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Four of Clubs

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I can see it in your eyes, Constantine.

The first time I think I saw my partner, you know - as more than just a good match, more than the guy I'd stuck with to get us both through Quantico - he was chest deep in swamp water, trying to untangle a boat propeller from the death grip of some weeds. It was just, I don't know, the different angle, maybe. I wasn't used to looking down for Constantine, and I could see the way his shoulders stooped into the task, biceps moving as he yanked stubborn plants out of the housing that was supposed to protect the turning blades from - shit like this, really. 

We were both cops, in another life, it's why we'd stuck in classes, even though we both had to get over our initial contempt. I was New York born and raised, and four years on beat before I got my first promotion. He had abandoned his father's farm in Chicago to live in the city proper, leaving his mother - 'Ma' Fitzweiss - to take care of a dwindling number of animals after his dad's bad ticker gave out. Constantine had made lieutenant in no time, pulled young out of homicide before it could destroy him.

I mean, I looked up his files when we were assigned. Nobody got into Mindcrime without either a reason or a demotion. I thought, 'is this guy for real?' I figured he had to be hiding something. I was. But the more I saw him, the more we worked together, I just started to believe in him, you know?

Then he looked up from the propeller, smeared in gross crap, and he hurled two handfuls of muddy, greasy, plant shit into the boat (at me, I think, but it didn't make it that far). "I fuckin' hate fishing," he said, and he looked right at me, like this was my fault. (It was.)

It was then, I think, I realized what he was hiding and who he was hiding it from. I think I laughed at him, I don't really remember. His next handful of mud hit me.

I mean, who goes fishing with their newly assigned CIA partner after he gets both their asses suspended for a week, both of them the freshest, lowest rungs on the ladder in the least rewarding division, when they hate fishing? 

But damn if he didn't get that propeller going again, so we didn't have to swim back and rent another boat just to yank this one loose.

-

Twenty weeks in Quantico, Virginia. Eighty six entering students, three classes of twenty two students, and one with just twenty. We were in the smaller class. Manageable groups. I could tell the cops from the military, we almost segregated ourselves instinctively. I know what you're thinking - body type. Cop mustaches. It's not like that.

Constantine carried himself more reasonably than the ex-militaries. He was older than they were, had a street-wise vibe. Same things he probably saw in me. 

"Fitzweiss," was how he introduced himself, turning sharply away from the group gathering to one side and talking about tours of duty. His accent hit on the ret of his words. "Chicago's fifteenth." 

"New York," I answered, and watched his expression sour. "Where my precinct was bigger than yours."

He let me win that one. Maybe because he had a goddamn purple heart and the scars to prove it. Maybe because I was the only other guy his age, the only other cop, or the only other person worth a shit based on those prior qualities.

So yeah. We stuck. We understood each other a little bit instinctively - better than the mix of army-navy-airforce guys seemed to. We knew we had us, they had them. It was all we needed to at least keep us mostly united. 

Assignments came as no real surprise. The CIA didn't fuck around too much when it came to recognizing the most compatible candidates. Besides, I had put in a request - if I got stuck with an ex-marine goon eight years younger than me, I'd have shot him or quit. Possibly both.

"What division?" I'd asked, casually, the first time I got him to show up for drinks instead of blowing me off. I had no why idea he'd even left his precinct. Born cop, you know the sort. Maybe his past.

"Mindcrimes," he said, looking up to see my reaction. I thought for sure he was joking, except for that look.

"Corporate secrets, pulled out through dreams?" I had never really thought about it. Seemed like science fiction to two kids born in the seventies, anyway. Maybe not to him, though. "You can't prove that shit."

I thought I was wrong, maybe this guy had a martyr complex or something. 

"I didn't know it even existed," Fitzweiss - Fitz by now, an old precinct sort of standby that I was given. Maybe for my comfort, maybe to make him feel a bit less like a little fish that had stumbled into a big pond. The ocean, maybe. 

"But I get this call - the kind where it's just codes on paper, but you get the shivers. Cop-sense. Body, hotel room. Big name. Looks like a suicide - pain killers, alcohol - only the whole room's covered in words. 

Like he's trying to get it straight, to force himself to think in straight lines. Stuff doesn't hit him that way anymore, but he tried. I had to document it all - and it was pretty fuckin' chilling. 

You figure, gotta be somebody paranoid. Off the deep end, but the more I look-"

Fitz hesitated, scrubbed a hand over his face. He's the kind of guy you want on homicide. The kind who'll track shit down and shake it until he's satisfied. The kind of guy that homicide invariably destroys. I was in larceny. Bodies never bothered me, so maybe they figured I didn't care enough for homicide. Maybe they thought I was safer in a department where my name didn't go into the papers.

"Robberies, " I answered, really thinking about it, as Fitz seemed to need time to put his concepts into words. "They tear people up. You sleep at home because it's safe. Impenetrable - then someone you don't know walks right in while you're gone or asleep and takes your jewelry, your savings. Shit no one will say is important if they get out of a fire with their family intact, or their house is torn down by a tornado. It's just that someone was there."

Fitz nods. "You can move your home," he says. "But your mind? Can't move that." 

I hadn't thought of it that way. "So this guy, he was robbed of - what? Ideas? Concepts?" 

"Financial and marketing strategies. Suddenly, the competitor knew exactly where to go to block this guy. But no one could find anything - like you said, hard to prove.

It was a mess of a job though. Even if it's just dreams, that's straight down into your subconscious. They - whoever they were - weren't delicate. 

His mind knew something had happened, he knew, but no one'd listen. He caught himself turning on his wife, so he took himself away. Still enough of him left for that much, anyway. 

He called for help, but we couldn't help him. No one can, yet. He saved his wife, though. That makes him a goddamn hero in my book."

I didn't have the heart to tell Fitz that the survivors rarely felt that way. Instead, I just sat back, thinking. He drank his drink, not all with me. I had a few memories like that, myself.

"What are you in for?" he asked, with a wry smile for the joke. I didn't even have to think.

"Mindcrimes," I answered. He might have even believed me, but he laughed anyway, like he hadn't expected me to be convinced. I'll admit now, it was only partly his words and conviction to do the good thing with no thought of reward. 

I put in my change of course papers the next day, early, so he wouldn't catch me.

-

The work was frustrating as hell. Four teams, eight guys and the odd administrative bitch, you know how it goes. Too many cases, not enough answers. We were the press party - so the American government could appear to at least be doing something about the rogue technology it had birthed, then let run delinquent into the minds of others.

We trained on a PASIV unit, taken under the wing of 'Champ' Charles Cixous. 

"Totems. Those who do this routinely have a routine. Like shooting,  if you're into killing shit clay pigeons or you're a goddamn sniper," Champ growled. He never spoke, always sounded pissed about something. Maybe that the technology he'd backed so hard not only had a split personality, but was actively both sides of the coin for problem and solution. Maybe he had a hell of a hemorrhoid, who knows?

"It's how they keep track. Eventually being lucid is instinct. You'll never 'go gentle into that good night' again after I'm done with you. So if you're always thinking like you're real, boundaries get thinner. 

Make 'em complicated as hell. Who knows what the fuck these guys may try to do to your soft parts - memory, emotion - if they kidnap you." 

"Pretty ballsy," Con answered, with a smirk and a shrug. He sat leaning forward almost all the time, elbows on his knees and head tipped back to look at everything straight on, like he was about to launch himself. Except, by then I knew he was utterly relaxed when he did it, rounded shoulders, easy eyes.  "You think it's likely they'll try it? Everything I've seen suggests they'd rather pack up and run away - since it's so hard to prove."

"You ain't seen shit," Champ snarled at him with so much vehemence that Con actually sat up to back off a little. "You back an animal into a corner, you'll see what kind of shit nature equipped it with to kick your ass back out your smart ass mouth."

I laughed, until Cixous turned his glare on me.

"Two days to get your shit together and come back with a totem, assholes. If it's such a goddamn joke, come back with a whoopie cushion, and I'll show you how to fucking laugh." 

We rarely got to leave his lessons without being thrown out. I didn't take it to heart, neither did Con. 

Two days later Champ tied us in a knot and let us hang ourselves with it.  It's impossible to explain how real a dream is when you're in it, and the combined power of three minds gives it all it needs. Your mind - subconscious - unwillingly bares itself because rationally it needs to populate these areas. Instinctively you fill empty spaces. A mind, with thought. A city, people.

I woke years older, scraped bare and worn thin, gasping, heart thundering. I had lost the world. Twenty minutes only, but that's all he had needed. My mind rolled over and over, memories, reality, revving like an engine struggling to catch.

Constantine woke quieter, but his eyes were deep and hollow as I felt, and he sat straight and still like he was counting his limbs, counting his breaths. 

Champ wasn't even in the room, he'd just left us to run down the clock. A warning was scrawled on the white board, seven words in Champ's handwriting. 

"Try again. See you in a week." 

One of us said 'christ', but I couldn't tell you which, and we got the hell out of there. Con looked at me, grabbed my arm hard - it hurt, but it was real and I was grateful.

"Don't drive," he said, and then closed his eyes for a long minute, disoriented. "Call a goddamn cab."

I did.

I don't know if i he was insomniac before then but - that was the first night he called me at four a.m. Even that early on, I didn't mind. I wasn't sleeping, either.

"I'm at Cagney's," I told him. He showed up maybe twenty minutes later. Like survivors, we drank until we were glad we'd come by cab, and our shaken souls somehow got us both out with girls. Maybe they like damage - we probably looked like we had PTSD. Fuck, maybe we did, not dangerous enough to hurt anyone. Just hurting enough to be wild and callous about who we connected with. We just needed the connection, someone to settle my thoughts - they were cutting around in my head like shrapnel.

I let the girl tie me to the goddamn hotel mattress. Some kind of Chinese rope shit. She robbed me blind, but at least fucked me senseless and left me with some real experience. She left impressions of her mouth down low on my neck, where I could count her teeth the next day. Missing an incisor on both sides, but spaceless. Orthodontics. Details as real as the ones I remembered from my dreams.

I never went back to that memory to repair it with the LUCID, it was my anchor and I was scared as shit that if I tried, the whole thing would crush together and drop me down into the depths. I could maybe have fixed it so Con and I would have been 'right' from the shared trauma together. I didn't dare.

-

We took it seriously after that. It's one thing to see it, to consider the damage when you can observe it in another human being.  You can tell yourself it'd be horrible to lose an arm, too. No matter how much you think about it, no matter how many people with lost limbs you see, talk to, learn from - it ain't  shit.  Champ had chopped our fucking dicks off and made us amputees, stumbling around to try and learn our new balances. 

I had no fucking clue what to do about it. We were partners, though. Con and I and his ancient mutt sat in his living room when we'd recovered from our hangovers and pulled ourselves together as much as possible for two people who'd drank and screwed the night away. 

"Whatever it is," Con said, his hands deep in the dog's fur at the back of its head, "it has to be unique. Personal."

"How the hell will we remember it?" I'd picked up a coin - one of my brother's AA tokens, his discarded 10 year marker. He'd moved onto 15 - living that nuclear family American dream. It hadn't spared me long.

"Habit. Has to be instinctive." Con dug in his pocket, pulled a lighter free. Until that point, I'd never seen him smoke, but I'd smelled it on him sometimes. He was pretty careful to shower it off - like he'd done the girl.

I reached out, in the universal motion of 'please?' and he handed me one. It was a Red - not a light or a long or a 'More'. Con didn't fuck around about giving himself cancer. 

His totem, the first one, lay on the table. It was a wedding ring - no, I thought, maybe an engagement ring. Clearly a woman's. We both had stories we hadn't told each other, relying on something that shared meaning between ourselves and someone in our past, that was the problem.

"Something new," I said, exhaling smoke and passing back his lighter. I picked up the ring and he didn't protest before I decided it  looked like something that came out of a shitty cop's salary, or maybe a crappier salary still if I was right about how old it looked.

"Yeah, but what?"

"Maybe we should lose it in our pockets," I said, turning the ring over - no inscription. He didn't wear one to match. "I mean, carry a bunch of shit - so it's not so easy to go through our pockets and guess."

"So, a common item," he said, seizing on the idea. "Like one we might already carry, but specialized. It might go unnoticed, but even if it doesn't it'll have some - catch? Some intricacy?"

He leaned back on the couch and smoked, and I watched his mouth expel grey-blue clouds.  "You got any ideas?" he asked me at last - with sharp intelligence beginning to move back into his eyes, pushing some of the haunted hollow spaces out. 

"Yeah, but I'm not telling you," I said, and grinned.

He laughed.

-

LUCID LOG, HR. 20. SINGLE SUBJECT

We take the dog out. Con's dog is this ancient, creaking thing by now. I know how he got it - I read it in his file how he pulled the damn thing out of a culvert in Chicago, back when his badge was about the only evidence he had of his existence.

He lives in this quiet neighborhood, where we all pack in, a commute's length from our 'office' if you could call the CIA HQ that. There's a pretty quiet radius of existence around the place, to be honest.

We're quiet for a while, the dog moving politely on the lead at the speed of an arthritic snail. I don't have to put my nose to the ground like the dog does to smell the spring. Wet earth and clean air. Mown lawns. Memories from the dream try to intrude here, protesting that yesterday (the dream one, in the middle, before the rest of real yesterday, I try to remind myself) had been autumn. It hadn't, not really, but we had been unanchored. 

"You remember it?" Con asks quietly, while his dog tries to find a way to balance on three old legs in order to pee. I don't have to ask what he means.

"Every minute," I answer, wondering when it will fade. If it will fade. His eyes find mine, concerned - his eyes have a wide dark ring around the iris, as if to further segregate the color from the whites of his eyes, but you can only see it in sunlight. We both ache, but I know it'll fade under the weight of more reality. The real passage of time.

"Yeah," he agrees, sharing my burden with one syllable, and reaches out to grip my arm again, hard around the bicep, like he had when we woke.

-

Of course we didn't. 

I went home, to try and sleep. He stayed home, to do the same. For myself, I didn't do that, either. I think it was maybe nine-ten a.m. the next morning, after a lot of alcohol, that I was brave enough to sleep again, or just incapable of retaining consciousness. I didn't dream, and when the cell phone rang with Fitz' number, I left it until it crawled its way off the table and silenced itself on the rug.

Chapter Text

When we graduated from Champ's care, we had left most of the hollow eyed survivors in ourselves behind. We had grown, learned. The damage had taught us our weaknesses, and any number of other things. We had solid totems, and we were steady, unshakeable dreamers. We came out humbled, but confident.

I celebrated. Called an old friend from New York while we waited the four days for our finalized paperwork to clear, and our positions to be readied. I couldn't face four days of nothing, and even then I'd hardly believed we finally got there. I drank a lot. Picked up two girls, partly because I thought I was hot shit and partly so they'd freak the fuck out over it and then leave me the hell alone.

I knew they kind of looked like each other, I just figured I had a type. I thought I'd let it go as long as it was still fun. I didn't know they'd call each other to compare notes on their new boyfriends only to find the notes matched. I didn't know they'd do it because they were mother and daughter. 

So I learned a valuable lesson my third day on the job - no matter how good it works to pick up girls by telling them you're in the CIA - don't fucking do it. Turns out they'll hunt your ass down pretty easy, since the building fucking says 'Central Intelligence Agency' on the front. Not that any actual  work gets done there, but I was new enough I had to be there. 

Con tried to stick by me, too. Said the woman must have been disturbed and had the wrong guy. Building attracted nutcases. My story didn't match up so close to his, damn shame. We both got suspended a week without pay. I got the further advice to 'be more fucking discriminate', which I think actually should have translated to 'be more discriminate, fucking'. 

I took it to heart, both ways. Even with a week off and time to think about how ashamed of my womanizing ways I was, I decided I'd keep away from girls for a while. 

Also I had to figure getting my partner suspended meant I had to make it up somehow. I hadn't asked him to cover for me, true (if I had the stories would have matched). But one thing you did, if you had faith in your partner, you covered for him. The other thing you did, was when you fucked up and made your partner cover, you brought beer and made up for it.

So I did it all. I rented a cabin, a boat. Hell, the guy grew up on a farm. I figured he at least knew how to fish. Seemed like the sort of wholesome shit he'd do. Obviously, he spent less time chasing tail than I did, so he had to do something with his time, I figured.

It had to be either fishing or golf. I was wrong on both counts, but who ever heard of a cop who spent his free time reading? Well, and watching hockey or football, but I didn't learn that until later.

So there I was, on the apartment landing, with a big case of Real Beer (not the usual American shit, he didn't drink it), my best apology ready, and he just stared at me like I was from Mars.

"I can't just take off all week," he said, and looked at me like I was deranged. Back then he still wore glasses in the evenings when he took out his contacts. In this case, I think he put them on just so he could stare at me over them like that. "And I don't like fishing."

"Hey, partner, you like beer right?" I just started stringing words together, to find the right combination. "Fishing is just drinking in a boat. Sometimes you haul your line in  and put a new worm on it for shitty spiky sunfish to steal, but that's it."

"My dog, man," he says, making excuses. I sense he's reluctant to forgive me for some reason, but at that point I had no idea what it was. Trouble is, I'm easy to forgive. Possibly my most important talent.

"Bring him," I said, 'cause really? Dogs, fishing, the outdoors. That's a good mix. Con gave me a stern look, and crossed his arms over his chest. I could see his shoulders coming up, sensed he was about to dig his heels in.

"If I have to drag you by your hair," I said, "So help me god, we are going fishing. Get your shit, I'll get the dog." 

He looked like he was going to argue, but he didn't. Con sighed, shut the door in my face, and was ready ten minutes later. I guess sitting in, reading and contemplating his navel for a week in solitude didn't really appeal to him, either. As much as it might have done me some good to take a break before I spiraled out of control again,  I realize now I was already hopelessly in need of his company. Maybe somewhere inside I thought that if maybe I could trick him down that spiral with me - well, it might be a controlled descent. I have trouble with those on my own.

The thoughts weren't fully formed at the time. I just felt the victory. He warmed up during the car ride, and we forgave each other in the middle of bullshitting away about nothing. Really, he hadn't done anything wrong, but I forgave him for dragging his feet.

"You know how to drive a boat?" he asked later that night. We'd both cracked open beers by then, played a game or two of War as we got tipsy. "'cause I got no idea." 

"Yeah, easy," I lied. I wanted him to think I could handle anything.

-

We came home the next day with him soaked through and in a sullen sulk, half barefoot since he'd lost a boot in the mud at the bottom of the lake, a new home for fish. I was muddied, but not as bad as him and the night had grown cool and stilled most of our laughter as we shivered our way home.

The dog looked at us, our gross condition, and decided to wag his tail by way of greeting instead of soliciting our attention directly.

"I got the shower first," Con said, and I listened halfway as he exclaimed in the bathroom over finding bugs in his hair while I aimlessly flipped channels with the volume turned almost off. No cable. I won't lie - I smiled 'cause it was so him, you know?

He used up most of the hot water, too. Maybe to get all the mud out, or maybe out of spite.  In the shower,  I felt relaxed enough for the first time in ages to get a hand on my own dick and actually get somewhere. I tried to be utilitarian about it, since the feeling sparked up fast enough from 'god, I think I could stand to get off,' to halfway there with a few rough strokes. 

The water turned cold suddenly and I had to work for it. Instead of letting it slip away, I pulled harder, suddenly desperate to reach climax in an uphill battle as cool water bombarded my shoulders and back. I let my mind start up - dangerous, as I was pulling in great gasps of air, cautious of how audible I was. I had heard Con - and that stated it again - clearly. I should have been embarrassed that he could hear me, maybe, but instead I just wondered if he'd used up so much hot water doing the same thing. 

That was a thought. Don't get me wrong, I have a policy against jacking off to straight guys. Hell, he was my partner and I should have known better, but I'd seen that look on him today. I knew something about him that he didn't know about himself - maybe something that he didn't want to know, yet. So I let my thoughts turn over him standing with his feet just where mine were, his hands on his dick, and suddenly the cold water didn't matter so much. 

I envisioned rounded shoulders, his head angled down to watch what he was doing to himself, the motions through the whole length of his strong arm. The steady, squared stance he'd take to keep himself upright through it. I didn't get much further, far enough to envision what he must actually look like beyond those points of what I absolutely knew about him, before I came like crazy and let that wipe out thought entirely.

God, I must have made a hell of a noise, I could feel it happening low in my chest, a growl, when I became aware again. I was braced back against the wall, the shower's  handle pushing uncomfortably into my shoulder while the frigid water washed away all traces of my sin.

-

LUCID LOG - HR 22 SINGLE SUBJECT

Con knows. Looks at me when I leave the bathroom shirtless and still damp, and instead of totally ignoring it or giving me shit he just - grins. Like he knew a secret. It wasn't much of one, since I don't think anybody'd be surprised to hear I whacked off in the shower sometimes.

"What the fuck's that look for?" I challenge him, refusing to feel any remorse or embarrassment at all, and Con just shakes his head.

"Just never heard of anybody turned on by cold showers," he says, still shaking his head at me.

"Next time, you can give me a hand," I tell him, wanting to shock him into being quiet, push back until his ears began to burn like mine did, unexpectedly. I get half that - he turns quiet, thoughtful, like he is fucking weighing positives vs. negatives. Then he shrugs his shoulders.

"Thought you'd never ask," he says, simple as that.

-

But by the time I got out of the shower, he'd already gone outside to cook dinner. Con was a firm believer that you not only could cook anything on a grill, but that you should. I was willing enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, since anything he'd ever put on there had been delicious coming off again, and by this point I felt half-starved. 

I watch him cook as the sun sets, quiet, while the dog puts his head on my lap apparently ready to let us touch him now that we were cleaner. Princess.

"You really didn't know they were related?" he asked, after a long silence and looking up from the food to me, and I just laughed.

"I would have done it anyway," I said, grinning uncontrollably. "I just can't fuckin' help myself."

Con shook his head in a gesture somewhere between tolerant amusement and just not getting it. Typical.

-

I kept out of trouble for a long time after that. I think I had already started waiting - in my own way. I work a lot, weird fuckin' hours. It's hell on any regular relationship, and I'd never wanted one anyway. I like sex and loathe commitment as much as the next guy.

But maybe I didn't fuck around quite as much as I could have. I didn't - I dunno, didn't want to give the wrong impression. I was waiting for Con to add up numbers and come up with two.

Almost a year, even. New Years passed over us, and back into spring. Work was new and hadn't yet worn us down with the disappointments. We took our little victories where we could get them, closed down some inexperienced teams trying to break into the business and told ourselves next time - next time it'd be some guys who had done some real damage.

One thing I noticed - Con was soft as hell. He had a natural 'good cop' touch, it was just how he was. So he'd let me go off, let me play wild and hard-ass, for the ultimate goal of scaring these - kids mostly - into taking this shit seriously. I loved it. I wound them the hell up and watched him coax turnaround after turnaround out of belligerent assholes who thought that if they didn't agree with him this time, he'd walk back out the door for good and I'd be there. Just me, them, and the metal briefcase I let them believe was a PASIV.

He was almost always at the office before me, and usually even though it was because he wasn't sleeping, on Mondays he looked less like shit warmed over than I did. Weekends - what can I say. We still didn't spend that many off-hours together yet, he was kind of a homebody and I hadn't quite learned how to ask. (It was just by taking the lead and insisting, which I would figure out soon.)

I was surprised when he called me on a Friday, sounding exhausted. I remember he'd said the last time we'd gotten together for him to grill us food, 'the end's getting close', about the dog. I didn't think the dog looked any more decrepid than it ever had before, or any different at all really, but Con could just look at the thing and know.

"My dog's dead," he said, after 'hello'. I felt this surge of electricity like - god help me, like here was my opportunity after two years of knowing the guy. I'm a piece of work.

"Christ," I said, "I'll be right there." I was already getting up like I had to rush or it would be too late. He made a sound on the other end oft he line like he was about to say 'no' but instead he went quiet for a long minute as I yanked my coat on and then said, "Thank you." 

I feel less guilty about breaking the speed limit now that I'm not a cop, but in this case I should have been ashamed anyway. I accomplished a twenty minute drive in seven and a half minutes, then lied and told Con I'd been out in the area anyway. If he believed me or not, it didn't matter. 

"You - okay?" I said, eyeing the body motionless on the dog's bed. It could almost have been asleep, but limbs stuck out a little unnaturally from death throes, the dog's eyes were open, and of course it's chest did not rise or fall. 

Con shook his head. He wasn't crying, but he looked - well, like his dog had just died. The whole set of him was slumped, and he let me put an arm on his shoulders, get him to the couch, and sit him down. I fixed him a drink, told him to drink it, and not look.

I don't know why I had to fix it, but I wanted to put that dog back together. Good as new. Better, if I could have managed. All I could do was put his legs back under him, pick up the limp, lop-eared head and put it on his paws. The eyes wouldn't close, but he fit neatly on the dog bed, and without having to ask I took the blanket off the back of the sofa and put it over the dog. My hands had found one or two damp spots in the fur. Tears, I think.

As 'better' as I could make it, without having power to turn back time or reverse death. So I looked up, and he was watching me against my orders, his hand smeared flat over his mouth and his eyes in a new emotion. I'd never seen misery on him before, and I didn't want to see it on him ever.

"Okay?" I asked, my hand on top of the blanket that hid the corpse.

"Okay," he said, behind his hand. "He was an old dog."

"Yeah," I said, watched him take off his glasses, push his fingers over his eyes, and then get up . He gave me back the glass, half finished. I drank the rest myself, putting my mouth over where his had been. 

"Hell of a way to spend a Friday night," he said, "but would you help me dig a hole?"

A grave, he meant. I'd never done that before. I laughed morbidly, helplessly - and answered, "Real friends help you bury the bodies."

He couldn't laugh, but he got the idea. He lived in an apartment, so we drove back out to his Ma's farm, and she gave us both shovels. We dug. I let him do most of the work because he wanted to, he seemed to need to, so I just took over when he exhausted himself.  I got out of the way again when he'd caught his breath and was ready to keep digging. It didn't take as long as I'd thought - a dog's not as big as a person. Filling it again seemed to take no time at all, but by then my hands were cold, my nose freezing. We stood close, hands in our pockets and eyes on the grave, nothing to say. I started to reach for him - to I don't know put my hand on his shoulder or around his middle, but his Ma interrupted.

"Boys," she told us grown men, standing in the doorway with a cup  of coffee in each hand as if she were calling us in for supper. "There's coffee and it's damn near late enough to be early. Come inside, drink, go to bed. Guest room's made up for you, David."

Con's Ma had the good sense to put a healthy amount of whiskey in my coffee and I'm not sure what into Con's - maybe three or four ground up Normisson, since before he'd sat down he'd looked like sleep was the furthest from his mind, and then he'd practically fallen asleep at the table.

It struck me, as I let him lean on me up the stairs - my insistence, that he'd grown up here, but there were hardly any traces of this life left on him. Like he had rubbed them off, discarded them, all but his mother, whom he tolerated with the best of humor. Another piece of him, this past, that he hid from himself.

-

I called around a lot that week. I had some friends in the area, sure to have what I was looking for. Con dragged through his days, quiet, thinking. He began to look better though, bit by bit.

I made all my plans in secret, told him twice when I had to cut out of work early that I was meeting a girl, and he didn't even bat an eye.

Saturday morning, ten a.m., and I knocked on his door. The puppy was perfect - a papered border collie with the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. I'd looked at two with serious intent, then finally decided on the one which would leap into trouble before it was sure it could get out of it again.

Con barely looked at it - the dog was struggling, paddling paws against my arms just to get to Constantine, because he just radiated 'dog person', I guess, and his eyes passed over it for half a second and then up to mine. Like I'd just come along and ripped all the scabs off a barely closed wound. His throat worked, the puppy whined and he wouldn't look at it, would not let it soften his heart like I knew it would if he just looked. He shook his head, one motion - a leftward jerk and then a return. 

"Take it away," he said quietly, and shut the door on any arguments I might have made. The puppy peed in my car as I took it back to the farm I'd got it from, and as I cleaned up the still-warm mess, I thought what an apt metaphor it was for my life. 

Chapter Text

Constantine never mentioned it again, content to forgive both me and himself by omission. He never got another dog, either. Maybe he found himself pulling me out of enough sewer culverts to satisfy that need. Maybe he was just a one-dog sort of person.

I finally learned him enough, by '05, to get him to come out drinking with me. By year three of our partnership, his continued resistance to his own thoughts and emotions genuinely puzzled me. I was trying to dig deep enough, gently enough, to figure it out. I thought maybe it was something about control.

Something about being in or out of it. I couldn't wrap my mind around which or how, though. I just wished I could convey to him that if that's what his reservations were, if he thought he'd weird me out with what he wanted to do or have done, there was no risk. I'd have tied him in knots, or dressed up like a French maid and licked his boots clean by that point, just to see him naked.

He wouldn't ask for anything though. He never even talked about any kind of sex life. I concluded - rightly so - that he didn't have one. My plan, if you could call it that, was to light off as many fireworks as I could and then be the one standing there with a hose. I would get him drunk - maybe that would overcome his reservations in admitting what he wanted. If he still didn't know what he wanted, I figured a half  dozen sloppy bar-girls would help him sort out in his mind what it was he was missing. 

Which I wanted the answer to, to be; 'someone who knew him'. And not ol' lefty. I'd gotten the idea when he'd completed his eye surgery - a constructive use of his vacation time which he apparently had no other use for. 

I didn't know anything about LASIK, my vision had always been good. So when he'd asked me to drive him home after the procedure - an 'out patient' thing apparently, I had no idea what to expect. He was a little bit of a mess. They'd left him conscious with only a valium (or three, I never got a valid final total) to carry him through.

He emerged from the office loopy and shaken, eyes hidden behind these huge dark glasses like he was blind and still wincing away from the light. He looped an arm around my shoulder, and for the first time the gesture wasn't the strictly professional one he used when I was too drunk to drive myself home. He supported himself with his full weight pressed along my side and his head turned against my shoulder so I felt his breath on my neck. He'd never given me so much of himself when he was sober, and I was glad the Valium seemed to leave him unable to focus, and he complained of bright spots in his vision like the after-burn from looking at the sun. He couldn't see the way I had to shift as I drove, sitting uncomfortably with the most inappropriate stiffie. 

By the time I got him home, it had faded - but not without a lot of thoughts of ice and baseball. He was steady enough to reserve himself again by then, to get up the stairs to his apartment with only my hand on his shoulder in a steadying touch. It wasn't before my brain put two and two together into realizing that an intoxicated Constantine could not fight himself as well.

So, after he'd recovered - and it was odd for a while to catch him without his glasses in the evenings, or not squinting when he was too self conscious to wear them, but the contacts hurt his eyes. After that, I began to get more involved. I didn't let up on him, because leaving him alone to figure it out himself hadn't worked.

Whenever we failed a case, which was often enough to have an effect - I got him out. 'The next time,' I'd say. If I couldn't drag up enough appropriate girls from my black book, I was good at not going home alone. I'm not bad to look at - fit enough that there's no spare tissue on my frame and girls like blue eyes with dark hair, almost as much as they like fucking said hair up. Constantine is fucking gorgeous, and he held himself like he had no goddamn idea how many wet panties happened just from the way he worked his hands or shaped his mouth as he spoke. Drove the girls as wild as it was starting to drive me, or maybe they just see that he was solid, had a face that couldn't lie, and he didn't seem interested. 

So I drew them in, and he should have had no trouble - no trouble at all keeping them. He was never in as much of a rush. He talked to them for longer than the girls I attracted (I'm dangerous, I got the kind of girls that match, damaged goods. Crazy girls. Fuck like they mean it, though, like they could pound their problems out or carve them out of you with their nails respectively) had attention spans, so while I assumed he went home with them, I didn't usually see it happen. I'd slip out the back, to take my frustrations out on him via the most unlikely of stand-ins.

It took me until the third drunken, late night call  to him for a car ride home - I'd usually go to the girl's place and let her drive us there - to realize he was still leaving the bar alone. When I'd call and he wasn't irritated or out of breath. When he could drop everything with no delay to make excuses and he was obviously coming from his place.

"Don't worry about it," he'd say, letting me climb into the passenger seat and hang my head between my knees all the way home. "I wasn't sleeping anyway."

"Con," I shot back, the third time I'd heard the words, drunk and irritable, pissed the girl I'd gotten had been meek as hell and that she hadn't been Constantine, mostly. I could use the 'drunk' part as an excuse. "Don't you ever fuck those girls?" 

The fact that he hesitated at all to answer gave me all I needed to know and I jerked my head up out of my hands sharply - a mistake. I groaned, and hi mistook my anger for surprise. His eyes slid away from me, excusing themselves into peering out the windshield, at the rear-view mirror.

"Really?" I challenged him. I realized he hadn't fucked any of them. Maybe not anyone in years, since after Cixous had torn us up.

"Nah," he said, trying to keep it casual, like it shouldn't have mattered, and normally it shouldn't, but the way he wouldn't meet my eyes or tell me to leave it alone. Something about that, and the way he never said 'no' to me when I wanted to go out. When I wanted him out with me. 

The way he never slept when it was just me on my own in some forsaken part of the city, just came to get me with that same brittle excuse. It infuriated me. I wanted, in that moment, to break him apart until he had to look at himself, until all of him was laying bare on the ground and he had to see it all just to pick up the pieces again. He'd never have forgiven me. Or maybe he'd have just left the parts he didn't seem to want behind.

"Christ," I said, cradling my tender head in my palms. "What you - you got AIDS?"

"No, jesus!" Con snapped. Angry. That got through to him. "I'm just not that hard up."

That's it, that's all he gave me, even mad and off-balance. I spent the rest of the car-ride in silence, irritable, trying to formulate a new plan. It was much the same as the old, but like I had to insist that he go drinking in the first place, I would stay and make sure he left with them. Pissed my 'dates' off to no end when they saw me watching him for cues instead of them. By that point I didn't give a shit - they didn't have what I really wanted. Sometimes they'd storm out, and I found some irony in the fact that making sure Con was getting sex meant I got less. 

It was a few months later and I'd watched Con awkwardly escort a brunette out to her car, maybe an hour before. My date had lost patience and blown out of the bar like a bad breath sometime before that, and I was trying to space myself with time and water so I could get myself home without wrapping my classic around a telephone pole.

No matter how many girls I scraped off on Con, how much time we'd spent like this in bars where he obviously didn't want to be, he would not get outraged about it. It's like even if he didn't want it he could accept that I thought it was for his own good and also hide in it. Like that was obviously what we both wanted, and he couldn't reject it without casting some doubt.

My eyes were on the door he'd gone through when she surprised me. Corrie, I think was her name. Her face was a little familiar and I had to think about if she was one of mine or one of his. 

"David," she said, and gave me a little, nervous smile. Tossed her hair a little, like she felt a bit silly. "You might not remember me - Con and I went out a few weeks ago?"

That answered that question, and I smiled to show her that I did remember, letting her climb up on the bar stool next to me. She was going to talk about something - about him maybe. So I'd listen.

"Yeah, Corrie. I remember you, sweetheart. Sit down, what's eating you?" I ordered her a drink, and another of 'what I was having' so she'd think I was less sober than I actually was, drinking straight seltzer water.

"Well, normally I'd never-" she began, twisting her hands on her glass before looking up at me apologetically, like I must surely know where this was going. "It's just you really seemed to be looking out for him, and he's the sweetest guy."

She gave me a little grin, and - I could guess where this was going, except with a sudden flare of jealousy. Maybe she wanted something steady with him. God, and maybe he'd feel obligated to do it.

"But I mean," she forged on against my silence, then lowered her tone. "I'd like to give it another try. I mean - his problem. Sometimes it's just..."

She stopped, and I felt my pulse thud - his what?

"I thought we could work together a little. He trusts you - so maybe you could slip him something? Nothing dangerous, just - you know, for his confidence. I hear a lot of times it's just a problem like that, and the condition resolves itself."

My jaw had slowly clenched itself. She wasn't looking at me, but at her drink, so she missed what a terrifying expression I must have had. That she dare suggest - that she even could claim to know Constantine that well. Like there was something wrong with him. She couldn't fucking see beyond herself, that maybe the problem wasn't him but that she wasn't what he wanted or needed.

"What the fuck's the matter with you!" I hissed, and she looked up, all traces of faint embarrassment and hopefulness gone, replaced with surprise. "You stupid bitch."

Her eyes had gone round, but then she got angry. I wanted her angry. She'd done that to me, I could return the favor at least.

"Maybe the fucking problem's your fat fucking face, you stupid cunt," I snarled. "You want me to drug my fucking friend because he's got eyes in his goddamn head? Fuck you!"

I was yelling by the end, getting up out of my chair and threatening her with my size, looking like the biggest dick in the world, I'm sure. About to hit this girl with my damn glass if I had to, to make her shut the fuck up. Her and her soft eyes and apologies, and here I was driven to the point of breaking my own rule about not hitting women.

"Fuck you!" She shouted back, unable to think of an argument outside of returning the insults. "And your limp-dicked boyfriend." 

She hurled her drink at me, and it was all that saved her, the sudden freezing shock on my skin and the stinging vodka in my eyes while she left in a hurry.

Several bigger guys roughly escorted me out after. Told me I was disinvited from that bar and  - fucking fine. I didn't want to see any more 'familiar' faces for a while.

-

The thought wouldn't leave me the fuck alone, though. Was that why he was hesitant with girls - why he wouldn't even think about me? Was that all it was, or was it not the problem at all but just a symptom? Was it just that he had to be really drunk to even go that far? I could hardly ask.

My ego wanted me to believe it was because women just literally weren't his thing. I couldn't get it up for like - Arnold Schwarzenagger. The body wants what it wants. It's not always logical about it. I see tits, I get wood. I get the same reaction to some guys in speedos. But I have a type in both cases. Maybe Con's type was only on one side of the fucking rainbow, and he hadn't thought he should look there.

And it's not that he was a homophobe. It made no sense that he should worry about that trait in himself. I'd never seen him treat anyone different - suspects, friends, because they were or appeared to be attracted to the same gender. He didn't seem to hold prejudices - if you broke the law, he treated you like you did. If you didn't, he treated you like a friend. It was like he had this picture of himself, and he wouldn't change the frame or the image, because he thought to move one part, even a part he wanted to move to be crude about it - he had to repaint the whole fucking thing.

He didn't want to see a new image. Couldn't take it maybe. Like he liked so much of what he had he was afraid of trying to make it perfect.

I tried one more time. No girls this time, just me and him at the bar, in the back. I made a show of being outraged that we'd been stood up, and for a minute, when he said he didn't mind, I think - finally. Finally we'll get somewhere. We drank, smoked. Shot shit.

"You ever get curious?" I asked, deliberately obscure, deliberately leading him. I'd let him think I was drunker than I actually was, shoulders close enough to almost brush where we sat together at the bar. He was hunched over a bit, drunk too. He should have asked 'about what?' Should have left me an opening, verbally, to plant the idea. Hell, maybe found his confidence and realized what I meant, and just said 'yeah'.

Instead he just shifted himself, pressed his cheek into the shoulder opposite me where his arm was leaning up on the bar, and with his head at that almost defeated angle, shifted his gaze to meet mine. 

He looked up at me, his eyes  darker in the shitty bar light than I'd seen them, and I was too drunk to guess at why, but in that moment, I could see straight through him. 

Jesus, Con but words refused to leap into that well of space where angels and legality fear to tread. Just trust me. 

Instead I watched him shut it down, could see every step he took to close himself up. These small things he hoped were invisible - that I let him believe were. 

"One more for the road," I said - begged, so softly I'm not sure how the bartender heard, but the drink comes anyway.

Constantine lets me have the alcohol, at least.

-

LUCID HR. 84 - SINGLE SUBJECT

We're both drunk, and it's my fault, I keep pushing him, pushing and pushing and he gives because he won't say no when I hand him a drink, when I put my hand under it, laughing, and push it toward his mouth like - 'don't you want to have a good time, see?' Doesn't say no when I put my hand on his back. The words don't matter but I encourage him anyway -

"We're partying."

"'n we're always-" he starts, but still doesn't refuse.

I don't let him think - his thinking always keeps us out of trouble, but tonight I want us in trouble. 

"Nope," I cut him off, push the mug up indicatively until he drinks. "We got this far, fair 'n square." 

"How far?" he slurs, and jesus what a mess I've made of him, after getting him back to my place through some fucking magic of confidence on my part and half-blind trust on his part. 'Just a few drinks and we'll already be someplace safe to sleep,' and then we somehow were onto my couch and into more alcohol.

"This far," I answer, taking the empty glass out of his hand and leaning into him to trap him against the arm of the couch where he can't escape, casting my hand out to the side to drop the glass heavily onto the coffee table without looking.  I close my mouth on his - open in disbelief, open and unresisting as my tongue pushes in to pull alcohol off of his. Pushing again, pushing and driving forward as fast as I feel myself settling against him, until I can taste past the alcohol, taste him. Faintly cigarettes, clean teeth, sharp edges. Responding mouth, groaning into it, and I can't tell if he's leaning up or I'm leaning down or pulling at the handful of his ratty old T-shirt that I have.

I have to know, have to, so I drop my hand straight down between us where it lands on his inner thigh, slides up along the inseam of his jeans, and I feel the muscle tighten, him breaking the kiss to hiss his shock. Like his mind was still working out point a, and even though point b was a straight line (down), he hadn't guessed that was where we were going.

My fingers find the crease of thigh and body, and I feel his dick jump and start to fill against the backs of my knuckles, zero to floored.

"Christ," he hisses, lost, and I look up. My eyes had angled down to watch, just sliding the back of my knuckles along the growing bulge in his pants, knowing it responded to me. To my touch.  His eyes are barely brown, almost all pupil, going wide as if he needs to see everything he possibly can, and his throat works as he watches my hand on him. Has to see that it is mine to believe it, follow the flexing line of my arm back up to my shoulder and then look into my eyes to be sure that I was aware of my actions. That it wasn't an accident, what I was doing to him. 

"Yeah?" I prompt, turning my hand around, cupping over his erection where it felt warm and close even through his jeans. I can feel the whole dimensions of him, and he makes this noise - a gasp, ready like he's been waiting forever, waiting as long as I have been waiting for this.

"Christ," he repeats, and lets go of the couch. One of his hands has gone to grip the thick cushions in back, the other fallen down along the front to grip the wood frame hidden under the dust ruffle, and he got his hands up. I think at first he's going to reach for me, but instead he goes between us, rushing, his hands working his own button, his own fly.

God, it turns me on more than anything that I've pushed him so far that he wants to - needs to take for himself To know that I can do that for him when no one else can. Jesus. I'm hard as hell and he makes this noise when his hand closes over mine, when he brushes my skin to get his pants out of the way, to give me all the access I want. His fingers follow mine right onto his cock.

"Yeah," he says, "right there, right-"

But his next words drown in noise, drown in my mouth. I get the idea, curling my fingers to take the impressive measure of him, and I could almost cum just from listening to him encourage me.

His eyes haven't gone all the way closed, just mostly there, and he's watching me through his eyelashes when his hands remember themselves and start moving again. Reaching for me this time, like he's not going to leave me behind, and he's in one hell of a rush, pulling my voice out of me with a groan when his fingers start yanking the button on my jeans after only the barest grip to be sure he'd find me ready in there.

"C'mon," he's saying, arching up into each of my strokes with a rolling motion of his hips, pushing faster through my grip when it loosens. "C'mon - get me there."

Fuck, but I want to. But I can't let this end that fast, can't let him catch his breath until there's no going back, no second thoughts, no denials. I can't take my time, and I have to push this all the way through the first time, so it sticks. I claw his shirt up, his pants the rest of the way down even though his voice breaks high in frustrated desperation when I stop jerking him off.

It takes a few seconds to get my own jeans off so they don't pull tight around my thighs, let me spread my legs over his, so that when he reaches for me and I lean down again, we push against each other, skin on skin.

God, how fucking long have I waited, and it's so good - like I knew it would be. My hand on the scar on Constantine's shoulder as I arched my back downward and with only the lightest pressure of my thumb pressing down on my own dick and the first two fingers stretching wide around Con's, rocking us together, showing our dicks they aren't alone.

One of his hands seizes my shoulder, and the other comes around of the back of my neck, gripping as he pushes up hard, rushing us again. I drop my head and put my teeth into his old scar until he gasps and his pace stutters and I'm sure I have his attention. I draw back to warn him with a look. Warn him that I'd let him push, but I was in control, and I stop all our motions but the press of our bodies as I push my hand into the couch cushions. Come up with lubricant, and he doesn't question that.

I over-apply, get us drippingly slick between my hands, and push my mouth against his to swallow the noises he makes into my own chest where they echo back as hungry growls. I slide my other hand back while he's distracted, press fingers into myself, stretching, slicking. He doesn't notice until I sit up, my hand positioning him, and his eyes shoot open as I get up on my knees, his hands rushing to my hips to stop me.

"I can't," he says, looking up at me and shaking his head, wild eyed, but he was hard as ever, breath fast as ever, and I realize he hadn't expected to be in this position. "Hey, partner - I can't-"

"Yes you can," I cut him off, leaned down and wrap our hands together, "You can."

I push his fingers in where mine had been, let him feel how open and how much I want him, drive my hips down sharply to press his first two fingers in to the hilt in a slick easy slide - to let him comprehend how that was going to feel on his dick. "That's for you," I tell him, and his breath hitches as I push my fingers in along with his, feel the stretch and the way it turned my breaths fast and driven, the way he couldn't help pushing his length against my thigh in response.

"I got a-" Condom. In his wallet. I knew.

"Don't need it," I snarl, unwilling to let him delay any more, and I lift myself onto him, let our hands guide his length all the way, until I have all of him at last, his broken moan a sign that he was right there with me, aching, and now complete. 

No going back, no arguing that we fit together like we were supposed to, that we both fucking want this, and there was no reason we shouldn't just have it. It's only then I let him rush us, I drive us faster, even, feel the additional stretch of his fingers as he pushes them into me alongside his cock, to feel us sliding together in the most intimate way, as if that's the only way to fully comprehend the enormity of the moment. It feels - beyond stretched. Beyond full. Bursting - teetering at the ledge -

"God," his voice organizes sounds into words, though he hardly could be thinking about what he's saying. "Gonna. Have to-"

"Come for me, partner," I say, wanting it. Wanting it to be mine, the results of my actions. "Come on, I'm right here with-"

But he shuts me up by putting his free hand roughly on my dick and giving me two quick strokes, letting me feel it, and I cum, muscles locking up tight, sweeping tidelike. Pulling me into a curl of sensation and he came after, driving up and flooding heat into me, dripping down the channel his fingers create and hotly onto my balls. I shudder, helpless, glad I hadn't let him talk me into protection or I'd have missed that, and it was him, part of him.

We lean our foreheads together in a curl of bodies, and I let my hands fall on him possessively knowing we still had the whole night - the rest of eternity for me to show him everything I wanted to, but we'd taken that last flying leap across the void and now there was no fucking way back. We'd burned the bridge like he'd burned to life inside of me, the remains undeniable, but behind us. I don't unjoin us until I have to, and my body regrets the change.

-

He dropped me off at my apartment, but had the good manners to help me up the stairs, through my door, into my bedroom where he stood back from the bed as I dropped myself onto it, utterly out of place.

"You need an intervention," he joked lamely as he got me a glass of water to put on the nightstand - got his hand out of the way when I reached for it so I had to go for the water like that's what I was reaching for all along.

"I had one," I answered, sitting up and sipping slowly. "It didn't take."

He answered my wry, tired humor with a low, two-sound laugh, and he retreated to the doorway. I watched him go, too dizzy to stop him.

"Seriously partner, you better dry up tomorrow," he said, and then he was gone.

Chapter Text

To tell the truth, I'd had enough of bars - almost enough of him. I thought he was right at least, and I better cool off for a while. I know I take things too far, get out of control. I was fixating and I had to take a step back, find something else to do in the meantime. Something safe. A known quantity. Faceless girls hadn't worked, fucking up Constantine's sobriety had backfired.

So I called a standby, a guy I'd been fucking in New York, another cop. He could be discreet, and he had leave time he was willing to spend in Chicago. I didn't tell Con, of course. He'd have wanted to spend time, to be involved, maybe ask about my past. I know what I'd have done, anyway. And by now it's become policy - I don't let Constantine know the men I fuck.  It's too close to home. Girls are fine - there's some level of disconnect, but there are puzzle pieces involved with the guys that I didn't want him to have yet. Maybe never.

Reece caught me by surprise after work when we'd agreed to meet later, though. Caught me walking out of the building with Con, a dirty sort of trick like the asshole liked to pull - always looking for leverage. 

I told Con he was an old buddy from New York, while Reece waited to be introduced and made good use of the time I spent making excuses about the two of us 'catching up' to look my partner over like he was a side of beef or questionable produce - which was way more attention than I appreciated. He got even more interested when he noticed how pissed it was making me. I told Con I'd see him Monday, and shut myself into Reece's rental car.

"You could have invited him," Reece suggested lewdly, flashing a grin that had taken a team of dentists years to perfect. Reece looks like a movie star and he knows it. Half the reason he became a cop is the fucking uniform, I think. They'd stopped giving out the S.S. ones by the time he was old enough.

"No, I couldn't have," I told him flatly, end-of-fucking-conversation. "And stay the fuck away from where I work."

Reece chewed that over, arched his brows and looked at me like I was an idiot. I am an idiot, but not the kind Reece thought I was. 

"You see the way he looks at you?"

"Yeah," I answered, if I was blind I could hardly miss it sometimes. "He ain't ready, though."

"Push him, he'll swim."

I'd wanted to for so long I could have punched the guy in the face for suggesting it. Like I hadn't already thought about it, like that option was one I hadn't considered. "I'm not so sure," I settled for, and reached into my pocket, brushed my hand over my totem. There's solidarity in there, something reassuring that he wouldn't understand. "He's stubborn. If he's not ready, he might - I dunno, sink on principal." 

"Jesus, listen to you. You'd never let that get in the way back at the precinct."

"Nothing at the precinct was quite like this," I actually found myself admitting, to this dirtbag of all people, but it was to the point then where I just had to say it. "You know, you find the one, you take your time." 

He laughed at me, really laughed.

"Partners for four years and you're still 'taking your time' How blue are your balls?" Reece turned the wheel with his powerful shoulders flexing, watching me almost more than the road, pulled off at some shithole hotel - the first that we passed.

"Says the cop," I returned, about to undo my seat belt when he reached across the seat and got his fingers into my hair - we never kissed. I didn't want his shit-eating mouth anywhere near mine, but I didn't mind if it was on my dick. He felt about the same, even better if it was someplace we could get caught. He got his zipper open one handed, pulled his dick out and yanked me toward it with clear intent.

So I went. Sucked his cock while he used his voice and pushed me down mercilessly to remind me who he wasn't.

"What a fuckin' thing that would be, huh?" he said, down at the back of my head, fingers tightening in my  hair to make sure I was listening. 

"That gorgeous untouched partner of yours reads in the paper you're in for indecent exposure, public sexuality." He enjoyed the idea, obviously, let his voice raise up louder like he wanted the attention. "That you were suckin' my dick right here 'cause you're that hard up."

He leaned his head back and let loose a groan that could have rattled windows, and I reached up to shove my first three fingers almost down his throat. I drew back off his cock, pushed my hand deeper into his mouth, like I was about to map his uvula with my damn fist.

"Shut the fuck up, Reece," I warned him.

He made a sound - could have been a chuckle, around my fingers, pushed my head back down  and kept quieter until he finished. I spat onto the car-mat in the foot well, withdrew the threat of my fingers from his mouth and sat the rest of the way up, undoing my seat belt.

"There you fucking are," he growled approvingly, "Get in the room, get goddamn ready."

He tucked himself into his pants and got out of the car to pay, and I obeyed orders as soon as I knew which room was ours. 

Reece didn't require any special equipment for his sadism. He had his hands and a special talent with a belt, and he didn't believe in safewords. He was too chicken-shit to actually push past the edge. He liked how much I resisted. Liked trying to take the impudent, defiant look off my face. Sometimes, I even let him.

Me? I just liked the oblivion after forty eight hours of endurance, pain, abuse, orgasms. That he'd push strong fingers into the belt marks on my back while he pressed my face into the mattress and fucked me past sensation, into a white space that was almost sleep or suffocation, until my survival instinct kicked up protest and my lungs surged for air and I had to jerk back, gasping. He laughed at that shit, came harder when I choked and coughed.

But I didn't touch a single drop of alcohol all weekend.  Monday morning I felt scoured clear, absolved. I couldn't have gotten an erection if I'd walked into work to find out that Constantine and twin supermodels were engaged in an orgy on my office floor and I was invited. 

Just Con, sitting at his computer. He wordlessly offered me a still-warm carton of leftover Chinese, his chopsticks still in it. I ate with them. The salty, greasy food tasted like the best I had in years, and the slow repetitive motion let me test the range of pain-free motion in my shoulders. 

"We get anything from Seleznova?"  I asked, looking at the file over his shoulder. He shook his head.

"Same shit. Can't pin it on her, can't pin her team. She gets picked up just to fuck with us by this point."

"How was your weekend?" I asked, guessing not so great if he was here. I was sure he could guess basically how mine went, if not the details. 

He shrugged, then seemed to think of a high point in spite of the dark circles under his eyes, and looked back up at me over his shoulder with the brightest smile. I was almost forced to revisit my hypothesis on my ability to get a boner, and I would have under any other circumstances. As it was, my heart just gave a half-exhausted thump and my brain figured it might as well keep the blood supply.

"Bears won yesterday," he said, and then looked almost - devilish. Playful. "Beat the Giants." 

I had no clue what the fuck he was talking about before I realized - it was football. Football season had snuck up on us again somehow, and Chicago's sad old half-dead football team had somehow beat New York's. I apparently should have felt the loss like a personal counting coup in his favor, because when my only reaction was to stuff more Lo-Mein in my mouth, nonplussed, he looked surprised. Then suspicious. 

"You're not a fuckin' Jets fan, are you?" 

It was so incredulous, so genuine. I laughed so hard I almost choked on my food. I'd never thought he'd be this wound up over football. I guess when your team's the Bears, causes for celebration are few and far between.

"No," I laughed - half coughed - grabbing for napkins. It stretched my painful back, but I hardly felt it, pushing the napkin against my mouth and coughing a few more times for good measure, laughing between. "No, I hate the Jets. That's New fuckin Jersey."

"Come watch next Sunday," Con said, impulsively I could tell, but he didn't have a lot of buddies. Must be better to enjoy sports with more than just yourself. "I'll cook."

"Yeah, alright. I'll play devil's advocate." I agreed. It'd probably keep me out of trouble. And I'd be in his apartment, doing something that mattered to him. I figured after all the bars he'd endured, I could do that much for him.

-

Sundays became regular. It was equally the most stable and the most frustrating time of my life as '06 wore on toward '07. I learned to like football for the first time in my life. Con loved it, ignored my mostly blank looks until I could finally catch on, finally hold a halfway intelligent conversation. 

He'd played in high school, the quarterback at a Christian private school of all places, and I wondered if that wasn't half his problem. He was proud of his football years, and I ate up the stories of his past. Some asshole had broken his damn arm just in time for the college recruiters to pass him over,and I could sense the old heartbreak that must have been involved. 

I kept it to myself, but I was glad he'd had to fall back onto plan B and become a police officer (against his father's wishes). He was too smart to spend his days getting hit by bigger guys until he was too badly broken to play anymore. 

I got him out to toss the football a few times, though long throws hurt his arm, I could tell. Between the scar - I saw that for the first time on one of those Sundays, when I got there early and he was elbows deep in his bike doing repairs. I knew he had it, in theory. I'd read about the injury in his file, but he was wearing this sleeveless T-shirt, all stained with motor oil, and I could actually see it for the first time. It was a smear of uneven tissue, ending in a permanent divot, several long lines pulling up over the bicep toward it, where they'd pulled flesh up to the wound to help it heal. Cleaner than I might have thought.

Between the scar and his old broken bone, he was too stiff to do much throwing, but he still taught me how, and we'd roughhouse. It was torture to learn how his body felt that way, but I did it anyway, because he'd relax into it.

I pretended I was watching the games when really I was memorizing the backs of his shoulders, the attentive cant of his head, how he'd lean as far forward as possible on the edge of the couch cushion when he was deeply attentive, his whole body into it. 

He'd grouse when things went badly, but always perked up again when the Bears won. My luck was such that as November turned to December they did that often.  I took a gamble. I knew a guy who knew a guy. For Christmas, I got him - us - superbowl tickets. It was risky before post-season.

"I got a good feeling," I said, when he looked at them with his hand over his mouth, like he didn't want to mention how much faith I was extending on behalf of a team I usually disparaged. "And if the Bears suck in the playoffs you can sell them and get yourself a watch to remind yourself it's time to root for a real team."

It was the most grateful punch in the arm I'd ever received. The picture from that game - us smiling  our asses off in Miami in February, about to watch the Bears get clobbered by the Colts, but he looked happy. I was looking at him, and I almost looked - normal. Content. Even though his team lost, he walked out happy. 

Sundays kept happening. Even without football, we'd just spend a few hours. Cook. Go to the batting cages. I found the closest thing to equilibrium I'd had in a long time. But, I could feel the tension winding up again, curling up in the back of my mind like a venomous snake just waiting for me to put a foot down in striking distance. 

So as regular as our Sundays, Reece came on his leaves. I spent a lot of cash to get him up from New York to berate and half-destroy me. I didn't know, couldn't know, that he could only level so much steam off the boiler with his belt and his recklessness. Each time, there was a little more left behind, letting things get closer and closer to the surface with each interval.

Still, it went on a little while okay. Things could almost be normal, week to week. We still went to bars, sometimes, but I let him believe I was chilling out, not so desperate all the time. It was by that point I thought  - and maybe I was right about part of it but I couldn't go on like he deserved - If I let him see that he was what I needed...

But if it was going to work, it wasn't going to do it fast enough. 

I could have held out for a year, maybe, if things went easy, but they didn't. We had a job that meant 'easy' wasn't part of our vocabulary, and we were dedicated to it. Theoretically, with no distractions. Though not having a wife or kids didn't automatically qualify us for a full frontal lifectomy, it meant Con and I could stay late, did stay late. Put our noses to the grindstone and actually picked up tracks. Other metaphors, too, I'm sure, but it culminated in several arrests (for possession, which wasn't the worst part of the crime, but it was better than nothing), and another run in with our old friend Ksenia Seleznova. 

Russian girl. Liked to play the runaround game, maybe a little too much. A mouse baiting cats. 

-

Con was in the other room trying to work a deal with their leader, leaving me alone with Ksenia - I figured this time I might break her. 

"Why don't you  make a deal - you're a kid. Just a sad little girl alone," I said, echoing the words Con uses, but in my own condescending tone, trying to to push her against the grain. " You don't have to do what you do. You can make it without all this crime shit. You're smart - smart enough to know where you're going when we put you away for this - and this time'll be it."

"You're terrible at this," she answered, sitting up absolutely straight, hands folded together atop her crossed legs. Her hair was straight, blonde dyed blonder, and cut to stay out of her eyes. "You just aren't cut out for 'good cop'. Does your partner ever buy it?"

"Sweetie, we're goth good enough agents to put your whole team in federal prison for a very long time."

"You weren't always agents," Ksenia said offhandedly, lifting a hand to examine the undersides of her nails critically. "No one wouldn't know you were a cop to begin with - why don't you strike a deal with me?"

I figured this would be good. I crossed my arms to listen.

"It's just a matter of knowing where to look, as you know. So I checked up on Fitzweiss. I figured, no one's that good at 'good cop' without something to hide but - what do you know? Miracles do happen. My mother would be very happy. He really is a boy scout, isn't he? Never in trouble, always gets his man."

I wondered if she had  possibly found something that I hadn't on him. I was mortified - what if he had a blind spot I couldn't protect him from?

She kicked one leg idly, looking at the toe of her pump as if there were something on it she'd like to scrape off. 

"And then there was you." 

My blood ran cold when she looked up, and I knew - she knew.  Or maybe she was bluffing, reading cues she thought she saw, so I tipped my head back, drew in a breath, dared her to put her money where her mouth was.

She slowly smiled, cattish.

"I'll set the scene," she began, smoothing her hands over her leg, and then looking up at me to be sure I was listening. 

"Upstairs at the Penthouse Executive Club, there are 'harem rooms'. Little private spaces where girls entertain rich men in more intimate quarters. Everyone knows - cops especially - you don't get laid in a strip club."

She knew, and that was enough to prove it, but I made her play it out, kept myself upright, tried  to look un-fazed. 

"Two of New York's finest - dressed down and off hours. One's the police chief. The other? A lieutenant. There's cocaine - not a lot. Enough  so the police chief must be coasting - rocketing, if he's never done it before the way he claims he hadn't. No one's sure if you - I mean, the lieutenant had any at all. Past experience says the lieut can get a little unglued. Likes power. Maybe likes it enough to have the police chief's dick halfway down  his throat when the other cops - the ones the stripper called when she saw the drugs - kicked in the door."

Ksenia sat up straighter, brushed an invisible speck off of her shoulder, and only then met my eyes to measure the effects of her words, looking smugly satisfied when she saw my anger. She'd opened this can of worms, and she had no idea how badly I wanted to destroy her memory of it. Wanted to rip it out by the roots  like it was hair and show her that when she came at a guy like me with something from the past, she should know that the currency she was gambling in was pain. 

"So why don't you keep threatening me, and then when your pal Fitzweiss looks in in, oh," she looked at her watch with a big, exaggerated motion. "Ten minutes, I'll see how the only good cop left in Chicago feels about his partner when he knows that smart mouth of yours almost ruined a married man. Wonder where he'll think you're headed, though the answer's 'down' isn't it? I know about the visits. That cop comes in from New York an awful lot. Intimate getaways in shitty hotels. Fitzweiss know about those? He know about how you like it?"  She clicked her nails on the tabletop, eyes half closed. 

"So here's the deal," she began. It was enough. Blackmail, she was talking and if it started here, if I gave her control, even this much - it wasn't gonna happen. Put it that way.

Instead I lunged, grabbed my hands into her collar and hauled her up, face to face, let her look right in my eyes and see the full measure of me. What I was capable of. 

"The deal is, so help me god, that you shut the fuck up right now, or I will have to ask my 'good cop' partner to help me file a report on why there's so much blood in this interrogation room," I snarled, shook her once - hard enough to snap her head back and forth on her neck. 

I heaved her back again suddenly, backwards until her knees hit the chair and she sat down automatically. "You get to use this once," I told her, "So, congratulations - you've just used it."

Then I showed her why there's a big old yellow pages in every interrogation room, but not a phone to be seen. It's not so you can look up a lawyer. I picked it up in both hands and heaved it toward her middle, let her catch it in her shock. They always catch it, criminals - quick hands, reluctant to let go of anything they've got ahold of. I followed the path of the book with my closed fist, so she took the transfer of force through a wide surface area - it wouldn't bruise that way. Knocked the wind the fuck out of her while she tried to fight her locked diaphragm for air.

"In ten minutes," I told her, catching the book when she dropped it and raising it in my hand, a tangible threat. "You walk the fuck out of here, and if you so much as think of New York, I swear to you there is nothing on this whole green earth that will keep you and your team alive."

It was mostly an empty threat, but maybe in that moment if she'd so much as moved wrong, I'd have carried it out. Right then and there. As it was, she looked up me, frozen, eyes trying to see deep enough to measure how much was an act, and how much she had really pushed me. She saved herself by her hesitation, beginning to draw back to kick me - likely square between the legs if she could manage - only just as Constantine came in to break it up.

"Hey, easy - jesus, what is this a playground?" Con's arms looped around mine as the clear aggressor, and he pulled me back. Ksenia started to get up, to press the advantage she thought she had with my arms pinned. Con put a hand square center on her chest and pushed her back into her seat without letting me go more than he had to.

"You sit down," he told her, pulling me back one more step. "You ought to know better."

He differentiated her from me with tone, by turning his head to speak into my ear, and I challenged Ksenia with my gaze, dared her to say anything to him. She just watched us warily, waiting to see if she'd have an opportunity.

She didn't. I put the rush on getting her out, getting them out. By that point we knew jerking them around on our legal suspect holds wasn't going to convince them of their wicked ways. We did it so they knew we were watching them, maybe eventually they'd feel enough pressure to make the kind of mistake we needed. Today was not that day, and I wanted Seleznova to think about how I'd reacted to her threats. How much a guy like me would actually do to protect himself. I was counting on her to suspect that she'd barely scratched the surface, finding only those things I'd been caught at.

It wasn't that I thought it'd all fall apart. The CIA had to know by now, but they took the good with the bad. Knew that all skill sets are necessary to produce results. I didn't think Con would just give up on me either, but he might start to think he had to watch out for me, to defend me. I didn't want to put him in that place, not after all he'd done already. 

If she'd have had a cat, I'd have shot it to make sure she got the message. It didn't matter in the end, the team decided we were too big a pain in the ass and moved over-seas. Nigeria's a hotbed, dreamshare isn't illegal there. It's still illegal to own a PASIV though, since that's solely the property of the U.S. Military.

They went, we didn't miss them. But my equilibrium had been tipped again and the walls I'd created to keep my spin tightly controlled began to crumble away, turning simple rotation into a spiral, into loops outward. Normality never lasts.

Chapter Text

By December, Saturdays were spent wrecking myself utterly so I could face Sundays with Con. So I could sit on the couch and feel marks on my back, reminding me, grounding me.

My cell phone didn't go off on weekends, unless it was Constantine or an emergency from work (usually also Constantine, but in a different tone). Reece knew not to fucking touch it, but I came out of the bathroom to find him on it and with the biggest shit eating expression on his face. Challenging me to do something about it.

I took the phone first, yanking it out of his hands. He looked painfully smug and I kept the fact that I was going to destroy him for this to myself.

"Serkey," I answered, moving back toward the bathroom, pulling the door shut behind me. 

"Larceny," Champ growled, on the other end of the line. No mistaking that voice, though I was surprised to hear from him after all these years and with his 'pet' name for me intact. "You know that's an Agency phone, what the fuck are you leaving it laying around for?"

"I was taking a piss, sorry. "

"And your asshole friend can't mind his own business?"

My 'asshole friend' was allergic to his own business, had to absorb it from others. He was probably pressing his ear against the bathroom door right then.

"No, I guess he fucking can't. What can I do for you, Champ?"  It was nice being berated like I was first year again and all, but I figured he had to have a reason for calling.

"You still got that same partner? Homicide?" he asked, because apparently we were entirely defined in his mind by where we came from.

"You mean agent Fitzweiss? Yeah, he's still my partner."

"Good. Something came across my desk this morning and I thought of you two. They need a young team - but not right off the assembly line. To tell the truth the idiots I'm training now don't seem to want to learn their ass from their foodhole." 

"Yeah? Well you taught us that at least. No more shit sandwiches for me," I said, instantly interested. It meant 'new', it meant possibly experimental. "I want in."

"You think maybe you should talk to your partner about that first?" Champ said, sounding amused - at least a little. In a sort of Champ way .

"We're both climbing the walls, Champ," I lied - I had no idea if Con was as antsy as I was, but I knew he'd jump at the chance to do whatever good he could manage, be excited by something new. "Don't get me wrong, but - trust me when I'd say we'd like the opportunity."

"Can't say shit over the phone as you know," Cixous said, gruff as ever - brusque, but I thought I could detect a pleased note in his tone, too. "So you and your partner check your flight clearances Monday and get where you're supposed to be."

"Yes, sir, " I told him, and I heard Reece shifting against the door. He probably suddenly decided he liked the idea of 'sir' in my voice, because I didn't play that kind of shit, and I didn't say it unless you fucking earned it from me. 

Champ hung up without saying goodbye, but I took a couple more minutes talking a little to the dead air, moved closer to the door, looked at the shadow moving along the bottom edge to determine how close he was.

I put my hand carefully on the doorknob, then loudly made my goodbyes and waited for his shadow to begin to shift back before I slammed the door the rest of the way open, connecting solidly with his face when he didn't move fast enough.

Contact. Forcible enough to make Reece yell out in pain, stumble backwards when I kicked the door the rest of the way open and he crumpled backward, both hands over his bleeding nose. I didn't let him get far, followed him until he hit the wall in a backwards rush, dropping to one knee while he howled in surprised agony.

I got one hand in his hair, a big handful of stiff curls held harshly in place with too much hair-spray, and yanked until he got up to my level, both of us half crouched, my fist cocked back to strike.

"Answer my fucking phone, huh?" I snarled, and he began to look defiant. I opened my fist and struck the heel of my hand against both of his where they still cupped his broken nose, and he really made noise then. He began to fight back when he saw I was beyond playing his stupid games where he thought he was so fucking creative. So over the goddamn line. 

He never even got near it. Not my line. He fought his way free, his hands slippery and hard to hold because of his own blood. 

"Always in my fucking business," I snarled, feeling my frustration beginning to abate, but not my anger. He broke from me, and made for the door, shoved me down toward the floor but I just reached out a hand, hooked it solidly around his ankle and yanked his legs out from under him.

"Fuck you, you shit!" Reece answered, suddenly turning around toward me like a striking snake, and we grappled. "You think you're a fucking big shot?"

Only all his words were dumb and rounded through his broken nose and he spit blood on me as he spoke, warm like his body and rapidly cooling (as it would if I beat the life from it). We rolled, disrupted any amount of shitty hotel furniture, and he got in some good hits. He drove a fist right into my kidney, once, but by then it hardly mattered.

Not when I landed on top, not when I shut his mouth with a deliberate application of my hands - one to his throat where I pushed with most of my weight, the other closed over his mouth so he'd be quiet, tasting his own blood, while I told him what I should have months ago.

"Get the fuck out of Chicago you asshole. Never come back, or I'll break more than your nose. I never want to see you again, in fact."

I spit in his face, like he was so fond of doing to me, and told him, "Merry Fucking Christmas," before I kicked him in the balls on my way up. While he clutched his privates and his nose alternately, it gave me time to get my jacket as I left, half covered in his blood.

Motel doors shut in a hurry as I passed. It was that kind of place.

-

I slept well that night, except Con called me at four a.m. on a Tuesday to wish me 'merry Christmas', and of all things he sounded a little drunk. Like he'd tried to solve his sleeplessness with the bottom of a bottle, like he could use a little company. I was so fucking tired, so irritable, I just said, “Yeah, merry- whatever. You know what time it is?”

He apologized, hung up. 

I felt like shit about it when I woke up again, found a Jewish place that made me a kosher breakfast to go, and took it to him to make his hangover better, tell him about Champ's proposal.

We forgave each other; me his call at four - him; my pissed response. I didn't quite forgive myself for what might have been my real opportunity.

But if he was breaking down at last, I figured it'd only be a matter of time before he did it again. I wouldn't waste it, next time.

By New Year's eve we were back in D.C. The flight was hell, I hadn't been this ready for something new in a long time. To tell the truth, I don't usually settle down as long as I had with the Agency. I was sick of my apartment, sick of Chicago, sick of a lot of shit.

Con had the tray table down, he was fussing with his totem - I'd seen it and it was clever as hell. A whole deck of cards, all written on. Half tarot, but they were unique. Impossible to memorize without a lot of exposure. Only the two jokers were clean. I didn't know what all the cards said, but I'd seen enough to bee fascinated. I'd have given a lot to see all of it, if I could have without compromising him. 

I don't know how, but in all his shuffling a card wound up in my seat. I found it when I got up to go to the bathroom - he hadn't noticed it missing - and I palmed it. Instinct, urge, something. I knew I should have just given it back, but I made the choice not to. I stared at it in the bathroom for maybe ten minutes until some impatient jackass hammered on the door.

Then I stuck it in my wallet, went back to my seat, with that little piece of him. Heart, mind, tether to sanity, close to me. Hidden behind all those shit loyalty cards to submarine places and pharmacies. Part of Constantine's reality had become my possession. 

Four of Clubs.

-

He noticed. At 2:57 a.m. he knocked urgently on my hotel door - our rooms adjoined, but there was no door between. It wasn't a loud sound but it was desperate, incessant until I had gotten my pants on and the door open.

"I'm missing a card," he said, a horror  of desperate eyes and half-shivering in anxious tremors. He was more a wreck than usual at this hour of the night, dark eyes in dark circles.

"What?" I feigned ignorance, "What do you mean?"

"My totem." He grabbed my hand, dragged me to his room. The table was cleared off except four stacks of cards, by suit. Clubs stopped at five, with the three, the two, and the ace below it in a line. The rest of the suits showed aces. The box sat to one side, with both the jokers on top of it. It was the only part of the room in order.

His bag was upturned on the bed, his laptop bag emptied on the floor in a scattering of cigarettes, lighter, novels - all his traveling shit. The bathroom was a mess of what must have been in his grooming kit, disposable razors on the floor with fingernail clippers and the little black kit bag itself turned totally inside-out. 

I had to resist the urge to put my hand over my wallet to make sure it was still there in my back pocket. 

Instead, I went for my front pocket, pulled out my own totem - at the time, a radio. A little thing, but powerful. I'd built it myself, perfectly. Except for one piece, which I'd gone back and taken out, one little connection. It didn't play, didn't pick up a signal. It weighed right in my hand, so I went through the ritual of pulling out the tape that kept the batteries from connecting and draining. Turned it on, turned it up. 

I let Constantine hear the entire spectrum of static - the quick check for reality. As a more involved one, I could take it apart, make sure it was missing the right piece. I knew where it was, too, but I wasn't telling.

"Did you have it on the plane?" I asked, as he caught his breath a little. I tapped the radio batteries back out into my palm and stuck the tape back on.

"I only - I only shuffled, I didn't count," he admitted, starting to sound desperate again. 

"Easy," I told him, soothingly. "When'd you last have it? Walk yourself backwards."

"I checked it before I put it in my bag," he said, putting his hands up into his hair, fingers spread wide to let spikes slide through, thinking. "Christ, what if I lost it on the plane?" 

"Then some stewardess tossed it with the upchuck bags, partner - it's okay." I reached out, put my  hands on his forearms, and shook him a little. Gently, just to get his attention.  "It's just one card, you got fifty five others."

"Jesus, but what if I forget which card it is?'

"You think that's likely? Or that some team picked it up off the airplane and can somehow infer all the rest of that stuff you've got flawlessly in your mind?" I shook my head, met his eyes. "Not even I could do that. Probably not even your Ma could, so get ahold of yourself. We're in reality now, you remember. Just re-center yourself. So - what? You can't play solitaire anymore?"

He chuckled a little, drew away from me, but somewhat more relieved, somewhat reassured. He sat on the edge of his bed and took a deep breath, let it out. 

"Can't play poker, either. I'll remember that at least."

"Don't you have a computer to do that shit on?"

He made a face, obviously not approving of my suggestion for the use of company  issued equipment.

"No, I got a deck of cards for that shit," he sighed, shook himself a little. "Or I did."

"So take one of the jokers and pretend it's the missing card. That's a loop and a half, no one'll expect it."

He looked at me, thoughtful. It just seemed like common sense honestly, but he looked genuinely grateful for the idea. Like he could have kissed me, almost. I wished he would have. 

"You're a genius, you know that?" he asked me, and I had to laugh. "Yeah, yeah. I won't say it too much."

"Just keep your damn totem in your pocket so you don't lose more of it," I said, and had a look at the time. "Jesus, I better sleep. Cixous'll have us for breakfast if we aren't on our toes. You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah," he said, grateful. Actually fucking happy that I solved his crisis, when I had the damn card in my back pocket at that very second. "G'night partner."

I stole back to my room, feeling like something the dog had sicked up and alternately like I was as free as I 'd been in a long time. I'd gotten away with it, it was mine, safe and sound. Part of my reality now. It really hadn't done that much harm - and I'd never leave Constantine with only his totem to rely on. I'd always be there to save his ass, too.

-

Our meeting with Champ came bright and early on the second. We'd spent the changeover from '07 to '08 on an airplane, flown ahead into it even. I celebrated with a shitty airline cocktail, and by then Constantine had actually fallen asleep.

The only place he ever seemed to sleep O.K. was on airplanes, go figure, right?

Champ waited for us in a meeting room past several checkpoints, deeper in the building than I was expecting. Must have been a bigger deal than I'd guessed. He had a big silver case, like the kind mind criminals tend to hide PASIV units in. Military units are in big black anti-shock plastic containers, like most deployment equipment. 

"What's the biggest obstacle to overcoming mindcrime?" Cixous asked as we entered, hands on the briefcase as if he were a gatekeeper. Riddle of the sphinx, even. 

"Prosecution," Constantine answered, without missing a beat.

"Proving it," I echoed a moment later, half overlapping his voice. I glanced at him, him at me. I shrugged and went on, an old spiel that was too familiar. Too many victims to explain this to, by now.

"Unless we can find the suspects actually  hooked up to the other end of a PASIV with the suspected victim, it's all hearsay," I continued. An old lament. "The mind's deepest darkest Africa, as far as a jury's convinced. There's the biggest possible shadow of a doubt. What if the subject is paranoid, imaginative? What if they've got something to gain by the claim?"

Con shook his head, as upset by it as I was. He picked up where I left off. "Half the subjects don't even want to bother pursuing legal action - it puts them back through the trauma and doesn't do any good. We're stuck busting for lesser charges - possession, conspiracy to commit."

"It's a bigger violation than rape, boys," Cixous said, "and not even half as sympathetic in the courtroom. People can't get their minds around it until it happens to them. I'm seeing some even scarier shit to try to prevent it. People scrambling their subconscious into hostile wolves so anyone who pokes around gets bit, but good. Who knows what that's going to do to you, long term? Maybe nothing, but I'm inclined to think that having a head full of angry hornets when you sleep - even if you're not in dreamshare - that's gotta have side effects."

"That really seems better than mindcrime?" I asked, taken aback and curious at the same time. "Or even the risk of it? What if it never happens to the person - it's like booby trapping your own house."

"It's a hell of a vagina dentata, that's for sure," Champ agreed, "But it's the only way to feel protected, for some. We sure as hell aren't giving them that warm fuzzy feeling. What do you have, sixteen cases this year, and two convictions?"

It was exactly right. Constantine's jaw tensed as he swallowed and nodded. Both convictions for illegal possession of a PASIV even, and not for the resultant crimes.

"So what do you have for us, Champ?" I asked, and I had never seen him smile, but that's what he did, all big, yellow, coffee-stained teeth and he looked manic. Terrifying, like he was about to kick some ass. 

"Boys I have a can of whoop ass." He thumped the case affectionately. "This device can remotely sense, for  a distance of up to one mile, all the active PASIV devices and the networks they create between individual neurological patterns."

He let the information sink in, and I arched my brows, looked at Constantine. It'd mean a lot more possession removals at least - but the way Cixous was acting, that wasn't all.

"It can remotely access those dreams, getting us right the fuck into the scene of the crime. For the first time. "

"What? You mean like - see into other dreams as they 're happening?" Constantine picked up the full implication while I was still in shock, trying to process the enormity of the information.

Champ sat down at last, hands steepled together. "That's the one hang-up. We can access all the information, record it even, but no computer can sensibly process unfamiliar brain waves."

"We need an interpreter," he continued, "another mind, one that our computers have been trained to understand - and that knows how to work legibly with the computers. An interface. You boys."

"So you're talking - what? Testing? Training?" I asked, but I didn't really care. I wanted this. I didn't have to look at Con to know he wanted it too.

"Yes. Cards on the table, boys, this is going to take a couple of years. We'll have to fully map the way your brains function, record a baseline, teach the computers to visually interpret the way that you do," he explained, looking first at Constantine, then at me. "It might be hell or high tide, it might be a cakewalk. I'm more inclined to expect the former but I trained you boys for that shit."

"And the endgame is?" Con said, leaning forward, hands braced on the table, obviously ready to jump through any hoop Champ stuck in front of him and drag me through it after. He wouldn't have to.

"A clear recording of the dreams events, digitally recorded, that can be presented as evidence in a court of law - or will be admissible after it's proven viable and legislated to be proof. Crime scene security tape footage where none has ever existed before. More than testimony, more than circumstantial." 

"Christ," Con breathed.

"Where do I sign?" I asked.

Cixous grinned again. Opened the case - just a briefcase after all, and I laughed. Of course he wouldn't have something so sensitive where we could see it before we had committed ourselves. Two thick packets marked EYES ONLY  landed on the table, one for each of us. 

"Read your new waiver packets, think it over real hard, then come back. I don't gotta tell you not to talk to anyone else about this shit because you boys are agency, but. Don't fucking say a word about any of this to anyone. Not to each other outside of this building, and not to anyone but me or yourselves inside of it. Or I'll rip your goddamn balls off and you'll get a one way ticket to Guantanamo, and not for the fucking sun."

"Cross my heart and hope to die," Constantine said, closing his hands over his packet of papers like a lifeline.

"I look fucking terrible in orange," I agreed, claiming my own. No one could have made me give this up  - the only person who might hold me back was right there on the other side of the table. 

Cixous thumped his case once with his palm and approval, and left us alone with the fine print.

-

LUCID HR. 88 - SINGLE SUBJECT

The sky is a solid white grey, no visible gaps in the clouds, but there's no rain. The ground's wet, so it's either over or just a break in the weather, and we sit quietly together on the smoker's deck of the hotel - upstairs. On the roof where they banish smokers in D.C. so we don't have to be seen. Where we can't pollute innocent lungs, I guess. Our smoke rises above their heads, quickly lost in the white of the sky.

We can't talk about it, and we're good agents, so we don't,  but it fills the spaces between us, puts us both in a victorious mood.

I've interposed a half dozen other events by this one, but of all of them, this one seems like the most meaningful.

"You ready for this?" he asks, sliding a smile in my direction, and I answer it - dark and feral. We were born hunters, and God had just given us claws. 

I throw away my cigarette, take his from his unprotesting fingers and take the smoke from his mouth with my own. Harsher, having come hot from his lungs, but still potent. 

"Come inside," I say, because he gets tense still when we're close someplace someone could see. I toss his cigarette after mine, exhale the smoke at last. His smoke - my lungs. "I'll show you what 'ready' is."

It's a tense elevator ride, I can still feel the barometric pressure, the winter cold  meaning the rain had fallen half-frozen from the sky to melt on the too-warm concrete, against our too-warm skin. It's been a relatively mild winter, but if it keeps raining tonight, it's sure to be snow in the morning.

The chill has settled in my hands, in my extremities, and when we finally - finally make it to his room - his because it's one door closer and we mutually and wordlessly agree not to go the extra few steps for mine - the first thing I do is get my hands up the back of his shirt. Before he can even get the door closed, and Constantine yelps satisfyingly as his heat seems to almost burn warmth  into my fingers. I kick the door shut, reluctant to withdraw my fingers until they would stay warm.

He reaches backward and dislodges me, shaking his head a little like he can't believe the shit he puts up with, and shrugs his shirt off, heads toward the bed invitingly.

Jokes on fucking me, because when I land atop him, his hands get under my shirt, and they're cold as shit, too. I don't protest because fair's fair - but the surprised noise I do make, he swallows with another kiss. Inside, he has no reservations. We're safe when we're together, in the half dim light that makes it through the thick hotel curtains, and I still can't quite get over how tame he is and how much I want him anyway, all previous evidence to the contrary aside. 

How tame he makes me, too. Con doesn't need ties to be controlled, he has trust, has the most incredible self discipline I've ever seen. It's not hard to make him do exactly what I want, he just opens up and gives me that much power. What's tough is to drive him past that point. To where he can't listen anymore, until his control breaks and he'll go so far as to take what he wants because at that point he almost believes he can't live without it.

When his steadiness is replaced by trembling and desperation, I feel like I own the whole fucking world, and he's the only part of it that matters. We're gonna get caught eventually if the agency doesn't know already. I don't care - he's mine now, and I can't get enough. I doubted they'd split us over it - not once we were hotshot LUCID pilots or whatever.

Besides, we worked together fine, even like this - better like this, I thought, descending in a line down his chest while his hands brushed through my hair in encouragement. 

I'm glad he's used to not getting much sleep, I think, settling my mouth on his cock to take him deep between lips and fist and listening (carefully, he's quiet as hell)  for his approving groans as he let his head fall back. It means I can take all night with this.

Chapter Text

Project codename LUCID - a device for combating the illegal use of another device. The anti-PASIV. I found it funny that the only way to fight the illicit use of technology was with more, in an age where less technology was supposed to be required. Hell, my phone did more shit than my first computer. But there was always that question of how to combat mindcrime - which  to that point  hadn't gotten that ambitious. It was only a matter of time before someone tried to take launch codes from the mind of some third world dictator, we figured. So we were behind, but trying to anticipate where the technology would next be used and how.  To keep ahead of the problem as best we could - or ahead of where the problem would be when the technology was finally ready.

The actual original prototype wasn't too impressive. It drew from a a half million images to create a rough visual representation, and I mean very rough. Soundless. But it caught the first dream I showed it okay. It seemed a bit like a fortune telling sort of trick, vague enough to be close no matter what I'd dreamed. The scientists were proud, though, and Cixous said it'd get a hell of a lot better as it learned to better interpret our patterns of though and provide visual information pulled directly from us instead of mocked up from a database. 

Like a speech to text program, it had to learn our 'voice' through exposure, correction, re-exposure, re-correction.

Like teaching a kid, only the kid had to produce visual data from our dreams. Sound was a secondary goal. After that, we'd learn to use it to access other active networks, and see if we could record the dreams of others as interpreted through our known-quantity thought patterns. That shouldn't be the hard part. The brain almost instinctively worked to dreamshare, once the PASIV had set up the local neural network for the Somnacin users. Strange to think the chemical had first been in-use - unrefined, of course, by aboriginal Australians.  For how long, god only knows.

We could not sign enough times. Damage claim waivers, affidavits of risk assessment and understanding, oaths of secrecy and our special clearance paperwork. The long and short of it being that we'd be in D.C. for the foreseeable future. 

I had to go back to sort my shit in Chicago the second week, get out of my apartment, that sort of shit. Con was keeping his, and his Ma would drive up and keep it tidied every couple weeks, he said. Offered to have her look after my place too, if I wanted.

I thought of what Con's Ma might find, poking around in my apartment and declined. I didn't really want that place anymore anyway. I figured when we finally got back - if we weren't the permanent pets of the D.C. branch after this - I'd find another place easy enough. 

Con drove me to the airport like a sport, both of us still bursting with enthusiasm, and we drank shitty airport coffee after I'd checked in and while I waited for my plane to stop delaying.

"Hey, would you turn my bike over?" Constantine asked, as if in after-thought. He fished his keys out of his pocket and pulled the black topped Suzuki key out from the rest, followed it with his apartment key. I'd been dying to try his bike since I'd seen the thing, but had never had good opportunity to ask. It's not the sort of bike I'd have matched to Constantine - who I'd have been reluctant to guess owned a bike at all, except I'd seen it myself.

"Yeah," I said, keeping it casual. Would I put myself in the saddle of one of the fastest street legal bikes in production today? Is that even a fucking question? I took the keys, one to get into his place and fetch the safety gear, the other for his bike. The Hayabusa.

"Thanks, man. It's not good for it to just sit too long. Might be a little slow even at this point." I could tell leaving his machine even this long was killing him a bit. I knew what it was like to not have something you wanted.

"Don't worry, I'll flush it out and get it going," I promised, and got on the plane - already making plans. I'd take the bike back - ride it down to D.C. It'd take a few extra days and probably leave me saddlesore as all hell, but it'd be worth every second. Not just for him either - I wanted some quality time with that bike. His bike. 

On the plane, I tucked the keys into my wallet, had a brief peek at the card tucked away in there - since I couldn't test reality on a plane with my radio without riling all kinds of FCC regulations - and I wasn't convinced there was anything amiss anyway. Just checking. 

It didn't take me too long to deal with my apartment. I packed a little stuff - clothes, every day items, and mailed it ahead of myself back to D.C. Threw away the bad food in my fridge, put the canned goods out for Harvesters. The rest, I took to good will and dumped. My car was even a lease, so I just took that back, too. The dealership kicked the tires, hemmed and hawed, and finally we shook hands, even. I didn't care - I'd get another lease in D.C. What I wanted, as I took the bus over to Con's place, was to get my hands on the Hayabusa. 

It was a little surreal, heading into his place when I knew he was halfway across the country. Four years later and he even still had the same dog leash on the peg by the door, the collar with tags from '04. Just something that was never in the way enough for him to get up the heart to get rid of it. I left a note for his Ma about the bike, then found his riding jacket, his helmet, and the spare. Theoretically, so he could take someone along, but I'd never seen him let anyone ride double. The spare was too small for my head, so I wore Con's. The sensation was somewhere between a kid playing dress up, in leather no less, and feeling like I should worry about this becoming some sort of new fetish for me.

The jacket smelled like Con's aftershave, like old rides in the sun. The helmet still carried the scent of his shampoo. I took it off quickly - too close, too much of him and yeah, I had permission, but not to do this. I'd get the bike started, then deal with the rest of it. 

So maybe, as I approached that powerful machine of Constantine's, I was in an even less normal frame of mind than I usually am. I never liked rice rockets before I met him, fast or not. I made an exception for the Hayabusa. It was Constantine's, a fact that I felt acutely as I pulled off the cover and settled into the saddle.

It felt a bit strange, like it was used to a whole other body - and of course it was  but I had to shift around until I realized I was supposed to almost lie forward in the seat, the padding positioned to support me that way, as I'd seen Con ride the thing. 

I had a moment, after I put the key in the ignition, where my mind blanked on how to get it started. I hadn't ridden at all in a while, and I pulled out my cell phone to call Con so he could walk me through it, but after the second ring I remembered. I clicked the phone closed again and hit the electric starter, feeling like an idiot. 

The bike coughed, made a bit of a shrill protest, and then turned over roughly, shocking its whole frame with reverberations as the powerful engine caught. The meters turned on, cycled, then read, but my mind went away briefly as it idled roughly between my legs. God, powerful. Harsh, too, from sitting. The engine churned in subtle vibrations - not so subtle as they transferred through the frame and saddle, seeming to head straight to my crotch.

I couldn't help it. I put one hand down on the front of the seat, fingers splaying forward over the gas tank, and arched my back, rubbing myself against the leather. Jesus, and Con had been keeping this all to himself. 

I arched into it a few times, then reached for the accelerator and revved the engine which growled louder and covered my gasping. I didn't care, suddenly, I was going to rub myself on Con's fucking bike until I came and figure out what to do about my pants later. 

A sudden counter vibration startled me, and I dropped my hand off the accelerator, dazedly trying to figure out what the fuck was going on. It wasn't the bike, though - it was my cell phone going off in my pocket, fuck. I shouldn't have answered it, didn't know how I'd keep myself in check with his voice in my ear - but suddenly I had to hear him. Needed it.

"Serkey," I answered - the usual way at least, best I could as I rubbed lewdly on the seat.

"Everything okay? Missed your call." Constantine said, utterly clueless. For the best, but his voice is just what I wanted. I push down harder.

"Yeah, Con," I said, controlling my tone. "I just forgot how to start - how to start your bike for a second."

I bit my lip against a groan, reached again, revved, and - that, that was almost it. 

"Sounds like you remembered. It go okay for you?" he asks, his tone some how found and proud, like I have to fucking love the bike now that I've been on it, and I fucking do, but he'd never imagine this. Or maybe he did, sometimes I don't know. He started talking about what I'd need to know, riding. Expecting me to take it for a spin, but my concentration just wouldn't split that far - all I knew was that his voice was in my ears, and that fucking bike was growling away , smoothing out regular, and I shot my fucking load. Somehow, I stayed quiet, even though I came hard enough for some to even make it past my jeans in an obscene smear on the leather.

"What are you doing to my bike?" Con asked, into my silence.

"Nothing. I thought I heard a problem - " I answered, breathless and distracted. There was a smear of darkness  on the saddle leather, and I reached out with my free hand, carefully rubbed it in with my thumb.

"Sounds fine to me," Con said, and I laughed a little, still not quite back.

"Yeah," I said, covered the receiver with my thumb as I gasped in air, then slid it off again to finish. "Yeah, must have been wrong. Just double-checking."

"You got it now?" He laughed, and I almost nodded, as if he were right there.

"Yeah. Gonna take it out and get it going for you," I told him, my voice rough, failing to make that sound like anything but a proposition. "Call you later."

-

He was overjoyed when I showed up with the bike. Some paranoid part of me almost thought he'd just look at it and know, like he'd done with the dog. He didn't, didn't even notice the faint stain on the saddle, which I'd perversely left to set in.

He just put his hands on it and smiled, like I wished he'd do to me. Like I knew some part of him wanted to do to me, but in six years, he hadn't.

The LUCID project had kept us busy enough, threw us around enough, that for the first time in a while my mind was occupied with something other than the question why. 

They sent us back through Hogan's Alley, made me use my fucking government issue service pistol, which I fucking hated. I will never understand the positioning of the magazine release on a Glock 17, which sits right under the thumb for ease. Too much ease. Must have dropped a thousand clips on the fucking floor. 

Looks less than intimidating when you're securing a suspect with a drawn weapon and the clip thuds out onto your toe, then your partner laughs at you. Con found it funny, but I'd have found it aggravating as hell in any real combat situation. I never carried a nine on duty, always a  .45mm. Habit, and I like a gun that's solid metal. 

Con never gave me shit about that. As a cop, he'd seen people absorb hits from the smaller rounds and keep going. Hell, he'd done it, had the scar to prove it. Not even Rambo would shrug off a hit from his Colt or my S&W.

But when you're training, you have to go with the safe route. That meant the Glock, which meant I dropped magazines all over the fucking place. We ran Hogan's half a million times, playing counterpoint to the new FBI and CIA agents in training. We learned that town inside and out. Sights, smells. Every texture. We memorized it so we could reproduce it in our minds with letter-perfect detail. Gave us an easily referenced set of visualizations to get the computers to pick up. When they could interpret our memories, we'd dream our way through. 

By that point, I was dreaming of the place anyway. Spend enough time staring at tile patterns or wood grains with various sensors hooked up to your head, and your dreaming mind has a lot of useless information to work with. 

Con looked better than he had in a while - he was sleeping all day almost, it was more than he got in some weeks, I'd have bet. Dark circles vanished from beneath his eyes, he was sharp as hell, and really good at processing information in a way the computer could understand. The images the machine got from him were clearly defined, sharp - but silent. Like watching a home movie of the inside of his head. 

Me, I was suddenly a bit worried. How did you control what you pictured at any given second? What if my mind wandered? I'm sure some of that was expected, hell - Con's mind occasionally strayed to things like his mother, which the computer showed as he saw her - kind of overbearing, but warm. Taller than she actually was. I wondered what he thought of me. My performance suffered a bit, the scientists noticed us both getting a bit self-conscious, and stopped showing us the results. We'd seen that the pictures were there and clear, that was enough. Without having to focus too hard on what could possibly show up on the tapes, our minds actually wandered less. 

Most of our work at that early stage was with a PASIV, while they exhaustively worked the kinks out of the prototype LUCID unit - signal strengths, actual physical interfacing issues. PASIV units rely on proximity, amplifying received brainwaves into their own wireless digital space. They're sensitive as hell but - sit too far away and your dream gets out of synch with the other dreamers. Your brain waves, picked up externally, can only be amplified so much.

It was found that there was just no possible way to amplify ours externally to workable levels for distance broadcasting. It was like putting a microphone on stage, but having the singer stand ten feet back, projecting his voice in that direction. the people in front can hear, but the mic can't pick up enough to get the back of the audience rocking.

So they came up with the second prototype in August, referred to with equal parts horror and pride as the 'long needle' prototype. Two guesses why, and the first doesn't count. First of all, the 'needle' wasn't actually like a hypodermic but a complicated receptor I couldn't even begin to explain. Kind of like a radio antenna, only it went into my brainstem. Risky stuff, but there was no denying that the results were instantly better. They'd precisely machine-position and insert two four-inch needle receptors, one in the left and one in the right brainstem, every time we needed to run LUCID tests. They'd go in under the back ridge of the skull, high on our necks.

It was hellish, and Con and I'd go out again after they were removed and the tests were completed into the parking lot with gauze pads taped onto the shaved parts of our heads, and smoke half-packs of cigarettes. It was the only way we could face going back in - they'd never sedated us for it of course - and doing it all again.

It was Con, white knuckled in his seat with his chin on his chest and doing his best not to flinch as the second needle slid home into a space that would surely start to scar around it soon enough that he asked finally, in a strained voice,  "Jesus, can't you just leave it in?" 

Give a tech scientist an idea and it'll stick for good. They began to design permanent receptors, - I guess basing the tech off of cochlear implants, and they'd eventually be permanently installed in our heads. The idea sounded more appealing each time. 

We were still on long needles when they'd satisfied themselves with the ability of the machine to reliably and stably broadcast us into the targeted dreamshare. It was time to build the structure back end of the LUCID interface - the 'home' area where we were in our own space. The machine would append the space it created onto the foreign network, allowing us passage into the other dream.

It sensed the areas of most activity, so we didn't have to search the whole dream over for the dreamers. Because it was tailored to us specifically, the machine worked better for us at recognizing commands and producing the intended functional result.

We found the best way to regulate our thought patterns into commands the machine would recognize (and not mistake) was to vocalize. 

This done, they put us under the first few times - like a construction crew - to figure out how we wanted the back end of LUCID to work visually and tactilely.

-

LUCID LOG, HR. 1 - SHARED 

Nothing. Consciousness but little else. A nebulous feeling, like existence but in a void. Disappointment. PASIV dreams are much less... utilitarian. 

I hardly have an impression of up or down, and my mind reaches out to build what it can, conjuring from my past. I slowly orient myself, sort up from down, and find green grass racing into formation, away until it meets a tall pine wood. An overcast sky. Upstate New York, I think idly. Better than nothing, even If I have no idea why the woods came back to me first. I hate this place.

I barely have a chance to register Constantine beside me, wind kicking up through his hair, here at the center of my darkness.

Then we wake. 

-

We both agreed that a structure was more practical, something solid and comforting to our human sub-consciouses, and I'd admitted I'd just put down what I could into the space to help me get oriented. But once the woods were there, they refused to go. We just built on top of it at last, after a half dozen frustrating attempts to overwrite it only to find it waiting for us again the next time we went under.

"We should just build a cabin, by this point," Con said, in exasperation. Way  too close to home.

"No cabins," I answered firmly , not letting  how averse I was to the idea show through. "Put something solid up, it should at least  look a little professional, christ."

-

LUCID LOG HR. 12 - SHARED

I'm getting the hang of this at last, I think. Constantine's Lobby is a masterwork he'll never admit, simply executed but ideal for this. He's not an architect, but instead a programmer - knowing how to suggest himself into the format of dreams.

"What are  you - are you looking at the floor?" he asks, self consciously. "It's cement."

"You remember cement this good?" I ask, and reach out to touch it - the feel's wrong, but it looks right. 

"Yeah," he says, crossing his arms over his chest. "I see it every day, don't you?"

"I guess I do," I realize, but I never paid that much attention to it. I saw it, sure, but I was hardly looking at it.

"All that time in Hogan's Alley memorizing paint colors and you didn't get any more observant," Con sighs. "Anyway, I figured this was okay. Lots of doors out, could go anywhere. We can verbal cue the machine to make them what we want, and our minds won't have to work too hard, even."

It's simple, easy to remember, even as he evolved the space into something with a little more personality. More cover, my mind observed automatically, like there'd be any firefights. But we both have instincts that feel more secure when there'd be a place to duck behind should gun shots ring out.

One thing I notice is that there aren't any projections. They populated every area they could, logically, in our PASIV dreams. The mind does not like to feel alone, and so it fills in bodies where there should logically be some. Since we'd started using the LUCID, I hadn't seen even one. 

"Seems empty," I say, and Con shrugs. He doesn't mind, I suppose, and I'm inclined to agree. We don't need our subconscious out in the open when we're working, after all. 

He meanders around, and I look out of the big glass windows that line one wall - they face the pine woods, and if I could change one thing about this place, it'd be that. There's no way to bring it up without arousing  his suspicion, so I don't ask. I just face it.

-

We were allowed to begin logging solo testing hours shortly afterward. Getting our minds used to working in the space with no distractions. The idea was to make it instinctive, but I had been waiting for my chances to do this for a very long time.

I'd been practically a saint since we'd moved to D.C. Even though my days working (sleeping) freed up most of my nights, I still needed some natural sleep. But even with the ability to stay out until two or three a.m. and still get the sleep I needed to function, I hadn't.

When we'd started, I hadn't noticed it. But by late 2008 my libido noticed how badly I'd neglected it. I had a bunch of wet dreams, worse than the shit I had in high school. Sitting still was beginning to make me crazy -  not angry, just fucking horny.

It was a dream that gave me this idea - and I knew it might not be the best one, but I figured until Constantine and I finally sorted shit out between us, it'd do. Keep me from having to resort to shit like Reece.  

A dream took less courage than actually asking him, and now that we were in this up to our fucking eyeballs, I could hardly bear to risk shutting him down now. For whatever reason, he still either couldn't get around his own rules, or the agency policies, or he just wasn't ready.

It was getting harder to face those looks he gave me, eyes wide open down into his thoughts , where just beneath the surface he was in love. How or why, I had no idea. The more time passed, the less I felt like I deserved it.

So I dreamed. I dreamed us together. Innocently at first, just dreams of him - his mouth, his body, out of any plausible context so there was no chance of getting lost - giving me enough pleasure to take the edge off. For the first few times, that was more than enough. And then - it just wasn't. My mind wouldn't ease into it, kept protesting the implausibility of the situation. My training - how did I get here - was too good for idle fantasy to carry me through.

I didn't know if the techs ever went back and checked those logs. If they did, they were fucking champions of professionalism, because they never said anything, never looked at me unusually.  They occasionally tested the command structure I was supposedly building, so I would log double hours on the machine, not wanting to fall behind. There'd be questions if I did. 

I didn't even have to miss any sleep. It became easier to forget how much of Constantine I was missing, because in my dreams, he was there. I got irritable, a little, but overall things felt like they were really working out at last. And I had time - all the time I needed once we got this thing off the ground.  Time enough for Constantine to figure himself out, once we both were done with this distraction.

-

The weakness started in my knees. 

Some errant misfire of nerves, which abruptly disconnected me, severed everything into a folding heap, unsalvageable and earthbound. 

I was left without a leg to stand on.

It happened in the shower the first time, and I wondered - did I maybe just fall asleep for a moment? The numbness I could write off as a result of my collision with the plastic floor, the breathlessness as shocking my own diaphragm into airless heaves.

It was two days after Thanksgiving, wearing on toward another year again, and I'd logged maybe two dozen hours of time on the machine that week. Just, that I instinctively knew that's what it was, causing this disconnect in my nerves as surely as it allowed my disconnect from reality. I was left helpless and dazed for perhaps ten minutes, feeling like my soul had been briefly split from my body and I wasn't sure which part my identity was supposed to follow.

But it went away, quick as it had come, turned itself off and I got up, rinsed the soap out of my tearing eyes and finished my shower before the water got frigid.

I thought about calling Con, but I knew how he'd dig into it, see that I was under so much more than he was. Also, we'd worked so hard for this and I didn't want to monkeywrench it over a feeling.  Hell, it could have been not enough real sleep or low blood sugar. I could have been getting a cold. And if I was completely honest with myself, I couldn't stand to lose access to my own dreams - not now, not when I'd finally gotten it where I wanted.

So I didn't say anything, and it went away for a while. Long enough to get me into the new year. Over the end of year holidays, I got some distance from it. Spent some time with Con for real.

We laughed and drank and watched football, and I felt pretty good that I never once forgot myself. The bags were coming back under his eyes for one thing, and in my dreams his eyes didn't make the rest of him a liar.

I think that was the first time I really questioned what I'd seen in him. Like perhaps I'd only seen what I wanted, and even now I was only looking for echoes of the Constantine in my dreams, possibly even my own memories - by that point, they were suspect. I'd begun to lose track of what parts I had already re-lived in dream.

Chapter Text

The units they built  to install in our heads, so we could stop mutilating the backs of our necks, weren't legal for testing in the U.S. So we reached out, contacted Interpol about a collaboration. We got the green light to have our surgery in France, and continue to test the device there. 

"France," I said, of all places. "Really? Why are they so friendly to this idea all of a sudden?"

"Different prototype testing policies," Champ growled, eying me in a way that suggested I might kindly shut the hell up and let him finish. "They'll actually allow you two to waive your rights as human beings over there and allow us to stick black boxes in your brains. Over here, you' d have to fully understand every facet of the technology and how it functioned."

I wrinkled my nose up because I hardly cared how it worked, I just new it did and they'd stop poking holes in me every damn day. "That's too risky if we're field operatives."

"Exactly," Champ agreed, "Last thing we need is for this tech to wind up in the wrong hands, too. I don't want anyone to know shit they don't have to. Hell, I don't know any shit I don't have to. People fucking around in any brain they can get their hands on just to see what goodies they can get. Too dangerous for anyone to have the whole fuckin' story."

"I don't speak any French," I half-complained, more out of amusement.

"I got that," Con said, and grinned when I looked at him in disbelief. "I took it in high school and then my Ma made me continue in language courses. Probably a bit rusty, but it'll come back, right?" 

I couldn't argue. And the thought really did amuse me - Con's not the sort you imagine speaking French.

"We known each other seven years, and you never mentioned it?" I asked him, and he just shrugged. It hadn't exactly come up, I'd give him that.

"I'd have told you if you'd have asked," he said, and smiled. Apparently he enjoyed that he still had a secret after all these years. He probably thought he had at least two, but the one he'd left unsaid was hardly a secret to me.

"When do we go?" I asked Champ, who was probably about to explode through all our buddy-cop banter like a comic book superhero. 

"Book your tickets, boys," he answered. "You're expected."

I was surprised he wasn't coming, but apparently  he was too important to mindcrime hierarchy on this end to try and manage his subdivision and recruit training from overseas. Instead, he'd stay home and manage us from afar. I almost thought I'd miss his gruff, barking presence, but he told us to get the fuck out 'cause he had another appointment.

I figured I'd get enough Champ Cixous through my phone or work-email  that I'd survive. He was good at berating from a distance.

-

France was just half a world and a nine hour plane-ride away. I was glad we were flying from DC, it meant we only had one layover. Turned out we had to fly up to Boston and across the ocean out of Logan Int'l instead of flying straight across. 

Con kept his totem secure this time. We'd shipped the Hayabusa back to his Ma, which cost an arm and a leg, so we'd left D.C. with nothing behind on that last big leap into the real unknown.

Every day we were getting closer to having it. I for one, could not wait for this shit to hit for real. I was still hearing occasionally from the guys we left back in Chicago branch office, from the various mindcrime divisions cross-country, and they were doggedly doing the best they could. The teams that survived their first year became almost untouchable. It was the wild west all over again, with the best of the best training new team members in how not to get caught.

They thought they were smart, a new breed of criminal all over again. Better than the best bank robbers, cat burglars, art thieves. I could not wait to hit them with this.

So when we arrived in Paris international, and it happened again  - thank god in the john - I didn't say anything about it. I knew, even as I lay there, that this would ruin the project. I never piss in urinals, and in this case I'd have landed right in the fucking thing if I had. But, I crumpled  half onto the toilet like a drunk, one hand gripping the seat like an anchor and the entire rest of my body refusing to heed my commands at all. The other hand trailed into water fouled by my own urine, and I thought - been a long time since I've been here, hasn't it.

Funny how life has to knock you down when you're headed for the top. Like it has to remind you, every so often, that the depths from which you ascended would be happy to have you back. Well, I had news for life; if this was the worst it fuckin' had, I was going to kick its goddamn teeth in. I'd been born in hell. The floor of the Paris International shithole was pretty fancy in comparison. 

When it was done with me, I got up, washed my hands a good long time, and went back to Con outside. He didn't say anything at all. Sometimes, a guy takes a leisurely shit. The rule is, you don't ask.

-

Interpol put us through our paces. They had a team on payroll, pulled out of prisons to enjoy a slightly more comfortable confinement, like zoo animals. So they ran a mock extraction and we showed a bunch of foreign top brass what our LUCID did and explained better our need for the permanent installations intended. Positioning and placing the LNR's took time. In dreamspace, where time is magnified from minutes into hours, days, weeks - those minutes were critical.

Still, we'd never tried it before, and under these ideal conditions, we destroyed 'em, as Champ would have said.

When we moved out of the LUCID's space and into the dream network we were infiltrating, we became ghosts - we could be seen, heard, but not touched. The team couldn't kill us out of the dream that way, couldn't keep us out of anywhere with walls or mazes. We were just ever so slightly out of synch, which worked to our advantage. You can't run, you can't hide, we were the eye in the sky.

It was a good feeling. Even though we knew shit would evolve more in a real situation, we saw the fear come into the Interpol team's eyes. After the dream ended, they were shaken. We'd rocked their whole world, and we were about to start taking down their friends, their family. There wasn't shit they could do about it. I felt like dynamite.

Con and I bought those assholes steak dinners, like their last meals on death row, and sent our condolences with the food.

-

The surgery was scheduled for a week and a half later, giving us downtime before, and a long recovery time anticipated afterwards. We knew this wasn't a joke, but it didn't quite hit us. We were alive, felt good. I knew that the shit occasionally  happening to me wasn't going on with Constantine, because I'd have seen it on him. Also, he was such a good guy, he'd have reported it. Had faith that they'd sort the trouble out rather than cut their losses and scrap the whole project. I figured it must have been a fault with me, rather than the machine. Maybe I'd just been way overdoing it.

So I didn't mind the break from working. Con and I  took in the sights, played tourist. We  even went to the Louvre, which neither of us had any real interest in. We stared at hundreds of pictures, guide pamphlets in hand, and he translated a couple of sections for me. I looked longer at the nude studies, I won't lie. Not everyone can appreciate a Mondrian, but well painted tits are universal. 

Con got caught up in 'Napoleon Crossing the Alps', on temporary loan from the Chateu de Malmaison, apparently finding something to relate to in that dramatic depiction of L'empeur. Something about his knowing gaze, commanding eyes. The hand extended forward like he'd command his troops to march onward until they hit ocean again, and they'd do it as expected. Not out of fear or because they mindlessly did as they were told, but out of love. The painter shared my name.

I bought him a print. A big one, to hang in his assigned living space. Told him as I gave it to him, "We'll make it to fucking Moscow, partner. Only this time, they won't know to fucking burn it before we get there."

He didn't laugh, just looked at me, and smiled. Smiled real, smiled at me. For me. My doubts, my worries about my own memories and what I could see in them vanished. It was the same as I'd seen on him when we were fishing all those years ago. Constantine was in love with me, and he didn't quite know it yet.

But he was almost there.

-

The enormity of what we were about to do to ourselves hit us both hard on the day of the actual surgery, for me at about the time they were shaving my head.  Not just a quick buzz, either. I hadn't kept my hair that short since living with my father - but this was... shaved clean. Bare.

Con looked ridiculous, like a cancer patient. I stayed away from mirrors. If baldness was in my future, I didn't want any previews of how that would look. We waited in pre-op together, anxious. I think we both believed it'd somehow get called off, that the word would get out somehow that we weren't totally ready.

I was thinking about how possible it was, in this risky experimental surgery we were about to undergo, that one of us might not survive. That the last thing I'd remember was a nurse asking me to count backwards from ten,  or that I'd wake up again and he'd be gone. I didn't believe in it, though. Not really. We both existed too strongly.

"Tell me something no one else knows?" I finally asked, to cut the silence. We laid around on hospital beds in hospital gowns under cheap blue blankets that were easy to sterilize. Anxious. Talking would make it easier - and I wondered if the oppression of the moment might get him to admit... But he gave me something different instead.

"You remember my dog?" he asks - rhetorically. I remember the dog, in a sudden and perfectly formed image of my hands lifting its lifeless head onto its paws, glassy sightless eyes. Long, soft black fur under my fingers that was faintly wet with shed tears. I remembered. I nodded. 

"When I was a cop - barely a cop, even - I got this call from a woman way out in the ass-end of our precinct's authority. She said there was this dog in a drain, and it was stuck there. That someone should come shoot it. Put it out of its misery and keep it from hurting anybody.

So I'm envisioning this - I don't know. Big old wolf looking thing, half dead and torn up, looking to kill anything that got into reach. Like I'd go shoot it, big old cop standing in the face of the big bad wolf and pulling the trigger. I didn't know any better, I guess.

But I get there and it's just  - him. This pathetic black mutt , stuck on something way back in this maybe three foot opening. A drainage culvert alongside the road -  couldn't really call it a highway out that far. I realized the woman wanted me to shoot him because she figured it'd be too much trouble for any adult to go down in there and get him out, and she didn't trust a kid not to get himself bit.

So I did it. I got down into the mud and crawled up into this smelly, god-knows-what's-come-through-it pipe. And he's all tangled when I get to him, nervous as hell and probably half starved but you couldn't tell under all the fur and mud. You could barely guess what color he was under there.

He's got bungee cords and fishing line and plastic bags and all this shit wrapped around his whole back half and I don't know if that's just a bunch of crap he got into or maybe someone tried to drown him or what. I just knew I had to get it off of him. I wanted to rescue that dog, because jesus christ he needed to be saved and not just shot down to die in all this gross sludge.

So I started to cut him free, and some of it must have hurt, because I was working in the dark, talking nonsense and feeling my way for all these things holding him there, but he just put his head down over my shoulder, like he'd let me do anything. Because all he wanted was someone to just touch him at that point. Even if it hurt, even if he died, it was okay 'cause he wasn't alone anymore.

I don't know why or how the press got there. They got some great footage of my mud-covered ass as I worked, I guess. But they were going full force when I finally got him loose. I put my arms around him to start edging us backward and out, and I guess the camera lights must have hit his eyes because he turned right around and bit the fuck out of me.

Hard as hell, like those K-9 unit dogs will clamp on your arm and suddenly I was bleeding like crazy. 

And I realized that as much as he and I wanted to be out of this hole, we had to go slow. I had to hide my arm - hide the damage because  no one would want a dog that bit like that. They'd just put him in a cage at the shelter,  all the way in back, and he'd get the 'dangerous' tag. They'd give him the gas.

After all that work, all that trust, he was worth so much more than that. He needed someone who wouldn't just throw him away when he was inconvenient.

I hid the bite, wrapped my sleeve around it the best I could so the blood wouldn't show in pictures, and put my arms around him again. He just - relaxed, all of a sudden, just like that. Resigned himself  that even after his mistake - and I knew he regretted it - I wasn't gonna hurt him. That he trusted me to do what was best. 

I knew then he had to be my dog. That maybe he already was."

As Con finished, he looked reflective, then at me. Apologetic. I realized, looking into his eyes, that he was thinking of the puppy he'd rejected. Now surely it was a dog, probably living with some kid who was now half grown, the two of them aging together. That puppy who couldn't possibly have taken the place of the animal I callously thought was just that. But he felt bad about it anyway,  felt bad he'd shut me out. God, what an idiot I'd been.

"Now it's your turn," he told me, the corner of his mouth turning up a little, as the nurse came in finally. I laughed a little. Nervous - the real weight of how much he'd just given me felt almost oppressive. 

"Yeah, alright," I answered, trying to think of anything I possibly had of equal value. The nurse - anesthesiologist I guess, stayed quiet after telling us she was about to sedate us, sensing we'd be fine to talk each other down without panicking. I had no idea what to expect as she pushed my dose, then Con's, like maybe we'd have ten or so minutes while we gradually dozed off. She moved away, and I finally realized what I could offer.

"When I was fourteen, I ran away - " but that was as far as I got. Lights out.

-

I woke in a white world of curtains, my head heavy. My neck was stiff as hell and I was on my front, supported in an 'o' shaped pillow that allowed me to breathe face down as I was. I felt lax, like I couldn't even maintain tension in my body. My field of vision was filled with pristine hospital floor.  My head felt like it had been screwed into place for a while, and maybe it had been, I hadn't asked any specifics. But I was obviously alive.

It felt like no time had passed and like eons had gone by, a paradox of sensation that I struggled with like consciousness. I could hear monitors going, measuring my ascending heart rate as the pattern changed from sleeping to waking. Measuring my breaths. The tones were different for each, it only took me a couple minutes to match them up. Longer because I became aware of a second set of tones that didn't synch with mine at all as my patterns changed. They became audible, a little distant,  when mine stopped overlapping them as my heart and breath climbed out of unison. 

Constantine. There, alive, breathing and his heart beating. Normal, regular rhythms. There was an appaternal beep from the machine echoing my heart as I realized, and then I focused on matching us together again. When the sounds were unified indicators of life, I fell back asleep, more reassured than I'd almost ever felt.

-

LUCID LOG HR. 94 - SINGLE SUBJECT

We have a lot of time recovery to talk, and I hadn't forgotten Constantine's request. That in his story, it could have been me just as easily he'd dragged out of a drain, and that he'd told me how he worked by telling that story to me.

It gave me hope, that story, because even though he'd found his dog in a pile of shit, tangled and pathetic where everyone else had given up on it, he'd kept it. Kept it even after it ripped him up and surprised him.  How easily that was a metaphor for me, only he and the dog had grown older together. Companions for life, and I could not express how much I wanted that for myself.

We learned the patterns of the night nurses, we knew when we'd have a couple hours to ourselves. We closed the distance, laying close out of necessity with our hands joining between us on the narrow hospital bed.

"My turn," I tell him, in that space of closeness - because time seems to alternately race and hesitate here in the hospital - where days go by routine.  Here, right now,  with quiet all around us, I'm ready. It's hard to see his eyes in the dark, but knowing they're on me helps, the contact helps.

"My mother and father split soon after I was born. I didn't really care, I had my older brother and my mother, and to me that was good enough.

Except, somehow along the way, I started to become more like that absent member. I'm not sure exactly how, but  when my eyes didn't darken like hers and I wasn't a baby anymore - my hair, my face. My mother saw too much of him  when she looked at me, and it brought out the worst in her. It was like he'd turned her into this triggered animal, and when I looked like him, sounded, acted like him as I got bigger, she'd realize she could fight that fear she had of him, the one I woke up in her. She was bigger, stronger than what made her afraid, at last.

It finally all hit a head when I was thirteen. My voice was changing,  I was getting taller. She realized, maybe, that she wouldn't have physical power over me much longer. I could almost see those moments in her eyes. 

Whatever it was, when I was having one of those typical teen moments of defiance - wouldn't clean my room or do my homework or some shit - she seized me roughly. She flipped me all the way over and smashed the top of my head against the living room floor. It was just this huge amount of rage, all pouring out in this sudden attack I couldn't predict. It dazed the hell out of me. The pain, sudden reorientation of up and down.

Next thing I knew she and my older brother are in this knock down drag-out brawl, and I had never seen that happen before. We all realized in that moment when my brother pinned my mother down to the floor with one fist cocked back and calling her out, that I was going to tear everything apart. And because I had no idea why or how, there was nothing I could do to stop it.

So she sent me away to live with the father I had never even met. My brother tells me he started drinking that year. God, he was seventeen. I wasn't even there and just my echoes were fucking everything up. I have no idea why my father agreed to take me on. Maybe he understood that he should have some responsibility for the small scale copy of himself that he'd irresponsibly wrought upon the world. Maybe he just didn't care enough about me to bother arguing with my mother.

Maybe he thought, somewhere in his alcohol mired brain, that I could fix  him. Like he'd miraculously change into a responsible, adjusted  adult because I needed him to be one. But when I got there and it was just - me - he realized that I was halfway him already.

He lived in upstate New York, which is half farms and nothing and the other half old woods and nothing. New York's one of the most populated states in the nation, no one pictures cows and forests, but if you go far enough north - there they all are, in this miracle of contradictions. 

My father lived in this - cabin. It was half broke-down always cold as hell even in the summer, which was sort of a blessing. It barely had electricity, indoor plumbing that was delicate as hell. The shower was cold and the only thing to do was watch the antiquated old TV he had. He always dominated that. So I got antsy. More and more - cabin fever. That's a good way to describe it.

When summer ended, I didn't bother going to school - or rather, I went the first day and quit. These were rural kids, moving at the sedate pace of drugged cattle. They were learning shit - disinterestedly - that I had learned years before. 

I made one friend - if you could call it that. She was two years older and she'd let me use her shower after we'd fool around so I could have hot water. She liked me because she liked sex, and she was under the mistaken impression that guys under fifteen couldn't get her pregnant. I didn't bother correcting her - and I also didn't knock her up.

My father didn't give a shit about me skipping three and a half months of school, but finally a light bulb went on somewhere at social services or the truancy offices or something, and someone showed up to tell him. To correct him - about my attendance. When it became a hassle, got attention, then he cared.

I was fourteen, and the country was driving me crazy. I was ready for this fight, but he won it. He was good at violence, a pro at causing pain - the only two things besides drinking he did well. Lots of practice, I guess.

It was the only time he ever touched me. His cabin was right on the tree line. When he was done with me, more interested in going back to his beer and network T.V., I went into the woods. 

I didn't have a plan, had no idea why, I just  - wanted to be in there. Like it called me just for this. I'm a city boy, my whole life to that point had been navigating neat square blocks  and public transportation. I practically owned Manhattan and could get anywhere else in N.Y.C. with a little extra time to look at subway routes.

This was a whole other world. I walked as straight as I could for hours, but it didn't matter. When it got cold, when I got hungry - I turned around to go back. I thought - I don't know, thought I could call my mother. Beg her to go back, promise I'd stay in my room, keep it clean. She'd never even have to see me if she didn't want to, but I couldn't be with my dad any longer.

It didn't matter though. I was lost. Walking back the way I came didn't work. Everything was unfamiliar. The woods had me, and they weren't going to let me go until they were - done with me, like everyone else. That was the first idea that seized me, as night became day, and then wore on again to night.

I was already lean - my father's ideas of meals were pretty spartan. I would eat whatever hadn't gone rancid. By the third day, I was starving . Really and truly hungry. I'd never felt that way before, like my middle was this empty void and anything would have been welcome. But - what was poisonous? What would kill me?

I did find a little water to drink here and there. Gross ponds, streams occasionally, but I had no way to carry it.

I was utterly reliant on the woods, and they gave me as little as possible. Time became unmeasurable. I did eventually stop being hungry - I forgot how to feel it. I k new I had to eat, but there was nothing to eat. The painful sensation was useless, so my body shut it down.

I saw animals I'd never seen before. Hawks. Vultures. The vanishing tails of foxes. Once, a bobcat. I huddled down into some tree roots and prayed it didn't see how weak I was, that its fear of me would keep it away.

Getting up again, getting moving again took almost everything I had. Never once did I find an end to the trees. I began to doubt that one existed. The idea took hold of me that I had always been in the wood, that everything else  I had known  had been my madness, played out in my mind. That I was the solitary creature of my kind and no others had ever existed.

I had been so long in the woods that the concept of anything else was too difficult for my mind - slowly shutting down like the rest of me for lack of food to fuel it.

I don't know how long after that I heard the wolves. It seems like exactly the same moment. Howls and barks raised up around me and I thought, they'll take me at last. But it wasn't me they were hunting.

It was - was evening. Hard to tell in the trees, but still just light enough to see clearly. I heard the footsteps first, heavy and rushing, crashing heedlessly through undergrowth, and then the heavy breath. Labored, like a great whushing bellows, and I froze. Stopped, even though I knew I'd never get going again, I was ready to surrender, and I wanted to see them.

They must have been ripping it apart while it ran. This deer - a stag, I guess - just comes flying out of the brush. From invisible to there in an instant, right next to me. Passed by me in touching distance and at top speed, and I could see everything wrong with it. Half it's damn face was ripped off and it was just dropping blood, bottoming out.  It was already dead, but it was still running - wouldn't stop. Some impulse, some momentum in its dying muscles carried it forward at full momentum until it finally hit an obstacle.

It hit a tree, just yards from me, crumpled up unnaturally and fell down as still as death. that was all it had, it was out. And not a wolf to be seen.

Thirteen hours later they pulled me out of the woods. I had gone from the outskirts of Dolgeville through Ferris Lake Park and nearly fifty  miles north all the way to Five Ponds. My father had never reported my absence, but when my mother had called on some maternal instinct, and he'd been evasive, she worried. I was gone five hours shy of fourteen days. Two weeks.

As the paramedics put a blanket over my numb, unfeeling shoulders, I threw up the only contents my stomach had - raw venison."

I pause. There's no real memories of the events I'd glossed over. Nothing solid or real to give Constantine, only images that shift and change every time I returned to them. I had gone into the woods a city boy, and what had come out was unrecognizable. Romulus.

"My father was deemed unfit to raise children - even one so obviously his own. My mother, having assured herself of my continued existence, considered her duty fulfilled.

I lived for four years in foster care, with only occasional apologetic letters from my brother as any indicator that my family was still alive.

My foster family was saintly - god help them. They really tried, really genuinely felt for me and wanted me to get better. If I'd have been sent to them instead of my fuckin' father - well, I'm not gonna try to guess. They got me, but the damage was already done.

I'd close my eyes and see trees, hear the pounding thuds of racing hooves, muffled by leaf litter but no less desperate. See that wounded animal racing away from the invisible predators behind it. 

On the worst nights, I could taste it, and it was like lycanthrope. I had to get out of the house, couldn't take the walls, and I'd climb out the window and head for whatever trees I could find, equally terrified of the tree line and having to be there. 

I eventually found other trouble to get into. I got older, figured a few things out."

The rest hardly matters. I've told Con something that I hadn't ever told anyone - that when I'd been in those woods, I'd been afraid. Not just hungry or cold or half-animal with fever, but actually scared. Terrified that nothing had ever existed but me and that place. That there was no end and my memories were untrue. And I hadn't thought that I was going mad but rather that I had been so always, and only then had I finally found sanity.

Constantine is quiet, solemn, but he understands that while it didn't sound like that much if you turned it around and made it impersonal, and there were others who experienced worse, who went through it every day, and with no hope of coming back as I had - he understands all that and also what it means as something personal.

"Thank you," is what he finally says, all that really can be said, because he can't reach back and make it better, but if I trusted him like he now knew I did, he could get me back out into the light.

-

We slowly recovered. The doctors watched us obsessively  for signs of rejection, for negative side effects to the immunosupressants we had to take until our bodies learned that the implants were now part of them. We stayed healthy. Guess our brains weren't so smart as to reject what was bad for them. 

We played a lot of cards, our heads wrapped up like mummies at first and then less and less bandages as the weeks passed. Constantine's hair grew back faster than mine, or maybe it just seemed that way since he'd always kept it so short. I felt somehow diminished without the lion's mane of curls I'd gotten used to having. The sensation was akin to what I'd imagine a shaved cat must have felt.

But we made it - finally graduating to outpatient care and that was when it really became - real, you know? We'd passed again.  Now instead of the dreaded long needles. we had two permanent jacks mounted into the backs of our skulls, otherwise invisible and internal. We could pug in as quick as you jack headphones into a stereo. 

The techs said it would solve the problem of sound, too. That they had branched the receptors into our  auditory as well as visual receptors.

We could have won the lottery and not been as excited. We wanted to try again, see what we could get with sound, with these new even closer connections.

Our baselines cleared with a fifteen percent improvement over LNR's and we were cleared back into use to teach the computers how to process how our brains processed sound first, then dreams of sound, interpreted through our minds. 

We were supposed to report anything odd, any discomfort or side-effects. If anything it was better - even logging extra hours. I told myself not to do it, not to rush back in after my absence, not with how close Con was, but I did it anyway. Just too many opportunities, too many things I couldn't stand not to change. 

I snuck around Constantine, left the building when he did and then came back when I was sure he was gone so he wouldn't suspect how long I was actually there.

It wasn't that long before we got the green light to run another simulation against the Interpol team. We were beyond ready, wanted to know what they could throw at us now that they knew what was coming.

We figured we should do some prep work in the dream to get us back in the swing of working together. So, the night before our re-match, certain we'd come up with a few surprises of our own, we plugged in.

Chapter Text

LUCID LOG HR. 100 - SHARED 

Lobby is the same wide, pristine space I remember, designed to hold us while we wait to move on, like any number of lobbies in reality. As always, the only occupants are us and the furniture. Something outside the big bay windows, however, draws my eye.

The sky is not solid - not blue or seamless grey with cloud, or the black of night. Instead it's clouded black and yellow, angry and ominously churning. It's a storm in the making. My eyes drop and find that the woods seem closer, like they've crept up on our building since the last time I'd stood there. I tell myself it's my imagination. Had to be. Why now, otherwise?

"What in god's name?" Con's voice sounds soft in my ear, but closer by far than I expect, and it startles me, his proximity.

"You ever seen it do that?" I ask, pretend I'm looking out at the sky and not the forest, and he's looking up at it and so he misses when the underbrush starts to tremble and shake, starts to sway furiously in one spot and then it appears, coming faster and harder than it even had in real life, running and running in time to my hammering heart.

It's half torn apart, I can see the gleaming white bone of its skull, one eye dislodged. In the hole  where it should have lain there is still some sick intelligence - unmirrored in the glassy brown eye on the other side. That dark eye which must have been so deep and clear you could see all the way down into its depths. Dark entrails hang beneath, twisting and fluttering wildly in its exertions. Just, somehow its still running, still driving forward on impulse, on momentum, and I can't find any words to warn Constantine to look down from the sky.

The stag slams into the big windows, shattering itself and them, impacting inward as its single remaining antler broke against the thick class, staining the spider webs of breaks with blood as it slides down.

The noise is huge, deafening, and I'm not sure if it's Con's voice of mine that shrieks out startlement. Maybe it's both of us. Belatedly, I stagger backwards, my vision filled with cracked glass. If the pane hadn't stopped it, it would have crashed straight into me and for a second I forget that death here means only waking.

Con's arms come around me, drawing me back further as if at any instant the stag will get up again, put itself through the weak spot it created, and through the protective enclosure of his arms I can still see the woods.

There are dozens of wolves there, loping back and forth along the edge in indecision, trying to decide if they dare risk all that flat, exposed land to claim their kill.

They all have blue eyes.

-

We woke in motion, still with our instincts screaming danger, fight or flight as we scrabbled off our tables to find some place defensible before we got hold of ourselves.

Constantine was breathing hard, one hand gripping over his thundering heart like he could hold it into his chest.

"What the hell was that?" he asked - half challenged. We both knew it hadn't come from him, but the question seemed so ridiculous, so infuriating.

"You already-" I started, gulped air, but I couldn't get the tone of my voice to lower. "- already fucking know. I told  you." But as I said it, I realized I hadn't. I shook myself, tried to line up words in my head before I said them. "Just an old bad dream. Nothing. It won't happen again.

Con was closing the space between us, backing me into a corner as I moved away from him.

"The hell it's nothing," Con said, as he put his hands on my forearms and tried to shake  some sense into me. To get me to look at him. "You can't just write that shit off. You gotta tell me."

I'd never seen him this assertive before. I realized it was for me, to protect  me. I could have cried, but I shouted instead, tore myself free.  I could not cope with that much input while I tried to sort out which  Constantine he was, what he knew, how it was okay to touch him. What I would have to tell him again.

"Back the fuck off!" And I could hear my voice climb to defensive decibels, but I couldn't stop it. I needed space. Time. To sort myself and he wouldn't give it to me. "Mind your own fuckin' business, Fitzweiss. What the hell do you care anyway?"

I didn't mean it, didn't mean any of it, but I needed him to go away. To be the other Constantine, the one who already knew. So I stuck the knives in where I knew they would sink deep. 

His eyes closed to me for the first time ever as he backed off, injured - and I had done it on purpose. I hated myself for saying just what I knew would harpoon him through the heart. He swallowed.

He wanted to hit me, I think. I deserved it, but instead he just showed his teeth, was the bigger man.

"Alright," he said, and threw his hands up in the universal gesture for 'surrender'. "But this ain't over. We are gonna talk about this."

Then he stormed out, seemed to expect I would, too. He left me like I wanted him to, to give me enough space to think it over. Call him back. Apologize. It only took a minute of deep breathing to realize how badly I'd just fucked up. How much I wanted him to be there. But it was too late to call him back.

And I could fix this on my own.

-

I plug myself in, to let myself dream it out, so angry and frustrated that I hardly care how sore my whole body feels, how tired. They say the brain doesn't feel pain, but there was a raw, tender feeling when I plugged in, like being penetrated too many times. I ignored it, plugged in anyway. I needed this, to make it better, even if it wasn't real.

The dream went wrong from the start, leaving me standing in a busy road while cars swerved around me and something else, heedless of any need for help. My eyes focused on something laying still in the road, a trail of bright red trickling from its center, and I forgot the speeding cars. My insides crawled up my throat and I moved forward in a sudden rush, against the flow of madly swerving cars, and it feels like it takes forever just to reach Constantine.  

I realize it's not a dream but a memory, his memory - I shouldn't have it. Except when I reach out to turn him over, the wound has moved those few crucial inches to the right, gone through his heart instead of where the scar I've memorized lives. 

"Jesus!" I say, trying to press my hands over the hemorrhaging blood, feeling the stuttering heart beat through my finger tips like each unrythmic surge shakes the whole fucking world and leaves it trembling in wait of the next. 

His eyes turned and focused, wild and away, but they still found me somehow, still landed on mine. The same way I could always see him through his eyes, I saw the thought form in his mind that I was there, and he was going to be okay.

"Hey," he says, his voice rattling and not all there, more air than sound, and, "Love you." 

I feel his heart stop struggling to beat. It goes still instead. I am completely powerless and I can't even think of anything to do but to grab blindly for him, try to lift him - to get him out of the street where someone can get to us, help us. 

The sound of a deep, impossibly loud horn and the feeling of impact, all my bones breaking apart under a much greater force before the whole of me swept away like a tide, unable to resist that much force and pressure with something so frail and weak as a body. 

I woke up in a panic, but sluggish, like a heavy weight had settled on my chest, my limbs and pressed me flat. I wanted to be gasping for air, fueling my racing heart, but the breaths came raggedly unheeding two out of three requests for air. Everything was un-coordinated, like moving and drowning, like pulling a tangle of puppet strings just to get something, anything to jerk. I got myself off the couch, hit the floor hard enough to jar numbness and pain into my back, and got my body to gasp instinctively that way. I reached up with a blunt, wild gesture, and disengaged the plugs from the back of my head, trying to will myself to calm down - it'd pass. It always passed - faster, if I calmed down.

But it wasn't passing. I lay still, fighting for every breath, fighting to hold them for long enough to oxygenate me and make up for the ones I couldn't get. I was - suffocating on dry land, in cold, clean laboratory air. I don't know for how long, but the lights came on and I dragged in my first breath in what felt like forever, and suddenly Constantine was there. Relief cut through my panic, even if I couldn't quite focus on his exclamations. Everything seemed underwater, muted. I could hear his voice but not the words as he lifted me up, grasping for a pulse at my neck, demanding answers, I think. Taking my vitals.

I actually had a moment to think as his mouth closed over mine for the first time to begin cardiopulmanory respiration, that this would be the perfect time for it to shut off again like it always had before. To leave me rattled, but functional. 

Consciousness faded, but Con breathed for me as long as it took for help to arrive. 

-

I was barely aware for a while. Don't know how long, but sometimes sounds, sights would filter in. I became aware that I was in a hospital, confined to a bed, helpless. I could almost always sense Con there. The way the machines would force air into my lungs in regular, automatic doses. I thought, 'jesus, what have I done to myself?', and I wanted it to stop.  For a long time, it was the only thought I could manage between bouts of blankness.

It was only three days. My time sense was all fucked up, and I'd slip in and out, felt like it was out for longer each time. I dreamed a little, incomprehensible noise. 

Then, the 'in' moments started to grow longer again. My eyes processed more information. Con was still sitting there, by some damn miracle, and I felt like it was months later.

I couldn't decide if I'd endure the same for him, or if I'd have given him the mercy I'd wanted when it felt like it would go on forever. 

I could feel myself getting better.

-

One day, I sat up at last my muscles obeying  my commands, and caught Con  sleeping in

There is a commotion around me, doctors and nurses, I can hear Con's voice rising

his chair with a half dozen paper cups, coffee stained, in the trash can by the bedside.  His 

to levels I can't remember ever hearing it reach before, painting a certain desperation onto

eyelashes were resting on his cheeks, like a stillness in the storm of my emotions. I remember

words I couldn't make out. Just the occasional 'no' in flat denial, before unfamiliar voices

clearly how that looked. He wasn't dreaming, I think, but his brows were still knit a little. 

answer again and again. A lot of people are here, a press of bodies

Worried - for me?

 

 

The respirator fought to put air in my lungs and I  clawed the thing out. Possibly the worst

A hand takes mine but my eyes won't obey my desire to look downward and see them

feeling I've ever had was half-choking that thing out of my air pipe. I didn't even know if my 

joined. Calluses on the trigger finger and the bridge of the thumb so - I know it's Con's touch

lungs would work without it , but I had to have it out.  IVs pulled, my body protested my motions

"His eyes are open," Con says, "Look, he is right there."  More voices answer, and there is a

with weakness, and I yanked my catheter almost hard enough to make me see stars, but I kept 

violent motion transmitted through the touch of hands, a shudder maybe. "You can't just - 

myself from swearing. The monitor alarms would go up any second then, calling nurses  from

can't just fucking shut him off," Con tries in sheer desperation, "He's my partner, he's a person, 

across the whole continent to lug in the crash cart or call priests or whatever, so what I had was 

you can't, I don't care what anyone else wants. You can't." And he is throwing out words like

just a little bit of time to do something important.

he can put enough together to overcome this.

 


"Con," I croaked, when I couldn't reach him, but my voice was this tiny breath, barely 

I want to close my fingers on his, but they don't listen, nothing listens to me anymore. I'm

anything and he was sleeping like he hadn't in months. Maybe he hadn't. I fought everything and

 a deaf mute, a paraplegic, my mind has forgotten the language.  Another motion and Con's 

reached for  him. Got my hand into his Bears t-shirt, a good enough fistful to drag him toward me

hand leaves mine, I feel like the ground's turned upside down when it goes, when I understand 

and haul myself until he and I both closed the distance and his eyes opened. I didn't let him wake

what it is he's fighting for.  Just a couple more days, if he can win me a couple of days - I won't 

up all the way before I kissed him, half suspended in the air as we were. 

let him down.  I can feel it, about to lift. 

 


His eyes opened wide, and he tried to push me back to say something, but I didn't let him 

But he's not beside me , and his voice is going up again, volume raising with each  

until he really realized that I fucking meant what I was doing more than I'd ever meant anything

sentence. My field of view is a hazy unfocused outline  of a bank of machines and Constantine 

else I'd ever done in my life. Alarms came to shrill, shrieking awareness. Doctors crashed in, and

crashes into it , blocking them with his body as if he's standing alone to block the advance of the 

Con tensed, aware of the eyes on us, but  only to get his hands up  on my shoulders and push me

enemy across this bridge. Hands -from too many directions  for me to process descend on him, 

back more onto the hospital bed so we didn't fall onto the floor. 

pulling, and the assault makes me angry, outraged with my helplessness to stop them from

"David," he said, and I  could see his wet eyes and a hundred unsaid words as doctors and

yanking my partner away. They crowd him with bodies  and even though he's not a small guy, 

nurses clamored over me, exclaiming.

he's only one and eventually they wear him down.

 


It didn't matter , all that cacophony of sounds and  bodies. It seemed to fade away,

He's just screaming now, I can't see him, but I can hear his anger reach a boiling point

because our eyes never left each other. He understood. And my heart felt lighter, as if it could

when a doctor comes into view, touching controls I think. Machines warn with beeps and shrills,

go still in that moment and let Con's beat for it instead, and it would keep us both alive. He 

and suddenly my rhythms stop. I notice when the machines stop pounding air into my lungs and 

looks like all the air has either come into his world or gone out of it.

will myself breathe - breathe!

 


"I thought I'd lost you," he said - I couldn't hear him underneath all the noise, but I see the

The nurses shut the machines off and silence the alarms, but not Con's yelling. A 

words form on his lips, and as a thousand things seemed to happen at once, he's just the stillness

command from the doctor at the machines must do that, because suddenly  they falter, and

at the center of that storm, sunk into his chair in sheer disbelief and smiling as if the sun shone

get wavering, like he's fighting more than strength can win. My eyes obey my will to turn toward 

just for him. Like the skies had opened up and given him the greatest gift he could ever ask for,

the door, his hands on the edge going lax, sedated, as they pull him back, and the last thing he 

and he didn't know that him feeling that way was the greatest thing I could ever ask for.

says as he loses his battle is-

-

"David." 

Con sounds like he can't believe it every time he says it - every time he's said it, this whole week. Doctors had said things like 'miracle' and 'remission', like what was wrong with me was cancer instead of equal parts broken heart and idiocy. 'Remission' was apt for both conditions. Either was likely to flare up again at any given point, knowing my history.

I'd been okay to walk - lean, really - my way out of the hospital in two days. Restless enough to do it, too. Too many people around the hospital all the time.  I'd delighted in the way Constantine unabashedly braced me with one hand wrapped around my middle and the other planted flat against the center of my chest. 

"Fishing," I'd said, grabbing Con's hand when he looked distracted by all the attention. He wanted to kiss me again, make sure the first time hadn't been a fluke. He wanted to say everything he had inside all that shit he'd been holding. "Let's go fishing. I'm on sick leave."

"Yeah," he'd laughed, "I love fishing."

So here we are, two old dreamers in the middle of our lives, in a timeshare by the ocean, and I can smell the salt and the sun strikes my skin so hot I felt my past and sins burn away like absolution. I could look in his eyes as long as I wanted to and see he wasn't trying to hide anymore. Like the weight had come off my shoulders  as much as his.

"Yeah, Con," I answer, again, and reach for his hand. He gives it to me, and we're standing on the porch like teens on spring break, leaning in to kiss with no eyes watching. We did it like the world was staring, like it was more important than fire in winter, and our bodies lean toward each other.

I take all of him that I can get, one long line of us as seamless as if we were made that way.

"We aren't gonna catch any fish," he tells me in the space our need for air creates between us, and I laugh.

"I fucking hate fishing," I tell him, and take his hand, take the lead. On the beach, the sun is cutting wounds through the clouds to land on the sand and ocean in wide swaths of clearly defined light. We sink barefoot into the warm sand where we alk and two sets of deep footprints follow behind us to the sea.

We just stand, his hand in mine. I wouldn't mind if it was forever.  Even as the clouds conquer the sun again and drift shadow over us like-

-

Darkness.

The End.