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Rory O'Shea Was Here

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Every time Rory closed his eyes he worried it would be for the last time, though he also figured he wouldn’t know when it had happened, so what was the big deal? As far as lives went his could’ve stood some improvement, and next time he hoped he came back as David Beckham. Married to a supermodel, at least.

He felt incredibly tired, unnaturally tired, tired of fighting against the body that continued to fail him—maybe it would be a relief to have it all over with. But at the same time the idea of giving up was terrifying, and he fought it every moment. But he could feel his strength failing, too weak now to respond to those around him. He didn’t like to see their pain, on his behalf. He knew he hadn’t done enough good in the world to deserve it.

Rory felt his eyes slip closed, and for a moment everything went black—no sight, no sound of the monitors and murmurs around him, no feel of the scratchy blanket under his arms. He supposed that was it, and was somewhat relieved that the wait was over.

Then his eyes opened again, and he was still in the hospital room. So that was disappointment and relief in one curious rush. Even more curious was the only other person in the room, who sat in a chair beside the bed gazing steadily at him.

He was not anyone Rory had seen before, he would certainly have remembered him. Cheekbones like a god, laser-intense blue eyes, wearing a three-piece suit like he was f-----g James Bond, perfect dark hair. A very unlikely person to bother himself about Rory.

He raised an eyebrow when he saw Rory was awake, as if inviting him to speak. Which Rory wasn’t so great at anymore, but he rose to the challenge in the man’s eyes. “Lawyer?” he guessed. It didn’t hurt his chest so much, pushing the word out.

“No,” the man replied. “My name is Roman.” He had a very posh accent, with a hard edge under it.

This told Rory nothing, though. “Who are you?” he breathed out, trying to make it as demanding as possible. He wasn’t speaking from a strong position, but he was used to that.

“An old friend,” Roman claimed off-hand, and Rory scoffed. He really didn’t have time for games right now. Where was his father and the nurses, where were Michael and Siobhan? “Sit up and I’ll tell you more,” Roman added, holding out his hand.

Rory could not sit up on his own. He hadn’t been able to do that in years. Nor could he reach out and take the man’s hand. If he knew anything at all about Rory, he would realize that. So he must just be making a joke, a very poor one. “Nice one, mate,” Rory sneered. He was speaking easier now, almost like normal. “You’re a real f-----g comedian.”

Roman brought his hand closer to Rory’s. “Why don’t you give it a try?” he suggested evenly, and the utter confidence in his eyes made Rory feel he knew something Rory didn’t.

Rory could move two fingers on his right hand still, but that wasn’t enough to get his hand over to Roman’s. He twitched those fingers just to make sure, then inadvertently met Roman’s gaze. He raised his eyebrow again—he had very expressive eyebrows—and Rory set his jaw. He would either do it, or prove this cheeky wanker wrong. Either way was a win, right?

Rory stared down at his hand, trying to remember what it felt like to move his wrist, his whole arm. It was something most people took for granted, but he’d been able to study it in exquisite detail as the strength gradually faded from his muscles. His will had never seemed to count for much before, but he put all his concentration into it—and his hand moved.

It didn’t move far, or elegantly; it kind of flopped over a couple of inches, but that was enough to touch Roman’s, and he caught it easily, his fingers warm and strong around Rory’s. “You see?” he said, with a hint of smugness. “You just needed to give it a try.” As if all the problems of Rory’s life had been caused by him being insufficiently willful. Rory didn’t think anyone else would agree with that.

“Who are you?” he asked again, now getting just slightly creeped out. Rory was dying, he knew it and expected it, he shouldn’t be getting stronger. And people who looked like Roman shouldn’t be interested in him.

Roman was staring at their clasped hands, his thumb stroking the back of Rory’s tenderly. “Sometimes development is abnormal,” he replied cryptically, “and then we don’t remember each other. But I’m here to get you.” He glanced up at Rory with a crazy grin, too many teeth. “Better late than never, right?”

Rory was literally on his deathbed and he had to deal with a nutter in his hospital room? Maybe one of those freaks who liked molesting people who couldn’t move to defend themselves. Furious, Rory yanked his hand away, the movement stronger than it had been before.

“Leave me alone!” he snarled. “Some kind of f-----g pervert. Get out of here!” The call button lay near his hand and he pushed it vigorously.

“No one will respond to that,” Roman claimed calmly.

“Why not? Have you done something to it?”

“No,” Roman told him. “Because you’re dead.”

Rory blinked several times. “What?”

“Enough with this nonsense,” Roman decided impatiently. He stood, elegantly. “Come on, get up, it’s time to go.”

“I can’t—” But then Rory tried, and found that he could. He sat up, and swung his feet over the side of the bed, and he stood—like he was just an actor who had been playing someone with muscular dystrophy, and now the director had called cut, so he could move normally.

The shift in perception made him wobbly, and Roman caught him easily. “You’re doing so well, my love,” he murmured in Rory’s ear. “We are bending the rules a bit, I know, but I don’t think anyone will care. You’ve lived out your natural lifespan, after all.”

He nodded over his shoulder and Rory turned, and saw himself still lying in the hospital bed, pale and still. Monitors let off a solid tone, and his father sat at his bedside with his head bowed while nurses rushed around. No one seemed to notice him or Roman, and somehow Rory wasn’t surprised. Because he was beginning to realize, or rather remember, that the actor analogy was actually quite close to reality, and that Rory O’Shea was a part he’d been playing, without understanding that he could stop or change the plot whenever he wanted. The knowledge was overwhelming.

Roman wrapped an arm around him from behind, solid and real, the only thing solid and real. “You know I don’t care much for the island,” he said, lips brushing Rory’s ear sensuously, “but for you I always make an exception.” And then suddenly they weren’t in the hospital room anymore—they were standing on a beach, warm sand and a cool breeze off the blue-grey water.

Roman let go, dumping Rory—not Rory—unceremoniously into the sand. “You’ll have to get your sea legs, I suppose,” he commented with a touch of disdain. He was literally floating several inches above the sand, so that none of it touched his immaculate shoes.

But Rory didn’t care, because he was able to struggle to his feet and stand, and run through the beach grass to more solid ground, the grass cool beneath his feet. He was able to keep running, through pine scrub and salt-tinged meadows, laughing at the same time without being out of breath, his muscles pumping steady and strong. He hadn’t run this way since he was a child, and before that, another life when he had another name, played another character.

“Xylos,” he remembered, and stopped running before a small clapboard cottage, its sharply peaked roof and small front porch reminiscent of a New England fishing village. Everything would take a while to get sorted out, but he recalled the basics, and he jogged inside, his body feeling only the smallest amount of exertion, and that only to obey some laws of physics, and not go shooting straight through the house and out the back wall.

“Roman!” he called. The house was cozy inside but would have all they could need. Excitement burst from him and he couldn’t stop grinning—he could move, he could run, he could dance—

But why hadn’t he been able to do those things before? Xylos stopped before leaping upstairs, where he heard the shower running. Did Roman know where he was, how he had lived, and left him there anyway? The perspective that was slowly trickling into Xylos’s mind helped him see why that might have been the wisest course of action, but the part that was still Rory burned with indignation, thinking about how different his life could have been—better—if a handsome stranger with magical powers had come along and healed him, exactly as he’d imagined in daydreams as a kid, before he’d ruthlessly shoved such thoughts aside as hopelessly naïve.

“Roman!” he repeated with more heat, bounding up the stairs. He ignored the luxurious bedroom and burst into the indulgent bathroom, but was momentarily stopped by the sight of the other man naked in the glass-enclosed shower, drenched by water from above. There was something Xylos hadn’t seen for a long time. And even though Rory had been desperate to get off with anyone he could before he couldn’t any longer, he’d never met someone even close to Roman, with his perfect golden skin, broad shoulders and narrow hips like a swimmer, water coursing over every muscle.

When Xylos’s eyes made it back up he saw that Roman was smirking at him, insufferably. “Get that off and get in here,” he suggested, and Xylos hurried to comply—he was wearing a hospital smock and trousers, grimy now with sand and dirt, and he shed them eagerly, stepping under the warm, cleansing spray. “What have you done to your hair?” Roman asked teasingly, ruffling the blond streaks now flattened by the water. “Well, it’s different, anyway. You should keep it for a while.”