The harsh ringing of his cell phone interrupted Daren’s nap just as he was about to fall asleep and with a scowl he climbed off the couch and fished the phone out of his jacket pocket. It rang again as he pulled it out and this time the sound truly registered in his tired mind; it was Tanim’s ringtone. Daren was still frustrated, but secretly he also felt relieved – he had not heard from Tanim in weeks and had feared the young man had cut off contact with him completely. Tanim was the only one of his clients he liked even in the slightest and he did not want to lose his business; or his companionship.
Daren flipped the phone open, slipping into his business like demeanor.
“…D-Daren…” Tanim’s voice seemed weak, almost forced, as if he could not quite get enough breath to speak. He sounded like he had been crying, or currently was. Something was not right. Daren’s stomach turned over suddenly with worry.
“Tanim? What’s wrong? Are you all right?”
“…p-please…” His voice faded in and out, desperate and faint. “Please come…”
“Tanim, wait–” Before Daren could finish, the call disconnected. Daren swallowed and returned the phone to his jacket pocket. The call disturbed him more than he wanted to admit; there had been something in Tanim’s voice, an agony he had never heard before, that put him on edge. As unstable as Tanim was, he still managed to remain calm and collected until he was under Daren’s control. To be so upset…
Daren shoved the fear aside and grabbed his jacket, pulling it on as he headed for the door. He hesitated, then ran back for his briefcase as well before rushing down to his car.
“Tanim?” Daren tried the doorknob to Tanim’s apartment when his knocking received no answer. It was unlocked, which surprised him, so he slipped inside and shut the door behind him. The apartment was dark and freezing, and altogether far too quiet. Daren shivered and glanced around to get his bearings, then began flipping on lights as he made his way into the living room. He called Tanim’s name again but there was still no reply. The young man turned to the darkened hallway and down at the other end a strip of bright light fell across the carpet. He breathed a sigh of relief and headed for it. The light came from the bathroom, shining out from under the half closed door. Daren set his briefcase down in the hall and slowly pushed the door open.
“Tanim…?” He stepped into the bathroom and froze.
“Fuck…” Daren rushed to Tanim’s side and knelt on the cold tile floor. The older boy lay sprawled on his back upon the tile, asleep or unconscious, his cellphone still resting in his limp fingers. His knuckles were darkly bruised as if he had repeatedly punched some solid surface and his fingers were dark with slowly drying blood. He looked, to put it lightly, like absolute shit. In the weeks Daren had lost contact with him, Tanim had lost a substantial amount of weight. His once toned body had shrunken to a pathetic shadow of its former refinement. His cheeks were hollowed, his handsome face twisted into an expression of pure grief. His skin was flushed with fever, too, and Daren worried he might have pneumonia. His chest rose and fell shallowly as he slept.
Tanim’s condition was worse than just this, though. He was shirtless and all along his chest and arms were deep, vicious cuts. Some were caked with dried blood but others were incredibly fresh and still bled freely, little streams of blood streaking down his skin. A dark pool of blood slowly formed beneath the young man’s still body.
“You idiot…” Daren jumped up and hurried out into the hall to grab his briefcase, then returned immediately to Tanim’s side. He went to the sink and ran a hand towel in warm water for a moment, then began to carefully clean the wounds. Tanim moaned in his sleep as Daren’s fingers ran over his skin but he did not wake. Not for the first time did Daren say a wordless prayer of thanks to his medical training. He worked quickly but efficiently, washing the gouges and covering them with Neosporin before binding them tightly with clean white bandages from his supplies. He counted the cuts as he went, making a mental tally of their severity and location on Tanim’s body so that he would remember which needed special care. The ones along Tanim’s arms proved to be the deepest, and also the most numerous; along the insides of his arms some were so deep that Daren was shocked Tanim had not cut a vein and bled to death. It was a miracle Tanim was still alive, though Daren knew the worst was not yet over. Tanim’s body was wasted, malnourished and wracked with fever and who knew what else. Blood loss had taken its toll and would continue to do so until Daren could force his companion to eat and drink something; and there would always be the risk of the self-inflicted wounds becoming infected.
None of that would matter, though, if Tanim was too far gone to fight for his life. Icy fear settled into Daren’s stomach as Tanim whimpered brokenly in his sleep. He knew Tanim had not been trying to kill himself; he had only been trying to stave off the consuming desire for self-harm that crept upon him so often. Daren knew this. Daren understood this. But if Tanim had given up all hope now, if he had let himself be defeated by this horrible thing, then there was no hope of saving him. His body could not fight if his heart and soul were already gone. He was not strong enough to hold himself together on his own. He had called Daren, though. The boy could not forget that. Tanim had called him, had begged him to come, had summoned the only person he knew he could depend on. There had to be some will to live left in him yet for him to do that. There had to be.
It took Daren an eternity, it seemed, to finish cleaning and bandaging every gash and scrape on Tanim’s body. Tanim had not woken once the entire time, though he whimpered softly in his sleep from time to time. Now finished, Daren knew he had to get the man into bed. He hated having to wake him, to force him back to a consciousness where he was most certainly in incredible pain, but he could not lift Tanim alone. He bent over the sleeper and gently slapped his cheek.
“Tanim, you need to wake up…” His first attempt did nothing. He scowled, frustrated, and struck Tanim again with as much force as he could muster.
“Wake up, Tanim,” he commanded harshly. Tanim gasped as the boy’s palm struck his cheek and his eyes snapped open. His clouded, chaotic gaze focused on Daren and a shudder ran through his aching body.
“D…Daren…” Tanim swallowed, trying to wet his dry mouth and chapped lips. “….you c-came…?”
The young man kneeling beside him nodded curtly and forced Tanim into a sitting position, leaning him back against the wall.
“Of course I did. You called; I came. That’s how this works. Now I need to get you into bed so you’re going to have to help me; I can’t carry you alone.” Tanim slowly nodded, too dazed to argue or really acknowledge what was going on. The fever made his head ache and turned the world around him dark and fuzzy, like moving through a dream.
Daren slipped his arms around the bigger boy’s chest, beneath his shoulders, and with his help Tanim slowly stood. He had to lean heavily against Daren’s thin body, but with the other’s help he managed to make it down the hall and into his bedroom. Daren deposited him gently on the bed, then with no pretense of shyness stripped Tanim and pulled the blankets over him, tucking him in tightly.
“Y-you…” Tanim closed his eyes wearily, fighting off the fever-sleep. “Daren, you don’t need t… to do t-this…” Somewhere above him Daren laughed softly, a light, musical sound, and brushed his fingers over Tanim’s burning cheek.
“Just go to sleep, Tanim,” he instructed quietly. Tanim did not need his permission; by the time Daren’s fingers drifted over his cracked lips he was asleep again.