The whole not touching thing seriously bothered Johnny. The whole drive to the airport, Bruce kept a careful distance. In the waiting area at the airport, Bruce found some reason not to be close enough to touch him. On the flight, which was more than half-empty, Bruce claimed being tired and moved down a couple of seats to avoid him. Well, all right, it had been an exceptionally long couple of days, so that was probably true.

Still, it bothered him. The entire time they'd been friends, Bruce had never been afraid to touch him. He had, as a matter of fact, made it a point to touch him, and Johnny had been grateful. More than grateful, really, he'd come to rely on it, even if he hadn't realized it at the time. By the time they reached Bangor, Johnny was tired more from the effort not to reach out to the other man than anything else.

When Bruce stopped at his house, barely cognizant, Johnny didn't move. Finally Bruce frowned and asked, "What's wrong?"

"You're too tired to drive home tonight," Johnny stated.

Groaning, Bruce said, "Not now, okay? I just want to get into bed."

"Stay here tonight. You know I've got the room."

Bruce sighed. "John..."

Hoping that Bruce would be more tired than stubborn, Johnny put on his most pleading face and asked, "Please? Humor me. I really don't want to get a call from Walt that you got into a car accident because you fell asleep."

For a second, Bruce just stared at him. Then he grimaced and turned off the car. "All right, all right."

With a sigh of relief, Johnny got out of the car and grabbed his bag from the back. Bruce did the same and they walked up the stairs, side-by-side, but not touching. Not wanting to spook his friend, Johnny was careful not to even come close to brushing against him.

It didn't take more than a few minutes to settle Bruce in one of the guest bedrooms, and though he didn't have a reason to, Johnny lingered.

Bruce had already collapsed onto the bed, without taking off anything, and his eyes were closed as he yawned. When he realized that he wasn't alone, Bruce cracked an eyelid and asked, "Yeah?"

"Nothing," Johnny answered instantly. "Just...are you sure you're okay?"

Snorting, Bruce nodded and said, "Yeah, I'm fine. Get some sleep, will you?"

He hesitated another second, then offered, "I'm just down the hall if you need anything."

Bruce nodded again and rolled further onto the double bed, pulling the blanket around him as he went.

Sighing to himself, Johnny left and walked slowly down the hall, his leg paining him more than it had in a long time.

* * * *

Over the next few days, Bruce wasn't even around, let alone in physical contact with him. They talked on the phone, but Johnny could tell that the other man wasn't really there, so he kept the calls short. He reminded himself that Bruce had gone through a lot and didn't need to be bothered because of a twinge.

It was just after lunch on the fourth day after their return that a familiar heavy knock sounded on the front door. Glancing out the window, Johnny sighed upon seeing Walt standing on the front stoop. Grabbing his cane, he ambled over to the door and opened it. "Hi, Walt. What can I do for you?"

Walt grimaced and apologized, "I'm sorry to bother you, John, but I am fresh out of leads and the clock is ticking. I wouldn't ask, but..."

"It's okay," Johnny interrupted.

Surprised, Walt repeated, "It's okay?"

Johnny nodded. "Yeah. Matter of fact, I was just going a little stir crazy."

Cocking an eyebrow at him, Walt asked, "Where's Bruce?"

"Working," Johnny said shortly, tapping his cane to the porch in front of Walt pointedly. "Do you want my help?"

Taken aback, Walt nodded and agreed, "Yeah, of course. Let's go."

Leaning heavily on the cane and the rail, Johnny made his way down the steps, letting Walt shut the door. The sheriff easily caught up and opened the door for him, frowning at the amount of pain he was in. "Shouldn't Bruce do something about that?"

"Bruce has other things to do," Johnny snapped.

Lips pursed, Walt obviously decided that discretion was the better part of valor, because he didn't comment on either the words, or the waspish tone in which they were delivered.

Crossing in front of the car, Walt got into the driver's side, started the engine with, "There've been several bomb threats in the last two days. The first two were empty, nothing found at either location. The second two were real, but not primed, not connected to do any damage, even accidentally. The last two were real and ready to go, just not activated. They've all been in very public places. You can see the problem."

Johnny nodded. "Yeah. So where are we going first?"

"I thought we'd hit the last location first, then you can check out the bombs," Walt suggested.

"Sounds good," Johnny agreed, looking out the window.

Walt was silent the rest of the trip, for which Johnny was grateful. The last thing he wanted was the third degree about why he was in such a foul mood. He couldn't rightly say, "My best friend won't touch me anymore."

Even if it was the truth.

* * * *

Johnny looked around the empty bookstore, wincing at the thought of the carnage that could have happened had the bomb gone off. It was a popular hangout for the kids when they got out of school, not to mention that a lot of stay-at-home moms were there at any time of the day. Glancing to Walt, he asked, "And no reason or demands from the bomber?"

Walt shook his head, grim. "Nothing. We don't have a motive and we don't have any idea if this guy is serious or just looking for attention. The bombs are complex, but the plans are on the internet."

Johnny snorted and observed, "It is the information age."

"Yeah," Walt agreed sourly.

He motioned towards the back of the shop and Johnny started that way. His leg was a full-out throb with all the activity and his jaw was clenched as he tried to deal with the pain.

"Johnny, I know you don't like drugs, but maybe some Advil?" Walt suggested.

"I'm fine."

Walt's eyebrows rose, but didn't offer a contradiction. Instead, he pointed at a taped off area.

Johnny trailed his hand along the wall as he walked, not just to see anything there was to see, but also for additional support. They were in the history section, specifically, the Gulf War. There were big picture books and paperback narratives. There was a large gap on the shelf and Johnny touched it.

Sand blew violently in his face, choking him and stinging his skin. If he hadn't been wearing goggles, he'd never have been able to see. Looking down at his hands showed a standard army detonator. Glancing towards the east showed a US tank rolling through the area, surrounded by other soldiers.

Hatred boiled through him as he pushed the trigger and the tank exploded.

Staggering from the wave of emotions, Johnny fell to the floor, missing Walt's attempt to grab him on the way down. The impact knocked the wind from him and sent more pain surging up from his leg through his tailbone and into his spine.

"Are you okay?" Walt asked, worried.

Johnny grimaced and took a minute to catch his breath. "Fine. This guy didn't get the plans from the internet. He's an army tech of some kind."

Walt's jaw tightened and he muttered, "Beautiful."

Accepting the hand up, Johnny continued, "He hates the army, I think he hates the country for what he was forced to do during the war."

"War? Which war?"

"Gulf. He blew up a tank over there and killed probably a dozen men."


"Yeah," Johnny confirmed, about as horrified, though it was still mixed with the hatred from the would-be bomber. "I think...he's building up to the actual event. It's something to do with the war going on right now. He just, he snapped, Walt. He's held it together for a long time, but the next one's going to blow."

Rubbing his eyes, Walt swore, "God damned sunuvabitch! Can't these people go nuts in some other state? I'd even take another county!"

Grimacing with sympathy, Johnny offered, "I'll go over the bombs now, if you want? See if I can maybe get his name?"

"Yeah, thanks John," Walt agreed.

Again leaning on the cane, Johnny slowly made his way to the front of the bookstore. Hopefully he could make it through the throng of reporters outside without falling on his ass.

* * * *

Watching the late evening news, Bruce's jaw dropped when he caught sight of Johnny walking out of the almost bombed-out bookstore. Johnny looked terrible, practically haggard with pain, though Bruce assumed he hadn't been hurt since there were no ambulances. Not to mention that Walt wasn't hovering over him.

He grabbed his phone and dialed the house. When he got the machine, he dialed Johnny's cell. All that got him was voice mail. Gritting his teeth, Bruce demanded, "John! What the hell are you doing? I just saw you on the news and you look awful! Mind telling me why you didn't call and let me know about the leg? Call me. I'll be up."

Agitated, Bruce hung up and got to his feet, pacing around the living room. Then he picked up the phone again and dialed the sheriff's station. As he waited for someone to pick up, he muttered, "It can't be good that I've got this number memorized."

"Sheriff's station, Bill speaking."

"Yeah, Bill, is Johnny there? It's Bruce."

"Ah...I don't know if he's still here, Bruce. Let me check."

Before he could protest, he was put on hold. Scowling fiercely at the television, he waited almost a minute before the deputy came back with, "Sorry, Bruce, he left just a few minutes ago with Walt. They had some kind of lead."


Taking a deep breath, Bruce asked, "Could you get a message through to him? I need him to call me as soon as he can, all right?"

"Yeah, but I doubt he will," Bill said doubtfully.

"Why's that?" Bruce questioned, wary.

"He was in some kind of trance when they left according to Marie," Bill informed him.

"Shit! Well, where were they going? I could meet them there."

"Sorry, Bruce, you know I can't give you that kind of info without the sheriff's okay."

God damned idiot!

Praying for patience, Bruce said evenly, "You know that he always gives permission, Bill."

"Well, yeah."

"So what's the harm in letting me know this time?"

"I could get fired for not following procedure!" Bill exclaimed. "What if this is the one time the Sheriff doesn't want you there? Sorry, man, but I can't risk it. I'll pass on the message, though."

"Fine," Bruce gritted out through clenched teeth before hanging up.

Why hadn't Johnny called him? Why had he just merrily gone off without so much as a by-your-damned-leave? It was obvious that he was moving badly, that his leg, probably the rest of him too, was giving him some serious grief.

The answer, when it came, was so simple that Bruce actually looked around to find something to hit himself over the head with.

It was his own doing. Ever since his father's funeral, he'd put distance between them. Johnny had obviously picked up on it, but had taken it completely the wrong way. Groaning, Bruce looked at the phone and urged, "Call me, John, please!"

* * * *

Walt had seen a lot of weirdness in the two years since meeting Johnny, but he was fast approaching freaked out by this latest shit. One minute the other man had been touching a piece of the last bomb and the next, he was staring at Walt with a completely alien expression. Instantly, Walt had known that Johnny wasn't in the driver's seat anymore, he just didn't know what to do about it.

So he'd followed the man out of the station, snagging the cane that Johnny didn't seem to need anymore as he ran to catch up. Johnny, or whoever, didn't care about him tagging along, provided that he didn't speak. Seemed to forget entirely that he was there, matter of fact, completely wrapped up in his own inner monologue.

It was when the inner turned to outer, that Walt began get a major case of the willies.

"Gonna kill them all, gonna bleed the sands. They'll never see it coming."

The voice was sibilant and as close to evil as Walt had ever heard. This wasn't Johnny, he'd reminded himself, this was the asshole who was threatening his town.

Now they were driving down old Route 1 and Walt had the distinct feeling that he should have grabbed someone for backup. It was dark, there was barely a moon, and no street lamps this far out. Hopefully there would be time to call when they got to wherever they were going. He was also really hoping he didn't have to shoot Johnny if the other man turned on him.

They were pretty evenly matched physically, despite the leg. Right now, Johnny was clearly nuts, caught in whatever madness the perp was mired in. It was entirely possible that Johnny could overpower him. Walt had seen it happen before.

It was about twenty minutes later that they pulled off Route 1 and drove onto a small dirt road with no street sign. Johnny stopped in front of a small, rustic cabin, even for Maine standards. Johnny didn't even look at him as he swung out of the driver's side and made a beeline for the building. Walt breathed a sigh of relief and pulled out his radio as he followed. "Will, you there?"



"We were starting to get worried."

"I'm fine. I'd appreciate some backup though. We pulled onto Royals Lane from Rt. 1 going west. About two miles after that, we took a right onto some no name dirt road that ends at a cabin," Walt reported.

"Sending out Mike and John right now."

"Good. I'll make do until they get here."

"Oh, Walt! Bruce was asking for your 20. He sounded really worried about Johnny."

Walt thought about it briefly, looking over the decrepit cabin. "Not this time. It's too dangerous."

"All right. Base out."

"Bannerman out."

Walt replaced the radio to his belt and pulled out his gun, flipping off the safety as he entered the place. The first thing he noticed was the smell; it was musty and dank, like the cabin hadn't been aired out in ten years. There were no lights, so all he could make out were shapes to avoid. His heart thumped heavy in his chest as he slowly, methodically went from room to room.

A flickering light shone beneath a door. Walt hesitated, taking a breath, then gripped the door and swung it open. Inside was a small, filthy, bedroom, illuminated by candlelight. On the bed was Johnny, his hands clenched around another man's neck. "Johnny! Let him go!"

The blue eyes that were always so gentle glared at him with the hardness of a soul without conscience. "He's pretending to be me!"

Crap! This was the perp and Johnny was too wrapped up in, well, the perp's mind to realize he was in a vision…or something. From the lackluster way the stranger was beating at Johnny's arms, there wasn't a lot of time left. Walt carefully put his gun away and approached the bed saying, "I've got a better way."

"What?" Johnny asked, uninterested.

Walt eyed the rapidly dying man, thinking frantically. "Why don't you give him a taste of, ah, your power? You know, tie him up to a chair and set a bomb underneath him? That'll teach him, right?"

Pausing, Johnny's hands loosened a little as he thought it over. After a minute, his hands fell away, to the gasping relief of the near-victim. Those disturbing eyes grinned at Walt as he got off the bed and said, "That's a great idea!"

Walt only had one pair of handcuffs and he used them on the most dangerous man in the room. As soon as they clicked into place around Johnny's wrists, the blond man snarled in fury and shouted, "What're you doing!?"

Calmly pulling out his gun, Walt aimed it at Johnny and motioned towards the floor. "Sit. Now we wait for backup, which should be here in about fifteen minutes. And if either of you so much as twitches, I'll shoot you somewhere non-vital, but very painful. Am I understood?"

Johnny sat on the floor, glaring silent hatred at him. The perp, whose name Walt still didn't know, nodded weakly and stayed where he was.

* * * *

It was close to two hours later that Walt was staring at Johnny through a cell door. He had no idea what to do. The other man was somehow still trapped in his vision, still thought he was Lt. Karl Woodruff, ex-army explosives expert. Right now, he was pacing the cell, royally pissed at being in jail and ranting about revenge and cleansing the earth.

Shaking his head, Walt left and headed for the front part of the office. Exhaustion tugged at him, reminding him that he hadn't slept in almost two days. To his surprise, Sarah was waiting in his office. "Sarah? What are you doing here?"

"Just thought I'd bring you some dinner since I know you didn't stop to eat," she answered lightly.

Just looking at the wrapped plate on his desk provoked his stomach into growling and they both laughed. He sat and pulled off the wrap. "Did Will fill you in?"

Frowning as she leaned against the desk, Sarah nodded and answered, "Yeah. So, there's no change?"

Walt shook his head and said around a mouthful of mashed potatoes, "None. Gonna let him sleep it off and hope he wakes up normal."

"You're going to keep Johnny locked up?" Sarah demanded.

Drinking almost all the milk in one gulp, Walt cleared his throat before replying, "No. I'm keeping Lt. Woodruff locked up. Johnny is nowhere in there that I can tell."

"What if I try and bring him around?"

Walt eyed her thoughtfully. He might not like the history between her and Johnny, he hated it most of the time, but it could bring the man around. And right about then, he was ready to try anything. Standing, he said, "That's a good idea, honey. I don't know if it'll work, but it can't hurt. Just…be prepared, because it's really not Johnny in there."

She nodded, but Walt knew that she didn't really have any idea what he was talking about. And she wouldn't, not until she looked into those ice blue eyes. They walked back to the cells, Walt leading. Johnny was quiet for a change, sitting on the bunk and staring into space. When they entered the area, his eyes snapped onto them and Walt shivered at the emptiness in the gaze.

"Johnny?" Sarah asked hesitantly.

A grin surfaced on Johnny's face as he drawled, "You can call me anything you want, honey."

She stiffened at the tone, but said, "Johnny, I know you're in there somewhere so you have to come out of the vision, okay?"

"Vision? This ain't no vision, girl," Johnny replied, lounging back on the cot. "This is real life. You play, you pay. Though I've gotta say, the accommodations have improved a lot if we get entertainment like you nowadays."

"Johnny, please, fight this, whatever it is!" Sarah pleaded.

In a split second, Johnny was on his feet and at the bars, reaching for her. Walt grabbed Sarah and yanked her out of range, pulling her close.

"I told you! There ain't no Johnny here. Now get out! Leave a body to savor the unjust imprisonment!" Johnny snapped.

Walt could feel Sarah's shock like a palpable thing and brought her out of the confinement area.

Once he sat her down, she wrapped her arms around her waist and turned lost eyes to him with, "That's not Johnny."

Sighing to himself, Walt agreed, "I know. And now you know why he's locked up. It's for everyone's good, including his own. If Johnny hurt anyone while he was like this, he'd never forgive himself."

Sarah nodded then asked, "What about Bruce? He's always been able to reach Johnny."

Uncomfortable, Walt answered, "I think they had some kind of fight because when I asked Johnny why he wasn't there, he near took my head off."

"Still, it's worth a try," Sarah persisted.

Sometimes he wondered just how swift Sarah was, not to notice the relationship between Johnny and Bruce. Then again, he wasn't all too sure that Johnny himself had noticed it, either. Though maybe he finally had and that was why he hadn't wanted to call Bruce. Unfortunately, though, she was right. For better or worse, Bruce was the only other person that Johnny would respond to.

If he responded.

* * * *

Even dead asleep, Bruce woke at the first ring of the phone. He lunged across the sofa to grab it, pulling a neck muscle as he did so, and exclaimed, "Johnny?"

"No, Bruce, it's Walt."

Fear ran through him at the serious tone. "Oh God, he's not…"

"No!" Walt interrupted. "No, he's not hurt. Not physically, at least."

That didn't sound good. Rubbing his eyes, Bruce asked, "What happened?"

"It's like he's stuck in his vision, he's become the perp," Walt explained.

Definitely not good. Getting to his feet, Bruce searched for his sneakers and demanded, "Where is he?"

"Here at the station. I've got him in lockup."

Bruce froze in the act of shoving his foot into the sneaker and snapped, "You've got him where!?"

"Bruce, it's the only way to keep him from hurting anyone. He's really far gone."

"Fine. I'm on my way."

Bruce hung up and tossed the phone, grabbing his keys and rushing out of the apartment.

* * * *

The man staring back at Bruce was not Johnny Smith. It was his body, but it wasn't John. The soul that peered out from the stone cold blue eyes was a completely different entity. Shivering a little, Bruce took a breath and leaned against the wall.

"You going to try this whole 'where's Johnny?' thing too?"

Bruce shrugged, feigning disinterest. "Nope."

"Then why are you here?" Johnny asked.

"Just wanted to check on your leg."

Frowning, Johnny answered, "What about it?"

"Well, with all the activity of the last day or so, I know it's got to be killing you," Bruce pointed out.

Johnny shook his head. "It's fine."

"Really? Huh. Okay, if you say so."

For several minutes, there was silence between them. Johnny remained on the cot while Bruce stayed against the wall. Finally, Johnny asked, "Why would my leg hurt?"

"Because you've got permanent nerve damage, man. It flares up like a son of a bitch when you've been overdoing it. Remember?"


But Bruce saw a new tension enter Johnny's expression, one that he was too-well familiar with. The edge of pain had finally made itself known, despite the current alter ego in place. Adrenaline could only mask the pain for so long, eventually, the high wore off and the pain returned. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Johnny shifted uncomfortably, maneuvering the hurt leg to another position.

Helpful, Bruce asked, "You sure you're okay? Cause I've got better things to do than hang around here if you're fine."

Johnny hesitated, torn between relieving the pain and admitting to weakness.

Bruce shrugged and said, "Okay. I'm going to go, then. Gotta get my beauty sleep, you know. Big day tomorrow."

He was at the door before Johnny called out, "Wait!"

Keeping a neutral expression, Bruce turned back. "Yeah?"

"It might hurt a little."

Arching an eyebrow at him, Bruce repeated, "A little?"

"A lot, okay? But there's nothing you'll do about it anyhow."

"Says who?"

Johnny grinned, an unholy sight, and answered, "Says the guy you all seem so hot to get back. He's here, just…otherwise indisposed."

Unable to stop the glare, Bruce demanded, "Let him go!"

"Not a chance, preacher-boy. Besides, you don't really want him back anyhow."

"Yes I do!"

"No you don't," Johnny snapped, sounding almost like himself. There was life in the blue-green eyes, anyhow, emotions other than hatred.

"What do you know about it?" Bruce snapped back.

Arms crossed over his chest, Johnny grinned abruptly and answered, "I know you don't want to touch him anymore. That you've gone out of your way to avoid him ever since that whopper of a vision at your Daddy's funeral. I know that you're scared of him now, scared of getting sucked into something like that again. And let me tell you just how thrilled he is about that little development."

Bruce winced and sighed, stepping forward until he reached the bars. "Johnny, listen to me carefully man. That's not the reason I backed off."

Wary, moving away from Bruce, Johnny asked, "Then what is it?"

"Something happened between me and my father while we were in the middle of that, that vision, or journey, or whatever you want to call it. We were looking at a weird, frozen moment of you and me hugging at the funeral. He knew, John, called you my destiny, said I was supposed to protect you. He knew how I felt about you, even before I did."

"It hurt, Bruce, you pulling back like that," Johnny whispered, not meeting his eyes.

Reaching a hand through the cell bars, Bruce apologized, "I know, I'm sorry. I just…I was having problems being in love with my best friend."

Swallowing heavily, Johnny replied, "Because loving me is a hard thing, I know. With everything going on, with Stillson and…"

"No!" Bruce interrupted sharply. Startled, the other man looked up at him and Bruce saw that it was all Johnny now. Breathing a sigh of relief, Bruce continued, "Because it's so easy, Johnny. You're so good and kind and funny, even if you've got crap for taste in music."

Johnny snorted. "Thanks."

Grinning, Bruce replied, "You're welcome."

They stared at each other for a long moment then Johnny limped forward and took Bruce's hand, sighing with relief at the contact. Bruce gripped his hand tight and pulled it back through the bars to his mouth, kissing the back of it.

Johnny smiled faintly and asked, "Think we can get out of here? My leg is killing me."

"Sure. I'll go get Walt," Bruce agreed, reluctantly releasing Johnny's hand.

He almost tripped over Walt, who was standing just outside the door. Tensing, Bruce asked, "Eavesdropping?"

Walt shook his head and answered, "Making sure you weren't hurt."

That was when Bruce noticed Walt's hand was still on his gun and shivered. "Oh. Well, you can relax because it's Johnny again."

"Are you sure?"

Bruce nodded. "I'm sure. Where's his cane?"

* * * *

Bruce pulled the car to a gentle stop, knowing that Johnny was in a fair amount of agony. He'd already badgered the other man into taking a painkiller, but the damage from remaining untreated was pretty bad. That would be a lecture for another time, though. Right now, the best thing was a long soak and a massage, well, after the other man slept for at least eight hours. Johnny had already confessed that he hadn't really slept the last few days.

It took a few minutes just to get into the house. By the time they did, Johnny was leaning heavily on Bruce, putting almost no weight on his bad leg at all. There was no way they'd make it up the stairs, so Bruce aimed for the living room. He settled Johnny on the couch and ordered, "Stay. I'm going to get the heating pad to relax the muscles."

Johnny managed a salute and a tired grin. "Staying."

Snorting, Bruce left and headed upstairs. It didn't take long to get what he needed and he was back at Johnny's side within a few minutes. After plugging in the heating pad, he really looked at Johnny and grinned fondly at the sight of the other man out like a light. Once the pad was nice and warm, he settled it firmly on the spot that usually caused the most trouble. A few moments later, even asleep, Johnny sighed deeply in relief.

Bruce reached up and brushed the bangs from Johnny's face, then molded his palm to the other man's cheek. How long had he wanted to do this? When had regular friendship changed? He wasn't a stranger to being with a guy, but he'd never anticipated this happening.

His very own angel.

Smiling at the thought, Bruce yawned and leaned his head against Johnny's hip. A few minutes later, he took the heating pad off and slowly, gently started massaging the leg through the denim. Johnny groaned faintly in his sleep and Bruce swallowed as heat ran through him at the sound. Shifting into a more comfortable position, he continued the massage until the tension was gone from Johnny's face and he was in a true, easy sleep.

Too bad there's not enough room for two on that thing, Bruce thought with a sigh. He turned off the pad and moved to the opposite couch, wanting to be nearby in case Johnny needed something. He smiled again as his eyes closed on the sight of the other man in a restful sleep.

* * * *

Johnny's back was protesting more loudly than his leg, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Groaning, he struggled into a sitting position and looked around in confusion. When had he gotten home and why was he on the couch? His eyes fell on Bruce, who looked even more uncomfortable on the smaller loveseat, his legs hanging over the side.

That's when he remembered everything that had happened the night before. A grin tugged at his lips and warmth flushed through him as he remembered that in spite of everything, Bruce loved him. It was a strange thing, knowing that, something he'd sure never expected to happen, having his feelings returned. He'd pretty much just been hoping for the friendship never to end.

Unable to stop the chuckle, Johnny thought fondly, He really does look like a shorn lamb without the locks.

"I heard that," Bruce grumbled, cracking an eyelid. "Stop laughing about my hair, man."

Though he tried to wipe the smile off his face, Johnny just couldn't manage it. "Sorry. Coffee?"


Laughing out loud at the demand, Johnny got to his feet hesitantly. He was relieved to find only a vague tension in his leg and was able to move pretty easily with the help of his cane to the kitchen. He heard sleepy grumbling from behind and snickered softly.

"I heard that, too!" Bruce called, irritated.

Johnny shook his head in amusement as he started getting the coffee ready. For all his new-age remedies and juices, Bruce wasn't good for much before his first cup of coffee. It was both annoying and endearing. As he poured them both a mug full, Bruce stumbled onto the kitchen and sat at the table. Johnny set one down in front of him, then sat in the other chair, looking at Bruce thoughtfully.

Bruce was still breathing in the coffee fumes, eyes closed, when he asked, "What?"

Startled, Johnny countered, "What, what?"

"I can feel the stare, man. What's on your mind?" Bruce questioned, taking his first sip.

Feeling a little awkward, Johnny said, "Well, it's like I told your mother. We've known each other for two years now, and I learned more about you at your father's funeral than you ever told me. Me, I'm like an open book to you. You know pretty much everything there is to know about me. And I'm not just talking about the visions, either."

Bruce winced and finally opened his eyes, meeting Johnny's seriously. "I know. I just…it's hard for me to open up about stuff like that. To anyone, John."

Leaning back in his chair, Johnny didn't say anything at first, thinking everything over carefully. They were at a delicate point here, he knew that. One wrong word and things could go to hell in a hand basket, really damn fast. "You've always been there for me, Bruce, I just want to be there for you, too. Not just for the laughs and the good times, but for the hard things in your life, too."

"I know," Bruce whispered, putting down the mug and staring into the coffee as if for divine inspiration.

Johnny reached out and gripped Bruce's forearm as he said quietly, "You don't have to talk now, just know that the offer is always there. And if we're really going to do this, then you're going to have to take me up on it. It's okay to need support, Bruce, it really is. You sure as hell give it often enough."

Grinning faintly, Bruce nodded and met his gaze again, pain and need visible in the dark depths. "Thanks."

Johnny didn't even hesitate. He pulled Bruce into a hug, wrapping his arms around the other man and holding tight. For a long moment, Bruce was stiff in his arms, but Johnny didn't relent. Then, Bruce pressed his face against Johnny's neck, his breath hot and moist as he shook with silent sobs. Johnny could feel the tension under his hands and ached for Bruce's pain.

He'd been too young to really remember losing his father, but his mother's suicide was still painfully sharp. For all the fact that Bruce and his father hadn't talked for ten years, he'd obviously loved him a great deal. The loss had to be cutting deep and Johnny knew, even without a psych degree, that it had to be expressed.

It was a long time before the shaking stopped, and longer still before Bruce finally pulled back, wiping at his eyes with a grimace. "I hate that, totally ruins my complexion."

Johnny smiled at the lame joke and cupped his face with, "You needed it."

Sighing heavily, Bruce agreed, "Yeah, I guess I did. Thanks, John."

Johnny's thumb brushed across the damp cheek, wiping clear some of the moisture. "You all right now?"

"I guess," Bruce answered, shrugging.

"Well, look. Finish your coffee and I'm going to hit the shower. Then we'll just hang out, how's that sound?"

"Sounds perfect."

Johnny hesitated, then leaned in and kissed Bruce. The full lips opened to him almost right away as Bruce kissed him back. It was bittersweet, filled with tenderness and pain, comfort offered and taken. Bruce's fingers combed through his hair and slid down his throat to land on his shoulder, squeezing gently.

When they finally broke apart, they were both smiling and Johnny was pleased to see a small measure of peace in his…his lover's eyes. "All right then. I'm just gonna go."

Bruce grinned and offered wickedly, "Care to conserve water? I need a shower, too, after all."

Startled, Johnny thought about it for, oh, five seconds, then nodded and held out a hand, echoing Bruce's earlier words of, "Sounds perfect."

They were both grinning the entire way upstairs, mostly due to Bruce's wandering hands. Ostensibly, he was helping Johnny, but really, he was copping a feel; several, in fact. Johnny had no trouble with any of it, though he kept moving the hands away from sensitive areas as a tease. When they reached the master bedroom, Bruce suddenly tugged him into a strong embrace.

Their mouths sealed together and Johnny groaned as their tongues met. Insistent hands pulled his shirt free and Johnny returned the favor. The warm, solid skin beneath his hands was so good that a spike of pleasure hit Johnny right in the groin and he gasped. Then Bruce's fingers slid up his chest and pinched his nipples, provoking a groan.

Bruce pulled back from the kiss, grinning as he observed, "Oh, I like that. Let's see if I can make you do it."

That was all the warning Johnny got before Bruce yanked his shirt off altogether and attacked a nipple with his mouth, sucking hard. Johnny moaned and arched into the wet heat. His cock twitched hard in response and he gripped Bruce's shoulders for support.

Chuckling against Johnny's chest, Bruce moved down his body, kissing and licking as he went. Johnny hissed in surprise when Bruce gripped him through his pants, and looked down at the other man. Swallowing, he gasped, "What about the shower?"

"Later. We're just gonna get messy anyhow," Bruce answered practically.

Then the nimble fingers reached for Johnny's zipper. As they started to pull it down, a thought occurred to him and he grabbed Bruce's hands, stopping him.

Frowning, a little worried, Bruce asked, "What's wrong? Am I going too fast?"

Johnny shook his head. "No, but, I it too fast for you?"

Eyebrows raised, Bruce pointed out dryly, "I'm the one on his knees here, John."

Flushing, Johnny said, "I know but, what about the timing of all this? I mean, your dad..."

"Already gave us his blessing," Bruce interrupted impatiently. "And my mom will come around eventually. And man, do you know how to kill a mood, or what, John?"

Johnny snorted. "So I've heard. At least there aren't any observers this time."

"Excuse me?"

"Never mind," Johnny said hastily.

"Oh no, I think you and me are going to talk about your kinky past, just as soon as we get some business taken care of."

Another thought surfaced and Johnny groaned in irritation. "What about protection? I don't really have anything."

"A swinging cat like you? There's a surprise. And don't worry, we're not going to do anything the requires ingesting in any form. The good stuff'll have to wait. Now. Are we through with the inquisition? Any other concerns you'd like to raise? Or can I get on with this?"

Johnny opened his mouth to answer, but Bruce shoved him unexpectedly onto the bed, then hopped on beside him, quickly straddling his hips. Leaning over, he stopped Johnny from speaking by kissing him, devouring him really. In short order, Johnny was breathless and aching again, his condition helped along by the undulations of Bruce's groin against his.

Breaking off the kiss, Bruce moved slowly down Johnny's body, licking and kissing his way. By the time he got back to the zipper, Johnny felt like his heart was going to come out of his chest, it was going so fast. Bruce's hands rubbed over his cock, hard and firm, heavy through the fabric and Johnny gasped, "God! Bruce! Stop teasing!"

A warm chuckle sounded through the air and Bruce murmured, "Payback."

Then the zipper was down and he sighed in relief. That only lasted a couple of seconds until Bruce sucked on the tip and he nearly jumped out of his skin at the sensation. "Fuck!"

"Now I know how to get you to swear! Give you a blowjob!" Bruce crowed with a full out laugh.

Before Johnny could gather enough brain cells to protest, Bruce's mouth was again around his cock, the tongue playing with his erection as it moved around. He vaguely felt his pants being tugged down around his knees, but the wet suction around him was overwhelming pretty much everything else. When it was taken away, his hips continued to jerk up for a few seconds.

"God, John, you look so hot like this," Bruce groaned, a hand replacing his mouth.

Shuddering at the lust and love so obvious in Bruce's voice, Johnny turned his head, his breathing still hyped up from the way Bruce was jacking him. He half rolled onto his side and undid his lover's pants, carefully pulling out the full, hard shaft. Kissing Bruce brought the taste of himself to his tongue, but he mentally shrugged; wasn't the first time. Looking down at where their hands moved in concert, he whispered, "That's hot."

And it was: black on white, white on black. The contrast was incredibly erotic and Johnny shuddered in response to the visual.

"Ooh. Someone's a bit of a voyeur," Bruce gasped.

Johnny sped his hand up and Bruce groaned at the sensation and did the same with his own grip. It was only moments later that Bruce's hips jerked hard in Johnny's grasp and hot fluid splattered against them both. Heat and tightness flared at the sight and his vision tinged black as Johnny came, shouting Bruce's name.

* * * *

Johnny woke wrapped in the middle of a Bruce-cocoon and he sighed deeply in contentment. The air was warm and close, and the other man's scent strong, which he breathed in. They would definitely need a shower before too much longer. The covers were pulled over them, which he didn't remember happening, so Bruce must've done it after he'd gone to a far, far better place. He grinned stupidly at the thought.

It hadn't been exactly what he'd expected, but it had also been more than he'd dreamed. His fingers lightly grazed the tight curls on Bruce's head as they roamed in a vague search for the locks that weren't there.

Sighing in obvious irritation, Bruce complained, "Enough with the hair, okay?"

"I didn't say a word!" Johnny protested, surprised that the other man was even awake.

Bruce's arms tightened around him as he observed, "The fingers in my hair said plenty, Johnny."

After a brief hesitation, Johnny asked, "Can I request a favor?"

"Grow them back?"

"No. Well, yeah, but only if you want to. No, I was going to ask if you could at least grow back the beard."

Bruce shifted until they were face to face and asked warily, "Why?"

Smirking a little, Johnny answered, "Because it looks like I'm robbing the cradle."


"I'm serious! Have you looked in the mirror? You look about seventeen!"

"Listen up, white-boy…"

"Oh, now it starts."

Bruce rolled on top of him, pinning him suddenly, the covers falling aside. A grin hovered as he ordered, "Just shut up about it, okay? I'll grow it out if and when I damn well feel like it. My body, my hair."

With a full out smirk, Johnny teased, "Sounds like a NOW slogan."

"You are so dead, man."

"Yeah, yeah."