AN: I have no idea if I'm going to continue this or when I would or how long it'll be if I do.
There isn't going to be any sex or romance in this story, as per usual. Marty and Rust may or may not end up in a queerplatonic friendship. We'll see.
What starts out as a temporary stay becomes permanent. Rust's body is slow to heal, and by the time his stitches come out, he's been living at Marty's place for two months. They grow on each other as roommates, the way they grew on each other as cops and again as private investigators—gradual, almost without their noticing. They've both lived alone for so long that suddenly having company is a small irritation and a comfort they didn't know they wanted.
As Rust gets stronger, he starts tagging along with Marty to the firm and helping out with cases, just for something to do. Their names were not released to the public, in the media coverage of Errol Childress, but word always gets around in Louisiana. Marty sees a spike in his case submissions, and he can use the extra hand. Most of the work is laidback stuff, but he likes it that way. If Rust doesn't, he keeps it to himself.
They survive on take-out and frozen meals. Marty buys another TV tray, and Rust doesn't complain about what Marty watches. Rust doesn't say much at all, those first couple months. He's quiet and withdrawn. He barely smiles. The lack of his philosophy bullshit is a loud silence that Marty unconsciously tries to fill with his own talk, his own half-hearted attempts to be funny or cheerful.
Rust takes the sleeping pills his doctor prescribed him, and he doesn't drink until about six weeks after he left the hospital because they warned him that his body won't handle alcohol well until he's fully recovered. Not to mention mixing booze with his pain killers is a bad idea.
It occurs to Marty that there's something wrong with Rust that's got nothing to do with the stabbing. That crying he did in the parking lot at Lafayette General was just a glimpse of it. Marty's never been good at emotions, but he's pretty sure that whatever's got Rust so down goes beyond a near death experience and missing his daughter. Marty just can't, for the life of him, figure out what it is. He might ask Rust to tell him, if the other man wasn't such an evasive son of a bitch. And hell, who's to say that Rust knows what's going on with himself anyway? For all that intellectualizing, Marty realizes that Rust's never been good at emotions either.
They're men, after all.
"Let's assess the damage," Marty says, when Rust comes out of the hospital after getting his stitches removed. Marty's been waiting by the car for him in the bright May sunshine.
Rust lifts up his t-shirt. The scar's dead center in his belly, about four inches long, a raised ridge of hard skin pink and inflamed.
"Whew. That's a doozy."
Rust goes around to the passenger side of the car. "Need to stop by the pharmacy," he says, in the monotone he's taken to speaking in. "Refill my pain meds."
They get into the car, and Marty says, glancing at him, "You still need em?"
They pick up the pills, and go through the drive-thru at McDonald's. Rust asks Marty to stop by a gas station convenience store for beer.
"Fuckin tired of tip toeing around my own stomach," he says.
Marty buys a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, too.
Not a week after that, Marty wakes up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. The house is pitch dark. He lies there on his back for a minute, listening, until he hears the faint sound of Rust breathing hard in the bedroom. Marty's still sleeping on the living room sofa, used to it now after letting Rust have his bed while he recovered.
He watches as Rust's silhouette emerges from the bedroom corridor and quietly passes through the living room to the kitchen. He listens to Rust light a cigarette, then sits up and swings his legs over the side of the sofa.
"Rust?" he says, the sound of his own voice too loud for three in the morning.
"Go back to sleep, Marty," Rust says, his voice strange and husky.
Marty gets up and goes to him, keeping the lights off on instinct. The end of Rust's Camel glows orange in the darkness, his shape tall and lean as Marty learned it back in '95, the way partners learn each other's body. Rust was always thin, but now he's damn near emaciated, despite Marty's best efforts to feed him.
"You all right?" Marty says.
Rust doesn't answer.
Marty sighs, hands on his hips. "You want some tea or something?"
Rust shakes his head. "No," he says. "Just didn't want to smoke in the bedroom."
"Why'd you quit taking your pills?" says Marty.
"Tired of em. Speaking of which, you can go back to the couch. I don't need a babysitter."
"Jesus, you're an ass." Marty turns around and takes a seat at the kitchen table that he and Rust never eat on. "I can't sleep over there when you're standing in my fucking kitchen in the dark."
Rust turns away from him, facing the living room, taking away the light of his cigarette. The smoke rises white and visible, softening the air around him in a haze. The smell's become a part of Marty's life again, stinking up his clothes and his car, and he can't say he minds it.
Rust takes a breath and exhales like he's got a weight on him too heavy to live with. It reminds Marty that in his whole life, he's never met anyone who can hold onto pain the way Rust can—like water in a sponge that you can't measure until you squeeze it out.
Marty doesn't know what to say to him. Doesn't know how to help him or if Rust can be helped. He wants to believe that Rust can because at heart, Marty's an optimist. And damned if he knows why, but he cares about the son of a bitch. He cares and he values whatever nameless thing they have between them, a friendship they can't talk about because that's not what they do, not who they are.
Marty stares at the black shape of Rust's back and remembers that night Rust came to dinner at his and Maggie's old home. Remembers how drunk and awful sad Rust was, like he might break down and cry any second, and Marty didn't ask him why because he didn't want to know. Figured Rust didn't want to tell. They were partners then but not friends. Not yet.
"What am I doing here, Marty?" Rust says. "I should go home. Let you get on with your life. We finished the job."
Marty blinks at him, watching the smoke drift toward him over Rust's shoulder like an invitation. It hits him as if there hadn't been any signs. Detective's curse. "I let you leave, you're going to go back to that bar and kill yourself," he says.
Rust doesn't answer or turn around.
"After everything you've fuckin been through?"
"No reason not to," says Rust, after a pause.
And what the fuck is Marty supposed to say to that? It's true. Rust's life is a wasteland, and he's been hanging on by a thin fucking thread for too long.
But Marty's spent too many years being selfish to quit now.
He gets up out of his chair and crosses the kitchen slow and careful, unsure what he's going to do when he reaches the other man and if Rust will let him, whatever it is. He stops just behind him, eyes roaming over the slopes of Rust's shoulders. He lifts his hands, hesitates, then steps in closer. Slips his arms around Rust's waist and presses his hands to Rust's belly.
Rust stiffens but doesn't break away or try to turn around. "What are you doing?" he says.
"Trying to help," says Marty. He feels around Rust's midsection until he finally hikes up Rust's t-shirt and lays his hands on the other man's bare skin, covering the scar that Rust'll take to his grave. Marty gets closer, hugging Rust from behind with a gentle hesitation—like he doesn't know where to put himself in relation to the other man, like he has no experience holding another human being outside of a sexual context. "I'm not coming onto you. You just look so fucking lonely all the time. Fuck."
Rust doesn't say anything. He stands there in Marty's awkward embrace and finishes his cigarette. His skin's cold under Marty's hands, and the scar feels ugly.
"I wouldn't do it like you're thinking," Rust says, after a while, the beginnings of emotion in his tone. "I'm just gonna—go back to drinking. Figure out what the fuck to do next."
"If it takes you years of hard liquor or whatever nasty shit you were hooked on back in the day, it don't mean it ain't suicide," says Marty. "Eatin your gun would be kinder."
"There's never been any room in my life for kindness, Marty."
"Well, maybe if you'd stop being so God damn convinced of your own misery, you'd at least feel a little better."
Rust goes silent again, bracing his hands against the edge of the counter in front of him. He hangs his head and breathes. Marty keeps his arms tucked in close to Rust's waist, chin touching Rust's left shoulder, hands still on his belly. He feels the breath move in and out of Rust's body until the muscles clench all of a sudden.
Marty waits for them to relax again, but they don't. It takes him a couple minutes to realize that Rust's crying or trying not to cry.
On cue, the leaner man sniffs loud and lets out a strangled, gasping breath. Like he's trying to hold in a sob.
"Shit," Marty says, more to himself. "Rust—"
"I can't keep doing this," says Rust, voice all clawed up. "I was supposed to die in Carcosa. I was countin on it. There's nothing for me here."
His breath hitches and his body jerks like he's been stabbed all over again, right there in his belly. Feels like his pain's come to the surface, seeping out of his pores in his sweat. He's vibrating now, not even trembling, the twitch in his muscles so tight and small that Marty's afraid Rust might actually split open.
Marty takes his hands off Rust's belly and turns him around, drapes one arm around Rust's shoulders, and walks him into the living room. He sits them down on the sofa and keeps his arm around Rust, who hunches into himself and toward Marty, covering his face with both hands.
Marty doesn't know what to say, so he just pulls in closer and rests his head against Rust's. He can feel the heat and moisture of Rust's tears on his face so close to his own. It's been a long time since Marty directed any thoughts to God deliberately, but he finds himself thinking, What am I supposed to do with this man? You tell me what to do.
"You're not going anywhere," he tells Rust, talking real gentle, as if to a small child. "You're going to live here and work with me, until you get past this."
"Why do you care?" Rust says, his voice rough and shaky. "All I've ever been was a pain in your ass."
"That's true. But you're also my friend."
Rust sniffs and shudders and leans into Marty, hands in his lap now, and Marty closes his eyes, their foreheads touching. Without thinking about it, he raises his hand to Rust's face, knuckles to the other man's gaunt cheek, now wet with Rust's tears. He tilts and turns his head and kisses the corner of Rust's mouth, the contact so light it almost doesn't happen.
"What are you doing?" Rust asks, sounding too fragile.
"I don't know," Marty says. "I don't want to make out with you, swear to God. I just want you to be okay, and I don't know how the fuck to make that happen. 'm sorry."
Rust's quiet for a long beat. He doesn't try to pull away from Marty. He sits right where he is, huddled into him. "Maybe I should take my sleeping pills," he says eventually.
"Will you come with me?"
"I'm not coming onto you either. I'm just tired of being alone, fuck, I'm tired of it. It's your bed anyway."
Part of Marty's weirded out by the idea of sleeping next to another man, even one he knows as well as Rust, but at this point, they've gone far enough into weird emotional territory that Marty can't see how it'd be worth it to turn Rust down. He gets up and coaxes Rust by the elbow. The two of them go down the short corridor to the bedroom, and Rust finds the bottle of sleeping pills on the night table. The two of them lie down, and Rust curls up on his side facing away from Marty.
Marty contemplates it for half a minute before he moves. He turns on his side and throws his arm over Rust's waist. "It's going to be okay," he says.
"You don't have to—"