three thousand nine hundred and ninety nine leagues under the sea

James's phone is ringing.

James's phone has been ringing for almost an hour now without stopping, but they are not aware of this. It's raining, and they're outside, still in their work clothes, chilled rain soaking through their once sharp-pressed labcoat and buttondown, mud staining their slacks at the cuffs. There are headlights, then they pass. They do not know how they got here, or where "here" is, or what time it is. It's dark out, and they register that they are standing on the shoulder of the freeway.

Their head is swimming in the downpour and the harsh buzz of the phone ringing, and the only thought their mind manages to produce in response to the situation is: Oh.

Briefly, the device in their hand is a foreign object, then a reprehensible, contemptible thing, and then James lowers his head to shield his glasses from the rain and the name Draven comes into focus, and their chest collapses on itself with recognition.

Unsteadily, they lift it to their ear. His voice comes out sounding odd, half-underwater, not quite himself. "…Hello?"

"James?" His partner sounds distant and terrified. "James, oh my god, James—is that you? You sound—where the hell are you? What the fuck is the matter with you? Why didn't you—"

He stares at the source of the voice in a trance, feeling detached from himself, and at some point forgets—or neglects—to speak in response.

"James. James fucking answer me—"

"Draven," they mumble, their throat thick. They're not sure what else to say.

"Tell me where you are." Draven sounds high-strung, clumsily walking the line between anxiety and anger. "Tell me where you are right now. I've been out looking for an hour, you scared the shit out of me, James, what the hell were you thinking?"

"I." A thick swallow. They've been walking this whole time, for some reason; they stop now. "I don't know. I don't remember."

"Please don't do this." Draven's voice is more thready and poorly composed than he thinks he's ever heard it. "I need you to come home."

His socks are getting wet. "Okay."

Over the line, Draven sighs, long and shaky. "Tell me where you are and I'll come get you."

James has to take a minute to get his bearings, read the nearby signs and piece together something useful from them, during which he can sense his partner becoming increasingly anxious with his silence. "I, uh." There are raindrops on his glasses. "I'm on E55." Another long silence; his German skills are difficult to grasp right now. "Um, the… the next exit has a Beutlhauser."

"Okay. Okay." Draven sounds like he's moving around, or searching for something, breathing heavy and deep. "So take 170 north?"

"I don't know," he says, again, distantly.

"Okay, I— whatever. I hope I got this right. I hope to God this is right."

Reality is sinking back down, heavy on his shoulders like a blanket. It's a little suffocating. "James, this is—fifteen fucking miles, why the hell would you…" A sharp breath. "I'm coming. I'm coming to get you, okay? Don't move. Just don't—don't leave. Don't ever fucking scare me like that again."

The words James has been searching for finally enter his head. "…Draven. I'm sorry."

There's some sort of sound on the other end of the line, something like a choked, bitter laugh. "Don't move. I'll be there in ten minutes." A click, then silence.

James stares at it for a long moment, again a foreign object, something unrecognizable, and has to consciously stop his feet from moving. He's cold, he realizes, deathly so, chilled past the point of shivering and into numbness.

He has 57 missed calls, and it's nearly two in the morning.

With a strange sense of removal from reality, he unlocks his phone, and checks his messages.

Hey where are u?
Im finishing up now

Txt if you need bus fare or something

I think we need eggs? Lmk if you think of anything i should pick up on the way home

Lmk when you get these. Miss u💚

For hours, James realizes, Draven had trusted him. Trusted that he was just busier than normal, that he hadn't wandered into oblivion after clocking out, that he'd been lucid, just occupied. He'd given them space.

They feel slightly ill.


Text me ok? Im kind of worried

I left a voicemail. Sorry if youre in some big important presentation or something but you know how i worry :P
Love you!!

James's eyes well over with tears. He's not certain from what just yet—guilt, maybe, the sick pang of empathy clawing at their stomach, or just overwhelmed exhaustion, the feeling of being hopelessly lost finally getting to their head.


Where are you
Please pick up

I called in and they said you left at 6. Please let me know youre okay
Whatever's going on, we can talk about it
I just want to know youre safe

Please pick up


I love you. Please just come home or answer the phone
im sorry im like freaking out right now
Just let me know where you are please

Please pick up

please fucking pick up

I'm coming out to look for you. please call me
i need you to be okay

There are voicemails—thirteen of them. They can't bring themself to listen.

A long moment passes, during which James simply stares at the glow of the screen. Then, he kneels, in the mud in his work slacks on the shoulder of the highway that he'd wandered to fifteen miles from home late at night, and waits for something more than himself to take him away.

Eight minutes later, the broken-down green Saturn that still technically belongs to James pulls up to the shoulder, sharp and sudden and imprecise. He'd expected Draven to roll down the window, but the door slams open, and he shouts something that James can't hear as a truck passes and drowns him out. James only stares, stupidly, at Draven with raindrops flicking at his curls and still in his uniform undershirt. He stares as if seeing him for the first time, dark brows drawn into an anxious glare as he approaches without care for the downpour or the mud, carrying himself in a way that suggests he thinks James is hurt and that he'll need to carry him to the safety of the car, because of course his first instinct is to fix this. Of course. Of course.

"James," says the love of his life above him, voice all tremor from fear and anger. The tears from before won't come now; he feels strangely empty, ghostlike as he rises to his feet and mumbles something indistinct even to him.

"Get in the car." Draven's shoulders shake, and James can't tell if he's crying or not between the sheets of rain. "We're going home."

He walks. He's filthy, but not getting mud on the seats seems to be a concern at the bottom of Draven's list right now. The radio is tuned to local weather, nigh-incomprehensible German, which Draven turns off almost violently as he shifts gears. His knuckles bloom white on the wheel, and he's still trembling, staring dead ahead.

"Don't ever fucking do that again." It's a forced, low whisper. "Don't ever fucking do that again, James." Two in the morning, he thinks, blood long since scrubbed out of the faux-leather. It had been James driving then—it'd been James taking care of him, then. Hasn't he asked for enough in return by now?

James nods distantly.

"Do you have any idea how long I waited for—fucking anything, I thought you had died, James, I thought something horrible happened to you and I couldn't—" and Draven is crying now as he drives, even with his jaw set in anger and nails digging into his palms, and James's heart sinks to the floorboards— "God. Fucking—I thought I had lost you again, James. I thought I'd lost you too."

Draven bites his lip, shakes his head, a self-correction. "Fuck. Okay. You're okay, right? All in one piece and everything, I just—why the hell did you do that, James?"

His throat feels thick. "I don't know."

"Where were you trying to go? Why the fuck didn't you say something?"

"I—I don't know. I don't remember." Something about Draven's voice, the motion of the car, is bringing him back down to earth, and with it, the tears.

Draven's voice rises, rapid and panicked and confused. "Why did it take this long? Why didn't you answer anything until now? Fucking—what were you thinking?"

"I don't know. I don't—I don't know, Draven. I'm sorry." James had wanted more conviction in his voice, to provide his partner with at least some certainty, but it comes out as a panicked, small whisper, a barely-there thing, raw and unborn. "I'm sorry. I don't remember. I don't know."

He looks up. Draven is staring back at him, still clutching the wheel, still shaking wildly, and James has the distinct impression that their expressions are a terrified mirror of each other.

Draven pulls over to the shoulder. He puts the car in park, and idles for a moment, then turns the key. Rain on the windows creates a thick shroud of static in his ears.

Draven takes James by the shoulders, and holds him.

They're both trembling, both crying, but the guilt-ridden stiffness in James's posture he hadn't even realized was present is melting away at the touch, and he accepts it, curls into it. Draven is mumbling words, indistinct it's okays and you're okays and we're okays that don't matter, not right now, not after what he's somehow managed to do, not as he wonders hopelessly what exactly is wrong with him in his partner's arms.

"I'm sorry," they whisper again, and Draven shakes his head, presses him tighter to his chest, a hand cradling the base of his neck as if he's trying to keep James all in one piece in front of him.

"Oh, god, no, babe." A soft, almost horrified whisper. "I was just—"


"—terrified, yeah. I was just scared. Just scared." He pulls back, but keeps his hands on James's shoulders, assessing, making sure they're whole and present, then holds them close again.

"…no, really, I'm—I have no idea why I did that. I don't remember any of that, the… the texts, you calling, all of it is just…" Struggling to put words in order, James breathes in, shakily, then exhales deliberately, forcing his heart to slow, his hands to still. "…Jesus. I'm sorry."

They're hugged tighter, hands carding through their hair, a kiss placed gently on their temple. "We're gonna get you help, okay?" Draven says, thick and shaky and hopeful. "We're gonna get you feeling better. We're gonna figure out how to deal with, with all of this shit together, right?"

"…Yeah. Yeah." A pause. He manages a weak grin. "Hopefully without me managing to wander off again."

"James," he warns, but there's a familiar, tired sort of fondness behind it.

"You love me," James says, faint but teasingly.

"I do," Draven replies, sincere.

James's tear-sore eyes slip shut as his head lolls gently onto his partner's shoulder, the anxiety of the night's events crashing into him all at once as he settles back into himself, and he is still sleeping when they arrive back home in one piece.

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