Johnny is deep in sleep when the vision comes.
Daniel LaRusso is in his bedroom, leaning against the closed door in nothing but his underwear, black boxer briefs with CALVIN KLEIN stitched into the waistband.
He looks at Johnny, across the room in bed, with tired familiar eyes, like he knows him well.
You should wake up now, he says, and pushes off the door, walks over and sits down on the bed, leans in to murmur in Johnny’s ear, it’s time to stop dreaming—
In the dream, Johnny doesn’t see the tattoo until he’s close enough to touch, to reach out and rub his thumb over the skin, the ink not a dull black but a deep gleam in the morning sunlight, not quite gold or green or charcoal or blue or silver— but a shifting phantasmagoria of all of them, the thinnest line over his collarbone, the swooping J, the low loop of the Y.
Wake up, he whispers into his ear.
Daniel wakes up at four in the morning, the ghost image of his name burned into the skin of Johnny Lawrence’s chest.
He’s twisted in the sheets, covered in sweat, and his stomach rolls into his throat. He pads across the carpeted bedroom to the bathroom, leaving Amanda breathing deeply under the covers.
He splashes water over his heated skin, leaving the light off, and when his eyes drop to his reflection-- his breath stops.
It’s identical to the one in the dream, only instead of his own name, it’s Johnny’s, the top loop of the J reaching up and over the crest of his left collar bone, the bottom of the Y dipping over the center of his heart. It’s dark, but the fairy lights from the back deck cast enough ambient light to catch on phantom letters, inked in what couldn’t be described better as moonlight. He leans forward, breath fogging the mirror, and brings his fingers up to run over the skin.
You’re going crazy, he thinks, the pad of his index finger tracing the letters in disbelief. It’s just a dream, just a hallucination--
A wave of nausea rolls over him, and he turns to kneel over the toilet, over the stale water and cold porcelain. He dry heaves but nothing comes up. His heart beats frantic under the ghostly ink.
“Babe, are you alright?”
Amanda’s voice, soft and sleep-rough. She pads over, reaches a hand down to feel his forehead and clicks her tongue in sympathy, pushing his hair back with her fingers, soothing lines in his scalp.
“You’re burning up. Lemme get you some tylenol, you’re not going in today.”
She leaves, wrapped in her nightgown, black with a white floral print.
He eases to his feet, and turns back to the vanity, with the his-and-hers sinks. He reaches down to the top drawer on Amanda’s side, pulls out a bottle of liquid foundation. He squeezes a drop onto his fingers, spreading it over the tattoo like mud.
He watches it disappear, like buried dead, and tilts his shoulder this way and that, studying the effect in the mirror.
It’s mostly gone, except for a tell-tale indecipherable glimmer that he can’t get rid of, no matter how much he puts on.
Good enough, he thinks, and stashes the bottle of makeup back in the drawer, washing the leftovers from his fingers.
He thinks, with any luck, that he might still be dreaming.
Johnny’s having one hell of a morning.
He didn’t see the damn thing until he was brushing his teeth, fresh out of the shower. He walked right back into the shower, turned the water as cold as he could stand. He slapped himself, ate breakfast, but it was still there, clear as day, right on his chest with a capital D.
He thinks (hopes) that maybe he drank more than he thought last night. There was a tattoo parlor a few doors down from his usual bar, maybe he’d stumbled there and made a mistake, some kind of drunkenly misguided joke on himself.
Bobby and Jimmy confirm by text that they hadn’t hung out with him last night. Everything okay? Jimmy’s worry palpable through plain letters, after the missed call rings through.
Yeah, he texts back, just a hell of a hangover. I’m fine.
He throws on a t-shirt with a high enough collar, and jeans, and walks the half-mile to the tattoo place. Nathan’s Tattoos and Needles, the sign reads. There are paper illustrations all over the walls, a half-empty glass case of body jewelry, and one guy at a register. Nathan, presumably. He was in his early forties, but dressed like he used to be in somebody’s band that hadn’t gone very far.
He does do tattoo removal, he says, and leads Johnny to a seat behind a curtain. Johnny pulls off his shirt and takes a seat. Nathan wheels closer on a stool, a set of eyeglasses perched on the end of his nose.
There’s uncomfortable silence, Nathan tilts his head from side to side, reaches out with gloved fingers to stretch the skin down.
“This--” Nathan starts, and shakes his head. “Where’d you get this?”
Johnny clears his throat, feels his cheeks flush. “I wish I could tell you. I was pretty drunk last night.”
“So you don’t remember actually getting this?” Nathan looks up over his glasses.
Johnny shakes his head. “No.”
“Um,” Nathan leans back, swallows, still staring at the mark. The wheels of his stool squeak a little bit. “That’s not a tattoo, man.”
“What d’you mean?”
Nathan stands, goes over to a shelf over a cabinet and sink, and pulls out a book, Heart and Soul: Physiology and Mythology of the Soulmark. He flips open the book.
“Most people think it’s all pseudoscience, like ghosts and voodoo, all that bullshit. But I worked with a guy in Denver who’d seen one. This book says there’s like... less than ten people in the world at a time who have them. Here, they’ve only got one picture, but-- yeah, look at this--”
The photo was black and white, a closeup of a woman’s chest, the same spot, just over her heart. Eddie, it read in a looping script, close but not quite the same hand as the one on his own skin.
“Actually, this is crazy, they keep this woman’s name confidential, but it says the photo was taken right here in the Valley. So somebody else had one around here. Which is just... nuts. These things are like unicorns. They’re not really supposed to be real.”
Johnny stares hard at the picture, feeling sick again, a headache pounding back full force.
“So can you take it off?”
“What?” Nathan’s head jerks back. “No, man. You wouldn't want to do that.”
“I need it gone,” Johnny tears his eyes from the book. “I want it gone.”
“Look, I don’t think it would work anyway, it’s not ink. You should really talk to this Daniel guy. If you’re lucky, he’s got a mark with your name.”
“Yeah. Lucky,” Johnny scoffs, pulling his shirt back on.
“He’s your soulmate. Why wouldn't you want to find him?”
Johnny ignores him, standing up, and he almost trips over his own feet, knees feeling a little weak.
“You okay?” Nathan asks, standing with a hand on his elbow. “You don’t look so good.”
“I’m fine,” Johnny snaps.
“Here, you should take this,” Nathan catches him at the door, offering the book. “Even if you don’t believe it yet...you should read this.”
Johnny takes the book, and leaves it on the kitchen table. He pulls a beer from his fridge, holds it to his heated forehead. He pulls his shirt off, skin burning, and refuses to look down at his chest.
He texts Miguel that class was cancelled, and steps out of his jeans, leaving them on his bedroom floor. He drops down into the sheets, closes his eyes, and tries to sleep.
Daniel is dreaming again, but it’s brighter. More vivid.
Johnny Lawrence underneath him in a bed Daniel’s never seen before. Johnny’s hands splayed on his back and hip, foreheads pressed together, Johnny’s breath puffing hot over his sternum.
He looks down and his fingers are in Johnny’s hair, tugging and rough. His body feels taut, ready and electric, teasingly close to orgasm.
I’m riding him, he realizes, dull and distant.
And suddenly, he can’t breathe. His heart slows down like a horse coming down from a gallup, the edges of his vision starts to fade, his head is light, like it’s full of helium, floating away.
I’m dying, the circuits of his brain are shutting down one by one, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. I’m dying, he tries to call out, but his mouth won’t work.
He was a voice in the dark, bodiless and alone.
He tries to call out again, but he was nothing.
He was gone.
Daniel isn’t breathing.
Amanda left him that morning, drowsy but awake, with an extra couple tablets of tylenol, a tall glass of sprite on ice, and told him to try and sleep. She tried texting him throughout the day, but no answer, and she had hoped it was because he was following instructions and getting some rest. She had a nervous, bone-deep feeling of wrongness all through a sales meeting and she leaves just after six o’clock. Traffic makes the trip home slow and nail-biting and when she pushes through the front door just at seven, Daniel is still in bed, unresponsive, struggling to breathe. His eyes were sealed shut.
They’re at the hospital, and she knows he’s not breathing because of something the paramedic shouts to the doctor as they lift him onto a gurney. They’re squeezing some kind of mask with a bubble on it, and a nurse is trying to push Amanda and Sam and Robby back to the waiting room.
“Wait-- WAIT!” The doctor calls out, stopping the nurse in her tracks, a firm hand still holding Amanda at arm’s length. The doctor peers close, down at Daniel’s chest. He reaches out with his fingers, prodding.
The paramedic keeps squeezing the bag.
“Doctor--” someone asks, voice urgent.
The Doctor turns back to the bouncer nurse. He pulls down his mask. “Whoever ‘Johnny’ is, get him here NOW--”
The nurse frowns, turns back to Amanda. “Do you have a family member, maybe? Anyone by that name?”
Amanda looks down at Robby’s stricken face. She swallows down her fear.
“Call him,” she says, head spinning with confusion. “Call your Dad.”
Johnny doesn’t answer his phone.
They’re in the waiting room, Robby is bent over his phone, anxious and frustrated. Six calls, a handful of text messages, and his Dad won’t pick up. The nurse comes out asking for Johnny again, and Robby stammers that he wasn’t answering his phone.
“Do you know where he is?”
“He's probably at home--”
“Why do you need him?” Amanda pleads. No one will answer this question.
“The Doctor will explain later, and we aren’t sure, but your husband’s life may depend on it. Get him here as soon as you can.”
She turns and leaves.
Sam gestures for the keys. “Robby and I can go.”
Robby bangs on the apartment door, yelling for his father. “DAD!” he yells, and there’s no answer.
Sam sighs in frustration, and looks back over her shoulder. She turns and walks across the courtyard, knocking on a different door.
"Sam,” Miguel’s mouth drops open. His eyes find Robby over her shoulder. Which was awkward, what with the whole, your girlfriend shoved my girlfriend down to the ground at the skating rink. “What’s going on? My grandma’s trying to sleep.”
“Do you have a key to Johnny's place?"
Miguel frowns, suspicious. "Yeah, why?"
"We need him, and he's not answering."
"He's probably out-- why do you need him?” He glares at Robby again, defiant and protective, like Robby’s the bad guy here and it’s infuriating--
"His car is here--” Sam points over to the Challenger. “Go get the key, please, we need to talk to him." She pitches her voice in a pleading way, and Miguel seems to soften.
"I dunno," Miguel waffles. "He's probably passed out, he'll be pissed--"
"Has he been sick?"
Miguel’s chin pulls back. "Um, yeah, actually, he cancelled class today--"
Robby bites his tongue and steps forward, pushing down on the bad like Mr. LaRusso had taught him. "Look, Mr. LaRusso is in the hospital, and we think it might be the same thing. He might be in trouble-- can you just go get the key?"
Miguel stares at him another minute, then back to Sam’s pleading eyes.
“Okay,” he says, and turns back into the house. Robby lets out a breath, and once Miguel returns with the key, they follow him back to Johnny’s door.
The door clicks open and the apartment is dark and silent.
“DAD!” Robby calls, and Miguel flips on the lights behind him. He pushes to the back hall, and knocks on the back bedroom door. He calls out one more time, and when there’s no answer, he pushes inside.
Time slows down. His father is lying still on the sheets, and he’s not responding to Robby’s yells, or Miguel’s frantic hands. They roll him over together, and Robby shakes him, he can’t feel any breath on his cheek. Miguel says he knows CPR and Robby lets him crawl on top, pinch his father’s nose and tilt his chin back and breathe into his lungs.
Sam was already on the phone with 911.
Miguel laces his hands together and pushes down with all his weight, counting out loud. Robby hears the sternum crack in his father’s chest. He blinks back tears and leans closer to his mechanically heaving chest, eyes catching on some kind of mark.
There’s a glimmer, a metallic line of script, the color was hard to describe— bronze, or a deep cobalt, or rose— spelling out six letters, only obscured by Miguel’s thumb pressing into the skin.
Daniel, it read.
Robby hears sirens, he turns back to where Sam is looking over his shoulder, phone hanging uselessly from her fingers. Her eyes are wide.
She sees it too.
Johnny wakes up, feeling like he got hit by a truck.
There’s a flashlight in his eyes, shining clear to the back of his head, leaving bright spots of afterburn in his vision. He has to wait until it clears, blinking the dryness from his eyes, until he can make out the figures in the room.
An old dude in green scrubs held the flashlight, and there was a woman at his shoulder. Fuck, though, if it’s not just a woman, but Ali Mills. Thirty years older, of course, and she’d straightened her hair, pulled back into a ponytail. Her jaw was sharper, cheekbones higher, and a little hollowed out. She had lost a lot of her softness. She was beautiful.
She’s talking to the old man, arms crossed in a white coat. She looks down again, finally meeting him, eye to eye. She raises an eyebrow, pulls a sideways smile. She lays a hand on his wrist, squeezing his arm. Her fingers feel cold.
“Welcome back,” she says.
He tries to reply, but his throat is too dry. The other Doctor turns away, only a few feet away, behind a partition. Ali grabs a plastic mug of water from the bedside tray, holds the straw to his mouth. He’s weak, but not that weak, and grabs it from her hand, fingers weak and shaky. He drinks.
“What happened?” he manages. She takes the cup back, and reaches over to the partition, pulling back the curtain.
Daniel LaRusso is just a few feet away, blinking sleepily back to consciousness, batting a flashlight out of his face.
“We need to talk,” she says.
He almost died.
They almost died, according to Ali.
“They were losing you both,” Ali pulls up a chair, equidistant between the two beds. Daniel’s mind is reeling, he’s not even sure he’s really awake, that this isn’t still some kind of dream. Why else would he be fifty years old and in the same room as Johnny Lawrence and Ali Mills. “You’ve received transfusions of each other’s blood.”
“What.” Johnny’s voice is flat, a sort of horrified blankness that echoes Daniel’s own thoughts. Johnny’s bed is close enough, if he reached out an arm, he could probably touch the bedrails.
She sighs, crosses and uncrosses her legs, stares for awhile at a blank space of wall between them. “The marks,” she clears her throat, vision sharpening back into focus. “You know about them by now.”
Daniel feels his heart pick up, finds himself turning to look at Johnny.
“You both have them,” she says, looking from one to the other, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. “You’re connected to each other. It’s why...it’s evidence as to why the blood transfusion worked.” She laces her fingers together. Daniel stares at her, there are so few traces of her left, the soccer girl. The cheerleader.
“Soulmarks,” she continues. “Are you familiar with the term?”
Daniel’s head hurts.
“That’s not a real thing,” Johnny’s voice draws Daniel’s attention. “It’s voodoo stuff. Ghost stuff. Bullshit.”
Ali turns to Johnny. “I flew in from Denver last night for this bullshit. I ordered the blood transfusion from the airport, over the phone. I saved your life.”
“What are you, some kind of expert?” Johnny scoffs, and winces in pain. Daniel feels a sudden ache, deep in the center of his chest.
Ali’s mouth goes thin. She stands, walks to Johnny’s side. She pulls down on the loose sleeve of his hospital gown. He watches her stare down at a spot on Johnny’s chest that Daniel can’t quite see. She turns back to Daniel, does the same, her fingers are cool on his skin.
She hums, forehead wrinkled in concentration. “Beautiful,” she murmurs, tracing the thin lines of the iridescent script. She paces back around the room, reluctant to sit down again.
“Have you,” she leans on the end of Daniel’s bed, forehead wrinkled, looking from one to the other. “Have you engaged in any kind of...romantic behavior? Anything intimate, emotionally charged, in the past few months?”
Johnny groans, covering his face. Daniel’s mind is still numb. He wonders where Amanda is.
“No,” he licks his lips, shaking his head.
“He stole my son, does that count?”
“I didn’t steal your son, he came to me and I didn’t know he was your son--”
Johnny lifts up slightly, angling to face Daniel. Daniel feels Johnny’s frustration, his anger, rolling like a subsonic wave, it makes his skin tingle.
Really. He can feel it.
“Well you know it now--”
“What, are you gonna teach him? You gonna make him into a little Cobra soldier for Kreese?!” And Daniel can feel the air turn static.
“Oh, screw you, LaRusso--”
“STOP IT--” Ali yells, silencing the room, and Daniel can feel his cheeks heating up, letting himself get caught up in Johnny’s stupid baiting, childish tactics. He lays back into his pillow, energy leaking from his pores.
She collapses back down into her chair, breathing into her hands.
Johnny asks, after a moment of silence. “Why’d they fly you in?”
“Because I’m an expert,” she says to her hands. And she stands, fingers unlooping her top shirt button. She pulls her shirt to one side, revealing a name, angry, old, and ugly.
“The mark showed up a few nights before prom.” She looks at Daniel, and he remembers the smoking front-end of the Ford, the twisted metal, Ali’s tears red and blotchy all over her face. He’d asked her over, and over again, why,
I can’t explain it, she’d sobbed, I have to go. I have to go--
“Why does it--” Johnny starts to ask, the same question on Daniel’s tongue.
“It looks like that because he died.” She buttons her shirt back up, speaking in a flat tone. “So I spend a lot of my time studying people like me. People like you.”
“So...” Daniel asks after a moment. “We’ve got these marks. And now we’ve got each other’s blood. When can we...” he hesitates, searching Ali’s tired expression, trying not to look back at Johnny. “When can we go home?”
“I feel fine,” Johnny adds, nodding confidently.
She sits again, dragging the chair even closer, between the two beds. “You can go home this afternoon. But things won’t be the same for you. You should already know that. You should already feel that.”
“What do you mean?” Daniel asks.
“Take his hand,” she says, and when Johnny blinks stupidly and Daniel stays still, she orders again, “Just hold hands, I need to show you something.”
Daniel sits up a little straighter, but holds his hand out in the space between the beds, and waits.
Johnny scoffs, but scoots up in his bed a little, reaches out, and grabs Daniel’s hand.
“Hold it there, like that,” she says softly. “You’ll feel it.”
There’s a few seconds of underwhelming nothing. Johnny’s skin is warm and slightly sweaty, and Daniel’s about to crack a joke about clammy hands, but then he feels it.
“We don't understand what causes the mark,”
Ali’s voice floats overhead, and Daniel stares at the junction of their hands, his skin and Johnny’s skin, and it feels like little wires of electricity, little lines of electrons are crawling up under his skin. Daniel remembers being a kid and pressing a 9V battery to his tongue, and he thinks maybe it’s a little like that, except kind of nice. It was like swirling hot coffee between his teeth, or like someone pressing a thumb down into a tight knot of muscle, all of this but a little softer... jarring but pleasant. He doesn’t really want to let go.
“Some think it's celestial, some think the marks are a manifestation of love or obsession expressed physically through the parasympathetic nervous system, somehow your body imprints a name psychologically, then physically. But we have no idea essentially, if its fate or circumstance. If this was somehow caused by your interactions with each other, or if your interactions are driven by some larger force we don't understand.”
The sensation is a little like warm blankets, layered one by one, it’s subtle but it was definitely building. Ali keeps pacing, and Daniel finally looks up from his hand and over at Johnny, who finally looks up.
There’s a moment where Daniel swears he can hear Johnny’s voice in his head, I know you, he thinks.
Johnny drops his hand, settles back into his bed, forehead wrinkled up. He doesn’t look back at Daniel.
Daniel flexes, pulls his fingers slowly back into his chest.
Ali watches. “This isn't something you can ignore. It doesn't go away. You will be compelled into each other's orbit. You'll find you have no choice but to turn to each other."
"I have a family," Daniel interrupts. "This isn't an option."
"This is bigger than your family, Daniel. You are connected to Johnny in a way you'll never experience with Amanda. She's going to have to accept that. Some people try to maintain their marriage in addition to their partnership, but those marriages fall apart."
"I love my wife."
She shakes her head. "Not like this. You won't be able to ignore it."
Johnny clears his throat. "We can try."
“Yes,” she says, sounding very tired. “You can try."
She checks their IV bags, tells them to get some more sleep.
“I’ll be back in a few hours,” she says, and leaves.
Daniel feels suddenly, very tired. The ache in the center of his chest persists.
The hospital releases them that afternoon. Robby brings a duffle bag full of clothes and shoes to the hospital so he has something to wear. He dresses and heads for the front desk to settle up or find out if he’ll be expecting some kind of insane hospital bill. The nurse tells him Dr. Mills-Schwarber took care of everything, you have a nice day, sir and he swallows his pride and heads for the door, where Robby was waiting.
He doesn’t say anything to LaRusso, who was still back in the room with his family.
Robby stays quiet during the ride, fingers at ten and two on the wheel of LaRusso’s black Audi. The seats were leather, they felt expensive. Johnny resists the urge to snoop through the center console. Johnny’s not sure what all he knows, how much the doctors have told him, how much LaRusso had even told his family.
They get back to the apartment, and Robby shuts the engine off. Johnny expects him to stay in the car and say goodbye, but he pushes the door open, and follows Johnny back into the apartment.
“Sorry,” Johnny mumbles, scratching at the back of his head. “It’s kind of a mess.”
“That’s okay,” Robby nods, and goes to the kitchen. He opens the fridge, looks through, and Johnny’s stomach drops, feeling nervous.
“Sorry, there’s not much there--”
Robby pulls out a carton of eggs, a bottle of soy sauce, and finds some rice in a cabinet.
“You should sit down,” Robby nods, gathering a few more things from the fridge. He fills up a cup of water, slides it across the counter. “I’ll make some dinner.”
Johnny nods, takes the water. It hurts a little to swallow, the muscles under his ribs sore and battered and achy. He lays back on the sofa, and Robby brings him an ice pack wrapped in paper towels. Johnny closes his eyes, feeling the ceiling fan puff across his face, the cold soothing the center of his chest.
Robby somehow magically produces a couple rice bowls that taste kind of like chinese food, unbelievable considering what he had to work with, and Johnny feels like shit because he knows exactly why and how Robby got to be such a good cook. Shannon was about as good with a spatula as Johnny was. I’m an expert at the microwave, he remembers her laughing, years ago, way before Robby, way before the resentment and the bitterness.
Robby leaves eventually, after they eat and watch a little TV. He’s got school tomorrow and Johnny insists he go back to LaRusso’s, where all his clothes and books are.
Johnny closes the door behind him, stands in the quiet, dark apartment. He walks back to the bedroom, and finds his sheets and covers all over the floor, from where Miguel had ripped them off and beat his heart back to life, cracked his sternum in the process.
He goes to bed, and tries to rest.
He gets a text the next morning. It was Ali, and she had attached a phone number. The text read:
<< this is Daniel’s number. I sent him yours. HELP EACH OTHER!
<< and call me if you need me.
Two weeks later, Daniel thinks he can’t take much more of this, whatever it is.
Ali has called a couple of times to check in. He answered once, and let the rest go to voicemail. She scolds him the first time, tells him she can’t believe they’re not working together on this, that Daniel hasn’t bothered to go see Johnny. You’re in denial, she says with a tight voice, and I get it, if anybody does Daniel, I get it. But you need his help, even if you’re trying to stay in your marriage. You could end up in the hospital again, it’s dangerous--
It’s not that bad, he thinks. But everyday since the hospital, he slept a little less, his limbs got a little heavier, there was a persistent headache, and it was getting worse, every day. He was floating around in a fog, still half caught up in the dreams he was having (every night, variations on a theme, Johnny in every one of them).
His chest was still hurting, too. Ali had hummed over the phone, something about phantom pain.
So when Johnny shows up to the dealership, face pale and drawn and exactly how Daniel knows himself to look, Daniel tells Sheila he’ll be out to lunch.
“C’mon,” he grabs Johnny’s hand, and drags him out the door. “Let’s get something to eat.”
He holds onto his hand as long as he possibly can, until it would not only be awkward, but weird. But just those few seconds of contact widen the edges of his vision, the world clears up a bit, and he can breathe a little easier.
There’s a burger joint, just a few blocks down the road. Daniel lets Johnny drive, occasionally steals glances at him in the car, sunglasses hiding his features.
They get to the place, Johnny beats him to the register with a credit card, and remarks, you’re a cheap date LaRusso and tells Daniel to find a booth.
Johnny leaned forward, uncertainty or even nervousness grated over his features. "Did you...when all this happened, did you have a...like a dream?"
Daniel hesitated, the rational part of his brain kicking in, If you give him this, he will humiliate you. But the question Johnny asked begged a natural response 'so you've been having dreams, John?' and so in its very asking, was a risk. The question was an offered hand to be taken or struck away.
"Yeah." He glanced through the diner window, traffic on the boulevard never really slowed down.
Johnny waited, watching him. His hand brushed over his chest, knuckles and thumb resting absently over his heart.
Daniel swallowed, not capable of much else. “ I thought I was dying."
"Apparently you were."
They both sort of laugh, and Johnny starts in on his fries, already looking a little brighter, a little less like the walking wounded. He chips in before Daniel has to ask--
"Mine was really vivid. You were standing in my bedroom doorway, you little creep--"
Daniel's already waving his hands in protest, "You better keep it PG--"
Johnny laughs him off, "No, LaRusso, it wasn't like that. Just. You were just lookin' at me."
LaRusso's eyebrows quirk up in question as his old nemesis looks down at the burger and fries before him.
"You were just--"
I was in love with you.
"Glad to see me. Really really glad." Johnny sort of nods to himself, still looking at his food.
"Did I say anything?"
Blue eyes flick up. "You told me to wake up."
Daniel feels himself nodding, staring right at Johnny, almost in a trance. The sunlight was a little blinding, hitting the blonde hair just so.
"Was your dream like that too?"
Hot breath again his sternum, rough hands over his back, his hips, holding onto a golden scalp--
Daniel blinks himself awake. "Yeah. Something like that."
Johnny stares blankly back, scanning him, until a little smirk begins to grow.
"What, spit it out--"
"Yours was dirtier, LaRusso--"
Goddamnit if he could feel a blush down his whole body, and fucking no one else on the planet could get under his skin like the asshole sitting across from him right now.
"Oh fuck off, Lawrence--"
"What was I wearing, boxers or briefs? For accuracy's sake if this is all for real--"
Daniel could help breaking into a laugh, and he felt no guilt reaching across for Johnny's fries. This went uncontested.
Eyebrows shot up, "Was I wearing anything?!"
"If it's all real, you shouldn't have to ask since we'd both know."
If he wasn't an intelligent man, Daniel LaRusso might think he was flirting with Johnny Lawrence, who might actually be looking a little pinker, and who also seemed out of snappy comebacks for the moment. It was through a surprisingly comfortable silence Daniel was able to eat most of his sandwich.
“How’s Robby doing?” Johnny asks after a while.
Daniel nods. “He’s doing good. I think the karate has been good for him.”
“Good.” A pause. “How much does he know?”
“He was there,” Daniel stops chewing. “He and Sam pulled you out of the apartment.” He doesn’t say and watched Miguel give you CPR and had a front row seat to the tattoo of my name on your chest. He doesn’t have to.
“Yeah,” Johnny groans, dropping his burger.
Daniel bumps their feet together under the table, and keeps them there. Even through the leather and canvas, it’s something.
The hour passes too fast, and the silence gets long and Daniel doesn’t have any more excuses to keep him any longer. The parking lot is bright and gleaming in the afternoon sun, and Daniel wishes he’d grabbed his sunglasses. Johnny drives them back, and lets the car idle in front of the dealership doors, and Daniel can’t help but think the sound of the engine was made for Johnny Lawrence, low and patient and sexy.
Johnny had his sunglasses on, elbow slung over the open window of the Challenger. "LaRusso--"
Daniel paused, looking back. He walks back over to peer down into the driver’s side, squinting against the sun.
Johnny grins. "Boxer-briefs. Calvin Kleins. They look like a fancy primo version though. Little pricey."
And that shit-eating grin shouldn't make him laugh so hard. He felt a little giddy.
"Amanda pick those out?" Johnny cranes out the door a little further, and Daniel reaches out, feeling bold, and pushes Johnny’s sunglasses up into his hair, so he can see those baby blues.
"Real men buy their own underwear, Lawrence,” he chides, pulling his fingers reluctantly away. He wasn’t going to let Johnny get the last laugh, backing out of his space, riding into the sun like a cowboy on a dark horse.
"You look good in black,” Johnny calls out, blonde hair ducking back down into that ridiculous car.
Daniel couldn't do anything but watch him drive away.
This universe was against him.
Despite the lunch, they don’t bring up doing it again, or meeting up. Days go by like weeks.
Johnny wakes up every morning after with an itch under his skin, his fingers rub over the car keys, wanting to drive over to the dealership, see him, talk to him, anything.
Daniel texts him, though, a few days later (four days, exactly four days after, around ten o’clock in the evening). It’s a short video of Sam and Robby in the backyard at Miyagi-do, standing up on some big round platform in the goldfish pond. It’s about twenty seconds, Sam and Robby going through the kata, they finish and high-five and Robby nearly falls off backwards, Sam grabbing his elbow just in time. The kids laugh and Robby has a big smile on his face and the video ends with Daniel’s disembodied voice, guys, guys, cmon—
He watches it, biting his lip blue. He plays it back a few more times, pausing to watch the smile on Robby’s face, and listen over and over again to Daniel’s voice guys, guys, cmon— ; guys, guys, cmon—
Johnny sends back a minute later, looks fun with no punctuation.
He gets back, seconds later:
<< he’s a natural
Johnny types back, stops. Deletes. Thinks. Types again:
> damn right
> good to see him smile
> don’t drown my kid larusso
There’s another typing bubble, it appears and disappears a couple of times, before:
<< how are u doing?
Johnny closes his eyes, breathes through the weighted stiffness of his chest. The dull ache over his heart.
> im good. u?
Daniel doesn’t reply for a minute or two after that. When he does, it’s:
<< im hanging in there
Johnny can’t think of anything to say after that.
Daniel sits in bed, pretending to browse Facebook, waiting for a reply, but gives up after thirty minutes or so. He clicks his phone shut, plugs it into its charger.
He still has the phantom ache in the center of his chest, and his bones felt hollowed out. He was exhausted, all the time.
Amanda folds her book shut. She asks how he was doing. How he was feeling, with all this. She tells him she knows this must be a lot of stress.
He tells her he’s fine.
She reaches out with cool fingers, brushing across his forehead and the dark circles he knew were under his eyes. She sighs, searching his face, and pulls her hand back.
“I’m taking the kids up to my parents this week. I’ll take Robby, too.”
She doesn’t need to elaborate why.
Johnny gets through classes, he’s on autopilot and he knows he’s been a shit teacher lately, but Miguel doesn’t say anything, he just watches Johnny in that careful way, and they sort of both know that Johnny wasn’t going to last very much longer like this.
Whiskey wasn’t cutting it. Sleep wasn’t cutting it. There’s a tattoo over his heart but it’s like somebody has gone in and tattooed a perfect image of Daniel LaRusso on the inside of his eyelids. Every time he blinks, all day long, and all through sleep, he’s all he can think about. Dark eyes and the wrinkled up forehead and the smooth slope of his nose and his jaw and all Johnny can hear, echoing in his head, Daniel’s voice from the dream, Johnny, he says in a low baritone, repeating his name, wake up Johnny, it’s time to stop dreaming.
John, he hears, John, wake up--
Johnny does wake up, one of those nights, it’s like three in the morning. He can’t take it anymore, his chest still hurts and this time he feels an indescribable pull. He puts on jeans and a t-shirt and he grabs his keys.
He starts driving, all over the Valley, but the hills are calling. He drives up into the hills, up into Encino, to quiet, smoothly paved streets and the quiet big houses and he drives and drives until he stops, and finds himself in front of Daniel’s house. All the windows are dark.
He doesn’t know what to do. He sits there awhile, looking up at the house through the windshield, wondering which window was his. His heart was beating away in his chest, he was a fucking adult awake at three in the morning, and he felt like crying. He hides his mouth with his hand, and listens to the dark silence, and he lets a few tears fall.
He calls Ali.
She breathes in deeply, voice a little dry but clear. “Johnny,” she says, “it’s early where you are.”
“What are you doing up?” he asks, swallowing heavy and painful, trying to sound normal.
“Doctor’s hours, you know,” she pauses. “I don't sleep very much, really.”
He listens to her breathe, wonders if she was at the hospital or her house. It was quiet, wherever it was.
“I, um,” he clears his throat. “I just need a little help. I was wondering...if you could write me a prescription for something, just to take the edge off, I just. I need something. I need a little help,” he clarifies at the end, voice straining.
He hears her sigh. She sounds tired. “He’s feeling the same way, Johnny, you need to go to him, he’s the only one that can help.”
“It’ll ruin his life,” Johnny blinks back up to the house, feeling drunk and sad and rough all over. “I’m trying not to do that--”
“This isn’t on you, Johnny, this is bigger than you, or Daniel’s family. There isn’t any explanation that’s gonna fit, but this is real, and it’s happening, and neither of you can ignore it. This is--” she struggles, looking for a word. “It’s fate. And it’s a gift, you just don’t know it yet, you can’t--” she sighs. “You can’t know. Not until you accept it.”
Johnny bites his lip, trying to calm himself down.
“Was it worth it?” He swallows, looking back up at the house. “Losing him like that.”
He hears her breathing pick up on the other end of the line, and he can tell that she was crying. “Yes,” she cries, “yes it was worth it.”
Johnny hangs up the phone.
He gets out of the car, and he walks around the back to the glow of the pool. He keeps his footsteps quiet, hoping there was noone up at this time of night.
I just need to be a little closer, he thinks, just a little bit closer.
He walk around the pool and collapses into a chair near the edge of the water.
He knows how crazy this is. But it’s a relief to be within the same square mile again.
He looks up at the house, and waits.
Daniel wakes up at almost four o’clock in the morning, body thrumming, there’s a hook around his sternum and it tugs him slowly out of bed and down the stairs and out the patio doors, where the lights of the pool turn the water a deep-hearted teal, eerie and beautiful, and Johnny Lawrence is waiting for him like he knew he would be.
“I couldn’t sleep.” Johnny says, the lights of the pool make his eyes glow.
“I know.” Daniel walks up to him, takes up his hand and he can see the relief in Johnny’s face. “This isn’t working.”
“I thought the lunch would help,” Johnny manages. “After you left--”
“It was worse,” Daniel keeps his gaze down on their hands, rubs his thumb over the top of rough knuckles and after everything he still feels surprised Johnny doesn't snatch the hand back and knock his lights out. Old habits.
“I don’t know what to do about this,” he says low and rough.
“Let’s just sit down,” Daniel pulls him by the hand around the pool to the big wicker cushioned sofa. They sit with their legs close but Johnny’s wearing jeans so Daniel laces their fingers together, presses their wrists together, getting as much skin contact as he possibly can.
Johnny stares far out, miles out across the pool. "The few times I watched Robby when he was little, all I had were the old Looney Tunes tapes. You know the one, the tornado guy?"
Daniel smiles in recognition, "Sure, the Tasmanian Devil. Yeah I watched those as a kid."
Johnny nods, "That's what I feel like these days, a little path of destruction following me wherever I go." He laughs humorlessly, "except I'm a lot slower and drunker."
"You slobber less too."
"If I was you and I had your life, and I saw me coming," Johnny closes his eyes in pain, or something else. "I'm not sure I'd be down here sitting by me right now." He bumped his shoulder into Daniel's, playfully and sadly all at once.
Daniel had never had great patience for Johnny's particular brand of self destruction, especially since Robby seemed always already dragged under it. Fueled by booze and self-loathing, it had seemed the natural state of a cliché middle-aged bully: a hollowed out heart, replaced with just enough self-reflection to feel the keenness of regret and isolation only a life of truly selfish behavior can win.
It was difficult when your old tormentor was licking his wounds by your pool, holding your hand, looking like he wanted to let go just long enough drown himself.
“Maybe before,” Daniel squeezes his hand, “but that was before. Things are different now.”
Johnny’s other hand is buried in his hair, he tugs at it in frustration. “I thought I hated you before. But I wasn’t...trying to ruin your life. I didn’t mean for this--”
“I didn’t think you did.”
“It’s worse though, for you. You had it figured out, with the wife, and the kids, and you’re doing it right. And then I come in, and I fuck it all up.”
He was right. Or he should have been. Daniel looks away, up to the top of the house and the stars that should have been above, but was just inky black clouded with smog and light.
“Johnny, you...this-- it woke me up,” he presses past Johnny’s confusion. “You’re right, I thought I had it figured out, and Amanda’s great, and the kids, and the business, and it’s all fine. It’s life, and it’s fine. Everything’s fine ... do you get what I’m saying? Most people...most people don’t get this.”
Johnny’s eyes get a little wider, and Daniel thinks that with everything between them now, Johnny won’t ever not get what he’s saying.
“I called Ali,” he says, quietly. “I just needed some help,” and there starts to fall a fine mist, sprinkles in the dark Los Angeles night, they fall and cling to Daniel’s knees and his toes and his arm, still pressed up close to Johnny’s. The pool ripples under the light rain.
“What’d she say,” Daniel lets his forehead drop to Johnny’s shoulder, tiny droplets of water beading up on his t-shirt and jeans and skin.
“She said it’s a gift.”
Daniel breathes through a shiver, he was only in his t-shirt and underwear, and Johnny untangles their fingers to wrap an arm around him, it only takes a couple of strategic movements and they’re laying back together, breathing, and they watch the rain on the water. Daniel can hear, and feel, Johnny’s heartbeat in his ear. He pushes a hand up under Johnny’s shirt, drawn to the tattoo over his heart. It’s not mind-blowing or anything, nothing dramatic, but Daniel feels something click open, the slow swing of a door coaxed ajar. A soft, pulsing energy flows from the contact points on his fingers, like a circuit finally wired into place.
“Do you feel that?” Daniel whispers.
Daniel knows he does, because his body is going soft, relaxing under the contact.
“Yeah,” Johnny tips his head down into Daniel’s hair.
They don’t kiss, somehow they don’t need to (Daniel knows they will soon, that everything’s changed) because somehow just laying here with him is enough, and he’s never felt like this in his life, wholly present and accounted for and all in one piece, body and soul.
“Right again,” Johnny rumbles, a few minutes later, breath over Daniel’s ear.
Johnny’s fingers skim down his arm, and duck under his t-shirt, snapping the waistband of his underwear. “Calvin Klein,” he laughs, thumb soothing the spot but going no lower.
Daniel closes his eyes, the cold mist coating his skin, his calves and the soft skin at the crook of his elbow, the slivers of skin not covered by Johnny’s body. But he isn’t cold.
He’ll never be cold again.