Connor tries to immerse himself completely in the documents he needs to organise and sort through. He hopes Max and Ryan aren't going to use the punching bag or any other noisy equipment today. He tries to ignore any noises from the other room, but Aaron's silence isn't helping to drown them out.
He casts a glance across the table at Aaron, who is frowning at the computer screen. Between the sale of the gym and everything that happened with Ryan, he appears to be unusually exhausted and irritated, so Connor doesn't try to start a conversation with him. Silence It Is.
He goes back to focusing on the task in hand. Stacks on stacks of papers and folders are packed on the small wood table and in boxes on the floor. This is going to take forever.
He sighs and picks up a box from the floor, emptying its contents on the table and returning the box to its place. He then picks up a random yellow folder and begins sorting through the documents. He barely notices a photograph that has fallen to the floor from the stacks of papers he's holding because there are so many little clips of papers with different scribbles on them, receipts and notes. He reaches down to pick it up when suddenly, he sees Kyle's eyes staring back at him.
He was dressed in a black T-shirt and black skinny jeans and lying in the middle of Connor's bed with his legs dangling over the edge. His blond hair is scattered in different directions around his face, and he stares directly at the camera with beautiful and soft green eyes. God... he looks... he looks like the sun. His smile warm and bright.
Connor remembers exactly when he took this picture, and how Kyle looked at him, and only him, with that smile.
He doesn't know how long he's been staring back at Kyle's eyes when he notices that his hands are shaking, that the light in the room is too bright, that his clothes are too tight on his body. He tries to inhale but the air gets stuck in his throat, unwilling to go down and release the tightness in his lungs. Struggling to get enough air to his body, he feels his pulse quickening and his throat becoming dry.
He crunches down, clutching the edge of the desk and squeezing his eyes shut as hard as he can, counting from one to five over and over, to gain some control over what is happening to him. He tries to inhale again but nothing comes in. He tries to speak, but nothing comes out.
His ears are ringing, and his heart is racing so fast that he fears it will shatter his chest and explode on the wall. He tries to block the sound by raising his shaking hands to his ears, but it doesn't work. The buzzing just keeps getting louder and louder. He tries to stand up but the world tilts beneath his feet and he falls to the floor.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
He can faintly hear someone calling his name. Far away. Like he’s underwater and someone on land is attempting to guide him back to the land of the living, but he can't. He can't focus enough to pull himself toward that voice. He is sinking. Drowning. Choking. His mind is plagued with broken memories and awful sounds. Screams. Blood. Chains.
Tears, warm and hard, trickle down his cheeks when a broken sound escapes his throat as he slams the back of his head against the wall behind him, the sudden pain, travelling from his head to the back of his neck grounding him a little, but not enough, not enough. Not enough. He’s being consumed by his head. The ghostly hands of his panic are wrapping its hands around his chest. Around his neck.
He wishes the wall behind him would crumble on him, burying him and his thoughts beneath it. He tries to push himself backwards, more and more into the wall, allowing it to swallow him whole, but it isn't enough. Nothing seems to be enough. He will never be at peace, he will never get his old life back, he will neve-
He is still trembling, his eyes closed, when warm, hard hands yanks his shoulders, pushing him away from the coldness of the wall. A hand reaches for his neck and yanks it down, pushing his brow into a shoulder. His nose instantly fills with the smell of sweat and pine, and he finally gulpes a deep breath. Air rushes through his body, replenishing his bruised lungs at almost overwhelming speed.
“Connor, breath! Open your eyes,” the voice says.
“You’re in the gym. It's me, you’re safe. Open your eyes.”
He grabs Max’s shoulders, pulling them hard, digging his nails to his skin, trying desperately to hang on to his voice. His smell. His breathing. His presence.
“Breath.” Max repeats over and over. “You’re safe.”
Max’s body shields Connor from the room like a soft blanket and he clings to it until he feels his body calming down, his head clearing and the buzzing in his ears weakening. He takes another big breath before he feels steady enough to pull back. He can't meet Max’s eyes just yet, so he keeps his gaze on the floor, his hands still clenching around Max’s shoulders.
“I'm sorry,” is all he can think of saying. “I'm sorry.”
“Oh, Connor…” Max says, and the way he says his name just breaks his heart a little more.
“I'm tired,” he answers to the floor before summoning the courage to look at his friend. “Can you take me home?”
Max pauses for a moment, probably debating whether it’s a good idea to leave Connor alone in his apartment in his current state, but in the end, he simply nods at him and rises to his feet, picking Connor with him.
He calls an Uber when they reach to the gym's doors, his arms still around Connor’s waist, the touch grounding him to the presence, preventing him from slipping back to the dark corners of his mind. Max looks behind his shoulders at Aaron and Ryan who still linger at the entrance to the office, “I’ll call you later,” he says to no one of them in particular.
The ride home is quiet except for Max’s stomach, which is growling every few seconds in protest of being ignored for so long. He turns to face Connor, who’s sitting in the backseat, and with a faint smile he asks, “wanna grab something to eat before heading home?”
“You’re half naked.”
Max then frowns at his bare chest, saying, “oh, damn. Right.”
When they arrive at Connor's place, Max goes straight to the kitchen, rummaging through his cupboards and refrigerator for something to eat. When he finally finds a bag of pretzels and deems it appropriate enough to munch on, Connor’s anxiety has already subsided, but he still feels a bit foggy and rough around the edges. It’s as if someone had poured concrete into his joints and filled his head with cotton.
He settles to sit on the floor, his bed behind him serving as a backrest. Max hands him a glass of water as he sits down beside him, holding the bag of pretzels in his hand and offering some to Connor, who simply waved his hand dismissively.
“Hmm?” he hummes in response.
“Can you tell me what's wrong? I'm your best friend and I… I have no idea what's happening.”
“Max…” Connor sighs and returns his gaze to the glass in his hands.
“Tell me what happened,” Max reaches for Connor's hand, but the other tucks it beneath his thigh.
“Max.. come on…”
“Tell me what happened in that basement. What happened with Kyle.”
Connor's head jerks up, “don't say his name.”
“Because I don't wanna hear it.”
Max takes a deep and loud breath.
“STOP!” Connor yells. “Just stop, Max. I told you, I don’t wanna talk about it. Drop it.”
“Alright. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push you. Calm down.” Max leans his head back on the bed frame. “Just… just know that I'm here if you need to... You know.”
Connor nods without meeting Max's eyes, “I know.”
They sit in silence. On the floor. Both of them staring at nothing. Just being alone together.
When Max eventually finishes his bag of pretzels, he jumps to his feet and leaps onto Connor's bed, reaching for the television remote on the nightstand, tucking a hand behind his head.
“What are you doing?” Connor askes while looking over his shoulder at Max.
“Lord of the rings.”
“What!? You watched it like a thousand times! Go home man. I'm fine.”
Max shruggs, completely ignoring Connor’s words.
“ Go home, Max. I know what you’re doing. I don't need a babysitter.”
“We should get Lord of the Rings tattoos.” He ignores his demands again, “I’ll get Aragorn and you’ll get Frodo.”
Connor sighs and rolls his eyes. He knows Max long enough to know that arguing with him, after he decides on something, will lead to nowhere, so he says, “at least go take a shower. You stink.”
With absolutely no shame, Max lifts himself on his elbow while smelling his armpit and wrinkling his nose from the sweaty smell, “This shall not pass," he says before rolling out of Connor's bed and into the shower, not forgetting to stop by Connor's closet in search of something that would suit him. He finds a pair of old grey sweatpants that he thinks will be big enough for him to fit in.
By the time Max gets out of the shower, Connor is already wrapped in a blanket, with only his black hair peeking out of it. It’s still early afternoon, so Max decides to pacify his rumbling stomach by ordering pizza before pulling the blankets over his shoulders and laying next to Connor. He went over his mental to-do list and promised himself he'd finish everything the next day. His friend needs him right now, even if he’s not gonna admit it.
So, Max decides on a ‘Netflix, pizza, chill’ kind of day and pushes himself deeper into the blankets. Tomorrow is a new day. He will fix everything tomorrow.