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11 February 2008 @ 09:09 am
Charlie and Tennessee: The Best Medicine  
Who: Charlie Dickens and Tennessee Williams
Where: The laundromat, Tennessee's apartment
When: a little while ago, maybe the very end of January

Tennessee is singing under his breath, which takes form in front of him - warm puffs of fog against the bitter cold air. He's only wearing a sweatshirt, and if he's cold, he doesn't show it - he stands outside the laundromat with a cigarette, taking a drag and then walking to the window of the bookstore next to the laundromat - closed now, it's rather late. He presses a hand to the window and squints inside, making a mental note to go during the day and look for the book Tallulah was telling him about - something about rabbits and briar batches. "You don't have to be a bay-ay-aby to cry," he sings, mostly mumbled, pacing back towards the laundromat.

There's a boy sitting in front of the laundromat, tucked against the corner near a dryer vent. He's easy to ignore, folded in on himself, his knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them. The collar of his gray coat is up and his head is down against his knees, trying to trap his warm breath. His hair is a dark tangle of curls. He's shivering. He sniffles, loud enough to draw attention to himself.

Tennessee stops in his tracks. Even with his head bent, he's positive it's Charlie - those dark curls, the coat, the way he holds himself all speak to it. Tennessee takes a few steps closer, dropping his cigarette behind him. "Peaches?" he says, tucking his hands in his pockets.

Charlie sniffles again and lifts his head slowly, wiping his nose on his sleeve discretely. He looks up at Tennessee, rubbing one bleary eye. Another sniffle. He coughs. He looks completely miserable. His nose is red, chapped beneath it. His lips are chapped and his eyes are red-rimmed, cheeks flushed in a feverish way. He's still shivering. "Oh. Hey." Tennessee. He's certainly not expecting to see him. He unfolds. His bones ache. He gets to his feet slowly, leaning on the wall, and tries to look like he's not about to die. "Hi, Tennessee." His voice is low and rough.

"Shit, peaches," Tennessee says, shaking his head and looking Charlie over. "What are you doin' out here like this? You look like hell. You must be freezin', darlin'." Tennessee lifts his eyes to Charlie's, frowning. "What the hell you thinkin'?"

"What?" Charlie shakes his head and wipes his eyes, brushing a hand over his hair. "No. No, I'm fine. I don't... I'm fine. It's nothing." He licks his lips and moves to take a step toward Tennessee, but just sort of sways instead, dizzy. He falls back against the building and clears his throat. "H-How are you?"

"Jesus christ," Tennessee says, reaching out and taking Charlie's arm when he sways, holding on. "Fuck, you're comin' home with me, alright?" He pulls Charlie in and wraps his arm around him, leading him towards the laundromat. "My stuff's just finished dryin'."

Charlie sniffles and shifts under Tennessee's arm, but he's too weak and dizzy to fully pull away. "Nooo. No, Tennessee, you don't want me right now. I'm no fun. You don't want to take me home. I'm fine. I'll be fine."

"Oh yeah, I want you right now, baby," Tennessee says dryly, rubbing Charlie's arm with the hand wrapped around him. He opens the door, pulling Charlie in, and goes to the dryer that his clothes are in. "You're comin' home with me if I gotta knock you out an' drag you there."

Charlie looks even worse under the lights, if it's possible. He's pale beneath his flushed cheeks. "I'm fine," he protests weakly. "It's nothing. I'm... I'm getting better." He's not. He's been getting worse every day, but he keeps trying to convince himself that he's getting better. "And... and I really... I need to work. And so... I should... you don't want me. Really."

"Shut up, alright?" Tennessee says shortly, not very patient with it. He pushes Charlie up against the dryer and lets him lean there as he opens up the door of the machine and empties it out into a mesh sack. There's several sweatshirts, two pairs of jeans, but mostly tiny clothes - clothes most certainly not belonging to Tennessee. A little girl, no older than three - tiny dresses, little sets of pajamas. A stuffed whale. "You're gona catch your death out there, I ain't leavin' you. You shoulda' come to my place on your own, dammit. Shouldn't even be havin' this conversation with you."

Charlie is watching the tiny clothes disappear into the mesh bag, tumbled together with the big sweatshirts. "But I didn't... I didn't want to be any trouble, and I already..." He sniffles. He's miserable. He wants to move in close to Tennessee and curl up against him and cry. He wants his mom. "Are you mad?" It's soft, pathetic-sounding.

"I'm mad you didn't come over, yeah," Tennessee says honestly, tugging a drawstring on the sack and then dropping it over his shoulder. "'Cause that means you don't trust me when I say I want you to come over if you need to, an' I don't appreciate you not trustin' me."

"No..." Charlie catches at Tennessee's sleeve. "No, that's not it. It's not that I don't trust you. It's not that. It's... I didn't want to get you sick, and I didn't..." He didn't want to fall in love with him. "I thought... I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I made you mad. I didn't mean to."

"Then stop arguin' with me now," Tennessee says, wrapping his strong arm around Charlie, supporting him, taking him along. His apartment is just a block away. "You're comin' with me, an' in the future, if you're sick as all fuckin' hell an' freezin' to death, you're gona knock on my door, you understand?"

Charlie leans against Tennessee. He bites his lip and slides an arm around his waist, nodding. "Okay." It's barely above a whisper. He gives a short cough and then leans his head against Tennessee's shoulder, his face hot even through Tennessee's sweatshirt.

"Can't believe you sat out there like that rather than comin' to me," Tennessee mumbles, shaking his head. "Did I not take care o' you, last time? You can't do this shit, peaches. I asked you to take care o' yourself."

Charlie lifts his head, looking at Tennessee with big, watery, red-rimmed eyes. "You were good to me last time. You were really really good to me. And... I'm doing everything else that you told me to. I... I don't sleep with anyone without... without a condom, no matter what they'll pay. And... and I'm... I..." He sneezes a bit violently and wipes his hand on his hip. "I didn't want you to see me like this."

"You're beautiful, even when you're all snively an' sick, darlin'. Ain't gona change the truth," Tennessee says. They turn down Tennessee's street, and Tennessee fishes his keys out of his pocket. "You're near the prettiest damn thing I ever seen. You got me?"

That's a lie, but it's a sweet lie, and that's why Charlie has to be careful around Tennessee. He could fall for him so hard he'd knock his head. Charlie nods and licks his lips. He opens his mouth to say something and his stomach growls loudly just at that moment. He curls his arm around his stomach, embarrassed by it, and talks to cover it up. "You're pretty too. But not in a girly way. You're definitely not... not girly."

Tennessee laughs a bit, and turns his face to kiss Charlie's forehead, which is warm with a fever. He opens the door and leads Charlie inside, and then quite suddenly he puts an arm under Charlie's knees and scoops him up, holding him in his arms and starting up the stairs. He doesn't think Charlie is quite well enough to make it up the stairs. "You ain't girly either, you're jus' gorgeous, peaches."

Charlie wraps his arms around Tennessee's neck. He'd given a little yelp when he'd first swept him up, but he'd relaxed after a moment. He rests his forehead against Tennessee's cheek. He sniffles, stroking his thumb absently against the side of Tennessee's neck. Swept off his feet. "How come you call me peaches?"

"'Cause you're real sweet," Tennessee says, carrying Charlie easily. He's light, very thin, and Tennessee hardly feels a difference between him and the bag of laundry. "An' you got peachy lil' cheeks, all pretty an' pink." Tennessee puts the key in the door and pushes it open with his shoulder, carrying Charlie. He lays Charlie down on the sofa gently and kisses the corner of his mouth. He starts unlacing Charlie's boots, pulling them off, setting them on the floor next to the sofa. "You want some soup? I'm gona make you some soup, alright?"

Charlie curls up on the sofa, burrowing his feet down between the cushions. He reaches for Tennessee, wiggling his fingers until he gets a hold of a fold of his shirt, and then tugs him toward him. Not for any particular reason. He just wants him close, and he's too sick to really pay attention to what he's doing. "Mmkay." He sniffles. He's not hungry, really. He's so hungry that he's forgotten to be hungry, but if he protests, Tennessee will probably sit on him and forcefeed him. He doesn't let go of his shirt, though.

"Okay, peaches, but you gotta let me go for a couple minutes, alright?" Tennessee says gently, brushing Charlie's curls back from his fevered face with his rough fingers, leaning in close and kissing his cheek. "I'm gona come back an' sit with you, but I want you to eat first."

Charlie's eyes are closed. The stroking, the kiss on his cheek. He's been craving it. His fingers are rubbing against each other through Tennessee's shirt, sliding the fabric back and forth. Twisting. It's a habit he's had since he was a baby. He pries his eyes open and looks at Tennessee, then reluctantly lets go of his shirt.

Tennessee smoothes Charlie's hair back once more, slides his thumb over Charlie's temple, lingering close for a moment more before he pulls the blanket off the back of his sofa and tucks it snugly around Charlie. He goes into the kitchen to heat up a can of chicken soup - Blues Clues shaped, as per Tallulah's orders. He pours out a bit of sticky grape-flavored children's cold medicine into a tiny medicine cup as well, and brings it out on one of the trays he gives Tallulah when she wants to eat breakfast and watch cartoons. A Barbie tray. "Sit up, peaches, I got some soup for you," Tennessee says, balancing the bowl and a cup of orange juice on the tray easily.

Charlie opens his eyes with some effort. He'd fallen asleep in the short time it had taken Tennessee to fix the tray for him, curled in on himself, the blanket pulled up under his chin. He blinks a few times and swallows painfully around his sore throat, then sits up, scooting back against the arm of the couch. He clears his throat. "Thank you." He holds his arms to the side so that Tennessee can set the tray on his lap. If he reaches for it, he'll drop it.

Tennessee sets it down, legs on either side of it keeping it securely in place. He sits down next to Charlie and kisses his cheek, picking up the little cup of medicine and holding it up for him to take. "Here, you drink this, it'll help you feel better. Might knock you out, but you need to get some rest anyway."

Charlie takes the little cup of medicine, fingers shaking a bit. He raises it to his lips and tips it back, swallowing, making a little face as he does. He hands the cup back to Tennessee and nearly asks for a kiss to wash it down with. "Thanks," he croaks.

"I know, it's awful," Tennessee laughs, and he leans in to kiss the corner of Charlie's mouth, setting the empty cup down in the corner of Charlie's tray. "Now eat up, okay? It's hot, but that's good for you, burn all them germs right out a' you, that's what my gramma always used to say." Tennessee turns on the television as he talks, which only plays in black and white and is tuned to a recreation channel, playing a fishing show.

Charlie swallows a spoonful of soup. It's hot. It stings on its way down his throat, but it feels a little better once it's down. It hits his empty stomach and he can practically hear it echo. He takes another bite and then a sip of orange juice. He looks over at Tennessee as he does. There's an unmistakably admiring, adoring look in his unguarded eyes.

Tennessee grins at him, and then picks up his bag of laundry from the floor, opening it up and starting to fold the things inside a bit sloppily. A tiny little pair of pants with kittens printed on them. A frilly yellow dress. Then one of his own sweaters. He takes more care with the little things, trying to fold them neatly, smoothing them. "What do you like watchin' on TV?" he asks Charlie. "What kinda show you wanna watch?"

Charlie watches him fold the little things. He has a daughter. A little girl. It's so obvious to him that he doesn't know how he didn't realize it before. "Um." He looks back up at his face. "I haven't watched TV in years. But... anything's fine. I don't even know what's on anymore." He's watching him still. He's forgotten about his soup.

"I jus' watch... fishin' shows," Tennessee says. He got the TV for Tallulah, really. He got a VCR, and bought a bunch of tapes he saw in the dollar bin when she was an infant - "Baby Genius" tapes, which were supposed to stimulate a baby's brain or something. And maybe it worked, because Tallulah is pretty damn smart. "There's like... Discovery Channel?" Tennessee offers, stopping on a channel with a giraffe chewing boredly on leaves.

Charlie tips his head to the side and looks at the TV, squinting at it a bit. Someone's narrating, but he's finding it hard to focus on. He shakes his head. "Nah." He remembers his soup and takes another bite, then looks at Tennessee again. "Do you fish?"

"When I get a chance," Tennessee says, going up a few more channels to land on a gardening show. He looks over at Charlie, and nods towards his soup. "Come on, skinny, eat. Else you're gona fall through the cracks in my floor an' I won't be able to find you." As he speaks, he folds a tiny little pink flannel cowboy shirt.

Charlie smiles and looks at his soup. He wants to ask about Tennessee's daughter, but it's probably too personal. He eats slowly, letting each bite settle before he takes the next. It's warming him, making him sleepy. He takes a long sip from his orange juice and rests his hand on his stomach. He's full, but he hasn't even finished his soup. His stomach has shrunk down to next to nothing. He reaches for the spoon and takes another bite to make Tennessee happy. "What do you do? For work?"

"I work at an auto shop. Fixin' cars," Tennessee says, setting the little stuffed whale down on top of his daughter's pile of clothes. "S'what I'm good at, an' I didn't go to school for nothin'."

Charlie smiles. "I bet you look handsome doing that." He looks down at the whale for a long moment. He really really wants to ask. He pulls his eyes away from it after a moment, looking at his soup. "I'm not any good at fixing things. I'm not much good at... at much." He shrugs a shoulder and takes another bite. Almost finished.

"You could be good at fixin' things, if you learned. An' I think you're good at plenty. Real good at bein' pretty," Tennessee says, grinning over at Charlie. "See, people expect to be naturally good at shit, but you gotta learn. My pa, he taught me to fish n' hunt, to play cards, to fix shit. I'd be no damn good at nothin' if it weren't for him. You jus' gotta learn, an' you can do anything. It's a matter of bein' man enough to admit you don't know how. Ain't no shame in that."

Charlie's eyes are lowered. He tips his bowl toward him and gathers the last bite of soup. There it is again, right on the tip of his brain. He's no good at being a prostitute. He doesn't know anything about it. He can't... "I don't know how to give a blowjob." It takes him a moment to realize he's actually said it out loud. He freezes for a moment, hand on his orange juice, and then slowly picks it up and carefully finishes it off. "Thank you for the soup."

"Sure thing, peaches," Tennessee says, watching Charlie as he speaks. He tilts his head, biting his lip for a moment and then letting it slide free. "S'alright, that you don't know how to do that," Tennessee says. "I mean, you ain't born with it programmed into your head, no one is. Don't work that way. But you ain't gotta worry about that tonight, 'cause tonight, you're gona get some rest an' try to feel better. When you're feelin' better, we'll... we'll talk about that, alright?"

Charlie's blushing. It's apparent, even with the fever. He's paying a lot of attention to the gardening show. He sniffles, wiping his nose on the sleeve of the coat he's still wearing, and then coughs. He doesn't nod, doesn't acknowledge that that exchange just happened. "Oh, I like daffodils."

Tennessee laughs a bit, and he folds the last thing in the sack - a pair of teeny pink socks. He leans in and kisses the corner of Charlie's mouth, then stands up taking the tray. He balances it in one hand, grabs a box of tissues and sets them next to Charlie with the other, and then heads into the kitchen to dump the tray in the sink. He comes back into the living room, moves in close to Charlie and unbuttons his coat, pushing it off gently and then wrapping the warm brown quilt from his sofa around him. It smells like Tennessee - aftershave and grass. He kisses Charlie's lips, lingering there for a moment. "Lay down an' try to sleep, okay? I'm gona sit here an' watch some fishin', alright?"

Charlie nods. He's tired. The germs and the soup and the sticky purple medicine have him all worn out. He licks his lips, tasting where Tennessee had kissed. He starts to lay back down, then lifts his head again. He looks at Tennessee and shifts, turning and lying down with his head on Tennessee's thigh. He curls up tight, wound up in the quilt, and sighs.

Tennessee runs his fingers through Charlie's curls, rubbing at his scalp slowly, stroking his hair. He tilts his head against the back of the sofa and closes his own eyes. He likes Charlie, wishes he could help this poor lost boy. Wishes that instead of teaching him about sex and blowjobs, he could keep him this way - sweet and warm and safe. But he'll only make it worse. He deserves to keep Charlie even less than he deserves to have Tallulah. He strokes Charlie's hair gently until he's soothed asleep, and soon enough Tennessee passes out himself with Charlie's head pillowed in his lap.

* * *

Tennessee doesn't particularly want to wake up. He's tired, and his neck aches. He groans, shifting slightly, tilting his neck the other way and feeling it creak. "Mmmfuck," he grumbles, squeezing his eyes shut tight. His hand is tangled in Charlie's hair, but he doesn't quite make the connection yet, dragging his fingers into a fist.

It tugs on Charlie's hair, waking him up. "Mm?" It's immediately followed by a fit of coughing that makes him sit up. He opens his eyes once he's finished, looking around. It takes him a moment to figure out where he is. He tips his head back to look at Tennessee upside down, then drops back down, putting his head on his thigh again and pulling his blanket up. "Mm."

Tennessee stirs, looking down at Charlie. "Mmhm," he mumbles sleepily. "I'll make breakfast in a minute, baby. My neck... neck hurts real bad."

Charlie opens his eyes again and pushes himself up. He sniffles and reaches for the tissues, blowing his nose and setting the tissue on the pile of tissues on the table, and then sits up fully, looking at Tennessee. He scratches his head and then slides a hand behind his neck, rubbing it.

Tennessee lets out a sort-of growl, leaning towards Charlie's touch, nearly sinking into Charlie's lap. "Oo, darlin', thas' real nice," he growls, low and throaty. "Mmm...hmm." He's very pleased.

Charlie's rather thin and frail-looking, but he has strong hands. Capable fingers. They knead into the back of Tennessee's neck, seeking out little knots and tense spots, pressing to them. He shuts his eyes, leaning his head against his arm, not quite able to stay fully upright for long. He sniffs and clears his throat.

Tennessee pushes Charlie back on the sofa, sinking into him, curling up behind him, wrapping his arms around Charlie and pulling him in to fit back-to-chest, nuzzling at the back of Charlie's neck. "Takin' good care o' me, peaches," he purrs and kisses a line up the back of Charlie's neck. "Ain't you sweet."

Charlie smiles, eyes still closed, feeling so small and safe all wrapped up in Tennessee's strong arms. "Mmm." It's a bit of a growl, low because of his sore throat. He snuggles back against Tennessee and sighs, unable to chase that smile from his lips. "I think you have it backwards."

"Backwards? I think I got it just right," Tennessee murmurs, lips against Charlie's neck. "How you feelin', beautiful? Any better? Can I keep you 'till you're all better?"

He sighs. He wants him to. He wants to be kept. But if he's not making money... He coughs a bit violently, then clears his throat and settles back against Tennessee again. "I'm okay." His head feels heavy, but he knows he would be worse if he'd slept outside. He sniffles. "You keep hanging around, you're gonna get sick too. And then what will we do?"

"I don't get sick, baby," Tennessee murmurs. "Made o' steel. Ain't nothin' gets me. 'Cept if you walk out that door, my heart'll jus' break to pieces."

Charlie bites his lip, smiling a bit in spite of himself. This is so bad. He shouldn't stay with Tennessee. He'll fall in love with him. He already is, a little. "But... I have to... I have to work. I can't just..." He swallows a bit painfully. "I have to work, you know?" He doesn't, really. If he's staying with Tennessee, getting fed, staying warm with him, he doesn't really need to work. He wouldn't have anything he'd need to spend money on. He just knows how dangerous this is, lying here in Tennessee's arms.

"What do you gotta work for? You savin' up for a trip to the Bahamas? Gotta pay off your mortgage?" Tennessee says, and nips gently at the side of Charlie's neck. "You can eat my food. An' I'll pay you before you leave."

"You can't do that. You can't pay me for taking care of me while I'm sick." He sniffles, then gives a bit of a cough, shuddering with it. He licks his lips. "I'm gross." It sounds rather pathetic, a little pleading, as if begging for Tennessee to tell him he's gross and send him away.

"You're gorgeous, peaches," Tennessee says quietly, shaking his head. "An'... I ain't gona be payin' you for takin' care o' you. I'm payin' to keep you. You're mine as long as I'm payin', right? I can do whatever I want with you?"

"I... yes." Charlie opens his eyes, looking across the room at the television set without really seeing it. "I guess so. Yeah."

"Good. Then don't argue with me," Tennessee murmurs, and nips at Charlie's neck again gently. "I'm keepin' you. You wana go back to sleep, darlin'?"

Charlie's eyes drift closed again. "Mm." He could stay like this for forever, cradled like this, cared for. He opens his eyes suddenly and takes a breath, squirming in Tennessee's arm, wriggling around to face him more or less. "Someone has to tell Nicci." As if Tennessee will understand exactly what he's saying.

"Who?" Tennessee says, frowning slightly. "What? Oh. Can you... call them?" He lifts his hand to touch Charlie's cheek, and then pushes his curls off of his forehead and kisses his brow.

Charlie's forehead is still a bit warm. He still has a small fever. He closes his eyes at the kiss, then opens them again to look at Tennessee. He shakes his head. "He doesn't have a phone. He's... he's like me. He'll worry if he doesn't see me for a few days. He knows I'm sick, and I don't... I don't want him to worry."

Tennessee nods, but he doesn't want to let Charlie go out this way. Doesn't want to run the risk of him not coming back. "How... how would you tell him? Could I take you to him or something?"

Charlie sniffles. He moves close to Tennessee, cuddling against him, his thin arms folded up between their chests. "I could..." he doesn't want to go out. Not really. "Um." He can feel Tennessee's heartbeat, deep and steady. It almost lulls him back to sleep. He opens his eyes and moves back a bit. "There's a boy... someone he... he visits. He's a writer. His name is Nef... Neftali. I could maybe call him. Do you have a phone book? I don't know his last name, but..." He shrugs a bit.

Tennessee laughs softly, lifting his brows. "Well then how do you guys usually get in touch with each other? Smoke signals?"

Their method is a bit flawed, based mostly on chance. Charlie furrows his brow, trying to think. It's an adorable little look, mouth pouted slightly. "We usually run into each other-- on the board walk usually."

"Peaches... you're too sick to go wanderin' around," Tennessee murmurs. "A little worryin' ain't gona hurt him, but it'd hurt you to go out there like this."

Charlie pouts a bit more. "But he's... he's my best friend. I would worry, if he disappeared. If you go out, will you keep an eye out for him? He's like of little, and he wears a big coat and tight jeans and he has dark hair and dark eyes and a pierced tongue and he's... he's really nice."

Tennessee nods, lifting his hand to brush away Charlie's curls again. "Alright." But it sounds like every other boy he sees hooking in the bars or on the boardwalk - all those feral-eyed things, dark and vicious. "Go back to sleep, darlin'."

Charlie licks his chapped lips and closes his eyes, curling in close to Tennessee again, letting himself be swallowed up by his protective, capable arms. He nods and sighs softly. Tennessee will find Nicci and let him know that he's okay. Maybe Nicci will come by and see him. He turns his face and kisses Tennessee's neck softly. It's sweet, adoring. He settles in, feeling his heart beat against him, and lets himself drift back to sleep.