In Certain Company
By weekend exile
Monday morning, Nate crawls on to the bed next to Chuck, on his hands and knees, and slumps next to him. Chuck barely glances at him; sideways look, and back to the sixth sketch of the kitchen counter he'd come up with that morning. The light is better than he'd seen in days; catching the scene just the way he wanted it, sunlight pouring through the windows like a benediction. It almost makes him forget the hollowness in his stomach, the fact that you're not supposed to be able to see the kitchen from your bedroom.
Nate's lips graze over his exposed shoulder. "It's good." He murmurs into Chuck's skin, his hand tracing mysterious symbols on Chuck's back and he doesn't even shiver anymore. "Kinda lopsided, though."
"Yeah yeah yeah," Chuck says on auto-pilot, and Nate's lips move on to the base of his neck.
For awhile, the scrapes of Chuck's blunt charcoal pencil the only sound in the apartment. The leaking tap in the kitchen drips into the sink stealthily, just beyond the range of their consciousness.
Eventually, Nate sighs, tiring of picking at the places the mattress has been ripped open. He reaches over casually for the corner of the bed Chuck keeps his stuff for lack of a nightstand, but Chuck's faster, his hand flying over to grip Nate around the wrist, twisting a little.
"What the fuck-"
"No," Chuck says, tired all of a sudden, Nate's wrist as weightless and fragile as a petal, his hands like rusted iron binds around it. "Not today."
Nate's blue eyes, huge and betrayed, endless. He pushes his lower lip out petulantly, and Christ if Chuck's head didn't hurt like a motherfucker. "Why not?" he asks, his voice pitched perfectly, persuasive and charming, all golden hair and aquamarine eyes.
Chuck shakes his head, his grip slackening. "We need the cash for food." He tries to make it sound cocky, arrogant, but there's something wrong with him lately, nothing comes out the way he wants it to.
Nate wraps himself around Chuck's body like a vine, his lips grazing the shell of Chuck's ear. "Food is overrated," he whispers, the words soft and rounded against Chuck's hearing.
Chuck presses a fist to his temple, trying to force the headache back and failing. He shrugs Nate off easily, his shoulders caving then straightening, and Nate is back on his knees, kneeling on the bed behind him. "No, it's not," and Nate's eyes flash fire, burning him alive, "it's what normal people survive on."
Nate's eyes take on a shade that Chuck recognizes too well- thoughtful and manipulative- and it's wiped away almost immediately to be replaced with Nate's usual brand of innocent perfect prince. He leans in, close enough for his lips to graze Chuck's. "Ah, but since when were we normal?"
The notebook Chuck's sketching in is subtly pushed away, Nate's fingers softly tracing the V of Chuck's legs, dancing on his cock.
Chuck tips his head back and sighs. "Nate, it's nine o'clock. In the morning."
"And your point is?" Nate inquires, pitching forward to mouth along Chuck's chest, licking, biting, scraping. Despite himself, Chuck feels himself grow hard beneath Nate's touch and hates himself for that.
"Nate, just-" and Chuck cuts himself off when Nate's long graceful fingers slip under the waistband of his undone jeans and grip him, "just fucking let it go, okay? No."
Nate raises two impossibly blue eyes to his, lidded and dark. "You sure?"
And then Nate kisses him, slow, gentle kiss, tongue inquisitive and searching, and Chuck keeps thinking, I don't have a chance, he's a professional, until Nate pulls back and gives him a blinding smile. Chuck feels something give in his chest when he sees that smile, the floor dropping out from underneath him.
Sunlight catches the edges of Nate's form when he's like this, setting his hair on fire and making him look like something treasured for a lifetime. Most of the time, Chuck's breathless, the sight of Nate's perfect smile taking all he's got and leaving nothing behind.
Nate picks up Chuck's wallet, plucks out a hundred. There's no triumph in his face. "I got to, Chuck," he says, his eyes wide, his voice tripping. He gnaws on his lower lip and everything inside Chuck is hurting right now, ripped open and bleeding. "You know I do. It's like painting, for you."
Chuck snorts, but it's tired, like he's eighty years old and seen enough. "Being an addict is pretty fucking far from painting, I should say."
Nate flinches, his fingers tightening around the bill. He looks all of sixteen years old. His head downturned, studying the over-washed once-white sheets, he says, "I guess."
"Fucking…just go, man." Chuck exhales through his teeth, almost a whistle.
Nate slips off the edge of the mattress, straight out of the bedroom into the narrow hallway. Chuck doesn't watch him go; instead, he looks at his crumpled sketch, ragged at the edges and torn beyond salvaging by them.
Nearing eight pm, Nate drops in to Eric's place, a gram of crystal meth in his pocket and drinking Coke from a can. He's trying to ignore the shifting feel at the pit of his stomach, the electricity that's buzzing along his skin. His heart's beating overtime, rushing to get there, destination unknown. He's doing his very best to look away from jagged edges and sharp lines, because he's not like that anymore, he's got Chuck now.
Until the high wears off, he's invincible.
Eric's as loud as ever when Nate comes in, putting him in a headlock and rubbing his head. "Where've you been, pretty boy?" he asks, which is what he calls all his boys.
Nate keeps quiet, smiling a little. He places his can on the tabletop and looks around. "Who's on today?"
As if on cue, Dan comes out of a room out back, his shirt undone, carefully-drawn eyeliner making him look like a Goth kid from the nineties. "He's knotting a dark blue tie over his bare chest, his expression crinkled, "Eric, help me out with this fucking-"And then he pauses, spotting Nate. "Archibald." He nods in greeting, his smile easy. "How's it going?"
Nate's never been comfortable with it, this illusion of camaraderie that Eric makes them keep up. They're not friends; they're bound by the same sins, that's all.
Eric's still watching Nate, his eyes narrowed shrewdly. "You feelin' like some extra bucks? I'd arrange it, so easy."
Nate fidgets with the hem of his sweater. It's his off-day; but business is bad this time of the year, families growing closer and pulling away from the flotsam and jetsam, the people at the fringe, the hookers. The week had been pretty uneventful.
Eric passes him a jay out of nowhere and he takes a hit off it, pretending to think. Eric doesn't seem to care, knotting Dan's tie and sending him off to get finished.
"Guess so," Nate says finally.
Eric smiles big and wide, and Nate's so certain Eric was like them before, standing at street corners and smiling that smile, looking at men through his eyelashes.
He thinks maybe Eric might just roll with it for once, just get it the fuck over with, but no. "How's the tortured artist?"
Scratchy feel against his throat, and Nate sways slightly. "He's fine. We're fine."
Eric shrugs and gets glitter on his fingertips, carefully smearing it on Nate's eyelids. Nate keeps his eyes closed, and pictures Chuck, half-dressed and tousle-haired in the morning light.
A few years ago, Chuck had it all figured out.
He would paint; he would fall in love with and marry some sweet girl and finally prove to his parents, his dad especially, that painting was a real job, that it was his life and not some phase he'd grow out of and come running back from.
As the years progressed, the plan changed somewhat, the foundations remaining unchanged. Fine, he liked guys. So much the better for pissing his dad off.
He moved to LA, and everything pretty much went off the tracks then, like a train at a hundred miles an hour headed to a city.
At a bar, he saw Nate dancing with his arms raised above his head, tacky neon lights of the bar flashing through his gold hair. Nate, shimmering and iridescent, appearing in front of him and asking, "Like what you see?"
And Chuck had stammered. He's never stammered before.
He'd never paid for sex before, either, but all that was marbles spilled on the floor, his promises to himself. Nate's eyes went big and round each time Chuck kissed his neck, his whimpers loud and proclaiming eternal devotion as Chuck's hand stroked his cock.
Nate had told him once, "dude, it's not Pretty fucking Woman, I can handle myself." Nate had told him, "I'm not supposed to be like this, I'm not supposed to be in love with you." Nate had told him, "landlord kicked me out, mind if I move in? It's just for a couple of days, I swear."
Nate, who never could stand hearing the word addiction, flinching away from it like he was slapped. Nate, who stood in framed by the window one morning, sunlight washing over him, looking like grace personified.
Nate with the scars on his wrists, Nate smiling across bars like Chuck was the best thing he'd seen that day, Nate, Nate, Nate.
So Chuck had painted that fucking picture, had the audacity to call it He Talks to Angels, tempted the fates so bad. The picture was sold immediately, hailed as the work of a genius. Reporters streamed in, and for a while, life was good. Life was as he pictured it at seven years old, when the brush first fitted into his hand perfectly.
And then, he lost it. He couldn't paint.
Days, weeks, of meaningless strokes and confusion on his palette. Taking it out on the one he loved most, sniping viciously at Nate, making marks on his body, finger-shaped bruises.
Finally, he'd snapped and Nate had been there when he fell to his knees. Nate had wrapped his slender, pale arms around him and kept quiet.
So yeah. His talent was gone, but it would come back, it would. And in the meantime, he had Nate. Chuck can't figure out how that couldn't be enough for anyone.
The usual bar at the end of the block, the lighting dim and muted. Nate can't shrug off the feeling that all this is completely new to him, that his life has never been fucked up before.
Dan's still chuckling at something Eric said in the car, his face flushed, his open shirt hanging off his artfully. He says, "meet you back here later, yeah?"
Nate downs a couple of shots before going into the crowd, letting Dan overtake him. He scans the room, quick practiced gaze, deliberately avoiding the ones good-looking enough not to have to pay for it, focusing on a specific type instead.
He meets the eyes of a potential trick, and casts his eyes down and peers through his lashes, because it's his best look. The guy smiles nervously back, rubbing his palms on his trousers, and Nate feels himself sliding into gear, nodding his thanks as the guy buys him another round.
Almost all the way shitfaced now, he lets his fingers drift across the guy's shirt, pulling on his tie, and the guy smiles and hands him another drink. Nate throws it back and is immediately drowsier, his thoughts blurring and losing some of their serrated edges.
The trick is saying in his ear, how about you and me go outside where it's quieter, and Nate nods enthusiastically, yeahyeahyeah. He allows himself to be buoyed along, the colors all pastel-shaded, benign.
It isn't until the guy has slammed him against the rough wall of the back alley, his cheek scarring, that coherent thought rises to his mind: first, motherfucker drugged me, and then, Christ, what's Chuck gonna do?
The trick draws something out of that huge trench coat and oh, fuck no, because Nate catches a gleam of silver in the corner of his reducing periphery.
"Stand very still, beautiful boy," the trick rumbles in his ear, and Nate's body tenses automatically. "Gonna see what's under that perfect skin."
Nate opens his mouth to speak but his mind's snail-paced, fogged. He tries to bite back the waves of fear washing over him, scarlet and overwhelming, tries to focus on how to get out of here.
But then it all gets useless when someone hauls the guy away, sending Nate slamming harder into the brick wall. Someone is snarling "motherfucker," and Nate knows that voice, hears it every night before going to sleep, commanding the universe to give Nate a good night.
But that's not the kind of shit that happened in real life, was it?
He turns around, still plastered to the wall, and Chuck is there, on top of the guy, beating the crap out of him. Chuck is punching him so hard the guy's nose is guzzling blood, and Chuck's shirt is ruined. Chuck is here.
Nate clings to that thought, dimly watching the knife clatter away, catching a slim bar of light from a streetlamp. Chuck's blows become fewer, and then stop entirely, the fleshy thunks dying down like a basketball being dribbled home. The guy's eyes are closed and his face is a mess. Nate's somewhat in awe.
Chuck staggers to his feet, wiping his hand against his jeans. Nate stares at him and can't stop, his eyes glued to the curve of Chuck's neck, his bruised face, his manically bright, dark eyes.
Chuck looks up at him slowly, and Nate's mouth drops open because people get it all wrong, Chuck's the beautiful one, Chuck's the one who should be put on canvas and kept forever.
"Thought you were mad at me," he says, and that's so not what he should have said now. Stupid, stupid, so fucking stupid.
Chuck wheezes out a laugh, still breathing fast. "I'm not."
Nate takes a step forward, and reaches out a hand. "Promise?" he asks, his heart in his throat.
Chuck's eyes go solemn and dark, and it's like all Nate knows is how to fall. Chuck links his hand with his and Nate's absurdly thrilled at the fit, because they've never held hands before.
Chuck says, in a low voice, "promise," and that's enough.