"Bitters End"
By Niko Wilde
Copyright © 2001, all rights reserved.

Disclaimer: Although what you're about to see is a work of fiction, it should nevertheless be viewed at maximum volume. The characters belong to Todd Haynes, and they aren't mine….even if they do like to inhabit my dreams sometimes.

Amateur work of fiction, no money involved.

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"You were the raven of October
I knew the sign you flew around
Up in the air so high above me
Never needed to look down"
Bryan Ferry

"I remember he had cold eyes, the kind that…"

He stopped himself then; long enough to push the platinum tangles out of his eyes and light another cigarette. It was a nervous habit that had gotten worse and worse since the absence of heroin. When he didn't know what to say next, when the words dried up and stuck to the back of his throat like arid dust, Curt Wild always lit another cigarette.

There was a strange comfort to be found in such predictability. Even if the whole world fell down around him, there was still the security of sucking in smoke until his lungs burned. He could envision them shriveling up, sometimes, with every breath. Caving in on themselves until his chest ached, and he had to gasp for air. Thinking about Brian made him claustrophobic in his own skin…but he did it anyway.

He needed to, even though it felt like picking at an open wound. Find the spot that hurts the most, and poke it until it bleeds.

The pain made him more, somehow. More than the walking, breathing shadow that he had become.

The cigarette slid between his lips, and the taste was all wrong. Too sweet, that's what it was- not the mellow, bitter tobacco he was used to. The taste clung to his lips like an over eager kiss, and he leaned forward until the heat of the waiting flame spread over his chin and tickled his nose.

They were Jack's brand, something exotic and outrageously expensive. Jack was teaching him to breathe again.

He leaned back in his chair, leaned back into some semblance of his former self while drawing the sickly sweet smoke into his lungs. One hand reached for the cup in front of him, and he swirled the dark liquid- the bitter brew that passed as coffee in this corner of Berlin, before placing it back on the table. He realized he had been waiting for Jack to finish his sentence for him, because Jack knew. Jack understood. Jack had lived through hurricane Brian, and Curt understood suddenly that he wanted to know how.

Jack Fairy, who sat across from him- an old friend who had offered temporary shelter from the storm. Curt narrowed his eyes, and looked through the haze of cigarette smoke that encased them both like a jasmine scented nimbus, letting himself see Jack for perhaps the first time ever.

Elegant. Solid and ethereal at the same time, all sloping lines and soft contours- aloof yet easily attainable. And as Jack looked back with the first hint of that slightly enigmatic smile twisting the corners of his lips, Curt realized how much he was like Brian. Or perhaps, more accurately- he realized how much of Jack that Brian had absorbed for himself.

But Jack's eyes were never cold. Sad, yes. Completely alien at times, that was a given. But never, ever cold. That's why they were here now, together. Two veterans of a strange war, shaken to their foundations and trying to learn how to rebuild again. Trying to find their way without the specter of Maxwell Demon or Brian Slade or whoever the hell he'd been at the time rearing up and blocking out the sun.

Or so Curt told himself.

Jack nodded. Jack waited. And Curt swallowed again.

The cigarette would be a lifeline while he sorted through his thoughts. Something tangible in his mouth, in his fingers, as the gauzy ghosts capered on the peripheral edge of memory.

Go on, as if it's the simplest thing in the world to explain how your hands shake for no reason, and you feel as though you've become translucent. How one day, you're alive in the heart of the world…and the next, you've become a ghost. A walking, talking, barely breathing ghost who can't remember who he used to be.

Brian's eyes *had* been cold. As cold and as turbulent as a winter storm. They could chill your blood just as easily as they could set it boiling again- in a heartbeat. In a shared breath. In the bone shattering, spine jarring instant that Curt realized that Brian's eyes had seen nothing but him.

Strange how you can want something without being aware. You drift through life like a shadow, not having any substance at all. Doing what you want, saying what you want, thinking what you want…hell, feeling what you want- and it's enough. You are content with your place in the universe; content in the niche you've carved for yourself. And then, the illusion shatters like the sharp fragments of a broken mirror. Try to put them back together again, and you'll bleed. Try, and they'll never fit together in quite the same way again.

The illusion becomes distorted. You are suddenly aware of longing and needing in a way that you never did before…like someone who wakens from a long sleep only to realize that there's no hope of escaping back into that perfect dream again.

That's how it had been when he met Brian.

Curt had never been put up on a pedestal before, and certainly not by someone as utterly flawless as Brian. He wanted to be whatever Brian thought he should be. He tried with every breath, with every step, with every kiss pressed to skin that always tasted faintly of lavender soap and sweet, spicy cinnamon. He wanted to be perfect. For Brian, and only for Brian- he let himself believe that he could be more than what he really was.

And what was he, really? An ornament. A bright, shiny, gaudy bauble just like the thing he wore pinned to his jacket. The irony wasn't lost on him. The pin had been a gift from Brian, during the last dying moments of that wonderful dream…and it personified what he had been, all along.

Remembering this way sometimes felt like taking a scalpel and cutting through his skin until the memories bloomed like bloody roses…vaguely disturbing, painful as hell, but still…underneath it all…beautiful.

And exclusively his. The only thing that couldn't be touched, or tainted, or tampered with. If he could hold on to them long enough, then maybe…just maybe…he wouldn't be a ghost any more.

He shifted in his seat, and brought the cup to his lips…sipping at the scalding hot coffee until he could find his voice again.

"He had cold eyes. The kind that could see right through you. It was like he could look and see straight into your soul sometimes. And damned if he didn't know how to reach right in and pull out whatever the hell he wanted," Curt said, reaching for another cigarette.

Jack simply nodded knowingly, and flicked the lighter open again. Waiting heat, someone else's flame…but this someone else was a poor imitation of what he really wanted, and Curt knew it. Still, it was better than stumbling through the dark alone.

His words weren't quite right, but what else was new. And the longer he sat here, the more he doubted that Jack understood anything at all. No one could ever understand how it felt to be a figment of the world's collective imagination…no one but Brian.

Curt swallowed the sweet smoke again, and held it in his lungs until he felt the familiar burn. Held it until it was painful, and the back of his throat tickled with the urge to cough it out. For a moment, at least- he was alive again.

"For once there was an unknown land, full of strange flowers and subtle perfumes, a land of which it is joy of all joys to dream, a land where all things are perfect and poisonous." May 2, 2000

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