By Lady E
A/N: Over three years later and I'm finally getting around to tweaking the ending! Thanks must go to Insanity's review for finally kicking my butt into gear. Hopefully, Jay's less of a doormat this time around.
Summary: [Slash][One-Shot] "The night he walked into our apartment, quiet and dripping rain, and told me he was in love with another man, I said nothing… Later that night, alone, I ripped myself to shreds."
The night he walked into our apartment, quiet and dripping rain, and told me he was in love with another man, I said nothing. I felt nothing. I had known it was inevitable, from the very first, so I smiled and nodded, letting him know it was okay and I was okay. It was only when he – burning with disbelieving anger – said "goodbye" and walked out (for good) that realization pierced through the protective numbness and chilled me to the bone. But even then, nausea roiling in my stomach, I kept my frozen smile up, at least until he vanished out the door. Later that night, alone, I ripped myself to shreds.
I have never believed in soul mates. But that night, I had to wonder, what did I believe in?
Relationships are built on mutual satisfaction and communication. Lance and I were simply unsuited. I had liked him too long for there to be tension, and he had always craved tension. An adventurer, he was, always out to explore the wilderness, and I was too much a part of his home, his past, to satisfy him. He never said it, but I was never enough (could never be enough).
It was a miracle he ever kissed me in the first place, and it came as an even greater shock when, three months into our relationship, he suggested moving into an apartment together. Despite his restless spirit, he wanted to try his hand at the domestic life. We spent our days together, sharing meals and hobbies and a bed at night. Lance was all over the place, of course, thinking of adopting (pest-ridden) homeless kittens one day and planning a trip to (barren) Alaska the next. I placidly accepted his mood swings, acquiescing to his ever varying passions, and it was my calm acceptance that became the source of our disagreements. He wanted a partner, he often told me, burning, not a slave. I am your partner, I would reply, evenly, a rather understanding one. Our domestic experiment was a failure. But we continued our masquerade, and all the while, we both knew it wouldn't last.
I hadn't thought it would hurt so much when he finally moved on; I had thought myself prepared (calm), but somehow, during the chaotic months we'd spent together, he'd dug himself a rather large hole in my life, left in my being an imprint in his shape that nothing else would fill. His absence bared that unexpected hole and the emptiness threatened to swallow me with every rattling breath I took.
For a while, the pain did swallow me (whole). Every night for the first six months, I boarded Bus 131 after work and returned to our apartment, choking on my dwindling hope. Every night, I dashed for the mailbox and hovered over the phone. Every night, I walked into an empty bedroom and cried, torturing myself with the memories. And when the mornings arrived, I would wash the tears and tell myself I was strong (I was). Each day, it took a little longer to leave.
They were undoubtedly the worst six months of my life.
I finally found my remedy in the proverbial drunken one-night stand. It took intercourse with a nameless stranger and chemical intoxication to make me face up to my own incontrollable, shattering need for Lance and then to recognize the destructive cycle I'd fallen into.
In my stupor, I wondered, why was I destroying myself over his memories? The answer was glaringly simple. I needed him. Like oxygen, he had become a vital part of my existence, my fulfillment. But I had not wanted to run after him like the jilted lover I was, so I had pursued his memories instead. Locking myself in our old apartment, crying in that bedroom, had been my (only) way of reliving, of holding on to him.
The next morning, sticky and sore, with a hammer slamming around in my head, I resolved to let go. If I could not have Lance, then I refused to suffer with only the memory of him. Masochism has never come naturally to me.
I stopped renting out the apartment, put in my resignation papers, packed up, and said the necessary goodbyes. The ease with which I detached myself was a little surprising after all the grief with Lance. I took a plane to Chicago, City of the Big Shoulders, and started anew.
And why not? I had a whole (free) life spread out before me, an infinite expanse of paths and choices. Whichever way I turned, changes awaited.
I found myself picking my own directions for once and reaching for dreams I'd never confessed to anyone and especially not him. I socialized, I learned dance, and I wrote a book. I tried everything that had ever crossed my mind.
Two weeks ago, my agent called to tell me the publishing date, chuckling at my stunned silence. When I could speak again, I could not help but blurt out,
"I think I've accomplished more in my one year here than I have for all of my life before Chicago!"
Yesterday, he called again to ask about possible future books we could collaborate on. Constipated apprehension was thrown to the ground and trodden over, a now-typical spirit of enthusiasm taking its place instead. My response could have been heard within a ten-mile radius.
Since then, I have been diligently sketching out a new book, taking advantage of the fervent creativity available when the story is still fresh and taking shape. Unlike most, I've always found it easier to write with a drone in the background, so I am at a gay pub tonight, sitting to the side, listening and observing, occasionally scribbling onto the paper.
"Hello there, Lonely."
Shocked at the sudden voice, I nearly jump out of my seat, knocking over the After Twelve and spilling the dark liquid all over the pages before me. It isn't that I'd never been hit on or picked up before; the tone wasn't even very sultry. No. There are just some things it takes a lifetime to forget no matter how you try, and his voice is one of those (like crashing waves).
"Whoa, I meant no har – "
The words freeze. But only for a second or two.
His voice is soft with realization (ebbing), wondering, but I grit my teeth and do not react. I watch the cold liquid drip off the table and blossom across the lap of my jeans; I can't bring myself to look up. With anyone else, I would have allowed my curiosity free rein, but not with him, never with him. How do you look a lost dream in its eyes and ask it if it has found what it was looking for?
The barest of whispers and suddenly, I'm raising my head, my eyes, instinctively answering his call and baring my soul for him to claim again. And I cannot regret it, cannot blame even myself for my automatic and visceral (and so very right) response. When I latch onto the sight of him, I cannot for the life of me have looked away. The familiarity of his face, his figure, his stance, shakes me to the core. He has not changed at all.
A tiny furrow sets in between his eyebrows, and I'm struck with the painful memory of entire nights spent mapping the tiny wrinkles on his brow. His lips part, and I know I will never be prepared.
"Are you following me?"
The words are delivered quietly (frothing), but they sting like acid, and his eyes stare, too dark, too piercing, too much. I jerk away, besieged and suddenly furious. Can he think so little of me after all our time together? Does he imagine I am so petty, so needy, as to stalk him?
With an effort, I grab onto my anger, containing it but simultaneously glad for an emotion not quite as vulnerable as others. Rising from my seat, I turn back to him and manage a neutral response, "You must think me very pathetic."
He sucks in a breath and drops his gaze. "I don't, Jay. I just – hoped…" But the frown stays. "You didn't answer my question," he continues carefully (eagerly?). "Are you?"
A moment of disbelief mingles with the anger. How can he possibly think… Or is he hoping I'll say yes? Has he sunk that low? "Your ego is getting the better of you, Lance," I snap, indignation curdling my tone. Isn't one lover enough for you?
He does not defend himself, only continues to watch me, something hesitant hovering over his unsealed lips and honest eyes. "Where is this harshness coming from?"
Harshness. I close my eyes briefly, acknowledging the truth. I want to tell him, scream at him, make him understand, that this harshness alone has saved me for the past two years. He may not have changed, but how could I not? I needed an escape route (and still do).
I straighten the spilled glass of alcohol and proceed to step around him towards the bar.
He makes a noise of protest, reaching out to grip my arm.
My long sleeves don't save me. His touch sears me, and if I'm honest with myself, my instinct is to follow him to the edge of the universe if he but asked, even with all the distance and confusion between us. I clear my throat. "Lance, I am not following you. Our meeting is a" (destined) "coincidence. Let me go."
But he doesn't. "Please." He stops, looks at the glass in my hands. "I'm sorry for that," he says, gesturing to the stain on my pants. "I'll buy you another."
Frustration tears through me. How much longer must I keep my mask in place? With his hands heating my skin, his eyes searching my soul, his presence scattering my very foundation, I am helplessly (human) vulnerable.
"I'm sorry." His tone is low and heavy, rolling like the tide, and I know he isn't apologizing for the drink this time, but the knowledge is far from soothing. His words rip at my control, gnashing at the shields cultivated in two years' worth of running. One of my clenched muscles spasms, and a dry sob wrenches out my chest.
"Leave it, Lance," I choke, battered.
"I can't." His gaze skitters across my face, uncertainty stealing into his demeanor. "I – wish I could let go, Jay."
Desperation strangles me, whether his or mine I do not know, and my thoughts tumble in confusion, each one trying to dissect his words in a thousand (impossible) different ways. Is he asking for a second chance? Could he possibly be asking for us to try again? Or am I simply projecting my wretched need onto him?
"We don't work, Lance," I say shakily, clutching at rationale. Then, forcefully, "You were never in love with me."
How dare he look stricken by that? When he was the one who left? And then my name is on his lips like a vow, and his hand is smoothing down my arm (burning), tangling with my fingers. Flames tingle through my nerves as his mouth presses against mine, and all I can see, feel, and taste is –
"How can you not see," he whispers, and he's trembling – Lance is trembling. He pulls back to brush his lips across my cheek. "How can you not know, Jay." His lips are against my ear when he mouths something that might've been "I need you," and I should feel vindicated, I should feel better, I should definitely not be feeling rent asunder, as if my whole life has crashed headlong into a freight train. This cannot be happening.
I jerk, and cold air flushes (like relief) against my skin as his hands fall away.
I'm more startled than he is to hear the word. Neither of us remembers the last time I refused him anything. "No," I repeat, needing to hear the word again. "Lance, you – you left, remember?"
He shakes his head. "I was stupid. I thought – you're always so cool and collected, and, God, Jay, I wanted you to want me. You know? I didn't want it to be just because I did."
Cool and collected? The urge to laugh bubbles in my throat, but I swallow it down, everything whirling at a nauseating speed. The pieces are suddenly there, but I can't seem to order them into anything comprehensible.
"Here," he cuts into my rising hysteria, drawing away to pull out an over-chewed pen and his old battered wallet – I feel a stab of fondness at the sight of the (hideous) thing. I watch him yank out a stray bit of paper and scribble something down. He presses the scrap into my hand, his fingers leaving lines of fire against my palm, and it's second nature to make sense of Lance's squashed, nearly illegible scrawl: a street address and phone number.
"Take this. I won't – " It seems significant, somehow, that he starts to reach for me but stops and clenches his fist, once, before he goes on. "Call me or see me when – if you want. Whenever. Please. I'm less stupid these days, I swear."
For a moment, I am paralyzed, soul-deep longing and well-nursed fear and an echo of naked pain making a battlefield of my chest. In that moment, the pieces tumble into place.
The truth is, I want to fall into his arms and bury myself there, grow attached and build new memories. I want to cling to him and inhale his scent and glory in his laughter. I want to soothe his fears and guard his secrets and lend him strength. I want to love him, live with him, and die with him. But I am not looking for more scars.
The other truth is, I've eked out a life apart from him in the past two years, a life that comes close to fulfillment. I'm coming to discover joy in the little things as I find a place for myself in the world, and, Goddamnit, I have a novel on its way to being published.
Reason tells me to forget it, forget him, and walk out of this pub, this agonizing turmoil, right now, never to see him again. If the relationship didn't work the first time, it isn't likely to the second, and following impulsive wants can only lead to catastrophe. The two of us are simply of a different breed: I have chased his dream and found myself bereft at the end of the road.
But the most overwhelming truth of all is that we have both been so very wrong about the other. He has no more moved on than I am cool and collected. What a pair of fools we make (paragons of miscommunication).
"I'll call you. We'll have dinner tomorrow," I say at last, and, before his sudden blinding smile can addle my resolve, I add, "Or something." I can't manage a hug or even a handshake, but I can just about manage a twist of a smile. And it might take me every last ounce of strength I possess to turn away, but turn away I do, back to my table, to grab my stuff and leave.
I can feel the weight of his presence and the blaze of his eyes all the way out the door. Once outside, the blast of sunshine makes me a little giddy, a little silly, and I know I'm a fool for doing this again, I know I'll be jittery if not an utter wreck until tomorrow night – but all reason aside, this seems right.
We deserve a second chance.
Thanks for reading!
Edited December 12, 2010