Tarnish

by MacKenzie Barr

Disclaimer: I just wish I owned these boys, the wonderful Steve & Ghost . A few of the back stories and towns also belong to the lovely and outrageously talented Poppy Z. Brite, along with a majority of the other named characters. The only thing I get credit for is the plot.

At a quarter after midnight, Ghost decided that the drunk Southern haze of Cat's Cradle wasn't where he wanted to be. He and Steve had howled out a killer show to all the Chapel Hill kids, even a few faithful Missing Mile faces dotting the crowd, but he felt his smile slipping into tiredness and, quite frankly, boredom as the kids started to not stop coming, greeting him and Steve with beers, big grins, a couple with copies of their tape and a Sharpie marker, asking excitedly, some nervously for autographs. Ghost shyly inked on a loosely graceful 'G' while Steve yanked the tape and pen over to swirl on a drunken version of the same signature he used on checks and Christmas cards.

Ghost swigged back the rest of his Bud Light and slapped the wet bottle down on the bar, turning to Steve and shouting into his ear over Hendrix so loud he was lucky he could hear his thoughts, that guitar ripping into his head like purple lightning. "M'goin'. Should we just meet up later?"

By the "should we just meet up later" part, Steve assumed Ghost wasn't going back to the hotel. "Naw," he growled, start of a liquor breath boiling hot against Ghost's ear. "I'll come on with ya. Hot as hell in here."

They slipped out of the club into the stingingly cold night, Ghost hunkering down into his too-big army jacket, Steve opening up his arms and taking a big breath. He stepped in beside Ghost and tucked his hands into his pockets. "So where you goin'?" Ghost shook his long translucent bangs down into his face, the rest pulled back into a slick pony tail at the base of his skull. He shrugged, then stopped short on the curb, ears perked to the swirl of neon and pulsating bass wafting up the street like Miz Deliverance's apple pie, drawing him to it the way the pie used to draw Steve on a cool afternoon. He turned and headed down the street, passing lurid X's and silhouted nudes. Steve jogged to catch up.

"I wanna go there," he said with childish determination, quickening his step up to the club, modestly labeled as "Mars Peace". Steve followed with a little laugh, but caught Ghost's arm as the pale hand was extending to the heavy door.

"Um... Ghost?" Pale eyes regarded him with innocent question and Steve had to fight hard not to smack his palm against his forehead. "Ghost... this is a queer bar." Blonde brows jumped a little in surprise, but he didn't look discouraged. Looking back to the door, he noted the pink triangles painted gaily above the frame, rainbow tinted mirrors letting out seducing dances of light from inside.

"So?" he asked a little daringly, a voice Steve hadn't heard in maybe too long. "You ain't a fag, Steve Finn." He tugged the door open and Steve inside and they stood staring dumbly into the place from the lobby for a good ten minutes.

The bouncer slapped Steve in the arm and offered up his broad palm. "Fifteen dollar cover charge for couples," he said impatiently. Steve noticed his hand still tucked into the crook of Ghost's elbow as his friend dug three five dollar bills out of his pocket and slapped them into the bouncer's hand. He flushed to the roots of his hair, but thankful for them both, the current light show was a shower of red, and his embarrasment was missed by all but Ghost, who didn't have to look at the bloodrushed cheeks to know Steve was about to puke.

Steve breathed a little sigh of relief as Ghost made a bee-line for the bar, but his stomah fell again when he saw all the well manicured men with pretty tropical drinks, barely alcoholic, set before them on the green glass bar. Ghost slid them into two bar stools squeezed in between a Latino and a skinny Goth kid checking out the fragile faced blonde the minute he came into view. Ghost ordered them both a Budweiser and Steve pulled out a hardpack of Marlboros from his pocket, lit up a half crushed cigarette and sucked on it reverently. It wasn't too often he smoked anything that didn't leave the sticky sweetness of pine in his mouth, but it was situations just like this one that gave the cancer sticks residence in his jeans.

Ghost snatched it up and took a long drag, blowing out a sorry looking smoke ring before coughing it to death and practically shoving it back into Steve's hand. "That shit'll kill you, Steve," he hacked, soothing his throat with a long pull of the bottle. Steve sneered a little laugh and gestured to the speakers rigged to the ceiling, pounding out redundant, mindrot Eurobeat.

"So will this." They sat with silence in between them for a while, though Steve knew something was up with Ghost, but he'd be damned if he was going to deal with it right now, not if he had to put up with this music, too. He turned a little when the Goth boy slid down from his stool, around his back, and shoved his skinny body in between Ghost and Steve, pretty, slender hands wrapping around Ghost's light hair.

Steve couldn't tell what the boy was saying to Ghost, but whatever it was, Ghost was flagging up a "help me!" as obvious as neon. Steve laughed at the boy's undeterred continuance, leaning closer into Ghost, who was nearly falling off the barstool to get away. "Dance with me!" Steve heard him shouting. "C'mon! Just one song!" Ghost pleaded to Steve with his eyes, but Steve just kept laughing.

"Yeah, Ghost, give the boy just one dance." Ghost shot him daggers for that one, and the boy nearly swooned at the name.

"Ghost? Your name is Ghost? That's so cool, sexy, wow, come on, dance with me!" Ghost looked over at Steve again, knew he wasn't going to get any help, even with two left feet, and sighed reluctantly, sliding off the stool and getting dragged onto the dance floor. Steve watched him move unsurely at first, but after a while of bumping into other dancers, he got the hang of it, caught Steve's eye and gave him an acomplished grin before grooving with the little Goth boy for about three songs. Steve didn't get hit on. Just as well, he might have run out of the place vomiting. Nothing against queers, no, not Steve, but the thought of himself and another man was never even within the proximity of appealing. At one o'clock, Ghost came panting back, the boy gone from his arm, and two more prowling with only vague stealth at his back. Steve felt a flash of jealousy as he noticed how many eyes were on his friend, but squelched it down. He'd known Ghost to get jealous when girls fawned over Steve at bars. It was just the way they were about each other.

"You wanna dance?" he asked, only half joking, hands ready to pull Steve into the press of bodies to glide against his own to the never-ending techno beat. Steve laughed it off and Ghost tugged at his shoulder. "Please? We'll leave after if you want, just come dance with me." The tone was hard to argue with, but those sparkling blue eyes were impossible, and he bitched under his breath as Ghost dragged him by the wrist into the crowd, turning and tossing his arms up over Steve's shoulders, immediately dancing wildly, slinging his sweat-beaded blonde hair in every direction. Steve swayed dumbly and hovered his hands over the slim hips.

Ghost bit his lip and pressed tighter into Steve's arms, putting his hands loosely in Steve's winged out, unwashed hair. He was happy, having a damn good time, Steve knew that much; he had the same face on he often had when he was dancing on stage, singing his heart out. Steve swayed a little more, trying to copy Ghost's wild movements, knowing he looked stupid as hell.

One song, Ghost was merciful, and they stumbled out of the club into the night, not forgivingly cool, like earlier, but now witch-titty cold, slapping near 2 AM ice breath into their sweaty faces. "I gotta piss," Steve slurred, going off down the alley. Ghost leaned against the crumbling red brick and tucked his hands into his pockets, chuckling when he heard a muffled "fuck" and the rattling spew of gravel as Steve tripped in the dark. The quiet hum of a zipper had just echoed back to him when three figures drifted out of the shadows up the street like Disney villans, ready to bare their teeth. Ghost pretended to ignore them at first, cast his pale eyes down tiredly, but he knew their intentions. Goddammit, he knew what they wanted to do. Fear crackled up his spine, mingling with their tight adrenaline. He heard one of them laugh a little, but it might have been just a thought. Steve wasn't asking who the hell was there, just singing like a broken guitar from up the alley as he emptied his bladder against the brick.

"Hey little faggot," one of them jeered in the same tone you might lure the neighborhood stray that was stealing out of your garbage. "You wanna play with big boys?" Ghost straightened to his full height, still falling significantly below all three of them, and tried to appear nonchalant and anything but threatening. But fuck, he thought, what did it matter? It was the things he couldn't change that were prevoking these backwoods fucks, anyhow. It was his soft blonde hair, his thin arms, his smooth lips. It was the fact he'd walked out of that goddamn club, looking like a faggot, hell, looking like Steve's lover. He saw a rebel flag bandana hanging out of the front pocket of one of their jeans, nothing too threatening unless you were where he was right now.

He could have called for Steve, but then they would have knocked him one in the mouth, and what the fuck was a singer supposed to do with a broken jaw? He thought back to the two thugs in the gas station lot with Steve, thought how tough he'd been then. But he didn't have a hammer this time, was hammered.

It happened fast and furious. They were excited, couldn't pummel him fast enough, couldn't get enough of his pale skin under their hands and feet. When Steve came careening drunkenly out of the alley, he watched one of them pull at Ghost's hair, the sparkly blue hair tie coming away with a knot of silvery strands. Ghost's face thudded back into the sidewalk and Steve barrelled into the tallest one, dark eyes wild as he pulled a second one down with him. He still had a bottle of beer in his hand and broke it on the curb, brandishing it enough to make the fuckers realize they were in the middle of a street and to back off. They kicked Steve once or twice and gave Ghost a good, farewell toe to the ribs, but left as quickly as they had come, like some phantom Bible Belt shitkickers. Ghost was coughing up a lung, and a mouthful of blood, onto the pale concrete, hair obscuring his face, thin body shaking. Steve tossed the bottle aside and crawled over to him, grabbed him by the shoulders. "Jesus fucking Christ, Ghost. You a'right?"

Ghost kept coughing, but nodded, hugging his ribs tightly. Steve helped him stand and brushed him off. "Gotta fuckin' teach you how to fight one o' these days," he grumbled chastisingly, but Ghost knew he was glad as hell the fag hating trio hadn't put up much more of a fight. What a lovely ending to a similarly themed road trip.

The T-Bird was a few blocks away and they made it there with long, slow, tired steps. Ghost hung on Steve's shoulder and Steve leaned back. They already had a cheap room at Holiday Inn. Good thing, too. Ghost wouldn't even think of letting Steve drive tonight, and he'd be damned if he'd be doing it. Missing Mile wasn't too far away, but even just across town was hell after months in that damned car. They needed a real night of rest for once, and yes, going to bed at 2 AM was real rest for Lost Souls?

Ghost tucked himself up against the dash board and let Steve drive nice and slow to the hotel, watching the lights flicker on the foggy windshield, trying to ignore the pain in his ribs. They hadn't hurt him too badly, nothing Steve hadn't gotten him into before, but something about it bothered him, itched under the sting. Something about being weak, something about being passive. And something about the goddamn ironic truth of the whole fucking thing. He wished he'd kept dancing with Steve all night long.

TBC. ...?