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Someone, Somewhere

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Maybe it was the wink Jean gave him, or the relief coursing through his veins, or even just the hangover making his brain useless. Whatever it was, the words escaped his mouth out of their own volition: "I'm glad you stayed."

Jean's smile faltered, and for that Philippe could've kicked himself. "I thought you were asleep."

"I was," Philippe said, "but I woke up when you — when you put the keys in my pocket." That wasn't true, not really. He'd been distantly aware of it, sure, but what had truly woken him was the way Jean had petted his head. The touch had felt like a farewell, and Philippe had kept his prickling eyes firmly shut lest he do something stupid, like beg Jean not to go.

"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you. I know you needed the sleep."

Philippe shook his head. "Forget it. Like I said, I'm just glad you stayed. Hell if I know why, though," he added, letting out a bitter chuckle.

Jean's mouth pressed together into a grim line, jaw working. "You don't, huh?" he mumbled.

Before Philippe could respond to that odd comment Jean made a U-turn and started heading back to downtown Mounana. "What," Philippe said, "aren't we going back to work?"

"We don't have to be in until tomorrow morning," Jean answered. "We have the day off, remember?"

He certainly did. He wouldn't have drunk as much as he had last night, otherwise. He was already pushing it with his broken arm; didn't need to give them another excuse to get rid of him.

"Figured we could rent a room at a motel," Jean continued, "and get a good night's sleep for once."

Philippe blinked. That wasn't what he'd expected. He'd thought Jean would like to go back to the bar, maybe find another willing woman to spend the night with. The mere notion of it had made his hand twitch towards his flask, previous vow of staying sober before work fraying at the edges. "Yeah," he managed to say, "sure. I like the sound of that."

"Good." Jean twisted in his seat, reaching back to grab his hat. He put it on Philippe's head, tilting the brim down over his face and shielding it from the sharp sunlight. "Get some more rest. It'll take a while to drive back, plenty of time for a nap."

Philippe swallowed, reminding himself for the hundredth time that he couldn't afford to misunderstand. "Thanks," he forced out and closed his eyes.

----

Between his pounding heart and pounding head, he hadn't expected to actually be able to fall asleep. But apparently that was what had happened, for the next thing he knew Jean was gripping his shoulder and gently shaking him.

"I got us a room."

"Great," Philippe said, yawning. He took off the hat and held it out towards Jean. "Thanks for the loan."

"Anytime."

Philippe got out of the car and stretched, grimacing at the way his body protested the action — sitting curled up with his leg on the dashboard had maybe not been the brightest of ideas. Jean gave him a sympathetic grin, and then led the way to their room.

It turned out to be small, almost cramped. But it had two beds and a bathroom — Philippe headed straight for the latter, opening the door and peeking inside. He'd hoped to find a shower, but no such luck. It wasn't a surprise though, considering this was surely one of the cheaper rooms.

Well, at least there was a sink and a bar of soap. That would have to do.

"I'll just clean up a bit," he said, turning back to face Jean. "Unless you want to use the bathroom first?"

"No, go ahead." Jean's lips curled into a smirk, as he added, "Do you need help?"

"Thanks a lot, but I still remember the last time you helped me wash my hair."

The smirk blossomed into a full smile, Jean's blue eyes glittering with mirth. Having such a look aimed at him was too much to bear, like staring straight at the sun. Philippe more or less fled into the bathroom, closing the door behind him and leaning back against it.

Shit. The idea of getting a good night's sleep was an absolute joke. He'd be lucky if he slept at all.

Sighing, he pulled off his sling and then his shirt — quietly swearing when the sleeve got stuck on the damn cast. His clumsiness didn't ease up, either; no sooner had he started to get a decent lather worked up than the soap slipped from his hand.

He heard it land on the floor, and automatically opened his eyes to locate it, which of course meant that he got soap in them. He let out an angry string of curses as he hurriedly splashed water on his face, trying to ease the stinging.

"Are you okay?" The voice came from much too close. Jean must've opened the door and entered when hearing the racket.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Philippe replied. "Keeping a grip on the soap with one hand was apparently beyond my capabilities, that's all. Think you could find it for me?"

Silence. Then, "Here, let me do it." The words were accompanied by a warm hand between his shoulder blades, pushing him down towards the sink.

Philippe pulled away, opening his eyes again. "I've already made enough of a mess without your so-called help."

"Don't you trust me?" It was said lightly, like a joke or a challenge, but there was something else there — a note of seriousness, lurking just beneath the façade.

And what else could he say, but yes? Swallowing, he leaned forward and closed his eyes. A moment later Jean stepped in close, one hand settling on the back of Philippe's neck, while the other buried itself in his hair.

Jean's nails lightly scraped against his scalp, washing thoroughly while still being painfully gentle. It felt good, especially when the hand on his neck moved lower, chasing a few stray droplets of water. Jean's fingertips ran along the line of Philippe's spine, making him shiver.

"Cold?" Jean was so close that he felt the word just as much as he heard it; a puff of warm air against his skin.

"No," he answered, biting his tongue to keep from saying more than that.

Jean hummed in reply, flattening the hand on Philippe's back to slowly run his palm back up it, ostensibly wiping away the water. It finally joined the hand on his head, rinsing away the soap.

The water was turned off, and Philippe straightened up. But Jean's hands stayed on him, merely grabbing the towel to instead start rubbing his hair dry.

Finally, Jean seemed satisfied with his work, and pulled down the towel to lie over Philippe's shoulders. His hands lingered for a moment longer, before he pulled away. "There," he murmured. "All done."

Not trusting his voice, Philippe settled for giving Jean a grateful smile.

Jean's hand lifted, as if about to touch Philippe again, before clenching into a fist and dropping to his side. "I'm going to get us something to eat," he said, stepping back.

Philippe felt suddenly bereft, but forced himself to nod. He stood rooted to the spot for several minutes after Jean left, before he at last got himself under enough control to get dressed again.

----

A long time ago, in what almost felt like another life, Philippe's father had accused him of being self-destructive. What was it he'd said? 'If you have a good thing going, you'll sabotage it. It's the one thing you can always be counted on to accomplish.'

Funny how he could recall it so well, even all these years later.

It had been true, though. So maybe that was why he leaned back in the chair, fastening Jean with an easy smile, and said, "You sure you don't want to head down to the bar?"

They'd eaten upon Jean's return, and then whiled away the day doing nothing of importance. Just spending time together, lighting up a cigarette in companionable silence, playing with a worn deck of cards Jean found lying on top of the Bible, talking about work... The latter lead to a discussion about freedom, in which Philippe mentioned Seguin's goat — prompting Jean to admit that he'd cried the first time he read it. He'd said it with a sheepish laugh, quickly adding that he had just been a kid at the time, but it didn't matter. It was the final blow, tearing down the last bit of Philippe's defenses.

He knew what it was he felt, naturally. He'd know for a while now — probably from the moment Jean burst into the sick bay after his accident — but realization wasn't the same as acceptance. He'd done his best to fool himself into believing it was nothing, at most just a case of sexual attraction. But now, there was no more denying it.

So, here they were, sitting together at the small table, the last rays of sunlight streaming in through the dirty window. It was one of the best days he'd spent in longer than he liked to remember, and now it was time for him to ruin it.

Jean looked at him, frowning slightly. "The bar," Jean repeated. "Is that what you want?"

Philippe shrugged, the movement sending a jolt of pain through his broken arm. Perversely, he was glad for it. It was a welcome distraction from the way his heart ached. "Maybe she'd even still be there, the woman you spent last night with. Bet she'd be pleased to see you again."

"I highly doubt it," Jean said, snorting. "She'd probably be the most pleased if she never saw me again."

For Philippe — who had spent many sleepless nights in the barracks listening to the sound of Jean's breathing, staring up at the bunk above while imagining that he could see the outline of Jean's body in the darkness — that was hard to believe.

"What's with that look?" Jean asked, laughing. "I guess I should be flattered, so thanks."

Philippe felt his face burn. "I just — I don't see why, that's all. Did something happen?"

"No, nothing." Jean brought the cigarette to his mouth and took a long drag, a wry slant to his lips. "That was the whole problem. I... I didn't feel like it."

Oh. Philippe hesitated, before deciding to take the bull by the horns. "Were you thinking about her? The one you left behind?" Jean had never said as much, but it'd been obvious nonetheless. Especially in the beginning, when Jean had pulled away to sit by himself whenever they'd all gone out after work, brooding silently until Philippe joined him.

Jean's brow furrowed as he slowly shook his head. "No. Or yes, I did, but not truly."

"What?"

"I wasn't thinking about her, personally. I only thought of her as a — as a part of the whole, as one element of our relationship."

That didn't exactly clear it up, and Jean must've seen the confusion on Philippe's face for he let out a frustrated grunt, leaning forward to put out his cigarette with more force than necessary. "I didn't get it at the time, but then, when I was buying my ticket for the plane, I called her. She answered and I just... I felt nothing. I couldn't even bring myself to speak."

"So that's why you didn't go."

"No!" The outburst was so sudden that it made Philippe start. He stared at Jean, who stared right back, almost angrily. Jean was first to break the eye contact, rubbing a hand over his face before he abruptly stood up and began pacing the room.

"Then why?" Philippe said carefully, getting to his feet as well. He shouldn't push, he knew that, but he was unable to stop himself from asking.

"What about you?" Jean shot back instead, ignoring the question. "Were you with someone last night?"

"Yes," Philippe said slowly, frowning. Jean's reaction was as odd as the non sequitur itself had been: his jaw clenched, eyes flickering away from Philippe's gaze. He opened his mouth as if to respond, but Philippe cut him off by clarifying, "The bottle."

Jean's head snapped back up, eyes wide. "What?"

"That's who I was with. Your turn to answer my question."

A look of determination replaced the surprise in Jean's eyes. "Last night," he said, "I realized that I wanted it to mean something. I didn't want to spend another night with a stranger. That's why I didn't go."

"Because you thought you could find someone like that here?"

"No," Jean said, walking forward till he stood right in front of Philippe. "Because I already have."

Before Philippe could react to that declaration Jean leaned in and kissed him, erasing any doubt as to just who he'd been talking about. Not that that made it any easier to actually believe; Philippe returned the kiss with something akin to desperation, half certain that any moment now he'd wake up, alone in the car where Jean had left him.

But Jean was still there when they broke apart. He was right there, tipping his head slightly forward to press their foreheads together. They stood there, silent and still, breathing the same air.

"Say something," Jean whispered.

Philippe didn't think he could. He settled for initiating another kiss instead, this time taking it slow. He tried to put everything he couldn't voice right now into it, all the feelings that had crowded his chest and were finally allowed an outlet.

Jean was smiling afterwards, eyes bright and beautiful. "That works, too."