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Rat Bastard

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“Bruce, huh?” Kingston asked, after the rest of the group had left and it was just him and Kugrash and Pete in his apartment. Pete had retreated to his room, maybe for once reading the room and seeing that this was a conversation for which he didn’t need to be around. Kugrash had places to go, of course, but it was hard to return to the tunnels after talking about who he had once been for the first time in years. Decades, even.

“Not anymore,” he said. “You got anything to drink?”

Kingston got up from the couch and walked to the kitchen and Kugrash followed him, claws clicking against Kingston’s tile floors. They’d been friends for a long time, the two of them, but friends from a distance, mostly, not heart-to-heart at one a.m. friends. Kugrash got the feeling that since Liz had left, Kingston didn’t have any friends like that.

Of course, Kugrash didn’t either.

“Whiskey good?” Kingston asked, opening a cabinet and pulling out a dust-covered bottle.

“Yeah,” Kugrash responded, and clambered up onto the counter as Kingston poured them both glasses. For once, Kingston didn’t offer even cursory complaint about Kugrash’s dirt, and Kugrash was grateful for it.

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Kingston asked, when it became clear Kugrash wasn’t going to offer further information of his own accord.

Kugrash looked down at his drink, at the way the light refracted through it, and swirled it around before tossing it back. It burned, but he barely noticed. “No point, was there?” he asked, and he was almost telling the truth.

“I’m good with curses, I could have –”

“Would you have wanted to?” It wasn’t a fair question. Kingston cared for everyone. But Kugrash had known him long enough to know that there were times when he didn’t want to, that there were times when he wasn’t sure everyone deserved it. That was the magic of him, that he did it anyway.

“That’s not the point,” Kingston responded, immediately, and despite everything, Kugrash grinned. Kingston was what Kugrash tried to be, day after day.

“It doesn’t matter, anyway. Doubt you could do anything about it. And I’m better for this city as a rat.” He’d always been a rat, of course. At least now he was doing something with it.

Kingston didn’t argue; it was irrefutable. Instead he took a sip of his own whiskey and grimaced slightly. And then – “Doesn’t it get lonely?” There was something in Kingston’s voice that sounded a little bit desperate, a little bit not just about Kugrash’s answer.

“Not any lonelier than being a man.” Kugrash finished his drink and held his glass out for a refill. After Kingston had poured it, he said, “You should know that better than fuckin’ anyone, right?”  Kingston Brown from uptown knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He was fifty-five years old and he had lived in the city for all his life. His family lived in the same building as him, he saved lives every day, and now he’d got Pete to take care of. Nobody in their right mind would think he was lonely. But he was, in the same way that Kugrash was, alone in the subway tunnels every night.

“That’s not the point,” Kingston repeated.

“You sure? You’re the one who asked.” Maybe there was a part of Kugrash that was still the selfish piece of shit he’d used to be, because he was glad they weren’t talking about him anymore, just as glad as he was for the companionship. It was nice to be talking about something, even if it wasn’t exactly what either of them wanted to be talking about.

“About you. I’m good. My family’s right here, I’ve got all of New York. I’m good.”

“You don’t have all of New York, all of New York has you. Take it from the most selfish rat bastard around: sometimes you gotta do shit for yourself.”

Kingston sighed, shook his head, drank his whiskey. “I’ve been used to this for a long time, Kugrash.”

“People change.”

“We’re too old for that, rat-man. Too old by far.” Kugrash couldn’t help but laugh at that. Somehow, being called rat-man by Kingston felt like a term of respect.

“Fill me up,” he said, tossing back his whiskey once more.

“There’s no way you’re not already drunk,” Kingston said, looking all of Kugrash’s two feet up and down, a nurse at all times.

“Who gives a shit?”

That got a laugh from Kingston, and he passed Kugrash the bottle to pour his own glass.

They stayed like that, laughing and reminiscing, until the sun rose. And then, when Pete emerged and stumbled into the kitchen, they didn’t say anything, but they exchanged a glance before Kingston left for the hospital and Kugrash left to fulfill his morning responsibilities.

For a night, they’d both gotten to feel a little less alone.

It’s a Sunday morning, and Kingston and Liz are going for their weekly walk in the park, Bruce (the dog) running along beside them, not needing a leash. Kingston takes a picture of Bruce with the hand that isn’t entwined with Liz’s and sends it to the groupchat, along with the first gif that pops up as an option.

“Beautiful day,” he says, carefully not making eye contact with Liz, and it is.

She squeezes his hand. “Always did have a knack for the obvious.”

Before he can think himself out of it, Kingston leans in and kisses her. He can’t stop himself from smiling against her as she kisses him back. They don’t separate until Bruce starts barking, excited by a pigeon that seems familiar, and laugh together as they chase after him, feeling young.

Kingston Brown has not been lonely in months.