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Barred Men universe ficlets:


Carl doesn’t understand. He can’t imagine what could be worth the pain, how Pete can crave something that makes reality grim and stinging even worse on the come down. Pete says he’s bored, Carl knows he wants an escape, but none of it really makes sense. Why try to escape hurt with more pain?

Carl wants to forget about what happens in dark corners, about the pleasure others get from fucking or breaking them or both. Some of the bruises on Pete’s hips, some of the cuts on Carl’s face, they put smiles in cruel eyes. Carl just wants to be numb, to close his eyes and let go for longer than the few hours spent holding Pete in the night.

Lately, Pete needs holding more and more often. He’s one enormous bruise, a patchwork made up of the one he brought back from the showers this morning, to the ones that mar the soft skin cradled in the folds of his arms. Yesterday, Carl had asked why, softly, not expecting a reply. But Pete had whispered, “because it’s mine,” like the words escaped without his meaning them to.

Carl is standing at the sink now, trying to find what Pete finds when he gets high, in spite of the price he has to pay for it—whether in pounds and cigarettes, or sweat and sickness. He looks away from the mirror, down at his hand, concentrating on the bright gash of blood his makeshift knife is cutting in his flesh. There’s a bright sting of pain at first, then something sharper, stronger, welling up his arm as he pushes harder. The pain intensifies and makes him dizzy, makes him let go of the knife to catch himself on the sink, gripping the edge tightly. There’s nothing to dull the pain and his breath gets caught in his throat when he closes his fist around the blood, clutching desperately at the hurt that suddenly seems to be clearing his mind.

When he starts breathing again, he feels the blood rushing to his ears, feels the pain wash in and over him, filling up the space where that other hurt usually is, washing Pete and the agony of wanting something (some things) he can’t have from his mind. As he wipes the blade on his jeans and pushes it back in his pocket, he can feel a smile (is it relief or ecstasy?) pulling at his face.


Carl doesn’t make a habit of it, doesn’t want to come to depend on the sharp, mind clearing pain too much; but he’s come to need the scars, the reminders of what it’s like to have power instead of being a victim. When there are too many bruises, when Pete is thrashing wildly in his sleep, coming down from too much drugs or fighting in nightmares, Carl turns to the blade.

Some of the scars are small, some don’t have any particular meaning, but the ones Carl likes best are the ones with a shape. They’re like tattoos, letters to his soul, signs that he can be free. Most of them are small enough that Carl doesn’t need to cover them up; he’s strangely proud of them, relishes the looks of contempt or envy his prison mates throw his way.

They can take away everything, his life, his freedom, his dignity, but the skin, the blood and words on his tongue, the memories and dreams… all of those are his and his alone.

Carl doesn’t hide the scars. When they’re lying side by side, hanging on to each other, Pete traces them with his fingers. He reads and learns, whispers inaudibly the story that the lines and swirls on Carl’s skin tell him. His fingers bring the text into sharp relief, make Carl shiver and return the favour. Pete has tattoos that Carl could trace even in the dark, scars of a different kind.

Carl is the one who comes up with the idea of the matching tattoos. Pete said it, called them libertines and Carl wants something to remember this. He wants a scar, a line, a few words… he wants a link, something to feel Pete under his skin even if they’re not together. They do it late one night, with ink from an old biro and a needle they scored from one of Pete’s dealers. The letters are small, but matching, and Pete kisses Carl’s hand just before Carl starts writing.

When Pete takes over and traces painful bloody curves on Carl’s skin, Carl closes his eyes and just feels. There’s the same sharp, mind clearing pain he’s so familiar with, but this one feels a lot like joy, and when Pete leans forward to blow on Carl’s shoulder, hoping to alleviate the pain, Carl wraps a hand around his neck. Their foreheads together, Pete’s eyes dark and wide and so close, Carl breathes words that find their meaning in the both of them.

“We’re bleedin’ libertines, Pete. There’s nothing we can’t reach.”


Some days, Pete wakes up aching more than ever and drowning in bone deep loneliness. He’s never really alone, of course, Carl’s always around. But Pete is so lost in his own mind, in his own suffering and the swirl of drugs that throw a veil on everything that Carl’s presence doesn’t register.

Days like these, Pete goes away in his own mind, drifts to the darker corners of the common area. He flees and hides, runs away from Carl and bites his nails to the quick, tasting blood and thinking over and over about what happens between them at night. Paranoia has a strong grip on him when he’s like that, making every look, every word biting and cutting as deep as Carl’s blade.

Carl and Pete fight often, as often as they join in music or sex. Writing songs and fucking don’t prevent them from going mad with the boredom or sadness. The walls wrap around them and keep them huddled under the weight of all the regrets they don’t share. Sometimes they get closer, but sometimes they can’t stand being relentlessly broken against the bricks of their cells or the fence in the exercise yard.

Pete understands that Carl doesn’t get where Pete finds refuge when the days are too harsh. Pete knows Carl thinks the drugs only make life more difficult, harder to live in the long term. But then Pete doesn’t get the crisscross lines on Carl’s body, the way Carl seems to need for the pain to really bleed. It doesn’t make sense to Pete; it feels more dangerous to him than using. The cuts Pete slashes across his soul are buried underneath, invisible to the naked eye. Carl wears his scars almost with pride and Pete doesn’t get that, can’t help but think that what he does is an escape, but what Carl does is almost like suicide.

When the day is grim, when Pete wakes up and the voices trapped inside his head are pushing him further away from the world, Pete feels the need to get away from Carl, too, from this destructive side that he’s afraid he might want to share. He’s scared of the blade, scared of the pain and anger he can see in his lover’s eyes, scared of what this misunderstanding between them will eventually do to their hearts. On days like these, not even the music can help.

When the day is grim and Pete wakes up wrapped in nightmares, he looks at Carl and feels certain that what they have is a mere delusion. Carl can’t love him. Carl can’t understand. Carl can’t see how essential the numbness of crack and coke are to Pete’s survival. Carl doesn’t realize how deep under Pete’s skin he’s managed to lodge himself.

Carl can’t be Pete’s angel.

Denial runs fast through Pete’s blood, making his heart thump heavily in his chest. He knows where to turn, then. He doesn’t stop to think about all the ways he’s killing himself when he goes after one of the few things that make him feel safe. He wraps himself in the numbing warmth of what little he’s managed to get in exchange of a few hand jobs, cradling the crinkle of foil in his hands and breathing shallowly. Inhaling to oblivion.

When the world finally fizzles around the edges, melts into a harmless blur, Pete huddles in a corner of the dirty bathroom, crying and laughing and calling for Carl to pick him up. Even through the haze of the high, Pete feels certain that Carl will come. He’ll come and wrap his arms around Pete, pull him up and bring him to their cell, then hold him through the shakes.

The soothing emptiness of a good high and the solace of Carl’s arms, that’s all Pete knows he can count on. It’s an endless cycle: Pete takes the drugs, escapes from jail for a few hours while Carl cuts through his own angst, marring his skin with bleeding gashes. But at the end of the day, Pete comes down hard and Carl catches him inside the circle of his arms—bruised as Pete’s soul, yet strong—strong enough, he hopes, to support them both.


Sometimes Carl tries to remember what it was like outside, before, when sex was just sex and nothing more. He thinks he remembers feeling like it was just another stop on the party road, just another thing expected of him. He knows how much he wanted to fit in, be “one of the lads” back then, and he remembers that also meant shagging for the sake of shagging, as much and as often as possible. Getting a girlfriend had just been a proof that he was all man, an easier way to get through the hassle of finding someone to sleep with, something he doesn’t remember ever enjoying much. It had just been another race to completion, a search for a few seconds of pleasure that came and went before you even realized they were there.

He doesn’t remember ever taking his time, doesn’t remember ever savouring it, enjoying a slow build to a drawn out orgasm. He thinks he was foolish not to find out what he was missing, how easy and wonderful it could have been to lose himself in the slow coaxing of pleasure out of somebody else’s skin. He wishes he’d taken the time to enjoy it more because now is not the time for it. Now is not about slow and tender, can’t be about slow and tender and making love to enjoy it or make it last. He wishes he could stop rushing, not only to completion, but through the motions as well, wishes he could drag it all out, draw more surprised little gasps out of Pete and lose himself on a loud moan.

But he can’t, so he doesn’t and bites down hard on his clenched fist instead, marking his own skin. Pete is sucking hard, not teasing, only pushing him fast over the edge, leaving him raw and panting and recovering way too soon, way too fast. Far too soon, oblivion is gone and reality—harsh and painful—is wrapping around him and stifling him again. Pete is sliding up next to him, reaching out in the dark with feverish fingers and Carl can see him, make out his face pale and sickly and all dark eyes wide and tired. Carl stares at Pete and wishes once more that it didn’t have to be over all so fast, that he could lose himself in Pete and lust and skin, but he knows that the moment can never last long enough.

Pete gets up and leaves the bunk without a word, leaving Carl for his own bunk and unsoiled sheets. Carl realizes then, that even here, even now, sex is still just sex and nothing else—fleeting and leaving no lasting mark. He turns over, his back to the cell, his hand sliding between the mattress and the wall. He breathes in deeply, feeling the last drops of remaining pleasure from his orgasm slip away as his fingers wrap around the makeshift blade, lying in wait at the edge of his bed and his dreams. As the sting of the cold metal slicing through the soft pads of his fingers crawls up his arm, he finally closes his eyes and smiles.

Non Barred Men ficlet:


“I don’t love you no more,” he says. It drops like a bomb, floors Carl, breaks him and throws him to the floor panting. But Pete goes on, doesn’t stop, and keeps pounding him down in all obliviousness.

“I don’t love you no more, I don’t think… your skin’s like sand paper, foreign and rough. I don’t think about you when I fuck him…”

Carl reels, surprised at the hurt that keeps piling on. The first blow was enough to knock him out and yet, each word buries deeper under his skin, makes him bleed more. He watches Pete get up, go over to where Wolfman is standing, cling to his frame like a leech… only the leech isn’t necessarily the one you’d think.

There’s no room for anger or hate in Carl’s heart, there’s just room enough for Pete next to the burning white pain of something that isn’t quite a break-up. They’ve never been together outside of guitars and words. Fusion of their souls, yes, but there’s always been a distance between the touches and the songs. There are girls, and boys, and Estille, reminders of what they don’t do together, of why touching others shouldn’t hurt so much.

But Pete leaves, Pete is leaving, Carl is staying behind. Pete follows Wolfman outside, laughs and bounces and disappears behind a door. Carl is rooted to his spot, leaning against the wall, surrounded by friends and hangers on yet so much more alone than he was an hour ago.

“I don’t love you no more…”


“I love you whether you like it or not.”

Pete knows the importance of being earnest, looks at Carl with faith in his eyes and his heart on his sleeve. Pete loves him no matter what, doesn’t look like he remembers what he said before, whether it meant anything.

Carl picks up the pieces of his broken mind, tucks them away in his heart and waits for the next time Pete doesn’t stop to think about the words he says. Carl knows they will cut him again, bright gashes bleeding on his happiness the way the fresh scars on Pete’s chest bled last night, when Carl welcomed him in his arms.

Pete melts in Carl’s embrace, clings to him like a leech but doesn’t draw blood to feed on the way others do. Carl’s heart expands and glows, doesn’t dry up and die like Pete’s heart sometimes does. The pain remains, of course, numbed only until Pete remembers the distance between guitars and words and crushes Carl’s heart again. Carl knows the inevitability of this, wants to hope and forget, wants to believe Pete won’t go away again.

Carl holds Pete closer and breathes in, drags his fingers over Pete’s short hair—rough and foreign like sand paper under his palm—and doesn’t think about fucking him. They don’t do that, don’t bruise each other where the eye can see, they keep the hurt and pain hidden behind their faces, under the darkened skin surrounding Peter’s eyes.

“I love you whether you like it or not…”

At least until it all shatters.
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November 2011

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