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The cold relief lasts but a few seconds. His clothes now soaked in water, James still shakes from the shock. The pain stays, doesn’t fizzle out, it spreads from his arm to his every nerve. At first he can’t hear a thing, his own crazed heartbeat the only one rising above all that liquid white noise capping his ears. Looking down, James sees his own skin sizzle and swell and blister, and for a moment it’s like being a spectator of someone else’s nightmare. Except this is his own burning reality, the closest to hell a man can get; that’s what stepping into a column of magnesium fire feels like.

 

They strip him of his guitar and rush him backstage, people coming and going all around him. “We need to get him to the hospital. Now!”

 

All the dumbest French speaking security guys must have chosen that very night to dick around in his face, and James is so pissed off by their clueless demeanor he could kill each and every one of them. How fucking difficult can it be to understand he needs a fucking ambulance and he needs it now? Tony, the tour manager, has to ask for it again until they finally seem to get it.

 

Hospitelle, yes!” This tall, bald guy says before speaking into the radio, and James knows himself doomed to never forget that stupid accent.

 

‘Fuck’ he thinks, ‘I’m done. The tour is done.’

 

Panic’s already hitting him hard when a guy bumps into his burned hand. A feral scream scratches its way out of James’ throat, scaring the shit out of everyone. His agony perceived by all withstanders, James’ instinctive reaction is to punch the man right in the balls. Pain has planted its claws so deep in James’ flesh that he feels as if it’s never going away, as if it’s going to consume him forever, down to the bone. And someone has to pay for it.

 

Lars, Kirk and Jason silently gather around him. Sitting down to fight the dizziness, he looks at them and recognizes in their eyes not only concern but also fear to get any closer. Considering what just went down with that guy, James can’t blame them for putting their own safety first. He doesn’t want to be touched anyway, anywhere. And he doesn’t want to be coddled, for fuck’s sake, he doesn’t need that. Of course the one eventually daring to speak is Lars, in what he clearly hopes to be an encouragement. “It’s gonna be okay, man.”

 

“Shit.” James hisses, dismissive. “What’s going on out there?”

 

“Crowd’s not h-happy.” Kirk stutters, dark eyes darting from James to the floor in the worst attempt to conceal his anxiety.

 

“Maybe we should go and make an announcement?” Jason, despite looking almost as pale as James, sounds incredibly lucid.

 

“Sure.”

 

James would give anything for the pain to quiet down, but it just won’t. It just won’t, it just won’t, and he’s losing his mind over it. Having people talk in his personal space makes it worse, way worse. He needs silence, something he sure as fuck can’t get in a stadium packed with raging metalheads. James snorts, aggravated, fist hitting the wall. Lars takes the hint, grabbing Kirk by the wrist and dragging him away. Jason follows them, and James is alone again. With a shit ton of staff members still bustling about around him.

 

“James!”

 

He turns toward the alarmed voice calling his name and sees his girlfriend running to him. Barely covering her mouth, her hands start trembling at the sight of his arm.

 

“I’m fine, babe.” He lies through gritted teeth, caressing her hip. She’s wearing black shorts, and a denim shirt tied on her bare waist. Her skin is soft under his thumb, but the grieved look on Francesca’s face is salt on James’ wounds. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the temperament to deal with someone else’s suffering right now. Not even hers.

 

When he spots Tony approaching, it serves him as the perfect excuse. Grimacing, he shies away from her. “I have to go.”

 

She nods, teary-eyed, and blows him a kiss. “I’ll be right there.”

 

Along with a couple of paramedics, the tour manager escorts him to the ambulance parked outside.

 

“Don’t touch me, I can fucking walk!” He roars, refusing to get on the stretcher and hoping not to make an ass of himself by fainting on his way out.

 

Cursing under his breath, James finally exits the building. Under normal circumstances, the fresh air of a Montreal summer night would have felt like a caress on his sweaty face, but his arm is killing him right now, so much he can’t think of anything else but cutting it off to ease the pain.

 

His fingers keep swelling, strangled by steel rings. As the ambulance doors slam closed behind his back, James wonders where’s booze when you fucking need to drink until you pass out. Then again, he reconsiders: he’d rather be wide awake and well aware of what the docs are doing to him on the surgery table.

 

 


 

Dave has found out from MTV.

 

James had suffered from second degree burns, that’s what anchorman Kurt Loder said, and Lars confirmed via phone on the news shortly after. The drummer also mentioned Denver, where they were staying.

 

To Dave, it felt like someone elbowed him in the stomach, a rush of anxiety filling his lungs. He didn’t even realize what he was doing until he caught himself standing in front of his closet, ready to pack. There was a seat waiting for him on the first plane to Denver, but what about James? Was he waiting for him? Last time they had spoken was the year before, and that phone call had ended in a huge fight, resulting in them never talking to each other again.

 

Dave decided he didn’t care. The thought of what might have happened in that stage accident put things into perspective. And that’s how he wound up at the arrivals terminal, pretending he didn’t remember what James’ last words to him were.

 

“I had to learn it from Lars. How the fuck did you tell him and not me?”

“Five days, impressive. Didn’t think he’d keep the secret for so long. Yeah, it’s true, I’m getting married. Guess I didn’t wanna talk to you about it.”

“You should have. It’s my-”

“Your what, your right to know? We’re nothing, I owe you nothing. Have you forgotten?”

“Figured you for smarter. Letting some slut trick you into marriage just like that?”

“You don’t open your mouth about Pam. I love her.”

“Last time I saw you, you loved my dick up your ass.”

“You know that’s- That’s different. She’s the right one.”

“Who are you kidding? You’re gonna cheat on her the minute she turns her back. For you any other blonde is the right one.”

“Except you, asshole! You’re not, and you never will be. Now stop whining like a little bitch ‘cause you don’t have the balls to do what you actually called for.”

“And what is it you think I called for?”

“C’mon, ask me not to do it. Ask me. Be a man, Jamie.”

“What do you know about being a man? Choke on that wedding cake, fag.”

 

Dave traveled light, except for the memories swirling around in his head. Those were heavy. But even heavier – nibbling away at what’s left of his pride – is the realization that James could have been seriously hurt, and the only thing that prevented that was pure luck. Dave’s thoughts bleed out, anxiety cutting like the sharpest blade through his chest. No matter their history, no matter the hard feelings; he’d never bear to exist in a world where James can’t play his guitar anymore. He knows that’s what keeps James sane, whole. And now he just traveled across a lot of states to go and order his dumbass boyfriend – or whatever the fuck James was to him – to never pull that kind of stunt again. Or else.

 

“Dave?” Lars’ jaw drops, his surprise compelling him to literally slide across the marble floor of the hotel hall on his Nike shoes. “What the hell are you doing here?”

 

“Christ.” Dave’s hand stretches far enough to stop the other from getting any closer. The mood he’s in, he’s not really interested in giving out hugs. “What do you think? Tell me where he is.”

 

Lars doesn’t seem to take the lack of physical contact personally. He just flips his hair back, crosses his arms, chews his gum. “How did you know we were here?

 

“Made a few phone calls.” Dave sighs, lowering his arm. His feelings for James have always been transparent to the perceptive younger man, no need to try and hide them now. “Lars. Please. Where’s James? I won’t leave until I see him.”

 

“Room 306. But Fran’s with him, she’s-”

 

“Like I fucking care.” Dave’s nostrils flare at the sole mention of her name. “Find an excuse and get her out of my face.”

 

“Ok, listen- Wait for me at the bar, I’ll be right back.” Lars promises, already quick to act upon whatever brilliant scheme his mind produced. “You owe me.” He adds, impish smile and mischievous wink, one finger pointing right at Dave and suggesting the lender won’t forget to collect this little debt in the future.

 

“Asshole. You did not just say that.” Dave grumbles, before heading towards the hotel’s bar to sit at an empty booth. Whatever, he’ll put up with Lars’ antics if that grants him the opportunity to be alone with James for even just a few minutes. His right leg bounces restlessly, betraying impatience, so he asks the waiter for a shot of tequila. Or two. James has never disdained the taste of booze on the tip of his wild tongue anyway.

 

 


 

As soon as Dave’s shape stands out against the doorframe of room 306, James staggers to his feet, heat creeping up his neck as he gawks at him. “What are you doing here?”

 

“What kind of stupid question is that? I’m here to see you.” Dave says, pointblank. Not moving, just taking in the sight of James. He looks thin and spent, arm bandaged, wide-eyed. Little less of a blonde god, more of a recovering mortal. “Heard what happened from the TV, I was worried.” Dave explains, trying to justify his presence. Either such directness is going to wash their vow of silence away like an unexpected, powerful undercurrent, or it’s going to result in another tired fight.

 

James blinks, maybe to make sure it’s not a pain medication-induced dream. He walks up to the door, gesturing for Dave to enter, just the way a polite host would do. “You didn’t have to, but I’m glad you came. You look good.” He says, letting his weary eyes roam Dave’s porcelain face. Their gazes meet halfway, glistening with softness, and longing, and devotion.

 

Undercurrent it is.

 

Relief fills Dave’s lungs once the door is closed behind his back. “Yeah? Glad I didn’t actually choke on my wedding cake?” The tone is light, yet the question carries too much weight to be taken anything but seriously.

 

“Shit.” Unholy repentant, James bows his head a little. “Shit. How does it always get so ugly between us?”

 

Neither of them has an answer to offer. Unspoken words hold still, hold back, hold them hostage. Until Dave closes in, and the year-long distance is defeated. His lips brush against James’, a quiver breaching the coveted kiss.

 

“You’re hurting. C’mere.”

 

A bit woozy, James looks down at their intertwined fingers, and furls his knuckles gently as Dave leads him to the armchair. He lets himself sink in the cushion, smiling at Dave when he curls up against him, sitting in his lap with both long legs dangling from the armrest. James wouldn’t know which of them is now at his most docile state, or why their edges finally decided to glide in place, fit together just like old days. Just like before the first punch, the jealousy, the bitter lies. Before the stolen dreams and broken promises.

 

“When you called,” Dave sighs, mouth quietly scattering James’ cheek with kisses, “I was still trying to get a reaction from you. Didn’t get the one I hoped for, though.”

 

James wishes he could stretch his left arm across Dave’s thighs, hand just below the hip and dangerously close to the curve of his butt. The caressing motion would be slow, relaxed, possessive. Instead, he lays still on the armrest, battling against the searing pain of healing skin and blisters. More than 365 days without Dave have been unbearable, but all James can do is let his man snuggle against his good arm. “Even if I asked you not to, you would have married her anyway.”

 

“How do you know?” Dave asks, slightly alarmed for being so easily exposed. His palm slides up against James’ heart, fingers curling as if to grab it. ‘Mine’, he thinks.

 

“Because you were saying goodbye. I heard it in your voice. You wanted to quit me, so you needed to go all the way. I was so mad at you for that.”

 

Dave doesn’t deny his intent, because denying would be lying. However, quitting James was an illusion he cultivated without ever believing it possible. Empty resolve. Pretty useless, like an unloaded gun.

 

“Sometimes I just get too tired, you know? There’s so much I can take, and yet the pain keeps coming, keeps spilling over. You pour it in my open chest, and I let you.” Dave’s throat tightens. He doesn’t resent James, but he owes him the truth. So he cups his face, and pairs the unpleasant taste of it with the gentlest of touches. Concerned blue eyes stare back at him, and Dave speaks again, voice as soothing as harsh is the horror they unveil. “That’s not life, James. That’s a fucking nightmare. I’m not going to hell for what we do, because I’m already in it. I indulge in my sin and I atone for it at the same time.”

 

Hot tears roll under Dave’s fingertips, down to the dip between index and middle finger. Shame, heavy with rot, crushes James’ chest. The terror of losing Dave to such a blunt reality clings to his already fragmented peace of mind, tainting it, pushing him to do something he thought he’d never find the courage to do before. Because saying sorry might not be enough when all he wants to do is erase himself and all he’s done since the day he was born. “I love you. I fucking love you.” He yelps, and doesn’t sound like James Hetfield anymore. “I always did. I love you.” He repeats, more helpless each time. Teetering on the brink, hoping and praying Dave doesn’t give him too hard of a shove.

 

Suddenly Dave’s tongue melts against his, hunger and despair choking them both. The same abyss of lust rips open their bodies as one, feeding on a decade of bluffs that finally revealed their raw, bleeding core: a sentiment so mighty it can’t be cut out and thrown away, for it was forged in the ancestral home their souls share, somewhere between stardust and God’s will. A physical reflection of that erupted in ’81 when their eyes first locked across the room, a spark really, which to this day stays lodged at the center of their beings. James’ good arm holds Dave tight, closer. Avoiding the other’s wounds, Dave goes everywhere else he can, touching and grabbing and pulling at all of James. And that spark exudes light, feverish and alert.

 

As the kiss fades, they are both hard and panting, but Dave’s tapered fingers only play with the blonde waves framing the other man’s expecting face. “Are you waiting for me to say it back?”

 

Through an unchaste haze, James nods. He’s been waiting his whole life.

 

“Do you really need me to say it? Cause I thought- I thought I made it obvious. Every time I come back to you even if I shouldn’t. Even if I keep getting my heart broken.” Dave’s eyes narrow down to glittering slits, hand moving to brush against James’ crotch. “No, I won’t say it. But I’m not quitting you either. As long as I live, and even after.”

 

“Dave-” James prays to his name, chasing those so craved words obstinately. He’s not sure he can survive without Dave saying them.

 

“Shhhh.” Dave’s breath ghosts over the shell of James’ ear, hand crossing the feeble barrier of sweatpants and briefs. “Take your punishment. And your bliss.”

 

Guilty and horny and disadvantaged, James realizes there’s no winning this round, he has to settle. “Let me.” He groans then, urging for Dave to move.

 

Perceptive, Dave readjusts himself in James’ lap, straddling him perfectly, leaving enough space between them for hands tending to neglected erections. It’s not graceful, nor it has time to be. Spit is involved, and mouthed cursing. Urgency sparkles in their dilated, mirroring pupils, their fingers knowing each other’s cock so well, by memory, by dedication learned over the years. To be holding the weight of James’ shaft without the promise of having it open him raw is to languish for Dave, a cruel reminder of how hollow he feels. Lars only could grant them about ten minutes. James can sense that, senses the race against the clock they’re forced to engage in, and hates it. He has missed all the right ways Dave challenges him in bed, lean and resilient, eager to be mounted again, and again, and again. No one else has ever been a better – or even just equal – match. With such vivid images fluttering behind eyelids, they come long and messy, faces flushed and electric, in a turbid exchange of wet moans, raspy growls.

 

“Fuck…”

 

“Fuck. Indeed.”

 

Leaving room 306 with a cum-stained t-shirt might not be the brightest idea to divert suspicion, which prompts Dave to stand up and go for the closet. “What did the docs say?” He asks, fishing for clothes. He throws his own t-shirt in the laundry hamper and slides easily into a black Lynyrd Skynyrd one.

 

“It’s gonna take me a few months to heal. It hurt like a motherfucker when it happened, and now there’s this constant background pain I can’t get rid of. Blisters and shit. But other than that no deep damage. I was lucky.” James watches as Dave returns, obeying reluctantly when the other gestures for him to raise his arms. However, he finds no reason to complain as Dave undresses him and then puts a comfy tanktop on him. The gentleness in handling his wounded arm doesn’t go unnoticed.

 

“Dumb is what you were. And lucky too, I suppose.” Dave huffs, taking back his place on James’ lap. He’s stupidly aware that he would give up his entire world, every ounce of his own existence down to the bone if that meant no pain could ever touch James again. But he also knows that would be a mistake and help no one, for no teacher exists as efficient as suffering. “You scared me. Yet another way to mess with my heart, uh?”

 

“I’m so-”

 

Dave shakes his head, bopping James’ nose. “Is she taking care of you, at least?”

 

“Yeah…” James concedes, understanding right away who Dave is talking about. “Even looks after my wounds personally. She’s too good for me, I know. But it’s not the first time I take something I don’t deserve.”

 

“Shut up, James.” Dave hisses, tilting his fiery head as a warning. James thinks he’s too beautiful to be real, but Dave’s body radiates warmth and sex right against his, so he must be. “Shut the fuck up before I make you.”

 

James’ brow arches defiantly. “I’d like to see you try.”

 

Just like that, a playful Dave slaps his hand against James’ mouth, a soft yet unyielding muzzle. “I want to see you again when you’re doing better, you hear me? ‘til then… I’m glad you’re not alone.” He can feel James’ smile stretch under his palm, and decides to reward him by removing his hand. He does it slow, an excuse to keep touching his lips a little longer.

 

“You too.” James breathes, the sensual mood tinged with something prudent, mellower. More delicate. “I hear you have a son. And I, uh- This world isn’t built for us to have… I don’t know, something- Fuck.” Thinking of raising a family with Dave is the most absurd thing James might have ever dreamed of, so much he can’t bear to put it into words or look at him while he stutters. “You deserve a nice family is what I’m saying. Someone to love, to hold on to.”

 

Cheeks bright red, Dave feels so fond of the man he can’t stop grinning or staring at him like he’s a new-found wonder. He knows what James meant, and that hurts, but it doesn’t matter now because they have still discovered a way to make it work, and that will have to suffice for this lifetime. “You think I don’t hold on to you?” He speaks dearly, forehead resting against James’. It’s sacred and kind, this space they carved out of thin air just for the two of them. “My one true North star since the day I met you? God, you’re such a fool.”

 

An abrupt, loud knock bursts their bubble. “Conjugal visit is over!” Lars notifies them from behind the closed door, not devoid of his usual inappropriate humor. Something Dave used to enjoy (and maybe, just maybe… he does still). “Wrap it up and tuck it away!”

 

Dave chuckles, while James is quick to grab his nape and pull him closer. He won’t let him go without stealing another kiss, one he makes deep and filthy, like the want he can’t hide. “Next time,” he says, hoarse, against the other’s abused lips, “you’re not gonna be able to walk out of my room like this.”

 

That whisper, so darkly inclined, brings fire down Dave’s spine, flaring up at the small of his back where James’ palm is lingering. “I count on that.”