November 28, 2019

Will Horton plopped onto a lumpy, uncomfortable hospital bed, wincing at the crinkling of the protective paper covering. He held his left hand over his head the way the exasperated nurses instructed moments before when they led him into his small cubby-hole of a room.

This was another setback in the long year of setbacks in Will's life.

Will had spent almost the entire year alone, aside from Arianna. He foolishly left a wonderful man like Paul. Lost what little nostalgic love he had for Sonny to Leo.

Without either man, Will realized how alone he truly was. With no boyfriend, Will didn't have much companionship. Chad and Abigail left Salem. Gabi left town in a huff after her schemes blew up in her face. Neither parent lived nearby. He didn't go into the office often, preferring to work at home. Outside of Marlena, Will didn't talk to many people besides his daughter.

It left a lot of time spent home, alone. With no dates to go on, friends to go out with, or things to do, Will ended up saving quite a lot of money. Money he used to buy him and Ari their own home. It wasn't much. Small, older, and in need of updating but Will loved it.

It required a few more articles in the paper every week, freelance writing, and side IT work every now and again to afford but it was worth it. Will never had one steady, stable home growing up. If he couldn't give Ari a solid relationship with either of her other parents, the least he could give her was this.

After moving in, Will got into the habit of binge-watching the Food Network at night before falling asleep. One night when he couldn't sleep, bemoaning how alone, miserable, and pathetic he was, and midway through a Holiday Baking Marathon, Will got inspired.

It couldn't be that hard to make a cake, could it?

A few hours later, with powdered sugar on his nose (when had he even bought powdered sugar, anyway?) Will finished. It was a little misshapen and the frosting was a bit of a mess but Will felt proud of himself.

He was even prouder when it tasted much better than it looked.

One cake became a tray of cookies became a loaf of bread and before Will knew it, he became a competent baker. Not formally trained and a little rustic but it brought him a lot of joy. It wasn't like when he failed at cooking dinner. Baking was science and Will had always excelled at that.

It kept his mind off how lonely he was when he was mixing, kneading, and sifting. Plus, it gave him and Ari something to do together besides playing toys. Ari loved putting on her own little apron, standing on a chair, and pouring all their ingredients in a big bowl. Throwing flour at each other and laughing and laughing while they waited for their newest creation to bake.

It also meant Will had to spend more time working out to keep the baked treats from nesting on his hips.

Unfortunately, it gave Will some delusions of grandeur. Bored since Ari was spending Thanksgiving with Sonny and Leo, a tradeoff for Will to get her for Christmas, Will decided to bake a pie to take to Marlena's for Thanksgiving.

While peeling and slicing apples, Will answered his phone and put it on speaker.

"Hello?" Will asked, distracted.

"Hello, sweetheart," Marlena greeted. "I wanted to remind you to come around three today."

"Yeah, I remember," Will said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "I'm working on a pie, now."

"It still boggles my mind picturing you baking," Marlena teased. "Of course, you've never let me taste anything so…"

She trailed off with a laugh while Will rolled his eyes.

"You wait and see, Grandma."

Marlena started talking about everything she prepared for dinner and who was coming. Will tuned her out. He spoke to her almost every day and they'd already been over this but he wasn't going to stop her. If nothing else he enjoyed the tone of her voice, so happy and carefree.

"And, of course, John was so happy to get a call from Paul this morning! He's coming to visit during Christmas. John's so excited to see him again and to finally meet his boyfriend. I'm rather –,"

"Ow," Will hissed when his knife skittered to the side, slicing across the middle finger of his left hand. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then blood started pouring out of the wound, all over Will's apples, countertop, and floor as he rushed to grab a wad of paper towels.

"Will? Are you alright – oh, oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry. I thought you knew Paul had a boyfriend. You left him, after all. But I –,"

Will cut her off with a short, "gotta go, Grandma. I've got a situation here."

Which was how Will found himself in a hospital, alone and hungry on Thanksgiving, bleeding finger held over his heart, scrolling through his phone with his right hand, social media stalking his ex.

It was painful enough to know Sonny left him for a prostitute. It was another thing to see Paul blissfully happy with someone better suited for him than Will. Someone handsome and successful and worldly, like Paul.

In a little less than a month, Will would get to see them up close and personal too. Two happy couples, together during the holidays while Will was alone and pathetic. Where everyone in Will's family would ask why he didn't have a boyfriend. Or, even worse, assume Will was still hung up on Paul or Sonny. Or even both of them and everyone would see him around them with their new perfect boyfriends while Will was alone.

It wasn't like Salem was lacking in gay men but the options were limited. Most men were only interested in Will physically and at first, Will was fine with that. He never got to be wild and free when he first came out. But, after a few months, and seeing Sonny and Leo get closer and closer, Will wanted something a little more. Unfortunately, Will couldn't seem to find that. Men either ran from his extensive family history, when they found out he had a daughter, or from Will himself.

Will once had men vying for a relationship with him. Now, he can barely get a date that didn't consist of ripping his pants off five minutes into it.

Will wasn't under any delusions about himself. He was stupid and reckless and leaped before he looked. But he did love Paul and Sonny once. In different ways, for different reasons, at different times and while he was glad they were happy, he was selfish enough to realize he was jealous and envious.

He wasn't enough for Sonny. He was too much for Paul. Will just wanted someone that fit.

It also hurt to know both Paul and Sonny seemed to thrive without him in their lives.

Outside his small cordoned off room, nothing more than a cubicle with a curtain pulled across, Will heard voices.

"Yes, Doctor, I pulled the patient's chart. Trust me, we're gonna need you to handle his treatment, not a nurse."

"Why?" a man's voice answered, something vaguely familiar to Will but he couldn't remember where he heard it before.

"Trust me, Dr. Brady's gonna want the best care for this one."

The crinkle of the curtain sliding open made Will toss his phone aside.

A dark-haired man, with his head bowed over a tablet, said, "looks like you've got a hefty cut. Let me take a…look."

He lifted his head and Will sighed.

"Brian, I didn't know you worked here."

Brian James – the same man who spent months pining over Sonny years before – cleared his throat before stepping into the room and closing the curtain behind him.

"A few weeks, now. I started my residency in October."

"Congratulations," Will offered with a small, tense smile.

"Thanks," Brian replied, glancing between Will and his tablet.

While Brian read through Will's rather extensive chart, Will examined Brian. A doctor's jacket suited him. His hair was slicked and combed just right, facial hair arranged with a perfect five o'clock shadow. He even made his ugly, sensible black shoes look attractive.

Meanwhile, Will wore a raggedy old shirt and jeans with bloodstains everywhere.

He sighed again.

"I've treated 90 year-olds with smaller files than you," Brian commented, closing the protective cover on his tablet.

Will gave him a dry look before saying, "most of those things happened before I was 10."

Brian flashed Will a bright grin as he slipped on a pair of gloves.

"I don't know. The last eight or so years are pretty interesting. Now, let me take a look at your hand."

Brian grabbed Will's wrist with a surprisingly gentle touch and lowered it to eye-level. He unwrapped the red-soaked wad of cotton the nurse hastily wound around Will's finger.

Brian winced a bit when he saw the jagged cut. It stretched from the edge of Will's fingernail all the way past his second knuckle.

"It's not too deep," Brian assessed while bending Will's finger forward and back. "But, you'll need some stitches."

"Going to get a nurse to do your grunt work, now?" Will wondered, pulling his eyes away from his own bloody finger. He didn't have a problem with blood but it was beginning to make him queasy all the same.

Brian glanced at Will, holding his gaze. They were closer than the other realized, faces only a few feet apart.

They both also never realized how blue the eyes of the other were. Not that either man spent much time assessing the other when they were younger, at least, not this way.

It took Brian a few seconds to respond, mouth open, completely distracted by Will, before closing his eyes and shaking his head.

"No, I can take care of this myself. As long as you behave, that is."

"Well, we both know I have problems with that."

The two smiled at one another for a few seconds before they looked away with sheepish laughs.

Brian turned around to get set up, gathering all his supplies while Will kicked his feet against the bed. Sneaking looks at Brian every few seconds, certain this was the longest the two had ever spent in each other's company alone.

Within a few minutes, Brian rolled a stool over to Will's side as well as a small metal table.

He grabbed Will's hand, placing it on the table. He cleaned Will up, spreading a numbing agent, and distracting him while prepping the stitches.

"What were you doing, anyway? I'm pretty sure fingers aren't on a traditional Thanksgiving menu."

"Haha," Will replied as sarcastically as he could. "I was slicing apples for a pie and my hand slipped."

"A pie?" Brian asked. He looked at Will with a half-smile, "since when do you cook?"

"I don't cook," Will said with a sniff, nose in the air. "I bake."

"Is that so?" Brian asked, slipping the first bit of thread into Will's finger.

"Yeah, it's a recent thing. I didn't think I'd be any good at it but I like to think I am. Ari loves everything I make."

"Ari?" Brian wondered.

"My daughter, Arianna. She's six, now."

"Wow," Brian acknowledged. "It has been a while since we've seen each other."

"A lot's happened, yeah."

The last time they'd seen one another Gabi was pregnant and Brian was chasing after Sonny.

"I don't know," Brian said, flickering his eyes up to meet Will's. "I don't know if I would eat anything you made. I remember some horror stories I heard around town about your experiments in the kitchen."

"Why does everyone keep saying that? I totally know how to bake. The Food Network taught me," Will said with a loud huff.

"That's reassuring."

"Oh, you just see," Will threatened. "I am gonna bake you the best damn dessert you've ever had."

"Are you?" Brian asked with a wide grin, leaning away from Will.

"You are going to literally and figuratively eat your words."

"How are you gonna manage that with only one hand?"

Brian gestured to Will's finger which he finished stitching without Will even realizing.

"Wow," Will lifted his hand up, admiring the perfect stitching. "I didn't even feel anything."

"That's sort of the point," Brian responded. "Now, about this dessert I'm getting. You taking requests?"

"I don't know," Will sat up straighter. "What do you have in mind?"

Before Brian could answer the curtain swished open again and Kayla Brady entered with a frazzled look in her eyes.

"Will," Kayla panted, skidding to a stop near him and Brian. "Someone told me you were here. What happened? Are you alright?"

"Fine," Will responded. With a nod toward Brian, he added, "Dr. James here stitched me back together in no time."

Kayla grabbed Will's hand, looking over Brian's work with a sigh.

"Looks good, Doctor," she acknowledged, letting go of Will's hand and nodding at Brian.

"Thank you," Brian responded, sitting up straighter in his superior's presence.

"Not a bad bedside manner either," Will quipped.

Brian rolled his eyes but couldn't stop a smile from spreading across his face.

Kayla looked between the two of them with a suspicious and knowing look in her eyes.

"I see," she nodded, stepping back toward the curtain. "Well, I'm glad you're alright, Will. Doctor, thank you for looking after my nephew."

"You're welcome. It was my pleasure," Brian responded, ignoring Will's snicker.

"I bet it was," Kayla mumbled before leaving.

Brian let out a deep breath and visibly relaxed.

"Sorry," he said as he grabbed some bandaging and started wrapping Will's fingers. "Still kind of nervous around the big boss."

"Aunt Kayla?" Will asked with an exaggerated frown. "But, she's like the nicest, sweetest person ever, outside of my grandma Marlena."

"Wait, Grandma Marlena?" Brian looked away from Will's hand. "As in Marlena Evans, as in Dr. Marlena Evans, as in head of the psychiatric department?"

"Yeah," Will replied with a sharp nod. "That's her."

"You're related to the two most powerful women in this hospital?"

"Uh-huh," Will nodded again, oblivious to Brian's wide-eyed expression. "Why? Want me to put in a good word?"

"Would you – uh – wait, no, no. You don't need to do that."

"Well, I'm going to Marlena's today for Thanksgiving anyway. Trust me, she'll notice my mutilated hand. She notices if I have a single hair out of place."

"Will, really, you don't have to say anything."

"Well, tough, I'm doing it anyway."

Brian let out a mix of a laugh and a sigh.

"Now, see, this is how I remember you."

"Strong-willed? Helpful? Kind?"

"Annoying," Brian answered with a blinding white grin.

"And this is how I remember you," Will grumbled.

Brian raised his brows and looked at Will expectantly.

"An asshole," Will quipped.

Brian shook his head before finishing up with Will's finger. He did his best to make it so Will still had some mobility in his left hand.

"You said you slipped and cut yourself," Brian remarked. "Are you sloppy with knives or just clumsy?"

"Neither," Will defended, head hanging low so all Brian could see of him was the top of his head. "I was on the phone and my grandma mentioned my ex was bringing a new boyfriend for Christmas."

"…Sonny?" Brian guessed in what he hoped was a nonchalant tone.

"No," Will rolled his eyes. "I see enough of Sonny and Leo to last me a lifetime. I don't care about that."

"Weren't you and Sonny married at one point?" Brian interjected before Will could start speaking again.

"A long time ago," Will lifted his head finally. "There was a lot of drama and I ruined a lot of things. Then there was a whole thing where everyone thought I died and I had amnesia and well, I wanted a divorce. Then about a year later we tried again and then Sonny ruined it. Hell, maybe I should have let you have him all those years ago. It would have saved me a lot of grief."

"Huh," Brian remarked.

In truth, he hadn't thought about Sonny Kiriakis in years. Even when he moved back to Salem, besides noticing Sonny's place of business was gone, Brian didn't really care.

He was a grown man, now, not an insecure college kid who hid under a veil of confidence. He moved on a long time ago.

"Anyway," Will continued, "the ex I'm talking about is, well, he was Sonny's ex first. We slept together when I was married to Sonny, hence the drama. Then when I came back to town with amnesia I only wanted Paul and we had this perfect relationship. I got my memories back and ruined that for Sonny and that didn't work out."

"I see," Brian had a hard time following along but tried his best.

"No, you don't," Will admitted with an amused smile. "It's rather Shakespearean, I know. All you need to know is Paul is seriously perfect. Like the perfect boyfriend, the perfect friend, the perfect son, the perfect employee, the perfect everything and anything. Everything about him was perfect and I'm me."

Will gestured to himself with his right hand.

"I am the opposite of perfect. I am so far removed from perfect we might as well be in different hemispheres. Well, you know. But Paul was my piece of perfect and I couldn't handle it. I ruin things. That's what I do. And that's what I did. And I know it was probably the right decision because I was never going to be what Paul deserved or needed. I've accepted that. I've moved on and I'm glad he has too. But I already have to see Sonny and stupid Leo together. I don't need to see Perfect Paul and his Perfect Boyfriend together too. And I will see them because Paul's father is married to Marlena.

"And you didn't need to hear all that. Oh my god, shut up, Will."

Will clamped his lips together, face red, looking anywhere but at Brian.

"I think you're selling yourself short, there," Brian said as he pushed his stool away and stood up. He took off his gloves, methodically washing his hands.

Much like Will, Brian didn't know what compelled him to open up to a person he didn't have the greatest history with but he couldn't stop himself. There was something about Will's vulnerability that tugged at places in Brian he hadn't felt in a long time.

"There was a reason I was so threatened by you before," Brian admitted. "I saw how much of a catch you were and I did everything I could to hack away at it, make your attractive qualities undesirable in Sonny's eyes."

Brian washed his hands and turned to face Will head on.

"So, maybe it's not that he's too perfect. Maybe he's just not perfect for you."

Will's eyes were wide and glimmering under the fluorescent hospital lighting. Pink mouth agape, kicking his legs like a child in his faded, blood-spattered clothes and the whole thing should have been ridiculous but Brian found it oddly charming.

He hadn't lied before. He saw Will's appeal as clear as day. He understood perfectly well why Sonny was so drawn to Will. Will, with his insecurities and vulnerability. Will, so very like a sponge who soaked in everything around him, the good and the bad, storing it away until someone felt like ringing him out. Will, with his pretty face and toned body, who knew everyone and always tried to help. Who Brian knew was looking for guidance and reassurance, someone to tell him everything would always be okay.

But that wasn't Brian. Brian didn't want to play mentor. He didn't want to see someone struggle to accept who they were. He didn't want to witness the back and forth, the struggle, the familial bonds pushing and breaking.

Brian had done that himself. He didn't need to see someone else go through it too.

Perhaps it wasn't fair to take it out on Will. To go after what he knew Will wanted but Brian wasn't one to sit around and wait or let someone else take what he wanted.

"Right," Will said, clearing his throat so his next words weren't so shaky. "Thanks. About seven years too late, but thanks."

"Always so gracious," Brian muttered.

"So," Will said once Brian began cleaning his station up. "Any Thanksgiving plans?"

"You're looking at it. I just started my shift."

"You don't have any family in the area or anything?"

"Nope," Brian said with a shrug. "My family is in Ohio."

"Oh," Will replied. He'd never lived anywhere without at least some family nearby.

"Yeah, my mom nagged me to get today off and go visit her."

"Maybe you should have."

"Trust me, a little of my mother goes a long way."

Will let out a loud snort which caused Brian to laugh.

"Probably not in the same way yours does," Brian acknowledged. "She doesn't like the idea of me being back in Salem."

"Can't blame her for that."

"No," Brian agreed. "But, she's always on my case about something. Being a doctor isn't enough. She thinks I need to settle down with a nice boy and start thinking about my future. Since becoming a doctor isn't enough."

"Yeah, I don't have those kinds of problems with my mom," Will agreed. "Mine are more of the opposite. Where I nag her about settling down with all her kids and not off destroying Tokyo."

Brian chuckled.

"At least, I have my stepdad around to reel her in sometimes."

Will let out a loud cackle.

"Yeah, the day my stepdad does anything to reel my mother in…"

Will trailed off when he noticed Brian staring at him while leaning against the sink behind him.

"What?" Will asked with a frown and a little wrinkle to his nose.

"Nothing," Brian shook his head while licking his lips. When Will still looked skeptical, Brian crossed his arms, cheeks a little red, "you should laugh more. I don't think I've ever heard it before today. It's nice."

"Oh," the red in Will's cheeks put Brian's to shame. "Thank you."

Brian nodded before pulling out a prescription pad and scribbling on it.

"Antibiotics to prevent any infections," Brian explained when he handed it to Will. "You should come back in a few weeks to get the stitches out. Keep the bandage on but let it breathe a little bit every day too."

"Right," Will said, biting his lower lip. "Thank you, you know, for everything."

"Sure," Brian said, loitering in the room longer than necessary.

He only left when his phone buzzed and he said, "I've gotta go."

"It was nice seeing you again," Will said, hopping off the bed.

"As weird as that is to hear from you, thank you."

"Oh, shut up," Will laughed. "Just be glad I'm not lying to be polite."

"You know how to be polite?"

"Would you get out of here?" Will half huffed, half laughed.

"I'm going. I'm going," Brian said, half in the cubicle and half out. "Oh, and I like chocolate. I have high hopes for this dessert you're making me. Don't disappoint me."

When Brian walked away, Will wiggled in his spot for a few seconds, big, dumb smile on his face and a fluttery feeling in his stomach.

Author's note:

I always wanted to write for this ship and got inspired by the Christmas movie Mingle All the Way with Brant Daugherty and Jen Lilley. Also it took me half the movie to recognize him, I'm sad.

I hope to get this finished before Christmas so updates should be quick.