Van is starting to hallucinate.
They've been in the club for two and a half hours, their contact is two hours late, he's been dancing for an hour straight, and it sure as hell looks like Deaq is feeling up a drag queen at their table, but that can't be right.
Van must be hallucinating from dehydration.
There's a simple solution to that. He starts bouncing towards the bar.
It's only when he gestures for the bartender's attention with an empty plastic bottle that he realizes that, no, he's probably not dehydrated. In fact, he has to pee. A lot.
He grooves toward the john with considerably less bounce. Ponders Deaq and the drag queen while he pees. Ponders them while he washes his hands. Ponders some more as he goes back to the bar and secures another bottle of water.
Van finally reaches two conclusions. First, he's almost entirely positive that dehydration doesn't cause hallucinations. Second, across a smoky, dim dance floor and half obscured by another person's body is not the best way to make a positive gender identification. If he wants to know whether or not Deaq is making out with a drag queen or a really butch chick, he's got to get considerably closer.
Also, his feet hurt. It's a good time to get off the floor.
He slides in the booth on the side closest to the unknown whomever. The 'girl' and Deaq are pressed tight together, veering towards horizontal. Van clears his throat.
Van slaps the table and yells, "Yo, playa!"
Deaq rolls back a little, mouth swollen and wet. His makeout partner has moved their attentions to his neck. "What, man? I'm busy."
"They're not here. They're very, very late. You want to call it a day?"
Deaq laughs and laughs. "I stopped looking for those assholes an hour ago. I'm not leaving, though. I'm just fine where I am."
The person sprawled across him sits up, whispers in his ear.
Van still can't tell if he's looking at a man or a woman.
Hazel eyes, high cheekbones, good mouth. But the face is a little too long, and the jaw is a little too wide. Not to be female at all, but to get in this club a chick has to be gorgeous or a serious player. Van is pretty sure he'd recognize a real player, and Deaq's date isn't one. In this light, he can't tell if the makeup is drag heavy, if there's stubble on the jaw. "Introduce me to your friend, Deaq."
She reaches a hand across the table to Van, gives a good shake when he takes it. "Alexis."
Voice gives her away. Van doesn't know what she's got between her legs now, but she was born with a cock. "Can I talk to you for a second?"
"Speak." Deaq waves one hand expansively.
Deaq nods, but he takes a moment to whisper in Alexis' ear. He kisses her and feels her up a little more before he gets to his feet and joins Van at a column a few feet away.
"You do realize your new friend is a very special kind of girl?"
Deaq blinks at Van. "Normally I'm all about the hip word play and slick lingo that bring us in touch with the criminal element, but it's three fucking AM. Speak plainly!"
"You're macking on a trannie." Van is loud and overenunciates. It's not his fucking fault if Deaq hasn't learned to take afternoon naps when they have a night meet.
"She's post-op! I don't care." Deaq walks back to his girl. Van bails.
Same club, but a week later. The crooks, two guys and a girl, are on time this time, but this is just a meet and greet. It takes hours. Van is dancing with the girl, Fiorenze, a pretty little blonde with nice curves. She doesn't talk much, but all of their information says she's the boss. Van is prepared to do whatever she wants, within reason.
She dances up tight on his body, puts her mouth to his ear. "Let's go back, see how our boys are doing."
Van nods at her, but points towards the bar. "I," finger to his chest, "need water," he mimes throwing back a drink. "You?" He points at her.
"Screwdriver," she shouts over the music.
Van gets the screwdriver and the water from the bar and comes back to the table. He almost turns away, thinking he's got the wrong one. A short blonde woman is straddling a tall blond man, and a black man and a brunet are twined up in a corner, attached at the lips. But no, it's Deaq and Dave on one side, and Fiorenze and Mitch on the other, and Van is really, really confused.
He sits down, puts the screwdriver in the middle of the table, and chugs half of his water. Everything looks the same when he puts it down. He finishes off the water, and still nothing has changed. Deaq is practically having sex with a guy. Considering Deaq couldn't give Van a simple peck at Girl Club, Van is puzzled that Deaq could play tonsil hockey with a strange man.
Fiorenze sits back. She's flushed bright pink, and both of the buttons to her lime green crop top have been undone. She's wearing a bra, but it's a halfcup, and her nipples stand up, hard and brown over the top. "So rude!" She smacks Dave on the back of the head. "Give Deaq back." She grabs her screwdriver and gulps it down, seeming to pay no attention as Dave crawls off Deaq and licks his way down her cleavage. Van watches long enough to see that Dave and Mitch suck on a tit each, then turns his attention to Deaq.
His partner stands up, walks toward him, then past. Van follows him to the bar. "What was that all about, man?"
"Getting the job done." Deaq shivers once, from head to toe, then shouts at the bartender. "Scotch. Triple. Rocks."
Van puts a hand on Deaq's shoulder. "Hey, man, you wanna slow your roll? We've got a while to go tonight."
Deaq blinks and rubs a hand over his face. "I'm all kinds of tense, nervous, and upset. Alcohol will counteract these reactions to physical intimacy with another male until such time as I am alone and can freak the hell out. Fuck off, Van."
Van goes back to their table.
The Zodiac again, a week after that. Nothing scheduled tonight; they're just maintaining their cover. Van's the one at the table, with Deaq on the dance floor. Van wrenched something playing water polo with Mitch, and he doesn't feel like moving since he doesn't have to.
He can see his partner from this vantage point. Deaq hasn't been dancing much tonight, but he's been circulating. Every time he walks by their table, there's another woman on his arm. They're all different kinds tonight. Usually Deaq seeks out light-skinned black girls or skinny blondes. Being undercover has led them, more than other people, to realize that exteriors don't tell you much about a person, but Deaq is unusually catholic in his tastes tonight. Redheads, blondes, girls in candy-colored wigs; black, Asian, Latina; and all kinds of shapes. Van even thinks he recognizes that trannie going by.
But now Deaq heads toward their table, alone, a tall, fizzy, pink drink in one hand, something short and cola-looking in the other. "Rum and coke for you?"
"Thanks." Van takes the drink and squeezes his lemon wedge into it. Rum and coke was his mother's drink of choice; it's a comfort thing to sip at it. "Thanks, I needed this."
Deaq just smiles and slides in the booth so close his side brushes Van's.
They sit without speaking for a while. Van's head bobs to the club's music. The DJ rocks tonight, very smooth blends. Most of the songs are unfamiliar, but everything Van recognizes is classic.
He nudges Deaq's shoulder. "Nobody looked good tonight?"
Deaq shakes his head. "Plenty of good women out tonight, but," he shrugs, "I'm not feeling my groove."
Van nods. "Get me another drink?"
"What do you want?" Deaq stands up, drains the last of his own drink.
Van shrugs. "Something sweet."
Deaq nods and heads off.
A redhead stops at the table, Sara Duchesne. She's twenty-five and a nobody, but she's trying to sleep her way to the top. She gives really good head. Van wants to tell her that it's the twenty-first century: she can be a criminal entreprenuer on her own merits, not her bedroom skills. He just smiles at her and says, "Hey, baby, it's been a while."
"Van, honey, where you been? Where's Deaq?" She leans over, and he can see all the way down her sparkly blue corset. She has nice tits.
"We've been around, making connections." He waves his hand expansively. "Deaq's, you know, doing his thing."
She laughs, pleasantly. "Prowling, not dancing."
"It's getting late. I'm thinking of going home." She smiles at him, puts one hand on the table.
Van shrugs, leans back in his seat. "Oh, it's early yet, you know? I think I'm going to stay here for at least another hour. I like this DJ."
"Really? I haven't seen you on the dance floor." She raises an eyebrow.
Van frowns. "I got in a fight yesterday, got kicked in the kidneys." He shrugs. "Don't really feel like dancing, you know?"
She nods. "Yeah, I can see that." She sighs. "Well, that wasn't just a line about going home. Got a court appearance bright and early, so." She nods again.
Van nods back, gives a little wave. "I'll see you, Sara."
Her smile widens to something genuine. "Bye, Van."
Deaq passes her as she walks off; they exchange nods. He puts a frothy yellow drink on the table. "They call it a monkey's uncle. Banana liqueur, banana-orange juice, Bailey's, and rum. I don't know if it's any good, but it'll certainly be sweet."
Van tries it. He doesn't like it; too alcoholic tasting. He frowns and puts it on the table.
Deaq laughs. He puts a bottle of water on the table next to the half-empty glass. "Wasn't sure that would turn your crank."
"Thanks, man." Van downs half the water in one go.
"Look, there's a chill out room on the second floor." Deaq has still not sat down. "I know you don't feel up to your usual wild gyrations, but you wanna check out the scene upstairs?"
Van tries tensing his back. It's feeling okay, but he could use more alcohol to keep the muscles relaxed. He tries the monkey's uncle again. It's not as horrible the second go round, but he's had much, much better. "Let's go." He makes a move to stand up. Deaq doesn't back up enough, and he slithers up the length of his partner's body.
It's the next week. They're meeting Fiorenze and the boys again, but this time they're at Roxy's, a hot club in West Hollywood. Fiorenze and Dave haven't shown up, but Van and Deaq have had to entertain Mitch for the past forty-five minutes. Lucky for them, all he wants to do is dance and cruise.
Van checks over his shoulder. He can still see Mitch's orange shirt, so he figures everything is okay. When he figures out exactly where Mitch has his hands on the guy he's dancing with, he figures everything is more than okay.
Van thinks about getting a drink. It would break one of his rules, but gay clubs make him, not nervous, but hyperaware of his personal space. He decides not, because the bust is going down soon, maybe tonight even. He can't afford to be relaxed for that.
A drink appears in his field of vision, floating in from over his shoulder. He tenses, then he recognizes the rings on the strong, brown fingers.
"Sorry," he shouts without turning around. "I'm here with my boyfriend and he doesn't share."
He feels warm breath at his ear, and Deaq says, "It's two parts orange juice, one part grenadine, one part syrup. You'll get a sugar crash in about twenty minutes, take you down some."
Van turns around and moves closer to Deaq. His partner responds by putting his free hand around Van's waist and the glass to Van's mouth.
"Drink it all up." Van tries to pull away. The drink is far, far too sweet. Deaq keeps the glass pressed to his mouth. "Come on, be a good boy. You'll feel better, man." Van glares, but he finishes the whole thing.
Deaq smiles and starts dancing. He doesn't back away.
Van presses himself to Deaq, puts a leg between Deaq's thighs. They're both wearing leather pants, and something about the slick-slide of their legs together feels very good to Van. He puts his mouth next to Deaq's ear. "How late are Rennie and Boy #2?"
"Quarter of an hour." Deaq turns the two of them in a half-circle, looks past Van. "Mitch is not worried even a little bit."
Van shrugs, using his arm movements to bring himself even closer to Deaq's body. "I think he's drunk. He doesn't have any idea what time it is." He brings his hands up to Deaq's shirt; it's linen and thin. He can feel Deaq's muscles underneath, warm and hard. Deaq is strong and sleek.
Van has a sudden, disconcerting image of himself as a cat, the annoying kind that rubs up against your legs while you're talking on the phone. It doesn't stop him from pressing his chest to Deaq's. But he makes an excuse, whispers in his partner's ear, "Maybe we should go ask him what the deal is."
Deaq nods and turns Van forcibly around, pushes him in Mitch's direction. Van halts just long enough to pull Deaq flush against his back, gets in one good grind against his crotch. Deaq is hard.
The next night they don't go to a club. They go to a bar, this weirdly upscale faux-Irish pub with goth overtones. It is not hip or happening, the music is all dirge-like, and none of the waitstaff is freaked out by blood stains.
The bust went all kinds of bad. Mitch, Dave, and Fiorenze's love triangle had not been as healthy as they let on. Van's white shirt is rust from the girl's blood. Deaq got off nearly clean, but he managed to step in little bits of Dave. Not even the crime scene techs blame him for it; Dave was spread out all over the floor by five or six shotgun blasts. Mitch is under arrest on two counts of murder plus the cocaine dealing they were originally trying to bust those three for, but the paramedics didn't look hopeful about the slashed throat as they loaded him in the ambulance.
The mug in front of Van is empty. The mug in front of Deaq is not. Van, who has emptied his own mug two or seven times, thinks it's a good idea to finish off Deaq's. He picks it up.
"Nigger, put down my stout," says Deaq. Or he attempts to say it. He, too, has emptied his mug several times.
Van doesn't understand Deaq's words and doesn't know they're addressed to him. He brings the stout closer to him.
Deaq slams a hand down on Van's wrist. The stout sloshes over both their fingers.
Van, trying to get loose, drops the mug. They both ignore the dark liquid rushing to the corners of the table. "Stop fucking touching me!" Van hisses.
Deaq lets go.
Van sleeps for twelve hours and wakes up in a half-familiar bedroom. A cab dropped the two of them off at Deaq's place after last call. He can never remember his address when he's plastered. He usually keeps it written down on a slip of paper in his wallet, but his wallet had been too sticky with blood to deal with at ass o'clock in the morning.
He's only wearing boxers, but the stiff, stretched feeling of dried blood coats his skin. Definitely in need of a shower. He leaves the room, wanders the hall. The only bathroom he can find is a half-bath. Then it occurs to him that a house this well-appointed will likely have bathrooms attached to bedrooms, rather than floating free. It also occurs to him that every time he's gotten so smashed he ends up at Deaq's house, he's had to work out this logic chain.
When he finally does make his way into a shower, he realizes that the warm water brings him no relief from headache and nausea, because there is no headache and nauseau. He suspects that the alcohol has not entirely cleared his system. He finishes quickly in the shower, wraps a towel around his waist, searches the medicine cabinet. He takes two of the aspirin he finds there and drinks a lot of water.
There's a clean set of pajamas on the dresser in the bedroom. He puts on the blue-striped cotton shirt and pants. He doesn't think he has any clean clothes here. He makes a mental note to bring a pair of jeans and a t-shirt the next time he comes over.
He passes Inez on the way to the kitchen. He smiles at her. She tells him Deaq bought cookies yesterday and pats him on the ass. He thanks her for the tip. And he has two cookies and a small glass of orange juice before he sets out to make a real breakfast. Brunch. He checks the clock. Late lunch. He decides on a vegetable stir-fry, drinks plenty of water while he's chopping. He gets in a zone, ends up with enough raw material to feed four. He cooks enough for himself, bags the rest. He's almost entirely sober by the time he sits down to eat, and by the time he's done, he feels fine to drive, if underdressed.
Inez comes in as he's putting the dishes in the dishwasher. "I'm leaving, Van. Have a good day."
"Hey, do you know if Deaqon's up yet?"
She shrugs. "He was not when I finished upstairs, maybe a quarter of an hour ago."
Van smiles. "You have a good day, too."
In twenty minutes, he's got a tray with a glass of orange juice, one of milk, a pitcher of water, more stirfry, and a lot of cookies. He bumps Deaq's door open. Deaq's awake; he's reading some kind of coffee table book, looks like contemporary art of some kind.
Van clears his throat.
Deaq's fingers clench on the book's edge, but his face is expressionless when he looks up. "You're still here?"
Van gestures with the tray. "I need something to go home in."
Deaq points with his chin. "What's that?"
Van walks all the way in. "Made you lunch. Move over and put the book up."
As he complies, Deaq asks, "Why?"
Van positions the tray over Deaq's lap, then gets into bed himself. "I'm having dessert." He grabs the milk pre-emptively.
Deaq is eating his stir fry with chopsticks. He pokes Van with them. "Bitch. Always after my sweets."
Van just raises one eyebrow, waits for him to hear himself.
It takes a second, but Deaq bends his head over his vegetables, starts shoving broccoli and peppers in his mouth.
Van chuckles and reaches for a cookie. Deaq has found the best French pâtisserie somewhere, and he won't share the address. He has only himself to blame if Van keeps stealing baked goods.
He's eaten four or ten cookies when Deaq speaks up. "You left your spare wetsuit here."
It's dark by the time they stop surfing, dark and cold for southern California. They put on sweatpants and t-shirts, build a fire. They check their phones, but the only message is Billie telling them not to come in tomorrow and stay away from their usual clubs. They'd known both those things without being told.
They stare into the fire without saying a word, shifting back and forth in the sand, restless. Van gets closer and closer to the fire. He's cold, and the dancing red/white/yellow with occasional spots of blue is beautiful. The shift and spark makes him think of waves, of ebb and flow and strength that can kill you. He enjoys the way it's not the ocean, the dry heat and the warm, red colors.
He's not surprised when Deaq pulls him back until he's in his partner's lap, wrapped in Deaq's arms. "I'm cold."
Deaq nods but whispers, "Don't got to stick your face in the flames, baby."
Van squirms, trying to get comfortable in Deaq's lap. His partner isn't bony, but he's not soft either. He hasn't found a comfortable position when Deaq touches his shoulder.
"Stretch out on the sand, man. Your bony ass'll never find a good spot."
Van moves swiftly, waits for Deaq to arrange himself, and presses up against his partner. He feels something poking him in the back and he reaches back to move the twig or whatever. All he gets is Deaq's erection through his sweats, and Van quickly pulls his hand back in front of his body. He tries, he really tries hard, to stay still. But he can't get comfortable on the sand, either, and Deaq's erection is not helping any, and Van is soon wriggling as much horizontally as he was on Deaq's lap.
Deaq puts a hand on Van's hip, throws one leg over both of Van's. "Chill, man."
Van is still for a minute. Then the arm he's lying on starts to go numb, so he moves to let that loose. Which means he has to resettle his torso, which forces him to reposition his hips and his knees, and he's off and squirming again.
"Seriously, man, chill." Deaq clamps down with his arm and his legs.
And Van probably would, but Deaq's erection lines up with Van's ass in a disturbingly pleasant fashion. Van stops squirming, but he starts, well, rocking and rolling. He gets a rhythm going pretty quickly, and the sensation is sweet. Not nearly enough to get him off, not rubbing his ass through two layers of material, but it's enough to get him pleasantly hot, half-hard and just a little stupid.
Then Deaq bends the leg he's covering Van with, brings it up so Van's dick and Deaq's calf are in alignment, and Van thinks, "Wow." "Wow," and also, "yes." He rocks back and forth, and it's good: illicit but at the same time with high deniability. He gets hard, very hard, and it's impossible to say if it's the physical sensation or the mindfuck that makes him more excited. Whatever it is, he's panting like a racehorse and more than a little sweaty. He feels clutchy and grabby and digs his fingers into Deaq's thigh.
Deaq is panting on his neck, breath warm and heavy across his skin. He can smell Deaq; his partner smells like ocean and wet suit and something else. He doesn't really smell like sex and Van can't see anything and that's more frustrating than he would have guessed. He can hear him though, he's groaning, these tiny little grunts like he's being hit over and over again. It makes Van feel good, to know he's making Deaq make noises like that.
Then Deaq's hand starts moving downward, Deaq reaches under Van's sweatshirt. The contrast between cold night air and Deaq's hot, hot fingers is just about the end of everything, almost enough to send Van over the edge. He stops moving and pushes Deaq off of him, rolls away. "I was. I was gonna."
Deaq rolls onto his front, nodding. "Yeah. Yeah, man."
When Van wakes up the next morning, he's in Deaq's bed. Deaq's still out like a light, so Van showers, dresses in the sweats from yesterday, goes down to the kitchen. He turns on the radio, tunes into a Spanish pop station so his morning groove won't be disturbed by upsetting lyrical content.
He gets out a grapefruit, a couple bananas, milk, flour, eggs, butter. It takes him a minute to find the salt and sugar, but since he also finds lemon juice, he decides not to make pancakes. Instead, he gets a big serving plate, a mixing bowl, a frying pan, and sets out to make crêpes. The first couple are hideously deformed, so he eats them immediately, but he remembers the trick of it after that.
Deaq comes down just as Van is cutting the grapefruit in half. "You're still here?"
Van shrugs. "Do I need to be someplace else?"
Deaq blinks at him and says, "What's for breakfast?"