"Look, Julia's cute, and she likes you. Or haven't you noticed you get the news from Dispatch faster than anyone else?" Laughing, he clapped Frank on the shoulder. "Man, you need to get out more. It'll be great. Just ask her out; I can grab Kate, we'll make it a double date if you're nervous."
Frank shrugged. "I dunno, Eddie." He peered closely at him. "Julia? Really?"
Eddie laughed again. "Really." He thunked his glass on the bar and slid off his stool. "You think about it, okay? You've got a few minutes till they get here."
Frank smiled at him. "Yeah, okay, I'll think about it."
Eddie nodded. "I'm gonna go take a leak. Hey, Gene!" he called to the boy behind the bar. "Get us another?" He nodded at the clock, its hands pointing almost at midnight. "The night's still young!"
He patted Frank's shoulder and headed back to the washroom, a pleasant buzz hanging over him. He hummed a little as he washed his hands, then yawned and stumbled.
Huh. Hadn't thought I was that tired. He rubbed his eyes and stared closely at his reflection, feeling a little dizzy. Time to lay off the sauce, Eddie. He couldn't help a grin at the voice of maturity in his head that sounded suspiciously like Kate, and waggled a finger at the mirror as if she were there with him. "Ten years of marriage, sweetheart, you know me by now." Hell, she'd known him when he was still a gawky kid, all elbows and knees and barely able to ask her out, and she'd married him anyway. He shook his head. "How'd I get so lucky, anyway?"
He stretched and rubbed his eyes, shaking off the last of the dizziness, then checked his watch. Just midnight now, and really, it was way too early to head home. Still, he'd spent long enough zoning out back here Frank was gonna think he'd drowned in the toilet or something.
He pushed through the swinging door to the front room, an apology on his lips, and stumbled to a halt. Belatedly he noted the silence — no chatter of voices, no music from the band, not even any distant hum and rush from the traffic outside.
Everyone was asleep.
"Frank?" He hurried over to his friend and shook his shoulder. Then harder. "Frank!" Whatever was going on, he wasn't waking up. Eddie spun around and tried Gene behind the bar, but there was no waking him, either. What the hell is going on?
There was a noise outside, and he dashed to the window, hopeful, then drew back in horror. There were men out there, pale as the dead, and instinct honed over years as a cop told him that whoever they were, they meant no good. They moved among the cars and pedestrians, the only thing awake in the city except for him. And they were headed this way.
Looking around, he ducked back into the washroom, pulling his gun as he went. He shifted his foot to hold the door open a crack and watched. If they tried anything…
One of them had a body over his shoulder, and Eddie tightened his grip on his gun, hands sweating. He was ready to burst out and demand an explanation, when he noticed the "body" was breathing. Confused, he held off as they propped the new man up against the bar. The pale man in the lead opened a case and pulled out some strange contraption, but his body blocked Eddie's line of sight. Then he was picking up Gene and shoving him over the bar into the arms of one of his companions.
They propped the boy up on the stool next to Frank, rolled down his sleeves and removed his apron, tying it around the new man's waist. Then the case came out again, and there was a device like an angry insect in the pale man's hand, and before Eddie could move, a needle emerged from it and they were injecting him with something.
Eddie stood and stared, not sure what to do or what he could do. The pale men packed up and left as swiftly as they'd come. Eddie hurried out, checking Gene's pulse; he seemed fine. If sleeping without waking up is fine! he thought, semi-hysterically. No worse off than anyone else, anyway. If he looked closely, he could almost see a slight mark where they'd injected him, but surely there should be more blood or something?
With a jolt, everyone in the bar seemed to wake at once, talking and drinking as if nothing had happened. Gene blinked up at him, and he stepped back automatically. Behind him, the band started up again, too, in the middle of a song.
"Eddie!" Frank smiled at him. "That was quick."
"Quick?" He glanced at the clock behind the bar, which read one minute after midnight. He shook his head. It had been twelve before he'd come out here the first time; he'd watched those strange men for several minutes. Surely even if the people fell asleep, the clocks kept running?
"Here you go, Eddie." The man behind the bar slid a bourbon over to him. "One more for you, Frank?"
"Sure, why not? Thanks, Gene." Frank smiled at the man.
Eddie's head spun again. Gene? He's not — He looked at the boy sitting next to Frank now. "This is some kind of a joke, right?" The sinking feeling in his gut said it wasn't, but he clung to the faint hope.
"Joke?" Frank frowned at him. "What's a joke?" He squinted at Eddie. "You feeling okay?"
The look in his eyes, something in the way he leaned, caught at the back of Eddie's mind, teasing at his memory. He shook his head and grabbed up his drink, downing it in one gulp. The band changed songs behind him, the piano picking up softly as the singer began.
The way you sip your tea, the memory of all that; no, no, they can't take that away from me.
The way your smile just beams, the way you sing off key, the way you haunt my dreams; no, no, they can't take that away from me.
Images flashed through his mind, too vague to grasp and too vivid to ignore. He backed away, bracing himself against the wall as the room spun around him, one hand raised as if to force everything back inside his head. Was this madness?
He could sense Frank watching him, concerned, and then he was laughing, coming up to clasp Eddie's shoulder.
"Eddie?" Frank shook him, smiling. "You had enough, maybe?"
"No, I — I'm fine, Frank." But he wasn't. As if Frank's touch and the smell of his cologne had opened a door, the images coalesced, clarifying into a flash —
Frank lay beneath him, their bodies pressed tight; he groaned as they moved together. His hands clutched at Eddie's ass as Eddie leaned down to kiss him, the moment so perfect…
"Eddie?" Frank frowned at him. Eddie shook his head, wanting to cling to him, to kiss and love him. A part of his brain insisted he'd been married to Kate all his life, never wanted another, certainly never a man; another said, This is the one you love, the one you've always loved.
He remembered meeting Kate, dating and falling in love, marrying her, meeting Frank in the academy and becoming friends — and also growing up just down the street from Frank, laughing and hanging out together, friendship settling into deep love, Frank taking a job as a messenger while he began learning law. What's happening to me?
"Frank! Eddie!" a cheerful voice called from the door. They both turned to look, and familiarity he shouldn't have with Frank's body language told Eddie he was nervous.
Frank drew a deep breath, then raised a hand. "Hey, Julia!" He muttered under his breath to Eddie, "You sure she likes me?"
Eddie didn't recognize her.
They sat with the strange girl — Julia, Frank insisted, but Julia was a blonde with lighter skin, he knew it — and the boy that he knew was Gene, the bartender, but that everyone else was calling Joe, who ran mail for the department. And if he sat very still and drank and didn't think, he remembered asking Joe if his package had arrived, telling Julia, I think Frank might ask you out tonight, I'll see what I can do, even as he knew that was wrong, that he'd never met these people before tonight.
So he sat, and he drank, and he pasted on a smile and went quietly mad.
At about three, their little party broke up, Frank taking Julia's hand as they stood. "See you tomorrow, Eddie. You good to get home?"
He couldn't recall answering, though he must have. Frank wrapped an arm around Julia-that-wasn't, and Eddie remembered how that felt, remembered his touch and his kisses, and fought not to run after him as he waved from the doorway on his way out with her. Fought to ignore the impulse that screamed, Mine! Frank, don't you remember?
"Hey." Gene — Joe — frowned at him. "You okay, Detective? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Eddie couldn't help but laugh.
He stumbled out of the bar, shrugging off hands he couldn't remember the owners of. Outside, the city's late-night denizens wandered past as he made his way home. He was halfway there when he realized he was heading the wrong direction; the apartment he shared with Frank was a deli, and shouldn't he be going home to Kate? Or was Kate the illusion and Frank waiting at home for him, worrying about him being out so late?
He spun, laughing, and found himself unable to stop, hysterical mirth bubbling up from deep inside. He tripped over a paving stone and caught himself on a streetlight; it knocked the breath from his lungs, and the laughter subsided. He grinned at the people passing by, who looked at him nervously and gave him a wide berth.
"I'm not really mad," he told one man, who swallowed and crossed the street. "I just don't know — do you think we're real?" he asked the next lady.
"Sir." A hand on his shoulder announced the presence of a cop, and he squinted at the man's smart uniform. "Huh. Detective," the man amended, and Eddie wondered if he should know who he was. "You're getting a bit of attention, you know. You need someplace to sleep this off?"
Sleep. Eddie jerked, straightening as best he could. "No. I'm not sleeping."
The officer sighed. "Okay, no sleeping," he answered in a voice that clearly said he was humoring him. "You want me to call your wife?"
Eddie scowled. "Do I have a wife? How do I know I have a wife?" He pulled away from the man's hands. Frank. Frank would know. Frank loved him and he loved Frank. Or were they best friends? Frank knew him; he clung to that. Whatever they were, whatever they had been, Frank could see him through it.
He had to find Frank. Then he'd tell him…well, whatever he'd believe. He had to believe! And maybe they could find those strange, pale men; find out what was going on. Who they were. He laughed. Who they all were.
He peered around at the street signs. "Where are we, anyway?" he muttered to himself.
"Avenue C, Sir," the cop answered. Eddie glanced over; the man looked concerned. "Are you sure you're okay, Detective? Why don't I see you home?"
Eddie waved him off irritably; he spotted the nearest subway entrance and headed for it. After only a few steps, though, he stumbled again. The officer caught his elbow and shook his head at him.
"I think I'd better drive you, Sir. The car's right over here." He steered Eddie back in the other direction, his hand clamped around Eddie's arm.
Eddie sighed, giving up trying to get away; if he kept going, they'd probably throw him in the drunk tank for the evening. He dropped into the passenger seat and rubbed his eyes, trying to focus.
The officer smiled over at him. "Whatever it is, it'll be all right, Sir. Just sleep it off, and you'll feel better in the morning."
Not sleep. Never again. Not without some certainty he would be safe. But a few hours wasn't long to wait. If he just had Frank with him, they could watch each other's backs. And he'd have to find out a few more things before he went to Frank with this. Morning. He nodded. Yeah. Okay.
His breath misted on the window, and he ran his finger through the condensation, remembering Frank curled around him, him curling around Frank. He traced the lines of their bodies over and over, all the way to a home he wasn't sure was his.
Circles and spirals curved over the glass.