Title: The Little Match Boy
Warnings: Byron being crazy and drunk, major angst
Summary: For the kinkmeme prompt for fairy tales Watchmen style (or Watchmen fairy tale style). This is The Little Match Girl retold with Byron & Bill. Against, a repost from the kinkmeme, so apologies if you've already seen it.
Nelly takes the bottle out of his hand with a gentle You’ve had enough, Byron, but he hasn’t had enough, not yet. He doesn’t know how many bottles he’s gone through since Bill’s death (how long has it been- fourteen years, fifteen? He doesn’t remember), hundreds, likely, but it’s never enough to stifle the cold that clings to him like a January wind, biting and penetrative and transforming every warm memory he has into ugly, lifeless things. Just one more drink, he knows, one more will do it, but Nelly is taking the bottle and fitting a lock on the cabinet door and he stumbles forward, begging. He’ll pay him, of course- his family’s bourgeoisie money has to be good for something- and he’s clawing at his own hips before he remembers his costume doesn’t have pockets. There is something there, though, tucked under the strap on his thigh and he pulls it out, hopeful. A box of matches, rattling quietly. He thrusts it at Nelly, an almsman’s offering, please, please, it’s all he has for now but he can give him more later. A box of matches for a drink, please, he needs this, but Nelly pushes him away. Go home, Byron, and he shuts the door behind him- leaves him alone with an empty office and a locked cabinet and his own inebriation that is just not goddammed enough.
Home. He can’t go there. To an empty house and an empty bed and photographs that look like Bill and smile like Bill but they’re empty too, and the cold there is just as bad- no, worse, because there the carcasses of his memories freeze and harden until they have edges, brutal geometries of wind-and-water-sharpened ice that wound when he gets too close.
No, home is not an option, so he slumps in the corner, pulling his knees to his chest. The office is dark, though he doesn’t remember turning off the light, and he can’t stop his hands from shaking. The matchbox is still in his hand, and it’s a distraction, something to keep him away from his cold, cold mind and that damned liquor cabinet that he just might break his hand trying to tear open. He drags a match across the bumpy plane, scrraactch, and the head flares to life in a rush of sulfur and orange light. It’s warm, and his hand shakes just a little less as the glow spreads, traveling to his wrist and up his arm and even further, permeating the fabric of his costume and suddenly the warmth isn’t coming from the tiny light in his fingers. He turns, and Bill is there, blue eyes and soft hair and it’s just like he’s seen before, all the times he’s been broken enough to reach out to the dark, dangerous past and pull back whatever he can hold, except this time he is so very, very warm.
Too warm suddenly, burning, and Byron drops the match as the flame hits his finger. But the sting is nothing compared to the void beside him, all the more dark and chilling because he can still feel the heat that pressed against his side and he was really there. He fumbles with hands that are no longer shaking for another match, scrrratch, and he doesn’t move his eyes from that spot as he does it. The light spills across the void and Bill's there, ethereal in the glow.
Byron, the voice so heartbreakingly familiar resonating from right there and a thousand miles away.
“Oh god, Bill, Bill…”
A sharp sting, a dropped match, and he’s alone again.
No hesitation this time, sccrratch, and Byron can breathe again because he’s back, smiling. The only person who ever really loved him, and the only one who sparked a fire in his chest that burned and burned so hot and bright that it was almost painful.
It’s good to see you again.
“Bill, I need you so much. I-”
I know, Byron. I’m here.
“You’re here. Yes, you’re-”
And he can’t stop whimpering his name, “Bill, Bill, Bill-” over and over as he reaches for that heat and feels it and even when the match goes out his skin is tingling with it, so real, so there.
More matches this time, as many as his singed fingers can hold, sccraatch, the heads igniting in tandem until the orange aura shines like daylight, and Bill has never looked more beautiful than he does now.
“Oh please, don’t leave me. I can’t...I...When the matches go out...”
I can stay, but not yet. First you have to let go.
You have to-
Let go. That what they’ve been telling him, let him go, he’s gone, it’s been three years, six, ten, twelve, a refrain delivered in a predictable meter and with all the appropriate rests and breaths, but always repeating, a circling canon, until the harmonies clash and the words lose all meaning- and he’s never been able to do it because he hears underneath the concern the second melody of impatience, of frayed nerves and the need to just get back to normal.
But Bill is not them, and his voice is clear and singular so he must mean something else, something-
Scrraatch. It’s the last match.
“Bill, I want to be with you-” and something inside him is starting to warm.
“I want to, so much-” and heat is rising, churning as it touches the cold already there.
“I will, for you, if you’ll just stay-” and the two fronts mix, a new, violent meteorology building just over the horizon.
Byron, I love you.
And suddenly the bitter wind is in motion, scouring through him with cyclonic fury and sweeping up every withered leaf of a memory, every piercing shard of the past until, bloated with the detritus, it pours out of him, taking with it everything he was, everything he’d become. He’s shaking again, frightened, but Bill’s blue eyes reflecting flecks of golden matchlight are there and they hold him steady- and when it’s over the light sweeps inward, filling him as the alcohol never could, seeping into every gouge and tear the last fifteen years have inflicted on him and burning with the intensity of a new-formed star.
The match goes out, and Bill is still there.
The next morning they find him curled against the wall with the cinders of spent matches scattered around him like bodies after a storm, and he’s not sure he knows who they are but he smiles at them anyway. They ask about the matches, and he explains that they brought Bill there. They look worried but it’s okay because he knows they don’t see, and he tells them.
When the men in the white coats come they don’t see either and they take him away because they don’t believe. But that’s okay too, because Bill says he can come with him and he’ll always be there and Byron knows it’s true.
Because no matter how godlessly dark it gets, and it does, and no matter how much that flaying wind tries to claw at him, and it does- Bill is always there.