(Previously published in "Sanctuary #1" available from In Person Press.)
LIGHT-TRAP Series # I (Which was planned to be a six-part series, only three of which are presently in existence. They can be read individually.)
Light-trap: a – an area that allows passage of a person into a darkroom but excludes light
b – a device for collecting or destroying insects that consists of a bright light connected to a trapping or killing medium
Colors by Candle-Light
"Yes," I answered you last night.
"No," this morning, I say.
Colours seen by candle-light
Will not look the same by day.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Francis McPike had three formulated responses to being awakened by a midnight call from Vincent Terranova. #1: Functional panic. In cases of dire emergency, almost always job-related. #2: Sympathetic patience. In cases of moral dilemma, mental trauma, mostly conscience-related; a Terranova specialty. #3 : A plain brush-off. If his agent just felt like chatting and hadn't bothered to consider the late hour when he got sick of communing with motor parts spread out over his mother's kitchen.
"It's me, Frank."
"No. No, nothin's wrong."
Response #3, probably. "You have any idea what time it is?"
"Huh? Uh --" pause, "Yeah."
Definitely Response #3. McPike opened his mouth.
"Can I come over?" Vinnie stalled him,
"Now? Vince, I'm in bed already."
Oh. Not a frequent enough occurrence for pat, formulated responses. Moot point anyway. McPike never refused.
"Frank?" Vince, normally as timid as a bull in a china shop, was trying to sound unassuming.
"Yes, of course, come on over," he hurried to say. He hated to make the young man feel like he was imposing. It just made McPike feel like the Grinch.
"Gonna take me awhile to drive from Manhattan. Go back to sleep. I'll wake you."
He knew exactly how Vince would do that. It made him catch his breath, like a velvet glove landing in his guts. Like fireflies under his skin. Vinnie had hung up long before McPike could let go of the receiver.
Manhattan, not Brooklyn. Must've just left Amber, a relationship into which Vinnie was clearly pouring all his heart, soul and body. The reason McPike had no longer been expecting calls like this.
So much for assumptions.
Perhaps he should get up and take a shower.
Silly. He'd taken one less than two hours ago.
Maybe he could try to go back to sleep, like Vince had said.
Yeah, right. He was awake in more ways than one.
Not much traffic this time of the night, but still about an hour of waiting. Ten minutes or so of frenzy. Vince was always too wired for anything slower or more extended than that; he never asked for it until he got that wired, or maybe he asked for it because he got that wired. Then utter quiet, followed by Vinnie's need to explain himself. And then — well, nothing.
Nothing more or less than he'd bargained for, at any rate.
The first awareness had come to McPike about a month into the Steelgrave case, through the long lens of surveillance equipment. He was an observer, so he'd observed, the flirting, teasing looks and touches that lingered a tad too long, the body language that spoke a bit too loud, mostly initiated by Sonny and aimed at Vince. Anybody else, any other situation, he'd have considered it none of his business. No such luxury when his own agent was involved. He'd worried about the young man being seduced or forced into something he didn't want, couldn't handle. Of course, it had also occurred to him that Vinnie could've been guarded while under the lens, Unlike Sonny, he knew he was under it.
Either way, the case was closed without the need of a supervisor's intervention over that issue, so McPike hadn't asked, then or since. Neither did he intend to. Ever.
In Steelgrave's case, ignorance was bliss. It followed, of course, that it was folly to be wise. In Lococco's case.
They'd had to find out who, apart from Ketcher, were the slum-lords of Mr. Roger's Squalid Neighborhood, and why his housekeeper had been assassinated by a professional. Vinnie, who could make an interrogation sound like a chat between friends, had gone to ask the questions. McPike had chosen to listen in, not altogether confident in Vinnie's agenda, not after the man had seen fit to hand out free get-out-of-jail cards to Lococco's Dirty Dozen clones. The last thing he'd expected to hear had been Roger shattering like that, his lost, broken voice asking the forgiveness of a dead woman over and over, as if forgiveness could lessen his self-loathing. McPike had been grateful it was Vinnie who had to deal with it. He was so much better at handling emotional scenes.
Or maybe not.
The next thing he'd heard was something like the start of a scuffle, Roger spitting out a curse, and Vinnie's voice cutting in, aggrieved, "Jeezus, Rog, I was just tryin' to – what, you think every move I make starts south of my belt? I'm not that callous, and trust me, you're not that hot right now."
"Just don't touch me! I don't want you all over me. Not now."
"I m never all over you! I don't even put an arm around you, even when we're —"
McPike had decided that was more than he cared to hear and walked away from the door. Good thing, too, since Vince had stormed out seconds later. Not the last time or the only door he'd stormed out of during the termless hell spent cooped up in the safehouse, waiting on the congressional committee, word on Roger's immunity, the verdict on his inclusion in the witness protection program, bound-to-arrive-any-minute assassins, Vinnie's see-sawing attacks of conscience. One day and one door too many, and McPike had cornered Lococco.
"You're starting to scare the horses with all these doors slamming. What exactly is going on 1 between you two?"
To give him his due, Lococco hadn't played coy. "My, my, aren't we one sharp snoop? You want to know, you ask your boy."
"He feels cornered enough, I won't push him. The last thing I need is more friction between us. Between you and me, I can't care less. You're it."
"Not my place, J. Edgar-progeny. Not yours, either, unless you want to submit an official inquiry in triplicate."
"Officialdom can go hang, and J. Edgar's closet door already flew off its hinges," he'd responded, suspecting that was Lococco's way of asking if he was on a witch hunt for the Bureau. "None of their business. But you're on a shaky limb. There's every chance you won't live to regret your actions. Vince will. If his heart as well as his conscience needs to be glued back together, I should know."
"His heart?" Lococco had laughed his insincere laugh. "Oh, no, Buckwheat, that's one sloppy organ I don't touch, no way."
"Now why doesn't that surprise me? I don't know if you've noticed, but Vince isn't you, may all the saints stay blessed. Look, I don't care if you two swing from chandeliers attached by any and all organs you deem touchable. I do care Vince is unhappy about whatever's happening between you lately. Right now he doesn't need more stress. Okay, don't tell me, I don't want to know anyway. Just cut it out and stop upsetting the kid."
Roger had had an unholy twinkle in his eyes. "Nothing's happening between us lately, I did cut it out and that's upsetting your kid. Now what have you got to say?"
"Close your eyes and think of England?"
A split second of incredulity, then Lococco had howled with laughter, sincerely this time. "You're one dogged son-of-a-bitch, McPike, I'll give you that. You really like the overgrown delinquent, don't you?" He'd finally stopped cackling and wiped his eyes. "Okay, just for the best laugh I've had in ages. To set the record straight, or as straight as it's gonna get, that's not the main reason Vinnie's slamming doors. He wants me to accept witness protection. Oh, sure, I'll have me one of 'em. I've a shitload of faith in government programs, wouldn't you know? The rest --" A dismissive shrug, 'There was never much to it. Not my scene, anyway. Not all that much his, either. Every once in a while he gets a wild hair, and my view is: I'll unzip, if you can get it to go up, you can put it anywhere you want to get it off. Whether you do or not is your own lookout. Long's you leave it at that, Uncle Rog's willin' to oblige."
Way, way more than McPike wanted to know, which was, of course, exactly why Roger had enjoyed telling him. "I see." He'd kept his face carefully blank.
Lococco had snickered at him. "No, you don't. You think he's this affectionate bambino, he can't leave it at that and that's the problem. Trust me, he can leave it right there just fine. He doesn't confuse it with hearts and flowers."
"So why can't Uncle Rog still 'oblige'?"
"Uh-uh. Not for England, not for you, not even for him — and I like him."
For the first time, Lococco had looked uncomfortable. "It was only a few times, while back, too. Back then he was just a wiseass wiseguy off the streets."
McPike had relished his turn to snicker. "What's the matter, Buckwheat, scared of getting confused yourself?"
Predictably, it had set Lococco off. "Hell, no, I'm real straight on that! In my book, you don't fuck over a friend. You don't fuck him, either. Look, get this — get it across to him, too. Okay, he's got a kink, who doesn't? So once in a blue moon he likes to cross to the wilder side of the street, bend over and take it hard and fast, maybe some wrinkle he picked up in prison, so what? He's not out molesting children, and it beats taking a rifle up the clock tower. Guys like us, we're so fucking twisted, a kink that can be taken care of between two consenting adults is almost too sane. But you don't bring it home, you don't foul your own lair. You get the itch, you go far away, find a nameless, faceless stranger, go at it until it's out of your system and be done with it."
That, of course, made perfect sense for Roger Lococco. McPike silently disagreed. For one thing, it couldn't be a habit picked up in prison. Vinnie's predilections would've been long set. It was either his own nature, or had been imposed earlier. In any case, Vince was the kind to need some emotional connection to start on. For another, there were many dangers attached to taking something like that to the streets: exposure, blackmail, all kinds of bodily harm, diseases. No, much better to take it to someone who won't betray you, who cares enough to give what you need, stop at what you shouldn't have, and lets you go about the rest of your life without complications.
Lococco had sprawled back in absence of any response and smiled snidely. "Well, that's my take, anyhow. Occurs to me, McPike, having had the unmemorable pleasure of your company in your undies, you seem to have all the right equipment. If it means so much to you, why don't you oblige him? Oh, I forgot, you don't want any friction between you. Without a good deal of friction, neither one of you is likely to get much out of it."
Lococco hadn't been suggesting it seriously; he was just trying to be offensive. Wasted effort. McPike had realized during his teens his sex urge wasn't only operational when he had a female handy. It was always there, sometimes kicking in at the most inappropriate times and places. Once it kicked in, the particular anatomy of a specific gender was certainly nice to have, but it also managed to resolve itself against whatever was available, even things as sexless as sheets and pillows. Obviously, narrow rules didn't have to apply. He'd never had any interest in trying out his own gender, and wouldn't think of it now, now that the course of his life was already established. But to someone who had accepted his hands could wield a weapon to maim a person or end a life, it didn't qualify as the stuff of nightmares.
"I'm married." Short and factual.
"Not the kind to stray, huh?"
'That's right." Close enough for jazz, at least for Lococco's ears. "For the moment, none of us can stray from our little slice of heaven on earth here, so do everybody a favor. Vince doesn't understand a friendship that has to narrow because it has widened. You tell him 'no,' he'll think you mean 'not right now.' Don't expect him to just get it. Spell it out. He still may not understand, but he'll accept. And for God's sake, stick to it after that. Don't play with his head."
Useless advice. The next night Lococco was gone. Three nights after that, he'd been killed.
As it had turned out, the course of McPike's life hadn't been as established as he'd figured then, either. So much for that assumption, too. In whatever circle of hell he now inhabited, Roger Lococco must be laughing his obnoxious head off.
If Vinnie's mother hadn't gone away with her heart's long-denied desire, abandoning her son in an empty house, lonelier precisely because once it had been filled with a family...
If McPike hadn't been turned out of his own home and hearth into a rainy night, or at least if he could've afforded a classier hotel...
If Vinnie hadn't been feeling dammed up and rejected through a long recovery period over a simple bone displacement and so badly frustrated during his incarceration in that obscene place, if McPike hadn't been feeling guilty about his part in all of that, unwitting or not...
If there wasn't always, as well as a deep and true affection, the kick of an adversarial aggression between them...
If days could've been more occupied and nights shorter...
So many ifs, water under the bridge. Just as well, anyway. McPike had never changed his mind. On those rare occasions when Vinnie got so wound up that he had to lose control or lose his mind, it was best for him to be with someone who'd go to the edge with him and make sure he fell short of real harm.
How noble, McPike thought, it's purely for the benefit of the kid, and that's why you're lying here with a hard-on and counting the minutes. You're such a hypocrite.
He wasn't even a good hypocrite, or he wouldn't keep catching himself at it. He got up, put his robe on, and went to get a drink.
As usual, melancholy was setting in. Now that the starburst behind his eyes had burned itself out and the hammer slamming into his ribs had settled into a mere thumping, McPike's mind was reestablishing contact with his body. He felt like a rickety frame around the solid core of Vinnie's back, inadequate and unnecessary.
He unhooked his hands from the broad shoulders and slid his arms out from under Vinnie's, asked for one more effort from his trembling muscles, rolled off to the side. Vinnie softly grunted when he pulled out, but it was just an involuntary sound. McPike knew he was totally forgotten. Their bodies hadn't yet cooled from the heat, nerve endings still felt raw, even their cries insisted on clinging to the air, and Frank McPike might as well not exist.
He can leave it right there just fine, Lococco had said.
Right again, you bastard.
Okay, time to get a grip.
McPike had long realized what Lococco wouldn't have bothered to figure out. This was the goal. More than the heated grappling and coupling, the pounding, headlong rush into completion, and yes, even more than the acute, convulsive, incendiary pain/pleasure of it, this was the goal, the place Vinnie so desperately needed to reach. A quick, profligate draining of energy, saturation of senses, body on overload, all thought shorted out: disconnection. A brief period of insensible, total disconnection. Blessed respite.
Heart-trippingly exhausting, and a little lonely afterwards, but nothing he could begrudge Vince. Besides, petty was the kindest term to describe bemoaning something he was always so hot for before the afterwards. McPike turned his head. Apart from these moments, he carefully did not look at Vinnie as a lover, for the simple fact that he wasn't. At least that was McPike's story and he was sticking to it. But as a result, Vinnie's beauty was an abrupt realization to him each time: the sculpted profile that hinted at a lineage sprung from antiquity, the body in its sated sprawl, big, broad, and balanced, the perfect male animal.
If you weren't so extravagant with some of them, he scolded the God he hoped was actually not looking down at present, you'd have more left for the rest of us.
He watched until Vinnie sighed, his eyebrows gathering into a frown and the contours of his arms and back shifting, clenching fitfully. His body, if not his mind yet, was starting to note the cost. As usual, his back seemed to tabulate it first. Must be muscle spasms from holding an unaccustomed pose, or the internal abrasion radiating out, some simple physical discomfort. But nothing really convinced McPike it wasn't the price an unbending, willful spirit extorted from its too-human body for yielding. He couldn't just watch, even though he suspected Vince might prefer to be alone in the brief refuge he'd paid for.
He leaned on an elbow, slid his hand up the nearest arm, pressed at the crux where back, shoulders and neck congregated, rubbed there for a while, then hitched himself closer so he could follow the large muscles down as they narrowed into the waist. While his body had cooled, even chilled, in the meantime, Vinnie's still gave off heat like a sunburn that flushes the skin after the sun has set. He couldn't help leaning into it, sharing the warmth, buried his face in the abundant hair, kept on rubbing at the small of the back, firm, circular motions.
Muffled in the pillow, Vinnie made a soft sound, then again, which McPike finally realized was his name. He shifted his weight back onto his elbow. Head twisted to the side, Vinnie was looking at him with grave, sweet eyes. Awake and aware.
Time to hang on to that grip.
He lightly patted where he'd been rubbing and pulled his hand back.
"Thanks," Vinnie said. For the massage, for everything prior, or for pulling away to reestablish distance, any or all, McPike had no idea,
"Anytime," he covered all bets.
Vinnie rose to his elbows, head down, arched his spine, rose to his hands, threw his head back to compress his spine next, held the pose and his breath. Finally, he let go of both and dropped back onto the bed. Right on cue, he opened his mouth. "I was takin' Amber home after dinner." A telling grimace, indicating dinner hadn't gone well. "I was considerin'…." Whatever he'd been considering was left unsaid. "My mind kept playin' these scenarios. You know how you get sometimes, real paranoid, you just can't stop, you keep goin' 'round 'n 'round, playin' 'em out?"
"Yes, I know." Every single time you're late checking in, I know.
"Each worse than the last, until they're more real than reality, and you get so uptight you can't think, you can't breathe, you're sure you're gonna lose your mind?"
"Yes, Vince, yes, I know," God, how he wished the kid didn't feel obligated to explain every single time, as if there had to be an explanation, or even worse, an apology. "You don't have to tell me, I know."
"And my mothers back."
Oh, that spoke volumes. ' She is?"
"Yeah, I'd called her in Italy, and I was tellin' her — never mind, she's just back."
"Okay." The question begged: You'd tell me if Rudi came back with her, wouldn't you, 'cause INS would like to know, not to mention the Attorney General, remember him, our boss? But that was for the day, when the business suit went back on. He changed the subject, "Your back still hurts?"
Vinnie gave a low, rumbling chuckle that somehow managed to be debauched and pure at the same time. "Everything still hurts, Frank, but I feel great."
"The purpose of my life, revealed at last," he grumbled, but gently. Just thwarted affection, finding an outlet.
Taking it as meant, Vinnie chuckled again. Gingerly, he rose and took himself to the bathroom. The sound of the shower followed.
And that, ladies and gentleman, concludes our programming for the night. Take care and drive safely.
McPike got up, stripped and remade the bed. Not an immaculate process, sex. Some forms less immaculate than others. He passed by Vinnie coming out of the bathroom, more than ready for his own appointment with some soap and water. By the time he finished his shower, he'd be alone in the house. That was the drill.
Therefore, he was startled to see Vinnie still there when he came out of the bathroom, sitting on the bed and seemingly unable to decide between his briefs in one hand and his dress shirt in the other. McPike stopped drying his hair and wrapped the towel around his waist instead. Ridiculous of course, but he couldn't help it.
"I should go back to Amber's," Vinnie said to the shirt, then looked up. "The dinner, my mother treatin' her like she's some cradle-snatchin' black widow. It was a disaster. I took her home, got all paranoid, couldn't even talk to her. I grabbed a beer and ran. She was expectin' me to stay."
"Okay." What, now he needed permission to leave, too? "Go."
"I can't, Frank. Not just yet."
Performance anxiety? "Okay."
"Mind f I crash for a bit?"
He huffed, exasperated. "There's the bed, Vince, you've met before. You want to stay, stay."
"Thanks." He tossed his briefs, draped the shirt on the bedside lamp, got under the covers, turned onto his stomach, and wrapped his arms around a pillow. "I'll be gone before you wake up. Wanna catch Amber before she leaves for work."
"Fine." He pulled the towel off, turned out the lights, got into the side of the bed Vinnie had carefully left free, faced the wall and closed his eyes.
McPike had no idea what time it was when he woke up, but it was still dark. He also had no idea who'd moved first, but he was wrapped around Vinnie in the middle of the bed. He did, however, have a damn good idea what woke him. Pressed full length to Vince's back, he was turned on again. If he'd had something approaching a normal sex life lately, he could've just enjoyed the warm intimacy without getting carnal about it. As it was though...
Don't let all your affections become appetites, he told himself, roll over and go back to sleep.
Just for a moment, he stayed where he was, Vinnie's damp hair clinging to McPike's cheek and his own neck, inhaled the soap scented warm skin, briefly let his lips linger on the tender curvature of the flesh, started to pull back. Moving with him, Vinnie cozied himself back into McPike's lap companionably, as if it were his personal easy chair.
This isn't helping, big guy, he thought, assuming the movement to be an unconscious one, but when he tried to pull away again, Vinnie's arm reached back deliberately, held them together.
Oh, well, as long as they were both awake and shared the mood.
Ahead of his mind's permission, his body was already rewrapping Vinnie in his arms, bearing him down flat onto his stomach, surging against the dips and swells of the expansive back. Then his brain caught up, reminding him he had done the rough handling bit already. It seemed to be Vinnie's unvarying preference, but it was getting old.
He eased off, back to where his first instinct had led him, remembering that he knew how to embrace rather than grasp, reorienting himself to the want of his lips and hands instead of the hunger of his mouth and genitals. He nuzzled and kissed Vinnie's neck, shoulders, the indentation in the middle of his back. His palms stroked up and down the long body, curving over its forms, finding the hard ridges of the ribs, the contrasting soft valleys in between, the smoothness of skin stretched across wide muscles, the jut of hipbones and the surprising fluttery feel of the flesh just inside of them.
Vinnie sighed, spread his legs, arched back his hips, clearly unaware of the change in the agenda. We already let you have your primal scream for the night, McPike thought, humor the old man and let's try something different.
He coaxed Vinnie to turn in his embrace, liking the flex and move of the smooth flesh and solid muscles, all that vitality finding ways to fit itself to him. Larger than life and willing to be contained by him. Vinnie clasped the arch of McPike's back with one hand, the other hand the nape of his neck, locking, grinding together their bodies and their mouths, kindling to fire.
McPike tried to free his mouth, managed to say, "Easy, Vince, slow down."
Not that willing to be contained by him, after all. McPike reached up and grabbed two fistfuls of hair to hold him off. Poetic justice, he considered, having at least one drawback to owning that much hair.
"What? ' Vinnie asked, inserting way too many of the same consonant into the word, sounding like a spurned twelve year old.
"You don't want it?"
"Oh, I want it, just...easy."
"Ea...easy?" Panting, confused.
I know, kid, I know, different rules, new territory. I'm making it up as I go along, too. He gentled his hold, but didn't let go. Come on, Vince, you have so many passions in you. Don't make me settle for one. Can't you spare me another, let me have a small taste of it?
He felt Vinnie struggle to gentle his own hold as well. "Oh, Frank, don't." Something like fear trembled in his voice, and he was genuinely pleading, "Please, don't." But he leaned into McPike's mouth with delicate lips, first just a touch, then slight motion, breath-soft.
Nice to be tantalized for a change, to only anticipate.
"Yeah?" Vince. As if he'd heard.
"Okay." Breath rustling, lips barely grazing, flicks of tongue, light scrape of teeth.
That's right. That's good.
Kisses in embryo, tiny nips, select tasting. Almost fastidious, like a big finicky cat.
Yes, that's good.
The lips playing tag, staying just short of capture, the darting tongue tip that wouldn't let itself be tasted.
A finicky cat — with the patience of Methuselah. It suddenly dawned on McPike he was the recipient of a deliberate strategy, a precision attack, and he was going down. In flames.
In the end he was the one to grip Vinnie, crushing their mouths together, parched by denial. "Bastard!" he panted during a split second he could bear to tear away. A dirty chortle started deep in the wide chest. McPike resealed their mouths, pushing the unabashed sound back down Vinnie's throat with his tongue, invading, thrusting, until it turned into a needy moan.
Restraint? What was restraint? Suddenly they were turning over and over on the bed, tumbling like sheets in the dryer, trying on each other's skin, feeding their senses on one another, gluttonous down to the marrow for the feel, the smell, the taste, the sound, demanding to take, demanding to give. Oh, God, so good like this, naked and breathless and combustible, so good, so good, he could come like this, just a little more, a little faster, a little harder --
Vinnie pulled away, shocking him as if half of his very own body had abruptly decided to separate from him. I'll kill you, he thought dizzily, if this is more payback, I'll kill you. It was a brief desertion, Vinnie already on his back and hauling McPike on top of him, large, powerful legs wrapping around his waist, insistent hips lifting up into him. Enough breathing space to get him off the edge, though, let him back up and anticipate the approach again. His other senses happy with their provisions for the moment, his sight felt deprived. He rose on his hands, looked down, and realized that it was too dark. Those eyes that could hold a whole conversation without once resorting to voice were looking up at him, and he couldn't see them.
He groped for the bedside table, Vinnie's hand going along helpfully. While McPike tried to gain enough purchase to reach the light, Vinnie found something and slipped it into his palm. Small, round, smooth — oh.
He put the jar of lubricant right back down. Get a clue, Sport. He managed to extricate himself enough from the banding legs and turn on the lamp. The light was unexpectedly easy on the eyes, diffused by the shirt draped over it. He settled back, looked at Vinnie. Yep, there they were, the eyes he wanted to see, blinking like a startled owl at the moment, mute with it, but definitely worth looking at, beautifully at home on the face dominated by strength of bone, overlaid by the generosity of features.
Right then those features were drawn in passion, tight with need. "Come on, Frank, please? Don't string me out."
The first time he was in charge of the time, McPike was loath to let it slip away from him in another heated rush. "A little longer, Vince." Let me have just a little longer.Vinnie groaned."Make it worth your while," McPike whispered, running his lips down the long column of Vinnie's throat, pausing at the thrumming pulse, feeling it beat against his tongue, wanting to suck, bite, remembering just in time how thinly the flesh there covers the vein, taking his need lower, to the nipples, distributing it between the two, still having to control — you re not the only guest at this feast, don't mark him.
The smoothness of Vinnie's chest and abdomen also reminding him to be careful not to chafe, forcing him to resist his temptation to burrow deep into the willing flesh, resist the unmindful hands cupping his head, urging him to go ahead and stake a claim. The intensity with which he wished he could was warning in itself. No, no crying for the moon. There was more than enough satisfaction in possessing Vinnie's pleasure, feel him shudder, see his stomach lie in helpless waves, hear the sighs that broke on Frank's name.
The blood-round softness against his lips and tongue, then in his mouth, as spongy and tender as a tiny, pert breast at the top, ripe for suckling, and lower down — but suddenly Vinnie was tugging him off of it. "No, Frank, don't." Clenched words, like held-back sobs. "You don't have to."
He couldn't bother to stop and think what he was doing so he could figure out what it was he didn't have to do. Too busy wanting to get back to doing it, he growled something that wasn't even decipherable to himself, grabbed Vinnie's wrists, yanked them away, freed himself to continue. Felt good. Felt like feeding on life. That much power and vulnerability. In his control.
No, not quite. Vinnie cried out, a defenseless sound in direct contrast to the force of his upthrust. That was power, and the young, strong hips drove it. McPike couldn't help pulling back.
Shit. Now he was really stringing out the kid. Maybe he could handle it. Maybe.
But Vinnie was pulling him up, back into his arms. "It's all right, Frank, it's okay."
"Sshh, nothin' to be sorry." Burning up and tight as a bowstring, but his arms tried to soothe. "Trust me."
"Let me try. I can at least try."
"I know you can." His mouth found McPike's, "You'll finish it, too, I know you," sharing his urgency through his lips, "I don't wanna finish yet," imparting his passion, "How 'bout you?" pouring it into McPike's mouth with all the kick and heat of hot wine, "You wanna finish, Frank?"
Finish, no. Come, yes. Right then, as badly as his next breath Vinnie kept stealing. "I'll wait," he managed.
"Don't wait." The small jar somehow found its way into McPike's hand again. "Come on Frank, do it."
He really, really didn't want to see that damned jar, too acute a reminder he could take but had hesitated in giving. He almost tossed it away, but thought again. "If you like this thing so much," he uncapped it, held it out, "why don't you put some on your fingers, big guy, and give me a thrill." The man who couldn't even press for a blow-job wouldn't presume more than McPike could handle.
Vinnie coated his fingers obediently, but, by the time McPike put the jar away and rolled onto his back, he still seemed to wonder what to do with them. "Where?" he asked. Sincerely.
"On my head, I hear it promotes hair growth — where do you think?"
"I'm sure." He couldn't hold off laughing at Vinnie's expression another second.
"No, Frank, really."
"Yes, Vince, really."
"I'm serious! It's not as fun as you think it is, not at first. Never, if you can't relax."
All right, all right, he could be serious, too. "Stop worrying. I know exactly how it is."
"Don't go by me. I'm used to it."
It kept surprising him, how unworldly Vinnie always assumed McPike's life had been. "I'm going by me. There was this woman in 'Nam, Soonyin. 'Magic Fingers,' we called her."
"You liked it?"
"I liked it then." This was different enough to make him suddenly shiver. He pulled Vinnie half over him, needful of his warm cover. "Start slow. Been a while."
One difference was soon apparent. Soonyin's hands had been tiny. He choked back the protest, but couldn't help the instinctive stiffening. Vince immediately stopped. McPike had done all the backing out he was going to do for the night. "Go on, feels good."
"No, it doesn't," Vinnie refuted gently. "But it will, trust me," now using his hands to pat and stroke, soothing, 'Will you trust me, Frank?" now to cup and knead, enticing, "Will you let me make you feel good?" and now to tug and coax, 'Turn over for me. Come on, trust me, turn over."
Trust Vinnie? Maybe. Trust Vinnie's arms? Certainly. And Vinnie's shoulders, when they sheltered his back like broad-beams. And his careful hands, as they first scattered the sensations, then gathered, focused them, pierced him with them. He cried out, his center wakened to a sharper, keener life than he'd expected. Soonyin's fingers, too short to create more than anticipation, had only hinted at what was bursting in him now.
"Breathe deep, Frank," low and husky at his ear. "Breathe with me. It'll get easier."
A deranging pleasure and he didn't want it any easier. "No, like that, that, yes, just like that." Too visceral, too core-deep to moderate, he urged it stoked instead.
"When it's good, Frank, if it's really good," Vinnie fevered, too, chafing himself blood-hot against McPike's leg, "maybe...someday maybe, you'll let me —"
"Let you?" pushing back helplessly, sinner to sin, "Keep this up," lovely, lovely sin, "I might even beg you."
Vinnie gasped like struck, froze.
All sound, all movement, all sensation. Froze.
Thrown from too much to nothing, dizzy with it, McPike was a beat too late to realize why. As soon as he did, he tried to turn, to offer something of himself, his hand, his mouth, anything — too late for that, too.
He could only hold Vince in the aftermath, let him finish shuddering and catch his breath against his chest.
"Jeezus, Frank, sayin' somethin' like that when I'm so close."
"I meant it."
A renewed shudder "Yeah, well, too late."
Another tremor. "Oh, God."
Before the wetness on McPike's thigh totally dried, he took a sample of it on his finger, tried out its taste and texture. Not high on the menu, but he could live with it.
"God, Frank," more aftershocks, "you're gonna give me a heart attack! What're you doin'?"
"Just wanted to know. For future reference."
"That's it! I'm gonna give you that heart attack."
With commanding hands, Vinnie tugged and positioned him on his back, shoved his legs apart, climbed between them, descended onto his erection with no preliminaries, no nicety, just demanding, relentless suction. Abrasive even, on an arousal long pent-up, too long sustained, but that was all right, that was fine, always some pain, some aggression inevitable between them when and where they fused, merely just dues, Peter's Pence for the blessing, the curse, of coming so fiercely alive, craving it so bad, loving it so much.
Suddenly it was immediate, absolutely primitive, explosive. At the peak of his last convulsion he yanked Vinnie up to him, took his mouth, devouring it with the same orgasmic heat, making their connection last, last, until he couldn't prolong the intensity anymore, had to let go, let it cool at the same rate his blood was cooling, regulate it in unison with the calming beats of his heart. Until he simply lay with Vinnie twinned to his chest.
No melancholy for a change. Just peace.
They may have drowsed. Or not. Really, who cared?
Vinnie lifted his head off of McPike's chest, looking thoroughly used and beautiful with it. He also looked dazed. "Frank, that was —"
"Yes, it was," he agreed. Precisely to what, he couldn't have said. Whatever his partner wanted an agreement to, carte blanche.
Vinnie seemed to be searching for words as if they were necessary. McPike just smiled lazily into the marvelous eyes.
"You know what my mother just told me?"
McPike had no idea, but looking at the sea-change in Vinnie's expression, he got a sudden urge to send Carlotta a memo: Dear Signora Aiuppo, a.k.a. Terranova, this is to tell you to keep your mouth shut, 'cause every time you open it you send your boy into a tailspin.
"She told me I couldn't fall in love in the middle of a lie," Vinnie continued, watching McPike with direct, acute eyes. "You know what that means, Frank?"
A snake charmer with those eyes wouldn't need a flute. "Not a clue. What does it mean?"
"It means I can fall in love with my mother, Uncle Mike, or you."
It was the best kind of joke, straddling sense and nonsense. So why wasn't it amusing? Vince had told it with a singular lack of amusement, he realized.
"So how 'bout it, Frank, will you let me fall in love with you?"
Not funny. Not funny at all.
"Answer me, Frank."
Jesus, he meant it. Vinnie actually meant it. For real.
"Answer me, please."
"Vince, I --" Carte blanche disallowed past this point. "I can't be real for you."
Arms and legs around McPike tightened, defined him, his solidity, his existence. "You feel real enough to me."
Dear God, this was as cruel a lure as hope beckoning across a field of broken glass. Just the thought of crossing it would cut him to bloody shreds. "That's right, in here. Doors locked, windows closed, curtains drawn, and I'm real — we're real, so what? What does it mean out there? Nothing. Not a fucking thing."
"We mean something. We mean a lot."
"Yeah?" He had to get up, up and out from under the spell of everything he had to deny. He pushed Vinnie off, swung his legs out of the bed and sat up. "Get a grip, Vince, what we mean outside this room is just something else to hide, secrets and lies. You need any more of those? I don't." Where was his robe?
"Frank, I need – "
"Find it elsewhere, not here," he severed it. "Nothing in here can add up to a whole life." There was his robe, on the floor. By the time he'd put it on and belted it tightly it had dawned on him to wonder what exactly was the big crime that deserved his wrath. Vinnie had sat up on the side of the bed. McPike joined him. "I didn't mean to sound so cold, I'm sorry. But I'm right, Vince. You know I'm right."
"No maybe about it." Protecting Vinnie was his job. His calling, it sometimes felt like. Why should it change because they were sitting on the bed they'd loved in? "You need a whole life. I want you to have whole life. I haven't given up on mine. I'm not about to give up on yours, you've barely started it."
Long silence. Until McPike fervently wished it broken.
"My mother thinks I'm in love with Amber. She hates it," was the way Vinnie chose to break it. "Do you think I'm in love with her, Frank?"
Safer track. If Vinnie wasn't only switching because rejection stung. No, of course not. He'd been crazy about Amber for a good while. "I don't know Vince, but I'm not the one who keeps bringing up her name."
A tight, wispy smile conceded the point. "Maybe I should marry her," a sideways look, "you think?"
"Don't ask me, look at the hash I've made there."
"You still want it back, don't you? Your marriage, Jenny?"
"Yes." No room for shades of gray right then. They'd confuse the issue for Vinnie. "Yes, I do."
"Well, marriage must have somethin' goin' for it, right? Think Amber can handle my job, the hours, the jeopardy?"
Vinnie had let drop Amber's revelations of how Mr. and Mrs. Twine had spent the last minutes of their marital bliss. Any woman who could have sex with a heart attack victim in his hospital bed shouldn't have too rigid an attitude toward jeopardy, should she? "Why not? She's as strong and resourceful as they come."
"Yeah, she is. So maybe I'll give it a shot."
"That's good, Vince. That's great." She'd been a champ through all the rotten curves Isaac had thrown her. Surely she wouldn't do any less for Vinnie.
Then again, Isaac had been a child in a man's body, playing at life with careless abandon, taking nothing seriously. Amber had humored him like an indulgent mother. Vinnie looked like an overgrown kid, but he was an adult. He was driven and dedicated, and his life's work was more serious than the heart attack that had killed Isaac Twine, affecting more than only himself. What if Amber couldn't handle the reversal, or worse, what if she thought Vinnie's reality a game, too, a game run on testosterone? Her forbearance with it would be tinged with contempt. What would that do to Vinnie? The only thing McPike said was, "If you want to catch her home, you'd better get going."
While Vinnie washed and dressed, he made coffee, downed a quick, black cup. He'd have preferred whisky, but workday loomed. He poured some coffee in a travel-mug for Vinnie, handed it to him when he came into the kitchen.
"Thanks," Vinnie accepted it, but put it back on the counter, finding an interest in pushing, pulling and turning it. "If I get married, what happens to us?"
"That's between you and your vows."
"Forsakin' all others, yes, I know." He looked up from the mug, into empty air. "I don't know why I need what I need, but I need it. Marriage isn't going to change that."
"You can find that elsewhere, too."
Vinnie whirled on him. "I don't want it elsewhere. I may never want it elsewhere again!" He pointed accusingly. "You did that to me tonight. You can fuck me and throw me out, fine, but you can't love me and throw me out. Or can you? Can you, Frank?"
"No, Vince, I can't." Metal to magnet, truth to Vince. "Nothing to do with tonight, either. That was just a symptom."
Vinnie's eyes went all soft. "Hell of a symptom, Frank."
"Hell of an affliction, Vinnie."
"I may have caught it."
"Get well soon."
"That's not a wish, Francis. It's a verdict."
"It is what it has to be."
Vinnie averted his eyes, picked up his coffee. "I can come back?"
"Even if you go back to Jenny?"
"But I can't stay."
"All right." He went to the door. "See you later?"
"Count on it."
"I do." He closed the door after himself.
McPike parted the drapes and watched Vinnie come out of the apartment house, get into his car, pull it out of the parking spot, drive away.
Someone had once said that love consists of two solitudes protecting each other.
He let the drapes fall.