Caress the Tiger

Equusentric

Spoilers: post 513
Warnings: None really. Slightly angsty.
Beta: Grateful, massive snugglage to lesser_gods and darksylvia!


*********

You smile softly as you gaze at the tousled blond head on the pillow next to yours. It's a sight you had dreamed of practically every night since he left, but you never allowed yourself to think that you'd ever see it again. You never thought you deserved to have him come back to you, that he was right to have walked away. But your life is different now, and you're both ready. It's going to work this time.

The love rushes over you in a wave so strong that you can't help but bend down and kiss his temple. You wince a little as he stirs; you hadn't meant to wake him. It's a fleeting expression, however, because suddenly you're gazing into sleepy blue eyes and your lips simply have to match his contented smile.

"Hey," he murmurs. "Why are you up already?"

"I need to head to the office for just a little bit. In all the excitement of reopening Babylon, I forgot to send some important papers for an account." You caress his face gently. "I'll be right back."

He turns his head to kiss your palm. "Be careful." He scoots over to your side of the bed. "I'll keep your place warm."

You feel your heart scrunch in your chest. He's so fucking beautiful. And he's yours. Finally, completely yours.

"I love you."

His teeth are bright in the dimly lit room. "I love you, too."

The urge to crawl over him and lick every one of those shining white teeth is nearly overwhelming, but duty calls, and he's not going anywhere. You trust in that now, that he'll be there when you get back. The knowledge buoys your spirits as you head out the door.


**********

The birds are just beginning to wake the sun when you arrive at Kinnetik. Letting yourself in, you make your way quickly to your desk. It'll just take a few minutes to finish the job and you can be back in the warm arms of your partner for the rest of the weekend.

As you boot up your computer, a soft clanking noise breaks through the quiet. Your eyes widen as you rise slowly from your chair, adrenaline flooding your system as you wait for the noise to be repeated. It comes again and you strain to pinpoint it. It's coming from just around the corner.

Realistically, you should be getting out and calling the police, but for some reason you find yourself walking slowly towards the source of the sound. It's like your feet have a mind of their own, as though they carry some sort of grudge against the rest of your body and want to lead you to your doom. You have the fleeting thought that perhaps this is what happens to those stupid teenagers in the slasher flicks, and then you're at the doorway.

You peer slowly around the corner, taking in the empty office. Huh. You could have sworn it was from in here. You straighten up and start to look down the hall when the voice in your ear makes you almost jump out of your skin.

"Theodore!"

His lips move some more but you can't hear over the frantic pounding of your pulse in your ears. "What?"

He smirks and leans forward. "I said, what are you doing here?" His voice is deliberate, each word punctuated by a puff of alcoholic air.

You crinkle your nose and try not to wave your hand. "Jesus, Brian, I could ask the same thing!" You take a step back and notice that he's wearing the same clothes he had on last night. His Babylon clothes. "Did you even go home?"

Brian straightens up, looking almost...sad? "No."

"Why not?"

"I couldn't be--" He stops abruptly and the expression disappears. Replaced by a blank stare. "I didn't want to. The quiet is too fucking loud there." His arm moves and you realize he's holding a bottle of Beam. An empty one rests on the desk behind him. "Who knew silence could be so motherfucking loud?"

You've never seen Brian flat-out drunk. You knew he liked whiskey but you've only seen him drink the occasional shot. He usually stuck with beer on a social basis, and even then he only drank maybe one or two before moving on to his recreational drugs of choice, E and poppers. Drunk Brian is a completely different entity from high Brian, and you feel a little out of your element.

"Okay. Well, um...I'm just going to fax some paperwork for the Facetti account." You point back over your shoulder.

"You do that. Because that's what Theodore Schmidts do, isn't it?" He slushes your last name almost obscenely.

You back out of his office and go back to your desk. Pulling up the account quickly, you find the files you need and hit "send." The fax sings its soft tune as you look back uneasily at Brian's office.

It's been almost six months since Justin went to New York, and news on him consisted mostly of sporadic bursts of gossip that Debbie gleaned from Jennifer. Everyone was sure that he would come down for the opening of the remodeled Babylon. "Everyone" had also included Brian, evidently. You'd noticed how he kept checking the door, outwardly looking as though he were simply observing his new patrons. You had suspected that his nonchalance was insincere by the growing stiffness of his posture as the night wore on. Michael had been keeping an eye on him, though, and Blake had started whispering delightfully dirty things into your ear which had effectively pushed out thoughts of anything else as you'd made it an early night.

You think you can safely assume that Justin never showed. You wonder if he'd even called.

You poke your head through the doorway. Brian is still standing where you left him, his head tipped back towards the ceiling, swaying slightly. You start into the room, thinking perhaps you should get him a chair, when suddenly his head snaps forward.

"Did you do your duty to the world, Theodore Schmidt?" He gestures grandly towards your office. "Did you do what the world would expect a Theodore Schmidt to do?"

He stares at you with those piercing, chameleon-colored eyes. They make you feel pinned to the wall and an uncomfortable squirm begins to make its way up your spine.

"I...guess so?" You're not really sure what he's talking about.

"You're who people expect you to be, right?"

"Um...yeah, I suppose. Is this about the account? Because I--"

He snorts derisively. "No, no. You've done your duty. You can sleep well knowing you've done what is expected of you."

He's still staring at you in the way that makes your neck itch. You rub it with a nervous hand.

"Are you happy?"

The question catches you off guard. "Um, I guess so. Yes...yes, I am." And you realize as you say it that you really mean it.

He nods. "You do what Theodores do, and you want to do it."

You still have no idea where he's going with this. "Brian--"

"Everyone knows who Brian Kinney is," he interrupts. "Brian Kinney is a ruthless ad man. Brian Kinney doesn't do boyfriends. Brian Kinney believes in fucking, not love. Brian Kinney is a heartless asshole. Brian Kinney doesn't give a shit about anyone but himself. Brian Kinney will always be young, always..." He stops, contemplating the amber liquid swirling in the bottom of the bottle. He takes another draught as he glares at you over the tops of his knuckles.

You feel a twinge of guilt as you acknowledge that you've thought all of those things at some point or another. Then you start a little as his raised voice breaks the heavy silence.

"And if Brian Kinney steps out of the box, by fucking god people will remind him!" He flings out his arms, the Beam making faint splunking sounds as it whirls inside the bottle he's clutching in a death grip. "I have to be Brian Kinney all the fucking time." He gesticulates violently and almost falls over. You start to move towards him but stop as he whirls around, the whiskey bottle barely missing your head.

He staggers until his hip hits the edge of his desk, then stops and plants the bottle on the desk top with a hard thump. He goes still for a moment, the room that much quieter after his shouting. You barely hear his next words, so soft is the whisper.

"Why do I always have to be Brian Kinney?"

The mood swings are rather alarming, and you're considering calling Michael for help when Brian wobbles around to look at you again. You have to stifle a gasp, for is face is completely open, his wide eyes unguarded and filled with such raw pain that it takes your breath away.

"Why can't I just be Brian?" His voice gets stronger. "Why?"

He wobbles and leans forward and without thinking you step up to catch him before he falls. You snag the base of his office chair with an outstretched leg and pull it towards you. The chair groans as Brian drops heavily into it. His head falls back onto the head rest with a muffled thud. He squeezes his eyes shut tightly as his lips roll inwards.

You remember what Brian had said to you not even a year ago, about how sharing his problems didn't make him feel any better. You're not expecting him to do so now, especially not with you, so you're surprised when he does.

"Everyone told me I needed to change, that I needed to grow up. But they won't fucking let me be the person I've grown into." His voice is a weary monotone. "I'm like a fucking piece of furniture and they can't decide what wall I look best against. Lindsay wanted me to be a father, then she takes my son away. Michael wanted me to grow up, then he tells me I'm not meant to change."

He rubs his face with his hands, slurred words of quiet frustration escaping from between his palms. "They want me to stay their fucking Peter Pan. I have to make them fly, even when I don't feel like flying. And Justin--"

He chokes in a way that makes your chest ache.

"I would have married him, Theodore," he murmurs brokenly, hands dropping helplessly into his lap. "I would have."

He sounds so lost, so unlike that always-in-control Brian Kinney you thought you knew. You realize that you don't know Brian at all, not really. The thought fills you with regret for the loss of something you never even had.

You're not sure when it started, but you're suddenly conscious of the fact that your hand is on top of Brian's head. It's moving of its own accord, carding gently through the soft dark strands of his hair. You know you shouldn't be doing this but you can't make yourself stop, and Brian isn't stopping you. If anything he begins to lean almost imperceptibly into the pressure of your fingers.

You feel a thrill run down your spine and settle into your stomach. You think that this must be what it feels like to caress a tiger; the excited wonder of stroking such a majestic animal mixed with the terrifying knowledge that at any second it could turn and rip out your throat.

You don't know how long you've been standing there, a minute or ten, just stroking Brian's head as he slowly leans further and further towards you until his temple is pressing against your rib cage. The office is silent except for the background hum of the air conditioner and the occasional gasp from Brian as his breath hitches. It's long enough that you're starting to think that perhaps he's falling asleep until the words come.

"He always said he wanted me. Just me. Only I never knew which me he was talking about. I guess he didn't, either." His breath shudders as he inhales and you know he's fighting tears. The thought of seeing Brian cry almost scares you for some reason. Nothing so proudly beautiful should ever be this sad. It's just wrong.

"He did want you. Every you. He never stopped, and he never will." You hope you're not lying to him.

He snorts. "Then why am I always watching him leave? Why am I always having to let him go?"

Your heart pinches at the bewildered pain in his voice. "You didn't let him go, Brian. Letting go implies that he was struggling to get away and you couldn't hold him anymore." Your fingers don't stop their gentle movement through his hair. "But you didn't, you set him free. You opened your hand and let him fly. And he'll come back to you, Brian, because he loves you. He'll stretch his wings and see how high he can go, but he'll never go so far as to lose sight of you."

Brian's head presses harder against you for a second, then he sits up. He blinks at you like a sleepy owl for a moment before he smiles. It's a watery but genuine smile, full of fond indulgence, one you've only ever seen directed at Michael. It lights up a warmth within you, in a place only ever touched by Emmett. Hmm.

"Oh, Teddydore," he murmurs, reaching up to pet your chest with an affectionate, awkward pounding. "You're so poetic when I'm drunk."

You huff a small laugh as his touch makes the warmth in your chest spread up into your face. You take his hands and step back, pulling him from his chair. "Come on, Brian. Let's get you home."

**********

Brian has always been thin, and he'd even lost a little weight since Justin left, but he's still damned heavy to haul around. He practically fell asleep in the car and was no help at all getting into the building. Thank god the elevator was working. You have no idea how Michael did this for all those years.

Brian laughs quietly as you maneuver his keys out of his pocket, mumbling something about feeling him up. His breath is hot in your ear as you struggle with the door. It finally opens and you shove him inside. He almost pulls you both down when his feet stumble on the steps to his bedroom. You somehow manage to make him fall onto the bed instead.

You pull off his shoes and set them carefully by the closet. He doesn't move as you unbuckle his belt. The sensual hiss of the leather sliding through the loops makes your groin stir. Deciding that it would be in your best interest not to remove anything else, you maneuver his legs around onto the bed. He groans softly and rolls over, hand grasping blindly until his fingers find the other pillow. He pulls it to his chest and buries his face into it with an unintelligible mumble, then goes still.

You step back and look at him for a moment. You remember a time when you envied Brian Kinney. Everyone wanted to be fucked by him, even you, but it was more than that. Your biggest, deepest, most treasured fantasy was to be Brian Kinney. You were an ordinary, frumpy house cat who dreamed of being a tiger, who longed to be a proud and powerful predator, to be both feared and admired. You remember the day when Brian loaned you his mojo bracelet. Putting it on was like donning his prowler's stripes.

Stripes that dripped and ran from your skin like cheap finger paints as soon as the heat was on.

You discovered then that most cats aren't meant to be tigers, especially not you. It took another two years for you to come to grips with that, but you're happy now. You have a job you enjoy and a man to love who loves you. Plain, ordinary, domesticated Ted, complete opposite of the magnificent, wild Brian Kinney.

But deep down, all tigers are still cats at heart. Looking at him now, his sleep-softened beauty surrounded by the melancholy expanse of lonely bed, you can't help but wonder how often the tiger dreams of being a house cat. How much he longs to know what it would feel like to purr.

You leave his keys in a conspicuous place by the telephone. The answering machine is blinking a bright red "2". Realistically you know they're both probably Michael, but you hope with all your heart that one of them is Justin.

*****

The homey smell of pancakes greets you as you step into your apartment. Blake's smile beams at you from the kitchen. "Everything go okay?"

You walk into the kitchen and eye the food appreciatively as you hug your chef. "Yeah, I'm sorry I took so long. Brian was there."

Blake nods, then gets the little crease between his eyebrows that means he's trying to figure something out. It takes you a moment to discern the cause. Your clothes carry the unmistakable scent of whiskey.

"He spent the night with Mr. Beam," you clarify, trying to keep the nervousness out of your voice. "I took him home."

His head tips a little as he regards you for a second, then his mouth twitches sadly. "I guess there was no Justin, then?"

You can't help the little flare of elation at his trust in you. "No, I don't think so."

"I'm sorry to hear that." He gives you a peck and then turns back to the pan. "These will be done in a few minutes."

You know you should give him room to cook but you bury your nose into the back of his neck instead. He is warm and trusting and here and yours, and you've never been happier in your entire life.

You're just plain old Ted Schmidt, you think as you purr happily against his skin, and there's no one else you'd rather be.

End