Studio 4, NBC Studios, Burbank, California.
In a universe at a slight angle to this one.
Dean is sitting in a make-up chair with his feet up on the counter in front of him. He’s nursing a cup of coffee and a cigarette and passing the time before his studio call by gently berating his assistant Jay for… what was it again? Nothing in particular, but he’s having a pretty good time doing it. Dean likes to keep the old guy entertained while he works, that’s all. Jay’s fussing around, going in and out of the dressing room’s walk-in wardrobe, grabbing little items here and there and generally helping him to get ready for the show. There’s a ball game playing low on the TV but no one’s paying it much by way of attention.
He’s just wondering what the most annoying kind of sandwich to ask for would be when the dressing room door opens and in strolls Mack.
“Dino, look who’s here.”
Mack holds the door open and Dean feels his heart expand when he sees Jerry follow him inside. Right away he notices that Jer is leaning on his cane more heavily than normal. He’s also wearing his glasses, which usually means his head is aching. Dean told him before he left for New York that six days of solid promo was too much and he needed to make time to relax in between, but did he listen? Did he hell. The tension dissolves from Jer’s face when he sees Dean though.
“Hey, bubbe,” he says, with a tired little smile.
“Hey yourself.” Dean kicks his feet off the counter and goes over to Jerry, wrapping him up in an enormous hug. Just before he closes his eyes he sees Mack on his way out, making sure the door is firmly closed behind him. Good man. Jerry’s sweater is soft cashmere and he can feel how beautifully warm he is underneath. He smells of their house and Dean has missed him so much. He feels Jerry shift as he lets more of his weight rest on him, then hears the clatter of his cane dropping to the floor as he slides both arms around his neck and clings.
“Did you miss me?” Jerry’s voice is muffled in his shoulder.
“Maybe a little.” Dean whispers, squeezing him harder and kissing whatever he can reach, which happens to be the side of his neck. He runs a gentle hand up and down his poor spine and presses him closer. Vaguely, he’s aware of Jay bustling back in from the adjoining room.
“Joseph Levitch, if you mess up his hair there’ll be hell to pay! I only just got finished beating it into submission.”
Jerry half withdraws from the hug, leaving one arm slung around Dean’s shoulders.
“Sir yes sir, Mr Gerardi sir!” He gives a little salute.
“Aw Jay, cut it out. I haven’t seen him in six whole days.” Dean complains, the arm wrapped around Jerry’s waist pulling him firmly into his side.
“I know, that’s why I’m getting my warning in early! I know what happens.”
“You’re a rotten fink, you know that Jay?”
“I know, I know. Always spoiling your fun, that’s me.”
“You haven’t even asked me what kind of sandwich I want,” Dean says. He pulls a pouty face and Jerry laughs. Dean turns to him. “You want a sandwich Jer?”
“I could eat a sandwich.” Together they turn to look expectantly at Jay.
“You’re sending me to the commissary now? You’re due on in fifteen minutes!”
“Better get moving then, old timer.”
Jay throws up his hands like there’s a competition to find the most Italian man in the building. He grabs a loose velvet tux tie from the counter in front of Dean’s mirror and presses it into Jerry’s hand on his way out.
“See if you can lasso him with that. God knows I’ve tried my damnedest. And don’t touch the hair!”
Jerry frowns after him.
“How do you want I should lasso him without touching the hair? From the ground up?”
Dean goes to the door and leans out, calling after Jay’s retreating back,
“Hey Jay, I want cheese, thanks for asking!”
“Dairy screws your voice, you’ll have turkey.” He calls back, already halfway down the corridor.
Dean giggles as he closes the door, but the second he turns back to Jerry his expression falls. Jerry’s shoulders have slumped and he looks pale and distracted, as if the moment Jay left he let the mask slip entirely. Dean can see exactly how beat he really is. He sways a little.
“Bubbe, I’m tired.”
Dean doesn’t say anything in reply, just goes to him and holds him. He says quietly in his ear,
“It’s too much, Jer.”
“But I have to. No one else is going to do it right.” He winds his arms around Dean’s neck and cuddles in close, while Dean pets his back and his shoulders, strokes his hair and pretends the wetness he can feel against his throat isn’t breaking his heart. The tears are just caused by tiredness and the frustration Jer feels at the limitations of his own body, he knows that. He also knows it’s better, really, that the frustrations come out like this, safe with him. But he still wants to fix it. When he tips Jer’s face up towards his own he’s met with a rueful little smile.
“Sorry,” he says and raises a hand to wipe at his tears, but Dean gently brushes it aside and thumbs them away himself instead. He’s always considered drying Jer’s tears to be his job, and only his.
“Aw, baby,” he says softly. “Don’t cry.”
Jerry can’t speak, just leans in and gives his mouth a soft, salty kiss.
“C’mon, let’s sit,” Dean says, giving a little nod towards the small, cosy-looking couch in the corner. “Come sit with me and tell me something. Anything.”
He takes Jerry’s hand and leads him over, retrieving his cane from the floor as they go and propping it against the side of the couch, where Jer can reach it if he wants to. Dean piles the cushions against one arm so that Jerry can lie there with his back supported. He sits close by, getting them both settled with Jerry’s legs lying across his lap. He’s wearing a pair of white sneakers and, once they’re both comfortable, Dean starts unlacing them. While he works, Jerry rests his head against the pillows and gives a deep, sleepy sigh. Dean drops each shoe to the floor when he’s done, one… two. He rubs his warm hand over the top of each foot, careful to soothe and not tickle. He slowly traces the delicate bones of each ankle, runs his fingertips up under the hem of Jer’s pants, just far enough to meet bare skin. Jerry touches his arm.
“You feel okay about the show, Paul?”
“What show?” Dean asks, distracted. Jerry huffs a little laugh. “Oh, that show. No problem. It’ll be over soon and we can go home.”
Jerry smiles at him like he’s looking at a crazy person and shakes his head.
“You’re still so….” He reaches out to touch Dean’s hair, but remembers Jay’s instruction at the last moment and stops himself. He takes hold of Dean’s left hand instead; even after all this time it still thrills him that he needs to use both of his own hands to envelop one of Dean’s. Never gets old. He strokes his palm, plays with his fingers, slides his thumb back and forth underneath the bracelet of his wristwatch.
“What do you need from me?” He asks.
“You mean always or right now?”
“Nothing. Just a kiss when it’s over.”
“Okay.” Jerry pauses, still looking down at Dean’s hand. “Can I interest you in a kiss before it starts too?”
Dean turns to him and pretends to look shocked; if he were wearing pearls, he’d be clutching them.
“Why, that’s very forward of you Mr Looseleaf,” he says.
Jerry glances up and shrugs a little shyly, smiles at him slowly with his heart on his sleeve and his tired eyes glimmering. Out of the blue all Dean’s desire to joke around just evaporates. For a moment he’s back in his twenties again, those vagabond days in New York. Newly besotted with this sweet starveling kid who won’t leave him alone. The vision fades away as easily as it came and he’s left with nothing but that old feeling in the pit of his stomach; that old flying, falling, dissolving feeling. The one that makes him close his eyes and think,
O help me Holy Mary, Mother of God. I am laid waste by love for this boy.
Dean can’t find any words to explain the sudden shift in his mood. What could he say? 'The light caught your eyes and the last twenty years vanished'? Luckily he doesn’t need to say anything: he sees the change in his own expression mirrored in Jer’s. A tiny, questioning look flits across his face then resolves into a smile as Dean leans closer, and he hums happily as he realises he’s getting his kiss. Dean slides both hands into his hair, slipping them in between his head and the pillows, cupping his whole skull in his palms. His thumbs stroke the soft skin just in front of his ears. He presses their lips together, tastes salt and shivers.
Jerry moves one leg out of his lap, sliding it up to press into the back of the couch, then down behind Dean so that he can twist and lie between his open legs, face to face. Dean settles, adjusts his grip, kisses him again. His thumbs find the points where Jer’s jaw hinges; he presses softly to open him up, kisses again. He wants. Shifts. Kisses deeper. Pushes. Wants. Steals a moan from his mouth and swallows it whole, greedy.
Jerry’s hands are up underneath Dean’s jacket, clawing blunt nails through his shirt and into his back, pulling him closer. He can feel Jer’s chest starting to heave tight against his own because he’s been forgetting to breathe. He forces himself to ease back a little and Jer uses the space to pull in a breath. On the exhale he whispers,
“I want you.”
Dean shudders, trying to keep himself in check. He has to play it innocent, for his own sake. He looks down into Jer’s sweet, flushed face. Dark eyes and swollen lips. Dean says,
“You’ve got me,”
“No, no… I want you.”
“God Jer, don’t.” He closes his eyes and rests their brows together.
“I been so lonely.” He feels Jer very slowly drawing one leg right up, bent knee brushing against his ribs, his body cradling him, coaxing him in. “Missed you. Needed you.”
Dean should kiss him again just to shut him up but he can’t seem to move.
“And I didn’t do anything by myself,” he whispers. “I was so good… not even my fingers. Nothing, the whole time. Just lay there at night, wanting my Paul. Only you.”
Dean groans and buries his face in Jer’s neck, sets his teeth to his throat and kisses and kisses and kisses him.
“I… fuck, that’s… I missed you… ahh… so bad everything was just aching, all the time. ’Cause I’m yours, Paul.” Jer whispers, stroking the nape of Dean’s neck. “I know who I belong to. And I know there’s no time now, but later. Promise you’ll show me later, how I’m yours.”
Dean lifts his head, overwhelmed.
“I promise, baby,” he says, and means it. Jerry’s smile lights up the room. He strokes Dean’s jaw.
“Good.” He says, tracing one finger over Dean’s lips. “You okay, bubbe?”
“Okay, he says! I need a damn ice bath or we’ll be taken off air for obscenity.”
“Well, I don’t think we have time for an ice bath.” Jerry says, looking unfairly amused. “Just think about Jay in the shower, real sudsy. That oughta cool you down.”
“Oh, Christ.” Dean screws up his face. “Yeah, that’s helping.”
Jerry giggles “Sorry Paul” while Dean disentangles their limbs and sits up. He pulls Jerry’s legs across his lap again and runs a hand over his own hot face.
“Talk about something else for a while, Jer. Help me out here.”
Jerry’s shifting, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
“Ahh, okay. So… uh, what numbers are you singing today?” He pulls one from the pack, lights it and and passes it to Dean.
“Mack didn’t tell you? Thanks.”
“No, he was about as talkative as usual.”
“Figures. Well, the first one’s pretty silly, I reckon.” He’s idly stroking Jerry’s leg because he can’t quite bear to stop touching him, but he can feel his heart rate slowing. This is good. The cigarette helps; the fact that it’s one of Jer’s somehow helps more. “It’s cute enough though. Big production number. They got the poor girls dressed up as flowers this time.” He shakes his head. ”The second one though. I think you’ll like the second one.”
“I always like ‘em, Paul.”
“Well, maybe you’ll like it even more. It’s for you.”
“For me?” Jer beams.
Dean stops his aimless stroking and runs his hand possessively all the way up the whole length of Jerry’s leg right to his hip, which he squeezes. Jer closes his eyes and snuggles his shoulders back into the soft pillows, his toes wriggling in pleasure. Being petted like this always sends him into raptures, no matter how tired he is. He basks in it like a cat in the sun.
“I do deserve a song, Paul. I been working very hard.”
“I know you have, Jer. Too hard.” Dean says, moving his hand across to Jerry’s belly and rubbing gentle circles there. His eyes fall to a scrap of black velvet lying next to them on the couch. “Oh, hey, you got a job to do here. Don’t forget.”
“Hmm, what?” He opens one eye, follows Dean’s line of sight. “Oh, the tie! Jeez, Jay would’ve killed me.” He struggles to sit up quickly, swinging his legs down off Dean’s lap. He sways for a second and Dean reaches out to steady him.
“Phew, headrush.” Now they’re sitting up face to face, he glances down at Dean’s clothes. “You’re real crumpled, Paul.”
“Well, we all know whose fault that is.”
“Boy oh boy,” Jerry says, ignoring his words and running a hand down Dean’s creased shirtfront in faux disapproval, “is Jay ever gonna be mad at you.” He tuts and shakes his head. Dean just purses his lips at him in fond exasperation. Taking the tie from him, Jerry threads it carefully under his collar. He watches Jer’s face as he concentrates on tying the tie, deft fingers wrapping and looping like a pro. He always was better at this. It makes Dean feel nostalgic.
“Hey, Jer.” He says reaching out a hand to touch his thigh. “Do you remember when we started out, and we wore tuxedos for the first time? And I didn’t know how to work the tie?”
“Sure I remember. But you never wore one before, how were you s’posed to know?
“Might’ve bet the child star would have it covered.”
“Heh! I been tying tux ties since I was knee high to a grasshopper, boy.”
“You used to have to stand behind me in the mirror, though. Remember that? With your arms over my shoulders. Said you had to pretend it was your neck you were working on, or you’d get it all backwards.”
“Mmm-hmmm.” Jerry suddenly looks very interested in some lint on Dean’s lapel. Dean eyes him suspiciously.
“Well. Um. That may not have been strictly true.”
“I… didn’t really need to do it like that. It did help! But I’d been tying them for my Dad before I had my own even. I could do it upside-down, sideways with one hand tied behind my back if I needed to.”
“Mr Loomis, you took advantage of me!” Dean says looking honestly more impressed than annoyed. “You took advantage of me, and you waited twenty years to confess.”
“I did. It was a poor excuse to cop a feel on a semi-regular basis. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Forgive you? I’m proud of you.” Dean grins at him and Jerry laughs. Just then they hear voices outside the door, followed by a loud knock.
“Here’s the cavalry.” Jerry says, then yells, “come in, you old pair of hound dogs!”
Mack opens the door and holds it wide for Jay, who enters carrying a big tray loaded with plates of sandwiches and a few bottles of beer and soda.
“You fellas going to have a party while I’m out there working?” Dean asks, frowning at the tray.
“Nah, just planning to be in here for the long haul.” Mack says. “Jerry’s been seen.”
“Aw, shit,” says Dean, standing up from the couch. “That again? I told you, I don’t care who sees him.” He stubs out his cigarette with a little more aggression than it deserved.
“I know that Dino, but NBC does care.” Mack replies, a sympathetic expression on his weatherbeaten face. He turns to Jerry. “Apparently a couple of the dancers saw you Jer, and news spread like wildfire. I’m sorry, I should have hidden you better on the way in.”
“No your fault Mack, don’t worry about it.” Jerry says simply, before turning his attention to Dean. “I don’t mind staying in here Paul, it’s fine. I’m tired. Anyway, I seen your schtick a million times already. Honestly I’m bored with it, but I was too polite to say.” He smiles.
Dean smiles back, grateful for the ocean of kindness between them that lets them navigate this kind of bullshit without hurting one another’s feelings.
“Show’ll be over in no time.” Dean says, putting a fresh cigarette in his mouth and patting his pockets for a light. “Then we can get out of here, go home.”
“It’s fine Paul, forget about it. Try the inside.”
Dean reaches into his inside pocket and pulls out a slim gold lighter. It lies in the palm of his hand and he stares at it for a moment like he’s never seen it before.
“How does he always know?” He says, almost to himself. “Ah Jer, come watch if you want. I don’t care about those guys. Fuck ‘em.”
“Paul, if I go out there they’ll be all over me. I don’t want it today. Besides, I got Jay here to keep me entertained, right Jay?”
“Oh sure, I’ll do you a tap dance.”
“I was thinking more of a knitting circle, but okay.”
There’s a loud knock at the door, it cracks open and Greg the producer peers into the room looking mildly harassed.
“Ready for you Dino.”
Jerry grins up at Dean from the couch.
“Go get ‘em bubbe.”
Dean pauses and looks down at him for a long moment. Ah Christ, but he’s beautiful. It still feels strange, even after all this time, to be doing this without him. He knows Jer misses performing but, like he always says, he’d rather be a perfect director than a busted comic. He seems happy, though. Wait, not ‘seems’. Is. Dean knows this. They have a life and careers and a jigsaw puzzle of a family. They have a house by the ocean, and the truth at the heart of everything is just that they make each other very happy. Everything else gets so needlessly complicated, but Dean loves the simplicity of that one thing. He could live in it forever. Everyone else can fall into the sea, for all he cares.
Dean reckons that being in love with same person for a long, long time is a little like the therapy Jerry dragged him to years ago: a complicated process of finding out that you’re a lot simpler than you thought you were.
“See you later, sweetheart.” Dean says with a smile. He turns to go, but Jerry calls after him.
“Don’t forget, later. You got something to show me.”
Dean grins at him, runs a hand over his hair and touches his bowtie.
“Promise,” he says. He blows Jerry a kiss and follows Greg out into the long corridor, towards Studio 4 and away from the only man in the entire world still capable of making him blush.