The corner store five blocks over from Chuckie’s house when he was growing up was the only place to buy beer without getting carded after ten, so from the time they were fourteen he and his friends would spend a good portion of every week sitting in the sad fucking park across the way drinking forty after forty until they were all too shitfaced to make it home without leaning on one another. The guy who worked there at night was this round faced fuck, ugly bastard with hair dyed a chemical looking purple-black. Most of the time it was white at the roots, making him look like a skunk or some such shit. His skin kind of hung off his face a little even under the grey beard that stuck up all over his face and nearly covered the womanish mouth the guy had. And maybe his fucking mouth and no other reason was why Morgan was calling the guy a fag even before the night when Will saw him jerking off in the alley to a poster of Rob Lowe, but either way Chuckie just figured that Morgan had a sense for that kind of thing and so he always watched Morg carefully just to see if Morgan could tell anything about him and Will but Morgan never did so it was probably just the mouth.
The guy’s name was something like Marty or Maxy or Mikey or something, no one could ever remember. Every time they walked through the door Morgan would start swishing his hips around and whispering ‘fag’ over and over and Marty or Mikey or whatever the fuck his name was would just sit there with his pursed girl’s mouth and his bad dye job and sell them their beer, no questions asked. He’d sit behind that grimey window, eating the sandwhiches he brought with him in a shiny tin lunch box until around three am when he would close up and walk home, alone with his head down against the wind even if it was summer and sticky as fuck with no breeze.
The only time Chuckie ever saw him talk to anybody besides giving them change was when Jimmy Conway who lived up over his Dad’s sports bar and was eighteen at the time threw a cup beer at him and called him a ‘cocksucker’. Mikey or whoever the guy was had kicked the tires of Jimmy’s car as hard as he could, and screamed after Jimmy in his high pitched voice, shaking his fists as his face turned purple and angry and Jimmy peeled away from the curb.
Chuckie sat on a bench next to Will, watched the whole thing and drank his forty slow, and Billy said, “Queer bastard,” and shook his head like the whole thing was Mikey’s fault and not Jimmy’s even though Chuckie knew for a fact that Billy had always thought that Jimmy Conway was a useless fucking sack of shit that should be taken out back, shot and buried as soon as fucking possible.
Micky or Mikey or Marty or whoever he was, he was gay. That’s what gay was: a lonely, sad bastard living an ugly fucking life without anybody else in it except to throw shit on top of you every now and then. The hair dye, the long scarves that trailed after the guy when he walked home, the shiny tin lunch box with the chick from the Wizard of Oz on it – that was being a fucking faggot. Even before Chuckie and Will ever started whatever it was that they did at night when they were at Will’s, Chuckie knew he wasn’t ever going to be a faggot. He wasn’t ever going to be that guy, that sad lonely asshole with the sad lonely face and the girly mouth and the knowing eyes. He wasn’t a fucking queer, he wasn’t going to be, not ever, not ever.
The thing with Will, it wasn’t sex. It wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t like a guy/chick thing either, and it wasn’t brothers, and it wasn’t best friends – it just fucking was. It was things balancing out, like you got one bad fucking hand dealt to you, okay well then at least you’ve got somebody who gives a shit, really gives a shit, and that’s who Chuckie was for Will. Earliest thing he can remember is getting his face slapped by Will’s dad one night when he was over at the Hunting’s because he’d kicked the drunken shit in the shin trying to keep him away from Will who was just standing there, eyes open and staring waiting for the hit. Chuckie got slapped to the floor, hit his head hard and when he woke up, Will was lying on the ground with blood on his split lip gurgling out one labored sigh after the other and still staring with that open, blank look on his face.
Couldn’t have been older than six, probably, and since then he took care of Will best he could. He was kind of a fuck up and a loser himself, so he didn’t always do a good job, but still he tried, and Will didn’t need too much mothering shit anyway, wouldn’t put up with it. But it didn’t mean Chuckie ever stopped thinking about, didn’t mean Chuckie ever stopped wondering about him, lying in bed thinking, “Where is Will, what’s happening to Will, did Will eat tonight, is that fuck beating him again?”
Anyway, after he turned thirteen Will moved in with Chuckie – or near enough anyway that Chuckie’s ma started buying him clothes like he was just another Sullivan – and Chuckie didn’t have to wonder anymore if Will was sleeping, if he was okay, because Will was snug up against him in his tiny ass fucking bed. If he wanted to know if Will had been knocked around, all that he had to do was look over, and there was Will’s back, smooth and pale and skinny with all of his bones showing through it like fucking tree branches. If he wanted to know if will was sleeping, all he had to do was put his hand on Will’s chest and if Will said “let go of me you fuck” then Chuckie knew Will was just lying there and humoring him, and if Will just lay there, breathing warm and steady next to him, Will was sleeping dreaming about whatever it is that geniuses dream about.
It was winter the first time he woke up and felt Will’s hand on his side, Will’s breath behind his ear, Will’s dick hard against him and thought, “What if I rolled over and…,” and it was two months after that the first time the two of the jacked off in the same room, aware pacing themselves against one another. Staring up at the ceiling, feeling Will’s arm working next to him, face pressed against the cold wall, and Chuckie thought it again, “What if I…,” and nothing happened and nothing happened and they started talking when they jacked off and then something happened and it wasn’t like they were fags, Chuckie knew, it was just helping each other out like always.
And if it wasn’t like they were fags, then it wasn’t sex, and Chuckie bought that line of thought up until the first time Will had sucked on his fingers and licked up his hand and he’d come so hard he’d felt like his brain was going to melt out his fucking ears. Then he licked the inside of Chuckie’s wrist, sucked the soft skin of his elbow, bit gently on the curve of Will’s chest, and all he could think was, “Yes, this is what I wanted and what if I….,” and then he did. He sucked where Will’s thighs met his hips, and he licked down Will’s cock, and then he gave him a messy, fast, bad blowjob, and when it was over, he watched Will fall back onto their narrow bed and catch his breath and Chuckie went to the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror, stared at his mouth, and it suddenly looked different to him, soft like a girl’s, like the guy at the cornerstore.
He slept on the floor that night, and the next morning Will got his clothes together and moved back in with his old man. And that didn’t stop anything, because Chuckie couldn’t so much as take a piss without thinking about Will, and it wasn’t even a full week before they ended up back in Chuckie’s room with the door locked and music playing too loud and Will’s hands tight in Chuckie’s hair.
It didn’t slow down, and it didn’t go too much further past the two of them sucking each other off, even when girls started noticing Will’s wide grin and white teeth and strong arms, and not minding Chuckie’s face or body either. Sex with girls was totally different, and fucking terrifying at first because even as Kathleen Hanrahan leaned in to kiss him the first time with her slick soft lipgloss girl lips Chuckie’d felt like he was in the middle of the biggest, most important fucking test of his life and he hadn’t even studied and didn’t know what to study but when her round breasts touched his arms and her shy tongue slipped into his mouth and his dick started waking up in his pants, God, there wasn’t a fucking word for how relieved he’d been.
I like girls, he’d thought, fucking Hallelujah, because he wasn’t a fag, he wasn’t, he wasn’t, and even later that night when he was flat on his back grinning up at the ceiling with Will between his legs sucking him off he’d been thinking it over and over.
I like *girls*.
And it was enough for him, it was enough for him that the day after he finally got Kathleen to let him fuck her, he rolled over onto his stomach and let Will climb on top of him because Will was in a dry spot, and Will wouldn’t ever fucking beg him, and Will wanted it, and Chuckie didn’t mind so much if it was what Will needed. And besides, he liked girls. He wasn’t a fag, he’d fucked a girl, and that was enough cred for anybody, right?
Except maybe it wasn’t, and every time Chuckie was around Morgan, around Billy, fuck, around anybody, he wondered, he always wondered in the back of his mind, this low level buzz, of “They know, they have to know, they must,” until it made him sick, until it turned him into some kind of sex fiend and he was fucking every girl he could just so that he could go home and let Will fuck him.
And Chuckie watched Will, and Will was calm, or as calm as Will ever got. Will was starting shit everywhere, and yelling and fighting and drinking and sleeping around, too, sure, but because he wanted to. Not like Chuckie, not desperate, and that was because Will was so fucking smart, and he got what Chuckie couldn’t seem to make himself understand which was that they weren’t together, they weren’t gay, what they did together didn’t count. It didn’t mean anything.
It didn’t mean a single fucking *thing*. It wouldn’t, ever.
The second time Jack lived with Steven it lasted for six months after he showed up at Steven’s apartment with a laundry bag in one hand and a frozen steak for his face in the other.
“Wake the hell up already,” he yelled, kicking on the door until he heard Steven bitching and grumbling behind it and the locks turning.
The door opened a crack and Steven glared balefully over the little gold chain. “I went to sleep two hours ago,” he growled. “You don’t look hurt badly enough for an emergency. Why am I awake?”
“I’ve got a concussion, okay?” He gestured his swelling eye with the steak, yelping when something went flying off it and splattered all over his face. “A concussion and a leaking goddamned porter house, so just let me in, will you?”
“In that case,” Steven said, opening the door and gesturing grandly, “please feel free to fall asleep here.”
Jack dropped the laundry bag, flipped Steven off and collapsed onto the couch on top of the piles of clothing. “I may need to stay a while.”
Jack slept for about twenty hours, and when he woke up Steven was looming over him holding a lit cigarette and a beer.
“You look like shit, mate,” he said. “Didn’t think Kari had enough reach to hit like that.”
“She doesn’t.” Jack winced a little, touching his face. “Her brother does.”
Steven nodded, blowing out a cloud of smoke and sitting down on the low table across from the couch. “Big bastard, wasn’t he?”
Jack said he was, even though he wasn’t and they both knew it, and when Steven offered him the cigarette he took a long drag and closed his eyes.
“This won’t be like last time, will it?” Steven asked, after a long pause. “I nearly got evicted.”
“I promise, no dwarves, no strippers, and no fires,” Jack promised, doing the boy scout salute. “I’ve grown as a person since then.”
Living with Steven was a lot like living in a dorm, or at least it was how Jack remembered living in a dorm (not that he remembered much). Anyway, there bottles everywhere, piles of ash on the table and the floor and random articles of women’s clothing strewn all over the place that neither of them ever returned because they couldn’t remember who to return it to.
They were both working at Bernardin, slicing vegetables like short order chefs, so they generally tended to have a lot of free time on their hands in the kitchen. Jack used it to hit on the new waitress with red hair, and Steven used it to trade about a dozen quail for a television with a short Russian guy who smelled like gasoline.
“You know you’re going to get us both fired,” Jack said, nodding at the television as they rode the subway home.
Steven gave him an injured glare. “Where’s the support? I did this for you. Know how prickly you get when you can’t watch your talk shows.”
“You did it because you know a guy who can hook you up with free cable and porn, and as much as I like Catholic School Girls Twenty Seven: Plaid Pussy, I like getting paid more,” Jack shot back, waving across the aisle at the little old woman who’s mouth fell open.
“Oh, come on. It’s a brilliant film,” Steven said with a wink.
By the time Ray stopped moving around, grabbing doctors, trying to call his wife, his ma, his other sister and her good for nothing husband, his uncle Valentine who was supposed to go pick up his ma earlier today anyway but had forgotten or was maybe sleeping off the night before somewhere, who knew, he’d been standing next to Kowalksi for maybe an hour or so and hadn’t even noticed the guy.
“What the hell you doing here?” Ray asked.
Kowalksi just stared at him like he was stupid and said, “Who do you think drove down with Frannie from the 2-7?”
Ray crossed his arms, and glared, and said, “Yeah, sorry, what I meant to ask was what the hell are you still doing here?”
Kowalski took a sip of coffee from his Styrofoam cup, and said, “Same thing you are,” with a shrug. “My sister’s having a baby.”
Ray opened his mouth a couple of times to argue, and Kowalski watched him steadily over the rim of the cup, but in the end he just leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes and said “Fair enough.”
Frannie was two months early, which was almost funny seeing as how she’d never been early for anything in her whole life and Ray could testify to that as a stone cold fact, but wasn’t funny because it meant the baby was in danger and Frannie wasn’t doing too hot either. Ray’s mother had Uncle Val take her up to the little chapel upstairs after making Ray promise like, seventy five times to come get him if there was any news, and Kowalski just sat in the corner, drinking cup after cup of the dark brown sludge the hospital was trying to pass off as complimentary coffee.
Stella was still down in Florida, tying up the last loose ends with the lease on the bowling alley and unpacking their condo and Ray couldn’t reach her anywhere. He left her about twenty messages, and calmed down a little bit every time he heard her voice on the answering machine. Made him laugh how she sounded when she was leaving a message, so professional, and he was still smiling a little and turning the wedding ring on his finger over and over when he came back to the waiting room when he noticed Kowalski staring at him.
“What?” he asked, belligerent more out of habit than anything else.
Kowalski jerked his chin at the ring on Ray’s finger. “You making her happy?”
And this was it, the face off Stell had warned him was inevitable, and yeah he’d expected it, but just not right now, because Jesus, Frannie, but Ray squared his shoulders and met Kowalski’s flat blue stare just the same and said, “Yeah, Stanley. I am.”
And Kowalski nodded, jaw tight as he looked back into his coffee and said, “Good. That’s good. That’s –,” and broke off before looking back, suddenly fierce. “You ever make her cry and I’ll break your neck.”
“Oh, please, Stanley.” Ray rubbed his eyes. “You want to fight, we’ll fight, otherwise, get over yourself.”
Rodney wakes and climbs out of the mouth that is his bed.
He starts the day wounded.
He has been bitten.
He has dreamed.
Dreams here have teeth.
They are hungry.
They strike above the heart and bleed you until you fade.
Light laps like waves over his pale skin.
His eyes are too bright against the milk of his face.
He frowns into the mirror.
Beckett will tell him to sleep more.
He will ignore that.
He is too tired to argue.
He rubs the middle of his unmarked chest.
He pulls on a shirt.
It smells like bitter, like sweat.
It rubs his hair into spikes as it passes over his head.
He cleans his face, brushes his teeth, tastes mint and chalk.
He leaves his bed behind him.
It is empty but for the sheets.
The sheets loll off the side like tongues.
"You look terrible," says Sheppard.
He stands close to Rodney.
He stands so close Rodney can hear him breathing.
He stands so close Rodney can smell his shampoo.
He smells like lemons.
He smells impossible.
"You look terrible, I said."
Rodney glares at Sheppard because it is what is expected.
They play scripts, he and Sheppard.
They don't have time for what is not expected.
What is not expected can be dangerous.
What is not expected can kill.
Rodney is afraid of death
He is afraid of what he does not know.
Sheppard is watching him; Sheppard expects him to speak.
"I didn't sleep well, if you must know."
Sheppard leans a hip against the counter, crosses his arms.
"Yes, about being pestered by a bored pilot all day."
He smiles slowly and shows all of his teeth.
He narrows his eyes.
His eyes are darker when he smiles.
It's in the script for Rodney to notice.
It's expected for Rodney to want to touch him.
It is expected that Rodney will never say anything about it.
"Well, whaddya know, dreams do come true."
Sheppard's breath is a hot circle on his neck.
Rodney knows what he is supposed to do.
He lifts the papers off the stool beside him instead.
"Then be useful," he growls.
Sheppard stares at him for a moment; it is not what he expected.
When Rodney works he forgets what he is expected to remember.
He forgets that he isn't whole.
He forgets that his heart has been hardened and bitten until it has
become a small, frightened stone in his cautious chest.
He forgets that his dreams are hungry.
He forgets that he is hungry, too.
When Rodney works, he forgets that John Sheppard is sitting beside him.
He forgets that Sheppard is a lemon.
When Rodney works, the black numbers on his screen buzz and tremble.
He knew an old man once who kept bees.
The old man tamed them with smoke and his fixed blue eye.
He watched the bees so long he knew every twitch of their legs.
He knew the sound of each one's wings beat back the air.
Bees, he said, were simple.
These numbers are bees.
Rodney is like the old man.
These numbers are his, they live in his fixed eye and his smoke.
They don't touch his hard, hurt heart.
They don't feed him.
But these numbers, he tells himself, are comfort enough.
Rodney knows this much about love: it's for other people.
The word love is a piece of glass inside his ribcage.
It scratches at his bones.
It cuts the tough meat of his heart.
He bleeds, and doesn't know it.
He doesn't care for his heart.
It has only ever hurt him.
It hurts him because he has never let it beat the way it wants to.
It hurts him because he squeezes it tight like a fist.
Rodney has his father's hand for a heart, and it is ruthless with him.
"Seriously, what was your nightmare?" Sheppard asks him.
Sheppard's hands move quickly in clean arcs over the black desk.
"It was about lemons," Rodney tells him. "I died of anaphalactic shock."
Sheppard loosens and drawls.
"Allergic reactions are quite painful, Major, I assure you," he says.
"Funny thing to have nightmares about."
Sheppard's eyes glint gold and Rodney watches him.
He watches Sheppard for too long.
He watches Sheppard longer than the script calls for.
Sheppard turns away.
Rodney says, "Dreams aren't rational."
Sheppard hitches a shoulder, and hides his face.
In Rodney’s dream, Brendan Gaul’s blood was hot on his face.
It ran into his eyes.
It blinded him.
In Rodney’s dream, it seeped onto his tongue.
Two weeks before, Lily was flushed and laughing, tucked under James’ arm in the Gryffindor common room as Peter drunkenly declared that it was a miracle, a bloody miracle, that they’d managed to graduate without being expelled first, and Sirius was trying to charm Remus’ robes off of him, literally.
Now, she was standing in his doorway, shifting her weight from foot to foot, face drawn and tight, squeezing nervously on her own hands.
“We’re *eighteen*, James,” she said in an urgent whisper. “That’s…we’re too young.”
“I’m not,” he disagreed, hoarsely. “I’ve known ever since I first met you, Lily and –-“
“Please,” she interrupted, with a watery laugh. “You wanted me because I didn’t want you, and that’s the only reason you spent so much time on me.”
“Maybe at first,” James admitted, “but not always. Not *now*, Lily…I can’t believe that you’d –”
“I’m not ready to settle down when I’ve just gotten out of school,” Lily said, looking up. Her brown eyes were filled with tears and her cheeks were blotchy and pink. James wanted to pull her toward him, to whisper soothing nothings into her hair and make it all right.
She didn’t want that, though. James knew Lily, knew the finality in her voice, knew that they were all but over.
He covered his face with his hands. “And when you *are* ready?” he asked, hating the quaver in the question, hating that he needed to ask it.
One of Lily’s hands touched the top of his head, trembling. “You’ll be the first to know,” she told him, pausing before continuing. “It’s not that I don’t –“
“You should go,” James told her, standing and turning his back to her. He waited until her footsteps disappeared down the stairway before punching a hole in the wall beside him.
“And you and Rosslyn, then?” Lily asked, leaning back against the maroon bench behind her. “How’s that going?”
James looked down at his hands, cupped around the cold glass of beer in his hands, and forced a smile. “Oh, lovely. Rosslyn’s fun. She’s very…things are going well,” he said, and when he looked up, one of Lily’s thin red brows was arched up toward her hairline.
“I don’t think you’ve ever lied to me that poorly before,” she murmured, and James laughed weakly.
“Probably not,” he agreed, and neither one of them said anything more for long moments. The noise of the bar swept over their table – the clanging, and laughter, and beneath it all the low lying music – unobtrusive, unimportant. Lily cleared her throat.
“Tom’s a prick,” she said simply, with a smile. “I don’t much like him. But he’s great in the sack.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Lily!” James exploded. “How long can we keep –“
Lily crossed her arms and looked away. “I’m not ready,” she said.
James’ hands tightened, and he looked down again. “Rosslyn’s got great tits,” he said, challengingly.
“Yeah,” Lily agreed calmly, “she really does, though she’s dumb as a brick.”
“Not as dumb as Tom,” James shot back, and Lily just nodded, staring out the window. James watched her profile, the full line of her lips, the hook in her nose, the sweep of her long dark lashes. She was short, and too thin – and when she laughed she snorted, loudly.
God, he loved her.
When she rose to go, James grabbed her wrist, but didn’t look up at her. “You know that we’re wasting our time, Lily. We’re not meant for anyone but each other.”
“I’d much rather find that out now than when we’re married,” Lily shot back, and then James did look up.
“You think I don’t really love you?” he asked incredulously, and Lily shook her head, expelled a long sigh. “It’s been a *year*. After seven years. Eight years, all together.”
“Eight years as children,” she said, and James started to speak again, but she cut him off. “We’re not going to be the people we were at Hogwarts forever, and we may not love the people that we become. What if I turn out to be someone horrid who you can’t abide?”
“You already are someone horrid,” James groused, and Lily rolled her eyes.
“Fine, then, James. What if you meet someone better for you than I am? Or what if I decide that I can’t live without Remus and run away to Monte Carlo with him?” she asked, teasing.
“Sirius will find you and have you drawn and quartered, and I’ll have Remus fixed,” James promised darkly.
Lily laughed, pulled her hand away from his and dropped a kiss on the top of his head.
“For what it’s worth,” James said as she began to walk away, “I can’t imagine either one of us changing so much that I wouldn’t love you.”
Lily shot him a smile over her shoulder, said, “For what it’s worth, I can’t imagine it either.” She paused a beat, smile widening. “I’m quite lovable.”
“Happy Twentieth Birthday!” Sirius roared drunkenly for the fiftieth time as he stumbled across the carpet in James’ living room and into Remus’ lap. Remus rolled his eyes at James and patted Sirius’ head soothingly. “He’s bloody twenty years old!” Sirius said earnestly to Remus. “Can you believe that? You’ve all gone and gotten *old* on me!”
“Yes, we’re ancient and you are as a babe in the woods,” Remus said dryly as Sirius pillowed his head into Remus’ thigh, humming contentedly.
“Your leg is very comfortable. It’s very…uhm. Leggy. I like it,” Sirius pronounced, and James laughed.
“I think you’ll have to keep him,” he said to Remus and Remus laughed, pushing hair out of Sirius’ face.
“He’d just follow me home if I tried to leave him somewhere. I never should have fed him,” Remus joked. He stared fondly down at Sirius, the expression on his face soft, and private. James looked away, his eyes lighting on Peter talking animatedly to Arthur and his fiancée, Molly, in the corner.
“They’re lovely together, aren’t they?” Lily’s voice asked, behind James.
“Who, Arthur and his red headed girl?” James asked, turning toward Lily, who nodded her head to Remus and Sirius. Remus was whispering something in Sirius’ ear, and Sirius was playing with Remus’ fingers.
“No, them, “ she said, a small smile on her face.
James watched as Sirius sloppily kissed Remus, and arched an eyebrow. “Yeah, they’re repulsive.”
“Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?” she whispered, and James snorted.
“Nothing funny about it,” he said, and Lily turned toward him, puzzled. “They’re made for one another, those two. Nobody’d have them except each other, which is just as it should be.”
Lily shook her head, eyes far away as she turned back to watch Remus try to pry Sirius off of his lap. “There’s no such thing as made for one another, James. Not even in the wizarding world.”
“Oh, yes there bloody well is!” James protested, and Lily shook her head. “No, see here, there *is* a made for each other – there’s a way of it, a way two people can be more for one another than for any one else, a way of being just *right* with some one else in a way you can’t be with any other person in this world, Lily. That’s what it’s about, that’s what Remus and Sirius have and its what we could if you –“
“That’s a fairy tale, one I’m surprised you still believe in,” Lily said flatly, not even turning to look at him. “People can love each other, can be in love, and still not be right for each other. Look at my Mum and Dad. “
James sucked a breath in from between his teeth, and looked out the window. “Lily, not everyone is your Mum and Dad.”
“It would seem that the larger percentage is, in fact,” she said with a bitter smile. “After all, more people are getting divorced than married these days and – “
“And what? Because other people aren’t happy, you have to assume that we wouldn’t be?” James asked, turning fully, his voice rising with each word. “Lily, if you don’t want me then you have to – “
“Careful, James, wouldn’t want to upset your girlfriend,” Lily cautioned with a nod toward the corner, where Penelope stood.
James scowled. “Right. Yeah, of course.”
And that is all. FOR NOW!!!