Author: Sithkitten (email@example.com)
Archive: sure, if you want it- just let me know URL
Rating: PG. Still no smut. Sorry. ;)
Note: Takes place after And the Ground... Sown With Salt.
Note 2: This is a continuation of the happy little AU occuring in my head. : ) Still more like a missing scene than a real story. And more will probably get added on someday.
"Something told me I'd find you here." Jeremiah didn't move, didn't bother to raise his head from his arms. He wasn't surprised. Something had told *him* that Markus would be along. A rustling sound and a shift in the air currents told him that Markus was right behind him.
"I've always found the greenhouses restful," Markus said, as though Jeremiah was not ignoring him. "There's just something about being surrounded by life, by hundreds of living entities, that makes troubles seem to fade away."
*Yeah, right.* Jeremiah sighed and shifted a little. The chair he was straddling was hard and uncomfortable. The table his arms rested on wasn't much better. The-
Markus touched his shoulder and Jeremiah was on his feet, heart pounding, before he realized he was moving.
"Bit jumpy tonight, aren't you," Markus observed.
"Look, I came here to be alone, alright? Not to have you come sneaking up and bothering me." Jeremiah sat back down, glaring at Markus in the eerie red half-light of the infrared lamps.
"There's something wrong, Jeremiah." Markus pulled another chair out from under the table and sat. "I need to know what's bothering you. What happened out there last time? Why aren't you in bed sleeping?"
"Huh. You're a fine one to talk. You're up too. And who says there's something bothering me? Maybe I happen to like staying up all night."
Markus sighed. "You don't have to be so difficult, you know."
"Difficult?" Jeremiah laughed, a short sharp sound. "Who's being difficult? I just don't want to talk about it."
"But you admit there's something to talk about. You need to let whatever it is out, so you can deal with it and move on."
Jeremiah couldn't see it, but he knew it was there-that tiny smile that barely lifted the corners of Markus' mouth, the one that always looked so smug and superior. "Move on. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." He stood up, the legs of the chair making a grating noise as they scraped across the cement floor. "Later, Markus."
Jeremiah started down the aisle, trailing a hand through the verdant foliage as he went.
Damn him, there it was again, that tone in his voice that said he cared. Jeremiah stopped. He didn't want to, but he did anyway. "What?"
Markus moved in swiftly, blocking the aisle. "Jeremiah. I know there's something wrong. You've been up just about all night every night since you've been back. This problem, whatever it is, is beginning to affect your judgment. How long before it affects your work? How long before-"
"Is that all you care about?" Jeremiah snarled, interrupting. "The fucking *work?* I should have known." He turned violently away, but there was nowhere to go. The table he'd been sitting at earlier was pushed up against the concrete wall. The only way out of the narrow aisle was past Markus.
"If you'd let me finish," Markus continued, a hint of emotion coloring his voice. "I was about to say, how long before you get hurt? Or even killed? What you do for me is too dangerous, too demanding to let personal problems interfere."
"You're not going to let me leave, are you." Jeremiah grabbed the chair he'd vacated so precipitously and sat, folding his arms across his chest.
"No, I'm not," Markus agreed, moving slowly back towards the other chair. "So you might as well just say whatever it is that's on your mind."
"The leader of that group down in Carlson?" Markus sat down warily, ready to jump again if Jeremiah moved.
"He thought he was God. If you'd seen..." Jeremiah stopped, took a deep breath. He rubbed his eyes with one hand, but couldn't wipe away the images from his mind. "If you'd seen what I've seen, you'd have trouble sleeping too."
"So share the horror, and we'll have insomnia together."
Jeremiah snorted. "Where's the advantage in that? And besides, you seem to have found enough cause for insomnia on your own."
Markus chuckled. "Touché. But my insomnia isn't the issue here."
"It never is." Jeremiah picked at the table, worrying free a flake of veneer. "Always pickin' on me, trying to get inside my head, acting like you never got any problems of your own. Acting like you never been forced to watch people gunned down right in front of you while they beg for their lives."
There was a sharp intake of breath beside him. Jeremiah pretended not to notice.
"Really pathetic, you know, how a person will grovel when there's automatic weapons pointed at them and a sick bastard playing a game with their life. You can see it in their eyes, how they'll do absolutely anything to survive. Bet if he'd given 'em the chance, they woulda licked his boots. You ever watched someone die?"
"Yes," Markus said quietly.
Jeremiah continued as though he hadn't heard. "I was so damn close I could see their eyes. Just a split second between begging, pleading-then shock. Then nothing. Just a limp body, dead on the ground. And one sick bastard, gloating, playing his twisted little game. Fuckin' power trip, man, that's all it was. Just a power trip. Sickening. He wouldn't even let them know what he was after. That last boy... couldn't have been but sixteen, seventeen. 'Please, Michael, I pray to you, let me live, Michael, please...' And then he asked me again: where is the End of the World?" Jeremiah hit the table. "And do you know what I *said?*" He swung around and looked straight at Markus in the red light. "*Do you know what I fucking said?*"
"No, I don't."
"I said there is no such place. *No such place.* Just what Simon said. Same result, too, only this kid wasn't my friend, not like what happened to Simon. The fuckers shot the kid. Just because I wouldn't give away the location of this place. Just because I wouldn't give you away."
"I appreciate that," Markus said. "I really do. I'm sorry for the deaths of those people-"
"Ha!" Jeremiah interrupted again. "Sorry for their deaths? You don't know nothin' yet. Used to be a town out there, a town called... called... *fuck!*" Jeremiah hit the table again. "I should know. I should remember. Those people deserve at least that much. Two hundred people, wiped out on a whim, and *I*-*can't*-*fucking*-*remember*-" Jeremiah sagged down onto the table, head on forearm, the other hand still clenched into a fist but no longer pounding. "Why can't I remember?"
Markus laid a tentative hand on Jeremiah's shoulder, then, when nothing happened, scooted his chair closer and started rubbing Jeremiah's back. "It's not your fault," he said quietly. "You can't save everyone."
Jeremiah's fingers opened and closed as he struggled with the demons of memory. He turned and reached for Markus, burying his face in the other man's shoulder blindly.
"Jeremiah," Markus said, pulling him closer. "Jeremiah. It's okay now, it's all over and it will never happen again. You did the best you could. And you helped end the madness. It's over now."
*It'll never be over,* Jeremiah thought, but didn't say anything. It wasn't okay, not as long as there was the potential for another maniac to rise from the ashes of the old world, and it wouldn't be okay, probably not ever. But there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing at all. At least here, right now, there was no death. There was only warmth and caring, no matter how vehemently Markus denied it. Just a shoulder, a strength outside his own to lean on for a brief moment...
"Jeremiah," Markus breathed, voice nearly a caress. One hand crept up, cradling the back of Jeremiah's head.
"You are so full of shit," Jeremiah said, voice somewhat muffled by Markus' shirt.
Markus drew back a little, surprised. "What?"
"I said," and Jeremiah pulled him closer again, "you are so full of shit."
"I thought that's what I heard. Why do you say that?"
Jeremiah chuckled faintly at the injured innocence of his tone. "Because it's true. You don't sound like you really don't give a damn about me."
Markus tightened his hold for a moment, then let go and pushed Jeremiah away. "I don't. I can't."
"Bullshit." Jeremiah sat back in his chair, rubbing at his shoulder and trying to make it look like he'd moved away on purpose. "If you don't care, then why are you here?"
"Your distraction is interfering with... oh, hell." Markus rubbed his forehead. "Yes. I care. But I can't afford to. Do you understand what I'm saying? I *can't.*"
"Markus," Jeremiah shook his head. "I don't know where you get off thinking you're so different from everyone else. You come here and intrude on my private time, making me spill my guts, and then sit here and try to pull this 'can't afford to' shit. What, you think you're not human? That you're beyond such simple things as caring for another person? Maybe you think you're too good for a loser like me, that only someone as elegant and educated as yourself is worth bothering with. Maybe you think-"
"Will you just *be quiet?*" Markus finally lost some of his calm. "It's not any of that, and you are *not* a loser. You wouldn't be here if you were. I just *can't,* don't you understand?"
"No, Markus, I don't understand. Now will you just damn well tell me what your problem is?" Jeremiah reached out and took hold of Markus' forearm. He could feel the tension in the other man, even through the layer of clothing.
"There are things which nobody needs to know," Markus said softly, back in control again.
"All right, I can respect that," Jeremiah nodded. "But this ain't one of 'em. Why is it you get so close, then push me away? Why won't you tell me what the problem is?"
"There are reasons, but I can't tell you all of them, okay?"
"I just said it was okay if you can't tell me everything, didn't I? I understand there's things inside your head I probably never want to hear. But why, Markus? Why do you always play games with me?"
"I'm sorry," Markus whispered. "I've allowed myself to become close to people before, and only trouble has resulted. I never intended to play any kind of game with you. I just... you're so strong, so different, so... words fail me. So did my better judgment. I realized too late that it was happening all over again. And I can't, I just can't allow you to get any closer, because it's too dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Jeremiah raised an eyebrow. "I've given over worrying about the danger, at least here in your safe little haven. You want danger, go outside. Did I ever tell you I almost got shot for giving a guy a hug? My friend, my best friend ever... he wasn't as lucky as I was. It isn't safe to swing that way out in the real world. What's the danger here?"
Markus yawned, covering his mouth quickly. "Sorry. I guess the hour is finally catching up to me." He looked around at the rows of red-lit plants. "Look, this is hardly the most comfortable location for a conversation. Would you care to continue this elsewhere?"
"As long as it's continued," Jeremiah said, warily.
"You win," Markus smiled tiredly. "You spilled your guts, now it's my turn."
"Lead on, then," and Jeremiah stood, gesturing for Markus to precede him.
Markus rose, slightly unsteady. "Long day," he said, but didn't pull away when Jeremiah slipped an arm around his waist. They left the greenhouse together.
"Where to?" Jeremiah asked, out in the corridor.
"This way," Markus responded, but ducked out from under Jeremiah's arm. Jeremiah sighed and followed, letting his arm drop.
Markus led the way silently through the halls, nodding to the few people they met along the way. Jeremiah followed, equally silent, but wondering exactly when he'd made the transition from thinking Markus was too dangerous to be around to actively pursuing the man.
Finally they reached a door. Markus slipped his keycard into the reader and the door opened, revealing a modest apartment. "My place," Markus said, waiting for Jeremiah to enter before shutting the door and flipping a light on.
"Nice," Jeremiah said, around a lump of nervousness. He hadn't really expected, given how hard Markus had struggled to avoid any degree of intimacy, to wind up here in his apartment. He sat on the couch, sinking into its comfortable embrace with a sigh. "Man, this is dangerous."
"What is?" Markus joined him on the couch.
"Too comfortable. What if I fall asleep on you again? This beats the hell out of that damn turquoise couch."
"That's just a risk we'll have to take," Markus smiled. "After all, you're the one that insisted on talking."
"And I still want to know what your problem is, so don't think you're getting off easy by giving me something comfy to sit on."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Markus chuckled. "My problem is that I've got unresolved issues, you know? Leftover guilt from Alan, someone who's convinced I'm in love with her... more than one, come to think of it."
"Ease off on the bragging," Jeremiah said, around a stab of jealousy. "Is that all? Just guilt?"
"That, and other issues that stem from my being such a public figure. It doesn't take much to disrupt the fragile peace of this community. The least little hint of favoritism-not even favoritism, just any indication that I might prefer your company over someone else's... case in point: how does Erin like having you around?"
"If looks could kill, I'd have been dead a month ago," Jeremiah said thoughtfully. The nervousness had given way to surprised agreement. "You've got a good point there. So it's nothing against me? 'Cause I'd be pretty pissed if it turned out I went to all that trouble for nothing."
"All what trouble?"
"Working out my own issues, deciding that it's okay that you make me feel all squirmy inside, convincing Kurdy that if he made one more crack about me and you I'd rearrange his face..."
"No... he didn't, did he?"
Jeremiah nodded. "He teased me for far too long about that time right after the Great Skinhead Adventure. Not to mention catching me coming out of your office first thing in the morning, all rumpled and tired. Among other things, including events that only took place in his overactive imagination."
"Shame on him," Markus shook his head, smiling. "Honestly, Jeremiah, the problem was never with you. But you can see why I can't let myself care now, can't you?"
"No, I don't," Jeremiah said. "All I see is that you're under a lot of stress here and shouldn't have to bear it alone. I see no reason why you have to keep pushing me away... in private." Jeremiah held up a hand. "Granted, in public, nothing can change. You have a damn good point about the reactions of your people. But you're not some kind of superhuman being, and you're damn sure not a god. So why not allow yourself the luxury of a close friend?"
"Jeremiah," Markus began, then stopped for a deep breath. "Look, I can't-"
"Bullshit," Jeremiah said. "Come here. You going to tell me this isn't good?" He reached out and pulled Markus close to him, arranging himself so he could hold Markus comfortably.
Markus tensed and started to pull away, then relaxed and laid his head on Jeremiah's chest. "I won't lie to you."
"Good." Jeremiah rested his chin on Markus' head. "Funny, ain't it? You came to badger me about my problems, and I wind up doing the same to you."
"Irony at its finest." Markus snuggled closer.
"Irony, huh?" Jeremiah ran his fingers through Markus' short hair. "You want irony, I'll give you irony. I've been up all night for a couple weeks now, every night, unable to close my eyes without seeing someone die or that madman laughing in my face. But here, now, with you... it's better now."
"I'm glad. You're right, that is ironic. I'd have thought this would be the last place in the world you'd feel comfortable."
"And what makes you say that?"
"Just-I've tried, so hard, to keep at a safe distance, to not care..."
"This is hardly a safe distance," Jeremiah said, and stifled a yawn. Damn, why was it he was getting tired now, of all times, when he finally had Markus right where he wanted him?
"And I can hardly claim to not care any more." Markus sighed. "I realized that when Kurdy told me how close you both came to getting killed."
Jeremiah's arms tightened around Markus. "Damn him, he wasn't supposed to tell you that part."
"But he did, and I'm glad he did." Markus sat up. Jeremiah let go reluctantly. "I need to know things like that."
"Where are you going?"
"Nowhere. Just turning the light down. It's bothering my eyes."
Jeremiah's heart jumped into his throat as Markus switched the light down to dim. He took advantage of Markus being up and about to lay on his side, losing the battle with another yawn.
"Comfortable?" Markus asked, amused. He smiled down at Jeremiah.
"Nope," Jeremiah said, then reached up and pulled Markus down onto the couch. "Now I am, though."
"Well, if that's the way you want it," and Markus stretched out on his side, facing Jeremiah. "Better?"
"Much," Jeremiah yawned. "Damn. Why do I have to get so tired now?"
"It's okay," Markus whispered, stroking Jeremiah's cheek. "You've been awake for how long now? Just relax."
*Oh, hell... can't even think no more...*
And then Jeremiah was out like a light