A single gunshot.
Mark had been hit before, when Tom was drunk, when Tom was mad, when Tom felt like it. He was barely getting over the head injury and that red-eyed rhino was charging at him, ramming into his soft boned skull over and over and he thought he was going to die. When Tom was done, he left Mark in the corner of his bedroom with blood dribbling from his face in sheets.
It hurt to sob. It hurt to breathe.
He wanted to leave but Tom had the apartment in lockdown with an energy that kept the door handles locked without him even being in the room. Mark knew that he couldn’t be quiet enough to leave. He had to wait until the energy became a standstill, Tom passed out on the couch with his beer trickling out over the carpet.
A branch crunches.
He called first. Then walked the whole way, stumbling because Tom made sure to go for the head but he got his back and legs too. He tried to hurry because Jack’s waiting, and every pickup that screeched down the wet road curled his spine, turned him inward, his stomach riling, bile rising, until the vehicle passed and never turns back.
He was glad no one stopped to help a beat up boy who can’t walk straight because he didn’t want anyone to ask any questions.
“Are you okay?” Jack asked.
Soft fingers touched his jawbone, a painful spark, a recollection of a time in their hideout. Dusty, termites crawling in the wooden furniture. Lips on his. Their belts locking together as they ground into each other. The time spent. The friction great. The kiss no better but passionate and hungry and sloppy in a satisfying way when the heat got too much. It was the dampness in Jack’s pants that brought him over the edge like a fucking fourteen year old too hyper to hold back, too incensed to care.
He pushed away.
The cough syrup kicked in, made him feel sluggish. The pain that throbbed around his head in a red bandana began to dissolve. But not completely. It hit him again in swings, like the tide crashing on a gently sloped beach. Foam fanning out across the sand, then receding, a temporary relief.
Jack came back in the room with a floral dress on and plum lips and he hadn’t actually meant it, but it was funny. He let this person kiss him, lipstick kissing bruises on bruises, the life ebbing out of him. He knew from the moment he woke up it was the day he was going to die.
A body hits the forest floor.
“Are you okay?” Jack asks but it comes out a scream.
The canopies above are endless. Green webs, interwoven, layer upon layer, fading until they’re so fine into the atmosphere that he can’t make out the network of twigs anymore. It mirrors the membranes. Sarah showed him a picture one time. The brain, a bunch of synapses and blood cells and electricity sparking all over the place. So much quiet energy. A level of modesty extending from his cold depths to the burning sun. And Jack is in there with him, crawling around an endless jungle, a smile on his face just because he gets to hold Mark’s hand.
Tom stares blankly. His furious face slack. They should call for help, but better to let him rot.
They don’t do anything to cover their tracks. They don’t wipe their fingerprints or make it look like a suicide. They could call it self-defence but who would believe them? So they have to run.
The bruises fade, slowly, and it doesn’t hurt anymore when Jack leaves love bites over Mark’s neck. Or it does, with a different kind of hurt. An ache, of love, that makes his whole body fill with brightness and weightlessness and like he’s rising through the canopies, floating invincible from the lightning storm that barrage their world.
Jacks’ fingers drum over Mark’s ribs, heat jumping between each bone, flat stomachs sliding together, love so hard he cries. Jack so tender and sweet, so easy and forgiving. Mark makes mistakes because he’s sensitive to the energy that shadows the places they run. He acts out. He fights. He smashes things worse than a bottle of beer. He attributes it to residual negativity from Tom which clings to him like a disease. Poisons what he sees.
But Jack’s always there to ground him, helps him grow. Helps him find the next branch, helps him breath, and live, and love better. He fights less, he smashes less. He never hurts Jack. He only hurts himself because he wanted Tom dead but did he deserve to die?
They run to the other side of the country. Change their hair. Change their clothes. But they don’t change who they are, or who they are to each other. That only strengthens, with time. Mark needs Jack more than he ever knew. He loves him with all of his heart, and yet, they’re in this mess all because of what Mark did to Tom. What kind of life could they have if Mark never fired that gun? Could Jack live a crime-free life?
Years go by. Time turned simple in the spin of a spanner at a mechanic’s, for Mark. Aged care for Jack. They don’t know what happened to Sarah. Or Jack’s Mom. And they probably never will.
At home in their one bedroom, they lie together, their bodies entangled in hot sweat and Jack pushing into him, softly, slowly, encouraging Mark to open up. And he does, for Jack, it’s hard to be honest but he’s honest so those bruises don’t come back beneath the scars Tom left on his skin. He shares himself with Jack and kisses him and fucks and gets fucked and Jack’s hot seed ebbs out of him as he lays panting on Jack’s chest. Arms tight. Lips trembling with fervour and gratitude.
Jack pats Mark’s hair, presses a kiss on his crown, and hums a song Sarah used to sing.
Life gets easier, slowly, because they’re together, Mark thinks, and their love is so strong. And no one finds out what they did in the forest that humid afternoon.