Steve Perry, New Year's Eve, 1999
I don't have the guts.
Neal thinks it often, and most of the time I don't think he even realizes I hear him. We're far enough along that he forgets.
I'm not sure if that's progress.
He's asleep at the moment, so I'll get this out while I can. Quietly. Because if I get to thinking loud enough, he'll be awake and he'll get most of this. And I think he's gotten all of this he can take.
I don't sleep. Not since that night at the mall when I got handed all those doors and chose the only one I could live with. I got a feeling they all would've been bad. Somewhere, they all go on, every single fuckin' one of 'em, but I got to choose which one this timeline coasted into. He hasn't asked, hasn't gone looking, but when he does he'll know. It won't be a matter of me sidestepping him. There are days now when I can't sidestep him at all. Eventually there'll be a day when no one knows who thought what. There's very little me and a hell of a lot of us, these days. And I don't even mind that much, it's like it's always been this way. It's like breathing.
But I'm veering away from the point. I do that, and he's teachin' me not to without meaning to. The point is, he'll have more than a suspicion that I turned the whole timeline 180 to keep him alive. I chose to kill someone else, a kid, another version of him, rather than face the world without him.
There. I fucking put it down on paper. I need him. I admitted it.
Good for me.
We're too much like each other, more than anyone else we've ever run into in our lives, and it's gonna do us in. It's the reason we've been jerking each other around from day one, why we search each other out and count coup and run away again. The line between love and hate's a hairsbreadth, less than that, and sooner or later they blur. It's all about the available light, you know? Life's a goddamn Rorschach test, the people around you are like that, and it depends on how much you wanna see.
The available light.
Separating us will kill him, but not me. That's what we were told. But it's wrong. It'd kill me too, but I'd just go on dying forever. Or at least until he came along again and put an end to me. He doesn't want to talk about that, either, and he doesn't have to. I hear it all. He knows he's got to do something about me, before he goes. I'm terrified something stupid will happen to him and he'll leave me here. He doesn't want to discuss how and when, exactly, because it's like murder to him. He already knows how it's got to be, though. He just doesn't like it. I know he'll do it. He promised.
I'd hate to have to make him.
So we go on like this, knowing if we get serious with anybody that it'll always be at least a threesome. Knowing we can't tell anybody else besides who already knows. Jon still can't deal with it, and he's not even in here with us.
I don't know how long we have. Seems to me that because of Jon, we can both go on for a hell of a long time if we want. But I'm not sure. So I have this idea that we ought to make the most of the time we have, until we're sure. It'll be a good while yet before we'll be able to tell if we've both quit aging. We don't even have to...shit. I can't even get that far, because if I start that up it'll suck him in, and that's not even a goddamn pun.
The physical isn't necessary, let's put it that way. We're so connected that what one feels, the other does too, whether they want to or not. That works for pain, and fear, and amusement...
And other stuff, too.
He's not being pushed, anymore. Just that once, to get things going. But he's not done, and he can't get it straight with himself. No, that's not a goddamn pun either. He needs to sort that out, and I ain't helping. He told Jon once that me and him exist only to jack each other up. That's true. Only now, with all the pieces settling in to each other, it's too true. He needs to think about it but he's got the memory of what happened the first time in one corner, and me in another corner remembering what it was like to want him, years ago. And then he's got himself getting curious and wondering what it would be like now that we're connected...
And then there's a couple of fantasies about me he's got. He doesn't know I've seen them. I don't know how long he's had them, because we're still not good at reading everything. There's too much info to take in all at once, and we sort of section places off. They break down a couple at a time.
But there's no guarantee about who else we'd be involving. 'Cause me and Jon are still connected, a little. Even over here, in the 'real' world. And let me tell you, he's had enough. He's not blaming me so much for it anymore, but I was the Antichrist there for a bit. I don't blame him.
Neal's on the fence and needs someone to shove him off.
Maybe I should. He's been pushed into enough, and doesn't need me making any more decisions for him. But...he wants to be pushed. I know it. He can't admit it, yet. We'll be together until we die, and maybe after that too unless that stuff about me being on the last revolution is true.
So I'm sitting here thinking about the time we got left and the choices we make in it. I'm thinking about ways we could walk more in each other's steps before we have to deal with creatures only we can stop.
And I'm thinking he's in the next room asleep and won't ever see me coming in time to stop me.
I'm thinking about the available light.
* * *
We keep starting things just like this, just this way.
Steve thought about the trampoline and tried not to laugh.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
Neal slept only half under the covers, turned to the wall, one arm stretched above his head beneath the pillow. Steve thought again about a dream that hadn't been his and tried to ignore the apprehension in his own thoughts. Mostly excitement. But a little apprehension. Had it been anyone else, anyone else of the male persuasion, it never would have so much as occurred to him. But he was damn near melted into the fabric of the man on the bed.
The most fucked up iron-on anyone ever saw. He tried again to keep from laughing, shaking off another wave of nervousness. That was part of the problem. Mostly stuck together but not enough to keep someone from peeling them apart. So he stood and psyched himself up a notch at a time, trying not to alert the guitarist with it.
What the hell was he afraid of? Rejection? Looking like an idiot as a result? Neal knew him in ways he hadn't even tried to know himself. There was no hiding, no holding anything away. And if one felt stupid, the other did too. So it didn't matter. And as for the physical, there was something between them by then that transcended gender. It was old habits and mind-sets he was holding onto, standing there in the dark.
If they lived as long as they were allowed, things would get lonely quick...unless.
Steve sighed inaudibly and leaned over the bed, bracing his hands on either side of Neal's body. He felt the slight internal motion that signified the guitarist was drifting awake, felt that moment between sleep and waking where anything was possible. He leaned into that inbetween place and held Neal there a moment, pressing his mouth to Neal's shoulder, running a hand along his back. It would have been easy to settle himself along Neal's back and remain in that inbetween place, as close to sleep as he was allowed. Physical contact made things so much easier, or it might have been their own expectations that made it seem so...
He hovered in that place, and Neal turned sleepily over onto his back, unquestioning. Steve ran his hands down the guitarists' chest, eliciting a sigh, shivering a little himself over it. It would be like he'd thought, each motion felt by both and played on, each knowing what the other needed.
Neal caught his hands suddenly, and Steve lost his balance enough to lean forward onto the bed. Straddling Neal, pressing his hands into the bed on either side of Neal's head. He could see a little of the guitarists' face, see the ambient light on his eyes, not that he needed to. Neal was already looking into him in a thousand more important ways.
Be sure, Neal thought, then said it aloud for good measure.
Steve's thoughts were still and inarticulate, just a low running suggestion of emotion and intent. And acquiescence. There was surrender involved that he'd never foreseen himself conceding to. But it was easy, suddenly, too easy...
He leaned further forward and kissed Neal on the mouth, tilting his head and testing the waters, unsurprised when Neal let him in without letting go of his hands. He leaned on Neal's chest, their hands still entwined. Tongues and lives and bedcovers, entwined. Without breaking contact, Steve moved to rest his hands on the bed, bracing himself, and Neal reached under the sweatshirt the singer wore, sliding it up to get it off him. Steve startled even though he'd known it was coming. Each moved to accommodate the other just before the other moved, a complicated and intricate dance of knowing.
Steve leaned back a little, breaking contact, helping Neal pull the sweatshirt off, sitting up to press his hips to Neal's. They both took a startled breath at the new and more intimate contact, and Neal drew his knees up. Steve leaned forward again, skin on skin, and Neal moved to flip the singer over onto his back. Steve resisted even though he saw the intent behind it, felt a moment of the result.
He pulled a breath in through his teeth and shivered. "You hold onto that thought," he whispered. Then he grinned. "Next time."
"What're you--" Neal's answering whisper was cut off when Steve kissed him again, a deep, ravenous bite that was damn near to fucking in and of itself. Neal arched into it, his hands in Steve's hair, distracted enough to leave off trying to hear and see what Steve was up to.
Why don't you let me worry about that, Steve whispered into the place that was only the two of them. Then he laughed in silence. What are you--a control freak?
Steve tore his mouth away from Neal's, and by then they were both panting. Following a mental map he'd found in Neal's subconscious, he trailed his mouth down Neal's jaw, his throat, his chest, hands trailing ahead of where his mouth intended to follow. Light fingertips slid over chest and abdomen, body sliding down across groin and legs as Steve positioned himself right...where...
Neal startled, a bolt of uncertainty bursting into the room like a light being turned on. Steve paused, his hands sliding down Neal's hips, fingers hooked into the band of his sweatpants. He left his mouth pressed to a spot just below the guitarists' navel. He whispered huskily into that spot, breath hot on Neal's skin. "Do you want me to stop?"
Neal didn't answer, didn't need to. A collision of emotions held him in place.
"I won't push you," Steve whispered.
Neal arched against him, bracing himself on his elbows, head tilted back. God, I wish you would.
Steve slid the clothing off Neal's hips in one smooth, easy motion, resting his teeth against the guitarists' hip, nibbling. Neal gasped, drawing one knee up, not to protect himself but because he couldn't stay still. Steve braced himself just above Neal's hips, his hands palms-down on the bed.
Are you sure, Neal thought unsteadily, you want to---
Then Steve drew his tongue upward along the length of the underside of Neal's cock, forcing him to finish the thought with an audible whimper. The guitarist clutched at the sheets with both hands, and Steve held his hips down against the bed, feeling what Neal was and trying to move through it. The circuit closed, and they were Together.
The sensations cycled back on themselves, and Steve took Neal in his mouth to begin a new one, only letting it go on for a few moments before shifting to something else. Remaining there and letting it build would end it before they'd even begun; between the two of them, everything took only half the time and effort. One touch would echo without making room for another, and building one atop the other would quickly overwhelm--or accelerate into pain.
Pain and pleasure, like love and hate, were incestuous siblings.
Steve paused to rub his face along Neal's stomach, feeling him balance on the edge of orgasm, feeling as well as hearing the groan of disappointment. It had taken them moments to reach this point, where they were high enough to allow damn near anything. Where they were capable of damn near anything. Steve felt it and passed it along, that they were more dangerous right then than during any amount of anger they could share. Neal gasped and raised his head, meeting the dim green glow of Steve's gaze. There was permission in it, on both sides.
When they had cooled several degrees, Steve slid down again and swirled his tongue around the head of Neal's cock. He waited for the sweet shock of it to travel both of them before he slid a gentle finger into him up to the second knuckle.
Knowing it was coming, Neal did nothing more than clutch at the sheets again and whisper a curse, turning it into a prayer. They were both aroused enough to take each other with a minimum of preparation. But Steve wouldn't risk it any more than Neal had, when they'd found themselves trapped into doing what they were now doing willingly. He didn't need to ask if he was hurting or frightening or driving him wild; he knew it as soon as Neal did. There were two fingers, then a third, and Steve paused because Neal couldn't stand any more.
Just...do it, goddamnit, before...
"You can't use sentences anymore, but you're still stringin' coherent words together," Steve whispered. "I must be doing this wrong."
Neal choked out a laugh. I'll get you for this.
"I'm countin' on it." He leaned forward and laid himself along Neal's body, pausing to run his tongue over a nipple as he went, rewarded with a shock of pleasure that was answered by his own body. "Be a lot easier if we were both naked, don't you think?" he said, sitting up again.
Neal heard the nervousness the singer was bypassing to do what he was, and purposely didn't acknowledge it. Steve needed to do this, but more than that, needed to give up the responsibility for it. Neal understood and responded by pushing Steve over, rolling and taking the singer with him. Neal stripped him the rest of the way, throwing the clothing onto the floor in the same motion. He stroked the singer with fingertips alone, following it up with a mental image that made them both gasp.
"Like...that?" Neal whispered, fitting their hips together.
"Yeah," Steve breathed, moving with him. "I want..."
"I know," Neal whispered, this time into the singer's throat. "But say it aloud."
"See your face, when you...oh my God." Steve gasped again, rolling them both back where they'd been, desperate to catch his breath. Not the first time. It won't be good, like that, until we...
Have a chance to practice? Neal thought, then laughed a little. The implication that they'd be doing this on a regular basis had entered the room when Steve had.
Jesus, Steve thought. You've been waiting, for this.
I've been givin' you the room to decide, Neal thought. And you haven't been listenin'. "But if you draw this out any further, I'll kill you."
"Define 'further'," Steve whispered, leaning close, lips centimeters from Neal's. "Define 'kill'."
Oh, I will, Neal thought. He rolled his hips, causing a friction that startled them both and drained the humor out of them. The wanting that had been plaguing them returned, worn and familiar in one case and raggedly fresh in the other. The combination darkened things, drove apprehension out of the room.
Steve moved against him, with him, and there was a silent agreement about how the rest of it would work without making it technical or planned. It was suggestion only, unsureness and guesswork. Neal rolled to one side and Steve spooned him, pressing against him and giving him a chance to get used to the idea while he reached across his hip and stroked him with his free hand. Neal leaned back into him, unaccustomed to being anything but the aggressor, unaccustomed to having no one to hold onto. The suggestion of how to rectify that came up again, an easily conjured mental picture that came with physical feeling attached. Steve rolled his eyes shut in unseen but felt need.
"There," Neal murmured. The guitarist was trembling.
Steve glanced, then reached. A small tube of lubricant.
"Jeeeesus," he whispered. "You have been thinkin' about this." He applied a liberal amount to them both. Then he was gently easing himself inside, slowly rocking, aware of how goddamn good it felt and the fact that Neal was gripping the sheets but not in pain. He felt it as well as knew it, felt the sheets in his own hands, felt the pressure of it. A hell of a lot of pressure. It wasn't anything like the first time, like the painful frenzy they'd descended to out of fear and necessity. That hadn't been them.
That...had been fucking. This was not.
Steve paused, breathless, wanting to move and fearful of going further, his hips trying to move of their own accord. Don't wanna...hurt you, and even his thoughts were a gasp of amazement, breath warm and quick on Neal's shoulder.
Past thought or the ability to put it into words, Neal silently reminded him that it wasn't possible for one to hurt the other anymore, not without feeling it themselves.
We have control of it, this time, and all the time we need. He rocked back against Steve, taking him deeper, hissing at the strangeness of it and the contact with his prostate. It was better than he'd imagined, and better yet that the motion nearly drove the singer right over the edge.
It was incoherent thought, after that, just feeling and emotion and wordless communication. The first time had been a shock, an overload tainted with fear, the circumstance and timing out of their hands. But if being forcibly separated had been a rending shriek of agony, this was the perfect opposite, a melding on many levels. It went beyond and stayed there, and the physical was the least but most necessary element. The physical alone would have been startling and engaging enough, but the rest of it...
The rest of it was a gift.
It built without becoming unbearable, every motion sealing the ragged edges of what they'd started. There was no boundary between entering or being entered, the line blurring over who did what to who.
Gasping, barely able to pull air into his lungs, Neal had his head bent nearly to the bed, rolled up on one elbow. One hand was clutching at the sheets, pushing back into every thrust, the other entwined in Steve's as it rested against his stomach, steadying. Not close enough, never close enough. He could feel Steve holding back, trying to be cautious, trying to wait...
Let it happen, Neal thought, the suggestion itself coming across as an idea and not words. Oh God, let it go.
Let me in.
Steve listened that time, arching into Neal, throwing his head back and throwing himself open.
A shudder of intense sensation came with it, sweet and rough and timeless, passing from one to the other and back. There was no echo of feedback this time, no clumsy attempt to cancel each other out, just a deep and powerful moment of one consciousness and two bodies. Neal dimly remembered wondering what it would take to have the singer shouting his name. He'd never imagined the reality. The singer's entire body cried out something much more personal than just a name.
Then it really was timeless; Neal took the opening and drew on it, holding them stationary on that knife's edge of pleasure, balancing them over it. He heard/felt a gasp and didn't know whose it was, and the circuit closed again. Steve's face was pressed against his shoulder, and the moisture he felt on his skin was tears. They were stripped, defenseless. A world of things came with it, memories, desperations, hope and terror. Bonded by sweat and tears and semen, emotion and intent and...
Some things had always been there, unacknowledged and undealt with, and over the span of years had dealt with them instead.
Neal found himself unable to breathe even though he felt air entering and leaving his lungs, realized he wasn't the one who'd stopped breathing. They had each other's hands in a physical death grip, limbs trembling, unable to survive it and desperate for it to go on. Neal finally opened intangible hands and released them both before it could become an assault, letting the moment pass. It wound its way around them, slowly losing energy as it went, finally ending the sensation but not the connection.
The breath Steve had been holding went with it, released in a hoarse cry. He collapsed onto Neal's shoulder, both of them gasping and unable to let go of one another. No thoughts surfaced out of the low hum of afterglow that followed. It was a while before Steve gently disengaged and rolled away in a loose heap, unable to move further, feeling the loss of contact even though he left a hand on Neal's back. An aftershock struck, a small jolt of pleasure that startled them both and made Steve roll into a reflexive ball. Neal's thoughts were still, both of them locked in internal reaction. Then Neal rolled over and joined Steve in staring at nothing for a moment before rolling up on his side to face him, horrified at the effort it took. Steve met his gaze, stretching a little beneath it. There were silent, unformed questions in it, phantoms of things unsaid. Then they curled into each other, and Neal laid his head across Steve's chest with a sigh.
Neither of them spoke; it wasn't necessary, and breaking the external silence seemed disrespectful. Neal was too close to sleep, and Steve was content just to listen to him breathe, lying there wrapped in each other.
At some point Neal went under, and Steve hovered in that space, never asleep or awake until that moment--it could have been minutes or hours--when he felt Neal's hands in his hair, on his face, cupping his chin. Something sharp came with it, a pleasure that wasn't sexual but no less compelling. It startled him into opening his eyes.
There was color; somehow, instead of darkness, there was blue luminescence coming from nowhere in particular. It took him several moments to realize it wasn't visible light. We're shining, he thought. That's what they meant.
Neal registered his surprise and offered no explanation, just ran his hands down Steve's arms.
Bodies still hypersensitive, senses awakened, the simple touch was all-encompassing.
Neal swept his hands slowly down Steve's ribs in a slow caress, reaching in as he did it, handling the singer the way he would have handled a guitar he knew well, coaxing with the right amount of pressure in the right places and holding there.
Steve moaned aloud, unable to hold it back. God, how are you doing that?
It's us, Neal replied. Only us. One of these days...I won't even need to touch you.
Yes you will, came a whisper that was neither of them and both. Always need to touch.
Steve felt reality slide a little left of center, felt himself disconnect from the things that rooted him in place. Better than sleep...
He jerked back to alertness, the memory of those same hands lulling him out of consciousness, out of pain, out of a hell of a lot he hadn't wanted to give. The tower in the Outlands. Cold stone floors and darkness, and a soulless shell that had carried a spark that would have died out altogether had he not given himself to it. Those same hands.
He tried to slam it down, to get away from it and roll away from Neal, and those same hands dragged him back.
Is that the rest of it, what you've been hiding? Is that how you died?
Steve froze but went on struggling all the same, emitting a long gasp that sounded and felt more of terror than a scream would have from him. Neal held onto him, pulled him back.
If you can look at it, live with it, so can I, Neal thought/felt. It was too late for all of it to go back in the box, and they both knew it. Too late for a lot of things. The doors they were accustomed to slamming on each other had stopped existing when Steve had made the decision to walk in the room.
The truth stood like a book left out on a table, open to damning pages. Neal sat at the table, kept Steve from escaping, but didn't look further.
If you don't want me to look, I won't. I won't steal from you. It's gonna come out on its own, sooner or later, though, and maybe in ways more than this, maybe in ways you really won't want. You can deal with it, or it can deal with you.
It doesn't make any difference, Steve thought, and it was a silent scream.
You're not listening, Neal thought, the words deliberate. Still. You'd understand if we were really part of each other. Trust me. I shouldn't have to ask you that, just like I shouldn't have to tell you how I feel about you.
Steve startled at having it put into words. But you don't know--
Because you won't let me. I ain't gonna pull it out of you. It'll happen by itself, if you let me in.
Steve conjured a last defense. You don't want it.
Neal let the thought settle. But I want you. Whatever comes with that, comes with that.
There was a lull, a place where they balanced on the edge of the precipice fear was holding them over. Then Steve stepped over another threshold, and the hiding was over. Acknowledging how he'd died, that it had been a choice...
That part of him had enjoyed it.
Neal grieved with him without apologizing; there was no apology to be made, no reason for guilt. He suffered it without flinching, sharing the weight of it without diminishing the import of it. He slid into the same places invited this time, and it had the same effects but not the same price.
Steve didn't remember if he lost consciousness altogether, or if he had any left to lose. Neal gently paused him in that state, in that melting bliss, and left him there.
The first thing he was aware of the next morning was that it was raining.
He opened his eyes and found himself alone, and wondered for just a moment where he was. Rumpled sheets, and his clothes on the floor... Then he remembered, all of it at once, and those hands...
Freakin' get up and come have breakfast, Neal admonished silently. Are you gonna jump in the shower, or not?
Not yet, Steve thought. I'm not ready to wash you off me, yet.
He got nothing coherent back for that, just a low mental thud of amazement. Then he heard Neal laugh aloud. It was part nervousness and part surprise, and Steve buried his face in one of the pillows, inhaling their combined scent and thinking how much it was like them, a combination that wasn't quite recognizable yet outside its component parts. He no longer had a scent of his own, but after the kind of exertion they'd--
What'd Kevin call you? Neal thought, and Steve tasted coffee when Neal took a sip of it. A piece of work. Yeah, that's you.
Yeah, but Kevin's never let me fuck him senseless, so...
Steve felt coffee spray onto the kitchen counter and exit Neal's nose at that, and the mental image that accompanied it sent him into laughter. Neal choked, spluttered into something between gasping and a painful coughing fit.
Talk about lovin', fuckin', squeezin', Steve thought, laughing into the pillow.
"Fuckin' Christ..." Neal collapsed to sit, mopping up coffee. "Fuckin' goddamn egotistical--"
Cocky, Steve thought. Don't forget that one.
"Fuck you," Neal said. "I'm cocky. You're just a prick."
Steve was still laughing. I mean, you call a guy Spank a couple of times, and...
Shut up and get the fuck out of bed, Neal thought.
Neal shook his head, purposely looking for something else to focus on besides the suggestion that hovered beneath the singer's thoughts. No, they weren't through with each other yet. "Don't get me started," he said. "Senseless? Jesus Christ."
Steve went on laughing.
End, Book IV