Category Linkin Park
Title: under swept
Summary: I thought it would make sense someday, but I kept waiting.
Notes: roily_rogue suggested I post this somewhere, so here I go. A lot more mellow than my previous fic, and not the kind of thing i usually write, but what the hell. The lack of violence and rough sex makes me nervous. Ahem. 'Twas written over a year ago, which explains the change in writing style and not much else that wouldn't require a diagram and a whole lot of time to explain. But thanks to roily_rogue for letting me babble incessantly anyway.
Mike hates funerals. They always make him itch for some reason. Of course, maybe that some reason had to do with the fact that the only suit he had he’d kept since college, and he suspects that something toxic might have spilt on it during one far out party or another. Pure speculation, but how else to explain the fact that he itches like a goddamned motherfucker. Every. Single. Time. He probably should just get a new suit. Probably.
He tries not to fidget, surreptitiously lifts his leg to scratch at an ankle. Joe shoots him a look, and he puts his leg down guiltily. Already regretting deciding to come. Why had he come? No doubt she wouldn’t even have wanted him to come. The obituary photo hadn’t even looked like her. If he hadn’t recognized her mother’s name, he might have dismissed the name as a coincidence.
The priest is finishing the rites. Nearby, he can hear someone sobbing silently. Mike closes his eyes when they lower the twin caskets into the ground, brown walnut oak gleaming in the sunlight. Almost the same color as her hair is – was, he thinks. Joe squeezes his hand briefly. Mike raises his eyes and smiles at him fleetingly, grateful that he’s there.
After the funeral, he goes up to the mother. She hugs him fiercely, murmurs, ‘I’m so glad you’re here, Mike.’ He’s a little taken aback. His relationship with her daughter had ended…badly. Years go by, memory fades. Or maybe death wiped the slate clean somehow. Could the dead wipe grant forgiveness where the living couldn’t? It doesn’t make a difference. He still feels unabsolved.
He introduces Joe as – ‘An old friend.’
‘Really? Did you know Nadine?’
‘We were introduced. She was a wonderful person, so full of light.’ he smiles softly at her. She smiles in response.
‘She was, wasn’t she? I can’t believe...’ it’s Joe that holds her when she chokes off with a sob. Mike stands there awkwardly until someone – her husband, gently brings her away.
‘Hold on a minute…honey, come here.’ she says, holding out her hand to a little girl Mike just notices is hiding behind the old man’s legs. The girl emerges and grabs hold of her hand. ‘This is Natasha. Natasha, this is Michael and Joe. They used to go to school with your momma.’
Mike kneels down in front of her. ‘Hey Natasha. It’s nice to meet you.’
She stares solemnly at him. ‘Hi.’ she says shyly. Blinks, cocks her head. ‘I know you.’
‘No, hon...I don’t think so.’ he reaches out and caresses her long brown hair.
‘No…I know you. I’ve seen you on TV.’ big baby blue eyes widen at him.
Mike places a finger softly on her lips, whispers softly, ’Shhh…between you and me, okay?’ Forgets sometimes how young some of their fans are. He glances up at her grandparents, both of them oblivious to the conversation. No one else knows he’s semi-possibly-probably famous here. At least they don’t.
‘Come on.’ he says to Joe once she’s out of hearing range. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Go? Don’t you want to go –‘
‘No. Let’s just go, allright?’ he strides off without waiting for Joe’s reply. Almost drops the keys trying to open the car door, before Joe catches up and gently takes them from him. He considers arguing, *wants* an argument, anything to ease the hurting, but here isn’t the place or the time. Gets in the passenger seat instead. Leans his head back against the seat rest.
‘So…where are we going?’ Joe asks once they’re on the road.
‘I don’t care…anywhere. Nowhere.’
‘I’ll take you home?’
Barely notices the surroundings, surprised when they pull up into an almost deserted parking lot. ‘Here?’
Joe grins and says, ‘I figured, since we were in the neighborhood.’
‘Yeah, okay. Why not?’ he gets out of the car, follows Joe up the stairs into the pub. Been years. Not that many for him, longer for Joe, who’d left before he had. His eyes adjust to the dim light as Joe points to their old booth, mercifully empty. Wonders why – but of course, it was summer, and mid-afternoon. Not many students around. He slides into the booth as Joe makes his way to the bar counter to order beers. Glances around. Nothing much has changed. Of course not, it’s not like he’d graduated that long ago. He probably only expected it to change because his own life had changed so much in those few short intervening years.
Joe slides in opposite him, hands him a bottle. He takes a sip, almost chokes at the taste. Fucked up cheap shit, the only kind they could afford back then. They didn’t care back then, the only priority was to get smashed as quickly as possible and anything that did the trick was gold.
‘Tastes like shit, doesn’t it?’ Joe remarks.
‘Fuck yeah. How’d we ever swallow this stuff?’
‘Your tastebuds are less sensitive when you’re a teenager.’
He shoots Joe a half hearted glare then takes another sip. Still tastes like swill. Doesn’t matter. Get to oblivion on this or on expensive wine, the result is the same. Set his sights on the goal. The only thing that was important right now. He downs half the bottle in one long swallow, wipes his mouth with his coat sleeve afterwards. Glances over at Joe, who hasn’t touched his.
‘Aren’t you going to drink?’
‘Just fucking take a sip, Joe. Stop being such a wuss.’ he pushes the bottle closer to Joe. Green glass glimmers in the overhead light, reflects fractured emerald hues onto his hand.
Joe picks up the bottle, takes a small sip. Mike leans back in the booth, finishes his. Twirls the empty bottle in his hand, hopes it will materialize into a full one as if by magic. ‘I need another beer.’
‘Here, have mine.’ tries to pass it to him, but Mike pushes his hand away.
‘No, finish it. Finish it, and I’ll go get some more, and make sure they keep coming.’
‘Mike, I’m not in the…’
‘*Finish* it.’ inexcusably demanding and harsh, but Joe just stares at him before lifting the bottle to his lips and swallowing down the entire contents, slower than Mike would have liked, but fast enough. When he’s done, Mike returns the empty bottles and orders some more. Determination is the key, he will get inebriated here.
By the time he’s on this forth beer and Joe on his – third?, the world has started to turn a pleasant shade of haze, and he feels – at least the huge boulder choking him has lightened a *little*.
Joe protests when he slides him another bottle. ’One of us has to drive, Mike.’
‘That never stopped us before.’
‘Before, we lived near enough we could walk back. Now we’re – too fucking far away for both of us to be drunk.’
‘Okay fine. Don’t expect me to stop on your behalf though.’
‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’
‘You’re the one that brought me here in the first place, Joe. Remember? I didn’t *ask* you to bring me here.’
‘I thought we could talk. It wasn’t my intention for you to try to get alcohol poisoining.’
‘Yeah, because we used to come here to have deep meaningful conversations right?’ He rolls his eyes and defiantly downs another mouthful. Never been why they’d come here. They’d been so young then. The disaffected youth of America. Rebelling against what exactly he’d yet to figure out. Bad grades and having to tolerate professors that didn’t understand that they were suffering for their craft. Middle class surburban angst that he’d later poured into his lyrics. That meant nothing. Came here for a myriad of reasons. Came here for the cheap beer and for the company. -
- Joe’s company, mostly. Sometimes Brad tagged along, or the rest of the band, but Brad and Dave were in UCLA, so they weren’t here often. Plus Brad was *pre-law* and therefore had to do ‘actual studying’ unlike ‘you artsy types’. Or so he always claimed. Mostly just to rile them up. It rarely worked.
Not that it was ever just the two of them. There were always others – classmates, dormmates – although he always felt like it was just them two. They made a lot of noise there. He almost got his cherry popped in the back one warm spring night – they had to stumble back frantically to the dorm when they belatedly realized the alley was possibly not the best place to fuck.
Although a few weeks after that Joe had blown him in a bathroom stall. A little taste of temporary insanity - Joe got crazy sometimes when he was bored. It was quite possibly the only risqué thing they’d ever truly done, considering the germs that infested the place. It was absolutely filthy. Palms pressed flat against the cubicle walls, teeth clamped tight to keep from making a noise. Don’t know why he bothered, two sets of feet in the stall – they didn’t have a clue back then - some other student had slammed his fist against the door, yelled, ‘Motherfucking faggots!’ before storming out in a huff. Joe found that hilarious for some reason, giggled until Mike twisted his fingers tight into his hair because Jesus, he’d almost been fucking *there*. Told him jokingly later that he’d had to burn those jeans, the stains on the knees wouldn’t come out. Mike quite correctly pointed out that it hadn’t been *his* idea, but Joe seemed to think that somehow he was responsible for *everything*.
He’d never brought her here. This was a separate part of his life. Where he got smashed. Got high. Got inspired. She was his girlfriend, the one he brought home for dinner with his parents, brought to parties. The one he might marry someday. -
- ‘Brad says there’s no such thing as coincidence. That everything happens for a reason, some cosmic cycle of life.’ Joe says.
‘Brad’s Jewish. What the fuck does he know about anything?’
Mike laughs despite himself. ‘Hell, I don’t know. He says you’re the one that’s rubbing off on him, you tell me.’
‘I kinda make most of that shit up. Not my fault he buys it.’
Joe sighs. ‘Mike.’
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘No, not really.’ he slides his fingers along the table, traces the carvings and cigarette butts that permanently marr the wood. College kids looking to proclaim their immortality to the world, or to the next suckers that happened to slide into the booth. He himself had carved his own piece of history *somewhere*. Something cool no doubt, he thinks, like ‘Mike is the phattest MC on the block.’ or ‘Mike rawks’. Something stupid. He can’t remember exactly what, was piss drunk when he did it. Almost broke Joe’s Swiss Army Knife in the process. Blunted it beyond repair. Bought him a new one. *Forced* to buy him a new one.
‘She got pregnant.’ he says abrubtly, wants to get it out there – see how it sounds. Looks up sharply when Joe says nothing. Staring at him, expression unreadable. ‘Don’t you have anything to say?’
‘No, no...not mine. Shit, I think you’d know if I had a kid stashed somewhere wouldn’t you?’
Joe shakes his head slowly. ‘With you Mike, one never knows.’
‘What the fuck is that supposed to mean?’
Another barely audible sigh, followed by a rueful grin. ‘Nothing. Nothing. Except I guess I figured out what’s going on with you now.’
‘Oh yeah? Well why don’t you enlighten me, Mr. Hahn. I’m all fucking ears.’ he’s pissed now, at the way Joe’s voice sounds – leaning more towards disappointment than surprise or shock.
‘Do you really want to hear what I have to say?’
‘Yes, I want to hear what you want to say. Why the fuck does everybody always assume I’m this big asshole that’s only looking for validation to excuse the mistakes that I’ve made?’
Replies calmly, ‘I never assumed anything. You’re the one assuming things here.’
No, Joe wasn’t saying anything much. Not Joe. -
- Brad had. The only one besides him that knew what had gone down. Called him before he went to see her, he’d been avoiding Joe – not that hard, since he seemed equally determined not to talk to him either. Said nothing until Mike prompted him, ‘Well?’
‘Don’t you have anything to say?’
‘Not really.’ Marked disinterest, even over the phone.
‘Brad, this is my fucking life here we’re talking about. Don’t you fucking care?’
Short laugh. ’Yeah, Mike. I care. I also know you pretty well. You’re not calling me for advice, you’ve already made up your mind what you’re going to do – whatever I say isn’t gonna make a difference, is it? If it helps, I’m down with whatever you’ve decided.’
‘No it doesn’t…asshole!’ slammed the phone down, annoyed beyond words. Brad, of all people – was *supposed* to be his best friend. He never brought up the subject ever again. Treated him the same way as he always had. Grateful for that, but Brad forgave and forgot things pretty easily. -
- Brad, and the words he’d said then weren’t the same, but he’d had the same tone in his voice that Joe has now. ‘Do you think so little of me? Or that I think so little of you?’
Small smile. ’No Mike, I don’t. Wouldn’t be here if I did. Neither would Brad, neither would any of us.’
‘No? And here I thought you hung around for the chicks and the free clothes.’
‘*Now* yeah. Of course. Back then, face it Mike. You were never the stud you always thought you were.’
‘No? Don’t recall ever hearing you complaining.’
‘That’s because you never listened to what anyone said.’
‘Oh so we’re back to that now are we? I’m listening now, Joe.’
‘The truth? I think you’ve spent your whole life thinking you’re invincible and now you’re starting to figure out that you just might not be. Existential pre-mid-life crisis or something like that.’
‘I *never* thought I was invincible.’
‘Oh please, we all did. Only you had the ability to make everyone else around you believe that in your case it just might be true. This girl, Nadine, you lost her – let her go and never looked back. She moved on too, got married, had a kid – lost her life in a car accident. Just like that, driving home one day with her husband. Wham, drunk driver slams into their vehicle, kills them both.’
Joe shrugs expansively, takes another sip of his beer before continuing. ’That could have been your life, right? If you’d done the right thing, married her, had that kid. Could have been you in that car, could have been you six feet under. Based on the choices you made.’
‘I see.’ he says faintly. ’So you think…what? That I’m feeling guilty here? Because she’s dead and I’m not?’
‘No, I don’t think you feel guilty. I think her death hit you on the head, and you realized for the first time that no matter how much you make your plans and control your life, in the end all it comes down to is whether you turn left or right. But that’s life, shit. Welcome to the fucking world.’
‘So you do think that little of me then.’ he catches on something, focuses bleakly on Joe, ‘You said *right* thing. If I’d done the –‘
‘No I didn’t mean it that –‘
Holds his hand up adamantly. ‘No – you said *right* thing, as in, I did the wrong thing. I fucked up, I killed my…Jesus.’ he can’t finish, lays his head down on the table instead.
‘Mike.’ Joe’s voice is surprisingly gentle. ’I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t know what went down between the two of you back then in the first place so far be it for me to judge, but I do know that you weren’t the only one in that relationship. I’m sure she had some say in it.’
‘No…I…I pushed her. Of course I did. The way I do. Always works. Always.’ -
- He had. They had dinner. Nice restaurant, he ordered wine. They discussed the issue, like adults did. He pressed, hard. Rationalizing, consequences and impacts and bright futures crumbling away. She folded. Talked about Joe. He said, before she could. ‘I’m not gay.’
Stared at him almost pityingly. ‘I understand that –‘
Cut her off, emphasized. ‘I’m *not* gay. Neither is Joe. It was what it was. I’m sorry. I want us to try to make this work. Please.’
Thought about it, then decided. ’Okay. I’ll forgive you if you promise me it’s over.’
‘I meant your friendship. I don’t want you to see him again, you understand?’
He played with the wine glass, watched the red catch the light. Agreed. What else could he say? Not meaning it for a second.
Accompanied her to the clinic, *responsible* boyfriend that he was. Held her hand afterwards, went on later like none of it had ever happened. Didn’t protest *too* much when they drifted apart. When she pulled away from him and finally broke it off.
She never mentioned Joe again, when they started hanging out again. The band. Took his word for it that they weren’t fucking anymore. It was the truth, but he was surprised the way she just accepted it. Realized later it was probably because she had stopped caring one way or another. Tried to make it work at the time because she was scared. She was pregnant. Then she wasn’t.
He didn’t miss her. Had the band to think about, everything was moving so fast – heard, from one of their mutual friends that she had gotten married, moved out of state. Accepted that information the way anyone that heard news about someone they barely knew did, processed then promptly forgot about it. He’d already started dating Anna then anyway. The second one that was supposed to be the *one*. -
- Life went on. He went on. And now she’s dead, and he’s…still going on. Sitting here trying – so far unsuccessfully - to get drunk or get Joe drunk so he could…could what, exactly? Forget. Only Joe’s calmly detailing exactly how selfish he’s been his entire life, and forgetting seems like the last thing he’s going to be doing tonight.
‘It was never about her.’ he says finally, because he can’t think of anything else to say.
‘It was about you.’
‘But you let me…’he trails off, uncertain.
Joe turns his head, examines the cracks lining the walls. ‘No one tells you what to do, Mike. I could never *let* you do anything.’
‘So now what?’
Glances at him then, black eyes shining in the dim light. ‘I don’t know. You tell me.’
‘You think I’m a self-centered bastard, don’t you.’
‘No, just that you sometimes forget that life isn’t supposed to mould to your vision of it. Everything’s not about the fucking *plan*, 24-7.’
‘I think I kinda figured that one out tonight.’ he catches, at the corner of his eye. Looks closer, and there it is. Scratched deep and uneven – not his best work, but obvious all the same. ‘Mike&Joe, 1997’ The only year they’d been together in college. Before Joe left school. Wondered why, never enough to question, so long as he came back when he was needed. To help with the band. His ambition. His drive. He says, ‘Hey Joe, you wanna take me home tonight?’
Joe smiles. Says nothing.
‘So…I’m considering it.’
‘Oh now *that’s* good for my ego. I lay myself on the line here and you consider it.’
‘You wanna come home with me tonight, Mike?’
Joe’s house is new. He’s never been there before. Almost don’t make it to the bedroom, Mike pulls him in before the front door is even closed. Slips his tongue in, runs it along the roof of his mouth. Joe moans, slightly. Slams the door, then him, against it. Bends down, pushes him up, almost off his feet. Mike gasps, breaks the kiss. ‘Bed – ‘
'room. Yeah.’ finishes for him. Backs away, grabs hold of his hand. Up the stairs, almost running. Mike throws off the suit, glad to be rid of the feel against his skin. Joe clucks sympathetically at the tiny red welts, mostly caused by his scratching. Trails kisses up his arm, then falls to his knees. Mike runs his fingers through his hair. Takes him in his mouth and it had been so long. Since the last time. -
- The last time, and it had been in Mike’s dorm room. Half an hour before Nadine was supposed to come pick him up for dinner. Joe had been sprawled on the couch, Mike kneeling in between his legs. Kissed him, on the lips before going back down again. Buried his face in his crotch, inhaled his scent. Joe’s hand patting his head absently. Joe was always so gentle, unlike himself. Never heard the knock on the door. Forgot to lock it, didn’t notice her standing there until she let out a low, controlled exclamation of rage. Opened his eyes in time to see her back as she strode off.
He chased after her, of course he had. Caught up with her halfway down the block. More angry than hurt, she cut him off when he tried to explain.
‘Don’t even fucking start! I don’t want to hear it!’
‘Look, it didn’t *mean* anything, I swear! It was just…’ Shook her head violently, tried to walk away. He grabbed her arms, pleaded, ‘I’m sorry, you weren’t supposed to come over until ten.’
‘So now it’s my fault for being early? Forgive me, next time you should tell me when you’re going to be blowing your friend so I can make sure I don’t turn up unannounced.’
Not going well, he told her next that it was just he and Joe fooling around, they were *guys* after all, tension relieving and all that – didn’t buy it for one second, just snorted in disgust, then threw him the biggest curveball he’d ever gotten in his relatively trouble free life, delivered in flat, unemotional tones, ‘Oh, by the way. I’m pregnant. *That’s* why I came over early. Now let go of me!’ So stunned, he’d released her when she yanked her arms. Backed out to the edge of the street, by the time he’d regained control of his mental facilities she’d flagged down a cab and gone off, left him standing there.
When he made it back to the dorm room, Joe was putting on his coat.
‘Yeah, thought I’d stay and finish what we started?’
Flushed red. ‘No, um. She’s mad as hell.’
‘Nooo.’ dry as ashes, and he flushed even redder.
‘I’ll see you around, Mike.’ brushed past him, face carefully blank and that’s the second time Mike was left staring after someone as they were leaving.
Only he didn't chase after Joe. Wouldn’t know what to say, and anyway, he had more important things to think about. -
- Not now. Now it’s just Joe and him. Like it was in the beginning. Or in the middle. He doesn’t remember – just that Joe was *always* there with him back then. Before. He pulls Joe down on the bed with him, kisses him slow. A taste of awkwardness initially, once they’re both ready. Mike balances on his elbows, laughs self-consciously. ‘It’s been…awhile.’
Flash of white teeth in the semi-darkness of the bedroom. ‘Well be fine.’ Confidently assuring, he rises above him, plants a kiss on his forehead. They are. The body remembers, after all. Stretched thin, torn apart – then together again. He’d never known how he missed…not so much the sex, but how real it always was. Strange, diaphanous feeling, not being in total control – freefalling without a safety net, or even the assurance that he would land anywhere at all, not keep on tumbling until he burnt out. Joe always overwhelmed just by being there and the lack of expectation and the knowledge that they knew one another so well made everything, if not exactly perfect, then close enough for it to not matter.
“Joe,” Mike shudders, and buries his head in the crook of his neck as Joe slides in, as he stops being able to breathe anything but the man with him. “Joe,” he says, as he comes, and then Joe comes, and his world falls apart.
He wakes up the next morning, squinting at the sun shining through the curtains that they’d never bothered to draw. Hungry, but Joe’s still asleep, so Mike gets up and throws on a pair of jeans. He leaves the room as quietly as he can to find his way to the large, spotless kitchen that looks barely used. Stares at the contents of the fridge, as if hoping that edible food will somehow materialize if he stands there long enough looking for it. Says without turning around when he hears the door swing open, ‘You have nothing to eat.’
‘Sorry. Don’t get much chance to go grocery shopping. Not like we’re here often.’ Joe comes around to stand behind him, peers over his shoulder. ‘There’s ice cream in the freezer.’
‘Ice cream for breakfast? I’ll pass, thanks.’
‘Okay, suit yourself.’ strong arms wrap around his waist, warm lips nuzzle at his neck.
‘We could…ahh..we could go out to eat…’he lets his head fall forward as Joe trails kisses across his back.
‘We could, yeah…or we could stay in and make out.’
‘Make out. Like we’re teenagers, huh?'
'Hey, while we’re acting like them, we might as well.' but then he steps back. Jumps on the table and stares quietly at Mike. Mike flushes and lets the refrigerator door close.
'Morning after, always awkward.' he says.
Joe shrugs. 'Depends on what you feel awkward about.'
Nothing. Everything. He had a girlfriend waiting for him back home and a promising career that would be complicated by all of this, and so many plans that he’d made that would crumble into uncertainty if he chose anything but the path he was already on. 'Joe…'
'How about we skip breakfast and make out like teenagers?'
Joe smiles. 'I’ll consider it.'
- end -