After the first kiss, where are you meant to go from there?

And for Steve and Ghost, there's nowhere but the highway back to Missing Mile, to mourn Ann's passing and sleep in their separate beds; to watch the leaves turn golden and wander barefoot through the house with fragments of songs like talismans against the past.

Whenever Ghost starts thinking about the kiss, he tries to dismiss it, to push it to the back of his brain with all the other phantom memories he's picked up on the road. He knows that Steve doesn't remember; or doesn't want to remember, and sometimes they're the same thing, really. But somehow, it's still there - the faint sweet taste of Steve's mouth, the weight of Steve's arms wrapped around his shoulders, locked in an embrace that had taken them half a lifetime to reach. And, sometimes, late at night when the mind starts unfolding memories from the day, like an old lady going through fabric in a patchwork bag, Ghost finds the memory of the kiss being laid out before his eyes. Real enough to touch.

They sleep apart. Though on the road it's cheaper for one room than two, easy enough to collapse next to your best friend and throw one sleepy arm over his waist, at home it's different. Ghost's room is a room of words and memories, scribbled again and again in Magic Marker on the mismatched walls beneath Day-Glo galaxies, and sometimes he can feel Steve breathing through the walls, as if the exhalation was written into the house itself. It comforts him to share Steve's breath as he drifts asleep, the old woman in his mind patiently unfolding the smell of sweat in Steve's hair, the rough guitar-calluses on his fingers, the soft curve of his lips.

Steve says,

He's standing in the doorway of Ghost's room, the pale morning sun streaming in behind him, until his faded white T-shirt merges with the edges of the light, making him look transparent somehow - washed out. He's got a beer in one hand, though it's barely pushing eleven, and a handful of papers in the other.

Ghost blinks at him, suddenly managing to focus again. He can't tell what Steve has been dreaming about, really, but there's something about the hard set to his jaw that says he's pissed about something - it's there in the way his strong, capable fingers curl around the neck of the bottle, the way he leans against the doorframe and squints into the room with barely-disguised irritation.

The power's off, Steve says flatly, and flips the lightswitch.

Nothing happens, and Ghost suddenly realises that his room is half-dark, where the gauze draped over the window has bunched and frayed, creating little kingdoms of shadow around the bed.
He shades his eyes to look at Steve, surrounded by light. We'd better get it paid, then.

Steve shrugs. And nothing else, and that's enough for Ghost to know that the bad dreams have come back, the ones where Ann is reaching for him, her fingers all caked in blood as if she'd been baking a cake with it. Ghost sits up, and a handful of pens fall onto the wooden decking - crimson red, sky-blue. Their tops have been left off all night, and they must be dried up. Time to get out the crayons.

Steve takes a few steps inside the room, and turns his head sideways to read the new writing on the wall, the half-formed sentences which are scribbled just a head's height above the bed.

Sunset red. Coral blue. By the time Ghost has scooped the pens off the floor and shoved his hair behind his ears, he can see the expression on Steve's face changing. Half-curious himself, to know what he's written, he squints at the wall, where the letters are crawling like spiders.

Damp so sweet like cerulean blue and blood, lips and arms were never so needed, strong like he can give me strength -'

Dixie tastes sweeter second-hand, when you're tasting what's left behind by -'



And Ghost can see the shutters fall over Steve's face - blank, uncommunicative, shut off - as he turns around. We should get going, he says flatly, and walks out, leaving the half-finished bottle on the pile of clothes by the bed.

Ghost scrabbles his fingers through his hair, looking up at his midnight words. Cursing whatever it is that makes him scribble his memories on the wall, when they'd be better off buried six foot deep.

he says softly.