Title: If You're Not Breathing, Why Am I?
Author: Bernarde
Rating: NC17
Summary: HARDYCEST. Jeff knows his time is short, and he has a confession for Matt.
Note: The title for this song, and indeed the inspiration, came from the song "House Carpenter" by Hurt. I can't listen to it without tearing up.
Disclaimer: I own nothing and claim no knowledge of anyone's sexual preferences other than my own.

He sat staring at the sight before him, his body barely noticing the plush chair beneath him or the sobs of the others. The words of the priest whispered through his head, and he didn't feel Shannon's hand on his shoulders. He didn't know if he was crying or not. He didn't know anything, really. It felt like every emotion he could possess was now stored in the elaborate box before him. No, not a box. Casket.

The images in his head swirled and melted together, forming pictures for a brief moment before dissipating again. None of them lasted more than a few seconds, until one stayed: the last time he had seen his brother alive.

-*-

He had come back to the house from the grocery store with eggs and vanilla extract because Jeff had expressed a vague desire for French toast. They both knew he wouldn't be able to eat it, but it was the thought that counted.

"I'm back," he called as he set the eggs in the refrigerator. He heard shuffling from the spare room, "Jeff...?" Matt walked over and ducked his head into the door. Jeff was on the bed, as he had been for awhile now, a teal bandanna wrapped around his head, and his face buried in a handful of blankets. Immediately concerned, Matt sat beside him and placed a hand around his shoulders. Jeff shrugged him away and then let out a gut-wrenching sob that Matt didn't know was possible of coming out of him. It tore at his heart and he tried again to take his weeping brother into his arms.

"Jeffrey... talk to me," he whispered softly, but Jeff actually slapped him away this time. It wasn't a hard movement - Jeff wasn't capable of that much anymore - but it was intentional.

"No. No. I'm a horrible fucking person," Jeff wiped his eyes on the back of his hand and refused to look at Matt, instead staring to the other corner of the room.

His face, like the rest of his body, was gaunt, the skin taut and pale. He looked nothing like he had even a year ago. The cancer had set upon him fast, furious, and unexpected, the way Jeff himself had always been. Chemo had left him completely hairless and weak, and had failed to destroy the malignant cells within him. Told that he only had a few months left to live, he refused to stay at the hospital and asked to stay with Matt. He had his painkillers, lots of them, but that was it. People visited them often, especially Shannon and Shane; usually they brought marijuana to help Jeff relax and actually eat something without throwing it back up.

Matt felt his heart sink at seeing Jeff so upset, trying to stay the strong one, trying to be the rock for his brother like he always had been. He set a hand gently on Jeff's arm, "Do you want me to leave you alone? Talk to me."

"Stay," Jeff whispered. He looked down, and then let his hand rest on Matt's. "Matt... there's something we need to talk about." The older one nodded, rubbing his fingers on Jeff's skin. Jeff swallowed thickly. "I love you." There was a pause.

"Well, I love you too... I mean, you're my brother," Matt's brows knitted together as he studied the blank look that came over Jeff's face.

"It's... it's more than that, Matt."

"What?"

"Don't tell me you've never felt it!" Jeff's mood switched 180 and he finally faced his brother, eyes blazing in a way that Matt hadn't seen in months, "Don't, Matt. I know you have!"
Matt stared at him, his face a mixture of confusion and perhaps a trace of fear.

"Felt what, Jeff?"

Jeff rubbed his forehead and tried several times to talk, each attempt ending in an exasperated sigh. He looked at Matt with frustration written all over his face, and the anger in his eyes sparked again.

The younger brother then snarled like an animal and grabbed Matt by the hair, pressing their lips together in a quick, brutal kiss. Matt didn't pull away, but he didn't respond either. They ended up still staring at each, Matt with his mouth slightly open, and Jeff shaking with emotion.

Matt's eyes became glassy and he turned away, and Jeff knew that he had him.

"I have, Jeff... I have felt it. And I've ignored it," Matt paused, "It's wrong."

"And you know what else is wrong? Us bathing when others have nothing to drink. Us living here in the goddamn lap of luxury while others live on the street. Hell, this fucking cancer is wrong. But we can't change that. Matty..." as quickly as it had come, the anger went out of Jeff again, "I've loved you since I was born. I've always hidden it, because I knew you wouldn't accept it... but Matt, I couldn't bear dying without letting you know." His stopped, choked up with tears, "It's nearly the end for me. I know it, you know it. Please... just..." Jeff couldn't talk anymore, and he let his sorrow run down his hollowed cheeks.

Matt sat there, eyes clenched shut, listening to his brother cry, and felt all the feelings he had kept bottled up for decades pull at him. They had been buried so deep he had nearly forgotten about them, but Jeff's confession and the kiss... it was all brought back.

The two of them had always been quite close, and he knew it had been abnormal, but he had just dismissed it... until he realized it was deeper than that, and then he closed it up all the more fervently.

He was thrust out of his reverie when he felt Jeff trying to climb onto his lap. He shifted to take Jeff's place on the bed, letting Jeff crawl onto him. His strong arms wrapped around the slight frame, and he held his beloved tightly to his chest.

A cool cheek pressed to his and he felt Jeff's lips on his own once again. This time he fully accepted the chaste kiss, letting himself return the action. Jeff whimpered softly and broke it, then nuzzled Matt's neck, pausing to brush his lips against Matt's ear.

"Please... make love to me, Matt..." he whispered, "This one and only time." Matt didn't answer, and Jeff feared that his brother might leave. But then he felt hands on his sides and Matt was kissing him again, slowly and passionately. A warm tongue stroked his lip and he opened, letting Matt taste him.

Finally allowed to touch the man he had always loved, Jeff let his hands roam over Matt's face, neck, shoulders, thread through his hair... he pulled the elastic out and relished the feeling of the silky smooth strands running through his fingers.

It took only a few minutes for Matt to lay Jeff down on the bed, kneeling above him as he kissed him tenderly. His own callused fingers ran over Jeff's cold flesh, somewhat unnerved at the feeling, but there was a fulfilling sensation at knowing it was Jeff. His Jeffrey. The man that he had protected for his entire life, the boy that he had been there for, until something neither of them could see took his little brother over from the inside.

They kissed softly for what felt like hours until Jeff's fingers started pulling at the hem of Matt's t-shirt. He looked up into Matt's face, his eyes pleading, until Matt obliged and took it off. From there it was like a candle melting, and their clothes fell away piece by piece until both were nude.

Matt kissed down Jeff's collarbone, tracing his hands over the thin chest, before shifting down. He felt somehow alive and yet numb, knowing that this would be the one and only time they would ever be able to do this.

Jeff spread his legs to let Matt kneel over him properly. Clammy palms clasped over Matt's shoulders and Jeff looked deep into his brother's eyes.

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

The sun had set during their fondling, and the room was dark now. The only light was from a dim lamp in the other corner of the room; it was too cloudy for the moon to shine through tonight. There was a breathy gasp as Matt slid saliva-slicked fingers into Jeff's willing body, finding heat within that he didn't imagine was still possible. They kept eye contact as he stretched his brother, emerald melting into obsidian. Jeff kept his breath as steady as possible, then shifted.

"Please," he whispered. Matt nodded and they moved again, Jeff lifting his legs to rest his calves on Matt's strong, broad shoulders. Matt wrapped a hand around his shaft, pumping so that he was fully hard, then moistening himself with as much spit as he could. Finally, resting his weight on his arms, Matt pressed himself forward.

"Relax, Jeff..."

"I'm trying."

A keening sound echoed as Matt slipped in, slowly and steadily. Jeff cried out again as Matt nestled fully into his body. The older brother moaned at the warmth surrounding him, the sheer tightness enough to drive him mad, but he forced himself to remain still. Then Jeff moved his hips and he knew it was okay, and started to thrust gently.

"I love you so much, Matthew. I can't..." Jeff's voice dissolved into sobs, and he clung to Matt's body tightly. Matt could feel his resolve breaking, could feel it weakening bit by bit under waves of pure emotion. Every tear he had wanted to shed during this whole situation stung at his eyes, and he couldn't hold it back anymore.

Then it broke, and the stone angel cried at last.

Jeff forced himself to take Matt deeper, begging his brother to break him. He marveled at the sight of Matt crying, and knew deep within himself that this was the end.

When Matt came, Jeff had become so weak that he could barely move anymore. He snuggled into Matt's powerful chest, feeling arms wrap around him and hands stroke his neck and bare scalp; the bandanna had fallen off long ago. He clung tightly to his beloved, and kissed him one last time as sleep beckoned him.

"I love you, Jeffrey," Matt said, strong and sure.

"I love you, Matthew. Forever."

"Forever."

The next morning had found Matt entwined with a body; Jeff had departed in the night.

They both knew he would.

-*-

He had called Shannon first. There was no immediate family left to call - Gilbert had passed on years ago. Shannon had come over and made the rest of the necessary plans. Matt had withdrawn so deep into himself that it seemed there wouldn't be any way out for a long, long time.

"Matt? Are you ready?" Matt came to looking into Shannon's face.

"Yeah." His voice was cold and hollow. There were no more tears left. He stood slowly, and saw that everyone else had left. They were the only two there. Them and Jeff's casket.

Matt stepped forward and kissed the smooth wood.

"I love you, Jeffrey," his voice stayed true, and he let Shannon lead him to the car.