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DISCLAIMER: The following stories are all non-profit, amateur efforts not intended to infringe on the rights of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, David Geffen, Warner Brothers, Geffen Pictures, Knopf, Randomhouse, the city of New Orleans, the U.S. Consititution, any copyright holders that I might not have thought of or even a certain author who shall remain nameless but who has a set of initials which are, coincidentally enough, just one letter off from spelling "B.S."

Jerome, Year 1, a 'tweener spec
by the Brat Queen

Immortality Awards:
Second Place: Best Original Character '95-'96

Reader's Choice:
Winner: Best Original Character '95-'96


Jerome leaned against the bar and sipped his beer as he watched the early night crowd leave and the late night crowd move in. He didn't like the late night crowd. They were louder, drunker and meaner than those who could put their beers and whiskeys away by midnight and go home, wherever that was. The late night crowd had no home. They roamed from bar to bar, stopping only when the sun rose and there was too much alcohol in their blood for them to go on. Then the sun would set and they'd stagger awake and start it all over again.

*And I get to be part of all this magic.* he thought as he adjusted the lenses on one of his cameras. He was doing a piece for a local magazine. "Biker Nightlife" they called it. It was a big joke to them. Go out and photograph the fat, drunk, tattooed bikers and bring the nicer pictures home for their yuppie readers to look at from the safety of their condos and pretend that they were actually part of it all. Nevermind that there was a story behind every piece. That every tattoo held a memory, every bike was a lover, every drink a friend.

They tolerated him, in these bars. He'd gotten to be like a mascot to them. They'd come over, barely standing and slur in his ear "Hey, Jeremey, commere and taka picture of this!" He'd smile and point and click, laughing along with them. He'd learned early on to destroy the film once he got home. No one wanted to see these pictures. Instead he took the pictures they wanted to see. The big shiny bikes, the smoke-filled bars, the endless pool games. He'd send those pictures back. It was more than they would ever need.

Jerome flicked a lock of dark brown hair out of his eyes and signaled for Allen, the bartender, to bring him another drink. Allen was an old friend of his. They'd gone to high school together. It was Allen who encouraged him to practice his photography, Allen who stood by him as he tried to finish high school, Allen who took care of him when his parents threw him out of the house. Allen looked like he belonged here with his long, dusty blond hair, muscular frame with only a hint of alcohol softness and a badly-done home tattoo on his forearm. Jerome looked like he belonged inside of a classroom at Harvard with a tweed jacket on his back and a pair of glasses in front of his chocolate brown eyes. But Jerome didn't know of that life. He only knew of photography and the bars and a boss who found the idea of sending the cub photographer out to take pictures of the "Hell's Saints or whatever ya call 'em." hysterically funny.

"Long night?" Allen asked as he placed a new beer in front of him.

"Yeah," Jerome said. He took a deep swallow of the icy cold draft. "I was down at Joker's last night. I figured it would be quiet what with Goldie gone."

"No go?"

Jerome shook his head. "Nah. Rick showed up in one of his usual fits and nearly tore the place apart. I hate 3am crowds."

Allen nodded sympathetically. "Don't worry about it. Pretty soon you can send that film in to that ass boss of yours and get back to the stuff you really like."

"I know," Jerome said. "But you can't fault me for dreaming now can you?"

Allen grinned. "You bet," he said and disappeared down to the end of the bar to serve a customer.

Jerome checked the time. He wanted more than anything to just go home and crash but he knew he would have to stay longer if he was going to catch the whole crowd. Ivan, a regular at Allen's bar and one who Jerome knew he could take a picture of and send it back to the office, only came in on late Thursday nights. Without a picture of Ivan, it might become painfully obvious that Jerome had avoided taking snapshots of actual people. That was something he knew his boss would not understand.

But Ivan had yet to show up. Jerome stayed where he was.

Jerome watched as the crowd moved back and forth. Old people moved out and new people moved in and it almost seemed that the door to the bar never closed in the tide of late night people whose faces all melted into one formless shape in the dim barroom light.

Jerome almost didn't see him walk in.

He saw him by accident. A new face, to this crowd anyway. He'd seen him last night at Joker's. Pale and thin and dressed entirely in black leather save for a bandanna in his hair and a silver chain in one ear. Mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes.

Last night at Joker's, he'd caused a minor stir in the late night crowd. He'd walked in, took one look at the place, then made straight for the back room.

Jerome knew that back room. In the old days, when he was younger, he'd been afraid to go back there. He knew the kind who hung out there, a perpetual late night crowd who never once recovered a look of sanity in their eyes.

Hours had passed before Jerome couldn't help himself any longer and he went to take a look at the back room himself. The new face was there. He was pressed against the pool table, clothes undone with his eyes shut as one of the Joker's regulars put his hands all over him. From the looks of the others in the room, he hadn't been the first.

Jerome had left quickly.

The new face took one of the seats at the bar and nodded silently as a waitress put a drink in front of him. He wasn't sitting too far from Jerome and he could see the fine details, the high cheekbones, the soft lips, the delicate hands. Jerome felt a sick feeling in his stomach as one of Allen's late night crowd came up to this new face, whispered something in his ear and the two of them disappeared in the crowd.

Allen's had no back room, but Jerome was not so naive as to think the parking lot was sacred territory. He swallowed the rest of his drink. Ivan appeared then and Jerome spent the rest of the night coaxing him into humorous stances that would make his boss proud. He drank a lot of beer that night.

It was five in the morning when Jerome was finally able to call it quits. He'd taken enough pictures of Ivan to fill a whole story and Allen was starting to do his first last call. Jerome lived in one of the apartment buildings in the lot behind the bar and he cut through the back alley to get to it. He was about to step through the chain-link fence when the sound of arguing stopped him.

"But me and my friend were just--"

"I don't care, move on!"

Jerome rounded the corner and saw the source of the arguing. A police officer had apparently come upon one of the late nighters from the bar. The new face was there as well, leaning against the fence and looking slightly ill but saying nothing. Jerome knew this officer, though. He patrolled this area regularly and often helped Allen get rid of the more undesirable elements. This late nighter, he knew, was one of them.

The late nighter looked up and saw him. "Jack!" he called, his voice sounding more sober than he looked. "C'mere. Tell 'im yer a frend a mine."

The cop looked at him as well. "Is that true, Jerome? Do you know these two?"

Jerome was about to answer when the new face turned and looked at him. His glasses were off and Jerome could see that he had the most stunning green eyes. There was a sadness in those eyes so old and so deep that Jerome wanted to cry for it.

"No," Jerome said. He cleared his throat. "At least, not *him*. I do know this one though." He went up to the new face and put his arm around him. The new face leaned against him, drunkenly, his face flushed. "Come on, John. We were supposed to be back home hours ago."

"Ok," the cop said. "But you keep an eye on him, you hear?"

"Will do," Jerome said as he led the new face home. "We'll behave ourselves, right, John?"

"Yes," the new face whispered, "Lestat."

It was after sunset when the new face opened his eyes. Finding him too drunk to trust him to stay on the couch, Jerome had put him in his bed and took the couch for himself. Jerome had been up for a while before the new face came around. He sat down in the chair next to the bed, polishing one of his camera lenses, watching as the new face slept. He looked paler than he had last night and, if it was possible, even more painfully beautiful. Jerome found it hard to take his eyes off him until his eyes opened and regarded him in return.

"Where am I?" the new face said.

"My place," Jerome said. "We're right behind Allen's, the bar you were at last night. I can show you if you like." He moved to open the curtains but the new face hissed and covered his eyes.

"Don't," he said. "Not if the sun is up. Please."

"Oh yeah, hangover. I forgot," Jerome said. He let the curtain go and went back to his camera lenses. "There's aspirin in the medicine cabinet if you want it. The bathroom's right over there."

"Maybe later," the new face said. He sat up in the bed and ran a hand down his chest. "Where's my jacket?"

"Over here," Jerome said, holding it up. "You didn't think I would take a stranger into my place without checking him out for weapons or drugs first did you?"

"There are more deadly things on this earth than weapons or drugs," came the reply. "Where's the bike?"

Jerome assumed he meant the enormous Harley that the new face had rode in on. "It's in Allen's lot," he said. "You can see it from here if you want."

"Good."

"Glad you like it," Jerome said. He held his camera up to his eye and fixed it on the other man.

The green eyes grew cold. "No pictures."

"Don't worry about it," Jerome said. He turned the camera around and flipped the back open to show the insides. "There's no film."

The green eyes relaxed a little. "No pictures," he repeated. "Ever."

"I won't," Jerome said, putting the camera down. "I know better than to take a picture of a John."

"John," he said it softly. "You called me that last night, didn't you? Why?"

Jerome reached into the leather jacket and pulled out the wallet inside, opening it as he did so. "No ID," he said. "John Doe."

"Oh," he said. He got up from the bed and made his way towards the bathroom. "Nevermind that. My name--you can call me Louis."

"Ok, Louis," Jerome said as the bathroom door shut.

He waited in the bedroom, listening to the sound of water running until Louis came back out. He'd taken a shower and was rubbing his wet hair with a towel.

"Do you have a comb that I might use?" he asked.

"Top drawer," Jerome said, indicating the bureau. He watched as Louis brought the comb through his inky black hair. He frowned, suddenly, noticing something. "Didn't you have an earring last night?"

Louis stopped and held a hand up to his ear. "I must have lost it." He continued combing his hair.

Jerome wanted to question him about the lack of a hole in his ear for the earring to go in, but decided against it. "So," he said. "Who's Lestat?"

Louis froze. "Where did you hear that name?"

"Last night, you said it when you were drunk."

Louis looked at him for a moment, then turned away. "He owns the bike." was all he said. He put the comb down and searched through his jacket for the bandanna.

"Leaving already?"

"Is there a reason why I should stay?"

"Is there one why you should go?"

Louis wouldn't look him in the eye.

"Look, Louis, I know this is none of my business, but if you're in trouble, if you need a place to stay, you can crash here if you like."

"What makes you think I'm in trouble?" Louis asked.

Jerome shrugged. "I've seen a lot of guys like you. You're all running from something. I'm just offering you a pit stop."

Louis finally looked at him. "Why?" he asked, softly. "You don't even know me."

Jerome looked away and put his hand to the back of his neck to hide the blush that came creeping up into his hair. "No reason," he said. "I just think you deserve better than those creeps over at Joker's. You need someone to take care of you."

Jerome felt his heart leap into his throat as Louis lay his hand on his cheek. "And you? You would take care of me?"

"Maybe," Jerome said. He began to say more but Louis silenced him with a long, soft kiss.

"I don't even know your name," Louis said when the kiss was finally broken. He pulled Jerome out of the chair and ran his hands along his back, moving closer to the bed as he spoke.

"Jerome," he replied, kissing Louis in return and loving the feel of his firm muscles underneath his fingers.

"Jerome," Louis whispered, his French accent rounding the syllables. "Jerome, I can't... make love... perform like other men do."

"I don't care," Jerome said, laying Louis down on the bed. "I just want you."

"And I want you," Louis murmured. "Jerome."

Louis quickly removed Jerome's clothes and Jerome felt his body burn with desire as Louis' hands and mouth traveled over him. With shaking hands, he undid the laces of Louis' leather pants and tried to reciprocate the actions but Louis shook his head.

"No," he whispered. "Kiss me, on the lips. That's what I need."

Jerome complied and was delighted in Louis' moan of pleasure. "Oui," Louis said, kissing him on the neck. "Like that."

Jerome continued to kiss and caress him, trembling as he felt Louis writhe beneath him. "You like this?" he asked breathlessly.

"I love it," Louis replied. He gently pushed Jerome back onto the bed, kissing him on the mouth, their tongues entwined. "Do you?"

"Yes," Jerome said. He shut his eyes as Louis ran his fingers through his hair, slowly pulled his head back and kissed him on the neck so deeply that he cried out in his true and final ecstasy.

They lay together quietly in the darkness.

Jerome jumped a little, startled out of his half sleep, when he felt Louis' hand upon his back.

"I can stay?" he asked, his breath tickling Jerome's ear. "Truly?"

Jerome reached behind him and took Louis's hand in his. "If you want. I have to warn you though, I keep crazy hours. With this latest job I have, I hardly ever see the light of day."

He felt Louis smile against his back. "That's fine," he said. "Neither do I."

Louis stayed true to his word as the next few days passed. He did not follow Jerome as he went to the bars. He didn't want to deal with "those people" anymore, he said, but he was there in the apartment everytime Jerome got back.

He got things for Jerome. Food mostly. He found Jerome's refrigerator woefully understocked and was forever coming home with take out food or delivered pizza. They didn't eat together. Jerome would ask him if he wanted any and Louis would decline, saying he had already eaten and would point to empty containers in the trash can to prove it. But he loved to watch Jerome eat. He would order the most outrageous combinations of pizza toppings then watch, fascinated, as Jerome wolfed it down.

"You like that?" he once asked.

"Don't you?" Jerome replied. "Didn't you have the same thing?"

"My dinner was... simpler," Louis said. He smiled then, dazzlingly, and changed the subject to what movie they would watch on the VCR.

He let Jerome pick the movies. He didn't mind, he said. All he wanted was to be close to Jerome. So Jerome would choose the film and Louis would curl up on the couch next to him, nibbling on his ear or stroking his thigh and neither of them would pay that much attention to the movie in the end.

Jerome couldn't get back to the apartment quickly enough in those first few nights. He would come bounding up the stairs, a package in his hand, and Louis would greet him at the door, kiss him then tear open the package to reveal a new shirt or a band for his hair or whatever else Jerome had seen while he was out that reminded him of Louis.

He loved the sight of Louis' smile.

There were some things, though, that were not all right and as the nights passed, they got worse. Louis slept so restlessly during the day. Sometimes he would shake and cry out in his sleep. One night he came home to what he thought was an empty apartment but as soon as he turned the radio on--it was playing Coltrane--Louis appeared out of nowhere and shut it off.

"Hey!" Jerome was furious. He'd had a long night at the bars and a headache from all the smoke.

"Don't," Louis said. "Don't start."

"You're the one who's starting this," Jerome said. "Can't I listen to my own radio in my own apartment?"

"Fine," Louis said. "Listen to the damn thing all you want."

He stormed out of the apartment, leaving Jerome behind. Jerome sulked in the apartment for a bit, then, when he didn't return, went out after him.

He found him in the parking lot behind Allen's. He was polishing the huge, black Harley. He watched him in silence for a while. Watched as Louis carefully let the cloth rub each surface to a shiny consistency.

"You must really like this Lestat guy to take such good care of his bike," he said.

Louis didn't look up. "He's a good man," he said, staring at his reflection in the bike. "Better than I deserve, I think."

"I can't think of anyone who's better than you deserve, Louis," Jerome said.

Louis looked at him, his green eyes unreadable in the moonlight. "Oh, Jerome," he whispered. He put the cloth down and kissed Jerome. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Jerome said. He put his arms around Louis. "We're both in a bad mood, it's no big deal."

"I'm sorry," Louis said again. He seemed so small, suddenly, as though he were a little child. He wrapped his arms around Jerome tightly and lay his head on his shoulder. "Can we go back upstairs now?"

"Sure," Jerome said. He took Louis by the hand and led him back to the apartment. Not caring anymore about the radio or dinner, they went straight to bed and made love for the rest of the night.

It was their sixth night together. It was also their last.

"Don't touch me!" Louis snarled as he leapt from the bed. "Get off me!"

"Louis, I--"

"Don't come near me!" Louis stood in the corner by the window and wrapped his arms so tightly around himself that the skin he clutched became even paler by comparison.

Jerome got up from the bed slowly and held his hands out so Louis could see them. "It's ok, Louis. You had a nightmare."

"I don't *have* nightmares," Louis said. "I don't need to."

"Ok then, Louis, please, sit down. It's ok." Jerome walked towards Louis but stopped as he saw that Louis was trying to back away, even though he was right up against the wall. "Louis?"

"I have to go," Louis said. Tears began to stream down his face. He ignored them. "I have to go now."

In a blur Louis grabbed his pants and jacket and threw them on. He quickly laced up his boots, took up his traveling bag and headed for the door.

"What, now? For good?" Jerome ran after him and grabbed him by the shoulder, holding him back. "Louis, please, what is it? Is it me? Is it Lestat?"

"Let me go, Jerome," Louis whispered. He put his sunglasses on but Jerome could still see the tears streaming down his face. They looked red in the light of the setting sun. "Please, Jerome, let me go. I have to *go*. Please, I don't want to hurt you." And then, more softly, he added. "Anymore."

Stunned, Jerome silently let go. Louis tossed his bag over his shoulder and walked out the door. He only paused at the door long enough to whisper "Thank you." before he was completely gone.

Lestat was in the courtyard when he heard the sound of the Harley pull up. He stood immediately and looked towards where the sound came from, but didn't go to it himself. He knew it would make him look too eager and if he looked too eager it would push Louis away again.

Louis appeared then, framed in the light from the lamps in the courtyard. He stopped in this light and looked at Lestat. The little mirrored sunglasses were off and Lestat could once again see Louis' green eyes.

And he knew.

Louis gave a little nod, his head barely making the movement before disappearing back into the house.

Lestat watched his disappearing form in silence. The only sound he heard was the pounding of his heart and he knew he had to stay in the courtyard until his heart stopped pounding or he would do something so terrible that he would regret it for the rest of his life if he even let himself live that long.

He counted. First to a hundred, then to a thousand. He felt better. Not much, but enough. He went inside.

Louis was upstairs in their bedroom. There was no sign of the black leather outfit. In its place was a pair of faded denim jeans. He had not yet put on a shirt and Lestat could see that there were two shirts on the bed. One was one that he himself had left on the bed earlier. The other Louis had brought with him from...

Well Lestat knew where it was from, didn't he?

"It's an easy decision I find," Louis said, not turning around. He picked up Lestat's shirt from the bed and put it on. "This one is perfect for me, don't you think?" He turned then and faced Lestat, his fingers buttoning up the shirt as he did so.

"And what about the other?" Lestat asked, not taking his eyes off him.

"Throw it out," Louis said, doing that very action as he tossed the shirt into the fire. "I don't need it."

"And will you do that to the one you have now?" Lestat asked.

"Never," Louis said. "It would be the worst mistake I could make. Shall we go downstairs now? Watch a movie perhaps?"

Louis looked at him then, his green eyes filled with pain and with pleading. Lestat could see his lower lip trembling and all the emotions that he had felt before left him in a rush at the sight of that one, shaking lip.

"That's fine," he said, holding out his hand so that Louis could take it. "Have you any movie in mind?"

Louis came over to him and put his arm around his waist. "Something romantic perhaps? Do we have anything like that?"

"I'm sure we can find something," Lestat said.

Louis smiled. "Good. I'd like that very much. Are you hungry, Lestat? You look so pale."

"It's nothing," Lestat said, waving it off.

"So you're saying you don't want to drink my blood later tonight?" Louis asked, letting his hand slide lower than Lestat's waist.

"Don't put words in my mouth, Louis," Lestat said. They reached the staircase and Lestat stopped, suddenly and looked at Louis, his grey eyes searching Louis' green.

"Is-is everything alright, Lestat?" Louis asked.

"It's fine," Lestat said, kissing him on the forehead. "Come, let's watch the movie. A nice long one, would that suit you?"

"Perfectly," Louis said.

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