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Ebb and Flow

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It was mind-blowing to realize how quickly things could change, something Ben Daimio had had to get used to in these past few years. Less than forty-eight hours ago, Daimio had been bored out of his skull, wandering the docks of Balikpapan with Abe, wishing for something—anything, damn it—to happen.

He'd gotten his wish. In fact, he'd gotten it twice over, as two things had happened since: the thwarting of an attempt at mass-murder by a group of robotic Victorian occultists, the thwarting of which had been greatly helped by a telepathic mummy controlling a mentally-challenged kid named Lastri (weird how that didn't seem weird to Daimio anymore; clearly he'd spent enough time with the Bureau); and weirder still, he'd had completely unexpected, impromptu sex with Abe Sapien.

The whole Victorian cult, turning out to be Abe's old colleagues to boot, was a done deal as far as Daimio was concerned; another drop in the pond of what the BPRD got to deal with. It was the thought of what he'd done with Abe, the night before, that left him wondering just what the hell had happened. Strange to think about how quickly the whole thing had happened, leaving him to wonder if it had even been real, or just some damn Indonesian-food-induced hallucination.

There hadn't been the opportunity for an awkward morning-after to help make sense of what had admittedly been a mutually cathartic, shockingly enjoyable event. The new morning had led to a missing Abe and a greater emergency in the discovery of bombs all over the Pacific coast, and Daimio had had more pressing things to focus on than a weirdly unexpected sexual encounter.

He figured Abe had greater things to deal with as well. Probably the whole thing had slipped his mind by now. Probably for the best.

Probably.

Anyway, Daimio couldn't blame the guy, given everything that had happened. Abe had been quiet and distant since the BPRD pilot had managed to get them off that damn Dr. Moreau island. Daimio had gotten the clipped, terse version of events from Abe who, after getting stitched and bandaged and helped onto the plane, had decided silence was in vogue. He was sitting now in the cramped plane seat on the opposite side of Daimio's, a BPRD jacket slung over his shoulders, staring out the window with a distant, glassy look in his eyes.

Facing your past, and killing everyone from it, could do that to a man. Of course, so can a shot of Demerol to dull the pain of a shoulder wound.

Daimio shifted in his seat, sighed. This silence didn't feel right. Maybe it would be easier if they were heading back home, back towards Colorado and BPRD headquarters; things would have felt final then. But no; the "mutual friend" who had helped them track down the bombs was a thousand-year-old mummy, and well, they couldn't exactly leave the old hag behind, could they?

But making sure she was ready for a plane ride would take time. Maybe a few days to stabilize her vitals and get her comfortable enough to travel. A few days more to spend in Balikpapan, like fate had decided they weren't quite done with the city yet. Things to discuss. Things to figure out.

Fuck.

"So, things got pretty hairy out there for a while, didn't they?"

As much as Daimio wasn't great with words, he wasn't great with tense silence either. Too much room for thinking. Especially the kind that could get to a man.

"Too close for comfort," Abe said. He blinked a little sleepily and rested his head against the window of the plane. What was going through his head, Daimio wondered? Regret? Relief?

"Seems to me you did pretty good out there," Daimio said with a light shrug. "Couldn't have been easy."

"Hm."

All right, he got the message. Shut the fuck up, Ben.

Mercifully, the island wasn't far from the Indonesian mainland, even more so when you had a helicopter to cart you back and forth. Once the two were dropped off, the pilot bid them both a temporary farewell, taking off again to go pick up the BPRD medic and the mummy from the island.

That left Abe and Daimio to make the short walk back to the hotel room. They got stares all right—nothing new there—though Daimio felt a little defensive on Abe's behalf as the front desk clerk, a short Indonesian man with a half-assed beard, gave them an alarmed stare as they made their way back to their room. It probably had as much to do with their appearance as did the fact that Abe looked as though he'd just taken on a gang of thugs, and that wasn't even far from the truth. If Abe noticed the clerk's stare, he made no indication; he was still as taciturn and weary-eyed as he'd been back on the plane.

Daimio gritted his teeth; damned hallway still smelled like coriander. He didn't exactly relish the thought of another night in Balikpapan. He escorted Abe back to his room—ostensibly to keep an eye on him, make sure he got settled in okay.

It felt oddly familiar to be back in Abe's hotel room; the bed was still rumpled, the coverlet out of place. The shade on the ugly lamp still crooked, where he'd thrown his pants against it two nights before. Blatant reminders of what had taken place here.

He watched Abe give a tired sigh, sitting slumped on the bed, cradling his injured arm in his lap. In any other situation, Daimio would have been content to leave him to it, but maybe having with someone gave you a greater insight into their psyche, because even though Abe wasn't doing much but sitting there, Daimio knew, knew somehow, that the last thing Abe wanted was to be alone.

So Daimio obliged, sitting down hard on the bed, leaving enough distance between them in case he'd misread Abe's intention, letting the silence speak for itself.

It was Abe who finally broke it, looking and sounding as though he'd tried and failed to come up with a better conversation starter. "You were right. What you said, the other night; you were right."

"I was, eh?"

"You were saying how it can be best not to know certain things. There are some things I found out in the last few days—and last few hours—that I wish I hadn't. When it was all a mystery, I was free to imagine- now I have to deal with knowing. Knowing things that are worse than what I imagined."

Abe drew in a tired breath and shifted on the bed, pressing his hand to the outer edge of the gauzy bandage. Daimio couldn't tell if it was because it hurt, or because he was just looking for something to do with his hands, to keep the nerves out of them.

"Yeah, well, no matter what those men thought, you're not him," Daimio said. "Whatever he's done, it's not you."

The declaration sounded a tad rehearsed. Somewhere in the back of his mind, though quiet and complacent today, the jaguar hissed; a mocking laugh, a blatant reminder.

"But it is," Abe said. "Or it was. I don't understand everything about myself yet, but one of the few things I know for sure now is that Langdon Caul was a part of me. I can't ignore that."

"Look," Daimio relented. "I don't know how it all works. Reincarnation or some other crap. But we've all got parts of us we're not proud of." At Abe's look, he hastened to add, "And for some of us, it's a little more tangible than others, yeah. Doesn't mean we're evil. Doesn't mean a damn thing. Just means we've got some funny demons to wrestle with."

"Is that what you tell yourself, Captain?"

It wasn't meant as a jab, though it stung all the same, if only because it was true. Daimio found himself clenching his jaw, working the skin of his ruined cheek; how much time had he spent, staring at himself in the mirror, telling himself he was human, damn it, not some empty flesh-shell for a God-damned were-jaguar spirit? He was human.

Even if the human bits were a bit… ragged.

"Just take it from me," Daimio said wearily. "If you want to make it through something like this with your mind in one piece, you gotta believe—what's inside you isn't you. Langdon Caul may have been a bastard, but you can control what that makes you. Like- like when your father or something ends up being a criminal, you know? You share blood and you share the mark, but it's the same thing … it doesn't have to define what you are any more than you want it to. You are who you are."

It sounded a little less rehearsed, and for the first time Daimio wondered if he was starting to believe the mantra himself.

Abe was either satisfied with the reflection, or didn't have the energy to argue any further. Hard to tell with him. He went quiet for a good few minutes, staring off at the wall of the hotel room. Outside, the sun was starting to set, draining the light out of the room through the half-open curtains.

Just when Daimio thought he was about to fall asleep sitting up, Abe stirred and rose to his feet, gingerly slinging the BPRD jacket off his shoulders.

"I'm going to take a shower," Abe said. He stripped off his shorts, a little awkward and stiff thanks to the tightly-bandaged shoulder and the accumulated aches and pains of the last few days.

Daimio blinked, a little surprised that they were on casual bare-ass naked terms now. Damn if he didn't like the implied sense of intimacy, though.

"Want some help?"

The words were out before he could give it a serious thought. Didn't mean he regretted it. Though it was obvious Abe didn't really need any help—he was visibly drained from the exhaustive last few days and his injuries, and maybe a little fuzzy still from the shot of painkillers, but he was solid on his feet, not in need of a nurse.

Abe didn't even have the courtesy to look conflicted about Daimio's offer. "Yeah," he said, and turned and went to the small washroom.

Daimio stood to follow, pulling off his shirt. So, was this going to be their arrangement from now on? Some code words, a hidden message, and off they went to a secret corner?

That was the thing, though. How else were they going to go at it? How did two guys like them handle a… relationship like this?

Nice shoes, wanna fuck?

Daimio's shirt missed the bed as he tossed it, landing on the floor. His pants weren't far behind. He was naked before the entered the washroom, watching in thick silence as Abe turned the shower on.

His back was to Daimio, and for the first time Daimio realized that their first, fumbling encounter had really not afforded him much chance to just look at Abe. Smooth muscle and rough green skin all over, casual nudity that got him a little more excited than it would have, just a week earlier. Though what should have been a titillating sight was somewhat ruined by the impressive assortment of bruises marring Abe's body. Massive bruises, put there by massive fists. Funny how the thought inspired a deep swell of sympathy in Daimio. If the bastards who'd done this weren't already dead…

Daimio shook his head. Bruises faded; wounds healed. Other things weren't so easy to get rid of.

Steam began to fill the small washroom and Abe turned to glance at him, a wordless instruction. Though not a tender man by any means, Daimio couldn't do much but be gentle as he grasped Abe's elbow, ostensibly helping him as they both stepped under the shower, the spray thundering against Daimio's head and back. Might as well continue the pretense that he was here to assist an injured friend, and that was it.

So they were naked in the shower, a little closer than basic assistance required, but the pretense could still remain intact. It wasn't too late to turn back, chalk up the previous night to a fluke, a moment of weakness, and—and then Abe tilted his head towards him, eyes smoldering, obviously waiting, as close to a plea as he'd ever get. Not a fluke at all. No turning back.

Not that he'd want to, Daimio mused.

He couldn't muster up the energy to be savage this time, now that the ice had been broken between the two, now that they had nothing to prove, time enough to see how they fit together in the light of day. He placed his palms flat against the grimy tile on either side of Abe's head, leaning in just a little, enough to feel hot, restless breath against the damp skin of his face. No resistance, no pretense. They kissed.

It wasn't quite like the first time. That had been rough, like fighting, like competing. This time came dangerously close to tenderness, to passion, as though he'd even know what that was. With his mind not so hazy this time, it was easier for Daimio to figure out how to work his lips around the defect in his face for a proper kiss, sucking on Abe's lip in a way that made him shudder.

Daimio told himself it was purely out of concern for Abe's balance that he drew his hands down from the tile, sliding them around Abe's back to secure them together, careful not to bump against the tender wound wrapped in waterproof gauze, careful not to press too hard against any bruises. The gesture brought them closer still, close enough that he felt the hardness of Abe's cock dig into his hip, at about the same time as his own erection slid into the crook of Abe's pelvis. Damn; he hadn't even noticed he'd gotten so hard so fast.

As though taking his cue, Abe wrapped his hands around Daimio's back, fingernails digging in as his hips began to rock, almost imperceptibly, forcing the slick head of his cock to press harder into Daimio's hip.

The kissing soon wasn't enough for Daimio; too little, when the tension was growing too quickly, making him restless, aching for sensation. He blindly reached down between their bodies until the heel of his hand bumped against what he'd been searching for, wrapping his fingers around Abe's cock and stroking. Abe's reaction was electric; he broke their kiss to gasp brokenly, head reeling to the side as though expecting a blow, eyes shut tightly as though trying to block out sensation. He reached down in response and managed to run shaking fingers against the head of Daimio's erection.

The raw, wounded reaction awoke something in Daimio. Not something primal, to the contrary—something human.

His mind was made up as to his next move. He ran his hand down Abe's chest, fingers bumping over the bracing strips of gauze, over ribs and abdomen covered in contusions. The battered skin only reinforced his determination to do this, to show some kindness, to give Abe something.

Bracing his hands against the tile and the edge of the tub, Daimio lowered himself to his knees, wincing for a moment as the hard bottom of the tub made his knees smart. Abe had opened his eyes and was following the change in position, a little dubiously, as though not quite sure what Daimio was expecting of him now.

Balancing on his knees, Daimio paused to look at the organ before him, a closer view than he'd had before; pretty much normal, human, not so different from his own, really. It was awkward, if only for a split second until Daimio wrapped the fingers of one hand around the base of Abe's cock, using his other hand to steady himself against Abe's hip. His fingertips found a bruise there, one he couldn't tell if it was from the beating Abe had taken, or if it was from Daimio's own hard grip two nights before.

He'd never taken another man's cock in his mouth before, never wanted to—yet there he was, and he did want this, needed it, though he had no idea why, beyond the vague sentiment that this was the best thing he could offer at the moment.

"Ben…" Could have been a plea, a warning, a question. Abe placed a hand on the back of Daimio's head as though offering token resistance, too gentle to be anything else.

"Shut up," Daimio muttered. He used his fist to guide the cock towards his mouth.

Like smoking, like kissing, it took a while to figure out exactly how to do this with his damn mangled cheek, the issue complicated even further by the fact that this was all new territory for him. He tried a tentative lick with the flat side of his tongue to see what that would do, getting used to the feel and taste.

It may have been due to the painkillers Abe was on, the fatigue, the fact that Abe had no drive left to fight it, but instead of his now-familiar harsh, measured breaths, he allowed himself to moan, sounding both rusty and surprised, like he'd never had reason before to vocalize this kind of pleasure.

If anything, it strengthened Daimio's resolve to figure out how to do this correctly.

A few more licks, and by now the musky taste was becoming familiar, damn near arousing too, as was the fluttering pulse against his tongue. He was getting a little more comfortable with this, a little bolder, and finally he opened his lips and slid the head of Abe's cock in his mouth.

The first thing he tasted was the water from the shower, still steadily pelting them both. And then the taste of Abe, whatever that was, familiar enough by now that he wasn't weirded out. Not so much, anyway. He ran his tongue against the thick head, did his damn best to close his lips and suck, though as clumsy and inexperienced as his attempts may have been, Abe didn't seem to care or notice.

Abe's fingers were moving restlessly on the back of his head, tensing, twitching, not pressing him into a faster pace, not stopping him in his oral exploration either. As though Abe himself wasn't sure what he wanted, or how to ask for it. Until finally the fingers relaxed and laid across the back of Daimio's head in what felt suspiciously like a caress. It was accompanied by a full-body shudder and under Daimio's hand- the one still wrapped around Abe's hip, though not hard enough to bruise or mark again—he could feel a lessening of the tension. A surrender.

About damn time, Daimio thought.

Between his clumsy sucking motions, he managed to tilt his head, careful not to slide his mouth free, wanting to see the reactions. Abe may have thought that Daimio couldn't see him from his kneeling position; his eyes were tightly shut, though the look of pain and resistance which had graced his features since Daimio had first put his mouth on him was disappearing with every passing moment, with every unexpected shudder, with every moan. Abe's head lolled from side to side as though he didn't have the strength to keep it steady, the fingers of his free hand scrabbling lightly at the tiled wall.

Yeah, Daimio thought again, blinking water away as he focused on his task, sliding his mouth a little faster on Abe's cock, the taste of salt and skin on his tongue. About damn time you stopped fighting this.

He found a good rhythm quickly enough, a decent compromise between suction and pressure that made his jaw ache, though not nearly enough for him to want to stop. Abe made a few broken sounds of pleasure, hips twitching like he was trying to hold back, and the fingers on the back of Daimio's head began to spasm.

"Ben… Ben…"

It was about as much warning as he'd get, Daimio realized. Before he could decide if he even wanted to pull away, the cock pulsed against his tongue and the taste of come filled his mouth. He swallowed the first surge more out of instinct than desire, letting the rest dribble ungracefully from the corner of his mouth, soon washed away by the spray of the shower.

Above him, Abe was shuddering breathlessly, looking a little awed as Daimio glanced up at him, as though he hadn't expected any of this. Daimio wiped a bit of liquid from the edge of his torn-up lip, tried to figure out the best thing to say to avoid any potential questions.

He was almost surprised when Abe spoke up first, motioning down Daimio's still-crouched form with shaking fingers. It took a half-second for Daimio to realize what he was trying to indicate, and he looked down at himself, still hard and surprisingly excited after what he'd just done.

Abe's voice was a little breathless, a little reverent. "Do you want me to-"

"No, don't worry about it."

Daimio wrapped his hand around his own cock. It didn't take long, especially not with the way Abe stared as he worked on himself, and a moment later he was coming under that gaze, gasping with clipped breaths as the water kept thundering against his ears, the swirling water washing away his release.

He felt better now, though his knees ached as he pushed himself back up to stand, facing Abe. He sure could get used to that look in Abe's eyes, something not unlike the calm they'd both felt the last time they'd done something like this, jerking each other off in what was obviously not a one-off occurrence.

And damn it all, he liked the thought of that, even though it got him wondering exactly where that left them.

Wasn't sure if that was an answer, the way Abe bowed his head forward just a bit, just enough to ask for something, or deny it if the answer was no. Daimio didn't even have to think before acquiescing, kissing Abe in that semi-awkward way that was becoming their technique, their way around flaws both inside and out. Past kissing like animals, past kissing to ignite, to arouse. Daimio pulled away when he felt Abe slump a bit against him; the guy had to be at the limits of his strength right about now.

That was fine. Exhaustion meant no energy to talk. Daimio reached for the bar of soap in the dish above the tub—it had been a rough few days and they both did need a real shower, after all—and they both made quick work of washing away the grime and stress of the last forty-eight hours. He slammed the shower faucet shut and this time legitimately held Abe's arm to help him out, getting no protest in return.

"C'mon," Daimio said. "I don't know about you, but I could use some shut-eye."

Abe murmured an agreement, accepting the towel offered to him, dabbing the excess moisture from the waterproof gauze around his shoulder.

Daimio flicked open the light as they stepped out into the bedroom; it was dark outside, night-time in Balikpapan. They left wet footprints from the washroom to the bed and sat down on the rumpled coverlet, still damp, still naked. Not touching anymore—Daimio sat at the foot of the bed, watching as Abe drew his legs up and laid down on his uninjured side— and it would have seemed like the covert tryst began and ended in the washroom, if it wasn't for the fact that this was the very bed where they'd first had sex. Hell, their clothes were still on the floor. There was no hiding from this, whatever it was, and Daimio found that strangely elating.

Tomorrow, or days from now, or weeks from now, there would be time enough to figure all this out, to figure out what this meant, where this was supposed to go. Until then, he could deal with what they had, just fine.

Abe looked close to sleep, close to peace, incongruously vulnerable as he lay there naked and half curled-up on the bed. Daimio rose and went to the window, closing the curtains, shutting out the ambient light from downtown Balikpapan. Without asking permission, he grabbed the edge of the wrinkled covers and slid underneath, taking his side of the bed, as though they'd done this a hundred times already. There came no protest, and Daimio could swear, before he reached over to the lamp with the crooked shade to turn the light out, that Abe seemed to relax now with another body in the bed.

For several minutes, there was silence, as Daimio listened to Abe's deep breaths, assuming he'd fallen asleep. He was drifting close to sleep himself, exhausted from the restless few winks he'd taken during this whole manhunt and feeling relaxed from his recent orgasm, to the point that he almost missed it when Abe shifted in the bed a bit, and murmured, "Thank you."

Thank you for looking for me. Thank you for the conversation. Thank you for the blowjob. Thank you for staying with me.

Could have been any one of those. Or none.

"Yeah, no problem." Whatever it was, damn it, Daimio knew he meant it.

Minutes later, they'd both fallen asleep.