Title: Stella Maris
Author: tafkar
Summary:Wir haben uns in Traum verpasst.
Rating: Probably NC-17, but that's not the point of the story...
Archiving: Always welcome; just let me know you have done so.
Thanks to: Salieri, for responding to an earlier version of this so quickly when I was in doubt. Einsturzende Neubauten, for the song Stella Maris, the lyrics of which triggered this story.

 

STELLA MARIS

"Der Polarstern direkt über mir
Dies ist der Pol ich warte hier
Nur dich kann' ich weit und breit noch nirgends kommen seh'n
Ich wart' am falschen Pol"
- Blixa Bargeld and Merit Becker

Fort Point Channel, Boston, New Year's Eve, 1997

Daniel squeezed in next to Rodney on the bright red velvet sofa, handing him a bottle of water. The ambient downtempo music in this room was a relief after the pulsing techno beat in the area of the loft he'd just come from, which had forced him to bounce and shimmy despite his best efforts to restrain himself.

Rodney took the water without pausing in his conversation with his peers. "I'm not saying that a unified field theory is impossible. But Einstein didn't even bother to look at the research everyone else was doing."

As Rodney continued his diatribe, Daniel took in the crowded environment. The walls for this room had been set up in the loft just for the party, two interlocking semicircles. Throngs of people were filtering through on their way from one zone of the party to another. In one area of the room, two women and a man were making out, in another some of Rodney's MIT compatriots were fiddling with a glowing fiberglass sculpture, but none of it could distract the physicist from his point.

The black light in the room made the whites of Rodney's eyes glow. His brown hair took on a bright hue from the fluorescent pink fishing net strung behind the couch and his teeth were shining white as he continued. For a moment he looked surreal to Daniel, the eerie glow combined with his intellectual enthusiasm giving him a breathtaking beauty. Daniel wondered, not for the first time, just what was in that mixed drink Demi had made him. "Pure math is all well and good, but sometimes you need to look out your window and corroborate your ideas with reality," Rodney said. He uncapped his water and took a sip, then put one hand on Daniel's knee. "Hey, this was just what I needed. Thanks." Only then did he turn to look at Daniel. "Are we boring you yet?"

Daniel pointed at the three people making out across the room. "Scenery."

"Ah," Rodney said. "See, you wouldn't get this at your Harvard party."

"You teach at Harvard?" one of Rodney's friends asked.

"Extension," Daniel said shortly.

"Ah," said Rodney's friend.

"It's not bad," Daniel said, a little defensively. "The students all want to be there." The Harvard Extension program was Harvard's night school, little known outside the Boston area. Unlike the day program, anyone could attend as long as they were willing to pay the startlingly low tuition fees and keep up with the substantial workload. The running joke was that the Extension program offered "slightly damaged professors at greatly reduced prices." And, Daniel thought ruefully, after the past few years he certainly fit into that faculty description. In fact, if Rodney hadn't known someone who knew someone, he might not have gotten any classes there at all. He put his hand over Rodney's and squeezed it, saying "Of course, my office is my backpack and whatever table I can stake out at Au Bon Pain."

"You don't have them come by your attic?" Rodney said.

"It's a garret," Daniel smiled back.

"A garret. Who are you, Louisa May Alcott?" Rodney asked the question with more affection than acid. Daniel felt Rodney's thumb slide slowly back and forth over his, saw the little smile tweaking up one corner of his mouth, and heard one of the other scientists stage-whisper, "Going, going..."

"So, is all this better than Kansas?" Rodney asked.

"Gone!" said another one - Chris, Daniel thought his name was - and clapped Rodney on the shoulder. "We'll leave you guys alone for a few minutes. It's nearly midnight - better get ready."

As they moved away, Rodney leaned back into the corner of the couch a little, putting one arm around Daniel's body, and Daniel followed, resting his head on Rodney's shoulder, listening to the steady rhythm of Rodney's heart.

"This," Daniel said, flinging out one arm to encompass the room, "is wonderful. It's perfect. We're normal here." He felt a strange ebullience suddenly, exploding like a bomb inside him. It was as if the cares he'd been carrying for the past twelve months were spilling off his shoulders, leaving him light and free.

"Yeah, well, normal is the new weird. Last year I don't think you'd planned on spending tonight at a party with MIT geeks and artists." And me, ran the unspoken clause.

"Last year I spent New Year's Morning in a holding cell, so no, not really," Daniel said. He felt words collecting at like a huge heavy pressure in his chest, words he'd been holding back since Rodney had contacted him a few days after the dire event. They were pushing at the back of his throat, fighting to escape. He opened his mouth, trying to release the pressure. "It figures, the one time I get busted for drugs, they wouldn't even be mine," he said.

Rodney's eyebrows drew in over the bridge of his nose, and he focused sharply on Daniel, pushing his chin uncomfortably close to his chest to make eye contact with his friend. "You haven't told me this part."

Daniel sighed, and pushed himself up a little higher on Rodney's body to relieve the strain on Rodney's neck. Since he'd come to Boston, this had been his big secret, but suddenly, with Rodney's arm around him, and that strange, exciting energy jittering inside, it felt necessary to tell the tale. "We were at a New Year's Eve party in Lawrence. Steve, one of Steve's doctoral students, and I. Steve gave me Andrew's coat to hold while they went to get beer. The cops came in the front, Steve and Andrew went out the back. I was left holding the bag. Literally. 'That's not mine' isn't something police ever buy. Especially in Kansas."

"So the guy who got you arrested is the same guy who fired you for getting arrested?"

"Yeah," Daniel said, stretching a little. An enormous knot he hadn't realized had been tying him up had suddenly released in his chest. "And Andrew took over my classes, and my half of Steve's bed." After The Lecture - Daniel's career-ending speech at the confrence in Washington had developed capital letters in his mind - Steve had been the only person who would hire Daniel to teach at all. It was only after Andrew replaced him that Daniel realized Steve had only hired him to keep him conveniently close as a bed warmer.

Rodney glanced around the room. "You know, I bet in this room alone there's ten hackers who could destroy the guy's life. Or at least his credit rating."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "My knight in shining armor." With the release of his secret, he suddenly felt free, and light, and tingly around the edges, the buzzing energy settling down into a calm, warm feeling of intimacy. He slid one hand down the front of Rodney's silk shirt, enjoying the texture of the fabric and the way he could feel it lightly rasp against the chest hair underneath. "I'm not sure why I never told you about that."

"Because you knew I'd use it as another example of your terrible taste in men," Rodney said.

Daniel felt the buildup of words in his chest again, as if they were struggling desperately to be spoken. He'd been thinking them for the past couple of months, but hadn't felt right saying them to Rodney; he'd felt too unsure, mostly of himself. Now, however, everything seemed perfect - it felt like he was exactly where he was meant to be. "But then there's you." Daniel said. "I've turned over a new leaf."

"Me?" Rodney asked skeptically. "I'm not part of your taste in men. You're just bored and lonely. You lack options."

"I don't lack options. If Boston's intellectual society is trying to emulate ancient Greece, then Harvard's history department is Sparta." Daniel reviewed the analogy. "Only with less muscle, and more naked oiled wrestling." He stopped for a moment, and blinked. "Wow, that drink Demi gave me is like truth serum."

"The mad chemist gave you a drink?" Rodney said. "Do you know what was in it?"

"I told her I'd have whatever she was having," Daniel said.

He felt Rodney's hand run through his hair, and could swear he felt every follicle tingle at Rodney's touch. His lover smiled wryly. "Well, it was either her homebrew or some drug the DEA hasn't made illegal yet because they haven't found out it exists."

"Hmm. Is this going to be a problem?" Daniel felt comfortable, relaxed, and a little giddy, but he remembered years-ago battles with Rodney over his more exotic entheogenic experimentation.

Rodney snorted. "Are you kidding? This is the most entertainment I've had all week, and that includes the near-explosion in my lab." He looked at Daniel, an amused, slightly superior look on his face, and waved one hand imperiously. "Continue."

Like he'd put the conversational thread on pause, Daniel found he was able to pick up exactly where he'd left off. "I'd just gotten out of jail, just lost my job, and you called out of nowhere." Daniel smiled, remembering, and now his chest was full of warmth. He tried to figure out what it was; suddenly he realized, to his surprise, that it was happiness, and wondered why he'd let it become such an unfamiliar feeling, submerged under worry and insecurity. "As soon as you talked to me you knew that something was wrong."

"In your vocabulary, the words 'I'm fine' cover every situation from 'my life is just peachy,' to 'help, I'm bleeding to death via my femoral artery,'" Rodney said. "Over the years, I've learned Danielese is a tonal language."

"Like Chinese?" Daniel said.

"Exactly like Chinese, because anything you say is a swear if you give it the right inflection."

"Huh," Daniel said. "I want to get back to that..."

"Ah," Rodney said, his expressive fingers tangling in Daniel's hair. "You must be high. You only do that thing - the thing where you neatly file conversational topics on a shelf for later - when you're high. It's just like being back at Oxford."

"Don't change the topic. I'm trying to tell you how you changed my life. You dragged me out here to Boston, got me a teaching job..."

"You got yourself the teaching job. I just introduced you. As you've noted, you fit right in with the Sparta of academia," Rodney said.

Daniel started playing with the buttons on Rodney's shirt, wanting to wiggle past Rodney's defenses and infect him with some of the warmth he was feeling. "You take me out to nice dinners..."

"I got tired of watching you eat Kraft Dinner and ramen all week."

Daniel kissed Rodney on the cheek, a long, lingering kiss. "You take me home with you - Rodney, have I ever told you how wonderful you are?"

Rodney stared at him for a moment. "You're really stoned, aren't you?"

"I didn't smoke," Daniel said, then equivocated, "well, much."

"Your pupils are huge - I mean, they're always huge, but right now they're even bigger than usual," Rodney said. "Your eyes are practically black."

Daniel rested his hand in the middle of Rodney's chest and looked into his gray eyes. "I'm trying to tell you all the ways you rescued me, and you keep changing the topic."

"Oh, it's Oxford all over again," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "It's for your own good. You'll regret it in the morning."

"No. Just hear me out,'" Daniel said. They were prone on the couch, now, and he rolled over onto Rodney, gently rubbing their noses together. "I feel better when I tell you these things. I think maybe they need to be said. So, I'm going to tell you how great you are, and you're going to listen."

"If you have to pin me down to make me do it? Look, I've known you for almost fourteen years, and we've done this before. Remember, just after exams in '86? Tomorrow you'll be embarrassed and hide in your attic -"

"Garret," Daniel corrected.

"Whatever, Louisa - for two or three days. I already know how great I am. I've got the CV to prove it. There's nothing you can say to add to it." Either the glow from the black-lit hot pink mesh netting was casting its color on Rodney's cheeks, or he was blushing to match it.

"You hide behind your intellectual superiority in order to keep from getting hurt. That's not the same." Daniel took a deep breath, trying to get the tumble of statements bottled up in his chest in some semblance of order. "You flew to Kansas after we hadn't spoken in, what, a year? You packed everything I owned -"

"Which was about two suitcases," Rodney interrupted.

Daniel continued, feeling more energized, more light and relieved, with every word he said. "You brought me here, you held me when I was sad, you let me sleep in your bed when I got lonely and didn't try to have sex with me even though I could tell you were rock-hard..."

"Oh, God," Rodney said, putting one hand over his own face. "Stop, just..."

"No, no, no!" Daniel said, pulling his hand away so they could make eye contact. He knew Rodney was right - he wasn't sober. But he didn't want to be, not right now. He spent most of his life keeping his feelings locked down tight, and with the cage finally opened, he felt like things were falling into place. "Don't be embarrassed. If you had asked, I would have done anything you wanted. But you didn't, because you knew I wasn't ready." He slid two fingers between the buttons of Rodney's silk shirt, reaching through to touch the hair and skin underneath. "And you didn't turn me away when I was ready."

The crowd outside the room started chanting. "Seven! Six! Five!"

"Oh, thank God," Rodney said. "If I kiss you, will you stop embarrassing me?"

"Three! Two!"

"Why are you embarrassed?" Daniel said, smiling, running his finger down Rodney's jawline. He took a deep breath, and released the final fluttering captive sentence trapped in his chest, the one that had been anxiously trying to get free for weeks. "I'm in lo-"

"HAPPY NEW YEAR!" the crowd called out, and before Daniel could finish his sentence, Rodney pulled his mouth down for a kiss.

Daniel felt like he was falling into Rodney. His mouth was warm and welcoming, and they fit together with the ease of long acquaintance and frequent practice. Rodney's lips were a little chapped from the winter weather, and their slight scratchiness on Daniel's sent a shiver down his spine. His lover's arms fit comfortably around him, and his smell was the smell that had come to signify home for Daniel in recent months, the reason he spent more nights in Rodney's bed than in his own little garret in Cambridgeport, the reason he slept at the house on Brattle Street even when Rodney was out of town. All the words that had been fighting to escape from Daniel were content to wait, now; this touch was far more important than words could ever be.

Rodney's mouth was wet and hungry, and it was devouring Daniel; he could feel all his senses being pulled into the kiss, his higher brain functions being switched off one by one by the dexterity of Rodney's tongue. Rodney's low moans filled his ears, blocking any other sound, the sound waves trembling through Daniel's lips. Time seemed to stretch out like a thread being pulled taut, and the kiss was like a finger strumming it. The string's vibrations were connecting every time Daniel and Rodney had ever kissed and every time they would ever kiss again into one long echoing now. Daniel swore he could feel his eighteen-year-old self enthusiastically kissing the anxious Canadian boy at Oxford for the first time, could reach out and touch a much older Daniel who still loved Rodney, was still held by him on cold winter nights when the nightmares came, somewhere far away. All the Daniels and Rodneys that ever were and ever would be were meeting, crossing paths in this infinite kiss. Daniel finally had to tear his lips away, afraid he would tumble into the future and miss everything that would happen in between.

He moved his head slightly, stroking his lips over Rodney's neck, feeling the smoothness, the softness of his skin there, so different from the rough scratchiness of his newly shaved facial hair that tangled with Daniel's five o'clock shadow. Daniel moved his lips up and down Rodney's neck slowly, enjoying the contrasting sensations and the feel of Rodney involuntarily pressing upward against him. As Daniel shifted his hips to try to release some of the pressure on his cock, he could feel Rodney getting hard underneath him. He slid one hand between them, down the waistband of Rodney's pants and into the dark hot cave inside, feeling, grasping...

"Hey, porn star boy," Rodney said, pulling Daniel's hand back up. "There's other people in here."

Suddenly, like a light bulb turning on, Daniel became aware of the music still pulsing in the background and the many other people in the room. He looked up to see, through the screen of a few people talking in the middle of the room, one of the girls from the makeout session he'd been admiring earlier, watching them. She was small, with black hair in pigtails and a black retro dress, and Daniel figured she was either an undergrad crashing the party or a candidate for a Nobel prize - it was hard to tell with the guests here. She smiled at him, and he smiled back, lifting one hand off Rodney's shoulder to wave at her. Daniel didn't have an exhibitionistic streak, but something about her obvious enjoyment of their pleasure amplified his happiness, and he kissed Rodney on the cheek. Yes, he was exactly where he was supposed to be.

Rodney began to sit up, pushing Daniel up as well. "I've got an idea. Come on," he said, taking Daniel by the hand and tugging him toward the door.

Daniel looked over his shoulder. The little girl with the black hair was staring after them with big eyes. Don't go! she mouthed at him, with a pleading smile.

Rodney tugged on Daniel's hand, and he stumbled after his lover, mouthing back to the girl with a shrug, Sorry.

-----

Rodney led Daniel down the curving hallway created by the two concentric circular walls. It was completely dark; Daniel's shoulder rubbed the outer curve as he trustingly held on to Rodney's hand, following wherever he led.

Coming out of the dark into the next room was as disconcerting to Daniel as bursting from the womb. The bright area was packed tight with people talking, and Rodney led him through the crowd, weaving one way and wending another until they came to a sliding door. Rodney led him through it, closing it behind them. The sudden diminishment of noise made Daniel stagger for a moment, as if the sound waves had been holding him up. Instead of taking a left on the other side toward the bathroom, as Daniel expected, Rodney took a right.

"We're not supposed to be back here, are we?" Daniel asked, a little worried.

With an airy wave of his hand, Rodney continued to lead him back. "Bresson owes me one," he said. "He decided to play explosive games with alternating current in my lab this week."

Daniel shook his head, amazed. "Exactly when did we switch roles?" he asked. "When did you become the brave one?"

"I'm not," Rodney said, and flashed a smile over his shoulder at Daniel, one of the rare ones that had no cynicism in it. "I'm trying to impress you." He led Daniel into a bedroom, closing the door behind them.

The room was a complete square, its high ceilings as far away from the floor as the walls were from each other. The computer monitor in the corner had wild colors sprawling over it in coruscating patterns, in time to the music trickling out of the speakers. The song was exactly the sort that should have been loud, Daniel thought, but the volume on the speakers was very low, the pounding industrial beat merely a gentle tapping. A large bed with messy covers sat in the corner, and a wide, high table at the center of the room completed the furnishings.

Rodney rested one hand on the table and looked back at Daniel, sudden insecurity showing in his face. Daniel took a step forward, closing the gap between them, and kissed him.

Once again, the fireworks went off in Daniel's head. He ran one hand down Rodney's chest, feeling the silk of his shirt, the firmness underlying his chest, the slight softness around his middle. And that was okay, Daniel thought, mentally discarding all of his previous long, lean lovers. As he took Rodney's tongue in his mouth, he slid his hand around his lover's waist and decided the softness was good. It was right. Rodney was solid; he wouldn't slip away.

"I want this," Daniel whispered against Rodney's mouth.

"Trust me, I've figured that out," Rodney replied, a little breathless.

"No," Daniel said, gently kissing his way to Rodney's ear. "This. I'm in love with you. I want you. I want to keep you. I want..."

"Don't. Just - don't," Rodney said, a little choked, and tried to pull Daniel's mouth back to his.

Even as he slid his hands under Rodney's shirt, up his back, over his shoulders and down his chest, he drew his mouth away. "Rodney, I mean it."

Rodney closed his eyes, and Daniel saw fleeting pain cross his face. "This isn't what you really want. I know you. You're getting bored with me already. That's why you're -" He inarticulately waved a hand around. "You said it before - here, we're normal. You don't like normal."

Daniel cupped Rodney's face in his. Energy filled his body, his hands. He wanted Rodney to feel it; he wanted Rodney to feel what he was feeling. "It's not normal." Suddenly, he was full of laughter. "It's you. How could you be normal? You're magic." Just as suddenly, like a door closing, he was serious again, a trembling filling him. "And it scares me. But this is good. This is right." Rodney opened his eyes slowly, and Daniel stared into them, trying desperately to channel all his emotion into them. "This is exactly where I'm supposed to be. With you."

Rodney stroked Daniel's hair, pulling it back from his face, tucking it behind his ears. "Tell me this again. Tell me this when you're sober, and I'll believe you."

"Not now?" Daniel said, sliding his hands down Rodney's neck, down his chest, down to his waist, sliding the tips of his fingers under Rodney's waistband.

Rodney lowered his forehead to Daniel's shoulder, shaking his head, all of his prickly defenses suddenly down. "Oh, God, I - no. Just - tell me again. Tell me again tomorrow." He ran his hands over Daniel's hips, down his thighs. "Tell me again, and you can have anything."

He lifted his head and kissed Daniel then, hard and breathless. His lips were like a match in an illegal fireworks factory; Daniel suddenly found himself ignited, ablaze, and frantic with desire. He kissed Rodney back desperately, trying to clench his hand in Rodney's short hair, pushing Rodney's shirt up, wanting to feel their skin touch, feeling that nothing could be close enough, hard enough, this couldn't happen fast enough.

Rodney matched him, kiss for kiss, suddenly savage, pulling Daniel's head back by the hair in order to expose his throat, ravishing it as if desperately devouring sustenance. Both of them pressed against each other frantically, grinding hard, Daniel desperately trying to squeeze his hand between their bodies so he could get it inside Rodney's pants, feel what he had so temptingly brushed against a few minutes before.

Oh, yes. He was hard and throbbing - so quickly, it was all moving so quickly, and Daniel wanted it to last forever and at the same time felt the need to go faster, faster - and Rodney was suddenly undoing his belt, his pants, slipping the cotton trousers and the boxers down around his ankles and tearing at Daniel's snug black jeans.

"I want you to fuck me," Daniel gasped out.

"No lube," Rodney said breathlessly, wrapping his hand around Daniel's cock, sliding it up and down with the rhythm Daniel always wanted, the one Rodney knew better than anyone else. He pressed closer, and he felt perfect in Daniel's hand, full and ripe and right. Daniel held Rodney close, because the pleasure spiking through him was almost too much, it occluded everything else, and he was worried if he didn't hold on he would forget who he was.

But he already had forgotten who he was; he had forgotten that there was any Daniel that was not somehow a part of Rodney. "This is it," he whispered. "We fit."

"Right now, I believe you," Rodney breathed, and suddenly Daniel was shooting over Rodney's hand. It was a much more pleasurable version of the time he'd accidentally touched a live electrical wire on one of Nick's old appliances; his brain was seared to a stop by the jittering shock, and his body was overcome with sensation. He was excruciatingly aware of every bit of Rodney, and the moment seemed to go on forever.

Rodney buried his face in Daniel's shoulder then, and bucked his hips against Daniel, pushing harder, harder against his grasping fingers. Daniel kissed his shoulder, kissed his cheek, kissed his hair, slid one hand over the back of his head, the base of his thumb brushing Rodney's earlobe, and said, "Come for me. Please. I want you to come for me."

"I love you," Rodney said, for the first time, and it sounded like Daniel had reached inside his lover and torn the words out by brute force. Rodney's head snapped up, his face full of sudden shocking vulnerability, entirely undone, his cock jerking in Daniel's palm, and Daniel could only tell that Rodney was coming against his stomach by the weight of the fluid against the surface of his skin; it was identical to Daniel's body temperature, and felt like it was a part of him.

They stood still for a moment, hearts pounding in perfect synchronicity, just staring at each other.

"Wow," Daniel said, lacking any words to communicate how he felt at that moment, how overwhelmed, how loved.

"Yeah," Rodney whispered, still breathing heavy. He lowered his head again to Daniel's shoulder, the sweat seeping through the shoulder of Daniel's shirt, and Daniel gently pressed his lips to Rodney's throat, and then turned his head so his ear was pressed there, the better to listen to the thrum of Rodney's blood through his body.

They stood like that for several minutes, arms wrapped around each other. Daniel was content to listen to Rodney's heart beat, steady and true.

Finally, Rodney lifted his head, putting one hand out and pulling tissues out of the box that sat on the table. As Daniel kissed him, Rodney cleaned them both up, unseeing. When he was done, he pulled Daniel closer, his lips against Daniel's ear. "Tell me again," he whispered. "Tell me again tomorrow."

"I will," Daniel said. Everything felt right, it felt perfect - he was becoming himself again, and yet it was a self that still kept that link to Rodney. He could be himself without being alone.

Rodney reached down to pull his pants up. "Come on. We'd better get back to the party."

"So soon?" Daniel said, tucking his shirt into his own pants. "I thought you said Bresson owed you one."

"Yeah, one. Not lots. He didnŐt actually blow up the lab." Rodney said, taking his hand and leading him out of the room, further down the hall. "Pity, really - it might have gotten him published."

The door at the end of the hall led to the main space in the loft. When Daniel had been in there earlier, getting water, the lights had been flashing and the music had been loud, slightly harsh techno. Now there was a different DJ, playing something Middle Eastern, beautiful female vocals with an underlying syncopated dance beat. The whole party seemed to be filling the huge space, dancing. Daniel felt the rhythm of his chldhood in the desert, the crazy, delightful, ecstatic energy of the crowd filling him, and moved out onto the dance floor, pulling Rodney with him.

"I don't dance!" Rodney said loudly over the music.

Daniel put one arm around Rodney's waist, pulling their hips together, moving Rodney's hips in time with his own. "Now you do!" he shouted back, and laughed. It was perfect. There was nothing about this night that was not right.

As Rodney caught the beat, he moved back from Daniel a little, and Daniel watched his lover, pulsing lights from the LED sculpture in the center of the dance floor turning his skin red, green, blue in a steady changing pattern. He was a little awkward, but he was learning. He wasn't perfect, but he was right. He was exactly what Daniel needed.

Suddenly Daniel felt a tug on his shirt. It was the little black-haired girl who had been watching them earlier, her face shimmering with sweat. "I just wanted to tell you, the two of you are so beautiful together," she said.

Daniel felt like his heart was shining even brighter than the LED sculpture in the middle of the room. "You're right," he said. He hugged her quickly, thankful for the outside confirmation of what he already knew. "We are." The beat of the music slowed suddenly, and he pulled Rodney close again, kissing him.

-----

Daniel woke up New Year's Day morning - afternoon, really - with his arms wrapped around Rodney. His head was a little fuzzy; he was hung over in some way that was hard to put his finger on. He felt a little slow, a little leaden; he mostly wanted to stay entwined with Rodney for a few hours, or even better, a few decades. He was getting off pretty lightly for last night's unidentified indulgence, he felt. He didn't move for a long time, just lay there, looking at the shape of Rodney's shoulder and his arm and, barely visible with his face turned almost fully away, the soft feathery darkness of his eyelashes dusting his cheeks, the slightly curving edge of his mouth, the bare visible edge of his thin lips looking almost full in their relaxed state, so gentle in sleep. If he saw Demi again, he thought, he had to thank her. It was the morning after, and he should be regretting the night before, but he realized that nothing he'd said while under the influence wasn't true. He felt like something had unlocked, deep inside him; something he'd kept closed up was finally free.

Rodney's breathing slowly changed, and his shoulders shifted a little. He rolled languidly onto his back, stretching his arm above his head, his slightly stale musky male scent filling Daniel's nostrils, the smell of home. As usual, his eyes were instantly sharp the moment they opened. "Coffee?" he asked Daniel. And Daniel knew the word meant, I love you.

"Coffee," Daniel said, meaning, I love you, too.

They spent the day working, talking little, Rodney sprawled on the couch typing away on his high-speed laptop, the thick blue Ethernet cable trickling over Daniel's shoulder and bare feet, Daniel sitting on the floor with his head on Rodney's thigh, correcting essays from his Origins and Evolution of English class the old fashioned way, with a big red pen. On the CD player, Rodney's Sarah Vaughn and Astrud Gilberto mingled with Daniel's Natascha Atlas and Bossa Nostra. Rodney's big, fat cat, Escher, lolled in the diffuse desultory midwinter sunbeams on the hardwood floor, following them as they moved. Occasionally Rodney would remove one hand from his laptop to run his hand through Daniel's hair, or Daniel would run his fingers gently down the back of Rodney's calf, clasping his ankle.

But as the hours wore on, Daniel thought more about the night before. I love him, he thought. He looked around the Brattle Street apartment, sprawling by Cambridge standards, with a huge fireplace and carved moldings and built-in bookshelves and wavy nineteenth-century glass windows through which he could catch a glimpse of Radcliffe Yard. I'm going to live here.

He suddenly saw their cozy domestic life, the quiet intellectual home they would build together, Daniel cooking dinner after a late evening teaching classes just a block away, Rodney espousing some new nigh-incomprehensible physics philosophy over a glass of chardonnay and a bowl of farfalle primavera, and his stomach flipped.

He wanted it. He really did.

But to go from at sea to settled, so quickly - it was like coming up from the bottom of the ocean. He'd get the bends. If he didn't adjust, didn't decompress, something would explode. He was sure of it.

As Daniel corrected his papers, he thought, and worried. And through the day, Rodney's lips got thinner and thinner.

The struggling winter sun was replaced by streetlight pinpoints through the windows, and Rodney reached behind himself to turn on a table lamp. Daniel stared at the innards of a blue essay book in the sudden incandescence, realizing that he'd read the same sentence five times - and that sentence, while not inaccurate, was lifted almost directly from Bill Bryson's pop linguistics book "The Mother Tongue", which made him wonder if Ms. Crystal Hill had read her textbooks at all.

He closed the exam book, staring at it, at the pile of exam books for a moment.

This was right. This was where he belonged. This was where he needed to be. He just needed to go home first, to say goodbye to his old life.

Rodney's hand slid through his hair again, and Daniel reached up, catching one of Rodney's curling fingers with his. "Hey," Daniel said. "I think I'm going to go back to my garret for a while."

Rodney pulled his hand away. "Yeah, I figured," he said, his words just a little clipped, a little distanced.

Daniel turned around on the floor, pressing his cheek against Rodney's thigh, trying to meet Rodney's eyes. "Hey."

Rodney stared intently at his computer, his eyebrows drawn in toward his nose with frustration at some flaw in his calculations. "Hey."

"I'm going to go back to the garret for tonight. All these grades need to be in by Tuesday." He twisted his head a little, but he still couldn't catch Rodney's eye.

"I know," Rodney said flatly, still focused on his work.

Daniel ran his hand down Rodney's leg, but still couldn't catch his full attention. He sighed, collecting his exam books and tucking them in his well-weathered green backpack. As he stood, he kissed Rodney on the forehead. "I'm coming back, you know."

Rodney looked up at him then, his eyes entirely unreadable. "I know."

Daniel searched his face, trying to catch what was behind the mask. Rodney looked at him for a minute, then shook his head and turned back to his computer. "Go, Louisa. I have important supergeek things to do."

Daniel pulled on his big green down parka, his stripey knit hat, his gloves, then leaned down again to kiss Rodney on the forehead. "I'll be back. I'll be back soon."

-----

He spent the next day and a half in his slowly decaying garret in Cambridgeport, thinking of the ways his life was changed. He'd likely spend his life as an adjunct at Harvard, and if he was lucky he'd work his way up to teaching classes for the main College program instead of the night school - but was that so bad? The pay was awful; Harvard believed the prestige made up for the low pay, although as the stickers all over campus pointed out, "you can't eat prestige". MIT, though, paid Rodney enough to easily support both of them in a lifestyle to which Daniel was sure he could never become accustomed. He'd known his career was over after The Lecture, and Boston wasn't the worst city he could wind up in, not by a long shot. Harvard had vast collections that sat in unused attics and warehouses that hadn't been analyzed since their acquisition. Being gay was considered about as unusual as being Republican. No, scratch that, less unusual - there were many venues he and Rodney would be admitted to with open arms from which any card-carrying Republican would find himself thrown out on his ear. There was the cold, but that's what down comforters and body heat were made for. And Daniel thought he could entice Rodney into winter-break vacations to the Middle East, or Sumatra.

He only ventured out of his door once, between the grading and the self-analysis, walking just one block to Riverside Pizza when the hunger got so bad he had to eat something. He watched the locals playing Keno, flipped through one of the Greek magazines the proprietors had littering the place to keep himself occupied and take his mind off the terrible taste of the food, and planned what to pack in his bag to take back to Rodney's that night.

When he returned, the light on his answering machine was blinking. It was Rodney.

"Hey, Daniel. I'm going out of town for a couple of days. Can you take care of Escher? Thanks." There was a long pause. "I'll see you when I get back."

He tried to call Rodney back, but no one picked up on the other end. Rodney was already gone.

-----

That night, Daniel went to Rodney's apartment. It seemed empty without Rodney's busy, buzzing energy filling it, and yet there was still the feel of him lingering. He'd left artifacts behind; a half-watched videotape of Barbarella was in the VCR, unpopped popcorn kernels sat in a big aluminum bowl on the end table, the last traces of milk lingered in a glass beside it.

Daniel filled Escher's food dish, and the gray-and-white cat lumbered over, settling in front of it to eat. Daniel sat down on the floor next to him, running one hand over his fur. "Hey, cat," he said, looking around the kitchen. It was large, with high ceilings and big aluminum appliances. Daniel thought of the meals he would cook here, the quick dinners they'd eat at the tiled island in the middle, the buffets he would set out for dinner parties. He left Escher to his dinner and poured himself a small glass of wine from the open bottle of fume blanc in the fridge, walking around the apartment, taking it all in.

He wound up in the bedroom, and sprawled out on the expansive king-size bed, pulling the crumpled feather duvet over himself. It smelled like Rodney, and so did the pillow he pulled against his chest.

It was almost home, but not quite. Not quite. When Rodney came back, it would be home.

-----

For three days, Daniel stayed in Rodney's apartment, using Rodney's desktop machine to check his email, re-alphabetizing Rodney's DVDs, sorting Rodney's CDs. Rodney had a habit of putting every CD in the nearest empty case, whether it was the right one or not, and Daniel's sorting process took the better part of a day. He threw out the cheese that was blue now but was cheddar when it was purchased, and hung the curtains Rodney had bought at the Crate and Barrel down the block but had never got around to putting up. He puttered in between bouts of grading, cheerily domestic, taking care of all the little things that Rodney needed done for him.

Daniel finally left the apartment in order to turn in his grades. On the way up the stairs to their apartment, he could hear the phone ring. The key seemed to stick in the door - he managed to jiggle it around, and burst through, breathlessly grabbing the phone before the voicemail could. "Hello?"

"Hey!" Rodney said, his voice quick and excited. "I'm glad you're there. Look. I'm on my way home. I'm at O'Hare now. You and I are going out to dinner tonight. Make a reservation at Les Zygomates."

"Les Zygomates? Did you sell a kidney while you were gone?" Daniel asked.

"Tonight's celebration is worth the organ donation. I've got great news."

Daniel smiled. "I'm glad."

"Make them for eight," Rodney said. "I'll meet you there."

"I can't wait to see you," Daniel said. And he meant it.

-----

Daniel sat at the table at Les Zygomates, rolling up the hem of the heavy white tablecloth, then letting it fall again. He'd sat with his back to the window so he couldn't stare out of it, waiting for Rodney to pass by on the way to the door. Even though he knew it was right, it was real, the prospect of saying everything to Rodney again, turning it from thought to language like he had on New Year's Eve, was a little daunting.

He didn't need to stare at the window to know when Rodney arrived. He was so attuned that he could identify Rodney's shadow, cast by the streetlights outside, from the way it gently bobbed as it crossed the back wall. Daniel rested his temple on his hand, looking at the doorway, stomach suddenly aflutter.

Rodney followed the maitre'd to the table, pulling off his leather gloves, tossing his wool overcoat over the back of the chair. The tuxedoed staff member reached out gracefully and took the coat before Rodney could sit on it, putting it over his arm and bringing it back to the coat room.

"Hey," Daniel said.

"Hey," Rodney said, smiling. "You'll never believe what happened."

"Tell me," Daniel said, leaning forward, feeding off Rodney's enthusiasm.

Rodney's eyes were wide and sparkling, just like they had been on the dance floor on New Year's Eve. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. "That's the problem, actually," he said. "I can't really tell you."

Daniel laughed lightly, reaching one hand out to take Rodney's. "What?"

Rodney leaned forward, his voice lowering until Daniel could barely hear it. "It's a secret government project. And it's everything I've ever - no, scratch that. I never dreamed this. I could never dream anything this good."

"Okay..." Daniel said, a little lost.

"When I say secret, I mean secret. This is probably going to be the last time we go out to dinner for a long time. A very long time. They want me there tomorrow."

Me, Daniel realized. Not we. He could suddenly feel the cold spilling from the window, cutting through him. And he realized he'd miscalculated, dreadfully.

Rodney didn't need him. Rodney didn't need him at all.

A rushing echoing emptiness filled his ears. He blinked for a second, unable to focus. When he finally could, he saw Rodney's grey eyes, still sparkling. "I wish I could tell you. It's just - it's incredible. I'll be able to do things I'd never accomplish at MIT."

Daniel nodded, dumbly.

Rodney squeezed his hand. "Hey, you said you had news, too."

"Uh..." Daniel took a sip of water, to cover, and wondered where the damn waiter was. He was going to order a bottle of wine. He was going to order the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu, and he was going to drink the whole damn thing, and maybe when they got back to Rodney's he could give the scientist a memorable, mind-blowing last-night send-off without breaking down. "Don called me. He says he's going to give me a Harvard College class next semester," Daniel lied. The cold seeping in from the window wrapped around his back.

"That's great," Rodney said, smiling. "See? You're on the road back."

The waiter filled Daniel's wine glass, and he wondered just how drunk he would have to get to keep his composure. He reviewed colleges in his mind, wondering if anyplace in Texas had a slot open for the spring semester. Anything to get away from the cold.

-----

His was numb for his six months in Texas. He could have cried when he got to New Mexico and found one of Rodney's shirts in a box he'd never opened, something that got packed straight out of the dirty laundry basket. Even though it was cold, it was soft and worn, and it still smelled like Rodney. But his tears were dried up, locked away.

Every three months, for the next six and a half years, like clockwork, a postcard would arrive at Daniel's residence. It didn't matter if he'd put in a forwarding address or not; it didn't matter if he was living in an apartment or a guest house or a basement or a barely functional cabin. They were all in Rodney's spiky, sprawling handwriting, they all lacked a return address, and they were all unsigned. First Daniel received them with sadness, then with anger, then with melancholy reminiscence and self-recrimination over his own silence those few days after that perfect New Year's Eve, wondering where he'd be now if he hadn't fled back to his garret.

Each postcard came from some improbable, unlikely destination, never postmarked in a town anywhere near the one pictured on the card (which was, just once, the same town Daniel was living in). Each one joined the last in Daniel's sock drawer, in a slowly growing stack that none of his parade of inconstant, long, lean lovers would ever see.

And all the postcards ended with the same line:

"Wish you were here."

"Bitte, bitte weck' mich nicht
solang ich träum' nur gibt es dich...
Wir haben uns im Traum verpasst"
- Blixa Bargeld and Merit Becker

Please send feedback to tafkar.

home