“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” -- James Baldwin
Touching him was a mistake. He knew that immediately.
It wasn't like it was planned, or consciously done. It wasn't like he hadn't done it before. It wasn't like he needed a defense, because he hadn't done anything wrong. But he should have known better. Did know better, but that hadn’t been enough. Hadn’t stopped him, anyway.
They'd been riding high on the warm burbling nervous energy of children caught and scolded and sent to bed without super. The girls went down their corridor, escorted by Moira, but the boys were left to make the trek to the rooms at the opposite end of the compound on their own.
He could feel the panic coming off them, could almost taste it. Sean's was slow-building and uncertain, Hank's quietly desperate and calculating, but Alex...Alex apparently got loud when he was nervous.
"Can you believe that? Did you see the look on their faces? But who the fuck do they think they are? They're the ones who brought us all out here! Left us alone with fuck all to do! What did they expect to happen?"
He didn't get an answer. Sean was chewing at his bottom lip and had his hands in his pockets; Hank fiddled with his glasses and shrugged. Darwin saw the flicker in Alex's eyes at that, the spark of annoyance fanning to anger, the twitch of his wrist anticipating a grabbed arm or a punch or worse. Knew that the two of them grated on each other, knew that a second from now, if no one did anything, they'd have a whole other set of problems to deal with, some of them permanent.
So he did something. It'd just been his hand on Alex's arm, meant as reassurance more than anything. And it wasn't planned, wasn't conscious, wasn't the first time he'd touched Alex and it wasn't like he meant anything by it except to calm him down or at the very least distract him.
Which it had. Distracted him, at least. Definitely didn't calm him down. All that glowing rage was suddenly focused on Darwin, and the heat of his arm under Darwin's palm was almost unbearable for a second until Alex jerked away from him, turned his back and practically ran to the room he shared with Sean. But not before getting in one last glare, and hell, if the boy was going to hit him, Darwin had wished he'd just got it over with.
He'd have hit him back, sure, and he'd have hated to do it, but then at least they'd both know where they stood.
Hank wasn't a light sleeper, and Darwin had to say that was pretty fortunate.
Because if he had been, the delightful cacophony of knocks on their shared door at damn near four in the morning would have done nothing to ease the animosity between him and Alex, who looked momentarily relieved to find Darwin opening the door. And then his features adjusted, settled into fear and then feigned indifference, and Darwin let himself be exhausted. It was damn near four in the morning.
He stepped outside and closed the door behind him, forcing Alex to make the choice, to stand closer to him or move further into the hallway, where he was likelier to be seen and reprimanded for breaking the rules. Alex took a step back, and Darwin sighed.
"Don't...don't do that," Alex mumbled, staring at the floor. A mussed strand of fair hair flopped over his temple and he brushed it away angrily.
"Don't do what?"
"You know what."
"I know we kinda look alike, so it's tough, but I'm not the one who reads minds here."
"Just tell me what you want, Summers." He was suddenly determined to make him say it. It wasn't out of bravery, particularly; invincibility hadn't made him bold on the day-to-day, because he'd mostly tried to forget about it, but strains surfaced every now and then, and he guessed it was a now kind of moment.
"Don't..." Alex let out a breath. His voice was lower when he spoke again, soft and pleading. "I'd rather you didn't...I'm not...look, man, I like you. I don't care if you're...but I'm not. So just…keep your hands off me, okay?"
Darwin blinked. "Huh."
"Not what I was expecting you to say."
Alex frowned. "What'd you think I was gonna say?"
He raised an eyebrow. Gestured with one hand along his forearm, and Alex laughed. Surprised, almost embarrassed.
"Shit, man, I don't give a fuck about that."
An unexpected, long-forgotten ember flared deep in Darwin's chest. He gave a quick laugh of his own as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the door.
"Oh, so it's fine with you that I'm colored, it's just the fact I'm a queer you got a problem with."
Alex had flinched at both. Darwin didn't particularly care. He grinned, ducked his head in a quick nod, and uncrossed his arms. "Good night to you, son."
Darwin was used to early rising. In his opinion, the city was at its best at dawn: still waking up, noisy and bustling as ever, but somehow fresher and full of anticipation.
But none of the others seemed to share his appreciation, and only Raven was awake early enough to have breakfast with him. She seemed different from the day before. Quieter. Her eyes at darted regularly to the doors, and she tapped erratic patters into the table until Darwin pressed his palm over her hand and smiled as gently as he could.
He took a deep breath, and let it out. She did the same, returned his smile, and then giggled. Blushed, the illusion of bright pink flooding ivory cheeks, and covered her mouth as she kept laughing.
Darwin found himself wondering if the three agents they'd shared their lukewarm oatmeal and bitter coffee with would have been nearly as attentive to the scene they made if she'd been with Sean, or Hank, or Alex. He tried to pull his hand away, but she turned hers over so their palms were pressed together, and squeezed. He looked at her, and she winked.
He kept to himself the rest of the day.
Wasn't proud of it, but he wasn’t alone in his avoidance. After the trouble camaraderie had gotten them in the night before, a tacit agreement seemed to have been reached to be cordial but distant. Hank seemed all too happy to retire to his lab, with Raven more than content to join him. Sean read (or pretended to read, but mostly slept) on one of the rec room couches.
Angel he ran into in one of the corridors while on the way back to his room. He wasn't sure what he thought of Angel yet, might not ever know for sure. She seemed to work hard to keep people from knowing. She seemed brash and sharp and sad, alone in a way the girls he'd grown up with never had been, and yet Darwin found her familiar.
"Hell of a thing, huh?" she said, and he didn't know what she meant by it. He waited. "Spent my whole life trying to avoid trouble, but I guess it'll just keep finding it's way back to me."
"You think we're in trouble?"
Her lips curved in a slow smile, and she leaned into him. "You feeling particularly welcome here, baby?"
He took a precise step back. "That a feeling you’d recognize? ‘Cause I’m not sure I would."
Angel laughed, loud and without a hint of sensuality to it. "Knew I liked you," she said, winked at him, and then turned and walked away.
He was reading the paper in his room with his door open when the knock came, and he didn't bother acknowledging it.
"I can't do this."
"This." Darwin looked up. Alex was scowling at the room, a small, cinder-block affair with two twin beds and minimal personality. "Got no idea what they want from us, what we're doing here, and we're screwed. I don't--I can't, all right? I'm leaving, while I still—"
He snapped to attention. “Yeah?”
"Why you telling me this?"
And Alex looked lost, and young, and so very, very frightened. "Come with me."
He sat up. "Where?”
A smile broke over Alex’s face and his shoulders rose. He rubbed the back of his neck and let out a half-laughing sigh.
“Hell, man, anywhere. Anywhere you want. Anywhere that ain’t here.”
“You got a plan?”
“No,” he said. Confident and brazen and right then, Darwin knew for sure just how screwed he was. “You?”
“I’ll think of something.”
The sun was beginning to set and the leaves had long since begun to change, making the path along the river a spectrum of red-orange-gold-brown.
Alex hadn't asked about the car, which meant Darwin hadn't had to lie about it. He wouldn’t have, but he wanted to put some distance between them and the compound before he explained. He drove for about half an hour. There was a map in the glove compartment, but he hadn’t bothered checking it.
Eventually, empty roads and the canopy of trees gave way to bridges and the lights of the city on their left. He glanced to his right and saw Alex staring out the window, attention rapt and body taut.
“You all right?”
Alex nodded. Darwin spared another few seconds to study him before letting his eyes drift back to the road.
“You wanna go to a bar?” Alex asked, and Darwin had to stare.
“You know what I mean. If you wanna go, it’s fine. I’ll come with you.”
“No, man, I don’t want to go to a bar.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Got to get some stuff.”
He bought cigarettes and a lighter. As a concession to a possibility he didn’t want to entertain, he also selected a couple of state maps. The clerk tucked everything neatly into a brown paper bag and asked where he was from, in a tone that suggested he knew the answer. Far away, Darwin said. It felt true enough.
Alex began rummaging through the bag before Darwin even started the car, but seemed to approve of its contents, and made no mention of them either way.
It was entirely dark by the time they left the city again. The river stretched along their right and the trees rustled above them. Alex sat stone silent at his side.
Eventually, he pulled off the road and into a small parking lot. He met Alex’s questioning look with a shrug. That seemed to be enough; Alex had his door open and was scrambling out into the cool autumn air within seconds of the car rolling to a stop.
Alex walked up to the low stone wall that divided the lot from whatever lay beyond it, braced his palms on the edge, and leaned over. Darwin approached more slowly and hazarded a glance. The river shone below, not that far down. Black and still, reflecting an almost full moon and a smattering of constellations.
“See that?” Alex pointed to their right, at the white obelisk protruding from a dark brown sea of trees. Two red, blinking lights at the tip tinted the stone pink every few seconds. “Washington Monument, right?”
“I figure,” he said, although he was shocked at how little else of the city was visible. Not even the light of it seemed to escape. New York would've had the sky glowing by now but here, at least, he could see stars.
Alex turned till he was practically sitting on the wall. Darwin took a welcome step away from the impending edge and Alex cocked his head at him.
“Nice view,” he said, staring, and Darwin shrugged. “We ditching the car?”
“You feel like walking?”
Alex appeared to consider the possibility, and then grinned.
“Nah. Could always get us a raft and escape down the river, like Huck and Jim.”
Darwin tried to force a chuckle. It got caught in his throat.
“Hated that book.”
“Yeah?” Alex looked genuinely surprised and not a little wounded.
“Grown man’s fate tied to the whims of two little boys, never really got the appeal of that.”
Alex pursed his lips and looked over his shoulder toward the river. “Never quite saw it that way.”
“Lotta people don’t.”
"Do see what you mean, though," Alex said, eventually, and Darwin looked over. He was still staring at the river. “Still. Always wanted to do it like that. Take off.”
“I hear you.”
Alex looked at him. Smiled, a little disappointedly, and Darwin realized just how sharp the boy actually was.
"But you won't come with me."
"I'll help you, if it's still what you want."
Alex turned to the river, then glanced over again.
"How'd you get the car?"
Darwin rubbed the back of his neck. "Deputy director of the CIA may've requisitioned it for private use."
"Raven?" Darwin nodded. "Girl knows how to make herself useful."
"Girl's just a kid," he said, sharper than he intended, and Alex's smile had it's own kind of edge.
"We're all just kids, man. You're the one who wants to stay."
"Not about wanting to, Alex. Look at how they found us, think they won't find us again if we leave? Think they’ll be quite so friendly about it the next time? Now that they know what we can do?"
There was just a shrug in response, and some more focused river contemplation. Alex didn't even turn around when he spoke again.
“Want to get closer?”
Alex had sat down by then. Not far from the riverbank, just far enough that he was in the grass and out of the mud. Darwin sat next to him, close enough but not too close, not close enough to touch.
Another breeze came across the water, set the leaves above them rustling, and he stared as though he could see where it had come from.
A metallic click at his side made him turn.
Alex was lighting one of the cigarettes he’d bought, bringing it to his lips, taking a drag, and then exhaling. Grey smoke curled out of his mouth and Alex looked up. Caught Darwin's gaze. Held out the cigarette with its red glowing tip.
“Here,” he said, and Darwin didn’t hesitate. He didn’t care what Alex was trying to prove. Their fingers barely brushed but when he brought it to his lips he could feel the wetness of Alex’s mouth for a moment before it was supplanted by his own.
He took his own smoke-filled breath and released it.
It was much less of a reach when Darwin handed the cigarette back. Their arms brushed, and their thighs were pressed against each other.
Alex took his turn, and Darwin tried hard not to watch him, not to study the minute twitch of muscles in his neck and the corners of his lips as he inhaled and exhaled, the slight curl of blond hair over his forehead and the way it fluttered with the light breeze coming off the water. He was too close to watch, really.
Alex handed the cigarette back when he was done and Darwin thought he'd failed, because the warm body against his side was shifting, pulling away, reestablishing the barrier of distance. Which was all right. He was fine with that. He hadn't meant to push.
Alex seemed fine with it too, because all he was doing was lying down. "Didn't get much sleep last night," he said, and the top of his head was pressed to the side of Darwin's thigh, and he craned his neck and looked back at Darwin through his eyelashes.
"Really?" Darwin said, taking his drag and playing with the cigarette for a moment. "'cause I slept like a baby." He wouldn't tonight, that was for sure, but it’d been true enough the night before.
"Good for you, man. Give it."
It took him a moment to realize what Alex meant. Too long a moment, because Alex gave a fondly exasperated huff and reached up. Grabbed Darwin by the wrist, dragged his hand down, and Darwin's fingers grazed Alex's lips for a few seconds before he had the presence of mind to pull his hand back. They'd been dry and rough, he'd had time to register that much.
"It'll kill you," Alex said, conversationally, and Darwin glanced down at him. "Smoking, I mean."
Darwin doubted it, but he played along. "You think?"
"Yeah. Saw it in Readers' Digest once."
A rolling shrug, and a hint of a grin. Alex handed the cigarette up to him and Darwin took it. "Lady from church used to send 'em to me. Gave me somethin' to do in..." There was a cough. "In there."
"Nice of her." He waited to see if Alex would reach for him again, but his eyes seemed to have settled on the sky above them, and his fingers stroked at the grass beside him.
He laughed. "Yeah. Thought it was the Christian thing to do."
In absence of anything to say to that, Darwin brought the momentarily forgotten cigarette to his mouth.
Alex spoke again. "How 'bout you?"
Darwin looked down at him. Alex was smiling, just barely.
"How about me what?"
Darwin laughed as he handed the cigarette over. "When I got time. Not Readers' Digest, though."
Alex snorted a couple of wisps of smoke, and then let his head fall back. He took another drag before stubbing the cigarette out on the grass. "So what, then?"
Darwin shrugged. "What I can get. Newspapers. Poetry. Had a teacher that gave extra credit for reciting, kinda got in the habit then."
"You remember any?"
"Yeah?" Alex's body arched slightly as he reached a hand into the pocket of his very tight jeans, and Darwin became very interested a green light coming from across the river. "Let's hear 'em."
"C'mon." His voice was slightly muffled. Darwin looked back. He had a new cigarette in his mouth, the lighter in one hand, the other cupped around the tip. He lit it and looked up, sudden and grinning. "Give you one of your own."
"I bought them, man, they're all my own."
Alex shrugged, and he was close enough now that his shoulder nudged Darwin's thigh when he did. "Finders keepers."
"Screw you, Summers."
There was a spark, a gleam in Alex's eyes, and he opened his mouth only to be wracked by a coughing fit. He sat up and Darwin was torn between the empathetic ache in his chest, the urge to rub his back in comfort, and the implacable awareness of what he could and could not get away with.
He kept his hands to himself and tried to feel nothing when Alex settled down next to him after he'd quieted.
"C'mon," Alex wheedled, passing the cigarette up. Darwin took it. Inhaled. Fiddled with the white paper with its dark black burning end curling inevitably closer to his fingers.
"Into the furnace let me go alone," he said, staring straight ahead and at the glimmering sheen of the water.
"Stay you without in terror of the heat.
I will go naked in--for thus 'tis sweet--
Into the weird depths of the hottest zone.
I will not quiver in the frailest bone,
You will not note a flicker of defeat;
My heart shall tremble not its fate to meet,"
He stopped. Not because he didn't remember the rest, but because Alex’s gaze on him was palpable, almost branding. A glance down confirmed that he was looking. He was also propped up on his elbows and frowning.
"It's, uh..." Alex seemed at a loss, and Darwin chuckled, shaking his head.
"Yeah," he said. "It is."
Alex exhaled. He flopped back down onto his back, and passed the cigarette up to him.
"Is there more?"
"Can I hear it?"
I don't know, Darwin wanted to say. Can you? But instead he smiled, inhaled, and let out a breath before continuing.
"My heart shall tremble not its fate to meet,
My mouth give utterance to any moan.
The yawning oven spits forth fiery spears;
Red aspish tongues shout wordlessly my name.
Desire destroys, consumes my mortal fears,
Transforming me into a shape of flame.
I will come out, back to your world of tears,
A stronger soul within a finer frame."
They were both quiet after that. The river lapped softly below them, and the wind fluted through the trees. The sound of a car, far off, didn't really startle them, but after it passed time seemed to start again and Alex craned his neck.
"Know any others?"
"Yeah," Darwin said, trying not to sound surprised. "You wanna learn one?"
Alex propped himself up again. "Come on."
"It'll be easy. Trust me."
Alex gave him a look like he was being a damn fool, but only for a moment. Then he smiled, lay back down and shut his eyes. "Hit me."
"Okay. First line's like this: 'Nature's first green is gold.'"
"Nature's first green is gold?" Alex sounded incredulous. Darwin stifled a grin and tried to keep his tone even.
“Yeah. Now, I'm gonna say the next line, but you gotta keep them both in your head. 'Her hardest hue to hold.'"
"'Her hardest hue to hold.' Well, ‘least it rhymes."
"Uh-huh. Makes it easier to remember. Give 'em back to me."
"Natures first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold," and Darwin can practically hear him rolling his eyes.
"'Her early leaf's a flower, but only so an hour.'"
"'Her early leaf's a flower, but only so an hour'. That's two lines, isn't it?"
"Don't matter, let's hear them."
"No, from the beginning."
"Right. Nature's first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold, her early..."
"Leaf's a flower, but only so an hour."
He did, by rote, and Darwin took him through the rest.
"I know what it means," Alex said, sharply, but his face was calm.
"Sorry," he said. Alex turned on his side. Darwin took a couple of drags of the cigarette without getting up the courage to pass it off, and then almost dropped it when Alex spoke again.
"Why were you driving a cab, man?"
"It was a job." He paused. "I needed the money."
"Nah, but you're smart, you coulda...coulda been something else. Coulda gone to school or something. College, I mean."
And been a cab driver with a college degree, he wanted to say. He took a drag instead. "I was planning on it. Saving up."
Alex rolled back over and reached out. Darwin passed the cigarette down. "You still planning on it?"
"You really think we're going back to all that?"
Alex seemed to think about it, staring up at the sky and letting a steady column of smoke escape his lips. "The rest of us, we got not reason to want to, I guess. But you, you got a family, don't you? Got a life. Why'd you end up here?"
Darwin plucked the cigarette from Alex's unresisting fingers and brought it to his mouth. Inhaled. Exhaled. "I was curious. Wanted to...wanted to meet more people like me."
"No one's like you."
Darwin looked down. Alex's eyes were shining and the ends of his lips were curved up. He'd meant it as a compliment.
"Don't I know it," Darwin said. He felt the pressure against his thigh increase. Alex had leaned back against him. The cigarette in his hand was at the filter and he stubbed it out against the grass. Alex pulled the carton out of his jeans again and passed it up, along with the lighter. Darwin lit one, inhaled, and then handed it over. Alex stared at it for a moment before speaking.
"How'd you figure it out? What you can do?"
"Jumped off the George Washington Bridge. You?"
Alex had been in the midst of an inhale. He coughed. Stared up at him for a long while, and Darwin gazed back steadily. Alex looked away first, back to fiddling with the cigarette, and taking another drag from it.
"Blew up a house."
"Right," he plucked the momentarily forgotten cigarette from Alex's unresisting fingertips and inhaled. Exhaled. Waited. Alex's weight was still warm against his thigh and he found himself hoping, irrationally, that it would stay there. "Wanna know why I liked driving the cab?"
"Yeah, man," Alex said, too quickly, and snatched the cigarette back when Darwin offered it.
"People'll tell you anything if they don't have to look you in the eye."
Alex snorted. The smoke got lodged in his throat and gave it a rougher edge, but his head pressed back against Darwin and seemed somehow heavier than before. "That so?"
"Nah," he said. They both laughed. "Mostly they just forget you're there. Get to see a lot about people that way, though. When they're pretending you don't exist." Alex passed the cigarette back to him. He took another drag from it and kept talking. "Had one lady once, drunk, fell asleep right after they put her in. Woke up about a block away from her place and started hitting me, screaming about how I'd kidnapped her."
"Yeah. Managed to convince her she'd gotten in willingly by the time we'd pulled up to her place, but fuck if she hadn't left her purse where I'd picked her up. So you can imagine, no keys, no wallet, no fare."
"What'd you do?"
"Well she was about to throw a brick through her window, or try to, but honestly, man, she couldn't have hit the broad side of a barn at that point. Then she wanted me to climb up the fire-escape to let her in, can you imagine? Nineteen year old black boy sneaking up some white lady's balcony at four in the morning? 'What would you do' she asked me, like I would be in that damn position to begin with."
He stopped himself, and glanced down. Alex was staring at him, and he couldn't entirely get a read on his expression.
"What?" Darwin asked, more adversarial than he normally would be, but his skin was still too warm, and Alex blinked and looked away.
"Nothing. Just...that must've...that's such shit, man, I'm sorry."
Darwin was at a loss. Perhaps he should've been grateful at the sympathy, but all he did was shrug. "Could have been worse. Would've just said screw it over the money, but I wasn't about to leave some drunk white lady wandering the streets, right?"
"You get the fare?"
"Yeah. Some cat who lived in the building recognized her and let her in, then paid me, all chivalrous-like."
"Bet he wanted to fuck her."
Darwin glanced back down. Alex's mouth was twisted into a pretty ugly smirk, but there was so much honesty in it that Darwin found it endearing.
"Bet you're right."
Alex's eyes darted back to his face, and his brow furrowed. Those damn blond strands tickled over his forehead and Darwin swallowed the momentary urge to brush them back. Alex stared for a few moments more before returning his gaze to the river. Darwin passed the cigarette back down to him, and then began to speak again.
"Man wanted me to help him committee suicide once," he said, staring straight ahead. Alex didn't move at all, but there was a light cough. "Picked him up off Madison Avenue and he just got in, cool as anything, handed me a gun and five hundred bucks and a note."
"How'd you turn him down?"
"Why d'you think I did?" he glanced down and Alex hadn't even bothered to turn to look at him.
"Because I know you."
"Man, you met me all of two days ago."
"I know you, and you wouldn't." There was a ferocity there that seemed awfully convincing, and yet it was all Darwin could do to keep from laughing. Alex inhaled deep from their cigarette and exhaled slow. "I wish I'd known you longer."
"Wouldn'ta been so scared. Wouldn'ta done what I did."
"What did you do?"
There was a low and not unfamiliar dark chuckle.
"We got time."
Alex sighed and stared out at the water. He handed the cigarette up and Darwin took it.
"Told you I blew up a house, right?"
"Well. There was people in it at the time." Darwin tried to pass the cigarette back, but Alex waved him off. "I didn't...I didn't mean to. But once it was done, well, shit, I ran. Tried to figure it out, you know?"
"Yeah." He said, because he did, and because merely nodding wouldn't do any good with Alex's gaze still focused on the river.
"Did it--Did it a coupla more times. For practice. And it felt..." there was a choked, low sound that might have been a chuckle. "It felt good. Like I...like I didn't have to be scared, like I could do something when--when I had to. And I was...was so fucking proud of myself. But-" his voice cracked. "The police found me. And I...I couldn't control it."
There was a pause. Alex shifted, till his neck curved over Darwin's thigh. His voice was cold when he spoke again.
"It was too much for me. Passed out. And when I came to, heard about all the people I'd--"
"Shh," the cigarette was back in his mouth, leaving his hand free to run through Alex's hair, to thread through those light strands. Alex let him, kept still as Darwin's fingers traced over his scalp, and then his head turned and Darwin found himself with his palm against Alex's forehead. Which was warm, almost feverish.
"I run hot," Alex said, unbidden, sounding hoarse and not just from smoking.
"I know." Because he did. He remembered. The corners of Alex's mouth twitched, and Darwin actually felt the furrows in his brow relax as he traced his fingers along them. The sound of the river, the water tripping over the rocks, wasn't loud enough to keep his own heartbeat out of his ears. Alex twisted again, had his cheek nuzzling against Darwin's thigh, his breaths blooming warm and wet against Darwin's knee. Or he might've been imagining that, he probably wouldn't have been able to feel it, but he would've sworn he did. His hand has slipped down to rest on the side of Alex's neck, and he could feel his pulse. Steady, strong, building rhythm and he didn't know what to make of that.
He knew better than to let his hand stay where it was, though.
"This one's almost done," he said, reaching up and removing the cigarette from his mouth, reaching for his back pocket with his other hand. "Got a couple more left, if you want--"
He was off balance. That was his excuse. Because usually he was a hell of a lot more sturdy, if not actually gracefully, and it was hardly the first time he'd been barreled into and knocked flat on his back by a pissed-off troublemaker trying to pick a fight. Which is what Alex, flat on top of him and breathing heavy, had to be doing. Should have been doing. Picking a fight. Stirring up shit. But Darwin knew that wasn't it, knew it had been coming since the night before, and took a breath.
"You sure about this?"
Alex smiled, grim and determined. It wasn't exactly flattering, but Darwin had other concerns.
"Been sure about this since yesterday."
He wanted to laugh at that. He couldn’t.
“Okay.” He took another breath. It was difficult to do, what with the weight on him, but he wasn't about to move. "'cause that's not what you said before."
Alex ducked his head.
"I’m-- I-- Didn't mean it."
Then why'd you say it, but that was a lost cause, so he just swallowed and said, as kindly as he could, "You mean this?"
Alex shifted against him, his hands tentative on Darwin's cheeks, his chest hot. Darwin wanted to shut his eyes but at the same time felt he should stay alert, and he could see just enough of Alex's face to know he was searching for something.
Darwin nodded. Waited. Looked up at him, then let his eyes close.
And then opened them, after seconds stretched without change, with only the steady warm weight of Alex on top of him and breathing heavy. He seemed petrified.
Darwin started to sit up, to reach a hand out to stroke at whatever he could reach. "It's--"
"I want to," Alex snapped, and Darwin leaned back and let his palms fall onto the grass. The blades were cold and sharp and the ground underneath them felt damp. He felt Alex inhale and looked up to see him shaking his head. "I--"
He stilled. His mouth shut. Darwin let his hand linger underneath Alex's jacket, his thumb tracing the line of his ribs through his shirt, the rest of his fingers wrapped around his torso.
“All right?” he said, and Alex nodded. He let his other hand brush up Alex’s neck and through his hair. Kept it there as he watched Alex’s eyelashes flutter, and then leaned up.
Kissed him on the cheek. Alex let out a strangled gasp and turned his head.
Kissed the corner of his mouth, and Alex followed him.
The full contact was all bumped noses and shaky breaths. He surged into it without thinking. Alex fell back and they rolled. Then Alex was underneath him, body hot and cheeks flushed, and it was almost enough, looking down at him like that, to distract Darwin from the fact that it’d been entirely the wrong thing to do. Because it was as if Alex had frozen beneath him, gone entirely rigid, and his breathing took on a worrying edge.
“Hey, man,” he said, urgently, and Alex blinked. His eyes focused on Darwin’s face and the corners of his mouth strained.
“It’s fine, I’m fine,” Darwin could feel Alex’s hands scrambling as he spoke, his fingers digging into Darwin's sides as if to anchor himself. “Fine,” he choked out, and his head shot up. Their foreheads bumped and Darwin rolled off.
“Shit,” he said, even though it hadn’t exactly hurt. He glanced over to where Alex had been and barely caught sight of him scrambling on top again.
And then Darwin found himself pinned down, with elbows pressing his shoulders to the ground and Alex’s thighs straddling his hips. He opened his mouth to speak only to find a surplus tongue in there impeded his ability to do so. It was jarring and not entirely pleasant, but when Alex broke the kiss Darwin found himself missing the frenzied, burning focus of it.
“Sorry,” he felt Alex mumble, and reached up to stroke at his sides in reassurance. There was a brief smile of acknowledgment at the gesture, then he was being kissed again.
He let his arms wrap around Alex, felt his body curve closer till their chests brushed with each alternating inhale. Alex’s hands were still cradling his head as he kissed him, quick wet kisses that made his grip on Alex’s waist tighten. He kept trying to draw him closer and Alex kept pressing in, but it was just that, just pressure without any friction or rhythm. His hips strained, but he tried to keep himself in check. Alex pulled back. Stared at him for a long moment, bright, wild eyes raking across Darwin's features, and then his head dropped again.
He felt wet kisses down his throat and Alex’s forehead nuzzling down his chest. Darwin registered his body sliding before he made full sense of it, and once he did he grabbed Alex’s shoulder.
“You...you done this before?”
Alex looked furious at him for a moment and then forced a smirk. “I was in prison.”
It was his turn to freeze. Alex frowned and rolled his eyes and looked everywhere but at him as Darwin sat up. And it was strange, because Alex was basically in his lap and he could smell the cigarette smoke on his lips and he hadn't moved away, but there was a distance now and Darwin didn't know how to breach it.
“Alex," he tried, but got no further.
“This isn't about that, you know?” Alex said, voice cool. He glanced up and Darwin could see a quiet flicker of rage in his light eyes. “It…it doesn’t have to be. I want to.”
"Okay," he said, and it was.
"Yeah?" Alex breathed, the corners of his mouth twitching, his body already curving closer, and Darwin nodded.
"Yeah." He reached over and ran his hands down the edges of Alex's jacket. "Let's get this off you, all right?"
"Hell, yeah," and he sounded like himself again, like he wanted to sound, probably, as he let Darwin peel off the black leather and drop it to the grass.
Then they were looking at each other again, until Alex shut his eyes. Darwin leaned in, making as much noise as he could, letting his breaths linger on Alex’s lips before kissing him. As he did, he dropped his other hand to the side of Alex’s neck. Slide it down his chest. Pushed, gently, and was met with tense resistance. He drew back.
Alex blinked, grabbed at the front of his shirt, and pulled him in again.
“Shit,” he mumbled. He dragged Darwin to the ground with him, sliding his arm around Darwin’s waist, thrusting his thigh between Darwin’s legs. Looked up at him with darkened eyes and Darwin couldn’t have pulled away if he wanted to.
He slid his hand up to the side of Alex’s neck instead. Leaned over to kiss him, full on, and felt the body underneath him tense, but only for a second. Alex’s mouth worked against his fervently. There was a great degree of teeth involved, and then tongue, and he succumbed to the temptation to reach up and run his fingers through Alex’s hair. Alex made a low, reverberating sound and Darwin felt his mouth curve.
He was smiling, Darwin realized, and he had to smile back. Alex’s hips jerked up against his thigh and he ground down against him in response. He kept his fingers in Alex’s hair and dragged his mouth down to Alex’s neck.
Alex grunted and thrust up against him again, his neck curving and allowing Darwin to follow the column of his throat.
“Yeah,” Alex mumbled. Darwin could feel his hands stroking his back and side, his hips stuttering and his erection rubbing against Darwin’s thigh.
“Okay?” he managed in between wet, sucking kisses to Alex’s throat, feeling him tremble, feeling his pulse throb.
“Mm,” was all he got in response and that was fine. He let go of Alex’s hair with some reluctance. Let his hand find its way down along Alex’s chest as it expanded and contracted rapidly with each panted breath, then over his stomach, which quivered beneath the worn t-shirt and pressed against his palm as Alex arched up again.
He was wearing a belt. Darwin needed both hands for that, or at least enough distance to focus, but when he tried to retreat he found himself being flipped onto his back again.
"I'll get it," Alex said, roughly. Straddling him, still breathing as if he'd run very far, very fast, and Darwin watched him. His hands fumbled with the belt at first but unbuckled it hastily. Darwin reached over to help with the buttons and zipper, and Alex heaved a sigh. Leaned back, letting his erection press into Darwin's palm, his hips jerking up and the friction made Darwin buck up against him. Alex gave a choked, grinning gasp and leaned in again, pressing tight.
His weight was impossibly hot and solid and nothing had ever felt quite as real as that, to Darwin. That moment, that tenuous, reckless, tender moment, that foolish connection they were exploiting out in the open air with a moon bright enough above them to illuminate their faces to each other, and the unmistakable give and thrust and slide of their bodies to anyone passing by.
But, and he really didn't think of it often enough, didn't think of it then except in the back of his mind, what was anyone going to do about it?
To him, basically invincible, to Alex, perhaps not as dangerous as a man with nothing to fear but not far from it. The boldness he'd long avoided sparked deep within him and Alex's body seemed to catch fire as well. Shaking like a burning leaf, kissing him like he was afraid of what would happen if he stopped, he moved against Darwin with desperate arrhythmic force.
And then he stopped.
Pulled back just enough to look at him. The breaths between them steamed in the crisp autumn air, and Darwin raised his eyebrows as Alex stared. Swallowed. Blinked, then laughed and shook his head.
“I'm just. Are we.” Alex ducked his chin and then glanced back up. "We good?" Darwin nodded carefully.
"Yeah, man," he said, and, against his better judgment, added: "Always."
Alex smiled. Just barely, just the right corner of his mouth quirking up and no teeth at all. His eyes were soft and glowing, a dawning day. His hair was mussed, light strands of gold falling over his forehead. Darwin reached up and tucked them back. Alex’s eyes shut as he leaned into the touch, and that, the warmth of his skin against Darwin’s palm, was the most real thing he’d ever felt.
"What? Yeah. 'course it is."
"It's not what your mama called you, I mean."
He laughed, surprising himself as much as Alex, who grinned in return as Darwin answered. "My mama didn't call me anything. My father named me."
"Yeah?" Alex looked expectant, and in that moment, it didn't seem that much to give. Darwin sighed.
"Armando,” Alex drawled, savoring it, and Darwin could tell he was being stared at again. He turned his head; Alex had done the same, and Darwin watched him roll onto his side. There was a coy glimmer in Alex's eyes, a looseness to his grin and his voice that he’d never seen before. "Armando Muñoz. Nice. I like it. It's exotic."
Darwin shrugged. There was a reason he didn't use it. Alex's expression softened. He reached out, hesitant, until Darwin nodded, and then draped a possessive arm across his chest and dropped his chin onto Darwin's shoulder. Darwin wrapped an arm around Alex’s back and stroked his hand down Alex's side.
"We gotta head back soon?"
Darwin chuckled. "Yeah. Soon."
"How long'll it take?"
"'bout fifteen minutes."
"What?" Alex sputtered, and Darwin didn't hold back his laughter even though it must have been jostling the hell out of him. "The fuck, man! We just go in circles or what?"
"One big circle," he said, and noticed that Alex hadn't moved away. If anything, he seemed to have curled closer. "Means we could stay here longer, though. If you want."
"Sure," Alex said, finally, and Darwin couldn’t see his face, but his indignant tone had melted into something a lot harder to place. He felt a low sigh bloom against his shoulder and he rubbed Alex’s back. Felt the words vibrate between them when they came. "Just for a while."