[identity profile] nekonexus.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] if_i_trace
We're kidding ourselves, kidding ourselves
so what do you want from me?
As long as there's a pay phone and a taxi cab, I'm alright
cuz I can leave home

We're kidding ourselves, kidding ourselves
so what are you waiting for?
cuz even with a cell phone and a fast car I won't leave
cuz I'd be alone...


~*~*~

Steve's bedroom faced East, and daylight came slanting in early. He had blackout curtains for those times when he was working nights, but at the moment they were drawn back, and only the thinner layer of white sheers filtered the light.

Even from the doorway, Val could see the threads of silver in Steve's sleep-tousled hair. The past few weeks had been hard on Steve in ways he wouldn't -- or maybe couldn't -- explain. He'd been short-tempered and sharper-tongued, and Val had simply tried to ride it out. He hadn't been told, or even asked, to leave. Not yet, anyway.

Sunlight traced the lines of Steve's body; the hard curve of muscle and the planes and angles of bone were warmed by the light's touch. Val wondered what they'd feel like beneath his own fingers, remembered the tense cord of muscle in Steve's wrist and the strength that lay coiled within.

"How long are you going to stand there?" Steve asked quietly, not turning to face him.

Val smiled, not shifting his weight from where he leaned against the doorframe. "'Til you tell me to stop," he replied.

Steve stretched, arching his back for a moment before curling on his side again. "Do what you want."

That was invitation enough. Padding across the room, he slid beneath the sheet and lay on his side, facing Steve's back. Close, but not quite touching. The bed was warm from the heat of Steve's body and far more comfortable than the couch.

They lay like that for a while. Val listened to the slow, steady sound of Steve's breathing and let his thoughts drift away, back towards sleep. The sunlight rose past the window, became dull and diffuse as the sun climbed higher in the sky. He might have dozed, content in the moment. It was enough, and so much more than enough, to just share the quiet like this.

"When are you going to leave?"

Sucking in a breath a little too suddenly, Val tensed. The words hurt more than any physical blow Steve could have ever levelled at him. Anger burned through his veins in their wake, a cold and lonely fire that would soon die out. "You could've just asked if you wanted me to."

"That's not what I was asking," Steve said, his tone patiently frustrated. Rolling over onto his back, he slanted a sideways glance at Val.

"Hunh?" Val said, before catching himself. "I can leave any time you want." Pushing himself up one elbow, he frowned down at Steve.

"Is that what you want?"

"What I--" Val blinked at him. "If I didn't want to be here, I would have left."

"Ahn."

Val sat up, folding his legs beneath him and swivelling sideways to face Steve directly. "Is that what you were asking? Are you afraid of me leaving without telling you?"

Something darker than annoyance flared in Steve's eyes. "Are you stupid?"

"To think you're afraid of something? Or to actually say it?" Val countered, refusing to back down.

Steve snorted and turned his gaze to the window. "Everybody leaves. Usually, somebody gets hurt first."

Val considered this in silence for a moment, letting his intuition pick out the connections he couldn't see. "Did he leave?" he asked finally.

"Who?" Steve asked, frowning at him.

"Valin, the one you named me after."

"He left the force when he retired."

Pulling one knee up to his chest, Val looped his arms around his leg and rested his chin on his knee. "But did he leave you?"

Steve's frown edged a few degrees toward glare, and he pushed himself up to lean against the headboard. "It wasn't like that."

"But he was important to you...."

Letting his head fall back against the wall, Steve rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "God, you sound like Shaun. Yeah, fine. He was my mentor. Second father. Whatever. What the fuck is your point?"

Val shook his head slightly. "Was there someone else, then?" He was pushing his luck, he knew. There was a wall around Steve when it came to personal matters, but it was one of those things you didn't notice until you ran into it, so finding the edges of it was hard.

Steve's gaze softened unexpectedly. "No," he said, almost beneath his breath. "No one else." He glanced at the window for a moment, then back at Val. "It's just a bad idea for cops."

"I don't have anywhere to go," Val said quietly. "I'm staying until you tell me to leave."

Steve just looked at him, leaving the name to hang unspoken between them.

"No," Val said, quietly, but firmly. "Not unless they force me."

A bitter smile curled the corner of Steve's lips as his eyebrows jumped in momentary surprise. "They still can, and I can't --"

"You don't have to protect me," Val interrupted. "I can take care of myself."

Steve raised one hand and, for a moment, Val thought he was reaching for his smokes, to put a tangible wall between them. But he stopped the motion with his hand in the air, and instead curled his fingers as if around the stock of a gun.

"I killed to protect you," Steve said quietly.

Oh.... That was the problem, then. He hadn't heard the gun go off; had only regained awareness afterwards, in the confusion of an unexpected aftermath.

Letting his hand fall to his lap, Steve stared at it. "I've never actually killed someone before," he murmured, as if to himself.

"It won't happen again," Val said, fiercely.

"How can you know?"

"It won't," Val insisted. Steve raised his eyes to meet Val's. "You won't."

Reflex, instinct, desperation: a deadly combination, but not one that would be repeated. He knew that, and so did Steve, if he'd just let himself believe it.

"Steve," he said softly, "It was a mistake --"

A short bark of humourless laughter interrupted him. "No," Steve replied. "Mistakes can be fixed. I fucked up and it cost that guy his life."

Val shook his head. "If you hadn't... I would have. And that would've been worse, right?"

Steve studied him silently for a moment before nodding shortly. "Yeah."

"You can't change what happened... but you can let it change you, for better or for worse."

"God, now you even sound like him," Steve muttered.

Val couldn't help smiling at that. "Is that a bad thing?"

Steve sighed. "Only if you start spouting off crap about karma."

Laughing, Val shook his head. "Not likely. All I know about that is 'what goes around, comes around'."

"Ch."

Silence for a moment, but comfortable now. The air had cleared. Val glanced at the window, watching the sheers move in the breeze, and smiled.

"I want my couch back," Steve said, unexpectedly. "Since you're staying, you might as well sleep in here."

Val blinked at him, completely taken aback for a moment. Steve was studiously avoiding his gaze, but he wasn't smoking yet, either. "Ah... thanks," he replied softly. "Hey, umm... since I'm staying, should I go put the coffee on?"

"No," Steve said shortly, untangling himself from the sheet and sliding his feet over the side of the bed. "You can't make coffee."

There was probably a bad pun to be made there, about the coffee being what 'came around' in the worst way, but Val didn't want to spoil the moment. Instead, he just got to his feet and followed Steve into the kitchen.

~*~*~

>> Epilogue 2

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July 2010

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