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The essence of love and failure

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The nightmares came to Drifter all too often these days. Almost every time he closed his eyes. When he couldn't ignore his body's need for sleep any longer, the rogue lightbearer had taken to having his Ghost wake him up every two hours, so he wouldn't get too lost in them. It was taking its toll on him, and he probably looked more tired than ever, but for now, it worked.

Technically, he could go back to sleep after the two hours were up, but most often he just gave up on it entirely. When he woke up in a cold sweat that night, he knew it would be one of those times. He hurriedly got up and left his ship, taking a transmat down to the Tower, wanting to be far away from the thing tied to the Derelict.

Almost on autopilot, he started walking towards the annex, but soon thought better of it when he imagined guardians coming to look for him there. Even now during the middle of the night, there were always some around. Instead, Drifter took a right turn in the corridors and ended up in one of the oft-forgotten spaces between the annex and the hangar. He could see the starts from here, and the sleeping city sprawling below them. There were much worse places to pass the time.

 


 

Whoever had designed this area of the Tower had clearly been a sadist of the worst degree. Featureless corridors piled high with abandoned goods, lights spaced just frequently enough that the night vision on his helmet was worthless, and just infrequently enough to be a nightmare to see by. That he had to find his way around looking through tinted glass was its own problem, but like hell would he be taking the damn thing off.

No, this would be a quick in and out. Figure out the lay of the land, hopefully find a file on all those new - ha - Dredgen. Maybe take another look at the damn banks that he had on site, try to figure out what the hell made them tick. And then, crucially, get the hell out without anybody being the wiser. At least, that had been the intent half an hour ago when he'd snuck in through one of the damaged areas. He had to be close by now, but every minute wandering this place frayed another nerve Shin didn't have to spare.

 


 

He hadn't been there long when he started hearing someone walking around somewhere behind him, in the maze that was the annex. Then, though distant, something that could have been swearing. Drifter chuckled tiredly. Many of the people who thought they were used to navigating the Tower didn't really end up visiting the more out of the way corridors of areas like the annex, and then couldn't make sense of them once they were in it.

The noises kept getting closer, though, and he could almost swear that the voice was slightly familiar. The rogue Lightbearer decided to step back into one of the darker corners, keeping himself hidden, just in case whoever it was ended up wandering through here.

 


 

Ok, he was definitely probably somewhere... Close, at least, to the annex. Shin hated that that counted as progress, he really did. But the main tower should still be somewhere upwards and to the left facing the Traveller, which meant... This way? Sure. Sure, why the hell not. Staring upwards into the darkness of the lift shaft, Shin made an executive decision as to how much he was going to sacrifice his pride that day.

Pride won out and he turned back to find another way, coming face to face with someone very familiar. Hell.

"Hey... Stranger," he tried.

 


 

Well, fuck. If it wasn't one of the last people Drifter would have ever expected to see walking right out of the annex corridors, probably the last one he'd want to see. Adrenaline shot through him immediately, hand flying to the Malfeasance handcannon at his hip. It didn't register with him that if Shin had come to try and put him down, the hunter wouldn't have been making such a racket and looking for him where he couldn't possibly know he'd be. Shin Malphur had never been sloppy like that.

"Hey, pal." He all but growled the words out, voice still rough with tiredness and sleep. He added nothing else, waiting for the other man to announce his intentions, or at least make the next move.

 


 

Ok, yeah, he deserved that. Maybe. Not as if Drifter had ever been a reliable son of a bitch either though; not with all those secrets just squirming away under his skin. Shin kinda hoped sometimes that he'd slip far enough that he'd have to put a bullet in the guy and stop thinking about him altogether. He jerked his chin up, meeting the rogue's eyes and enjoying the fact that through the visor, Drifter couldn't do the same.

"You're looking like shit," he noted with a bite in his voice. "Get tired out doing whatever it is you do with those guardians?"

 


 

Drifter shrugged, in a deliberately casual way, hand very much still right on his weapon. "Got a lot goin' on." He could feel the other man's eyes on him, though the helmet he was wearing obscured Shin's. Why he was wearing that thing during what was basically the middle of the night, fuck knows. The hunter had always favoured the most ridiculous and pretentious ways of obscuring his identity.

"You come to the Tower just to comment on my looks?" Apparently he was going to have to push if he wanted Shin to say anything about what the hell he was doing here, which didn't surprise him at all.

 


 

A twitch of the lip. Never able to just give a straight answer to anything, was he? Shin might not know everything about what he was doing, sure, but the rogue liked to tease him with it. Never quite enough information to figure out if they should be working together or slitting each other's throats. God, but it would be so satisfying if he wasn't even anything that special. If everything he liked to hint at was just empty words. Unfortunately, that wasn't too likely.

"Maybe," he replied, before realising the note of petulance that had entered his voice and pulling himself together. "Anyway, heard you've got a whole new set of little Dredgens running around. I was thinking some of them might be a... Concern."

 


 

A grunt, displeased, escaped from his lips before the Lightbearer could stop himself. "You leave 'em alone." Sure, maybe he had named them Dredgens mainly to get back at Shin and mock his goddamn edgy sensibilities, but that wasn't the guardians' fault. They had simply done what was asked of them. "Damn it, Malphur, you cannot keep doing this."

It made him so angry. How couldn't he see his obsession for moral superiority was going to end up hurting them all? What was the point of morality at all unless it was protecting people? A bunch of guardians brave enough to stray from the constricts of pure Light would never be as much of a threat as the things Drifter had been seeing glimpses of in his nightmares.

 


 

Oh now that was interesting. Mister doesn't-need-anyone getting attached? And not even a calculated move, that was reflexive anger right there. He couldn't not needle at it, could he?

"Don't tell me you actually give a damn about them. You were on board with this not so long ago." It wasn't as if he'd be going after all of them, anyway. But some of them... Well. Some of them had started racking up some serious time flirting with the Darkness.

"I'm not talking all of them. Just the ones going that... step too far." So saying, he rested his hand meaningfully on the grip of the Last Word.

 


 

Anger grew inside his chest, cold and sharp. Drifter hadn't meant to show he felt so strongly about it, but of course Shin would pick up on it and immediately use it against him. Wouldn't expect anything else.

"Many of 'em are kids." He insisted, knuckles white from the grip he had on Malfeasance. "They just want to do good. They are doing good." Drifter left the wall he had been leaning against and took one step closer to the other man. "What makes ya qualified to decided which one of them should live or die? Where the line is?" He spit to one side, full of disdain for the idea. "How in hell would you be any different from the monsters you hunt if you start killing them, huh?"

 


 

Shin reeled a little, taken aback by how quickly the laid-back air had broken and been tossed aside. He hadn't given a damn about the tower lights even a year ago, and he hadn't been prepared for anything along those lines.

That dig stung, bit deeper than it was maybe supposed to. He knew what the ones who went too far looked like, he'd been the image of what they were just so they'd know the risks. They'd had a plan, damnit. The two of them might not get along well in person but they'd at least both known that something bad was coming and here Drifter was mothering the rotten ones like the skies weren't going to come crashing down on them all. Only, he hadn't been. Not all the time, anyway.

Teeth bared ever so slightly, he squared his stance. "Because you've cared so much about their lives ‘til now, hmm? You've been letting them die yourself, least this would be clean."

 


 

"How fuckin' dare you." The anger inside him was like an animal clawing at his stomach now, shredding it to pieces. Drifter could feel the expression in his eyes darken, and before he knew it he had taken Malfeasance out of its holster by his hip and was raising it towards Shin.

It was a dumb move, but he couldn't give less of a shit right now. They both knew the Man with the Golden Gun was the better shot, but it was more the fucking principle of the thing. Standing his ground.

"Y'cannot blame that on me. You can't. They are fully aware of the risk, and choosing to go ahead anyway. I'm not choosing for 'em like you would."

 


 

The Last Word was out of its holster in a second, aimed somewhere non-lethal for the time being. Man didn't need his kneecaps, not really. This, though. This was rich.

"Oh, and here I thought they were just kids. Playing a fun little game, right?" He shook his head slightly. "If they're old enough to do that they're old enough to go bad and we both know what that means." The barrel of the Last Word tilted gently from side to side. "So what's it to be. You killing kids these days?" He tensed, waiting for the rogue to make the first move. Maybe it was finally time for them to both find out who was right and who was dead.

 


 

Couldn't blame anyone but himself, really. Drifter had been the one to draw his weapon first, and given Shin an excuse, playing right into his hand. Goddamn it. He was enabling Shin's vision of himself as the righteous fucking hero just because he couldn't control himself.

No. He'd rather die than let him get away with that bullshit right now. He'd rather get shot.

"Oh, fuck you." His voice was intense, bitter, but he lowered his gun and in the same movement, threw it on the ground. It spun away from both of them, stopping when it hit one of the walls.

Let's see how the great Man with the Golden Gun would still justify being a hero to himself if he decided to shoot an unarmed man.

 


 

Robbed of all momentum, once again, Shin's finger twitched on the trigger. On some level he wanted to hurt the man; make him bleed, make him admit that he was right... And that, right there, was enough to convince him to holster the gun again. That road was too easy to go down, particularly where the Drifter was concerned.

"Well, shit." He pulled off his helmet, pushing his hair out of his eyes and looked the rogue in the eye again. "Tell me why I always want to shoot you in the head when I meet you, huh?" There was something about this bastard that. Well, it was simplest to say 'drew him in', but that didn't fully express the tumultuous push pull of repulsion and attraction it involved. He was definitely going to kill him one day though. Maybe.

 


 

It was a relief, not having that gun pointed at him anymore.

Drifter watched the hunter take off his helmet, any need for the pretence of protecting his identity dropped for now, and he felt himself go a bit breathless. Every damn time, Shin was so frustrating to deal with and the rogue Lightbearer actually forgot how much of a pretty bastard he was too. It was incredibly unfair.

"Must be those heroic impulses shinin' through." Drifter said with a smirk. Personally, he didn't get it all that much. If he wanted to hurt the hunter, he'd go weaponless. Or perhaps just with a knife. Punch the righteousness right out of that beautiful face, make a fist on that silky dark hair, yanking his head back, baring his throat... Well. It was a nice idea, at least. In reality he would never get that close without getting shot first.

 


 

Teeth flashed in a grin, keeping his eyes on the rogue lightbearer. He'd be an idiot to trust him, particularly after all this time. Trust was something they were both lacking, when it came down to it. His ghost vanished the helmet from his hand, and he sighed.

"That's one word for them," he replied, tilting his head back once more to meet those pale eyes. "They don't seem too heroic to me once you get down to it." God, he'd kill to get the man pinned underneath him, a gun held beneath his chin and him just knowing that his life was in Shin's hands. The thought sent a slight ripple through him, a barely perceptible twitch of discomfort. He took a step closer, doing his best to make up what he lacked in stature with intimidating presence.

 


 

"Yeah, I know." Drifter knew what he meant. They were both looking at a Darkness that had never been meant to be encompassed by human understanding, had been doing so for a long time, and you couldn't live that kind of life without seeing some of it reflected back in yourself. Even if the way they thought they needed to deal with it had them clashing just as often as it had them working together, the fact was no one else could understand what it all was like for them, but the other. "I know how that feels."

It was a conscious effort to keep his breathing steady when Shin took a step closer, unable to look away from those intense eyes. How the man managed to make such a simple movement feel so deeply weighted and confrontational, he'd never know. The Lightbearer could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, a thrill going down his spine, but he stood right where he was, lips still curved in a sly half smile.

 


 

Ha. Yeah. Yeah that was right, wasn't it? He kept bouncing from planet to planet putting a bullet in those Lightbearers who strayed over the precipice into something darker. And the two of them, they'd made those things together. Set them down that path and let them make their deaths alone. But none of them had any creativity, just that power hunger. None of them had even tried to walk the knife-edge they liked to live on, liked to dance on. Maybe that was why he wanted to set his teeth to the other's throat and bite down. Because nobody else was coming close to them. The next step forward was less deliberate, just a barely-conscious attempt to close the distance and... What? Kill him? Tear him to pieces to hear him sob? Take him apart and- well, there was never an after in his head. He did want to wipe that maddening smile off his face though, he knew that much.

 


 

Something inside him reacted before conscious thought caught up with it, and Drifter's hand shot upwards, lighting quick, to rest around Shin's neck just as the hunter got closer again. Thumb and forefinger along each side of his jaw, the rest of them pressed against his throat. Shin had some stubble, but most of the skin he could feel was soft, warm. Drifter wanted to dig into it and hear what kind of sounds he could rip out of the other man. God, was he ever grateful that he had decided not to bother with gloves that night.

His smile grew wilder, sharper.

 


 

Something froze in Shin for a second, forcing him to swallow against the pressure on his throat. He could feel the hand resting against his windpipe, able to squeeze and choke if the Drifter still chose and it was... Too many levels of feeling to think through right. His mouth suddenly dry, breathing a little too heavily, his tongue darted out to moisten his lips. He didn't break eye contact, hand itching for his gun, waiting to see if the other would do something monumentally stupid.

 


 

Drifter could feel how the muscles in Shin's throat moved as he swallowed, and it was almost too much. Any shred of rational thought that might have been trying to keep him from going too far went right out of the window. They were so close now that he could feel the hunter's breath on his own face, heavy and warm and maddening.

It took seeing his tongue quickly dart out, leaving him breathless for a second, to realise he as well had lost all control over his own breathing. Damn. After seeing that, he couldn't help himself, and Drifter dragged his thumb slowly down Shin's jawline, on its way to swiping across his lower lip.

 


 

Shin was barely thinking, too focused on the pressure against his carotid; just enough to leave him lightheaded without any real danger. Assuming he didn't press down, that was. It was so hard to concentrate, with that constant reminder that his life was in another's hands. Large, rough hands.

Mind blank, hand barely even brushing the gun, he opened his mouth to let the thumb slip in, letting it sit heavy on his tongue. It tasted salty, with that tang of ozone and murk that accompanied the Darkness they liked to court.

 


 

The rogue Lightbearer swore under his breath, barely forming words, feeling his skin burn on contact against the wet warmth of the hunter's tongue. He took a moment to enjoy the feeling, but above that, the sight of it, beautiful beyond words, and the delightful smugness it gave him to have Shin under his hand like this.

Then, he used his leverage on the man's neck to push him against the wall next to them, backwards and to the side, Shin's back colliding hard with it as Drifter used his free hand to grab at his waist and further pin him against it.

 


 

His head jerked forwards as his back struck the wall, forcing the Drifter's thumb deep enough to hurt and shocking a noise that was half whine, half gasp out of him. Shin's knees threatened to give out as he did his best not to choke, eyes flashing back up to meet the Drifter's own.

God but those eyes. Blown dark and deep with something more complicated than he had time to fathom, and fixed intently on him. He swallowed, deliberately this time, just to feel the weight and pressure of the hand on his face and neck, to watch the way the other man's composure cracked. He tilted his head back, granting better access to his throat. What was the man going to do, kill him more?

 


 

As much as he could be said to have the upper hand right now, Shin kept surprising him and throwing him off balance, sending shocks right though him. Just that one sound he finally had gotten out of the hunter was enough to make him lose his mind, no matter the way he swallowed again, the tilt of his head. "Oh, fuck, Malphur." He all but whispered, voice rough and undone, leaning down to bring his face right down against Shin's neck, opposite to the side his fingers were pressing against. While Drifter increased the pressure of his hand slightly, he ran his lips across the soft skin, barely touching them to it, feather light.

 


 

Hhh. Oh, he hadn't thought about the beard and now he was chastising himself for never considering the - ah - possibilities. It tickled and scratched ever so gently but in a wonderful contrast to the glide of skin against skin as the bastard teased and mouthed at his neck. He tried turning, pressing up against the gentle touch but found himself very much anchored in place by the Drifter's other hand. He whimpered faintly, trying to choke it down to the point where it was almost inaudible, but with the thumb still holding his mouth open it was hard to suppress any of the noises he was making. Drool was beginning to pool at the bottom of his mouth, and he tried fruitlessly to swallow around the obstruction, tongue twitching beneath the digit. The rest of his body, pinned by the head and arm but still mobile enough pressed forward. Of course, the only place to go was into the Drifter, and that brought with it its own set of complications.

 


 

He was making damn sure Shin couldn't move in any meaningful way that'd give him any control over how much contact he got - He'd get whatever Drifter gave him, whenever Drifter decided. God, he wanted to keep his thumb on the hunter's mouth, keep it open to enjoy the full volume of that delicious whimpering, but with the way the man was trying to move against the wall, he needed his entire hand to get a good grip on his neck and keep them both stable. Well, that only meant he had to find other ways to make him get louder.

The rogue Lightbearer chuckled against his neck, pressing the weight of his own body just a little more against Shin's, before baring his teeth and biting down on his throat, not hard enough to break skin, but hard enough to hurt.

 


 

Everything went blank for a moment, and whatever noise Shin was making he was sure it was embarrassing and inarticulate as could be. He bucked forwards, choking himself against the Drifter's hand but it only added to the thick haze of sensation that was overlying every sense. His neck burned, wet heat and sharp pain mingling; it felt as though the skin had torn beneath the other's teeth, and he... he didn't even know if that scared or excited him. The sharp jerk of his lower body had done nothing, less than nothing as the larger man pinned him thoroughly to the wall. Shin couldn't think, could barely breathe, just staying there and taking whatever torture the Drifter decided to allow him.

 


 

A rush of victory burned through him when what he'd just done had the exact effect he had been expecting. It was a pleasure to know Shin this well, to get confirmation that he knew exactly what buttons to push and how. Drifter bit down once more, slightly higher on his neck, just a little lighter, swiping his tongue down on the flesh gathered between his teeth.

As Shin tried to buck against him again, a small voice at the back of his mind screamed at him to stop this madness before it went too far, but he quieted it down and ignored it for the time being.

 


 

Some dim, distant part of his brain objected at the way the next bite was light, gentler than the last. Either it wanted to do something drastic, or just have the Drifter rip his throat out and kiss him through it as he bled out. Which was... Something to know about himself certainly.

He groaned, voice cracking slightly as the wet heat soothed the bruises that were going to cover his neck, and did his best to use his free hand to his advantage. The degree of mobility Shin had with it was quite low, but he managed to at least get a grip on the Drifter's shoulder, a tiny amount of leverage against his bulk. He tried to use it to turn his head towards the Drifter's own, wanting just a little contact.

 


 

As the other man grabbed at his shoulder, trying to bring their faces closer together, Drifter thought he shouldn't be allowing him even that small victory, but the desperate need to feel those broken sounds against his own mouth won over the desire to keep perfect control.

He kissed his way up Shin's neck and over his jawline, alternating them with small bites, until he was leaning over him and their noses were touching, then their foreheads, then finally, almost violently, pressing their lips together.

 


 

Finally, finally. When it was almost becoming too much to cope with, every line of his body in contact with the other man but with no ability to capitalise on it... There. He pressed in as close as he could manage with a hand still closed tight around his throat, sacrificing air and blood to push deeper and meld himself into the warmth and pressure. He only began to fall back as he lost the ability to support himself, vision greying. Mouth falling open once more, panting for breath against the other's lips, he sobbed and writhed in a fruitless bid for any kind of control over the situation before falling limp.

 


 

He moved against the hunter's mouth, hard and demanding, like he wanted to devour every single sound, every single pant for air.

Air. The idea hit him like being shaken awake, only now realising how strongly Shin was pushing himself against the Lightbearer's hand, how little he could possibly be breathing. Even though a part of himself wanted nothing but to keep it up, maybe even increase the pressure, Drifter pulled back slightly. Wouldn't do either of them any favours to have the hunter passing out. "Hey, hey, Shin. Ease up." He said, still against the other man's mouth.

 


 

The noise Shin made in response to that was desperate, heartbroken. He didn't want drifter to ease off, no matter how much his body screamed out for relief. It was all the same after the first few centuries, all blurred into a mess of sensory stimulation and denial. If he could think, could feel, then he'd start having to have thoughts again. Something curled in his chest wanted to chase that feeling of blank overstimulation forever, never have a thought again that wasn't an instinctive reaction.

Instead, he let the other pull away a little, took in a breath of air. And another. Gasping against the Drifter's mouth, replacing the press of fingers with lips and teeth and trying with all his might not to care about what the rogue would think of him once this was done.

 


 

The noise that came out of Shin made the choice he had made feel entirely worth it. Simply stunning. "Hmm. Good boy." Drifter stopped using his hand to strangle and instead caressed the sensitive skin gently one, two times, before using his nails to scratch the length of it ruthlessly.

He bit at Shin's lower lip, while raising his hand to now run his fingers through the dark hair, grabbing at it and pulling until he could use it as leverage to completely control the hunter's mouth, have it at his mercy.

 


 

Shin didn’t even make a noise at that, just going floppy and pliant for a moment in response to the approval in Drifter’s voice. That blanked him out better than anything that had been done to him so far, even if he wasn’t sure why. The pain shocked him back into movement though, sharp nails digging ruthlessly into the sensitised flesh and pulling in a movement which startled another gasp out of him. One which was quickly stifled as his head was manoeuvred doll-like back into place and his mouth claimed once more. The hunter was beyond trying to take any real control any more, outmanoeuvred and outmatched on every level. Instead he simply did his best to give as good as he got, to at least put the Drifter on the back foot as he bit down hard.

 


 

Ah, fuck. Fuck. With how much things were heating up, it suddenly felt like they were both wearing way too many clothes, too much armour. Drifter's hand moved from its place on Shin's waist to the small of his back, to keep him steady as he moved his own hips rolling against the hunter's body.

Suddenly, Drifter became aware of the sound of metal footsteps approaching, and all but growled, stepping away from Shin just in time to see one of the Tower's maintenance frames walking through the place. It seemed like it was going from the annex to its next duties at the hangar, following a predetermined route. Ugh, way to kill the mood.

 


 

Somehow, blessedly, he had enough presence of mind to cram the leather of his sleeve into his mouth to bite down on before he could make a very loud and obvious noise at the sudden loss of contact.

All at once, everything that had just happened came crashing down onto them and they looked each other in the eye as the frame made its oblivious way between them. Frantically willing his pounding heart to calm and his head to clear of whatever the hell Drifter had done to it, he managed to get his legs to support him properly again and with some difficulty pried the thick leather from between his teeth.

 


 

Drifter hated seeing Shin bite down on his own sleeve, when he wanted those teeth on him instead, wanted to step forward and make it impossible for him to quiet himself down. Instead, he just had to do his best to get his own breathing back to normal.

"Well, huh." He managed eventually, once the frame had disappeared from view, rubbing at the back of his neck. The Lightbearer could feel the heavy, fragile tension between them, and he genuinely had no idea what Shin's reaction was going to be to all this, or what was going through that overthinking head of his right now.

 


 

God, he wished he could read the Drifter's expressions like he used to. He was just watching him, careful and sharp. Like he was going to explode, kill every single one of his precious pack of Dredgen just for... well. That. He spent a few second breathing, pushing down whatever had thrown him into the whole affair deep deep down where its screams would be barely audible. He straightened, swallowing thickly around the ache in his jaw.

"I'll see you around then," Shin muttered lamely, looking down the hallway the frame had come from. Fuck, maybe if he died now it would all work out fine.

 


 

Blinking a few times too many, Drifter tried to hide his surprise at the other man's reaction. Even if he hadn't known what to expect, it certainly hadn't been this. He'd be a lot less surprised if the hunter was putting a bullet through him right now, but if Shin wanted to pretend like it never had happened instead, well, that was his prerogative. "Yeah, uh. See ya."

He had nothing else to add that wouldn't probably just make things worse, so the rogue Lightbearer simply transmatted away into his ship without another word. God, he really should just get some more sleep.