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"Don’t Mention His Name, And His Name Will Pass On
- Part 5"
Title: Don’t Mention His Name, and His Name Will Pass On—Part 5 of 8
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike/Peter (TV, but I did cheat and slip in one real-life guy)
Rating: overall NC-17 (and this part definitely is)
Warnings: slash (sexual situations), language, angst, sleaze
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably worry me), and not at all any claim to ownership of these TV characters or their real-life counterparts.
Summary: This chapter—at last, there be sexin’ here… but nothing is ever easy with these two.
~FEBRUARY 1964 ~
“Well, damn,” Mike said between gulps of steak and potatoes. It wasn’t the first time he’d said that since leaving the movie theater. “I never got much into the classical stuff”—he’d been saying that more than once, too—“but that was some seriously good shit.”
And just like every other time, Peter giggled into his spaghetti then hastened to assure that he wasn’t laughing at him. It was just funny, Peter said, to imagine Beethoven conducting a new symphony, and the first night audience congratulating him for writing “good shit.”
Somehow, Mike had never before heard of Fantasia. He supposed it just wasn’t the kind of film that would play in Texas. Too high-brow, maybe… at least for a Disney cartoon. Too bad, because he would have taken his little brothers and sisters to see it, if he’d known it existed. They’d have eaten it up, with the dancing ostriches and hippos and mushrooms (at least he thought they were mushrooms), and Mickey Mouse as a fuck-up wizard-in-training chasing broomsticks up and down the stairs. They’d have turned to him for safety during the sequence with the dark demon and his fiery minions…
Peter had. In the dimness of the theater Mike had felt Peter grab his hand during a close-up of the cartoon demon’s wicked, toothy grin. It was a fleeting moment, as the demon was banished by dawn’s light and a heavenly chorus. But the contact was just one more gift to his senses delivered by this film he’d never heard of. The other gift being… well, the tagline on the theater marquee had been accurate in its description: “Music you can see and pictures you can hear!” As with the Beatles just this past Sunday night, though in a very different way, his connection with music had been flipped on its head.
“That part with the dinosaurs,” he said. “I never seen anything like that. It was like beyond a cartoon, and that music—what was it?”
“Rite of Spring,” Peter readily answered. “It’s Stravinsky.”
“Uh, yeah.” Stravinsky? It sounded like some kind of vodka. “It was different from the other music in the movie. The rest was, like, some light and some dark, but it all made sense. But that spring thing, it was like the guy who wrote it just said ‘fuck y’all, I’m gonna write what I wanna hear.’ I can go for that.”
Peter practically bounced in his seat. “I knew you’d like it! It’s a movie for people who don’t just love music but live it—and that’s definitely you.”
Well, shoot. Spare me my blushes, Peter.
“I have the record,” Peter said. “Rite of Spring, I mean. You can borrow it, if you want.”
“Ah. Now, that could be a problem. I’m kinda short by one record player.” Among many other things.
Peter smiled brightly. “I have one.”
And there it was. Peter might as well have said “Do you want to come back to my place?” and Mike would be left once more tiptoeing through a treacherous minefield of promises half-made by an innocent soul who didn’t quite yet know what he really wanted.
“I remember,” he said without making any promises himself. “Clunky old piece, looked like it was held together with spit and matchsticks, if I recall.”
“Just about,” Peter laughed.
“Well, I don’t know about this whole thing.” Mike swallowed his last piece of steak and pushed his plate away. “Truth is, I am officially stumped. Four days’ wait to see the movie, and it’s a movie you actually like instead of one that makes you bawl. Not what I’ve come to expect. What’s this all about, Peter?”
“It’s not really a mystery, Tex.” There was an extra sparkle in the brown eyes, as Peter tried and utterly failed to look devious.
“Well, it is to me. Now spill.”
“It’s my birthday,” Peter beamed. “I’m eighteen.”
“This roommate of yours ever home?” Mike noted the empty garret, and the guitar case propped up against the little bookshelf in the dormer window. Peter’s banjo case rested nearby.
“He gets more gigs than I do.” Peter shut the door behind them. Without a trace of bitterness or envy, he added, “He can really sing—like you—and I really can’t.”
“Well, work at it. Anyone can sing if they want to.” Anyone can do anything they want to. Look at the Beatles, and the vodka guy who wrote the dinosaur music. Maybe I can, too…
As promised, Peter set his album of “Rite of Spring” on the record player’s turntable. The first tinny sounds to emerge were much more lethargic than Mike remembered from the movie—in fact, after a few minutes they slowed to a halt altogether. At which point Peter smacked the side of the ancient player, and the music started up properly again. Peter’s sheepish apology for his display of what he called “violence” was almost as much of a turn-on as the act itself.
“So,” Mike said as casually as possible, settling back against the horror that was Peter’s yellow couch. Even more springs poked up from the far right cushion than he recalled at Christmas. “You’re eighteen.”
“Yeah.” Peter lowered himself to the floor at Mike’s feet. “I am.”
“You should’ve said something before. Now I feel like a grade-A asshole. Not only didn’t I pay for your ticket or lunch, but you paid for mine.”
“I did say it was my treat. And it was.” Peter closed his eyes, nodding his head along with the music. After several minutes he looked up at Mike with some nervousness, as if he knew what he was about to say would not go over well. “When’s your birthday, Tex?”
And it didn’t. It reminded Mike too much of his holiday blowup just days before his twentieth, and he didn’t want to revisit that misunderstanding. Especially not now when the prize might finally be within his grasp… “Not for a long time,” he replied, which was true enough so far as it went.
“Okay.” If Peter was disappointed, he didn’t show it. Rather, the impish grin returned. “You know the best thing about being eighteen?”
You can get drunk and screw. Well, the drunk part was true enough now, at least in New York if not in Texas. As for the screwing, legally Peter had been in the clear for the last year—in New York or Texas—but now that he had reached Mike’s own personal benchmark for manhood… and leaving aside some other laws… Mike glanced at the opening of the garret’s makeshift alcove. The corner of a beat-up mattress was still peeking around the partition, just as he remembered from last time. Please tell me you’ve waited long enough and are finally ready to screw…
“I’ll never see eighteen again myself,” he said instead. “But I remember, and my wild guess is that the best thing about it is—”
“I can finally get a real driver’s license!”
For a moment the only sounds in the room were “Rite of Spring” and the record player’s accompanying clicks and hisses. Peter’s great revelation was so far from what Mike expected or wanted to hear that he could barely even process it.
“Really,” he managed eventually. “I can’t believe you of all people been drivin’ around with a fake.”
“No, I have a permit. But it’s a drag. I can’t drive anywhere unless someone older is in the car with me. But with a real license, I can drive myself!”
“Won’t that be kinda tough when you don’t have a car anywhere I can see around here?”
“Oh, Fred—he owns the Say What—he lends us his car. Well, he says we’ll be washing his dishes for a month if we put a dent in it, but it hasn’t happened yet. I try to be careful.”
Some fool let kids drive his car? If the day ever came when Mike could afford a car, he’d take such good care… It would be a car big enough to apply for statehood, an unmistakable declaration of who he was and what he could do, a jewel in a fleet—and no bumbling kids would get a chance to wreck it.
But that day wasn’t likely to come any time soon. Besides, why did anyone living in a city like this even need to bother? The freeways of a place like LA, sure. But not here.
“Can’t say I really see the point, Peter. I left my driver’s license behind in Texas and haven’t missed it once the whole time I been here.”
“It’s just nice to know I can do it if I need to.” Peter folded his arms up on the couch cushion, resting his right cheek on top of them. He looked up at Mike shyly. “Speaking of lending things,” he said in the clumsiest by-the-way attempt Mike had ever heard, “I was wondering… I see why you don’t play the clubs, we’re nowhere near your level and stuff, but… Tex, you really need to be heard. You’re amazing, and if it’s not having a guitar that’s stopping you, well, I’m sure Fred would let you borrow one of the house guitars. He lets me. I can ask him for you, if you want.”
It took Mike a moment to remember what Peter was talking about. Oh, yeah. I never did get to buy back my guitar. Somehow, between the Beatles and Fantasia, the quest to regain possession of his old acoustic—not to mention his cowboy hat and the rest of his cowboy suit—completely slipped his mind.
“Peter,” he said after marshalling up forgotten rationales, “you don’t get it. I would have done that already if it was just that easy. Fact is, I’m about as welcome as cancer around here. Country singers need not apply. Plenty of ‘Freds’ have told me that while kicking my ass out their folkie joint doors.”
“I don’t think that matters so much anymore, whether you play country or folk or anything.”
“The Beatles. You heard them, you heard… it. They blew the door open. Everything’s changed now.”
I wouldn’t say “everything” has changed. Not when I’m sitting here trying to will away a hard-on while your eighteen-year-old self is babbling away about drivers’ licenses. Mike looked down at Peter’s face resting on its side on the couch’s good cushion, just a few inches away from his own left thigh. The top bits of Peter’s short, sandy hair were falling into his eyes.
“Maybe it has,” Mike finally said, “in more ways than one. Like, nobody goes into a place like the Fuss and Feathers the first time and comes out looking at things the same, Beatles or no Beatles.” He watched Peter closely for some kind of reaction. “Haven’t really heard you say anything about the other night, but I’m guessing that scene must’ve been on the strange side for you.”
“The Fuss—what?” The puzzled frown Mike was growing too fond of appeared again. “Oh. Well, the lady with the thingy was a new one. But the rest—Tex, I told you: there’s at least twenty people in this house. I see and hear stuff all the time.”
As if cued by an unseen conductor, “Rite of Spring” suddenly exploded into some march of horns whose strident whoops couldn’t help but call to mind lunging bodies… thrusting bodies… Through the alcove’s opening, the beat-up mattress beckoned like a lighthouse on a fogged, craggy shore.
“You don’t say.” Go on, ask the $64,000 question. “So… you ever done more than just see or hear?”
The confusion faded from Peter’s face. His cheeks reddened. “No.”
“Hey, now. Nothing wrong with waiting till you’re ready.” Crap, now I sound like his big brother again. This is gettin’ all kinds of wrong! Despite the guilt Mike sometimes felt for abandoning his family, he couldn’t deny that he was glad to have left before he’d ever had to give any of his siblings “the talk.”
“That’s the problem,” Peter muttered into his forearm. “How do you know when you’re ready?”
Well, thanks a whole heap to you up there, God. You’re really gonna make me earn this, aren’t ya?
Mike awkwardly cleared his throat. “You’ll probably know you’re ready when you don’t find yourself asking if you’re ready.”
Peter said nothing, obviously too nice and polite to tell Mike that his advice was about as useful as tits on a boar hog.
“You’ll know when you don’t mind being naked in front of someone,” Mike tried again, wondering what the hell was possessing him, “and I don’t just mean not wearing no clothes. When you’re with someone you trust to really see you.” He tried to recall his own first time… Marjorie, that was her name. She’d been wet and willing, and he’d been on fire enough to drill anything with a hole in it. He was dead sure neither of them had ever stopped to ask if they trusted each other, or that either of them had cared.
Two brown eyes, wide as saucers, stared up at him.
“You’re ready,” Mike said, “when you know you’ll never be the same after you done it, and that doesn’t scare you. It excites you.” He leaned down and spoke close to Peter’s ear. “You’ll know when you realize you like the idea of making something new.”
Peter lifted his head.
“I think… I must have been ready a lot longer than I knew, even when I was asking if I was ready, which I’m not supposed to do if I’m ready or I’d know I was ready or—uh—oh... I’ll shut up now.”
He rose to his feet and stretched. The movement was… graceful, a word Mike wouldn’t have previously imagined applying to Peter. He watched as Peter moved across the room and switched off the record player. It’s up to him. He wants it, let him ask for it. It did not occur to Mike that he was falling back onto the techniques of his trade: just stand there, a silent object on display, let them approach and say what they want, let them see you as a blank canvas on which to paint their fantasies…
“Tex? Would you ever—could you—”
Suddenly his arms were full of a desperate, gasping Peter. For a moment he thought Peter was crying, but he soon identified the choking sounds as laughter.
“What’s so funny?” he couldn’t help grinning in turn.
“I just thought,” Peter smiled up into his eyes, “thank God this isn’t my week to sleep on the couch.”
Why, you goddamn traitor.
Mike lay flat on his back, the edge of a sheet his only covering. He could almost feel the planked floor through the lumps in the mattress. He stared straight up to a single light bulb hanging from a wire.
You been up for it all those times you shouldn’t have been, now when I really need you to report for duty you go AWOL on me?
Next to him, and just as bare, Peter was sitting upright. His eyes were stricken as he asked the question he always seemed to be asking Mike:
“Did I do something wrong?”
How could this happen? Mike wanted this. Probably for even longer than he was willing to admit. Now he finally had Peter in a bed, or a close approximation of one, and he couldn’t even… for the first time in his whole misbegotten life, he couldn’t…
“Don’t talk,” he said sharply. He knew he was doing nothing to reassure Peter that this disaster wasn’t his fault—he was most likely reinforcing the notion—but he just couldn’t tend to someone else when confronted with his own unprecedented, colossal failure to function.
It had started fine. Better than fine. They’d somehow managed to two-step in each other’s arms around the makeshift wall into the alcove, laughing and kissing the whole way. Peter wasn’t yet the savviest of kissers, but with a little tutoring he’d be lethal. And he did respond well to instruction: taking Mike’s advice about being willing to be seen naked literally, he’d shed his clothes without prompting and parked himself on the mattress. Amused, Mike had followed suit.
In fact, it now occurred to him, he’d been so amused and carried away that he hadn’t even thought of the most basic of preparations. Maybe it was just as well he’d lost all the air in his tire, so to speak, because if he’d given it to Peter with no lube… Well, that would have been a first time for Peter to remember for all the wrong reasons. Mike had spent most of his life taking care of other people; how could he have forgotten this one simple precaution?
Because, he realized, it had never been his responsibility to remember. He was used to his tricks having everything already laid out in advance. They bought and paid for this service and knew exactly what they were going to get. Spontaneous joy had never been a factor in their routine, or his.
But now… what joy there had been. Holding in his arms someone he truly wanted, and being held by them. Different touches, different tastes, different colors and scents and sounds, yet each accepting and welcoming the other. He’d begun giving Peter a few more tips about what a wonderful instrument the human mouth could be, and not just for whistling, when—
—when it happened. And damn it, there was no reason he could see. Maybe Peter in his natural state wasn’t a total knockout, but there was nothing unpleasing about him. He had a good body. Still not quite grown into himself yet, but there were lines of lean muscle taking shape. Nice skin. Smooth and unblemished, with a sweet constellation of freckles on his shoulders and back. The hair was growing in light and soft, a striking and appealing contrast to the dark pelts covering Mike’s own chest and limbs.
But the point was, it shouldn’t even matter if Peter turned him on physically or not. Mike had been able to get it up for every variety of pudgy, pasty, doughy, ruddy, perspiring, balding, middle-aged loser who handed over to him a couple sawbucks in exchange for an hour’s punishment and pleasure. Every single time, he’d been able to perform. Had he really sunk so low that he could only now do it for money?
“Um, maybe…” Peter looked away. “I’m sorry…”
There he goes, apologizing again for nothing. And it was a sincere apology, Mike knew. Not the kind of apology that really meant “please punish me,” like he was so used to hearing…
And then, out of the blue, the truth dawned. It wasn’t money that made him able to stick it to the most repulsive of johns. It was the lack of respect. The mutual contempt. The chip on his shoulder that made him resentful enough to deliver the punishment they desired, and powerful enough to close the deal.
Resentment. That was what he needed to get his engine back to firing on all cylinders.
“You got any Vaseline?” He directed his question to the light bulb above their heads.
“Vase…? Uh, sure…” Peter turned to rummage through a milk crate stood on its side to serve as a nightstand. “We used it once to get some chewing gum out of my hair. I know it’s here somewhere…”
“No, get it from the bathroom.”
“But I’m sure it’s right—”
“Peter. Wherever the bathroom is in this crazy house of yours, go down there and get it.”
The trust in those eyes was painful to behold. “Okay, Tex.”
He watched Peter pull on his jeans, not bothering with underwear. He watched the denim-clad ass and bare, smooth, freckled back disappear around the partition. He heard the garret door click shut.
He got up himself and went, buck naked, into the main room. He stood in the center of the floor, surveying everything, looking for something to get angry about.
There was the room itself. Cozy and light. Not fair. Why should Peter get to have a warm, safe home when Mike was illegally occupying a condemned tenement? Yeah, that was a good reason to be bitter. Except… as he looked around, Mike noticed a pink paper heart taped to the door. Large red block letters proclaimed “LOVE” with a smiley face serving as the “O.” Oh, yeah, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. The paper heart was a cheap thing, not even up to Woolworth’s quality, but at least one of the two people living here thought enough of holidays to mark them. No prizes for guessing which of the two it is.
He went over to the dormer window, gazed out at the quiet street below. The place wasn’t too far away from the clubs and coffeehouses of Bleecker Street and MacDougal Street. That was something else to resent. The way this Village crowd stuck together, sharing houses and cars and clubs, all the while shutting him out. Fuckers. Except… Peter never shut him out. Peter kept trying to draw him in, and out of himself, to open him up to playing his music, and to new things like the Beatles and Fantasia. Mike was the one who kept barring the gates.
He moved away from the window, almost knocking over Peter’s banjo case. As he prodded it back into place against the little bookshelf, he was confronted once more with the sight of that guitar case. Peter’s roommate’s guitar. The guitar that guy didn’t want anyone else touching. That guy who was so spoiled for choice he was probably off right now playing piano instead, in some club somewhere.
That guy who got to own a guitar when Mike didn’t. Who got gigs when Mike didn’t.
Who got to come home from those gigs to find Peter waiting for him.
Who got Peter all to himself, every damn day of the week...
… and every night, on the couch or in the bed.
A ball of fire shot through Mike, from his toes up to his eyeballs, then back down to burn hot and seething in his groin.
By the time Peter returned, with a jar of Vaseline in his hand and a puzzled look on his face, Mike was back in the alcove fully clothed with his hat pulled down low just above his eyes.
“Tex? Are you leaving? I’m sorry it didn’t work out, really—”
“I ain’t goin’ no place.” Mike held out his left hand for the jar. As Peter placed it in his palm, Mike grasped his wrist with his right hand. “Just don’t see why I should make things easy for you.”
Peter winced when Mike tightened his grip. “But I—”
“Shut up and listen. In the next few minutes you’re gonna hear me say some harsh stuff. I mean real harsh. Hurtful. And you’re just gonna have to take it, or we’ll never get this show on the road.” Mike locked eyes with Peter. “You tough enough for that?”
“I—I don’t know.”
The multitude of questions in those soft eyes almost doused Mike’s fire on the spot. Knowing he was risking another failure, he let go of Peter’s wrist and put the Vaseline down. He took Peter’s face in both hands. “I mean it, man. You’re gonna hear stuff coming out of my mouth that hurts you. But… it’s Wool Hat talking.” He kissed Peter’s forehead. “It ain’t me. Understand?”
It was more a promise to try to understand than an acknowledgment of actual comprehension, but it would have to do. Mike released Peter’s face and sat himself down on top of the milk crate. He crossed one leg over the other and laced his fingers behind his head. Even though he was seated and Peter standing, he was in the position of power and they both knew it.
He nodded at Peter’s jeans. “Off with ‘em.”
“But aren’t you—”
“In my own good time. You want a command performance from me, you gotta give me a warm-up act.”
Peter took his pants off, more slowly and nervously than before. He lowered his head, avoiding Mike’s eyes. Lazily surveying the trembling figure before him, Mike felt another flame take light.
“Turn around.” Peter obediently rotated his body, presenting his back to Mike. “So,” Mike drew his words out long and slow, “you say you never done no more than see and hear.”
“Yes…?” Peter sounded utterly bewildered.
“Never done it with your roommate? Forgive me if I find that just a little hard to believe.”
“You think I—with—oh, no. I never thought… I think—that would be kind of… weird.”
Mike’s bark of laughter was cold and pitiless. “You don’t mind the freak show at the Fuss and Feathers, but it’s weird to let a guy you live with give you a good screw? You’re full of shit.”
“I don’t mean—” The frustrated pleading in Peter’s voice made Mike burn even more. “It’s just that... it’s kind of hard to explain. If you saw him, you’d know why it would be weird.”
“Oh, even better. Your pal’s some deformed, crippled psycho, and you still wave him on through inside your ass before you let me. I’m real flattered.”
“But it’s not like that at all…”
Mike felt his resolve weakening, yet he kept going. It’s Wool Hat, not me. He lurched to his feet and pushed himself up against Peter’s back, one hand winding around to slide up his chest. He wondered how it felt to Peter, the rough fabric of Mike’s shirt and pants chafing against his bare skin.
“Okay, maybe it’s not,” he sneered in Peter’s ear. “After all, you don’t seem to rank too high in his, shall we call it, pecking order. I mean, it’s pretty shitty of him to take a gig today instead of celebrating your birthday.” He pinched Peter’s right nipple, giving it a hard twist.
Peter gasped, his whole body jerking against Mike. “That’s not fair, Tex,” his strained voice objected. “He had to take it. We can’t afford to turn down gigs, either of us.”
Damn you, Peter, will you please stop making me respect you when I need to be mad as hell. Because, in truth, Mike did respect Peter for his steadfastness. No matter how much Peter was crushing on Mike, no matter what wicked things Mike was doing to him, he was still ready to defend one of his friends in the face of Mike’s scorn. Mike couldn’t think of anyone else he knew who would do the same. It was hard to imagine Ginger Snaps, for instance, speaking up on his behalf.
It was simply impossible to resent loyalty. Mike felt the fire in him start to ebb—
—until Peter, bless him, stoked ol’ Wool Hat’s furnace by taking his defense of his friend just one step too far.
“Anyway,” he panted as Mike’s hand left his chest and skimmed down his side, “he already told me we’d do something tomorrow.”
Tomorrow. Valentine’s Day. Oh, yeah. I bet he’ll do “something” to you, all right.
Without any thought, Mike’s hand left Peter’s side, pulled back, then swung forward with palm open and fingers spread, smacking with full force flat against Peter’s ass. When Peter yelped in protest, Mike swung in again.
“There’s words for boys like you,” he stretched his drawl to breaking point. “‘Pricktease’ is the kindest of ‘em. To that I would add lying slut and virgin whore.” The stream of invective he used on the losers who paid for it began pouring out of him. Wool Hat was now in full possession of him. “I bet your buddy can call you a lot more than that. Like ‘filthy queer.’”
Not strong enough. He had to tailor his insults to his audience. “Disgusting wimp.” Nope, not quite there. Find the sorest spot—
Peter whirled around, almost white with shock. Bulls-eye. With his other hand Mike dug his fingers into Peter’s short hair, twisting his head back toward the wall.
“Yeah. That’s it. Bet he makes you do all the chores ‘round here, and when you don’t, or you mess ‘em up, he calls you a dumb little fucktoy. I bet you forget to pay the rent all the time. And he probably says a useless moron like you don’t deserve a roof over your head. He’s ready to kick you out on the street, but then he thinks twice ‘cause it’s just too handy havin’ your hot little hole close by whenever he feels the itch to get stuck in.”
The hand that had delivered the spanking now groped down Peter’s front, cupping the taut balls.
“What else, then? Oh, the laundry. Of course, you forget to do the laundry. And after he gets through pointing out what a worthless little fag you are, he says you’ll just have to hang around the place nude as a plucked chicken. And he’ll realize awful quick that this works out pretty good for him, so the new house rule is no clothes for you.”
He squeezed Peter’s balls, bracing himself against the squirming form.
“And you’ll take to it like a pig to muck, like the brainless slut you are.”
He swung Peter around to face him.
“Or maybe he orders you to go buy some food, and you forget. And he tells you what a stupid, sorry, though admittedly sweet piece of ass you are, how you ain’t no good for nothin’ ‘cept kneeling down or bending over—then, then, he says you’re just gonna have to eat something else.”
He pushed down on Peter’s shoulders, sending him to his knees.
“I got my pride, but in this special case I might settle for another man’s leftovers. So go on, then. Prove you’re not useless. Prove you ain’t dumb. Show me you know how to eat the only thing on the menu.”
And if this were a job, if this were one of those pathetic losers in front of him, Mike would stand back and watch the guy cream himself with ecstasy over being insulted and cut down to size. And since those middle-aged guys were pretty much only loaded with one bullet, as it were, it was up to them to keep things going after they shot their load. At this point they would blow Mike till he ordered them to stop, right at the point of release, then they’d just flip over onto their tidy, respectable (and in many cases marital) beds and he’d hammer on home like they wanted. Then he’d be out the door, no looking back.
Such was the script he knew how to follow. But Peter didn’t have a copy.
Peter was staring up at him. His expression was impossible to decipher. No pleasure, but no anger either. No fear. No tears.
Then he did something totally unexpected. With a sigh, he reached up and gently wrapped his arms around Mike’s waist. He pressed his cheek against Mike’s clothed crotch.
“Why aren’t you happy?”
The simple question shook him to his core.
“You sound like you want me to hate you,” Peter said quietly.
His real core, his real self. He almost staggered backward as the dark demon was chased away by the warm light and heavenly chorus, but Peter’s strong arms held him upright.
“My mother says people who do that already hate themselves.”
And Wool Hat fled back into the shadows, and it was only Mike left standing there looking down at Peter on his knees.
Humbled, stunned, Mike hesitantly dropped an unsteady hand on top of Peter’s head. “Well…” he gave a shaky, weary chuckle, “your ma makes a lot more sense than your pa.”
Peter raised his face. “You didn’t have to do all this. If you needed to… you know, get going again… we could have just talked about it.”
Mike could think of no response. He could only stroke his hand over Peter’s hair, trying to put into his touch the tenderness and regret he found impossible to vocalize.
“Or we could have played music for a while,” Peter said.
“I thought”—Mike paused, uncertain of the wisdom of mentioning the roommate again—“your pal didn’t want no one touching his guitar.”
“I’m allowed.” Peter offered a lopsided smile. “That is, if I agree to give up my week for the bed.” He let go of Mike and sat back on his heels. “And if I let you play it…” A spark of innocent mischief lit his eyes. “Well, that’s what he gets for taking a gig on my birthday.”
Mike was stunned all over again. He was amused, charmed, soothed, comforted—all the softer feelings that weren’t supposed to be able to coexist with the power and control he thought he needed to get the job done. Yet it wasn’t a job with Peter, and the power was still in him. The fire down below still burned, even more so since Peter had pressed his cheek there, but it was no longer the raging scarlet inferno that indiscriminately destroyed everything in its path. It was a single blue flame, the cleanest of all but also the hottest, and so much the better for it.
Peter stood up straight and held out a hand. “I know you won’t tell me why you put yourself through all that, so I won’t keep asking.” His own cock stood at healthy attention, perfect and unashamed. “But could we try this over again?”
“You… you really want to? After all that shit I said? Damn it, I don’t deserve it—”
“Yeah, you probably don’t.”
Impatiently, Peter grabbed his hand.
“But I do.”
And as if a movie projector had stuttered and stalled, then pulsed back to life, the scene replayed itself from the start. The joy, the laughter, the kisses. The touches and tastes and scents. Mike’s body freed from its shield of shirt and pants by Peter’s nimble banjo-picking fingers. Both of them tumbling back down onto the mattress. Mike playfully rolling on top of Peter, who welcomed him with trust and awe.
But the film now spliced in a new set of frames as Mike, this time remembering his responsibilities, fumbled for the jar of Vaseline, explaining to Peter how to coat Mike’s burning flame—“all for you,” he whispered huskily—before using his own long, guitar-honed digits to prepare Peter for that moment after which he would never be the same.
Wiping his hand on the sheet, Mike came to a decision. He closed his eyes and reached up to shed his one remaining piece of armor: his helmet. His hat.
“Keep it on.”
“Please? I probably shouldn’t like it, after all that, but actually… it’s kind of cute.”
“All right, then. Anything you want, babe.” He lifted Peter’s legs and began pressing himself down slowly, pushing forward with the utmost care, guided by the trusting eyes that insisted, despite all logic and evidence to the contrary, on seeing a better man in his place. “All for you…”
A few more minutes, a little bit of unavoidable pain, a lot of shared rapture, and when it was all over he could barely remember his name. Any of his names.
Peter’s deep—deeper?—voice was the last thing he heard as his over-stimulated, overextended, and overwhelmed brain did something it had never before allowed itself to do: drift off to sleep in someone else’s bed.
Mike woke in near darkness. The bulb hanging down was dead, but a soft yellow glow stole through the alcove opening. He rubbed his eyes and stretched, reaching for the warmth he hoped to feel next to him. His fingers touched only empty air.
Well, what did you expect? Not every day someone gets their cherry popped by a total head case.
His mind shuddered as it came back to him: how he’d nearly sabotaged everything with his own stupid hang-ups, using his Wool Hat persona as a crutch to get him through this job that wasn’t a job. He’d given a good performance instead of giving himself. A line from a song echoed in his head, in reproach.
“I’m a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong…”
So much wrong… until Peter had somehow made it right. As if Mike were a hostile beatnik coffeehouse crowd, and Peter stepping up with his banjo, a smiling face, and willing trust. Disarming the mob, taking something ugly and making it into his own thing.
Their own thing. Something new.
With a groan, Mike hauled himself off the mattress. He dragged on his clothes and stumbled around the corner of the partition. He squinted, slowly making out the back of a lone figure standing on the far side of the main room, gazing out the darkened dormer window. The figure wore jeans only. Short, sandy hair glinted in the stronger light from the cast-metal lamp on the table.
“Are you going to leave?”
Mike watched the slumped, smooth, freckled shoulders. “You want me to?”
Peter didn’t turn around. “No.”
Mike glanced at the darkened window again. It must be getting late. He should be back on duty now, patrolling his beat on 42nd Street and Times Square. Maybe if he got a move on, he might still snag at least one chance for a ten-spot tonight… No. Not tonight. You can’t, not after… that.
The silence dragged on as Mike searched for an answer. “What time does your friend get home?” he finally asked.
“What—oh. Oh. Probably around midnight.”
“Then I’ll stay till 11:30.” Please turn around, Peter. “One thing, though. Don’t go telling him about me, all right?”
Peter’s head lifted, although he still didn’t look at Mike. “Why?”
“Because—” Because this little tryst of ours is not considered by most folks to be exactly normal. Because if he’s really your friend, he’ll hunt me down and stab me to death with a tuning fork for what I done to you. “It’s just borrowing trouble. What he don’t know won’t hurt him.”
At last Peter turned around. Silent tears were sliding down his face.
“Will I ever see you again?”
“Whoa, now.” Last defenses shattered, Mike went over and gathered Peter in his arms. “’Course you will.”
“In fact, you are seeing me this Sunday. And the Sunday after that.”
He cupped Peter’s chin in his hand. Peter blinked at him, all confusion. Mike grinned.
“Did I or did I not hear Mr. Ed Sullivan say the Beatles are gonna play his show the next two weeks? So, given our mutual television situations, whether you like it or not you’re stuck with me.”
Peter just gaped at him, then gave up and buried his face in Mike’s chest.
“That’s where I want to be…”