FANDOM: The Thirteenth Floor
SUMMARY: Choose life.
This is almost the way it should have been, almost the life that would have made his father proud of him. Now that he comes home after a hard day of work to an expensive apartment rather than that corner of a pool room where he spent three years of his life, his father might agree that he even looks like a man now. Without his bleach-blond hair, he can blend into a city of normal, boring, family men. There’s even a band of gold on his finger, one solitary ring for one beloved person. Perhaps, when he gets the call from the jewellers, the other three will return as concrete reminders of events he vowed never to forget. For now, he’s almost glad they’re gone. He had never thought that he would have the opportunity to play-act at being normal. It disturbs him a little to find that he quite enjoys it.
Inside his apartment, he discovers that most of the room is in darkness, although one dim lamp casts a yellow haze over the couch. Ashton closes the door behind him softly and crosses the room to find his lover asleep there, sprawled out over the cushions, his head against the open pages of one of his manuals. Whitney… Not perhaps the partner his father would have wanted him to be coming home to, but Ashton doubts if he’d be much surprised. He lifts up the loose half of the book, to see its title, without disturbing the sleeping man. He can’t even comprehend the words. Whitney has explained to him microchips and computer memory capacities, but none of it really makes any sense. It seems to him as fantastic as magic from Arthurian legend. He can understand the concept of a spell trapping a wizard in a cave for a thousand years, just as he can understand the concept of processors, but neither seems real. He might as well be Merlin, released into the world after an eternity of captivity. But his magic extends only to parlour tricks, barely guaranteed to astonish children.
He imagines what his mother might have thought of his lover, of this young man who only has eyes for him. Maybe she would have smiled at him, and quietly despaired of his long hair while she stuffed them both full of pastries and apple pie. It’s a foolish exercise. She never had a clue what he was, what would be done to him, and what he would become. He had never really known her at all. Never had the chance to speak to her, to ask anything more than childish questions. All mothers seem perfect to eight-year-old boys.
He runs his fingers over Whitney’s hair, touches his cheek. “Hey…” he says, loudly enough to break into Whitney’s dreams, but not so as to startle him.
Whitney groans at the interruption, and winces at the sudden light in his eyes. “Wh… what time is it?”
“It’s almost three.” Ashton doesn’t need to look at his watch to know it. He’s suffered through so many of these early hours that the light level alone tells him all he needs to know. “I told you not to wait up.”
“Uh… I didn’t mean to.” Whitney lifts his head off the book, and rubs his eyes. “I don’t have print all over my face, now, do I?”
Ashton smiles and kisses him. “You look like an angel.”
They do this so easily now, wind their arms around one another as if they belong together, as if it was some great accident that they were ever apart. Circumstance means they don’t have to be so desperate for affection, for contact, as they used to be, but their bodies tell them otherwise. Whitney pulls Ashton on top of him, and whispers conspiratorially, “You’ve been smoking,” as he unbuttons his lover’s shirt.
“Sorry,” Ashton mutters, pressing his lips to Whitney’s neck. “I didn’t think.”
“You always think.” It could so easily be an accusation, coupled with a hurt and betrayed expression. After all, he had promised. He had said never again, that he’d do anything to stay healthy and stay with Whitney for as long as he could. But Whitney is simply regarding him with that wonderful honest smile, telling him that he understands. “How was work?”
Perhaps he understands too much. Ashton sits up and shrugs out of his shirt, neatly folding it, and placing it on the coffee table. It always feels good to get out of his work clothes. “Fine.” He turns and strokes his thumb over Whitney’s lips. “I have a lot to learn. There’s this young kid there who’s been in the job about five minutes and thinks he knows more than I do. The trouble is, he’s probably right.”
Whitney just grins, his fingers drawing tingling patterns on Ashton’s back. “Not possible. You’re my bartender.”
“I am that.” Ashton stands up and undresses, watching Whitney watch him, getting slowly aroused by the longing in his eyes. “They noticed my ring. Asked me who the lucky lady was. I told them I was the lucky one.”
“You told them about me?”
He has to smile at Whitney’s eagerness to be recognised, to be his. “I tell everyone about you.” He’s never had anyone to boast about before: no kids, no pretty girlfriend to be admired by other men. Whitney, although Ashton suspects he would never believe it, is the most wonderful person who has ever been in his life. The boy’s a genius, sweet, and good-natured, quite apart from the way he makes Ashton get hard just thinking about him. Finally knowing Whitney’s profession has explained some things to him. Before, in the past, it just seemed as if magic issued from those fingers. Now he knows it’s electricity.
Naked, Ashton sits astride his lover, and runs his hands underneath the blue cotton of Whitney’s t-shirt. “I think you’re making the girls jealous.”
“You make all the girls jealous, Ash.” Whitney says, folding his arms back underneath his head, stopping himself from reaching out for the temptation of Ashton’s exposed skin.
His self-control is nothing but an act. Ashton can feel Whitney’s own erection pressing up against him, through the material of his denim jeans. He pulls the t-shirt up and leans down to scrape his teeth against Whitney’s nipples, as one hand caresses Whitney’s groin. The experience of years has taught him that there are circumstances for hasty, anonymous sex, and there are times to savour the experience. Whitney has always been a pleasure to savour. He loves hearing Whitney’s breathing turn ragged as he kisses and licks his chest, feeling the growing urgency of Whitney’s thrusts against him, and denying him a quick release. Whitney may be young, but Ashton intends to teach him the advantages of waiting.
“I thought about you all night,” Ashton says, halting his lover’s rapid breathing for an instant with a kiss. “You make it… better.”
When he stands up, to find lubricant and allow Whitney to kick off his jeans, he knows Whitney is looking at him with more concern than an aroused young man should ever rightly be feeling. It’s his own fault, for slipping up, for that one smoke he knew was a betrayal, for the hints that, even in this future world, nothing much has changed. He’s still doing manual labour for the rich and stupid, and it still makes his head hurt. At least he has Whitney now. He doesn’t have to sit in the silent warmth of the pool and dream of never waking up.
“We need to find something else for you to do, Ash,” Whitney says softly, but in his voice is a tone that suggests he doesn’t want to be ignored. “You can’t do this to yourself.”
Ashton turns back, hands smeared with clear, slippery lube, and shrugs. “I can’t do anything else, and you know I’m a damned good bartender.”
“Oh yeah. You’re bartending for the good of humanity,” Whitney pokes an accusatory finger at Ashton’s chest when he climbs back onto the couch. “A real martyr.”
“I’m glad you agree.” Ashton straddles Whitney’s thighs, and studiously begins to coat Whit’s cock in lubricant, but even the moans he elicits aren’t enough to change the subject. Too bad that, unlike all of his past sexual partners, Whitney really cares about him.
“Anyway,” Whitney says, moving his hips to thrust through Ashton’s fingers. “You can do something else.”
Ashton catches his eyes for a moment, and then looks away, reaching behind himself to rub his own asshole with lube. “That was a hundred years ago, Whit. More than a hundred years. And I only did half.”
“Well…” With a sudden look of resolve, Whitney grabs Ashton’s arm, and pulls him forward, slipping his own fingers inside Ashton up to the first knuckle, and then to the second. “Maybe you should finish.”
The look on his face is of such unfamiliar sincerity that Ashton forgets whichever irrefutable excuse he usually uses in such circumstances, and instead just kisses him. “I’ll think about it.”
Whitney considers this for a moment and grins, just as his fingers rub against Ashton’s prostate, drawing an involuntary gasp from the bartender’s throat. “You do that.”
“You didn’t used to be so fucking pushy,” Ashton says, smiling, as he sits up and Whitney lets him go. He curls his fingers around Whitney’s cock, hot and hard, and moves so he can ease himself down around it. “What happened?”
“Would you believe I met this guy?”
Ashton breathes out, a long, slow breath, as he lets Whitney slide inside him, filling him up with warmth. “I might,” he says finally, and there’s nothing more he can say. In the absence of an underwater sleep, he’ll lose himself in Whitney’s body. The steadily building liquid waves that threaten to drown him seem as if they could go on forever, flooding from the pressure of Whitney’s erection inside him, and the attentions of his fingers. He closes his eyes and moves along the length of Whitney’s cock, smiling at the resulting groans of pleasure.
It ends only when he hears the note of urgency as Whitney says his name, realises how strained Whitney’s breathing has become, and opens his eyes. “It’s okay,” he says softly, leaning slightly forward to cup his lover’s jaw. “Let go.”
There’s sweat standing out on Whitney’s forehead, as the younger man grips Ashton’s hips and thrusts hard inside him, again and again until his climax overtakes him and stops the breath in his throat. “Oh Ash…” he whispers, spent, sinking back onto the cushions.
He’s beautiful, flushed and exhausted and looking up at Ashton with youthful wonder. Ashton takes his hand, covers it in his own, and moves it to touch his erection, masturbating himself with Whitney’s hand, staring into Whitney’s eyes until he can bear it no longer. His semen leaks out onto their fingers as his body gives in. He lets himself fall into Whitney’s arms, where neither of them has the energy to do more than exchange weary kisses.
“You know,” Whitney says after minutes have passed, “we do have a bedroom these days.”
After so many nights making do in the pool room, in hours snatched from reality, the thought of being able to lie down for a night’s sleep with his lover in a real bed is still a strange one. It seems like far too normal a fate for that faggot bartender of long ago. Long ago. He smiles at the thought. Really it was only a few weeks past that he was forsaken by all humanity, and condemned to hell. Whitney somehow can’t help but make him feel normal, as if it all, finally, will be okay.
“What are you thinking about?” Whitney asks, trailing fingertips through his cropped brown hair.
Ashton’s thoughts are lost as a sudden, nagging alarm emanates from Whitney’s computer terminal in the corner. “What’s that?”
He’s a little relieved that even Jason Whitney, computer genius, seems mystified. “Not sure,” he says, as Ashton lets him get to his feet. At the terminal, his confusion turns into genuine concern. “It’s a campus-wide alert. Someone got inside the perimeter without authorisation. Probably one of those technophobe jerks.” He turns around, startled. “Ash, what’re you…?”
Having pulled on his trousers once more, Ashton takes out his gun from behind one of Whitney’s many stacks of books, and checks its load. There’s a sudden rush of adrenaline through his veins, and he has no wish to feel it turn to panic. “Stay here. Lock the door.”
“Where the hell did you get that?” Despite the question, Whitney doesn’t seem too surprised. He’s a resourceful man, after all.
“Stay here,” Ashton repeats firmly, and walks barefoot to the exit. He knows the layout of the complex well enough by now, from his early morning runs and the other, less than authorised, explorations. Fullercorp has armed security guards, but Ashton doesn’t trust any one of them to protect what he cares about. He suspects they’ll be more interested in safeguarding Fuller’s most sensitive technology. Whitney calls something after him as he leaves, no doubt frustrated that Ashton can’t simply forget about it and come to bed. Sadly, Ashton knows that being defensive has never solved any problems.
He finds no guards on the route he chooses, following the corridors of the residential complex, although he passes several wall terminals beeping with the same alarm Whitney described. They tell him nothing new. How could someone get inside such a high-security installation? His own access depends entirely on his DNA: impossible, as far as he knows, to fake. But these questions are futile. Ashton asks himself whether, in a similar situation, he would find a way inside, and knows that he would. All it ever takes is a little ingenuity and a great deal of desperation. He has to wonder how desperate these protesters are, and why.
His feet make little sound on the plastic floors, and he moves quickly. There’s a lot of ground to cover. When he finally sees a flicker of movement ahead, he slows, and carefully rounds the next corner. Not carefully enough. He and Douglas Hall stare at each other, guns pointed at each other’s foreheads. Ashton lowers his weapon first. No need to give Hall yet another reason to kill him. “You’re out late.”
“Yeah, was kind of rudely awakened.” Hall glances at Ashton’s naked chest and bare feet. “You too, I guess. Whitney’s all right?”
“He’s fine. Seen anyone?”
“No.” Hall surveys the corridor. “I’m hoping our guy really is just out for technical information. But I’m not taking any chances. Anyone who breaks into my house at four in the morning deserves what he gets.”
Ashton nods. Sometimes Hall surprises him. “Ideas?”
“There are service shafts all over the place in here from back when most of the technology was installed. Jane showed me a map. It’s a complete maze. If someone knew about it, that would be the way to get around. I don’t even know if Fisher installed security mechanisms in there.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Ashton tells him. If someone knows the layout of something as mundane as the Fullercorp service shafts, there’s a good chance that they also know how to bypass security. After all, the intruder did gain access in the first place, to a complex apparently secure from every threat.
Hall seems to understand. “But, like I said, it’s a maze. There’s no way to know how to find someone.”
“We don’t need to find him. We need to find what he’s looking for.”
“He’s probably looking for the project stuff, for the virtual world technology. That’s the whole other side of the campus,” Hall reasons. “But, if he’s here…” His eyes meet Ashton’s, and they hold a flicker of fear. “Jane?”
It’s a simple answer, and one they both hope is incorrect. But they run, and they find him, a sloppily-dressed kid ten years younger than Whitney, with nothing more than a computerised personal assistant, and a knife in his pocket. He doesn’t even seem brave enough to use it. Perhaps he might have had more guts against a sleeping, defenceless woman. Hall seems about ready to kill him. Ashton’s experienced that kind of fury: indignation against the universe at the realisation that the world could possibly be this way. He has no doubt he would feel it again if the kid’s knife were directed at Whitney’s throat. But this time he gets between Hall and the boy, and sends Hall to cool off down the corridor while he calls security. It’s not an entirely heroic act.
Ashton lays the flat of the knife against the boy’s neck, smiles his most unnerving smile, and asks the boy who sent him. The reply is quick and, under the circumstances, Ashton believes that it’s honest. The guards take the kid away soon after that, for questioning and maybe all the brutality Ashton was tempted to exercise. He can’t bring himself to care. No one who threatens the people he cares about, who disrupts the life he’s trying to build, deserves his mercy. He and Hall can agree on that, at least.
It’s almost light outside by the time he unlocks the door of their apartment and slips back inside, finding Whitney still sitting at his computer terminal, studying the security reports. Ashton leans down behind him, and wraps his arms around his lover. Fear aside, he knows there’s no “almost” about this life he’s chosen. This is the way it should always have been.
“Everything okay?” Whitney asks, concerned.
Ashton kisses the back of his head, his lips on golden hair. “I think my mother would’ve liked you,” he whispers. He hopes it’s true.
For the first time in a hundred years, he’s home.
Wee Damn Table