This fic follows on Falling Into Place, and both contains spoilers for and will not make sense without that work. You should read that work first.
He drums his fingers on the table, nervously, looking around the apartment as he waits for the FaceTime call to connect. Even though it's been almost two months, there's still reminders of Nick everywhere. His coffee mug on the counter. His light coat on the hook by the door that Carlos hasn't been able to bear to put away. His running shoes, laces still haphazardly tangled, in the shoe rack.
The call connects, and his heart leaps as his husband's face appears onscreen. "Hey."
"Baby..." Carlos fights back the tears. It's stupid, really. They talk every few days, as much as Nick's increasingly-hectic schedule allows, but it's still not enough. He still misses him, more and more each day. "I can't do this anymore. Come home. Please. I don't care about the risk. I'll be fine."
When cases had started rising, and the city had started shutting down, he had been more worried for Adam, who more often saw patients, and was one of the ones sent earlier on to help with the more serious cases. He'd talked to him about amputations, Carlos remembers, and he isn't sure how exactly they got on the topic, but it was something for Adam to focus his fatigued brain on, and he did his best to listen.
It was hard, not being able to see his best friend, but every night (or sometimes every two) his husband came home to him, exhausted but still pressing kisses and reassurances into him, and that was enough. At least, it was enough to get through this.
He hadn't been worried, because Nick didn't work with patients, at least not often. He toiled over specimens and samples in the back, away from the people. Away from the risk.
But then the patients had kept coming, and they couldn't keep up. Nick had come home one day to say that they needed his help in the wards. That he thought he should move out, to a hotel room, at least until things calmed down a little. Carlos hadn't wanted to agree. He'd told Nick that he didn't care. That he was healthy. Nick told him of stories of 20- and 30-year olds dying under his care, and how helpless he felt about not being able to do anything.
That can't be you, he'd said. I can't lose you, Carlos. Not like that. Not if it's my fault.
So he'd agreed, and they'd made love in a way that felt both like the world's worst goodbye and a promise that he'd be back. And then he'd helped him pack a suitcase, like he'd done so many times in the past for a conference or a seminar, and let him go.
He shakes his head, pushing the memories aside. "Baby. I need you. Cases are coming down. It's safer now. Please come home."
Nick looks at him, and he chooses to take his expression as understanding, even though it just looks sad, and stressed. "Babe..."
"Please," he repeats.
"Babe. I... I'm positive."
"Of what?" It takes him a second, but then he doesn't want to believe it. "That you want to move back in?"
Nick snorts, what sounds like a laugh but is full of bitterness. "Babe. I... tested positive."
"What? For what?"
"No, Nick. For what?"
Nick flinches. "Carlos. I'm positive. I have COVID."
He stares at the phone, at the menu screen, long after they've hung up.
He tells himself everything will be okay. Nick hadn't been feeling any symptoms other than a slight cough, and he was back in his hotel room, resting, just in case. If anything, he'd felt more guilty about no longer being able to work, and help his colleagues, and Carlos took a bit of reassurance from that, at least.
He stares at the contact list, finger hovering over Adam's name.
He shouldn't bother him. He wasn't even sure if Adam would be there. If anything, he was probably at work, and if he wasn't, he'd be passed out in his bed after inhaling some energy bar and jumping through a cold shower.
He calls Nate, instead.
Nick tries to force a smile onto his face before being wracked with another bought of coughing.
"Baby. You look... worse."
"I feel worse." Nick winces, as if in pain. "But this gets worse before it gets better, right?"
"You need to go to the hospital."
"I'm watching my O2 sats. If it drops to 90, I will."
"What is it now?" He struggles to remember what the number should be, even though he's normally good at remembering this stuff. All he comes up with is that it doesn't need to be at 100%.
"That's... not good. Right?"
Nick shrugs before coughing again. "It's not ideal, no. But I know what to watch out for, and how to take care of myself. I need to save the hospital for people that can't do that."
"91," he says, instead.
"If it drops to 91, you are going to the hospital." It's not a big difference, he knows, but it's something that helps him feel better, at least.
"I'm more stubborn than you, and you know that. Don't make me make it 92."
Nick smiles at that, soft, and that makes him feel better. "Fine. If I hit 91, I will go to the hospital. Okay?"
"Okay." He watches the screen for a bit, just wanting to see him. Even shivering and wrapped up in blankets, he thinks his husband is still the most handsome person in the world. "I should let you rest."
Nick doesn't protest. "That might be a good idea."
"You don't have to call me tomorrow. Just... rest."
"But I..." Nick coughs, again. "I like talking to you, babe."
"Yeah, but less talking and more breathing. It might help."
Nick looks like he wants to object, that that's not how things work, but instead he just nods.
"Good night. I love you," Carlos says, despite wanting to keep him on the line for hours.
"I love you, too."
Then the call ends.
His phone rings, startling him awake from a nightmare where he was running toward Nick but unable to reach him.
He shakes the feeling off and grabs his phone. He doesn't recognize the number, and curses telemarketers, almost throwing the phone to the side before he thinks better of it.
"Mister Carlos Price?"
He doesn't like the sound of that. "That's... that's me."
"This is Nancy calling from Zuckerberg General." He really doesn't like the sound of that. "I'm calling to inform you that your husband, Nicholas Price, was admitted into our Intensive Care unit this morning at 4:22 AM."
She continues on about COVID procedures, and visitor restrictions, but he doesn't hear anything she's saying, instead feeling his heart is broken and his world has fallen apart.
"Hey, dude." Adam looks exhausted, but still looks at him with concern.
"Sorry to... pull you away from... whatever." Adam looks like he's outside, so at least he knows he didn't wake him. "It's like... 7 AM."
"It's fine, dude. You actually caught me at a good time. I just got off a shift and was heading home to crash for a bit." He looks around, and then Carlos realizes he's crossing a street. "How's Nick doing? Well on the mend?"
"Chico, he..." Then the tears are falling, and he's shaking, sobbing.
"Dude." He can't really make out the screen very well, but he can tell Adam is staring at him now. "Dude. Carlos. Breathe with me. Follow my voice."
He tries, but he can't focus. "No. Adam. He's... he's at the hospital. In... in the ICU."
Adam's face seems to fall. "Oh. Dude. I'm... I'm so sorry."
"Do you know if he's been ventilated?"
"What?! I don't... why would I know?"
"Did they tell you anything?"
"I... probably, but I couldn't exactly, uh... focus, at the time. Or now."
Adam nods, his doctor face on, now. "Okay. If you can get any details, or any information, particularly his numbers, I can help be reassuring, okay?"
"But what if..."
"Carlos. He's young. He's healthy. He's going to make it through."
"But what about all of those young and... and healthy... people... who don't?"
"Dude. Listen to me. You know Nick. You know no one fights as hard as he does."
"He... he does."
"And there's nothing he fights harder for than for you."
"Yeah. That's... he does."
"So he'll make it, okay?"
"But what if..."
"Stop that. He's going to make it."
Carlos seizes onto that, needing to believe it.
"And here he is." Nurse Linda switches the camera view, and he can make out Nick on a bed, surrounded by machines and tubes that he's sure Adam could tell him the purpose of, but that instead just make him worry.
He isn't sure if it's better or worse, seeing him like this, but when the nurses had offered, he'd seized on it anyway, the nagging thought that it might be the last time he saw him in his head.
"His numbers are better today!" Linda's voice is unreasonably cheerful, and it pulls him out of his thoughts. "He's still sedated, since he's still got the vent in, but we're hopeful that we'll be able to wean him off of it soon."
"Oh. That... that's good." At least, it was an improvement over yesterday, when they weren't even discussing such a possibility.
"He's fighting, Carlos. And it's contained to his lungs, for now. That's a good thing."
"Do you want his lab numbers for today?"
He grabs a piece of paper and a pencil. He really shouldn't bother Adam with this, but at least having them gives him the option. "Yeah."
She rattles off some details, and he jots them down, hoping let's gotten them right.
"Carlos. I normally wouldn't say this, but I really think he's going to be okay."
"Yeah. Lots of positive movement. Limited other complications. His sat hasn't dropped to worrying levels again, and we've been able to reduce the vent settings. Keep positive, okay?"
"I... I'll try."
She seems to pick up the phone again and the camera switches back to her. Even with the mask, she can tell from her eyes that she's smiling, trying to be reassuring.
"I'll call you again tomorrow."
She hangs up, and he tries to swallow the knot in his stomach again. He looks over the numbers on the paper, comparing them to yesterday's. He isn't really sure what they mean.
He shakes his head, vowing not to bother Adam again.
And he calls Nate.
"Hey." Nick's voice is dry, and crackly, and he's sure it even hurts to talk, but instead Carlos has the biggest grin on his face at the moment at the sound of it.
"Hey, yourself. And you're not supposed to talk, so just sit there and listen, okay?"
Nick looks like he wants to argue, but then nods. "Okay."
"What did I just say?"
Nick smiles slightly at that, and that smile means the world to him.
"We're very pleased with his progress." He can hear Nurse Greg's voice, and remembers that he's holding the phone for him. "We're not out of the woods yet, but the worst is definitely behind us, and he fortunately had limited other complications."
He remembers that part, at least. How he'd fallen into the online pit of horror stories, and how the conversation he'd had with Adam about amuputation had come back, unmidden, into his mind. As Nick had started improving, slowly, he'd allowed himself to worry less about losing him and more about what could happen even if he didn't.
"Does that mean... I can visit?" He knows the answer to that part, but needs to ask anyway.
"Unfortunately, due to safety protocols in effect, no visitors are allowed at this time."
"Okay, you shush or I'm going to start talking to you about work, and spend a particularly long amount of time discussing the current fight we're having with Blue Cross." He knows how much Nick hates insurance companies.
Nick chuckles at that before wincing in pain, and Carlos immediately feels bad about it.
"I, um... while you were in the hospital, I think I perfected my cheese souffles. At least, they don't fall anymore, and they taste right, so you have something to look forward to when you come home. And, nuh uh..." He preempts the response when Nick opens his mouth to speak. "Nods only."
Nick nods, smiling at him. He'd needed something to focus on in the evenings, and tackling one of his biggest culinary nemeses proved to be a decent one.
"I found an article that said to try xanthan gum, and that seemed to work, but it feels like there has to be a better way. I mean, real chefs don't use xanthan gum, do they?"
"Maybe there's more work I can do on them, after all. I wonder if it's the oven not heating evenly. You owe me a new oven, mister, for putting me through this for the past few weeks. No, for the past two months."
It's a joke, but Nick looks apologetic anyway, and he wants to take it back, but the words catch in his throat.
"I... love you. So much." He's trying not to cry, but a tear makes it out anyway.
"I love you too, babe." He allows that one.
"It's probably best if we let him rest." The nurse's voice pulls him out of his thoughts, and he finds himself hating that even their private moments aren't private before realizing how thankful he is that they even have this.
"Yeah. Get better, okay?"
Nick nods again, and the camera view switches back to Greg. "Same time on Thursday work for you?"
"That'd be great, yeah. And thank you for everything."
"It's been my pleasure, Carlos. Truly. We've all been pulling for Nick over here. He did a lot for us. You've both done a lot for us. So now we just want to do whatever we can for the two of you."
"Well, thank you anyway."
"We'll talk soon."
The call ends, and Carlos slumps back into the couch, but this time it's relief.
Everything's going to be okay.
He doesn't have words to describe the relief he feels when he sees Nick being wheeled out of the front doors of the hospital. He looks weak, and pale, but it's still him.
He glances over at Adam, standing a safe distance away from him, dressed in the familiar-looking hospital protective gear. Adam smiles at him -- at least, he thinks he's smiling -- and nods. He reminds himself to give Adam a hard time later for ditching his responsibilities, at least for a bit, so he could be here.
"Hey," Nick's voice sounds stronger than even the last time they'd spoke, and his heart soars at it. He's sure the grin on his face can be seen from space, even behind the mask.
Nick starts to stand, shaking, and Carlos starts toward him before stopping himself. "Can I..."
The nurse nods, and he allows himself to close the remaining distance, taking his arm and helping him up. He feels much thinner than the last time he'd held him, and that makes him worry again.
"Thanks. Sorry. Just... still not used to this."
"You were lying in a hospital bed for a month, baby. It's fine. I've been using water jugs as weights for home workouts, so I'm still more than capable of carrying you."
Nick smiles at that, grasping Carlos' arm with both hands and stablizing himself.
"Do you have a means of transportation?"
"Oh, yeah." Carlos fumbles in his pocket for the zipcar keys. "Should we... wheel him to the car?" It's only a few feet, but he doesn't want to strain Nick any more than he has to.
"No. I can do it. Just... might need a bit of support."
He shakes his head, his husband as stubborn as ever, but helps him to the door and seats him in the passenger's seat.
"I need to get back, dude, but I'm glad you're going to be okay."
Nick smiles at him. "Thanks, Adam. You really didn't have to be here."
"Yeah, like I was going to miss this." Then he stops, fumbling at his belt for something, and Carlos realizes he's getting paged. "But I actually have to go deal with this code. Don't take things too quickly, dude. And Carlos, don't let him."
"Yeah, yeah, chico." He wants to say more, but Adam's waving, and walking quickly back into the building.
"Thanks for getting me," Nick says, and Carlos laughs at the absurdity of it.
"What, you were going to drive yourself home?"
Nick's smirking. "Something like that."
"Well, I need you home in one piece, so that's not an option." He pauses. "There's a souffle in the oven waiting for you."
"You... left the oven on?!"
Carlos kisses his forehead, feeling more than a little overjoyed that he can do that again, and shakes his head.
"The oven's off. I think I timed it right for the residual heat, but they still might be a little burnt."
"I'd eat a burnt souffle every day for the rest of my life if it meant you were there."
Carlos smiles, kissing him again before gently shutting the car door.
It isn't until Nick's back in bed at home, and he's lying next to him after returning the car, that he finally starts to feel like he can relax.
"You didn't get up while I was gone, did you?"
"Babe..." He looks guilty.
"You did, didn't you?"
"I just... wanted some water."
"There's water right there!" Carlos gestures at the bottle on the nightstand.
"Yeah, but bottled water isn't good for the environment."
"You're impossible." Carlos is actually really annoyed, but he kisses his head anyway.
"Well, you're stuck with me, so..."
It's just a joke, but it still hits him. "Baby. I thought I..."
Nick's face falls. "Shh. I know. I'm so sorry."
Nick's hand finds his, and he takes comfort in the feel of the metal band under his fingers. "I'm here. It's okay. I'm okay."
"Yeah." He stops. "Um... how okay?" He tries to remember what he'd heard from the doctor, but he figure Nick would've understood it better than he would, anyway.
"Um. Still reduced lung capacity, and some of that might be permanent, so I'm probably not going to be running any marathons any time soon. Still have a bit of a headache sometimes. But that's it." He shrugs, and Carlos appreciates that he's made it understandable, for him, instead of spitting out numbers. "I was lucky."
It doesn't feel very lucky, but compared to what could have happened, he supposes it is.
"I could have lost you." He needs to say it.
"I know." Nick's hand squeezes his. "But you didn't."
"I could lose Adam." He doesn't know which thought is worse.
"Babe. Adam isn't sick."
"Don't think like that. Besides, the vaccines are coming soon, and Adam will be one of the first in line. It's almost over, babe."
That does make him feel better. "Okay. Yeah."
Nick smiles at him softly, reassuringly, before it turns into a smirk. "And I believe I was promised a burnt souffle?"
"Nicholas Edward Price! You are insufferable!"
Nick doesn't wince like he expects, instead reaching up for him, and pulling him down for a gentle kiss that is still somehow everything. "Yeah, and you love me for it."
And he really does.