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Quarterlife

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Logan looks up the walls and across the ceiling of the boiler room, smiles as he starts to unbutton Eli’s shirt, and says, "Boiler room. The more things change, huh?"

"Sure," Eli says, not because he agrees with the implied follow-up there about things staying the same, but just because he wants to get off before he gets bogged down in some loopy philosophy argument with Logan about time and fate and whatever shit he picks up over pizza and weed with his college friends. On the face of it, he’s right: they’ve fucked around in boiler rooms before, many times, back in high school.

That was years ago. The more things change...the older they both get.

Logan’s hands settle in the middle of Eli’s chest, and they both watch as he spreads them apart slowly. He has thin hands, long-fingered, neatly manicured, and they should probably feel a little more like a woman’s hands than they do. But that’s Logan Echolls all over: ten times as hard as you ever think he’s gonna be. Eli’s never gotten him alone expecting him to be like a woman, and he’s never been disappointed there. Logan slides his hands down, cupping Eli’s belly for just a moment, then goes straight back up to twist his nipples. When he looks up, his eyes are big and dilated under the dim fluorescent lights, and maybe things do stay the same, after all, because Eli’s gotten fat and happy over the last seven years, gotten soft, but Logan is looking at him like he’s still young and angry and dangerous. That makes Eli smile, in spite of himself.

Back in the day, he would have punched Logan right about now. He doesn’t have the energy for that anymore, and he’s made that clear already. He figured that conversation would be the last he ever saw of Logan Echolls, because he wasn’t going to kid himself: the fighting had always been his primary appeal. Logan had a waiting list three deep to fuck him, he didn’t need Eli for that.

Eli reaches up and takes hold of Logan’s hair with both hands, his knuckles digging into the back of his head, pulling his face just close enough that they can feel each other’s breath. "What do you want?" he asks, gruff and businesslike.

His face.... The Logan that Eli remembers smirked and smiled and mocked, but he was blank and cold at the same time, sucking in pain like a black hole, letting nothing go, not even while Eli pounded into him, snarling and swearing, throwing every insult he could think of to break that sullen, robotic calm. Sometimes it would even work, and something would come glaring up through a crack in the mask – resentment, or contempt, or gratitude, or best and worst of all, sadness.

He’s easier to read now. Almost every time that Eli has seen him over the last few years, he’s been surprised all over again at the mobile, easy expressiveness of Logan’s face, alert and curious and intelligent and wry and empathetic. He’s either become insanely well-adjusted, or one hell of an actor. What Eli can see on his face right now is a very slightly embarrassed amusement, and Eli can’t stop himself from reaching up and sliding his thumb across Logan’s crooked mouth. "Something very kinky," Logan says jauntily, then loops an arm around Eli’s neck and kisses him full on the mouth.

That’s pretty new. They used to kiss back in the day – bites, really, sharp and hungry and furious, all over each other’s mouths, Eli just to make Logan shut up, Logan to get back a little of his own, answering Eli’s fuck with a tongue-fuck. When they stopped slamming each other into brick walls as foreplay, they stopped kissing, too. And they never did it like this, anyway. Eli is stiff and confused for a minute, but Logan just nuzzles his hips up against Eli’s, bearing down into the kiss, until Eli has to open his mouth for air, and then his tongue is right there, flicking gently against the tip of Eli’s, and then who cares, it’s done, they’re doing this. Eli flattens his palms around the back of Logan’s head and kisses back. It’s fucking cinematic, it’s a hero-kiss, a kiss hello or goodbye, a kiss that means something.

Ten to one it means goodbye. Eli closes his eyes and doesn’t dwell on that. He drops his hands and slips his fingers under Logan’s waistband, against the skin and bone of his hips, and his hips twist forward, a quick grind before he pulls himself back under control and draws back, their mouths prying apart with a hungry little wet sound.

"Did you like that?" Eli asks, his voice rough and a little unsteady. Logan hesitates just a moment, but then nods with a little smile at one corner of his mouth. Eli curls his fingers into Logan’s waistband, hanging onto him now, not just feeling around. "Then you owe me," he says. Logan’s eyebrows shoot up. Eli smiles at him and says, "Quid pro quo, Echolls. You and me are business, not pleasure."

Little white lie, maybe. They’re both.

Logan measures him carefully with his eyes for a moment, still wearing a smile that’s meant to obscure. He anchors his leg around Eli’s and leans back at the waist so he can make eye-contact without interrupting the way their cocks are pressed up against each other’s bodies. Eli puts a steadying hand on the small of Logan’s back, but Logan doesn’t need it; he’s always had uncanny grace and balance, the soul of a slacker in an athlete’s body – it’s the surfing, maybe, or just damn good genes. His father was famous for doing his own stunts; his mother was one hot piece, back in the day, and Logan – Logan’s life is one long stunt without a net, and Eli’s never had hotter. "I owe you?" he says archly. "What’s the going rate? And is American Express really everywhere I want to be?"

Eli slips his hand just a little lower to squeeze Logan’s ass, and he said he wasn’t going to do this anymore – he told himself, he told Logan, he told Sophie – he said it dozens of times but he never gave his word, and now it occurs to him that there was a reason he held that back. "Hey, you came to me, guey," he says. He can see the whole length of Logan’s throat now, and his mouth is almost watering, remembering the way it felt between his hands. "I got something you want?"

"Maybe," Logan says, breath jumping in his narrow chest.

Eli slides his thigh between Logan’s legs, just giving him something to ride against. Logan will do all the work for you if you let him. "So make me an offer," he says.

Sex was always the way Logan bankrolled his real kinks. Quid pro quo, and the things Logan Echolls could and would do to Eli’s dick were insane – all for the bargain price of a few bruises. Eli’s bruises, too, not just his own. Logan might get off on all kinds of crazy, nasty shit, but he wasn’t just going to let it happen to him. He always fought back first.

But he’s not offering anything now – not the sex or the violence. He’s just looking at Eli, his oddly sensual eyes blinking slowly, his face thrown into the crosshairs of strange shadows by the hard, narrow light of the bare fluorescent bulb overhead. Eli undoes one button on Logan’s shirt and rakes a fingernail over his collarbone, just under his throat, and Logan swallows hard – thin skin and fragile tendons and vessels and rushing blood – and tries a game smile that can’t disguise his weaknesses. "Make me," he says.

Well, what the hell. For old times’ sake. Eli lets him go and twists his leg, jamming his knee into the tender inside of Logan’s thigh, and Logan staggers and goes down.

He has a surfer’s sense of balance, though, and he crouches into the fall and springs back up and away, until they’re as far from each other as they can be in the small room, finding their footing, watching each other for the next move.

Once, years and years ago, this would have been Eli’s golden opportunity – Weevil. Weevil’s golden opportunity, because that’s who he was back then: the smartest cholo in Neptune, California – smart enough to know that Logan would waste his life but Weevil was the one who would always be nobody, because that was the difference between an Echolls and a Navarro. Young enough to let it make him angry. Once, years ago, he would have been the first to take a swing, and he would’ve believed he was making some kind of fucking point with it, that he was proving something worth proving.

He never proved anything, except for what he already knew: that in spite of a lifetime of fuck-ups, Logan would get as many second chances as he needed, because money opened every door, and that Eli would wind up pushing a mop, because nobody felt sorry for him.

What he didn’t know was that by twenty-four he wouldn’t feel sorry for himself, either. He’s older now, and he has family and freedom, a job that means he never has to pick whether to pay the phone bill or the power this month, he has a girl he maybe loves, a bike he definitely loves, and a daughter he loves more than his own life. Yeah, there are might-have-beens, bad luck and questionable choices, but all in all, he’s not that pissed off anymore. He’s all right.

He doesn’t know if Logan is all right or not. It’s none of Eli’s business, but...he hopes so. They were never friends, but they go way back.

Eli holds still and waits. "Come on," Logan snaps, hoarse and angry and embarrassed. "Take your best shot."

"You came to me," Eli reminds him again. "Do what you gotta do."

Because he’s thrown off-balance or because he’s ready to hurry up and lose this fight, Logan goes for it, lowers his shoulders and plows forward. It’s a stupid move, because Logan might have grace and good genes, but Eli outweighs him, and it’s not all Burger King and beer gut; he works for a living, wrestling outdated equipment and taking pipes apart and slinging wrenches and the occasional chainsaw, and there’s no way in hell skinny Logan Echolls is going to move him if he doesn’t want to be moved. He locks an arm around Logan’s arm and jerks him up enough to get a clear shot, then punches him in the stomach.

He lets go and lets Logan fall, but Logan kicks him hard, just below his kneecap, and there’s a moment of panic where Eli expects it to hurt more than it does. Eli falls, but he lands on top of Logan. They roll once, Logan twisting like a garter snake and lashing out with his fingernails like a girl – those damn hands of his, girl-delicate and dangerous, and it’s all Eli can do to keep Logan’s fingers out of his eyes. He heaves them over once more, straddling Logan’s waist, holding Logan’s wrists together while his fingers still grasp and twist helplessly. They’re both hard, of course. Wouldn’t be much point to this if they weren’t – not now. Maybe once the chance to fight Logan could have been its own reward, but Eli’s not the fighter he once was. Not in his heart, which is where it matters.

"Ah, Christ, would you give up, already?" he grumbles, carefully transferring Logan’s narrow wrists to a one-handed grip so that he has the other hand free to open Logan’s shirt. Left-handed, he’s got no real control, but then none of this is about the finer degrees of control, so he just yanks the shirt open, buttons coming loose every which way.

Logan’s nipples are hard, and it looks like Eli’s not the only dog who’s been in the fight lately; there’s an ugly bruise over a third of Logan’s chest, green and brown and old, broad and tapering, and there are smaller, sharper purple bruises pressed into the skin on the other side of Logan’s chest, below his collarbone and above his heart. Eli covers the larger one with his hand, thumbing Logan’s nipple casually, as if he hasn’t really noticed what he’s doing, or the stutter in Logan’s breathing. "Surfboard, right?" he says, and Logan nods. Eli moves to the other bruises and puts his fingers against them. They’re shaped and placed just about perfectly to fit three fingertips. "Secret admirer?"

"Well, I can’t just stay home every night, washing my hair, waiting for you to call."

There’s nothing in his relationship with Logan that leads naturally to jealousy, but he still doesn’t like looking at some other man’s handiwork (some woman’s handiwork? Does Logan know any women with the stones not to hold back on him – does he even want this from women? Eli has no idea at all) on Logan’s body. In the years that have elapsed since Eli ended his...oh, call it a relationship, why not? – with Logan, Eli hasn’t laid a finger on a man, not for love or war, and he hasn’t missed it. Logan was Logan, and that was another time, but Eli can be replaced. If he hasn’t been yet, if these marks were just an accident, a little rough play, then it’s just a matter of time. He will be. What Eli wanted was to prove something, but what Logan wanted....

He can’t quite pin down what Logan wanted, what Logan seems to still want, but he suspects that whatever it is, Logan will never get enough of it.

Clumsily, Eli staggers to his feet, tightening his hands around Logan’s wrists and hauling him up on his knees. "Say it," he snaps out roughly. "Say you want it."

Logan rolls his head back to look up at him, and it’s not that pissed-off, defensive mask anymore, not the Logan Echolls that Eli remembers, who was both too tame and helplessly desperate, like a poodle who’d been kicked until it went mean. Logan has gotten soft, too, and Eli doesn’t know quite what to make of the serene look on his face, the strange welcome hovering around his eyes in place of the resentment. "I want it," he says, low and easy.

But that’s not a satisfying answer – because it wasn’t the right question. "What do you want?" Eli asks, and it’s not part of any game. He wants to know. He used to be too full of his own adolescent angst to care at all, but now he wants very much to know.

Logan cocks his head thoughtfully. "Just what everyone wants," he says. "Validation – security – a strong sense of self-worth – a unicorn."

"Unicorn?" Eli repeats, amused in spite of himself. "They go for virgins, don’t they?"

"Are you telling me I’ll never be truly fulfilled?" Logan says, and Eli doesn’t know if he’s making a joke or not. How the hell would he know? He doesn’t know anything about Logan – not anymore and maybe not ever before this, either. It used to make him feel superior, to believe that Logan was easy to know, easy to figure out. He doesn’t need to feel superior now, and he’s not ashamed to admit, he never could break Logan down – not with his fists or his cock and not in his mind, either.

"Who can tell you anything?" Eli says. He envies that. He always has. Eli uncurls his fingers from around Logan’s wrists, his heart kicking into high gear as he does. Something very kinky. Logan’s face goes uncertain as his arms slip free, his hands sliding through the loosened circle of Eli’s hands, until Eli’s are wrapped delicately around his with his thumbs pressing into Logan’s palms. Logan’s eyes dart everywhere – to their hands, to Eli’s face, away at the light overhead – and he gingerly tests Eli’s hold. Eli lets him pull loose, and his hands fall to his thighs and rest there, useless and uneasy. Eli puts the side of his hand under Logan’s chin and tilts his head up just the slightest bit. "Suck my dick," he says gently. "Do it because you want to."

Logan’s eyes go dark and maybe a little frightened. He shakes his head once, and Eli helps him out just a little by undoing the top button on his ill-fitting work pants, but after that he puts his hands down by his sides and waits. He can outwait Logan. He’s met goldfish who can outwait Logan.

Logan goes over like dominoes, one drop triggering the next. First he looks up at Eli’s face, then down at his crotch. He shifts a little closer on his knees, he puts one hand on Eli’s leg, he hooks the other into Eli’s waistband and tugs a little, pushing the zipper down with his thumb. When he curls his shoulders forward and bends his head, Eli is staring at the back of his neck, flushed with late-spring sunburn or embarrassment. Eli wants to touch it, but...not yet.

"Yeah, there you go," he says under his breath as Logan tongues the head of his cock. "Don’t get shy on me. It’s too late to fool the unicorns." Logan breathes a hot little laugh over his cock and then he’s going down on Eli with surprising care. It’s taking forever, and all Eli wants to do is grab him by the hair and yank him forward, make him go for it – but even more than that, he wants to take away Logan’s every excuse. They’ve played at fighting for control so many times, angry, posturing little boys’ games. They’re not boys anymore, and for the first time, Eli is finding Logan’s control sexier than his failure. He doesn’t have a hand on Logan. Nothing is holding either of them here except their own want.

His hands are the least of his worries when Logan makes a low, achingly satisfied noise around Eli’s cock. His whole body is ready to go now, ready to go anywhere, and it’s real physical work to keep his hips from moving. He puts his arms out to the sides, palms to the wall, and leans back as far as he can.

Logan is good at this, unbelievably good at this. After eight years, it strikes Eli as weird that he didn’t know that until just now – but then it was never the reality that mattered before, just the concept. Who Logan was, what Logan was, all the things he wanted, all the things he didn’t seem to want, but that he always gave up anyway. Ideas, roles, definitions – hot, yeah, but complicated in the extreme. Logan always made his head spin.

Suddenly, though, there’s nothing to think about – nothing that matters. Eli is just here, in a warm, semi-dark, locked room that smells like dust and drywall, and everything feels good, perfect. Stripped of the head-splitting pressures of being young and hungry and too sure and unsure at the same time, all that’s left is a pair of hands on his hips, the head of his cock nudging the hard, warm roof of a mouth, a tongue rubbing in short, quick laps against the vein underneath. It’s good, he’s good, everything’s good, and he forgets not to touch and cradles Logan’s head in his hands while he comes, sinking just a little against the wall as his knees flex from the pleasure.

When he lets Logan go, he can see that Logan has his own cock out and he’s pulling slow and hard on it, with a cruel little twist at the end of each stroke. He smiles up at Eli, a tense smile under glittering, distracted eyes, and Eli smiles back and crosses his arms over his chest, settling his weight back against the wall, making himself comfortable so he can watch. Soon Logan’s head droops down again, all his concentration turned down and in, toward his cock as he works it with serious intent. Eli can’t help running his fingers down the back of Logan’s burned neck, and he’s oddly gratified by the hoarse sound that jars out of Logan, and by how quickly after that he comes.

Eli bends down and puts his hands under Logan’s elbows to help him to his feet, and he’s surprised and yet not totally surprised when Logan puts his hands on the wall over Eli’s shoulders and kisses him again, his mouth sticky with come, his softening cock in the same condition brushing against Eli’s stomach. All this kissing is making Eli’s neck hurt, but he doesn’t tell Logan to stop. He’ll stop soon enough, and in the meantime Eli plays idly with Logan’s hard nipple.

"Okay," Logan says, transferring his mouth down to the side of Eli’s neck. "Okay, so...."

"So?" Eli says.

Logan straightens up and takes a step back. He ruffles his hands through his hair, then tucks himself back into his clothes with a rueful little smile. "Are you gonna be at graduation on Saturday?"

"Yeah, I’ll be the one with the broom," Eli says. That’s not really true; he has too much seniority by now to be stuck on trash duty in the coliseum on graduation weekend, but he’s learned the trick over the years to shutting down Logan’s attempts to mock him by getting there first, and it’s a hard habit to break.

Logan smiles fleetingly. "I’m – not going, I don’t think," he says. "The whole senior week scene – I think it’s something people only do if they’re secretly panicking over having to leave the warm Hearst womb and start living. I’m experiencing a shocking lack of panic."

"You’re finally graduating? Wow, seven years sure does fly by."

"Six," Logan says, "but who’s counting?"

"I think if you could’ve dragged it out that extra year, you’d be eligible for tenure."

As if he hadn’t heard that, Logan says, "I’m just...gonna take off, I think. Soon as my last final is done."

Which means Eli was right all along: this is goodbye. His chest feels a little tight, a kind of banked panic. Logan isn’t much and he isn’t even Eli’s, but...he’s been around a lot longer than most of the things that have ever meant something to Eli. Once he’s gone, there will hardly be anything at all that ties Eli back to his past. "Where you headed?"

"New York," he says. "I got hired by a Wall Street firm. Apparently, you can get pretty rich gambling with other people’s money."

"Hope you’re better at it than you are at poker," Eli says. "So...you gonna be back this way once in a while? You know you’re gonna need a beach house."

"Not here I don’t," Logan says. "I’m so fucking finished with Neptune." The way he says it, Eli believes him. Another one bites the dust. V’s been gone almost two years now, a genuine L.A. detective with a gun and a trench coat and everything; Eli was up there for a family emergency last year, and he felt the urge to check up on her. She hadn’t changed much. He doesn’t figure Logan will change much in Manhattan, either. Sometimes it seems like no one but Eli ever really changes, and he doesn’t know if that makes him better than all the rest of them or weaker, easier for life to push around. He doesn’t even know what it means that the 09 is probably the best place in the world to be from, and still nobody can seem to get away from it fast enough, while Eli, who spent a quarter of his life resenting the fact that he’s from the barrio, can’t see himself ever wanting to be anywhere else. He’s got roots there, he’s got family. It’s where he’s from.

"Good luck," Eli says. It’s the one gift Logan just plain wasn’t born with, the one he needs the most. If God couldn’t give it to him, Eli sure as hell can’t, but it’s the thought that counts.

"I wanted to ask you for a favor," Logan says. He can’t seem to meet Eli’s eyes. Eli doesn’t want to spook him even worse, so he just stands there and waits. "I go...every year, to put flowers on her grave. Her folks pay someone at the cemetery to have it done, but they never go there, and they always put out the wrong kind. She liked calla lilies. Narcissistic, but true. Anyway, with Duncan gone and Veronica gone.... I don’t want...."

"Yeah," Eli says. "Yeah. I will."

"Her birthday was– "

"May eighth, I know."

"Yeah." He rallies a little and says in something much closer to his usual tone, "And if you’d like to do a little dance on my father’s grave while you’re in the neighborhood, feel free. That’s a tradition that’s probably worth carrying on, too."

"I might do that," Eli says. "While I’m in the neighborhood."

"Okay. Thanks. So...."

Back to so again. So...what? So long, farewell. Eli can’t promise to visit and he can’t promise to write because he doubts he’ll do either. There’s nothing to put an end to because all they’ve really ever had is a whole lot of nothing. He buttons Logan’s shirt for him, and there’s one button missing. Eli must have torn it loose. Maybe someday, a week or two weeks or three months from now, he’ll find it on the floor of the boiler room. Maybe he won’t even remember how it got there.

He strokes Logan’s chest through his shirt, aware of where the bruises are underneath. He can’t see in this light, but he thinks his own bruises have probably started to show up on Logan’s wrists by now. They’ll get darker over the next few days, and fade to nothing in a week or two weeks, and in three months whoever he’s fucking in New York won’t even be able to ask awkward questions about them. Logan will go to Manhattan and he won’t talk about Eli, and Eli will stay right where he is and he won’t talk about Logan, and in a way this never will have happened. All eight years will never really have happened.

Except that they did happen. They just didn’t change anything.

Eli lets his fingers drift over the invisible bruises again, higher than the level of Logan’s heart, and then he clasps Logan’s hand hard and leans into him, right shoulder to right shoulder, the way he would say goodbye to one of his own. "Take care, vato," he says, and it comes out rough and weighty. He means it, so much he almost can’t say it. Logan is shit at taking care of himself, and Eli thinks that if he just knew – if he could just trust that Logan would try to do that much, would put forth the slightest fucking effort – then it would be pretty easy to let him go.

Logan thumps him hard on the back, then leaves his hand there for a moment, stroking light and ragged up and down Eli’s back. "Yeah," he says. "Look me up if you’re ever in town, okay?"

"Sure," Eli says, although he doubts he ever will be.

After all, who the fuck does he know in New York?