Chapter Twenty Six
EJ woke up not even three hours later, his bladder wailing at him. Stumbling out of bed and staggering ungracefully to the bathroom, he let out an audible sigh as he drained the lizard, not even noticing how easy it was to get to his dick. It wasn't until he'd flushed and neglected to put the seat down and walked back into the room that he noticed the lump in the other bed.
He stopped dead in his tracks, last night coming back to him like it had been lo-jacked into his freshly-cleared brain. He took a step back, then another. Before he knew anything he'd wrenched open the door to the room and fled entirely.
He found himself just moments later in front of another hotel room door, the numbers twelve off from the one he'd just run from. It was only six in the morning but he didn't care; he pounded on it anyway.
Rune answered the door in what had once been Khema's grey jogging bottoms, rubbing a hand through his hair (which looked like a ball of wool a cat had got into) and yawning hugely. "Jay?" he asked, sleepy but stepping back to let the other boy in. "Wha's wrong?"
"Yeah, can I take you up on that offer to sleep over still? Thanks," EJ babbled as he slipped inside, going straight for the rumpled bed and more or less diving into it, his whole countenance odd and shaky.
Rune closed the door behind him and walked back to his bed, climbing onto it and sitting behind EJ as the other boy took it over, leaning in close to pet his hair. "Hun, what's wrong?" he asked, genuinely frightened.
EJ leant into the touch, letting it soothe him a bit as he watched his hands more or less attempt to strangle one another, bunched in his lap. He sighed and picked up the comforter and burrowed into it, pressing it to his face. "I fucked Dan." The words were muffled, but far from unclear.
Rune curled himself about his bassist, fingers still combing through, and looked confused. "How do you mean?" he asked. He didn't bother asking his friend if he was alright as it was obvious that he wasn't.
"I mean my cock, his ass. Do you need an anatomy lesson? I know nothing compares to making love to Khema, but come on, it wasn't that long ago for you."
Rune ignored the verbal lash because he understood it for what it really was. "What happened?" he asked, patient, his hand not moving from EJ's hair.
"I..." Here EJ faltered. Everything was still fuzzy in his mind; alcohol, the great memory wiper. "I really don't know what happened. All I remember is him just... and then I was..." He shook his head, his hands falling to his lap. "I don't know."
Rune stilled his hand and rested his chin on EJ's shoulder, nuzzling him and cuddling him around the waist comfortingly. "What did Dan say about this?" he asked gently. EJ hadn't made much sense so he thought trying a different approach might help.
EJ hesitated. God, he felt like shit. "He didn't really. Not during... I don't remember much of the beginning, just the sex. And after..." EJ furrowed his brow, trying to slough through the fog of his brain. "He just left. I think. Like it didn't matter. Went to his bed and that was it. It felt like a punishment."
None of this added up in Rune's brain about Dan and he said as much to EJ. "Do you remember anything at the beginning? What started it? Anything like that, hun?"
EJ tried, he really did, but shook his head. "No. But," his brain latched into something that made him think. That horrified him, made him shrink up a little inside. "He said something to me at the photoshoot.
"He said to stop touching him, that I always touch him. He was really angry. And then I--" EJ stopped, his breath failing, the blanket pressed hard against his mouth as he tried to compose himself. Fuck.
Rune shh'd EJ with quiet nothings for a few minutes before he tried speaking again. "What did you do at the photoshoot to make him say that? Was this after he ran out?"
Closing his eyes, EJ wanted to pretend he didn't exist, but Rune's voice brought him back to the present. His head pounded, his body hurt, he felt robotic. He felt low. "Yeah. I was making sure he was okay and then the stupid fucking assistant came to get me and I went to--God, I'm such a fuck-up, I knew he wouldn't want it-- I tried to fucking kiss his forehead. Why the fuck did I do that?"
Rune felt that Dan's reaction was a little extreme for that, but kept that thought to himself until he'd sussed things out a little more. "What do you think happened?" he asked quietly, not liking the way EJ was turning this on himself.
"I don't know!" EJ said, his voice tilting up until it sounded like a hoarse scream. "Okay, I don't know, I don't know, that's it, that's all I'll say because that's all I know. I don't know how it started but it had to've stemmed from me, right? Cause its always me and never him. I don't know why he let it continue, though, I know he hated it, every fucking second of it, I could fucking see it in his eyes, and yet he never stopped, never said stop, never got off of me, not until I finished and I DON'T KNOW!"
Rune winced as EJ broke, but didn't move. He mulled this over but his confusion only grew. "I think you need to talk to him," he said eventually. "But not now. Stay here and sleep, okay?" He brushed EJ's hair back and kissed him on the cheek.
EJ squinched his eyes shut, his breath coming a lot faster now, and he nodded his head rapidly. "Okay," he said after a moment, his voice strangely thick. "Okay. Okay." He didn't move, though.
Rune cuddled EJ. "Hun?"
EJ shook his head. "Nothing. I just-- nothing." He seemed to be coming into himself. He let the covers go and worked at his sore fingers from where he'd kept them clenched for so long. "Let's just go to sleep."
Rune noticed and silently slid his fingers between EJ's until they held hands, rubbing the soreness out gently. "Don't worry, EJ. It'll sort itself out in the morning," he promised
EJ sighed. "It won't, but I love your enthusiasm," he said, crawling into the covers and looping an arm around Rune's neck to drag him, too, despite the fact that all he wanted to do was take the hottest shower ever and scour his skin off. He hadn't felt this bad since Joshua.
Rune went as he was bid, still very sleep-mussed, and leant in gently to give EJ the most platonic of Eskimo kisses. "Don't worry, k?" he said again.
EJ didn't even pretend to meet Rune's gaze. "I can't promise that, babe."
"I know," Rune said, denying his own positive mental attitude in the face of the situation. He curled his fingers in EJ's hair and sighed heavily, the sound being hijacked by a yawn. "I'm here beside you, whatever happens," he said needlessly.
"Don't say that yet. Shit, Rune, I just left him there. He's gonna wake up alone. It's all my fault."
Rune disagreed. "Jay, babe, you're not exactly sober here and it takes two to tango... we'll speak to him tomorrow. Dan isn't the kind of person to go running off on us. I promise we'll talk to him tomorrow but for now hun, you really need to get some sleep. You'll do no one any good unless you do."
EJ didn't say anything, just buried his head and pretended he didn't exist.
Daniel woke and thought he hadn't.
He'd slept sound for years since Tristan had left him but he thought that with recent meetings, meetings which left him feeling assaulted and bereft even now, his mind had pulled up nightmares from memories of times before.
Mechanical, unpleasurable sex for no reason other than to fill the need inside him which demanded he make his lover happy, demanded he please his lover despite any cost to himself.
He didn't know why EJ was featuring in these sleeping terrors but refused to think about it. Denial was strong in the face of duvet covers and foetal positions but it dissolved under the weight of the truth upon the pain of sitting up. It was pain that shouldn't have been there, not anymore, not this knitting needle violation in his guts, sleeping fitfully in the cradle of his hips.
Daniel bent over his midriff with a whimper of pain, became aware of his semi-nudity like Eve and the apple, and held still because to move would mean he would be crushed under the weight of his guilt.
It was well after one in the afternoon before EJ dared to go back to the room he shared with Daniel. He hadn't slept at all in bed with Rune, but he had to admit having his best friend with him all morning had calmed him down considerably. He wasn't about to lie to himself; he was hoping Daniel had gone already, out for the day or something. He wasn't ready to face him but Rune had more or less pushed him into going back, in that gently forceful way of his.
As a rule, EJ didn't care what people thought of him. If they loved him, if they hated him, none of it mattered. With a few very rare exceptions, EJ lived for himself. Rune was a definite exception, as was Joshua. His parents never even registered. For a long time, that was pretty much it on his list. Recently, however, the list had gained a new name.
He didn't want to have to scratch it off. He would probably have to, but he really didn't want to.
Facing the door, EJ considered knocking, but immediately discarded that idea. Even if Dan was still in the room, EJ doubted he'd open it for him. Instead he used his key and eased the door open, and entered.
Dan looked up as the door opened and right back at EJ, the last person in the world he would have expected to want to be around him right now. He stared without speaking, unable to speak, frozen like a jurassic mosquito encased in amber; he envied the mosquito.
EJ froze, too, and for a moment it looked like a photograph, a poignant one, something that should be discussed over glasses of champagne in art galleries in Soho. Then he closed the door, and the moment was over.
His eyes dropping to the carpet, EJ opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but his voice gave out on him and he had nothing. So he just crossed the room and went into the bathroom. The door snicked closed quietly.
Dan watched all the way as EJ retreated into the bathroom. He felt perversely relieved that EJ hadn't said anything, but immediately asked himself what he'd say to the person who'd force-fucked him and decided that that would have been about it. He curled up, put his head between his knees and whimpered.
EJ spent a lot of time in the bathroom, really not wanting to leave it in favor of what was waiting for him in the next room. He did, however, find Daniel's bottle of Jack in the tub, which explained part of last night. Finally, after washing his face and staring at his reflection in the mirror for a good fifteen minutes, he opened the door. He had the empty bottle by the neck.
Daniel tortured himself trying to see if he could hear the sounds of retching from the bathroom so that he could ignore said sounds. He didn't, to his relief, and when the bathroom door opened he turned his head to the side to see what was happening.
EJ. EJ and the bottle. Daniel made a low wounded sound and covered his face with his hands, as if for EJ to see him would have been to turn him into stone. "EJ..."
The bottled had EJ worried. It allowed him to easily push all of his own feelings to the side for a moment and focus on what was, to him, the more important issue.
"Dan, you don't usually drink. Not like this, anyway. What's going on?" He kept his voice carefully neutral, not coddling, not condemning. He just stood at the end of Daniel's bed and waited.
Dan couldn't seem to focus on the issue at hand. "EJ, how, how can you stand to even... how can you even talk to me..." he asked in fractured words, his sentence the way Tristan had broken him down. Like he'd never recovered those years back, he'd simply been waiting to collapse.
Well, of course he'd never recovered. He baulked at human contact, he hated displaying his body and he avoided looking at it in the mirror because it made his stomach sick.
EJ lowered the bottle to his side, as blindsided as if a Mack truck had driven over him. "What?"
Daniel's fingers were locked into the sheets; he'd never lost his composure so completely. "After last night, what I did to you, how can you stand there and talk to me like I did nothing!" It was a plea for comprehension as much as it was rhetorical.
EJ crawled onto the bed on his knees, letting the bottle slip through his fingers as he crouched in front of Daniel. "What you did... Daniel, you didn't--" He cut himself off. Wait. No. Daniel initiated last night?
It made sense but it didn't. Just because Dan got stinking drunk last night did not mean he would suddenly lose all of his inhibitions like he did. Well, sort of lose them. EJ remembered wanting to see Dan as they had sex, but that fucking large shirt was always in the way... and the restrictive way he kept holding his hands. But still. The sex wasn't Dan.
Carefully not touching Daniel because EJ was afraid that would send him away again, he very gently pulled the sheets out of Dan's grip. "Look, whatever happened last night. It takes two to tango, right?" he said, quoting Rune deftly. "I sort of understand what happened," he said in a voice that said no, he didn't, not at all, "but we can pretend it didn't if you want." Ouch.
Dan gave EJ the look of someone who'd just swallowed a hand grenade only to be confronted by company where none was desired. AKA, 'why the fuck are you near me because in a second bits of me are going to be liberally painted around the room with bits of you'.
He cringed back, disgusted with himself on a level where deeply hidden wounds were now infected. "No EJ, that isn't what happened. There was no tango. I--" and he cursed himself more than ever for not being able to say the word. "I did it, you didn't... you said stop..." Daniel sat back, leaning against the headboard, pulling his knees in to his chest as far as they would come and cradling them with his arms, his head cast down.
"I said stop?" EJ's fuzzy brain wasn't bringing that back to him. "Dan, please," and this time he did dare to touch Daniel, a couple of fingers on his knee. "It wasn't-- you didn't do anything I hadn't wanted, trust me. Please. But," he took a breath, hesitating, "I don't understand why you did it. Yesterday, you said--" He shook his head, he couldn't repeat it. "And then this. Not to mention the entire time you looked like it was the last thing you wanted to do." As he continued, EJ's voice got more and more stressed. "Did I do something, somehow make you think you had to do that or something? Because, God, Dan, I'm sorry if I did. I'm so, so fucking sorry."
Dan twitched at the touch but moved no further until EJ came out and said that it wasn't something he would have said no to had he been sober, had Dan not just gone ahead and climbed on him like a randy slut.
The entire conversation still made him more uncomfortable than he could remember being in a long time, looking like he had when he was doing it. He looked up and finally made some lean forward as EJ's voice started to crack. "You didn't do anything. Okay," he said, firm and brooking no argument on the point. "EJ, you don't have anything to apologise for. The only thing you are in this is a victim, and I'M the one who's sorry."
Their gazes finally touched, and EJ wanted to hold it like that forever, because when Daniel wasn't looking at him he felt lost. "Then what was all that?"
"I don't know. I don't know why I did that," he said, similarly not looking away but avoiding the main issue. He truly didn't know what had got into him to make him ride EJ like a carousel horse but he knew what it had something to do with.
Didn't know, or didn't want to say. Either way, EJ understood. He could accept that maybe he'd never find out, either. He didn't like it, but there was a lot about EJ's life so far that he didn't like but accepted anyway. Like AIDS and major record labels and anti-gay protestors across the street at their gigs (did they think they were doing anything other than giving the band even more publicity?).
This, however, was so out of EJ's comfort zone he had no idea how to act. He couldn't posture his way through this, not with the way Daniel looked as he stared at him.
"This is going to change everything, isn't it?" Swallow the lump down before you talk, asshole, he thought to himself.
Daniel was more curled back into himself than he could ever manage on a physical level alone. He stared hard at his knees like they would tell him what happened to him last night to do what he'd done. Or as if they would turn around and explain to EJ the reasons behind his upset at the photoshoot.
"Are you kicking me out of the band?" he asked slowly, unsure of what was happening but only able to think of that as the most appropriate punishment for what he'd done.
EJ rubbed at his face. "Dan, if I kicked everyone out just for sleeping with me... well, I'd have Kaii. As amazing as she is, I sort of need the rest of you. Plus, Rune would never let me. I," EJ poked himself in the chest, "would never let me."
Daniel shook his head. "That's not what happened," he said, the tremor of distress vibrating subtly through his sentence like a gently hit violin string.
EJ scowled. "In case you're thinking of a pretty little volatile word called rape, I know that if anyone was it sure as hell wasn't me." He looked off to the side, his shoulders hunched in on himself. "Hard to rape the willing," he muttered bitterly.
Dan's thought train stumbled over that little almost unheard fragment but he couldn't spend any time on it just then. "It felt like it," he said, quiet and miserable. "That's what it felt like I was doing."
"Please, Dan," EJ snorted. "You know my past. This is hardly the most traumatizing thing that's ever happened to me."
Dan hid his face in his arms again, his arms resting on his knees, his knees trying to fuse themselves into his ribcage. He was silent and continued to be silent apart from tiny hiccups of breath that he couldn't conceal, along with the way his tightly wound shoulders hitched every few seconds. He was too old to do this. He never cried. Never.
Dying inside, EJ fought with himself. He hated seeing Daniel so miserable, but he didn't know what to do. He wanted to gather him up in his arms and hug the tears dry, but he didn't know if his touch would be welcome. He had no idea what to do that didn't involve touch. "Dan, don't..." He wrung his hands, at a loss.
Daniel wiped at his face but it didn't stop anything. "Sorry," he bit out in a sob caught under his tongue, but even speech wouldn't stop it. It wasn't just EJ, it was the sex that had made him feel dirty all over again, it was the brunette who had fucked Daniel that first time but left his body locked away to the experience for the years after that up to last night.
Fuck this. EJ reached forward and hooked Daniel about the neck, settling so close next to him they were connected in one long line, and hugged him. He didn't care if Daniel rejected him, told him in black tones how much he was not needed, EJ couldn't stand to see him like this anymore. So sad, so gone. This wasn't the Daniel he knew, and even if it meant replacing him with an angry one again, so be it.
Daniel didn't throw his arms back around EJ in return, but the most he did to get away was a tired flinch which melted three seconds in. He turned his head and hid it against EJ instead, still crying careful and quiet as he did. He didn't have anything left to defend with.
EJ cradled Daniel like a child, rubbing his back and stroking his hair and doing all that maternal shit he didn't know he had in him. This scared him, but at the same time he felt sort of honored. In one set of days, EJ had probably seen more of Daniel than anyone had in a very long time. He knew he shouldn't feel special because of it, but he sort of did.
Tilting his head down to breathe in the scent of Daniel's hair, he let him cry it out.
Daniel shook as EJ rubbed his back but he'd be pushed to tell you if it was from tragedy or tears.
Whichever it was, he didn't move, was beginning to feel like he couldn't move. He wanted to tell EJ more about everything, but it wouldn't erase his guilt, or the shame, or the fingers squeezing his memories.
When Khema came home from work that afternoon, there was a large brown package waiting for him in front of the apartment door. After about a month of living with Jake he'd finally been able to afford his own apartment, and had moved out as quickly as possible, getting his things out of storage. Jake had graciously helped him move, more because he was thankful he wouldn't have to listen to Khema's late-night 'talks' with Rune anymore than anything.
It was a tiny one-bedroom in the Bronx, but it fit his budget and it was all Khema needed, really. The one bonus it held was that it was a penthouse. But really, the eighth floor in NYC still wasn't much to brag about. Especially when the elevator was down for repairs.
Hefting the box on one hip, Khema fumbled with his keys and entered 'home.' He left the box on the couch as he went to get changed out of his uniform and at least run a washcloth over his face before he went to go look at his present. Because he already knew what the box contained.
Ripping the tape off, Khema couldn't resist a tiny, girlish squeal as he saw the tapes. He was glad he was alone. Rune had really outdone himself this time; the box was full of marked cases, some of them dating back three years or more. Labels like 'Brighton, 11/05' and 'San Francisco, 2/21' in some messy, unrecognizable Sharpie scrawl stared up at Khema, and he couldn't resist picking one up at random and stuffing it into the VCR he'd bought specifically for the occasion. Rune had told him the band's management had plans to convert everything to digital eventually, but no one really knew exactly when and neither of them could wait to send the footage. So tapes it was, and Khema didn't care as long as he got to see his boyfriend doing what he loved best.
Pulling his longish black hair into a short ponytail and sending his boyfriend a short text that he knew he wouldn't get until later, Khema sat back to watch what he chose and smiled when the first thing that came on the screen was Rune's gorgeous, singing face. Just seeing him brought a warm and fuzzy feeling to Khema's gut.
He knew how he was going to spend his evening.
It wasn't until somewhere around 1 am that he found something that gave his stomach an altogether different sensation.
He'd plowed through about five tapes by then, watching the concerts mostly in full and only fast-forwarding when the lens lingered too long on whoever wasn't Rune. Watching them made him feel homesick for Rune, but at least he had him now. At least it wasn't a fantasy any longer, even if they'd hardly had time to see one another since that fateful summer night when Jake had dragged him to the show.
Putting in a fresh tape, Khema noticed that this one was unmarked. Curious, but figuring it had just missed the eye of whoever was in charge of labeling, he pressed play. Maybe Rune would give one of those standard 'It's great to be here in' speeches, though he wasn't really prone to doing that. Place was immaterial, however. Khema just wanted to see his Rune.
Which he did, when the tape started. More than he'd bargained for.