"Days like this, I wish the bullet had done its job."

Frank paused, hovering over the easy chair where he'd been about to sit down. It wasn't really the statement that startled him--Bayliss was prone to melodramatic hyperbole when he was miserable--and it wasn't even the odd, can't-quite-place-it familiarity of the words, it was the tone he used.

But Tim, sprawled out on Frank's sofa, was facing away from him. All Frank could see was the scooping outline of his jaw, the side of his too-thin face; not enough for him to read Tim's expression.

He sat, finally, and said, "I got us some tea." Moment. Rain dripping from the eaves. "What the hell was that supposed to mean?"

"Tea?" Tim flipped himself over and sat up a bit, blinking. "Tea?" he repeated stupidly.

"Yes," Frank said shortly. "I thought you'd be glad I'm not drinking coffee anymore."

"I am glad," Tim said in a burst and wrapped his fingers around the mug. "It's better for you. I'm starting to really like tea. Especially the green kinds, the...ahh...jasmine and Japanese kinds."

Cradling his mug in his hands, Frank relaxed back into the stuffed depths of his chair. A babbling Bayliss was a healthy Bayliss.

"The light hurts my eyes. Would you mind?..."

"What? Oh--fine, sure." Frank got up and switched off the living room light, momentarily unsettled by the brightness of the moon outside, the way it washed the room with pale illumination as he sat down again.

He watched as Tim drew his long legs up onto the sofa, one at a time, slowly, and pulled his knees up under his chin. Like a puppet, like there were strings attatched to the tops of his toes. He watched Tim balance the dark blue steaming mug on his bony knees, pressing the tip of that foxlike nose against the warm ceramic. "You're the one who said it, Frank," Tim murmured. "Don't you remember? You said it about your stroke."

"Ah." Flash of satisfaction for finally placing the quote, followed by annoyance and familiar weariness that Bayliss had appropriated it and probably mangled whatever Frank's original meaning had been. "You should stop memorizing everything I say," he frowned. "It's one of your more irritating habits."

"mmm. One of my many."

"You never remember anything good that I say, that's all. Everything you take to heart is bad. Negative, scathing...tempestuous." The wind pelted a fat staccato of raindrops against the window and Tim glanced over like a startled cat. Frank didn't notice it. He kept talking. "Why don't you remember all the nice things I've said over the past seven years? What am I, an ogre?"

Tim gave that weird, elfish smile that always made Frank feel like he'd wandered into a toadstool circle ages ago and only just realized it. "Hardly that, Frank."

Shaking his head, Frank took an overzealous swallow of tea, scalding his tongue and gums. He stared into the cup, savouring the sting of pain inside his mouth, the sudden raw taste of his own flesh. "Fine," he said. "Fine. I should expect it from you by now, anyway." His voice sounded harder than he'd intended and he had to actually keep himself from wincing.

Tim didn't say anything in response and silence settled over them, a damp and cottony feeling that neither felt like breaking. It was a final, smothering silence that had been growing through the house since Mary left with the kids, off to New York to start settling into the new place. Frank stayed behind to wrap up loose ends, avoid his in-laws for a short while more, try to say his goodbyes to Baltimore and to Tim.

He hadn't done particularly well with that last thing.

And Tim, in his usual infuriatingly considerate way, hadn't mentioned it, although he knew that the Pembletons were leaving and had known for quite some time. He waited for Frank to tell him, and Frank waited for Tim to mention it, and they both just ended up...waiting.

"I've been reading a lot," Tim offered finally, his voice echoing lifelessly inside the mug as he sipped from it. "Since I took the bullet, I've had a ton of time to read."

"Catching up on your potboilers and romance novels?" Frank dug his toes against the carpet, feeling the scratch of the rug muffled through his cranberry-colored socks. It was a rough carpet. He'd never liked it.

"Mmmmm...tempting, but no. I've been reading about Japan. About Buddhism."

Frank listened to the even mutter of the rain and the pattern it tapped along the roof before commenting. He could hear his voice brand the air, artless and mean. It was almost like he couldn't help it, anymore. "...interesting?"

"Yep." He could tell Tim was waiting for the snide jibe, the cruel taunt that usually followed an announcement of one of his hare-brained fascinations. Not this time. Not this time.

"Hmmm." Frank managed to give a serene smile, even. "Considering a vacation? You could use it."

Tim set his mug carefully on the coffee table and pushed his glasses up his nose, swinging his feet back down to the floor as he leaned forward. Frank stared at Tim's defenceless, naked toes curling on the scratchy carpet and felt a shiver run up his back. "Monoganashii," Tim said urgently. "That's a Japanese word--they have words for every little nuance, Frank, every tiny little feeling that anyone could ever have--and it means...."

Unconsciously, Frank leaned forward as well to hear the next part, Tim's hushed and almost reverent tones sliding under the rainfall. " means, 'the beauty of what's fleeting.'" He stopped and Frank looked up and was startled by the fractured pain in Tim's shadowed, brown eyes, the desperate glassiness of them. He reached out one hand and pressed his thumb to the corner of Tim's mouth, wanting to stop the words and blanket them with silence.

"The light hurts my eyes, Frank...."

The scent of tea leaves, of lemon, of bitterness; the cold moonlight splintered by rain.

stories // parodies // sacrelicious