okay. writing it backwards, forwards and inside-out. – cpv
“Go away,” Steve said quietly.
The suit said nothing, stone-faced, watching him, giving nothing away.
Control. Steve had to stay in control. But his skin itched, his hair matted and tangled; his head felt ready to burst. His clothes were still soaked in some places, dried stiff in others. He was muddy and filthy and aching for a long stand under a hot shower. Just hours ago…god, he was still seeing it, he couldn’t get the sight out of his head…
…and from that, dragged through the hell of metal, mud and fire and back to the stadium, then grabbed by another creature entirely, a creature of dark mirrored sunglasses and somber black suit and a badge, grabbed and dragged back here…
“Who were you with?” the suit said.
Steve said nothing, focusing on a spot on the carpet, his muddy boot prints, ground-in…
“I’m not a ‘mister’,” Steve said.
“Who – were – you – with?” Cold. Enunciated.
He needed a bath. He really needed to go and scrub and scrub until everything, every speck, every memory was wiped away and pulled down the drain. He couldn’t get out of the chair, his muscles too limp, too tired.
That pulled his gaze up, to glare through his matted, tangled hair. “You don’t have the right to call me that, either.”
“Right now,” the man said calmly, “the only rights you have are the ones we let you keep.”
Steve held the suit’s gaze, even as a chill threaded its way through the empty exhaustion of his thoughts.
“You were seen,” the man said.
“I was grabbed,” Steve said, “by those things.”
“You were not,” the man said. “Witnesses place you near the stage during the…incident. And place you there after.”
“If you know that,” Steve said, as the chill settled, a heavy weight in his gut, “then you know who I was with. Quit the fuckin’ games.”
The suit smiled thinly. “This is no game.”
Steve looked away.
“We know why they wanted you,” the man said. “Did she even tell you that?”
She. Steve kept his gaze turned away, silent, focusing on the rusty A/C unit on the near wall.
“How much did she tell you?”
The A/C rattled tepid air into the room. Its paint was peeling, rust scored underneath it. The noise was loud, rhythmic, oddly soothing.
“That much,” the man said softly.
At that, Steve looked back at him. “I said, go away.”
The thin smile was back. “You don’t understand the situation, singer-boy. They grabbed you. And we don’t know where you’re at. No one will. It’s that easy.”
The suit’s hand moved. Too late, Steve saw the slender grey barrel in the man’s hand, saw it jerk, felt the sharp, stinging impact into his shoulder. He cried out, felt the cry only as an in-drawn, nerveless gasp of air that sucked his voice from him, a nightmare where he couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, struggling against the blackness dragging him down, a blackness that wrapped around his own exhaustion and lulled it into deep, deep, unconsciousness..
“He said,” said another voice, from somewhere near the door, and Steve cried out in voiceless terror again, “go away.”
The air turned alive and thick, crawling over the suit, wrapping around him to hold him still. The man went unmoving, his hands limp, the grey barrel dropping to the carpet. Behind him, mud-soaked, battered, Neal limped into the room, stopped, leaned heavily against the wall, staring at Steve.
Fear, terror, exhaustion, rage — somehow Steve dragged himself back up from the blackness, got his mouth to move, focusing his blurry, fading eyes on the man and forcing his lungs to scream the air out in a hoarse, strengthless whisper. “Go. Away.”
He felt it, even through the thick air and dragging blackness, the snap, the push. The man’s face went slack, and he jerked around, as if pushed, prodded to the door…
Fading, Steve didn’t see the rest.
He drifted awake, slowly, becoming aware of several things, things that didn’t seem to matter, but were prodding him into wakefulness all the same. He was lying on on crumpled sheets that smelled strongly of earth and crushed weeds, sheets that covered a mattress that was warm and too soft. Something rattled close by, blowing metallic air across his feet. His skin itched, crawling, and suddenly, before he could stop it, Steve yawned hugely.
There was a weight at his feet, a weight that shifted. “Steve?”
Neal. Steve didn’t move, staring into the darkness. “How long?” It came out as a whisper.
“Couple hours.” The weight shifted again.
Steve pushed himself up — instant mistake. The air spun around him, and, dizzy, he swayed, tried to grab the edge of the bed, missed, ended up rolling hard onto the floor, tangled in blankets and sheets. He pushed himself to his hands, made it to his knees, then, as his stomach rolled, struggled to the bathroom, making it to the toilet before he lost everything in his stomach.
He knelt there for a long time, as his guts heaved, until nothing more came up, and shaking, sweating, biting back dry heaves, he reached over into the tub, pulled the water knobs on and the shower up. He didn’t care about temperature, barely cared enough to strip his clothes off before he crawled into the tub and sat there, letting the water pound him, watching the mud and dirt flow off of him. Finally, he got his hands on the rim of the tub, braced himself up, twisted the right knob until the water ran hot, and he leaned back against the tile, as the hot water poured over him. He got his hand wrapped around a washcloth, and started scrubbing, hard.
It won’t come out. It’ll never come out. Never. Never.
The water turned warm, tepid, cold. He leaned heavily against the knobs, shutting off the flow. He only stood there, letting the water drip off of him, looking at the mud-spattered mess of the tub and tile. His skin was clean, at least. He grabbed a towel, staggered to the door.
Neal still sat at the edge of the bed. Wordlessly, the younger man got up, caught Steve before he fell, helped him back over to the bed, then went over to rummage in the scattered suitcases before tossing Steve a pair of sweats.
“They know,” Steve said.
Neal paused, head bowed.
“They’ll be after us.” Steve was exhausted, still, but the tired truth spilled from him. “They won’t stop. They’ll come after us until –”
“No.” Neal raised his head. “They won’t.”
For a long moment, the two stared at each other.
“I hope you’re right,” Steve said.