tainted by my touch
your love makes you a leper
tainted by my touch
tainted by my touch
your love makes you a leper
He’s never had a name to say before; his previous encounters were all anonymous by necessity or preference. Mine Tanim breathes now like a prayer, a mantra, moaning softly with the rhythm of our union.
His breathless voice binds me to this moment more firmly than the fingers gripping my shoulders. I’d never thought about the power of names before I met Tanim. It was easy to forget I had one sometimes, so rarely did I offer it and rarer still did I hear it on someone else’s tongue. But I remember now, oh yes. Tanim recognizes my name for the gift it is and utters it with wonder, love, honor.
Names have such power. Tanim savors the thrill of murmuring mine with each trembling exhalation but I withhold his until the very end, until he’s gasping in climax beneath me and we can’t possibly be any closer, any more intimate or vulnerable, and then I press the precious words into his flesh.
We got the fairy tale wrong. It’s supposed to be Beauty and the Beast. See, Beauty is able to look past the Beast’s gruesome visage, even his frightening manor and actions, and to the goodness inside. Beauty’s love acts like a mirror to show him the man he can be, the prince locked safely inside the heart of a wild thing, and at the end of the tale the Beast is freed of his curse and they live happily ever after. But Tanim and I aren’t like that. We’re not Beauty and the Beast; we’re just two beasts of a different kind. I can see the goodness inside Tanim, beneath the fear and the doubt and the self-loathing, but I’m too tarnished to mirror it back to him. There might be something worthy inside me as well, a flicker of warmth within this cold barrier, but Tanim is too gentle to break the ice apart and set me free. We may be in love but we’re both enablers and so there’s little hope for a transformation from beast to man, monster to saint. Instead, we feed our beasts with excuses, platitudes, comforts. We tell them they are good. We tell them they are beautiful. In our eyes, they are.
We argue too much. “You’re not mad,” you say, and I know you’re not lying because the honesty in your eyes is painful to face. But I am mad, darling, so if you’re not lying then you must be blinded by stubbornness. Your denial is in itself a kind of madness, a compulsion, and I wonder if you’re merely fooling yourself to protect us both. Maybe you, my dear, my love, suffer a madness not so unlike my own, and to deny your own brokenness you must deny mine as well. Does madness love company as much as misery? Is that why we are forever drawn to one another? If so, then it is better to be mad together than alone, and better to be honest in our madness than driven to further depths by self-deceit. We are a simple case of folie à deux, beloved. A madness shared by two.
[ It’s probably not a good thing that watching NBC’s new show Hannibal gives me writing ideas, eh? But it’s so good. ]
When I wake in the middle of the night Tanim’s back is pressed to mine, a solid warmth in the darkness I’d never have guessed I would find so comforting. We’re still shy and hesitant with our affections during the day but Tanim seems to gravitate toward me when he’s asleep. No matter what positions we begin in, I always wake to find my companion curled against my side, a possessive arm often thrown over my chest or back. Moments like this offer a brief glimpse into the lonely, needy part of Tanim he tries so hard not to show. He told me once that he only wanted from me what I was willing to give and it’s touching how careful he is not to cross that line. He would never pressure me to take our relationship any further yet I know he longs to submit himself to me. It’s the ultimate expression of love, he says, but he never asks me outright to take part in such an intimate act. I doubt he even considers it a possibility for us, guarded and damaged as I am. But could it be? Could I be that person for him?
Tanim stirs in his sleep at my side, burying his face in the pillow as a dreamy smile curls the corners of his mouth. His blissful expression makes my heart flutter and my stomach clench. While I brush a lock of hair from his forehead I wonder what I’m willing to give this man who has already promised so much of himself to me. Am I ready to both give and take, I who have never wanted anything from anyone? I imagine what it would be like to undress Tanim, to run my fingers over his warm skin and touch him in places I’ve never even allowed myself to think about before. Could I do this? Could I take him in my arms and make him mine? Could I sacrifice my own privacy to give Tanim the opportunity to open himself to me?
My hand drifts down to Tanim’s hip and he curls closer as if my caress translates to some pleasant occurrence in his dream. And it probably does; he’s not such a skilled liar that I don’t know he dreams of us together, has fantasized about the very act I’m currently struggling to accept. Even this small step makes my cheeks burn, though it’s hard to tell whether they flush out of nervousness or desire or something else entirely. It feels good to touch him like this. A little strange, but good. Right. It feels like my hand has always belonged here.
Just a few weeks ago – fuck, a few days ago – that thought would have disturbed me. I’m starting to think I’m not the same man I was when I met Tanim. After all, I’m not one to give or take willingly, but with Tanim none of the old rules seem to apply. I think I can do this. Moreover, I want to do this. I want to give Tanim the love and safety and acceptance he needs to be completely vulnerable, to in turn offer as much of himself as he can. I want him to be mine in every sense of the word.
I’m not quite bold enough to act on my decision just yet, though. Instead of letting my hand drift down to touch more private regions of my companion’s body, I loop my arm around his waist and draw him close. He wakes enough to return the embrace, nuzzling his face into my chest and muttering my name, but otherwise Tanim remains in contented slumber. And this, too, feels right. Tanim belongs here in my arms. He belongs with me. To me. And soon I’ll prove that to him.
I’m already lying awake in the darkness when I hear the tell-tale clink of glass. The sound’s faint but I’ve learned to recognize it as a signal to intervene and so I gather my scattered clothing, dress, and pad barefoot through the midnight gloom. Ambient city light illuminates the living room well enough to spot Tanim’s dark figure passing back and forth before the tall windows. I perch on an arm of the couch and wonder aloud, “Does the pacing really help you sleep?”
“No, but the drinking does,” When Tanim catches the frown on my face and my pointed glance to the full glass in his hand he adds sheepishly, “I’m joking. This is my first, I promise.” But it isn’t a joke, not really, and we both know it. I nod to the couch. “Want to talk?” Tanim slides his gaze away from mine so his eyes won’t betray him as he offers the weak excuse, “It’s a conversation we’ve had before. What’s the point?” I only shrug and settle onto the couch, patting the cushion in invitation. “I don’t mind. You listen to me complain about the same things over and over, too.” I assume Tanim will brush off my offer, claim he’s fine and that I should go back to bed, but after a moment’s hesitation he acquiesces and sinks onto the couch with a heavy sigh. While he stares into his glass I sit in silence, trying to exude the same supportive patience Tanim has so often provided me in my own times of struggle. It’s the least I can offer when I’ve no true solution to his problem.
“I…” Tanim stumbles, fingers clenching around the glass, then closes his eyes and lets out a second shaky sigh. When he speaks his words are chosen with great care to keep his voice steady. “I truly don’t believe there’s anything perverse in my desires now, so why…” he swallows, “why do I still experience the revulsion? The loathing?” Now Tanim glances back up to me, searching my eyes for an answer or perhaps merely the comfort of understanding. His own churn with raw desperation as he asks, “Why do I keep slipping back into this old pattern? I feel selfish, like I’m not even grateful for what I have now or how far I’ve come. How far we’ve come. Why can’t I shake it once and for all?”
“Oh, darling,” I take the glass from his fingers and set it carefully on the floor. Tanim doesn’t protest, only lets his hands hang limp until I capture them in my own. “Of course you’re grateful. You prove to me a hundred times a day how grateful you are. This thing is a part of you, Tanim, a brokenness like my own. You can never be completely free but that doesn’t mean you’ve let it defeat you.” His hands tremble in mine and I draw him close to soften the bite of my words, true though they may be. “It’s okay to let yourself hurt tonight, love,” I murmur into his hair as he rests his head against my chest. “I’m here. In the morning you won’t feel this way. It’ll pass; it always passes. You know that.”
“Two steps forward, one step back, huh?” Tanim manages a tired, bitter laugh as I parrot his own words back to him and from the way he relaxes in my arms I know the worst of this night has passed. I look to the untouched glass of whiskey – a small victory, but a victory nonetheless – then kiss the crown of my lover’s head. “At least we’re moving forward.”
Don’t bother knocking; you won’t wake him tonight. There are two bottles on the nightstand, one of drink and one of drugs, and like Sleeping Beauty he will be lost to a long and dreamless slumber before he wakes again. This medicated coma is a temporary escape from the past and present, a postponement of the inevitable future. The years stretch on in both directions, featureless and repetitive, but here in this fleeting respite the depressants numb both body and mind until he drifts in a senseless darkness. It isn’t comforting, yet neither can he remember for what he needs comfort in the first place, so this choice seems the lesser of two evils. He’ll wake eventually to the brightening dawn or fading dusk, it hardly matters which when all hours feel the same to him, but for now he’s far away from the aching emptiness. It isn’t enough, but it’s something.
“When will I stop having to prove myself to you?”
Eyes bleak, voice hard, Tanim spits the accusation in my face. His lips twist in a sneer but I can’t tell which emotion dominates, the rage or the misery. Is it better in this moment to honor his trust by telling the truth, no matter how painful it may be, or would a well-meaning lie ease us away from this edge on which we find ourselves suddenly balanced? I know which answer he wants but it’s not one I can give. I won’t lie to him this time and so I’ve nothing to say, nothing to offer, and when I don’t reply Tanim drops his gaze to the hand clenched white-knuckled around my wrist. I can see the struggle in his eyes between the need to vent his wounded anger and the desire to give in this time as well, to just let the moment pass so we can go back to being unhappy together instead of apart.
“Right,” Tanim exhales and the anger seems to dwindle to mere exhaustion, the inferno cooled to a burning coal. “Fine.” His fingers unwrap one by one, as if he’s loathe to relinquish this one chance to demand answers, to be the one in control for once, but then my wrist is free and he turns from me; retreating or leaving me behind, I can’t be sure. Either way, I know he’ll push this moment away. Tonight we’ll still sleep in the same bed and we may even hold each other, albeit in a heavier silence than usual. But the words will still linger, both the said and unsaid, and neither can be taken back.
“I didn’t mean for it,” he said. “I’m sorry.” Who does that? Who professes their love to someone, then apologizes for it in the same breath? That’s when I knew I had made a mistake. I realized then that all these months I had underestimated the unhappiness in Tanim’s eyes. I had assumed, perhaps because he wished so desperately for me to believe this façade, that Tanim could handle himself. I suspected from the beginning that he was a troubled man but I thought that since he made it this far he was in no true danger; miserable, yes, but harmless in his misery. Yet watching as he fought back tears and said he would give me everything he had, that it didn’t matter if I returned his love, I finally understood the depth of his self-loathing. In his mind there was no possibility I might desire him, only the unshakable dread that his longing would repulse me and I would turn away.
I wanted to ask “Do you really think I’m that cruel?” or perhaps “Are you really that dense?” but even those words stuck in my throat, to say nothing of the ones I had wanted to speak now for weeks. Instead I drew Tanim close and kissed him, pressing all the stubborn words trapped on my lips into his mouth, letting him read them like braille. I was cruel, it’s true, to wait so long, and I swore in that moment Tanim would never have another reason to hold his own love in such low regard. That kiss was an apology and a promise and a confirmation of who we were and what we could become; everything I couldn’t say to him but needed him to understand, for my sake and for his.
He doesn’t speak as I slide the skin-warmed ring from his finger and inquire softly, “Why do you let them bind you like this?” Next I loosen the silk tie and toss it onto the floor, and it seems his chest swells with a relieved inhalation. “Why do you let them control you? Are you nothing but their puppet?” Now his shirt, button by button until the cloth slips off tense shoulders. “No, Tanim,” and his belt, his pants, until there is nothing left between us but bare skin, “this is who you are. Right here.” His body is eager and pliant as I press him down, hands sliding from his shoulders to capture both wrists. I can feel his hunger as he moves beneath me, desperate to mold our bodies close as possible, and yet still he argues, “I can’t…” so I tighten my fingers around his wrists and lean over, feeling the bones shift as they take my weight. “You mean you shouldn’t.” His lips part for mine as I shape the words against his mouth. “Forget them, Tanim. In the morning you’ll go back to that world. Tonight you’re mine.” The groan rising in his throat softens to a sigh and he breathes, “Please…” as he strains to taste any inch of reachable skin along my jaw, down my throat, across the wing of my collarbone. He doesn’t say please what but he doesn’t need to. I know what he wants, what he needs. Here he is mine; mine in the darkness, in the heat of our entwined limbs, in the silence stirred only by our wordless moans, and only I can give him the release he craves. This is where he belongs, not in that other world of judgment and inescapable duty. In the morning he will return there but tonight he is mine and I will make the most of the precious, fleeting hours we share.
“You are… stunning…” His words fall hot against my chest, heartbeat fluttering beneath my fingers as I touch the damp hairs curled at the nape of his neck. Instead of replying I kiss the crown of Tanim’s head and let the gesture speak for itself. As he shifts closer I wonder if anyone else has ever seen his true self, this loving, vulnerable, beautiful creature. But of course they haven’t; even Tanim barely realized what it was he longed for, at least not until we began… all this. No, no one else has seen the man who rests in my arms, as relaxed beneath these thin hotel sheets as in the most expensive suite in the city. I have the honor and privilege of being the first and only person to see Tanim for who he truly is. It’s sad, really, when I think about it. He has friends, family, a wife, yet none of them have ever bothered to look past his fixed mask of normality to the wounded man inside. I know who he is, though, and who he could become if he only had the chance.
I can’t tell him which choice to make. It isn’t my place, not when the role I play in his life is relegated to that same strict secrecy. Yet he’s tearing himself to pieces trying to live two lives, forced to deny the man he truly is except in the brief stolen moments we share – moments that must inevitably come to an end. This farce can’t be worth the sacrifice required to maintain the lie. I know I could make him happy, or at least happier than he’s ever been living the life of someone who doesn’t exist. He should choose me. He should choose himself. He should choose us.
But I know he won’t.
branded by desire
leper, deviant, outcast
why remain condemned?
throw yourself to the wolves
at least our bite you expect
[ Wrote this while listening to The Pit by Silversun Pickups. Not quite sure this is what I meant to write to go along with the song, but I think it fits anyway. ]
he would follow me
by knife, perhaps, or by rope
love makes fools of us
in the dark days we used blades to wound each other and measured our victories in warm blood, in the slowing of heart beats, and claimed the final struggling breath as a token of war; but now we strike with words that cut twice as deep and bleed out something far more precious, our triumphs the averting of eyes and trembling of lips which can shape no retaliation yet gape as if for breath that will not come
There comes a moment in every man’s life when he must decide between the easy way and the hard. It seems I have faced more than my fair share of these moments and my preference has always been to choose the path of least resistance. Not out of laziness, I assure you, or uncertainty, but simply because the leaf which allows itself to flow with the river’s current worries far less than the one striving for shore. It is safer to become an anonymous component of the greater whole than draw attention by pushing upstream.
This, too, was the easier path, though I doubt the man at my feet would agree. He took the hard way every time; that’s why we would never have worked. We were always pulling each other in different directions like prisoners chained at the wrist, one wanting to run and the other to stand and fight. Sometimes the only solution in a case like that is to hack off a hand and be on your way. Might hurt, sure, but it’s better than being bound to someone else for the rest of your life, vulnerable to their influence, their fallibility, their loves and fears and cruelties. That’s the ultimate hard path and not one I desire to walk any longer.
“It’s easier this way, darling,” I explain, forgoing metaphor or elaboration; there isn’t much point in either now. His reply is the bubbling of blood out his lips, the slight twitch of fingers that may long to wrap around my neck or pull me close for a final embrace, who knows? Those expressive eyes are already dulling over, fear and confusion faded to a kind of understanding, or perhaps simply resignation. Maybe he does understand. A knife in the chest tends to clarify things, or at least clear out all the unnecessary thoughts and worries you’ve held onto for so long. Maybe now he’s seeing how much easier, how much better it is to let go, to stop fighting. Not that he has much choice.
“Love’s a bitch,” The sticky blade in my hand feels strangely light for all a man’s life gleams and drips from its edge. “One way or another it ruins you. I’m just hurrying things along.”
[Another winter solstice, another bloody death for poor Tanim. You gotta love tradition.]
“The first time I let him suck me off was behind the locked door of his office. He called me beautiful and I knew he meant it. Did he ever mean that when he said it to you?”
Sometimes, in the night mostly, I rehearse what I’ll say to her when the truth is finally revealed. The tone depends on my mood at the moment, rational or bitter or triumphant, gloating or pitying even, but most times I like that start best. A little harsh, maybe, but in the middle of the night when I’m alone in bed, the sheets cold on either side and the apartment so empty and silent, I don’t feel particularly charitable. So she spent nights alone, wondering, waiting? Well, so did I, and suffered more through each one than she did in all the years of her sham marriage. She can feel embarrassed and betrayed when the time comes but she gets what she wants out of Tanim: money, social status, connections. All I want is Tanim himself, just him, and I can’t ever really have that. All I get are risked glances, fleeting moments, stolen hours covered by lies. I hadn’t known until him how good a liar I can be if I have something to lose. Still, it’ll all come out eventually. These things always do; why not be prepared? She thinks she has a wicked tongue but I’ve been sharpening mine for months.
“Even if he was never truly mine, he was never really yours, either,” I’ll tell that bitch, “and that’s something at least.”
We’ve had it wrong all these years. You don’t linger as a restless spirit after your death because of some unfinished business or emotion you can’t let go of; you’re forced to remain behind because someone else can’t let go. It’s their grief or anger or fear that holds you, not yours, and you are helpless to change anything. You’ve no voice with which to speak, no hands with which to touch, no way to show them the purgatory they bind you to. You are merely silent witness to a world no longer yours. You ache when they reach for the bottle but it’s a distant ache, just the memory of pain and the hollowness of loss. No, we’ve been wrong to think we’re the ones being haunted; it’s we who keep the ghosts here and mock them with the past they long to abandon.
The sickness is a failsafe, the code to a sleeping virus written in my cells. Should I ever make the mistake of believing we stand even a remote chance, here at this most fundamental level is the proof of what we are: marked; condemned; ill-fated. There are countless fragments, after all, myriad lives which we play out to their inevitable end. It therefore stands to reason that in some incarnation destiny and random chance might intersect to create the possibility of perfection, a true ‘happy ending’ as they say. The basic rules of probability allow for such an event, even predict its occurrence. Of course this risk cannot be allowed, not for us, and so the disease lurks forever in my blood, awaiting the time it might awake, propagate, and decay me from the inside out. It is one constant in all the variations of our existence, as sure a thing as the love which lends it such destructive power. It is a reminder that no matter the circumstances, no matter how otherwise blessed we might seem this time around, the end will remain one of blood and abandonment; a promise that I will always be the one to leave, that he will always be the one left behind. There is no possibility of a happy ending for us.
[ Meta-Daren has a serious grudge against me whether I have any control over this story or not. Awkward. ]
You say they don’t understand but they do, darling, and they speak the truth: I am an abuser. I am. You may argue all you like but it won’t change that fact. Why are you so surprised? The abused always become the abusers; that’s what makes us so good at it. I don’t mean to be this man, really, but I can no more go against my cruel nature than you can deny your own compulsions. You will always be drawn to monsters like me, dear. Deep down you still want to punish yourself for this hunger which disturbs you and so you’re attracted to people who will undermine your happiness with misery and pain. You could have any man you wanted, someone who could give you the entire world and not just their nightmare version of it, but instead you sought me out. Cold, withdrawn, damaged Daren. You knew I’d hurt you and you chose me because of this, not despite it. I’m not judging you for that decision, beloved. This isn’t a condemnation and you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s understandable, really. Normal. We all have our strange desires, after all. They are part of us whether we want them or not, so why deny them? Stop struggling against this aspect of yourself and embrace it instead. It’s okay; we’re okay. We’re not good, but we’re okay.
Today feels different, though I’m not sure why. We smoke on the school’s roof like usual and I’m careful to exhale through my mouth to spare my bruised nose. The taste of blood and nicotine is unpleasant but I’m used to it by now, and at least it’s calming. Smoking distracts me temporarily from the pain in my nose, my split lip, my aching ribs. Tanim doesn’t know about those so I have to be sure not to wince when I move wrong.
He’s quiet today. Maybe that’s it. We never talk much but he seems oddly withdrawn. Tired. He fussed over my newest bruises but didn’t get angry or protective like usual, just…quiet. Almost defeated. This isn’t like him and I admit it unnerves me.
“You got another one?” I ask as I grind out the stub of my cigarette, more to break the awkward silence than anything else. He twitches a little, lost in his own thoughts, I guess, and nods. When he passes me another I make sure our fingers don’t touch. The last time that happened the look that flashed through his eyes made me hurt somewhere a lot deeper than my banged up ribs. It was almost the same as the sad, haunted shadow I just catch now as he glances away again.
I should say something. I should ask him what’s wrong, what he’s afraid of, if I can help him. I’m terrible at reading people yet even I can sense how off everything is right now. I open my mouth but all that comes out is a drift of fine smoke. There was a time when I might have asked him why there’s always this sorrow beneath the false happiness in his eyes but now it’s too late to ask anything at all. We are united by our secrets, bonded by private battles we never share, only allude to and dance around. It used to be enough just to know we both suffer but now I realize companionship only numbed us; it didn’t actually change anything for the better. I can’t ask. He can’t say. In a world turned against us, this is the one rule we set ourselves. Neither of us wants to be the one to break it first.
I try to read his expression but Tanim’s turned in profile and I see nothing there but the usual stubborn mask. Even if I did ask, he would just say nothing’s wrong. He’d lie, knowing full well I’d see through it. So even though I should say something, I don’t, and eventually the last bell rings somewhere in the bowels of the building beneath our feet. I expect Tanim to stand and flash his usual regretful smile while he explains as always how he must hurry home. Tanim the dutiful son, even when inside he’s miserable. This time, though, it takes him a moment to register the sound and finally climb to his feet. “I should go,” he apologizes, trying and failing to force even a cursory smile. “I’ll see you later, Daren.”
I almost say “promise me” but instead I just nod goodbye and watch him disappear down the stairwell. No wonder today feels so wrong. For once he’s the one who’s withdrawn and I’m the one who’s angry. Not angry at Tanim, of course; angry at the people he goes home to every day who somehow don’t realize he’s slipping. If I’m the only one who sees that, if I’m his only hope, then we both really are fucked.
I used to dream about burning the world down until only a wasteland remained, as silent and devoid without as I was within. Then one day I woke up and realized my dreams were pointless. I didn’t need to burn the world down; the world was already burning itself. I only had to wait.
[ I’ve wanted a picture of Daren with this make-up for years, so I finally splurged and commissioned the wonderful Megan Engel yet again. She’s certainly making bank off of my obsession but it’s totally worth it. Check out my “art of Tanim and Daren” category for more! ]
It is not my place to ask how it shall be done. There is alcohol in the bar, sleeping pills in the cabinet, the old revolver in its wooden case buried at the back of the closet; even a silk tie may bear weight if its knot is tied tight. I do not dwell on the respective properties of these things nor which, come the moment, may seem most suitable to a grieving mind. It is his to choose and I will never know the outcome of that choice unless there truly exists a god cruel enough to condemn us to an afterlife. For both our sakes, I hope that isn’t the case.
Tell me, love, what sin commits your thumb for the brushing of my wrist? What crime is there in desiring the touch of skin to skin, the comfort of another’s heartbeat beneath your palm? Surely none could grudge us this brief connection; we are but human, after all, and there are some things which cannot be expressed in words alone. Darling, let go of this guilt which so cripples and tortures you. Set free the man you have numbed with alcohol and loathing all these years. You deserve better. You deserve more. There is no perversion in love, no deviance, no sickness. This touch does not taint us. If you would but embrace the longing and seek its fulfillment through our union, our devotion, you could understand how by love we are transformed into something greater than our separate selves. This misery will pass one day, I promise. You have me now, and in my arms you will find only safety and acceptance.
[ Above is the second of the pictures I commissioned from Megan Engel. It makes me want to give both of my boys a big hug (ah, the look on Tanim's face!) – or maybe a smack on the head to stop being so angsty. Don't worry, the third picture will be a tad more upbeat. And by upbeat I of course mean sexy. ]
I told him it didn’t matter, that nothing in his past could change my love for him. It’s the truth, of course; I would never blame him for mistakes made out of fear and confusion and loneliness. Everyone deserves their chance at happiness, or at least momentary peace, even if their methods are misguided. Besides, he has punished himself enough for the both of us all these years since, so what more could I ask? Still, like Tanim I find I can’t quite let the past stay where it belongs. Sometimes at night my thoughts dig through his old graves, unearthing skeletons better left to unmarked mounds. I never knew any of them, nor does he ever speak of specific liaisons, but my masochistic imagination covers those bones in muscle and flesh anyway. How many of them were there? How many nights did he spend in the arms of strangers? It’s a cruel game but I can’t help it and the scene unfolds whether I will it or not: my beloved tangled in another’s limbs, skin to skin, mouth to mouth, desperate to lose himself in the surrender of control to this hungry domination. His companion is nameless for individuality doesn’t matter here, only greedy hands and grazing teeth, possession and submission. It breaks my heart to watch yet I cannot cut the scene short and so it plays out to the inevitable end, to Tanim alone and empty once again, willingly used and cast aside, ecstasy cooling to disgusted guilt. I don’t need to fabricate that wounded shame in his eyes, at least; I’ve seen it enough times before, a shadow of loathing that never quite lifts. How can I ignore the scandals of his past when even he cannot banish their ghosts? When I have to face their mockery every time I meet his gaze?
His voice somewhere, close. Can’t quite cut through the fever haze. Touch? A hand on my cheek but it’s hard to register, distant like everything else. Or is it me who’s distant? Too numb. Too worn. At least the cold’s gone, just the exhaustion left behind. I can deal with that. Can’t remember a time when I wasn’t tired.
“Come on, Daren. Come back to me.”
To you? Fear in his voice. Eyes are heavy but they open, at least a bit. Don’t focus well, though, and he’s blurred at the edges. Another dream, maybe. Wouldn’t be the first time.
“Yes. Yes, I’m here. Do you think you can stand?”
Can’t even move. Eyes are too heavy. Everything’s too heavy. It’d be so much easier to give in to the dizziness pulling me down, back into unawareness–
“No, don’t go to sleep. Stay with me, Daren. We have to get you inside. You’ll catch your death out here.”
Aren’t I dead already? I could have sworn. But no, because I can feel his fingers digging into my arms, no clue how hard he grips, too afraid to let go as if his touch alone might be enough to keep me here. Fool. I must say something, tell him I don’t want to go, or I can’t, or to leave me alone, because he makes a strained noise I’ve never heard him utter. A whimper, almost, or a choked back sob. Familiar sound from unfamiliar lips.
“Don’t make me say it, Daren. Please, just do this one thing for me and come inside. It’s all I ask. Please.”
Doesn’t need to say it anyway. Never has. He’s so obvious. Doesn’t he see how doomed this all is? How pointless? Does misery really crave company so badly? It would be kinder to us both to let me go.
My name once more, softly. Pleading. That voice could break my heart. I manage a nod just to make him happy and try, really I do, to stand. The world spins. This time it isn’t back into darkness, though. His arms catch me, slip beneath mine, and he’s a sudden anchor in what’s become an endless storm.
“It’s okay. Everything will be okay, I promise.”
I doubt that. Don’t have the heart to tell him, though; he of all people deserves the comfort of blind faith. Anyway, this is the lesser of two dooms. If I must choose, I choose him. My foolish, faithful Tanim.
[ I dunno, man. I dunnooooo. ]
I knew Tanim was damaged from the moment we met. He can’t hide it, hard though he tries; behind the restless ocean of his eyes is a sorrow so entrenched no other emotion can quite mask its presence. Even when he smiles his gaze is still shadowed by a lingering bleakness that tears at even my uncaring heart. That’s how I knew I could trust him when I’d otherwise have dismissed him without thought; his whole personality is laid bare in his eyes and to the core he’s nothing but a sweet, gentle, terribly burdened individual. Some people, like myself, are damaged by an outside force, or perhaps their own volition, but there are others who are dysfunctional from the beginning because of some lacking or malformed component. With Tanim it’s as if there’s a defect in his mind that forces him to replay the same cycle of destructive mania and crushing depression. He compounds the trauma with substance abuse and isolation, of course, but those are just desperate attempts to contain something beyond his control, not the cause itself. The obsession, the guilt, the loathing and denial, they’re all ingrained in him. Even he recognizes his logic is faulty but he still can’t fix the flaw. It’s part of him. It’s who he is. Tanim may not understand why he can’t shake this darkness, but I do. The broken always understand each other. It just remains to be seen whether the broken can save each other as well.
[ I can’t tell if I accidentally made Tanim bipolar or if it’s all a product of sexual repression and his myriad other issues. Or maybe it’s a chicken and the egg sort of thing? Psych 101 students are welcome to place their bets. ]
He suspects; I know he suspects. Tanim learned the hard way early on that there are times when he cannot touch me, when he must speak gently or back off entirely and wait out the madness. Surely he wonders why, though he’d never demand an explanation. What story has he concocted to explain my broken mind and failing body? Is he willing to face every painful piece of evidence to put the truth together or does he deny what’s right in front of him in order to paint a less heartbreaking picture? I wouldn’t blame him if he did. Who wants to believe someone they love has been so irreparably damaged at the hands of another? Tanim tells me it doesn’t matter and I know that’s true, I know nothing I say could ever change his love for me, but that isn’t the point. The point is sometimes I can’t bear his presence, let alone his voice or touch, and he must make excuses for my defects. How else could he stand to stay at my side? I wish I knew how close to the truth he’s come but I could never ask. What if he’s right? And even if he has no idea, if his mind won’t allow the admission of such dark possibilities, I’d still have to confirm or deny his assumption. I’m not ready for him to know the truth. I’m not sure I ever will be. If I can’t even face my past, how can I expect Tanim to embrace it?
“I don’t trust physics.”
“You don’t trust anything.”
“Accurate, but beside the point.”
“Planes rarely crash, you know.”
“Tell that to the people on the ones that do. Oh wait, you can’t.”
“It’ll be fine. Flying isn’t that bad, really; just relax.”
“Of course you’d say that. Your family probably wintered in the tropics and summered in the mountains. I bet you’ve been flying longer than you could walk.”
“Not quite. My father was always too busy for vacations. I did accompany him on business trips as a teenager, though. I guess the trepidation and wonder of flying have worn off. It’s hard to get all worked up about it now.”
“…You’re enjoying this.”
“Perhaps a little. It’s rare to see you so paranoid.”
“I’m not paranoid; I’m just very aware of our possible fiery demise.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“Those are the engines, dear. And I rest my case.”
[ Just a silly non-canon thing I wrote on the plane home from Sacramento to Seattle. I doubt Daren would actually be afraid of flying; if the man can handle being half crazy and terminally ill, flying probably wouldn’t faze him. (Except for the part about being surrounded by people, which would seriously piss him off.) ]
“I just want to sleep. I just want to be done. I can’t be this man anymore.”
“You’re not going to hurt yourself, are you?”
“…I won’t make you a promise I’m not sure I can keep.”
“That isn’t an answer.”
“No. No, it isn’t.”
I want to say something to draw Tanim out of this chilling resignation but my words have run dry from repetition. What else can I tell him? ‘You did this; you created this monster. You tangled yourself up and now you’ll hang from your struggling before you can cut free’? I can’t. I can’t bear to make him face the truth that all these years of misery and fear and guilt are his own doing. It’s too late, anyway, to undo the damage completely. The loathing is twisted into every aspect of his personality, an undercurrent of darkness running beneath each thought and emotion. How can I convince him that this broken logic is his own creation when to him it feels natural and correct to punish himself for urges he cannot control? Tanim has no idea he’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, a man transformed into a monster by his own self-hatred. He crafted this curse, he set the rules, and no true love’s kiss will free him now. There’s no prince left to rescue, only the beast.
[ For those who don't know my story of the solstice and how it relates to Tanim and Daren, this retelling of the myth will explain what Daren is talking about. To read past solstice entries, check out my solstice category. I particularly liked the piece for the most recent winter solstice. ]
Put down the blade, beloved. You need not pierce my flesh this time. Whether you raise your hand against me or not, the cycle will continue. Fulfillment of our fate is written in my genetic code; my very cells are branded with the judgment of my crime. They turn against me now as punishment and payment for my betrayal so many countless lives before. My body eats at itself from the inside out like a seed of rot spreading slowly through veins and marrow until I taste blood with every swallow. I am my own murderer and cannibal, an unwilling suicide requiring neither rope nor razor to finish the job. There could be no more fitting penance than the constant agonizing consumption of this disease. A blade is too cold to hurt and a bullet too impersonal. Yet dying by small degree, wasting away one cell at a time, that is an execution worthy of one who betrayed brother and lover both. So fear not, my love; there will be no blood on your hands this time. Only on my lips, and yours should you deign to gift me one last kiss in parting.