Disclaimer: These boys have been treated like dirt. I would never treat them that way. Therefore, they must not be mine.
Summary: Lindsey said he was headed for his roots - or something like that. So what did that mean?
Author's notes: Thanks to Te for the song: "If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)"
Dedication: To Pet for the secret language of horses. To Sam for the love of beauty in all forms. To Kassie for unswerving support, as always. And to all of you who will take the time to read.
Never-ending dust, dry scorching heat, and enough hard labor to make him tumble into exhaustion when he gets to his bed. This is his therapy of choice, something to get the bad taste of LA out of his mouth and get the demons of morality to shut the hell up.
Not quite Oklahoma, there's no way he's heading back there. He leaves California, crosses Nevada, and when he hits the state line he stops at the first crossroads and flips a coin. Heads for north; tails for south. It lands tails up on the gritty blacktop, and he leaves it there, rear tires flipping it into a spin that carries it to the sandy piles of dirt at the side of the road.
Drives until he's out of pocket money, no more cash for gas, coffee or diner food. Finds a little town on the outskirts of a pocket of horse country and asks who's hiring. No one looks twice at him, his worn out denim and his rusty old Ford. A couple of old men point him towards the Lordi ranch, and he goes straight out the dirt road, asks the rancher for a job. Bends the truth about where he's been, says college hasn't really worked out for him, and he's heading home, eventually. The rancher has some reservations. But they're short handed, and the boy can ride. Hires him with the provision if he fucks up once, he's out on his ass.
Lindsey's got no problem with that.
Between the city and the farm, Riley decides that he can't bear the thought of green fields and Iowa skies. Not yet. Maybe not ever. No way to explain the changes in him, the scars he bears at throat and elbow, and he's had enough green to last him the rest of his life. The smell of the jungle, the wet-rot of it, feels like it's so deep in his pores that it's scarring him, too. He's going to hit a Wal-Mart, buy some jeans and tees and then burn everything in the duffle. Everything.
Little shopping center on his right, and he slams on the brakes, rear end of the truck fishtailing on the road. Pulls into the nearly-empty lot, and refuses to let himself think as he hops out and heads into the seedy chain retailer, swallowing the burst of cold that hits him in the face. Grateful for the odors that hang in the processed air, almost strong enough to wipe out the lingering stench of humid greenery and demon ichor that will never dry there in the fetid darkness of Belize.
Riley grabs a cart and gets to shopping.
Despite himself, Lindsey falls easily into the daily rhythm of hard work. Used to taxing his brain and not his body, he's sore and aching the first week, scraping down the food served to all the workers, barely managing to reply to the few remarks that're directed at him. Buses his dirty dishes, says a mumbled goodnight to anyone who happens to be paying attention and doesn't give a damn if no one is.
His bed's a single mattress he's taken off the rickety, metal frame and laid out on the floor. White, cotton sheets that smell like the air they were dried in, outside in the sun. No laundry detergent or fabric softener, no artificial scent, just clean and so old that they're worn to a satin-smoothness that feels amazing on his skin. He has next to nothing in the room other than the mattress. Just a small bureau with his clothes, a few paperbacks he's had since college, the tiny night table with the lamp, shade gone yellow with age. All of this sits on hardwood floors that gleam softly with handrubbed oil, applications that go back generations, buffed by years of sock clad feet walking the treads.
Boots tossed into the corner, Lindsey pads barefoot to the shared bathroom, washes his face, brushes his teeth, really looks at himself in the mirror for the first time in about three weeks. Hair getting shaggy, outer layer blonde on the ends from the sun. Face darker already, he always tans so fast, remembers his mama teasing him about it. Faintest ghost of a smile twitches his lips and he thinks that this might be OK for a while.
He doesn't even remember leaving the bathroom, taking off his jeans or lying down in the embrace of sun-sweetened linens. The next thing he knows is blackness without dreams.
With his open, honest farmboy face and his air of comfort in the store, it's simple to get the job when he asks for it. Used to the ways of the small town, he answers as honestly as he can when the old proprietor wants to know why he wants this job. Riley tells him he's going to settle there for a while. His physique is noted, cloudy eyes looking him up and down to judge his ability to haul and carry. The old guy grunts at him, waves him behind the counter.
"Guess you'd be wantin' cash." It's not a question.
"No, not really. However you want to work it. I just need the job." Riley's hiding, but not from the people who'll trace his social security number to this place that's small enough to remind him of home and different enough to make him feel... invisible.
"Got a room, if you're lookin." Also not a question and Riley bends to the paperwork he's handed. He fills in what he can, which isn't much since he's been sleeping in the truck. Name, the usual numbers. Hands it back to the septagenarian and waits for the remarks about no address, no phone. They don't come.
Riley starts that afternoon, moves his few belongings into the room over the store that night. Sleeps with the window open so he can smell the dust and see the stars.
Lindsey pulls the truck around behind the feed store. Easy enough to find the place and he's glad for a chance to just drive, radio up loud and sun glinting off the bumpers.
He walks in, hangs his sunglasses in the collar of his shirt, looks around briefly. He catches sight of the community bulletin board and wanders over. There're faded flyers, ragged home printed business cards, and in one section, a neat line of index cards listing horses for sale. He reads these, the thoughts of owning one too tempting to ignore after these weeks on the ranch.
"Sorrel QH stud colt, coming 2. 14 hh, will mature to 16 easy. Doc Bar lines, backed 2 months. Loads, leads, clips easy. Pretty head, halter butt, straight solid legs. Great barrel/reining prospect, moves like a cat. Must see to appreciate! $3000 OBO."
Too young to do much with, and not what he's looking for. He moves on to the next card. "Grade paint gelding, 10 y/o, cow horse 15'2". Bold markings, sound, easy keeper, kept on grass, herd trained, neckreins easy, no vices, sells w/working gear & blanket. Great head for cow. $800 firm."
That one sounds good. He reads it over again, notes the owner's name. He'll ask some of the guys at the ranch what they know about the guy, if they think he's worth driving over to look at.
One more there. "Own daughter of Zipper Doc Bee, coming 5, dun w/dorsal, unregistered. 15 hh barefoot. Big hip, easy breeder, babydoll head. Dead broke, good using horse, 2 years under saddle herding. Sells w/option to breed back to our Poco Bar stud. $1900." Shakes his head almost unconsciously. Breeding her too early, and he's not looking for a mare.
He's thinking hard about the gelding so when the clerk comes up to him, he barely notices. "Help you with anything?"
Lindsey turns, takes in the guiless face of the young guy who's apparently new enough or bored enough to actually seek out a chance to do some work. "Me personally? Nah. But my boss wants his weekly order of feed. Name's Lordi."
"Sure. You want me to carry that out to the truck for you?" Guy's already walking away towards the back of the store, asks the question over his shoulder.
"I think you could help me if you want, but I don't see any reason for you to struggle with it all alone." Lindsey's amused. Gotta be new, far too eager to have been here more than a few weeks. There's a laugh and then, "It's a habit, just kinda shoots out of my mouth."
They stop at the storeroom. "Gotta watch that kind of habit." Lindsey offers his hand. "I'm Lindsey. You?"
Big, warm hand, calluses that rival Lindsey's in that grip. "Riley. Pull your truck around back and we can load it up."
"One step ahead of you."
Riley props open the wide wooden door with a chunk of brick, and they heft the sacks of feed. Not an easy job, but Riley makes it look that way, swinging it up to his shoulder and tossing it into the bed of the truck. Lindsey's right behind him, can't help but notice the play of muscle across the wide back where the t-shirt clings to him, soaked through with sweat as they go along. Riley's new to the job, Lin thinks, but not to hard labor, not to using his body as more than just a brainrack.
Back and forth to the truck, silent work until they get to the end of the pallet. Lindsey swipes the back of his arm across his forehead as they take a breather. Squints up at Riley, who's doing the same. Asks, "You from around here, Riley?"
Riley stares at him for just a fraction of a second before answering. "No. You got an ear for accents?"
Lindsey grins at him. "You spend a few years trying to repress one, you'll get an ear for it, too."
Small nod of his head, and Riley says, "Not local either?"
"Not by a long shot." Lindsey looks around, thinks about that gelding. The ranch. Hard work that he doesn't have to feel ashamed of at the end of the day. "Might be one day, though."
Riley grins at him. "Well that's the last of it. Lordi's got an account, so I don't even have to shake you down for money."
"That's a relief, 'cause I've got none." Offers his hand again and they shake. "See ya."
"Next time." Riley walks back in, kicks the brick away, lets the door swing shut behind him as Lindsey backs the heavy truck out and heads for the ranch. Turns the radio up again and takes the ride back slow. It gives him time to think about the horse, and he does. But it gives him time to think about Riley, too. The waves of friendliness that rolled off of him, natural smile, easy manner.
He's open in a way that Lindsey isn't used to, in a way he's never been. Growing up trying not to be noticed, working his way through school trying to be seen as something he wasn't, trying to fit in with kids who had never in their lives been dirt poor. Time at Wolfram and Hart, always on guard, always watching every word so there was no chance for anyone to find a weakness and drive the knife into his back.
Thinks again of the tall, hard body and the warm smile, wonders if he's found a kindred spirit. It's a nice thought to carry back to the ranch.
Saturday night and the honky-tonk is wall to wall. Bodies pressed together on the small dance floor, brushing by as they move from table to bar. Smoke and the smell of fermenting beer soaked into the sawdust on the floor compete for the dominant scent. There's no one there Riley knows and he's content to sit at the bar and drink his beer. Nothing else to do, and he's too restless to sit in his room tonight. Even the sound of the juke box, cranked up so loud that it would make the glasses rattle if there weren't so many people here to absorb the vibrations, even that sounds better than the tick of his clock in the emptiness of his room.
Took him a while to feel lonely. He was so full of the other garbage that he was trying to forget about - rejection, need, addiction. Now he's at the point where he wants something again. Not sure what it is, but it's starting to sit in his belly and curl up tight. He lifts his hand to get the bartender's attention, see if another beer won't make the tightness settle down a little and leave him be.
Tap on his shoulder and Riley turns, sees the guy from the feed store the other day. The one who called him on being an outsider. Lindsey, that was it. Nice guy. Remembers the way he'd tossed around the heavy sacks, not a big guy but power in him. Riley leans forward to hear him over the noise of the music and the crowd, notices again those blue eyes, sky-bright and clear.
"You waiting on someone?" Lindsey nods to the empty stool on the other side of Riley, up against the corner of the bar and the wall.
Riley shakes his head. "No, have a seat."
The bartender arrives with Riley's beer and Lindsey catches him before he can get away. "Bring me one of them. Hold on, make it two, and another one for this guy." He indicates Riley with his thumb and the bartender hustles off.
"You don't need to do that." Riley feels odd, Lindsey buying him a beer, and he doesn't even know him except for the five sentences or so they had in the store. The thought strikes him suddenly //lonely//, and he lets it go. No harm in the company, and it's been a long time since he had someone to talk to, drink with.
Lindsey smiles easily enough. "One beer won't kill me. You either." He drops a ten spot on the bar when the beer arrives and leaves the change there. Settling in for some serious drinking time, Riley surmises, since the bottles here go for a buck fifty.
Kind of hard for conversation with all the noise, but they make the attempt. Riley's guarded about all his answers. Can't quite decide if Lindsey is just looking for some conversation with anyone who happens to be there, or if he's really interested in Riley for himself. And even though it's more than a few beers later when Lindsey asks him what brought him to town, he hesitates and downs the rest before he answers. Turns to find Lindsey watching him with steady blue eyes and the barest hint of a smile on his lips. Lips, Riley notes, that are far too full to belong to a man. Pictures Graham, Forrest, kisses that were more about mechanics of the act that followed than about the kiss itself, and wonders if it would be possible for Lindsey to do it to anyone //anywhere// not have it be all about the mouth.
"Just needed to get away from some issues." That's the best Riley can come up with, loose enough to want to talk but not quite drunk enough to forget to watch his words. He's spared an immediate follow up when a pretty little thing with lots of blonde hair and a big smile sidles up and puts her hand on his forearm. She tilts her head and asks him if he'd like to come over and dance with her. Riley summons up his most sincere smile and declines as politely as he can. She leaves looking a little confused but glances back over her shoulder once, just to see if he's changed his mind. Riley misses it; he's back to talking with Lindsey.
Lindsey watches the little blonde swing her hips away from the bar and downs his own beer. He noticed that spaced out stare that Riley was giving him earlier, sees the way Riley is still looking him over whenever he thinks Lindsey isn't paying attention. He suppresses a grin and signals to the bartender. Says to Riley, "Go dance with her, man. I'm fine. Sure as hell no reason to keep me company."
Riley grins. "No, not my type." And when the bartender asks if they want two more, Lindsey's surprised to hear him switch the order to whiskey.
Surprised but not the least bit bothered. Wonders what it is that's gotten him to switch over. Thinks that Riley seems comfortable enough with him being there, the alcohol loosening them both up. Lin hadn't expected to do anything more than drop in for a few beers. A little shocked to discover that he enjoys sitting here, talking to Riley while they both get this side of shit-faced.
"Not your type?" He leans onto the bar with both arms. Tilts his head and looks over to where blondie stands with her back to them, hips twitching to the rhythm of the song. "What's the problem with her? Too short? Too thin? Too pushy?"
The whiskey arrives, and Riley downs his shot. "Too blonde."
Lindsey can't help but laugh at that. Takes his own shot, tips it to Riley in agreement. "I'll drink to that." Throws it back, feels the heat burn down his throat and into his stomach. Flash of Darla's face on the inside of his eyelids, memory of her mouth on his the one time he'd touched her like that. He shudders and opens his eyes.
They look at each other for a minute. Lindsey knows everyone has skeletons rattling in their closet. But this boy's got too many lines around his eyes for someone who can't be much older twenty four or so. First impression of Riley as nothing more than a happy-go-lucky kid is rapidly wearing away into something far more complex, and Lindsey does love a puzzle. There's an unnamable component in Riley's demeanor that makes Lindsey think of control. Like the guy is wound tighter than a spring and is looking for someone to unwind a few coils. It's not just his size, plenty of men Riley's size and bigger are gentle and placid as lambs. Maybe it's the way he's only just now relaxing, shoulders not hunched up around his ears, legs opening as he hooks his feet on the rungs of the stool.
The bartender returns, and Lindsey tells him to bring the bottle. When Riley drops a few bills on the bar to cover his portion, Lindsey lets him. Grins as he pours the shots and offers up a toast. "Here's to no more blonde women who don't need my goddamn help."
Riley nearly chokes on his shot, but he gets it down. When he's got his breath back he looks appraisingly at Lindsey. "You read minds or something?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Lindsey's pouring, there's no anger in the words, and he takes a sip this time before he continues. "You walking away from one of them, too?"
"Among other things." Riley sips, and Lindsey watches his throat move when he swallows. They're facing each other now, Riley's back to the dance floor and Lindsey's against the wall. Riley's face less guarded, the lines smoothing out around his green eyes, mouth curved into a natural smile. He has a face that wears a smile well, Lindsey thinks idly. Wonders what the hell someone who looks like a choirboy could list among the other things he's walking away from. Wonders, too, how far the guy would run if he knew about half the things in Lindsey's past, any one of which could show up anytime at all and leave him dead, nothing left to identify him unless they find enough teeth to run dental records on.
He pours himself another shot.
The music on the juke changes, gone and wound down to blues ballads. Riley notes that the patrons seem to be pairing off, moves on the floor changing from line dancing to something more intimate. Every place he looks, there're couples touching, faces pressed together in the boozy closeness that makes everyone blurred and beautiful. He's painfully aware that the crowd is thinning out, and there's room at the bar for them to spread, but he's unwilling to move. Likes the way it makes his skin shiver when Lindsey turns on his stool to talk to him and their thighs brush, feels it through two layers of denim. He doesn't want to get over confident, doesn't want to press an issue that might exist only in his addled brain. But part of him is so sure that Lindsey is enjoying it as much as he is.
Looking over on the dance floor does nothing to help his train of thought. Riley pours another shot, shakes the bottle and finds a tiny bit left. Offers it to Lindsey who upends it and lets the amber trickle into his glass. When he gives a silent toast and tips the glass up, offering a view of his throat as he swallows, the movement of the skin transfixes Riley, the white crease where he hasn't tanned contrasts against the honey blond of loose locks of hair. Gets caught blatantly staring and finds himself grateful for the bad bar lighting that hides his blush when Lindsey just grins at him.
Desperate for conversation, he blurts out the first thing that comes into his head that doesn't include the words 'naked' or 'sex.' "Interesting style of dance they have around here."
Lindsey snorts, looks at his watch and gestures to the couples groping each other more or less in time to the music. "At this point there's no dancing. It's just rubbing until they both realize they wanna fuck."
//So much for subtle// And yet he manages to swallow the mouthful of whiskey and not choke. "You say this with all the confidence of a man who has spent a lot of time... dancing."
Riley finds the amusement in those blue eyes disconcertingly direct when Lindsey answers him. "Like you never did it either." Drops his gaze to Lindsey's hands as they roll the empty shot glass across the bar. "High school dance? Betty Sue Whoever in her blue prom dress? You never did the bump and grind and shocked the chaperones?"
"No, never did that. Must have led a sheltered life." But even while he's saying it, he's getting a visual, full-on technicolor: Lindsey pressed against the wall of his high school gym, his hands tucking around to cup the sweet curve of a blue-satin covered ass. Sees the vivid contrast of the girl's red hair against the baby blue of the dress when she turns her head, and damn if he hasn't put Willow there. Fantasy Willow has apparently forgotten all about the lesbian life partner thing because she's moaning as Lindsey rocks his hips, rolls them back and forth until it's as close to fucking as it can get.
He shakes his head, grinning at the way his mind sometimes takes off without his brain in actual working order. It's at this point of the evening that Riley allows himself to admit that he knows what the thing eating at his belly is. Not just loneliness, that's too easy. It's pure and simple need to make the connection, physical contact. All alone for weeks now, he's just human, and he wants to be in the moment. Buzzed enough to find that place inside of him that admits even nice guys need that outlet. Needs the sweat of sex to just wash over him and take him away. The only problem he can see with that plan is the fact that there is no way in hell he can walk out of the bar right now, or even look over while he talks. Because he's as hard as he's ever been in his life.
//Sawdust under my boots, cigarette smoke and blues in the air, and someone next to me who drinks whiskey instead of O pos. And not wanting to cut off my appendages, always a plus in my book// Lindsey enjoys himself, for once. He tries to think of the last moment he can identify as a good time and gets back to law school before he finds it.
The whiskey disappeared, and he's only slightly buzzed. Probably watered down, and he couldn't care less. Watching Riley take in the rest of the bar, finds himself humming under his breath to the song that's playing. Good song, sums up getting royally fucked over in a pretty little package.
//I played on the table You held something back If love is aces Gimme the jack//
The blonde from earlier in the night picks up her second choice stud and comes tripping by on his arm. Neither one of them very steady, and when they pass by she nearly falls over in her attempt to get up on her toes and whisper in the cowboy's ear. Lindsey turns away, she's too drunk to have her volume control working, and the last thing he wants to hear is her version of foreplay.
"That's them, Hank," she slurs, her voice loud enough for Lindsey to think that she wasn't trying to whisper after all.
"Oh, those are the fags?" Hank's apparently not the least bit worried about who hears him; he wants the whole bar to know what he has to say.
Lindsey's back stiffens at once. He tells himself he's gonna turn around and see the dumb ass cowboy looking somewhere else. He says it like a mantra as he glances over his shoulder.
//Knew this was too good to last// "Are you talking about me?" He sees Riley ease off his stool beside him, thinks for a minute that he's going to bolt, get himself out of a bad situation. Realizes in the next second that Riley is merely getting in a better position, his back against the bar.
Hank is a one-note-tune kind of asshole. "Yeah, you fag, we are."
Lindsey hears Riley, but the way his blood sings, that voice of reason is far away and small when it says, "Forget it, Lindsey, just let them go."
"Lindsey? Your mama musta known you'd be a faggot with a name like that." Hank pleased with his cleverness, has himself a good chuckle about it. Blondie joins in, laughing as she sways on her heels.
"You should just shut your ignorant mouth, you stupid son of a bitch." And bam, it feels sweet when his fist connects with the cowboy's jaw, when that shit-eating grin is replaced with a look of surprise, and his head snaps to the right. Lindsey's knuckles tingle and he knows, he just knows, that the ever popular Hank has two or three buddies there in the bar who are going to have something to say about the fag decking good ol' Hank like that.
He hears Riley utter a single, quiet, and very sincere word. "Shit."
There it was again, that easy show of power from Lindsey that Riley noticed back in the feed store. One punch to the jaw and Hank is on his ass. Riley approves of the style if not the action because these guys always run in packs, and he's not going to walk away and let Lindsey take the heat for his own rejection of the girl.
Sure enough, no sooner has he uttered the word "shit" and here's Manny, Moe and Jack, hitching up the waistbands of their jeans and looking pissed off and drunk. They even skip the preliminary insults and go right into swinging their fists. He hears that unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh and launches himself onto two of them. They stagger under his weight, land on a thankfully unoccupied table, glasses shattering on the floor. Riley manages to keep his balance //demon fighting 101, never get knocked down until you're ready to die// and lands a decent blow of his own before the bouncers arrive and start prying the wrestling bodies apart. He steps away, hands raised so they won't think he's going to cause any more problems, scans the crowd for Lindsey.
He's standing pretty much where he was when the whole thing started, hands on his hips, face flushed with anger and alcohol, and there's the hint of a smile on his lips. He looks, Riley decides, like he's enjoying himself. Before he can say or do anything, there's a heavy hand on the collar of his shirt, and he's being dragged out of the bar and shoved without malice into the parking lot. Lindsey is out there already, and Hank's ejected with much less grace a few minutes later, his posse bringing up the rear. The bouncers stand in the doorway, huge arms crossed and wait for them to all disperse, take their fight somewhere else if they still feel the need to pound on each other some more.
Blondie pulls Hank's arm, telling him she's gonna take good care of him, and he allows himself to be distracted. Puts an arm over her shoulder and glares back at Lindsey, mouths the word "faggot" one more time for good measure. Riley sees the way Lindsey shifts his weight, ready to go on over and finish up what the cowboy's loud mouth already started, so he puts his hand on Lindsey's shoulder as the rest of pack follow Hank down the line of trucks and cars, around the back of the bar.
"Drop it, not worth the effort." The muscles under his hand tighten up, then relax with a sudden drop in Lindsey's posture.
He turns around, looks at Riley. "Appreciate that." He nods to the bar.
Riley shrugs. "It was pretty much my fault so..." He trails off, not sure what to say. "I was not drunk enough for that."
Lindsey smiles, puts a companionable arm over Riley's shoulder and herds him towards his truck. "Let's attend to that, then."
Riley doesn't argue, follows him to the old Ford and climbs in. Notices the way the truck has been kept up, obviously with a loving hand. Not perfect, of course, too old for that, and it's a working truck, but there're no cracks in the dash; the seats aren't sprung, and the floor is dusty but not covered with debris. Lindsey starts it up, grins at him one more time and pulls out into the deserted street.
It's not until the clerk at the store gives him a strange look that Lindsey realizes his face hurts. His eye, actually. He shrugs it off, takes the cold beer and goes out to the truck. Riley sits on the bumper, looking up at the sky. Lindsey glances up while he walks, doesn't see anything special. White stars, cold in the darkness. He's already passed that newlywed stage, the part where the night sky makes him awestruck again, and wonders why Riley apparently hasn't.
"Watching for aliens?" Lin asks as he sets the beer in the bed of the truck and takes two out of the bag. Hands one to Riley and sits beside him. Twists off the cap and takes a long, long drink, half the bottle gone down his throat in a cold flow. He can feel it all the way down to his belly, a chilly trail.
Riley takes the beer, keeps on looking up. "I'm usually asleep by now. I think this is the first time I've really looked since I got here."
"Where'd you get here from?" He waits for the answer. Wants to know, and he's not sure why. Struck again by the comfort of Riley's companionship. There's no tense edges here, nothing to cut him when he steps the wrong way. He hasn't had that in forever.
"Oh you know, I've been around. Traveled a little." Riley's avoiding the straight answer, and for a minute Lindsey thinks about calling him on it. Decides against it because of his own traveling habits and tries to picture the reaction from this guy if he mentioned vampires and evil lawyers and moral ambiguity. Drains his beer and twists around to get another one.
Riley catches his arm, leans over closer. "You've got a nice shiner coming up there, man. You should get some ice on it."
Lin puts his fingers up to his face, winces as he touches the slightly raised skin under his eye. Thinks back about three months to sledgehammers and sarcastic vampires beating the ever loving Christ out of him, litany of apologies punctuating every blow. He drops his hand, picks up the beer and smiles. Knows it must look odd, he can see that on Riley's face as his expression grows concerned. "I'm fine, doesn't even hurt."
"Not now, but it will tomorrow. I've got ice back at my place." Lindsey watches Riley stand and pluck the bag holding the rest of the beer out of the back of the truck. He stands there just long enough for Lindsey to get the hint. That wasn't a request; it was a statement. Looks like they'll be going to Riley's place for ice, whether he really needs it or not.
It's warm in the truck, and the ride lasts just long enough for a languor to set in. The adrenaline from the fight gone, the beer and whiskey have set up shop in his brain, and Riley feels an almost boneless sensation of peacefulness. Lindsey has something on the radio that's low and hypnotic, volume turned down enough to make it background sound. He was never much of a music buff, just listened to whatever was on unless it was really foul. He likes the blues now that he's heard them played so much. Likes the way they really seem to feel what they sing - hurt and need, rejection and pain, things he's had too much of to ever forget.
Lindsey turns to him. "Where am I headed?" Riley looks up and sees they're back at the bar, tells Lindsey to head back to the feedstore.
Truck parked all the way in the back, and Riley feels himself sway when he jumps down from the seat. There's the tiniest twinge in his ribs from hitting those guys, and then it's gone again. Lindsey strolls around the truck, walking with the consciously careful gait of a man who knows he's going to stagger if he lets himself go. Reaching back into the truck for the beer, Riley hides his smile. Hardly fair to be laughing at Lindsey when he was almost on his ass himself.
They're both quiet as they take the steps up to the second floor, Lindsey looking around at the view from the landing while Riley has a small issue with finding the right key, getting it into the lock and not dropping the beer. Lindsey comes over to lean against the wall.
"Have we reached the inebriation level that causes you to lose small motor skills?" He's whispering, and Riley looks up to see if he's joking, tone of voice so serious and point of fact. He's grinning, though, wide smile that shows white teeth even in the darkness.
"I'd have a better shot if you'd stop blocking the light." But he's got it right this time, the key clicks over, and the door swings open. Riley follows the arc into the room, trying to get the key out of the lock again, Lindsey right behind him.
Careful to close the door before he hits the lights, old habit of his from Belize, and Sunnydale, and other missions long forgotten where you'd be dead if you were dumb enough to reveal your position. He sees Lindsey looking around and tries to envision the room through a stranger's eyes. It looks spartan, bare. The furniture was already there, of course, belongs to the old man who owns the building. Good solid stuff, probably hand made a long time ago. One big room plus a closet and a bathroom, but it's clean and neat, although Riley admits the neatness is a by-product of having nothing around to get sloppy about.
He carries the beer over to the tiny fridge, sets it inside and pries open the freezer door. Takes out the tray of icecubes in there and runs it under warm water for a minute to break the seal. Twist of the wrists and he's got some cubes in the sink. Picks up the thin cotton dishrag that's hanging on the drawer handle and makes a quick ice pack.
"Here, put this on your eye." He can see that Lindsey is reluctant to take it, wonders if he's going to insist and then they'll end up in some stupid and uncomfortable quasi-argument about it.
But he doesn't resist, takes the towel and presses it gingerly to his eye for a second, then settles it in a little more firmly. "I can hold a beer at the same time. I'm multi-talented like that."
Riley gets two more beers and suggests they sit outside. Cooler out there, and he likes the view from the roof of the back storage room. He slips out the window and settles himself with his back against the wall of the building. Lindsey follows him, first putting the rest of the 12 pack out there and then climbing through, surprisingly fluid motions for someone who had problems walking a straight line not too many minutes ago.
Neither of them talk much. There's a pasture out behind the building; the moon is high enough for them to see the wind make patterns in the tall grass. The night sounds are soothing; the breeze is light, and they could be the only two people on earth. Riley drinks his beer and thinks about the people that aren't there anymore, and the ones who never will be again. Looks over at Lindsey, who's stretched himself out on the roof, hands behind his head, ice pack resting on his face. He's so still that Riley thinks he might have passed out, but then he sees that a blue eye is open and looking over towards him.
Lindsey gestures for another beer, and Riley obliges. Opens it, leans over to hand it to him, wonders if he's going to try and defy gravity by attempting to drink it while he's still laying down. Turns back to his contemplation of the tides in the field and is almost startled when Lindsey speaks.
"Think we've taken care of the 'not drunk enough' element. How 'bout you?"
"Oh yeah. That's definitely a mission accomplished."
Despite the black eye, and possibly because of all the alcohol he's consumed tonight, Lindsey thinks he could fall asleep right here. The old wooden roof is smooth, still holds the heat from the sun. The slant of it is just right, none of that tipsy feeling that you might roll if you lean the wrong way. He can see way off to the horizon with nothing to block his view. Perfect sea of grass rippling out to the blurry point when it blends with the sky. Riley isn't finding it necessary to run his mouth just to fill in the gaps, something Lindsey learned to appreciate whole-heartedly once he found himself working with lawyers in general. He likes having blocks of time filled with nothing more than windsong and animal language. Riley has mastered the art of companionship, and Lindsey admires him for it. Company without intrusion, quiet without loneliness.
"Beer's gone." Riley's voice interrupts his introspection. Now that's a statement that had to be made. Lindsey thinks a minute, decides he is just shit-faced enough to not need anymore and far too much to drive. He sits up, sighs at the thought of sleeping in the truck and stands.
"You're not driving home, so don't even think about it." Riley stands too, follows him over to the window and inside. They both stagger a little as they stand there.
"No problem. Sleeping in the truck. Won't be the first time." Lindsey puts his hand out and Riley grasps it.
"No, that's stupid. You can stay here." His brow furrows in concentration or in a sincere effort to sound forceful, Lindsey isn't sure which. It's a tempting offer. The couch looks like a king sized bed in comparison to the truck's seat. Less dust. More cushions. No stairs between him and the couch, either, which is a big plus right now.
"You sure?" Watches Riley nod, says, "I'll take the couch."
"No need. Bed's huge. More comfortable." Riley still has his hand, leads him over to the bed like a child being walked to school.
Lin looks at the bed in question, and it is huge, king-sized, bigger than the one in his old apartment. He opens his mouth to offer the couch choice again but yawns instead. A small shove on his back from Riley and he lets himself fall into the soft brown comforter. Eyes closed, he hears the click of the light as Riley turns it off and a moment later there's the dip and sway of another body hitting the mattress.
Lindsey drifts off.
It's the warm skin that wakes him up. Warm, bare skin against his arm. A sensation so long forgotten that for a moment he can't place it. Riley opens his eyes and sees Lindsey, body curved on his side, shirt pulled out of the waistband of his jeans exposing a strip of smooth skin, and that's what's touching him. He watches the wrinkled hem of the shirt move with every breath, turns his head for a better view.
Moonlight pouring in the window etches everything shades of gray and white, shadows the angles of the man beside him. Lindsey's face soft with sleep, his body turned towards Riley's own as if seeking contact without conscious decision. He knows the feeling, the way a person will instinctively reach for the familiar. He just hasn't had anything to reach for himself, wonders sometimes if he'll ever find a touchstone again. Something to ground him. Something to strive for. Right now, watching Lindsey sleep and feeling the brush of his skin, no matter how unknowing the contact, Riley can't conjure up anything more than the feelings from the bar. Need to connect, touch. Find himself through the expression in someone's eyes when he's with them, give and take of sex the most pure and primitive drive, one he doesn't want to try and control.
He shifts his weight, rolls to his left just a little. Reaches out and lets the back of his hand whisper-glide over the skin of Lindsey's torso. Riley feels a tickle at the pit of his stomach, precursor to arousal for him, and his cock stirs. Another brush of his knuckles on warm flesh, then fingertips. He's mesmerized by the sensation, the long-forgotten desire to touch another person's skin, not have his own skin broken when he does. Lays the whole hand there, fingers sliding under the shirt, palm firm against muscled belly, and he just feels the movement of Lindsey's breathing. In and out, smooth motion under the steady press of his hand.
Contraction and tension telegraphed right to him as Lindsey wakes up. Riley waits a second, raises his head to apologize and meets wide open eyes, the blue shaded to obsidian in the moonlight. There's a distinct instant when Riley's positively aware that Lindsey's going to do... something. Even as he acknowledges it, it passes, and Lindsey moves. Rolling in instead of away, slipping his leg between Riley's thighs. Hips and pelvis raise up and come down again, and Riley is half covered by the body he was petting seconds ago. No place for words here, just time for stretching himself out into a more accommodating position so he can reach the mouth that's so close to his. Parts his lips, lets himself fall into the kiss.
Waking up to the warm hand on his body, Lindsey's first reaction is instinctive. He rolls into the gentle touch, finds the place on Riley's body that fits the shape of his hip, gets his knee between those muscular thighs. Leans in to kiss the mouth that's already open and waiting for him. Already wanting him, and God, that feels so good. To be wanted, desired. To have warm skin against your own, hands spanning your back. Lindsey feels the tug on his shirt, lets Riley pull it up to his neck before he breaks the kiss. Shifts to the side, slithers out of it and rolls back on again before Riley can do more than catch his breath.
Feels the hardness pushing against him as he rolls his hips, denim rubbing with a sweet, rough friction that makes Riley groan under him. He could get lost in this, the slow ride towards the top, dreamlike and unhurried. All the time in the world to get those buttons on Riley's shirt undone, bare the expanse of chest that's broader than he imagined it would be. To match the undulating pace set by neither of them, changing on a whim. Doing whatever feels good at the moment.
Riley unresisting when Lindsey's mouth moves to his ear, his fingers sliding between them to undo buttons and zippers. His shuddering indrawn breath is all the incentive Lindsey needs when his hand finds bare skin, slick wetness, hard length for his hand to wrap around. Can't help but mark the event - this is the first time he's touched another person like this with the new hand. Not a lot of room to move, but he can make a fist, and Riley writhes into it. Arches his back off the bed, lifts Lindsey with him at the first stroke, and this time it's Lindsey who's moaning into the open mouth when Riley grabs at him and pushes him down. Exquisite pressure against his cock, Riley's hands in his hair holding him still while he bucks his hips, fucks himself into Lindsey's warm grip.
Lindsey breaks the kiss, tilts his head to the side, licks at the line of Riley's jaw, gathering the salty sheen with his tongue. Nuzzles his face into the hollow of his shoulder where it meets his neck and feels Riley shudder again. The hand in his hair presses his face in closer, and Lindsey marks a trail of wet, open-mouthed kisses from collarbone to Riley's earlobe. Hears the groans gaining volume as his mouth passes over a series of scars, a cluster of them all across his neck, knows that Riley's about to hit the wall.
"You like that, right there?" he whispers and drags his tongue over them again. The cry of release and the warmth in his hand is all the answer he needs.
Riley rolls them both over before Lindsey has a chance to do anything, his cock still hard, pressing into Riley's hip as they move. He's still panting from his own climax as he presses Lindsey into the covers, drags himself down the length of his body. He pulls at the buttons on the jeans, pops them open roughly, slips them down Lindsey's hips until his cock is exposed. Opens his mouth wide and just takes him in, head sliding over his lips and across his tongue, slick and salty. Riley hears him draw a deep breath in, feels one hand come down and slip into his damp hair, pushing it back from his forehead. He raises his eyes to find Lindsey watching him, propped up on one elbow. Biting his bottom lip, already bruised from Riley's mouth earlier, and he's barely moving at all.
Riley drops his eyes from that intense scrutiny, lets his hands and tongue work the flesh he was so anxious to have to himself. One hand skims across Lindsey's tight abdomen, fingers combing the tangled curls before wrapping around the base of his cock. The other hand slips between Lindsey's legs, cupping warmth with a gentle pressure. Draws his head back, flicks his tongue over the slit at the top, tasting more bitter saltiness. The hand in his hair tightens, and Riley risks a glance up again. Lindsey's head is back, mouth open and eyes shut. He looks completely lost in the moment, and Riley continues to watch him as he moves his loosely fisted hand up the length of Lindsey's cock.
"God, Riley..." Breathless moan, and Riley can't stand to do without that mouth. Keeps his hand right where it is but pushes himself up the bed, bends his head so he can get a taste of those lips. Runs his tongue along Lindsey's bottom lip over and over until Lindsey gives in, opens his mouth. Riley rubs his thumb over the head of Lindsey's cock, sucks that full bottom lip into his mouth. Lindsey comes, wet and slick where their bodies touch, stickiness from them both as they lay there panting.
Riley thinks about moving, thinks maybe they should talk. Falls asleep again with Lindsey half under him, his hand still in Riley's hair.
Lindsey wakes up slowly, legs still tangled with Riley's, pinned down by the weight of him. He blinks a few times, focuses on the man spread out beside him. It's early morning, maybe six, and the light has a thin orange tint to it. He can see very clearly the scars on Riley's exposed neck, the ones that had sent him right over the edge last night.
He knows a vampire bite when he sees one. Saw far too many of them up close and personal to not have the image seared into his data banks, although he grants that he never got to see one that was healed. Lindsey's memory of the night locked in the wine cellar tries to pry itself out of the box he locked it in, and he stomps down hard before it can break free. As he rolls his head on the coverlet, he spies more marks on Riley's arms, centered around the pale crease of his inner elbow.
//Right where they draw your blood at the hospital// he thinks. //Why is this boy walking around with bite marks all over him?// Won't even go into the whole arousal portion of the scars. That's far too personal, brings back memories of the times he spent in the shower, jacking off to the image of Darla, her pretty red mouth around his cock morphing into the face of the demon.
And that was always when he got off.
One hand is bearing the warm heaviness of Riley's shoulder, so Lindsey uses the free one to scrub at his face. It jiggles the bed, and that's all it takes for Riley to be instantly, completely alert. Something else for Lindsey to ask him about. And they are definitely going to be having one hell of a Q and A session this morning.
"So you wanna reveal your secret identity first, or what?" Lindsey keeps his voice neutral, his body relaxed. Waits for an answer.
Riley really doesn't want to move. He's comfortable; the bed smells like Lindsey and sex; there's nothing he's supposed to track or kill for at least a 50 miles radius. He's relaxed, damn it. And as much as he doesn't want to ruin the absolute perfection of this moment, that's not even near the margins of how much he doesn't want to answer Lindsey's question.
"What the hell are you talking about?" He tries for ignorant hick, figures it buys him a two minute reprieve in which he can formulate an acceptable reply that will satisfy both of them. Reveal enough to stop any more questions and keep hidden the things he doesn't even let himself think about anymore.
Lindsey shifts in the bed, rolls to his side. "Swing and a miss. Try again?" Riley watches with detached fascination as Lindsey's finger extends, hovers over the raised white ridges on his arm. Even where they overlap in a tangle, he still traces a definitive arc for each bite. When he reaches further, towards the ones on his neck, Riley puts his own hand up to block. Gentle defensive measure.
"Animal bite. Coyote." Doesn't even look over to see if Lindsey buys that one, it's too weak to work with someone who has more than likely seen an actual bite from the animal.
"Oh, see, that'd be ball one. I think you winged it."
Does look this time, and Lindsey's expression is complex, as if he's not sure if he wants to be amused or angry. Riley opens his mouth and closes it, brings both hands up and rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms. He's surprised to hear Lindsey speak again, startled at the words.
"I know they're bite marks. And I know what kind of 'animal' makes them. We can leave it there, or not. Up to you." Lindsey sits up, stretches and stands. Looks down at Riley, bites his lip for a minute. "You got coffee around here?"
Over coffee, wearing his wrinkled shirt that he found at the bottom of the bed, Lindsey talks to Riley about everything he can think of except the two taboo subjects - the bite marks and what happened last night. He gambled big by letting Riley know he was hip to the origin of the markings, half expects Riley to call him on it. Can't see a way to explain his old life, Wolfram and Hart, Angel, Darla, all of it, but figures if Riley comes clean, he at least owes him that much.
As if thinking about the question makes it appear, Riley puts down his mug and asks him directly. "How do you know about the bites?"
"Seen them before. Seen what makes them. Gotta tell you I haven't seen many people walk away with a souvenir, though." He takes a sip of coffee and tries to make himself say the word out loud. "Vampire. That's it, right? That's your animal."
The spoon in Riley's mug clangs when he sets it down again, hard. His eyes have gone bright, clear green, Lindsey notes, and there's color all across his cheeks. Jaw working hard enough for the muscles of his neck to cord up. He looks like he wants to stand up, heave Lindsey through the window that faces on the street and hope he hits concrete when he lands. Lindsey edges his seat back a little, room to move, but he's pretty sure that the moment has passed.
"So, you know anything about horses?" None too subtle change of topic, but he figures Riley's had enough for one Sunday morning. He's hiding more than vampire bites; Lindsey will bet anything on that. It makes him feel on even footing again, both of them hiding a past. Of course, he's let something of his own slip in gaining that. And once the shock wears off, Riley will no doubt begin to wonder how the hell he knows enough about vampires to recognize the markings. He's a bright boy, of that Lindsey is certain.
Picking up his cup again, Lindsey drinks and watches Riley over the rim. Gets himself a small smile in return, worth the effort of dropping things despite wanting to know more. Riley says, "A little, not a whole lot. I ride, but I'm no expert."
"Thinking of taking a look at that gelding. I'll probably ride out there next week. You interested?" Lindsey carries his empty cup over to the sink, waits for his answer. He's wondering about more than Riley's past; he's wondering what it's going to be like with them now. Not just the sex, he can control that part of himself. If he isn't interested in a repeat performance, Riley is still someone Lindsey enjoys spending time with. His curiosity is also piqued, he'll admit that readily.
"Yeah, I might be." That voice comes from right behind him, much further into his personal space than it would be if Riley was shying away from the more physical aspects of the last few hours. Lindsey stays still, lets the other man set the boundaries. Sees Riley's hand slide into his peripheral vision, deposit his own cup in the sink beside Lindsey's and slip back out again before it comes to rest on his shoulder. He turns then, and Riley's right there, not quite the full length of his arm away.
"Something else you might be interested in?" That sounds cheesy, and he can't help the grin that follows as soon as the words are out. Even Riley has to return the smile, accents it with a squeeze on Lindsey's shoulder before he drops his arm to his side.
"That's a distinct possibility." There's relief in his tone, and Lindsey can be glad about that. The tension gone, things are fine right where they stand for the moment. The good feeling from last night, the companionship as much as the rest of it, is something he wants to keep, to cling to. Keep the bad thoughts at bay with pleasant fillers that fit in the places where he's reluctant to look. Decides he should leave now, while things are still on an even keel.
Lindsey leaves Riley standing on the landing outside his door, waves once out the window to him as he pulls into the street and heads back to the ranch. Scans the radio stations for something other than the morning bible broadcasts and finds one playing a strange mix of oldies and blues. Good enough for the ride home with his mind drifting and the truck running on autopilot. Remembers how he thought of Riley as a kindred spirit when he first met him, knows now that they are possibly a little too much alike. Dark pasts and plenty of buried secrets usually makes for a bad combination; adding his own fuel to the bonfire won't make things any easier.
And yet... the easy quiet out on the roof is too alluring, too unique and precious to not try and see if this will work on any level at all. The rest of it, the warm body, the soft touch, the skilled mouth that let him know this wasn't Riley's first time in the blankets with a drinking buddy... that's intriguing in its own right. Lindsey's been without peace of any kind for too long to let it slip away without some effort on his part.
Half smile on his face as he realizes he's talking himself into something he already wants, convincing himself that it's OK to hold on to something good. He turns up the radio and hopes he knows the words to the next song that comes on. He feels like singing.
The horse is grazing, head down and content when Lindsey arrives. Lindsey
leans against the fence and tips his hat back, observes the gelding for a
few minutes. He's black with white splashes here and there, three white legs
and one black. His mane and tail are long and tangled, black and white together.
When he lifts his head and looks over in Lindsey's direction, his ears flicker
back and forth. The white on his neck comes up to cover one eye; when he gets
closer to the fence, Lindsey sees that it's blue.
Ed Collins comes up beside Lindsey, and the horse butts his head against the rancher's chest. Lindsey turns a critical eye to the condition of the animal. His neck's a little thin, his ribs are visible, although he's by no means starving. His legs are coated with mud up to the knees from being outside all the time, and Lindsey's fairly sure that he caught him favoring one leg when he walked over.
"You mind if I take a closer look?" he asks the rancher, one foot on the lowest rung of the fence, ready to climb over.
Collins nods. "Go on ahead, take a look. He's a good one, trained him myself. Likes people." Chuckles as the horse turns to watch Lindsey's approach, and then dips his head down, practically asking to have his ears scratched. "In case you hadn't noticed."
Lindsey can't help but grin, reaching out to scratch the ears on offer, looks back to see Riley standing beside the rancher, hand up over his mouth to hide his own smile. Turns to give a little more attention to the animal itself. He's a little bigger than the 15 hands in the ad, but not by much. Sweet face, intelligence evident in his eyes when he lifts his head, nose coming up to knock Lindsey's hat off. Lin picks it up and tosses it to Riley, runs his hands down the gelding's neck, across the broad, short back. Leans down and picks up the hoof on the leg he was favoring, sees some cracks there but nothing serious. Checks the other three to be sure and finds some minor cracking in each of them. He's talking to the horse the whole time, voice low and quiet, getting him used to the sound of a new voice, keeping him calm as he walks around and takes his measure.
"You said the gear's included, right?" Lindsey rests one arm across the dark back, pats the horse absently as he talks, enjoys the feel of warm skin and rough hair under his fingers.
Collins nods towards the end of the field. Saddle and bridle lay across the top of the fence there, edge of a worn blanket visible beneath. Lindsey gets his arm under the horse's neck, hand coming up to stroke along his nose. "Come on old boy, let's you and me take a test drive." Gentle pressure and he starts to walk, gelding coming along beside him amiably enough.
Riley stands beside Ed Collins, comfortable in the silence as they watch Lindsey
get acquainted with the horse, saddling him up and getting ready for a quick
ride. The rancher tells Lindsey to take his time, put him through his paces,
no hurry at all. Riley waves him off with the hand that holds Lindsey's hat
and turns to see the rancher's wife walking down to join them at the fence.
"Why don't you come up to the house and have a drink while you wait for your friend?" she says, brushing strands of graying brown hair away from her forehead with the back of her hand. It's a blisteringly hot day, and Riley's grateful for a chance to get out of the sun.
"Yes ma'am, that sounds great." Collins and he follow her back up the path to the farmhouse, and Riley catches them both looking at his arm when he extends it to grab the railing on the way up the steps. Too hot for him to stick to his usual longer sleeved shirts and even though the skin's pale up beyond his forearms, the scars in the fold of his inner elbow still catch the sunlight and make themselves known.
Mrs. Collins opens the back door and smiles up at him when he steps inside. "The Lord makes all things possible," she says gently, and Riley nods his head.
"Very true, ma'am," he agrees, accepting the tall glass she hands him and takes a sip. The lemonade's ice cold, just sour enough to quench his thirst, just sweet enough to keep him from wincing. He takes another, deeper gulp and then tells her, "Tastes just like my grandmother's lemonade. Thanks."
"Sit down, son. Rest a while." Collins sits at the head of the long wooden kitchen table and gestures for Riley to join him. Once he has, Collins leans forward. "You're workin' for Zeke down at the feedstore, right?"
"Yes, sir, I am." Riley takes another sip, rests Lin's hat on his knee. Collins could be any one of a dozen men that he knew back home in Iowa, accent different but nature the same. He feels himself relaxing, easy enough to fall into the small talk he knows is coming. Tells Ed Collins that the job is working out fine, that he's planning on staying around for a good while. When he's asked what brings him to their tiny town, Riley gives him the truth.
"Just finished my time in the service and wanted to get back to doing something I grew up with. Just not the same place I grew up." Smiles when he says it, sees the ghost of a smile echo on the rancher's weather-beaten face.
Mrs. Collins works at the kitchen counter, snapping green beans into a pot. She says, "I've seen you at the First Baptist, haven't I young man?"
"Yes, ma'am. And it's Riley, Riley Finn." He places the Collins' at once; they sit way up front. Mr. Collins's one of the deacons, passes the collection plate; Mrs. Collins sings in the choir. Good, solid people who're probably completely unaware of the things that live all around them, the things that this nice, young man who attends their church and drinks their lemonade has seen, touched, killed.
"Well, Riley, it's nice to see that you've settled in, made a friend." Mrs. Collins continues to work as she talks. "You say you were in the service?"
"Yes ma'am, just got out about a month ago." Ducks his head and wishes, hopes, *prays* that they don't ask him what branch or where he served or anything that'll force him to lie to these nice folks. Looks back up to see that they're perfectly content with that simple answer.
Mr. Collins drains his glass and stands. Riley gets to his feet as well, but the rancher waves him off. "Go on now and finish Mae's lemonade. Gonna go see if your friend is ready to talk horses with me. You come on out when you're done."
He sits back down in the chair and sips his lemonade, looks around the airy kitchen. Hardwood floor, dark at the edges where it meets the walls and bleached almost white where the people who lived here over the years have walked a pattern into the wood. Mrs. Collins sets her pot of beans on the cast iron stovetop and comes to sit with him at the table. He sees her glance fall on the scars time and again while they talk of farming life and families, but the gentle smile on her face never falters.
Lindsey remembers this feeling, weird sense of deja vu as he urges the horse
into a smooth canter and just lets himself fall into the rhythm of the ride.
Years drop away and he's a boy again, forgetting all the bad things in his
life and simply running, body in tune with the animal between his legs, wind
in his hair and sun hot on his face and arms, burning through his shirt against
his back. The gelding seems to pick up on his urge to just go, and he opens
up a little more, field a golden-green blur as the reach the fence and turn.
Lindsey grins; the horse turns on a dime, easy neck rein and no break in his
stride. He slows them down to a rough trot, much less pleasant than the canter
and hell on his tailbone, but he's still smiling as he pats the mottled neck
and smoothes the mane.
Looks up to see Collins waiting for him, wonders briefly where Riley got to as he stops, dismounts, leads the horse over to the rancher.
"So what do you think?" Collins asks, hands in his pockets and hat far back on his head. "He needs some feedin' up, but he's a good horse. Got a lotta workin' years in him still, if you're willing to give him the attention."
Lindsey steps around and looks at the horse. Rubs his hand up the nose, between those bright, mismatched eyes. The gelding gazes back, and then bumps his head against Lindsey's chest when the hand stops stroking. Here is something to care for, care about. Something that will rely on him, need him every single day. It means a hell of a lot more than just the money from his bank account.
"Yeah I think we got a deal here." Strokes the horse's nose again, reaches up to scratch under the forelock, and smiles absently before turning to shake the rancher's hand. "I don't have the money with me today, but I can get it to you tomorrow."
"Well let me see. You're working for Frank Lordi, right?" Collins rubs his chin, examines the toes of his scuffed boots as he thinks. "Got some business with Frank to take care of, so I'll hitch up the trailer, bring this old boy with me when I come, and we can square up Sunday afternoon."
"That'd be great, I appreciate that, sir." Lindsey shakes his hand again and turns to the horse, begins to remove the saddle and blanket, eases the bridle from him. Hefts the equipment up and carries to it the end of the field, Collins walking along with him on the other side of the fence.
"Your friend's up to the house with the missus, should be back any minute." Collins pauses, helps Lindsey settle the saddle over the fence then leans on it. "I never woulda pegged him as one of those types."
Lindsey freezes before he can catch himself. "Types?" Struggles to keep his tone normal, flashback to the bar, and he tells himself that it can't be what the old guy is talking about.
"One of those drug people. Seems like a nice boy, been in the service and all. Guess you never know." Collins sighs, shrugs, turns to the house. "Here he comes now. Suppose the missus chewed his ear a bit."
Lindsey's mind is racing. //drugs, what the hell? // Looks carefully at Riley as he approaches, as he leans over the fence and hands him back his hat, and that's when he gets it, makes the connection. The scars, bare to the world in this heat that forces Riley into short-sleeved shirts, have been taken as track marks, evidence of drug abuse. He can't imagine the couple find it so easy to believe that Riley's been off shooting up heroin in his spare time, that they accept it as part of the past life of the man who looks like a Norman Rockwell brought to life. Lindsey himself is still slightly off balance with the reality of it, and he knows he's got a hell of a lot more experience to draw from than the Collins', safely ensconced in their small town knowledge of the outside world.
They say their goodbyes, Mr. Collins shaking Riley's hand and then clapping his other one over them both, two handed grip that seems strangely affectionate and out of place to Lindsey.
//and what were they talking about up in the house?// he wonders as he and Riley get back in Lindsey's truck and head down the road that leads them towards the town.
The truck is off of Collins' property and on the marginally wider road that
connects somewhere down the line to an even smaller one before Lindsey asks
him the question that has obviously been itching at him since they left the
ranch. "People always think you're a recovering addict?"
Riley glances over at him briefly, then back out the window of the truck, watching the billows of dust clouding up behind them. His answer's simple and honest. "I am."
"Hm. Yeah, I could see that."
Riley does look over at Lindsey then, sees him biting his bottom lip. Not an anxious gesture, more like he's thinking, contemplating something. Riley can see him having the same expression as he works on the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. He knows this talk was going to come sooner or later, was actually hoping for the later aspect to pan out, but there's no sense in playing games.
Lindsey surprises him by glancing over and saying, "Tell me or don't, I won't push it." Looks back to the road, body language reading relaxed and calm, shoulders loose and one elbow propped out the window.
Riley considers a minute. He'd failed completely at explaining it to the one person in the world who could have -- should have -- been able to understand him, and he can't imagine now making himself clear to Lindsey. It's not even clear in his own head anymore; whatever strings had tugged him towards the obsession are frayed and fuzzy. He tries anyway. "You ever been bitten?"
"Yeah." Lindsey's hand strays towards his neck, rubs briefly and rests on the steering wheel again.
Riley feels the echo of a piercing bite sketch through the nerves in his shoulder and closes his eyes. "Then you don't need me to explain it," he manages to say, voice quiet. Apparently the strings are still knotted tight, no matter how many loose threads there might be; it's unraveling but far too slowly.
"No, not really." Set of Lindsey's jaw tells him that this is not time to prod any deeper, and he can understand that. Can't really see himself getting any more out of Lin than he is giving up himself, and doesn't want to push on things that will make him feel the sting of a backlash. But even so, there's that flash of recall, Lindsey's mouth working over the scars and...
"You only bitten the once?" Fingers straying to the marks on his inner arm, willing the ones that burn in other places to be still, be the dead flesh they really are.
The sound of Lindsey clearing his throat is loud, even over the wind blowing in the truck through the open windows "It was enough for me."
"I wish I could say the same." And wishes he hadn't said that, sounds like a bid for sympathy, and that's not what he's looking for. Would have happily kept all this to himself for the rest of his life, or at the very least for the next few years, until it's really just a memory of so long ago that it doesn't make his chest ache when he thinks about it. He looks out the window, tries to think of something to say, change of subject, but the ghosts are firmly entrenched now and not about to be exorcised with small talk.
Lindsey is either determined to get it all out now, or has a knack for not knowing when to shut the hell up. "I've heard about people who like it, who seek it out, but I never met one."
Dry little laugh at that, and he says, "You might have and just never knew it."
Lindsey nods, looks over at him with eyes that're three shades darker than the sky. "Like most things."
"Yeah, like most things." Riley thinks //why the hell not, since we're playing q&a here// and asks, "How do you even know about vampires at all?"
"I go to the movies." Lindsey shifts in the seat, sits up straighter, puts both hands on the wheel.
//so long relaxed, hello defensive// Riley almost grins at the shift in mood. Seems Lindsey's far less comfortable on the answering side of the give and take. He tries again. "I wasn't kidding."
"I've met a few." Short, clipped speech, and there's not a single trace of his accent, not a rounded vowel to be heard in those four little syllables.
And the jaw clench again, a habit Riley recognizes as one of his own warning signs for having strolled into the minefield of what's allowed and what's off limits. Even so, he's still damn curious. "And survived?"
Riley turns in his seat, psych major coming to the fore as he studies the man across from him. "Not something you're really long-winded on." If Lindsey clenches his teeth any harder, there's going to be a hell of a dental bill somewhere down the line. Riley watches the flex of the muscles in his jaw for a few seconds until Lindsey glances over at him and catches himself. Riley sees him force the jaw open, drop the shoulders down, but his back is still ramrod straight and his hands open and close on the steering wheel.
Finally he says, voice quiet but without anger, "You didn't volunteer the information yourself."
"You got me there." Riley nods agreeably, wanting to steer the conversation into calmer water, ease the tension somehow. He taps his fingers on his knee, watches Lin out of the corner of his eyes until his hands stop gripping the steering wheel in that choke-hold. Out of the blue, his mouth just seems to open of its own accord. "Did you know Dracula was real?"
Lindsey grins, and that's the ice breaker. His left arm rests on the edge of the window again, and when he answers Riley his voice is familiar. "No, but I know a guy who could scare him."
"The Draco babes are real, too." When Lin looks over at him Riley arches his eyebrow, grin nothing but pure lechery.
"They the ones who bit you?" Lindsey is slowing down now, foot easing off the accelerator, truck's motor not quite so loud as the demands on it lessen.
Riley snorts laughter. "No, but I wish they had now."
"I could get into that," Lin says, looking over at him, head down and eyes crinkled at the corners from his smile.
"I thought you didn't want to be bit again."
"Not really, but I have a weakness for dangerous chicks."
"Get in line." Riley's quiet for a few minutes, imagines that his own face has the same faraway look that Lindsey's holds. He takes stock, like he always does when he thinks of her, finds the ache right where he left it, still firmly in place. Wonders if that's ever going to leave, or at the very least get less painful, less *there.* Part of him wants desperately for it to just disappear, to wake up one morning and not even think of blonde hair, green eyes, and the way the goddamn field looked when the chopper took off. And the other half panics if he can't remember some little detail, like what was the name of that perfume she wore all the time, or was it mochas or cappuccinos that she liked. He's stuck between wanting to be free and terrified of getting his wish.
Lindsey's voice breaks into his reverie. "Sometimes I wonder how I missed all these things going on under my nose, you know, before I had a clue. Here we are in south west of nowhere, and I'm in a truck with a guy who, well, you know what you're into."
"Not into it anymore. Trying to move on, but it's not so easy when it's written all over my body, and I can't escape that, can I?" He knows he sounds bitter, but he can't help it. Kind of impossible to forget the way you've fucked up when it's branded on your skin forever, and he knows someday all he's going to have is the scars without the reason he convinced himself he needed them.
"You could try the heroin, that might do it." Sees Lindsey smile, even though his eyes are still on the road, can't help but smile back. //laugh or cry, finn// he thinks, and it's not much of a choice.
"Don't think I haven't thought of it." Riley tries for that note of sarcasm and misses. Misses enough to get himself a sharp look from Lindsey, a look that makes him blush in embarrassment over all he's spilled. And because he has to shift in his seat to hide the fact that this little mental excursion down memory lane has excited him just enough to react to Lindsey's blue eyes, to his full lips and the way he clearly remembers them against his skin.
"How about we change the subject? Wanna pull over and park for a while?" Lindsey's already pulling off the road, truck bouncing roughly over ruts and uneven ground as he pulls into the shade of a stand of trees. The road is deserted; they haven't seen another soul since they left the Collins ranch.
Riley's heartbeat kicks up a notch. They're alone.
It's still damn hot out, but there's a breeze, and in the shade of the trees,
back off the road and away from the dust, it's pleasant. Lindsey takes off
his hat, wipes his forehead with the back of his arm, sets the hat on the
dashboard. Turns off the engine but leaves the keys in the ignition and turns
on the radio.
Flips around the stations some but can't find anything he likes, so Lindsey turns it off again. "Just my luck, nothing on when you want to listen." He looks over at Riley who's staring out the window. Lin tries to follow his line of sight, sees nothing there but the same flat fields, some trees in the distance.
"Hey, Ri, we don't have to stop. I just thought we both needed to, you know, cool down. Relax." He pauses, waits for an answer, a reaction, anything. When Riley doesn't respond, he reaches for the keys, ready to turn the ignition on.
"No, it's fine. I'm not in any hurry to get back." When Riley turns to look at him, Lindsey sees the color high in his cheeks and drops his gaze to his mouth, back up to green eyes that're dark and intense here in the shade of the trees.
"Good. Well, look, it's about ten degrees cooler out there than it is in here, so I'm gonna turn the radio on and go lay down in the shade and think about something -- anything -- besides things that go bump in the night. You comin' with me, or you stayin' here to sweat in the truck some more?" Lindsey turns on the radio again, opens his door and turns to slide out, looks back over his shoulder. Riley stares at him for three heartbeats - Lindsey counts them - and then opens his own door and jumps down.
It's much cooler out of the cab of the truck, breeze steady and light, grass green and tender under his boots as Lindsey walks over to the largest tree and sits, skinning off his damp t-shirt before lying back with his hands behind his head. He can feel Riley watching him, knows that he's hovering on that same edge - awkward without the alcohol to smooth the path to intimacy again. The thing is, and Lindsey is crystal clear about this, the thing is that he just flat out *likes* Riley. Lindsey can't remember the last person he genuinely enjoyed spending time with, where there was no ulterior motive for the need to be together. He's intrigued by the contradiction in the other man; that honest, open face belonging to the same person who has his body covered in evidence of a much darker side. And Lindsey can't -- won't -- deny that he's attracted to him, physically attracted to his body as well as drawn to something in him that sends out a signal of need on a level that Lindsey is fairly certain Riley is unaware of. Not a weakness, but a sense of being incomplete.
Lindsey can never resist the thought that he might be someone's missing piece. That they might be his.
He's halfway to hard when he feels Riley settle down next to him, waits a few seconds before cracking open one eye to peek. Riley's shirt is off, too, bunched up behind his head as he lays there on his back. Staring at Lindsey, lips parted, and when Lindsey drops his gaze along the length of Riley's body, he sees that Riley is way ahead of him. As far as Lindsey in concerned, that's an open invitation for him to take the next step.
With the realization that there's nothing slipping away from him here, that life has not fallen into the usual routine of want-chase-lose for him, comes the ability to see himself for something other than what is written on old labels. Poor boy, charity case, pity fuck; evil lawyer, stubborn prick, selfish bastard, crippled loser. None of those apply right now, not in this moment of time. He's not stupid; he knows that he's at some point in his life going to be at least some of those things again, and others, too. But for right now, for this one burnished-gold afternoon, he's not labeled at all.
Song on the radio is too low for him to hear, and he regrets not turning it up louder before he got out of the truck. He rolls to his side next to Riley, props his head in his hand, elbow comfortable on a tuft of grass. Riley's still watching him, eyes tracking each movement, closing as Lindsey leans over, very slowly and lets his lips press against Riley's. Just the hint of a kiss, brush of lips and nothing more. But Riley's mouth parts under his own, waits for more.
Heartbeat of hesitation as Lindsey's eyes flutter open, see Riley's lashes laying dark against the thin skin. Decides what the hell, he's not going to hesitate and wonder and think too damn much. He's going to take some advice he heard once in another lifetime
//do you think i ever hesitated when i wanted something? life's too short //
and he's going to take what he wants. What Riley's offering him.
Already leaning back down when Riley's eyes open, and he asks, "What's wrong?" Lindsey shakes his head, silences Riley with another kiss, harder this time, mouth open and tongues meeting. Brings his free hand up to cup the back of Riley's neck, thumb rubbing over smooth, unmarred skin. Feels the weight of Riley's hand on his hip, finger in the belt loop tugging.
Lindsey smiles against the mouth he's kissing, obliges that tentative invitation by rolling his weight onto Riley's prone body. Gets one knee between Riley's legs, straddles his thigh and rests on his forearms. Works at Riley's mouth slightly longer, nibbling the soft, lower lip and sucking it in, letting his tongue sweep over the captured flesh until Riley moans, hips rolling just a bit below him. Shifts his weight to one arm and brings the other hand down the broad expanse of Riley's chest, fingertips brushing over a hard nipple, trailing across the washboard of his belly and stopping at the waistband of the jeans that ride low on his hips.
"You need to take your shirt off more often, boy," Lindsey says quietly, dipping his head to flick his tongue over Riley's nipple as his fingers slip back and forth across the skin right below the button of his pants, teasing touch that's rewarded with goosebumps on Riley's forearms, nipple peaking even harder against Lindsey's tongue. Another lick produces a groan, and Lindsey lifts his head. "You need to lose this farmer tan you're workin' on."
"Not exactly my top priority right now," Riley says, voice ragged, hips still rolling up to brush against the hard ridge of Lindsey's hip bone, rubbing his cock against Lindsey's with not nearly enough pressure to satisfy either one of them.
Lindsey pops the button on Riley's jeans, tugs the zipper down. Stops. "Just what would that priority be then?" Sees Riley blink in surprise and guesses he's not used to talking while he does this. Slips two fingers into the open fly, rubs over the soft nap of cotton that covers the head of Riley's cock, hears him inhale sharply. Hooks one of those fingers in the elastic of his underwear, tugs it down to expose the skin and waits. "Well?"
"Can't you figure it out yourself?" Riley's voice is strained, and Lindsey grins, hides it with a ducked head as he lets his tongue slip over the silky tip, looks back up again.
"I could probably make an educated guess." He pauses, licks again, harder this time, and gets to his knees. Undoes his pants and tugs them down, wraps a hand around his own dick and looks down at Riley. Just stares down at him, strokes himself once, twice, slow familiar movements. Riley makes a move to sit up and Lindsey stops him. "Just stay right there."
He reaches down then, both hands pulling at Riley's clothing, Riley raising his hips and helping him, until he's bare to the knees. Jeans in the way, making it awkward as Lindsey lets himself fall forward again, Riley's hands catching him, breaking the impact and then holding him there, bare skin hot against Lindsey's as they both begin to move.
Riley gets one hand buried in Lindsey's hair, holds his head still and kisses
him, feels those full lips as soft as a woman's against his mouth while the
hard body rocks and slips over his own, sweating and warm and just what he
needs. Physical assurance that he's still someone worth wanting after the
confession of his own weaknesses, something he could never ask for, but somehow
Lindsey knows. Knows just how to make him fall into the desire, too, and not
think about anything other than what feels right in the moment. When Lindsey's
hand curves around Riley's cock, Lindsey's cock pressing down against him
at the same time, Riley arches his back and forgets everything else. Grabs
Lindsey's hand in his own, thrusts his hips up and fucks himself into both
hands, against hard dick and a sweat slicked calloused palm, feels drops of
salty perspiration hit his face as they roll off of Lindsey's forehead. Riley
raises his free hand, works it into wet tangles of hair at the back of Lindsey's
neck, holds it there and closes his eyes. Listens to the sound of harsh breathing
above him, the low moan that comes whenever Riley clenches his hand around
Lindsey's tighter, far off background of the radio in the truck. Feels himself
teetering on the edge of climax, bites down hard on his own lower lip, tries
to hold off for a few more minutes, hours, days - wants to have time stretch
out and slow, hibernate for a while and let him just be here, enjoy the feeling
of this warm body on his own, sweat-slick from sex and strung out towards
His eyes fly open at the sound of his name, and he's caught in Lindsey's gaze. His hips stutter and rise, buck into their hands, and he comes with a stifled groan, feels Lindsey thrust twice more before the sticky warmth increases and his moan is echoed. Lindsey leans down, forehead pressed to Riley's, eyes closed. Riley feels his body relaxing, weight increasing as Lindsey leans on him fully. Lindsey's heart is thudding in his chest; Riley feels it against his skin. When he opens his eyes again, Lindsey's are still closed.
In a second, they'll move. Lindsey will roll over; they'll clean up the best they can. They'll get in the truck and head back towards the places they both call home for now. In a second, they'll be back to whatever they are when life picks up and moves them forward, and the way it feels right now will be a memory. Riley knows that. It's the way the world works. But when Lindsey stirs just a little, makes a movement that will start them heading towards the rest of today, Riley's hand tightens in his hair and holds him still.
He just wants another second.
The moon turns the room into an Ansel Adams photo, black-white-gray. Riley lays stretched out on his belly, head turned to look out the far window where he watches the sway of the treetops in the distance. Not much of a breeze by the time it makes its way to the room, so they're both sweating. Lindsey's body acts like a personal space heater even lying still like he is now.
Silence beyond the nightsounds fills the room. Riley feels the bed dip as Lindsey shifts, gets himself on his side, hip pressed against Riley's thigh. No comment, and Riley's too comfortable to move or make the effort to talk. He's not picking up any tension in the body that's leaning into his own and he figures maybe Lin wants to watch the trees, too. Knows that's one of his favorite spots when they come back here and hang, out on top of the back porch, pale gold fields stretching out to meet the darker brown of the trunks, shading finally up to the dark green leaves blurred together into one enormous treetop that stretches across the horizon.
Lin's not looking at the trees, however much fascination they hold for him at other times. He's been worried about Riley lately, the sounds he makes in his sleep, the circles under his eyes. He knows that Ri's getting some wicked nightmares, wishes he would talk to him about them, but every time Lin makes a bid to ask, Riley pushes him off. Politely, with humor, but it's a wall nonetheless. Lin can respect that; he hasn't been the most forthcoming person with Riley, although he's given up bits and pieces when he feels that he's ready. Or when he thinks he owes Riley for all he's gotten from the scarred and quiet man.
Lately, though, Lin isn't able to forget about the scars and the lifestyle Riley used to lead. Wonders if the call is on him, if something has kicked it back up and made Riley crave it again. The vampires, the military, the adrenaline rush of living on the edge of your existence - it's a hell of a lot to get used to and a bitch to walk away from once you're addicted. Not much to offer here in the town that would even begin to address that kind of need.
Lin's hand reaches out, finger tracing through the sheen of sweat on Riley's broad back. He was never much for the spoken parts of the demon languages he was trained in, hated the way they twisted his mouth, forced his tongue and throat into unnatural contortions. But he'd always had a knack for the written, passed over from law school maybe, from art history in undergrad more likely. Some of those glyphs were like art, and he'd managed to memorize the ones that gave him pleasure. Unsurprisingly they were often wards, protections of some kind, and Lindsey recalls them one by one as he etches them onto Riley's back. No blood of a virgin, no magical ink or dragon's bane. Just clean sweat and human touch as he draws out the sigils - Blessings. Protection. Safety. Tranquility.
Riley feels his muscles relax under Lindsey's light touch. Doesn't know what he's doing but is reminded of a girlfriend in high school who would write poems with a pointed little fingernail on his arm and ask if he could guess the words. It feels calming somehow, and he lets his eyes close against the moonlight and the waving arms of the trees. Feels Lindsey's breath slow and even against his back as he slides his finger over, down, circles and loops. Falls into a dreamless sleep before the last swirl is completed.
Lindsey watches until he's sure Riley's fallen deep enough to stay there. Then he turns his eyes to the back window and watches the dance of the leaves, black against a purple sky. Lets his open hand rest on the small of Riley's back and feels the slight movement of every inhale, exhale.
Sometime before morning, he sleeps too.
Sunlight on Riley's skin gives Lindsey a whole range of sensory pleasures. Lindsey
stretches out under the trees that line the side of the pond where they're alternating
between swimming in the weedy water and baking in the sticky heat under a cloudless
sky. Riley's skin is dark and golden brown at the neck and arms, fading in towards
the newly tanned places on his chest and back. Where the water clings in droplets
to him, the sun glistens. When Riley comes out of the pond again, shakes his
head, slicks back wet strands of hair and lies down beside him, Lindsey has
time to appreciate the cool, green smell of his skin before the heat scorches
it away and leaves Riley hot to the touch, until it makes him smell gently burnt.
The weeks have slipped by, summer fading away around them now as August sears itself to the end of its cycle. The temperatures might continue to claim the season for another month, but it's not likely. Lin feels the impending change keenly; it's an ache inside of him. He's managed to get this new thing he's found with Riley all tied up with the heat and the laziness of summertime, made them part of the same stitches in the blanket of his new life. Wrong tug and everything could unravel and he'll be alone again, and cold.
Part of this stems from knowing he owes Riley the Talk. Lin doesn't think he has too many problems with telling Riley the facts of what he now considers an old persona, one he never plans to adopt again. But that angry young lawyer rears up now and again and does what he was paid to do, cast doubts on the opponent's presentation of the facts. In this case, the opponent is his own desire to make a clean slate here, to be as open as he can force himself to be, and the part of him that Wolfram and Hart got such a grip on tells him it's never going to be that easy.
So Lin lets Riley tell his own tales, and they've been dark things, no doubt. No names, Riley refuses to even say the name of whatever blonde fucked him up and fucked him over, but Lindsey is fine with that, too. These days he's none too eager to mention his own brand of that poison, and at times he shudders when he hears her voice in his head. If Lindsey lets himself see this in another frame of reference, he might be able to thank Darla for giving him that very clear picture of what it is like to dance on the blade of obsession, to make Riley's inability to walk away resonate in Lindsey's being.
Someday he might be able to do that. But not now.
"Are you planning to lay there the entire day and sleep, or are you going back in again?" Riley's voice startles Lin out of his thoughts, and he realizes he's been dozing for enough time that Riley's managed to dry off and be ready to dive into the pond again.
"You need a lifeguard?" Lin rubs a hand over his face and attempts to sit up with something resembling grace, falls short of the mark as he looks at the backs of his hands that are creased and dirty, covered with bits of grass, from lying on them while he slept. He squints out at the water, shades his eyes from the sun glare on the surface that's not even rippling in the still and heavy heat of the afternoon. He's aware of the scent of his own body then, heavy with sweat, the faint smell of crushed green things like the grass and the pond weed that have stuck to his legs.
"Yeah, if that'll get your lazy ass in the water, I'll play inexperienced swimmer out over his head." Riley's already on his feet, offering a hand that Lin grabs and uses to haul himself upright.
Lin snorts and looks up at the taller man. "The pond isn't over your head, even in the middle."
"Stop ruining a perfectly good cover story by clouding it with unnecessary facts." Riley grins easily at him. Lindsey watches him trot away, speed up on the rickety old wooden dock that hangs out over the water, and then dive in, body one long low arc that carries him towards the deepest part where the water is coolest. He waits for Riley's head to break the surface before he makes that same three-step run, his own splash on entry sending more ripples to the edges of the body of water, frightening minnows and disturbing the stalks of greenery that hid them.
He doesn't really think about it. Riley just turns in the water, plants his
feet in the cool mud at the bottom of the pond and catches hold of Lindsey's
arm as he glides by. Pulls him up close and kisses him, tastes the pond water
on Lindsey's lips before his tongue slides in between and gets that now-familiar
flavor of his mouth instead. Lindsey's body is slick and warm against his, and
Riley feels the slide of skin on skin at chest, belly, legs. Slow tight coil
in the pit of his stomach, that early rush of need making him clench his fingers
into Lindsey's biceps as he licks at those full lips, the soft ridges of his
palate. Pulls back when he's breathless and wonders why he never did this before.
Because Lindsey looks... not stunned but something this side of it, lips slightly
parted, eyes half closed and dark. Looks fuckable // for lack of a better term//
and Rileygrins to himself, kisses him again because that half-open mouth just
calls for it.
Lindsey's hands come up to Riley's back and make Riley groan a little against those too-soft lips. He catches the lower one between his teeth, sucks it into his mouth until he gets that answering sound from Lin and the slow roll of his hips in the water. He pulls his head back again, breathing hard this time.
"Walk." Riley takes a half step forward, forces Lindsey to step back to compensate, and says it again. "Walk, Lin." Riley sees the connection click in Lindsey's eyes and kisses him again as they walk-slip-float towards the dock and the waterlogged ladder that hangs on the side of it. Lips slide and teeth bump as they make this awkward trip, but neither one of them attempts to break the connection of mouth or hips until Lindsey's back is pressed to the damp timbers.
Riley's hand slips over smooth, cool skin and into the waistband of denim shorts made heavy with absorbed water. He hears Lindsey gasp when his fingers brush over the head of his cock, the dark hair falling over his forehead when Lindsey's head rolls loose and easy. A thrill of adrenaline and lust shoot through Riley's nerve endings everywhere, scalp tingling and fingers throbbing at the power inherent in his own touch, at the way he makes Lindsey move, sound, feel. His free hand tugs roughly at the button-fly on the shorts Lindsey's wearing and in another second the full length of his cock lies in Riley's hand. Distinctive heat even in the cool pond water, silky and slick when he rubs his palm over the head and strokes along the shaft, other hand tugging the material down over Lindsey's thighs until the weight on the jeans just sinks them to his ankles, and he's bare. Naked and pressed against the ladder, slightly buoyant in the water that rises to his chest, that allows Riley a glimpse of hard nipples as the small waves they make together rise and recede.
Lindsey's hands are on Riley's zipper now, and in a moment he's free of the almost painful restraint. Lindsey's fingers around his cock make him rise up on his toes with a hiss of pleasure. Riley threads his fingers through dark hair, pulls Lin up hard for a kiss that earns him a groan and a hard, tugging stroke that he mimics back.
Panting, Lindsey breaks the kiss long enough to ask, "You wanna get out of the water?"
Riley's tongue snakes out, licks beads of wetness from Lindsey's cheek. "No, I'm fine right where I am." His hand tightens, strokes faster, and Lindsey's head falls back against the rungs of the ladder, his blue eyes closed against the glare of the overhead sun. Riley looks at that bare expanse of throat and neck and licks his way lower, feels the steady race of Lindsey's pulse under his tongue when he flicks over the carotid artery, and the way his body tenses when Riley's mouth strays near Lindsey's lone raised scar. It rides his neck low and away from the dangerous vulnerability of that blue arc of the carotid, not a bite meant to kill, and Lindsey twists his head when Riley touches it with his mouth.
"No," he says, and "Don't," but his hand never stops moving on Riley's body. Riley bends his head to kiss Lindsey's mouth instead, traces the shape of his lips and then the smoothness of his teeth as Lindsey tenses again. Better this time, hips thrusting forward into Riley's hand and with a shudder and a groan he comes, brief flood of heat in the otherwise cool water that laps against their bodies. Lindsey's hand squeezes around Riley's cock, and Riley bucks into the suddenly tight grip, three hard pushes that get him to the edge and over. He stands with his head resting on Lindsey's shoulder, face turned out towards the pond, waiting for his breathing to steady.
They sleep for a while under the trees, bake in the heat of the afternoon until the breeze stops blowing and a sheen of sweat makes them uncomfortable enough
to move. Lindsey sits up, shifts in jeans that were dry when he laid down in them. Now the seams cling to his thighs and the backs of his knees when he moves.
He looks over at the truck where two pairs of shorts lay, dark and still too wet to consider putting back on. He wipes the back of his arm across his forehead
and wonders if it's worth the walk around the tree to get the beer from the cooler. He rests his arm on his knee and glances down at Riley, who's just beginning
to stir himself.
"What time is it?" Riley asks, rubbing his hand across his face, pushing sweaty hair back over and over until it sticks up in random patterns.
Lindsey leans up and slips his hand into his rolled up t-shirt, pulls out his watch by the leather strap, careful to avoid scorched fingers on the metal of the backing. "Not late, little after 2:30. You got a date?"
"Oh yeah. My social calendar is full." He sits up and yawns, the skin of his chest rippled and white in the one scar Lindsey can immediately identify as a non-vampire-induced marking. Over his heart and slightly to the right, it makes Lindsey think of open-heart surgery. The beginning of that "Y" shape he remembers from Grover Linaweaver, who had the operation when he was in the third grade and showed everyone his pink and angry-looking scar in the most vivid episode of show-and-tell Miss Harker's class ever had.
Lin puts a tentative hand out, three fingers covering the mark. "Tell me about this one."
Riley glances down briefly before he gives Lindsey that polite smile that means 'off limits' and turns away. "Not quite ready for that one yet."
"How about a beer then?" Not waiting for an answer, Lin shoves himself to his feet, stepping carefully over stones in the grass and then hauling the cooler back with him. Opens it and shoves his hand in the water that's full of floating ice chips, grabs one, cold can and tosses it to Riley before taking one for himself. Shuts the lid with a hard slam and pops the tab on the beer. The first sip is something like heaven, icy and perfect down his throat, and he tips his head back, lets almost half the can follow suit. When he puts the can down in the grass between his feet, he lets cold-numbed fingers rub the mark Darla left on him, the one he stopped Riley from touching.
Riley's watching him over the rim of his beer, eyes flickering to Lindsey's neck and back again. Lindsey thinks about the way Riley has pretty much spilled everything to him, and the way he's offered up nothing of his own in exchange. Not even how or why he knows about the vamps, because to him that means opening up the part of himself he's trying so damn hard to bury. He looks again at Riley's chest, the tan even except for that ridge of white marking his heart and then Lindsey looks out to the pond again. Takes a deep breath, picks up the yeasty scent of the beer and that good salty smell of Riley's sun-baked skin.
"So I used to be a lawyer," he says conversationally, looking down at the beer can and plucking at the grass next to it. He hears Riley swallow his mouthful of beer and waits for the questions.
"And you quit?" There's some level of interest in Riley's voice, genuine desire to know more about him, Lindsey can hear it. He wonders which question will change that tone from interest to disgust or anger.
He gives some thought to that before answering and says
// I've got these evil hand issues, and I'm bored with this crap//
"Yeah, I quit. It didn't agree with me."
"Public defender?" Lindsey looks to his right, sees Riley leaning against the tree, his t-shirt draped against his bare back to protect it from the roughness of the bark.
"Not exactly. It was very specialized work. Big law firm, big city. I just..." He trails off. "I couldn't live up to the full responsibility of the position." He smirks to himself at that and watches Riley put two and two together and get three.
"You got disbarred."
Lindsey chuckles, not a pleasant sound, and rubs his hand over his neck again. "No, I quit, I really did walk away." He picks up the beer and downs the rest of it in one long swallow, crushes the can in his hand and drops it. "The clients in the law firm were not your everyday bad guys. They weren't even people, most of them. They were demons, and I worked as part of a very specialized unit within the firm. I saw things, did things on a daily basis that most people hope they never see in their worst nightmares. That's why I know about your little problem," he says, lifting his chin in Riley's direction.
Riley leans forward, tilts his head and reaches out to touch Lindsey's neck. Lin holds himself very still and doesn't flinch when those fingers touch the dead white skin there. "So this was a job related injury?" Riley asks, quiet and still curious. There's nothing in his voice that indicates anything more or less than interest in the answer.
Lin nods, and Riley takes his hand away. He sips at his beer for a second and puts his hand out again, finger and thumb closing around Lindsey's wrist and the faint, thin band circling it. "And this one?"
His scar actually burns for a second when he flashes back to the scene, the sound of the blade as it rushed through the air towards him, bright hot flare of pain when skin, muscle, tendon and bone are severed, the thick smell of his own blood everywhere.
He nods, forcing that back down with the memories of the wine cellar, locking the box on those images again. "Yeah, that one too."
Riley looks at him carefully and doesn't let go. "You're lucky, this looks bad. You could have lost this hand."
"Yeah. I'm lucky." He's gritting his teeth, catches himself doing it and tries to force his jaw to loosen, to drop. Watches Riley turn his hand over, exposing Lindsey's wrist and its finely stitched bracelet, so pale that it stands out even against his thin-skinned inner arm. //Now he'll ask why, now he'll want more// he thinks, as Riley examines the marks like an expert searching for clues.
The questions don't come. He squeezes his thumb and forefinger together until they almost meet around Lin's wrist there and then lets go slowly. Lays back against the tree again and finishes his beer while Lindsey waits, quivering with the desire to just have it over with, get his damnation right up front.
Riley clears his throat. "So, you ever gonna let me meet this horse of yours, or am I just stuck out here while the two of you grow closer and you stop calling me?"
'You want to meet my horse." Lin looks at Riley, hard, the way he used to size up potential jurors. Looks for the signs of weakness - eyes shifting away, nervous tic, jaw clenched or hands that won't stay still. There's nothing there but a raised eyebrow over clear green eyes. Lindsey tries again. "That's all you wanna know, when can you meet the goddamn horse?"
"Well, I mean I saw him and all, but we've never been properly introduced." Riley finishes his beer, sets the can aside and leans forward, arms locked easily around his knees. His posture, his tone, even the way he looks over at Lindsey all telegraph nothing but calm and relaxation, body language open and easy to read. Lin's not sure what to call this outcome, unable to put a name to what's being offered here simply because he can't find a reference point anywhere in his life to draw that line, to define this as acceptance.
Riley gauges the struggle for comprehension in the way Lindsey's eyes shift
focus from external to internal observations. The gaze goes soft even as Riley
watches, and he waits it out. He could have asked some questions; he has them there in his head, but he's keeping them quiet for now. Taking the first piece of a past Lindsey is obviously not eager to share and dissecting it down to the molecular level might get him a few questions answered honestly, a lot deflected,
a few lies added in here and there. It does guarantee him that Lindsey won't give up anything else anytime soon, possibly never. Riley can be patient. He's
a little stunned to hear how Lindsey spent his time before all this, but considers
himself in no position to judge now. Not with a five minute conversation that yielded just enough to make things clear in some areas and throw a shadow over
the rest. Riley can recall plenty of nights spent in Sunnydale wondering how
the hell he let himself make those choices that put him where he was, torn between
sides that both looked right and wrong at the same time. He doesn't see himself
as that far removed from the mindset he held then, except that now he can at
least look back and see where he took the wrong steps.
Maybe Lindsey sees his missteps, and maybe he doesn't. The last thing Riley wants to do is push the man who has barely nudged him along in his own dragged-out confessional. He wants Lin to see that talking about it doesn't change anything that Lindsey doesn't want to change, that Riley is as willing to roll with the oddness as Lindsey has been since that first night. The one thing that holds them together at the core is the ease of the friendship and how is just seemed to be there without them forcing it to work. It's a raft for Riley to cling to in the wreckage of his life and he's not one to start poking holes in it.
"Yeah, alright, you wanna meet Beau, you come on out and meet him."
Riley notes the softness of the syllables in that speech, can tell that Lindsey's finally made his way through to some kind of peace with himself. The more relaxed he is, the lower the guard, the more Oklahoma shows in his speech. The smile's back, too, and with it those wrinkles in the corners of eyes blue as cornflowers. Riley finds himself grinning back.
They load the cooler in the truck and pull on wrinkled shirts over sweaty skin, socks and boots over dirty feet, and head back to the Lordi ranch.
The heat from the day never really lifts. Late that night in Riley's bed, Lindsey
lies awake. He's pressed to Riley's back at thigh, hip and arm, skin slick with
sweat that won't dry as long as there's contact. His body stays still even if
his mind is running at full speed, and his breathing is regular. He replays
that confession over and over in his head, wonders for the hundredth time what
he would have said if he'd been listening to it. Riley had asked some basic
questions, just enough to make Lindsey well aware of the things he wasn't asking
at all. That look, that very careful look at his wrist; Riley is deeper than the ripples on the surface, Lin's more aware of that now than he ever really
Riley's been sleeping easier these days, as if the more he talks about his past the less he has to worry about. Lindsey envies him that luxury. He's well aware that there's something more -- that scar Riley won't talk about yet, his job in the military -- and considering the things he's already disclosed, Lindsey's not entirely sure he wants to know the rest. If you confess an addiction to vampire bites, what the hell do you consider worth hiding? He's thought about getting Riley drunk, really stone drunk and prying it out of him just to satisfy his curiosity. He's damn sure of his ability to get what he wants to know, one of his many well-exploited talents from LA. But then he considers the cost of the knowledge, the loss of this comfort. The way it would gut the friendship.
Not worth it at that price. He'd rather go to his grave wondering than start pulling at those threads himself.
Riley stirs a little beside him, makes an indistinct sound before he settles down again, and Lindsey keeps himself still. His cock twitches at the contact, pressure of thigh muscle to groin all it really takes to remind him of what else he's not willing to lose. He draws in a slow, heavy breath and lets his palm skate over the curve of Riley's ass, into the small of his back and then up to his shoulder, closes his fingers there in a loose grip. Waits, waits to see if there's a response and swallows down a small moan when Riley's thigh presses back against him again, deliberate and slow.
"Wake you up?" Lin asks in a whisper, raising himself on his arm, letting his tongue taste salty hot flesh on Riley's back as they shift positions.
"No, I've been awake."
Riley's shoulders rise as Lindsey slips easily between spread thighs, lowers himself, fits his chest to that broad back. Lin's cock nestles in the crease of Riley's ass, presses in a little as Lindsey's hips move forward and hardness slips over slick skin. Both men catch their breath a little when Lindsey pulls back and presses forward again, when he bends his head and the tip of his tongue finds unscarred skin on Riley's neck and licks there, tastes him. Riley's head rolls to the side, easy gesture that bares the line of his throat as Lindsey presses lips and then teeth to it, nibbles lightly as his hips roll, bodies slick with sweat that's dripping from Lindsey's forehead, chest, thighs, onto Riley. Lindsey braces his hands on the bed and pushes in a little further, not stopping when Riley tenses and groans, moving in and in until his hips are pressed tight to Riley's ass and then stopping. Lying still, weight on knees and hands until Riley begins to move beneath him.
Awkward at first until they catch the rhythm, and then it's slow and easy, moving together in the darkness, through the humid air that's heavy as a caress on both bodies. Lindsey listens to the sound of Riley's breathing, holding on for that bitten back moan he always tries to keep in his throat when he's ready to come. Licks at the lobe of Riley's ear and then bites down on it, gentle at first and when they earns him a shudder, harder. And there's that sign of pleasure, that hitched-breath moan Lindsey's been waiting on, and he lets himself thrust in a little deeper, presses Riley into the mattress, the sheets, rough cotton giving him the friction Riley needs now. Lindsey feels himself closing in on the wall, vision beginning to gray at the edges as it rushes towards him and he breathes out into Riley's ear, tell him to come, bucks inside a little wildly, gives Riley that pressure he needs to get him there, too. When Riley's back arches, Lindsey allows himself to sink in all the way, let go of his hold on himself and let the pleasure roll over him in waves, rests his face against the wet skin of Riley's shoulder and shudders with his climax, hips still moving as he rides it out.
Not sure how long they lay there, Lindsey finally slipping out, resting his full weight on Riley for a few minutes, neither one minding the heat, the stickiness. When he gets to his knees to move, Riley rolls to his feet and pulls the sheet from the bed, tosses it to the floor before dropping back onto the bare mattress on his back. Lindsey watches him for a moment before lying down beside him, still touching at hip, arm and shoulder as they lie there. He wants to say something, feels like he should, but he's not able to pull up a single thought he can voice. While he's trying to sort out everything in his head, Riley turns and kisses him.
Slow kiss, warm lips, and his low voice murmurs a very slurred and sleepy "'night, Lin" and without another sound he drops off to sleep, body loose and relaxed against Lindsey's, one hand resting lightly on Lin's hip. Lindsey lays on the bare mattress under the heat of the air and the warmth of Riley's hand. Sunrise is a few hours off, and he'll have to leave, go back to the ranch. The rest of the week his nights will pass in an empty bed, on clean white sheets. His days will pass in a haze of horse sweat and hard work. He knows that his mind's going to be back here in this room, and back at the pond, thinking about unasked questions. He can see very clearly the way this might go; that if he tells too much, or too little, he's going to lose what he's come to regard as his base. Friendship with Riley, in all its aspects, has become more than filler, and maybe it always has been. He hasn't had this, any of this, in so long and now that he does have it, Lindsey's realizing he's not willing to lose it.
He shuts his eyes and tries not to think at all.
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