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Oak-Knower

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Tomas doesn't mind admitting (at least to himself) that he has better manners than most. This isn't pride, because it’s a credit to his Abuela, not to him. Because he has manners, he tries not to let on that when he first begins to work with Marcus Keane, there is more than a hint of exoticism to his fascination with the man.

Tomas is a city boy born and bred; he can't imagine coming from somewhere so remote that the only memorable feature is a forest. The closest to forest he even gets is the bits of Chicago parkland he jogs through sometimes. And even more than that, Tomas is Mexican; the way Marcus draws and describes Charnwood Forest, Tomas pictures it as chilly, full of shadows and secrets, as wild and lonely a place as exists anywhere in the world. It contributes unavoidably to the mystique that clings to Marcus early on.

There's no reason to express this, and it would be shallow to the point of rudeness to do so, and it would encroach on Tomas’ burgeoning something that he refuses to acknowledge as a crush. So he keeps his mouth shut.

And then he's on the road with Marcus, and no amount of glamour can survive living in each other's armpits day in and day out. The last of the not-a-crush evaporates the day Tomas sees Marcus eat something out of a garbage can (it's an apple, untouched but for a bruise, but still).

“For God's sake, Marcus!”

“Oi,” Marcus says cheerfully with his mouth full, “who am I to question what He provides?”

Much, much later, Tomas will wonder if this early air of mystery and the subsequent dispelling of the same worked a bit like a vaccine, rendering him unable to see the signs until the truth was right before his eyes.

Probably not. There’s no way he could have guessed this.


The interstate seems to go on forever. They talk as much to keep each other sane as to share information, and over time Marcus fills in the blanks of the days he spent in Chicago when he wasn’t working with Tomas.  

“Wait, how were you allowed to sleep at a convent of cloistered nuns?”

“Well, I wasn’t in the convent proper. There was a lovely bench out in the garden.”

“You slept on a bench. Outside.”

“Nicest bench for sleeping in the city. No cops trying to move you on, belladonna flowering everywhere.”

“Belladonna… this is a poison, yes?”

“Deadly nightshade, yeah. For the integrated. Can’t say I agree exactly, but they can’t just be turned loose either. ‘Mad puppets’, Mother Bernadette called them. Not far off.”

“Angela Rance was integrated.”

Marcus’ eyes crinkle fondly. “She is exceptional.”

“She is.” They lapse into silence, but the centre line unspools to Tomas’ left until he feels dizzy. His desperation to stay alert wins out over his discomfort with the topic. “Is it common?”

“Eh? What?” Marcus sounds like he was dozing off, or lost in his own thoughts.

“...Belladonna.”

“You see it around. Berries like tiny black tomatoes, do not eat.”

Tomas flounders. “Using it, I mean. To…”

“Ah. Well, that was the first time I've seen that method, but generally, yeah…” The conversation flows on, and Tomas forgets to think about how Marcus was perfectly happy to sleep outside, surrounded by poison flowers.


The night before what might be their second exorcism together, Marcus seems more jittery than Tomas feels. He prowls, unable to sit down or stop touching every surface and object in their shabby little motel room.

“Are you sure you don't want to take a walk?”

Marcus barks a laugh. “If I go out like this I'm liable to get into a fight.” He scrubs a hand through his hair. “Maybe that's just fine.” He goes to grab his coat, but freezes when Tomas takes his wrist.

“Marcus. I can see something's bothering you. If we do find a demon tomorrow-” and Tomas doesn't doubt that they will, the cloud of malicious tension hanging over the town already sickeningly familiar, “-it will maybe see it too, and use it against us.”

Marcus blows out a frustrated sigh. “You're not wrong.” He falls onto the opposite bed and sits forward, forearms on his knees, hands clasped between them. “I would've expected the last one to tell you this already, but I guess it was too obsessed with the Rance women.” He looks up at Tomas quickly and then back down, and bites out, “After my dad killed my mum, I killed him.”

Tomas' breath catches. “Marcus.”

“Shot him with his own poaching rifle.” He opens his mouth like he might say more, then closes it again, gaze fixed on his hands.

Tomas covers them with his own. “Thank you for telling me,” he says. He's not as thrown to learn this as a demon might have hoped; it fits right in with the rest of the terrible violence and pain he knows Marcus comes from. It's a miracle that he can still let himself be vulnerable, open to love and kindness and the grace of God.

I love him, he realizes. Thank You, Lord, for leading us to become friends.

“I will pray with you, if that is what you want. Or, I will go out with you and get into a fight.” Marcus’ laugh is small and wet, but genuine.

In the end, they do both.


“Animal behaviour, very important.” Marcus gesticulates with a half-eaten soft pretzel. “Aggressive dog packs where there weren’t previously - you know that one. Not always useful, depends on where you are. If there were already a lot of ferals no one’s going to notice. Rats will give up hiding and flee in the open. Insects can’t really flee, so they proliferate like mad instead, just mounds of them all over. Birds go plain nuts. Oftentimes they’ll try to attack, especially the big ones, but not like normal hunting. They just-”

“Fling themselves,” Tomas says, “Like the raven at St. Anthony’s.”

“Exactly. You also see flocking at strange times, without feeding, with no real direction, even birds that don’t normally flock. Shy little birds becoming bold - wrens especially, haven’t a clue why…” Marcus goes on, and Tomas is swiftly lost (he couldn’t identify a wren if his life depended on it), but he doesn’t try to interrupt. Marcus will point out real examples when he sees them. They have time. For now, he’s happy just to listen to Marcus’ voice.


A tip from Bennet leads them to an old, old man. He's definitely possessed, but he has no living family to help them identify the crack the demon wiggled in through, and they worry that the man's body won't last if they go in blind. Which is how they find themselves poking around for clues in a desolate trailer, and then around an even more desolate farmhouse rotting behind it. The naked wood is silver with age, and it's partially sunken into the ground and heavily overgrown.

“I found a door,” Tomas announces, “or maybe a window, let's see…” He crouches to clear away some of the vegetation obscuring it, when Marcus’ voice stops him.

“Tomas! Don't move!”

“What? What is it?”

Marcus steps up beside him. “Do you not see? You're about to reach right into a patch of stinging nettle.” He points out an innocent-looking small green plant that Tomas had, indeed, been about to brush aside.

“How could you possibly spot that?” It's all but indistinguishable from the other greenery around it; if Tomas looked away he probably wouldn't be able to find it again.

Marcus grins crookedly. “I made liberal use of it in the boys’ home. Anyone bigger tried throwing his weight around, he'd wake up with his trousers full of stingers.”

Tomas sighs. “Of course it's something like that.”

“I also worked with some Eastern Orthodox monks who cooked with it, if it makes you feel any better.” Marcus gently elbows Tomas aside. “They bribed me to pick it for them, stuffing me with so much hot borëk I got a bit fat for once.” He reaches quickly for the same plant he warned Tomas away from, takes it in a firm hold, and yanks it free, exposing the border of the square depression in the wall of the house. “There, you were right. It's a door.” A few extractions more, and they're heaving their way into the ruin.

“But who taught you to harvest nettles in the first place?” Tomas asks.

“Dunno,” Marcus says absently, panning his flashlight around. “Me mum, probably. I don't remember not knowing how. Aha! Here's family pictures like there aren't in the trailer. Let's see what we can ferret out.”


Memorization is literally part of a priest's job description (it's a big part of being Catholic, period), and Tomas always thought his verbal memory was serviceable, but it pales in comparison to Marcus’.

They're taking a break in a kitchen, pouring instant coffee into themselves with all the enjoyment of pumping gas into their truck. The coffee might well be gasoline, actually, judging by the taste.

“Now I know why you use your Bible as a sketchbook,” Tomas remarks, “it's because you have the entire thing memorized. We were reciting scripture in there for over two hours, and you didn't so much as look at the page.” And that's just the Bible; Marcus is a seemingly bottomless well of prayers, in at least six languages that Tomas knows about. “I'll never be able to hold that many words.”

Marcus squints at him, tosses back the last of his coffee like a shot, and begins to tick off his fingers. “One, I've been doing this since before you were born. You've been at it, what, three months? Don't sell yourself short.” He winks and jerks his head at the stairs.

As they head back up, Marcus continues, “Two, the words are just a tool. In a book, in your head, doesn't matter. I met this one exorcist, about ten years ago: stone-deaf since birth, did everything in sign. Drove the ashy little hobgoblins round the bend, because she couldn't hear them yowling…”


Tomas comes to recognize a pattern: when Marcus feels raw, he bleeds his own history. They exorcise a girl with more thin white scars than skin on the insides of her forearms and thighs, and Tomas can see that they rattle Marcus.

The demon sees it too. Do you miss it? it gurgles. Little Marky-boy's bedtime ritual, scratch up the meat then off to dreamland. Unchain me and I'll give this bitch the money shot: down the road, not across the street. Did you feel a stirring in your pants when our brother did that to you? For you?

“What do you think I am, fourteen? You lot should know by now that your old material can't stand up to ours.” Marcus flicks some holy water on the thing, and it arches its back as its skin sizzles. “From the top! The blood of Christ redeems you. The mercy of Christ absolves you. The power of Christ compels you …”

Marcus asks for a few minutes alone with the girl after she's freed, and won't say exactly what they talked about when he emerges, wiping his eyes. But later that night, the story spills out: the way the other boys at the home would send him to the infirmary whenever they could, and how the only way he could sleep there among the smells and sounds of human misery was to cut into himself.

“I’d climb an oak if I heard them coming, but sometimes they'd catch me halfway up, throw things until I fell.”

Tomas moves in close enough to palm his nape, to lean their foreheads together. He wishes he could cup Marcus’ face and kiss him until his pain burns away like mist at dawn. But he doesn’t know if such a thing would be welcome, and he would rather die than add to Marcus’ troubles in this moment.

My God, he realizes, I am in love with him. It hurts to know it, but a good hurt - a sweet ache, because while he can't have his love the way he wants, he can give him something he needs.

“Ven aquí, hermano,” he whispers, and draws Marcus down and in until they’re lying together, fully-clothed, Marcus stiff and trembling a little in his arms but not pulling away. He relaxes in tiny increments, and when he finally drops off to sleep it's with his face burrowed in Tomas’ chest. Tomas squeezes him as hard as he dares and drops a kiss into his hair, bristly to look at but soft as cat's fur.

It does not occur to him to wonder why Marcus specified that it was oak he would climb, or what difference it would have made if he got all the way up without getting caught.


When Tomas realizes he’s been on the road with Mouse longer than he ever knew Marcus, he cracks a little bit. Not in any noticeable way; more like the rupture of a yolk within an egg, color seeping everywhere inside. So many months later, surely less things should be reminding him of his friend, not more. But there it is.

He sees someone with a white cane and he thinks of Caleb, then of Andy, then of Andy with a hole in his head and Marcus saying mortal sin, Marcus hugging him with desperate strength, Marcus walking away. He sees phyllo pastries in a store window and thinks of a young Marcus harvesting nettles and getting fat on monks’ baking.

And when the cloth hood is yanked off his head and he blinks up at far too many people with too-wide grins and three pupils, he blurts out his first thought: “I guess Angela Rance is exceptional.”

Mrs. Kenney (who, Tomas supposes, really does have a possessed husband, just - more thoroughly possessed than she had implied) wrinkles her nose. “That ape Pazuzu got himself killed over? She's nothing special. He just couldn't handle a blemish on his perfect record.”

“I was there,” Tomas retorts, “you weren't. She came back from integration. None of you are as safe in your victims as you think.”

As a fist slams into his abdomen and he doubles over, Tomas reflects that this does not mean every integrated demon can be exorcised, especially a dozen at a time.

While he's busy wheezing and gagging, unnaturally strong hands seize and move and bind him spread-eagled, on - he lifts his head and coughs an incredulous laugh.

“You've got to be kidding me,” he groans.

It's a stone dais, inscribed with a chalk pentacle. They've even put down black candles around it.

“Do you like the set dressing?” says Mrs. Kenney. “It's a little New Age for my taste, but needs must. This pitiful patch of nowhere-” Tomas looks past her and notices for the first time that they’re in a very pretty grove of some sort, big trees forming a clearing so artful it's impossible to tell if it's natural or not, “-is managed by a group that fancies themselves druids; the local Bible-thumpers will be howling for their blood after the discovery of a sacrificed human corpse. Of a priest, no less.”

“I still say dumping him at the mosque is more effective,” a different woman says. “There are hundreds of members there, and less than a dozen druids.”

“Don't call them that,” a man snaps, “I knew the druids. Dabbling in forestry and marching in circles with candles eight times a year does not a druid make. And we should dump him at the synagogue, not the mosque.”  

“The decision is made,” Mrs. Kenney barks. “We're not lugging him anywhere else. We do it here.”

“Anyway,” Tomas puts in, “what else are you going to do with all those candles you got on sale at Hot Topic?”

Mrs. Kenney backhands him so hard he sees stars. “Mouth off while you can, Father. Pride led you into temptation, and you were delivered unto - us. There were plans for you once, but they’ll never come to fruition with you laying yourself down for every rank-and-file slow possessor to cross your path. We're going to butcher you instead, and use the ash to place the worthy in the willing, as it should be.” She produces a dagger, and strops it vigorously on its leather sheath. “Heart last, of course, and eyes second last, so you can see us do it. But which should we take first: palms, soles, or genitals?”

The demons erupt into squabbling:

“Genitals!”

“No, no. There are too many major blood vessels; you risk him passing out. Palms first.”

“Soles are more painful.”

“That's exactly why you don't do them first; you build up to them.”

Tomas swallows hard and looks up at the sky. The forecast this morning had been for sun, but now an enormous thunderhead is throwing the clearing into shadow. It feels a little too much like God turning His back on him.

“Genitals first,” Mrs. Kenney decides, “it’s too delicious to pass up, bleeding risk or no.” She slices through the waistband of Tomas’ pants, and Tomas squeezes his eyes shut and shudders so hard it feels like the ground shakes beneath him. The demons fall oddly silent at the same moment.

“Uh, quick question,” says the man who spoke before. “Anyone know what kind of trees these are?”

Another man says, “I don't know, oak maybe? What the fuck does it matter?”

A huge gust of wind rips through the clearing; even lying on the ground it feels like a slap to Tomas, and he opens his eyes in surprise. Mrs. Kenney is knocked forward, and her knife gashes Tomas’ side. The sudden pain shocks a cry from him. With effort, Mrs. Kenney stands, and turns away from Tomas with her shoulders hunched, her knife dripping red.

Tomas shakes again, and this time it isn't him; it’s the ground.

“Moglath!” the second man screams over the wind. “Why the fuck does it matter?!”

Moglath points. “Because that, is a fucking druid. Oh fuck!” He leaps away as lightning strikes Mrs. Kenney where she stands. Tomas cranes his neck, and when he sees, he feels struck by lightning himself.

“¡Dios mío!” he breathes.

It's Marcus.

At least, it looks like Marcus - aside from the glowing eyes. The expression on his face is terrible and familiar; he looks like he did in Tomas’ dream as the demon was killing Gabriel. He looks like he did after killing Andy Kim. But… moreso, somehow.

He raises his arms and screams something - Tomas can't understand a single word - and lightning strikes two oaks at once, one on either side of him, and then shoots forth out of the oaks and into two more demons, who topple instantly, smoking where they lie.

Demons run for the edges of the clearing, putting trees between themselves and Marcus, but lightning cracks out of those trees as well. One pulls a gun, but falls with a bullethole in his head before he can even bring it to bear. Behind Marcus, Tomas can see Mouse, holding the rifle she favors when she has the opportunity, her grip steady but very tight. Tomas can see the whites of her eyes from here.

It's over in what must be less than two minutes. Marcus doesn't let a single demon escape. When none are still standing, he turns his face to the sky. His voice cracks as he shouts something else, still unintelligible to Tomas.

The shockwave this time is not just in the earth, but in the surrounding air, less like a thunderclap at ground zero (a sound Tomas is suddenly very familiar with) than the sonic boom of a jet. It leaves Tomas’ ears ringing, and crumbles the stone dais to which he is bound. His head falls back, the breath knocked out of him.

Less than a minute later, it starts to rain. The heaviest rain Tomas has ever felt in his life - and he's been to Seattle. It fills his nose and mouth in seconds, and he rolls to the side, spluttering.

“Tomas!” Marcus thumps to his knees beside him. His hands skitter over Tomas’ face and torso, before yanking at the ropes still tying his wrists to the chunks of stone. “Tomas, Tomas, God, Tomas. I thought you were dead.”

“Not quite,” Tomas manages to cough. He gets his hand under him and pushes up to a partial sit, aggravating the wound in his side. “Agh!”

“You're bleeding!”

Tomas plucks at his shirt hem. “I don't think it's deep.”

“Guess how reassuring that is, coming from you right now.” Marcus strips off his jacket and then his shirt, wadding up the latter and jamming it against Tomas's side, then throws his jacket over Tomas’ shoulders. When he's helped Tomas finish sitting up, he crushes his shoulders and yells, “Trying to exorcise a dozen demons at once? Integrated ones? What the hell were you thinking?!”

“I was thinking I had to try.” Tomas doesn't bother pointing out that he didn't know they were so many, or integrated, until it was too late; he can't look Marcus in the eye and say it would have changed anything.

“You bloody, stupid- um.” Marcus’ tirade is cut off by the sound of Mouse's rifle cocking.

“I only know one way you could do what you just did,” she says quietly. “Give me a reason I shouldn't put you down right here.”

Marcus looks around the clearing. Already pale, he goes white as a sheet and swallows convulsively. “I- I don't-”

“I can,” Tomas says quickly. “Look over to my right.”

Mouse's eyes flick to where a demon is twisting in the grass like a pinned snake. “One's not quite dead yet. So?”

“So listen.” They both fall silent, and Tomas hears what he expected to hear after seeing the way the demon was writhing: sizzling like water hitting a hot pan, muffled bestial growls.

“It's raining holy water,” Tomas says, feeling like he's in free fall. He's felt like that since he first lifted his head and saw Marcus emerging from the forest. “And we're fine.”

Well. Relatively fine. Marcus appears to have gone catatonic, and Tomas faints halfway through climbing into the truck behind him. The last thing he’s aware of is losing his grip on his sliced-open pants, and the feel of them falling down his legs.


He comes to on a bed. It doesn't feel like a hotel bed, and when he opens his eyes and looks around, the room doesn't look like a hotel room.

“Oh, good,” says Mouse, “you're not dead.” She's sitting in a chair, looking at him. Marcus is sitting in a ball in the corner, looking at nothing. There’s a blanket over his shoulders.

“Where are we?”

“Safe house. I'm not best pleased to compromise it, but I couldn't wrestle you both into a hotel room unnoticed.”

Tomas sits up, to a twinge in his side. He looks down to see a bandage.

“I stitched you up. It wasn't deep. You're welcome.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank me by getting somewhere with him,” she gestures at Marcus. “I need to clear my head. Text me if you really need something.” With that, she gets up and heads out the door, shutting it near-silently behind her.

Tomas climbs gingerly to his feet. He's only in his boxers, but Mouse left a tshirt and pair of sweatpants folded on the bed. It’s amazing how much steadier he feels once he gets them on.

He goes and sits in front of Marcus, just looking at him for the first time in the better part of a year. He feels some part of him that he didn't know was starving start to fill at last as his eyes rove over his face and body.

Aside from the current horrible emptiness of his gaze, he looks - healthier, actually. He's been experimenting with his beard, letting something like small muttonchops grow in. They catch the light as he breathes, reddish highlights flickering. There's a bit more muscle to him, like he's been doing manual labor, maybe, and eating regular meals. Tomas is relieved that he doesn't look like he's been martyring himself - at least any further than that single dramatic break away from Tomas and their work.

And maybe even that wasn't martyrdom, he thinks for the first time. Maybe it was salvage.

Tomas swears to himself that if Marcus is still done with exorcism, then he is too, because he is done with separation from the person he loves most in the world. But before he can make any plans, he needs Marcus to talk to him.

“You were amazing back there,” he says at last, “like an avenging angel of the Lord, smiting the enemy. Did you know you could do that? Or, that God could do that through you? I think you probably didn't. I think that's why we're sitting on this floor right now.

One of the demons called you a druid. At that moment, he had nothing to gain by lying, and now that I have a minute to think about it, some things are falling into place.

Did you know, I took some Roman history at seminary? The history of Rome being the history of the Church, and all that. The Romans wrote about the druids. They said they had prodigious verbal memory, and practiced divination by studying animal behaviour, and had enormous knowledge of all plants but their most holy plant was the oak tree. The root of the word “druid” means “oak-knower”.

They said the druids could do a lot of things that I dismissed as myth, but, well, back then I thought demons were myths too.”

Tomas hesitates, then reaches for Marcus’ hands where they sit crossed on his knees. He holds them in his own, rubbing warmth into them and trying to ignore how limp they are.

“When I think about you, and the parts of your story I know, the idea of the power in you coming from somewhere other than God must be very frightening. But I will tell you what I believe, Marcus: the earth and everything in it are the Lord's, closer to Him than we are. So, power that comes from the earth is still God's power. It was His power you used to save me, and I'm glad to be alive, and even more glad to see you again.” He kisses Marcus’ hands, and an undeniable tremor goes through them.

He looks up quickly. Marcus’ eyes are wet, and he's looking away instead of staring sightlessly into space. An improvement, but still not quite enough for Tomas.

He takes Marcus’ face in his hands. “You came back for me. Now come back to me.” Then he leans in and does what he has always regretted not doing: kissing Marcus right on his clever, beloved mouth. He's brave enough to do it, but not to keep his eyes open at the same time.

The contact is light, but it sends another jolt through Marcus. Tomas sighs through his nose and rubs his fingertips through the hair at the back of Marcus’ head, feeling the tendons at the top of his neck. Their mustaches brush as he maps Marcus’ lips with his own: slightly smaller and firmer than his, and - unmoving. Reluctantly, Tomas opens his eyes and pulls away to do damage control on his latest bad decision.

Marcus is definitely looking at him now. His eyes are very blue. Slowly, he lifts his hand and touches his mouth. His voice is hoarse when he says, “Did you mean it?”  

Tomas nods and says, “Mm-hm. Yes. All of it.”

Marcus touches his mouth again, a tiny smile beginning to grow there.

“I have wanted to do that for a very long time,” Tomas confesses, his ears growing hot. “I'm sorry I didn't ask first. I'm sorry if it was unwanted.”  

The dear, familiar, worried crease appears between Marcus' brows. “No, it's - it's alright. But - your vows.”

“I've been on the run with Mouse for eight months. Guess how much respect I have left for the institution of the Church, or the vows I made to it.”

Marcus’ gaze sharpens. “And to God?”

Tomas strokes Marcus’ cheek with his thumb, and glories in the way his eyelids flutter at the touch. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. I am just a man, Marcus.”

Marcus’ smile grows. “Just a man,” he murmurs. “Alright. Alright,” and Tomas gets the distinct impression he's speaking to someone else before he shifts onto his knees and kisses Tomas back.

And, oh, if Tomas thought it felt good to finally kiss Marcus, it's nothing compared to feeling Marcus respond in kind. It's soft and hesitant, Marcus learning the shape of their mouths together like someone who has kissed far too little in his life. Tomas should dedicate a few weeks to kissing him continuously, bring the average up. Years, maybe.

Marcus makes a small noise deep in his chest, parts his knees and shuffles half into Tomas’ lap, and licks timidly at Tomas' lips. Tomas’ closely-guarded ember of desire flares, heating his blood and making his limbs feel shaky and strong at the same time. He lets go of Marcus’ face to pull their bodies together, digging his fingers into the small of his back and between his shoulder blades. He opens his mouth eagerly for Marcus’ tongue, greeting it with a brush of his own, and this time they both groan.

Now Marcus is the one to reach up, first fisting his hands in Tomas’ shirt for support while he continues to explore Tomas’ mouth, then up to the back of his head. Marcus has gripped him here when he faltered, so many times Tomas learned to do it back, like they were trying to pour faith and courage into each other through their hands. This is the first time he has, with trembling fingers, petted Tomas’ hair while he does it.

The sweetness of it breaks Tomas. He kneels up, lifting Marcus with him, and presses him into the wall. He grinds their hips together, seeking and finding Marcus’ hardness with his own, and Marcus breaks the kiss to gasp for air. Tomas nuzzles desperately into the crook of his neck, then nips and sucks at the skin there. His breath is almost coming in sobs, his head filled with Marcus’ scent.

“Tomas!” Marcus’ voice is shaking, rough. “Tomas, oh, God, I want…”

“Anything,” Tomas swears, “anything you want, let me give it to you, Marcus, please. ” His hands roam up and down Marcus’ back, feeling him through his undershirt. He's still so lean, even having put on some muscle. So slim, for such a tall man. Rangy. Tomas wants to surround him, permeate him with his love.

Marcus thumps his head back against the wall. “I don't know, I don't know, I haven't- I just-” The mounting frustration in his voice has Tomas slowing his touch.

“Shh, it's alright. We'll figure it out.” He noses up behind Marcus’ ear, and shudders when Marcus whines. “Will you lie down with me?” Marcus gulps and nods.

It's the fulfillment of an embarrassing number of Tomas’ fantasies, to lie with Marcus warm and willing and returning his embrace. He says so, and Marcus chuckles and rubs aimlessly against his hip. He’s only wearing his undershirt and pants, but he brought the blanket Mouse had draped around him, and has now spread it over them both.

“What else?” he asks, and undulates when Tomas thumbs his nipples through the thin cloth. He's a graceful man; it's captivating to watch that grace turn overtly sensual. “What else did you think about?”

Tomas buries his face in Marcus’ neck again, his turn to struggle for words. “Touching you, all over. T-tasting you.” To be precise, the image of kneeling for Marcus and taking his cock onto his tongue almost always brings him to completion immediately, but he fears the same will happen now if he says as much. “And- oh, God,” he whines, his hips rolling on their own, “I can't say it.”

“Shh, you don't have to. We-” Marcus laughs giddily, “we have time.”

“No, I want to say it.” Tomas takes a deep breath and shifts so he can see Marcus’ face: delightfully flushed, and alight with the love that flows from him like a wellspring, and kind, so fiercely kind. Marcus makes him brave.

“I think about your voice,” he says in a rush, “about you sounding - aroused, because of me, and saying - saying it’s good, that I'm doing a good job.” He grinds the heel of his hand against his trapped erection, burning with excited embarrassment and trying not to come on the spot.

Marcus is staring at him in awe. “I can do that,” he says, and the gravel in his voice shakes Tomas like Marcus shook the earth.

“Let me touch you,” he begs, “I want to feel you.” They're touching all along their bodies, but they're still fully-clothed. Tomas aches to feel more of Marcus’ skin, to get his hands on the erection tenting Marcus’ pants.

“Yeah,” Marcus breathes, letting Tomas hear how much he's affecting him, and Tomas bites the inside of his cheek and fumbles with Marcus’ pants. “You too,” Marcus says, and laughs when Tomas yanks down his sweatpants and boxers so fast his dick makes a slapping noise against his belly, and grunts when Tomas finally, finally wraps his hand around Marcus’ cock.

Tomas moans. Marcus is hot and soft-skinned and pulsing with life in his hand, and he can smell him from here: rich, salty, intimately masculine. He moans again, louder, when Marcus follows suit. His eloquent hands are on Tomas, one braced on his hip and one enfolding his cock, and Tomas feels - big as a mountain, like he might burst out of his skin with love.

He kisses Marcus hard, humming into his mouth. He moves his hand, jacking Marcus slowly at first, like he would for himself when he was trying to prolong something that was the most pleasure he ever got, however bittersweet with longing. But then Marcus makes a broken noise and whispers, “Christ, Tomas, that's so good, love,” and he realizes he doesn't have to hold himself back any longer. He thrusts into Marcus' hand and covers his face with kisses, his mouth and cheeks and whiskers and the papery skin around his eyes.

“Te amo,” he gasps, “Marcus, te amo.”

“Te amo tanto, Tomas. Look at me, love. That's it.” The blue of his eyes is electric, lighting up Tomas’ nerves. “Are you close?”

“Síí,” he whines, hips bucking in Marcus's hold.

Marcus smiles breathlessly. “So am I. I want - I want to see you finish.”

He wasn't kidding when he said he craved Marcus’ voice; his body takes the suggestion as a command. He fights to keep his eyes open as his muscles lock up and he spills, gasping open-mouthed. Marcus holds him through it, Marcus who is gentle and strong, who has been held by God and now holds him. Tomas loves him so much.

“Beautiful,” he whispers as Tomas goes limp, “you're so beautiful.” Tomas feels languorous, expansive, and wants more than ever to surround Marcus, drown him in pleasure. He gives Marcus a lazy grin. Marcus’ eyes widen.

“My turn,” Tomas says, and resumes the rhythm of his hand, which had faltered as he came. With his other hand he brushes Marcus’ nipples again, one then the other, and yes, that is a definite quiver. “Does that feel good?”

“When you do it, apparently,” Marcus wheezes, rolling from his side to his back. Tomas follows, throwing a leg over to straddle Marcus’ waist. He thumbs his nipples again and tries twisting his hand a little as he strokes his cock, and Marcus digs his heels into the mattress and rolls his hips up. “Ah! Tomas!”

He's beginning to sound a bit panicked. Tomas bends down and kisses him, lets him hang onto his shoulders for dear life. “I've got you,” he croons, “I want to see you finish also. Let me give you that. Give me that. Bless me, Marcus.”

Marcus' hips snap like he's trying to throw Tomas off, and he spurts wet heat into Tomas' hand, releasing a low, shuddering cry into his mouth.

“Thank you,” Tomas says, slowing his hand on Marcus’ cock until Marcus squirms, then letting go of him tenderly. He licks his fingers, eyes falling shut at the taste. Next time, he promises himself, I will get it right from the source. He thrills at the certainty that there will be a next time, and opens his eyes.

Marcus is looking up at him, breathing fast, a little slackjawed. There are tear tracks at the corners of his eyes. Tomas kisses them away.

“Good?”

Marcus blinks. “I feel like I just saw God. Again.”

Tomas’ stomach turns over. “That's not hyperbole.”

“No. Timeout's over, off the bench, back in the game. He's been dragging me by the ear like a truant schoolboy for two months.” He scowls.  “Props to Mouse: you two are damned hard to track down. I was almost too late, even when…”

“What?”

“Even when I… gave in, and let the oaks tell me where you were.” He looks down, tangling their fingers together. “Been pretending I couldn't hear them for the better part of a century. I think I ruptured something when I finally stopped.” He brings Tomas’ hand up and kisses his palm. “I don't remember anything between seeing the blood on that knife and untying you.”

“Do you want me to tell you?”

“Not now. Mouse will absolutely require a full accounting - might as well go through it all once. Right now I just want to sleep.” So Tomas strips back down to his boxers again - he wore the clothes Mouse gave him for less than an hour - and Marcus peels out of his pants, and they venture out of the room long enough to find a bathroom before bundling into the bed.

Tomas slots himself behind Marcus and wraps his upper arm tightly around his chest, and delights in being able to press lingering kisses to the bumps of his spine.

“I can feel you smiling,” Marcus mutters, but there's a smile in his voice.

“I have a lot to smile about.” When Tomas was very small, he expressed his joy by running in circles and shouting at the top of his lungs. He feels like doing that again right now, but the bed and Marcus are too warm and inviting to pass up.

He feels himself beginning the long spiral down into sleep, but there's one last thing he wants to say first. “Marcus.”

“Mm?”

“I learned some things, in my time with Mouse.”

“Like what?”

“Like that the demons’ numbers are increasing, and that the Church is compromised beyond repair in our lifetimes. And that… it's not good to be homeless wanderers, with no one watching out for us. It's not even effective. In the absence of the Church, we need to create our own base of operations.”

“You've put some thought into this.”

“I have. We can talk about it more after we rest. But - I hope that you will help me.”

“Tomas. It's been made abundantly clear that I belong with you, come hell or high water.”

Hell will come, and high water too. Tomas’ drowsy mind spins pictures for him, half dream and half vision: a fortified place, filled with allies whose faces he cannot yet see, and around it for miles and miles: the forest.


In the morning, Mouse walks in on them after only a perfunctory knock.

“I bought eggs,” she announces, “God knows Marcus goes through more than a pack of lumberjacks. But you'll have to cook them yourselves.”

Tomas stares at her with the blankets clutched to his chin. Marcus says crossly, “Do you mind?”

She snorts. “About you two? No. If I minded that I'd have been gone days ago. What I do mind, however, is my lovely nondescript safehouse now being completely covered in flowering vines!”