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While You Live

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O, while you live, tell truth and shame the devil!

--Harry Hotspur, Henry IV (Part I) by William Shakespeare

 

If Cram was right in saying that Hal needs him to be the bad man, to be Hal’s dumping ground for all of the things he despises most about what he is, Hal thinks that perhaps it only stands to reason that he needs a man of the opposite nature to want to emulate. For over fifty-five years, Leo was this man, and then one day he was gone. Fifty-five years of quiet, unwavering belief. The memories are still potent, and Hal knows he could never forget what Pearl and Leo did for him if he tried. If he were to snap tomorrow and revert, he could not forget.

There was Tom, then, with the same curse, the same selflessness and determination. Tom should have slid easily into the gap left by Leo’s death. But Hal has been forced to learn over and over again that staying good and abstaining is never easy, never simple.

Avoid touch-- a prelude to sex, a prelude to death. Stay detached. Do not trust your instincts and your feelings at any costs. The tenets are hard, but they are simple. This is how Hal stays clean, and does not further contribute to the chaos and cruelty of the world. So far it has worked, more or less.

Things change, though, and Hal never found himself quite at Leo’s throat the way he has with Tom. A punch, a power struggle, every snarl between the two is fraught with something and Hal thinks that something is going to boil over one of these days. It terrifies him. Self-deception is not his strongest talent, but compartmentalizing memory and emotion has become a well-honed skill.

“I can’t understand how you’d even want to go dry as a vampire,” Alex says quietly to him when it’s just the two of them at the table one day, Hal reading the paper. “I mean, why? You were nearly 500 when you met Leo and got sober.  You were an Old One. Every other vampire I’ve met, which is admittedly not nearly the batshit insane number you and Tom have dealt with, seemed to just revel in being evil.”

Hal doesn’t know what to say. He puts down the paper and looks at her. She’s drawing circles on the wood with her fingertip, waiting for his answer. He watches the motion, round and round. When he speaks, it is slow. “It seems to me that as a vampire gets older, their ambitions change. When you become an Old One, it represents merely…a status shift. You have seen empires rise and fall, technology once impossible to even imagine spring to life, and through it all, both human and vampire nature remains the same. It becomes easier to predict and to manipulate over time. All vampires play the long game, and the Old Ones were the best. It’s not about age, but about wisdom. History repeats itself, and after a while on the ride you grow weary. It’s either politics or hedonism into which vampires funnel their insatiability, and gradually the point begins to become less and less clear.”

Alex takes this in. “So, if I’m misunderstanding this, then correct me, but are you saying you decided to do the right thing because you were bored?” Her brow is furrowed, her arms crossed.

She’s sharper than he gives her credit for, and consistently surprising him. “That’s quite a blunt way of putting it,” he replies, “but not entirely inaccurate. World-weariness is one thing. You get to a point where very few things surprise you. But finally, you realize there is something you haven’t experienced-- the polar opposite of the life you have led. I was cutting swathes through continents, but people still hoped. They still believed. That sort of strength was something I couldn’t understand. I wanted to know it, and to possess it.”

He tries, anyway. He rails against his nature, and he tries.

 

When Hal kills Larry Chrysler, he finds that he can only regret his actions and not the loss of the man himself. He remembers the way Tom’s face had looked, sobbing and broken, and he knows with utmost certainty that he cannot be sorry for the source of that grief being dead. The way Tom is quiet and subdued in the days after makes Hal burn with frustration.  He wants to grab Tom and press him against the nearest wall with his body and whisper in his ear about how he killed the bastard for him, how he’d do it all over again. He wants Tom to understand what that means and to shiver with it. He dreams of Tom, pressed against the wall and pressed against him, kissing Hal with the same ferocity of their fights, grateful and aroused. Of Tom wanting Hal, despite a history of the most intense cruelty and the risk of it repeating.

But Tom is a good man in the most profound sense, and Hal sometimes can barely look him in the eye. He goes to work with him, he stays clean and he does not think about what he wants too much.

On a meaningless Thursday after their shifts have finished, the two come home together. Tom is chattering on about a particularly demanding hotel guest’s bizarre requests and Hal is not listening. Hal is instead trying very hard not to think of the girl who had come in asking if she could park in the back lot if she wasn’t staying at the hotel. Her smile was nearly a smirk, and when she leaned in to answer that it really was a shame she wasn’t staying here if the staff all looked like him, he could smell the faintest hint of perfume on her neck, her hair pulled to the side to expose it. He had needed to excuse himself with an imagined urgent task, and had stayed locked in an empty room for ten minutes in an effort to compose himself. He tried not to remember the smell of the girl’s perfume and the curve where neck met shoulder and how he could almost hear her heartbeat. Blocking it from his mind proved unsuccessful, but he had made it through the day and back home.

Hal sits on the couch and Tom’s chatter is merely white noise in the background and Hal is shaking. Killing Chrysler has already let the worst of him slip to the surface and forcing that back under is proving an unmanageable task—he cannot stop thinking about the girl, about how he should have pulled her into a room and drained her dry. Killed the entire hotel, even. His body aches for it, and the thing inside him feels as if it’s about to claw its way through his chest.

“Tom,” he says suddenly, and the word is broken and pitiful. Tom stops mid-sentence and comes from around the table to look at him. He stands in front of Hal on the sofa and takes him in, this shaking figure. His eyes aren’t even here.

“Hal,” he says in a low and careful voice. “What’s goin’ on, mate? Do you need me to do somethin’?”

Hal laughs at this, but there’s no actual amusement in it. Tom thinks it sounds more like a man in shock after an injury. He leans down to look into Hal’s face, pale white and his body radiating tension.

“Hal, look at me,” Tom intones. “I’m right here.”  He tries to look Hal in the eyes, but the man is staring off to the distance and Tom can tell his mind is somewhere far away. Hal’s hands and legs are shaking, fingers tapping a manic rhythm against each other.

Tom doesn’t really understand what’s going on but he gets the sense that Hal needs to be pulled back and grounded. He hesitates, but places one hand on Hal’s shaking knee and says again, “Hal, look at me.  You’re alright, mate.”

Nothing changes except that Hal makes that not-laugh again and Tom reaches out on impulse. He puts his other hand on Hal’s face and turns it toward his own, making Hal look him in the eyes. “You’re home. You’re safe. I’m here.” He has no idea if he’s saying or doing the right thing. He’s not even sure what’s happening.

With Tom’s touch, Hal seems to suddenly register reality again. His rapid shaking stops and he looks at Tom, really looks at him, and Tom smiles gently. “Hey mate.”

Hal’s head is spinning and it’s suddenly not with bloodlust or the feeling of spiraling rapidly out of control of his own body. Tom is touching him. With tenderness, no less. Hal wants to cry.

Instead, he leans forward and bunches his hands into the shoulders of the other man’s shirt. “Tom,” he says again, but the sound is entirely different. There’s something desperate about it and Tom frowns, pulls his hand back.

He doesn’t have time to do anything else before Hal’s lips are pressed against his own, uncertain and soft.

Tom is saying “oh,” even as he begins thinking it when Hal pulls himself back. Hal won’t look at him. He is staring intensely at the floor. Tom feels something click into place but he still doesn’t totally understand. It feels right but he never thought, never imagined Hal wanting anything like this—how the hell could he have been such a bloody idiot?

“Oh, Hal,” he says it almost with disbelief and even Hal can’t hide how his face falls with devastation. It’s like watching a mask fall off. Tom sees this, and he lets out a sound of frustration, grabs Hal’s face again and says, “Hang on, this is--I’m the biggest bloody idiot on the face of the planet. I’m doin’ this wrong.”

It’s Hal’s turn not to understand, and when his brow furrows and he opens his mouth to speak, Tom leans in and kisses him. Again. Properly.  With tongue. Hal feels like he is burning up, from being adrift in himself to entirely conscious of his body. Tom is kissing him, and it’s wonderful, and he can’t process it. Where the fuck did Tom learn to kiss like this anyway, all eager and open?

Tom breaks away to breathe and Hal speaks first, needing to speak. “I have wanted this for too long a time. If you are going to keep kissing me, you need to know that. You need to understand that I need you, not your pity, Tom.”

“Good,” Tom murmurs, and then his mouth is on Hal’s again. Hal surges forward, hands on the small of Tom’s back, pulling him in. Tom moves forward then and straddles Hal, pressing their bodies together with no sense of hesitation. Hal gasps.

“Alrigh’ mate?” Tom pulls away and looks at him, worried.

“Don’t stop,” Hal’s voice is low and it still sounds desperate, but in an entirely different way. “Please.”

Tom lets out a little laugh and kisses under Hal’s jaw. Hal groans and it makes Tom grin—that’s him, making Hal sound like that. It’s unreal and Hal is looking at him like he can’t really believe his luck. Their mouths meet again, bodies pressed together, Tom’s hands mussing Hal’s hair and Hal’s hands on Tom’s hips.

Hal thought he’d want Tom to kiss him fierce and hard and ungentle but this—this is so much better. It’s like Tom’s trying to reassure him with each press of open mouth on his. Still, there is no sense of innocence there, which Hal is grateful for, or the shame would eat him alive. The slow burn of this thing between them has made it impossible to control and subdue. He is hard and aching, and if the feel of Tom against him is to be trusted, he’s not the only one.

Hal doesn’t want to overstep a boundary and isn’t quite sure what he can do, what Tom wants. The secret, worst part of him wants to fuck Tom right there on the floor with no sense of caution or trust. He feels the flare of lust hit him at the thought, but buries it and presses Tom closer instead.  Tom shifts, and it must feel good because he lets out this sort of gasping breath against Hal’s open mouth.

That’s it, then. Hal pulls away to speak, their mouths still only centimeters apart. “Tom, should we stop? This is…I don’t want anything to get out of hand.”

“Hal,” Tom says like he’s frustrated. “If ya need us to stop, we’ll stop, but if you’re askin’ if I want you to stop then no. No. Instead, you should stop bein’ a wally and kiss me again.” 

He obliges gladly and pulls Tom back into place, gets his mouth back on him like it’s painful to be away.

“Holy hell,” a voice sounds from behind them. Hal freezes, and Tom pulls away to look over his shoulder.

“Er. Hi, Alex,” he says it like she’s just caught them stealing. Hal wants very much to disappear.

“Hey, Tom. Hey, Hal,” he can practically hear her grin. “Interesting day, boys?”

Tom gingerly pulls himself off Hal and stands up. Hal pointedly does not want to turn around, but he’s not going to leave Tom to drown in the embarrassment alone. He stands up slowly, arms rigid at his sides and turns to look at Alex. The grin is even larger than he imagined.

“Well, uh…” Tom shifts on his feet. “Yeah. Yeah, guess so.”

She lets out an extremely unladylike guffaw and hoists herself onto a bar stool, shaking her head. “God, you two are bloody adorable.”

That’s not what Hal was expecting. “Sorry, adorable?” He can barely keep the indignation from his voice.

It just gives Alex cause to grin again. “Yeah, you two have been dancing around each other since I pretty much met you, and it’s just gotten more intense since your whole detox thing. Sometimes I’ve thought of lighting some candles and locking you two in a room at the hotel but I figured it’d just make you more annoyed than anything.”

Hal doesn’t know what to say to that. Alex saves him the trouble and continues to speak.

“Honestly, the pair of you are so thick I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen at this rate.” Her grin falls, though, and she frowns and then groans. “Oh, and now I’ve gone and cockblocked you! Shit. Sorry about that. I’ll piss off and you two can have your privacy, yeah?”

Tom and Hal look at each other. Tom is wringing his hands. Hal sighs and speaks first. “The apology is appreciated, but unnecessary, Alex. You did nothing wrong.”

She laughs again. “Please, if I was in someone’s lap kissing them like that, like we were two seconds away from shagging on the sofa and someone interrupted me I’d go mental…oh my god, look at you two blush.” She claps her hands and practically crows. “Seriously? Adorable.”

“Alex, this is dead embarrassin’,” Tom mutters.

She stifles a laugh. “Yeah, sorry. I’ll go read or something, leave you two alone.” She mouths “adorable” one more time and disappears.

There is a fraught silence for a moment, with just him and Tom. When Hal breaks it, he does so tentatively. “Perhaps tomorrow we could go to dinner. Out. Together. We could…could do this correctly.”

Tom grins. “Are ya sayin’ ya want to court me, properly an’ all? Because ya don’t need to, Hal.”

Hal thinks about that. “I want to do anything that makes you want to kiss me like that again. I don’t want to just be your co-worker, your mate. I am deeply afraid I will hurt you, but I want to do everything I can to make you happy and to make that fear not come to fruition. I want you in any way you’ll have me,” he says, trying to be entirely honest. If he can’t tell Tom what he’s done, what he’s so afraid is already happening, then he at least wants to tell him the truth about how he feels. He wants to not have to run and hide, this time. He wants to stand in Tom’s sun, let it make him into a better man.

Tom grins. “You’ve got me, then,” he says. “I’m here. Ya don’t have to be scared.”

Hal kisses him in response. He wishes Tom is right. Maybe, before everything inevitably goes wrong, there can be this one good thing. Maybe that will be good enough to matter.