Karl was just about to leave the house when there came a knock on the door. Not sure if he'd heard right he opened the door. And froze.
Karl felt the muscles in his shoulders tense, his neck stiffen. He didn't know what to say or do. Sean hadn't given him time to rehearse. Though he'd known all the while that this conversation was waiting for him somewhere in the future, he would've liked time to prepare. Surprises always used to throw him for a loop. His hand started to cramp, grabbing the doorknob too hard. Anchoring him. "Sean," he stated, more a reconfirmation for himself than anything else.
"Are you going to let me in, Karl?"
The soft question echoed in Karl's head. 'Are you going to let me in, Karl?' Was he? Would he let Sean in? No answer. Not yet anyway. But Sean was here. He hadn't expected Sean to come back here. Ever? Not important right now. He shook his head, pulled Sean in his arms. He still used the same aftershave. Mossy clean scent enveloping Karl. He'd missed this, missed Sean. It had been too long. The embrace tightened a fraction. Finally Karl drew back, smiling. "It's good to see you." He stepped aside, making room for Sean. "Come in."
He watched Sean's expression when they entered the living room, a million fleeting emotions crossing his face. The house must've changed quite a bit since he'd last been here. It could've been a smile tugging on Sean's lips when his eyes landed on the worn couch and Karl wondered what Sean saw. But the expression was gone the second Karl's gaze flickered back to Sean's face.
Solemn eyes looked at him. "Just remembering happier times."
Karl nodded. Yeah, he knew what Sean saw. Orlando and Dom falling off the couch in a hysteric pile of arms and legs. Dom and Billy yelling and cheering when ManU was on television. Yeah, he knew. He remembered, too. "He always loved being here, for some odd reason. Probably because I had the bigger telly."
"How do you do it?"
How did he do it? He wasn't sure what to say. He never knew with Sean. "I just do." His gaze swept over the battered couch, lost himself in the pattern of a pillow squeezed into one corner. He remembered all the times he'd ducked the flying projectile Dom'd loved to throw after him. "I cope by living my life, by working, by remembering happier times. He still lives for me."
"I suppose you're wondering why I'm here." Sean's voice sounded strained.
Yeah. "Maybe a bit. You're alone?"
Sean nodded. "Billy and Vig offered, but..."
"Well, if you needed to be on your own, I'm sure they understood."
"How've you been? You look good."
"I've been good. Working--Harry's new movie, a couple of TV shows, got offered a part in the new Spiderman movie, debating it."
"Well, if the script is good and the money is right..."
Karl nodded. Come on, Sean, what is it Sean want to say? Why was he here?
"I...uh..." Sean reached in his pocket. "I need to give this to you."
Christ. Karl looked at the ring in Sean's hand for an eternity. He swallowed hard, willed the chilling sensation up and down his spine to subside. Hesitantly, Karl reached out, traced the Elvish lettering around the simple white gold band. He felt the words sliding by under his fingertips.
Gentle, green eyes looked at him. "What does it say?"
Karl blinked in wonder. "You don't know?"
"I never asked. It was between you and Dom."
"Oh." Of course. He shouldn't be surprised. It was Sean's way of respecting what had been between Karl and Dom. "Well, that's the Horn of Rohan," he finally said, tracing the small engraving on one side. "Here it says `Squires of the Mark.' And here on the inside are our names in Elvish. I gave it to him on our last night together. How..." His mouth felt like being filled with cotton candy, a sticky lump in his throat. Finally he picked up the ring-tentatively, as if it was going to fall to dust the second he touched it-and rolled it between his fingers. "How did you come by this?"
"Dom always wore it on a chain around his neck."
My God. "He did?"
"Yeah. He wore the ring I gave him on his finger and that one on a chain. Never took either off."
"I..." Karl felt his legs giving in and he sank heavily onto the sofa, eyes still fixed on the ring in his hand. "Christ."
"I thought you should have it back."
Dom'd kept it all the time. He. Karl blinked away tears. "Thank you, Sean."
"I--well, I was going to... um... bury him with them, but I couldn't do it. I meant to give yours back to you at the funeral." Sean sat down beside Karl. "I miss him, Karl. Every day, every minute. Sometimes so much I can't breathe `cause I'm choking in pain. I had so little time with him and I wanted a whole lifetime. I didn't want this."
"I know you didn't, Sean. None of us did." He closed his fist around the ring, securing it in his palm.
"But I think about you occasionally, and I think about that night." Karl looked up when Sean stopped. "And I wonder."
"Wonder what?" Karl wasn't sure he understood what Sean said. Wasn't sure he wanted to know. He wiped away the tears with a swift brush of his hand.
"If this was what Dom wanted."
Oh. Now he understood, but he needed Sean to say it. "What are you talking about?"
"Karl, I felt him that night. Saw him. He was in the room."
Karl knew. "Oh, Sean..." Karl wanted to comfort him, needed to, but Sean shook his head.
"And I think that maybe Dom was trying to tell me something."
"Tell you what?" Karl held his breath.
"That we were supposed to find each other."
Karl shook his head. Supposed to? "I don't think..."
"No, just listen. Nothing is going to bring him back, Karl. I know this. I accept it, even though I hate it. But I thought it then..." Sean stopped, and Karl felt as if his heart missed a beat while Sean didn't speak. He needed to hear the words. "I thought it then...and I think it now, that if you were with me, then living might not be so bad."
The tears came anew. "Christ, Sean." Karl crushed Sean to him in a desperate embrace. He couldn't hold back the tears anymore, streaming down his face. Couldn't control the trembling of his body. But Sean was there holding him close; his presence warm and soothing.
"I'm still not whole, Karl," tears in his voice. "I don't think I'll ever be whole. But, with you, the pain is less. With you, I'm mended."
Mended, yes. Maybe they could be healing some time. Together. The thought made him shake harder, tightening the embrace till his arms started to cramp. He didn't want to let go but Sean pulled back, gazed intently at Karl, and Karl couldn't look away. "I need you to kiss me, Karl. Like you did that night."
Sean's lips were soft like they had been that night. Sean's mouth opened under his and Karl kissed him. Gentle and slow. Feeling Sean, but remembering Dominic. Dom's touch, Dom's kiss. He couldn't. Too much. Too much grief. Too many memories of laughter and blue-grey eyes.
Sean's eyes shimmered with tears when he pulled away and Karl knew his must look the same; he felt the prickling sensation behind his eyelids.
"Now kiss me again." Sean said. "But this time, I want just you. Just Karl."
And Karl did. He put everything in the kiss. His love and pain. The past and the future. Something inside him shifted then and his kiss became urgent, full of need. His hand tangled in Sean's hair. Holding, securing, keeping. Sparks and passion and oh so hot tongue sliding against his. Need. Needed this.
Neither spoke when the kiss ended. They sat together, chests heaving, foreheads touching - connected. Karl could still taste Sean on his tongue. His lips swollen and prickling. At last he pulled his head back a bit, loosened the fingers in Sean's hair. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."
"Don't." Sean shook his head. "No more regrets. I am never feeling regret again. If his death taught me anything, it's taught me that."
"Alright." No more regrets. Karl's hands found their way back to Sean's hair. He couldn't help himself. "So, now what?"
"I don't know. I was hoping I could stay here for awhile and we could see."
"Sounds like a lovely plan." Karl smiled when he leaned in to kiss Sean again. "I did love him, Sean," drawing back Karl continued. "I love him still. And I love you, both for the joy you brought him and for who you are. But *this*," he took Sean's hand, laced their fingers together. His gaze rested on the golden band on Sean's third finger, "this needs to be about us. I can't bring Dom back for you. Or for me." It wouldn't be fair for any of them, and he wanted it to work, to mend Sean, himself. To heal them.
Sean squeezed Karl's hand. "I know. And it's not about that. Really, it's not. I know who you are, Karl."
That's all he needed, really. "We'll go as slow as you want with this."
"That's fine too," Sean said, his gaze direct. "I'd like time to explore you."
Need made Karl's heart beat faster, his blood run hotter. "Careful, Sean. I'm only a man here."
"So am I. But you were right the day you told me I needed to start living for myself and Dom. And I'm ready to do it." He stood, helped Karl stand.
Karl smiled when Sean hugged him close, smiled still when they pulled apart. He watched, mesmerized, as Sean brought their hands up, worked the gold band off of his ring finger, placed it on his right hand. The widow's hand.
"Sean, you don't..." Not if he wasn't ready.
Sean squeezed Karl's hand. "Hush. I do. We do. Your bedroom is still that way, yes?"
"I said hush, Karl. I'm sure. Just you. Just me. No ghost. I'm positive he would want this."
Karl didn't know. He wished he could ask him, but maybe. "You're right. He would."
Karl pointed. "That way," he paused. "Just... one more thing."
"Make it quick, Karl. I want you naked and under me as soon as possible."
Christ, Sean. What happened to slow? "I promise you now that I will do my best to make you happy." He needed to say it. For himself. For Sean. And for Dominic, too. Dom wouldn't want to stay their ghost forever.
"I promise the same."
Karl smiled, leading Sean down the hallway.
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