It was the performance of a lifetime, but Steve wasn't there to watch. His body crashed to the floor with a sickening thud. Adam was over him in a second, shaking his shoulders, screaming his name, trying to wake him. Others were pushing their way over to the collapsed singer, trying to see what happened. The drummer was the only one that kept his head, that told everybody to stand back, give him breathing room. He hopped over to check Steve's breath. Nothing. He checked Steve's pulse. Virtually nonexistent. Somebody ran to call an ambulance, while Adam and the drummer ripped Steve's shirt open to try and resuscitate him.
The paramedics seemed to take forever. The place was pure pandemonium when they finally arrived, and the band wasn't so sure their presence would be of much help to poor Steve. They had a bit of a time convincing Adam that he could leave Steve's side, that the medics would handle it at that point. After checking his vital signs, they determined he was in need of an artificial respirator. The band tried unsuccessfully not to make nasty comments about the obviousness of it all. Adam tried not to cry in front of everybody.
The paramedics were hooking Steve up to a machine when one of them cursed. The whole room grew quiet while the paramedics hustled. Nobody had the guts to ask what was going on. They found out soon enough when a medic cried they'd lost him. They didn't give up immediately. They said it again, and again. Adam couldn't stand it anymore and cried soulfully on the keyboardist's shoulder. They all began to weep.
There was a strange sucking noise, and the artificial respirator kicked in. Somebody said yes. A paramedic. They were smiling, patting each other on the back. Somebody was taking the time down - one hundred thirty three seconds. It had taken them over two minutes, but they'd beaten the Grim Reaper again. They loaded Steve's body on a stretcher and took him away.
Many hours later, Steve snapped back to attention. He had a giant tube in his mouth, with a big ugly mouthpiece like a nightmarish snorkel. He tried to open his mouth to maneuver the thing out, but realized his mouth was taped shut. He also realized that one of those nasty tubes was in his nose. He frowned. He could have sworn he'd been checked out of the hospital already. Maybe he'd had a nightmare. Maybe it was only the second day of his visit. So where did the snorkel thing come from?
He was even more confused about his surroundings. Rather than the ugly beige room he'd first been in, or the pale green room he wasn't so sure he hadn't been in, he was in a tiny area surrounded by a heavy plastic curtain. The light was fairly low, so he couldn't really see anything outside the partition. Within the partition, he saw a large machine with a bellows-type mechanism pumping slowly. He realized he was breathing in time with the rise and fall of the accordion like balloon. Why was he hooked up to a respirator? What the hell happened?
He felt his heart pound harder in his chest. He knew he should try to calm down, but he had absolutely no fucking clue as to why he shouldn't be able to breathe on his own. What if he needed an oxygen tank all the time? What if his lungs didn't work anymore? Or his diaphragm? How was he supposed to work? How would he pay the hospital bill? Who would take care of him?
A sudden, loud, shrill whistle didn't do his frazzled nerves any good. He whipped his head around towards the awful noise. A black screen with a white grid and blue moving lines. The blue lines peaked and dropped at an amazing rate. If he focused on a point somewhere beyond the screen, it looked kind of like a giant blue fuzz covering the screen. Some calm corner of his mind wondered if the whistling screen had anything to with his quickly escalating panic attack.
A moment later a group of people burst into the room. A couple of them were pushing another machine on wheels. The plastic was ripped away, revealing a big, white, unadorned room. The people were shouting back and forth over Steve, making him even more nervous. Somebody came up with two flat blocks with handles, while somebody else stripped the covers from Steve. They exposed his body and ran and shouted and bustled. Someone at the foot of the bed yelled clear, and the guy with the blocks moved in.
A dark pair of hands grabbed the wrists of the block holding hands just before they touched Steve. People asked what so-and-so thought they were doing, but a woman's high pitched whine declared that the patient was conscious, idiots. Everyone looked at the still screaming screen and then at Steve's wide-eyed stare. The man with the blocks asked if Steve could hear him. Steve hoped he was nodding.
The group of well meaning bumblers backed off and started checking him out more slowly. As the waters parted, Steve could see the face of the woman that saved him from electrocution and felt a mild sense of comfort. The doctor from the god-awful beige room. He watched her every move, wanting to ask her to stay with him and promise not to let him wake up in some other oddly colored room.
It took her a minute to realize Steve was staring at her, and she left her comrades alone, announcing she hoped they wouldn't try to kill another of her patients in the next half hour. The others jeered at her, but she ignored them, coming over to stand next to Steve. She leaned down and asked if he was in pain. Steve shook his head, then tried to lift his hand. It moved with ease, a pleasant surprise. He touched the tube in his mouth and cut his eyes to the respirator. The doctor followed his gaze and nodded knowingly. She put a hand on his shoulder and told him they were doing everything they could, but they wanted to be sure his body was up to the task first.
The doctor looked as if she were about to say something else when Steve heard screaming from outside the room. The doctor grabbed her coworkers and they went to the hall door to see what the problem was. Steve could hear someone hollering hysterically that they wanted to see somebody. There were other, softer voices, then the high-strung voice again. Steve shifted uncomfortably, wondering why they wouldn't allow a visit, just to calm the crying person down.
Steve closed his eyes and tried to relax, since the scuffle outside didn't involve him. He was almost asleep when he heard a shill voice scream his name.
The one Adam gave him.
Steve's eyes snapped open and someone was by his side in an instant, telling him to just stay relaxed, they'd take care of the noise. He heard someone say that they were in a hospital, please keep quiet, but the screamer was inconsolable. After a moment, the doctor came back to the room and asked Steve if he was up to a quick visit. Steve shrugged. Hey, whatever shut the screaming up, right? The doctor disappeared for a moment, and the hall grew silent.
The next person to come through the door was a very frazzled Adam. He hurried over to Steve and put his head on Steve's chest. Steve reached up to stroke Adam's hair the way he would, and Adam began to sob. Steve grew concerned. What happened?? Why was he in a plastic curtain with a machine breathing for him? Why did the doctor think his body couldn't handle the task of breathing on its own? Why was Adam acting like he'd never see him again?
Adam straightened up after a moment and apologized to Steve for making such a fuss. He touched Steve gently, as if memorizing the sensations. Then he told Steve to do as the doctors said, at least for a while, until everything was better. Then he insisted that everything would get better, that they would go home, and Adam would always take care of him. Because Steve would get better. He would.
Steve wondered why Adam didn't believe that. Steve wondered if he should.
The doctor came and escorted Adam out of the room, explaining they would contact him immediately if there was a change. Then she returned to Steve's side and told him to get some rest, that he needed it. Steve closed his eyes and counted sheep until he fell asleep.
When he woke up again, a nurse was standing over him, checking the machines he was hooked up to, adjusting the tubes sticking out of his face. She smiled and said good morning. He started to ask if it was morning, but the snorkel thing was still taped firmly to his mouth. She laughed and told him the doctor would probably recommend trying to go without the respirator at some point in the day. Then she jotted some notes down on a clipboard and left.
Steve was pissed. How could he communicate with this... thing in his face? He was about to start paging people when the nurse reappeared, with the doctor in tow. They began removing the tape from around his face, a ridiculously slow procedure in Steve's opinion. They slowly drew the tube from his mouth and waited with bated breath.
Steve couldn't figure out what the were waiting for until he gasped loudly. Air! Not the weird, sucky-pushy stuff being forced in and out of his mouth, either. Real live, honest-to-goodness, smog-filled air. It tasted awful.
It was divine.
The doctor let him catch his breath, then asked him how he felt. He felt fine, except for the tube in his nose. The doctor told him he could have that removed in a few hours, once they determined whether he could take food by mouth. They would be keeping him much longer than before, as the expert in psychology had made a serious error in allowing Steve to go home so soon.
Steve frowned. So that did happen. He went home, his mother came... did she do this to him? If so, why was the doctor blaming the guy in the green room? Unless something else happened...
Steve realized the doctor was waiting for a response. He asked her to repeat herself. What was the last thing he remembered. He talked briefly about being at home - Adam's home, rather. He knew he'd, er, stopped by his... ah... mother's house... for a bit, but then he went home. Anything specific. Strawberry nectar.
Steve remembered going to the library, looking up that insulting phrase. The doctor asked what phrase. The no appetite thing. Anorexia. Steve pursed his lips. When the doctor didn't continue, he looked up at her. She had the saddest look on her face.
She asked him what he thought it meant. He rattled off all three definitions. She shook her head and asked his opinion. He told her it was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard of. Who has an aversion to food??
The doctor asked Steve about the strawberry juice. He became uncomfortable, told her he drank it. She asked if he'd enjoyed it. He shifted in bed, wanting very much to change the subject. She asked if he'd made himself sick. He stared at her. Every time he came to this damned place they assumed he had a problem with ingesting food. It was silly. The doctor took his hand and gave it a squeeze. She told him he didn't have to worry about the green room for a while. She was going to make sure things were done right this time. Then she and the nurse left.
As time passed, the band slowly trickled in and out of Steve's room, talking to him, making jokes, asking if he needed anything. Steve was wary. Why were they being so nice? They just wanted to get rid of him. He thought he could remember being told they were really going to drop him, though he could have dreamed that. Still, they'd made comments like that before. Now they were telling him they couldn't wait till he was better so they could hit the road, just like old times. Before all this. Whatever this was.
Steve wondered mildly if Adam was going to make an appearance, or if he was going to wait until midnight and cause another scene. Such a drama queen. Adam did take his time about showing up, though it was well before midnight and rather quiet. Steve was mildly disappointed. He kind of wanted a show.
Adam found a chair and pulled it next to Steve. He seemed happier now, probably because the big ugly snorkel thing was out of Steve's mouth. Smiling, he asked Steve if he was feeling better. Steve ignored the question with one of his own. What the fuck happened?
Adam's smile faltered. He looked at his hands folded in his lap and licked his lips. Steve didn't know if he was trying to figure out how to word something or if he was just stalling or what. He repeated his question more forcefully. Adam looked up and said the last thing Steve expected to hear.
Dead!?!?!?!? What the fuck!?!?!?!?
Adam tried to calm Steve, but it was too late. How in the hell does one fucking die and get taken away in an ambulance, but the next day get to come off a fucking respirator and have a goddamned tantrum!?!?!?! When he finished, he flopped back in bed, heart racing. A nurse came hurrying in, telling Adam he had to leave. Adam stood reluctantly, but Steve was reaching out for him. It wasn't his fault! Besides, he needed Adam to stay in the room! Don't take him away! The nurse threatened to sedate Steve if he didn't calm down. Steve threatened to make sedation a permanent requirement if she didn't let Adam stay in the room.
Adam sat back down and Steve forced himself to relax. The nurse stayed in the room and watched them both like a hawk. Adam told Steve what exactly happened on the set that day. Steve listened calmly, starring straight ahead at the wall. Adam went on, explaining that the doctor wanted Steve to enter an in-patient program for eating disorders - and so did Adam. Steve whipped his head up at that. Since when was Adam on the hospital's side??
Adam told him the doctor's said if he didn't start eating he would die. He said if Steve didn't face the fact that he was starving himself to death, someone was going to always have to put tubes in his body and force nutrients in his blood, or he'd have a heart attack or stop breathing again. Adam told him he couldn't take that. He'd lost a lover to anorexia before, and he wasn't going to go through it again.
Steve shook his head. He didn't have anorexia. There was no appetite loss. He liked food. Really! If he could, he would eat all day and night! Adam asked why he couldn't. After all, Steve was less than half Adam's size. Steve pondered that for a moment. True, he was significantly thinner than Adam... but they were shaped differently. Adam was a head taller! Steve's frame couldn't carry nearly as much weight! Adam leaned close and told him that if he lost any more weight he'd die for certain.
Steve didn't want to die. He didn't. He fought too hard to get in the band. He fought too hard to get away from his mother. He fought too hard to stay on Adam's good side. Everything was coming to a head. If he died... it would be for nothing. Steve asked Adam what he thought he should do. Eat.
Dear god. Eat. But he'd get fat.
Better than dead.
Dear god. He thought he'd rather be dead than fat. Maybe he did have this anorexia - no! No no no no no no! There was nothing wrong with him! He just... had a bad day!
And what if he had a bad day while Adam was with the band, and Steve was at home alone, because he refused to get fat? Then what? Fat people lived. Steve had died. He'd died.
He looked Adam in the eye and told him he would eat. Everyday. He didn't want to die. He wanted to be near Adam. He wanted to make Adam proud. He wanted... to know what the hell Adam meant by 'lover'!?!?
Adam just leaned forward and kissed Steve on the forehead. Then he left, promising to be back in the morning.
The next morning Adam was back, just like he said. He brought happy news with him. The doctors concurred that if Steve was willing to come in everyday for intense therapy sessions for the next week, reducing them slowly to about twice a week eventually, they would release him in mere hours. Steve wasn't interested, since any 'therapy' would probably involve the silver headed quack, the last asshole he wanted to see. Adam's mood plummeted. Didn't Stevie want to be near him? Was putting up with a jerk so much to ask? Especially since he'd have to deal with him at some point anyhow?
Steve signed up for the sessions. It would at least get him out of the hospital.
The doctor came along, expressing her distaste for the offer that had been struck, but she wouldn't hold Steve back. As long as he understood she was available to him for anything, she felt she could let him go... sort of. Steve promised he wouldn't see her again on his back. She hoped so.
Steve and Adam left the hospital together. It was another fine day, sun high in the sky. If Steve didn't think about it too hard, it could have been the same perfect sunshiny morning, turned afternoon. He looked at Adam and smiled. Adam leaned forward and kissed his Stevie's lips.
Steve kissed him back.