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A Song Tied to a Melody

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the deepest part of the human heart

Three weeks into first semester, the girl who sits in front of him every musicianship lecture, a pretty sweet-natured brunette who has unfortunate taste in sweaters, turns around in her seat after class and leans over to talk to him at last. He's fairly sure she's been working up to it over the last week.

"Um. So, have you started on your composition assignment? Oh, and I'm Serena." She blushes and holds out her hand. Tim takes it and shakes it and tries his hardest not to smirk, on his face or in the gesture. She's cute, and twirling her hair nervously around one finger, the same soft strand over and over.

"Maybe," he answers, and begins to walk past her down the stairs, feeling her just a step behind. "But maybe not, I don't know yet. I won't know for a while." He's not being rude or obtuse, it's just how his music process works, but he takes a few more steps and then he realises she's no longer right behind him. He thinks over what he just said, how he said it, and he can't help but turn around and look at her expression, really look, and even cares a little if he's hurt her feelings or something.

"I'm sorry," he says quickly; then, as if to change the topic, appear a little warmer, "Hey, you really remind me of someone from home." Flashing a smile, sincere, feeling her melt.

"Really?" There's pleasure in her voice. "A good someone, I hope."

"Yep," he answers honestly, "definitely."

This time it's her turn to walk past him out the door, and he can almost see the spring in her step. She's so naive it strikes him how very apt the reminder is, the spitting image of Steph and what he's left behind him now. She's still at the stage where she thinks it's the good that people want, but desire works in terrible ways.




fall into me like a domino

The student cafeteria is always one or two people short of deserted even at this time of night. Tim likes it here, likes it this way - the eerie emptiness of shuttered outlets, Formica tables wiped clean, a ghost of its daytime chaos. Every once in a while, when he needs to think or to work through some music in his head (when they're the same, that's when it flows best), and his room is just too small for being a closet into which two disparate strangers have been forced to share (Jerry has football training on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, very little sense of how to put things away, a taste for cock rock, and no discernible personality that Tim can fathom), then Tim comes down here to the bowels of the student centre at ass o'clock in the night and just scribbles away until things seem clearer in his head or until he falls asleep and one of the night staff has to nudge him awake to shoo him away.

Lately he's been here for too many nights in a row. Kyle rang for the first time, seven weeks and two days since they last saw each other at the Greyhound station. Tim listened to his voice and heard home in each syllable, listened too hard for the hint of anything else without hearing what he wanted, and didn't catch any of the content. It didn't matter anyway, it screwed him up for the rest of the week, thinking about what they weren't talking about, and more - what Tim can't bring himself to say. His first composition is due in three days and maybe it's foolishness to try and process so much about Kyle and the last year into a song so soon because nothing is resolving into a song that makes sense or melody in his head. Just discord and unfinished cadences, notes he can hear need to be inserted at the end of a phrase but can't quite fit in, and his fingers cramp up time after time and refuse to play.

"I've seen you around."

A voice breaks into Tim's head, fucking up another unsuccessful attempt at the song, startling him to look up. A stranger, long and lean, blonde hair and smiling eyes. Tim's seen him around too, one of the others who use the cafeteria for its peace and quiet, but before now everyone left everyone else alone in unspoken agreement. The flippant answer rolls off his tongue as a startled reaction, harsh in the lonely quiet.

"What about it? It's a small campus, a free world." Oh yeah, he's been making friends all over campus with his attitude and friendliness. But it doesn't put this stranger off, because he swings a leg over the bench and sits astride it, facing Tim, leaning forward. Tim can see the freckles scattered across his nose, caramel flecks almost invisible.

"What are you working on? I mean I've seen you around here almost every night, hunched over your notebook."

"Just...some music." He closes the notebook over his hand, a nervous reaction. "An assignment, actually."

The guy raises one eyebrow. "You don't seem like the studious type. Pulling so many all-nighters over schoolwork? You must be a really serious music major."

"Undeclared," Tim shoots back in reply, feeling the same irrational pride he gets every time he says it, defying the expectations. But nothing this stranger would understand, right?

The guy shrugs, looks away and suddenly smiles to himself, before asking Tim, "But music is what you love, right? Or you wouldn't be working so hard on this. It's what you want to do."

It's not a question, and he knows he's right about Tim. It's a little irritating and Tim is about to snap something to that effect to get rid of him when the guy slides a even closer on the bench, almost surrounding Tim with his legs, and then says casually, as if their denim-clad knees weren't touching each other, bump bump in odd rhythm, "So are you any good at it? Music, I mean."

Tim knows the answer to this one, the right one and the one he likes to say. "Does it matter if I am? If I love it."

The guy nods, taps his fingers on Tim's knee in a syncopated beat, then drums his fingers one hand in a quick scale upwards on the same spot, but Tim kind of wishes he'd go higher.

"Uh-huh. My thing is drawing. Want to see?" He pulls a notebook, a similar black-covered one but smaller, out of his pocket and flips it over expertly to the last page. It's a pretty good likeness, in pencil, and complete. Tim looks at the picture for a while, and he almost admits that he's only ever once tried to draw someone with the same precision and detail and effort.

"I'm flattered," he says in the end, a moment before he thinks the silence is going to sound awkward.

"Good," the guy says, and then he deliberately places one hand on Tim's neck, just below his ear. "Can I kiss you?"

The kiss, the hand on his neck, there's too much memory in the act but Tim goes along with it anyway, a little part of his mind almost smug with the knowledge that Tim's enjoying this, following the guy all the way to his room (a single, he's an RA in Tim's dorm but not his floor, thank fuck.).

It's not until the guy's got one hand down the front of his jeans that Tim thinks to ask, "Shit, I never...Who are you - What's your name?"

"Vern," the guy says, and Tim can't help but collapse in laughter, another bit of last year intruding into his present. "You should meet my sister," he tells Vern v2. He'd explain, but Vern takes it all in his stride, the choking laughs and the non sequitur, doesn't take offence but slides Tim's jeans to the floor in practised move. Tim sobers up a little then, raises up on his elbows to watch, feeling almost detached from his own seduction.

"You've done this before?" Vern asks, when he notices the hesitation on Tim's face, the distraction.

Yes, very emphatically, yes with an exclamation mark and a shitload of guilt.

"N-o." Tim says instead, even drags it out a little, enough to make it sound convincing, but his hips wriggle closer to Vern, impatient and giving him away. Vern laughs, and ducks his head, no more questions asked, not more questions answered, for tonight.




thrown into the ocean in the worst of weather

"Merry Christmas!" Penny is shaking the snow from her curls, stamping it from her boots, a picture of alive warmth on the front porch. She unwinds her scarf smoothly and drapes it over Tim's shoulders as he peers around the front door, giving him a quick peck on the cheek.

"I brought home a surprise," she continues, and from behind her, from the dark into the light, steps Vern - not home-Vern, but Tim's college-Vern, who he hasn't actually spoken to or seen since that sleepless night in October. While Sandy says dryly from behind him, "Thank you very much for the warning, Penny," Tim turns on his heels to follow his sister as she winds her way up the stairs to her room. He can faintly hear Sandy say something that sounds like, "I'm sure I didn't raise them to be as rude as..." but he's hardly focussed on niceties at the moment.

"What - What happened to Vern?" he asks, as calmly as he can. This is just too weird.

"Oh, this is a Vern too," she says calmly over her shoulder as she removes her coat clumsily with frozen fingers. "Soon I'll have the full set!" This said with a wicked grin.

"Last time I talked to you - you were asking what to get Vern, original Vern, for Christmas - "

Penny gives him a look as she turns, and shakes her head, backing him out of her room at the same time with deliberate steps. "I'm dying to get out of these wet clothes, so excuse me little brother. You can have your unwarranted and odd crisis about who I bring home on your own, ok?" The door clicks neatly shut in his face, discussion over, Tim none the wiser or settled.

Behind him, Sandy comes up the stairs muttering under her breath. She's looked better in the last year, but the cold isn't good for her. But even Tim has to grudgingly acknowledge that Ben is on his best behaviour now; he's outdone himself with the heating for her sake, and inside the house it's almost tropical. On seeing Tim, Sandy says candidly, "I love having you both home, but sometimes you children drive me insane." She breaks off as she stops outside the one free bedroom. She grimaces and then continues, "I guess he'll have to sleep in here."

The sheets have been changed, the carpet replaced, and most of Matt's belongings packed away in boxes and put in storage about twenty minutes drive away. But the trophies still dot the room, and they are always free of dust.

Margie brings her hardware store boyfriend for dinner, as well as some chatter, light and appropriately festive for the sake of the guests, nothing of the family history roiling beneath the surface. Tim can't help but ask after Kyle, and it's the only other sore point, Margie falling silent for once before sucking in a sigh, darting a quick look at the man beside her, and settling on a rueful shrug as answer enough. There's worry in her eyes, and Tim wants to shake her for the whole truth, and he wants at the same time to jump up and leave the table and go looking for his best friend, his best friend who hasn't tried to reach him in the day and half he's been home. Some fucking best friend.

The contradiction in thought and feeling keeps him distracted and silent throughout the rest of the meal, which is lucky as Ben has been trying to ease, or force, every single conversational thread into the subject of Tim's major, or lack therefore at this point. Sometimes he still wants Tim to shine, for some reflected glory that Ben can't stop seeking. My son, the winner; if Tim can't be one then couldn't he try being the other? It's the very clear subtext under all his inept segues between Penny's spirited tales (exaggerations, Sandy indulgently calls them) about college life - vegetarianism, lesbianism, activism; Vern v.2 politely deflecting all enquiry into his relationship with Penny; and Margie's supreme efforts to steer everyone back into holiday cheer. Sandy is visibly relieved when, after dinner and a lazy attempt at clearing up by Tim and Ben, Penny curls one arm around Tim and loops her other into the waiting crook of Vern's and says, "Mom, I'm borrowing these two for the night."

It's a tight fit in the playground, Vern's legs hanging over the edge of the spinner; he keeps them guessing, sometimes spinning them languid circles, then drawing them still in the middle of a rotation with a sudden jerk. Penny lies between them, head pillowed on Vern's outstretched arm, but his fingers bunch up by Tim's neck and they brush against each other, over and over as they move. They're only a fifth of the way through the bottle of vodka when Penny pulls it from Tim's grasp, overriding his protests.

"We're going to play `I Never'," she says brightly. "I'll start. I've never caught my parents having sex."

Vern takes a swig, then stares at the Travis children curiously. "Not either one of you?"

"Never even seem them kiss," Tim and Penny chorus in unison, sharing a fond glance. Penny pokes Tim in the side, and says, "Your turn. Make it good."

"I' Given head."

Penny rolls her eyes as she reaches for the bottle, then passes it to Vern, who also drinks. The next few rounds are predictable and mostly pedestrian: had sex, cut class, broke my leg, lied to my brothers and sister, kissed someone of the same sex, and so on. Tim drinks every single round, but the other two are almost as shitfaced as he is.

"I've never," Penny purses his lips as if deep in thought. "I know. I've never had sex with my brother."

Tim freezes. He starts to ask, "What do you mean?" trying to keep his voice even, but even before he finishes Penny starts to giggles and says, "Oh shit, that didn't come out right, I meant, I've never had sex with Tim." It should still sound wrong, but she looks from Tim to Vern, and back again, meaning the obvious. Vern raises his eyebrow at her, a familiar gesture, then drinks deeply from the bottle. There's barely any liquor left now.

Tim's still frozen, uncertain, as Penny turns to him and says gently, "I'm only fucking with your mind, Tim, I know you've slept with Vern and I wanted to let you know somehow that it's OK. I love you, nothing changes." She sits up slowly with a groan, clutching her head dramatically before hopping out. Tim slides towards Vern, a natural movement in the curved spinner. Penny smiles down at them both, then says, "Now that my good work is done I can finally spend it with my real boyfriend." She laughs, and turns to walk away. "Merry Christmas, Tim. I hope you like your present."

"I could really feel you tense up when Penny said that last one," Vern says thoughtfully after a while. They're still lying there, side by side looking up at the stars, just like so many important moments in Tim's life; Vern's slipped an arm around Tim and his fingers trace cold patterns into the skin of his waist. "I didn't think you'd be so scared of her reaction. She's a cool girl."

"I - I didn't - I don't know about all this yet," Tim stumbles through, keeping everything neutral. Then, in a short tone, "I don't want to talk about it."

"Fine," Vern says, the shrug in his voice evident, unfussed. He leans over and takes Tim's face between his cold palms. "Don't talk." They kiss for as long as they can stand to be out in the snow. It's almost completely quiet, save the snap of branches in the freeze, a icy wind rustling leaves, and it's the cold that's the silence and the noise all in one, that Tim can hear the whole night.




at our best when you're upset

It's a very bad, no good day from the start - Tim's late to his first class which only has five other people in it so he can't hide, there's a surprise quiz in his hardest subject that he's sure he's going to fail, and no matter how hard he practises he can't play his newest piece at all. It's a leaden, bloated, lifeless piece of shit in his hands, and he knows it's because it feels the same in his head. He's given up on the piece he wanted to write about Kyle, given up on understanding the confusion in his head, but it's been the only song he's tried to write in the last six months that felt alive in his mind.

He barely makes it to the end of the day awake, and as he walks back to the dorm in the twilight all he can think of is finding something to pop and sleep the blues away. He's so out of it that he's chucked his sneakers into the corner and about to pull off his jeans before he notices that the pile of bedclothes is breathing. He pokes at it warily, and Kyle sleepily rolls over, uncurling himself from under the blanket.

"Shit!" Tim yells, startled. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Your roommate let me in," Kyle mutters, voice raspy low. "I can't believe you went to all your classes today. I've been waiting six fucking hours, man."

"I mean, why are you here? How did you get here?"

Kyle shrugs, and buries himself deeper into the bed. Tim catches quit, mom's fucktard boyfriend, hitchhiked, two days, all murmured into the pillow.

"Well, I want to sleep like the dead, so move your ass onto the floor, alright?"

Tim's not in the mood for any of this. But Kyle - sleepy-lidded eyes, smirk on that generous mouth - just throws open the covers and pats the little space left on the bed beside him. Kyle's not wearing a shirt, he's not wearing anything but underwear. This is a test, a challenge; Tim closes his eyes, and seethes, and wants, and remembers. The last time they were in bed together was over a year ago, that New Year's, what a way to end and start, kisses and a dirty drugged hot blowjob; that moment of peace before he woke and their friendship became bent, if not broken. This is a test, Tim knows. He opens his eyes and gives Kyle a dirty look, leaves his jeans on and slides gingerly into bed, keeping his distance. Kyle just squeezes closer, turning on his side towards Tim, and Tim reaches out blindly for the oxycodone in the drawer by his bed and falls asleep under their sedating magic.

When he finally wakes, it's dark outside except for the streetlights, and Kyle is dressed and sitting on his bed, head cocked . "Hey, I was worried you were never going to wake up," he says, reaching out a hand and stroking the hair out of Tim's face, just once and quickly. "Your roommate says there's a party over in block D that we should go check out."

Tim, still a bit groggy, pulls on a shirt and stumbles out of the room after Kyle. Jerry's in the hallway, leaning against the wall. As Tim walks past, Jerry mutters, "Were you two in bed together when I came in?"

"You tell me, I was asleep," Tim counters, and pushes past him roughly. There's less than a month to the end of the semester, and Tim's already put in his request for a room switch. The panic that used to fight in his stomach whenever there was the slightest hint of people realising he wasn't completely straight seems to have dissolved in a pool of apathy and time. And Jerry, well, he's not worth the angst, Tim doesn't give a shit what he thinks.

The party's like any other he's attended half-heartedly since starting college. Drugs and sex and alcohol freely available if you hit up the right people, and it had been just like high school, except he didn't have Steph to snuggle into to shut out the world, or Penny to make funny comments under her breath to entertain him. He greets some guys from his American lit class, smiles fakely at some girl who gushes all over him about their last performance recital together, sits uncomfortably next to Serena and has a stop-start conversation of awkward talk and silences that should pretty much kill any hope left in her heart, and that's about the extent of it. He can't see Kyle anywhere, but he's pretty sure if he checked one of the beds behind the closed doors he'd see his best friend fucking another hot willing chick with low self esteem and burgeoning alcoholic poisoning.

He's half passed out on the couch in the corner of the room when he feels cold fingers on his neck, his lips. He slurs, "Tired of it all by now?" and he doesn't know who he's talking about. Kyle slides down beside him, limbs askew, face tight and Tim knows he's upset about something but can't work out why it's Kyle who's mad.

"Why have you been avoiding me?" he hears himself saying, and hates the beers for loosening his tongue, his neediness.

Kyle snorts, and says in a low angry voice, "I'm the one avoiding you? You didn't come see me man, I waited for you at Christmas to show, but you were too busy making out with some guy in the park - "

"Wait, you saw me...?" The panic returning, sliding cold around his guts and squeezing tight all the way around his body.

"Yeah, I saw you." It's a statement and an accusation. Tim can feel a headache and his defensiveness coming on.

"So fuck it, you've been right all alone, I'm gay." The words taste bitter and horrible on his tongue, and he's hissing them because even though the music's loud and no one's looking at them Tim can't shake the feeling that someone might notice them, this stupid argument, this tension. "Judging by how badly you're taking it can you blame me for not telling you - " But it's not a punch in the mouth or abuse he gets but the unexpected, Kyle swooping in and trying to kiss him in the middle of this party, a ferocious possession.

Tim jerks back from the touch, the heat of Kyle's mouth. There's a cacophony in his head (can't have you, my brother; can't tell you, my best friend) over and over, and terror coating everything, even the taste of the kiss he wants to draw in and memorise because it's the only thing he allows himself to keep.

"No." That's all he can force out, and his legs are moving from instinct, running away. Watching Kyle narrow his eyes and frown out of the side of his eyes, and that's all Tim can take before he's stumbling past oblivious strangers hooting and hollering, thinking him drunk.

Tim picks the lock of Vern's room and hides in there for the night, safe in the knowledge that Vern is away for the weekend. There's no sleep for him, lying on his side, thinking over Kyle's revelation, his reaction, the kiss. He zombies his way through another day of classes, even more unprepared for each lesson without his notes and books back in his room; but he's avoiding his room, and Jerry, and everyone's eyes.

As he walks out of his last lecture of the day though, Kyle is waiting outside for him, hands in his pockets, hair over his eyes.

"I'm going home. You can have your room back." There's no accusation in his voice now, just sadness. Tim takes a step forward, and Kyle meets him with a step of his own. "I miss you, so stop being an asshole and be my best friend again."

The quad is deserted. Kyle ducks down, takes Tim's face between his hands and places another kiss on his lips. This one is gentle, a goodbye, but sweet. Tim leans into it, lets himself be kissed, taking it all in and pushing all other thoughts out of his mind for the moment.

Then Kyle steps back, a quick forced smile. "See you around," and he's gone.




when all that's left is a fucking song

The summer heat rolls in through his open window, and it makes him drowsy, it makes him even less able to unpack his shit properly, and that ability was already impaired from the start because, well, he's still a teenaged boy, right? Tim stares at the odd pile of notes and books he's managed to amass during his one year of higher learning so far, all thrown haphazardly into a box in a last minute rush to get home, and sighs. Soon he'll have to make a decision about direction, and make Ben happy that he's thinking seriously about his future.

But he's not, and hasn't. He's been thinking seriously about Kyle instead, and hasn't stopped since that whistlestop visit weeks ago: thinking that makes him blush and panic and write like a demon to try and work it out, tune it out; which turns out well in the end because he passed everything and actually more than passed all his music related subjects, comments scrawled in red on top of his compositions that are complimentary, even amazed. It should be awesome; it just makes him think of sex more, and more desperately.

He's only been home three hours, but his mind is already at the Dwyer house, in Kyle's room. Finally, he drops a pile of useless paper on his desk, kicks the box in frustration on the way out, and makes his way next door. Knocking on the door prompts no response, but Tim knows it's still early enough in the afternoon that Kyle could be asleep or passed out somewhere inside. The spare key is easily found (Kyle taught Tim its whereabouts when they were ten, and he's never forgotten), and after that, Kyle himself; lying in bed backwards with his head at its feet, staring up at the ceiling, the spinning snake.

"Hey," Tim calls out from the door. He hasn't been in here in a while. He almost feels like he has to be invited in, like a vampire. Kyle drops his head to one side, gives him a long look, then turns back as if to ignore him, but at the last minute he bounds up and off the bed, barrels into Tim instead and envelops him in a giant hug.

"Missed you too," Tim says, patting Kyle on the back when the other boy doesn't pull away after the usual comfortable moment. Kyle only draws back far enough to look Tim in the eye, and say, "Do you really want me to let go?"

No. "No," Tim answers honestly, softly. Kyle nods, and his hands slide up Tim's back slowly; a hand on his neck and this time they both lean into the kiss, dry lips and nerves and all the desire they've been dancing around. Meeting each other in the middle, and there are crickets in the dry heat of the day, and a quiet suburban street. Tim hears all this but nothing registers right now but the hitch in Kyle's breath, the sound a sharp shock of want and need at the base of his neck and down his spine, and moving them so fast, so slow, onto the bed.

Kyle crawls over him like every dream come true, and Tim has a flash of why it's always been a dream and not reality. He puts a hand between them, places it hard on Kyle's chest and pushes hard, digs the heel of his palm in.

"Do you want me to stop?" Kyle says, a teasing note creeping into his voice, as his hands slide under Tim's shirt and Kyle lowers his hips against Tim's, smiling at the moan he gets.

"You - don't start something. Again. That you won't accept about yourself afterwards." This is the third hardest thing he's wanted to say to Kyle. This is the hardest thing he's actually said to Kyle's face. I want you. That's the second hardest, and he'll say it, if Kyle means all that he's doing, with his hands, his hips, his mouth.

"Every single time you touch me, you know what it does - you start it, every time, and every single fucking time you swear you're not gay." Tim hopes that Kyle can hear what he's asking underneath the blame. He hasn't come up with a better way to say it in the weeks he's been thinking it.

Kyle's fingers keep dancing across Tim's ribs, a press here and a slide there, slow deliberation. In the end, he shrugs, and says simply, "Would you accept that it doesn't matter, if you love someone, what labels you put on it?" And maybe that's the best they'll get to now, but it answers everything.

"I want you," Tim hears himself say, fiercely, and then there's only one thing left to say, one thing left between them, but Kyle's rocking against him, they're both hard and they've been waiting for one another so long to get to this point. Focus on each other all over again, instead, on being fucked senseless, on mouths and tongues and naked skin. The sound Kyle makes when he comes, the rhythm as he pushes into Tim and breaks him down, the beat of his heart pounding wild. A song he'll always want to write about the one he loves, not the song he's been trying to put to paper about a brother he's never known.

Tim wakes late in the day, the sun almost completely set, the night cool drifting into the room over their nakedness. He shivers, and pulls away from Kyle, sitting up to find his clothes. There's a sour note of memory in this, but he fights it away by poking Kyle awake, motioning for him to get dressed too. There's no running away here, not now.

"Come on," he says, and Kyle follows him blearily, unquestioningly. They lie on the lawn, the grass crackling beneath their weight, and look up at the stars in the clearest sky. Tim listens hard but nothing tells him that the melody's changed, all he can hear is his own heart still loud and exuberant in the afterglow. Some things are best left unsaid, and unheard. Tim reaches out to rest his fingers against Kyle's, and the stars stay the same, unchanged.