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    Whizzer’s plan had been to go out, have a good time, a couple drinks and a few dances, and then… well, same as any night out since the breakup and more than a few nights out before the breakup, he’d find someone who wanted him for a quick screw, maybe even someone to go home with.

 

    He didn’t go home with them, when he was with Marvin-- not their home, his home. No reason not to now that he isn’t. Hasn’t been, for a while, hasn’t been tied down. He likes sleeping in a bed with someone, he’d gotten too used to it. His own bed is big, and it’s empty, and it’s cold. Flat. He has a half a dozen pillows and it’s not the same as having a man.

 

    A man’s convenient. Warm. Maybe you get in another round in the morning, which Marvin was always good for, he has to give him that. Even if they’d fought the night before, Marvin was always good for it in the morning. A good fight the night before meant even better sex, they’d get each other worked up and then they’d work out all that tension in bed and wind up in each other’s arms, the afterglow would be all bliss. Marvin would call him baby, talk sweet to him like he couldn’t remember what they’d fought about. And sometimes Whizzer would forget, himself… he never did remember who had started it. He figures it was probably about half and half, they had that way. When the fighting was good, there weren’t really hard feelings, it was all a kind of theatre. It was easy and it was fun. 

 

    When the fighting was real, it was… different. When they learned what to lash out at to make it hurt. Whenever he starts to miss the good times, he reminds himself of the bad ones.

 

    Sometimes it works. He remembers things Marvin said or demands Marvin made, or faults Marvin had, and he thinks he’s better off like this, the way he used to live before. Unattached, free and easy. Beholden to no one. He has a pretty charmed life on the whole, lots of people would think so. But he doesn’t have a family, and with Marvin…

 

    Sometimes thinking of the bad times backfires, and he remembers the ways the bad times were not only Marvin’s fault. Marvin was an asshole, yeah, but so was Whizzer. He knew what he was doing, pushing and pushing him, but it was easier to push things to the breaking point than wonder when he’d lose his appeal. If he pushed, it was still in his control, and it was hard to imagine… it was hard to imagine being loved. It was hard to imagine having a family he could keep. He never got to keep a family before.

 

    Marvin could have loved him, he thinks, if he’d been ready to let himself be loved. Marvin certainly asked to be loved often enough, but Whizzer was afraid to give it, too. 

 

    He regrets that. 

 

    But he doesn’t look for another relationship, when he goes out. Just another warm body, just something to get him through another lonely night, just another something fun when things wear on. While he’s still got the kind of youthful looks that get him his drinks for free-- at least in nightclub lighting, he can shave five years off, sometimes more, and guys will buy it. They don’t look for the holes in his story, they don’t look for the truth, they just want a pretty boy to hang onto them and make them feel good, and he can be that boy. And if he looks a little older in the morning, well… he can claim someone kept him from his beauty sleep, and he’s having a rough, hungover kind of a start to his day.

 

    It’s not fulfilling, but it’s safe. Giving his heart away? No thank you, never again.

 

    He’s moving towards the line outside the place when he hears a sound he wishes he didn’t know so well. Fist meets flesh, not even a cry of pain just someone getting the wind knocked out of him, ugly jeering. He peels off and heads down the alley, spots two men on one-- a smaller man, down on the ground now, just a huddled shape.

 

    “Hey! Big boy! You wanna dance? Why don’t you try me on for size?” He shouts. The second the first guy turns around, Whizzer’s on him-- strike to the throat, knee to the groin, he’s not playing clean when it’s two on one, heel of his hand to the solar plexus, punch to the gut, one down before number two stops kicking the man on the ground.

 

    Number two knocks him for a loop, so he breaks the asshole’s nose. The guy comes back up with a broken bottle, Whizzer grabs his arm before he can get very far with it, slams him into the wall with an elbow in his neck and then to the ground, steps on the hand holding the bottle and spits out a mouthful of blood, shakes off the ringing in his head. Probes at a couple teeth with his tongue, but they’re not loose, he just cut his cheek against the crooked one in the back. Blood up, adrenaline singing, if he doesn't get in tonight to dance because he lost his spot in the line to do this, he doesn't even care. He's living.

 

    “After three rounds, I pull a knife, asshole. You wanna go again?” He asks, watching the two stagger up to their feet. He doesn’t have a knife, unless you count a very small pocketknife he mostly uses to open bottles and neaten his nails, but he’s not expecting his bluff to get called after what he did empty-handed, against the two of them. “You wanna go again? Try me, fucking try me. You picked the wrong club, baby. You don’t mess with the boys here!”

 

    “Hey, fuck you.” The man without the broken nose says, but he doesn’t come within swinging range. 

 

    “Honey, you couldn’t handle me.”

 

    He gives them a minute to get good and gone, before he turns his attention to picking up their victim, a shaking lump in a bad suit.

 

    “Come on, tough guy, first time?” He coos, getting him up on his feet, helping him to lean against the wall and brushing some of the schmutz off. “Can I put you in a cab, you know your own address or do you need--”

 

    His eyes finally make it to the stranger’s face, and the stranger isn’t. Even past the ugly bruises forming, the split lip and the blood, even after a year and a half, he recognizes Marvin in an instant. 

 

    “Whizzer…”

 

    “Oh… honey.” He swallows. “Hey… let’s get you home.”

 

    “It’s not.” Marvin shakes his head. “I mean, I don’t… I’m not at the house.”

 

    “Shh, shh… forget it. You come with me, I-- it’s fine.”

 

    It’s not. It’s not remotely fine, nothing about this situation is. And the last thing Whizzer wants is to be taking care of his ex, he remembers exactly what taking care of Marvin was like… but what’s he supposed to do? Send him home alone in the state he’s in?

 

    Besides… he’s been thinking about him lately. It’s not a constant thing nowadays, but it happens every so often. He doesn’t just think about Marvin-- even when he’s thinking about Marvin, he’s thinking about more than Marvin. But it feels serendipitous, in a pretty lousy way. Lousy for Marvin, mostly.

 

    They could get along for one night. If anything’s broken, he’ll drop him off at the ER and they’ll go their separate ways, but if it’s just bruising, he may as well take care of him at home.

 

    Anyway, if you can’t cancel your night out for an ex in trouble, what kind of man are you?

 

    Marvin doesn’t make even a token argument, which isn’t like the Marvin he remembers. He wishes he would… he wishes he wasn’t so…

 

    Broken.

 

    A year and a half ago, he was half ready to sock Marvin in the mouth himself, not that he really would have. He doesn’t think he ever would have. Now that someone else has done it, he just feels sick. Well, and everything else, besides. Marvin at his worst never deserved this.

 

    The ride back to Whizzer’s place is quiet, Marvin is quiet. Whizzer gets him up the stairs, gets him onto the sofa. Marvin’s quiet, and too still, as Whizzer goes about cleaning him up, as he does what he can for cuts and bruises. He winces, hisses in pain now and then, but he barely responds. 

 

    “Come on, Marvin.” He sighs, the quiet getting under his skin deep. “Growl at me, something. When’s the last time we went this long without a fight?”

 

    “It wasn’t always bad.” He says, raising his eyes-- or at least, the one he can open-- to meet Whizzer’s.

 

    “No. I guess not.” Whizzer trails his fingertips gently over the few unbruised places he can find. “It’s good to see you. I mean, not like this, but… I don’t know. I mean… there are guys I’d like running into again less.”

 

    “Sure, like those two from the alley.”

 

    He snorts. “Yeah. But I meant, guys I’ve been with I like less. I know how things ended… but you’re not the worst I’ve had.”

 

    “Don’t make this even more depressing.” Marvin groans. 

 

    “How is that more depressing? It’s a favorable comparison.”

 

    “Yeah. And I remember how lousy I was. I don’t like the thought of some guy being even worse than me.”

 

    And there’s the real danger, with Marvin… the moments when he says something real, and sweet, with that look on his face, that hangdog look. The Marvin who exists behind the facade, behind the guy who throws around his money on you and makes demands… the one who’s not sure how long he can fake being enough. Whizzer never knew how to tell him it was the real Marvin who was worth knowing. 

 

    Well, Whizzer never knew how to be the real Whizzer, either, how not to worry about his own facade, and how to be enough. And he liked the money, even if it wasn’t what he liked about Marvin. It was exciting, getting spoiled-- it was exciting, having a man who looked at him in the cold, hard light of day with the same dazzled desire as other men did in the dark. Who wanted to treat him to things, who wanted to bring him home. Who wanted…

 

    They both wanted things they could never talk about. It was too raw, to be so vulnerable, to be the first to fall in love. To want too much. He wanted too much, and Marvin made the mistake of giving it to him, giving him just enough of it to make him hungry for the whole package. Giving him a taste of the life he never imagined he could have, one with a family, a kid… with every night in bed with the same man. Was it any wonder he freaked out? Was it any wonder he pushed back? Was it any wonder he ran?

 

    He knew eventually it would catch up to him. He’d push Marvin too far and Marvin would kick him out. And then… Marvin kept letting him. He’d fuck someone in a nightclub bathroom and come home stinking of booze and cheap cologne and sex, and Marvin would let him sleep in his bed… Whizzer would wait for him to fight, would watch his jaw tighten, would watch him frown and stare off into the distance, and he’d wait for the blow-up and the blow-up wouldn’t come. 

 

    Sometimes he’d sneer out a few choice words Whizzer had worked to earn, sometimes he’d say ‘so help me, Whizzer, if you give me the fucking clap’ and Whizzer would laugh at him until he left the room, sometimes he’d say ‘are you done being a slut’ and Whizzer would pop the P on a ‘nope’ hard, looking like the cat that got the cream, and they’d stand there, chests puffed, tension high, inches between them, and he would wait for the thrill of a fight, only to see something fizzle out behind Marvin’s eyes, only to catch a little redness, and just like that it would be over. Marvin would tell him to shower, please, before coming to their bed, and Whizzer would, feeling ashamed instead of fulfilled.

 

    He must have loved him, trying to hold on so long, letting himself be hurt. Sure, Whizzer hurt, too. But then… he’d loved Marvin enough to try and hold on, too. Even as he’d pushed him away with one hand, he’d be holding on tight with the other. Desperate to know Marvin could care, but always pretending he didn’t want him to.

 

    “Most of ‘em were worse than you. But they never got more than one night.” He shrugs. “Let me get your shirt off.”

 

    He waits for the rejoinder, a cheap joke about the sexual nature of their relationship, or ex-relationship.

 

    Marvin just… lets him.

 

    Nothing’s busted, at least, but he hates seeing it. And the bruises are forming everywhere. Fists, feet...

 

    “Anything else hurt?” He asks, does his best not to freak out about the extent of it, the possibility for real injury to Marvin’s kidneys, even without any broken ribs. It’s probably worse, he doesn’t know. He’s never gotten hurt this bad. He’s seen a couple friends take lumps, a couple strangers, but this… Shit, they could have kept going, if he hadn’t come by, they could have…

 

    Some guys get caught in the wrong alley and never make it out. 

 

    The thought gives him chills, makes him want to go back out and hunt down the assholes who did it. Marvin… his cautious, sometimes-stodgy Marvin, he should be the last guy who gets caught in an alley by guys like that. And Whizzer’s the last guy who should be taking care of another person, if he’s honest. He’s good at the part where he swoops in and knocks a guy out and plays the hero to some new boy or ex-closet case who hasn't yet learned to hit back, and if it’s not bad he might buy a guy a drink to calm down, call him a cab and make sure he knows someone who can patch him up if he’s in rough shape but his head’s still on his shoulders. He can do first aid, if it comes to that, but a little emergency first aid in a nightclub bathroom with a handful of wet paper towels is one thing, taking someone in the shape Marvin’s in home is something else. 

 

    But what else can he do? And he needs to know… he needs to know he’s going to be okay.

 

    “I don’t know.” Marvin groans, and takes stock of himself. “Everything.”

 

    “Can you take a leak?”

 

    “... What?”

 

    “I want to know if your kidneys are screwed up, hon.”

 

    Marvin shakes his head. “What do you think I was doing in the alley?”

 

    “The Marvin I know, taking a leak in the alley?”

 

    “There was a couple fucking in the bathoom, where was I supposed to go, the dance floor?”

 

    “There’s the man I remember.” Whizzer smiles. He may look like a walking bruise, but there’s his fire. It’s all a lot less scary as long as he’s got just a little fire.

 

    “I pissed on that guy’s shoe. He spun me around to punch me in the face and I just… I mean, I was already… the guy who kept working me over when you showed up, I, uh… A little.”

 

    Marvin says it all without so much as a flicker of a smile, but Whizzer can’t help laughing. “If anyone deserves it… Hey. I’m gonna get you a glass of water. Gotta know if you need the ER tonight.”

 

    He nods, and he’s still not quite himself, not with any consistency, but… Well, but what else is Whizzer gonna do? He can leave him, it’s not like he didn’t leave him sitting alone while he got his first aid kit, some towels and warm water to clean him up.

 

    He gets him to drink a couple full glasses of water, helps him sip slow at it, careful of his split lip. Gets him out of his trousers and rubs a little arnica into the bruises down one thigh. Remembers the last time he was rubbing Marvin’s thigh, under very different circumstances, a year and a half back. The last time it was really good between them. 

 

    Well, they were fighting, but it was foreplay fighting, that time. Mostly, at least. And he was working his way up a thigh because he figured he could win, if he did. Marvin always liked to get the last word, but Marvin could be distracted. And Marvin loved having Whizzer get between his thighs… loved having them massaged at, loved having his balls played with, loved having Whizzer kneel down and spread his legs wide before going to town on him. There were a few things he didn’t love, and some he didn’t do at all, one notable thing he did not let Whizzer do with his tongue, but the things he loved he was a sucker for, and if Whizzer played him just right? Oh, he’d fold like a card table if he thought he was going to get what he really wanted. And he was so weak for a blowjob. The way he’d beg if Whizzer played every move just right… the way he’d play with his hair and the noises he’d make...

 

    Those times were fun, when they didn’t play to hurt each other with it. When Whizzer would bat his eyes and pout, and slide his hand up, lick his lips, and Marvin’s legs would fall open so fast. He’d forget they were still arguing. And if Whizzer timed it just right, every once in a while he could get the last word in, and Marvin’s only rejoinder would be ‘oh fuck, oh Whizzer, oh god’, maybe a ‘baby, I’m gonna--’. 

 

    He can’t let himself fall into this trap, remembering the best parts… this isn’t getting back together, this isn’t even an ill-advised night of passion with an ex-lover, this is… 

 

    This is as far from sexy as it gets. Marvin feels a million miles away, and the bruises are already so livid.

 

    Whizzer gets Marvin into a set of pajamas, realizes too late these were pajamas Marvin bought him. One of the early presents, the teal and bronze paisley with the cream piping… they’d felt like absolute luxury, and Mavin used to touch him through the silk, hands roaming over his chest and sides, and tell him how good he looked… how good he felt. Marvin would ask if he could buy him pretty things, fancy things, as if the answer would ever be ‘no’. Those pajamas, and the dressing gown, and the slippers. That tie tack, gold with the little polished brown agate, and the presents dizzied him enough, but it was the way Marvin leaned in and said ‘it reminded me of you’ that really had Whizzer gone…

 

    It’s never been in his nature to throw out a gift just because he’s soured on the giver, not if it’s a thing he likes. But he’ll admit, with the gifts he kept from Marvin… there are times he gets a little sentimental. Marvin couldn’t be trusted to know fashion himself, but he knew quality. He just didn’t care about it. The things he bought for Whizzer never went together-- the dressing gown and slippers clash horribly with the pajamas!-- but they were always quality things. 

 

    And sometimes, he pulls one of those gifts out of his drawer, and he thinks of the way Marvin once said ‘it brings out your eyes’, and he spends the day feeling even more confident than usual.

 

    “... Thanks.” Marvin looks up at him, uncertain. A little more present, a little more himself, only not his old self.

 

    “Most comfortable thing I own.” Whizzer shrugs. “Marv… you doing okay? You’re not too out of it? Be real with me, you need a doctor?”

 

    “No. No, it’s just… I’ve never been beaten up before. Not like… not like that. Once or twice in school, but that wasn’t… These guys were just waiting for the next person to come out of the bar like…”

 

    “Yeah. Why do you think I learned how to fight?”

 

    “The things they said… I mean I’ve heard all those words before. I’ve used a couple of them to describe myself. But…”

 

    “Not like that.” He nods. 

 

    “He said… if I died tonight-- if I-- if I--”

 

    Whizzer folds his arms gently around Marvin, horror and fury rising in him. Whether it was a serious threat or just meant to scare him, if he’d known… he’d have broken more. Maybe a wrist. Maybe an ankle. He’d have done more, fought dirtier. Done real damage. Made them think twice about bashing anyone else, sure, but…

 

    If he had known, he’d have put the old-school fear of God into them both, and the fear of Whizzer Brown moreover. He’d have left them for someone else to find and call an ambulance for, just like they’d have done, if he hadn’t heard when he did.

 

    “Hey, hey… you’re safe, honey, I gotcha.” Whizzer promises. “I’m here now. Nobody else is gonna hurt you tonight, no one’s gonna look at you. You’re with me, I got you.”

 

    “That no one would miss me. And who would?” He sobs, a little hysterical. “No one.”

 

    “Shut your fucking mouth.” He says, with his lips to Marvin’s temple. “He doesn’t know you, he’s just a fucking homophobe.”

 

    “Beaten to death outside a gay bar, my so-called friends wouldn’t mourn me, my son would be ashamed, my ex-wife could only be better off if it had happened three years ago--”

 

    “I said shut your fucking mouth, Jason would miss you. Hell, I would miss you. No one would be better off without you. Don’t let that asshole get to you that way.”

 

    “You’d have been better off without me.”

 

    “Would you have been better off without me?”

 

    “God no.” He brings one arm up around Whizzer. “God no.”

 

    “Well… me neither.”

 

    “All I wanted was to get out… get out for one night. That’s all I wanted. God, I get so lonely.”

 

    “You must be, going cruising on a Tuesday night when you go to work at nine on a Wednesday morning.”

 

    “I can get through a Monday.” His chest heaves in a sob, he folds himself smaller against Whizzer. “Tuesday starts to get hard. That’s all. Wednesday’s a fucking nightmare and I’m too low. I go out Tuesdays and Thursdays, if I go out.”

 

    He hadn’t been prepared for jealousy. The last thing he thought he’d ever feel was jealousy, over what Marvin might do with his time after they parted. But the mental images that flash before him on learning Marvin goes cruising up to twice a week… Does he look for men that remind him of Whizzer? Or the opposite? Neither picture pleases. Marvin cozying up to someone younger and prettier, it makes him sick. Marvin taking some boy to bed and saying all the sweet things he once said, Marvin prepared to flash a little money and pay for drinks so someone soft and lovely will suck his brains out through his dick-- not half as well as Whizzer used to! It makes him sick.

 

    Marvin, with someone big and rough who paws at him and takes control, it makes him sicker. Marvin, fawning over a tough guy act, letting another man do the things they used to or the things they never used to, he can’t think about it too long, it fills him with a fury he knows is beyond hypocritical.

 

    “Didn’t know that was your scene. You always seemed eager to leave. If we were at places like that.” He says, his tone careful.

 

    “I’m eager to leave when I go now.” He shrugs a little, and Whizzer’s stomach feels small. Marvin grabbing someone’s hand, promising a hotel room-- or do they go back to his place? He no longer has a wife to worry about.

 

    “Still. The middle of the week, Marv. What happened to mister responsible?”

 

    “Mister responsible sees his son on weekends. Only on weekends.”

 

    “Oh. Shit. Yeah, I get it.” Whizzer blows out a sigh. There’s not much he can do to comfort, he stops himself rubbing Marvin’s back, pictures the pattern of bruises too clearly. “Got your weekends booked. Hell… if I had a kid I guess I’d-- I wouldn’t bring guys around if I wasn’t sure. It’s different if you’re sure about him, but…”

 

    “I don’t bring anyone home.” Marvin’s laugh is hollow. “Haven’t, since…”

 

    “Since who? Some guy who hurt you? I’ll beat him up for you too if he did, I’m two for two.” He jokes.

 

    “Nah.” Marvin’s hand tightens in his shirt. “I, uh… I sent him packing. I don’t know who hurt who worse… I’d let him hurt me again, if he asked.”

 

    “Don’t let guys hurt you. You can do better. You don’t need that.”

 

    Another laugh that’s not a laugh. “Me, do better? You do remember me, don’t you? I wasn’t pretty before the beating. And I’m a bear to deal with. I was. No one’s dealt with me much in long enough I couldn’t say how well I’ve changed. I’ve tried to change. But I’m no catch, you know that.”

 

    “Still. Don’t let some guy hurt you. I don’t care if he’s pretty, he’s not worth it.”

 

    “He’s really damn pretty.”

 

    “Plenty of pretty boys out there. Guy like you could charm ‘em easy.”

 

    “I’m not really looking for just some pretty boy. That’s not why I’d let him hurt me. Mostly I’d let him hurt me because I probably deserve it, call it karma. No… mostly I’d let him hurt me because it hurts worse to be alone. Mostly I’d let him hurt me because he’s a good man, he just doesn’t know any more than I do about love. I wish I’d seen it before it was too late. I wish I’d seen myself for what I was when I had half a chance.”

 

    “You were in love with him?” The bottom drops out of Whizzer’s world. It’s not fair to be upset, and it’s not fair to be surprised. Eighteen months, Marvin’s had plenty of time to find love and lose it. What did he expect when he saw him again, that he might have spent a year and a half pining away? Whizzer didn’t spend that time pining. Marvin’s not something he can put on a shelf and have again whenever he wants, Marvin’s a person, it’s unfair to imagine he would wait around for Whizzer to sweep back in and decide to take him for another spin-- that’s not even what Whizzer’s wanted. He shouldn’t be surprised if Marvin’s been out having a life without him. And he shouldn’t be jealous.

 

    But he is.

 

    “I still am.” He snorts, shifts a little to lay his head more carefully against Whizzer’s shoulder, to take some pressure of some of his bruises. “God, does it ever stop?”

 

    “No. I guess not.” Whizzer closes his eyes against the sting of wetness that never quite becomes tears. Not enough to gather and fall. How many times has he felt that sting and no catharsis? “Not if you find it. I guess it doesn’t.”

 

    “You hung up on someone now, Whizzer? He treat you okay?”

 

    “He doesn’t treat me any kind of way. Love’s not what I do.”

 

    “You ever want to?”

 

    “I don’t know.” He lies, and hates himself for lying even now, when he should scream yes, I want it. Yes, I loved you. Yes, I love you still. A thousand other men, but I only love you. “I guess I want to belong with somebody. But that’s not the same.”

 

    “It’s not so different.”

 

    “Go make sure you’re not pissing blood so I don’t have to drag your ass to the emergency room. I’ll still be here when you get back.”

 

    “Oh, yes, Sir.” Marvin says, feels good to hear that teasing tone back. He can’t deal with a Marvin who won’t tease a little, at least. 

 

    Whizzer helps him to his feet, and walks him over to the bathroom, and then leaves him his privacy. Wanders far enough that he doesn’t feel like some kind of creep listening in, but not so far he couldn’t sprint over if Marvin called out. If he fell or anything. But he doesn’t fall. He comes out able to shuffle along on his own two feet.

 

    “Kidneys good?”

 

    “Seem to be.”

 

    “Good. Great. No ER tonight. Yay.”

 

    “I can get a cab home--”

 

    “No, come on, Marvin, don’t-- No. Are you kidding me? It’s late. You’re hurt. You’re staying. You can’t go home alone like this, what if something happens? And what are you going to do, crash at your ex-wife’s place at this hour?”

 

    “God no-- I mean, she’d kill me, Mendel would-- I don’t want to contemplate, he’s too neurotic to handle all this, in the middle of the night. And Jason…”

 

    “You’re right. Jason…”

 

    “I just hope by the weekend I look… It’s still going to be bad, isn’t it? Kid shouldn’t have to see… Not like…”

 

    “It’ll be… not great. But not this bad.” He barely touches Marvin’s face, avoids the bruising. “Better, since you’re letting me look out for you.”

 

    “All right.”

 

    “How-- how’s the kid?”

 

    “Good. I mean… for twelve. He’s handling the whole… thing. He likes Mendel okay, which is good. I get jealous, sometimes, worrying he likes Mendel too much, and I don’t have a shrink to talk to about those feelings anymore, but Jason’s okay.”

 

    “There has to be a better shrink than Mendel in this city.”

 

    “Last one I went to wasn’t great. I haven’t tried for lucky number three.” Marvin’s voice is tight enough Whizzer doesn’t ask. “He misses you. Jason, I mean.”

 

    As if seeing Marvin didn’t hit hard enough… “Tell him hi from me, then. Tell him… I miss him, too.”

 

    “He’d, uh… he’d probably like to talk to you. I don’t know if that’s--”

 

    “Yeah. I mean… would that be okay?” Whizzer’s heart lifts, hope against bitter experience. It would be good to see Jason again, or to talk to him… he hadn’t meant to love Marvin’s kid, he’d assumed from the start they’d be temporary, but the moment he’d crawled out of his world of nothing-but-Marvin and really seen him, he’d adored the boy. Jason was his father in miniature, in a lot of ways, Jason was the best parts of his father. True, he had his mother’s eyes, but he had the same cautious sweetness and armor of sass, shared a love of rules and order and games like chess, and moments of oddness Whizzer could only say was very them and not very anyone else he knew. Jason gave him a glimpse at what Marvin must have been once upon a time, before the world could damage him, but he was his own person, a boy who needed some kindness in a difficult time. A boy Whizzer could try and keep the world from damaging too badly, the way no one did for him.

 

    “It’s okay with me.”

 

    “Is it going to be a problem with his mother?”

 

    “She doesn’t need to know.” Marvin shakes his head.

 

    “Ah-ah. No, Sir. I’ve heard ‘she doesn’t need to know’ before and it never ends well. Is it going to be a problem?”

 

    “No. If you give me your number when I go I can pass it on to Jason. Just… if he needs advice he doesn’t think I can give-- or doesn’t think Mendel can. I don’t know what, but… there’s a lot I’m not the best at. And he trusts you. And… he misses you. He just misses you ‘cause he loved you. Loves you.”

 

    “Sure. I’d like that. I’d-- a lot. I mean, you know I-- maybe we couldn’t make the long haul, but I still love Jason, I think he’s a great kid. And I’d like that. You, um… you want anything, or are you ready to hit the hay?”

 

    “Oh, um…”

 

    “You can take the bed.” He adds, seeing Marvin cast around helplessly. “C’mon, what, I’m gonna put you on the couch after the night you’ve had? It’s this way.”

 

    And he takes the excuse, to slide a careful arm around Marvin, and walks him back to his bedroom, to his bed. It’s a nice room, airy and serene, big mirrors to open the space up, a white ceiling. Celadon green walls and a canopy bed, just enough gauzy fabric to add a certain something. A couple hanging planters. A little oasis. Looking at his bedroom, a person could believe Whizzer Brown had his life together. He hopes Marvin will look at his bedroom and think he has his life together.

 

    Well, with one eye swollen shut, maybe not.

 

    Whizzer helps him get settled, using the pillows to brace him with as little weight on as few bruises as possible. He’s surprised when a hand wraps around his wrist, when Marvin’s one open eye meets his.

 

    “Stay?”

 

    Whizzer nods, quiet. Changes into a pair of grey sweats and a clean tee shirt. It used to be a nice enough one, navy blue and tight across his chest and his biceps, but it’s grown faded and stretched out over time and laundering. The vee neck shows off a tantalizing glimpse of chest, at least. Not that Marvin doesn’t know what he’s got under it all anyway. No point in showing off, but maybe it doesn’t hurt to give a little reminder.

 

    What is he thinking? Neither of them wants this, not after how the first go-around went. The only go-around. Maybe if they’d met up in the club, drinks in hand or spotting each other across the dance floor, he’d have wanted to show off, remind Marvin of exactly what he’d lost, but not… That would be a pretty asshole-ish thing to do now.

 

    “Me, I don’t know fashion… but it seems unfair to me…” Marvin attempts a smile. “I bought you these silk pajamas, once, and you look so good in the clothes you haven’t gotten around to throwing out.”

 

    “Flatterer.” Whizzer smiles back. “I look good in anything, it’s a gift. Anyway… I look damn good in those pajamas, but hospitality demands… Flashbacks to seeing me on laundry day, huh?”

 

    Marvin hums and closes his eyes, and Whizzer should do the same, but even as he turns out the lamp and slides into bed behind Marvin, he knows he won’t be getting any sleep. He had planned to be out late clubbing, he’d taken a disco nap, and not that long ago. Sure, it feels like it happened in another life, but it didn’t, he’s well-rested despite the emotional drain of the evening. He could be up a long while like this. And Marvin, for all his exhaustion, still feels restless at Whizzer’s side.

 

    “Not sleeping?”

 

    “I will.”

 

    “You wanna tell me about mister wonderful?” He offers, though he doesn’t want to hear it.

 

    “Hm?”

 

    “This guy you’re so hung up on now, that you haven’t taken anyone home since. I mean, was this a, like a recent breakup?”

 

    “Oh, come on, that’s what you’re gonna ask?” He snorts. “I mean, you know. Sometimes it feels like it happened a long time ago. Sometimes I turn around like a part of me thinks he’ll be there still. Not so often. Just when the right song comes over the radio… and my body remembers before my brain can catch up.”

 

    Whizzer hums, to show he’s listening. Marvin was never much of a dancer, he never wanted to go out to dance… but it was never hard to coax him into it at home, not really. He can remember dancing in the kitchen, a towel over his shoulder, his hands on Marvin’s hips to guide him, the two of them laughing because Marvin was bad at it and he seemed dead set on not learning even when Whizzer did his best to teach him. He’d shake his ass with a minimum of reluctance and a minimum of skill, to ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (a Man After Midnight)’, or slide his arms around Whizzer and suddenly take it serious to ‘I Just Fall in Love Again’, sway slow with him and sing along… not to every line, just here and there, but always to ‘Baby, you take me in your arms’ and always to that last ‘I can’t help myself, I fall in love with you’. Words neither of them could just say , but when that one was on the radio… sometimes Whizzer let himself believe it was true.

 

    He wonders what songs Marvin’s danced to with someone else, if he sang along. ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ or the fucking pina colada song, he could take that. He could take that one. ‘Do That to Me One More Time’? He can just picture it, the look on his face, that killer smile that transformed him, how he’d sound crooning along, the words ‘once is never enough with a man like you’ falling from his lips, and he hates it. He doesn’t like the thought of Marvin singing along to the radio and swaying in the arms of another man regardless of the song, even a really awful one, and it’s not like ‘Do That to Me One More Time’ was on the radio before they broke up, so why is that so easy to picture and why does it bother him so much? 

 

    It’s all just wild conjecture anyway. For all he knows, Marvin’s ex listens exclusively to smooth jazz and not top forty. Either way he’s being a fool.

 

    Trust Marvin to bring that out in him.

 

    “I wake up from dreams, sometimes, about the past. And when the bed’s empty I look for the light from the bathroom. And then it hits me. You know?”

 

    “I suck at sleeping alone.” Whizzer admits. 

 

    “Yeah. Yeah, me, too. I used to… I used to think I preferred sleeping alone. You ruined me for that.”

 

    “I ruined you?” He trails an arm up Marvin’s arm, smiling softly. “Or I was just the lucky guy to show you an option that wasn’t sleeping alone or sleeping next to a woman?”

 

    “I liked sleeping next to you.”

 

    “I liked sleeping next to you.” He swallows. Doesn’t make a crack about how, when they were sleeping, they couldn’t make each other crazy. Doesn’t want to make dumb jokes, pretend they meant even less than… than whatever they did mean. A hell of a lot, he thinks. But he couldn’t handle that then.

 

    “Just be gentle with me tonight.” Marvin chuckles weakly.

 

    “Sure.” Whizzer says. It’s what the pillow barricade is for-- to support Marvin, and to keep Whizzer from rolling onto him during the night. They could start out sleeping back to back, each hugging his edge of the bed, but there wasn’t a morning Whizzer didn’t wake up wrapped around that man… “Tell me about him.”

 

    “... What?”

 

    “This guy you’re in love with. Tell me what he’s like. What makes him so great?”

 

    “Really?” He laughs, and then stops laughing with a groan. “You really-- are you being serious with me right now, you want me to-- what, tell you?”

 

    “Yeah. Since you’re awake and I’m awake.”

 

    “You’re an asshole.” He says, but there’s no heat to it. Whizzer can picture the eye-rolling he must do. “What’s to say? I go out… I see men I could dance with or buy a drink for or talk to, and I don’t. I could get laid. I don’t.”

 

    “You haven’t had rebound sex since you broke it off with this guy? Jeez, Marvin, that’s depressing.”

 

    “That’s not me.”

 

    “So what makes him worth forgoing other men? This paragon of manhood.”

 

    “No one else is going to measure up. Don’t-- I know what face you’re making, I’m not talking about sex. I’m not only talking about sex. It was everything. The way he’d hold my hand, those unguarded moments when he would look into my eyes and I’d think he could love me, even if he doesn’t say it. Knowing… knowing I’d-- I’d found the one, and I would let him kill me, a little bit at a time.”

 

    “Don’t… You deserve better than slow death by love.”

 

    “It killed me. It killed me, all the others. Wondering which one of them would finally offer everything I couldn’t. Were they better in bed, did they spend more money, were they handsome, did they dress well? Were they funny, were they smart? I couldn’t take the waiting anymore, I couldn’t stand the idea of being told I’d been replaced. But if I could do it over again, I would wait. Pretend I didn’t know the end was coming. If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t be the one to end it.”

 

    “You sure can pick ‘em. You need a man who doesn’t play those kinds of games, Marv… You should have learned your lesson with me, a boy like that is only going to hurt you. You need fidelity. And you deserve it.”

 

    “Do I?”

 

    “I think you do. If I could do us over again, I-- I wouldn’t run around on you. If I was with you, the guy I am now, I… the very first time I slunk in and saw you sitting up with that look, I-- Fuck.” He blinks back the tears, or he would if they’d ever threaten to just fucking fall. Instead it’s that persistent sting, that wetness that never lets go. Allows him dignity but no release. “I loved it, isn’t that sick? I hate that I did, that that’s what I was with you, but I came in and saw you had waited up, and saw you were hurting, and I loved it, because no one ever cared what I did before then. If I fucked two guys at once, and went back and forth, maybe someone would say ‘aren’t I enough for you’, but he wouldn’t care. Pride, not… not love. But you wouldn’t say it and I wouldn’t ask for it. All I could do was hurt you to show myself you gave a damn. And all you could do was hurt me, because when you had the guts to ask me for something, I threw it back in your face. God, I deserved the worst of you.”

 

    “No one deserves the worst of me.” There’s something dark in Marvin’s voice, a year and a half of regret, maybe more.

 

    “I did. Love you. But you scared the hell out of me. Love scared the hell out of me. I never asked to be loved… because no one was ever gonna.”

 

    “I did. I do.”

 

    “Jesus, Marvin, me?”

 

    “What do you mean you?”

 

    “You’ve been hung up on me?”

 

    “Yes, you asshole, you didn’t pick up on that?”

 

    “No!”

 

    “This whole time you thought you were asking me about some other guy I was with after you?”

 

    “Yes!”

 

    “Well jesus, Whizzer…”

 

    “You know I’m not smart.”

 

    “I thought you were-- I thought you wanted to hear me say it. That I missed you, that you were better, that other guys didn’t… I thought you wanted your ego stroked a little. I wouldn’t begrudge you that tonight. I mean… you were my knight in shining armor back there. You deserve a little ego stroking. How’d we get so off track?”

 

    “Like I said, I’m not a smart man.”

 

    “I never needed you to be.” Marvin chuckles, one hand groping back blindly, until Whizzer reaches forward to take it. “You always had enough going for you. And you were always-- I just… You had everything else, I couldn’t take it if you were smart, too. If I acted like you weren’t, it was only because it was the one thing I thought I could beat you at. And I needed to win. I needed just one win, because it terrified me. I knew I would give up everything for you whether you loved me or not, I knew I was going to throw myself on the altar of love and let you plunge the knife in me and I needed just one win. I needed to be the smart guy with you because you had the power to make me so, so stupid. I hurt you because I was afraid of love, too. I wanted to be the big man. I didn’t want you to know how much power you had over me, not if you wouldn’t love me.”

 

    “I should have known. I should have known before we got so far, before we cut each other so deep. When you left her for me, I might have figured out I had a hold on you.”

 

    “Then I tried to move you back in with her, can I blame you for getting some mixed messages about your place in my life?”

 

    “Things were always going to be messy. You had a kid. Couldn’t ask you to give that up. I just wish… I wish I’d made some of these mistakes with someone else first. Then maybe I could have been better with you. I know I was your first man, I knew from the start you never had the chance to make mistakes that counted… but nothing ever mattered to me before you. Not the way you matter.”

 

    “Matter?”

 

    “Matter.”

 

    “God, I wish I could kiss you right now. I can’t even roll over and look at you.”

 

    “You’re not kissing anyone with that fat lip.” Whizzer scoots forward, leans past a pillow so that he can kiss Marvin’s shoulder, where he knows there’s no bruise, where he can press his lips firm to him through thin silk. “And you couldn’t see much of me with the lights out anyway. But… you’re free to kiss me once you heal up. If that’s something you’re interested in?”

 

    “Yeah. I would like that. I would like that a lot. I would like to kiss you.”

 

    “I hope you’d like to do more than that, Marvin.” Whizzer teases, blows on his ear to feel him shiver. Oh, he has missed this… the ways he could make him respond. How nice the teasing could be with him. 

 

    And maybe if they both know what they’ve been, and the mistakes that they’ve made, things could be different now.

 

    Or maybe he’s making another mistake.

 

    Seeing Marvin lying in that alley, though, he’s ready to make a mistake if this is a mistake. Seeing him so lost and quiet, so shaken by the experience, fretting over him and coaxing him back to himself, he just wants the old Marvin, he just wants to know Marvin’s going to be okay… and he wants to think that after everything, they can change. 

 

    And he’d make a million new mistakes, just to think that Marvin loves him.

 

    If he’s going to take care of someone, it might as well be a man he loves.