TITLE: Burning of the Past
E-MAIL: eli @ popullus.net
ARCHIVE: Ask, please.
SUMMARY: Jack's back, but that's not enough.
POSTED: Jan. 26, 2004
AUTHOR NOTES: In response to Rheanna's unfilled Jack/any request in the 2003 Yuletide.
STORY NOTES: Spoilers to the end (of what was a regretably short series).
He had aged. Jack hadn't just been saying that.
It was there in the new tightness to his lips, unnaturally thin to hold back not laughter, but bitterness and doubt in himself and humanity. It was even clearer in the deeper green of his eyes, revealing glimpses into a darkness that even cops don't see. Jack saw both as he looked into Michael's eyes and Jack watched him remember the pressurepainpanic in that abandoned schoolyard...
Now Michael's folded against the rust-red wood of the fence, head back, the line of his body even tauter than when he'd held his weapon -- again -- on his old friend. He must believe he's alone to let the cracks show, Jack muses. The added layer of age is still there, but it's clearly a mask now; one that's broken to reveal the misery of a boy.
Jack aches in the shadows, his eyes locked on the man he'd once called mate, and he hates the sensation. He hates that he can't tell if the ache is left over from the blinding rush from up top the bridge, or the creeping burn brought back by the sight of a gun held on him from across the road. Both times, his world had narrowed dangerously to the man in front of him.
He licks his lips and scowls when his tongue picks up none of the taste he craves. Stupid. What kind of witless git would think it would've lasted through the changes, much less after a soak in the river? In the hours he spent tracking Michael after crawling up the slick bank and back onto blessed dry land, his clothes had plenty of time to dry. The stench of whatever kept that water so murky still clings to him, though. Damned irritating.
Yet, what he needs should have lingered. What had burned into his senses that last moment on the schoolyard hadn't been the agony and the disappointment, but the sweetness, the heat, the life that was Mike.
Jack closes his eyes, basking in the memory of that brilliant, vital taste. He had never gotten that from Michael before. He'd think it was the blood, the tang of it, the newness of it, except nothing he'd drunk since he'd been taken had generated anything like that stamp of sensation. He wants it again. Why the hell shouldn't he?
It would surprise the priest to no end to know that Jack -- any of them, he thinks as his lip curls -- can dream of anything other than conquest.
The clatter of metal striking pavement barely reaches far enough to echo against the brick buildings. Jack blinks, attention called back to the world in front of him by the oddly muffled sound. Under his gaze, Michael curls in on himself and over the pistol on the ground, chest sliding tight up against thighs as his head falls to his knees.
Jack starts moving, responding to an instinct he'd forgotten he had. The shock of that stops him. Then, instead of taking a second step forward, he fades in the alley. Make a move too soon and he'll never get his dream.
It's a matter of hours to insert himself back into their world.
Jack picks up a paper from the corner stand, reads the banner that proclaims this night edging toward day to be only weeks later than the last one he saw, and laughs -- gut-deep laughs that feed him in ways he hadn't thought possible any longer. The owner sneaks suspicious glances at him as Jack flips through the rest of the pages, but doesn't say a word about payment when Jack drops the paper back on the stack. He says even less once Jack drains enough to take off the edge, and to be able to walk off with almost 30£.
Two calls fix him up with a bath, a new suit, and a bed. The suit lies pressed and folded over a chair while he takes advantage of the firm mattress, wriggling a bit before he settles in just so he can feel the smooth sheets against his skin. A deep freeze will wear a body down to the bones, but silk erases more than most realize.
They summon him that night. It isn't often a miracle walks in, he's to understand, so they're being very accepting by not pushing for a complete explanation. For their leniency, more than anything, he promises to get them one.
He would have gone looking, anyway.
Even when there is nothing but time, two weeks is time hard spent when dedicated to one person. Standing outside the starkly angled row of flats -- leaving it all behind in more ways than one, he thinks as his eyebrows go up at the sight, and you think we're soulless -- Jack concentrates on not revealing his satisfaction to the gray-haired couple inching by. It isn't easy. The smile sits comfortably on his face, particularly when it slides over into a smirk.
Now that he is there, more nights of watching isn't hard. Coming, going. No schedule. No visitors.
"Where's your life, Mike?" Jack whispers to the third night. The light behind the windowshade falls dark as if in response, and Jack steps out of the shadows.
Gaining entrance through locked doors is a talent he's always had, one that he practiced simply because it can be so entertaining.
Whether Jack stands at the doorway or directly over him, Michael asleep is a sight he remembers well: forehead unlined, hair falling over one eye, hand curled under the pillow. He's stretched out on a new sofa, but Jack takes additional comfort from the fact that Michael's taste in furniture doesn't appear to have improved.
Jack thinks about how to wake him -- a hand at the throat to force alertness through threat, yanking the sheet from underneath to jerk him onto the floor and off balance. Neither quite appeals, though.
For old times sake, for himself, he decides in favor of a lick along the outside of the ear, tracing the sweep of the ridge, savoring the familiarity of it, and smiling almost fondly when Michael's head tilts and his shoulder drops down, unconsciously granting access. Kirsty had fit better into the plan than the man sprawled beneath him, but for himself... Instead of giving in to the lure of the bared throat only centimeters from his mouth, Jack follows up with a nip on the earlobe that says, pay attention to me.
The blunt hardness instantly pressed against his side proves that he's still good at achieving what he sets out to do, if not getting what he wants.
"Why shouldn't I pull the trigger?"
"Mike, mate, you'd make an awful mess of your fancy new place." Jack covers his surprise by smiling into the other man's eyes and shifting away. A second later he stills as the muzzle of the pistol that must have been hard under Michael's head digs in deeper beneath his ribs. "You're not pointed in nearly the right direction. Haven't we covered this already?"
"State of the art, remember?" Michael grits, his teeth glowing momentarily in a strip of light from the street. "I've had practice, now. I wager I could reduce you to dust no matter where I aimed."
"But do you want to? Really?" Jack breathes. "You might sleep with a gun beneath your pillow now, but you looked to be remembering some of the times when--"
He stumbles, barely catching himself against the wall. Michael shoves up off the couch with nearly as much force as he'd thrust Jack away from him. Arm stiff, keeping the pistol unwavering between them, Michael glares.
"What shit is this, Jack? What the hell makes you able to waltz in here thinking I'll put up with whatever you've got planned?"
"Can't a friend wonder why?" Jack lowers his eyes, adopting a careful posture of harmless questioning as he takes one step forward. Michael doesn't move beyond a blink, so Jack continues. "Why'd you bring me back, Mike?" Another step. "If you weren't going to hand me over to your lady doctor, let her run her bloody experiments," he takes a deep breath, forces the annoyance out of his voice, "what did you have planned?"
Another step brings the pistol hard against his breastbone. His eyes sharpen when Michael's throat constricts on a dry swallow. To really get an answer, all he'd need to do is--
"Back off, Jack." Air whistles harshly now through Michael's clenched teeth. Jack takes one step away again, sweeping his spread hands out to the side in the universal sign of friend-not-foe. All for naught, apparently, when Michael urges, "Back away and out of my house," as his thumb strokes up over the grip and his forefinger settles on the trigger.
"Su-re," Jack says, reasonableness drawing out the syllables. "But how about letting me sleep at night? All I'm asking for is an answer. You owe me that, at least, don't you think?"
"Owe you? You're the-- Why the fuck would I care how you sleep, Jack? I don't even know if you do sleep!"
While anger rolls out from him as almost physical energy, Michael's posture -- slightly open, arm bent just a tad -- betrays his confusion. Hoping that there might be an advantage to press, a possibility of getting what he truly craves, Jack reaches out across the arm-length separating them and brushes the back of his fingers along Michael's cheek.
Skin against skin, connected through a touch not experienced in years, they stop breathing for one heartbeat.
Jack feels the next rush of blood pump through Michael, the pulse at the temple warming him, but he doesn't get the chance to savor that or the tickle of the other man's sideburns against his fingers. Michael falls back one step, then another, and brings the pistol up to center on Jack's heart.
Uncertain for the first time, Jack pauses.
"I've killed you once already," Michael warns, voice soft. His eyes, for one moment, give Jack hope. Then they go flat. Dangerous.
"And you won't again?" Jack forces a smile. "How kind."
"Not tonight, anyway." Michael's cold expression doesn't shift, his mask firmly in place, Jack realizes, resentment building. Should have done him when he had the chance, before the pistol threw off the balance.
"Guess we'll find out, won't we?" Jack turns and, to prove to both of them that he can, sends a smirk over his shoulder as he reaches for the door. "I said we'd keep in touch. I mean to keep to that promise."
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