rina (relentlessfire) wrote in m8n_slash,
rina
relentlessfire
m8n_slash

Fic - Whiskey and Aspirin Chapter 10

Title - Demons and Angels.
Author - Rina
Rating - R
Warnings - Nothing much in this one. Just a lot of angst and brooding.
Summary - How are the boys coping after "that" night?



Richard wakes up early in the morning with a stiff neck and sore back from sleeping on the floor. He groans and sits up, rolling his head in a circle and cracking his neck. He stops when he sees Justin sitting on the end of the bed, fully dressed, with his bag beside him.

“You’re up,” Richard says in surprise, not expecting Justin to get himself out of bed or get dressed, not after the way he was last night, like a zombie. He must be over his shock now, thank heaven. “Why didn’t you wake me?”

Justin doesn’t look at him or reply, just sits there with his hands resting loosely in his lap, eyes downcast, long black hair hiding his face.

“Still not talking to me, huh?” Feeling like an old man, Richard clumsily gets up off the floor, wincing as pain twinges in his lower back. “Well, that’s all right. You don’t have to.” As he stretches the kinks from his tall frame, Richard yawns, scratches his whiskery chin and asks, “Have you had breakfast? Do you want me to go get you something? Just nod if you do.”

Justin shakes his head. Richard looks at him, gauging his mood. Justin doesn’t seem pissed off, just distant and withdrawn. He supposes that’s to be expected. He can’t expect Justin to act like nothing ever happened. What the boy went through last night was one hell of an ordeal. He has every right to be distant. But at least he’s responding to Richard’s questions, even if it’s not verbally. That’s a bonus.

“I know you don’t feel like eating but do you want a coffee? I’ll make you one.”

Another shake of the head. Sighing, Richard slumps at the kitchen table, pulling a cigarette out of the pack. He taps the end of it on the laminated table top, still gazing at his silent friend and wishing last night could be erased. It’s like there’s a great big fucking brick wall between them now and Richard doesn’t know if it will ever come down. He’s the one who put it there and he’s going to try and chip it away, piece by piece but that might take forever. And the wall just might be too damn thick to ever get through.

“You know, Justin, if you want to go your own separate way, I’ll understand,” he says regretfully. “I know that you probably don’t want to be here with me anymore. If you want to leave me now and start a new life on your own, you can. I’ll let you go. I’ll give you the car and I’ll give you half the money. If that’s what you want to do, then just go. I won’t stop you.”

A slight frown flickers across Justin’s face, as if he’s debating this option. Richard’s stomach sinks when the other boy voicelessly gets up, collects his backpack, slings it over his shoulder and crosses the floor. Richard has to bite his lip to prevent himself from stopping Justin, who opens the door and walks out of the motel room without so much as a backward glance. When the door closes with a click, Richard sits there at the table feeling like his heart has been torn out, the room very empty and quiet without Justin in it. When he made the offer, he didn’t really think Justin would go. But he did. He’s gone. It seems as though he couldn’t wait to get out of there. He doesn’t want anything to do with Richard anymore. Justin hates him. He hates him that much that he doesn’t even want to take Richard’s money. An alarming thought strikes the older male. How is Justin going to survive? How is he going to buy food or pay for somewhere to sleep? He can’t use his bank card to withdraw any cash because then the authorities would be able to pinpoint his location. Justin won’t get very far without money. Or a car, Richard thinks, glancing at the key still sitting on the table. What, is he going to hitchhike? On his own? He didn’t even take a gun. How’s he going to protect himself? A pretty boy like him getting into strange cars with strange people... A sickening image of Justin lying in a ditch by the side of the road with his clothes ripped and blood all over him, beaten, stabbed or worse, jerks Richard into action and he leaps up and rushes to the door, wrenching it open and running out into the parking lot, swivelling his head and looking for the other teenager’s back as he walks down the street, ready to beg him to come back. Fear floods him as he realises the road is deserted. He can’t see Justin anywhere.

“Fuck it,” he swears, spinning around, eyes desperately searching up and down the street, wondering which way Justin went and if he’ll be able to find him in time, before he gets picked up by some sick paedophile or axe murderer. God, if anything happens to Justin he’ll kill himself. Justin is his responsibility and he shouldn’t have let him leave. He races back inside, grabs all his stuff and the car keys, all the while repeating like a prayer, “Oh, Justin, please don’t be gone. Don’t be gone.”

As he runs to the car in full panic-mode, Richard goes to open the door handle and freezes when he looks in the window. Justin is in there. He’s already in the car, in the passenger seat. Waiting for him. Richard just didn’t see him because he wasn’t looking. Incredibly relieved, Richard utters an expletive of thanks and opens the driver’s side door, throwing his bag into the back of the vehicle and climbing behind the wheel. Slamming the door shut, he drops his face into his palms and lets out a long, tremulous breath, his pulse still pounding crazily.

“Jesus Christ, Justin. You scared the shit out of me,” he exclaims. “I thought you’d already left. Don’t make me worry like that. God.”

All Richard gets for his concern is the cold shoulder, Justin refusing to meet his eyes. Richard gazes at him, heart tugging with overwhelming love and gratitude. Justin is still here. He may not be talking to Richard but he’s still here, still coming along for the ride, still Richard’s partner in crime. That says a whole bunch without any actual words.

“Thank you for staying, Just,” he says softly. “It means a lot to me.”

Justin doesn’t answer, just glances out the window, his face neutral. Richard wants to lean over and slip his arms around Justin in a grateful hug but knows the other boy wouldn’t let him do that. A lone strand of hair is stuck to Justin’s top lip and Richard wants to brush it aside but he doesn’t. Touching Justin, even in a small, affectionate way, is not a good idea at present so Richard keeps his hands to himself, turning the key in the ignition, lighting a smoke and muttering, “You got a hair on your lip.” Absently, Justin brushes it away himself.

The car only stops a few times during the next five hours and mostly that’s when Richard has to pee, standing by the side of the road, emptying his bladder into the dry grass. He also stops to fuel up at a little roadhouse and returns with two Styrofoam cups of coffee, passing one to Justin and ordering, “Drink it.” Justin does so, taking delicate sips of the hot beverage without complaining. Richard also interrupts his driving to get them lunch and again orders Justin to eat the sandwich he drops in the uncommunicative boy’s lap. Richard knows that if he doesn’t give those orders, Justin won’t eat or drink at all and the kid is already skinny enough.

Not even tasting it, Justin finishes the sandwich with small bites, chewing slowly, not really hungry but knowing with the sensible part of his brain that it’s something he has to do if he doesn’t want to pass out from low blood sugar levels. Richard keeps glancing at him worriedly as he drives. Justin can sense Richard’s glances but doesn’t say anything to reassure his friend. He is not up to talking to Richard yet. Talking would require more energy than Justin is able to expend at the moment. But all these hours on the road staring out the stone-chipped window gives him plenty of time to think. He may have seemed out of it last night in the bath but he heard everything that Richard said. He was just unable to respond. It was as though he had been floating above his body, not able to make it do anything but the simplest of motions, blinking, breathing, standing, sitting. He is fully back inside his body now but it’s like he has gone the other way, deep inside himself, to the point of almost ignoring the outside world. He needs to take this time to sort through his head, to sift through his thoughts and feelings and the only way he can do that is if he shuts Richard out for a while. Richard seems to understand this need for solitude and privacy so he doesn’t ask questions, just turns the radio on low volume and keeps driving, occasionally checking the map to make sure they are still on route. Justin tunes out the sound of the music and opens his mental filing cabinet, pulling things out to study, categorising them and putting them back in their rightful place, cleaning up the jumble in his mind that last night’s episode caused.

First of all, after much shuffling and examining of the order of events, he comes to the conclusion that Richard hadn’t meant to hurt him. He knows that Richard finds him sexually attractive but the older boy takes too much pride in his abilities as a lover and a seducer to ever have to force anybody into doing it with him. One of his greatest skills is getting people into bed. Justin bets Richard has never had anyone refuse him and even if he had, he would just keep on seducing until he won, using his charm, wit and charisma to get what he wanted. He would never have to take anybody without their consent. He’s not a rapist. He only did it because he thought Justin wanted him to.

Which brings Justin to the second point: Whose fault was it? He can’t say it was entirely Richard’s because again, he thought Justin wanted it. And why did he think Justin wanted it? Because Justin had apparently been touching him. On the dick. Now, Justin does not remember that part but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Richard could have lied about that but Justin doesn’t believe he did. Richard appeared genuinely confused and shocked when he realised that Justin had been asleep. If he had meant to hurt Justin then he would have been enjoying it; he would have been gloating and smirking over his victory, not panicking and offering to take Justin to a hospital. His worry was real and so was his regret. It’s probably true that Richard should have asked before taking but then again, he thought that Justin had already given the answer. If Justin was touching him in a sexual way, then of course Richard was going to think he was asking for it. If Justin was touching him, then he has to take partial responsibility for what occurred. Even if he was asleep. If he’s supposed to be so smart, then he should have known better than to sleep with Richard in the same bed and not expect himself to respond, especially when Richard didn’t have any clothes on. He’s a very handsome boy and even asleep, Justin knows that. Even asleep, Justin is attracted to him. Since Richard has recovered from the chickenpox Justin has missed giving him those back-rubs, has missed the skin-on-skin contact and so perhaps his unconscious self decided to give in to that yearning while all of the psychological inhibitors that normally control his behaviour – fear, shyness, anxiety, etc – were switched off. Richard was lying right there next to him naked and so Justin’s sleeping self just did what it wanted to without the constraints of normal consciousness. Justin touched Richard and so Richard did what any normal hot-blooded guy would do in the same situation - he responded. He thought he was getting lucky and put his dick in the only place it could go. Sleeping in the same bed, in retrospect, was not a good idea. Justin should have known that but he was too tired to. However, Richard sensed the danger. He offered to get another room but Justin told him not to. He should have listened to Richard, should have let him get a different room with separate beds and then none of this would have happened. So whose fault was it?

Both of their’s and yet nobody’s at the same time, Justin concludes. He knows that it’s no use blaming anybody because that won’t turn back the clock or wipe out memories. It’s already over and done with so he just has to deal with it. And that’s what he’s trying to do.

The third thing that he has to process is the stunning realisation that Richard is in love with him. Love. That almost boggles the mind. Justin thought that Richard fancied his androgynous looks and would have kissed him or touched him out of bi-curiosity but he didn’t think the other boy’s feelings ran so deep. Or for so long. Yet, that’s what Richard said last night. He said he had wanted Justin ever since the tutoring. He actually said, “I love you.” Those are unexpected words for Richard to say but as hard as they are to comprehend, Justin knows he’s not lying. Richard has slept with dozens of girls but he’s never been in love with any of them. Justin would have been the first one to know about it if he had. In fact, Richard used to sneer at the very idea of love and how it weakened a man and took away his backbone so for him to turn around now and admit that he possesses those same feelings is a significant thing. And for him to have those feelings for Justin…Wow. It’s more than Justin could have hoped for. He’s been in love with Richard for just as long and never thought in his wildest dreams that the charming, good-looking seventeen year old could love him back. But he does. He said so. And not just that; it’s the way that he looked when he came running out of the motel room after Justin left, like he’d made the biggest mistake in the world. He was frantic and deathly afraid, nearly hysterical with fright. Richard may be a good actor but he’s not that good. He didn’t even know that Justin was there and could see him. That frightened look on his face was indisputable proof that he cares. Deeply. He cares what happens to Justin. It was evident in the way he took care of Justin when he got shot, the way he worries about him and comforts him, the way that he hugs him and looks at Justin with tenderness in his eyes…all of those things prove that he cares. Even while he’s staring out the car window, Justin can feel Richard’s concern like a low vibration in the air sent his way. Despite what happened last night, Justin knows that Richard cares about him and now he knows Richard loves him too.

And that leads on to the fourth issue here. Justin’s confusion. He can’t figure out if he should be upset or happy about the way things have turned out. He can’t exactly call last night a wonderful experience. It was painful and he bled. He cried and then went into shock. He got no pleasure out of it whatsoever. Yet, if last night hadn’t happened, Justin wouldn’t have found out that Richard is in love with him. While it may have been a bad thing to happen at the time, it can’t have been all that bad if it made Richard confess his love. Justin is happy about that part but paradoxically he is also very upset. Not just because Richard hurt him. He has accepted that Richard didn’t do it on purpose and Justin does not hold a grudge against the second teenager for a few moments of pain. Physical pain is a transitory thing; it comes and it goes. Wounds heal. Injuries heal. In a few days Justin’s torn flesh will be repaired. It doesn’t even really hurt today. It’s the emotional pain that’s bothering him. He’s not a virgin anymore. That in itself should be an occasion to celebrate but he can’t because he didn’t give it away, like he planned to do. He had it taken from him. Mistakenly, to be sure, but it was still taken. He was going to give it to Richard but he can’t anymore. It’s already gone. And he wasn’t ready for it.

The thing that bothers him the most is that he lost his virginity and he hasn’t even been kissed properly. He remembers Richard kissing him last night in the bath but that does not count because Justin couldn’t return it. It does not count if they aren’t both participating. Justin is upset because Richard had sex with him but they haven’t even had their first kiss yet. That’s what he wanted more than anything. He feels cheated about that, ripped off. And he’s not sure who he’s angrier with, Richard or himself. He knows that Richard has come close to kissing him on numerous instances. That time in Justin’s room, when he accused Justin of fucking Lisa. Richard had his hand around Justin’s neck and was wild with jealousy. He kept looking at Justin’s mouth and licking his lips and Justin was certain that Richard would do it then but he didn’t. Something was stopping him. And it wasn’t Justin. Justin wasn’t fighting him in the least and actually wanted Richard to do it, to complete the possession, to claim Justin and own him. But it didn’t happen. Then the same thing again, after Justin slapped Richard at the bluff, after Richard called him a scared little bitch and said he was dumb. After the slap that bloodied his nose, Richard surprisingly pulled Justin in for a hug and then cradled his face, gazing at him and sweeping his hair back with breathtaking gentleness. Richard probably would have kissed him then too if Justin hadn’t sullenly pulled his hands away and walked off. He’d been annoyed with Richard for making him feel stupid but now he wishes he’d stayed there and let something happen. He could have let Richard’s mouth close upon his own, could have opened up and let Richard’s tongue caress his, could have licked that blood off Richard’s lip and tasted the copper tang of it. They could have had their first kiss right there, standing by the Mustang at the bluff. And he screwed up the opportunity by walking away. Richard would have kissed him by now if Justin hadn’t been so emotionally closed-off. Richard said last night that was too scared to make a pass at Justin for fear of being laughed at or rejected. Is that the message that Justin was giving out? That he was unavailable? That he was too good for Richard? Too superior? He didn’t mean to project that message but Justin has never been adept at this whole mutual attraction thing. He’s never had a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend. He just doesn’t know how to behave around someone that he likes. He feels like an ungainly clod who’s going to make a fool of himself. Because he was uncomfortable and afraid when Richard came too close or got too intense, it came across as though Justin was aloof and cold. That’s why Richard hasn’t kissed him. It’s Justin’s own fault. He’s been sending out the wrong signals. He could change that and start giving out the right message but is it too late for that? Has their relationship been damaged beyond fixable by one non-consensual act of sex? Has Justin been too scarred by this? Has Richard? Lord, poor Richard. Justin’s been so occupied thinking about his own turmoil that he’d almost forgotten how Richard must feel. He must be beside himself with guilt. Justin doesn’t want Richard to be suffering as well but he doesn’t know what to do about it. He can’t bring himself to even meet Richard’s eyes, let alone speak to him. He’s silently angry at Richard for what he did but simultaneously loves him so much that it hurts. He doesn’t know whether he wants to hit Richard or hug him, to punish him or forgive him.

On top of all this, Justin is still aware that they are on the run for three counts of murder and they have an army of detectives trying to track them down so they can be executed. People are baying for their blood and want them dead and he has that awful premonition of doom again, like a psychic prediction that what they fear will happen, that they will get captured. That they will die. Very soon. All these thoughts are bouncing around inside his brain like a swarm of grasshoppers and he’s trying to catch them one at a time. The pressure of it all is weighing on him suffocatingly, as if he’s buried up to his neck in wet sand. God, this entire situation is completely messed up and it’s too early to tell how they are both going to be affected by this recent unpleasant incident. He’s so confused and for once he doesn’t have a clever theory to fall back on or a quote from some dead author to reassure himself. All Justin can do for the moment is keep sorting and filing and when he’s got his emotions all reorganised, then he might be able to think clearly. Then he might be able to talk to Richard. Just not yet.

Leaning back in his seat, Justin sighs and resignedly closes his eyes, feeling the car moving underneath him, hearing the stones hitting the undercarriage. Richard flicks another peek his way and wrinkles his brow in apprehension but he doesn’t say anything, instead lighting a cigarette and winding his window down a crack so the smoke gets sucked outside the car and doesn’t irritate Justin’s sinuses or give him a sore throat.

The rest of the day is much of the same. Richard drives and Justin broods, neither of them broaching the subject of their relationship, or speaking at all. Richard just about has to force-feed Justin dinner and make him drink some juice, not wanting the boy to lose any weight or get dehydrated. When he’s had enough of driving and is about to faceplant the wheel, Richard parks the car out front of yet another cheap motel room that he pays for with crisp ten dollar bills, making a particular point to stress that he wants two beds, not one. He doesn’t give a fuck if the desk clerk thinks they’re gay; he just does not want a repeat of the night before. Two beds is best for both of them.

“Home sweet home,” he says with sarcasm as he unlocks the door and holds it open, gesturing for Justin to enter first. “Wonder how many roaches are scuttling about in the corners this time?” He has gotten so used to Justin’s silence that he does not expect an answer which works out well because Justin doesn’t supply one. They go in, turn the lights on and set their bags down on their separate beds. Richard takes off his boots and leaves them untidily on the brown carpeted floor.

“You go shower first so I don’t use all the hot water,” he tells Justin, flopping onto the couch and opening a new packet of cigarettes. His voice turns wry. “And don’t worry, I’m not gonna bust in on you like a scene from Psycho but you can lock the door if it makes you feel safer.”

Without a word, Justin retrieves fresh clothing and a towel and disappears into the bathroom. Richard sighs as he hears the click of the lock setting into place. The kid already had major trust issues long before any of this shit happened and now he will probably never trust another living soul again, least of all Richard. But it’s his own fault, for letting his dick take over his brain. That part of his anatomy always gets him in trouble. He’d cut the fucking thing off if he weren’t so attached to it. He stretches out on the couch as he smokes, putting his feet up on the armrest, tired from the travelling and the stress of worrying about Justin and if he’s going to be all right.

The next thing he knows, he’s being shaken awake. “What?” he mumbles, lifting his head, peering at Justin with squinty eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“You fell asleep with a lit cigarette in your hand,” Justin informs him, showing Richard the offending item, not much more than a butt now. “You burnt a hole in the couch.”

“Shit. Where?” Richard looks down and spots the still smouldering hole in the cushion near his thigh, burnt through the covering material and melting into the foam underneath. “Oh. Thanks,” he mutters, sitting up and taking the butt out of Justin’s hand, grinding it into an aluminium ashtray. He rubs at the burnt spot on the couch, extinguishing any last embers and then belatedly realises that Justin spoke. To him! He looks up in astonishment and Justin meets his eyes without flinching.

“You shouldn’t smoke when you’re tired, Richard,” he chides, sounding like his old self again. “That’s extremely dangerous. People have died in their beds from doing that and burnt their houses down to the ground.”

Overjoyed at Justin’s much-longed-for return, Richard can’t help grinning at him. “Lucky it’s only a crappy motel room.”

“It’s still dangerous,” Justin insists, going to his bed, folding his dirty clothing and stuffing it into his backpack. “We really should do some laundry. We’re running out of clean clothes to wear.”

Richard is thrilled to see Justin back to his normal, fussy, scolding ways but they can’t just skirt around the issue of last night without discussing it. They have to talk about it, even if it’s difficult.

“Justin, put those clothes down and come here,” he commands softly, patting the couch cushion beside him. “We gotta talk. C’mon.”

Justin hesitates but does as he is told, leaving the laundry and crossing over to Richard, perching next to him and nervously tucking his ebony locks back behind his ears. His hair is still damp from the shower and he’s wearing a green t-shirt and faded black jeans. He shoots Richard an uneasy glance.

“Are you okay?” Richard probes, searching his face. “How do you feel?”

“I’m fine,” Justin replies guardedly, his lashes lowered. “How are you?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Richard dissuades with a sharp shake of the head. “This is not about me. It’s about you. Are you sure you’re all right?”

Justin shrugs. “I’m okay.”

Richard knows that’s far from the truth and wants to squeeze Justin’s shoulder reassuringly but he holds back, not game to touch the other boy again without an explicit invitation. He exhales and glances down, pressing the fingertips of both hands together. “Listen, Justin, I don’t know if you remember what happened when you went into shock or what I said to you but-”

“I remember,” Justin cuts in. “And I heard you. Every word.”

“Do ya hate me?” Richard blurts out, cringing and expecting the worst.

“No. I don’t hate you.” Justin is almost whispering. He looks up, sadness etched in those bluer-than-blue orbs. “I could never hate you, Rich. No matter what.”

Absurdly close to crying, Richard nods slowly, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “I’m sorry, Justin,” he breathes, not able to use his vocal chords due to the truck load of concrete that has suddenly been poured down his throat. “I’m so, so sorry. For everything.”

He needs to apologize again, not only for what had taken place in the bed, but for all the cruel things he had done to Justin in the past. If he doesn’t apologize now, right this instant, he might die from the weight of the remorse, shame and grief he’s carrying for all the pain and misery he’s caused to the one person who is his true and loyal friend. The one person who has stuck by him regardless of what Richard has done or said to him.

The one person he loves more than anything in this world.

He swallows down the concrete and begins, “I’ve been thinking today and I owe you so many apologies. If you could just hear me out, I’d really appreciate it. Will you listen to what I got to say without walking away?”

Nodding in compliance, Justin watches Richard’s face flash with different emotions as he exorcises his demons, all of them ugly and nasty.

“I’ve wanted to tell you for ages that I’m sorry for sleeping with Lisa and making that tape and forcing you to watch it. I really am sorry, you know? I just haven’t been able to say it. I regret that so much. I was just...just jealous, all right? I was scared that you would spend all your time with her and forget about me. It’s only now I realise that I drove you straight into her arms with the shitty way I treated you. All the times I put you down and mocked you, I didn’t mean a word of it. When I called you a jerk-off and a loser and ridiculed your intellect, I was just using you to make myself feel better.” Richard is looking down at his hands as he speaks, as if he’s too ashamed to face Justin.

“You are the smartest person I’ve ever known and to be honest, Justin, you make me feel inadequate. Of course, you don’t do it on purpose, but I feel completely brain dead next to you. That’s why I treated you so bad and I’m sorry. I was such an asshole. When you hit me that time, you shouldn’t have stopped at one. You should have beat the fucking shit out of me, man. I deserved it. You should have put me in hospital.”

Justin doesn’t agree with him, but he doesn’t disagree either. He doesn’t interrupt, just sits there and gazes at him with those calm azure eyes, letting Richard say what he has to say, letting him get it all off his chest.

“And the murder...I’m sorry I made you do it. I picked her and I should have been the one to do it. I know you didn’t want to but I made you do it just because I knew I could. I watched you as you killed her and the look on your face...pleading with me to stop you...Fuck, it haunts me every single day.” Richard pauses to swipe at a lone tear which had managed to escape, takes a shaky breath, and bravely carries on.

“And after we’d done it and made that pact, I blew it and called that cop. I’m sorry I doubted you, Justin, but I believed that you had already talked and blamed me for the crime. Detective Kennedy said you had and I fell for it like an idiot. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you. I should have trusted you because you were way stronger than me and didn’t talk and betray us like I did. I’m sorry I fucked up and blabbed. And at the bluff, I’m sorry I took the bullets out of my gun. Jesus. That was incredibly fucking stupid. I almost let you shoot yourself. Right in front of me. I hate myself for that. I hate myself so bad.”

As Richard says these things, he is blinking back scalding tears and his voice is cracking with every second word. His angular face is distraught and he is twisting his silver ring around and around his thumb. Doing that little repetitive movement is keeping his hands busy and prevents him from punching the wall until his knuckles bleed or clawing his skin to ribbons like he wants to do. He wants to injure himself, like he had injured Justin. But he keeps twisting, and he keeps talking. He can’t stop, not until he’s done a full confession, like a Catholic to a priest.

“Thank God you found me out and made me open my chamber. If you had shot yourself, if you had died back there, I would have killed myself too. Because I couldn’t live without you, Just. I would have no reason to. You know, you are the only thing in my whole life that I’ve ever cared about. That I’ve ever loved. I love you, man. I love you and all I want is to be with you, even though I know you don’t feel the same. And I don’t blame you,” he says miserably. “If I were you, I wouldn’t want to be with me either. I’m sorry for every fucking thing I’ve ever done to you and I swear I’ll never hurt you again. I know I’ve said that before but I mean it this time. I’d rather kill myself than hurt you again. But most of all, I’m sorry for what I did last night. I’m sorry I...” He gulps and forces the words out. “I’m sorry I...I violated you. I violated your body and our friendship and I know you’ll never forgive me but from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry, Justin. I’m truly, truly sorry.”

He stops, not knowing what else he can say. He’s said it all. And he is exhausted, drained, both mentally and physically.

After he ceases speaking, Justin gazes at Richard for a whole minute, his statuesque face as unfathomable as the deepest depths of the ocean.

“I know,” he replies finally, understandingly. “I know you are, Richard. I’m sorry too.”

“For what?” Richard interjects, glancing up in incredulity. “You haven’t done anything!”

“I threw up.” Justin says it with heavy resignation, as if that’s the sole reason why they got found out by Detective Cassie Mayweather. “If I hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Aw, for fuck’s sakes, Justin.” Richard almost sobs with despair at Justin’s unnecessary acceptance of blame. “You couldn’t help it. That wasn’t your fault, man. Everything that’s happened to you, it’s my fault, okay? You’ve done nothing wrong. Not a single fucking thing. You’re like, a shining angel compared to me. That’s what you are. You’re an angel and I’m just a-”

In an unexpected move, Justin reaches out a hand, grabs the other male’s shirt and pulls Richard towards him, cutting off his sentence. They fling their arms around each other, hugging hard, crushing the breath out of themselves with the fierceness of their emotion, the fierceness of their love. In spite of his earlier pretence of bravado, Richard breaks down, face crumbling, and is soon crying unstoppably against Justin’s shoulder, wetting his t-shirt. Justin starts stroking his back and whispers soothingly, “Don’t cry, Richard,” but it just makes Richard cry even more, his lean body wracked with helpless sobbing, clinging to Justin as if he’s a lifeline. He is so glad Justin has forgiven him, yet feels piteously undeserving of his best friend’s graciousness.

“Stop it. Stop crying,” Justin pleads. He can’t stand to see Richard like this. Broken. Vulnerable. Defenceless. Richard is supposed to be the confident one, the more assured one and seeing him so weak and wretched disturbs him. If Richard can’t be the strong one in the partnership, then who will be? Justin needs him to be strong; he needs Richard to be the man. If he’s not then Justin will fade away into nothing. He’s nothing without Richard’s strength.

Almost shouting, Justin orders, “Please, just stop it!”

With a huge effort, Richard halts his weeping and lifts his head, pulling away from Justin. His eyes are red and wet. He sniffs and wipes his face with the back of his hand. “Sorry.”

“Quit apologising,” Justin demands. “I’m still alive and that’s the main thing, right?”

Richard sniffs again and echoes, “Right.”

“Oh, Richard...” Justin says sadly and sweeps his fingers over Richard’s brow, wanting to erase the deep worry lines there. Richard closes his eyes for a moment at the aching sweetness of Justin’s touch. It is like being touched by the hand of God. For Justin is his God, his salvation, his redemption. Justin is merciful and wise and benevolent. Justin will set him free.

“Don’t fret. I’m fine. Really,” Justin assures him. “What happened...it was just an unfortunate case of crossed wires. An accident. But we’ll get over it, all right? We’ve tackled tough situations before. As long as we stick together, we can handle anything.”

Richard nods glumly. Justin sighs, feeling exceptionally worn out.

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Richard. I know you’re sorry and I forgive you. Let’s just put it behind us, okay? I just want things to be back the way they were.”

Richard nods again, beyond talking at that point, his face haggard and weary.

“You look like hell, Rich. Get some sleep. I’ll drive tomorrow,” Justin offers, getting up off the couch and drawing back the sheets to Richard’s bed.

“Sure?” Richard mumbles, scratching his prickly head.

“I haven’t forgotten how to drive,” Justin reminds him with an arched brow. “It’s no problem. Go to bed.”

Too fatigued to argue, Richard climbs under the covers, fully clothed for the first time in years. Justin switches the lights off and gets into his own bed. Though he is bone-tired, Richard lays there for a while staring into the darkness of the room. A few feet away, Justin does the same thing.

“Are you still awake?” Justin’s timid voice floats over to him.

“Yeah.”

“Will you...will you sleep with me?”

Richard isn’t sure his ears are working right and he stutters, “I-I beg your pardon?”

“I don’t mean sex,” Justin clarifies quickly. “Could you just hold me while I’m sleeping?”

“Are... you sure?” Richard queries hesitantly, wondering why Justin would ever allow him to share the same bed again.

“Yes,” Justin affirms. He knows that if he wants a real, loving relationship with Richard, he has to let the other boy in, has to show Richard how he feels, has to tell him. He has to be warmer towards him, to be more pro-active, to ask for affection when he wants it instead of sitting there passively and waiting for Richard to give it. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s asking.

“Please. I really need you with me tonight.”

Richard blinks, astounded by the quiet plea coming from the other side of the room. Justin patiently tolerates Richard’s constant caresses and hugs, occasionally briefly hugging him back, but he never asks for it so the fact that he has means something has changed, that HE has changed – for the better - and Richard is in no way going to deny the request. He gets up and slips into Justin’s bed, taking the other boy’s slender figure in his arms. He enfolds Justin into his embrace, not too tight, but securely and protectively. Justin smells clean and soapy and he is soft and warm against Richard’s chest. It is still sinking in, that Richard actually has Justin’s friendship back. It is like a beggar winning the lottery. Wonderful and magical yet like a dream. He feels unworthy of such a gift. It can’t be true. But here he is with his arms wrapped around Justin, feeling and hearing him breathe, solid and real and definitely not a figment of Richard’s imagination. And Justin isn’t pulling away. He’s actually wriggling closer. Richard’s eyes widen as he feels Justin nuzzling into his jaw line.

“Is my beard prickling you?” he murmurs, thinking of Justin’s fine, white skin.

“No,” Justin murmurs back. “I like it. It makes you look older.” He continues rubbing his smooth cheek against the thick whiskers, relishing the contrast in texture, allowing his lips to graze against Richard’s stubbly chin and throat, feeling the quick pulse beating there. Somehow, his lips find Richard’s ear and he whispers, “Do you know we haven’t had a proper first kiss yet?”

“I know,” Richard replies, heart thudding behind his breastbone at the feel of Justin’s breath in his ear. “Do you want me to do something about that?”

“I do,” Justin returns, still in a whisper. “Now would be a good time.”

Scarcely able to believe that this is the same Justin Pendleton saying such bold things, Richard turns his head, one hand finding Justin’s face and cupping it, his lips seeking out the younger boy’s in the dark. Gentle as a butterfly wing, he brushes his mouth over Justin’s, doing it again with a little more pressure, stunned at the flush of pleasure he receives when Justin begins kissing him back, pressing those rose-petal lips to Richard’s own, shyly yet inquisitively. Careful not to step over the line of decency, Richard shows Justin what a first kiss should be like, melding their mouths together slowly and sweetly, keeping it chaste and demure and innocent, keeping his tongue well out of the way. There will be plenty of time later for tongue-kissing but right now, Justin doesn’t need that. He just needs to be shown that he’s loved and respected and cared for. He needs to feel special and Richard shows him that, delicately stroking Justin’s cheekbone as he bestows lingering, reverent kisses upon the other boy’s soft, full mouth, treating him like someone precious and beautiful, the way he ought to be treated. Just by doing this, Richard is starting to make up for everything, starting to repair the damage he caused and he can feel Justin softening beneath him, can feel the trust coming back. When he gives Justin one final, tender kiss on the lips, Richard draws back and whispers, “Was that what you wanted?”

“That was perfect.” Justin sounds close to tears. “Thank you, Richard.”

For the zillionth time that night, Richard feels like crying again. But he manages to keep it together and squeezes Justin tighter. “You’re welcome,” he replies softly. “Anything for you, Justin. I love you.”

Justin doesn’t say it back but Richard doesn’t care. He’s just so tremendously thankful to the younger boy for forgiving him and trusting him again when he could have easily went the other way and hated Richard forever. What happened last night was unintentional, a disastrous culmination of events, unreleased sexual tension and miscommunication, but unintentional notwithstanding. And they both realise that. Everything is still okay between them. They are still friends. In fact, going by the intimate kisses they just shared, they are more than just friends now. Exactly what they are now is still open to debate, but whatever it is, Richard knows one thing for certain.

He is never, ever letting Justin go.
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