Eli has never seen anything so sad as the sight that greets his eyes when he steps, soft-footed as a stalking cougar, into the forest clearing: Smith, sitting alone and lonely on a fallen tree. He has his shoulders hunched under the threadbare blue jacket he always wears, and his head is bent, the vulnerable nape of his neck exposed to the snowy cold.
Even at a distance, Eli can tell Smith’s holding his pocket watch in his large hands. Those hands, those beautiful hands… Sense memory stirs, and warmth washes over Eli in a wave, raising goose bumps on his skin that have nothing to do with the cold. Eli knows those hands intimately, for they have mapped his bare skin with the same delicacy and care they now bestow on that round piece of metal that means so much to Smith.
Eli halts, standing still as only one long accustomed to waiting in stillness can, and watches as the falling snow drifts silently down around Smith, making him appear as if he’s trapped inside a snow globe. Not that Eli’s ever seen a snow globe for real, of course. Few such fragile, beautiful creations survived the Big Death or its aftermath, but he’s heard them described by those who have, and wondered if he might ever see one for real.
But now, in a sense, he has, Eli muses as he resumes his soundless progress across the pristine blanket of silver-white that stretches between him and Smith. The prints from Smith’s boots are fully covered, as if he simply appeared on that fallen tree out of thin air. This only enhances Eli’s mental image of Smith trapped inside a globe of glass, remote and untouchable. The image is disturbing; Eli’s seized by an irrational fear that he’ll walk face first into an invisible barrier and have to smash the glass into glittering shards to free Smith from his self-imposed solitude.
There are times the burden Smith carries weighs heavily on his conscience. Eli knows better than anyone that Smith has done, and will continue to do, terrible, heartbreaking things at the bidding of the Voice inside him. But what Smith still hasn't fully grasped is that he no longer has to bear that burden alone. He doesn’t have to sneak away from the Mountain to grieve in silent solitude for the things he has done. He has friends like Kurdy and Erin and Gina who truly care about him. And he has Eli, who loves him. Eli, who has looked into the very heart of him without flinching.
It’s useless to be angry, Eli has learned, either with Smith or the Voice for these moments when Smith retreats into his invisible snow globe. One day his lover will understand that Eli doesn’t need or want to be protected from the darkness inside him. It will take time, Eli knows, and require infinite patience, but Eli has an abundance of both when it comes to Smith.
Everything Smith is, every complicated, fucked up, funny, sincere, frightened, angry, caring, passionate piece of him, Eli loves. One day Smith will understand this, too.
Snow has settled thickly in Smith’s chestnut hair and along his broad shoulders. So lost in thought is he that he hasn’t even noticed that he is slowly being turned into a snowman. Nor does he notice when Eli reaches his side. He looks up, startled, from contemplation of his watch only when Eli begins matter-of-factly to dust the fluffy white powder from his jacket. His eyes, those stunning gold-shot green eyes that turned Eli’s heart over the first time he looked into them, and every time since, appear unfocused and distant. But as Eli takes the wool blanket he has brought, unfolds it, and drapes it over Smith’s shoulders, Smith returns to the here and now. The simple pleasure that lights his expressive face is quickly followed by guilt.
“You’re busted, Mister,” Eli says as he kneels in front of Smith, disregarding the several inches of snow on the ground, for he, unlike Smith, is well protected from the elements by his white snowsuit. Very gently, he removes the watch from Smith’s unresisting, red-tinged fingers and slips it into the pocket of the other man’s jacket. “Your hands are like ice,” he murmurs as he takes them in his own and begins to rub warmth back into them. “If you weren’t such a stubborn bastard, I’d be worried that you’ll catch your death of cold.”
“I’m sorry, Eli,” Smith says, looking like a naughty child caught in the act of wrongdoing, and Eli is torn between wanting to cradle Smith’s head to his breast or pull it down and kiss him. He never can resist Smith when he’s like this. Or, he admits wryly to himself, at most any other time, for that matter.
But Eli does neither thing, only shakes his head, causing the fur-lined hood of his jacket to fall back. “Uh-uh. No apologies.” He smiles. “One of these days you’re gonna realize that you can’t outsmart me, Smith. Save us both time and effort.” He drops Smith’s hands and reaches into his pocket, pulling out a small green metal army thermos. He takes off the top and unscrews the cap, and a dense curl of steam emerges, spiraling up into the frigid air.
“That doesn’t smell like coffee. What is it?” Smith asks curiously, distracted as Eli hoped he’d be.
“Hot chocolate,” replies Eli, grinning like a fiend as he fills the thermos top with steaming cocoa. “Here.” He places the cup carefully in Smith’s hands, not wanting to spill a single precious drop. “Drink up.”
“Hot chocolate?” repeats Smith, in disbelief. He holds the cup to his nose and inhales deeply. “Oh my god, Eli,” he says, eyelids drifting shut, and he’s not talking about the Voice now. Chocolate of any sort is so rare that it’s something most people can only dream about ever tasting. Smith had told Eli about the time years ago that he’d found an unopened Hershey bar in an abandoned convenience store. He’d hoarded it jealously like some chipmunk or squirrel, breaking off a tiny square each day, trying to make it last. Three weeks, he’d said proudly, I made that chocolate bar last a whole three weeks.
“Where on earth did you get this?” Smith asks at last, opening his eyes. Eli, with his Truthreading ability, has never subscribed to that old saying about the eyes being the window to the soul. But Smith… he can read Smith through his eyes, without the need for touching, for every emotion Smith feels is reflected there. Eli sometimes thinks he could lose himself for hours in the study of those changeable eyes. He never imagined before meeting Smith that there were so many shades of green in the universe. And at this moment, those eyes are the deep rich color of fine jade, streaked with veins of copper-gold.
Fuck, he is so lovely, Eli thinks.
“Eli?” Smith prompts, blushing a little, as if he’s the Truthreader and knows what Eli’s thinking. He still can’t seem to believe, no matter how many times Eli tells him otherwise, that anyone could find him attractive as hell.
Eli only grins, and replies in a deliberately off-hand manner, “I’ve got my sources. Now come on, Smith, drink it before it gets cold.” Smith raises the thermos top to his lips and takes his first-ever sip of hot chocolate. He lets out a moan of pure pleasure, and Eli feels as warm inside as if he is the one drinking the hot liquid; he can almost feel it burning a path down his throat and into his stomach. The amount of bartering and Truthreading he’d had to do in order to get his hands on the costly tin of cocoa had been considerable, but he has no regrets. It’s worth almost anything to see that blissful look on Smith’s careworn face.
Eli rests his crossed arms lightly on Smith’s knees, and watches avidly as Smith drinks the hot chocolate. He savors every single mouthful, swishing the chocolate around in his mouth for several seconds before allowing himself to swallow it. Eli has never met anyone who can live in the moment the way Smith can. Or who can be so effortlessly and unintentionally erotic, without the slightest awareness of the effect he’s having. The fact that Smith has no idea what he's doing to Eli makes his actions all the more arousing, and Eli's body tightens painfully and his breathing quickens. He has seen that same intent look on Smith’s face before: when they are making love, when he’s taking Eli deep in his mouth and drinking him down.
“You’ve got a chocolate mustache,” Eli points out when Smith is done. Smith raises his sleeve to wipe his mouth, but Eli stops him. "No way. That's mine." He takes the empty cup from a blushing Smith and sets it aside. Then he leans forward and, darting out his tongue, licks the froth of chocolate from the sensitive skin over Smith’s upper lip. “’S good,” he murmurs in a husky voice, and instinctively Smith spreads his thighs so that Eli can move closer. Eli scoots forward on his knees until their bodies are pressed tightly together. Then he reaches up and cups one hand at the back of Smith's neck, and he pulls Smith's mouth down to meet his own.
Smith’s cheeks and nose are startlingly cold, but his soft lips feel even warmer by contrast. Eli dives greedily into the hot velvet of Smith's mouth with his tongue, and tastes the richness of chocolate and the even richer taste that is pure, unadulterated Smith. He can’t get enough, he will never get enough, of that taste.
“Jesus, Smith, I want you,” he pants when they finally come up for air; the hard ridge of Smith’s burgeoning erection presses against his belly, and he knows the wanting is mutual. He scrambles up and onto Smith’s lap in one swift motion, straddling him, and nearly causes them to overbalance and pitch backward into the snow. The blanket slides off Smith’s shoulders, crumpling unnoticed onto the ground behind the tree.
Smith manages, barely, to remain upright, but they have considerable practice now at coupling in awkward places, and he quickly balances himself, shifting his bottom forward, tilting his spine back and bracing his powerful legs. Eli grips his snow damp hair with desperate fingers and kisses him again and again, grinding their cocks together through the layers of clothing.
“Eli,” Smith breathes, sounding almost pained, and Eli understands. They’ve learned by necessity to communicate in a kind of shorthand, for in the close quarters of Thunder Mountain or Outside on the road with Kurdy, they have to seize what opportunities they can, and time and space are often limited.
It’s a struggle, but Eli manages to kick off his boots and wriggle out of his snow pants without leaving Smith’s lap, without even releasing his mouth. He disregards the freezing air on his bare ass and dick; he and Smith have fucked in less hospitable conditions than this.
Smith has gotten busy with his own pants, and freed his cock from its confinement; erect and full, it is already welling clear fluid at the tip. Eli quickly stoops to lick the pre-come from it, swirling his tongue around the slit, and Smith chokes back a cry. Eli’s tempted to continue, to take the flared head in his mouth and suckle, but he can tell from the tension in Smith’s body, the way the cords of muscle stand out in his neck, that he won’t last long, and what Eli needs more than anything is to have Smith inside him, deep inside him, when he comes.
Everything they need is in Eli’s pockets. This, too, they’ve learned over time: never go out unprepared. One advantage to living at the Mountain is the ready availability of lube; there are cases of K-Y in the storerooms. Eli fishes the metal tube out of his pocket, and quickly pops the cap and squirts a large dollop in his hands. But he warms the lube carefully before slicking Smith’s cock from base to tip. He listens with satisfaction to Smith's hissing intake of breath, and loves how his cock pulses and grows under his caressing fingers.
“Sweet Jesus, Eli,” Smith groans, sounding truly desperate, so Eli doesn’t linger, even though he'd like to, but moves his sticky hands to Smith’s shoulders. Bracing his arms, he lifts himself up and over Smith’s erection. Then he lowers his body, very slowly, while Smith helps position him with one hand on his own cock and the other tight on Eli’s bare hip, so tight that it will leave a bruise. There is a momentary resistance, but Eli presses down firmly and then, at last, Smith is inside him. The feeling as he is stretched and filled is exquisite: a mix of pleasure and pain so intense that he throws his head back and moans aloud. Snowflakes burn icy cold as they land on the exposed skin of his face, but they quickly melt, just as he is melting inside, as if his body is liquefying and dissolving, absorbing Smith into his very being.
When Smith is seated fully inside him, he asks anxiously, “Are you okay?” He has never once, since the first time they fucked, failed to ask Eli this question. His worry is endearing and frustrating and unnecessary- he isn’t capable of being anything less than careful with Eli- but it’s totally and undeniably Smith.
“Better than okay,” Eli reassures him, looking down into eyes that have gone so dark with need that they appear almost black. This moment of their joining, as it has since the very beginning, makes Eli feel complete, whole, as if he's become part of this complex, caring man who has given his life purpose and meaning.
“Then… please,” Smith pleads in a taut whisper, his hips jerking involuntarily, and Eli gives Smith what he wants, what they both want. He pushes up with hands still braced on Smith’s shoulders, and then lowers himself, hearing the sharp intake of breath as he slides along the length of Smith's cock. He repeats the movement again, and then again, and quickly establishes the rhythm that he knows from experience Smith likes best: the slow, almost teasing, withdrawal and the equally swift impaling. Smith's hands come to rest on Eli's hips, just beneath the hem of his white jacket, and then begin to stroke slowly downward along the length of his smooth bare thighs, and then slowly up again along the inside.
"Please." It's Eli's agonized plea this time, and Smith takes his rigid cock in a firm grip with one large hand and strokes him firmly in the rhythm he has learned brings Eli the most pleasure. "Oh shit. Oh Jesus. Oh fuck." Eli shifts one hand from Smith's shoulder and joins it to Smith's, lacing their fingers together, creating a tight cocoon into which he thrusts.
The snow-covered trees and the distant mountains begin to blur and fade at the edges as reality retreats before mindless pleasure. Eli’s eyes drift shut and he gives himself over entirely to the white-hot sensations that course through his body. But all too soon, through the thrumming of blood in his ears and his own harsh gasps, he hears the short hitching whimpers that mean Smith is nearing his climax. Eli forces open his eyes and focuses them on Smith’s face, for he has never seen anything as beautiful as the way Smith looks when he climaxes.
Smith’s face is slack and his lips, red and swollen from their kisses, are slightly parted. Beads of sweat cluster atop the full upper lip, and spots of intense color burn high on his cheekbones. Sweat and snow have plastered tendrils of dark bronze-gold hair to his brow, and trickles of moisture slide down his temples. His eyes are tightly shut, and a slight crease appears between his brows as the tension gathers like storm clouds inside him.
“Eli,” he gasps as he starts to climax, and Eli raises up and slams down, hard, one final time. Smith's face contorts with the force of his orgasm, his throat arches and his body goes taut as a bow; he lets out a short, sharp cry that echoes through the clearing. Eli feels the hot rush of Smith’s release deep inside him, and the sensation is so pleasurable and intense that it sends him hurtling over the edge, spilling over their interlocked hands. From force of habit, and too many couplings held within earshot of other people, Eli has buried his sweaty face in Smith’s neck, and he clamps down hard with his teeth on the collar of Smith's flannel shirt to muffle his frantic cries. But the litany that runs through his mind, over and over, is the same as always: IloveyouSmithIloveyouSmith.
“I love you.” The words hang on the frigid air on a cloud of expelled breath, but Eli isn’t sure if they came from him or Smith- or from them both.
Eli slumps against Smith's heaving chest in a boneless, satisfied heap, and Smith wraps his trembling arms securely around Eli’s back. They remain that way, bodies still intimately joined, for some time. Neither is willing to be the first to make the move to separate. But their sweating bodies start to cool and pulses to slow, and the snow is still falling and the air is like ice. Eli realizes that his ass is totally numb. He laughs weakly and looks up at Smith. “Jesus, Smith, what will the doctors at the Mountain think if they have to treat my ass for frostbite?”
Smith slides his hands down to cup Eli’s bare buttocks. “No one’s touching this but me,” he murmurs possessively. “And I know plenty of ways to warm it.” His eyes are now the color Eli loves best of all: a soft moss green. Smith is totally happy, fulfilled and as much at peace with himself and the world as he ever can be.
I can give him that. Can you, God? Eli challenges the Voice, and he holds Smith’s cold cheeks between his hands and kisses him with a gentleness that belies the fierceness of his thoughts.
“Hold onto that idea until we get back to the Mountain, Smith,” Eli says, smiling into his eyes. He slides from Smith’s lap, carefully separating their bodies, trying not to wince and worry Smith unnecessarily. Any slight discomfort he feels is more than worth it, he thinks as he quickly pulls on his snow pants and boots. He cleans the come and lube from his hands with snow and dries them on the small towel he’s brought for this purpose, and then gives the towel to Smith.
While Smith is busy cleaning himself and adjusting his clothes, Eli rescues the blanket, shakes off the snow, and drapes it over Smith once again. He finds the thermos, uncaps it and pours the remaining hot chocolate into the top. Then he sits beside Smith on the tree trunk, cupping the warm cocoa between his chilled hands. Smith holds out the edge of the blanket and Eli wriggles closer so that Smith can cover them both in the worn gray wool.
“You okay?” Smith asks quietly.
“Do you even need to ask?” Eli shakes his head in smiling disbelief.
“Roger that.” Smith leans over and plants a soft, soft kiss on Eli's lips. “Thank you, Eli,” he whispers, touching his cheek.
And Eli knows that Smith isn’t thanking him for the sex, but for rescuing him from the isolation of his imaginary snow globe. But as they sit in perfect silence, listening to the soft whisper of the falling snow and sharing the last of the hot chocolate, Eli thinks that a snow globe might actually be a place of beauty and wonder after all- when at its heart there are the two of them.