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Unfamiliar With Altruism

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"James, you need permanence. You need stability . And I..." He flashed a self-depreciating grin. "I'm not exactly the most stable individual."


Frank glanced from side to side, then huffed a laugh. "I'm in television , for crissakes. ... Was in television. My idea of long term is enough episodes to get syndication ."


James just stared at him with that look on his face that always made Frank want to cringe. It was intense and Frank thought of it as his "looking into your brain" stare. Everything about James was intense. It was flattering, sometimes, being the target of that focus. People didn't go into the entertainment field because they didn't like attention. But it was still unnerving.


Finally, James reached out and gently pressed his thumb to the line of worry between Frank's eyebrows, smoothing it out. "How long were you in television?" he asked quietly.


Long enough that I remember when it wasn't about the money. Long enough that I remember when I gave a damn and my hands were clean. Long enough that it actually hurts knowing I'll probably never be able to go back to it. "Years." Decades. A lifetime.


James smiled. It was one of his rare honest smiles. Not the kind he used to hide whirling mental cogs and an almost unnatural ability to read people. Or the kind he sometimes showed his mother to hide the hurt and sadness and anger she unknowingly visited upon him. (Mrs. Bennett was a sweet old broad, but it kinda pissed him off how she didn't even notice how she was hurting her son.)


No, this smile was the genuine article. Frank might not have the ability to read people like James, but he had been bullshitted by the best. If he hadn't learned how to tell a real smile from a fake, he wouldn't have lasted as long in the business as he had.


Something about his answer made James happy.


"You may not be stable, Frank, but you do have permanence," he said. His mouth tilted to the side in the way that signalled he was about to try to make a joke. "It took a rhino to take you out last time."


Frank let out a surprised chuckle. It wasn't, really, very funny. For a while, when Tommy and her boys had him, he had honestly feared for his life. He still didn't know why he had been spared while Burke had....


It wasn't very funny at all. But it was James, who rarely joked because he was too busy being serious and desperately hanging on to any little thing he could call his own. James, who knew he still slanted his "F" oddly sometimes because his hand thought it was supposed to be an "M," because that was the kind of weird shit James noticed.


So he laughed at the goddamn purple rhino and basked in James's attention and pleased smile, and forgot why he had tried to break up with him in the first place.