nilchance: Picture of a pomegranate with spilled seeds, text "I think you're confused, I'm not Persephone" (Default)
[personal profile] nilchance
Title: That Middle Road (31/48)
Author: nilchance
Pairing: Misha Collins/Jeremy Sisto
Rating: Adult
Disclaimer: This isn't real.
A/N: Set in poisontaster's A Kept Boy 'verse. This story deals with mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, and with slavery as used in the AKB 'verse. There's also mention of rape, suicide, institutionalization and self-harm. And polyamory. And kink. And a partridge in a pear tree.

This chapter is entangled with Chapter 67 of poisontaster's excellent fic A Kept Boy. I recommend that you read her version first, because it details more of the actual dinner / conversation. Basically my version is from the Jeremy and Misha angle.



Misha looks over the Trust files three times. Once in front of Jeremy, who hands him the stack after his explanation and seems to expect that Misha wants to examine it. Misha does, and then asks if they considered encrypting it. Jeremy looks a little skeptical, then thoughtful.

The fireproof safe won’t help much if someone has a warrant, Misha says.

“If somebody has a warrant, we’re already fucked,” Jeremy says. Then he sits down and peers at the papers over Misha’s shoulder. If anybody else tried that, Misha would’ve elbowed them in the stomach a few times (by “accident”). “What kind of ciphers?”

The second and third time they go over it together because they're arguing about ciphers.

“Escrow isn’t exactly known for mathematic skills.”

They don’t need to know math, they just need to enter the data into a rot-13 generator. An intern could solve it in an hour even if you include a bathroom break. A keyed Vigenere cipher is much better. Jeremy’s cell rings in the middle of his sentence; Misha adds, I can’t get that for you.

“Funny.” Jeremy picks up the phone. Regrettably, he rolls his chair a polite distance away. “Hey.”

Misha rolls his eyes. Minimalism in action.

Immediately, Misha knows Jeff is on the phone, because Jeremy sits up straighter. Whatever Jeff says makes Jeremy frown. Misha resists the urge to lean closer and attempt to eavesdrop.

“Wow, that sucks. Fuck her... yeah, sounds like a reality show in the making.” Pause. “I’m just saying, your mom’s probably sold the rights. Are You Good Enough for My Son: the Answer Is Always No. It could go straight to syndication-- okay, it’s a little funny. Mostly it sucks.” Pause. “Dude, I’ll be there. Ethopian?”

Muffled reply from Jeff. Jeremy makes agreeing noises and hangs up without saying goodbye. Then he turns a long look on Misha.

After a long couple seconds, Misha asks, what?

“I’m thinking about taking you to dinner.”

Misha raises his eyebrows. We go to dinner sometimes. I’m not much company on the floor. Tonight?

“No, in a couple days. A Trust meeting. I already showed you all the paperwork.”

There’s a difference between that and bringing me to an actual meeting. I haven’t been part of your group for long. A month, maybe.

Jeremy shrugs. “I trust you. With my life. Which, by the way, you literally saved. So fuck them. They don’t have to like it.”

I don’t want you to be alienated from your friends over it.

Jeremy snorts. “Zach and Wendy are already on your side. Denis, too. I think you’re kind of friends with Jensen.”

Does Denis go to these meetings? When Jeremy makes a face, Misha carefully says, did Marisa?

“No,” Jeremy says. His gaze drops to his fidgeting hands. “No, she never did.”

Which raises the question of how much she knows, but Jeremy’s already uncomfortable. Misha taps him to get his attention back, cutting off his apology with, what is the meeting about? To discuss ciphers and how wrong you are about them?

“Okay, one, I’m not wrong. Two…” Jeremy hesitates. “It’s about Jeff. He needs to get married.”

Misha blinks, then slumps back in his chair. I’ll go. I can’t resist a trainwreck.

“That’s why we’re friends,” Jeremy says, and beams.

Jeremy considers them friends. Misha feels warmth for Jeremy, but Jeremy likes him when he could have real free people instead. Misha made friends, multiple, when he hadn’t had any. Maybe he’s not so terrible at this.

It’s nice, having friends.

Tentatively, Misha smiles back.

****

Jensen looks radiant.

Jeremy takes one look at him, blinks as if sun-dazzled, then looks at the floor. “Hey, Jen. I’m going to make the rounds. Where’s Jeff?”

“He’s by Mistress Ever and Leah,” Jensen says promptly, as if Jeremy asked him where his left arm is. Of course he knows where Jeff is.

“I’m starving, I’m gonna go bother him.” Jeremy vacates the premises.

Misha squints at his back, then gives Jensen his full attention. Hi. You look happy.

“I am happy,” Jensen says, with the pleased but wary air like he’s waiting for the trap to spring. “Do you want to sit?”

I would love to sit, Misha says. A little fervently, from Jensen’s sympathetic smile and how quietly he finds them both seats.

The seats are cushions on the floor. Misha can see the intention, that slaves and masters could sit on the same level without scrutiny, but can’t say his leg appreciates it. He’d be kneeling on the floor at any restaurant, but if he’d stayed home with Denis, he’d be on a very comfortable couch right now. Jensen offers him a hand but doesn’t insist Misha take it.

Once they’re on the floor, Jensen goes to the other side of the table and sits. Misha tries not to resent the smooth way he kneels, his automatic grace. Jensen says, “I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”

No one expects the Misha inquisition. Misha glances at Jensen. That’s from--

“Monty Python,” Jensen says with him. “Jeff insisted it was part of my cultural education.”

He used that line too? Misha shakes his head. Did he try to show you the Big Lebowski?

“Yes. I think there’s a list.”

They smile at each other. Sharing a joke. Like friends, Misha thinks a little giddily, then chews the inside of his cheek. He can hear Vincent telling him to have some dignity, for God’s sake.

Misha takes out a painkiller and half a muscle relaxant; a full one and he’d be semi-conscious by the entree. He would dry swallow them, but that’s apparently too much for Jensen, because he firmly pushes a bottle of water at Misha. Ruefully, Misha accepts. Jeremy asked me to accompany him.

“It might make some people uncomfortable.”

Misha shrugs. I didn’t plan on saying anything. That was an aphasia joke, by the way.

“I got that,” Jensen says dryly. “Just being here and observing will make them more nervous.”

There’s not much I can do about that. If I talk, if I don’t, if I stay here or go home, people will be nervous. Understandably. I wouldn’t trust me. Anyway, Denis wouldn’t keep Jeremy company. He needed a bodyslave.

“It took them time to accept me. I’m not sure they have, entirely.” Jensen gives him that glowing smile again. “The only approval that matters is my m-- is Jeff’s.”

Before Misha can figure out what to say to that, Jeremy drops into the cushion beside him. “Oof. Hey. I think everybody’s getting their shit together. You had Ethiopian before?”

Misha gives him a wry look. Not to Vincent’s taste.

Jeremy grunts sympathetically. Glances at Jensen. “What do you like?”

Aw. He’s trying, even if he seems painfully awkward about it. Under the table, Misha takes his hand and squeezes it.

They order an optimistic amount of food. There’s several interruptions as people Misha doesn’t know come to talk to Jeremy. Jeremy keeps introducing Misha, who tries to remember names while avoiding conversation. He doesn’t know who knows sign. He has the notebook and pen he uses to communicate as a last resort, or Jeremy could translate, but this isn’t his venue.

Also, he has to admit that the multiple layers of conversation are bothering him. It didn’t when he was with Vincent. He read that pain and aphasia could do that. He thought (he hoped) that he was immune, that pure stubbornness could protect him. Arrogant, but true.

He feels an unwelcome moment of heartsickness. Once he could listen and converse and perhaps soften the edge of suspicion he sees in people’s sidelong glances. It shouldn’t bother him. The suspicion isn’t the problem; feeling useless is. Self-pity is.

Feelings are stupid.

Brent, the lawyer who helped structure the Trust, is a tired man with a Seattle accent. He arrives alone, which Misha gathers is some surprise. Jeremy doesn’t ask about it, and Brent returns the favor by not asking after Marisa. Awkwardness dodged. They agree that the other looks good. In Jeremy’s case, Misha thinks it’s true, but Brent seems ragged.

A blond woman in slouchy but fashionable clothes stops by their table; she’s trailing a second woman, a brunette with solemn expression and laughing eyes. The blond puts her hands on her hips like a gunslinger as she studies Misha.

“Hi, Ev,” Jeremy says, half greeting and half warning in his voice. “Good to see you. No fighting in the war room.”

“So you’re Misha,” Ever says.

Misha gives her his best benign bodyslave smile. Signs, you have me at a disadvantage.

Blatant lie. He knew enough of the Carradine branch of the Morgan family, and put together enough of mentions of Jeremy’s friends, to know she’s probably Mistress Ever Carradine. Her companion is probably Leah, a bodyslave. But he’s trying not to give the impression of knowing or seeing too much.

Leah leans close to Ever’s ear and murmurs to her. Translating sign. Ever nods and thrusts her hand out. It’s the most confrontational handshake Misha’s ever been offered, but when he accepts she’s gentle with his hand. “I’m Ever. This is Leah. I’m here to be intimidating and to try to feel you out.”

“Everybody’s pretending this is the Mafia,” Jeremy says without apparent venom. Misha might be imagining the edge of irritation beneath. “The stoner Mafia, maybe.”

Leah laughs, a surprisingly gaudy laugh for a slave. Misha likes her better for it. He leans forward to offer her a handshake, too. It makes Ever’s expression soften a little.

To Jeremy, Ever says, “You look halfway domesticated.”

Jeremy grins. “You look like you bang your cousin.”

“You look like you wanna bang my cousin,” Ever teases, and aggressively rumples Jeremy’s hair.

“Aw, c’mon!” Jeremy curls his arms around his head, defensive, glaring at her from under them. “Rude, man, do you even know how long it takes to look this good?”

“Ah, vanity, thy name is Sisto.” Ever pokes the tip of his nose. “Boop.”

“So glad we have this quality time together,” Jeremy grumbles, trying to preen his hair back into order. “Leah, rein in your woman.”

“But I like her better than you,” Leah says.

Ever curls an arm around her, resting her head on Leah’s slim shoulder. “It’s good to see you,” she tells Jeremy.

“Yeah,” Jeremy says fondly. “You too. Now go away, I’m allergic to feelings.”

“Feelings are allergic to you,” Ever says. “Nice to meet you, Misha. Consider this the shovel talk.”

Once they’ve walked away, Misha asks Jeremy, what’s the shovel talk?

Jeremy sighs. “You know. ‘If you hurt my friend, they’ll never find the body.’ Etcetera, etcetera.”

I don’t blame them for being protective of the Trust, Misha signs, meaning that he can’t blame them for being protective of Jeremy. But if she was going for intimidating, she should’ve threatened to break the other kneecap.

****

In Misha’s defense, climbing into Jeremy’s lap seems like a good idea at the time.

There were servers coming in with roasting coffee, and the conversation paused as soon as the door opened is like a glowing neon sign: shifty business here. Jeremy’s been tense all dinner, like the meeting is a tightrope he has to walk. Jeff and Jensen have been canoodling all night. The sum of these factors equals lap.

The following have no influence at all: the rolled up sleeves of Jeremy’s button-down shirt; the open top button baring a long strip of his throat; the way Jeremy absently rests his hand on Misha’s back as if to reassure himself that Misha’s still there.

Jeremy stares at Misha like a deer in the headlights. Misha wonders if people using that metaphor realize how many drivers are killed in deer-vehicle collisions. He should probably stop using car metaphors at all, given his history.

Automatically, Jeremy puts his hands on Misha’s hips to steady him. Jeremy’s thighs are surprisingly comfortable for all that they have little apparent padding.

“Um, hi,” Jeremy whispers. His eyes are wild. “What are you doing?”

Misha shrugs. When he signs, he slips a little down Jeremy’s lap; Jeremy tightens his grip on Misha’s hips. It seemed like a good idea at the time?

Incredibly, Jeremy snorts, then smothers his laugh. This doesn’t help. Misha grabs him by the shoulders. He feels like a cat who climbed some curtains and is starting to succumb to gravity.

His hip and knee are catching fire. Despite that, he doesn’t want to climb off Jeremy’s lap. He wants to just--

Okay, feelings and dicks are stupid. Duly noted.

Jeremy drops his forehead to Misha’s shoulder. There’s still a ripple of laughter in his voice as he says, low, “Oh my god, quit squirming, I’m trying not to drop you.”

This is a disaster. They are a disaster. Misha wonders if Jensen has these problems.

The server is pouring coffee like they see this every day. Jeremy lifts his head to thank them, smoothly courteous until they’re gone. Misha is still figuring out how to tell him he doesn’t know how to climb down when Jeremy just moves him without apparent effort back onto the floor.

Misha blinks at him. He feels like his face is burning hot for everyone to see, but nobody’s staring. Just another dinner. Carry on with the arranged marriage discussions, pay no attention to Misha’s public sexual revelation.

Jensen meets his eyes from across the table and raises an eyebrow. Misha resists the urge to give him the finger. Jensen’s mouth curves in a secret smile, which Misha echoes involuntarily.

****

“I got a man,” Wendy says. “I don’t need another one.”

Very softly, Jeremy laughs. There’s no humor in it, and not enough surprise. It’s a sound like a man kicked when he’s already down.

Misha glances at him sidelong, but Jeremy’s expression reveals nothing, and Misha doesn’t want to catch anyone’s attention. When Misha studies the rest of the table to see if they noticed, no one is looking. Wendy is relieved that she argued her way out of marriage. Zach seems hunched and too quiet, but he only has eyes for Wendy.

Morgan is looking away, but his jaw is tight and his body canted towards Jeremy like he’s braced to catch him.

Beneath the table, Misha taps Jeremy’s knee and fingerspells, o-k?

Jeremy shrugs, then nods. He’s enough himself to reassure and then flirt with Morgan, teasing about marriage. (Apparently Jeremy thinks flirting and snark are proof of life.) When Jensen and Misha meet eyes across the table this time, it’s with a shared and rueful affection.

Even though the marriage idea is a joke, Jeff tightens a protective arm around Jensen. Maybe it’s that that gives Jensen the confidence to snap at Kane in defense of Jeff’s care of his friends. “Are you dumb? Or just that big an asshole?”

Kane looks briefly like the fighting dog who got swatted by the sleek lapcat. Despite the spike of tension in the room, Misha has to hide his grin in his coffee cup.

Morgan pulls Jensen back, soothes him. Misha keeps an unofficial spreadsheet meant to list Morgan’s asshole behavior against the benign, and he’s not sure what column to put preventing a full-on argument in. Maybe Morgan doesn’t think Jensen would win. Then again, he let Jensen get a couple good shots in first.

Whatever the result would be, Kane puts his hackles down. His look in Misha’s direction has that leashed annoyance behind it. Misha gives him a bland expression back.

He has enough problems tonight. Kane’s distrust doesn’t even make the list.

****

The meeting ends. Some of the Trust lingers in the parking lot, but Jeremy makes excuses about a headache. Even so, it takes a minute to untangle themselves. Ever secures a lunch before she returns to San Francisco. Wendy kisses Jeremy’s cheek, apparently unaware she’d stung him.

Jeff hugs Jeremy tight before they leave; Misha can see Jeff’s lips moving close to Jeremy’s ear. Jeremy shakes his head, smiling, tight around the eyes.

Misha should touch bases with Jensen, sneak around interesting conversations being easy to overlook. But god, he’s tired, worn gray with pain. He just wants to go home where it’s quiet and curl up in bed with a book.

They drive home. Jeremy talks a lot about small things, not requiring much in the way of conversation. The food, the traffic, the time Jeremy visited Ever and Leah in San Francisco. Jeremy doesn’t talk about Wendy and Zach, or about himself.

Denis is out. Jeremy eventually runs out of meaningless words and says, “I’m wiped. Want to go to bed? I’m just gonna let Winston out and shower.”

Gratefully, Misha nods.

It’s not until after the domestic rituals of sleep have been observed that Jeremy speaks.

“I don’t know,” Jeremy says, like they’re continuing a long conversation. He’s staring at the ceiling. “Am I being weird? Does it bother me because I’m crazy?”

His arms are folded behind his head. Misha thinks about running his thumb where Jeremy’s biceps and triceps meet, where the muscle is lean and the skin is soft. He’s not sure where that thought came from.

Misha sets his book aside and taps Jeremy to get his attention.

Conversation in sign is frustrating. Needing to tap people for their attention, being unable to communicate, struggling to remember the nuances of conversations when his memory used to be nearly eidetic… frustrating is too small a word for it. But that’s not Jeremy’s fault.

Jeremy rolls on his side, facing Misha so their bodies are mirrored. “Sorry. What?”

Does it matter why it bothers you? Misha asks. It bothers you.

“I’m not going to go off the rails again. It’s not like when Marisa left. The meds are working, and…” Jeremy exhales through his teeth. “I’m doing better.”

Misha nods. If I thought you were going in the desert again, I’d probably slash your tires. I’m out of Ambien.

“Thanks.” Jeremy gives him that crooked smile. “I’m not gonna ask if you’re kidding.”

You’re doing better, Misha says. You seem happier, at least compared to when I first met you. I don’t know about before.

He doesn’t say the following:
- Wendy said something that’s primed to hurt you, after she’s known you this long, so it was either accidental and careless or purposeful and cruel;
- of course it fucking hurt your feelings;
- you were already upset about Jeff getting married and loving Jensen;
- why was Morgan the only other one who noticed that you flinched;
- you deserve better, you epic dumbass.

That probably wouldn’t be helpful. He doesn’t know the line between confidante, bodyslave, therapist and friend. Vincent did not welcome Misha’s sympathy. Jeremy probably wouldn’t welcome it from Denis, who had been his bodyslave before.

“You’re thinking loudly,” Jeremy says.

Damn, Misha thought his poker face was impenetrable. If only that worked. I could skip ASL and avoid carpal tunnel.

Jeremy’s mouth twitches like he’s trying not to laugh, although Misha can’t figure out why. “That’d be a shame. What were you thinking about?”

Misha is planning to sign a breezy dismissal, but what he says is, that my knee hurts. That I wanted to hug you since the restaurant, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted to.

Immediately Jeremy shifts closer and puts an arm around Misha, a warm and heavy band across his ribs. His hair is in Misha’s face, the scent of roast coffee like a ghost of their night. Misha presses his forehead to Jeremy’s shoulder, wanting to savor the moment before it ends, but Jeremy doesn’t immediately let him go.

“You can always ask for that,” Jeremy says.

Misha hides his smile against Jeremy’s shoulder. He thinks he shares both Jensen’s happiness and his wariness about it, like the world might fall down if he feels it too hard.

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