Moths and Flames

Moths and Flames

Byron was going to open his eyes. He was, really. He just had to make sure that doing so wouldn't make his head explode first. An infinitesimal shift on the pillow did nothing to help. When they put his brain into his skull, they really should have put some padding around it, not left it to slam into the hard bone wall at the slightest movement. Shoddy workmanship.

He would have stayed without moving all day if the call of nature hadn't been making him increasingly uncomfortable. When he could endure it no longer, he reluctantly cracked his eyes open a slit, to discover that while he had been at the bar last night, someone had installed klieg lights in his bedroom. Lots of klieg lights. And turned them all on. The electric bill was going to be a monster. He squinted at the clock: almost two o'clock. Even later than usual.

Holding his hand carefully in both hands so it wouldn't fall off his neck, Byron very carefully made his way to the bathroom. When he emerged an aeon later, he felt slightly better, and had washed most of the horrendous taste out of his mouth.

He tried for the kitchen, but the bed was right there on the way and so heavenly. He would just rest there for a minute. Just for a minute. It wasn't his fault that fool architect had put his kitchen approximately twenty miles away from his bed. Too bad Bill was at work today. Byron could've used his help.

The bedroom door flew open, hitting the wall with a thunderclap that made Byron's skull vibrate. Bill flipped the light switch, tripling the number of klieg lights in the room, and stomped in, ignoring Byron's whimpers at the racket.

"Bill, please!" he groaned, as quietly as he could. "You know how it is for me after a night like last night! Have a heart!"

"Yes, I do know. I should." Bill sounded pissed. "When you staggered in last night you woke me up and I had to stay up for the rest of the night watching you so you wouldn't choke on your own vomit." He held out two glasses, one of water, one of tomato juice.

Byron took both of them with shaking hands and chugged them down. "Hair of the dog?" he pleaded.

Bill folded his arms across his chest. "In the kitchen. Get it yourself." He stalked out, slamming the door behind him.

The sound nearly knocked Byron out in his current state. He spent what felt like several minutes not moving with his eyes squeezed shut. But he did need more liquid in his body, and maybe a few dozen aspirin, so at last he hauled himself to his feet again and shuffled into the kitchen.

Bill was at the table, barricaded behind a newspaper. He pointedly ignored Byron dragging himself around the kitchen in search of fluids. Evidently he was more annoyed than usual by this particular bender for some reason. Well, he couldn't deal with it until he'd doctored himself a bit more. Byron washed down four aspirin with another tall glass of water before pouring himself a finger of whiskey from the bottle on the counter. (There was no point in putting the bottle away, he'd be getting it back out so soon, so it lived on the counter.)

The newspaper lowered a few inches. "More?" was Bill's incredulous comment.

"Hair of the dog," Byron protested.

His lover was unimpressed. "That is more than a hair."

"It was a big dog." He knocked it back and could almost believe it was already working, bringing his brain back to its normal size and putting the external world, the lights and sounds, slowly down to their usual levels. That attended to, he poured himself another glass of tomato juice and sat down at the table. Time to placate the sweetie.

"I thought you were working today," he began, and jumped as Bill threw the paper down as if he were trying to shatter it into a million pieces.

"I was," he snarled. "But since I was up all night looking after someone, I slept through the alarm clock. And my bank got robbed this morning! And I wasn't there to do anything about it! So I am now an unemployed superhero."

Promptly Byron felt about a million times worse than he had when he first woke up.

"I'm sorry," he said in a small voice after a very long time. When Bill just fumed, he added, "I really am. I didn't... I wouldn't have...." His voice trailed off. Some things, words just weren't good for. "I'll, um, do the dishes?" Hardly adequate recompense, but a gesture of reconciliation. Bill said nothing, just hid behind the newspaper again.

Several hours later, the house was sparkling clean and Bill still wasn't speaking to him. It was maddening, usually Bill was all radiant smiles and cheerful directness, so different from Byron's moodiness. It was what had first attracted him. Byron finally sat beside him on the couch and asked plaintively, "What can I do to make it up to you?" He swallowed. "You're... you're not going to leave me, are you?"

Finally Bill looked at him. "That depends."

"On what?"

"You have to see a doctor. They can treat dipsomania, you know."

Byron froze. That was the only thing in the world he would even hesitate to do for Bill.

Seeing his stricken expression, Bill's lips thinned. "It's messing up both of our careers. I know that being Mothman is just a hobby to a spoiled rich kid like you, but-"

"No! It isn't! I'll...." He stopped, his gut knotting.

Bill waited.

Byron contemplated a life without drinking. No celebratory champagne. No martinis to chase away boredom. No whiskey to warm him on nights when the world seemed a cold, ruthless place. No way of drowning the pain when he was sad or angry or....

Or lonely.

He licked his dry lips. "If I see a doctor, you'll stay?"

Bill's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You do have to actually try to sober up. Just seeing a doctor and then going right back to your usual ways won't cut it."

Byron almost collapsed with relief. He would have to cut back on the drinking, of course, and try not to get falling-down drunk too often, but after a few months of that Bill would understand that he could handle it and trust him not to let something like this happen again. Probably a doctor could help him to drink less. And seeing one would placate Bill for now, give him time to cool off.

"I'll make an appointment first thing in the morning," Byron promised.

Bill's eyes softened. "Okay, then." He let Byron hug him before saying, "Let's go out for a bite, this has been a rough day."

Byron really needed a drink with dinner, but he forced himself to refrain for the sake of his relationship. He did sneak out of bed late that night after Bill was asleep for a nightcap, which was a lucky thing, because the very next day when he got back from the doctor Bill had poured everything down the drain.


Hollis sent them both autographed copies of Under the Hood when it was published. Neither of them had been retired from crimefighting for long, just a few years since their joints had started to ache, but it was just long enough for them to miss it.

They read it together, curled up together on the sofa. Byron suddenly laughed.

Bill looked up from his copy. "What?"

"I just got to the part where you changed your costume after the bank fired you and you went ronin."

"I haven't reached that yet. What's so funny about it?"

"Oh, the Owl put it at the end of a rant about how impractical capes are. Turns out he wore one when he first started out, I didn't know that."

"Me neither."

"He says it kept getting caught in things and was dangerous. He says getting fired might well have saved your life."

"Harrumph," Bill said, but he was smiling.

Byron smiled back. "Well, he can't know that it was actually my life that it saved." He stuck a marker in the book and stood up. "I'm getting a drink, you want one?"

"Yes, please."

Byron fetched the drinks, and the pair toasted their old friend Hollis Mason with tall glasses of lemonade.