Friday, February 9, 2018
Hiding the Moon: Part 10
Okay-- so just a reminder, the Johnnies books are on sale at Amazon, Kobo, and DSP until February 14th, and Bobby Green is out! So far people are really loving Bobby and Reg--and I'm grateful!
Also--if you have something for Kermit Flail, don't forget to send it in--I can always use more Kermit Flail! (I know, it'll be a week late... January was SO FAST!)
I'll have a cover reveal for Crocus at the next Kermit Flail- stay tuned! (It's really beautiful, and the Bonfires cover has been retooled so they both match completely :-)
And other than that, onto a short chapter of Burton and Ernie...
* * *
Burton fell asleep for an hour, safer in Ernie's arms than he'd felt since he'd joined the Marines.
He awoke with a jerk, Ernie's head snuggled against his chest, and he had to smile when Ernie patted him, like a kid.
"You're awake," Burton grumbled.
"I'm always awake at this time," Ernie said.
Burton shoved himself up on the bed, bare chested, and Ernie rested his cheek against his midriff, fingers walking across his muscle groups just firmly enough not to tickle.
"Why is that?"
"World's too loud in the day," Ernie said. "Too many people, so close by." He shuddered. "Albuquerque isn't a big city, either. But too big. About 5000 people is perfect. Just open stretches of desert feels weird--it's like being in a sensory deprivation tank. But that many-- there's enough white noise to sleep."
Burton grunted. His family called it witchiness. His father held to this day this his great Aunt Gertie could read a person's palm like reading their job resume and family history all rolled into one. He didn't necessarily have a problem believing in Ernie's gifts--or believing that Ernie needed to be gentle with himself to sustain them.
But he couldn't figure out how it had earned the kid a bevy of his own personal assassins, either.
"You basically read people," Burton said, thinking. "Good intentions, bad intentions--whether they mean harm to you or others or not. Who knows about this?"
"The Navy," Ernie said guilelessly.
Burton knew his eyes grew really large.
"And that happened because..."
"My parents died," Ernie said, his voice dropping. "I was... I was seventeen. And... I mean they did all the right stuff with a will and everything, but... I was so close, you know? They didn't figure on going out together, and they didn't appoint a guardian or whatever."
Burton started rubbing gentle circles on his back, just like he would if Ernie was a girl in distress. Ernie's entire body went slack against his, and their nakedness became important. They were skin to skin, and Burton had become the chief comforter.
This was... a big deal. This was how people became close.
"So, you went into the foster care system." That was logical, right?
"Yes. My first family wasn't..." Ernie shuddered. "I was so sad, and when the older brother tried to comfort me... it was easy at first, to let him touch me. And then... then there he was, hands everywhere, and my own... grief I guess, rolled away, and it was like being touched by a greasy octopus all over my body. So I started to scream and the whole world showed up and it was a big fucking mess."
"Mm." Ernie was so boneless. Like a light-boned cat, or a really sleepy small dog. "But I went back into the system, and the next family... the social worker walked me to the front door, Mom answered, and I said, 'She's glad I'm here. She needs more money for her coke dealer.'"
Burton let out a chuff of air. "Well called."
"Yeah. Well. I was taken to a sort of holding place, an orphanage of sorts, and that was all kinds of bad. I'd stay awake all night, terrified, because I could feel all the bad--and so much of it wasn't the kids' fault, but it was there. And finally, the week before I turned eighteen, a guy in a uniform showed up and said, 'We have a special ROTC program just for kids who need scholarships.'"
Burton stared. "That's convenient. And unlikely. And--"
"And I slept in barracks for a year. I mean, I ate, had PT, didn't have to sleep near too many people. But... I was, you know. All alone."
"What did you do there?"
Ernie shuddered. "Do I have to talk about that? It..." His voice dropped. "I"m hungry. Can we eat? I don't want to talk about that anymore. We had donuts hours ago. Can we have dinner now?"
Burton took a deep breath. He was pretty good at interrogation--had done it a number of times on the job, and overseas. But Ernie felt warm and sweet--they were naked together. They were close. Pushing him, now, felt like a violation.
And this kid had been violated plenty.
"Yeah, kid. Sure. Pick something out of the takeout menu. We'll order in."
Ernie's smile at him was transparent--he'd played Burton like a violin. But he was also grateful, because burton had allowed himself to be played.
"Can we hear stories about you now?" he asked, all but batting his eyes.
"Don't you know everything?" This was important, actually. How far did the gift extend?
"I know... I know good intentions or bad intentions. I get bursts of specifics, of speech, of pictures, but that's not consistent. When I think hard, I can scan the people around me for what they think about me, or about the people I'm with. It's... difficult. If, say, a group of people were to walk into the hotel looking for us specifically, it would wake me up like a smack to the face."
Burton stared at him. "That's happened to you before?"
Ernie nodded. "Oh yeah. It's sort of how I left the military. But I'm hungry. Let me get food first. I swear. I'll tell the rest."
Burton wasn't sure what made him cup Ernie's cheek. "My father's name is Roger. My mom is Anita. I have two little brothers, Eddie's a business major, and John can play the violin like a dream. I was engaged to my high school sweetheart all the way through two tours with the Marines, but I broke up with her when I joined black ops, because it didn't seem fair to be in a relationship with someone when I was going to be a ghost in her life. And I love Chinese food. Good Chinese food. If your gift can help me tell the good stuff from the weakshit tempura chicken in red sugar glaze, I'll be forever grateful."
Ernie's eyes grew big and limpid. "My parents were Glen and Sharon. They... they used to tuck me in every night, even when I was seventeen. They were my... my scale, for good. If someone had a heart like my mother or father, they were good. When... when I was suddenly in a world with people not like that..." He bit his lip.
"You were helpless," Burton whispered.
Ernie nodded. "I... I had to work really hard to find... to find a life that wouldn't make me insane."
"I'm so sorry I ripped that away from you."
And this next smile--shaky, hurt, and glorious. "I'm not. I might never have known what sex was for. It was beautiful. But I will miss my cats."
Gently, Burton placed a kiss on his forehead. "I"m sure there's somewhere else, somewhere small, where you can feed every cat for miles."
"I'll do what I can for you, Ernie."
"Chinese food." But Ernie didn't move. He just stayed there, looking at Burton like he held the secret of peace in a painful world.
Burton leaned down and claimed his mouth, and drank in his trust like wine. He'd make it happen. He'd save this boy. Maybe not for himself--who lived a life where that was possible? Where you worked as an assassin but had this much sweetness in his home, his bed?
But Burton would save him. It was his mission now. It was why he took the job in the first place.
Ernie's taste flooded him and Burton groaned, falling into the kiss in ernest.
Of course it was.