Fandom: Harsh Realm/Mysterious Skin
Summary: An explosion, and what came after.
Note: Latest in a series that includes Funny Games, And We'd Never Know, Manners May Prevail, Complications, and Devotion.
There's a fight. Neil will think later that really, no independent observer could possibly be surprised at that. It's been building for weeks, and shit like that can only build up to a certain point. There's a fight, and there's nothing to do about it but watch. He could break it up, he could try--or he could take a bruising because neither of them will realize that they're pounding on him until they've been doing it for a while.
So he leans back against the tree trunk and watches them go at it with a vague feeling of disgust.
He's not even sure what it starts over. Could be, someone built up the fire wrong. Could be, someone burned the rat fillets that would have served as their dinner, their first to speak of in half a week. Could be, someone looked at someone else in just the wrong way. It doesn't much matter, because whoever throws the first punch, it dissolves into a flurry of punches, two bodies arching back and coiling and leaping at each other, rolling over each other into such a tangle that Neil gives up trying to work out who's who.
In truth, if he tried to jump in, it'd be over by the time he makes any headway. It ends with Tom pinned on his back beside the half-scattered and dying fire, Mike straddling his hips, face thrown into harsh shadows and twisted with rage. And Neil could still jump in, turned over onto his hands and knees with his mouth open to call Mike's name and snap them all out of whatever bizarre fucking dream this has turned into, but instead he just watches. Frozen. The whole world feels a little like it's holding its breath.
"You're a fucking asshole," Tom spits out, twisting under Mike's body. And in one world, Mike hits him, hard, fist connecting with teeth and maybe scattering a few of them. Neil sees it as clearly as if it's right in front of him.
And in another world, in this one, Mike rakes his fingers into Tom's hair, drags his head up and his mouth into a kiss that has just as much in common with biting as it does with anything else.
Neil takes a breath. It's harder than it probably should be.
There's a few seconds of space between when Mike does it and when Tom shoves him clumsily and frantically away, and in those seconds, Neil sees everything as clear and as slow as a series of still photographs. Tom stiffens, shocked, tense and still ready to hit back, and then his hands close on Mike's sides and he arches upward, his legs loosening under Mike's body and his eyes slipping closed. Just for those few seconds it's as though a third world is pushing its way into this one, and in that world everything is very different. Neil thinks he's seen glimpses of that world before, in the way that sometimes Mike is so gentle with him that it hurts and makes him want to shy away, in the way that sometimes Mike holds him close at night and it has nothing at all to do with sex, and Neil remembers the nights in the big bed back on the other side of the fence, sometimes chained and sometimes not but always right, where rightness had no business being.
Just for a few seconds of space, Tom Hobbes is kissing back, and Neil's mouth goes dry. Thinking about it is one thing. Seeing it is something completely different.
If he had been expecting to be jealous, he isn't. He's just wishing so badly that it would last long enough for him to move.
And of course it doesn't. Of course Tom shoves Mike away, scrambles out from beneath him with his elbows dirty and leaves and twigs sticking to the back of his shirt, and he's spluttering out things that aren't even words, pushing himself up to his feet and storming away with his hands clenched around his head, like he's got a headache that won't quit. And Mike is left on his knees by the fire, staring down at the disturbed ground in front of him, thin sunlight through the trees, naked trees with the oncoming winter though the real cold hasn't yet set in.
He meets Neil's eyes and Neil wants to look away. He doesn't. Mike looks confused, maybe the most confused that Neil's seen him since that last night behind the fence. Then he looks angry again, darkly angry in that way that he only ever is when it's mostly himself that he's angry at, and all Neil's sure of is that He is not fucking taking this out on me, no fucking way.
"What the fuck're you staring at?" Mike growls, and Neil coughs out a harsh laugh.
"The fuck you think? Nice show you're puttin' on. You really seduced him, didn't you? Couldn't fuckin' resist your charms."
Mike spits into the dirt and gets to his feet. Neil can already see the anger bleeding out of him. "Fuck you," he mutters, turning away before he shoots back over his shoulder, twisted with a sneer, "You enjoy that, then? Never got the feeling you liked to fucking watch."
"I don't like watching that," Neil murmurs, and he reaches up and swipes a hand down his face. He's tired. All of this is so fucking stupid. His fingers brush the worn leather of the collar and he thinks, All of this was so much simpler when it was just us. And he doesn't blame Tom for it, because how the fuck would that be fair? But it's true. What they had before, it's gone. Kicked away and scattered like the goddamn fire. He looks at it and his stomach lets out a mournful growl, and his gaze slides back up to Mike's back, his slumped shoulders.
He looks defeated. And that's ugly.
"You're overthinkin' this," he says. Slowly he gets to his feet, moves over to the fire and to Mike, lays a hand on his back. He's half expecting Mike to shrink away, but he's not surprised when that doesn't happen. "You need my permission?" he whispers, and he remembers the glass on the floor of the pharmacy and what he had seen in Mike's eyes. "Look, you got it. I don't care about all that shit. I just..." He reaches down and closes his hand around Mike's wrist, and after a second or two of resistance Mike turns and glares at him, but Neil ignores the glare, pushes on.
This is important.
"I miss us," he whispers, takes Mike's hands and settles them on the collar, thumbs over Mike's veins and feeling the slow beat of his heart. "Do whatever you gotta do to make it okay with him, because I miss us."
And if us can't be exactly us anymore... he thinks he might be okay with that. He thinks about Tom's eyes, about that soft smile he sees sometimes, when Tom is writing a letter, looking at the picture of that girl, just sitting and watching the fire burn.
He thinks that might be okay.
Mike looks at him for a long moment, and the fact that he's looking and not pulling away with a muttered response-that-isn't-a-response-at-all is encouraging. It might be more than he hoped for.
"I don't know what to do," he breathes at last, his fingers working over the leather at Neil's neck. Neil swallows hard, blinks away a rush of cramps to the backs of his eyes.
"Just talk to him. No more bullshit. Just fuckin' tell him. He says no, fine. At least he'll know, and you can forget it if you gotta."
Mike smiles suddenly, small and thin but not cold. At least not cold. "You always got everythng figured out, don't you?"
Neil huffs out a laugh. "You can't be just keepin' me around for the sex."
"I'm not." And it's not joking, no sarcasm. For a few more moments they stand like that in the last of the daylight, Mike's hands on Neil's neck, Neil's hands on Mike's wrists, close enough to be embracing. And, in a way, they might be.
"Okay," Mike says finally. "Shit. Okay."