Pinpricks of light are the only point of reference in the darkness around him, scattered like stars. He's staring at a small chalkboard like the kind he remembered using in school, flat with a green top scarred by chalk dust, but instead of sums and figures he sees only spirals; all different sizes, traced over and over on the board. But as he stares at it, he realizes that it's not chalk at all, but a strange, white plant. The spirals are stems, vines, tendrils of matter curling and moving, growing up out of the board, ever changing.
The board is turning, rotating lazily, and the underside slowly spins into view. The roots of the plant twist and bulge out into tight, round pustules that fluoresce with an eerie blue green light. He's cold, suddenly, completely freezing, staring as the top of the plant turns into tiny buildings rising up off the chalkboard. The board continues to spin slowly, but one of the globes on the roots started to swell, throbbing and stretching, and it finally bursts into a shower of dust and tiny bricks and stone that rain out into nothingness.
The images get stranger after that - running down a warped corridor after a floating book, the buildings around him slantwise or crumbling. A billboard with a blond pin-up girl in a bikini, her mouth opening, jaw dropping until she's grotesquely deformed, mouth a black, sucking hole. There's giant black insects hiding their guise behind long black trench coats and Noh masks, the air around them filled with the most horrible clicking.
In the nightmare, the darkness turns to light. It turns to pain and incomprehensible voices, to a rhythmic beeping, to something sharp piercing his skin. In the midst of the cold there's a single spot of warmth, of touch. Someone's hand on his own. It gives him something to focus on, gives him clarity, and finally he lets his body relax into a dreamless sleep.
When he finally awoke, the world was foggy and slow, and he felt a bit like he was wading through glue. He was in a white bed in a white room and he was cold, and it took him a few minutes of staring at the blankets and the tube in his arm and contemplating his lack of clothes before his mind woke up enough to supply the realization. Hospital.
There was a young man curled in the chair at the side of his bed, his blue uniform rumpled, features sweet and familiar in the morning sun that streamed through the hospital window. Assistant, said the rational part of his mind. But something deeper, something far stronger pulled at him, and he remembered the warmth of the man's lips, the beauty of his bare form stretched out in his own bed. Lover.
He reached for the boy with the hand not bogged down by the IV, touching his arm. "Leon."
The boy jerked awake, startled for a moment before focusing on him. Then the surprise turned into overwhelming relief and joy, blue eyes suddenly bright with unshead tears, and both of his hands closed around the one he'd reached out with. "Frank." His name was almost a sob on Leon's lips, and he swallowed hard, looking very much like he wanted to do more than just cling to his hand.
"Come here," he murmured, tugging the young man towards the bed. His muscles felt strangely weak.
Leon's lips parted, and he glanced back towards the door to the room, which was closed. "Sir, there's no lock - "
"Just for a moment," he replied, giving another little tug. He wrapped his arms around Leon as he perched on the edge of the bed and leaned down to curl against his chest, trembling. Frank's memories were beginning to come a little clearer, and while he still had no idea how he'd landed in the hospital, that mystery wasn't nearly as important as comforting Leon. "How are you here?" He asked softly, stroking a hand over Leon's hair, smoothing down his back over the crumpled uniform.
Leon let out a long breath, slowly calming under his touch. "After what happened, they wanted a twenty-four hour guard on you. Just in case. I volunteered for the night shift." He gave a soft chuckle. "Not like I have much to do at the office with you gone."
"Thank you," Frank replied, nuzzling his hair. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
"I knew you wouldn't leave me, sir," Leon replied softly, drawing back to brush his lips against Frank's. His voice still sounded a little uncertain, though, and Frank found himself searching his memories, wondering what had actually happened and how long he'd been unconscious.
"I won't leave you," he replied softly, bringing a hand up to cup Leon's face as he pulled back a little. "How long have I been out?"
His lover swallowed hard. "Almost a week."
The fear was justified, then. Frank gave a little nod. "And how did it happen?"
Leon looked a little troubled at that, moving back to the chair he'd been sitting in. "You don't remember, sir?"
Frank tried again to think back. It was much easier to remember Leon than it was to remember what had happened to lead him here. There was a case, his memories supplied. A serial killer. A little sultry lounge singer and a timid blonde psychiatrist with a secret, and.... "Murdoch."
Leon gave a little nod, still looking troubled. "It wasn't Murdoch, though, he's been written off as a frame job. They found the real killer when they found you, on the banks of the river. A John Doe, albino. Bald. But the fingerprints match the ones from the hotel crime scene and the most recent killing that you found, sir, and witnesses identified him when he broke into the precinct. You really don't remember any of it?"
Something stirred in his memory, pale, bald men with knives, dressed in long black coats and hats. "Perhaps. I'm not sure, it's all...." He gave Leon an apologetic smile. "I think I know the man, but everything else is a blank."
Leon nodded slowly, looking more worried. "The doctors said he must have tried to asphyxiate you somehow. They weren't sure if you'd wake up, or even if you did... what you'd be like."
Brain damage. Frank frowned a little, understanding the words unsaid. "I think I'm all right," he said slowly, thinking back farther. He could remember the case, pouring over details and photos of the crime scene and the barely salvageable notes from Walinski's disaster area of an office. He could remember working other cases with Leon - Officer Husslebeck, when they were at work - he could remember teaching his assistant the kind of forensic knowledge you could only really pick up in the field. He remembered their meeting, the ache of love and desire and longing, trying so hard to resist him before finally giving in regardless of the consequences. The little things he'd do when no one was watching to remind Leon that he was loved. And he most definitely remembered their time alone....
"I'm all right," he reassured, squeezing Leon's hand again. "There's some things that might take a while to come back to me, but I remember the important things. I expect the chief wants to debrief me, will you let him know I can see him whenever he's ready?"
Leon just stared at him, however, his eyes wide and sorrowful. "I can't," he said softly, hand tightening on Frank's. "However our serial killer got into the precinct, it didn't end well. The chief is dead."
The shock of it left Frank speechless, and before he could manage to reply there was a knock at the door. Leon's hand pulled from his quickly, and the doctor that came in to find him awake put into motion a whirlwind of a day that didn't give Frank much time to think. The next few days became filled with doctors and tests and interviews, with meetings with officers that knew him only as Inspector Bumstead, asking him questions, taking notes. Leon still kept watch at night despite Frank's attempts to make him go home to a real sleep in a real bed. He was secretly comforted by Leon's presence, an island of calm after the craziness of his days, and it was reassuring to fall asleep watching him reading beside his bed.
Finally Leon had appeared late one afternoon with a small suitcase that blessedly held one of Frank's suits and some toiletries. "The doctors say you can go home," he explained, though he still looked strangely nervous. His uniform was fresh and neatly pressed, every inch the proper young officer Frank had first fallen in love with.
"Are you all right?" he asked, swinging his legs off the bed to perch on the edge, reaching out to touch his arm. He'd been ferried around hospital in a wheelchair almost exclusively, but he knew he wasn't nearly as frail as they thought he was, and the thought of going home with Leon was cheering.
"I'm fine," his lover replied with a smile. "I've just been instructed to help you clean up. You're going to see the mayor."
Frank didn't ask, but contemplated it as Leon assisted him into the shower, then helped him shave and dress. He'd met the mayor on many occasions and received commendation for a few of his more high-profile cases, but certainly didn't feel like he'd done anything to deserve mayoral recognition now. Even if he had somehow caught the serial killer who'd been found dead at his side. "Do you think they'll let me walk out of here on my own?"
Leon gave a sympathetic smile. "The chair takes you to the car. After that you've got the green light, but I've been told to bring you back if you experience any weakness, dizziness or fainting."
"How kind of them to give me back my dignity at the door," he noted dryly, and straightened his tie, looking over his reflection critically in the bathroom mirror. "You'll be coming with me, won't you?"
"For your protection, sir," Leon replied, still smiling.
Frank glanced out at the room, the door still shut, and reached behind Leon to shut the door to the bathroom as well before pressing him up against it. It still didn't lock, but he figured it was secluded enough to risk the one thing he'd been longing to do for days. Leon gave the softest moan as his arms wrapped up around Frank's neck, melting into his embrace, trembling a little as his lips parted to Frank's kisses, warm and yearning. It felt like it had been forever since he'd last done this, and from the way Leon shivered against him as they kissed he knew that it had been badly needed. "Shhh," he murmured softly, stroking a hand over Leon's hair as the smaller man buried his face in Frank's shoulder. "It's all right."
"Was so frightened," Leon breathed, clutching him tighter. "You would have died if the patrol officers hadn't found you when they did, if they hadn't known CPR, and ambulance had to resuscitate you twice, and I - I should have been with you!"
Frank's mind supplied a flicker of memory, of the bald man with the white face in the black coat. His knife. It sent a flood of irrational terror through him, and he shook his head, pressing his lips to Leon's hair. "No. No, I wouldn't want you anywhere near him, no matter what. I never want you to be in danger for my sake."
Leon's sigh was warm against his neck. "Promise you'll never leave me."
As he closed his eyes and pressed his lips to the soft hollow under Leon's ear, Frank thought that this was one promise he'd keep no matter what the cost. "Never. I promise."
It felt strange, being wheeled out of the hospital while wearing a three piece suit. Frank gave a nod to the pair of officers that met them at the doors, escorting them to a waiting black sedan. He glanced up at the sky, squinting in the sunlight, the reflections of light shining in the windows of the buildings around them. It seemed somehow strange, wrong. "It's so bright...."
Leon chuckled. "You've been on the night shift too long, sir. Me too."
Things looked different during the day, Frank thought as they drove through the city. He tried to think back to the last time he'd actually been out during the day, or even seen daylight for that matter. It was a strange thought, and it felt like there was something he was was supposed to realize, a thought or memory just out of his grasp. He frowned, trying to think, to remember, but before long they pulled up to City Hall, and he pushed the feeling of disorientation away, getting out the sedan and straightening his hat. Leon walked with him inside, not touching him, but staying close enough that Frank knew he was watching for any weakness or fatigue.
Mayor Palmer was in his second term, and ran the city like clockwork. It wouldn't have surprised Frank if the man ended up staying in office until retirement. He met Frank at the door to his office with a firm handshake. "Nice to see you back on your feet again, Bumstead. How are you feeling?"
"Right as rain, thank you. And yourself, Mr. Mayor?"
"I'd be better if I wasn't missing a chief of police," he replied. He glanced to where Leon stood behind him. "I trust you've been brought up to speed by your men?"
"I have," Bumstead replied, stepping to the side and giving a nod to Leon. "This is my assistant, Officer Husselbeck."
Leon had his hat in his hands and gave a nod, freeing one hand to accept the Mayor's handshake. "It's an honor, Mr. Mayor."
"Likewise, Officer." The mayor glanced back to him. "I won't take much of your time, but would you rather speak in private?"
Frank shook his head. "Husselbeck keeps my office in order, better if he stays."
"Of course. Please have a seat."
They slipped into two chairs that sat before the desk as the Mayor walked around it to sit on the other side. "As I mentioned," he started, "I'd rest a lot easier if I wasn't down a Chief of Police. I understand it's been a tough week for you and that this isn't the most opportune time, but I'm hoping you can help me with that."
Frank nodded slowly. "If you want my thoughts on potential candidates, I'd be happy to help."
"Thank you, but that's not what I had in mind." Palmer was smiling slightly, and he picked up a folder that sat on the surface of the desk, handing it across to Husselbeck. "I've already gone through that with your peers, you see, and one name came up repeatedly. You run a tight ship, Bumstead. You have the respect of your men and your contempories, you're highly proficient and highly decorated - in short, everything I'm looking for."
For a moment, Frank could only stare at him. He could see Leon similarly frozen out of the corner of his eye. "... Sir?"
"The paperwork is there, Bumstead. Take the night to look it over, think it over. But I very much hope you'll accept. You'd make a fine Chief of Police."
Frank took the job as Chief of Police. It meant a significantly higher salary and hand-picked staff, and consequently more money for Husselbeck as well. It also meant less field work and more meetings, long days at the office and more than a few official dinners, and he often wondered how the previous chief had managed to do all of that and still be at the office half the night.
It was almost foreign at first, working during the day, and more than once he found himself distracted by the play of the sunlight through the blinds of his office. It was nice, though, and if he perhaps held a few more dinner meetings on sunlit patios with his assistant than were strictly necessary, well, no one else seemed to notice or care. While Bumstead hadn't considered himself the best choice for the job or even the most qualified, he did have something that seemed to be badly needed to quell the shock of the previous Chief's murder in the middle of the precinct: fame. Officers knew him, knew his accomplishments, his commendations. And Mayor Palmer had made sure that his swearing in was done with much pomp ceremony in the presence of the entire police force, with another commendation to accompany it. It instilled a sense of security in the officers, somehow.
He just wished he could remember how the hell he'd caught the killer.
Leon had assigned himself to guard duty in the weeks following his release from the hospital. There'd been others with the killer when he'd broken into the precinct, and until the killer's accomplices were found they couldn't be completely sure of Bumstead's safety. Frank didn't question it, quietly thankful to have a cover for keeping Leon with him every moment of the day, for being able to fall asleep with his arms wrapped around his young lover without having to worry about waking later to take him home before dawn. Three months later the townhouse next to Bumstead's went up for sale, and Leon quietly took out a mortgage, gave notice at his apartment, and moved next door.
Despite busy days, Frank's mind often returned to the emptiness surrounding his brush with death. Strangely enough, the more he looked the less he actually found. Somehow any record of Murdoch being at the precinct had completely vanished, along with any trace of the man himself. He'd stopped by his apartment once, only to find it completely empty, covered in a layer of dust. There were no Murdochs in the phone book or any traces of one in public records. He'd gone back to Emma Murdoch's nightclub, to the aquarium, even to the suspicious psychiatrist's office. There was nothing there. No trace that Murdoch had ever existed.
It certainly didn't help the nightmares.
It wasn't all the time, or even frequent, and they gradually came farther and farther apart as time went on. But the horrific images never really went away. It was always dark, dark and cold and his chest ached like he couldn't breathe. The killer was there, the bald, pale man with the knife and the long coat, hissing at him, making strange clicks that didn't sound like anything a human could possibly make. Then the man would peel off his face like a mask until he wasn't a man at all but a giant bug, shiny and black, pincers clicking together. The blackboard plant was another reoccurring image, though more often than not it was the tiny buildings that grew in place of the vines, rising and falling and growing and disappearing as the twisting, bulging roots under the city glowed blue.
No matter what he dreamed, it always ended at Shell Beach, at the billboard and the woman's mouth that turned into a huge black hole, sucking him out into the cold nothingness of space. Alone. Death.
The first time, the first night after the hospital, he'd been exhausted when they'd returned home. Leon had tucked him in after dinner with a smile, curling up around him to sleep at some point during the night. In his dreams it had felt like he'd been choking, and he'd awoken from it to Leon shaking him, then wrapping his arms around him, dissolving into tears. It shocked him back to reality, having Leon to focus on, and he held his lover tightly against him. This was real, the strands of Leon's hair sliding through his fingers, his skin warm under Frank's palms. "Shhh... it's okay. Didn't mean to wake you."
"I'm sorry." Leon's voice was rough from sleep and emotion, and he curled closer. "I don't know why I'm so upset, I just... I don't know what I would have done if you...."
"Shhh," Frank murmured again, moving to nuzzle his hair, dropping a soft kiss to his temple. "It's over. We're fine." He shifted just a little, catching Leon's mouth with his own, intending for it to be reassuring. He wasn't prepared for the surge of passion with which Leon returned the kiss, trembling and needy, his fingers tangling in the back of the short sleeved undershirt Frank had worn to bed. Though unexpected it was definitely not unwelcome, and Frank drew him closer, licking against soft lips that parted to him without hesitation. Leon's body was warm from sleep, and he gave a low groan into Frank's mouth, sucking hungrily at his lips and tongue before breaking from the kiss with a soft moan of dismay.
"I'm sorry," Leon murmured, easing away as he tried to catch his breath. "You need to rest."
"I'm not going to break," Frank replied with a smile, following him and urging him back into the pillows, pressing a thigh between his. He loved the way Leon arched up against him with a little helpless moan, arms tightening around him as if to pull him as close as possible. The warmth of Leon's body was reassuring, the little whimpers that Frank drew from his throat as he kissed along his jaw to nip gently at the soft skin just under his ear. It was easy to forget about everything that happened and just focus on Leon, on tugging away clothing that kept him from Leon's skin, covering his body with kisses and touch until they were both hard and aching.
"Frank..." Leon made a token attempt at protest when Frank pulled away to grab the bottle of lube, though he pressed against Frank's slick fingers breathlessly despite his words, groaning as he carefully worked them into him. "Oh god. We shouldn't - you - "
"I'm more than well enough to give my boy what he needs," Frank murmured, nuzzling his ear, and was rewarded with a little helpless whine as Leon's hips bucked up against the penetration, trembling, trying to push him deeper.
"Please," he whimpered, turning his face to catch Frank's mouth with his own, breath hard and warm against his lips, trembling. "Need you so bad. Frank please, now...."
He could never resist Leon like this, stretched out under him, needy and vulnerable. He fumbled with the lube, barely managing to slick his cock as Leon pulled him down on top of him, strong thighs winding up around his waist. It was too fast, Leon's body almost too tight around him, clenching and shivering around his cock. But it didn't stop his lover from bucking up against him, heels digging into the small of his back as he urged Frank deeper, gasping his name against his mouth. Leon's arms wrapped tight around Frank's shoulders as he rocked into him slowly, lost in the feel of Leon's body, the sweetness of his mouth, the little whimpers of pleasure Frank pulled from his throat with each thrust. He knew well how close they'd come to being parted, how hard it must have been on Leon, and he tried to reassure him now with each kiss, with his embrace and with each thrust of his hips, driving deep into him. "My sweet boy," he murmured, pressing his lips to his jaw, to the softness behind his ear. "My Leon."
At Leon's soft sob he pressed closer, needing to lose himself in everything Leon, in the adoration and devotion his young lover awoke in him. "Love you," he murmured, always implied in their short time together but never clearly spoken. "Love you, Leon."
"Say that again," Leon gasped, shuddering against him, fingers digging into his back, and caught in the rush of pleasure and love, Frank couldn't tell if his body tensed and shook from pleasure or emotion. Perhaps it was both. "Oh god, Frank, please - !"
Frank pressed a kiss to his temple, tasting wetness and salt, and nuzzled his cheek. "Love you, my boy. Won't ever leave you. Promise." He let his weight rest on one forearm and slipped a hand between them, curling it around Leon's erection, hot and hard and slick. "My sweet boy. Love you so much."
Leon bucked up against him almost desperately, his body in a choked cry as he jerked tense against him and came, each wave of pleasure squeezing around Frank's cock. He didn't let Frank slow, however, jerking up against him even as he gasped for breath against Frank's mouth. "Oh god," he gasped, breath trembling, his whole body trembling, and he swallowed hard. "Oh god, Frank. Love you. Love you." The sound of his voice, sweet and completely overwhelmed, did it for him as much as everything else, and he buried his face in Leon's shoulder, letting his passion surge and crest. He thrust deep into him as he came to climax, and for a moment of bliss forgot about everything, all the darkness and mystery. None of it mattered more than this.
Months passed, and Frank settled into his new role more easily than he'd ever thought possible. Crime was down, though he wasn't particularly sure it was anything that he'd done. In all honesty he spent far too much time making sure the various department heads were kept from killing each other to really do much about crime. He did make time for the occasional high profile case, though that was as much for Leon's sake as his own. There wasn't anything he found more enjoyable than when they worked a case together.
He tried, and almost succeeded in putting the mystery of that night out of his mind. But nightmares still came, and even as infrequent as they were every time it brought back all the uncertainty. He could see that Leon worried about it, but his lover seemed to have made it a goal to personally distract him any time he woke up with terrors. He certainly wouldn't complain about that.
It was early fall when he came across something concrete, something that finally linked back to that night. He'd spent the day at an apartment they'd seized from a white collar criminal that had been running circles around them for weeks, and he'd decided it was worth his while to take a look at things before the evidence was disturbed. He'd parked about a block away, and as he was walking down the block he glanced across the street and stopped dead. There were two men standing on the steps of an office building across the way; the first was tall, auburn, ruggedly handsome, but the second was the one who caught his attention. Frank stared for a long moment, drawing from old memories. The blond was familliar - different now than he had been then, but it was unmistakably him....
"Sir?" Leon's touch was brief and fleeting on his sleeve, pulling his attention away from the pair. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah." Frank turned back to the street corner, still watching the blond as if he'd disappear if he looked away. "I just need to talk to someone...."
Leon fell into step behind him unquestioning, more than used to keeping stride with him after so long. He stayed quiet as Frank approached the stairs to the office building, stopping at the bottom and looking up at them. The blond looked different as they grew closer - dressed more casually and free of the glasses that Frank remembered. But he'd seen that face so often in snippets of memory that it had to be him.
The taller man noticed his gaze and gave him a questioning smile. "Can I help you?"
"Perhaps. Dr. Schreber?"
The blond turned at his words, flicking away the butt of his cigarette. "His brother, actually. Ben."
That explained the difference. The relation was obvious, though. "My apologies. You look very much like him."
"We get that a lot." Ben seemed strangely amused by this statement, and gave a nod towards the building. "Dr. Schreber is in a session, but it should be finishing soon. I can take you in, if you like?"
Frank nodded. "Thank you. It's appreciated." He glanced back to Leon and tilted his head towards the building in invitation, and they both followed the blond inside with the second man bringing up the rear.
They climbed the stairs to the second floor, the building clean and bright with light marble floors. The reception area was muted and welcoming and so completely different than the last building Frank remembered meeting Schreber in that it was almost unnerving. As they entered the reception area, one of the doors at the back of the room opened, an older woman walking out, turning to thank the man behind her before leaving. Soft spoken, smartly dressed, and without a doubt the man Frank had met in the course of that fated investigation.
Dr. Schreber noticed him immediately, freezing in the doorway, and suddenly Frank remembered in vivid clarity. Not the first meeting, no; that was never in question. He remembered now the second, remembered a tiny boat he rowed down the canal with this man in front of him, a prisoner, but not resisting. 'They extracted what was in us so they could store the information, remix it like so much paint, and gave us back new memories of their choosing. But they still needed an artist to help them. I understood the human mind better than they ever could, so they allowed me to keep my skills as a scientist... because they needed them. They made me delete everything else.'
Schreber had been scarred, then, pale and hunched and frightened, though now the only thing that remained was the wide-eyed, startled fear. But how was that possible? And everything Schreber had said to him then... what did it mean? He stared at the doctor, and it took him a moment to realize the man was speaking to him. "Inspector. Forgive me, I - I did not expect to see you again."
"Likewise," Frank found himself saying, and he took a cautious step forward, watching him. "I don't suppose... that you would have time to answer a few questions?"
If anything this made Schreber seem more nervous, but he nodded. "Yes, certainly. Any way that I can be of help."
Schreber's brother passed him to stand by the doctor, his posture quietly protective. "Is everything okay, Daniel?"
The doctor tore his gaze away from Bumstead to glance to the other man. "Yes. Thank you. Everything is quite all right. The Inspector is an... old acquaintance. Inspector, if you would care to join me in my office? I'm afraid that I cannot legally break client confidentiality, but if you would care to tell me about your case then I can certainly try to lend my expertise otherwise. This is about a case, correct?"
Frank held his hopeful gaze impassively. He'd dealt with numerous suspects over the years, he could tell when people were stonewalling or trying to deflect him. Schreber was no different. He remembered pulling a gun from this man's hand, tossing it away. "I think you know what this is about, Doctor."
Behind him, Leon cleared his throat softly. "Sir... what is this about?"
"The good Inspector came to me regarding a case a year and a half ago," Schreber replied, a little too quickly. "Unfortunately I am not certain that I can help him any more now than I could then."
Frank gave a soft laugh under his breath, but he didn't move, standing his ground. "You don't lie any more convincingly now then you did then either, Schreber. You were hiding something then. You still are. Where's the hell is Murdoch?"
"Hey." The taller man moved from the doorway, placing himself in front of Frank. Unlike Schreber's brother, he made no attempt to be subtle in his protectiveness, generous mouth turned into a frown. "With all due respect, Inspector," he gave a little nod to Leon as well, "Officer, but if this questioning is to continue I must insist that the Doctor be given the right to legal council. And as this office is private property, if you don't have a warrant then I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Suddenly Schreber's eyes flicked behind him, almost unnoticable, but Bumstead turned, finding the subject of their conversation in the stairwell doorway. John Murdoch regarded him for a moment, not making an attempt to hide his surprise. "Well," he said finally, letting out a soft breath. "This is... unexpected. I'm sorry, Inspector, I didn't expect to see you... again."
"And yourself," he replied, holding his gaze, filtering out the jumble of images that sped through his mind at the sight of him. "Funny how all evidence linking you to those murders mysteriously disappeared when you escaped."
"Funny," John repeated calmly, and crossed his arms over his chest. "But you know I didn't kill those women, Inspector." There was no question in the statement, and Frank had to admit that he knew the man was telling the truth. Murdoch was still watching him, lips parted slightly. "I'm sorry, how are you... I thought you were dead. I watched you die." He stopped for a moment at Bumstead's slightly raised eyebrow. "Oh for gods sakes, I didn't kill you."
"Then perhaps you might like to shed some light on the situation?" He knew Murdoch wasn't the killer; knew he hadn't been the one that had hurt him. He couldn't have explained how, but it was some deep, ingrained knowledge. He remembered standing beside this man, fighting against the pale faced killer. He remembered searching, but for what? "What happened that night, Murdoch? When I took you from the police station, where did we go? Shell Beach? Does it even...."
"Exist?" Murdoch supplied with a little smile. "It does now." He glanced to Leon, then back. "I'll tell you what. Let's plan to meet up another day. Any questions I can answer, I will. I'll tell you everything, if you really want to know. Just make sure that you actually do want to know, all right? Think it over. We can talk whenever you're ready."
There was something Bumstead knew he should remember, something about Shell Beach, and his mind returned unbidden to the image in his nightmares - the billboard girl whose mouth turned into the endless hole. Perhaps he did need to think about all of this. "All right. How do I find you?"
Murdoch pulled a card from his jacket pocket and offered it to him without question. "I'm afraid my days are quite busy, but you can always contact me here though Daniel. This is my home number, and our address in Shell Beach."
Our address. The pronoun was used so casually, so comfortably, as easily as the Doctor's first name had rolled off his lips. He glanced down at the card, then took it from him, tucking it into his breast pocket. "Don't leave town," he said, though it failed to sound intimidating.
Murdoch merely smiled and shook his head. "I have no reason to. I still trust you, Inspector. And I'm glad to see that you're well."
"Thank you," Frank replied, not really knowing what else to say. He touched Leon's shoulder lightly, briefly, and his lover moved towards the door with him without question. "I'll be in touch."
Leon was silent as they returned to the car, not speaking until they were both seated and Frank had pulled out into traffic. "What did he mean... he watched you die?"
"I wish I knew," Frank replied quietly, more troubled than he'd been before.
Frank knew Leon could tell that he was worried. His lover didn't push him, though, just quietly being there for him. It meant more to him than he could express, his lover's unconditional support and trust. It was hard to imagine not being with Leon, not loving Leon... and truthfully, that was what was troubling him the most.
He could remember more now, bits and pieces of that long, fateful night, as if seeing Murdoch again had opened a floodgate and everything was tumbling through without order or reason. He remembered smuggling the man out of the precinct and then sneaking into the bath house to interrogate the doctor.
Schreber. The key to unlocking the city's mystery. To find out why bits of his past were a blur, to determine why the clues to the serial killer case just didn't add up. And to discover why it was always night, why it was... but that was absurd. Always night?
Still, he remembered clearly rowing down the canal, the darkness broken only by the lights of the city. Murdoch had been with him as well, then, listening as he listened, hearing the doctor's unbelievable explanations.
The city, everyone in it is their experiment. They mix and match our memories as they see fit, trying to define what makes us unique. One day a man might be an inspector, the next, someone entirely different....
Their experiments. The pale faced men in the dark coats.
How long had he been Frank Bumstead?
He lay awake long after Leon had fallen asleep, his head pillowed on Frank's chest, his breathing slow and even and deep. Frank let his fingers smooth slowly through the soft strands of his hair, over and over. Had they always been like this, or was this simply the result of yet another experiment? He went over and over those memories in his mind, the way he felt the first time they met, the first time Leon had intentionally let their fingers brush, silently communicating his desire. He remembered the way that just being around the young man would make his heart skip a beat, remembered the attraction, the desire, the overwhelming feeling of guilt and despair of falling in love with someone he couldn't, shouldn't love. He remembered so vividly how good it felt to finally give in and just feel, how happy he'd been. How happy Leon had been.
How happy he still was.
How could any of that be fake?
He could understand, now, why Murdoch had tried to warn him. Make sure you really want to know. Of course it was too late to go back now. But if he went to find Murdoch, took him up on his offer... what else would he find? He couldn't shake a deep rooted fear that there was a horrible secret at the heart of everything, the kind of knowledge that one couldn't forget, that changed everything.
When he dreamed that night, things were clearer, though nothing was concrete enough to give him any answers. But this time when he was about to fall into the endless hole, something held him back, and he turned to find Murdoch's hand on his shoulder.
He finally spoke about it with Leon as they drove into work the next morning, still troubled. "If someone told you... that everything in your life was just... a script. That you were just acting out a part in a play without knowing it, you and everyone around you, that everything was fake...." He stopped, unable to put his concerns into words. They stopped at a light, and he turned to watch Leon, who looked more worried than he had the night before.
"Well," he said slowly, "I think you'd know, wouldn't you? What was real and what wasn't. You can't just pretend at having feelings. No matter where they come from, they're still real... right?" He looked so earnest, and Frank couldn't help but smile, reaching out to cover Leon's hand with his own where it sat on the edge of the seat.
"They're real," he repeated, squeezing his hand. "I do love you, Leon. That won't change, not ever. No matter what happens."
Leon twined his fingers with his and gave a little nod, relaxing a little. "You're going to go see Murdoch, aren't you? Find out what happened?"
"Yes," Frank replied after a moment, starting to drive again.
"Will you tell me, when you figure it out?" Leon's voice was softer, smaller, as if almost expecting refusal. Frank glanced over to him again, giving his hand another little squeeze.
"Yeah. Yeah, I will."
He went alone to Schreber's office that afternoon, giving Leon a soft kiss in the privacy of his office before heading out. He found Schreber in the reception area of his office, speaking with a young woman who sat behind the desk. The doctor looked up as he entered, giving him a smile that seemed rather less guarded than the day before. Perhaps they'd just started off on the wrong foot... again. "Inspector. Or I suppose I should say, Chief. Congratulations on your promotion."
Frank chuckled softly. "I take it you don't read the papers?"
"Now, yes. At that time things were a bit hectic, I'm afraid. I hope you'll forgive me." Schreber inclined his head towards his office. "John seemed to think it would take a few days more, but I knew you'd be back today. The rest of my afternoon is free, would you like to talk?"
Frank nodded, following him inside. It was comfortable, if a little stereotypical, and he was a little surprised when Schreber ignored the very comfortable looking wingback chair to sit on one end of the couch. "Please have a seat."
Frank took the other end, taking off his hat and leaving it in his lap, partly to give himself something to focus on. "Thank you. I'm sorry to bother you, I just... there's some things I need to figure out."
"It's no trouble," Schreber replied. He seemed far more at ease now, far less the nervous, battered man Frank had met so long ago. "I must apologize for yesterday. There is only one thing left in the world that frightens me, you see, and you represent that possibility. But John trusts you. So."
"The two of you seem... to know each other very well," Frank remarked, watching him. "If you don't mind me saying so."
Schreber smiled, soft and warm and peaceful. "A very apt observation," he replied, and when he folded his hands in his lap Bumstead wondered at the gold band on his left hand. "But enough about me. Tell me how I can help you, Inspector." A soft laugh. "Chief. My apologies."
Frank held out his hand before he could second guess himself. A peace offering. "Frank. Please."
"Daniel," Schreber replied, relaxing more as he took his hand, his handshake warm and certain. "I am glad to see that you are all right, Frank. Truly."
Frank shook his head slightly. "What happened that night? You were there too, right? What did Murdoch mean when he said that he watched me die?"
Daniel hesitated, lacing his fingers together again. "That is one of the biggest questions, isn't it? I think perhaps we should save that one for John."
"That's fair," Frank replied, though it wasn't the issue that was worrying him the most. "There's a lot of things about that night that I don't remember. And there's things that are coming back to me, now that I've seen you again. Those bald men in the black coats... you said they experimented on us?"
"The Strangers. Yes. That was the purpose of the city."
"And you were their..." he paused, searching pieces of memory. "You created whatever it was that allowed them to change our identities. Every one?"
"Yes," Daniel replied calmly, answering as if he knew what Frank really wanted to ask. "Yes, even yours. This is about the young officer who was with you yesterday, yes?"
Frank glanced away with a little frown. "I just... I need to know if it's real. Everything I remember about him, I need to know if it actually happened or if it's just the result of whatever chemicals you've injected into my brain."
Daniel was silent for a moment, watching him, and while Frank normally had no trouble reading the doctor he was closed off now, contemplative. "Does it really matter?" He asked finally. "You've been with Leon for over a year and a half, now, have you not? Isn't what you feel now genuine?"
Frank shook his head. "That isn't the issue."
"Then why is any of this an issue at all?" Daniel's blue eyes were calm, but held his. "You love him, yes?"
It was strange, even to be admitting his relationship to someone, let alone discussing it. "More than anything."
"Then what does it matter where that love originated? It's real now, yes?" The same thing Leon had said. Daniel reached out to place his hand over Frank's where it sat on the couch.
Frank froze, staring down at it, at the gold band on his third finger, a square cut diamond flanked with amber colored stones. It fit this new Schreber, Frank decided, this calm, confident man. But it wasn't in his blood to take things at face value. He couldn't help but push. "Would you feel the same if it was that way between yourself and John?"
Daniel gave a little nod, patting Frank's hand lightly before pulling away. "I was not permitted to place myself in the memories. But I can tell you that I have loved John since long before he was John Murdoch. Three times I loved him, and erased him, and yet he still knew me. He still loved me. The heart, it seems, can recognize what it wants even if the mind cannot. So yes, to answer your question. I would still say the same."
Frank nodded slowly. "I see. You don't have to answer me, then. I understand." He pulled his hat from his lap and put it on, standing. "Thank you."
"Frank." Daniel's voice made him stop, though he didn't turn. "Tell me why it matters so much to you."
For a long moment Frank could only stand there, staring at the door, trying to force himself to speak. "It's not in my nature to just let something go. I need to know what happened that night, I need to know what put me in the hospital. And I don't want to keep that from him. I just... don't want to hurt him. I don't want him to think that I love him just because I was programmed that way."
"I see." He heard Daniel stand, taking a step towards him without coming too close. "I don't think you need to worry about that, Frank."
"What do you mean?" When Frank finally glanced back at Daniel he was smiling slightly.
"Tell me, Inspector. Do you remember the very first time we met? The bath house?"
Frank closed his eyes for a moment as it came back to him. "The bath house.... Yes. I caught your glasses when they fell in the water. You told me..." he stopped and shook his head. "You knew about Leon."
"Yes," Daniel replied, still smiling. "I knew Leon, and his taste in companions as well as your own. And I encouraged you to go after him because it wasn't the purpose of your experiment. Because even knowing what I did, I was not privy to their plans. If things changed, if you were changed before you acted...."
"Neither of us would have ever known. We wouldn't exist anymore. Why did anything I did matter to you?"
Daniel pondered this for a moment, well shaped lips pursing very slightly. "Perhaps I simply wanted to see you take that chance for happiness. Perhaps I wanted to see if love - real love - would prove to be stronger than the injections for someone else. I couldn't have made you fall in love with Leon, it wouldn't have worked. Real love can't be faked, Frank. It can't be forced. It's the one thing they could never figure out in the experiments. People either fall in love or they do not. And what you have... you did that on your own. It wasn't me. I promise you that."
The words came with a rush of relief, like a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders that he didn't know he was carrying. "Thank you," he replied, and met the doctor's blue eyes with a smile. "Really. Thank you."
Daniel nodded. "Come out to Shell Beach tomorrow evening. Come see it for yourself. We'd be happy to have both you and Leon for dinner. Then we can talk about what happened that night."
Frank was taken aback. "With Leon?"
Chuckling softly, Daniel nodded. "You forget. Judging personality happens to be my business. I would not offer the knowledge if I thought either of you could not handle it." He touched Frank's shoulder lightly, grasping his jacket, hesitating before speaking again. "Chief... the serial killer case is completely closed, is it not? Over and done with?"
Frank glanced down at his hand. "Are you afraid I'll reopen it?"
The doctor swallowed, watching him carefully. "The Strangers left me with precious little, and John and I have worked very hard to build a life from that. It would be... very inconvenient if the police took a renewed interest in him. You are very dedicated to your job, Frank. So you must forgive me if I am a little... apprehensive."
Frank covered the hand on his shoulder with his own, giving a light squeeze before releasing. "I won't reopen the case. As far as I'm concerned it's completely resolved."
"Thank you." Daniel's relief, now, was palatable.
"Let me ask you something, doctor. Apart from the assurance that I'm not out to arrest your other half, why the change? Why trust us with this knowledge? The experiments, the Strangers...."
"You already know most of it," Daniel replied seriously, "Even if you don't remember everything yet. But beyond that... it's nice not to have to pretend all the time. Is it not?"
Frank knew he should feel apprehensive, but in actuality the invitation to bring Leon for dinner was... relieving. "Yes. yes, it is."
Later, after dinner as he stood at the sink with his sleeves rolled up, hands covered in dish soap, Frank watched his lover with a little smile. Leon glanced up and returned it, taking another dish from him to dry. "You seem much more at ease, if you don't mind me saying. Did you find out what you needed to know?"
"Some," Frank replied, still watching him, giving a little fond smile. "Things will be all right."
The drive out to Shell Beach was remarkably straightforward. Main Street West, past building after building until the shadows of the city unexpectedly gave way to light, to tree lined boulevards and small white houses, to the sparkle of the sun on the sea. He watched Leon roll down the window, the wind from driving whipping at his hair. "It even smells like the ocean, it's so fresh and clean. It's so beautiful here."
Frank smiled, wondering why he'd never made the time to take his young lover out of the city. "I'll see if there's somewhere private we can come and stay at for a couple of nights, sometime."
Leon glanced back at him with a wide smile. "I'd like that. If it's discreet."
It would be nice not to have to pretend, Frank thought, remembering Schreber's words. "We'll figure something out."
Murdoch's house, when they reached it, was deceptively normal looking. He parked in front of the white picket fence, meeting Leon on the other side of the car and leading him up the path with a hand at the small of his back. When he knocked, Schreber answered, giving them both a warm smile. "Gentlemen. I'm glad you could make it." He offered a hand to Leon. "Daniel."
"Leon. Pleased to meet you again, doctor."
"Likewise. John is out back, would you join us for a drink? Let me take your things, you won't need them. It's very warm here."
The inside of the house was still in keeping with the out - light and bright and airy and simple. But as Frank looked closer, he realized that the furnishings were a little too fine, and the few pieces of artwork on the walls looked expensive as well. The house itself was immaculate - the kind of immaculate maintained by people paying for daily cleaning services. He handed his coat and hat to Daniel, thanking him, giving him the bottle of wine that he'd picked up in the city, to which he received a compliment on his taste. Soon they were following him through the house and out the back, down into a very private, very beautiful garden with lush vegetation and a view of the ocean beyond the cliffs where the house sat. Here the extravagance was even more obvious in the well tended plants, in the large, natural looking stone-ringed swimming pool with the waterfall at one end, and the shining wooden surfaces of the patio furniture.
John was just raising the umbrella that sat in the center of the patio table, and turned to greet them with a smile, exchanging introductions. He looked different than what Frank remembered, no longer the pale, confused Murdoch, running through the city at midnight searching for answers. He looked calm, now, healthy. Tanned. Happy. But Frank couldn't set aside the things that had happened on that night. He remembered Murdoch fighting against the pale men, remembered him speaking angrily as they drove, hurting Daniel... why? Frank couldn't set aside the unsettling idea that this man was, somehow, very dangerous.
"I didn't expect you quite so soon," John was saying as they took the offered seats around the table, "but I'm glad that you're here. I suppose I should have learned by now not to bet against Daniel when it comes to things like this."
Daniel chuckled softly, settling beside him at the table and letting a hand rest, unobtrusive but clearly visible, on John's forearm where it sat on the arm of the chair. "Indeed. Drinks first, or answers?"
"Answers," Frank answered immediately. "If you don't mind, I'd rather get them out of the way."
"Certainly." He looked to John. "I'll let you tackle this, love?"
John nodded, leaning forward on the table. He seemed confident and straightforward, a contrast to the man next to him, who was open but still reserved. His left hand was adorned by a ring the twin to the one he'd seen on Schreber's apart from colour - white gold with sage accent stones - and Frank wondered a little at the fact that the two of them were so open. He wondered more how they'd come to this from how he remembered them - frightened and at odds.
"A lot of this, possibly all of this, is going to sound completely impossible the first time you hear it," John started. "But be assured that I can show you proof of everything, if you'll just hear me out and try to keep an open mind about it. The concepts are pretty alien - no pun intended - but I'll try and keep it fairly straightforward. So." He paused, looking to Leon and back again. "It's probably easiest if you think of us all as a litter of puppies - "
Beside him, Daniel sighed. "John, don't use the puppy analogy."
"Why not? I like the puppy analogy."
"Because it is completely non applicable and on top of that makes absolutely no sense."
John looked rather put out by this declaration. "It isn't that bad. Why don't we have a dog?"
Daniel sighed again, turning back to Frank. "He has the power to manipulate and control physical reality with his mind."
John grinned and shrugged. "Yes. And Daniel keeps my many whims in check."
Yes, he could. Frank remembered the book, floating in midair. He stared at John for a long moment, trying to determine just what exactly to make of the man. Perhaps it was intentional. It was, after all, extremely difficult to be intimidated by someone who was pouting about wanting a puppy.
"Um," Leon said timidly, breaking Frank from his thoughts. He watched his lover lift a hand, almost as if asking permission to speak. "I, um. I still have your fish, Mr. Murdoch. If you wanted it back."
For a moment, Murdoch's eyebrows knit together, uncomprehending. Then he started to laugh, warm and at ease. "The fish? The goldfish from the hotel? You mean it actually survived in the bath? That's amazing. I'm extremely impressed, and call me John. The only people who call me Mr. Murdoch are strangers and The Strangers."
Leon's eyebrows knit together slightly. "The Strangers?"
"Yes. But that question most definitely needs a drink. And please, keep the fish." John gave him a warm smile. "What would you like to drink?"
"Ah... what do you have?"
John continued smiling, gazing back at him evenly. "What would you like?"
Leon cast a slightly helpless look towards Frank. "A... long island iced tea?"
"Good choice." John smiled widely, then made a small motion with his hand on the surface of the table. Frank stared as a tall glass filled with amber liquid appeared where there had been nothing, though perhaps appeared wasn't quite the right word. It... was created, growing from nothing, entirely real looking right down to the cubes of ice and the condensation on the outside of the glass. John smiled at Leon. "Let me know if it isn't sweet enough, I haven't made one of these before." He handed it across the table despite Leon's look of shell-shocked awe, his fingers leaving streaks in the condensation of the glass. Another glass appeared, filled with clear liquid over ice, a slice of lime and a few leaves of mint, which he handed to Daniel before glancing to Frank. "And yourself, Chief?"
Frank looked to the two glasses and swallowed hard. "Whiskey. On the rocks."
"Coming right up." John winked and produced a full bottle of a straight single malt whiskey that Frank knew was very smooth and very pricey, though at that his thoughts ground to a halt. Expensive? The bottle had just appeared from nothing!
It certainly looked like real whiskey, golden brown as John poured out a generous amount into two new glasses, filled with ice. He picked up one of the glasses when John pushed it across the table towards him, sniffing the liquor, then shaking his head slowly. "I don't understand. How... how does this even happen? This is real, isn't it?"
"It is," John replied, still smiling, and took a sip of his drink. "Have some, it's completely safe, and exactly the same as any whiskey you'd have at a club."
Frank took a sip, then glanced over to Leon to answer his questioning look with a nod, after which Leon finally tried his as well.
"When you first met me, we were all living as unknowing subjects of a set of experiments conducted by a group of beings that Daniel referred to as The Strangers," John started, watching them. "They could do this, control reality, change and create things through mental powers. They called it Tuning. But it seems that they couldn't completely control us." Daniel chuckled softly, and John smiled before continuing. "Something went wrong, and I woke up in the bathtub of a skeezy hotel room with a dead hooker and no identity. But I could Tune. That's around where you came in."
Frank nodded slowly, taking another sip of the whiskey and savouring it. "I remember the hotel room, the fish. Questioning Daniel, questioning your wife..." he paused for a moment, wondering how the hell she fit into this whole mess. "And then when I finally caught up with you, you made a book float in midair..."
"The abilities manifested mostly defensively or subconsciously then," John replied. "The Strangers thought I was their answer, their success. They tried to make me one of them. Daniel saved me by giving me about thirty years worth of practice all in one go, taught me how to do it properly. Got rid of the Strangers, liberated the city, made the sun rise and created Shell Beach for real. Would you like another drink?"
Frank stared at him for a long moment, the glass cold in his hand. Then he drained it and slid it across the table, watching as John refilled it. "You're going to elaborate on that, aren't you?"
"Of course." He passed the drink back across the table and took a sip of his own. "The Strangers took us away from earth at some point in the past. We don't know when, but from Daniel's age and abilites we assume it's been no longer than ten years. This city was their creation, so they could completely control the environment. It was always night time because sunlight damaged them, and the memories they injected us with kept us from questioning that, or questioning why no one ever left the city. Why everyone knew about Shell Beach but no one could remember how to get there. That's what we found that night, Frank. Shell Beach was the edge of the city, just a wall, a billboard. When we broke though there was... nothing. Just space."
Just... space. It took Frank a moment to realize that Leon was speaking, eyebrows knit in disbelief. "I'm sorry. I don't know how you did that thing with the drinks, but you honestly expect that we were kidnapped by aliens, experimented on, brainwashed into having new identities, and then we were in space? That's not possible, we'd be dead. I mean, they just had a man land on the moon, what... a few years ago? When was that, Frank?"
Frank shook his head slowly. "No... it's true. They came after us, they found us at the edge of the city, at the hole in the billboard that looked out onto the stars. They had John's wife hostage, and I... I shot two of them, but it was like they didn't even feel it. I fought one of them and we... fell." The black hole, the nothingness. Spinning away through the darkness, watching the city, the innocent looking buildings with the strange, root like tunnels and machines underneath. Gasping for oxygen, passing out.... "I remember. I should be dead."
"I assumed you were," John replied quietly, watching him. "I'm sorry. If I'd known I would have searched for you. Maybe they had something in place to catch debris, maybe they could sense when things got too close to the edge like I can... I don't know. But that's what happened."
Leon looked over at him helplessly, and Frank reached for his hand without speaking, giving it a small squeeze, still mulling over the words. Then looked up at John. "It's really true, then. This isn't a city at all, it's.... just floating in space with all those machines to power it. And you destroyed those beings, those... Strangers? And everything's still... working?"
"The city will be safe," John replied. "I can keep everything functioning as it has been since you can remember it - food, sun, the ocean - everything is controlled by the machines with my guidance, and will be indefinitely."
The idea was incredible, but at the same time the truth of it resonated with him, regardless of how unbelievable it seemed. "Why are you telling us this? I mean... why us? With your abilities you certainly don't need my protection anymore."
John was silent for a moment, regarding the amber liquid in his glass. "You deserve to know," he said finally. "For your part in it. And you already know most of it. Safer to tell you everything than make you look for it on your own, and I wouldn't dream of making you bear the burden of keeping such knowledge from your partner." He paused for a moment, then grinned. "Besides, it's a definite advantage to have the chief of police in the know. Who knows what kind of issues we might run into, I can't take it for granted that I'll be able to do everything or be everywhere at once. You can be the Jim Gordon to my Batman."
Frank stared at him blankly. "Pardon me?"
Daniel frowned. "We don't have Batman movies here. And you're not Batman."
John nodded amicably. "I suppose not, since I actually have super powers. And you're much better looking than Michael Caine. Though he's not bad looking for an older guy."
Leon shook his head slowly, staring down at his hand in Frank's. "You really believe this, Frank?"
"I saw it. It's come back to me in bits and pieces, I... I know that it's real. It's why it was always night, it's why the memories I have of my mother are more like a fairy tale."
Leon looked more troubled at that. "All of our memories are fake? But...."
"Not all of them," Daniel replied softly. "Before you came to the precinct, yes. Your memories of school, of studying Frank's cases, they were fabricated. Everything after that, however, was your own free will. Your own thoughts and actions and your own emotions. For both of you. You weren't intended to fall in love, but your life together is completely genuine."
"I told you it was all right," Frank said, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
"The Strangers weren't pleased that the two of you were involved," Daniel remarked, still smiling. "It threw a bit of a wrench in their plans. They thought it would distract from working the murder cases, and that's what they needed you for. The experiments were so complicated to set up that it would have set back the time line far too much to remove one of you. They tried twice just to make you forget each other, but it never held more than a day or two."
He looked strangely proud of that, and John glanced over with a grin. "And you had nothing to do with that."
"Not at all," Daniel replied, though Frank was fairly certain that this, at least, was a lie. "I was too busy chasing your former self."
Frank wasn't completely certain at which point his reservations and concerns about the pair of them had been alleviated, but before long they were talking openly about everything that had happened in the city over the past year and some. It was easy to talk to John, he reflected, and remembered that for some reason it always had been. But although he had come to feel very comfortable about John and the doctor as people, the idea of everything they'd said still sat strangely with him, tugging annoyingly at the back of his mind.
"I do have a favor to ask you," John said to him later, as they stood at the end of the garden on the veranda built out over the cliff, looking down into the surf on a small, private beach in the bay. "I'd be willing to pay handsomely for your help, in money or with my abilities. Anything you need. Will you help me?"
Frank regarded him carefully. "It depends on what you're asking me to do."
John gave a little nod, looking out over the sea, his skin lit golden in the setting sun. "The city can survive without The Strangers. But it can't grow. Everything we have here that makes us human - our passion, our culture - it's all imported. Adopted from old Earth, created from whatever the Strangers stole. And there isn't much of it. Daniel and I have done a lot of study using the limited resources that we have and the knowledge of old Earth that he has access to... in this state the city will stagnate. Historically speaking, cultures that don't have a goal to work towards fall into disarray, into chaos and anarchy."
Frank thought about the little theaters that played the same eight movies over and over, the mediocre selection of music carried in the record stores. "I see. And what do you plan to do about it?"
John met his gaze again. "There are things that Daniel can do, psychologically speaking, to unlock old abilities. Not to bring back memories themselves, I'm afraid, but to leave the mind open to the idea of getting back on the bicycle it used to know how to ride. We've been doing this slowly and have seen some result, but the city lacks a forum for nourishing the growth of art and music. I want to give it that, I want to plan an event so huge that the entire city will be caught up in the excitement, that people will focus on something other than the life they've been programmed to lead. I want to wake the city up. You can help make that happen, Chief."
Staring down at the waves on the sand, the small yacht that was moored to the dock, Frank tried to imagine all of this as nothing, as an empty expanse of space. He tried to imagine John's mind creating all of this. Playing God. "I'm sorry," he said finally. "I'm not sure I'm ready for this. You've stepped away from the world and made yourself its silent protector, its secret lord. I'm just a man, John. I can't just turn my back on normalcy as you have."
John looked a little disappointed, but nodded. He patted Frank's shoulder lightly. "It's all right, I understand. I can't say I wouldn't feel differently, in your place. I just...." He stopped, and sighed. "Will you think about it, at least? You of all people should understand how much joy can be found when we step away from what's expected of us. Take a chance."
Frank thought back to meeting Leon and nodded. "All right. I'll consider it."
"It's all I ask." John smiled warmly, and turned, heading with him back into the house to where their partners were waiting.
"I've left something for you at your house," John told him in a low voice later, as he walked Frank out to the car. "Just a thank you for your help in the past. If you don't like it I'll change it back. But it might make things a little easier."
Frank stared at him for a moment, uncomprehending, then nodded. "Thank you. I'll let you know what I think."
They drove back into the city in silence, Frank deep in thought, and he started a little at the touch of Leon's hand on his arm. "Are you all right?"
Frank glanced to him with a smile and nodded. "Yeah. Sorry. Just thinking about everything. Are you all right? It's a lot to take in."
"It is," Leon replied, nodding slowly. "I don't really have a choice not to believe it, it just... everything seems so strange. Maybe when I see it all it will be easier to take in. I can't imagine the chaos if everyone in the city knew."
"With great power comes great responsibility," Frank replied slowly, taking in the street that they drove on, the people walking under the street lights, the cars that passed in the opposite direction. All unknowing. "It's going to take some time to get used to all of this."
"It is," Leon agreed.
They parted ways briefly when they arrived home, Leon heading into his own place next door. He'd join Frank later, changed and comfortable. Frank stepped into his own entryway and locked the door behind him, stopping short as he turned, staring at the wall. At the door that hadn't been there before. He tried the handle, finding it unlocked, and pulled it open to Leon's equally surprised face on the other side.
"Well," Leon said slowly, looking the door over, "It's certainly more discreet."
"It is," Frank replied, smiling and thinking that he'd have to thank John. He dropped a soft kiss to Leon's lips before heading upstairs, looking to change and shower before Leon joined him. Stepping into his bedroom revealed that the door wasn't John's only surprise, though. The layout of their townhouses was mirrored, master bedrooms side by side. Master bedroom, Frank corrected, staring at the complete lack of wall between his home and Leon's, at the carpet and paint and drywall that looked completely natural, as if the house had been made that way. They'd have to rearrange furniture - Leon's mostly unused single bed had sat flush with the adjoining wall, blocking him now from his astonished young lover, who stood at the door to his room on the other side. He caught Leon's gaze with a smile. "Is this all right, Leon?"
"This is completely all right," Leon replied, his own smile growing, and he hopped over the end of the bed and into Frank's arms, kissing him warmly. "I'll put my bed in the spare, I haven't slept in it for months. This is perfect."
"Yes," Frank agreed, returning the kiss yearningly before forcing himself to pull away to go shower, thinking very fondly about his lover as he did.
It wasn't that Leon was tiny. He was smaller than Frank, yes, but then most men were, and he rather liked it that way. It was nice to be able to tug Leon back against his chest, wrap his arms around his shoulders and hear the sigh of contentment as he leaned back into him. He always felt taken care of, Leon would say, and that's what Frank liked the most.
He liked the feeling of a smaller body next to his, liked the tight, toned muscles on slender hips and thighs, the shoulders that were strong enough to be masculine without being huge and bulky and unsightly like so many gay men he'd met who were all about image. Leon kept himself very nicely - for the job as much as anything else - and Frank thought it was completely perfect.
That lead to a very guilty pleasure indeed.
It hadn't been on purpose the first time. Leon had grabbed his white collared shirt off the floor one Saturday morning and shrugged it on only to find that it wasn't his at all - Frank's height and broader shoulders left Leon almost swimming in his shirt, the white fabric baggy and long, hanging over his hands, brushing bare thighs. He'd laughed and apologized and gone to take it off, then suddenly found himself pulled back to bed, and Frank was very glad that it was a weekend.
After that, of course, he did it on purpose. Just every once and a while, infrequent enough that it still took Frank's breath away. Now was no exception, standing in the middle of their suddenly much larger bedroom, hair still wet from the shower. Frank had slipped into boxers and stopped at the bedroom door in the middle of toweling his hair, just watching, just taking everything in.
Leon wasn't wearing anything but the gray blue shirt Frank had just taken off, the bottom of it brushing the back of his bare thighs, and Frank knew from experience how soft his skin would be, still a little damp. Leon turned, not having bothered to button up the shirt, and gave Frank a little smile, shivering as Frank's eyes raked over the bare skin visible through the open garment.
"Coming to bed?" His lover asked softly, and Frank forced himself to move, tossing the towel into the hamper as he moved across the room.
"You're in big trouble, you know."
"Really?" Leon's little smile widened, and he moaned softly as Frank's hands stroked around his waist over the crisp fabric, pulling him close as he pressed his lips to the side of his neck. The only thing better than having a freshly showered Leon was having one that looked small and completely corruptable in his oversized shirt, smelling a little of Frank from the garment. "I like trouble," Leon breathed as Frank kissed down the side of his neck, nosing aside the collar to suck and nip on the muscle that stretched from neck to shoulder, biting lightly at his skin. This he did for Leon's sake as much as his own, for the way it made Leon whimper and arch against him, tilting his head back to angle for more. "Oh god, sir..."
He'd mostly broken Leon of the habit of calling him sir in bed, mostly out of a guilty sense of inequality; there was already enough of that at work. But when Leon was wearing his shirt it just seemed deliciously kinky. He nibbled along the tendon in his neck, nuzzling his collarbone, nipping at his skin. His hands stroked up under the shirt, over strong thighs to cup his lover's pert ass, pulling him closer. He gave a low moan as Leon stroked his arms up around his neck, at the feel of Leon's bare skin against his own, pressed close and offering himself entirely.
"You know what this does to me, don't you?" he breathed, indulging in another light bite to Leon's shoulder, sucking hard at the soft skin until Leon whimpered from the stimulation, arching into it even knowing that it would bruise.
"Yes," he breathed in reply, letting his hips grind against Frank's, already hard as he rocked up against Frank's cock through his boxers. "I love feeling what it does to you. Love what you do to me."
Frank groaned, releasing his skin to claim Leon's mouth again, hands kneading at his ass as he pulled him closer. Every place they touched was a warm shock of pleasure that shivered through him, beginning with the press of Leon's cock against his own through his shorts. "Dirty boy," he murmured, smiling as he heard Leon hiss at the term of endearment, hips jerking up against him a little. "Just want me to throw you down and ravish you, don't you?"
"Please," Leon replied breathlessly, hands moving to tug at Frank's boxers, pushing them down off his hips. His fingers curled around Frank's cock, stroking him tantalizingly. "Please, love. Show me what I do to you."
Frank nipped lightly at his bottom lip, feeling him shudder against him. "On the bed, love. On your hands and knees."
Leon pulled back without hesitation, eyes dark with desire. He settled down on his knees and forearms, the shirt just barely covering his pert ass, hanging down over his thighs. He shivered a little, back arched. Presenting himself. "Frank, please...."
Frank stepped out of his shorts and grabbed the bottle of lube from the bedside table before settling beside him. He stroked a hand down his back, tugging up the shirt just enough to bare that perfect ass to his gaze. Then he stroked lubed fingers slowly down Leon's crack, eyes narrowing a little at his lover's whimper of pleasure, at the way he rocked back onto his fingers as Frank urged them inside him, fucking him slowly. "My impatient little boy."
"Can't help it," Leon breathed in reply, breath hitching as Frank's fingers pumped slowly deeper, crooking to brush up against his pleasure point. "Oh god, yes...."
Frank eased his fingers away and knelt over him, nuzzling aside the shirt collar to press a warm kiss to the back of Leon's neck, blanketing him with his body. He groaned as Leon pressed back against his cock, letting it slide between his ass cheeks teasingly. "Going to be so nice not to have to send you home to get dressed in the morning. Just keep you in my arms."
Leon gave a soft whimper, curling back into him, tilting his head to bare his neck more for Frank's kisses. "Yes. Yes, it will." He held still as Frank pulled back just long enough to coat himself, easing into his lover with slow thrusts, closing his eyes for a moment at the familiar sheath of his lover's body, hot and tight around him. The depth of desire he had for his young lover still amazed him after all this time, and it was hard to imagine a time without this. He leaned down to nuzzle the back of Leon's neck again, moving in him in even, deep thrusts, smiling at the gasps of pleasure each thrust drew from Leon's throat.
"My beautiful boy," he murmured, bucking a little harder into him at Leon's responding whimper. Leon was always responsive in bed, sensual and completely unrestrained. Frank loved it, couldn't get enough of it, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than spoiling his lover completely, coaxing him to climax with his mouth and hands or with slow, deep thrusts until Leon was completely boneless and sated. Then he'd do it again, finally taking his pleasure of Leon, losing himself in the sweetness of his flesh and his lover's encouraging cries. But times like this Leon seemed to have his own agenda, seemed to want to do anything he could to make Frank completely lose control. Leon rocked back against him, moving with him, grinding up against him with little whimpers of pleasure like he couldn't get enough of having Frank inside him.
"Frank - !" His name was a gasped entreaty from Leon's lips, his fingers clenched at the sheets as they moved together. He seemed so small and enticing that it was all Frank could do not to lose control entirely. He bit down hard on the collar of his shirt and began to pound harder into him, freeing one hand to curl around Leon's cock. His lover was keening, panting for breath, body tense and shuddering with pleasure against him as Frank felt him draw close. Within a few thrusts Frank had drawn him over the edge, his body clenching impossibly tight around him as he cried out, coming in slick spurts in Frank's fingers. Frank didn't falter, gasping his name against his skin as he drew him through it with hard thrusts, his own pleasure finally overwhelming him as well.
Afterward he curled around Leon, tucking the blankets around them, enjoying the warmth and softness of the other man's languid body in his arms. "Thanks for letting me come with you tonight," Leon murmured sleepily, face nuzzled into his chest. "Was so nice not to have to pretend...."
"We'll do it more often," Frank promised, and meant it. Whatever the consequences of associating with John Murdoch would be, it would be worth it just for that.
Frank woke before Leon the next morning, pressing a soft kiss to his lover's hair before slipping out of bed and dressing. On the weekend there usually wasn't any demands from the office, just a chance to relax and unwind with Leon. But he had a lot to think on today.
He slipped into his study and shut the door behind him quietly, opening the case for his accordian and running his fingers over the mother-of-pearl body and worn keys. It had been a while... he played now more for enjoyment and less from the need to get lost in his own, lonely mind. It was a good feeling, to touch the accordian without the ache of melencholy. He sat by the back window to look over the city, the accordian on his lap, working the bellows and playing a few soft notes. He thought about music, about the calm it brought to him now to play, to be able to step away from everything and just feel music. He thought about Leon, curled up on the end of the couch with a book and a little smile on his face, enjoying the music.
The city was missing things like this. Missing the songs he could remember but had never been able to find in any of the music stores. Would there be more people who remembered music like this? Remembered the same songs? Perhaps they could record new records. Or even better, a ninth movie.
He let his fingers move over the keys for a time, picking out melodies that existed only in his mind, then finally put the accordian away. Sitting at his desk, he found John Murdoch's card in his wallet and dialed the number for home.
"It's Frank," he said, giving a smile to Leon as he came in, dressed in his housecoat, hair still tousled from sleep. "We like what you've done with the house, John. Thank you."
He could hear the smile in John's voice. "I'm glad to hear that. Anything I can do to help friends."
"I was thinking about that," Frank replied, still watching Leon with a little smile. "And about what we discussed last night. I was wondering if you'd ever considered building a guest house on your property. Assuming that's within the scope of your abilities."
"It is," John replied carefully, pausing for a moment before continuing. "We do own a good parcel of land around the house. If I did have a guest house overlooking the sea, would you like to have use of it?"
"It would be nice to be able to get away from the city more often," Frank told him, smiling wider to echo the one on Leon's face. "And in regards to your proposal, I've decided I'd like to help you."
"You won't regret it," John promised, and Frank could hear the smile in his voice. "Give me two weeks to get the guest house up, it just takes some disguising my work so as not to disturb the neighbourhood. Will that be all right?"
"That'll be fine. Let me know when you want to meet and we can discuss your plans."
"Dinner tomorrow in the city? There's a very good restaurant I know of that has a few private rooms. I'll book one for the four of us."
"I'll see you then," Frank replied, saying goodbye and ending the phone call. Then he crossed the room and took Leon in his arms, kissing him warmly.
It would be worth it.