A/N: This is back to the werewolf business. Some relationship stuff comes on the side. Makes way more sense, obviously, if you've read In Manitou and probably Silver Bullet.
Author: Alyn Drasil
Disclaimer: It's still mine.
Warnings: Same stuff as always. Language, m/m. There's a later part that might be a little squicky if people don't like reading in detail about bones rearranging and skin tearing off and other such things.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"I don't want to talk about it."
Simon's slightly shaking fingers unwrapped another piece of gum and shoved it into his mouth—a signal of a conversation bookend. Holm should have just dropped it. He knew better. Especially when Simon turned away from him and went to lean on the mantle over the unlit fireplace, bracing his arms against it and making his thin shoulder blades spike under the material of his shirt. Getting Simon's back during a conversation meant keep talking, and I'll kick your ass.
Holm drew in a careful breath, and leaned back on the red tartan couch. A sift of dust rose up around him, worse than usual. Ever since Simon had almost completely moved out of the cabin, the upkeep had gotten more and more lackadaisical. The apartment that he'd rented several dozen blocks away from Holm's dorm in the city was a much nicer place—incredibly nice, actually, which ran against all of Simon's natural cheap bastard instincts. Holm had once or twice wondered if Simon had gotten the nicer place because he'd known that Holm would spend a lot of time there.
And he did. Despite being busy adjusting to college and having his own new small nucleus of friends, he had spent a lot of time with Simon, and in Simon's apartment. Since it was awkward and somewhat strange to have Simon, twenty-six years old and clearly not a college student, coming around to his dorm all the time, Holm had opted to just avoid that entirely. And Simon certainly didn't mind not having to hang around an excess of other people.
But, they still came up here, to the shoddy hunting lodge cabin in the mountains. Once a month, every month. Holm stayed with him until the point where Simon forced him back into the bedroom—at least it was the master now and not the barren guest—and made him lock himself in. And Holm had to spend an agonizing hour or so waiting for the terrible minutes of transformation, the horrible screams and howling and throwing of furniture, some dark thing inside Simon's blood gripping him and overtaking him and changing him
In the morning Simon would be back, naked and exhausted and shaking—and on rare occasions, hurt—and Holm would spent the following day taking care of him. Simon didn't milk it—that was one thing to appreciate about his tough personality—he was back on his feet as soon as he could manage it, which was almost usually too soon for Holm's recommendations. But the worst injury Simon had ever gotten was the one from the time they had first met, the bullet wound now only a thick whitish-silver scar across his upper arm.
Four months. They'd been doing this for four months—three months of the summer and then one autumn, and now it was September. The first month, the first full moon after Simon had bought his new apartment, they'd finally managed to have sex. And it hadn't been anything that mindblowing or special or even very good—the fact about which Simon had had many loud opinions. The resulting fight—which included accusations about Simon's promiscuity and Holm's overeagerness—had lead to Simon leaving on his own for the drive back up to the cabin in the mountain. It had taken less than an hour for Holm to follow.
Simon hadn't said anything when Holm had shown up. At that point, Holm had just thought that the other man must by now expect him to be a pushy, invasive fence-mender, and had only been unsure of how long it was going to take for Holm to give in. Holm hadn't been sure what he had expected Simon to do—ignore him for the rest of the night, probably, or batter him with insults in an attempt to drive him away. What he had not expected was Simon to grip his hand and wordlessly take him upstairs, and try again.
It had been better that time. So much better, in fact, that Holm had wondered what exactly had been wrong several hours earlier. That time had been good, but—but it wasn't always that way. Hardly ever, in fact. Simon was often clumsy and almost seemed to hate physical contact, pulling away when Holm got too close, like he wanted to fuck him without actually feeling or seeing him. More recently, Holm had almost given up on it all together, mostly going back to just sucking Simon off, and vice versa. It was just easier. Repetitive and unsatisfactory, but at least he was getting something.
Right now, he was still getting nothing but Simon's back. Simon did this to end conversations because he seemed to think that Holm would just stop and give up if he couldn't see Simon's face. He hadn't yet figured out it only gave Holm more time to gear up more convincing arguments. Which was what he was doing now, trying to come up with some way that would make Simon willing to discuss this—his curse, this thing that brought them up to this cabin every single month.
Simon's hair was growing out again, touching the base of his neck and getting shaggy over his ears. Holm was tracing the fall of it with his eyes, still thinking, when Simon suddenly turned around.
"Ever seen An American Werewolf in London?" he said unexpectedly, one hand on his forehead, fingers pushed into his bangs.
"Yeah." Holm shivered a little, thinking of it.
"It's not like that."
"Oh." Holm felt his shoulders relax, just slightly.
Simon drew in a little breath and exhaled it, his features drawing together as if already regretting this conversation.
"It's worse," he said, more quietly.
"Of course it's fucking worse," Simon spat, vicious again. "Because it's not a goddamn bunch of special effects. It's like having all your bones broken and tearing all your muscles apart and shredding every inch of your skin off—because that is what's happening. It never gets faster or easier or less painful. It's the worst goddamn night of my life, every single month."
"Shit," Holm said. He looked down at his hands and saw they were shaking, embarrassingly. He gripped them into the couch. "Simon—"
"Don't say you're sorry. Don't say anything. I told you I didn't want to talk about it, and I really meant I didn't want you to talk about it. This is—mine. My curse. You're not part of it."
"You stupid fuck," Holm said, quietly. "Of course I'm part of it. I'm with you, and that means every part of you, even something I should be afraid of.
"You're such a stupid sentimentalist," Simon said, his throat rolling. "If I'd wanted to date a girl, I wouldn't be gay."
Holm ignored him. "I want to stay. Tonight. With you. Not locked up in the bedroom. I want to be with you."
"What." Simon's voice went flat and hard, instantly. "Are you fucking crazy. No. No."
"No!" Simon whirled, knocking something off the mantle that skittered across the floor and under the couch. "You're a fucking idiot, no. Why do you keep—do you want to die? Is that it? Do you have some secret death wish that I—"
"Shut up," Holm said, standing up. He had brought this subject up before, and Simon always responded the same way. It was always around this point of the conversation that Holm seceded, backed off, and shut up. But this time he wouldn't. He couldn't. "Of course I don't. If I wanted to die there are much easier ways. What I want is—to understand this.
"You can't understand it," Simon said, his voice nearly a snarl. "Nobody can. There's no other fucking experience like it, you can't. I know you're all goddamn touchy-feeling but there's no possible way—"
"Then I just need to see it," Holm interrupted. "I have to—it's like the goddamn elephant in the room but you've thrown a sheet over it. I know it's fucking there but you're still trying to hide it. And it's not working, Simon, okay? It's not."
Simon swallowed roughly, his eyes flickering over Holm's face, sharp and guarded. "Why? Why do you want to—be part of this? I'd give anything to not be."
"Because it's part of you," Holm said. "It doesn't go away—it won't ever go away. You can't ignore it, so neither can I."
Simon pressed his lips together hard, and turned back to the mantle. He braced his hands on the edge, the outline of his shoulder blades sharp through the fabric of his thin and badly rumpled shirt. It wasn't only Simon's haircut that had gone back to his less-than-concerned attitude about his appearance more recently—it had been a downhill slide ever since Holm's graduation.
Since that day and Simon's promise to try harder at this, at them, he had only gotten a little better. He was trying, Holm could see that, but there just seemed to be a natural, hard-wired part of him that constantly lashed out, angry and vindictive. Or maybe that part of him had started when this curse had. Either way, he was still nowhere near an ideal boyfriend. He had moments, and he had gotten better, but the overall effect was…underwhelming.
But the moments were what Holm stayed for. The quiet minutes when Simon would think Holm was asleep as they lay in bed together, stroking his fingers through Holm's hair, or along the back of his wrist. Lightly—so lightly that it seemed like Simon was afraid to touch him at all. Or when he would catch Simon watching him, from across the room or even from right beside him on the couch, while they watched movies that Holm brought over from his school's media library. The times when Simon thought Holm wasn't looking, paying attention, or awake were the times he was the most unguarded, the most gentle and affectionate. When Holm thought Simon might actually care.
Holm had done a lot of pretending to be asleep over the last few months. The couch in Simon's apartment was right next to the desk where Simon kept his computer. If Holm stretched out on that couch and closed his eyes, slowed his breathing and kept still, he could listen to the fast, comforting tapping of Simon's fingers on the keyboard. And every once in a while, Simon would reach over and run his fingers through Holm's hair. And Holm would feel something warm and aching in his chest, and decide that he could stay, if only for that.
But Simon couldn't fully open to him. And it was because of this, this night, this curse that in only a few hours would force them apart. For as long as they were dating, or whatever it was they were doing, Simon was going to use it as an excuse. To prove to Holm why he didn't need anyone, couldn't have anyone, and why he had to hold Holm at a constant arm's length. He couldn't even manage to talk about it, without his sharp verbal defenses lashing into place. It was the source of almost all their problems, and they couldn't talk about it, and everything was slowly falling apart. That was why Holm had to do this. He had to break through this barrier or—destroy them both, trying.
"I don't want you to see it," Simon said, suddenly, low and through clenched teeth, towards the wall.
Holm shifted on the couch, digging his nails into the cushion. "I don't care."
"I don't care that you don't care. You're not going to see it. Because you'd see it and then you'd probably die. You'd die because of me and I can't—and even if you didn't I couldn't handle having you…know. Seeing it, what happens. It's not anything—it's not like a fucking movie, okay? Jake saw it, and he—" Simon shut up abruptly, and a shudder ran through him, shaking up his back and shoulders.
Holm eased his fingers out of their clenching hold on the couch, and let out a breath. He knew about Jake, of course, but not much. Jake had been Simon's boyfriend, the one Simon had originally moved up to the cabin with. The one who had left him right after Simon had been bitten. He'd never much thought about it, because Simon just wouldn't talk about it, but maybe he should have. He didn't know anything about their relationship, how long it had lasted, how serious it had been. Or anything about Jake other than his name, and that he'd collected guns.
"How bad did he hurt you?" Holm said, and watched as Simon's entire body went tense and rigid.
"Don't," he said, in a tight, controlled voice. "Don't."
Bad, then, was the answer. Holm almost got up, to go to him, but kept himself down at the last second.
"I'm really—sorry," he said instead, stupidly. Uselessly. There was never anything he could do. Never any way to fix or help anything.
"It was years ago." Simon sounded both angry and tired. But it didn't matter how long ago it was, Holm realized, because it was still affecting Simon. Whatever Jake had done to him was leaking in and warping how Simon acted towards Holm now. The problem wasn't just the curse. It was how Jake had reacted to it. And now Holm had to compensate for the way some jackass had abandoned Simon for something entirely not his fault. And it was the hardest thing he had ever done.
"I don't care what it's like," Holm said, quietly. "It's not going to change anything."
"You think that," Simon said, still addressing the wall over the mantle.
"When you're…do you know what you're do—are you ever in control, at all?"
Simon looked at him again. "No."
"You didn't hurt me. That first time—you didn't do anything but smell me. You didn't touch me."
"I can't tell you why," Simon said tightly. "You were lucky."
"Maybe you knew me. Even like that."
Simon snorted. "You were such a fucking pain then that I probably would have killed you if I'd recognized you."
"It's not funny—I'm being serious."
"I know," Simon said. "I know, I know—Christ." He fumbled for his left pocket, his patting fingers turning clawing before he realized that he only had gum now, and it was always in the other pocket.
Holm moved forward, stepping up right in front of him. It took Simon, now trying to wrestle a piece of gum out of the tiny foil blister, a few moments to notice, and then he stepped back fast. He knocked into the mantle and made a soft grunting noise. The gum packet fell to the floor with a scritch of foil.
"Please," Holm said. He had nothing else left to say. "Please." He wanted to reach out, so badly, to touch him, but was afraid that Simon would just keep flinching and running. He kept his fingers twisted through his belt loops, the front of his sneakers touching the toes of Simon's worn workboots.
Simon stared at him, his back bowed against the wood of the mantle and his eyes hard and dark. But he didn't hold it for long—there was clear exhaustion in his face, in the way he slumped back, just a little, letting out a short, choppy breath.
"If I kill you—" he said, and swallowed, "if I kill you, it's your fault. If you won't go away from this it's your own stupid fault."
"I'm not afraid," Holm lied.
"You shouldn't be," Simon said, flatly. "You should be terrified."
Later, after an edgy, silent dinner of canned soup (still the only edible food in the cabin), Simon got up and left the living room with out explanation, disappearing under the stairs to the back room that had once been his office. Holm took the dishes to the kitchen and dumped them in the sink, and waited. The single lightbulb burned a sickly yellow from the ceiling, and the room still smelled of potato-leek. He rested the small of his back against the edge of the kitchen counter and gripped at the pockets of his jeans.
Simon came into the kitchen, his hands behind his back. He looked tired; gaunt and pale, skin stretched tightly over his bones. He always looked like this before a full moon. His hair looked too dark around his face, turned to near-black even in the yellowed light of the kitchen, and the last light of the day striking his face through the window didn't do much for the shadows under his eyes.
Holm stepped across the kitchen to him, touched one hand to Simon's face and the other to his waist, and kissed him. Softly. Simon tasted like spearmint gum. Holm could feel Simon's mouth moving under his, but not with any intention of kissing back. More like a twitching struggle to hold something back. He kept his hands behind his back, his shoulders rigid.
"Okay," Holm said, exhaling and giving up. He moved back. "Okay, what?"
"Here," Simon said, tight-mouthed, and pushed something into his hands that was black and silver and cold. And heavy, when Holm grabbed it before it dropped to the floor.
"What—" he glanced down. "What the fuck—why are you giving this to me? What am I supposed to do with it?"
"What do you think you're supposed to do with it?" Simon snapped. "It's a fucking gun, it only does one thing."
"Why did you just hand me a gun?"
"Why the hell do you think?" Simon said. "You want to stay, stay—but you're keeping that on you. And you use it, if you need to."
"I—Jesus Christ, Simon!" Holm pushed the gun back at Simon, who didn't take it. Holm let go of it anyway, and the hunk of metal clattered to the floor, thudding against the stripped wood. Purple shadows stretched across the floorboards, and Holm even moved his feet out of the way of their reach. "No fucking way."
"You are not," Simon said, stooping down and retrieving it from the floor, "going to stay in a room with me, tonight, while I turn into some goddamn monster, and not have a way to survive it. Take the gun, goddamn it, Holm!" He thrust the gun against Holm's chest, his hands shaking. "Fucking take it!"
"I don't want—" Holm said, thickly, clutching his hand over the top of Simon's. "I can't do that. I couldn't do that."
"You might have to, all right? This is what you asked for, so you'll get it, but I can't—" Simon backed up a step, slipping his hand away so that Holm ended up clutching just the gun against his chest. "I can't come back in the morning and find you dead, because of me. I can't—that's what I can't do."
"I can't shoot you," Holm said, quietly, feeling like he might be sick. "I can't."
"Right here," Simon said, as if he hadn't heard him at all, splaying his hand over his heart, the wrinkled fabric of his shirt. "Here. Anywhere else will only hurt me, but here—" he patted his hand on his chest, twice, sharply, "—kills me. I think."
Brief nausea flashed through him, and Holm tasted something bitter and very unlike soup at the back of his throat. "Don't even say it that way. Don't say any of this."
"Then change your fucking mind," Simon said. "Stay in the goddamn bedroom tonight."
"N…no. No. I want to stay with you."
"Then you keep that fucking thing on you, all right?" Simon turned away, fumbling for the shredded gum packet in his pocket. "Jesus Christ."
Holm put the gun on the kitchen counter, pointing to the wall, and went to him, wrapping his arms around Simon's waist. He pressed his forehead against the back of Simon's neck, needing to bend his knees a little because he was the taller of the two. Simon shuddered under his arms, went rigid, and didn't respond.
"Don't do this," he said, after a minute. "Don't. Holm—don't. Please."
"I have to," Holm said into the skin between Simon's shoulder blades. "I have to."
Simon shook him off then, stepping out of Holm's encircling arms, taking the gun and leaving the kitchen. He went into the living room, dropping down on the red tartan couch. Holm followed, cautiously, hanging back near the hewn-wood end table, not sitting down. He touched his hand to the back of the blue-and-sea-green striped couch, leaning on it a little.
Two full moons ago Simon had put deep slashes through all of the cushions of this couch, and now they hardly ever used it. They'd turned the cushions over, so the damage was mostly hidden, but they both tended to just…not sit on it. Simon would hardly even look at it. Right now, he was staring down at the gun in his hands, the barrel pointed towards the floor.
"Do you know how to use one?" he asked, abruptly, and Holm pressed his lips together and shook his head.
"I've never even—"
"Here, then come here," Simon said. Holm edged himself onto the arm of the couch, leaning over just slightly to look. The gun was sleek, silver and black, light sliding hazily along smooth chrome lines.
"Pay attention," Simon said, not sharply, but with complete seriousness. "This is a six shot single action revolver, all right? Means it holds six bullets, and you have to cock it to shoot it. The hammer here." He touched a jutting piece of metal at the back of the gun. "Pulling this rotates the cylinder—you have to do it after every shot." Simon dragged the lever down with his thumb, and there was a noise and a click from inside the revolver. "Like that. Try it."
Holm drew in a breath and held it, tight in his chest. "I don't want—"
"Look, I don't want to die if I don't have to, and getting accidentally shot by my dumbass of a boyfriend because he wouldn't learn to fucking use a gun properly is not the way I want to go."
Holm exhaled. "Okay." He moved over beside Simon on the couch, touched his fingers to the lever on the back of the gun. He pushed it down with a soft click as Simon held the gun steady, hearing the noise of the cylinder clicking around inside.
"Okay," Holm said again. "Okay." He'd never liked guns. He wasn't sure if he'd even seen one, really, up close, before this. Certainly he'd never touched one. And never fired one. His fingers were shaking. He knew Simon had to see it, had to feel it.
"Calm down," Simon said, but it didn't have much of an edge to it. "It's not loaded yet."
Holm shoved Simon's hands, and the gun, away instantly. "Jesus fucking Christ."
"Would that be considered masturbation?" Simon said, and Holm had to take a second to get it, and then wanted to punch him for trying to joke.
"Dammit," he said, folding his arms and stuffing his hands under his armpits. "Don't—"
"What I'd really like to do is actually teach you how to really shoot this damn thing," Simon interrupted him. "But—" he glanced out the window, where already it was getting dim enough outside to loose the shape of the mountains, blending into the tops of the trees at the edge of the valley, "—there isn't any time."
He voice broke a little. Holm touched his arm, reflexively, and just as automatically Simon pulled away. They looked at each other, and Holm had to swallow down the aching, bitter lump in his throat. He'd just wanted—to help, and it was not going at all well. Worse and worse with each minute. He would have told Simon forget it, I changed my mind, only he had fought so hard to get to this and if he gave up now—Simon would never say yes again.
So he tried once more, sliding his hand over Simon's wrist and circling his fingers around in a loose hold. Simon stared down at their hands, and exhaled sharply through his nose. Then abruptly, he set the revolver down, dug into the back pocket of his jeans and swung his arm back around, dumping a handful of something clinking and metallic onto the table.
Several shining bullets scattered across the worn wood, rolling in all directions. One dipped off the edge and Simon snatched it from the air, set it back upright on its flat snubbed end. His reflexes were fast now, much faster than normal. Those, and his hearing, his sense of smell, and his physical strength, always got more powerful the closer to the full moon it was. And now, it was only an hour or so away.
"These are silver," Simon said, stilling another of the rolling bullets with his thumb. "I had them custom cast. I don't know if it matters, but they are. When Jake shot the thing that got me—he just grabbed the first gun he could reach. It worked fine, and nothing was silver. But later on I read up on all this shit—a silver bullet is supposed to, well. Do the job, according to centuries of fucked up mythology."
"Is that Jake's, then?" Holm asked, jerking his head to the revolver on the table. He didn't want to touch it again. Not more than he had to.
"No. Mine. I bought it. About two months after the first time I tur—the first time. Jake was gone by then. I just—I went into town and I bought it. I was going to—" Simon lifted his thumb and his forefinger out of his curled fist, and rested the tip of his finger against his temple.
"Christ," Holm said, looking away. He was starting to feel sick again.
"You're not going to ask why I didn't?"
Holm shook his head. "I'm not going to ask. But if you tell me, I'll listen."
"God, that sounds so much like something you'd say that you should sue yourself for plagiarism," Simon said. Holm almost smiled.
After a minute, Simon cleared his throat a little. "I didn't do it because after Jake shot that thing and killed it, it didn't stay turned. It became human again. It was a girl—a woman. I don't know who she was. I probably never will. Jake and I, we didn't know what to do. We buried her somewhere, out in the woods. I probably couldn't even find where, now. But I can't forget what she looked like—what a goddamn dead body looked like. With this huge fucking hole—" he clenched a hand into his shirt, fingers twisting in the fabric. "I didn't want to be that. Ever. Any way of being alive, no matter how fucked up that life was, was better than that."
"So why—" Holm clutched his shaking hands into his jeans. "Why are you giving this to me, now?"
"Because I can't see you that way, either," Simon said. "I'd rather it be me than you. And you aren't giving me much choice."
"I don't think you'll hurt me!" Holm said. "You would have done it the first time—I'd be dead now. I'm just so tired—of sitting here, month after month, listening to you and not being able to do anything able it, not help you or stop it, and I just—I need to do something else."
"Something moronically suicidal?"
"God, fuck, just shut up, Simon, okay? I need to—I need to do this. I can't even stand it anymore, I can't let you do this alone. It's so fucking awful, you don't even know. You might have to live through it, but I have to live through you living through it, but off on the fucking sidelines because you won't let me in. And I can't help you, I can't do anything, I feel so fucking useless."
Normally, Simon's reply would have been "you are fucking useless," along with a sneer and an eye-roll. Now Simon just looked at him, raw and red-eyed, and that was almost worse. He abruptly scooped the gun and the bullets off the table and snapped open the cylinder. Dropped a bullet into each of the six chambers, spun it, and clicked it back in place. Then he handed it, handle first, barrel pointed at the floor, to Holm.
"That's yours now," he said, and Holm felt closer to throwing up than he had all night.
"Simon—" he said, and tried to follow up with don't make me do this, I can't, I can't, I love you too much, but he'd never said those last words before and he wasn't even sure why he felt it because it made so little sense and he was afraid that Simon would just laugh at him for it. His throat closed up, and instead he wrapped his hand around the barrel of the gun and kept it pointed down into the cushions of the couch.
"This is what you wanted," Simon said, and Holm shook his head mutely—no, it wasn't—and felt how already sweat-slicked the grip of the gun was under his fingers. It felt so heavy in his hands. He didn't want to think about it—any of it. They had about an hour, maybe less, before this thing would happen, and everything would fly apart or come together. They had about an hour, maybe less, to be together for possibly the last time.
Holm stood up, keeping the revolver pointed resolutely at the floor. He'd shoot his own foot off before he pointed it anywhere else. Especially at Simon. He had no way to carry it conveniently and just had to—had to hold it, all that terrible silver weight gripped in the curve of his palm. Simon looked up at him, shadows smeared under his eyes and his shoulders hunched and defensive.
"I'm going upstairs," Holm said. Then he held out his hand. "Come with me."
Simon hesitated, then took Holm's hand without meeting his eyes, and let Holm pull him up the stairs.
"Don't let me bite you," Simon said, a little later, rather dully. He and Holm were lying next to each other on Simon's bed, on top of the same dark navy comforter he'd always had. Simon was staring at the ceiling, unblinking. The room was murky ink-blue, only the bathroom light left on and spilling a yellow glow over the floor. Holm shifted over, rolling his head to look at him.
"I said don't let me bite you," Simon repeated. "If you think I'm going to try it, shoot me. I'm fucking dead serious here, Holm. Don't let me bite you."
"W-why? What would—"
"It would turn you. And I honestly don't know what would be fucking worse, knowing I killed you or knowing I turned you. I just—I can't deal with either of those things. Don't let me."
"I—all right," Holm said, quietly. He glanced towards the gun, glinting in the low light of the end table where he'd left it—pointing at the wall—and knew that he was never going to pick it up again. No matter what he promised Simon.
Simon let out a breath that shuddered terribly in his throat, and nodded. "Okay," he said. He glanced towards the window in the far wall, the sky outside a dark purple bruise, the sun already far set. "Okay, I—now it's just. Waiting."
"Come here," Holm said, lifting out his arms. After a moment where Simon just stared at him, hard-mouthed, he rolled forward. Holm put his arms around him and dragged him closer, pushing Simon's face into his shoulder. He resisted, then relaxed just a little, his body going a little looser and pliable. His face fell against Holm's neck, his breath hot and moist against his shirt.
"I—usually—I strip, beforehand," Simon said, after a moment, voice muffled by Holm's body. "It's just easier than destroying my goddamn clothes every time."
"Okay," Holm said. "Okay."
His hands went to the hem of Simon's shirt and pulled at it, upwards, until Simon lifted his arms and let Holm drag the whole thing off. Their hands met and bumped awkwardly together when Holm reached for the front of Simon's jeans, but after a moment Simon moved his hand away. The button and zip were already undone, so Holm only helped Simon wriggle out of them by pulling on the belt loops. Beneath his jeans Simon had on black cotton boxers.
"You want—to keep these on?" Holm asked, carefully. It wasn't as though he was shy about having Simon naked with him in a bed—but this wasn't for sex, and he wasn't sure. But Simon shook his head against Holm's shoulder, so Holm slid his fingers under the elastic and pulled the boxers off him too. Then he scooped his arm around Simon's back again and pulled his thin body closer.
"Can you tell when—it's coming?" he asked.
"No," Simon said against his neck. "It just…hits."
"Okay," Holm said quietly, rubbing his hands up and down the knobs of Simon's spine. Simon let out a shuddering breath and curled his hands into Holm's shirt.
"Say something," he said.
"I don't know. Anything. Just talk. You're good at that. Please."
"Hold my hand, then," Holm said, reaching down. Simon drew his arm back instinctively.
"Why?" he said, with something of his usual sneer. "Think it'll make me feel better?"
"No. It'll make me feel better," Holm said. Simon stared at him for several long moments. And then, slowly, Holm felt fingers pushing against his hand, tangling up together and a warm palm pressing against his. He gripped back hard and Simon pulled at Holm's arm until their joined hands settled on Simon's stomach. Holm could feel the raised skin of the five long scars slashed across Simon's abdomen, against the back of his hand.
"Now talk," Simon said, his voice a little quieter. "I'm holding your hand for you, so you talk for me."
"My dad might be speaking to me again," Holm started, the first thing he thought of, rubbing his thumb over the back of Simon's hand. "Maybe. I mean, when I visited them last weekend he actually said 'pass the butter' over dinner. Which is more than the last four months combined. So maybe he's finally getting over it, I don't know. My mom's still making up for it though. She tried to set me up with her jazzercise instructor again. She says he's very flexible."
Simon snorted against Holm's shoulder.
"I bet it's true," Holm said. "He's probably really fit and attractive. Maybe we could invite him over next weekend."
"That's just what we need," Simon muttered. "A threesome with Richard Simmons."
"You, shut up," Holm said, giving his hand a warning squeeze. "I'm the one talking here. You're listening."
"You're saying utterly stupid shit," Simon said, but he went quiet again.
"Apparently I have a gay cousin," Holm said. "But he lives in California with his parents, so we don't really see them."
Simon snorted again. "California. Figures."
"Aren't you from there?" Holm said. "I thought you'd have a little more—Simon?"
The man had gone suddenly rigid in his arms. Holm's mind went blank and terrified at once. This was it—it had to be. It was starting. Right now.
Simon breathed out as though he'd been punched in the stomach, a long exhaled "ahhhhh—" through gritted teeth. And suddenly his body snapped backwards, thrown back against the pillows, his back arching up and his shoulders twisting. Holm was knocked away from him, and he rolled back again as Simon's body went limp and dropped down to the bed, sweat already standing out on his face.
"I changed my mind!" Simon gasped, hands fisting madly in the comforter. Holm wasn't entirely sure, but it looked like the mass of scarring on Simon's shoulder was redder than before, raw-looking again his pale skin. "I changed my mind, Holm, get the fuck out of h—"
Simon froze, suddenly, his mouth twisting open and jaw tensing, cords in his neck standing out. He dragged in a long, shuddering breath, sound stuttering in his throat like the whine of a kicked dog. Holm reached for his hand and seized it, the tendons in Simon's arm popping up and down under his skin.
"Simon," Holm said, reaching across Simon's tensed and tight-strung body with his other arm, curling his hand around his rigid shoulder. "Simon, are you—"
Simon lashed into movement, his body yawing towards the edge of the bed, dragging Holm with him. Holm felt the dip and the give of the edge of the mattress and could do absolutely nothing about it. They both slid from the bed and crashed to the floor, a tangle of thrashing limbs, Holm's breath bursting from his chest in a flare of heat and pain. He sucked uselessly on air for several seconds, spots flashing before his eyes while Simon flailed on top of him and then tumbled off, rolling away. When Holm could breathe again he crawled after Simon, grabbing at him. He was thrashing, bucking against the floor, teeth clenched hard and lips dragged back off of them. Holm clutched at him, rolled halfway on top of him, pressing him to the floor.
"Simon, Simon, you're okay, you're okay," he babbled, knowing that he wasn't, not at all, but needing to say something. Simon's eyes rolled wildly in his head, until almost just the whites showed, his lips drawn back off his teeth, each panted breath sounding more and more like a snarl. "Simon, listen to me—my voice! It's me, okay, it's Holm, I'm here. I'm not leaving you."
Simon's hands clawed across the wooden floorboards with a high shuddering squeal, dragging white scratches into the wood and sending splinters skittering between the boards. With each heaving breath Simon's skin sucked up along his bones, and Holm could see every rib tightly defined, like they were about to rip right out of his body. He bucked again, and his arm flew up and crashed against the nightstand, tipping it over with a heavy thud. The drawers flew open and spilled things—noisy, rolling, loud things—all over the floor.
Simon screamed for the first time, a terrible jagged sound mixed with a sob, and his body thrashed again. His elbow caught Holm in the side of the head, hard. Grey rushed into Holm's vision and swooped out again, but his balance was lost and he tipped to the side, rolling half under the bed. Blinking hard, an aching pulse now shooting through his head with each beat of his heart, Holm lifted his head, grey blobs swaying through his vision.
Simon was on his hands and knees, bowed over in the yellow light from the bathroom, forehead to the floor, gasping in huge panting breaths. His right shoulder jerked, suddenly, with a loud wet pop, and Simon rocked forward, catching his balance on his left elbow. Another thick, wet-sounding snap echoed through the room. Simon jerked again, and let out a short, hacked-off scream, pressing his face against the floor. The popping sounds continued, like corn inside a kettle. But instead of inside a metal pot, it was like it was popping inside something wet and fleshy, each loud cracking snap muffled by blood and tissue and skin. Holm could see abrupt jabs of bone, moving and thrusting beneath Simon's skin. A bitter swell of bile rose up in his throat and he fought it down, gulping in shuddering breaths through his mouth.
A low wail was building up low in Simon's throat, a terrible whining that sounded not quite human and not quite animal. His back arched and curved, and along the ridges of his spine, his skin suddenly split apart like an opening mouth, something dark and coarse beneath it. Another twisted, inhuman noise jarred out of Simon's mouth, which was suddenly holding more teeth than it had before—longer and narrower and sharper.
Holm crawled closer to him, forcing himself forward, reaching out for Simon. "It's okay," he whispered, gripping the hand that was already far less than human. He could hear—and feel—small bones popping inside, shifting, changing beneath the skin. "I'm here. Simon. I'm here."
He didn't think Simon even knew it. He was lost already. It was all Holm could do to hold on and keep watching. He had asked for this; he had to watch. He watched as the skin all along Simon's arms and legs split open, peeling back and curling up, dissolving away to thick black hair beneath. Muscle beneath his skin rippled, stretched, shivered and undulated into new places. Simon pulled away from Holm's hand, rolling towards the window and out of the bathroom light, into the shadowy blue of the edges of the room.
He wasn't screaming as much as Holm usually heard him do, and he wasn't throwing any of the furniture beside the already toppled nightstand. Holm didn't know if it was because Simon was trying to hold back, or if Holm being here was actually making it easier. He wished for the second, but assumed the first. He could still hear latent, final pops of bone, the click of nails against wood, thick labored breathing and grunting from the hulk of shadow beneath the window. And then, everything stopped.
For a long moment, everything was silent and still. Then Simon, or the thing that had once been Simon, picked itself up onto four powerful legs, shaking itself loosely. The massive head swung around, and Holm found himself staring into the large yellow eyes of a shaggy black wolf. Far larger than any normal animal would be, the weight of its body creaking the boards beneath huge paws. And even though this time, he knew it was Simon, he also knew that it wasn't. Simon couldn't control this. He was in there, somewhere, but far away and untouchable.
The animal took a step forward, lowering its head. Holm's arms fell uselessly to his sides, his pulse thick in his throat. He was frozen, again, stalled out in place and unable to see anything but the shining eyes staring into his own. He was either going to die in a matter of seconds, torn messily apart by his own boyfriend, or—or he wasn't. The only two things that could happen, now.
But right now, it was just…watching him. Head lowered, gold eyes trained calmly on him. The only sound was Holm's own heartbeat, drumming in his chest and ears. He wondered if the wolf could hear it. It was the only thing he could hear, filling up his ears and head and drumming behind his eyes.
The wolf's dark mouth pulled away from bright ivory teeth, narrow and sharp. Holm's heart stuttered and faltered in his chest, but the animal didn't growl, or lunge forward. It still just stood there, head down, lips pulled back in into the same brutal grin. Then, it stepped forward, and Holm's breath locked up in his throat. He couldn't breath and his heart was beating hard and fast again, like it was right under his tongue. Coarse black fur filled up his vision and he shut his eyes against the agony of waiting for—whatever was going to happen next.
Hot breath snuffled into his hair, unexpectedly ticklish against his scalp. Holm jerked, badly, and pressed his sweating hands hard to the floor. He could feel the heat radiating off of the wolf, hear its heavy breathing, and smell a sort of strange, musky animal scent. He opened his eyes, saw the muscular shoulder of the wolf right in front of him as the animal kept sniffing at his head, blowing hot air against his skin. It made a noise, like a soft whine, and its paw knocked against Holm's knee.
Wolves hunted in packs, Holm thought distantly, as his heart kept beating loud and fast in his ears. They had families and social structures. He wondered if maybe…maybe this one was just lonely. Holm didn't know if there were wolves around here, and even if there were, would they accept a strange, not-quite-normal wolf who only came around one a month? Holm doubted it. Simon was probably just as alone this way as he was when he was human. Holm had an abrupt, stupid urge to almost…reach out and touch him. Pet him like he was just a regular dog.
But before he could follow through with that insane idea, the wolf made the same quiet noise, the sound that was almost a whimper. It raised its head, body going alert and still. Like something in the far-off, unseeable distance had called its attention. In the next moment it had stepped over Holm, padding quickly to the door and nudging it open, yellow light from the hallways spilling around its body from the hallway. And then it was gone, heavy footsteps trotting away across the landing and thumping down the stairs.
Holm spent another few minutes sitting on the floor, just breathing. And then he crawled into Simon's bed without closing the door, curled up with the comforter, and slept like the dead.
Simon was almost always back by the time the cold mountain sun was just breaking over the edges of the trees, or even sometimes when it was still dark. So by the time the sun had gotten almost halfway over the horizon, throwing the little valley into cool, bitter light, Holm was starting to worry. He had woken up just before dawn himself, via the alarm on his wristwatch that he always set for these mornings. So he was always awake when Simon came back.
None of the windows on the second floor looked out towards the valley, which was usually the direction Simon came back in. And the woods around the back of the cabin were still, dark, the last of early morning fog curling away between bristling pine needles. Holm went down the stairs into the living room, slow dawn light creeping across the floorboards through the windows, the walls of the house creaking lightly, settling. The living room was empty and still. One—just one—of the cushions from the blue-striped couch had been flipped to the floor, the ripped side facing up and spongy stuffing poking through.
The front door was open a sliver, like it usually was. Holm slid his fingers into the space and pulled it open, drawing the crisp autumn morning through the doorway.
Simon was sitting on the top step of the porch, still naked, his head lowered and buried in his hands, his elbows braced on his pale, knobby knees. His hair was wild and there were leaves caught up in it. There was a shallow scratch along his back, like he'd run against a broken branch and been grazed hard enough to lightly break skin. It had already clotted up dark brown-red with dirt, and Holm made a mental note, distantly, to get Simon to let him at it later.
Right now, there were more important things. Like letting his boyfriend know that he was fine, he was perfectly fine, not dead and not even hurt. He knelt down beside Simon and put a hand to his shoulder. Simon lurched, making a strangled sound, turning to Holm with huge, red-rimmed eyes.
"You're—okay," Simon said, in a tiny hoarse whisper. He lifted one hand towards Holm, then stopped, drew back.
"I'm okay," Holm said, quietly. He took one Simon's unsure hand—thin, cold, and shaking—and pressed it against his chest. "Look. I'm okay. I'm fine. Nothing happened. You didn't—nothing happened."
"I didn't want to go in," Simon said, so quickly it was almost babbling, his eyes still huge. "I didn't want to go in because I was afraid this time you were really dead and I—that I'd really killed you and I can't—I can't deal with this, Holm, don't you fucking understand that?" He was getting louder, angrier, and he jerked his hand away from Holm's chest.
Holm swallowed. "Wouldn't you remember, if you did something like—"
"No, I wouldn't fucking remember!" Simon spat. "I can't remember anything I do! I can't control it and I can't remember it! That's why it's so goddamn stupidly suicidal for you to—" Simon broke off suddenly, his face paling and his shoulder hitching, like he was about to be sick. He swayed forward over the steps and caught himself, awkwardly, on his palms.
Holm moved forward instantly, putting his hands to the back of Simon's shoulders. He pressed one hand between his shoulder blades, rubbing what he hoped was a comforting circle there. But Simon reared up again, nearly throwing Holm's arms off, his eyes blazing.
"That's why—I can't believe you got me to fucking do this—never again,do you fucking understand that—I can't handle this, I can't, there isn't supposed to be someone who—you can't do this to me again. I can't lose—if something happened to you I just—you just fucking can't, Holm, okay? Do you understand me?"
"Yeah," Holm said, quietly, going back to rubbing slow circles between Simon's shoulder blades. He did understand, much more than he had last night. And he couldn't believe he hadn't understood it before. "Yeah. I love you too."
Simon jerked under his hand, and Holm braced himself. But the scathing what or don't tell me shit like that didn't come out. Simon just took a deep breath, and pressed his hands against his face. He spent several long minutes like that, just breathing. Holm kept rubbing methodic circles around his back, over and over again, Simon's bare skin dry and papery beneath his hand. With his other hand he started picking some of the leaves out of Simon's hair.
"So, I'm obvious, am I," Simon said at length, dryly.
Holm laughed then, and he wasn't even sure if Simon was being serious or sarcastic. He wasn't sure how to answer, so he didn't.
"You want to hear something stupid?" he said instead, and Simon made an acquiescing sound against the heel of his hand. "I think you—I mean, you know, the wolf—thinks I'm like…part of its pack."
"Pack," Simon repeated, glancing at him.
"I know it sounds stupid," Holm said, curling his fingers around a leaf and feeling it crush and fall apart in his palm. "But—it's been the same thing both times. You—it—uhm…"
"Me," Simon interrupted. "It's still me."
"You, then," Holm said, drawing in a breath. "You just sort of—sniff at me. And you keep your head down, both times. That's like, a submissive thing in dogs, right? I don't actually feel that I'm in danger. I'm always goddamn terrified, I don't think I can help that, but—I think you do know me. You recognize me. And you don't want to hurt me."
"And I submit to you, apparently," Simon added, dryly. Holm nudged him in the side.
"You do anyway."
Simon laughed softly—just a little noise and a shake of his bare shoulders. But Holm felt something loosen in his chest, a tension and anxiety that had been there for so long that it had just become part of what he always felt around Simon. Maybe—this was a start. Something was changing, had changed already, between them. And it could be good, maybe the best thing that had happened between them. Simon was still harsh and standoffish, but there was something different, softer, beneath it. Something almost like relief.
"Hey," Holm said, touching the edge of Simon's jaw and turning him. "Hey, come—"
He didn't finish before Simon had kissed him quiet again, cupping Holm's face and pressing his fingers into Holm's temples. Holm kissed back readily, tasting dirt and pine and something almost metallic on Simon's lips. Simon even smelled like dirt, damp earth and a dusty, drier scent, and Holm felt the leaves in his hair crush beneath his fingers as he slid his hands along the back of Simon's head. He didn't mind any of it.
It took a long time for Simon to break away. And then he smoothed Holm's hair off his forehead and leant back in, pressing his mouth to the bridge of Holm's nose instead. "You weren't going to use the gun, even if you had to. Were you."
"I told you I couldn't."
"Christ," Simon said, and it sounded like a sob or a laugh. His breath blew hotly across Holm's skin and into his eyes, and Holm fluttered them shut. "I'm glad. I'm glad."
Holm kept his eyes closed, and leant harder against Simon, forcing him to put his arms around Holm's back and hold on. Holm let out a breath, feeling that same tight wedge in his chest loosen and dissolve a little more. This was—this was okay. He could do this, and Simon—he didn't know how much this had changed, but something was different. Already it was different. Simon had never touched him this way, rested his forehead against the top of Holm's head like this.
"Could you say it?" Holm asked, feeling daring in the light of the new morning. "What I said to you. Just once. Just this once. I'd just—like to hear it. Once."
"Okay," Simon said, and drew Holm in closer, dragging his mouth up against Holm's ear. "Just once."
I might be done with these two, but I decided that Simon needed a backstory with Jake the Hatchback Guy and the whole arg-now-I'm-a-werewolf thing. So I'm doing that.
Also I'm a judge at the Sweet Revolution Awards, so I'm pimping it. There's a link on my profile. Go check it out; nominate some stories! There are plenty of deserving authors around on this site. I also don't know how it's going to affect my writing/updating schedule, what with having to read all the nominations for two different categories, but I'm a pretty fast reader so hopefully I won't entirely stop updating. Several things are about ready anyway.