Never-ending dust, dry scorching heat, and enough hard labor to make him tumble into exhaustion when he gets to his bed. This is his therapy of choice, something to get the bad taste of LA out of his mouth and get the demons of morality to shut the hell up.
Not quite Oklahoma, there's no way he's heading back there. He leaves California, crosses Nevada, and when he hits the state line he stops at the first crossroads and flips a coin. Heads for north; tails for south. It lands tails up on the gritty blacktop, and he leaves it there, rear tires flipping it into a spin that carries it to the sandy piles of dirt at the side of the road.
Drives until he's out of pocket money, no more cash for gas, coffee or diner food. Finds a little town on the outskirts of a pocket of horse country and asks who's hiring. No one looks twice at him, his worn out denim and his rusty old Ford. A couple of old men point him towards the Lordi ranch, and he goes straight out the dirt road, asks the rancher for a job. Bends the truth about where he's been, says college hasn't really worked out for him, and he's heading home, eventually. The rancher has some reservations. But they're short handed, and the boy can ride. Hires him with the provision if he fucks up once, he's out on his ass.
Lindsey's got no problem with that.
- - - - -
Between the city and the farm, Riley decides that he can't bear the thought of green fields and Iowa skies. Not yet. Maybe not ever. No way to explain the changes in him, the scars he bears at throat and elbow, and he's had enough green to last him the rest of his life. The smell of the jungle, the wet-rot of it, feels like it's so deep in his pores that it's scarring him, too. He's going to hit a Wal-Mart, buy some jeans and tees and then burn everything in the duffle. Everything.
Little shopping center on his right, and he slams on the brakes, rear end of the truck fishtailing on the road. Pulls into the nearly-empty lot, and refuses to let himself think as he hops out and heads into the seedy chain retailer, swallowing the burst of cold that hits him in the face. Grateful for the odors that hang in the processed air, almost strong enough to wipe out the lingering stench of humid greenery and demon ichor that will never dry there in the fetid darkness of Belize.
Riley grabs a cart and gets to shopping.
- - - - -
Despite himself, Lindsey falls easily into the daily rhythm of hard work. Used to taxing his brain and not his body, he's sore and aching the first week, scraping down the food served to all the workers, barely managing to reply to the few remarks that're directed at him. Buses his dirty dishes, says a mumbled goodnight to anyone who happens to be paying attention and doesn't give a damn if no one is.
His bed's a single mattress he's taken off the rickety, metal frame and laid out on the floor. White, cotton sheets that smell like the air they were dried in, outside in the sun. No laundry detergent or fabric softener, no artificial scent, just clean and so old that they're worn to a satin-smoothness that feels amazing on his skin. He has next to nothing in the room other than the mattress. Just a small bureau with his clothes, a few paperbacks he's had since college, the tiny night table with the lamp, shade gone yellow with age. All of this sits on hardwood floors that gleam softly with handrubbed oil, applications that go back generations, buffed by years of sock clad feet walking the treads.
Boots tossed into the corner, Lindsey pads barefoot to the shared bathroom, washes his face, brushes his teeth, really looks at himself in the mirror for the first time in about three weeks. Hair getting shaggy, outer layer blonde on the ends from the sun. Face darker already, he always tans so fast, remembers his mama teasing him about it. Faintest ghost of a smile twitches his lips and he thinks that this might be OK for a while.
He doesn't even remember leaving the bathroom, taking off his jeans or lying down in the embrace of sun-sweetened linens. The next thing he knows is blackness without dreams.
- - - - -
With his open, honest farmboy face and his air of comfort in the store, it's simple to get the job when he asks for it. Used to the ways of the small town, he answers as honestly as he can when the old proprietor wants to know why he wants this job. Riley tells him he's going to settle there for a while. His physique is noted, cloudy eyes looking him up and down to judge his ability to haul and carry. The old guy grunts at him, waves him behind the counter.
"Guess you'd be wantin' cash." It's not a question.
"No, not really. However you want to work it. I just need the job." Riley's hiding, but not from the people who'll trace his social security number to this place that's small enough to remind him of home and different enough to make him feel...invisible.
"Got a room, if you're lookin." Also not a question and Riley bends to the paperwork he's handed. He fills in what he can, which isn't much since he's been sleeping in the truck. Name, the usual numbers. Hands it back to the septagenarian and waits for the remarks about no address, no phone. They don't come.
Riley starts that afternoon, moves his few belongings into the room over the store that night. Sleeps with the window open so he can smell the dust and see the stars.
- - - - -
Lindsey pulls the truck around behind the feed store. Easy enough to find the place and he's glad for a chance to just drive, radio up loud and sun glinting off the bumpers.
He walks in, hangs his sunglasses in the collar of his shirt, looks around briefly. He catches sight of the community bulletin board and wanders over. There're faded flyers, ragged home printed business cards, and in one section, a neat line of index cards listing horses for sale. He reads these, the thoughts of owning one too tempting to ignore after these weeks on the ranch.
"Sorrel QH stud colt, coming 2. 14 hh, will mature to 16 easy. Doc Bar lines, backed 2 months. Loads, leads, clips easy. Pretty head, halter butt, straight solid legs. Great barrel/reining prospect, moves like a cat. Must see to appreciate! $3000 OBO."
Too young to do much with, and not what he's looking for. He moves on to the next card. "Grade paint gelding, 10 y/o, cow horse 15'2". Bold markings, sound, easy keeper, kept on grass, herd trained, neckreins easy, no vices, sells w/working gear & blanket. Great head for cow. $800 firm."
That one sounds good. He reads it over again, notes the owner's name. He'll ask some of the guys at the ranch what they know about the guy, if they think he's worth driving over to look at.
One more there. "Own daughter of Zipper Doc Bee, coming 5, dun w/dorsal, unregistered. 15 hh barefoot. Big hip, easy breeder, babydoll head. Dead broke, good using horse, 2 years under saddle herding. Sells w/option to breed back to our Poco Bar stud. $1900." Shakes his head almost unconsciously. Breeding her too early, and he's not looking for a mare.
He's thinking hard about the gelding so when the clerk comes up to him, he barely notices. "Help you with anything?"
Lindsey turns, takes in the guiless face of the young guy who's apparently new enough or bored enough to actually seek out a chance to do some work. "Me personally? Nah. But my boss wants his weekly order of feed. Name's Lordi."
"Sure. You want me to carry that out to the truck for you?" Guy's already walking away towards the back of the store, asks the question over his shoulder.
"I think you could *help* me if you want, but I don't see any reason for you to struggle with it all alone." Lindsey's amused. Gotta be new, far too eager to have been here more than a few weeks. There's a laugh and then, "It's a habit, just kinda shoots out of my mouth."
They stop at the storeroom. "Gotta watch that kind of habit." Lindsey offers his hand. "I'm Lindsey. You?"
Big, warm hand, calluses that rival Lindsey's in that grip. "Riley. Pull your truck around back and we can load it up."
"One step ahead of you."
Riley props open the wide wooden door with a chunk of brick, and they heft the sacks of feed. Not an easy job, but Riley makes it look that way, swinging it up to his shoulder and tossing it into the bed of the truck. Lindsey's right behind him, can't help but notice the play of muscle across the wide back where the t-shirt clings to him, soaked through with sweat as they go along. Riley's new to the job, Lin thinks, but not to hard labor, not to using his body as more than just a brainrack.
Back and forth to the truck, silent work until they get to the end of the pallet. Lindsey swipes the back of his arm across his forehead as they take a breather. Squints up at Riley, who's doing the same. Asks, "You from around here, Riley?"
Riley stares at him for just a fraction of a second before answering. "No. You got an ear for accents?"
Lindsey grins at him. "You spend a few years trying to repress one, you'll get an ear for it, too."
Small nod of his head, and Riley says, "Not local either?"
"Not by a long shot." Lindsey looks around, thinks about that gelding. The ranch. Hard work that he doesn't have to feel ashamed of at the end of the day. "Might be one day, though."
Riley grins at him. "Well that's the last of it. Lordi's got an account, so I don't even have to shake you down for money."
"That's a relief, 'cause I've got none." Offers his hand again and they shake. "See ya."
"Next time." Riley walks back in, kicks the brick away, lets the door swing shut behind him as Lindsey backs the heavy truck out and heads for the ranch. Turns the radio up again and takes the ride back slow. It gives him time to think about the horse, and he does. But it gives him time to think about Riley, too. The waves of friendliness that rolled off of him, natural smile, easy manner.
He's open in a way that Lindsey isn't used to, in a way he's never been. Growing up trying not to be noticed, working his way through school trying to be seen as something he wasn't, trying to fit in with kids who had never in their lives been dirt poor. Time at Wolfram and Hart, always on guard, always watching every word so there was no chance for anyone to find a weakness and drive the knife into his back.
Thinks again of the tall, hard body and the warm smile, wonders if he's found a kindred spirit. It's a nice thought to carry back to the ranch.
- - - - -
Saturday night and the honky-tonk is wall to wall. Bodies pressed together on the small dance floor, brushing by as they move from table to bar. Smoke and the smell of fermenting beer soaked into the sawdust on the floor compete for the dominant scent. There's no one there Riley knows and he's content to sit at the bar and drink his beer. Nothing else to do, and he's too restless to sit in his room tonight. Even the sound of the juke box, cranked up so loud that it would make the glasses rattle if there weren't so many people here to absorb the vibrations, even *that* sounds better than the tick of his clock in the emptiness of his room.
Took him a while to feel lonely. He was so full of the other garbage that he was trying to forget about - rejection, need, addiction. Now he's at the point where he wants something again. Not sure what it is, but it's starting to sit in his belly and curl up tight. He lifts his hand to get the bartender's attention, see if another beer won't make the tightness settle down a little and leave him be.
Tap on his shoulder and Riley turns, sees the guy from the feed store the other day. The one who called him on being an outsider. Lindsey, that was it. Nice guy. Remembers the way he'd tossed around the heavy sacks, not a big guy but power in him. Riley leans forward to hear him over the noise of the music and the crowd, notices again those blue eyes, sky-bright and clear.
"You waiting on someone?" Lindsey nods to the empty stool on the other side of Riley, up against the corner of the bar and the wall.
Riley shakes his head. "No, have a seat."
The bartender arrives with Riley's beer and Lindsey catches him before he can get away. "Bring me one of them. Hold on, make it two, and another one for this guy." He indicates Riley with his thumb and the bartender hustles off.
"You don't need to do that." Riley feels odd, Lindsey buying him a beer, and he doesn't even know him except for the five sentences or so they had in the store. The thought strikes him suddenly //lonely//, and he lets it go. No harm in the company, and it's been a long time since he had someone to talk to, drink with.
Lindsey smiles easily enough. "One beer won't kill me. You either." He drops a ten spot on the bar when the beer arrives and leaves the change there. Settling in for some serious drinking time, Riley surmises, since the bottles here go for a buck fifty.
Kind of hard for conversation with all the noise, but they make the attempt. Riley's guarded about all his answers. Can't quite decide if Lindsey is just looking for some conversation with anyone who happens to be there, or if he's really interested in Riley for himself. And even though it's more than a few beers later when Lindsey asks him what brought him to town, he hesitates and downs the rest before he answers. Turns to find Lindsey watching him with steady blue eyes and the barest hint of a smile on his lips. Lips, Riley notes, that are far too full to belong to a man. Pictures Graham, Forrest, kisses that were more about mechanics of the act that followed than about the kiss itself, and wonders if it would be possible for Lindsey to do it to anyone //anywhere// not have it be all about the mouth.
"Just needed to get away from some issues." That's the best Riley can come up with, loose enough to want to talk but not quite drunk enough to forget to watch his words. He's spared an immediate follow up when a pretty little thing with lots of blonde hair and a big smile sidles up and puts her hand on his forearm. She tilts her head and asks him if he'd like to come over and dance with her. Riley summons up his most sincere smile and declines as politely as he can. She leaves looking a little confused but glances back over her shoulder once, just to see if he's changed his mind. Riley misses it; he's back to talking with Lindsey.
- - - - -
Lindsey watches the little blonde swing her hips away from the bar and downs his own beer. He noticed that spaced out stare that Riley was giving him earlier, sees the way Riley is still looking him over whenever he thinks Lindsey isn't paying attention. He suppresses a grin and signals to the bartender. Says to Riley, "Go dance with her, man. I'm fine. Sure as hell no reason to keep me company."
Riley grins. "No, not my type." And when the bartender asks if they want two more, Lindsey's surprised to hear him switch the order to whiskey.
Surprised but not the least bit bothered. Wonders what it is that's gotten him to switch over. Thinks that Riley seems comfortable enough with him being there, the alcohol loosening them both up. Lin hadn't expected to do anything more than drop in for a few beers. A little shocked to discover that he enjoys sitting here, talking to Riley while they both get this side of shit-faced.
"Not your type?" He leans onto the bar with both arms. Tilts his head and looks over to where blondie stands with her back to them, hips twitching to the rhythm of the song. "What's the problem with her? Too short? Too thin? Too pushy?"
The whiskey arrives, and Riley downs his shot. "Too blonde."
Lindsey can't help but laugh at that. Takes his own shot, tips it to Riley in agreement. "I'll drink to that." Throws it back, feels the heat burn down his throat and into his stomach. Flash of Darla's face on the inside of his eyelids, memory of her mouth on his the one time he'd touched her like that. He shudders and opens his eyes.
They look at each other for a minute. Lindsey knows everyone has skeletons rattling in their closet. But this boy's got too many lines around his eyes for someone who can't be much older twenty four or so. First impression of Riley as nothing more than a happy-go-lucky kid is rapidly wearing away into something far more complex, and Lindsey does love a puzzle. There's an unnamable component in Riley's demeanor that makes Lindsey think of control. Like the guy is wound tighter than a spring and is looking for someone to unwind a few coils. It's not just his size, plenty of men Riley's size and bigger are gentle and placid as lambs. Maybe it's the way he's only just now relaxing, shoulders not hunched up around his ears, legs opening as he hooks his feet on the rungs of the stool.
The bartender returns, and Lindsey tells him to bring the bottle. When Riley drops a few bills on the bar to cover his portion, Lindsey lets him. Grins as he pours the shots and offers up a toast. "Here's to no more blonde women who don't need my goddamn help."
Riley nearly chokes on his shot, but he gets it down. When he's got his breath back he looks appraisingly at Lindsey. "You read minds or something?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Lindsey's pouring, there's no anger in the words, and he takes a sip this time before he continues. "You walking away from one of them, too?"
"Among other things." Riley sips, and Lindsey watches his throat move when he swallows. They're facing each other now, Riley's back to the dance floor and Lindsey's against the wall. Riley's face less guarded, the lines smoothing out around his green eyes, mouth curved into a natural smile. He has a face that wears a smile well, Lindsey thinks idly. Wonders what the hell someone who looks like a choirboy could list among the other things he's walking away from. Wonders, too, how far the guy would run if he knew about half the things in Lindsey's past, any one of which could show up anytime at all and leave him dead, nothing left to identify him unless they find enough teeth to run dental records on.
He pours himself another shot.
- - - - -
The music on the juke changes, gone and wound down to blues ballads. Riley notes that the patrons seem to be pairing off, moves on the floor changing from line dancing to something more intimate. Every place he looks, there're couples touching, faces pressed together in the boozy closeness that makes everyone blurred and beautiful. He's painfully aware that the crowd is thinning out, and there's room at the bar for them to spread, but he's unwilling to move. Likes the way it makes his skin shiver when Lindsey turns on his stool to talk to him and their thighs brush, feels it through two layers of denim. He doesn't want to get over confident, doesn't want to press an issue that might exist only in his addled brain. But part of him is so sure that Lindsey is enjoying it as much as he is.
Looking over on the dance floor does nothing to help his train of thought. Riley pours another shot, shakes the bottle and finds a tiny bit left. Offers it to Lindsey who upends it and lets the amber trickle into his glass. When he gives a silent toast and tips the glass up, offering a view of his throat as he swallows, the movement of the skin transfixes Riley, the white crease where he hasn't tanned contrasts against the honey blond of loose locks of hair. Gets caught blatantly staring and finds himself grateful for the bad bar lighting that hides his blush when Lindsey just grins at him.
Desperate for conversation, he blurts out the first thing that comes into his head that doesn't include the words 'naked' or 'sex.' "Interesting style of dance they have around here."
Lindsey snorts, looks at his watch and gestures to the couples groping each other more or less in time to the music. "At this point there's no dancing. It's just rubbing until they both realize they wanna fuck."
//So much for subtle// And yet he manages to swallow the mouthful of whiskey and not choke. "You say this with all the confidence of a man who has spent a lot of time... dancing."
Riley finds the amusement in those blue eyes disconcertingly direct when Lindsey answers him. "Like you never did it either." Drops his gaze to Lindsey's hands as they roll the empty shot glass across the bar. "High school dance? Betty Sue Whoever in her blue prom dress? You never did the bump and grind and shocked the chaperones?"
"No, never did that. Must have led a sheltered life." But even while he's saying it, he's getting a visual, full-on technicolor: Lindsey pressed against the wall of his high school gym, his hands tucking around to cup the sweet curve of a blue-satin covered ass. Sees the vivid contrast of the girl's red hair against the baby blue of the dress when she turns her head, and damn if he hasn't put Willow there. Fantasy Willow has apparently forgotten all about the lesbian life partner thing because she's moaning as Lindsey rocks his hips, rolls them back and forth until it's as close to fucking as it can get.
He shakes his head, grinning at the way his mind sometimes takes off without his brain in actual working order. It's at this point of the evening that Riley allows himself to admit that he knows what the thing eating at his belly is. Not just loneliness, that's too easy. It's pure and simple need to make the connection, physical contact. All alone for weeks now, he's just human, and he wants to be in the moment. Buzzed enough to find that place inside of him that admits even nice guys need that outlet. Needs the sweat of sex to just wash over him and take him away. The only problem he can see with that plan is the fact that there is no way in hell he can walk out of the bar right now, or even look over while he talks. Because he's as hard as he's ever been in his life.
- - - - -
//Sawdust under my boots, cigarette smoke and blues in the air, and someone next to me who drinks whiskey instead of O pos. And not wanting to cut off my appendages, always a plus in my book// Lindsey enjoys himself, for once. He tries to think of the last moment he can identify as a good time and gets back to law school before he finds it.
The whiskey disappeared, and he's only slightly buzzed. Probably watered down, and he couldn't care less. Watching Riley take in the rest of the bar, finds himself humming under his breath to the song that's playing. Good song, sums up getting royally fucked over in a pretty little package.
//I played on the table
You held something back
If love is aces
Gimme the jack//
The blonde from earlier in the night picks up her second choice stud and comes tripping by on his arm. Neither one of them very steady, and when they pass by she nearly falls over in her attempt to get up on her toes and whisper in the cowboy's ear. Lindsey turns away, she's too drunk to have her volume control working, and the last thing he wants to hear is her version of foreplay.
"That's them, Hank," she slurs, her voice loud enough for Lindsey to think that she wasn't trying to whisper after all.
"Oh, those are the fags?" Hank's apparently not the least bit worried about who hears him; he wants the whole bar to know what he has to say.
Lindsey's back stiffens at once. He tells himself he's gonna turn around and see the dumb ass cowboy looking somewhere else. He says it like a mantra as he glances over his shoulder.
//Knew this was too good to last// "Are you talking about me?" He sees Riley ease off his stool beside him, thinks for a minute that he's going to bolt, get himself out of a bad situation. Realizes in the next second that Riley is merely getting in a better position, his back against the bar.
Hank is a one-note-tune kind of asshole. "Yeah, you fag, we are."
Lindsey hears Riley, but the way his blood sings, that voice of reason is far away and small when it says, "Forget it, Lindsey, just let them go."
"Lindsey? Your mama musta known you'd be a faggot with a name like that." Hank pleased with his cleverness, has himself a good chuckle about it. Blondie joins in, laughing as she sways on her heels.
"You should just shut your ignorant mouth, you stupid son of a bitch." And *bam,* it feels sweet when his fist connects with the cowboy's jaw, when that shit-eating grin is replaced with a look of surprise, and his head snaps to the right. Lindsey's knuckles tingle and he knows, he just knows, that the ever popular Hank has two or three buddies there in the bar who are going to have something to say about the fag decking good ol' Hank like that.
He hears Riley utter a single, quiet, and very sincere word. "Shit."
- - - - -
There it was again, that easy show of power from Lindsey that Riley noticed back in the feed store. One punch to the jaw and Hank is on his ass. Riley approves of the style if not the action because these guys always run in packs, and he's not going to walk away and let Lindsey take the heat for his own rejection of the girl.
Sure enough, no sooner has he uttered the word "shit" and here's Manny, Moe and Jack, hitching up the waistbands of their jeans and looking pissed off and drunk. They even skip the preliminary insults and go right into swinging their fists. He hears that unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh and launches himself onto two of them. They stagger under his weight, land on a thankfully unoccupied table, glasses shattering on the floor. Riley manages to keep his balance //demon fighting 101, never get knocked down until you're ready to die// and lands a decent blow of his own before the bouncers arrive and start prying the wrestling bodies apart. He steps away, hands raised so they won't think he's going to cause any more problems, scans the crowd for Lindsey.
He's standing pretty much where he was when the whole thing started, hands on his hips, face flushed with anger and alcohol, and there's the hint of a smile on his lips. He looks, Riley decides, like he's enjoying himself. Before he can say or do anything, there's a heavy hand on the collar of his shirt, and he's being dragged out of the bar and shoved without malice into the parking lot. Lindsey is out there already, and Hank's ejected with much less grace a few minutes later, his posse bringing up the rear. The bouncers stand in the doorway, huge arms crossed and wait for them to all disperse, take their fight somewhere else if they still feel the need to pound on each other some more.
Blondie pulls Hank's arm, telling him she's gonna take good care of him, and he allows himself to be distracted. Puts an arm over her shoulder and glares back at Lindsey, mouths the word "faggot" one more time for good measure. Riley sees the way Lindsey shifts his weight, ready to go on over and finish up what the cowboy's loud mouth already started, so he puts his hand on Lindsey's shoulder as the rest of pack follow Hank down the line of trucks and cars, around the back of the bar.
"Drop it, not worth the effort." The muscles under his hand tighten up, then relax with a sudden drop in Lindsey's posture.
He turns around, looks at Riley. "Appreciate that." He nods to the bar.
Riley shrugs. "It was pretty much my fault so..." He trails off, not sure what to say. "I was *not* drunk enough for that."
Lindsey smiles, puts a companionable arm over Riley's shoulder and herds him towards his truck. "Let's attend to that, then."
Riley doesn't argue, follows him to the old Ford and climbs in. Notices the way the truck has been kept up, obviously with a loving hand. Not perfect, of course, too old for that, and it's a working truck, but there're no cracks in the dash; the seats aren't sprung, and the floor is dusty but not covered with debris. Lindsey starts it up, grins at him one more time and pulls out into the deserted street.
- - - - -
It's not until the clerk at the store gives him a strange look that Lindsey realizes his face hurts. His eye, actually. He shrugs it off, takes the cold beer and goes out to the truck. Riley sits on the bumper, looking up at the sky. Lindsey glances up while he walks, doesn't see anything special. White stars, cold in the darkness. He's already passed that newlywed stage, the part where the night sky makes him awestruck again, and wonders why Riley apparently hasn't.
"Watching for aliens?" Lin asks as he sets the beer in the bed of the truck and takes two out of the bag. Hands one to Riley and sits beside him. Twists off the cap and takes a long, long drink, half the bottle gone down his throat in a cold flow. He can feel it all the way down to his belly, a chilly trail.
Riley takes the beer, keeps on looking up. "I'm usually asleep by now. I think this is the first time I've really looked since I got here."
"Where'd you get here from?" He waits for the answer. Wants to know, and he's not sure why. Struck again by the comfort of Riley's companionship. There's no tense edges here, nothing to cut him when he steps the wrong way. He hasn't had that in forever.
"Oh you know, I've been around. Traveled a little." Riley's avoiding the straight answer, and for a minute Lindsey thinks about calling him on it. Decides against it because of his own traveling habits and tries to picture the reaction from this guy if he mentioned vampires and evil lawyers and moral ambiguity. Drains his beer and twists around to get another one.
Riley catches his arm, leans over closer. "You've got a nice shiner coming up there, man. You should get some ice on it."
Lin puts his fingers up to his face, winces as he touches the slightly raised skin under his eye. Thinks back about three months to sledgehammers and sarcastic vampires beating the ever loving Christ out of him, litany of apologies punctuating every blow. He drops his hand, picks up the beer and smiles. Knows it must look odd, he can see that on Riley's face as his expression grows concerned. "I'm fine, doesn't even hurt."
"Not now, but it will tomorrow. I've got ice back at my place." Lindsey watches Riley stand and pluck the bag holding the rest of the beer out of the back of the truck. He stands there just long enough for Lindsey to get the hint. That wasn't a request; it was a statement. Looks like they'll be going to Riley's place for ice, whether he really needs it or not.
- - - - -
It's warm in the truck, and the ride lasts just long enough for a languor to set in. The adrenaline from the fight gone, the beer and whiskey have set up shop in his brain, and Riley feels an almost boneless sensation of peacefulness. Lindsey has something on the radio that's low and hypnotic, volume turned down enough to make it background sound. He was never much of a music buff, just listened to whatever was on unless it was really foul. He likes the blues now that he's heard them played so much. Likes the way they really seem to feel what they sing - hurt and need, rejection and pain, things he's had too much of to ever forget.
Lindsey turns to him. "Where am I headed?" Riley looks up and sees they're back at the bar, tells Lindsey to head back to the feedstore.
Truck parked all the way in the back, and Riley feels himself sway when he jumps down from the seat. There's the tiniest twinge in his ribs from hitting those guys, and then it's gone again. Lindsey strolls around the truck, walking with the consciously careful gait of a man who knows he's going to stagger if he lets himself go. Reaching back into the truck for the beer, Riley hides his smile. Hardly fair to be laughing at Lindsey when he was almost on his ass himself.
They're both quiet as they take the steps up to the second floor, Lindsey looking around at the view from the landing while Riley has a small issue with finding the right key, getting it into the lock and not dropping the beer. Lindsey comes over to lean against the wall.
"Have we reached the inebriation level that causes you to lose small motor skills?" He's whispering, and Riley looks up to see if he's joking, tone of voice so serious and point of fact. He's grinning, though, wide smile that shows white teeth even in the darkness.
"I'd have a better shot if you'd stop blocking the light." But he's got it right this time, the key clicks over, and the door swings open. Riley follows the arc into the room, trying to get the key out of the lock again, Lindsey right behind him.
Careful to close the door before he hits the lights, old habit of his from Belize, and Sunnydale, and other missions long forgotten where you'd be dead if you were dumb enough to reveal your position. He sees Lindsey looking around and tries to envision the room through a stranger's eyes. It looks spartan, bare. The furniture was already there, of course, belongs to the old man who owns the building. Good solid stuff, probably hand made a long time ago. One big room plus a closet and a bathroom, but it's clean and neat, although Riley admits the neatness is a by-product of having nothing around to get sloppy about.
He carries the beer over to the tiny fridge, sets it inside and pries open the freezer door. Takes out the tray of icecubes in there and runs it under warm water for a minute to break the seal. Twist of the wrists and he's got some cubes in the sink. Picks up the thin cotton dishrag that's hanging on the drawer handle and makes a quick ice pack.
"Here, put this on your eye." He can see that Lindsey is reluctant to take it, wonders if he's going to insist and then they'll end up in some stupid and uncomfortable quasi-argument about it.
But he doesn't resist, takes the towel and presses it gingerly to his eye for a second, then settles it in a little more firmly. "I can hold a beer at the same time. I'm multi-talented like that."
Riley gets two more beers and suggests they sit outside. Cooler out there, and he likes the view from the roof of the back storage room. He slips out the window and settles himself with his back against the wall of the building. Lindsey follows him, first putting the rest of the 12 pack out there and then climbing through, surprisingly fluid motions for someone who had problems walking a straight line not too many minutes ago.
Neither of them talk much. There's a pasture out behind the building; the moon is high enough for them to see the wind make patterns in the tall grass. The night sounds are soothing; the breeze is light, and they could be the only two people on earth. Riley drinks his beer and thinks about the people that aren't there anymore, and the ones who never will be again. Looks over at Lindsey, who's stretched himself out on the roof, hands behind his head, ice pack resting on his face. He's so still that Riley thinks he might have passed out, but then he sees that a blue eye is open and looking over towards him.
Lindsey gestures for another beer, and Riley obliges. Opens it, leans over to hand it to him, wonders if he's going to try and defy gravity by attempting to drink it while he's still laying down. Turns back to his contemplation of the tides in the field and is almost startled when Lindsey speaks.
"Think we've taken care of the 'not drunk enough' element. How 'bout you?"
"Oh yeah. That's definitely a mission accomplished."
- - - - -
Despite the black eye, and possibly because of all the alcohol he's consumed tonight, Lindsey thinks he could fall asleep right here. The old wooden roof is smooth, still holds the heat from the sun. The slant of it is just right, none of that tipsy feeling that you might roll if you lean the wrong way. He can see way off to the horizon with nothing to block his view. Perfect sea of grass rippling out to the blurry point when it blends with the sky. Riley isn't finding it necessary to run his mouth just to fill in the gaps, something Lindsey learned to appreciate whole-heartedly once he found himself working with lawyers in general. He likes having blocks of time filled with nothing more than windsong and animal language. Riley has mastered the art of companionship, and Lindsey admires him for it. Company without intrusion, quiet without loneliness.
"Beer's gone." Riley's voice interrupts his introspection. Now that's a statement that *had* to be made. Lindsey thinks a minute, decides he is just shit-faced enough to not need anymore and far too much to drive. He sits up, sighs at the thought of sleeping in the truck and stands.
"You're not driving home, so don't even think about it." Riley stands too, follows him over to the window and inside. They both stagger a little as they stand there.
"No problem. Sleeping in the truck. Won't be the first time." Lindsey puts his hand out and Riley grasps it.
"No, that's stupid. You can stay here." His brow furrows in concentration or in a sincere effort to sound forceful, Lindsey isn't sure which. It's a tempting offer. The couch looks like a king sized bed in comparison to the truck's seat. Less dust. More cushions. No stairs between him and the couch, either, which is a big plus right now.
"You sure?" Watches Riley nod, says, "I'll take the couch."
"No need. Bed's huge. More comfortable." Riley still has his hand, leads him over to the bed like a child being walked to school.
Lin looks at the bed in question, and it is huge, king-sized, bigger than the one in his old apartment. He opens his mouth to offer the couch choice again but yawns instead. A small shove on his back from Riley and he lets himself fall into the soft brown comforter. Eyes closed, he hears the click of the light as Riley turns it off and a moment later there's the dip and sway of another body hitting the mattress.
Lindsey drifts off.
- - - - -
It's the warm skin that wakes him up. Warm, bare skin against his arm. A sensation so long forgotten that for a moment he can't place it. Riley opens his eyes and sees Lindsey, body curved on his side, shirt pulled out of the waistband of his jeans exposing a strip of smooth skin, and that's what's touching him. He watches the wrinkled hem of the shirt move with every breath, turns his head for a better view.
Moonlight pouring in the window etches everything shades of gray and white, shadows the angles of the man beside him. Lindsey's face soft with sleep, his body turned towards Riley's own as if seeking contact without conscious decision. He knows the feeling, the way a person will instinctively reach for the familiar. He just hasn't had anything to reach for himself, wonders sometimes if he'll ever find a touchstone again. Something to ground him. Something to strive for. Right now, watching Lindsey sleep and feeling the brush of his skin, no matter how unknowing the contact, Riley can't conjure up anything more than the feelings from the bar. Need to connect, touch. Find himself through the expression in someone's eyes when he's with them, give and take of sex the most pure and primitive drive, one he doesn't want to try and control.
He shifts his weight, rolls to his left just a little. Reaches out and lets the back of his hand whisper-glide over the skin of Lindsey's torso. Riley feels a tickle at the pit of his stomach, precursor to arousal for him, and his cock stirs. Another brush of his knuckles on warm flesh, then fingertips. He's mesmerized by the sensation, the long-forgotten desire to touch another person's skin, not have his own skin broken when he does. Lays the whole hand there, fingers sliding under the shirt, palm firm against muscled belly, and he just feels the movement of Lindsey's breathing. In and out, smooth motion under the steady press of his hand.
Contraction and tension telegraphed right to him as Lindsey wakes up. Riley waits a second, raises his head to apologize and meets wide open eyes, the blue shaded to obsidian in the moonlight. There's a distinct instant when Riley's positively aware that Lindsey's going to do... something. Even as he acknowledges it, it passes, and Lindsey moves. Rolling in instead of away, slipping his leg between Riley's thighs. Hips and pelvis raise up and come down again, and Riley is half covered by the body he was petting seconds ago. No place for words here, just time for stretching himself out into a more accommodating position so he can reach the mouth that's so close to his. Parts his lips, lets himself fall into the kiss.
- - - - -
Waking up to the warm hand on his body, Lindsey's first reaction is instinctive. He rolls into the gentle touch, finds the place on Riley's body that fits the shape of his hip, gets his knee between those muscular thighs. Leans in to kiss the mouth that's already open and waiting for him. Already wanting him, and God, that feels so good. To be wanted, desired. To have warm skin against your own, hands spanning your back. Lindsey feels the tug on his shirt, lets Riley pull it up to his neck before he breaks the kiss. Shifts to the side, slithers out of it and rolls back on again before Riley can do more than catch his breath.
Feels the hardness pushing against him as he rolls his hips, denim rubbing with a sweet, rough friction that makes Riley groan under him. He could get lost in this, the slow ride towards the top, dreamlike and unhurried. All the time in the world to get those buttons on Riley's shirt undone, bare the expanse of chest that's broader than he imagined it would be. To match the undulating pace set by neither of them, changing on a whim. Doing whatever feels good at the moment.
Riley unresisting when Lindsey's mouth moves to his ear, his fingers sliding between them to undo buttons and zippers. His shuddering indrawn breath is all the incentive Lindsey needs when his hand finds bare skin, slick wetness, hard length for his hand to wrap around. Can't help but mark the event - this is the first time he's touched another person like this with the new hand. Not a lot of room to move, but he can make a fist, and Riley writhes into it. Arches his back off the bed, lifts Lindsey with him at the first stroke, and this time it's Lindsey who's moaning into the open mouth when Riley grabs at him and pushes him down. Exquisite pressure against his cock, Riley's hands in his hair holding him still while he bucks his hips, fucks himself into Lindsey's warm grip.
Lindsey breaks the kiss, tilts his head to the side, licks at the line of Riley's jaw, gathering the salty sheen with his tongue. Nuzzles his face into the hollow of his shoulder where it meets his neck and feels Riley shudder again. The hand in his hair presses his face in closer, and Lindsey marks a trail of wet, open-mouthed kisses from collarbone to Riley's earlobe. Hears the groans gaining volume as his mouth passes over a series of scars, a cluster of them all across his neck, knows that Riley's about to hit the wall.
"You like that, right there?" he whispers and drags his tongue over them again. The cry of release and the warmth in his hand is all the answer he needs.
- - - - -
Riley rolls them both over before Lindsey has a chance to do anything, his cock still hard, pressing into Riley's hip as they move. He's still panting from his own climax as he presses Lindsey into the covers, drags himself down the length of his body. He pulls at the buttons on the jeans, pops them open roughly, slips them down Lindsey's hips until his cock is exposed. Opens his mouth wide and just takes him in, head sliding over his lips and across his tongue, slick and salty. Riley hears him draw a deep breath in, feels one hand come down and slip into his damp hair, pushing it back from his forehead. He raises his eyes to find Lindsey watching him, propped up on one elbow. Biting his bottom lip, already bruised from Riley's mouth earlier, and he's barely moving at all.
Riley drops his eyes from that intense scrutiny, lets his hands and tongue work the flesh he was so anxious to have to himself. One hand skims across Lindsey's tight abdomen, fingers combing the tangled curls before wrapping around the base of his cock. The other hand slips between Lindsey's legs, cupping warmth with a gentle pressure. Draws his head back, flicks his tongue over the slit at the top, tasting more bitter saltiness. The hand in his hair tightens, and Riley risks a glance up again. Lindsey's head is back, mouth open and eyes shut. He looks completely lost in the moment, and Riley continues to watch him as he moves his loosely fisted hand up the length of Lindsey's cock.
"God, Riley..." Breathless moan, and Riley can't stand to do without that mouth. Keeps his hand right where it is but pushes himself up the bed, bends his head so he can get a taste of those lips. Runs his tongue along Lindsey's bottom lip over and over until Lindsey gives in, opens his mouth. Riley rubs his thumb over the head of Lindsey's cock, sucks that full bottom lip into his mouth. Lindsey comes, wet and slick where their bodies touch, stickiness from them both as they lay there panting.
Riley thinks about moving, thinks maybe they should talk. Falls asleep again with Lindsey half under him, his hand still in Riley's hair.
- - - - -
Lindsey wakes up slowly, legs still tangled with Riley's, pinned down by the weight of him. He blinks a few times, focuses on the man spread out beside him. It's early morning, maybe six, and the light has a thin orange tint to it. He can see very clearly the scars on Riley's exposed neck, the ones that had sent him right over the edge last night.
He knows a vampire bite when he sees one. Saw far too many of them up close and personal to not have the image seared into his data banks, although he grants that he never got to see one that was healed. Lindsey's memory of the night locked in the wine cellar tries to pry itself out of the box he locked it in, and he stomps down hard before it can break free. As he rolls his head on the coverlet, he spies more marks on Riley's arms, centered around the pale crease of his inner elbow.
//Right where they draw your blood at the hospital// he thinks. //Why is this boy walking around with bite marks all over him?// Won't even go into the whole arousal portion of the scars. That's far too personal, brings back memories of the times he spent in the shower, jacking off to the image of Darla, her pretty red mouth around his cock morphing into the face of the demon.
And that was always when he got off.
One hand is bearing the warm heaviness of Riley's shoulder, so Lindsey uses the free one to scrub at his face. It jiggles the bed, and that's all it takes for Riley to be instantly, completely alert. Something else for Lindsey to ask him about. And they are definitely going to be having one hell of a Q and A session this morning.
"So you wanna reveal your secret identity first, or what?" Lindsey keeps his voice neutral, his body relaxed. Waits for an answer.
- - - - -
Riley really doesn't want to move. He's comfortable; the bed smells like Lindsey and sex; there's nothing he's supposed to track or kill for at least a 50 miles radius. He's relaxed, damn it. And as much as he doesn't want to ruin the absolute perfection of this moment, that's not even near the margins of how much he doesn't want to answer Lindsey's question.
"What the hell are you talking about?" He tries for ignorant hick, figures it buys him a two minute reprieve in which he can formulate an acceptable reply that will satisfy both of them. Reveal enough to stop any more questions and keep hidden the things he doesn't even let himself think about anymore.
Lindsey shifts in the bed, rolls to his side. "Swing and a miss. Try again?" Riley watches with detached fascination as Lindsey's finger extends, hovers over the raised white ridges on his arm. Even where they overlap in a tangle, he still traces a definitive arc for each bite. When he reaches further, towards the ones on his neck, Riley puts his own hand up to block. Gentle defensive measure.
"Animal bite. Coyote." Doesn't even look over to see if Lindsey buys that one, it's too weak to work with someone who has more than likely seen an actual bite from the animal.
"Oh, see, that'd be ball one. I think you winged it."
Does look this time, and Lindsey's expression is complex, as if he's not sure if he wants to be amused or angry. Riley opens his mouth and closes it, brings both hands up and rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms. He's surprised to hear Lindsey speak again, startled at the words.
"I know they're bite marks. And I know what kind of 'animal' makes them. We can leave it there, or not. Up to you." Lindsey sits up, stretches and stands. Looks down at Riley, bites his lip for a minute. "You got coffee around here?"
- - - - -
Over coffee, wearing his wrinkled shirt that he found at the bottom of the bed, Lindsey talks to Riley about everything he can think of except the two taboo subjects - the bite marks and what happened last night. He gambled big by letting Riley know he was hip to the origin of the markings, half expects Riley to call him on it. Can't see a way to explain his old life, Wolfram and Hart, Angel, Darla, all of it, but figures if Riley comes clean, he at least owes him that much.
As if thinking about the question makes it appear, Riley puts down his mug and asks him directly. "How do you know about the bites?"
"Seen them before. Seen what makes them. Gotta tell you I haven't seen many people walk away with a souvenir, though." He takes a sip of coffee and tries to make himself say the word out loud. "Vampire. That's it, right? That's your animal."
The spoon in Riley's mug clangs when he sets it down again, hard. His eyes have gone bright, clear green, Lindsey notes, and there's color all across his cheeks. Jaw working hard enough for the muscles of his neck to cord up. He looks like he wants to stand up, heave Lindsey through the window that faces on the street and hope he hits concrete when he lands. Lindsey edges his seat back a little, room to move, but he's pretty sure that the moment has passed.
"So, you know anything about horses?" None too subtle change of topic, but he figures Riley's had enough for one Sunday morning. He's hiding more than vampire bites; Lindsey will bet anything on that. It makes him feel on even footing again, both of them hiding a past. Of course, he's let something of his own slip in gaining that. And once the shock wears off, Riley will no doubt begin to wonder how the hell he knows enough about vampires to recognize the markings. He's a bright boy, of that Lindsey is certain.
Picking up his cup again, Lindsey drinks and watches Riley over the rim. Gets himself a small smile in return, worth the effort of dropping things despite wanting to know more. Riley says, "A little, not a whole lot. I ride, but I'm no expert."
"Thinking of taking a look at that gelding. I'll probably ride out there next week. You interested?" Lindsey carries his empty cup over to the sink, waits for his answer. He's wondering about more than Riley's past; he's wondering what it's going to be like with them now. Not just the sex, he can control that part of himself. If he isn't interested in a repeat performance, Riley is still someone Lindsey enjoys spending time with. His curiosity is also piqued, he'll admit that readily.
"Yeah, I might be." That voice comes from right behind him, much further into his personal space than it would be if Riley was shying away from the more physical aspects of the last few hours. Lindsey stays still, lets the other man set the boundaries. Sees Riley's hand slide into his peripheral vision, deposit his own cup in the sink beside Lindsey's and slip back out again before it comes to rest on his shoulder. He turns then, and Riley's right there, not quite the full length of his arm away.
"Something else you might be interested in?" That sounds cheesy, and he can't help the grin that follows as soon as the words are out. Even Riley has to return the smile, accents it with a squeeze on Lindsey's shoulder before he drops his arm to his side.
"That's a distinct possibility." There's relief in his tone, and Lindsey can be glad about that. The tension gone, things are fine right where they stand for the moment. The good feeling from last night, the companionship as much as the rest of it, is something he wants to keep, to cling to. Keep the bad thoughts at bay with pleasant fillers that fit in the places where he's reluctant to look. Decides he should leave now, while things are still on an even keel.
Lindsey leaves Riley standing on the landing outside his door, waves once out the window to him as he pulls into the street and heads back to the ranch. Scans the radio stations for something other than the morning bible broadcasts and finds one playing a strange mix of oldies and blues. Good enough for the ride home with his mind drifting and the truck running on autopilot. Remembers how he thought of Riley as a kindred spirit when he first met him, knows now that they are possibly a little too much alike. Dark pasts and plenty of buried secrets usually makes for a bad combination; adding his own fuel to the bonfire won't make things any easier.
And yet... the easy quiet out on the roof is too alluring, too unique and precious to not try and see if this will work on any level at all. The rest of it, the warm body, the soft touch, the skilled mouth that let him know this wasn't Riley's first time in the blankets with a drinking buddy... that's intriguing in its own right. Lindsey's been without peace of any kind for too long to let it slip away without some effort on his part.
Half smile on his face as he realizes he's talking himself into something he already wants, convincing himself that it's OK to hold on to something good. He turns up the radio and hopes he knows the words to the next song that comes on. He feels like singing.
Feed Lar Visit Lar Return to Writercon Archive Main