Title: Razor's Edge
Category: LGM, Byers/Jimmy, Byers angst; post-ep: Maximum Byers
Rating: R for adult language and situations
Summary: Sequel to Texas Death House Blues and Long Journey Home -- Jimmy tries to help as Byers deals with his fears and paranoia.
Archive: DITB, Lone Slasher, all others ask
Disclaimer: If you think they're mine, you're delusional. I recommend a psychiatric exam.
Mondo Excellente beta by Anndie, Sally and Rae
LONE GUNMEN HEADQUARTERS
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
Jimmy finished his filing for the day, remembering not to file things starting with "the" under T, as Frohike had insisted very loudly. He'd been keeping a quiet eye on John since they'd returned home nearly a week ago. Byers had said very little since they'd arrived, and spoke to any of them only when it was needed, and only about work. John constantly looked wary and frightened, and was jumpy at sudden noises and movements, flinching if anyone touched him. Jimmy was worried. Very worried.
It wasn't like John to be this quiet, to avoid his friends the way he had been. Jimmy'd talked to Frohike and Langly about it yesterday, and all of them agreed that it had to be because of what had happened in Texas, and that it had to stop, but neither of the others were sure how to deal with it. Langly insisted that Byers would get over it on his own, while Frohike offered to talk to him, but wasn't sure how to approach him about it.
Jimmy had finally said he'd do it, realizing that he was probably the only one who'd had any experience with a situation like this. Frohike had objected, but when Jimmy told them about his old girlfriend Betsy, they agreed that maybe he was the right one to do it after all. He was being careful, watching John, waiting for the right time, knowing it would come when it came and not before. Timing was really important, he knew, and John's talk with him at the rest stop in Alabama had told him a lot that he'd needed to know to cope with the situation. He'd learned a few things about the shy, quiet man that neither Frohike nor Langly suspected, and understood that talking to them about it would only make things worse for John right now.
Frohike had left a few hours ago to follow up on a lead he'd found, and Langly had gone out to meet a friend for the rest of the afternoon, so he and John would be alone for the next several hours. Byers was sitting at his keyboard, looking distracted as he edited an article. Jimmy decided that the time had come to try to talk with his friend and mentor.
He went over and sat on John's desk, next to the keyboard.
"Yes, Jimmy?" Byers glanced up at him. He looked tired and sad.
Jimmy put a hand on John's shoulder. "You've hardly been talking to me or the guys since we got home. We're worried about you."
Byers stiffened slightly under Jimmy's hand, but then relaxed. The tension was almost invisible, but Jimmy could feel it come and go in the other man's body. "You know I would never hurt you, John," he said quietly. "I just want to try to help."
Byers sat silent for a while, watching Jimmy's face. Jimmy waited patiently, his hand staying still on Byers' shoulder.
Finally, Byers said, "Nothing's going to help."
"Talking helps," Jimmy offered.
John shook his head. "I've said more than I should have already." He looked back down at the keyboard, fidgeting uneasily.
"No," Jimmy said. "You haven't even started, you just don't know it yet." He slid his hand down John's arm slowly, covering the other man's hand. It was cold. He took it in both of his own and rubbed it gently to warm it.
Byers slumped back into his chair and sighed. He watched Jimmy warily.
"You've been real nervous and jumpy since we got home too," Jimmy continued. "You're spooking at shadows. The guys don't know what to do, but we really want to help."
"I don't need help. I'll be fine."
Jimmy shook his head as Byers' hand warmed between his palms. "Not if you stay quiet like this, all jumpy and stuff. If you don't try to deal with it, it just gets worse."
Byers looked up at Jimmy. His mouth opened, but nothing came out. Jimmy continued rubbing his hand and waiting. "I don't know how," he finally admitted.
Deciding that John's hand was finally warm enough, he laid it on his knee and picked up the other hand. It was equally icy. He started the warming process again, and Byers gave a quiet, tired sigh. His thumb shifted slightly on Jimmy's knee, then slowly began moving back and forth in a tiny caress.
"You were doing okay at the rest stop," Jimmy said. "I think you know how, but you don't know you know it yet." John was a very smart man, and Jimmy was sure he would figure it out, as long as he could just let himself start talking.
John took a deep breath and let it out, shuddering. "I'm... " He sighed. "I just..." Byers looked away from Jimmy, and shook his head again. "This isn't going to work."
"Sure it will," Jimmy told him, still rubbing John's other hand. "Whatever's going on, it'll be okay. Just talk to me."
When Byers looked back at Jimmy, his blue eyes were clouded with fear. "I'm still seeing it at night. Seeing *him.* Feeling his... feeling his hands on me... his..." John stopped and pulled his hand abruptly from between Jimmy's, wrapping his arms around himself with a sharp shiver.
"Please don't hide from me," Jimmy said gently. He reached out and touched John's shoulder again, trying to bring him back from where he was. Byers twitched but didn't pull away. Betsy had done this as well, many times. He knew that he couldn't let John back away from everything, hide in a turtle shell away from everyone else. He cared too much to watch him hurt like this. "I'm not him. I'm your friend, John. There's no reason for you to hide from me."
He rolled John's chair a little closer and started rubbing the man's shoulders softly as Byers remained silent. "I won't let anyone hurt you, I promise."
Byers shook his head violently, then reached up and stopped Jimmy's hands, clutching them with a startling strength. "You're part of it... you scare the crap out of me," Byers said, his voice harsh. "Please... don't touch me."
Jimmy withdrew his hands, resting them in his lap. "Why are you afraid of me?" he asked, puzzled. "You know I would never hurt you. I only want to help."
Byers stood and backed a few steps away from him. Jimmy stayed where he was. "Talk to me, John. It's like... how could anybody save Timmy if Lassie didn't tell them where he was?"
"I'm just... " Byers backed away another step, ignoring the inevitable weird Jimmy analogy. "Half the time I don't even know if I'm even awake or not. I don't know what's real and what isn't anymore. But he's always there. I can... smell him. I can feel his hand around my throat..." John shuddered.
Jimmy ached to go over and hug his friend, but until he could figure out why Byers was afraid of him, he knew it would only make things worse. He thought back to their conversation at the rest stop. Byers had said before that he'd had a hard time knowing whether it was Korowski who was touching him, or Jimmy. Maybe that was the problem.
"I'm not him," Jimmy said again. "You're not there anymore. He's not here. He can't hurt you again, John." He stood and took a step toward his friend. Byers didn't look up. "I'm a different person. Listen, John. I don't sound the same as him. I'm not him. Look at me, and you'll see it's true."
Byers looked up at Jimmy, frightened "I know," he said, miserable. "It's not... it's not that, Jimmy."
"Well, what is it, then?"
Byers squeezed his eyes shut, head bowed. "I can't feel this way. I don't want to feel this way. It's... it's wrong. I'm wrong -- there's something wrong with me and I can't get it to stop." There was anger in his voice as well as fear. "Maybe my dad was right. Maybe I went insane somewhere and never noticed, maybe..."
Jimmy tilted his head and looked at John. "What way don't you want to feel?" he asked. "Afraid? Mad?"
Byers stood silent and motionless for several minutes. Jimmy waited.
Eventually, Byers spoke, still folded in on himself. "I... I don't want... I don't want to feel this... desire. I don't want to be attracted to other men. I don't want to have dreams about men -- about you -- because all I can see is Korowski and I just can't..." He choked to a stop, looking appalled.
"About me?" Jimmy whispered. He stepped forward again and took John in his arms, murmuring softly. "I'm not him, John. I'll never be like him. You're safe with me, I promise, and I swear I'd never do anything you didn't ask me to. God, I'd never hurt you. I could never do anything like that to you."
"I can't do this, Jimmy," Byers said. He shook off Jimmy's embrace.
"Please talk to me," Jimmy asked. "Why do you think what you're feeling is wrong? You know it's not."
Byers shuffled back another step, speaking fast, almost frantic. "Because it all feels like *him*! Because I can't get away from him, can't close my eyes without seeing him!" There was panic in his face.
"But it's not really him, and I'm not him," Jimmy moved forward again and reached out to John. "You've gotta --"
"Don't *touch* me!" Byers shouted. He turned and hurried from the office.
Jimmy stood and looked down at his offending hand.
Byers spent the rest of the evening in his room, not bothering to emerge for dinner. Nothing he'd been doing the entire past week could get Korowski out of his head -- reading, music, working on stories, tv, hacking, analyzing files -- everything just spun in frantic circles. Half the time he thought he could smell stale cigarette smoke around him, even though he knew there was none. He'd found himself looking behind doors and into closets when the others weren't watching him. The lack of sleep and his fear were making him irrational.
The nightmares had been horrifying, and he would wake sweating and breathless, sure there were hands on him, Korowski's weight holding him down. His covers wouldn't stay neat, and he would find them strewn across the bed in the morning, half of them piled on the floor. Once, he'd woken with his hands and feet tangled in the sheets, nearly screaming with fear that he'd been tied down to be used. The dreams were different in circumstance, but in every case, it was Korowski's face he saw, Korowski's hands on him.
To his shame, he'd also been having dreams in which other men would arouse him, men he'd known or seen in his younger years, that he'd wished he'd had the chance or the courage to approach. They would kiss him or caress him and he would respond eagerly, only to have them change shape and become Korowski. The short, stinking man would hit him, choke him, push him into a wall or down onto a table or the ground and rip at John's suit, stripping him violently, forcing himself on him. Byers counted himself lucky that he'd always startled awake before he was raped, at least so far. It was getting to the point where he was becoming afraid to sleep, knowing things would only be worse when his conscious mind was no longer in control.
In several of his dreams, the man seducing him had been Jimmy; wide, innocent blue eyes gazing into his own. And he'd wanted the tall, athletic blonde. He remembered the brief, tentative kiss he'd shared with his friend in the van on the trip home --the delicate touch of the tip of Jimmy's tongue on his lips and his own tongue, the sudden flood of desire, and the sharp following terror that drew him back. When the shift to Korowski's face and body took place in those dreams, it was an agonizing betrayal, and the only response to these nightmares John could conceive was to withdraw from Jimmy, and from his other friends. He couldn't let them know about the nightmares, about what they were doing to him.
He'd berated himself for hours for allowing a part of this horrible secret slip to Jimmy earlier in the evening. Jimmy now knew John had dreamed of him, and must have guessed that John was attracted to him after all that had been said and done since the assault. That attraction, that desire, was a weakness he feared would destroy him and those around him, and take away what little of his masculinity he might still have. His father, still angry with him for throwing away a promising career to publish the paper, would surely turn his back on him forever if he found out about these feelings. Their relationship was fragile enough as it stood, and he didn't want to lose what little contact they had after so many years of silence.
And then there were Langly and Frohike. What would they say? They didn't know what John had learned about Jimmy's affections, and he feared if Frohike knew, he might use it as an excuse to throw Jimmy out, despite the fact that he was backing the paper. The young man's stupidity could be more than irritating sometimes, and even John occasionally thought they might be safer without Jimmy getting them into trouble. But no, they got into enough trouble all on their own, really. Things wouldn't be the same without him around, any more than they'd be the same if Langly or Frohike left.
Would John's closest friends reject him if they knew what he was going through? If they knew what he'd thought, or the contents of some of his dreams over the years? Would Langly be shocked and angry if he knew that a few years after they met, John had been tempted to ask him if he might... He pushed the thought away violently. Being involved with either of them would complicate everything -- even if there had ever been a prayer that the straight and seemingly virginal Langly might have been interested -- and it could put everyone's lives at risk if it were discovered. The shadow government and the powerbrokers they worked to expose would use anything against them if it suited their purposes. Even if these feelings hadn't been shoved in his face by the rape attempt, they might ruin his life if he acknowledged them, much less dared to act on them.
Langly had come into John's room at one point after he and Frohike had returned home, offering inane conversation to try to distract him, but he'd snapped something angry and inappropriate in reply and Ringo had taken the hint and left. After that, he heard the guys talking about him in the living room, but their voices were too low to understand much of what they were saying. At one point Frohike had yelled at Jimmy, but by then they were in a different room and all he got was that Jimmy had done something wrong again.
Exhausted and angry with himself, Byers went to bed.
After a long stretch of restless tossing, he slept. In sleep, the nightmares returned.
"You know you want it, John."
Jimmy stood close before him, wearing nothing but soft, faded jeans. Those adoring blue eyes were fixed on his, and the tall blonde ran a tender hand over his cheek, along the edge of his jaw. The contact sent shudders of pleasure through John's body. He looked down at the bulge in Jimmy's jeans. Jimmy wanted him.
"It feels good, John. Better than you could ever imagine."
"Tell me what it's like," he whispered. "I want to know."
Jimmy smiled and ran his fingers down John's bare chest to the waistband of his jeans, and John's breath quickened, his heart pounding. "Why talk about it when you can feel it for yourself?"
Byers closed his eyes as Jimmy moved closer, warm breath on his neck and collarbone as the man's lips and the tip of his tongue slid gently across his skin. Their bodies met and he arched into Jimmy's searching lips as a strong hand moved softly up his back. It was exquisite, and he panted as Jimmy kissed his throat.
Another hand sliding down into his own half-buttoned jeans, cupping his ass, holding him close to Jimmy's heat and hardness, the skin of their bare chests sliding sensuously together, and he slid his arms around Jimmy's waist.
"Oh, god," he whispered.
Jimmy's mouth on his ear; his tongue traced the edge, and a shiver ran down John's spine straight into his stiffening cock. "I want to suck you, John." Jimmy's voice was low and the hiss of the sibilant 'suck' shot through him like an arrow, leaving his body burning.
Byers could barely speak. The passion was so high in him that he could barely breathe, and he could feel his heart hammering everywhere in his body. "Puh... please..." was all he could stammer as Jimmy's mouth moved down his neck to his chest, fastening on a nipple with a lick and a pulling suck that made John moan with need...
...and Jimmy's body melted and changed in his arms. The stench of stale cigarette smoke filled his lungs and his back was slammed against the bars of his cell, sending a brilliant shaft of agony through him. John tried to scream, but no sound came out. Korowski rose and met his eyes, leering at him. "Gonna fuck you, pretty boy. Gonna make you beg. You know you want it." A hand took his throat and started to squeeze.
John swung wildly, striking out at the man he hated and feared.
Jimmy was walking past John's room on his way to bed. There were sounds coming from inside. Rustling and moans and harsh breath on the edge of panic. He paused, worried, and opened the door.
Byers was thrashing, his arms swinging wildly, mouth open wide in a half-formed, horrified moan.
Jimmy ran across the room and grabbed Byers' wrists. "John --*John!* Wake up!"
Byers kept struggling, his eyes open but unseeing. A hoarse scream burst from his throat.
"Wake up! It's okay! You're home, you're safe!" Jimmy shouted, trying to break through whatever John was experiencing. He leaned onto the bed with one knee, trying to keep John from hitting him as the terrified man struggled with the demons in his nightmare.
Langly and Frohike burst through the door in a dead run, Langly's mouth foaming with toothpaste.
"What's happening?" Frohike snapped.
Jimmy shook Byers. "Wake up, John! You're okay! You're safe!"
John screamed again, blinking as consciousness returned. With a shocked look around his darkened room, he saw himself surrounded by his friends, Jimmy clutching his wrists. Korowski was nowhere in sight. There was no stench of stale smoke.
With a groan, Byers folded forward. Jimmy let go of his wrists, and John wrapped his arms around his knees tightly to try to control his violent shuddering.
Langly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and wiped the stray foam onto his jeans, then he and Frohike came and sat on the bed as Jimmy settled next to John. They all reached out to him, touching him gently, caressing him, anchoring him in reality as he wept.
"You're safe, John," Jimmy whispered to him. "We're all here for you. Please, you gotta let us help."
Byers remained curled in a tight ball, sitting in the middle of his small bed, struggling to stop his shaking as his friends leaned in and held him. Jimmy shifted and sat behind him, long arms curling around him. Frohike stroked his hair while Langly put an arm around his shoulder and held his hand.
"Come back, dude," Langly said quietly. "You're scaring us here."
Byers' control returned quickly, the tears shoved back, though the shaking was much harder to still. He forced his breathing to even out, and unfolded a little, leaning into Langly and Jimmy's arms. A moment later, he looked up, finding Frohike's stark, concerned face shadowed in the partial darkness of his room.
"I'll be fine," John said, his voice ragged.
Frohike shook his head. "Right, Scully."
Byers squeezed Langly's hand and let it go. "Thanks guys," he whispered.
"Talk to us," Frohike urged him quietly.
John shook his head. "I can't yet." He took a deep breath. "I just can't. Not right now. Maybe in a while."
Langly hugged the sweat-soaked Byers and backed away a bit. "You need anything?" he asked. "Want some coffee or something? Some water?"
John shook his head. "No. That's okay, thanks." He hoped Ringo understood how much the offer meant to him, even in his refusal. "I'll be okay guys, really." His voice was steadier now.
Frohike looked at him skeptically. "You sure?"
"Yeah. I just... I just need to try and sleep again. It's been hard, and it's making things get weird at night sometimes."
Langly squeezed Byers' shoulder, then got up. "C'mon guys. Let's let him get some sleep."
Frohike looked at John, then up at Langly. He looked back at John again. "You need anything, you let one of us know. I mean it."
Byers nodded. Frohike and Jimmy stood as well. As Langly and Frohike left, John took Jimmy's arm. He had to try to face his fears, knowing he couldn't keep his friends out forever. They wanted to help, and no matter how much he tried to deny it, he knew he needed them. He was terrified, but he had to determine where dream ended and reality began. Logic demanded it. His sanity demanded it.
"Jimmy, would... would you stay for a few minutes?"
"Sure." Jimmy turned to him. "Is there anything you need?" he asked softly.
"Just company," John said.
Jimmy sat back on the bed with John. Tucking the pillow behind his back, he leaned comfortably against the wall, then looked at his friend. Byers caught the look in Jimmy's eyes, and Jimmy opened his arms. John leaned his back into Jimmy's embrace and they sat silent for a very long time. Slowly, Byers began to relax, letting the tension seep away bit by bit.
Dawn found them asleep, John wrapped in Jimmy's arms.
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