Love Revisited

 

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Love Revisited

Marie Brown

Tablo Edition

©2014

 

Cover Image Info

Chicago skyline image by Roger Wollstadt. Used under Creative Commons license. Original image modified in Photoshop. As per licensing requirements, contact me if you want a copy of the altered image.

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Part One

Part One

An unexpected knock on the door interrupted Erik's reading. He put his book aside, looked out the window. He couldn't see anybody. He opened the door anyway.

Shane.

Shane stood there on the doorstep.

Shock rooted him to the spot, hand locked on the doorknob.

"Uh. . . hi."

Shane shifted uncomfortably, and Erik couldn't trust his voice to respond. Shane looked. . . worn out. Ragged. Hollow. Clothes he wouldn't have been caught dead in a year ago, thinner, dark circles under his eyes. . . he had definitely been through some hard times.

"I know I shouldn't be here, but I just had to say goodbye. They told me you never wanted to see me again, that I shouldn't even try looking for you, but when I found out where you were I just had to come here. I'm sorry for whatever I did, and I wish I knew what it was, but I don't remember. And I can't stay around here anymore, so I'm leaving tomorrow morning. But I had to say goodbye. I'll never bother you again, I just had to see you one more time. But I can see you don't want me around."

Erik stood immobile under the rush of words, trying to sort them out with a brain that felt slower than molasses in January. Shane turned and walked off the front porch to the driveway. Then something finally sunk in: Shane. Leaving.

"Wait!" The word came out more like a harsh croak than a real word, but it came out. "Don't go." There, that was better. Shane stopped and half-turned, dark hair falling across his eyes. He shook it back with a familiar gesture that brought a lump to Erik's throat.

"Erik?"

The hope in his eyes hurt. Erik hardened his heart against the desire to run forward and just hold him, the man he'd loved to the exclusion of all else, and reminded himself sharply of the months of suffering. Hear him out, see what he has to say, but don't let him wreck your damn life again.

"Shane. How'd you find me? And where've you been? You look like it's been. . . rough."

"Rough." Shane's mouth quirked in something that wasn't quite a smile. "Yeah, you could say that. And I found you. . . it was an accident, really. Ran into Jeff the roadie the other day, remember him? He said you were staying with your parents. Your parents. . ." He shook his head.

"Had to have somewhere to go," Erik shrugged. Suddenly he just had to know more, had to find out everything that had been going on in Shane's life for the last year. Had to know if he was clean. "Look, man. . . you hungry? I know a place we could go, sit down, talk a while. . ."

"Guess there's a bit of catching up to do," Shane nodded. "This mean you're not going to run me off your doorstep with a pitchfork?"

"Not yet, at any rate." Erik ducked back inside and grabbed keys and jacket. "I'm going out, be back later," he yelled, in the general direction of the rec room. His parents didn't treat him like a kid any more, but he saw no reason to be rude and just waltz off without saying anything.

They took his car, since Shane had none. "How'd you get here, man?"

"Rode the bus," Shane confessed. "No money anymore, no car. Totally reliant on public transportation these days, that's me."

"What a change."

"That's not all that's changed," Shane muttered.

The restaurant was only five blocks away. Erik usually walked, but Shane didn't really look up to that much effort. Had he even eaten anything in the last year? Erik studied him out of the corner of his eye as he drove. Gone was the easy self-confidence, the air of success and suppressed excitement. Shane no longer looked like he was on top of the world. Rather, he looked more like the gum stuck on the bottom of somebody's shoe: stepped on and rather scroungy, but still hanging on.

Erik pulled into a parking spot and shut his car off. The big green Plymouth coughed before it died.

"They told me I did something horrible to you," Shane said to his sneakers. "It must have been really bad, because no one would tell me what I did to drive you away. All I know is I woke up alone, and everything went downhill from there. Whatever I did, I am more sorry than I can say. Will you tell me what I did?"

Erik looked away. A robin pecked at the grassy strip in front of the restaurant. He focused on the bird, not the memory. "No. If you don't remember, if you truly don't remember, I'll chalk it up to the drugs and treat you like it never happened."

"I'm clean now."

"Good. Let's go inside."

They found a booth in the back corner, away from the few people dining in the midafternoon.

Shane stared at Erik, drinking in every little detail of his appearance. He looked good. Really, really good. His hair was a bit longer now, and he looked more mature. If only those eyes weren't so cold and controlled. . . but he'd lost the right to any warmth from this man. Somehow.

"So," Erik said, as they settled into the booth. "You said you're leaving tomorrow? Guess I know how I rate in your world, if I'm last on the priority list."

Shane's eyes widened. "Hardly. I only found out where you live a few days ago. Thing is, I would have looked you up sooner, but I was told not to bother trying, remember? And besides, I had no luck finding you on my own."

"You did try?" Erik grinned suddenly, although it died just as quick as it was born. "So like you."

"Yeah, well, what can I say." Shane shrugged uncomfortably. A waitress came and took their orders.

"You said you're clean now?"

"Yeah." Shane closed his eyes, the last year's horrors washing over him. But it was just memory, and could no longer hurt him.

"Me too. Took months in rehab."

"I did it on my own." Shane snuck a look at Erik, but couldn't tell anything of his thoughts behind that closed off expression. Oh, what the hell. Couldn't fuck things up any worse to tell the truth. "You were my inspiration. Kept telling myself I had to clean up if I ever wanted you to talk to me again."

"Well. And here you are, talking to me."

Their drinks arrived, but Erik's eyes never wavered off Shane's as the waitress set the red, semi-transparent tumblers in front of them.

"Is it worth it?"

"What?"

"Sitting here talking to me. Is that enough to make up for the hell of withdrawal and the willpower it takes to stay clean?"

"You have no idea," Shane whispered. His eyes absorbed every nuance of the man sitting opposite him. His voice got stronger as he spoke. "Every bit of the pain, every time I fight back the temptation. . . Yes. Seeing you again, no matter how awkward this is, is more than worth it."

"Awkward. Now there's a good word for this situation." Erik had a drink of his Coke, eyes slipping away. "Maybe we'd better ditch the awkwardness, act like we're two old friends with a lot of catching up to do."

Shane laughed. A very small laugh, but genuine. "Fine, then. Tell me what you've been up to."

"I would, but it's not too exciting. Been working for my dad, up till a week ago, living at home while I get some business taken care of. I even dress like a damned nerd."

Shane laughed harder at that. It felt good. He hadn't laughed in a painfully long time. "You're probably the only person in the whole world that really means it when he says working for Dad sucks."

Erik groaned. "Spare me the bad puns! Yes, of course it sucks working in a vacuum store!"

"Could suck worse. You could've had my job."

"Yeah? What were you doing that was so bad?"

"Dog'n'Suds."

Erik laughed, finally. "Can't see you up to your ears in hot dogs, and kids."

"Don't forget the foam. Lots of foam."

Erik shook his head, toying with a napkin. "Root beer, huh? What a difference."

"Yeah."

Their food arrived then, and Shane felt like cussing at the interruption. He'd actually gotten Erik to act like himself again, at least for a moment.

But the food smelled good, not anything like hot dogs, and he was hungry. Something about working in a hot dog joint turned him off food most days, so he knew he didn't eat right. His grandma would probably beat his butt if she were still alive.

"So tell me more," Erik said, over his meatball sub.

"More what?"

"There has to be more to the last year than hot dogs and root beer."

Shane sighed. "Don't ask. Woke up one morning and didn't know my own life anymore. Had to make a new one. It's been rough."

"Right. Sorry." Erik gave him a small smile. "I'll try again. Hi, Shane. Nice to meet you. What brings you to Chicago?"

"This is what I know," Shane said softly. "Born and raised in Chi-town. Lived here all my life, other than a bit of time on the road."

"Such a strange concept. I've lived so many places. . . Dad used to travel a lot, like every other vacuum salesman in the world, and he'd see lots of places he liked enough to live there. And off we'd go, moving again."

"What are you, gypsies or something?"

"Close enough, until he bought a business," Erik shrugged. "Think gypsies move around a bit more, but not much. Me, now, I like to travel, but think I might like to try staying somewhere for a while."

"Really. And you picked here."

"Nah, Dad did. Before. . . you know. I just came back for the free rent."

"Glad you did," Shane gave him a sideways look. "Made finding you possible."

"Fine. I'll just go ahead and admit it. I'm glad you did."

Shane smiled. "Me too. Even if you look like you just stepped in something unpleasant."

"I what?" Erik blinked. "Oh. Sorry." He gave himself a shake, then grinned for real. "Maybe I'm the one being a dick now."

"Never."

The awkwardness lifted, at least for a while. They talked more naturally, and somehow managed to cover ground they'd never explored before.

"How is it," Erik asked, over their third refill of Coke, "that we spent a good two years with each other and I never knew you grew up with your grandparents?"

"Never came up, I guess," Shane shrugged. "Just like I didn't know you like dogs better than cats."

"Guess nothing about this situation is really normal, now is it?"

"What is normal, anyway?" Shane grimaced. "We're not. Isn't normal supposed to be a man, a woman, two point five kids, a white picket fence, and a cat on the lawn?"

"Yeah." Erik laughed. "Point taken. Guess I forget what normal people are like. I'm a musician, after all."

"Juilliard, wasn't it?" Erik nodded. "Isn't that in New York?"

"Just a short subway ride from the Stonewall, yep."

"Stonewall. Now there was something not normal. Were you there?"

"Nah, got to the school two years after it happened. But I knew people that were there. And now it's the ten year anniversary."

"Who would've thought a bunch of drag queens and rentboys could change the world?"

"Not me, that's for damn sure. Glad they did, though. Makes it a bit more comfortable being a longhair musician these days. Nobody's tried to beat me up since. . . hell, before I met you."

"What did you study while you were there?"

"Violin."

Shane's eyes threatened to pop out of his head. "No shit?"

"No shit. Started playing when I was just a kid. Played in more orchestras than I can count, in a different school every year or two, doing the classical thing."

"No wonder you're so damn good."

"If you think I'm good with a guitar, you should hear me on violin."

"I'd like that," Shane smiled. "You should play for me sometime."

"What, so I can amaze you with the worthless talent in my hands?"

"Not worthless," Shane protested immediately. "How can you say that? You were a rock star!"

"And look at me now. I've been repairing damn vacuum cleaners for a living."

They looked at each other for a long, intense moment. Then they were interrupted.

"Hey, guys?"

The waitress stepped up to their table, looking sheepish.

"Yeah?"

"Um, look, I hate to say it, but, um. . ."

"You want us to leave." Shane finished for her.

"It's almost dinner time," she shrugged uncomfortably. "And my boss wants the table free."

"Fine. No problem."

They got up and Erik paid the bill, then they walked outside. The sun smacked at them from its position above the horizon, blinding their eyes, but the spring air carried a bit of chill.

They got back in the big green Plymouth, all the awkwardness coming back with a vengeance.

"Where you staying, man? I can give you a ride. No need to take the damn bus."

"Thanks. Shithole of a place, off Cicero."

"Can't imagine you in a shithole place." Erik shook his head in disbelief. "Thought you had more class."

"Sure, when I have money," Shane shrugged. "No money, can't afford class."

"There you go again, talking crazy about being broke. We've got a song hit number four on the charts last week, how the hell can you be broke?"

"Ah, in case you didn't notice, I'm not with the band any more."

"That doesn't mean any—oh, hell." Erik smacked the steering wheel. "Kirby screwed you, too."

"What? How?"

"Our wonderful agent had a nice little escrow fund set up, with all my royalties tied up in it, and the interest paid directly to him. I had to get a lawyer. That's why I was living at home and working for Dad. She's still working out the details, but she got the interest freed up just last week and going into my account now, not Kirby's. I never thought to have her look into all you guys' affairs."

"Well, son of a bitch. Think I need that lawyer's number." Shane shook his head. "You mean I've been struggling all this time when I didn't have to?"

"Think of it as a character building exercise," Erik suggested.

"Character, schmaracter. I've got plenty of character."

"So you do," Erik nodded. "So you do."

He fished his wallet out of his pocket and fumbled it open with one hand. At a red light, he pulled out a plain business card. "Here."

He tossed the card onto the big bench seat. Shane picked it up, looked at the name. Betsy Dunraven. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Erik snorted. "For all the good it'll do you, when you leave."

"I'm sure I can make a long distance call from anywhere," Shane said, with a bit of an edge to his voice. "Did you have to bring that up?"

"It's not going away. First damn thing you said to me in over a year, after all."

"Sorry."

"Don't be. Not like I let you know where I was at, after all."

"Wish I knew why."

"I told you," Erik said, giving him a seriously closed off and controlled look. "I'm not going to talk about that. Better not to know. It's all over and done long ago. We're both different now."

"Clean."

"Yeah."

They rode in silence for a while. Then Shane spoke up.

"Can we go back to the part where we were acting like old friends again?"

Erik swore and hit his horn when someone cut him off. "Sorry. That wasn't aimed at you. Yeah. Better when we're playing nice with each other."

"Glad you think so. 'Cause that's the motel right there."

"You weren't joking when you called it a shithole."

"Nope. Room 113, right over that way."

The Plymouth died quietly in the parking spot right in front of the room, before the key turned off.

"You coming in?"

"Might as well. Sounds like the car thinks I should."

Shane laughed. "Smart car."

They went into the small motel room together. The radio, the one built into the TV, played inside. How appropriate, Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." Two lost souls, swimming in a fish bowl. Shane gave it a look, then shrugged. Must've left it on. He hadn't exactly been thinking clearly when he'd left this room, on his way to catch the bus from Shitsville and head out towards Oak Park.

"Feels weird being in a motel room without the rest of the band."

"I've been in one long enough it seems almost normal now."

"You ever hear from them?"

"Hell no." Shane flopped into one of the miserably uncomfortable gold fake velvet chairs. "Guess a lifetime of friendship wasn't good enough to carry through the shit that happened."

"Lifetime? How long did you know them?"

"Met Josh and Mikey in kindergarten. But Kev, now, we were neighbors. Knew each other before we knew how to talk. Shared a sandbox when we were in diapers."

"Damn," Erik shook his head, settling into the other chair. "Only people I've known that long are my parents."

"Sad."

"Kind of," Erik shot one of his patented unreadable looks at Shane. "Maybe one of these days, I might enjoy knowing someone for that long."

"Maybe. You might get tired of people after that long."

"Huh. I'll probably never know."

"What's the longest you've ever been in one place?"

"Two and a half years. Did four years at Juilliard, but that doesn't count, because I had to move back with my folks for the summers, and had a different dorm room every year."

"No shit."

"No shit. Told you, gypsies might move more than I have, but not much."

"At least you can remember it all," Shane muttered.

"How bad is it?" Erik cocked his head, actual curiosity showing in his eyes.

"Bad," Shane confessed. "I can't remember much of anything past Kansas City. Lots of lights, and shows, and bits and pieces of parties. The tour bus. And you. But. . . only the good parts, I guess, because I sure as hell don't remember what ended it all."

"Kansas City. Wild night. Too much partying. That's where the downhill slide started." Erik's eyes went unreadable again. "I have holes in my memory, too. Got enough professional musician in me to remember each and every show, though."

"Good for you. Wish I could say the same. Sucks, I spent my whole life wanting to be a rock star, then I finally make it big and can't remember most of it."

"Well. Guess it's not all it's cut out to be, eh? I mean, the stage shows rocked, but the partying can really fuck up a person."

"You got that right."

"So, moving on," Erik said, leaning back and crossing his legs, looking around the sad little room. "Both of us had some fucked up times. But that's all done and gone." His eye fell on a guitar case, leaned up against the wall next to a familiar green duffel. "Guitar? Thought you were all about the keyboards. When did you start playing guitar?"

"Oh, ten, fifteen years ago, maybe more," Shane smiled. "Grandpa taught me when I was old enough to hold the damn thing right."

"So much about you I never knew," Erik shook his head. He got up, went to the guitar, let it out of its case. A notebook fluttered underneath the instrument and Erik glanced at it, then gave it another, longer, look.

Shane felt his face turn red, but refused to squirm with discomfort, although he really wanted to. He knew exactly what Erik was reading.

Erik picked up the notebook and the guitar, sat back in the chair, reading and letting his fingers coax quiet notes out of the instrument.

"This is good stuff," he said. "Bit darker than your usual, but good."

Shane pretended a nonchalance he didn't feel. Good stuff, his ass. That was pure pain written down in that notebook, the pain of someone who'd lost everything that mattered in life and didn't even know why. "Thanks. Never stopped writing."

"Good for you." Erik glanced at him. "Still think you need me for the real magic. But you're doing good on your own."

"Not really."

What could have been a very intense moment was dodged neatly with a chord. Erik didn't say anything, just started humming along with the music he teased from the guitar.

"You do have all the magic," Shane said.

"Share a little of it with me," Erik looked up and smiled at him, a surprisingly open expression, and started playing louder. "From the top."

They sang together, the words of the poem Shane had written just a few days ago. The guitar made the words soar into pure beauty. Brand new melody, getting composed on the spot, and Shane still felt comfortable singing along, because he knew Erik's style so well.

And the magic swirled up and engulfed them both, just like it used to.

"Well," Erik said, after a long, long moment of staring at Shane after the guitar strings stilled. "Still got what it takes."

"Yeah," Shane said, on a long sigh.

Erik set the guitar aside. "Think that's enough of that. Best not to stir up too many regrets."

"Yeah," Shane repeated. He knew he was staring, so he made an effort to look at something else. Didn't work too well, though. His eyes wanted to keep staring right at Erik.

"What? Did I grow an extra head, or something?"

"No." Shane closed his eyes for a moment with the onslaught of that memory. He'd heard those words before, the night they'd written "Seeker." The first night he and Erik had actually gotten along well. When he opened his eyes again, he pointed them firmly at the guitar. There. Better. "Sorry. I'm easily distracted these days."

"That might not be a bad thing," Erik replied. "As long as only the right things distract you."

Shane smiled. "Not much right in my life anymore. Up until today."

"I know the feeling. But you're putting yourself back together."

"Yeah. Getting there. Definitely getting there."

"Good."

An awkward silence fell, broken by the sound of the radio. The Who's latest came on and they fell into talking about music, which segued into makeup.

"What do you think of all the Brits and their makeup? Think we could pull off the glam rock look, with all the glitter and sequins and good hair?"

"Yeah, you probably could," Erik laughed."I couldn't, no way. Ever seen a shrimpy dude in sequins?"

"You're not that shrimpy," Shane protested immediately. "Just 'cause neither of us is in the over six feet crowd doesn't make us short. More like medium."

"Whatever you say. Five-six isn't exactly tall and elegant. But you've got the height and the bone structure for the glam look. Bet you'd be prettier than David Bowie."

"Bet that'd give my grandma a heart attack if she was still around." Shane grinned. "I can hear her now, praying over me and saying it's not too late to ship me off to Catholic school. 'Pretty' was not an adjective applied to men in her world."

"I can see that," Erik nodded. "Sounds like something my dad would say. He can't even handle dirty hippies, as he calls 'em. Bet a glam rocker would put him in the hospital."

"Not that good an idea, after all," Shane shook his head, still smiling. "But damn entertaining."

"Yeah."

They lapsed into silence again, this time not as awkward. The look in Erik's eyes came close to outright friendliness.

But then things changed again.

One of their own songs came on the radio, and Shane recognized it with a flinch. "Bedroom Eyes." That memory came perfectly clear. What a beautiful night. The words to the song were words they'd said to each other as they were making love, back before the night in Kansas City when the word "drugs" had shifted from meaning a bit of pot or some acid, to heroin and cocaine. Oh, the joys of the rock star lifestyle.

"What's wrong? You look uncomfortable." Erik's unreadable mask dropped back into place. Again.

"Just thinking about this song. And the way we wrote it."

"What, in bed?"

"Yeah."

Erik gave him a long look. Shane wondered if he was remembering that night as well.

"Well, there's no getting around it. You and I did have something pretty good going on back then."

"Yeah."

"Too bad it got shot all to hell. But should be easy enough to move forward, with you out of the picture. Where did you say you were going, again?"

"I didn't. I don't know where I'm going." Shane hoped Erik couldn't tell how much emotional distress he felt at the moment. Oh, how those words hurt! Like a shot through the heart. Or maybe a stake, nailing him to the chair while his hope died slowly, with a plaintive wail. "Going to see how far the money I've got will take me on a Greyhound."

"Why are you leaving again?"

"I have to get away from all this," Shane waved towards the window, meaning the whole of Chicagoland. "It's getting really bad. Everywhere I go, there's just too many memories. And more than that, Frankie's been after me. Wants to set me up with some freebies, get me hooked again. Wants his best damn customer back. And I know I'm not strong enough to keep saying no. One of these days, he's going to catch me on a day when I'm feeling down, and I'm going to cave. Then all that hard work will be for nothing, you know?"

Erik nodded, eyes shadowed. "I know. The dark days are hard."

"So I have to get away. New scenery, new life. But saying goodbye to the old life is tough."

"Don't I know it. I've done so too many times." Erik looked away, ran a hand through his hair. Then he stood up. "Well. Been good talking with you again. I'd better get going, it's late."

Shane's heart tried to stop and fall right out of his chest. It settled somewhere around his shoes. He stood and walked with Erik the few steps to the door, unable to say anything. He hoped Erik couldn't tell that those words had hit him so hard he'd started shaking. Damn. What was he, a girl?

"And since this is the last time I'll see you, ever," Erik said abruptly, "Give me a damn hug."

Shane laughed, a tiny little strangled laugh, as he put his arms around the man he still loved.

"You've gotten so strong," Erik murmured into his ear. "Stronger than me, rebuilding your life all on your own, with no one to lean on. I admire that. I wish you weren't going, but I accept your reasons, and I wish you the best of luck. I know you'll make it."

Shane tried to say something, anything, but nothing would come out. Too many emotions roiled around inside him. He focused on the feel of the man in his arms, letting the closeness soothe his wounded soul for as long as it lasted.

"You're shaking like a leaf in the wind," Erik said, a hint of surprise in his voice. "Does a silly little hug mean that much to you?"

"Erik," Shane whispered into his hair, "you really have no idea." He forced a laugh. "You said I'm strong? Ha! I don't feel strong at all. I feel. . ."

"Feel what?" Erik prompted.

"Like there's no tomorrow."

"Huh." Erik drew a deep, quivering breath, held it for a moment, then let it go. With it went his common sense and the last of his self-control. Shane. "If a hug makes you tremble, what will this do?"

Then he kissed Shane, the man he'd loved.

Their lips melted into each other, so neither could tell where one ended and the other began. It felt good. It felt right.

"Erik," Shane murmured into the silence after the kiss, "Erik. Don't go."

"You hurt me," Erik said, face buried in Shane's shoulder, "so badly. I wanted to die."

Another kiss, this one far hotter than the last. Erik thought maybe he heard skin sizzling.

"So did I. But we didn't. Stay with me. I still love you."

"Even after what happened?"

"I have no fucking clue what happened, remember? But I've loved you since I first saw you."

"Love at first sight is horseshit," Erik retorted, but it was feeble. He kissed Shane again, so he wouldn't have to say anything more until he had more courage. "If I stay, you stay."

"What?"

Erik laughed at himself. He reached up and stroked Shane's dark hair, like he'd wanted to all along. It felt just like he remembered it. "Sorry. That didn't make much sense, did it? I meant, if I stay, you can't leave in the morning. Stay with me. At least until we figure out what it means to be in love even after all that's happened."

"Anything," Shane promised. "I'll do anything it takes, if I can have you in my life again. Only. . ."

"What?"

"Don't look at me like that. I just want your help. If Frankie comes after me again. Give me a reason to stay clean?"

"How's this for a reason?" Erik slid his hands under that ratty Pink Floyd T-shirt and held Shane so close they nearly merged, kissing him with all the passion set free inside him. "I will only love you if you stay clean. You go on the drugs again, I'm gone."

Shane shivered in his arms. "More than good enough. I will stay clean for you. I'll do anything for you."

"Will you make me forget how horribly empty life is without you?"

Shane laughed. "Might not be the best idea. If you forget how lonely it is on your own, what incentive will you have to be with me?"

"Give me one. Now."

Shane smiled at the demand, then steered Erik away from that dangerous door and towards the bed. "Gladly, love."

They fell together on the bed, lips locked in another passionate kiss.

"It may be dark outside, but I feel the sun rising on a new life," Erik murmured, kissing the sensitive spot on Shane's neck, down by his shoulder. "Love me. Make this fire burn away all the pain and fill the aching emptiness."

"Your poet's soul is showing," Shane panted, around a bone-deep quiver. Much better than the distressed shakes of a few minutes ago.

"First time in a year and more. You've been writing, but my muse has been on strike."

"No he hasn't. I've been holding him hostage until I could find you again."

"Should've known it was all your fault, you asshole," Erik said, as he stripped his shirt off. But he laughed while he said it. "It's always your fault."

"Yes, it is, isn't it?" Shane laughed with him, peeling out of some clothing items of his own. Who needed drugs? Looking at the light playing with Erik's strawberry blond hair had him higher than a kite. "I'll take the blame, if that means you're here to assign it."

"Always." Erik abruptly became serious. "I thought I could do it again, just walk away and let you live your own life, but I just can't. Maybe if I hadn't touched you. . . but I did. And I just can't leave again unless you give me a damn good reason. And you'd damn well better not do that."

"I won't," Shane promised with all his heart. "Are you kidding? Now I know what life is like without you, there's no way I want to go back to that kind of hell." He reached out and touched Erik's face gently, hardly able to believe he could, after the hours of awkward dodging around their still-real feelings. "I love you."

Erik responded with a kiss. The magic between them engulfed them both and carried them away to a place where there was never any pain, only love.

Make up sex is great, Shane thought groggily, much later, with Erik dozing in his arms. But I never want to have it again. Never, never, never.

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Part Two

Part Two

Morning found them still tangled together, clinging to each other as though even in sleep they couldn't stand to be apart. A particularly loud slam! as somebody shut the trunk of their car prior to leaving jolted both of them awake.

"Fucking cheap-ass motel," Shane muttered, then woke up enough to give Erik a searching look. "Still happy to be here?"

"What the fuck, man?"

Erik glared.

Shane's heart stopped.

Then Erik busted out laughing. "Oh, the look on your face! That was priceless!"

"Glad you enjoyed it," Shane growled. He contemplated thumping Erik with a pillow, but settled for kissing him, instead.

"To answer your question," Erik said, a long, breathless moment later, "yes. Completely happy to be here. Willing to have many, many more mornings just like this one."

"Without the heart failure, please."

Erik smiled wickedly. "I wouldn't go that far. Got to keep you on your toes, after all."

"God help me, what have I gotten myself into?"

"Love," Erik replied simply, then they were kissing again. But more assorted thumps, bangs, and vehicle starts interrupted them, the sounds of a cheap motel near the intersection of two major interstate highways early in the morning.

"Such a romantic place you've got here," Erik grumbled, as a car with a bad starter made its fifth grinding attempt to achieve life.

"So take me away from here." Shane smoothed tangled strands of hair away from Erik's eyes. "Take me somewhere we can forget all the bad shit in the world, and enjoy each other."

Erik smiled and caught at his hand. "How about I take you to breakfast, instead? I've gotten back into the habit of eating regularly."

"Good enough for me," Shane said, then rolled out of bed and into his jeans. "Seen my shirt around anywhere?"

Erik stretched and ran a hand down his spine, leaving a trail of shivery gooseflesh behind. "Look on top of the lamp."

Shane laughed. Sure enough, the shirt lay draped over the bedside lampshade. "Of course. I should've known. Don't all people store their clothes on the lighting fixtures?"

"Nah, only the people that are fun to be around."

"Look at you," Shane said, shirt in one hand, smiling. Erik sprawled across the bed, looking supremely content. "You look like the proverbial cat that ate the canary. Did you really think life would be better if you walked out that door?"

"Not a bit," Erik replied, shaking his head slowly. "I thought life would be sensible, predictable, and boring, utterly devoid of magic and love."

"Well, that's not what you'll get with me." Shane ditched his shirt and tangled his hands in Erik's hair, kissing him. Erik held him close for a long, sensual moment of pure pleasure, then pushed him away.

"Not now. Food now. Then we'll figure something out. Okay?"

Shane laughed, but let himself get pushed. "If you say so. Your body might have other ideas."

"My body thinks food is a damn good option right about now." Erik looked at him a moment longer, eyes glowing with rekindled love, then sat up and started hunting his own clothes.

They managed to get dressed and gather up all Shane's stuff without fooling around any more. Shane looked over the crappy motel room carefully, scene of so much solitary misery over the last several months, then laid the key on the small table between those lousy gold chairs.

"Looks like that's everything," he said, hefting his big green duffel bag. Erik held his guitar, of course. He always took charge of the instruments.

"Come on, then. Let's see what the future holds."

"It can throw anything it likes at me, as long as you're there to face it by my side."

Erik smiled as they walked out the door. "I will be. Leaving you twice is more than my willpower can handle."

"Good."

They threw the duffel and the guitar in the Plymouth's capacious trunk, then one more big engine shattered the morning with its starting roar.

"This is the worst possible time to head into the city," Shane said, as they crept onto the expressway.

"I know. But we've got to go that way if you want to see Ms. Dunraven."

"Which I do," Shane nodded. "Since you were kind enough to tell me I've been an idiot and let Kirby screw me. Without any KY, even."

Erik snorted. "Fucker. Bet he got the others, too. But the lawyer will hang him out to dry. She's already got him cringing and grovelling, trying to avoid getting hauled into court. Or arrested."

"You haven't sued him yet?"

"Lawsuit's ready to go, but they're negotiating. There's a chance for an out of court settlement."

"Cool. Hey, there's a good breakfast place," and Shane pointed at the sign for a familiar restaurant, Poppin' Fresh Pies.

"A pie place?"

"Yeah. Trust me."

"I already got over, didn't I?"

"So you did."

The place was crowded, not surprising in the least to Shane. At least it wasn't a Sunday. He'd made the mistake of going to this place once on a Sunday and had to wait almost an hour for a seat, smelling everyone else's tasty breakfasts. Bad idea.

But the wait today was only about ten minutes, and that was nothing.

By the time they'd eaten, the traffic outside had eased up to a far more reasonable level.

"That worked out well," Shane commented as they got back on the now-moving expressway.

"Indeed. And you were right. Good place for breakfast."

This attempt got them all the way into downtown. On the way, Shane sought out a familiar landmark, and waved when he spotted it.

"What are you waving at?"

"It's good luck to say hi to Happy."

"Happy?"

"Yeah. Look out there," and Shane pointed off to the west, where a bright yellow water tower sported a smiley face.

Erik cracked up. "Somebody painted a smiley face on the fucking water tower?"

"Yeah. A few years back." Shane grinned. "Don't know if the town council was dropping acid, or what, but I like Happy."

Still snickering, Erik waved into the rearview mirror. "Bye, Happy!"

The good luck worked for him, too. Erik found a tremendously convenient spot to stash the car in a gigantic parking garage, right next to the elevator, and led the way outside, across the street, and into one of the innumerable skyscrapers inhabiting downtown Chicago.

Ms. Betsy Dunraven laired on the thirty-seventh floor, in an unpretentious inner office suite with a small waiting room and a secretary.

"Can I help you?"

"We don't have an appointment," Erik told her, as the secretary gave him a disapproving look over pink, almost teardrop-shaped glasses. "I'm Erik Mac Rae. Can you see if Ms. Dunraven will see us?"

"One moment, please." The secretary picked up the phone, pushed a button, then spoke quietly into it. When she hung up, she smiled at them in a much more friendly way. "Ms. Dunraven will see you. Just go right in."

Shane smiled to himself when he first saw the lawyer. She was one of those people that would have made his grandma sniff disapprovingly and mutter something about short hair and sensible shoes.

"Good morning, Erik," she said, setting aside a manila file folder. "I'm glad you dropped by. Saves me having to call you later in the day."

"Do you have good news for me?" Erik asked, as they sat in the chairs opposite the lawyer.

"I might." She gave Shane a significant look. "Who's this? Is he privy to your affairs?"

Erik smiled. "He will be soon enough. Betsy Dunraven, meet Shane Haggerty, one of the founding members of the band Luna Sea. I brought him with me because he is in dire need of your services as well."

"I see." The lawyer smiled. "Well, Mr. Haggerty, it's good to meet you. Am I correct in assuming Mr. Kirby has kept you from accessing your rightful earnings?"

"Yes, he has," Shane said, around a sudden surge of anger. Yesterday he'd been too off-balance and disconcerted to really think about the information Erik had given him. But today, with Erik willingly by his side and in the steady fluorescent lights of a downtown skyscraper, it suddenly became very real. He'd been screwed. "What do I need to do to fix that?"

"You've come to the right place. As I was about to tell Erik, your former manager is finally ready to negotiate. He utterly cracked under pressure just yesterday, Erik. It was your willingness to press criminal charges with the police that did it. He's turned over the full amount plus damages. It's in escrow now."

"Wonderful! And you'll contact my accountant with the details? As well as arranging your fee, of course."

"Yes. It will all be taken care of within two days."

Erik shot an excited grin towards Shane. "Hear that? Finally! Some benefit from being a rock star!"

Shane grinned back, then turned his attention to the lawyer and got down to some serious business, only to hit a bump in the road almost immediately.

"Um. . . Sorry. I don't have an address."

Ms. Dunraven blinked. "Whyever not?"

"I've been living in a motel room," Shane confessed. "It was all I could afford. I checked out this morning, and haven't yet figured out where I'll be by tonight."

"Well." She sat back in her rolling chair and gave him a contemplative look. "Perhaps I can do something for you in that department as well, and you can do me a favor. I already know, based on reading Erik's contract with the record label, that your missing funds will be equal to or greater than his. Would you be interested in renting my Lakeview house? You can certainly afford it. It's a bit of a mess right now, needs cleaning and a new paint job, but I'll waive the deposit and the first month's rent if you'll do the work. The last tenant was an artist, and had appalling taste. The house is in Boystown, but that shouldn't be a problem, right?"

"Not a problem." Shane shook his head, then blinked rapidly several times as his mind struggled to deal with the sudden change in direction. "Seriously? A house in Lakeview? I'll have that much money?"

"Yes. It may not get into your account for a few weeks, but I know the funds will equal or exceed Erik's royalties, and his funds are more than sufficient to cover the rent on the house, plus living expenses, for a very long time."

"A Lakeview house," Shane said, mostly to himself. "Boystown." Then he grinned. "When can we move in?"

So they added a renter's agreement to the paperwork, and Ms. Dunraven dug keys out of a safe hiding behind a painting of pears in a sunlit basket.

They left the office a short while later, with Shane clutching the written directions to the Lakeview house and grinning like a lunatic.

"Well, Mr. Smiley, want to go meet my accountant?"

Shane grinned at him. "A house in Lakeview!"

Erik laughed. "That's not the answer I was looking for."

"I know, sorry. Trying to get used to the idea of being rich. Guess I'll finally have something to show for that platinum album we put out." He held up the keys and admired them. A combination of bland, modern keys and more ornate old-fashioned keys glittered and clanked on their ring. "See? They're real! Even the funky old ones. By all means, I want to meet your accountant!"

"That's more like it. Come on, then, this way. He's in the same building."

"Now that's good planning."

"Not really. I was nervous the first time I went to see the lawyer, and read all the names on the directory downstairs before I made it into the elevator. The accounting firm on the twentieth floor stuck in my mind, so I stopped there on the way out. And now we can do the same."

The stop at the accountant's office was a good bit less exciting than the trip to the lawyer's. Shane had no financial affairs to speak of on his own, not even a bank account, and only a little over two hundred dollars to his name, product of lots of hard work and saving. But Erik's accountant, Miles Savage, was perfectly willing to handle all the details of setting up accounts and managing the money when it came in. All it took was mentioning that Ms. Dunraven would be contacting him later that day about Erik's funds and the preliminary details of Shane's case. He became very friendly, at that point.

"That was absolutely amazing," Shane said, as they walked through the brisk breeze coming off Lake Michigan. "I never in a million years thought I'd have a good time visiting a lawyer and an accountant."

Erik laughed. "Wait till you see what Ms. Dunraven does for you."

"I can hardly wait."

They reached the car and Erik got it started, then looked at Shane. "Okay, last chance. We really going to make a go of this? Move in together, whole nine yards?"

"Do you really need to ask that?" Shane raised an eyebrow. He hoped the sudden lurch and dive maneuver his heart had done at those words didn't show on his face.

"Well, yeah. I mean, what if you changed your mind?"

"Then I wouldn't be here in your car with you," Shane pointed out. "I'd have gotten my duffel and my guitar out of your trunk and headed for the L. Of course I want to give us another shot."

Erik grinned, relief spreading through his entire body in a visible wave. "Just checking. Let's go get my stuff, then, before we go see this amazing Lakeview house. By the way, what's Boystown? As if I can't guess."

"One of the oldest gay communities in the country, the setting for many wild nights of my youth," Shane replied, sinking back into the springy embrace of the Plymouth. "Erik, do you really have to give me multiple heart attacks on the same day?"

"Relax, it's good for you," Erik said absently, maneuvering the car's big butt backwards out of the parking spot.

"That's not what the American Heart Association says."

"Aw, what do they know?"

They headed back to the mellow lands of Oak Park, and walked straight into a problem. Shane looked at the humble white house with black trim, where he'd stood with his heart in his throat on the front porch just yesterday, with a sense of unreality. He wondered if he was about to wake up and find out the past day had all been just a dream. Or maybe he was really still standing on the porch, about to knock, indulging in an elaborate fantasy before he made the attempt to speak to Erik.

Then Erik touched his hand, and broke him out of the strange thoughts.

"Hey. If I say anything crazy in there, back me up, okay? My mom doesn't know we were ever anything other than friends."

"Sure thing."

They went into the house, and Erik tracked down his mother. She was in the kitchen, making bread.

"Uh-oh," he muttered, when he spotted the cloud of flour. Mom making bread was never a good sign. She did that to relieve stress. "Hi, Mom."

"So you decided to come back."

Great. Totally pissed. She didn't even bother to turn around, just kept kneading at a doughball.

"Yeah. Ran into my old friend Shane. You remember, from the band? Been catching up on everything that's happened."

That got her to turn around. She gave Shane a distinctly unfriendly look.

"Yes, of course I remember. You're the one that got my son hooked on drugs."

"Uh. . ."

"Mom!"

"What are you doing here, in my house? Were the two of you out all night partying? Did you get high together? Is that it?"

"Absolutely not," Erik said. "And by the way, I'm moving out. C'mon, Shane."

Erik tried not to stomp as he led the way to his room. The old house tended to boom very loudly when one did such a thing, and he certainly didn't want to come across as a kid having a temper tantrum. He was twenty-six, for crying out loud, he could do as he damn well pleased!

"Holy shit, man," Shane said, when they reached his room. "Think she's pissed."

Erik opened his closet and fished out his duffel, twin to Shane's. For the first time since he'd left the band, remembering the day they'd bought the things didn't hurt.

"Yeah. Might have to make this quick. Good thing I don't have much. Here, start stuffing clothes in this, would you? I have to pack up all my instruments."

"How many you got in here, anyway?" Shane pulled a dresser drawer open and started filling the bag.

"Lots," Erik grinned.

Then his mom arrived. She'd evidently taken the time to wash her hands and arms clean of the flour.

"What do you mean, you're moving out?"

"Just that, Mom. Shane and I used to be roommates, and now he's back, so we're going to be roommates again. You know I've started looking for a place. Well, now I've got one."

Twelve string acoustic guitar first. He tucked it into its case quickly and efficiently. Tiger-striped electric he'd played on tour. Don't forget the amp cords. And the little amp itself. Just his personal one, made for playing at home, not one of the big monsters from the stage shows. Celtic lap harp. . . shit. No case. He wrapped it in a sweater. Autoharp, safe in its case already. Ferociously expensive violin, likewise safely encased. Roughly fifty pounds of sheet music, boxed up beside the violin, glaring at him with mute reproach that said he should practice more etudes.

"You don't need to go," his mother said.

"Yes, I do, Mom. I'm a big boy now."

He gave the hammered dulcimer a dirty look. The thing weighed a ton, and if he detuned it for travel he'd be fiddling with it for hours trying to tune it again. He'd always suspected that was why he'd found the thing on a curb waiting for the trash collectors. Someone detuned it, and didn't want to go through the torment of re-tuning the stringy bastard. No, just pack it up. They weren't going far, it'd be fine.

Shane ran out of drawers before he ran out of room in the bag. He looked in the closet and found more clothes hanging neatly on hangers. So he started putting those in, trying to keep the shirts and things as close to flat and unwrinkled as possible. Then he saw what the sweaters were hiding.

"Erik! My Minimoog!"

There in the closet, all set up and waiting for him, was his treasured favorite synthesizer. He touched it to confirm it was real, then turned shining eyes to his lover.

"How did you get this? I thought it was gone for good!"

Part of him noticed the dirty look Erik's mom gave him. All of him didn't care.

"When I got my instruments out of the studio," Erik grunted, trying to get the dulcimer's warped lid to close and stay that way. It fought back. "You were well out of the picture by that point. No one knew where you were. So I took it, just in case."

"Thanks." Shane pulled the Minimoog out of the closet, thinking surely there was some symbolism there, and lovingly tucked its legs and other parts away for travel.

"You shouldn't look at my son like that."

"Huh?" Shane blinked. "Why not? One of my best friends saved my favorite instrument for me. Why shouldn't I look at him all happy?"

She huffed and left the room.

"Man, that was almost like something my grandma would've said," Shane shook his head.

"Yeah, Mom's a bit old-fashioned. Think this is the last of them. Ready to start hauling it all out to the car?"

"You're like me. Nothing but a few clothes and music."

"Yeah." Erik grinned. "Oh, and a toothbrush."

He ducked out of the bedroom while Shane slung the duffel's strap over his shoulder and started for the car.

The loading process went well. They'd done such things themselves so often before Luna Sea made the big time, it was practically second nature.

"Feel like we're heading out for a performance," Erik said, tucking the last instrument into the car.

"Yeah, me too. But there's no bass drum to drop on my foot."

"Or mine." Erik grinned. "You and that damn drum. I swear I thought Mikey was going to hurt you."

"Wouldn't have surprised me if he did. At least by the time he got the expensive kind there were real roadies to handle his kit. Ready?"

"Almost. Think I'd better go say bye to my mom, in the interests of being able to speak to my family ever again."

He disappeared into the house for an alarmingly long time. Shane relaxed in his patch of car-scented sunlight, once again feeling more than a little unreal. Then Erik came out of the house, all sorts of red and moving like he was pissed off.

He jumped in the car and squealed out of the driveway without a word. He didn't say anything until the stop sign at the end of the block.

"Well. That sucked."

"What happened?"

"Let's just say I'm glad you like me, because I can't ever fall back on my parents for a place to stay, ever again."

"What?"

"Yeah. She really didn't like you. Um," Erik gave him an uncomfortable glance, "you probably should know. My mom's a little nuts. Schizo. For real. Been to the nuthouse and everything. And she lost it all over me in there."

"Oh." Shane blinked. What do you say when someone tells you his mom is nuts? "Uh. . ."

"And I lost it right back. She came down on me for all sorts of shit, real and imaginary, and I told her to shove it up her ass. So I don't think I'll be welcome around there anytime soon. Now. Moving on. Where are we going?"

Shane fished the directions out of his back pocket and handed them over. "Sorry your mom flipped out."

"Not your fault. I'd rather live with you, anyway. You're more fun in bed." Erik grinned, then looked at the paper. "Okay. Think I can manage this."

"North Shore, baby!" Shane crowed. "Take us to our new life!"

"Tell me, what's up with you and this Lakeview place?"

"I'm a Southside brat," Shane shrugged. "To me, anything North Shore is like the ultimate success. Some people think New York is making it. Southsiders, it's North Shore. That's where all the rich folk live."

"Ah. Gotcha."

The drive to Boystown went smoothly, this time of day. Not much traffic clogged the streets as they migrated towards the Lakeview neighborhood.

The house turned out to be smallish, with a decent sized yard and massive, mature fruit and hardwood trees, tucked in between a pair of big places that looked like they'd been split into multiple units. The style of the bricks and its general architecture hinted that it dated from the late 1800s. The bricks wore a bland and very thick coat of plain white paint.

"Well, here we are," Erik said, parking the Plymouth on the street in front of the little house.

"Home sweet mystery," Shane said, holding up the keys with a smile. "Come on, let's check this place out."

They went through a short wrought-iron gate and up the steps. Shane fumbled with the keys, feeling like he suddenly sprouted all thumbs as he tried to pick out the right one to open the door. Then he succeeded.

"Well, I approve already," Erik said, as the door opened. "Hardwood floors!"

"No vacuum required," Shane laughed, eyes sparkling, then they went inside and discovered their new home together.

Three bedrooms, basement, attic, parlor, formal dining room, a kitchen that made them both want to learn how to cook, and something that begged to be a music room. All of which were painted utterly shocking colors. Not to mention a detached garage out back, clearly added at a different time and in a different architectural style, with front and back porches on the house itself.

"I think I'm in love," Shane said, as they stood out on the back porch and watched a squirrel scrambling up the trunk of the blooming apple tree closest to them.

"You'd better be," Erik replied, then caught him close for a long and loving kiss.

"You know I love you," Shane said, slipping his hands up under Erik's shirt. "But I meant the house."

"I'm with you on that. I could do without the bruised-plum colored parlor, though."

"Or the day-glo orange kitchen," Shane shuddered.

"Yoo-hoo! Hello, neighbors!"

They broke apart guiltily to find a thin man with large glasses waving at them from the fence.

"Hello," Shane called.

"I didn't know Betsy had rented the place out already! Hi, my name is Harvey."

They stepped off the back porch together and moved to the fence.

"Hi, Harvey," Erik began. "I'm—"

Harvey let loose an excited squeal. "Ooh! I know who you are! I don't believe this! Erik Mac Rae and Shane Haggerty! Ha! I always knew you were together."

Shane and Erik exchanged wry glances.

"Oh, did you now?" Shane said.

"Of course! I've seen Luna Sea in concert. The chemistry between you two is just intense. Especially when you sing 'Bedroom Eyes.' That's a dead giveaway."

"I'm beginning to wonder if there's anybody doesn't know about us," Erik said, raising an eyebrow at Shane.

"Of course there is," their new neighbor said cheerfully. "Straight folk. They've got no clue."

Shane chuckled. "Good enough."

"Include my mom in that," Erik said wryly.

"Family troubles?" Harvey looked interested.

"Nothing to worry about," Erik assured him.

"Good. Well, I confess, I certainly wasn't expecting to find such famous new neighbors. You two are something like heroes to our community."

"No shit?"

"No shit," Harvey grinned at Shane. "We all love you around here, our own homegrown Chicagoland rock stars. So are you two getting back together with the rest of the band?"

"Ha!" Shane shook his head. "No fucking way."

"Not likely," Erik agreed. "There were. . . problems."

"Too bad," Harvey sighed. "Anyway, all fame aside, I was going to invite you boys to my party on Friday. Nothing like you're probably used to, just a few friends, and a bit of wine and cheese and such. Are you interested? We can make it into something of a welcome to the neighborhood thing for you."

"Sure," Erik said. "Shane?"

"Of course," he nodded. "What better way to meet our new neighbors?"

"Should we bring anything?"

"Just yourselves," Harvey beamed. "It's a casual gathering."

"Good," Shane grinned. "Neither one of us is much set up for society at the moment."

"Oh!" Erik made a shocked sound, then nudged Shane. "Guess what else we're not set up for?"

Shane gave him a blank look, and Erik turned towards Harvey. "Are there any secondhand furniture stores around? We need a bed, or a couch, or something, to tide us over until we can get some real furniture. Shane's right, we've been living out of duffel bags and instrument cases for years now."

Shane's eyes widened. "Shit! Why didn't I think of that?"

Erik laughed at him. "Because the last day has been one hell of a wild ride, that's why."

"Yes, of course there is," Harvey said, and told them where a secondhand store was. And the grocery store. And the best restaurant.

"Hey," Shane interrupted him. "There a Molnari's anywhere nearby?"

"Certainly! They even deliver."

"What's Molnari's?"

"Best damn pizza in the world, gypsy man," Shane grinned. "True Chicago-style deep dish. You'll love it."

"You have to love Molnari's to live in Chi-town," Harvey laughed.

"Hope it's good, then. Shane? Let's get the car unloaded, then get to that furniture place. Sound like a plan?"

"If you need anything, just let me know!" Harvey said, then waved and returned to his house.

"What a happy, cheerful man."

"Yeah."

They got busy really fast. The sun was already on its way down to the horizon, closing time couldn't be too far away.

"Whew," Shane said, as they dropped the last of the instruments in the parlor. "That was crazy."

"Yeah. Now let's go get something to sleep on. Because," Erik pulled him close for a kiss, "I have no intention of letting you sleep undisturbed, nor of having our fun ruined by a bare hardwood floor."

"I'm with you on that," Shane said fervently. "Anything else obvious we're forgetting?"

"Probably. This place come with toilet paper?"

"Shit. Probably not."

So they made a run for the secondhand store, and picked up a somewhat battered but cheap mattress and box spring, along with a pair of blankets. Then they stopped at the grocery store and picked up a few dire necessities, like toilet paper.

"I think I'm going to like this," Erik said around gasps, as they wrestled the new mattress up the stairs. It kept trying to escape in weird ways.

"Like what?"

"This whole business of having a house. I've always wanted a place to call home."

"What about someone to share it with?"

"Only if that someone is you."

"Aww, that's sweet. Oh, fuck!"

The mattress twisted vigorously right out of Shane's hands, and Erik laughed at him.

They managed to get both mattress and box spring installed upstairs, with a lot of swearing. Shane flopped on the bed, breathing hard and wiping sweat off his forehead. The black walls of the bedroom leaned close to inspect the new addition.

"Shitty," Erik said, flopping beside him. "No pillows."

"Think we're going to have to make a list, or something," Shane said. "You're a rich man now, right?"

"Well, I will be in a few days, when it all clears the bank. So will you. There's a lot of money in having an album go platinum and a year, year and a half of sold out shows."

"Can't believe I never questioned Kirby," Shane grumbled. "I just assumed we never made back more than the advance, because he'd tell us if we did."

"So trusting. I was, too. But when the advance ran out I started asking questions. I mean, really, what's the point of having millions of people buy your music if you don't get paid for it?"

"None at all." Shane sighed. "I almost wish we were still recording."

"If we do that again, let's stay away from the big arena tours, okay? That's where all the trouble came from."

"Yeah. Fine by me. Stay away from all temptation, and you'll stay with me."

Erik smiled at him. "Yeah. But we've got to do something about these black walls. Giving me claustrophobia."

Shane laughed and sat up. "I can see why. Guess we'd better get moving again."

"Why?" Erik tugged at him until he laid back down. "No hurry anymore. We got the bed, that'll do. Nowhere to go, no reason to get up early in the morning, why can't we just enjoy the moment in our very own house?"

They kissed, long and slow. Shane tangled his fingers in Erik's hair. "Ever have your life change so dramatically for the better overnight? This day is the utter opposite of what happened a year ago."

"You're telling me! That was pure misery. This," Erik waved at the room around them, "is so far removed from that horrible day, it might as well be a different world."

"It is," Shane said, letting his hands drift where they would. "A totally different world, where there is no threat of Frankie or depression or loneliness. . ."

"So this counts as getting away?"

"Boy, does it ever! I can totally go for a life on the North Shore. Even the air smells different up here."

"I noticed that. Definitely less city, more lake."

"We're going to die in the winter, though," Shane laughed. "Right on the damn shore. Lake effect. We'll get pounded."

"So we'll just have to lay in a stock of hot chocolate and warm fuzzy blankets."

"And books. Don't forget the books."

They kissed again, hands seeking skin beneath clothing. "Think we're both overdressed for this occasion," Erik said, before he made Shane gasp with a well-placed nip.

"Think you're right," Shane replied, tugging at Erik's jeans. "Better fix that."

Even undressing became an act of love and sensuality as they explored each other's bodies thoroughly.

"I've missed you so much," Erik whispered. "Your body, your mind, the way you make me feel. . ."

"We belong together."

"Yes."

Those were the last words spoken for a while. They didn't need words to communicate their love for one another. They had the magic to do that for them.

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