When it rained, the streets of the slum ran black with dirt, like paint melting on canvas. At infrequent intervals, windows granted rare, hallowed spaces from the night, and here and there bright lights from the distant city's towers invaded the fringes, gliding off wet concrete and metal. Light shifted like the rain and hid itself. The edges of the world without the dragons; no trace of nobility, and even death had lost renown.
Guy was tinkering with something on the floor of the living room as he entered the apartment, cold and wet and dripping.
"You've been at the junk yard again," he said.
Guy looked up. "Riki, it's freezing out there. Where were you?" He rose and disappeared into the bathroom, emerging a moment later with a towel that he tossed across the room to him.
Riki rubbed his hair and arms with it, and water quickly soaked the cloth. The apartment's warmth made him aware of the way wet hair clung to the back of his neck. He glanced down to where Guy had been working, not recognizing the contraption.
"A two-way radio system," Guy told him. "I thought it could be useful…you know, for Bison. I just need to figure out how it works first."
Riki snorted and made for the kitchen, passing Guy on the way. He still had the towel in his hand, and he let it drop over one of the kitchen chairs. He tried the stove but the gas was out again, so he fished in the cabinets for the hot plate Guy kept there. That and a kettle of water, and maybe this chill would leave him.
"What kind of name is that, anyway?" he asked as Guy followed him. He felt raw and wet and not entirely sure this was where he wanted to be. His own apartment was leaking again, fuck the landlord whose eyes slid over him like he was a particularly nasty strain of disease. He'd tried patching the faulty siding himself, and it held for a while. Nothing like coming home to water-stained walls and a small flood in the corner of his bedroom. "Buy some goldfish," the landlord had told him, his eyes shot through with red from whatever tripper high he was on. He'd wanted to hit something.
Guy came up behind him and took the kettle from his hand, crossing to the sink to fill it. "It's a good name," he said, and Riki could hear the defensiveness. "It's *us*, Riki. The gang."
"Whatever," Riki said, but under his breath. He hadn't come here to piss Guy off, although the thought had a certain appeal. He was humming with restrained energy, and if it hadn't been raining he would have suggested a wander through the neighborhood. There was always someone out there ready to pick a fight; with him, particularly. He could use a little unleashing.
"Fuck." He left Guy in the kitchen and returned to the living room, carefully not kicking any the strewn metal parts on the floor. Falling back on the dingy brown couch, he stared up at the ceiling, where Guy had painstakingly filled the cracks with spackle. It had been Guy's mother's apartment before she'd died, and his father's before that. Riki had been too young to remember him, but he remembered Jana. The way she wandered the apartment like a wraith, her dark hair cut short and unkempt, her eyes made of glass.
He stared at the ceiling, and then Guy was sitting down on the couch next to him with mugs of coffee. Riki took one. The heat of it warmed his hands.
"I think we should back out of the Durin job," he said.
Guy, who had been sipping his coffee, lowered the mug to the table in front of them. "Why?"
"It's too shifty. And he's an asshole."
Guy shrugged. "Sure he is. That doesn't make it any less profitable for us, if we can pull it off."
"Yeah, if." Riki leaned back on the couch, resting his mug on his chest. His still-damp shirt steamed with the contact. "It's a bad deal."
He didn't have any particular reason to feel so. It was a stupid job, though, and not one that was going to get them anywhere in the relevant scheme of things.
"Hey, whatever," Guy said. "You're the boss."
Riki heard the words repeated in his head. The boss of what? A few punks barely out of adolescence living in this shit hole of a world. One rat screwing over another--hardly the stuff of legends. It probably just pleased them, the inhabitants of the city, to have their peons scrabble over each other for a few crumbs that meant less than nothing to them.
"Forget about it," he said, and sat up. He put his coffee down and leaned over to Guy, who seemed very warm and alive. He buried his head in Guy's neck, listening to his pulse, letting warm skin burn away the remaining dampness on his face and hair. Guy smelled like oil and sweat, and a bit like coffee. Riki rubbed his cheek against it.
"It's a crappy night," he said. "I don't want to think about it."
He felt warm hands cup his head, fingers weaving through his hair. Rain pounded the windows, blown against them by the wind, then subsiding. Guy kissed his cheek, and then his mouth. He closed his eyes to the warmth and familiarity, feeling it creep through the rest of him, his arms, his legs.
Guy pushed him back, but only so he could stand up. "Hang on a minute." He went into the bedroom.
Riki watched him from the couch. The bedroom door was open, and he could see Guy pull his shirt over his head, watched the patterns of shadows on his skin in the dim light. He stood and pulled his own shirt off, letting the damp cloth drape over the back of the couch. In the bedroom, Guy was standing by the window looking out, naked, and Riki paused for a moment in the doorway, breath caught in his throat. He knew exactly what other guys would do to have someone like this; he'd broken a few arms, warning them off. Guy seemed unaware of it.
Coming up behind him, Riki kissed the back of his neck and, running his hand down Guy's right arm, tugged until the arm was splayed beside him on the wall. He rubbed his lips up its length, smooth like sand.
"I was thinking of moving in here," he said.
"Yeah?" Guy replied, and his voice was very bland.
Riki felt a twinge of guilt. He didn't know what the hell he was playing at, and didn't answer.
Guy's hair was pulled back in a tie at the nape of his neck. Riki loosened it, letting the hair fall free. A few strands of it clung to his face. Gently, he pushed Guy's head forward until it was pressed against the window frame, then reached around his waist to hold him in a loose grip; Guy was very hard, and his hand felt burnt.
"You're beautiful," he said, to make up for it. He buried his face in the dark hair in front of him, tightening his grip as Guy's breath quickened, the sound of it gentle. Heat flowed between them in currents, his hand tightening and releasing until Guy came with a quick, choked cry.
Beautiful, he thought, but he didn't say anything.
Guy was leaning heavily against the wall, his face hidden. His breathing slowed. Riki left him and stood in the middle of the bedroom---barely a closet, really, with room for a bed and a window---and he could still feel Guy's warmth. He unfastened his pants and let them drop, stepping out of them casually.
After a moment, Guy turned around. His face was flushed and his eyes dark. "It's us, you know. Bison. Don't fuck that up, Riki."
Riki drew him forward. "I know. I'm sorry." He kissed him.
Guy broke the kiss and pushed him back until the backs of his knees met the edge of the bed. He fell, not bothering to break the fall. The blankets were wool and scratched his skin, but they were warm. Guy kissed his mouth, then his throat. Then down his chest and further. Lips tickled the side of ribs, and he tugged at Guy's hair. "No, not that."
"Shut up, Riki."
Riki turned his head and watched the rain. He could almost touch the window sill, if he reached out. Guy's mouth closed over his cock and he felt himself tighten and thrust up as if he were divorced from his body; it felt good, his body, and Guy. He didn't think he could ever feel good. He closed his eyes as the tension increased, and Guy grasped his hips and forced him further in. The rhythm was like the rain, and beat through him like it did against the window panes; up and up, ripped out and through him until he wanted to scream at it to stop.
His hands clenched into fists at his sides. Afterward, Guy curled up at his side under the blanket, quickly asleep.
Riki let him lie there for a few minutes. Then gently, he moved his arm, twisting his body to open the top drawer of the table next to the bed, foraging until he found a cigarette.
Smoke drifted up. It was still raining. He smoked slowly, tasting it, letting the smoke drift through his hair and get in his eyes. They watered, and he blinked it away.
Music flowed in and out of conversation like water and smoke. It was a particularly senseless kind of music, Riki thought, no melody, no theme. A brief refrain that went nowhere, notes strung together by either intellect or sensation, he wasn't sure which. They found it soothing, he supposed, or else enjoyed the way it jarred.
Iason was several feet away, talking to Raoul. It was all they ever did, talk.
Bored, he scanned the room. It was filled with soft colors, pockets of conversation. Wine glasses gave off prism shades in the tinted lights and the room glowed dim. There were a few other pets scattered throughout, bound to their owners with invisible leashes. He made his way slowly across the room toward the musicians. Whatever mad genius the music derived from wasn't apparent in their expressions. He passed by them, ignored.
In the corner of the room a young girl stood uncertainly. The sheer netting of her blouse revealed a body barely formed, and her hair was red and long, pulled up with silver pins at the top of her head. Her owner, deep in conversation a few feet away, had left her there. She looked frightened and a little lonely.
Drawn, Riki moved closer, until she saw him approaching and recognized him. Her green eyes crystallized, and her mouth tightened in a sneer.
Scum, he read there. Freak.
He changed course abruptly and headed out through the glass doors to the balcony.
The night air was cool, and beneath the sheer cloth of his shirt his nipples tightened. The streets of the city were far below, hundreds of feet down, and he could barely see the pavement.
He felt his pockets and found a cigarette. Lighting it, he leaned against the concrete wall and looked up. The sky was clear, but the stars were washed out by the city's lights.
"Bored already?" he heard, and, looking over, saw Iason.
He glanced away and took another drag from the cigarette, holding the smoke in until his lungs and throat were raw. He breathed out slowly. "Not what I would call entertaining."
A stray fold of Iason's robe brushed his bare arm. He stared ahead. He hated having to crane his neck to look up at Iason.
"There's a lot you could learn here."
Riki doubted that. Robed monks who spoke with words layered in subtleties and deceptions, until he doubted even they knew what was being said, and why.
"You're not listening to the right words."
Yeah, and Iason, Riki thought, had only his best interests at heart.
From the other side of the doors two men emerged; one blond, the other grey. Trailing them was a dark-haired boy of about fourteen, his chest bare and his eyes downcast. Both men paused as they saw Iason; they nodded to him cordially, ignored Riki, then made their way to the far side of the balcony.
Riki watched them until they halted at the other end, heads bowed in conversation. The boy stood quietly behind them.
He crushed the cigarette out. "I'm going back to the condo," he told Iason.
"You're free to do that."
Riki closed his eyes. He wished he had another cigarette on him.
There was a silence, then, "I'll have Katze take you home."
A brush of cloth again, and when he opened his eyes Iason was gone.
Eyes followed him as he skirted the party to the main doors of the apartment, and in the lobby, too, when he emerged from the elevator. He knew that if he turned his head to catch them they would be averted. Avert, he thought, don't look on the abomination. Katze was waiting for him outside of the lobby, leaning up against the car and smoking.
He gave Riki a cool look. "Get in," he said, and went around to the driver's side of the car. Riki got in the back, and when the doors closed with a hiss of air the night was cut off. Each window was darkly shaded, the world beyond them shadows.
"You've got some nerve, Riki," Katze said, as he pulled away from the building.
"Fuck off." He leaned back on the soft leather seat and stared ahead, wishing that he could see through the window.
Katze was silent, and Riki could see his lips pursed in the rearview mirror. Light striped the tinted windows then disappeared. Two years in the city, and all he'd seen of it was the inside of this car, the condo, and a few apartments belonging to Iason's peers. He wondered if the streets here were anything like home, and what Katze would do if he just opened the door and rolled out of the car. Curious, he tried the handle that would trigger the door open. Nothing happened.
He met Katze's eyes in the mirror, and the other man smirked. Riki glanced down to Katze's shoulders appraisingly. Taller and heavier, and Katze had some serious muscles in his arms. Katze could kill him, he didn't doubt.
He leaned his head against the leather seat and stared upward. "Iason would be upset," he said idly.
"Fuck if you care," Katze said. From the corner of his eye, Riki saw his hands tightening on the steering wheel.
"Should I?" Katze was silent.
Riki closed his eyes and listened to the wind snaking past the car. He could feel rage building, thrumming like a heartbeat. He tapped his fingers on the side of his leg in rhythm with the anger, felt the pressure crest then break, disintegrating. Time stretched, the silence in the car like empty space, and he had a brief moment of dissonance. Dizziness. He breathed out, and it passed.
The condo was cold and silent when they arrived. Predictably, Katze escorted him up from the lobby, and Riki took not a small measure of satisfaction in closing the door on him. Katze could bring it up with Iason, if he dared.
He turned on a few lamps and the room brightened, then crossed to the bedroom where it was still dark. Searching the top drawer of the dresser, he found the stash of cigarettes Iason stocked for him. Light flared then faded to a burning glow.
He could see his reflection in the mirror next to the dresser. The burning tip of the cigarette cast his face in shadows and orange light, and his shirt was even more sheer in the dark. He could see the outline of his chest and his hand, when he slipped it beneath the cloth to rub his skin, his nipples, sliding down to his ribs. The skin there was smooth, and he felt muscle and bone. He unfastened his pants and let them fall to his ankles. The ring, when he touched it, was warm. He ran his finger around its base clinically. The slow languor of arousal drifted through his bloodstream, down until his arms and legs were heavy with it.
Iason had entered the room and was behind him, on the far side of the room. Riki could see him in the mirror. Iason watched him distantly, his eyes and expression shaded as he undressed.
Riki propped his cigarette in the ashtray on the dresser and left it burning. He didn't look at Iason, only his own reflection as he reached for his cock again. It lengthened and hardened, and the languor turned to ache. Smoke drifted from the dresser to haze the mirror's image. A stray strand curled around his throat, leash-like. It was replaced by Iason's hand a moment later, circling his neck and directing him to the bed.
"I hate you," Riki said as his head and arms were buried in the sheets. Iason didn't respond. He curled his hand around a loose fold of sheet. They were fresh, and smelled faintly of lemon. Iason smelled like Iason.
It felt good, what Iason was doing to him. Iason traced the contours of his body as if peeling back a layer of skin, leaving him over-sensitive. His skin felt hot.
He heard his own cries distantly, engulfed by silence. His cock strained in empty air until, at the moment he thought he would shatter, Iason's hand closed around it. Blanketed, held, he let trained reflexes direct his body. Iason's hands held his wrists in place, and when Iason entered him, Riki thought of how those hands gripped his so easily, carefully as if he were some fragile glass bird.
The walls of the room seemed close, and the darkness had a golden tint.
I hate you, Riki thought, as he drifted in the dark. He repeated the words in his head until they lost meaning, only sounding like jumbled, nonsense utterances. Cut off from words, he breathed slowly, in and out. Iason curled around him carefully: the glass bird.
His wings were frozen.
Far below him the streets of the city were swallowed by shadows. There was a faint breeze and, standing naked on the balcony of the condo, Riki felt the cold of it. The stone wall numbed his arms. Staring down to the pavement, he heard a voice in his head that sounded like Katze's particular sneer. "Going to jump?"
He rested his chin on the wall. It was starting to rain, but only a light drizzle. It dampened his face and his hair, and cast the air between him and the pavement in a grey haze.
Around him the towers of the city rose like metal, ancient trees. Lights shone behind glass windows, criss-crossing in the spaces between in a convoluted web. Caught in the strands of light, rain glistened and, cocooned, shone like pinprick reflections of the stars. Light flared and died quickly. The web at the center of a far-reaching net, lines drawn between it and the world.