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A Long Way Home From Texas

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"I really think we should cancel."

"I'm not gonna- We already flew out here," Sammy protests, stripped to the waist and still sweating in spite of the hotel room's frigid AC.

He's been a little sick for a while now, but Jack figured it's just because he refuses to take any time off the show and actually see off the bug for good. His cough only really kicks in at night, and Sammy has taken to sleeping in the guest room the last week or so to avoid disturbing Jack - who's always been a light sleeper - so there hasn't been a sense that Sammy's that sick, really.

It's only once they're already in Austin that Jack notices his boyfriend's low-grade fever has spiked into something worse. Sammy always runs hot, but his flushed cheeks and too-bright eyes have Jack stopping off at a pharmacy before they even get to the hotel.

"Again, and I'll say it slowly this time," he brandishes the thermometer with frustration. "You have a hundred and two degree fever and you want me to let you do three hours. In a tent. In a heatwave."

"You don't let me do anything," Sammy counters irritably, and Jack just rolls his eyes because this guy has zero sense of self-preservation.

"I'm not saying that as your boyfriend, I'm saying it as your producer," he puts the thermometer down before he gestures too hard and straight up impales Sammy with it. It's a tempting prospect. "Take the fucking tylenol and stop arguing with me."

"I'm not-"

"If your fever comes down, I'll consider the gig. Not before then," Jack shoves a bottle of water into his free hand and Sammy doesn't look happy about it, but he must be feeling shitty because he swallows the pills without protest. "You're taking years off my life, Stevens."

"I'm a delight," Sammy lies back on the bed and closes his eyes without being told to, which further convinces Jack that he's not fit for a quiet night at the studio, let alone being on a stage.

Unfortunately, an hour later Sammy's down to an even hundred degrees… and after some more arguing they're off to the show despite Jack's growing sense of impending doom.

The panel is an attraction at a local music festival, set up to coincide with spring break. Shock jocks from all over Texas are on the bill, along with some national big names like Shotgun Sammy, Mancow Muller, and other names Jack never dreamed they'd be sharing airtime with. The DJs are set to host various events over the course of the festival, launched by this joint panel show both performed live (to a crowd of drunk frat boys, no less) and simultaneously broadcast digitally. The crowd is pretty much Sammy's idea of hell, and the tent is already starting to fill up by the time they get down there.

"Gonna be a rowdy one," Sammy remarks, snagging a beer from the drinks table in the smaller tent serving as a green room, of sorts, and chugging it despite Jack's disapproving look. He's already more Shotgun than Sammy, and reasoning with him at this point will be next to impossible. "What? I'm not doing this shit sober."

"Just... Keep drinking water," Jack grits his teeth and lets Sammy go and network - aka join the circle jerk of telling people you've never listened to about how much you love their work - and takes up his own corner talking to a couple of producers he knows from other guest spots around the country.

"Mine's on coke," one sighs, gesturing at the guy talking animatedly with Sammy and a guy who really wants to be Howard Stern but very much isn't. "Yours?"

"I don't even know," Jack shakes his head, accidentally death-staring at Sammy until the guy notices and sarcastically waves his bottle of water at Jack, as if it's evidence that he's being cooperative when he's also holding another beer. He's also coughing worse than he was this morning, great.

Jack already knows this isn't going to end well.

The show starts off okay, with the local popular digital host acting as MC and essentially keeping the panel of bigger names on track - which Jack has to admit the guy does a good job of. He's proud to say he's badgered Sammy into being a generous guest over the years… unlike some of the other personalities at the table, and Shotgun lets the chaos roll over him with the confidence of someone who knows he deserves to be there.

It's a great act. Or it would be, if Jack didn't slowly become aware that his boyfriend might just be struggling to pay attention.

It's hot as hell inside the tent, the heatwave outside is already ratcheting the late March temperatures up unnaturally and the effect is only compounded by the couple-hundred sweaty bodies packed under the canvas. Sammy starts off strong but peters out fast, finishes two and a half bottles of water in the first hour, and Jack becomes increasingly worried when he realises he's still drinking alcohol as well.

Somewhere around the halfway point, he notices Sammy has stopped sweating and gone pale. Jack immediately grabs his notes - just so it looks like he has a reason to be up there - and hops up from the back of the stage to speak to Sammy. A few of the other producers have been up already (they're all used to being able to relay information to the talent in almost-real time on the radio, it's a hard habit to break), so nobody really pays attention when Sammy leans back to hear him.

"You're not even sweating anymore, that's serious," Jack hisses into Sammy's ear, covering the mic with his hand because - even if it's for a completely legitimate reason - Sammy would be mortified by anyone thinking he's not capable. He's probably imagining it, but he can feel the heat coming off Sammy's face even from inches away. "I'm calling it. Get off the stage."


"Shotgun's got his boyfriend whispering sweet nothings up here," some DJ wearing a cowboy hat pipes up from the other end of the table, and Jack closes his eyes for a second to shove down the urge to punch the guy when Sammy jerks away from him and Shotgun leans back in to retort.

"I know you've got a hard-on for my producer, Dave, but I doubt it'll reach all the way over here, so try and keep it in your pants," it inspires a laugh and one of the other guys to launch into some bullshit story about his dick, which thankfully distracts from their situation as Sammy moves away from the mic again to speak to Jack. "I'm fine, let me finish this."

Okay, new tactics.

"You're not making a lot of sense," Jack knows it's a low, low blow to lie about Sammy's performance (especially considering he'll have anxious fallout from feeling like he's humiliated himself for days), but at this point he's more concerned about his boyfriend's physical health. Shotgun has barely contributed to the conversation for the past twenty minutes, and that's as much a sign as any that things are going badly wrong.

"I- I'm fine," Sammy falters at that, and the obvious confusion clues Jack into just how bad he must really be feeling. This can't continue, it should never have got this far. "I can't just bail, I-"

"It'll be worse if you pass out in front of all these people," he feels terrible even as he does it, manipulating Sammy when he's already vulnerable, but Jack is too worried to play nice. "I will drag you off this stage, Sammy. Get up, and let's go."

Sammy just looks at him for a second, eyes slightly glazed and breathing more laboured than it should be - and Jack shouldn't have let him even start this gig, holy shit - and then turns back to the mic.

"I'll be right back, folks. Try not to fall asleep without me," pushing himself up and getting off the stage in a normal looking way seems to take the last reserves of energy he has, and Jack grabs Sammy's elbow and gets him out of the back of the tent as quickly as possible when he starts to stumble.

"I should've never let you do this," he plants Sammy down in the nearest patch of shade, and Sammy curls over in a coughing fit before Jack can touch the side of his neck - yanking his hand back in shock when he does. "Jesus, you're burning up."

"M'okay, really, I-" the platitudes have taken on a slur now, and Jack's panic amps up to critical when Sammy suddenly turns away and throws up beer and bile onto the grass.

This has officially gone beyond stubborn stupidity and well into emergency territory. Shit

Luckily, one of the on-site medics watching over the tent had noticed them leave (Jack wouldn't be surprised if she'd also been aware Sammy was struggling) and followed them outside, jogging over quickly and intervening when it becomes apparent that they're in trouble. Jack isn't someone prone to freaking out and can usually be relied on to keep a cool head in a crisis, but he feels like he's watching from far outside his body as Sammy ends up loaded into an ambulance, ice packs shoved under his arms as his temperature clocks in at over a hundred and six.

The paramedics ask him about seizures on the way to the hospital, as Sammy fades in and out without much comprehension of what's going on around him (Jack keeps a death grip on his hand and doesn't give a shit who sees), and Jack thinks, distantly, that this might be one of the worst moments of his life.

Later, when it becomes clear that Sammy's out of the woods and Jack is able to collapse into a chair next to his bed with relief, a nurse fills him in on what the diagnosis is and what's really going on with his partner.

And Jack... Jack is going to fucking murder him. 

Sammy comes around to the omnipresent hum of AC and a splitting headache, cracking his eyes open and squinting at the blurry, pale ceiling for a second before he starts coughing.

"Hey, alright," Jack is there, thank fuck, and helps Sammy sit up a little until the hacking stops. Sammy lies back down and tries to catch his breath, blinking in an effort to clear his vision as Jack sinks into the flimsy chair beside his bed. He looks around the room, head swimming when he moves it too fast, and realises he's in hospital. "Welcome back."

"Shit," Sammy lifts up his hand and yep, there's an IV stuck in him and everything. What the fuck has he done now? "What happened?"

"You got heatstroke and passed out. They clocked you at nearly 107 and put you in an ambulance," Jack has the tight reserve in his voice which clues Sammy in to the fact he's in big fucking trouble. "When were you gonna tell me that you're really sick?"

"I'm not... I've got a cold?" He tries weakly to prop himself up on one elbow and Jack - who Sammy knows he doesn't deserve right now, even more than usual - fixes the pillow behind him so he can sit up, despite being clearly pissed as all hell. "I didn't think-"

"You didn't think the chest pain was significant? Do you even know how long you've had a fever for?" Jack folds his arms, words clipped, and Sammy braces himself because he doesn't think he's ever seen his boyfriend this furious before. "Does 'walking pneumonia' mean anything to you?"

"I... I didn't realise," he offers, lamely, because he genuinely hadn't thought he was that sick. They've been so busy lately he thought it was stupid to make a fuss over being a little run down, and he figured a sore chest from coughing wasn't that unusual. Maybe he was tired, sure, but he's always tired and… maybe things add up a little more than he wishes they did. "I didn't want to be a pussy... we had stuff to do."

Jack closes his eyes and takes a long, deep breath through his nose with his jaw clenched so hard the muscle tics. Sammy gets the distinct impression he's said the wrong thing.

"You have pneumonia, Sammy. You almost had a seizure. You could have died," Jack grits out at length, and Sammy can't tell if his voice is shaking because he's mad or because he's just had to watch his boyfriend get carried off in an ambulance. He feels like the worst piece of shit, and not because of the whole passing out thing. "We can take time off. We can't get you back from the fucking dead. You're not invincible, Shotgun!"

Jack pauses and swallows hard, reining himself back in from where he was almost yelling, and Sammy chews guiltily on his lip and tries to figure out what the hell he's supposed to say to make this better... if he even can say anything that won't make things worse. He'd known he was pushing it with the show today, and he knew he felt like crap, but they'd flown all the way out here and he didn't want to let people down at the last minute and...

Thank god Jack put his foot down and stopped him from passing out in front of an audience. Sammy's going to have nightmares about that one even though it didn't happen.

"I didn't-"

That just sets Jack off again, understandably.

"You can't neglect yourself like this, you can't keep pushing yourself until something finally breaks you," he plants himself on the edge of Sammy's bed, at once needing to be close to him and having to vent some frustration by poking him in the sore chest for emphasis.

Sammy realises Jack is fighting back tears and blinks, stunned and finally starting to fully grasp the seriousness of the situation. Jack isn't an emotional guy, swings towards happy-go-lucky and addressing the problem at hand rather than worrying about it, and this level of distraught is something Sammy's never seen from him before in all the time they've known each other.

"What would I do if I lost you, Sammy?" He asks, voice wavering, and the naked fear still lingering in his eyes makes Sammy's heart hurt in a way which was nothing to do with the pneumonia.


"No, tell me. What would I do if you were gone? You're my world, asshole," he reaches out and cups Sammy's face, running his thumbs over his five o'clock shadow as if having to convince himself that he's really there. There's moisture brimming in his eyes now along with desperation, and Sammy blinks hard because if Jack loses it, he's going to break too. "We've worked for this our entire lives, but I would quit tomorrow if it kept you safe. You get that, right? You're more important than the show. You are always more important than the fucking show."

"I'm sorry. I thought I was doing the... the best I could..." Jack's face creases at that and Sammy uses what little energy he has to pull his boyfriend into his arms, for once in his life only dimly registering that the privacy curtain around his bed is at least closed. At this point, much to his own surprise, he has other priorities. "I'm a fucking idiot, I'm sorry."

"You're not an idiot, you're... the most frustrating motherfucker in the world," Jack hugs him fiercely, and Sammy holds back just as tight even as his ribs protest. "I've never been so scared in my entire life. Don't you ever do that to me again."

"I'm so sorry," Sammy presses a kiss to Jack's hair, tasting dried sweat and fear as he silently curses himself for not, just this once, listening to reason and not pushing it. "I'm so… I'm never gonna ignore you again, okay? I promise. I fucked up so bad today, I promise I'll do better."

"Just don't you dare fucking leave me," Jack moves back enough to kiss him, just once, hard enough that Sammy knows how frightened he's been, handling this crisis on his own without anyone's hand to hold. "Not for this."

"I'm not going anywhere. I promise," Sammy swears, and Jack buries his face in his still too-hot neck and just hides for a minute, taking shaky breaths as the adrenaline of knowing that Sammy really is okay hits him hard.

Sammy holds him through it, feeling shitty as hell. His head is pounding and his entire body feels like it's throbbing, and somehow it's not as bad as knowing just how badly he's hurt the guy he loves. He swears to himself he'll do better, somehow, even if he fully believes he's a complete disaster who won't manage it.

He'll try his best to be better, because his whole world is in his arms and hurting and that can't stand.

"I think Lily's talking to us again, by the way," Jack pulls back and swipes a hand quickly over his eyes, trying to lighten the mood now he's said what he needed to say. "Talking to me, anyway."

"Oh god, what did you do?" Sammy takes the reprieve for the gift it is and sinks back against the pillow, already wiped out from a few moments of physical activity. He has to cough again and wonders how the hell he even got through until the gig today. Is he really that stubborn?

"I maybe called her to yell about you," Jack admits, sheepishly. "You're lucky you weren't awake before… I had a lot of grievances to air. She said hi and she's kicking your ass when we get home."

"The wrath of the Wrights is the fate I deserve," Sammy gives himself over to the tiredness pulling him down into the dark and gropes for Jack's hand with his eyes closed, twitching a smile when Jack links their fingers together. "M'gonna fall asleep, I think. You don't have to-"

"Fuck off, Sammy. I'm staying," he can hear Jack roll his eyes before he presses a kiss to Sammy's forehead and slides off the bed to settle back into his purgatory chair.

Sammy passes out before he can tell Jack I love you. Which is probably a good thing, in hindsight, because it would be a hell of a way to say it for the first time.

Several years later, on a balmy night in King Falls, Jack reaches the bottom of the stairs and gets one look at Sammy - already totally passed out on the couch despite Troy dropping him off about thirty seconds ago - and texts his sister.

you're not gonna believe what my idiot did.

surprise me

remember austin?

omg text me when he's conscious and I'll tear him a new one

Jack snorts a laugh to himself and shoves his phone back in his pocket, going to check on Sammy and throw a blanket over him until he's ready to rejoin the living enough to at least get into bed.

He knows Sammy won't put himself in the danger zone again, even as he checks him over with careful hands and a too-familiar knowledge of how hot is too hot, but Jack makes sure nonetheless. Sammy's improved, sure, but some things never change. The fact the guy he loves is a stubborn son of a bitch is one of them.

Satisfied he's alright, Jack scribbles Sammy a note and props it up against a bottle of water, presses a kiss to his forehead, and heads on up to bed. Now Sammy has other people who love him watching out for him - Ben, Troy, Emily, most of the town really - Jack doesn't have to worry so much.

Still, he wakes up when Sammy crawls into bed around 6am, and gets a few grunts of yes and no out of his big idiot before he passes back out again. Jack finally drifts off properly tucked up against Sammy's back, falling into uneasy dreams about spring break and sun and the hum of hospital AC.