Billy/Alan. A day in the life of the Dinosaur Men.
Billy wasn't entirely certain he could give a shit. Winter was a while off yet, but there was a bitter wind blistering through the remains of the base camp, his plaster cast was driving him nuts, and someone had repo'd the rapid prototyper, which left him exactly nothing to play with except his own itchy bones. Looking about the mostly deserted site, he spied a dusty old toothbrush and poked it under his arm cast with a grunt of relief.
In fairness to Degler, Billy had been incapable of movement for a long time there. And in fairness to Billy, it wasn't his fault Alan was such an old fussbudget that he wouldn't leave Billy behind.
Alan was prowling about the site now, making sure everything was neat and sparkly before they hauled ass out of there. The crew had done a fair job of getting everything under wraps and out of the elements until next year, but Alan had some understandable trust issues right now and Billy wasn't surprised to see him tugging at ropes and peering under tarps. At least most of their stuff was safe in storage or back in Denver, which was more than Billy had expected given that he'd left everything in Cheryl's uncertain hands. She might not know the difference between a bone and a fossil, but she was a star at packing.
The wind picked up and he shivered, trying a mournful pout in Alan's direction, but Alan was looking everywhere that Billy was not, and Billy's mouth tightened with a more sincere sadness. Alan was sighing and huffing just quietly enough to stab Billy through the gut because it wasn't intentional, hell no; Alan was careful with the guilt trips nowadays. He stuck close, yeah, but somehow it still felt like they were standing on opposite sides of the K-T boundary.
Billy trudged off in the direction of Fort Peck Lake, wishing he could adopt a heartrending limp, but his pelvis was mostly holding together okay now and apart from the busted arm and wrist, dislocated shoulder, dented ribcage and manly scars, he was hale and Alan knew it. Still, his footing was not nearly as sure as it used to be as he struggled through the sagebrush, especially when his eyes wanted to dart skywards all the time. He recognized the compulsion but was helpless against it, so it was just as well he was less likely to trip over a rattler this time of year. Far below him, the lake looked like an oil slick beneath the mottled, overcast sky, and Billy wondered when he'd ever see it again. By the time digging season came around next year, Billy would be done with his dissertation, and Alan'd be done with him.
Billy sat gingerly on a rough outcrop, his muscles creaking. There was a vertical rise of rock at his back, and that was the way he liked it. If he'd been a better sort of paleontologist - if he'd been Alan - he'd have been scratching about for stray metatarsals, but as a guy who'd learnt to appreciate all his limbs, he was just thankful for the cover. The Isla Sorna freakshow had taught him that much at least.
He pretended he wasn't waiting, hoping, for Alan to come after him, and when after about a half hour he spotted Alan's upright figure threading carefully through the craggy desolation, he told himself he wasn't relieved.
They stopped briefly at the Fort Peck Dam Interpretive Center and Museum where Alan talked dinoshop with some old colleagues while Billy loitered in the foyer, wondering where he'd misplaced his balls as he tried not to cringe beneath the shadow of a fleshed-out replica of Peck's Rex. Charlie McGrady, the artist responsible, was skilled with fiberglass, and Billy prayed god no one ever handed the man a wad of cash and an automated gene sequencer.
Later, as they drove towards Glasgow, he said, "They didn't look quite right, did they? On the island, I mean. Somehow they just didn't look real."
Alan, wrapped in almost impenetrable composure behind the wheel, said in his soft, ironic voice, "Felt real." He shrugged, just a little, and Billy watched with interest and some dismay as the shrug became a flinch; the stitches were long out, but the stiffness remained.
Billy felt his cheeks flush and didn't know why. Maybe it was because he'd brought up the brachiosaur in the room at last. "I don't know how to explain it. I mean, I was there, getting pecked and all, so yeah, it was real. But it was ridiculous. They were ridiculous." He stuttered to a halt, uncertain how to express the quiet conviction that had been building inside him since the moment he drowsed awake on a US naval vessel that it had all been...not a /dream/, precisely, but some deranged piece of theater, complete with happy ending and option for sequel. But if it had been make-believe, he'd be dead, right? Chewed up and crapped out, because that's how those stories went. Heroes and good guys and kids and love interests: those were the ones who got to live. The rest of the cast - the villains and the no-hopers - they were the designated dino treats, weren't they? And it was like everyone got handed a script except Billy, so naturally he ended up botching his part. Hell, he'd been in the wrong play all along.
Of course, if the dinosaurs hadn't looked like such friggin' Saturday afternoon matinees and Sunday morning cartoons, maybe he'd have a tighter grasp on that whole reality thing. And maybe he'd picked a bad day to go cold turkey off the painkillers.
He shook his head and dragged his eyes away from Alan's shoulder in case he succumbed to the urge to touch him. "I guess maybe I meant that they didn't look realistic," he said finally.
"The dinosaurs did not meet with your aesthetic approval, Mr Brennan?"
Oh, fuck you, Dr Grant. Billy didn't have to look at Alan to know he was raising a brow, the cold bastard. And then, because Billy couldn't seem to hold on to any one emotion for more than four seconds straight anymore, he laughed instead of biting Alan's head off, because hell, Alan had guessed it: Billy had been almost ripped apart by some of the silliest looking creatures the planet had seen in this or any other era. It was enough, Billy mused, to make a guy give up paleontology altogether, but since he didn't want to freak Alan out he said only, "It wasn't like what I expected."
"Possibly not quite what InGen expected either," said Alan. He'd lost the teasing note already, as if the very thought of Isla Sorna exhausted him. "I doubt it even occurred to them to include an aviary on the island until some hapless lab technician lost a finger to one of the 'toothless' winged beasts he was hatching."
"Oh, man, those things messed with my head," Billy agreed. He nodded vehemently, and then winced as he was reminded of his lack of painkillers. "And not just in the way they tried to crack my skull open by dropping me on a rock, you know? I mean, what kind of genetically engineered fucked-uppery grows teeth on a pteranodon? Damn. And they were such aggressive little bastards. They're supposed to be scavengers, but what? Jack up their gene sequences and you get a freaking nightmare? I don't get it. I don't get any of it."
"As I've been trying to tell people for years, they're theme park monsters," said Alan with the long-suffering sigh he normally reserved for people who weren't Billy; Billy had usually only caught it when he was prone in a hospital bed pretending to sleep. "They're as much an approximation as those replicas back at the museum."
"And now those approximations are migrating," Billy added quietly. The vehicle swerved, just a bit, as Alan's eyes measured off the big sky above them in a grid-like pattern. Billy wasn't the only nervous mammal on board, and he knew he forgot that sometimes, forgot that Alan was only human. But even as Billy thought it, Alan's gaze returned to the road and their speed adjusted to precisely 2mph below the speed limit, and Billy wondered how the hell Alan coped on these roads back when Montana's only limit was 'reasonable and prudent'.
How the hell did Alan put up with /him/?
Billy's stomach complained with sudden, embarrassing sonority, and when he pressed his cast against it, it only got noisier. There really is a brachiosaur in the room, he thought, and judging by the smirk on Alan's face, he was thinking the same thing. "We'll have a bit of time before the flight. Shall I buy you some spare ribs at Eugene's?" asked Alan. There was no particular emphasis on 'ribs' but Billy still had trouble picking up on Alan's sense of humor sometimes. He nodded glumly, trying to remember if he'd ever slept with anyone at the restaurant. His stomach groaned even louder, but Alan did not speed up.
After their meal, they boarded a twin-engine turboprop Beechcraft 1900 at the Glasgow airport for the jump down to Billings; the plane was just a touch bigger than the King Air that had dumped them in the Isla Sorna jungle, and probably wouldn't have stood up to a spinosaur's frolics any better. Billy tightened his seat belt so hard his balls protested (/oh,/ now/ you speak up?/) and wondered when he'd be able to set foot on a plane without shuddering all over. A couple of summers ago he'd done some skydiving, very Point Break zen, but while extreme sports had always made him feel more alive, Isla Sorna had only reminded him that he was just another animal caught in the craptastic web of life. It was a fine line there, with jagged teeth.
Alan's hand suddenly closed over his wrist where it shook on the armrest, and when Billy looked up, Alan's face was creased with his customary half-smile. "Calm, Billy."
Billy rolled his eyes like an annoying undergrad for Alan's amusement, and was pleased when Alan's expression softened. "Why do they call it fear of flying?" he said, his voice just loud enough to be heard over the engines. "Why is it never fear of crashing?"
"How about fear of being commandeered as a spinosaur's chew toy?" asked Alan.
"Exactly. Man, no one ever gives these things the proper consideration."
Alan nodded solemnly. "We must remember to check if the stewardess mentions pteranodons during the safety demonstration on the flight to Denver."
"Flight attendant, Alan, you're showing your age."
"Am I?" Alan eyed him, level and unblinking, as the Beech rattled along the runway, and just as the nose gear left the ground, just as Billy was starting to think he should've kept his big mouth sewn shut, Alan stuck out his tongue, and...
And Billy was doomed, but he'd known that for a while now.
Alan kept his hold on Billy, his strong, tanned arm stretched across the aisle between them as they rose into the air, and Billy stared at it, transfixed by the clash of freckled skin against blue and white flannel check. The shirt was identical to the one he'd worn on the island, minus the rips and bloodstains, because once Alan found a shirt he liked he stockpiled them, like any sensible guy.
Billy wasn't a sensible guy. He was a fucking moron. Alan's fingertips felt cool and calloused, but there was some hot, sticky suction working its wiles between their skin, and Billy hoped Alan was attributing his frantic pulse to some sort of post-traumatic shit and not deranged and entirely inappropriate lust.
The treat was taken away as soon as the flight leveled out; Alan drew his hand back, tipped the brim of his hat down low across his brow and closed his eyes. Billy was almost glad because he was getting pretty sick of humiliating himself in front of Alan, and if his pulse didn't give the game away, then his face would; Billy had no illusions about his inability to keep every emotion from leaking out of his eyeballs.
Maybe he should rescue a hat of his own.
He risked a glance at Alan, only to find that he'd already dropped off into sleep. If Billy didn't know better - and he wasn't paranoid, not really - he might've thought Alan did it to avoid him. But that was just Alan and his enviable talent for finding shut-eye at all times and in any terrain. Billy knew he wasn't faking it; Alan's mouth had fallen open to reveal the rarely glimpsed caffeine-coated badlands of his bottom teeth, the result of childhood exposure to British dentistry followed by a lifetime's devotion to Maxwell House. Billy knew that much about Alan, but he didn't know if Alan wanted a boyfriend, even one who would gladly lick that craggy row of teeth every day for the rest of their lives if Alan would only let him.
Billy sighed, and then laughed quietly to himself when he recognized the senior prom note of angst in the exhalation. Christ, no wonder Alan was always poking him about his 'major'. He turned to his window, feeling calmer now that they were airborne, and gazed out at the desolate geography of the Hell Creek Formation crouched far below him. Long ago Barnum Brown, named for the Prince of Humbugs himself, first found the freak to beat all freaks down there amongst the buttes and the sand and the sagebrush: /Tyrannosaurus rex/. And what a circus he'd inspired. Hell Creek had a whole new meaning for Billy nowadays.
He let his forehead slump against the window until the thrum of the engines filled his brain and the land below blurred into the brindled camouflage of a raptor.
It wasn't long before they were coming in to Billings, and this time it was Billy's arm that reached across the divide between them, shaking Alan awake. "Alan. Alan!"
Alan woke with an undignified gasp, and then blinked warily at Billy beneath the brim of his hat. Billy grinned and said, "Calm, Alan."
Alan's smile came slowly in return. "Just a touch of deja vu, I think. Are we landing?"
"Just about. Unless you'd rather circle?"
"That's quite all right, Mr Brennan."
Billy laughed outright, pleased that he didn't hold the monopoly on twitchiness; it made him feel less alone in all this. Alan's composure could be daunting.
By the time they'd caught their connecting flight to Denver, that composure was starting to flag. It hadn't escaped Billy's attention that Alan was trying to carry everything for him, which didn't exactly sit right with Billy; Alan had been babying him for far too long now, and as much as Billy craved Alan's attention, the nature of that focus was starting to wear thin for both of them. Billy didn't have the strength to argue, however, and apart from several futile and rather embarrassing tugs of war over old Lucky Strap, he let Alan have his way. Billy would've cheerfully incinerated the damned bag by that point, but airport security might've drawn the line at such an act. There wasn't much in there worth lugging anyway: the film had been confiscated, his camera gear was barely functional and he was fighting the urge to chuck the resonating chamber in the nearest trash can.
And the little ones had probably long since hatched, bless them.
So Billy let Alan struggle with a Smarte Cart and listened politely (and even appreciatively) to Alan's diatribe regarding the contradiction inherent in the addition of the letter 'e' to words like 'smart', because Billy was the penitent in this picture, which meant Alan got to alpha him around, and besides, Alan's rants could be pretty damned funny. Billy knew that when Alan adopted that particularly serious tone of voice, he was kidding with Billy.
Billy's plaster cast got them on the flight first. It was three by three seating on the Airbus; Alan herded Billy towards the window seat, and then took the seat beside him. Billy was sorry to see Alan stash their gear under the seats in front of them instead of tackling the overhead locker, because the stretch might've forced Alan's shirt to ride up a little. Billy had seen a lot of underbellies in his time, but Alan's continued to elude him. He tried to imagine it - a hint of pliant paunch, some claw marks, maybe a few inviting stray freckles - and had to suppress what threatened to be a full-body quiver that had nothing to do being trapped on a plane. He must've done all right, because by the time the doors closed and it was clear the flight wasn't full, Alan moved to the empty aisle seat instead of staying close and comforting, and Billy was so fucking hurt he didn't bother catching Alan's eye for the safety announcement.
As the plane rose in the air, Billy kept his nose in the inflight magazine instead of getting in Alan's face, and by the time he'd waded through an excruciating article about fly fishing on the Missouri River, the plane had leveled out and Alan's hat brim was starting to drop. Billy waited just long enough for Alan's breathing to deepen, and then he called, "Alan. Alan!"
He was rewarded with another one of Alan's fumbling bursts of near panic, a reproachful glare, and then a shuttered expression. "Yes, Mr Brennan?"
"Gotta go to the restroom," said Billy shamelessly. He'd caught the habit of making toilet proclamations from Alan himself and now drove Alan mad with them. Alan stood without another word and Billy eased past him, pleased at having won the skirmish. It would probably hamper his efforts to get out from under Alan's overprotective thumb, but maturity got him nowhere better anyhow.
Billy sauntered down the aisle, dazzling the flight attendants with his eyelashes and trying not to smack anyone with his cast. The restroom was small and blessedly clean and the kleenex dispenser looked well stocked, so he dropped his pants and sat down with relief. His cock was half-hard just from contemplating Alan's unseen belly flesh, which proved that Billy had completely lost even the tiniest grip on reality. He pictured Alan on his knees before him, looking flustered and undone, and then he took himself in hand before remembering with a yelp that his penis and plaster were not the best of friends. "Fuck," he muttered as he switched to his left hand, but it was as awkward as usual and his rotator cuff still felt shot to shit, and god/damn/ if those flying fuckers hadn't completely incapacitated his masturbatory functions. He'd hoped going off the meds might help, but he was as fucked up as ever. Fuck.
He sat for a while, trying to bite down on the frustration, because airlines kind of frowned on scenes nowadays and he knew Alan wasn't a fan of them either. Poor Alan was probably awaiting his return with his usual patience, ready to pen him back in the window seat. Billy stood up and took a piss (because he didn't really like lying to Alan) and then he headed back to his seat.
They caught a cab to Alan's place, a small and rather messy apartment within walking distance of the University of Denver. It looked surprisingly lived-in to Billy considering how little time Alan spent there, and for now it would be home to both of them. Billy had left his old share house when he'd headed up to the Montana dig for the summer, and he'd had no chance to organize accommodation since then. Alan seemed to regard his sofa bed as Billy's new nesting ground, and there were certainly enough dusty Annales de Paleontologie and Paleontological Journals stacked everywhere if he felt like feathering that bed, and some Fossil News if they ran out of toilet paper.
Billy considered phoning some of his old buddies and exes to see if anyone had room for him, but the very thought of having to explain where he'd been and how he'd got shredded made him tired. Alan's place was quiet, and Alan didn't ask awkward questions, and Billy really didn't want to leave Alan.
"Why don't you grab a shower and some fresh clothes?" said Alan, making shooing motions towards the bathroom as he rummaged through a stack of mail.
"Okay," Billy said with a shrug that he immediately regretted. Somehow Alan caught Billy's wince and his brow furrowed with the stern worry that undid Billy every time. "I'm going, I'm going."
The furrow didn't exactly smooth itself out, but Billy lost sight of it when Alan looked back down at an open letter. "Don't make yourself too comfortable. There's somewhere important we have to be tonight."
Now what, Billy wondered. "Um. Okay." If 'somewhere important' involved tuxedos and/or the third (or was it thirtieth?) degree, he was going back to the island. He toed off his shoes and socks, and then padded into the bathroom where he could struggle with the rest of his clothing in private. The jeans and underwear were simple enough, and he kicked them into the corner triumphantly, but getting his sweater and t-shirt off required a double salto with a full twist and a muttered prayer for painkillers.
He could hear the low murmur of Alan's voice through the door and felt an irrational bite of jealousy towards the person on the other end of the phone line, because this was the beginning of being back in the world where Billy wasn't the center of Alan's careful solicitude, and maybe there was something to all that post-traumatic shit after all. Luckily for his sanity the call didn't last long, and Alan called out, "Do you need anything, Billy?"
"A plastic bag, please," Billy answered, hoping his manners covered for his sulkiness. He rummaged through the towel rack, charmed by Alan's apparent weakness for plush red monstrosities, and was wrapped in almost maidenly modesty by the time Alan knocked. "C'mon in."
Alan stepped in with a bundle of what looked like his own clean clothes in his arms and a bag in his teeth. Billy took the bundle and left it on the laundry basket, and then waited impatiently while Alan wrapped his cast in plastic. Alan's eyes remained on his task, and Billy wasn't sure if that was a bad sign or not; it was hard to tell if Alan was avoiding the sight of his scars or his chalky bare skin. "There, you're good," Alan said finally with a grunt of satisfaction.
"My hero," said Billy. He didn't bother checking to see if he was really waterproof; Alan was a perfectionist. Billy wondered if he ever played Superman in front of the mirror in one of these enormous red towels. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." The funny thing was, Alan sounded like he meant it. Billy was about to step into the shower recess when Alan stopped him and pressed a pill into his hand. Billy stared at it dumbly until Alan poured him a glass of water and urged him to swallow. "Don't be stubborn. You'll need it tonight."
Billy blinked, and then choked the pill down. The water tasted coppery and stale. He reached behind the shower curtain to start the hot water running and discovered a small stool in the recess. He blinked again. "Alan? Why do you have hospital chair in your shower?"
"I rang ahead, asked my housekeeper to get one for you." While Billy attempted to wrap his brain around that idea, Alan continued, "I know, I know, you don't need to be treated like an invalid. But I don't want you to slip."
"Oh." Billy didn't want to slip either. And he really didn't want to look at Alan right now. He dropped his towel and slipped behind the curtain, listening to Alan's soft footfalls and the click of the bathroom door closing. Steam clouded about him as he sniffed at Alan's soap and lathered Alan's shampoo into his hair. There was a long, gingery pubic hair caught in the sponge, much straighter than Billy's. He sank slowly onto the seat and scrubbed himself hard all over, listening to a voice in the quiet humidity: billystopbillystopdon'tbillybilly...
They drove through one of the wealthier areas of Denver; two story mansions loomed and glittered in the gathering dusk. Alan hadn't said where they were going and Billy didn't ask, but since he was dressed in one of Alan's flannel shirts and a comfortable old sweater, he figured they weren't running late for the ball.
Alan pulled up outside an inviting looking home, smiled at Billy, and said, "Here we are."
Billy followed him up the driveway, feeling bewildered. Alan slowed his pace a little to let Billy catch up, and by the time they reached the front door it had already been flung open by a tall blonde figure in terrifying high heels who cried out Alan's name with the sort of desperate gladness that Billy suspected sometimes tinged his own voice. Alan caught her weight with an unconstrained compliance Billy hadn't known he was capable of, and Billy didn't need to hear Alan's ragged, "Ellie," to guess who this was. There were photos of her scattered here and there in Alan's apartment; the camera usually snagged her in glasses and khaki short shorts, all legs and cheerful horsey grin. Tonight she was blinding in diamonds and red crushed velvet, and Billy felt his stomach cave in as he stepped aside.
Ellie pushed Alan back to arms' length and looked him over with a concerned expression, before she smiled and stroked the deep groove that slanted across his forehead. "Well, I could kill you," she said.
"I think that means she's very happy to see you again," came a voice from the doorway, and Billy dragged his eyes from Alan and Ellie to find a man standing there in full black tie and patient good humor. "You're right on time. Come on in before Charlie makes his escape."
"Too late," said Ellie with a laugh, as a small pyjama-clad flurry snuck through the door and barreled into Alan's legs. "Do you remember Alan, sweetheart?"
Charlie looked up at Alan, and then curled his fingers into claws, growling inquiringly.
"That's right, Charlie," said Alan. "I'm the Dinosaur Man."
"And this must be Billy," said Ellie, and Billy stopped his almost unconscious retreat. "He's a Dinosaur Man too."
Billy was stunned as Alan pressed a hand into the small of his back, tugged him gently forward, puffed his own chest out and announced, "Yes, this is Billy."
"It's lovely to meet you at last," said Ellie, pressing a kiss against his hot cheek. "I've heard so much about you. I'm Ellie."
"I know. Uh, I mean, uh, it's great to meet you too," Billy stammered, wondering what the hell was going on. "Wow. Hey. Thank you for getting us out of there. I don't know what to say."
"You don't need to thank us. We were just glad we could do something, weren't we?" she said, elbowing her husband.
"I only use my powers for good," he said, nudging her right back with a smile before leaning down to gather up Charlie so that by some flawless alchemy of parenting and diplomacy he was able to cuddle his son and offer Billy his left hand. "I'm Mark. It's a pleasure to meet you, Billy."
"Likewise," said Billy. The handshake was friendly and firm without actually hurting Billy's shoulder in any way, and Billy was struck by the man's similarity to Alan; they looked nothing alike, but they had something of the same air of quiet kindness and capability. "And I think I do have to thank you. For everything."
"No problem," Mark said, and Billy could almost believe it was true but for a certain wryness in Mark's expression. "Come in out of the cold now, you guys." He moved to one side to let Billy and Alan in, before kissing Charlie and passing him into Alan's waiting arms.
"There's minestrone soup on the stove and sandwich makings in the fridge. Charlie'll have whatever you're having, but don't let him pig out or burn his tongue. Make sure he's in bed by seven and keep the doors locked just in case; he's a fiend with the doorknobs," said Ellie, ruffling Charlie's flaxen hair gently. "Mary's hibernating in her crib, but if she fusses there are diapers in her room, bottles in the fridge and instructions and phone numbers on the board."
"We'll be fine," Alan said in a soft voice. "Wave bye-bye to Mommy and Daddy, Charlie. They'll be back later on but for now it's just us guys." The Deglers waved, the Dinosaur Men waved, and suddenly Billy and Alan were alone with a small child and a baby.
Billy stared at Alan and said, "What is going on?"
Alan's mouth quirked. "Didn't I tell you? We're babysitting."
"So let me get this straight. We owe your ex-girlfriend babysitting duty for the next ten years."
Alan nodded, slurping at his soup while Charlie copied him slavishly. "Something like that."
"Yes. I made a promise."
Alan grinned at his small compatriot. "Charlie will be a teenager by then, won't you, Charlie?"
Charlie growled his agreement and spilt some cannellini beans down his front. Luckily Billy had remembered to tuck a napkin into his pyjama top. "So how exactly did this come about, Dr Grant?"
Alan sopped some bread in his near empty bowl and chewed meditatively. "It involved some complex negotiations, Mr Brennan. You were unconscious at the time, but I spoke on your behalf."
Billy blinked. He was doing that a lot today. Charlie said, "Herbivore?" and offered him a cherry tomato.
Alan adopted an expression of beatific innocence. "I thought you liked children. If I'd known..."
"Of course I like children!"
"Well, that settles it. You keep Charlie entertained while I clean the dishes."
Billy sighed and wiped Charlie's chin.
Babysitting wasn't so arduous. It was like managing undergrads and volunteers on a paleontological dig, and Billy was good at that. While Alan tended to domestic duties and checked every five minutes to make sure the baby was still breathing, Billy hung out on the floor with Charlie. Charlie was the proud owner of a menagerie of toy dinosaurs, so Billy was able to perform a thrilling re-enactment of some of his island adventures. Baby Bop and BJ were pressed into service to play the roles of Billy and Eric, using Alan's handkerchief as a Dino-Soar, and when they ran out of plastic pteranodons Big Bird made a brief but devastating cameo appearance that Billy prayed god wouldn't scar Charlie for life.
The spell of the theater eventually palled, so Billy demonstrated some of the exercises his therapist had recommended, and Charlie amused himself by transforming into a three and a half year old pretzel. Once he was untied he excavated a sharpie from beneath the sofa cushions and insisted on anointing Billy's already crowded cast with TO BILY LOVE CHARLIE in wonky purple letters. Billy suddenly felt close to some very embarrassing tears, so he shepherded Charlie upstairs, got him toileted and toothbrushed, and tucked him into bed.
"Read me?" Charlie asked. He handed Billy a crumpled copy of Where The Wild Things Are that apparently lived under the mattress like a secret stash of porn. Billy tried to recall if this one had any sensitive material, but if was remembering his childhood reading right, Night Kitchen was the one with the gratuitous nudity and Some Swell Pup had all the dog shit, and besides, this copy was evidently well-loved.
"Yeah, all right," he said, trying to swallow a yawn. "Shove over a bit and lend me a pillow. I think the ibuprofen's wearing off."
The baby's crying woke him some time later, but he figured Alan would have things under control. Charlie snoozed through the noise like an old pro and sure enough the complaints soon lessened in volume, but before Billy could drift off again he heard footsteps and low voices in the hallway. He played dead as the bedroom door squeaked softly open.
"See? Sleeping beauties, out to the world," Alan whispered, his tone exasperated and fond.
"He is beautiful, Alan," Ellie said.
Billy was trying so hard not to spasm out of his skin that he nearly missed Alan's almost inaudible murmur of assent.
And then, as the door clicked closed behind them, Billy's eyes flew open and he said, "What was that?"
Charlie was no help. He was a comatose (and therefore unreliable) witness. Billy sat up, his muscles moaning in protest, and nudged the wild things back under the bed. Maybe he'd been dreaming. Or maybe it hadn't been assent. Maybe it had been amusement, or even utter disbelief.
But it had sounded like assent. Billy knew what most of Alan's vocalizations meant by now. That one might as well have been a purr.
Maybe he'd been dreaming.
His pulse was actually doing that insane fight or flight thing, so he sat until it calmed the hell down, and then rose to his unsteady feet, putting a worn stuffed gorilla in his place for Charlie to lean on. There was a spaceship nightlight sparkling in the corner, so Billy flicked the reading lamp off and headed out the door with a whispered, "Sweet dreams."
He took the stairs carefully, because he was a handrail sort of guy nowadays and because it suited his instinct to sneak. The muffled sounds of conversation led him to the living room, where he spied Alan and Ellie ensconced in cozy familiarity but thankfully separate chairs. Billy acknowledged his own irrational relief with a sigh and stepped back to eavesdrop shamelessly.
"...obviously great with children if Charlie's any judge."
"Just as well," Alan said. "I've had word from the Kirbys that not only are they remarrying, but that they want to name us in their new will as Eric's legal guardians."
Okay, so he was still dreaming.
"Poor Alan," said Ellie with a chuckle. "Your every effort to avoid children is foiled."
"Yes, it seems that being the last of my breed doesn't actually rule out the presence of small people anymore."
"You're doomed, Alan. At least if it comes to it, Eric sounds pretty self-sufficient."
"Oh, he'll out-live us all, whereas I believe Mrs Kirby in particular has had a rather unforgettable reminder of her own mortality."
"And what does Billy think of all this?" Ellie asked quietly.
Hearing Alan's sigh and the silence that followed, Billy crept into the room, only to stop and scrub the sleep from his eyes when he realized Ellie was nursing.
"It lives," said Alan, looking up with a sly grin.
"Um. How long was I asleep?" Man, there was something about a woman breastfeeding in crushed velvet and triceratops slippers. Billy wasn't certain if it was hot or weird, but being a red-blooded paleontologist, he was leaning towards hot.
"Hours," Alan replied. "Ellie and Mark only just got back."
"Mark's already conked out," said Ellie. "Would you like some hot chocolate?"
"I'll get it," said Alan, putting down his own mug. "You take my chair, Billy. It's warm."
Billy watched Alan escape towards the kitchen, and then sank into his abandoned seat, nestling into the body heat. "Uh, sorry about the whole sleep thing. Some babysitter, huh?"
"Alan's nap addiction must be wearing off on you," Ellie said, grinning as she switched breasts. Billy stared very hard at the ceiling. "Not to mention his fashion sense."
Silence fell as Billy contemplated his inevitable fall from tank tees to flannel and what the hell it all meant, until Ellie asked, "How much of that did you overhear before?"
"Uh..." Billy could feel his face blush even hotter.
"Don't worry, I won't tell." She looked at him with a thoughtful expression. "But maybe you should. Tell, I mean."
"Alan'll move at glacial speed if you let him, you know. And maybe that suits you in your current condition," she said, looking pointedly at his cast. "It's hard for him to ask for anything. You might need to be the one who does the asking."
What do I want, Billy wondered, and then Alan returned with some steaming hot chocolate, blowing at the surface and turning the mug until Billy could take the handle in his left hand. Billy waited for Alan to grab one of the spare chairs, but Alan perched on his armrest instead, and Billy could just see Ellie smiling at both of them from behind the cover of Alan's body.
"So, Alan tells me you saved his hat..."
And now Billy couldn't sleep, because he was wearing one of Alan's undershirts and a pair of Alan's boxers, he was lying on a crummy sofa bed, his plaster cast was driving him nuts, his pelvis wanted a hot water bottle and his balls needed a bag of frozen peas, and everything smelled like Alan - maybe he was turning into Alan - and his brain just wouldn't stop.
He took a deep breath, and ohgod, why did everything smell like Alan?
He sat up and scrabbled through the bags Alan had flung down beside the sofa, but his clothes were just as rank and wrinkly as ever and he didn't even have a good book to read. If he'd had his laptop he could have put in some hours on the diss, but it was packed away in storage and his typing was all fucked up right now anyhow. There was nothing to do but go quietly demented.
The resonating chamber was still tucked at the bottom of Lucky Strap. He pulled it out and looked at it properly for the first time in ages; it might make a half-decent bong, but he had no weed and Alan probably wouldn't approve, so he blew into it instead.
The raptor language hiccoughed off the ceiling and tilted eerily against the walls, a call for help and a signal for wild rumpus. Alan burst from his room and came to Billy's side, to his relief, and Billy smiled around the mouthpiece, baring his teeth.
"Did I ever tell you," Alan said, as he tugged the chamber away from Billy gently, "that I have a recurring dream of a raptor that speaks to me with your voice?"
Billy shook his head. "You feeling cornered, Alan?"
Alan took Billy's left hand and pressed it against his own arm, where Billy could feel the coarse grain of bristled hair and gooseflesh. "Horripilation, Billy. That's what you do to me."
"Emphasis on the horror?" Billy asked, stroking Alan's skin smooth.
"More on the elation," Alan replied, and Billy gathered up his courage and leant into Alan's arms. "Which is not to say you don't scare the hell out of me."
"Oh shit, Alan, you romantic," Billy whispered into the fragile hollow beneath Alan's ear, feeling himself unravel as Alan cupped the nape of his neck and drew their mouths together. It was as keenly hot as Billy had hoped, and he snarled his tongue along that ragged row of teeth while Alan clenched his fingers in Billy's hair.
They parted for breath at last, and Alan murmured, "It's been a long day for you. Perhaps this should wait until the morning."
Billy blinked for what he hoped was the last time that day, and then glowered as the damp, irresistible corner of Alan's mouth quirked higher and higher. "You sly bastard," he said, pushing Alan into the mattress. "Shut up and lend me a hand."