Chapter 1: gravitational pull of celestial bodies
Rust is alive after Carcosa. So now what?
in which Marty doesn’t propose, they share a bed, there’s medically necessary intimacy, and Rust gets a much needed grooming
The box is that particular robin’s egg blue and Rust’s breath catches in his throat as he makes his snarky comment. He doesn’t truly think that Marty is proposing to him. He doesn’t even think Marty will ever admit to what’s between them - tension, potential, definitely more than friendship - nebulous and dark and stronger than blood.
Some tiny part of him is foolishly let down even as he lights up the first cigarette on the drive back to Marty’s apartment. He smokes with the window rolled down, enjoying the cool caress of the wind on his face more than the heady rush of nicotine after weeks in the hospital. He closes his eyes and savours the moment, appreciates being alive and sitting next to Marty in a moving vehicle with the promise of the rolling road beneath them.
It’s a passing fancy, he knows, but he etches the feeling of the night on his heart. The feeling of potential, of being glad to be alive, of being exactly where he wants to be. Contentment , his amygdala whispers.
He doesn’t open his eyes when Marty pulls the car to a stop and kills the engine. He keeps his head bowed towards where his right arm hangs out the window. Somewhere along the way, he’d dropped his cigarette without noticing. Marty is quiet to his left and Rust resists the urge to look over at him.
He wonders if the man is looking at him or if he’s lost in his own thoughts. So much has happened to get lost in. It feels like years have passed since he chased Marty down on the side of that empty road.
It’s a long time before Marty gets out and comes around to Rust’s door, touching Rust’s hand gently.
“Hey, we’re home,” he says softly, as if expecting to wake Rust.
Rust slits his eyes open. He’s silent as Marty opens the door, slides a careful arm around his ribs, and helps Rust into his sterile, impersonal apartment. For such a bull of a man, Marty is surprisingly mindful of Rust’s injuries as they make their way up to apartment 505.
Or is that unfair of Rust? It’s clear that their decade apart has softened the man.
“Love what you've done with the place,” he mutters, leaning against the entrance that that leads from the entry hall to the living room, while Marty locks the door and flicks on lights.
Marty snorts. “You’re one to talk. You gave Spartans a run for their money back in the day.”
Rust turns his head and quirks an eyebrow, wondering if Marty knows of some of the Spartans’ other predilections other than an ascetical lifestyle. Knowing Marty - does Rust know him? -, he means nothing more by the comment.
Rust surveys the small apartment: a common area separated from the kitchen by a bar, and a hall where the bedroom and bathroom could easily be seen. Spartan is putting it nicely.
There’s a beige couch pushed against the wall separating the entry from the living room. There's a simple, low coffee table in front of it. A mirror takes up most of that wall behind the piece of furniture. Opposite is a large television. A single folding table leans against the arm of the couch. Everything about the space screams bachelor .
“You’re right though. It’s pretty bleak. But having you here will be like the old days, no?” Marty sighs, planting his fists against his hips. “The bad news is that I only have the one bed.”
Rust eyes the couch but before he can even contemplate it, Marty’s got his arm back around him. He rambles as they make their slow way towards the bedroom.
“It’s actually pretty comfy. First bed I’ve ever gotten to pick out myself. King sized. Bought it in a wild bout of optimism that it'd get some use. You’ll have to give me a second to change the sheets but it’ll be a hell of a lot better than what the hospital tries to call a bed.”
When Rust sees the bed and the rumpled mess of sheets, a wave of exhaustion threatens to roll him under. He staggers to where the bed is pushed length-wise up under the uncurtained window on the far wall. He nearly pulls Marty down with him when he collapses down onto it, doing his best to spare his still-smarting injuries. The stitches in his abdomen pull and he groans into the pillow he’s buried his face into.
It smells like Marty.
“I can’t make the bed with you in it, Rust,” Marty huffs good-naturedly. “And you’re still wearing that damn gown.”
“Don’t care,” he replies, mumbling into the bedding. He doesn’t care if Marty can hear him or not. Marty gets the sentiment at least, because he gathers Rust’s legs and lifts them into the bed. The thin slippers the hospital had given him fall off in the manoeuvre. Marty drags the blanket up over him. It’s nice, being cared for like this. It’s been a long time since anyone has given enough of a shit to even lift a hand for him.
He wants to tell Marty that he’ll look for his own place in the morning, that he’ll be out of his hair soon enough, but just like the last few weeks in the hospital, the veil between consciousness and oblivion is tissue thin. Dreams and memories and reality bleed seamlessly into each other. Sleep sucks him under with the imagined sensation of a comforting weight stroking over the back of his head.
For the first time since Carcosa, he doesn’t dream.
He’s woken suddenly, heart racing. It’s dark in the room he’s in and it takes a few seconds for his mind to track from the hospital to Marty’s. Time has become a slippery and elusive thing in his perpetually exhausted state. The room orients itself in his head and now he can see the soft, flickering glow of what must be the television. There’s no sound to accompany it so the movement wasn’t what woke him.
Then he hears it: Marty noisily turning over on the couch with a pained grunt.
Rust rolls his head on a stiff neck to look at the green, glowing digits on the bedside alarm clock: 1:33. He closes his eyes and tries to drift back off, but now that’s he’s heard it, he can’t ignore the small shifts of discomfort coming from down the hall. He wants to ignore it but he knows he won’t. He can’t.
“Christ, Hart! Get your ass in here so I can get some shut-eye tonight.” His voice rasps in his throat from disuse. He closes his eyes and swallows painfully.
For a second that could easily be minutes, he thinks he’s fallen back asleep or Marty is ignoring him. Then there’s rustling. The television clicks off. Marty’s soft, bare-footed steps seem louder in the pitch dark, but even without light, Rust can sense the man pause in the doorway before making his way around to the empty side of the bed.
“Just for tonight,” Marty says, sliding into the bed with a contented moan. “God, I’ve missed this bed.”
Marty shuffles about a bit before getting comfortable, breath evening out. His presence - like in the car - is comforting. Even back in the day, Rust liked the feeling of having Marty to his left, but now it feels right in a whole new way. Rust supposes it's because the secrets between them bind them together rather than creating unneeded tension, forcing them apart.
Rust rolls his head towards Marty. He wonders if the bond would hold fast this time. Both of them had changed so much in the decade that lay between them and those two hot-headed men that had torn apart a partnership in the precinct parking lot. What existed between them now - in the few feet of mattress separating them - was more than their cumulative histories.
What they’d gone through… there were no words sufficient to communicate the vile darkness that permeated Rust’s veins. This was the thing that so often isolated detectives like them from the people that tried to love them.
Marty knew though. He’d been through it with Rust. No matter what Marty claimed, he understood Rust in a way no one else did. He’s the only one capable.
There was still so much that Rust held close and hidden, and he’d rather go through it all again than utter a single word of what lay secret in his heart on this side of the small divide between them. He knew Martin Hart better than anyone else in the world and knew that the man wouldn’t want to know.
He wonders what Maggie would say - probably something about Marty not even knowing himself - and huffs out an amused breath at himself. When had he become so soft, so ridiculous, so cowardly?
“I can hear you thinking,” Marty whispers in the dark, rolling towards Rust, the mattress dipping. Rust imagines the pull Marty exerts on him and wonders how close he could get before falling into the event horizon. As it was, Rust had been struggling to maintain orbit ever since they’d entered each other’s lives again.
He’d clung to the forward momentum of their case to keep his distance. Now that he’s stopped moving, what would happen? Rust isn’t sure he can fight the constant force from dragging him inexorably in. Sheer willpower wouldn’t be enough. He’s running short on that anyway. He needs literal distance and soon, lest he fall - a doomed satellite - into Marty.
He’d never expected to emerge from their descent into Carcosa with his life. Yet he had. Childress hadn’t killed him, rather he’d plunged his knife into Rust and snuffed out something poisonous and dark deep inside him. Years of suppressing his emotions and all it took was Marty Fucking Hart to dredge them all up again. Even now, with all his insides where they were supposed to be, Rust felt raw and flayed open, tender and exposed in a way he’d never experienced before.
You have. Once before , a bitter voice whispers in the back of his mind.
“I was thinking about the gravitational pull of celestial bodies,” he finally mutters, feeling vulnerable.
The darkness is suddenly warmed by the heat of Marty’s chuckle. It flares orange on Rust’s retinas. “You know? That doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve missed the way your brain works, man.”
Marty yawns, his jaw clicking. There’s the rustle of sheets and Marty’s large hand is resting on the curve of Rust’s shoulder. It burns through the thin fabric of his gown and down further, into his bones. It anchors him and he suddenly feels his mind tipping back towards sleep.
“I’ve missed you .”
Morning finds Rust leaning against the tile in Marty’s shower. He’s turned the water up to as hot as he can stand and lets it pound down on his head and shoulders. Marty’s apartment is nothing special but the water pressure is heavenly. He tips his face up into the water where it stings his cheeks. He feels like utter shit but less like shit than he has for the last few years. Sobriety is a bitch though and he feels every ache and pain. Even worse is the way his mind whirs without direction, doubling back on itself in a self-cannibalising aimlessness.
“Did you drown in there?” Marty hollers through the door.
“I haven’t had a proper wash in weeks. Let me enjoy this,” he snaps back, but reluctantly goes about the process of washing his injuries and then quickly lathering up his hair.
He steps out and wraps a towel around his waist. He still curves his spine protectively around the ache in his gut, but his arm feels looser and his skin feels scrubbed raw. He feels clean and not just on the surface. He opens the door. Marty is leaning against the jamb, small smile on his face.
“Good to see you up and about.”
“Good to be up and about.” He waits for Marty to move out of the way so he can go back to the bedroom. Marty had helpfully laid out some clothes for him before the shower. But Marty didn’t move. “What?”
“Went to the pharmacy while you were still sleeping and got you your prescriptions. I also got this-” he produces a tube with a flourish. “It’s supposed to help lessen the scarring.”
Rust raises an eyebrow. “Do I look like I care about that?”
Marty sets his jaw and pushes Rust back with a steady hand on his bare shoulder - the same shoulder he’d touched in bed last night. “No, but it softens the scar tissue too, unless you like not being able to stand up straight. Now shut up and sit down.”
Rust huffs and perches on the edge of the toilet seat. He doesn’t protest any more as Marty kneels in front of him. He's preoccupied with ignoring that he’s nearly naked and Marty is pushing into his personal space.
“I also got you some supplements for you to take in the morning.” His eyes flick up to Rust’s. “ With food.”
The tip of Marty’s tongue sticks out as he concentrates, carefully rubbing the emollient into the tender, pink skin at the bend of Rust’s right elbow. He straightens Rust’s arm, thumbs digging into his forearm and bicep. Rust clenches his jaw; not because of pain but because it feels so good to be touched.
“I talked to one of your doctors,” he says as he bends the arm back, then deposits more of the lotion into his left hand. Rust makes a low hum in acknowledgement as Marty dips two fingers into the cream and then ever-so-gently touches them to the top of the scar on Rust’s stomach. Rust can’t help how his muscles tense up.
“She said it was a miracle you survived, let alone kept all your organs.” Marty’s voice is tight, his brow furrowed far more than concentration warranted. He makes small, light circles over the scarring, working his way slowly down, following the path the hunting knife had taken.
“Pure chance,” Rust mutters, a catch in his tone as Marty pushes the edge of the towel down. The scar starts below Rust’s navel, curving in a crescent moon shape. Marty’s hand stills, fingers curling, knuckles brushing against Rust’s skin.
He looks directly at Rust. “Let me have this.”
Then he’s retracing back up, making sure every ridge and dip is covered. Rust isn’t sure if he’s referring to believing in miracles or to the act of caring for Rust. Goosebumps shiver up Rust’s exposed skin. There’s something almost hypnotic in the soothing massage of Marty’s fingers. Despite the threat of Marty’s closeness, Rust is relaxing under his touch. His stamina is shot and already he’s contemplating a nap. He decides that whatever the man means, he’s happy to give it to him.
“Whatever you want, Marty.” He hates how sarcastic it sounds when he truly means it. He’d give Marty anything he asked for. Luckily, Marty is used to Rust’s prickly comments because all he does is smile slightly.
When Marty deems the job done, he caps the tube and sits back on his heels.
“Now, what are we going to do about this?” Marty asks, reaching up and scuffing his knuckles against Rust’s scruff.
“Nothing. It doesn’t matter.” He’s too tired to contemplate any sort of grooming.
“Never gonna catch a girl’s eye with that attitude,” Marty teases. “You look like a trailer park Jesus.”
“Not interested in catching a girl’s eye.” It’s hard to get the words out when it’s Marty’s gaze on him. God, he wants them to stay there.
“Yeah, well, I have to look at your ugly mug all day, so we gotta do something about this travesty.”
Rust shrugs. He honestly doesn’t care but again, Marty can do whatever he wants if it makes him happy. Which is how he finds himself seated on folding chair in front of the bathroom mirror as Marty carefully scrapes away the moustache he’s had for the last year.
“Don’t know what possessed you to go with this look but there’s actually a good looking man under all this,” Marty muses, eyes focused on his task.
For his part, Rust is focused more on the individual pressure points of Marty’s fingers on his jaw and neck. Knowing Marty, the man won’t notice how Rust’s pulse has shot up. He resists the urge to press two fingers there and count the beats. He can feel his heart thundering in his chest.
He lets Marty turn his face this way and that, swallowing against the sharp edge of the blades as it passes over his Adam’s apple. There’s no one else in the world that he would trust to do this. Marty reaches over and swishes the razor in the soapy water filling the sink.
“When you’re done barber-ing, do you want to take a crack as a hairdresser?” he drawls, voice low and rough.
Marty doesn’t answer until he’s finished, fingers skimming over skin, searching for spots he may have missed before wiping Rust’s face clean with a damp towel. “Think we should leave that to a professional.”
Rust meets his eyes. “We can have them neaten it up but the ponytail’s got to go. Although...”
Marty runs his fingers up along Rust’s scalp and grabs ahold. Rust grunts and shakes his head. He’s careful to keep his face blank even as desire shivers down his spine. Marty lets go and smiles slowly at him in the mirror.
“Sensitive?” He twists to dig through a drawer in the vanity and comes up with a pair of scissors. He gets up and stands behind Rust. “Hold these.”
Rust takes the scissors and stares at them. He’s half hard just from Marty tugging on his hair. He doesn’t want to look at the mirror. He doesn’t want to see if Marty’s looking at him, so he closes his eyes as Marty rakes his fingers through Rust’s damp hair.
“It’s like you’re tryna hide,” Marty mutters, more to himself than as conversation, combing and tugging until it’s gathered up at the base of Rust’s skull. “Used to be jealous of how girls looked at you.”
“Didn’t seem to hurt your chances none,” Rust manages, even though his voice sounds breathy to his ears.
Marty chuckles. “No, but I had to work at it. Charm ‘em. If you’d had the slightest inclination, you’d have drown in pussy.”
“Still could,” he adds casually.
Rust must make a face because Marty yanks playfully at Rust’s hair again. Rust has to force himself to swallow the noise that threatens to claw out of his throat. “You didn’t even notice it but you turned everyone’s head.”
Marty releases the ponytail and scrapes his fingers through again, nails against Rust’s scalp. Rust can’t help the breath that leaves him in a rush. He wants Marty to keep doing this, perhaps while Rust drifts back off to sleep. It’s as soothing as it is arousing, which is why he doesn’t think before saying, “Never the heads I wanted to turn.”
Marty pauses a moment. “Hard to imagine you wanting that.”
He stretches an elastic around Rust’s hair, twisting and pulling until it’s held tight. Rust offers up the scissors and opens his eyes to find Marty looking at him in the mirror, a strange expression on his face.
“I’m human, Marty.”
Marty snorts and smiles dubiously. “Ready?”
Rust gives a small, curt nod. The Rust in the mirror nods too but he doesn’t recognise his own reflection - it’s a man he remembers but he’s flushed and wide-eyed. As Marty saws away with the scissors, strands of grey-brown hair fall around his face and a slight niggle of familiarity blooms at the base of his brain. The feeling is chased away when Marty holds up the severed lock of hair and ruffles his fingers through Rust’s newly jaw-length hair.
“It’s not pretty, but you make up for it.” Marty winks at him in the mirror and Rust can’t help but smile.
Marty takes pity on Rust after that and lets him crawl back into bed. Marty has lent him a pair of sweatpants that are far too large for him but have a drawstring that he cinches tight. There are clean, crisp sheets on the bed that smell like laundry detergent. When Rust settles onto his back and turns his head, he tries not to think about how he wishes that they still smelled like Marty.
He’s barely dozed off when Marty sits on the edge of the bed next to him. “Just one more thing.”
Rust blinks up at him, taking in the plate of toast, the precariously balanced glass of water, and Marty’s open hand, offering a palm-full of pills.
“Food and meds first, then I’ll leave you be.”
Rust gingerly sits himself up. He’s already groggy and not in much pain so he leaves the innocuous-looking white tablet laying there. The others look like vitamins or supplements. He dry swallows those. After a considering second, Marty’s hand closes around the pain med. Rust gulps down the water and dutifully chews his way through one piece of buttered toast - getting crumbs all over the clean sheets. Marty doesn’t seem to care though, because after Rust has finished eating, he reaches over and brushes crumbs from Rust’s cheek. Rust swallows down the breath that catches in his throat.
“Get some rest. I’ll be in the kitchen working. If you wake up before dark, we’ll go run some errands. Sound good?”
Rust hums and slides back down. He wants to tell Marty that he doesn’t need a nanny, but he wants Marty nearby. He doesn’t want to want things - capitalised wanting, italicized wanting, emphatic and demanding.
He already has a solid night’s sleep under his belt but he feels like he could curl up into unconsciousness forever. His last lucid thoughts are about how if he didn’t have Marty, he may have well thrown himself into the welcome oblivion of liquor and pills. He couldn’t do that to Marty though. Rust may need Marty, but Rust was starting to suspect that Marty needed him too - or at least someone to look after. Always the consummate family man, Marty. Even without a family around.
Rust didn’t know if he had it in him to return the favour. Everything he touched seemed to ossify. Marty was light and summer breeze. Rust didn’t want to taint him any further with the oxidising catalyst of his presence.
Besides, could Rust be content with the compartmentalised affection Marty could give when Rust’s own emotions were messy, tangled, toxic things?
It’s dark when he wakes again. So much for errands . It takes him a moment to make out Marty lying opposite him in the bed asleep in his clothes. His knees are drawn up and his right hand lays open and vulnerable between them. His fingers itch to touch the inside of Marty’s wrist, to trace the lines of veins there. He wants to push Marty onto his back and shove his hands up under his shirt. He has yet to see where Marty had taken the hammer to his shoulder. He wants to press his mouth to it and whisper benedictions while simultaneously cursing the man for following him into a place a person like Marty didn’t belong.
Little priest , echoes in the far, hidden chambers of his mind. Childress may have died in Carcosa, but Rust feared he had brought a part of him out when he’d lived.
As if hearing his thoughts, Marty’s eyes blink open slowly, soft and kind. “Hey, there. Wasn’t sure if you were still alive so I stayed to make sure.”
“Not that easy to kill, if you haven’t noticed,” he rasps. Marty points over Rust’s shoulder and when he looks, there’s a glass of water on the bedside table. He props himself up and swallows half of it.
He settles back down, facing away from Marty. He doesn’t trust himself right now - not to touch or look or say something stupid. He feels like his feelings are bleeding all over the place.
“Going back to sleep?” Marty asks.
“Yeah, I think so. It’s quiet here. There’s room for sleep.” His eyes are already closing. He worries that since he’s not as exhausted as before, there will be room for dreams too, but he doesn’t say that aloud.
Behind him, he hears rustling, the buzz of a zipper, the sound of jeans hitting the floor, then the bed is jostled. Marty settling in for the night. Even though it’s only the second time, it feels like they’ve always done this; Rust on the right, Marty on the left. He can tell without looking that Marty is on his side facing his back. He wonders how it’d feel to have Marty slide close and tuck up behind him. His heart clenches in his chest.
The apartment is quiet save for the hum of the air conditioning and the gentle sounds of Marty breathing behind him. His thoughts can stretch out and relax in the cool, soothing darkness. Marty’s hand presses against the bare skin between his shoulder blades and the hot smell of fresh cut grass fills his nostrils, the summer sun warming his bones. Each of Marty’s fingers feels like an anchor to reality, to the light, and he knows he won’t slip too far into the black of his mind and memory tonight.
Chapter 2: regret on his tongue
Things are said in the dark that cannot be spoken of in the light.
Mentions of infidelity of tertiary characters. Touches on their own history with it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which Rust gets stoned, Marty talks high fantasy, there’s more casual touching, and Marty has a nightmare
The air is heavy with an impending storm the next day, but Rust still rolls the window down and lets the wind ruffle through his newly shorn hair. He’d taken the proffered pain pill this morning in anticipation of the errands Marty wanted to run but it has him unfocused and lax. He’s spent most of the day focusing on keeping his thoughts inside his head rather than letting them dribble uninhibited from his lips.
The bitch of it is that the medication isn’t even taking the edge off the pain. He knows it will only get worse as the day wears on. At least it’s easy to disentangle his mind from the pangs and demands of his body at the moment. He feels like a puppet with it’s strings snipped, slouching in the passenger seat. He lets himself drift off.
He doesn’t even notice that Marty’s pulled into a parking place and turned off the car until he feels the man’s gaze like a physical touch. He lolls his head and forces his eyes open.
“What’re you looking at?” he mumbles.
Marty’s twisted towards him, arm along the back of the bench seat, eyes crinkled at the corners. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think it were fifteen years ago.”
“You sorry it’s not?” It’s one of those thoughts best bitten back but the way Marty’s looking at him - sky blue eyes warm - makes it hard to hold anything back.
“Hell, no. I was an idiot back then.” The laughter bubbles up in Rust’s chest and spills over. It hurts to laugh but it also feels amazing. He can’t remember the last time he laughed. Marty shifts his hand and touches Rust’s hair lightly with the tips of his fingers.
“You’re just the same though,” he sighs, eyes fond and full of something too delicate to look directly at. Rust’s laughter dies on his lips, tasting like regret on his tongue. “In the important ways, at least.”
“Marty…” He isn’t sure what he means to say, but Marty spares him having to fumble for words.
Marty unfastens his seat belt and stretches. “You stay here and rest. I’m going to run inside. Otherwise, we’ll be living on nothing but frozen TV dinners and ramen. Any requests?”
It’s been a long time since Rust was hungry so nothing comes to mind. He’s been drinking his calories for far too long. He looks away and shrugs. “Whatever you want is good.”
Marty grunts and is gone. Rust lays his head back and thinks about how he should start looking for an apartment. Marty’s formally invited him to join his business. Part of him wants to slink back to the bar. He knows if he does, that’ll be it for him; a long, slow slog until his body gives out. He could live with that.
Another, stubborn, selfish part of him wants to cling to this: Marty and their partnership, wants to unclench himself and make room in his life for someone else. But just considering the balancing act he’d have to pull off to make such a life tenable exhausts him.
He dozes off with his mind filled with the memory of the blue-grey silence of Marty’s apartment and the pale orange heat of Marty behind him in bed.
Rust doesn’t wake until Marty’s cool, calloused hand touches his face. He jerks awake, pain lancing through his stomach. He groans.
“God, I’m sorry. You were really out,” Marty says, pulling his hand away.
Rust feels feverish and parched. He licks his lips. “Where’re we?”
“Home,” Marty answers simply and the word hits Rust in the chest like a physical blow. He doubles over, arm reaching out. Marty takes ahold of his hand. “Those pain meds do a number on you, huh?”
He hums and lets himself be helped out of the car. It may be the drugs that are knocking him out, but he can’t tell Marty the truth of his disorientation, about how he can’t seem to get his balance around the man. He tucks close to Marty, head against his shoulder. He breathes deep. Home , his lizard brain thinks.
“You’re gonna have to do some of the work here, man. I can’t carry you,” Marty chuckles.
Somehow Rust gets his feet to obey his brain. Sidewalk. Door. Hall. Couch. Suddenly, he’s horizontal. Marty’s hand is against his forehead.
“Shouldn’t have left you in the car in this heat,” Marty mutters worriedly. Then he’s gone. Rust wants to follow but his body is absolutely useless. Frustration rips through him just as Marty returns. He cups one hand under Rust’s head and presses the rim of a glass to his cracked lips. He drinks eagerly. The cold water clears his head a bit and he opens his eyes to find Marty looking down at him in concern.
Even as his body craves more water, Rust’s heart lurches with a more visceral craving. He wants to reach up towards Marty. He wants to be able to touch Marty as easily as Marty touches him. He doubts his ability to stop even if his motivations weren't deeply suspect. Shame slams hard on the heels of his frustration and he turns his head away. “M’not a child, Marty. Just let me sleep.”
He rolls towards the back of the couch, pulling his limbs in close, making himself small. He feels like child, alright; sulky and petulant. It’s not fair to Marty, who’s just trying to take care of him. All he’s rewarded with are Rust’s desperate emotional flailings. Marty deserves better than this. He deserves better than Rust. Rust’s frustration and shame calcify into familiar self loathing.
Marty doesn’t leave right away. His hand lingers at the back of Rust’s head. He runs his fingertips through the short hair at the nape of his neck and it’s all Rust can do not to shiver. “Water’s here, if you want more. I’ll wake you when dinner is ready.”
It’s not until Marty’s stood and is a few steps away that Rust is able to unclench his jaw. “Thank you.”
Marty’s step doesn’t falter so he’s not sure the man heard him, but it feels like a small victory over his inner demons anyway.
Sleep eats up hours of Rust’s time like never before. Huge chunks disappear between blinks, leaving him lethargic and disoriented. Life gains a strange start-and-stop quality, like driving in traffic. This time, he’s woken by Marty rubbing his back gently.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. It’s time to eat,” Marty says softly.
Rust rolls onto his back and stretches, back popping and stomach pulling to just this side of painful. The soporific pain meds seem to have worked their way out of his system finally and Rust realises he’s ravenously hungry. He relaxes and looks up at Marty.
“What’s on the menu?”
Marty is looking at him strangely. He’s sitting on the coffee table and leaning over Rust. The arm that had been on Rust’s back is braced on the couch near Rust’s head. Rust reaches over and squeezes Marty’s forearm. Even that small touch sends chemical sparks shooting up to burst at the base of Rust’s brain.
“I made steaks… salad. Nothing fancy, but I thought it was about time that we got a real meal in you.”
Without having to fight against the effects of the drug, it’s easier for Rust to smile up at Marty. “Sounds good.”
Marty’s grin lights up his face. “I have beer too.”
“Well, what’re we waiting for?”
Once they’re at the table, Rust realises that Marty’s been tense since leaving the hospital, because the man is suddenly, effusively talkative. For his part, Rust is happy to sit back and enjoy the meal.
“So I’m working this cheating case - I get a lot of those - and the wife decided to show up as I’m trying to get the pictures. But this bastard is tenacious and determined not to get caught. While his boyfriend is answering the door-” Rust looks up from where he’s cutting his steak and Marty pauses, waving his hand.
“Oh, yeah- the sidepiece was a man. I think that stung the wife more than the cheating. Anyway! While the guy is answering the motel door, the husband tries to wedge his way out the bathroom window - and it’s like, one of those tiny ones that slide open. What are those called?”
“Transoms,” Rust offers, still surprised at how easily Marty is talking about this. Used to be anything queer would send the man stuttering and blushing in righteous indignation.
“Exactly. But the idiot didn’t even stop to get dressed and he gets stuck halfway out the window, bare-ass naked.” Marty chuckles and sighs. “Half my pictures ended up blurred, I was laughing so hard.”
Rust takes a second to sip at his beer before saying anything. “So what came of it?”
“Oh, they got divorced. The wife raked him over the coals. Ended up walking away with everything she wanted,” Marty answers casually, waving his fork.
“No, I mean-” But Rust can’t bring himself to ask. Marty understands anyway.
“What? You mean the boyfriend? Last I heard, they were still together. Like I said, the wife was real torn up about it. She had a breakdown at my office because she could see how much her husband loved the man and…” Marty trails off, eyes looking at a spot beyond Rust but unfocused.
“She realised her husband had never loved her in the same way,” Rust guesses, his heart in his throat.
Marty’s eyes slide over to meet his. He gives a sad smile. “Yeah. Funny how that works sometimes.”
Marty sets his fork down and leans his elbows on the table, suddenly serious. He seems to be searching Rust’s face for something and the blurry memories of that night Maggie visited flash uninvited into Rust’s mind. He swigs down the rest of his beer so he doesn’t have to meet Marty’s eyes. Even a decade later, he feels guilty and used.
He stands to go get another beer out of the fridge, but is interrupted by Marty’s soft voice. “We never did talk about it, did we?”
Rust only hesitates a fraction of a second before rounding the table. He claps his hand on Marty’s shoulder. “No, we didn’t. Do we need to?”
He looks down at Marty. The man is working his jaw, like he’s chewing on his thoughts. “I think- yeah… I think some time we need to. It won’t change things but I don’t want half-understood truths and outright lies to be a part of what we have this time.”
Rust is dumbstruck by the sincerity of the statement. He retrieves two beers and offers one to Marty before sitting back down. He stares at his partner across the table. He can feel the weight of this moment. It’s a pivot point. He can see all the varied outcomes springing from this one conversation and resists the urge to be his usual laconic self, because as much as he doesn’t want to, he cares.
“Then I think it’s a good idea,” he says simply and can tell by the way Marty’s shoulders loosen and fall that it was the right thing to say. “But not now. These steaks deserve better than for us to air our feelings over them.”
Marty’s eyes widen and he barks a laugh, picking up his knife and fork again. “I know I’ve said this already, but fuck , I’ve missed you, man.”
Rust twists open his bottle and lets his happiness show on his face. He holds up his beer towards Marty. “I haven’t said it yet, but the feeling is mutual.”
Marty beams and clinks his own bottle against Rust’s. “Cheers to that.”
After dinner, Marty insists they watch a television show that he just cannot miss. Rust sprawls, propping his head on the far arm of the sofa while Marty quickly clears the table and rambles on and on about the intricacies of the show’s pseudo-medieval political structure. Rust closes his eyes and lets Marty’s voice wash over him.
There’s something about dragons and a throne made of swords and a wall made of ice, but it all seems so fantastical and involved that he knows he has no hope of catching up before tonight’s episode. Given the large meal and the three beers he’d washed it down with, Rust isn’t sure he’ll manage to stay awake for it. The whole situation reminds him of the nights he spent at Laurie’s. She’d really loved fiction and would sermonise at length to him about whatever world she’d recently lost herself inside.
The Marty he remembered had been much more of a good-ole-boy than this - sports and the occasional news program -, but Rust thought it suited him. He’d always had a child-like eagerness that was undoubtedly endearing. He liked that Marty had things he was excited about. He seemed more comfortable with himself nowadays and if Rust had liked Marty back then, well-
“What are you smiling about?” Marty asks, setting two beers down on the coffee table and lifting Rust’s feet so he can sit at the other end of the couch. He settles Rust’s bare feet in his lap, leans over, and nudges one of the beers his way.
Rust reaches out an arm and touches the condensation on the glass, but has no real motivation to drink it. He's feeling relaxed and happy, and doesn't want to tip himself over into drunkenness. “I’ve been living alone for a decade. It’s nice to have the noise of another person around.”
Marty fishes the remote out from between the cushions and tunes the television to the proper channel. One hand stays curled over Rust’s left foot, thumb absently stroking his instep. “And here I was, thinking it was about me.”
Maybe it’s the softness of the night - things feeling slightly out of focus and pink-tinged - but Rust smiles at him and drawls, “Who says it isn’t?”
Marty’s eyes dart over to him for a moment just before the show starts and then the man’s entire attention is absorbed. Rust ignores the action on the screen and lets his eyes drift nearly closed. It’s not often he gets a chance to look at Marty without Marty sensing it. He doesn’t need to. He can close his eyes at anytime and recall in minute detail the shape of the man’s nose, the jut of his jaw, the lines of his mouth, the pale blue of his eyes, but being able to trace those attributes in person fills Rust with a sense of calm. It’s nearly meditative.
Until Marty’s thumb moves up under the cuff of Rust’s jeans and makes light, repetitive circles next to his ankle bone, over the tender skin stretched over the Achilles’ tendon. Rust has to close his eyes and turn his head towards the back of the couch to focus on his breathing.
He can’t bring himself to pull away after he’d lashed out at Marty earlier, so he breathes and is thankful that he’s wearing jeans and not something less restrictive like sweatpants. After a while, he calms himself enough to sink into a restful state where he can hear the television and feel the warmth of Marty’s touch, but it all seems like it’s happening at a distance.
After a while, Marty’s thumb stops its circling. Rust assumes that something exciting must be happening in the show and he smiles. He’ll have to remember to ask Marty more about it, or even watch a few episodes. He thinks he can deal with dragons as long as there’s political intrigue and - more importantly - as long as Marty joins him.
The hour slips by in a blink and then Marty is talking animatedly about family rivalries and a man name Ned and perhaps Rust should have paid more attention, but he follows as best as he can as they take turns in the bathroom getting ready for bed.
It’s not until they’re in bed, facing each other in the dark, that Marty finally breaks his train of thought.
“You weren’t kidding when you said you’d changed. Fifteen - hell, ten - years ago, you would have told me to get stuffed hours ago.”
Rust knows he’s right, but were it anyone else, the same would be true today. “Can’t say I care about the show yet but I’m willing to learn. Gotta be something to it if you can go on about it like this.”
“I still can’t believe you haven’t heard of it. Everyone and their goddamn mother is watching it.” Marty rolls onto his back and sighs. “Actually, now that I think about it, that makes perfect sense.”
Rust wants to be irritated but he just shifts carefully onto his stomach, grinning into the pillow. After almost a minute of silence, Marty continues.
“Do you even know who the president is?” Marty asks slyly and Rust can’t help it, he laughs, trying to muffle it. “God, I’m going to have to give you pop culture lessons, aren’t I?”
Rust’s stomach twinges and he rolls over onto his back with an exasperated huff, blindly swatting at Marty. “Go to sleep, you ass.”
There’s another long silence. “Goodnight, Rust.”
“Night, Marty,” Rust sighs, content in a way he hasn’t known for years.
Rust hasn’t had any nightmares since coming home with Marty. They’d plagued him like the devil while he’d been in the hospital and he knows that they’re lurking, waiting for him to drop his guard. He has a long, intimate history with how patient the subconscious can be.
But tonight, it isn’t Rust that’s wracked with the lurking shadows of the brain. It’s Marty.
Rust is woken by furtive movements in the bed next to him and incoherent muttering from Marty. He looks over. He can’t see anything in the dark but he knows he won’t drift back off unless Marty settles.
Instead of slipping back under, Marty’s mumbling gets louder. Rust’s blood freezes when he finally makes out what Marty is saying.
“Rust… fuck, nonono…” Marty makes a sound like a wounded animal and Rust can’t keep from sliding his hand across the cool bedding between them and after a brief search, he finds Marty’s fingers.
He gives them a small squeeze. “Marty, it’s okay. I’m here.”
Marty gasps and sits upright in bed. He doesn’t pull his hand out of Rust’s grip though. If anything, he holds on tighter. “Fuck… that was- Christ…”
“Sounded like a bad one,” Rust prompts. Marty draws his knees up and lays his forehead against them, sucking in deep breaths.
“Yeah. Real bad. Really fucking bad, Rust. You were-” Marty’s fingers tremble in Rust’s hand.
“What do you need?” Rust asks, but Marty doesn’t answer, he lays back down, curled on his side facing Rust. On a hunch, Rust tugs on Marty’s hand and the man comes willingly, letting himself be held.
Marty clings to Rust in the dark, head on his chest. Rust suspects that Marty’s listing to his heartbeat, given what the man had muttered in his sleep. Marty had been back there, in Carcosa.
Rust can still see the sucking black space above him, riddled with stars like the burning consciousnesses of a million inconsequential individuals - sparking into life and then snuffed out while the darkness was eternal. He will never forget the broken, desperate way Marty had called for him as he crawled through dirt turned into mud from Rust’s blood; dirt that held the memory of other deaths, had tasted blood before.
But he hadn’t died there. He had lived. They had both lived.
“I’m sorry,” Marty mumbles as his breathing evens out. Rust tightens his arms around the man. “This is- I mean… This is weird, right? It doesn’t feel- but it is.”
“Marty, I hate to break it to you, but unconventional relationship dynamics have got to be one of the most normal things about us.” Marty huffs out a half-hearted laugh. “The more relevant question is: do you need to be held?”
Marty doesn’t answer right away, but neither does he move away. Rust has to force himself to breathe in- breathe out-
“Yeah. Yes. I do.”
“Then I’m happy to oblige.” Marty tucks in closer with a sigh and Rust literally aches with the sweetness of it. He breathes deeply and before long, Marty is matching each inhale and exhale, relaxing against his side.
“It never sat right with me, the way we left things,” Marty finally whispers. For a second, Rust is thrown. His mind is still dwelling on Carcosa. “The way I handled things. I was such a mess back then. I get why you didn’t come to me about reopening the investigation. I was so wrapped up in a clusterfuck of my own making, and then I couldn’t see past the betrayal I felt - you going behind my back… Maggie…”
Rust isn’t sure he’s ready for this. “Marty-”
“No. Please, let me- let me get this out. I think I may only be able to do it like this. It doesn’t feel so real in the dark.” Marty takes a deep, shaky breath before continuing. “Look, man. You were one of the most important people in my life and I self-destructed in a big way. I was such- I was such a fucking idiot. I should have heard you out. God, Rust… I can’t believe I didn’t trust you enough to- I’m just- I’m sorry. For everything. I’m more sorry than you could ever know.”
Marty’s voice breaks, hand convulsively tightening around Rust’s right shoulder. Rust brings his hand up to touch the back of Marty’s head. His hair is just as soft as he’d always imagined.
Marty sniffs gently. “Okay, I’m… heh, I’m done.”
Rust closes his eyes and thinks back through the years, stroking the back of Marty’s head.
“You better say something , asshole. I really put myself out there,” Marty says without any bite. If anything, he sounds more vulnerable than before.
Rust smiles, turns his face so that Marty’s hair brushes his lips. It’s hard to think straight when his addict’s brain is demanding he push for more, more, more. But that’s not what Marty needs or wants, so slowly, Rust begins stringing words together, letting his emotions guide him instead of his intellect. It’s the least he can do for Marty.
“I didn’t leave because of the fight… or because of Maggie… or even because of the case… Those things didn’t help but they were merely convenient excuses when I finally decided to cut and run. I had to get away-” His throat closes around the from you . “It didn’t feel like there was anything here for me anymore except obsession - no Laurie, no you, most likely no job… The only future I could see was bleak… So I ran away and what do you know, that future found me anyway…”
Rust chuckles bitterly. “When I came back, I didn’t expect to survive. I didn’t expect you-”
Marty moves suddenly, his hand coming up to cover Rust’s mouth.
“Fuck, man. Stop. I- I can’t handle this right now. I thought I could but…” There’s a waver in his voice. “Not if you don’t want me crying into your chest. I don’t want to ruin your shirt.”
Rust gently pulls Marty’s hand away, fingers around his wrist. Marty’s pulse races under his fingers and Rust knows it’s not from the dream. “I wouldn’t mind, and anyway, it’s your shirt.”
“Well… I would. So let’s put a pin in this for now. Okay? To be continued.” Marty slides his wrist from Rust’s grasp and laces their fingers together. Something large and unnamable threatens to choke him. Their conjoined hands rest on Rust’s chest.
“Okay,” he whispers into Marty’s hair.
They don’t talk anymore after that, but Rust is pretty sure that neither of them sleeps for a long time.
The television show Marty loves is Game of Thrones.
Chapter 3: a portent of nothing good
Rust struggles with emotion and indecision.
Mentions of what happened between Maggie and Rust (at the very least dubcon).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which Rust admits something to himself, spends quality time alone, revisits Carcosa, takes an uncomfortable phone call, and makes a life-changing decision
Of course they don’t talk about it. In the bright light of morning, they go about their business of getting dressed and fixing breakfast. They move around each other with the practiced ease of those who have shared space for years. The intervening decade doesn’t seem to matter - Rust turns to slide past Marty as they pass in the bedroom doorway, Rust starts the coffee maker while Marty is in the shower, Marty places his hand at the small of Rust’s back when he reaches past him to grab a bowl in the kitchen.
They don’t talk about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Marty had led them to the edge of something life-changing and then left them on the precipice. Rust can hardly breathe, like the words he’d left unsaid are burning up every bit of spare oxygen in his chest.
In the silence of the kitchen - which wasn’t really silence at all with the hum of the air-conditioning, the scrape of Marty’s spoon in his bowl, the rustle of newspaper - Rust sits stiff and still, trying to remember how to be human and not a biochemical collection of norepinephrine, vasopressin, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. His skin buzzes with it even as he tells himself that it’s just a side effect of the previous night’s intimacy.
Love is an illusion , he reminds himself, but then Marty licks his spoon and Rust’s heart insists that it doesn’t matter because life is a series of illusions that we write narratives for in order to create order from the chaos of the sensory input that constantly bombards our senses. He wants and there’s no denying it - real, illusion, or something nebulously in between.
Love may be an illusion but Marty certainly looks damn fine in his suit. Rust doesn’t know what to do with that.
His cereal has gone mushy but Rust forces himself to eat it, because not eating would upset Marty. Not only was the fight not worth it, Rust wants to please Marty. He grips his spoon hard enough for the metal to bite into his palm. It’s not painful but it helps him focus. Marty is going back to work today. That will give Rust the time and the space to get his head on straight.
Across the table from him, Marty looks up from the paper and smiles in that relaxed, boyish way of his. It’s no illusion. “So you still haven’t given me an answer.”
Rust’s pauses with his spoon halfway to his mouth. A drop of milk splashes on the table. He wipes at it with his thumb, but can’t come up with what Marty might be referring to. “I’m sorry?”
“The detective agency. You coming on as my partner. Just like old times,” Marty says with strained cheer. “Well… hopefully not just like old times, but you know what I mean.”
Rust places the spoon back in the bowl, cereal uneaten. He leans his elbows on the table and looks into the depths of the milk as if he could scry the answer there. His instinct is to say no. His desire is to say yes. Right now, his desire is winning.
He looks up and meets Marty’s eye. “Give me the day, yeah?”
Marty’s face does that thing where he’s trying not to show his emotions but it only broadcasts his disappointment louder. He’d been hoping Rust would agree. Which was why it is even more important for Rust to get some distance. He can’t make this decision for Marty’s benefit. He needs to make it for himself.
Because whatever he decides, Rust has to be prepared to deal with the fact that he’s in love with Martin Hart.
“Yeah. Okay. Of course.” Marty looks back down at the paper with unfocused eyes. “Take all the time you need.”
Marty leaves for the storefront shortly after, first pausing by the couch where Rust is reading one of the spy novels he’d found on Marty’s shelves.
“Need anything before I go?”
Rust pretends not to hear the pleading in his tone and gestures vaguely towards the bathroom. “Take my pain pills with you. I don’t trust myself with them.”
Marty doesn’t move, hand frozen on the arm of the sofa until Rust finally looks up at him. There’s a complicated, unreadable expression on the man’s face for a split second, then he’s turning away, retrieving the small, orange bottle from the bathroom, and heading out the door.
“Call me if you think of anything else,” Marty says in lieu of good bye. The door shuts. The lock clicks.
And Rust misses him immediately.
“For fuck’s sake,” he hisses, throwing the paperback down on the coffee table. He heaves himself up off the couch and goes to take a shower.
His reflection in the mirror when he flicks on the light startles him. He keeps forgetting that he cut all his hair off. He leans closer to get a better look. Marty had been near to the truth. If it wasn’t for the fine lines around his eyes and mouth, and the scattering of grey in his hair, Rust looks much like he did back when they’d first worked together.
It makes him uncomfortable. He feels like a completely different person and feels like it should be written clearly on his features. But no, instead it’s written on his body and heart and mind.
He turns off the bathroom light and leaves the door open. It’ll be enough to shower by and he isn’t sure he can face looking at his battle wounds for the first time sober and alone. He strips off his sweats and too-large tee and steps into the shower. The water isn’t scalding like it was the last time, but it’s still hot and he plans on running it completely out because this is the first time he’s had privacy in weeks. A man has needs.
He wastes no time, cupping himself, touch light. After so long, it’s enough to make his breath hitch immediately. It only takes a few teasing passes before he’s hard enough to take himself in hand and give himself a proper stroke. He moans softly, left arm coming up to brace against the tile wall. He may not use all the hot water after all.
He tries to treat it like a function. It’s been quite a few years since he’s fucked anyone and he’s gotten good at rubbing one out. Lust is great and all, but rather annoying and insistent, and Rust has had other concerns on his plate, not to mention the perpetual state of drunkenness he’s numbed himself with for years.
The bathroom smells like the shampoo that Marty uses and Rust can’t help but think about the way Marty’s hair had tickled his lips the other night. God, he had wanted to bury his nose into the top of Marty’s head and inhale. The thought about the warm, comforting weight of the man in his arms, the slight softness of his stomach against Rust’s hip.
In all their years working together, Rust had never seen Marty naked, but he knew from the pheromonal desperation of the women he bedded, that Marty was gifted or skilled or both. It is almost worse that he doesn’t know because when Rust doesn’t know, he fixates.
He strokes himself and wonders how Marty would kiss. He’d only seen him kiss Maggie before with quick, perfunctory pecks on the lips. He wonders what Marty would do if Rust kissed him, soft and lingering.
In his mind, he imagines Marty pulling Rust towards him in bed so they’re chest to chest. He imagines the man shoving a thigh in between Rust’s legs and splaying a strong hand against his lower back so that they’re pressed tight together. He imagines the sweet, slick slide of his tongue against Marty’s, and the slow grind of their erections, neither of them in a rush because they had all the time in the world.
They share a bed. It would be so easy to do. All he’d have to do is roll towards Marty in the middle of the night and-
Rust opens his eyes and kills the thought dead in its tracks. He’s fooling himself. In the best scenario, Marty would push him away and get sputtery and awkward. In the worst, Rust would get kicked out and never spoken to again. And that’s if Marty didn’t decide to hit him. God knew, the man has a decent right hook.
He grits his teeth and focuses on the need to come. He ends up running the hot water out and his orgasm is lackluster, hardly worth the effort, but he doesn’t have to feel guilty about jerking off to the thought of his only goddamn friend in the world.
The only good thing to come of the whole ordeal is in the clarity after, he resolves that when Marty gets home tonight, that he’ll tell him thanks, but no thanks and that he’s moving out as soon as he’s cleared by his doctors. He’s pretty sure Doumain would be happy to let him have his room behind the bar back.
When he steps out of the shower, he turns on the light and carefully rubs ointment into his scars.
Marty hasn’t left clothes out for Rust for the first time since the hospital, so he digs back into the closet and finds jeans from a few years - and probably a good twenty pounds - ago. They ride low on Rust’s hips, which he’s glad for. His scar has begun to itch incessantly despite the care he’s given it.
He’s surprised to find the faded black Division Bell tee still among Marty’s clothes. He pulls it out, just to rub his fingers over it. Just laying hands on it brings back the oppressive heat of that day, the stink of that house, the horror of that place.
But it also holds echoes of the bond that strung tight between Marty and him after that. He pulls it on, fully aware that it’s purely nostalgic choice. He doesn’t care.
He’s careful to get in and out quickly. Even lingering over the shirt feels like it’s bordering on snooping. Marty had been very clear that Rust should make himself at home, but Rust hasn’t ever had a place that felt like home. He feels like an intruder, surrounded by Marty’s things.
In a fit of self-consciousness or act of penance, he makes the bed - unwillingly, he thinks of it as their bed - and then settles back on the couch with his book.
He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he is suddenly back in Carcosa. The nebula swirls ominously above him. Childress stands, arms spread wide in front of a towering, skeletal figure. It has too many arms to make sense - when Rust looks at it, it doesn’t make sense. His brain can’t comprehend the vast depth of it’s depravity - and is draped in cloth the colour of saffron and the taste of old blood and rotten flesh. Rust can’t see under the thing’s hood - your king, little priest , Childress’s voice echoes in his head - and he knows with a bone-deep certainty that he never wants to lay eyes on what that shadow hides.
On the blood-soaked earth at Childress’s feet lies a figure - a body, a sacrifice, something that once was a man. The thing moans and raises his head to look at Rust. Eyes the colour of a hot summer sky plead for his help.
Somewhere in the dark caverns of this hell, bells begin to sound. He knows they’re a portent of nothing good. Blood begins to pour from the man’s mouth, his eyes. He scrabbles at the dirt, trying to reach Rust.
Rust stands there, unable to move. He’s speared low through the gut and held aloft as he watches Marty dying below him. He’s too late, too late-
Too late, little priest.
“Marty!” Rust shouts, sitting up on the couch. His wound screams at him. The novel falls to the ground. The phone is ringing.
He takes a deep breath that doesn’t taste like ozone and dead, fetid things, and staggers to his feet. He stumbles over to the source of the ringing: Marty’s landline. There’s no answering machine connected, but there is a pen and pad. He lays his hand over the handset and takes a second.
You’re at Marty’s. It’s 2012. You survived. You both survived, he tells himself.
He picks up the phone and mumbles, “‘llo?”
There’s a surprised inhale and then, “Rust?”
He recognises Maggie’s voice. The smell of magnolias and homemade pasta sauce flood his senses. Rust shakes his head, trying to pull himself together - away from the past and the darkness of the dream. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yeah.”
“Is Marty there? He’s not answering his cell phone.” Her tone is deliberately casual. Rust can practically hear the gears in her head whirring. He knows the assumptions she’s going to make and isn’t interested in any of them.
“He most likely forgot to charge it. You know Marty.”
“Oh, I know Marty.” There’s an edge to her reply that he ignores.
“Have you tried the office line?”
“I don’t have it. Can you give it to me?” Rust hums his affirmative. “Hold on. Let me get a pen… ok, go.”
He recites the number from memory and Maggie thanks him, actually managing to sound gracious.
“There’s no guarantee that he’ll be there. Do you want me to take a message?”
There’s a pregnant pause. He smirks but also wishes that she’d just say what’s on her mind. “So… you’re staying with Marty? I’d wondered what had happened to you when you disappeared. I figured the bar-”
“Nice of you to worry about me.” He cuts her off. “Yeah, Marty’s looking after me during my convalescence. Figured I should stay close to the hospital, just in case.”
“That’s… I’m happy you guys are getting along again. I still-”
Rust had let Marty have his say because things were different between them. Even at their angriest, there was something between them that could never break. His tie with Maggie had snapped that stupid, drunken night all those years ago when she so cavalierly exploited his friendship and loneliness.
“Listen, Maggie. We aren’t going to talk about this. Now, I don’t mean to be rude but you and I? We don’t have the type of relationship where we can have this conversation. Certainly not the type where you can ask probing questions.” He leaves the not anymore unspoken. It’s clear enough and too many years have passed for Rust to truly be angry with her. But just because he’d let it go doesn’t mean they could go back. It didn’t work like that. Not with them.
“I suppose I deserve that. But can… can I just say one thing?”
“It’s a free country,” Rust answers, drawing out the hackneyed saying. She’s silent for a long time. Rust can almost hear her gathering her thoughts.
“Marty’d never admit this, but you leaving was really hard on him. I know it was harder than he even let me see.” Her tone is almost pleading, plaintive. She wants something from Rust - a specific response or information - but Rust isn’t going to give her jack shit if she’s not willing to ask outright. And maybe not even then.
“Anything else?” he says sharply, dismissively.
“Yes,” the distance is back in her voice, cold and aloof. “If I don’t get ahold of Marty, please tell him to call me back when he gets home. It’s about Audrey’s birthday.”
“Will do, ma’am .” He’s careful to emphasise the title, knowing how much she’ll hate it. She knows that Rust doesn’t respect her. How could he after everything? She sighs in defeat.
“Take care of yourself, Rust. You’ll be coming to the birthday party, of course.” It’s not even a question, but an order.
“Thank you for passing on my message.” She hangs up without preamble. Maggie knows he’s not big on pleasantries and strangely, he appreciates that she’s remembered. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s irritated that she got the last word.
Marty comes home just as the novel is getting good. “Have you moved at all today?”
Rust doesn’t look up from where the Cold War is slowly simmering. “Some detective you are.”
Marty stops next to the couch and plucks at Rust’s shirt sleeve. “Where the hell’d you find this thing? We have got to get you some clothes, man.”
“Had to dig deep. Figured you wouldn’t mind, seeing as it wouldn’t fit you anymore.”
Marty chuckles and honest-to-god ruffles Rust’s hair. Rust has to bite down on the smile that tries to spread across his face. “Are you calling me fat?”
Rust lets his eyes slide up to meet Marty’s, lingering on his midsection, but it turns out that Marty is holding a large pizza box and both of them laugh. “Would you prefer ‘big-boned’?”
Marty plops the box down on Rust’s chest and heads toward the kitchen, pulling off his jacket as he goes. Rust rights himself, placing the pizza on the coffee table. “Hell no! I know I’ve gained weight but I’m still fucking adorable.”
The smell of the pizza reminds Rust that he hasn’t eaten since breakfast. Marty returns with napkins, plates and two beers. He’s smiling - relaxed and happy. The sleeves of his dress shirt are rolled up, exposing forearms that are still muscular.
Rust can’t argue. Marty is adorable.
Marty sits down right next to Rust with a dramatic exhale, thigh pressed up against Rust’s. Marty serves them up a slice on each plate and flips on the TV. His eyes are immediately glued to the screen.
Rust figures this is Marty’s way of unwinding after work so he dutifully eats his slice, then excuses himself to the small balcony off the kitchen with his beer and a cigarette. He’s been trying to limit himself to help promote healing - not to mention that he may suddenly have to deal with the consequences, since he plans on living - but between Marty and Maggie today, Rust needs a damn smoke. He’d spent most of the day thinking about what Maggie had said, without much progress.
Behind him, the glass door slides open and Marty squeezes in beside him. The balcony really is ridiculously tiny. He sets an empty mug on the railing and Rust taps his ash into it. Marty takes a swig of beer.
“What’s on your mind, Rust?” he asks, warm and solid against Rust’s left arm.
Rust chuckles. “Quite a loaded question, that.”
“I was going to say ‘penny for your thoughts’ but that would be severely undervaluing what goes on up there.” Marty leans close and taps a finger against Rust’s temple. “Don’t know if I could afford you.”
Rust smirks at that but chooses not to comment. “Maggie called. I gave her your office number. Did she get ahold of you?”
Marty grunts, humour falling flat, but he leans into Rust. “No. I was out a lot of the day. What’d she say?”
“Firstly…” Rust pauses to take a drag. “She said to charge your fucking cell phone. I can’t believe you’re always forgetting that.”
“That sounds more like you.” Marty bumps their shoulders together. Ash falls from Rust’s cigarette and into the darkness below.
“Yeah, well… I’m not an answering service. Secondly, she wants you to call her about birthday plans.”
Marty turns and cocks his hip against the railing. Rust doesn’t have to look at him to know that he’s sucking in his cheeks, waiting for the real news. “And?”
“And what?” Rust turns a blank face towards Marty. His expression is exactly as expected.
“What did she say about you living here? If I know Maggie, she had an opinion and wasn’t afraid to share it.”
Rust takes another long drag before crushing the butt into the mug. “Managed to cut her off pretty quickly but… she said that my leaving you was hard on you. She right?”
“Fuck…” Marty sighs, turning back to face the night and leaning heavily on his elbows. “Yeah… You could say that.”
Rust steels himself, squinting hard into the distance. For ten years, he’d been imagining Marty as having pretty much forgotten about him - Rust an annoying pit stop in his rearview mirror. “I didn’t know that.”
“Well, now you know.” Marty scrubs a hand over his face.
“Yup.” Rust never expected for Marty to confirm Maggie’s words, let alone so readily. As the day had worn on, he’d weakened and justified and finally come to the conclusion that he can’t leave Marty. Not again. “I’ve decided to join your agency. As soon as I’m cleared for work, I’m yours.”
Marty straightens. “You shittin’ me?”
Rust shrugs and shakes his head, still resolutely facing forward, but he’s suddenly and roughly pulled around into a hug.
“You just made my damn day! I was starting to think that once you’d healed up, you’d disappear on me again.”
He pulls back and looks Marty in the eye. “I considered it. I’m still unsure if this is the right decision but… It’s the one I’m making.”
“That’s- that’s fucking great news.” Marty grips his neck and grins into his face.
“Yeah, well… don’t get too excited. Don’t forget you still have to put up with my ass.”
Marty gently shakes Rust. “I know. I know! I can’t wait.”
A smile forces its way onto Rust’s face. “Good, because Maggie’s invited me to Audrey’s party.”
The book Rust is reading is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. My fandoms are bleeding into one another.
Chapter 4: the weight of things left unsaid
The boys pass the days together. Both change and healing are slow and so often unnoticed.
in which Rust gets a back rub, gets some new clothes, gets out of the house, and gets a check-up
They fall into a comfortable routine. Everyday, Marty goes off to work and Rust putters around the apartment. At first, all he can manage are light chores between naps. His pain pills never reappear in the medicine cabinet and he never asks Marty for them. Even when his gut aches fit to burst, he prefers it to the loose, disjointed, out-of-control feeling they had given him.
Especially since his inhibitions around Marty are being ground down.
On the bad days, when Rust can barely move but the pain makes it impossible to remain still, it’s Marty that soothes him. It happens on accident the first time. It hits him in the middle of the night and Rust tries not to wake Marty. This isn’t the vulnerability of a night terror, this is something far scarier - for Rust, at least, it means being stripped of his inhibitions. He grits his teeth and curls into a ball but it doesn’t help. He sinks his teeth into the heel of his thumb; anything for a distraction.
He still can’t stop the hoarse whines that trickle out from between his lips with each shallow, shuddering breath.
“Rust?” Marty mumbles. His voice is warm and fuzzy from sleep. “You okay?”
No , he thinks but can’t unclench his jaw enough to speak. His whole body aches with tension. The pain radiates out from his navel. It’s like being stabbed all over again.
“Fuuuuck…” he growls, his voice breaking on a gasping sob. He wants to cry but even that small muscle contraction is agony. He turns his face into his pillow and wills himself not to cry. His eyes prickle and he feels suffocated.
“Shhhh…” Marty whispers, hand cool on Rust’s back. Rust realises he’s feverish and trembling. “Breathe, Rust. Just breathe.”
Rust exhales. Marty’s hand strokes up his spine to rest on the back of Rust’s neck.
“Do you need your pills?” Rust makes the smallest shake of his head. He knows he won’t be able to keep his mouth shut if he takes them. Frustration wells up and with it, a renewed crest of agony. He shifts his legs restlessly. “What do you need?”
Marty’s thumb grazes up and down. It feels good. It feels like hours since anything has felt good. Rust nods minutely. Marty understands and runs his fingers up into Rust’s hair, then down and over his shoulders. He traces the delineated ridges of Rust’s ribs, the knobs of his vertebrae, the dip of his lumbar. Rust’s mind clutches ahold of the sensation of Marty’s touch like a lifeline. With each drag of his fingers over Rust’s over sensitive skin, Marty seems to draw away a little more of the discomfort.
Rust doesn’t even realise it’s working until he’s suddenly able to take a full breath.
The aching is still deep in his gut but the tension has bled from the pain, taking away its honed edge. His whole body is heavy with exhaustion, but he doesn’t want to sleep. He doesn’t want to miss this; Marty touching him with such care. Yet sleep pulls at him. He struggles to open his eyes after every blink. He wants to tell Marty to never stop touching him, even if it’s just this - stolen intimacy in the dark.
“Better?” Marty says softly. Rust can feel the his breath on his neck. Marty’s shifted closer while Rust was distracted.
“Yeah,” Rust hisses. His jaw hurts. Marty starts to draw away, and Rust can’t stop himself. He’s weak. “Don’t. Please.”
Marty stops and pushes closer until Rust can feel his body heat, until it feels like Marty is curled around him. “I got you.”
He rests his hand on Rust’s shoulder, thumb idly tracing over his trapezius - up behind Rust’s ear, then back down to dip under the neckline of his shirt. Rust closes his eyes and curls his fingers into the bedding to keep from rolling back into Marty. He inhales and tries to breathe through the pain and the longing.
Rust doesn’t remember falling asleep, but in the morning, Marty hasn’t moved from his protective position. Even his hand is lightly resting against Rust’s back. Rust practically flees the bed because even in the light of day, the urge to push back against the other man chokes him.
As he regains his strength, he begins to help out more. Marty won’t let him work cases but he cleans and cooks. He does Marty’s laundry exactly one time before being forbidden from ever touching a washing machine ever again.
Marty drags Rust clothes shopping the next day. “If you’re going to ruin clothes, might as well be yours. Besides, it’s about time you stop looking like you’re wearing my hand-me-downs.”
Rust bites back saying that he is wearing Marty's hand-me-downs and that he doesn’t mind in the slightest. In fact, he prefers it. That would be hard to explain. The clothes are too small for Marty, but they’re too big for Rust’s frame.
Rust grabs three identical pairs of chinos, a half-dozen white dress shirts, a belt, shoes, and a package of undershirts. When he emerges from the clothing section, Marty takes one look at what he’s selected and pushes him back onto the sales floor. He adds a pair of dark jeans, exchanges a few of the white shirts for coloured ones - especially insisting on a pale blue one.
“Never thought I’d be taking fashion advice from you ,” Rust grumbles and draws the line when Marty tries to include a pink shirt to the pile.
“Every man needs a special occasion shirt,” Marty says emphatically, holding the sky-coloured garment up in front of Rust as if to envision him in it. “And believe me when I say: this is a special occasion shirt.”
“What special occasion?” Rust grumbles but buys the blue shirt anyway. Secretly, he thinks it would look better on Marty. Marty buys himself the pink one.
The days pass in similarly varied ways. The nights, however, don’t change. Most of the time they fall asleep and wake up on their respective sides of the bed. There’s never a hard line that separates them; two bodies comfortably sharing a space. Neither one of them moves a lot in their sleep. But on the nights where one of them is dragged back into Carcosa, that space between them disappears and they end up in each other’s arms. It’s understood that it’s for comfort, for grounding. Nothing is said.
The weight of the things left unsaid has no place between them in the dark.
Rust begins to think that Marty may never be ready to hear what he has to say. The larger part of him is just fine with that - they’ve reached a comfortable homeostasis that’s workable - but there’s a small niggling part of him that burns hard and hot, a coal at the center of his beating heart. That part is desperate for confession. He pushes it deep, hiding it away, afraid that it could ruin everything.
Three weeks after leaving the hospital, Rust deems himself fit enough to drive his truck to an auto shop. Marty comes home and stands, hands on hips, and watches silently as Rust replaces his broken left tail light. Rust tries to ignore him but he’s gotten used to greeting Marty when he gets home.
“I can almost hear your thoughts from here. It’s annoying. Got something to say, Hart?” he asks softly, slotting the new fixture into place.
“Just wondering why you waited until now.” Rust can hear the way Marty is sucking on his teeth, working the question around in his mouth. He lowers his head and smiles to himself. When had Marty’s habits become so goddamn endearing?
Rust tightens the bolts before answering. He has to temper the tone of his voice so that Marty doesn’t examine why Rust had left the damage like this in the first place. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever tell Marty that the damn tail light had been a reminder to Rust to keep his distance. Every time he’d weakened in those ten years, he could only get as far as glimpsing his truck before he turned back. He doesn’t want you , that damage said. He hates you.
“Felt like it was time to leave that chapter behind me,” Rust says in an offhand way. “By the way, what kind of man doesn’t have a toolbox?”
“The kind that doesn’t know how to fix anything.”
Another minute of silence passes. Rust feels like he’s holding his breath. Then Marty comes up behind him and lays a hand on Rust’s shoulder, lingering.
“I’ll get dinner started. Don’t be too long,” Marty says, squeezing Rust’s shoulder before leaving.
It’s around this time that cabin fever hits Rust hard. He cleans the apartment top-to-bottom, then smokes his way through the rest of the pack from the hospital while standing, hunched over like a vulture on Marty’s balcony. He’s drawn the pack out nearly a month and he’s almost sad to see it go. It had felt special; the only gift Marty had ever given him.
Before Carcosa, he’d have drunk this feeling away. Before that, he’d have exercised and bloodhounded DBs and cold cases. Going back any further was useless, because that was Crash and drugs and weeks that were little more than holes in his mind. And Rust tried very hard not to tread the well-worn ground in his memories where he was a person who was married with a kid. The man from that time was a stranger; as good as dead.
He’d wanted to die so many times in those years after, starting with drinking himself into a stupor in front of Notre Dame and ending with Marty cradling his head in some place in-between the real world and oblivion.
He decides that if he stays in this apartment, the only thing that’s going to happen is he’s going to drive himself crazy thinking about the past. He doesn’t want Marty to come home to him in this headspace. Marty deserves better than that.
He locks the door behind him, nothing but the spare key and the emergency twenty Marty had left for him. Rust found the habit endearing if a little condescending. It’s obvious that Marty doesn’t know Rust has a savings and a pension he hasn’t touched since ‘02. His hands-off treatment of the accounts means he came through the recession in great shape.
He turns his feet in the direction of a gas station with the mind that he’ll get more cigarettes and a six pack. He needs the exercise. He needs room to think. He’s been given a clear, beautiful day where half the world is sky and there’s plenty of room for his thoughts to stretch out.
The trouble starts after he’s purchased his Camels and Lone Star. The station had been further than he’d estimated. He has to stop at a small park and rest on a bench. He’s winded just from walking. The added weight of the twelve-pack enough to make the stroll into a slog.
He watches the kids in the playground and feels a stab of emotional pain so acute that it’s nearly physical. He lays down on the bench and looks up at the blue of the sky. It’s the same colour as Marty’s eyes.
He wishes he could crack open the beers here, but even as the thought crosses his mind, he recognises it as the thought of an addict. Why had he thought beer was a good idea when he was stuck in the past like this and the memories were itching under his skin?
He ignores the urge to scratch at the feelings, knowing that nothing good will come of it. He closes his eyes and feels the movement of the sun against them. It’s much like how it feels having Marty around. Its warmth and calming effect lulls him into a meditative state. There’s not a thought in his head other than a general sense of contentment. Not even his stomach is bothering him. He may even doze off for a bit.
When an influx of kids shows up - school’s out , he thinks, which makes it 3:30 or so. Maybe 4:00 - he sits up with a groan and continues back home. Marty’s car is in the lot and Rust smiles, glad to not be returning to an empty apartment, but as soon as he opens the door, he knows he’s miscalculated.
“Jesus, fuck! There you are!” Marty strides towards him, tossing the phone in his hand aside where it bounces on the couch. He gathers Rust into a rough hug, pinning Rust’s arms to his sides, the bag with the six pack under his arm digging into his ribs. Rust silently curses not being able to embrace Marty back, but lightly touches the man’s side with his free hand.
“Ah- Marty? Where did you imagine I’d gone?”
Marty pulls back, rubbing Rust’s arms. “I don’t know. I don’t know, man. I just-”
He drops his hands and takes a step back self-consciously. Rust goes around him and calmly puts the beer in the fridge. He knows Marty isn’t saying what he means, but that he’ll get there if it’s important enough.
Sure enough, Marty trails him into the kitchen. “When I came home and the place was spotless and empty, I thought… maybe…”
Rust had expected detective paranoia but not this. “Did you think I’d disappear on you like that? Did you not notice my truck out front?”
Marty rubs the back of his neck and shrugs, pointedly not looking at Rust. “Look, I don’t know. I just got home and… I didn’t know what to think. I panicked.”
“I’m sorry.” It fair, he knows. It’s definitely something that Rust would have done in the past: disappearing without warning. He had done it in the past. “I was climbing the walls in here and decided to take a quick walk, which turned into more of a long rest in a park. I overestimated my stamina.”
Marty looks up, looking embarrassed. “Well, that’s understandable. Just… let me know next time? Write me a note, something. I worry.”
Rust walks over to Marty, pausing next to him and bumping their shoulders together. “You keep this up, I’ll get to thinking you care.”
“Ass,” Marty mutters, bumping him back. “Now, dinner?”
Rust wasn’t planning on making a follow-up appointment with his doctor - medical care without insurance is expensive - , but Marty sticks his nose in and arranges it for him. Rust is pretty sure he calls in a favour from Maggie, but if he does, at least he’s discreet about it. Marty insists on accompanying him. Rust is hopeless against the man’s wide, hopeful eyes. At least he manages to negotiate another steak dinner out of it.
“Fine, but you’re staying in the waiting room.”
The day of the appointment, Marty stands in the corner of the exam room where Rust sits topless on the exam table. Marty hasn’t seen him like this since that first day and Rust can feel the man’s eyes like fingers as they trace the line of his scar. He shivers and is glad for the excuse of the cold examination room.
The doctor prods at the edges, pleased and nodding.
“Far less scarring than I expected. Have you been taking supplements? Using a cream?” Marty gives Rust a smug look over the doctors head.
“Yeah, someone recommended both.”
“You’ve taken really good care of this.”
“I’ve had help,” Rust replies, raising his eyebrows and inclining his head at Marty in acknowledgement of his role in the praise. The doctor looks up in time to see the two communicating. She glances back at Marty.
“Well, whatever your partner’s doing, it’s helping.” She rolls away from the exam table on her stool, pulling off her gloves and flicking through Rust’s chart. “It’s good to see you’re up into the healthy weight range too.”
Marty winks at the word partner and Rust rolls his eyes. “Likes his food, ol’ Marty.”
“Who you calling old?” Marty jokes. “Bet I could still whip your ass.”
“That was a draw, as I remember it.” Rust smiles, glad that they can talk like this.
The doctor’s eyes crinkle warmly, looking between the two of them. “Maybe you can return the favor and help him work off a few pounds.”
She looks down at her notes and scribbles something. Marty gives Rust an exaggerated, lewd look. “Yeah, Rust. If you think you’re up to it.”
Rust schools his face and looks away. He knows he should laugh - Marty’s joking after all - but all he can think about is the litany of ways Marty and him could burn through some calories.
“Go ahead and get dressed, Mr. Cohle. Everything looks good- really good. I’m clearing you for light work for the next few months. The main thing is to listen to your body. It’ll tell you what you can and cannot handle.” She closes the file and meets Rust’s eyes. “Do you have any questions for me?”
Rust’s brain is still stuck on the idea of Marty. Marty naked. Marty naked with him. Calories burning, neurons firing- He wonders if he’s healed enough to- He grimaces at himself. Sobriety has brought his sex drive back with a vengeance.
“No, ma’am,” he manages, shrugging on his shirt and buttoning it up.
“Great. If you think of anything or there are any complications, call, but otherwise, you should count yourself damn lucky.”
Marty and Rust immediately look at each other. Luck had nothing to do with it.
Back in Marty’s car, Rust jiggles his knee until Marty reaches over and presses a heavy hand down on it. “Spit it out.”
Rust rolls his thoughts over in his mouth, not liking the taste of them. He lets them out anyway. “I’ll have to start looking for an apartment.”
“I suppose,” Marty responds slowly. “But there’s certainly no rush. If you haven’t noticed, I like having you around.”
It’s as close as they’ve come to acknowledging what happens between them in the dark of night. Rust doesn’t say anything but he knows he needs to move out. Marty’s hand stays steady on Rust’s knee the entire way home. It’s the first time Rust wishes Marty wouldn’t touch him. It makes all of this so much harder.
The next day’s a Friday and Rust is ready to go into work with Marty, but he convinces Rust that he should start fresh on Monday. It doesn’t bother Rust - he’ll use Friday to look at what’s available in the area and the the weekend to see places in person. He’ll be in a new place before next week's out - but the declaration seems out of character for Marty.
“That’s a completely arbitrary decision,” Rust sighs in the dark. They’re laying opposite each other in bed. Marty’s on his back. “I thought you were excited to get me working.”
“Fine, you caught me. I’ve got some things I want to get together at the office since you’re staying.” Marty huffs dramatically. “It was going to be a surprise but noooo… Rustin Cohle, super detective.”
Even though they can’t truly see each other, all it takes is Marty rolling his head in Rust’s direction to get them laughing. Rust can make out the curve of Marty’s smile. Every fibre of his being wants to cross the space between them and tuck up close against Marty’s side. He thinks - no, he knows - that Marty would let him. Rust loves when the man gets into these effusive moods, when even his irritation at Rust is turned quickly into amusement.
Marty’s chuckle fades. “You know, if you had asked me where I’d see us in ten years back in the day… before everything… I would have never guessed this.”
“What? Sharing a bed and giggling like two girls at a sleepover?” Rust slides his hand to rest halfway between them.
“Yeah, man. Hell, if you’d asked me a few months ago…” Marty trails off, back to looking at the ceiling. “You want to know what the real head-fuck is?”
Rust doesn’t answer. He knows Marty will get to the answer when he's ready. While he waits, he studies the faint shape of the man’s profile. Remember this , he tells himself. Remember this for the dark times.
“I’d have sworn up and down that you’d still be in my life. Didn’t think there was any getting rid of you back then.” Marty’s voice is soft and sad. “Guess it was one of those cases of be careful what you wish for.”
“You still a wishin’ man, Marty?” Rust hates that it comes out sounding like a jibe.
Marty rolls onto his side. His hand bumps into Rust’s, but he doesn’t withdrawal. He slides his fingers over Rust’s palm and lets them linger there.
“I don’t see the harm in wishin’, s’long as it’s not the only thing you do. Gotta force the world to give you most things. Lotta hard work. Lotta time.” He squeezes Rust’s hand. “Still, a little wishin’ can be a good thing to keep ya goin’.”
Rust turns the words over in his head. He’s not sure if he agrees. For him wishing and hoping are all wrapped up with each other, and they’d never given him anything but trouble. His policy is to expect the worse and appreciate whatever comes his way. He tightens his fingers around Marty’s.
Despite this, he’s glad to see that so much of Marty’s denial has been wrung out of him in the past decade. Rust can see the scars that the long, painful process left behind though. He’s glad of the changes but knows that the process couldn’t have been pleasant. Getting to know oneself never truly is; not for men like them.
He wonders what would have happened if he’d stayed. Would they have been able to get past everything - the chasm, the lies, the betrayal, the fight, the years of friction? Rust doesn’t think so - not with his stubbornness and Marty’s temper - but there’s no way of knowing now.
Rust had run. Marty had stayed.
“I’m sorry,” he says. The word slips out.
“Now, don’t get me wrong but… what exactly are you apologising for there, Rust?”
“Leaving. I should-”
“Nah, it was a good thing. Forced me to get the fuck over myself. We’d have probably killed each other had you stayed.” Marty shifts closer into no-man’s-land. “Besides, we wouldn’t have this. Save your apologies for the things you can change. Sorries are like wishes.”
Rust had never known Marty to turn down a chance to gloat. “That’s some profound shit, Hart.”
“I know, right? You might have rubbed off on me after all.”
Rust knew he had. All those years of relentless nihilism had left their mark, just as Marty’s foolish optimism had on him, and the ten years apart had scarred them both. Maybe that’s why they fit back together so well. “Well, whatever happened… I really like the man you turned into.”
“Shucks, partner. You’re going to make me blush,” Marty says, playing up his accent. It’s ridiculous the way it makes Rust smile. Everything about them nowadays is vaguely ridiculous.
Rust wouldn’t give it up for the world.
Chapter 5: more noise than form
Rust prepares to leave. Marty throws a wrench in his plans, not that he's complaining.
This is the chapter that earns the E rating. ;)
non-consensual kiss (followed by enthusiastic consent)
reference to the way things ended in 2002, re: Maggie's assault and The Fight
explicit reference to Rust's past suicidal ideation
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which Rust cooks, Marty means it, and the boys share the bed, the couch and the shower
Marty slips out early the next morning and Rust wakes to an empty bed. He’s briefly disappointed to have missed their morning routine, but then heaves himself out of bed. Despite the doctor giving him the go-ahead, Rust knows he still has weeks of megre stamina to look forward to, but today, he has shit to do.
Besides the apartment hunt, Rust wants to make dinner for Marty. He knows that once he’s gone, the man’s going to go back to microwavable meals and fast food. He wants to do something tangible for Marty for everything he’s done, and filling his freezer with homemade easy reheat food seems just the thing.
After a trip to the grocery store, Rust hauls the ingredients inside from his truck. He’s careful to make multiple trips and even that has him breathing hard. His fingers twitch, desperate for a cigarette but he distracts himself with cooking instead. He silently vows to get back to a workout routine as soon as he’s able.
He knows Marty thinks of Rust as just as much of a bachelor as he is, but it isn’t so much that Rust can’t cook, it’s more that he rarely bothers. He’d always felt like it was a bit futile to put much effort cooking for only himself. What he knew how to make wasn’t fancy, but it was good. You didn’t grow up in a community of mostly single men without learning how to feed yourself well.
He makes traditional lasagne, baked ziti, enchiladas, and a few assorted casseroles. He’d noticed a slow cooker tucked back in a cabinet during his first week and now he freezes containers of ingredients for white chili, brunswick stew, gumbo, and jambalaya. He figures that even Marty can’t fuck up setting the appliance to cook in the morning. Marty would eat like a king for weeks after Rust moved out.
After hours of cooking, Rust steps back and surveys the kitchen. Single-use aluminum pans are cooling on every available inch of counter space. There’s a brisket in the oven for tonight. The only thing Rust has left to do is wait.
Well, not quite.
He glances over his shoulder were the local papers are waiting for him. No use putting it off any longer. He settles himself down on the couch and opens to the ‘For Rent’ section. He’s appalled by how much higher rents are now. He circles a few of the lower-priced options, while bitterly thinking that he’d sleep in his storage unit if it wasn’t guaranteed to give Marty a coronary.
He ends up with eight numbers to call. Whittles them down to five after talking to landlords or rental companies. Only three are available immediately so he schedules viewings for this weekend. He looks down at the short list and just knows Marty is going to want to tag along. He isn’t sure if he’s glad for the company or dreading Marty’s judgement. A little a both.
He leaves the papers and the list on the bar, spends a few minutes sealing up food and stacking it in the freezer, then it’s back to the couch. He’s slowly worked his way through Marty’s collection of spy thrillers over the last few weeks but now the choices were growing slim. Although the current novel he’s trudging through isn’t slim in any way. It’s so big that it’s difficult to read while laying on the couch. He thinks that maybe he’ll get a library card while they’re out and about this weekend. He’s mulling over how he feels about putting down roots here again just before he drifts off, the book still closed and resting on his chest.
He dreams about Marty; feverish, disjointed, heated visions that cause him to wake up breathless when a cool palm cups his cheek. He tenses up and blinks, trying to drag himself up from the dream and into reality, but it’s one of those stubborn, clinging afternoon naps that refuses to let go easily. He struggles up onto his elbows, heaving in deep breaths. The hardback thumps heavily to the floor.
“Hey, hey… it’s just me.” Marty’s sitting on the edge of the couch. “You looked like you might be having a nightmare.”
“No,” he says, the word coming out more noise than form. He turns his head and presses his hot forehead into Marty’s touch. He can still feel Marty’s hands on him from the dream, knows that he’s probably visibly hard, but in his grogginess, he can’t seem to care. Lust is coiled like liquid fire low in his belly and he wantswantswants with a ferocity that leaves him weak and breathless.
Marty’s hand slides around to cup the back of neck. Rust swallows down a sigh at the touch. Instead he blinks rapidly and meets Marty’s eyes. “You with me?”
He’s much closer than Rust had first realised; sky blue eyes concerned and sharp. Rust is gripping Marty’s bicep like it’s a lifeline. Images from his dream flash to the forefront: the weight of Marty on top of him, oxygen stolen by Marty’s mouth and touch.
“Marty…” Rust can hear all the things he’s been trying to hide in that single syllable. Marty’s mouth draws into a serious line that Rust barely has time to register before the man leans into his space - leans right up close - and presses his lips gently against Rust’s mouth.
For a fraction of a second, he thinks he must still be dreaming, but then Marty is pulling back. Rust doesn’t get a chance to react. Marty ducks his eyes and retreats. He nearly flees. In his shock, Rust’s hold goes limp, allowing Marty to escape. He’s on his feet and down the hall to the bedroom before Rust’s mind can even conjure up a response.
He touches his fingers to his lips, the world coming into focus. He can barely remember the kiss, but- Marty had kissed him. Rust gets up, legs shaky underneath him and follows Marty. He knows that if they don’t address this now, it’s bound to go sideways on them and fast. Because it’s Marty that kissed him. That means something.
Please let it mean something .
Marty’s standing in the middle of the bedroom, unmoving in the dim light. He’s removed his jacket but has stalled. He’s staring at the bed, shoulders squared as if he’s waiting for Rust’s recriminations. Rust comes up beside him and touches his elbow. Marty turns toward him, words already spilling from his lips.
“Hey, man. I’m- I’m sor-”
“Don’t,” Rust says, an edge to his voice. “If you’re really sorry, I’ll let you apologise and we can forget all about it, but if you meant that, don’t fucking chicken out on me. I’ll never forgive you.”
Marty slowly raises his eyes, sad and hopeful and fuck him- Rust could hardly resist that look back before everything. He steps closer, sliding an arm around Marty’s waist. He mirrors Marty’s earlier kiss - gentle, chaste - before pulling back. Marty’s hands are on his hips, touch light as if he isn’t sure he’s allowed this. His eyes are shut tight.
“I meant it. I mean it. I think- I think I’ve wanted-” Marty’s breath is hot against Rust’s cheek as the man leans closer, nearly nuzzles against Rust’s skin. Rust turns his head and Marty meets him halfway, his thought lost as their mouths slot against one another.
Rust’s heart pounds hard enough he can hear his pulse. Marty kisses like he does most everything else: instinctively, a little clumsily, but with absolute earnestness. It only takes a moment before Marty presses a hand between Rust’s shoulder blades, the other tangles in Rust’s hair. It’s been far too long since Rust has kissed anyone but kissing Marty- well, it feels almost familiar.
Home , his endorphins fizz giddily.
Rust’s mind buzzes with the contact, with the knowledge that it’s Marty . He grips Marty’s hair and tugs softly, earning a low moan that lets him slide his tongue into the man’s mouth. Marty opens to him, tilting his head and pulling him closer. Marty is hard against his hip. Rust shifts, wanting to feel him, wanting to be felt. Marty tentatively rocks his erection into Rust and Rust meets him, eliciting a rushing exhale from Marty.
He’s seconds away from pushing Marty back and onto the bed when something starts beeping down the hallway. Marty pulls back, breaking the kiss. He looks dazed.
“Well, shit,” Marty rasps, drawing out the expletive into something more like shee-it .
“S’dinner,” Rust mutters, feeling a little dazed himself.
“Wasn’t talkin’ ‘bout that.” A slow smile lights Marty’s face. He turns them and unceremoniously shoves Rust onto the bed. He looks Rust up and down, blatant and heated. “I’ll get it. Don’t you go anywhere.”
Rust watches as Marty disappears down the hall, then he lets his head fall back to stare at the ceiling. He considers scrambling out of his clothes but uncertainty prickles at the edges of his mind. He closes his eyes and thinks about the way Marty had moaned into his mouth, like he wanted Rust just as badly as Rust wants him. He cups his erection through his jeans, pressing his palm down in a slow stroke. He thinks about Marty’s hands doing this and he can’t help but roll his hips up into the touch. Fuck .
“Jesus Christ, you’re enough to give a man a heart attack,” Marty says from the doorway. Rust opens his eyes and looks at him through his lashes. He doesn’t remove or still his hand and Marty’s gaze flicks down to watch as Rust touches himself. It sends a thrill through Rust and he falls back on old habits.
“I think you’re mistaking me for all those fast food meals you’ve eaten.”
“Now, see? Why’d you have to go and insult me like that. I was tryna to compliment you.” Marty walks towards the bed, unbuttoning his shirt as he approaches. “You may be pretty, but you’re still a cantankerous son of a bitch.”
Marty tugs the shirt from his slacks and kneels on the bed. Rust sits up and pushes it from his shoulders. He needs to see more. He needs to get his hands on Marty’s skin. “Yeah, well, I’m startin’ to think it’s a big part of why you like me.”
Marty grips Rust’s chin in his fingers and looks at him hard. His tone is exasperated. “Like you? Like you? ”
Rust’s chest tightens with the pressure of the words he wants to say, but no- He moves his head out of Marty’s grasp and bites his thumb lightly, fingers deftly unbuckling Marty’s belt. “You don’t have to like me to fuck me.”
Marty chuckles, swiping his thumb over Rust’s bottom lip. Rust wonders if Marty realises that he’s licking his own lip as he does this. “Some detective you are. You’re headed in the wrong direction.”
Rust pauses and waits for Marty to look at him. “I know.”
Marty kisses him again, bearing him down onto the mattress, and what do you know? This feels familiar too. Rust yanks Marty’s undershirt up and runs his hands over his stomach and chest. “Off.”
Marty reaches back and pulls the shirt off in one motion. It gets tossed carelessly aside. Marty doesn’t stop there. He shoves his pants and boxers down, kicking off his shoes. Rust props himself up on his elbows and stares. His mind catalogues everything he sees, answering all the questions he’s ever had about what he was missing. Marty is solid and thick everywhere .
Rust has absolutely no complaints but rather a quickly compiling list of demands. The things I could do to you, Marty Hart.
“Little eager, are we?” Rust teases, making sure to let his eyes linger. He wants Marty to know he likes what he sees. When he meets Marty’s gaze, the man blushes and shrugs, then reaches for Rust’s fly.
“Been a while,” Marty admits, voice husky. He unfastens Rust’s jeans and tugs. Rust lifts his hips and they quickly join the pile on the floor. Marty runs his hands up Rust’s legs. “More than a while. You have no idea-”
Rust meets his eye. “I have some idea.”
“Christ, Rust…” Rust reaches down and pulls Marty up to him, bracketing his hips with his knees. He expects Marty to settle down onto him - anticipates it, even - but he stays levered up on his elbows and knees even as he kisses Rust.
Rust runs his hands down Marty’s back and grabs his ass, urging him to lower himself. Rust is half desperate to feel him. Marty huffs out a breath and turns his head. Rust kisses his temple. “Something wrong?”
He’s convinced that it will be a gay crisis or Marty questioning the sensibility of this but Marty pulls back, looking a little embarrassed. “I don't want to hurt you."
Rust grunts, half in exasperation and half in amusement. "At this point, Marty, you'll hurt me more if you don't fucking touch me."
He grabs Marty’s face and kisses him hard. “I’m not going to break.”
Marty smiles against Rust’s mouth, then looks down at him with a particular mix of fondness and disbelief. “I know that better than anyone.”
He runs a hand into Rust’s hair and pulls his head back. Rust arches his neck and moans despite himself. His voice is hoarse when he tries to cover. “Then get the fuck on with it.”
Marty chuckles low against Rust’s neck, trailing kisses down. Rust can feel Marty’s breath through the cotton of his tee shirt. “Don’t rush me. Not often I get someone so pretty in my bed. I aim to enjoy myself.”
Marty moves steadily down, releasing Rust’s hair. He stops at the hem of the shirt where it’s rucked up to his belly button and brushes his lips along the line where it exposes Rust’s skin. Rust grabs at Marty's head, trying desperately to resist guiding him exactly where he wants him. This is Marty-fucking-Hart, after all. If Rust were to shove the man into this, he’s likely to balk. But when Rust looks down at Marty, Marty licks his lips. Rust moans. He can feel the moist heat of Marty’s breath on his cock. So fucking close.
"What’re you doing? Tryna kill me?”
“M’touching you.” Marty noses at the hem of his shirt. “You shy, Rust?”
Marty’s expression is pure challenge but his words niggle far too close to home. Fuck it , he thinks. Marty has already seen the worst of it - the worst of him . He pulls his shirt up and struggles out of it. Marty’s hands skim up his sides before he even has it over his head. His breath hitches, half in ticklishness and half in startling lust.
Marty meets Rust when he emerges from the neck hole, kissing him deeply and helping pull the shirt the rest of the way off. There’s a desperation and passion to the kiss that leaves Rust reeling.
“What was that for?” he pants when Marty finally comes up for air.
“Trust,” Marty answers simply, pressing his lips to the corner of Rust’s mouth.
Rust brushes their lips together. “Sap.”
“Yup,” Marty says brightly, moving down and settling between Rust’s legs. His stomach presses against Rust’s erection, eliciting a groan. “And happy to be one.”
He breathes against the ragged end of the scar at the bottom of Rust's rib cage. He flashes a grin up at Rust, then there’s the briefest wet touch of tongue against the skin there.
“You’re also a fucking tease.” Rust pushes at Marty’s shoulder, knees tight against his sides. He grunts with effort but manages to flip them around so that he’s looking down at Marty.
Marty laughs easily, his grin like the sun. “You going to show me how it’s done then, Rust?”
Rust lingers with his hand still gripping Marty's right shoulder. He swipes his thumb over the scar tissue there, noting the change in texture, and makes a promise to himself to revisit the spot later. Then he shifts down so he’s astride Marty's hips and settles. The laughter fades from Marty’s lips but the way he’s looking at Rust is downright fond, even as he reaches down and circles his hand around both their cocks.
Rust curls over, his breath rushing out of him all at once. “Fuck…”
“Yeah, that’s the idea,” Marty wheezes. He cups his free hand around the back of Rust’s neck. “Com’ere.”
Rust surrenders, elbows coming down hard on either side of Marty’s head and kissing him like it’s the last thing he’ll ever do in this world. Marty strokes them, hand impeded slightly by their stomachs. It’s good - more than good - but Rust is out of patience. He reaches down and pulls Marty’s hand away. He slides his legs down until he’s lying fully on top of Marty.
Marty breaks the kiss long enough to whisper, “Fuck, baby…”
A shiver shudders over Rust’s scalp and down his back; leaves a sweet taste at the back of his mouth. Marty uses his newly free hand and grips Rust’s ass. They grind against each other, then settle into a slow, simmering rhythm. It’s not enough and far too much for Rust. He breaks the kiss and tucks his face into Marty’s neck.
“God, Rust… yeah… just like- fuck - like that,” Marty whispers. He moves his other hand down, fingers trailing the path of Rust’s spine and join his effort to pull Rust harder against him.
Sparks flare and gather - hot, heavy and tight . Marty , he mouths against the skin of Marty’s neck. “ Oh- ”
The orgasm takes him by surprise and he shakes with the force of it. Marty keeps ahold of him, thrusting up against him a few more times before coming with a soft grunt. Rust breathes unsteadily into Marty’s neck until he feels able to support his own weight, then he roles off Marty and onto his back.
“Fuck, that was-” Marty says, but doesn’t finish the thought.
“Unexpected?” Rust ventures, accent thick and voice slurred. He feels wrung out in the most delightful way. He’s missed sex.
“Amazing,” Marty sighs, pulling Rust against his side and burying his nose in Rust’s hair. “And yeah, a little unexpected. Although, I’d hoped…”
Rust barks a laugh. “You and me both.”
Marty inhales. “Yeah?”
“You don’t even want to know.” Marty makes a noise like he does want to know, but Rust cuts him off. “And that’s not even the best news.”
“What’s the best news?”
Rust twists to look at Marty. “We have a roast waiting for us.”
“Well, shit,” Marty says, other arm coming around to gather Rust closer so he can kiss him gently. “You sure do know how to spoil a man.”
Marty cleans them up with his undershirt, then tosses a clean pair of boxers at Rust. The man is all smiles, shooting shy glances at Rust as they get put back together and on their feet.
“You going doe-eyed on me, Hart?” Rust says after pulling on one of Marty’s shirts. He only says it because he’s having a hard time not looking right back at Marty. He’s looking warm and comfortable in grey sweatpants. He doesn’t even bother with underwear and Rust can’t help but note that will make access easier later.
He has to blink at his assumption that there’s going to be a next time.
Marty grabs the front of the shirt, looks at it consideringly, and then pulls him close. Rust goes along with it, still a little taken aback by the sudden leap over the long-established space between them. Marty doesn’t kiss him though. He noses along Rust’s jaw, presses his lips to Rust’s neck behind the hinge, and mutters, “I just may be. Yeah. Got a problem with that?”
Marty pulls back, expecting an answer. Rust sucks in his cheeks and looks away. He considers Marty’s words, what it means to the man- what it means for him. The Marty of ten years ago, Rust would worry was blinded by romanticism. He glances back at Marty - this Marty of here and now - and despite the obvious afterglow on his face, his eyes are sober. Marty means this.
“Reckon I don’t,” he drawls finally, something in the back of his mind relaxing into the idea of this . Them . Us . “N’fact, might be I like the idea.”
This earns him a slow smile, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. Rust can almost feel the heat of it on his skin. He hardly feels worthy, but wants to close his eyes and bathe in it. Instead, he lets the corners of his lips quirk up. Marty had made his choice and far be it for him to question his decision. If anyone knew what he was in for, it was Marty.
And right now, Marty was looking at him like he’d won the goddamn lottery.
“Come on, Cohle. Let’s eat. We’ve earned it.”
Rust quickly throws together a salad while Marty sits at the dinner table, talking about everything and nothing: his day, Rust starting work on Monday, how good it was to come home to dinner like this, how it was even better to come home to Rust.
Rust leans over the bowl of salad and clears his throat. “Actually, Marty. Now that you mention it… I’ve got some viewings this weekend. For apartments.”
The silence that falls over the kitchen is like the calm before the storm. He can smell the ozone in the air. He turns and leans back against the cabinets. Marty’s face is as dark as he’s ever seen it.
“You gotta be fucking kidding me.” He clenches his jaw hard, sucking on his teeth.
“I’m listening. That’s the goddamn problem, I’m listening,” Marty growls, getting up a good head of steam. Rust turns back toward the countertop. He clenches a hand into a fist and presses it down against the counter.
“No, Marty. You have yet to listen to anything I have to say about what’s happened.” He can barely hear himself. He presses two fingers to his pulse and finds it racing. God, he’d feared this, but never thought it’d come apart at the seams so-
Marty touches his shoulder, close to his neck. Rust jumps - he hadn’t heard the man approach - but he turns into the contact. Marty slides the hand to the back of Rust’s neck as he pivots and pulls him into an embrace. It takes Rust a moment before he remembers to hug Marty back.
“Sorry. I’m sorry.” Marty massages Rust’s neck, presses his mouth against the hollow of his temple. “Here, let me help you bring the food to the table and you’ll talk. I’ll listen.”
Marty steps back, grabs the salad and drags Rust along with him by the hand. They settle down at the table. Rust leans back in his chair and watches Marty serve up the food. His jaw is still working but not in anger. It’s the way Marty looks when he’s chewing through his feelings on something. He goes to grab them both a beer and the salad dressing before sitting himself down.
Marty picks up his knife and fork, and gestures toward Rust. “You’re right. I got to say my piece weeks ago. I want to hear what you have to say.”
Rust quirks an eyebrow, still thrown by the whiplash of emotion. “Even if you aren’t going to like it?”
“Especially then,” Marty says stubbornly.
Rust closes his eyes and bows his head. He remembers Marty’s thick voice begging him to stop, his palm salty over his mouth.
“You going to cry on me?” he asks, cracking open his eyes and looking at Marty through his lashes.
“Can’t promise I won’t. I’ve gotten somewhat sentimental in my old age.” Marty’s tone is light but Rust knows enough now to know that’s when Marty is most likely telling an uncomfortable truth.
“This-” he gestures between them with two fingers. “For my part, the seed has been there since the beginning.”
Marty takes a drink and Rust waits for a reaction. After he swallows, he coughs. “I- I didn’t know.”
“By design. It wouldn’t have worked. I knew that. Besides the fact that you were married, I never thought- Look, I knew it was a fruitless… inclination. It meant next to nothing other than-” Rust leans forward and picks up his utensils. He pokes ineffectively at the roast as he falls back into memories of the past.
It had meant something. It was why he couldn’t love Laurie. It was the cause of so much of their tension, because Rust couldn’t resist needling Marty, like his feelings were the other man’s fault.
Marty taps his foot under the table so that Rust looks at him. “I wanna know.”
“It was the reason I stayed for so long, until… until it was the reason I left. I couldn’t stand the way you looked at me after- fuck, Marty. You know how I don’t give a fuck what people think about me.” He stops pushing his food around his plate and glances up. He can see that Marty heard what wasn’t said.
I care what you think.
Rust spears some meat and pops it into his mouth, talking around it. “Not trying to flatter you, just trying to paint you a picture as to what it took to get me back here.”
They eat in silence for a while, Marty chewing thoughtfully before saying anything. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were in-”
Rust holds up his knife and points it at Marty without much vehemence behind his words. “Now’s not the time for reductionist platitudes, okay?”
“Fine, man. Fine. Didn’t mean nothing by it. Would never dream of speaking for you.” Marty goes back to his food. “Please, continue.”
“Before you get a big head, let me make it clear: I didn’t come back for you, but-” Marty nods but Rust doesn’t miss the cocky smirk. Rust grabs his beer and gulps down half of it. “But you did figure into my decision. Wasn’t even sure if I was hoping for our paths to cross again or not.”
“I thought I was going to die.” Hell, he’d expected to die - planned on it even. If the case didn’t kill him, Rust had outlined several other options that would have done the deed. He’d been done with everything. He’d been ready for it to be over. “And then I thought I was dead. I thought I had gotten us both-”
He chokes on the thought of how close they had both come to that abyss; how he’d almost dragged Marty with him over the edge. Guilt threatens to overwhelm him. He looks up at the ceiling and blinks. Fuck… he can’t cry now. Not after giving Marty shit about it. Rust isn’t a cryer. Not normally. Seems Marty brings it out in him.
“And now?” Marty’s voice is soft, like he’s reluctant to interrupt.
Rust sets the bottle down carefully, spins it between his fingers. He’s still avoiding Marty’s face. He pulls his salad towards him; clears his throat. “What the fuck do you think?”
Marty nods, satisfied. “Is that all?”
“For now.” He jabs his fork into the bowl repeatedly. “I reserve the right to say more on the subject in the future.”
Marty smiles down at his plate. Under the table, Marty slides his bare foot slowly against Rust’s. “ Future . I like the sound of that.”
Marty looks at Rust with heat in his eyes and Rust nearly chokes on his want until he realises he doesn’t have to swallow it down anymore. He stands and pulls Marty up out of his chair.
They don’t even make it to the bed. Marty tumbles Rust down onto the couch. He kneels between Rust’s knees, pulling his boxers down his legs. Rust has to bend his knees to allow it and Marty lingers, pressing kisses to the inside of Rust’s knees and up his thighs - open-mouthed and wet. The scratch of Marty’s stubble is enough to make him hard. He shivers at the way the dampness chills on his skin as it evaporates.
Rust pulls his shirt off and looks down at Marty. The man’s eyes are closed. He’s rubbing his face and lips against Rust’s skin as much as he’s kissing. Rust hopes his skin will be marked with the evidence of this in the morning - blossoming blue bruises and red rash.
“You know how long I’ve wanted to do this?” Marty whispers, almost like he’s talking to himself. “Used to fantasize about it… touching you… tasting you…”
Rust’s mind stutters, whiting out. He can’t think. The boxers get tossed over Marty’s shoulder and he works his way slowly back up Rust’s legs. He licks at the residual stickiness from earlier on Rust’s belly, hand curling around his cock. Slow, so fucking slow .
“So much better than I imagined.” Marty says, locking eyes with Rust as he takes his cock into his mouth.
Rust threads his hands into Marty’s hair, rolling the strands of it between his fingers - the silky texture puts the smell of summer hay in his nostrils.
He surrenders himself, barely daring to breathe as he memorises the wet, slick noises Marty’s mouth makes as he sucks Rust. His brain keeps tripping over the fact that it’s Marty - Marty - doing this to him, eager and willing and so fucking good because of it. His heart is beating so hard that the thrum of his pulse staccatos under his skin. There’s a supernova building in the centre of his brain.
“Marty-” he mumbles, tugging at Marty’s hair. “Oh fuck, Marty… Please...”
Marty pulls off and climbs up over Rust. They both shove at Marty’s sweats, barely getting them down to his thighs before he’s rutting against Rust, a little too much friction. Rust spreads his legs further, braces his heels against the cushions, and lets his head fall back. He embraces the sting of pain when sensitive skin catches. It makes it feel real. It makes him feel real.
Then Marty shifts, his dick sliding against Rust’s spit-slick cock like prophecy. Marty groans into Rust’s neck; a prayer. For a moment Rust forgets that they’re two animals locked together in search of friction and release.
This was always meant to be - unavoidable and intractable. Marty pulls back and blindly kisses him. His mouth angles against Rust’s and Rust forgets that he wants to tell Marty how this moment has been like a distant vista for years - unreachable and remote until suddenly it arrived. Rust thought they’d never get there- here. But he thinks he can sense the knowledge on Marty’s tongue as it swipes slowly against his own - a bone-deep knowledge that this is where they’re meant to be. Together.
The star inside Rust’s head implodes; light burning under Rust’s skin. There’s no room for the darkness inside him in this moment, only sunlight and stardust and Marty.
Rust wakes up slowly, in degrees. He takes stock of his surroundings: By the dim light behind his eyelids, it’s early. He’s still deeply tired and sore. His body aches but it’s not his wounds bothering him. It's the ache of overused muscles that aren't used to the work demanded of them. There’s a warm, naked presence behind him. Marty.
Last night comes trickling back to him - the way Marty had pinned him to the couch, hands curled around his hips, mouth hot and wet and so fucking surprising even as Rust came apart underneath him.
The man’s hand is splayed protectively across his lower stomach. It’s… nice. Simple. At least in the moment. There haven’t been many things like that in Rust’s life. He knows it’s fleeting even as he enjoys it.
It’s been a very long time since he was intimate like this with someone. Rust has hardly been touched, let alone fucked since… well, since everything had fallen apart. His send-off into ten years of heartbreak and wallowing - Rust had to be honest with himself now that his self-imposed exile had been exactly that - had been Maggie’s betrayal and Marty’s violence. Hardly anyone has laid a finger on him since.
But last night wasn’t some quick fuck-and-flee. Hell, they’ve been creeping towards this for weeks now that Rust looks back on it. In hindsight, Marty’s casual touching almost seemed precognasent; almost a deliberate seduction. But for Rust, it was one thing to accept Marty’s affection when he thought it meant nothing, and for him to accept it now, when he feels the potential weight of expectation behind it.
He tries to let himself enjoy it for what it is: two people curling close for comfort. But he already feels his shoulders tightening. He has a few hours before he needs to leave the house for his viewings and that means bringing up the topic with Marty. Again. Rust isn’t good at letting things be simple.
“Stop it,” Marty mumbles against his neck, brushing his lips against the short hair at Rust’s hairline. “S’too early for a crisis.”
“How could you tell?”
Marty presses a kiss behind Rust’s ear. “I know how you like to ruin perfectly good things. Was expecting this.”
Marty strokes his thumb against Rust’s stomach, over the still-tender scar tissue. Such a small gesture shouldn’t get Rust going.
It does though and he wonders if he can distract Marty with sex.
He stretches, arching his back and pressing his ass against Marty’s morning wood. This, this he can do. Fucking is so much easier than emotion. Marty groans and grips his hip, thrusting lazily against Rust.
“Not too early for you?” Rust asks, voice thick.
“Never too early for this.” Marty props himself up on an elbow and Rust rolls onto his back. It’s hard to look directly at Marty. The expression on his face is soft, open, and so fond that it hurts Rust like a weapon. “Like you like this. In the morning… lookin’ well-fucked.”
“You have a high opinion of yourself.”
Rust pulls Marty down so he doesn’t have to look at that face. All it does is remind him that one day Marty won’t look at him like that. Time was a flat circle and they were bound to repeat their mistakes.
“Hey, hey… don’t- don’t disappear on me like that, Rust. You know I can feel it when you slip away like that.” Marty cups his face. “Talk to me.”
Something bitter twists inside Rust, a memory of Marty telling him to shut the fuck up. Marty sighs and presses his forehead against Rust’s. “You gotta stop livin’ in the past. That ain’t us anymore. I may not always like - or even understand - the shit you say, but you better say it if it needs sayin’.”
Rust pushes him back. “When the fuck you become a mind reader?”
Marty beams down at him. “Told you: I know you.”
He levers himself up and out of bed, still sporting an erection and completely unselfconscious. Rust lets himself stare. “I’m going to take a shower. Wanna join me?”
“Yeah, give me a second.”
Marty smirks, turns, and walks out of the room slowly, hips swaying. Fucking juvenile and ridiculous, but it makes Rust weak. It makes him feel lighter and little bit less like a fuck-up. He remains in bed though; stares blankly at the ceiling and lets his thoughts unspool.
Nothing ever really changes, he is sure of it. But he wonders if knowing that- if they can avoid the pitfalls of their past or at least have a hope of negotiating them. They can’t get off the ever-repeating spiral but perhaps they can make small, necessary adjustments. Just the fact that things between them have taken this turn gives Rust a small, uncertain amount of hope.
From the bathroom, Marty calls, “You don’t get in here soon, I’ll make this a one-man party.”
Rust hurries out of bed. He knows it’s the hormonal pull of the promise of sex, but for the first time in a very long time, he lets himself enjoy the narrative of this; of Marty wanting him for reasons beyond biology and circumstance. He slips into the shower and presses himself up against Marty’s back. He reaches around and touches him, slow and firm.
“I told you once that I’m no good at parties,” he whispers into Marty’s ear, even as he twists his wrist in a way that makes Marty’s breath hitch.
Marty braces a hand against the wall and makes a strangled noise. “We may- have- fuck- have to reevaluate.”
Rust holds Marty against him with his left arm across his chest, palm cupped over the wound Childress gave him. The hot water cascades over them. Rust thrusts against Marty - skin slick, chasing friction. Marty reaches back and grabs onto Rust’s thigh. He shifts his hips so that Rust’s cock slips between his ass cheeks and over his hole.
“Christ!” Marty breathes, head falling forward, hips rocking between Rust and his tight grip.
Rust pants against the back of Marty’s neck, mind short-circuiting over the eager way Marty’s pushing back against him. “Yeah?”
“Fuck me, yes. Just like that,” Marty babbles as Rust strokes faster. “Rust-”
Rust scrapes his teeth against Marty’s shoulder; tastes sunlight and heat on his tongue. He wants to die like this, overwhelmed by everything Marty . He’d been so ready to back in Carcosa. Marty had been his beacon then, guiding him back to the living. Now that he’s alive, Rust needs to relearn how to live.
“Soon,” he mutters like a prayer against Marty’s skin.
A life with Marty is more than he deserves, but he’ll take it, selfishly and wholly. He knows what’s coming and he won’t give this up without a fight.
The book Rust is reading is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I'm convinced he'd HATE.
Chapter 6: the spiral overlapping
Rust tries to run away. Marty coaxes him back.
mention of Southern homophobia
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which ‘partner’ has more than one meaning, Rust has amazing gaydar, they finally have The Talk, and leave another meal half-eaten
Rust supposes he should have expected this, Marty tagging along, but it’s damn distracting. He can still taste the sunshine of the man in his mouth, the heat of him humming under his skin. Rust closes his eyes while the property manager talks and can feel Marty like a goddamn beacon behind him. He’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed. He can’t even bear to look at the man, but he knows he’s frowning.
“Rent’s $485 a month, sewage and trash included. Living room, kitchen - all electric - bath and bedroom through there. It’s available now, if you want it,” the young man says from the doorway. “Feel free to look around. I’m going to step outside and make a phone call. Holler if you need me.”
He leaves the door ajar and leaves Rust standing in the center of what he supposes is the living room. The place is small, but it’s close to the shopfront and Rust’s not picky. It has the sterile blandness of most unit rentals. It looks like nearly every other place Rust has lived; empty in more than just the physical sense.
“Now, I’m trying to keep an open mind and be supportive and everything…” Marty drawls. “But this is bleak .”
“What else did you fucking expect from me, Marty?” Rust doesn’t glance back as he walks to the adjoining bedroom and toyhouse-sized bathroom.
Marty stalks after him and Rust feels pinned in. He slowly, reluctantly turns and raises his eyes to meet Marty’s. The anger and irritation he expects to see isn’t there. There’s only concern.
“This is exactly what I’d expect if we hadn’t-” Marty stops short and swallows. He nearly hisses the rest of his thought. “When I said I wanted you to be my partner, I didn’t strictly mean it in the professional sense.”
Marty glances over his shoulder and steps into the room. He shuts the door a little with a kick of his heel. It’s merely the illusion of privacy, the place is so small. He walks towards Rust like he’s approaching a skittish horse. Rust rolls his head and shrugs his shoulders. It’s not an inaccurate comparison. Isn’t that what he’s doing? Bolting?
“How much clearer do I have to make it, Cohle?” Marty touches his fingers to Rust’s chest, sliding them open until his palm rests over his heart. “I want you in my life. I want you to be a part of my life.”
Rust meets Marty’s gaze for the first time since they left Marty’s place. He tries and fails to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He feels smothered by expectation. “And what does that look like to you? Living together? A house? A dog? Vacations? Suburbia?”
Marty shrugs. “I don’t care what the trimmings are as long as you’re at the centre of it.”
It feels like a hedge to Rust, however flattering. Marty was pushing the decisions back at Rust. “But what do you want?”
“What I want?” Marty looks at the floor, toes at the carpet. It’s not avoidant, it’s thoughtful. His thumb strokes absently over Rust’s chest as he raises his eyes to meet Rust’s again.
“You. I truly mean that. In whatever way I can have you. I’ll take it. But if you want my wishlist… I want to work cases with you and get drunk with you while watching bad movies. I want to run errands together and plan cookouts. I want to watch sports and have you criticise both teams. I want to kiss you - god, I wanna kiss you - all the time, in all the ways I can think of. And dear merciful Christ, I want you in my bed as often as I can get you.”
Rust crumbles at the edges. He can feel the grit of his resistance between his teeth. Marty is his goddamn kryptonite. He knows it. Marty knows it. He grips Marty’s forearms and presses against his hand. “Fuck, Marty…”
Marty doesn’t let Rust come any closer. He doesn’t let Rust’s weakness make the decision. Rust loves him for it, but it sticks in his craw that Marty can read him so easily.
“I ain’t trying to sway you or change you. You asked. I want you. You, Rust. If that means separate places and working together, fine.” He runs his hand up to touch Rust’s jaw and flashes that boyish smile of his. “I’ll be honest, I’ve loved this last month. I love waking up next to you. But I’ll be happy to take you on dates, trade off nights at each other’s places, whatever. The only condition I have is that you stay in my life. Even if- Listen, everything is optional besides that.”
Rust closes his eyes and can see his pulse beating red behind his eyelids. He can still see the warm orange of Marty too. Marty skims his free hand down Rust’s arm, grabs his hand and lifts it, pressing two fingers against Marty’s neck. Rust’s eyes fly open. Marty’s heart is racing. His pulse tastes different than Rust’s own but he can’t quite place it. He closes the distance slowly between them and brushes his lips against Marty’s.
“We’ll figure it out.” Marty mutters against his mouth. His words taste like hope, bright and fizzy. Ah, there it is. That’s the flavour: hope.
Rust lets himself believe despite every instinct in him screaming not to. “Yeah, ok. Ok. We’ll… talk about it.”
There’s a gentle cough behind Marty. The manager is back and eyeing them curiously. Marty doesn’t move away though. He presses a second lingering kiss against Rust’s lips, then smiles over his shoulder. “He’s not gonna take it. I’m keeping him.”
Marty looks back at Rust and winks. Rust wants to scowl - he really does - but his mouth isn’t cooperating. Marty leans in and whispers, “God, you’re cute when you smile.”
“Fuck off,” Rust mutters.
Marty takes Rust’s hand with a grin and they leave, Marty laying the Southern manners on thick on the way out. The young man watches them go, wide eyed and a little stunned. Rust notes how he lingers before turning towards the office. Once they’re in the truck, Marty turns towards Rust in the driver’s seat.
“Some things never change,” he scoffs, rolling his eyes toward where the property manager is walking away.
Rust throws the truck into reverse, checks the rearview mirror. “Boy’s queer, Marty. He was probably too stunned to say anything. Not a lot of open-mindedness despite the proliferation of self-proclaimed Christians.”
Marty cranes his neck. “You think?”
Rust thinks about the surprised look on the young man’s face, the way he’d kept glancing at them as they walked out of the apartment. He considers telling Marty about how the manager had subtly checked him out, but thinks better of it.
“I’d bet on it,” Rust answers absently, getting them back on the road.
“You always did have a good nose for that kind of thing,” Marty says in awe.
A half dozen snarky responses occur to him - including a self-deprecating comment about how he had never clocked Marty in all the years they’d known each other -, but he breathes in and lets it out slowly before answering. “Thank you. Now… where we going? Home?”
Marty reaches over and digs his fingers into Rust’s hair on the back of his skull. Something unspools - hot and comforting - low in Rust’s belly. “Let’s get a bite to eat and talk. How’s that sound?”
He looks over at Marty, letting a slow, sly smile creep to the surface. “Sounds good, baby.”
Marty’s grin is sharp and quick enough to cut. He cups Rust's cheek and pushes playfully. “Shee-it. Look at you, you flirt.”
Rust stomach jerks as he realises he’s happy.
They pick one of those mum-and-pop places they used to frequent back in the day when working a case. When they walk through the door, Rust has a wave of nostalgia so strong that he has to stop in his tracks from the disorientation. There’s a sudden lurching fear that if he turns back, Marty won’t be there; that this has all been in his head.
But then Marty’s hand is on his lower back. “You okay?”
Rust shakes his head, dizzy and adrift. Time feels like it’s layered on top of itself, almost tangible. Layers of the spiral overlapping to be experienced all at once.
Marty steps closer and whispers into Rust’s ear. “Breathe. It’s 2012. You’re in Lafayette, Louisiana. Your name is Rustin Spencer Cohle.”
Rust sucks in a breath and leans into the solidity of Marty, focusing on the heat and the reality of him. “Yeah. I’m good.”
He lets Marty guide them to an empty booth where they slide onto the benches across from each other. The world around him is steadying, but when he glances at Marty in the dim room, he sees a superposition of past-Marty and current-Marty.
Bitterness creeps up the back of his throat; the taste of past humiliation and future disappointment. Rust reaches blindly for Marty’s hand and Marty immediately grasps it, giving his fingers a reassuring squeeze. Rust stares at their hands and blinks rapidly. His vision clears and the world comes back into focus.
“You sure? You’re looking a little white around the gills.” Rust raises his eyes. Marty remains fuzzy.
The waiter brings them menus. “Special of the day is cup-a-soup and a half-sandwich of your choosing. Would you boys like anything to drink?”
“Water for me,” Marty says. “Rust?”
Rust waves his free hand vaguely, still unsteady even though time has decided to right itself; second following second like frames in a film. “Yeah, same. Thank you.”
He stares blankly down at the open menu in front of him. He doesn’t have much of an appetite but he searches the crowded pages for something that doesn’t sound actively nauseating. Then his mind catches on something Marty had said.
He glances across the table. Marty’s attention is split between the menu and keeping an eye on Rust while pretending not to. “You know my middle name?”
Marty lifts the menu and shrugs - a clear effort to hide. “Yeah, so? We were partners for seven years. You pick up things. I’m sure you know mine.”
Rust tries to recall. He knows it’s probably somewhere in his memory. “Not off the top of my head.”
Marty peeks over the menu and pulls a dramatic face. “I’m hurt. Wounded, even.”
Rust’s eyes zero in on the picture of the BLT sandwich just as his brain comes up with the answer. He doesn’t remember where he’d picked up the bit of information, but it’s there. “Eric. It’s Eric. Horrible name. Martin is much better.”
“Yeah, well, you’re one to talk, Rust .” Marty emphasises the name by pronouncing it softly and carefully. He meets Rust’s eyes as he does it.
Rust chest feels tight. “Stop that.”
“Make me,” Marty teases as the waiter returns with their waters.
They order their food - the sandwich for Rust, meatloaf for Marty. Without the barrier of the menus, there’s an awkward beat where Marty looks down and shyly unwraps his silverware. This could easily just be them grabbing a quick bite to eat, but Rust figures that it’s a shame to waste their momentum and plunges ahead.
“We’ve both done the suburban house, picket fence lifestyle.”
Marty sets his utensils down. “And we’ve done the sad bachelor thing too. What are you trying to say?”
“I guess…” What was he trying to say? He takes a deep breath and lets it out, then attempts to do something uncomfortably unfamiliar: speak from the heart. “What- what would it- this… look like to you?”
Marty gives him an annoyed, disbelieving look. His fingers toy with his fork. It hits against the knife and makes a soft ringing noise that tastes like pennies.
“Listen, darlin’. I’m not looking for a fairytale ending with you - you’re a piss-poor excuse for a prince, anyway.” The annoyance bleeds away and the smile that spreads across his face is gentle. “I just want a life. With you. The rest is negotiable.”
“So we’ll work together?” Rust knows he wants that. He hadn’t realised how much he’d missed the rhythm of their working relationship until they’d fallen so naturally back into it.
“If you still want to, everything is ready. You just need to sign to become my full partner. Fifty-fifty.”
“You built the agency, Marty,” Rust sighs. He doesn’t want to take advantage of Marty’s natural generosity.
“Don’t care. Fifty. Fifty,” he emphasises. The waiter walks up with two plates on his arm, distracted but professional.
“BLT aaaand the meatloaf. Enjoy.”
Marty looks at his plate, turning it this way and that, like a general formulating a plan of attack. The entree is huge and fries are piled high on the side. Now that Rust’s sandwich is here, it feels like the wrong choice, but he hefts half and bites into it. It’s better than he expected. All his meals have tasted better since the hospital and he suspects it’s due to his relative sobriety and abstinence from smoking.
He looks across the table at Marty. Also Marty. Marty has a lot to do with it.
He swallows with difficulty. “And we’ll live at your apartment?”
Marty grabs a fry and drags it through the caramelised sauce covering his loaf, then pops it in his mouth. “That’s what we’re here to figure out. I promised I wouldn’t force you but I- I think it’s safe to say that I know you fairly well and… what you were doing today, with the viewing? That was old Rust shit.
“Now, you’re free to move out - one shithole apartment is much like the next - but I thought I’d let you know that you don’t have to. I want you around.”
“But we’ve done this before.” Their time together back during Marty’s separation had only been bearable because of the space and the distraction of the case, not to mention the brevity. “It doesn’t work.”
“What are you talking about? We were at each other’s throats until we lived together. Regardless, are we not doing it now,” Marty protests, he spears off a large chunk of the meatloaf and shoves it in whole. He chews with his mouth open and keeps talking around it. “We’ve been doing it. No space between us. Sharing everything. You tell me what’s not working.”
Rust tries not to smile. “It’s been barely a month and I’ve been asleep for most of it.”
“You’ve been grumpy and drugged and all up in my space.” Marty picks up a few fries and gestures at Rust with them like an accusation. “And I’ve loved it. I’d forgotten what it could be like.”
“What? Being someone’s babysitter?” he asks, then adds softly, “Dating?”
“No. Having a home.”
All the air seems to go out of the room at once. That word again; that simple, fucking word. Rust distracts himself by taking another bite of his sandwich. This all feels unreal. Not in the way his episode earlier had been. No, just that he was sitting in a restaurant with his ex-partner - current partner - and talking about the logistics of how they were going to be together, like they were arbitrating a contract.
He laughs, genuine and full. Across from him Marty lights up. Rust shies away from naming that look. It’s too large to fit inside him at the moment.
“How can you be so confident about this? Don’t you have concerns? We have a history of fucking things up in a spectacular way. I-” Rust chokes on his doubt.
I have a history of fucking things up , was what he was going to say.
Marty pushes his plate to the side and reaches over for Rust’s free hand. “Of course I’m scared. But you know what that tells me?”
Rust shoves the rest of the triangle of sandwich into his mouth - more as an excuse not to speak than out of hunger - and shrugs. He knows the platitude that’s coming but an irrational part of him still wants to hear it. Marty squeezes his fingers. “That it’s worth doing.”
He releases Rust’s hand but not before brushing his thumb over Rust’s palm. “You want my concerns?”
“Hit me.” Rust braces himself for more cliches.
“I think we both have a tendency to avoid or skirt the truth. Or we did. We can’t do that this time around, whatever we decide. We need to ask when we need things and - this is more me than you - not get upset if the need can’t be met. But the rest of what you’ve said? Who is more equipped than I to realise exactly what I’m signing up for?”
Rust touches the tips of his fingers to Marty’s hand, ignoring the backhanded compliment. He’s too distracted by Marty’s clarity and honesty. “Anything else?”
Marty turns his hand over, slides his fingers against the underside of Rust’s briefly. It sends a shiver vibrating up Rust’s spine. “Now that you mention it-”
Marty shifts his attention back to his food and digs in. Marty always seemed to do his best thinking while eating - or drinking - but the way the man is looking at him, like Rust is the meal instead of the meatloaf...
“Spit it out.”
Marty studies him, eyes running over Rust slowly. It’s almost coy. “Sex.”
“Sex.” Rust hates how quickly his arousal response ratchets up at Marty uttering that single word. It's like being a fucking teenager again, functioning with a hair trigger.
“There an echo in here?” Marty asks around a mouthful of fries. “Yes, sex. Us and sex.”
Rust tilts his head, consciously slowing his breathing. “Marty, we’ve already fucked. Three times, by my count.”
“Yeah, we have,” Marty says low, leaning back and looking as much as anything like a big, fat cat who caught the canary. He blinks slowly and looks at Rust, almost a leer. “And I’d like more. Often. In every way possible. Not sure how often you need it, but speaking for myself…”
Rust fishes his cigarettes out of his breast pocket and pulls out a smoke. He needs it. While he’s fumbling for his lighter, Marty leans over the table and plucks it out of his mouth with a knowing smile. “No smoking. Also, you’re avoiding. Compatible sex drives are important.”
Rust licks his lips. He can taste the ghost of nicotine tang there but in his mind, he’s remembering the taste of Marty on his tongue.
“Never thought I’d see you nervous, Cohle,” Marty deadpans, but Rust can see Marty’s matching anxiety in the tension in his shoulders and the way his eyes can’t settle.
Rust sucks in air through his nose. He isn’t sure how Marty can’t see how much Rust wants him, so he’ll have to spell it out. “Most days. I’m- responsive to being wanted. Moreso when it’s- yeah, I think we’re compatible there.”
Marty’s pupils are blown wide. The tension has shifted away from disquiet and towards restlessness. “Moreso when what?”
Rust rolls his eyes, but softens it with a smile.
“I don’t know how you’ve not noticed, but I have a very strong- very visceral … reaction to you.”
Marty leans back places the cigarette between his lips, off-center, where it hangs like some prop from old Hollywood. He’s surprised and flattered, but in true Marty fashion, he hides it behind bluster. “Oh, I’ve noticed.”
“You fucker,” Rust says, low and annoyed. Marty’s always known how to push his buttons but the zing of arousal from his needling is new.
The waiter walks up with the check. “No rush on this, and sorry, hun. No smoking in here, I’m afraid.”
Marty smirks, the cigarette bobbing. “No problem. We were just leaving.”
Marty pays with cash, each movement deliberate and slow. They walk out to the truck so outwardly calm that Rust feels like he moving in slow-motion. He can feel Marty beside him like a physical force. He’s completely lost his stable orbit and is plummeting to his fate. As soon as they step out into the bright, mid-afternoon sun, Rust itches to push Marty somewhere half-private and kiss him senseless, but there’s a curling pleasure in the tension as well.
He tries to relax into it and ignore the way Marty is glancing at him, cigarette still dangling from his mouth. Rust is wound tight by the time they climb back into his truck. His skin feels a size too small, taught from aimless endorphins with nowhere to go. He taps his fingers in a staccato against the steering wheel. Marty is stiff in the passenger seat next to him. He pushes in the cigarette lighter and it feels like an eternity passes before it pops out, hot enough to light the tobacco. He takes a drag then passes it over to Rust. Rust takes it and sucks on it like he breathes smoke.
“You know, I was thinking we should stop by a pharmacy on the way home,” Marty comments in a clipped, off-handed tone. “For supplies… for us.”
Rust stomach tightens. His wasted adrenaline finding a place to go in a plummeting rush. He swallows thickly before answering. “You want to-”
“Fuck yes. I do.”
Happy Birthday to my girlfriend and alpha reader, Chiara. Without which, this fic wouldn't exist.
I'll be leaving for vacation soon, so updates will be suspended for about two weeks while I'm in Spain visiting my girl. I may get time for another chapter or two before I fly out. Fingers crossed!
Thanks to those of you that have commented. You're all so very kind! <3
Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @thehartbelieves
Chapter 7: the theory and not the context
Marty and Rust find themselves on the edge of something momentous.
!!! mention of Rust's past as Crash !!!
mention of dubcon, sexual trauma and coercion
mention of the death of Rust's child and the dissolution of his marriage
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which there’s miscommunication, Rust sucks at pillow talk but is really good in bed, the past rears its ugly head, and the boys are masters of understatement
Rust hardly gets through the door before Marty’s on him - tongue in his mouth, hands sliding under Rust’s shirt to touch gentle fingers to his scars like he’s mapping them in his mind, driving Rust back towards the bedroom. Rust keeps his hands at his sides, pharmacy bag dangling from his fingers. He lets Marty steer them, lets Marty touch him. At this point, he’d let Marty do anything.
He expects Marty to push him back on the bed. He braces himself for it - tries not to think about the last time he’d been in this position. He’s torn between anticipation and the past. He wants this but even the thought of being fucked dredges up old thoughts and old behaviours.
Those memories have no place here though. Rust tries to focus on Marty, slowly fisting his free hand into the shirt under his hand. He steps back towards the bed. At the last second, Marty turns them, breaks away from Rust and sprawls himself back on the bed. Rust’s eyes skitter away from Marty’s face. He upends the plastic bag onto the bed next to Marty and discards the bag over his shoulder. His eyes lock onto the innocuous box of condoms and bottle of lube. His gut twists with need.
“How do you want me.” His voice already sounds wrecked.
He pulls his shirt over his head, taking his time, really stretching. He knows he’s had the intended effect when he emerges from the shirt to find Marty staring, slack jawed.
“God, Rust. You’re far too pretty to be with the likes of me.” He raises a hand and gestures for Rust to get on the bed.
Rust steps back instead and toes off his shoes. “Well, from where I’m standing… you look pretty good too.”
Marty looks surprised and smiles shyly. Rust runs his hand across his stomach and Marty’s gaze sharpens. The man likes his scars-no, not the scars but the fact that Rust had lived to have them.
He lets his fingers play at the waistband of his jeans, waiting for Marty’s eyes to drag themselves back up. Only then does he unfasten the button and makes a show of unzipping over the bulge of his erection. He slips his hand into his boxers and palms himself. He can feel himself slipping back into that old role.
No- he doesn’t want this. He’d left that version of himself behind. Never again. Crash is dead. Marty wants Rust, not Crash. Rust can’t help but remember the worry on Marty’s face when confronted with Crash back in ‘95. But Crash is like a familiar mask that is so easy to slip on and safe to hide behind. The persona clings to him like a second skin.
He quickly hooks his thumbs into his waistband and pulls his jeans down along with his boxers, then slips his socks off. He stands in front of Marty and tries to shake that old memory of himself; of the things he used to-
“For fuck’s sake…” Marty begs. “I could have myself off merely to the sight of you like this but today- right now- I want you to fuck me.”
Rust’s mind stutters, jerking back to the present so quickly it’s a shock. “You want-? I thought-”
“I’ve wanted-” Marty stutters, cheeks colouring. “Earlier, in the shower… You said-”
“Oh…” Rust breathes, remembering. It’d had been in the heat of the moment; dirty talk. He never thought- “Oh!”
Marty awkwardly shrugs. “I’ve always liked to be… fuck- you gonna make me say this?”
Rust kneels on the bed. “I think I need you to, Marty. I’m obviously not reading you right.”
Marty levers himself up on an elbow and grabs the back of Rust’s neck. He pulls him close. Rust has to brace his arms either side of Marty’s ribcage as Marty buries his face against Rust’s hair.
“I want you to use your fingers while you- Rust, your mouth -” Marty takes a shuddering breath. “I like that. Together... Then I want… Please, I’ve never done this. But you, Rust… You … I want you to-”
Something wells up inside Rust and nearly chokes him. It’s not just the act but the fact that Marty’s asking him for it. Rust is trembling, holding himself up above Marty. He shifts his weight to one arm and hugs Marty to him with the other.
“Anything,” he whispers. “Whatever you want.”
Marty takes a few more steadying breaths before pulling back. He smiles crookedly up at Rust, his face still flushed pink. “You ever done this?”
“Not like this, but I know the mechanics,” Rust mutters, voice rumbling. He tries to think of the theory and not the context. But he can’t ignore that he remembers exactly how it felt.
Marty makes a face - there’s the man Rust knows so well. Marty leans back and pulls his shirt over his head. Rust reaches for the button on Marty’s slacks. “Do you- Do you, uh- Have a lot of experience… with that?”
Rust pauses, then unfastens the jeans. He tugs and Marty lays back and lets Rust yank them down. He can sense Marty watching him, but he focuses on untying Marty’s shoes, rolling down his socks. He touches the soft, white arch of Marty’s foot and wonders how many people have seen it, let alone have been allowed to touch him like this. Even as he focuses, he knows he’s avoiding answering the question.
He lets himself linger a moment longer. Rust pulls Marty’s foot up and presses a kiss there. Marty’s breath hitches even as he looks on curiously. Rust lets go of his foot, then places his hands on Marty’s thighs before looking the man seriously in the eye and letting his face fall into that blank stare that used to unnerve the man.
“Do you really want to know?”
Marty sucks in his cheeks, tilting his head. “I’m trying hard not to be jealous here but I don’t wanna force you.”
Rust hums and leans over to kiss him. Marty tips his head up and touches Rust’s cheek. Rust aches with the tenderness of the gesture. He knows that eventually, he’ll have to tell Marty. He pulls back and settles himself between Marty’s legs. No time like the present.
“Jeeesuuus…” Marty sighs. “Rust- You don’t-”
Rust presses his lips to the inside of Marty’s thigh and reaches for the lube. “If I’m going to get this out, I need the distraction.”
Rust licks at the crease at the top of Marty’s leg, up to his hip bone. Marty collapses back with a rush of breath and addresses the ceiling. “Distraction, the man says…”
“But to be such a distraction…” Rust nips his hip bone and flips open the cap on bottle of lube. “Back during my time with the Iron Crusaders- Back when I was Crash-”
He pours out some lube into his hand and rubs it in between his fingers, trying to focus on the feel of it rather than the words coming out of his mouth. He licks a slow stripe up the underside of Marty’s cock, thinking about the taste, texture, heat... Marty shivers, hands coming up reflexively to touch the back of Rust’s head. Like riding a bike .
“Early on, many of the gang members decided I was a bit of a prize.” He kisses the head of the erection - wet and sucking. He breathes, letting Marty feel the heat of his mouth as he reaches back with slick fingers and circles Marty’s entrance.
“Christ…” Marty sighs softly, absently. “You’re not a fucking prize.”
Rust loves Marty for saying that.
“Like you, they thought I was pretty . Kept having to fight them off, prove I wasn’t soft just because of the way I looked.” He curls the fingers of his free hand around the base and strokes, lingering and slow while he presses and circles.
“Fuck!” Marty pants. “No need to tease. I don’t need it.”
Rust swallows him down and sucks, working one finger inside in a smooth in-and-out until he’s past the second knuckle.
“Surprised- ohhh … surprised your charming- hngh- personality didn’t do the- the trick,” Marty stammers. Rust hums around Marty’s cock, bobs and sucks- real eager-like. He twists and crooks his finger at the same time, until Marty whines low. “More.”
Rust complies. Marty’s legs are tense on either side of him. He fucks Marty with two fingers. The man is held captive between his mouth and hand. He looks up at the pleasure on Marty’s face. He waits until Marty looks at him, face flushed, before he smoothly adds a third.
“Oh god …” Marty groans even as his body draws taught. Rust pulls off with a pop .
“Relax.” Slowly Marty listens, muscles unclenching one-by-one. Rust curls his fingers, brushing slightly against Marty’s prostate. Marty makes an incoherent noise.
Rust adds a twist to his stroke, fist tight around Marty’s cock. “It wasn’t much of a choice. I didn’t like it. But it was either that or keep scrapping until I lost and ended up getting passed around.”
Marty’s fingers tighten in Rust’s hair, pulling him back. He looks down at Rust with wide, shocked eyes. “Are you sayin’-”
“I saw it happen to others. They’d come in, usually for the drugs, and get used up. Guys and girls.” Rust clenches his jaw and looks back hard, defiance rising in him. “It was my choice and most of the time, it wasn’t that bad.”
Marty blinks, realisation dawning across his face followed by a stormcloud of anger and jealousy. “It was Ginger, wasn’t it? That son of a bitch.”
Rust nods curtly. He can feel his lip curl up in disgust. It had been his choice, but a part of him hated that he’d been forced to make it. “So I have a lot of experience being fucked, but no one’s ever-”
Marty pulls on Rust’s hair almost to the point of pain. Rust closes his eyes momentarily, relishing the sharpness. “Rust…”
“Don’t, Marty.” He isn’t even sure what the man was going to say, only that he can’t handle pity or judgement right now; maybe ever. He pulls his fingers out of Marty and wipes them on the bed sheets. “It’s not what you think. Guys like them? Their world? It’s different.”
They stare at each other in a tableau of detente. Ginger had been the best of bad choices.
Back before Crash’s time, Ginger had been Miles’. Crash’s first week in, it’d been Ginger that warned him get protection or ugly yourself up, else you’ll end up a dead man or wish you were. He’d even been the one to help Crash buzz off his hair. Afterwards had been the first time.
Ginger’s status as Miles’ favourite and the way he was obviously sweet on Crash made him the easy choice. So while Ginger hadn’t exactly been loving and tender, he’d never hurt Rust. Hell, most times, Rust had enjoyed it - when he was sober enough to remember it. There were so many other worthy deeds from that time that he could be ashamed of if he ever chose. Bedwarming for Ginger wasn’t one of them. Wasn’t often that both parties ended up happy in situations like that.
Besides, sex always loosened Ginger’s tongue so Crash was kept in the loop.
Rust doesn’t know exactly what Marty is looking for in his expression, but he lets the man take his time. Marty would never understand; not truly. There was no way Rust could ever explain it in a way that he could. And part of him was glad that the filth of these memories could never touch Marty. The memories of the times when he hadn’t won the fight or Ginger had been too drunk or high to be careful… Those weren’t for Marty.
“Look- That was Crash. He did what he had to to survive- to be accepted. I didn’t-” Rust swallows hard. “I didn’t feel much in those years. Even after. Marty- a big problem of ours in the early days was that you made me feel things I didn’t want to.”
He’d attributed it to being clean for the first time in years, to being free. He had told himself that what he’d felt for Marty was chemical bonding to the first person that looked out for him. By the time he’d figured it out, it was far too late for Rust to extricate himself. He’d irrationally resented Marty for it for years.
And then the decision was made for him and the only choice he had was a painful one: quick or slow. Rust had always been the type to yank the bandaid off quickly. No use in suffering needlessly, lingering over something he could never have.
Marty lets go of Rust’s hair and moves his hands to cup Rust’s face. He swipes his thumbs over Rust’s cheekbones, then urges him closer. This time, Rust follows. There is something sad and bursting with emotion in Marty’s tone when he whispers against Rust’s lips. “Fuck me before I say something stupid.”
Rust lets himself fall forward, pressing himself against Marty - molding to him, thighs to chest - and kisses him (kisses him, kisses him ).
“Only if you promise the same. Soon,” he demands huskily into Marty’s mouth. He wonders how much better it will be when he feels like this - raw and open and needy. He needs Marty so much closer; wants to consume him. Maybe then the shining heat of the man would purify him from the inside.
He wedges his knees under Marty’s thighs and Marty tilts his hips up. He reaches for the box of condoms but Marty swats his hand and says hoarsely. “Fuck the condoms. I want- feel me… Unless- I mean, I’m clean.”
“Ok. Yeah, ok,” Rust whispers, chest tight with the trust inherent in the stupid, arbitrary gesture. It shouldn’t mean anything.
But it does.
Rust kisses Marty desperately. He’s still thinking about being filled with the summer sunshine of Marty when he slowly, carefully pushes into him. There’s no more room for thoughts other than Marty’s hands splayed on either side of his spine, Marty’s legs spread wide, Marty gasping and throwing his head back.
“Good?” Rust pants with the effort of fucking Marty with smooth, rolling thrusts.
“Fucking amazing- God, why weren’t we doing this years ago?”
Marty’s eyes are glazed and staring at the ceiling so he doesn’t see Rust’s self-satisfied smile. He imagines what would have happened if he’d pushed the newly-separated Marty up against the wall of his rental back in ‘95. That would have been the end of everything right there.
But he can't help but envision a tangential timeline where the Marty-of-then kissed him back even as he fought him - teeth and tongues and raw need. If he'd given in and admitted it, it would have been fast and desperate and angry - all the things they were back then. He wonders if it would have been just the once. Would it have broken them? Or been the start of something rough and new and wonderful, forged by the fire of them taking out those servants of the Yellow King?
Rust remembers LeDoux’s prophecy. You'll do this again. He shivers.
Rust much prefers this: Marty soft and pliant underneath him, both of them broken in similar ways, their hard edges worn down by the intervening years. They'd suffered for this and while Rust wasn't one to put much stock into suffering for the sake of reward, this time they'd found each other ready to move forward together.
Maybe it isn't only him caught in Marty's orbit. Maybe Marty was just as helpless around Rust.
“Timing,” he answers softly, curling himself over Marty and fucking him hard. He licks the flat of his tongue over the scar on Marty’s shoulder. The taste of ash and aluminium lingers faintly under the flavour of a hot summer’s day. “It’s all about timing.”
He breathes hard against Marty's shoulder. It’s only because he’s so close that he’s able to hear him mumble: “This is our time.”
Time isn’t a flat circle if Rust is allowed this. He isn’t doomed to repeat his mistakes. He just needs to keep his eyes open.
They barely leave the bed for the rest of the day, napping and fucking in turns; kissing and touching when they’re too spent to do anything else. Rust’s whole body hums with sex and bonding chemicals. He’s heady with it. He can’t get enough.
Marty reheats one of the frozen lasagnas and they eat it directly out of the pan, passing a single fork back and forth. They only make it through a quarter of the dish before Marty pushes him onto his back and slots their hips together.
Rust laughs even as his rocks his hips up into Marty. “Is it my cooking or the bedhead that’s doing it for you.”
“Everything,” Marty mumbles. “It’s you. It’s you in my bed. You’re smiling and I’m allowed to touch. Fuck, Rust...”
Rust doesn’t have a witty comeback for that because he understands. His focus has narrowed down to getting more of Marty. He knows that they can’t stay like this, but for now- For now he lets himself exist on this island were it is only Marty and him and the slick friction of their two bodies.
When Sunday morning dawns, he finds himself curled up against Marty’s back. For a cop, Marty is a sound sleeper so when Rust grazes his fingers down Marty’s spine, he doesn’t wake. He pushes the covers down and looks. There’s the tell-tale sheen of tacky lube where Rust had gripped Marty’s hips. The whole room smells of pheromones and sex. Rust muscles are sore and lax from it.
But he knows that if he isn’t careful, he’ll gorge himself on this. He scoots closer to Marty and presses against his back. Marty stirs and stretches, ass very agreeably pushing against Rust’s morning erection.
“Mornin’” Rust can hear the smile in his voice.
“Uhn-uh,” he says firmly. He gets up and drags a protesting Marty out of bed. “Up. Come on.”
“What the fuck?” Marty rubs his eyes groggily. “Is there a fire?”
“No, but there’s gonna be breakfast.” Marty seems to perk up at that. Rust shoves him towards the bathroom. “Go. I’m going to strip the bed. It’s disgusting.”
He changes the sheets and then joins Marty in the shower. Marty backs him against the cool tiles and ruts slowly against him while kissing him playfully, teasingly. He laces his fingers with Rust’s and pins them against the wall next to his head. The water is going lukewarm by the time Marty wrings a long, drawn out orgasm from Rust. He groans into Rust’s neck when he comes.
Rust could get used to this.
He doesn’t want to get used to this.
Marty makes them pancakes while humming a song that Rust can’t name. He delivers the first batch to where Rust is reading the paper at the kitchen table. He hooks two fingers under Rust’s chin and tips his head back, pressing a lingering kiss to his lips.
“Bon appetit,” Marty whispers warmly against Rust’s mouth, mispronouncing the saying.
“Merci mon beau,” Rust shoots back, tone gentle. Marty’s eyes widen in surprise.
“I didn’t know you spoke French.” He turns back to the stove and mutters, “Show-off.”
Rust flips him the bird and without even looking, Marty returns it. Rust chuckles.
“I-” Rust bites down on the words that almost come spilling out. Marty turns, smile like the sun, and Rust wants to say it so badly, it’s nearly a need. The words have a mind of their own so he keeps his mouth shut.
“You need something?”
Rust shakes his head and turns back towards the paper. Marty goes back to humming. The happiness is nearly rolling off him in waves, but all Rust can focus on is how his heart is pounding. He can’t taste the pancakes over the panic in his mouth.
He takes a few minutes to gather himself before explaining. “I was just going to say, I spent some time there - Paris - with Claire. At the end.”
Marty stops humming, but stays facing the stove. A hush seems to settle over the kitchen. “After-?”
“Yeah. After.” Rust squeezes his eyes shut and remembers. “It was a last ditch effort to salvage something that died along with- Neither of us wanted to admit it. Paris made it clear. She spent the two weeks shopping. I spent them drunk.”
The disappointment each night when he’d come stumbling back to their hotel room, Claire pretending to be already asleep, the blur of people as he spend the days blitzed out of his mind… Rust lets it all run over him. There’s no sharp edges anymore where the old hurts can catch.
Rust opens his eyes to find Marty facing him. “What?”
“Nothing. Just… there still so much about you I don’t know.”
“I know,” Rust whispers. “I don't think I've ever told anyone about that.”
Marty makes a low noise in acknowledgement but doesn't say anything more. He sits down next to Rust with his plate of pancakes. When he looks at Rust, there's a silent, comfortable understanding. Rust pushes the funny pages over to him with a smile.
"Thank you," he says softly.
Marty flattens out the newsprint and pauses with a forkful of pancakes halfway to his mouth. "What for, sweetheart?"
Rust shrugs and looks back down at the news. Everything, he thinks and reaches over to take Marty's hand. Marty absently rubs his thumb over Rust's knuckles as they eat and read. The moment takes on a hazy, unworldly glow, and Rust breathes it in. He never wants to move on from this.
After breakfast, Marty says he has some errands to run. Rust cleans up and then flops down on the couch. He tries to read, but his mind keeps replaying how close he’d come to slipping up. He finally gives up on the book and turns on the television. He finds a channel airing a documentary about the Enigma machine. He grumbles to himself about the errors and details left out of the history. He doesn’t remember falling asleep.
He’s woken up with a kiss to his temple as Marty wedges himself onto the couch with him. Rust slides his arms around Marty’s back and turns his head to kiss him properly. Marty hums.
“I love you like this,” he whispers, kissing along Rust’s jaw and nudging his head back. He trails them down his throat. “Sleepy and soft and fuzzy at your edges.”
Marty scoots down and brushes his lips over the strip of skin between shirt and sweatpants. “I like you in all your ways: sharp, mean, weird, obsessive…”
Rust runs his hands into Marty’s hair. Rust is interested but he’s also still half asleep. Marty buries his faces into Rust’s stomach and holds onto him tight.
“Hey-” Rust may be drowsing but his heart- his heart isn’t. It’s awake for the first time in years. He pulls Marty back up and looks at him sleepily. “I like you too, Marty.”
Marty lowers himself onto Rust; heavy and solid and more real than any dream could ever be. Rust tangles their legs together and holds onto Marty tightly. Marty’s breathing deepens against his neck and Rust lets himself drift along the edge of consciousness. In the background, the documentary has changed to a travel show about Argentina.
He cards his fingers through the hair on the back of Marty’s head and feels like they’re on the precipice of something momentous. For the first time in his life, he’s content to not push.
Those of you that have read my other works may notice that I mention Argentina and the Enigma machine as nods to my Stirth/FirthStrong obsession. ;-)
Rust can't even finish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I may be projecting.
Chapter 8: truth settled into his bones
The boys get a taste of what life's going to be like, working together.
Have one last domestic, introspective chapter before I'm out of the country for two weeks. :)
Could this be the calm before the storm? Only time will tell.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which Rust returns to work, the boys mix work and pleasure, Rust finds he has an anchor, and Marty feels guilty
Despite both of them never wanting the weekend to end, time is a son-of-a-bitch and Monday arrives all too early.
Rust gets ready for work along with Marty the next morning. Marty still favours the full suit - most likely a hold-over from their days on the force - but Rust goes a more casual route: khakis, dress shirt and shoes, tie. He looks at himself in the mirror and is struck by a sense of unreality.
Marty leans in the bathroom doorway. Rust feels eyes on him as he tries to remember how to tie the goddamn knot. He thought doing this in front of the bathroom mirror would help, but his hands are clumsy. He resists the urge to press fingers to his neck. Instead, he glances over. Marty’s got a strange look on his face.
“What’s gotten into you?” He asks Marty. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Marty swaggers over, already dressed and ready. He pulls Rust to face him and swats his hands away.
“You’re making one hell of a hash of this. Let me.” He deftly ties a single Windsor. He smooths his fingers over it and down the tie before turning Rust back towards the mirror. He looks at his handiwork in the reflection. He brushes his palms over Rust’s shoulders. “Ghost ain’t a half-bad comparison.”
“Should I take that to mean I look good?”
“No, you should take it to mean that you look great.” Marty tucks in close behind him and kisses the side of his neck. “You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to realise that I wanted to do this years ago.”
Rust closes his eyes and tilts his head. Marty presses a series of kisses to the exposed skin, ending in a light, playful bite.
“When did you realise?” Rust mumbles. He’s been wondering this, trying to piece together how and when Marty had made the leap from typical Southern male to… This. He feels Marty’s sigh more than hears it.
“Not long after our fight.” Marty slides his arms under Rust’s and hugs him. Rust crosses his arms over Marty’s, holding him there.
“I was so angry - at you, at Maggie, but mostly at myself. Whenever I thought about hitting you like I did though… I felt sick. I was still so fucking mad at you but I missed you. I’d lay in bed at night, unable to sleep, and it was you I was thinking of more than Maggie.
“My anger shifted… so slowly, I didn’t really notice. I wasn’t so much angry at you for- y’know- but for leaving me. I daydreamed about tracking you down and getting my say, laying my hands on you… I wanted to get my hands on you as much as I wanted to know you were safe. I imagined elaborate ways that I could track you down. I would rehearse exactly what I’d say to you…
“But then I’d think of your face - especially that one you made right before I tackled you - and it wasn’t anger that filled me. It was-”
Marty brushes his nose against Rust’s hairline and inhales. It tickles but also sends tendrils of contentment worming under Rust’s skin. Rust makes an inquisitive sound.
“It was longing,” Marty admits in a sigh.
“I think I knew then, in some way - I certainly dreamed about you - but it took me a lot longer to admit to myself that it wasn’t just the friendship and partnership I missed. It was you. I wanted- I wanted you.
“Tied myself in knots trying to deny it, even when I thought about you to… get off. It took another relationship falling apart-” Marty sounds genuinely remorseful. “Poor girl - before I gave a name to what-”
Marty huffs and pulls away. Rust turns and stops him, a hand curled around the side of Marty’s neck. “Was it because it was me? Or because I’m a man?”
“Do you really need me to answer that? You know it was both.” Marty pulls a disgusted, embarrassed face and shakes his head at himself. He squints at Rust. “I don’t feel that way anymore. You know that, right?”
Rust studies Marty’s face. It isn’t the time, he knows - too soon and far overdue - so he pulls Marty in for a brief kiss. Marty smiles against Rust’s lips. His eyes are bright when they part.
“I believe that’s what people call personal growth.”
Rust pushes him but Marty laughs after him as he walks away. “Just how many self-help books did you read while I was gone?”
“Only the best sellers.” Marty grabs his keys and wallet. “I saw a therapist for a while too.”
Rust opens the front door, feigning a shocked mien. “It’s like I don’t know you at all.”
Marty touches Rust’s cheek as he walks by. “Boy, you may be the only one who does know me.”
Marty is looking at Rust as they pull up outside the agency, but Rust is looking up. The last time they’d been here, the sign had read Hart Investigative Solutions . Three lines. Simple.
So this is what Marty had been getting up to while Rust healed.
He looks over at Marty - the man looks like a nervous, expectant kid. “Hart & Cohle, huh?”
“Like I said, fifty-fifty.”
Rust looks back at the sign, aware of Marty’s eyes on him. He hums thoughtfully, rolling the idea around. Marty’s thoughtfulness is touching but not surprising. Something about it irks him though and it’s not until he looks at Marty’s shiny, hopeful face that it clicks into place.
Marty had made this decision for the both of them- no, for himself. He hadn’t known Rust was going to say yes but he’d hoped. He had believed in Rust. He believes in Rust.
Rust can’t quite wrap his head around how that makes him feel - hell, even feeling like this makes him uncomfortable - so he levels a flat look at Marty and does what he does best. “Why not Cohle & Hart?”
“Shut the fuck up, man,” Marty huffs, obviously stung. He opens the door to get out. Rust immediately regrets the over correction. He quickly reaches out and snags Marty’s elbow. He pulls the man back and slides close.
He cups Marty’s face and presses their mouths together. As far as their kisses go, it’s not much of one, but when he pulls back, Rust whispers, “Thank you.”
A slow smile crosses Marty’s face. “You’re such a shit sometimes. Now, come inside. I wanna show you what I’ve done.”
He hands Rust a key and lets him unlock the door. What Marty’s done is smarten the place up. There’s a table and chairs near the door for public meetings or as an ersastz waiting area. Then there’s the back room.
The wall they'd dedicated to the Childress case has been cleared and replaced with a giant corkboard. Marty’s moved another desk in across from his own, facing each other just like back in the bullpen. Rust’s ledger is centered on the desk. There’s even a little nameplate with Rust’s name. Rust sits in the task chair and pulls the engraved metal towards him. He runs his fingers over it: Rustin Cohle, P.I.
“I haven’t got my license.”
Marty steps up behind him and rests his hand on his shoulder. His thumb strokes up his neck. “No, but you will. Until then, I’ll handle the official shit.”
“A man with a plan,” Rust muses aloud.
“Anything you wanna change?” Marty’s thumb is soothing as it moves, letting him settle into the idea rather than just outright rejecting it. He closes his eyes and enjoys Marty’s touch for a few seconds past needing it.
“Nah. You done good.” He looks up at Marty.
“Let’s get to work.” Marty points at a file box to the side. “I’ve got a few routine cases now. Easy money, but boring. Now, those… Those are the ones I think you should look at. Those aren’t clients but there’s reward money. Real head scratchers. Just the kind of crap you’re good at.”
Rust stands and flips off the lid. He pulls out file after file, aware faintly that Marty’s still talking, but he’s scented the promise of a puzzle and everything else falls away. It’s still easy after all these years to disappear inside the work.
“Like not a day has passed,” Marty says fondly, gripping the back of Rust’s neck before leaving him to it. Rust feels like he’s stretching his mental legs for the first time in a decade. He feels sharp, honed, but there’s none of that brittleness that he associates with this work, back when he’d bird dog a case with Marty for State.
He knows that it’s Marty’s care and attention that’s making him feel stable. The man brings him coffee throughout the day - he tries green tea first but when that goes untouched, Marty takes the hint - and periodically switches it up with water. Rust considers getting up and making more coffee, but it’s easier to just chug the water. Besides, he feels better afterwards and it makes Marty smile.
He works his way through the files, separating them into two piles: pursue and discard. That’s when the real work should start, but Marty, sensing a pause in Rust’s focus, drags him out to lunch. It’s a little disorienting to be yanked out of his head, but he follows Marty out to his car.
“Now, don’t get me wrong, darlin’. I love seeing you back in the saddle like this,” Marty drawls absently while driving. He’s talked Rust into a nearby Tex-Mex joint. “All I’m encouraging is a little perspective - a little balance - this time ‘round.”
“You plannin’ on balancing me out,” Rust shoots back. Marty’s right, of course. Rust is no good at moderation. Neither is Marty- was Marty. He is far more solid than Rust remembered. Maybe he’d grown, maybe Rust satisfies Marty’s itch for something wild. Regardless, the two of them together even each other out. It is a good arrangement.
They take their time with lunch. Marty talks Rust through the case he’s working - a disputed will, a person that may or may not exist, and fifty years of journals and miscellany.
“I’ve been going through the old man’s papers and I suspect that he may have had an illegitimate child.” Marty pushes his frozen margarita across the table towards Rust. Rust takes a sip - sweet tartness on his tongue and shivering up his spine. The flavour reminds him of Marty.
“If that turns out to be the case-” Marty pauses and tilts his head. “What’re you smilin’ ‘bout?”
Rust’s voice is rough from disuse so it comes out gravelly. “‘Bout the way you taste.”
He doesn’t say it to be coy or to change the subject, but Marty’s eyes widen and he flushes. He looks down at his picked-over lunch. “Shit, Rust… What- What am I s’posed to do with that?”
Rust shrugs, takes another drink, then pushes the glass back towards Marty. “Whatever you’d like.”
Marty’s eyes meet his and Rust can read in them exactly what the man would like to do. He purposely ignores that pleading, hungry look.
“If you can narrow down the year and general location this child may have been born, we can check records. Time consuming, but we’d get a definitive answer.”
Marty nods but doesn’t add anything else. He flags down the waitress for their check. After paying, he laces his fingers through Rust’s and stays close on the walk back to the car. It’s so fucking easy when Rust is so used to having to work at it. Even with Claire-
Marty squeezes Rust’s hand and catches his eyes just before letting go at their car. Rust is fairly sure that what he’d read in Marty’s earlier expression is now a promise.
As soon as they get back to the office, Marty locks the doors, turns off the lights and shuts them in the back room. It’s all glass, but Marty shoves Rust down into his desk chair and kneels. From the street, it would look like Rust is alone in the room. Rust grins and spreads his legs, issuing a challenge. He shouldn’t be surprised when Marty doesn't balk.
Rust is so very surprised at the way Marty sucks him; nice and slow. It’s all Rust can do to keep his mouth shut and his hips in the chair. The man shouldn’t be so fucking good at this.
Rust comes in no time. Marty finishes him with his hand, then smugly cleans him up with a handful of tissues. He looks far too pleased with himself, but then he has the audacity to grumble something about his knees hurting. Rust tucks himself away and pushes Marty down to the floor where he kisses him senseless and then returns the favour, drawing it out until Marty comes with a shout muffled against his forearm.
Rust swallows, eyes closing - really playing it up. “Better than a margarita.”
Marty shoves weakly at his shoulder, then grips his shirt and pulls him up for a kiss. “You are a filthy man.”
Before Marty’s up off the floor, Rust is put back together and back at his desk, head bent over his notebook and mind back on the work - categorising, prioritising. In a distant corner of his mind, Rust registers Marty’s huff as he gets up, but the way the man fondly draws his fingers across the line of his shoulders reassures Rust that his sudden shift is acceptable.
Rust still worries. He knows how this - his obsessive nature - used to drive Marty up the wall. He doesn’t know how to regulate it. When a puzzle grips ahold of him, he’s helpless until he sees it to the end of the line.
But this first day back shows Rust that there’s another way of investigating. He’d always relied on stimulants, sleeplessness, and sheer stubborn determination to solve cases. Marty shows Rust what has been missing from his life: an anchor.
For most of his life, his hold on the physical world has been tenuous at best. He’d always thought - or told himself - that he prefers his life like this. It allows him the distance and isolation to make logical and inductive leaps he may not otherwise see. The problem - back before Crash, back in ‘95, back in ‘02 - is that once he starts chasing a thought in his head, it’s nearly impossible to claw his way back to reality and into his body.
Reality is painful and harsh though, not worth the effort most of the time. That’s where the booze and drugs had helped; to keep him removed and insulated. Safe. Time was he’d do anything to stay in his head and in the clouds, until the inevitable, devastating plummet back to earth.
But Marty offers him a different option.
Towards the end of the day, Marty passes by and squeezes his shoulder. “Ready to head out soon?”
Rust makes an consenting grunt and jots down a list of threads he wants to pick up in the morning. He could easily work through the night, but the drive to bury himself in work is muted. Marty’s hand on his shoulder is like a tether; a connection.
He kneads Rust’s tense neck for a few seconds and then trails away. Around him, Marty puts the office straight - empties the coffee pot, washes their mugs, then starts flipping off lights. He’s humming a song that tugs at the rear of Rust’s mind with familiarity. He follows that nagging thought until he’s looking at Marty where he’s leaning in the doorway of the backroom, looking out the front windows at the dying light.
Rust flicks off his desk lamp, locks his ledger in his desk, and stands. He feels real and settled inside his body in a way that’s nearly foreign to him after a day of work. It’s a feeling that he’s starting to associate with living with Marty. He comes up behind his partner, wraps an arm around his waist, and rests his chin on his shoulder.
“M’ready,” Rust says quietly.
Marty lets out a long breath and hums. “Just one more sec.”
His hand comes up to rest over Rust’s as he breathes in the moment. Rust finds himself inhaling along with him.
“Rust?” Rust kisses the side of his neck in answer, but it’s a long time before Marty airs his thought. “I’ve been thinking…”
He doesn’t continue so Rust prompts, “Dangerous, that.”
“Do you- do you ever feel guilty for this-” He gestures vaguely. “When we didn’t root out- we didn’t finish-”
Rust turns Marty’s head with two fingers firm on his jaw. He makes a shushing sound against Marty’s lips. It surprises Rust that Marty’s been thinking about this. For his own part, he’d tucked it away while still drugged up in the hospital. He’s been very careful not to pick at that particular wound.
“Guilty? No. If anyone has earned this…” He lets the implication trail off. “There’s no one keeping score, Marty. We did what we could - almost died doing it… Are you feeling guilty?”
Marty turns in his arms. “Does it make sense if I say I feel guilty for not feeling guilty?”
Rust touches Marty’s face, studying him. Marty keeps surprising him like this and Rust has to reconstruct the image he has of the man in his mind. He keeps committing the mistake of making assumptions based on his memories of Marty. The Marty in his arms isn’t the same one he’d locked horns with back in the day.
But he is certainly the one that Rust is ever more reluctant to let go.
“When does anything you say ever make any sense,” Rust teases. “But no, I won’t feel guilty for this. It doesn’t come at a cost. I’m done with debts and payments. I just want to live.”
As he whispers the last against Marty’s jawline, he realises how true that rings inside him - golden and clear as a bell. Somehow that truth has settled into his bones without his knowing it. Marty stiffens in his embrace. He knows what’s crossing his mind; it wasn’t long ago - and just a few steps from where they stand - that Rust was done with all of this. He tightens his hold around Marty.
“Let’s go home,” he says.
They’re quiet the whole way home, both of them lost in their own thoughts. Even though they don’t speak, Rust can tell that they’re both thinking of the work they left unfinished. The two of them had only won a battle within a larger war. Only time will tell if their role in history is significant.
Most likely they’ll be forgotten, but that sits just fine with Rust. He’s had a lifetime to come to terms with this being all he gets.
When they get home and Marty pushes him down on the bed and crawls on top of him, Rust can’t seem to care about any of it. In the end, they are all insignificant. All he has is this. All they have are each other and this time.
Rust closes his eyes and arches into Marty. When Marty kisses him, it’s hard to remember that all this doesn’t matter. Marty believes that Rust knows him, but what Rust hasn’t told him is that he’s pretty sure Marty is as close as anyone has ever gotten to knowing him. It’s hard for that not to feel imbued with meaning.
When Rust kisses Marty back, he tries to communicate that to him. He has the words but they’re too big to be let loose. Those words, in Rust’s experience, do a particular damage all their own.
Comments and kudos feed me.
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Chapter 9: a tenuous knot
The boys are living and working together, but they can't stay a closed system forever. Enter stage right: Maggie.
I am not happy with this chapter, which is why it took so long to get up. But I'm done futzing with it. Enjoy.
in which there’s an awkward lunch, Marty gets good news, and Rust grapples with his role in Marty’s life
Most days, Rust goes all day without talking, bent over his ledger or staring at the notes and photos he has pinned up to his board. Sometimes he only notices the passage of time by what Marty hands him: coffee in the morning, a sandwich at midday, green tea in the afternoon.
Rust gives into the green tea. It makes it easier to sleep at night. The company and the peace of mind certainly don’t hurt either.
Nor the sex.
Marty invades his space in a physical way that no partner ever before has. It’s not just the sex - although that is a daily, welcome thing -, it’s the way Marty wraps himself around Rust in his sleep, or wakes Rust up with fingers in his hair and soft kisses to his neck, or touches Rust in passing in the office, or tucks up close behind Rust as he makes dinner - hindering, more than helping, but Rust never shrugs him off.
He never thought he’d want this: Marty up in his space all the time. He’s in his mind too. There’s a tenderness to the physicality that Rust never expected; not in all the years he idly fantasised about fucking Marty. His imagination never pressed much past the physical desire, the fleeting pleasure, the need to grapple with the man until they were eye-to-eye and panting. Rust tries not to think too hard about it the uncharted territory they’re walking. It feels like a thing that may fall apart if handled thoroughly right now. What he has with Marty isn’t a suspect in an interrogation room.
Rust knows that if he starts examining, he’s very likely to destroy it.
Across from him, Marty speaks up without looking up from the file he’s examining. “Gonna go dig through some county records this afternoon.”
Rust is searching for the contact information of a missing person’s case. The only reason it landed in the pursue pile is because it doesn’t feel like it has any connection to Carcosa. He won’t lead them back down that path. He will do anything in his power to keep the arm of their spiral away from that darkness. Any casefile with the faintest taste of ash and aluminum ended up in the box Rust tried very hard to forget - something he isn’t much good at anymore.
“Want company?” he mumbles. The next step on this will be legwork and he’ll want Marty along. Tit-for-tat, even though he knows Marty won’t expect it.
“Yup. Be nice.” There’s a pause, a void, and Rust looks up. He’s all too familiar with the rhythm and cadence of Marty’s avoidance.
He sighs and closes the file. Rust sits up straighter.
“Maggie wants to have lunch with me.” Shit . Marty juts out his jaw and sucks in his cheeks. “She- she invited you.”
“And you?” Rust asks, steepling his fingers together and looking hard at Marty. He expects Marty to not want him to come. Marty was always big on compartmentalisation. “What do you want?”
Marty sets the file down, fiddles with it until it’s squared up. “You know how Maggie is. I figure… It’s up to you.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I know. I don’t know what to say, Rust. You and Maggie? Think you can play nice?” Marty asks. Rust rankles - ok, so maybe he’s still angry even after all these years. Maybe this thing with Marty has made him angry all over again.
“Can she?” he deadpans, raising an eyebrow.
“You know she won’t - polite but not nice. Specially not if she scents blood- or rather, gossip.” Marty shrugs, resigned. Rust knows he doesn’t have a choice on Maggie being in his life.
“We gossip now?” He doesn’t know how he feels, other people - Maggie, specifically - speculating about Marty and him. He wouldn’t care if it were just him, but Marty…
“Don’t go playing dumb on me. It doesn’t suit you.” Marty levels a challenging look at him.
“What’re you afraid of? Think I’m gonna make a scene?”
Marty pushes back from his desk and stands, spreading his hands. “What do you want from me Rust? You’re in my life. She’s in my life. You two can avoid each other or-”
Rust looks back down and picks up his pen. “I’ll come.”
“I’ll come.” He stares blankly at his notes. His fingers tremble slightly. “What’s she want to meet about?”
“Audrey’s birthday. It’s a whole big… thing.” His voice has the light, strained tone that means he’s worried.
“Should have lead with that,” Rust mumbles. Marty comes around and perches on the edge of Rust’s desk. He touches Rust’s chin lightly, getting him to look up. There’s a questioning look on Marty’s face. “I know what your kids mean to you. Ain’t gonna mess with that.”
Marty sighs and shakes his head in disbelief, then he pats Rust’s cheek a bit roughly. “Let’s go, asshole.”
He grabs his jacket and doesn’t look back to see if Rust is following. He doesn’t need to.
“Good to see you both up and about,” Maggie says when she slides into the booth opposite them. She’s impeccably put together in all white. She looks out of place in the greasy spoon diner.
Rich people clothing , Rust things vindictively even as a small part of him twinges, missing the old Maggie - the Maggie that used to wear patterned sundresses, let her hair curl, and spend hours chatting with Rust at her kitchen island.
“Good to be up and about,” Marty responds with forced cheer.
Maggie glances over at Rust. “Rust.”
Rust inclines his head. “Maggie.”
Marty looks between the two of them, nervousness radiating off of him. When neither of them offer up anything else, he widens his eyes in exaggeration and picks up a menu. “Shall we order?"
Rust sits back and enjoys the ensuing awkward silence. He’s always amused by the way most people can’t handle a void in conversation. It’s especially entertained by the way Maggie visibly tries not to look back as Rust stares. Marty unsubtly kicks him under the table and Rust drops his eyes. The waiter chooses just that moment to appear.
He and Marty have been here a few times so Rust knows exactly what they’re both going to get. He orders the BLT and waits for Marty’s usual: fried chicken. But Marty orders a salad and Rust’s head snaps to look at him. Marty pointedly ignores him. Maggie also orders a salad.
“Dressing on the side, please,” she adds politely with a practiced, warm smile.
Rust looks back down at the table as the waiter gathers their menus. He takes a sip of his water - not because he’s thirsty but for something to do. Marty and Maggie are making small talk. Rust follows even as he thinks.
“Seen you more in the last few months than the last few years,” Marty ribs fondly. “I should get my ass landed in the hospital more often.”
“Don’t joke about that, Marty.” Rust can clearly picture the frown Maggie is giving Marty: the single line between the eyes, the gentle downturn of the corners of her mouth. All of Maggie is restrained nowadays; nothing done in full measures.
He wonders if it was the split with Marty that has made her so cautious. He wants to study her and try to see past the years, try to see the scars they left on each other. He cuts himself off. He refuses to feel bad about what had happened between them.
“Sorry. Just mean it’s nice to see you.” Marty’s voice has that playful, flirtatious quality that he uses with Rust when they’re alone. It shouldn’t surprise him that Marty is like this with other people - especially not his ex - but it sits poorly in Rust’s mind.
Even more disconcerting is the way it sits in his chest.
“That’s one thing I don’t miss about being married to a cop: the gallows humour.”
Rust looks up and watches Marty and Maggie chat. The smile on Maggie’s face may be tight and careful but it’s genuine. There’s a warmth in her when she looks at Marty that melts some of the ice in her eyes.
“You think I’m bad, try working with this guy.” Marty jerks a thumb in Rust’s direction but doesn’t look at him. He’s grinning at Maggie. It strikes him that this is how Marty looks when he looks at Rust. It’s a surreal, vertiginous experience to suddenly be on the outside of it.
“I remember,” Maggie chuckles, glancing over at Rust. The conversation is off-center and he resents this clumsy attempt to include him. “How could I forget?”
Again, Rust feels like he’s trying to align two images of Marty in his head but they stubbornly remain offset. It blurs his understanding. Which is the real Marty? As Marty’s partner, Rust had been given a first row seat to the way the man put on masks that fit so snugly that he started to believe his own lies. Marty was a fantastic actor.
Rust wants to think that he’s one of the few that can see past Marty’s bullshit; that maybe Marty’s grown past that need for external validation. But Rust has to admit that his blindspot when it comes to Marty is a problem.
He looks at Marty’s profile and wonders: how long until you need something more? And when that day comes, will you smile at me through a mask and lie? Will I even realise it?
Marty glances at him as if he’s heard Rust’s thought. He flashes him a crooked, secret smile, bumping his shoulder against Rust’s.
“You know? He grows on you. Given enough time.” Marty’s eyes run over Rust’s face like a touch, his voice softening. Rust warms despite himself, the rest of the world receding.
“Only fifteen years or so,” he throws back. He can’t help it. He smiles at Marty.
It’s hard to remember that they have an audience because Rust wants to pull Marty in for a kiss. Across from them, he feels Maggie shift. He drags his gaze lazily to look at her, eyes half-lidded. He can see the cogs whirring away, reevaluating Marty and him. She’d done the same thing when she’d had the gall to waltz into his bar, like something about Marty and him didn’t make sense.
Maybe she was right. Rust didn’t rightly care much about making sense to her. Regardless, it definitely was none of her business.
The waiter returns and slides their plates onto the table with little fanfare. Rust wonders if the young man can sense the tension at the table. He knows Marty’s noticed because he clears his throat and says with forced cheer, “So! What did you need to meet up about?”
Rust is glad Marty isn’t beating around the bush. He wants to get this over with and then get back to work. Bad enough that their lunch is going to be ruined. Marty unrolls his silverware and pulls his salad towards him. Maybe it was just Rust’s appetite that’s ruined.
Maggie sits up straighter, smooths her skirt under the table. She’s still studying them but it’s clear her mind has moved onto other things. Marty stills, fork poised over his meal.
“I didn’t want to do this over the phone, but-”
Marty sags, all of his sunny mood draining away all at once. It’s like a cloud passing over the sun. Rust only realises how much he needs that warmth as soon as it’s gone. “Audrey doesn’t want me there, does she?”
Rust clamps down on the instinct to reach over and touch him; offer comfort. Instead he presses his thigh against Marty’s and glares at Maggie across the table. She looks startled. It’s the first genuine, unfiltered emotion Rust has seen from her since he came back.
“Oh, Marty… No. I’m sorry. No, that’s-” Maggie frowns. “Is that what you’ve been thinking since we talked?”
Marty shrugs, looking down at the table. His loss is written in every bowed line. Marty may act like he’s happy that his kids are doing well, but them not being a part of Marty’s life was a deep wound. Rust rubs a hand down his leg casually and brushes his fingers against Marty’s thigh. It’s okay, he wants to say.
“How ’bout you get to the point,” Rust drawls, barely attempting to mask his irritation. Maggie presses her lips together, chastened but not happy about it.
“I apologise. I didn’t mean to worry you. It’s nothing like that. It’s just that the guest list is getting a bit long and I thought- we thought-” The way Maggie says we makes it clear that she’s talking about her and her husband. Under the table, Marty’s fingertips touch his then curl around them. It’s clear that Marty wants to hold Rust’s hand. Maggie’s eyes dart between the two of them.
“Audrey has asked if we can have the party at my house, while her stepdad is away at a conference,” she says in a rush, squaring her shoulders. It’s obvious, she’s anticipating a refusal or a fight.
“Is that all?” Marty asks, huffing out a breath. “Shit, Maggie. That’s great! Better than some rented hall, anyway.”
He looks over at Rust and says in an aside, “Their place is beautiful.”
Maggie smiles uncertainly, hands resting on the edge of the table. “Yeah?”
“Fuck, yes.” Marty sounds so relieved that Rust’s heart clenches. Marty’s fingers slip from his and he takes up his fork again.
Just like that, Rust is on the outside again as Marty and Maggie talk plans. His skin feels cold as he mechanically eats his sandwich. He still turns the plate so that his fries are on the left, where Marty can steal them like he usually did.
Maggie’s sharp eyes watch when Marty reaches over and snag a few. Her gaze meets Rust’s but she’ll get nothing from him. She’s the first to look away and to Rust, it feels like a small, petty victory.
“I can come over before and help you decorate,” Marty says eagerly, mouth full of lettuce. “When do the girls get into town?”
Still, it’s hard not to be happy at the way Marty lights up as he talks about their plans for the party, about seeing his girls. Their visit in the hospital had retied a tenuous knot in the string between father and daughters - especially with Audrey. Rust had been privy to Marty’s end of several halting but earnest phone calls Marty had taken from both Audrey and Macie.
Rust knows he’ll do whatever he can to help facilitate the healing of that bond. And whatever residual issues he may have with Maggie, it’s clear she feels the same way. She smiles and laughs, eyes fond. No matter how much Marty had hurt her and how she tried to distance herself, she still has a soft spot for the man. It’s just something Marty inspires in others.
Rust marvels that he’s sitting here with two people he’d torn up, who’d returned the favour, and yet- Marty is a sun that caught others in its orbit. Rust and Maggie had survived their perigees and are now drawn back in to bask in the warmth of Marty’s regard.
Rust snorts at himself. What a fool . The other two look at him and he shrugs, picking up the second half of his sandwich. Let them wonder.
They return to their conversation and Rust tunes it out in favour of looking out the windows next to the booth. The same tired town, even worse for wear in the ten years he’d been gone, but the place feels different. It fits Rust better than it had before; feels more like home.
He knows that it isn’t the town that has changed.
Chapter 10: silence and dust
Rust continues to struggle while Marty makes plans.
Sorrynotsorry for all the cute, domestic scenes. This is what happens when these two aren't well-supervised.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which they close a case, Marty exposes one of Rust’s secrets, a guest comes to stay, and Rust worries some more
The frisson from lunch follows them as they drive three perishes over to dig through old birth records. In the car, Marty’s happiness is self-contained and self-satisfied in a way that excludes Rust. It worries Rust how quickly he’s gotten used to - taken for granted, more like - Marty drawing him inside that bubble. The last few months, Marty’s been remarkably consistent in pulling Rust close - confiding in him, relying on him - and Marty does it so naturally, Rust hadn’t really noticed it happening.
Until now he’s on the outside of it again.
The ride reminds Rust of all those hundreds and thousands of hours spent in their CID car, lost in their own thoughts. The few feet between them might as well have been miles. Rust looks out the passenger window, worries his thumb between his teeth, and tries not to fall into memories of the past. He doesn’t want them to taint the flavour of his new memories with Marty.
The afternoon is spent in dust and silence as they dig through boxes of mouldering papers. For the first time since the hospital, Rust wishes he were somewhere else. Marty’s distracted and his unfocused energy keeps pulling Rust away from the task.
Rust finds himself studying Marty, struggling for that objectivity that made him such a good detective, but it’s impossible. He knows too much about Marty to ever be able to parse him cooly and efficiently like he can with a suspect. If he was honest with himself, he’d lost that ability years ago. He’s too close for objectivity and not close enough for true intimacy.
Rust isn’t sure he’s capable of that kind of closeness.
He thinks about how he reopened the Dora Lange case back in ‘02. What would have happened if he’d trusted Marty with what he was up to instead of pushing him away? Is that what Rust is doing now? How could he ever be close to Marty if he was always leaving the space between them littered with these thoughts?
He realises that he’s been starting at the same birth record for minutes. It’s the name they’ve been looking for. The parents’ names are listed. The father used his middle name but didn’t bother changing his last name. Marty’s hunch had been right. It was the old man.
“Hey, Marty? I got something.”
Marty hurries over and looks over Rust’s shoulder. He curls a warm hand around Rust’s bicep as he studies the document. Rust feels like he thaws under Marty’s touch, shivering as his nerves come back to life.
“Well, would you look at that. Good thing the guy felt guilty enough to leave this trace.”
Rust taps his finger over the child’s last name, which is the same as the mother’s. “That’s why the executor couldn’t find her. They’ve been looking for the wrong name. And who knows if she’s moved away or changed her name.”
He glances over at Marty who is grinning excitedly. “Looks like we’ve got some interviewing to do.”
Rust bends over, copying the information down in his ledger. He’ll also photocopy it after they straighten up, but he liked having it recorded in his own hand. “You used to hate pounding the pavement.”
Marty grips the back of his neck and kisses him behind the ear. He lowers his voice when he speaks. “S’not so bad with good company.”
It takes them the rest of the week to track down the woman. She’s in her fifties now and living in Chicago. As they interview people that knew the old man and his mistress, Rust can't help but think about how easy most people find it to lie to the ones they love. The people they talk to have only wonderful things to say about the deceased.
When they hand over the file to the executor, she stares at the information with a bemused tilt to her head. She’s middle aged and dressed in business casual clothing that reads more creative field than lawyer . There’s no ring on her finger.
“You guys did in a few weeks what I’ve been trying to do for months.” She pulls out a checkbook and begins to fill out their payment in tidy, deliberate handwriting.
“Couldn’t have done it without this guy here,” Marty say, jerking a finger back over his shoulder. “He found the start of the thread. After that, it’s just a matter of leg work.”
Rust, who has hung back behind Marty - ostensibly the face of their outfit - notices the tightness around her mouth. When she hands Marty the check, Rust’s eyes dart to the name printed at the top. Same last name. She’s not just the executor of the estate. She’s one of the kids.
When the woman leaves, Marty sighs. “Poor woman’s gonna have to tell the widow about this.”
“She may not.” Marty swivels in the desk chair to look at him, eyebrow quirked in question. “She’s one of his kids. We just told her that not only does she have a half-sister, but her father was cheating on her mother around the same time she was conceived.”
Marty whistles, long and low, turning to watch the woman walk across the parking lot to her car. For a second, it feels like he and Marty share an insight on the world; how underneath the brightly lit surface of even the happiest, most typical families, there’s always layers of secrets, lies, and traumas waiting to be peeled back or dredged up.
Exposing that shit to the light of day was their job.
Rust isn’t sure if it’s him or Marty that injects doubt into the moment, but the thought is there regardless: What good did any of this do?
The moment passes. Rust has always believed truth was better than poisonous lies, but far be it for him to decide to force truth upon anyone anymore. Truth was so often ugly and life was far too short. In the end, truth or narrative or outright lies, it's what people did with them that mattered. The thought shocks him in the way it juxtaposes with how he has so long lived his life.
It isn’t just Marty that has changed. He prods at this new outlook cautiously, testing its solidity. It’s still soft at the edges, newly formed and tender.
What Rust doesn't want to examine too closely is how loved ones can present one face while behaving in a completely contrary manner. He stares at the back of Marty's head and tries to remind himself that the man's changed. He’s changed. He’s different. We’re different.
His words ring hollow even in his own head.
A lot of Marty's time is suddenly taken up with helping Maggie plan the party. It's a much bigger affair than Rust had originally expected. There's catering and RSVPs and hours spent on the phone with all three of the Hart women.
Audrey is coming into town next week and is crashing with friends. Macie is coming only the night before and is going to stay with Marty and Rust. She wants to spend some time with her father.
After that phone call, Marty tucks up close to Rust on the couch, eyes shining. Rust has gotten little bits and pieces of how rough and acrimonious relations had gotten during the divorce, so seeing Marty nearly glow with happiness is quite something.
And Rust reaps the rewards.
When he gets off the phone with Maggie one evening while they're at the office, Marty pulls Rust to his feet and draws him close. He was already close to calling it a day so he plays along.
“What's gotten into you?” Rust chuckles, tossing his pen over his shoulder in the direction of his desk. Marty wraps one arm around Rust's waist and slips his free hand into Rust's.
“Can't a man be happy?” He turns Rust on the spot. He's dancing- or rather, trying to. Rust isn’t much of a dancer normally.
“Sure he can. But why are you so happy?” Marty leading him, gently swaying, is a bit of a surreal experience. Rust wonders what it’d be like to do this for real - with music and purpose. Marty’s thumb strokes against Rust’s index finger. His hand trails idly up Rust’s back.
Rust doesn’t think he’d much mind dancing with Marty.
“I’m gonna see my girls, Maggie isn't freezing me out for the first time in years-” Marty presses a kiss against Rust cheekbone and then whispers, “And you. You, Rust. Do I even need to say it?”
Before he can stop himself, Rust answers. “Say it.”
Marty pulls back and looks him in the eye. The corners of his eyes are crinkled up, but there’s something else there; a shadow or perhaps the slipping of a mask. Marty doesn’t say anything. He brushes a kiss against Rust’s lips and then pulls them close again.
This time when he hums, Rust recognises the song. He even knows the lyrics and murmurs them under his breath as Marty provides the bare bones of the melody.
“I’ve been here before. Seen this room, walked this floor. You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya and I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch. Love is not a victory march…”
“Hallelujah,” Marty whispers. They’re not even swaying anymore, but Marty keeps Rust held tight. “You’re full of surprises, ain’t you?”
“Am I?” Something about Marty’s question doesn’t sit right with Rust, despite its rhetorical nature, but he can’t pinpoint why.
“Mm-hmmm,” Marty responds. “I’m beginning to suspect that you’re much more of a romantic than you let on.”
Rust suddenly feels exposed. He tucks his face against Marty’s shoulder and closes his eyes, fighting against the desire to withdraw. He wasn’t going to flee from this vulnerability.
“Yeah, well… don’t go spreading your crazy theory. I’ve a reputation.” Marty laughs, warm and rumbling. Rust can feel the vibrations where they’re pressed chest to chest.
“Oh, no need to worry about that. No one would believe me. Besides-” Marty pulls their conjoined hands to his mouth and brushes a kiss across Rust’s knuckles. “I like being the only one in on the secret.”
Macie shows up late Friday night. Rust’s already in bed, reading a book that Marty had taken one look at and wondered aloud Who needs a thousand pages to tell a story? Rust had checked it out of the library in a stubborn show of defiance, but it was turning out to be pretty interesting, if a bit difficult to read while laying down.
He tries to focus on the events happening in Tokyo, but the murmur of voices and the cadence of words just on the edge of audibility keeps him on edge. He’s nervous. Having Macie here makes Rust feel like he’s being sneaky - hiding in the bedroom -, but it’d been Marty that told him he didn’t need to come out and greet her.
Rust tries not to see it as Marty compartmentalising things, but it’s been a fear creeping in on the edges of his thoughts recently.
Then there’s a rustling and Macie calls down the hall, “Night, Rust.”
Marty appears in the doorway, wearing a wide, boyish grin. Rust rests the book on his chest.
“G’night, Macie,” he volleys back. Marty shuts the door behind him.
“I may have talked about you,” he says a little shyly, shrugging. He crawls onto the bed and over Rust, holding himself up and looking down at him.
“You told her?” Rust says, voice hoarse. His mouth is dry with surprise.
“She was bound to notice we’re sharing a bed. Besides, it’s Mace. If anyone’s going to understand-” Something must show on Rust’s face because Marty closes his mouth and clenches his jaw.
“Did you want her to know?” Rust whispers. His heart feels like a bird fluttering against the cage of his ribs. “I could have stayed at a ho-”
“Hush. You know I don’t mean that.” Marty picks up Rust’s book and sets it aside, stretching over Rust to reach the side table. He settles back on his heels and lays one of his large, warm hands over Rust’s heart. “I want you here.”
“You know, she had a girlfriend a few years back. Not even Maggie knows. I only found out by chance.” Marty’s eyes are focused on where his hand rests, attention obviously somewhere else. He’s far away. “All I’m saying… I’m not going to pretend that I know how to do this.”
Rust isn’t sure he knows what Marty is referring to - How to be with Rust? How to come out? He wants to ask but he feels the thoughts muddy and the words gum up in his throat. Marty’s palm slides up to curl around the side of Rust’s neck, thumb resting along Rust’s jaw. He looks Rust in the eye and the warmth of it dislodges something.
“You let me know what you need.” The words tear him up inside even as he says them. They’re not true- not the whole truth. But he’s pushed the truth down so thoroughly that he’s not sure if it’s possible to set it free any longer.
Marty traces his thumb over Rust’s cheek, down to his bottom lip. “Rust…”
Rust doesn’t let him continue. Everything feels too tenuous, too stretched thin right now. He pulls Marty down into his arms. “Let’s go to sleep.”
Rust reaches over and flips off the lamp. His scars pull; a constant reminder. The light flees and the room is suddenly dark but no less full of tension. Marty wraps an arm around Rust’s waist, cuddling in close.
Long after Rust thinks Marty’s fallen asleep, the man whispers, “Thank you.”
The words act like a cue. In the dark, they turn to each other with a silent urgency, kissing with practiced ease. They don’t say anything. They don’t need to and there’s nothing to say. Not right now. The tension in the room is pushed back, replaced with quiet, panting breaths and tiny, lightning pops of pleasure. Marty shoves a thigh between Rust’s legs and splays a hand on his lower back. There’s a slow hush to the way they come together that seems as much for their benefit as to make sure Macie doesn’t overhear them.
The song they dance to is "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen.
The book Rust is reading is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
Chapter 11: united but separate
Rust struggles with what it means to be a part of Marty's life. Audrey helps out.
SORRY IT'S BEEN SO LONG I GOT DISTRACTED BY DEPRESSION AND DBH
But we're back!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which there’s a party, Rust feels like an interloper, and Audrey gives Rust some perspective
Marty wakes Rust with a kiss to the temple. Judging by the angle of the light into the room, it’s nearing noon. “Gonna make breakfast. Come on out when you’re ready.”
Rust takes his time showering and dressing. He chooses the blue shirt Marty had loved so much - he hasn’t had a chance to wear it yet and if this wasn’t a special occasion, he didn’t know what was - and khakis. He usually avoids looking at himself too much in mirrors, but when he studies himself in the vanity mirror, he can’t help but notice how different he looks.
It’s not just the clean-shaved face or haircut, the much needed weight he’s gained, or the clothes. He looks healthy, but what’s more noticeable is that he doesn’t look empty.
Marty’s making pancakes when he walks into the kitchen. He looks over, eyes widening then blatantly staring.
“Morning, Rust,” he says, eyes trailing down Rust’s form. “You look… good. Real good.”
“Morning, Rust. I agree. Blue’s your colour.” Macie is still in pajamas at the kitchen table. She glances over at her father, where he’s neglecting the griddle. “Good lord, dad. Kiss him, won’t you?”
Marty smiles widely. He walks over to Rust and nervously straightens his tie. Rust quirks his lip and waits defiantly. “Well, won’t you?”
Marty tugs gently on Rust’s tie and pecks him chastely on the lips. Macie boos softly under her breath.
“You’re not too old to ground, missy,” Marty says, turning back to his task. Only Rust can see the flush that has spread over his cheeks.
After breakfast, Macie shuts herself in the bathroom to get ready. Marty gestures for Rust to follow him into the bedroom. Once the door is shut, Marty flicks through the closet. In the silence, Rust senses something impending, like thunder clouds on the horizon.
“What is it?”
Marty pulls a pair of charcoal slacks off a hanger and lays them on the bed before looking at Rust. “Listen, Rust…”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Marty. What?” He can’t stand when Marty gets like this, like Rust can’t handle what he has to say.
“Today’s supposed to be about Audrey.” Marty strips off his pajama pants and tee, then shakes out the slacks. He grins at Rust. “I’m so happy that Macie knows, but I don’t think today is the right-”
“You want us to play straight today,” Rust says bluntly. He understands but it still stings. Marty steps into his pants.
“We don’t need to play anything,” Marty answers, an edge of annoyance in his voice. Rust stares at Marty and it’s when Marty looks away, fussing with the zipper, that confirms it: Marty doesn’t want people to know; he’s still uncomfortable with whatever is happening between them.
Marty gruffly pulls on a white undershirt, then turns and yanks a pink oxford off its hanger with more force than necessary. He doesn’t look at Rust as he fastens buttons.
No, not people . Maggie. Audrey. He doesn’t want his family to know. Marty drags his gaze back up to Rust’s and Rust can see the answer there.
There’s a knock on their door. “Dad? I was gonna head out soon.”
Rust opens the door so suddenly, Macie jerks a little. She’s dressed in a white and black a-line dress, her hair pulled back on the sides. She looks so strongly like Maggie that Rust is knocked off balance.
“You mind if I catch a ride with you?” he asks. He wants out of here.
“Not at all! I’ve got a few errands to run though.”
“Perfect. I have something to pick up too.” He wants away from Marty because then he won’t have to examine what he’s feeling.
“Just give me a second to pack up and head out.” He nods and she swishes away. Marty touches Rust’s elbow.
“What’s going on, Rust?” Marty’s fingers curl around his arm, holding lightly. “You shut down on me.”
“I didn’t get Audrey a present.”
“That’s not it, but I can tell you’re not going to tell me,” Marty says, jaw set in disapproval. “We good?”
There’s a numbness in Rust’s chest; a vacuum he knows will be filled later once he has time to think. It’s a feeling that always precedes strong emotion in him and instinctively he wants to lash out. He wants to push Marty away.
He reminds himself that he’s supposed to be trying .
So instead, he tugs Marty’s wrist up and does up his cuff. He give a tight smile that is nearly painful. “Yeah.”
He can feel Marty’s eyes on him as he finishes.
“Don’t think I’m letting you off the hook.” Marty leans in a presses a kiss to the corner of Rust’s mouth. The smile hurts a little less. “See you there.”
Rust turns without looking at Marty again. Macie side-eyes him as they walk out to the parking lot. “Should I ask?”
He looks at her pointedly over the roof of her car.
“Oookay, just dad being dad then.”
“Ye-up,” he answers dryly, sliding into the passenger seat.
“Got it.” She turns on the car and drops the topic. “Where we going?”
“You know that arts and crafts store off of Main?”
“Intimately.” Macie turns into traffic. “Audrey dragged me there all the time when babysitting.”
Two hours and a handful of errands later, Macie pulls up in front of a large, white house. There’s already a half dozen cars parked on the half-moon, crushed marble drive. The place screams Maggie . The front door is an impossibly shiny black lacquer with a laurel wreath centered on it. There’s a cluster of brightly coloured balloons tied to the wrought iron railing leading up to the door. That detail feels like Marty.
Rust whistles between his teeth. “Classy.”
“I know right? I’m always afraid to touch anything when I’m here.” She looks over at Rust and grins. “Don’t worry. You look like you belong here. That’s half the battle.”
“I look like-” He can’t decide if it’s an insult or not.
Macie’s smile takes on a wicked gleam - there’s the Marty in her. “As long as you keep your mouth shut you’ll be fine. Let’s go.”
Rust trails after Macie, Audrey’s gift tucked under his arm. She’s got a camera swinging at her side, looking relaxed and at home. He can’t feel less so. He’s already on edge and dreading this. Despite the years and Marty’s insistence, Rust is absolutely no fun at parties. Strangers, small talk, and alcohol; it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Rust agrees with Macie’s advice. Just keep your mouth shut.
He hangs back as Macie leads him into the house and directly to the kitchen. There’s a small group of twenty-somethings including Audrey. Rust wanders past them to look out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the house. They look out over a sloping, impossibly even green lawn. A large, white tent has been set up in the middle. Marty and Maggie are helping direct the stringing of decorative lights.
Marty looks so good, Rust’s jaw aches. The pink shirt makes him look younger. It’s like looking through a portal to the past: Marty with his hand on Maggie’s lower back, the two of them laughing and close. They look picturesque.
They look like a family.
Just then, Marty looks up and spots him. If possible, his grin widens as he waves at Rust. Then he mimes drinking something and mouths Please . Rust flips him off even as he turns to try and find him a beer.
Rust grabs two beers out of the large tub of ice on the kitchen island, then wanders down the lawn to deliver Marty’s. He finds the man in the back of a box truck where workers are hauling stacks of chairs over to the tent. He waits for a young man to step down with the last of the seats and offers Marty a hand down. His fingers are warm in Rust’s palm.
“I’m glad it’s overcast, otherwise this would be miserable,” Marty says, plucking one of the beers from Rust’s other hand. He tugs Rust around the side of the truck, away from view, and kisses him on the cheek. “Thank you.”
Rust takes a swig from his bottle instead of answering. There’s a tenseness to Marty that makes the words ring hollow.
“I’m going to wander around. Stay out of the way.” Marty tries to pull him closer, but Rust works his hand out of Marty’s when he tries to hold onto it.
“Rust. Oh, come on. Rust!” Marty steps out from behind the truck, but doesn’t follow him. He knows exactly the look of frustrated disappointment that would be on Marty’s face if he were to look back. He doesn’t look back.
He doesn’t have to work hard to disappear into the background. As the afternoon encroaches into night, guests trickle in. Rust slowly nurses beers - very careful not to get drunk - and watches as groups form; little clumps of identically dressed people. Lots of slacks and dress shirts - with and without ties -, lots of tea-length dresses. He’s dressed exactly like them. With a disgusted snort, he turns his back on the party and goes back inside.
The house is empty. Apparently, it had only been a staging area. He was probably out of bounds. He didn’t care. He opens the fridge and steals another beer, promising himself that it’ll be his last. He hasn’t eaten anything since the late breakfast Marty’d made. He’ll have to brave the party proper and find something to eat. But first...
He drifts from the kitchen and down the hall towards the front door. All the downstairs lights are on so he can see the walls of family pictures up for display. Rust is surrounded by the detritus of a shipwrecked family. The four of them had survived to stagger off in their own directions, but here was the evidence of when they’d been a seemingly immutable whole.
It’s obvious that Maggie took care to minimise his presence, but even in this new home - this new family - Marty’s here, smiling out of frames next to Maggie and the girls. Rust remembers how happy having a family had made Marty, despite his deep unhappiness with himself.
“Hey, Rust,” a quiet voice says from behind him. He jumps and turns. Audrey has sneaked up on him. “Noticed you disappeared. Why you hiding?”
Rust stares at her. She’s tall and clear-eyed - Maggie’s eyes but Marty’s hair and strong jaw. Where Macie looks like her mother, Audrey is all Marty. She’s even dressed down in a white blouse and dark jeans. Rust doesn’t realise how long he’s been looking until she blushes.
“Sorry,” he says in a rush, reaching his hand out to shake her hand. “Wow… Audrey. You- You grew up.”
“Tends to happen.” She grins and eyes his hand quizzically. “You really trying to shake my hand? Used to be we were family.”
She steps forward and surprises him with a hug while he’s still blinking at her statement. He has to remind himself to relax and wraps his free arm around her waist. Is that how she remembers it? Rust had only ever felt like a dark comet caught in the orbit of the Hart family.
“Been a long time. Didn’t wanna assume.”
She steps back but keeps a hand on his arm. “You probably don’t remember, but I visited you in the hospital.”
“Yeah, a few times. Kinda unavoidable since dad all but refused to leave your bedside until you woke up.” She squeezes his arm. “Expected him to still be attached to your side tonight.”
He knows she’s teasing but it hits too close to home.
“He’s not my nurse.” He regrets the words as soon as he says them so he tries to smooth over them. “I’m not much for parties or crowds.”
“I remember,” she laughs. “But I’m glad you’re here. All those years… Mace and I missed you. And you know how mom and dad are. We never got an explanation.”
Rust had never thought about the girls when he’d run. He’d figured- hell- “I figured you’d forget me.”
Audrey narrows her eyes at him, shrewd. Ok, so maybe there was some Maggie in her after all. “Kinda hard to forget someone like you, especially with the way dad used to go on an on...”
His smile surprises him, lips dry and tight. He huffs a laugh and looks away.
“Nah, you’re too handsome to be forgotten, even if you were boring.” His eyes flash up to meet hers and he can immediately see she’s being playful. “You were always so patient, even when you wouldn’t play with us. You- I’m not quite sure how to say it. You looked at us differently than most adults did. Like it didn’t matter we were kids.”
He shrugs. “It didn’t matter. If anything, kids are more entertaining in that they’re less predictable.”
She drops her hand. “See? How could I forget you?”
“Ok, fine. I get it. It’s good to see you too.” He makes a vague gesture with his half-empty bottle like he’s trying to brush off her compliments. “Listen. While I’ve got you-”
He pulls the kraft paper wrapped parcel from under his arm. “Here. Happy Birthday.”
In her hands, he can’t help but notice how paltry and plain the gift looks. The paper is wrinkled from being carried around all afternoon. She doesn’t seem to notice or care though, eagerly unwrapping the slim, leather-bound sketchbook. She runs her fingers over the black cover.
“You know, like-”
“Like the one you used to have.” She smiles at him. He used to sketch drawings of her and Macie in the back pages of the one he always carried. Audrey had been fascinated by it. “You remembered.”
“So did you.” Rust is having a hard time looking directly at Audrey. She’s beaming but he can’t see the twenty-six-year-old woman. All he can see is the little girl that used to sit patiently by his side as he sketched.
“Thank you so much, Rust.” She slips off the elastic band and touches the paper, humming in approval. Rust knows just how buttery the paper is; can feel the texture of it under his fingers. “Come with me real quick so I can put this someplace safe.”
She slips past him and heads up the stairs. Rust looks towards the back of the house, uncertain if he should follow, but he did have something he wanted to ask Audrey. He doesn’t know if he’ll have another chance once they rejoin the party. He jogs up to the bedrooms behind her.
“Your dad mentioned that you had an art show recently.” He leans in the doorway of her bedroom and watches as she tucks the notebook away.
“Oh yeah! Nothing big but it’s a start.” She looks up from where she’s crouched. An uncertain look flashes across her face. “Do you- you wanna see some of my pieces?”
“Do you even need to ask?” He considers telling her about his tiny, secret dream of being an artist, but he’s only ever told Marty. It feels too intimate.
She pulls out a portfolio with pictures of her paintings. He isn’t sure what he expected, but it’s certainly not this: moody, dramatic portraits. It’s not until a few pictures in, where Audrey is standing next to the canvas for scale, that he realises that the paintings are larger than life.
“Holy shit, Audrey… has your dad seen these?”
“God, no. We’re- you know-” He glances up at her. He knows.
“Good. Because I want to commission you- Do you do commissions? You’re dad is dying to buy one of your pieces but, it’s Marty. God knows if he’ll ever get around to it.”
She blinks rapidly. “Yeah, I… Sure. What are you thinking?”
Shit . He hadn’t thought this through. He turns the page again. Each piece captures something of the person. Audrey comes up next to him and skips ahead in the portfolio.
“What about this one instead? I’ve never put it up for sale because I market myself as painting from life but-”
The portrait shows the back of two men, backlit against so that they’re little more than silhouettes. They’re looking away from each other even as they move in the same direction, walking away from the viewer. They’re united but separate.
And it’s obvious to anyone that knows them: it’s Marty and him.
There’s even a lit cigarette between the right figure’s teeth. The smoke drifts lazily up towards the top of the canvas.
“It’s us.” He touches the strong line of Marty’s jaw.
“It was,” Audrey whispers. He looks up to find she’s watching him and not the page. “Not so much anymore, I think.”
The painting tastes like their old partnership during their best years. Rust is filled with an intense nostalgia, but it’s only sweet because of what he - they - have now. He doesn’t want their old partnership back, but seeing how far they'd come... “Would you be willing to sell this?”
“I’d be willing to gift it to you and dad.” Rust opens his mouth to protest. “You’re still gonna commission me, but let me think about what to paint.”
There’s a smug, cocky smile on her lips, and there’s something in that or the set of her jaw that reminds him of Marty. He smiles at her warmth. “Damn, you Harts are bossy.”
“You love it,” she scoffs, pulling the portfolio from his hands and tossing it on the bed.
God help him, he did.
Kudos and comments give me life. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Chapter 12: full of dreadful static
Rust and Maggie finally have it out, forcing Marty to intervene. The fight follows them home.
TW// Rust's alcoholism rears its ugly head in full force.
This whole chapter features Rust's insecurities on full display.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which things that shouldn’t be spoken are uttered, the boys argue, and Rust gets very drunk
They’re halfway down the stairs when Rust notices Maggie. Audrey and him have the same reaction, they sober up and slope down the rest of the steps like they’re marching to the gallows. Maggie really has that mom-look down that makes him feel automatically guilty. It makes him angry, her ability to so easily manipulate people like this. Audrey slips past her mother and shoots a look back at Rust. I’m sorry , she mouths before disappearing.
“What are you doing upstairs with my daughter, Rust?” Maggie asks, every word dripping with disdain. Her arms are folded over her chest.
“Figure that’s between your daughter and I,” he bites back. He knows this is a bad idea. He knows it, but he’s tired of tiptoeing around her.
“Not in my house, it isn’t.” Her lips are pressed into a thin and angry line.
“I’m not your child or your husband or your ex.” He pauses a beat to let that hit. “You don’t have any say over what I do.”
She narrows her eyes. “You looking to get back at me? Is that it?”
Rust moves to walk past her but pauses, turning his head to look her dead in the eye. “Sounds like you have a guilty conscious, more like.”
An angry red flush floods her cheeks and he tries not to smile as he walks away.
“What do you want from him?” Maggie asks, voice quiet in the well-lit hallway. Rust’s feet stall and he slowly turns back to her.
“Excuse me?” He spits, even though they both know he heard her perfectly well. “Who says I want anything from him?”
Her face is still red, but she straightens. “You almost got him killed because you needed backup and now- now you’re a full partner in his business? I know you guys are living togeth-”
“I advise you to shut your mouth, Maggie.” He never expected this from her. She’s certainly gotten bolder in the years since they last knew each other.
“I won’t. I’ll have my say.”
“Oh, I’m well aware you will. See? What you’re doing is called projecting. You can’t imagine that I might want to be in Marty’s life without some ulterior motive.” Without realising it, Rust has stalked back down the hall towards Maggie. She’s in flats so he looms over her, but she doesn’t quail. A part of him respects her for that.
“I’m not you,” he hisses. “I actually like Marty for more than what he can do for me.”
When the redness drains from her face, he knows his words hit their intended mark. Good, he hopes it hurts.
“But I don’t think that’s what’s bothering you, is it?” He presses his advantage. “You can’t stand the possibility that he likes me back. Our partnership always confused you.”
“Oh, please, spare me. I’m worried about Marty,” Maggie grits out. “We both know you don’t feel things like-”
“Where do you get off accusing me of not feeling? Who used who here,” Rust growls. “Reckon you’ve hurt both Marty and I more than we’ve ever hurt you.”
Maggie looks up at him, rage practically radiating from her, but when she speaks her voice is quiet, calm, and deadly. “You’re no good for him, Rust.”
“Mags. Stop.” Marty’s voice comes from behind him, clear and firm. “Both of you. Stop.”
Rust doesn’t move away but he does relax his shoulders.
“This is highly inappropriate,” Marty whispers loudly, sounding like a disappointed parent. He steps up next to them like he might have to referee. “And that’s coming from me. What’s gotten into you two?”
“Your ex-wife thinks I’m some sort of sociopathic leech, Marty,” Rust says with forced levity he didn't feel.
“Christ-” Marty starts in exasperation, looking back and forth between them.
“No, Marty. You know how blind you get when you care about someone. I’m just-” There’s a familiar gentle pleading in Maggie’s voice. Something inside Rust snaps at this desperate reaching and bald-faced grab for control. He feels like he’s been tricked into playing a schoolyard game of tug-of-war over Marty.
“You needn’t worry about that; we’re just fucking.” He regrets his rashness immediately. Belatedly, Rust realises that it’s not just the three of them. Macie and Audrey are behind him in the hall. The muscles in Marty’s jaw clench.
“Perfect. Just perfect,” he mutters, hands on his hips and eyes on the floor. “Rust-”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll go wait in the car.” He gives Maggie a stiff, false smile. “Thank you for having me. You have a lovely home.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake…” Marty says after him, because he’s already pushing past Maggie. Marty immediately starts in on Maggie. “What the fuck did you say to him?”
Marty sounds exasperated and helpless. Good. Maybe he can understand how Rust feels. He leaves out the front door, but not before setting his sweating bottle down on a wood table by the entrance. He hopes it leaves a ring.
God, he’s being petty today. He feels like he should feel bad about it, but his stomach is roiling with tangled emotions, making him feel reckless and sick.
He finds the truck and slides into the passenger seat. There’s an almost full pack of his cigarettes in the glove compartment. He lights up the first one, the smoke stinging his eyes, and stares angrily into the failing daylight. He presses two fingers against his neck. His pulse is steady, but his chest is still tight with emptiness. There’s a war going on between his gut and his lungs. Maggie was right. He doesn’t feel things like other people do. He was broken. He’d been at peace with that. But then Marty…
He burns through three cigarettes - his mind full of dreadful static - before Marty strides out to him. Dusk has fallen, so it’s hard to make out the man’s face but his shoulders are tense. He stops on Rust’s side of the truck and leans against the edge of the open window.
“So…” Marty sucks on his teeth. “You wanna give me your side of the story?”
Rust holds the cigarette between his teeth and speaks around it. “Figure Maggie’s already told you everything you need to know.”
“Bullshit, Rust. What’s gotten into you?” Marty sighs and leans back on his heels, holding onto the window frame for balance. Rust shrugs. He’s not interested in playing He Said, She Said with Marty’s ex. Marty takes a few breaths before rocking forward again and straightening up.
“Alright.” He walks around to the driver’s side. His movements are abrupt, like he’s holding his anger under his skin. He always reminds Rust of a caged animal when he’s like this. He jerks open the driver’s side door with a jerk and slams it once he slides in.
“Go back to the party, Marty. I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.” He doesn’t mean for it to have a second meaning, but the implication hangs there.
Marty’s hand stills on the ignition. He twists to look at Rust in the dim light. “You really think I’d leave you sitting out here? I really think-”
Rust taps his ash out of the window. “I’m saying you can. It doesn’t bother me.”
“Well, it’d bother me.” He starts the truck, then mumbles under his breath. “ You bother me.”
Rust nods, sucks the cigarette down to the filter, then flicks the butt out the window as they pull out onto the street. Sounds about right . The wind is cool, the heat of the day barely a memory on the air. The static in his head and the emptiness in his heart press down on him like something physical.
Neither of them say anything on the way home. Accusations and recriminations fill the air. Rust’s skin itches with everything that isn’t said between them. It’s an itch he can’t scratch because he’d have to acknowledge it. He can’t do that. He can barely look straight at the vulnerability inside himself, let alone vocalise it to Marty.
Once they’re home, Rust makes a beeline for the fridge and opens a beer. He’d played nice at the party but he needs this now. Addict , the logical part of his brain whispers. He tells the logical part of his brain to fuck off.
He turns to find Marty leaning against the casing of the kitchen’s entryway. “So that’s how it’s gonna be?”
Rust leans back against the counter edge and crosses his legs at the ankles. Even with the deliberately relaxed pose, he knows he still radiates defensiveness. This, he reminds himself, is why not caring is so much easier.
“I don’t know, Marty. You tell me.”
“This is why I said we should talk about things - need to talk about things! You seemed okay with staying under the radar for today. You said it yourself. And then you go and pull that shit.”
Rust drains the beer in one long, unnecessary pull in order to keep from rolling his eyes. He takes his time, then sets the empty can aside before answering. “Hell, Maggie already knew.”
Marty clenches his jaw and grits out. “She suspected . Now she knows. You damn well know the difference.”
Rust shrugs noncommittally. His pride won’t let him admit that Marty’s right, that he’d fucked up. Besides, this was inevitable. Rust would tear this apart merely by existing. The black hole in his chest would shred everything good Marty felt or gave him, all of it disappearing as if it never existed, except for the destruction it would leave behind as evidence.
Rust doesn’t want to be like this. He wants to reach out to Marty and pull him close, but he fears needing; he fears hurting.
“Goddammit, Rust!” Marty yells, throwing his hands up in the air. “Why? Is this your way of getting back at Maggie? Or me? I want to understand why today, of all days, you decide to revert-”
“Oh, fuck off,” Rust growls. He wants to apologise and try to explain exactly what had happened, but an iron core of petulant stubbornness takes over.
“Don’t fucking brush this off like it’s nothing, asshole. There’s a time and a place to do what you did and it’s not at my oldest daughter’s - my estranged daughter’s - birthday.” Marty raises his eyes skyward. “God knows what she thinks now.”
Rust’s stomach lurches suddenly, like the floor’s dropped out from beneath him. He thinks about Audrey’s painting - him and Marty with so much distance between them even as they were standing side-by-side. That’s what this feels like. He can’t ignore what had happened to them then: the space between them widening into a chasm. What if it happens again? What if it is happening?
He needs to not be here. He’s going to say something fucking stupid before he can wrap his head around exactly why he’s saying it. But there's nowhere for Rust to escape to. A overwhelming claustrophobia swallows him.
Rust pushes past Marty - maybe a bit roughly - and closes himself in the bathroom. He turns on the tap. His hands are shaking; that’s new. He splashes water onto his face, scrubs his palms over it, hard enough to hurt, as if he can wash away the sick feeling rising up in him. He’s feeling ; suddenly and overwhelmingly. It’s flooding into the waiting vacuum and choking him.
He braces his hands on the lip of the sink and breathes through it until he can step back in his mind and observe what’s going on inside him. It’s easy to parse the dominant emotion: Fear. It’s bitter and sharp on the back of his tongue - cloying - so not just fear, but the fear of loss.
Marty . He’d lost Marty before and survived. Barely. He isn’t sure he can do it again, not now that he’s opened his eyes to the possibility of of life with the man.
Two fingers against his jugular tell him that he’s damn near close to a panic attack. He hasn’t had one of those in years. The next breath he sucks in, he holds. He’s home. He’s safe. Marty is just outside this door.
He’s fine. Marty’s fine. It’s just a fight. Just a fight…
His stomach twists at the thought of Marty and he realises how stupid he is for hiding in this bathroom. Marty is right there and Rust owes him an explanation. Rust wasn’t going to let this go without a fight. The need to touch Marty is suddenly all he can think about. He can’t leave the bathroom fast enough, but Marty’s not in the living room and he’s not in the kitchen.
When he finds the bedroom cold and empty, Rust’s heart contracts into something hard and brittle. He’d once been warned that who he was inside was corrosive and dark. Rust had dared bring that darkness into Marty’s life and had thought- what? That Marty could love a shadow?
He feels the impending loss yawning wide underneath him. Why had he done this? Not only to himself - he doesn’t give a fuck about himself - but to Marty. Marty, who is bright and beautiful and deeply flawed but still carries hope around inside him, so bright it shines out through his ribcage and makes everything around him better.
He makes Rust better.
But not even Marty’s light is enough. Rust is toxic and nothing - not even Marty - can change that. Not even love. His love for Marty is going to destroy them.
He pulls the mostly full case of beer out of the fridge and retreats to the balcony. The night is hot and sticky. The air is heavy; almost thick. Sweat immediately prickles his skin. There’s a threatening storm imminent, hanging over the city. It’s as if the atmosphere is holding its breath. He stares off into the dark, at where the stars would be if they weren’t hidden by low, ominous clouds and thinks about that last night at the hospital. He thinks about the way Marty had looked at him when he thought Rust wasn’t paying attention. It had been a look like Rust was too bright to look away from. It was the way Rust had looked at Marty for so long.
He wants to go back and do it all again; go back and slink off like the dark thing he was. Marty would have been stung and disappointed, but he’d have moved on. Rust was nobody’s sun. He’d go back to his apartment behind the bar, work his shifts, get drunk on his days off, and be left alone to his misery. Sure, he’d have probably still seen Marty from time to time - birthdays, holidays, consults - but Marty would be safe from Rust. And Rust could just live up to his namesake and crumble away, flake by flake.
Because as much as he needed Marty, Marty didn’t need him. Marty doesn’t need him.
I hate writing arguments and conflict so hopefully it's not too bad.
Chapter 13: a crude heart
The boys make up after Rust has a significant realisation.
I know there's a lot of fucking in this story, but this chapter, where Marty takes care of Rust, is the most intimate in my opinion and my favourite.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which walls come down, Rust admits something to himself, realises he's playing catch-up, and the storm finally breaks
He chain smokes and drinks until he doesn’t think anymore. He lines the empty soldiers up along the railing as he finishes them off. It’s how he marks time. There are five cans standing in a row along the railing, two more that had inadvertently lept to their deaths somewhere below, and the eighth - his thirteenth beer of the day - in his hand when the sliding glass door opens. If Rust believed in luck, he’d have blamed it on that.
“There you are,” Marty says, relief evident in his voice. “Thank God.”
God has nothing to do with it , Rust thinks but is far too drunk to answer. He’s wedged into the corner of the balcony, back against the rails. At his feet is the empty case. There’s only one beer left.
Marty steps out and awkwardly slides down to sit opposite him. He takes the last beer - lukewarm by now - and tosses the cardboard inside. He takes a few sips and examines the scene - the empties, Rust, the stench of cigarette smoke. He sighs. Rust struggles to put up his walls, tries to gird himself for what’s coming.
“Are you okay?” Marty asks with such gentleness that it gets under his guard and knocks Rust sideways.
“What?” He’s acutely aware of how the word comes out almost garbled.
“You’re right. Stupid question.” Marty takes another drink, pulling a face as he swallows the warm beer. “I’m sorry for earlier. I just- Please. Talk to me, Rust.”
Marty straightens his legs either side of Rust’s feet. Rust is still curled in on himself, but he finds himself talking - not making any sense - but still, talking.
“Today- it was like… stepping back into my head all those years ago. It’s stupid but- seeing you there with Maggie and the girls just- It reminded me- I felt on the outside of it. I was an observer. It hit me: I didn’t belong there. I don’t- don’t belong with you. You should be with someone nice, gentle… someone not…”
Marty drops his beer to the side and Rust trails off. He was going to say poisonous , but his attention is captured by the glint of the can catching the kitchen light. It tips over and spills, the beer running over the edge of the decking. Rust watches it rather than look at Marty’s face.
“Are you- Rust, look at me.” Rust does immediately and his vision swims. Marty’s face looks like it’s struggling not to fold in on itself; a valiant collapsing star. “Are you saying you don’t want to be with me?”
Rust shakes his head and the world sways. In front of him, Marty is still and solid.. “No. God- Marty, no. I’m saying that you can go. I won’t make it difficult.”
“I don’t want that.” Marty holds out his hand towards Rust, but Rust hangs his head between his knees. “I want you. We’re gonna fight, Rust. We’re two stubborn hot heads. Even when you drive me up the fucking wall, I want you. I mean- that’s what family does, right? We annoy each other and stick by each other. Isn’t that-?”
Rust feels the wetness on his cheeks before he realises he crying. Marty had just called him family . He wipes his hand over his face and hopes that the tears can be passed off as sweat, but that hope is short lived.
He chokes on a sob and inelegantly maneuvers onto his knees, almost falling into Marty’s arms. He’s far drunker than he previously thought because he ends up elbowing Marty in the gut, but other than a hoarse oof , Marty doesn’t complain. He wraps his arms around Rust and lets him cry into his dress shirt. It feels like a continuation of his breakdown in front of the hospital except now he doesn’t have to hide this - how he feels about Marty.
I love you , he mouths against Marty’s neck, not sure if he can even form the words. He isn’t sure if he can say it aloud but he’s so tired of denying and hiding and clamping the words down inside. He can hardly remember a time when he didn’t love Marty Hart.
“Come on, idiot. Let’s get you into a shower and then go to bed. Sound good?”
Rust looks into Marty’s eyes, feeling a little foolish, but he nods. Marty pulls him to his feet and embraces him for a long moment. He’s solid and stable and Rust leans into him; lets him guide Rust to the bathroom. Rust’s so drunk, his mind doesn’t feel like it’s connected to the rest of his body.
In the bathroom, Marty silently peels Rust out of his sweaty clothes. He’s gentle and efficient. It would feel almost clinical if Marty’s touch didn’t linger. When he pulls Rust’s shirt off, he places his palm over Rust’s heart, fingers tracing over the tattoo there. He skims his hands down Rust’s legs, pushing the jeans along with them. Rust grips Marty’s shoulder for balance as he steps out of pants. Marty stays kneeling in front of him and looks up.
Rust makes a noncommittal noise and jerks his shoulders in an approximation of a shrug. Marty looks away as he stands, but not quick enough for Rust to miss the concern and sadness on his face.
The shock of the water on Rust’s overheated skin sobers him a little. He’s able to scrabble ahold of his thoughts. But even as the water cascades over him, Rust still feels parched and hollow inside. He’s always had a gnawing void that nothing - not sex, not drugs, not booze - could fill. A life though. A life with Marty…
This thing - whatever it is - with Marty has him sideways. Down is no longer down. No, Marty’s gravitational pull is undeniable and inescapable. That hungry, destructive void has been dormant since the hospital. Childress’ knife had carved it out of him and he hadn’t even noticed that the gaping maw of emptiness inside him had dissipated until he’d fallen back on bad habits.
Rust scrubs his hands through his hair. He had tried filling that hole. He had tried ignoring it; living with his shadow. He didn’t know if it was the nearly dying or the sunshine that Marty forced into his life, but Rust doesn’t feel like a shell of a man for the first time in decades.
Once he is rinsed of the salt of sweat and tears, he steps out of the stall to find Marty waiting with a towel. Wordlessly, he wraps the towel around Rust’s shoulders and tugs him close, pressing gentle, closed-mouthed kisses to his lips, cheeks, nose, brow… Rust sighs and lets himself fall towards Marty. He’s tired and drunk and maddeningly in love. He revels in it and hates it in turns. He doesn’t know if he can live without this now.
“You know… I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m not going anywhere,” Marty says gently as he towel dries Rust’s hair. Then he pushes the towel back so that it drapes around Rust’s shoulders. He rakes his fingers through Rust’s hair. “I know myself, Rust. When I get really upset, I get irrational. I don’t ever want to say something-”
His fingers still, curled around Rust’s jaw. His thumbs trace the sweep of the cheekbones. “I never want to say something in anger that I can’t take back. I may step away to give myself space to think; to calm down. But I will never leave you.”
Rust shrugs the towel off where it lays abandoned on the floor. He’s too drunk for this; too emotional. So he turns his head and presses a kiss against Marty’s palm. It’s like Marty knows. He pulls Rust close, gently. He touches and kisses Rust as they make their way to their bed, like they have all the time in the world. It’s still not enough.
Rust drags Marty’s clothes off of him until he can press himself against the man; skin-to-skin - trading caresses like a conversation. Outside, there’s a distant grumble of thunder that Rust feels in his bones. His mind is a million miles away even though this, here, Marty… is so important.
Marty is hard against Rust’s hip and Rust wants - he wants - but his nerves are wired up wrong to his skin; the tactile equivalent of looking down the wrong end of a telescope. Every touch is like an echo in an empty room - diffuse and shimmering with potential, but Rust can’t quit convert it into kinetic energy. He shivers and aches with frustrated longing.
“Marty-” Rust mumbles, mouth just as unresponsive as the rest of his body. He slides a leg that he doesn’t remember deciding to move between Marty’s thighs. He presses their hips together. He wants this- to do- because he can’t find the words…
“Shhh…” Marty whispers, running a hand into Rust’s damp hair and kissing him slowly. “This is enough.”
As soon as Marty says that, it becomes true. Rust lets go, coming untethered. He’s not equipped for this after a month’s relative sobriety. He kisses Marty until the very moment he drifts off to sleep.
He knows that when he wakes, Marty will still be there.
In his dream he's being life-flighted to the hospital again. Marty yells down a paramedic to be allowed to join him. Rust remembers wanting to reach for Marty but being strapped down. He remembers the panic that welled up at the realisation he couldn’t move. Marty! Mart- And then Marty was there, sitting near his head, palms rough and dirty and warm on Rust’s cheek. He remembers the low, familiar cadence of Marty’s voice but not his words.
It’s the howling wind outside that wakes him, but it’s the red, pulsing hangover behind his eyes that keeps him awake, heart racing. It’s the middle of the night. There’s a wild storm outside. He can hear sheets of rain hitting the windows. It just serves to remind him how thirsty he is and also, how badly he needs to piss. He rolls away from where he’s curled tight against Marty’s back and gets shakily to his feet.
He takes a leak and then tries to dry swallow a handful of ibuprofen, but ends up having to gulp handfuls of lukewarm water from the tap. He staggers to the kitchen for a glass of water, then stands at the sink, drinking, and watches the deluge outside. His beer cans are going to be all over the courtyard come morning.
He drains one glass before refilling it, turning to head back to the bedroom - there are still hours before morning - but something catches his eye. The notepad that’s usually next to the phone is centered on the bar top. He pauses and pulls it towards him. Even in the dim light, it’s unmistakably Marty’s rounded, untidy handwriting.
Went for a drive to clear my head.
Back in an hour or so.
Call my cell if you need me
or want me.
And then below the initial - Rust touches the tip of his pointer finger to the two conjoined arcs; a crude heart.
Rust wonders if Marty added it without contemplation, habitually? Or was it an afterthought?
No. The lines are thicker than the rest of the writing. Marty had gone over them more than once. Rust can feel the indentation of where the pen has embossed the paper. It hits him like a blow to the chest, memory clawing up from the abyss of his subconscious.
Marty had said it in the helicopter. He’d said it months ago.
The knowledge is hard for Rust to swallow. Everything in his being rejects his conclusion. He can see Marty with a sudden clarity that borders on revelation. He pushes his hand down over the note as if he can hide from it, then abruptly turns and rushes back to the bedroom.
Marty has rolled onto his back, one arm flung out in the space Rust had until recently occupied. Rust stands in the doorway and catalogues the changes in Marty - not the things that are different from when they parted ways in 2002, but the changes that have occured in the last few months, since Rust has so carelessly barged back into the man’s peaceful life.
There were obvious, physical changes - the gentler swell of Marty’s stomach, the mess of pink and white scar tissue on his right shoulder - but there were the subtler shifts of the man’s psyche. Rust can feel these changes in the air around him. There was something fresh and new and vulnerable about Marty these days. Rust supposes it can be seen best around Marty’s eyes and mouth. Something has softened and unclenched; bitterness washed away.
Carcosa had changed Marty just as much as their decade of separation had. Surviving that dark place had scrubbed the tarnish of years from them both.
But it was more than just that. Marty seemed complete in way Rust had never known him to be. He's lost that undercurrent of quiet desperation that had defined him when they were detectives, and the resigned sadness from just a few months ago.
Rust walks to the foot of the bed and holding his breath, he carefully pulls the covers down. He does this slowly, so as not to wake Marty. The man still stirs at the sudden touch of chill air, but he doesn’t wake. Rust can look all he likes.
He steps back in his mind, away from his emotions and messy attachments, and considers the way Marty has treated Rust recently. It’s obvious he cares and wants Rust, but it’s just as obvious that there’s more to it.
Marty calls it the detective’s curse . Rust hadn’t seen what was right under his nose, so blinded he was by his own love.
He looks down at Marty, laid bare before him and is overwhelmed by how much he wants for this man, from this man- How much he plain wants . He grabs the lube from the bedside table and straddles Marty’s waist.
“M’Rust?” Marty’s hands touch his thighs before he cracks an eye open. “What’re you up to?”
Rust doesn’t answer. He coats the fingers on his right hand and reaches down. Marty’s eyes follow the movement, eyes opening. The man is visibly holding his breath. As soon as he presses two fingers to the tight muscle, Rust sighs and relaxes into it. Why had he left this behind with Crash?
It has the opposite effect on Marty. He grips Rust’s hips and mutters “ Fuuuck… ”
Rust drops his chin and closes his eyes, focusing solely on the slick sensation of his fingers; the pressure… It’s been a long time since Rust has touched himself like this. Alone, his memories always crowded in, but now all he could think about was Marty being inside of him; fucking him. He shivers.
Then Marty’s fingers suddenly curl around his, pushing in alongside Rust’s own. The stretch is immediate and intense. Rust gasps - eyes flying open to meet Marty’s - and slaps his free hand down on Marty’s chest for support. Marty pushes in deep and crooks his fingers. Sunshine bursts at the base of Rust’s spine and his hips move without thought, seeking out that feeling again.
“Oh fuck, Rust… baby…” Marty mutters in a sleep-drunk voice. “Tell me you’re gonna ride me.”
Rust drags his eyes down Marty to where his cock - far more awake that the man - is already hard against his stomach. Rust needs Marty. Now. He needs to be filled with an urgency that makes him dizzy.
Rust pulls his fingers free and reaches for the lube again, spilling it messily into his palm. It drips onto Marty’s chest and tummy. Marty makes a breathy whine that is cut off when Rust grips his cock, slicking him up with a slow stroke - down and then back up. He swipes his thumb over the head, relishing the heat and heft of Marty. Marty sits up, his arm circling Rust’s waist.
Marty’s fingers slide out of him to join Rust’s. Together, they guide Marty’s cock to Rust’s hole.
“Oh god- fuck- fuuuucK... “ Marty whispers, his face pressed against Rust’s chest. He hits the consonant hard and then pants against Rust’s skin.
Rust cups the back of Marty’s head. His other hand, sticky with lube, clutches at Marty’s back. Rust lowers himself and groans at the stretch. Marty’s big; bigger than Rust has ever had. Rust is hungry for it though; ready to sink down, but Marty stubbornly refuses to move his hand. He keeps his hand wrapped around the base of his cock and traces his thumb in a circle where he disappears into Rust.
“I never thought-” Marty breathes, looking up into Rust’s eyes.
“I know,” Rust says, his voice low and wrecked. Marty’s lips press together and he shakes his head. Rust tips his hips. “You love me.”
Marty opens his mouth but no words come. He pulls his hand away, immediately reaching around to grip Rust’s ass. Rust rocks, but has to fight against Marty’s hold.
“Careful,” he begs, eyes wide, jaw tight with restraint. Rust isn’t sure if Marty is concerned for Rust or himself, but he trusts. He leans down and kisses Marty, losing himself in the slick slide of their tongues and the slow stretch of Marty inching into him. He trusts and lets Marty guide him until he’s full- impossibly full- like he might split in two or burst apart.
Rust breaks away and breathes hard into Marty’s neck. Marty is holding him there - flush and tight and impaled in his lap. He wants to move but Marty’s hands are low on his back, thumbs curled around his hips.
“You told me- after Carcosa- You thought I was dying and you- oh god , you said it,” Rust pants.
Marty runs nails up Rust’s back, making Rust gasp with need.
“Oh, shit- Marty- fuckfuck fuck- move- ” The words tumble from Rust’s mouth so freely and without thought that he doesn’t realise he’s speaking.
“Say it again,” Marty rasps, lips moving against Rust’s ear. Rust doesn’t need clarification. He knows.
“You love me.”
“God help me, I do. I do…” Both of Marty’s hands slide up Rust’s back to tangle in his hair and then they’re moving, kissing- It’s never been like this for Rust, like he doesn’t know where the line that separates him from Marty starts or stops.
He feels utterly and completely vulnerable. But it’s Marty. All he knows is that it doesn’t matter as long as it’s the two of them. He mutters Marty’s name like a prayer, like a chant, like a substitute for things unsaid.
Marty pulls him back by the hair and it feels so wrong to have even this bit of space between them. He rolls his hips and whines.
“You love me,” Marty says, lips brushing against his, arms pulling Rust down onto his cock.
“I-” Rust gasps, shaking.
“I know,” Marty growls, kissing him again fiercely, grinding Rust down hard. The air disappears from the room and all Rust can see behind his eyelids is whiteness.
He doesn’t know how long Marty holds him as he slowly reassembles the pieces of his consciousness that are collectively called Rust , but when he’s once again aware, he’s lying on Marty’s chest. They’re horizontal now. He’s still trembling.
“Hey there,” Marty says softly, fingers stroking absently over Rust’s back. “You okay? I lost you there for a moment.”
“Mmm-” Rust tries and fails to speak. He licks his numb lips and the words still come out slurred. “You’re th’best fuck I’ver had.”
There’s a brief pause and then Marty laughs - a bright, surprised, delighted sound. It lights up the room and Rust’s chest cavity. Rust closes his eyes again and tastes it on his tongue. Marty . It softens to a chuckle and Marty smooths his hand over the back of Rust’s head.
“I’m relieved because- damn, Rust. Same.”
We're drawing close to the end, readers, and I'll admit, I'm a little sad to say goodbye to this story. BUT I have another one in the works dealing with Rust and Marty in the aftermath of 2002. Follow me on my writing Twitter for updates (@thehartbelieves).
Kudos and comments keep me alive!
Chapter 14: the ghost of friendship
Rust sees possibilities in his future.
Oh, Maggie... *sigh*
I have a lot of issues with Maggie, but she deserves the same chance for growth as our boys. :/
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which Rust gives in, and there’s an unexpected visitor, baked goods, and awkwardness
Marty wakes him again in the middle of the night, draping himself over Rust’s back. If asked before, Rust would have guessed it would make him feel trapped, but the weight of Marty comforts him.
He nuzzles against the back of Rust’s head, pressing lingering kisses there and down his neck. Barely awake, Rust doesn’t have a chance to stumble over what had so recently been laid bare between them.
“Rust…” Marty is already hard against his ass.
“Fuck me like this.” Rust mumbles, arm sweeping over the sheets to gesture lazily in the direction he’d last seen the lube. Rust isn’t hard yet but he craves the intimacy, the way sex with Marty lights up his nerves and grounds him.
Marty pulls back just long enough to fumble, slick himself up, and then he’s back, nudging slowly into Rust. He stretches himself back over Rust and threads his fingers through Rust’s, pinning them to the bed. His left hand is slick with lube and it causes something to coil low in Rust’s belly. He presses his ass back into Marty, taking more of him.
“Baby… fuck , baby…” Marty whispers, forehead pressed to the back of Rust’s head. He pants when he’s pressed flush with Rust’s ass. “Slow?”
Rust hums, eyes closed, and Marty - instead of pulling out - rolls his hips, clenching in a small thrust. A quiet, needy noise works its way out of Rust’s throat. Yes , that noise says. Just like that. Rust tips his hips as Marty thrusts again.
They strain against each other like that, sweat slicking everywhere they’re pressed together. Rust meets every one of Marty’s thrusts with what little movement he can- back onto Marty’s cock, down to grind his erection against the mattress. He spreads his knees for leverage. The restriction of it gives the pleasure a honed, frustrating edge. There’s not enough friction, not enough pressure, not enough.
Time stretches, losing all rigidity, all structure, pulling like taffy in Rust’s mind.
“I love you. I love you. I love you,” Marty chants low, lips never leaving Rust’s skin. “God, Rust. Do you even know how much? I didn’t know I-”
Rust clenches his hands and pushes back hard. Marty’s words are swallowed up by a desperate groan.
“I know,” Rust growls and then… he lets go. The words come out as a sigh. “I love you, too.”
Marty moans and suddenly increases their pace. “Okay?”
But Rust can’t answer, the tension that has been coiling like a spring suddenly snaps and he’s coming hard.
They collapse and lay like that far past the point of comfort, sweat prickling as it dries, lube unpleasant and sticky. But Rust can’t bear for Marty to move, even when his cock slips out of him with a tiny sting. And Marty… Marty strokes his hands up and down Rust’s arms, sighs and kisses every bit of Rust that he can reach without moving.
Rust feels known and seen. He’s happy.
It’s terrifying but it also makes the burden of existence seem worth it. Vulnerability, merely chemicals; love, merely a biological impulse- but Rust doesn’t give a shit anymore. If he is going to live, why not enjoy the delusion? All of this - whether lived in misery or joy or a more mundane mix of the two- it all ends in the same place.
Rust lays under Marty and gives himself permission to love.
Rust wakes early - body sated and languid in that particular way only really amazing sex can achieve. Rust resists consciousness. Marty’s face is pressed against his chest, breath hot and intimate. His fingers are curled around Rust’s hip. Rust takes the time to bask.
He feels safe. Rust can’t recall ever really feeling like that in a relationship before. He’s no fool. He’s aware that all of this can fall apart; that one or both of them can still choose to walk away. In fact, it’s likely they won’t last.
But maybe , something in the back of his mind whispers in a voice that sounds suspiciously like Marty’s. And really? The two of them were damaged - had damaged each other - in such compatible ways. Who else could love Marty the way Rust does? And visa versa?
Rust is pulled from his reverie by a soft knock on the front door. He lifts his head, belatedly realising that he’s been petting Marty’s hair. He stills and as gingerly as possible, extricates himself from Marty’s arms. He pulls on a discarded pair of Marty’s sweatpants and pulls a clean tee shirt from the closet.
He isn’t sure who he expects to find at the door, but it certainly isn’t who he finds: Maggie. He leans against the edge of the door and stares. She’s dressed in a pale belted dress that reminds Rust of the 1950s - all clean lines and modesty. She wears it like armour. There’s a honest-to-god wicker basket hooked on her elbow. Inside, there’s something wrapped in a checked cloth.
“Well, if it isn’t Margaret Homemaker,” he drawls, meaning the comment to sting. He doesn’t think she means to, but the outward perfection of her life is presented like a judgment to those around her. “To what do we owe this honour?”
She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, eyes locked on his chest. A small frown flits over her features briefly and Rust looks down. He’s wearing a concert shirt of Marty’s; Dave Matthews’ Band 2001 printed in a crosshair design. When her eyes raise she’s smiling, civil, but there’s a brittleness to it.
“I came to apologise. And to talk, if you’ll let me.” She indicates the basket. “I brought muffins. Homemade.”
She gives him a defiant quirk of her eyebrow and he can’t help but laugh. Whatever has happened between them, he has to admire her steel. He steps back from the door.
“Come on in.” He gestures towards the kitchen. She blinks rapidly, surprised.
“I expected you to take more convincing,” she says. He gives her a off-hand shrug.
“What can I say? Maybe I’ve grown. Or maybe I’m not one to turn down baked goods, especially as a peace offering.” Honestly, Rust just feels old and incapable of holding onto a useless grudge.
They both know he’s lying but the truth isn’t something that can be spoken about between them. Rust feels the ghost of the friendship they’d lost trailing behind Maggie as she walks past him.
Maggie sits down primly at the table and places the basket in the center. Rust turns towards the cabinets. “You gonna eat with me?”
“Drink?” He grabs two side plates, aware - and hating the awareness that they’re scuffed and chipped. “We have tea, coffee, water…”
“Water. Unless you’re planning on making something for yourself.”
“Coffee.” He’s already measured out the grounds. It only takes a few more seconds to dump in the water and set the machine to percolate.
He grabs two forks and then sets their places. He remains standing though, leaning back against the countertop. He isn’t ready to settle in for a discussion without coffee and he’s pretty sure he reeks of sex. He hopes the smell of coffee will help mask it. He doesn’t feel the need to rub Maggie’s face in this. Not really. His skin itches to step out on the balcony for a smoke before realising that he left his cigarettes out in the rain. Maybe it’s time to give them up.
Maggie flicks back the red checked cloth. “Blueberry or banana nut.”
Maggie places the blueberry on his plate, the banana on her’s. He wonders if she remembers that he doesn’t like nuts in his pastries or if it’s just coincidence.
“There’s two more of each, for you and Marty. He prefers-” She stops herself but he knows what she was going to say; that Marty prefers the banana nut. Rust knows.
The coffeemaker sputters as it runs out of water. He turns and pulls down two mugs - one of them is the yellow one that Marty had stolen from the precinct for him; a petty, little act of revenge that Rust appreciated greatly. He picks the nicest mug they have for her. He doesn’t have to ask how she likes it. He’s made coffee for her dozens of times before. A little cream, no sugar. So different from Marty, who loves a lot of both. Rust used to drink his black, but he adds a splash of both now.
He sits down and slides her coffee towards her. He holds his mug in front of his mouth, enjoying the smell of sweet cream and the bitterness of the coffee. “You came to talk. Go ‘head.”
“I came to say that I was out of line. I have been, since you came back; since the hospital.” There’s a waver in Maggie’s voice that surprises Rust. “I’ve been protective of Marty when I have no right or place to… I haven’t given you the credit you deserve. You’ve never once given me cause to doubt your intentions. Of the three of us, you-”
Maggie cuts herself off and fiddles with her fork. Rust takes a long drink, giving her a chance to continue.
“You’ve only ever been a friend to both of us, Rust. I think I lost sight of that, with everything.” A blush blooms high on her cheeks. It’s the first time he’s ever seen her come close to guilt or regret about what had happened in ‘02.
Rust sets down his coffee and breaks off a piece of his muffin, popping it into his mouth and talking around it. He has to admit that it’s the best bit of baking he’s had in a long time. “Is that what the muffins are for?”
Maggie laughs, tight and nervous. “You know, despite my WASP-y upbringing, there really isn’t a defined protocol for outing one’s ex. I figured muffins couldn’t hurt.”
She smiles across the table and Rust is strongly reminded of all the times they’d done this; the two of them chatting about life. They were the times Rust had felt most normal. Her eyes wrinkle, her smile genuine.
“At the risk of sticking my nose, once again, where it doesn’t belong- Can I say something?” Rust raises an eyebrow as he begins to break apart his muffin with his fork. “Promise it isn’t prying!”
“I think I’ll need to hear it before I believe you.” The teasing comes so easily to his lips. It’s so easy to fall back into the old role and even as he catches himself, Rust isn’t sure that he wants to stop it. They’ll never have what they once did, but they could still have something . Possibly. Maggie picks up her mug but doesn’t drink. She wraps her hands around it like she’s absorbing the warmth.
“It shocked me,” she begins softly, looking down into her coffee. “When you walked back into our lives - Marty’s life - and the two of you clicked in a way you didn’t before. Or at least, from my perspective. Does that make sense?”
Rust nods when she glances up, just a brief jerk of his head. It had surprised him too.
“But then when Marty visited me and I could sense that he was saying goodbye. I got mad. I got mad at you, Rust, because I thought you were going to get him into trouble. What I didn’t understand-” Maggie rests her forearms against the table, cup still clutched between her hands. Her eyes are intense. “What I didn’t understand was that I can’t fathom what’s between the two of you.”
“Maggie, it’s not-” Rust begins, thinking she suspects this has been going on for longer than she knows.
“That’s not what I’m saying. Marty never knew himself well enough when we were together to ever… well, you know.” She gives him an apologetic shrug. “What I mean is that the two of you? Make sense. You make more sense than Marty and I ever did.”
Rust scrubs the back of his neck, catching himself when he realises he’s picked up the habit from Marty. “Well, shit. What am I supposed to say to that?”
“I just hope you know how much that man loves you. I still care about Marty and Rust… you have to know that he’d die for you. He thought he might, when he came to see me.”
Rust picks up his coffee again, trying to fold Maggie’s words into his understanding of her and Marty and him in a way that makes sense. He’s distracted and absently mutters, “I would too.”
Maggie leans across the table and covers his free hand with her own, coffee-warmed one. “Let’s not be too dramatic, now. You chose to live for him. That’s- Making something work is far more difficult.”
He eyes her over the rim of his mug. “Don’t I know it.”
Just then, Marty, in nothing but his boxers, comes strolling out of the hallway. He freezes when he sees them sitting in tableau - hands joined, leaning towards each other.
“Maggie! Well, ain’t this a surprise.” His eyes flick between Rust and Maggie. “Don’t let me interrupt. I’ll just… go get dressed.”
Marty exaggeratedly turns on his heel and disappears again. Maggie catches Rust’s attention and rolls her eyes. Yes, he thinks. Just possibly…
He gets up and fixes Marty some coffee - which is basically just cream and sugar with a splash of coffee -, then sets a place for him. There’s a small knot of nervousness bordering on dread in the pit of Rust’s stomach; the taste of chalk and char on the back of his tongue. He barely breathes when Marty shows back up, in jeans and a tee, still managing to look well-fucked.
But Marty, being Marty, breathes air back into Rust’s lungs by planting a hand on Rust’s shoulder and leaning over to kiss him. It’s impossible that it’s not a calculated act, but Rust appreciates it all the same.
“Morning,” he whispers to Rust before sliding into his own seat. “Good to see you, Mags. Did you make the muffins?”
“Yeah. Banana nut. Your favourite.”
“My favourite,” Marty echoes with a fond smile before picking up the muffin and taking a huge bite.
It’s utterly surreal; the three of them sitting around a table together. It’s something that they’ve done so many times until Rust thought they’d never do it again. Hell, just the fact that they were in each other’s lives again-
“Am I going to have to be the one to say it?” Marty asks, looking back and forth between Rust and Maggie. He takes a long drink of coffee. “Ok, guess it’ll have to be me: this is fucking weird. It's weird, right?”
Maggie laughs and nods, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth. Marty meets Rust's gaze and gives a shrug. Rust shakes his head, but that just makes Marty grin further.
Maggie picks up her fork. “It’s certainly nontraditional.”
There's a pause where all three of them try not to look at each other, but Marty's shit-eating grin is what gets Rust going and before they know it, they're all laughing.
“This is ridiculous,” he grumbles, chuckling into his mug. Marty lays his free hand on Rust’s knee and looks at him like he can’t see anything else in the world. “You’re ridiculous, you jackass.”
By the way Marty’s looking at him, Rust knows the man knows what he really means, just as he knows what Marty’s squeeze of his leg means: I love you .
So close, you guys. SO CLOSE. Thanks for sticking with me.
Chapter 15: a silence that fits
The spiral circles back around on itself. Rust and Marty find themselves repeating a moment, once again.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
in which Rust settles into his future, Audrey visits, and Marty breaks out a certain blue box again
Not much changes. Logically, he knew that it wouldn’t. It still surprises him.
In the mornings, they get ready together. Marty makes Rust eat breakfast, then they head into the office. He has to start exercising again because of how well he eats with Marty. He starts running in the mornings before waking Marty up. Some mornings though, Marty drags him back down into bed when his alarm goes off and Rust prefers those morning workouts to his runs.
Rust hasn’t ever gotten laid like this before. Marty coaxes him back to Earth at the end of the day. Marty: his anchor, his sun, his .
Working together is so much easier than back in the day. Rust doesn’t know if it’s because they’re living together or what, but Marty doesn’t rankle like he used to and Rust… Well, Rust doesn’t know if he’s changed, but he’s trying.
Rust gets his P.I. license. Marty - in true Marty fashion - frames it and displays it next to his on the office wall.
“Is this really necessary?” Rust complains. Marty throws his arm around Rust’s shoulders, forcing him to slouch into Marty.
“Let me be proud of you,” he whispers, kissing the side of Rust’s head. Rust gives in and slides his arm around Marty’s waist. Marty can be proud all he wants if it got Rust this.
The box of missing persons that tastes of ash and aluminum moulders in the corner, gathering dust. He can feel the eyes of the dead on his back while he works. Someday , he thinks even as his eyes slide unseeingly over the files. But not today .
Their ghosts remind him that he was nearly one of them. So was Marty. They won’t let Rust forget it and so he does his best to live - for them and for Marty, but really, he tries to live for himself.
About a month or so after the party, Audrey swings through town and makes a big deal about the two of them taking the day off. Marty eagerly agrees even though he’s confused. No matter how many times he asks what she’s planning, Audrey plays coy. It’s a surprise, dad!
Things have been better between Marty and his girls, even with The Incident - as Marty refers to Rust’s blow up at the party. The girls have an innate fondness for Rust that he doesn’t understand, but he’s learned to stop picking apart the shit that goes right in his life.
Audrey pulls up a little before noon in her beat-up station wagon. She has two huge canvases wedged in the back. Rust’s mouth goes dry. The paintings.
“What have you done?” he whispers to her when she hugs him.
“What I promised,” she whispers back. He helps her haul in the paintings while Marty holds the door. They prop them against the wall behind the sofa, under the large mirror there.
The first painting is better in real life, tasting like bitter conversations and exhaustion and the sharpness of unshakeable loyalty. But it’s the second painting that takes his breath away.
“Audrey…” Marty rasps, voice rough with emotion. He comes up behind Rust, standing a little to the side.
The second painting mirrors the first with it’s colours, but everything else about it is different. It’s explicitly him and Marty this time. They’re facing out towards the viewer. Their hands are joined and their heads are bowed slightly towards one another. Marty is smiling wryly at Rust. Rust’s eyes are averted, the corners of his lips hinting at some secret amusement.
“I used one of Mace’s photos as reference. She sent it to me as soon as she developed it. Didn’t even know about the commission.” Audrey smiles nervously, standing off to the side. Marty glances over at him at the mention of the commission, but Rust can’t pull his eyes away.
Rust immediately recognises it as a moment from the party. He knows it’s a lie; that despite their united front on the canvas, they had been separated by a gaping chasm. But it’s also the truth. This is how they had looked. This is how they are together.
It tastes like stubborn hope and shared darkness; fierce, cutting love and the citrus bloom of friendship. It’s them. Him and Marty.
Marty’s hand slips into his and he laces their fingers together. Rust’s eyes sting and he tries to blink away the pressure of tears.
“Oh, thank god, you like them,” Audrey sighs.
Marty sniffs and Rust looks over to find the man crying with a smile on his face. He grinds the heel of his hand into his eye. “I love them, darlin’. Christ… no one’s ever- this is too much.”
Rust pulls Marty close. The man hugs him, sniffling into his shoulder. Rust smiles at Audrey, not bothering to hide the shine in his eyes. Thank you , he mouths to her. He can already see that she isn’t going to charge him. He’ll have to get her New Orleans address and send a check. Maybe he can get Maggie to talk some sense into her.
Rust and Audrey hang the paintings in the living room next to each other, across from the couch. Marty sits there and watches them, elbows on his knees and hands clasped in front of his mouth. He’s still teary but happy, eyes dancing between Rust and the canvases.
“What did I do to deserve this?” He holds out his hands, gesturing at the two of them. Audrey takes his hand and he kisses her knuckles. “Thank you, sweetheart. Thank you.”
Audrey can’t stay. She’s on her way back to New Orleans for another show - some charity event for which she’s donated a few paintings. They walk her down to her car before saying goodbye. Marty hugs her for a long time before letting her go. She hugs him back tightly.
“I’m so happy for you.” He hears her whisper to Marty. He turns away, to give them the illusion of privacy, but it doesn’t stop him from hearing. “You take care of him, okay? Rust? He’s good for you.”
They watch her leave, standing side by side on the sidewalk. The hush between them is a silence that fits like something familiar and well-worn.
“You gonna be okay?” Rust ask, leaning his shoulder into Marty's.
“Are you ever, once you have kids?” Marty says in a distracted way, as if his thoughts are traveling away in the car with Audrey. “Thank you, Rust. For the gift. It’s-”
Rust hears Marty audibly swallow his emotions, so he provides suggestions: “Unexpected? Thoughtful? Presumptuous?”
Marty laughs. “A little of all of 'em, but above all, very sweet. Who knew you had it in you?”
“You did.” Marty knows him better than he knows himself.
Marty hums, then after a few minutes of easy silence, he reaches into his back pocket and hands over a small, robin's egg blue box. It's tied up with an elaborate white ribbon. Rust's breath catches in his throat. For a second he’s back in front of that hospital, months ago, and Marty’s looking at him like he’s the sun, then he’s back in the present.
"That's a really nice ribbon." He can't help that the words come out strained.
“Don't get your hopes up. It's not cigarettes this time, although I did notice you're out.”
Rust turns the box over in his hands. “Thinking about giving up.”
“Well, that's a relief.” Marty smiles, sliding his hands into his pockets and looking off into the setting sun. The shadows lengthen around him like they’re fleeing from the light. Rust doesn’t agree with them anymore. He’s done running. He turns the box over and over, memorising the weight and balance of it.
He knows what’s coming. It’s one of those rare moments to be drawn out. He’s in no hurry, but beside him, Marty is antsy, nervous. He watches Rust out of the corner of his eye.
"I did promise you, didn't I?"
“You actually proposing to me, Hart?”
Marty turns his head slowly and looks him dead in the eye. “Yessir.”
Rust taps the box against his palm. "You know, I don't need a piece of jewelry or paper to tell me what you mean to me."
"As if either ever could." Marty turns and leans against one of the posts supporting the second floor walkway. “The ring's just a symbol. I could care less if you wear it or want me to wear one. Hell, we can get matching tattoos for all I care, just- stay. With me.”
Rust stares hard at Marty, forcing himself to face his stupidly hopeful expression, and then he bites the bullet.
“I’ll never be better, darlin’. I’ll never be stable or easy or capable of loving you in a consistent way. It’s only been a few months. Shouldn’t we wait and see-”
“This is it for me, Rust," Marty says, emphatically, gripping Rust’s shoulder. “I don’t want easy. I want you. Question is, what do you want?”
Rust thinks about the two of them doing this, day in and day out; working together and living together. He thinks about waking up next to Marty in six months, in a year, a decade from now… He thinks about retiring, maybe buying a boat. Marty can finally take a crack at writing and Rust can learn to paint. They could just be together.
They don’t have a whole lifetime anymore to get great at these things, but they have what’s left of the rest of their lives to practice. They can get good enough and that’s more than Rust ever thought he’d get.
"Okay," Rust concedes, carefully pulling at the ribbon. "As long as you know."
The ring isn’t gold or silver, but some sort of darker metal. There’s concentric circles engraved around the band. It’s too dim to see much else, but the heft of it in Rust’s palm feels right. Marty takes it from his hand when he’s done examining it and slides it onto Rust’s finger. He pulls Rust close and kisses him squarely on the mouth, lingering and firm.
Rust shrugs and leans into Marty’s solid form. “If you insist. But what about a ring for you?”
Marty wraps his arms around Rust. “I’m thinking something big and gold; lots of diamonds.”
Rust smiles to himself and breathes into the moment. They look out at the setting sun. Above them, the stars are beginning to come out. “I’m not sure you deserve a ring with that kind of taste.”
“Chose you, didn’t I? I’ve done my part for good taste.”
I knew when I started this fic that this was where it was going to end: Marty proposing for real.
Their final scene in the show is one of my favourites and a shining bit of hope in an otherwise hopeless season. They're going to climb towards the light together. Endings are just another word for beginnings, after all.
Chapter 16: epilogue
Endings and beginnings. Time moves on inexorably. Rust steps back and looks at what the tide of time has given him.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
in which Rust lives
Rust looks out over the courtyard where Marty's barbecuing. It's the first nice day of spring. He's invited the girls up and of course, Maggie. She's actually dressed down today in jeans and blouse.
The get-together isn't for anything specific. It's been three years since Rust moved back to Louisiana. Nine months since he walked back into Marty's life. Seven since he left the hospital. And five since Marty proposed.
The ring still feels new and strange on Rust's finger, but the feeling isn't uncomfortable. It's a welcome reminder. He digs his thumbnail into the groove and spins the ring slowly with his right hand, tracing the spiral around and around. Time as an ascending spiral. He’d had to give Marty credit for the design.
Rust has been thinking about time a lot lately - not in his usual way; time as a construct in the abstract - but time in the concrete sense; the moments and memories he's made, but more importantly, the time he still has left.
His fifty-third birthday had passed last week. He'd been careful not to mention it, but Marty had taken him out to a nice meal and told him that they were gonna plan a vacation together - an ersatz honeymoon in Paris.
The trip is months away. But for the first time in Rust's life, he's certain that it will come and that Marty will be by his side. Rust is starting to think in years now, even decades.
He's imagining a life and growing old. He's imagining a string of moments, both perfect and imperfect, but all his own. He's imagining fights and fucking and quiet afternoons and sullen silences and laughter - there's been more laughter in his life in the last year than the rest of his years combined. He knows there's unseen hurts to come. He knows he'll hurt Marty and that Marty will hurt him.
But he also knows it won't break them.
As if sensing his thoughts, Marty looks up to him on the balcony and raises his hand, middle finger up. Rust smiles and returns the gesture.
“Hurry up, asshole. I'm dying of thirst,” Marty hollers.
Some things will never change. Rust can live with that.
Rust will live.
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