Fandom: Harsh Realm/Mysterious Skin
Summary: Tom and Neil start a fire.
Note: Latest in a series that includes Manners May Prevail, Complications, and Devotion.
He knows Tom is watching him before he even turns around. It's not just Tom; he can feel eyes on him from way back, a kind of survival skill, to know when he's wanted and when there's interest. It's a light prickle, a sensation of the hairs on the back of his neck lifting upright, but with Tom it's warm and somehow pleasant. He doesn't mind Tom's eyes.
He knows Mike doesn't either.
He turns from where he's trying to coax a spark onto the pile of kindling and smiles. It's friendly and open and he feels a flush of slightly detached pleasure when Tom returns it with a kind of unconscious quickness. This isn't a game Mike is playing. Mike isn't here, gone into the woods for a squirrel, a rabbit, whatever he can catch.
This is Neil's game. If it's a game at all. He isn't sure about that yet.
"Do you need help with that?" Tom is moving forward, already half stooped-over, and Neil's about to say that no, he's fine, he's got it, he can more than pull his weight. But he sees that smile again--not really like any smile Mike has ever given him, and he shrugs, moving aside enough to make room.
"Sure. 'F you can get it going." His smile turns into a little more of a smirk. "It's bein' a bitch. Think maybe the wood's too damp."
Tom looks briefly rueful. "That would be my fault." He bends down, crouches at Neil's side and takes the flint. "It's all the rain. Everything is so damp."
Neil rocks back a little on his heels and watches. Yeah, it's the rain--over a week of it, dribbles and downpours, and this the first dry day they've had--and yeah, finding wood fit to burn had been Tom's job, shot impatiently over Mike's shoulder as he'd headed off into the trees. Mike would have been annoyed, would have huffed with exasperation and rolled his eyes, but Neil's just enjoying the view. The strong slope of Tom's back, t-shirt stretched tight against the muscles of his arms. Soldier-boy. Neil smiles again. It's idle, this kind of looking, but there's something more than idle behind it.
And he remembers the shed, Mike thrusting him forward naked and bound and practically into Tom's face. That had been goading, yes. But if goading had really been all Mike was interested in... there would have been other ways to do that.
So he shrugs again. "We got a lotta daylight left. We could maybe let it sit in the sun a while."
Tom snorts. "And have Mike on my ass when he gets back and the coals aren't hot? No thanks."
"There's worse things."
Tom cocks his head at that, and Neil can see the propriety warring with the curiosity behind his eyes. He knows what he wants to win. There's something about Tom that seems too fucking pure to be real, the kind of good and true and knight-in-shining-armor that would normally make him sure that an absolute freak lurked beneath the pristine surface. Except that doesn't seem to be true, not in the few months they've run together as a trio.
And it just makes him want to dig deeper.
Finally the contest decides itself. "Why do you let him do those things to you?" Tom murmurs, and he's asked it before, in other ways, but the times before had been laced with distaste or even a mild kind of horror.
Now he's just curious. Nothing more.
So Neil looks at him squarely for a moment or two and makes a good-faith attempt at coming up with an answer. The thing is, if Tom weren't so fucking pure, if he didn't seem genuinely too good to be true, he thinks he might actually be able to explain. As it is... He shakes his head, half grinning. "Look, you... you're a good guy and all, and I know you're not an idiot. But I really don't think you'd understand."
"No, I want to," Tom persists. Fixated. Neil almost rolls his eyes. Great. "You just... I've seen people here, all beat down. They've given up, you can see it in their eyes. But you haven't. You have... a lot of life in you. So why do you let him do it?"
Neil looks at him for a long moment over the damp pile of kindling, the trees dripping all around them in a soft, rhythmic patter, and behind the sound of leftover rainwater he's got half an ear open for Mike's heavy tread. And he thinks: old habit. Listening for Mike's step at the door. Ready for what he'll be used for. That's over now, but then again, it sort of isn't.
Given up. There was a time when he had been very close to that. When maybe he all but had.
"I want him to do it," he murmurs, meeting Tom's wide blue-green eyes. "Look, I told you... you really wouldn't understand, okay? It's a long fucking story and you just... you just wouldn't." he pushes to his feet, unsure of what he's getting up for, what he's looking for, but if this was a game it's gotten way beyond him now and he doesn't want to keep it going anymore. There's something in the kindness in Tom's eyes that he doesn't want to see, because it doesn't belong here, because he can't make it square with the way Tom had looked at him when he had been bound and naked and offered up by Mike like some kind of prize.
He hadn't liked it, then. He'd gotten over it. He's used to getting over things.
Maybe too much.
"Neil..." He feels a soft touch at his shoulder and shrugs it away. "I didn't mean..."
"So what'd you mean?" He pauses at the edge of the clearing, leans against one of the trees and looks out at the woods. Mike. Mike. If he came back now it would be a relief. He remembers the moments of near-bestial docility, a leashed pet on all fours with a bowl of food in front of him. He didn't have to think.
"I don't want to see you hurt," Tom says quietly, and Neil squeezes his eyes closed.
"There's hurt and there's hurt."
"I know that."
Neil turns, crossing his arms over his chest. "Do you?"
"I saw your skin all red... that time before. In the shed." Tom is stepping closer, cautious, like he's trying not to spook an animal, and Neil is thinking For the love of Christ, just get the fuck away already. "He'd been... hitting you. Hadn't he?"
Neil nods. He doesn't think lying is a good idea here. His palms are slick with wet moss and mud from the tree. "Look, it's--it's not like that. I dunno how to explain it, but when he does it, it's, it feels like--" He huffs out a sigh, frustrated. He should have put a stop to this before it got this far. Whatever's between him and Mike, it doesn't do well in the light. It doesn't translate. The shadows and angles are all wrong. "If I wanted him to stop, he would."
"Would he?" And Tom doesn't sound disbelieving so much as... still curious. That maddening kind of academic tourist-curiosity, and it makes Neil want to kick him in the shins, except he wonders if there might not be something else going on under that detachment, something the detachment is rightly covering for.
There's a smudge of ash on the edge of Tom's jaw and suddenly it's hard to not stare at it.
"How does it feel?"
So Mike was going about this all the wrong way, Neil will muse later. Tom doesn't take direct attacks. Gentle man needs gentleness and simple man needs simplicity. Neil does what he does next because there doesn't seem to be anything else to do, because words are failing and inadequate, and he's put himself here, and more than that, he feels sure that somehow Mike has put him here, and his options are shrinking into nothing. So he leans forward at the same moment as Tom's hands come up to close on his shoulders, and as he arches his mouth over Tom's and swallows his surprised gasp, the feel of the leather at his neck is as freshly striking at the first day Mike put the collar on him.
The span of time between the first touch of lips on lips and the last break as Tom pulls clumsily away, eyes wide and face and neck and ears flushed so fire-engine red that Neil almost has to laugh, it's probably only a few seconds, but it feels a lot longer. Neil wonders if he should say he's sorry, if any kind of apology is even in order, and as he's opening his mouth with absolutely no idea of what might come out of it--probably a dangerous proposition but what the fuck--there's a crashing through the trees and he knows the moment is over, the spell broken, the dream dissolving and all that yearning kind of bullshit.
So whatever. Tom is turning, not meeting his eyes, and he doesn't meet Mike's either as he comes into the clearing with two gutted squirrels swinging by their scrawny tails, bending over the still-potential fire again and trying to coax it into light.
Mike gives Tom a look, stock eye-roll, stock sigh, stock grumbling about how he's an ineffective sonuvabitch, but he turns his gaze on Neil and it's almost unreadable, but there's a spark behind it, a sense of something sharp and keen and Neil things he knows. Fucker knows. Jesus Christ, shit.
And then Mike winks. And Neil thinks he might actually tear the collar off and strangle him with it.