The Way We Get By

Maes/Roy. NC-17. ~4800 words. Angst. Pastfic.
This’ll be the last time.

[ yours sincerely ]

Roy graduating with a dress uniform that doesn’t fit right. Roy glaring, dark eyes shaded by black wisps of hair. Roy standing in the centre of the room, in the mirror, in blue and gold and black.

It doesn’t fit, he says, snatching the hat off, putting it on again, hair falling into his face.

Laughing at him, at his stubborn mouth. The way it doesn’t fit right because he won’t let it. Standing up, moving closer, arms around him. A hand in his hair, pushing it back, tucking it under the hat. Seeing his eyes for the first time all over again.

That’s what you get for never cutting your hair.

*

A woman stumbled into you. You steadied her, hands on naked arms as frail as you felt. Bones and skin, held together. If she’d offered you a drink, you’d have said no. She didn’t care about the ring.

You hung your coat on the rack out of habit. It wasn’t hard to find him. A different bar, a different town, but he never changed. You weren’t sure you wanted him to.

Past the unfamiliar faces, the raucous laughter, to the bar. You touched his hunched shoulder as you slid onto a stool, and he tensed, stared at the melting ice in his glass. The napkin was red and crumpled.

You said, You’re avoiding my calls.

Under the haze of tobacco and alcohol, you imagined the scent of him. He looked up, not at you. You took your hand away.

You’re impossible to avoid, he said.

You signalled for a round and kept the bottle. The ring clinked against your glass. The drink burned your throat, and you tossed back another. Habits are hard to break.

You said, Not impossible. You don’t try hard enough.

He said, I just haven’t been home.

Gracia wants to know how many guests you’ll have at the wedding, you said. I think it’s a woman’s way of asking if you have a new girlfriend yet.

You barrelled on, not waiting for an answer. You knew he didn’t. You were always the first to know when he did. His girlfriends never lasted long, his relationships were first dates. You stayed awake at night and hated yourself for praying no one would have the chance to love him.

Look, you said. I can just tell her-

I’ll have one in time for the wedding.

You thumbed the lip of your glass. He sounded drunk, not angry. It might have been easier if he had been angry. Easier for you.

You didn’t come all the way out here to ask me that, he said.

He clutched the bottleneck, white-knuckled. You hadn’t thought about it, what you’d say or what you’d do. You’d just left.

Yeah, I guess I didn’t, you said.

You let go of the glass and thumbed the ring instead. Wondered why you’d gone to him if you were marrying her, wondered why you were marrying her when you’d gone to him. You felt guilty and cheap. But you didn’t stop.

You said, You want to go somewhere?

The heat of his leg next to yours. Gravitational, inevitable. You knew what it sounded like: just here for a fuck. Your stomach twisted itself into knots, shoved them up into your throat for you to choke on. It was more than that. You wanted to be with him.

You thought about taking the ring off, but only for an hour or two.

A heavy breath, slow as time, and he looked at you. He licked scotch from his lips and you wanted to kiss him. You were sure he’d say yes, and still afraid he’d say no. It’d been two weeks already.

Down the street, he said.

He slid off the stool as you tossed bills down, enough for the drinks and the bottle besides. Your eyes tracked every movement of muscle beneath the thin shirt. He made your mouth turn dry, your heart stumble. He made your dick ache.

What did you give the woman you love? The curtains she wanted, the china. A hearth, a heart, a home. A family.

You led the way to the door, tossed your scarf to him when you saw he had no coat. She’d have held your hand, you’d have given her your coat. She’d have expected it. He wouldn’t have taken either.

Bundle up, you said. It’s windy out there.

You don’t remember anything about the walk from the bar to the motel, except you were glad of the wind. It stole the words you didn’t have.

You gave the man you love a room number.

You told the night clerk something about a party and lost keys and your best man. You learned to tell lies a long time ago. It felt worse getting a room. You wanted his place, his bed, the place you’d first woken up beside him. You made him cheap.

He followed you to the room. You dropped the keys. Inside, the lights were dim. You’d have told him he was beautiful if you didn’t think he’d punch you for it.

You put the bottle on the table, keys clattering beside it. Coat on the floor, shirt collar undone. Through the window, headlights slid across the wall. Your mouth on his. Scotch on your tongue. His back to the door. Harsh breaths, desperate hands, blurred vision. He gasped, knife-sharp, twisted out of your arms.

I need another drink, he said.

You slumped against the wall. Blood roared in your ears. You watched him drink straight from the bottle, head tilted back, throat smooth. You dreamed of him as a long series of gestures; he was his eyes and mouth and hands and the things he did with them.

You said, Bring the bottle with you.

You toed off your shoes, sat on the edge of the bed. You stared at your hand, glitter of gold too bright here. He watched you tug it off, watched you set it down on the nightstand. The bottle dangled loosely from his hand.

You caught him by the pocket, pulled him close. Your arms around his legs, your cheek pressed to the flat of his belly. He let you hold him. Your glasses dug into your nose, but you didn’t take them off. You couldn’t stand not being able to see him.

He set the scotch down beside the ring. Nudged you back, climbed onto the bed. On his knees, straddling your lap. Anticipation so heightened you felt it in your bones. Felt them tingle, resonate with it.

Can’t even drink you away, he said. You greedy son of a bitch.

His tongue touched your throat. You wanted more. Your hands on his hips, the heat of him seeping through his clothes. He fumbled with your shirt buttons. You mouthed an apology into the crook of his neck.

We don’t have to do this, you said.

You meant, we don’t have to do this now. It echoed unsaid, understood. A strangled sound in your throat. You rolled him over, shirt hanging open around him, heart exposed.

You said, We don’t.

And didn’t mean it.

He said, Don’t tell me that.

His hands on your back, clutching, dragging you down. He kissed you, clumsily, teeth striking yours. Bruised lips gone by morning.

Fuck, you said. Fuck, we shouldn’t.

Your mouth to his shoulder, teeth to skin. His breath hissed, and you did it again. His fingers flexed against your back, the edge of nails. You had someone who would wonder. He only had you.

You sat back, spread your knees, forced his legs wide. You touched his thighs, his sides, so familiar. His body mapped out under your hands. You stripped off your belt, unbuttoned your pants. Pressed a slow kiss to the centre of his chest and curled an arm under him. Your face against the slope of his neck, tongue against his pulse, fingertips against his spine.

You said, I love you, you know.

His lips brushed your ear, breath heavy, warm, ragged.

Maybe that’s why you’re here, he said.

He pushed you back, fumbled with his slacks. His eyes on you, your shirt slipping off your shoulder, his low groan.

Fuck, he said.

Your jaw ached from clenched teeth. You didn’t know if he believed you. You didn’t know if he still loved you. It wouldn’t have hurt so much if you didn’t love him, you wouldn’t have felt the weight of the ring a ghost on your hand.

It would have been easier if it was just fucking. It would have been worse.

You stood up, gave him a chance to strip. Gave yourself a moment. You were terrified of hurting, terrified of choosing. Nothing changed because you couldn’t let it. Still water turning slowly stagnant.

You grabbed the bottle, took a long swallow. Turned away from the glint of the ring. You saw him, the naked lines of his body, his face, shadowed.

One knee on the bed, between his. Hand on his cock, mouth to his neck, skin and the taste of salt. He threw an arm over his eyes and groaned.

You make me crazy, you said.

He said, How long do we have?

You touched his hand, curled in the hollow of his hip. Traced his fingers down. Intimate. Lust tight in your belly. Carnal.

It doesn’t matter, you said.

You leaned back and pushed his legs wide. Every time, that same thrill unfurling, tripping electric down your spine. He was yours, stripped bare, exposed.

He moaned your name when you pushed slick fingers into him.

You watched him move, spine arched, heels dug into the mattress. His mouth open, tongue touched to his lip, the edge of white teeth. He shoved hair away from eyes gone dark and blurred. Rolled over, up on his knees. Your mouth went dry.

You’d fucked a girl once and you’d called it clean. Under the covers in the dark, mouth to mouth, hand to hand, dick to cunt. Don’t put anything where it isn’t supposed to be, don’t do anything you’re not supposed to do. Pretend to be innocent. You don’t remember her name.

Your fingers inside him again, a kiss pressed to the base of his spine. His arms shook, his hair shivered against the sheets. Your tongue beside your fingers, your tongue inside of him. His hand brushed your cheek and his fingers dug into his own flesh, spread himself for you.

You imagined scandal and fisted his dick. You thought about consequences and watched fingertips slippery with precome circle his hole. You spit on your hand, forced your fingers wide, and couldn’t remember the first time he’d let you do this to him. One memory lost in a hundred others.

His breaths were short, clipped. He took his cock in hand, jerked himself straight to the edge of orgasm and held there, shuddering.

Enough, he said. Fuck, enough.

You didn’t want to stop. You could never get enough of the sounds he made. It would have been easy, so easy, to thrust your fingers deep, curve them just right. So easy to have him shaking and shivering and coming right then.

You crawled up behind him, dick pressed in the cleft of his ass. His back hot against your chest, your hand fumbling, searching, closing around his. His heartbeat thudding into yours, bearing you up.

He surrounded you, filled the air you breathed. The smell of his skin, his hair. Scotch and sweat and sex. You moaned, lost and wanting, and guided his hand along his dick.

You thought you were strong, and you weren’t. You thought you knew, and you didn’t.

No, he said. Fuck, no. You’ll finish me.

He bucked against you, tried to shake free. You put your arm around him, angled across his chest, and held on. It was too late. Come fresh on your knuckles, seeping between your fingers, dripping it onto your cock.

You couldn’t give him what he wanted.

You lifted yourself up to watch that, too. The way his body clutched at you, the way he shuddered as orgasm faded, the way your cock vanished inside him. You touched him, touched the tight stretch of muscle. You bit the inside of your cheek, tasted blood and held still, halfway there.

Your fingers tightened on his hip. His head snapped up. You knew what he was thinking: you wouldn’t, but you would; you can’t, but you are. He shoved himself up on one elbow in time to lose his breath on a strangled shout. You thrust into him too hard too fast too good to be true.

He thrust back to meet you. Crash and pull of gravity, instinctual.

You tried to slow down, tried to find a rhythm. It’d be over too soon. You dropped down on top of him, needed to feel his body under yours, to hear the stumble of his breath closer to your own. You put your mouth to the back of his neck in a half-formed kiss and pressed your palm to the strong beat of his heart.

All night, you thought. All night you’d keep him in your arms, damn everything else to hell. You held tighter, tighter until you were barely moving, just seated deep inside him. Close as you could be, not close enough.

You lifted him, sat back and stretched your fingers along his throat to tip his head up. His fingers laced with yours, you kissed the corner of his mouth. He moved with the slow rock of your hips, gave you soft kisses broken by quiet breaths.

He said, Not like this.

Your head dropped to his shoulder, your heart twisted. This is what you felt, your pleasure tainted: panic, fear, sorrow, what if. What if he didn’t want your love. What if he wanted it to be just sex. What if he didn’t even want that. What if could shatter your world, break your heart.

He slipped from your arms as his words thrummed under your skin; he lay back, limbs sprawled loose as your body screamed it was wrong to feel so empty.

What if he reached for you, what if he kissed you. What if you watched his face as he tightened around your fingers again. What if, this time, you saw him gasp, you saw his dark eyes shine, as you fucked him.

What if he said he loved you, and all the what ifs slunk away, kicked-dog, tail between legs.

Move, he said. Just move.

Mouth close to his, breath shivering between his lips. It’d be the end of that moment, it was almost over, but there’d be another. Another, again and again, until it became forever. There had to be.

You felt the press of his cock, rolled your hips and felt everything turn to spark and sensation, hot and cold, his name spilled thick on a breath. Orgasm left you weak, shaking, his body slick and sweet against yours.

Your cheek pressed to his, your mouth on his as soon as you had the breath for one last kiss.

He held you as long as he could. It felt like only seconds had passed when his legs slipped away and his arms fell to the bed. You rolled to the side, pulled him with you, kept him close. Treasured thing. You drifted to the steady rhythm of his breathing.

You knew it couldn’t last. You knew that soon, you’d have to move, and he’d doze to the sound of you taking a shower. You knew you’d wake him just long enough to whisper a kiss against his ear. And come morning, you knew he’d still be where you’d left him, sleeping with a blanket he only imagined smelled like you.

[ yours truly ]

Looking for a shirt, vibrant red, the one that feels like clouds at dusk. Turning the closet inside out, the house upside down. She’s laughing and helping between dishes and laundry and never thumbing through folders strewn across the coffee table.

Did you find it, she asks, drying her hands on a tea towel.

No, it’s-

It’s down the street, across town, up the stairs. It’s in Roy’s hand, wrinkled, smelling like scotch and smoke and sex. It’s in Roy’s arms, dumped in the washer, the dryer, coming out a size too small and innocent again.

He’ll probably burn a hole in it if he tries to iron it.

She’s smiling, and she thinks it’s sweet. To still have a friendship like that.

*

Downstairs, laughter and the clink of china. His friends, your neighbours, old academy buddies. All with smiling lips, lifted glasses. A house full of celebration, a house full of love.

You’d tried to put it together on your own. She’d chased you out of her kitchen and told you he deserved the best you could give him. Nothing less. She’d carried the plans around in a little notebook for weeks, adding this, changing that.

She needed the extra silverware, the set he had given her on your last anniversary. The presents he gave were always for her. He gave you enough, but you never told him that.

The dim light of a lamp. The coats piled on the bed. Your back to the wall, his hand in your hair. He tasted like the coffee you spiked.

She waited for you and you kissed him again. You had to stop. Anyone could walk in. You’d ruin everything. Your life, your love, him, her. She was going to have your baby.

You hadn’t told him yet. You’d only just found out. You wanted to. You wanted him to be happy because you were. You were afraid it’d be the end.

His tongue in your mouth. He kissed like no one else. Demanded of, yielded to. Your hands on his ass. Breath short, dick heavy. You couldn’t fuck him there. Too many people, too many chances. Sex, illicit. You wanted to.

You felt a nostalgia for things that didn’t happen. Things that happened too fast, a velocity that left you behind. Still waiting.

His hands on your shoulders. Window open, eaves dripping. Cars hissing on the street. The air crackled across your skin. You could come just from the feeling of his mouth on yours.

He said, Stop. Stop, wait.

You couldn’t. You couldn’t even try. You caught his shirt as he stumbled back, pulled it free from his slacks. He stared at you, and you ached.

You saw it all in his face: not here, not now, what if. You groaned and sat on the sill. Next to the picture of her.

He didn’t say anything. Neither did you. What was there to say? Would you have stopped if he hadn’t? Would you have had his pants shoved down and your dick in his ass right there?

You thought you might. Mouth junkie-dry, hands trembling. You would’ve.

You heard him leave. He took the silverware to her. You felt empty and wrong, but he’d done the right thing. You’d have hated him for it if you could.

You don’t remember walking downstairs. You don’t remember anything until you saw him leave. You helped her clean, just like you always did. You kissed her goodnight, just like you always did.

It took two hours before you gave up on sleep. Three before you slid out of bed, guilt a collar around your throat. She stirred, murmured quietly. You stroked her hair and left her to her dreams.

You sat alone in the dark with a bottle and a glass. He hadn’t left by himself. You’d expected that. But not with her. Not her. The blonde. A junior officer. His aide.

Intelligent, quick, loyal. Everything he needed to reach the top. She always watched him carefully, steadily. Capable, strong. Not charmed by his smile, not afraid of his frown. She stood by his side, unflinching. Beautiful.

She watched him like you did.

You squeezed your eyes shut, drowned a moan with drink. She could be. If, what if.

Fraternisation: to associate or mingle as brothers. Don’t compromise the chain of command. Don’t exploit rank. Don’t show favour.

Don’t love him.

You did everything you weren’t supposed to do. You’d do it again, if you had the chance. She still had a chance. You’d given yours up.

They wouldn’t have let you live together. Fraternisation.

You walked through the rain. You checked the bars, stopped long enough for a drink. Then another. Work, you’d say. New case. You’d done it before.

You wanted to go to him, but he might not be there. What if he’d gone somewhere else. What if he was with her. Her hands on him, naked skin, thighs tight around his waist.

You sagged against a brick wall, face tipped to the rain. You had no right. You knew he slept with other women. Everyone is someone else’s something. Father, lover, friend. You wanted him to be yours. Just yours. He made you unfair, a hypocrite, a fraud.

You’d be whatever you had to be. As long as he was yours.

Dark hallways, quiet patter of rain. The guards were lazy, easy access through the motor pool. Where were you going? You wanted somewhere to be with him. Step outside yourself. You wanted a nowhere to be nothing but someone else, something else, an other.

An open door. You hung back, shivering. His silhouette beside the desk, head bowed.

I escorted her home, he said.

You said, Did she ask you to stay?

Pulse slow, leaden. Time didn’t exist when you were nowhere.

I wouldn’t have.

The sound of a wounded animal: desperate, hopeful, hopeless. The heat of his mouth, his body. Flat on your back on the floor, you forgot everything. Just like you always did.

You would’ve said you were sorry. What was one more lie.

Your hand in his hair, fisted tight. Water striking your belly. His head between your legs, your dick between his lips. Your fingers on his cheek, pressed tight to the push and shove.

You had sex with her, made love, made a child. You fucked him. Self-indulgent and greedy, you fucked him. Cause/effect. Distance, time. Fear of loss. Desire for what you could do to him.

It wasn’t just sex. It wasn’t just him and his body and a long series of gestures. It wasn’t just your cock down his throat and your fingers in his ass and the way he showed you what it meant to go crazy.

You kissed him and tasted come. Lips bruised hot, swollen. Saliva and sex. A stained picture in a top-shelf magazine.

You sold your self-respect for a blow job. Your integrity for a good fuck. How much does your love cost, one comeshot or two?

[ yours faithfully ]

Do you remember tin can telephones?

Papers rustling, the sound of a hand over the mouthpiece, muffled orders to leave for the night. Roy almost lost in the train’s clacking: What?

Tin can telephones. A piece of string between two tin cans. You never played with those as a kid?

So your obsession with the phone started at an early age.

Roy’s voice sounding metallic, static, distorted. Talking to a memory only half there. Imagining the wind a warm breath, the blanket arms, the gold ring someone else’s.

Never mind that. What time is it?

Just after six. Why?

More of a time difference than I thought.

You’re halfway across the continent.

The distance between then and now. It’ll be three days before it’s close to alright again.

*

Midnight on the corner. Your hands stuffed in your pockets, your hat tugged low. No one but him would’ve recognised you. You weren’t supposed to be there yet, but he didn’t know that. You couldn’t wait another week.

He said, What are you doing here?

You could’ve hugged him. No one would’ve known. You could’ve kissed him there on the corner, and there’d have been no one to play tattletale. You could’ve told him the truth and said you missed him. Instead, you grinned.

Information, boss, you said. Don’t come cheap, neither.

He gave you a steady look, but you saw his smile. You’d have done anything for that smile. Almost.

You shuffled into the shadowed alley, steps short and chopped. Spy novels happened in places like that, alleys and seedy bars and the backs of warehouses. Clandestine affairs.

You look ridiculous, he said.

You said, Got a girlfriend yet?

Everyone thought you asked because you liked to tease him. He thought you asked because you felt guilty. You asked because you were afraid of the day he’d say yes. Train wreck: can’t not look, can’t not know.

He said, You’re an asshole.

Yeah, you said. Yeah.

You couldn’t take missing him any longer. You couldn’t handle waking up from dreams of him and fucking her. You wondered when you’d fuck up. You waited for someone to say fuck you.

He said, You’ve got a place to stay?

You plucked the cigarette from behind your ear, hung it on your lip. For looks only. You were playing a part. Anonymous informant, street level. Lowlife bum. The flask in your tattered jacket was half gone.

Not yet, you said.

He said, I can-

I’ll stay with you, you said.

His hands slid into his pockets. You knew he should say no. Too risky. Too tempting. You’d sleep with him, share his showers, snatch food from his plate. You’d take off your ring.

Even when you did, it was still there. Years in a white stripe tanned onto your skin.

Alright, he said.

You fished a matchbook out of your pocket and lit up. Smoke in lazy curls in front of your eyes and the scrape of his boot on concrete.

He said, Since when do you smoke?

I needed a new bad habit, you said. My last one up and quit me.

He flinched, eyes hardened. You saw it all coming, the reasons why, the shoulds and shouldn’ts. Lies. It wasn’t like that. You were there, he was here. That was it. Circumstance. Distance between.

Don’t say it, you said. Don’t say it if you don’t fucking mean it.

He fisted the front of your shirt, pushed you back into the brick. Your heart skipped a beat, stopped. You flicked the burning cig away.

He tore at your second-hand clothes, his eyes on yours, and didn’t try to kiss you. You felt giddy, breath sliced to ribbons. You wanted it full of hard angles, rough hands, sharp teeth. You wanted bruises for him to kiss when it was all over. You wanted to be his.

His hand down your pants, spit-slick tight around your cock. You wormed your hand under his clothes and touched dry fingertips to his hole. His breath turned harsh in your ear.

Do it dry, he said. Quick, dirty fuck right here.

He thumbed the head of your dick and your knees buckled. You licked your lips. Imagined it. Dry, clinging heat. Clutching flesh. Teeth scraped your throat and you shoved your finger deep.

It wasn’t just sex. It was the stack of letters you never wrote. It was everything you never said. It was everything you couldn’t be.

His eyes closed, his hand faltered. Pants around his knees, bent over a crate, hands braced on damp brick. Spit in the crack of his ass, head of your cock against his hole, pushing in, fucking him. You made him less, reduced him to, subtracted from. You spun him around, kicked his feet apart. Held him down with a hand on his stomach and jerked him off on your dick. Your come trickled down his thighs.

You shared the flask on the way to his place. In the bath, his back rested heavy against your chest. Your arms loose around him. Steam-filled air in your lungs.

You signed your memos to him with regards. You meant all my love.

He only ever signed his name.

[ yours eternally ]

Trying to work, to concentrate, impossible to not think of him. Here’s the excuse, here’s the chance, here’s the silver platter. Start putting it away, the Fifth and the monsters and the guilt.

This’ll be the last time.

Sitting down. Taking it all back out again. Do something for him. Push him to the top, not the bottom of a bottle.

It’s too late standing on his doorstep, key in the lock, coat in the hall. He’s naked under the sheets. Half-awake, warm, reaching. Don’t think about the morning. Shivering skin against skin. Don’t think about it.

But this’ll be the last time.

Don’t think.

*

You got everything you wanted. Almost.

End

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