I was a little unsure of this, so thank you to sperrywink, nopseud and msktrnanny who reassured that it was okay.
It isn't what I was supposed to write, the story of my life lately, but I hope you enjoy anyway.
I have no idea if I should warn for this or not. So, scroll right down at the end of the story where I've added a warning if anyone wants to check.
Joey wakes curled on a small bed.
It isn’t the bed he has at home, that has luxurious pillows and cosy flower patterned sheets. This is a small cot, narrow with white starched sheets that scratch against his skin. Slowly opening his eyes, Joey looks around, at dark wooden walls, lanterns swinging from brass hooks, causing pools of light to sway across the floor.
Nauseous, he presses his face against the pillow, breathing through the churning of his stomach. All he wants to do is leave, but he doesn’t want to move. There’s something wrong with this place. It thrums, and when he reaches out his hand, the walls minutely vibrate against his fingertips.
Joey’s not ashamed to admit to himself that he’s scared.
It’s a voice from a lifetime ago, and Joey doesn’t want to look, can’t take the disappointment of being wrong.
The mattress dips, a hand against his back.
“It’s really me.”
The voice is wrapped in a smile; a thousand memories centred on laughter and shared times.
“I know it’s scary, but you need to look at me.”
A hesitation, and Joey’s still. So still. Holding onto this dream.
“Do you want me to get the sponge?”
The new voice makes Joey gasp, and he clenches his fists against the covers, fingers clawed tight. Because this is fucking cruel, and he can’t take getting what he’s missed for so long, only to have it taken away again.
“I told you not to come in yet. You know what it’s like the first time.”
There’s censure, and this time Joey does move, desperate. “No! Don’t go.” He twists in place, the sheets tightening around his body, and everything is frozen, pin prick sharp as he sees Justin standing in the doorway. His grin wide, and utterly failing to appear casual. Then Lance. Lance who’s sitting at Joey’s side, legs crossed at the ankles, smiling so hard.
“You took your time,” Lance says softly, and then he’s leaning forward, pulling Joey into a hug and everything feels desperate, needy, reattaching long-severed ties. Then Justin’s running forward, dropping to his knees at the side of the bed.
“I missed you,” he says, his hands against Joey’s back.
“Joey’s missed Justin too; he’s missed them all, their lives taking different directions until all that remained were cards at Christmas and glossy printed memories made dull with age. A staggered heartbreak of goodbyes.
“We need to get going,” Lance says suddenly, and there’s something in his voice that makes Joey look up sharply, catching the way Lance glances at Justin. The way Justin’s shoulders slump, sorrow obvious in the way he dips his head and looks away.
Joey’s words are lost in a sudden savage hug, Lance’s face against his own.
“I’m sorry, you’re not getting the time that you need, but JC’s waiting and we haven’t got time.”
“Hold on,” Joey says, and he’s smiling, lips curling as he detangles himself from Lance and Justin. “JC’s here?”
“He was here first,” Justin says, and his hand is wrapped around Joey’s arm, steadying him as he stands and they walk toward the door. Which Joey is thankful for, because the floor seems to sway under his feet, as if gravity is all wrong in this place, is working against them.
“We need to hurry.”
They step into a corridor, wooden floors and pale walls and Lance sounds anxious now, his head tilted slightly to one side as he’s listening intently. If Joey concentrates, he thinks he can hear something too. A ticking.
Slowing. Slowing.Slowing down.
Justin’ urges Joey on until they’re almost running, hurrying along the corridor, passing closed doors and stairs that disappear into the dark. Finally he stops at the last set of stairs, starts to run up them, and Joey’s panting for breath, gasping as he follows Justin, feels Lance close behind.
Finally they reach the top and Joey almost stumbles as Justin opens a door. They step outside and it’s nothing that Joey expected, how could he? Nothing could have prepared him for stepping onto a wooden deck, sails rippling above his head, a skull and cross bones flag fluttering from the top of a mast.
Except, there’s no sea, no water at all.
Just a ship sailing through the sky.
“Isn’t she gorgeous?”
Gaze torn from the sails, Joey throws himself toward JC, because JC is expected. Normal, solid strength and unruly curls that tickle against Joey’s face as they hug.
“I know,” JC interrupts, and he’s holding Joey close, his chin against Joey’s shoulder, as if it was yesterday they last talked. “It’s scary and fantastic and you probably think you’re dreaming.” JC smiles, presses a quick kiss against Joey’s neck. “You’re not.”
He falls silent then, and Joey’s aware that Justin and Lance are standing close, waiting, and the ticking is louder here. A steady throbbing beat that’s still slowing.
Slowing. Slowing. Slowing down.
“It’s nearly time,” JC says, and when he moves, Joey’s collar is damp, JC’s eyes glimmering with tears.
“You’re not leaving?” Joey asks, frantic, because he doesn’t understand any of this and his head is still thumping, pain slicing through uncertain memories and foggy periods of time.
“No, I’ve been waiting.”
Which is no answer at all, and Joey’s frowning as Lance steps forward and takes his hand. Fingers entwined, he pulls Joey forward until they’re both pressed against the rails that circle the ship. From there they can look down at the city below, thousands of lights in the darkness, the tick of the clock filling the air.
They stop moving, boards creak and sails still, and Joey jumps at the sudden unearthly howl.
“It’s the Captain summoning his guard,” Lance explains, and when Joey looks up he sees flashes of dark, indistinct figures who swarm the decks and climb the mast as a gang plank suddenly appears, joining ship to sky.
“Are we picking someone up?” Joey asks, even though he knows the answer. It’s the only thing that fits. That JC would have his arms wrapped around Justin, both standing and looking torn between grief and joy.
“One last passenger then we can go,” Lance says, and his fingers are painfully tight around Joey’s.
That passenger walks into view, body bent and shuffling forward, and Joey thinks he’s wrong, this isn’t Chris at all. Because Chris may be older, but he’s never been old, and this man is. Wizened and grey, each step painfully slow.
“He outlasted us all,” Lance says, and he’s smiling now. “Stubborn bastard, he probably wouldn’t have gone now if it wasn’t for you.”
Joey feels sick, has to grip onto Lance and the rail. “I don’t understand.”
“I know” Lance says softly, and he looks at Joey, rests his hand against Joey’s cheek. “Normally all this gets explained, but he went so soon after you we didn’t get a chance. He’s between there and here now, life and death.”
“He’s dead?” Frantic, Joey looks at Lance, at how he’s exactly the same as he was so many years before, demands, “and Justin? JC? You?”
“We’re all dead too, have been for a while, you’re just not remembering that right now.” Lance squeezes Joey’s hand and steps even closer, so they’re pressed together from hip to shoulder. “Fucking chicken sandwich, I wanted to go with a bang not a whimper.”
“Kelly loves you,” Lance says simply.
He rests his palms against Joey’s cheek, and suddenly Joey can remember. Lying in his bed, Kelly, Bri and his grandchildren at his side, her arms wrapped around him as she kisses his cheek, says how much she loves him, has always loved him, but now it’s time to go. Tears against his face, against her lips as she kisses him, tells him to be happy, whatever that takes.
Lance presses a kiss against Joey’s cheek. “We’ll talk more later. We’ve someone to meet first. Watch.”
He points, and Joey looks back at Chris, watches as he starts walking faster, his body uncurling, his hair lengthening, losing the grey, until he’s running, the gang plank bouncing under his feet. Then his feet meet the deck, and Justin grabs hold, swinging Chris off his feet as JC laughs and pounces on them both.
Joey can’t help grinning as he watches them, recreating so many tickle fights on this ship of death.
“We’d better go over; he won’t have long before needing to sleep.” Lance slowly uncurls their fingers and gives Joey a look. “Come on, you know how he gets when he doesn’t get attention.”
Which is true, and fresh sorrow mixes with happiness as Joey hurries forward, dives into the pile of bodies and grabs hold of Chris, holding him tight as the ship begins to sail once more.
Warning! This is a deathfic, just not in the usual way. They are together at the end.