Fandom: Harsh Realm/Mysterious Skin
Summary: Mike and Neil gamble and lose--and the rest is easy.
Note: Latest in a series that includes (in reverse chronological order) Show Me How That Dance is Done Breaking Point, Funny Games, And We'd Never Know, Manners May Prevail, Complications, and Devotion.
It isn’t the end of it. It’s one of those things. It tricks you, hides, goes underground. Pops up again. Neil isn’t even surprised.
How it pops up, that’s something else. How it pops up, it blows the fucking house down.
They move in silence, at first; hard silence that has weight and mass and pulls down the air, thickens it like mud. Neil hates that, sitting in a car with them with Dexter on his lap, feeling that weight and trying to breathe. He hates it and he knows that Mike can feel that he does, and Mike is chilly and distant, and Neil hates that too. It gets so that the nights are the only times it lifts. Snatches of time carved out and served in out-of-the-way holes, ruined buildings, times and places where the danger rushes in and clears out the mud. With Mike’s hands rough on him like that, he can breathe. Tied up and sobbing for relief, he can breathe. Collared and dragged across the filthy ground and almost crying against the welts on his ass and thighs, he can breathe. It’s precious. He tries to hold onto it. Sometimes he thinks he feels Tom watching. Sometimes he cares. He’s never sure.
And little by little, it fades away.
No. That had been the answer. No. The answer from Tom, the answer Neil thinks he had been pretty happy with, happy enough, if Mike could take it without a fight. No. One final negative to end everything. Simplify everything. He thinks he should have been happy with that. There’s nothing here that he should regret.
Mike’s hands get less rough, less angry. For once, he’s not taking anything out on anyone. Ghost town after ghost town, the ruins of houses like the ribcages of massive creatures, weather-bleached and lonely in the moonlight. Road after road, broken ribbons cutting out across country like the wrapping on a singularly unwelcome package. But at night, lying curled next to Mike, hand on the arm curled possessively around his waist, it’s all welcome. It’s over.
There’s nothing that he should regret.
He learned a long time ago: Repetition doesn’t equal truth. It never even gets close.
They’re running a risk, doing this; Neil doesn’t even know why he’d been so goddamn set on volunteering for it, except that maybe these days it’s a little easier to be crazy, and Mike isn’t exactly heading him off. He sidles through the clot of people crowding the bar, bodies parting for them, and he brushes against more than one, more than the lack of space requires. He’s pouring it on. He’s doing with a purpose. He knows there’s this part of himself that always does it whether he wants to or not; loose-limbed, sensual, a casual hint of a suggestion that he might be up for just about anything. He does that with Mike, he does that with Tom, he does it it everyone and everything because it’s part of the fiber of his being, part of what makes him up.
But this... this is on another level. He’s wearing a ripped tank top that somehow perfectly skirts the line between loose enough to pull off and tight enough show every line of lean muscle. His pants are riding low on his hips. He’s dragging on a cigarette in an absently hungry way, showing off without being obvious about it, just the barest pink flicker of tongue. This could be your cock. Right here, getting this kind of treatment. He can feel every single eye on him, every single fucking one, wanting him because he made them. He feels dirty, being like this. He feels even more dirty at how much he isn’t hating it.
He isn’t wearing his collar. He feels completely naked. Out of control. Or he would, if Mike wasn’t just behind him, a hand at the small of his back, fingertips edging up under the hem of his shirt. Little reminders. Bigger ones later, probably.
“There he is.” Lips against his ear, Mike nudging him toward the bar. “Turn it on. Full blast.” But Neil is already moving, easing up behind the man--big, not fat but chunky, kind of a gut, slightly balding, hairy forearms, hard jaw. Angry black eyes, when he turns to see who’s behind him, one hand on the gun at his hip.
Just his type. Once upon a time. Hell, it basically still is.
Neil leans forward, one hand on the bar. It’s been a while since he’s had to play this game but you never really lose the knack. He’s half smiling, shaggy hair falling in his face, a good and faintly mocking approximation of shy. “Hey.”
The man eyes him warily, but it’s not all wary. He’s not even trying to hide it, the little chinks already forming in the armor. Their contact had been right. He’ll be easy. “What the fuck do you want?”
“Nothin’.” Neil leans forward even more, practically sliding against the bar, hip against the man’s thigh, not a single move uncalculated on some level. “Thought you might be someone I knew.”
“Who?” Eyes narrowed but still: chink, chink. Bigger gaps, big enough to worm his way into.
“No one.” He can feel Mike watching him, and yeah, he might be putting on a little bit of a show. How’s this, you selfish asshole? How the fuck do you like it? He turns around, curves his spine just-so. He grins slowly. “My mistake.”
The man looks him up and down, once, taking his time, not even bothering with subtlety. There’s never been a lot of room for subtlety in the Realm, not when it comes to places like this--and he knows places like this, if he knows anywhere. The music hammers over their heads, seeming to make the dimness itself pulse like blood in his vision. He sees Mike through the crowd, through the smoke and low light, all ice-blue stare and tensed muscle. Neil doesn’t quite wink. It would be impolitic.
“What?” It jars him a little. He’s let his attention wander, and he’s instantly annoyed with himself. Stupid. This isn’t the time to be distractable. He hits the man with another slow grin, like he’s still just playing a game, and the man seems to buy it, because he leans close, smelling like sweat and gasoline and just a hint of meat going bad.
“Okay. Lemmie buy you a drink.”
Neil shrugs. Sure. Whatever.
The glass the bartender shoves at him is full of murky brown fluid and isn’t anything to get all smitten with gratitude about, but it does the job. Or it would, if he took more than a token swallow. Keep your head in the game. Right. Like it’s ever really been totally there. He lifts the glass in salute, and this time it’s less of a grin, more of a little curve of the mouth, too small to be sweet, too big to be innocent. The man leans in again; his front teeth are brown, and Neil is thinking he’s actually less and less appealing close up. Especially if even half of what they’ve heard about his tastes in bed is accurate.
“So how much?”
Neil shrugs again. Mike is orbiting him, swinging out in a wide elliptical and moving toward the door. “Blow job... couple rounds of ammo, some food... whatever you got. You want more than that--” Wider smile, flash of teeth. “--we can talk.”
“Okay. Let’s talk.”
Neil inclines his head toward the door. Mike slips back into a well-placed shadow. “On the way out.”
They make it to the alley before Mike is on him. It’s a blur, a breeze behind him and the sound of meat slamming into the wall, the click of the hammer on Mike’s gun, a hissed “Don’t move, motherfucker.” Neil turns, hard and sharp, so sharp he almost loses his balance, and he sees a hulking shape against the cracked concrete...
...And the fucker is laughing. Honestly laughing.
It’s all fuckin’ wrong, Neil has time to think, and then something heavy strikes him across the back of the head and he pitches forward into blackness.
His head is pounding. More than pounding, worse than pounding; it’s exploding over and over, exploding without ever coming to pieces, so it can more easily explode all over again a second later. He moans out of a mouth that tastes and feels like the man in the bar had smelled, and he tries to roll over, mindless movement borne of pain, but someone is holding him.
“Neil.” Soft. He’s only heard his name said like that a few times in his life. “You okay?”
No, he’s not okay, not even close, but he manages to wrench his sticky eyelids apart and look up into thin dawn light, Mike’s face looming over him, warmth against his cheek, fingers in his hair.
He coughs, shakes his head, though he isn’t exactly saying no.
“They jumped us,” Mike says. He lifts his gaze away, looking toward something Neil can’t see, and Neil thinks, Wow, thanks a fucking lot, Captain Obvious, but the words don’t come, and maybe that’s for the best. There’s something on Mike’s face, in his eyes, and he’s seen that before, but it was a long time ago. Standing in the woods beyond the fence, hands gentle on his neck and about to give him a kind of freedom he was realizing he didn’t actually want.
“I’m sorry.” Mike’s teeth close on his lower lip, hard. Like he’s looking to punish himself. “Never should’ve tossed you out front like that.”
“I wanted to,” Neil manages, finally. And it’s true, he had... but why? What for? What had he been looking for, in doing that?
“It’s not just that.” And Neil doesn’t like this, because this feels like a speech and it feels way too desperate, like the kind of thing you say to someone when you think you might not get another chance. “I’m sorry about everything. Tom, and... and everything. I’ve been such an asshole about it, I know that.”
“You can’t help it.” He smiles. It’s tight and pained, it’s an effort, but he makes it happen. He shifts in Mike’s lap, trying to lift his head. “Look, it’s okay. It’s really--we gotta get outta here.”
“They’re gonna shoot us,” Mike says quietly. “We have about five minutes. Heard them talking outside.” He shrugs and smiles thinly. “They were thinking about... other options... but I guess they decided against ‘em.”
At last Neil can see; they’re in a garage, small, maybe not big enough for more than one car, piled high with garbage and rotting wood, light creeping in through dirty windows. We can get out, he thinks, looking around so fast it sets his head exploding again. Sure we can--
“When they come in, I’m gonna try to jump ‘em,” Mike says. “You make a break for it. I’ll keep ‘em busy for as long as I can.”
Neil turns, too sharply again, but he doesn’t care, and he glares through the flashes of agony. “You’re... no way. No fuckin’ way.”
“Do what I say.” And it’s got a little of the old steel in it, the stuff that used to get Neil on his knees faster than anything else short of being physically shoved there, but it feels so horribly wrong in this setting, and it just makes Neil angrier, mixes with the pain and turns to poison. He’s never really wanted to kill anyone, but now he knows he could. “Neil, I mean it.”
“I mean it.” He’s trying to get to his feet, not sure that he can, trying anyway. Lurching half on his knees. “Don’t you fuckin’ try to tell me to do that, Mike, don’t you dare.”
It’s going to be a fight on this front too, he can tell with a sick drop in his stomach; a fight on every single front, even after all the apologies, even in these last few minutes when fighting is exactly what they shouldn’t be doing. So if he has to go out fighting, he has to fucking go out that way, and he lifting his head to emphasize the point, when there’s a crack and something whizzes past his head, and Mike is pouncing him and dragging him down, so hard that there’s about ten new kinds of pain in ten new places. I’m dead, he thinks, I’m actually fucking dead, this is really disappointing. But when the next shots come he’s sure he’s not.
He hears yelling, the sound of scrambling feet and more gunfire, and then a long and ominous silence. “Easy,” Mike is whispering to him. “Easy.” And yes, it is easy. It’s all very easy. They were all so stupid to ever think it was anything but. Through the pain and the bizarre clarity--and that, too, is very familiar--he’s sure about that. He can see everything.
The door bursts open, so suddenly that at first he thinks it’s just more gunfire. He lifts his head again, cries out when the light blinds him--and Florence is there, gun raised, eyes wary and then instantly warm with relief, and of course Tom is behind her, pushing past her, dropping to his knees by the two of them, haloed in light.
Easy, Neil thinks again, and passes out.