They're not even sitting together. Arthur is lying on the sofa, rereading the latest draft of an article, and Curt is sitting by the window, his guitar forgotten on his lap. He had begun playing along at the start of the album that is filling the apartment with rich sound and heady, rippling chords, but several minutes in, and still tired out from a morning of amazing sex, he has given up on that, too.
It doesn't matter. They're comfortable enough to do nothing together, now. In fact, it takes Arthur several songs before he realizes that he is smiling for no reason. He sits up, catches Curt's eye. A similar smile answers him, and Arthur goes back to his papers, wondering how - for all his naive hopes, all the time he had spent dreaming of a happiness he had never really expected - he had never even imagined this.
Arthur had been working on the draft of an article, and had stood up to get another pen to replace the one that dried out, but stopped and just stood outside Curt's studio, listening to him. That was at the very start of the song, maybe three or four minutes ago, and Arthur's still standing there, spellbound. His work can wait. Moments like this - listening to Curt write or rehearse, his only audience, alone in the privacy of Curt's apartment - can't.
"So what do you think?" Curt asks, finishing the piece and looking up at Arthur as he sets down his guitar. Acoustic, this time – much of Curt's latest work has ranged from cynical and dark, but surprisingly quiet, protest songs to this slow, innuendo-laden ballad in which Arthur just might see something of their relationship. He hopes so, anyway. Lover and muse of Curt Wild...
"Interesting - that you're flexing some new muscles," Arthur says, as a shy smile pulls at his mouth. He's comfortable enough to tease Curt now. "The new, gentler Curt Wild."
"Fuck you," Curt says, grinning back.
"Fine," he says. "Great, actually. You could fuck me senseless over the table..."
Curt's grin takes on a decidedly feral character as he beckons Arthur into the room.
Curt both craves and despises an audience. It's always driven him insane - having to perform, to contend with what people expect of him, when he just wants to tell it like it is. Really, it's no wonder he used to act the way he did on stage when he was young and high.
He's finding it hard even to rehearse this song, about the drugs, the ugliness of the life he had led, the constant struggle of staying clean. Even alone with Arthur, his voice is close to breaking. He can barely finish.
Arthur has stopped whatever he was doing before and sat down to listen, spellbound and cringing. For a moment he actually covers his open mouth with his hand.
"That's incredible," he murmurs. "Incredible - and hard to hear."
It's his sympathetic wince that finally makes Curt set the guitar down roughly.
"Yeah? What the hell would you know about it? You were never addicted..."
The words are out of Curt's mouth before he can think, before he can remember not to fuck up what is quite possibly the best thing in his life. He never did have any self-control.
And the worst part is that Arthur's face doesn't even register hurt or surprise anymore. He just looks at Curt, tensing so slightly that anyone who knew him less would not even see it.
"No," Arthur says. "Fine." He stands up to leave.
Curt lights a cigarette and inhales deeply, not savouring it, as if he is trying to drag the smoke into his lungs as fast as he can. He has finished it within a minute or maybe two. Then he gets up, controlling himself with an effort. He wonders how many times he'll have to tell himself not to let the past wreck the present.
"Hey," he says, crossing the room to follow Arthur, and bracing himself for one of the hardest things he could say. "I'm sorry..."
Dave has worked with, and been a friend to, Curt for a long time, now, yet he has rarely seen him so happy. Being off the drugs is part of it, but not all; he has seen Curt clean before, and knows that he's doing even better this time. He supposes it's this Arthur's doing. Arthur is so different from Curt - a nice, quiet guy, surprisingly level-headed, but a hell of a music fan, if you can get him talking. He also seems to be a hell of a good influence on Curt.
It's hard to believe, but Curt is a changed man when his new lover's around. He's just subdued enough, less likely to get angry or storm out over a disagreement - more inclined to try to work through it. It's been nice.
And Arthur's around a lot, now. Curt likes to show him off. There's still a part of Curt that likes to try to shock people with his sexuality, even though he's pushing forty and it's not the seventies anymore. He's not really shocking anyone, either. Dave and the rest of the band are getting used to Curt bringing Arthur to shows or for drinks afterwards. He's even come down to the studio to watch them record sometimes, when he had the time. Then Curt is easier to work with and be with than ever.
"I want a cigarette," he might say, looking at Arthur as soon as a break is called. "And I want my boyfriend..."
And he'll be dragging Arthur out of the studio for a make out session or a quickie in the men's room. Dave, like the rest of the band, knows Curt too well to be uncomfortable. The thing that matters is that they're happy.
There's the rub, though. The problem with good influences and happy interludes is that they don't tend to last. Dave hopes he's wrong, but he knows Curt too well to be sure.
Two - nearly three - months have passed with hardly a word between them. It's not that Arthur hasn't tried; Curt has just been so insistent on withdrawing from him at first, then ignoring him altogether. Things haven't been right since August, at least. Arthur can even pinpoint the week when everything fell apart. Curt had gone off to the West Coast to play some gigs; Arthur had been down in Washington covering that stupid fucking conference on the ozone layer - and that was it. They had seen each other just a few times after that. Each time Curt was distant, not the same. Hiding something.
Arthur's not surprised to hear that Curt is in hospital after an overdose. He had suspected as much, suspected that it was the drugs, and not another person or anything else, coming between them.
It doesn't matter how much time has passed. All Arthur can think about after that call is getting down to the hospital and doing anything he can for Curt.
He has to beg them to let him know Curt's room number over the phone. Doesn't matter; he's not above that - not today. When he arrives at the hospital and signs himself in at the desk, he stares down at the floor, praying that no one will question him any further. His lover? You sure you're not his dealer? It's supposed to be family only...
But, happily, the nurses are too busy to bother with him. Arthur finds himself rounding the corner into the too-long hallway alone and unnoticed. Not that that really helps matters, he thinks, reaching Curt's room. He hesitates at the door. Cold sweat stands out on his brow, and his legs feel like lead as he steps inside.
His eyes meet Curt's. Curt is awake, but pale and worn looking, sitting up in bed with the IV in his arm. Arthur's stomach sinks as he sees the flicker of anger steal across Curt's face.
"Fuck," Curt says, "I didn't want you here..."
"No?" Arthur says, stiffening.
Curt looks away from him, pointedly.
"Who told you I was here?"
"Does it matter?" Arthur asks. He feels his face warming, and realizes with a start that he's more angry than anything else - at Curt for doing this, and at himself for still wanting to help, still half-expecting that things can go back to the way they were. "This is why you've been pushing me away?"
"You're not my wife," Curt spits at him. "I don't owe you anything."
Arthur shakes his head. Everything he had wanted to say - thank goodness you're all right; will you try rehab again; can I help? - seems so stupid and so inadequate, now.
"So you'd rather have this? Who the fuck even called 911 for you?"
"Who called you?" Curt presses him.
Arthur puts his hand to his mouth, as if to restrain himself, before letting it drop again.
"What happened to all your hard work?" he asks. "You were clean for two years. You said -"
"You don't know one fucking thing about it," Curt says, hoarsely.
"Then tell me: is this how it is? D'you have to come close to killing yourself, get scared for a while, and then start again?"
Even in this shape, Curt can still rage with the best of them. This time, however, Arthur gives as good as he gets. They go on for what seems like an age, hurting each other from across the room. Curt is too weak to shout, but can wound just the same; Arthur only keeps himself from raising his voice because he can see the staff passing outside, and dreads the thought of being asked to leave. Even a scene like this is better than not being with Curt at all.
That thought is enough to make Arthur hate himself for being fucked up enough to love Curt still. He goes quiet.
"Live your own fucking life," Curt says, taking advantage of Arthur's silence. "I don't want you involved."
"No," Arthur murmurs, "you do so well on your own, don't you?"
One of the nurses enters then. She looks at Arthur through narrowed eyes, leaving him to wonder how much of their argument she could have heard.
"It might be best if you were to go now," she says to him. Arthur nods, numb, all too aware that he has no right to be there, really; he's not Curt's family or anything. He's not even wanted.
He's very surprised to hear Curt say, with some force, "I want him here. Let him stay."
Arthur looks back at Curt. He wonders if this is just a power play with the staff, not even about him at all and, thinking of the lies and the distance that have come between them, decides that's probably right. Fuck off, he thinks, aching to walk out the door. He knows he won't, though.
The nurse glares at Curt as she checks the monitor, but says nothing more.
"So you do want me here?" Arthur says, when they are alone once again. He takes a tentative step towards Curt, and settles into the chair beside his bed. But Curt just shrugs.
Arthur sighs. "Don't talk, then -"
"Look, if you want to go home -" Curt begins, his eyes flashing.
Arthur cuts him off.
"No. You shouldn't be alone now."
"You shouldn't get involved -"
"Yeah, well, you shouldn't have started using again," Arthur says. "I'll stay with you for now, but after -"
He stops himself. What use are empty threats - I'm not taking you back; I won't trust you - when Curt has already shut him out so completely?
When Curt said he didn't want Arthur involved, he meant it. He didn't want to deal with Arthur's disappointment, and certainly didn't want Arthur to see him like this - being sick all over if he went too long between hits, or, worse, begging and shouting at him to help him get smack if the withdrawal went into full swing.
Of course, what had actually happened wasn't much better. Curt's plan to keep Arthur out of his mess hadn't exactly been a great one, but then, he hasn't been thinking straight since the first time he shot up again in his hotel room in L.A. three months ago.
Now, though, Curt's thinking straight enough to admit that he has not one but two problems. He knows he can get a grip on himself and get clean again, at least for a while; after coming within an inch of stopping his heart, he thinks he might even be able to stay clean this time. He's just not sure he can do it alone.
That leads him back to Arthur. This is a different kind of problem altogether, the kind that still makes Curt cringe when he thinks of how he has treated the other man. He doesn't need another worry that makes him feel physically sick in these first few days of sobriety, but then, he brought this on himself.
The only bright spot is that Arthur cares enough or is stupid enough to have come back to him, despite everything. Maybe there's still hope for them. Curt likes to think so; he had rather liked the idea of having someone to go home to after his last tour, before he made such a mess of things.
He wonders if he can go back to that life. On the first awful day out of the hospital, when he had been hurting all over and hating the whole world, Arthur had tried to come see him. Of course Curt had picked a fight instead, mocked Arthur for his cowardly, conformist, middle classlife, finally goaded Arthur into walking out. Of all the shit that he has done, that cuts him the most, now. If Curt had any sense, he'd admit that heneeds someone normal in his life. Would he be better off with someone as fucked up as he is himself? Yet there he is, holding that against Arthur. You don't get me; what do you know; you were never in this position…
Sometimes, Curt thinks he says those things because he envies Arthur. He used to like thinking that he could calm down, stop fucking around and enjoy having something or someone good in his life, for once - yet, at the same time, half of him rebels at the thought. Normalcy, stability - sometimes he just despises that about Arthur. He wonders if being with him could actually make him lose his edge, lose Curt Wild. Maybe, if he's not careful, he could up becoming just as conformist, middle class - whatever. Cowardly. He pushes the thought away and bites his lip, surprised at his own treachery. Fuck it; I do need him. I'm gonna make it work this time …
But Curt's not used to cleaning up the messes he makes. Normally, he would have run right away from a situation like this, and done his best to bury the memory in a haze of drugs and liquor and sex. That's hardly in order now, though. He can't exactly respond the way he used to when he's come so close to killing himself, this time, and when he might actually have someone who's worth trying to get back.
Maybe it's stupid, or absurdly sentimental, but sometimes, he has actually found himself pulling out the photo of Arthur that he keeps in his wallet. He remembers the day he took it. They had been shagging, as Arthur might say, and had only just finished when someone knocked at the door. Curt had been inclined just to yell at them to go away, but Arthur had quickly disengaged from Curt, stood up and grabbed his jeans and what must have looked like his own sweater in the dark. He was halfway to the door before realizing that he had put on Curt's shirt instead, poor fit and studded collar and all.
Arthur's smiling in the picture Curt had taken afterwards. He had gotten the shirt half off when Curt surprised him with his old Polaroid camera, and you can just see the surprise and awkwardness in his face, mingling with laughter. So like Arthur. That's why Curt loves this picture as much as he does, though he has more carnal ones from that and other occasions.
He does want all that back. In fact, he'd give almost anything to see that smile on Arthur's face again, rather than sit alone in his apartment or, worse, wake up in a hospital after nearly dying for a habit he'd sworn off years ago. Curt might not be any good at cleaning up the messes he makes, but he'll be damned if he won't try, this time.
Still it takes him a little over two weeks before he can face Arthur.
The cold, sick feeling in the pit of Arthur's stomach has hardly lifted since Curt's overdose. Earlier, even - he can hardly remember the last time he has been normal. Before Curt dropped him after his fateful tour, at any rate. The last couple of months have been more like a nightmare than anything. Arthur tries not to think about it, but he knows he has never been so alone or so lost, at least not since his first days on his own in London after his father threw him out.
He's been trying to jog, take care of himself, as if he could outrun the emptiness - as if the release of endorphins would help, like everyone says. It doesn't. He comes home to his apartment late in the evening, his hair damp with sweat and his legs cramping as he climbs the stairs.
At the first landing he hears Curt's voice - unmistakable, though still weaker than it should be. Arthur's heart is pounding against his ribs, and he knows it's not just from running. He ignores it, bolts up the remaining stairs.
"Arthur," Curt is saying in that half-shouting, half-pleading tone. "Look, if you're home -"
Arthur turns into the corridor. Their eyes meet; Curt's words die away, and Arthur stops dead in his tracks. The silence is so heavy Arthur can almost touch it.
Then Curt tries to smile.
Arthur bites his lip. He tries to think of something to say, but can't, so he reaches for his key, fumbles with it, and wonders why he had been foolish enough to run towards Curt a minute ago.
"Please let's do this inside," he says, quietly.
Curt nods. He reaches for a cigarette with shaking hands. Arthur, certain that he is craving more than the cigarette, can't even look at him.
"I, um, thought you were going into a thirty day program," he says, as if this were a normal way to start a conversation. It might be, for Curt. Hell, it might become normal for Arthur if Curt wants him back and if he's stupid enough to agree. He can hardly believe how close he is to doing just that, but the knot in his stomach is easing at last, and he can breathe properly for the first time in weeks, just being in Curt's presence. His body's betraying him as completely as his emotions have been.
Arthur steps into his apartment, still staring at the wall.
"I changed my mind," Curt says, "I can't - be in a fucking cage. I'm gonna get clean, but it has to be an outpatient thing. I can't do it that way."
Then Arthur does turn to face Curt. He is so pale that for a moment Arthur just aches for him, aches to take him in his arms, before drawing back. He can't quite forget the way Curt has treated him.
"Well, good luck," he says. His voice is harder than he thought it would be.
A muscle in Curt's face twitches. Arthur fully expects another shouting match; his stomach goes cold again at the thought of having to turn his lover out of his home.
Well. Former lover, more appropriately.
"Arthur," Curt tries again, in that same pleading tone.
Arthur turns on him first.
"What did you come here to say?" he snaps. "Because last week I was a pathetic coward who didn't have one fucking thing to say to you..."
"I know," Curt says. He is remarkably quiet, almost quiet enough to check Arthur's anger. "Look, I wasn't thinking straight."
"Don't give me that. You dropped me - "
Curt's not quiet anymore. He stiffens, eyes flashing.
"I didn't want you to see me like that, ok?"
"Please," Arthur says. He hears his voice rising to match Curt's, and feels his chest tighten. It doesn't matter. He thinks of everything that has happened over the last few months, of being given the happiest time of his life, then having it suddenly snatched away from him. For a moment all he can see is the horrible unfairness of it – the sleepless nights, his anxiety about Curt, his own loneliness. "I didn't hear from you for weeks, except at first when you were calling me up and fucking me between hits. I hope you didn't give yourself or me AIDS or something - "
"I was alone every time and the gear I used was clean -"
"Yeah? Great, thanks."
"Look, I'm -" Arthur can see Curt restraining himself - "sorry."
Curt reaches for Arthur's hand then. Arthur tries to shake him off, but Curt is insistent, and stronger than Arthur would have expected, considering what he's been through. Arthur's not sure if he's going to cave and kiss him, or punch him in the face.
Not surprisingly, he crushes his lips to Curt's in a bruising kiss. Curt shoves him against the wall, nails scratching at Arthur's sides as Arthur clamps down on Curt's lips and tongue. Curt moans, tugs at Arthur's jacket. Arthur grips Curt's forearm, pushes him back a bit and, with his free hand, tears off his own jacket and tosses it to the ground.
Then Curt is pulling Arthur close again. Arthur turns them both around so that he has Curt pinned against the wall, no longer thinking of anything that has happened, just wanting to hang onto Curt as tightly as he can. For a moment he's not even sure if that's Curt's hand or his own straining to undo his belt.
It's far from the best sex they've had, but it is passionate and rough, and Arthur doesn't care if he's hurting Curt - doesn't care if they're hurting each other. He almost hopes he is, yet, at the same time, he can hardly believe his good fortune to have Curt come back to him. He could not have put his thoughts into words even if he weren't gasping for breath and gritting his teeth, but he hopes that Curt can make some sense of his frantic touches.
When they finish, they collapse together onto the too-small bed. Curt wraps his arm around Arthur's waist, as if nothing had ever come between them. Arthur shuts his eyes. He's not ready for this, and prays he can drift off to sleep before he has to deal with anything else.
No such luck. Curt whispers, "Arthur," and reaches up to caress Arthur's cheek.
"What is it?" Arthur asks, opening his eyes in spite of himself.
Curt says nothing, just keeps stroking Arthur's face and neck, as if he hasn't yet thought far enough ahead to figure out what he wants to say. He probably hasn't.
"I - want to try again," he says, finally.
Curt lets out his breath in a sharp hiss.
"Fuck, make this harder for me, will you?" Still, the fire goes out of him again as quickly as it came. "Look, I've had two good things in my life in the last few years, you and being clean. I want them both back."
"You're the one who didn't want anything to do with me, for weeks," Arthur begins, before dropping it. He thinks of all the things he could say, all the things he should remind Curt of. Then he dismisses the thought. He knows he's probably being really, really fucking stupid; he can just seethe ride he's about to be taken on, yet there he is. He'll do his best to ignore the lies and the disaster that is their recent past, and hope for the best - hope he can trust Curt when he says he's going to stay clean this time.
Curt's not the only one with a dependence problem. Arthur wants to turn away from him, but actually, physically, can't seem to.
"I know," Curt says, quietly. "I said I'm sorry."
Arthur knows that this is one of the hardest things Curt could say. At least, he likes to think so, and likes to think he must really mean something to Curt if he's even bothering.
"I missed you," Curt continues. "It's not that I can't get my shit together alone, 'cause I can. I just - want to try again."
"Fine," Arthur says, and closes his eyes again. "You know I will. Just don't do this again - any of it."
He's too aware of how pointless his words are. Curt will sink or swim regardless of what Arthur says. He wishes he hadn't said anything at all; he sounds so foolish.
Curt, however, just raises himself up on his elbow, leans over Arthur and kisses him.
It's taking a long time for things to go back to normal. Curt should have expected that, but he hadn't thought this far ahead. He can't stand it. It just takes too much will power that he doesn't have to behave himself around Arthur, on top of staying sober and everything – and everything is always one step forward, two steps back. Before, for example, they'd talked about maybe living together. That's pretty much off the table, now, and even when the subject has come up again, Arthur has kept his lips pursed in the way he does when he's lying. It's infuriating.
Or, sometimes, Arthur will look him up and down too intently, like he's still looking for track marks, or get sullen for no reason when they're talking about something else. It makes Curt want to fucking shake him. Then it's all he can do to turn away and smoke the shit out of a cigarette instead of making things even worse.
"Are you okay?" Arthur asks.
It comes out as a snarl. Shit. He lights another cigarette, kicking himself inside. He's been playing by the book and going to more meetings and more pathetic goddamn counselling sessions than he can shake a stick at, because everyone says he needs support – yet the support he wants is right here. He just needs to stop trying to drive him away.
" 'S all right," Arthur says. He's nervous; his accent is a little more pronounced than usual, like it gets at these times. "I understand. Just come to bed."
And Curt remembers that Arthur is young and attractive and could offer a lot to anyone. He doesn't have to be here; it must mean something that he is.
"In a minute." Then he thinks, What the hell, and stubs out his cigarette. "Actually, never mind."
He leans in to kiss Arthur, hoping that maybe – just maybe – things will go back to normal for them someday. Maybe they'll even be happy again someday.