The moon in the sky glowed like a brooding god's eye. Below it stood a wiry, bespectacled man with one intact lens glimmering in the moonlight. The broken lens skewed the vision in his left eye. He couldn't raise his eyebrow without irritating the scar on his forehead, so he kept his face drawn and focused.
With his arms crossed, Hart looked like a tall, heavily muscled, faceless teenage girl on the edge of throwing a hissy fit. His comically annoyed posture did not match the slithering menace in his voice.
"How dee doo dee."
HOW in the world did he get this far?
HOW does this little bitch think he'll get past me?
HOW will I carry this bird back to his mommy?
Lanks could read every taunt in his voice.
Four of Hart's faceless goons stood at attention. Lanks clenched his fists, heat growing in his fingertips. He took shallow breaths, blue-faced. His stomach twisted into ropey knots. But his feet were steady and established on the ground. Ready to stand after many, many years of kneeling.
The goons had barely moved before he obliterated them. He watched his flames crawl onto them and skip and leap over every inch of their flesh until they were consumed. He watched them flail and panic and scream; then go limp. He watched them crumble into dust. He watched the chilly night wind carry the dust away, leaving nothing behind. All of this happened near instantaneously.
Hart was speechless. Aghast, even. But this was no compliment he wanted to make for long. He raised his chin, stalked toward his unlikely opponent and opened his arms, exposing the span on his torso. The lines of his abs were sculpted like valleys, his chest a mountain. His skin was bright and pink and there was so much of it. This simple act of revealing himself made him absolutely terrifiying.
"More for me then... and I get you all to myself."
HOW much and HOW hard and HOW quick will this happen between us.
Lanks' hands were still warm after the initial inferno. He felt frozen in his core and shivered in a state like reverse hypothermia. He wanted to turn around and run.
Then he wanted to tear Hart to shreds.
He wanted to feel warmth in every part of his body.
Then he didn't want to feel anything.
He wanted someone to hold his hand.
Then he wanted his hands all over someone.
His last thought scared him.
Then he remembered this was why he was here.
The word "pussy" was the last of Hart's voice he heard before he was in his own world.
Lanks thought of
Beltboy when he was a kid.
What's her name and her big green eyes and her backpack full of flasks and strange pills.
Beltboy with his hair in front of his eyes and his round little face and his latchkey Ma and Pop.
Beltboy's journal full of hearts and poems that didn't rhyme. Lanks wondered
If, wherever he had went, Beltboy still wrote poetry.
If Beltboy still wrote about her,
The girl out there,
Or both. He wondered
How much money in booze Beltboy had stolen from his parents.
If Beltboy had taken a bottle into the truck with him.
How this five-foot-three wannabe punk rocker managed to save his skin,
yet he couldn't.
How Beltboy had the nerve to say he would protect him and then disappear without a trace.
Lanks thought of
The second time they came.
How Cyclops stepped forward and left him. He thought of
Cyclops back when he was the janitor.
The one time he walked into the mens room at Wally Burger
(single stall) and saw him
with another man
backed against the wall with his arms tangled around him and their mouths together and their hips together and their hungry breathing. He wondered
How Cyclops intended to kiss anyone with one of those wretched masks on.
How Cyclops intended to love anyone while being surrounded by psychopaths.
If Cyclops ever loved anyone.
Like really loved them.
Like loved them enough to be honest about himself.
If Cyclops ever fucked someone and regretted it.
If Cyclops was always on top.
If Cyclops ever sympathized with him at all (no).
He might've lost an eye but that's as much as he would ever lose.
He swore to that.
Lanks wanted to be like that,
and he hated him so,
because it was too late.
"Move on and live your life," Cyclops had begged him on the ground, close to death, and Lanks had really wanted to kick his shit in because what life did he expect him to live?
There was no one left to crawl back to.
No more places to call home.
No more memories to cherish.
There was only the girl,
and the sanctuary between her legs.
Cyclops knew what that felt like.
Beltboy had been inches from it.
Lanks had never put his lips on a girl and now he was this close to peace,
to holding someone else as closely as he held himself,
as closely as he had ever been held. But he wouldn't hurt her.
Never. He knows
The pain that comes from breaking into sacred places.
The sounds those men make when they shatter every window in a church.
How they linger in every waking moment and grope in every fitful sleep.
He knows it's not love
but when they call it love,
he has to roll the word in his mouth
what he can do to this word
and to the man who did it
and to himself
to have all of this bullshit make some kind of sense already.
Lanks knows he wouldn't hurt her but he doesn't know
If he could love her.
If loving her would hurt her.
If love is supposed to hurt.
He loved his mother and he lost her he loved his friends and they left him for dead he loved Rodriguez and he put him down every day he went to work the more he thinks about it love is why it happened to him in the first place he was lovesick waiting for Benny and Clyde to rescue him while his pants were down he was so full of love it made him too big and round to slip out of his hands there was so much love in his eyes he-
But then he had three eyes, and the moon was cold and mercilessly bright.
Hart was nothing more than mush on the ground. Lanks panted, holding one side. His vision dimmed. His head began to dip.
Hold on. You're almost there.
Voices swam in his head. He laughed, sharp and sudden. "I did it, guys!" He wheezed.
Thanks for believing in me. Not.
Lanks willed enough energy to get his legs to work. He had been a man of fire just a few moments ago, but when it died he felt his entire body ache. Channeling years of insecurity and self loathing was no easy task. But he'd told himself he wouldn't back down this time, no matter what.
Once he had momentum going, he opened the door of the warehouse and walked with one hand against the left side wall of the building. He passed through a narrow corridor before reaching a door. He pushed it open and thought he would faint. She was real; her collarbone so exposed she must have been underweight, a few bands of linen tied around her breasts, a rats nest of hair messily tied together in a ponytail, legs toned by weeks, months, possibly years of fleeing from the hands of famished men. There was a small trickle of blood running down one side of her face but he couldn't get a close enough look to see where the injury came from. He raised his left eyebrow. His own cut still stung.
"What are you doing here?" The girl, or the woman asked. She looked very old and very young at the same time. Not young enough to be a child but not old enough to be much older than him. Her age didn't matter much beyond that.
Lanks heard the sound of his blood rushing in his ears, like an hourglass constantly turning in his head. "I..." He mustered an ugly rasp, then cleared his throat, "I need you... not like that. Just like... well kinda like that. You know?"
5 didn't move.
Lanks groaned. The gash in his side stung. Blood bloomed between the fingers of his right hand.
5 murmured, "You won't touch me."
"Damn it," Lanks gasped. He clenched his teeth. A swell of fire began to build in his hands. He watched her stiffen, "N-no. It's okay. I need you. I r-really need you. I can't do this w-without you."
5 swung at him and he caught her. There was the hissing sound of her flesh boiling. She shrieked and recoiled, holding her arms against her body. She continued to mutter a mix of expletives and nonsense words as he crept closer.
And close enough to her that when his encroaching heat alerted her, she kicked him low.
He collapsed. She took off.
He sobbed into the floor.
He beat his hands into the steel until they were his normal body temperature. He lay there with his forehead, chest and knees against the steel and meditated in his loneliness which was not true loneliness, was it? He wasn't lonely, he'd just told himself he didn't need them. But he needed her, and she was gone.
He'd used his hands, that made him sick. But he had to. There was no other way. He still failed.
Was it love in his eyes again? Was that what his fire was made of?
Who was he before all of this flesh and burning? He couldn't remember.
One by one the lights in the warehouse flickered off.
The moon observed his departure without comment. It was an eye without a face, after all.