Warnings: sensitive topics
Tyler Reed whistled to himself as he leaned down into the engine compartment of his tour jeep, tightening connections and checking both oil and water. The jeep was running like a dream and while he checked it as often as he had the old one, it needed hardly as much maintenance. Closing the hood he turned as he heard a car come closer and he frowned slightly at the red, late model Dodge Avenger. The sports car didn't stop outside Chang's but kept on heading his way, then parked.
Tyler froze when the driver got out.
Tall, gray hair cut short, eyes hidden behind aviator glasses, and dressed in dark blue pants, a t-shirt and a dark blue jacket, Willard Reed looked every bit the colonel, even without his uniform. Tyler's face was a mask as his father looked at him, then took off the glasses. He stepped away from the car.
"Come back for the death blow?" Tyler asked flatly, wiping his grimy hands on a rag. "Well, don't bother. Last time was deadly enough."
"No!" he snapped. "Whatever you want to say, don't! I don't wanna hear it, okay?"
He didn't give his father a chance to reply, only got into the jeep and drove off, anger and some undefined emotions boiling up inside of him. His hands clenched around the steering wheel and pain shot through his lower left arm. The injury was still healing and tensing muscles resulted in brief spasms. Right now, the pain was almost welcome.
Tyler floored the accelerator and the jeep gained speed. He simply drove.
Away from Perfection.
Away from his father.
* * *
Burt had heard the car drive past Jodi's store. It was unusual for any visitor not to come to the Market first. There were only a few houses in Perfection and everything revolved around the store. So if the visitor wasn't coming for the tour or the souvenirs...
He rose and walked outside. The moment he discovered the identity of their visitor, everything inside of him froze up.
Colonel Willard Reed.
And from Tyler's sudden retreat, nothing had changed. The orange tour jeep sped away in a cloud of dust and left the Airforce colonel, uncharacteristically dressed in civilian clothes, behind. Burt walked over to the man, intent on finding out what was going on.
"Colonel Reed," he greeted the man.
Blue eyes, which had lost some of their coldness, met his. "Mr. Gummer."
So it was suddenly 'Mr. Gummer?'. Interesting.
"In case you're wondering why I'm here," Reed senior went on, "I came to talk to my son again."
Burt crossed his arms in front of his chest, staring at the only slightly smaller man. "Really," he intoned neutrally.
The blue eyes held his gaze, then the man almost physically backed down, much to Burt's surprise. His eyes were on the horizon, as if he tried to catch a glimpse of Tyler, and his shoulders hunched slightly. Reed put his hands into his pockets.
"I had a talk with my wife, Mr. Gummer. About Tyler. Afterwards I understood that I had fallen victim to grave misconceptions that, when I talked to my son, led to even more misunderstandings until we no longer communicated on the same level -- or civilly."
"Oh really?" Sarcasm swung in Burt's voice.
A sad smile graced the other man's lips. "Really." The colonel still didn't meet his eyes, gazing out over the desert. "I love my son, Mr. Gummer. I know your picture of me isn't the most positive, but like every father I want the best for my sons, and that included the best partners. I never cared what gender that partner might be."
Burt's eyebrows shot up in complete surprise. So much for his own misconceptions. From Tyler's explanations he had taken Willard Reed as homophobic.
"I thought he knew that," Reed went on. "That's part of the problem. He didn't. All the fights we had, I never realized this fundamental truth. I never understood that what he thought I was saying and that what I thought I was trying to say were two completely different things."
Burt regarded the other man silently, reading the defeated body language, listening to the soft voice that had nothing of the man in it he had met over two months ago.
"I need to talk with my son, Mr. Gummer."
Now the blue eyes looked at him, open and pleading.
Burt was torn between helping Tyler and protecting him. His lover had been through hell and back because his old man had visited him before, but for the first time, Gummer thought there was a chance for them to reconcile what had happened in the past.
"I could go out there and look for him myself," the colonel went on, "but I think it would be faster if you helped me."
His inner conflicts rose. This could just as well backfire and he might be betraying Tyler's trust. He was still suspicious of the man and Colonel Reed had hurt Tyler before by just being in Perfection. Still, it seemed like the other man was making an effort...
"And maybe it would be a good idea if you were there when I talk to him," Reed added.
Burt stared at him in surprise. That he hadn't expected.
Still, he turned on his heels and crossed the main street, heading back to his truck, thoughts whirling. He couldn't... Tyler trusted him! He had left Perfection to be away from his father, so taking the man in question to where Tyler sought solitude... Burt clenched his teeth.
As he started the engine, he looked over to where Colonel Willard Reed was still standing at the garage, his whole body radiating defeat.
Burt closed his eyes, then opened them again, straightening. He backed away from Chang's and steered the truck down the street. He stopped at the garage and looked at the other man. Blue eyes shot him a confused look.
"Get in," he only said.
Reed just nodded and headed around the huge vehicle.
Burt had a pretty good idea where his lover was and he drove out into the immense box canyon. For a while, both men were silent.
"Nice place," Reed finally broke the silence.
Burt shot him a look but didn't comment.
"Tyler liked to hike as a kid. He was out and about whenever he could be. He was never a city boy."
Gummer listened as the man talked, almost as if Burt wasn't there.
"We moved so much, he hardly had any friends, and those who wrote soon gave up. He had his brother, but he wanted real friends. I couldn't give him that."
"Friends are important," Burt remarked.
"I know that. A lot was important back then. I made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Gummer."
"Being in the military and having a family can be problematic," he agreed.
"It wasn't that."
And Reed fell silent, unwilling to elaborate.
As they were closing in on Tyler's favorite thinking spot Burt glanced at the seismo monitor and noticed the blip. The stationary blip. Intriguing. Reed followed his gaze and frowned.
A sharp nod. "El Blanco."
"And we're heading there?"
"But... you said you'd help me find my son!" Reed exclaimed.
The other man frowned. "Mr. Gummer..."
"Trust me, Tyler's there. I suspected as much, especially after the latest events."
"As much as what? What events?" the colonel demanded.
Burt shook his head, refusing to answer. It got him a slightly frustrated look.
They arrived ten minutes later. Burt stopped the truck at the beginning of a long, flat growth of rock that reached far into the desert, like a landing into the sea. Around them, the sparse growth of bushes rustled slightly in the breeze. The rock was bulging toward where he had parked and flattening out into the desert. There, at the flat end, Tyler sat with his back to them, staring out over the landscape. Burt knew of this place because Tyler had come here before. It was remote; it was quiet.
It was almost painful to watch Tyler now.
But he wasn't alone.
Burt still wondered about their resident Graboid and the latest developments in the worm's relationship to them, but at the moment he was doing nothing more than keep his lover company. A strange kind of company. One of his tongues was wrapped around Tyler's right leg, up to the middle of his thigh, and the small, fanged mouth was closed, lying on the leg. Tyler's right hand rested on the muscular tentacle, stroking it in an odd pattern. It looked almost docile, and El Blanco was far from a tamed animal.
"Sweet Jesus!" Colonel Reed whispered.
Burt glanced at the shocked and suddenly very frightened looking man.
With that he walked down to his lover's sitting place. Tyler turned his head and met his eyes. His own were flat, pained, so different from the usually lively sparkle. Suddenly he tensed, his gaze fixing on the second newcomer higher up on the rock.
El Blanco rumbled unpleasantly, his hold on Tyler tightening as Reed's fingers clenched.
Betrayal and hurt swung in his voice and Burt winced.
"What are you doing?" Tyler demanded.
"The right thing, I hope," was the soft answer.
A second tentacle shot out of the ground and wrapped around one of Burt's arms. He almost absent-mindedly petted it, and from one second to the next, El Blanco let go of both men and moved away with a rumbling growl. He didn't disappear, though.
"Tyler, please," Burt said softly, holding the gray eyes.
Tyler turned his head away, hunching his shoulders. Burt sighed and looked at the older Reed, gesturing at him to come down. The colonel did so, but reluctantly. His eyes strayed toward the flat desert floor underneath which somewhere El Blanco still sat and waited. Gummer stepped back and nodded at the other man to sit down and start talking.
Colonel Reed did.
Tyler felt hurt, betrayed and suddenly utterly alone. He had come out here to think and El Blanco's presence had been strangely welcome and touching. The Graboid had done nothing but be there, giving a kind of support that was beyond words. Tyler had found himself talking to the animal, aware that while El Blanco didn't understand the words, he was quite sensitive to moods. It was what he had picked up on, which was also the reason he had simply wrapped a tentacle around his leg and waited.
Now his father was suddenly here, brought to this place by none other than Burt Gummer. His lover. He had trusted Burt!
"Tyler," his father said softly, in a tone of voice Tyler had never heard him use before, "I ask only one thing of you: hear me out. Afterwards you can do what you want. Just give me that chance, please?"
Tyler found himself glancing at Burt, who stood slightly back, arms crossed, a watchful guardian. Burt nodded almost imperceptibly.
His father took his silence as agreement and took out his wallet. He reached for a picture he had hidden inside and handed it to his son. Confused, Tyler looked at the photograph. It was a young black man, maybe in his early twenties. He was smiling into the camera. It looked like the picture had been taken a long time ago.
"His name was Jonah. We were best friends back when I was stationed in Louisiana. We got into all kinds of trouble together throughout the basic training and we both wanted to be pilots. The best." A rueful smile crossed the older Reed's lips. "He was a lot better than me. I envied him his skill." The smile disappeared. "Jonah died when he was nineteen, Tyler, and he's the reason why I treated you and your brother like I did."
Tyler shot him a puzzled look, still holding the picture.
"Tyler, I never had a problem with you liking men," his father went on, open eyes meeting and holding Tyler's. "Jonah was gay, son. I knew that and it never bothered me. It also was the reason why he had to die."
Colonel Reed raised a hand, stopping Tyler's questions.
"Jonah was black, we were in Louisiana, and he was gay. That as well as a little indiscretion go a long way. Back then it was carelessness on his part... and mine."
Tyler stared. "You're not going to tell me that the two of you were...?"
A humorless laugh. "No, not really, though it wasn't for lack of trying on my part, son. I approached him, dead drunk, one evening. We were on the way back from a trip into town and he was a lot more sober than I was. I kissed him, Tyler, right there in the open. It was in the middle of the night, but still... And if he had let me, I'd have gone all the way that night."
Tyler's jaw dropped. Burt made an odd noise and he briefly glanced at the older man, seeing something there he felt himself. It wasn't just what his father had confessed, but also the achingly familiar way he had approached another man. Tyler had done the same... dead drunk, hitting on Burt, kissing him...
"Jonah stopped me before we might have made a mistake we both would have regretted the next morning," his father went on, looking at the sandy desert floor. "But someone saw it. Three days later Jonah was dead. Freak accident with a plane. It wasn't... I knew it wasn't because I heard talk, but there was never any evidence."
Tyler paled and swallowed heavily.
"It was that indiscretion that cost my best friend his life, Tyler. A mistake I had made because I had been drunk, and Jonah had to pay for it because he was who he was."
The blue eyes were filled with remembered pain and Tyler gazed at the picture in his hands. After close to thirty-five years, his father still had the man's picture.
He handed the photograph back to his father who silently stowed it away again, hands shaking slightly.
"Does Mom know?" he asked.
"No. I hadn't known her back then. I met your mother a year later, after my transfer to California."
Tyler tried to digest what he had been told, but something else reared its ugly head from the past.
"So that's why you forced Michael to go."
"I never forced him, Tyler," the Colonel said calmly.
"He transferred!" Tyler argued.
"It was his decision, son."
"Because you ordered him to!" Now his temper was rising again.
"Did he tell you that?"
"He never said anything!"
A sad smile played around his father's lips. "No, it only looked like that from your point of view."
Confusion warred with old pain. "Then why?" he asked plaintively.
His father inhaled deeply, visibly steeling himself. "Back then, when everything blew up between us, I didn't know either. Your mother... we finally talked after she came back from Perfection, and she told me some things."
"What does Mom have to do with it?" Tyler demanded.
"She and Michael kept in contact after he left. She went to talk with him, asked him why... Tyler, he was positive."
Tyler's world broke apart. He felt himself falling into nothingness at the words, felt everything he knew twist into a caricature of his memories.
Michael Callahan had been positive.
He had had...
Shock settled and he barely registered the strange noise coming from his lover.
"No," he whispered brokenly. "He... no!"
"Yes, Tyler, he was."
"He didn't tell me..." Betrayal again.
"No, he didn't. He didn't tell anyone but your mother because she was the only one who actually asked. It was the reason for his transfer. His career was finished and he left the Air Force two years later because of it. I never forced him to leave, son. It was the diagnosis he got after I walked in on you..."
"After...?" Tyler's mouth went dry. He knew he was okay, had been tested several times. He wasn't positive, but Michael... His mind raced along unknown paths, wondering what had happened to Michael, where he was now.. if... if... no!
He helplessly turned to look at Burt, who displayed the same shock as he felt.
"Tyler, Michael and I were friends," his father went on. "I thought you knew that, too. Now I know you didn't. He never told you, you never asked. We had known each other for a very long time and you can imagine what I felt when I saw him with you. After that, I never talked with him again; contact was lost. Your mother was the only one in our family who made the effort and she found out the truth."
Tyler reeled, unable to comprehend the full implications of what his father was telling him.
"Tyler, whatever I said or did, all I wanted was to protect you. It came out totally wrong. I never realized that until your mother set my head right. She had pieces to the puzzle and so had I, and suddenly, together, there's a more complete picture."
When Tyler didn't say anything, just stared out into the landscape, the colonel slowly got up.
"Thanks for listening, Tyler."
Reed walked up the slight incline of the rock while he dug out a cigarette and lit it.
And Tyler's thoughts whirled.
His past suddenly took on a different meaning, words and events were seen in a different light, and old pain was replaced by new one. Michael had been positive... he had loved him and he had been positive. Michael had left him. His father had had bi tendencies. He had hit on his best friend. Drunk and careless, and that had gotten his friend killed. Now it made sense... the indiscretions, his father's insistence to keep his sexual escapades under wraps. Not because he had slept with a man. It had never been about that.
Tyler didn't need to turn around to know that his lover was still there.
"Burt?" he said softly.
"Get him back to town."
Burt walked closer. "Are you okay?"
There was a brief warning beep from their seismo watches and suddenly a tentacle shot out, wrapping itself around Tyler's leg. A sad smile crossed Tyler's lips and he touched the small head. El Blanco rumbled softly.
Burt gazed at the man he loved, sitting at the edge of the rocky outcropping, stroking the tentacle of a highly dangerous animal wrapped around his leg, and he wondered when his life had gone from bizarre to surreal -- and whether or not the Graboid was empathic. At least he seemed to react to Tyler's mood.
Burt squeezed one shoulder, then walked back up to the truck where Colonel Reed was finishing his cigarette. Haunted blue eyes met his gaze. The whole image of the man he had had was gone.
"Will he be okay?"
Burt nodded. "Yes."
"With a Graboid?"
A humorless smile. "Affirmative."
Reed looked down at the strange scene, frowning, then reluctantly climbed into the truck.
"Thank you, Mr. Gummer."
Burt just made a non-committal noise and turned the truck around, heading back into town.
* * *
The trip passed in mutual silence and Burt tried to understand and digest that he had heard. Now he knew why Reed had asked him to be there, as a witness, and he was grateful for it, but the revelations had floored not only Tyler but Gummer, too. Like an electric shock. Tyler's world had been turned upside down and inside out.
As they stopped outside Chang's, the Colonel turned to him. "Can I invite you for a coffee or a beer?" he asked quietly.
Burt looked at the man who had suddenly risen in his esteem and who had come a very long way from the man who had almost destroyed everything for Tyler two months ago. He nodded.
Jodi served them their beers, then took her cue from Burt's expression and went into the back room, leaving both men to themselves.
Burt looked at the man who was fiddling with the beer glass.
"What happened to my son?"
Reed smiled slightly. "I noticed the scar on his left arm."
When the Colonel just shot him an expectant look, Burt sighed and elaborated a bit, telling the older man about the encounter with the Mixmaster creation, how they had hunted down one of the new creatures, how the second one had attacked Tyler and injured him. When he mentioned the poison he saw worry lines tighten around the Colonel's eyes.
"But he's okay now?"
He nodded. "Perfectly."
All that had remained was the scar. It was faint and mostly healed, but it still showed.
"Thank god. And that he has a Graboid holding on to his leg?"
A smile. "You don't have to worry, Colonel Reed."
"You're not going to tell me about it," Reed stated.
Burt smiled. "No."
For a brief moment there was silence, then the colonel said, "I'm very proud of my son, Mr. Gummer. Despite his believes, I followed his career closely. I watched every single one of his races." He smiled more. "He was great at racing; like he had been born for it. He knew the engines, he knew the whole dynamics, and he was on his way to be the best. I don't know why he left, but I believe he had his reasons, and I lost sight of him for a while -- until I first came across an article concerning this Valley. Desert Jack's Graboid Adventures... run by my son. In the beginning I couldn't believe it, but I continued to read whatever I could find in the newspapers, and then the TV news picked up on what you did out here, how you and Tyler hunted Shriekers and Graboids and things like that."
Colonel Reed sipped at his beer.
"And I wondered why Tyler had come here. He had a degree in engineering, he was a known factor in the NASCAR series, but he decided to drive tourists around in the desert and hunt dangerous animals in other places. It didn't fit."
"He had his reasons to come here," Burt said calmly.
"I know and whatever they are, I respect his decision. I know he likes it here, that he feels at home in this place." Reed met his eyes calmly. "I want him to be happy, Mr. Gummer, but he has to be careful, too."
"Indiscretion," Burt quoted.
The other man nodded. "All your good intentions can't save him from getting hurt, Mr. Gummer. I know that now. I hurt him too often because of mine."
* * *
Tyler came into town two hours later as the sun was about to set. He parked the car out front Chang's. Entering Jodi's store he found his lover and his father sitting at a table together, nursing a beer and - talking? A few hours ago he would have found a millions things wrong with that picture. Things really had made a U-turn. Both men looked up when he opened the door, and he could make out similar expressions of worry.
His lover regarded him from dark eyes, sending a silent question.
"Tyler?" his father asked quietly.
He walked over to the table and sank down onto a chair. A beer appeared in front of him, and he took a large gulp.
"Dad... I ... I don't know what to say. It's been such a long time..."
"I know." Serious blue eyes regarded him steadily. "For both of us."
Tyler nursed his beer, still not over the shock of the revelations from before, and talking to his father, really talking, was new. Usually they had fights and shouting matches.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Do you... do you know what happened to Michael?"
The Colonel inhaled deeply before looking at him from sad eyes. "Yes. Your mother told me. Apparently he died last year."
The shock deepened once more, coupled with a sadness that felt new to him. It had been over ten years, but Michael had meant a lot to him at the time. He had loved the man and it had been bad enough to hear he was positive, but to find out that he had died...
"I'm sorry, Tyler," his father said softly. "It came as a shock to me, too."
"Dad, I... I thought a lot about what you told me and... I think I suddenly understand what you tried to do."
The colonel met his eyes steadily. "I wanted to protect you, Tyler. You're my son. I didn't want to see you get hurt... badly hurt... I wanted you to be safe..."
"By pressuring me into a career I didn't want?" Tyler asked, but the usual anger and venom were no longer there.
"No, by providing you with the safety net a good position and job could be. Tyler, Jonah died because he was in a vulnerable position at the time. I never wanted you to be vulnerable. I love you, Tyler."
Tyler stared at his father. It made so much sense -- now that they were talking to each other; really talking. "I didn't know."
"I thought you would."
Tyler glanced at Burt, who was leaning back and watching them with an oddly comfortable expression on his face, though there was a slightly pained note, too. Suddenly he wanted to be with his lover; badly.
"I think I should go, Tyler. I know I dumped a lot on you in a very short time and I realize we've got to talk about a lot more, but..."
Tyler nodded, understanding. "Yeah."
"If you want to come by for a weekend... just call, okay?" The colonel offered.
"I will. And it's not just a phrase."
His father rose, looked at Burt and held out his hand. "It was nice talking to you, Mr. Gummer. And thank you."
Burt got up, clearly uncomfortable, but he shook the offered hand.
Tyler walked outside into the dusk with his father and over to the sports car that was still parked at Tyler's garage.
"Didn't know you liked them fast and red," Tyler remarked.
His father smiled. "We sold the family car and your mother said it would... well... suit me. I've to say I like it."
Tyler grinned. "It's a great car, all right."
Both men looked awkwardly at each other. There had never been any heartfelt hugs between them and Tyler smiled uncomfortably as his father got into the car.
He nodded. "Will do. Tell Mom 'hi'."
There was a second's hesitation, then the colonel closed the door and started the car. As the Dodge Avenger left Perfection, Tyler became aware of Burt's presence with him. A hand touched his back.
"You got a schedule?" Tyler asked, looking down the road where his father's car had disappeared by now.
Burt nodded and squeezed one shoulder, then walked to his truck. Tyler followed him in the jeep a minute later.
* * *
When Burt walked into the bunker, the last thing he expected was that Tyler would head straight for the bedroom. His lover was troubled by something and while Burt had been there for the whole talk, he suspected what gnawed at him the most. But he had thought Tyler would prefer to get everything off his chest on the couch, not decide that a sexual encounter would help. Then again, maybe he was misinterpreting. There had been a lot of misconceiving going on here lately.
"Tyler?" he queried softly as he stepped into the bedroom where he found his lover sitting on the bed.
Tyler looked up, eyes filled with emotions. "I can't believe he didn't tell me," he whispered.
Take a pick, Burt thought. Willard Reed or Michael Callahan?
"He was positive, Burt," he went on. "I know I'm not. I was tested. You don't have to worry."
Gummer sat down next to his lover and wrapped an arm around him, pulling him close. "I know that, Tyler. I never did."
"But he was positive, Burt. I loved him and he was positive and now he's dead! I didn't even get a chance to... to..."
"Talk to him?" Burt supplied calmly.
"Yes. I know it's stupid, but maybe... I mean, I wanted to at least have the choice."
Tyler leaned more into his arms and Burt held him tightly. The cork was off the emotional bottle and it was all coming out.
They ended up in bed, but there was nothing sexual about it. Both had undressed and were now in more casual outfits. T-shirts and shorts. Tyler lay in Burt's arms, talking. Just talking. About his father, the revelation that the colonel was actually bi, the carelessness that had gotten his best friend killed... and his own life. And Michael. Callahan's name popped up now and again, and while Burt had been slightly jealous of the man before, he now accepted he had been a huge part in his lover's life. Michael was the past and maybe, without him, Tyler wouldn't be here today.
There were no tears. Tyler's voice was shaky once or twice, but he never lost it completely. Burt just stroked him calmingly, feeling the younger man's hands clench into his shirt now and then.
"Burt?" Tyler said after a long silence.
"I love you," he whispered.
Burt tilted his lover's head up and kissed him gently. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know. Maybe after another psych talk with El Blanco...?"
Gummer chuckled. "What was his advice?"
Tyler snuggled up close, sighing softly. "Go and cuddle with you."
They lay together for a long time and Burt listened to his lover's breathing even out as he fell asleep.
* * *
Burt slowly came around to the feeling of soft fingers teasingly stroking his chest. He was so accustomed to having Tyler in his bed that he had let down his guard completely, no longer waking up to every movement the other man made, like he had done in the beginning. So Tyler was able to surprise him every now and then with something like this.
He opened his eyes as Tyler leaned over him and brought their lips together. He opened up under his lover's gentle insistence, wrapping his arms around the warm body above his. Tyler sighed softly and then claimed his lips hungrily while increasing his caresses. Burt cupped Tyler's head, holding him in place as he deepened the kiss.
His finally pulled back and Burt let him, looking into the large gray eyes filled with want and need. He carded his hands into the longish hair.
"Burt," Tyler whispered. "I want you."
Before he could utter so much as a question, Tyler was kissing him yet again, displaying a need Burt hadn't expected from his lover, not after the events of yesterday. On the other hand - maybe this was exactly what Tyler needed, so who was he to deny him?
He slowly rolled them around until Tyler lay underneath him, and Burt began to kiss and caress his way down the lithe body. Tyler's little moans and gasps filled he room, and Burt slid a hand into the loose boxer shorts his lover wore to bed, stroking over the hardening length. Tyler's hips pushed up, trying to get into more contact, and he made a soft noise of protest when Burt let go to remove the shorts.
Stroking languidly over the muscular legs, he watched as Tyler spread them wider. Leaning over the younger man, Burt kissed him again, feeling teasing hands run over his sides. Closing a hand around the hard length, he moved it slowly. Tyler gasped into the kiss, then groaned when Burt got more serious. Concentrating on the playful teasing, Burt watched his lover as he writhed slightly, opening his legs more. Long fingers mapped the texture of skin, then slid lower, rubbing, massaging, fondling, while Burt's lips were fixated on Tyler's hard nipples. He bit them gently, drawing a cry out of his aroused lover.
"Burt," came the whimper. "Please..."
There was so much raw need in Tyler's voice it simply wiped every reservation he might have had away. Languidly pumping the hardness, Burt looked into the wide gray eyes, reading the pleading in there. Finally he reached for the lube and Tyler rolled slightly onto his side. Preparation was as sensuously slow and torturous as the foreplay. Burt took his time, enjoying how Tyler reacted to every stroke, every pressure, every fleeting kiss he placed on his body, leaving him trembling and clutching the sheets, even whimpering as Burt moved two fingers inside him, searching for the sweet spot. A condom was thrust at him and he took it, meeting the heated gaze as he held on to the hand that had offered the condom.
"I'm clean," he whispered roughly.
Tyler's eyes widened in understanding of the offer behind the words as he rolled onto his back. "Me, too," he replied, voice slightly shaky.
"I know," Burt replied seriously, then took the foil wrapper and slowly placed it back onto the nightstand.
Tyler didn't protest, gaze never wavering from Burt's. Gummer kissed him briefly, then ran teasing fingers over the firm behind. Tyler's eyes closed and his head sank back. He gasped helplessly as Burt slowly entered him, as the older man tightened his hold on the twitching hips, then interlaced their fingers, holding Tyler's hands left and right of his head.
Brown eyes met gray ones, open and loving.
Burt didn't rush. Slow, deep strokes were alternating with shallow ones, and he deliberately aimed not to hit the sweet spot on every entry. He felt his lover's body vibrate with need as he took him close to the edge, only to hold him there while he tormented his senses with touches and strokes, kisses and little bites. Tyler's skin was flushed, warm, slightly slick, and his fingers clenched around Burt's.
His younger lover looked up at him with eyes that were dark and clouded, moaning his name and gripping his hands hard. Burt knew he was close, needed only a few more thrusts, just a little more stimulation, and that was exactly what he was refusing to give him now. Instead he nuzzled his neck, taking in the way Tyler was trembling, writhing, moaning, doing everything but openly beg. And even that didn't last long.
"Please," he whispered huskily.
"Soon," Burt promised, smiling at the protesting noise that left the younger man's lips.
He pushed deep once more, drawing a choked off cry next, and he felt his own hunger slowly taking over. Setting up a steady rhythm, he watched Tyler's eyes slide shut, how he bit his lower lip, felt the body underneath him push into each downward stroke, and his own control cracked badly.
Movements became more jerky, harder, and soon rational thought left him as he just gave in to the inevitable.
Burt looked down at the man he loved with every fiber of his being.
"I love you, Tyler. Whatever happens."
And then he let go of the hands he was holding, felt them digging into his back as he buried himself deep into his lover, the lithe body arching under him.
Tyler's cry of completion registered on his mind and he felt his own climax rush through him as he sank forward into a warm, exhausted embrace, and lips found his, kissing him briefly.
Burt was only aware of his own harsh breathing for a while, the relaxed satisfaction, the pleasure coursing through him, and the warmth underneath his touch. Awareness rose after a while, telling him that Tyler lay in his arms, that his lover was watching him with a soft expression on his face, and that he was tenderly caressing him.
They gazed silently at each other. No words were lost; none were needed. Tyler just snuggled into him and Burt let him doze off for a while. It was too early to consider getting up, at least in Tyler's dictionary, and Burt felt too comfortable to even think about patrol.
* * *
Tyler came back from a weekend at his parents' home, appearing to be in a good mood. He greeted Jodi with a smile, they talked a little as he drank a coffee and when Burt entered, Jodi moved back to restocking shelves.
Burt joined him at the counter, touching him briefly as he shot him a questioning look. Tyler just gave him a relaxed smile.
"How was the trip?" Burt wanted to know.
"Good. Mom says hi and she asked if I thought you might be interested in coming down with me the next time."
Burt grimaced slightly and Tyler laughed.
"It's okay, Burt. I told her you're not a people person."
Gummer didn't comment on that.
Tyler left the Market and carried his dirty clothes over to Nancy's to wash there. Both men stood in the small side room where Nancy had her washing machine and dryer, a shared installation for all Perfectionists. Only Jodi had a small back-up washing machine for emergencies, otherwise everyone came here.
"Mom, Dad and I... we talked a lot," Tyler said as he leaned against the machine, arms crossed, staring at the concrete floor. "I can't believe just how badly we all misunderstood each other."
"It happens," Burt remarked neutrally, resting his tall frame against the door jamb.
"Yeah, but in our case, it tore the family apart for over ten years."
The rumbling of the washer was the only sound for a while, then Tyler pushed away and walked outside, gazing at the little town that had come to mean so much to him.
"Met my brother again. After thirteen years. He's got a family now. Two kids. Mom always sent me the invitations; I never accepted. A.J.'s in the Airforce. First Lieutenant. Dad believes he'll be Captain soon."
Burt nodded, just listening.
They walked over to the garage.
"You got anything planned the next few days? Like, tomorrow...?"
Burt's eyebrows rose. "Tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Or the day after that."
Dark eyes looked at him, then Burt just said, "Tomorrow's fine."
"And where are we going?"
"Salt Lake City."
The eyebrows rose higher. "Care to explain?"
"It's something I've got to do, Burt. I'd like you with me. Please?"
Gummer met the gray gaze, then nodded. "Time of departure?"
* * *
Burt didn't know what Tyler had to do in Salt Lake City, but he let him drive. They didn't talk much and from Tyler's expression he wasn't in the mood. They arrived in Salt Lake late in the afternoon and Tyler first got them a motel room, then they set out again.
To the graveyard.
Okay... Don't ask. Just wait and see.
Tyler walked along the many headstones, looking for something, and a strange kind of suspicion rose inside Burt. They passed by overgrown graves, recent ones and even a mausoleum. People were everywhere, praying, talking to the deceased, placing flowers on the grave, or cleaning the headstones.
Taking a small path off the main way, Tyler finally stopped in front of a rather unremarkable grave. Burt's suspicions were confirmed.
Gummer stayed back as his lover approached the grave and gazed at the black stone with the white lettering. There were no flowers, just a small bush planted next to the stone, and no ornaments on the headstone as such. Plain and simple.
And he hadn't been buried on a military graveyard either. Callahan had been out of the service. He was one name among many; no rank, no date of birth, no date of death. Just a name.
Tyler suddenly pulled out the dog tags and almost reverently placed them underneath the stone.
"I thought they were my freedom," he said softly. "But they were an anchor, keeping me in the past." He stepped back, closer to Burt, visibly paler than before. "I loved him, Burt, but he's my past." Gray eyes looked openly at him, highly vulnerable, and Burt placed a gentle hand on the small of his lover's back. A silent support.
"I'm ready to go," Tyler whispered.
They quietly walked back, Tyler's face rather closed off. Burt kept his silence, still taking his cues from his lover, but at the moment, Tyler was completely unreadable. Normally he wasn't; normally Burt had no problem knowing what his lover thought or felt. Tyler was a very open man. Right now, he was behind walls Burt hadn't known his younger lover possessed.
Back at the car, Tyler didn't take the wheel, so Burt automatically slipped into the driver's seat.
"Motel?" he asked.
Tyler met his questioning gaze, then nodded.
They dropped by a drive-thru and picked up some food, then headed for the motel. Tyler still didn't talk.
"Tyler?" Burt asked as they entered the room and he locked it.
Tyler nodded. "Yeah. It's been a long time. I've been over Michael for years. I was never obsessed about him and he wasn't some kind of shadow, but suddenly everything made so much sense and it all came back... I never got the truth from him and even now that hurts, Burt. It's weird but it hurts... He should have told me, not just gone away."
"Maybe he was afraid," Burt said calmly. "And you were just a kid."
Burt wrapped his arms around the slender form from behind, pulling him against his chest. Tyler relaxed against him, letting his head drop against Burt's shoulder. Gummer rubbed a hand over the firm stomach, then slipped it underneath the t-shirt, drawing a happy sigh out of his lover. His hand just rested on the warm skin, no teasing. He kissed the neck and nibbled his way to one ear. Tyler turned in his arms and kissed him, arms wrapped around him, hands gliding up Burt's back.
"Thanks for coming along, Burt. It meant a lot to me."
Burt shrugged, uncomfortable with the words of thanks.
They stood together, holding each other, until Tyler urged him toward one of the two beds.
Lovemaking was slow and gentle that evening, Burt watching the other man moving about him, the closed eyes, the intense expression of bliss, listening to the soft exhalation of air and the quiet moans. Tyler was biting back on his vocal exclamations -- they weren't exactly in private, and it was incredibly erotic. Burt ran his hands up the smooth chest as Tyler again and again pushed down on him, teasing and stroking and soothing, until the younger man came with a choked-back cry.
Both men returned home to Perfection the next day. Burt knew that whatever his lover said about having dealt with the revelations and news, he hadn't. He still was, and now and then things would come up again. Over ten years of misunderstandings, anger, disappointment and rage couldn't be smoothed over on a weekend. The whole family had to work on this, not just Tyler and his father.
At least the demons had been laid to rest and the healing process had started.
And Burt would be there for Tyler should he need him.