Disclaimer: Gatch belongs to TatsunokoPro.  Just playing.

The Way You Want It

The beer didn’t taste the same.

No, Joe decided, swilling another mouthful from the bottle and letting it coat his taste buds, it tasted just as awful as cheap beer ever did.  It just wasn’t getting him drunk enough fast enough.

Before… before, he knew he would have been feeling a nice buzz at this point.  But as he emptied the bottle and set it clinking next to its friends on the table, he felt nothing.  The world didn’t swim ever so slightly in and out of focus, or bleed to black at the edges.  The world wasn’t a better, happier place.

Just… nothing.

He grabbed another beer and twisted the top off, guzzled it until some reflex he still hadn’t forgotten kicked in and told him he had to breathe.

Still gotta breathe, he thought distractedly, feeling the air rush in and out of his lungs, smelling alcohol on each exhale.

But it wasn’t enough; he still couldn’t forget the way Ken had looked at him, after they had decimated the Galactor goon squad.  They’d done it hundreds of times – maybe thousands, a voice whispered in his head – and yet today…

He tipped the bottle up and swigged the rest of the beer.  Not gonna think about it, he told himself.

Except he couldn’t stop.  Instead of putting this bottle with the other empties, Joe held it, turning it over and over in his hands, even as his mind played and replayed the unbearable look of confusion that Ken had given him. 

He’d never gotten that look before.

He sank down in his seat, resting his head against the top of it, bottle still cradled absently in his hand.  Ken always knew me before, he thought, and the loss flooded him, because he knew Ken didn’t now.  Not anymore.  Not… not since.

Everything was so starkly divided into before and since, into human and machine, real and unreal.

Joe closed his eyes.  Still no buzz, still no pleasant feeling of warmth, and the world was even more harsh, even more cruel than it was when he’d started drinking.

The alcohol wasn’t helping in the slightest.  It had just brought into sharp focus that he was losing Ken.

Joe felt his fingers tighten around the neck of the bottle, but he stopped himself from exerting enough pressure to make it crack.  Just gotta know how far to push, he thought, and grinned humorlessly at the ceiling.

He’d suffered all kinds of physical pain before – I’ve even died, for Christ’s sake – but somehow, knowing that he was finally losing Ken in all the ways that mattered hurt even worse.

Joe shoved his hands into his pockets because it was the only way he could control them.  “We can’t go back to the way we were… before.”  Unable to meet Ken’s eyes, he stared down at the scuffed toes of his shoes.

Even so, he was still aware when Ken twitched.  He heard him take a breath, as if preparing to speak, but there was only silence.  It lasted long enough that Joe nearly lost what little composure he had.  Peeking up through his eyelashes like a girl would do, he saw Ken nod, his face carefully neutral.  “All right,” Ken agreed, his voice quiet.  “If that’s what you want.”

That soft acceptance ripped away everything that he’d been using to hold himself together, because he hadn’t known he’d been waiting for Ken to fight him on this, when it was always him who fought Ken.  His hands slipped from his control, and he grabbed Ken’s arms, fingers clenching hard on his biceps, yanking him forward, nearly against his chest. “No, damnit, it’s not what I want!”  So close, the urge to kiss him was overwhelming, and he was so tempted…

But then he suddenly remembered all the reasons why he couldn’t, and pushed him away again, sending him stumbling back, and all he felt was empty again.  “It’s not what I want,” he repeated, feeling like a prize idiot, “but it’s the way it’s gotta be.”

Finally, Joe straightened, opening his eyes, and set the empty bottle on the table.  The last beer, when he grabbed it, was warm, but it hadn’t been all that cool to start with.  Why am I even bothering? he asked himself, bringing the bottle to his lips.  I can’t get drunk anymore.  All I’m good for is fighting Galactor… and losing Ken.   I can’t keep secrets and keep Ken, too.

Ken hated secrets.  Keeping a secret – not a birthday present-type secret, but a secret – was as bad as lying in Ken’s eyes.  Joe knew this; he’d always known it.  If you had the good fortune to be close to him, if you really knew him, Ken could be mischievous and fun.  And God, he thought, swirling the beer and trying not to taste it, it’s something to see him just… cut loose.  Just be.

But if he let you in to see him like that, you had to give something in return, and Ken demanded honesty, lived it, breathed it.  He knew when you were lying to him.

And I can’t do anything but lie to him now.  That’s not the way I want it at all… but I can’t change it.

“How do you want it?” Ken purred in his ear, and this was something Joe didn’t think he’d ever get enough of – Ken’s eyes dancing with humor and desire, warm and open and all the things that Gatchaman wasn’t.

Before he could even marshal a response, Ken’s hand had snuck down and started teasing his groin.  Joe groaned, rocking up into the light touch.  “What-whatever you…”he stuttered, as Ken’s hand tightened around his cock.

Ken grinned; Joe could hear it in his voice.  “Whatever I want?” He resumed stroking Joe through his jeans, and Joe arched again, gasping appreciatively.  “Hard and fast and up against the wall?”

“Oh, God,” Joe moaned in response, each word Ken whispered going right to his dick.  “S-sounds good…”

Joe sighed, shivering at the remembered arousal.  But his body didn’t thrill to it, and as much as he wanted to be excited by the memory, nothing happened.   Before, all he’d have to do was start thinking about what Ken had said and done, and no matter where he was, he’d be hard and ready and wanting.

God, I’m not even half-alive.

When this bottle was empty, he placed it precisely beside the others and continued to slouch in his chair, staring into the distance and wishing that oblivion would come.

But he knew it wouldn’t, because cyborgs didn’t need sleep, as much as they wanted it.  Cyborgs had power cores that went on standby, like a computer’s screensaver, ready to be roused to fight at a moment’s notice.

That’s just the way it was.

October 31, 2008
© randi (K. Shepard), 2008