In Berlin with Jack, shell-shocked soldiers telling each other war stories. He'd close his eyes and see artillery fire like big fireworks against the sky, see Brian's face. And in between that thunder, it was so quiet. Cigarette smoke curled around him in sheltering softness, and the music was quiet, too, melodic methodic methadone madness. He could talk and make perfect sense, and watch the words drift away, like balloons, into the sky. The sky was wrong. It had no color.
He waited for everything to begin to bleed through.
A white sky over New York, white as heroin, and streets stretching out like a bone-bleached desert labyrinth, a grid mapping geometric nothingness. Stale air. The taste in his mouth no longer hunger. He was sinking under the weight of all the things he couldn't do, trapped in a space defined by what wasn't there. It was as though he'd even forgotten the specific nature of his cravings and only the empty places were left.
Until absence became presence, and he was looking at a face more familiar than any dream, seeing himself mirrored in eyes that wanted him.
He could never have said no to that, to the possibilities opened up by beauty.
* * *
He was an ornament, a bright vulgar piece of jewellery, a sparkling pin on Brian's shirt collar, and he loved it. Loved every gaudy, silly moment of it, posing like a starlet and then scratching at his stubble, grinning like an idiot. And every touch fired him, better than shooting up, wilder, sweeter. The camera flashes tickled his skin like bug bites. He wanted to run and jump, turn cartwheels.
Onstage, he could burn off that nervous energy, twitching with spastic happiness, chasing Brian from spotlight to spotlight and being chased right back, hearing the screams and the whistles that encouraged them to be even wilder, go even further. Everything they did was right, everything was dangerous and easy.
* * *
"I knew you'd come," he said, although he hadn't, and turned from the window to watch Brian walk into the room, all elegant sloping angles, eyelids midnight heavy and breath as sweet as alcohol. Made himself wait while Brian came to him, seduction in every step, until they were body-heat close and Brian brushed an unsteady fingertip over his lower lip.
And there it was, just for a second, a brief flash of childlike insecurity, echoing deep in his own heart and he took Brian in his arms and they stumbled towards the bed, all calculation lost. Just this, the touches that were private now and intimate and warm as blood. Just simple, clumsy lovemaking, rushed and precious, and then the soft weight of close, close sleep.
* * *
"We're on the Embankment," he said into the smooth skin of Brian's belly, kissing lower, until he hit the waistband of those tight white pants and licked along it.
Brian's hands came to stroke his face, to undo the button, pull down the zipper, the rasp of its metal teeth startlingly loud, drowning out the traffic. "No, we're not. We have no firm location. We are a figment of London's imagination, and London has no imagination. No one can see us."
"No one can see us," he agreed, and took the smooth head of Brian's cock into his mouth. It tasted like a candied plum.
* * *
It was an old shirt embroidered with new flowers, roses and violets and things he didn't recognize. Brian looked like the youngest son in a fairy tale wearing his older brother's clothes, with the long petal-scattered cuffs hanging down over his hands, face lit by a look of wholly spurious innocence. The sun was warm and gentle, and there was no one around, just big rolling meadows and clusters of trees and he tackled Brian and wrestled him to the ground, rolling in grass that was soft and would never leave a stain, until they lay tangled in the roots of an oak and Brian's face wore camouflage paint of light and shade. Leaves moved in the wind, and the pattern shifted, and he tried to follow it with a fingertip, lost track somewhere around the clean line of Brian's jaw and decided that kisses were more important.
Then he slept with his head on Brian's shoulder, and woke with a rose-shaped mark pressed deeply into his cheek.
They drove over a bridge and past hills where sheep grazed, and when they found a town around the next bend of the road they bought fish and chips and for a while even the kisses tasted like vinegar, like salt.
* * *
Back in London, the weather changed.
The pressure dropped; he could feel it in his head, could feel it like a ringing in his ears. It seemed to affect his hearing. His voice sounded different when he spoke.
Brian's voice sounded different, too.
When it rained, the entire city was slick and slippery, and he couldn't get a firm grip on anything. The guitar strings twisted under his fingers. His hair turned greasy, and he had a cold. It seemed that he was missing his cues, an actor discovering too late that tonight's performance is not the play he has rehearsed. When he listened to Brian, he found himself wondering for the first time what the words actually meant, and what Brian heard when he spoke.
It felt as though they could walk through each other. Walk through walls.
* * *
He had a suitcase full of dirty clothes he'd just as soon leave behind. A mouth full of dirty words, hard harsh words that cut his tongue so he spat them out. The world was made of edges and corners, the air rubbed his skin like sandpaper. The roses on the embroidered shirt were beginning to unravel.
There was no air.
Between them, there was no air. Going out, there was no air. Stepping into the taxi, there was no air, and he sat there, and couldn't breathe, and couldn't breathe, and couldn't breathe, and everything they had created flowed past the car window and faded into the past, left behind.
It was starting to come together, word by word and note by note. About what he'd wanted, and didn't know if he'd ever really had. About what he'd wanted and didn't know if he'd ever really been; looking back he saw ungainly puppets acting out shadows of memories. There were words he couldn't remember speaking, touches he couldn't remember feeling. The ashes spilling to the ground with a flick of his wrist could never hold the shape of a cigarette again.
The sky was still wrong, and empty. He could make a song about that.