This story was originally published in Cold Pizza and Butterfly Bones by Magic Bag Press in 1997. Thanks to Jenda for getting it ready for the web. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org who will forward them to the author.
He moved slowly through a silent damp darkness, alone. Sorrowful. Disconsolate. Hollow. Numb. But mostly alone.
He felt, suddenly, something else. A tingle. Of...fear? No, not fear. Not exactly. He struggled to identify the invading sensation. Anticipation? Yes, that was it. The dangerous kind. Anticipation coupled with dread. A familiar feeling, really, funny how slow he was to recognize its intrusion. Everything seemed slow in this place, though, dread and motion. Sluggish. Like stagnant water in desperate need of a cleansing current. He didn't try to fight it, the slow dread. Slow, steady, implacable. Like his movement. Forward. Progress. Each step a struggle, every breath a sigh. The place was strange to him. The total darkness. The lack of orientation. Still, he moved, compelled, one foot in front of the other. Strange, though, to be alone. There should be someone else there with him. Someone who belonged there, beside him. Someone who—no, stop thinking—and his mind ceased its struggle to merge emotion with image, with memory, with elusive, unformed questions.
Time passed in silence, in darkness, in dread. Still he moved, total darkness slowly giving way to manifold shades of gray. There, in the close distance, low light illuminated, swirling, gliding, flowing mists, mists like a river, drawing him along, an integral, inevitable part of the cool current, movement fluid and precise, not like before, not slow and steady but swift, like fate.
He perceived it then, there, before him, now close enough to touch. Déjà vu. For a long moment he simply stood there, motionless, facing the formidable, familiar door. Oak. He knew oak. By the grain, the rings, the scent. Unique. Solid and strong and real, like—no.
Here. The source of light. Not the door, but behind the door. Peeking through, there, underneath. Light. Soft. Bluish-gray, like the mist.
He hung his head, stared at his feet, stared at the patterns the mist made around them, like rivers around rocks, like rocks at the base of a waterfall, but a small fall, a soft fall, not like the kind that fall from great heights, churning earth and stone for tens, hundreds, thousands of feet, not falls like Niagara whose echoes drown out whispers and whose pounding rhythmic rush are a heartbeat gone awry, churning up black memories of loss and fear—NO.
His vision blurred as tears filled his eyes. He blinked to clear them, unfurling his fingers from the rigid fists that had bound them since time immemorial. He reached with one hand toward the door. He paused, warmth from his sweaty palm misting the cool brass knob a mere hairsbreadth away. The sense of dread that had dogged his footsteps returned. Dread. Fear. Behind the door lay...what? He needed to know, yet feared the answer. He hesitated, then with assurance and a conviction born of desperation he grasped the knob, turned it, pushed. The door opened with an ease that belied its weight. Head bowed, eyes, squinting against the light, he entered, gasped, and fell to his knees.
He could run away, or draw near; he could reach out, or hide. Should he speak, or shout? Should he whisper, or cry? He thought he might crumble, but he wanted to fly and oh how he yearned to take the still, naked form in his arms; longed to hold him, warm him, stroke him awake, caress him, protect him, shield him, love him.
But he could do nothing. Like a fly caught in an intricate web he was powerless, helpless. Impotent. He could not move, he could not speak, he could not make a single sound; he could only stare, transfixed, at the crumpled form lying an eternity of feet before him, battered in the soft light that had no source, but rather seemed to emanate from the man himself.
He lay as before, as he did then, as in that moment, as in that instant when time stopped and hell began. Like before, only different. Here there was no sound of piercing gunfire, no shattering of glass. Here there were no desperate warnings, no cries of anguish, no shouts, no screams, no futile sirens. Here there was no blood. Here there was no crowd, no faceless formless shadows speaking in tongues; no maddening, uncomprehending, compassionate hands drawing him away, forcing him to relinquish his hold, to surrender his life.
Here there was only the man.
Behold him. Untouchable. Untouched. Stare with longing. Long to touch him. Know you can't. Imagine you can. Your fingers in his hair, on his skin, feel his breath, taste his lips. Look, at him, truly look upon him. See his beauty, his innocent strength. Look your fill, look your last, you might never have another chance.
He knew then that he was dreaming, but he never wanted to wake up, never. He wanted to stay, here, with him, always stay here and now, always with him. He found his voice, whispered a name. The sound was a marvel, a plea, a prayer, filled with wonder and tinged with passion. He needed to move, tried, and did. Slowly. Deliberately. Toward him. Like a man in a dream. Towards Starsky. Crawling, a weary traveler nearing the end of his journey, knowing the deep joy of a long-awaited welcome home. Inching slowly forward he reached his dream, reached out his hand toward the slender face, traced living flesh with trembling fingers, brushed his face through breath-warmed ringlets that muffled whispered words of love...and, much later, absorbed streaming tears of bitter knowledge remembered, paradise lost.
He woke with tears still warmly flowing, his mind chasing the rapidly fleeing, fleeting image of his friend...his almost lover...held tightly in his arms, whole once again. He could feel it again, if he tried; feel the strength, the solidity. The certainty of the touch, the rightness of straight lines. Not bothering to dry his tears, he gazed at the fragile form lying in its hospital bed and reached to touch the warm, rough, stubborn cheek. It felt like home. Strange how he'd never known, when now it was so clear. Epiphany. Pure and simple. His prayers tonight would be that much more fervent.
~~~Drifting in darkness and waking to darkness, he hadn't yet wondered about the lack of light.
Drift, wake, drift, wake... This was the rhythm of his somber world, as simple and steady as the whispered words he thought to be close, yet heard from afar. Could he merely be dreaming that comforting cadence? This voice was different from the others. More important, more substantial. It reached out to him across a vast expanse, a slender silver thread of hope...he wanted to seize it, follow it home, but before he could grasp it the darkness returned and swallowed him whole.
Drift, wake. Drift, wake. Pause. Wait. Listen. He strained to hear, senses flexing, twisting, stretching, reaching... Why was his shadowy world so silent? He knew he'd heard a voice. That singular voice. He wanted to hear it again.
Talk to me...
Drift, wake. Drift, wake. Yes. There it was, that voice, the one he'd wanted to hear, the one he needed. Low and earnest. Whispering. Pleading. He knew that voice—knew it intimately, trusted it completely—and it was talking to him. To him. He couldn't make out the words. He was trying, how he was trying, but it was too far away and the dimming tide was rising inexorable and irresistible, its siren tone insistent, drowning out all others, but oh how he longed to listen to that other, sweeter voice... How he yearned to know what it meant, what it wanted... It sounded important and he struggled to stay but the darkness was everywhere, thick and compelling, and then there was only silence.
Drift, wake. Drift, wake. Wake. Wake. The darkness denied him clarity of vision; he did not know where he was, but he knew the other was with him. As always when he awoke. Always here, with him, always here and now, always with him. That was all he knew. It was almost enough. Lost in a world of shadows and mists he lived for the sound of the voice of his other speaking to him, softly, like he was doing now, whispering to him, pleading with him...needing something, needing it desperately, something he might be able to give of only he could know what it was. He strained and stretched every nerve, trying to listen, hoping to understand. He felt a sigh, then, and something else—a motion. A movement. A touch.
Hutch. Hutch. A shaft of sunlight piercing penumbral shadows.
He felt the other's touch, recognized it, knew it, tried to return it—but something was wrong. For the first time, now, he was fully aware, fully afraid. He couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't open his eyes—it was dark, and Hutch was far away.
Why was Hutch so far away? Come closer, he begged into the silent darkness. Come close, closer. Touch me. Find me. Ground me.
He felt the touch upon his cheek once again, as if in answer to his soundless plea; felt the stroke across his forehead, circling his temple, tracing his brow. Yes, like that. Touch me like that. Please. Again.
Hutch's caress was soft and sure, carding through curls, exploring and lingering, touching here and there, light as a butterfly's wing and sweet as a sleeping child's tender breath. Yes, like that. Touch me like that. Love me like that.
Both hands upon him now...yes, yes—touch me, return me...one resting at his temple as the other brushed slowly down his arm... Searching, questing, reaching his own, and then there were fingers upon fingers and wrapping around and embracing and tenderly and lifting them up and then, oh then, the touch of trembling lips so soft upon him and pressing down into his hand yes, like that, please love me like that and Hutch was kissing his hand and the moisture and warmth would surely liquefy would melt him away and Hutch was holding his hand, and kissing his hand, and he couldn't just lie there he had to do something and he needed to say something because he knew what it meant, yes, he knew what it meant, and dear sweet god how he wanted it, too...
The cherishing lips lifted away and then he perceived a different warm wetness...and wanted to cry, too, but he wouldn't, couldn't, because he needed to listen carefully now, listen now to the words; he had to know what they were saying but the darkness was looming, he could feel it coming and he tried to resist 'cause he wanted to stay but he couldn't just yet, it was stronger than he, but before he succumbed he had to know, dammit, he needed to know, so he willed himself to listen and the cadence he'd always heard but had never before understood resounded strong now, and clear—
"Wake up. Come back. I love you. Don't leave me."
I want to. I will. I know. I won't.
The other's words were a mantra, a prayer, an incantation...he tried to respond, to seize the thread, to follow the voice, to answer the call and wake to the light so his other would know...but in a closer deeper distance now darkness prevailed and he slowly surrendered, started drifting away... Faith is strength and hope sustains. He yielded, then, unafraid and accepting. Trusting. Believing. Knowing.
Soon now, very soon, he knew he'd be waking. Waking for good. Waking to love.