After Richie dragged Seth out of the burning building, he stood on the sidewalk and held the back of his brother’s shirt while Seth stared at the fire and cried. He didn’t try to pull away and run back into the fire, but he strained toward the burning building like he wanted to, pulling his shirt hopelessly out of shape as he yearned toward the inferno. Richie didn’t cry or watch the flames. He paid no attention to the firemen and emergency workers running around them. He just stared at his hand fisted in his brother shirt and thought over and over, "I did it for you I did it for you I did it for you".
Richie stood in the smoke and ash and chanted silently at his brother and didn’t realize that something else had noticed what he had done.
Richie slipped for a long time before he fell. He was good at what he did. Seth was, too. Together, they could pull off jobs no one else could, so it didn’t matter that sometimes Richie saw things or heard things no one else did. There were comments, and Richie earned a reputation for being "a little off", but Seth always had his back and they got results.
Then the visions got a little more solid; the voices got a little louder. Richie got paranoid, more violent. Seth tried to cover, but jobs started to go bad. Things went downhill for a while, but everything went to hell the day of the Farris job.
It should have been easy, beneath them really. Archie Farris was small time, a money launderer for low-level crooks. His office was a check-cashing place, or so his sign said, a small building, four employees. Easy. If they had any resources left at all, they never would have bothered with a job like that, but Richie was sliding. He’d been sliding for a long time now, and they were out of money and out of friends. They needed the few thousand they knew would be in the safe that day.
They burst in the front door and had Archie on his knees in front of the safe in less than a minute. It should have been a cakewalk. It would have been if that thing hadn’t shown up. It lurked at the edges of Richie’s consciousness for years, but it chose that moment to stomp in and take a big bite of Richie’s brain. That’s what it felt like anyway, like something sank teeth into his gray matter and chewed.
Richie started screaming. Seth stared at him as he clutched his head and fell to the floor, giving Archie the opportunity to draw out a gun from beside the safe. Seth started shooting. He shot Archie, three employees, and the only customer in the place before the gun clicked empty and then he pistol-whipped Richie unconscious, took his gun from his hand, and forced the last employee to drag him out to the car. Once the guy got Richie in the backseat, Seth put him on his knees and shot him in the back of the head.
Richie didn’t see all that, of course. Seth told him about it when he woke up in the car an hour or so later. He told Richie how they lost what should have been their simplest score ever and then he asked what the fuck Richie has been screaming about, but Richie didn’t answer. He had never been able to make his brother understand about the voices, the visions. How could he explain that something had gnawed a chunk out of his mind? It wouldn’t have gone over well, so Richie stayed silent until Seth ran out of steam and fell silent, too. It did at least distract Richie from his headache, worrying about Seth’s new willingness to let something drop. They drove until they found a cheap motel in the middle of nowhere. Richie kept expecting Seth to start questioning him again, but Seth stayed quiet. Richie gave him a look as they got out of the car, but Seth just shook his head and handed him his cracked glasses before walking to the office to get a room.
That night Richie stayed in the hotel with a towel full of ice on the knot on his temple, and Seth went out. Richie woke up to a sodden pillow and the sight of his brother shooting up for the first time on the other bed.
Richie watched Seth pull the needle out of his arm and fall back on the bed and then pulled the towel off his face and dropped it on the floor before walking over to the other bed. He stood over Seth, water dripping down his face, and the thing in his head laughed. It laughed because it knew. It had tasted every dark thing in his soul, and this lust for his brother was the darkest. He had kept it buried so deep for so long that he could almost forget about it most of the time. It wasn’t buried any more. The voice wanted to take it out and play with it like a shiny new toy on Christmas morning.
Seth was a limp, boneless thing. He was splayed across the bed, every muscle lax, his mouth slightly open. His skin was golden next to his white shirt. Richie knew that he was golden all over. Seth never seemed to have tan lines even though he lived in his suit. Every part of him looked naturally sun-kissed, even parts that never saw the light of day. It would be so easy to undress him, uncover all that golden flesh and touch him, have him every way he wanted. The voice wanted him to do it, kept pushing him to do it. Without even knowing he was moving, he’d gotten closer. The water was dripping from his hair onto Seth’s face. Seth didn’t even twitch. Richie could lean just a little further, press his mouth to Seth’s…
Richie straightened up and went back to his bed. He pulled the covers over his head and pressed his hands to his ears, but the voice kept laughing and laughing.
Richie’s sleep was shallow and fitful. He was painfully hard and the thing kept talking, talking, talking.
"Why not just take him?"
Richie grabbed his head and chanted to himself in his head, "not real not real not real…"
"Speak up. We aren’t close enough yet for me to hear your thoughts."
"He’s my brother."
"So? You don’t have to hurt him. He’ll like it."
Richie curled in on himself a little tighter. "No, he won’t."
"He will. Eventually."
"I am not listening to you. You’re not real. Go away."
"I like it here. I like you. I always have. I smelled your offering when you sacrificed your father. It drew me to you."
"I never sacrificed anyone to you."
"No. That sacrifice was for your brother. It shows how very loyal you can be."
"Yeah, loyal to my brother. There’s nothing here for you. Go away."
"Don’t be so hasty, Richard. There’s no reason why we can’t all have what we want."
Richard twisted the sheet in his grip. "What do you want? Who the hell are you?"
The thing laughed. "I’ve gone by many names. Call me Asag if you have to call me something."
"So you’re a Mesopotamian demon? Yeah, right."
"So smart and well-read! You will do."
"I’ll do for what?"
"For me. Look at what I’ll give you."
Richie pulled the sheet off his head and looked down at the end of the bed where Seth was crouched naked.
"Fuck me, Richie." Seth reached down and stroked his cock. "Please?"
Richie stumbled out of the bed, knocking over the bedside stand in his haste. The lamp fell to the floor and shattered.
Set raised his head from where he still lay on the other bed and said, "Jesus! Richie, what the fuck?"
Richie picked up a shard of glass and squeezed it in his fist. Blood ran over his fingers. "It’s not real. It’s not real."
Seth dropped his head back to the bed. "It never is, Richie. Go back to sleep."
Seth got that first hit free. He managed to get the next couple for free, too. There was a short period during which he could convince dealers that he had never tried heroin. It didn’t last long though. All too quickly he had an arm full of track marks and a constant, naked need in his eyes. They kept going by robbing gas stations and liquor stores, and, once, a Laundromat where they ran out with a sack full of quarters. The dealer hadn’t wanted to take it, so Richie beat him to death with it and took the shit.
Asag, or whatever the fuck he or it was, found it all terribly amusing. He liked it when Richie killed. He liked it even better when he killed for Seth. He kept feeding Richie visions of Seth naked and begging on his knees, looking up at Richie through those insanely thick lashes of his. A couple of times Richie turned around in the shower to find Seth wet and leaning against the wall, hands spread against the tile, smiling over his shoulder, and offering his ass. Richie jerked off a lot.
Seth shot up more and more. Sometimes when he was high, he even tried to join Richie’s conversations with Asag. He hated to be left out of any conversation. If he was aware enough to hear and understand that Richie was talking to someone, he had to be a part of it.
"Did you just tell your imaginary friend about that job in Omaha?"
"Not the whole story, just the pertinent part."
"Oh man, the whole thing was pertinent. Tell him about how we—"
"Seth, he doesn’t need to hear it!" Richie turned his head away and addressed Asag, "You fuck off!"
"You know, conjuring up an imaginary friend and then fighting with him constantly seems a little rude." Seth smiled at his brother as he reached for his works on the table beside him.
"You don’t know what he wants, Seth." Richie rolled over in his hotel bed to face the wall.
"Maybe you should just give it to him." Seth ran his lighter under his spoon as he cooked up another shot. "It sure doesn’t seem like he’s going away until he gets it."
Asag talked a lot. He had opinions on their jobs, their vehicles, their accommodations. He always said that he could give them better. He could give them everything they ever wanted. Richie told him he didn’t believe him, that Asag was just some weird glitch in his own brain that meant the left and right halves of his mind weren’t communicating correctly. He just needed the right meds to get rid of him.
Asag called him clever when he argued. His explanations were so plausible after all. Perhaps he had it all figured out? So why didn’t he try his drugs?
Richie didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He didn’t know why he didn’t try to correct his fucked-up brain chemistry. He knew that was all it was.
There were other voices, a whole chorus of them. Asag let some of them stay, whispering around the edges, and drove others away. There were voices who spoke languages he couldn’t understand and voices who spoke no words at all, just moaned constantly. There was a girl, beautiful and serpentine, who wanted Richie to free her, but he never found out from what. Asag had sent her away, her screams echoing in Richie’s mind as he’d pulled her loose and cast her away.
Not that he could have saved her anyway. He couldn’t even save his brother or himself.
Richie never used to drive. He tended to wander off their route and, sometimes, the road itself. Seth wasn’t often up to it anymore though, so Richie took the wheel more and more. He didn’t make the conscious decision to go to Mexico, but it seemed like a good idea once they got close to the border, and crossing was surprisingly easy.
They pulled into a small town close to dusk. It seemed to be made almost entirely of bars, strip clubs, and whorehouses. The local economy was apparently entirely dependent upon American tourists looking for a little sin. They picked a bar at random, ordered two beers they couldn’t afford, and waited.
It didn’t take long. The guy looked like a surfer, young and tan and blond, but he promised that he could supply whatever Seth needed. The price he quoted was steep.
"We can’t pay that," said Richie.
The guy shrugged and started to get up, but Seth held up his hands. "Wait a minute, let me talk to my brother."
Richie shook his head. "Forget it. I’m not sleeping in the car."
The dealer flashed his pearly white teeth. "Hey, I know a place where you guys can crash."
Richie glared at him. "For free?"
"Sure. There’s a house outside of town. It’s abandoned." The smile widened. "I do business there sometimes."
Asag was quiet, which made Richie kind of suspicious about the whole thing, but Surfer Dude (as Richie had started calling him in his head) just kept smiling and drinking his beer, and Seth was beginning to shake and sweat, so Richie agreed.
Surfer Dude gave them directions to the house and told them where to find a box of candles under the porch. "No running water, but there’s a well out back. It’s not the Ritz, but it’ll get the job done. I’ll go get the product and meet you out there."
Richie wanted to make the guy stop smiling, but Seth shook his hand and pulled at Richie’s sleeve. Twenty minutes later they pulled up in front of the house.
Seth started to get out of the car, but Richie stopped him. "Hold on. This doesn’t feel right."
Seth sighed. "What’s the problem?"
Richie pointed to the house. "It’s weird." That was actually the sum total of his problem with the place, so he struggled for a moment to find an argument Seth might accept. "All the windows are intact. When’s the last time you saw an abandoned house that didn’t have a single broken window? It doesn’t make sense."
Seth looked at the house. It was white, though the paint was peeling. It was two stories tall and old with a wide porch. "Okay, first of all, I’m not going to point out that you are calling something ‘weird’. Second of all, it isn’t. It looks fine to me, so why don’t we be grateful there are no broken windows since we’re going to have to stay here for a while?" He opened his door. "Let’s get out of this car already."
Richie didn’t like it, but he went inside. Seth didn’t even pause to look around, just took their gear upstairs along with the candles he’d retrieved from under the porch. The house was empty and dark. The whitewashed walls were dingy and covered in large, spray-painted graffiti, which distracted from the smaller drawings in the corner: strange symbols drawn in red and blue chalk. There were faces carved into the moulding along the ceiling that looked like they were screaming. Richie kicked garbage out of the way as he walked around the downstairs. He heard things moving in the walls, things too large to be vermin. Asag was still being quiet, but Richie could feel his satisfaction.
If Asag liked it then Richie wanted to leave. He started upstairs to tell Seth they had to go when he heard his brother scream.
Richie sprinted up the stairs. "Seth! Where are you?"
Seth screamed again wordlessly. It came from a room near the end of the hall.
Richie ran into the room to find his brother tearing their duffels apart. "It’s gone. It’s fucking gone along with all our goddamn cash!"
Richie leaned against the door and breathed deeply. "Jesus, I thought you were dying."
Seth looked at him, wild-eyed. "My fucking wallet is gone! We have no money! This is not okay, Richie!"
Richie sighed. "Just relax. I’ll get some money." He waved at the room. "Clean this shit up, and when Dude shows up, just tell him to wait until I get back."
Seth sat down on the mattress in the middle of the floor. "Some motherfucker robbed me."
Richie looked at his pale, sick-looking brother and sighed. "I know. I’ll take care of it."
Seth took a deep breath and pulled out his gun with a trembling hand. "We could just take it, if he comes alone. Even if he brings another person, it wouldn’t be so hard."
Richie hated it when it when he had to be the sensible one. He would have loved to kill Dude, but they didn’t know how connected this guy was. They couldn’t afford to piss off the wrong people, not if they wanted to stay in Mexico for any length of time. He watched Seth turn his gun over in his hands. He didn’t seem to remember that they’d run out of ammo two days back. "I’ll get money. Just sit tight." He took the gun from Seth and put it in one of the mostly empty duffels, so he wouldn’t start something that might get him killed before Richie got back.
Richie drove back to town. It was dark now and the bars were doing a brisk business. Richie walked around until he spotted a middle-aged man in a Hawaiian print shirt lurch from a doorway onto the street in front of him laughing.
Richie sauntered up to him and grabbed him by the back of the neck. "Hey, buddy! How you doing tonight?"
The guy let Richie propel him down the street. "Real good, friend, real good. Let’s have a drink, huh?"
Richie smiled and turned them down an alley. "Sure, sounds great. Hey, look at this!" Richie walked the guy right into a wall, slamming his head hard against the bricks. He went down and stayed down.
Richie muttered, "Fucking tourists," under his breath and went through his pockets. Score. His wallet held just shy of three hundred and fifty bucks. They could get Seth’s drugs and gas and food.
Richie drove back to the house in a better mood. Money in his pocket did that. He was smiling as he pulled up next to a car that had to belong to Dude. It was an obnoxious shade of green. Some people had no style.
The house was dark. Enough moonlight filtered through the windows for Richie to see that no one was downstairs, so he made his way to the second floor. He walked down the hall to the room where he’d left Seth. There was candlelight glowing under the door. Richie pushed it open and saw Seth on his knees sucking Dude’s dick.
Dude looked up, smirked, and grabbed Seth’s hair, thrusting harder into his mouth. "Do you mind?"
Richie shut the door and backed up against the wall on the other side of the hall. He couldn’t stop seeing it, Seth clinging to Dude’s ass while the dirty little shit fucked his mouth, drool spilling from the corners of his lips. He looked so… eager.
Asag was there. As it rolled through Richie’s head again and again, he was telling Richie all the things he could do, should do. This time Richie listened.
The door finally opened, and Richie just caught a glimpse of Seth on the mattress, getting out his works. That was good. He should fix.
Dude stepped out in the hall, shutting the door behind him. "Your brother said you would have some money for me?"
Richie glared at him. "You think you’re getting a blow job and cash?"
Dude smiled. "I think your brother will give me whatever I want as long as the drugs keep coming."
Richie smiled back. There wasn’t much light in the hall, but Dude must have seen something in his face because he started. "You’re a real freak, you know that?"
Richie laughed and grabbed the guy by his jacket. "You have no idea." He dragged Dude down the hall, yelping and struggling the whole way, and threw him down the stairs.
Dude screamed while Richie walked slowly down the stairs after him. There were candles burning downstairs now and he heard things moving and skittering in the shadows. Broken bone protruded from Dude’s leg.
Richie stepped on the leg and ground his heel a little, smiling when Dude’s screams got louder. He grabbed his collar and dragged him across the floor to a door on the far side of the room, the door to the basement. Richie opened the door and pushed him down a second flight of stairs.
There were lit candles and a knife in the dirt in the center of the basement. Richie grabbed Dude’s arm and dragged him through the dirt, smiling when he felt the arm pop out of the socket, and gave him a sharp kick to the head when he tried to drag himself back toward the stairs. There were sounds in the dark corners, like there had been upstairs, things moving just beyond the reach of the candles. Richie started to take his clothes off, neatly folding everything.
Dude’s eyes were huge and frightened. "What are you going to do? I have money, man, and drugs. God, just take it all." He fumbled his wallet and a number of small plastic bags full of heroin out of his pocket with his good arm and held them out.
Richie took off his glasses and laid them on top of his clothes. "I will." He took the wallet and bags and tossed them on top of his clothes. "I’ll take your money and your drugs." He reached into the guy’s pocket and took his car keys and tossed them, too. "And your car." He picked up the knife. "And everything I can cut out of you."
Richie knelt beside Dude, who was crying now and gibbering, begging Richie not to kill him. His distress grew louder as Richie cut his clothes off and the sounds in the darkness of the basement grew louder, more excited. When Richie began cutting pieces off of him, he screamed and didn’t stop for a long time, and even after he stopped screaming he whimpered for much longer than Richie expected. He stopped before Richie got to cracking bones, opening his skull and ribcage to get the organs inside and breaking the long bones of his legs to draw out chunks of marrow. Long-fingered gray hands reached out of the darkness as he worked and snatched gobbets of meat out of the dirt.
When Richie was finally finished with the ruin in front of him, he sat back on his heels and wiped at his face, smearing blood and mud over his cheeks. He looked up to see the basement was gone and he was sitting under a smoke-filled sky. Strange skeletal creatures flapped torn leather wings as they circled a bright light above him. He looked into even as it blinded him and pressed down on him with a weight light shouldn’t have had, and as he looked into it, he saw the thing that had called itself Asag and he knew it for what it was.
By the time Richie got back upstairs the candles had burned down to stubs. Seth was still stretched across the mattress, eyes closed, with his head pillowed by his duffle. He’d started to undress, but hadn’t finished. His pants were unbuttoned, pushed down low on his hips, and his undershirt was rucked up, exposing his belly. He was still wearing one sock.
Richie dropped the knife on the floor and flopped down on the mattress next to him. He rolled over close and whispered in his ear, "Got your balls on?"
Seth smiled without opening his eyes and replied, "Screwed on tight."
Richie reached down between his brother’s legs to check for himself and fastened his mouth on the side of his neck. Seth squirmed and tried to shrug him off.
"Richie, c’mon. Cut that out."
Richie squeezed Seth’s balls and bit down on his neck. Seth moaned a little and pushed at him weakly. "Stop it. What are you doing?"
Richie unzipped Seth’s pants and pulled them off along with his briefs. "I’m doing something I was never going to do, not before I saw you on your knees for that piece of shit dealer." Richie pushed his undershirt up into his armpits, leaving dark streaks of gore on his belly and chest, and licked his nipple. "Damned if I can remember why I wasn’t going to do it though." He bit down.
Seth writhed under Richie’s hands and mouth as Richie insinuated himself between his legs. "Richie, stop. Richie, don’t, man; that was just business."
Richie pulled the duffel from under Seth’s head and stuffed it under his hips, putting his ass where he wanted it. “Business?” He ran his hands down Seth’s arms and grasped his wrists. "No, we could have done business when I got back with cash. That wasn’t business. That was just a bad choice." He pushed Seth’s arms up above his head and saw hands reach out of the darkness to latch on to his wrists and hold them fast to the mattress. He felt rather than saw it when hands grabbed Seth’s ankles and pulled his legs farther apart, opening him up.
Seth didn’t react to the hands, didn’t seem to notice them. He still had his eyes closed, so drowsy high that he hadn’t even opened them to look at Richie. He was getting hard though, cock thick and hot against his belly, even as he kept muttering, "No, don’t. Don’t, Richie."
Richie spit into the mess covering his hands and fisted his dick as he looked at his brother, naked and laid out for him. He pushed his dick up against Seth’s ass and rubbed it against Seth’s hole over and over, then all the way up and down his crack, over his perineum and nudging behind his balls. When Seth started rolling his hips and pushing back against him, he took hold of his brother’s cock, jerking Seth off as he kept humping against his ass. "I’ll take care of you, Seth. I’m making all our choices now."
Seth was still protesting, "No, Richie, you gotta stop, you can’t, don’t put it in," but he was rolling his head back and forth and panting while he thrust up into Richie’s fist. Around the bed, things were moving in the dark, excited chittering coming from all around them.
Seth shouted when he came. Richie knew that he would. They’d spent too much time in each other’s back pockets for him not to know what Seth sounded like, but he’d never seen it, the way he arched his back and the way his face contorted as he spurted all over himself. It was beautiful and fascinating like nothing he’d ever seen. Richie stilled and watched him for long moments as Seth twitched and made little whining noises, his dick still pulsing in Richie’s hand. Finally, he opened his bleary eyes, looked up at Richie and said, "What happened to you? You look like shit." Richie smiled back at him and thrust balls deep into his ass.
Seth yelled and pulled at the hands holding him. The chittering became shrieks as Richie withdrew and thrust back into him. Seth howled and looked wildly around the room. "Jesus, Richie! What the hell?" He pulled at the hands again. "What is that?"
Richie just kept fucking. Seth was twisting underneath him, around his cock. It felt amazing.
Seth’s eyes were focused now, not on Richie, but on something behind him. "Richie, oh my god, Richie, we have to get out of here!"
Richie felt fingers ghost over his lower back and a tongue sweep over the sole of his foot. He leaned forward and grabbed Seth’s face and made him look at him. He needed him to understand. "There is no ‘out of here’ anymore."
Seth looked at him for a moment then screamed wordlessly and struggled to free himself. Richie moved his hands to Seth’s hips and fucked into him while Seth kept screaming and screaming.
The windows in the bedroom faced east, as Richie discovered when he woke up the next morning to the sun shining in his face. He opened his eyes and saw rotting lace curtains blowing softly in the breeze around the open windows. Light filled the room.
He rolled over and saw Seth kneeling over him, the knife he’d dropped on the floor last night in his hands. The undershirt was still pushed up into his armpits, torn and dirty. He was dirty all over. He was trembling, holding the knife in the air over him, poised to strike.
Richie stretched and closed his eyes again. "Put it down, Seth."
Richie felt the knife fall to the mattress beside him and Seth move away. He was almost back to sleep again when he heard a clicking sound in the corner. He sat up to see what it was and saw Seth crouched on the floor with his gun in his mouth, pulling the trigger over and over.
Richie sighed and leaned over the side of the mattress where the clothes he’d left downstairs were neatly stacked on the floor next to Seth’s works. He took Dude’s heroin out of his pants pocket and cooked up a shot for Seth who had given up on the gun and was now sitting on the floor with his head in his hands.
Richie held up the hypo. "Seth? Come and get it."
Seth looked up and saw the needle. He immediately scrambled to the bed and reached out to take it.
Richie held it back and shook his head. "Give me your arm."
Seth looked at Richie and the needle and stretched out his arm, so that Richie could tie him off and inject him. He took a long, ragged breath when the junk hit his bloodstream and shook his head. "It’s not enough."
Richie tossed the needle and tourniquet to the floor. "You’ll get more later. We have a lot to do today." He scratched at his chest. Bits of dried gore fell off his skin and flecked the mattress, already stained rusty red.
Seth started to move away, but Richie grasped his bruised wrist and pulled him down next to him on the mattress. Richie wrapped himself around his brother, rubbing his hardening cock against his hip slow and lazy.
Seth shuddered as Richie mouthed at the mark on his throat. He tried weakly to pull away. "What do we have to do?"
Richie recognized the question as an attempt at distraction, but decided to answer it anyway. He pulled away from Seth’s throat and idly examined the marks and scratches on his wrists. "We have to go to some mountains about ninety miles east of here."
Richie rubbed his hand over Seth’s shoulder where the ink of his tattoos had re-arranged itself into a series of strange symbols. "Hm?"
"There are no mountains ninety miles east of here."
Richie smiled and let go of Seth’s arm to caress his ass. "There will be by the time we get there."
Seth’s breath hitched. He was getting hard. "Don’t you want to talk to your imaginary friend about it?"
Richie smiled and pushed a finger into Seth. "We don’t have to talk anymore."
Seth went rigid. “God, Richie—"
Richie kissed him deeply cutting off his protest. Seth didn't relax, but he didn't fight it either. Richie pulled back. "They don't need to hold you down this time, right?"
Seth shuddered and shook his head, then closed his eyes and spread his legs for his brother.