hand over her nose and mouth, grimacing at the pungent scent of body odor that assailed her.  She took a step backward, not loosening her grip on Jason’s waist, yet wanting to get as far away as possible from the overpowering stench.  She wondered if that man had bathed at all in the last decade or if maybe he was waiting for the next one before he started caring for his personal hygiene.

“Ha!  Caught you!”  The man crowed delightedly.  The light he bore swayed and dipped as he performed an impromptu dance of victory.  “You’d best head back to your headquarters, tell your superiors that the jig is up.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jason did nothing to temper his anger, causing both Spinelli and even Sam to cringe at the furious tone of voice. 

His nostrils flared as, with the aid of light, his eyes took in the sight of a very badly damaged cart filled with, and surrounded by, a multitude of crushed cans in various stages of decay.  He narrowed his eyes at the scene before him and nearly howled in rage as he realized that what had impeded their progress down the stairs was a shopping cart placed in the hallway as some sort of fucking booby-trap.  Who the hell did something like that?

“Did you put that here?”  Jason’s voice was the edge of a razor.

James swallowed and took a step back toward the safety of the hallway.  He hadn’t counted on the government sending fiends from hell (the eyes of the man who’d questioned him were glowing blood-red), or of them being quite so angry with him.   As his foot crossed the divide, he regained some of his earlier confidence and returned the demon’s red-eyed glare, nodding his response in lieu of using words.

“What the hell were you thinking?”  Jason took a step toward the retreating man, needing an answer for the senseless act which had almost cost someone his life; had almost created a bleak future for him.

“Y…you stop right there, you can’t… I…I won’t let you…anni…annihilate the innocent…” James stopped and held the candle before him as a weapon against the devilish forces of Hades.

“What?” Jason stood still, trying, and failing, to wrap his mind around the nonsense coming out of the obviously crazy man’s mouth.

“Jason,” Spinelli’s voice, hoarse and no louder than a whisper, caused Jason to look away.

“What is it Spinelli?  Shit, are you okay?”  He mentally berated himself for not checking on the injured boy sooner.

“No, I mean, I’m…fine,” Spinelli frowned.  The truth was that the pain was so intense that it no longer seemed to actually register as pain, but as a constant burning sensation which was all-consuming. 

“Damian?” James, in spite of his fear, took a step toward the giant red-eyed monster as he recognized the voice of the young man.  

What had happened to his young friend? What had the demons done to him?  Infuriated by the thought that they’d already laid claim to Damian and had already begun their heinous experimentation on him, he ran at the bulky ogre. 

Damian had helped his late grandmother on numerous occasions: carrying groceries; getting the mail; walking her late dog; or getting something from a high shelf for her.  When he’d had an hour or two to spare, he’d simply spent time with her, reading or watching TV.  She’d always rewarded him with chocolate chip cookies or, occasionally, the gift of a poem which she’d penned for him.  It was clear that she thought of him as an adoptive grandson and it pleased her that Damian accepted her friendship, though she was just an ‘old biddy’.

At first he’d been leery of the young man who lived with the infamous mobster, Jason Morgan, but Damian had grown on him.  He never laughed at him or called him names and had even scolded some of the children who’d made fun of him.  Damian had accompanied him to two of his doctor’s appointments when his grandmother had been unable to because of her health. 

He hadn’t seen much of him since his grandmother’s death, but that was as much his fault as Damian’s.  He had been too afraid to answer the knocks at his door without his grandmother there to check that the person on the other side of the door was not there to take him away or wasn’t one of the devils that stalked and harassed him.   He’d missed the kind, young man and hadn’t realized it until just now.

“James?”  Damian sounded tired and small and hurt.  He had to strain his ears to hear him.

“Spinelli you know this man?”  Jason’s voice was skeptical. 

The man was an unkempt mess.  His hair was dirty and hanging down to his shoulders in clumps.  He reeked and, from what Jason could see in the dim, quivering light, the clothing he wore was in tatters and heavily stained.  Jason held Spinelli tighter, subconsciously protecting him from the strange man who now stood directly in front of them.  

Jason couldn’t fathom Spinelli knowing someone like this.  Didn’t even want the innocent young man knowing that this kind of person existed.  He felt fiercely protective of Spinelli and didn’t want James, if that really was the disheveled man’s name, to come any closer to his friend. 

Spinelli nodded.  He had worried often about the schizophrenic when the grandmotherly Lois had passed away.  He’d promised her that he would do his best to look after her grandson when she died, but he’d failed her and his heart broke at the thought as he got a look at James. 

He should have done more when James refused to answer at his knocking.  James, and the memory of Lois, deserved much better than this scruffy semblance of humanity that Spinelli was facing.  Once he…if he got better, he would see to James’ care, hire a full-time caretaker for him or, if it came down to it, institutionalize him.

“Have you been taking your medication?” Spinelli asked quietly. 

Though there was no accusation in Damian’s tone, James felt stricken, and hated the thought that he’d disappointed the compassionate young man.  It was almost as bad as letting his grandmother down. James looked down at his feet; he’d forgotten to put shoes on when he left the apartment.  The big toe on his left foot was poking through a hole in his grungy sock.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d done laundry and felt ashamed under Damian’s continued scrutiny.

Seeing as though through Damian’s eyes, James became cognizant of his slovenly state of being.   He could see himself clearly for the first time since his grandmother’s death and found that he did not like what he saw.  He had no idea when he’d last showered and was mortified that he reeked of body odor and pee.  He was suddenly confronted with a reality he very much wished he could somehow alter.  The thought that he’d disappointed his surrogate younger brother pained him almost as much as it had pained him when his grandmother would cast a sad look in his direction when he palmed one of his pills.   He didn’t like it.  He didn’t like himself. 

“I’m sorry,” he apologized profusely, reaching out to touch Damian.

Jason growled, there was no other word for the low sound which emitted from somewhere deep within his throat, and took a step back.  Jason didn’t care for the other man at all.  He didn’t want his filthy hands touching Spinelli, ever. 

“What have you done to him?” James frowned as he took a good look at Damian.  “What is that in his stomach?”  James’ voice grew hysterical as the lambent light played over the trio.

He wondered if his mind was tricking him as it sometimes did when he refused to take his pills.  He had no idea when his medication had run out and he’d neglected to get a refill.  Was what he seeing even really there or was it all a figment of his drug-deprived lunacy?

“You aren’t real, this isn’t real,” he muttered, backing away.  “Not real, not Damian, no red-eyed monster, just need to…”

“We don’t have time for this,” frustrated, Jason broke through James’ frenzied speech.  Much as he despised the obviously demented man who had nearly killed Spinelli with his stupidity, the man did have something they needed – light. 

“Look…” Jason racked his brain for the man’s name, knowing that Spinelli had said it just a few seconds ago, “J...ohn?”

“James,” Spinelli whispered.

“James,” Jason corrected, “Spinelli’s been hurt, we need to get him to the hospital.”

“You,” James pointed an ink-stained finger at Jason, “you did this to him.  No,” he shook his head, “you’re not real.”

“Fuck,” Jason exclaimed, “look, I don’t know what your deal is, but we need your light.”

“Well you can’t have it,” James ran grimy fingers through his dirt-encrusted hair, pulling the candle closer to himself.  He wouldn’t give it to the deceitful shadows.

“James, please,” Spinelli begged.  He roused himself, though it hurt, lifting his head from where it rested against Jason’s chest to look at the distraught man.  “Help me…for Grandmother Lois…” he let his head fall back and focused on breathing through the pain now shooting through him.

James’ fingers curled and uncurled in the space beside his left ear and he mumbled a secret conversation with his own personal voices, the ones that did not scare or confuse him, the ones who guided him. 

Could it really be Damian? 

“He’s hurt.”  James’ stomach clenched in sympathetic pangs.

Is he really hurt or is it a trick?

Could be a trick.

“Might not be a trick.”  James looked at the three people in the shadows.  The one, muscular, was carrying Grandmother’s Lois’ prized friend, the other, slighter, was standing just behind the two.  They almost, but not quite, blended in with the darkness.

Be careful.

Watch your back.

Jason was growing impatient with what appeared to him to be a mad-man’s one-sided conversation.  He was turning around, heading back into the dark stairwell, willing to make a go of it without the coveted light.   They’d made it thus far; they could make it the rest of the way, provided of course that James hadn’t set up anymore obstacles in their path.

His knee gave out as he turned and he just barely held in a hissed gasp at the pain.  Sam gripped his waist, keeping him from toppling over and he leaned heavily against her, mildly concerned that she would not be able to support his and Spinelli’s combined weight.

“Fuck,” he breathed out.  “How many more flights?”

“Ten,” Sam murmured.

“Think you can help support me the rest of the way?” 

It was a question only in form; Sam didn’t have a choice and she was okay with that.  She would help in whatever way she could.  She’d seen Spinelli’s ashen face in the light of the candle and knew that whatever time they’d had to spare was gone.  Spinelli wouldn’t make it if they encountered any other hindrances.  She wasn’t sure he’d make it even if they didn’t, but wasn’t willing to voice her misgivings aloud.   It wouldn’t help any of them if she did.

Instead, she nodded and allowed Jason to shift into a more comfortable position for the both of them.  It was going to be rough and slow going, but that had been par for the course on this night of darkness.  Her left shoulder was flush with Spinelli’s head.

“Sam, help me tuck Spinelli’s arm in the front.”  Jason wasn’t sure how much longer Spinelli would be able to hold onto consciousness and didn’t want the young man’s hold on him to become lax and his arm to trail haphazardly behind them.  It could pose a danger. 

Before they made it to the doorway, James sprang ahead of them and dashed into the stairwell.  Having come to an accord with his constant inner companions, he jumped into action, hastily moving the cart from their path, pushing the aluminum cans off the steps and removing his carefully laid tripwire.  He would light the way, in spite of his fears, in memory of his grandmother and out of obligation to Damian who’d helped him to see the truth of what he’d become in her absence.

“Follow me,” he tossed back over his shoulder, candle brandished high.

Chapter Text

Jason found it harder, slower going with Sam’s help, though perhaps it was due to his growing fatigue rather than his pint-sized partner’s aid.  Spinelli was not getting any lighter and his knee seemed to be getting worse.   

Sam was careful not to go too quickly and yet she pushed Jason to go as quickly as they possibly could.  It was awkward going and Sam had to wedge herself in close to Jason’s side as they rounded their first corner lest she be smashed against the rickety railing.  

They had many more flights ahead of them and Spinelli seemed to be hanging out in death’s doorway if the increasingly wheezy quality of his breathing was anything to judge by.  She wasn’t sure what further damage Jason’s collision with the shopping cart had caused, but knew that it had done something to worsen the younger man’s condition.  It had also served to exacerbate Jason’s injury.  She’d been lucky to escape the unfortunate shopping cart encounter injury free.

The light they were following flickered and cambered, making Sam feel as though she was aboard a haunted ship as the light dipped and swayed, making her somewhat dizzy.  She had to take her eyes off the light and concentrate, instead, on the step immediately in front of her.  If she focused on that, the sensation that she was being lifted on the crests of waves diminished a little.  

She knew that many of the residents of Port Charles would be visiting the SS Finnegan this Halloween season, if not tonight because of the storm, they would be sure to go tomorrow night.  It had been decked out with spooky regalia and transformed into a haunted vessel for the latter half of the month of October and going into the first week of November.  Tickets for a tour of the haunted ship were cheap at only five dollars for an adult and three for a child between the ages of ten and thirteen.   Though parents were discouraged from bringing children under the age of ten on the tour, many did, as the fee for children under the age of ten was waived because very few made it through the whole tour. 

Sam had never been on the tour herself, and, after the events of this evening, doubted that she ever would.  She’d had more than her fill of spooky shadows and creepy monsters and the night wasn’t even over yet.

James couldn’t help looking back over his shoulder at the approaching shadows every third or fourth step he took.  He had to constantly remind himself of why he was doing this, why he was facing the corrosive darkness rather than staying in the relative safety of his home. 

The dark, hulking figure which towered over him nearly caused him to flee back the way he’d come, even though it would mean passing in close proximity to it.  But then his eyes fell upon the dwarfed form cradled so gently within the burly arms of the colossal figure and he remembered: Damian, hurt, in need of his help.  He was doing this for Damian who’d made the evil voices back off and stay in the shadows where they belonged, though temporarily.

A grim determination stole over him and he focused on bearing the light which would escort Damian, and those with him, to safe harbor.  He ignored the argumentative voices which plagued him.  He would not listen to or answer them, though their words itched and scratched at him, desirous of being both heard and acknowledged.

Spinelli fought the nearly overwhelming urge he had to surrender to the deceptive comfort of sleep’s embrace.  It wasn’t the pain, which had gotten to a threshold his body could not even fully register, that kept him awake and vying to stay alert.  No, it was plain old fear which had him refusing to enter the utopian Land of Nod.   

He was terrified that, if he fell asleep, he’d never wake up again, that he would slip from the gentle arms of Morpheus into the merciless arms of the Grim Reaper and be speedily delivered  to the far away Stygian Shore.  Even greater than his fear of Death incarnate, was the underlying dread that, instead of being handed over to the pale rider, he would be precipitously gifted, as punishment for his past indiscretions, to the man his granny had insisted he call Uncle Davy.

He hadn’t thought of the man in many, many years; not since ‘Uncle Davy’ had been ousted from their home by his irate grandmother shortly following  the celebration of his tenth birthday when she’d discovered what he’d been doing to a little boy, the same age as him, in the neighborhood.  Little ‘Johnny’s’ parents had spent thousands of dollars on litigation and therapy for their son. 

Spinelli hadn’t uttered a single word, even when he’d been asked, about what had happened to him when he’d been left in Uncle Davy’s care while his grandmother had been at work or out with her friends.  He’d only wanted it to never have happened and pretended that it hadn’t, that it had only happened to little Johnny and little baby Damian, not to him, he was a good boy who didn’t deserve to be hurt.

He didn’t want to think of Uncle Davy or what he’d done to little Damian and Johnny, but the pain in his stomach made it inevitable for his mind to venture down that long-forgotten, ill-forged path in spite of the mental blocks he’d established over the years to forget that any of it had ever happened at all, let alone to him.  Unfortunately, the sharp, burning pain served as a consistent reminder of the man who’d tortured him for five years, and, try as he might, he couldn’t rid himself of the hideous man’s image. 

Whenever his eyes slid closed, the man’s leering, gap-toothed smile taunted him.  The memory of his putrid breath tickled the nape of his neck.  The feel of the man’s calloused hands, rough and punishing in their exactitude trailed down and over his body, fondling, touching.  The man’s slick voice caressed and tainted his ears with whispered venom.  His fat, greedy tongue, wet and warm, stroked his cheek.

Petrified, unwilling for the unsolicited memory to go any further into the darkness of his tainted past; Spinelli forced his eyes wide open, wishing he had the strength to pry his eyelids open with his fingers.   He gasped at the memory, grasping in vain at the thin tendrils of his current reality: life with Stone Cold, his mentor and master of all that was worthy in man to emulate.

He was being carried, not by Uncle Davy, but by the highly, and, rightly so, vaunted and unrivaled Superman.  He was safe, he just had to keep his eyes open, focus on the shifting light which bespoke of good, rather than the subversive shadows which threatened to transport him directly into the foul arms of his childhood tormentor.

“No,” Spinelli, unable to divest himself of the unwanted images of Uncle Davy assaulting his mind, whimpered and squirmed in Jason’s arms.

“Spinelli?”  Jason inquired cautiously. 

He’d noticed a change in Spinelli’s breathing and his heart rate had increased considerably, trying to outrun some shapeless demon Jason couldn’t see and thereby couldn’t chase away.  Had he found himself the victim of his ‘Unca’ Davy’s tender mercies once again?  God, Jason hoped not.

“Spinelli, can you hear me?”  Jason’s heart constricted as Spinelli’s panic-laced whimpers increased and his breathing grew far more irregular than it had been previously. 

His concern for Spinelli increased when the boy’s breathing came in hitching gasps as though he was drowning, choking on oxygen instead of inhaling it.  His lungs seemed to be waging an ill-advised war against the life-affirming act of breathing.

“C’mon, Spinelli, breathe,” Jason encouraged, modeling it for him by taking in a huge lungful of air, holding it in and expelling it.

“Just breathe, please,” Jason implored when it appeared as though Spinelli were doing the very opposite of what he’d asked.

It was such a simple request, he wasn’t asking him to do much.  As a matter-of-fact, if Spinelli just complied with this one demand to keep breathing indefinitely, he wouldn’t ask anything else of him for a long time to come.  He would take it easy on him, not force him to hack into police records for Sonny’s or Michael’s or Carly’s or even his own sake.  No, he’d make sure that Spinelli rested and recovered and breathed and that he stayed as far away from danger as he could physically make him.

“C’mon, breathe with me Spinelli,” Jason continued his ad hoc demonstration, silently admonishing his grasshopper to follow his lead. 

“Breathe in,” he took a deep breath that matched the rise of his foot, “and out,” he exhaled as his foot hit the concrete.  He concentrated on establishing a rhythm of breathing which matched his stride, hoping that Spinelli’s body would naturally begin to harmonize itself with his. 

Sam accommodated her own steps to match Jason’s steady pace, innately adjusting her breathing so that it mirrored his fixed pattern of inhalation and exhalation.   It was strangely calming and Sam found herself relaxing fractionally as Jason established a pattern for her to imitate.

Jason no longer thought of putting one foot in front of the other.  He no longer counted each footfall, didn’t take notice of how many landings they’d passed by in their continued downward descent.  His muscles worked by rote, enabling Jason to focus solely on the issue of Spinelli’s aberrant breathing and how to get it under control before he passed out or stopped breathing altogether as he had once before. 

The only difference between the two would be that, in the former case, it had been Spinelli’s choice; in this case, Jason doubted that Spinelli had much of a choice on the matter as his body responded to whatever it was that what going on in his pain-addled mind.   His breathing hitched and stopped in fits as he struggled weakly with whatever inner demon was presently harassing him.

“Jason,” Sam laid a hand on his arm, “maybe we should stop on the next landing and check to see how Spinelli’s doing.  I don’t like the sound of his breathing.  I think he’s getting worse.”

“Can’t stop now, the sooner we get out of this fucking stairwell, the better off he’ll be.” Jason didn’t skip a beat, dragging Sam along with him as he went, compelling Spinelli to breathe normally with by the sheer force of his own determination.

He had one goal in mind, other than keeping Spinelli breathing and thus alive, and that was to make it down the rest of the stairs as quickly as his own injuries would allow, preferably without encountering any more life and limb threatening impediments.  And to that end, Jason ignored his own desire to stop and check on his roommate’s worsening condition. 

He knew that, even if he did, it would be of little, if any help to the flagging young man.  He could already feel warm, fresh blood, courtesy of one idiotically placed shopping cart, trickling over the hand he held closest to Spinelli’s stomach wound and vowed that James, whatever the jackass’ issues were, was going to pay for his stupidity.  And if Spinelli did die, which he wasn’t, there wasn’t a thing on this great green earth that was going to protect James from facing his very own angel of vengeance in the form of Jason Morgan.

Spinelli grappled with the gritty recollections that he’d spent well over a decade suppressing, hiding them from, not only his grandmother, but also himself.  He’d known from the very beginning that the truth would only tear him apart and hurt the first woman he’d loved and revered wholeheartedly. 

He’d never blamed his grandmother for what David Limpley had done to him while the man had lived under her roof.  David had made her happy, and, little Damian had been good and obedient, looking out for his grandmother’s happiness, unconcerned for his own.

He attempted to shove the unwelcome memories back into the small black box he’d systematically stored them in as a child and placed discretely in a dark corner of his mind, but the box seemed to have shrunk and warped over time and the lid would no longer fit, allowing the memories to spill out indiscriminately and assail him non-stop.   No matter how hard he pushed them back down, forcing them in, the memories refused to go back where they should. 

They subjugated him to the abrupt, unembellished truth he’d previously been able to escape through pretending nothing had happened, to a brief stint with drugs, and, more recently, through escaping into the welcome anesthetizing violence of video games.   Even his involvement in the mob aided his flight from his troubling past, allowing him to drown out the silenced screams issuing from the heretofore neglected corner of his mind as he threw himself wholeheartedly into serving his mentor, Stone Cold.  All were variations of the same theme: his desperate bid to ignore that little black box begging for attention, daring him to open it and face what he feared most –himself.

Every searing memory tore at a precious fragment of who he’d fashioned himself to be over the intervening years, causing what little esteem he’d managed to amass to crumble and fall off him in gigantic gangrenous chunks.  He felt himself melting like heated wax, bleeding in tiny rivers along the side of the candle.  In the wake of the torrid memories, he was as a candle, deformed by the wiles of the wind blowing this way and that, oblivious to anything but the scorching, blistering fire which bent it to its will, until it puddled into a formless heap of worthless, color-faded wax.

It was my fault, he accused as the neglected memories replayed themselves.  Bad things happen to bad people.  Uncle Davy saw the real me.  He saw that I was sick and dirty and bad, not worthy of love. 

The verisimilitude of his real worth hurt worse than the knife stuck in his gut.  It was a double-edged sword, honed with the light of bitter, uncompromising truth, and rent his dark soul asunder; breaking him free from the lies he’d woven around himself over the years, leaving only a dim, stark reality from which he no longer held any means of escape.  Panic held him spellbound.

Spinelli couldn’t breathe under the weight of the emotional blitzkrieg which crushed him and squeezed the air from his wrecked body.  His lungs clambered, heaving, suffocating him in their efforts to draw in enough air. 

A thick, acrid fluid gathered in the back of his throat, choking him and he doubled over in an attempt to swallow it and breathe past it.  His throat worked uselessly, the slick liquid burning a one-way path along his esophagus.

Unable to swallow the caustic, biotic liquor down, Spinelli let loose a wet, frothy cough, tardily covering his mouth with a palsied hand and collapsing back against Jason’s chest.  He drew his hand back in voiceless horror as it was smeared with something warm and viscous.  Agitated, he wiped his hand vigorously on Jason’s tee-shirt, trying to rid it of the coppery substance which covered it.

His throat ached as he coughed up more of life’s elixir, hunching over as much as his brutalized stomach allowed, accommodating his coated throat’s need to expel the trespassing nectar.  He grimaced at the metallic taste it left in his mouth and laid back, spent, once the hacking spasms let him.  His throat, raw and ravaged, held the vague aftertaste of pennies and he sobbed quietly.

Spinelli’s coughing fit took Jason by surprise as he was unceremoniously sprayed with a sweet, cloying substance that occluded his nostrils and almost sent him into a coughing fit of his own in retaliation.   His sense of self-preservation balked at the smell of rust which invaded his nostrils and bespoke of life, precious, sweet life, ebbing in an invisible crimson stream.  The feel of Spinelli’s hand, wiping his own life’s blood against his chest gave him the willies as he pictured the dark, red essence spotting the younger man’s pale lips, rouging them artificially in a detestable facsimile of vibrant health.

Even so, he faithfully put one foot in front of the other, fearful that if he stopped Spinelli would lose the battle for life in which he was fitfully engaged.  He could only hold on tight to his friend as the coughs continued to ransack his slender body for what felt like long, interminable minutes, exacting a hefty toll when they finally released Spinelli, leaving him sobbing weakly against his chest.  He was like a newborn child, helpless to control any aspect of his fate, almost too helpless to maintain his ever fading grip on life itself.

It broke Jason’s heart to see Spinelli like this and not be able to do a damn thing about it.  If he could, he’d take his pain away and bear it himself.  But, that option, desirous as it was to him at this moment, was nothing more than fanciful musing and did nothing to stave off the mounting fear that he’d lose Spinelli for good this time and that it would be his fault because of a moment of unwarranted clumsiness on his part.  He had to fucking slip and fall in the kitchen.  If not for his bum knee, they’d already be down the stairs; Spinelli would already be in the hospital, being attended to by professionals.

Sam wiped at the spittle that had landed on her cheek courtesy of Spinelli’s coughing jag, smearing the miniscule scarlet droplets across her face, inadvertently spreading the viscid liquid on her mouth. Instinctively, she licked her lips and sputtered when her tongue registered the pungent tang of blood.

“Oh my god Jason.”  Sam couldn’t believe she’d just tasted Spinelli’s blood on her lips and was beginning to freak out.  “He’s coughing up blood.  Spinelli’s coughing up blood.”

“I know Sam, it’s going to be alright,” Jason kept his voice as calm as he possibly could, given the circumstances.  He didn't want to frighten Spinelli.  “Spinelli’s going to be alright.”

He kept moving, discounting his own considerable pain in lieu of Spinelli’s, paying close attention to the sound of his labored breathing.  As long as Spinelli kept breathing it meant that he was alive, no matter how much blood came pouring out of his mouth.  

“St…tone C…cold,” Spinelli whimpered, his blood-sullied fingers clenching and unclenching the fabric of Jason’s tee-shirt. 

He breathed in deeply and regretted it instantly as he aspirated some of the blood which his stomach had attempted to regurgitate.  He hadn’t been able to clear his throat completely of the clogging syrup and it felt like he was choking.  His lungs worked to rid themselves of the alien invasion, reflexively sending him into an ineffective coughing fit.  He dug his fingers into Jason’s chest as he tried to bring the coughing under control and ease the sudden flaring of pain in his stomach.

 “It’s okay Spinelli,” Jason assured the panicking boy.  He kept his voice soft and sure, lowering his mouth to Spinelli’s ear, never halting his downward descent as he spoke, “You’re doing just fine.  Just try to relax.”

“C…a…n’t b…b…breathe.”

Spinelli began to hyperventilate and Jason quickened his pace as much as he was able to, picturing their destination, the SUV in its parking spot, just two spaces to the right of the stairwell as though that would help them reach it sooner.  The power of positive thinking, he recalled hearing that phrase somewhere and had snorted his indifference for its principles at the time. 

People claimed that if you just pictured what it is you wanted in life, you would have it, whether it was power, fortune, fame or a significant other.  Now he was counting on it to keep him going and to keep Spinelli in the land of the living.  He pictured, not only the safe acquisition of their primary goal, but also a whole Spinelli, sitting on their couch, laughter on his lips and light in his eyes as he recounted some humorous tale from his work as a private detective.  Maybe he’d even encourage him to resume his schooling.  One thing was for certain, when he pictured the future for Spinelli, working for the Corinthos organization was nowhere in it.

“It’s okay,” Jason ensured his protégé.  “Just concentrate on taking in one breath at a time and letting one breath out at a time,” he coached, and demonstrated the procedure for Spinelli, wising that there was more he could do. 

He’d authorize a genie to do a complete lung transplant on the spot.   Hell, if he could get his hands on one of the coveted lamps, he’d trade places with Spinelli in a heartbeat.   Compared to the hell he was suffering through in carrying the weight of Spinelli’s life in his fallible arms, he’d welcome the excruciating pain of the steel blade puncturing his own stomach instead of the timid young man’s who’d never harm a living soul if he could help it.

“C…c…c…” Spinelli gulped at the air, clutching Jason’s tee-shirt as pain tore at his insides.

Sam, over her initial shock at having involuntarily ingested some of Spinelli’s blood, reached up from her position, pressed to Jason’s side, and patted Spinelli’s sweat-soaked hair soothingly, in an effort to comfort the distraught young man.  She deliberately ignored the wet, sucking sounds that accompanied Spinelli’s attempts to breathe.

“Jason’s right, Spin,” Sam reassured, “you’ll be just fine.  There’s nothing to worry about.   Jason’s got you.” 

She reprimanded herself for giving into her own panic earlier and causing Spinelli more distress as a result.  She had to keep it together.  Her eyes focused on a point beyond the three of them, where she could see the light of the candle James held aloft. 

The shimmering light of the candle brought to mind an incongruous image of happier times, when the frolicking light of a candle imbued scenes of warmth and joy rather than this dim, dreadful night of desperation as Spinelli's own internal candle flame slowly waned, in danger of dying out altogether.  Sam shook herself from her dire thoughts and focused on offering succor to both Spinelli and Jason whom she was physically supporting to the best of her ability. 

It was almost like they were all, in this time and space, nothing more than simple extensions of each other, their inner lights thrice-entwined.  If just one of their lights was to suddenly be snuffed out, the remaining two would be bereft, twin orphans left to the mercies of an unkind, imperious darkness bent on the desecration of their very souls.

Jason felt the pinching tug of the blood saturated shirt on his skin as it dried, fusing cotton fibers with his skin cells via the lubricant of Spinelli’s blood which had seeped into the pores of his skin, cementing the shirt to his chest.  It itched and chafed as it clotted and dried, feeling more like caked on mud than blood. 

He banished his errant thoughts, disregarding the skin irritating tug-of-war that the drying blood was playing with his epidermis as his shirt stuck to him.  He likewise pushed aside the thought of showering and washing away all physical evidence of Spinelli’s injury from his person as it made his skin crawl and his mind reel.  It wasn’t fair to the young man cradled in his arms to think only of how he could get his life’s blood off of him.

Spinelli’s stomach heaved and compressed itself tightly around the intrusive blade, causing him to twist his head into Jason’s chest once more and expel the bloodied bile that burned at the back of his throat.  The putrid mixture spilled down Jason’s front.  The hot liquid soaked the both of them and spattered the step they were on as well as the next.  Sam clung tightly to Jason, easing them down the next slippery step with great caution.   

The sour stench of bile comingling with the salty stink of sweat and the copper of blood, made Sam gag.  She slapped the hand which had been gently combing Spinelli’s hair over her mouth and nose and swallowed her own vomit as her gag reflex kicked in and her stomach rebelled.  The accompanying fetor of Spinelli’s sanguineous discharge permeated the entirety of the enclosed stairwell, choking her, and she imagined that it could not be any easier for Jason to hold his stomach in check, as he was coated in the smelly vomitus.   The stagnant air around them was charged with the fetid smell. 

Sam increased her pace, suddenly needing to get out of the dark, close stairwell before she lost her meager evening meal of wine, cheese and crackers.  Spinelli coughing up blood had been difficult enough to deal with, now he was spewing it and Sam was terrified of what it might mean for the young man.

Spinelli felt like he was suffocating as he sucked in air that tasted bitter and vaguely of the orange soda he’d imbibed earlier that day.  He was surely being disemboweled with the aid of a dull kitchen knife, if the pain in his stomach was to be believed. 

He was unaware of the tears which streamed down his face, drenching Jason’s shirt with yet another of his bodily fluids or of the heart-wrenching guttural mewls which came, not from his mouth, but from some deeper bastion of his soul which begged for its captive’s release.  All that existed for him was a hellish pain beyond any other he’d previously experienced, even at the hands of Uncle Davy who’d carved the commemoration of his initial triumph over the young boy with an oven-heated carving knife on the sole of his foot. 

The mark had been shallow and hadn’t scarred, but it had hurt and Spinelli had screamed until his throat was hoarse and he’d lost his voice.   Uncle Davy told his grandmother that he had strep throat and that he’d take care of him, leading to even more torture and pain that Spinelli boxed up and hid from. 

It was after that particularly horrific incident that Spinelli learned how to get away from his tormentor and how to numb the pain.  He found a quiet, dark place deep inside of himself where he couldn’t be touched and stayed there until his Uncle Davy was done playing with him.  It was his safe place and it grew to include vestiges of the good things in his waking life and became lighter and more colorful as he created a new reality in which to escape the one he feared would kill him.

Others cut themselves, drank themselves into a stupor, took their pain out on others with venomous anger, or lost themselves to mind-altering drugs, but Spinelli buried his hurts and his most hated memories within the multi-layered depths of his mind.  He pretended to be someone he was not, most of the time, not letting anyone see the truth of who and what he was, that he was damaged and dirty and wholly repulsive.  And, when things got too overwhelming, he retreated into himself, as he did now.

The nauseating wetness oozing between himself and Spinelli almost made him retch, but Jason instantly started breathing through his mouth, marginally cutting the sickening smell into something which was almost endurable.  He hoped that it wouldn’t be much longer before they reached the parking garage.  James’ candle seemed to be flickering more erratically, giving the shadows around them a ghoulish quality.  Spinelli’s pitiful cries were grating on his nerves, clutching at his heart, making him want to kill someone, anyone, in retaliation.  And just as suddenly as they’d begun, they stopped.

Jason caught himself just before he gave into the temptation to stop walking.  His heart raced and he let out a strangled half-cry, “No!” which echoed in the corridor.  Had he lost Spinelli? 

He forced himself to calm down and assess the situation and smiled in grim relief when he realized that Spinelli was still breathing, albeit a little wetly, as though he was trapped underwater.   He sensed a change in Spinelli which he could not quite quantify.   Though he was still breathing, still with him in bodily essence, Jason felt like he was holding little more than a vacant shell of his friend and, in spite of himself, he was afraid.

Chapter Text

Excerpt taken from the poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

And indeed there will be time

 

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

 

Time to turn back and descend the stair,…

 
   

Do I dare

 

Disturb the universe?

 

In a minute there is time

 

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 
   
   
   
   
   
   

The light from the candle canted mockingly on the final step of the stairwell.  Jason couldn’t believe his eyes, surely they were deceiving him.  His shoulders ached from the prolonged strain of carrying someone down twenty-five flights of stairs, his tee-shirt, caked with blood, stuck to him like it was glued on, and his knee, now swollen to at least twice its normal size was impossible to bend or straighten.  It didn’t cause him an excruciating amount of pain anymore.  It was just a dull, throbbing irritation, as though his knee was encased in jelly and floating just outside of his body.

It struck him as odd that, up until this point, until toward the very end of their downward journey, Spinelli had held out, that the injured young man bleeding in his arms had not once lost consciousness, even when they’d run into a shopping cart.  But now that they were almost there, the heel of his boot clicking against the rough concrete of the few remaining steps, Spinelli was silent, save for the labored breathing which Jason felt more than heard as the boy’s body shuddered with each tentative inhale and relaxed with each exhale; the former coming more regularly than the latter.

This was it, the end he had been hoping, if not praying for, from the moment they’d stepped into the dark stairwell what felt like days ago, but was in reality only an hour or two.  Time didn’t matter and, yet it meant everything in the space of a moment like this. 

Death and Life were a cooperative pair of siblings.  Life was a fickle bitch, demanding her acolytes' affections, yet, like most women, selfishly promising nothing in return except the cold guarantee of Death’s everlasting embrace.  Death was a hard-biting cynic, always grasping onto Life’s discards and Jason was going to fucking well make sure that this green-eyed, mussed haired boy in his arms wasn't going to become anyone's leftovers.

Spinelli concentrated on staying as still as possible, keeping to his safe, quiet place, tucked up inside of himself.  He didn’t want to hurt anymore, and being in his hideaway helped some.  Still, he could not seem to divorce himself entirely from the physical realm, like he used to be able to; for some reason he was not able to shut down completely.  Something or someone was keeping him tethered to the here and now. 

He didn’t know where he was, whether he was being held or floating in midair.  He was cocooned in darkness so black that he wondered if he had been sucked into a black hole.  Were it not for the suffocating heat and the sweat which conversely chilled him, he’d have believed it to be true, but no black hole would be this hellishly warm.  No, it would be frigid, stealing his breath with its icy fingers, sticking them down his throat, forcing his guts out through his nose as his body imploded.

Sam sagged beneath Jason’s hulking weight.  She wiped at the sweat on her brow.  Her tee-shirt clung damply to her skin and she felt flushed.  The pain in her elbow was now a dull, almost nonexistent throb, for which she was thankful.  Her hand hovered in the cramped space between herself and Jason, just above the dark thatch of Spinelli’s sweat logged hair.  He’d fallen strangely quiet and she wanted to reassure herself that he was still breathing, yet she couldn’t seem to force her hand the few remaining millimeters between them to verify what heart demanded to be truth.

“Ha ha!” The harsh, guttural shout of triumph ricocheted off the walls like the retort of a gunshot. 

The candlelight whirled in a dizzying array as James danced an improvised dervish at the bottom of the stairwell; the light from the candle flickered and waned, but, amazingly, did not go out.  He flung the door open, holding it for his incongruous entourage as they continued to make slow, but steady progress down the remaining few steps.

The door out of this hellish stairwell was in sight and Jason’s heart beat rapidly in anticipation.  They were almost there, almost out of this godforsaken dark, tunnel.  Just a few more steps and they’d be that much closer to getting Spinelli to the hospital.  Jason fixed his eyes on the flickering light of the candle, on the door glowing eerily behind it, not seeing the man wielding the candle, but trusting him to keep the flame burning until the end.

Sweat dripped into his eyes, but he ignored that as well.  The stinging blur only served to spur him onward.  “We’re almost there, Spinelli,” he assured the silent boy in his arms.  “Just a few more steps and we’ll be in the basement and then a few more steps and we’ll be at the SUV.”  His voice was rough and dry. He swallowed, trying to ease his throat of some of the dryness.

His boot clicked on the final step and the sound of it echoed up through the dark stairwell.  They’d made it.  Jason smiled in triumph, not having the energy to let out a whoop of joy as Sam did.  His knee buckled, but he managed to straighten it and keep up his forward momentum going.  He felt like he was still walking down the stairs, like a sailor readjusting to the land after spending months out at sea.  He surged forward, stumbling toward the door.  James catching him before he fell.

His heels clicked against the pavement as he ambled toward the SUV.  He had never been more grateful for his parking spot, only two spaces away from the door, as he was at that moment.  He didn’t think he would physically be able to walk across the parking lot carrying Spinelli and didn’t think Sam would be able to either.  Her smaller frame would be unable to support the hacker’s deadweight.

He made his way to the vehicle, Sam and James on either side of him, helping to support him.  The candle wavered and spit, dangerously close to being snuffed out; Jason didn’t know how it had lasted that long with the way James had waved it around when they’d reached the hallway’s end.

“Sam,” Jason grunted, “get the keys out of my pocket.”

He felt her hand reach in and search his pocket, her fingers wriggling, fighting with the material of the jeans before she triumphantly fished them out and hit the clicker to open the door.  She let out a relieved breath and helped Jason over to the vehicle, propping him against it while she opened the back door of the SUV.  They’d need to lay Spinelli on the backseat before getting into the vehicle themselves.  It would be tricky work with Jason’s bum knee and her now stiff elbow. 

Both of them were aching after their trek down twenty-five flights of stairs and, in the faltering light of the candle, Spinelli’s face looked waxen, and unreal.  He looked like one of those cheap plastic dolls that gave her the creeps, their black, unmoving eyes always seemed to follow her in the store no matter where she went; it was unnerving.

Shuddering at the imagery stuck in her head, she helped Jason and James place Spinelli on the backseat.  It was awkward work and she had to open the other door to help pull him in through the other side.  Spinelli gasped in pain, it was the only sound he’d made in the past several minutes.

“Sorry,” Jason apologized, brushing a lock of hair off the injured boy’s sweaty forehead.  It was cool to the touch and Jason marveled at how white Spinelli was.  He wrapped the blanket tightly around Spinelli’s arms so that there wouldn’t be a repeat of his earlier attempt to try and remove the knife from his abdomen.  He’d have to drive while Sam sat in the back with Spinelli and he wasn’t sure that Sam would be able to restrain Spinelli if he suddenly regained some of his earlier strength.  

Spinelli shivered. His pale features were backlit by the cabin light of the vehicle.  The harsh light revealed to Jason just how much pain his roommate was still in as it amplified the taut lines of his face.  Not for the first time that evening, he wished he could do something to ease the younger man’s pain.

Sam slid into the SUV behind Spinelli, placing his head in her lap.  She wiped at his sweaty brow with an edge of the blanket tucked up around his neck and watched as his chest rose and fell in an irregular pattern as his lungs took in shallow breaths and expelled them before the air had had time to properly circulate through his system.  His lips were slightly blue under the fluorescent luminescence of the SUV’s cabin lights.

The sweat which coated his face belied the icy cold temperature of his skin.  Sam drew in a sobbing breath as the evening replayed itself in her mind.

James stood off to the side, clutching his precious candle to his chest, cupping the fragile flame with a shaking hand as he watched Damian’s body being carefully placed in Mr. Morgan’s car.  Like when his grandmother Lois had been laid to rest at the funeral home, the occasion was solemn, and James dared not take a breath lest he shatter the tenuous moment. 

His grandmother’s friend looked nothing like his usual vibrant self; he looked dead, and James didn’t like that one bit.  He just wanted to get out of the parking garage with all of its untrustworthy vessels of transport.  He wanted to be far away from the desiccated body that was being stuffed into one of those ungodly contraptions of modern man, certain that Damian would never return from its metallic innards.

His friend was being eaten alive and all James could do was stand by the side of the silver beast and watch, horror-struck.  He ineffectually reached gnarled fingers out toward his broken friend, but his reach fell short of his aim and he twisted his fingers within the fabric of his filthy jeans.

They’re taking him away, he’s going away, a panicked voice spoke from deep within the shadows, but James did his best to ignore it. 

They’re not going to bring him back, another voice insinuated.

It’s going to eat him, chew him up, spit out the bones, the first voice, nearer than it had been seconds ago, whispered from the darkness.  It was followed by hollow laughter which bounced from shadow to shadow echoing in the open space.

“Shut up, don’t you laugh,” James shouted.  “Don’t you laugh,” he challenged the faceless heckler, shaking a finger in warning.  Candlelight danced precariously as he twisted around, looking for the source of the bodiless laughter.

“James?” 

Mr. Morgan’s questioning voice caused the crass laughter to disperse with a churlish hiss and stoppered the other voices vying for James’ attention with their dire predictions of mayhem and woe, death and despair.  His eyes snapped to Mr. Morgan’s and he swallowed back a scream of pure terror which bubbled up from his chest.  Icy blue eyes pierced through to his very soul, sifting and winnowing, rending bone from marrow, spirit from flesh.

“James?”

Mr. Morgan’s voice, insistent, impatient implored him to speak and yet he couldn’t, the words stuck in his throat and choked him.  He brought the candle to bear and bit back a whimper of fear as the warped shadows cajoled him to join them.

“James!”

Mr. Morgan’s voice was like a slap across the face and James snapped to attention, nodding his assent, though he didn’t yet know what it was that he was agreeing to.

“Y…yes,” he cleared his throat, “Yes, Mr. Morgan?”

Jason let out a frustrated puff of air, clenching his jaw tightly in an effort to remain civil to the obvious nutcase.  He’d never understand how on earth Spinelli’s life had become entangled in this strange disheveled man’s.

“Thank you.  I’m taking Spinelli to the hospital now,” Jason spoke tersely, nodding at the crazy man, “you can go home now.”  He gestured in the direction of the interminable stairwell, subconsciously shuddering.

Not waiting for James’ reply, Jason turned his back on the certifiable whacko and pulled open the driver’s seat door, launching himself behind the steering wheel.  His knee creaked and a painful twinge wrenched an agonized cry from him and he cursed himself beneath his breath, God damn it Morgan, stop being a friggen baby. 

He caught Sam’s frightened eyes in the rearview mirror and held her teary gaze, wishing he could offer her words of comfort. 

“Hold him steady, I’m going to go as fast as the weather allows,” Jason spoke over his shoulder, turning the key in the ignition. 

The engine roared to life, windshield wipers swiped against the clean, dry glass, making a squeaking sound which grated against Jason’s already tautly strung nerves.  He flicked them off and flipped on the headlights, flooding the dark parking lot with light that was almost too bright.  Jason squinted at the sudden onslaught of light against his deprived senses and blinked back the dark spots which danced in front of his vision.

He’d started the engine before he’d completely shut the door, and without a backward glance, trusting that James would do as he’d requested, and that the man could take care of himself, pulled out of his assigned parking space.  He drove as quickly as he dared around the corners of the parking garage, thankful that he had been afforded a prime spot on the ground level, though it had been a bitch walking down all of stairs to get here, he was grateful that he didn’t need to navigate around some of the hairpin turns on the upper levels.

Thunder rumbled overhead and the hood of the silver SUV was pelted with heavy rain the second it had breached the exit of the parking garage.  The sky was pitch-black, but Jason couldn’t see beyond the deluge of rain which flooded the windshield.  He quickly turned on the wipers at their highest setting and automatically signaled his turn, hoping that there would be few other cars out as he didn’t know if he’d be able to see them through the rain. 

He inched along the road at a snail’s pace, there were ambulances and fire trucks outside of the building across from him and he wondered what had deemed the residents of that tower more important than his own precious cargo. The rain made it impossible for him to see more than a foot in front of the hood of the SUV, even with his high beams on and the windshield wipers working at warp speed. 

Wind whooped and hollered around the vehicle, making an otherworldly sound as it soared past the buildings, picking up speed as the storm raged on around them.  It was almost impossible for him to move forward, especially with people walking across the street at seemingly random intervals. Jason braked heavily to avoid hitting a pedestrian that ran across the street, and regretted it instantly at the heartbreaking cry that it drew from Spinelli.

Lightning struck the sky and lit up a jagged patch of the starless expanse.  It sizzled and popped in the air and a loud bellow of subservient thunder, ever at its taxing mistress’ beck and call, answered quickly and robustly.

Jason gripped the wheel tightly, his knuckles cracking and growing white at the strain placed upon them.  He hunched over the wheel, placing his face inches from the windshield and squinting his eyes in an effort to see better.  It didn’t help much, but it made him feel as though he had more control over the vehicle and the situation.

“Fuck,” the word slipped out of his mouth before he could reclaim it, “fuck,” he said again, but there wasn’t a more appropriate word for the situation, braking for the pedestrian seemed to have gotten his vehicle stuck in some sort of pool of water.

He pushed the stick into reverse and hit the gas. The tires whirled, the sound of them working to gain ground almost drowned out the rain. He pushed the stick into drive and then back into reverse. The SUV rocked back and forth, but didn’t go anywhere.

They were stuck in that pothole that Spinelli had mentioned just the other day. The one he’d said needed to be fixed.  He’d dismissed it, and then ignored the younger man, telling him that he needed to get back to work, that a pothole wasn’t going to ‘ be the end the world’. Except, now, it very well could be the end of the world – his world. If Spinelli died because of this fucking pothole, he’d sue the city and bring the mayor to court (if he didn’t just kill the man outright).

This isn’t helping, Jason reprimanded himself as he glanced in the rearview mirror. Spinelli was breathing shallowly, his face pale, and Sam was doing her best to soothe him and keep him calm. Shit, he needs help, threatening to kill the mayor because of a fucking pothole is not going to get Spinelli help, Jason realized.

“Spinelli,” Sam’s voice, soft and concerned, floated in the recycled air Jason had blowing through the vents.  He’d cranked the heat up as far as it would go, hoping that it would help keep the shivering boy warm.  “How are you feeling?”

A pained whimper, barely audible, was the only response to Sam’s question and she felt monumentally stupid.  She’d asked the question mainly to assure herself that Spinelli was still cognizant, that the erratic up and down movement of his chest was not a figment of her imagination.   She wanted to know that he was still alive.

“Sorry,” her voice cracked and a tear slid down her cheek, streaking the smear of blood which marred it.  “We’re almost there honey,” she soothed, gently running her fingers through his hair.

“Hurts,” Spinelli managed to gasp, taking in a number of shallow, searing breaths which increased the pain that had been augmented by the switch from Jason’s arms to the backseat of the SUV. 

Though the transition had been done as quickly and carefully as was humanly possible, it hadn’t been easy on Spinelli who’d done his best not to complain.  He didn’t want to be a burden and felt bad for causing Stone Cold and Fair Samantha so much trouble. 

“I know, honey,” Sam assured him, “I know that it hurts.” 

She wanted to take away his pain, ease it in some way, but was powerless to do anything other than keep him steady, offer what little comfort she could.

“What’s wrong Jason?” Sam asked when she realized that the vehicle was no longer moving.

“Damn pothole,” Jason said, “I’m going to see if I can flag someone down. We need to get Spinelli to the hospital now.”

“Sorry,” Spinelli panted, the rest of his apology lost as he labored to breathe.

“What?” Sam shook her head, tears falling unchecked from her eyes.  “No, Spinelli, you have nothing to be sorry for.” 

As Jason turned off the engine, she wished she could rewind the entire evening and begin the night afresh.  That she would’ve invited Spinelli to spend the evening with her and Jason rather than crowding him out, stating, unequivocally, that she and Jason needed time to themselves. 

At the time she’d easily dismissed the kicked puppy dog look Spinelli had tried desperately to keep her from seeing, and had hardened her heart at the sight.  There was nothing wrong with her wanting to have an evening with her man sans his cyber sidekick companion.

Her reasoning seemed shallow now, in the light of what had happened, and she, for the life of her couldn’t work up that same self-righteous attitude she’d been able to muster toward the young hacker earlier that evening.  She wished she could take it back, that she could wave a magic wand and fix the entire evening, turning back time to before it had even begun.

They could all, right now, be tucked beneath a blanket on the couch, Spinelli wedged between the both of them, sharing spooky stories by the light of a flashlight, eating popcorn by the handfuls.  Jason reluctantly smiling, stealing covert looks of adoration in her direction over Spinelli’s head as a ghostly tale was woven for their listening pleasure by the imaginative young man.  She could picture it now and realized, with a start, that, more than anything, she wanted to make that evening happen.

Unfortunately, she did not wield the power to turn back time, but, she would do everything she could, with the power that she did have at hand, to fashion such an evening in the future.  Determined to make it happen, Sam brushed away her tears and focused on what it was she could do to help ease Spinelli’s pain in the here and now.

Chapter Text

Johnny stood from his couch and stretched, working out the kinks in his neck.  It was a rather dull evening for him, Carly was working at the Metro Court and he was home alone and bored out of his skull.  And, for once, his loony grandfather hadn’t stopped over to harass him.

He walked over to the floor-to-ceiling window in his penthouse which enabled him to look out over the city of Port Charles.  He felt a little like Batman at times like this, but doubted Bruce Wayne would have chosen the profession he had. 

He could almost hear the philanthropist’s butler chastising him for some of his ‘extracurricular’ activities and laughed at the absurdity of it.  Yeah, Alfred would definitely give him a piece of his mind and he doubted the elderly gentleman would patch up any bullet holes his suits might acquire during his clandestine rendezvous with the dangerous elements of the city.  He was definitely more of a Dark Knight than the do-gooder version of Batman he’d grown up watching reruns of when he’d been a kid.

Johnny frowned when his eyes were drawn to the building nearly directly across from his own where Jason Morgan, hit man extraordinaire, resided with his very own genius lackey.  He didn’t have anything against Spinelli, in spite of the man’s irritating monikers he’d bestowed upon him, his personal favorite being The Dark Prince, but wondered what he saw in the killer he had befriended. 

Spinelli practically worshipped the coldhearted man and, by Johnny’s estimation, Jason Morgan was not deserving of such wholehearted devotion from someone as naïve and kind as Spinelli.  It didn’t sit right in his gut, not that anyone would listen to him or his gut.  His word didn’t mean crap to the residents of Port Charles.  He had no power, and though he was working hard to fix that, it would be a long time coming.

He scratched absentmindedly at the stubble along his chin and yawned.  His eyes were drawn, like a moth to light, to the darkening sky as a streak of lightning forked out across the gray skies.  A boom of thunder followed scant seconds later and Johnny walked over to the window to push the drapes open completely.  He liked to watch storms and was in the perfect place to get a spectacular view. 

Lightning flicked its tongue across the sky and its counterpart, thunder, answered politely.  Johnny smiled.  His evening was looking up already.  As he watched the beginning of the storm from where he stood in front of the plate-glass window in his living room, feet planted shoulder-width apart, arms crossed in front of his chest, he wondered what Carly was doing.

Something across the way caught his eye. Johnny narrowed his eyes and frowned in concentration. A streak of lightning lit the sky and what he saw caused his heart to skip a beat. A figure, clad in black, was scaling the penthouse, going up toward Morgan’s suite.

Like a moth drawn to light, Johnny continued to stare over at Morgan’s place, pressing close to the glass, inadvertently supporting the claims of those who deemed him suicidal. King of the Angst. Especially after what Sonny, fucking, Corinthos had revealed to him a few short months ago – that Anthony Zacchara was his grandfather, and his own sister, his mother.

He watched the figure, a man, Johnny thought, deftly swing from one porch to Morgan’s. Even from this distance, he could see that the man was of considerable height, and that, given his impressive act of acrobatics, he was all solid muscle. He wondered what business the man could possibly have with Morgan and worried that maybe Anthony, his slightly demented grandfather, had something to do with it. He wouldn’t put it past the batty man. His own personal thorn in the side.

A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the space between the two buildings perfectly and Johnny’s heart lurched in spite of himself. He shouldn’t care a whit about Morgan or his posse. Maybe it was Carly’s influence in his life that made him take out his phone to warn Morgan that there was someone on his back porch, and that the mysterious man in black was breaking into the kitchen.

“Fuck,” he whispered, voice tight with tension, when he realized that his phone was dead.

He could only watch with mounting horror as a vivid series of lightning flashes played out a scene directly from one of those grainy Alfred Hitchcock films – a knife held high and plunged sure and deep into, not Jason Morgan, but Spinelli.

“Shit,” Johnny ran a shaky hand through his hair, mussing it.

“Shit,” he repeated as he looked down at his useless phone and then out the window only to see that the man who’d stabbed Spinelli was getting away. There was nothing he could do. Not a damn thing.

He didn’t owe Morgan anything, and Spinelli wasn’t exactly a friend. He was weird and spoke strangely. But, Johnny couldn’t just stand there, watching as the young man bled out in the kitchen. He wondered where Morgan and Sam were. If Spinelli was alone, as it appeared that he was, maybe he could win some favor with Morgan and get Corinthos to back off some.

The next strike of lightning plunged the entire penthouse into darkness and Johnny cursed. He tossed his dead phone on the couch, and, carefully feeling his way through his living room, worked his way toward the kitchen and the drawer where he’d stashed the flashlights.

Stubbing his toe on the edge of an end table, he cursed and hopped the rest of the way into the kitchen. Another flash of lightning lit the room, casting the cool white and black tiles in an eerie shadow. Something like fear gripped him and he lurched forward, the image of the black clad figure plunging a knife into Spinelli dancing in his mind’s eye and giving urgency to his movements.

Johnny didn’t give a second thought to his attire – boxers and a black tee-shirt – as he rushed to his door and out into the hallway, beam of the flashlight leading the way. His only concern was getting to Spinelli in time, if there was still time left. Thinking of the time Sonny had shot him and left him for dead, he no longer thought of what possible gain he could acquire from helping the hacker, only of the pain, so unbearable, and the cold, so permanent.

The hallway, normally abandoned at this time of day, was teeming with residents, people he’d never seen before, and he softly swore as the realized that they’d all had the same idea as he had – leaving the building. Though why, he didn’t know.

“Elevator’s not working!” one tenant called out, a panicked tone to his voice.

“There’s a power shortage,” another called, “we’ll have to take the stairs.”

“What’s going on?” Johnny asked one of his elderly neighbors before she could push on past him.

“There’s a fire, lightning strike, we have to get out,” she said, her words coming out semi-shouted.

“Shit,” Johnny said, and he turned back to his apartment, intent on getting his car keys.

How had he missed the fire alarm? It wasn’t sounding in the darkened corridor, lit only by candles and flashlights held by his neighbors.

“No need for that kind of language young man,” the woman said as she brushed past him.

Ignoring her, Johnny slipped into his apartment and shucked into the pair of jeans he’d abandoned earlier. His keys were in the pocket. He shoved his feet into the shoes beside the door, and, grabbing his gun off the table, he left, locking the door behind him.

Shoving the gun in the waistband of his jeans, he made his way past his neighbors, wondering why he hadn’t heard the alarm. Had he been so focused on what was going on over at Morgan’s place that he simply hadn’t heard it? He shook his head to clear it, and followed the short line of people heading for the stairwell.

“What level is the fire on?” Johnny asked a wide-eyed looking woman he’d seen on only a handful of occasions.

“Not sure,” she said, and brushed at a tear before it could fall. “The alarm went off and then it stopped when the power went out.”

She was shaking and Johnny grasped her elbow, offering her some comfort. She smiled at him, and he gave her a brief smile in return.

“Let’s get going,” he said, gently pushing her ahead.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I’m just so afraid.”

“I know, but there’s no need to panic Mrs. Vander.”

“I just keep thinking about 9-11, the twin towers and, and, I don’t think I can do this,” she said, clinging to Johnny’s arm hard enough to bruise.

“Wasn’t your husband one of those firefighters who helped out that day?” Mr. Belkin asked.

The silver-haired man was a few steps behind them, and he had a calm air about him.

“Yes,” Mrs. Vander, Johnny thought her name might be Jessica, said. “I was so afraid for him.”

“Where’s your husband now?” Johnny asked, he couldn’t remember seeing Mr. Vander, but then again, he didn’t really pay much attention to the comings and goings of his neighbors.

He only knew Mrs. Vander and Mr. Belkin and a handful of others because they seemed intent upon inserting themselves into his life, asking him to join their neighborhood watch program and what not. It was an annoyance that Johnny paid little attention to, laughing behind their backs after they’d left, at the absurdity of the situation. The irony of it was not lost on him.

“Working,” she said, “he was called in once the storm started. Nights like this, I wish he would quit, work a normal, safe, nine-to-five job.”

“Your husband’s a good man,” Mr. Belkin cut in, grasping her other elbow.

The going was slow, but steady. Johnny listened to the hushed conversations floating on around him, his hand on Jessica’s elbow anchoring him in the slow descent. Mr. Belkin’s low voice was a comfort, not only to Jessica and many others, but also to Johnny who was becoming increasingly worried about Spinelli.

He kept picturing that man with the knife, the knife glittering in the flashes of lightning and the moment Spinelli was stabbed. Over and over the image looped in his head. His mind kept adding different elements to it – blood pooling in an ever increasing puddle beneath Spinelli; Spinelli’s sightless eyes staring up at him as he knelt by his side; Jason’s face, ashen and steely, turned on him with the promise of revenge…

The walk seems interminable, their collective progress down the dark stairwell hampered by the sheer number of people. Johnny’s impressed that no one seems to be panicking. There’s an almost companionable hub of sound, a feeling of peace, amongst all of them, and it makes Johnny a little uncomfortable. He isn’t used to being involved in such a community, where people help rather than hurt each other.

The fire turns out not to be so much a problem, it’s on the other side of the building, fairly close to the ground floor, but there’s smoke billowing in the hallway when they get down to the third floor.  The fire department is there, a few of the firemen helping to expedite their evacuation. Johnny wonders if Jessica’s husband is among the faceless rescuers.

He pulled his arm from the hand of a would-be rescuer, intent on getting over to Morgan’s building, but he’s impeded every step of the way. When yet another rescuer (one of about five) tugged on his arm, insisting that he be ‘checked out’ because of ‘smoke inhalation,’ Johnny snapped.

“Look, I know you’re just doing your job, but I’m fine. A friend of mine, in that building,” Johnny pointed to the building directly across from them, “is in need of medical attention. I’m trying to get to him. Instead of harassing me and the rest of us, how about if you go over there and do something worthwhile?”

By the time he’s done speaking, he’s out of breath and shouting. He could feel the veins popping in his neck, and knows that he’s red in the face. The paramedic just blinked at him and turned away, making him think that maybe he’d started speaking a foreign language or something.

“Well fuck you too,” Johnny shouted at the man’s retreating back and ran a shaky hand through his hair. His lungs did feel a little tight, but he attributed that to the long walk down the dark stairwell with the hundred plus neighbors.

Morgan’s building was dark, not a single light lit up any of the windows, and he knew that the power was out over there as well. He grabbed the arm of a passing neighbor, and glanced at the watch. Over an hour had passed since he’d left his apartment.

It had taken him almost an hour and a half to make it down to the ground floor. Johnny’s heart clenched; there’s no way that Spinelli would have survived unless he’d somehow gotten medical attention, but he didn’t see any ambulance stationed outside of the dark building. All of the emergency personnel seemed to be situated around Johnny’s building, and he’d heard talk of a ten car pile-up on an off-ramp leading into Port Charles.

 “Fuck it,” Johnny said, startling an elderly neighbor who was getting checked out by one of the plethora of paramedics, and he started walking toward Morgan’s building with long, purposeful strides. He doesn’t even stop when a vehicle, a large, black SUV nearly plowed into him.

Just as he sets foot on the sidewalk, Johnny is struck with the realization that the black SUV which nearly hit him is the same kind of vehicle that Jason Morgan drives. Spinning around, he noticed that the SUV hadn’t moved since it stopped to avoid hitting him and he has a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, like maybe it is his fault that it happened.

“Shit,” he muttered, pushing sodden hair out of his eyes.

The rain hadn’t let up since the first streaks of lightning lit the sky, as a matter of fact, it seemed to have gotten worse since he’d stepped out of the building. He couldn’t quite make out who got out of the SUV, but thought he recognized the telltale black tee-shirt, jeans and boots that Jason Morgan wore on an almost daily basis. Not that he could fault the man for his wardrobe; he’d have to answer for his own if it came down to that.

“Hey, Morgan!” he shouted even as he moved off the curb and waded into the flooded street.

He hadn’t realized just how much rain had fallen, and wondered how he’d missed this. It was actually up to his ankles.

He reached the man before his voice did, and clapped him on the shoulder to gain his attention. The look on Morgan’s face, devoid of all color, eyes so blue that they rivaled that of the sky, filled with a haunted anguish, made his stomach twist. The man was trembling and Johnny squeezed his shoulder, resisting the urge to pull him into a hug, and what the fuck was that about anyway? Jason Morgan was a cold-hearted killer, and he wasn’t exactly known for being cuddly himself. The two of them were not friends on a good day.

“Spinelli, he,” Jason’s voice was choked and filled with something that Johnny’s never heard in it before. “He’s hurt real bad. I need to get him to the hospital.” And then, as if Johnny had never witnessed the man’s vulnerability, Jason’s eyes harden.

“If you aren’t going to help, get the fuck out of my way,” Jason said, shoving him.

“What do you need?” Johnny asked, barely managing to stay upright.

“SUV’s stuck in a pothole, seems some asshole thought it was a good idea to run across the street,” Jason said, and even though the man is looking around for the culprit, Johnny’s afraid.

He can’t help but feel guilty for what happened, and so, before he can stop himself, he’s offering to drive them to the hospital and running across the street to his parking garage. His car is much smaller than the SUV, but it is in mint condition and should be able to traverse the street, even in ankle-deep and growing flooding.

Jason watched Johnny leave and continued searching for the careless person who ran across the street. If Spinelli died because of that idiot’s actions, he was going to make sure that he paid for it with his life. But, Spinelli was not going to die. He wouldn’t allow it.

Brushing away the rain from his face, Jason turned back to the SUV. Ignoring how cold he felt, he opened the back door and mustered a smile for Sam. She looked shell-shocked, holding Spinelli’s head in her lap, like he was a baby.

“What’s happening Jason?” she asked.

“I’ve found another ride, Johnny,” he said.

“Johnny?” Sam asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Jason said, and shrugged. It wasn’t the most ideal situation, but nothing about this night had been ideal.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“It’s the only option we’ve got right now,” Jason said.

Sam nodded, pursing her lips tightly; she rubbed a thumb along Spinelli’s cheek and smiled down at the younger man whose eyes were unfocused. Spinelli’s breathing was labored and sounded painful to Jason.

Johnny’s car pulled up and the door to the backseat was thrown open. Jason and Sam carefully worked Spinelli out of the SUV and into Johnny’s car, wincing every time Spinelli cried out in pain. It was clear that, given the space restrictions, it would either have to be Jason or Sam accompanying Spinelli to the hospital. They both wouldn’t fit.

“You go with him,” Sam said, helping settle Spinelli’s head in Jason’s lap. “I’ll see if one of those ambulances can lead the way to the hospital.” She was off and running before either Jason or Johnny could call her back.

“Get going,” Jason ordered, “I’m not wasting any more time waiting for an ambulance.”

“How’s he doing?” Johnny asked, and Jason could see his eyes, dark and worried, reflected in the mirror.

“Not good,” Jason said tightly, “but we’re going to get him to the hospital in time and they’re going to fix him up.”

Johnny nodded and stepped on the gas, the tires spun and spit up water and then lurched forward. Johnny cast an apologetic look in the mirror when Spinelli whimpered.

True to her word, Sam had found an ambulance and was giving them a thumb’s up as they passed her. An ambulance pulled up in front of them, sirens blasting and water flying behind it. Johnny’s windshield wipers were working overtime under the onslaught of water from the rain, and for a second, after the ambulance pulled up in front of his car, it looked like they’d been sucked inside of a tunnel of water.

Jason tore his eyes away from the front of the car when Spinelli wheezed and started gasping for air. He placed his hands on Spinelli’s shoulders, trying to anchor his friend.

“It’s okay Spinelli, Johnny’s driving you to the hospital, you’re going to be okay,” he said to the younger man, willing his friend to obey him.

“I’m sorry,” the words, whispered, flew out of Spinelli’s mouth in what amounted to little more than a plea for forgiveness.

“What?” Jason gripped the ailing young man tighter.  Squeezing Spinelli next to his side as firmly as he dared, not wishing to exacerbate his friend’s near fatal injury, he leaned in to catch the faintly spoken words.

“Sorry,” Spinelli whispered scratchily.  The two syllables of the single word tore at his throat as though he’d yelled them.

“Spinelli,” Jason’s voice cracked. 

His heart clenched in his chest as the meaning of Spinelli’s unspoken words pleading for absolution slammed into him.  No, he wouldn’t allow Spinelli to go down that path.  He would not allow the innocent young man to say his goodbyes, offer unnecessary apologies for crimes imagined and real.

“No,” Jason’s fingers dug into Spinelli’s arms, “no you don’t fucking get to do this to me.”  He shook the pale, shivering boy gently.  “You listen to me,” his words were steel-edged. 

His blue eyes, holding unshed tears, glittered like sapphires.  They lacked their usual emotionless resolve; an adamantine fire glowed in their depths, causing Spinelli’s shivers to cease.

“Stop,” Jason commanded, laying a finger on Spinelli’s parted lips to lend physical strength to his spoken mandate as Spinelli drew breath to offer an apology once more.  “Don’t say it,” Jason ordered.  “Don’t you fucking say it.  You are not going to die, you hear me?”

He waited, watching Spinelli’s face, taut with unbearable pain, until the boy offered him a grim, half smile and nodded almost imperceptibly.  Jason’s smile, somewhat wider than his counterpart’s, was stern, demanding utter compliance with his wishes, regardless of the nature of life and death.  He would accept nothing but the strictest obedience from his self-promulgated grasshopper.

“Good,” Jason spoke softly, running his fingers through Spinelli’s sweat soaked hair, ignoring the sheer amount of blood covering the younger man’s shirt which was eerily illuminated by the overhead light in Johnny’s car.  

“Good,” he repeated, nodding almost to himself, catching Johnny’s furtive glance in the rearview mirror. “Good, we’re almost there Spinelli.”  His fingers, stained with the younger man’s blood, caressed Spinelli’s cheek with feather light touches.  “Almost there…”

When they came to a screeching halt in front of the double-doors of the emergency room just seconds after the ambulance, nurses and doctors awaited them. A paramedic was opening passenger door, usurping Jason’s role quickly and efficiently.

Spinelli was lifted out of his arms and he felt the loss of him keenly. It didn’t feel right not to be holding Spinelli any longer. Jason barely felt the hands of the paramedic as he ushered him into the hospital, his knee throbbing as he followed after his wounded friend. When the man attempted to lead him in another direction, presumably so that his own paltry injuries could be tended to, he balked.

“I need to stay with Spinelli,” he said, planting his feet when the paramedic attempted to pull him forward.

“You need to get that knee looked at,” the paramedic said, equally adamant.

“Honey, you’d best leave that one to me,” Epiphany said, and Jason had never been happier in his life to see the often prickly nurse.

The paramedic shook his head and backed away. Epiphany grasped Jason’s arm and led him along behind the gurney that held Spinelli.

“You know that you won’t be able to go into surgery with him,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Surgery?” Jason asked, it felt like the floor was fluctuating beneath his feet.

“Mr. Morgan, Mr. Spinelli has a knife sticking out of him, he’s being prepped for surgery as we speak, and it looks like you’ve got a grapefruit for a knee. You might be needing surgery too,” she said, “but let’s have the doctors determine that first, shall we?”

“But Spinelli,” Jason said, his voice sounded strange and the floor seemed to have a mind of its own as it dipped and swayed beneath his feet.

“Wheelchair,” Epiphany snapped at someone Jason couldn’t see, and then he felt his knees give way.

“Help me with him,” Epiphany said and then he was being lifted, the ceiling shifted, and he found himself sitting.

“Mr. Morgan, let us take care of you and Mr. Spinelli,” Epiphany urged him, and though he wanted to argue that he needed to stay with Spinelli, to watch out for him so that whoever had stabbed him in the first place wouldn’t get him again, he couldn’t seem to find his voice.

He lost sight of Spinelli as he was wheeled into an exam room, and as he heard the call of, “Code blue!” he lost his own battle with consciousness.

Chapter Text

“He’s been in and out of consciousness since the surgery on his knee,” a voice that Jason didn’t recognize said. “He’s been unresponsive – not answering any of our questions, verbally or otherwise. It’s like he’s completely shut himself off.”

“And you’re hoping that I’ll be able to pull him out of this?” Sam, he recognized Sam’s voice.

“Yes,” the doctor said. “If this doesn’t work, I’ll be consulting a hospital psychologist.”

“Jason won’t like that,” Sam said.

“That’s why I’m hoping that maybe a familiar face and voice will help.” The doctor sounded exhausted.

Jason counted the number of steps the doctor took – ten and a half, listened to the door open and close with a definitive click, and then he opened his eyes and turned his head toward Sam. She was smiling at him; her right arm was encased in a sling.

 “Hey there,” she said, sidling up to his side and sliding her left hand into his right. Mindful of the wires and IVs attached to him, she bent down to kiss him on the cheek.

“How’re you feeling?”

Jason shrugged. He just couldn’t bring himself to say anything, the words wouldn’t come. And how was he supposed to answer that question anyway? How could he feel anything other than a terrible, ever-increasing emptiness in his heart?

He hadn’t realized how much Spinelli meant to him until he’d discovered him bleeding out in his kitchen. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that he should finally understand this and then have the young man torn from him so callously. If only he’d hung onto consciousness long enough to make sure that Spinelli clung to life like he was supposed to, the young man might have lived.

Stone Cold, not even your obdurate faculty for the impossible could have secured a life on this mortal plane for your most faithful grasshopper, Spinelli’s voice reverberated through him. It was light and cheerful, lending a bizarre levity to a dark situation. Jason just wished that it wasn’t his mind conjuring Spinelli’s voice; he’d give anything, up to his own life, to make it happen – to bring Spinelli back from the dead.

The memory of the code blue just as he lost consciousness had been plaguing him for the past three days since he’d been wheeled into and then out of surgery. He’d listened listlessly while the doctors explained the surgery to him and what he’d have to do to strengthen his knee. There were medications to take, physical therapy sessions and exercises he’d have to do at home. He didn’t care if he never walked again.

He hadn’t been allowed any visitors because of some sort of infection that his body had been fighting off. Something about a jagged cut in one of his arms, one that he’d barely realized was there and the doctors hadn’t noticed until it was too late. In his few moments of clarity, he’d remember the code blue, the accompanying fear and then a numbing nothingness as his body and mind failed him, failed Spinelli.

“Jason,” Sam said, resting her hand lightly atop his, “the doctors say that you aren’t answering any of their questions. They’re worried.”

Her unspoken, I’m worried, lingered in the space between them, but still, Jason couldn’t muster the strength to speak. He wasn’t sure how to handle this feeling, this gut-gnawing deadness where Spinelli’s vibrancy used to be. It was a raw, aching hole and it was swallowing him.

Ah, the black hole of despondency, tread not long within its entrapping waters valiant Stone Cold, Spinelli’s voice was a whisper of wind, and Jason clenched the scratchy hospital sheets in a tight fist.

Tears welled in his eyes and he turned his face away from Sam while he fought to keep them from falling. Little good they’d do Spinelli now that the young man was dead. Tears didn’t solve a god damn thing.

“I’m going to kill him,” Jason said.

His throat was dry and irritated from disuse, the words sounded as if they’d been choked out of him.

“Who?” Sam asked, her voice steady. “Who are you going to kill?”

He swung his head back so that he could face Sam, ignoring the hot trails of tears that leaked from his eyes and made a trail down the sides of his face. His wife was looking at him warily, her eyes locked on his.

“The bastard who killed Spinelli,” he said.

Sam’s brows furrowed in confusion and she frowned. She leaned down toward his face and brushed away his treacherous tears.

“What do you mean Jason?” Sam asked as she ran her fingers through his hair, much the same way he’d run his fingers through Spinelli’s hair when he’d been trying to soothe the injured man.

“I’m going to hunt down the fucker who stabbed Spinelli and kill him,” Jason said, incredulous that Sam seemed to need clarification.

It should be obvious to Sam what he meant. She knew him well enough to know how he thought, and should understand that Spinelli’s death would engender a violent reprisal from him. He was a little disappointed in Sam.

“Yes,” she said, drawing the word out like it had three instead of one syllable. Jason found it irritating.

“What did you mean when you said that you were going to kill the man who killed Spinelli?” Sam asked, and she was giving him a strange look.

“I mean that I’m going to take him apart limb from limb, Sam,” Jason said, speaking slowly as though speaking to a very young and particularly dense child.

“You think…” Sam took a step back, her left hand flying up to her mouth. Her eyes grew wide and she shook her head, tears formed in her eyes.

“Oh Jason, I’m so sorry.”

She moved forward and placed her hand on his clenched fist.

He moved his hand away and glared at his wife, even as his heart twisted. Until she’d spoken, he’d been able to entertain the very niggle of a doubt at the back of his mind that he’d been wrong and that Spinelli might still be alive. But, her tears, and the way she’d said sorry, made it abundantly clear to him that Spinelli was dead.

That his wife saw it fit to want to drag the words out of him again and again was like adding salt to the wound. It was deliberately cruel and not something Jason would ever have dreamed Sam capable of until right now.

“How can you do this?” Jason asked, his voice cracking. “How can you stand there and…and make me say it over and over again. Spinelli’s gone; I wasn’t able to save him. He’s dead and I feel,” he couldn’t go on.

“Jason,” Sam grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let go when he tried to shrug her off, “Jason, listen, Spinelli’s not dead.”

White noise filled Jason’s ears, and he couldn’t breathe.

“He’s not dead, Jason, he’s not dead,” Sam said, gripping his arm tightly. “Spinelli’s alive, you saved him Jason.”

Jason blinked and frowned in confusion. He could see Sam’s lips moving, could hear the words, but couldn’t make sense of them. He kept hearing the code blue, seeing Spinelli so still and deathly pale and Sam’s words seemed a mockery.

A high-pitched whine coming from his off to his right made Jason’s head hurt and he found it hard to concentrate. He wanted to close his eyes and shut everything and everyone out. He couldn’t do this. His heart was heavy and yet it felt like it was going to beat right out of his chest, and Sam was standing there, staring at him, her eyes filled with tears. She was holding his hand, but he couldn’t feel anything other than the pounding of his heart.

Everyone wanted answers from him, first the doctors and now Sam. He couldn’t even straighten out his leg without help, how the hell did they expect him to have any of the answers?  He was hooked up to way too many machines, unknown medicines pumping through his veins. And now Sam was lying to him.

“Jason, Jason, can you hear me?” Sam said, her voice growing more and more frantic as Jason remained unresponsive.

The heart monitor was going berserk and Jason was staring at nothing, not even blinking. His pupils were nothing but slits, the blue irises were drowning pools of turquoise, beautiful, yet frightening as they reflected an inner fear. His breathing was rapid, and it sounded to Sam like he was having trouble drawing in enough air.

“Jason, are you okay?” Sam asked, rubbing her hand alone his arm.

He was sitting up in the bed straight, and stiff, the muscles on his neck were strained and his face was growing red. His breath came out in wheezing gasps and Sam felt fear grip her heart. She twisted away from her husband and slapped the call button beside his bed, hoping that the nurses or doctors, or someone would respond. She wondered why no one had come when the alarm for the heart monitor had started to go off.

When Jason’s doctor, led by Epiphany, entered the room, Sam whirled on them, glaring.

“It’s about time you came, there’s something wrong with Jason. He’s having trouble breathing,” she said, “help him.”

“What happened?” the doctor who’d okayed her visit asked even as he moved over to the bed to check Jason’s vitals.

“I don’t know, we were talking about Spinelli and then he just froze on me,” Sam said, so panicked that she couldn’t think straight.

“What could have that young man in such a state of shock?” Epiphany asked as she helped the doctor.

Sam paled as everything fell into place, and her hand flew to her mouth as she let out a strangled cry.

“He thought Spinelli was dead,” she said, “all this time, he thought Spinelli was dead. I told him that Spinelli was alive, and that’s when…”

“Doctor Travers, I know what to do,” Epiphany said. She shot Sam a quelling look and shook her head.

“An increase of…”

“No, we’ve got to move Mr. Morgan to Mr. Spinelli’s room, prove it to him that his friend is alive,” she cut the doctor off.

“Nurse Johnson that is strictly against hospital policy. Mr. Spinelli is still battling infection, he’s still in ICU. We can’t bring Mr. Morgan into the ICU. Besides, the boy hasn’t even regained consciousness yet. And moving Mr. Morgan could seriously…”

“Moving him will help them both,” Epiphany said. “Mr. Morgan won’t believe that Mr. Spinelli’s alive until he sees him with his own eyes. In my life I’ve never seen a more stubborn man who trusted in only what his own two eyes could see. Dr. Travers, if you don’t move him, he’ll only get worse and then we’ll be looking at losing them both.”

“She’s right,” Sam said, jutting her chin out in a stubborn show of support, not wanting to be one-upped by the nurse.

“I can’t sanction something like that,” Dr. Travers stuttered, “we’d be opening the hospital up for a lawsuit.” He injected something into Jason’s IV as he spoke. “I’m going to have to assert my authority here on this,” he said, oblivious to the obstinate looks that Epiphany and Sam were boring into his back as he bustled around his patient, helping to ease the now sleepy man down onto the pillow.

“Dr. Travers, how long have you known Mr. Morgan?” Epiphany’s voice sounded almost sweet, but Sam recognized the edge to her voice that meant that she was about to unleash a storm on the unsuspecting doctor.

If the circumstances hadn’t been so dire, Sam would’ve smiled in anticipation of what was about to happen. As it was, she herself had to prepare to give the good doctor her own personal worst. If he was prepared to cite litigation, she knew just the lawyer to bring into the equation. Hell, she knew two lawyers she could bring into it.

“I’ve been his attending physician since he was admitted,” the doctor said. “I’m in charge of his, as well as Mr. Spinelli’s care while they’re both hospitalized.”

“You know how long I’ve known Mr. Morgan?” Epiphany’s voice was soft, a deadly calm that Sam knew boded ill, but judging by the placating smile on the doctor’s face, he was clueless.

“I have no way of knowing that Nurse Johnson,” he said, and made to move around her, “I do, however, know what’s best for my patients. I’m known for my excellent patient care.”

“I’ve known Mr. Morgan since you were in britches, and I’ve known Mr. Spinelli for nearly as long,” she said, her voice growing deceptively sweeter by the second.

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” the doctor said, trying to edge his way around the nurse who had planted herself directly in front of him.

Sam took Epiphany’s cue and boxed the wiry doctor in on the other side. He was effectively trapped between Epiphany, Sam and the wall. He squeaked and attempted to take a step back, but bumped into Jason’s bed.

He pulled his glasses from his face, and, with shaky hands, wiped them with his hospital coat. Sam could practically smell his fear and her lips curled up in a smile.

“What it boils down to, doctor,” Epiphany jabbed a finger into his chest as she spoke, “is that I know what is best, not only for Mr. Morgan, but also for Mr. Spinelli. You may have graduated top of your class and hold umpteen awards for your genteel hospital bedside manner, but you don’t know squat about what people need, patients or otherwise.”

“And,” Sam decided to add her two cents into the mix, “if it’s a lawsuit you’re worried about, I’ve got two lawyers who’d be willing to sue you for negligence and malpractice.”

“But, but I’ve done nothing wrong,” Dr. Travers stuttered. The man seemed to fold in on himself in an attempt to appear smaller.

“Keeping him,” Epiphany stabbed a finger in Jason’s direction, “away from his friend at a time like this is akin to signing both of their death warrants.”

“I’m sure that things are not dire as all that,” Dr. Travers said, pasting a thin smile on his face. “Just keep telling him that his friend’s alive, he’ll believe it when he keeps hearing it.”

“Oh, so now you’re a psychiatrist?” Epiphany said, her eyes and nostrils flare in her anger.

“What?” Dr. Travers looked affronted and confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“You think you can judge that man’s frame of mind?” Epiphany gestured toward the bed where Jason lay, finally sleeping.

“You aren’t a psychiatrist either,” Dr. Travers said as he straightened himself. “Please step aside, I have other patients to see, Mr. Spinelli among them.”

“Well, you can take one patient off of your roster.” Sam had pulled her phone out of her pocket and hit speed dial.

“What?”

“I’m having you removed as Jason’s primary physician and am working on having you taken off of Spinelli’s case,” Sam said, shrugging. “Hello, may I speak with Alexis Davis please?”

Dr. Travers paled. He’d already had a run-in with Alexis Davis. She was an attorney that he did not wish to tangle with again anytime soon. He’d nearly lost his credentials and had felt as though he’d barely scraped by with the settlement the hospital had made on his behalf when something he’d done had been questioned by a patient she represented.

Apparently the man, a Sonny Corinthos, was well known in this town and he hadn’t taken kindly to the doctor’s suggestion that he have the woman he loved, Kate Howard (loony as all get out), committed to the psych ward because of what he’d considered a psychotic episode. He might not be a psychiatrist, but even he could see that the woman had needed some extra help in that particular capacity and had said as much.

It was just his luck, like at his previous hospital, that the patient’s friend had not taken kindly to his words and had found him to be ‘abrasive’ and ‘heavy-handed’ in his attempts to secure a place for her in the psych ward. He’d attempted, in the best interest of the woman, to circumvent the normal course of action and had ended up nearly losing, not only his position at General Hospital, but his license to practice medicine.

And now, Nurse Johnson and Mr. Morgan’s wife were asking him to actually break several hospital rules and regulations in one fell swoop. He couldn’t take such an enormous risk, not after having just barely escaped losing everything not so long ago.

“Hello, Mom?” Sam said, smiling at the look of shock and horror that passed over Dr. Travers’ face.

“Fine, I’ll do it,” he said, letting his head fall.

He wasn’t such a prideful man that he couldn’t recognize when he’d been defeated. Women, it seemed, were bound to be his downfall. He’d never been able to completely resist their wiles. He had an ex-wife and alimony the size of his left arm to prove it.

“I’ll have Mr. Morgan transferred up to ICU,” he said, “as soon as I make sure that Mr. Spinelli is stable enough to withstand the intrusion.”

“Oh, I just wanted to see how you were doing, let you know that Jason’s awake,” Sam said, her voice poisoned with a smarmy imitation of innocence that Dr. Travers didn’t buy for an instant. “No, Spinelli hasn’t woken yet,” she said, casting a sidelong look at him.

He shook his head, corroborating what she’d said to her mother. Mr. Spinelli hadn’t woken yet, it had been three days, and, while he’d had a fairly significant surgery to repair the damage that the knife had caused, and he was battling a mild infection, the doctor had expected him to regain consciousness before now.

It was a little disconcerting that the young man hadn’t yet woken, and he wondered if perhaps Nurse Johnson and the young woman beside him might be right – that Mr. Morgan’s presence would aid in Mr. Spinelli’s recovery, and vice versa. He’d seen crazier things in the past, loathe as he is to admit that to the fearsome women barring his way from the room. It wouldn’t do him any good for the hospital staff to label him under the category of one of those charlatans who believed in things like miracles and homeopathy.

He believed wholeheartedly in the sanctity of science, and left such things to others. But, if it would get these two women off of his back, and keep Alexis Davis away from him, he was willing to give this a chance. If it didn’t work, well, he would be able to stand before them, and the chief of staff, in good conscience. He had done his best to dissuade them, and assert his authority. He’d rather that it not be stripped from him entirely.

“If you’ll keep me as Mr. Morgan’s primary physician for the remainder of his stay, I’ll do as you ask,” he said, trying to keep the sound of defeat out of his voice. He hoped that he’d be able to utter the words, ‘I told you so,’ in the end.

“Yes, I’ll keep you posted,” Sam said, and then she hung up the phone and turned her attention back to him. “So, when are you moving Jason?”

“Like I said, as soon as I check on Mr. Spinelli,” he said, gesturing toward the door and giving Nurse Johnson a pointed look.

After eyeing him carefully, the big nurse narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips, but stood to the side so that he could pass by her. He could sense twin stares on him as he walked away from the room, like lasers cutting into his back. He didn’t feel relieved until he was well down the corridor and pushing the button for the fourth floor.

After ensuring that Mr. Spinelli was stable, Dr. Travers initiated plans to move Mr. Morgan. It wasn’t, in his opinion, an ideal situation, but it was better than the alternative – at least in his book. When he’d approached the chief of staff, hoping that she would put a kibosh on the whole affair, Dr. Monica Quartermaine had given the go ahead.

“Make sure you take good care of Jason and Spinelli,” she’d said. “Jason Morgan’s my son, and Spinelli’s like a son to him.”

The,’ if anything happens to either of my boys there will be hell to pay,’ was left unspoken, but Dr. Travers had heard it loud and clear. Maybe he should have allowed Nurse Johnson and Ms. McCall to take him off of Mr. Morgan’s and Spinelli’s cases after all; his career might fare better. He’d feel much better once Mr. Morgan was successfully moved into the semi-private room and his shift was over.

“Alright, we’re ready to move the patient,” an orderly looked at him expectantly, and he led the way, not glancing back until they were waiting for the elevator.

He let out a grateful breath once Mr. Morgan had successfully been transferred, and the man was resting peacefully alongside Mr. Spinelli, separated only by the thick plastic curtain that surrounded the younger man to protect his compromised immune system.  

The antibiotics were doing their work, but Mr. Spinelli still had a fever and he wasn’t comfortable breaching that particular protocol. With any luck, his condition would change within a day or two and Mr. Morgan and Spinelli would no longer have to be separated by even that thin layer of plastic, and he’d have Nurse Johnson and Ms. McCall off his back.

Jason felt nothing – no pain, no sorrow, no guilt – nothing. Emptiness was a black cloak enshrouding him. Dark and thick, it kept all light out. It was safe, perfect for someone like him. A killer. An assassin. A hired hand. A failure.

Not a failure Stone Cold, Spinelli’s hushed voice chastised him, Not a killer. Though the Jackal does concede that his mentor is renowned for his vast knowledge of firearms and his prowess on the battlefield that is Port Charles’ underground society, he is so much more than that.

Even in death, Spinelli spun things, painted them in light, made them, him, look so much better. Jason would have argued, would have scolded Spinelli, but he couldn’t even muster the strength to open his eyes let alone speak.

Did you not listen to Fair Samantha? Spinelli’s voice was uncharacteristically sharp, exasperated.

But Jason knew it wasn’t true. He’d heard the doctors, and they couldn’t be refuted.

Doctors have been known to resuscitate a patient or two; Spinelli’s delivery was dry, bemused, stop being so stubborn. Open your eyes, Stone Cold, see for yourself.

Jason struggled to do just that, but his eyes felt as though they were weighted down, like the rest of his body. It was an impossible feat, moving, one he couldn’t manage at present.

Come on, Spinelli insisted.

Jason didn’t know if he could live the rest of his life haunted by the ghost of his protégé cheerily encouraging him to do what he didn’t want to do.

Wake up, Spinelli was persistent, his voice was not alone, however, there was another, this one softer and pleading.

“Wake up Jason,” Sam’s voice.

He couldn’t resist the twin efforts of the two people he loved most in this world, and, in spite of their heaviness, he managed to lift his eyelids. The world around him was blurry, and the dark shroud around him seemed reluctant to release him.

“That’s it Jason,” Sam encouraged, “open your eyes.”

He felt the warm pressure of her hand clasping his, centering him, and keeping everything from flying apart. 

She smiled at him, her face looming over his, giving him a focal point. His mind, sluggish and uncooperative, was slower to wake, and it took him what felt like hours to register that he was in a different room, and that Sam was still talking to him.

“Jason, I need you to turn your head to the left, okay?” Sam said. “Can you do that for me?”

Jason furrowed his brow in confusion, but nodded his head, which still felt a little fuzzy.

He opened his mouth, which felt dry, as though he’d had too much whiskey the night before, and had to close it. Sam placed a straw in his mouth and he gratefully took a sip of water.

“Why?” he asked, his voice sounded weak, his tongue felt thick and alien, it was difficult for him to get it to work properly. He swallowed and tried his question again, this time with more success.

“Because I asked you too,” Sam said, her voice teasing, eyes sparkling with mirth, and then she sobered. “Jason, there’s someone you need to see.”

She moved her hand up to his cheek, and nudged him, encouraging him physically to do what she’d asked of him. Part of him was fearful, worried as to what it was that he would see, who’d be lying in the bed next to him.

Stone Cold. Spinelli’s voice loud, clear and echoing in his mind, spurred him to complete the movement.

At first it didn’t register in his mind what his eyes were seeing. His heart lurched in his chest, and an unbidden sob arose, stuck in his throat. He swallowed, hard, blinked and then he was reaching out toward the figure in the other bed, but his fingers met with plastic, a cold, impersonal barrier that served to frustrate him.

It wasn’t enough to see him, so still, pale, his chest rising and falling in a mockery of breathing. His body connected to so many machines that it was hard for Jason to tell where the machines ended and his friend began. A brown thatch of hair, unruly, stuck to his forehead glistening with sweat.

For all intents and purposes, Spinelli didn’t look alive. Jason knew, by the rhythmic movement of Spinelli’s chest that the young man he’d carried, cradled in his arms like a son, down an endless flight of stairs was technically alive, but it wasn’t enough for him. He needed to be able to reach out and touch him, cradle him in his arms and let him know that everything was going to be alright, that he was safe now.

“Is that?” he wasn’t even sure what it is that he wanted to say, but the question is out before he can reclaim it.

“Yes, it’s Spinelli, and the doctor said that he should make a full recovery,” Sam said, her hand was still resting on his cheek.

“But why…”

“He’s fighting off an infection, the doctor said that once his fever breaks, the curtain can come down,” Sam answered his question before he could fully form it.

“He looks so,” Jason couldn’t find the right words to describe Spinelli, “he looks so small, like a, like a god damn kid Sam.”

His voice broke, and then much hated tears filled his eyes. He couldn’t seem to stop the silent flow of tears once they’d started. He hated feeling vulnerable, hated showing emotions so openly. But seeing Spinelli so still, so broken, and knowing that he’d almost lost him, that he had for the course of three, or was it four, days, lost him, was overwhelming and the careful walls that he’d painstakingly constructed over time started to crumble and crash around him.

Sam said nothing, just sat next to him, her hand resting on his shoulder in support as he cried himself out. His throat felt raw, his nose stuffed and sore and his eyes puffy when he’d finally regained his composure and fell back heavily against the hospital pillow.

He felt exhausted, emotionally as well as physically. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried like that, but knew it had to be sometime after what had happened with Franco. Though he didn’t remember crying this long or hard, the hollowness and blistering vulnerability felt the same.

“He’s going to be okay Jason,” Sam reassured him, squeezing his hand.

“I thought he was dead,” Jason said, his voice no higher than a whisper, “I heard the code blue, and then, and then the next thing I remember was being prepped for surgery.”

“I tried to tell you.”

“I know, but I had to see it for myself,” Jason said. “I thought you were lying to me, you know, to get me to respond like the doctors wanted,” he quickly explained when Sam’s face fell, her lips twisted in a frown.

“Jason, I would never lie to you about something like that,” she said, but then winced at the accusatory look that Jason cast at her.

“You did it with Robin,” he said softly. “How was I supposed to know that, for my benefit, you weren’t lying to me about Spinelli?”

“I’m sorry Jason,” Sam said, “I did what I thought was best at the time and I’d do it again, in a heartbeat, if it meant keeping you alive.”

Jason cast a sidelong glance at Spinelli, some of the tension in his chest easing as he watched the steady blips on the heart monitor. More proof of life.

“I couldn’t trust you Sam,” Jason said when he could find his voice; he kept his eyes averted, trained on Spinelli’s chest as it rose and dropped.

He turned from watching Spinelli to look at Sam, forcing himself to face her, to face the truth.

“I can’t trust you,” he said. “I want to, but your betrayal’s always there, at the back of my mind, and I can’t.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Sam said, her voice filled with sorrow, “I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”

“I know,” Jason said, and he turned his gaze back to Spinelli, still not certain that he could fully trust his eyes.

“Where does this leave us?” Sam asked quietly.

She moved her hand to her lap, and Jason felt the loss of it. Until now, he hadn’t realized how much her betrayal had hurt him and their relationship. It had driven an invisible wedge between them that had quietly, but steadily grown bigger and bigger over the few short months of their marriage.

“I don’t know,” Jason said after a few minutes.

One of the reasons their night together had been so important was because they’d needed to reconnect. With everything that had been going on – John McBain snooping around, the loss of Robin, the paternity of the baby being in question, and his insistence that Spinelli move back into the penthouse because of everything – they had really needed a night to themselves, to see if they could reclaim some of what they had at the beginning of their marriage.

Their night hadn’t worked out as planned. Not by a long shot, and now Spinelli was lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life. Jason knew that, in spite of Sam’s insistence that the younger man would be alright, he was still battling an infection and the wound in his gut would take a considerable amount of time to heal.

Jason had his own healing to do as well. His doctor had informed him that he’d need to go through two more surgeries to repair the damage that had been done in the fall and subsequent abuse that the joint had taken when he’d carried Spinelli down the stairs. If he hadn’t put his knee under such strenuous conditions after his fall, it might have healed on its own.

The doctor had made it seem as though he’d had a choice, and that he was at fault for the strain it had been under. Jason hadn’t responded. There had been no choice, Spinelli’s life was more important than a busted knee.

But, was his friend more important than his marriage to Sam? He hadn’t thought so that night. He’d put Sam’s happiness and their marriage before Spinelli, and hadn’t gone to him when he’d called out. Jason had put Sam, the baby, whether it was his or not, and their marriage before everything and everyone else, including himself.

He hadn’t examined his own feelings about their marriage, about them, period. It wasn’t something he did very often, examining feelings. That’s what he had Spinelli for. To help give him perspective on things like feelings and what was right – not the black and white, but the shades of gray that he found difficult to discern.

It hit him like a sucker punch to the gut that he’d been looking to Spinelli for this kind of support all of these years and hadn’t given much thought to it. He’d taken Spinelli for granted, and it had taken almost losing his friend to realize that he valued the kid who’d been such a nuisance to him at the beginning. But, Spinelli had been playing this role in his life from the very beginning – that of a conscience. He suddenly understood the reference to ‘grasshopper’ that Spinelli, and even Diane was so fond of using.

Spinelli might look to him as a mentor and a father-figure, but Spinelli was his moral lodestone – the one who made certain that he thought things through before acting, and that he considered more than just his own limited perspective when making decisions. He turned, with new eyes, to look at the younger man where he lay ensconced in a plastic hospital tent, like some boy trapped in a bubble.

In a strange way, it was Spinelli who had saved him. He just wished that it hadn’t taken something so extreme to shake him, and help him see the truth. The truth was that, yes, he loved Sam but he couldn’t trust her, and their marriage, in spite of the addition of a baby, was on rocky ground.

He turned back toward Sam and watched her for a minute. She was fiddling with the edge of her shirt, her eyes downcast and her mouth marred with a frown. Her jaw was working as though she was trying to keep herself from saying something, and he wondered what it was she was keeping from him. A red light flashed in his mind when it occurred to him that it wasn’t a matter of wondering what his wife was thinking, but what it was she was contemplating lying to him about.

“We can’t go on this way,” he said at last.

Sam’s head whipped up and her eyes found his. They weren’t tear-filled, but were filled with something Jason would never have imagined to be possible at a time like this – relief.

“No, we can’t,” Sam agreed. “Jason, I love you, you know that, right?”

“Yes,” he said, nodding. That was one thing that he didn’t question. “I love you too.”

“And, what if this baby is Franco’s?”

“Is it?”

When Sam wouldn’t meet his eyes, he had his answer.

“I still love you,” he said.

“Will you love the baby too?” she asked, staring hard at him.

Jason didn’t know the answer to that. He didn’t know how to feel about a child he’d had yet to meet, and didn’t know if he could raise the child of a rapist. It would always be there at the back of his mind that the baby his wife held in her arms was not his, but the offspring of a sick, twisted man who had hurt his wife.

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly, something that he was certain that Spinelli would have approved of, though he would have couched it in better words.

“I plan to have this baby Jason,” Sam said, her eyes welled up with tears.

“I can’t,” he started, but then reconsidered his words, “I mean I won’t stop you, but Sam, I don’t know if I can raise Franco’s baby. The man raped you,” he said, wincing at the way that Sam flinched at his harsh words. “I don’t understand why you’d want to have his baby.”

“My baby,” Sam said in a whisper. Averting her eyes, she continued, “It’s not just his baby, it’s mine too.”

“I want to say yes,” Jason said, his heart breaking, “but I know that every time I look at the child, I’ll see Franco, what he did to you, how it nearly destroyed you.”

“This baby is innocent, he shouldn’t have to pay for the crimes that his father committed,” Sam said.

“It’s a boy?” Jason asked.

“No, that is, I don’t know, I’ve just been referring to the baby as he,” Sam said, a faint smile tinting her lips.

“I, I’m not blaming the baby for Franco’s actions,” Jason said carefully, “I just can’t stop seeing that monster’s face, what he did to you, and now that I know the baby’s his, I can’t…”

“I don’t think I can do this Jason,” Sam said, and she stood, cradling her injured arm with her good arm. “I love you, but if you can’t see past Franco, and if you aren’t willing to help me raise this baby, then I think,” she paused, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully, “I think that we need to stop this before the baby’s born, because I don’t want to bring him into a home where he’s not going to be welcome.”

Jason blinked and his heart clenched in his chest. He didn’t want to lose Sam, he didn’t, but he couldn’t fathom raising the child of a rapist. There was a logical part of him that understood the baby wasn’t to blame for what had happened to Sam, and that he or she was an innocent in all of it, but there was also a big part of him that blamed the baby growing inside of his wife for what was happening between them now. It was illogical, didn’t make any sense whatsoever, and he knew that he was being unfair, but he couldn’t help feeling as though this baby was to blame for the failure of their marriage.

He wished that he had Spinelli to talk to, but when he looked over to Spinelli, his friend remained quiet and unaware. His body was so still that Jason feared that Spinelli might’ve stopped breathing, but realized that the alarms would have sounded if he had.

“I don’t know what to say Sam,” Jason said when he turned back to face her. “I can’t not think of what’s growing inside of you as being Franco’s, and I can’t divorce him,” that was a Spinelli term, “from the evil that he brought into our lives. I don’t want to raise the child of the man who raped my wife on our honeymoon. I love you, but I can’t love his child.”

“He’d be your nephew Jason, and how is this any different than what happened with Michael?” Sam asked, she sounded hurt and on the verge of crying. “I don’t understand how this is any different,” Sam said, blinking back tears.

“I don’t care what anyone says, that sick bastard is not my brother,” Jason said, he was unable to keep the disgust from his voice, unable to speak calmly. His heart rate increased, the blips on the monitor struggled to keep up.

“This is nothing like what happened with Michael. Carly wasn’t raped, Sam, and I thought he was mine,” Jason added when he’d calmed down some.

“So, you’re saying that if I hadn’t told you the truth that you’d be okay with all of this?” Sam asked, her tears momentarily forgotten. She jutted her chin out and a flash of anger glinted golden in her brown eyes.

“No, I wouldn’t be okay with you lying to me, again,” Jason placed extra emphasis on the last word, “Franco raped you and I’ll be damned if I’m forced to raise his child, nephew or not.” Jason’s face was red with anger by the time he’d finished talking.

He couldn’t believe Sam had compared this situation to what had happened with Michael, and that, if she’d have known how he’d react, that she would have kept him in the dark about it. That, more than anything else, had been the final straw. He couldn’t live with someone he couldn’t trust. That was akin to a death sentence in his line of work.

She cleared her throat before speaking again, “If this is how you feel, I’ll, uh,” she sniffed, wiping at a stray tear, “I’ll move out of the penthouse.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Jason said.

“Yes,” Sam said, smiling, “I do. I need to start focusing on what’s best for the baby. I don’t see him as Franco’s, but as mine. I wanted him to be ours,” she added, “because I know you’d be a great father, just look at how you are with Spinelli.” She gestured toward the unconscious boy.

“Where will you go?” Jason’s throat felt tight and tears, must be the medications the doctors had him on because he could count on one hand the amount of times he’s cried over the past several years and he was reaching his quota, formed in his eyes.

“My mom’s,” Sam said, mustering a watery smile. “Alexis has been fawning over me and the baby. She’ll jump at the opportunity to help me with my pregnancy.”

“If you think that’s for the best.” Jason didn’t know what else to say. He looked away, his stomach churning with guilt and anger and a deep sense of loss.

“Until you have a change of heart, this is how it has to be,” Sam said, and with that, she turned and walked out of the room, shutting it quietly behind her.

Jason didn’t think his heart would change, even though it felt as though he was being split in two as he watched Sam walk out on him. He didn’t want to be the bastard in all of this, but he couldn’t do what she wanted him to, not with all of her past dishonesty and not with the possibility that even this could be a lie.

He hated to think it, but if she could lie about something as important as Robin’s death, then he couldn’t put it past her to lie about this, to test him and see if he’d be willing to raise someone else’s child, to see if his love for her was enough to conquer all. If the child turned out to be his after all, and Sam had tested him in this fashion by deliberately lying to him, he’d be done with her forever.

Chapter Text

Johnny stood just outside the door to the room where Jason and Spinelli were. He'd watched as Sam left wiping tears from her eyes, and wondered what the hell had happened. His heart thudded in his chest as he watched the woman disappear around the corner.

Had Spinelli taken a turn for the worse? Or was it Jason. He hadn't even been aware of the man's injury when he'd helped transport Spinelli to the hospital. It came as a surprise when he'd heard it from Carly the other night.

He wasn't sure what he was doing at the hospital and felt a little foolish. He didn't owe Jason or Spinelli a damn thing; after all, it was he who had saved Spinelli's life the other night. Still, he wanted to see that his work, the sacrifice of his time, hadn't been in vain, and maybe there was something else he could do to help Jason and Spinelli.

Shoving his nervousness aside, he took a deep breath, and after looking to make sure that no one else was coming – strictly speaking, he wasn't supposed to be here – he carefully opened the door, worried at what he might find on the other side. Doctors and nurses weren't rushing to the room, so the only other thing that the distraught look on Sam's face could mean was that one of the men on the other side of the door was dead.

"I thought I said that I didn't want to do this now," Jason said. He wasn't looking in his direction, but was focused on the young man lying in the bed next to him.

Johnny was drawn, like a moth to some damnable flame, to the plastic tent set up in the middle of the room. He didn't like how still and pale Spinelli looked. While he and Jason might deserve such a fate one day for the shit that they did, Spinelli didn't. Yeah, the kid some illegal crap from time to time, but this kind of fate was not, should not be, on the books for him. He deserved to live a long life, die as a silver-haired old man with a shitload of grandchildren to revere him.

Johnny cleared his throat. "Uh, I just thought I'd check up on Spinelli, make sure that he's alright," Johnny said, shoving his hands deep in his pocket.

"Zacchara," Jason said, turning to face him, "thanks. I don't think I had a chance to say that to you."

Completely out of his element with a thankful Jason, Johnny nodded and jutted his chin in Spinelli's direction.

"How's he doing?"

"Hasn't regained consciousness yet," Jason said. "He's fighting off an infection."

"That why he's in that tent?" Johnny gestured at the plastic barrier.

"Yeah," Jason said. "Why are you here?" Gone was Jason the grateful, he was all business now.

"Just wanted to check on Spinelli, make sure that he was okay," Johnny said.

"And?" Jason wasn't buying it.

"And, to tell you what I saw that night," Johnny said, suddenly weary.

He paced between the door and Jason's bed, aware of the hit man's blue eyes tracing his every move. It made him uncomfortable, like an itch that he couldn't reach to scratch. He pivoted again, walked toward Jason's bed and then collapsed in the chair beside it.

"What did you see?" Jason asked.

"At first I wasn't sure that I wasn't just seeing things; I'd had a little to drink that night, you know?" Johnny glanced at Jason only to see that the man's gaze was sharp and intent upon him.

"What did you see?" Jason repeated.

"I saw someone, dressed all in black, on your balcony. If it wasn't for the lightning, I would've never seen the man stab Spinelli," he said.

A dark, murderous look crossed Jason's features and Johnny felt the air in the room change as though it had been electrified.

"I was going to call, but my phone was dead," he hastily added. "I wasn't sure if you were home or not, so I tried to get over to your place, to help Spinelli, but the power went out in my building and there was a fire, shit, Jason, all I kept seeing as I walked down those fucking steps surrounded by all of my neighbors was that motherfucker shoving that knife into Spinelli."

He ran a shaky hand through his hair, not daring to look at either Jason or Spinelli. Truth was that he hasn't been able to sleep through the night. He can still see that knife glinting in the flash of lightning; can still see Spinelli fall beneath the blade when he closes his eyes at night.

He needed to be here today to see for himself that Spinelli was alive because he couldn't take anyone else's word for it. Not after what he'd seen.

"What did he look like?" Jason asked.

"He was dressed head to foot in black," Johnny said. "I don't know, he seemed a little shorter than you, maybe. A little stockier in build?"

He closed his eyes trying to remember exactly what he had seen that night aside from the assault.

"He seemed sure of himself," Johnny said after a minute, the night clearer in his mind after he'd taken out the stabbing, "like he'd been there before."

"Son of a bitch," Jason's voice was a harsh whisper that startled Johnny. "It can't be."

"What? Who can't it be?" Johnny asked, leaning forward until his elbows rested on Jason's bed.

"Franco," Jason said.

The look on his face was one of conviction, as though he knew with every fiber of his being that it had been a dead man who'd stood out on his balcony the night of the storm which had knocked power out in three cities and had caused a number of fires and multi-car accidents.

"I thought he was dead," Johnny said. He'd heard as much through the Port Charles grapevine, namely Carly.

"So did I, but this has the smell of Franco all over it," Jason said, his mouth downturned in a frown as he glanced sidelong at Spinelli.

"What do you need me to do?" Johnny asked, offering support before his brain had a chance to catch up with his mouth.

He and Morgan didn't work together, it just wasn't done. They were on opposite sides of the wrong side of the law.

Jason looked at him as though he'd sprouted two heads, and Johnny felt like maybe he had. Now that he'd offered the help, he wasn't going to take the offer back. That would make him look bad; besides, he'd gotten into this whole mess because of Spinelli, or rather out of a desire to make sure the younger man was okay. He didn't want to back out now, not until this whole mess was over and he could be assured that Spinelli would remain okay and in the midst of the living.

"I need you to," Jason paused and regarded him for a measure before continuing, "look after Spinelli," he said, glancing at the other man.

"You planning your escape from the hospital so soon?" Johnny asked, wondering why Jason would want him watching out for Spinelli when he could do it himself.

"No, it's just," Jason looked away, ashamed, "I'm on a couple of different drugs for pain and so that I don't get an infection, and I'm scheduled to have another surgery within the week. I just need a second set of eyes."

"Okay," Johnny said without hesitation. "I'll play the part of Spinelli's bodyguard."

"What's this going to cost me?" Jason asked, giving him a hard look.

Johnny thought for a moment, a number of different options popping into his head, each accompanied by his grandfather's overzealous smile. He could almost hear the old man's words of warning echoing in his head as he shook his head.

"Nothing," he said. "I got into this mess because I was worried about Spinelli. I'll do what I can to keep him, and you, safe from whoever the hell was skulking on your balcony that night, whether it was Franco or someone from a rival mob. The way I figure it," he said with a broad smile, "I keep the two of you out of trouble and safe, you owe me a favor someday."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Jason said, grimacing.

"Come on, how bad can it be?" Johnny asked, leaning back and smiling like a Cheshire cat. "We'll form a little partnership on the side, I help guard Spinelli from the black menace, how much you wanna bet that the kid calls his attacker that?, and you, well, you help me out of a jam someday. Quid pro quo. A favor for a favor."

"Fine."

Jason nodded and sighed. Raking a hand through his hair, he stifled a yawn and cast another sidelong glance at Spinelli who remained oblivious and unresponsive.

"Looks like you need to get some rest," Johnny said, and then he stretched his legs out and slunk down in the chair, repositioning himself so that he could see the door, the window, Spinelli and Jason all at the same time.

To the unskilled eye, it would look as though he was resting, but in reality, he was a coiled spring ready to move at a moment's notice. No one would be getting past him. He patted the gun that he'd stuck in his waistband as he left his apartment earlier that day. It was within easy reach, as was the knife he'd stuck in his bootleg. He was armed and dangerous, but appeared to be relaxed.

"What's up with Sam?" he asked, regretting the question as soon as it was out of his mouth as Jason's eyes flew open.

"Nothing," Jason said.

"Yeah, right," Johnny muttered and shook his head, but didn't push the issue. He wasn't Jason's friend, didn't need to bend the man's ear or have the man bend his ear for that matter.

"The baby okay?" he didn't know why he asked the question other than the fact that his mouth seemed to see fit to screw him over today. If he could rewind the day, not make the trip to the hospital, not see Sam, his life would be one hundred percent better.

"It's fine," Jason bit out.

He was steadfastly looking up at the ceiling and Johnny wondered if he was trying to bore holes into it with his laser vision. Because if he was the Dark Knight, then Jason was Superman hopped up on red kryptonite. Together, they'd make a dark side superhero dynamic duo.

"Fuck, I need to get out more often," Johnny murmured, "and hang out with different people."

"The baby's not mine," Jason said, and Johnny almost thought that he was hearing things.

"I'm sorry," Johnny said after a pause. "Whose is it then?"

"Franco's," Jason said.

"Fuck." Johnny gave Jason a sympathetic look. "How the hell did that happen?"

"He," Jason paused to clear his throat, his voice came out raw and uneven when he spoke, "uh, he raped her."

"Shit, I'm sorry," Johnny said, wishing for the millionth time since he'd set foot in the hospital room that he could take his words back. "Man, I didn't know. What're you going to do about it?"

"I don't know. I don't know if I can love the baby, I know that makes me a bad person, but…"

"Doesn't make you a bad person," Johnny said with conviction, shaking his head. "I don't know if I'd be able to do it either. I mean, shit, fuck…" he scrubbed a hand over his face and glanced at Jason who was turned in his direction, a stricken look on his face.

"Spinelli would know what to do, how to handle it," Jason said. "He'd probably tell me I'm being an ass, except more eloquently than that." He smiled briefly, his gaze darting toward the other occupant of the room.

Johnny snorted.

"Damn straight," he said. "Still, that's some pretty heavy shit you've got on your plate."

"Sam says that the baby's not to blame, that he's an innocent in all of this, but I just can't see the baby without seeing Franco's face and hearing his voice mocking me. You know he made me watch. He locked me up and…" Jason lost his composure and Johnny had no idea what to do other than wait it out.

"You know, Claudia uh pretended to be my sister, let my grandfather raise me as his son," Johnny said once Jason had his emotions under control.

"I don't want to hate her, but there isn't a day that goes by, now that I know the truth that I don't wish that she'd been honest with me. My father was a monster, and, if Sonny hadn't been feeling particularly vindictive, I'd have never known any of it. It makes me sick to my stomach. I mean, I'm not saying that I'm happy knowing I'm related to some sick fuck, but knowing the truth beats growing up with lies."

"So, you think Sam should tell the kid who his father was, what his father did to her?" Jason asked.

Johnny was quick to shake his head.

"Not right away, no, but at some point in time, yes," he was speaking from experience here, knew what living with a lie had cost him, and how much it had hurt when the shit had hit the fan. When, though would be a good time to give that kind of news to a child?

"When?" Jason asked, echoing Johnny's thoughts.

"I'd say when he's old enough, but no one's old enough for that kind of news," he said. "But, growing up thinking that you're his dad when you aren't, even if you adopt him, that isn't right either."

"And if I can't love the kid? If I can't get over what happened to Sam, what I was forced to see and hear?" Jason's voice is raw with emotion that Johnny doesn't know how to deal with.

"Take it one day at a time," Johnny said, feeling like a heel for the copout. "Maybe wait until the kid's born, see if you can see him as his own person?"

"Sam wants an answer now, she's pushing me to accept something that I can't even begin to wrap my head around," Jason said.

"That's tough, man."

"She's leaving me," Jason added.

"Fuck." Johnny shook his head. That explains Sam's hasty retreat from the hospital, he thought.

"And, I'm okay with it," Jason said after a pause. "Things have been strained almost from the beginning, and we tried to rekindle things, but then…" he gestured toward Spinelli.

"All hell broke loose," Johnny finished for him.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that." Jason chuckled without humor.

"What it boils down to is that I can't trust her. She tried to tell me that Spinelli wasn't dead, but I didn't believe her because she'd lied to me about Robin, and then I knew she was keeping something else from me, but I had no idea what it was until she came out with it today, that Franco's the father of the baby that was supposed to be ours."

"I'm sorry, man," Johnny said when it seemed that Jason had nothing else to add. "I don't know what to tell you, I'm not exactly a beacon of trust myself, I fucked things up with Carly and with Kate."

"You really care about Carly?" Jason asked and Johnny wished, again, that he'd kept his big mouth shut.

"I do," he said, and he meant it. He didn't know why he'd let Kate's evil alter ego talk him into having sex with her. He might've gotten revenge on Sonny, but had ultimately screwed himself over in the end.

"What're you going to do about it?" Jason asked, eyeing him carefully.

"I don't know that there's much I can do," Johnny said. "She's pretty pissed, and I can't really blame her. I fucked up, big time."

"Try not letting your dick think for you," Jason said bluntly, and Johnny nodded.

"If I could, I'd rewind time," he said, "me and Carly had something good. It worked, and it might not have gotten your approval," he looked at Jason, "but it was good, and I loved her. Fuck, I loved being with her. You know there's just something about Carly."

"Yeah, I know," Jason said. "She's an amazing and complicated and frustrating woman."

"That she is," Johnny agreed. "But, I guess that she's no longer my amazing, complicated, frustrating woman."

"Give her time," Jason said, "and, if you really mean what you're saying to me, be persistent with her. Hell, she's put up with Sonny and with me all of these years. You're no better, and no worse."

"Same thing goes for you Morgan," Johnny said, jutting his chin in the man's direction, "Sam, give her time."

"Yeah," Jason said around a yawn.

"And get some sleep; I've got your back," Johnny said, "and Spinelli's."

He nodded in the younger man's direction and was surprised when Jason gave him no further protest, but closed his eyes and a short while later, fell asleep.

Johnny stretched, working the kinks out of his neck and back. He regarded his charges, made sure there had been no changes in their appearance – Jason still slept soundly, now and again his brow creased and his mouth turned downward in a frown; Spinelli was still completely out of it, the only sign that he was alive was the rhythmic rising and falling of his chest.

He pulled the gun from his waistband and double-checked that it held the proper number of rounds, and that the safety was in place. He steeled himself at the sound of footsteps heading toward the door, relaxing only when a doctor poked his head in. The man said nothing to him, just eyed him warily, shook his head and checked on Jason and then Spinelli.

"How're they doing doc?" Johnny asked, stretching his legs out before him as he sat down in the chair.

"I presume that you are the gentleman that Ms. McCall said would be looking after my patients?" the doctor posed his own question, raising an eyebrow as he questioned Johnny.

"Uh, yeah," Johnny said, feeling very much like a schoolboy caught doing something wrong by the principal himself. He made to stand, but the doctor shook his head, and he settled back into the chair once again.

"Do you have a name?" the doctor asked.

"Name's Johnny," Johnny said, sticking his hand out to the doctor, "yours?"

"Doctor Travers," the thin doctor said and he reluctantly shook Johnny's hand.

"So, how are they doing Doctor Travers?" Johnny leaned forward in the chair, setting his elbows on his knees.

"Mr. Morgan seems to finally be resting, and Mr. Spinelli's fever seems to have broken," Dr. Travers said with a slight frown.

"That's good, isn't it?" Johnny asked, unsure why the doctor didn't look very happy with his pronouncement.

"Yes, yes it's good," the doctor quickly replied and offered him a brief smile. "I take it that you'll be making this room your temporary quarters for the duration of Misters Morgan's and Spinelli's stay?"

"Yes," Johnny said, "I'm," he wasn't sure if he should tell the doctor the truth or not, but shrugged and decided to err on the side of honesty in this case, "their bodyguard."

"You think that whoever did this to Mr. Spinelli might try to attack him again?" Doctor Travers asked, looking back in horror at Spinelli.

"It's a possibility," Johnny said.

"Well, it's good that you're here then," the doctor said, blinking, and then he quickly left the room.

Johnny shook his head as he watched the doctor leave. Maybe he should've let the doctor believe the lie that his hospital was safe as houses.

"So, it's just the three of us," Johnny said, boredom already kicking in. He wished that he hadn't messed things up with Carly as she would make for good company right about now.

A soft knock at the door startled him. He hadn't heard the footsteps leading up to the knock and he cursed silently. Jason would have his hide for that kind of slip-up. Cautiously, hand on gun, he approached the door, and, when the knock sounded again, a little less quietly, he opened the door, prepared to shoot if necessary.

He let out a soft sigh, and then an internal groan as the knocker turned out to be a harried looking Maxie Jones. She was accompanied by an even more harried looking Matt Hunter. The man was dressed in his white doctor coat and blue scrubs. His hair looked decidedly unkempt, and the frown on his face was so deep that it looked to Johnny like it might actually be a permanent fixture on the man's face.

"Where is he?" Maxie demanded, turning around in the hospital room and glaring at Johnny as though he'd hidden her friend behind his back or something.

"He's sleeping," Johnny answered, the hand resting on his gun twitched.

"I need to see him," Maxie insisted, and she spun around to look for her quarry. "I need to make sure that he's alright. After all that he did for me, to think that he's been…that he could…"

She turned and buried her head against Matt's shoulder when she saw Spinelli encased in the plastic tent.

"Oh Matt, he looks so, so…sick," Maxie's voice was muffled by Matt's coat.

When she pulled away from her on-and-off-again boyfriend, there were tears on her cheeks. She brushed at them, and Johnny moved to intercept when she took a step toward the plastic tent.

"You can't go in there," he said.

"What are you doing here anyway Johnny?" Maxie asked; her eyes grew wide when she saw the gun that he had tucked in his waistband. "Are you here to kill Jason and Spinelli?" Her hand flew to her mouth and she backed away from Johnny.

"No, I'm not here to kill Jason and Spinelli," Johnny said. "I'm here to protect them," from idiots like you, he thought.

"You?" Maxie's tears dried up as she gave him a once over and then sniffed. "Why would Jason trust you to keep an eye on him and Spinelli?" She crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him.

Johnny rolled his eyes, and shook his head.

"Look, believe whatever you want," he said, "but, you aren't going to bother Spinelli. He's in that tent thingy for a reason."

"It's called reverse isolation, and Spinelli's in the isolator to keep things like bacteria and germs out so that he can fight off a severe infection which appears to be affecting his immune system," Matt explained.

"Is it serious?" Maxie turned to Matt, her eyes wide and tear-filled once again.

"Yes," Matt said, somewhat exasperatedly.

Johnny hadn't realized how serious Spinelli's condition was, hearing Matt explain what the tent's real purpose was put everything into grave perspective for him. Suddenly, watching over Spinelli seemed a very daunting task. Thugs and would be attackers, he could fight off, but infection and bacteria, he couldn't.

The door opened with a loud swoosh and Johnny whirled at the possible threat, only to look away as the door framed Carly. Her eyes were alight with purpose as she strode into the hospital room. She steadfastly didn't look at Johnny, but made a beeline to Jason.

Fearing the worst, Johnny stepped in front of her, barring her way to the still, thankfully sleeping, Jason. She wasn't an outright threat to the injured man, but he needed his rest and Johnny needed to talk with Carly, explain to her what had happened with Kate, how it hadn't meant anything.

His mouth was dry, and Carly, still without looking at him, took a step around him. He matched her step for step, and her jaw tensed. Finally, she looked up; her eyes were hard, filled with fire.

"Step aside Johnny," she said, her voice was low, civil, "I'm here to see Jason." The, not you, was left unspoken, but Johnny heard it nonetheless and his heart hammered hollowly in his chest.

"He's sleeping," Johnny said, his voice felt small and feeble.

"What, are you his keeper?" Carly asked. She raised an eyebrow at him and placed her hands on her hips.

"According to him, he's here to protect Jason and Spinelli," Maxie said from the corner where she and Matt stood.

"You can't keep me from him," Carly said, moving to push past him.

Cringing, Johnny stood his ground.

"He's my best friend," Carly said, as if that settled everything.

"Right now what your best friend needs is some uninterrupted rest," Johnny said, "doctor's orders," he added when it looked like Carly was about to argue with him.

"What are you doing here?" Carly asked.

"Like Maxie said, I'm here to protect Jason and Spinelli," Johnny said, shrugging, wishing that he hadn't offered to help Jason after all. He was already developing a headache.

Carly laughed – an ugly, humorless sound. Her lips contorted in a frown and she shook her head.

"You aren't trustworthy," she said, jabbing a finger in his chest.

He resisted the urge to rub at the spot on his chest. She hadn't hit him particularly hard, but it still smarted. He realized right then and there that he'd lost Carly for good. There would be no going back down that particular road.

"Maybe not," Johnny said, "but right now, with Jason out of commission and Spinelli fighting for his life, I'm what they've got, or do you want Dante here, protecting your best friend and his grasshopper?"

Carly's jaw twitched, and she wrapped her arms around herself. It was a classic posture of self-defense, and Johnny felt bad for having hurt Carly as badly as he had. The only person he'd wanted to hurt had been Sonny, but, like all plans based on vengeance, too many bystanders had been hurt in the process, and Sonny had barely batted an eye.

Yeah, the mobster was mad, that was a given. One of his women, his possessions, was despoiled by an enemy. It stung, but, given everyone else that Johnny that had hurt in the crossfire, it wasn't worth it.

"Better him than you," Carly said, turning away.

She walked over to Jason, laid a hand on his chest and sat in the chair that Johnny had vacated.

"Don't worry yourself," she said, her eyes trained on Jason, "I won't wake him. I just need to see for myself that he's alright. The doctors, on Sam's orders," Carly snarled, "wouldn't let me see him earlier."

"How close can I get to Spinelli?" Maxie asked Matt, she was watching Carly with envy and glaring daggers at Johnny.

"You can't get any closer right now," Matt said on a sigh. He walked over to the medical tent and picked up the clipboard to read the doctor's notes. "If he responds well to the antibiotics regimen that Dr. Travers prescribed, he should be out of the woods within the next twenty-four hours."

"How long has he been in there?" Maxie asked, she'd walked up to the doctor and entwined her arms around him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder.

"As soon as he was wheeled out of surgery, two days ago," Matt answered, frowning at the clipboard. "Apparently he hasn't regained consciousness yet, but that's to be expected," he quickly added.

"I just want him to wake up and be okay," Maxie said. She was frowning in Spinelli's direction.

"He needs rest," Matt said, "and for his friends and family to let him know that he cares."

"We're all the family he has," Carly said. She had been watching the pair with the same amount of disdain in her eyes as Johnny had. "Do you really think it's a good thing for the both of you to be here? Is this how you're going to show him that you care about him Maxie, by flaunting your boyfriend in front of his sick bed?"

"I'm not flaunting," Maxie said, but she pulled away from Matt as though she'd been slapped and paced toward the far corner of the room.

Johnny smirked, but quickly schooled his features into something neutral when Carly flashed him a look that clearly said, 'If my best friend and the boy he loves like a son weren't in this room, I'd kick your ass.' She raised an eyebrow and smiled when he looked to the floor.

A sharp rap sounded at the door, but before any of the occupants of the room could move to answer, it was thrust open and Sonny swooped into the room with an air of entitlement that few could emulate. Johnny instinctively shrunk back into the far corner of the room closest to the door. He knew that Sonny seeing him here would not be a good idea and wondered for the millionth time what he'd been thinking when he offered to help Jason, and what the other man was thinking himself. Perhaps the drugs were really messing with Jason's judgment.

"Carly, how's Jason, I just heard," Sonny said, and he certainly sounded concerned, but Johnny wondered at the sincerity of the man's concern. Was he truly concerned for Morgan's welfare or was his concern only because his lieutenant was out of commission for an undetermined amount of time?

"I can't believe it," Sonny said, oblivious to the other occupants of the room, "do you know how it happened? All I heard was that freakboy was attacked and that Jason was hurt trying to get the kid to safety."

"Spinelli was stabbed protecting Morgan," Johnny said in spite of himself.

He inwardly cursed his hotheadedness, and his stupid, stupid tongue. Why did it insist upon digging him into these holes that he could not get himself out of? And, technically he was stretching the truth just a bit, but from his vantage point across the way, it had seemed as though Spinelli was trying to keep the other man from getting into the penthouse.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Sonny shouted.

The man was across the room in a manner of seconds, face in Johnny's, fisting his shirt in his hands and hauling him off his feet.

"Scum like you doesn't belong here," Sonny said, and Johnny tried to pull Sonny's hands off of him, but he had no purchase.

"Let him go," Jason's voice wasn't loud, but it rang out like a shot in the room and Sonny spun around so fast that he brought Johnny around with him.

"I said let him go," Jason said, and like that Sonny dropped him.

Johnny tried not to stumble, but the drop was so abrupt that it was impossible. He used his hands to brace himself against Jason's hospital bed, apologizing to the injured man with his eyes. Somehow the whole situation was out of control and now Jason was awake and scanning the ICU room which was entirely overrun with uninvited but mostly, subtracting out Sonny, well-meaning visitors. It appeared that Johnny had let things get completely sideways and he swallowed at the implications. Would Jason merely glare him out of the room, or would the man make a more permanent solution to his perceived ineptitude?

Johnny looked away, ashamed of himself. Jason had asked one thing of him, and he had failed. Not just a little, but a lot. This was a colossal failure. At the back of his mind, though, he wondered how all of these people had managed to slip past hospital security in the first place. As one person, he'd been able to do so fairly easily, but he suspected that Epiphany had something to do with that as the nurse had clearly seen him 'sneaking' in.

Maxie had Matt as her escort, that one was a no-brainer. He could've said he was checking on the patients, no questions would be asked. Carly, well, she was sneaky personified, and Sonny, Johnny shuddered at the thought, the man would not be held back by security or a bristly nurse.

"I'm sorry, Jason," Johnny said, his face flushing with embarrassment and shame. "They just kept coming in and…"

"It's not your fault," Jason said, clasping his arm with a hand and squeezing. "Everybody, clear out," he said a little louder, glaring at each and every person in the room in turn. His gaze lingered longest on Sonny who, by the stubborn set of his jaw, was not planning on leaving before he felt like it, Jason's edict aside.

"Sonny," Jason said, losing none of the fierceness of the tone he'd used on the others who were reluctantly clearing out of the room.

Carly cast one look behind her shoulder as she left, and Johnny caught the look of understanding that passed between Jason and the woman he'd thought he loved. She was not angry at being unceremoniously tossed out of her best friend's hospital room. Sonny, on the other hand, was looking fit to spit nails, his eyes darting from Johnny to Jason and back again in an almost comical fashion.

"Jason, I need to talk to you," Sonny said. His tone was harsh, unforgiving, much like the man himself. "Alone," he said, his eyes darting to Johnny.

"Whatever you have to say to me, you can say in front of Johnny," Jason said, and Johnny thought he could hear weariness in the other man's tone. There were dark circles under Jason's eyes and Johnny felt a tug of concern for the hit man.

"What? Is that clown your right hand man now?" Sonny jerked a thumb in Johnny's direction. "Spinelli gets injured and you trade one flunkie in for another?" Sonny asked.

Johnny felt something shift inside of him as anger rippled through him at Sonny's abrasive words. He could take an insult to himself, he was used to it. Growing up with Anthony Zacchara, he was used to ducking verbal barbs. But, he didn't like how Sonny was talking about Spinelli and that threw him for a loop. Since when did he care about the kid? Morgan?

"Spinelli's not a flunkie Sonny," Jason said, shifting so that he could face the man. The wince accompanying the movement did not go unnoticed by Johnny, but it went completely ignored by Sonny who paced in front of Jason's bed.

Sonny shook his head and poked a finger in Jason's direction.

"That kid has been nothing but trouble since you brought him back to Port Charles with you. When are you going to wise up and cut him loose?" Sonny asked.

"Do you know how much work Spinelli has done for you over the years?" Jason countered. "How many jams he's gotten you out of? How many times he's saved your ass? How much money he's amassed for you?"

"He's a fool, the kid can't even remember his name half the time," Sonny fumed, turning in Spinelli's direction to glare at him.

"He's just smarter than you," Johnny said, smiling with a grim satisfaction when that drew Sonny's attention away from Spinelli.

"He ain't smarter than me, not where smarts count," Sonny said.

Dismissing Johnny with a sneer, Sonny turned his attention back to Jason.

"You should've gotten rid of him for good when you and Sam got married. Where is Sam anyway?"

"She's gone," Jason said.

"What? This about the kid not being yours?" Sonny asked, and Johnny wondered at the man's lack of tact with regard to his friend's feelings.

Jason's pain was unmistakable, Johnny could see it in his eyes, and yet the man he'd worked with for decades seemed oblivious to the pain that he was evoking in his friend.

"Sonny," Jason said, and this time even Sonny seemed to hear the exhaustion underlying Jason's words, "I don't want to do this right now."

"If not now, when?" Sonny said. "That child's going to be born in a matter of months, and believe me time flies when it comes to things like that. When are you going to work this out? After the kid's born?"

"It isn't mine," Jason said. "Sam and I have already 'worked it out'. I don't want to talk about it with you right now."

"What do you mean Sam and you've already worked it out?" Sonny seemed to not hear the anguish in his friend's voice and Johnny was growing angrier on Jason's behalf by the second.

"I mean just what I've said," Jason said, "she's leaving me because I don't know if I can love the baby."

"But," Sonny shook his head, his eyes narrowing at Jason as he spoke, "you know that it's not the baby's fault. That you can't lay blame at its feet."

"God damn it Sonny," Johnny interrupted as Jason fought for control, "are you deaf, or just plain stupid? Jason said he didn't want to talk about it now, so let it drop."

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Sonny whirled on him. "You aren't even a friend. You're just a no-good, stupid, loser," Sonny's words were punctuated by steps as he closed in on Johnny.

Johnny stood his ground. His anger kept him focused and gave him courage.

"I may be a no-good, stupid loser," Johnny said, his telltale smirk of self-loathing fixed firmly in place, "but, if you count yourself as one of Jason's friends, I've got to say that I'm happy you consider me to be an enemy."

"I don't know what you're still doing here," Sonny said, still advancing on him, "didn't you get the memo that you aren't wanted? Your own mother didn't want to claim you, and now you're hanging out with your enemies? You really are as crazy as everyone says you are, aren't you Johnny boy?"

Johnny's body was shaking so hard that he was practically vibrating. He knew that he shouldn't respond to Sonny's baiting, but it was so damn hard to stand there and take it. And then it came to him, seconds away from exploding in a flurry of fists, Johnny became aware of several things all at once – first, Sonny was afraid, not of him, but of losing Jason to him; second, Sonny was spoiling for a fight; and third, Sonny didn't have a leg to stand on with Jason, not with all the shit that he'd been saying about Spinelli.

Johnny held his ground, and smiled brazenly in Sonny's face.

"I'm here because Jason asked me to be here," he said. "Now, I believe that the man asked you to leave. We can do this one of two ways: either you can go on your own, or I can escort you out of this room," Johnny tapped the butt of his gun as he spoke.

"You're nothing but a peon," Sonny said, snarling. "I'd like to see you 'escort' me from this room." He stepped right into Johnny's space so that their faces were literally an inch apart. It was a dare that Johnny was willing to take.

"Tell you what, Mr. Corinthos, if you don't get yourself up and out of this room by the time I make it to Mr. Morgan's bed, I'll be escorting you from this room, and trust me, it won't be pretty," Epiphany said in a booming voice and both men started. Neither of them had heard her enter.

"Now, Mr. Morgan doesn't want you here, I sure as heck don't want you here, and Johnny has made it abundantly clear that your presence is not wanted. Just how many people does it take to get a point across to you?" Epiphany's hands were on either of her considerable hips, and the frown on her face was foreboding. Johnny wouldn't want to mess with her, and he was all but holding his gun.

"Get," she said as she walked into the room, and Johnny would've laughed at the look of not-quite fear that crossed Sonny's face, but he was afraid of what the man might do to him.

"Now, Mr. Corinthos, unless you want me to make good on my promise," she said, and the woman wasn't even looking at him, her eyes were fixed on Jason.

"I'll be back," Sonny said, and he knocked into Johnny as he swept past.

"The joy's all ours, I'm sure," Epiphany muttered at his retreating back. "I'll be sure to inform security," she said a little louder, and Johnny couldn't help but smile at the woman.

"Thanks Epiphany," Jason said.

"Yeah, thanks," Johnny added.

"If you're going to be this man's bodyguard," Epiphany said as she checked on Jason's IV and fit a blood pressure cuff onto his arm, "you're going to have to protect him from those friends of his. They're more likely to do him in than whoever it was that stabbed Spinelli."

"I know, I'm sorry," Johnny said, wondering if he'd ever feel anything other than guilt and sorrow while guarding Jason and Spinelli. "They just all came swarming in," he said, swiping a hand through his hair.

"And I suppose you couldn't very well shoot them all," Epiphany said without a hitch.

She tsked at whatever reading she got from the blood pressure cuff, and fluffed Jason's pillow before pushing him to lie back down.

"You need rest," she told the man who was struggling to sit back up, "before you work yourself into getting sick. You're not completely out of the woods yet Mr. Morgan. Infection is a very tricky thing, and you're recovering from surgery. If you want to be there for Mr. Spinelli, you will sleep, and Mr. Zacchara will keep his word. I'll also put in word with security and make sure that none of your other 'friends' makes it up here to visit you or Mr. Spinelli."

"How's he doing?" Jason asked, turning to look at Spinelli who had remained out of it through everything, including the confrontation with Sonny.

"He's holding his own," Epiphany said, pursing her lips.

She moved to check on Spinelli, sanitizing her hands, donning a mask, gloves and a gown located on the other side of the tent before she parted the flaps of the tent and entered. Johnny hadn't noticed any of that equipment before, and felt every bit the fool that Sonny had accused him of being. He should be aware of every inch of the room, know every nook and cranny so that if anything was out of order, he would know it.

Johnny couldn't be any more of a failure if he tried. He shook his head and glanced at Jason who was watching him. Suddenly exhausted, he sank down into the uncomfortable chair beside Jason's bed.

"I screwed up," Johnny said, not meeting Jason's gaze. "It won't happen again, you have my word. No one, other than hospital personnel, will get through."

Chapter Text

Spinelli felt like he was drowning, and he’d never been quite this hot in his entire life. Maybe he was in Hades’ clutches for something that he’d done for Alcazar, or Sonny, or Jason, or maybe it was something he’d done when he was younger. He tried to find his voice, but couldn’t seem to figure out how to get his mouth to work. It was dark, and he was on fire, and there was no one there to help him.

“Spinelli? Jackal?” a voice, soothing, coaxing, panicked, sounded close, and yet too far for Spinelli to reach. He knew he should recognize the voice, but it was so hard to think, and he was being burned alive.

“Spinelli, come on, time to wake up,” the voice cajoled. “You need to wake up, buddy. I need you to wake up.”

Spinelli tried, he really did. There was something about the voice that made him want to wake up, even though he couldn’t place the voice just yet.

“Mr. Morgan, what are you doing out of bed?”

Spinelli recognized that voice too, though, again, he couldn’t put a name to it. It was sharp, and feminine, and rather unhappy from the sounds of it. He wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a lecture from that voice.

“But…”

“Mr. Morgan, if you expect to be of any use to that boy while he’s recovering, you are going to have to be well yourself. Now, back in your bed, and if I have to tell you that again, I’ll have you moved to another room myself, you hear me?”

Sounds of movement and grumbling accompanied that order, and Spinelli felt the world slipping away, the darkness somehow becoming something tangible, something that he could cram himself inside of and escape, for a short time, the heat that was threatening to consume him.

xxx

“How’re they doing?” Johnny jerked his chin in Spinelli and Jason’s direction, once Jason had been helped back into his bed. He’d been standing guard by the two men for going on a week now, and had successfully stemmed the tide of visitors, having had the pleasure of watching Sonny Corinthos tossed out by a security guard – at the behest of Jason.

Epiphany shook her head. “If that man don’t stay in his bed, he’s going to wind up doing worse than poor Spinelli.”

“He gonna wake up soon?” Johnny fingered the fringe at the cuff of his jeans.

He had his leg propped up over the armchair that he only left to grab a bite every now and again, and to take care of necessities. Carly, once she’d been convinced that Johnny really was helping out Jason and Spinelli, had been kind enough to bring him some clothing and toiletries, and she stopped by, at least once a day, to spell him from guard duty.

Epiphany shook her head, and pursed her lips, her hands on her hips. She looked weary. “I don’t know, but I hope for Mr. Morgan’s sake that the boy does wake up soon.”

“Yeah, me too,” Johnny said, sitting up, and feeling a bit of a head rush.

“Easy there,” Epiphany said, and Johnny felt her hand on his head, and a stethoscope was pressed to his back. “When’s the last time you ate?”

Johnny shook his head. He didn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. It didn’t seem important, given that Spinelli was fighting for his life and Jason wasn’t doing much better, and he hadn’t really been hungry, and Sonny had been threatening to come over with Milo and Max.

“I’ll have an orderly bring something up for you,” Epiphany said, and Johnny felt himself blushing when she patted him on the head. “You, go clean up. I’ll stand watch for the next little while.”

Johnny sputtered, but Epiphany practically hauled him out of the chair and pushed him in the direction of the bathroom. She wrinkled her nose, and waved a hand in front of it, and, flipping her the bird, Johnny grabbed a fresh set of clothes and went to shower.

xxx

Jason was only half aware of the conversation going on between Johnny and Epiphany. His eyes were focused on a much too still, too pale Spinelli. It was hard to believe that only a week had passed – it felt like an eternity.

During that week, Jason had broken up with Sam, ended a partnership with Sonny, and somehow wound up becoming partners in a garage with Johnny. The hours waiting for Spinelli to show some signs of life had not been spent idly, though, now, Jason wondered if the younger man would ever wake up. He had much to discuss with Spinelli when he did wake.

Mack had been by to get a description of the man who’d attacked Spinelli, and Jason knew that the police were after Spinelli’s attacker, but he wouldn’t be happy, or feel safe until the man was dead, preferably by his own hands. It would be his last act as a hit man. God willing, it would be his last kill.

“Spinelli,” Jason said, suddenly losing all patience. It had been long enough of a wait, and Jason knew that the longer it took for Spinelli to wake up, the less chance there as that he’d wake up at all.

“Mr. Morgan, don’t even think about it,” Epiphany’s voice was sharp as a knife, and Jason laid back down, drawing his legs back up onto his hospital bed.

“This is ridiculous, I’m fine,” Jason ground out. “I…”

“You have not yet been released from the hospital. When you are, then you can get out of that bed, until you are, you are not to move from that bed unless you are supervised by myself or one of the orderlies. Is that understood?” Epiphany’s eyes were flashing and her hands were on her hips, and Jason would not cross her now if his life depended on it.

He nodded, and sunk back against his pillow. “When will I be released?”

“Sometime tomorrow afternoon, provided,” Epiphany held a hand out to forestall his shout of triumph, “provided that you don’t cause anymore damage to that knee of yours. Honestly, carrying that boy down all those flights, what were you thinking?”

“There was no other way.” Jason felt his hackles rise with anger. “He would’ve died.”

“I know it, honey,” Epiphany said, her voice subdued. She rearranged the pillows and blankets on his bed, and didn’t quite meet his eyes. “You did good by that boy, Mr. Morgan.”

“Thanks,” Jason said, his throat thick. He didn’t know what it was about Epiphany that made him feel like a little kid, nor why he sought her approval when he didn’t seek the approval of others.

“Your mother will be up to see you and Mr. Spinelli later this afternoon,” Epiphany said. It was as much a warning for Jason to be on his best behavior, as it was a warning that he’d be poked and prodded by his, and Spinelli’s, primary physician now that Dr. Travers.

Jason didn’t even bother saying that Monica Quartermaine wasn’t his mother. Epiphany would scald him with her tongue, and, over the past week, Jason had come to see the woman who’d loved him, no matter what, over the years, as something very like a mother. The attention she’d paid Spinelli, and him was something that money could not buy, and Jason was more grateful for it than he had words for.

“And, another thing, Mr. Morgan,” Epiphany said, and Jason shook his head, because he hadn’t realized that she’d been talking. He thought better of asking her to repeat herself, and turned to look at her and show that he was listening, that his mind wasn’t on Monica, or Spinelli.

“You need to make sure to give that other boy of yours, who seems to lack the good sense that the Lord gave the human race, a break every now and again. He’s going to work himself sick, watching over you and Mr. Spinelli,” Epiphany finished her speech with a finger jabbing Jason right in the chest.

“Johnny?” Jason had almost forgotten about the other man, though he was dimly aware that Johnny was in the room, or out in the corridor, keeping watch, he had mentally dismissed him, knowing that Johnny would do what he’d said he’d do.

“Yes, Johnny. Honestly, men.” Epiphany rolled her eyes, and then turned around to fiddle at some of the equipment that surrounded Spinelli.

“He’s fine,” Jason said, shrugging. The man hadn’t complained, and he’d seemed just fine the last time that they’d spoken, which was…Jason couldn’t remember, but that didn’t mean that Johnny wasn’t alright. “And, he’s not, ‘my boy,’” Jason added as an afterthought.

“The hell he isn’t,” Epiphany muttered, and then Johnny stepped out of the bathroom, and Jason got his first real look at him since Sonny had had his ass handed to him a couple of days ago.

Johnny was thin and lean. Well-toned muscles. And, now that his attention had been drawn to the other man, Jason could see that Johnny’s eyes had dark circles under them, and that he was swaying on his feet. His wet hair clung to his face, and it somehow made him look younger, more vulnerable.

Silently cursing Epiphany for bringing Johnny’s condition to his attention, he closed his eyes and silently counted to ten before opening them again and regarding Johnny. He looked like he’d lost a few pounds, and given that it had only been a week, that was saying a lot.

“When’s the last time that you ate?” Jason asked, and he grimaced when Johnny startled at the words.

Jason watched Johnny’s throat work as the dark-haired man swallowed before turning toward him. Instead of answering Jason’s question, he smiled, and walked toward the hospital bed, sitting down in the chair.

“How are you feeling?” Johnny asked.

“When’s the last time that you ate?” Jason persisted.

Epiphany snorted, and Jason gritted his teeth.

Johnny shrugged and ran a hand through his hair, causing droplets of water to cascade down his face, making him appear even more vulnerable than Jason knew the former mobster was. He almost cursed Epiphany aloud, but bit his tongue on the impulse.

“How about slept?” Jason asked, and Johnny reddened.

“Look, Jason, I’m fine,” Johnny said, and he made to stand, but Jason shook his head.

“Go home, get some rest. Come back tomorrow. I’m supposed to get out then, we’ll take turns guarding Spinelli. Mack’s got some officers sitting outside the door as well. Sorry I didn’t cut you loose sooner,” Jason said.

“Looks like everyone here could use some rest,” Monica’s voice rang out sternly, and Jason peered over Johnny’s bent head to find his mother, he couldn’t think of her as anything else right now, damn Epiphany, glaring at him and Johnny.

“Mr. Zacchara, I suggest that you do as my son says, and go home, and get some rest, before I book a hospital bed for you. Come back tomorrow, around eleven, to collect my son. Don’t bring him back to see Spinelli until evening,” Monica ordered.

“Yes, Dr. Quartermaine, that is,” Johnny stuttered, and looked to Jason who nodded. “I’m fine, really, I can…”

“Go home, Johnny. Get some real rest and eat and we’ll work out a schedule tomorrow,” Jason said, feeling odd to be giving his former enemy, now partner, orders.

“If you’re sure,” Johnny said, stifling a yawn, and blushing profusely.

Jason raised an eyebrow and Johnny stood, hesitating. He cast a look over at Spinelli. “You’ll let me know if he wakes?”

Jason nodded, wondering why Johnny was so invested in Spinelli’s welfare.

“He’s a good guy,” Johnny said.

“Yeah, he is.”

“And, you’re working your way to a hospital bed, Mr. Zacchara,” Monica said impatiently.

Giving her a smile, Johnny gathered his things and then left.

Monica was quiet as she checked Spinelli’s vitals. Jason watched her like a hawk, taking in every slight frown and wrinkled squint of her eyes, every intake of breath. He only let out a breath when she seemed satisfied that all was well.

“Another saline drip,” she ordered, and Epiphany nodded, and then left.

“Let’s see that knee of yours,” Monica ordered.

Jason groaned when she poked and prodded it, but she nodded, and smiled, seemingly satisfied with how well he was progressing. “You should be good to go by mid-morning; I’ll have someone come from physical therapy to set up a schedule for the next few months.” She held up a hand when Jason opened his mouth to protest. “Jason, if you don’t do this, you might never regain full use of your knee again. You might have to walk with a cane for the rest of your life. Set up the appointments.”

Jason nodded. He eyed the cane that his physical therapist, Garrett, had laid next to the wall, and glared at it.

Monica followed his gaze, and sighed. “If you follow through with your physical therapy that will only be a temporary inconvenience. If you don’t, it’ll be permanent.”

Jason ran a hand through his hair and focused his attention on Spinelli. He didn’t care about his knee. If he had to walk with a cane for the rest of his life, hobbling about like an old man, well before he was one, it didn’t matter, all that mattered was that boy in the hospital bed across from his own.

Monica’s gaze softened, and she caught Jason’s hand up in her own. “He’s doing better,” she said, shaking her head when Jason opened up his mouth to protest.

“His temperature is dropping, and he’s slowly waking,” she assured him.

“When?” Jason’s voice cracked, and Monica tightened her grip on his hand, squeezing.

“Any day now,” Monica said, and she placed a finger on his lips when he opened his mouth. “And don’t even think about camping out here when you are released. Spinelli’s going to need you in top form when he does wake up, and you won’t be if you spend every waking and sleeping hour here, by his side. You need rest, real rest, Jason.”

“I just, I can’t let him wake up without a familiar face,” Jason said, remembering some of the dark things that Spinelli had muttered when he’d been injured and unaware of what was happening. “He needs me here.”

“He needs you whole, and well, Jason,” Monica said sharply. “And, if he does wake when you aren’t here, you’ll be notified immediately.”

“Someone needs to be here, all the time,” Jason said. “He can’t wake up alone.”

“And, he won’t. Jason, this may have escaped your notice, but Spinelli is loved by a great deal more people than yourself. Carly, Maxie, Jax, Epiphany, Sam – your problems aside, she does care for Spinelli – and myself, to name just a few. And there’s Molly, and Johnny. Jason, Spinelli won’t be alone when he wakes,” Monica assured him.

Even so, Jason wanted to be the one who was there when Spinelli first awoke, and he found himself praying that would be the case, even as his mother left, and Garrett came in to work with him, and set up future appointments for when he left the hospital. He worked through the pain, barely aware of it, all the while willing Spinelli to wake.

xxx

Spinelli felt movement around him, as though his head was stuck in a dark cloud. He wanted to make his way through the cloud, felt that there was something important he had to do for someone. Felt like, if he didn’t make his way through the cloud, that he’d be disappointing someone that he didn’t want to disappoint.

Granny? Spinelli questioned. Darkness, cold and consuming, answered him, and Spinelli shivered, because wherever he was, it was hot, and the blast of cold the he felt from his grandmother should’ve been welcome, but it wasn’t.

Uncle…Uncle Davy? Spinelli prayed that it wasn’t him who was waiting for him on the other side of the cloud. He’d left home to stay away from that man. Had decided to work for a known mobster to keep out of Uncle Davy’s clutches. It had been worth it, and it had let him to Stone Cold.

Stone Cold? The cloud seemed to shift, and the darkness swirled around him, bringing some light and comfort with it. Some easing of the intense heat that he was certain should have already burned him up.

Stone Cold, is that you?  Spinelli heard a whimper, thought he heard a prayer, and felt a cool hand brushing the hair off his forehead.

“Spinelli, I’m going to be back, soon,” a voice spoke to him out of the cloud, and Spinelli struggled to cling to it, to follow it out of the cloud, but it was hard.

Spinelli felt something else brush lightly across his forehead, and then there was nothing. Terrified, Spinelli struggled to bring the cool touch, and the familiar voice back. He didn’t want them to leave, even though they’d promised to be back. He didn’t know that, by the time they were back, the darkness and the fire, wouldn’t have taken him completely.

No! he protested. No, don’t go. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. “Do…n leave me.”

“Spinelli?” the voice, frantic now, was closer, and the hand was back.

Spinelli followed the voice, let the hand guide him. He wanted to make it through the damn clouds. There were so many of them, and they seemed to want to keep him, but the voice, the voice was calling him, and it was familiar, and safe, and the cool hand was sure, and steady, and Spinelli wanted to see the owner of the voice and the hand.

“Wake up, come on, Spinelli. Just open your eyes for me. You can do it,” the voice sounded sure and excited, and Spinelli really didn’t want to disappoint.

It shouldn’t be so hard, opening one’s eyes, and yet Spinelli found it to be one of the hardest things he’d ever done. The clouds were giving way, and yet they still clung to him, like a second skin, like some sort of protective barrier between him and the outside world. Between him and the voice and the hand.

“Please wake up,” and there was that other feeling, the one that Spinelli couldn’t quite place, but was familiar, like a kiss to soothe a fever. “You can do it, Spinelli.”

“Mr. Morgan,” that other voice was trying to pull him away, and Spinelli wanted it to leave.

“Just give me another minute,” the voice was angry, and Spinelli didn’t want it to be angry, he wanted it to be good and kind and soothing, and he wanted to open his eyes, wanted to tell the voice, the hand, the lips, not to leave.

“Mr. Morgan, you need your rest,” the other voice sounded sad and hesitant, and tired.

“I’ve done nothing but rest for the past week, Epiphany. Give me another minute,” the voice demanded, and Spinelli felt a sort of triumph as the clouds thinned, giving way to the commanding tone in the voice.

“Another minute had better not turn into another hour,” the other voice said, and the tone was resigned.

Spinelli’s anxiety eased some when the voice returned to him, murmuring encouragement for him to wake and to open his eyes, and the hand, the hand was still there, holding him, guiding him, beckoning him to wake up, and he so wanted to wake up. He wanted the darkness, the clouds, the fire, to end. He wanted to wake to the voice, and reassure the voice, and himself, that he was okay, but his eyelids felt like they’d been glued shut, and it was hard, hard to do what the voice wanted him to do.

“Spinelli,” the voice sounded sad, the hand stilled on his forehead, the other squeezed Spinelli’s fingers tightly. “It’s okay, maybe tomorrow. I’ll be back.” And then, there was that other sensation, the brush of lips over his forehead, and the hands were easing back.

No! No! Don’t go. Don’t go. Stay!

“Spinelli?” the voice, and the hand clinging to Spinelli’s stayed, and he wanted to smile, wanted to open his eyes, wanted to squeeze back.

“Spinelli, do that again!” the voice was excited, and Spinelli didn’t know what he’d done. “Squeeze my hand again,” the voice urged, and Spinelli did, or he thought he did. It was hard to tell, but when the voice shouted something that Spinelli couldn’t quite make out, he thought that maybe he’d done it, maybe he had managed to squeeze the voice’s hand, and keep the voice there just a little longer.

“He’s waking up,” the voice said. “He just squeezed my hand. Squeeze my hand, Spinelli.”

Spinelli complied, or hoped he did.

“See? He did it. He squeezed my hand.”

“I see, Mr. Morgan,” the other voice was dry, and yet excited. “I’ve got eyes of my own. Move over, let me get a check on his vitals.”

No! Spinelli didn’t want the voice to move.

“Fine, stay there, just keep out of my way,” the other voice conceded. “Boy’s clinging to you like you’re a life preserver.”

“Mr. Spinelli, if you can hear my voice, open your eyes,” the other voice demanded.

Spinelli could hear the voice, but, try as he might, he couldn’t seem to get his eyes to open.

“Hmm…try a little harder, honey,” the other voice urged.

“You can do it, Spinelli. Just open your eyes,” the voice was accompanied by a hand squeeze, and Spinelli felt something loosen inside of him.

At first, he wasn’t sure that he had opened his eyes, because he couldn’t really see anything. The darkness was gone, but everything was blurry, and it felt like something was pressing down on his eyes, making them hurt. If his eyes were open, he wanted to shut them again, because this was far too painful.

“Spinelli?” the voice sounded uncertain, and Spinelli turned toward it, almost shutting his eyes as he felt a stabbing sensation in his stomach.

“Ow.” Spinelli wasn’t sure whose voice that was, it was small and weak, and it felt like he’d spoken, but everything was so confusing, and it was so hard to focus his eyes.

“Shh, Spinelli, try not to move, you were stabbed, and…” the hand was rubbing along the edge of his knuckles, soothing some of the panic that Spinelli was feeling. He thought his eyes were open, but he couldn’t see, and his stomach and his head hurt, and there was a stabbing pain behind his eyes, poking into his brain.

“Mr. Morgan, honestly, have you no sense whatsoever? Don’t tell the boy that right now, let him wake up. There’s time enough for that later.” the other voice tutted, and Spinelli felt other hands, soft, and brusque, and then there was light, piercing, making his brain hurt.

“He’s awake,” the voice was speaking to someone else, and Spinelli wanted the voice to speak to him again.

He groaned, and tried to bat the light away, but he didn’t think his hands had moved.

“Easy there, Spinelli. Nurse, I’ll take over from here,” it was another voice, and there were more hands, and Spinelli wished that he hadn’t opened his eyes – if they were open, he still couldn’t make sense of anything that he was seeing. Everything was stabbing light, and nondescript figures.

“You’ve had an accident, and have been out for just over a week,” the new voice was soft and quiet, and the light moved away, and Spinelli sighed in relief. “Do you remember what happened?”

Spinelli thought on the question, and he tried to make sense of it, make sense of what it was that he was supposed to remember.

What happened? What happened? What happened? Uncle Davy wanted to play hide-and-seek, and I fell and broke my wrist?

That didn’t sound right, and Spinelli frowned, and he sought out the other voice, gripped the hand tightly when it felt like it was moving.

“Jason, perhaps you’d better stay. We need to get him to calm down before he crashes.”

“Spinelli,” the voice called to him, and Spinelli turned his head toward it, tried to get his eyes to focus on the owner of the voice. “Spinelli, listen to me, you’re okay. You’ve got to calm down, okay? I’m not going anywhere.”

“Pro…mise?” Spinelli pushed the word past his lips, and when he blinked, the world around him became more focused, and he could just make out the shape of the owner of the voice sitting next to him.

“Keep talking to him, Jason, I think it’s working,” the new voice said, and Spinelli felt the world spin just a little at the thought that the voice, Jason, might stop talking.

“Yeah, Spinelli, I promise. I’m not going anywhere,” the voice was a little thick, and the hand squeezed, and when Spinelli blinked again, he saw a smile, and then eyes so blue that he was momentarily breathless.

He’d know those eyes anywhere. “Stone Cold?” Spinelli’s voice was little more than a hoarse whisper, like he hadn’t used it in years, and it felt like years had passed since he’d first broken through the dark clouds which had conspired to keep him away from the voice, from his mentor.

“Yes, Spinelli, I’m here,” Stone Cold’s eyes were shining with tears, that he brushed off with the back of his other hand, but he was smiling. “Thank God, Spinelli. Thank God.”

There was more fussing and talking, and Spinelli’s vision grew clearer, and he knew for certain that the owner of the voice really was Stone Cold, and he felt safe. Smiling, he let his eyes slide shut, because he was suddenly, overwhelmingly tired, and stifling a yawn, he said, “Stay?”

“Yes, Spinelli, I’ll stay,” Stone Cold promised, and the man’s hand held onto his, and the clouds, and the fiery heat did not return.

Chapter Text

Spinelli moved stiffly from the hospital bed, to the waiting wheelchair. Though he was deemed well enough to leave the hospital, provided that he had home care (Stone Cold, and others, Johnny among them), his healing wound still ached. It would ache for some time to come, but he knew that, it, like the cloud that had been so hard for him to wake from, would pass, given time.

“Stone Cold.” Spinelli smiled and waved at his mentor who was having a conversation with the Dark Prince as they made their way over to Spinelli.

Their heads were bent together, and Spinelli had to admit that, even after three weeks to get used to the idea that the Dark Prince and Stone Cold were partners, he was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around the concept. He supposed that, under the circumstances, and given what he now knew about Johnny, that he’d have to come up with a new moniker for the man.

“Spinelli, you’re looking good.” The Dark Prince gave him a genuine smile, and grabbed the handles to the wheelchair.

Though Stone Cold had explained to him just what part the Dark Prince had played in helping to save Spinelli’s life, Spinelli still had a hard time accepting the former mobster’s lack of animosity toward him and toward Stone Cold. It was going to take a lot of time for him to get used to that, as well as to the fact that Stone Cold had stopped working for Sonny Corinthos.

“You ready to come home?” Stone Cold asked. He had his hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his jeans, and wasn’t meeting Spinelli’s eyes.

“If the Jackal has to stay one more night in this dreary, antiseptic domicile, he’s going to go clinically insane,” Spinelli murmured.

He was grateful for the expertise of the doctors, and happy to be alive, but he was ready to go home, and get some true rest. His recovery wasn’t complete, but he doubted that he would truly recover in the hospital room he’d been calling home for the past month.

“Watch what you say about the hospital,” Nurse Johnson scolded, but she was grinning as she plopped a stuffed bear (a gift from Molly), a handful of get-well cards, and a potted plant on his lap. She tied a group of balloons to the handle of his wheelchair, and then pulled him in for a hug. “Don’t you ever do anything like that again, you hear me?”

Spinelli blinked at her stern tone, and nodded. He hadn’t planned on having anything like that happen in the first place, and shivered as his thoughts strayed to that night. He closed his eyes against the onslaught of the memories, and focused, instead, on the here and now, and getting out of the hospital, and having a place to call home.

“Look, Spinelli, I…” Stone Cold turned toward him when they reached the double-glass doors leading out of the hospital, and Spinelli was suddenly on high alert, wondering if maybe all of this was too good to be true, or maybe he was stuck in another fever dream. He wondered if Uncle Davy would show up, and if he’d wake up, drenched in sweat, to find a doctor or a nurse hovering over him, administering some sort of medicine to bring his latest fever down.

One thing that had come of his feverish dreams was a set of appointments to see a psychologist recommended to him by one of the nurses who had overhead one of his nightmares about his Uncle Davy. He didn’t relish those meetings, but Spinelli knew that they were just another step toward healing, and he wanted to be whole – not just in body, but also in spirit and in mind.

“Spinelli, are you alright?” Stone Cold knelt in front of him, and Spinelli swallowed past his fear as he nodded.

“The Jackal is really leaving the hospital, right?” he had to make sure, couldn’t count on his senses.

Stone Cold nodded. “Yes, this is real, and I’m sorry for upsetting you. I just, there’s been some changes at the penthouse. And, with no one knowing where Franco is, I’ve…well…”

“Jason’s asked me to move in. Added security,” the Dark Prince said, and he steadfastly avoided Spinelli’s gaze, looking at something in the distance that Spinelli would bet didn’t actually exist.

“And, well, everyone wants to see you, so there’s a party,” Stone Cold said the word as though it was a curse, and Spinelli laughed. “But, it’s not until this weekend, to give you some time to settle in, and make sure you’re rested. If we need to, though, we can cancel the party.”

Spinelli shook his head. As tempting of an idea as it was to cancel his coming home party, he knew that it was an important step in, not only his recovery, but also the recovery of his friends who’d been affected by what had happened to him.

He’d been surprised by the number of visitors that he’d had while he’d been in the hospital. He hadn’t realized that so many people cared about him. It had been humbling. He couldn’t’ deny those people the opportunity to see him home, though he was grateful for the foresight of whoever had planned the party. He definitely wasn’t up to having one now. He was already exhausted, and he hadn’t actually set foot out of the hospital. He was still sitting in the wheelchair.

“Jason! Hold up,” the Brusque Lady of Justice hailed them. She was holding a paper and a pen, waving them in her hands. When she reached them, she was out of breath, and had to put her hands on her knees.

“Diane” Stone Cold didn’t sound overly happy to have her there, but she gave him a great big smile, and shoved the paper and pen at him.

“Jason, before you growl at me, hear me out,” Diane said sternly, and she turned a smile on Spinelli. “Good afternoon Mr. Grasshopper. It’s good to see some color back in those cheeks of yours.” She leaned close and pinched his cheeks, and Spinelli ducked his head and blushed.

“Diane,” Stone Cold groaned. “This was supposed to be a surprise, and, I was going to talk with him about it first.”

The Brusque Lady of Justice raised an eyebrow in response, and looked from Spinelli to Stone Cold and shook her head. Her nostrils flared, and Spinelli feared the worst. “When were you going to tell him.”

“Tonight,” Stone Cold mumbled, and the Dark Prince laughed.

“Tonight,” Diane said in a clipped tone, and she jabbed at the paper that Stone Cold clutched to his chest. “I see. Well, Mr. Stone Cold Ignoramus, maybe if you had bothered to listen to me when I was by the other day, rather than pining after lost loves, and worrying about Mr. Grasshopper, though he was in very capable hands, you would have distinctly heard me say that, in order for this to take place, and for insurance purposes, and yadda, yadda, yadda, the papers had to be signed, on hospital property, before Mr. Grasshopper was officially checked out. Do tell me that he’s not been officially checked out yet?”

Stone Cold swallowed and shook his head. There was still the matter of signing papers, and Spinelli had wondered what was taking so long. It seemed like Nurse Johnson was dragging her feet.

“It’s a good thing that Nurse Johnson listens,” Diane said, snapping her fingers.

Nurse Johnson appeared, carrying a clipboard. She had a rather smug look on her face, directed at Stone Cold.

“Spinelli, I, I was going to tell you about this tonight,” Stone Cold said.

“When it would have been entirely too late for him to benefit, medically, from all of this,” Diane said.

Stone Cold let out a frustrated air, and shook his head. He spread the paper out on Spinelli’s knees, and then signed several sheets.

Spinelli’s heart was hammering in his chest. He had no idea what was going on, and had a number of ideas of what it could be, none of them any good. Each worse than the last – one of them being Stone Cold signing him away to Shadybrook Sanitarium to be committed until he’d dealt with the ghost of Uncle Davy once and for all.

“I wanted to ask you,” Stone Cold said, and he held the papers out to Spinelli. “I’ll understand if you say, no.”

“Maybe if you told him what was in the papers,” Diane said impatiently, rolling her eyes. “And explained why you want to do this. Use your words, Mr. Stone Cold Clueless.”

“What is this, Stone Cold?” Spinelli forced himself to look at his mentor, and not to falter, in spite of his nerves.

“Oh for goodness’ sake,” Nurse Johnson said, shoving a lock of hair out of her face. “Jason, just ask the boy if he wants to be your son, officially. I’ve got other work to do here, you know. I can’t be waiting out here, curbside while you dither about, and keep this boy in misery.”

Spinelli’s breath caught in his throat, and his mouth went dry. Surely he must’ve misheard. Stone Cold couldn’t…the papers that he was now clutching in his hand weren’t…

“Spinelli, are you alright?” Stone Cold’s voice sounded like it was coming from a tunnel, and the man swam in and out of focus while Spinelli tried, and failed to wrap his head around what Nurse Johnson had said. He must’ve misheard.

“I’m…fine,” Spinelli said, his tongue feeling thick and foreign in his mouth.

He looked at the papers, fearing what he’d see. Printed boldly across the top was the word: Adoption. Suddenly there wasn’t enough air in the world, and the world was spinning, and Stone Cold was being scolded soundly by the Brusque Lady of Justice, and someone nearby was laughing.

When he came back to himself, Stone Cold looked completely devastated. “I’ll understand if the answer is, no. I know that I haven’t always been there for you, and that I’ve allowed others to mistreat you, and I’ve taken you for granted, but, Spinelli…I thought you were dead, and while I was waiting for you to wake up at the hospital, and thinking about the baby that Sam is carrying, all I could think about was you, and how much I … how much I love you, and… you’re like a son to me…”

Before Stone Cold could say anything else, Diane held up a hand, and looked at Spinelli. “The ball’s in your court now, Mr. Grasshopper.”

Spinelli felt dizzy, and he wasn’t sure any of this was real. He’d dreamt of being more to Stone Cold than a mere grasshopper, and acolyte, but, even in his dreaming, he’d never dreamt of this. He needed someone to pinch him, but didn’t dare voice that, knowing that Nurse Johnson would be more than willing to accommodate.

“I understand,” Stone Cold said, after a pause, and he made to stand, but Spinelli stopped him with an abrupt hug.

“The Jackal…that is, I’d be honored, Stone Cold,” Spinelli said, tears shining in his eyes, making his view of Stone Cold shimmer. “But, are you sure this is what you want. The Jackal…that is, I…”

“You’re perfect just the way you are,” Stone Cold said, his voice thick with emotion.

“Are you sure?” Spinelli still wasn’t sure if he could trust what was happening right now. He might just ask to be pinched after all.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Stone Cold said, and there was no mistaking the certainty in the tone of his voice. “I’ll understand if you don’t want this. You’re a grown man, and…”

“Yes,” Spinelli said, wiping at his eyes, and smoothing out the papers so that he could sign them.

The Brusque Lady of Justice whooped, and the Dark Prince clapped him on the shoulder. Nurse Johnson waited until Spinelli had signed the papers, and then she shoved the clipboard in Spinelli’s face. He blinked at the name on it – Damien Millhouse Spinelli Morgan – and signed.

“It’ll be official by the festivities this Saturday,” the Brusque Lady of Justice said. “But, now that this is signed, Spinelli will be under your insurance until he turns twenty-five, which, unless I’m mistaken, isn’t for another four years yet.”

Spinelli didn’t protest when the Brusque Lady of Justice revealed his true age. She gave him a look that forbid him protesting, and he glanced at Stone Cold, half terrified that the man would rip up the newly signed adoption papers.

He’d been waiting for it to happen, for his true age to be revealed, and half-feared that it would be Mr. Sir who’d find out first, and then he’d be sent back to his grandmother, and Uncle Davy, in Tennessee.

“It was a surprise,” Stone Cold said. “And, don’t think you’re off the hook just yet.”

“Off hospital property now,” Nurse Johnson said, shooing them off, and Spinelli was glad for the distraction.

Stone Cold helped him up, and they walked to the SUV, Johnny falling into step beside them. It was a new day, and Spinelli felt like he had a new lease on life. There was a lot to look forward to, and, for the first time in a long time, he was happy to be alive.