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Cuyahoga

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Oftentimes Magnus found himself obligated to show up to his father's sermons, not because he enjoyed them or even liked his father, but because he had no interest in listening to the forty-year rant that would come after the service. Preaching was, apparently, a job that only preachers took seriously. The only reason he'd stay for more than two minutes was because of Charles. Sometimes, while praying, Charles would pass him a tightly-rolled blunt, just for later. Generosity was as hard to find in this world as a good church service.

Sophomore year was the one time Magnus finally got out of going to Catholic school. The public school system was only slightly less suffocating, if only because you wouldn't get shipped to the self-flagellation chamber or whatever if you showed up with an ear piercing. Magnus had tried to be good in the eyes of the public. He even used the name he was born with. (Matthew Smith, for the record.) All those years he feigned the innocent persona of a good Christian boy. All those years, he'd secretly been shaking hands with the devil of rock and roll himself, from The Police to Judas Priest, hot damn was his radio spewing more sin than a male prostitute's bare dick.

It was through this interest, for better or for worse, that he met Charles Offdensen, who'd lived in his hometown in northern Florida and always had. Somehow they never made contact until an awkward R.E.M. concert where Magnus couldn't weasel his way to the front no matter how hard he tried. He found this tiny fuck with a combover all the way in the back, looking like a fucking gay altar boy or Neo-Nazi or something. They began to talk. Charles complained that he came with a few friends, but they forced him out of the crowd to buy drinks. He said he went to the local public high school, and he love love loved the Clash. They watched a lesbian couple making out in the row in front of them, trading saliva like their lives depended on it. Magnus made an admittedly sleazy comment. Hey, two chicks making out. Can you see, shorty? Charles outright stated he had no interest in women.

And that was that. From age 15 onward, Charles was his gay rock friend. Charles lived in a huge mansion. (At least, it was a mansion from where Magnus was standing.) His parents were never around, aside from one or two times when his mother would show up and say she had to make a flight to New York, but she'd be back next week. His house was huge, he had no siblings, and only one dog. The loneliest existence a human being could conceive.

In essence, they were almost in a mutually symbiotic friendship. Feeding one another's rebellious urges, curing one another's isolation. Like Charles was the remora sucking on Magnus' stomach, and Magnus was a shark. They were fish. Underwater. Yeah.

The only problem with having a friend like Charles was that this was the 80's, and Magnus' father was a preacher. And he hated rock music, and Satanic symbols, and gay people, and all that other stuff that every religious old man hated. Every old man in general. Charles Offdensen was like a flashing lantern of rebellion, and the moth that was Magnus floated towards its soft amber light, painting the sky and earth with its color. The shadow of his wings painted the ground, to signal that he was there. 

Flash-forward, and there they were, sitting behind the cathedral with blunts in their left hands. The remains of half-melted snow clung onto the grass. Everything seemed grayer in the winter, and Magnus wasn't sure why. Maybe the clouds in the sky were what turned the world one shade darker, or maybe it was that winter was, objectively, the most depressing season. Getting cozy with the family for Christmas was the last thing on his mind. That was the other thing, Charles was a Jew, though he didn't consider himself such. He preferred to be thought of as Jewish in heritage, atheistic in belief, but that was all too many words. You couldn't fit that on an ID. 

Their first concept album was underway. It was metal. Specifically elements of all kinds of metal sub-genres, mostly Charles' fault. He had a love for putting things in rock music where they didn't belong. He even played Twisted Sister on a fucking clarinet for a talent show, which was both cursed and blessed. Hell, those sub-genres didn't even exist yet. Magnus himself tended to take from punk and metal fusions. (Mostly crust punk, which hadn't been named, but definitely was a thing.) Magnus and Charles wished they could do death metal, but neither had a deep enough voice or imposing enough presence to even try. 

Not that any of that mattered.

Because neither of their musical endeavors got any further than batting ideas back and forth. In fact, it'd be years before Magnus joined his first band. (Not Dethklok, surprisingly, but a grindcore band he hopped into when he was supposed to be in college, driving them awhile like an old car before the car broke down in a desert, leaving nothing but a steel husk.) 

While spitballing concepts at one another behind the chapel, Charles still feeling that they might want to go for a more hair metal-esque image, as it was popular and everyone liked it. Magnus refused to become like those glam rock homos under a fake metal sheen. They were visionaries, not androgynous sex symbols. (Though, Bowie argued one could be both at once, Magnus had yet to figure out a way.)

But while they were conversing, Magnus' very own father of fire and brimstone shoved through. Maybe that was when Charles became so ruthlessly determined to go over to Magnus' house. The ultimate act of defiance. When his dad said, just a bit too loudly,

"Matthew, I don't want to see you with that queer anymore. He's a bad influence."

it lit a fire in Charles' head and stomach. At least, that's what Magnus assumed.

-

He dropped out right after he turned 16. Magnus didn't give a damn. His father knew, and while his rage was boundless, even he knew that his attempts to control Magnus would prove fruitless. All he could do was beat Magnus until his muscles felt like they were made of jello, and ship him off to his room without food. The chores piled onto his shoulders in the following days were twice as ruthless as usual, to the point where he was essentially deep-cleaning their entire house every single day. His dad had no intent to change his mind, but instead, just make him feel really bad about his decisions. 

Almost every day, rain or shine, in a hurricane or a blizzard or a tornado, Charles would show up. Not at his door, because his father would never ever allow him in. Rather, at his window, tapping on the glass with his feet tightly clung to the outer wall, struggling to make his way upwards. In fact, the first time Charles left through the window, his bones slammed together and he broke a bone in his ankle. Yet he still crawled up. This time, just with a cast on.

(Magnus was the only person who signed it.)

They didn't do much. The idea of starting a band was long gone within last year. Instead they'd just play records that Charles brought, and sit in silence. Charles laid his head on Magnus' shoulder, staring at the wall. He was always warm. When ends didn't meet and the heating bill didn't get paid, it was a godsend. Eventually they'd sleep together overnight. Mostly in winter. Their body heat, an exchange, beneath two layers of blanket and a threadbare sheet just barely clinging together, each string prepared to tear and become another hole.

Sometimes his dad would come in.

He'd scream, because Charles laid a hand on his son. He'd scream, because Magnus allowed the devil in his home. He'd scream and he'd scream, until he ran out of things to scream about. And then he'd draw up his holy fists, like pulling pistols from their holsters, and drag Charles out the door by his collar, throwing him out on his ass. And when he'd return, their records would still be playing. His voice would boom, turn that filth off!

And yet still, like clockwork, Charles would show up again the next day. Sometimes remarking that his ass hurts. Mostly, he'd just appear in silence with a shiny new cassette to show off to Magnus, a grin scrawled across his normally serious face. 

Senior year swung around faster than Magnus could tell. He had already forgotten what grade he'd be in, were he attending high school at all. Their relationship never changed, never seemed to develop into more than a somewhat homoerotic, platonic romp on a day-to-day basis. Charles was failing, not because he was dumb -- on the contrary, he was one of the smartest men Magnus had ever met -- but rather, because he seemed to feel it was all unnecessary. His parents used to be hippies, so they didn't give a damn. They still had a whole decade of free love lodged in their heads. (Of course, it helped that they were never around.) Magnus almost felt bad that Charles had sacrificed the chance to attend a good college to, instead, spend hours of time with him of all people. Him and his righteous, lawful, good father who hated Charles more than anyone else did.

One day, they sat, quiet as ever. Siouxsie's Tinderbox was playing, from a vinyl that Charles had signed, which meant he'd seen Siouxsie in real life. Magnus had the dumbest fucking crush on her, she was so his type, whatever his type was. But for once, as rare as it was, Charles spoke.

"We're going on a field trip some weeks from now. I think to some weird foresty place. For bio."

"That's cool, I guess."

Pause.

"Uh, I'm moving in the next few months."

Magnus froze, like every bone in his body had gone cold.

"You're- you're what?"

"Moving."

"How far?"

Charles mumbled a bit under his breath. "Speak up, man."

"Sweden. Mom's company is centered in Sweden and her and dad agreed it'd be better to move."

"You can't fucking move to Sweden, what, does the woman work for fucking Ikea?"

"She said college is free there, too."

"You haven't done a single assignment, ever, how are you- how do you even-"

"I don't know. I'm just... telling you."

"We... we still gonna be able to, uh..."

"What."

"R.E.M.'s coming to Miami and I was gonna. Get. Tickets."

Charles went silent. The sound of paper flipping alerted Magnus to the fact that he was checking his stupid scheduling book. "Don't do that too loud, dad always gets suspicious if it sounds like I'm reading or something."

"Is he even home?"

"Might be too busy fucking altar boys."

Charles tapped his lips with his finger.

"I think... I'll be able to."

And suddenly, Magnus was consumed by emotion, in a way he was barely familiar with. In the past years, he seemed to barely feel anything. But now he was feeling everything. He grabbed onto Charles and latched onto him in a tight embrace. He never thought much of the plans they made, to hitch a ride with old friends, to go to Miami, to stay, to pass out drunk in a gutter, but for half a second they were in danger. An R.E.M. concert at the beginning and the end, poetic.

-

"This is where we walked!"

Magnus shouted one line, prompting Charles to take the next. He followed through.

"This's where we swam!"

They yelled in the back of Sam's car, which had the hood rolled down. Magnus vaguely knew the guy. They were the same age. Though whether or not this car was his or his mother's, he wasn't really sure. Sam himself had run off to go fuck some girl with half her hair shaved off, and a safety pin in her lip. Hot.

"Take a picture here, take a souvenir, Cuyahoga!"

Magnus took a sip from a can of beer. Charles mumbled the chorus end. Cuyahoga, gone. His eyesight fizzled with the soft distant lights of other buildings, other cars dashing down the road. Charles' face was tinted rose, the blood that pooled under his skin making his cheeks feel warm. Magnus could feel it, when the son of a bitch pressed his face into his own arm. His voice low, Charles mumbled, but Magnus could hear it.

"Had fun."

"Me, me too."

"I don't wanna go to Swed'n."

"Can you fuckin' Svensk."

Charles snorted, and laughed, and Magnus felt so blessed that he was the only man lucky enough to see his face, cracked into a full smile. 

"Sure, Magnus," He couldn't hold back tiny giggles. "sure, I can 'fucking Svensk'."

"Thas' how they say it, right."

"I don't think so, no!"

Their laughter filled the air, even louder than the music from the concert, and they pushed against one another. Until Charles knocked Magnus over into the back seat, and they laid on top of each other like they would back at Magnus' place, but this time in a car that stank of whiskey, cigarettes and marijuana. The smell must have embedded itself into the leather. He always had to note how warm Charles was.

"You drunk motherfucker."

"You're drunk."

They both were. And that was probably the cause of what came next. Because without a word, Charles was worming his way down the vertical length of Magnus' whole body, with hot breath on his old, dirty jeans. And Magnus gave him a silent nod of inebriated consent. He had felt confined for half a second as the zipper was tugged from its ends, and they were consummating something, love or friendship or the fact that Charles really thought he was good-looking. Charles was his type. Whatever his type was

"Lube," Charles' voice was hoarse. He reached between the front seats, futzing with a tub of Vaseline. Magnus snickered. He knew why that was there. The moisturizer was thick and greasy and Charles' hands were soft. Even softer was the inside. He'd done it with girls before, but this? This was different. All kinds of different. More intimate. Because it wasn't some floozy he met in the bathroom of a bar, it was Charles. Charles Offdensen. His dorky best friend who he'd known for years, but never once imagined what he felt like on the inside. He clutched both of Charles' hands in his own, one of them slippery with the Vaseline and the other just sweaty. 

"Shit, dude..."

"You're my best friend." His breath was heavy, and when he began to move, Magnus felt powerless. The air was heavy even though the night wind blew over them. "Don't tell your dad."

"I-I wasn't gonna!" Were his hands not occupied, he would have thrown them up in offense. And the speed increased, like a car rolling down a hill. Until it reached an apex, and there was screaming, and Charles' hands tangled in his leather jacket. And they kissed, and that felt more like an orgasm, really.

If it had lasted, Magnus wonders, maybe things would be different.