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Hungry Ghosts

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 “It’s not just you, Baz,” Paul told him when the frustration and pressures of the past week had gotten to be too much. Nick had stormed out of the room after Barry threw the microphone at him and actually hit him on the side of the face. (he hoped it would leave a mark). “Nick was always like that with Chris too…”

 

That was something new. To Barry, Chris was someone who did it all right, despite how fucked up he might have been. He could sing. Effortlessly. He had stage presence. There were a few videos – mostly just short things that had been filmed of some of their shows that Laura had dug up. Bits and pieces of unfinished, unedited interviews. Paul didn’t know they had watched them, and Barry had gotten the feeling that they might have been Paul’s things, but he didn’t bring it up. He felt guilty, and he didn’t want Paul to be disappointed in him.

 

Chris was beautiful in a way that was almost frightening and certainly intimidating. So fucking thin – not like Barry and Tom. He looked almost ill, but he was incandescent. He demanded your attention. Tom was interested – but Barry got the feeling that he liked seeing Paul play on stage in the Noize more than anything. He was interested in Chris Dervish, but Barry was obsessed.

 

And he wasn’t sure he wanted to be. In fact, he knew he didn’t. He wished he’d never seen any of the footage, but he didn’t want to forget about it either. There were things he couldn’t forget. Like Chris’s eyes. They were this impossible colour that reminded him of the colour of the sky before a storm…. back on the Head.

 

“It’s been said that you were involved, is this true?”

 

Involved in what Laura wouldn’t tell them. She claimed not to remember, but even Tom confided to Barry later that he didn’t believe her.

 

Chris was looking down, lighting a cigarette, but his eyes shot up at that moment holding anger and defiance and disgust. He never answered.

 

Barry could see those eyes when he closed his own. Like staring at the ocean too long on a sunny day. When he and Tom lay in bed at night he could still see the waves behind his eyes.

 

He wanted to see more. Wanted to know more. At first Chris seemed too wild for Paul. Barry didn’t understand it. Chris was loud and fast and uncaring, or he seemed to be.

 

Paul – a younger Paul – maybe nineteen, was talking about the Noize. It was snowing and his breath rose in clouds where he stood with his back against the van. It stirred something in Barry. And urge to protect him maybe. He looked so small there, huddled in a green jacket that was far too big for him, smoking a cigarette with his hands half inside the sleeves. Chris’s voice was in the background, talking a mile a minute, shouting and laughing and Paul’s eyes kept moving away from the camera – distracted. Chris who wasn’t even paying attention to Paul was getting his smiles and his attention. Drawing his eyes like Barry wasn’t sure he could.

 

Suddenly Chris was there, bare arms and snow melting in his hair. He stood close to Paul – arms touching and reached over for the cigarette that Paul was already handing him. The gesture was like a mirror image, both moving at the same time. Chris took a drag, cheeks hollowing and for the briefest of moments he laid his head against Paul’s shoulder, his own tilted at an awkward angle. The cigarette was handed back, and he was gone, leaving Paul in a quiet, almost disoriented state. The scene ended.

 

Barry thought about that a lot. He wasn’t confident enough to do that – be that close to Paul in front of all these people. The movements seemed so easy for Chris. Like Barry’s were with Tom’s. Unpremeditated. Just instinctive. Moving together. Him and Paul weren’t like that. Him and Paul were quiet voices and tentative touches that grew bolder the longer they were alone in each other’s presence… as alone as they could be with Tom always against Barry’s side.

 

Maybe Paul didn’t want him to be like that anyway. Maybe he didn’t want them to be like that. Him and Barry. Maybe he didn’t want to love him like he’d loved Chris. Did he still love Chris?

 

Those thoughts turned Barry’s stomach over. Did he want Paul to love him? Barry? Did he love Paul? Was there a difference between being with each other the way they were and loving each other? Did all the kissing and touching and fucking mean that they were in love? All the quiet talks and the brush of Paul’s fingers over his arm before he fell asleep. He didn’t have the answers for any of it, and he knew Tom wouldn’t be able to tell him.

 

He knew he wanted to. God, he wanted to, but he wasn’t sure he could. Didn’t that mean that Tom would mean less to him, if Paul would mean more? Sometimes it felt like his entire being couldn’t handle, couldn’t fucking comprehend the emotional attachment he had to Tom. The little moments where the realisation of how much he loved his brother would flow over him without explanation, without warning, for some little everyday thing. Like the way Tom tapped the neck of the guitar in a staccato rhythm while he wordlessly listened to Paul’s suggestions. It would be little things like that that made Barry realise that he could never live without him. The way Tom would shoot him a glance when Nick threw up his arms, cursing and complaining and Barry suddenly wouldn’t be taking it as seriously anymore.

 

He didn’t really feel like that with Paul. Was that bad? Did Paul get those feelings with him? Barry knew he must have felt them for Chris.

 

He didn’t understand. He wanted them. He wanted Paul to be virtually unable to take his eyes off him when he was supposed to be answering questions for an interview. He wanted Paul to need to be with him the way Barry needed to be with Tom, but he was scared to feel that for someone else. Was that wrong? Did that make him undeserving of what Paul was offering?

 

Fuck, he didn’t know.

 

He liked the way everything calmed down when was just him and Tom and Paul. His head seemed to clear and he felt like he could work everything out if it could just be like this – the three of them - forever. He knew what he wanted when Paul’s fingers traced his spine through his shirt, when Paul’s mouth was breathing, speaking, brushing against his neck. When Paul laughed quietly in his ear for something that he had said. He liked the warm fluttering feeling in his stomach that spread through him completely. He liked the way the noise of the party was drowned out when Paul’s tongue slid against his own. He liked the way it wasn’t as horribly awkward as he thought with Tom there.

 

He thought it might have been, but after the first time, the first real time, Barry curled around Tom’s warm body after Paul had left, his own aching but feeling more relaxed than he could ever remember… He wasn’t sure how to voice the question to Tom. Was it okay? Was it too much – him and Paul like that. Kissing and touching was one thing but-- fuck, he had never felt like that. In the end, he hadn’t had to ask, barely even had to worry a bout it because Tom had rolled over onto his side, sliding an arm over Barry’s waist and smiling at him, their faces inches apart. The smile was a little tight, but his voice was warm and honest and sincere like Tommy always was. “I was wondering how much longer it was going to be.” Tom had probably known he wanted Paul before Barry did.

 

Tom’s mouth found the corner of his just for a second, then pulled Barry’s head under his chin, and that had been that. Just like Tom and Laura, they didn’t talk about it anymore. Not really.

 

~*~|

 

The three of them were all in a half-sleep on top of the covers – otherwise it was too warm, pressed tightly together out of necessity and because even the two twin beds pushed together were too small for three people. Barry liked this. In between Paul and Tom he felt safest, supported on either side by a warm body. He didn’t mind the closeness – the difficulty in moving. Him and Tom did it effortlessly, but it was harder with another person in their bed. Someone else’s body entwined with Barry’s.

 

He felt the bed shift and the little whine escaped his throat as he forced himself into wakefulness. Tom was almost asleep beside him, and he couldn’t seem to find the energy to move his limbs as Paul detangled himself and kissed his forehead. “Bye, Baz.”

 

He never stayed. Maybe because he felt like he was intruding; maybe it just wasn’t comfortable to spend a whole night here. Maybe because it would be too hard to be inconspicuous come the morning. Barry always hoped that he would fall asleep anyway – be there in the morning…

 

He lapsed back into sleep again.

 

“Hey…”

 

Through his sleep-haze he wondered if Paul had changed his mind. Decided to come back. Everyone would be too hung over to be up early anyway. Maybe Paul could just leave later. Spend the night, then go back to his own room before anyone else was awake.

 

He rolled away from Tom who pressed into his side, making a little sleep noise against Barry’s neck. The figure of the person who slipped onto the bed beside him though, wasn’t Paul and Barry started, surprised that Tom didn’t wake up.

 

He reached out, trying to find Tom’s wrist to squeeze, wake him up without looking like he was doing it.

 

“Shh,” a mouth against his own. Barry froze where he was, not kissing back.

 

“Hey, what? What’s’a’matter?” his stomach dropped out when he placed the voice.

 

“Whatthefuck,” he breathed in once breath against Chris’s cheek. He’d turned his head, kissing Barry’s cheek, his jaw, his neck. His mind ran through all the possibilities, each one more ridiculous and implausible than the last.

 

What the fuck was he doing up here? What the fuck was he doing here? Now? Now that his eyes had adjusted he could see that Chris wasn’t a day over 18 which was probably the scariest part. Because what did that mean? When you were raised on a place like the Head, you believed in ghosts.

 

“Tom,” Barry said, not taking his eyes off of the boy who swung a leg over his thighs, kneeling and pulling away to undo the buttons of his own shirt. Chris didn’t seem to hear him. “Tom!” his voice was no more than an urgent whisper.

 

“We should go for a drive, just you and me later, yeah?” Chris was murmuring. Barry didn’t have a shirt on, and Chris’s tongue was on his collarbones, trailing kissing and bites down between his ribs, lower. Barry let out a little moan. He couldn’t move away, not with Tom there – Tom who wouldn’t fucking wake up. It felt good… oh fuck, how was this happening?

 

Long-fingered cold hands ran down his sides, making him tense. Were his hands always cold or was it because—God, don’t think about that. Barry squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself back to reality, but it wasn’t coming.

 

Fingers slid through his hair. “Hey, You? What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing,” Barry found himself whispering. Chris’s sudden grin seemed to heat him from the inside. Like Paul’s smile. It made him happy. Chris slid up his body, his own hard and bony and sharp – kissing him again.

 

Barry kissed back. It was so unlike kissing Paul. Easier somehow. It became faster, more aggressive. Their hips moved together, and Chris shrugged his shirt off his own shoulders. This was so fucked up. When he felt Chris’s cold fingers brush his stomach and start to undo his jeans he reached down, pushing him away.

 

“Fuck, Paul,” Chris said, pulling back. “What? What?” A strange look in his grey eyes suddenly different – harder, confused, angry.

 

Barry stared. “I’m not...”

 

There was a long silence.

 

“Never mind… just… fuck...” Chris said, and Barry got the feeling that Chris had heard something entirely differently. He shook his head and looked away, getting Barry’s jeans undone, tugging them down. His own. Barry heard them slide off the bed and hit the floor, the button clacking against the hardwood.

 

Tom should have woken up by now...

 

Baz arched his back off the bed as much as he could, the join restricting him. Chris made a soft sound somewhere in his throat as he slid into him. It hurt, but it was fucking good. This was so strange. He shouldn’t want this. He couldn’t even comprehend how it was possible.

 

Chris rocked against him, almost mechanical rhythm. It still felt good, but it felt like necessity. Like something Chris had been asked to do. “Oh God,” he finally whimpered, dark hair falling into his eyes as he changed. Everything seemed to change and suddenly it was real. It wasn’t just going through the motions anymore. Suddenly the movements were faster. Not desperate – not quite yet, but real. Needing. Barry didn’t take his eyes off him, still tense, but in a different way.

 

“I love you, I love you, please,” Chris was whispering almost against his lips. Barry finally closed his eyes. A shift. He let out a short cry and the speed increased, both of them close. Chris’s breath was shaking against his ear. “I’m so sorry. Please… fuck-- it meant nothing. She means nothing.”

 

“Chris,” Barry whispered – not sure what he meant by it… maybe it was just a name. He needed to say something.

 

“Oh fuck… God, I love you.” Chris came, cold hand over Barry, making him gasp. Hard, fast jerks and Barry finished a moment later.

 

Chris pulled out, got up. Barry wanted to reach for him, but he didn’t. He looked so dejected. His eyes downcast as he stood, pulled his jeans back on, found his shirt. Barry couldn’t do anything but watch.

 

He was working up the courage to say his name again, but—

 

Those eyes met his and he froze. “You’re my best friend, Paul.”

 

Barry sat up fast. The join pulled painfully between them and Tom sat up with a soft yelp. “What?!”

 

Barry’s breath came out hard and fast. He took everything in. Paul was gone – he’d left ages ago. The day’s light was coming in bluish. There was no sun yet. Just a lightening of the sky. His hand was over the skin where the join met his body, and he could feel Tom’s eyes on him, his brother’s breath on the side of his face as Baz slowly let realisation sink in.

 

Chris was gone. He had never been here. Right? Barry’s jeans were still done up and he realised that he was uncomfortably hard.

 

“Barry…” Tom said, after it had been silent for too long, interrupting Barry’s fast breaths. “S’just a dream.”

 

“I know… yeah I know,” Barry whispered.

 

“Did you want to get up?” Sometimes they went for walks when Barry had dreams that woke him up like that. Tom didn’t know that it wasn’t… frightening. Not like the others.

 

Barry shook his head, laying back down again, curling up. Maybe he would tell Tom later. He wasn’t sure he could ever tell Paul.

 

When day filtered into their little attic room proper and they got up and got dressed Barry saw the cigarette. Just the curled butt of some brand that no one in the house smoked - a rollie - self-made, and made badly, just on the floor in the corner…

 

He didn’t have to watch the videos again to remember watching Chris rolling his cigarettes. Badly, just like this one.

 

For the rest of his life, he would remember Chris’s sad, dark eyes and think that he should have played along, he should have told him that he loved him; because that was what Paul would have done. That was what Chris had so desperately wanted.

 

He thought he saw him sometimes, in the corner of his eye, a tall, lanky shape leaning against a doorframe or staring out a window - sitting on the floor in a corner, smoking a fag, long knees folded up and awkward.

 

There was always a faint smell of cigarette smoke in the air after those times…