vervaceous: (kiss)
[personal profile] vervaceous
Title: To Catch the Light
Fandom: Harsh Realm/Mysterious Skin
Rating: NC-17
Wordcount: 2,769
Summary: The circle closes.
Note: Final installment in a series that includes (in reverse chronological order) Beats Faster, Hits Harder, Show Me How That Dance is Done, Breaking Point, Funny Games, And We'd Never Know, Manners May Prevail, Complications, and Devotion.

Fingers raised to the sky
A snake for a spine
He’s drunk on a life
That’s a whole lot better

--James


It’s only later that Neil realizes how unsurprised he is.

Florence vanishes as quickly as she came. None of them try to follow her. They know by now that she’ll come and go as she pleases, catlike and mysterious, and she owes none of them any kind of explanation. She is where she needs to be when she needs to be there, and that’s all that should matter. So she vanishes into the gathering dark, and Neil pulls the rough blanket closer around his shoulders, stares into the fire, does not see her leave.

“Are you okay?” A gentle hand on his shoulder, and he knows by the unfamiliar weight and shape of it that it isn’t Mike’s. Tom. He doesn’t quite turn, but he manages a smile, and on the other side of the fire, Mike’s gaze meets his, unreadable.

The step they’ve taken, he isn’t sure of the territory into which it’s brought them. But he knows they can’t go back now.

“‘M fine.” He nods, emphasizing it, fingers curled into the dirty fabric. He shouldn’t need a blanket, thinks he probably doesn’t, and it’s a warm enough night. But Tom had tucked it around him, and whether out of surprise or weariness or something else, he hadn’t bothered to shrug it away. And now he doesn’t shrug away Tom’s hand, and it lingers a little longer than maybe it needs to before it’s lifted and gone, and Tom is sitting down between them, the firelight turning his skin and his hair the same ruddy gold.

“When you two didn’t show up, I knew something was wrong,” he says. “And just then Florence found me, and we... asked around some. It wasn’t actually that hard.” He smiles, hesitant. “I’m just... I’m really glad you’re all right.”

“Me too.” Neil coughs out a laugh, eyes on Mike again, and is that a hint of a smile he sees? A trick of the light? “Tom... thanks.”

Tom ducks his head, reaching out to turn the spitted squirrel he’s shoved into the flames. It’s not a big deal. It’s not the first time one or more of them have ended up in the shit and one of the others has had to come and haul them out.

But it’s a deal of some kind. And much later, after they’ve eaten, after the fire’s burned down low and the moon’s high and Tom has finished his first watch, and curled up by the fire with another blanket and Dexter at his side, Neil opens his eyes and there’s Mike again, meeting them, sitting crosslegged with his gun in his lap and that same unreadable gaze.

He glances at Tom’s sleeping form and nods, almost imperceptible.

Have they come this far, to the point where words aren’t necessary? It sounds stupidly romantic, entirely out of place; if it ever happened, Neil doesn’t remember noticing. But nevertheless, he doesn’t need words now. He takes hold of the blanket again and turns over, crawls to where Tom is lying and slides down next to him, pulling the blanket over them both. Tom stirs, murmurs, shifts closer but doesn’t waken. His hand finds the subtle curve of Neil’s waist. Unfamiliar. Familiar. Nothing at all like Mike’s hand, even at its gentlest. Neil takes a slow breath. Before he closes his eyes again, before he drops down into warm sleep, he’s looking at Mike, looking at Mike looking back at him, at the both of them, and this time there’s no mistaking the smile.

* * *


So now everything is different. It comes out in little things, in what isn’t there rather than what is. Mike isn’t snapping as much. At all, really. He and Tom don’t seem to look for reasons to fight. The silences between them aren’t leaded down with tension. Tom isn’t as nervy, isn’t as hesitant. The road unspools under them, dead fields and stunted trees as far as they can see, the horizon melting into a gray sky, and the car growls, but even that sounds friendlier and less difficult. Dexter sleeps on Neil’s lap, and Neil holds onto him and stares out the window, the warm presence of Tom at his back.

He still isn’t wearing the collar. Mike has it, somewhere, but he hasn’t produced it since the day before, and Neil hasn’t asked for it back. So is that part of what they’ve both decided to leave behind?

Is it going to become something else?

They stop to eat, to shake some gas out of the can and into the car. They’re getting low, and ordinarily that would make Mike snippy, especially so far out from any settlement, but he’s quiet, measured, seeming mostly unconcerned. Unloading some supplies from the back, Tom drops a canteen and a couple of cans of beans. They both crouch at the same time, both reaching for them. Hands brush. Linger. Tom stutters something, glances up, and Neil sees his ears redden before he turns away.

We’re all lonely out here, Mike had said once in an uncharacteristic fit of candor. We’d be fucking inhuman if we weren’t. Which some of us end up being anyway.

Neil thinks about Tom, about that crumpled picture he looks at sometimes, and what he feels is pity and exasperation and something else for which he doesn’t have a name, for which there might not even be one, except it’s something like curling close to him in the faint light of the dying fire, feeling that sleepy hand on his waist.

He doesn’t do it that night. And when Tom is supposed to be sleeping and Mike is supposed to be on watch, Neil goes to him instead, and Mike fucks him deep and slow right there under a tree, facedown in the grass, hands on his waist, his hips, Tom yards away. And Mike has done this before, but before, it was like a taunt, sex that was as much a contemptuous sneer as anything else.

Now it’s different. And the fact that Tom might not even be aware of it doesn’t seem to matter. And the fact that he might... Neil only thinks about that later. And then he isn’t sure what to think.


* * *


They don’t see anyone all the next day. This in itself isn’t so strange; they sometimes go days without seeing anyone, and the land outside the encampments and the rough settlements is full of people who often prefer to not be seen. But no people, miles and miles with no people, and at last the burned-out ruins seem to vanish behind them, and it’s just land.

That night, settled down by the side of a back road and building up a fire, they hear a bird singing. It’s the first bird they’ve heard in weeks. They freeze, lift their heads, listen in silence until the song dies away. They don’t hear it again.

They eat the last of the beans, cooked awkwardly and unevenly over the fire. After, the dark getting thicker and heavier around them, Tom pulls out the crumpled picture and stares at it for a long time, and where before Mike might have laughed at him or found something cutting to say, he stays quiet. He gets up, moves past him and behind, pauses and lays a hand on his shoulder.

Tom raises his gaze and Neil meets it. There’s no beckoning, no clear signal passed between them, but all at once Neil is on his hands and knees, crawling closer, reaching out to lay a hand on Tom’s chest.

“Neil...”

“Stop.” Neil shakes his head. It’s easy. It can even be easier than this. It’s not a denial of her, and it’s not even a betrayal. It’s not even survival. It’s living. He leans in and the kiss is soft, delicate, fragile and easily broken. And Tom doesn’t break it. One shuddering breath dragged in through his nose and his hands come up, still holding the picture, blond girl smiling and so pretty, but she isn’t here, and this is realer than anything else right now, and Tom’s hands slide over Neil’s shoulders and his lips part with a sigh.

Neil has never kissed Mike like this. He’s never kissed anyone like this. It stands to reason, he thinks with wry amusement, that a kiss from Tom Hobbes would be Deep and Soulful and all those things that Mike gives him shit about--but he doesn’t feel like laughing now, not at this. He moans, presses forward, and he’s practically in Tom’s lap, straddling his hips and combing his fingers through short-cropped hair getting longer from neglect, because who gives a shit about it out here?

But it’s good. It’s very good. Tom tastes like dinner, like woodsmoke, faint grit of dirt and tangy sweat, good, and when Neil feels Mike’s hands on him from behind, that’s good too. He arches back with a soft moan, but Tom’s eyes fly open and he’s scrambling back, clutching the picture like a talisman, looking up at the two of them with wide eyes, blue gone dark in the dimness.

“Neil, I...” He swallows. “Mike.”

Mike curls his arms around Neil’s shoulders, lips against the side of his neck, and Neil feels himself being gently pushed forward. Offered. And they’ve been here before, too, and they also never have. Neil hooks one arm around the back of Mike’s neck, meets Tom’s confused gaze, smiles.

“It’s okay,” Mike murmurs. “Tom...” Said like that, like it’s an invitation, an entreaty, like he’s asking for a favor. Just come here. And Tom looks down at the picture in his hand, looks up at them again, and Neil can see the war behind his eyes and it hurts, a little, to look at it.

Neil doesn’t know what finally makes him decide. It happens in a place that neither of them can see into, somewhere secret and far-removed, the kind of place that one creates in a world like this, because some things have to be locked away and protected. So Neil can almost see the lock turning, and Tom lays the picture reverently aside by his pack, turns back to them, and while he’s still hesitant, all the doubt has gone out of his face.

He comes back to them. It has the feeling of an event that has run out of ways to keep from happening. He comes back to them and all at once he’s there, tilting Neil’s face up, kissing him with a hunger that seems almost alien to him.

But this is just what happens when you lock everything away.

Neil kisses back, held between them, Mike’s hands at his hips and Tom’s fingers combing through his hair, and this is so much more than he thought it would be, so much more than he ever expected to want. Mike’s hands sliding up under his shirt, cock nudging against the small of his back; he has to laugh, he can’t help it. Tom pulls back and shoots him one quizzical look, but Neil drags him back in and kisses the question off his face.

No questions. Not right now.

He isn’t sure who gets his shirt off. He loses track of whose hands are whose. For so long now he’s been a toy, a thing to be passed around and used, tossed away again, and just because he found someone who seemed to see a little more in him than that, he understands now that it doesn’t mean that much ever really changed. Except now, held between two bodies, hands warring for supremacy in his attention, it has. Someone--Tom, it has to be Tom--reaches between his legs and palms him through his pants; he looks down and Mike is holding Tom’s hand there, guiding it, grinning at the fierce blush that accompanies the motions.

“C’mon, GI. This ain’t rocket science.”

Tom stammers. Blinks. Stammers some more. I and you and please. His hand is moving--this much, he does seem to understand. Neil rolls his hips up and moans, and there isn’t any acting in it now. Come on. Easy, except for when it’s not, but Tom’s fingers are working at Neil’s zipper with an odd kind of curiosity, tugging his pants down his hips until his dick bobs free. He looks up and their eyes lock, and Neil can’t breathe at all.

He reaches out, traces the length of it with trembling fingers, and breathing is just about all Neil can do.

“Yeah,” Mike is breathing, sounding somehow distant. He laughs softly. “Fuck.”

Another period of indistinction. Things are happening but they seem to all be happening at once, a rush of image and sensation. It feels like being drunk. It doesn’t feel like anything of the kind. Neil’s being pulled backward, back against Mike’s chest again, hands moving gently over him, fingers on the inside of his thighs, as Tom pulls off his own shirt and pushes his pants down like a man in a dream.

“Are you sure? I... I don’t...”

“Shut up,” Mike advises cheerfully, pushing Neil gently forward with one hand at the small of his back--but Neil’s already moving. So what the fuck is it about Tom? What is it about all that clean-cut middle-America charm in a world that’s forgotten how any of that works? He doesn’t fit. He sticks out like a sore goddamn thumb. And his cock is thick and glistening, one hand curled around it almost in a kind of defense, slipping convulsively away as Neil bends and takes the head of it into his mouth.

Fuck. Sweet. Figures. He almost laughs, even with his mouth full.

Mike is still there, he knows it because it’s the only thing that makes sense, but for once he can’t feel him anymore. For once he’s not there, looming in the background, hidden hand on the pulse of everything. And he doesn’t feel lost. Tom is there, fingers back in his hair again, stroking him in a way that makes something in Neil’s throat tighten. Is this what Mike sees? What Mike has seen? Something honest, unspoiled... not innocent, though. Innocent wouldn’t be fucking his mouth like this, even this gentle, even this slow.

So maybe they’ve always been on the exact same page.

A hand on him suddenly, on the small of his back, pressing his spine into an arch and his ass into the air. Not Tom’s hand. It’s still impossible to keep track. Mike’s hand, that familiar roughness that lurks at the back of everything he does, but it’s under control now, caressing over him, pressing slick fingers into the crack of his ass.

And this has never been scary, not in as much as Neil can remember anymore. But suddenly it’s too much, or just on the edge of that, and Tom’s cock slides out of his mouth with a wet pop, arching his back, twigs and pebbles digging into his bare knees, turning his head to try to see Mike’s face. Because... here? Like this?

Yes. Mike’s hand is on his head, suddenly and firm, turning it and pushing it back in again. Taking away the choice. There is no choice. This is...

Neil’s lips brush the coarse hair at the base of Tom’s dick. This is easy. One spit-slick finger presses into him, and that’s easy too. And when Mike grips his hips and pushes into him, it’s easier than it’s ever been, even with Tom’s hands tight and shocked on the back of his head, Tom’s breathy gasp sharp in his ears. Somehow he manages to look up, and Tom is all wide, gorgeous eyes, parted lips, skin so flushed it looks sunburned, as if the sun was ever strong enough for that anymore.

“Mike,” Tom murmurs, and Mike’s mouth is silencing him, body arched over Neil’s, hands braced against his back and hips moving even as he takes Tom’s lower lip between his teeth and tugs. And this is not being alone. This is the exact polar opposite of being alone. This is no turned into a huge, hot, vibrant yes.

He doesn’t come, not then. Later, Mike lies next to them and guides Tom’s head down between Neil’s thighs, and then he figures it was pretty much worth the wait. And much, much later, when they’re draped over each other on the unfolded blankets, pleasantly scratchy on bare skin, he dozes.

But he’s not dozing so deep that he doesn’t feel the leather fitting back over the skin of his neck. And then he smiles. Because that, like everything else, is so goddamn easy in the end.
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