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"Better Business - Part 1: Salesman"
Title: Better Business, Part 1: Salesman
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike/Peter (RL, not TV)
Rating: this part is R
Warnings: slash (sexual situations), mentions of violence (not part of the sex, I promise) and drugs
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably
worry me) and not at all any claim to represent real events or ownership of the persons
Summary: Inspired by this quotation from the sadly departed and dearly missed Davy Jones: “I’m sure Peter could kick his [Mike’s] ass if he wanted to, but he never did. Unbelievable.”
Author’s Note #1: This started out as a one-shot Torksmith, but I had almost finished it when the shocking news broke that we had lost Davy. I didn’t think about fanfic for a while after that. Later I pulled out the draft again and realized that I didn’t want this to be the last thing I wrote about Davy, because the story involves one of the less shining moments of Monkees history. I also noticed that while he isn’t a direct player here, some Davy themes kept surfacing (his connection with Peter, his parallels with Mike) that seemed to warrant more exploration. So the one-shot became a double bill, with Davy’s take on things in Part 2, “Layaway.”
Author’s Note #2: Set after the infamous Peter-Davy fight during the filming of “The Monkees’ Paw”—the same episode that gifted us with the priceless sight of Davy zonked off his trolley, plus the fascinating end-interview exchange between Peter, Mike, and Davy about hippies. With this one I finally managed to write a whole story where Mike doesn’t swear, but he’s still a naughty boy.
“Tork, you look like you fell head-first from the Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down.”
Peter studied his disreputable reflection in the mirror without much interest and sighed. For some reason, he didn’t really care that he had a black eye forming and a thin trail of blood staining one side of his face. But that his inner voice of conscience was chastising him with Texas-style idioms bothered him a lot more than it should.
He looked away from the mirror, glancing around his dressing room. It was filled with comforting friends: his banjo, his Fender Rhodes piano, his guitars and harmonica and bass. And his sheet music and amplifiers and tape recorders and metronome and… well, a lot of other odds and ends that were perfectly necessary for his peace of mind, even if some of them wouldn’t have looked out of place on the show’s crazy beach house set. Despite the clutter, or because of it, this was his refuge: a place to lock himself away and try to understand what in the world had just happened back there.
The nerves in his hand still tingled, a glissando all up and down his arm. His body still remembered how it felt to deliver that blow—and, in complete disobedience to his mind’s reproaches, liked it.
The scene played over and over in his head, as rapid and jerky and surreal as any episode romp. Blah, blah, blah! Him yelling, Davy yelling. Bam! A five-foot, three-inch Mancunian missile smashing into his left cheekbone, knocking him flat on his rear. Whoosh! His own fist snaking around, and—Pow! By the time his shocked mind processed what he’d done, Davy had formed such a close relationship with the stage floor that he might have to marry it. The only differences from a show romp were the lack of Three Stooges-style boingggg sound effects, a catchy song, and a merciful fade to black.
How badly was Davy really hurt? Peter sighed again. He would have to reassert the better part of his nature, try to salvage their friendship, sooner or later. Just not quite yet. He still wasn’t ready to go back out there and face them all, their smug judgments and snickering contempt. The jokes would come thick and fast: “Ha, ha, Peter’s so into love and understanding that he’ll belt anyone who isn’t.” Or, “Hey, Pete, did you hear that song by The Fugs? It could be your anthem: ‘Kill for Peace’!”
Worse than the expected gibes was the truth behind them. There was no way around it: he was a hypocrite. He espoused beliefs easily but failed in the tougher job of actually living them. He was no better than he’d been the last time he’d hit someone, but at least back then he’d had the excuse of being a blind, stupid kid. And now? How ironic that he’d blown his stack over what he saw as Davy’s hypocrisy…
And that was the worst part. Why did it have to be Davy, of all people? Someone younger than he was, smaller than he was, someone he was genuinely fond of. If he were going to abandon his ideals and punch someone, then why wasn’t it someone who really had it coming, someone very much like—
“Come on, man. You’d best let me in.”
Even without the distinctive twang, there was no need to ask who was standing outside his door and wrenching its handle back and forth. Only one person would dispense with “You okay in there?” or “Can I come in?” or refuse to acknowledge that a locked door usually meant “leave me alone.” Only one person would simply state their demands and expect instant fulfillment, but frame it so as to seem it were to the other person’s benefit to comply.
No. Please, no, no, no.
“Go away.” Peter watched the shaking doorknob in the mirror’s reflection, holding his breath.
The knob stilled. Departing footsteps retreated into the void.
That was way too easy. He’ll be back. The temptation to have a smoke and settle his nerves while waiting for Round Two was strong… but he couldn’t do it. Firstly, the idea brought Davy’s words and their sting back all over again. Secondly, he would have to keep his wits sharp for the next inevitable confrontation.
On cue, a click announced that his door was being unlocked. Once more, he couldn’t bring himself to turn around. Instead, he watched in the mirror as the door opened to reveal an entirely too smug Michael Nesmith holding up a key.
Undoubtedly he’d obtained it from a custodian or someone, feeding them a similar line: “You’d best give me the key. I know what’s best, I’m right about everything, so *you* should do what *I* want because I know it’s right for you and you’ll thank me in the end.” In fact he wasn’t always right, nor was he above contradicting himself when it was convenient. But the other, elusive part of Mike’s technique was that he somehow made it not matter. When he screwed up, he simply carried on as if he’d been right regardless, and he did it with such seeming conviction that his self-made aura of infallibility remained intact. Peter had no idea how he did it. If he knew, he should probably try it himself.
Mike shut the door and attempted to pick his way toward Peter through mounds of sheet music, over three guitars, and around a thicket of stands and amps. “Ow,” he grunted when his hip collided with a corner of the Fender. “Hey, Charles Dickens called. He wants his old curiosity shop back.”
It was a completely unnecessary comment, of course. Mike had been in here before; he knew what it was like. But he just had to say something, had to get his digs in.
Now Mike was standing behind him, blocking out the view of the room in the mirror. Peter tried to glare up at his reflection, but felt himself squirm when the mirrored dark eyes fixed on him in turn.
“Wow, Pete, that’s quite a mark you got going on your face there. We’ll have to hang pork chops ‘round your neck so the dogs’ll play with ya.”
Peter said nothing, not trusting himself an inch. But he did sneak another quick look at the cut on his cheek and had to admit that it was getting pretty grotesque. The drying blood was now in an elongated, almost diamond pattern under his eye, a macabre parody of a tear.
“No, no, no,” Mike scolded. “You’re doing it all wrong. You’re supposed to say, ‘you should see the other guy’.”
“That seems kind of pointless,” Peter spoke carefully, “when you already saw Davy on the set.”
“The point, sport, is to make it sound like you came out on top even if you didn’t. Any halfway normal guy knows that. Let’s face it, either you never got the ‘How to Be a Man’ instruction book, or they sent you the foreign language edition by mistake.”
“Thanks a whole bunch. If you came here to tell me that, you can go right now.”
“Nope, I just wanted to check and see if you were really you. Make sure you haven’t been shining on us, thought maybe you’d sent your evil twin Stills to take your place for the day while you were off loafing in a field of Mexican grass.”
Peter felt his arm tingling again. It was remembering, regrouping, plotting, wishing so much to repeat its earlier triumph… Cool it, he sternly ordered his wayward limb.
“That would explain a few things, wouldn’t it?” Mike continued, seemingly oblivious, though Peter was certain he wasn’t. “Stills has got quite the short fuse, from what I hear. The other guys in the Springfield call him ‘The General,’ or so I’m given to understand.”
“Lucky for me I don’t know anyone else like that.”
If Mike was trying to make him lose it again, start another fight by insulting one of his friends, it wasn’t going to happen. Stephen had his moments, but they were nothing Peter couldn’t live with. Nothing like this relentless probing for every weakness, this deliberate campaign of provocation that made so many days pure hell with the other temperamental so-and-so in his orbit.
It wasn’t every day, though. In the beginning, it wasn’t even any day. He could still almost see himself and Mike, laughing and playing music together, crammed into Mike’s miniscule house during those early, heady days when they’d actually believed it was worth it to make the Monkees a success. Just two years ago, but the image in his mind was less a bright color photograph than a creased, sepia daguerreotype: little more than a fading, wistful trace of a bygone era.
“If that was an attempt at sarcasm, you’d best leave it to the big guns. So, you feel pretty bad about what happened, don’t ya?”
“Yes…” Peter answered cautiously. Some sort of nastiness was in the offing, he knew it. “Yes, I do.”
“ ‘Course you do,” Mike nodded. A less than good-natured grin flashed in the mirror. “Your hand must hurt like crap!”
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.” Peter glared at him again. “I’m not sure what it says about either of us that I knew you’d think this was funny.”
“I sure do. Way funnier than any of the scripts we’ve had so far this season, and even funnier than seeing Davy baked out of his gourd yesterday. You two, knockin’ the snot out of each other? Now that is high comedy in my book.”
Desperately Peter scrambled for every possible mantra, relaxation technique, and deep-breathing exercise he could think of and tried to implement them all at once, no matter how incompatible they were. “Would you please leave,” he finally said in the slowest, politest of tones. “I am really not in the mood for this.”
“I ain’t done. I also came to tell you that Davy’s at the hospital.”
The hospital. Oh, God. A little bit more of Peter died inside. What have I done?
“Cedars of Lebanon. Word is he needs some stitches. Sounds like you managed to damage the biggest part of his body, namely his eyebrow.”
And what could really be said to that? “He can send me the bill,” Peter sighed.
“So what was that all about anyway? Gotta admit, I wasn’t really paying attention till the fireworks went off.”
That was no surprise. Mike barely paid attention—or even barely showed up—at all anymore. He’d been disengaging himself from the Monkees for some time, but in all honesty Peter couldn’t blame him for that. He was feeling the same way himself, though some inexplicable sense of duty—or some stubborn or forlorn hope that the other guys would eventually reconsider and decide to record again as a real band—made him want to keep his commitments in more than name only. At least for now.
Not that empathy was enough to make him serve up more fodder for Mike’s arsenal. “We were just getting on each other’s nerves,” he said as vaguely as possible.
“Uh-huh. Usually you two get along pretty good, so I’m thinking it was more than that. How did Davy get you so riled? He snitch to the press that you’re really the oldest of us? Paint your black keys white and your white keys black?” Mike tapped once on the Fender’s silent keyboard.
“You’re thinking of the Vox.” How am I going to get out of this?
“What, then? He put food dye in your shampoo, or switch some of your goodie pills with laxatives?”
“That’s really disgusting, Michael.”
“Listen, if you won’t help me out none here, then it’s down to guessing. Hold on, I bet this is it—he musta said he looks better in drag than you do! That would hit close to the bone, I think. Heck, I look better in drag than you, and that’s like saying Franklin Roosevelt’s a better dancer.”
Fed up with the cross-examination, Peter finally stopped speaking to mirror-Mike and whirled around in his chair to face him directly. “Why do you want to know he said? By your own words you weren’t interested when it was happening, so what does it matter to you now?”
“Well,” Mike said as smoothly as a priest administering last rites to a condemned criminal, “need to think about the morale of the group, don’t we? I know you, Pete. You been locked away in here, beatin’ yourself up over this, and you don’t want it to happen again. So you just plain tell me what popped your gasket, and next time I’ll know when to step in before it gets that far. Isn’t that better for everyone, including you?”
There it was again: “It’s best for *you* to do what *I* want.” Peter understood the theory. It was really no different from advertising, the art of convincing housewives that fabric softener was absolutely essential even though the human race had been doing laundry just fine without it for the last five thousand years. Create an artificial need in a consumer who had never even considered it before, then present one’s product as the best or only means of fulfilling that need. Peter had both observed and been subjected to this manipulation more times than he wanted to remember, but recognizing it for what it was didn’t seem to help him withstand it.
Why does he really want to know what happened with me and Davy? The morale of the group is the least of his concerns; he doesn’t even think of us as a group in the first place. Peter did want to think of them that way, wanted them to be that way, and for Mike to use that as a weapon against him marked a new low in the manipulation game. And Mike, offering himself as a potential mediator? That was a laugh. When conflict was in the air, he was more likely to be the instigator.
No, Mike was probably just looking for more to add to his list of “Reasons Why Peter is Untenable and Should Leave Everything to Me.” Is that it? Davy saying something was enough to make me lose it, so now you want to find out how much harder you have to push to make me quit altogether? Or am I really as loopy as you like to say I am? “You call me paranoid because you’re out to get me,” that’s what life is like with you.
He had a line in the episode they were currently shooting, a simple but evocative line: “Stop it, stop it! I can’t stand it!” He wouldn’t have to look too far for the motivation to deliver that line when the time came. It was all too apt.
I can’t stand it. I can’t stand being this paranoid, but I can’t even hear you say “water is wet” without wondering about your fifty possible ulterior motives, and I think you like to keep me constantly doubting and second-guessing and triple-thinking so that I’m too paralyzed to do anything at all, so that you can then tell the other guys I’m too useless for the group, and… and…
Oh… what the hell. Why not.
“All right, I’ll tell you. Let’s just say I heard one crack too many about water beds, brown rice, and Hare Krishna, okay? Lately Davy has been making me out to be some kind of slobbering Bluebeard because of my house and my friends and the drugs. But he still keeps coming to my house and smoking my stash, so where’s his moral high ground coming from?”
“And you’re no better,” Peter said sharply. “In fact—God, it’s both of you!” He tried very hard not to yell, but the long pent-up words came bursting out. “You both do your share of toking and screwing and flashing peace signs, but you’re quick to say ‘Peter’s a weird scary hippie, that’s so not our scene.’ Well, it is. Just helping yourself to its perks, even if you think its ideas are beneath you, still makes it your scene. You’re both part of it, by your own choice, and you’re both adults. It’s past time you took responsibility for your own behavior and decisions, because I’ve had enough of you sticking it on me.”
It was probably the most words outside of episode dialogue that he’d said to another Monkee in a month. Probably the most passion he’d been able to muster up for anything since they’d recorded Headquarters.
And, typically, Mike completely ignored it.
“Here, I can’t talk to you with that thing on your face. You look like a vampire harlequin. It’s really distracting, man.”
“There’s an easy way to deal with that—you can leave.”
“Now, see, I just gave you another chance to say ‘you should see the other guy.’ And you didn’t take it. Strike two for you.”
Mike scanned around the clutter and grabbed a dust cloth Peter had been using for the keys of the Fender. More scanning, an impatient sigh and a roll of the eyes. Then he picked up a half-empty, stone-cold cup of coffee Peter had left sitting since early morning. Scowling at it as if it were some strange, foul creature that had washed up on the beach, Mike set it back down. Finally he shrugged and spat onto the cloth, reaching with it toward Peter’s face.
“No way, not with an open cut.” Peter held up a hand to block him. “I don’t know where your spit’s been.”
Once again, he might as well have saved his breath. Mike pushed his hand aside and pressed the cloth to his cheek. He held it steady for a moment before slowly drawing it down. He raised it up for Peter to see the blood smeared on it. Peter glanced again in the mirror. Now that the blood was mostly gone, he could see that the cut was smaller than it had first appeared. No stitches for him. Still, it was in an awkward place to hide on camera, and the pan-stik would probably infect or irritate it. Must have something I can cover it with…
Mike was coming back at him with the cloth. Peter tried to bat his hand away again.
“Quit fussin’,” Mike said. “Your body’s survived my spit before.”
Did he really—?
Peter felt no less stunned than when Davy had sent him crashing to the stage floor. Was Mike really mentioning it? That one time?
That one time… They’d both been totally wasted, but Peter still remembered it. He remembered every touch, every crazy word they’d both said… every manipulative word he’d swallowed as eagerly as he’d swallowed… “That’s it, Pete, take it all. It’ll make *you* feel good.” And he remembered how Mike had completely ignored it the next day. Just like on the show, when the girl of the week was forgotten by the next episode: tape erased, book closed, consigned to the trash heap with yesterday’s papers.
Mike’s “amnesia” had been no more or less than expected, and Peter had done his best to move on. Perhaps he hadn’t done as well as he’d thought, because he now found himself oddly touched by this offhand admission that Mike really hadn’t forgotten after all.
Not that he seemed to recall it too fondly: just an exchange of saliva and other fluids with a weird hippie. How sentimental.
“So,” Mike spat onto the cloth again and wiped Peter’s face a little more roughly than before, “basically Davy called you a hippie, and you decked him for it? Creative of you.”
Jarred from the bittersweet memory, Peter struggled for a moment to find his voice. “I decked him after he head-butted me,” he eventually managed, “and because today he still kept putting me down as a pothead, when yesterday he was the one who showed up for work stoned half off his face. I had enough, and I told him so.”
“And then he head-butted you, and you decked him. Got it.” Mike turned away, tossing the cloth back onto the Fender. He stooped down in front of the metronome and gave its winder a few cranks.
“And it was the wrong thing to do. I ruined a day’s shooting, cost us time and money—and yes, my hand hurts like crap, and my face hurts, but most of all my heart hurts because I betrayed my principles and hit someone who deserved better from me. I never thought I’d do that again—”
Peter silently cursed his inconvenient honest streak when he saw Mike briefly glance back at him.
“—and I’m not going to talk about that. Just try to understand this: I wasn’t born a pacifist. I chose to be one, and I thought I was living up to it. Now I know I still have a lot of work to do. I just wish I’d realized it before I hurt someone I care about.”
“I said I got it.”
The curt tone was a fairly normal part of their dealings with each other, but it was the first time Mike had snapped at him in this particular conversation. What’s bothering *him*? Peter wondered.
He watched as Mike freed the metronome’s pendulum, which Peter—feeling in an adagio frame of mind before the storm—had earlier set at 70 beats per minute. The slow tock-tock pulse of the bobbing pendulum filled the silence of the small room.
“How come I’ve never been on the receiving end of frontier hippie justice?”
Hadn’t he been asking himself that very same question just before Mike barged in? It was frightening sometimes, how in tune they could be in some ways yet totally out of sorts in every other way. And if he hadn’t barged in, maybe I’d have come up with an answer by now…
“I’ve said things a thousand times worse to you than Davy has, and a thousand times more often. Seems like if anyone would be nursing a sore eyebrow, it’d be me. What’s up with that?”
He should respond with Mike’s own brand of snark, something, anything, to not give Mike any satisfaction. But the compulsive honesty that always got him in trouble asserted itself yet again.
“I… don’t know.”
“I’m thinking,” said Mike, “that maybe you should.”
Tock-tock, tock-tock, tock-tock, tock-tock.
“You heard me. I think you should gimme one. A real steamroller.” Mike pointed at his chin. “Right here. Right now.”
“That’s… completely crazy. Why should I do that?”
“Morale of the group, sport. We saw with Davy what happens when you let it stew till you explode. You ever flip out and punch me like that, I’ll tear your arm off and beat you to death with it. But you hit me now, when I’m ready and expecting it, I won’t do nothin’ ‘cept take it. Far as I’ll be concerned, it sets us right even.”
Right even. All problems solved, if *you* do what *I* want.
It worked for Madison Avenue, it worked for Mike, but it could never work for Peter—because of that other, elusive part that required one to present a supremely confident face to the world. Not Peter, who was always trying to find The Answer, always seeking new ways to think about problems, always trying to do better but always falling short…
“Best offer you’re gonna get, Pete, so I think you should take it.”
*I* think… best offer… *you* should… *I* want… best for *you*…
How did Mike do it? Most people probably believed he really was that confident; that was the whole point. But Peter sometimes caught the brief flashes of doubt in those eyes, the fleeting glimpses of vulnerable patches under that armor, the signs that underneath it all perhaps Mike wasn’t any more sure of himself than Peter was.
“You know I hate being called ‘Pete’,” he muttered, stalling for time. Why is he pushing for this?
“There you go, then. One more reason to let fly at me. Pete.”
God, he really wants me to hit him. But this is for his benefit, not mine. Why? Mike was hardly into pain, he never willingly gave up control in any situation, nor was this some overdue act of atonement from the man who never apologized. He had to be getting something out of it. But what?
“You just put me through the third degree to establish that I feel lousy for hitting someone,” Peter reminded him, fishing for clues. “Now you’re seriously suggesting the best way to deal with it is for me to hit someone else?”
“You said,” Mike spoke to the metronome, “that you were bummed ‘cause it was someone you care about.”
“Well,” Mike shrugged, “don’t see how that’s a problem here.”
And that did it.
Peter shot up from his chair and grabbed Mike by the collar of his oh-so-respectable, so non-hippie dress shirt, shoving him until he was almost bent backwards over the Fender. Had it been plugged in, there would have been an unholy clang of discordant notes from the keyboard taking the brunt of Mike’s impact. The metronome slid and crashed to the floor, the sudden absence of its steady pulse making the furious silence paradoxically loud.
“You selfish—sip—hip—hypocritical—you—” Peter was so enraged his tongue was stumbling all over itself. How dare Mike say that? How dare he!
It was just like Davy. Both of them prided themselves on being independent, tough customers, yet at the first hint of blame they donned the mantle of passive victim. Hypocrites, hypocrites… “Yeah, I was stoned on the job, but Peter’s a druggie so it’s not my fault.” “Yeah, I’m a jerk to Peter, but he doesn’t care about me so it’s not my fault.”
“You think I don’t care?” Peter shouted in his face. “You won’t let me!”
That really was what Mike had done, wasn’t it? Not just their one crazy time together, but even farther back, all the way back to those laughing days in the very beginning. Peter saw now that he had been just as susceptible as the housewives and their fabric softener, allowing Mike to create a hitherto unknown need in him: the need for this man’s respect and regard. And Mike had played the market like a master, strategically reducing the supply of both as the demand grew within Peter, driving the price ever higher.
The highest, in fact. That one time.
His right arm sprang back to life, almost vibrating with righteous anger. He clenched his right fist, tightened the grip of his left hand on Mike’s collar—
But then he was stopped by the sight before him. Mike’s face was working hard to maintain its usual look of bored superiority. Yet the rigid hold of the awkward angle of his bent body, the squinting eyes, the large white-knuckled hands clutching the corners of the piano, all told a different story.
You really do doubt sometimes, don’t you?
And just like that, the rage drained from Peter as all the pieces finally fell into place.
Yes, Mike had sold Peter on the need for him. But Mike had conned himself as well.
He had convinced himself that Peter didn’t care, because that was a hell of a lot easier than dealing with his own feelings. And there were feelings, Peter was sure of that now. Otherwise Mike wouldn’t have sounded like a sulky, jealous schoolboy, pouting that Peter had hit Davy instead of him.
Casting Peter as the uncaring one had served the purpose of allowing Mike to disclaim all responsibility, but Mike had still ended up in exactly the same place as Peter: sold a line of bull and left with a whole lot of nothing. That was what he was getting out of this: twisted, screw-loose proof that, in spite of everything, he really did matter to Peter.
Peter pulled his right arm back, bending his elbow and angling his fist just so.
Mike tensed up, snapping his eyes shut.
Peter started to swing his right arm forward… lunging his whole body forward…
… and kissed him.
The rebellion was instantaneous—and brief. Mike’s lips pursed together—but Peter felt them tremble. One of the large hands whose callused touch Peter remembered so well thrust up to his cheek as if to push his face away—but stopped just an inch shy of real contact. Encouraged, Peter brought his right arm the rest of the way around so that he could clasp the back of Mike’s neck, drawing him closer. With his left hand he cupped Mike’s shoulder, exerting just enough pressure to make it clear that he was not going to back down, but not so much that Mike couldn’t free himself and stomp away in a huff if he chose to.
He broke the kiss, pulling back just a little and waiting to see Mike’s decision.
Mike simply looked down at him: pure blank. Nobody home, miles from nowhere, half past nothing.
Was I wrong? Peter started to kick himself, an all too familiar feeling. Why had he ever thought he could get away with trying to be confident, taking control, asserting himself? Especially with Mike… But I don’t think I was wrong. No, I really don’t think I was…
Suddenly Mike’s mouth crashed into his, open wide as the Lincoln Tunnel, trying to swallow everything in its path. Those long arms threw themselves over his shoulders, long enough to reach as far down as his waist. Mike leaned over to give himself even more of a reach, those big hands yanking Peter’s shirt out of his pants and thrusting inside, all but clawing up and down the bare skin of his back.
Peter answered the desperate touches by lengthening his kisses across Mike’s face, down the side of his neck, to his collarbone and shoulder and bicep and crook of his arm. As vividly as he still recalled everything they’d done that one crazy time, he took care not to repeat any of it now. He wanted to offer new things, different things that might, just might, actually stay with Mike after it was all over.
But at the same time, he didn’t want to get too far out. No weird hippie stuff that would send Mike marching straight back behind his that-so-ain’t-my-scene armor, no fruitless attempts to convince him that it wasn’t so much about being a “hippie” as being a free person. Free and unashamed.
Instead he tried touches in zones that were not especially erogenous in themselves, yet served up a little taste of excitement: tongue caressing Mike’s closed eyelids, a gentle suck on his Adam’s apple, sliding downward… a soft blow of air into his belly button… moving lower and lower, sliding Mike’s zipper down, reaching inside to run a single finger along the hollow at the small of his back. The grunts Peter’s efforts produced also echoed in his head from that one time.
One of those vivid memories returned in a flash: his first view of Mike’s glory. How taken aback he’d been at the sheer size, yet also how impressed and proud and fond he’d felt, all at once. He felt none of those things upon getting reacquainted with it now. Now, confronted with this most basic essence of male strength, he found that instead the sight made him wonder just how things might have turned out in a real fight between them.
Mike was bigger down there, but Peter was no munchkin himself. Mike was taller, but altitude wasn’t everything—Davy had proved that much today. Mike claimed to have been a veteran of fistfights on the mean streets of Texas, but... well, as he’d told (warned?) Mike, Peter wasn’t born a pacifist.
Rhythmically squeezing the insistent flesh now in his hand, Peter concluded that there was only one certain way to describe the possible outcome of a true physical fight between himself and Mike: ugly. This—he squeezed again, rejoicing in Mike’s pleased groans—is so much better. This is beautiful.
“You’re so beautiful…”
Before Peter could even question if he’d really heard the whispered words he thought he’d just heard, a new sound made itself known: the popping of the buttons of his own fly. Mike was making short work of all encumbrances, and in a matter of seconds Peter felt himself spring free to cool air and a hot, welcoming hand. He’s really doing this. Peter’s eyes almost rolled into the back of his head as Mike gripped and stroked him. I can’t believe—oh, God, yes!—he’s really doing this.
Knowing he was teetering on the brink, Peter decided to break with the rule he’d just made for himself only a few minutes before: he would repeat something from that one time. Perhaps his warmest, clearest memory was of Mike making a noise probably hardly ever heard from him by anyone who lived to tell the tale: a giggle. Oh, sure, Mike laughed a lot. He laughed plenty, usually at all of Peter’s many shortcomings that he so delighted in pointing out. But that giggle… that had been different. No mockery, no malice, no hidden agenda. An unaffected, carefree, honest, happy sound. Peter wanted to hear it again. And he still recalled exactly what he had done to produce it.
It might not work this time. Neither of them was wasted now, and Mike in full control of his faculties was more likely to make some snide crack about Peter keeping a harem of Eskimos in his nutty hippie house. But then, you couldn’t hope to beat the market if you never took a risk…
He inclined his head, leaning forward so that the tip of his nose just barely met Mike’s. He let go of Mike’s length, removed his hands from Mike altogether, once again letting him know that he was free to stop this, to leave, if he wanted.
Once again, Mike stood frozen.
Then, with the mere lightest of rubbing where their noses touched, no more than brushing, Peter shifted his head just a bit side to side. Feeling no resistance, he leaned even closer, sliding his nose against Mike’s just as gently but more slowly, more of a caress, trying to give as much pleasure as he was getting from this simple contact. Glide to the left… oops, a little too far, he thought as Mike’s stubble scraped at the cut on his cheekbone. Heedless, he softly slid back to the right. So slow, so at ease, so… adagio.
He silently counted off 70 beats before unleashing his masterstroke: a shift to allegro with one short, quick, giddy little side-to-side rub. Desire and caring in one small gesture, without even any spit exchanged.
The choked-off chirp, once heard and never forgotten, chimed in his ears.
It was as sweet as he remembered, more than he’d dared to expect. And what he did not expect at all was to feel Mike rub his own nose, returning the favor.
He caught a brief glimpse of Mike’s initially embarrassed, then defiantly goofy, expression before they both collapsed in giggles, falling into each other as their releases fired in celebration and mingled together between them.
They stayed that way, utterly replete, for several quiet, precious moments.
“Stubborn fool,” Peter finally murmured, reaching for the much-abused dust cloth to clean them both up. “You only had to say.”
“You make it hard,” Mike nuzzled at Peter’s throat, “when you only show that smiling hosanna face. It’s like nothing ever bothers you, nothing really matters.” A low chuckle. “I say you need to start punching people more regular, like. It helps me remember that you got more going on under there.”
“Somehow I think people would object to an arrangement like that. Starting with Davy, and rightly so.”
“It was a joke, man. Lighten up.” Contrary to his own counsel, Mike grew serious. “Look, I wouldn’t worry about it. I mean… about you and him. I’m guessing this won’t really do you two much harm. Davy likes to call himself a fighter. He might be more… respectful… now that he knows you’re one, too.”
Peter shook his head in affectionate exasperation at this man who was simply incapable of saying something heartfelt in a normal, straightforward way. He would bet their next album royalties that Mike was not talking about Davy.
“Hey.” Mike spanned his hands around Peter’s waist. “You know where we’re goin’ here. Where we gotta go.” He nudged Peter into a half-turn—not an easy maneuver in the cramped space—so that Peter was now the one pushed over the Fender. Except that where Mike had been braced backwards against it, Peter was now facing it head on.
He knew, would have known even if he didn’t feel the already returning hardness pressing up behind him. Sex over a piano? It wasn’t the wildest thing Peter had ever heard of, or even the wildest thing he had ever done. But for Mike to suggest it was … remarkable. And deliciously, exhilaratingly wrong and kinky and wonderful. Music and sex together couldn’t be more perfect, but…
“It’s perfect.” One of Mike’s hands reached around him and pressed a chord on the silent keys. “Right here. Right now.”
So tempting to just give in, but… Peter held no illusions that today had really settled anything between them. They would continue to argue and annoy each other, Peter smiling too much and Mike snarking too much. Their fights over the band, or whether it even was a band, would continue so long as the band/not-a-band existed/not-existed. Learned behavior didn’t change with a single kiss or a sweet shag.
“That’s it, Peter,” Mike nearly purred. “Yeah.” Hot breath gusted in Peter’s ear. “You’ll feel so good…”
There was also, though very few knew it (Mike had probably conned himself into thinking even Peter didn’t know), the little matter of Mike’s ongoing fling with Peter’s friend Nurit. For a guy who was so insistently not a weird hippie, he nonetheless seemed drawn to their intimate company. Peter had been staying well out of it, figuring that Nurit’s life was her own and that the last thing Mike and Phyllis needed was someone as ill-qualified as himself trying to act as marriage counselor. But the affair now took on a new relevance: If he thinks he’s going to screw me over a piano today and then wipe it all away in Nurit’s arms tonight…
“Come on, man,” the husky siren beguiled. “You’d best let me in.”
The best thing Peter could do was not let him forget. Or pretend to forget.
Straightening up, he twisted his head around and flashed at Mike what he knew to be his most irritatingly innocent expression. “Come back tomorrow.”
Just as he’d expected, those big hands grabbed at him and wrenched him around again.
“Tomorrow?!” Mike practically screeched, all traces of the velveteen seducer fled. “Now hold it just a minute! We ain’t done here, not by a long shot.”
Peter deftly slid out of his hold, careful to step around the remnants of the shattered metronome. “Sorry, but I have other stuff to do right now. Mainly, seeing Davy at the hospital before visiting hours end.”
It wasn’t a lie; he did need to get started patching things up there. “Don’t go to bed mad” wasn’t advice that quite suited his situation with Davy—and wasn’t that a whole other can of worms—but it wasn’t bad advice, either.
“Aw, come on! That’s a waste of time. They don’t keep you long for stitches, so I guarantee you he’s already been and gone.”
“Then I’ll try him at home, or the recording studio.” He started making his way to the door, smoothing himself down and—with some struggle—tucking away and buttoning up.
You won’t go to bed mad, either. Maybe a little frustrated, but it won’t kill you. Just think how much better tomorrow will be.
“It’s still pointless. He won’t wanna talk to you.”
Ah-ha. Didn’t you just say a minute ago that Davy and I would be okay?
“Maybe not,” Peter suppressed a triumphant grin, “but I have to try. It’s the right thing to do.”
You don’t get off so easily this time. This time, you’re going to remember.
At the door now. Without thought he reached for the knob—and realized when it turned freely in his hand that Mike had never actually locked it again after making his grand entrance earlier. The whole time they’d been talking and… everything… anyone could have walked in.
For some reason, this made him want to grin even more. No matter how much his face hurt.
Tomorrow will *definitely* be better. For both of us.
“You should at least wait a bit before you go.” Mike didn’t give up, one had to credit him for that. “Anyone and their grandma can tell you just got some and still need some, just from one look at you. You show up at the hospital like that, they’ll pack you off to the psych ward for treatment as a sex maniac. And then what are you gonna do, huh?”
Peter paused for one last, good, long look at the man who always had all the answers. The immaculate wave of hair was a fried mess, sticking out in all directions. The face usually stamped with studied boredom was flushed and sweating. Pupils usually hidden behind oh-so-cool shades were completely blown. Hitching breaths, shirttails hanging out, half-fastened pants pitching a most impressive tent…
“I’ll just tell them,” Peter smiled sweetly, “they should see the other guy.”